WHAT have the Protestant Churches of Europe learned, suffered and achieved in the world crisis? What may be expected -- for them, and from them -- in the days to come?

In trying to answer these questions I ask the reader to remember that church affairs, like everything else in Europe, are in such a state of flux that historical opinions must be ventured with diffidence and accepted with caution. In the end, things can turn out altogether differently from what even the most painstaking analysis would lead one to expect now. Moreover, the reader must realize that the various Protestant Churches in Europe, like the European nations themselves, are isolated from each other and that contacts and exchanges of views between them are relatively rare and casual. Even within individual countries, as for instance in the different sections of Germany, or until recently between the occupied and unoccupied zones of France, churchmen know comparatively little about one another. A comprehensive picture of the life of the Protestant communities in Europe can therefore be presented only in broad, general outlines, and with the reservation that even these change from time to time. Finally, I should like to emphasize that personally I have no official function or responsibility either in the Swiss Church or in the Geneva center of the ecumenical church organizations, and so write only as a private individual and express opinions determined merely by my own insight.

II

The present world crisis began when the National Socialists came to power in Germany in the year 1933. It found most of the Protestant Churches of Europe in the initial stages of a process of internal and external rebuilding and consolidation on the basis of a renewed consciousness of their peculiar nature and mission.

The catastrophe of the World War of 1914-1918 was widely felt to have been a serious indictment of the Church and of the Christianity of that day, still strongly under the influence of the intellectual and political developments of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Not only shallow detractors held this conviction, but also many enlightened exponents of the Protestant tradition and mission. The effect, however, had not been to produce discouragement but rather to lead many to ask themselves, with new emphasis, the question: What is the basic principle and function of the Church in a human society which obviously is sick almost to death? As was the case during the Renaissance, the return to the Church's historic origins played a decisive rôle in the posing and answering of this question. It did not produce either a new religious philosophy and orientation or a new program of religious activity, but it did lead to a rediscovery of the unique content of the Bible and of the significance of the Reformation era and the still older Church -- a rediscovery which all of us would have thought most unlikely before the present catastrophe.

The diluted bourgeois religion and ethics of the early twentieth century became "the dead past," while the message of the Old and New Testament, as we found it for the most part rightly interpreted by Luther and Calvin, became "the living present." We did not become orthodox ("fundamentalist") in the sense of the repetition of some historical dogmas, but we tried, freely and in our own present-day way, to think again biblically and evangelically and to give back to the preaching and life of our Churches their biblical and evangelical Protestant conformation. This conformation they had pretty well lost at the time of the First World War, so that actually they were no longer that "salt of the earth" which they should and could be. We felt obliged to restore to its rightful position the elements of objective truth which must ever be the secret of a living Church and which must be given recognition if the Church is to be differentiated from an inspirational conventicle and if its message is to have meaning for the life and living of human beings.

I say "we," for I am thinking of a whole generation of responsible persons in all the Protestant Churches of Europe. Partly in agreement with each other, partly without such agreement or even in opposition to one another, without organization of any kind but nevertheless in an unmistakable objective solidarity, we entered upon this way. I note explicitly that the so-called "dialectic theology" often associated with my name was only one phenomenon among others. There were, and are, many and various ways to walk on this road.

Protest and reaction of all sorts made themselves felt, and, of course, unintelligent and undesirable henchmen were not lacking. Above all, indifference was for a time invincible. It is nevertheless true to say that, by and large, this beginning of an inward renewal springing from the living foundations of the Church of Jesus Christ was the answer given by European Protestantism to the question posed by the First World War. The majority of our theological students and of young men interested in things Christian began to seek progress along these lines.

Theology necessarily had to give recognition, favorable or critical, to this transformation. Roman Catholicism and contemporary philosophy took notice of it as they had never previously noticed developments within Protestantism. A Berlin churchman who tried to claim that the twentieth century was the "century of the Church" was, of course, going too far. But it remains a fact that interest in and understanding of Protestant ecclesiastical doctrine and order increased in comparison to what they had been in the second half of the nineteenth century, often in unexpected ways and places. For example, the prestige of the Protestant Churches, and to a certain extent their popularity also, grew in government circles in a number of countries. And a certain wholesome Christian self-consciousness again became a fact in Europe.

