Clement Theodore Perthes.

Memoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) online

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book a Protestant one, because a Catholic, on whom it tells,
cannot remain at that point where bigotry would fain arrest
him. A convulsive excitement must ere long arise within the
Catholic Church. Its artistic framework is inviolable, they
say ; but no veto can hinder that inner life, which is now work-
ing in many of its members, from one day bursting the frame-
work to pieces."

About this time Perthes received many suggestive communi-
cations from his old Catholic friends ; from F. Schlegel, the fol-
lowing: — "Failing a personal interview, let us shake hands, as
Christians and friends, over the small stream that separates us.
Who knows how soon the flowers of the world's new spring-
time, and the palm-trees of eternal peace in heaven, may grow
over and hide that too ; for in very deed I cannot feel myself
really separated from a man like you : God forbid ! — I am now
occupied with the collection of my works. It is an undertak-
ing full of moment to Germany, if it be understood, and,
whether understood or not, full of moment to me, because it is


the outcome of my wliole life and knowledge, and, for tliat
very reason, the entrance also into a higher state of being,
where eternal truth will be taught, or rather proclaimed anew.
When these eighteen or twenty volumes are completed, I shall
be at liberty to begin a new life ; and I mean to devote all that
remains of my earthly span to researches in Christianity or
theology, if this be the better name — scientific indeed, yet plain
and luminous to all who bring with them a Christian spirit."

The following delightfully naive letter from the librarian of
the Augustine monastery, near Linz, gives us a peep into the
quiet life of a recluse, which forms a strong contrast to the
agitated career of F. Schlegel : — " Like many of our elder
brethren, I am a great friend of the Greek and Roman authors,
especially of the former. Perhaps I value them too highly ;
but they have been my benefactors, and I owe them much. I
confess, that, after the New Testament, I know no sort of book
capable of imparting more strength and encouragement than
one of the Greek authors ; and encouragement we greatly
need, not only because of the general assault on monasteries,
but because the strangers who visit us vainly try to conceal,
under external politeness, their real opinion that we are the
ghosts of an obsolete world, and obstacles in the way of human
progress. I also confess to the weakness of librarians in general,
that, namely, of accepting with pleasure presents of books. This
weakness is especially pardonable in me, who have been libra-
rian to the monastery now five-and-twenty years, and am well
acquainted with the history of literature, but want the money
to buy what I would ; for all that Protestant writers, and some
even of our own co-religionists have imagined of monastic
wealth, is but the silly idle talk of, for the most part, young


people. It may have been otherwise with our predecessors ;
for they have certainly left us a fine house, and a fine collec-
tion of books, pictures, and coins. But we of the present day
must be content, if we can only parta tueri (keep what we've
got.) And now, after this long introduction, a prayer. If you
are personally acquainted with Gurlitt, Director of the Johan-
neum (a Gymnasium) in Hamburgh, please remember me
respectfully to him. Some years ago he spent a couple of days
with us, and promised to send us his writings for our library ;
but he has not yet done so. I must beg you, however, not to
take this matter too seriously. Gurlitt is now advanced in life,
and, like many other aged scholars, may be somewhat irrit-
able. Then again, his religious and ecclesiastical views are in
glaring opposition to mine, and his later writings might bring
me into trouble, or indeed might never reach us, owing to the
strictness of the Austrian censorship, which, however, is not,
after all, in my opinion injurious either to the people or to
true learning. I should like Greek authors best of all ; if Gur-
litt, for instance, in a fit of good humour, should only be
pleased to give certain Hamburgh editions, say the Dion Cas-
sius of Reimarus, and Wolf's Female Poets, a place in our
library, as a memorial of his visit, that would be ample ; but
he will probably let it alone."

