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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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1. The Age of theWars of Religion. The principle
of cujus regio ejus religio (religion is determined by
the ruler) prevailed from 1559, not because the aspi-
ration for a “universal” Church, a single form of
Christianity, had been surrendered, but because some-
thing of a stalemate had been achieved. The various
states now blossomed out as differing forms of “Chris-
tian Society”; and it might be the accidents of history
and geography (rather than any antecedent national
“spirit”) that led e.g., England and Scotland or the two
halves of the Low Countries to diverge from one an-
other. It might be the form of confession then adopted
which, for the future, conditioned the developing
character and tradition of a country. The process of
nation-making was still continuing, and religious
differentiations still tended to play a considerable part
in this. With the breakdown of the medieval “univer-
sal” idea, the overall picture became more disturbing;
Europe had very slowly to find its way to a new kind
of international order, a new conception of the society
of states. For the time being, a momentous religious
issue had arisen to complicate the relations between
governments and to embarrass European diplomacy.
For nearly a century the world was torn by a succession
of wars in which religion (however closely it might
be combined with other factors) was the primary
motor, or the real source of the fanaticism and bitter

But monarchs—though they were greatly elevated
under the system of cujus regio ejus religio—were not
always masters of the situation. Mary Queen of Scots
was unable to prevent Scotland from being Calvinist,
and the rulers of England could not prevent the Irish
from remaining Roman Catholic. In the northern
provinces of the Low Countries a minority of Calvin-
ists, using sometimes almost gangster methods, cap-
tured the magistracies in the cities and reduced a
majority of Catholics to the status of “second-class”
citizens, during the rebellion against Philip II. By the
end of the sixteenth century, the humane and scholarly
tradition that was associated with Erasmus had asserted
itself in this region, and brought distinction to the
University of Leyden. There emerged the Arminian
movement, which sought to soften the severities of
predestinarianism amongst the Calvinists, and this was
supported by a burgher aristocracy whose culture
acquired a leading position in Europe in the first half
of the seventeenth century. The movement was re-
sisted, however, by the populace, who were incited
by the intransigeance of the Calvinist ministers and
supported by the House of Orange. The defeat of
Arminianism was registered in 1619 at the Synod of
Dordrecht, which was attended by representatives of
so many foreign countries that it almost looked like
a Calvinist attempt at a General Council of the Church.

Because religion was such a momentous matter in
those days, and was supported by such grim sanctions,
it had the capacity to bring public opinion to new
importance in the state, and it often increased the
tensions within the body politic. In countries like
England and Bohemia the resistance of a religious
minority represented virtually the beginning of modern
political opposition to the reigning monarch. Calvinism
in particular was no more willing than Catholicism to
be checked by the power of the king.

This being the general situation, the peculiar pre-
dicament of France was to give this country a signifi-
cant role in the transition to a new order of things.
Here, the action of the government against heretical
movements at home had been delayed, partly by one


king who had patronized certain Renaissance groups,
partly by another who had had a political quarrel with
the pope. When serious attention came to be given
to the problem in 1559, it transpired that the Reformers
had become too strong to be dealt with by any ordinary
police methods. In a way that often happened, an
unhappy social position made sections of the nobility
particularly ready for refractoriness in religion, and
these not only took up the cause of the Calvinists but
endowed it with a military organization. The whole
issue became involved in further disputes concerning
the rights of princes of the blood and the question of
the Regency during a royal minority. On the whole—
and especially in the desperate days of Catherine de'
Medici—the government would try to maintain itself
by holding the balance between the overpowerful
Catholics and the overpowerful Huguenots. For poli-
reasons, it was prepared, in a time of great dan-
ger, to adopt a policy of toleration which was anoma-
lous for a Catholic ruler, and which in any case nobody
would have regarded as the ideal.

In these circumstances, not only did repeated civil
wars occur, as the one side and the other attempted
to capture the government, but the two religious
parties would look abroad for allies, the ardent Catho-
lics working with Philip II of Spain. At a time when
France needed to safeguard herself against the pre-
dominance of Habsburg Spain, those who were gov-
erned principally by love of their country might be
inclined to a politique foreign policy too—an alliance
with Dutch and German Protestants, for example. In
these circumstances the extreme Catholics, looking to
Philip II, tended to behave rather as a hostile force—a
kind of “fifth column”—within the country itself. In
France, therefore, the problems of the age of religious
conflict took an extreme form, and came near to ending
in the destruction of the state.

Religious toleration begins to emerge as a politique
policy, and some of its upholders recognize that it
contravenes the whole ideal of the state as a religious
society. They argue, however, that the killing has gone
on too long and that the body politic itself is being
too radically disrupted. It was as though a terrestrial
morality was being used to challenge an alleged
supraterrestrial morality, and at first it was unscrupu-
lous rulers, like Catherine de' Medici, and not the pious
ones, like Mary Tudor, who were prepared to allow
religious dissidence. The members of a persecuted
religious party might protest against the intolerance,
but even so, they sometimes made it clear that their
objection was not to persecution as such but to the
persecution of the right religion by the wrong one.
Only the Socinians in Poland in the latter half of the
sixteenth century proclaimed toleration as a principle,
and that was because they could claim to be preaching
a religion without any dogma.

Given the structure of society as it existed in those
days, toleration itself did not always imply what it
means today. It could involve giving the nobles a free
hand to force their tenantry to a change of religion.
And only very gradually did the various Reformation
parties learn to tolerate one another.

Early in the seventeenth century both Catholics and
Protestants could hope that, by a special effort, they
might turn the balance in their favor (particularly in
Germany and the imperial territories). There are signs
of anxiety and a special fear of war, as though one
were already conscious of the looming shadow of the
coming conflict—the struggle that was to last for thirty
years. Plans for the establishment of perpetual peace
or a remodelling of the map of Europe, the inclination
of the Lutherans to work for appeasement, and the
similar policy which helped to make James I so un-
popular in England, are features of the time which
seem to show the effect of these apprehensions. Projects
for the reunion of Protestants and Catholics were
brought out by Grotius in Holland, John Drury in
England, and later by Leibniz in Germany.

