THE opinion is freely expressed that Protestantism is a spent, force, and that the Christianity of the future, whether it is to count for much or little in civilization, will be Catholic Christianity. My object in this article is to examine this opinion. I shall confine myself to the English-speaking nations, which are the backbone of Protestantism, and I shall deal chiefly with my own country, because I know it best.
The easiest, but not the most sat isfactory, way of determining whether Catholicism is increasing at the expense of Protestantism is to count heads, comparing one census with another. But we have no religious census, and statistics are not available. There is a very thin trickle of conversions to the Church of Rome; and, though it is generally true that from Catholicism, as from Epicureanism in antiquity, there is no return, an appreciable number of converts come back. I have myself known five clergymen who have done so.
In the United States there has been a flood of immigrants from South Ireland, Italy, and Poland, increasing the Catholic population. Such information as I have received does not lead me to think that conversions there have been very numerous, and it is probable that the American government will, in the future, discourage immigration from the less advanced European nations.
Too much has been made of the greater fecundity of Roman Catholics as compared with Protestants. It is true that the priests condemn, and endeavor to prevent, the voluntary restriction of the family; but in these intimate relations of life men and women are apt to be refractory to priestly dictation. In the two most civilized Catholic countries of Europe, France and Belgium, the birth-rate is actually lower than in Protestant countries; the exhortations of ecclesiastics have been quite impotent to check a movement which in Belgium is necessitated by the saturation of the country with population, in France by the system of small proprietorship.
A high birth-rate always indicates a low state of civilization; the law is exemplified in Ireland, in South Italy, in Poland, and in other Catholic countries. It is certainly no accident that Catholic countries have remained in a backward condition; and, where free immigration is allowed, the Catholic workman, with his low standard of living, may squeeze out the Protestant; but the same deficiency in education and in the industrial virtues, which keeps Catholic populations on a low level, also prevents them from being fully industrialized; or, if they become industrialized, they throw off Catholicism. Hence no genuinely Catholic country has been able to support a dense population. Rapid multiplication is found only among the submerged sections of industrial communities and among agriculturists in half-empty countries. In neither case has religion much to do with the large family. Examples of the last-mentioned case are furnished, not only by the Catholic French Canadians, but by the Protestant Boers, and by the English settlers in North America in colonial days. In the eighteenth century there is reason to believe that the New Englanders increased as rapidly as do the French Canadians now. There was then no motive for restricting the family. It is a mistake to suppose that the Australians and New Zealanders arc not increasing rapidly. Their birth-rate is higher than in England, and their death-rate is the lowest in the world.
The threatened decay of the Nordic race, of which some American writers have given timely warnings, certainly affects the problem of the future of Protestantism. But I am not such a pessimist as to believe that the AngloSaxon stock will ever be swamped by the residuum of the ‘Mediterranean’ race in England; I shall assume that England will remain the land of the English. Taking this for granted, I wish to consider whether there is any likelihood of my countrymen reverting to Catholicism.
Many will point to the Catholic revival within the Church of England, which has even influenced the Presbyterians of Scotland, and a few Free Church congregations in England. The change which has come over the Church of England within my lifetime is truly remarkable. The Anglo-Catholics have now captured the machine, and in the Province of Canterbury (not at all to the same extent in the North) have imposed their doctrine and their ritual upon perhaps the majority of the parishes. They have annexed nearly nil the theological colleges, and dominate church assemblies and diocesan conferences. Nevertheless, I believe that the importance of this movement has been greatly exaggerated. It has been from the first a theory of the ministry rather than of the Church, and its hold on the mass of the laity is weak. It looms large in ecclesiastical politics by its characteristic zeal and adroitness in organization and party management. Its propaganda work in the universities is as clever as that of its models in the Roman Church. It makes several powerful appeals which will be noted presently. But it has not prevented the rapid decline, both in quantity and quality, of ordination candidates, or the progressive loss of prestige and influence which the Church of England has suffered since the movement began. In spite of the admirable work of the Anglo-Catholic clergy among the poor, there is probably no constituency in the kingdom, except perhaps the universities, in which a parliamentary candidate would think it worth while to bid for the AngloCatholic vote.
