How one grows to love the Protestant Church of Germany ! There is a solemnity and beauty in its worship, an earnestness and reverence within its sacred temples, a richness, depth, satisfaction in its service, — a reverence in all that fills the soul with a completeness of devotion. While the social element in the American church may be a helpful thing, still it often brings too much of the worldly spirit into sacred places, and the mingling necessarily works against true, pure devotion. There is a wonderful contrast between the German church in the capital, Berlin, and the fashionable city churches of America. No one is ever dressed in the style that prevails in American churches not even the nobility or imperial family ; it is not considered good taste, and only the plainest attire is seen in the place of worship. What pure, single worship is possible here ! You go to any church ; the crowd presses in, the people do not seem to know each other or think of each other ; there is one purpose in the heart of each. There is no private conversation ; on entering, each stands a moment with bowed head, and then awaits in silence the first note from the organ, when, as with one prayerful, praise-overflowing heart, the hymn breaks forth. Nothing distracts. With all the liturgy and ceremony, there is still a wonderful simplicity ; in some indefinable way, the world and its cares seem dismissed, and the soul freely rises to heights of blessedness.
The religious life of Germany is a question of much thought and of deep interest to the thoughtful on both sides of the sea. With its great universities and their radiating influence, its scholars, philosophers, theologians, whose writings affect the thinking world Germany, in its religious tendencies, is the subject of serious thought. Year by year, the religious sentiments have been changing. The early faith of Luther was darkened by rationalism, but in later years the open rationalism has been declining, and a growing evangelical feeling has been visible among the mass of the people. The position of the Emperor has had much to do with this, together with the reaction against unsatisfactory skepticism. There has been a prevailing idea abroad that the churches in Germany are bare and deserted, and that people have utterly forsaken the house of God, that there is no desire for religion or the Church of God. That may have been so in times gone by; but, by a winter’s residence in Berlin, we have seen a contrary state of things. The churches are always full. No matter where we were, in city, town, or village, we never saw any but crowded churches. As we have seen, in holiday times, the many services of the days, and week days moreover, have the same devoted attendance. This contrast to the prevailing opinion concerning the religious state of Germany is a decided contradiction to it.
True, there are many contradictions in the religious life. This faithful church going maintains the fact of the existence of life in the church. Judged by her Sabbath, Germany has no Christianity reverencing the Decalogue. Crowded as the churches are, naught is known of our national church life, the union of fellowship which forms a society, its individual missionary labor, its charity systems, its special meetings and pleasures. Our peculiar church life is peculiarly our own : its recognition of the individual, of individual duties, all those labors and privileges which make each member part of an active family and the church a beloved home. This rises from the fact that the church is a State Church. The people grow to regard the Church as an institution of the government, not dependent upon them for support (by voluntary contribution), not demanding individual responsibility. As the rail-road, telegraph, postal service, education of the country, is in the hand of the State, thus the Church is also one of its branches of internal government. All the work of the Church is regulated by officials of the State. The parochial, the mission work is all apportioned. The ministers are appointed, the books are dictated, even the text for each Sabbath regulated, all this by the State. The State ordains that its children must be baptized, confirmed, and so makes the nation a nation of church members, Christians, and the duty is at an end, except that every citizen must pay taxes for the support of this institution of the government. Many who are extreme against the Church rebel against being obliged to support it ; but the system maintains. Thus the people do not support the minister, as we do, by voluntary contribution, nor is the Church kept up in this way, and naturally there is a lack of that personal interest in it that we are accustomed to. The State, thus assuming the government, establishing the regulations, arranging the services, takes from the people that sense of possession, pride, zeal, the feeling that urges to personal effort on the part of each individual. Under such an organization, we cannot expect that co-operation of labor which makes our church such a working power. On the other hand, there are some good features in such a system : it forbids a distinction between rich and poor, makes “aristocratic churches” an impossibility, gives no place for ” oligarchies” or the ” ruling few.” It forms, in fact, a church for the masses. There is no distinction of persons, aside from the imperial family.
