THE WAR AND THE CHURCHES
[Issued for the Rationalist Press Association, Limited] London: Watts & Co. 17 Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, E.C. 1915
WORKS BY THE AUTHOR
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The searching crisis through which the nation is passing must have the effect of securing grave consideration for many aspects of our life and institutions. We have already traversed the acute stage of suspense, and are gradually becoming sensible of these wider considerations. It was natural that for a prolonged period the disturbance of our economic conditions, the anxiety for the safety of our nation in face of an appalling menace, the personal concern of millions about the lives of sons or brothers who have bravely responded to the call, should keep our thoughts enchained to the daily or hourly fortunes of the field of battle. Now that the initial disorder has been allayed and we have attained a quiet and reasonable confidence in the issue, we turn to other and broader aspects of this mighty event of our generation. How comes it that the most enlightened century the world has yet seen should be thus darkened by one of the bloodiest and most calamitous wars that have ever spread their awful wings over the life of man? Where is all the optimism of yesterday? Must we reconsider our reasoned boast that our civilisation has lifted the life of man to a level hitherto unattained? Is there something entirely and most mischievously wrong with the foundations of modern civilisation?
A dozen such questions will press for an answer, but it will be granted that one of the most urgent and most interesting of the many grave considerations which the war suggests is its relation to the prevailing creeds and standards of conduct. The war coincides with an advanced stage of what is called the spread of unbelief. In each of the nations of Europe which are engaged in this awful struggle complaints have been made every year for the last two or three generations that Christianity is losing its moral control of the white race. In the cities, especially in the capitals, of Europe there has been a proved and acknowledged decay of church-going; and, however much we may be disposed to think that these millions who no longer attend church retain in their minds the beliefs of their fathers, the slender circulation of religious literature makes it plain that the vast majority of them do not, in point of fact, receive either the spoken or written message of the Christian Church. In the great cities—and it is undoubted that the life of a nation is mainly controlled by its cities—there has been an increasing reluctance to listen to the authoritative exponents of the Christian gospel.
A number of the clergy have very naturally noticed and stressed this coincidence. Prelates of high authority have, as we shall see, even declared that the war is a scourge deliberately laid on the back of mankind by the Almighty on account of this spreading infidelity. As a rule, the clergy shrink from advocating a theory which has such grave implications as this has, and they are content to submit the more plausible suggestion, that the decay of the Christian standard of conduct in the mind of a large proportion of our generation accounts for this tragic combat of nations. A distinguished Positivist writer, Mr. J. Cotter Morison, commenting in the last generation on the decay of Christian belief, expressed some such concern in the following terms:
"It would be rash to expect that a transition, unprecedented for its width and difficulty, from theology to positivism, from the service of God to the service of Man, could be accomplished without jeopardy. Signs are not wanting that the prevalent anarchy in thought is leading to anarchy in morals. Numbers who have put off belief in God have not put on belief in Humanity. A common and lofty standard of duty is being trampled down in the fierce battle of incompatible principles."
It is true that in the work from which I quote the learned, if somewhat nervous, Positivist does not, by his masterly survey of the moral history of Europe, afford us the least reason to think that we have really deteriorated from the standard of conduct set us by earlier generations, but his words do tend to press on our notice the claim of many writers, clerical and non-clerical, that we are returning from Christianity to Paganism, from a settled moral discipline to an unhealthy moral scepticism. Can one entirely and safely reconstruct the bases of personal and national conduct in one or two generations?
This very plain and plausible theory is, however, exposed to criticism from other points of view. The clergy as a body are not at all willing to concede that the decay of belief has spread as far as the theory would suggest. In order to suppose that the life of Europe has, in a matter of the gravest importance, been directed by a non-Christian spirit, one must assume that at least the majority in each nation have deserted the traditional creed. It is by no means conceded or established that the fighting nations have ceased to be predominantly Christian. Indeed, if we confine the awful responsibility for this tragedy, as the evidence compels us, to Germany and Austria-Hungary, we are casting it upon the two nations which have been the chief representatives in Europe of the two leading branches of the Church. Most assuredly no prelate of either country would admit that his nation has ceased to be Christian or surrendered its life to non-Christian impulses; and in our own country we have frequently been assured of late years that the real power of Christianity was never greater.
Clearly these conflicting claims and this contrast of profession and practice suggest a problem that deserves consideration. The problem becomes the more interesting, and the plausible theory of non-Christian responsibility is even more severely shaken, when we reflect that war is not an innovation of this unbelieving age, but a legacy from the earlier and more thoroughly Christian period. Had mankind departed from some admirable practice of submitting its international quarrels to a religious arbitrator, and in our own times devised this horrible arbitrament of the sword, we should be more disposed to seek the cause in a contemporary enfeeblement of moral standards. This is notoriously not the case. Men have warred, and priests have blessed the banners which were to wave over fields of blood, from the very beginning of Christian influence, not to speak of earlier religious epochs. There is assuredly a ghastly magnitude about modern war which almost lends it an element of novelty, but the appearance is illusory. That intense employment of resources which makes modern war so sanguinary tends also to shorten its duration. No military struggle could now be prolonged into the period of the Napoleonic wars; to say nothing of the Thirty Years War, which involved the death, with every circumstance of ferocity, of immensely larger numbers than could be affected by any modern war. Nor may we forget that it is the modern spirit which has claimed some alleviation of the horrors of the field, and that the majority of the nations engaged in the present struggle have observed the new rules.
These considerations show that the problem is less simple and more serious than is often supposed, and I set out to discuss each of them with some fullness. That the war has no relation to the Churches will hardly be claimed by anybody. Such a claim would mean that they were indifferent to one of the very gravest phases of human conduct, or wholly unable to influence it. Nor can we avoid the issue by pleading that Christianity approves and blesses a just defensive war, and that, since the share of this country in the war is entirely just and defensive, we have no moral problem to consider. I have assuredly no intention of questioning either the justice of Britain's conduct or the prudence of the Churches in adapting the maxims of the Sermon on the Mount to the practical needs of life. If and when a nation sees its life and prosperity threatened by an ambitious or a jealous neighbour, one cannot but admire its clergy for joining in the advocacy of an efficient and triumphant defence. But this is merely a superficial and proximate consideration. Not the actual war only, but the military system of which it is the occasional outcome, has a very pertinent relation to religion; the maintenance of this machinery for settling international quarrels in an age in which applied science makes it so formidable is a very grave moral issue. It turns our thoughts at once to those branches of the Christian Church which claim the predominant share in the moulding of the conduct of Europe.
But these questions of the efficacy of Christian teaching or the influence of Christian ministers are not the only or the most interesting questions suggested by the relation of the war to the prevailing religion. The great tragedy which darkens the earth to-day raises again in its most acute form the problem of evil and Providence. More than two thousand years ago, as Job reminds us, some difficulty was experienced in justifying the ways of God to men. The most penetrating thinker of the early Church, St. Augustine, wrestled once more with the problem, as if no word had been written on it; and he wrestled in vain. A century and a half ago, when the Lisbon earthquake destroyed forty thousand Portuguese, Voltaire attempted, with equal unsuccess, to vindicate Providence with the faint hope of the Deist. Modern science, prolonging the sufferings of living things over earlier millions of years, has made that problem one of the great issues of our age, and this dread spectacle of human nature red in tooth and claw brings it impressively before us. Is the work of God restricted to counting the hairs of the head, and not enlarged to check the murderous thoughts in the human brain? Nay, when we survey those horrid stretches of desolation in Belgium and Poland and Serbia, where the mutilated bodies of the innocent, of women and children, lie amidst the ashes of their homes; when we think of those peaceful sailors of our mercantile marine at the bottom of the deep, those unoffending civilians whose flesh was torn by shells, those hundreds of thousands whom patriotic feeling alone has summoned to the vast tombs of Europe, those millions of homes that have been darkened by suspense and loss—how can we repeat the ancient assurance that God does count the hairs of the head and mark the fall of even the sparrows? Does God move the insensate stars only, and leave to the less skilful guidance of man those momentous little atoms which make up the brain of statesmen?
These are reflections which must occur to every thoughtful person in the later and more meditative phases of a great war, when the eye has grown somewhat weary of the glitter of steel and the colour of banners, when the world mourns about us and the long lists of the dead and longer list of the stupendous waste sober the mind. Something is gravely wrong with our international life; and, plainly, it is not a question whether that international life departs from the Christian standard, but why, after fifteen hundred years of mighty Christian influence, it does so depart. Is the moral machinery of Europe ineffective? One certainly cannot say that it has not had a prolonged trial; yet here, in the twentieth century, we have, in the most terrible form, one of the most appalling evils which human agency ever brought upon human hearts. We have to reconsider our religious and ethical position; to ask ourselves whether, if the influence of religion has failed to direct men into paths of wisdom and peace, some other influence may not be found which will prove more persuasive and more beneficent.
I. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CHURCHES 1 II. CHRISTIANITY AND WAR 25 III. THE APOLOGIES OF THE CLERGY 48 IV. THE WAR AND THEISM 70 V. THE HUMAN ALTERNATIVE 95
THE WAR AND THE CHURCHES
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CHURCHES
The first question which the unprejudiced inquirer will seek to answer is: How far were the Churches able to prevent, yet remiss in using their influence to prevent, the present war? There is, unhappily, in these matters no such thing as an entirely unprejudiced inquirer. Our preconceived ideas act like magnets on the material of evidence which is submitted to us, instinctively selecting what bears in their favour and declining to receive what they cannot utilise. Nowhere is this more conspicuous than in the field of religious inquiry, nor is it confined to either believers or unbelievers. There has been too much mutual abuse, and too little attention to the fact that the mind no less than the mouth has its palate, its impulsive selections and rejections. One can meet the difficulty only by a patient and full examination of the pleas of both parties to a controversy.
And the first plea which it is material to examine is that, since it is claimed that all the nations engaged in the war are Christian nations, one may accuse them collectively of moral failure. From the earliest days of the Christian religion it was the boast of those who accepted it that it abolished all distinctions of caste and race. In the little community which gathered round the cross there was neither bond nor free, neither Greek nor Roman. This cosmopolitanism was, in fact, a natural feature of religious movements at the time, and was due not so much to their intrinsic development as to the political circumstances of the world in which they spread. All round the eastern and northern shores of the Mediterranean a great variety of races mingled in every port and every commercial town, and it was the policy of the powerful Empire which extended its sway over them all to overrule their national antagonisms. When, in the earlier period, Jew and Greek and Egyptian had maintained their separate nationalities, hostility to other races had been a very natural social quality, an inevitable part of the spirit of self-preservation in a race. When the great Empires had conquered the smaller nationalities or the decaying older Empires, this mutual hostility was moderated, and, as the vast movements of population which marked the end of the old and the beginning of the new era filled the Mediterranean cities with extraordinarily mixed crowds, mutual friendship became the more fitting and more useful social virtue. A good deal of the old narrow patriotism had been due to the fact that each nation had its own god. In the new Roman world this theological exclusivism broke down, and the priests of a particular god, scattered like their followers among the cities of the eastern world, began to seek a cosmopolitan rather than a nationalist following. In the temple of each of the leading gods of the time—Jahveh, Serapis, Mithra, and so on—people of all races and classes were received on a footing of equality. The doctrine of the brotherhood of man spread all over that cosmopolitan world.
When the old world, to the south and east of the Mediterranean, was blotted out of history, and Europe in turn became a group of conflicting nationalities, racial hatred was revived and in its political and social aspects the doctrine of the brotherhood of man was virtually forgotten. But the Christian Church had embodied that doctrine in its sacred writing, and was bound to maintain it. In its ambition of a universal dominion it was the direct successor of the Roman Empire. All the races of Europe were to meet as brothers under the one God of the new world and under the direction of his representatives on earth. It was this change in the features of the world which gave a certain air of insincerity to the Christian gospel. In the older days there had been political unity with a great diversity of religions; now there was religious unity spread over a great diversity of antagonistic political bodies. Men were brothers from the religious point of view and, only too frequently, deadly enemies from the political point of view. The discord was made worse by the feudal system which was adopted. Even within the same race there was no brotherhood. In effect the clergy as a body did not insist that the noble was a brother of the serf, and did not exact fraternal treatment of the serf. Thus the phrase, "the brotherhood of man," which had been a most prominent and active principle of early Christianity, became little more than a useless theological thesis.
The solution of the difficulty would, of course, have been for the clergy, as the supreme representatives of the doctrine of brotherhood, to apply that doctrine boldly to every part of man's conduct; to pronounce that all violence and bloodshed were immoral, and to devise a humane means of settling international quarrels. I will consider in the next chapter why the Christian leaders failed even to attempt this great reform. For the moment it is enough to observe that the conditions of modern times favoured a fresh assertion of the doctrine of brotherhood. Great as the power of sincere moral idealism has always been, the historian must recognise that economic changes have had a most important influence upon the development or acceptance of moral ideas. Just as in earlier ages the development of forms of life was conditioned by changes in their material surroundings, so man's moral development has been profoundly influenced by industrial, commercial, and political changes.
The destruction of feudalism and the development of the modern worker were notoriously not due to religious influence, yet they had an important relation to religious doctrines. Once the new spirit had asserted its right, the clergy recollected that all men are brothers from the social as well as the religious point of view. Many of them, and even some social writers of Christian views, maintain that the new social order is itself based on or inspired by the religious doctrine of brotherhood. This speculation is entirely opposed to the historical facts, but it will easily be realised that when the workers had, in their own interest, asserted afresh the doctrine of human brotherhood, the Churches had a new occasion to preach it. How timid and tentative that preaching was, and even is, we have not to consider here. On the whole the brotherhood of men was re-affirmed by the Churches both in the social and religious sense.
This situation makes more violent than ever the contrast between the political and religious relations of men, and gives a strong prima facie case to the charge against the Churches which I am considering. It is wholly artificial and insincere to say that men are brothers socially and religiously, yet are justified in marching out in millions, with the most murderous apparatus science can devise, to meet each other on the field of battle. We condemn crime for social reasons. We have relegated to the Middle Ages, to which it belongs, the notion that the criminal is a man who has affronted society, and that society may take a revenge on him. In the sane conception of our time the criminal is a mischievous element disturbing the social order, and, in the interest of that order, he must be isolated or put out of existence. It is not the guilt, but the social effect, which we regard. And from this point of view a single great war is far more calamitous than all the crime in Europe during whole decades. It is estimated by high authorities that if the present war lasts only twelve months it will cost Europe, directly and indirectly, including the destruction of property and the loss to industry and commerce, no less a sum than L9,000,000,000; and it will certainly cost more than a million, if not more than two million, lives, besides the incalculable amount of suffering from wounds, loss of relatives, outrages, and the incidental damage of warfare. The time will come when historians will study with amazement the wonderful system we have devised in Europe for the suppression of breaches of the social order at a time when we complacently suffer these appalling periodical destructions of the entire social order of nations.
It is quite natural to arraign the Christian Churches in connection with this disastrous outbreak. Unless they discharge the high task of the moral direction of men, in international as well as in personal conduct, they have no raison d'etre. Few of them to-day will plead that their function is merely to interpret to their fellows what they regard as the revealed word of God. In face of the challenging spirit of our time they maintain that they discharge a moral mission of such importance that society is likely to go to pieces if Christianity is abandoned. We therefore ask very pertinently where they were, and what they were doing, during the months when the nations of Europe were slowly advancing toward a declaration of war.
In examining the charge that, for some reason or other, they neglected their mission at a crisis of supreme importance, we must recall that few of us believed that a great war would occur until we actually heard the declaration. No indictment of the clergy is valid which presupposes that they are more sagacious or far-seeing than the rest of us. Yet, however much we may have doubted the actual occurrence of war, we have known for years, and have quite complacently commented upon, the danger that half of Europe would sooner or later be involved in the horrors of the greatest war in history. Now it is notorious that the Christian Churches have done little or nothing, in proportion to their mighty resources and influence, to avert this danger. No collective action has been taken, and relatively few individuals have used their influence to moderate or obviate the danger. The supreme head of the most powerfully organised and most cosmopolitan religious body in the world, an institution which has its thousands of ministers among each of the antagonistic peoples—I mean the Church of Rome—gave his attention to minute questions of doctrine and administration, and bemoaned repeatedly the evil spirit of our age, but issued not one single syllable of precise and useful direction to the various national regiments of his clergy in connection with this terrible impending danger. The heads or Councils of the various Protestant bodies were equally remiss. Here and there individual clergymen joined associations, founded by laymen, which endeavoured to maintain peace and to secure arbitration upon quarrels, and one Sunday in the year was set aside by the pulpits for the vague gospel of peace. But in almost all cases these movements were purely secular in origin, and the few movements of a religious nature have been obviously founded only to keep the idealism linked with a particular Church, have had no great influence, and have been too vague in their principles to have had any effect upon the growing chances of a European war. There is no doubt that the Churches have remained almost dumb while Europe was preparing for its Armageddon.
