Hegel 1795 (Berne)
The Positivity of the Christian Religion
You may advance the most contradictory speculations about the Christian religion, but, no matter what they may be, numerous voices are always raised against you, alleging that what you maintain may touch on this or that system of the Christian religion but not on the Christian religion itself. Everyone sets up his own system as the Christian religion and requires everyone else to envisage this and this only.
The method of treating the Christian religion which is in vogue today takes reason and morality as a basis for testing it and draws on the spirit of nations and epochs for help in explaining it. By one group of our contemporaries, whose learning, clarity of reasoning. and good intentions entitle them to great respect, this method is regarded as a beneficent “Illumination” which leads mankind toward its goal, toward truth and virtue. By another group, which is respectable on the strength of the same learning and equally well-meaning aims, and which in addition has the support of governments and the wisdom of centuries, this method is decried as downright degeneracy. Still more suspect, from another point of view, are investigations like those which are the subject of this essay. I mean that if we are not dealing with what for Christian scholars is a mere phantom of the Christian religion (whether one fashioned by ourselves or one that has long vanished from the world) but really touching an aspect of the system which for many is the object of reverence and faith, then we have cause enough to be satisfied with charitable treatment if we meet with no more than sympathy for our blindness and our inability to see in the same clear light as others do a great deal that is important and of unimpeachable venerability.
To set down a confession of faith at the head of this essay would therefore not provide a means of explaining one’s self satisfactorily., moreover, it Would be contradictory to the aim of this essay to expound the arguments for such a confession at length and to justify its content adequately. Hence a dry sketch of that kind would have encouraged the opinion that the author regarded his individual conviction as something important and that his personality came under review along With the whole matter at issue. Wholly and entirely in reference to the topic itself, I remark here that the general principle to be laid down as a foundation for all judgments on the varying modifications, forms, and spirit of the Christian religion is this – that the aim and essence of all true religion, our religion included, is human morality, and that all the more detailed doctrines of Christianity, all means of propagating them, and all its obligations (whether obligations to believe or obligations to perform actions in themselves otherwise arbitrary) have their worth and their sanctity appraised according to their close or distant connection with that aim.
The Jews were a people who derived their legislation from the supreme wisdom on high and whose spirit was now [in the time of Jesus] overwhelmed by a burden of statutory commands which pedantically prescribed a rule for every casual action of daily life 2nd gave the whole people the look of a monastic order. As a result of this system, the holiest of things, namely, the service of God and virtue, Was ordered and compressed in dead formulas, and nothing save pride in this slavish obedience to laws not laid down by themselves was left to the Jewish spirit, which already was deeply mortified and embittered by the subjection of the state to a foreign power. In this miserable situation there must have been Jews of a better heart and head who could not renounce or deny their feeling of selfhood or stoop to become lifeless machines, and there must have been aroused in them the need for a nobler gratification than that of priding themselves on this mechanical slavery, the need for a freer activity than an existence with no self-consciousness, than a life spent in a monkish preoccupation with petty, mechanical, spiritless, and trivial usages. Acquaintance with foreign nations introduced some of them to the finer blossomings of the human spirit., the Essenes tried to develop in themselves a virtue of a more independent type; John [the Baptist] courageously confronted the moral corruption which was alternately the consequence and the source of the perverted ideas of the Jews.
Jesus, who was concerned till manhood with his own personal development, was free from the contagious sickness of his age and his people., free from the inhibited inertia which expends its one activity on the common needs and conveniences of life., free too from the ambition and other desires whose satisfaction, once craved, would have compelled him to make terms with prejudice and vice. He undertook to raise religion and virtue to morality and to restore to morality the freedom which is its essence. This was necessary because, just as each nation has an established national trait, its own mode of eating and drinking, and its own customs in the rest of its way of living, so morality had sunk from the freedom which is its proper character to a system of like usages. Jesus recalled to the memory of his people the moral principles in their sacred books and estimated by them the Jewish ceremonies, the mass of expedients they had devised for evading the law, and the peace which conscience found in observing the letter of the law, in sacrifices and other sacred customs, instead of in obedience to the moral law. To the latter alone, not to descent from Abraham, did Jesus ascribe value in the eyes of God; in it alone did he acknowledge the merit which deserved a share of blessedness in another life.
The value of a virtuous disposition and the worthlessness of a hypocritical exactitude confined to merely external religious exercises were publicly taught by Jesus to the people both in his native country, Galilee, and also in Jerusalem, the center of Judaism. In particular, he formed a more intimate association with a group of men who were to support him in his efforts to influence the whole people on a larger scale. But his simple doctrine, which required renunciation, sacrifice, and a struggle against inclinations, achieved little against the united force of a deeply rooted national pride, a hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness interwoven with the whole constitution, and the privileges of those who were in charge alike of the faith and the fulfilment of the laws. Jesus had the pain of seeing the utter shipwreck of his plan for introducing morality into the religious life of his people, and the very ambiguous and incomplete effect even of his efforts to kindle at least in some men higher hopes and a better faith. Jesus himself was sacrificed to the hatred of the priesthood and the mortified national vanity of the Jews.
How could we have expected a teacher like Jesus to afford any inducement to the creation of a positive religion, i.e., a religion which is grounded In authority and puts man’s worth not at all, or at least not wholly, in morals? Jesus never spoke against the established religion itself, but only against the moral superstition that the demands of the moral law were satisfied by observance of the usages which that religion ordained. He urged not a virtue grounded on authority (which is either meaningless or a direct contradiction in terms), but a free virtue springing from man’s own being.
Jesus, on this view, was the teacher of a purely moral religion, not a positive one. Miracles and so forth were not intended to be the basis of doctrines, for these cannot rest on observed facts – those striking phenomena were perhaps simply meant to awaken the attention of a people deaf to morality. On this view, many ideas of his contemporaries, e.g., their expectations of a Messiah, their representation of immortality under the symbol of resurrection, their ascription of serious and incurable diseases to the agency of a powerful evil being, etc., were simply used by Jesus, partly because they stand in no immediate connection with morality, partly with a view to attaching a nobler meaning to them; as contemporary ideas they do not belong to the content of a religion, because any such content must be eternal and unalterable.
Against this view that the teaching of Jesus is not positive at all, that he did not wish to base anything on his authority, two parties raise their voices. They agree in maintaining that, while the [Christian] religion of course contains principles of virtue, it also contains positive prescriptions for acquiring God’s favor by exercises, feelings, and actions rather than by morality. But they differ from one another in that one of them holds this positive element in a pure religion to be inessential and even reprehensible, and for this reason will not allow even the religion of Jesus the distinction of being a virtue religion., while the other puts the pre-eminence of Jesus’ religion precisely in this positive element and holds that it is just as sacrosanct as the principles of ethics; in fact, it often bases the latter on the former and even sometimes allows a greater importance to the former than to the latter.
To the question, “How has the religion of Jesus become a positive religion?” the latter party can easily give an answer because it maintains that it issued as a positive religion from the lips of Jesus, and that it was solely on his own authority that Jesus demanded faith in all his doctrines and even in the laws of virtue. This party holds that what Sittah in Nathan says of Christians is no reproach: “The faith their founder seasoned with humanity the Christians love, not because it is humane, but because Christ taught it, because Christ practiced it.” The phenomenon of how a positive religion could have been so widely received this party explains by maintaining that no religion is so well adapted as this one to the needs of mankind, because it has satisfactorily answered those problems which practical reason raised but could not possibly solve by its own efforts, e.g., the problem of how even the best of men can hope for forgiveness of his sins, since even he is not free from them. The effect of this answer is to raise what should be problems to the rank of postulates of the practical reason, and what was formerly sought along the route of theory, i.e., a proof of the truth of Christianity by reasoned arguments, is now proved’ by what is called a “practical reason.” Nevertheless, it is familiar ground that the system of the Christian religion as it exists today is the work of many centuries., that in this gradual determination of the several dogmas the Fathers were not always led by knowledge, moderation, and reason; and that even in the original reception of Christianity what was operative was not simply a pure love of truth, but at least to some extent very mixed motives, very unholy considerations, impure passions, and spiritual needs often grounded solely in superstition. We must therefore be allowed, in explaining the origin of the Christian religion, to assume that external circumstances and the spirit of the times have also had an influence on the development of its form., the study of this influence is the aim of church history, or more strictly the history of dogma.
In the present inquiry there is no intention of following the guiding hand of history and studying the more detailed development of the doctrinal course taken by the church. We are to search, partly in the original shape of Jesus’ own religion, partly in the spirit of the epoch, for certain general reasons which made it possible for the character of the Christian religion as a virtue religion to be misconceived in early times and turned at first into a sect and later into a positive faith.
The picture given above of Jesus’ efforts to convince the Jews that the essence of the virtue or the ‘Justice which is of value in God’s sight did not lie purely and simply in following the Mosaic law will be recognized by all parties of the Christian communion as correct, though it will also be pronounced very incomplete.
The assertion that even the moral laws propounded by Jesus are positive, i.e., that they derive their validity from the fact that Jesus commanded them, betrays a humble modesty and a disclaimer of any inherent goodness, nobility, and greatness in human nature; but it must at least presuppose that man has a natural sense of the obligation to obey divine commands. If nothing whatever in our hearts responded to the challenge to virtue, and if therefore the call struck no chord in our own nature, then Jesus’ endeavor to teach men virtue would have had the same character and the same outcome as St. Antony of Padua’s zeal in preaching to fish. the saint too might have trusted that what his sermon could not do and what the nature of the fish would never have allowed might yet have been effected by assistance from above. But how it has come about that even the moral laws came to be looked upon as something positive is a matter which we shall reach in the sequel.
Our intention is not to investigate how this or that positive doctrine has been introduced into Christianity, or what changes have gradually arisen along with any such doctrine, or whether this or that doctrine is wholly or partly positive, is knowable purely from reason or not. Consequently, we shall in the main touch only on those features in the religion of Jesus which led to its becoming positive, i.e., to its becoming either such that it was postulated, but not by reason, and was even in conflict with reason, or else such that it required belief on authority alone, even if it did accord with reason.
A sect presupposes some difference of doctrine or opinion, usually a difference from those that are prevalent, but also merely a difference from those held by others. A sect may be called a “philosophical” one if it is distinguished by its doctrines about what in essence is obligatory and virtuous for human beings, or by its ideas about God; if it connects damnation and unworthiness only with a deviation from ethical principles and not with errors in the manner of their deduction; if it regards the imagery of popular belief as unworthy of a thinking man but not as blameable. As the opposite of a philosophical sect we ought properly to take not a religious one but a positive one for which both ethical principles and also what strictly does not depend on reason at all but has its credentials in the national imagination, are not so much unnecessary for morality as downright sinful and therefore to be guarded against. or again such a positive sect is one which puts in the place of this positive [product of popular imagination] some other positive doctrine, ascribes to belief in it the same worth and dignity as it ascribes to ethical principles, and even goes so far as to put those who do not believe in it (even if that is not their own fault, as may be the case with a positive faith, though not with a moral one) on the same level with morally bad men.
It is for sects of this positive kind that the name “sect” ought properly to be reserved because It implies a measure of contrariety, and a philosophical school does not deserve to be labeled with a name carrying with it something like the idea of condemnation and intolerance. Moreover, such positive sects ought not to be called “religious” sects as they commonly are, because the essence of religion lies elsewhere than in positive doctrine.
Between these two kinds of sect [philosophical and positive], we might place a third which accepts the positive principle of faith in and knowledge of duty and God’s will, regarding it as sacred and making it the basis of faith, but holds that it is the commands of virtue which are essential in the faith, not the practices it orders or the positive doctrines it enjoins or may entail.
The teaching of Jesus was of this third kind. He was a Jew; the principle of his faith and his gospel was not only the revealed will of God as it was transmitted to him by Jewish traditions but also his own heart’s living sense of right and duty. It was in the following of this moral law that he placed the fundamental condition of God’s favor. In addition to this teaching, its application to individual cases, and its illustration by fictitious examples (parables), there are certain other matters in his history, and it is these which contributed to the founding of a faith on authority. Just as in a man who teaches virtue and Intends to work against the current of moral corruption in his time, his own moral character is of the highest importance, and without it his words would fall from his lips cold and dead; so in this instance many circumstances combined to make the person of the teacher more important than was really necessary for the recommendation of the truth he taught.
Jesus was compelled for his own purposes to speak a great deal about himself, about his own personality. He was induced to do this because there was only one way in which his people were accessible. They were most heartily convinced that they had received from God himself their entire polity and all their religious, political, and civil laws. This was their pride; this faith cut short all speculations of their own; it was restricted solely to the study of the sacred sources, and it confined virtue to a blind obedience to these authoritarian commands. A teacher who intended to effect more for his people than the transmission of a new commentary on these commands and who wished to convince them of the inadequacy of a statutory ecclesiastical faith must of necessity have based his assertions on a like authority. To propose to appeal to reason alone would have meant the same thing as preaching to fish, because the Jews had no means of apprehending a challenge of that kind. To be sure, in recommending a moral disposition, he had the aid of the inextinguishable voice of the moral command in man and the voice of conscience; and this voice itself may have the effect of making an ecclesiastical faith less preponderant. But if the moral sense has entirely taken the direction of the ecclesiastical faith and is completely amalgamated with it, if this faith has got sole and complete mastery of the heart, and if all virtue is based on it alone so that a false virtue has been produced, then the teacher has no alternative save to oppose to it an equal authority, a divine one.
Jesus therefore demands attention for his teachings, not because they are adapted to the moral needs of our spirit, but because they are God’s will. This correspondence of what he said with God’s will, and his statements that “who believes in me, believes in the Father,” ‘I teach nothing save m-hat the Father has taught me” (which particularly in St. John is the dominant and ever recurring idea), gave him his authority, and without this authority they could not in themselves have been brought home to his contemporaries, no matter how eloquent his conception of virtue’s worth. He may have been conscious of a tie between himself and God, or he may merely have held that the law hidden in our hearts was an immediate revelation of God or a divine spark, and his certainty that he taught only what this law enjoined may thus have made him conscious of a correspondence between his teaching and the will of God. Every day any one can see examples of how far men can renounce their own native powers and freedom, how they can submit to a perpetual tutelage with such willingness that their attachment to the fetters they place on reason is all the greater the heavier these fetters are. In addition to recommending a virtue religion, Jesus was also bound continually to bring himself, the teacher of this religion, into play; he had to demand faith in his person, a faith which his virtue religion required only for its opposition to the positive doctrines [of Judaism].
