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 Seven: The Fourth Great Age of Advance (A.D. 1815 - 1914)
After the brief recession which marked the second half of the eighteenth and the first decade and a half of the nineteenth century there came a fresh advance in the influence of Jesus. Once more this influence surpassed its previous achievements in the extent of its geographic spread. Whether it exceeded them in its effect upon Western European peoples is not entirely clear. That it left a greater impress than ever before upon mankind as a whole seems incontestable.
Never had Christianity or, indeed, any other system or set of ideas been so widely spread as in the century which followed the close of the Napoleonic Wars. In the United States the proportion of the population which had membership in one or another of the churches greatly increased. This was in spite of a prodigious growth in population due partly to the excess of births over deaths and partly to immigration from Europe. Into the new communities which arose on the westward-moving frontier Christianity was built as an integral part of their lives. The vast majority of the immigrants and their descendants were held to their hereditary faith. About half of what had been the largest non-Christian element of the population, the Negroes, became professedly Christian. Approximately half of the Indians were won to a similar allegiance. The new nation which arose to the north of the United States, in British North America, while much smaller in population than its neighbor, had a larger percentage which claimed a church connection. In the British West Indies most of the Negroes who constituted so large a proportion of the population gave at least nominal allegiance to Christianity. In Latin America the losses suffered by the Roman Catholic Church in the revolutions which brought political independence were partly recouped. Here and there missions were resumed or inaugurated among the Indians on the frontiers of white settlements. Of the large immigration from Europe to the southern part of South America many maintained their relations with the Church. Protestantism was firmly planted in several of the Latin American countries, in part by immigration from Europe and in part by missions. The latter were chiefly from the United States. In the smaller island groups of the Pacific, such as Hawaii and the Fijis, the majority of the native population became Christian. In Australia and New Zealand an extensive immigration from Europe brought new nations into existence which preserved the Christian faith of their ancestors. In the Netherlands Indies the number of Christians markedly increased. Christianity was reintroduced into Japan and rapidly gained adherents. In Korea it emerged from the stage of persecution into one of toleration, and flourished. In China the Christians multiplied, especially after A.D. 1900. In Indo-China and in Burma striking growth was registered. India saw a substantial rise in the numbers of Christians. Partly through migration and partly through conversion, Christian groups were scattered across Siberia. Immigration from Europe replanted Christianity in North Africa. Africa to the south of the Sahara was the scene of extensive additions to the Christian churches. In South Africa a new nation arose, dominated by a thriving white minority most of whom were at least nominally Christian. Among the Negroes in many sections rapidly growing Christian constituencies came into being. On Madagascar a remarkable movement brought thousands into the Church. Not even in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries had Christianity been so widely dis-~ seminated. By 1914 there were few peoples among whom it was not represented, and the records of the sayings and deeds of Jesus had been put into hundreds of tongues.
The influence of Jesus was, through this expansion, being felt more widely than ever before. It was affecting the life of mankind as in no previous time.
In Western Europe a double phenomenon was apparent. On the one hand a number larger than in any earlier age, except in the years in which Islam was in the first flush of its conquests, were abandoning Christianity. They might still, as a matter of social convention, be baptized as children and even be confirmed. They might be married in the church and buried from it. Yet apart from these formal acts millions now had no active connection with the Church. Thousands were openly hostile. Many of the intellectuals believed Christianity untenable. Some denounced it as an enemy of progress. Among the masses millions were indifferent. The laborers in the manufacturing centers which arose around the new industries, especially on the Continent of Europe, tended to drift away from the Church. As in other periods of transition, Christianity was at first strongest in communities where the old order with which it was associated through its previous gains persisted. On the other hand, great revivals occurred in both the Protestant and the Roman Catholic folds. Those who remained loyal to the Church—and they were legion—were, in general, more faithful in their attendance upon its worship and more earnest in attempts to observe the requirements of their faith than had been the rank and file of church members at any time since the first three centuries. The co-extensiveness of the Church and the community at large which had been characteristic of Christendom since about the fourth century had not entirely passed. Christianity was still ostensibly the official faith of most nations of Western Europe. However, a distinction was beginning to be drawn. In a number of countries Church and state were separated. A line was appearing between the Church and the world. Increasingly those who were followers of Jesus were such by deliberate individual choice rather than by the tradition of the people or the nation and were distinct from those who were not. This contrast can easily be exaggerated, but the trend was in that direction.
