Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
CHRISTIANITY. Christianity is a religious and moral power which, in the course of ages, as history shows, brought about the dissolution of the states of antiquity; a power which has exercised and still exercises an incalculable influence on the public life of the modern world.
—To comprehend this power in its essential character, and to trace its development in its effects on the state, is, therefore, a task with which the thinking statesman must needs concern himself, whether he be greatly influenced by that power individually, or not influenced by it at all. A force which makes itself felt so extensively and so powerfully on the masses, as well as on the rulers of nations; whose influence after nearly two thousand years is still spreading, and keeps pace constantly with the achievements of civilized mankind; a force which is so grand a manifestation of the religious spirit, which enters into nearly all the details that make up the public life of the people, both in Europe and America, at present the ruling continents, and has become one of the fundamental conditions of modern civilization—can not, though misunderstood, be passed over with contempt.
—Christianity, viewed in its relation to the state, with that freedom of spirit which the nature of the very subject demands, and with the reverence due to one of the greatest and most important factors in the history of the world, is the subject of the present article. We admit that from the point of view of the state we are unable to fathom the depths of the Christian religion, and to comprehend the magnitude of its power to elevate and satisfy the soul. But this relation of Christianity to the state, its legal and political institutions. though of secondary importance so far as Christianity itself is concerned, is most important in its bearing on political science. Yet, while our limits constantly remind us not to trespass upon the domain of theology, we are aware of the great difficulties of the attempt to condense within a reasonable space, the wealth of thought which Christianity, from every point of view, suggests to the mind of the inquirer; and to comprehend in human thought what surpasses all limits.
—I. The Religion of Jesus. The religion of Jesus is usually confounded with the Christian religion, i.e., the religion of his disciples and followers; while the term Christianity is now applied indiscriminately to both, and the two expressions are not infrequently used as though they were identical. The statesman, least of all, can afford to overlook this distinction, for he must, from the very beginning, look to the reality of things. It is this very reality which separates distinctly what the mind endeavors to unite in thought. In the religion revealed in the life of Jesus, the primitive idea of Christianity is embodied in its perfect form. The religion professed and practiced by his followers frequently presents but a very imperfect image of the religion of Jesus. It is only by comparing the Christian religion with the religion of Jesus, that the defects and merits of the former as exhibited in its historical development, are seen in their proper light.
—If we would truly understand the fundamental idea in Christianity, we must look at the religion of Jesus; if we would comprehend its development among mankind, we must consider the religion of Christians.
—The religion of Jesus, as conceived by the founder of the Christian religion, is the immediate spiritual union of the mind with God, while the religion of Christians is the reconciliation with God through the Redeemer. The religious consciousness attained to its fullest purity and clearness in Jesus himself, while in Christians its purity is greatly disturbed by the admixture of foreign elements. The energy of the religious life, both in its relation to God and to man, reached a height in the doings and sufferings of Jesus, which it never afterward attained; a height which some few in a healthy manner and many in a morbid one sought to attain, but which the greater number have remained far below. The religion which Christ himself practiced ended with his life. The religion of Christians is still in process of development, and it evidently has not yet reached the culminating point in its history. The real primitive picture of the religion of Jesus has frequently been transformed into an unrecognizable caricature, when reflected in the imperfect mental mirror of his followers.
—All the religions of antiquity were distinctively national in character; and not only did they stand in a morally narrow relation to the state, but they formed one of its component parts. The Mosaic religion, above all, had preserved this national and political character in the most marked and exclusive manner. It was essentially the religion of the Jews, on which their undying hopes of seeing the universal kingdom of Jehovah established by the expected Messiah were based. It was the religion of the divine law which the Lord had revealed to his chosen servant, Moses, and of the covenant which bound the children of Abraham to God.
—When Jesus appeared as the teacher of a religion so unlike theirs, among these people with whom he was connected by birth and education, he must have felt entirely alone. He was conscious of his religious mission to mankind, and he saw himself hampered on all sides by the strong national prejudices of the Jews. He had thoroughly weighed the question whether or not he should encourage the expectations of his people, and with their aid establish the kingdom of God on earth, but only to repudiate the notion as a temptation unworthy of his divine mission. He understood, as no one else ever understood, that religion and politics are things essentially different; that he would violate the sanction of his divine mission, and render its success impossible, if he were to assume, along with it, the office of the statesman and kingly ruler. He drew a clear distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world, and undertook to labor in behalf of the former and not the latter. He paved the way leading to the distinction between the state and the church, and their strict separation—a doctrine which, prior to his teachings, was entirely unknown, and but vaguely anticipated by the Buddhist religion in the doctrine inculcating the renunciation of all worldly enjoyments. He did not break loose from the old law of the Jews. Indeed, he even conformed to its petty ceremonial, though he never failed, when an opportunity presented itself, to point out the inadequacy of its application. But he broke up the religion of the law, by setting against it the higher ideal of his religious spirituality, and supplanted it by the religion of love. Though he was aware of his personal superiority which raised him above the religious precepts, laws and civil institutions of Judaism, and of his superiority over Moses and the prophets; and though he publicly expressed his knowledge of this fact at times, on certain important occasions in his life, yet he submitted to the religio-political tribunal of his enemies, and refused to approve the desire of his disciples to oppose the civil power of the state by the power of the people. Up to the very time of his painful death, he remained true to his purpose, not to defend his religion with the weapons of politics, nor to mix up with his mission, which was that of the religious Messiah, the mission of a political Messiah, of a political deliverer of his people.