There was still another cause, originating in the previous one. This was the expectation of a Messiah who, girdled with might as Jehovah’s plenipotentiary, was to rebuild the Jewish state from its foundations. A teaching different from that which the Jews already possessed in their sacred documents they were disposed to accept only from this Messiah. The hearing which they and most of his closer friends gave to Jesus was based in the main on the possibility that he was perhaps this Messiah and would soon show himself in his glory. Jesus could not exactly contradict them, for this supposition of theirs was the indispensable condition of his finding an entry into their minds. But he tried to lead their messianic hopes into the moral realm and dated his appearance in his glory at a time after his death. I recalled above’ how firmly his disciples still clung to this faith, and this was another inducement for him to speak of his own personality. Still another was the fact that he hovered on the brink of danger to his safety, freedom, and life. This anxiety for his person compelled him frequently to defend himself, to explain his intentions and the aim of his chosen mode of life, and to link with the commendation of Justice pure and simple, the commendation of justice toward himself.
Finally, in the case of a man whose teaching makes him extraordinary, questions are asked not only about his teaching but also about the circumstances of his life, and insignificant traits arouse interest, although no one cares anything about them if they are told of an ordinary man. Similarly, the person of Jesus, even independently of his teaching, must have become infinitely more important still because of the story of his life and unjust death and must have riveted attention and captivated the imagination. We share in the interesting fate of unknown and even fictitious persons, we sorrow and rejoice with them; we feel in ourselves the injustice encountered by an Iroquois. How much more deeply must the image of their innocently sacrificed friend and teacher have sunk into the minds of his friends! In spreading his teaching, how could they forget their teacher? They had a grateful memory of him; his praise was as dear and as close to their hearts as his doctrine, but it inevitably became of still more concern as a result of those extraordinary events which occurred in his history and surpassed the nature and powers of human beings.
The Jews were incapable of forging a faith by their own exertions or of grounding one in their own nature. Hence much of the confidence and attention which Jesus won from them was to be ascribed to his miracles, even though his power to work these does not seem to have struck his more learned contemporaries as much as might have been expected of people better acquainted with natural possibilities and impossibilities than ordinary people are. It is true that opponents of Christianity have advanced considerations against the reality, and philosophers against the possibility, of the miracles, but this does not diminish their effect, because what is everywhere admitted, and what is enough for our argument here, is that these deeds of Jesus were miracles in the eyes of his pupils and friends. Nothing has contributed so much as these miracles to making the religion of Jesus positive, to basing the whole of it, even its teaching about virtue, on authority. Although Jesus wanted faith, not on the strength of his miracles, but on the strength of his teaching, although eternal truths are of such a nature that, if they are to be necessary and universally valid, they can be based on the essence of reason alone and not on phenomena in the external world which for reason are mere accidents, still the conviction of man’s obligation to be virtuous took the following road: Miracles, loyally and faithfully accepted, became the basis of a faith in the man who worked them and the ground of his authority. This authority of his became the underlying principle of the obligation to act morally, and, if the Christians had always kept on this road right to its end, they would still have had a great superiority over the Jews. But after all they stopped halfway; and just as the Jews made sacrifices, ceremonies, and a compulsory faith into the essence of religion, so the Christians made its essence consist in lip service, external actions, inner feelings, and a historical faith. This circuitous route to morality via the miracles and authority of an individual, together with the numerous places en route where stops are necessary, has the defect of any circuitous route, because it makes the destination farther off than it really is, and it may readily induce the traveler to lose sight of the road altogether in the course of his deviations and the distractions of his halts. But this is not its only defect; in addition, it does injury to the dignity of morality, which is independent, spurns any foundation outside itself, and insists on being self-sufficient and self-grounded.
It was not Jesus’ teaching about virtue which was now supposed to be in itself an object of reverence, though, if it had been, it would subsequently have produced reverence for the teacher also; on the contrary, reverence was now required for the teaching only on account of the teacher, and for him only on account of his miracles.
The man who has become pious and virtuous by this circuitous route is too humble to ascribe most of his moral disposition to his own virtuous powers, to the reverence he pays to the ideal of holiness, or, in general, to ascribe to himself the native capacity or receptivity for virtue and the character of freedom. But this character, the source of morality, has been wholly renounced by the man who has subjected himself to the law only when compelled by fear of his Lord’s punishment; hence, when he is deprived of the theoretical faith in this power on which he is dependent, he is like an emancipated slave and knows no law at all. The law whose yoke he bore was not given by himself, by his reason, since he could not regard his reason as free, as a master, but only as a servant; and, when his appetites were in question, nothing was left to it but this service. That this route from the story of the miracles to faith in a person, and from this faith, if all goes well, to morality, is the universal high road ordained in the Symbolical Books’ is as familiar as the proof that the proper basis for virtue lies in man’s reason, and that human nature, with the degree of perfection demanded of it, is too dignified to be placed at the level of nonage where it would always need a guardian and could never enter the status of manhood.
In souls that run with an ignoble aim, etc.
It was not Jesus himself who elevated his religious doctrine into a peculiar sect distinguished by practices of its own; this result depended on the zeal of his friends, on the manner in which they construed his doctrine, on the form in which they preached and propagated it, on the claims they made for it, and on the arguments by which they sought to uphold it. Here then arises the question: What were the character and abilities of Jesus’ disciples, and what was the manner of their connection with Jesus which resulted in turning his teaching into a positive sectarianism?
While we have few details about the character of most of Jesus’ pupils, this much at least seems certain-that they were remarkable for their honesty, humility, and friendliness, for their pluck and constancy in avowing their master’s teaching, but they were accustomed to a restricted sphere of activity and had learned and plied their trades in the usual way as craftsmen. They were distinguished neither as generals nor as profound statesmen. on the contrary, they made it a point of honor not to be so. This was their spirit when they made Jesus’ acquaintance and became his scholars. He broadened their horizon a little, but not beyond every Jewish idea and prejudice. Lacking any great store of spiritual energy of their own, they had found the basis of their conviction about the teaching of Jesus principally in their friendship with him and dependence on him. They had not attained truth and freedom by their own exertions; only by laborious learning had they acquired a dim sense of them and certain formulas about them. Their ambition was to grasp and keep this doctrine faithfully and to transmit it equally faithfully to others without any addition, without letting it acquire any variations in detail by working on it themselves. And it could not have been otherwise if the Christian religion was to be maintained, if it was to be established as a public religion and handed on as such to posterity. If a comparison may be permitted here between the fates of Socrates’ philosophy and Jesus’ teaching, then in the difference between the pupils of the two sages we find one reason among others why the Socratic philosophy did not grow into a public religion either in Greece or anywhere else.
The disciples of Jesus had sacrificed all their other interests, though to be sure these were restricted and their renunciation was not difficult; they had forsaken everything to become followers of Jesus. They had no political interest like that which a citizen of a free republic takes in his native land; their whole interest was confined to the person of Jesus.
From their youth up, the friends of Socrates had developed their powers in many directions. They had absorbed that democratic spirit which gives an individual a greater measure of independence and makes it impossible for any tolerably good head to depend wholly and absolutely on one person. In their state it was worth while to have a political interest, and an interest of that kind can never be sacrificed. Most of them had already been pupils of other philosophers and other teachers. They loved Socrates because of his virtue and his philosophy, not virtue and his philosophy because of him. just as Socrates had fought for his native land, had fulfilled all the duties of a free citizen as a brave soldier in war and a just judge in peace, so too all his friends were something more than mere inactive philosophers, than mere pupils of Socrates. Moreover, they had the capacity to work in their own heads on what they had learned and to give it the stamp of their own originality. Many of them founded schools of their own., in their own right they were men as great as Socrates.
Jesus had thought fit to fix the number of his trusted friends at twelve, and to these as his messengers and successors he gave a wide authority after his resurrection. Every man has full authority for the diffusion of virtue, and there is no sacrosanct number of the men who feel called to undertake the founding of God’s kingdom on earth. Socrates did not have seven disciples, or three times three; any friend of virtue was welcome. In a civil polity, it is appropriate and necessary to fix the number of the members of the representative bodies and the law courts and to maintain it firmly., but a virtue religion cannot adopt forms of that kind drawn from constitutional law. The result of restricting the highest standing to a specific number of men was the ascription of high standing to certain individuals, and this became something continually more essential in the later constitution of the Christian church, the wider the church spread. It made possible Councils which made pronouncements about true doctrine in accordance with a majority vote and imposed their decrees on the world as a norm of faith.
Another striking event in the story of Jesus is his dispatch of his friends and pupils (once in larger and on another occasion In smaller numbers) into districts which he had no opportunity of visiting and enlightening himself. On both occasions they seem to have been absent from him for a few days only. In the short time which they could devote on these journeys to the education and betterment of men, it was impossible to achieve much. At best they could draw the people’s attention to themselves and their teacher and spread the story of his wonderful deeds. but they could not make any great conquests for virtue. This method of spreading a religion can suit a positive faith alone. As a method of extirpating Jewish superstition and disseminating morality, it could have no proceeds, because Jesus himself did not carry his most trusted friends very far in this direction even after years of effort and association with them.
In this connection we must also notice the command which Jesus gives to his disciples after his resurrection to spread his doctrine and his name. This command (especially as worded in Mark xvi. 15-18) characterizes the teacher of a positive religion just as markedly as the touching form of his parting words before his
death characterizes the teacher of virtue: with a voice full of the tenderest friendship, with an inspiring feeling for the worth of religion and morality, at the most important hour of his life he spends his few remaining minutes in commending love and toleration to his friends and in impressing on them that they are to be indifferent to the dangers ‘Into which virtue and truth may bring them. Instead of “Go ye,” etc., a teacher of virtue would perhaps have said: “Let every man do as much good as possible in the sphere of activity assigned to him by nature and Providence.” In his valediction the teacher of virtue places all value in doing; but in the one in Mark all value is placed in believing. Moreover, Jesus sets an external sign, baptism, as a distinguishing mark, makes these two positive things, belief and baptism, the condition of salvation, and condemns the unbeliever. However far you elevate the belief in question into a living belief, active in works of mercy and philanthropy, and however far you lower the unbelief to an obstinate refusal, against one’s better knowledge and conscience, to recognize the truth of the Gospel, and even if you then grant that it is only belief and unbelief of this kind that is meant, though that is not exactly stated in plain words, nevertheless a positive element still persistently and essentially clings to the faith and is so attached to the dignity of morality as to be as good as inseparable from it., salvation and damnation are bound up with this element. That it is this positive element which is principally meant in this command to the disciples is clear also from what follows, where the gifts and attributes to be assigned to believers are recited, namely, “to cast out devils in his name, to speak with new tongues, to take up serpents without danger, to drink any poisoned draught without hurt, and to heal the sick through laying on of hands.” There is a striking contrast between the attributes here ascribed to men who are well-leasing to God and what is said in Matthew vii. 22: ["Many will say unto me In that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? .... And then I still profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity"]. In the latter passage precisely the same traits are sketched, namely, casting out devils in the name of Jesus, speaking in his name in the language of prophets, and performing many other wonderful works, and yet a man with all these attributes may be of such a character that the judgment of condemnation will be pronounced on him by the judge of the world. These words (Mark xvi. 15-18) are possible only on the lips of a teacher of a positive religion, not on those of a teacher of virtue.
The teaching of Jesus requires an unconditional and disinterested obedience to the will of God and the moral law and makes this obedience a condition of God’s favor and the hope of salvation; but it also contains the various features described above, and it was these which could induce those who kept and disseminated hi religion to base the knowledge of God’s will, and the obligation to obey it, solely on the authority of Jesus, and then set up the recognition of this authority as part of the divine will and so as a duty. The result of this was to make reason a purely receptive faculty, instead of a legislative one, to make whatever could be proved to be the teaching of Jesus or, later, of his vicars, an object of reverence purely and simply because it was the teaching of Jesus or God’s will, and something bound up with salvation or damnation. Even moral doctrines, now made obligatory in a positive sense, i.e., not on their own account, but as commanded by Jesus, lost the inner criterion whereby their necessity is established, and were placed on the same level with every other positive, specific, command, with every external ordinance grounded in circumstances or on mere prudence. And though this is otherwise a contradictory conception, the religion of Jesus became a positive doctrine about vitue.
Now the teaching of Jesus did not simply grow into a purely philosophical school, i.e., it did not just distinguish itself from the public faith and regard that faith as a matter of indifference. On the contrary, it regarded the public faith, with the observance of the commands and usages it enjoined, as sinful; while it conceived the final end of mankind as attainable only by way of the commands which it issued itself and which consisted partly in moral commands and partly in positively ordained beliefs and ceremonies. This development of Christ’s teaching into the positive faith of a sect gave rise to most important results both for its external form and also for its content. These results have continually and increasingly diverted it from what we are beginning to take as the essence of any true religion, the Christian religion included, i.e., from having as its purpose the establishment of human duties and their underlying motives in their purity and the use of the idea of God to show the possibility of the summum bonum.
A sect which treats moral commands as positive and then links other positive commands with them acquires certain distinctive characteristics which are wholly alien to a purely philosophical sect (i.e., a sect which also maintains religious doctrines but Which recognizes no judge other than reason). These characteristics are expedient, appropriate, and permissible in a small society of sectarian believers, but so soon as the society or its faith becomes more widespread and even omnipresent throughout a state, then either they are no longer appropriate (or rather, if nevertheless still retained, they acquire a different significance), or else they become actually wrong and oppressive. Purely as a result of the fact that the number of Christians increased and finally comprised all citizens in the state, ordinances and institutions, which hurt no one s rights while the society was still small, were made political and civil obligations which they could never in fact become.
A great deal that was appropriate to a small handful of sectaries must have disappeared with an increase in their number, e.g., the close ties of brotherhood between members who closed their ranks the more they were oppressed and despised. This bond of a similar faith has now become so loose that a man With no interest or friends outside the ties of religion, who consequently has no closer connections than those ties, can count very little on the sympathy and regard even of good Christians if he needs help and can allege in his favor no title to aid, no poverty or merit, no talent or wealth, except brotherhood in Christ. This close bond between Christians as members of a positive sect Was quite different from the relation which may subsist between friends who form a philosophical sect. To attach yourself to a philosophical sect makes little or no difference to family, civil, or other ties., you remain on the same footing as before with wife and children and all unlearned folk, and the philanthropy which a friend in such a sect may feel will retain the same direction and scope. But anyone who joined the small sect of Christians eo ipso alienated himself from many with whom he had previously been linked by kinship, office, or service. his sympathy and beneficence became restricted to a narrow and limited circle Whose chief recommendation now lay in similarity of opinion, in its mutual philanthropy, in the services it per formed, and in the influence which perhaps it might have.