True enough, it was only a beginning. Many of the new positions were (and still remain) unclarified, vulnerable and even self-contradictory. There were too many problems to be mastered or even surveyed in the course of a few years. It was too much to hope that the Protestant peoples would be permeated by the new conception at once, that prejudices and misunderstandings firmly rooted for centuries among both the educated and the uneducated could be removed immediately. We must be under no self-deception concerning the tentative character of the preliminary gains, especially in those countries where the transformation appeared most spontaneously and vigorously -- Germany, Holland and Switzerland. In France, in Scandinavia, among the Hungarian and Italian Protestants, only relatively small groups had begun to work. Fifteen years after the First World War, all those who were seriously participating in the movement and were well-informed about it were aware that the time had come to start really intensive and extensive work.

The Protestant Churches in Europe, then, were not wholly unprepared when the first shocks of the earthquake came in 1933, heralding the world catastrophe of today. In so far as the churches had participated in the renewal of which I have spoken, they had, after all, at least a slight headstart on the Nazis. It is hard to say what would have become of them if it had not been for this, if the sudden assault of 1933 had found them as they were, for example, in 1910.

III

It must not be forgotten that opposition to the anti-Semitic, aggressive, totalitarian, national state was not at first so general as it has become since the outbreak of the present war. At the outset, the attitude of "Western Civilization" to that state was not certain. It is not fair to accuse the German intellectuals and the German Democrats and Social Democrats of weakness and disloyalty without mentioning the many Frenchmen, Englishmen and Americans who allowed themselves to be deceived at a distance just as those nearer by were deceived. As late as 1938, some of these foreigners permitted themselves to be received as honored guests in Berlin, and recorded a reverential and even somewhat envious admiration of what they saw there.

For a time it was uncertain whether one might not see in Hitler's spirit, method and enterprise something like an apotheosis of the movement of emancipation which began with the Renaissance. Was not this the true face of the absolutely self-sufficient man, who had long since become not only the ideal of Germans but of all modern culture as it is related to economic and technical progress? If human affairs could develop as logically as they do in theory, it might easily have happened that not only Germany and Europe, but the entire modern world, apparently long detached from its Christian roots, would have welcomed the Hitlerian system as the kingdom of the superman toward which it had always secretly aspired.

After all, even in his utterly insane reconstruction of history, Hitler is not entirely wrong when he keeps referring to the Jew as the obstacle which has thus far prevented this logical development of events. The existence of the Jew probably is the symbol of the objective metaphysical fact, independent of all intellectual counter-movements, that the Christian root of Western culture is still alive. Without credit to him, and even against his will, the Jew is witness to the continuing vitality of the Old and New Testament revelation, by virtue of which Western culture, despite the degree of its present and possible future apostasy, is separated as by an abyss from the inherent Godlessness of National Socialism. This revelation can be misconstrued, but never wholly overlooked or forgotten. Hitler knows what he wants better than he may be aware when he selects the Jew as the world's Public Enemy No. 1. Wherever the Christian revelation, whose actual witness is the Jew, is recognized and understood, the struggle against National Socialism ceases to be accidental and superficial and becomes fundamental and essential.

Western civilization failed to confront National Socialism firmly because the realization of the Christian revelation among the civilized people of the West (not only among the Germans!) had become dim. Men did not see the inherent atheism of the Hitlerian system. Hence, they could not be sure whether the antithesis between a legitimate state and a robber state, between democracy and absolute dictatorship, might not simply be a difference in taste, evaluation or political technique. Thinking in that way, how could people have been capable of a serene faith in Western culture and of firm resistance to that which threatened it? How could they think otherwise than they did, blind and deaf as they had become to the revelation of the Old and New Testament?

