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western cities it is the foremost of the Protestant com-
munions, and in Chicago outnumbers the communicants
of the Episcopahan, the Presbyterian, and the Methodist
churches combined. ^ The German immigration has con-
tributed its share, and probably more than its share, to
our non-religious and churchless population. Withal, in a
proportion which it is not easy to ascertain with precision,
it added multitudinous thousands to the sudden and enor-
mous growth of the Roman Catholic Church. But there is
an instructive contrast between the German immigrations,
whether Catholic or Protestant, and the Irish immigration.
The Catholicism of the Irish, held from generation to gen-
eration in the face of partisan and sometimes cruelly per-
1 Jacobs, " The Lutherans," p. 446.


secuting laws, was held with the ardor, if not of personal
conviction, at least of strong hereditary animosity. To
the Germans, their religious sect, whether Catholic, Lu-
theran, or Reformed, is determined for them by political
arrangement, under the principle cujus regio, ejus rcligio.
It is matter of course that tenets thus acquired should be
held by a tenure so far removed from fanaticism as to
seem to more zealous souls much like lukewarmness.
Accustomed to have the cost of religious institutions pro-
vided for in the budget of public expenses, the wards of the
Old World state-churches find themselves here in strange
surroundings, untrained in habits of self-denial for religious
objects. The danger is a grave and real one that before
they become accHmated to the new conditions a large per-
centage will be lost, not only from their hereditary com-
munion, but from all Christian fellowship, and lapse into
simple indiflferentism and godlessness. They have much
to learn and something to teach. The indigenous Ameri-
can churches are not likely to be docile learners at the feet
of alien teachers ; but it would seem like the slighting of
a providential opportunity if the older sects should fail to
recognize that one of the greatest and by far the most
rapidly growing of the Protestant churches of America,
the Lutheran, growing now with new increments not only
from the German, but also from the Scandinavian nations,
is among us in such force to teach us somewhat by its
example of the equable, systematic, and methodical ways
of a state-church, as well as to learn something from the
irregular fervor of that revivalism which its neighbors on
every hand have inherited from the Great Awakening. It
would be the very extravagance of national self-conceit if
the older American churches should become possessed of
the idea that four millions of German Christians and one
million of Scandinavians, arriving here from i860 to 1890,


with their characteristic methods in theology and usages
of worship and habits of church organization and adminis-
tration, were here, in the providence of God, only to be
assimilated and not at all to assimilate.

The vast growth of the Roman Catholic Church in
America could not but fill its clergy and adherents with
wonder and honest pride. But it was an occasion of im-
mense labors and not a little anxiety. One effect of the
enormous immigration was inevitably to impose upon this
church, according to the popular apprehension, the char-
acter of a foreign association, and, in the earlier periods of
the influx, of an Irish association. It was in like manner
inevitable, from the fact that the immigrant class are pre-
ponderantly poor and of low social rank, that it should for
two or three generations be looked upon as a church for
the iUiterate and unskilled laboring class. An incident of
the excessive torrent rush of the immigration was that the
Catholic Church became to a disproportionate extent an
urban institution, making no adequate provision for the
dispersed in agricultural regions.

Against these and other like disadvantages the hierarchy
of the Catholic Church have struggled heroically, with
some measure of success. The steadily rising character of
the imported population in its successive generations has
aided them. If in the first generations the churches were
congregations of immigrants served by an imported clergy,
the most strenuous exertions were made for the founding
of institutions that should secure to future congregations
born upon the soil the services of an American-trained
priesthood. One serious hindrance to the noble advances
that have nevertheless been made in this direction has been
the fanatical opposition levied against even the most benef-
icent enterprises of the church by a bigoted Native-