—Of all his discourses and sayings which have come down to us, there is not a single one which has any direct bearing on law or politics. He expressed himself on the kernel of all morality and moral obligation, leaving little else to be said; while he failed to say anything on the political organization of the people, the system of the state, the problems of politics, the private rights and civil laws governing the conduct of the people. He simply referred to the laws of the Jews, in order to illustrate, by setting his own moral precepts against them, the fact that these laws were not mandatory upon those who conformed their conduct in life to his moral standard. The command, "Thou shalt not kill," he supplemented by the duty of brotherly love. To the law, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," he added the higher moral injunction not to covet one's neighbor's wife, even in thought.
—The legal restraint on the granting of divorces he rendered more imperative by the moral injunction against the very act itself, the separating of husband and wife. He rendered unnecessary all penal legislation against perjury and against the violation of an oath, by the moral precept which discouraged the taking of an oath under any circumstances, and preferred the simple statement of the truth—yes and no. He neither proposed nor established rules of law. While often referring to the principle of justice, and prophesying its fulfillment in the sentence to be announced on the judgment-day whose advent was near, and on which he himself would appear as the "Almighty Judge," he had in mind not the laws of man and the administration and execution of the laws by man, but justice before God, and the supermundane tribunal of the Lord who fathomed the hidden motives and thoughts of all men.
—It is inconceivable that Jesus should not have considered the nature of human laws and of the state. Since he does not express himself in relation to them, and when questioned concerning them, dismissed the question, we must conclude that he purposely avoided the expression of his thoughts concerning them. He did not wish to appear in the character of a human law-giver, in order to be able to purge and sanctify more effectually the inward motives and sentiments of man. He therefore simply announced the memorable principle, not fully appreciated even in this day, of the separation and mutual recognition of the provinces of religion and the law: "Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's." So far did he go in his abstention from the formality of legislation, that even in his own province he published no law. He did not embody great religious truths in the cold and definite form of scientific dogmas, but conveyed them in living language addressed directly to his audience. He lighted a light in the world, and blew the flame in order that it might illumine the minds of his hearers. In like manner, he did not choose, in order to enjoin his moral precepts the more forcibly on men, the imposing language of the law, as did Moses, who, from the height of divine authority, spoke to the awe-struck people below but he went down into the deepest depth of the human soul, and from its chords struck notes that will never be forgotten. He illustrated his precepts practically, so as to render them intelligible to every one who was willing to seize them with a true spirit. The ordinary man, even a child, might understand him by the intuitive faculty common to all men; while the most profound thinker and the man of practical experience has never failed to discover some new points in the inexhaustible wealth of his parables.
—The religion which was alive in Jesus, therefore, neither proceeded from the state nor led to the state; it was essentially non-state, non-political. But this did not prevent Jesus from fully discharging all his duties as a citizen: his religion was not anti-state. In proportion as Jesus recognized the mission of his whole life to be a religious one, the more resolutely did he avoid all interference in matters of a merely temporal or secular character.
—II. The Religion of Christians. We may now inquire what is the relation of the religion of Jesus to the religion of Christians? The answer to this question differs according to the different epochs in the development of Christianity. Every epoch in that development has a character of its own. It is but in individual cases and in matters of lesser importance that we find traces of previous epochs in the epoch following, while we may sometimes discover in earlier epochs the germs or indications of those which come afterward.
—The original disciples and followers of Jesus, as well as all his apostles, were Jews. We know how hard it was for them to free themselves from the Jewish law and the political hopes of their nation. During the lifetime of their Master, they clung to the hope that he was their political Messiah as well; and after his death, their expectation of his promised return as the ruler and judge of the world, continued unabated. It was only reluctantly and gradually that they entered into personal intercourse and into full Christian communion with the uncircumcised gentiles. Had it not been for the dreadful though purely political punishment which the Romans inflicted upon Jerusalem, the Judaizing Christians would hardly have freed themselves entirely from the narrowness of the Jewish-Mosaic law and of their views of the world. It was after the temple of Jehovah at Jerusalem, and the Holy City itself, had been reduced to ruins, that Christianity, more liberal than Judaism, removed from the minds of its disciples the last vestiges of a narrowly national Judaism. From this time all were Christians, and there were none who could be called Judaizing Christians.
—It was only in the case of individuals—often in the case of distinguished Christians of later times, and not always in the case of men in whose veins Jewish blood still flowed, although frequently in such—that the theocratic character which had so forcibly been impressed by Moses upon his people, again became manifest. And now and then we meet, in the history of the church and of the different sects, with repeated attempts at establishing a legislated religion, partly Mosaic and partly Christian.
—The great, universal empire whose sway the Jews could not resist, was at that time the Græco-Roman empire. The Christian religion took its origin in Asia, but the state by which all the primitive Christians saw themselves surrounded, and which had power over them, was the European state with its essentially Greek philosophy and its Roman law. To this state, with its intellectual culture and its legal institutions, the primitive Christians whose numbers were increasing among the Greeks and Romans, as well as among all nations governed by the empire, were obliged to try to define their position. Within the whole range of this empire, religion was recognized as an institution of the state; its worship formed a part of the public law which the government established by its enactments.