There was resistance to Hitler from the very first on the part of those who were on their way back to a conscious realization of the Christian presupposition of Western culture. In these circles it was not easy to mistake a human authority, however powerful, for that of God; a community of "race, blood, and soil" for the Communion of Saints; the might of brutality for the power of truth. This group could not accept or treat the Jewish problem as a "racial question." The first serious protest against Hitlerism necessarily had to come, and did in fact come, from the ranks of the Protestant Churches that had been touched by the "renewal." They were the first to grasp the essential impossibility of the totalitarian state, the negation of life inherent in the Hitlerian doctrine of un-freedom, the impudent denial of the intellect by the National Socialist cult of physical force. They saw through the intolerable implication of the neo-German anti-Semitism. Inevitably, it was in this quarter that alert and resolute wardens were found for Western culture, for freedom of conscience and speech, for the democratic state.

IV

It was inevitable that the Christian "substance" of the Churches should prove intolerable to National Socialism. Rauschning was right when he defined the actual content of National Socialism as pure, logical and therefore wholly destructive and anti-spiritual nihilism. In no other way is it possible to explain either the peculiar character of its leading personalities, the inherently inhuman nature of all its modes of behavior or the daemonically fascinating influence which emanates from it. It is easy to see where such a system might expect to find its most dangerous enemy. From the outset, its religious policy could only be directed toward the extirpation of the Christian faith and creed.

This goal, however, like other goals of National Socialism, could be approached only step by step, indirectly and under all sorts of disguises. In its naked form, National Socialism is a secret cult which is probably proclaimed openly only in the cloister-like training camps of the élite. Outside of this group were those educated or half-educated persons who were estranged from the Church but who still required a certain religiosity and religious ideology. They were offered a "German Faith," based on the old German paganism. In this cult the mystical personage "Germany" took the place of the Godhead, Führer Adolf Hitler became the prophet, and the church services were replaced by more or less appropriate rites exalting the German national character. There was never any seriously intended religious movement back of this neo-paganism which attracted so much attention in other countries. Like many other things in the Third Reich, it was "window-dressing" for overgrown children; but as such it has been by no means ineffective.

This is even more true of the artificial structure of a "German Christianity" which was presented to those parts of the population which were more or less actively interested in the Church. According to this concept, National Socialism was to be the real "positive Christianity," in contrast to Judaism and Bolshevism, which were regarded as the embodiments of everything heathen. It was to be a new revelation from God, but one that was identical with that in Jesus Christ, or at least closely related to it! After all, it had been possible in the past to bring into a similar "positive" relationship to Christianity the bourgeois moralism of rationalism, later the idealistic philosophy of Goethe, then the monarchical nationalism of Bismarck's day, and still later Marxian Socialism. Why should not the same attempt be made with the Hitler system, which the nation believed was its hope of salvation? It was this fantastic but at the same time cogent proposition with which the Protestant Churches had to deal.

The basic question was: Had comprehension of the unique character and independence of the Christian Gospel completely died out, or had it reawakened, and, if so, what would be the reaction to the particular new temptation of 1933? The answer to this question is found in the fact that while the German political parties, German jurisprudence, science, art and philosophy capitulated, the Churches formed the first opposition to the current which was sweeping all before it.

Out of the conflict against the National Socialist version of Christianity there arose, under the leadership of Martin Niemöller, first the "Pastors' Notbund" (Emergency Union), and then on a wider base the "Confessional Church" (Bekennende Kirche). They attempted quite simply to defend the basic essentials of Christianity, the preaching of the word and the order of the Church, against the strange new faith which was being imposed on them but which they could not accept as Christian. This gave their movement an essentially conservative character. That, we see now, was their limitation: they concentrated solely on one specific phase of Nazi religious and church policy.