2. The Characteristics and Controversies of Re-
vived Catholicism.
The intellectual advances of
Catholicism, its successful missionary work in Europe
and elsewhere, and the victories of the Habsburg sup-
porters of the papacy in the early stages of the Thirty
Years' War, brought about a fine feeling of exultation
in Rome when the new basilica of St. Peter's had been
completed there, and was consecrated in 1626. This
“greatest architectural wonder of the world” still re-
mained the real center of artistic activity in Rome
which, under Urban VIII (1623-44) and his two suc-
cessors, was turned into a baroque city. The sculptor
and architect, Lorenzo Bernini, and the painter, Pietro
da Cortona, had a great part in this; and the new
style—which came to be associated with the Jesuits—
imprinted its character on the city more strongly than
any previous style had done. It was dynamic and sought
dramatic effects, loading churches with ornament and
gilding, colored sculptures and sensuous curves. It
spread from Rome to Spain, Portugal, Austria, Catholic
Germany, and Poland; though its influence seems to
have been smaller in France. This whole form of art
still seems to convey to us something of the exuberant
spirit of the Counter-Reformation. Here, therefore,
Christianity, entangling itself once again with the
world, presents pictures and scenic displays quite
different from the religious landscape of England and

In France there emerged in the seventeenth century
a “Catholic Renaissance” which helped to enhance the


role of that country in the history of religion and of
Europe in general. The intellectual strength of the
movement is illustrated by the fact that the clergy
moved over so naturally to the leadership of the state
itself in peace and war. From 1624 to 1642 Cardinal
Richelieu was the effective ruler, and he surrounded
himself with priests and monks—a cardinal becoming
a general, while an archbishop was made admiral—the
most intimate counsellor, especially in diplomatic
matters, being the famous Father Joseph. The new
spirit showed itself in charitable foundations, attempts
at reform and Christian missions to the native peoples
of French Canada; and the beneficent work of Vincent
de Paul was perhaps the most characteristic feature
of the revival. Also there began, amongst the congre-
gation of St. Maur, that scholarly work which was to
bring so much distinction to the Benedictines in the
seventeenth century.

Richelieu himself illustrates the way in which France,
through her special problems and special position, was
mediating the passage to a new order of things in
Europe. In spite of his severities in desperate times,
he was a pious man and he gave the politique policy
a turn which made it more admissible for the Christian.
He destroyed the military establishment by means of
which the turbulent Huguenots had secured their posi-
tion within France; but he continued the religious
toleration which this party had been enjoying since
1598, and he seems to have been sincere in his hope
that this example of generosity would be conducive
to their ultimate voluntary conversion. In respect of
foreign policy, he judged that France would be eclipsed
for an indefinite period if Spain were not checked; so
he gave priority to the policy of war against the
Habsburgs, though, again, he seems to have been sin-
cere in his determination to see that this should do
as little harm as possible to the cause of Catholicism.
In both these cases his formulas more carefully pin-
pointed the valid role of force and discriminated be-
tween the objectives of foreign policy, imposing at
home and abroad the idea of warfare for limited ends.
It was a stage in the formation of a different kind of
international order and in the transition by means of
which even earnest Christians could find their way out
of the Wars of Religion. It was to end in the virtual
abstraction of religion from the game of power-politics.

If the Western Church had come to a tragic cleavage
at the Reformation, however, and if the Calvinism of
the Dutch had later been brought to a serious crisis
by the emergence of Arminianism, it is interesting to
note that the seventeenth century saw great conflicts
within the revived Catholicism—conflicts, moreover,
on patterns already familiar—and that the chief arena
for these should have been France. Firstly there came
to the forefront again that assertive spirit of nationality
which had been refractory to the papacy before the
close of the Middle Ages, and which had then been
a factor in the Reformation itself. “Gallicanism” was
medieval in origin, and it stressed the national charac-
ter of the French Church—stressed the authority of
the French bishops as something more than a mere
delegation from Rome. The movement also had its
internal constitutional aspect, and regarded the French
king as holding his temporal authority direct from God,
and therefore as not amenable to the pope in his exer-
cise of it. In a sense, the king was the protector of
the French bishops against the pope, but they were
his subjects and if they gained ground from Rome, he
himself stood out more clearly as their leader and chief.
Also the Gallican cause was assisted by the fact that,
since the Council of Constance, the king had more than
once settled the position of the French church in sepa-
rate agreements with the papacy. It had come to be
easy to see that church as a national affair, to be
conducted for the most part by French bishops under
the French king; and even the idea of a national
ecclesiastical council had been used as a possible
weapon against the pope. The Spanish Church had
already acquired a remarkable independence, and the
French became the chief mouthpiece of the nationalist
program, though a parallel form of protest against
Rome distinguished the Venetians, particularly at the
beginning of the seventeenth century.

From the fifteenth century, the French enemies of
the Gallican principles were beginning to be known
as “Ultramontanes,” and, after the Counter-Reforma-
tion, it was the Jesuits who distinguished themselves
in this capacity. In the period of the “Catholic Renais-
sance” the propaganda campaign involved an interest-
ing development of politico-ecclesiastical thought; but
Gallicanism rose to a new height when, firstly the
monarchy came to its climax under Louis XIV, a king
who received continual incense from a great part of
the clergy, and, secondly when the movement became
associated with the famous name of Bossuet, who tried
to hold it within reasonable limits. A “Declaration of
the French Clergy” in 1682 asserted the principles:
that the king's temporal sovereignty was independent
of the pope; that even in matters of faith the papacy
needed the concurrence of the bishops; that a General
Council was superior to the pope; and that the ancient
Gallican liberties (e.g., the exclusion of papal bulls and
briefs that had not received the consent of the king)
were to be regarded as sacrosanct. The result was a
violent conflict with the papacy at a time when Louis
XIV was beset by other serious difficulties, and the
Declaration was formally withdrawn. Its tenets con-
tinued to prevail in France, however, and Gallicanism


was still to play a great part in the country, as well
as setting an example for nationalistic aspirations else-

The posthumous publication in 1640 of Augustinus
by Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638) was to have tremen-
dous and far-reaching effects for a long period in
France and neighboring countries. The work tried to
show that Saint Augustine's teaching conflicted with
that of the seventeenth century (and particularly that
of the Jesuits); and by stressing the helplessness of man
it moved to predestinarian ideas, though an admixture
of Catholic doctrine still distinguished it from Calvin-
ism. The cause was taken up by theologians at the
Sorbonne, and then by important scholars as well as
the nuns of Port-Royal-des-Champs. When five propo-
sitions were condemned by Pope Innocent X in 1653,
the French leader of the movement agreed that the
propositions were heretical and that the Church had
the authority to condemn them; but he denied that
they were contained in Jansen's Augustinus and
claimed that this was a historical point on which the
pope's ruling was not authoritative.

The whole controversy flared up again at the begin-
ning of the eighteenth century, when a number of
theologians at the Sorbonne claimed that absolution
need not be refused to a priest who maintained this
distinction between questions of doctrine and questions
of fact. Pope Clement XI denounced this thesis in 1705
and, as he had the support of Louis XIV, the campaign
against Jansenism was a powerful one, culminating in
the bull Unigenitus which in 1713 condemned 101
propositions. Jansenism, which had spread widely
amongst the people and the lower clergy, was sup-
ported at times by the Sorbonne and the Parlement
of Paris, and for some years the Archbishop of Paris
refused to submit to the bull Unigenitus. The persecu-
tion aroused great passions and led to an enlargement
of the area of the controversy, its victims appealing,
for example, for a General Council of the Church.
Under desperate pressures the movement tended to
change character, claimed to produce miracles, and
had convulsionist manifestations. It turned into a
broader kind of opposition to Church and monarchy
in the eighteenth century and achieved at times an
almost revolutionary atmosphere.