—We can attribute to the Romans neither the same narrow feeling of nationality, nor the same spirit of intolerance in religious matters, as to the Jews. Their spirit encompassed the world, and they tolerated the different national gods, provided the Roman Jupiter and the Roman law were duly respected. What chiefly incensed the Romans against the Jews and Christians, was that these monotheists were not willing to take their place in the spacious temple of the state religion so rich in gods, and that the one God of the Jews and Christians could not possibly agree with the many gods of the Romans.
—Partly in conflict with the Roman state and its civilization, partly in connection with them, Christianity in the early centuries had its growth. As a new intellectual power based on divine revelation and affording a profounder insight into the deepest truths, while satisfying the "poor in spirit" much more perfectly than the philosophy of the Greeks could satisfy its cultured adherents—Christianity arrayed itself in opposition to the philosophy of antiquity, and gradually wrung from it the supremacy it had enjoyed. Yet, while engaged in this struggle, Christianity adopted from the philosophy of the times a variety of ideas, and attempted to infuse a spirit of its own into them. The schools of learning of Alexandria were, above all, the seats of both this antagonism and connection. The creed of Christianity now took the form of a philosophical system. It was from a fusion of the Christian faith with Hellenic culture, that the dogmatic theology of Christianity took its rise. By this fusion Christianity indeed gained in scientific consciousness and formal durableness. Yet, in the cold form of dogma Christian charity was lost, and the love of violent controversy and denunciation of the schools was propagated like an original sin in Christian theology. The state of antiquity and the welfare of nations suffered very greatly in consequence of the controversies carried on about the dogmas of Christianity.
—Dogmatic Christianity became a religion very different from the non-dogmatic religion of Jesus.
—The primitive Christians were naturally opposed to Roman polytheism, and expressed their opposition to it with great zeal, on many occasions. The majority of Christians saw in those pagan deities, not the personification of the external forces of nature, nor of the intellectual faculties considered as infinite, nor the apotheosis and worship of great men after death, nor the mere phantoms of the imagination and the cunning devices of artful priests; but they hated and abhorred those gods as powers of darkness, as wicked demons and devilish beings. Hence it was quite natural that their opposition to paganism should be turned into contempt for the state whose religion was branded as the devil's own work. The marked antagonism between the one God of the Christians and the many national deities of the Romans, turned into bitter animosity. These many gods had to be wiped out completely, in order that the one God might reign supreme.
—In spite of the persecution to which, during their struggles, the Christians were now and then subjected, and which a great many of the faithful coveted because they were anxious for the crown of martyrdom, the superior spirituality and truth of monotheism proved triumphant, and the ancient faith of the Romans which had been long cast aside by the educated classes, had finally to make way for the new gospel. But during these struggles and victories, the new religion of the world again took up a great deal of what was peculiar to the paganism which it had overthrown. It tried to inspire with its faith the forms, rites and symbols it had borrowed from the heathen. In the place of the Roman deities, who to them were but demons, they frequently substituted Christian angels and saints. The reverence even, which the Roman world was wont to give its deified emperors, and to which the Christians had been so zealously opposed, that the reverence due to God alone might not be wasted upon man, was replaced in the economy of the Christians, by the worship paid to the head and ruler of their spiritual empire.
—Of all this we can find no trace whatever in the religion of Jesus himself. As the union of Christianity with philosophy had changed the spiritual nature of the former, so the contact of Christianity with paganism first changed its outward form, and then exercised its influence on Christian dogma. Much that was heathen passed over to Christianity. We must not absolutely condemn the powerful influence which paganism exercised on Christianity. It was quite necessary that the customs and opinions of the people should, in the beginning, be treated with a certain regard and moderation, in order to win them over; and in the old traditions of paganism there were important educational factors which might be used advantageously by the new church. Christianity, to be a factor in the world's history, had to be ingrafted upon the ancient tree of Græco-Roman paganism. The former might transform the sap which circulated in the latter, but it could not stop its course. The new religion thus gained in sensuous freshness, in beauty, and in corporeality calculated to check its spiritual evanescence. It also gained in extent and popularity Yet there was danger that the pagan element in the new religion might threaten its deep spiritual life. We know from history, down to our own days even, how far from imaginary this danger has been; how frequently the lower classes especially, though not exclusively, have been exposed to it and have suffered from it.
—The attitude of early Christianity to the Roman law and the Roman state, was precisely the same as to Roman heathenism. The extremely selfish character of both, and their leaning toward absolute rule, were strongly opposed to the feeling of brotherhood and the spirit of sacrifice, the ideal of Christian life. The Christians hated this selfishness and love of absolute away, as embodying the power of evil on earth, a power from which they hoped to be liberated and saved. To a great many of the Christians the kingdom of this world was the kingdom of the devil, which was doomed to destruction, and on whose ruins the kingdom of heaven was at no distant day marvelously and triumphantly to rise. A large number kept as much as possible aloof from all participation in the life of the state. The non-political character which we have seen in the religion of Jesus was at the present period encouraged and strengthened to such a degree, that it soon assumed a character at war with the state. Though not all Christians followed this tendency absolutely, the Roman government was justified in maintaining that their religion weakened the patriotism of the Roman citizen.
