Some Constructive Principles
A YEAR or so ago a very wealthy and successful business man told me that as soon as he could secure the time from his other enterprises he would turn his attention to the matter of the reconstruction of religion.
‘I shall,’ said he, ‘employ an efficiency expert and make a thorough survey of the condition of the churches in a given district. We shall find out why a greater proportion of people do not attend church services regularly, how the services can be made more attractive, their proper length, and the times most suitable for holding them. We ought to ascertain what should be scrapped in the way of outworn methods and effete organization and equipment. The churches should be put on a sound economic basis. Religion is a good thing, but something seems to be the matter with the churches. ’
‘It would be,’ I suggested, ‘a matter of some difficulty.’
‘Not at all,’ he replied. ‘It is simply a question of the employment of correct business methods. ’
I promised him the most hearty coöperation. But he has not yet secured the time from his other enterprises to begin the work. There is no doubt, however, that other business men are giving time and consideration to the problems of religion.
The break-up of the old theological systems and the old organizations of Protestantism, confidently forecast two years ago, has now reached a condition so advanced that men are already beginning to look forward to plans for reconstruction and ways for the salvage of such spiritual values as were held in the outworn institutions. The new form that religion will take in the modern world is already shaping itself. The World Conference in 1927 at Lausanne, the Conference on Comity of the Protestant churches at Cleveland which followed, and the various proposals for unity made by a number of the leading sects, and now under discussion, all indicate that the religious revolution has reached the stage of constructive enterprise.
One thing that threw Protestantism back upon its own resources was the Papal Encyclical of Pius XI. This very able but uncompromising pronouncement blocked the ideal of a complete Christian unity as a terminus ad quem that had haunted the imagination of many for the last fifty years. The Pope left no room for hope of concession from Roman Catholicism. ‘The whole of a man’s life,’ said he in effect, ‘would not suffice for an individual to investigate and settle for himself the problems of religion. Why throw open the subjects, long since settled by authority, to renewed debate? Let those who sincerely seek unity come unto me. Unity and peace will be found only in the acceptance of the authority of the Vicar of Christ.’ And the decided attitude of the British Parliament in rejecting the proposed revision of the Book of Common Prayer, because it contained provision for the reservation of the Sacrament, made it clear that a large and influential portion of the Protestant world had no mind to revert to anything remotely resembling Roman Catholicism.
The reconstruction of Protestantism, then, must come from within, if it is to survive as an organized institution. New forms must be found for the expression of its spiritual values and ideals. That Protestantism has spiritual values and ideals cannot be doubted. And that these are not adequately expressed by its present systems and organizations is certainly clear. Some analysis of these values and ideals should be made before any programme for reconstruction can be attempted. And it is doubtful even then whether the lines indicated will be the lines followed. In the history of religion, as well as in the history of politics, the logic of events is more likely to supply a statement of principles than a statement of principles is to influence the course of events. Philosophers deal rather with things already accomplished than with things not yet established. Men knew liberty after Salamis and order after the Punic Wars, not before. Still, nothing is ever done until the need of it is felt, and the need cannot be felt until it is expressed and the imagination stirred to stimulate action.
Protestantism was born with the spirit of liberty. It can no more revert to the papal authority than can the modern nations of the world reëstablish the defunct Holy Roman Empire. It grew out of the same causes that at the Renaissance accounted for the rise of nations. It was a creation originally of the modern State. Cujus regio illius religio. And the Calvinistic and Lutheran sects still bear the stamp of the governments by which they were established. At the later period, when the principles of democracy prevailed in governments, the sects which arose, the Congregationalist, Baptist, Methodist, and others, expressed in their systems the principle of democratic organization, which is the principle of individual liberty. It is true enough that the liberty the Protestant sects desired for themselves they readily denied to others, but in this they did little more than follow the political standards of their time.
And with the spirit of liberty and democracy Protestantism stands or falls. It has indeed the spiritual values and ideals of these great modern features of civil life, but it has also their difficulties and problems to solve. No one thinks that these difficulties and problems have yet been solved in the State, except the professional politicians for the occasions of partisan oratory. It is evident that they have not yet been solved in the churches.
