The Unquenchable Light by Kenneth Scott Latourette
Richard Heard, M.A., M.B.E., M.C., was a Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge and University lecturer in Divinity at Cambridge (1950). This book was originally written as the William Belden Noble lectures at Harvard University in 1940.
Chapter Five: The Third Great AGe of Advance (A.D. 1500 - A.D. 1750)
As in the other great ages of advance, so in the era which began in the sixteenth century, the resurgent life within Christianity gave rise to new movements. Now, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these were probably more numerous and varied than in any previous period of equal length, not even excepting the first two and a half centuries or the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
As an aftermath of the previous recessions, in A.D. 1500 Christianity was confined mainly to Europe. In Asia and North Africa it was represented by static or dwindling remnants of churches which were encircled and being slowly stifled by a politically dominant Islam or, in South India, by the prevailing Hinduism. In Southeastern Europe, Islam was in the ascendant. Only in Russia was Greek Orthodox Christianity the faith of the state. It was to Western Europe that previous losses had mainly constricted Christianity. Even here, in the second half of the fifteenth century, Christianity faced a future which seemed none too promising. It was threatened by internal decay and by the still aggressive Ottoman Turks, loyal Moslems, who were more powerful than any single European state and against whom, in spite of the frantic efforts of the Popes, discordant Western Europe would not unite. Until the amazing geographic discoveries of the closing decades of the fifteenth century, Western Europe seemed to have only a minor role in the human drama as a whole. In A.D. 1500, Islam, supported by the Turks and by various peoples of Central Asia; Confucianism, the system on which the Chinese Empire, larger and more populous and apparently more highly civilized than all of Western Europe, was based; Hinduism, the faith of the majority of the peoples of India, a subcontinent more varied racially and probably more populous and wealthier than fifteenth-century Western Europe; and Buddhism, with extensive followings in Southern, Central, and Eastern Asia, all loomed larger in human affairs than did Christianity. Christianity, and with it Jesus, seemed to be a waning force. Even in Europe its days appeared to be numbered.
However, in the course of the fifteenth century movements broke out, chiefly in Western Europe, which were to bring unprecedented reinvigoration to Christianity and were to make it, by A.D. 1750, the most widely influential of the faiths of mankind.
One group of these movements was what is usually called Protestantism. This term is really a misnomer. To be sure, those denominated by that name protested against what they deemed the abuses and corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church. They professed to be reformers, who sought to restore Christianity to its pristine purity. As a matter of fact, however, the movements classified under the comprehensive designation of Protestantism were primarily expressions of a vigor which could not be confined within traditional ecclesiastical molds. They were departures from the generally accepted Christianity too radical to be tolerated within the existing Church, and, although they strove to reproduce New Testament Christianity, they did not correspond fully, either in organization, ritual, or doctrine, to any of the forms which Christianity heretofore had developed. They were in the stream of historic Christianity and were the products of the life inherent in that faith, but to a large degree they were new creations. Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anabaptism, and Socinianism, although they all paid sincere homage to the New Testament and endeavored to be true to Jesus, were not literal reproductions of anything which had gone before. They displayed, however, great vitality, and one or another of them or of other varieties of what, following the usual convention, we must label as Protestantism, won the allegiance of the majority of the population of Northwestern Europe. The Protestant branch of the Christian stream continued to give rise to new movements. In the nineteenth century, in its growth and in its effect on mankind, it became even more prominent.
Much of the renewed life remained within the Roman Catholic Church. The doctrines and the chief features of the structure of that body endured fundamentally unaltered, but the morale displayed a marked recovery. New orders sprang into being, bearing resemblances to monasticism but, like the Franciscans and Dominicans, products of the preceding revival, more actively missionary and more aggressive in changing the society about them than had been the earlier orders. Several of the old monastic orders were cleansed and recalled to the standards set by their founders. After a prolonged struggle, the Papal chair was won by the reformers and was filled by men who freed the throne of Peter from the perversions which had scandalized right-thinking men and women. Improvements were made in the education and morals of the parish clergy. Catechisms were prepared to raise the level of the religious life of the laity. The Roman Catholic Church, thus revived and reinforced, held the allegiance of most of Western Europe south of the Rhine and the Danube and east of Germany.
