Another failure of Protestantism is that it has not given us any new faith, such as the world needs. Protestants have for the most part simply clung to certain remnants or shreds of an old garment; they do not see that humanity cannot live on remnants, and they have given to the world no positive new regenerative principle. The Catholic Church has all the positive parts of the Protestant system of doctrine. The Unitarians, for example, save themselves by keeping the Christian name and professing disciple-ship for Jesus ; but Catholics are all Christians and all disciples of Jesus. Orthodox Christians believe in the Divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, and the Atonement ; but Catholics believe in all these doctrines and many more. Episcopal churches have their priests and bishops and ritual; but all this the Catholic Church has in much grander style. For freedom of conscience and thought is hardly a positive, but only a formal principle. It means standing by the truth, as we see it; or, at best, readiness for truth: it does not mean new and positive truth itself, — and before there can be a new faith, there must be new ideas. Again, the holding of an internal as opposed to an external test of character is not enough. The thought alone gives dignity to the life; but what shall be the thought? Protestantism has developed no new thought; it has no new ideas of life and society; it has seemed to regard moral idealism as exhausted in the statements of the Sermon on the Mount: it has even no genuine understanding of these statements, for if it had, it would take the hint they give, and elaborate an ideal of social righteousness for the world. For this is what the world wants, — not the Bible, nor revisions of it, nor a rational understanding of it; no, nor Jesus himself, nor a true estimate of his life and work, but an era of social righteousness. This is what Protestantism has not given us, what it has apparently had no aim of giving us; for its thought of a perfect social order is nowise different from that of Catholicism, as being something that has elsewhere its accomplishment, something which is not of our creation and has slight bearings on this actual order in which we now live. Protestantism, as Christianity generally, has given a kind of sanction to the order of society that it finds, and feels slight impulse to create a new one. Therefore a new religion must come, not preaching acquiescence and submission, but holding up a contrast to what we see about us, — saying that in the idea alone is sacredness and authority, and that contrary facts, though as secure as the earth and as habitual as day and night, have no warrant before it.
The world needs no kind of an ecclesiastical religion, with priests and prayers and holy books; it needs a religion of justice. In the new religion, nothing will count but clear thoughts and honest deeds. Prayer, trust in an outside justice, all reliance on another for what man must do himself, will be abandoned ; man will have his connection with the Unseen in the command which issues from it, "Thou must do the justice that thou cravest," and in his answering obedience.
Yes, Protestantism in the person of Luther cast the weight of its influence against the era of social righteousness on which the hearts of the poor oppressed German peasants were set. It must suffice to-day to refer to this single instance of Protestant faithlessness. The German peasant wanted freedom, — he wanted ecclesiastical and political freedom. The Church and the feudal lord united in despoiling him; he had no rights worth mentioning against either. He was bound to the soil, was obliged to render any service the lord called for, and had lost his right to the old common woods and fishing grounds and pastures ; and to the Church he paid not only tithes, — the tenth part of all his corn, grass, colts, calves, lambs, pigs, geese and chickens, and even every tenth egg, — but he paid money for every particular service he got from the Church. A Catholic writer of that period, brother to the secretary of the Emperor Charles V., says : "We can hardly get anything from Christian ministers without money; at baptism, money; at bishoping, money; at marriage, money; for confession, money — no, not extreme unction without money. They will ring no bells without money, no burial in the church without money; so that it seemeth that Paradise is shut upon them that have no money. . . . The rich man may readily get indulgences, but the poor none, because he wanteth money to pay for them." No wonder the peasants protested against such a double tyranny. They drew up twelve articles, in which they stated their demands:
1. The right to choose their own pastors. 2. They would pay tithe of corn; but small tithes, as every tenth calf or pig or egg, they would not pay. 3. They would be free, and no longer serfs and bondmen. 4. Wild game and fish to be free to all. 5. Woods and forests to belong to all for fuel. 6. No services of labor to be more than were required of their forefathers. 7. If more service required, wages must be paid for it. 8. Rent, when above the value of the land, to be properly valued and lowered. 9. Punishments for crime to be fixed. 10. Common land to be again given up to common use. 11. Death gifts (that is, the right of the lord to take the best chattel of the deceased tenant) to be done away with. 12. Any of these articles proved to be contrary to the Scriptures or God's justice to be null and void.
What a chance in view of this for a religion that meant to be of any use in this world, that meant to vindicate the right and put down the wrong, to assert itself! By this time many of the princes had become Protestant. Did their Protestantism mean any increased sense of social justice ? What did Luther himself say ? He was not indeed without sympathy for the peasants, — he was too much of a man, to say nothing of Christian, for that; and he did not fail, as a valiant man, to give the princes his opinion of them. Even before the articles were published, he said: " The common man, tried beyond all endurance, overwhelmed with intolerable burdens, will not and cannot any longer tamely submit; and he has doubtless good reasons for striking with the flail and the club, as he threatens to do." Again, of the articles he says to the princes that some of them "contain demands so obviously just, that the mere circumstance of their requiring to be brought forward dishonors you before God and man; " and he reminds them that " government was not instituted for its own ends, nor to make use of the persons subject to it for the accomplishment of its own caprices and evil passions, but for the interests and advantage of the people. Now, the people have become fully impressed with this fact, and will no longer tolerate your shameful extortions. Of what benefit were it to a peasant that his field should produce as many florins as it does grains of corn, if his master may despoil him of the produce, and lavish like dirt the money he has thus derived from his vassal in fine clothes, fine castles, fine eating and drinking ? " But when the princes refused to yield to his exhortations, when the peasants began to make good their words by their deeds, when they threatened to arise in revolt, Luther himself yielded, and practically went over to the other side.