The movement has obvious weaknesses if, indeed, illogicality is a drawback in dealing with Englishmen. A schismatical Catholic Church is a contradiction in terms. It cannot enforce the military discipline which is of the essence of Catholicism. It is lawless and contumacious. Its priests manage to combine a superstitious reverence for the episcopal office with an entire readiness to slap the face of the particular bishop to whom they have promised canonical obedience. In this attitude they show themselves good Englishmen, but bad Catholics. The Englishman is reasonable and law-abiding enough if he is approached in the right way; but if he is told that anything is verboten, whether it be to wear a chasuble or to drink a glass of beer, his first impulse is to go and do it. This is not the stuff out of which real Catholics are made. The movement has already lasted longer than was generally expected, and externally it appears more flourishing than ever; but it will probably end by enriching Protestantism with such romantic and aesthetic accessories as are compatible with its principles; the real Catholics will end by joining t he Church of Rome. The struggle of the future will be between the great Catholic Church and the allied or loosely federated Protestant churches.
In endeavoring to predict which side the English people will take in this conflict, we must go deeper, and consider whether the well-defined modern type of civilization, which has developed in those countries that are politically and socially most advanced, — France, the United States, England, Canada, Australia, and Argentina, — is compatible with Roman Catholicism.
Historically, Catholicism is the religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity had its origin in Palestine; but before the end of the first century it had been finally rejected by the Jews, and had been launched upon its career of conquest in the Græco-Roman world. The least Oriental of all religions, it has never appealed to Asiatics. Semitic Christianity — what there was of it — fell an easy prey to Islam, while the Jews held fast by the religious traditions which kept them a nation, though a nation without a country. Catholicism began as an imperium, in imperio, a society which the secular power, now passing into the Byzantine type of absolutism, justly regarded as dangerous, and attempted, in a stupid and half-hearted way, to suppress. Hardened by persecution, and stiffened in conflict with heresy, the Church, at the beginning of the fourth century, was a formidable militant organization, with which the Empire, after a last attempt to crush it by violence, was compelled to come to terms.
The Catholic Church split, like the Empire, into a Greek and a Latin branch. But while the Eastern Church remained the right hand of the imperial power, subordinate to it and in close alliance with it, in the West the secular power crumbled and collapsed, leaving the Church supreme. The former, the Byzantine type of theocracy, survived till lately in Russia; the Western Church has steadily developed, in accordance with the inner logit; of its principles, into an autocratic, militant empire, claiming universal sovereignty. It is a Mediterranean religion through and through. It absorbed the ancestral paganism of the Southern European peoples, who have remained far more pagan than their service-books, as anyone who has traveled in the Moditerranean countries must have observed. Catholicism corresponds to the idea of religion in the South of Europe; it still suits the people, when they wish to be religious at all. No other type of Christianity is attractive to the Mediterranean race.
But it has never suited the Nordics, who rejected it as soon as they developed a national life and self-consciousness of their own. The Northern races were willing to go to school in Italy, to learn the arts and sciences; but they did not, like the South, think it a law of nature that they and the whole world should be subject to Rome. Before the end of the Middle Ages, Englishmen had begun to claim that ‘this realm of England is an empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one supreme head and king, having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial crown of the same.’
An ‘empire’ at this time had nothing to do with overseas dominion; the word implied simply complete independence of the Holy Roman Empire. So in relation to the Papacy: ‘The Church of England hath always been thought, and is at this hour, sufficient and meet of itself, without the intermeddling of any exterior powers, to administer its own offices and duties.’ The nation which thus formulated, in sturdy English fashion, its determination to manage its own affairs, both sacred and secular, is no more likely to submit to an Italian priest than to a German Kaiser.
This spirit of independence is absolutely irreconcilable with Catholicism. When Hobbes called the Roman Church the ghost of the Roman Empire, he was speaking the literal truth. Harnack quotes the verses in which a Roman prelate fired the enthusiasm of Gregory VII in his struggle against the imperial power.
Marius and his soldiers brave,
Or by Julius’ mighty sway,
Romans did their land to save,
Thou canst do by simple word;
Great the Church’s holy sword.
Offers all thy meed of praise;
Not for Scipio’s victory
Did it louder pæans raise;
Nor entwine the laurel crown
For a deed of more renown.
