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form of a letter to Professor Bruch, which, as it serves to bring European and American Christian Liberalism into connection, may possibly be of some interest on both sides of the water. Without farther introduction, we proceed to put this correspondence into our pages.
STRASBURG, May 6, 1869.
Christian Church of the Confession of Augsburg, in France:
MY DEAR SIR, AND MUCH RESPECTED BROTHER IN CHRIST, — I am blamable for not having long ago thanked you for the regularity with which, for a year past, you have seen the "Monthly Journal" of the American Unitarian Association, forwarded to me. I have found many things, in perusing this journal, which have interested me in the most lively way. I have seen proofs of what you told me when I had the pleasure of seeing you here, that the Unitarian body in America, so far from being in a state of decline, as many French religious papers had assured us, was, on the contrary, in full progress. I have also seen that American Unitarians were anxious to put themselves in relation with Protestants of the same faith in different European countries, and that during the last year there have been exchanges of fellowship between them and the Unitarians of Hungary, who are probably descendants of the Socinians expelled from Poland.
What has interested me most has been to notice the tendency of American Unitarianism to draw to itself those numerous enlightened Protestants, who, not being able to accept popular Orthodoxy, have felt themselves wholly alienated from the Church, and in danger of falling into complete apathy. Against this tendency among ourselves there has sprung up in Southern Germany, within three or four years, a society called the "Protestant Union" ("Protestanten-Verein "), which has already a wide extension. We have formed at Strasburg, for the Protestantism of the south of France, a similar society, which draws together a great number of clergy and laymen, and which publishes a journal, much circulated, called "Le Progrès Religieux."
The Protestant Union of Germany originated in the necessity of withstanding the policy of the Orthodox party; which, thanks to government protection, had become dominant in Prussia, Hanover, Saxony, Bavaria, and many of the small principalities of Germany. This party had succeeded in driving out of the universities in those countries all the professors in theology, of liberal views, and then gone on, in the nomination of pastors for churches, to manifest a complete
spirit of exclusiveness towards all who would not lend themselves to the support of Orthodox dogmas. In spite of the opposition which this society has met from the ecclesiastical authorities of the abovenamed countries, the Protestant Union has succeeded in establishing, even there, numerous auxiliaries. To exert an influence over the masses, it holds annually, in different parts of Germany, — and even in those parts where the strongest antipathy to it exists, reunions, in which its most distinguished orators may be heard. The most active members of this society were Professor Richard Rothé, and Professor Schenkel, of Heidelberg. Unhappily, Rothé, who enjoyed an eminent position among German theologians, and who was universally loved for the nobleness of his character, was taken from us two years ago.
In the Orthodox party in Germany, as in the Lutheran Church in France, there has sprung up an extreme party of ultra-Lutherans, who insist, with an inexorable rigidity, upon the confessional creeds; and seek to break, wherever they can, the union which for forty years, in most parts of Germany, has subsisted between the Lutherans and "the Reformed;" showing towards the Reformed an implacable dislike, and aiming to carry public worship back to the forms of the sixteenth century. There is in this party a visible inclination towards Catholicism; and many pastors connected with it, like the Ritualists of England, have already been bold enough to introduce into public worship forms utterly Romanistic. Among the people, this party finds little countenance; but, as in England, it finds a good deal among the aristocracy; and it would not surprise me, if, on occasion of the approaching Ecumenical Council at Rome, a very great number of the German nobility should pass over into the Catholic Church. You will understand that it is against this party that the Protestant Union aims its directest efforts. It is also in their ranks that it finds its most relentless adversaries, who do not hesitate, with blatant voices, to pronounce it a work of Satan, and to threaten all who have part in it with a condemnation to eternal ruin. This party, however, is a shocking anachronism. The same may be said up to a certain point of all Orthodox creeds. The spirit of the age is entirely contrary to them. Tending in all its concerns to progress, and with an irresistible pressure, how can the age adapt itself to a stationary theology, which aims to petrify Christendom?
Unhappily, there is also among us liberals a party of ultraists, which, proceeding from one denial to another, has almost got far enough to abandon Christianity altogether; a party which dreams of
a church of the future, in which each individual may believe or disbelieve just what he wills, completely forgetting what Jesus has said of a kingdom, city, a house, whose inhabitants are divided against themselves, and which cannot stand. Quite recently this party has made a demonstration at Neufchâtel, in Switzerland, which has produced a great sensation. A liberal Protestant society has been formed in that city, hitherto considered a rampart of Orthodox Protestantism; which announces in its manifesto the creation of a church, to which Jews, Christians, and Mahometans, believers, infidels, and even atheists, shall be equally welcomed. I have profoundly regretted that some of the champions of Protestant liberalism in France should have been so far misled as to give in their adhesion to such a monstrosity.