I speak of the clergy, but in our time the responsibility cannot be confined to these. Even in the Church of England the laity have now a considerable influence, and in the other Protestant bodies they have even more power in the control of policy. No doubt the duty of initiative and of work in such matters lies mainly with the more leisured and more official interpreters of the Christian spirit, yet it would be absurd to restrict the criticism to them. The various Christian bodies, as a whole, have confronted a very grave and imminent danger with remarkable indifference, although that danger could become an actual infliction only by seriously immoral conduct on the part of some nation. They saw, as we all saw, the vast armies preparing for the fray, the diplomatists betraying an increasing concern about the relations between their respective nations, the press embittering those relations, and a pernicious and provocative literature inflaming public opinion. We all saw these things, and knew that a war of appalling magnitude would follow the first infringement of peace. Yet I think it will hardly be controverted that the Churches made no serious effort to avert that calamity from Europe. They were deeply concerned about unbelief, about personal purity, about the cleanness of plays and books and pictures, even about questions of social reform which a rebellious democracy forced on them; but they took no initiative and performed no important service in connection with this terrible danger.
That is the indictment which many bring against Christianity, and we have now to consider the general defence. I will examine later a number of religious pronouncements about the war, and will discuss here only a few general pleas which are put forward as a defence against the general indictment.
It is, in the first place, urged that the moral and humanitarian teaching which the Christian Churches never ceased to put before the world condemned in advance every departure from the paths of justice and charity; that it was not the fault of Christianity if men refused to listen to or carry into practice that teaching. But at no period in the history of morals has it sufficed to lay down general principles. Everybody perceives to-day, not only that slavery was in itself a crime, but that it was essentially opposed to the Christian morality. Yet, as no Christian teacher for many centuries ventured to apply the principle by expressly denouncing slavery, the institution was taken over from Paganism by Christian Europe and lasted centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Church itself had vast numbers of slaves, and later of serfs, on its immense estates. Leo the Great disdainfully enacted that the priesthood must not be stained by admitting so "vile" a class to its ranks, and Gregory the Great had myriads of slaves on the Papal "patrimonies." So it was with the demand for social reform which characterised the nineteenth century. To-day Christians claim that their principles sanctioned and gave weight to those early demands of reform, yet their principles had been vainly repeated in Europe for fifteen hundred years, and, when the people themselves at last formulated their demands in the early part of the nineteenth century, it is notorious that the clergy opposed them. The teaching of abstract moral principles is of no avail. Man is essentially a casuist. Leave to him the application of your principles, and he will adapt almost any scheme of conduct to them. The moralist who does not boldly and explicitly point the application of his principles is either too ignorant of human nature to discharge his duty with effect or is a coward. The plain fact is that the preaching of justice and peace throughout Europe has been steadily accompanied by an increase in armaments and in international friction. It had no moral influence on the situation.
A more valid plea is that we must distinguish carefully between the nations which inaugurated the war and the nations which are merely defending themselves, and we must quarrel with the Christian Churches only in those lands which are guilty. It may, indeed, be pleaded that, since each nation regards itself as acting on the defensive and uses arguments to this effect which convince its jurists and scholars no less than its divines, there is no occasion at all to introduce Christianity. Most of us do not merely admit the right, we emphasise the duty, of every citizen to take his share in the just defence of his country, either by arms or by material contribution. Since there seems to be a general conviction even in Germany and Austria that the nation is defending itself against jealous and designing neighbours, why quarrel with their clergy for supporting the war?
When the plea is broadened to this extent we must emphatically reject it. There has been too much disposition among moralists to listen indulgently to such talk as this. When we find five nations engaged in a terrible war, and each declaring that it is only defending itself against its opponent, the cynic indeed may indolently smile at the situation, but the man of principle has a more rigorous task. Some one of those peoples is lying or is deceived, and, in the future interest of mankind, it is imperative to determine and condemn the delinquent. There is no such thing as an inevitable war, nor does the burden of great armaments lead of itself to the opening of hostilities. It is certain that on one side or the other, if not on both sides, there is a terrible guilt, and it is the duty of Christian or any other moralists, whether or no they belong to the guilty nations, sternly to assign and condemn that guilt. It is precisely on this loose and lenient habit of mind that the engineers of aggressive war build in our time, and we have seen, in the case of neutral nations and of a section of our own nation, what chances they have of succeeding. They have only to fill their people and the world at large with counter-charges, resolutely mendacious, and many will throw up their hands in presence of the mutual accusations and declare that it is impossible to assign the responsibility. That is a fatal concession to immorality, and we must hold that in some one or more of the combatant nations the Churches have, for some reason or other, acquiesced in a crime.
The plea is valid only to this extent, that the guilty nations in this case were notoriously Germany and Austria-Hungary, and therefore one cannot pass any censure on British Christians for supporting the war. I have in other works dealt so fully with the guilt of those two nations that here I must be content to assume it. The general and incessant cry of the German people, that they are only defending their Empire against malignant enemies, must be understood in the light of their recent history and literature. No Power in the world had given any indication of a wish to destroy Germany; there were, at the most, a few uninfluential appeals in England for an attack on Germany, but solely on the ground that it meditated an attack on England, and the accumulated evidence now shows that it did meditate such an attack. England did not desire an acre of German ground. France had assuredly not forgotten Alsace and Lorraine, but France would have had no support, and would have failed ignominiously, in an aggressive campaign to secure those provinces. On the other hand, an immense and weighty literature, which is unfortunately very little known in England, has familiarised Germany for fifteen years with aggressive ideas. The most authoritative writers claimed that, as they said repeatedly, "Germany must and will expand"; and leagues which numbered millions of subscribers propagated this sentiment in every school and village. A definite demand was made throughout Germany for more colonies and a longer coast-line on the North Sea; and it was in relation to this ambition that England, France, and Russia were represented—and justly represented—as Germany's opponents. England, in particular, was described as the great dragon which watched at the gates of Germany and grimly forbade its "development." It is in this sense that the bulk of the German people maintain that their action is defensive.
In passing, let me emphasise this peculiar economic difference between the four nations. Russia had a vast territory in which her people might develop. France had no surplus population, and had a large colonial field for such of her children as desired adventure abroad or would escape the competition at home. England had, in Canada and Australasia and South Africa, a magnificent estate for her surplus population. None of these Powers had an economic ground for aggression. Germany was undoubtedly in a far less fortunate position, and had an overflowing population. Six hundred thousand men and women (mostly men) had to leave the fatherland every year, and, as the colonies were small and unsatisfactory, they were scattered and lost among the nations of the earth. The proper attitude toward Germany is, not to gratify the cunning of her leaders by superficially admitting that she was not aggressive, but to understand clearly the very solid grounds of her desire for expansion.
Into the whole case against Germany, however, I cannot enter here. Familiar from their chief historical writers with the supposed law of the expansion of powerful nations, convinced by their economists that the country would soon burst with population and be choked by their own industrial products unless they expanded, knowing well that such expansion meant war to the death against France and England (who would suffer by their expansion), the German people consented to the war. Their official documents absolutely belie the notion that they were meeting an aggressive England. But the Christians of Germany were utterly false to their principles in supporting such a war. I do not mean merely that they set aside the precept, or counsel to turn the other cheek to the smiter, for no one now expects either nation or individual to act on that maxim. They were false to the ordinary principles of Christian morals or of humanity. Even if one were desperately to suppose that, learned divines like Harnack were unable to assign the real responsibility for the war, or that the whole of Germany is kept in a kind of hot-house of falsehood, it would be impossible to defend them. The Churches of Germany have complacently watched for twenty-three years the tendency which William II gave to their schools; they have passed no censure on the fifteen years of Imperialist propaganda which have steadily prepared the nation for an aggressive war; and they have raised no voice against the appalling decision that, in order to attain Germany's purposes, every rule of morals and humanity should be set aside. They have servilely accepted every flimsy pretext for outrage, and have followed, instead of leading, their passion-blinded people. It was the same in Austria-Hungary. Austrian and Hungarian prelates have passed in silence the fearful travesties of justice by which, in recent years, their statesmen sought to compass the judicial murder of scores of Slavs; they raised no voice when, at the grave risk of a European war, Austria dishonestly annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina; they gave their tacit or open consent when Austria, refusing mediation, declared war on Serbia and inaugurated the titanic struggle; and they have passed no condemnation on the infamies which the Magyar troops perpetrated in Serbia.