But it is at least certain that Protestantism has produced a liberal scholarship which — in spite of a conservative opposition quite as intransigent as the frozen theology of Rome — has in the last half century illuminated the dark places of religion and freed the human mind of vast superstitions and absurd prepositions. The criticism of the Old and New Testaments was the work of Protestant scholars. And this has been accomplished without the sacrifice of moral or spiritual values. On the contrary, the acceptance of the conclusions, now very general, as soon as men’s minds were adjusted to them, advanced the cause of religious interest. Protestant scholars have put religion on a new and better basis. They, and they alone, have accepted the assured knowledge acquired by modern science in that spirit of openmindedness and untrammeled freedom in which lies the hope of modern thinking. The principles upon which Protestantism rests include the expectation that such knowledge will be open to every individual. It is true, perhaps, that in the process of liberalization too great stress has been laid upon criticism and too little upon the emphasis of a realization of spiritual ideals, but that period is probably now over. The work has been done. Religion cannot go back to the intellectual standards of the thirteenth century and to the dogmatism of the Summa of Saint Thomas for all the popes in history. It does not choose to do so. And compulsion in religion is obsolete.
There are perhaps two defects in the spirit of Protestantism that need to be recognized. These result from the conditions under which it struggled in the effort to acquire the qualities that are its chief glory. On the one hand, Protestantism has an overweening and unsophisticated trust in the power of legislation to accomplish spiritual results. This is a heritage of the age of Old Testament idealism, combined with the delight of unaccustomed minds in the making of laws. It is a crude survival. And, on the other hand, Protestantism is lacking in the sense of joy. Its chief emotional intensity is found only in the penitential aspects of religious experience. It delights in conversions, in repentances. It is very serious, very solemn, very gloomy in its religious exercises. It cannot understand humor in the treatment of theology. All gayety has in its eyes the suspicion of sin. Its very festivals are drab affairs. In this respect it contrasts sadly with the joy of the Catholic religion, which is always at its best on festivals, and whose theologians, with some exceptions, can see a joke. Now gayety is one of the four corners of the kingdom of God. But Protestantism, born amid the fires of the Inquisition, has a fear complex that mars its charm. And this spiritual defect is more serious than might at first be thought, for it means that Protestantism as a religion keeps itself apart from daily life. It becomes a thing for Sundays only and for cavernous gloomy buildings without color and without life. It bores children, and drives the worldly-minded only further away. It cannot appeal to the poetical and the artistic elements in humanity. These two things are spiritual defects that will be found even in the most liberal and the most democratic. There are exceptions, no doubt. Billy Sunday had a sense of humor, though he clung to law as a savage clings to his taboo, while Dean Brown, who presumably sees through the folly of prohibitive legislation, is as solemn as an owl. It is to be hoped that time and experience will cure such spiritual eccentricities.
The very real spiritual values of Protestantism, its love of truth and the freedom to assimilate truth, now that the old bondage which the Reformation ‘settlements’ imposed upon it has been destroyed, should be preserved and made increasingly available. If Protestantism is to accomplish this, it presumably will follow the lead of the State, which also is engaged upon a somewhat similar task. For the State seeks to realize the ideals of liberty and democracy and to encourage advancement in every department of life.
To accomplish this aim in America a greater measure of national unity is essential. At the present time the United States of America is scarcely a nation. It is a congeries of nationalities. The melting pot does its work but slowly, and every statesman feels that anything that can speed the sense of national unity is a gain in the direction of a national consciousness. But, curiously, the churches are the greatest obstacle to the elimination of divisive racial lines. It is the churches of the various races who have come to these shores that strive to keep alive the habits, customs, forms, systems, traditional prides, and even the languages of the ancient fatherlands from which their adherents came. Every sect harks back to its tradition of racial glory. The pastors use every device of foreign appeal to remind their congregations of remote splendors, real and imagined, by which loyalty to the religion, and consequently to the former region, the home government, can be stimulated. Some of the churches, indeed, maintain ‘Americanization’ departments and secretaries, but the idea they have of Americanization is too often an idea of conformation to the customs of the particular race to which the department belongs by its church affiliation. And just which race in America has the right to consider itself the hundred-per-cent-American race? The English? The German? One has as good a right as another. Mere length of residence and numerical superiority cannot validate such a claim in the formative period of our national existence. There is something to be said for and against each. And the only way to settle the matter is for each to dismiss its ancient memory and to merge for the accomplishment of a future ideal.
