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THE Roman Church is the most comprehensive and the vastest, the most complicated and yet at the same time the most uniform structure which, as far as we know, history has produced. All the powers of the human mind and soul, and all the elemental forces at mankind’s disposal, have had a hand in creating it. In its many-sided character and severe cohesion Roman Catholicism is far in advance of Greek. We ask, in turn:

What did the Roman Catholic Church achieve?

What are its characteristics?

What modifications has the Gospel suffered in this Church, and how much of it has remained?

What did the Roman Catholic Church achieve? Well, in the first place, it educated the Romano-Germanic nations, and educated them in a sense other than that in which the Eastern Church educated the Greeks, Slays, and Orientals. However much their original nature, or primitive and historical circumstances, may have favoured those nations and helped to promote their rise, the value of the 263services which the Church rendered is not thereby diminished. It brought Christian civilisation to young nations, and brought it, not once only,—so as to keep them at its first stage,—no! it gave them something which was capable of exercising a progressive educational influence, and for a period of almost a thousand years it itself led the advance. Up to the fourteenth century it was a leader and a mother; it supplied the ideas, set the aims, and disengaged the forces. Up to the fourteenth century—thenceforward, as we may see, those whom it educated became independent, and struck out paths which it did not indicate, and on which it is neither willing nor able to follow them. But even so, however, during the period covered by the last six hundred years it has not fallen so far behind as the Greek Church. With comparatively brief interruptions it has proved itself fully a match for the whole movement of politics,—we in Germany know that well enough!—and even in the movement of thought it still has an important share. The time, of course, is long past since it was a leader; on the contrary, it is now a drag; but, in view of the mistaken and precipitate elements in modern progress, the drag which it supplies is not always the reverse of a blessing.

In the second place, however, this Church upheld the idea of religious and ecclesiastical independence 265in Western Europe in the face of the tendencies, not lacking here either, towards State-omnipotence in the spiritual domain. In the Greek Church, as we saw, religion has become so intimately allied with nationality and the State that, public worship and monasticism apart, it has no room left for independent action. On Western ground it is otherwise; the religious element and the moral element bound up with it occupy an independent sphere and jealously guard it. This we owe in the main to the Roman Church.

These two facts embrace the most important piece of work which this Church achieved and in part still achieves. We have already indicated the bounds which must be set to the first. To the second also a sensible limitation attaches, and we shall see what it is as we proceed.

What are the characteristics of the Roman Church? This was our second question. Unless I am mistaken, the Church, complicated as it is, may be resolved into three chief elements. The first, Catholicism, it shares with the Greek Church. The second is the Latin spirit and the Roman World-Empire continuing in the Roman Church. The third is the spirit and religious fervour of St. Augustine. So far as the inner life of this Church is religious life and religious thought, it follows the 266standard which St. Augustine authoritatively fixed. Not only has he arisen again and again in his many successors, but he has awakened and kindled numbers of men who, coming forward with independent religious and theological fervour, are nevertheless spirit of his spirit.

These three elements, the Catholic, the Latin in the sense of the Roman World-Empire, and the Augustinian, constitute the peculiar character of the Roman Church.

So far as the first is concerned, you may recognise its importance by the fact that the Roman Church to-day receives every Greek Christian, nay, at once effects a “union” with every Greek ecclesiastical community, without more ado, as soon as the Pope is acknowledged and submission is made to his apostolic supremacy. Any other condition that may be exacted from the Greek Christians is of absolutely no moment; they are even allowed to retain divine worship in their mother tongue, and married priests. If we consider what a “purification” Protestants have to undergo before they can be received into the bosom of the Roman Church, the difference is obvious. Now a Church cannot make so great a mistake about itself as to omit any essential condition in taking up new members, especially if they come from another confession. The element which the Roman Church shares with 267the Greek must, then, be of significant and critical importance, when it is sufficient to make union possible on the condition that the papal supremacy is recognised. As a matter of fact, the main points characteristic of Greek Catholicism are all to be found in Roman as well, and are, on occasion, just as energetically maintained here as they are there. Traditionalism, orthodoxy, and ritualism play just the same part here as they do there, so far as “higher considerations” do not step in; and the same is true of monasticism also.