At the same time a great number of French Jan-
senists fled to Holland where a permanent schismatic
organization was established in Utrecht. The move-
ment spread to North Italy and the system which it
established at Pistoia was condemned by Pope Pius VI
in 1794. The “Jansenism” which was supposed to influ-
ence the ecclesiastical policy of the French Revolution
had departed far from the original movement, and
involved Gallican ideas and democratic claims in re-
spect of the rights of the lower clergy. It has been
suggested that “Jansenism” in North Italy in the nine-
teenth century became transmuted into a kind of secu-
lar religion.

3. The Transition to the Age of Reason. Because
the practice of the right religion was considered so
important, and because there was such a conviction
that only one form of religion could be right, it was
only by a very slow process (and by certain changes
in the very structure of Christian thinking) that tolera-
tion could come to be itself a religious ideal. In the
middle of the seventeenth century it seems to come
almost as a “discovery” to some people that the other
man's creed, instead of being the product of perversity,
might be as much a case of conscience as one's own;
and perhaps it required the standing presence for a
considerable period of rival sects to produce the per-
suasion that, though a man may hold his own faith as
an absolute, he must treat the matter with a certain
degree of relativity in his relations with other men,
who have the same right to follow their conscience.

Some progress was made through pondering on the
current doctrine that ethics required the granting to
others of the treatment one expected to receive from
them. It was more easy for the various branches of
Protestantism to adopt this attitude towards one an-
other than to give Roman Catholics the benefit of it.
When sects were multiplied—as in Puritan England—
and when religious variety had become a standing
phenomenon, it was more easy to see that the individ-
ual judgment had come to have preponderant signifi-
cance; and some sects were individualistic, some highly
insistent about the Inner Light. It meant a kind of
intellectual revolution, but when one came to see that
voluntariness of belief was itself an essential thing (and
that the quality of belief even had some relation to
its voluntariness), Christians in the course of time could
come to wonder why they had ever permitted perse-
cution at all. Protestants came to feel that diversity
itself might be enriching for Christendom, that truth
might be served by the clash of controversy, and that
the right could be brought to prevail in the long run
by force of mere persuasion.

But the laymen played a great part in the coming
of toleration. In England, a certain religious indiffer-
ence—or a reaction against fanaticism—was visible
from the 1650's. There may have been an increasing
squeamishness about the infliction of suffering for reli-
gious reasons and a feeling that extravagant sects had
exposed the pretentions of authoritarianism. The set-
tlement in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, the need
for manpower in Germany to aid in the work of eco-
nomic recovery after the devastation of the Thirty
Years' War, the growing importance of the laity in
society and the decline in the general prestige of the
clergy—these, as well as special political conjunc-


tures—have their part in the coming of a toleration
which still left dissenters penalized in some ways. As
the eighteenth century proceeded a country like
England ceased to have the appearance of a “Christian
Society” and the Church of England became more like
a privileged “Establishment” in a secular state. In both
England and Ireland, the Catholics were still harassed
by cruel penal laws. In 1685 Louis XIV revoked the
Edict of Nantes, and deprived his Protestant subjects
of the toleration they had enjoyed for nearly a century.

In the meantime, however, other factors had been
altering the place of religion in society and in life, and
making the survival of religious intolerance all the
more anomalous. Christianity had successfully con-
fronted the superior culture of Greco-Roman antiquity.
In the Middle Ages it had subjugated Aristotle to its
own purposes and had survived the contact with what
had been in some respects the higher civilization of
the Arabs. At the end of the seventeenth century it
was to find itself more seriously embarrassed by a
scientific movement which sprang in a sense from its
own bosom—a movement absolutely and uniquely
European, rising from the traditions of the Western
world itself. The scientific movement of the seven-
teenth century carried human thought beyond anything
that ancient Greece or ancient China had ever given
the promise of producing, and the student of its ante-
cedents would find himself carried back to some of the
subtle thinking of the scholastic writers.

The movement was promoted to a considerable
degree by men who often believed that, by concrete
enquiries into history and nature, they were glorifying
the Creator and illuminating the work of Providence.
It was one of its essential principles that men should
turn away from the discussion of final causes and the
ultimate essence of things, topics which had hitherto
proved so tantalizing and distracting. They should
observe how one particular thing in the natural world
acted upon another, and by reflection and inference
upon the observed results, they should climb to a range
of important intermediate generalizations. So they
freed their minds for a more specialized form of re-
search, freed science itself from its compromising en-
tanglement with “natural philosophy.” Some of them
were looking for laws before they properly knew how
to discover them, and were seeking to embrace every-
thing in the realm of law—leaving no gaps in the
clockwork universe—before they had found the clue
that might lead them to such a system. And they said
that they were vindicating the rationality of God the
“Creator,” a God whom they could not believe to be
guilty of arbitrariness or caprice in his arrangement
of the cosmos.

It was Sir Isaac Newton who, when he had estab-
lished the automatic working of the solar system, was
seized with misgiving, because he realized that instead
of leading to the greater glory of God, it might tempt
men to think that a deity was henceforth a superfluity.
At this point he seemed to show an uncommon anxiety
to find some loopholes in the system that he had pro-
duced. The inferences from the system itself, and the
victory of the mechanistic (or, as it called itself, the
“geometrical”) kind of thinking that now became
fashionable—the overall result of the seventeenth-
century revolution in science—opened the door to a
“deism” which allowed the existence of a Creator who,
after setting everything in motion, had become the
complete absentee.

The Church confronted the crisis at an unfortunate
moment, a moment when religion in general had come
to an exceptionally low state. Fanaticism had continued
until the middle of the seventeenth century and it had
added to the bitterness of war in Europe, as well as
the constitutional struggles in England. The Puritan
regime in England had been followed by the relaxation
and license that is associated with the reign of Charles
II. The religiosity of the latest period of Louis XIV's
reign was followed by a similar reaction—the levity
and the laxity of the subsequent Regency. The conces-
sion of religious toleration in England at the end of
the seventeenth century coincided paradoxically with
the decline of the body who were to have been its
main beneficiaries—the Presbyterians—some of whom
began to move into Unitarianism. Only the advent of
John Wesley put an end to what had been a serious
religious setback in the country at large. The conflict
between the Protestant and the Catholic versions of
religious authority would seem in any case to have had
the effect of undermining confidence in any kind of
claim to authoritativeness.