In these years Rationalism gave itself out for true Protest-
antism, and regarded all opposition as an attack on the prin-
ciples of the Reformation ; when, therefore, opposition came
from Protestants, which it often did, because orthodox Protest-
ants saw that infidelity, not Catholicism, was the danger most
to be dreaded, the Rationalists declared that Catholicism was
gaining ground even among Protestants, and assailed the Ca-


tliolic doctrines with all the more bitterness on that account. On
this subject Perthes wrote in 1822 : " It is not honest to attack
Catholicism, as is now done, when in fact Christianity is meant.
Now, as formerly, under pretext of uncovering the nakedness
of Popery, one book after another of Scripture is brought
under suspicion, humility declared to be a base and cowardly
disposition, sin and redemption to bo mere scare-crows of cle-
rical invention." Again : " There are two sorts of men on
whom I would not waste a single word. First, those to whom
good and evil arc all one, who take God for a mere good-natured
being, and content themselves with the visible, making no
account of others who cannot be so easily contented ; se-
condly, those who, in their own estimation, have no sins to be
forgiven, and care not a straw for the poor devil who is tor-
mented by anxiety for his salvation. If men of this stamp
denounce me as a Catholic, I accept the name, since what they
call Catholic is Christian."

Some of Perthes' Protestant correspondents administered
strong antidotes to his sympathy with Catholicism. Thus
Neander : " I had only one interview with N. N. at Vienna,
and he left on me, as on you, the imj^ression of a really earnest
man ; yet I must say that he is involved in a sophistical self-
deception. This modern, inflated, pretentious, yet contemptible
Catholicism, which makes the kingdom of our Lord Jesus
Christ a kingdom of this world, and can very well put u-p with
our Hegelian Christianity here, I hold in special abomination.
It is better adapted to Lamaism than to the Gospel. God
keep us from these apostates, and their confederates, w^ho can
make a covenant with the philosophy of the age."

When, on the accession of Charles X. in 1824, the ultra.-


montane party got the upper hand in France, the public
feeling of that country turned with deep resentment against
the Jesuits as the real masters of the king and the Villele
ministry. Tliat feeling spread also throughout Germany, and
the suspicion that the Catholic priests and their satellites
aimed at a monopoly of education and political influence, pre-
vailed almost as extensively among Catholics as Protestants.
In November 1824 a friend thus wrote to Perthes :—" With
incredible energy the Jesuits are everywhere raising their
heads, and increasing their numbers. The next attack, it is
supposed, will be made on the Bible Societies ; and it is quite
possible that, in a few years, they, like the freemasons' lodges,
will be banished from the Continent to England. Do you not
believe in the Jesuits yet ? The late cawing of the old crow
in Heidelberg is ominous enough, and betokens foul weather.
The holy fathers are clearing tlie ground ; and it is doubtful
whether they will content themselves this time, as before, with
a slow ascent, or will not rather, to avenge their headlong fall,
shoot up, like rockets, to the summit of power." Here is Per-
thes' answer : — " You must know a great deal more about the
Jesuits than I do, and I beg you to give me some details regard-
ing their machinery ; for, Avhen I consider the present state of
society, I can neither understand how they are to advance, nor,
consequently, why they should be dreaded. Do they insist on
a stricter discipline among Catholics, on a more rigid adherence
to church forms ? do they aim at subjecting the State to the
Church, and the bishops to Rome ? or do they want to unite
Church and State for the suppression of political liberty ? If
they insist on all this, how can they possibly bring it about,
things being as they are ? Least of all can I see any danger


to Protestants. Or is proselytism the bugbear that frightens
you ? That truly would be a mountain bringing forth a
mouse I" Perthes received in answer : — " What do the Jesuits
want ? First and before all, they want to rule over the minds
and property of men. That is little, and yet everything. Their
great strength lies, not in gaining this or that particular ad-
vantage, but in sailing with every wind. Enemies to freedom
of thought, speech, and action, they influence courts through
the most varied mediums, filling princes with distrust and fear,
now driving them to measures of violent compression, now
putting into their mouths soft words and fair speeches, and
alvvays with infinite tact turning to profit the business of the
hour. It is not their spiritual but their temporal power that
I dread. I do not, indeed, envy them their spiritual virtues, but
I envy them this, that they hold together and work as one man.''
In January 1826, Niebuhr wrote to Perthes : — " You say you
stand to Catholicism as east to north. This was only right
during the low estate of Catholicism, when diversity of views
was alone in question. Now, however, everything bad has
been revived, the whole priestly system, with its gigantic
schemes of conquest and subjugation ; nor can it be doubted
that religious wars themselves are contemplated and in prepa-
ration. We must therefore take good care not to become the
tools of these people. I bless God that Stolberg was taken
away in time, for he would have yielded to their craft. Who-
ever lives in a Catholic district of Germany, as I do, must ob-
serve that scholars and laymen generally are exactly like our-
selves, but that a curse of stupidity or baseness, or of both,
rests on the clergy, and that the converters and champions of
the Church-militant are the devil's own."


