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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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CHRISTIANITY IN HISTORY
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CHRISTIANITY IN HISTORY

Christianity: the religion which grew out of the
Jewish faith as transformed by the worship of Jesus
Christ after the Resurrection, and which, by combina-
tion with Greek culture and the conversion of a great
part of the Roman Empire, took a systematized form
as “historical Christianity,” having its chief basis in
Europe and presiding over the development of Western
civilization until recent centuries.

I. THE EARLY CHURCH

1. Judaic Christianity. The disciples of Jesus, if they
appeared ready to confess their despondency and even
weakness at the time of the Crucifixion, made a recov-
ery so rapid that it puzzles the historians. It altered


374

the course of history; for though, as a result of it, they
did not exactly announce a new religion to their fellow
countrymen, they proclaimed an “event” which
brought the older faith to its culmination, shattering
its traditional framework and calling for a host of new
interpretations. It would seem that, during the lifetime
of Jesus, they may have followed Him without properly
understanding the drift of His teaching; and it would
appear to have been the vividness of their belief in
the Resurrection that transformed the situation for
them, enabling them to feel that now everything could
be fitted into place. It had in fact convinced them that
Jesus was the fulfilment of the famous prophecies on
which the Jews had been relying for a long time; and
that, if the truth had been so difficult to recognize,
it had been because those prophecies—and particularly
the notions of the Messiah and the divine Kingdom—
had been construed in too mundane a manner. Once
this basic insight had been reached, a remarkable work
of intellectual synthesis was quickly achieved, and
there followed an amazing missionary endeavor, which
required considerable bravery at first and cannot be
plausibly accounted for by reference to mundane
vested interests. It is clear to the historian, and it was
amply admitted at the time, that the dynamic behind
all this was the conviction that the beloved Leader
has risen from the dead. There was a strong expectation
that He would quickly return.

It has always been a matter of the greatest difficulty
for Christianity—and perhaps for any similar form of
faith—to secure by peaceful means and sheer mission-
ary endeavor the wholesale conversion of a people
already dominated by an exclusive form of supernatural
religion. The Holy Land was in this position, and
though Judaism was in a fluid and interesting state,
the disciples produced only what appeared to be an
addition to the multitude of sects and parties there—
some of these latter being impressive on the spiritual
and ethical side, and some of them so similar in one
way or another that the tracing of influences among
them is a delicate affair. The Church for a few decades
was predominantly Judeo-Christian, its members still
attending the Temple and conforming to the Law, but
meeting also in private houses or the Upper Room for
instruction, prayer, and the breaking of bread. Until
the war which led to the destruction of the city in
A.D. 70, it was the group in Jerusalem (with James,
the brother of Jesus, at its head) which was the leader.

It seems to have been quickly recognized that con-
verts from paganism were admissible; and pagans were
encountered in great numbers when the gospel was
carried to the virtually Greek cities, such as Caesarea,
on the Palestine coast. Communities were soon estab-
lished also in Damascus and the Hellenistic city of
Antioch, beyond the frontier; and Antioch, where the
term “Christian” came into use, became the center for
a wider missionary campaign in the Greco-Roman
world. But also, at this early stage in the story, Chris-
tian missions (following previous ones on the part of
the Jews) spread eastwards to Transjordan and into
Arabia, and they were pushed forwards to the upper
Euphrates and the Tigris. Here, churches using the
Aramaic tongue became important during the earliest
centuries. Some difficulty arose over the question
whether the pagans should be made to conform to the
Jewish law and this may have created additional diffi-
culty for Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, as Jewish
nationalism became more intense, more exacting. But
the extension into the Greco-Roman world, together
with the destruction of Jerusalem, brought the Chris-
tian faith a higher degree of autonomy, a further scope
for development; and it opened to Christianity the
possibility of becoming a world-religion. The early
need for exposition in the Greek language, the marriage
with Greek ideas, and the contact with a highly devel-
oped culture were to prove important in this connec-
tion. “Historical Christianity”—the religion as we have
actually known it in its concrete development through
the centuries—comes in some respects as a Greco-
Jewish synthesis, owing part of its power to the combi-
nation of two such highly different systems. It would
be interesting to know how the religion would have
developed if, in its early generative period, it had
combined with a different culture.

The historian is hampered because the Christians in
their very earliest period produced so little in writing,
or at least preserved so little. Their leaders knew what
was needed at the time, however, and the whole future
question of authority in the Church would seem to have
been decisively affected by the fact that (for the imme-
diate purpose) so much was realized to depend on the
evidence of eyewitnesses, and the primacy was natu-
rally given to these. Perhaps it is for similar reasons
that one glimpses the importance of certain relatives
of Jesus in the earliest days at Jerusalem; and, of course,
Saint Paul was accepted as an Apostle because his
particular vision of the risen Christ was regarded as
giving him first hand knowledge. Once the eyewitnesses
had passed off the scene, it was natural that a certain
primacy should be conceded to those who had been
closest to them—those to whom they had communi-
cated most; and the objective was the preservation of
what had originally been delivered at first hand—what
in the course of time could only appear in a less cogent
form as “tradition.”

The attempt to secure uniformity in the Church
would seem to go back to the jealousy with which the
Judeo-Christian leaders in Jerusalem regarded the


375

“Hellenizers”—some of these latter being Jews who
had been affected by Hellenization or pagans who
(before becoming Christian) had been converts to
Judaism. When the “Hellenizers” carried the gospel
to pagans in the Greek coastal cities of Palestine or
in Syria, it would appear that the Church at Jerusalem
would send a “Hebrew” to check on the result of their
work. But, in spite of the care that was taken, there
were aberrations even amongst the Christians in
Palestine; and in Samaria, which had already been
heterodox in its Judaism, an irregular form of Christi-
anity slid away and became the origin of Gnosticism—
this after A.D. 70, when the failure of Jahweh to grant
victory in an apocalyptic war helped to produce a
movement partly directed against the Old Testament
deity. Henceforward, the rise of Christianity was par-
alleled by the multiplication of Gnostic sects which,
in spite of their fantastic character, proved imposing.
Now, more than ever, it was necessary to safeguard
the original doctrines of the Church.

2. The Church in the Roman Empire. The Chris-
tians would appear in the empire as a strange small
sect and for a time their recruits were perhaps chiefly
amongst the lowly, though churches for which the
epistles of Saint Paul were written can hardly be re-
garded as unimpressive. In the Roman Empire the
believers might be hated because they were confused
with the Jews or because the Jews incited the pagans
against them; but in the first two centuries they suffered
from the hostility of the populace rather than the
intolerance of the emperors. After the fall of Jerusalem
it was in Asia Minor that they came to appear most
numerous, most lively, and most capable; and for a
long time this was the most impressive seat of the
Church. In various parts of the empire the teaching
in the apostolic period itself would tend to vary, at
least in its emphases, and the tradition came to develop
on differing lines. Also, as time went on, one great
region (almost as a matter of temperament) would be
preoccupied chiefly with doctrine while another con-
centrated on asceticism and another became interested
in organization.

From the middle of the second century, Helleniza-
tion—which found its climax in Alexandria—had cap-
tured the mentality of churchmen, who, instead of
appearing as a mere sect came out into first-class con-
troversy with leading intellectuals. They had taken
Platonic ideas into their own system, but they set out
to show where pagan thought had gone wrong, and
claimed that Christianity was the culmination of Greek
culture, the real heir of ancient philosophy. While this
was happening, and the Church was settling down to
a long-term role in the world, there arose in Asia Minor
the Montanism which in a sense implied a reversion
to the primitive spirit, the exultant early days. It meant
a wave of “prophesyings,” a reawakening of more
immediate eschatological hopes, a severity in disci-
plinary matters and something like an actual thirst for
martyrdom. Dealing with these problems was part of
the larger process by which a sect that had envisaged
an imminent eschatological climax gradually turned
into a sedentary Church, realizing what it needed if
it were to exist on a permanent footing. Controversies
in the third century about penance, about relapses in
time of persecution, about the validity of baptism by
heretics, and about the rights of bishops, were part of
the consequences of this transition.

Christians were beginning to develop a larger world
view; scholarship was accumulating; the interest in
history was rising. Confronted by the multiplicity of
theological opinions, towards the end of the second
century, Irenaeus had insisted on the steadying influ-
ence of bishops, who were still regarded as the reposi-
tories of the original apostolic tradition. In spite of the
varieties at a certain level, an impressive uniformity
and consistency had been made possible by such pro-
cedures as the communication from one region to
another of the decisions made by local councils of
bishops. At the same time, the heads of great sees
attempted on occasion to secure the support of Rome
in a doctrinal controversy, and this was capable of
being construed later as an appeal to Rome. The
church in Rome, very much a church of foreign colon-
ists at first, was for a long time cosmopolitan—
consisting of groups that had brought their local tradi-
tions and customs with them. Like Christianity itself,
all new sects, all heresies, all novel teaching sought
to reach the capital of the empire; and the bishop of
Rome would have to meet early at a local level the
challenge that these were later to present to the
Church in general. When Christians from further east
brought to Rome their different dates for the celebra-
tion of Easter, he was in a position to be highly aware
of the inconvenience of this anomaly. Perhaps because
he was inclined to be less speculative than the bishops
of the Greek-speaking East, and more concerned for
tradition and order, he not only met problems early
but seems often to have commanded respect by his
actual decisions. In the remarkable period in which
the universal Church was developing its organization,
he gains in importance, though all his claims do not
go unchallenged. To us it might appear that the lead-
ership which he asserted was likely to become due to
him by reason of his merits. At the same time, it was
still recognized that the authority of a bishopric—or
a local tradition—depended primarily on the distinc-
tion of its apostolic origin. Rome could claim to go
back to Peter and Paul.


376

In the middle of the third century the expansion is
remarkable in Africa and in Western Europe, as well
as in the lands to the east of the Mediterranean. Further
east again, the missionary work pushes across Iraq,
though its effect is to be gravely limited from this point
by a Persian dynasty that is committed to Zoroastrian-
ism. At a time when the Roman Empire was coming
under pressure on the frontiers and was moving to-
wards a grim development—while in any case this
empire held hosts of déracinés, people feeling lost, not
quite at home in the world—the older paganism was
coming into decline. Oriental mystery cults attempted
to answer the need for a salvationist faith with its
mysticisms and forms of sacrament; philosophy outside
the Church was running to religiosity. By the second
half of the third century the Church had become an
imposing body and a powerful influence in the empire,
with important government and court officials amongst
its members. Amongst its assets in the great conflict
of religions were the possession of a sacred book; the
attachment not to a mythical figure or a demiurge but
to a Person who had walked in the world and could
be identified in history; the assistance of an imposing
organization; and the fact that this religion, besides
producing its martyrs and issuing in an expressive kind
of devotion, had become intimately connected with the
moral life and works of charity. The Church was be-
ginning perhaps to suffer even from its prosperity, and,
to some, the rise of heresies seemed to come as a
retribution for this. Already the controversies had
opened which led to the long conflicts over the Holy
Trinity and the Person of Christ.

Christianity had profited from the meeting of Jewish
religion, Greek philosophy, and the Roman Empire—a
conjuncture that seemed to coincide with the Incarna-
tion. It had profited from the defects of all three—
Jewish legalism, the tendencies of Greek philosophy
at this late period, and the frustrations and distracted-
ness of the Roman world. It had appeared at an ad-
vanced date in that long period in which much of the
ability and the yearning of the human race in Asia,
and now even in Europe—the result of a great anxiety
about man's destiny—had been directed to the explor-
ing of the possibilities of the spiritual realm. At a
turning-point in the history of man's religious conscious-
ness, Christianity, moreover, had moved into a highly
civilized world which had an advanced form of urban
life—a world which could support it with a certain
refinement of intellect.

Its success was bound to affect the mentality of
men—bound to alter their way of experiencing life,
their attitude to nature, their posture under the sun,
and their notions of human destiny. Since Christians
believed in the Incarnation, they were bound to deny
the gulf which the pagans had so often presumed to
exist between God and Nature—bound to reject the
view that matter is evil and that salvation must consist
in escape from the body. They could not believe that
in an eternity of cyclic repetitions Christ would go
on dying over and over again for sinners; so they were
released from extreme cyclic theories, while the Old
Testament presented history as moving forward, mov-
ing to an objective, an unrepeatable and irreversible
thing. The Old Testament indeed, forced them to look
at history and regard it as important, and it cannot
have been without significance that in Europe, for
generation after generation, men could not learn about
their religion without turning to what was really very
ancient history. Instead of a great emphasis on Fortune,
Christianity gave currency to the notion that the hand
of Providence was in everything and (as had already
happened) this might mean that retrospective reason-
ing could ultimately make sense of that kind of history-
making which goes on over people's heads, overriding
their conscious purposes and their predictions. Christi-
anity stressed the sanctity of human life, the impor-
tance of the family, the inadmissibility of sexual license
and the evil of such things as gladiatorial contests and
the murder of infants. It regarded suicide as wicked.
It insisted that man's life had a spiritual dimension,
but it combined a high view of personality and its
potentialities with an insistence on man's universal sin.
It must have affected the world—the very conception
of a human being—when, week in and week out, in
numberless localities, men were reminded to reflect on
their own sins, on forgiveness, humility, mercy, and
love.

3. The Christianized Empire. After the failure of
a great persecution and a tyrannical development of
the empire, the Emperor Constantine granted to the
Church in A.D. 313 full freedom of worship and the
restitution of confiscated goods. Henceforward, he in-
creased his favors to the Christians, and the Church
began to move into a privileged position. It could be
argued that his interests as an emperor would recom-
mend an alliance with an institution that carried
power; but there are signs that he was a sincere be-
liever, though pagan in his manner of believing—too
sure that the Christian God was the one who was
victorious in battle and helped him to outwit his ene-
mies. All this came as the climax of the Christian
interpretation of history that had been developing—
with the Hebrews regarded as the fathers of civili-
zation, their language the original one, the language
of God; Christianity being the return to the original
religion of mankind, the one from which the Jews had
lapsed (only to be partially rescued by Moses) while
the Greeks had declined still more—the Church being
the heir of the wisdom of both Jews and Greeks, how-
ever, and the Incarnation coinciding neatly with the


377

establishment of the Roman Empire, the era of peace.
It seemed that, at this culminating moment, when the
empire itself was becoming Christian, churchmen were
willing to attribute to a Christian emperor the kind
of divinity that they had refused to concede to his
predecessors.