Americanism. It is not a hopeful method of conciliating
and naturaUzing a foreign element in the community to
treat them with suspicion and hostility as alien enemies.
Tiie shameful persecution which the mob was for a brief
time permitted to inflict on Catholic churches and schools
and convents had for its chief efTect to confirm the for-
eigner in his adherence to his church and his antipathy to
Protestantism, and to provoke a twofold ferocity in return.
At a time when there was reason to apprehend a Know-
nothing riot in New York, in 1844, a plan was concerted
and organized by " a large Irish society with divisions
throughout the city," by which, " in case a single church
was attacked, buildings should be fired in all quarters and
the great city should be involved in a general conflagra-
tion." ^

The utmost that could have been hoped for by the de-
voted but inadequate body of the Roman Catholic clergy
in America, overwhelmed by an influx of their people
coming in upon them in increasing volume, numbering
millions per annum, was that they might be able to hold
their own. But this hope was very far from being attained.
How great have been the losses to the Roman communion
through the transplantation of its members across the sea
is a question to which the most widely varying answers
have been given, and on which statistical exactness seems
unattainable. The various estimates, agreeing in nothing
else, agree in representing them as enormously great.^

1 Bishop O'Gorman, "The Roman Catholics," p. 375. The atrocity of
such a plot seems incredible. We should have classed it at once with the
Marta Monk story, and other fabulous horrors of Dr. Brownlee's Protestant
Society, but that we find it in the sober and dispassionate pages of Bishop
O'Gorman's History, which is derived from original sources of information.
If anything could have justified the animosity of the " native Americans "
(who, l^y the way, were widely suspected to be, in large proportion, native
Ulstermen) it would have been the finding of evidence of such facts as this
which Bishop O'Gorman has disclosed.

2 The subject is reviewed in detail, from opposite points of view, by Bishop


All good men will also agree that in so far as these losses
represent mere lapses into unbelief and irreligion they are
to be deplored. Happily there is good evidence of a large
salvage, gathered into other churches, from what so easily
becomes a shipwreck of faith with total loss.

It might seem surprising, in view of the many and
diverse resources of attractive influence which the Roman
Church has at its command, that its losses have not been
to some larger extent compensated by conversions from
other sects. Instances of such conversion are by no means
wanting; but so far as a popular current toward Catholi-
cism is concerned, the attractions in that direction are out-
weighed by the disadvantages already referred to. It has
not been altogether a detriment to the Catholic Church in
America that the social status and personal composition of

O'Gorman, pp. 489-500, and by Dr. Daniel Dorchester, " Christianity in
the United States," pp. 618-621. One of the most recent estimates is tliat
presented to the CathoHc Congress at Chicago, in 1893, in a remarkable
speech by Mr. M. T. Elder, of New Orleans. Speaking of "the losses sus-
tained by the church in this country, placed by a conservative estimate at
twenty millions of people, he laid the responsibility for this upon neglect of
immigration and colonization, i.e., neglect of the rural population. From
this results a long train of losses." He added: " When I see how largely
Catholicity is represented among our hoodlum element, I feel in no spread-
eagle mood. When I note how few Catholics are engaged in honestly tilling
the honest soil, and how many Catholics are engaged in the liquor traffic, 1
cannot talk buncombe to anybody. When I reflect that out of the 70,000,000
of this nation we number only 9,000,000, and that out of that 9,000,000 so
large a proportion is made up of poor factory hands, poor mill and shop and
mine and railroad employees, poor government clerks, I still fail to find ma-
terial for buncombe or spread-eagle or tafly-giving. And who can look at our
past history and feel proud of our present status ? " He advocated as a remedy
for this present state of things a movement toward colonization, with especial
attention to extension of educational advantages for rural Catholics, and in-
struction of urban Catholics in the advantages of rural life. " For so long as
the rural South, the pastoral West, the agricultural East, the farming Middle
States, remain solidly Protestant, as they now are, so long will this nation,
this government, this whole people, remain solidly Protestant" ("The
World's Parliament of Religions," pp. 1414, 1415).