Equally rapidly there disappeared what was only possible in a small sect, namely, community of goods, which involved the principle that any believer who was received into the group and who reserved any of his property for himself thereby committed a crime against God’s majesty. This maxim was Well enough suited to the man who had no possessions; but it must have been a serious problem for anyone who had property and who was now to renounce all that care for it which had previously filled the whole sphere of his activity. If this maxim had been retained in all its rigor, it would have been small aid to the expansion of Christianity. consequently, it was abandoned, whether by dire necessity or from prudential considerations, at an early date. At any rate, it was now no longer required of a man who wished to join the community as a condition of his reception, although the need for free-will offerings to the common purse as a means of buying a place in I-leaven was inculcated all the more vigorously. The result in the course of time was profitable to the priesthood because the laity was encouraged to give freely to the priests, though the latter took good care not to squander their own acquisitions, and thus, in order to enrich themselves-the poor and needy!-they made the rest of mankind beggars. In the Catholic church this enrichment of monasteries, priests, and churches has persisted; little is distributed to the poor, and this little in such a way that beggars subsist on it, and by an unnatural perversion of things the idle vagrant who spends the night on the streets is better off in many places than the industrious craftsman. In the Protestant church the offering of butter and eggs to the pastor is given as to a friend if he acquires the affection of his flock, and it is given voluntarily, not as a means of buying a place in Heaven. As for almsgiving, even a poor Jewish beggar is not chased away from the doors of the charitable.
Equality was a principle with the early Christians; the slave was the brother of his owner; humility, the principle of not elevating one’s self above anyone else, the sense of one’s own unworthiness, was the first law of a Christian; men were to be valued not by honors or dignity, not by talents or other brilliant qualities, but by the strength of their faith. This theory, to be sure, has been retained in all its comprehensiveness, but with the clever addition that it is in the eyes of Heaven that all men are equal in this sense. For this reason, it receives no further notice in this earthly life. A simpleminded man may hear his bishop or superintendent preaching with touching eloquence about these principles of humility, about the abhorrence of all pride and all vanity, and he may see the edified expressions with which the lords and ladies in the congregation listen to this; but if, when the sermon is over, he approaches his prelate and the gentry with the hope of finding them humble brothers and friends, he will soon read in their laughing or contemptuous faces that all this is not to be taken au pied de la lettre and that only in Heaven will it find its literal application. And if even today eminent Christian prelates annually wash the feet of a number of the poor, this is little more than a comedy which leaves things as they are and which has also lost much of its meaning, because washing the feet is in our social life no longer what it was with the Jews, namely, a daily action and a courtesy to guests, performed as a rule only by slaves or servants. On the other hand, while the Chinese emperor’s annual turn at the plow may equally have sunk to the level of a comedy, it has yet retained a greater and a more direct significance for every onlooker, because plowing must always be one of the chief occupations of his subjects.
So too another action which had one form on the lips And in the eyes of the teacher of virtue, Jesus himself, acquired quite a different one for the restricted group of early Christians, and a different one again for the sect when it became universal. Anyone whose talent for interpretation has not been whetted by the concepts of dogmatic theology and who reads the story of the last evening or the last few evenings which Jesus spent in the bosom of his trusted friends will find truly sublime the conversation which he had with his disciples about submission to his fate, about the way the virtuous man’s consciousness of duty raised him above sorrows and injustices, about the love for all mankind by which alone obedience to God could be evinced. Equally touching and humane is the way in which Jesus celebrates the Jewish Passover with them for the last time and exhorts them when, their duties done, they refresh themselves with a friendly meal, whether religious or other, to remember him, their true friend and teacher who will then be no longer in their midst., whenever they enjoyed bread and wine, they were to be reminded of his body sacrificed, and his blood shed, for the truth. This sensuous symbol in which he imaginatively conjoined his memory with the serving of the meal they would enjoy in the future was very easily apprehended from the things on the table in front of them; but if it is regarded purely aesthetically, it may seem something of a play on words. Nonetheless, it is more pleasing in itself than the persistent use of the words “blood and flesh,” “food and drink” (John vi. 47 ff.), in a metaphysical sense, which even theologians have pronounced to be rather harsh.
This human request of a friend in taking leave of his friends was soon transformed by the Christians, once they had become a sect, into a command equivalent to a divine ordinance. The duty of respecting a teacher’s memory, a duty voluntarily arising from friendship, was transformed into a religious duty, and the whole thing became a mysterious act of worship and a substitute for the Jewish and Roman sacrificial feasts. The free-will offerings of the rich put the poor into a position to fulfil this duty which thus became agreeable to them, for otherwise they would have discharged it inadequately or with difficulty. In honor of Christ there was soon ascribed to such feasts an effect independent of and over and above the power that any ordinary healthy meal has on the body, or that unrestrained relaxation has on cheerfulness, or, in this special instance, that pious conversation has on edification.
But as Christianity became more general there arose among the Christians a greater inequality of rank which, to be sure, was rejected in theory but retained in practice, and the result was a cessation of this fraternization. In early times the complaint was occasionally made that the spiritual love-feasts degenerated into occasions and scenes of fleshly love. but gradually there was less and less ground for this complaint, because bodily satisfaction became less and less prominent, while the spiritual and mystical element was valued all the more highly, and other more trifling feelings, which were there at the start in friendly conversation, social intercourse, mutual opening and stimulation of hearts, are no longer considered as of any account in such a sublime enjoyment.
Another characteristic of a positive sect is its zeal for expansion, for proselytizing for its faith and on Heaven’s behalf.
If a righteous man has the spread of virtue near his heart, he is for that very reason just as deeply animated by a sense of every man’s right to his own convictions and his own will. He is ready enough to regard casual differences of opinion and faith as immaterial and as a field in which no one has a right to alter what another has chosen.
The righteous adherent of a philosophical system which makes morality the ground and aim of all life and all philosophizing overlooks the illogicality of an Epicurean or anyone else who makes happiness the principle of his philosophical system and who, despite his theory which, pursued to its strictly logical consequences, would leave no difference between right and wrong, virtue and vice, yet contrives to give the better part of himself the upper hand. Again, the righteous philosopher highly esteems the Christian who might draw on his system of dogma, or at least on many parts of it, to bolster up a false easiness of conscience, but who prefers to cling to the true and divine element in his religion, i.e., to morality, and is a truly virtuous man. What such a contradiction between head and heart does is to induce the philosopher to marvel at the invincible might of the Ego which triumphs over an intellect full of morally destructive convictions and a memory packed with learned phrases.
Similarly, the righteous adherent of any positive sect will recognize morality as the pinnacle of his faith, and the adherent of any other sect whom he finds to be a friend of virtue he will embrace as a brother, as an adherent of a like religion. A Christian of this kind will say to a Jew of this kind, as the Lay Brother said to Nathan:
Thou art a Christian; by God, thou art a Christian.
A better Christian never was.
And to such a Christian such a Jew will reply [as Nathan did]:
‘Tis well for us! For what makes me for thee
A Christian, makes thee for me a Jew.
Yes, ‘tis well indeed! Purity of heart was for both of you the essence of your faith, and this made it possible for each of you to regard the other as belonging to his own fellowship.
On the other hand, if it is the positive element in a man’s religion which has infinite worth for him, and if his heart has no higher principle to set above this element, then his attitude to the adherents of other sects will depend on the kind of man he is in other matters, and he will either pity or loathe them. (a) If he pities them, he will feet himself driven to indicate to the ignorant and unhappy the only way to the happiness he hopes to gain for himself. He will be specially inclined to do this if he has other reasons for loving them, and all the more because the means of finding this way seem so easy, so very easy. Memory needs only a few hours to grasp all that is needed for this purpose, and, once the man who has strayed from the path finds the right way, he also finds so many brothers to support him, so many restoratives, consolations, and resting-places. (b) If he loathes them, he does so because his positive faith is as firmly interwoven with himself as the sense of his own existence, and therefore he can only believe that failure to accept this faith has its roots solely in an evil will.
The general run of men usually find difference of character and inclination more intelligible and tolerable than difference of opinion. We hold that it is so easy to change opinions and we believe that a change can be demanded because we so readily expect our point of view from others or exact it from them. We assume that what is congenial to our minds cannot be scandalous to anyone else. Another contributing cause or excuse [for not tolerating the opinions of others) is the pious thought, though a narrow one in this instance, that it is a duty to promote the honor of God, to procure for him that mode of worship and service which alone is worthy of him, and to restrain those who neglect the requisite opinions and practices as if they were offending against the most sacred duties. If a man does so offend, then some will try to reform him by convincing or persuading him, but the Spaniards in America, like their Holy Inquisition even today, felt themselves called upon to punish such offenses and avenge by death this lèse-majesté, this crime against God, and most of the other Catholic and Protestant ecclesiastical regimes [still] regard it as their duty to exact the penalty of exclusion from civil rights.
The individual holds his positive faith with all the more conviction the more people he sees convinced, or can convince, of it. Faith in virtue is supported by the sense of virtue’s inevitability, the sense that it is one with one’s own innermost self. But in the case of any article in a positive faith, the believer strives to banish both his own sense that it may still admit of doubts and also the experiences of others in whom these doubts have become strengthened into reasons for rejecting that positive faith, and he does this by trying to collect as many people as possible under the banner of his positive faith. A sort of surprise comes over a sectary if he hears of men who are not of his faith, and this feeling of uneasiness which they create in him is very readily transformed into dislike of them and hatred. When reason feels itself unable to characterize positive doctrines, grounded on history, as necessary, it is inclined as far as possible to impose on them, or to discover in them, at least that universality which is the other characteristic of rational truths. This is why, among the so-called “proofs” of the existence of God, the proof ex consensu gentium has always found a place, and it does at least carry with it a measure of reassurance. Faced with the very terrors of hell, men have often found some consolation in the thought that they will only be sharing the fate of many others. The yoke of faith, like any other, becomes more tolerable the more associates we have in bearing it, and, when we attempt to make a proselyte, our secret reason is often our resentment that another should be free from chains which we carry ourselves and which we lack the strength to loose.
But Christianity has already made great conquests in the domain of heathenism, and theologians boast with great satisfaction that the Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled or are at least approaching fulfilment, that belief in Christ will soon be spread over the whole earth, and that all nations of the world shall serve him. The result of this abundance of Christians is that zeal for conversion has become much cooler. Although controversialists have retained the entire arsenal of those Christian weapons that have won so many victories against the Jews and the heathen, and although there would still be plenty to do among the Jews and particularly the Mohammedans, nevertheless the efforts directed against the heathen in India and America can only be called inadequate in comparison with what might be expected from the multitude of nations Who together make up Christendom, especially when we think of their wealth and their superiority in all the arts. Against the Jews, finally, Who are making their homes among us to an ever increasing extent, there rises no more than a cry that “Gentleness will conquer,” and even so, only small numbers of people are roused to join in that crusade.
Christianity has been quickly and widely spread as a result of miracles, the steadfast courage of its adherents and martyrs, and the pious prudence of its more recent leaders who have sometimes been forced to use a pious fraud for the furtherance of their good work, a fraud always called “Impious” by the profane. Even though this extraordinarily swift spread of Christianity constitutes a great proof of its truth and of divine providence, still it is not uncommonly the case today that the edifying stories of conversions in Malabar, Paraguay, or California do not arouse interest because of the pious activities of their authors, because of the preaching of Christ’s name on the Ganges or the Mississippi, or because of the increase in Christ’s kingdom; on the contrary, they are valuable in the eyes of many who call themselves Christians rather for what may be drawn from them to enrich geography, natural history, and anthropology.
Proselytes do appear here and there, though now but rarely. On the whole, they receive little honor or attention, so that the admiration expressed at this triumph, e.g., at the spectacle of the baptism of a converted Jew, may be taken by him as a congratulation on his reversion from error, or even almost as an astonishment that he should have strayed into the Christian church. But the fact that, in the main, so little more than this happens is also to be excused on the ground that the most dangerous enemies of Christianity are internal ones, and so much labor and so many paraphernalia are needed for dealing with these that little thought can be given to the salvation of Turks or Samoyeds.
In civil society only those duties are in question which arise out of another’s rights, and the only duties the state can impose are of this order. The other’s right must be sustained, but I may for moral reasons impose on myself a duty to respect it, or I may not. In the latter event, I am treated forcibly by the state, as if I were a mere natural object. The other’s right must first be proved before the duty of respecting It arises. A very conscientious man may decline to regard as valid the claims another may make on the score of his rights until the other has proved them. But, once he is convinced of the other’s right, he will also recognize the duty of satisfying the other’s claims, and he will do this of his own accord Without any judicial pronouncement to that effect. Nevertheless, the recognition that he has this duty arises only out of a recognition of the other’s right.
But there are also other duties which do not arise from another’s right, e.g., the duty of charity. A man in misfortune has no prima facie right to my purse except on the assumption that I ought to have made it my duty to assist the unfortunate. So far as I am concerned, my duty is not grounded in his right; his right to life, health, etc., belongs to him not as this specific individual but simply as a man (the child’s right to life belongs to its parents), and it imposes the duty of preserving his life, etc., not on another specific individual but on the state or in general on his immediate circle. (When a specific individual is asked to help a case of poverty, we often hear the excuse that he does not know why he should do it; someone else can do it as well as he can. He prefers to acquiesce in making a contribution along with others, partly of course because in that event he will not have to bear the whole cost himself, but partly because he feels that this duty falls not on him alone but on others as well.) A poor man can demand alms as a right from me as a member of the state. but if he makes his demand to me personally, he is directly making a demand which he should have made indirectly through the state. On me as a moral being there is a moral demand, in the name of the moral law, to impose on myself the duty of charity. On me as a pathological being (i.e., one endowed with sympathetic impulses) the beggar makes no demand; he works on my nature only by arousing my sympathy.
Justice depends on my respecting the rights of others. It is a virtue if I regard it as a duty and make it the maxim of my actions, not because the state so requires but simply because it is a duty, and in that event it is a requirement of the moral law, not of the state. The second kind of duties, e.g., charity whether as a contribution to the poor box or as the foundation of hospitals, cannot be demanded by the state from specific individuals in specific circumstances, but only from the citizens en masse and as a general duty. Charity pure and simple is a duty demanded by morality.
Besides these duties there may also be others which arise neither from rights against me as an individual nor from rights against humanity in general. These do not arise from the rights of others at all. I have simply imposed them on myself voluntarily, not because the moral law so requires. Here the rights I allow to another are equally allowed to him simply from my own free choice. Of this kind are the duties I freely impose on myself by entering a society whose aim is not opposed to that of the state (if it were, I would have trespassed against the state’s rights). My entry into such a society gives its members certain rights against me. these are based simply on my voluntary entry into the society and in turn they form the basis of voluntarily accepted duties.
