Friday, 6 December 2013


The Dean of Sydney struck the right note when he said at the LUTHER demonstration on Monday evening, that the first principle of the Reformation is the principle of freedom. That is not only the first principle of the Reformation ; it is the one principle of the Reformation that has made it a blessing to mankind. LUTHER lived to protest against what he deemed the errors of the Papacy, but the chief battle of his life was against its domination. In an age in which ecclesiastical authority was the supreme authority, he uttered his protest and stuck to it, and by sticking to it revolutionised Germany, and to no small extent the world. In the utterance of this protest he was not alone. There were reformers before LUTHER, there have been reformers since, but of all the reformers he was the boldest and the ablest, and perhaps the most disinterested and honest. It is not, however, with LUTHER the man that the world is chiefly concerned. It would be easy to point out flaws in the Reformer's character and defects in his work. That he said and did many unwise things he would be the first to acknowledge. It is as needless to argue that Luther had no shortcomings as it is useless to maintain that ho had no excellences. On neither side of the controversy is very much gained by personal accusations. The cause of Protestantism is as little helped by stories of the wrongdoings of the Popes as that of Catholicism is by dissertations on the flippancies and inconsistencies of MARTIN LUTHER. The employment of weapons of this character may gratify personal or sectarian feeling; but it does not do very much for the cause of truth and righteousness. It is not with the men but with the systems that the world is chiefly concerned. For the present purposes of mankind it does not matter very much whether LUTHER'S motives were all pure, or whether his methods were all   admirable. It has not been the habit of reformers to fight their battles with smooth words. From his enemies LUTHER got a good deal of rough language, and he paid them back in their own coin. Many of the faults on both sides were the faults of the time, not of the men. Without question the Reformer said much that be might as well have left unsaid, But for the sake of the work the world can overlook any defects in the worker. LUTHER found his country and his age in bondage ; to some extent at least he left them free, He asserted the right to think and act for himself, and he continued to do this notwithstanding the remonstrances and the maledictions of the Church and the State. He fought for the right to differ from the Church, and for that of publicly stating his differences. In a time when dissent was not only held to be a sin but a crime—and a crime punishable with death—he dared to dissent.  Audacious he may have been ; but in an age that was remarkable for its superstitions and vices he demanded reform, and a reform that not only embraced but that started with spiritual liberty.

There are still those who think that the cause for which LUTHER fought is a doubtful one. Not only within the Roman Catholic Church but beyond it there are men for whom LUTHER is no example. It is said that there are sections of Protestantism in which faith in the Protestant Reformation is on the decline. What is wanted it is held is not freedom but submission. Instead of listening to their individual judgment people must listen to the Church. In one of the ablest of his public deliverances Archbishop Vaughan maintained not only that the Church is the rightful authority, but that there is little hope for mankind until it submits to that authority. The right of the individual judgment he maintained is the right to do wrong, Nor can it be denied that there are drawbacks on the side of freedom as well as on that of authority. Either principle has its dangers. "Like the two horses" says Mr. FROUDE, "which in Plato's fable draw the chariot of the soul through the vaults of heaven, two principles work side by side in evolving the progress of humanity—the principle of liberty, and the principle of authority. Liberty unchecked rushes into anarchy and license; authority, if it has no antagonism to fear, stagnates into torpor or degenerates into tyranny." The new life has its drawbacks as well as the old one. It may be questioned, however, whether the world has suffered as much from the abuses of liberty as it has suffered from those of authority. The Reformation may have its evils, but the opinion of millions will be that it has been an incalculable gain to the world. It if has lowered the pretensions of hierarchies, it has elevated the race. In Germany the spread of the Reformation meant the spread of knowledge, and in Germany as elsewhere knowledge has proved itself to be power. Although freedom has its incidental evils, in its heart the world believes that liberty is better than bondage However ill the Papacy itself may think of Martin Luther, in more than one part of the world it has had to identify itself with his cause. The only difference is that while LUTHER protested against the tyranny of the Church, the Church has protested against the tyranny of the State. In France, and in Germany itself, the Papacy has uttered its protest on behalf of freedom, and sometimes it has not done this without cause. It may be pointed out also that while the principles of the Reformation have been moulding the world they have been exercising an influence over the Church. In some respects the Papacy may be always the same, but in others it is very different from what it once was. It may also be remarked that while some men think only of the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism, others prefer to think of what the two systems have in common. "Even among Protestants," said the POPE in a letter which was published the other day, "many possessed of keen intellect and impartial judgment have laid aside not a few prejudices, and, constrained by the force of truth, have not hesitated to praise the civilising and beneficial influence of the Papacy on politics." This is no doubt true ; but what is true of Protestants in regard to Catholicism may be hold to be true of Catholics in regard to Protestantism. On both sides the rights of freedom are much more generally admitted than they were even a century ago. 

It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that the cause for which LUTHER fought is already a triumphant one. Every day furnishes its proofs that such is not the case. A considerable part of the lesson of the Reformation has yet to be learnt, and it has to be learnt by Protestants as well as by Roman Catholics. This is an aspect of the subject that is well worthy of attention, but not very much was said about it on Monday night. Persons who talk of freedom of speech and freedom of worship are apt to forget that what was good for the fifteenth century is good for the nineteenth, and that the rights of their fellow creatures are as sacred as their own rights. It will not be forgotten that it is possible to celebrate a demonstration for a dead reformer to-day, and to celebrate one against a living reformer to-morrow The fashion of building the tombs of the prophets and of stoning those who are sent to us is not an entirely obsolete one. Those who are familiar with what is going on in the world need not be told that, so far as spiritual freedom is concerned, there is not much to choose between Protestant Geneva and Catholic Rome In a paragraph. which we published on Monday, it was stated that even now " on one day Bibles are burned in pious auto da fe in a Spanish market place, and the next freethinker is flung into gaol in London under a blasphemy law as antiquated as a thumbscrew. Eastern Europe rings with savage maledictions against the Jews, who,on the strength of mediƦval calumnies, are abandoned to the vengeance of brutalised mobs. In Madagascar, French freethinkers, espousing the cause of Jesuit propagandists, imprison English missionaries, while the Ministers who despatched Admiral PIERRE to Tamatave ply the pickaxe and crowbar in order to banish the religious order from France. Last of all, the authorities of Neuchatel, in a Republic once priding itself upon being the European shrine of religious liberty, cast an English girl into gaol for no other offence than that of having taken part in a religious meeting." In a day in which all this can happen it can hardly be said that the battle of the Reformation has been fought, or that there is no need for a LUTHER demonstration.

 The Sydney Morning Herald  14 November 1883,

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