On the surface the defection of so many millions seemed to indicate that Jesus was a waning factor among Western European peoples. The life of the Occident appeared to be in process of secularization.
However, the situation was not so simple. To be sure, no great philosophies and theologies were developed comparable with those of the Middle Ages or of the Protestant Reformation. Education was passing out of the hands of the Church and millions were coming to maturity with little or no instruction in the Christian faith. Yet among both Protestants and Roman Catholics a larger number of new organizations were springing into being for the practice and propagation of the faith than in any preceding span of years of equal length. More new orders and congregations arose within Roman Catholicism than in any other century. The Pope exercised greater effective control over the Roman Catholic Church than he had ever done. Ultramontanism and the promulgation of Papal infallibility were but symptoms of this tendency. The Papacy was less a political institution than in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and was more nearly exclusively concerned with moral and spiritual leadership. In Protestantism many new denominations and hundreds of societies were born. Awakening after awakening stirred the rank and file of Protestant church membership. For the average Protestant, Christianity was less a political movement, an affair of the community and the state, and more a matter of individual experience and commitment than even at the height of the Reformation. Protestant women and laymen were active in winning their fellows to the Christian faith. They did not leave this task to a specialized profession but considered it an obligation of all Christians. By both Roman Catholics and Protestants, and especially by Protestants, efforts were being made to reach the young and to follow those who were moving into the urban districts and factory towns. The centers of nineteenth-century culture were by no means surrendered. Many of the intelligentsia were devout Christians. Indeed, remarkable student Christian movements arose, notably among Protestants. Many of the laborers in the newer industries were Christian. In Great Britain the official labor movement owed much in its early leadership to Christians and had a strongly Christian tinge. Roman Catholic labor organizations came into existence. Education was being placed under the control of the state and was becoming secularized, but on the frontiers of white settlement, especially in the United States, those moved by their Christian faith were founding most of the institutions of higher learning and were even responsible for much of the public school system. The first stages of education for the Negroes were inaugurated by earnest Christians, black and white. In the United States Roman Catholics, at no small sacrifice, were constructing a network of parochial and higher schools for the education of their children under Christian auspices. Even the scientific method which characterized the period and which to many appeared a threat to Christian faith owed a debt to the Christian thinkers of the Middle Ages who had built into the foundations of modern Europe a confidence in the order and dependability of nature.
The political democracy which was one of the outstanding features of the century sprang largely from Christian sources. The prevailing optimism of the period which dreamed of creating a perfect human society had in it elements of Christian origin. Many of the movements which sought to make that vision a reality and which attacked the chronic human ills had a Christian rootage. This was notably the case in the successful campaign against Negro slavery, in the many efforts, not so successful, to curb war and bring about international peace, in the Red Cross for ministering to the sufferers from war and from natural disasters, in the inauguration of the modern nursing profession, in the fight against the excessive use of alcohol, in the efforts to improve the care of prisoners and the insane, in the multiform endeavors, never before so numerous, to give larger opportunities to the underprivileged, and in some of the many programs for the thorough reconstruction of society. It seems probable, although accurate measurements are impossible, that impulses issuing from Jesus were more potent in shaping Western European peoples, both in Europe and in their newer habitats in the Americas, Australasia, Asia, and Africa, than in any previous era.
