Rougemont on Christianity and the Nationalities

Frederic de Rougemont, the noted Swiss intellectual and religious scholar of the Nineteenth Century, wrote in the later part of his public career on the relationship between Christianity and the nations. Christianity, in Rougemont’s conception of the divine economy, ultimately created a type of universal culture over and against national particularities. “The kingdom of grace,” he wrote in 1867, was “the declaration of redemption by the Incarnate Word,” and “good news of pardon and the Holy Spirit given to faith.” The final ends which God set forth in this world of the God Man, were “the evangelization of all nations,” the salvation of “souls that are not utterly hardened by sin, the establishment of the kingdom of God over the whole earth, the formation of a universal Church, or of a humanity of which all the members shall live by faith, hope, and love.”

Class and vocational division formed more important human divisions than nations according to Rougemont. “The kingdom of nature or of physical humanity comprehends the family, the nation and the race, civil society with its three classes— labourers, artisans, and commercial men; the State, the fine arts and sciences.” The result of all the works of the natural man was, said Rougemont, “civilization, which is a universal, human fact.” The extension of a universal Christian “civilization” over “the whole earth, and the reign of Christ over all civilized nations,” was the “double end which God has in view in the government of the kingdom of nature and the kingdom of grace.”

The church’s civilizational mission, Rougemont declared, could not be accomplished through state power. Although he remained a convinced establishmentarian his entire life, he maintained that the division between religion and the state was a vital separation, lest the church bastardize its mission by surrendering its prerogatives to the state. “These two kingdoms being both of one God, cannot contradict each other, nor even remain estranged from one another; but they must not be confounded.” Mixing the two kingdoms, Rougemont warned, was “to denaturalize both. Woe to the State, be it monarchical or republican, of which the councils are transformed into committees!” Even more worrisome than the state failing to uphold its divine commission, was the church failing to fulfill its own. “Woe, above all to the Church, which, surrendering its spiritual arms, seizes the sword of the State to strike the heretics.” If the church used the sword of the state to strike heretics,  “that sword will soon be turned against the true believers, and that Church will become, if it does not repent, the empire of Antichrist.”

The Swiss thinker’s forewarnings regarding the respective missions of church and state do not fit modern American binaries or conceptions regarding the mission and nature of establishmentarian intellectuals or polities. Rougemont supported his principality’s state church, but he also made it clear that “the two kingdoms of man and of the God Man are called to interpenetrate without encroaching the one on the other.” The lower, the state, “preceded the higher by four thousand years” but yielded “to its powerful influence.” The Holy Spirit, “which descended from heaven into the Church, descends from the Church by the Gospel and by individual faith into the family, the State and civil society” where it purifed and restored “domestic affections.” The church, not the state, made “working men honest and diligent, citizens just and disinterested, enlightening the learned on their path of perilous research, and illuminating to the eye of poets and artists, the ideal of true and saintly beauty.” The vocation of the nations, Rougemont contended, “according to the language of the prophets, bring to the Church the tribute of their wealth, their talents of moral power, devotion, keen intelligence, profound speculation, and lofty poetry.” Nations understood and practiced the Gospel, “each according to his own capacity, and as the Gospel is divine, it affords ample scope for all to view it under a different aspect, and to draw upon, without exhausting its infinite virtues.” Nations ultimately rendered “to Christianity the service of giving it full manifestation while Christianity carries their civilization to its highest development. There is manifestly a pre-established harmony between the Gospel and the nations.”[1]

[1] Frederic de Rougemont, Christianity and the Nationalities in Edward Steane ed., Proceedings of the Amsterdam Conference of the Evangelical Alliance: Held in August, 1867 (London: Office of the Evangelical Office, 1867), 479-480.


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