There are some things the mere elimination of which is not destructive, but constructive. To clear away rubbish is a necessary preliminary to building. The abolition of slavery was a constructive piece of statesmanship, if you regard it as the giving of liberty to men and not merely as the taking away of property from individuals. So the first thing the churches should do in America is to eliminate their peculiar racial traditions. The tercentenaries and sesquicentennials of the Dutch, the English, the Scandinavians, the Poles, the Lithuanians, together with the papal colors and the flag of the Irish Republic, might well be cast to the limbo of forgotten symbolism. Every semipiratical adventurer who carried a chaplain on his vessel and held a religious service on these shores in the pre-Colonial days was not necessarily a saint of God. And the pastors of the early days who advocated the extinction of the aborigines because they were heathen and not the chosen and elect people of the Covenant, who thanked the Lord piously on the arrival of slave ships from the African coast, are not deserving of veneration in the religious commemorative services of posterity. Most of the worthies of the past were not worthies at all. Their faults were greater than their virtues, and they would have killed others with cruel tortures as readily as they themselves were sometimes killed. We might well leave them behind in looking forward to better standards in the future of religion in America.
Constructive movements are already started for merging some of the larger denominations. Economically, in every sense of the word, such steps should be encouraged. But the problem of unity in the churches is more difficult even than the problem of unity in the State, inasmuch as the varieties of ideals and aims are more numerous and diversified. Unity can be accomplished only upon the basis of the lowest common denominator of agreement. But religions have flourished chiefly in the belief of their adherents that their peculiar possession of truth was a unique and esoteric thing. Financial pressure, however, may bring about a greater liberality of opinion and a more generous view of the possibility of others attaining to all that is valuable in religious conviction. The aim of unity is at least an ideal, and already a felt need.
What Protestantism needs most, however, is a technique of devotion. It has, in its intellectual aspect, specialized in correct ideas. Correct ideas are all right. They are important. But in religion they are not enough. In religion right feelings are more important than correct ideas. Moreover, the Pope was right: the masses of mankind have not yet arrived, and probably never will arrive, at a complete hold upon correct ideas. ‘The whole of a man’s life,’ as the Pope puts it, ‘would not suffice for an individual to investigate and settle for himself the problems of religion. ’ It cannot be done, and is seldom attempted. It is a work for pale professors in theological seminaries, embittered by indigestion. The man in the street cares nothing for the differentiation between the mythology of Genesis and the philosophy it may enshrine. What he needs is a sense of being ‘right with God’ and a kindly attitude toward his neighbor. Protestantism has exhausted itself in finding out the errors. Ask the average Protestant what he believes, and he will begin at once a list of the things he does not hold with. His feelings, when he has any, are almost purely negative.
For on the emotional side the old crude methods by which Protestantism sought to sustain religious emotion are worn-out. They belonged to a low state of civilization. It is only in the backwoods that a sensational exhorter can any longer drive crowds of Methodists and Baptists into a condition of excitement so that many of them will wallow on the ground and bark like dogs, go into trances and shout out their sins in public. Civilization, the newspapers and the radio, have given the mossback a better idea of values. As a nation we may lack a good deal in the matter of artistic taste and cultural standards, but we have at least refined ourselves out of the Corybantic religious frenzies of the old-fashioned revivalism and the orgiastic savagery of the Elmer Gantry period. There may be something of them left among the queer sects of Protestantism for want of a better method of working up religious excitement. One may still hear groups at prayer meetings singing over and over again: —
Oh, how I love Jesus!
Oh, how I love Jesus,
The Saviour of my soul!’
But groups at prayer meetings are small in quality and quantity. Intelligent people keep away from prayer meetings.