—Yet, though the ancient government was on the decline, its foundations were too deep and too broad, and its superstructure too solid and firm, to allow it to go to utter destruction. It outlived the philosophies and religions of antiquity; and the new gospel was, after all, willing to accommodate it self to it as best it could. Christianity itself began to imitate its forms. The beginnings of the canon law supposed the law of Rome as a necessary foundation even where it changed and developed that law; and the Christian church, as the organized body of the faithful, formed a new constitutional system which, in many essential points, reminds us of the constitution of the Roman state. Rome, the ancient capital of the emperors, in which the unity of the world's empire had had, down to the time of Constantine, its sole centre, came into the foreground more and more as the seat of the most venerated bishop whose primacy secured, from the first, the unity of the new spiritual kingdom of the church.
—To sum up: The new religion of the Christians whose first zeal tended to excess, sought in vain to break loose entirely from the philosophy and religion as well as from the laws and government, the fruits of Græco-Roman civilization. Violent as the struggle between the old and the new order of things was, and although the latter, in essential matters, overcame the former, the religion of the Christians took in a great many of the elements of ancient civilization; and while it transformed the ancient order of things, it was itself, by way of reaction, internally changed in turn.
—The old non-political tendency of Christianity was wholly altered when, with Constantine, the state power which until then had been looked upon with distrust and enmity, went over to Christianity. The old hopes of establishing a purely Christian kingdom seemed now to be realized, although in a different way from what had been expected. The state itself came to be a Christian state, and the religion of Christianity came to be the recognized religion of the state. Instead of being separated from each other, as they formerly were, religion and the law were now mixed up with each other and permeated each other. The transfer of the central government to Constantinople, and the preponderance of Greek culture in the eastern empire, promoted the philosophico-dogmatical tendency of the young church; and the emperors, as the protectors and defenders of the orthodox faith, were ready to enforce political absolutism by religious edicts, and to coerce the people, by the secular power, into unconditional obedience to the doctrines and discipline of the church From being a people who had been persecuted, the Christians turned persecutors themselves. The paganism of the old world was to be rooted out everywhere, and every sort of heresy, even that newly arisen, was to be exterminated. Dogmatic controversies divided and excited parties against one another. They hated, and waged war upon one another, even to the death, for questions of abstract theology, concerning the solution of which good men might differ, and bad men easily agree, as, for instance, on the equality or the likeness of the Son and the Father. The wrangles and hatred of philosophical schools were intensified into the wrangles and hatred of theological parties, who thought they could secure the rule of the religion of eternal love by the eternal damnation of their opponents.
—The first Christian state was nevertheless an imperfect image of the Christian ideal. In its political character the Christian-Byzantine empire was but the slow decline of the old and more glorious, though pagan, Roman empire. Christianity, indeed, contributed to decrease somewhat its mummy-like torpidity, and to enliven the aged body by new ideas and interests. But this did not prevent death. Christianity itself, in the form of the Greek orthodox state religion, grew gradually torpid. Its close union with the absolute state, which was at first looked upon as the triumphant development of its empire, was the cause of its destruction. As the Greek empire of the east broke up, and was gradually conquered by the less civilized but healthier people of the east, so Greek Christianity had to give way before the inroads of the creed of Mohammed. The early seats of Christianity were conquered by Islam, in which, as was in keeping with the character of its founder and hence in a more decided manner, the same intermixture of religion and law was found, and which, more disdainfully even than Christianity, rejected all polytheism. It is well known that Mohammed felt the greatest reverence for the person of Jesus, although he failed fully to comprehend him, and that he had a higher opinion of the religious mission of Jesus than he had of his own, though he fully believed in the latter. But his monotheistic feeling rebelled against the religion of the Christians, in the form in which it then appeared to him in the cast. He looked upon it as a degeneration of the religion of Jesus, irreconcilable with the unity of God, and as an alliance with paganism which he so intensely hated.
—The lesson of history taught Europe by this first Christian empire is a most urgent warning against all Christian-polemical and absolutist-orthodox politics.
—Christianity attained a higher degree of development in the west. Rome and the Germans saved the Christian religion for the subsequent civilization of Europe. The principal seat of the Christian religion was transferred from Asia to Europe by Rome and the Germans. It became, in the first place, the religion of Europeans, in order that from Europe it might conquer the world, in the spiritual and intellectual order.
—Rome had ceased to be the political mistress of the world, but on the ruins of its political empire there arose, in Rome, the new rule of the church. The old imperial spirit of the holy city, a spirit which encircled the world, called into existence a new form of life. The Roman empire could no longer be governed from Rome, but the Christian church found in Rome its visible head. The city had ceased to be the residence of the emperors, but it became the residence of the popes.