The rights against me which I concede to such a society cannot be rights which the state has against me, or otherwise I would be recognizing a power in the state which, though different from the state, yet had equal rights with it. The state cannot grant me liberty to concede to a society the right of giving a judicial verdict on someone’s life or on a dispute about property (though, of course, I may regard the society as a friendly arbiter to whose judgment I am submitting of my own free will). But I may concede to such a society the right to supervise my moral life, to give me moral guidance, to require me to confess my faults, and to impose penances on me accordingly., but these rights can last only so long as my decision to impose on myself the duties from which these rights arise. Since these duties are not grounded in another’s rights, I am at liberty to renounce the duties and, together with them, the other’s rights, and, moreover, another reason for this liberty is that these duties are assumed voluntarily to such an extent that they are not even commanded by the moral law. Yet I may also cancel another’s rights even if they arise originally out of duties imposed on me by the moral law; for example, I may at my pleasure cancel the right I have allowed to a poor man to demand a weekly contribution from me, because his right was not self-subsistent but first arose from my imposing on myself the duty of giving him this contribution.
Not as a state, but only as a moral entity, can the state demand morality of its citizens. It is the state’s duty not to make any arrangements which contravene or secretly undermine morality, because it is in its own greatest interest, even for the sake of legality (Its proper aim), to insure that its citizens shall also be morally good. But if it sets up institutions with a view to bringing about this result directly, then it might issue laws enacting that its citizens ought to be moral, but they would be improper, contradictory, and laughable. The state could only bring its citizens to submit to these institutions through their trust in them, and this trust it must first arouse. Religion is the best means of doing this, and all depends on the use the state makes of it whether religion is able to attain this end. The end is plain in the religion of all nations; all have this in common, that their efforts always bear on producing a certain attitude of mind, and this cannot be the object of any civil legislation. A religion is better or worse according as, with a view to producing this disposition which gives birth to action in correspondence with the civil or the moral laws, it sets to work through moral motives or through terrorizing the imagination and, consequentially, the will. If the religious ordinances of the state become laws, then once again the state attains no more than the legality which is all that any civil legislation can produce.
It is impossible for the state to bring men to act out of respect for duty even if it calls religion to its aid and thereby seduces men into believing that morality has been satisfied by the observance of these state-regulated religious practices, and persuades them that no more than this is required of anyone. But though this is impossible for the state, it is what good men have always tried to do both on a large and on a small scale.
This too was what Jesus wanted among his people, for whom morality was all the more difficult of attainment, and in whom the delusion that legality is the whole of morality was all the more deeply rooted, in that all their moral commands were religious commands, and these were commands and were obligatory only because they were divine.
Now if an Israelite fulfilled the commands of his God, i.e., if he kept the feasts properly, managed his sacrifices properly, and paid tithes to his God, then he had done everything which he could regard as his duty. These commands, however, which might be moral, as well as religious, were at the same time the law of the land, and laws of that kind can produce no more than legality. A pious Israelite had done what the divine commands required, i.e., he had fulfilled all the legal requirements, and he simply could not believe that he had any further obligations.
Jesus aimed at reawakening the moral sense, at influencing the attitude of mind. For this reason, in parables and otherwise, he adduced examples of righteous modes of action, particularly in contrast with what, e.g., a purely legal-minded Levite might regard himself as bound to do, and he left it to his hearers’ feelings to decide whether the Levite’s action was sufficient. In particular, he showed them how what morality required contrasted with what was required by the civil laws and by those religious commands which had become civil laws (he did this especially in the Sermon on the Mount, where he spoke of the moral disposition as the complementum of the laws). He tried to show them how little the observance of these commands constituted the essence of virtue, since that essence is the spirit of acting from respect for duty, first, because it is a duty, and, secondly, because it is also a divine command, i.e., it was religion in the true sense of the word that he tried to instil into them. Despite all their religious feeling, they could only be citizens of the Jewish state. only a few of them were citizens of the Kingdom of God. Once unfettered by the positive commands which were supposed to usurp the place of morality, their reason would have attained freedom and would now have been able to follow its own commands. But it was too immature, too unpracticed in following commands of its own., it was unacquainted with the enjoyment of a self-won freedom, and consequently it was subjected once more to the yoke of formalism.
The early Christians were united by the bond of a common faith, but in addition they formed a society whose members encouraged one another in their progress toward goodness and a firm faith, instructed one another in matters of faith and other duties,
dissolved each other’s doubts, strengthened waverers, pointed out their neighbors’ faults, confessed their own, poured out their repentance and their confession in the bosom of the society, promised obedience to it and to those intrusted with its supervision, and agreed to acquiesce in any punishment which these might impose. Simply by adopting the Christian faith a man entered this society , assumed duties toward it, and ceded to it rights against him. To adopt the Christian faith without at the same time submitting to the Christian society and to its claims against proselytes and every Christian would have been contradictory, and the Christian’s greater or lesser degree of piety was measured, especially at the start, by the degree of his loyalty or obedience to the society.
On this point too there is a distinction between a positive sect and a philosophical one. It is by the recognition and conviction of the teachings of a philosophical system, or, in practical matters, by virtue, that a man becomes an adherent of a philosophical sect or a citizen of the moral realm, i.e., of the invisible church. In doing so, he adopts no duties except the one imposed by himself, and he gives his society no rights over him except ne one that he himself concedes, namely, the duty of acting righteously, and the right to claim such action from him. On the other hand, by entering the society of the “positive” Christian sect, he has assumed the duty of obeying its statutes, not because he has himself taken something for obligatory, good, and useful, but because he has left the society to decide these matters and recognized something as duty simply and solely at another’s command and on another’s judgment. He has accepted the duty of believing something and regarding it as true because the society has commanded belief in it, whereas, if I am convinced of a philosophical system, I reserve the right to change my conviction if reason so requires. By entering the Christian society the proselyte has transferred to it the right of settling the truth for him and assumed the duty of accepting this truth independently, and even in contradiction, of reason. He has adopted the duty, as in the social contract, of subjecting his private will to a majority vote, i.e., to the general will. Fear clutches at the heart if one imagines one’s self in such a situation; the outlook is sadder still if we re-reflect on what the issue of such a pedantry might be; and the most lamentable spectacle of all is what we actually see in history, namely, the miserable sort of culture mankind has adopted by every man’s renouncing, for himself and his posterity, all right to decide for himself what is true, good, and right in the most important matters of our faith and knowledge and in all other departments of life.
The ideal of perfection which the Christian sect sought to realize in its members differed at different times, and in the main it was at all times extremely confused and defective. This may be guessed from the very way in which it was to be realized, i.e., by the extinction of all freedom of will and reason (i.e., of both practical and theoretical reason); and we may judge from the champions in whom the church has found its ideal realized how the sort of holy will which it has demanded of its ideal [adherents] is produced by unifying into a single concept what truly pious men have in common with vagrants, lunatics, and scoundrels.
Since an ideal of moral perfection cannot be the aim of civil legislation, and since the Christian ideal could least of all be the aim of Jewish and heathen governments, the Christian sect attempted to influence the attitude of mind and to take that as a standard for determining men’s worth and their deserts, whether reward or punishment. The virtues which it approved and rewarded were of the kind which the state cannot reward, and similarly the faults it punished were not the object of the church’s vengeance because they conflicted with the civil laws but because they were sins against the divine commands. These faults were of three types: (a) vices and trespasses which, though immoral, could not fall within the competence of civil courts; (b) offenses which were liable to civil punishments but which at the same time contravened morality, or the church’s morality, and could be punished by the church only as such contraventions; (c) offenses against purely external ecclesiastical ordinances. The church did not put itself in the state’s place or administer the state’s jurisdiction: the two jurisdictions were quite distinct. What it did often enough try to do was to withdraw from the arm of the law anyone guilty of a civil offense who had acted in the spirit of the sect.
A common purpose and common means of attaining it, namely, the furtherance of morality by means of mutual encouragement, admonition, and reward, may unite a small society without detriment to the rights of any individual or the state. Respect for a friend’s moral qualities and confidence in his love for me must first have awakened my trust in him before I can be assured that the shame with which I confess my faults will not be received with contempt or mortifying laughter; that, if I trust him with my secrets, I shall not have to fear betrayal; and that, in advising me for my good, for my highest good, his motive will be an interest in my well-being and a respect rather for the right than for my material advantage. In short, before men can be united in this way, they must be friends.
This condition necessarily restricts a society of this kind to a few members. If it expands, then I am compelled to take as witnesses of my shame men whose feelings toward me I do not know, as my counselors men of whose wisdom I have no experience, as guides to my duties men whose virtue I cannot yet estimate: an unfair demand. In a small society of friends I can vow obedience, and it can demand obedience from me, only in so far as it has convinced me that a certain way of acting is my duty., I can promise faith and it can demand it only if I have fully made up my mind that there are good reasons why the faith is true. A society of this kind I can leave if I think I need it no more, i.e., when I think I have reached my majority, or if its character appears to be such that I can no longer give it my confidence, that I can no longer regard it as fulfilling its purpose, or that I propose to renounce my aim of making moral progress (an aim which virtue may demand of me though no man may), whether I renounce it altogether or only renounce the sort of progress which the society desires. While I remain in the society I must be left free to choose the means even if I still will the society’s end, and my choice must either be made on the basis of my judgment that it is good or else be adopted out of confidence in my friends.
This compact, which is actually found in any friendship based on mutual respect or a common will for the good, may readily become irksome and petty if it is extended to cover trifles and if it meddles with things which properly must always be left to individual choice.
The early Christians were friends in this sense. They were made so, or their previous acquaintanceship was strengthened, by what they had in common, namely, their oppressed situation and their doctrine. Comfort, instruction, support of every kind, each found in the other. Their aim was not a free search for the truth (since the truth was already given) so much as the removal of doubt, the consolidation of faith, and the advance in Christian perfection which was most intimately connected with these. As the faith became more widely disseminated, every Christian should have found in every other, the Egyptian in the Briton, wherever he might chance to meet him, a friend and a brother like those he might expect to find in his household or among his neighbors. But this bond became continually looser, and friendship between Christians went so little below the surface that it was often a friendship between members of a community who, though separated from one another by vanity and clashing interests, did act to outward appearance and by profession in accordance with Christian love, but who regarded their petty envy, their dogmatism, and their arrogance as zeal for Christian virtue and passed them off for such or who could readily put actual animosity down to sonic dissimilarity in doctrine or insincerity in behavior.
Entry into the society was regarded as every man’s duty, his most sacrosanct duty to God; exit from it as entry into hell. But although the sect hated and persecuted anyone who resigned from fellowship, resignation did not entail the loss of civil rights any more than not Joining it at all did. Moreover, by entering the society a man acquired neither those rights nor even the qualification for acquiring them.
A fundamental condition of entry into the Christian society, a condition which differentiates it in toto from a philosophical group, was the unconditional obedience in faith and action which had to be vowed to the society. Since everyone was left free either to join the society or not , and since membership had no bearing on civil rights, this condition entailed no injustice.
All these traits which are found in a circle of trusted friends, united for the purpose of truth-seeking or moral improvement, are also found in the society of the Christian sects whose bond is the furtherance of Christian perfection and fortification in Christian truth. These same traits are met later on a large scale in the Christian church once it has become universal; but because this church has become a church which is universal throughout a state, their essence is disfigured, they have become contradictory and unjust, and the church is now a state in itself.
While the Christian church was still in its beginnings, each congregation had the right to choose its own deacons, presbyters, and bishops. When the church expanded and became a state, this right was lost. just as in the temporal state an individual corporation resigns to the sovereign (whose will is regarded as expressing the will of all) its right of choosing its officials and tax-collectors and fixing its own taxes, so too every Christian congregation has lost the right of choosing its pastor and resigns it to the spiritual state.
Public confessors were appointed as counselors in matters of conscience. Originally, everyone was free to choose a friend whom he respected and to make him the confidant of his secrets and faults, but instead of this the rulers of the spiritual state now arranged that these confessors should be officials to whom everyone had to have recourse.
Confession of one’s faults was originally voluntary, but now it is the duty of every citizen of the spiritual state, a duty over whose transgression the church has pronounced its supreme punishment, eternal damnation.
Surveillance of Christian morality is the chief aim of this spiritual state, and therefore even thoughts, as well as those vices and sinful impulses whose punishment is outside the scope of the state proper, are objects of legislation and punishment by the spiritual state. A crime against the temporal state (which as such is punished by that state) is punished over again as a sin by the spiritual state which also punishes as sins all crimes which cannot be the object of civil legislation. The result is that the list of punishments In canon law is endless.
No society can be denied the right to exclude those who refuse to submit to its laws, because everyone is free in his choice to enter it, to assume the duties of membership, and thereby to acquire a right to its benefits. just as this right is granted to every guild and corporation, so too the church has the right to exclude from its fellowship those people who decline to accept the conditions imposed, namely, faith and the other modes of behavior. But since the scope of this [spiritual] state is now the same as that of the temporal state, a man excluded from the spiritual state is thereby deprived of his civil rights as well. This did not happen while the church m-as still circumscribed, still not dominant, and hence it is only now that these two kinds of state come into collision with one another.
That the Protestant church, just as much as the Catholic, is a state, although it repudiates the name, is clear from the fact that the church is a contract of each with all and all with each to protect every member of the society in a specific faith and specific religious opinions, and to make arrangements for maintaining these opinions and fortifying every member in this faith. (I said “in a specific faith” because it would be an article of the civil contract that everyone shall be protected in his own private faith and that no one shall be allowed to suffer injury in his faith, or because of it, by force, the only possible source of such injury.) It follows that every individual in respect both of these arrangements and also of the general faith (which is the object of the ecclesiastical contract ‘just as rights of person and property are objects of the civil contract) must subject his private will to the general will expressed in the will of the sovereign. Now sovereignty belongs, so far as the legislative power is concerned, to councils and synods, and so far as the executive power is concerned, to bishops and consistories. The latter maintain the constitution contained in conciliar decrees and Symbolical Books, appoint officials, and naturally claim the right both to demand faith and obedience from their officials as conditions for their tenure of office and also stricto jure to deprive of their office any who think they cannot fulfil these conditions.
This spiritual state becomes a source of rights and duties quite independently of the civil state; and if one single matter, namely, entry into this [ecclesiastical] contract, is so determined that the length of time which anyone will remain in it is left dependent on his own option and that what he decides will not be binding on his posterity, then up to this point this ecclesiastical right (which might be called the church’s “pure” right)” does not inherently contradict anyone’s natural rights or detract from the rights of the state.