There is a universal broad spirit that is really Christian. Little of sects or denominationalism is known. Thus they avoid that extreme of feeling which often leads to scattered efforts, too frequently cherishes division, and many times leads to a zeal for the growth of denominationalism rather than for a spread of the Kingdom. All churches are alike to the people it is one Church. There still exists the Lutheran and the Calvinistic or Reformed Church, but at the time of the formation of the Empire these were united into one the State Church, or the United Church, or the Evangelical Church.
Going to church in Berlin is not the same easy matter that it is in New York or any of our large cities. We are a spoiled nation everything in our American daily life is so much more comfort-able than in Europe and we are spoiled even in our church going. Here it is not a short walk or drive, and arriving just in time for service, then enjoying the hour in the luxury of soft cushions, warm carpets, air made pure by good ventilation. No, far otherwise. Indeed, some have said, ” It is worth as much as a man’s life to try to go to church in Berlin ; you have to fight your way!” Berlin has grown so rapidly that the building of churches has not been in proportion, so that we find one church (in one district) to eighty thousand people ; in another district, one to one hundred and forty thousand. Compare that with our average ; one for every six hundred ! Germany is poor; the State needs the money of its heavily taxed people for the support of its immense standing army, at a yearly expense of one hundred million dollars raised by taxation. There is no money, consequently, to build new churches to meet the increase of population in such a city. So, with few churches, scattered at great distances, sure to be crowded, service as early as 9 o’clock, there must be an early start. We have been at the church door as early as 9 o’clock, yet have always found a waiting group ; we often wonder at what early hour the crowd begins to assemble.
The crowd grows ; it is very cold, or the sun is blinding; nevertheless, there they stand in patience. The doors open, and then it is “rush for your life !” It is simply terrible. Push, shove, fight is this really church? In a moment the free seats are filled and the aisles crowded. Here, as one stands, fighting to maintain the ground, the situation is not very conducive to meditation. One feels more as though entering a battle than the sanctuary, and the natural rising of the aggressive quenches the devout. Failing to get a corner on the free bench, the next best thing is to stand at the pew doors and hope some families will be absent, for when the service begins they are opened to the public. The privileged pew owners enter, unlock the pew door, shut it with a bang, complacently seat themselves, and are thankful that they are not as other men are, standing. They enjoy the worship all the more for the contrast.
The sexton in all Europe the sacristan he is called is an important personage. With swallow tailed coat, immaculate embroidered shirt bosom, well oiled hair, rattling his keys, he stands at the altar, giving orders, or, with smiles and bows, he hastens to unlock a pew door, in response to the ever welcome fee slipped into his hand. During service, he is ever conspicuous. How the children, and even old people, quail under his eye ! The church is crowded, even so close to the altar that the people may rest their feet on its steps ; camp-stools, which the people bring to the church themselves, fill every inch of space, and crowds stand about the doors. An old picture of the Old World is before us. Soldiers in glittering uniform, the nobility in private boxes ; the deaconesses, in black robes and white caps ; high up, out of sight, the organ and choir boys ; the preacher, in sacred gown, in the pulpit-box, high on one side of the ancient place; the lighted candles, memorial tablets and crosses, and then the slow, deep chorals, sung by the full congregation. As the text is announced, the people rise, for in Germany they never sit during the reading of the sacred Scriptures. Only the New Testament is used, a lesson from the Gospel and then one from the Epistles.
The creed, the Lord’s prayer, the beautiful liturgy with its confession, petition, praise, never lose their power, but ever grow in beauty. They are never muttered, never hurried over, but ever the solemn beautiful words are given in their full solemnity. German sermons are earnest, ear-nest as the ideal German character. The preacher never reads ; he talks earnestly to the people. There is a close following of the Gospel story in the Church year. It is always gospel, never art, science, or speculation, but ever that for which and in which the Church exists the truth as found in Christ Jesus. Strong words they are, rich in meaning, deep in thought, inspiring in their influence.
It is a fact, that notwithstanding the crowded churches, the church attending average of the population is very small, yet in this there is a sign of hope. While the nation, as a whole, may have lost the spirit in the form, still, constantly, one meets devoted Christians, yearning, sorrowing, hoping for their own beloved fatherland. There is the salt of the earth here, the little leaven that shall work with power ; and these voices, as of those crying in the wilderness, shall yet be heard speaking, not in vain, to an awakened people. Everywhere we go, we find some of these fervent Christians, hear them in families, on the train, and in Leipsic came the strangest experience of all.
We had been to St. Thomas’ Church : had heard an excellent sermon, by a man preaching his trial sermon, not a frequent occurrence in Germany, as only a few churches have the privilege of choosing their preachers so. Returning, we stopped in the park to watch the passing people. Every city and town in Germany has beautiful parks, walks, green spots amidst trees, where the people may catch a breath of purer air. Their homes are not as comfortable as ours in America, and so the Germans live out-of-doors as much as possible. As we were thus seated on the bench in the park, we were attracted by the conversation of two men seated at the other end of the same bench. They, too, had been to the same church, and were now discussing the sermon. They liked it, thought it good, but were in great sorrow for one thing, that Christ had been left out of it altogether. It was true we now remembered it and our hearts too were touched at these mournful tones, so grieved that the one great essential thing – Christ had not been preached.
We listened further, and heard lamentations, touching, strong, pathetic, powerful, reminding us, indeed, of those of Jeremiah of old. They complained of the spirit in the University, among the learned, that of making religion a matter of the intellect. ” It is a thing of revelation, not of reason,” they said. Sentence after sentence, full of thought, followed each other. “Ah, the Martin Luther preachers have departed. We are Lutherans, but his spirit is not here. True, they preach God, God is not denied, but Christ is put aside, and without Him all is of no avail.”. . . ” Look at this Sabbath. In the morning the people are in church, that is, a small part of them, but in the afternoon there is no respect for the holy day.” … ” In two weeks will be the great shooting festival, on the Sabbath. It is giving a slap in the face of our Lord, his own day ! ” (How like Luther’s plain language are these homely sentences.) Then, as if checking themselves in their complaints, one said, “O, I am sick at heart, why do I complain?” And the other : “The old prophets mourned over Jerusalem ; you, too, may wail at our land. I feel happy in one thing, that I have found the truth and am apart from the world. The world hates us, – calls all of us who cry for truer religion ‘crazy.’ As on the day of Pentecost, they called those who spoke as with tongues of fire ‘filled with new wine,’ so today the world takes up the reproach, and names us ‘crazy.’” And more and more the poetical language grew showing, too, the deep, thoughtful German mind. “O, sweet day, the day of death ! Sweet to those who know the Lord ! Alas, how many of these will turn to each other and say in surprise, `I never thought of this !’ Then we shall die to live. Birth in nature is a wonderful thing. One is born to live, that is humanly great, but to die to live, that is God-like great ! That will come. O, that these godless people would stop to think of the only Salvation ! ”
It was a sad and strange experience to hear these two Germans so mourning over their own fatherland. Yet such voices we find. It shows a spirit moving among the people, and, if this is so, there is hope ; for from among the people always comes the rise of truth and reform. If death is in the Church, in University, in State, still the people can rise above all this dead form and bring life into the nation. These thoughtful German Christians always speak of the American and English church life with a warm love and a longing for the same in their midst. They have caught our spirit in many places. In certain districts our Gospel Hymns have been translated, and are much loved. There is a need and a desire for evangelistic work. There is no effort made to gather the masses into the church. The preachers are too burdened with these great parishes. With the national reverence for God and religion so deep in the German character, it would seem as though with some effort the people could be won to the Church. In Germany there is nothing similar to the evangelistic work of England and America ; nothing outside of the preaching, parochial work (baptisms, funerals, confirmations), and inner missions (schools, the poor). Lay efforts are not known, no open meetings, no revivals, no special endeavors to call in the indifferent, nor cultivate the religious feelings that may lie slumbering. Something must be done to awaken the people, to demonstrate that religion is not merely a form, the Church not simply the institution of the State, and adherence to it something more than the duty of citizen to government.
