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CHAPTER X.

THE CLOSE OF THE MIDDLE AGES.

Lit. – The following treatments may be consulted for this chapter. Haller: Papstthum u. Kirchenreform.—Döllinger-Friedrich: D. Papstaum.—G. Krüger: The Papacy, Engl. trsl., N. Y.,1909.—Lea: The Eve of the Reformation, In Cambr. Hist., I: 653–692.—Bezold: Gesch. d. deutschen Reformation, pp. 1–244.—Janssen-Pastor: vol. I., II.—Pastor: Gesch. d. Päpste, III. 3–150, etc.—Gregorovius: vols. VII., VIII.—G. Ficker: Das ausgehende MA u. sein Verhältniss zur Reformation, Leipz.,1903. A. Schulte.: Kaiser Maximilian als Kandidat für d. päpstlichen Stuhl 1511, Leipz.,1906.—O. Smeaton: The Medici and the Ital. Renaissance, Cin’ti.—The works already cited of Th. Rogers and Cunningham.—W. H. Heyd: Gesch. d. Levantenhandels, 2 vols., Stuttg.,1859.

Many great regions are discovered

Which to late age were ne’er mentioned,

Who ever heard of th’ Indian Peru

Or who, in venturous vessel, measured

The Amazon huge river, now found true?

Or fruitfullest Virginia who did ever view?

Yet all these were when no man did them know,

Yet have from wisest ages hidden been.

And later times things more unknown shall show.

Why then should witless man so much misween,

That nothing is but that which he hath seen.

—Spenser, Faerie Queene.

No period in the history of the Christian Church has a more clear date set for its close than the Middle Ages. In whatever light the Protestant Reformation is regarded there can be no doubt that a new age began with the nailing of the Theses on the church doors in Wittenberg. All attempts to find another date for the beginning of modern history have failed, whether the date be the reign of Philip the Fair or the Fall of Constantinople,1453, or the invention of printing. Much as the invention of movable type has done for the spread of intelligence, the personality and conduct of Luther must always be looked upon as the source from which the new currents of human thought and action in Western Europe emanated.13381338    Gregorovius, VII. 273, well says that "theoretically and practically the Reformation put an end to the universal power of the papacy and closed the Middle Ages as an epoch in the world’s history."

Not so easy, however, is it to fix a satisfactory date for the opening of the Middle Ages. They have been dated from Charlemagne, the founder of the Holy German Empire, the patron of learning, the maker of codes of law. The better starting-point is the pontificate of Gregory the Great, who is well called the last of the Fathers and the first of the mediaeval popes. From that date, the rift between the Eastern and the Western Churches, which was already wide as a result of the arrogance of the bishops of Rome, rapidly grew to be unhealable.

The Middle Ages, with their limits, fall easily into 3 periods, but it must be confessed that the first, extending from 600–1050, is a period of warring elements, with no orderly development. Hildebrand properly opens the Middle Ages as a period of great ideas, conscious of its power and begetting movements which have exerted a tremendous influence upon the history of the Church. From the moment that monk entered Rome, the stream of ecclesiastical affairs proceeded on its course between well-defined banks. During the 500 years that followed, the voice of the supreme pontiff was heard above all other voices and controlled every movement emanating from the Church. In this period, the doctrinal system, which is distinctively known as the mediaeval, came to its full statement. It was the period of great corporate movements, of the Crusades, the Mendicant orders, of the cathedrals and universities, of the canon law and the sacramental combination and of the Reformatory councils.

The third period of the Middle Ages, which this volume traverses, is at once the product of the former period of Gregory VII. and Innocent III. and, at the same time, the germinative seed-plot of new forces. The sacerdotal keeps its hold and the papacy remains the central tribunal and court of Europe, but protests were heard—vigorous and startling from different quarters, from Prag, Paris, Oxford—which, without overthrowing old institutions, shook the confidence in their Apostolic appointment and perpetuity. These last two centuries of the mediaeval world betray no consuming passion like the Crusades, for all efforts of the pope to stir the dead nerves of that remarkable impulse were futile. And Pius II., looking from the bluffs of Ancona out upon the sea in the hope of discerning ships rigged to undertake the reconquest of the East, furnishes a pathetic spectacle of an attempt to call forth energies to achieve the dreams of the past, when for practical minds the illusion itself has already disappeared.