Every Christian, each in his own congregation, enters this contract through the solemn act of baptism. But since duties and rights in the church are duties and rights of belief and opinion, an infant cannot either enter the contract of his own free will or be pushed into it. Hence (i) godparents assume the duty of bringing up the child in the church’s faith; and since the child shares in the benefits of the church before it has fulfilled its side of the contract of faith, while the church does not willingly dispense its benefits gratis, the child has a right to them only because it will fulfil its corresponding duties in the future, and so the godparents stand surety or go ball to the church and undertake so to educate the child from the start that it will in due course fulfil its part of the contract. (ii) In some Protestant states the rite of what is called “Confirmation” has been introduced. By this ceremony the child renews his baptismal vows, i.e., in his fourteenth or fifteenth year he enters the contract with the church of his own free will and thus solemnly performs what the baptismal witnesses could only promise. But, in making this arrangement, the church has also taken care that the child shall have heard of nothing save the church’s faith, and it has
declared the intelligence and the judgments of a fourteen-year-old child to be those of an adult. It assumes that his generally unintelligent repetition of the articles of faith expresses the free choice of an intellect which has made a ripe decision commensurate with the importance of the matter in question, namely, his eternal salvation, whereas the civil state postpones until the age of twenty to twenty-five the attainment of one’s majority and the capacity to perform valid civil actions, even though these concern matters which are only dung in comparison with those at issue in the decision taken at Confirmation.
The church as a state takes care to have children educated in its faith because they are to become its members. Parents claim the right to have their children educated in whatever faith they wish, but in the ecclesiastical contract they have so far renounced this right, not against the children, but against the church, that they have pledged themselves to have them educated in the church’s faith; and the church fulfils its duty by filling the child’s empty imagination with its imagery, and his memory, if not his intellect, with its concepts, and by leading his tender heart through the gamut of feelings which it ordains:
Is not all that’s done to children done by force,
Except, I mean, what churches do to them?
Not content with this pure type of ecclesiastical right, the church has for long past linked itself with the state, and this has given rise to a mixed ecclesiastical right, just as there are now few states in which civil rights have remained pure. Both principles (the civil and the ecclesiastical) are independent sources of duties and rights. In respect of the legislative power, the two are by nature incompatible, and therefore there is always a status in statu; however much the Protestants have fought against the name ["state"], they have never defended anything so gloriously and so vigorously as the thing itself. In respect of the executive power, the Catholic church claims here too its complete independence of the temporal
state and withdraws from it into its own jurisdiction its officials and vergers, etc., but the Protestant church has subordinated itself to the state in this matter to a greater extent. But in cases where the church’s and the state’s rights collide, most states have given in, and have had to sacrifice their rights, to the Protestant as well as to the Catholic church.
a) Civil laws affect every citizen’s security of person and property, and this has nothing at all to do with his religious opinions. Thus, Whatever his faith, it is the state’s duty to protect his rights as a citizen, and, so far as the state is concerned, he can lose these only by infringing the rights of others. In that event the state vindicates against him the maxims which he expresses himself and treats him accordingly. So far as his faith is concerned, he cannot bind himself to anything against the state, for the state is incapable of making or accepting conditions of that kind.
On the other hand, however, all members of this state are united in a church, and as a society it has the right to exclude anyone who will not consent to laws. Now the citizen who does not adopt, or who forsakes, the church’s faith claims from the state as a right the capacity to enjoy civil rights., but the church excludes him from its fellowship, and, since it comprises the entire state, from the state as well. In these circumstances whose right prevails? The state’s or the church’s? The former has assumed the duty of protecting the good citizen (we may and will assume that a citizen may be good so far as the civil law is concerned, whatever his faith) in his rights, and at the same time it cannot meddle with faith., while the latter has the right to exclude a dissenter. from its fellowship and therefore it excludes him from the state as well.
In the vast majority of countries, Catholic and Protestant alike, the ecclesiastical state has made its rights prevail against the civil state., and in them no dissenter can obtain civil rights or enjoy that protection of the law in civil and criminal cases which a citizen enjoys. He cannot acquire real estate of any sort., he cannot hold any public office; he is even subject to differential treatment the matter of taxation. Things have even gone so far that baptism is not a purely ecclesiastical act whereby the child enters the church., it is also a civil act whereby the existence of the child is made known to the state and whereby such rights as the church will allow are claimed for the child. Consequently, the national church compels the father who dissents from its faith to have his child baptized by one of its officers according to its forms. The church does not do this as a sign of its adoption of the child, since it hands it over to its father after the ceremony to be brought up in his religion. The church’s action is purely and simply a proof that it has deprived the state of its right to admit citizens, because if the child of an adherent of the prevailing church is baptized, he is eo ipso received into both church and state simultaneously.. The same sort of thing also occurs in marriage, which in many countries is valid only if the ceremony is performed by an officer of the prevailing church. In this instance the church is performing a civil action, not intruding on the performance of a ceremony in connection with the other faith to which the bride and bridegroom adhere.
In this way the civil state has yielded its right and its office to the church, not only where the two conflict but also in bilateral actions” where the sanction of both is required. The attitude thus adopted to the state by the church is similar to the one adopted by the corporations with their rights. These too form a society within the state; their members cede certain rights to the society and on entering it assume certain duties. A corporation of this kind comprises all who ply the same trade in a town, and it has the right that any society has of admitting whom it will and excluding anyone who does not conform to its rules. Now the state, on the other hand, has the duty of protecting any citizen who wants to earn his livelihood in his own way, whatever way it be, provided he does not contravene the civil laws, and these in themselves cannot determine corporation matters. But if a corporation does not allow a man to ply his chosen trade, i.e., if it excludes him from its membership, it excludes him in effect from the whole community at the same time, deprives him of a right granted him by the state, and prevents him from exercising a civil right. In this matter too the state has sacrificed the rights of its citizens.
Again if the state wishes to use anyone for the education of its young people, it has the right to appoint him to office as a teacher if it finds him suitable. But the members of every branch of learned study have united into a corporation, and a corporation claims the right to admit or reject according to whether its rules are accepted or not. And if a man whom the state thought qualified to be a teacher were not a member of this corporation, then by being thus excluded from it he would be to that extent excluded from the state as well, and for this reason the state has renounced its right and is compelled to appoint to office as teachers only those who have graduated as masters (magistri or doctores) in the corporation appropriate to their branch of study. Alternatively it at least compels an official thus unqualified to enrol himself in the appropriate corporation after his appointment; he may not be inclined to do so, but the corporation will still claim its right and for this reason it makes him a present of his master’s degree, an honor which he cannot very well decline unless out of pure eccentricity.
In modern times certain Catholic governments have granted civil rights to non-Catholics, allowed them to appoint their own priests, and build their own churches. This is regarded from two points of view: on the one hand, it is praised as magnanimous toleration, but, on the other hand, there is a claim that the words “toleration” and “indulgence” are out of place here, because what has been done is no more than ‘Justice. Now this contradiction may be resolved if we hold that so far as the state is concerned the grant of these rights is incontestably simply the removal of a great injustice and thus was a duty; while so far as the church is concerned, this grant is in every case an Indulgence, since the church has the right to exclude dissenters from the state, if not, as it used to claim and still does in some places, from air, earth, and water. And if the state demands it as a duty that the rights of dissenters shall be respected, the officials of the indulgent church (even if It be a Protestant church) always speak of the consideration, sympathy, and love which ought to be shown to those who err, and so of sentiments which cannot be commanded as duties, but which ought to be felt toward such people of one’s own free will.
b) For celebrating their worship and for giving instruction in religious matters, all congregations require special buildings, special teachers, and certain other persons [e.g., vergers, etc.]. For erecting the buildings, for maintaining both fabrics and officials, and for embellishing the many properties required in divine services, the whole people has made individual free-will offerings and contributions. The buildings erected and the fixed stipends and incomes of the teachers and other servants of the church are thus the property of the congregations, of the people generally, and not of the state. Yet they are almost always regarded as state property in so far as the nation forms a single ecclesiastical state (or In so far as numerous congregations within it are united to form one). This distinction (i.e., whether churches and the incomes of ministers are the property of the state In its civil or in its ecclesiastical aspect) is of no importance, and indeed hardly arises, so long as there is only one church in the state; but it leaps to the eye and occasions strife as soon as different churches establish themselves there.
Once a church gains ground, it claims a share in this state property for reasons drawn from civil rights, and the state is bound both to allow religious bodies, whatever their faith, to have churches for their worship and also to appoint teachers to suit them. But the church which has been dominant up to that time claims its rights over what it regards as its property, a property conveyed to it in the past and never disputed. If the state has strength enough to maintain its right, and if the authorities are intelligent, disinterested, and just enough to recognize this as a state right and to be ready to maintain it, then the state will grant to every church according to its needs the means to worship in its own way.
Now a state, as a civil state, should have no faith at all, nor should its legislators and rulers, in their capacity as such. But it commonly happens that, as members of the dominant church, they have laid upon them by the church the duty of protecting the rights of that church; and strife between the two churches is generally settled not by constitutional law but by force on the one side and acceptance of the inevitable on the other. If the church which is getting a footing in the state expands to such an extent that the rights of the church it is opposing can only be upheld and maintained by the extinction of the new doctrine’s adherents or at least by great acts of violence and at huge expense, then the consequence of maintaining those rights would be far too great a disaster for the state and too serious an affront to its laws and rights. In these circumstances the state calls its danger to mind and cedes certain rights to the new church, but, in doing so, uses the language of the church and calls this “toleration.” Alternatively, if the dispute is otherwise composed, i.e., if the church hitherto oppressed becomes dominant and the one hitherto dominant now becomes the one merely tolerated, then the state usually enters into a similar association with the church now dominant and maintains the rights of that church Just as unreservedly as hitherto it had maintained those of the other.
It is plain from this, as from the foregoing, that when many acute historians have remarked that every church has been unmindful of those past sufferings the memory of which ought to have made it tolerant, and to our astonishment has become intolerant in its turn once it has become dominant, their comment is not simply a casual inference, drawn from history and experience, but one which follows inevitably and of necessity from the right which any church possesses. This right consists in the right of any society to exclude from its membership those who do not conform to its laws and regulations. Thus, when a church, i.e., an ecclesiastical society, becomes dominant in a state, it claims its right, excludes dissenters from its fellowship and therefore from the state as well, and treats any non-dominant church intolerantly in matters alike of faith and property.
In relation to church property this course of events has been visible both in the early expansion of the Christian church and -Also in the expansion of every new sect within that church. At the start, Christians met in private houses, then at their own expense they built special buildings for worship; but as they became dominant, the church asserted its rights, destroyed the heathen temples, and took them into its own possession even at a time when the majority in a town or a commune were still heathen. A commune which had become wholly Christian had a right in law to do this. Julian maintained the ecclesiastical and legal rights of the heathen and deprived the Christians of the temples they had taken from them. The Protestants used for their worship the churches which had been Catholic hitherto and appropriated at will the incomes of the monasteries and clergy. The civil law gave them a right to do this, and they were also asserting their own ecclesiastical rights, but they thereby infringed the ecclesiastical rights of the Catholics. The Catholic church still always claims these rights, regards the Protestant churches, bishoprics, monasteries, and revenues as de jure its property, and consistently with this has its own bishops and abbots in partibus.
Two ecclesiastical rights cannot be legally adjusted, because they stand in downright and irreconcilable contradiction with one another., they can be adjusted only by force or else by the state. In the latter event the state must be conceded a higher right than the church’s,. the Catholic church has never conceded this at all, and concessions by the Protestant church are limited to certain matters only. In so far as the latter concedes something to the state, it sacrifices part of its own rights, and this is from its point of view an act of grace.
A man who abandons his national church cuts himself off from his country and loses his civil liberties. It might seem harsh and
unjust to follow this procedure, to persecute a man because of his faith, to deprive him of the enjoyment of his civil rights, and to banish him from everything which nature and custom have made dear. But that this is no injustice the church proves by using the language not only of justice but magnanimity: it has not stood in the way of his changing his faith; it respects his liberty, his decision to leave the church; but because, as he knows full well, a condition of hi S eligibility for enjoying civil rights in this country is membership of the church, and because this condition is now unfulfilled owing to his change of faith, no injustice whatever has been done to him; he has in these matters a free choice between alternatives. If exclusion from the church meant exclusion from the church only, then the church would only have been excluding someone who had already resigned., but the church excludes him from the state at the same time, and the state accepts this infringement of its rights, so that state and church have to this extent dissolved into one.
c) Every man enters the world possessed of more than the right to the maintenance of his physical life; he also has the right to develop his faculties, i.e., to become a man. This right imposes on his parents and on the state a duty which they divide between them, namely, the duty of educating him appropriately. Even apart from this duty, the state’s strongest interest would lie in so training the youthful hearts of its embryo citizens that in due course honor and profit would accrue to it from their manhood. Now the state has believed that it had no better or more natural means of fulfilling this duty and attaining this end than intrusting all or most of the responsibility for this matter to the church. The result has been that in the interest of the church, as well as the state, trouble has long been taken to bring up the young citizens to be citizens of the church as well. But whether this method of education has or has not jeopardized the young citizen’s right to the free development of his powers is a matter which wholly depends on the way in which the church discharges its educational task.
The rights of the children (at any rate, their rights as persons) are rights which the state has made its own and has protected in consequence, and this has given the state the right to train the children in its moral maxims and to suit its own ends. The church claims precisely the same right because it lets the children enjoy its benefits from the start. Thus in due course it makes them adroit in the performance of their duties to the church, and it so educates them that this performance coincides with their inclination.
Now if a citizen finds, once his intellect has reached maturity, that the laws or other institutions of his country do not suit him, he is at full liberty, in most European states, to emigrate. H’ s dependence on the laws of his country is grounded on this freely chosen decision to live under them. However greatly this decision may be influenced by habit or by fear, these influences still cannot annul the possibility of free choice. But if the church has achieved so much by its educational methods that it has either wholly subdued reason and intellect in religious speculation or else so filled the imagination with terrors that reason and intellect cannot and dare not venture on consciousness of their freedom or on the use of that freedom in religious matters as well as others, then the church has entirely taken away the possibility of a free choice and a decision to belong to it, although it can and will base its claims on a man only on such a choice. It has infringed the child’s natural right to the free development of his faculties and brought him up as a slave instead of as a free citizen. In any education the child’s heart and imagination are affected by the force of early impressions and the power exercised by the example of those persons who are dearest to him and linked with him by elementary natural ties, though reason is not of necessity fettered by these influences. The church, however, not only uses these influences but in addition educates the child to believe in the faith, i.e., reason and intellect are not so trained as to be led to develop their own native principles or to judge what they hear by their own standards; on the contrary, the ideas and words engraved on imagination and memory are so girt with terrors and placed by commands in such a holy, inviolable, and blinding light that either they dumbfound the laws of reason and intellect by their brilliance and prevent their use, or else they prescribe to reason and intellect laws of another kind. By this legislation ab extra, reason and intellect are deprived of freedom, i.e., of the ability to follow the laws native to them and grounded in their nature. Freedom to choose whether to enter the church or not has vanished. However well-intentioned, the state has betrayed the child’s right to a free development of its mental capacities.
