Project Canterbury

Mankind and the Church
Being an Attempt to Estimate the Contribution of Great Races
To the Fulness of the Church of God

Edited by H. H. Montgomery

London, New York, Bombay and Calcutta: Longmans, Green and Co., 1907.

II.The Special Influence which the African or Negro Race May Exercise on the Future Developments of Christianity
The Most Rev. E. Nuttall, D.D., Archbishop of the West Indies



Having read many of the following books as they have issued from the press from time to time, I have had in mind the information they contain, though not often directly quoted; others have been referred to by name. In some cases the references have only been second-hand:--

1. Reports and other publications of S.P.G.

2. Reports and other publications of C.M.S.

3. Reports and other publications of Wesleyan Missionary Society.

4. Reports and other publications of various other English, Scotch, and American missionary societies on sections of the subject.

5. Articles in the Outlook, New York.

6. Bishop Ingham, "Sierra Leone after a Hundred Years."

7. St. John, Sir Spencer, "Hayti, or the Black Republic," "The modern languages of Africa."

8. Simpson, T. M., "Six Months in Port au Prince."

9. "Stanford's Compendium of Geography and Travel: Africa." Edited by Keith Johnston.

10. Du Chaillu, Paul, "Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa."

11. Kingsley, Miss Mary, "West African Studies," and "Travels in West Africa."

12. Livingstone, David, "Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa."

13. Stanley, H. M., "Through the Dark Continent."

14. Buxton, T. F., "The African Slave Trade."

15. Pullen-Burry, Miss B., "Ethiopia in Exile."

16. Du Bois, W. E. B., "The Philadelphia Negro and the Souls of Black Folk."

17. Sinclair, W. A., "The Aftermath of Slavery."

18. Washington, Booker T., "Future African Negro," and "Up from Slavery."

19. Ellis, A. B., "The Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast of Africa," "The Ewe-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa," "The Yoruba-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa," "A History of the Gold Coast of West Africa."

20. Hoffman, F. L., "Race Tendencies."

21. Tillinghast, J. A., "The Negro in Africa and America."


After making notes of the outline of this article and of the various views I had arrived at, I put the question which constitutes the thesis of this article to several thoughtful clergymen and laymen, each of whom has wide experience and intimate acquaintance with the black people of the West Indies. The first answer which I received I quote nearly in full as follows, believing that it will interest those who read this article, and that the view expressed is deserving of consideration:--

"It may seem fatuous to deny the ground of a thesis because one is unable to discover or even invent one. But that is what I am about to do, and I therefore apologize in advance.

"Now, having thought over the subject of the special influence which the African race is likely to exercise on Christianity, I have been compelled to go into the assumption which underlies the question.

"I first of all ask, is there any differentiating moral, or social, or intellectual characteristic in the African race, which it can impart to Christianity? In other words, is there anything it possesses that our religion has not already in the fullest measure? Or, to put it in another way, is there any analogy between the undeveloped condition of Christianity, when it came into contact with the Aryan races (the Greek, the Roman, the Teuton--the two former in a high state of civilization), and its present state of growth, when it is meeting and gradually converting the uncivilized and savage peoples of the Dark Continent? I here put into form the reasons which constrain me to conclude that there is no material for influencing Christianity in the genius of the African, and therefore ex nihilo nihil fit.

"I at once put away the assumption that Christianity, as we possess it, came into the world fully armed, like Minerva, perfect in all its appointments, fully grown and endowed with all the faculties of the human mind, in their fullest detail. Like all God's creatures, it has grown, and, as consequence of that growth, has taken from its environment, at different stages of its development, [128/129] power to exercise the faculties that are needed for its great work in the world of humanity. And it did this, not in magical or supernatural manner, but in accordance with the Divine order in Creation. There are not two creations; there is only one, and that is God's. Now, to quote from an illuminating writer, the religion of a given race, at a given time, is relative to the whole mental attitude of that time. A religious change is like a physiological change, of the nature of assimilation by, and absorption into, existing elements. Christ's religion was rooted in Judaism--that is, the religion of a Semitic race. A religion which, through the fruit of Divine inspiration, was yet in accordance with the genius of the race, and did no violence to the laws of God in man's nature. Now, this race was only a part of mankind, and could therefore only give of those qualities, which it possessed in a supereminent degree.