The immediate need, then, of Protestantism is a new technique of devotion. It must provide a method that will stimulate and edify, by devices that will not alienate the civilized modern man, right religious feelings. The old methods of arousing religious emotion are played out. It is far more important that a man should be ‘moved’ to stop beating his wife and to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, even on a basis of a very imperfect theology, than that he should continue to be a scoundrel with the most elaborate freedom of scholarly concepts supplied by a learned divine at some service that leaves him cold. Protestantism addresses itself too much to the intellect and too little to the emotions. The sermon does something, but it does not do enough. It does not sufficiently reach the imagination and draw with the charm of beauty. It cannot produce the emotional complexes that an appeal to the senses will provide.
Protestant leaders of the more advanced type, men of some artistic taste and wider culture, are already beginning to feel the need indicated. For a long time now the so-called High Church Anglican clergy have led the way in a movement to recover some of the devotional technique discarded at the Reformation. They have been met, of course, by opposition and obloquy. Men possessed by a fear complex of Rome, like Bishop Barnes of Birmingham, Dr. Cummins of Poughkeepsie, and the Protestants in Parliament, have raised the ‘No Popery’ cry and charged the movement with being a return to ‘fetishism,’ to ‘mediæval superstition.’ In America the demand for a retention of the Thirty-nine Articles is an effort to stop the movement. Most Protestants see nothing in it but a Jesuit plan to restore Roman Catholicism. Yet in reality the men engaged in the movement are as remote from Roman Catholicism as those who oppose them in this regard. And actually the devotional technique is not particularly Roman. It is not, in fact, even limited to primitive Christianity. Things like incense, holy water, images, ritualistic ceremonial, are as old as religion and the human race. You will find all of them in the ancient religions of the East, in Judaism, or in the mysteries of the pagan Empire. Those who would seek their extirpation in the modern world fail to realize the deep and inherited need of them in human nature. Such men make religion a coldly intellectual attainment, a philosophy barren of warm expression. It is more human even to practise a little idolatry, if you like, and go with those who attend St. Praxed’s, where one may
And see God made and eaten all day long.
The majority of people are not cold philosophers with correct ideas. A lot of them may hate Rome and scorn the instruments of devotion, but very often hatred and scorn are the only religion these have. In leaving to Rome all the advantages of a method, they cut off their nose to spite their face.
And so, in spite of the braying, the movement to reclaim a Catholic technique of devotion goes right on. You can see it in America chiefly in the architecture of new churches. The Anglican cathedrals in New York and Washington are by no means the only examples. There are a good many Presbyterian churches in various parts of the country which are quite Catholic, at least in exterior effect. These have been erected generally by individuals who have the rare combination of culture and wealth. (No board of lay trustees would be apt to have either the courage or the wit.) The new Baptist building given by Mr. Rockefeller in New York, with its thirteenthcentury windows, promises to have at least some devotional values. And the Lutherans and Methodists have appointed commissions on church architecture who will put up structures that do not entirely resemble motion-picture emporiums, it is hoped.
Consider, for example, the new chapel at Princeton University. The architect there, who appears to have had a free hand, has erected a Gothic dream out of the Middle Ages. It has all the atmosphere and symbolism of a structure thoroughly Catholic and designed for the purpose of worship. To be sure, the prejudices of a Presbyterian tradition have spoiled a complete effect by making the building as far as possible a place for the audience of men, rather than a shrine for the worship of God. A dull east window in very bad taste darkens the chancel. There is no rood screen, no reredos. Stodgy seats for the president and faculty occupy the place where the Sacrament should be. Still, in the way of college chapels, this one is a step in the direction of an ideal of worship and of the use of art to express devotion. Great architecture is perhaps the most compelling factor in the creation of a spirit of worship. From the Parthenon at Athens, the Pyramid of Cheops, and the cathedral at Chartres down, it has symbolized that ideal. And no one can visit the chapel at Princeton without feeling it.
At the same time one finds in the Protestant churches an increase in the use of liturgical services. The long extempore prayers, in which the events of the week were rehearsed for the edification of God and the boredom of the congregation, are giving way to a more dignified, simple, and Catholic manner of approach to the Deity. Vestments also are no longer left solely to symbolize the impartiality of justice in law courts and for the brightening of the meetings of fraternal orders. Robes for the ministers and surplices for the choir, all very Catholic features, are coming into fashion. Protestantism is awakening to a sense of beauty in religion.