Henceforward it became almost consistently true
that all who wished to gain imperial favor or to hold
office or to make their way in society would have every
motive for joining the Church; and the conversion of
the Roman Empire—hitherto a matter of persuasion
and not without its risks—was to be continued by the
strong arm of the state. This was almost bound to
introduce corruptions in the Church itself, and to in-
crease the danger of a formal Christianity, mixed with
paganism and thinking in pagan terms—the danger also
of official compromises with paganism. It was perhaps
natural, but it was unfortunate, that when there were
parties in the Church, one or more of these (not merely
the orthodox, but sometimes the heretical) should ap-
peal to the emperor, even when he was not inclined
to intervene. This had its special dangers, for in A.D.
325 Constantine himself, having called the first ecu-
menical council at Nicaea, put himself behind the
decree of that Council, condemning the Arian heresy,
but within less than three years was induced to change
his mind.

Stranger still, men so convinced that they spoke for
the right religion—and so sure that government and
power should be at the service of God—were soon
advocates of persecution; and the process in this case
was so understandable that nobody today can feel sure
that, living in the same period and sharing the same
assumptions about religion, he would have decided
differently. Some who were slow in their conversion
to the practice appear to have been brought over when
the victims of persecution declared later in life that
they were now glad that they had been coerced.

Already, in the reign of Constantine, there arose
issues which were to trouble the Church for a long
time. One of them was the Donatist schism, which
arose out of the later persecutions and was directed
against bishops who had consented to the handing over
of sacred books to the magistrates. It led to the erection
of a counter-church in Africa—bishop confronting
antibishop—with violence, persecution, atrocities,
self-immolation, and streaks of the revolutionary and
the apocalyptic. An extravagant, though serious and
understandable, religious issue received tremendous
leverage from social discontent and possibly a sort of
nationalism, and from hostility to the Roman establish-
ment. The trouble lasted for a century, almost until
the barbarians overran the province.

Shortly before 325, Arius, who wished to guard the
sovereignty of God the Father, and may not have been
far enough from paganism to reject all ideas of subor-
dination in the deity, produced a doctrine which, while
asserting the divinity of the Son, secured a clear reduc-
tion of status for Him. The controversy tore the Church
apart until A.D. 381, and it is perhaps not too much
to say that for a longer period than this a great deal
of the ecclesiastical conflict lay between men who
wished to assert both the complete divinity and the
complete humanity of Christ, but could not agree on
the formula that would ensure the one without deplet-
ing the other. The formula adopted at Nicaea,
homoousion (consubstantial with the Father) had al-
ready been rejected in a part of the eastern Church
that had reacted against a heresy of an opposite tend-
ency. It was uncongenial to some because in any case
it could not claim to be scriptural. Various shades of
the Arian and Nicene formulas were attempted by one
party and another, who suggested “like the Father”
and “of like substance with the Father,” though there
emerged one group that diverged further than Arius
and declared that there was no likeness at all. The
emperors provided a complicating factor—now hesi-
tating, now changing their minds, now plumping for
a form of Arianism. The West remained firm in its
support of the Nicene formula, but subtle differences
arose when technical terms had been translated into
Latin, and the West was later than the East in con-
fronting the earlier heresy that had constituted the
opposite danger. At a moment when a great work of
reconciliation was being achieved, there emerged an
emperor who was a Westerner and a pious man, and
he clinched the matter by an edict in 380, and a second
ecumenical council, that of Constantinople, 381, which
confirmed Nicaea.

If the Church had become more worldly and more
contentious, its power to inspire renunciation and the
life of the spirit was reasserted in the development of
monasteries. There had been analogies to this in other
parts of the globe, but Christianity had had from the
first an ideal of chastity and poverty, and the sufferings
of the martyrs had kept its self-denying aspects alive.
The Egyptian anchorites are anterior to the victory
of the Church in the empire, and, when they appear,
they have strange features, particularly their obsession
with the battle against the vast multiplicity of
demons—a battle which could only be won by the
repudiation of the world, a tremendous disciplining of
the body, and a conquest of all ordinary emotions. It
was a battle not to be won by the man who lived as
a citizen in society; and, though prayers—sometimes
repeated in what seems to be an incredibly mechanical
manner—contributed to the objective, the movement
was one which needed the greatest care by the Church.
Nor is it clear how much of its deeper Christian char-
acter may not have been contributed retrospectively


378

by the influential literature that it provoked. We are
told, however, that Saint Anthony, when he went to
a solitary life in the desert in A.D. 271, was moved by
the injunction: “Sell all that thou hast and give to the
poor and follow me.” The Egyptian desert offered a
remarkable opportunity, and great numbers followed
his example. Something that almost seems like a com-
petition in asceticism may have developed here and
there—and warnings against spiritual pride in this
connection appear early in Egypt—but out of his very
loneliness the hermit was to contribute something of
rare quality to the inner life of the Church.

The anchorites came to rudimentary forms of
grouping for certain purposes, but it was Saint
Pachomius who, in about A.D. 320 or 323, brought to
the problem an essentially organizing mind and estab-
lished the community principle. He prescribed rules
for a whole order of monasteries; and, now not only
renunciation but also obedience was important, while,
besides vigils, readings from the Bible, prayer, and
contemplation, there was greater emphasis on manual
labor. The hermit was to have a significant history in
Palestine and Syria, but Saint Basil the Great, from
about A.D. 357, produced a community ideal which
superseded this and became current throughout the
Greek world. Before the middle of the century the
news had reached the West and very soon ascetic
groups were being founded there, though it was not
until something like two hundred years later that Saint
Benedict established his famous Rule that became the
guide for Westerners. The whole movement, the liter-
ature that arose from it, and the spiritual teaching it
produced had a great effect on the Church in general;
and in the fourth century important people, including
a surprising number of the leading intellects, associated
themselves with it, at least during part of their lives.
In its ultimate extension, it was to have by-products
of an unpredictable kind—especially its contributions
to cultural and even economic life. It may have been
in one sense a protest against the growing worldliness
of the fourth-century Church, or an attempt to find
a new pattern of renunciation, in some cases perhaps
even an escape from civic obligations. But it became,
from the religious point of view, an eminently creative
thing.

It is a whole Christian version of civilization that
comes to the front in the fourth century. Biblical
scholarship has advanced and become a technical affair.
Eusebius not only reconstructs the story of the Church
but has an interpretation of world history. The ancient
culture receives a Christian shape, and the transmuta-
tion sometimes shows originality. The greatest intel-
lects of the time, and some of the most imposing Chris-
tian figures of any age are the Fathers of the Church
who cluster in the latter half of the century—almost
all of them highborn, enjoying the best education of
the time, and trained in the monastic movement, yet
emerging also as great men of the world—Saint Basil,
Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine, and
many more. In a period of influential bishops, particu-
larly Saint Ambrose in Milan, the reign of Theodosius
I (379-95) saw paganism forbidden, heretics pursued
by the government, Catholic orthodoxy the official
religion of the whole empire, and the spiritual author-
ity boldly asserting its right against the temporal. The
piety of the lower sections of society made itself evi-
dent in the further development of the cult of martyrs
and the veneration for relics, as well as in the eagerness
for pilgrimages.

Early in the fifth century, Saint Augustine had to
meet an important accusation from the paganism that
still asserted itself, particularly in some of the aristoc-
racy. Barbarian raiders had even reached the city of
Rome. The tragedy that was falling upon the West was
being ascribed to the desertion of the pagan deities.
Augustine answered the charge in his City of God.

II. THE MIDDLE AGES

1. The Church and the Barbarian Invaders. Be-
tween the fifth and the tenth centuries, the downfall
of the Roman Empire in the West, the eruption of
barbarian hordes from Asia, the establishment of
Teutonic monarchies and the long period of wars and
migrations threw the map of the European continent
into the melting pot, until it finally emerged with a
general pattern that is still recognizable today. From
the seventh century, the rise of Islam and the expansion
of the Arabian Empire produced a drastic and perma-
nent division in that Mediterranean world which had
been the seat of the Greco-Roman civilization and had
formed the original Christendom. In the eastern half
of the ancient Roman Empire, the imperial system
maintained itself at Byzantium, and, though it lost to
Islam most of its territory bordering on the eastern as
well as all the southern Mediterranean, it retained its
cultural continuity (and preserved Christianity in
Constantinople) for a further period of something like
a thousand years.

In a sense it is now the history of Europe that really
opens, and this Europe is to emerge as the new form
of “Christendom” though it is only very slowly that
the northern part of it becomes Christianized. The
centuries of upheaval produced a grave decline of
culture even in the south, and much of what had been
subtle and profound in classical thought—much even
of the scholarship and science—was to disappear for
a long period. Henceforward, there is a separate history
of the West and we trace the rise of a Western civili-


379

zation from a comparatively early stage at which soci-
ety itself has returned in many respects to primitive
forms. Compared with the Byzantine world, and even
later with the rapidly developing culture of Islam, the
West appears as a backward region for a long time,
its backwardness illustrated by the appalling collapse
of its city-life, at a time when Constantinople, and later
Bagdad, were of tremendous prestige and size. For
special reasons this Western civilization at its formative
period, when everything was still malleable, found
itself under the presiding influence of a Christianity
that had acquired greater power over mundane affairs
than ever before.

Some of the Teutonic invaders had become Chris-
tianized before their eruption into the Roman world,
but they had been converted by Arians and had re-
ceived the faith in a heretical form. This would seem
to have created difficulties with the populations they
subjected, for no Arian dynasty survived, though, in
the case of Spain, the Visigoths maintained themselves
by going over to Catholicism. The Frankish invaders
of Gaul may have owed some of their success to the
fact that their dynasty was converted only after their
migration into the Roman Empire, so that from the
very first, they adhered to the Catholicism of their
Gallo-Roman subjects. For centuries the reigning
dynasties were to have an exceptional part to play in
the shaping of the map, the history and the culture
of Europe, and it was they who brought their peoples
over to Christianity in those more primitive conditions
under which it was inevitable that religion should be
regarded as the affair of the group.

If Christianity had won its way in the Roman Empire
through individual conversion, it owed its spread over
Europe sometimes to mass-conversion, i.e., to the de-
crees, perhaps the example, sometimes the pressures
and persecuting policies, of those who held the govern-
ment. It was to be extended further in the north of
Europe in subsequent centuries by movements from
both the Catholic West and the Orthodox East, so that,
when the thirteenth century opened, only a small
wedge of paganism remained, near the point where
the southern coast of the Baltic turns north. Lithuania
resisted longest of all, balanced for a considerable
period between the influence of Rome and the influ-
ence of Byzantium. From the western side the advance
was sometimes made through military conquest and
colonization policies, particularly in the east of what
the modern historian knows as Germany. Here the
warfare between Christian and pagan might be of a
brutal kind, down to the time when, in the thirteenth
century, Prussia was “converted” by the Teutonic
Knights.

A considerable part of Europe was Christianized,
therefore, by methods not unlike the ones by means
of which a similar area was brought over to commu-
nism in the twentieth century. As in the case of
communism—though with greater effect in those ear-
lier stages in the history of society—the Christian
control of education, the procedures of indoctrination,
and the withholding of knowledge about possible al-
ternative systems (or the treatment of all alternatives
as merely disreputable) ensured the maintenance of the
authoritarian creed in subsequent centuries, without
the need to continue perpetually the forcible methods
that had been required for its installation. Granted the
conditions of the time, one could say, however, that
those countries which became Christian were fortu-
nate. The existing alternatives would hardly have been
more happy for them. Indeed, it was their conversion
that brought them into the orbit of civilization.

In the Byzantine East, Roman Emperors, continuing
a regime that had developed from the time of Con-
stantine, were able to exercise in some respects (though
perhaps less than was once thought) a species of
“caesaropapism.” But in the West the Roman Emperor
had disappeared, while the bishop of Rome maintained
his spiritual ascendancy amongst Christian believers
and acquired during the invasions even a certain lead-
ership in some secular matters. Pope Gregory the Great
(590-614) was fervent in his religious duties, extending
his influence over western countries, directing the con-
version of England, and asserting the spiritual su-
premacy of Rome as the see of Saint Peter. But in
default of anybody else, at a time when Byzantine
authority in Italy had become inert, he was compelled
to negotiate with the Lombard invaders of Italy and
to administer Rome as a governor, inaugurating the
temporal power of the papacy. It almost seemed as
though the Church in the centuries before the barbar-
ian invasions had unwittingly been developing an or-
ganization exactly calculated to survive, and to pre-
serve the faith, through just such a period of cataclysm
as had now occurred.

In a world where civilization had suffered such a
recession, Christianity itself shared in the “barbariza-
tion,” coming closer sometimes to those pagan super-
stitions that governed primitive minds. Neither the
spiritual life nor examples of saintliness were impossi-
ble, but the intellect was ready to accept magic and
legend even more easily than before; and, since ancient
thought itself was now imperfectly known and imper-
fectly understood, something of superstition was run
into the interstices, and there was produced an outlook
which entangled the material with the spiritual, mak-
ing religion more earthy, in a way, and nature herself
a field for the miraculous.

On the other hand, whatever may be said about the


380

way in which the new nations of Europe were con-
verted, there was a sense in which the spread of
Christianity was the kind of conquest that justifies itself
retrospectively. The most impressive part of the story
is the tremendous internal missionary work which the
Church conducted in the succeeding centuries in the
countries into which it spread—work calculated to
bring religion home to the individual, and to make it
gradually more genuine and profound, even if it had
been shallow and unreliable at first. It was not merely
a case of eliminating all the superstitions that could
not be harnessed to Christianity or preventing lapses
into paganism, but also teaching the belief that had
been handed down, influencing manners and morals,
and deepening sincerity, deepening the appreciation
of the faith. Part of the curious charm of Bede's Eccle-
siastical History
(including those papal letters which
provide guidance for the conversion of England and
prescribe special consideration for those who need
careful weaning from paganism) lies in an amazing
gentleness that stands out (early in the eighth century)
against a background of violence; in it also is found
a combination of high ideas at the spiritual level with
crude notions about the universe, a simple love of
amiable miracles. The great support of the Church in
the Middle Ages was to be the sheer fidelity of the
mass of the people to their beliefs, and whether the
faith were superstitious or not, its genuineness was in
the last resort the real weapon that popes were to have
against kings.