I am concerned mainly with the action or inaction of the Churches in this country, but it is entirely relevant to set out a brief statement of these facts about Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Christian religion was on trial in those countries as well as here. It failed so lamentably, not because there is more Christianity here than in Germany and Austria, not because the national character was inferior to the English and less apt to receive Christian teaching, but because the temptation was greater. Until this war occurred, no responsible traveller ever ventured to say that the German or Austrian character was inferior to the British. It is not. But the economic difficulties of Germany and the political difficulties (with the Slavs) of Austria-Hungary laid a heavier trial on those nations, and their Christianity entirely failed. Catholic and Protestant alike—for the two nations contain fifty million Catholics to sixty million Protestants—were swept onward in the tide of national passion, or feared to oppose it.
One might have expected that at least the supreme head of the Roman Church would, from his detached throne in Rome, pass some grave censure on the outrages committed by Catholic Bavarians in Belgium or Catholic Magyars in Serbia. Not one syllable either on the responsibility for the war or the appalling outrages which have characterised it has come from him. The only event which drew from him a protest—a restrained and inoffensive remonstrance—was the confinement to his palace for some days of my old friend and teacher, Cardinal Mercier! To the stories of fearful and widespread outrage, even when they were sternly authenticated, he was deaf. One knows why. If Germany and Austria fail in this war, as they will fail, the Catholic bodies of Germany and Austria, the strongest Catholic political parties in Europe, will be broken. Millions of the Catholic subjects of Germany and Austria will pass under the rule of unbelieving France or schismatical Russia. So the supreme head of the Roman Church wraps himself nervously in a mantle of political neutrality and disclaims the duty of assigning moral guilt.
On us in England was laid only the task of defending our homes and our honour. It is in those other countries that we most clearly see Christianity put to the test, and failing deplorably under the test. I do not mean that there was no opportunity here for the Churches to display their effectiveness as the moral guides of nations. In those fateful years between 1908 and 1914, during which we now see so plainly the preparation for this world-tragedy, they might have done much. They did nothing. They might have seen, at least at the eleventh hour, the iniquity of sustaining the military system, and have cast the whole of their massive influence on the side of the promoters of arbitration. I do not mean that any man should advocate disarmament, or less effective armament, in England while the rest of the world remains armed. As long as we retain the military system instead of an international court, the soldier's profession is honourable, and the man who voluntarily faces the horrors of the field is entitled to respect and gratitude. But in every country there was an agitation for the general abandonment of militarism and the substitution of lawyers for soldiers in the settlement of international quarrels. Had the Churches in every country given their whole support to this agitation, and insisted that it is morally criminal for the race as a whole to prolong the military system, we might not have witnessed this great catastrophe.
Before, however, I press this charge against the Christian bodies, let me discuss the third plea that may be urged in defence of the Churches. It is the plea of those who are so eager to disclaim responsibility that they are willing to allow an enormous decay of religious influence in the modern world. You have repeatedly told us, they say to the Rationalist, that Christianity has lost its hold on Europe. You speak of millions who no longer hear the word of Christian ministers, but who do read Rationalist literature in enormous quantities. Very well, you cannot have it both ways. Let us admit that the nations of Europe have become non-Christian, and we cast on your non-Christian influence the burden of responsibility for the war.
This language has been used more than once in England. It leaves the speaker free to assume that in England, whose action in the war we do not criticise, the nation remains substantially Christian, while in Germany and Austria the Churches have lost more ground. Indeed, one may almost confine attention to Germany. Profoundly corrupt as political life has been in Austria-Hungary for years, there is no little evidence in the official publications of diplomatic documents that at the last moment, when the spectre of a general war definitely arose, Austria hesitated and entered upon a hopeful negotiation with Russia. It was Germany's criminal ultimatum to Russia which set the avalanche on its terrible path. Now Germany is notoriously a land of religious criticism and Rationalism. Church-going in Berlin is far lower even than in London, where six out of seven millions do not attend places of worship. It is almost as low as at Paris, where hardly a tenth of the population attend church on Sundays. In other large towns of Germany the condition is, as in England, proportionate. Almost in proportion to the size of the town is the aversion of the people from the Churches.
It is absolutely impossible in the case of Germany to determine, even in very round numbers, how many have abandoned their allegiance to Christianity, though, when one remembers the enormous rural population and the high proportion of believers in the smaller towns, it seems preposterous to suggest that the country has, even to the extent of one half, become non-Christian. But I am anxious to do justice to this plea, and would point out that it is the educated class and the men of the large cities who control a nation's policy. The rural population—the general population, in fact—follows its educated leaders. Now there is no doubt that in Germany, as elsewhere, this body of the population—the middle class and the workers of the great cities—has very largely lost the traditional belief. The workers of Berlin are solidly Socialistic, which means very largely anti-clerical. And I would boldly draw the conclusion that the responsibility for the war is shared at least equally by Christians and non-Christians. The stricture I have passed on the Churches of Germany is based on the fact that they, being organised bodies with a definite moral mission, were peculiarly bound to protest against the obvious political development of their country, and they entirely failed to do so. But I should be the last to confine the responsibility to them. Not only religious leaders like Harnack and Eucken, but leading Rationalists like Haeckel and Ostwald, have cordially supported the action of their country. So it was from the first. Of that large class of men who may be said to have had some real control of the fortunes of their country a very high proportion—I should be disposed to say at least one half—are not Christians, or are Christians only in name.
While we thus candidly admit that non-Christians as well as Christians in Germany bear the moral responsibility, we must be equally candid in rejecting the libellous charge that the principles, or lack of principles, of the non-Christians tended to provoke or encourage war, in opposition to the Christian principles. This not uncommon plea of religious people is worse than inaccurate, since it is quite easy to ascertain the principles of those who reject Christianity. In Germany, as elsewhere, the non-Christians are mainly an unorganised mass, but there are two definite organisations, which, in this respect, reflect or educate the general non-Christian sentiment. These are the Social Democrats, a body of many millions who are for the most part opposed to the clergy, and the Monists, an expressly Rationalistic body. In both cases the moral principles of the organisation are emphatically humanitarian and opposed to violence, dishonesty, or injustice; in both cases those principles are adhered to with a fidelity at least equal to that which one finds in the Christian Churches. It is little short of monstrous to say that the moral teaching of Bebel and Singer and Liebknecht, or of Haeckel and Ostwald—all men of high moral idealism—gave greater occasion than the teaching of Christianity to this atrocious war. The Socialists, indeed, were the strongest opponents of war and advocates of international amity in Europe. How, like the Evangelical and the Christian Churches, they failed in a grave crisis to assert their principles may be a matter for interesting consideration, but it would be entirely dishonest to plead that the substitution of the influence of Rationalists and Socialists for Christian ministers has in any degree facilitated the war.
The Christian who regards all these non-Christian influences as "Pagan," and feels that a "return to Paganism" explains the essential immorality of Germany's conduct, usually has a grossly inaccurate idea of Paganism. Whatever may be said of sexual developments in modern and ancient times, we shall see that the Roman writers held principles which most decidedly made for peace and brotherhood and justice. In point of fact, the majority of the German writers who have been responsible for the education of Germany in war-like ideas have been Christians. The Emperor himself, who is mainly responsible because of his deliberate prostitution of German schools to militarist purposes since 1891, will hardly be described as other than Christian; certainly every prelate or minister in Germany would vehemently resent such a description. Treitschke, who is probably the best known in England of the Imperialist writers, definitely bases his appalling conception of life on Christian principles, and claims that he is acting from a sense of the divine mission of Germany. General von Bernhardi uses precisely the same Christian language. But these are only two in a hundred writers who, for more than half a century, have been educating Germany in aggressive ideas, and, speaking from personal acquaintance with their works, I should say that the overwhelming majority of them are Christians. Not a single Socialist, and not a single well-known Rationalist, has contributed to their pernicious gospel.
Probably the one German writer in the mind of those English people who speak of Germany's return to Paganism is Friedrich Nietzsche. It is true that Nietzsche was bitterly anti-Christian, and he has probably had a greater influence in Germany, in spite of his strictures on the country, than many seem disposed to allow. German booksellers have recently drawn up a statement in regard to the favourite books of soldiers in the field, and it appears that Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra is second on the list—leagues ahead of the Bible. But to conclude from this that the anti-moral doctrine of the Pagan Nietzsche is the chief source of the outrages committed is one of those slipshod inferences which make one despair of Christian literature.
In the first place, Goethe is even more popular with the troops than Nietzsche, and, although Goethe too was a Pagan, his teaching was the very antithesis of crime, violence, injustice, or hypocrisy. No nobler human doctrine was ever set forth than in the pages of his Faust, the first on this list of favourite books. In the second place, this fact at once warns us of a circumstance which we might have taken for granted: in the knapsacks of the overwhelming majority of the soldiers there are no books at all. It is the minority who read; and it is quite safe to assume that this thoughtful minority are not the minority who have disgraced German militarism. Thirdly—and it should hardly be necessary to make this observation—the sensitive and high-strung Nietzsche would have regarded with shuddering horror these outrages which some ignorantly attribute to his influence. It is indeed probable that, if he still looked from his hill-top upon the fields of Europe, he would pour out his most volcanic scorn upon the warring nations, and especially upon Germany and Austria. In fine, it is necessary to remember that Nietzsche was violently anti-democratic. For the mass of the people he had only disdain, and it is folly to suppose that his aristocratic philosophy has been accepted among them as a gospel.