In Russia Christianity, although not so extensively reshaped as in Western Europe, displayed vigor. A patriarchate was established and the conviction grew in the country that Moscow was the "third Rome," the true head of Christendom now that Rome had succumbed to the "Latin heresy" and that Constantinople was subject to the Turks. In the "Time of Trouble," the political confusion which began at the end of the sixteenth century, the Church was the chief unifying institution. Indigenous dissenting sects sprang out of the official church, indications that Russian Christianity had sufficient vitality to produce diversity and originality.
Christianity had a profound effect upon the culture of Europe, and especially of Western Europe. At first sight it seemed that the impression made by Christianity was not so deep as in the Middle Ages. It had been rather obvious that medieval culture had grown up under the aegis of the Church and had been molded by it. The Renaissance had appeared to mark a beginning of the decline of the influence of Christianity. On more careful observation, however, it becomes fairly clear that between A.D. 1500 and A.D. 1750 Christianity made fully as marked an imprint upon Western Europe as it had in the Middle Ages and, when all phases of culture are considered, much more than upon the Greco-Roman world. The Papacy was not so potent in political and international affairs as in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, and the Church as a unified ecclesiastical structure was broken by the Protestant secession and did not so visibly as in the Middle Ages bind Western Christendom together. However, through men like Francisco de Vitoria and Hugo Grotius, the Christian conscience gave rise to international law. Machiavelli in his teaching and Richelieu in his practice appeared to be ushering Christianity out from the European political system. Yet Vitoria as the contemporary of the one and Grotius of the other were seeking to apply the Christian conscience to the new situation. Christianity contributed both to the doctrine of the divine right of kings, which was used to buttress the absolute monarchies of the times, and to the theories which made for popular sovereignty and democracy and which limited the power of the monarchs. In the Commonwealth in England and in the struggle which preceded it, Christianity contributed fully as powerfully to the shaping of the structure of an individual state as it ever had in the Middle Ages. As in previous periods, Christianity stimulated care for the sick, the poor, the orphans, and the aged. In the realm of aesthetics it contributed to some of the greatest sculpture, painting, and architecture and was the inspiration of some of the most marvelous music ever composed. In literature it provided several of the greatest writers with themes and vision—Milton among them. It did not stimulate scholars within the Roman Catholic Church to produce theological systems comparable with those of the Middle Ages. It gave rise to no Thomas Aquinas. However, but for it Calvin would never have written his Institutes and the other Protestant theologies would not have been. Its effect was not so obvious upon the scientific and philosophical thought of the period as it had been upon the intellectual life of the Middle Ages, but most of the leading minds showed its imprint, even if at times to react against it. Some, like Newton, were devout Christians and may have been impelled by their faith to the achievements for which they are best remembered. Fully as much as in the Middle Ages and very much more than in the Greco-Roman world, the innovations and advances in education were stimulated by Christianity. Christianity unquestionably contributed to the geographic discoveries of the time. Henry the Navigator, for instance, was moved in part by his Christian faith, and Columbus was sustained in his exploits by a courage and purpose derived in no small degree from his Christian heritage.