So far as “higher considerations” do not step in —here we have already passed to the examination of the second element, namely, the Latin spirit in the sense of the Roman World-dominion. In the Western half of Christendom the Latin spirit, the spirit of Rome, very soon effected certain distinct modifications in the general Catholic idea. As early as the beginning of the third century we see the thought emerging in the Latin Fathers that salvation, however effected and whatever its nature, is bestowed in the form of a contract under definite conditions, and only to the extent to which they are observed; it is salus legitima; in fixing these conditions the Deity manifested its mercy and indulgence, but it guards their observance all the more jealously. Further, the whole contents of revelation are lex, the Bible as well as tradition. 268Again, this tradition is attached to a class of officials and to their correct succession. The “mysteries,” however, are “sacraments”; that is to say, on the one hand, they are binding acts; on the other, they contain definite gifts of grace in a carefully limited form and with a specific application. Again, the discipline of penance is a procedure laid down by law and akin to the process adopted in a civil action or a suit in defence of honour. Lastly, the Church is a legal institution; and it is so, not side by side with its function of preserving and distributing salvation, but it is a legal institution for the sake of this very function.

But it is in its constitution as a Church that it is a legal establishment. We must briefly see how things stand in regard to this constitution, as its foundations are common to the Eastern and the Western Church. When the monarchical episcopate had developed, the Church began to approximate its constitution to State government. The system of uniting sees under a metropolitan who was, as a rule, the bishop of the provincial capital, corresponded with the distribution of the Empire into provinces. Above and beyond this, the ecclesiastical constitution in the East was developed a step further when it adapted itself to the division of the Empire introduced by Diocletian, by which large groups of provinces were united. Thus arose 269the constitution of the patriarchate, which was not, however, strictly enforced, and was in part counteracted by other considerations.

In the West no division into patriarchates came about; but, on the other hand, something else happened: in the fifth century the Western Roman Empire perished of internal weakness and through the inroads of the barbarians. What was left of what was Roman took refuge in the Roman Church—civilisation, law, and orthodox faith as opposed to the Arian. The barbarian chiefs, however, did not venture to set themselves up as Roman Emperors, and enter the vacant shrine of the imperium; they founded empires of their own in the provinces. In these circumstances the Bishop of Rome appeared as the guardian of the past and the shield of the future. All over the provinces occupied by the barbarians, even in those which had previously maintained a defiant independence in the face of Rome, bishops and laity looked to him. Whatever Roman elements the barbarians and Arians left standing in the provinces—and they were not few—were ecclesiasticised and at the same time put under the protection of the Bishop of Rome, who was the chief person there after the Emperor’s disappearance. But in Rome the episcopal throne was occupied in the fifth century by men who understood the signs of the times and utilised them to the full. 270The Roman Church in this way privily pushed itself into the place of the Roman World-Empire, of which it is the actual continuation; the empire has not perished, but has only undergone a transformation. If we assert, and mean the assertion to hold good even of the present time, that the Roman Church is the old Roman Empire consecrated by the Gospel, that is no mere “clever remark,” but the recognition of the true state of the matter historically, and the most appropriate and fruitful way of describing the character of this Church. It still governs the nations; its Popes rule like Trajan and Marcus Aurelius; Peter and .Paul have taken the place of Romulus and Remus; the bishops and archbishops, of the proconsuls; the troops of priests and monks correspond to the legions; the Jesuits, to the imperial body-guard. The continued influence of the old Empire and its institutions may be traced in detail, down to individual legal ordinances, nay, even in the very clothes. That is no Church like the evangelical communities, or the national Churches of the East; it is a political creation, and as imposing as a World-Empire, because the continuation of the Roman Empire. The Pope, who calls himself “King” and “Pontifex Maximus,” is Caesar’s successor. The Church, which as early as the third and fourth century was entirely filled with the Roman spirit, has re-established in itself the 271Roman Empire. Nor have patriotic Catholics in Rome and Italy in every century from the seventh and eighth onwards understood the matter otherwise. When Gregory VII. entered upon the struggle with the imperial power, this is the way in which an Italian prelate fired his ardour:

Seize the first Apostle’s sword,

Peter’s glowing sword, and smite!