With a further reduction of prejudice we shall see restored in the course of time all the ancient features— incense, holy water, lights, colors, form and ceremony, the Sacrifice of the Mass. People may believe what they want to about them, but they cannot escape their restoration if religion is to have an effective and popular expression. Protestants will try every other method than the method of traditional Christianity to create a new expression for religious symbolism, but it is doubtful whether they can find any that will be as effective. These ancient things have stood the test of time.
I suppose that there are few things that Protestants scorn more than the rosary. Yet in principle the rosary differs not at all from the iterated stanzas of such a hymn as I quoted above, ‘Oh, how I love Jesus.’ Iteration in devotion has a peculiar psychological value. It impresses upon the subconscious mind a devotional idea. And when the hands are employed, as in the use of the rosary, the nervous system is more readily and more effectively impressed. The rosary, therefore, has been used for thousands of years for the purposes of devout meditation. It is probably preBuddhist in origin. It was introduced into Christianity by the monks of the Desert, and the subjects to be used in meditation were arranged in the present form by Saint Dominic. Its use is practical, and it has probably been the instrument of bringing very much comfort to countless generations of pious people, giving consolation, courage, hope, and peace in the feeling natures of those who used it. The rosary may not be an essential factor of salvation, but there is no sense in scorning it.
Perhaps of all the Catholic instruments in the technique of devotion the confessional is the one that has been most abhorred by the Protestant world. One used to hear dreadful tales about the confessional. But to-day the Reverend Dr. Fosdick, whose Protestantism nobody could possibly question, boasts openly over the radio Sunday after Sunday of the great value of the confessional in his church. And he is only one of many Protestant ministers who hear confessions. The confessional has come back, no doubt, through the gate of psychoanalysis and psychotherapeutics. But back it has come. And hundreds of perfectly good Protestants are using it to their souls’ health. Rome has used it for centuries, and it has been the chief instrument for spiritual vitality in that church. People who want relief from remorse, discontent, sorrow, obsessions, and the perplexities of spiritual problems will use it more and more. Prejudice against it cannot destroy its evident utility.
Protestant pastors and Protestant congregations will doubtless try every expedient to create devotional fervor except those that Roman Catholicism uses, so long as the fear complex of Rome remains. But the more enlightened will perceive that there are certain tested values which the long experience of the ages has endorsed that cannot be bettered by empiricism. Gradually the Catholic tradition will return.
It is doubtful, however, whether Protestantism, with its love of liberty and its dread of monarchical institutions, will be inclined to accept the Catholic system of episcopacy. A modified episcopacy, such as existed in the days of primitive Christianity, when there was a bishop-pastor over each small town and the adjoining villages, rather Presbyterian than Episcopal in character, might be developed in the consideration of this problem by the various groups now seeking to unite. But the modern monarchical episcopacy of the Roman and Anglican churches, and even that of the Methodist, has two defects that a free Protestantism would feel. It gives the right of an interference in matters parochial to an individual who is remote from the immediate interests of the place, and it admits the possibility of a tyranny over the inferior clergy by the same power. Uender ideal conditions no doubt the episcopal system has the fascination that a perfect tyranny combined with a complete liberty, as an ideal form of government, had for Machiavelli. But, human nature being what it is, the ideal is seldom realized. And there are few clergy, Roman or Anglican, who do not at some time or other complain of the annoyances of the authority under which they work.
Stories illustrative of actual conditions might be multiplied. I recall from my personal knowledge one which it is to be hoped is extreme. A certain poor clergyman out of work, who had by his previous conduct offended his bishop on a point of churchmanship, went to the bishop and appealed for a job. There were plenty of vacant places at the disposal of the bishop, and the clergyman had eight children dependent for support upon his earnings. The bishop was writing, and he continued to write while the man made his appeal. Finally, getting no response, the clergyman exclaimed. ‘But I must live!’ Whereupon the bishop, looking up long enough to fix him with the cold and fishlike eye for which he was famous, replied in tones of ice, ‘I do not see the necessity.’ And he resumed his writing. In a more civilized diocese the clergyman would possibly not even have secured an interview. The fact is that many bishops deliberately adopt the principle that the good of the institution — which means their idea of the good of the institution — is more important than the good of the individual, especially of the individual clergyman. They deal with religion, in short, as a business man deals with his factory — when the union cannot help itself.