Upon non-European peoples, taking them as a whole, Christianity unquestionably had a greater influence than heretofore. This was seen in the planting and strengthening of Christian churches. It was witnessed in the abolition of the African slave trade and of African slavery. It was apparent in the reduction of scores of languages to writing, more than until now had been given a written form by all other agencies combined. Among people after people, from the most numerous on the globe, the Chinese, to some of the smallest, the inauguration of modern education of the sort developed in the Occident was chiefly the work of missionaries and their converts. Modern medicine, with its relief of human suffering, was introduced to many nations and tribes, mainly by Christian missionaries. Famines were fought, both directly and by the indirect method of providing means for an increased food supply, by Christian missionaries and those trained by them. Christians instituted better care for the insane and for the blind and deaf. Christians were usually the pioneers in obtaining an improved status and better education for women and girls. Again and again Christian missionaries strove against the debauching of backward peoples by the sale of liquor and the introduction of firearms. Among some tribes, notably in the islands of the Pacific, missionaries led in the complete reorganization of the collective life to meet the new conditions brought by contact with Europeans. In Japan they were advisers to statesmen in the reconstruction of a nation suddenly reopened to the commerce and the ideas of the world. In China Christian missionaries were forerunners of the delayed but inevitable adjustment of the Empire’s culture to the invading Occident. It was a Chinese trained through them, Yung Wing, himself a Christian, who was responsible for the first large contingent of his fellow countrymen who went to the Occident as students. It was another Chinese educated by them, Sun Yat-sen, also a Christian, who became the leader in initiating for China a new and revolutionary form of government to take the place of the old when it crumbled before the impact of the West. From Christians came stirrings of hope and doors of opportunity for the outcastes of India. Never had the currents issuing from Jesus penetrated to so much of mankind.
The extensive diffusion of Christianity and the concomitant effect upon mankind were achieved through a number of processes and because of several factors. Some of these, as in previous periods, were not altogether compatible with the standards of Jesus. Some were flatly contradictory to them. Others were neutral. Still others were in accord with them.
Obviously the great spread of Christianity was made possible by the prodigious expansion of European peoples which marked the nineteenth century. By migrations of traditionally Christian peoples and by commerce and conquest Occidentals penetrated almost the entire globe. Only a few small and remote tribes were left untouched. The cultures both of primitive tribes and of highly civilized nations were modified or revolutionized. Since these non-European cultures, when intact, had non-Christian religions as an integral ingredient, they had previously, if they had enjoyed any contact with Christianity, presented a solid front against it. With the weakening or disintegration of these cultures the resistance to Christianity was lowered. Christianity had the advantage of entering in association with the culture of the dominant Occident. To be sure, its affiliation with the aggressive West sometimes provoked antagonism and often led to a misunderstanding of its true nature. In general, however, much less opposition was encountered than formerly and a prestige accrued to the faith which was that of the victorious and wealthy West. To many Christianity seemed a possible key to the power which was the envy of non-Europeans and a vehicle by which the desired techniques of the Occident might be acquired by those who hoped through them to attain the position and the wealth which the West possessed. Many a child was sent to a mission school because that was the only place in which education of an Occidental type could be obtained. A medical missionary was called in to treat a case, not because he was a missionary but because he was the only representative of Western therapy. In admitting the Christian missionary from these motives, the inward meaning of the faith could easily be missed. However, the missionary, if he was genuinely Christian, might through the door thus opened convey something of the spirit and message of Jesus. Indeed, that repeatedly occurred.
It would be interesting to inquire how far the expansion of Europe was due to Christianity. It would, however, be futile. No possibility exists of exact measurement. It is conceivable that the daring, the imagination, and the perseverance which drove Europeans in search of unknown islands and continents and of the North and South Poles and to the tops of unsealed mountains had at least in part a Christian origin. Undoubtedly the hope for gain through commerce was potent in European expansion. So, too, was the desire for power and prestige and the dream of achievement. These were the motives, rather than those derived from Christianity, which were the more obvious. It was only occasionally, as in David Livingstone, that a purpose clearly of Christian provenance was dominant. That Christianity was one of the causes of the spread of European peoples is, however, clear.