In the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries Christianity displayed a prodigious geographic expansion, more extensive than it or any other religion or set of ideas had shown before it. It was carried to the Western Hemisphere. There it was the faith of the European settlers and their descendants and was accepted by the majority of the Indians and by many of the Negroes. It inspired those portions of the Laws of the Indies which were for the protection of the aborigines in the extensive Spanish domains. Most of such education as existed, whether in Roman Catholic or Protestant colonial America, was under the Church or arose out of the Christian impulse. In the Spanish and Portuguese possessions, after the first wave of conquest, it was through benevolent Christian missions that the frontier of white settlement moved forward. In the Thirteen Colonies of the British, groups seeking freedom to practice their Christian faith as they believed it should be lived had a large part in effecting the first settlements and did much to mold the ideals of the future United States. Christianity was planted here and there along the western, southern, and eastern shores of Africa. Thousands of converts were made in India and Ceylon. Courageous missionaries penetrated to distant Lhasa. Efforts to plant the faith, although followed by slight immediate results, were put forth in Burma and Siam. In Indo-China the foundations were laid for numerically strong Christian communities. Christianity was widely disseminated in the East Indies, although, except on a few of the smaller islands, converts were few. The majority of the inhabitants of the Philippines became professedly Christian. Christianity was introduced to Japan and for a time flourished most promisingly. It was reintroduced to China and, so far as we are able to determine, won more converts than in either of the two previous periods in which it had been in that Empire. It spread among the peoples of Eastern Russia and in Siberia.
Of the newly entered lands, it was in the Americas, the Philippines, and Japan that Christianity had its most pronounced effects upon civilization and the collective life of peoples. In the Americas and the Philippines, culture was as extensively shaped by it as in Europe. In an effort to eliminate Christianity, Japan was closed to trade with the Occident, except for attenuated contacts with the Dutch. A policy of exclusion was adopted which did much to shape the temper of the country.
The revival and spread of Christianity took place in spite of the demotion of the Church of Western Europe from its prominence as against the state. This demotion was irrespective of the type of Christianity which prevailed, whether Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, or Protestant. The centuries were marked by the development of absolute monarchies. In each of these the Crown extended its control over the Church within its domains. In Roman Catholic Spain and its American colonies and in Greek Orthodox Russia, especially beginning with Peter the Great, this control was peculiarly strong. It was also marked in Roman Catholic Portugal and France, in Protestant Scandinavia and England, and in several of the German states. It was the prevailing trend throughout most of Christendom. Church and state were closely united. The monarchs professed to rule by divine right and used the Church to bolster their power. In the struggle, so acute through the Middle Ages, between secular and ecclesiastical authorities, the former had at last won.
The control of the Church by the state and the decline of the Church as a visible supranational ecclesiastical structure uniting Western Christendom was not due to Protestantism. It is often assumed that Protestantism, by disrupting the ecclesiastical unity of Western Europe, was chiefly responsible for the disappearance of that spiritual commonwealth which characterized the Western Europe of the Middle Ages. To this disintegration Protestantism undoubtedly contributed. It was not, however, either the main or the decisive factor. Protestantism was much more the result of a disruptive force which was already at work than it was the cause of the division. After the Roman Empire had broken down in the West, the part of Europe which it had formerly ruled, together with the portions, chiefly in the North, which were brought within the orbit of Western culture, was divided into almost innumerable political units. These were partially interrelated through feudalism. Occasionally a state or a dynasty arose which for a time brought some of them under its sway. The Carolingians and the Holy Roman Empire endeavored to do this for all Western Europe, but with only incomplete success. Monarchs in such lands as England and France struggled to reduce the local magnates, but during the Middle Ages the latter maintained much of their power. Only the Church, co-ordinated under the Papacy, preserved a comprehensive organization. Thanks to the expansion of the faith, in Northwestern Europe it even added to its territory. However, as time passed and long before the appearance of Protestantism, monarchs began to overcome the feudal nobility. No king or emperor was strong enough to rule all Europe. Particularism proved too vigorous. Instead, several national states arose ruled by absolute monarchs. This process was already well under way before A.D. 1500, especially in Spain, Portugal, France, and England. Largely because of it, the Papacy was already a waning factor in the political scene. As we saw in the last chapter, the Babylonian Captivity and the Papal schism which brought the Church and its faith into such grave discredit were largely due to the emergence of the French monarchy and to the discontent of rival incipient nationalisms and monarchies with French control. The worldly Renaissance Pontiffs, who added further to the disrepute of the Papacy, were one of the causes of the emergence of Protestantism. German, English, and Scandinavian nationalism contributed to the origin and spread of Protestantism. After the rise of Protestantism, some of the monarchs who were most loyal to the Roman Catholic form of the faith, notably the fanatically Roman Catholic Philip II of Spain, were among the most emphatic in their insistence on the royal control of the Church within their realms. It was not in a Roman Catholic country, but in Protestant England and Scotland and in the Protestant Netherlands that the resistance to the domination of the Church by the Crown in this age of absolute monarchies first met with some degree of enduring success. Protestantism made impossible a single ecclesiastical structure for Western Europe, but even had the outward unity of the Church in Western Europe been preserved, it is hard to believe that the Popes, as the spokesmen for that comprehensive body, would have had more voice in international affairs than they actually possessed or that a more effective unity of culture would have been preserved. Not much more community of feeling and culture have existed between the Roman Catholic portions of Germany and Roman Catholic France or Spain than between Protestant England and the Roman Catholic sections of Germany. The Medieval Church, potent though it was, had not been strong enough to knit Western Europe into an indivisible whole. Protestantism was more a symptom and a consequence of that failure than it was a cause. The Roman Catholic Church had never sufficiently transcended its Roman and Latin environment or become really catholic enough to weld all of Western Europe together. When the great division occurred, it was chiefly the Latinized South which remained loyal to it.