Scatter far the savage horde;

Break their wild, impetuous might!

Let them feel the yoke of yore,

Let them bear it evermore!

>What with blood in Marius’ day,

Marius and his soldiers brave,

Or, by Julius’ mighty sway,

Romans did their land to save,

Thou canst do by simple word.

Great the Church’s holy sword!

Rome made great again by thee

Offers all thy weed of praise;

Not for Scipio’s victory

Did it louder paeans raise,

Nor entwine the laurel crown

For a deed of more renown.

Who is it that is thus addressed, a bishop or a Caesar? A Caesar, I imagine; it was felt to be so then, and it is still felt to be so to-day. It is an Empire that this priestly Caesar rules, and to attack it with the armament of dogmatic polemics alone is to beat the air.

I cannot here show what immense results follow272from the fact that the Catholic Church is the Roman Empire. Let me mention only a few conclusions which the Church itself draws. It is just as essential to this Church to exercise governmental power as to proclaim the Gospel. The phrase “Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus triumphat,” must be understood in a political sense. He rules on earth by the fact that his Rome-directed Church rules, and rules, too, by law and by force; that is to say, it employs all the means of which states avail themselves. Accordingly it recognises no form of religious fervour which does not first of all submit to this papal Church, is approved by it, and remains in constant dependence upon it. This Church, then, teaches its “subjects” to say: “Though I understand all mysteries, and though I have all faith, and though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not unity in love, which alone floweth from unconditional obedience to the Church, it profiteth me nothing.” Outside the pale of the Church, all faith, all love, all the virtues, even martyrdoms, are of no value whatever. Naturally; for even an earthly state appreciates only those services which a man has rendered for its sake. But here the state identifies itself with the kingdom of Heaven, in other respects proceeding just like other states. From this fact you can yourselves deduce 273all the Church’s claims; they follow without difficulty. Even the most exorbitant demand appears quite natural as soon as you only admit the truth of the two leading propositions: “The Roman Church is the kingdom of God,” and, “The Church must govern like an earthly state.” It is not to be denied that Christian motives have also had a hand in this development: the desire to bring the Christian religion into a real connexion with life, and to make its influence felt in every situation that may arise, as well as anxiety for the salvation of individuals and of nations. How many earnest Catholic Christians there have been who had no other real desire than to establish Christ’s rule on earth and build up his kingdom! But while there can be no doubt that their intention, and the energy with which they put their hands to the work, made them superior to the Greeks, there can be as little that it is a serious misunderstanding of Christ’s and the apostles’ injunctions to aim at establishing and building up the kingdom of God by political means. The only forces which this kingdom knows are religious and moral forces, and it rests on a basis of freedom. But when a church comes forward with the claims of an earthly state, it is bound to make use of all the means at the disposal of that state, including, therefore, crafty diplomacy and force; for the earthly state, even a state governed by law, must on occasion 274become a state that acts contrary to law. The course of development which this Church has followed as an earthly state was, then, bound to lead logically to the absolute monarchy of the Pope and his infallibility; for in an earthly theocracy infallibility means, at bottom, nothing more than full sovereignty means in a secular state. That the Church has not shrunk from drawing this last conclusion is a proof of the extent to which the sacred element in it has become secularised. ,