The expansion both of Europe and of Christianity was facilitated by the new mechanical appliances and the mounting wealth associated with the Industrial Revolu; tion. It was machines which produced the outpouring of goods whose sale sent Europeans to the ends of the earth. Machines speeded up transportation and communication and so reduced the size of the earth that it was possible for Europeans, including Christian missionaries, to cover it. The monopoly of the new machines enabled Westerners to gain the mastery of most of the earth’s surface and to impose their will upon other peo~~ pies. From the machines was derived the wealth a portion of which, albeit a very small proportion, Occidentals de.~ voted to the spread of their faith. It was the exhilaration of the power and the wealth made available and of the doors opened by the machine which accounted in part for that abounding optimism of the nineteenth century with which the spread of Christianity was so closely associated.
How far the mechanical inventions of the age were due to Christianity is also beyond accurate determination. That the confidence in an orderly universe and the impulse to venture on the unexplored which lay back of them, as of the science and the geographic expansion of the age, were to some extent from the Christian faith appears clear. Yet whether Christianity was the major source would be difficult either to prove or to disprove.
In the nineteenth-century spread of Christianity armed force had much less share than in any age since Constantine. To be sure, force was employed to blow open doors heretofore closed to the European and to subjugate non-European peoples. Because of their monopoly of the new machines, however, no war attendant upon the European conquests of the period was so prolonged or so exhausting for either victor or vanquished as had been many others. Victory was usually quickly achieved. V/hen barriers were blasted down, it was very infrequently for the purpose of protecting missionaries. The safety of missionaries was occasionally, as in the French conquests in Indo-China, made the excuse for imperialistic advance. Of the leading colonial powers France was most active in the support of missions. Yet the French governments which backed up Roman Catholic missionaries abroad were often anticlerical at home. Their favor was purely for political purposes.
For the majority of missionaries special undergirding by their governments was lacking. The leading colonial power, Great Britain, subsidized the schools of missionaries in her possessions. She did this, however, not because they were Christian but because they were schools. The United States, from which came more Protestant missionaries than from any other land except the British Isles, as a government gave no especial aid to them abroad. Some assistance was accorded mission schools among the Indians within the borders of the country, but this, as in the case of the British, was because they were schools and not because they were connected with churches. Usually governments interested themselves in the personal safety of missionaries in foreign lands and insisted that these emissaries of the churches be given their rights under the treaties, but they did this as they would for any of their citizens, regardless of occupation. British officials often resented the presence of missionaries as presumably prejudicial to trade and were more grudging in backing the legal rights of this group than of the merchants.
In its spread, Christianity was given much smaller financial assistance by governments, and was less under state control than in the preceding period. The Russian was the only government which continued in full the older tradition. It employed Christianity as an aid to the assimilation of non-Russian tribes. Yet Russian missions were numerically slight when compared with those of Protestants and Roman Catholics.
This decline in the use of force and of state control and financial aid was due in part to the growing separation of Church and state which characterized the nineteenth century.
The separation of Church and state arose from contradictory motives. On the one hand were religious skepticism and anticlericalism which sought to free the state from any control by the Church. On the other was a growing conviction among Christians that the Church was compromising itself and its message by an alliance with the state, which all too often meant control by civil officials who had little interest in seeing that the Church presented the Christian message in its purity. In some regions, as in the United States, Canada, and Australia, the separation was hastened by the objection of nonconforming churches to the establishment by the state of a particular denomination.
The lack of active support by the state was, however, chiefly from another feature of the expansion of Christianity in the nineteenth century, the very large participation of private enterprise. Never had so many societies arisen for the spread of Christianity. It was through these societies that the expansion of the faith was mainly achieved. Never had so large a proportion of the laity actively interested themselves in the propagation of the faith. In the first five centuries no extensive organization or considerable financial undergirding had been necessary for the spread of the Christian message. In the years between the fifth and the nineteenth century the vast majority of missionaries had been monks, professionally religious, and their financial support had come either from the labors of their own hands, from their converts, or from princes. In the nineteenth century, in contrast, millions of lay folk, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, contributed to the associations which maintained missionaries. These millions were only a minority of the total membership of the churches, but in the aggregate their numbers were very impressive. In some Protestant bodies the entire denomination constituted itself a missionary society and the ideal was proclaimed that every member should aid in the spread of the faith. More nearly than ever before, the propagation of Christianity became a popular enterprise, the concern of the rank and file of the parish clergy and of the church membership. In Protestant circles especially plans were deliberately laid for giving an intelligible knowledge of the Christian message to every living human being, and efforts were made to enlist in the achievement of this goal all Protestant Christians.