Nietzsche has had a considerable influence on the more thoughtful reading public in Germany, yet even here one has to make reserves in charging him with a part in the preparation of the country for an aggressive war. His peculiar art and temperamental exaggerations make it impossible for any but a patient few to grasp his teaching accurately, and are peculiarly liable to mislead the less patient. When, therefore, he stresses—as most anti-Socialists do—the Darwinian struggle for existence, when he assails the humanitarian and Christian doctrine of helping the weak, when he calls into question the received code of morals, and when he extols self-assertion and strength of will, his fiery words do lend some confirmation, which he assuredly never intended, to the Prussian ideal of a State. Nietzsche was too much averse from politics to intend such an application of his teaching, which is essentially individualistic, and he had nothing but contempt for the bluster and philistinism of the Prussian State in particular. We must admit, however, that in this unintentional way he contributed to the formation of that German temper which led to the war. General von Bernhardi's admiring references to his philosophy sufficiently show this.
But Nietzsche's very limited influence on German thought cannot reasonably be quoted as justification of the common saying that Germany had deserted Christianity for Paganism. Had such a statement been made before the war began, our divines would have indignantly repudiated it. The truth is that all classes—Christian and non-Christian—have yielded fatally to the pernicious interpretation which interested politicians, soldiers, manufacturers, and Jingoistic writers have put on the real economic needs of the country. Of the Socialist and Catholic parties, in particular, the two most powerfully organised bodies in Germany, we may say that, in deserting their ideals, they have been partly deceived into a real belief that Russia and England sought their destruction, and they have partly yielded to that very old and familiar temptation—the desire to retain their numerical strength by compromising with their principles. In justice to the Socialists it should be added that that party has furnished the only men and journals in Germany to raise any protest against the madness of the nation. One of the most repulsive moral traits in Germany to-day is, even when we have made the most liberal allowance for the painful and desperate circumstances of the people, the astounding expression and cultivation of hatred. It has transpired time after time that the Vorwaerts has protested against this. Not once has it been reported that the religious press or religious ministers have protested. The new phrase that is officially sanctioned, "God punish England," is a religious phrase that no Neo-Pagan could use. On the very day on which I write this page it is reported that Socialists have protested in the Reichstag against the official endorsement of outrages. We do not hear of any Christian protest, from end to end of the campaign.
Yet I do not wish to disguise the fact that both Christians and non-Christians share the guilt of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The real difference between the two bodies appears when we take a broader view of the war, and only in this way can any general indictment of Christianity be formulated. Important as it is to determine the responsibility for this war, it is even more important to conceive that the war is the natural outcome of a system which Europe ought to have abolished ages ago. We are not far from the time when, in spite of the official teaching of the Churches, every Christian nation maintained the practice of the duel which the Teutonic nations introduced fourteen centuries ago. Although in Germany the Christian clergy have not the courage to assert their plain principles in opposition to the Emperor's barbaric patronage of the duel, the people of most civilised countries now regard the duel as a crime. No one who surveys the whole stream of moral development can doubt that a time is coming when war, the duel of nations, will be regarded as an infinitely graver crime. The day is surely over when sophists like Treitschke and callous soldiers like Bernhardi could sing the praises of war. The pathetic picture drawn by our great novelist of a worthless young lord lying at the feet of his opponent touched England profoundly and hastened the end of the duel in this country. If England, if the civilised world, be not even more deeply touched by the descriptions we have read, week after week, of tens of thousands of braver and more innocent men lying in their blood, of all the desolation and sorrow that have been brought on whole kingdoms of Europe, one will be almost tempted to despair of the race. War is the last and worst stain of barbarism on the escutcheon of civilisation.
The question of real interest is, therefore, the historical question. Those of us who did not foresee this war until we were in the very penumbra of the tragedy cannot complain that our Christian neighbours did not foresee and prevent it. Those of us who feel that the participation of our country is just and necessary may, with no strain of imagination, conceive the men of other countries equally persuading themselves that the action of their country is just and necessary. But from the day when we awoke to an adult perception of the life of the world we have been aware that the established system of settling international quarrels was barbaric and might in any year lead to just such a catastrophe. How comes it that such a system has survived fifteen hundred years of profound Christian influence? Whatever we may think of the clergy of to-day, with the more powerful clergy of yesterday we have a grave reckoning. The Rationalist is a new thing in Europe. The very name is little more than a century old, and until a few decades ago only a few thousand would accept it. Not from such a new and struggling movement do we ask why this military system has dominated Europe for ages and has only in recent times been seriously challenged. During those ages the Churches suffered none but themselves to pretend to a moral influence over the life of the nations, nor were there many bold and independent enough to make the claim. It is of the Churches we ask why this appalling system has taken such deep root in the life of Europe that it resists the most devoted efforts to eradicate it. It is not this war, but war, that accuses the Churches. We are entangled in a system so widespread and so subtle that, when a war occurs, each nation can persuade itself that it is acting on just grounds. It is the system which interests us.
CHRISTIANITY AND WAR
The day will come when the student of human development will find war one of the most remarkable institutions that ever entered and quitted history. Civilisation took it over from barbarism; barbarism from the savage; the savage from the beast. So we are accustomed to argue, but we must make a singular reservation. The lowest peoples of the human family, which seem to represent primitive man, do not wage war, and are little addicted to violence. They seem by some process of natural selection to have obtained the social quality of peacefulness and mutual aid. There was, in a sense, a stage of primitive innocence. As, however, these primitive peoples grew in numbers and were organised in tribes, as they obtained collective possessions—flocks and pastures and hunting grounds—they came into collision with each other, and all the old pugnacity of the beast awoke. Skill, and even ferocity, in war became a valuable social quality, and we get the stage of the savage. The barbarian, or the man between savagery and civilisation, was still compelled to fight for his possessions. He was usually surrounded by fierce savage tribes. The civilised man in turn was surrounded by savages and barbarians, and needed to fight. So through thousands of years of development of moral sentiment and legal procedure the primitive method of the beast has been preserved.
But I am not writing a history of warfare, and need not describe these stages more closely, or examine the new sentiment of imperialist expansion which gave civilisations a fresh incentive to develop methods of warfare. The point of interest is to determine at what stage it might have been possible for the moral element to intervene and bid the warriors, in the name of humanity, lay down their arms; at what stage the tribunal which men had set up to adjudicate between the quarrels of individuals might have been enlarged so as to be capable of arbitrating on the quarrels of nations.
Now this was plainly impossible in the early centuries of the present era, and it is therefore foolish to ask why Pagan moralists did not do what we expect Christian moralists to have done. I have already mentioned, and have fully described elsewhere, how humanitarian sentiments were generally diffused throughout the old Graeco-Roman world. There is not a phrase of the New Testament which has not a parallel among the Jews, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans. The great fusion of peoples in the Roman Empire begot a feeling of brotherhood, and, by a natural reaction on years of vice and violence, there was a considerable growth of lofty and tender, and often impracticable, sentiments. Moralists urged men to avoid anger, to bear blows with dignity, to greet all men as brothers, even to love their enemies. Plato and Epictetus and Plutarch and Seneca and Marcus Aurelius urged these maxims as forcibly as Christ did. The Stoic religion or philosophy, which guided Emperors and lawyers, and had a very wide influence in the Roman world, was intensely and quite modernly humanitarian. Its principal exponents condemned slavery and promoted a remarkable spread of philanthropy.
It was, however, not possible for the Stoics to condemn war. Some of the more ardent and less practical humanitarians of the time did this, but no alert Roman citizen could advocate the abolition of the legions. The Empire was completely surrounded by barbarians who would rush in and trample on its civilisation the moment the fence of spears was removed. From the turreted walls in the north of England, where men watched the Picts and Scots, to the deserts of Mesopotamia—from the banks of the Danube and Rhine to the spurs of the Atlas—it was essential to maintain those bronzed legions who guarded the civilised provinces from marauders. With those outlying barbarians no treaty was possible or sacred; no legal tribunal would have protected those frontiers from the men who looked covetously on the fertile fields and comfortable cities of the Roman provinces. From the first to the fourth century Rome fought, not for its expansion, but for its preservation against these increasing enemies; and it was the final intensification of the pressure in the Danube region by the arrival of enormous hordes of barbarians from Asia which precipitated the final catastrophe. Paganism had never the slightest opportunity to abandon the military system, and only those who are totally unacquainted with Roman history can wonder why it did not make the attempt. It would have been a crime to abandon the civilised provinces to barbarism.