The failure of the Medieval Church so to permeate Western Europe as to bind it into a unit under a dominant ecclesiastical structure may seem an indictment not so much of the Church as of the Christianity which gave birth to it. If the Church thus failed in the area in which between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1350 it admittedly had the freest course, it might seem that there is that in Christianity and the influence of Jesus which is basically unable to rise to a great opportunity.
However, the situation is not so simple as all that. We must recall that, proceeding chiefly from Western Europe, Christianity became increasingly potent in the life of mankind as a whole. Even in Western Europe, Christianity probably had greater effect on culture after A.D. 1500 than in the Middle Ages. We must also remember that the ideals and demands of Jesus are so high that they are never fully followed. They create a tension and produce modifications in social practice and institutions. They revolutionize some individual lives. Others they alter, although not quite so profoundly. Now and again, as in the fields of education, thought, and political theory, they bring about startling innovations. Yet never has a society and probably never has an individual fully embodied them. It may be that this side of the grave they never can and never will. However, that does not mean that Christianity has failed. The measure of the influence of Jesus is not the gulf between his teachings and the practice of individuals and of societies, but the changes which have been produced. Seen against the perspective of nineteen centuries and taking into our purview, as we must, the world as a whole, the influence of Jesus has clearly increased.
Between A.D. 1500 and A.D. 1750, as one result of the prominence of monarchical absolutist states, Christianity and the influence of Jesus persisted and spread more under the direction of the state than at any previous time; more so, even, than in the fourth and fifth centuries after the adoption of Christianity by Rome. Monarchs had an important share in propagating Protestantism in Europe. It was under royal direction that Protestantism became dominant in Scandinavia. It was through royal initiative that the Church of England separated from Rome. In Germany Protestantism owed much to various princes. The reform of the Roman Catholic Church was deeply indebted to various monarchs. Isabella early promoted it in Spain. Charles V wished it and worked for it. In the New World Christianity had its most extensive expansion in this period in the domains of Spain and Portugal. Here the Crown through its many officials directed, controlled, and in large part financed the propagation of the faith. In Africa, India, Ceylon, Indo-China and China, Roman Catholic Christianity was planted or grew chiefly although not entirely under the patronage of the Portuguese Government. This supervision was not so thoroughgoing as was the control by the Spanish and Portuguese Crowns in the Americas, and the attempts of non-Portuguese to contest it and of the Papacy to be emancipated from it brought dissensions which long handicapped the spread of the faith. In the Philippines the Spanish Crown exercised as absolute a control over the Church as in Spanish America. In the East Indies the Christianity was chiefly Protestantism, and the Church and its missions were mainly financed and promoted by the East India Company through which the Dutch managed their enterprises in that area. It was through the same agency that Dutch Protestantism was introduced into Ceylon, partly supplanting Portuguese Roman Catholicism. The Danish Crown helped in bringing Protestantism to India. The Russian state usually directed and financed the spread of the faith in its domains. It offered peculiarly attractive inducements to baptism, such as outright presents, temporary exemption from taxation, and freedom for the serfs and those who tilled the soil. Whatever else the absolutist states of the period did or did not do for Christianity, they helped to propagate it.