The results of the scientific revolution were some-
times popularized and transmuted into a new world
view by men like Fontenelle in France, who had caught
skepticism not really from science itself but from the
writings of classical Greece. The wider knowledge of
the globe, the writings of travellers, the study of primi-
tive peoples and distant civilizations, and developing
notions of comparative religion, made it possible to
reckon with cultures that had never been touched by
Greece and Rome, and to envisage the traditions of
Christendom as not in any sense universal, not neces-
sarily even central, but something of a regional phe-
nomenon. On this view, all religions were merely the
effect of an original and basic “natural religion” which
in every place had come to be overgrown with peculiar
local accretions, local mythologies, local legends.

When Sir Isaac Newton clinched the success of the
seventeenth-century scientific revolution, there was a
sense in which, in any case, the authority of both the
Middle Ages and the ancient world was at last over-


thrown. Also the secularization of life was proceeding
rapidly; and at the end of the seventeenth century the
intellectual leadership passed to the regions which
were industrially and commercially the most advanced
—England, Holland, and France, particularly the
Huguenot part of France. The learned world had lost
its leading position; the arbiters in the realm of thought
were a wider reading-public, a bourgeois class that
prided itself on a worldly-minded kind of common

4. The Eighteenth Century. From this time we see
the spread of unbelief amongst the intelligentsia, and
in the latter part of the eighteenth century the deism
is sometimes changing into atheism, though it is too
easily forgotten that the nineteenth century was still
to be a great epoch in the history of religion and that,
in England, for example, the churches still had a great
hold on the masses at the beginning of the twentieth
century. From this time, too, the Church—and partic-
ularly the Catholic Church—came to be afraid of
science and discovery, beginning what was to be a long
and unhappy rearguard action against the forces of
modernity. In France, where the philosophe movement
brought the Age of Reason to its climax, the conflict
between the Roman Catholic and the liberal or pro-
gressive sections of society seems to have produced an
almost permanent sundering of the national tradition.
In England the antithesis in the eighteenth century was
less severe, partly because the churchmen there proved
to be no mean antagonists, and partly because the
influence of nonconformity helped to bridge the gap
between religious conservatism and secular liberalism.
In Methodism a strong desire to awaken the social
conscience of the country was balanced by a moderate
political outlook which is sometimes regarded as hav-
ing helped to save the country from the turmoil of
a French Revolution. Protestantism, moreover, proved
more flexible than Catholicism at the critical period.
There emerges now a Protestantism in many ways
radically unlike that of the sixteenth century. It claims
to be the ally of humanism, rationalism, individualism,
and liberty.

At this point in the story a significant part was
played by that interesting figure, the “lapsed Chris-
tian”—the man who has thrown overboard the theo-
logical dogmas, but has not been able to jettison a host
of assumptions, mundane evaluations and ideals, views
about personality and the structure of the human
drama, which had been associated with the Christian
tradition. One aspect of the eighteenth century is the
more or less unconscious attempt to provide a counter-
system to Christianity—at least to fill the gap which
was left when the Church was taken out of the picture.
It showed itself in minor writings, provincial move
ments, local activity—an interesting attempt for ex-
ample to teach a secular morality, a kind of public
spirit, and to promote virtue by rewarding it with civic

Sometimes the rivalry became conscious and the
enemies of the Church would claim that they were
the better Christians; they were solicitous for the hum-
ble and poor, while the church-people were intent
on mere ceremonies. Sometimes the critics were justi-
fied in their accusations and it would seem that they
themselves, by breaking with the Church, had disem-
barrassed themselves of conventions which hindered
the realization of what Christian charity really did
require. One enemy of the Church still made the curi-
ous note that it would be good for men to meet once
a week for a homily on morality. And the famous
“philosophies of history”—the attempts to lay out the
shape of the whole course of centuries—were (down
to the time of Hegel) a curious reflection of earlier
Christian attempts to lay out the plan of world history,
the design of Providence. A number of ideals—liberty,
democracy, egalitarianism, socialism, communism—
had been caught first from biblical sources and Chris-
tian principles by religious dissidents who, as a minor-
ity, could more easily dare to follow principles to their
logical conclusion. But the real battle for their actual
realization was often fought either by non-Christians
or by religious nonconformists, and by a curious para-
dox the official church sometimes seemed to be the
principal enemy that had to be fought. In this realm,
too, the churches too often committed themselves to
a lengthy rearguard action. Having imagined that
Christianity could not survive the destruction of the
Aristotelian cosmos, they easily convinced themselves
that it might not survive the destruction of a particular
kind of regime. In other words, they had tied their
religion too closely to various types of mundane sys-
tems. And the course of history drove them to enquire
more deeply into the question: What was the essential
thing in the Christian faith?

Protestantism fared better than Catholicism in the
eighteenth century; for in Britain's American colonies
the earlier half of the century saw a religious awaken-
ing in which Jonathan Edwards was a central figure;
it might be said that the Seven Years' War (1756-63)
decided that the northern continent of America should
be predominantly Protestant; and the rise of Prussia
and Russia added great weight to the non-Catholic part
of Europe. Even in the religious and devotional life,
it was Protestantism that showed itself the more dy-
namic throughout the period. On this side, the story
illustrates the point that one can hardly put limits to
the conditions which provoke a religious revival. The
thing can come by surprise at the moment which seems


the most unfavorable; and the weather that withers
the routine of religion in official churches may be just
the kind to bring out a spontaneous growth, a develop-
ment outside the recognized program.

In the later decades of the seventeenth century (just
as deism was coming to the front) there emerged in
Germany a pietism which may have had antecedents
in the later Middle Ages, and which, as it spread to
neighboring countries, may have owed something to
English Puritanism and to movements in Holland. It
first became important in the Lutheran church in
Germany, but in the Netherlands and then in Germany
it spread to the Reformed churches, and its influence
was increased by the ascendancy that it acquired in
the university of Halle. A similar movement was that
of the Moravians, who were established in the lands
of Count Zinzendorf and extended their influence
abroad, even to England and America; John Wesley
was one of the people who acknowledged a debt to

Evangelicalism in the English-speaking world is in
fact a parallel phenomenon. It was an essential feature
of the movement that mere membership in organized
churches and the routine participation in the offices
of these were not sufficient for the authentic Christian.
The nominal believer still needed to be properly
“converted” and to bring the matter home to himself;
and the “conversion” should come after he had been
seized with a vivid conviction of his sinfulness. No
great interest was shown in theological discussions and
dogmatic controversy—there was just an insistence that
a man should be born again, and that he should have
a personal experience of Christ. At the same time Bible
reading was emphasized, there was a great love of
hymn singing, great importance was attached to
philanthropic work. One might remain a member of
the state-church, but in any case one would join little
informal groups which were meant for fellowship,
study, and prayer.

