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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views, but cannot renounce the glory of speculation. These
two classes have unsettled the boundary-line between friend
and foe, and are the cause why so many do not yet clearly
know what is at stake."

Many of Perthes' correspondents, while confident in the
conquering power of the gospel, expressed a doubt whether
theology could withstand the attacks of its assailants, or would
even in future be the depositary of Christian doctrine and life.
A theologian wrote to Perthes : — " Christian theology is a
noble fruit of Christianity ; but it is only a fruit, and only one
of many. Theologians have sought to make the fruit the
root — a mistake which may be fatal to theology altogether ;
and, if theology should go down, it will not be because of ex-
ternal violence, but simply because the course of its develop-
ment renders its removal desirable. The loss might be amply
compensated for by an increased vigour of the inward life."
Another : " To say the truth, Strauss has exposed, with un-
common skill, the weak points in our dogmatic theology, which
contains, indeed, the kernel of truth, but no great store of
proofs. The Church is based on the testimony of God, who
has spoken to man, and of his incarnate and glorified Son : ho
who is of God believes this testimony ; he who is not of God


believes it not. It is well to study and systematize our faith,
but it is incapable of demonstration by any tlieology. Theo-
logians err greatly, when they imagine that salvation can come
from science ; science, as such, is not a match for Straussism.
A great multitude. Catholics as well as Protestants, find them-
selves far away from the old church faith ; the Church will
stand for all that, but theology may fall. The development
of new mental states in the individual, and in society, is a
fact ; and there are hundreds of thousands, not under the in-
rtuence of Church Christianity, who are not rationalistic, nor
indifferent, nor atheistical, but clear-headed, profoundly reflec-
tive, and after their manner moral and pious. All these are
inaccessible to theology."

Towards the close of his life, Perthes himself came to see
that theology was aiming at a position in the Christian life
which no science could possibly hold. In a letter to Dorner,
dated June 1842, after expressing his conviction that Strauss
and Co. were hastening to their downfall, he continues : " But
would the condition of the Protestant Church be thereby im-
proved ? Even if to-day we argue the devil down into the abyss,
who knows but his grandmother may rise from it to-morrow with
more subtle analysis, and a glibber tongue ? Truly dialectics
are a fine art ! For myself, it was through the consciousness
of sin in the forms of sensuality and pride, that I came to
recognise my need of redemption, and the truth of God's re-
velation in Christ. Whoever disdains this way, will wander
through speculation and mystic symbolism, to pantheism, if
he be intellectual ; or, if he be superficial, will take the conve-
nient road of progress to perfection, Jesus of Nazareth being the
traincr-in-chief. You say, that many can hardly attain faith,


till certain difficulties are solved for them scientificall}', and
that, for that reason, the Church has need of science. I doubt
if any one was ever led through science to faith, till his very
bones and marrow quivered under this question : ' Oh wretched
man that thou art ! who shall deliver thee from the body of this
death ?' " Again : " Now-a-days science is at once the start-
ing-point and the goal of Protestantism. Even with the best
among the theologians, Christianity is but a stage on the way to
science ; and, whilst they are anxiously ferreting out scientific
results with which to prop up their faith, the age is demanding
not Christian theology but the Christian Church, not notions
but deeds, not the ideal of Christ but his very person."

Ecclesiastical as well as theological controversies kindled
up afresh in the year 1 840 ; and people were anxious to
see what course the new king would pursue in ecclesiastical
as well as in political affairs. A friend wrote to Perthes :
" The present cannot last. The subsisting church order is not
deeply rooted ; and the paper-bishops of the late government
may be transferred to good appointments in the board of cus-
toms without any risk." Here is a theologian's letter to Perthes :
" I am decidedly opposed to all schemes for the reconstruction
of the Church : the negative influences at work will not yield
to organization, and the fermentation is such as can work itself
into clearness only by scientific encounters. The evangelical
churches have acknowledged Holy Scripture as the only rule of
faith, but have interpreted its contents, from beginning to end,
by the Pauline scheme of salvation, to maintain which one-
sided view, the symbolical books were indeed necessary. But
time rolled on, and many questions arose which had slumbered
at the time of the Reformation; philosophy, natural science.