The zeal of monarchs and civil officials for the spread of Christianity sometimes arose from a genuine concern for the religious welfare of subject peoples. Probably more frequently it sprang from a desire to make the Church and its faith serve the extension or the strengthening of political or commercial empire. Frequently the two motives were mingled. In Spanish America after the first wave of conquest had spent itself, and in the Philippines from the very start, missions were regularly employed as a means of extending the frontier. Missionaries, usually supported by a military guard, went beyond the borders of white occupation, persuaded the natives to settle down, and taught them the arts of peace and Spanish culture as well as the Christian faith. When the work of conversion was completed, in theory the missions were "secularized"—that is, the missionaries, most of whom were "regulars" (members of orders), were required to give place to the "secular" clergy, and normal parish administration, such as existed in districts longer under European rule, was introduced.
Whether under Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, or Dutch imperialism, becoming a Christian was tantamount to submission to the political authority of the foreigner and was part of the process of assimilation to his rule and culture. Frequently, as in the Mexican plateau, parts of Peru, and the Portuguese enclaves in India, to ingratiate themselves with their new rulers the natives hastened to seek baptism and Christian instruction. Sometimes, as in the case of a fisher caste in South India, they asked for Christian teachers as a means of obtaining the protection of the European against some hereditary foe.
In spite of this unprecedentedly large part of absolutist governments in propagating Christianity, probably less force was used to compel the reception of baptism than in the preceding periods. In some instances it was employed, notably against the Jews and Moslems in Spain. The expulsion of unconverted Jews from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497) and of the Moriscoes, the imperfectly converted Moors, from Spain had not been matched in numbers in previous times. Yet, in general, stark force was not so much invoked as in the Middle Ages.
Christianity expanded in connection with commerce. Sometimes non-Europeans adopted Christianity in the hope of attracting lucrative European trade. That seems to have been one of the reasons for the rapid growth of the faith in some of the districts in Southern Japan. Commerce was often followed by territorial conquest and this by the conversion of the inhabitants of the occupied territory.
Occasionally European imperialism and commerce proved a handicap to the spread of the faith. It was fear of foreign aggression which was the chief cause of the persecution that drove into hiding the Christianity of Japan. That was also back of some of the persecution of Christianity in China and Ceylon. In India the English East India Company long sought to keep missionaries out of its territories lest the antagonism aroused by their efforts bring unrest and jeopardize trade.
In this period migrations of professedly Christian peoples had a more important share than before in the spread of Christianity. The previous expansion through migration had been confined chiefly to merchants, to the Syrian Christians in South India (for these seem to have had their origin in mercantile communities), to the northward movement of Russians, to the Scandinavian settlement of Greenland, to the northward and eastward movement of the Germans, and to the crusades. Now Spaniards conquered a large portion of the Americas, including the West Indies and the Philippines, and became the ruling classes in these lands; the Portuguese established themselves in a similar position in Brazil and sprinkled themselves along the coasts of Africa and here and there on the shores of India, in the East Indies and in Malacca and Macao; the French planted colonies in parts of North America and the West Indies; the Dutch, with an intermingling of French Huguenots, began a permanent colony in South Africa, and Dutch. groups, largely of merchants and officials, were found in various places in the East Indies, India, Ceylon, and the Americas; the British obtained possession of some of the West Indies and there became officials and owners of plantations; and in the English colonies in North America immigrants, largely Protestant, from several nations began what in time was the numerically largest overseas population of European descent. The retention of their hereditary faith by these peoples was presumptive but neither inevitable nor automatic. When, as in America, Europeans erased the antecedent cultures, the persistence of Christianity among the immigrants was probable. In Asia, however, among peoples of high civilization, it would not have been surprising if Europeans had taken on the faiths of the lands in which they settled. In British North America many for a time tended to drift away from all religious faith. In general, however, in all parts of the world those of European descent retained the name of Christian.