That this second element was bound to produce a radical change in the characteristic features of Catholicism in Western Europe, in its traditionalism, its orthodoxy, its ritualism, and its monasticism, is obvious. Traditionalism holds the same position after the change as it did before; but when any element in it has become inconvenient, it is dropped and its place taken by the papal will. “La tradition, c’est moi” as Pius IX. is reported to have said. Further, “sound doctrine” is still a leading principle, but, as a matter of fact, it can be altered by the ecclesiastical policy of the Pope; subtle distinctions have given many a dogma a new meaning. New dogmas, too, are promulgated. In many respects doctrine has become more arbitrary, and a rigid formula in a matter of dogma may be set aside by a contrary injunction in a matter of ethics and in the confessional. The hard and fast lines of 275the past can be everywhere relaxed in favour of the needs of the present. The same holds good of ritualism, as also of monasticism. The extent to which the old monasticism has been altered, by no means always to its disadvantage alone, and has even in some important aspects been transformed into its flat opposite, I cannot here show. In its organisation this Church possesses a faculty of adapting itself to the course of history such as no other Church possesses; it always remains the same old Church, or seems to do so, and is always becoming a new one.

The third element determining the character of the spirit prevalent in the Church is opposed to that which we have just discussed, and yet has held its own side by side with the second: it goes by the names of Augustine and Augustinianism. In the fifth century, at the very time when the Church was setting itself to acquire the inheritance of the Roman Empire, it came into possession of a religious genius of extraordinary depth and power, accepted his ideas and feelings, and up to the present day has been unable to get rid of them. That the Church became at one and the same time Caesarian and Augustinian is the most important and marvellous fact in its history. What kind of a spirit, however, and what kind of a tendency, did it receive from Augustine?


Well, in the first place, Augustine’s theology and his religious fervour denote a special resuscitation of the Pauline experience and doctrine of sin and grace, of guilt and justification, of divine predestination and human servitude. In the centuries that had elapsed since the apostle’s day this experience and the doctrine embodying it had been lost, but Augustine went through the same inner experiences as Paul, gave them the same sort of expression, and clothed them in definite conceptions. There was no question here of mere imitation; the individual differences between the two cases are of the utmost importance, especially in the way in which the doctrine of justification is conceived. With Augustine, it was represented as a constant process, continuing until love and all the virtues completely filled the heart; but, as with Paul, it is all a matter of individual experience and inner life. If you read Augustine’s Confessions you will acknowledge that in spite of all the rhetoric—and rhetoric there is—it is the work of a genius who has felt God, the God of the Spirit, to be the be-all and the end-all of his life; who thirsts after Him and desires nothing beside Him. Further, all the sad and terrible experiences which he had had in his own person, all the rupture with himself, all the service of transient things, the “crumbling away into the world bit by bit,” and the egoism for which he had to pay in loss of 277strength and freedom, he reduces to the one root, sin; that is to say, lack of communion with God, godlessness. Again, what released him from the entanglements of the world, from selfishness and inner decay, and gave him strength, freedom, and a consciousness of the Eternal, he calls, with Paul, grace. With him he feels, too, that grace is wholly the work of God, but that it is obtained through and by Christ, and possessed as forgiveness of sins and as the spirit of love. He is much less free and more beset with scruples in his view of sin than the great apostle; and it is this which gives his religious language and everything that proceeded from him quite a peculiar colour. “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before”—the apostolic maxim is not Augustine’s. Consolation for the misery of sin—this is the complexion of his entire Christianity. Only rarely was he capable of soaring to the sense of the glorious liberty of the children of God; and, where he was so capable, he could not testify to it in the same way as Paul. But he could express the sense of consolation for the misery of sin with a strength of feeling and in words of an overwhelming force such as no one before him ever displayed; nay, more: he has managed by what he has written to go so straight to the souls of millions, to describe so precisely their inner condition, and so impressively 278and overpoweringly to put the consolation before them, that what he felt has been felt again and again for fifteen hundred years. Up to the day in which we live, so far as Catholic Christians are concerned, inward and vivid religious fervour, and the expression which it takes, are in their whole character Augustinian. It is by what he felt that they are kindled, and it is his thoughts that they think. Nor is it otherwise with many Protestants, and those not of the worst kind. This juxtaposition of sin and grace, this interconnexion of feeling and doctrine, seems to possess an indestructible power which no lapse of time is able to touch; this feeling of mixed pain and bliss is an unforgettable possession with those who have once experienced it; and even though they may have subsequently emancipated themselves from religion it remains for them a sacred memory.

