Son of Iniquity – Episode 4: Temporal Vs Spiritual

Listen to Episode Duration: 10.16

Luther lived in the state of the Saxony, within the Holy Roman Empire. The dominance of the Church pervaded through all aspects of the society, but within the framework of the spiritual domain.

The temporal domain structure wielded rule in the physical world. These two power structures were interconnected and interdependent.

In this episode we go a little into this complicated and somewhat ridiculous power complex. Ooooh yea.

“In no way Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire…”

– Voltaire

The Borders

Map of the Holy Roman Empire in mid 1500s

Map courtesy of Susan M. Pojer

Although throughout its existence the borders were never absolutely established, the map above shows that the Empire stretched across most of Central Europe. Note the strategic importance of access to all four seas in all four corners of the Empire.

Spiritual Domain 

The map below displays the domain of Church authority within (and reaching out of) the Holy Roman Empire. Church administration penetrated all states of Europe. The borders of Church rule disregarded different state borders.

See, for example, the Archdiocese of Reims. A part of it is in the Holy Roman Empire, while the greater part is within the French Empire. The Bishop’s ecclesiastical domains were trans-national.

Map of the ecclesiastical organisation within the HRE, circa 1500

Courtesy of

Temporal Domain

From 1500 the Holy Roman Empire began to be organised into “Imperial Circles”, as shown by the map below. This was a way of organising the temporal administration, collective defense, and tax collection throughout the Empire.

Some parts, such as the lands of the Bohemian Crown, the Italian territories and the Swiss Confederacy remained “unencircled”, meaning they maintained their own administrative structures and autonomy. In the Empire there were also territories – villages and cities – that attained “imperial immediacy”, meaning that they did not fall under the direct rule of anybody but the Emperor.

Map of the Holy Roman Imperial Circles, circa 1512

Courtesy of

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