The pagan "German Faith" barely touched the edges of their field of vision, and the political problem of National Socialism did not come into it at all. This may be hard to understand, but it is necessary to realize that the fight of the Confessional Church was not directed against National Socialism as such. The latter's innate hostility to all things spiritual, as well as its anti-Christian tendency, were at that time only too successfully camouflaged. Most of the adherents of the Confessional Church, in fact, thought they could agree to, or at least sympathize with, the political and social aims of National Socialism. Their struggle was confined to the specific question whether the Church could remain the Church, i.e., could preach the Gospel according to the Old and New Testaments, or should be coördinated with the new political doctrine and combine its mission with it. Up to the year 1934, while I was in Germany, I myself thought that I could relegate my political opposition to the background and work only along that line.

Those who refuse to give the Confessional Church credit for its achievement in this narrow sector fail to realize how necessary it was to answer clearly the fundamental question just posed, how difficult it was at that time in Germany to venture to contradict the official answer to that question, and how loyally and energetically the battle has been fought to this day by thousands of known and unknown men and women. If an indictment were to be brought against them, it would not be that they began on this line, but that they did not go on from there. They took their stand on behalf of the Jewish Christians, for the freedom and purity of the Christian creed and worship, for suitable theological training and for a parish life built around a sincere study of the Bible. But they were not able (alas, in many cases they did not even really want!) to prevent the rise of National Socialism in Germany and its malignant development into a menace to all the rest of the world. Nonetheless, they helped to cross Hitler's purpose at a very decisive point by making it possible for free Protestant Christianity, despite all the cunning assaults against it, to survive in Germany and retain its power of germination.

Not merely did the German Christians not "conquer" the Churches, as they had made up their minds to do in 1933, but they were ignominiously dropped by the National Socialists when they failed to accomplish their purpose. In this one field the National Socialist system met a force which it was able to suppress but not to break. To that extent the Confessional Church was the vanguard of the more comprehensive resistance which is being offered to Hitlerism today. Do not forget that this Church took its stand -- within its limitations -- when the tragedy of Munich and the subsequent slow awakening of most of the world to resistance still lay far in the future. The fate prepared for Martin Niemöller -- he is still in the concentration camp of Dachau -- by the personal order of the Führer, shows that the basic importance of the Confessional Church's resistance was fully recognized by the other side. Numerous other equally determined individuals are in concentration camps or have had to pay for their devotion to the cause with long prison sentences or even with their lives. Whatever one may think about their limitations of vision and aspiration, it is only right to remember them with special reverence among the many victims of the present crisis.

V

The significance of the German Church's struggle was understood well enough by the other Protestant Churches of Europe. It was more than the drama of what was unfolding nearby, a drama in which a church was acting and suffering according to its best knowledge and conscience, that awakened sympathy in Holland, Switzerland, Scandinavia, France (and for a time, also, among the Protestant Hungarians and Italians). There was also a realization that the common cause of the Gospel, now facing an obvious threat, was at stake in the stand taken by the Confessional Church. Communication between the Churches was kept up as long as possible; Switzerland, especially, gave the Confessional Church in Germany a considerable amount of aid. A certain misunderstanding played a useful part in this from the beginning, the action of the German Confessional Church being interpreted in other countries as more broadly based and more radical than it really was.

The moment came soon enough when a number of these other Churches were compelled by the German occupation of their respective countries to take their own stand on the problem which had first been presented in Germany. The conflicts which broke out in Holland and Norway should be recalled especially.

Clearly there was a difference between the situation of the Churches in those two countries and that of the Confessional Church in Germany. It is only fair to note three things: I. The Churches in Holland and Norway have the immeasurable advantage of defending not only the freedom of the Gospel, but the freedom of their own people and fatherland against foreign oppressors and traitors within their gates; the men of the German Confessional Church, on the other hand, have to stand up against their own government and are constantly faced by the problem (which the war has made still more insistent) of reconciling their opposition to National Socialism with their duty and love for their own land and people. 2. The Churches of Holland and Norway, before they themselves became part of the conflict, were able to learn much from their long observation of events in Germany; they could carry on their struggle in the light of the German experience. 3. The German occupation authorities, after the experience in Germany, did not meddle with the inner life of the Churches in Holland and Norway or try to impose on them a pagan or heretical doctrine and order; as a result, these Churches were able from the start to orient themselves more freely.