Perthes himself was well aware that, about 1825, the rela-
tion of Catholics to Protestants underwent a change which
imposed a more decided attitude on both. In 1829 he thus
wrote to Windischmann in Bonn : — " Although the last four
years have not been fmitful in events, they have yet paved the
way for changes not less important perhaps than those of the
16th century. Whilst the Catholic Church has become more
Romish and prelatical, the Protestant clergy stand drawn up
in battle array. The fate of Stolberg's mild and conciliating
History of Religion is to me a sign of the times. Pious Protes-
tants, who welcomed it once, condemn it now ; and whereas it
was at first little heeded by Catholics, and then from the
year 1814 zealously circulated even by the most rigid among
them, they now regard it with suspicion : the vicar-general in
Vienna has opposed its circulation, and pious priests tell me
that they dare not publicly recommend it. The time is gone
when devout Catholics and Protestants could feel themselves
to be one in faith."

That Perthes entertained no hostile feeling to the Catholics
appears from the following, addressed to Klinkowstrom in
Vienna in 1829 : — " We lived together when we were very
young, and saw but dimly into the lot of man, although events
were then throwing a broad light upon it. We next met in
Vienna in 1816. 1 well remember the controversy that blazed
up between us, as we returned from the dinner-table and wines
of Herr von Gentz : we were both uproarious ; but let that
pass. Neither of us can now be far from that eternal king-
dom, where we shall distinguish better between substance and
form, in which latter alone, I am sure, we differ now. Adam
Muller is gone. I never mistook him ; but was always per-

228 LIFE OF PERTHES. ' " o '

suaded that lie earnestly contended for what he supposed to be
truth. He was an acute thinker, had a lively fancy, genius,
and extensive learning. His grand error, as an author, seems
to me to have been that he etherealized positive ascertained
truth into poetry, and petrified the creations of his own fancy
into a scholastic theory. His works will live in our literature/'
Though always admiring the gigantic organization of the
Roman Catholic Church, Perthes never admitted its claims to
truth, unity, and perpetuity. He thus expresses himself : —
" The numerous religious practices common to the Catholic
Church everywhere give it a great appearance of unity ; but
wherever a real life, quite other than that of everyday custom,
prevails among its members, there they differ from each other
not less than Protestants. Hitherto the Catholic Church has
been oppressed in the north of Europe ; in the extreme south,
on the other hand, though mistress, she has fallen behind
intellectually ; and, accordingly, the masses there are on the
highway to apostasy not only from Catholicism but from Chris-
tianity. In Austria and Bavaria again, the newly awakened
spiritual life found vent in the extravagances of mysticism.
In all Europe the controversy about the headship of the Church
rages not less violently among Catholics, than that about the
Church itself among Protestants : and throughout Germany
the number of Catholics is increasing who regard the Reforma-
tion as a necessary evil ; and they allow among themselves
that, but for the Reformation, all Europe would have been sunk
in the darkness and apathy of Italy and Spain." Again : " If
the Catholic Church continue to deny that Luther was jus-
tified in his opposition — yea, bound to it ; to question whether
Protestants have all that is essential to the inner Christian


life, and to hold by statutes of popes, bishops, and councils,
enacted first to secure the Church against her enemies, and
then to extend her secular power, she will lose more and more
the inner sense of Christianity, undermine her very founda-
tions, and precipitate her own downfall. If she abandon these
statutes, she will forthwith become something very different
from the Roman Catholic Church, which she now is.''