An important feature of eighteenth-century Protes-
tantism was the formation of religious societies, some
of which would comprise members of various denomi-
nations—societies which would promote foreign mis-
sions, educational work, the care of the poor, or a
particular measure of reform, and which became more
numerous as the century drew to its close. From evan-
gelical circles in England there arose the demand for
an improvement in prisons, the attack on slavery and
the slave-trade, and the later cry for industrial legisla-
tion. And from laymen who had been trained by their
activity in religious groups there emerged some of the
working-class leaders of the nineteenth century.

5. Roman Catholicism and the State, 1760-1815.
In the closing decades of the eighteenth century the
secular character of the state was becoming more clear,
and the Enlightenment itself, which acquired particular
prestige amongst monarchs and statesmen, seemed
almost to take the place of religion as the fountain
of influence at royal courts. There now occurred a
series of dramatic attacks by the modern state upon
the Roman Catholic system; and the church, which in
any case was hardly in a condition to meet the chal-
lenge, was badly crippled by an initial strategic blow
in the 1760's, when the Bourbon courts of France,
Spain, Naples, and Parma (following the example of
Portugal) expelled from their European and overseas
dominions the Jesuits who had once wielded so much
power as the confessors of kings. It was easy to raise
suspicion against them because of their alleged views
on tyrannicide, or their casuistry, or their recent com-
mercial operations, or the antinational character of
their constitution; but their impressive importance now
was due to the virtues of their educational work, which
made Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine
of Russia delighted to receive the exiles.

By this time the governments of Europe were exer-
cising immediate influence on papal elections, and in
1769 they secured the elevation of Clement XIV, who
could be expected to abolish the order, and who signed
the Brief of Suppression in 1773. The pope was now
in the position of having to protest against a Protestant
state and a schismatic empire that gave the Jesuits a
field in which to work; but, though he induced the
Prussians to secularize them, he had to agree to a
subterfuge which enabled the order itself to continue
in Russia and even to recruit novices (in spite of its
formal suppression), its members being needed for the
care of Catholic subjects taken over by Russia in the
first Partition of Poland.

In 1763 an important and influential work by
Nikolaus von Hontheim combined the teaching of the
Conciliar and Gallican movements in the program
known as “Febronianism” and made Germany a sig-
nificant field of conflict; but similar writings in Italy,
the Netherlands, and even Austria reveal the tremen-
dous change of outlook that had been taking place in
the Catholic world. Even Maria Theresa of Austria (the
one great ruler who had been unwilling to see the
destruction of the Jesuits) was ready, in spite of her
piety, to take action against a monastic movement that
had run to excess. But in 1780 she was succeeded by
her son Joseph II—himself a sincere Christian though
in so many ways a disciple of the philosophes—and
it is astonishing to see the speed and consistency with
which he not only excluded the authority of the pope
and controlled a movement of ecclesiastical reform,
but established what was virtually a national church,
in which he decided the character of the training in


ecclesiastical seminaries, prescribed the spiritual func-
tions of the priesthood, attacked images, etc., in
churches, and insisted on an austere type of piety quite
different from the baroque piety that he regarded as

In Austria, as elsewhere, what was called Jansenism
implied Conciliar and Gallican ideas but also a stress
on devotion and on works of charity and a genuine
desire to raise spiritual standards. At the same time,
the ecclesiastical work of Joseph II was a remarkable
anticipation by a “benevolent despot” of the attempt
by the French Revolution at an overall reconstruction
of the Church. An ecclesiastical congress in Germany
in 1786 produced the Punctuation of Ems, a program
for which Joseph II lost his enthusiasm when he saw
that the powers it took from the pope might serve to
aggrandize the metropolitans and bishops of Germany
rather than the secular authority. A synod of 234 clergy
held at Pistoia in the same year under the patronage
of Joseph's brother, Leopold, the Grand Duke of
Tuscany, combined the tenets of the Jansenists with
those of Gallicanism and called for the abolition of all
religious orders founded since the time of Saint Bene-
dict. But the great mass of the population refused to
follow Joseph II in his religious policy; and the exten-
sion of this to his Belgian territory led in 1786 to a
revolt of students at the nationalized seminary of
Louvain—a revolt which was to prove the prelude to
a wider rebellion. And though Joseph's brother,
Leopold, was more careful of public opinion, his reli-
gious reforms led to a popular upheaval in Florence
in 1787.

All this was only the prelude to the cataclysm of
the French Revolution. In view of the existing distress
and the bankruptcy of the state, it was not easy for
the French after 1789 to treat as property dedicated
to God a great deal of the wealth which had for so
long supported luxury and immorality amongst the
clergy. Church property was nationalized on 2 No-
vember 1789, and then the state, which proposed to
take the responsibility for clerical stipends, thought to
rationalize the whole system in the interests of the
taxpayer and the public in general, dissolving religious
orders that had no utilitarian function, rearranging
bishoprics, fixing stipends, and regulating discipline.
The Church, under this Civil Constitution of July 1790
was to retain its communion with Rome, but the pope,
who had not been consulted about the reforms, was
no longer to invest bishops with their spiritual author-
ity, and bishops and clergy were to be selected by
popular election. The clergy were required to accept
this Civil Constitution on oath, but, though the new
system greatly improved the financial position of the
lower clergy, half of the curés refused to conform. The
government was committed therefore to a policy of
persecution, and the revolution was jeopardized by a
first-class religious conflict which helped to provoke
a civil war. Early in 1798 the French invaders of Italy
established the revolution for a short time in Rome
itself, and in 1799 Pope Pius VI died an exile and
prisoner of France.

Napoleon Bonaparte, as First Consul, was deter-
mined to make capital out of the errors of the revolu-
tion, which had reorganized the Church without con-
sulting the pope and had brought on itself the trouble
of a religious war. He determined to secure the credit
for restoring the Church, and this in fact enabled him
to put greater pressure on the papacy, which was
anxious for such a settlement. By his Concordat of 1801
he saved essential features of the revolutionary settle-
ment, and acquired for these the assent of the pope,
while recognizing Catholicism as “the religion of the
great majority of French citizens.” But when he fol-
lowed this by unilateral action in his 77 Organic Arti-
cles, which asserted Gallican principles and the pre-
dominance of the state over the church, the pope and
the French Catholics could do little unless they pro-
posed to destroy the effect of the whole settlement.
From 1806 the spread of the Napoleonic Empire
brought a conflict with the pope as a temporal prince;
because of his spiritual primacy, he felt unable to put
his territories at the service of the French in their war
against England. The conflict became a dramatic one,
and in 1809 Napoleon decreed the end of the temporal
power and declared Rome a Free Imperial City. Very
soon, Pope Pius VII was himself a prisoner.