And he asks, ‘Who is it that is thus addressed, a bishop or a Cæsar? A Cæsar, I imagine; it was felt to be so then, and it is still felt to be so to-day. It is an empire that this priestly Cæsar rules, and to attack it with the argument of dogmatic polemics alone is to beat the air.'
The Roman Church is the last survivor of political autocracies. It claims universal dominion; it treats all dissentients as rebels; ‘schism’ is high treason. Accordingly, every true Catholic is only conditionally a patriot in the nation where he lives, and the conditions are of the political, not of the moral, order. The Catholic Church is an ‘ International,’ like the conspiracy of the Communists. It is everywhere a powerful solvent of state loyalty, though in certain countries, such as Ireland and Poland, it finds its interest in fomenting sectional animosities, and inciting one part of a political aggregate to separate itself from the rest. In this way it increases its hold upon the discontented province, without really identifying itself with the cause of the insurgents. For it is the continuance of rebellion which it desires; in Ireland, for example, the priests have hitherto wrecked every attempt at a settlement, except the last, and in face of the new situation they have not yet defined their policy.
In great struggles, such as the late war, the natural sympathies of the Vatican are anti-democratic; CæsaroPapism is the form of government under which the Church could flourish most easily. It can, however, up to a certain point, show sympathy with Labor against Capital, and advocate a kind of Christian Socialism. Nevertheless, since the revolution is fiercely antiChristian, and since private property cannot be successfully attacked without destroying the monogamous family, a limit is set to the possibility of a rapprochement between the Church and militant Socialism. A rival International, such as the Bolsheviki wish to establish, could not be tolerated; quite consistently, the Church forbids Catholics to have any dealings with Bolshevism.
The Roman Catholic Church was not the creation of the Middle Ages: it was the last creative achievement of classical antiquity. But it was the determining force of mediæval civilization, which was essentially a civilization of subordination and authority. At the summit of the hierarchy stands the ‘supernatural’ — the active power of God, which is conceived as intermingling constantly, by means of miracle and the charisma veritatis vested in the hierarchy, in the affairs of the world. The ‘Law of God’ is composed of the Law of Moses revised by the Law of Christ, the Law of the Church, and the Law of Nature, under which much of the Stoic ethics was preserved by the Catholic Church. The model life, that of the ascetic monk or priest, is not imposed upon all; but those who accept the freer life of the world must not aspire to meddle with the government of the Church. Authority comes from above, as in all autocracies; each grade is responsible only to its superiors.
The idea of progress has no place in this scheme. No importance is attached to the discovery of new truths. Even scientific discoveries are accepted only with the greatest reluctance. The object of education is to protect the minds of the young from the influence of secular ideas which might disturb the compact framework of dogmatic belief. The children are imbued with a horror of ‘heresy,’ which, it is hoped, may be permanent. Even adults are not allowed to browse as they will among modern literature. The index librorum prohibitorum is characteristic of a purely authoritative religion. In the latest edition of this interesting document, Dante’s De Monorchia, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Grotius’s De lure Belli et Pads have at last been removed; but the forbidden list still includes Kant, Descartes, Spinoza, Comte, Mill’s Political Economy, von Ranke, Victor Hugo, and Balzac.
Speaking generally, the most characteristic thinkers of modern times are banned as poisonous.
The Vatican, with a courage and candor which may even move the envy of mealy-mouthed Protestants, declares war against modern civilization in the most uncompromising manner. The Papal Syllabus of 1864 declares: ‘If anyone says that the Roman pontiff can and ought to reconcile himself and come to terms with progress, with liberalism, and with modern civilization, let him be anathema.’ Undeterred by its unfortunate declaration about Galileo, out of which it has recently shuffled with no good grace, the infallible oracle in 1877 pronounced that the system of Darwin is ‘contradicted by history, by the tradition of all peoples, by exact science, by observed facts, and by reason itself; it is in fact not worth refutation.’ There is more in this attitude than mere reluctance to accept any teaching not stamped by the ecclesiastical mint. The Catholic universe of truth is static. As Newman says: ‘The Fathers anathematized doctrines because they were new; the very characteristic of heresy is novelty and originality of manifestation. I need not insist on the steadiness with which that principle has been maintained ever since.’