pa?Jagogics, politics, all emancipated themselves ; Scripture
itself, and the canon, were subjected to criticism, and the de-
fenders as well as the assailants of Scripture saw that Scrip-
ture, being itself under judgment, could not remain the judge.
Tlie basis of the evangelical Church, therefore, is shaken ; nor
has any progress been made towards ' the determination of
its constitution and its relation to the state. Under these cir-
cumstances, what sort of house can be built, and, if a house
were built, who would live in it ? Then, again, people ignore
altogether the susceptibility and power peculiar to things re-
ligious, when they expect laws and regulations to revive the
church. That is indeed possible, when the regulations are
conformable to the ruling spirit of the age and of the church
herself; impossible, when that conformity is wanting. The
renovation of the Church is not man's work, proceeding from
without inwards, — but God's, proceeding from within outwards.
We need stalwart Christian characters, paramount in intellect ;
but kings and ministers cannot make them : God sends them
wlien he pleases, children of struggle and sorrow who have pre-
vailed. There should be no organization from witliout of what
is not already existent, at least of what is not already a wish,
in the heart of the Church ; to conceive and nourish such
wishes seems to me the modest mission of our age."

The first measures of the new government were directed to
the settlement of some important practical questions connected
with the Church. Peace was made with the court of Rome,
by giving up the placet ; and, on this mode of terminating the
quarrel, Perthes wrote in January 1841 : " The Protestant
king has done what no Catholic government ever dared ; and I
believe he can afford to do it. Such a step, though it seems a


strange conclusion after such a beginning, is not only generous,
but politic \ but of course, for a while, the Protestants will
blame the king, and say that he is Romanizing." Liberty of
worship, too, was granted to Dissenters. Perthes wrote : " The
old Lutherans may now form a separate churcli, and the sects
may assemble for the worship of God according to their con-
sciences. Whether this liberty has been accorded on a general
principle, or merely as a malce-sliift, because a liberty enjoyed
bv the Catholics could not very well be denied to the Luthe-
rans, may be doubtful ; but in these times of confusion, it can
hardly fail to hurry on the upbreaking of Protestantism.
What if Huge and Strauss should bethink themselves of form-
ing a sect, and setting up a form of public worship in accord-
ance with their principles V

Above all others, however, the problem which the new go-
vernment was called on to solve was, the incorporation of
Protestantism under a settled ecclesiastical form. On this
subject a theologian wrote to Perthes in March 1841 : " The
source of disunion among those who really hold by the
gospel is an aversion to the Church as such. Many of those
who treat with fairness and consideration gnostics and mys-
tics, Hildebrand and Wycliffe — all, in short, in whom they can
perceive tlie Christian element alive, turn with disgust from
the theology of the 17th century ; and the views of Hengsten-
berg, Sartorius, and the Erlangen doctors are to them an abo-
mination. Yet, unless we return to the forms of the Lu-
theran Church, I know not where else we can find a centre
of union. We must hold by the Protestant Church of the 1 7th
century, with all its faults and failings, as the Church to which
we belong, and we must come to see that we cannot belong to


any other. Unless we do this, a schism is imminent, in which
one-half of Protestantism will return to the bosom of the Ca-
tholic Church, and the other will drift on to infidelity." Per-
thes answered : " How can you hope to check the violent fer-
mentation of this age, by means of symbolical books, and a
subordination of consistories ? One attacks the authority of
Scripture, another its contents, and even devout theologians
and Christians unscrupulously call in question whatever in it
offends their private views or feelings. Every theologian has
a Christian consciousness of his own, while the more profound,
and more thoroughly Christian seek for a firm standing-ground ;
and where do they find it ? With Schelling some of them just
now, for, though formerly philosophy paid its respects to theo-
logy, now it is just the reverse. Be not deceived, an age which
fearlessly applies the touchstone of science to God's word, M'ill
not bow down before symbolical books, or any work confessedly
of man."

