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ple from which its very life must spring; and on the other, striving to suppress its own vagaries, to set boundaries here and there, and to rally the dispersive forces to act in one organism together. Its strength and its weakness are from the same source, — the liberty from which it springs. To foster that strength and overcome that weakness is the perpetual problem which Protestantism exhausts itself to solve.
It would be too long a task to trace the series of attempts, so familiar in our religious history and even in the range of our own experience, by which Protestantism has sought a substitute for the vast domineering, subtle, despotic authority, that excites at once its rebellion, hate, and fear. The process at first seemed simple. From the corrupt Church, fall back upon the Church in its simplicity ; from councils and priests, fall back upon the Apostles; for the false Vicar of God, take the infallible Word of God. “ The Bible, the Bible only, is the religion of Protestants,” became the watchword of the Reformation. Luther's first great task was to give it to his people in their mother tongue; and the noble series of English versions was crowned, after the lapse of near a century, by that which, with all its faults of detail, is so sacredly and dearly associated with our own best thoughts and hopes. But soon it appeared that, aside from all the critical difficulties and doubts, the Bible might be read in almost as many ways as there were minds to read it. If Luther and Calvin differed as to some of the plainest words of the Gospel, what must be the effect of offering, as the creed of millions, the whole array of history, prophecy, proverb, appeal, and fervid inward experience, that goes to make up the Bible ? Some confession, some creed, some formula of faith, seemed not a violation of Protestant principles, but a necessity of the position; and, the creed once defined and assumed for authority, then follows the whole long, sad story of bigotry, exclusion, persecution, religious hate, sectarian jealousy and feud, until, sick at heart, many despair of the cause of religious liberty itself, and yield to the still dread spell of Rome, or else abandon the hope of Christian fellowship altogether. The history of creeds, i. e. of Protestant theology, as a substitute for the grand and awful spiritual despotism of the Catholic Church, - from the bloody persecution
of the Arminians in Holland by the Calvinists, themselves scarce emancipated from the frightful tyranny of Spain, down to the small village rivalries between Orthodox and Dissenter, or the puny controversies on the limits of Christian fellowship, and the right of a man to adopt the Christian name, - shows through what melancholy straits the human mind must pass, in the historic evolution of a great idea. Dogmatic theology, from the incoherent mysticism of the Trinity down to the frightful assertions of hopeless depravity and everlasting perdition, is the shady side and the weak side of Protestantism,its vain endeavor to rear a fabric of ghostly authority, which should have the charm to captivate, or the majesty to overawe, the emancipated intelligence of the human race.
Here are only weakness and failure. The strength of Protestantism and its glory have been the practical, positive work it has set on foot; not its religious organizations, as such, but the spirit it has emancipated and set to vigorous action by means of them. The great battle of religious liberty, so heroically fought; the laborious culture and evolution of religious thought, in schools of criticism, philosophy, and morals; the noble enterprises of conscience, in the founding of Christian republics, and in laying out the field of modern philanthropy; the grand religious enterprise of universal missions, which, even if a failure as to its main end (as some say), is yet a glorious attempt; still more, the courageous grappling with dark social problems, pauperism, slavery, crime; these are the fruits that have grown, for the modern world, from the root of individual liberty of mind and soul, the life-root of the Reformation. Personal energy, personal conviction, conscience acting in direct obedience to God, resolute will that calls no man master upon earth, - these inspired the heroic protest of Luther; these have been the vital principles, since, of the world's best religious life. Say that it ran in the blood of the German race, foreordained from their day of savage liberty to the development of organized democracy; or say that it is the ripe fruit of Christian thought and life, to be appropriated wherever there is vitality enough, — this it is plain to see. The history of Protestant nations is the history of the enterprise, discovery, commerce, arts, science, invention, learning, and
philanthropy of modern times. This glorious inheritance we receive along with our birthright of religious liberty. The nobler energies of mankind, latent and suppressed under the dominion that weighed upon the soul, waited its emancipation, as great rivers wait the breath of spring, to give force and volume to their flow. There is scarce one great movement of the last three hundred years, of permanent and marked success, and affecting deeply the welfare of mankind at large, dating from the Roman Church, or any people under its control, to set off against the great political reforms of England, the colonizing of free states in America and Australia, the organizing of republican institutions, the revolution in commerce wrought by steam, and that conquest of nature inaugurated by modern science. All these are part of our modern inheritance of liberty of thought. They, of course, are not to be ascribed to Protestantism, consciously working out as such ; they are not its product as an organized spiritual force ; but they are the trophies of that emancipated energy, that free intelligence, that bold individual conscience, which it was the mission of Protestantism to herald as an agency in the world's affairs. As widely as the spell of Rome remains, so widely this energy continues latent, inert, and impossible.
