Will Durant, in his History of Civilization, remarked that when Luther and the other Protestant groups broke from Rome, it was as if the German peoples had thrown off Rome’s hegemony a second time–the first being the taking over of the Western Roman Empire.
This remark is interesting, because it touches a point often made but seldom studied. Western European culture and society as we know them are essentially Germanic in origin–even if much of the culture and the arts are Greco-Roman.
These Germanic characteristics were infused into the larger Roman mold and transformed it significantly enough to help create a new civilization.
When the Germanic tribes that overran the Western Empire first adopted Christianity, they chose Arianism rather than Roman orthodoxy, thereby making the double statement that they were both part of civilization but independent from higher authorities as well.
There may have been a similar reason for the Frankish theologians’ rejection of parts of the 7th Ecumenical council, accepted by Rome.
The love of the Germans for conquest is another important element: the Vikings testify to this fact. The Crusades also, were partly driven by the heroic ideal of the German warrior.
The idea of war as wanted and blessed by God was rooted in Germanic culture: the concept of the soldier of God, miles Christi, appears as early as the Carolingian epoch; in the 9th century, Pope Leo IV promised eternal salvation to those who died in combat against the infidel Saracens.
A fierce spirit of independence, a love for new conquests and war: these attributes have left their mark on Western European consciousness.
In fact, one would even be tempted to see in later European behavior, the Conquistadores, colonialism and the conquest of world markets, a direct continuation of this Germanic warrior culture.
This is not to suggest that this is the only aspect, or even the most important one, and we must be careful not to make too much of the dichotomy between the former Romanized populations and their German conquerors; yet it should not be ignored either, and I believe these ‘cultural traits’ have influenced and remained present in the Western subconsciousness until recently–as the Samurai spirit has penetrated an profoundly influenced modern Japanese corporate and economic life. In any event, this is a question very much worthy of study.