The expedient of bringing up children without the positive faith of any church in order to insure freedom of choice in their riper years is one whose execution would involve countless difficulties., but we need not think of these because there are moral reasons why it ought to be renounced. For one thing, the church is in duty bound to declare it a crime to leave children in such ignorance in matters of faith., for another, it would be extremely laborious for it to make good later what had been missed in youth, because in later life it is hardly possible so effectively to impress the faith on the marrow of the soul or to twine it round every branch of human thought and capacity, every branch of human endeavor and will. This is why, when the Patriarch in Nathan hears that the Jew has reared the girl not in his own faith so much as in none at all and taught her neither more nor less of God than reason alone requires, he is most indignant and declares: “The Jew deserves a threefold death at the stake. What? To let a child grow up without any faith’ To fall to teach a child the great duty of belief? Why, that’s heinous.
The hope of converting to the faith of another church a man whose intellect has been habituated to the duty of belief from youth upward is far more likely to be realized than the hope of inculcating belief and allegiance to the requisite religious opinions for the first time in a man whose imagination has always been left free from the church’s imagery and his intellect from its fetters.
Two remarks may be added. (1) Although the man who wishes to be a citizen of a Christian state must adopt the faith of his country, a convert to the church does not eo ipso become a citizen of the state, for the natural reason that the church has a wider scope than the state, and the latter everywhere maintains independent rights of its own. (What was the position of the proselyti portae among the Hebrews?)
(ii) The contract on which a church is based concerns faith and opinion. In the Protestant church, especially in recent times, freedom in these matters is so much greater than it is in the Catholic church that there is no comparison between the two. But in both churches the rights issuing from this contract are strictly upheld. The Catholic church keeps a watch over the minutest details of opinion; but everyone knows that in the Protestant church the faith of the most learned and respectable theologians is not at all the same as the one in the Symbolical Books, i.e., the one they have signed or adopted on oath. Moreover, it is almost always true that other officials in the civil state have very little acquaintance with the doctrines in those Books, which they likewise have to sign. For example, if a man does not share the orthodox opinion about baptism, or if he thinks quite differently about the principal points in Protestant dogmatics, no questions are asked, even if he has published the fact in books or elsewhere. But if he wished to be logical and not to have his child baptized, or not to sign the Articles on assuming his official post, then though the church had made no protest against his opinions, it would make him take the natural consequences of his action and would insist on its rights.
We come now to the contract itself on which the church’s rights rest. The original rights of princes might rest on the rights of the conqueror who spared the lives of the conquered on condition of their obedience, and on this original contract between victor and vanquished the rights of the descendants of those princes might be grounded, though they would now be held by right of inheritance, not conquest. On this sort of theory (whether tenable or not we need not here inquire) the subjection of the individual’s will to his sovereigns would also rest on that same contract. In any event, this much at least is true-that however civil society and the rights of its rulers and legislators may have arisen, its very nature implies that within it the individual’s rights have become rights of the state, that the state is bound to uphold and protect the individual’s rights as its own. But when we come to the rights which the church possesses as a state, there is no room for doubt that its contract and its rights (in their original formation, if not later) are grounded solely in the freely willed consent of all individuals. In this ecclesiastical state the general will, i.e., the majority vote, is expressed as laws of faith, and the society binds itself to protect this faith, each member contracting for all, and all for each. It is (a) for organizing and ordering the general assembly in which these laws are made, and (b) for protecting these doctrinal laws through public worship and especially through education of every kind, that the ecclesiastical state needs officials and has appointed them.
Now in regard to one of these points, the unanimous acceptance of one faith, it makes an enormous difference whether the ecclesiastical contract is interpreted in such a way that the church’s unity is regarded as arising automatically from a correspondence in the faith of all individuals, so that the general faith is solely an expression of the faith of all, or whether the general faith is determined in part by a majority vote and whether its determination in this way is assumed to be possible. The latter principle is solemnly accepted by the Catholic church, because Church Councils are granted supreme power to decide in the last resort what the faith of the church is, and it is the irremissible duty of any temporary minority to submit to the majority vote. In any such Council the members are present partly as representatives of their flock, partly, and indeed chiefly, as church officials. Their full authority is of course supposed to arise from their being representatives, but though for many centuries the people had the right to choose their own representatives and officials, they lost it long ago. Thus church officials, nominated by other officials, or in part by a body equally independent of the people, constitute the Church Council, and all of them form a self-complete organization which manages, fixes, and controls the faith of the people, i.e., of the laity, and the laity is not allowed to have the slightest influence on it any longer. The matters with which the church is concerned are not person and property, which are capable of protection by force, but opinion and faith; and it is absolutely contrary to the nature of opinion that an individual should subject it, something his own, to a majority vote. To subject his will to the general will and to regard the latter as his law is a possibility in the civil contract, but it is totally impossible to produce an ecclesiastical contract (i.e., one about faith) in this way. In fact, a contract about faith is inherently impossible, and if nonetheless it is made, it is totally null and void.
If the Council consists of members who are representatives in fact as well as in name, i.e., who are really chosen by the congregations as such, then no authority can be given them on appointment except to state what the faith of the congregation is and what articles it regards as the cardinal points or conditions which other congregations must share before it is prepared to regard itself as associated with them in a single church. To give them authority to determine the congregation’s faith on their own judgment, and to subject it to a majority vote, would be to build a representative republic totally in contradiction to man’s right not to subject his opinions to an alien authority, and would put men in the same position as they would be under the contract just considered, i.e., under a constitution which might be called a pure democracy.
Now the church was in fact a representative republic of this kind in the early centuries of its expansion, and we can see in it a remarkable conflict between (a) the principle that each individual congregation and its representatives had freedom of opinion, and (b) the principle that it is a duty to subject one’s self to a majority vote. What happened was that, if there were dissensions, as we all know there were at every period, both parties appealed to a free General Council, and their very desire for this presupposed the principle that it was a duty to bow to the majority. Each party hoped to gain the day by its cogent reasonings and argumentations, or still more by its intrigues and the aid of force. The victorious party then required the application of this principle, i.e., the minority’s submission, but the latter generally had recourse to the other principle and made an outcry against the violence contemplated to the liberty of their convictions. Very frequently on these occasions there were special combinations for securing the end in view, and the members of these now constituted a single artificial person; thus the conciliar decisions could not be regarded as the decisions of a free majority, since they were rather the victory of a faction which availed itself of deceit and every kind of violence to gain its point and foully maltreated the defeated party as rebels. One such Church Council of clergy was called a band of robbers by its opponents, and Mosheim merely adds the remark that this harsh expression had not been used of many other Church Councils which deserved the description equally well.
But since the time when the laity lost the right even to be represented in discussions about the faith, i.e., since the time when the bishops and leaders of the Christian church became officials pure and simple, the laws of the faith have been made entirely by its rulers, and it may be more or less a matter of indifference, not indeed to the bishops, but to the people, whether its doctrinal ruler and judge is a single person, the Pope, or a group of persons independent of the people, whether its spiritual constitution is a monarchy or an aristocracy. in either case the people’s rights are equally great, equally null. To waste words on the ‘Justice of such a government or constitution in matters of faith would be wholly futile. It is the fundamental principle of the Protestant church that its contract shall rest on the unanimity of all its members, that no one shall be required to enter an ecclesiastical contract whose terms insist on his subjecting his faith to a majority vote. At the start of his great work, Luther did appeal to a free General Council, but the great foundation of Protestant freedom, the Palladium of the Protestant church, was discovered when men refused to appear at a Council and repudiated all part in its proceedings, not because they were assured in advance of losing their case there, but because it would contradict the very nature of religious opinions to decide them by majority vote, and because everyone has the right to settle for himself what his faith is. Thus the faith of every individual Protestant must be his faith because it is his, not because it is the church’s. He is a member of the Protestant church because he has freely joined it and freely remained in it. All the rights which the church has over him rest solely on the fact that its faith is also his faith.
So long as the Protestant church upheld this principle underlying its “pure” ecclesiastical right and remained faithful to it with unshakable tenacity throughout all its actions in delineating its legal code or constitution in matters of faith, no accusation of injustice could be raised against it. But the teachers who founded it and the officials whom it appointed and about whom something further will be said later,” have sometimes tried to look on themselves and to
act as more than mere representatives of their congregation, intrusted solely with the declaration of their congregation’s will. They have tried to regard their authority as more extensive and to hold that the congregations have left it to their judgment to decide among themselves what the church’s faith is. This is clear from the fact that a large number of statements in the Symbolical Books of the Protestant church are so framed and so packed with subtleties that they cannot be regarded as opinions validated through the consent of the whole people but are solely the work of hair-splitting theologians. It is common knowledge too from the history of how some of these writings have arisen and been accepted as a norm of the faith that the matter has been transacted almost entirely by theologians. The only laymen who have had any share in it have been those who were in power and who were needed to create and insure adequate authority for these Books.
Two points may be adduced in justification of the theologians in this matter: (a) It is alleged that they had to give a more scholarly form to the Symbolical Books and a sharper definition to many of their doctrines simply to satisfy their own members in face of the Catholic church, which fought with similar weapons. (b) It is further alleged that the less scholarly could allow their doctrines to be treated in this way by the theologians of their church without thereby impairing their immutable rights in the slightest.
But as for (a), it may always be said on the other side that the theologians could have kept their more learned proofs and their more subtle distinctions for their own publications without doing any harm to their church. Their task in the main was only to ‘Justify their own faith, and the people’s faith could not be Justified in its eyes by reasons it did not understand. If the Symbolical Books had had a simpler form, they would not have had so polemical an aspect and would have looked more like a criterion of the faith. In that case they -would have accorded with the solemn principle of the Protestant church, since they would have been recognizable by the people’s own judgment as its faith. This would have been all the better, in that the weapons which do good service in one age become useless in the next. For this reason the pedantic form of the Symbolical Books, from which proofs were drawn by scholars and never by the people, has now become valueless, since our contemporary theologians no longer justify their faith by reference to it. The people never needed these weapons, and now even the learned despise them.
b) The second point which may be alleged in justification of theologians who determine the people’s faith without reference to them is this: They may say that in connection with the Books containing the Protestant church’s faith they have acted only as interpreters of the standard faith adopted by the people themselves in the past before the Books were prepared, and this office of interpreter could have been conferred on them without any detriment to the people’s right of determining their own faith. Now, to be sure, if only one sense can be ascribed to the interpreted passages of the standard faith, no criticism can be raised against their acting as interpreters in this way. But if a doctrine is susceptible of two or more interpretations and the theologians have adopted one of them, or again if they have drawn the logical inferences from a single sentence with the strictest accuracy and set up these inferences as church doctrines, then they have acted despotically. To know which of two possible interpretations accords with the church’s mind, it is first necessary to ask the church, and the same is true about the inferences, because it is a sound critical canon (though one little observed, especially in controversies) that however strictly certain inferences may follow from a system, it ought not to be assumed straight away for this reason that an adherent of the system also avows what is thus inferred.
In matters of faith there is in strictness no social contract. A man may certainly bind himself to respect the faith of others along with their property rights, but it is properly a civil obligation to respect another’s right to freedom in his faith. A man cannot bind himself, still less his posterity, to will to believe anything. In the last resort every contract rests on the will (but a will to believe is an impossibility), and the church’s faith must in the strictest
sense be the universal faith of this church, i.e., the faith of all its individual members.
A society of people, or a state, or a group of states, may constitute a church. If such a society or state or group of states makes a contract either with another society (which to that extent is another state even though the contracting parties stand connected with each other in other respects) or else with the members of its own [society or] state, then for its own part at least it has acted unwisely. It has linked to faith, and so to something changeable, the condition under which the other party is to fulfil its side of the contract. If it insists on the other party’s fulfilling its duty, then owing to the form of the contract it has put itself in danger of denying the first and most sacrosanct right of every individual and every society, namely, the right to change one’s convictions; if, on the other hand, it changes its own faith, then the other’s duty vanishes because it depended solely on the faith’s remaining unchanged. The state and church soon arrange matters satisfactorily with their own members should these all change their faith en masse., Protestant townsmen and peasants still pay the same taxes, rents, tithes, and countless other petty exactions as they paid to the Catholic church in the past. They have to contribute to the worship of the present church because money is still needed for establishing and maintaining it. To make presents to a church or to concede rights to it on condition that it remains the same would be exactly like proposing to beautify a place by a river on condition that the ripples which wash the place now shall always remain exactly the same.
This is all true enough; but what about going on paying for candles for these altars where they are no longer burned or used, or going on making these payments to this monastery where there are now neither prelates nor monks? These and countless other prerogatives and onera were intended purely and simply for the worship and faith of the Catholic church, and with its disappearance there also inevitably disappeared the rights grounded in it. The dues which must be paid to the new church have been regarded as based on the same rights as in the old church and have been levied to the same extent, and the result, to say the least, is the retention of a great disparity, which cannot be called fair, in the dues payable by members of one church. If the obligation on the contributors, the fee-holders, and villeins is supposed to rest today on the fact of their subjection to precisely this abbey, this monastery, this parish, and their consequent obligation to pay these dues and if the present church is supposed to have come to enjoy the benefits of this obligation by taking over the property and rights of the old church, still this obligation was not owed to individuals or even to the buildings of this abbey, etc. It was owed to individuals only in their capacity as members or officials of the Catholic church, i.e., to the church Itself; and, since the contributors no longer belong to that church (because the Catholic church no longer exists here), it follows that the rights arising from that church and bound up with it ought to have disappeared also.
If, for example, some Catholics were left in a country which had accepted the Reformation, would it be right still to demand from them the same dues as before? Would it be right for the state to exact them? Surely not, because as citizens the Catholics pay other taxes to the state, and these ecclesiastical dues were never state property. Then would it be right for the new church to make these exactions? Hardly, because the Catholics could rightly maintain that their obligations were solely to the old church and that, since they did not belong to the new church, they were not bound to contribute anything to it. The same sort of thing occurs in many Catholic countries, e.g., in the Austrian states, where, especially since the toleration edicts of Joseph II, it has given rise to many disputes and difficulties. Are the non-Catholics bound to pay the same dues as they previously paid to the Catholic church or to pay for baptism, confirmation, and the support of the numerous requirements of Catholic worship the same fees as they were obliged to pay in the past? No, say the Protestants, on the ground that they do not belong to the Catholic church, and what was paid in the past was paid to the church. Yes, say the Catholics, on the ground that Protestants still owe the same dues as previously to this parish or this monastery, whatever church they belong to. In this instance the Protestants argue from the opposite principles to those their church insists on in respect of its own members, and the Catholics from the same principles which the Protestant church always avows in relation to its own affairs.
