Изображения страниц
[ocr errors]


reformers to triumph over those who employed against them the most extraordinary efforts of policy and of power.*

2. The causes which contributed to the progress of the Reformation. The long and scandalous schism which divided The great the church during the latter part of the fourteenth, and papal schism. the beginning of the fifteenth centuries; during which two or three contending popes roamed about Europe at the same time, extorting large sums of money from the countries which acknowledged their authority; excommunicating their rivals and cursing their adherents; ridiculing their pretensions to infallibility, and exposing them and their office to contempt, was the first circumstance which diminished the veneration in which Christendom had been accustomed to view the papal dignity, and taught men that they had a right of private judgment, by calling upon them to exercise it in choosing which of the infallible guides they would follow.

The Coun

and Con

The proceedings of the councils of Basle and Constance spread this disrespect for the Romish see still wider, and by cils of Basle their bold exertions of authority in deposing and electing stance. popes, again taught men that there was an authority superior even to that papal power which they had long believed to be supreme.

The vices of the Roman Court.

Scarcely had Rome recovered from the shocks which these dissensions gave to her authority, than fresh scandal was raised in Christendom by the disgraceful pontificates of Alexander VI. and Julius II. The character of the former was so infamous, that he is generally ranked among those tyrants whose deeds are the greatest reproach to human nature. The latter was a man of restless and ungovernable ambition; utterly unscrupulous as to the means by which his schemes were to be executed; whose life was so much spent in war and worldly politics, that he was called "the soldier pontiff." These two popes were almost continually at war with the Emperor or the French kings, and as their detestable characters made it impossible for men to venerate them as the infallible heads of the church, so their interference in European politics, degraded them from that supremacy which their predecessors had so haughtily maintained, placed them on a level with other princes, and exposed them to the bitter invective and ridicule of the enemies of the church.

But these vices and excesses were not confined to the Roman

*Macaulay, I., 46-47.


moral lives

court alone. The Roman church throughout was corrupt; The imthe dignified clergy, both secular and regular, neglected m the duties of their office, and indulged in the most clergy. profligate vices; while the gross ignorance and low debauchery of the inferior clergy, rendered them as contemptible, as the others were disgusting. "Benefit of clergy" was little else than a privilege to commit sins with impunity. The grossest moral profligacy in a priest, was passed over with indifference; every person who could read, was claimed by the church as a clerk, and by her laws was not amenable, for the worst crimes, to the secular jurisdiction, until he had been first deprived of his benefit of clergy, by the ecclesiastical court; a process which was so complicated, as to amount to absolute protection. This preposterous exemption at last became insupportable in England, and it was abolished by the 23 Henry VIII.

they were

The scandal of these crimes was greatly increased by the facility with which the offenders obtained pardon. The court of The facility Rome, ever greedy of gain, sold pardons to them; a traffic with which which was not then considered shocking, because the pardoned. idea of a composition for crimes was familiar in every country in Europe. For twenty crowns, the Roman chancery absolved a deacon of murder, and a bishop or abbot for three hundred livres; and for one hundred livres any ecclesiastic might violate his vows of chastity, even with the most aggravating circumstances. When men acquired more accurate notions of religion and morality, these proceedings of the court of Rome appeared impious, and were considered as the greatest sources of ecclesiastical corruption.


leges of the regarded

This degeneracy of manners among the clergy, might perhaps have been tolerated, had not their exorbitant wealth, and The jealousy the great privileges which they enjoyed, been naturally the wealth regarded with jealousy by the laity, especially in Ger- and priv many, where the prelates had seized the imperial domains clergy were and revenues, usurped the imperial jurisdiction within the laity. their own dioceses, and erected themselves into independent princes during the long wars between the Popes and the Emperors. Restraints had very early been placed upon the acquisition of wealth by the English clergy, by the famous Statutes of Mortmain ; their civil immunities had been effectually curbed, and the jurisdiction of their spiritual courts considerably limited, by the state. But the clergy were ever encroaching, and endeavouring to make the statutes of no effect, by all the expedients which their ingenuity could devise; so that the laity continued to regard their claims of privilege with greater jealousy than before, and their


immunities as pernicious, alike to their own morals and the wellbeing of society.


Another cause which contributed to the progress of this great Jealousy of revolution, was the jealousy with which Italian ascendancy supremacy. Was naturally regarded by men born on our side of the Alps. The ecclesiastics of England were at one time chiefly Italians, nominated by the Pope, who seldom visited their benefices, but were careful to draw their revenues regularly, which they spent abroad. This abuse had been early remonstrated against, and its continuance prevented by the Statute of Provisors; but Germany still suffered under the evil.


The exactions of the Roman chancery, which were still grievous The in every country in Christendom, and the avaricious manner in which they were extorted from both clergy and laity, completed the odium with which Rome was everywhere regarded.

of the Roman court.