The prominence of private enterprise in the spread of the faith was closely associated with outstanding features of the nineteenth century—private initiative in business, laissez faire economics with a minimum of government control and support, and the growth of democracy. The close of the eighteenth and the nineteenth century witnessed a reaction against the economic mercantilism and the political absolutism of the preceding period. In place of the close control of life by the state, and of commerce by the state and by huge chartered companies, came individual enterprise, the curtailment of the powers of monarchs, the establishment of republics, the growth of democratic institutions, and the reduction of the power of the state to as low a point as possible. This trend was particularly marked in Anglo-Saxon lands. It was from these countries that the propagation of Protestant Christianity especially proceeded, and it was Protestant Christianity which had the greatest expansion in the nineteenth century. In local and city governments in Anglo-Saxon lands control by the central administration was comparatively slight. The citizen took an active interest in local, county, provincial, and national affairs. Industry and commerce were through innumerable individuals, partnerships, and stock companies. As the century wore on, some of the stock companies attained a portentous size and smaller concerns tended to be absorbed in them. As the century passed, moreover, government regulation of economic, intellectual, and social life increased. Yet in contrast with earlier periods the nineteenth century was marked by freedom for individual initiative and liberty of association for a great variety of undertakings. It is not surprising, therefore, that the surging new life in Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, and especially in Protestantism, found expression in multitudes of associations for the propagation of the faith. These came from both clergy and laity. In Roman Catholic circles they were required to have the approval of the hierarchy, but they usually began with humble folk and frequently with laymen and women. It is significant that the most prominent figure in the inception of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the leading organization formed in the nineteenth century for the collection of funds for Roman Catholic missions, was a woman, Pawline Jaricot, who was not even a nun. In Protestant Christianity laymen, women, and clergy were often associated. Women formed hundreds of societies, local, regional, and national, to assist in the spread of the faith. Children, too, were organized to give to Christian missions.
The prominence of private enterprise in the propagation of Christianity in the nineteenth century was only a phase of the multiplicity of organizations privately formed to attack the evils of society and to promote the improvement of individuals and of society. Antislavery societies, temperance and total abstinence leagues, the state and national antisaloon leagues, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, boards and associations for the support of libraries, hospitals, and the furtherance of education, peace societies, farmers’ leagues for cooperative buying and selling, co-operative stores, Sunday Schools, and Young Men’s and Young Women’s Christian Associations, are only a few of the many kinds of organizations which sprang up with the betterment of mankind as their objective. Some of these were avowedly Christian ‘in purpose and origin. Many others, although not expressly Christian, were initiated by those whose impulse was clearly from their Christian faith and drew their support largely from those who were active members of churches. Many contributors and promoters of these organizations who .had little or no connection with the churches and who might have repudiated conventional Christianity owed much of their purpose to contact with the Christian faith.
In the nineteenth century Protestantism was even more prolific in organizations than was Roman Catholicism. The privilege and duty of individual judgment which are of the essence of Protestantism did not prevent co-operation. In Protestantism there was less tolerance than in the Roman Catholic Church of dictation by the heads of ecclesiastical hierarchies, and the Protestant spirit found congenial the laissez faire atmosphere of the nineteenth century with its relative freedom from state control.
This was particularly true of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. The Lutheran Protestantism which was dominant on the Continent of Europe by long tradition accorded more power to the state than did much of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism and limited the areas in which the Christian spirit might impel individuals, as Christians, to take the initiative.
Much more than in earlier periods, many of the organizations through which the influence of Jesus made its way into society had only a tenuous connection with the churches or were entirely independent of them. Except in Eastern Europe, the churches were now more closely organized and more nearly distinct from the society about them in lands where Christianity was the prevailing religion than at any time since the first three centuries, Yet more than at any other time the impulses derived from Jesus were being transmitted to society by voluntarily formed associations which had no organic connection with the churches.