The same inconveniences arise if a church (in its capacity as a church with a fixed faith) makes contractual arrangements with other states. If it intends to impose something as a duty on the other contracting party, it has attached this duty to something which it has the right to alter, while at the same time It requires that the other’s duty shall remain unchanged. Thus the Protestants have purchased with their blood such modifications in the constitution of the Empire as secured for them liberty in their faith and their worship, but in all the peace treaties the agreement is so framed that the Catholic princes have assumed the duty of protecting the worship and property of the evangelical and reformed church. Now the essence of the Protestant churches has been solemnly promulgated in their confessions and creeds. These agreements have thus been made with churches whose faith is quite specific, and for this reason Piderit, if I am not mistaken, argued many years ago to the great scandal of Protestants as follows: The Protestant faith is no longer the same as it used to be, and this is clear from a comparison between the Protestant Symbolical Books and the publications of Protestant leaders and their most famous theologians. Consequently, they can no longer demand the rights assured to them by the Catholics in the peace treaties, because the agreement was made with a church which had promulgated its specific faith. If the Protestants still wish to insist on the same rights, then they must retain the original faith of the church, renounce their right to change it, and cancel any alterations that may have been made.
The argument is logical enough; but it would have been an impossible one, and the Protestants would not have seemed to fetter their liberty to improve their faith (a liberty which no contracts can destroy), if the [Protestant and Catholic] princes who made the peace treaties had made them as princes, as heads of their states, instead of as heads or members of a church and with the aid of theologians (who were always at hand and pleased with their importance in being so), i.e., if they had made these agreements for their states instead of for their churches.
To be true to one’s faith and to be free in the practice of one’s religion is a right in which the individual must be protected, not primarily as a church member. but as a citizen., and a prince in his capacity as such has a duty to secure this right to his subjects. And the [Protestant] princes could have demanded no diviner right than this (a right imposing on them the corresponding duty), and they obtained it, but alas, only by conquest. Instead of the agreements being expressed as at present, i.e., that “the Reformed and Lutheran church shall have legal freedom of worship in the German Empire,” they would have been better drawn If their terms had ‘m posed on the Catholic princes the duty of doing nothing to disturb or impair the freedom of religious worship in Brandenburg, Saxony, etc. If reference had also been made to the Brandenburgian or the Saxon church, this would have amounted to the same thing, because “church” here means a state that adheres to a faith, which faith does not matter. If this had been done, then after centuries of barbarity and after years marked by streams of blood shed for this right to believe, we would have had the satisfaction of seeing in national agreements the solemn recognition and unimpaired development of a fundamental article in the social contract, of a human right which cannot be renounced by entry into any society whatsoever.
In recent times there has been a deep sense of anyone’s right, and so of everyone’s, i.e., of the church’s right, to improve one’s faith, to make progress in one’s convictions. At the same time there has been a feeling that this right has been much prejudiced because all these agreements between the church and other states have been made to hang on the Symbolical Books. Further, it has been realized that the ecclesiastical state falls into all sorts of illogicalities in connection with this eternal right if it thinks that within its own borders its entire contractual basis rests on certain symbols and thus comes to regard the energetic maintenance of a strict faith in these symbols as its duty. Actuated by these considerations, great men have claimed that the fundamental meaning of “Protestant” is a man or a church which has not bound itself to certain unalterable standards of faith but which protests against all authority in matters of belief, against all engagements contradictory of that sacrosanct right. Had the church been prepared to content itself with this negative character, it would have had a twofold merit. It would have reminded the state of its duty to protect its subjects in their freedom of belief (a duty otherwise unappreciated by the state), and it would have defended in the state’s place what the state had neglected.
By making any contract affecting rights, which properly speaking are found in the civil state alone, the church would be doing an injustice to itself or to certain of its individual members, whether such a contract were made by each individual with the church or by the church with each or some of its individual members. This is not felt straight away, but it must become plain sooner or later, and then a citizen who leaves the church, and so loses his civil rights, claims these in vain from the state. The state has neglected to determine what its rights are, and, since it has let the church do this instead, it looks on these rights (which are its own) as the church’s, and it upholds them purely on that basis, while the church, as was sufficient for its own ends, vindicated the universal right to freedom in faith and worship only in an individual case, namely, its own.
The formation of a church, then, at any rate in matters of faith, cannot be regarded as a contract at all. If, on the other hand, a church, a union for a single purpose, arises automatically out of a general uniformity in faith, then this purpose may consist in defending and maintaining this faith, organizing the appropriate worship, and producing in the members those qualities which accord with the church’s ideal of perfection.
Now the defense and maintenance of the faith (which means defending not only the faith but also the free exercise of worship and the maintenance of other arrangements) is in strictness a state duty, and this defense and guaranty is necessarily comprised in the social contract. Only in a badly organized state or, as I said ‘just now, in one which has not appreciated this duty or vindicated for itself this right of defense, is it possible for its citizens, or some of them, to get into a position where they either have to maintain this right on their own behalf by force or else not enjoy it at all. The Protestants found themselves in this position, and the
princes who spoke courageously and fought bravely against another part of the imperial executive in defense of their subjects’ right to the free exercise of their religion did so because it was their duty as princes. But I have spoken already of the inconveniences resulting from the fact that, when they made peace and concluded treaties, they did this not as princes but as members or heads of a church. Thus since the defense of the faith against force and violence is a state duty which the church cannot perform, nothing is left for the church to do but to defend and maintain the faith against the church itself.”
If the faith to be defended is regarded as a universal faith, then any individual who deviated from it either as a whole or in single details would no longer be a member of the church; he would have renounced its benefits, and it would have no further rights against him. If nonetheless it were still supposed to have a right over him in the sense that he was bound to submit to its teaching and obey its precepts about what he was to do or leave undone, this right could only be grounded on the assumption that, in contracting with the church, he had bound himself to trust and accept the guidance of a majority vote or the church’s representatives on all future occasions when the true faith was to be determined. But this would mean ascribing to the church a kind of infallibility, and to protest against an authority of that sort is the highest duty of a true Protestant. A dissenter in these circumstances would find himself in the same position as a transgressor of the civil laws who is compelled by the authorities to respect them. But the ecclesiastical contract cannot he of this order; the church can regard its faith and its laws as valid only for the man who voluntarily accepts them and voluntarily adjusts his faith and life in accordance with them.
Only one possibility remains, namely, that the church’s right is grounded on defending the faith which an individual has once professed (i.e., the general faith of the church), not because it is the faith of the church but because it was once the individual’s faith, i.e., on defending the individual’s faith against himself. In this case the dissenter is not in the position of the spendthrift whose remaining property the state takes into its control and superintendence, because here the state is not defending the spendthrift’s right against himself., it is defending the right of the heirs presumptive or of the community which otherwise would have to maintain him. The dissenter in relation to the church is more like the lunatic whom the state is bound to adopt, for this, among other important reasons, that he cannot any longer himself vindicate his right to a sound mind and yet cannot for this reason be regarded as having renounced it; hence his relatives or the state undertake to bring him to his senses. In the same way the church too intends to vindicate every man, s right to the church’s faith. Only here the case is different, because it depends on the individual whether he wishes to vindicate this right of his or not; unlike the lunatic, he cannot possibly be regarded as not having renounced the enjoyment of this right to a specific faith, nor can it be supposed to be the church’s duty to reinstate him In this enjoyment nolens volens. Every individual must be treated [by the church] as an adult is treated by the state, i.e., as one on whose free choice the vindication or renunciation of a right depends. These principles make plain what bounds there are to the church’s duty of defending its faith within its own borders.
This is not a duty which springs from another’s right, a right into whose enjoyment he must at all costs be put. It is the church’s duty only in so far as the church prescribes it to itself when it is full of the importance of its doctrines for mankind and full of a superabundant zeal for providing, men with the blessings of those doctrines. Hence what it may do is to make arrangements whereby anyone to whom it wishes to extend its benefits is put in a position where he can acquire knowledge of them. The use of these means must depend on everyone’s free choice, because to use the methods of compulsion or punishment would mean attempting to obtrude goodness by force as the Spaniards did in America or Charlemagne in Saxony. It is true that, in certain Protestant countries, failure to attend public worship and the Lord’s Supper meant a summons to court and, on repetition of the offense, punishment; it is true too that in certain countries where church and state accepted the Reformation, though in theory no one was compelled to forsake the old faith, still all were enjoined on threat of punishment to frequent the preaching of the new doctrines and to judge for themselves afterward, it is true again that in certain districts the Jews (about whom men have seldom been very particular) were from time to time compelled to attend Protestant worship, or at least deputations of them were. But all this apart, the Protestant church has on the whole kept within the bounds mentioned. On the other hand, the most odious side of the history of Catholic countries is the treatment (and the principles underlying the treatment) of dissenters as rebels: rebels against the church, whose faith, fixed by majority vote or by absolute force, is supposed to be a law for all; rebels against the deity, whose jurisdiction the church has pretentiously claimed to administer. Here the ecclesiastical contract is entirely assimilated to the contract of civil society, and the ecclesiastical state is allowed the same rights as the civil state.
There may of course be a contract in respect of the arrangements for maintaining the church’s doctrine; i.e., a majority, or representatives, or a prince may be left to organize these matters according to their own judgment, as well as to test and appoint teachers of the people. It might be asked whether this church [in which such a contract has been made] can have the right to remove an official after his appointment if he has departed from the official doctrine, cut himself adrift from the church, and carried his congregation with him in doing so. But it plainly cannot, because this congregation now forms a church in itself, and another church can have no authority over it whatever., it is only within its own borders that a church can be regarded as a state with authority. The most the new congregation is bound to do is to announce to the church, and perhaps also to the state, the fact of its separation from the church, but it is not bound to ‘Justify itself in any way to either state or church. Should the old church decline to recognize this separation and call on the state for aid in hindering it (and it has the state at hand for this purpose, because a dominant church means one which employs the state’s rights for its own advantage), then it would be the state’s irremissible duty to defend the new church in the freedom of its faith and the exercise of its worship.
Another question and one which has aroused very widespread interest recently is whether the leaders of the church may deprive such a preacher of his office and his livelihood as soon as they smell a rat. They maintain quite logically that it is their duty to defend the church’s faith and see that it is taught., therefore, a preacher who teaches something else is not fit for his ‘Job. In the Catholic church there is not the slightest question that the church has this right [of dismissal]. But in the Protestant church there are many who argue otherwise, on the following grounds: Infinitely more honor would accrue to the church if it made virtue and truth the general aim of its institutions. To propose to build up virtue and truth with fixed symbols would contravene their very nature, and the souls of those who have made this proposal and who still persevere in it are quite untouched by any ray of genuine truth. If a church and the leaders of church and state would make virtue and truth the goal of their efforts, then they would never cheat out of his job a righteous man, active and zealous for the good and the morality of his congregation, because he did not stick closely to the official doctrines of the church to which his congregation belonged; they would take it as a disgrace not to be able to come to terms with a man like that. All they would do would be to advise him to imitate them, i.e., to have the good sense to consider the opinions of others; and if he were worthy of such ecclesiastical and political leaders, or if they were worthy of him, then hardly even this advice would be needed.
The most effective and therefore the most commonly used means of defending the church’s faith is to make it impossible for church members to fall into doubt or to light upon other people’s opinions in matters of faith. All sorts of ways for preventing the doubt which may arise from within, i.e., from the individual’s own intellectual or rational activity, have been explored for long past: the young soul has received from the church those first impressions which always retain a certain power over a man throughout his subsequent life; the doctrines of the church have been armed with all imaginable terrors so that, just as certain magicians are supposed to be able to inhibit the use of physical capacities, these doctrines are able to paralyze all psychical capacities or else to coerce them to function solely in accordance with this doctrinal imagery. Further, the free cultivation of these capacities is inhibited; the knowledge of ecclesiastical doctrines is completely segregated. the doctrines stand isolated in their awful majesty, they utterly spurn relationship or intermixture with other doctrines or dependence on other laws; and the result is that there are two roads which lead to different regions of the next world and never meet: one road is that of domestic affairs, science, and fine art., the other is the church’s, and a man who travels the former with the most profound and subtle intellect, with the keenest wit, and with fine sensibilities, is unrecognizable if met on the church’s road, and none of these qualities are perceptible in him there.
The possibility of a change of faith through external influences is precluded by a strict censorship, an index of prohibited books, etc., and by preventing anything from accumulating to the credit of strange opinions in conversation or from pulpits and professorial chairs. The reason given for this is that the church has the duty of defending everyone’s possession of the faith, and this possession is impaired if the individual’s own doubts or the reasonings of others can tear the believer from his faith. Every church gives out that its own faith is the non plus ultra of truth, it starts from this principle and assumes that its faith can be pocketed like money. The faith really is treated like this., every church holds that nothing in the world is so easy to find as truth: the only thing necessary is to memorize one of its catechisms. For the churches it is false to say:
‘Tis the earnestness that flinches from no toll
That alone can catch the gurgle of truth’s deep-hid spring.
The church offers truth in the open market., the stream of ecclesiastical truth gurgles noisily in every street, and any wayfarer may drink his fill of it.
The dispensers of this flood are the church’s teachers, who are also its officials. They call themselves servants of the divine word: servants, because they are not masters or legislators but men obedient to another’s will; of the divine word, because their learning is not drawn from their inmost life but consists of words which have merely come to them.
The mode of worship cannot be a matter of a social contract any more than the faith can. For if worship is taken in the strict sense of the word as specific actions supposed to be direct duties to God and not deducible from other duties to one’s self or other men, then the only ground for the obligatoriness of these duties must lie in the free recognition that they are duties. The judgment that something is a duty cannot possibly be left to a majority vote. But if such a duty is universally recognized, then arrangements for its fulfilment may be made the subject of a reciprocal contract to intrust them to a majority (as would happen in a democratically constituted church) or else to commission a government to deal with them (as in a monarchic or aristocratic church).
Different functions are commonly and quite naturally united in the clergy: they are not only free teachers of the church’s truth but also officials intrusted with the church’s duty of defending the faith, and priests who offer prayers and sacrifices, etc., to the deity in the people’s name (a practice supposed to be productive of God’s favor) and who put themselves at the head of the people by giving guidance in these matters. Apart from this , it is above all their task, by teaching dogmatic theology, by their moral character, by their exhortations, and by their general superintendence, to produce what is called piety or the fear of God, and thus this virtue must have a different key and accent in every church.
With the spread of Christianity a most important change has taken place in the method of furthering morality. When the church grew from a private society into a state, what was a private affair became a state affair and what was and is by nature a free choice became a duty. To some extent this has led to the growth of an ecclesiastical right over extra-ecclesiastical matters. The church has laid down the principles of morality, provided the means of assimilating these principles, and, in particular, set up a comprehensive science, called casuistry, for the application of these principles to individual cases.
One leading trait in the church’s moral system is its erection on religion and our dependence on the deity. Its foundation is not a datum of our own minds, a proposition which could be developed out of our own consciousness, but rather something learned. On this view morality is not a self-subsistent science or one with independent principles., neither is the essence of morality grounded on freedom, i.e., it is not the autonomy of the will.
