Page images

Methodists are divided into more branches than the Baptists, those having the episcopal system embracing the great majority of church-members. The Presbyterians have about 30,000, the Disciples of Christ 18,578, and the Protestant Episcopal and Reformed Episcopal bodies somewhat less than 5000. The Baptists are organized into associations, and have State conventions; the Methodists and Presbyterians into annual conferences and presbyteries. A large measure of superintendence is characteristic of the Methodist bodies, the system of episcopal and sub-episcopal supervision resulting apparently in more intelligent endeavor, greater concert of action, and better discipline.

The increase in the number of colored communicants since emancipation has been marvelous. How many of the slaves were church-members is not and cannot be known certainly. Such statistics as we have must be regarded as imperfect, particularly of the colored Baptists. There were of colored Methodists at the outbreak of the war about 275,000, as nearly as I can ascertain. According to this, there has been an increase in thirty years of over 900,000 negro Methodists. This is truly enormous. In the Methodist Episcopal Church alone are more colored communicants, mainly in the South, than the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, reported in 1865, and the two leading African branches have had a marvelous growth. The number of colored Baptists in 1860 did not, probably, exceed 250,000. We do not know, of course, how many colored communicants there were who were not organized into churches and reported in denominational statistics. But according to the figures we have, there was an increase in thirty years of more than 1,150,000 colored communicants. I know of no parallel to this development in the history of the Christian church, when all the circumstances are considered. The negro, considering the little wealth he had at command when slavery ceased, has achieved wonders in the accumulation of church property.

The value of the churches he owns is $26,626,000, the number of edifices being 23,770. Making due allowance for the generous help which the whites have given, it still appears that the negro has not been unwilling to make large sacrifices for the sake of religion, and that his industry, thrift, and business capacity have been made to contribute to his successful endeavors to provide himself with suitable accommodations for public worship.



The Christianity which prevails in the United States is orthodox and evangelical. These terms include both the Catholics and the Evangelical Protestants. Together they constitute the great Christian forces which possess the country and determine its religious character.

The Church of Rome has had a growth in this free country that has been simply phenomenal. Though it was the first to set up the Christian standard on this soil, and its missionaries were pioneers in exploration and settlement in the great West, it was not a strong church at the close of the colonial period. There were in 1784 hardly 30,000 Catholics, two thirds of whom were in Maryland and Pennsylvania, the rest being widely scattered. Immigration from Ireland gave the church the first considerable impulse of growth, and immigrationIrish, German, French, Italian, and other-has made it the largest and most composite church in the United States. The only wonder is that the church could receive and care for such masses of diverse nationalities. Its energies have been severely taxed, but it has managed to organize and equip its parishes as rapidly as necessity required, and in recent years to give some attention to its educational facilities, which have been neither excellent nor adequate. A church composed so largely of European elements, with an episcopate foreign in nativity or extraction, education, and ideas, under the immediate control of a foreign pope and his councilors, would hardly be expected to fall in at once with American ideas, particularly with that idea which distinguishes our system of popular education from that of all other countries. Catholics have been openly hostile to our public schools, denouncing them as godless, protesting against the injustice of being taxed for the support of institutions they could not patronize, and insisting that they be relieved of school rates or that the school moneys be divided and a fair share given to Catholic schools. The determined popular resistance to this demand increased Catholic hostility and made the struggle a somewhat bitter one. It is not strange that many Protestants should regard a foreign church, with foreign ideas and under foreign domination, as a menace to American institutions; but no candid observer will hesitate to admit that a change, amounting almost to a revolution, has taken place among Catholics. They have become as American—at least the body of them—as the Lutherans. No impartial and intelligent person now believes that they want to subvert our liberties or destroy our government. We may justly accuse them of meddling too much at times in party politics; we may deprecate the favor they sometimes receive in municipal councils ; but in all those fundamentals which make our government thoroughly and securely Republican, Catholics are at one


with Protestants. Moreover, their sentiment respecting our public schools is undergoing a gradual, but what promises to be a complete, change. They are becoming reconciled to the system, and are adjusting themselves to what they have come to recognize as a permanent and beneficent institution. They have come to see that secular schools need not be godless or infidel, and that religious instruction may be given just as effectively outside as inside the public schoolroom. This growing favor for a distinctive American idea is only one of several signs that the church is taking on more and more the color of its surroundings and adjusting its thoughts and agencies to the characteristics of our national life. It was not an obscure priest or an adventurous layman, but a powerful archbishop, enjoying the confidence of the pope and Monsignor Satolli, who, at the centenary, a few years ago, of the first Catholic bishop, declared with emphasis that the Catholic Church in the United States must be definitely and thoro ghly American. The ecclesiastical garment must not be of foreign cut or have a foreign lining, even. The school of thought represented by Archbishop Ireland is dominant in the church to-day.

The Church of Rome in the United States, it is bare truth to say, is far more in harmony with Protestant America than the Church in Italy or Spain or Ireland or Mexico would be. It has less of the superstitious and medieval character, and is more like the type of Catholicism which prevails in England, where Catholic prelates are possessed of the same earnest spirit as Protestant prelates, and take an active part in all social and moral reforms. In the United States it has caught something of the evangelical spirit of Protestantism, and is giving its millions of communicants a better and truer gospel than in those countries where it does not come into contact with Protestantism.


It is a curious fact that while Catholicism is numerically the leading denomination in considerably more than half of the States, actually outnumbering in old New England the Protestant communicants combined, it is in no State in the ascendant in influence. New England is still Protestant in its characteristics, and there are as yet no signs of a revolution in its distinctive institutions. The reason is not far to seek. The Roman Catholic force is in its masses; the Protestant power lies in its superior intellectual training Protestantism furnishes the ideas which have made New England what it is and which maintain it essentially unchanged. The Protestant leaven is more powerful and persistent than the Catholic leaven.

Evangelical Christianity is the dominant religious force of the United States. In its various denominational forms it shapes the religious character of the American people. That it has been influenced in no degree by the non-evangelical or rationalistic churches, I would not venture to say. Doubtless its humanitarian impulses have been quickened and strengthened by the example of Unitarianism; but I should be at a loss to name the particular influence which the Church of Rome has exerted upon it. There has been an increase of what some call churchliness, and confessionalism has developed to a remarkable degree among the Lutherans; but these are limited movements, and do not give character to the Christianity of the day. The Catholic revival in the Protestant Episcopal Church is spending itself within the denomination, and probably repels as many as it attracts to that communion.

The great and absorbing purpose of evangelical Christianity seems to me to be the spread of the gospel. There are those living who can remember when a far less exalted idea possessed the church, when it seemed to think its sphere was not in the world, and its main duty not to the

« PreviousContinue »