But, hard as bishops sometimes are, they are not any harder than most lay boards in their dealing with the ministry. Protestantism is seeking some remedy for the present lay control and some amelioration of the cruel conditions under which its clergy work. The average missionary to Pago Pago or to Timbuktu is better off than the home parson in many of our small towns. The missionary has a sense of authority and a feeling of apostolic mission. He is not paid by those to whom he preaches. The building he uses for a church and the one he lives in are not owned by them. He is independent except for the remote home board and its distant secretaries. But the home man is the paid servant of his group. His church and his house are theirs. And the group, often little more civilized than savages themselves, can drive or starve him out at will. He is obliged to depend upon an oleaginous tact, a boisterous dominance, the cajoling of the rich and aristocratic, or a method so dazzling to the average business man, with all the arts of the advertiser and the ‘gogetter’ in ‘selling’ religion, that he holds his job with truly political skill. And old age under such conditions is a tragedy. It is only within the last few years that any efforts have been made to create pensions for the aged and infirm ministers of the Protestant churches. Formerly they were left to shift for themselves, having been paid less than enough to subsist upon, let alone saving for old age. I have known many cases of those who died in poorhouses or were left to the tender mercies of the charity of relatives. Christianity was supposed to have done away with the ancient system of throwing the old who had become an economic burden to the tribe over some cliff, and with the savage custom described by Trader Horn of tossing them to the crocodiles, but in the treatment of undesirable and elderly clergymen it still sacrifices the individual to the institution. It is greatly to the credit of Roman Catholicism that, however much it demands from its clergy in the way of a military discipline, it does at least support them in dignity and honor up to the day of their death.
In the reconstruction, therefore, Protestantism should reconsider the relation of the individual to the institution. And in the problem of official control there should be some new and decided change. However much one may desire democracy, it cannot be denied that in matters requiring expert knowledge those who have it must direct. In Soviet Russia it was said that after the revolution the miners of certain mines compelled the experts and engineers to leave their offices and go down the shafts, while the day laborers occupied the mahogany chairs in the offices and rested their feet upon the desks. Protestant laymen have never quite taken over the special work of conducting services and preaching sermons, but in all other church matters they have displaced the men who should be the experts in such things as church building, church music, and church administration. The application of the business man’s ideas in these particulars has been marked in too many instances by a policy of cheapness, a lack of art, and an ignorance that keep back the work of religion to a great extent.
And on the other hand some degree of centralized authority will be needed to correct the limitations of the thousands of pastors in the smaller places who tend to a condition of petrified village mediocrity and who lack the imagination for great enterprises. Such central organizations, thanks to the late war, have already been started, and are functioning. The chief officials of certain of them, with their entourage of secretaries, differ only in title from the Pope and the college of cardinals.
It will no doubt be offensive to many Protestants to have it suggested that anything good in the way of constructive principles can be found in the Roman Catholic system. Prejudice in that direction is so indurated, so bitter,
so marked by historic strife, that it is hard for any but minds freed from narrowness by experience and culture to look facts fairly in the face. But there are excellent reasons why Protestantism might learn the value of certain lessons from her old enemy. In the first place, Rome has had the experience of ages in dealing with the practical problems of the relation of Church and State. She has come at times very near to the control of the civil powers of the Western world. Above all, she has generally resisted successfully the encroachment of state authority upon her spiritual claims. And, on the other hand, many of the strongest Protestant churches have been, and are yet, merely the creatures of the States in which they were born. They were made by kings and governments. And the Protestant mind still clings to something of this conception. It cannot, for example, divest itself of the idea that spiritual results can be obtained by the passage of civil legislation. But if Protestantism is to thrive apart from the State, it must employ very much the same methods that Rome has employed during the ages to sustain its independence and authority. And in the matter of the psychology of devotion, of the problems of teaching and of directing the mass emotions, the experience of Rome is well worth careful study. Certainly, except in respect to the highly cultured classes, Rome has been very successful. In this country Roman Catholics attend religious services far more regularly than Protestants do. They are, on the whole, much more loyal and enthusiastic. Their religious devotion is more intense and real. And that must be because the Roman Catholic Church knows how to supply the multitude with the things that the multitude needs. A wise business man studies the methods by which his competitors succeed. It is worse than folly merely to stand by and find fault with a system and method that evidently have value and power. And no organization can ever prosper merely by denying the virtues of its rival. The thing to do is to find out by what methods the rival carries his work on, to employ the same, and, if possible, to improve them. There is in reality a common Christianity involved, and the same means to establish it. The points of agreement are more numerous and fundamental than the points of divergence. And the mythology that Rome venerates as literal truth Protestantism receives as a philosophy of life. Thus the same expression must be employed to realize both. The intellectual freedom of Protestantism may therefore properly combine with the devotional system of Rome. Protestantism has been too busy with negation and too little employed in construction. Rome advances by a ceaseless affirmation.