During its earliest centuries, the Church had devel-
oped in a highly civilized world, and its theological
teaching had come to require a considerable degree
of sophistication. The literature to which it was at-
tached, and its own insistence on the continuity of its
doctrinal tradition, gave it a vested interest in the
preservation of the Greco-Roman culture. It could not
prevent a serious relapse even within its own ranks;
but in a sense it had from the first been particularly
organizing itself for the preservation of a creedal system;
and this—indeed the maintenance of the whole tradi-
tion—called for a staff of trained ecclesiastics. These
latter, precisely because of the education that was so
essential for them, were to become indispensable also
in the work of secular government. The attachment
to the Scriptures made the Christian Church the enemy
of illiteracy at a crucial stage in the development of
peoples; and the need to have translations for mission-
ary purposes secured that it might even be the chief
agency in the development of a literary language.

The whole situation, in fact, imposed upon church-
men the tasks of educating the “barbarians” and they
became the principal instrument by which the culture
of the ancient classical world was transmitted to the
Teutonic peoples who had acquired the predominance
in Europe. In the most violent days the monasteries
stood like fortresses, preserving the tradition of learn-
ing—preserving, sometimes without knowing it, the
manuscripts of classical works that went out of circu-
lation for centuries. And for centuries it was church-
men—people with minds primarily shaped by their
religious beliefs and religious training—who took the
lead in the gradual recovery and deepening apprecia-
tion of the thought and learning of antiquity. The
ancient materials were now envisaged in a framework
of Christian ideas. It was as though, in Western Europe,
a civilization was being constructed from old materials
but to a new architectural design. There emerged in
the Arabian Empire a parallel culture, closely con-
nected with that of ancient Greece, but under the
presidency of the Islamic faith. These two imposing
examples of a culture which developed in a religious
setting almost under the eye of the historian, offer
promising material for a resort to the comparative
method.

During centuries of tumult and upheaval, however,
the framework of medieval culture (like the pattern
on the map of Europe itself) was slow in taking shape.
There was a period in the eighth century when
England and Ireland seemed to be the last refuge of
civilization, and missionaries particularly from Nor-
thumbria (often in the tradition of Bede) carried the
light back to the continent, converting parts of
Germany that had never been Christianized, and con-
tributing to the emergence of the “Carolingian Renais-
sance” at the end of the century. At this latter date,
a long alliance between the papacy and the prede-
cessors of Charlemagne had resulted in the re-creation
of an “empire”—one in which Charlemagne was able
to exercise a sort of “caesaropapism,” controlling the
Church even in essential matters and expecting from
it spiritual support—as though the function of the laity
was to fight the battles while the function of the clergy
was simply to assist the warfare with their prayers.
A “Carolingian Renaissance,” which did not itself open
out into a long-term cultural development, established,
through the emperor's edicts, the enduring principle
that monasteries and cathedrals should accept the re-
sponsibility for education.

Then further waves of invasion in Europe—and even
in Britain—in the ninth and tenth centuries brought
a renewed period of turbulence; and in the tenth cen-
tury the papacy, having no longer an emperor to pro-
tect it, came to “the saddest period in its history” when
it met something worse than “caesaropapism,” becom-
ing the victim and the plaything of the local Roman
aristocracy. The danger from violence of this immedi-
ate sort was doubled by the spread of the doctrine that


381

the lord of the soil had the ownership of all the land,
even the land that was devoted to religious use. David
Knowles (in a paper, “Some Trends of Scholarship,
1868-1968, in the Field of Medieval History”) has
described how

The ownership and control of all churches, not excluding
monastic and canonical foundations, passed gradually into
the hands of individuals who, whether laymen or ecclesi-
astics, were lords of the land. Thus from the eighth century
onwards there was gradually established in western Europe
the regime of the private or proprietary church, of which
the lord enjoyed many of the fruits and to which he ap-
pointed a priest (or abbot or bishop) of his choice, and which
he could give, sell or divide like any other real property.
When the system was linked at the summit to the extreme
claims [of] the emperors to appoint bishops and even popes,
there existed in perfect form the “church in the hands of
laymen.”

2. The Establishment of the Medieval Order. The
real recovery of Europe from what can justifiably be
regarded as “Dark Ages” dates from the latter half of
the tenth century, when the Germans halted the
Magyars, nomadic hordes from Asia, who had carried
their raids across the length and breadth of the conti-
nent. Henceforward the west of Europe was guarded
against the worst of its dangers by the consolidation
of Germany and the establishment of the Magyars in
a sedentary Christian state in Hungary, as well as the
development also of Christian monarchies in Poland,
Bohemia, and Scandinavia. The establishment of a
“Roman Empire” under Otto I in 962 opened at last
a period of comparative stability, and there emerged
something like the shape of the Western Europe we
know—a Europe which by 1053 had lost a great deal
of its connection with the Orthodox Church. Trade and
industrial production increased again, and the Medi-
terranean, which in 972 “like the Baltic, was a hostile
sea,” saw important developments which brought
Venice, Genoa, and Pisa to the front. The period be-
tween 1050 and 1150 was to prove one of the most
creative epochs in European history, and its great
achievement was that it established the real bases of
the medieval system. In this period intellectual influ-
ences from the more highly developed Islamic world
provided an important stimulus; but it was only one
factor in the case. The intellectual leadership had
passed to the northern part of France and to Lorraine.
The promotion of the study of logic (which goes back
to Gerbert in Rheims, A.D. 972, and was based at first
on the writings of Boethius) became “the most impor-
tant feature in the advancement of learning in northern
Europe.”

But from the time of Otto I the Church had become
still more the prey of the laity and a low-water mark
was reached when the Emperor Henry III (1039-56)
deposed three popes and installed his own nominees.
From the Church's point of view, the main problem
to be solved was the question of the independence of
the spiritual authority; for the existing system led to
many abuses and obstructed any attempt to bring the
clergy under discipline. A monastic reform which
started in Cluny in 910, though it did not attack this
problem, established centers of piety over a very wide
area. Another such movement in Lorraine can be seen
from 1046 making a specific call for the absolute inde-
pendence of the spiritual authority. The demand for
change arose in the provinces therefore, and it was
a band of people connected with the Lorraine move-
ment who brought this latter program to Rome and
became influential in that city. They supported their
cause by a study of the canon law, and if on the one
hand they made use of what we know as the “False
Decretals” (produced two centuries earlier in the
province of Tours) they also found more imposing
evidence, including documents from the time of
Gregory the Great.

Perhaps their labors would have been ineffectual if
the Emperor Henry III, though nominating popes, had
not appointed some worthy people to the Holy See.
Their efforts at a time when the next emperor, Henry
IV, was a minor, led in 1059 to a crucial decree which
excluded the laity—whether the emperor or the Roman
aristocracy—from any part in the appointment of a
pope and prescribed an independent election by cardi-
nals. A great development of ecclesiastical litigation
and an increasing number of appeals to Rome may
have represented another way in which action from
the provinces helped to elevate and transform the
papal office. The Lorraine reformers had been equally
anxious—indeed, it would seem to have been their
initial anxiety—that local ecclesiastical authorities
should be liberated from subservience to a powerful
laity. During the pontificate of Gregory VII (1073-85)
the zeal of the pope for the reform of the Church at
large, and particularly the Church in Germany—the
determination to get rid of such evils as simony—led
to that conflict between papacy and empire which was
to form one of the great themes of medieval history.
In any case, the essential system of the Middle Ages
now took shape.

At first it was a controversy as to whether the mon-
arch should choose his own bishops and invest them
with the insignia of the spiritual office. And here the
Church was faced with problems that arose out of the
character of its new entanglement with the world.
Bishops in Germany had vast temporal possessions and
might be the heads of considerable principalities. An
emperor could not be indifferent to the appointment


382

of such formidable dignitaries. What was called the
“Investiture Contest” was in fact open to compromise,
and one pope, in what seems like a fit of absent-
mindedness, accepted the interesting idea of turning
the bishops into purely spiritual officers—a thing which
had no chance of being tolerated by the German epis-
copate. The pope possessed weapons—he could use
discontented magnates, or incite foreign powers, or
foment public opinion, against an emperor. Before
long, pope and emperor were presuming to depose one
another.

There can be little doubt that the assertion of the
independence of the spiritual authority, and the result-
ing conflict between “spiritual” and “temporal,” were
amongst the factors that were to give to Western his-
tory its remarkable dynamic quality. The controversy
directed the thought of men to the question of the
origin and basis of government, whether secular or
ecclesiastical, and produced a literature that has little
parallel in the history of Byzantine Christianity. At
times it led to a confrontation between the theory or
the assumptions of the canon law and the principles
that lay behind Roman Law. The fervor for political
theory in Europe in the centuries from the time of
the Renaissance may owe something (just as medieval
thought itself owed something) to the influence of the
ancient world. But many of the modern ideas rise more
directly out of the politico-ecclesiastical controversies
of the Middle Ages. This point became a great feature
in the historical thinking of Lord Acton, who summed
up the matter by saying that Saint Thomas Aquinas
had been “the first Whig.”

In the age of the Reformation many of the medieval
patterns of thought are still visible, whether in the
theory of the divine right of kings, or the notion of
a contract between king and people, or the idea of
constitutional limitations on monarchical authority, or
the controversy over tyrannicide. At a later period still,
it is possible to trace the actual secularization of what
had once been politico-religious ideas. Without what
under various forms was an epic conflict between the
secular authority and the spiritual, a Western Europe
under a predominant religious faith might have
hardened into something like the Byzantine or oriental
systems.

Gregory VII and the restored papacy stood for the
idea of a Christian Commonwealth—not a “state” but
a “religious society” existing for the glory and the
service of God. The whole was to be managed by a
secular arm and a spiritual arm, and these were sup-
posed to cooperate with one another. Often the two
did cooperate, the Church not only offering its prayers
and its spiritual services—not merely giving a vague
support to the whole order of things—but allying with
the monarch because, for example, it had an interest
in preserving the larger territorial unit from disruption.
The ecclesiastics might introduce the monarchy to
ideas of law, notions of property, the use of written
deeds—techniques of an older civilization which they
were in a position to remember, and perhaps to need
for themselves. Monarchs in turn defended and
endowed the Church; and at a desperate moment an
emperor had helped to produce that reformed papacy
which was to harass his successors. When the two
clashed, it was almost in the logic of the medieval
system that the conflict should be long and that the
spiritual arm should ultimately prevail, but only to its
own detriment. Already, for Gregory VII, the pope
represented Christ, the real governor of the world, and
it was for him to guide the destiny of the “religious
society,” directing and coordinating its larger purposes.
The most signal illustration of this in the latter half
of the eleventh century was the way in which Gregory
VII and his successor took up the idea of a Crusade
assuming that Rome should have the role of inspirer
and director. At a time when monarchs were in revolt
against the Holy See, and Germany in particular with-
held its support, it was the pope, not the emperor, who
launched the First Crusade (1096-99) and showed
himself the leader of Western Europe.

3. The Culmination of the Middle Ages. What was
now in the process of formation was a Christian culture
based on the universal acceptance of the faith and
typified in the twelfth century by the rise of scholas-
ticism, the great cathedral building, and the gradual
transition to what we call universities. Behind it lay
the revival of Western economic life in the eleventh
century; the growth of towns; the emergence of some-
thing like city-states in Italy; the development of
Mediterranean trade by some of these as Moslem
power in that sea declined; the success of the First
Crusade; the wider view of the world; the contacts
with Arabian civilization; and the recovery of impor-
tant areas of ancient thought—all these, together with
the fact that both men and society had come to the
stage of general intellectual awakening, or had found
the kind of exhilaration which lights the spark. Starting
from the discovery of Aristotelian logic—and greatly
relishing this—while lacking the concrete knowledge
of the world and nature which Aristotle had possessed,
men ran to a great amount of deductive reasoning from
little material; and, as the more scientific work of
Aristotle emerged, they accepted virtually his whole
system of nature, which became to them an inherited
“authority,” almost like the Bible—an authority all the
firmer because it was in schools that medieval thought
developed. The great achievement was the degree to
which the natural science and the philosophy of Aris-


383

totle were combined with the Christian faith, to pro-
duce a “scholasticism” which was bound to have a
character of its own, if only because the philosophy
(always remembering theology in the background)
tended to concentrate on such problems as the exist-
ence of God, the immortality of the soul, the question
of free will.

The pontificate of the statesmanlike Innocent III
(1198-1216) sees the “religious society” of Western
Europe in all its majesty, and it is this that sets the
stage in the thirteenth century for the development
of scholasticism to its culmination in Saint Thomas
Aquinas, the renewed cathedral building, and the
spread of universities—the climax of that Christian
culture which, a century after Innocent, was to pro-
duce a Giotto and a Dante. Innocent more than once
chose an emperor, and he forced Philip Augustus of
France to recognize as a queen the first wife whom
he had tried to divorce. He had the kings of Aragon,
England, Portugal, Castile, Denmark, and Sicily as his
vassals. He launched two crusades against the infidel,
as well as a third against the heretics in the south of
France. He also dominated the whole European diplo-
matic situation. His Lateran Council of 1215 was at-
tended by over 1200 bishops, abbots, and priors (in-
cluding representatives from Armenia and the Latin
churches that the crusaders had established in Syria
and the Balkans) as well as many other people from
European countries—proctors from the Emperor at
Constantinople, for example, and from the kings of
France, England, Hungary, and Poland. In other words,
it was “like a representative Parliament of all
Christendom.” It was entirely the pope's council and
it passed judgment between rival candidates for the
empire, and between King John of England and his
barons. It also allotted the major part of the county
of Toulouse, besides taking measures for the reform
of the Church, and planning a new crusade.

The activities of the papal curia and its agents were
now undergoing a great expansion. The multiplicity
of the appeals to Rome and the constant despatch of
delegates from Rome to all parts of Europe secured
the authority of the canon law throughout the system,
and kept the papacy in touch with all regions. The
increasing organization and the increasing circulation
of money assisted the development of papal finances
and enabled Innocent to draw on the great wealth of
the Church.

This mundane success had its darker side, and, in-
deed, for some time the protests against the worldliness
of ecclesiastics had been rising—protests that took
shape as heresies. In the case of the Cathari, who had
brought Manichaeism from the East and had captured
much of society in the south of France, as well as
spreading into neighboring regions, the class of austere
perfecti were a reproach to the Church, while the
ordinary credentes were allowed excessive license, and
the whole movement could be regarded as a threat
to society itself. The menace was so formidable that
the idea of the crusade was now directed to the conflict
against the heretic as well as against the infidel. A cruel
suppression took place and the Inquisition was gradu-
ally developed to cope with the aftermath.