Although no measures were immediately taken to remodel
the Evangelical Church, the King was universally believed to
be engaged in their preparation, and various indications pointed
to a synodal constitution as the probable result. In Janu-
ary 1842, Perthes wrote : " A General Assembly is impossible
in Germany, but not in Prussia. Its very first step, if it would
reconstitute the Church, must be to recognise the canon of
Scripture as the supreme authority, and Luther's Catechism as
the basis of religious instruction ; preachers, professors, and
teachers, must be all forbidden to take anything from, or add
anything to Scripture, or to teach anything contrary to the
Catechism. Is the Synod conceivable that would venture on
such a step ? The men who would attempt it must make up

VOL. IL 36


their minds beforehand, like Huss, to martyrdom, for our age
too, with all its humanity, understands the erection of a stake.
Such a measure would spread dismay and revolt among clergy-
men, professors, and teachers, but possibly the majority of the
Christian people might take part with the Synod." From a
theologian to Perthes : " Extemporised synods would be a very
(lano'erous experiment in Prussia. Success is impossible, un-
less those who introduce them know what they would be at,
what they have power to eifect, and should seek to attain ; but
I fear that these things are not clearly known, and that they
are floundering on in a direction quite alien from the inner
life, and the wants, of the people and church in Germany."

Why and how the introduction of a foreign element was
dreaded, appears in a letter to Perthes, dated 2d January
1842 : " The mission of pastors Sydow and Gerlach to Eng-
land, the establishment of an evangelical bishopric in Jerusa-
lem, and now the King's visit to London, warrant the fear that
the introduction among us of something like the English hier-
archy, is really contemplated. Should that be the case, then
there is but one remedy, and I have but one wish, viz., a right
good war." Again : " For us Germans the Anglican Church
has no existence. The pietism of the 17th century led the
way to development among us, to which the English Episcopal
Church, and English culture in general, are perfect strangers.
However critical our situation, no foreign contribution can im-
prove it ; we want a regeneration from within, and the most
obvious means of effecting this, would be to train up a race of
truly pious and learned preachers."

Of the King, Perthes wrote about the same time : " There
is hardly an ' ism' in religion, which has not been attributed


to him. One says that he is in lieart a Catholic, another
that he has privately gone over to Rome ; one that he is a de-
cided Old Lutheran ; another, that he is a fanatical pietist ;
one, that he is going to bring over Anglican or Swedish bishops,
for the purpose of forming a Protestant Papal Church ; another,
that he means to establish a quite un-Prussian church, with
a democratic synodal constitution ; in any case, that the
kingdom is to be made a sort of Popedom, and the Prussian
state to have no say in affairs of the Church. It is surely
significant that the King still keeps about him all those emi-
nent men of the most varied views, who were his companions
as Crown-Prince ; Radowitz and Bunsen, Thiele and Hum-
boldt, Stolberg, Groben, and Gerlach, stand equally near, and
meet with equal favour. It is indeed possible that, in the
King's presence, these men may keep their several peculiarities
in the background, and let only that appear, which is common
to them all ; but what if the reverse be the case ? What single
man, on whom the opposing forces of the age directly play,
can resist being drawn into the whirlpool ? Here, too, one is
reminded of the old barber's despairing cry, ' Everybody is
right, all are wrong.' "

Perthes' interest in church matters continued unabated to
the very last. Here is one of his letters to Count Mailath,
written shortly before he died. " Noble and great stood the
Roman Catholic Church for centuries ; then it became worldly,
its worship and ceremonies a crystallization, avarice and ambi-
tion reigned in Rome, immorality and abominations spread
through all the hierarchy. Scholastic philosophy reduced faith
into formulae, and the mystics, from Eckart onwards, advanced
to the verv confines of Pantheism. Towards the end of the