Perthes did not consider that Protestantism had originated,
or would ever originate a universal Christian Church. He
writes : — " To organize a Church is not the mission of Protes-
tants, but to preserve and strengthen the inner Christian life.
Luther certainly founded no Church, and whether he was also
unwilling to do so, I dare not say. He stood forth in the full
consciousness of a mission to rescue the inward life of faith
from the dead forms, abuses, and abominations under which it
was smothered. On being opposed, he proceeded to set aside
the Pope as the fountainhead of these evils ; but he never par-
ticularized what forms and ceremonies of the old Church should
be retained, nor did he endeavour to determine what church-
forms were best adapted to express the inner life of faith. All
our ecclesiastical organizations arc but accidental, the work of
the civil magistrate. If, then, Luther himself did not venture
to found a Church, how can people say or believe that, by
sticking to the Lutheran Church, the Protestants of to-day can
solve a problem which the Reformation itself left untouched V
The want of ecclesiastical unity was painfully felt by the
Protestants, and, from the year 1817, movements were made
with the view of uniting the Lutheran and Reformed Churches
into one, to be called the Evangelical. Many welcomed the
prospect of union in the hope that the strict meaning of the


symbolical books would tlius be relaxed ; and one of these wrote
to Perthes as follows : — " What Scripture itself cannot do, man
should not attempt by means of binding confessions. I have,
indeed, met with many who declared their belief in the Divine
inspiration of Scripture, but never with one who did really
believe in it \ for the most rigid believer in the letter does not
hesitate to place some, at least, of his preconceived notions
above Scripture, inasmuch as he tortures the text till he forces
it to utter the church views in which he has been educated.
If even the believer in the letter proceed thus, it is evident that
each man must just retain his traditional convictions, or rely on
his own reason and understanding, or, failing these, on some
teacher. Humanly devised confessions of faith can never bind
those who do not feel themselves bound already by Scripture :
they may, however, draw such men into contradiction with
their own consciences." Another correspondent writes : —
" God has indeed vouchsafed to mortals a revelation, but it is
expressed in human language. There is no prophet from God
to expound it, and tradition has handed down no unanimous
and reliable interpretation ; but assemblies of bishops and
abbots have arbitrarily settled those things about which the
most ancient cliurches were at variance. Such decisions we
Protestants regard merely as commandments of men ; and we
should be inconsistent, did we ascribe any higher authority to
the Augsburg Confession. Lutlier felt this, and all true minis-
ters of the word must feel the same. They must tell their
]iearers to searcli the Scriptures for themselves : that is tlie
true ground of Protestantism, and on no other can preachers
remain honest men." A third as follows : — " Greater certainty
than God has been pleased to give us we cannot attain. We


deceive ourselves when, with a view to greater certainty, we set
np a confession of faith, even as the Hebrews set up a golden
calf in the wilderness/' Another still : — " By means of sym-
bolical books, a system is built up, not without a hole in the
bottom certainly, but such that, by assiduous- pumping, it can
be kept above water as if there were no hole in it. This game,
however, is now at an end. Neither Church nor State dares to
maintain what cannot be maintained ; peace is recommended to
all parties ; none of them is wrong ; a plaster here and a plaster
there ; anything, in short, but the scandal of repeal. Theolo-
gians are admitted as clergymen, although they subscribe the
symbolical books with a reservation, and thousands who have
subscribed impugn their contents. As soon, however, as the
majority declare that they no longer believe in these books,
they cease practically to exist ; for their importance is derived
not from the sanction of those in authority, but from the faith
of the multitude. New confessions of faith would be of no
avail, for no one is competent to draw them up, and two per-
sons could not be found to agree in the attempt. What we
want is new oaths of office for clergymen and teachers, that
their consciences may be no longer burdened by a professed
adherence to formularies really defunct."