In the case of Peter Waldo and his followers who
from about 1170 took to poverty and began to draw
doctrine straight from the New Testament, the sup-
pression of the unauthorized preaching drove a band
who had erred only through their enthusiasm, into
revolutionary ways and actual heresy. When Saint
Francis dedicated himself to poverty in 1208, Innocent
III took care not to repeat the error, though Francis
and his followers had found their own way of imitating
the apostolic life and they, too, had preached without
license. They were harnessed to the Church, and the
organization of the movement was gradually taken out
of Saint Francis' hands. The monastic system, based
on poverty, chastity, and obedience, was adapted to
the purpose of men who went out into the world to
preach; and so the friars found their way into the
medieval landscape.

Similarly, Saint Dominic in 1215 received permission
to establish an order which should meet heresy with
argument and learning, and the members of this order
were particularly trained for a preaching and teaching
role. These new orders of wandering friars, who served
under the direct command of the pope and constituted
his special sort of army, quickly became important and
numerous. They brought religion home to the people
and acquired a popularity that sometimes weakened
the position of the parish priest. They recruited bril-
liant men, some of the Dominicans leading in the
development of scholasticism; and they came to ac-
quire an important place in universities. The Francis-
cans soon carried their missionary work into northern
Europe and North Africa. Before long they were in
China.

This was a period when religion was so imposing
in the way in which it was handed down and presented
to people—and was so powerful in its forms of current
expression—that, in spite of some strange deviations,
it hardly occurred to the great mass of human beings
(even to the rebels and the powerful intellects) that
there was the alternative of disbelief. A religion that
has soaked itself into the minds of men, and almost
become second nature to them, can work like a chemi-
cal in society, inspiring original thought, giving wing
to the imagination and inciting the believer to strange
adventures, curious experiments in living. In the Mid-


384

dle Ages a certain marriage of Christianity and the
world—Christianity with the whole mundane order—
produced a supra-national religious society that was
itself an amazing structure and can now be envisaged
as a work of art. If we have in mind all the external
apparatus of the religion as it existed at that time—its
symbolism and its ceremonial, its biblical personalities
and famous saints, its associations with a peculiar pat-
tern of the cosmos, even its view of the hand of God
in history—we can entertain the hazardous idea of a
“Christian civilization,” which, culminating in the
thirteenth century, affected the landscape of town and
country, governed the calendar of the year, touched
the home, the craft guilds, the universities, and even
put a stamp of its own on the most idle superstitions.
This civilization carried its own ideas about the nature
of personality and about the right posture to be
adopted by human beings under the sun. It provided
the conditions for the development of piety and the
inner life—for the deepening of religious thought and
religious experience—and for the expression of all this
in cathedrals, in painting, and in poetry.

Even the papacy, which can seem so unattractive
to us as it asserts its claims against powerful monarchs,
stood in many ways as a beneficent influence, insisting
on certain standards, raising the quality of the clergy,
checking forms of tyranny, providing antecedents for
modern international law, and directing governments
to objects that transcended the ambitions of secular
rulers.

4. The Beginning of Decline. However, in this
whole medieval order of things Christianity was
gravely entangled with the systems of the world, its
bishops, for example, being great landholders and
feudal lords. Even if men in general had been more
otherworldly, the conditions in the terrestrial sphere
itself were bound to suffer changes as time went on.
Because even the ecclesiastics (by the very character
of the situation) were not sufficiently otherworldly, the
Church itself came under the operation of some of the
laws which govern other religions—govern human
systems generally. In a sense it became the victim of
the remarkable success that it had achieved in the
preceding period. To the upholders of the existing
order of things, the changes that were brought about
during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were
bound to appear as a decline; and in certain respects
the medieval synthesis can be seen to be breaking
down. But the story of religion—even the story of the
state as essentially a “religious” society—had by no
means come to its end. The downfall of the old order
is difficult to disentangle from the interesting move-
ments that were reassembling the materials and bring-
ing about the creation of a new one. In some respects
the medieval period moved into what we call modern
times on its own momentum, as a result of impulses
within itself. Amid much confusion, we see deeper lines
of continuous development, as though the logic of
events were working itself out.

It was in the realm of thought—indeed, it was at
the heart of scholasticism itself—that the most fateful
changes occurred. And these changes were calculated
to affect the actual character of religion, not merely
the relations between Christianity and the world. Saint
Thomas Aquinas, by his reexposition of Aristotelianism,
had provided believers with a philosophy which ex-
plained the cosmos and was crowned by a theology;
but the result had been to make philosophy an autono-
mous affiar. Even while he was at work there were
men who were more down-to-earth, more prepared just
to hold their Aristotelianism neat; and perhaps a cer-
tain worldly-mindedness made them a danger not only
to an ecclesiastical system but also to religion itself.
Others who were not worldly-minded or unbelieving
tended to argue their way behind the tradition of
classical philosophy itself, and to question its basis—to
doubt even the possibility of metaphysics. It meant
denying the ability of the human mind to reach the
kind of truths that were associated with “natural reli-
gion,” or to reason in any way about God.

Under the influence of William of Ockham a great
section of the academic world went over to a system
which, without denying the revelation, cut away the
forms of rationalization hitherto current, making reli-
gion a matter of pure fideistic acceptance. Even the
difference between right and wrong was removed from
the domain of reason—it came to be held that a thing
was good because an arbitrary God had decreed it so.
If scholasticism itself had emerged too directly out of
a passion for logic, and had lost something by its devel-
opments in an abstract realm, too remote from life and
from general culture, the fourteenth-century develop-
ments increased the gulf and helped to make the whole
system curiously arid. Even the content of religious
thought came to be altered, for reflection was now
concentrated on the absolute power of a God who was
beyond man's reason, and who, from a state of uncon-
ditioned freedom, settled all things by sheer arbitrary
decree. The will of God, the power of God, became
the great theme, and the result was by no means the
same as when the emphasis is placed on the thesis:
“God is love.” Even in the discussion of human beings,
attention was fixed on the role of man's will and that
of God's grace in the work of salvation.

These preoccupations help to explain some of the
peculiar emphases and developments in the sixteenth-
century Reformation. In any case, the separation be-
tween faith and reason was bound to create difficulty—


385

belief itself now appearing more farfetched and more
unreal, God himself more remote—a situation which
could encourage secularism and religious indifference.

Perhaps more dramatic at the time, however, were
the changes in the relationship between the Church
and the world, and even the appearance of a tremen-
dous controversy concerning the nature of the Church
itself.

At the beginning of the fourteenth century the
papacy both presumed too much on the success that
it had achieved, and discovered what it had lost by
the discomfiture of its chief rival, the empire in
Germany. Henceforward, it had to confront the rising
national monarchies without the powerful assistance
which, ideally, should have come from the ancient
partnership between pope and emperor. In the bull
Unam Sanctam of 1302, Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303), relying on the assertions and on the victories
of his predecessors, issued too high a challenge to
monarchs—claiming too boldly the right to direct and
judge them even in the exercise of their temporal
power. The resulting conflict, in which the French
government accused him of appalling crimes and
demanded his trial before a general council of the
Church, brought him to humiliation in 1303 at the
hands of a body of desperadoes, and he died within
a few weeks after he had been released.

In 1305, an archbishop of Bordeaux who was elected
as Pope Clement V proved to be a creature of the
French king; and, besides creating many French cardi-
nals, he took up his residence at Avignon, which was
then just outside the frontiers of France. Owing partly
to the political confusion of Italy, a return of the
papacy to Rome proved impracticable for a long time.
Gregory XI went back there in 1377, but he died in
the following year and then the cardinals in Rome
elected a pope, but another was elected in Avignon.
Now, therefore, the system reached its reductio ad
absurdum,
two successors of Saint Peter making con-
current claims and exercising concurrent power. Noth-
ing could have been more injurious to the Church and
more damaging to prestige than the existence for over
thirty years of the Great Schism—some parts of Europe
attaching themselves to a pope in Avignon, others to
a pope in Rome, with the further complication of
overlappings here and there, so that a diocese might
not be sure which of two rival claimants was its duly
appointed bishop. There now arose the question: What
means of rescue were open to a Church that seemed
to have been struck at its very heart?

5. The Conciliar Movement. It was natural that
there should be some tension in the Middle Ages be-
tween the idea of the Church as the entire community
of believers, collectively sustained and inspired by the
Holy Spirit, and the notion of a clerical hierarchy,
imposed from above, and deriving a special authority
from outside the system, i.e., direct from Christ. It had
been noted that if Peter had received the power of
“binding and loosing” (in Matthew 16:18-19) this
particular prerogative had been extended after the
Resurrection to all the Apostles (in John 20:22-23);
but though the effect of this was to widen the basis
of authority in the Church, it did not in reality override
the prevailing view that the bishop of Rome, as the
representative of Saint Peter, had the effective power
of government. The term “Roman Church” was
ambiguous—it could mean the local church of the city
of Rome but also it could signify the entire congrega-
tion of the faithful. It was the latter that was supposed
to be preserved against error, not in the sense that
lapses here and there were impossible, but in the sense
that the Church in its entirety would never go astray—
there would never be heresy in all its parts at a single
time.

Even this stress on the wide-ranging community of
believers, was not taken to mean that the community
as such could carry on the work of government without
the directing hand of the papacy; and those who glori-
fied General Councils of the Church normally assumed
that the pope himself would actually summon these
bodies and lead them—that, indeed, his own authority
came to its maximum when he worked through a
General Council. On the other hand, it was possible
to consider that, though the church in Rome had played
a distinguished part in the establishment and mainte-
nance of orthodoxy, the pope as a man might fall into
error; and if he notoriously supported what had long
been regarded as heresy, his authority would be ipso
facto
at an end. It came to be asserted that the same
would be true if he were publicly and obviously guilty
of serious crime.

The possibility of such contingencies raised the
question of the part which the College of Cardinals
or General Councils might have to play at the moment
when the incapacity had to be declared. It has been
pointed out that in canonist writers of about A.D. 1200
are to be found anticipations of all the main assertions
of the Conciliar Movement. Yet this was the time when
the papacy under Innocent III was making the highest
possible claims and asserting that all other jurisdictions
in the Church were only a derivation from Rome.

In the thirteenth century, however, the development
of the kind of canon law which treated the Church
as a corporation tended to increase the possible lever-
age of conciliar ideas. There now appeared more of
the suggestion that a corporation is the source of the
authority of its head, that all members of a corporation
should take part in decisions which affect the whole


386

body, that a corporation could survive as a unity if
it lost its head, and could take the necessary measures
to rectify the default in the leadership. Such ideas were
able to develop at the very time when papal publicists,
for their part, were continuing the line of thought
which had brought the authority of Innocent III to
its height. Amongst writers hostile to the papacy the
idea arises not only that the cardinals could act on
behalf of the pope when he himself was defaulting in
some way, but also the idea that in serious matters
the pope should always act in consultation with the
cardinals—and moreover the idea that the cardinals
had the authority to summon a General Council.

In all this we find the insertion of what the modern
student would regard as “constitutional” ideas into
canonist reflections on Church government. The sup-
porters of the Conciliar Movement at the beginning
of the fifteenth century could feel that they were by
no means innovators—that, indeed, they were follow-
ing principles with a long and respectable ancestry,
principles essentially orthodox.

In any case, the Great Schism—the scandal of two
lines of successive popes reigning contemporaneously
and dividing the West—made it necessary to turn to
just that kind of thinking which envisaged the Church's
power of self-rectification during a failure in the su-
preme leadership. The Schism lasted for nearly thirty
years, and, though almost all of the popes elected
during this period had sworn to resign if their depar-
ture would help the cause of unity, the promises were
not kept. If either of the rival popes summoned a
General Council it could only be a party affair and
the two colleges of cardinals failed in their attempts
to persuade their respective popes to issue a joint
invitation to a Council. When in 1409 a Council was
called by cardinals at Pisa, its legality was doubtful,
and though it pretended to depose the two existing
holders of the papal office and secure the election of
a third, the real effect of this was to make the situation
worse—there were now three claimants to the dignity
instead of two. It is understandable if such an im-
passe provoked much discontent with the general con-
dition of the Church, and stimulated a great deal of
thinking about the position of both popes and General
Councils.

The situation was aggravated by the fact that the
nation-states were now becoming more important and
governments that had the choice of adhering to one
pope rather than another acquired more power over
their national churches. Their diplomacies (particularly
during the Hundred Years' War between France and
England) affected their ecclesiastical loyalties (the
English disliking a pope at Avignon, for example); and
when the Emperor Sigismund combined with one of
the rival popes to summon the more imposing Council
of Constance, it was through diplomacy conducted
with various national governments that he secured a
broad basis for the assembly. This body attacked the
papal problem in 1415, and began by deposing the
successor of the pope who had gained office as a result
of the Council of Pisa—they struck at the very pope
who had joined Sigismund in summoning the new
Council. The resignation of another claimant was then
secured; and, though the pope at Avignon refused to
give way, the diplomacy of Sigismund prevented his
having the support of reigning monarchs.

The Great Schism was for practical purposes healed
and a new pope, Martin V (1417-31), was appointed—a
man who, once in authority, opposed the conciliarist
ideas then prevalent. The cry had gone up that a
General Council was superior to the pope and it was
decreed at Constance that a Council should be sum-
moned at least every ten years. There were some who
urged that even laymen should have a place in such
a Council, which was being regarded as a repre-
sentative body. Another Council which assembled at
Basel in 1431 refused to be dissolved at the command
of another pope, and it brought absurdity to a higher
degree than before, for it threatened a renewal of
schism by presuming to depose the pope and to ap-
point another one. The excesses of the radicals fright-
ened some of the moderates into conservatism, how-
ever, and in any case it was the pope rather than the
Council who had the power to execute a policy ef-
fectively.

In 1439 a rival Council which the pope had sum-
moned to Ferrara decreed that a Council was not
superior to a pope; and though a dwindling body went
on meeting at Basel, they came to terms in 1449,
abandoning their adhesion to the man whom they had
presumed to appoint to the papal office. They had
humiliated a supreme pontiff and compelled him to
treat with them after he had decreed their dissolution;
but they brought the whole Conciliar movement to
a miserable end.