The attractions of Catholicism are numerous and potent. In the first place, it makes a strong appeal to loyalty and esprit de corps, one of the most fundamental instincts of humanity in its efforts for self-preservation. ‘ Melius est ut units pereat quam unitas’ is a Catholic maxim. The word ‘Church’ has properly no plural. The disciplined enthusiasm and self-devotion which that Church demands, and often obtains, are essentially of the military order, and as effective as militarism always is in this world of strife. The Catholic corps of janissaries — the celibate priests and monks — has won many victories over less disciplined opponents, and the whole corporation is filled with a more than Roman pride in its citizenship of a conquering empire.
Next, Catholicism is a religion of the traditional, human sort. It is in touch with human nature at almost all points, and especially with those deep-rooted racial habits of thought and belief which are discredited by modern culture. Men and women — especially women — still love magic and miracle and wonder-working sacrament; they like their religion to be full of interest and incident; they like it to be even amusing. Catholicism has taken art and music into its service, and its ceremonies awaken that glow of reverence for sheer antiquity which, though difficult to analyze, is not an ignoble emotion.
Here is an institution which stands where it did when the Britons painted themselves blue, and when America was the unknown hunting-ground of wandering savages.
It is also a definite religion. Liberal Christians are apt to think that the residuum which they have strained out of ‘the best that has been said and thought in the world’ is the essence of true religion. They prefer sometimes to be honorary members of all religions, rather than adherents of one. But it is no more possible to be religious without belonging to any particular religion than it is to speak a dialect which is no language in particular. The religion of all sensible men is as great a failure as Esperanto. Like Esperanto, it is suited only for congresses of religions, of which nothing comes. The impossibility of inventing a new religion is generally acknowledged. One might as well try to build a tree.
Further, Catholicism gives expression to the mystery and pathos of human life. In moments of grief and anguish, when the soul craves comfort, not reason, the Church is at hand with its well-tried anodynes. When a Protestant loses his self-reliance, and cannot feel the hand of God over him, he is plunged in despair; but the Catholic abases himself, ceases to struggle, and finds relief.
Lastly, in this world of practical Pragmatists, it counts for much that Catholicism is an art which makes good its claims. One might say brutally: there is only one thing against Catholicism — it is an imposture; and there is only one thing in its favor — it works.
Soldiers in the field noticed how much more direct and effectual was the influence of the Roman priests over the average soldier than that of the Protestant ministers. I have myself handed over to the charge of Anglo-Catholic priests cases where the patient was struggling in vain against a degrading vice. Their methods would be in part such as I could not conscientiously use myself; but they would be more likely to effect a cure. Protestants who have gone over to Rome are in the habit, of boasting of their happiness. We may think such happiness is too dearly bought; but the offer of happiness is a strong inducement to most people.
As against these attractions and the prestige of a venerable and august institution, what is to be said for Protestantism? At first sight, the condition of the Reformed churches, split up into a hundred sects, undisciplined and chaotic both in organization and doctrine, may seem almost contemptible. A half-way house between faith and unbelief — such is the opinion which Catholics express about us. They think that we shall die out like the Arian heresy, which for several generations seemed to show great vitality.
But this is not a judgment which a student of national character would easily endorse. Catholicism sat like a sister of mercy by the death-bed of its mother, the ancient culture. Protestantism was the nurse of a lusty child, modern civilization. Its affinities with the original Gospel are stronger than those of Catholicism, because Christianity began as a prophetic revelation in hostility to the hierarchy.
Christ and his apostles were laymen, and they preached a lay religion of personal devotion, with no human mediators. On this basis the Northern Europeans built up a system of worship and theology which suited their dawning national consciousness, as Catholicism suited the very different mentality of the Mediterranean race. They looked back for their credentials, but forward for their aspirations. Their religion, like their nationhood, was in the making.
Toward the making of their religion a large ingredient was supplied by the ethical ideal of the North, which is very different from the ideal of the South. The week-day religion of the ‘Goth’ is an ideal of valor and honor, of truthfulness and fair dealing. This type, perhaps we may venture to say, is seen at its best in the character of the English or American gentleman. It has been encumbered by alien accretions, such as an adventitious connection with heraldry and property in land; but in its essence it is a nat ional character quite distinct and recognizable, the ideal of all classes in the community for many centuries of its history. The one unpardonable sin in England is to be a ‘cad ’: that is to say, to fall short, in courage, personal honor, self-respect, truthfulness, generosity, and fair dealing. These are the qualities which have made the English race respected in the world, and if we lost them, we should have nothing else to fall back upon. We could not acquire the virtues of the Southern nations. The Italians, who are our very good friends, do not at all wish us to try to copy them; they like us better as we are. ‘An Italianized Englishman,’they say, ‘is an incarnate devil.’