The Reformatory councils endeavored to undo what Hildebrand and Innocent III. had built up and Thomas Aquinas had sanctioned, the control of the Church and society by the will of the supreme pontiff. The system of the Schoolmen broke down. Wyclif, himself endowed with scholastic acuteness, belonged to that modern class of men who find in practical considerations a sufficient reason to ignore the contentions of dialectic philosophy. And, finally, the Renaissance completely set aside some of the characteristic notions of the Middle Ages, stirring the interest of man in all the works of God, and honoring those who in this earthly sphere of action wrought out the products of intellectual endeavor in literature and art, on the platform and in the department of state.

This last period of the Middle Ages appears to the student of general history as a period of presentiments—and efforts on the part of scattered thinkers, to reach a more free and rational mode of thought and living than the mode they had inherited from the past. The period opening with Hildebrand and extending to Boniface VIII. furnished more imposing personalities,—architects compelling by the force of intellectual assertion,—but fewer useful men. It created a dogmatic unity and triumphed by a policy of force, but the rights of the individual and the principle of liberty of thought and conscience, with which God has chosen to endow mankind, it could not consign to permanent burial.

However, in spite of the efforts put forth in the closing period of the Middle Ages to shake off the fetters of the rigid ecclesiastical compulsion, it failed. The individual reformers and prophets prepared the way for a new time, but were unable to marshal forces enough in their own age to inaugurate the new order. This it was the task of Luther to do.

In a retrospect of the marked features of the closing centuries of the Middle Ages, we are struck first of all with the process by which the nations of Western Europe became consolidated until they substantially won the limits which they now occupy. The conquest of the weary Byzantine empire seemed to open the way for the Turks into all Europe. The acropolis of Athens was occupied in 1458. Otranto on the Italian coast was seized and Vienna itself threatened. All Europe felt as Luther did when he offered the prayer, "from the murderous cruelty of the Turk, Good Lord deliver us." Much as the loss of the city on the Bosphorus was lamented at this time, it cannot but be felt that there was no force in Eastern Christendom which gave any promise of progress, theological or civil.

The papacy, claiming to be invested with plenitude of authority, abated none of its claims, but by its history proved that those very claims are fictitious and have no necessary place in the divine appointment.

Seldom has a more impressive spectacle been furnished than was furnished by the Reformatory councils. Following the Avignon period and the age of the papal schism, they struggled to correct the abuses of the papal system and to define its limitations. The first oecumenical council held on German soil, the Council of Constance, made such an authoritative decision. Its weight was derived from its advocates, the most distinguished theologians and canonists of the time, and the combined voice of the universities and the nations of Latin Christendom. But the decision proved to be no stronger than a spider’s web. The contention, which had been made by that long series of pungent tracts which was opened with the tract of Gelnhausen, was easily set aside by the dexterous hand of the papacy itself. Gelnhausen had declared that the way to heal the troubles in the papal household was to convoke a general council.13391339    Gelnhausen in Martène, Thesaur. Nov. anec., Paris ed., 1717, II. 1203. Conclusio principalis ista est quod pro remediando et de medio auferendo schismate moderno expedit, potest et debet concilium generate convocari. To this mode of statement Pius II. opposed his bull, Execrabilis, and his successors went on untroubled by the outcry of Latin Christendom for some share in the government of the Church.

But the appeal for a council was an ominous portent. It had been made by Philip the Fair and the French Parliament,1303. It was made by the Universities of Paris and Oxford and the great churchmen of France. It was made by Wyclif, by Huss and Savonarola. In vain, to be sure, but the body of the Church was thinking and the arena of free discussion was extending.