It is a fact not easy to be accounted for that the statistics of no Christian
communion in America are so defective, uncertain, and generally unsatisfactory
as those of the most solidly organized and completely systematized of them
all, the Roman Catholic Church.


its congregations, in its earlier years, have been such that
the transition into it from any of the Protestant churches
could be made only at the cost of a painful self-denial.
The number of accessions to it has been thereby lessened,
but (leaving out the case of the transition of politicians
from considerations of expediency) the quality of them has
been severely sifted. Incomparably the most valuable
acquisition which the American Catholic Church has re-
ceived has been the company of devoted and gifted young
men, deeply imbued with the principles and sentiments of
the High-church party in the Episcopal Church, who have
felt constrained in conscience and in logic to take the step,
which seems so short, from the highest level in the Angli-
can Church into the Roman, and who, organized into the
Order of the Paulist Fathers, have exemplified in the
Roman Church so many of the highest qualities of Protes-
tant preaching.

He is a bold man who will undertake to predict in detail
the future of the Roman Church in America. To say
that it will be modified by its surroundings is only to say
what is true of it in all countries. To say that it will be
modified for the better is to say what is true of it in all
Protestant countries. Nowhere is the Roman Church so
pure from scandal and so effective for good as where it is
closely surrounded and jealously scrutinized by bodies of
its fellow- Christians whom it is permitted to recognize
only as heretics. But when the influence of surrounding
heresy is seen to be an indispensable blessing to the church,
the heretic himself comes to be looked upon with a miti-
gated horror. Not with the sacrifice of any principle, but
through the application of some of those provisions b}'
which the Latin theology is able to meet exigencies lilce
this, — the allowance in favor of " in\-incible ignorance "
and prejudice, the distinction between the body and " the


soul of the church," — the Roman Catholic, recognizing
the spirit of Christ in his Protestant fellow- Christian, is
able to hold him in spiritual if not formal communion, so
that the Catholic Church may prove itself not dissevered
from the Church Catholic. In the common duties of citi-
zenship and of humanity, in the promotion of the interests
of morality, even in those religious matters that are of
common concern to all honest disciples of Jesus Christ, he
is at one with his heretic brethren. Without the change
of a single item either of doctrine or of discipline, the at-
titude and temper of the church, as compared with the
church of Spain or Italy or Mexico, is revolutionized.
The change must needs draw with it other changes, which
may not come without some jar and conflict between
progressive and conservative, but which nevertheless needs
must come. Out of many indications of the spirit of fel-
lowship with all Christians now exemplified among Ameri-
can Catholics, I quote one of the most recent and authori-
tative from an address of Archbishop Ryan at the Catholic
Congress in Chicago in 1893. Speaking on Christian
union, he said :

" If there is any one thing more than another upon
which people agree, it is respect and reverence for the
person and the character of the Founder of Christianity.
How the Protestant loves his Saviour! How the Protes-
tant eye will sometimes grow dim when speaking of our
Lord! In this great center of union is found the hope of
human society, the only means of preserving Christian
civilization, the only point upon which Catholic and Prot-
estant may meet. As if foreseeing that this should be,
Christ himself gave his example of fraternal charity, not to
the orthodox Jew, but to the heretical Samaritan, showing
that charity and love, while faith remains intact, can never


be true unless no distinction is made between God's crea-
tures." ^

Herein is fellowship higher than that of symbols and
sacraments. By so far as it receives this spirit of love the
American Catholic Church enters into its place in that
greater Catholic Church of which we all make mention in
the Apostles' Creed — " the Holy Universal Church, which
is the fellowship of holy souls."