For these reasons the church struggle in Holland and Norway is a far more animated picture than in Germany. It takes for granted the answer to the question concerning the preservation of the Christian substance and is able to concentrate on the practical accomplishment of that aim. The fight is carried on and supported not merely by a minority but by an overwhelming majority of theologians and church members. It has a direct relationship to the struggle in which the nations as such are engaged. It is being waged not only on the defensive, but on the offensive as well. The issue is not merely the rights of the church, but also the restoration of the general state of civil law destroyed by the German invasion; not faith alone is at stake, but the belief in the validity of God's commandments; it is not just a question of the Jewish Christians, but of the Jews in general. Even in the eyes of the individual who is only superficially, if at all, interested in Christian affairs, this struggle is now an important part of the general battle against National Socialism.

If the scope and significance of the church struggles in Holland and Norway are greater than those of the one in Germany, we must not overlook the fact that their Christian purity and depth and their relation to the religious "renewal" are perhaps more problematical. Motives and principles other than those which are purely Christian may play no small part here, and all sorts of naïve confusions may result -- confusion between the cause of God and the national cause, between hope in God and hope in the British, between a holy, prophetic wrath and the comprehensible but less holy rage of the oppressed and betrayed. The problem of the Prophet Jeremiah should be food for thought to the more serious Christian in Holland and Norway. It is undeniable that the church struggle in Germany is closely linked with the "renewal;" but it is at least uncertain whether the "renewal" is so much in the foreground of the vigorous action in which the Dutch and Norwegian Christians are at present engaged. Later we shall see which Church will emerge with the greatest spiritual gain from the developments of these days.

This reservation, however, does not alter the fact that the logical conclusion of the struggle begun in Germany itself would be the decisive political witness and devotion to God now apparent in these other countries. It is precisely because of the Christian belief in the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the faith that to Him is given all power in heaven and earth, that one cannot say to German National Socialism either "Yes" or "Yes and No," but only wholeheartedly and with complete decisiveness: "No!" Those who do otherwise have either failed to understand National Socialism, despite all its self-revelations; or they have not thought through the message of the Bible; or they have developed a kind of schizophrenia in which totally divergent yardsticks are adopted for the inner and the external life. One wonders uneasily whether even the sincere Christians in Germany have not become victims of that sort of intellectual disintegration. But no matter how far they may have progressed in other directions, they will have to learn from the other Churches that there are a Christian center and a Christian periphery, that the Christian substance and its political application are indeed two different things, but that there is only one truth and one righteousness -- and no man can serve two masters.

I know little or nothing about the present ecclesiastical situation in Denmark or among Protestants in Hungary, Italy and the part of France which has been under German occupation since the Armistice. In the light of their antecedents, and also from certain direct indications, it is to be feared that the Hungarians, of whom we formerly had good hopes, have rather lost their heads as a result of their alliance with Germany and the war with Russia and now expect to find their Christian happiness in unrestrained anti-Bolshevism. The situation in occupied France appears to be similar to that in Germany, in that the French church leaders, inwardly in passionate opposition to the German occupation, have been concentrating their attention on the inward life of the Church and on education of the community for a better future.

On the other hand what has been said about Holland and Norway is applicable also to Switzerland, Sweden and the part of France until recently not directly under the Germans.

