Tuesday, 20 September 2016


Dr. Bellows, an American minister, who has lately made the tour of Europe, speaks thus unfavourably of the condition of religion in the old world : —

In Paris, there is a great show of religious education, without insisting urgently on ecclesiastical dogmas. Modern Catholics say very little about doctrine, but seek to recommend their religion by good works. The Church has a prodigious hold on the common people ; the middle class are rather apathetic than hostile to it; while the fashion of the cultivated class is sceptical, materialistic, atheistic, especially with young men. Protestantism makes no impression. It has never been popular in France, and seems to find no soil for its modern growth. In Germany, there is a great decay in the faith and spirituality of the people. The Catholic Church has great influence in some regions as a political power and a mighty superstition; but where it has died out nothing vigorous has shot up in its place. The people have settled into a decorous, aesthetic materialism ; but are without aspiration, devoutness, or faith in the invisible. Protestantism enters very little into national, social, or domestic life. The instinct for God and immortality appears to be asleep, and the prospect is that Christian faith and worship will for same time to come undergo a farther natural decay on the Continent.

There is, of course, a religious body in Germany, and it is in the main soundly orthodox in its theology. In Berlin and other great cities you find Protestant churches well attended, especially by women, where the preaching, if a little sentimental and vague, is still earnest and evangelical, and where the prayers and hymns are very thorough in their orthodoxy. The general participation in the singing gives much warmth to the worship. This is true also of the German Catholic worship, where, unlike other Catholic churches, the people universally sing, and seem really interested in and to be helping in the worship. There, however, it is only the humbler class that attends. But three manifestations are exceptional. This kind of faith is against the grain and spirit of the time. Evangelicism is maintained in the Protestant Church by prodigious effort on the part of a few anxious and faithful souls, alarmed at the general tendencies of thought and life, and willing to shut their own eyes and the eyes of others if only so the old confidence and the old piety can be upheld or brought back. Meanwhile the intelligence, the political aspiration, the science and philosophy, the experience and courage of the community are all leaning the other way. The universities, as a rule, are favouring the secular and non-religious view and feeling. Tho savans and meta-physicians are mostly openly or covertly sceptics and positivists. A few months ago, at one of the universities, the birthday of one of the most venerable and popular of the professors was celebrated with literary and social festivities, and after dinner, it is said, in an address to the company, he openly boasted of his atheism. Hegelianism seems to be the prevailing philosophy, and while its right wing is cautiously respectful to Christian faith, its left is, less dangerously perhaps, denunciatory of it. The labours of Strauss have produced more effect than we are aware of among the educated minds of Germany. The authenticity and genuineness of the Gospels, it seems vary largely assumed, have been finally discredited. Miracles, few scholarly men, not tied to official necessities, have the courage to treat with the least respect. It seems settled, at least for the time, by the physicists of England and the savans and metaphysicians of France and Germany, that whatever else may be true about Christianity there is no need of considering any farther the possibility of events like the resurrection. Is is possible for Christianity, as an institution or a religion, to survive the prevalence of opinions so radically destructive as this ?

Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1875), Monday 17 August 1868, page 4

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