6. The Transition to a New Order. In the meantime
new forms of heresy had been arising, and they gained
additional strength from the abuse that was being made
of such things as indulgences, from the jealousy felt
toward ecclesiastical property, and from national feel-
ing against the intrusions of papal power into one
country and another. From about 1374 John Wycliffe
in England was preaching against the excessive wealth
of the Church and claiming that the monarch should
decide how much of this should be retained—a gospel
that brought him the patronage of a powerful and
covetous nobility. He lost some of his humbler allies
when he attacked the problem of the eucharist, declar-


387

ing that Christ was present spiritually but that the
bread and wine retained their former substance. Em-
phasizing the absolute power of the will of God—a
form of emphasis which the influence of Saint
Augustine as well as contemporary movements in phi-
losophy encouraged—Wycliffe ran to predestinarian
views which were calculated to lessen the role of
church offices in the work of salvation. He encouraged
the reading of the Bible (and its translation into the
vernacular) because the Scriptures were of higher au-
thority than the traditions of the Church.

Some analogies to the later Protestantism are appar-
ent in all this; but the first Lancastrian monarch of
England, Henry IV (1399-1413), desired the Church's
recognition of his title to the throne of England, and
his parliament carried a new statute, requiring the
burning of heretics—a statute which was severely exe-
cuted during the reign of his son. The “Lollard” fol-
lowers of Wycliffe, some of whom had tended to revo-
lutionary ideas, could survive only as ineffectual secret
heretics.

Partly under the influence of the English movement,
John Hus led a similar revolt against ecclesiastical evils
in Bohemia, and, though he avoided some of Wycliffe's
doctrinal innovations, he was burned in 1415 by the
Council of Constance, which wished to show that at
least it did not tolerate heresy. Some of Hus's associates
came nearer to the ideas of Wycliffe, and there
emerged a popular radical movement which attacked
monasticism, the adoration of saints, purgatory, indul-
gences, etc., on the ground that these things were not
authorized by the actual words of Scripture. And here,
as in England, a powerful and richly endowed Church,
rife with obvious abuses, was challenged by a danger-
ous picture of Apostolic Christianity—the concept that
the clergy should be poor men leading a simple life
as they guarded their flocks.

In 1419 the Czechs revolted and their religious
grievances, which gave the conflict at times something
of an apocalyptic character, combined with a tremen-
dous national hatred against the Germans, who had
acquired a strong position at court, in the university
of Prague, and in the industry of the towns. Successive
campaigns against the rebels came to disaster, and
though the extremists were defeated in 1434, an agree-
ment had to be made with the moderates which put
the Bohemian church in a special position (e.g., in
regard to the reception by the laity of communion in
both kinds). Bohemia remained, indeed, a region of
potential revolt, potential heresy.

It might have been argued that the fifteenth century
had a special need for the Christian religion at its best,
since deep forces in society were producing a great
secularization of life—producing indeed a society that
increased the mundane claims on human beings. The
growth of industry and commerce, the development
of high finance, the increasing importance of a bour-
geois class, and the blossoming of virtual city-states in
Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands provided a new
dynamic for the secular activities of men. The resulting
erosion of the traditional feudal forms of society was
bound to produce disorder in the period of transition,
and the Church had tied itself unduly to the older order
of things—the very pattern of its organization ceased
to correspond with the systems that were developing
in the world. The exile of the papacy in Avignon, the
ensuing Great Schism and the Conciliar Movement had
increased the tendency of separate regions to look after
their local religious affairs, and the national govern-
ments were growing in strength and importance, legis-
lating against papal interference or making their own
terms with the popes.

The principle of nationality was itself receiving
recognition, even in the organization of General
Councils and universities. The Renaissance in Italy and
the more effective recovery of the thought of antiquity,
assisted a secularization which, however, had also been
showing itself in the development of vernacular litera-
ture and its advance to high artistic status. And the
secularization showed itself within the great develop-
ment of the visual arts, especially in Italy—perhaps
also in the tendency of some scholastic writers to move
over to science, to problems of celestial mechanics, for
example.

But all this—and the palpable abuses in the Church
itself—did not mean that Christianity was coming to
its terminus or that there had been a serious decline
of religious faith as such. The very revolts against the
Church were born of religious zeal—themselves signs
of a questing kind of religion that gets behind the
conventions and seeks the original fountain of the faith.
The interesting eruptions of spontaneous life are not
antireligious but are more like a groping for fresh
adventures in religion, longings for an almost noninsti-
tutional kind of piety, as though it were felt necessary
to cut through the artificialities and go direct to the
essential things. Most significant of all are the devo-
tional movements, that press for contemplation and
austerity, or seek a mystical apprehension of Christ.
And the Imitation of Christ which has been the inspi-
ration of both Protestants and Catholics—written in
the mid-fifteenth century, and more widely published
and translated than anything in Christianity except the
Bible—contains hardly a reference to the Church in
spite of its devotion to the Eucharist. An interesting
feature of the new age is the involvement of the laity
in the new religious movements, and the association
of these with municipal life.


388

III. THE REFORMATION AND
COUNTER-REFORMATION

1. The Pre-Reformation Church. The Church at the
beginning of the sixteenth century confronts us with
the variety which we should expect to find when we
look at the manifold life of a whole continent. There
were abuses and disorders—indeed an unusual number
of grave scandals at certain levels—but also in many
places even deep piety and reforming zeal. The
Renaissance itself could bring attempts to enrich the
Christian outlook with the new humanism, projects
for a further alliance between Platonism and religion,
and a fresh interest in the ancient texts—the Scriptures
and the Fathers of the Church. Even in Italy there
were many localities that had their religious revivals,
some of them medieval in character, popular and even
perhaps superstitious, though the one associated with
Savonarola in Florence captured some of the famous
figures of the Renaissance. The monastic system, from
its very nature, was subject to ups-and-downs, espe-
cially as its rules took for granted a certain intensity
of spiritual life. But if in some regions monasteries had
sunk into immorality, there had been a number of
reforming movements, some of them emerging from
within and arising spontaneously. There had been edu-
cational developments—the religious schools under the
Brethren of the Common Life in the Netherlands, for
example, and the founding in fifteenth-century
Germany of universities under the patronage of the
clergy or the pope. Many of these movements were
local in character, arising from below. Even a wicked
pope would normally have no reason for checking
them, or for discouraging piety as such.

On the other hand, the leading officers of the Church
could be too remote from these things and ordinarily
too indifferent in respect to them. It is doubtful
whether the directors of the Catholic system took even
the minimum measures that were required to maintain
their guidance over religious life or ensure the survival
of the system as a whole. In some regions the state
of the priesthood and the work of the pulpit had sunk
so low that a prince who wished to plunder the Church
had only to open the door to the missionaries of
Protestantism, who might bring an awakening or a
revolt without meeting with an adequate reply. Too
much of the burden of the Church had come to be
borne by a lower clergy who seemed sometimes hardly
trained to realize the nature of their own religion, and
had every reason to be discontented with their lot. A
surprising number of them (and particularly of those
who belonged to the minor and mendicant orders) were
to become Protestants, and some of those who had been
unsatisfactory before their conversion were by no
means contemptible after it. It would appear that there
was often too much of what might be called paganism
or superstition still mixed into the popular Christianity
of the period—too great a readiness on the part of the
authorities to exploit the willingness of ignorant people
to rely on wonders that were mechanically operated,
salvation-devices that had lost their connection with
the inner man.

Apart from the more technical controversies at a
higher level the Reformers were to attack in the world
at large the attitude which the lowest classes were
encouraged to take towards images, relics, indulgences,
the invocation of saints, and the like. There were now
too many people who were coming to be too mature
for this; and the Reformation (which could have
achieved nothing without the success of its preaching)
came in one aspect as a religious revival, a call to a
more personal faith, a demand for a more genuine
“Christian society.” The Reformation was to have its
dark sides but it was to secure its successes because
so many people were ready to be earnest, ready (when
called upon) to bring religion home to themselves and
to feel that they had some responsibility in the matter.
In a sense the Reformation occurred because (on a
long-term view) the medieval Church had done its
work so well, producing out of barbarian beginnings
a laity now capable of a certain self-help, a certain
awareness of responsibility. And as the Church of
Rome, once it had been provoked into reexamining
itself, was to recover its hold on people by its own
preaching and its spiritual intensity, the opening cen-
turies of modern times see the reassertion of religion
both in the individual and in society.

The Reformation was to be helped at the same time
by what on the one hand was a colossal envy and
covetousness, and on the other hand a great resent-
ment. The abuses in the ecclesiastical organization
itself were sufficient to provoke a revolt, and if they
offered an opening for zealous reformers they pre-
sented too great a temptation to monarchs and mag-
nates. In the Middle Ages there had been serious oppo-
sition to the development of the power of the papacy
in particular—the capture of the spiritual prerogatives
into a single center and the insertion of papal authority
into every corner of the European system. At a certain
stage in the story the process had been understandable;
the papacy had often stood as the most beneficial
agency on the continent; abuses, disorders, and lapses
into superstition had tended to occur in the regions
which the hand of the pope could not reach.

But the centralization did not prevent benefices,
offices, indulgences, dispensations, etc., being used as
a means of making money, and new offices being cre-
ated in order that they could be sold—the Church, and
particularly Rome, being saddled with dignitaries who


389

had to find the means of recouping themselves for the
initial outlay. Early in the sixteenth century the posi-
tion of the papal states was so difficult that the pope,
as the ruler of a principality, had a desperate need
for money; and he used his spiritual prerogatives in
order to procure it—an evil that was liable to show
its consequences throughout the length and breadth of
Western Christendom. A higher clergy who were too
often like the sharers in a colossal spoils system did
too little for the earnest people, though they seemed
to stamp very quickly on any enterprise that might
threaten their own profits. The Church lost much,
therefore, through the nature of its entanglement with
the world; and its vested interests—the mundane pos-
sessions that were supposed to guarantee its position—
became in fact a terrible weakness, an abuse to some
people, and, to others, the primary object of cupidity.

2. The Reformation in Germany. The Reformation
is to be regarded as essentially a religious movement
and all our history becomes distorted unless we see
it as arising primarily out of the spiritual needs and
aspirations of earnest men. Social conditions might
place certain sections of the population in a favorable
position for hearing propaganda or for welcoming
it—rather in the way that townsmen may be more
ready than peasants to open their minds to a new
thing—and such factors might have an effect on the
social or geographical distribution of a new religious
system. The current forms and the current needs of
society might affect that fringe of ethical ideas and
practical precepts in which a new form of faith works
out some of its more mundane implications.

In history, everything is so entangled with every-
thing else that for many students the political or eco-
nomic consequences of the Reformation might appear
more momentous than any other aspect of the move-
ment. But religion is the stone that is thrown into the
pool, the agency that starts all the ripples. In the
Reformation itself we are dealing with people for
whom religion was not merely a matter of opinion or
speculation, leaving an opening for alternatives. They
were people who superstitiously feared the powers of
hell, and reckoned the afterlife as clear a vested interest
as anything in the world—people, also, who believed
that only one form of religion could be right, and
regarded it as a matter of eternal moment that God
should be served and propitiated in the proper way.

Martin Luther, while still a young man, and a mem-
ber of the Augustinian order which was to produce
so many supporters of the Reformation, became re-
markable through the intensity of his inner experience
and his exaggerated attempts to secure the salvation
of his soul by his own works and religious exercises.
In this whole endeavor he would seem to have over
looked certain aspects of theological teaching that had
not been lost in the Middle Ages, and he was brought
into the predicament of Saint Paul—powerless to
achieve the good that he so greatly wanted to achieve.
After a distressing time, the help of his own superior
and the study of the Epistle to the Romans brought
him further light, and he came to the view that man
is justified by faith alone, but that the Catholicism of
his time was preaching salvation by “works,” even by
religious exercises.

In reality historical Christianity had always excluded
as Pelagianism any idea that a man could save himself
by his own efforts; and Luther, though he had seized
on something that had been part of the Church's tradi-
tion—going back to certain aspects of Saint Augustine
and Saint Paul—went to the opposite extreme, insisting
on the corruptness of man and his inability to have
a part in his own salvation, so that he ran to predes-
tinarian ideas which were later systematized by Calvin,
and which gave the Reformation an antihumanist
aspect. The later Middle Ages had seen a concentration
on the problem of both freedom and the will in both
man and God; and it seems clear that unfortunate
consequences followed from too intent a consideration
of the power and sovereignty of God, if these were
regarded as separate from His love.

In a sense Luther's views sprang from the intensity
of his own spiritual experience and his feeling about
what had happened in his own case; and they answered
to what many people throughout the ages had felt to
be their own experience—the sense of being drawn
by a power greater than themselves, pulled into salva-
tion by forces which they tried in vain to resist. Luther
therefore had been open to the criticism that he in-
ferred too much of his theology from his personal
experience.

In Wittenberg he was one of those people who
promoted a local religious revival, and his immediate
superiors were encouraging him in his work, advancing
him to a professorship so that his influence would be
enlarged. He was a mountain of a man, capable of great
profundities and giant angers, but possessing a vein of
poetry, and, at times, the heart of a little child. But
he was liable to be intellectually erratic, and when in
1517 the abuses of indulgence-selling led him to offer
his ninety-five theses as a debating-challenge, he en-
larged the issue by his theological assertions and pro-
vided his enemies with a basis for attack. Instead of
calmly reasoning with him, they too set out to enlarge
the issue, driving him from one logical conclusion to
another and into positions that he had not anticipated.
And he—incited by the wave of feeling that he had
aroused in Germany as well as by his own mighty
passions—was glad to be provoked, moving forward


390

until he had denied the authority of popes and councils,
and denounced the condition of the whole Church.

Carefully measuring his power, he enlarged the
whole campaign in 1520, setting out to undermine the
sacramental system of the Church which contributed
to the power of priests. He called in the secular au-
thority to carry out the work of reform which the
Church seemed unable to achieve for itself. Against
the power of a vast organization that had long had
the governments of Europe behind it, he asserted what
he called “the liberty of a Christian man.” Soon he
was attacking the monastic system to which he had
once been devoted. And he convinced himself that the
pope was Anti-Christ.

