We now pass to the last section in the exposition of our subject. The Christian Religion in Protestantism.
Anyone who looks at the external condition of Protestantism, especially in Germany, may, at first sight, well exclaim: “What a miserable spectacle!” But no one can survey the history of Europe from the second century to the present time without being forced to the conclusion that in the whole course of this history the greatest movement and the one most pregnant with good was the Reformation in the sixteenth century; even the great change, which took place at the transition to the nineteenth is inferior to it in importance. What do all our discoveries and inventions and our advances in outward civilisation signify in comparison with the fact that to-day there are thirty millions of Germans, and many more millions of Christians outside Germany, who possess a religion without priests, without sacrifices, without ‘ fragments’ of grace, without ceremonies—a spiritual religion!
Protestantism must be understood, first and foremost, by the contrast which it offers to Catholicism, and here there is a double direction which any estimate of it must take, first as Reformation and secondly as Revolution. It was a reformation in regard to the doctrine of salvation; a revolution in regard to the Church, its authority, and its apparatus. Hence Protestantism is no spontaneous phenomenon, created as it were by a “generacio equivoca”; but, as its very name implies, it was called into being by the misdeeds of the Roman Church having become intolerable. It was the close of a long series of cognate but ineffectual attempts at reform in the Middle Ages. If the position which it thus holds in history proves its continuity with the past, the fact is still more strongly in evidence in its own and not inappropriate contention that it was not an innovation in regard to religion, but a restoration and renewal of it. But from the point of view of the Church and its authority Protestantism was undoubtedly a revolutionary phenomenon. We must, then, take account of it in both these relations.