As in earlier periods, the Church was a leading instrument in the spread of Christianity and in the conservation of the faith in areas in which it had been planted. It was the Church through which the influence of Jesus was chiefly continued in Europe. When the Protestants broke away from the Roman Catholic Church they did not abandon the ides of the Church. Each Protestant movement, even some of the most radical, such as the Quakers, centered its life about what was in fact, although not always in name, a church. The very insistence of each Protestant sect that theirs was the true church was evidence of how closely the Church in some form had come to be associated with Christianity. When absolutist states endeavored to propagate Christianity among their non-Christian subjects, they sought to set up an ecclesiastical organization for the converts. Overseas settlers carried the Church with them and established it in their new homes as the normal channel for their religious life. Probably this position of the Church was to be expected. Christianity had so early given rise to the Church that the two were regarded as inseparable.
As they had been since the sixth century, so in this period monks or representatives of a modified monasticism were among the active agents for the spread of the faith. The state might direct, control, and finance missions to non-Christians, but for missionaries they had to look mainly to monks and members of religious orders who had volunteered for that service. This was true in the Russian domains. It was also true of the Roman Catholic branch of the faith. In the latter, the older forms of monasticism now had little part in providing missionaries. The Benedictines and the various orders which had arisen out of the Benedictines took almost no share in the propagation of the faith in new areas and among new peoples. This was in striking contrast with the progress of the faith in the early Middle Ages. It was newer orders, notably the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Augustinians, the Jesuits, and, to a less extent, the Theatines, from which came most of the missionaries. Only a minority were from the secular clergy, and most of this minority were members of the Foreign Missionary Society of Paris, which had a semimonastic form of organization. The prominence of the newer orders seems to have been due partly to a tradition which made them more activistic and missionary and less contemplative and centered on the life of their own communities than were the older ones. It was also partly because their form of organization was more adapted to sending men to new areas and to the comprehensive covering of districts and, sometimes, of entire countries. Always, however, as heretofore, members of religious orders were supposedly more fully committed to Jesus and to the Christian faith than were the rank and file of the laity or even of the secular clergy.
Having rejected monasticism, Protestants were deprived of that traditional means for the propagation of Christianity. Yet, wherever in their commerce, conquests, and settlements they came into contact with non-Christian peoples they developed agencies for spreading their form of the faith. Usually the missionaries were clergy. Some of them were supported by voluntary societies created for that purpose. Here again, as in the case of the monk-missionaries of the Roman Catholic and Eastern churches, it was chiefly those who were most earnestly devoted to the faith who offered themselves as missionaries and gave to the support of the societies.
Between A.D. 1500 and A.D. 1750 Protestants had a much smaller share in the expansion of Christianity among non-Christian peoples than did Roman Catholics. In the main this was because the leading conquerors and builders of the colonial empires of the day were not Protestants but Roman Catholics. It was not the absence of monasticism or a lack of zeal which accounted for the difference.
The control and support of the spread of the faith by the state which so characterized this era seem to have been at least in part responsible for a singular and significant phenomenon. In areas where the state or a commercial company had the direction, the resulting Christianity was largely passive. It gave rise to almost no new orders or congregations. It gave birth to very few movements either for the further spread of the faith or for attacking collective evils. Morally it usually fell further short of the ideals and commands of Jesus than did the Christianity of the mother country. This was true whether the form of Christianity propagated was Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant. It was about equally characteristic of the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Russian, and the Dutch possessions—those in which the policy of autocratic control by the secular arm was most marked. Apparently, when shackled by the secular authorities and used as an arm of the state, neither the Church nor the zeal of the monks could instill the kind of life which would issue in spontaneous religious movements or efforts to bring society into conformity to Christian standards. The majority of the missionaries were European-born. Most of those who fought the enslavement and maltreatment of the indigenous peoples were natives of the mother country and not of the colonies. To be sure, these missionaries and reforms were from churches which in Europe were subject to the absolutist states of the period. Yet in Western Europe the traditional position of the Church had earlier been one of independence or semi-independence of the state. Apparently enough of this spirit carried over into the absolutist age to allow and encourage initiative. In colonial possessions, however, where from the first subservience to the secular arm had been the rule, the attitude of passivity was not offset by a heritage of freedom. Even in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when the subordination to the state was weakened, in the areas in which Christianity had been planted in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries under state direction, the lack of initiative continued. This was the case in Spanish and Portuguese America, in the remnants of Portuguese holdings in Asia, and in the state church in the Netherlands Indies. It was painfully apparent in Russia, where to the Byzantine tradition of the subjection of the Church to the state had been added the influence of Western European absolute monarchy, notably under Peter the Great. The Russian Church was tied hand and foot to the Crown. It was in the monasteries, where some elements of freedom continued, and among the sects which dissented from the state church that such spontaneity and inward vitality as persisted in Russian Christianity were chiefly apparent.