This was the essential position of the Roman Empire: the civil wars of the fourth century, by which its military system was abused, need not be considered here. And the student of history must recognise with equal candour that the new Christianity, which succeeded Paganism in the fourth and fifth centuries, was equally powerless to abolish warfare. What we may justly blame is that the triumphant Christianity of the fourth century did not merely sanction the use of arms in defence of civilisation; it employed them in its own interest. The earlier Christians had exasperated the Romans by refusing to bear arms in the service of the Empire, plain as the need was. To a slight extent this was due to an aversion from the shedding of blood; for the most part military service was refused because it was saturated with Pagan rites. When the Empire became Christian, this objection was removed, and the Christians freely entered the army. Unhappily, the Christian body deteriorated with the new prosperity and base instincts were indulged. It is an undoubted historical fact, recorded by St. Jerome himself, that the election of Pope Damasus, his friend and benefactor, was accompanied by bloody and fatal riots. From undoubted historical sources we know that the Christian mob compelled the Prefect of Rome to fly from the city, and there is very serious evidence (in a document written by two Roman priests) that Damasus employed the swords and staves of his supporters to secure his position. Damasus and subsequent Popes then obtained or sanctioned the use of the Roman soldiers for the suppression of heresy and schism and Paganism, and Christianity was installed by violence throughout the Empire. In the Eastern Roman Empire things were even worse. Violence became the customary device in the seething religious quarrels of the time, and, literally, tens of thousands lost their lives. The Byzantine or Greek Christianity entered upon a record of crime and violence which disgraced it for many centuries.
This development did not augur well for the application of Christian principles to warfare. We may, however, observe at once that for many centuries the Roman Church had not the slightest chance of establishing peace in Europe. The destruction of the Roman Empire and disbanding of its armies made an entirely new situation in Italy. The Popes were, for the most part, good men, but they did not dream at that time of controlling the counsels of kings and dictating affairs of State. Even the story of Pope Leo the Great overawing the King of the Huns, Attila, and turning his army away from Italy, is a mere legend of medieval writers, and is at variance with the nearer authorities. The northern tribes themselves were to a great extent, and for some centuries, of the Arian faith, and took no advice from Rome. In a word, it would be stupid to expect Christian leaders of the early Middle Ages to press the cause of peace. The northern peoples, who would in time form the nations of Europe, were essentially violent and warlike, and would have recognised no pacific counsels in that imperfect stage of their religious development.
Where the historian may and must censure the Church is in its adoption of militarism for its own purposes. Pope Gregory the Great found Italy in a chaotic and pitiful condition, and no doubt he acted, on the whole, rightly in organising its military defence. The more serious circumstance was that he began to receive immense estates, as gifts or legacies, in all parts of Italy as the property of the Roman Church, and from that time either a Papal army or the employment of the army of some friendly monarch was necessary in order to protect these estates. With the confirmation and consolidation of these estates into a kingdom under Charlemagne in the ninth century the Papacy completed its moral aberration. Most of the Popes were still men of good character, and they no doubt persuaded themselves that, since the income of these estates was needed for the fulfilment of their spiritual task, it was proper to defend them by the sword. But casuistry of this kind has never prospered indefinitely, and few historians will doubt that this temporal development led directly to that degradation of the Papacy which rendered it unfit to exercise moral influence on Europe. The Papacy became a princedom to attract the covetous and the ambitious, and the line of Popes sank so low by the tenth century that the grossest characters were able to occupy the chair of Peter at a time when the nations of Europe were sufficiently advanced to be susceptible of a sincere moral influence. The record of the Papacy, from the ninth century to the nineteenth, contains on almost every page a bloody struggle for the temporal power. The most religious and most eminent of the Popes, such as Gregory VII and Innocent III, were the most prompt to set in motion the machinery of war in defence of their territories or in punishment of rebels against their authority. Not one of them was in a position to bid kings disband their armies, or ever dreamed of enjoining them to do more than observe a few days' truce or keep their swords from each other in order to save them for the common enemy of Christendom.
It would be useless to speculate about the date when the new nations of Europe had become sufficiently civilised to hear a gospel of peace. The idea of superseding the military system of Europe by a juridical system occurred to no Christian leader, and therefore we need not consider what prospect it might have had of realisation. The Christian gospel of meekness had become a mockery: even the great abbeys, in which the gentler and more religious were supposed to be immured, had their troops, and abbots and bishops, and very often Papal Legates, appeared at the head of armies. Two Popes, John X and Julius II, marched themselves at the head of their troops. Cardinals had their suites of swordsmen, and the castles of the Roman aristocracy were at times strong fortifications from which war of the most ferocious and unscrupulous character was waged. Christendom was steeped in violence; only a gentle saint or bishop here and there caught a futile vision of a world of peace. Every man was armed against possible trouble with his neighbour; every noble had his retainers and kept them well exercised; every prince was free, as far as the spiritual authorities were concerned, to covet and bloodily exact the lands of his neighbour. The noble, of either sex, found supreme delight in jousts which the modern sentiment finds as inhuman as a sordid quarrel of Apaches over a mistress; the peasants found a corresponding pleasure in the play of quarter-staves or the combats of dogs and cocks.
It is, as I said, little use to speculate about the chances of a gospel of humanity in such a world. The overwhelming majority of priests and prelates made no effort whatever to restrain the prevailing violence. The elementary duty of any profound moral agency was to protest without ceasing, even if the protest was unavailing. It is not at all clear that it would have been unavailing. The power of the Popes was beyond that of any other hierarchy known to history, and at least the moral education of Europe would have proceeded less slowly, and war would have been abolished centuries ago, if there had been any serious, collective, and authoritative enforcement of Christian principles. There was not, and to this silence of the clergy during those long ages of their power we owe the maintenance in Europe to-day of the regime of violence. They were so far from enjoying moral inspiration in this respect that they were amongst the first to bless the banners and swell the coffers of an aggressive monarch, and they gave the military system a final consecration by employing it repeatedly in the interests of the Church.
All that one can plead in mitigation of this deep historical censure of the medieval Church is that the frontiers of Christendom were for centuries threatened by the Turk and the Saracen. The old need of protecting civilisation by arms had almost disappeared. Few and feeble peoples remained outside the range of Christian civilisation after the tenth century. Armies were maintained only in the interest of criminal ambition or for the settlement of disputes which ought to have been submitted to judges. The menace of the Turk, with his hostile religion, was, of course, a just ground for armaments, but a few nations generally bore the whole brunt of his onset. Whatever religious feeling may make of the great Crusades, which drew to the east armies from all parts of Europe, secular history must dismiss them as appalling blunders. The few advantages they brought to European culture cannot seriously be weighed against the terrible sacrifice of lives and the even more terrible consecration of militarism. In a word, the menace of the Turk could have been met admirably by such an arrangement as we are advocating in Europe to-day: the maintenance of a small force by each nation for common action, under the direction of a supreme legal tribunal, against nations which would not obey the common law of peace. But we need not seriously discuss the influence of the Turk on the system. The last phases of the struggle, when the selfish nations and the ambitious Papacy spent their time in idle mutual recrimination and left the Hungarians and Poles to do all the work, justify us in dismissing that element. Kings and republics maintained armies for purely selfish purposes, for brutal aggression and defence against aggressors; and not a prelate in Europe had any moral repugnance to the system, or ventured to condemn it, especially as the Church used the same agency in defence of its own temporal interests.
With the development of the Papal power and the advance of the peoples of Europe the opportunity of peace became greater, but the spiritual authority pledged itself more and more deeply to the military system. The Popes aspired—as Gregory VII and Innocent III repeatedly state—to control the temporal as well as the spiritual affairs of Europe, to transfer crowns when they thought fit, to direct invasions and military expeditions against any who questioned their authority. Hildebrand boasts (Ep. vii, 23) that, when William of Normandy sent envoys to ask Pope Alexander to sanction his unscrupulous invasion of England, and the Papal Court was itself too sensible of the enormity to give its sanction, he (Hildebrand) overbore the wavering Pope and forced him to bless the enterprise; and, when he had in his turn mounted the Papal throne, he vehemently claimed that his action had made England a fief for ever of the Holy See! Gregory VII and Innocent III are the two greatest and most sincerely religions of the medieval Popes, and they carried the power of the Papacy to a height which excites the amazement of the modern historian. But they were at the same time the most militant of the Popes, and on the least provocation they set armies—even the most barbaric and ferocious troops in Europe—in motion to carry out their imperial commands. They arrogated the power of deposing monarchs, and thus encouraged civil war and the ambitions of neighbouring kings.