The effect of the Great Immigration on the body of the
immigrant population is not more interesting or more im-
portant than the effect of it on the religious bodies already
in occupation of the soil. The impression made on them
by what seemed an irruption of barbarians of strange lan-
guage or dialect, for the most part rude, unskilled, and
illiterate, shunning as profane the Christian churches of the
land, and bowing in unknown rites as devotees of a system
known, and by no means favorably known, only through
polemic literature and history, and through the gruesome
traditions of Puritan and Presbyterian and Huguenot, was
an impression not far removed from horror; and this im-
pression was deepened as the enormous proportions of this
invasion disclosed themselves from year to year. The
serious and not unreasonable fear that these armies of
aliens, handled as they manifestly were by a generalship
that was quick to seize and fortify in a conspicuous way
the strategic points of influence, especially in the new
States, might imperil or ruin the institutions and liberties
of the young Republic, was stimulated and exploited in the
interest of enterprises of evangelization that might counter-
work the operations of the invading church. The appeals

1 " Parliament of Religions," p. 141 7. An obvious verbal misprint is cor-
rected in the quotation.


of the Bible and tract societies, and of the various home
mission agencies of the different denominations, as well as
of the distinctively antipopery societies, were pointed with
the alarm lest " the great West " should fall under the
domination of the papal hierarchy. Naturally the deline-
ations of the Roman system and of its public and social
results that were presented to the public for these purposes
were of no flattering character. Not history only, but con-
temporary geography gave warnings of peril. Canada on
one hand, and Mexico and the rest of Spanish America on
the other, were cited as living examples of the fate which
might befall the free United States. The apocalyptic
prophecies were copiously drawn upon for material of war.
By processes of exegesis which critical scholarship regards
with a smile or a shudder, the helpless pope was made to
figure as the Antichrist, the Man of Sin and Son of Per-
dition, the Scarlet Woman on the Seven Hills, the Little
Horn Speaking Blasphemies, the Beast, and the Great Red
Dragon. That moiety of Christendom which, sorely as its
history has been deformed by corruption and persecution,
violently as it seems to be contrasted with the simplicity
of the primeval church, is nevertheless the spiritual home
of multitudes of Christ's well- approved servants and disci-
ples, was held up to gaze as being nothing but the enemy
of Christ and his cause. The appetite of the Protestant
public for scandals at the expense of their fellow-Christians
was stimulated to a morbid greediness and then overfed
with willful and wicked fabrications. The effect of this
fanaticism on some honest but illogical minds was what
might have been looked for. Brought by and by into
personal acquaintance with Catholic ministers and institu-
tions, and discovering the fraud and injustice that had
been perpetrated, they sprang by a generous reaction into
an attitude of sympathy for the Roman Catholic system.


A more favorable preparation of the way of conversion to
Rome could not be desired by the skillful propagandist.
One recognizes a retributive justice in the fact, when no-
table gains to the Catholic Church are distinctly traced to
the reaction of honest men from these fraudulent polemics.'
The danger to the Republic, which was thus malignantly
or ignorantly exaggerated and distorted, was nevertheless
real and grave. No sincerely earnest and religious Prot-
estant, nor even any well-informed patriotic citizen, with
the example of French and Spanish America before his
eyes, could look with tolerance upon the prospect of a
possible Catholicizing of the new States at the West ; and
the sight of the incessant tide of immigration setting west-
ward, the reports of large funds sent hither from abroad to
aid the propagation of the Roman Church, and the ac-
counts of costly and imposing ecclesiastical buildings rising
at the most important centers of population, roused the
Christian patriotism of the older States to the noblest en-
terprises of evangelization. There was no wasting of
energy in futile disputation. In all the Protestant com-
munions it was felt that the work called for was a simple,
peaceful, and positive one — to plant the soil of the West,
at the first occupation of it by settlers, with Christian in-
stitutions and influences. The immensity of the task
stimulated rather than dismayed the zeal of the various
churches. The work undertaken and accomplished in the
twenty years from 1840 to i860 in providing the newly
settled regions with churches, pastors, colleges, and theo-
logical seminaries, with Sunday-schools, and with Bibles

1 Bishop O'Gornian, pp. 439, 440. James Parton, in the "Atlantic
Monthly," April and May, 1868. So lately as the year 1869 a long list of
volumes of this scandalous rubbish continued to be offered to the public, under
the indorsement of eminent names, by the " American and Foreign Christian
Union," until the society was driven by public exposure into withdrawing
them from sale. See " The Literature of the Coming Controversy," in
" Putnam's Magazine" for January, 1869.


and other religious books, was of a magnitude which will
never be defined by statistical figures. How great it was,
and at what cost it was effected in gifts of treasure and of
heroic lives of toil and self-denial, can only be a matter of
vague wonder and thanksgiving.

