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The Nature of Protestantism1

  • Wilhelm Pauck (a1)


In dealing with a subject of such a general character, I am well aware of the limitations of the undertaking. It is not possible to define the nature of Protestantism in such a manner as to establish certain principles to which all its historical expressions must or do conform. I accept the statement of Wilhelm Dilthey which reads as follows:

The religions which appear within a developed civilization have common features. They lift the human consciousness to a point at which, by its connection with divinity and the invisible, it renders itself independent from the world. Hence it is the aim of these religions to overcome the contradictions and repressions of life (Hemmungen) by an inner connection with God. Beatitude signifies the developing total state of mind in which all single emotions arising from participation in the world are resolved. Hence religion is neither a cult nor a dogma nor a mode of action but the total life context of a person in which this aim has been attained. From this there result significant consequences for the historian. No religion or communion can be represented by a principle from which cult, dogma, and morality can be derived. The endless theological debates about a principle of Christianity, of Reformed religiousness, of the Lutheran or Reformed church, are without object. This life context cannot even be wholly analysed. As in every form of life, there remains something unanalysable also in every form of religiousness. Just therein religion is, like art; superior to scientific knowledge. One cannot state in one sentence the essence of Christianity. Every attempt of such a sort is historical metaphysics. Knowledge of Christianity is the analysis of the Christian religiousness in individual Christians and in society.



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2 Gesammelte Schriften, Leipzig, 1914, II, p. 203.

3 Cf. Kűhn, Johannes, Die Geschichte des Speyrer Reichstags, 1529 (Schriften des Vereins fűr Reformationsgeschichte, No. 146.) Leipzig, 1929, pp. 257 ft.

4 The purpose of the present discussion is again to call attention to his work and to point out that his conclusions were very largely correct. I refer particularly to his contribution to the Geschichte der Christlichen Religion (Die Kultur der Gegenwart, ed. by Hinneberg, P., Part I, Section IV, 1, 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1922, pages 431992) which bears the title: Protestantisches Christentum und Kirche in der Neuzeit. Cf. also Die Bedeutung des Protestantismus fűr die moderne Welt, 3rd ed. Műnchen, 1924 (Engl. translation: Protestantism and Progress, New York, 1912) and various essays in Aufsätze zur Geistesgeschichte und Religionssozialogie (Gesammelte Schriften, vol. IV, Tűbingen, 1925). Interesting discussions of his point of view are to be found in Stephan, Horst, Die heutigen Auffassungen vom Neuprotestantismus, Giessen, 1911; Hoffman, Heinrich, Der neuere Protestantismus und die Reformation, Giessen, 1919; Grűtzmacher, R. H., Alt- und Neuprotestantismus, Leipzig, 1920.

5 Der Historismus und seine Probleme (Gesammelte Schriften, vol. III), Tűbingen, 1922, pp. 764 f.

6 WA., I, pp. 557 f. (Resolutiones disputationum de indulgentiarum virtute, 1518). The passage which is hiere translated follows upon a reference to Tauler's description of the tortures (peonae) of despair in his German sermons.

7 W A., XVIII, p. 633.

8 WA., VIII, p. 379. Written at Wartburg castle in 1521!

9 Otto, R., Visnu Narayana. Texte sur indischen Gottesmystik, Jena, 1917, p. 123. Also: India's Religion of Grace and Christianity Compared and Contrasted, London, 1930, p. 56.

10 Cf. Frick, Heinrich, Der kathoilsch protestantische Zwiespalt als religionsgeschichtliches Phänomen (in Kairos, ed. by Darmstadt, Tillich, 1926, p. 355). See also Otto, R., India's Religion of Grace etc., pp. 18 ff.

11 See the interesting symposium edited by Tillich, Paul under the title Protestantismus als Kritik und Gestaltung, Darmstadt, 1929; therein especially Tillich's article on “Der Protestantismus als kritisches und gestaltendes Prinzip.” In this connection, I should like to refer also to Tillich, 's book, Religiöse Verwirklichung, Berlin, 1930, especially the chapter on “Protestantische Gestaltung.”

12 The new Luther biography by Thiel, Rudolph (2 vols., 2nd ed., Berlin 1936), which depicts the Reformer as a theonomous prophet, makes much of these difficulties.

13 See for example: Maritain, Jacques, Trois reformateurs (Luther, Descartes, Rousseau), Paris, 1925; (critically reviewed by Holl, Karl in Revue Ae Theol. et Philos., XV, 1927, pp. 260–70).Katzer, E., Luther und Kant, Leipzig, 1910; Ostertag, H., “Luther und Kant,” Neue Kirchliche Zeitschrift, XXXVI, 1925, pp. 765807.

14 Stephan, Horst, Luther in den Wandlungen seiner Kirche, Giessen, 1807. See also the discriminating discussion of the problem by von Harnack, Adolf, Dogmengeschichte, 4th ed., Tűbingen, 1909, III, pp. 808 ff.

15 “Beantwortung der Frage: was ist Aufklärung?” in Berlinische Monatsschrift, III, 1784, pp. 481–94.

16 Schleiermacher, F., The Christian Faith. English translation by Mackintosh, H. R. and Stewart, J. S.. Edinburgh, 1928, I, p. 63.

17 Cf. Troeltsch, Ernst, Protestantisches Christentum und, Kirche, pp. 624 ff. The changes of the Protestant church concept are well described by Damour, Carl, Die Epochen des Protestantismus, Bern, 1935.

18 Works, V, p. 9, quoted by Mecklin, John. M. in his important book, The Story of American, Dissent, New York, 1934, p. 342.

1 The presidential address delivered at the meeting of the Society in Providence, R. I., on December 28, 1936.

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Church History
  • ISSN: 0009-6407
  • EISSN: 1755-2613
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