This was probably because Christianity had so long been present that ideals of Christian origin had become a part of the cultural possession of Western Europeans, often without awareness of their provenance. It was also because the background of many of these societies wa~ Protestant and Anglo-Saxon. In Anglo-Saxon Protestantism ecclesiastical divisions were more numerous than elsewhere. No one church included all in any one country who called themselves Christians, not even in the various portions of the British Isles, where state churches persisted. When Christians wished to join in an enterprise for the good of the entire community, nation, or world, they often did so in societies which were more inclusive than any one denomination.
One interesting result of this absence of an ecclesiastical connection of many of the bodies and institutions which historically owed their origin to Christia ~ was that numbers of them quickly became secularize . Earnest Christians brought them into being and saw them through the discouraging years of the struggle for existence. When they became better established they tended to pass into the control of those whose Christian faith was at best nominal and who might even disavow Christianity. Again and again this happened to schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, libraries, societies for international peace, and organizations for social reform. It was usually only when a fairly close relation was retained with some one of the churches that a Christian purpose was clearly conserved.
Yet through these many organizations of Christian origin, even when they became secularized, Jesus was making himself felt in human society. Often the connection with him might seem to be lost and could be traced only by painstaking search into the history of a particular body or movement. Sometimes the ideals derived from Jesus became very attenuated and were partly or entirely nullified by tendencies which entered in the course of secularization. However, in general through them the influence of Jesus was spreading and was modifying human culture. The conformation to the standards of Jesus was never complete. At times the influence was very slight. At others it was marked.
As we have suggested, these extra-ecclesiastical movements for the alteration of society were particularly characteristic of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. In Continental European Protestantism the transformation of society was not so prominent as an objective. Moreover, the churches were more closely controlled by the state than in Anglo-Saxon lands. The Roman Catholic hierarchy insisted, so far as it was able, on keeping under ecclesiastical control the various organizations to which the members of its flock belonged.
Among the non-Christian peoples to which Christianity was now carried, the Roman Catholics emphasized the building of the Church. Protestants, on the other hand, while planting churches, gave much attention to the transformation of the entire culture. They had, accordingly, more immediate effect upon a culture as a whole. In China, for instance, where Roman Catholics entered much earlier than Protestants and in 1914 were several times more numerous, they had much less effect upon the country. Whether for the far future Roman Catholics had acted more wisely than Protestants still remains to be seen. So far as past experience goes to show, the influence of Jesus is perpetuated through some kind of continuing community of Christians, one which is avowed and specifically Christian. That is, it goes on only through what in the broad sense of that term is a church. Even when an organization is formed because of an impulse derived ultimately from Jesus but is not primarily intended to be a company of his followers, it tends rather quickly to be secularized and to lose his spirit and so to cease to be a channel through which he can continue to have an effect on mankind. Presumably wherever such enduring Christian communities are not founded, Christianity will wane. However, for at least the period between AD. 1815 and A.D. 1914, Protestant Christianity, giving rise through its churches to movements for the transformation of society which often had little organic connection with the Church, was having a wider effect in mediating the influence of Jesus to the world than was Roman Catholic Christianity.
Protestant Christianity, indeed, had a much larger place in shaping mankind as a whole than at any time since its origin. From the standpoint of the history of Christianity, the nineteenth century was the Protestant century. This pre-eminence was both in the geographic spread of Christianity and in the shaping of human culture.
The relative prominence of Protestant Christianity was obviously due at least partly to two factors, the leading place which predominantly Protestant peoples had in the expansion of Europe and in the invention and development of the mechanical appliances which characterized the age, and the association of Protestantism with the democracy and the private enterprise which marked the period.