The weak side of Protestantism is seen in this, – that it does not understand the energies it has invoked: it fears them, shrinks from them, and dares not even attempt to control them. Liberty of thought it has sought vainly, by every expedient, to pacify, overawe, and hush. The portentous birth of European Democracy, which sprang up at its side, it began to fear and hate as soon as it outran the cautious limits the Reformers had proposed. When the nobles scorned Luther's counsels of justice, and the peasants rejected his words of peace, he, even he, a man of the people, was sharp and implacable to side with authority against rebellion.
“ A pious Christian," said he, “ should die a hundred deaths rather than give way a hair's breadth to the peasants' demands." Challenging the authority of the Church, Protestantism has leaned on the arm of the state. It is but a feeble barrier it has interposed to the ambition and pride of worldly powers. The English Church began by owning the king's supremacy
as its head; and he Henry the Eighth, who persecuted right hand and left at his caprice. It canonized Charles the First, who traded away the faith reposed in him, and died a martyr to the cause of absolutism. The Protestant Church of Germany has both hindered and betrayed the cause of popular liberty; so that in 1849 some democratic leaders said, in bitter rage, “Our mistake was in not cutting off every man who believes in God; we will remedy that mistake next time." America we have seen the encroachments of a despotism as sordid, as stealthy, as unscrupulous as any in Naples or Vienna, and as deeply and openly steeped in crime; a despotism erected on the basest of all possible foundations, property in man; which, under forms of popular government, has insulted every instinct of liberty, and, under forms of law, violated every principle of justice ; — yet how slightly resisted by the Protestant Church, spite of its birthright of liberty, how largely helped by the alliance of the so-called Catholic, with its instinct of servility!
Now it is not the Protestant Church which is to blame for this: at least, it is its position, not its disposition, that is to blame. It is not the fault so much as it is the weakness of Protestantism, that it fails to present any strong barrier to the encroaching powers of the world. As an organization, it has no basis except in deference to its dogma, or else in personal reverence for the right and true. Its motive energy is not in the collective body, but in the individual soul. Church forms only preserve and maintain ; the free conscience must animate and create. The very task it accomplished in crippling the hierarchy of Rome was to rid the world of a spiritual power strong enough to meet and match the political forces of society on their own ground. It was against the very genius of Protestantism to provide a substitute.
This inherent weakness of Protestantism is especially seen in its failure to take in the religious and moral wants of society, its failure, perhaps we may say, even to try to comprehend or meet them. We mean (of course) directly, in its religious organizations. It is the glory of the Catholic Church, that, with all its falsity and faults, it did meet the social problem of Christianity as a whole, so far as it could VOL. LXXIV. - 5TH S. VOL. XII. NO. I.
be comprehended at the period ; and with an honest courage attempted to solve it. That Church knew emperor and king, peasant and slave, alike, only as subjects of its spiritual do main. It declared the state of slavery impossible for a Christian ; and did in fact abolish it in Europe by embracing all ranks and conditions of men within its fold. It established the Truce of God; thus setting a check to the rage of private wars, and winning society slowly towards a reign of peace. It organized charities on a scale with which the world has nothing to compare ; and, in an age of hopeless strife, and ravage, and destitution, grappled with the whole dread question of pauperism ;-on false principles indeed, by adopting and consecrating mendicancy; but perhaps no other way was possible then ; and at any rate the Church did aim to meet the case. It assumed the charge of educating every child, at least so far as was needful to make him a subject of its empire or heir of its hope, and so of meeting hand to hand the vice, ignorance, and savagery of the streets. Now Protestantism — if we except individual efforts here and there, or voluntary associated action - has nothing to set side by side with this magnificent aim and pretension of Catholic Christianity. Not only its agencies are feeble, but its theory is at fault. The salvation of the individual soul, the culture of the individual conscience, has been the task to which it limited the sphere of Christianity. Its churches are voluntary associations; its missions leave great haunts and hordes of heathenism in the streets at home, while they carry their instruction or appeal thousands of miles away. By the very constitution of its churches, the intelligent, the conscientious, the wellprincipled, the respectable and prosperous, – those who best know the value of religious culture, and need it least, - are the ones looked to to sustain the institutions of Protestant Christianity ; until the bitter satire of the reproach of the Apostle James falls literal and direct, that the rich are received and welcomed to the house of God, while the poor, for whom the Gospel was first preached, are kept away on system. And, busy with the task of conversion and culture within, or dissensions and rivalries of sect without, with costly pomps of worship, or itching ears for eloquence, the Church, in