He was helped by a certain religious dissatisfaction
and by the anger, particularly in Germany, against
ecclesiastical abuses that were associated with Italy.
He was enabled by the printing press, and by his own
prodigious energy, to conduct what was perhaps the
first really large-scale publicity campaign of the kind
that makes its appeal to general readers.

An enormous factor in the case was the weakness
in Germany of the Emperor Charles V, who was dis-
tracted by the problems of the many countries over
which he ruled, and by the princes of the separate
states in Germany who sought to aggrandize their
authority and were sometimes ready to see the advan-
tage of an alliance with Lutheranism. The Emperor
was to be held up still further by the advance of the
Turks, which made it necessary for him to postpone
the solution of his German problems. When the cause
of the Reformation came to be preached—in the cities
of South Germany for example—it found an eager
reception; and for a considerable time even regions
like Bavaria and Austria—regions that later became
renowned for their Catholicism—seemed to be moving
over to Protestantism.

In reality Luther seems to have been a man of con-
servative and perhaps authoritarian disposition. He had
been moved to action because he could not bear the
manner in which the Church was tolerating both prac-
tical abuses and misrepresentations of the faith. But
in the period of the great revolt he put forward certain
theses which were to be remembered as the great
Reformation principles, and were to have a broader
historical influence than even his theology. They as-
serted the right of the individual to interpret the
Scriptures; the priesthood of all believers; and the
“liberty of a Christian man.” When others took these
theses according to their obvious meaning but at the
same time came to conclusions that were different from
his, he made it plain that he could not tolerate their
individualism, and that indeed he had no use for rebels.
There was one interpretation of Scripture, and that
the true one; and only sheer perversity could induce
a man to read anything else into the text. Neither the
Roman Catholics nor the Zwinglians nor the Ana-
baptists were free to interpret the Scriptures for them-
selves. And when Luther came to the construction of
his own system, he showed himself in many respects
a conservative at heart. Clearly it had not been his
desire to divide the Church, but his theological
teaching—and his persistence in it after it had been
condemned—was almost bound to produce that result.
The general historian of Europe would have to say that
the most momentous consequences of the Lutheran
revolt were things of which Luther would have
disapproved.

Lutheranism itself remained essentially Teutonic,
and, outside Germany, it established itself at the time
only in Scandinavia. There was a moment when it
seemed likely to sweep over Germany, a politico-
religious unheaval of the kind that can create a nation.
Once it failed to carry the whole country however,
it was bound to have the opposite effect, creating a
new, confessional division, in some respects more bitter
than any of the others, more difficult to overcome. It
resulted in one important contribution to the German
nation, however—Luther's translation of the Bible into
a language which was to prevail over local dialects
and to have a unifying effect. But, though Luther, when
he called for the aid of princes, thought of them as
servants of the Church, bound by duty to serve the
lofty cause, he produced a situation in which princes
had the power to choose between competing systems
and so acquired great authority in religious matters.
His pessimistic ideas about man and the world may
have had the effect of diminishing the role and the
influence of religion in the political realm, making
Lutheranism too uncritical an ally of monarchy.

In the period immediately after his condemnation
at the Diet of Worms (April 1521), Luther was in
hiding at the Wartburg castle, and during his absence
more radical developments began to take place. In
Wittenberg itself, Andrew Karlstadt (or Carlstadt)
promoted a further movement against the Mass and,
on the strength of the Old Testament attacked images
and called for a stricter sabbatarianism, so that signs
of the later Puritanism were already visible. This, in
March 1522, provoked Luther's return to Wittenberg,
for he did not give the same authority to Old Testament
law, and, in regard to the things that the populace
loved, he deprecated a destructive policy conducted
without sufficient previous explanation. In the mean-
time the reform movement had been establishing itself
in towns where the social conflict had made the situa-
tion almost revolutionary; and by the spring of 1521
Thomas Müntzer had combined the religious cause


391

with civic revolt in the town of Zwickau. Before the
end of the year he had proclaimed in an apocalyptic
manner the downfall of the Church; he insisted that
a scriptural religion was not enough since the voice
of God spoke directly within the believer, and he
threatened the opposition with punishment at the
hands of the Turk. Also some of the other “prophets”
of Zwickau moved in 1522 to Wittenberg, where they
produced trouble for the Lutherans. Soon the objec-
tions to infant baptism became significant.

Forms of apocalypticism and mysticism had made
their appearance in various regions in the later Middle
Ages, and in Germany not only the peasantry but the
lower classes in the towns provided promising soil for
these movements. Now, as so often in history, religious
radicalism could quickly lead to political extremism
and to the feeling that the time had come for the
destruction of the godless. Thomas Müntzer came to
be connected with the Peasants' Revolt in 1525, and,
when speaking to the rebels about the enemy, could
say: “They will beg you, will whine and cry like chil-
dren. But you are to have no mercy, as God com-
manded through Moses.” Yet he is deeply moving when
he writes of his spiritual experience and the voice of
God in the believer: “Scripture cannot make men live,
as does the living Word which an empty soul hears.”
The sects for which Luther so unwillingly opened the
way did not know how to apply the brake, and when
they captured Münster in 1534 they established polyg-
amy, while in Moravia they experimented in commu-
nism. It was they who carried the seeds that were to
be so important to the far future—the insistence that
God regarded men as equal, that Christ had made them
free and that there was an Inner Light which men had
to obey. The twentieth century has shown that even
the apocalypticism can be deeply ingrained in man and
admits of being secularized. It goes back to biblical
times, but (at least when the pattern has once been
established) it can exist without a supernatural religion.

3. Calvin. In the Swiss Reformation the city-state
made its last contribution to history; for it communi-
cated to a nascent church something of the pattern
of its own organization (and particularly government
by councils) as well as something of its spirit, so that
the secular and the spiritual seemed to have kinship
with one another, just as the development of the Cath-
olic hierarchy had fitted neatly into the feudal world.
Here, moreover, the transformation that occurred was
more radical—organized Christianity reshaped itself,
producing a palpably different landscape.

Signs of this are apparent in the case of Zwingli,
the original leader of the revolt within the Swiss Con-
federation. The initial breach occurred on matters of
discipline, but the changes in doctrine and thought
were more radical, more rationalistic than in the case
of the Lutheran Revolt. Here, however, the identifica-
tion of the movement with the political ambitions of
Zürich turned the Reformation into a politico-religious
affair—a patriotic cause—Zwingli meeting his death
in battle.

What we might regard as the international Refor-
mation is associated with John Calvin and with
Geneva—a city which was not yet part of the Con-
federation, and which belonged to no country, though
it stood at the point where France, Germany, Italy
and Switzerland came together. After trying to estab-
lish himself in the city from 1536 and being driven
out in 1538, Calvin from 1541 gained the mastery, and
held it till 1564, though this involved the expulsion
of many of the ancient families and the granting of
citizenship to hosts of refugees from abroad. At the
beginning of this period, the Reformation itself had
arrived at a critical stage. Many people had become
weary of the conflict, and there were distinguished
intellects as well as political leaders who had come
to desire ecclesiastical reunion. Under Melanchthon,
the Lutherans seemed to be trying to discover how
far they could go towards a reconciliation with
Catholicism. After the Peasants' Revolt in Germany
in 1525 there had been the spectacle of the revolu-
tionized city of Münster in 1534, and this had shown
what could happen if religious rebellion was not re-
strained. Calvin represented a new generation, and an
important part of his work was the stabilizing of the
Reformation—conceiving it as an international affair,
and erecting it if possible into an international order
comparable to the Catholic one of the Middle Ages.

In 1536, by the first version of his Institutes of the
Christian Religion
(which was to prove the best-seller
of the sixteenth century), and then, in the following
year, by his part in the “reunion” discussions in
Germany, he had been qualifying himself to become
an international leader. In 1539 his Letter to Cardinal
Sadoleto
had proved to be the most successful of the
popular defences of the Reformation. The wheel had
come into full cycle, and he saw that what was needed
was the reestablishment of ecclesiastical authority. He
realized that the situation called for three important
things: a confession of faith, a doctrine of the Church,
and an ecclesiastical discipline. His originality lay not
in the generation of new doctrines but in the better
coordination of received ones, and their adaptation to
the purpose of achieving a coherent system. Difficulties
concerning the question of the “real presence” in the
Eucharist prevented a union with the Lutherans, who
preserved something of the Catholic point of view, and,
for a long time, also, with the Zwinglians, who treated
the sacrament as rather a symbol and a remembrance


392

of Christ. These latter began to be reconciled, however,
from 1549.

It is in Calvinism that the Reformation, at least in
externals, begins to wear the aspect of almost a new
type of religion—like a new style in art or, as some
would think (perhaps unfairly) a change from poetry
to prose, if not a reaction against aestheticism itself.
It becomes clear now that religion is a very serious
matter; the preaching holds a great importance; and,
under the tighter authority that is possible in the city-
states, there arises a severer control of private life.
Calvin was ready (as Zwingli had been) to follow the
Bible more consistently than Luther, and this was
bound to give an increased importance to the Old
Testament. He put the idea of the sovereignty of God
at the center of his whole system, whereas Luther
might be said to have been preoccupied by the idea
of Grace. The emphasis on sovereignty had its
counterpart in the demand for obedience from the
human side. Here was the basis for a firm authoritar-
ianism—an insistence that the Christian life should be
a severe discipline.

It has been said that Catholicism is the religion of
priests, Lutheranism the religion of theologians, and
Calvinism the religion of the believing congregation.
In spite of its inaccuracies, this comparison throws light
on the Calvinist system in which, theoretically at least,
the Church was the congregation of believing Chris-
tians, independent of mystery and ceremony and ex-
ternal paraphernalia. The system governed through
assemblies, synods, consistories; pastors were elected
by congregations; and all pastors were equal, just as
all churches were equal. The layman was given a part
to play in ecclesiastical affairs; and the ministers were
to have no special immunities, no territorial lordships,
and they were to pay taxes like anybody else. The
ecclesiastical system was to have no prisons, no instru-
ments of mundane power; their sole weapon against
the offender was to be exclusion from the Lord's Sup-
per. In other words, sacerdotalism was at an end; and
it was Calvin rather than Luther who broke the power
of priests. It was all congenial to the pattern of a
city-state, and suggests a Christianity that is being
reshaped in the context of a more modern world.

Yet it was authoritarian, and only with the greatest
difficulty did Calvin impose it on an unwilling city.
Coming later than Luther, and having a more re-
morselessly logical mind, he did not pretend that the
individual might interpret Scripture for himself. If
congregations elected their ministers the qualifications
of these had to be approved, and their ordination
carried out, by other ministers, and in Calvin's time
the congregation would be provided with a nominee;
all it could do was to give or refuse its consent. In
reality, the system was governed by an oligarchy which
recruited itself by cooptation and closely superintended
its members, entering private houses, and exercising
control over private life. It was even something like
a police-state, with spies, informers, and occult agents,
and with neighbors and members of families betraying
one another—the culprit being handed over to the civil
magistrate, who carried out the requirements of the
Church. If the influx of foreign exiles enabled Calvin
to clinch his mastery of Geneva, it also provided him
with the means of extending his influence abroad. The
city became like a modern nest of international revo-
lution, where the foreign guests received their training,
and then departed to continue the work in their home
country.

Though he repressed freedom of conscience and
personal liberty, and, like Martin Luther, gave the
individual no right to rebel, he did allow disobedience
to rulers who commanded what was contrary to the
word of God, and he gave currency to a theory of
resistance to monarchy which was to be of great im-
portance in the subsequent period. Individuals had no
right to rebel but representative institutions (the
States-General in France, the Parliament in England,
for example) were justified in fighting the king. The
doctrine was quoted from Calvin by the early Whigs
and debated by the nascent Tories in seventeenth-
century England and it had already been significant
in other countries. It inaugurates the modern theory—
the modern paradox—of “constitutional revolution”
where the organ of revolt (as in France in 1789) is
the representative system itself.

It happened that, in various countries, Calvinism
spread originally in opposition to government, and its
leader approved of these movements and guided them.
Calvinism, in fact, often emerged in the attitude of
rebellion, and Calvin's warnings against this were not
always heeded, if indeed he himself was quite consis-
tent about the matter. It is not an accident that liberty
extends itself in the modern world via Holland, Great
Britain and the United States—countries where politi-
cal rebellion was allied to Calvinism.

4. The Counter-Reformation. The Catholic revival
of the sixteenth century has two aspects. On the one
hand, like the Protestant Reformation itself, it can be
regarded as a religious revival, a reaction against the
ecclesiastical abuses that had been accumulating, and
a protest against the secularization of Church and
society. In this sense, if it ran parallel to the Lutheran
movement, it had in fact begun at an earlier date. And
one of its important features had been a purification
of the Church in Spain—a remarkable reform of
monasteries for example—before the end of the fif-
teenth century, that is to say, under Ferdinand and


393

Isabella, and chiefly through the piety of the latter.
One result of this was the fact that even the “Renais-
sance” in Spain had a peculiar character—it was
largely a regeneration of ecclesiastical scholarship, and
for a time it gave Erasmus a considerable influence
on the religious life of that country. In their program
for the New World the Spaniards gave a high place
to the idea of transplanting Christianity and a Christian
civilization to the other side of the Atlantic. Spanish
monks, using the Bible, canon law, and scholastic writ-
ings, assisted the transition to modern international law
by their works on the laws of war and the rights of
the native population, as they related to the overseas
empire. At the same time, the fanaticism and intoler-
ance of the Spaniards seems to have been an acquired
characteristic, a product of history. At an earlier date
they had been reproached by other Christians for their
laxity, their resort to infidel doctors, their visits to
Moorish courts, so long as the Muhammadans remained
in the peninsula. The enduring conflict with the infidel,
and the religious propaganda connected with it, helped
to make Spain more firmly Catholic, more intolerantly
orthodox, than any other country.

On the other hand there was a Counter-Reformation
in a stricter sense—the reaction against the Protestant
movement, which, to a Catholic was the greatest of
the disorders of the time. There was a moment when
some men were able to feel that the Catholic revival
might combine with the Lutheran movement, espe-
cially when more radical revolts had broken out and
a section of the Lutherans had taken a conservative
turn. A group of important Catholics were even sym-
pathetic to a certain form of the doctrine of justifica-
tion by faith; and when the accession of Pope Paul
III brought something of a turn towards a reformation
at Rome itself, the appointment of a number of cardi-
nals in the year 1534 was significant in the story, for
a handful of these belonged to this more liberalizing
group, including Cardinal Contarini and the English-
man, Cardinal Pole. The years 1537-41 saw the failure
of reunion negotiations which had been promoted in
France as well as Germany, and, from that time, the
men who had seemed prepared to broaden the basis
of the Church were in disrepute—indeed, more than
one of the Cardinals involved in this aspect of the
reforming movement was himself in danger from the
Inquisition.