At Paris, Protestantism occupies the same position in which you found it on your late visit. The Reformed Consistory has continued to drive out of all the churches of the capital, the liberal pastors, and specially M. Athanase Coquerel. This compels the liberal people, who compose at least half of the whole Protestant population of Paris, and certainly the most enlightened part, to wander away from the official churches, and to organize congregations for their own edification. The schism is not yet complete; but a wedge has been driven which will inevitably end in schism, if the Consistory does not change its spirit and tactics. A split among the Protestants of Paris would doubtless be followed by similar splits in other parts of France. This would be an irreparable misfortune for French Protestantism; which, finding itself in a feeble minority, has great need of union, and a closing up of its own thin ranks. Meanwhile, the Liberals display a notable zeal. Their ablest orators are in constant motion, holding conferences now in one city, and then in another. We have heard many of them this winter in Strasburg. For we found it desirable to organize a series of public meetings in Germany and France, which have attracted great numbers of people, and have produced a deep impression.
In general, throughout the Protestant churches of the continent, as in the Catholic Church, there exists an unusual activity. Every thing seems to me to presage an epoch of change, from ceiling to foundation, in these churches, a great religious crisis. Which of those churches will first find this crisis rending its bosom is a providential secret. It is at least possible that it will be the Catholic Church. I know that there are Catholic prelates in Germany who
are profoundly dissatisfied with the course of the Papacy of late, and with the spirit of it. If the expected council sanctions, as is probable, papal infallibility, the assumption of the Virgin, the anathemas which have been pronounced against the "Syllabus Errorum," it is possible that a movement may spring forth in Germany, in which a great part of its Catholic population, with their bishops at the head, may separate themselves from the Roman Pontificate.
I have not had time to speak of the fête at Worms, in which I participated. I know that there were American delegates there, and your religious journals have doubtless reported its proceedings. Never has a solemnity more magnificent or more attractive been celebrated in Germany; I doubt if any one will compare with it elsewhere.
And now, my much-honored brother, allow me, in ending this letter, perhaps already too long, to express once more, and more emphatically, the joy I experienced in making your personal acquaintance. It was also very pleasant to me to meet, six months ago, an acquaintance of yours. I mean Mr. Robinson, then American consul in our city. Remember me cordially to your son. May the Lord keep you and shower upon you his mercies! Receive the assurance of my high esteem and fraternal devotion.
To Rev. H. W. BELLOWS, D.D., New York, U.S.A.
WALPOLE, NEW HAMPSHIRE, U.S.A., July 23, 1869.
To Professor Bruch, Strasburg, Germany:
MY DEAR PROFESSOR AND BROTHER IN CHRIST, -I have been waiting to reach my summer retreat in the mountains of New Hampshire, before acknowledging your welcome favor of the 6th May. It has given me great pleasure and instruction, and calls for my warmest gratitude, that you should be kind enough to remember one who enjoyed so brief an opportunity of making your acquaintance. The best return I can make for your excellent review of the prospects of Rational Christianity in Europe, is to give you a succinct account of the past and present condition of our cause in America.
Unitarianism (the only scholarly and critical form of Liberal Christianity in America), although latent for a half-century before, really began its distinct, separate existence as a branch of the Christian Church in this country, only about the year 1818. About that time, Dr. W. E. Channing began his energetic controversy with the theo
logians of Andover, the chief seat of American Orthodoxy. The theological dispute which then broke out, developed suddenly and rapidly a vast amount of un-Trinitarian and un-Calvinistic feeling in the State of Massachusetts, the only part of the country where scholarship had advanced sufficiently to permeate any considerable part of the people with a critical and candid spirit.
It was accordingly in Massachusetts (specially in Boston) that many Orthodox churches practically abandoned their old confessions and connections, and allowed themselves to be called Unitarian. For five and twenty years the loosely related body grew rapidly; until, thinly scattered over other parts of the country, and thickly sowed in Massachusetts alone, it numbered, perhaps, two hundred and fifty churches. There, about 1840, it seemed, unaccountably, to come to a stand, and to spread no more. Great expectations had been raised of its growth in cities out of New England, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and specially in the larger towns of the West; but all these hopes were disappointed, and Unitarians began to doubt and distrust their own mission, and specially their power to sustain a great national movement of an ecclesiastical kind.
The truth is, the same upheaval which had separated them from Orthodoxy had all the while unconsciously been straining at the sinews and breaking the dogmatic chains of Orthodox theology and discipline within its own domain; until the old creeds against which Unitarians had violently protested, and out of which they had broken by main strength, had lost so much of their imprisoning power, and their galling weight, that the old reasons for revolution and change of ecclesiastical name and relations no longer existed. The Unitarian Reformation, like the Lutheran, lost head by the latent triumph of its principles. Orthodoxy became so mild, genial, liberal, and politic, that people were content to remain under its gentle yoke. Had the present state of opinion in the popular creeds of America been a halfcentury ago what it is now, we should probably never have heard of any Unitarian Church in America.
It is not ecclesiastical liberty for which any portion of the American people is now conspicuously contending; and the whole ground of the Liberal Christian movement is essentially changed. Such has been, for a quarter of a century, the influx of speculative and scientific light, that all the old questions between those who then accepted the Scriptures and a supernatural revelation with equal reverence, questions concerning the person of Christ and the nature of the Atone