In the way of constructive principles, therefore, Protestantism cannot afford to neglect a study of the Roman Catholic system of financing its enterprises. There is no business enterprise better financed in this country than that of the Roman Church. Let any Roman Catholic priest go into any bank in America and ask for a loan for the Church, and I venture to say that he will be received with open arms by the officials and speedily accommodated to the full. But the same cannot be said of the average Protestant divine or even of the lay trustee. The bank presidents do not hand over to them without carefully scrutinized security the wherewithal to build churches and to replace mortgages, as a general rule. The credit of the Roman Church is practically unlimited. And this is not merely because the Roman Catholic Church owns a vast amount of property in real estate. It is for the reason that the money of the Church, handled by the clerical order, is administered, with rare exceptions, with a skill and integrity that command respect.
Protestantism must reconstruct its present fiscal system. And not only that: it will have to revise its programmes for advance work, for missionary enterprises. At the present time the programmes of the Protestant churches are actually on a dishonest basis. It is for that reason that they are so continually failing, so difficult to keep up. The bishops, boards, executive secretaries, secretaries, archdeacons, presiding elders, and other numerous functionaries conceive of their great and splendid opportunities for advancing what they call ‘the kingdom.’ They hold mass meetings and wax eloquent. Those who attend the meetings are persuaded by the booming voices, and pledge the money to carry out the enterprises. Dioceses are assessed. Parishes are assigned a quota. The contracts are given for buildings. Property is purchased. Ministers are hired. All this before any money is in hand. A year, perhaps, before. Then comes the strain. The pastors are bedeviled by the bishops and secretaries to raise their assessments from the people. The people — who did not attend the meetings and hear the eloquent divines — are bedeviled by the pastors to give. But they are not disposed to give. They do not choose to give. They are under no obligation to give. Nothing under heaven will compel them to give. And why should they? It is not their enterprise. They have no interest in the matter. Their pastors begin to bore them. And it is quite wonderful, under the circumstances, how much they have given.
Of course a certain reasonable amount of money can be calculated on in advance. But the schemes and programmes go far beyond this. The fact is that giving money in churches depends in a large measure upon the ability of the preacher to awaken enthusiasm on the part of his hearers. There is little effective system of giving in Protestant churches. Where there is, it is at the expense of continued, renewed, and elaborate efforts. It would be far more honest, and far more an evidence of faith in the power of Providence to manage the affairs of religion, if the amounts voted for programmes were voted only when the money was in hand, and if the underwriting of programmes were done by those who felt the enthusiasm for the programmes and would give the money themselves to carry them out. The work of missions should be left to volunteer societies, at least until some more dependable and systematic method of securing funds is devised.
The continual cry for money is one of the obstacles to religion both in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Protestant churches. For though the money is better handled in Roman Catholic churches than in the others, and though it costs less to be a Roman Catholic than it does to be any sort of Protestant, the ambitious schemes of the bishops of the Roman Church, and the eagerness of the clergy to make a reputation by supplying funds for the bishops, have brought upon that Church also this evil condition. It would be far better if all the churches would return to an emphasis on principles and let programmes take care of themselves for a while. There is too much of the economic spirit and too little of the Spirit of God in them all.
When the Pope was standing with Saint Thomas Aquinas as the sacks of money were being carried into the papal treasury, he said, ‘Peter can no longer say, “Silver and gold have I none,” Thomas.’ ‘No,’ answered Thomas; ‘neither can he say, “Rise up and walk.”’