In the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries the European powers with the largest overseas possessions had been Roman Catholic Spain and Portugal. Roman Catholicism had, therefore, the major share in the spread of the faith. In the nineteenth century the outstanding colonial empire was built by Great Britain, which was predominantly Protestant. Notable, too, for its rapid growth in territory, population, and wealth was a nation which had begun as part of the British Empire, the United States, in which Protestantism was also in the ascendancy. Great Britain owed her prominence in no small measure to the fact that the Industrial Revolution originated within her borders and that she long held the leadership in the mechanical appliances and industrial organization of the new age. The United States enjoyed its rapid growth partly because it early introduced the new machines and utilized them on an enormous scale in the development of its virgin resources. The commerce of Great Britain grew apace and London became the largest city and the financial capital of the world. The domestic commerce of the United States also displayed a phenomenal development and the wealth of the country mounted as though its people had possession of Aladdin’s lamp. When these two nations were so prominent it was natural that the Protestantism which was part of their culture also expanded. The exuberance which characterized the economic and political life of these countries was also seen in their religious life.
In general, although not exclusively, British Protestant missions were in British possessions or in lands, such as China, which had been forced open to Western commerce by the British. The chief expansion of the Protestantism of the United States was within the rapidly growing borders of that country. Overseas it was largely, although by no means entirely, in lands in which British missions, from related Protestant denominations, were active; in islands, the Philippines and Puerto Rico, which had come under the flag of the United States; in Japan, which the United States had led in opening to the outside world; in Hawaii, with which the commerce of the United States had provided contacts; and in Latin America, where geographic propinquity and the common possession of alleged republican institutions had nourished in the people of the United States an emotional interest.
Protestantism, and especially Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, had strong kinship with the democracy and the individual enterprise of the nineteenth century. It flourished in that atmosphere. It was in Anglo-Saxon Protestantism, as we have suggested, that the majority of the organizations for the spread of Christianity and the reform of society had their origin. The voluntary gifts of Anglo-Saxon Protestants provided most of the funds with which they were supported. Leadership came largely from Great Britain and the United States. It was significant that the language of most of the Protestant international missionary gatherings was English.
The important, question arises as to whether this prominence of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism was because of the economic and political position of Great Britain and the United States or whether the latter was due to the particular type of Protestantism which prevailed in these lands. Or were both the product of some other factor or factors? Geographic position and natural resources certainly accounted in some degree for the hegemony of Great Britain. Nearness to the Continent of Europe and yet a separation which permitted partial isolation from Europe’s wars proved of enormous advantage. The possession of coal and iron, important minerals in nineteenth-century industry, was undoubtedly an asset. Race may have played a role, mixed though ..the human corn position of the British Islands was. It seems an indolent evasion of basic problems to say that we do not know the answer to the questions with which this paragraph opened. The problem is unquestionably basic. Unfortunately it is also as yet insoluble. It has been said that capitalism, of which Great Britain and the United States were the outstanding representatives, is to a large degree a product of Calvinism, and Calvinism was an important ingredient of nineteenth-century Anglo-Saxon Protestantism. Yet the causal connection between Calvinism and capitalism is challenged and is, to say the least, highly doubtful. It is clear that Anglo-Saxon Protestantism made a marked contribution to the political democracy and the responsible individualism of the nineteenth-century Great Britain and United States. It shared in their birth and modified their development. The sturdy sense of public and private duty, the benevolence, the conviction of responsibility for the welfare of subject peoples, and the attitude toward wealth as a public trust, which were so marked, clearly had roots in the type of Protestantism which prevailed among Anglo-Saxon peoples. Whether, however, without this Protestantism, democracy and individualism would have come into being, although in somewhat different form, and whether Great Britain and the United States would have been so prominent in nineteenth-century empire building we do not and probably cannot know.
During most of the nineteenth century the French took the lead in Roman Catholic missions among non-European peoples. It was in France that the chief societies for the collection of funds for Roman Catholic missions began. More Roman Catholic missionaries to non-Christian peoples came from France than from any other one country. This was in spite of the fact that during the latter half of the century there was a growing defection in France from the Roman Catholic Church. Of the traditionally Roman Catholic powers, France led in acquiring an overseas empire in the nineteenth century. Between this prominence of the French in Roman Catholic missions and the building of the French colonial empire a connection undoubtedly existed. Some of the energy which displayed itself in acquiring the political and economic empire also found a channel in the creation of an ecclesiastical empire. The French Government, as we have said, gave active support to French missions.