—Both the Roman-Christian and the Greek-Christian religion started from the same point; they were, in the main, subject to the same influences and the same changes. In its orthodox doctrine, in its constitution, in its practices and teachings concerning the means of salvation, the former differed at first but little from eastern Christianity. Yet in spite of this close relationship its further progress was essentially different, and it met with a better fate. An exceedingly important advantage it had in this, that it was more independent of the government of the state. Even the distance of the Roman state from the imperial court was of great value in its emancipation. By developing the church into an independent organization, it brought into relief the principle of the separation of the church from the state; and insured, by insisting upon this principle, its progress and its life. The dualism of emperor and pope was the cause, indeed, of the most frightful contests in the Christian European world. Italy and Germany, in particular, were shaken to their very foundations by these struggles, and at the present day are suffering from their after-effects. And yet it is a fact, that the moral and intellectual superiority of modern European civilization over that of the rest of mankind, is due to the energy with which, for centuries, these two powers struggled to determine their true relation to each other. In the end each asserted its own independence, in all essential matters.
—For this reason, the admixture of political and ecclesiastical law, of politics and religion, in the west was not so great as it was in the cast; and hence, torpidity was not so much to be dreaded in the case of Roman as of Greek Christendom. Roman Christianity, too, wished to permeate the life of the state. It demanded orthodoxy from the emperor and the meanest subject alike. It persecuted heretics with a hatred no less intense, and inflicted penalties upon them severer even than the Greeks. It was no longer a non-political religion as in the days of early Christianity. But the community of the faithful, in the Roman church, was not a state church as the Greek church had been. The antithesis of the temporal kingdom and the spiritual kingdom, the latter non-political and the former non-ecclesiastical, was, though not always with full consciousness and in all its consequences, maintained; thus giving greater freedom of action to both religion and politics, and a better chance for their progressive development.
—Yet this development of Christianity did not reach its height until it came in contact with the Teutonic races. Rome was called to undertake the religious and scientific education of the still rude but morally strong Germans, and the latter in turn were to regenerate and reorganize the old Roman empire. While the eastern empire defended itself with difficulty against the inroads made upon it by the advance of the Asiatic races, and Greek Christianity was obliged to retreat before Islam, Rome won new glory by the series of victories it achieved, and gained new life.
—The formal rigor of the Roman system and the unity of Roman authority were necessary to hold together the German tribes, naturally inclined to isolation and independence; and to prepare and qualify them for their great task—the assumption and further development of the civilization of Rome and the religion of Christ. The Teutonic people seemed, at first, more willing to accept the Arian creed which better suited their native spirit of independence and which their understanding could better grasp, than the Roman Catholic creed. But the fact that the latter won the final victory is only another evidence of the surpassing greatness of Rome. To Rome's ancient and unitary power the intelligence of the Teutonic nations had, during the middle ages, to submit in order that they might entirely fulfill their mission. If Arianism had continued to govern among the Germanic races, then, considering the general state of affairs existing at that time, neither the Roman papacy nor the Roman-German empire would have attained its full development. And it is very questionable whether, in that event, the Christian religion itself, deprived of the mysterious sanction of divine authority, would have escaped the fate of so many philosophical schools and sects of the past, and whether it would have maintained its supremacy as the religion of the world.
—However, the Teutonic races did more than simply receive their civilization and religion from Rome. They, in turn, imparted to Rome safety, power and vitality. All the Teutonic tribes, and the Franks in particular, were very grateful to their Roman teachers. The Christian religion, too, gained in ardor and intensity of faith, in the manly courage of self-sacrifice and in strength of moral purpose. All these qualities were deeply rooted in the minds of the Teutonic people. The sentiments of the Teutonic races were, from the first, more religious than ecclesiastical, and leaned more toward political freedom than toward obedience to the state. After they had become Christians, they bowed in humble submission before the revealed God and his sanctuary, but, at the same time, they felt the vigor and independence of men, and asserted their temporal rights with a degree of firmness and fortitude that even defied the threats of the church. The Teutonic love of freedom yielded, of course, to ecclesiastical authority, but it could not be wiped out or destroyed by it.
—During the middle ages all Romanic and Germanic states continued to be Christian states in the sense exclusively of Roman Catholic Christianity. But the authority to which, in religious matters, even the state had to submit, was decidedly external to the state, in the Roman church. The church had been emancipated from the state; but the latter was held in spiritual bondage by the former. This shows the progress made by western Christianity as compared with eastern Christianity; but it also illustrates the intellectual minority of the state during this period, as compared with the states both in antiquity and modern times.
—It was against Roman Catholic Christianity in Europe that Islam, advancing aggressively from the east and southwest, had long to fight. But on the soil of Europe Christianity was victorious: it made Islamism retreat forever, and again began to spread over strange countries.
—From the heart of the Germanic nations which had conquered Rome and succeeded to the Roman empire, came that vigorous opposition to Rome which for centuries has divided western Christendom. The reformatory movement of the sixteenth century had a religious rather than an ecclesiastical character. Roman Catholic Christianity had become too formal, too external, too much an institution of the law, to suit the Germanic mind; and the moral sense of the Teuton rebelled against the glaring abuses attendant on its increasing worldliness. The men above all who were strongest in faith and moral conviction turned away, with minds dissatisfied, from the church of that period, and plunged into the purer primitive Christianity. In the holy scriptures they sought and found an authority which seemed to them more worthy of respect than the authority of the pope and the councils of the church. They freed themselves from the supremacy of the canon law. Drawing their inspiration from the primitive source of Christianity, they demanded that the moral and intellectual nature of man should be regenerated and reformed. To them the visible organization of the religious community was of secondary importance. For this reason they more willingly submitted, in ecclesiastical matters even, to the authority and power of the state, in which they revered a divine power whose moral basis they most emphatically insisted on.