Reformed Switzerland, of course, has not yet been put to the test of actual war. But their country's isolated position in the midst of the Axis Powers had forced the Swiss urgently (though tentatively) to decide for or against the "New Order" in Europe. It is safe to say that Switzerland in general has answered with a unanimous negative, not through the mouth of the Swiss Government, but by the voices of the preachers and the parishes (inclusive of Catholic Switzerland). During the First World War there was a not insignificant amount of Swiss anti-militarism; today the overwhelming majority of the Christian Swiss realize clearly that "obedience to constituted authority" (according to the thirteenth chapter of Romans), in the form of armed neutrality, is both righteous and necessary. The interpretation of the concept of Swiss neutrality has, however, caused sharp differences of opinion in several instances between certain church spokesmen and the federal authorities. The Swiss Church cannot be accused of having been silent when the Government applied it in a manner which was highly questionable alike from the Christian, the traditional and the prevailing legal viewpoint of our country. Nor can it be said that the Church failed to act in a practical way in the matter of the foreign refugees, or that its general attitude has been wholly without impressiveness and effect. But, of course, our resistance can hardly be compared for the present with that of the Churches in Holland, Norway and (in a different manner) Germany.

News from Sweden indicates that, subject to similar conditions and reservations, the Swedish Church too belongs thus far not only to the Protestant but to the protesting churches.

Although the paralysis of the summer of 1940 at first led Protestantism in unoccupied France to withdraw into political quietism and the cultivation of piety and morals, a change seems to have occurred in 1941 and 1942. The principles and practices of the Vichy Government and its relations with the foreign Power which stood behind and over it were under constant debate. The vigorous action of the church leader, Pastor Marc Boegner, on behalf of the Christian education of youth, his courageous address to Marshal Pétain on the persecution of the Jews, and other news which has seeped out regarding the attitude and activity of the younger generation of pastors appear to indicate further developments along these lines whenever the occasion again offers.

What was said about the special danger inherent in the situation in Holland and Norway is to some extent true also of those Churches which have not yet been directly attacked. We shall have to keep watch over the attitude they have taken, and also guard against impairing the freedom of the gospel in our zeal for the good and our aversion to evil, which in a reverse sense is just what National Socialism demanded of the German Church in the name of "German Christianity." And, above all, we shall have to be vigilant lest our courage and our enthusiasm for resistance become subject to the alternating political and military successes and setbacks. It must be clear that our resistance can have meaning and even political significance only to the extent that it is able to nourish itself from its own roots.

The thing that the Church must tell the world in the present crisis is this: that there is an absolutely essential antithesis to National Socialism which is independent of success or failure. But the Church can and will say this rightly only if it continues to go its own way.

VI

Taking the situation as a whole, one may justly say that European Protestantism, with varying degrees of consistency, frankness and power, has recognized and assumed the position appropriate to its historic mission. It may be affirmed without presumption that it has sounded a clearer call than any which has as yet been heard from the Holy See in Rome, and that it need not be ashamed when measured against the other forces of resistance. We may be gratefully astonished that, hardly a hundred years after Kierkegaard's devastating criticism of Protestant Christianity, a vastly greater catastrophe than he visualized has not succeeded in overwhelming it.

But measured by the yardstick which has been in existence since the sixteenth century, and which we now take with new seriousness, the Protestant Churches can find no occasion for satisfaction with the results of their efforts thus far. In the sixteenth century, Protestantism assumed a great responsibility for shaping the destiny of Europe. It has reason to ask itself, therefore, how it could happen that, after 400 years, Europe could be brought to the uttermost edge of the abyss on which it stands today. And it is a monumental disgrace to all Protestantism that the monster of National Socialism could be born in the very cradle of the Reformation and could develop there into an object of dread and abomination to all the world.

It is part of the pattern of things that German theology, which up to the time of crisis gave guidance to the theologians of all the Protestant Churches, should not have retained its leadership but instead should have become instrumental in leading men's souls astray. However, it is likewise part of the pattern of things that those of us who felt called upon to take up the conflict either did so too late or did not know how to find the enkindling and potent word which would awaken the nations and prevent the approaching calamity -- although it was clear enough that this word should be spoken and equally clear where it could be found. Furthermore, the Protestant Churches, in Germany as well as in all the other countries, with the possible exception of Norway, did not possess the "watchmen" and leaders who might have known how to rouse them. They showed themselves on the whole to be ill-prepared to meet the problems of this time. The steps actually taken thus far have had necessarily a spasmodic, personal, voluntary and therefore often arbitrary origin and character. Even the ecumenical movement, although it had increased in importance after the First World War, obviously had not yet developed far enough to furnish authoritative guidance to the Churches or to do more than provide a means for exchanging information.

