« PreviousContinue »
505 ligious freedom. He became the Reformer of his time against his own will and in the most innocent way, one may almost say, in spite of himself. Every struggle into which he was forced became a victory for his cause. In a few years the Wittenberg movement had become the world-movement. The words, the spirit of the Reformer had become seated in the hearts of millions, and had burst forth in a flame. He no longer stood alone, nations were on his side. It was therefore no longer his work, but a part of the history of the world, which is, so to speak, at the same time the judgment of the world.
I need not mention the name of Luther; it is on every one's tongue. He needs no monument,-a eulogy would be too late. The history of three centuries tells us what he was; Protestantism is his indestructible monument.
And this Protestantism, what is it? Pass through Germany, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, England, Scotland, and North America, and there you will everywhere find its expression in the religious and political institutions, in the moral character of these nations, in their science and art, in their restless activity, in their uninterrupted struggle for advancement, nay, even in commerce and manufactures, in rail-ways and steamboats, and in that scarce visible messenger of the air, which, to crown all, scorns time and space. Ask Calvinism, Puritanism, and Methodism whence their origin, and they will answer, We are only a continuation of the movement commenced in Germany in the sixteenth century. What is the declaration of the independence of '76 with its great idea of the liberty and equality of all men ? Did it fall direct from heaven? No; it is only the application of the protestant principle of religious liberty to civil and social life. What gives victory, right or wrong, to our arms in Mexico ? If you trace the cause up to its fountain-head, you will find that the power of Protestantism over a petrifaction of past times manifests itself even here. In short, Protestantism, however imperfect it may be at present, is the power which rules the modern world, it is the life-blood of modern history, of the present civilization: in it we all live and breathe, in so far as we really live, and do not merely vegetate.
Germany is then the birthplace of modern history, the hearth of all those ideas which govern the modern world. For this reason it has just claims upon the respect and gratitude of every protestant, and deserves to be studied by the present generation, especially by Americans.
It may be said, indeed, that the relative importance of this country in the sixteenth century, is no guarantee for the worth of her present literature. The current of the national spirit may there have become sluggish or even stagnated, as is the case in Palestine, Asia Minor, and Greece. This bare possibility, however, has here no application at all. For every one who is at all acquainted with the case, kuows that there is no country in which such a ceaseless activity prevails in the very highest departments of science and literature, as in Germany. The movements which have taken place there since the beginning of the present century, es. pecially in theology and philosophy, and which are at this moment directed more and more to practical subjects, call into exercise an intellectual force and energy, very similar to those which convulsed Christianity in the age immediately preceding the Reformation. This enormous scientific activity must finally have a practical result; it cannot be possible that it is mere empty, useless trifling. If otherwise, we must despair altogether of the power of the spirit, and of the presence of a God in history.
There are cases in which one and the same nation has played two successive parts in the great drama of the world's history, or has become world-historical a second time, always, of course, under a different character. Rome, for example, in her first act, governed the world with the sword, and laid almost all the civilized nations of antiquity prostrate at her feet. But her sword was broken by the gospel of peace, the Roman eagle was cast into the dust by the northern irruption, as by a tempest, and she stepped forward a second time to govern with the cross all western Christendom, until the time of the Reformation.
But we need not appeal to such an analogy. It lies in the very nature of Protestantism that it cannot be completed in one act. It is a perfectly authorized protest of religious freedom, founded and based upon the word of God, against an outward despotic ecclesiasticism, of private judgment against the shackles of tradition; of the principle of individuality against the stiff authority of public opinion. It is clear, however, that Protestantism is just as liable to degenerate into the opposite extreme of spiritual libertinism and licentiousness of opinion, as Catholicism to run out into Popery. Just as clear is it that there is truth in the ideas of authority, of law, of tradition, and the unity of the church, and that these are necessary to Protestantism, as complemental elements to give it a churchly character and secure its spiritual life against incurable disease. The country, then, which perforined the first part of the work, has 1847.] Protestantism in the seventeenth Century.
507 now taken upon herself the obligation of accomplishing also, so far as it is able, the second part for the good of Christendom, with the coöperation, of course, of all other protestant countries, that thus the work may be carried out to its proper end. In the sixteenth cen. tury Germany commenced the great schism in the church, and it is now therefore, in the nineteenth century, her most weighty task to lay the foundation of the still nobler work of union, and to do this, as in the other case, by the power of philosophical and theological thought, by the might of ideas. To accomplish this, she needs, of course, the coöperation of those nations which are furnished with a practical talent, the gift of organizing, viz., the Eng. lish and Americans. We have thus given the highest position from which the importance of German literature for this country can be viewed—its relations to the church. This may be a new idea to most of our readers. It is, however, by no means, a mere fancy, but a conclusion derived from a calm examination of various appearances and signs in the highest sphere of our present American literature. Before we enter more particularly on this subject, we shall give an outline of the course of Protes. tant theology in Germany since the Reformation.