The Northern ideal of chivalry, which is an integral part of our religion, is neither Jewish nor Greek nor Roman nor mediæval; but neither is Catholicism the religion of Palestine. It is compatible with Protestantism, which it has helped to mould; it is hardly compatible with Catholicism. The Catholic priest may be something higher than a gentleman; but a gentleman, qua Catholic priest, he is not. Frankly, he cannot be trusted to observe the code. Kingsley bungled his attack upon Newman’s truthfulness, and put himself in the wrong; but Kingsley had a sort of ‘horse sense’ that, there was something radically amiss, from his point of view, which was that of an English gentleman, in the operations of Newman’s mind. As another English critic said: ‘After reading Newman, I lose all power of distinguishing fact from fiction.’ And yet Newman was an honorable man, who would never have stooped to the tortuousness of many Roman ecclesiastics.
One example will illustrate the difference of ethical standard. A Roman Catholic, tried by a Protestant jury, would be secure of even-handed justice; but in Australia, I am told, it is very difficult to get a conviction against a Catholic, when any of his coreligionists are in the jury-box. I have not space to develop this argument in detail; but I think that all who have had dealings with Roman Catholics must recognize the wide divergence from the chivalric ideal which they display. This is not said in order to disparage the many fine qualities of the Catholic type. I maintain only that it is quite different from our own.
Accordingly, I agree with a brilliant American writer, Professor George Santayana, — who was caught by the outbreak of the war while traveling in England, and remained among us while we walked through the valley of the shadow of death, — that ‘the Englishman can never really be a Catholic, whether Anglican or Roman.’ Professor Santayana came to know us well; and, like Ambassador Page, whose name will henceforward be as much honored in England as in the office of the Atlantic Monthly, he acquired a warm and understanding sympathy and affection for the land and its people, in return for which we will allow him to laugh as much as he pleases at our oddities and absurdities, without taking offense. The Englishman, he says, can never really be a Catholic. ‘If he likes to call himself one, it is a masquerade, a fad like a thousand others, to which his inner man, so seriously playful, is prone to lend itself. He may go over to Rome on a spiritual tour, as he might abscond for a year and live in Japan with a Japanese wife; but, if he is converted really and becomes a Catholic at heart, he is no longer the man he was. Words cannot measure the chasm that must henceforth separate him from everything at home. For a modern Englishman, with freedom and experiment and reserve in his blood, to go over to Rome is an essential suicide; the inner man must succumb first. Such an Englishman might become a saint, but only by becoming a foreigner.’
Protestantism, as studied by Santayana, is ‘the natural religion of the Teutons (but we no longer use this word!) raising its head above the flood of Roman and Judæan influences.’ Its three leading motives are: to revert to primitive Christianity, to inspire moral and political reform, and to accept the religious witness of the inner man. Of these the third is the most essential; but it is its combination with the other two which makes Protestantism what it is.
Protestant asceticism consists in hard and productive work, work which tends to become an end in itself, so that in Protestant countries material achievement, sometimes of an unintelligent kind, outstrips the higher culture. But it enters into relations with secular civilization, its ideals and methods, in an entirely different way from Catholicism.
The emphasis laid, especially by Calvinism, on successful production as the normal way of serving God, fell into line easily with the material progress of modern times, and with the belief in progress as the will of God for the human race. It is easy to deride this ideal as a base degradation of the Christian hope, which is based on the Platonic vision of a perfect eternal world; it is easy to show that unending progress for humanity is a dream; easy, too, to brand Protestantism as the creed of the money-making middle class. But this is not the whole truth, nor half of it. The Protestant doctrine that the struggle is the prize is applied not only to tangible results, but to the pursuit of truth in all fields. When Lessing said that the search for truth was better than the unsought possession of it, he picked out, as Troeltsch says, that thread in the web of Protestantism which the modern world is eagerly weaving into its fabric.