The most extravagant claims of the papacy still had defenders. Augustus Triumphus and Alvarus Pelayo declared there could be no appeal from the pope to God, because the pope and God were in agreement. He who looks upon the pope with intent and trusting eye, looks upon Christ, and wherever the pope is, there is the Church. Yea, the pope is above canon law. But these men were simply repeating what was current tradition. Dante struck another note, when he put popes in the lowest regions of hell, and Marsiglius of Padua, when he cast doubt upon Peter’s ever having been in Rome and insisted that the laity are also a part of the Church.

The scandalous lives of the popes whose names fill the last paragraph of the history of the Middle Ages would have excluded them from decent modern circles and exposed them to sentence as criminals. They were perjurers, adulterers. Avarice, self-indulgence ruled their life. They had no mercy. The charges of murder and vicious disease were laid to their door. They were willing to set the states of Italy one over against the other and to allow them to lacerate each other to extend their own territory or to secure power and titles for their own children and nephews. Luther was not far out of the way when, in his Appeal to the German Nobility, he declared "Roman avarice is the greatest of robbers that ever walked the earth. All goes into the Roman sack, which has no bottom, and all in the name of God." In all history, it would be difficult to discover a more glaring inconsistency between profession and practice than is furnished by the careers of the last popes of the Middle Ages.

Upon freedom of thought, the papacy continued to lay the mortmain of alleged divine appointment. Dante’s De monarchia was burnt by John XXII. The evangelical text-book, the Theologia Germanica has been put on the index. Erasmus’ writings were put on the Index. Curses were hurled against a German emperor by Clement VI. which it would almost be sacrilege to repeat with the lips. Eckart was declared a heretic. Wyclif’s bones were dug up and cast into the flames. Huss was burnt. Savonarola was burnt. And, from nameless graves in Spain and Germany rises the protest against the papacy as a divine institution.

Valla said again and again that the papacy was responsible for all the misfortunes of Italy, its worst enemy. To such a low plane was that institution brought that the Emperor Maximilian I. seriously considered having himself elected pope and combining in himself the two sovereignties of Church and state. That such a thought was possible is proof of the actual state of affairs. A most Catholic historian, Janssen (III. 77), says: "The court of Leo X., with its extravagant expenditure in card-playing, theatres and all manner of worldly amusements, was still more flagrantly opposed to the position of chief overseer of the Church than the courts of the German ecclesiastical princes, notably Albrecht of Mainz. The iniquity of Rome exceeded that of the ecclesiastical princes of Germany." And was not the chief idea, which some of the aspirants after the highest office in Christendom had in mind, well embodied in the words with which Leo followed his election, "Let us enjoy the papacy"? If the lives of these latter popes were unworthy, their treatment of the spiritual prerogatives was sacrilegious. Rome encouraged the Crusades but sent no Crusaders. In Rome everything was for sale. The forgiveness of sins itself was offered for money.

And, within papal circles, there was no movement towards reform. As well might men have looked for a burnt field to furnish food. It is not improbable that the very existence of the papacy was saved by the Reformation. This is the view to which Burckhardt chooses to give expression twice in the same work.13401340    Renaissance, I. 136, II. 185. Ficker p. 13, speaks of "the incalculable advantage which accrued to the Catholic Church from the Reformation." It discredited by its incumbents every high claim asserted for it. And yet, with abounding self-confidence, in the last hours of the Middle Ages, it solemnly reaffirmed the claim of supreme jurisdiction over the souls and bodies of men, the Church and the state. And after the Reformation had begun, Prierias, Master of the palace, declared the pope’s superiority to the Scriptures in these words: "Whoever does not rest upon the doctrine of the Roman Church and the Roman pope as an infallible rule of faith, from which even the Holy Scriptures derive their authority, is a heretic." And to be a heretic meant to be an outlaw. Prierias was the man who spoke of Luther as "the brute with the deep eyes and strange fantasies."