We spent several hours in Bonn, talking over this matter with Professor Christlieb. He is enthusiastic in the new evangelistic work, and hopeful for great results. He thinks the people are ready for it. It is organized evangelistic work for Germany, under the direction of certain men who, with the true missionary spirit, looking beyond the limits of State authority, see a great people crying out, for they go down to death, and who, recognizing the efficiency of the evangelistic system in other countries, are constrained to desire and labor for such a work among the masses in Germany also. It will be a difficult work, for, naturally, the Church, as a regular institution of the State, looks upon the movement, as springing up among the people and independent of recognized authority, as a bold advanced step. The ministry in such a church consider that their duty confines them to prescribed methods, and, while we may think and say they are narrow, not broad enough to see the great necessities which break down all barriers, we must remember the state of society and form of government. Professor Christlieb and others will be opposed by the Church. Professor Christlieb is working at the problem ; he thinks the people are ripe for such a labor, that it will be gratefully received by them, and accomplish great good. The regular clergy are ready to fight the work, and it has difficulties, more than can be seen on the surface. The Germans are naturally conservative, prejudiced, bound by custom, slaves to the past, respecters of form, and, beyond that, in their nature there is difficulty in evangelistic labor. The Germans will not be impressed as the American or English. They are reasoners, slow, deep thinkers, and the work must meet them in this way. The Holy Spirit works in all ways, and our hearts may be at peace, knowing that here its power is mighty, and before it naught can stand. O, how our hearts yearn for this people ! O, may these voices among the masses cease not their cry until the hearts of all are touched.
While the service and preaching of Germany have such strength, there is another power that maintains this, and which is also of great influence in the religious life of the nation. This is the music. Here is expressed the religious nature of the people, the truth deep in their hearts. The church music of Germany presents these two phases, that of the service and that of the congregation ; both distinct, one as great as the other, each a power, both uniting to make the German church music ideal in religious power, yet inseparable as they now are, one resting upon the other as its basis and origin, without which it could never have existed indeed, of which it is but a higher development. Sublime, glorious as the great oratorios, masses, motettes of German masters are, still they rest upon the simple, noble music of the Volk ; and it is beautiful to know that this inspired music of the masters springs from the melodies of the hearts of the common people, and, while it reaches into the heavens, dissolving the clouds of earth and revealing the celestial, still this heavenward soaring comes from the heavenly in the human heart. It is music caught from the heaven that exists in the soul of mankind, of all people made in the image of God. It but adds to the dignity and beauty of the high genius, the divine harmonies in German classical music, to recognize that they thus rise from the pure songs, gushing, laden with feeling, from the human heart. The soaring celestial chorus, the inspiring orchestra music in the church service, these are but a higher development of the rich songs of the Volk ; it is well they are still united in worship ; from the heart the songs well, in them we strive to rise nearer the divine, and then the beautiful classical mu-sic carries the spirit to the heights, so it is not strange that German church-music is such a power.
But, to show more clearly the relation of these two parts of worship, the growth, origin, peculiarity, let us take a German authority, for a German is able to feel and know this as no one else. The author speaks of Luther’s influence in training the people in church music, which he considered, above all, the “true support of faith,” and which he gave “a place in honor next to theology.” True, there was music in the church before Luther’s time, but corruption had entered into the Catholic Church singing, an artistic decoration wholly irrelevant to the real religious aim, so that the Council of Trent, while it attacked heresy, considered also the music of the Roman Church, wishing its style of art to be wholly banished. Palestrina’s Improprieu and masses for the Pope Marcellus rescued music from fanaticism. But the historical fact proves that, not until after Luther’s work in the music reform in Germany, were the Roman Church songs simplified and raised to greatest beauty.
” In contemplating the manner in which Luther went to work, we see first that he was a genuine German man, who knew the predilection of his people for music, and through it facilitated the way to pure faith. For, even before his teachings, his German songs, words and melodies, had spread among the people, and found a glad welcome and a dissemination, scattering the seed of the Reformation. Well could a Frankfort scholar, in his preface to the Psalms, in the year 1565, declare of the first German songs that Luther sent into the world : I do not doubt that that one song of Luther’s, “Nun freuet Euch lieben Christen gemein,” brought many hundred Christians to faith, who before that would not listen to the name of Luther; but the true, noble words of this man won their hearts, so that they accepted the truth.’ When we comprehend the fact that Luther’s first hymn, book appeared in 1524, and that already in 1546 over fifty thousand copies had been printed, and later 200 different Lutheran hymn-books, we then see how this great man knew what was the right thing for his Volk.