The rise of heresy and of protests against the corruption of the Papacy was another very grave pretext of the Church to support the military system. In the days of Gregory VII a body of Puritans known as the Patareni spread over the north of Italy, and Rome encouraged a few soldiers to lead armed mobs against them and drown their idealism in blood. Innocent III has a more terrible stigma on his record. The Albigensians, an early type of Protestants, were spreading in the south of France, and the Pope sanctioned a "crusade"—an expedition, largely, of looters and cut-throats—against them from all parts of France. The appalling deceit practised by the Papal Legate and sanctioned by the Pope, the ferocity of the campaign, and the desolation brought on one of the happiest and most prosperous provinces of France, may be read in any history of the thirteenth century. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children were savagely put to death. And this was only the beginning of the Papal war on heresy, which from the thirteenth century never ceased to spring up in Europe until it won its right of citizenship in the Reformation. Even more vehemently was war urged against the Moors, then the most civilised people in Europe.
In face of this notorious history of Europe during the long course of the Middle Ages it is now usual for Catholic apologists to plead that the blood of the barbarian still flowed in the veins of the Christian nations and men were not yet prepared to listen to the message of peace. This plea cannot for a moment be admitted in extenuation of the Church's guilt. The clergy had themselves no conception of the criminality of war, and did not rise above the moral level of their age. Here and there a saint or a prelate raised a feeble voice against the violence of men, but we do not estimate an institution by the words of an occasional member, especially if they are at variance with the official conduct and the general sentiment. On the other hand, to boast that the clergy at times enforced a temporary cessation of fighting (the "Truce of God") only increases our appreciation of their guilt. The men who enforced that Truce gave proof at once of their power and of their perception of the un-Christian nature of warfare. But they were unwilling to condemn outright a machinery which they might employ at any moment in defence or advancement of their own interests. Had the Church been a serious moral influence in Europe, had it been true to the message in virtue of which it had grown rich and powerful, it would have protested unceasingly against this reign of violence. It was not a great moral influence. The grossness and illiteracy of the people, the appalling immorality of the clergy and monks and nuns, and this almost entire failure to apply Christian or ordinary human principles to the worst feature of the life of Europe, are terrible offsets to the little good it achieved. Europe was steadily educated and encouraged, century after century, in the shedding of blood.
The Protestant is at times disposed to dismiss the whole sordid story with the remark that this Roman Church was not Christianity at all. He contrives to overlook the serious difficulty that, if the Roman Church did not represent Christianity from the sixth century to the sixteenth, there was, contrary to the promise of Christ, no Christianity in Europe for a thousand years; and he surrenders all the wonderful art of the Middle Ages (as he ought) to entirely non-Christian forces. That, however, does not concern me here. The slightest recollection of history would warn the Protestant that the Reformation brought no improvement whatever, as far as this reign of violence is concerned. The forces set up by the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation fought each other for some decades with the comparatively peaceful weapons of mutual abuse and heated argument. When it was perceived that these weapons were of no avail, there was the customary appeal to the sword. In the historical documents which tell the life of Pope Paul IV we see the Papacy and the Jesuits urging the Catholic princes to lead out their armies. Heresy was to be extinguished in blood; and, seeing how many millions in the north had by that time embraced the heresy, there can have been no illusion as to the magnitude of the oceans of blood that would be required to drown it. So Europe entered upon the horrors of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), which put back the civilisation of Germany for more than a hundred years and utterly ruined some of the small principalities. The population of Bohemia alone fell from three millions to less than a million. Nearly every nation in Europe was involved, and the war was conducted with all the brutality of the older medieval warfare.
The fact that political as well as religious ambitions were engaged in the Thirty Years' War does not affect my argument. In so far as religious sentiment was responsible—and it will hardly be questioned that it had a large share in the Thirty Years' War—we find a fresh consecration by Christianity itself of the use of the sword. But the main point we have to consider is that the new spiritual authorities were no more inclined than the old to declare that warfare was opposed to Christian principles. The last three centuries have been as full of aggressive war as the three centuries which preceded, but there was no protest by Christian ministers either in Protestant England and Scandinavia or in Catholic France and Austria. It was the period when the modern Powers of Europe were building up their vast dominions, and no one who is acquainted with the story can have any illusion as to the application to that process of what are now described as clear Christian principles.
This is precisely the plaint of modern Germany. We seek, they say, to do merely what England and France—it were indiscreet to mention Austria—did in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They were vigorous peoples with an impulse to expand and to extend their civilisation over backward lands. They appealed solely to the right of the sword, and all the Christian authorities in Europe—the bishops of William and of Anne, the bishops of Louis XIV, the bishops of Peter the Great—had not a single syllable to say against the right of the sword. The various branches of the Christian Church were at that time singularly unanimous in accommodating their principles to imperialist and aggressive warfare. Now that you have obtained all that you need—the aggrieved Teuton says—now that I in turn would expand and colonise, you discover that this imperialist aggression is supremely opposed to Christian principles.
On some such meditations, in part, the German bases his conviction of the hypocrisy and perfidy of the English character. He is, of course, entirely wrong. A real change has taken place in the moral sentiment of this country; a change so real that when, in South Africa, the nation entered upon a war which many regarded as aggressive and merely acquisitive, there was a very widespread revolt. The cynic might genially observe that it is not difficult to retire from evil-doing and cultivate lofty principles when your fortune has been made, but it is important to realise this change and understand its significance. There is, no doubt, a sound human element in the cynic's observation. It is easier to recognise moral principle when the period of temptation is over. Every thoughtful and humane Englishman will make allowance for the less fortunate position of Germany, and not foolishly pride himself on his own superiority of character. The fact remains, however, that there has been a real moral improvement in England and France, and it would now be impossible for those nations to enter upon the aggressive and nakedly ambitious wars which they were accustomed to undertake before the nineteenth century. We have a genuine abhorrence of the "lust for land" which has impelled Germany to plunge Europe into war. But until a century or two ago that lust for land was considered a legitimate appetite in Europe, and the clergy crowded with the people to greet the warriors who came home with the news that they had added, by the sword, one more province to our spreading Empire.
That this change of heart is not merely a feeling that we have no further need of aggression, and would ourselves suffer by the aggression of others, could easily be proved, if it were necessary. In the same period of change we abolished the duel, and there was no material advantage in discovering the immorality of the duel. We abolished dog-fighting, cock-fighting, bull-baiting, and other brutalising spectacles. We undertook a reform of our industrial and penal systems which, however imperfect it be, was very considerable in itself, and was inspired solely by motives of humanity. There was a general and marked improvement of public sentiment, and it is as part of this improvement that we now find a universal condemnation of aggressive war and a widespread demand for the entire abolition of war. The construction of English history and English character on the lines of Mr. G. B. Shaw may be entertaining, and may save considerable trouble of research, but it does not conduce to sound judgment. The laments of social pessimists and of certain religious controversialists are never supported by accurate knowledge. Every social historian who gives evidence of knowing the evils of the England of a century ago as well as the England of to-day admits that there has been a great moral advance.
I will examine in the next chapter certain comments of religious writers and speakers on this advance. Here I wish to determine the facts with some clearness. It has not been necessary for me to discuss the medieval and the early modern period with any fullness. There is no dispute about the features of those periods. They were ages of violence, of incessant and frankly aggressive war, of unrestrained ambition. The smallest pretext sufficed for a monarch, if his forces and finances were in order, to invade his neighbour's territory and annex as much of it as he could hold by the sword. Frederic the Great and Napoleon did not introduce new ideas into Europe; they attempted to revive medieval ideas in a changing world. Austria in its annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany in its ambition to annex Belgium and the colonies which other Powers have laboriously cultivated, are following their example. They are not inventing new forms of criminality; they are not returning to Pagan ideals: they are reverting merely to ideals which were accepted throughout Europe for more than a thousand years. In the more brutal features of war to which they have descended they are even more emphatically reverting to the Middle Ages. The Romans did not commit such outrages at the command of educated officers. Medieval Christians did: the record of Papal warfare, down to the "Massacre of Perugia" in 1859, is as deeply stained as any by these abominable methods.