6. The Nineteenth Century. A course of curriculum
history which concentrates on governmental affairs and
on the writings of the intellectuals in eighteenth-
century Europe may do less than justice to the ordinary
life of town and country, and the mood of a great part
of society. It is easy to forget the famous hymns which
the eighteenth century produced, the choral music of
Bach, Handel's Messiah, the tremendous momentum
of the Methodist movement, and the way in which
religion itself could even come to terms with the new
outlook. At the same time, human needs, which the
hard, dry thinking of the Age of Reason failed to satisfy,
are to be recognized in the quasi-religious aspirations
of Rousseau and in certain aspects of that romantic
movement which was sometimes associated with the
nostalgias of lapsed Christians—even (particularly in
Germany) lapsed sons of the manse. Almost at the very
time when Napoleon was realizing the political capital
that he might gain within France itself from a Con-
cordat with the papacy, Chateaubriand, in his Génie
du Christianisme
(1802) registered a new mood which
was capable of reviving the power of religion, and his


influence seemed to be increased by the fact that he
gave more place to sentiment than profound reasoning.

At the same time the cataclysms of twenty-five years
were calculated to revive both a religious awe and a
distrust of human systems; and, after 1815, it became
easy (while, for many, it was a matter of high policy)
to preach that the writings of the philosophes had been
responsible for the recent tragedies, and that the
human race cannot afford to turn its back on history.
The new situation helped to increase the significance
of history and—particularly when combined with the
romantic mood—it tended to alter the character of
the historical endeavor, creating a disposition to turn
it into what was much more a study of the past for
its own sake. One result of this was the awakening of
interest in the Middle Ages and a discovery of the
achievement of the medieval Church; and this was
initially the work of Protestant scholars, though it
became a source of considerable stimulus to Roman
Catholicism. After the example had been set in England
by Edmund Burke before the end of the eighteenth
century, the cause of tradition in both the political and
the religious field came to find its expositors amongst
the European intelligentsia, and conservatism itself
acquired a more imposing intellectual support. These
factors help to explain why, in the nineteenth century,
religion again became a power in the world, and why
also the most remarkable features of the story were
the revival of Roman Catholicism and the emergence
in the 1830's of the Oxford movement.

Yet, to a considerable degree, the movement against
Christianity increased in power, and the hostility to
ecclesiastical systems now turned more definitely into
an attack on religion as such. The formidable character
of the secularizing forces helped in fact to provoke
a counter-movement (to alarm the Tractarians in
Oxford, for example) and the conflict between belief
and unbelief became a more profound and serious
affair. It is interesting to see that in France, where the
hostility to Rome and to Christianity itself was still
so strong, the growth and the assertiveness of Catholic
piety became particularly evident; and the very power
which the state acquired over the church in the
Napoleonic settlement drove Catholics to recognize
the papacy as their true support, the old Gallican
prejudices giving way to Ultramontanism.

The century saw the continued enlargement of the
power and the scope of the state—a state now by
necessity increasingly engrossed by secular preoccupa-
tions—and this became irksome at times even to
Protestants, irksome even to sections of that highly
national body, the Church of England. Precisely be-
cause the state was so obviously no longer a “religious
society,” virtually coextensive with a church, Christians
were thrown back on the idea of the Church as a
separate body, functioning for special purposes and
existing by virtue of a divine commission. Something
of the resulting aspiration for autonomy is visible not
only in the Oxford movement but even in Germany,
where princes in the period after 1815 still had great
power over their churches, and were able to bring
about the unification of the Lutheran and Reformed
systems in many regions.

At the same time the natural sciences, and the out-
look that was associated with them, began to present
more serious difficulties. In the 1830's and 1840's geol-
ogy challenged the book of Genesis, though progressive
Christians were able to meet the difficulty by reverting
to more flexible ideas about biblical inspiration—ideas
which had been held before, and the resort to which
was coming to be necessary for other reasons. But the
doctrine of evolution, particularly as developed by
Charles Darwin in the Origin of Species (1859), seemed
to involve a more radical change in one's views about
the nature of man, the character of the universe, and
the potentialities of science. All the while the develop-
ment of biblical study and the application of the his-
torical method in that field—including a closer analysis
of the Gospels—was producing equally disturbing re-
sults, especially in the work of the Tübingen school,
for example the Life of Jesus (1835) by David Friedrich
Strauss. Some people met all this with blind con-
servatism, some left the Church, and from memoirs,
biographies, and fiction we can see how often this was
accompanied by great heart-searching, carried out as
though it were itself a religious act. Some kept the
old belief that in the long run religion would become
compatible with both science and history, and were
driven to think more deeply about the essential nature
of their faith.

Apart from the ferment of the liberal and democratic
ideas which had come down from revolutionary France
and had been disseminated over Europe through the
victories of Napoleon, the rise of industrialism, the
emergence of vast urban concentrations, and the plight
of the new working classes resulted in an environment
more hostile to religion, more refractory to ecclesias-
tical teaching. For many centuries it had been almost
too easy to be a believing Christian. Now, it was not
so easy, and those who adhered to the faith had to
think more deeply about the nature of it and revise
their notion of the duties that it carried with it.

Roman Catholicism may have gained considerable
strength from the fact that it set itself so consistently
against the very things that were to become the pre-
vailing tendencies of the nineteenth century. It seems
to have acquired internal depth and spiritual intensity
from the fact that it stood so firmly by its ancient


teaching and was so assured in its dogmatic claims.
Its revival had begun before 1815, and it produced a
restoration of religious orders (including the general
reestablishment of the Jesuits in 1814); also an intellec-
tual revival in Germany which made Munich an ex-
hilarating city before the middle of the century. The
creation of an unprecedented number of congregations,
societies, etc., meant that the activity and support of
the laity as well as the clergy were recruited, as never
before, for the care of the distressed, the carrying of
the gospel to neglected areas in the towns, and the
missionary work abroad.

Attempts to reconcile the religion and the authority
of the papacy with a program of modern democratic
ideas were firmly suppressed, however. For a little while
after his elevation in 1846 Pope Pius IX tried to coop-
erate with liberalism in the Papal States; but the drift
to extremism, and the crucial demand that he—a
prince of peace—should turn “nationalist” and help
to drive the Austrians from Italy, showed the impos-
sibility of this. In 1864 his Syllabus of Errors made
clear how Rome had been setting itself against the
encroachments of the state in ecclesiastical matters,
including education; it was also against the views of
liberals on toleration, and against any qualification of
the claim that Roman Catholicism was the single true
religion. There was specific condemnation of any sug-
gestion that the Supreme Pontiff either could or ought
to reconcile himself with “progress, liberalism, and
modern civilization.” If the year 1870 saw the great
humiliation of the pope—his loss of Rome and his
disappearance as a temporal power—it saw also the
Infallibility Decree of the First Vatican Council and
the explicit recognition of his supremacy in the spirit-
ual realm.