"Let me take a description of these qualities of the Semites from that very able but rather obnoxious bĂȘte noir Renan. 'Their religious feelings are strong, exclusive, indolent, and sustained by a fervour which finds its expression in prophetic visions, with a strong attraction towards the individual and personal, which makes them monotheistic in religion, lyrical in poetry, monarchical in politics, abrupt in style, and useless in speculation.' Born thus in a Semitic atmosphere, Christianity was sure to take to itself in its childhood the moral qualities of the race, and only in later years, under influences, did it shift its base of union among its members, from an ethical to a doctrinal ground; and move from ideas to the expression of ideas, from the prophetic to the philosophic. For the religion of Christ was to conquer the mind of the whole world, not only part, and to move Westward.

"But before teaching she had to learn how to teach, and there was no better teacher, with a wider experience in utterance, than the Aryan Greek.

"This was a people which formed a very treasure-house of intellectual wealth, having a long history, and evolution in the growth and expression of a very richly endowed mind. Nor had the Greek lost his mental force or his literary aptitude when Christianity swam into his ken. It took Christianity and gave it just that training in speech and thought which it needed, and which at that stage of its growth it was moat fitted to receive, and transform by assimilation.

"The result was that the Catholic Church took shape, and was taught to speak in a coherent language; to put the instinctive emotional teaching of the Apostolic and subapostolic ages into such a form as suited the logical requirements of a highly intellectual world, and constrained its reverence and obedience, for Christianity was meant to take possession of the whole of man's many-sided nature, even though the process involved no little danger. It has not been all gain, that the base of union among Christians has been 'shifted from the ethical to the doctrinal,' or that the [129/130] mysteries of Christ's nature have been defined with rigour in terms of Greek philosophy. We seem to discern a law in the moral world, that movement onward is always accompanied with some loss--at least, what appears to us to be loss. Rome had not so much to give to Christianity as Greece had; she dealt more with regiment, outward organization, appeal to the sense of ordination and co-ordination, in the human mind, and in a world such as the Church had to live through and influence, this was necessary. She needed the power which comes from shape, what we call deflniteness, to enable her to stand four square to the northern blast that overwhelmed the civilized world. But she did stand, and helped to preserve much of the most precious things of the human genius which had been embodied in art and custom, all that the imagination of man had wrought out. Then came the Teutonic influence, and, though last, it is not least. We have not yet come to the end of that influence; it is moulding the higher mind of Christendom--indeed, it has been the instrument by which the smirch gained by the Christian Church, in its long struggle with barbaric force and unintelleetual environment, has been partly wiped away. The Reformation and all its mighty results have been the reaction of the Teutonic mind on the Church, awakening the desire of freedom in the human souls. This has given strength to Christianity, and is gradually purging it of that magical, unreasoning element which has so long held the Christian mind in bondage. The deep instincts of the soul, regulating and energizing conduct--this, Christianity receives from its Semitic source; the power of expressing in order and logical coherence, the thoughts and highest motives of the human mind, came to her from the Greek; the rhythm and strength of law and order came from Rome; while the regenerating thrill of freedom came, and comes from the virility of the Teuton.

"What is left for the African that we can see? There may be something in the ' far-off Divine event, towards which the whole creation moves,' that the African may yet find his special place in, but we cannot perceive it. All the people spoken of have an intellectual, and moral, and social life, and therefore have evolved certain soul powers that were able to react on Christianity; but the African has given no evidence of originating power in his nature. Their very language, 'that storehouse of the accumulated experience of mankind,' is childish, inorganic, almost fluid. Their history, they have none, except what the child has: driven, directed, thought for by others, never able to take their faith into their own hands. If we apply to the Socialist axiom, 'from, him according to his capacity, to him according to his needs,' we shall very quickly reach the conclusion that so vigorous, hardy, well-developed a plant as Christianity has nothing to receive from so exiguous a source as Africa, and, after all, as there are the higher tribes that give, so may there not be those who only take?"

[131] The next answer which I received was as follows:--

"I think of the Negro race as of a casket with a quaint, unusual, and, in part, a repellent exterior. It contains precious things, but we have not, for the lock which secures it, the key which fits perfectly.

"To put it in another way, it seems to me that we try too much to influence the negro from the outside, with the desire to annex him, to make him conform. We would do better if we allowed that his individuality must ever be very distinct and separate from that of the European, and set ourselves to understand that individuality, accepting its idiosyncrasies not as merely temporary phenomena which we can smooth out of our way, but as there to persist, in their main features, as the distinctive features persist in the European nations. I think of the two races as two points on the circumference of the same circle. To reach from point to point across only serves to emphasize differences and separation. For real and permanent union we must travel from each point to the centre and meet there. Let us transfer our minds as well as we can into the negro's scheme of being, discover the paths that lead towards the centre, and, without trying to make them conform in appearance or grade to those of our own race, pass with him along these paths. Both of us are really travelling towards the same centre, though by roads very different in aspect from those of our own race. This is the base of my optimism regarding the negro. When I do not find what I expected, I say, 'The treasure is there, but the casket is locked, and I have not yet taken the right key.' When I am puzzled by not finding familiar moral landmarks, I say, 'The roads run through new country, but towards one centre. Let us push on.' The best qualities of every race, led through country however different, converge and at last meet. These roads under the shadow of dark African forests, they, too, will at length issue into the broad sunlit plains, and mount the table-lands to which

"'Our God Himself is moon and sun.'