Just because the union movement seemed to imperil the
authority of the symbolical books, many earnest men clung to
these more passionately than ever. Thus a theologian writing
to Perthes, says : — " Could I believe that indifFerence''to confes-
sions of faith belongs to the essence of Protestantism, I would
instantly go over to the Catholic Church, and put up with its
untruth as best I might.'" Accordingly, whereas, for twenty
or thirty years, the subscription of the symbolical books had


been required and gone through as an empty form, it began
now to receive a new significance, particularly in some districts ;
and many young men were tormented by scruples how far they
could conscientiously do so. To one of these Perthes wrote : —
" Sad and cruel is the discord between the pulpit and the profes-
sorial chair. Hundreds of young men leave the university as
full of doubts as you are ; but most of them subscribe the sym-
bolical books, enter unhesitatingly on the pastoral office, and
then stand up perjured hypocrites before God and man. If
science take upon herself to teach young men quite different
doctrine from what the Church afterwards requires them to
preach, the teachers of science are bound to heal the internal
schism which rends their pupils' hearts, such of them at least as
take orders, unless, indeed, they are content to have the blood
of perjured souls lying at their door. Go then to these
teachers : ask them, and understand their answer if you can."
Again : " Christianity is not bound to any formula of words
regarding the nature of Christ ; to this, as to other questions,
men will stand diiferently affected ; but the Christian life is
not possible without communion, nor communion without a
confession of faith. That the Protestant one is not adequate
I am well aware ; but, till another is prepared, we must hold
by it, unless we would become Catholics or Deists.''

When, in 1824, the King of Prussia introduced a new Direc-
tory for Public Worship into the Evangelical Churches connected
with the State, the agitation took another turn. From all the
congregations, whether originally Lutheran or Reformed, oppo-
sition arose to the Directory, and especially to its introduc-
tion by the civil magistrate. On this subject Perthes wrote : —
"On the contents of the Directory I can give no opinion. If


they be unscriptural, or anti Protestant, or even only unsuit-
able, then, as things go, no external power will be able to main-
tain them. But it seems to me that the Directory is opposed
chiefly as having proceeded from the king. The means cm-
ployed to introduce it have been unfair, irregular, and even
sometimes petty ; but the means resorted to by its opponents
have been not a whit better. Protestants not less than Catho-
lics, Supernaturalists not less than Rationalists, are now dis-
posed to withdraw the Church entirely from the control of the
civil power. I am myself convinced that Church and State
must be separated ; but can any one of us Protestants deny
that, at the Reformation, the ecclesiastical power did pass into
the hands of the civil magistrate, and necessarily so, because a
Church, complete in itself, and a thoroughly organized clergy,
no longer existed ? I doubt whether such a well-compacted
Church and clergy can exist among us without destroying the
essence of Protestantism ; and yet the history of three cen-
turies proves to me that, without such an organization, no
society of Christians can endure."

In spite of the union-movement, the symbolical books, and
the Directory of Worship, there was yet little prospect of Pro-
testants attaining the ecclesiastical unity sought for ; and
many eminent theologians even questioned whether such unity,
with the exclusiveness and authority inseparable from it, were
either possible or desirable. Neander was not clear on this
point, as may be seen from the following letter to Perthes : —
"Wherever there is Christian communion, there is a Christian
Ciiurch. The Redeemer promised absolutel}'' that, wherever
two or three should be gathered together in His name, there
would He be in the midst of them, i.e., would form out of them

VOL. II. 20


a true Christian Cliurcli. Like every other society, so must
this of Christians have an external order, a constitution.
Accordingly, the apostles set tried men over the primitive con-
gregations ; and, in doing so, they simply adopted the constitu-
tion of the Jewish synagogue, which was familiar to them,
without contemplating the establishment of any perpetual

In another letter to Perthes, Neander says : — " The politico-
ecclesiastical system of Popery, prelatical and Roman indeed,
but not Catholic, is a mixture of Judaism and heathenism.
Christ, however, left on the earth a divine seed for the benefit
of all mankind : nor did God allow the opposition to corrup-
tion of doctrine and life ever to die out, but kept it aliA'^e,
spite the magical pomp of false priests, the sophistical arts of
metaphysical theologians, and the terrors of the funeral pile,
till Luther came to purify the Church from everything unchris-
tian, and restore it to primitive maturity and freedom. Be-
tween the Church of the Reformation and the Apostolic, I
cannot acknowledge any essential difference, and therefore, I

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 17 of 36)