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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

He himself began the Vatican Library


the confidential adviser of

Lorenzo de Medici when he founded his great library in San Marco. He himself began the Vatican Library. He had agents who ransacked the monasteries of Europe, and he collected the literary relics which had escaped destruction in the sack of Constantinople. Before his death his library in the Vatican contained more than 5000 MSS. He gathered round him a band of illustrious artists and scholars. He filled Rome with skilled and artistic artisans, with decorators, jewellers, workers in painted glass and embroidery. The famous Leo Alberti was one of his architects, and Fra Angelico one of his artists. Laurentius Valla and Poggio Bracciolini, Cardinal Bessarion and George of Trebizond, were among his scholars. He directed and inspired their work. Valla's critical attacks on the Donation of Constantine, and on the tradition that the Twelve had dictated the Apostles' Creed, did not shake his confidence in the scholar. The principal Greek authors were translated into Latin by his orders. Europe saw theology, learning, and art lending each other mutual support under the leadership of the head of the Church. Perhaps Julius II. (1503-1513) conceived more definitely than even Nicolas had done that one duty of the head of the Church was to assume the leadership of the intellectual and artistic movement which was making wider the thought of Europe,--only his restless energy never permitted him leisure to give effect to his conception. "The instruction which Pope Julius II. gave to Michelangelo
to represent him as Moses can bear but one interpretation: that Julius set himself the mission of leading forth Israel (the Church) from its state of degradation, and showing it--though he could not grant possession--the Promised Land at least from afar, that blessed land which consists in the enjoyment of the highest intellectual benefits, and the training and consecration of all the faculties of man's mind to union with God."(20)

The classical revival in Italy soon exhausted itself. Its sensuous perceptions degenerated into sensuality, its instinct for the beauty of expression into elegant trifling, and its enthusiasm for antiquity into neo-paganism. It failed almost from the first in real moral earnestness; scarcely saw, and still less understood, how to cure the deep-seated moral evils of the age.

Italy had given birth to the Renaissance, but it soon spread to the more northern lands. Perhaps France first felt the impulse, then Germany and England last of all. In dealing with the Reformation, the movement in Germany is the most important.

The Germans, throughout the Middle Ages, had continuous and intimate relations with the southern peninsula, and in the fifteenth century these were stronger than ever. German merchants had their factories in Venice and Genoa; young German nobles destined for a legal or diplomatic career studied law at Italian universities; students of medicine completed their studies in the famous southern schools; and the German wandering student frequently crossed the Alps to pick up additional knowledge. There was such constant scholarly intercourse between Germany and Italy, that the New Learning could not fail to spread among the men of the north.


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