Forces of another character were working. In quiet pathways, the mystics walked with God and, though they did not repudiate the sacramental system, they called attention to the religion of the heart as the seat of religion. The Imitation of Christ was written once, for all ages. The Church had found its proper definition as the body of the elect and that idea stood in direct antithesis to the theory the hierarchy worked upon. The preaching of the Waldenses had been condemned by the Fourth Lateran Council, but there was a growing popular demand for instruction as well as the spectacle of the mass, and the catechetical manuals laid stress upon the sermon. The Albigenses had been completely blotted out, but the principles of Lollardism and Hussitism continued to flow, though as little rills. The Inquisition was still doing its work, but in Germany schools for all classes of children were being taught. The laity was asserting its rights in the domain of learning and culture. These influences were silently preparing the soil for the new teachings.

In the 15th century, a potent force stirred Europe as Europe had never been stirred by it before,—Commerce. The industrial change, then going on, deserves more than a passing reference as a factor preparing the mind for intellectual and religious innovation. This, at least, is true of the German people. Explorations and the extension of commerce have, in more periods than one, preceded a revival of missionary enterprise. But, of all the centuries, none is so like the 19th as the last century of the Middle Ages,—vital with humanistic forces of all kinds. It was a time of revolution in the methods of trade and the comforts and prices of living. The world could never be again just what it had been before. There was marked restlessness among the artisan and peasant classes. This industrial unrest was adapted to encourage and to beget unrest in things ecclesiastical and to accustom the mind to the thought of change there.

From Italy, whose harbors were the outfitting points for fleets during the Crusades, the centre of trade had shifted to the cities north of the Alps and to the Portuguese coast. Nürnberg, Ulm, Augsburg and Constance in Southern Germany; Bruges, Antwerp and other cities along the lower Rhine and in Flanders; and the cities of the Hanseatic League were bustling marts, turning out new and wonderful products of manufacture and drawing the products of the outside world through London, Lisbon, Lyons and Venice. Energy and enterprise were making Germany rich and her mercantile houses had their representatives and depots in Venice, Antwerp and other ports.13411341    For the transfer of the centre of the Levantine trade from Venice to Lisbon at the beginning of the 16th century, see Heyd, II. 505-540. Heyd says that the discovery of the route to India around the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese hatte wie ein Donnerschlag am heiteren Himmel die Gemüther der Venetianer berührt. To counteract the stream of trade in the direction of Lisbon, the Venetians proposed a scheme for cutting a canal through the Isthmus of Suez in 1500 and, in the same interest, the Turks actually began that enterprise in 1529. Manuel, king of Portugal, in 1505 stationed a fleet at Calicut to prevent the Venetians from interfering with the export of Indian goods to Portugal. For the German Board of Trade at Venice, the fondaco dei Tedeschi, see Heyd, II. 520, etc.