The united effect of all these causes was, that a reformation had, for a long time, been considered necessary, and even demanded by the national assemblies of every Christian nation; and especially by the diets of Germany, and the parliaments of England. But there was a difference of opinion as to the method of effecting this reformation. The common notion was, that it could be legally accomplished only by general councils, convoked under the authority of the Pope: an erroneous idea, because it left the disposal of the remedy to those very persons from whom the evil proceeded. The abortive efforts of the councils of Constance and Basle to reform the church, soon taught the people that a redress of ecclesiastical abuses must be brought about by other means, and, therefore, when Luther appeared, the minds of men were already prepared for shaking off the yoke of Rome. They listened with joy to his offers of deliverance; his doctrines spread with extraordinary rapidity; and the impetuosity and fierceness of his spirit; his self-confidence in his own opinions; the arrogance and contempt with which he treated all opponents; and the gross scurrility and low buffoonery which he introduced into his gravest discourses, defects, which in an age of moderation and refinement would have seriously injured the progress of his cause; were overlooked at a time when men's minds were strongly agitated and exasperated at the rigours of the papal tyranny they had so long endured, and the corruptions in which they had been so long enslaved.

But, independent of these causes, there were two extraordinary circumstances, which appeared so opportunely a little before this


tion of

time, that we cannot but consider them as having been es- The invenpecially ordered by Divine Providence. The first of these printing. was the invention of printing. What the miraculous gift of tongues was to the primitive church, this art was to the reformers. Their doctrines and deeds circulated throughout Europe; Luther was in every mouth; ballads were sung of him; and his writings, together with those of Huss, Zuingle, and others, were dispersed everywhere. The acquisition and propagation of knowledge were wonderfully increased; but more than all, the reformers' translations of the Scriptures were rapidly circulated all over Europe, and sold at the cheapest rate; Tyndal's New Testament selling for less than one fortieth of the price of Wycliffe's Bible.*

The other circumstance was, the revival of learning. About the beginning of the sixteenth century, an unprecedented The revival activity was displayed in every department of literature; of learning. the study of the ancient writers was revived; the powers of the modern languages were becoming rapidly developed; the minds of men were roused from that profound sleep in which they had been sunk for centuries, and men appeared to have recovered their faculties of inquiring and thinking for themselves. There is no foundation for imagining that Luther was concerned for the interests of literature; his attainments were solely theological;+ but Melancthon, and others of his disciples, were eminent for their knowledge of the classics; and as the same ignorant monks who opposed the introduction of learning into Germany, also opposed Luther's opinions, the cause of learning came to be connected with that of the Reformation in every country. Those who studied "the new learning," as the restored literature was called, were termed Humanists, and between them and the advocates of the old learning, the Schoolmen, or Theologians, and the there existed the bitterest enmity. Though they discovered Schoolmen. the absurdity of many tenets and practices authorized by the church, and perceived the futility of the arguments by which the ignorant monks defended them, they had no intention to overturn the established system of religion:-they sought merely a refor mation, not a revolution; and were more anxious about the revival of literature, and the extension of secular knowledge, than the correction of religious abuse, and the removal of religious superstition. The greatest of these restorers of literature was Erasmus, whose reputation and authority in Europe were Erasmus. so high, and whose works were read with such universal admiration, that they were among the causes which considerably aided the pro* Blunt's Reformation, 108-110; Hallam's Literary History, I., 255. + Ibid, I., 307.




gress of the Reformation. "No man had more severely lashed the superstitions which were miscalled acts of piety, or scourged the frauds and debaucheries of the priesthood with a more vigorous arm;" and there is no doubt that the ridicule which he poured upon the monks so freely while he was in England, contributed to their easy overthrow in this country.* There was hardly any opinion or practice of the Romish church which Luther endeavoured to reform, but what had been previously assailed by Erasmus, either by his censure or by his raillery; and therefore, when Luther began his attack upon the church, Erasmus applauded his conduct, and condemned his adversaries. He agreed with him in attacking the schoolmen and monks, particularly the Dominicans, who, being the censors of the press, were the peculiar objects of the hatred and ridicule of the Humanists; and he joined him in endeavouring to turn the attention of men to the study of the Scriptures, as the only standard of religious truth. He published the first printed edition of the Greek Testament; and wrote a paraphrase of the New Testament, which was introduced by Cranmer, into all the churches in England; mutilated and moth-eaten copies of which are still occasionally to be seen chained to their desks. But when the great reformer assailed the papal authority and the constitution of the church, and separated himself from communion with Rome, Erasmus withdrew his support; he had not the courage to become a reformer or a martyr; he loved peace, and would have reformed abuses gradually, and by gentle methods; and his dread of losing his pensions, all combined in moderating the zeal with which he once exposed the errors of the church, and in retaining him amongst the papal faction.

3. The Reformation in Germany. Such was the disposition of The sale of Europe towards Rome when Leo X. published a sale of by Tetzel. indulgences, that he might complete St. Peter's Cathedral at Rome. The purchasers of these indulgences obtained absolution of their sins, and exemption from the pains of purgatory after death, so said the church; the right of selling them in Germany was granted to the Archbishop of Magdeburg, who employed the Dominican friars as his agents. At their head was Tetzel, who executed his trust with a shameless contempt of all decency. He went about disposing of his wares in the churches, markets, and taverns; he sold them wholesale to other pedlars of pardons; and when the market was overstocked, and the demands of customers decreased, and their faith became less ardent, he pushed * Mackintosh, II., 145. † Blunt's Reformation, 103. Robertson's Chas. V., II., 95-55

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »