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Novalis, "Christendom or Europe" [Die Christenheit oder Europa] (1799)

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The insurgents rightly termed themselves Protestants, for they protested solemnly against the usurpation of the conscience by an inconvenient and seemingly illegal force. For the time being they reappropriated, as though it were free, their silently surrendered right to the examination, determination, and choice of religion. They also set up a number of right principles, introduced a number of praiseworthy things, and abolished a number of pernicious laws. But they forgot the inevitable result of their procedure, they separated the inseparable, divided the indivisible Church, and sacrilegiously wrenched themselves loose from the universal Christian community, through which and in which alone was possible the true, the enduring rebirth. The condition of religious anarchy must not be more than transitory, because there remains constantly operative and valid the reason for dedicating a number of people exclusively to this high vocation and for making this number of people independent of temporal force with regard to these affairs. The establishment of consistories and the retention of a kind of clergy was of no help toward this requirement and was no adequate substitute for it. Unfortunately the princes had intruded themselves into this schism and many of them used these contentions for the re-enforcement and extension of their sovereign power and incomes. They were happy to be exempt from that former high influence and now took the new consistories under their paternalistic protection and guidance. They were most zealously concerned with preventing the total unification of the Protestant churches, and thus religion was irreligiously contained within the boundaries of states, whereby was laid the foundation for the gradual undermining of cosmopolitan religious interest. Thus religion lost its great political influence for the creation of peace and its proper role as unifying, individualizing principle, the role of Christendom. Religious peace was settled according to thoroughly erroneous principles antithetical to religion, and by the continuation of so-called Protestantism something entirely contradictory – a revolutionary regime – was declared perpetual.

Meanwhile, at the foundation of Protestantism there lies by no means merely that pure concept. Rather, Luther treated Christianity quite arbitrarily, misjudged its spirit, introduced another Letter and another religion, namely the holy universal validity of the Bible, and therewith unfortunately was injected into religious affairs a different, highly alien, worldly science – philosophy – whose corrosive influence becomes henceforth unmistakable. Out of a dim perception of this error he was himself elevated by a large proportion of Protestants to the rank of evangelist and his translation canonized.

This choice was highly injurious to the religious sense, for nothing so crushes its sensitivity as the Letter. In the previous situation this latter could never have become so harmful, considering the large compass, the flexibility, and the copious matter of the Catholic faith, as well as the esotericizing of the Bible and the sacred power of the councils and of the spiritual Head. But now these counterforces were abrogated, the absolute accessibility of the Bible to the people was asserted, and now the inadequate contents, the rough, abstract sketch of religion in these books, became all the more obvious and for the spirit of holiness infinitely weighed down free animation, penetration, and revelation.

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