Methods of business, such as to-day are suggesting grave problems to the political economist and moralist, were introduced and flourished. Trading companies and monopolies came upon the stage and startled the advocates of the old feudal ways by the extent and boldness of their operations. Trusts flourished in Augsburg and other German cities.13421342    Writing in 1458, Aeneas Sylvius said, "The German nation takes the lead of all others in wealth and power." He spoke of Cologne as unexcelled in magnificence among the cities of Europe. At Nürnberg he found simple burghers living in houses, the like of which the kings of Scotland would have been glad to house in. Individuals and corporations cornered the import trade, the grain crop, the wine harvest, the silver, copper and iron product, sugar, linen, leather, pepper, even soap, for they used soap also in those days. The Höchstetters, the Ebners and the Fuggers were among the great speculative and trading firms of the age. They carried things with a high hand. Ambrose Höchstetter of Augsburg, for example, one season bought up all the ash wood, another all the grain and another all the wine. Nor was the art of adulteration left for these later, and often discredited, times to practice. They condescended to small things, even to the mixing of brick-dust with pepper. Commodities rose suddenly in price. In Germany, wine rose, in 1510, 49 per cent and grain 32 per cent. Imperial diets took cognizance of these conditions and tried to correct the evils complained of by regulating the prices of goods.13431343    So the Diet of Cologne, 1512. At the same time, however, it declared that its acts were not designed to prevent the association of merchants in trading companies. The Diet of Innsbruck, 1518, did the same, and complained of the trading companies for driving out the small dealers and fixing prices arbitrarily. Trithemius argued for laws protecting the people from the overreachings of avarice and declared that whosoever bought up meat, grain and other articles of diet to force up prices is no better than a common criminal. See Janssen, II. 102, sq. Municipalities did the same. Preachers, like Geiler of Strassburg, charged the monopolists with fearing neither God nor man and called upon the cities to banish them. Professors of jurisprudence, for there was at that time no department of social science, inveighed against monopolies as spiders’ webs to ensnare the innocent.13441344    So Christopher Kuppner of Leipzig, in his tract on usury,1508. He insists that magistrates should proceed against trading companies and rich merchants who, through agents in other lands, bought up saffron, pepper, com and what not and sold them at whatsoever price they chose. According to the secretary of the firm, Conrad Meyer, the capital of the Fuggers increased in 7 years 13,000,000 florins. It was a fast age. There was no precedent for what was going on. Men sighed for the good old times. Speculation was rampant and the prospect of quick gains easily captivated the people. They took shares in the investment companies and often lost everything. It was noticed that the directors of the companies were able to avoid losses which the common and unsuspecting investor had to bear. The confusion was increased by the readiness of town aldermen and city councillors to take stock in the concerns. It also happened that the great traders, whose ventures involved others in loss, were conspicuous in church affairs.

To the wealth, arising from manufactures and foreign commerce, were added the riches which were being dug up from the newly opened mines of silver, copper and iron in Bohemia and Saxony. Avarice was cried down as the besetting sin of the age and, in some quarters, commerce was denounced as being carried on in defiance of the simplest precepts of the Gospel.13451345    A preacher in 1515 declared the spirit of speculation then prevailing to be of recent growth, only ten years old, and that it had not existed in former times. Janssen, II. 87.

With wealth came extravagance in dress and at the table. Municipalities legislated against it and imperial parliaments sought to check it by arbitrary rules. Wimpheling says, table services of gold were not unusual and that he himself had eaten from golden plates at Cologne. Complaint was frequently made at the diets that men were being brought to poverty by their expenditures for dress upon themselves and the expenditures of the female members of their households.

In Germany, peasants were limited to a certain kind of cloth for their outer garments and to a maximum price.13461346    The diets of 1498 and 1500 forbade artisans to wear gold, silver, pearls, velvet and embroidered stuffs. They were forbidden to pay more than one-half a florin a yard for the cloth of their coats and mantles. Laws regulating dress were also passed in Italy. Elastic beds, false hair and other fashions came into vogue. Women sat in the sun all day to bleach their hair. In Florence, money was scented. See Burckhardt-Geiger, II. 87 sqq. John of Arundel, who was drowned at sea, 1879, had 62 new suits of cloth of gold or tissue. By a parliamentary act of 1463, no knight or other person might wear shoes or boots having peaks longer than two inches, Soc. Engl., II. 426 sqq. The women had their share in making the disturbance and dignified town councils sat in judgment upon the number of gowns and other articles of apparel and ornament the ladies of the day might possess without detriment to the community or hurt to the solvency of their indulgent husbands. The council of Ratisbon, for example, in 1485 made it a rule that the wives and daughters of distinguished burghers should be limited to 8 dresses, 6 long cloaks, 3 dancing gowns, one plaited mantle with not more than 3 sets of sleeves of silk velvet and brocade, 2 pearl hair bands not to cost more than 12 florins, one tiara of gold set with pearls, not more than three veils costing 8 florins each, etc. But why enumerate the whole list of articles? It is supposable the women conformed, even if they were inclined to criticise the aldermen for not sticking to their legitimate municipal business. Geiler of Strassburg had his word to say for these innovations of an extravagant age, the women with two dresses for a single day, their long trains trailing in the dust, the cocks’ feathers worn in the women’s hats and the long hair falling down over their shoulders. The times were cried down as bad. It is, however, pleasant to recall that a contemporary annalist commended as praiseworthy the habit of bathing at least "once every two weeks."

Among the artisans and the peasants, the unrest asserted itself in strikes and uprisings, strikes for shorter hours, for better food and for better wages. Sometimes a municipality and a gild were at strife for years. Sometimes a city was bereft at one stroke of all the workers of a given craft, as was Nürnberg of her tin workers in 1475. The gilds of tailors are said to have been most given to strikes.

The new social order involved the peasant class in more hardship than any other. The peasants were made the victims of the rapacity and violence of the landowners, who encroached upon their fields and their traditional but unwritten rights, and deprived them of the right to fish and hunt and gather wood in the forests. The Church also came in for its share of condemnation. One-fifth of the soil of Germany was in the possession of convents and other religious establishments and the peasant leaders called upon the monks and priests to distribute their lands. In their marching songs they appealed to Christ to keep them from putting the priests to death. The Peasant War of 1525 was not the product of the abuse of the principle of personal freedom introduced by the Reformation. It was one of a long series of uprisings and it has been said that, if the Reformation had not come and diverted the attention of the people, it is likely Germany would have been shaken by such a social revolution in the 16th century as the world has seldom seen.13471347    Ficker, p. 107 sq.; Müller: Kirchengesch. II. 196 sq. Among these peasant leaders, the piper of Niklahausen was one of the most prominent. In the last quarter of the 15th century, tracts were circulated among the peasants, calling upon them to resist the oppression of the ruling classes and demand the secularization of Church lands.

In England, the restlessness was scarcely less demonstrative and the condition of the laboring classes scarcely less deplorable. Their hardships in the 14th century called forth the rebellion of Watt Tyler. The famous statute of laborers of 1350 fixed the wages of reapers at 8 pence a day; the statute of 1444, a century later, raised it to 5 pence. The laws of 1495, Cunningham says, were intended to keep down the wages of the daily toiler. English legislation was habitually bent on preventing an artificial enhancement of prices. At the very close of the Middle Ages,1515, a regulation fixed the day’s work from 5 in the morning until 7 or 8 in the evening in summer and during the hours of daylight during the winter. Legislation was sought to put a limit on prices against the inflation of combinations. Frauds and adulterations in articles offered for sale, bad work and false weights were officially condemned in 1504. Against the proclivity of the gilds to fix the prices of their wares at unreasonable figures, Henry VII. set himself with determination. With the development of sheep-walks farm hands lost their employment.13481348    Rogers, p. 143; Cunningham, pp. 399, 457 sq., 468 sqq., 476 sqq., 484. To the author of Utopia the act of parliament in 1515, fixing wages, seemed to be "nothing else than a conspiracy of the rich against the poor," and, the laboring man was doomed to a life so wretched that even a beast’s life in comparison seemed to be enviable."

The discoveries in the New World and the nautical exploits, which carried Portuguese sailors around the Cape of Good Hope, also stimulated this feeling of restlessness. While the horizon of the natural world was being enlarged and new highways of commerce were being opened, thoughtful men had questions whether the geography of the spiritual world, as outlined in the scholastic systems, did not need revision. The resurrection of the Bible as a popular book stimulated the curiosity and questioning. The Bible also was a new world. The trade, the enterprise, the thought awakened during the last 70 years of the Middle Ages were incomparably more vital than had been awakened by the Crusades and the Crusaders’ tales. When the Reformation came, the chief centres of business in Germany and England became, for the most part, seats of the new religious movement, Nürnberg, Ulm, Augsburg, Geneva, Strassburg, Frankfurt, Lübeck and London.