—The dissension in European Christianity viewed from the stand-point of Christian unity, may be considered the greatest misfortune which ever befell the church; in its effects on the state, the sufferings it brought it are of minor importance when contrasted with the benefits secured to the state by it. By this dissension the state was, for the first time, freed from the unworthy wardship to which the church had morally and intellectually subjected it. The emancipation of the state from the church, in the intellectual order, was acquired for some states, immediately, by the reformation; and the way to it was prepared for others.
—All attempts to remove this dissension and to re-establish unity have proved futile; and what men could not change, they were, in the end, obliged to put up with. The anathemas hurled against the new heresy by the old church were as ineffectual as was the passionate fury of the Protestant leaders who stormed against the papacy as against the kingdom of antichrist. The persecution of religious parties, one by the other, caused extreme suffering to individuals, to whole families, towns and districts. The religious civil wars, the most unchristian vindication of Christianity conceivable, devastated whole countries, and brought great states to the brink of destruction. No nation suffered from this more than the German empire. But persecution changed the result as little as the more humane attempts at conversion in later times have been able to change it. In southern Europe and among the Romanic races, the Roman Catholic religion maintained its preponderance; while in the north of Europe, and among the Teutonic nations, Protestantism came into permanent power.
—In our days a large number of the theologians on both sides still hope that the power of truth, inherent in their own particular creed, may in the end be able to overcome that of their opponents. How often has it been proclaimed by the one party that the dissolution and end of Protestantism was at hand, while the other asserted that the rotten structure of the Catholic church could not resist the slightest blast, and would go to pieces in a very short time. History thus far has proved the deceptiveness of all such expectations. Hence there is hardly a thoughtful statesman who still entertains such a belief. Neither the intellectual power nor the outward might of either communion is strong enough completely to overcome the other and keep it in subjection. If, in the history of the future, the whole of Christendom should become again united, it will not be before the incrustated forms have gone through a process of purification, in which the impure elements which have crept into both systems and forms of faith will be cast out, and what is best in both be preserved and combined. Yet our times do not favor such a development. The living generation will have to put up with the opposing Christian bodies as they are. History, however, teaches the important lesson that every effort to renew religious persecution and the religious wars of the past deserve just condemnation, not only because of their evils and terrors, but also because they are irrational and hence can not possibly be successful.
—By promoting peace between the different denominations, and thus rising above the mere denominational standpoint, the state maintains its moral and intellectual independence in relation to these denominations, and rewards, in the noblest way it can, the great services rendered by Protestantism and Catholicism in the education of nations and the humanization of politics.
—Protestant Christianity introduced no new idea of law, nor did it establish a new power as opposed to the state. In its jurisprudence and organization the old church remained far superior to Protestantism. But in successfully freeing itself from the authority of the canon law, Protestantism taught the state that the government itself was, in matters of law, the highest authority. And even the states, which remained Catholic in all else, began to realize their independence of the authority of the canon law, and asserted their own supreme authority, when necessary, as against the latter. While the Germans took the lead in those innovations which were religious, the French were the first to introduce those which were political.
—The Christianity professed during the last centuries by states, was entirely different from the Christianity of the middle ages. Though at first the majority of the states passionately favored denominational exclusiveness, some of their were, from the beginning, obliged to allow different denominations to assert themselves, and all of them learned in time and by experience, that in all confessions there was Christianity, but that in none of them exclusively did Christianity reside. The Christianity of the more modern states thus became more liberal, broader and more tolerant, and the state became less and less willing to draw the sword at the bidding of ecclesiastical authority. Religion was obliged to rely more on its inherent moral power. When we impartially compare this new development of Christianity with the religion of Jesus himself, we may confidently say that it corresponds to the real nature of the latter in a greater degree than any of its previous developments.
—A new phase of the relation of Christianity to the state and the law began during the course of the last century. The way was indeed prepared for it, in part, by the reformation; but in character it and the reformation are radically different. We may characterize it in a few words, by calling to mind Frederick the Great and the French revolution Frederick the Great who spared, indeed, the visible form of Christianity, but who, as a philosophical statesman, renounced not only all particular Christian confessions, but the Christian religion itself, and the French revolution which enthroned reason as the goddess of the future, and rejected Christianity as a despicable superstition and persecuted it as an unpatriotic religion.
—We may explain some of the closing events of the French revolution, especially the persecution of the Christian priests and the closing of Christian churches, by the state of insanity caused by the revolutionary fever which robbed the French people of their senses. Other events, however, such as the negation of Christianity in the state and the law, were certainly not the mere expression of violent excitement under which the people labored; but had, long before, been proclaimed in well-considered works embodying the sentiment of the age, by the leaders of French literature, by Voltaire, Rousseau, and the encyclopædists. Views like these, tempered sometimes by a poetical or traditional respect, we frequently find in the works of the best German poets. Not only modern philosophy, but all the other sciences asserted their independence of religious authority, and the state which encouraged this tendency shared the benefits of this intellectual freedom in science. People also began to grant political rights to the followers of other creeds. Everything in the olden laws which had assumed a specifically Christian form, was gradually expunged.