The work of planting the church in the West exhibits
the voluntary system at its best — and at its worst. A task-
so vast and so momentous has never been imposed on the
resources of any state establishment. It is safe to say that
no established church has ever existed, however imperially
endowed, that would have been equal to the undertaking
of it. With no imposing combination of forces, and no
strategic concert of action, the work was begun spontane-
ously and simultaneously, like some of the operations of
nature, by a multitude of different agencies, and went for-
ward uninterrupted to something as nearly like completeness
as could be in a work the exigencies of which continually
widened beyond all achievements. The planting of the
church in the West is one of the wonders of church history.

But this noble act of religious devotion was by no means
a sacrifice without blemish. The sacred zeal for advancing
God's reign and righteousness was mingled with many very
human motives in the progress of it. Conspicuous among
these was the spirit of sectarian competition. The worthy
and apostolic love for kindred according to the flesh sepa-
rated from home and e.xposed to the privations and temp-
tations of the frontier, the honest anxiety to forestall the
domination of a dangerously powerful religious corpora-
tion propagating perverted views of truth, even the desire
to advance principles and forms of belief deemed to be
important, were infused with a spirit of partisanship as lit-
tle spiritual as the enthusiasm which animates the strug-
glers and the shouters at a foot-ball game. The devoted
pioneer of the gospel on the frontier, seeing his work


endangered by that of a rival denomination, writes to the
central office of his sect ; the board of missions makes its
appeal to the contributing churches ; the churches respond
with subsidies ; and the local rivalry in the mission field is
pressed, sometimes to a good result, on the principle that
" competition is the life of business." Thus the fragrance
of the precious ointment of loving sacrifice is perceptibly
tainted, according to the warning of Ecclesiastes or the
Preacher. And yet it is not easy for good men, being
men, sternly to rebuke the spirit that seems to be effective
in promoting the good cause that they have at heart.

If the effect of these emulations on the contributing
churches was rather carnal than spiritual, the effect in the
mission field was worse. The effect was seen in the
squandering of money and of priceless service of good
men and women, in the debilitating and demoralizing
division and subdivision of the Christian people, not of
cities and large towns, but of villages and hamlets and of
thinly settled farming districts. By the building of
churches and other edifices for sectarian uses, schism was
established for coming time as a vested interest. The
gifts and service bestowed in this cause with a truly
magnificent liberality would have sufficed to establish the
Christian faith and fellowship throughout the new settle-
ments in strength and dignity, in churches which, instead
of lingering as puny and dependent nurslings, would have
grown apace to be strong and healthy nursing mothers to
newer churches yet.

There is an instructive contrast, not only between the
working of the voluntary system and that of the Old World
establishments, but between the methods of the Catholic
Church and the Protestant no-method. Under the con-
trol of a strong coordinating authority the competitions of
the various Catholic orders, however sharp, could never be


allowed to run into wasteful extravagance through cross- ^
purposes. It is beHeved that the Catholics have not
erected many monuments of their own unthrlft in the
shape of costly buildings begun, but left unfinished and
abandoned. A more common incident of their work has
been the buying up of these expensive failures, at a large
reduction from their cost, and turning them to useful ser-
vice. And yet the principle of sectarian competition is
both recognized and utilized in the Roman system. The
various clerical sects, with their characteristic names, cos-
tumes, methods, and doctrinal differences, have their rec-
ognized aptitudes for various sorts of work, with which
their names are strongly associated : the Dominican for
pulpit eloquence, the Capuchin for rough-and-ready street-
preaching, the Benedictine for hterary work, the Sulpitian
for the training of priests, and the ubiquitous Jesuit for
shifty general utility with a specialty of school-keeping.
These and a multitude of other orders, male and female,

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 26 of 34)