The Renaissance, as has already been set forth, was another potent factor contributing to the forward impulse of the last century of the Middle Ages. All the faculties of man were to be recognized as worthy of cultivation. Europe arose as out of a deep sleep. Men opened their eyes and saw, as Mr. Taine put it. The Renaissance made the discovery of man and the earth. The Schoolmen had forgotten both. Here also a new world was revealed to view and Ulrich von Hutten, referring to it and to the age as a whole could exclaim, "O century, studies flourish, spirits are awaking. It is a pleasure to live!"

But in the Renaissance Providence seems to have had the design of showing again that intellectual and artistic culture may flourish, while the process of moral and social decline goes on. No regenerating wave passed over Italy’s society or cleansed her palaces and convents. The outward forms of civilization did not check the inward decline. The Italian character, says Gregorovius, "in the last 30 years of the 15th century displays a trait of diabolical passion. Tyrannicide, conspiracies and deeds of treachery were universal." In the period of Athenian greatness, the process of the intellectual sublimation of the few was accompanied by the process of moral decay in the many. So now, art did not purify. The Renaissance did not find out what repentance was or feel the need of it. Savonarola’s admiring disciple, Pico della Mirandola, presented a memorial to the Fifth Lateran which declared that, if the prelates "delayed to heal the wounds of the Church, Christ would cut off the corrupted members with fire and sword. Christ had cast out the money-changers, why should not Leo exile the worshippers of the many golden calves?" In Italy, remarks Ranke, "no one counted for a cultured person who did not cherish some erroneous views about Christianity."

The North had no Dante and Petrarca and Boccaccio or Thomas Aquinas, but it had its Tauler and Thomas à Kempis and its presses sent forth the first Greek New Testament. This was a positive preparation for the coming age as much as the Greek language was a preparation for the spread of Christianity through Apostolic preaching in the 1st century. German printers went to Rome in 1467 and as far as Barcelona. In his work on the new invention,1507, Wimpheling13491349    De arte impressoria. The printer Gutenberg lived 1397-1468 and his son-in-law, Schöffer, died 1502. declared "that as the Apostles went forth of old, so now the disciples of the sacred art go forth from Germany into all lands and their printed books become heralds of the Gospel, preachers of the truth and wisdom." Germany became the intellectual market of Europe and its wares went across the North Sea to that little kingdom which was to become the chief bulwark of Protestantism. In vain did Leo X. set himself against the free circulation of literature.13501350    In his bull of May 4, 1515. See Mirbt, p. 177.

The Greek edition of the New Testament and the printing-press,—that invention which cleaves all the centuries in two and yet binds all the centuries together—were the two chief providential instruments made ready for Martin Luther. But he had to find them. They did not make him a reformer, the leader of the new age. Erasmus, whom Janssen mercilessly condemns, remained a moralizer. He lacked both the passion and the heroism of the religious reformer. The religious reformer must be touched from above. Reuchlin, Erasmus and Gutenberg prepared the outward form of the Greek and Hebrew Bible. Luther discovered its contents, and made them known.

Such were the complex forces at work in the closing century of the Middle Ages. The absolute jurisdiction of the papacy was solemnly reaffirmed. The hierarchy virtually constituted the Church. Religious dissent was met with compulsion and force, not by persuasion and instruction. Coercion was substituted for individual consent. Popular piety remained bound in the old forms and was strong. But there were sounds of refreshing rills, flowing from the fresh fountain of the water of life, running at the side of the old ceremonials, especially in the North. The Revival of Letters aroused the intellect to a sense of its sovereign rights. The movement of thought was greatly accelerated by the printed page. The development of trade communicated unrest. But the lives of the popes, as we look back upon the age, forbade the expectation of any relief from Rome. The Reformatory councils had contented themselves with attempts to reform the administration of the Church. Nevertheless, though men did not see it, driftwood as from a new theological continent was drifting about and there were prophetic voices though the princes of the Church listened not to them. What was needed was not government, was not regulations but regeneration. This the hierarchy could not give, but only God alone.13511351    See Sohm’s sententious words in closing his treatment of the Middle Ages, Kirchengesch.,15th ed., 1907, p. 122 sq. Colet, who was in Italy during the rule of Alexander VI. said: "Unless the Mediator who created and founded the Church out of nothing for himself, lay his hand with all speed, our most disordered Church cannot be far from death .... All seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ, not heavenly things but earthly things, what will bring them to death, not what will bring them life eternal."—Seebohm, p. 75.

