1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Protestant

PROTESTANT, the generic name for an adherent of those Churches which base their teaching on the principles of the Reformation (q.v.). The name is derived from the formal Protestatio handed in by the evangelical states of the empire, including some of the more important princes and 14 imperial cities, against the recess of the diet of Spires (1529), which decreed that the religious status quo was to be preserved, that no innovations were to be introduced in those states which had not hitherto made them, and that the mass was everywhere to be tolerated. The name Protestant seems to have been first applied to the protesting princes by their opponents, and it soon came to be used indiscriminately of all the adherents of the reformed religion. Its use appears to have spread more rapidly outside Germany than in Germany itself, one cause of its popularity being that it was negative and colourless, and could thus be applied by adherents of the “old religion” to those of the “new religion,” without giving offence, on occasions when it was expedient to avoid abusive language. The designation was moreover grateful to the Reformers as connoting a certain boldness of attitude; and Professor Kattenbusch (Herzog-Hauck, Realencyklopädie, 3rd ed., xvi. p. 136, 15) points out with great truth how, from this point of view, the name “Protestantism” has survived as embodying for many the conception of liberty, of the right of private judgment, of toleration for every progressive idea in religion, as opposed to the Roman Catholic principles of authority and tradition; so that many even of those who do not “profess and call themselves Christians” yet glory in the name of “Protestant.”

As the designation of a Church, “Protestant” was unknown during the Reformation period and for a long while after. In Germany the Reformers called themselves usually evangeli, and avoided special designations for their communities, which they conceived only as part of the true Catholic Church; “Calvinists,” “Lutherans,” “Zwinglians” were, in the main, terms of abuse intended to stamp them as followers of one or other heretical leader, like Arians or Hussites. It was not until the period of the Thirty Years' War that the two main schools of the reformed or evangelical Churches marked their definitive separation: the Calvinists describing themselves as the “Reformed Church,” the Lutherans as the “Lutheran Church.” In France, in England, in Holland the evangelicals continued to describe their churches as ecclesiae reformatae, without the arrière pensée which in Germany had confined the designation “Reformed” to the followers of a particular church order and doctrine. As to the word “Protestant,” it was never applied to the Church of England or to any other, save unofficially and in the wide sense above indicated, until the style “Protestant Episcopal Church” (see below) was assumed by the Anglican communion in the United States. Even in the Bill of Rights the phrase “Protestant religion” occurs, but not “Protestant Church,” and it was reserved for the Liberal government, in the original draft (afterwards changed) of the Accession Declaration Bill introduced in 1910, to suggest “Protestant Reformed Church of England” as a new title for the Established Church.

The style “Protestant” had, however, during the 19th century assumed a. variety of new shades of meaning which necessarily made its particular application a somewhat hazardous proceeding. In Germany it had, for a while, been assumed by the Lutherans as against the Calvinists, and when in 1817 King Frederick William III. of Prussia forcibly amalgamated the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in the new “Evangelical Church” its public use was forbidden in the Prussian dominions. It survived, however, in spite of royal decrees, but in an altered sense. It became—to quote Professor Kattenbusch—the “secular” designation of the adherents of the Reformation, the shibboleth of the “liberal” ecclesiastical and theological tendencies. Finally, in opposition to the ultramontane move- ment in the Roman Catholic Church, it came once more into fashion in something of its original sense among the evangelicals.

In the Church of England, on the other hand, the name “Protestant” has, under the influence of the High Church reaction, been repudiated by an increasingly large number of the clergy and laity, and is even sometimes used by them in a derogatory sense as applied to their fellow churchmen who still uphold in their integrity the principles of the Reformation. Among the latter, on the other hand, “Protestantism” is used as exclusive of a good many of the doctrines and practices which in the Lutheran Church were at one time “Protestant” as opposed to “Reformed,” e.g. the doctrine of the real Presence, auricular confession, the use of ceremonial lights and vestments. By many churchmen, too, the name of “Protestant” is accepted in what they take to be the old sense as implying repudiation of the claims of Rome, but as not necessarily involving a denial of “Catholic” doctrine or any confusion of the Church of England with non-episcopal churches at home or abroad.

In contradistinction to all these somewhat refined meanings, the term “Protestant” is in common parlance applied to all Christians who do not belong to the Roman Catholic Church, or to one or other of the ancient Churches of the East.