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Daniel Schenkel: Excerpts from The German Protestant Association (1868)

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Moreover, there is no question in our minds, as well, that the religious – or more precisely, the ecclesiastical – state of affairs of our day is unsatisfactory, that it is in need of thorough renewal and improvement. Let us speak first of the German nation only. If a nation is at odds with its church, this poses a great danger to national life. By renouncing the church, it will either simultaneously renounce religion, as well, which is so easily confused with the church, and along with religion it will lose the true moral content, its power and sacredness; or it will split religiously into a multitude of sects and special parties, and thus lose one of the most fruitful sources of its unity and coherence. You will say: religious unity ceased to exist for us Germans with the Reformation in any case. We don’t deny that. But Protestantism was at least a national creation. The German people, in spite of its confessional split, is the people of the Reformation; until now, German Catholics who are not Roman but patriotic in spirit had in Protestantism a protective wall against Roman infringements. The dissolution of Protestantism would pose not only an immense religious, but also a terrible national and political danger. We have an entirely benevolent attitude toward Catholicism, provided it does not pursue goals inimical to culture and does not seek to renew the horror of Jesuitical intolerance and priestly mania for persecution; it may continue its religious and cultural-historical mission unobstructed, as long as it does not keep us Protestants from pursuing our own. However, the religion of the modern world is Protestantism: only it has understood Christianity in a way that the nations that have come of age are able to understand and adopt in the long run. It is our belief that the future belongs to Protestantism to the same degree that it is able to realize its principles in the life of nations and states, and to cast off the theological fetters with which he, the youthful giant, constrained his still-awkward limbs already three centuries ago.

We have now already reached the point from which we are able to justify the birth of our association in greater detail. Protestantism is Christianity in the form of religious truth and moral freedom. In keeping with its basic convictions, it can be content only with the highest and complete truth, and to attain this goal it requires unconditional freedom that does not shrink in fear from any consequences. Protestantism broke with the medieval form of Christianity in three ways. First, it rejects all priestly mediation, all priestly rule. Second, it demands an autonomous recognition of faith, a personal conviction of conscience: a faith that is merely traditional and adopted has no value for it. Third, it places no importance in external forms: the peace of the soul, the communion with God is, in its eyes, independent from them. In the same way that Christianity itself was not able to pervade the world immediately with its new ideas, Protestantism was unable to realize its principles in full purity and strength without delay. The Catholic leaven that was still left within it once again suffused the community it established. The rule of Catholic priests was replaced by the Protestant rule of theology; independent convictions of faith by a dependent faith of a traditional and confessional faith; Catholic rules and ceremonies by Protestant dogmas and formulas, which, as on the issue of the Eucharist, caused an irreparable rift even among Protestants themselves; the living pope in Rome by a paper pope, namely the Bible that was simply declared to be inspired and therefore infallible.

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