A start is made with historical facts. and the feelings and the type of disposition-gratitude and fear-they are to produce in order to keep us faithful to our duties are duly prescribed. What is pleasing to God is made the criterion of what our duty is; this is obvious enough where certain duties are concerned, but it takes some ingenious calculation to show how others are derived from that criterion. This arithmetic is so extensive and the multitude of duties is consequentially so infinitely enlarged that little is left to free choice. What in itself is neither commanded nor forbidden as a duty finally becomes important in the asceticism which leaves free no thoughts however private, leaves uncontrolled no action, no involuntary glance, no enjoyment of whatever kind, whether ‘joy, love, friendship, or sociability. It lays claim to every psychical emotion, every association of thought, every idea which flits through the mind from moment to moment, every sense of wellbeing. It deduces duties by a calculation like that employed in eudaemonism, and it knows how to deduce dangers by a long string of syllogisms. It also prescribes a mass of exercises by which the soul is supposed to be developed. It is a comprehensive science of tactics which teaches artful and regular maneuvers both against every enemy of piety which lurks in everyone’s bosom and which may be created out of any situation and any thought, and also and especially against the invisible enemy in hell.
[a) On this system], to judge how we ought to act in every individual situation is of course very hard for the laity and the unlearned, because there is such a mass of moral and prudential rules that several of them may clash with one another in the simplest of matters, and it needs a keen and practiced eye to find a happy way out of situations that have thus become so involved. Of course, healthy common sense has taken no thought for all these precautions, and immediate feeling has generally seized on a more correct line of conduct than the most learned casuists, and, unlike what commonly happens with their decisions, it has not lost an opportunity of doing a good action because some occasion for sin is supposed to be its possible and distant result.
In all these moral and prudential rules the procedure is a priori; i.e., a dead letter is laid down as a foundation and on it a system is constructed prescribing how men are to act and feel, what motives are to be produced by this or that “truth.” Legislative power is ceded to memory above all the soul’s other capacities, even the noblest of them.
If someone has not had this systematic web woven round him from his youth up, if he has come to know human nature by other means, by observing the experience of others or by following his own feelings, and if he now becomes acquainted with the system and is supposed to live in accordance with it, he finds himself in a world bewitched. In a man brought up under the system he can find no essential features like his own; instead of trying to find anything natural in him, he would be better to look for it in oriental fairy stories or in our chivalry romances. Indeed he would be less in error if he proposed to make those poetic fantasies the basis of a system of physics or these productions of our own era the basis of a psychology. If he prostrates himself before God and man as a poor sinner and a vicious man, then for those who believe in the original corruption of our nature it is not worth the trouble to acknowledge guilt for a fault of this kind before God, one’s self, and others; even without this acknowledgment we are on this view good for nothing, and our consolation is that this situation is one we share in common with everyone else and that any superiority one man may think he has over another is of no account in comparison.
[b)] If a man has run through the whole course of knowledge, feelings, and dispositions prescribed by the church and has got no farther on than another without all this apparatus (e.g., than so many virtuous men among those who are called the “blind” heathen), if he has made great progress in anxious scrupulosity and prudence, in subjection and obedience, but lags behind or is lacking altogether in courage, decision, strength, and the other virtues which are the essential prerequisites of furthering the individual’s and the state’s well-being, we may well ask what the human race has gained from the laborious asceticism of the church.
[c)] Lastly, think of the innumerable hypocrites in any church which has a system of this kind. They have mastered all the requisite knowledge, acquired the prescribed feelings, obeyed the church’s decrees. They live and move in church activities. We may well raise the question: What strength can be ascribed to them if they observe and do all that the church requires and yet remain villains, and traitors into the bargain?
One advantage, and a great one, accrues to the state (or rather to the authorities, since it involves the breakup of the state. proper) from the church’s policy of influencing men’s disposition, namely, a dominion or a despotism which has won the day as soon as the priesthood has extinguished all freedom of will. The church has taught men to despise civil and political freedom as dung in comparison with heavenly blessings and the enjoyment of eternal life. just as lack of the means to satisfy physical needs robs us, as animals, of life, so too, if we are robbed of the power to enjoy freedom of mind, our reason dies, and once we are in that position we no more feel the lack of it or a longing for it than the dead body longs for food and drink. Jesus tried to draw his people’s attention to the spirit and disposition which had to vitalize their observance of their laws if they were to please God, but under the government of the church this “fulfilment” of the laws” was turned once again into rules and ordinances which in turn always need a similar “fulfilment.” The church’s attempt to provide one has failed in its turn, because the spirit or the disposition is too ethereal a thing to be confined in formulas, in verbal imperatives, or to be manifested in feelings or attitudes of mind manufactured to order.
Another drawback, necessarily consequential on the others, is that these feelings which are to be produced in the course of moral improvement, and the actions which are looked upon as expressions of these feelings (communion, confession, almsgiving on the occasion of these and also during divine service), are public; the offerings are made to the ecclesiastical state or its officials who because they are its officials are supposedly our friends. Now, since his steps on the road to piety are thus publicly displayed, a man will not readily lag behind ; he joins in the feelings and their outward symbols, and the church cannot possibly ask or effect more.
Even our customs, in so far as they portray feelings by external signs, rest not so much on the feelings we really have as on those we are supposed to have. For example, we are supposed to feel more grief at the death of our relatives than we ever really do, and the external signs of this feeling are governed not so much by our real feeling as by what we are supposed to feel, and in this matter convention has even gone so far as to fix the feeling’s strength and duration. Our public religion, like many of our customs, appeals in these matters, as well as in the fasts and mourning of Lent and the finery and feasting of Easter Day, to rules for feelings, and these rules are supposed to be universally valid. This is why there is so much hollowness, so much spiritlessness in our usages; feeling has gone out of them, even though the rule still prescribes that we should have it. Casuistry and monastical asceticism have been hit by nothing so much as by the development of a moral sense in mankind and the better knowledge of the human soul (developed, for instance, in the romances of Marivaux, etc.).
The church has not stopped at thus prescribing a number of external actions whereby we are supposed to do honor to the Deity and acquire favor with him as well as to produce that disposition and direction of mind which he requires of us. It has also directly prescribed laws for our mode of thinking, feeling, and willing, and Christians have thus reverted to the position of the Jews. The special characteristic of the Jewish religion – that bondage to law from which Christians so heartily congratulate themselves on being free – turns up once more in the Christian church. Part of the difference [between the Jews and the Christians] lies in the means [used to impose the law]; the religious duties of the Jews were to some extent also compulsory duties, and in a way this is the case in the Christian church too, because the man who neglects them is burned at the stake in some places and is almost everywhere deprived of h’ s political rights. The chief means used by the church, and by the Jews also, of course, is to work on the imagination, but the imagery used in the two cases is different. Among the Christians it is principally “fire whose terrifying blaze is kindled on high towers to dominate the dreamer’s fancy if the torch of the law burns dim in his heart.”
The main difference, however, is supposed to consist in this-that, while the Jews thought they had satisfied God with their external ceremonies, it was impressed on the Christians that everything depended on the frame of mind in which two people performed the same action. Now, the Christian’s frame of mind is prescribed for him in every detail, in the way of salvation there are precise indications not only about the knowledge which he must possess, and which, of course, is something capable of being clearly described, but also about the series of different dispositions which are supposed to flow from that knowledge and from one another. The church orders him to go through all this series, and hence the main difference between Jews and Christians comes to this, that while, in Judaism, only actions were commanded, the Christian church goes farther and commands feelings, a contradiction in terms. This difference is not of the kind which would achieve morality, the aim of moral philosophy and religion; on the contrary, by this route it is inherently impossible, and it was impossible for the church, to produce more than legality and a mechanical virtue and piety.
The necessary consequences of proposing to command feelings were, and were bound to be, these: (a) self-deception, i.e., the belief that one has the prescribed feeling, that one’s feeling corresponds with what one finds described in the books, though a feeling thus artificially produced could not possibly be equivalent to the true and natural feeling either in force or value. (b) The result of this self-deception is a false tranquillity which sets a high value on these feelings manufactured in a spiritual hothouse and thinks much of itself on the strength of these. for this reason it is weak where it should be powerful, and, if a man recognizes this for himself, he sinks into helplessness, anxiety,” and self-distrust, a psychical state which often develops into madness. Often, too, he falls into despair if he thinks that, despite all his good will and every possible effort, his feelings have still not been intensified to the extent required of him. Since he is in the realm of feeling and can never reach any firm criterion of his perfection (except perhaps via deceptive imaginings), he lapses into a frenzy of anxiety which lacks all strength and decision and which finds a measure of peace only in trusting on the boundless mercy of God. It takes only a slight increase in the intensity of the imagination to turn this condition too into madness and lunacy.
The commonest effect is one form of the self-deception ‘just mentioned, because, despite all his wealth of spiritual feelings, the man retains most of his ordinary character; the ordinary self goes on acting as before alongside the spiritual self and is at best dressed up by the latter with rhetorical phraseology and external gestures. In trade and commerce the ordinary man appears, but he is a different person altogether on Sundays or under the eyes of his coreligionists or in reading his prayer-book. To charge a man like this with hypocrisy is often too harsh, because hypocrisy strictly entails a consciousness of the contradiction between the label given to an action and the motives behind it; in this instance this consciousness is altogether lacking, and the man is not a unity at all. If these two sorts of disposition openly collide with each other, and if the flesh, as is very often the case, gets the upper hand, then amid the prodigious mass of moral and ascetic commands it cannot possibly lack for one with which the trespass can be linked and, thus disguised, be made to appear to the agent in a praiseworthy light.
These subtleties have been pushed farthest by the Catholic church; most of the external observances have been discarded by the Lutheran church, but it has set up a system of rules and prescriptions for feelings which is upheld and practiced by the Pietists more consistently than by anyone else. Even if they may seem only to be a Lutheran sect, still we cannot say that in their moral or doctrinal system they have deviated in the slightest from the statutes of their church., on the contrary, they seem merely to give the Lutheran system a more precise expression. If they seem to distinguish themselves from the majority of Lutherans, the reason is that nature and healthy common sense hinder the Lutherans from making their lives and their feelings conform to their system. On the whole and for the most part the Calvinists seem to make morality the chief thing and to reject asceticism.
The various Christian churches share this policy of determining the motives, or the disposition, behind actions partly by public statutes and ordinances, partly by the force necessary to give effect to these. By these means, human freedom cannot be regimented nor can anything beyond legality be produced. In this situation, either the church must have been able to blot out the character of humanity from part of the human race quite irrevocably and make this deficiency a characteristic as inextinguishable as a racial one, or else from time to time there must have been those who found the demands of their own hearts unsatisfied in this ecclesiastical legality, in that type of character which asceticism is capable of building; they must have felt themselves able to give to themselves a moral law which arises from freedom. If they did not keep their faith to themselves alone, they became founders of a sect, and this sect, if not suppressed by the church, gradually spread. The farther it spread from its source, the more it retained in its turn merely the laws and rules of its founder; and these now became for its adherents not laws that issued from freedom but ecclesiastical statutes all over again. This brought with it the rise of new sects once more, and so on indefinitely. This happened, to begin with, in the Jewish church out of which the Christian sect arose; this sect became a church, and in the bosom of this church new sects were engendered once more; these blossomed into churches, and this is the way things must go on so long as the state misconceives the scope of its rights and either allows a state consisting of a dominant church to arise within itself or else simply goes into partnership with the church and thus once again oversteps its authority.
The fundamental error at the bottom of a church’s entire system is that it ignores the rights pertaining to every faculty of the human mind, in particular to the chief of them, reason. Once the church’s system ignores reason, it can be nothing save a system which despises man. The powers of the human mind have a domain of their own, and this domain was separated off for science by Kant. This salutary separation has not been made by the church in its legislating activity, and centuries have still to elapse before the European mind learns to make and recognize this distinction in practical life and in legislation, although the Greeks had been brought to this point automatically by their sound intuition. In Greek religion, or in any other whose underlying principle is a pure morality, the moral commands of reason, which are subjective, were not treated or set up as if they were the objective rules with which the understanding deals. But the Christian church has taken the subjective element in reason and set it up as a rule as if it were something objective.
Reason sets up moral, necessary, and universally valid laws; Kant calls these “objective,” though not in the same sense in which the rules of the understanding are objective. Now the problem is to make these laws subjective, to make them into maxims, to find motives for them, and the attempts to solve this problem are infinitely diverse. Reason’s capacity to set up such laws is seldom denied by theologians, and nowadays it is almost universally acknowledged. If theologians have denied it, they have principally meant to deny to reason not this first capacity but the second, i.e., to deny that reason is in a position to provide its law with motives capable of creating respect for the law or inclining the will to act in accordance with the law. The Christian religion gives us objective motives-motives which are not the law itself.
The sole moral motive, respect for the moral law, can be aroused only in a subject in whom the law is itself the legislator, from whose own inner consciousness this law proceeds. But the Christian religion proclaims that the moral law is something outside us and something given, and thus it must strive to create respect for it in some other way. The very conception of a positive religion permits us to assume that. Such a religion will be characterized by its exhibiting the moral law as something given; if It is given, then virtue becomes an art of a very complicated kind in contrast with an uncorrupted moral sense which is in a position to decide any Issue on the spot because it dares to make its decisions for itself. This complex moral art involves dexterity and skill of every kind, and, like any other, it is supposed to be capable of being learned., but it has had a remarkable fate, because while all human arts have become perfected and one generation has learned from its predecessors, human morality alone has not visibly advanced, and everyone must learn it for himself from the beginning without being able to use the experience of previous ages. Civil legislations and constitutions have man’s external rights for their object, but the object of the church’s constitution is what man owes to himself and to God. Now what man does owe to himself or to God is something which the church claims to know, and it sets up a judgment seat from which it pronounces judgment on these matters. Anything in human actions and affairs which may be God’s it drags before this court, and it has entered in its code what feelings we ought to have in performing these actions. In this way it has set up a prolix moral codex which contains what we are to do and to know, to believe and to feel. The possession and administration of this codex is the basis of all the church’s ‘Judicial and legislative power, and if to be subjected to such an alien code traverses the rights of every individual’s reason, then all the church’s power is a contravention of men s rights. The right to legislate for one’s self, to be responsible to one’s self alone for administering one is own law, is one which no man may renounce, for that would be to cease to be a man altogether. But to prevent a man from making this renunciation is not the state’s business, because it would mean compelling him to be a man and would be an act of force.
The rise of all the Christian sects in the Middle Ages and in modern times is based on individuals’ sensing that they had the right to legislate for themselves. But in uncivilized ages, or in men born in a social class condemned to barbarism by its rulers, the principle of such a legislation was generally a fevered, wild, and disordered imagination. Still, among its products a beautiful spark of reason glowed from time to time, and thus man’s inalienable right to legislate for himself out of his own heart was always upheld.
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