—There is no denying it: we have here to do, not with momentary impulses and the aberrations of individuals, but with a feature characteristic of the time. An entirely new epoch, in decided contrast with the whole period of the middle ages, toward the close of the latter, and following the reformation, dawned upon the world. And this is a fact which must be fully comprehended before we can judge its true character. Throughout the middle ages, although the church and the state were separated, religion and politics were closely and indissolubly united. The human law of the middle ages was derived directly from the law of God. From Heaven came the sword of the power which the emperor wielded. The unmistakable tendency of modern times, on the other hand, is to effect the separation of religion and politics, and to frame human laws with human freedom and with human consciousness of self. This separation and this giving of a new basis to law have already gone through various phases of development. It is no easy matter for nations to come to a clear understanding of fundamental principles; and it is still more difficult for them to put their ideas into practice. Hence, it is not surprising that we should meet with a great many errors, a great deal of passionate exaggeration. And we should not mistake extreme phenomena in history, to which the current of events may give rise, for the predetermined cause of history itself.
—The extreme hostility of the French revolution to Christianity is now generally understood and duly branded as devoid of all reason, and as highly unjust. But the emancipation of the state and the law from all compulsory authority of religion, not excepting even that of Christianity, continues one of the chief characteristics of all modern politics. The permanent tendency of the age, in the emancipation of the state and of law, is not anti-Christian as it would seem, if we single out certain isolated events which show opposition to Christianity. For this tendency is directed toward the assertion, in both law and politics, of the temporal and human. And to that extent the state is no longer Christian in the sense of the middle ages, though it more fully agrees with the primary idea of the religion of Jesus than the form of Christianity that succeeded it. To the great good of religion Jesus himself had effected that very separation which it is the effort of modern times to effect for the welfare of the state.
—The fear of many of the adherents and the hope of many of the opponents of Christianity, that this tendency of the state and the intellectual struggles connected therewith may be injurious to the Christian religion, have already been proved to be without foundation. We do not conceal from ourselves the fact, that among the part of civilized mankind within the pale of Christianity, the differences of denominations and sects is greater than ever before; though this fact is of little importance as compared with the great difference between Christians and non-Christians, which latter difference, since the days of early Christianity, has never been more marked. Yet an impartial view of the more recent development of the religious sentiment will show that the spirit of the Christian religion is strong enough to repel even the extreme dangers which probably might arise from this division, and that it has now more vitality to spread its influence among the nations than ever before.
—In consequence of these struggles the dormant energy of the faithful has again been awakened; and the nations of Europe, while they may, perhaps, not have become in the same degree more ecclesiastical, have certainly become more religious than they were about 80 years ago. Even the opponents of Christianity now speak in more respectful terms of its historical importance and its spiritual wealth, than was the fashion during the last and at the beginning of the present century. Though a great many matters of external detail, and other matters of minor importance had to be sacrificed, the religious depth and truth and moral forces of Christianity became apparent whenever attacked by criticism. And whatever progress the human mind made in other domains, domains peculiarly its own, admit it we must, that Christianity had the moral and religious capacity to keep pace with that progress. The opinion that modern civilization might dispense with Christianity, because it had outstripped the latter, was able for a time to deceive even reasonable and honest men; but it had, in the end, to give way to the evident truth that, in the primitive idea of Christianity there is a wealth and power which, vast as its development may have been, has not yet reached its highest expression, much less been exhausted. Christianity hitherto, from the time of the early churches down to our own day, has, on closer examination, shown itself far below its ideal, the religion of Jesus. This fact has renewed in the minds of a great many the hope that it is not in the present but in the future that true Christianity will be fully realized, and attain its full efficiency.
—The Christian population is estimated at about 30 per cent. of the population of the world.
—The spread of Christianity still continues through both Catholic and Protestant missions, through the influence of commerce and the political power of Christian nations. The most determined opposition brought against it is, besides that of Judaism—which in recent times, however, has shown some points of resemblance to Christianity—that of the religions of Islam and Brahma; the former conscious of its intense monotheism, the latter, of its pantheistic, speculative background, of its ancient traditions transmitted for thousands of years by its castes, and of great thought and institutions. But the course of Christianity through history is, after all, one of victory and glory. The fact that the nations enjoying the greatest political power and freedom, and the leaders of mankind, profess it, that they have both the power and the courage to subject all parts of the globe and all mankind to its supremacy—this fact encourages Christian missionaries, religious and lay, to overcome all obstacles, and aids them in raising Christianity above all other creeds, as the supreme and universal religion of the world.
—III. The Christian State. After this historical survey, we have no difficulty in answering the question which is so much a subject of controversy, concerning the Christian state.
—If the meaning of the Christian state be that it is a state whose true lord and sovereign is Christ, and which is to be governed by a hierarchy, according to the teachings of the Bible, or by religious traditions and inspiration, as illustrated in the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century, and the Mormons of the nineteenth century, then this theocratic idea of the Christian state, wholly at war, alike with the ultimate idea of Christianity and the historical development both of the Christian religion and the state, must be absolutely rejected.