All this would have been impossible if he had not
now found in faithful Catholics throughout Europe a
support more reliable than his predecessors had re-
ceived from actual governments, and if there had not
been a widespread resolve to rescue the traditions and
doctrines of the Church from current, fashionable,
intellectual movements. On the theoretical side, the
conservative attitude itself became imposing through
the reassertion and reexposition of the scholastic
teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Before the end of
the century Pope Leo XIII encouraged French Catho-
lics to cooperate with the French Republic, but this
did not prevent the complete separation of Church and
State and further attacks on the religious orders in that
country. In the ten or fifteen years from 1893 an effec-
tive resistance was made to the Catholic “Modernist”
movement, which attempted to take account of
achievements in biblical scholarship and historical
criticism (and in particular to introduce the more
flexible views of biblical inspiration now familiar
amongst the Protestants). Though there were features
in this Modernism which disturbed even enlightened
Protestants, the radical nature of its suppression lent
color to the view of Baron von Hügel that the Curia
was carrying reaction too far.

In England and Germany the Pietistic and Evangel-
ical movements went on increasing their power. In
England the nonconformists had been growing rapidly
in numbers, embracing a quarter of the population at
the beginning of the nineteenth century. Their expan-
sion became still more remarkable from this time,
especially in the newly industrialized regions, and it
was now that “the nonconformist conscience” became
a formidable affair. From 1833, however, when as a
result of the Reform Bill it was less easy than before
to regard Parliament as the lay assembly of the
Anglican Church, and when the Whigs seemed partic-
ularly menacing, the Oxford movement reasserted the
idea of the Church as a separate, divinely constituted
body to be governed by bishops who held authority
as the successors of the Apostles. Still more, they
wished to reassert the Catholic side of the Anglican
tradition, to revive the spiritual life that had been
manifested in the ancient saints and to restore the
beliefs and ceremonies of earlier times. The very epis-
copal authority which they invoked declined on the
whole to tolerate them, and in this predicament some
of their distinguished representatives—men like
Newman and Manning—moved over to Rome. Like
the nonconformists, the Oxford Tractarians had an
influence that extended far beyond their own circle,
and in their case it was an influence out of all propor-
tion to their numbers.

Germany, on the other hand, not only saw a
quickening of religious life, but also acquired a re-
markable intellectual leadership in the Protestant
world. The predominance that she had achieved in
philosophy and historical science gave her resources
for adventurous attempts to vindicate the Christian
outlook, and made Lutheranism more creative than it
had been since the days of its founder. The German
thinkers tried to meet the challenge of the age by
examining the bases of religion itself—some grounding
theology on inner experience, some insisting on a
creatureliness and a feeling of dependence in man,
some stressing the direct apprehension of the divine,
some holding that all thinking should start with Christ
and the Gospel. Certain writers raised the question
whether the surrender of Christianity to Greek thought
in the early centuries of the Church had not been a
misfortune. Others carried further than ever before the
study and criticism of the Bible, the examination of
the early Church, and the history of Christian dogma.


Protestantism became more splintered than ever in the
nineteenth century; but even more than Roman
Catholicism it expressed itself in movements to assist
the distressed classes, to reform society, to carry reli-
gion into neglected areas, and to enlarge the missionary
work abroad.

The nineteenth century was important in the history
of religion, partly because it saw advances in thought
on both the Catholic and the Protestant sides, and
partly because the conflict with secularism and unbelief
had become so formidable. In spite of the great seces-
sions that took place, both Catholicism and Protes-
tantism appeared stronger at the end of the century
than at the beginning, besides involving far greater
numbers of their adherents in a clearer act of affirma-
tive decision, and stimulating greater activity in the
laity. In both great sections of the Church, the clergy,
in their combination of earnestness, intelligence, and
training, may have reached a general standard rarely
known in the history of the Church. It would not be
easy for people today to realize the degree to which,
down to 1914, the local church was for most people
the hub of their social life—the place that often pro-
vided the only societies, sporting clubs, festivals and
parties, informative lectures, and musical evenings—
the place where men met their sweethearts and
gathered their circle of friends. A tremendous foreign
missionary endeavor from the 1790's, particularly in
Protestantism (and facilitated to some degree by the
opportunities open to colonialist nations), had far ex-
ceeded all precedents and had carried Christianity into
every quarter of the globe.

In the United States the number of Christians and
the percentage of the population that were church
members, at the beginning of the nineteenth century,
were remarkably low and ecclesiastical systems did not
possess the privileges that they so often enjoyed in the
European states. The material preoccupations of a
pioneer society, and the industrial and urban develop-
ments as the century proceeded, would have seemed
calculated to check the development of religion; yet
a tremendous internal missionary work made the ad-
vance of the churches in the United States more re-
markable than in the Old World. This missionary work
accompanied the westward movement, and the pecu-
liar needs of the frontier and of pioneer conditions
helped to produce “revivalist” methods, camp-
meetings, circuit riders, and travelling evange-
lists—techniques of mass-conversion often supported
by the fervor for “Gospel hymns” and negro “spirit-
uals.” The effect of all this was to alter the balance
of forces and in general to change the physiognomy
of American religion. Victory came to the denomi-
nations that had missionary ardor and the ability to
offer the kind of message that could reach the people.
Within Protestantism it was now the Baptists and
Methodists who multiplied, swamping the Congrega-
tionalists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians, who had
predominated at the beginning of the century.

Roman Catholicism from being one of the smallest
became the largest single religious body in the country,
partly as a result of the great number of immigrantss.
Protestantism now acquired a remarkable “popular”
shape which corresponded to the “popular” side of
Catholicism, though it bore a vastly different character,
which contributed similarly to the cause of intellectual
conservatism in the churches. The whole movement
led to a great splintering of the older denominations
and the founding of new ones, particularly Mormonism
in 1830, the Seventh Day Adventists, organized in
1863, and the Church of Christ Scientist in 1879. In
the nineteenth century and the early decades of the
twentieth there was a vast increase in the percentage
of the population that was actively connected with
some church, and, by the close of that period religion—
with its Social Gospel and its colossal philanthropies—
had done much to shape the American outlook, helping
first to generate the American ideal and then, perhaps,
to fasten Christianity itself within the limits of that