In striking contrast with the lack of initiative and the low morale of the Christianity of the lands in which the absolutist state had the Church under its full control was the abounding vigor which was beginning to be displayed in the English colonies in North America. Here Christianity was planted with very little assistance from the government of the mother country. It was introduced. in part, as in New England and Pennsylvania, by groups who were seeking haven from persecution on the other side of the Atlantic and who on their own volition had come to the New World and set up their churches. Here and there it received assistance, notably in the case of the Church of England and of missions to the Indians, from societies voluntarily organized in the homeland. This aid was chiefly financial. After the first generation the personnel was largely American-born. It is true that in the majority of the Thirteen Colonies one form or another of Christianity enjoyed the peculiar favor of the colonial government. That was the case with the Congregational churches in most of New England. In some others of the colonies the Church of England was established. However, these special positions as against other groups were not so persistently and strictly enforced as in most of contemporary Europe. In the Thirteen Colonies the tendency was toward religious liberty. In some it was already very marked. Full freedom of conscience and the complete separation of Church and state were not achieved without a struggle and did not come until after A.D. 1750. However, the trend was in that direction. We must also note that the large majority of those who migrated from the Old World to the Thirteen Colonies did so from other than religious motives and that as late as A.D. i8oo less than one-tenth of the population of what by then had become the United States held membership in any of the churches. The proportion of formal church members was, therefore, much smaller than in Spanish and Portuguese America. Yet the churches in the Thirteen Colonies displayed much greater vitality than those in any other of the overseas possessions of Europe. They were largely self-governing, with either complete independence or a minimum of direction from the churches of Europe. More and more of their clergy was colonial-born rather than from across the Atlantic. From them missionaries went out to the Indians. In the first half of the eighteenth century a religious movement, the Great Awakening, sprang up among them, with a leadership which was largely native-born and trained. This revival had profound and lasting effects and was without parallel in Spanish or Portuguese America. In the nineteenth century the vitality was to continue. The percentage of church membership in the population greatly increased. The Christianity of the United States not only spread to the Indians and to the much larger body of Negroes. It also took a growing share in propagating Christianity the world over. That share was much greater than that assumed by the Roman Catholic Church of Latin America, a Church which once had been far larger and wealthier.
The vigor in the churches in the Thirteen Colonies was not restricted to any one denomination. It was seen not only among Protestants, but also, before the close of the eighteenth century, in the very small Roman Catholic minority. Apparently the favoring condition was the freedom of the churches from state domination, as contrasted with the subservience in which the Church was kept by the state in other European possessions.
This vigor of a church unhampered by the close even though friendly control by the state has parallels in the enormous spread of Christianity through the Church in the Roman Empire before Constantine, in the vitality of the Church in Western Europe during the Middle Ages, and in the phenomenal expansion of Christianity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from churches which were either independent of the state or were less trammeled by it than had been most of the churches of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. The vast expansion of the faith in these centuries unquestionably led to a healthier and more hardy Christianity in areas where state direction was the least marked and where indigenous leadership prevailed.
Viewed 70552 times.