With this preliminary statement I will try to answer the questions you put.

"To Christian belief, I think the negro's distinctive contribution will be his practically unshakable grasp on the truth that God is our Father. Of course the belief is not new. I don't mean that; but it becomes distinctive, and is asserted with new force by the negro's natural and unfaltering hold on it. It is strong in him, because it is not the result of headwork; and it is absorbed into his spiritual being. It is effortless, because it is instinctive. He believes, because he lives. He believes with his whole being. 'The rest may reason and welcome;' he knows. He belongs to God; of that he is sure. To that ho naturally holds so fast that [131/132] the strength of his belief is actually an obstacle in getting him to realize that he is a co-worker with God as well as a son. I have often been struck with the absolute sincerity and certainty with which the vilest among negro women, and the most ruffianly of the men, find it not only possible but natural and irresistible to trust that God will, and in a sense must, deal kindly with them, because they belong to Him.

"While it is soiled and obscured by ignorance, the very sense of the belief will at times put it right across the path of development; but as ignorance is replaced by knowledge, and as the belief is, so to speak, put into working order, we see more and more the advantage of its vital strength. Once let it cease to chain him down in fatalism, and it will be the noblest stay man can have.

"To Christian practice, I think the negro will bring a distinctively strong ability and tendency to recognize and appreciate the common human brotherhood, more frankly, generously, and naturally than ever before. For this he is prepared by the development of the emotional in his character, which enables him to seize great ideas though standing, for the present, somewhat in the way of his ability to work these out in every detail. It seems to me almost that he has been prepared for the realization of the human brotherhood by his history, which has brought him experiences tending to wean him from strong and definite national feeling, which, admirably as it helps men at certain stages, is certainly likely to stand in the way when the movement is begun towards that universal community of all human beings to which it seems to me that Christianity points as the highest development of human government.

"Put briefly, therefore, I answer that the negro's special contribution to Christian belief will be a reinforcement of the truth that God is the Father of all mankind; and to Christian practice his contribution will be a reinforcement of the truth of a common human brotherhood, which leads into the truth that the final condition of human relations is one of co-operation, not of conflict."

The next answer was in the following terms:--

"During the last forty years my mind has turned again and again to the subject on which you have written me--What contribution will the Negro race make to the world's religious life? ... I find it impossible to believe that the race has nothing to contribute. I believe it has something, and will make its contribution if helped to do so. ... I have concluded that the Negro race is providentially intended to emphasize an intuitive apprehension of the supernatural, and the place of the emotional in the religious life. Individuals of the Negro race have been strong in reasoning out their faith in the verities of religion; but the [132/133] supernatural is peculiarly immediate to the apprehension of the negro mind. The supernatural is the atmosphere in which he lives, moves, and has his being. He has certainly the defect of his quality in a very marked degree--he believes too much, accepts too readily things and facts as supernatural which are not, and multiplies with a facile imagination beings to be adored and feared. He greatly needs to have this defect balanced by the reasonings of a more intellectual race, but not to be overdone; and the superior races need the negro's intuitive apprehension of the supernatural to save them from the more deductions of a cultured reason, whose tendency is in the direction of a pure materialism.

"On the second point, which I have named, I may briefly remark that as the intellectual, the emotional, and the practical in happy and harmonious combination are essential to a well-constructed and completed religious life, I see in no race whose characteristics I have studied the emotional lodged to anything like the degree in which it exists in the negro. This, I am aware, has its drawbacks, its dangers. It often runs riot. It is often in religion regarded as an end in itself, and not the motive force to impel to right action. It needs to be checked, controlled, and combined with the intellectual and the practical. But it has a distinct religious value, and I think it is the negro's special mission to contribute this element."

I have inserted the foregoing opinions of representative men believing that the real usefulness and value of this article will be increased by the presentation of other experiences and opinions besides my own.

Archbishop of the West Indies.

Bishop's Lodge,
Kingston, Jamaica, August, 1906.

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