The First World War was the most brutal and bloody war Europe had known before 1914. The conflict lasted a total of 4 years, 3 months and 10 days, during which 28 million people were killed and wounded. The war involved 33 of the 59 states that existed at the time, with a total population of over 1.5 billion people. 70 million people were put under arms by all countries. The war opened the newest types of weapons – for the first time were used tanks, flamethrowers, chemical warfare, fighter and bomber aviation. Each side mobilised not only its armies but also the whole society to achieve victory in the war. An unprecedented patriotic upsurge in all countries temporarily united all the forces of the political spectrum in each country.
In Peterburg, London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna thousands of demonstrations were held in support of their governments. For each nation the war took on a special, almost sacred significance; the Germans saw in the conflict a just retribution to the British and French for all Germany’s misfortunes. The French longed for the return of Alsace and Lorraine, which had been torn from the country in 1871. The British saw the war as a challenge to British power and sought to stop any German encroachment on their colonial possessions. The population of the Russian Empire felt it was their duty to help the Balkan Slavs, their brothers in blood and faith. But the patriotic upsurge was short-lived. The war of the new century radically changed its face. Each of the belligerents had expected the war to be short and manoeuvrable. Both the Schlieffen Plan, the French strategic Plan XVII, and the Russian strategic plans « A » and « G » envisaged a rapid resolution of the war with the surrender of the opposing bloc within a few months.
But the nature of the war changed dramatically after the first offensive campaigns of both sides- the front stabilised in both theatres of war and the conflict took on a positional character. It was no longer the personal bravery and training of the soldiers that was decisive, but the technical equipment and ammunition consumption. Any offensive in the conditions of positional warfare turned into a real living hell for the attackers. To occupy enemy positions, soldiers had to overcome barbed wire fences under hurricane of machine-gun fire and artillery barrage. If soldiers were able to reach enemy trenches, the sides engaged in close combat, using bayonets, throwing grenades, and, in the later stages of the war, burning the defenders with flamethrowers and firing automatic weapons. Since there were usually several lines of trenches, to break through the front, the attackers had to take 2-3 lines of defences in succession, suffering catastrophic losses. The defenders, having determined the direction of the enemy’s main blow, moved reserves to the breakthrough area. As a rule, the offensive was then suffocated, and the front line remained unchanged. Thus, the new guise of war had nothing in common with the romantic ideal of war of the 19th century.
The enormous consumption of ammunition and shells put an unbearable burden on the industry of all countries. Russia and Austria-Hungary, where industry was less developed than in Germany or Britain, had the hardest time. The general standard of living fell dramatically in all countries. While the front was demanding more and more ammunition and food, the home front was short of basic necessities. The men who had gone to war were replaced by women, working hours were increased everywhere, and cards for food and general consumer goods were introduced. Considerable territories were under the occupation of the Central Powers, which practised requisitioning and plunder of the civilian population. The problem of refugees emerged. By the beginning of 1916, patriotic fervour had virtually waned, unable to withstand the clash with reality.
For religious organisations in Europe, the war was also a test of strength. The largest denominations in different countries had different statuses. Somewhere, as in England, the church had the status of a state church; somewhere, as in France, it was separated from the state. Relations between Christian churches and states were not always serene, there were periods of strife between secular and spiritual rulers, and the Enlightenment led to the beginning of secularisation on the scale of states. But the national churches and Catholic clergy did not abandon their peoples in the years of adversity.
Methodology of the study. The methodological basis of the study is based on the principle of historicism, which makes it possible to reconstruct a comprehensive picture of the situation of the European churches in this historical period.
The chronological framework of the study covers the period from 1789 to 1918. The lower chronological boundary is the beginning of the Great French Revolution, the upper boundary is 11 November 1918 – the date of the Armistice of Compiègne.
The objects of the study are the states of Europe in the late XIX and early XX century.
The subject of the study is religious movements and organisations in the countries of Europe during the First World War.