mediaeval age, the necessity for reform was universally felt ;
even the Pope and the Cardinals wished for reform, and, when
the council of Basle broke up without having accomplished
anything, a schism in the Church became inevitable ; there,
not in Luther, lay the germ. From that moment the Pope and
the Cardinals lost ground in Germany, and, in proportion as
their authority grew weaker, confusion spread in all classes.
A complete change of all relations could not fail, and, from
the weakness of both Pope and Emperor, the reform became a
revolution. Popular Christianity was saved by the appearance
of Luther. With the power of faith he preached the religion
of the heart, basing it on the three creeds which had passed
from the early Church into the Roman Catholic, and which we
still possess in the Augsburg Confession and in Luther's Cate-
chism. When he threw oif the authority of the Pope, as he
was forced to do, not only did the Papal hierarchy perish, but
the Church as well, for not Luther, nor Calvin, nor Zwingle,
was able to preserve the Church, or to frame a new one. The
ecclesiastical organization in England liad never any inward
strength, and has been degenerating more and more into a
mere form. What then was to give unity and authority to
the Reformation ? Scripture, of course ; but it was given up to
liuman criticism, and was not preserved, nor defended, nor
transmitted by ecclesiastical authority. For three centuries,
pious theologians of all colours have been warring to maintain
tlie facts of Christianity in and by Scripture ; and they have
not succeeded : the orthodox theologians of the l7th century
built only wooden platforms, which liave rotted away ; while
Arndt, Sj^ener, Francke, whatever blessings they conferred on
individuals, did nothing for the Church. Zinzendorf founded a


retired community ; but, at the end of the 18th century, all ec-
clesiastical coherence had disappeared from Protestantism, and
only the spirit of Scripture exercised a power on individuals ;
the masses were given up to freemasonry, free- thinking, and
rationalism ; indifferentism, however, was the characteristic of
the age. x\t the beginning of this century. Romanticism and
Schelling's philosophy opened up the dry ground of Rational-
ism, and the philosophical systems; the distress, which attended
the dominion of the French, awakened a longing for help and
consolation ; the liberation wars sent an electric shock through
the nation ; religious enthusiasm carried away the youth, and
strengthened them for every sacrifice. The ground was pre-
pared, but the right seedsmen were wanting, and all the fair
promise ended in oddities, caricatures, and an unbounded desire
for external freedom. Then appeared Schleiermacher, not a
people's man indeed, but one who exercised an incalculable
influence on the students : thousands, who are now teaching
in universities and churches, are his pupils ; he was not far
from the devious path along which Eckart strayed, but the
students did not perceive that, and his own perception and
love of truth kept him from entering it. Alongside of him
arose. Neander, pious, simple, distinguished alike for zeal and
learning, whose works on ecclesiastical history have exercised
hardly less influence than Schleiermacher's on philosophical
dogmatics. These two men became the pillars of orthodox
Protestantism, and other theologians built after them, pursuing
always the scientific method, and taking no particular notice
of the Hegelian philosophy, which was gradually extending its
influence, and of whose destructive powers they had not the
least conception. Suddenly, like a flash of lightning from a


clear sky, appeared Strauss' ' Life of Christ \ and the Halle
Annuals stepped forth as auxiliaries admirably equipped. I
believe that Strauss may be vanquished by our theologians,
and that the Halle Annuals, by their alliance with audacious
fanaticism, are digging their own grave ; but I can augur no-
thing but danger from the opposition to all existing things, to
Christianity, and to the State alike which has taken possession
of our studying youth ; and as for a Protestant Church, it is
neither to be seen nor heard of"

Again : " The longing for ecclesiastical communion is be-
coming stronger among the Protestant people, and Strauss'
attacks have had the effect of making our theologians more
cautious in asserting that Scripture alone is the depositary of
Christianity ; many now feel the necessity of an ecclesiastical
Christianity alongside of the Biblical." Again : " Free inquiry
and ecclesiastical organization are the poles of a contradiction,
which divides not only Protestants from Catholics, believing
Protestants from the unbelieving, and believing Protestants
from one another, but almost every one of us, even among the
most decided Lutherans, from himself We can easily get
either, but we want to combine the two, and cannot. One
consequence of this is the tendency to form sects, and open
conventicles, for, however miserably, these do give some satis-
faction to both tendencies ; they are a wild graft on the eccle-
siastical tree, capable of putting forth leaves, but incapable of
bearing fruit, and sure to become dead wood by and by ; but
they are proofs all the same that the want of ecclesiastical
communion is felt." Again : " What if the Catholic Church
were to purge herself of the Roman element, and yet preserve
the character of a universal Church, comprehending all tlie


