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In point of fact, whatever theory may be invented to account for, or defend it, the whole power in the church, in Prussia, and most other parts of Protestant Germany, is in the hands of the state ; and has been so from the period of the reformation. The church in that country, has never enjoyed a separate and independent organization. In the unavoidable confusion, consequent on the disruption of former ties, at the time of the reformation, the power which had been previously exercised by the Catholic Bishops, was assumed without resistance by the Protestant Princes, who have retained it ever since. In England where the Bishops took part in the reformation, the previously existing organization of the church, was in a great measure retained; in France and other places, where both government and Bishops opposed it, the church was formed into an independent society ; but in Germany, the Princes taking part in the work, felt authorized to assume the helm, which the church dignitaries had abandoned. The Germans bave quietly acquiesced in this state of things, for more than three centuries. Recently, however, this subject has called forth a great deal of attention, and numerous works have been published, discussing the various questions connected with ecclesiastical government, and the rights of the church.
The attempt of the king of Prussia, to introduce a new liturgy into all the Lutheran and Reformed chuches (now united under the name “ Evangelical"), has been one of the principal means of exciting this interest. As early as 1798, the present king appointed a commission of Lutheran and Reformed clergymen, for the purpose of forming a new book of prayer. Political events, however, turned the attention of the government to other subjects, and the matter was dropped. In 1814, this commission was renewed; but before any result of their labors was made known, a new liturgy was introduced in the King's chapel and garrison church in Potsdam, and in 1821 another was published, for the whole Prussian army. An edition, somewhat enlarged and altered, was published in 1822, designed, in the first instance, for the court-church in Berlin. The King, however, expressed in a cabinet order, his particular wish, that it might be adopted by all the superintendents and pastors, throughout the kingdom. The majority of the clergy declared themselves averse to its adoption, and desired that a synod should be called, to take the matter into consideration, before any decisive measures were taken. In 1823, some further alterations were made'; and in 1824, the clergy were called upon to answer, with a simple yes or no, whether they would receive the new agenda or not. The majority answered in the affirmative; the minority, however, was considerable, and from the character of many of the men, of whom it was composed, of no little weight. The clergy of Berlin, supported by the magistracy of the city, were particularly strenuous in their opposition. The government became now more urgent, and such was the force of hope or fear, on the minds of those who were originally opposed to the measure, that in 1825 it was found, that of the 7782 evangelical churches of Prussia, 5343 had consented to receive the new liturgy. When this result was known, the government required of all the clergy, either to adopt the new form, or to confine themselves exclusively to such as had been previously in use in their several churches; and not to allow themselves, the liberty of using what form they pleased, or none at all. This called forth an earnest protest, on the part of the clergy of Berlin, (at least of twelve of their num. ber,) in which the objections to the new agenda, and the manner of its introduction were forcibly stated.
The government now proceeded to more decisive measures, and ordered that no clergyman, who should be appointed to any congregation, where the new liturgy had been introduced, should be confirmed in his appointment, unless he bound himself to adopt it; and if it had not been previously used, to endeavour to secure its introduction. This induced some of the clergy in Berlin, to demand, that either the reception of the agenda should be left optional, or that the union between the Reformed and Lutheran churches, should be dissolved ; in order, that the former, at least, whose mode of conducting the public worship had been sanctioned by former sovereigns, might be allowed to maintain their peculiar usages. No attention was paid to this representation, and so powerful was governmental favor, that in the fall of 1826, six sevenths of the clergy, had submitted to the will of the king. The opposition of the people, in some places, however, especially in the Rhine provinces, was so decided, that the congregations threatened to forsake the church entirely, if the pastors should introduce the new liturgy.
This opposition has proceeded from men of all religious parties, and been supported on very various grounds; on the character of the book itself; on the manner of its introduction; and on a disinclination to be tied down to any form. The most distinguished advocates for the introduction of the new agenda, were Augusti and Ammon, and its most celebrated opposers Schleiermacher of Berlin, and Nitzsch of Bonn. The objections, founded on the character of the book, though numerous, were of minor importance, as it is formed on the model of the ancient liturgies, and is admitted to be really evangelical. The essential doctrines of the gospel, especially those, of the sinfulness of men, of the atonement and the trinity, are prominently presented. The mere faults of arrangement, and of due proportion between its several parts, would not have called forth so general and serious a resistance. No part of the contents of the book, gave more offence, than the oath, which it required should be taken by all ministers, at their ordination. This oath, bound them, not only to fidelity to the symbolical books of the church, but also to allegiance to the king, as their sovereign, and supreme Bishop. They were required to swear,
that they would defend the King and his rights, with life and property, and that they would disclose, at once, to the proper authorities, any thing hostile to the government, which should come to their knowledge. This wounded the feelings of the better part of the clergy, exceedingly, as it degraded them, in some measure, to the rank of official spies. Besides this, many of them could not, and would not, recog. nize the king as the supreme Bishop of their church.
The main ground of opposition, however, was, that this liturgy proceeded from the king, and that in virtue of his office as Bishop, he claimed the right of changing at pleasure, the forms adopted in public worship. Those who denied the authority of the government, thus to interfere in the internal concerns of the church, were very glad to have the matter brought to a discussion, in hopes that it would lead to a recognition, on the part of the government, of the right of self-government in the church. Calling public attention to this subject, and exciting a spirit of investigation into the grounds of the power so long exercised by the Protestant sovereigns in Germany, over the church, has been one of the most beneficial results of this controversy. Those who have espoused the cause of the King, and endeavoured to prove his right, not only to regulate the forms of worship, but to exercise ecclesiastical power, legislative as well as executive, have proceeded on one or other of the three following grounds. First, that on the principle cujus regio est, ejus est religio, this right is an essential part of the sovereignty with which the monarch is invested. This is the ground taken by Augusti, who endeavors to show, from the example of the heathen Kings and Emperors of Rome; from Numa downward, that the regulation of the affairs of religion was vested in the bands of the civil ruler; and that these Emperors, long after the introduction of Christianity, continued to exercise the office of Pontifex Maximus. To this it is answered, that no argument, as to the relation in which the Christian church stands to the state, can be derived from the power of heathen Emperors in matters of religion, since these Emperors, by uniting two offices, exercised two distinct kinds of power, as the very assumption of the title of Pontifex Maximus proves. But this office the Christian church has never conferred on civil rulers, however frequently it has been usurped and exercised. It is further objected, that, it is not true, that, after the union of the church with the state, the power was yielded to the civil authority ; the history of those ages proves, that the church by her presbyters, bishops, and councils, retained the governing power in her own hands, in the great majority of instances. In the time of the reformation, the symbolical books, both of the Lutheran and the Reformed churches, clearly maintain the principles of religious liberty, and deny the right of the state to regulate the affairs of the church. Neither is it conceivable, that such men as the reformers, would ever have sanctioned a principle which, as the opposers of this system justly remark, would make the Turkish Sultan the head of the Greek churches throughout his dominions. The assumption of the title of Bishop, by the German Princes, would also prove, that, even in their own estimation, it was not in virtue of their civil authority, they had a right to the ecclesiastical power, which they have so long exercised. In all cases too, where these Princes have become Catholics, they have at once given up their control of the Protestant church, (the recent case of the Prince of Anhalt-Köthen, forms, perhaps the only exception,) without dreaming of divesting themselves of any portion of their authority as sovereigns.