The years 1540-43 have special importance in the
history of the Counter-Reformation. In 1540 the Soci-
ety of Jesus was formed, and quickly attained an influ-
ence, though its widespread results were only to be
apparent in the second generation. In 1541 came the
failure of conferences between Catholics and Lutherans
at Ratisbon, so that the movement for comprehension
and reunion was now virtually at an end. And though
at this time there were disturbing manifestations of
Protestantism in a number of localities even in Italy,
effective action was now taken against the movement.
In 1542, Cardinal Contarini, the leader of the reformist
group died, and at about this time the stronger mem-
bers of that party passed off the stage, leaving Cardinal
Pole—a less effective personality—in the leading posi-
tion. In 1542, moreover, a General Council of the
Church was summoned; and, by this time, it had be-
come apparent that it would not represent an opposi-
tion to Rome in the way that the conciliar movement
of the fifteenth century had done. It would itself be
under the leadership of Rome.

Some controversy has been caused by the question
how far the leadership of Spain was responsible for
the turn which the Counter-Reformation took. Every-
where—in the peninsula itself, in Africa, in the Medi-
terranean and in America—Spain's enemy seemed to
be the infidel and the championship of orthodoxy had
become a major part of the national tradition. The
Jesuit Order was founded and organized by Spaniards
and its first generals were Spaniards. The new form
of papal Inquisition was influenced by the more pow-
erful and modern form of Inquisition that had been
established in Spain. The pope's chief assistants and
advisers at the Council of Trent, particularly on theo-
logical questions, were Spaniards. In the latter half of
the sixteenth century the Catholic party in the French
Wars of Religion and the supporters of Mary Tudor
in England looked to Spain, and the Counter-Reforma-
tion came to be identified with the aggressive policies
of Philip II.

At the same time one must not overlook the deter-
mined manner in which the popes set out to hold the
leadership in the Counter-Reformation. They were not
Spaniards; they were often anti-Spaniards, and now,
as in the past, they tended to be hostile to the Spanish
preponderance in Italy. The severest of the anti-
Protestant popes, Paul IV (Caraffa) had been a Domin-
ican and his religion may have been affected by his
residence in Spain at an earlier period in his life. But
even as Pope he found himself at war with Philip II,
and Spanish troops besieged him in Rome, where he
was defended by Lutheran mercenaries. The popes
were even a little hostile and jealous in their attitude
to the Jesuit Order at first, and this was partly because
that order seemed so closely connected with Spain. The
popes indeed would have liked to see the reform of
the Church carried out through committees and com-
missions in Rome, where in 1552 Julius III established
a Congregation of Reform.

Important sections of the Catholic world, headed by
the Emperor Charles V, had long wanted the summon-


394

ing of a General Council of the Church to reform
abuses, particularly the abuses in Rome. On various
occasions—in Germany early in the 1520's and in
France early in the 1550's—there had been threats of
a National Council of the Church to bring about eccle-
siastical reform within a single country. When the
Council met at Trent it made sure that its decrees
should reserve the rights of the pope, and should be
subject to his confirmation; also that he should have
the sole right of interpreting them. Throughout the
proceedings (which took place in three sessions be-
tween 1545 and 1563) papal diplomacy proved to be
remarkably effective. Perhaps the great dynamic fea-
tures of Protestantism, as it developed in later cen-
turies, lay in the way in which it confronted a man
with the Bible and allowed him to seize upon the things
which he internally ratified, the things which in his
spiritual experience he grasped as living and true; the
way also in which it could cut its way to the original
sources, and, by returning to the fountain of the faith,
disengage Christianity from the accidents of a long
period of intervening history.

Perhaps the great stabilizing feature of Catholicism
has been that it sought rather to preserve a tradition
of doctrine, so that a man did not just think out the
things he was to believe—he sought to discover the
teaching which had united Christians throughout the
centuries. On this system, at least one did not persecute
on behalf of doctrines that one had only recently
worked out for oneself. The impressive feature of the
Council of Trent is the way in which doctrine, instead
of issuing from some brilliant book by an individual
theologian, was threshed out by commissions that
sought to discover what had really been the tradition
of the centuries. On questions of dogma, a conservative
position was maintained. Against Luther's teaching
about the interpretation of the Bible it was agreed that
the Bible must be interpreted by the tradition and
conscience of the Church. And the authoritative ver-
sion was the Vulgate, which had been related to the
development of Church doctrine through so many
centuries. The Bible in the original languages was
available for academic work, but the decision of the
Church's doctrines was not to be transferred in a spirit
of literalism to the experts in philology.

Luther's doctrine of justification by faith was con-
demned at the first session of the Council in 1545, but
an opening was still left for the resurgence of the
tradition of Saint Augustine in the Jansenism of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The doctrine of
predestination was condemned, but the Church had
never tolerated Pelagianism, and there was still room
in Catholicism for long quarrels between the Jesuits
and the Dominicans about the proportion to be attrib
uted to Divine Grace and to a man's free will in the
work of salvation. And though transubstantiation was
confirmed there was still room for controversy within
Catholicism about the interpretation of even this doc-
trine. In regard to an important dispute concerning
the question whether bishops held their power direct
from God or only through the pope—a controversy
in which the Spanish bishops were hostile to the
papacy—the Council failed to come to a clear decision.

In order to have a picture of the Counter-Reforma-
tion, however, it is not sufficient to see what was
happening at headquarters and in the central institu-
tions of Catholicism—one must have some impression
of what was taking place in the world at large. One
thing that was involved was the revival of preaching,
and in this connection some of the Observantine section
of the Franciscans, who reformed themselves in 1525
and became known as the Capuchins, become impor-
tant amongst the common people in Italy, France, and
Germany. During the numerous outbreaks of plague
that occurred in Italy, their fidelity and courage made
a great impression.

The Jesuits attacked the problem at a different level
and became important at first through their teaching
and influence in universities, though later they became
powerful at royal courts. Even in Spain where they
gained most adherents, and in France, where the sup-
porters of Gallican claims and particularly the Parle-
ment of Paris had special reasons for jealousy, they
suffered some opposition at first. When they went to
Cologne in 1544, some said that the urgent need was
rather for good bishops and parish priests. Just after
the mid-century, not only were many of the German
bishops still worldly-minded and indifferent to the
religious cause, but there were regions where it was
impossible for good Catholics to be served except by
priests who were actually married or living with con-
cubines, and preaching semi-Lutheran ideas. In the
1550's, however, the famous Jesuit, Canisius, began the
important work which saved the city and university
of Vienna from the Protestants who had come to ac-
quire almost absolute control. His influence extended
to Prague as well as to Ingolstadt, which became the
great Catholic educational center in the next genera-
tion. The same Canisius was responsible for the issue
of a catechism which was to be of great importance
in Catholic teaching. At the humblest level of all,
moreover, great efforts were made to inspire and nour-
ish popular piety.

Even so, it is difficult to see how the new influences
could have found a footing if they had not been
patronized by princes, particularly the Wittelsbachs
in Bavaria and the Habsburgs in Austria. The papacy
was wise enough now to make concessions to princes


395

who might have become Protestant for the sake of the
spoils; and the Bavarian princes were to acquire a good
deal of revenue from ecclesiastical sources on which
they were now permitted to draw. For a few years
from about 1563 the Duke of Bavaria sought to bring
his principality back to Catholicism but this imposed
upon him a difficult conflict with his parliamentary
estates and with the nobility. He succeeded in restoring
the Church only by high-handed measures and by
making encroachments on ecclesiastical jurisdiction
himself. In general, the restoration of the clergy and
the care for the educational work were calculated in
themselves to have a great effect, and even in Bohemia,
a traditional home of heresy, Catholic preaching and
Catholic saintliness began to exercise their influence
again.

5. The Results of the Reformation. It is more clear
to the twentieth century than it was to the sixteenth
that a great deal of the evil and the suffering which
arose from the Reformation—a great many of the wars,
atrocities and crimes that came to be associated with
it—arose from the beliefs that the various parties had
in common. The world had changed greatly since New
Testament days, and all were agreed that religion was
not a matter for the Individual only; that the uniform
“Christian Society” was the important thing; and that
only one form of faith could be true, the rest standing
not merely as errors but as diabolical perversions. It
was the duty of rulers to support the true faith and
there were precedents for the view that when all else
failed—when the ecclesiastical system was too deca-
dent to rectify itself—the secular arm should reform
the Church. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and the Ana-
baptists sought to capture the government—if only the
government of a city-state. And this only highlighted
the fact that the papacy needed the support of the
secular authority too.

Many of the results of the Reformation—particularly
the more paradoxical results—sprang from the fact that
neither the papacy, on the one hand, nor Luther (or
any other Protestant leader) on the other, was able to
secure a total victory that would have reestablished
unity in the West. This itself contributed to the power
of princes, for it left them the choice in matters of
religion, so that they tended to become masters rather
than servants at the most crucial point of all. A mon-
arch like Henry VIII of England could evade the alter-
natives before him, simply setting up a system of his
own.

Furthermore, besides confiscating much of the prop-
erty of the Church, they became accustomed to con-
trolling religious affairs—even (in the case of Lutheran
princes and Henry VIII, for example) replacing the
pope as the superior over bishops. Each state tended
to become its own “Christian Society,” and authority—
being now closer at hand—was liable to become more
tyrannical than before. Although the tendencies were
already in existence and may have contributed to the
growth of an antipapal movement, the Reformation
gave a fresh stimulus to the rising power of kings, and
the development of nationalism. It was a great blow
to such international order as had previously existed.

A revival of religion had occurred, and both pub-
lished works and private letters bear evidence of in-
spiring thought and deep sincerity—a tremendous re-
exploring of Christianity. But it was also a revival of
religious passions, religious hatreds and religious wars,
and it showed what a scourge a supernatural religion
could be to the world if it were not tempered by the
constant remembrance of the dominating importance
of charity. In sixteenth-century Europe the rivalry
between one set of doctrines and another, and even
the negotiations between the parties—indeed all the
transactions which related to doctrinal tests—inaugu-
rated a period in which the confessional issue was too
momentous, and there was too hard an attitude toward
intellectual statements of belief.

In the long run, the very conflict of authorities was
bound to leave a greater opening for individ-
ualism—even a tendency to see all the religious parties
with relativity. But the process to this was slower than
one would have imagined and for nearly two centuries
the conflict had a politico-religious character. In a
given country the Reformation, particularly in its
Calvinist form, was likely to arise in the first place
amongst a minority; and there were signs of it even
in countries that were to remain Catholic—signs in
Italy and even Spain, and a formidable movement in
France. The irrepressibility of these nonconformists,
even when they failed to capture the government,
added a dynamic quality to the history of a number
of states, particularly England. Yet for the most part
it was due to their predicament rather than to their
theology that the dissenters made their great contri-
bution to the modern world. They wished to capture
the whole body politic; and because they failed they
were in the mood for opposition to the Establishment,
both Church and State; and they could better afford
to judge society and government by reference to
Christian principles and fundamental ideas.

The elevation of the Bible by the Protestants, and
particularly the Calvinists—what has been called the
bibliolatry of the sixteenth century—was to have im-
portant and widespread consequences. Even the trans-
lation of the book had a wide general significance,
especially in France and Germany. In an age when
everything is being thrown into the melting pot, it
becomes more easy to note the equality of men before


396

God, the Christ who makes men free, the idea of
communism in the New Testament. One of the effects
of the concentration on the Bible was the unprece-
dented importance which the Old Testament acquired
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In some
respects it replaced the volumes of canon law which
Luther had burned, and it proved less flexible than the
canon law, to which Luther objected, partly because
of the development that had taken place in it; he
objected not to its prohibition of usury but to the
loopholes which it had come to admit. Now, economic
regulations, political theories, ethical ideas—and even
science, even one's views about the physical universe—
would be taken from the Old Testament, which was
more relevant for these mundane purposes than the
New. Monarchy itself found its justification there and
Luther's view of what we should call the state was
Old Testament rather than medieval—the king having
the power while being expected to listen to the prophet
(the Reformation leader) at his side. And over and over
again the early Protestants would refer to their mon-
arch as the King Josiah, who had reformed the Church
after discovering the books of the Law.

The conception of the covenant, which was so fa-
miliar amongst the ancient Hebrews, was now revived
and seems to have played its part in the development
of the Social Contract theory. When the Pilgram Fa-
thers went to America, they signed what they called
a “covenant,” in which they constituted themselves as
a body politic. Amongst the Puritans the prohibition
of images may have tended to the discouragement of
the visual arts. In England, Sundays (which had at first
been deprecated, along with the excessive number of
saints' days) came to be equated with the Jewish
Sabbath. The Old Testament provided textual bases for
witch-burnings, which multiplied at this period, as well
as for religious intolerance and severe theories of per-
secution, including the view that heretics should be
destroyed as blasphemers.

It has been held by Max Weber and others that
something in the nature of Protestantism itself played
an important part in the rise of capitalism, and the
advance of England and Holland (together with a
decline in Belgium and a backwardness in Spain and
Italy) has lent plausibility to this view. But capitalism
and the spirit of capitalism were highly advanced in
Italy and the Netherlands before the Reformation, and
the famous Fugger family in Germany was Catholic.
Luther, joining in the hostility that had already arisen
against it—said that the greatest misfortune of the
German nation was the traffic in usury, and he blamed
the pope for having sanctioned the evil. Calvin, coming
at a later date, recognized the changed condition of
the world and attacked the Aristotelian view that
money is “barren” but he was a little troubled lest this
should assist the capitalists and encourage usury. He
would have liked to drive the latter out of the world,
but since this was impossible, he said that one must
give way to the general utility. He sought to prevent
the evil which explained the antipathy of agricultural
societies to usury—namely, the practices which took
advantage of the misfortunes of the poor—and to him
Venice and Antwerp were an exposure of the mam-
monism of the Catholics.