—The mediæval idea also of the Christian state, which treated non-Christians as beings without rights, and which subordinated its legislation to the authority of the church, is no longer in keeping with the progress of civilization. The modern state recognizes the civil rights of non-Christians also. Their civil rights it recognizes completely, and it tends more and more to extend their political rights, while it maintains its attitude of perfect independence of all authority outside of it. What Christian governments demand of the Ottoman sovereign, that he should respect his non-Christian subjects as entitled to all the rights of citizenship, they must grant their own subjects who are not Christians. The modern state can, therefore, no longer be exclusively Christian. But, inasmuch as it is more humane, it is more in harmony with the primitive idea of Christianity than the exclusively Christian state. Our logic here, however, must not be pushed to the extreme of rejecting and condemning every traditional deviation from this principle, when that deviation is rooted in the minds or in the circumstances of the people. We can only point out the end toward which the modern state is tending; the way leading to that end is determined by the traditions of history.
—If by the expression Christian state is meant simply a state which is conscious that the Christian religion is the religion of its people, of the majority of its people, or of the nobler component part of its people; a state which recognizes, besides, that the Christian religion is a fundamental condition of its own development, and one of the chief elements of progressive civilization, and which lives up to and acts upon this consciousness: then we may unhesitatingly call all states which in former times were exclusively Christian in the narrow sense, Christian states. And in this acceptation, the expression Christian state has an important meaning. But in this acceptation of the expression, only the indirect importance of Christianity to the state, not the direct rule of Christianity in the state, is recognized.
—IV. The indirect influence of Christianity. This influence on the state is indeed most important and wholesome. The power and purity of this influence are rather increased than lessened, by the fact that Christianity seeks to exert no direct influence in the province of law.
—With the dogmatic differences of the different Christian denominations, the state in principle has nothing to do. Their existence is felt by the state, when the internal warfare of the churches and sects begins to threaten the public peace. When this happens, the state interferes, and maintains the order and dignity of the law, as in any other case. But it is of the greatest importance, when the action as well as the welfare of the government and its general relation to its citizens are considered, that the faith in a personal God and his government of the world which Christianity teaches, should be at work as a living agency among the people, and among those interested in the management of public affairs. This faith keeps together by its spiritual bonds what, but for it, would go to pieces. With this faith the unity of the order of the world and its dependence on God are recognized; without it, the resolving of the whole into its elements, and the anarchy of passion, are the threatening danger in the near future.
—Much greater, in many ways, is the direct influence of Christian morals on public law and the state. There are, indeed, certain percepts of Christianity applicable particularly, not to the political but to the religious conduct of the people, which are entirely outside the legal and political province of the state, and which the latter can not possibly acknowledge as rules and conditions by which it should be governed. The counsel, appropriate enough, in the case of Christian missionaries, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow," would be a very inexpedient rule when applied both to the political and private economy of man. The percept directed against the uncharitable condemnation of others, "Judge not that ye be not judged," should certainly not influence the courts, in their administration of public justice. The highest commandment of Christian love and humility, "Love your enemies; bless and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you," * * * "But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right check, turn to him the other also "—can not, though sublime as characteristics of religious sentiment, be made to serve as a principle of public policy or political morality.
—The state must gratefully acknowledge its obligations to Christian morality for having purified and ennobled its own life. We would call attention to the following points: 1. It had a great share in awakening and spreading among the people the sense of human dignity and honor. Since it brought men, as the children of the Lord, nearer to the divine Father, the value and dignity of human nature could not so easily be disregarded as it was in antiquity, previous to Christianity. 2. Looking on men as the children of God, Christianity brought to men the consciousness of their equality and fraternity in relation to one another. Acting as a liberating force on all, even on the lowest classes, the slaves, it gave a new foundation to the liberty of all, and where it did not give such liberty a new foundation, it strengthened it. The liberty of Christianity is, indeed, different from that of the French constitutions. It does not do away directly with existing legal relations, but by its moral power it transformed the face of Europe, and had a large share in the progress of European civilization. 3. As it has raised the standard whereby the rights of the subjects in the monarchies of the old world were measured, without revolution, it also limited and refined the outward appliance of the governmental power, without weakening that power itself. And it has effected this by reminding rulers of their accountability to the Supreme Ruler whose judgment they can not escape, and by demanding of them that they should respect their subjects as their brothers in Christ. 4. Finally, it has revealed the affinity of all the races of the earth; and while it has, in opposition to the narrow spirit of nationality, insisted on the unity of the human species, it has become the source of a purer morality in the international law of the civilized world. In the humanizing process to which Christianity subjected legal institutions and relations, it preceded the state whose governing principle it anticipated and expressed in its religious creed. What the state learned gradually to understand and carry out as a human duty imposed upon it, the religion of Jesus looked upon from the first as a Christian duty. The Christianity of later days may sometimes have forgotten this duty, or may have tried to fulfill it in an improper way. But the consciousness of this duty was never afterward entirely lost.
—In all these respects, the purifying and refining influence of Christianity has shone conspicuously. In proportion as nations come to understand human nature, they will respect the religion which has guided them in their intellectual advance and infinitely promoted their civilization. On this account, the state, although now conscious of itself and grown independent, will, in the future, take into consideration the moral demands Christianity may make, and so far as its laws and power permit, try to grant them. The religion of mankind and the politics of mankind—each adhering to its own principles—will continue in close and friendly reciprocal relations, and thus united they will best promote the welfare of the human race.
MAX. EBERHARDT, Tr.
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