The Western Church opened, and was compelled to open, its doors to this Augustine at the very moment when it was preparing to enter upon its dominion. It was defenceless in face of him; it had so little of any real value to offer from its immediate past that it weakly capitulated. Thus arose the astonishing “complexio oppositorum” which we see in Western Catholicism: the Church of rites, of law, of politics, of world-dominion, and the Church in which a highly individual, delicate, sublimated 279sense and doctrine of sin and grace is brought into play. The external and the internal elements are supposed to unite! To speak frankly, this has been impossible from the beginning; internal tension and conflict were bound to arise at once; the history of Western Catholicism is full of it. Up to a certain point, however, these antitheses admit of being reconciled; they admit of it at least so far as the same men are concerned. That is proved by no less a person than Augustine himself, who, in addition to his other characteristics, was also a staunch Churchman; nay, who in such matters as power and prestige promoted the external interests of the Church, and its equipment as a whole, with the greatest energy. I cannot here explain how he managed to accomplish this work, but that there could be no lack of internal contradictions in it is n obvious. Only let us be clear about two facts: firstly, that the outward Church is more and more forcing the inward Augustinianism into the background, and transforming and modifying it, without, however, being able wholly to destroy it; secondly, that all the great personalities who have continued to kindle religious fervour afresh in the Western Church, and to purify and deepen it, have directly or indirectly proceeded from Augustine and formed themselves on him. The long chain of Catholic reformers, from Agobard and Claudius of 280Turin in the ninth century down to the Jansenists in the seventeenth and eighteenth, and beyond them, is Augustinian. And if the Council of Trent may be in many respects rightly called a Council of Reform; if the doctrine of penance and grace was formulated then with much more depth and inwardness than could be expected from the state of Catholic theology in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, that is only owing to the continued influence of Augustine. With the doctrine of grace, taken from Augustine, the Church has, indeed, associated a practice of the confessional which threatens to make that doctrine absolutely ineffective. But, however far it may stretch its bounds so as to keep all those within its pale who do not revolt against its authority, it after all not only tolerates such as take the same view of sin and grace as Augustine, but it also desires that, wherever possible, everyone may feel as strongly as he the gravity of sin and the blessedness of belonging to God.

Such are the essential elements of Roman Catholicism. There is much else that might be mentioned, but what has been said denotes the leading points.

We pass to the last question: What modifications has the Gospel here undergone, and how much of it is left? Well,—this is not a matter that needs many 281words, the whole outward and visible institution of a Church claiming divine dignity has no foundation whatever in the Gospel. It is a case, not of distortion, but of total perversion. Religion has here strayed away in a direction that is not its own. As Eastern Catholicism may in many respects be more appropriately regarded as part of the history of Greek religion than of the history of the Gospel, so Roman Catholicism must be regarded as part of the history of the Roman World-Empire. To contend, as it does, that Christ founded a kingdom; that this kingdom is the Roman Church; that he equipped it with a sword, nay, with two swords, a spiritual and a temporal, is to secularise the Gospel; nor can this contention be sustained by appealing to the idea that Christ’s spirit ought certainly to bear rule amongst mankind. The Gospel says, “Christ’s kingdom is not of this world,” but the Church has set up an earthly kingdom; Christ demands that his ministers shall not rule but serve, but here the priests govern the world; Christ leads his disciples away from political and ceremonious religion and places every man face to face with God—God and the soul, the soul and its God, but here, on the contrary, man is bound to an earthly institution with chains that cannot be broken, and he must obey; it is only when he obeys that he approaches God. There was a time when Roman Christians shed their 282blood because they refused to do worship to Caesar, and rejected religion of the political kind; to-day they do not, indeed, actually pray to an earthly ruler, but they have subjected their souls to the despotic orders of the Roman papal king.

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