Protestantism is the religion of the genuinely modern culture, the civilization of experimental science and hopeful political experiments. Now that it can feet its foothold, it has taken back to itself the humanism which it formerly mistrusted; and, resting itself no longer upon the verbal inspiration of the Bible, but on the inner light, the personal inspiration of the individual, which is its true foundation, it is willing to welcome every advance which philosophy, Biblical criticism, and natural science may make. This religion of personal revelation and conscience, as Troeltsch says again, basing itself upon history, but not petrifying history into dogma, is the form of religion which is homogeneous with and adapted to modern civilization.
I am, therefore, far from believing that Protestantism is a spent force. It must pass into new forms, but it can do this without breach of continuity, whereas Catholicism stands or falls with the Latin culture of the past. It is already conscious of standing in antagonism to modern civilization; and while this clearly defined hostility makes it the rallying-ground of those forces in modern life which resist the main currents of human thought, it is condemned, it seems to me, to fight a losing battle in the more advanced nations, and must content itself with the allegiance of peoples whom it can screen from contact with progress and enlightenment. The Romantic revival, which carried Catholicism once more into power during the reaction against the French Revolution, has not yet ebbed very far; but it has apparently shown all that it can do, and that is not very much. Even in Italy and Spain, not to speak of France and Belgium, clericalism is more like a permanent conspiracy than a dominant power.
A Protestant would be foolish to rejoice at the weakness of any branch of the Christian Church; and many may think that, though Mediterranean Christianity is in a bad way, Nordic Christianity is in a still worse case. But the comparison is not a fair one. The Catholic Church is an organized theocracy; its strength is that of a political aggregate. It is a religion, but many other things besides. Protestantism, on the other hand, uses the Church as a means, not as an end; the end is strictly independent of the fate of any ecclesiastical institution. Accordingly, it works like a leaven in society, mixing itself with every secular activity, and not trying to separate itself from the social life of the people.
The Protestant Church is the Christian part of the nation; it has (or should have — I am speaking of ideals rather than facts) no ‘interests’ apart from the highest welfare of the nation. Its triumphs are to be looked for, not in the return to Parliament or Congress of so many members pledged to support the policy of an international corporation, not in the splendor of its buildings or the circulation of its newspapers, but in the extent to which Christian principles are apparent in the life of the community. While Catholicism seeks to establish Catholic schools, colleges, seminaries, even Catholic libraries and hospitals, Protestantism makes no attempt to withdraw either children or adults from the atmosphere breathed by the nation at large. The result is institutional weakness; there is no ‘Protestant vote’ for candidates to buy by promises; but it would be a very shallow judgment to infer from this that Protestantism has no influence upon the life of the nation. It is an integral part of that life; few, I think, would say that Christianity as a moral force has less power in England or America than in Spain or Peru.
The danger of secularism is always present, and the best Catholics make, by their lives and teaching, a noble protest against it. There is perhaps less of the beauty of holiness in the Protestant saint. Nor can we deny that Protestant zeal too often runs off into silly ‘fads,’ which the maturer experience of the Latin races escapes. We are not comparing the two types in order to exalt one and disparage the other. Our object is to consider which of the two is most in harmony with the present currents of thought and life, and especially which of the two is most in accordance with the mentality of the English-speaking race.
And our conclusion is that these peoples can never accommodate them-
selves to Latin Christianity, but must develop their religion with reference to their own needs and their own character. These needs and this character prescribe a form of Christianity which may easily and justly appeal to the authority of its Founder.
For Christ always spoke to the hearts of individuals, never to men in the mass. Ho banished political methods from his teaching. He organized no institution, established no hierarchy, left no code of legislation or writing of any kind; He declared that from within, out of the heart of man, come all things that exalt or defile him; that we need no intermediaries in our access to our heavenly Father; that faithful service is the only test of discipleship; that private prayer in the bedchamber is the best form of devotion, and love of the brethren the fulfilling of the law.
This, we may venture to predict, is the Christianity of the future, as it was the first Christianity. It would not be helped by the adoption of Latin forms and ideals, which are alien to the character of our people; and it will not be hindered by giving a large place in our religion to the Northern code of honor, which must always be enshrined in the English heart, unless indeed our race is destined to decay.