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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 16. Germany and the Reformation.


Germany invented the art of printing and produced the Reformation. These are the two greatest levers of modern civilization. While other nations sent expeditions in quest of empires beyond the sea, the Germans, true to their genius of inwardness, descended into the depths of the human soul and brought to light new ideas and principles. Providence, it has been said, gave to France the dominion of the land, to England the dominion of the sea, to Germany the dominion of the air. The air is the region of speculation, but also the necessary condition of life on the land and the sea.

The characteristic traits which Tacitus ascribes to the heathen Germans, contain already the germ of Protestantism. The love of personal freedom was as strong in them as the love of authority was in the Roman race. They considered it unworthy of the gods to confine them within walls, or to represent them by images; they preferred an inward spiritual worship which communes directly with the Deity, to an outward worship which appeals to the senses through forms and ceremonies, and throws visible media between the finite and the infinite mind. They resisted the aggression of heathen Rome, and they refused to submit to Christian Rome when it was forced upon them by Charlemagne.

But Christianity as a religion was congenial to their instincts. They were finally Christianized, and even thoroughly Romanized by Boniface and his disciples. Yet they never felt quite at home under the rule of the papacy. The mediaeval conflict of the emperor with the pope kept up a political antagonism against foreign rule; the mysticism of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries nursed the love for a piety of less form and more heart, and undermined the prevailing mechanical legalism; dissatisfaction with the pope increased with his exactions and abuses, until at last, under the lead of a Saxon monk and priest, all the national forces combined against the anti-christian tyranny and shook it of forever. He carried with him the heart of Germany. No less than one hundred grievances against Roman misrule were brought before the Diet of Nürnberg in 1522.108108    The famous "centum gravamina adversus sedem Romanam totumque ecclesiastcum ordinem." Erasmus says that when Luther published his Theses all the world applauded him.109109    "Totus illi magno consensu applausit." In a letter of Dec. 12, 1524, to Duke George of Saxony who was opposed to the Reformation. It is not impossible that all Germany would have embraced the Reformation if its force had not been weakened and its progress arrested by excesses and internal dissensions, which gave mighty aid to the Romanist reaction.

Next to Germany, little Switzerland, Holland, Scandinavia, England and Scotland, inhabited by kindred races, were most active in completing that great act of emancipation from popery and inaugurating an era of freedom and independence.

Nationality has much to do with the type of Christianity. The Oriental church is identified with the Greek and Slavonic races, and was not affected by the Reformation of the sixteenth century; hence she is not directly committed for or against it, and is less hostile to evangelical Protestantism than to Romanism, although she agrees, in doctrine, discipline and worship, far more with the latter. The Roman Catholic Church retained her hold upon the Latin races, which were, it first superficially touched by the Reformation, but reacted, and have ever since been vacillating between popery and infidelity, or between despotism and revolution. Even the French, who under Henry IV. were on the very verge of becoming Protestant, are as a nation more inclined to swing from Bossuet to Voltaire than to Calvin; although they will always have a respectable minority of intelligent Protestants. The Celtic races are divided; the Welsh and Scotch became intensely Protestant, the Irish as intensely Romanist. The Teutonic or Germanic nations produced the Reformation chiefly, but not exclusively; for the French Calvin was the greatest theologian among the Reformers, and has exerted a stronger influence in shaping the doctrine and discipline of Protestantism outside of Germany than any of them.



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