My further point, that the Christian Church or Churches made no serious resistance to the prevailing brutality, is just as easy to establish. It is a sheer travesty of argument to put forward the gentle exhortations of a Francis of Assisi as characteristic of the Christian Church when the Pope of the time, one of the most powerful and conscientious Popes of all time, Innocent III, was threatening or directing the movements of ferocious armies all over Europe. Most assuredly there were among the numbers of fine characters who appeared in Christendom in the course of a thousand years many who deeply resented the prevailing violence. But when we speak of the Church, we speak of its official action and its predominant sentiment. The official action of the Popes was, during all that period, to make the same use as any terrestrial monarch of the service of soldiers; they failed, from Gregory the Great to Pius X, to recognise one of the supreme moral needs of Europe. The bishops of the Church of England and the heads of the Lutheran and Calvinistic Churches did not prove to have any sounder moral inspiration in this respect. It was left to despised bodies like the Friends, who were hardly recognised as Christians, and to rare individuals to protest against the system which has brought such appalling evil on Europe.
In the nineteenth century the moral sentiment of Europe began to advance more rapidly than it had previously done, and the idea of substituting arbitration for war began to spread. The history of this reform has not yet been written, as far as I can discover, but it is hardly likely that any will be bold enough to suggest that the idea was due to Christianity. After the Napoleonic wars, at least, Europe was ripe for such a reform. I do not mean that public feeling in Europe was prepared for the idea. It would have met with a very considerable degree of resistance, and would have generally been conceived as the dream of an amiable fanatic. Such resistance makes the duty of the moralist or the reformer all the more pressing, and it is merely amazing to hear the earlier Christian clergy exonerated on the ground that the world was not prepared to receive a message of peace from them. They did not try the experiment because it did not occur to them, or because they were too closely dependent on the monarchs of the earth to question the wisdom of their arrangements. Europe was, in point of fact, quite ripe for the change in the second decade of the nineteenth century, and there would assuredly be no war to-day if the Churches had had the moral inspiration and the moral courage to insist on it. The frontiers of the nations were (except in the case of Italy and Poland) defined with a fair show of justice, and the time had come to disband armies and submit any future quarrel to arbitration: to retain only a small standing army in each country for the defence of its colonial frontiers against tribes which do not respect arbitration, or for the enforcement of the decisions of the central tribunal. The conditions were almost as favourable for such a change in 1816 as they are to-day, or will be in 1916, and it is another grave point in the indictment of Christianity that it had no inspiration to demand that change. The bishops of England no less than the bishops of Rome were deeply concerned about the rise of democracy and the spread of unbelief, and they joined with the monarchs in enforcing a system of violent repression. For the larger and more real need of Europe they had no feeling whatever, and militarism entered upon its last and most terrible phase: the stage of national armies and of means of destruction prepared with all the fearful skill of modern science.
As the nineteenth century proceeded, humanitarianism attained clearer conceptions and more articulate speech. The scheme of substituting legal procedure for military violence was definitely put before the world. It is not necessary, and would be difficult, to trace the earliest developments of this idea. On the one hand, I find no claim that it was put forward by representatives of Christianity; on the other hand, literary research among the records of the early Rationalist movements in this country has shown me that the idea was familiar and welcome amongst them. No doubt the aversion of the Friends from bloodshed had some influence, and we find representatives of that noble-minded Society active in more than one of the early reform-movements. But, as far as I can discover, it was Robert Owen who first definitely advanced the idea of substituting arbitration for war, and it was repeatedly discussed among the "Rational Religion" Societies—which were not at all religious—that he founded or inspired in various parts of the country. The immense influence which he obtained in the thirties and forties enabled him to direct public attention to the reform.
This early history is, however, as yet vague and unstudied, nor do we need to enter into any ungenerous struggle about priority. It is enough that the idealist scheme was well known in England long before the middle of the nineteenth century. Did the Christian Churches adopt and enforce it? Here, at least, no minute research is needed. The Christian bodies failed lamentably and totally (apart from the heterodox Friends) even to recognise the moral and humane greatness of the idea when it was definitely presented to them. It is only in the last few years that a Peace Sunday has—at the suggestion of lay associations—been adopted in the churches and chapels of England. It is only in quite recent times that bishops and ministers have stood on peace-platforms and advocated the reform. And even to-day, when peace associations founded by laymen have been endeavouring for decades to educate the country, no branch of the Christian Church has officially and collectively decreed that Christian principles enjoin the reform; no Pope or Archbishop or Church Council has supported it with a stern and official injunction that Christian and moral principle demands that all the members of the particular Church shall subscribe to and work for the reform. Even at this eleventh hour, when the issue of peace or war confronts the whole of mankind, one notices hesitation, reserve, ambiguity. During the fateful years between 1900 and 1914, when the nations were, in the eyes of all, preparing the most appalling armaments ever known in history, when men were speaking freely all over Europe of "the next war" and the terrific dimensions which modern science and modern alliances would give to it, the various branches of the Christian Church adhered to their ancient and futile practice of preaching general principles (as far as national conduct is concerned), and had little practical influence on the development.
I am not unaware of the small movements among the clergy for cultivating international clerical friendship, or of the extent to which individual clergymen have co-operated in the various arbitration movements. That is only a feeble discharge of a small part of their duty. Had Leo XIII or Pius X issued a plain and explicit Encyclical on the subject, and directed his vast international organisation of clergy to labour wholeheartedly for its realisation, who can estimate what the result would have been? Had the clergy of Germany issued a stern and collective denunciation of the Pan-German and Imperialist literature which was instilling poison into every village of the country, can we suppose that it would have been without avail? Had the Archbishops and Bishops of England, and the leaders of the Free Churches, definitely instructed their people that the pacifist ideal was not merely in accord with Christian principles, but was one of the most urgent and beneficent reforms of our time, would the English people have passed as inobservantly as it did through the five years of preparation for a great war?
It is no part of my plan to analyse this deplorable failure of the Churches as moral agencies. The explanation would be complex, and is now superfluous. The clergy were, like the majority of their fellows, obsessed by the military system and unable to realise the possibility of a change. In part they were deluded by the catch-words of superficial literature. They had an idea that we were asking England to lower its armament while the rest of the world increased its armament. They muttered that "the time was not ripe," not realising that it was their business to make it ripe. They had been accustomed for ages to preaching a purely individualist morality, and they felt ill at ease in the larger social applications of moral principle which our age regards as more important. They feared to offend military supporters, and did not realise that one may entirely honour the soldier as long as the military system lasts, yet resent the system. They felt that this new movement was suspiciously hailed by Socialists, and that to denounce armies had an air of politics about it. They were peculiarly wedded to tradition, on account of the very nature they claimed for their traditions, and they instinctively felt that to denounce war would be to attempt to improve, not merely on their predecessors, but on the Old and the New Testaments. They solaced themselves with the thought that unnecessary violence was condemned in their general teaching, and that, if it eventually transpired that war was unnecessary, they could point out once more the all-embracing character of the Christian ethic. In fine, they were for the greater part, like the greater part of their fellows, mentally indolent and indisposed to think out or fight for a new idea.
Whatever the explanation, the fact remains. By the tenth century Christianity was fully organised, and all the peoples of Europe were Christian; by the thirteenth century the power of the Church was enormous and the nations of Europe were settled and civilised. But neither then nor at any later period did Christianity perceive the crime and stupidity of the prevailing system. The perception is even now only faint and partial. It is this long toleration of the military system, the thousand-year silence on what is now acclaimed as one of the greatest applications of Christian principle, that one finds it difficult or impossible to forgive. The zeal of some of the modern clergy is open to a certain not unnatural suspicion: in view of their shrinking authority and the growing indifference of the world to dogma and ritual, they have been forced to take up these new and larger ideas of our time.
Even if one lays aside that suspicion, and in many cases it is quite unjust, the clergy must realise that the indictment of Christianity is grave, and is almost unatonable. Those thousand years of conflict, during which they sanctioned every variety of war and initiated many wars in their own interest, have given the military system such root in the hearts of men that it will require a supreme and prolonged effort to destroy it. The proverbial visitor from Mars would not be so much amazed at any feature of our life as at this retention amid a great civilisation of the barbaric method of settling international differences. He would ask in astonishment how an intelligent and generally humane race, a race which raises homes for stray cats and aged horses, could cling to a system which, on infallible experience, plunges one or more countries in the deepest suffering every few years. He would learn that there has not been a war in Europe for a hundred years the initial cause of which would not have been better appreciated and adjudicated on by a body of impartial lawyers; and that, if the quarrels had thus been submitted to arbitration, we should have saved (including the annual military expenditure and the cost of the present war) some three million lives and more than L15,000,000,000—since the end of the Napoleonic wars. In answer to the amazement of this imaginary critic, we could reply only that Europe has grown to regard the military system as so permanent and unquestioned an institution of our civilisation that it simply cannot imagine the abolition of that system.