nations of the world ? She has what Protestantism neither
possesses, nor is able to create, and Protestantism can give her
what she has not. Must the union of the two remain for ever
impossible ? The growing desire for ecclesiastical organization
among Protestants, and the uprising of Augustinianism in men
like Sailer, Diepenbrock, Mohler, Vcith, and many others, arc
tokens to me of union at however distant a day. The union
will be sealed when the Catholic Church ranks Luther, not
indeed with the saints, but with the fathers of the Church,
and acknowledges that, but for him, the Roman Catholic
Church itself would have perished, and been succeeded by a
barbarous anarchical era of the Jacobin sort, and a despotism.
I am convinced that a union will be effected ; but when ? A
thousand years arc with God as one day." Again, writing to
Sulpice Boisseree, on 30th March 1843: "The Cologne Ca-
thedral is, in its plan, a symbol of the deep powerful mind of
our nation, and, in its incompleteness, a symbol of that German
peculiarity whereby, aiming too high, we miss the conclusion ;
I take the activity now displayed in carrying on the works, as
a symbol of our present condition, and when the cross, not of
the Roman, nor of the Protestant, but of the Christian Church,
shall be planted on the tower of the Cologne Cathedral, it will
become the symbol of final victory."




Perthes' activity in business — 1830-1843.

The publishing business which Perthes had set on foot in
1822 rapidly acquired importance both as to its extent and its
character. It was carried on with a firm hand, and limited to
theology and history. No other departments were congenial
to Perthes, and it was only in very special cases that he could
be led to make exceptions to this rule, as in that of the well-
known fifty fables by Hey, illustrated by Speckter. Towards
the end of his life, when offers of miscellaneous publications
crowded upon him, he established a branch publishing office,
and under the name of " the firm of Frederick and Andrew
Perthes,'' made it over to his son Andrew ; but only in the
theological and historical departments did he himself ever feel
thoroughly at home.

With regard to theology, it was its scientific rather than its
devotional aspect that, as a publisher, he was most engaged
with. He seemed to possess an instinctive discernment both
of what was essentially necessary, and what was required or
rendered superfluous by the mood of the moment, and theolo-
gians themselves deferred to his experience. One of them,
after the death of Perthes, wrote : " We shall not again find
such another." From the papers he left, we plainly discover


that but for him many an actually hurtful, or, at all events,
mistimed work would have appeared, and many an opportune
work have been withheld. The " Studien und Kritiken," which
appeared annually in four volumes, contained the essence of his
theological publications, numbering as this series did amongst
its contributors all the most distinguished theologians of Ger-
many who had a similar tendency. In addition to this great
undertaking he issued a number of ecclesiastical and historical
works, such as the Life of .Jesus, the Universal History of the
Christian Church and Religion by Neander, the Reformers be-
fore the Reformation by Ullmann, the Life of Calvin by Henry,
of Tauler by Schmidt, of Savonarola by Rudelbach, of Eckhart
by Martensen, of Cola di Rienzi by Papencordt, of Schenkel by
Schenkel, the series being as it were completed by Ritter's
History of Philosophy. A second group of theological works
was formed of Commentaries on the Scriptures, such, for
example, as Umbreit's Commentary on the Prophets, Tholuck's
on the Gospel of St. John, the Sermon on the Mount, and the
Epistle to the Hebrews. The third group comprised a series
of systematic theology, to which belong Twesten's Dogmatics,
Sack's Polemics and Apologetics, Ackermann's Christian Ele-
ment in Plato, Nitzsch's Religion of the Ancients, and the Doc-
trine of Christ's Person and Work by Sartorius. To these we may
add a great number of treatises, some larger, some smaller, by
Lisco, Olshausen, Dorner, Ehrenfeuchter, Ebel, Georgi, Krabbe,
Schwarz, Schmieder, Reuchlin, Preller and others, as well as a
few widely circulated devotional works, such as Tholuck's Ser-
mons, Olivier's Pictorial Bible, Bunsen's Universal Evangelical
Hymn Book, and Mynster's Thoughts on Christian Creeds.
The History of the European States had been the first of

VOL. II. ^^


Perthes' historical publications. He had carried it on with the

Online LibraryClement Theodore PerthesMemoirs of Frederick Perthes, or, Literary, religious, and political life in Germany, from 1789 to 1843 (Volume 2) → online text (page 31 of 36)