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This article investigates an episode of anti-Catholic polemic in the late eighteenth century in Germany. It shows how fear over the influence of “crypto-Catholics” masquerading as Protestants and exponents of Enlightenment triggered the conceptualization of “Catholicism” as a social and cultural force beyond Church membership. It shows how Friedrich Nicolai played a leading role in suggesting that Catholics posed a distinct threat to the Enlightenment and the progressive achievements of the last few decades. Guided by Reinhart Koselleck’s insights into the temporalization of fundamental concepts, this article shows how the conceptualization of Catholicism was part of the larger attempt to navigate the dissolution of feudal society. It argues that placing Catholics on the wrong side of history was thus generative of the modern historical regime.

In: Journal of Religion in Europe