But it has another connotation: that the liberal world has become so weak that the Pope doesn’t need to be afraid of it any more. This was our error – Dr. Niebuhr’s and myself – that we thought he would respect the Protestants and the humanists – -perhaps even the Communists all over the world, and not put himself in a position that almost everybody would speak of the superstitious attitude of the Roman church, in making such a dogma. But he was not afraid – and probably he was right, because the very weak Protestant resistance against this and similar things cannot hurt the Catholic church any more. And the humanist opposition is almost non- existent because humanism itself is in a process of self-disintegration. And the greatness of the existentialists is that they describe this disintegration, but they themselves are in the midst of it.
Now this is the situation, and in this situation an understanding of the Roman church is more needed by all of you, in your actual ministry, than it was in the last hundred years We are threatened by all forms of totalitarianism and authoritarianism. Now 1 distinguish between totalitarianism and authoritarianism: Rome is not totalitarian – only a state can be; but Rome is authoritarian, and exercises many functions which otherwise totalitarian states have exercised. So the question which the existence of Catholicism puts before us is the question whether, with the end of the liberal era, liberalism at all will come to an end. This leads me to the question, which is very near to my heart, whether with the end of the Protestant era, the Protestant principle will also come to an end. This leads us to the problem of the Reformation.
Now I will deal with this large problem in a very short survey, after having agreed with Professor Handy that in view of the fact that you come from Protestant traditions and are nourished, so to speak, with Protestant ideas, you do not need this as much as you need a knowledge of the ancient and medieval Church. I am not so sure that you don’t need it and for the very reason that the kind of Protestantism which developed in this country is not very much an expression of the Reformation, but has much more to do with the so-called Evangelical Radicals, and their influence on the forms of Protestantism as they have developed in this country. On the other hand, there are the Lutheran and Calvinistic groups, and they are strong; but they have adapted themselves to an astonishing degree to the climate of American Protestantism; and this climate is not made by them but by the sectarian movements. Therefore when I came here 20 years ago, the Reformation theology was almost unknown in Union Theological Seminary, because of the different traditions and the reduction of the Protestant tradition more to the non- Reformation traditions.
So I hope that when next fall Professor Pauck comes and gives his treatment of the Reformation, in the one and one-half year course on Church history – which will replace this one lecture I gave to you – then you will have much more occasion and better guidance for a full study of the Reformation. In any case, today I will put the Reformation into the broad sweep of Church-historical development.