Perhaps in the parallel between the relation of the spread of Protestantism to the growth of the British Empire and of the United States, and of Roman Catholic missions among non-Europeans to the construction of the French colonial empire, lies in part the answer to our problem. The consciousness that an empire was in building stimulated earnest Christians to take advantage of the situation to spread the faith and gave them open doors for their endeavors. The growing wealth acquired by industry and commerce provided means for the support of missions. Yet but for strong religious conviction open doors would not have been entered and money would not have been contributed.
The combination of imperialism and religious energy as important in the nineteenth-century spread of Christianity is borne out by the record in the smaller colonial empires. In the extensive remnants of the Portuguese holdings of previous centuries Roman Catholic missions were predominant, but the clergy from somnolent Portugal were not so energetic as those from vigorous France. In the Dutch possessions, especially in the East Indies, the majority of missionaries were Dutch, and of these the majority were Protestant, with a growing minority from the mounting Roman Catholic population of the Netherlands. They proved resourceful and active, as was to be expected from the vitality in Holland. Until late in the century Germany was without colonies,’ but the abounding life in the country found partial outlet in Protestant and Roman Catholic missions, largely in the British and Dutch territories and in China and the Near East.
However, as we have said earlier, the Christian missions of the nineteenth century, although often associated closely with commercial and political imperialism, were to a lesser degree tools of that imperialism than in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, and even than in the Middle Ages. They were not so much employed as instruments of the secular arm as they had been by the princes of the period of recession which preceded the Middle Ages. The growing separation of Church and state was being paralleled by a declining utilization of the Christian faith as a reinforcement of the secular ambition of the political authorities.
Women took an important place in the spread of the faith and in the application of the principles of Christianity to current problems. In earlier centuries they had had little active part in the propagation of Christianity among non-Christian peoples. To no small degree this had been because the physical dangers and hardships incident to the career of a missionary ruled them out. In the nineteenth century they constituted an increasing proportion of the missionary staff of the Roman Catholic and Protestant enterprises and had a large share in raising the funds for the support of missions. Their participation reflected on the one hand the growing peace and order which characterized the latter part of the century before A.D. 1914 and the added ease of travel and on the other the emancipation of women in the Occident and their entrance into activities and professions formerly reserved for men.
The circulation of the Bible, especially of the New Testament, had an augmented role in the spread of Christianity, and particularly of Protestant Christianity. For this the Protestant emphasis upon the reading of the Bible by laity and clergy was partly responsible. The multiplied use of the printed page made possible by the machine contributed to it. The circulation of the standard accounts of his life and teachings among both Christians and non-Christians helped to make Jesus vivid to more millions than ever before.
Among all these agencies and factors which in the nineteenth century contributed to the extension of Christianity and of the influence of Jesus in the affairs of mankind, as heretofore, the Church had the central place. It is true that more of the organizations and movements which multiplied the impact of Christianity had a merely tenuous connection with the Church than in previous ages. Yet it was through the Church in one or another of its many forms that the continuing current of Christian life found its main channel.
Moreover, it was the abounding life within Christianity which was chiefly responsible for the remarkable and growing effect of the faith upon mankind. That life was favored by a number of factors, some of them only remotely connected with it. Often it ran counter to some of the most powerful forces of the century. As in previous centuries, it was this inner vitality which was the outstanding cause of the persistence and spread of the influence of Jesus.
It must be noted, however, that in A.D. 1914 Christianity was still primarily identified with European peoples. It had been planted widely. There were few nations or tribes among whom it did not possess contingents. Yet among non-European peoples—except the dwindling remnants of Eastern churches in the Moslem Near East—the leadership of the Christian communities was still chiefly of European stock and the financial undergirding was primarily from Christians of European blood in Europe, America, and, to a less extent, Australasia. Christianity had been scattered around the world, but, except for a few remnants of old churches in the Near East and India, it is doubtful whether it had yet taken firm root among any non-European people.
Viewed 71052 times.