The productive period of Protestantism was followed, in the seventeenth century, by the period of reflection. It then took up. on itself the duty of comprehending the heritage left it by its fathers, of defending it against the attacks of enemies, and establishing it upon a solid basis. This movement is represented by the celebrated dogmatic and polemic works of Chemnitz, John Gerhardt, Hutter, Quenstedt, Calov, and others, all of them written in Latin. These works can still be considered, in a certain sense, as the depositaries of dogmatic learning, and of the Protestant polemics against Romanism. In these efforts, however, the church fell into a new scholasticism, which reduced the living vigor of the theology of the Reformation into abstract formulas appealing only to the understanding, and gradually lost sight of the practical wants of the heart in meeting the demands of theoretical orthodoxy. This lifeless orthodoxy necessarily produced an antagonistic element in the consciousness of Protestantism. The reaction first arose in the pietism of Spener and Franke, which had for its object to satisfy the claims of the heart, of practical religious experience. Soon, however, the sceptical understanding shared largely in the same general movement, in the form of Rationalism, which looked upon the Protestant orthodoxy as a new papacy, and a betrayal of the Reformation. The eighteenth cen.
tury may be properly called the revolutionary or destructive period, preparing the way for a new structure, however, by clearing away the old rubbish. It had a fiery hatred against tyranny of every kind, and was striving for freedom; not, however, for the blessed freedom of the children of God, but for that of the flesh. It desired an earth without a heaven, a State without a church, a religion without a revelation, a Christianity without a Christ, a humanity without a God. In these times, rationalism, under different forms, pervaded the whole church, and, as is well known, it is not yet altogether eradicated. It showed itself in England and Scotland in the form of Deism, Latitudinarianism and Indifferentism; in France, as downright Materialism and Atheism; in North America it revealed itself in the defection to Arminianism, and in the general deadness of the churches: Wherever it could not develop itself scientifically, there it existed at least practically, often even under the cloak of orthodoxy. In Germany, however, it entered most deeply into the spheres of theology and philosophy, and produced an extensive literature full of learning and acuteness. The German mind, having a strong inclination toward theory, and a truly unwearied industry in scientific researches, when a sceptical spirit was once awakened, could not be satisfied with a mere denial of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and popular representations of its truths, but took great care to prove its assertions, and fortify its position with a bulwark of learning. It formally attacked the Bible, investigated its origin, the authenticity and integrity of its separate books, and all the historical circumstances to which it owes its origin, in order to arrive at the conclusion that it is a mere human production, although of the highest kind. With an unwearied spirit of inquiry, it passed through the different periods, even the most retired nooks of church history, to prove that the received orthodoxy was the offspring of the worst passions, of party interests and the despotism of church and State ; that it was therefore merely a product of man, which, besides, had changed its color in different times, and had therefore no right to exercise authority over a thinking mind.
However low the judgment we may form of Rationalism, we cannot deny that this important movement was, in some sense, natural and necessary. Just as little can we maintain that it stands in a merely accidental connection with Protestantism. Protestantism shook off the fetters of a blind authority, aroused the spirit of free inquiry, and insisted upon understanding how the truths of revelation could be harmonized with the dictates of 1847.]
Renovation of German Literature.
human nature. This end could not be reached at once. Inquiry is a continuous process, which, according to the laws that govern the development of life in the individual, and in all history, passes through all kinds of obstructions, deviations, and diseases, but in the end always advances. Rationalism is an example of this process, being a diseased, yet historically necessary crisis. It be. lieves truth only, when it has found it rational, and made it agree with its own thinking. In this it is, indeed, altogether one-sided, the religious interest is subordinate, and that which it calls reason is generally nothing more than the dry, superficial, abstract, every. day understanding, which cannot be an arbiter in the highest spheres of the spirit, and of which holds true what Paul says (1 Cor. 2: 14) of the yuqixòs ävfqwnos. Nevertheless, it revealed many weak points in the old system, cleared away many prejudices, rendered criticism rnore acute, and opened the way for new developments in theology. This rationalism having been inwardly surmounted, the theology which has sprung up in its place has, in consequence, a higher scientific character, and better satis. fies the demands of reason, than the former orthodoxy. And it was in the same country, where rationalism was carried out to its. furthest consequences, and assumed its most dangerous form, that it was confronted with its most powerful opponents, and most effectually assailed.
Since the close of the last century, German literature, in all its departments, has experienced a glorious resurrection, and been clothed in a truly classical form. Every one is acquainted with the masters of German poetry, Göthe, Schiller, Tieck, Nova. lis, the Schlegels, Uhland, Rückert, and others. Germany has done more for classical philology in the last fifty years, than all other civilized nations together. No important philological work can appear at the present time, without having availed itself, directly or indirectly, of the researches of a Wolf, Hermann, Creuzer, Ottfried Müller, Lobeck, Passow, Böckh, Bekker, etc. The grammars and dictionaries, which are in most general use in this country and in England, are translations of Zumpt, Matthiae, Buttmann, Rost, Kühner, Schneider, Passow. This is not at all contested. Every one, able to form a judgment in the case, will at once admit the extensive learning of German writers, the depth and penetration with which they enter most profoundly into the spirit of Grecian and Roman antiquity, and every philologian, who knows his own interest, will endeavor to make himself acquainted with these vast treasures. In the sphere of historical research, VOL. IV. No. 15.