Many have followed him Gerhardt, Spitta, Neander, Scheffler, Ruickart what strength in these! what grander than “O sacred Head, now wounded,” ” Now thank we all our God,” “Commit thou all thy griefs,” ” Jesus, thy blood and righteousness,” “Jesus, thy boundless love to me,” these noble Christian hymns are not of the German nature only, but touch the spirit of all God’s people beloved in many tongues. There is a seriousness, a solemnity, a grandeur, fervor, depth in this German hymnology ; here is all that hidden, serious, earnest fervor that lies at the base of the ideal German character all that which has brought heroes, thinkers, philosophers. These hymns are not for the church alone ; they are literally the possession of the people a definite, genuine treasure that every German soul possesses. These same hymns are used throughout the land ; these same ones used for centuries ; age after age has grown up with them ; they have entered into the race with an effect we cannot calculate. Sung Sabbath after Sabbath, on the many church holidays, learned for confirmation, examination yea, more, used as a text-book in the daily school. It may be a sober way for childhood to be thus trained, instead of by the lulling rhymes of Mother Goose, but it is consistent with the German character, and reveals, in one of a thousand ways, the peculiarly old and grown up way of childhood in Germany.
Let us quote from the Hon. A. D. White, for many years the esteemed United States Minister to Germany. He says:
“German religious reverence sends its roots deep into the past. A strong agent in keeping it alive is to be found in the hymns of the church, and the music connected with them. These hymns, laden with the highest hopes and inspirations of past centuries, take hold upon the German heart to-day. As the great organ in some ancient church strikes the first note, the whole congregation joins in the chorale. Whether the hymn grew from the heart of Notker or of Luther or of Paul Gerhardt, every man and woman has known both words and music from childhood. In the presence of this great influence, creeds and catechisms are as nothing. The men who hold them and the men who deny them are alike. Their aspirations are alike borne upward on those mighty billows of song. Whether they roll beneath the arches of the Catholic Cathedral at Cologne or of the Protestant Cathedral at Ulm, the service of praise comes from the hearts and voices of the whole congregation. The praise is not done by proxy. It is not delegated to a quartette club. I think that even the Germans who most thoroughly discard the belief of Christendom would feel personally hurt to be thus robbed more American.”
There is really a quickening, inspiring power in this full, spontaneous, hearty singing of the congregation. Even the most indifferent must be touched in some way by a holier feeling. Nor need one ever be silent ; into whatever church he may chance to go, this is never strange to him, and the words are in some way connected with his religious experience. The chorales are noble music, suited to the German spirit, slow, dignified, and a music that familiarity has made easy for them to sing. To an unskilled American they are very trying : examine the music, observe the chords ; they are complicated ; it is difficult music; and we, not trained as the German, find no satisfaction in the singing ; we doubt if they these chorales could ever become popular is any but the German nation, it requires ages of training. Yet we have grand old hymns; nothing could ever be to us as “Rock of Ages,” ” Jesus, lover of my soul,” ” Nearer my God to Thee,” let us only make the singing universal and train our nation in hymns, noble and eternal, and dear to us in our tongue as any German ones to those in the Fatherland.
But there is in the church the music of chorus boys, of orchestra. Because we have good congregational singing, all the higher sacred music need not be banished. There is a devotional power in Haydn, Handel, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and we need every help to lift the soul to higher worship. In the Berlin Dom, the wonderful chorus of boys’ voices (probably the finest in Europe) singing that celestial music (from a hidden, elevated place behind the organ) seems, many times, as voices from heaven wooing the soul from earthly pleasure. It has a devotional power. In Dresden the great orchestra of stringed instruments gives a rich feast of harmony, the divinest harmonies brought as praise to the sacred sanctuaries. In the holy place the soul is open, ready for this beauty of sound that brings heaven more near. Never, never, is there a chord of that lower music, popular, secular strains, such as too often we have in organ interludes in America, for the whole tone is serious, solemn, reverent. This is the spirit of the German church-music reverence. It is this that makes it great. It is this that is the great factor, is keeping alive the church, and that will ever testify to the depth of religious feeling in the German heart.