The facts, set forth in this volume, leave no room for the contention of the recent class of historians in the Roman Church,—Janssen, Denifle, Pastor, Nicolas, Paulus, Dr. Gasquet—who have devoted themselves to the task of proving that an orderly reform-movement was going on when the Reformation broke out. That movement, they represent as an unspeakable calamity for civilization, an apostasy from Christianity, an insurrection against divinely constituted authority. It violently checked the alleged current of progress and popes, down to Pius IX. and Leo XIII., have anathematized Protestantism as a poisonous pestilence and the mother of all modem evils in Church and state. In the attempt to make good this judgment, these recent writers not only have laid stress upon "the good old times,"—a description which the people of the 16th century would have repudiated,13521352    To the other testimonies in this vol. add Erasmus, Enchiridion, p. 11 sq. — but have resorted to the defamation of the German Reformer’s character, setting aside the contemporaries who knew him best, and violently perverting Luther’s own words. Imbart de la Tour, the most recent French historian of this school, on reaching the year 1517, exclaims, "The era of peaceful reforms was at an end; the era of religious revolution was about to open."13531353    II. 579. An example of misrepresentation may be taken from Denifle, Luther u. Luthertum who picks out a single clause from one of Luther’s sermons, Die Begierde ist gänzlich unbesiegbar, "Passion cannot be overcome," and holds it up as the starting-point for the Reformer’s alleged profligate life. What could be more atrocious, unworthy of a scholar and a gentleman, when it was Luther’s purpose in this very sermon to show that Christ imparts the power to overcome evil, which the natural man does not possess and calls upon men to flee to Christ’s protection. In these last vols. Denifle outdid Janssen. Leo XIII. praised Janssen as a "light of historic science and a man of profound learning." Pius X. gave to Denifle the distinction of receiving the first copy of his book from the author’s hand.

Lefèvre d’Etaples was not alone when he uttered the famous words: —

The signs of the times announce that a reformation of the Church is near at hand and, while God is opening new paths for the preaching of the Gospel by the discoveries of the Portuguese and the Spaniards, we must hope that He will also visit His Church and raise her from the abasement into which she has now fallen.

The Philosophy of Christ,—the name which Erasmus gave to the Gospel in his Paraclesis, prefixed to his edition of the New Testament,—was to a large degree covered over by the dialectical theology of the Schoolmen. What men needed was the Gospel and the bishop of Isernia, preaching at the Fifth Lateran council in its 12th session, spoke better than he knew when he exclaimed: "The Gospel is the fountain of all wisdom, of all knowledge. From it has flowed all the higher virtue, all that is divine and worthy of admiration. The Gospel, I say the Gospel." The words were spoken on the very eve of the Reformation and the council of the Middle Ages failed utterly to offer any real remedy for the religious degeneracy. The Reformer came from the North, not from Rome and as from another Nazareth. The angel of God had to descend again and trouble the waters and a single personality touched in conscience proved himself mightier than the wisdom of theology and wiser than the rulers of the visible Church.

Remarkable the Middle Ages were for their bold enterprises in thought and action and they are an important part of the history of the Church. We acknowledge our debt, but their superstitions and errors we set aside as we move on in the pathway of a more intelligent devotion and broader human, sympathies, towards an age when all who profess the Gospel shall unite together in the unity of the faith in the Son of God.

Remarkable the Middle Ages were for their bold enterprises in thought and action and they are an important part of the history of the Church. We acknowledge our debt, but their superstitions and errors we set aside as we move on in the pathway of a more intelligent devotion and broader human, sympathies, towards an age when all who profess the Gospel shall unite together in the unity of the faith in the Son of God.


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