Protestantism was altogether lacking in the intellectually consistent direction which it enjoyed in the days of Calvin. For this reason, in the last analysis, the individual Churches were left to themselves in their anxieties and problems and in their dangerous vacillation between quietism on the one side and a secularizing activism on the other. The result was that the voice of Protestantism became the voice of one crying in the wilderness, or, more accurately, a voice coming out of a corner. Thus it was deprived of the power and effectiveness which it should have had, considering the mission entrusted to the Churches of the Reformation. It is small consolation that the far better equipped Roman Catholic Church has done no better, in fact, not nearly so well. The fact is that probably we all had too much of the weak and confused spirit of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to be equal to this crisis.

One can speak only theologically, not historically, of the reasons why we nevertheless were not altogether like sheep without a shepherd, and why it is possible to say, though with the greatest caution, that there is still an enduring Protestant Church in Europe. The Churches might well be compared, in the words of the Prophet, to a "brand snatched from the burning." One would have to admit that they can thank the inward renewal, to which reference has been made, for the little they have been able to achieve. The question of their future, immediate as well as remote, may well be decided, therefore, by whether this renewal continues vigorously, comes to a standstill or becomes in some way perverted.

The present crisis has evidently not yet reached its peak. The severest trials and tests of endurance for European Protestantism probably still lie ahead. And beyond the problems of wartime lie those of peace. "The old world is dead!" a leading English statesman has just proclaimed. He is probably right. Europe undoubtedly has come to the end of an historic, political, economic and social era and confronts an unexampled re-beginning. Equally true is that its renewal must consist not in the destruction of Western culture, but in its unhindered efflorescence, rooted as it is in Christianity. The new life which is to follow the death of the old must be founded on this culture.

Will the confused and war-weary nations muster the courage, the insight and the will power to do this? Will they be able to comprehend that the world, for all its frailty and imperfection, after all the horror which it has known, still has a hope of better things? And will they comprehend further that without this hope no authentic quest for those better things will ever be attempted? It will be the function of the Christian Churches to proclaim this hope and to make it comprehensible. That is going to be much harder than the essentially critical task of today, when we are still at war.

This hope is the great affirmation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; but the Churches will be able to proclaim and expound it to all peoples only if they themselves regain true knowledge of it and learn to live by it, only when they themselves are ready to move forward with simple, direct and complete faith in this Gospel. How shall they tell the world what they themselves no longer understand? Their whole weakness in the present crisis lies in the fact that they are only at the beginning of this return -- or advance. They will be stronger in the future than they are in the present if their own process of renewal precedes the necessary and true renewal of Europe, if they do not stand still or deviate, but go forward.

There is no phase of European church life which does not stand in need of this renascence. The pastors must hear the call, but so must the congregations. Theology must listen to it, and also the church judicatories and the supporters of the ecumenical movement. There is no need to stress how much depends on whether or not they obey the call. If the old world is really dead, nothing less than the Gospel of the resurrection and the life must be preached and heard. This is the mission which will be entrusted to the Church tomorrow in a manner far different from that of yesterday.

But here again we are at the frontiers of a domain about which one can speak only theologically. The real renascence of the Church, as of Europe, does not lie ultimately in human hands. The Christian hope is the strongest hope of all the world, because it reaches immeasurably higher than the objectives which are attainable by political, economic, social or even ecclesiastical action. The Protestant Churches will themselves look confidently into the future, and will awaken confidence in others, to the precise degree that they keep that hope before their eyes and are willing to accept it as grace and make it fruitful accordingly. If a further quickening is granted to them, and with it the insight and the power to carry out their mission to the world, then a better future for Europe should be realized.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • KARL BARTH, Professor of Theology in the University of Basel since 1935; formerly Professor of Theology at the Universities of Münster and Bonn; author of many works
  • More By Karl Barth