In fact the traditional medieval policy was pursued
in Geneva in Calvin's day; and, after his time, the
prejudice against usury continued in that city, where,
indeed, business life proceeded as formerly, without
receiving any great impetus from the religious move-
ment, and in 1568 the influences of the Calvinist parties
prevented the formation of a bank. In Amsterdam the
biggest capitalists belonged to families that were
working on a large scale before the Reformation and
it was the poor who became the most fanatical Calvin-
ists. It was preached that everything beyond a reasona-
ble subsistence should be set aside for the poor, and
disciplinary action was taken against bankers—the old
prejudices continuing until the middle of the seven-
teenth century. So long as a religious revival retains
its character, it is not in its nature to encourage mam-
monism, a point which even the Puritans of seven-
teenth-century England illustrate.

The view that a believer should praise and serve God
in his daily avocations should not be strange in any
religion; and the Middle Ages (as well as the Jesuits
later) began wisely to adjust their ethical precepts—
their views on commerce and man's daily tasks—to
the needs of a changing world. It is surprising that
anybody should hold the view that capitalism was
encouraged because the Reformers separated salvation
from “works”; for the Puritans were far from repre-
senting an easy view of Christian conduct, though they
held that a man did not win salvation by the effort.
When Baron von Hügel read Bunyan he said that the
book was “curiously Catholic in its ideas... certainly
very strong about the necessity of good works.” Puri-
tanism encouraged work, reprobated waste of time in
idle talk and mere sociability, and held that leisure was
equivalent to lasciviousness. It also reprobated luxury
and promoted virtues like thrift, no doubt giving reli-
gious sanction to qualities that were particularly useful
in the capitalistic world that had been developing. It
is therefore open to the charge of regarding the making
of money as laudable while the spending of it was a
vice.

John Wesley, when he drew up his first printed rules
for Methodists in the eighteenth century, condemned
usury on biblical grounds and had to be made to see


397

that this was demanding the impossible, so that he
retreated and prescribed only a moderate rate. He
sketched out the view that the very virtues of Chris-
tians might lead to prosperity and thence to a decline
of religion. But it is only very late in the day that
Puritanism is in any sense the ally of mammonism.

Apart from the fact that Protestantism could spread
more easily in town than in country, it provided an
example of a new movement in religion which, in its
formative period, when so many things were malleable,
confronted what men were recognizing to be a new
economic world. Besides its theological doctrine, it was
bound to acquire an attendant social outlook—a fringe
of more mundane prejudices and associations—and
these showed it in the first place bitterly hostile to
capitalism. But, as time went on, it was almost bound
to give the support of religion to the ethical ideas
which corresponded to the needs of the new social
world. Catholicism had fixed many of its principles in
a different state of society, and was likely to be less
malleable, though it, too, made its adjustments (perhaps
more slowly) as society changed. Late in the day, and
almost as ratifying a fait accompli, Puritanism did
perhaps become the support of a capitalist society; and,
even so, it was a Protestantism that had changed its
character; in a sense it was not religion but a decline
in religion, or an injection of secularism which had this
result.

Protestantism, more than Catholicism, tended to
change its general character as the centuries passed;
it moved from its initial sixteenth-century form and
preoccupations, and at least presented a different
spectacle and assumed a different role. It was at a later
stage that it became consciously and avowedly the ally
of individualism, liberty, rationalism, capitalism, and
the modern kind of state.

IV. THE MODERN WORLD

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
feeling.

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


398

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-
tique
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
Holland.

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


399

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


400

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

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-


401

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-


402

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
sense.

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
prizes.

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


403

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
them.

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


404

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
idolatrous.

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


405

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


406

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.


407

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
ideal.

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-


408

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


409

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.

V. THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

In the Byzantine or Orthodox Church of the East
the situation was seriously affected by the fact that
the culture, the imperial system and religion itself
enjoyed a continuity which the barbarian invaders had
badly broken in the West. The Eastern Emperor re-
mained still in a sense the Pontifex Maximus; he could
virtually choose the Patriarch of Constantinople, he
legislated on ecclesiastical matters, initiated such leg-
islation, and could behave tyrannically on occasion. It
gradually became explicit that the ordinary adminis-
tration of the Church was regarded as shared by the
five Patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch,
Alexandria, and Jerusalem; though a place of special
honor was conceded to Rome, and, from the eighth
century it was true for the most part that the Patri-
archate of Constantinople covered the area effectively
ruled by the Eastern emperor.

Elements of an earlier democracy continued in the
ecclesiastical system, the laity having a part in the
election of a priest, the lower clergy in the choice of
a bishop. The laity—and perhaps, in particular, the
mob in Constantinople—were a force in religious
affairs, and were not regarded as incapable of holding
views on theology. They were greatly under the influ-
ence of the lower clergy and the monks, and able to
resist even a Patriarch, even an emperor. Perhaps the
most effective practical difference from the West came
from the continuance of secular education in the
Byzantine Empire: the fact that high civil servants
might be more cultured than the bishops and might
be appointed to high ecclesiastical office. On doctrinal
matters Constantinople was disposed to have respect
for Rome, but in the East, the final authority in this
field was an Ecumenical Council, and there was a
greater desire not to allow minute differences of doc-
trine to ruin charitable relations with other parts of
the Church. Greater value was attached to mysticism,
and there was less suspicion of it, than in the West,
the emphasis being more definitely on the otherworldly
aspect of religion.

When the Church had settled down after the Icono-
clastic controversy in the eighth and early ninth cen-
turies, the missionary work amongst the Slavs was
taken up, and with it went the general civilizing influ-
ences of Byzantium, producing a distinct differentiation
in culture between the two halves of the whole conti-
nent. Soon after 860 Cyril and Methodius carried to
the swollen Moravian empire the Slavonic literary
language which they had constructed apparently on
the basis of a dialect in Macedonia. Both here and in
the conversion of Bulgaria the competition between
the Eastern and the Latin church is visible, and it
brought out a tendency to mutual criticism, but did
not produce anything like the serious schism once
associated with the name of Photius.

Over a century later the conversion of a Russian
prince and his marriage to a Byzantine princess
heralded the Christianizing of Russia and brought that
country into the orbit of Byzantium, though Latin
missionaries had appeared there at an earlier date.
Earlier than all this the rule of Byzantium in southern
Italy, and the policy of taking over for the Orthodox
church that region, together with Illyrium (which had
been part of the Roman Patriarchate), had begun to
lead to serious trouble. Furthermore the conquests by
the Normans in southern Italy in the eleventh century,
together with their threat to move into the Balkans,
complicated still further the relations between Latin


410

and Greek. The troubles of 1054, however, did not
produce the real schism or the enduring estrangement
that the Western church later alleged to have taken
place. Political events and purely ecclesiastical rivalries
and disputes would lead to polemical quarrels between
Rome and Constantinople over points where each side
had often been content to allow differences. The em-
perors in Constantinople, however, often needed help
from the West, and tended to be an influence on the
side of reconciliation.

The chief difficulties had reference to some things
which had received general recognition in the Western
church only comparatively recently, so that in a sense
they were the result of the separate life that had been
developing. This was true of the most serious theolog-
ical difference, the famous filoque clause, the Western
view that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son as
well as from the Father. Fundamental differences in
mentality and language between the Greeks and the
Latins obstructed any agreement on this; but in any
case the East had a still stronger hostility to the West-
ern policy of adding to the creed without reference
to a general council.

The reform of the Western church and the tremen-
dous advance of papal claims in the latter half of the
eleventh century (at a time when conditions in Rome
for a long period had led Easterners to have a low
opinion of the papacy) provided a substantial cause
of further alienation, especially as the claims involved
the right to appeal to Rome from ecclesiastical courts
in Constantinople. For the rest the Orthodox Church
tended to feel strongly about the comparatively recent
development which had brought the West to the use
of unleavened bread in the sacrament. And, once hos-
tility was awakened, there were numerous differences
in custom that could be turned into debating points
against the West—the fasting on Saturdays, the clerical
shaving of beards, the question of the celibacy of the
clergy, etc.

Though the first Crusade was an answer to a call
for help from Constantinople, it increased the es-
trangement. The establishment of a Latin bishop of
Antioch, while the Orthodox one went into exile, pro-
duced a real schism in one of those eastern Patri-
archates that had hitherto tried to avoid participation
in the quarrels between Rome and Constantinople. The
Fourth Crusade, involving the sack of Constantinople
and the establishment for a time of a Latin empire
there, made the estrangement enduring and profound,
and marks the fundamental breach.

From the thirteenth century Byzantine culture was
brilliant, as the empire declined. The Emperor Michael
VIII Palaeologus in 1273-74, hoping to stave off an-
other attack from the West, overbore both the Patri
arch and the Synod and, in an agreement for ecclesias-
tical union, admitted the full primacy of the Roman
See. But the Church refused to hold to this. The teach-
ing of Gregory Palamas, which gave Orthodox
mysticism a dogmatic basis and was adopted as official
doctrine, provided a new obstruction to union; but the
need for help against the Turks made the issue a live
one in the fourteenth century and the Conciliar Move-
ment in the West produced a situation somewhat more
favorable to the policy. Representatives of Byzantium
appeared at the Council of Constance. In 1439 a union
was achieved at the Council of Florence. The Russians
rejected this; however, the Byzantines were unrecon-
ciled; Constantinople fell in 1453; and in 1484 the
agreement was formally repudiated there.

Before 1453 a great part of the flock of the Patriarch
of Constantinople (in Asia Minor, for example) had
been living under Turkish rule and the Patriarchates
of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem had long been
under the infidel. After the conquest, the Christians
were allowed to exist as a separate nation, governing
their own affairs according to their own laws and
customs, the Patriarch being responsible for the ad-
ministration, the securing of the payment of taxes, and
the maintenance of a proper attitude towards the gov-
ernment. The Turkish government itself was not hostile
but the local authorities in Asia seem to have been
more intolerant than those in Europe. Also, in their
reduced position, the Christians were unable to keep
up their educational system, and the church suffered
disastrously for this, though before long some use was
being made of facilities in Venice.

The Russians were more passionately Orthodox than
the Greeks, and more hostile to other forms of Christi-
anity, so that they regarded the fall of Constantinople
as the punishment for the union attempted with Rome.
The Christians under Turkish rule might have a Patri-
arch, but they no longer had the leadership of a Chris-
tian emperor, and as the rulers of Russia increased in
power—becoming Tsars from 1480—they saw them-
selves as heirs of the Byzantine emperors, Ivan III
having married the niece of the last of these in 1472.
They appointed their own Metropolitan of Kiev (after
a nominal election) and though Ivan III had declared
that the Patriarch of Constantinople had no authority
in Russia, the Metropolitan acknowledged the superior
position of the latter. The Russian clergy came to have
a certain contempt for the Greeks, and the Tsar
claimed to be the royal leader of Orthodoxy. In 1587
Constantinople recognized Moscow as a Patriarchate.

After the Time of Troubles, the first Romanov Tsar,
Michael, made his able father Patriarch, and from 1610
to 1633 these two ruled together, to the great advan-
tage of the Church. Orthodoxy had suffered a great loss


411

during the troubles, however, because the whole of the
Ukraine, including Kiev, had passed to Poland, which
was attempting to impose upon it a Uniate system,
agreed upon in that country in 1595. This involved
the recognition of papal supremacy but the retention
of the Orthodox liturgy, marriage of the clergy, etc.
Between 1652 and 1658 Nikon, the Patriarch of
Moscow, made a thorough reform of the Russian
church, and even pressed ecclesiastical authority in the
spirit of the medieval papacy. Peter the Great saw the
danger, however, and, from 1700, he and his successors
refused to nominate a Patriarch.

Relations with the West are illustrated by the fact
that Cyril Lucaris, who was Patriarch of Constanti-
nople from 1620 to 1635 and in 1637-38, put out a
distinctly Calvinistic “confession of faith.” Before 1640,
Peter Moghila, Metropolitan of Kiev drew up (in Latin)
a similar “confession” which showed a curious sympa-
thy with Catholic doctrine. From 1672, Dositheus, the
Patriarch of Jerusalem, was working to secure the
production of a “confession” which should at least
avoid these aberrations. In the eighteenth century
progress was limited by the fact that in Constantinople
the lay intelligentsia acquired the leading position
amongst the Greeks, while Catharine the Great in
Russia tended to elevate free-thinkers to high ecclesi-
astical appointments. In 1774 Russia created trouble
for the future by securing treaty-recognition of her
right to intervene on behalf of Orthodox subjects of
the Ottoman Empire.

The prosperity of the Phanariots, the great influence
they acquired over the church in Constantinople and
their dream of a revival of Greek imperialism brought
embarrassment to the Patriarchs; and the opening of
the Greek revolt—which the Patriarch could not bring
himself actually to denounce—led to the execution of
the head of the church, two metropolitans, twelve
bishops, and all the leading Phanariots in 1821. The
Patriarchate never recovered from this blow and began
to lose many of the features that had made it generally
important in mundane affairs. With the establishment
of a Greek kingdom not only the Orthodox Greeks of
the country itself but also those in Turkey tended to
look towards the Metropolitan of Athens. The twenti-
eth century has seen an important squeezing out of
Orthodoxy in Turkey and Egypt, and this has been
helped in both cases by the departure of so many of
the Greeks from these two countries. The See of Anti-
och has become much more important because it con-
tains along with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the
main Arabian section of Orthodoxy, and has itself been
in Syrian or Lebanese hands throughout the present
century. The Orthodox church in Europe became
closely associated with nationalism in the Balkans, and
this worked to the detriment of the Patriarch of Con-
stantinople, who, however, was perhaps too Greek to
be truly ecumenical. It was even Arab-speaking mem-
bers of the Orthodox church who played a leading part
in the rise of Arabian national movements.

The Church has suffered of late from the secularizing,
tendencies of the modern world, and in the 1960's it
has in the Middle East only a fifth of the numbers it
had fifty years ago. Though the Patriarch of Constanti-
nople has only a small immediate flock, the very mis-
fortunes of the office seem to have freed it for a more
ecumenical role, especially as the Orthodox in Western
Europe, in America, and in Australia are under its
jurisdiction. And at least, in spite of all that has hap-
pened in recent centuries, the Church has maintained
its spiritual power and its ability to play a part in the
ecumenical movements of the present day.

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HERBERT BUTTERFIELD

[See also Church as Institution; Gnosticism; God; Heresy;
Millenarianism; Myth in Biblical Times; Religious Tolera-
tion;
Sin and Salvation.]