7. The Twentieth Century. In the twentieth century
two World Wars, centered at the heart of European
Christendom, shook the earth and made history more
dynamic. Christianity was faced by organized systems
such as Communism and Nazism, which constituted
a more powerful threat to it, and cleared away more
of the traditional fabric of society, than anything hith-
erto known. The acceleration of scientific progress, the
resulting change in one's notions of the physical uni-
verse, the great power that man had acquired over
nature, the enormous advances of educational systems
that were essentially secular, and the influence of the
popular press, radio, and television in the dissemination
of a new world view—all these produced a greater
intellectual challenge than religion of any sort had ever
had to meet before. Now, also, the ethical ideas of
society, though so many of them still carried the marks
of Christian influence, came to conflict in an unprece-
dented way with some of the longest and most consist-
ent traditions of the churches. The fact that the
churches had so often been engaged in a rearguard
action—sometimes against liberty, sometimes against
science itself—became a disadvantage, since it left (as
an additional obstruction to the hearing of the Gospel)
a resentment in intelligent people, even a fear lest the
Church should ever recover its power. In other conti-
nents, the great missionary endeavor (in which man
may sometimes have tried unthinkingly to tie Christi-


anity to the values and the manners of Western civili-
zation) came to be charged understandably, but un-
justly, with having sought to provide cover for
imperialist purposes.

The resulting issues are as momentous as in the days
when the faith of the first disciples had to confront
the culture of the Greco-Roman world, and it is not
easy to say what will be the long-term effects of the
new situation on the intellectualization of the faith and
the attempt to run it into a new world view. The actual
experiences of the human race, as it develops the
implications of its current systems, may affect the story;
and it is not clear that Christianity may not have to
confront a world somewhat similar to the one which
the early Church had to face in the Roman Empire—a
hostile world, but suffering strange nostalgias and
harassed by competing forms of faith.

In some respects the churches may have drawn in
upon themselves as though determined not to lose
anything essential in their ancient heritage. A liberal-
ism which, before and after the First World War, may
have been too directly rationalistic, soon came to ap-
pear “dated,” and even Protestants—even noncon-
formists—became somewhat more interested in their
tradition. The situation of the world may help to ex-
plain why Karl Barth in 1918 began to present the
“theology of Crisis,” directly attacking liberalism and
reviving some of the profounder aspects of early
Lutheranism. But historiography raised radical prob-
lems, especially when from 1919 the teachers of
Formgeschichte examined the shape which the early
Church had given to the packets of oral tradition that
lay behind the Gospels. History emerged again as a
crucial issue for an “historical religion” in the much
controverted work of Rudolf Bultmann. He called for
“de-mythologizing” and presented existentialist ideas
which threw light on some aspects of Christianity if
not also on history itself.

The Bible retained its influence even amongst people
(including Roman Catholics) who had accepted the
kind of criticism that could be described as central.
In the United States the churches retained their high
membership and remarkable vigor for further decades,
the country acquiring a recognized leadership in the
Protestant world. But, even amid technological
progress and booming prosperity, influential teachers
issued their moral challenges, took their stand on the
Bible, and reasserted the pessimistic view of human
nature. The spectacular scandals and crimes in certain
sections of society did not nullify that compassion and
that American idealism which owed so much to an
ultimate Christian influence.

It was natural that, in the new situation, the various
sects and denominations should lose much of their
former fanaticism and hostility, and should come to
feel one another as allies against a world of hostile
forces. To a considerable degree it was coming to be
the case that, within Protestantism, the differences
between the liberals and the conservatives in the vari-
ous churches were deeper than the differences between
one denomination and another. Even in the decades
after 1914, it became an important consideration that
the work of foreign missions was being hampered by
the divisions within Christianity. Unions between de-
nominations and cooperation for special objects,
though not unknown before, now became much more
frequent and significant. The Ecumenical movement
was a natural development of this and a typical feature
of it was the preparation in 1938, and the official
constitution at Amsterdam in 1940, of the plan for a
World Council of Churches. The work of Pope John
XXIII and the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65
stand as one of the most remarkable features of the
twentieth-century story—a significant change in the
relations between Catholic and Protestant, who (in
spite of rivalries and hostilities) had never, throughout
the centuries, quite ceased to exert a beneficent influ-
ence on one another.

Lord Acton once remarked that he saw Providence
in general history (saw it in the march of “progress,”
as he explicitly stated on a number of occasions); but
he added that he did not detect it in the history of
the Church. His attitude is understandable, for ecclesi-
astical systems have not been exempted from scandals
and crimes; and (at least in those tangible things which
the secular historian has chiefly in mind) they would
seem to have been subject to the laws which govern
other religions, including that of the Old Testament.
Acton may have been misled because he tended to be
interested in the kind of history that deals with “public
affairs” and perhaps saw the historical Church too
much as a politico-religious institution. All the same,
he must have known in his heart that its essence lay
in the spiritual life which presumed the immediacy of
divine activity, though it might be unrelated to
“progress”—a spiritual life which might be at least as
profound in the fifth or the fifteenth century as in the
twentieth. He was prepared also to see all history as
the development of the scope and the quality of the
human conscience, this conscience being a key to
progress itself and the effective dynamic behind even
modern revolution, in his view. The enlarged scope
for the individual conscience had been achieved by the
influence of Christianity, making the great contrast
with classical antiquity where, he said, man's duty had
been prescribed to him by the state.

Mazzini regarded the French Revolution as the cli-
max and fulfilment of Christianity which, by making


every human being a value incommensurate with any-
thing else in the created universe, could be regarded
as working throughout the centuries for the principle
of “individualism,” working for it at times even when
ecclesiastical systems were resisting it. On this view
a Christian civilization operates (as Acton believed) to
produce a regime of freedom, and the effect of its
advance is to bring about a greater differentiation in
personalities, a world in which each man decides the
object he will work for and the God whom he will
serve. Mazzini was not content with this, however, and
insisted that a new stage had been reached—a stage
at which the individual ought to give way to the “or-
ganic People.” And this is perhaps the great issue;
whether men shall be organized, and even herded like
cattle, to carry out a single all-consuming purpose that
is imposed on everybody.

There are elements or patterns of Christian thought
that appear in a more or less secularized form in a
Voltaire, a Rousseau, a Hegel, a Mazzini, a Ranke, and
a Marx; and perhaps they come to an end there. From
the middle of the twentieth century, the world moves
on its own momentum to new patterns of thought, new
notions of the enterprise of living, new realms of
human experience. Behind the technological age and
the attempt to explore the outer universe, and behind
the permissive society are elements which were part
of the Christian outlook, but which, having become
autonomous, have moved far forward on their own
account. Perhaps the great compassionateness now
visible in contemporary society will stand as the most
palpable result of fifteen hundred years of Christian
predominance in Europe. And now, perhaps, for the
first time during those fifteen hundred years, Christi-
anity returns to something like its original state—a
world in which it cannot be objected that, for the great
majority of people, things are unfairly disposed in favor
of conventional or habitual or hereditary belief.