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

Monasteries and religious houses


Besides

the large numbers of monks and nuns who peopled the innumerable monasteries and convents, a large part of the population belonged to some semi-ecclesiastical association. Many were tertiaries of St. Francis; many were connected with the Beguines: Koeln (Cologne) had 106 Beguine-houses; Strassburg, over 60, and Basel, over 30.

The churches and chapels, monasteries and religious houses, received all kinds of offerings from rich and poor alike. In those days of unexampled burgher prosperity and wealth, the town churches became "museums and treasure-houses." The windows were filled with painted glass; weapons, armour, jewels, pictures, tapestries were stored in the treasuries or adorned the walls. Ancient inventories have been preserved of some of these ecclesiastical accumulations of wealth. In the cathedral church in Bern, to take one example, the head of St. Vincentius, the patron, was adorned with a great quantity of gold, and with one jewel said to be priceless; the treasury contained 70 gold and 50 silver cups, 2 silver coffers, and 450 costly sacramental robes decked with jewels of great value. The luxury, the artistic fancy, and the wealth which could minister to both, all three were characteristic of the times, were lavished by the Germans on their churches.

? 2. Preaching.

On the other hand, preaching took a place it had never previously

held in the mediaeval Church. Some distinguished Churchmen did not hesitate to say that it was the most important duty the priest could perform--more important than saying Mass. It was recognised that when the people began to read the Bible and religious books in the vernacular, it became necessary for the priests to be able to instruct their congregations intelligently and sympathetically in sermons. Attempts were made to provide the preachers with material for their sermon-making. The earliest was the _Biblia Pauperum_ (the Bible for the _Pauperes Christi_, or the preaching monks), which collects on one page pictures of Bible histories fitted to explain each other, and adds short comments. Thus, on the twenty-fifth leaf there are three pictures--in the centre the Crucifixion; on the left Abraham about to slay Isaac, with the lamb in the foreground; and on the left the Brazen Serpent and the healing of the Plague. More scholarly preachers found a valuable commentary in the _Postilla_ of the learned Franciscan Nicolas de Lyra (Lira or Lire, a village in Normandy), who was the first real exegetical scholar, and to whom Luther was in later days greatly indebted.(69)

Manuals of Pastoral Theology were also written and published for the benefit of the parish priests,--the most famous, under the quaint title, _Dormi Secure_ (sleep in safety). It describes the more important portions of the service, and what makes a good sermon; it gives the Lessons for the Sunday services, the chief articles of the Christian faith, find adds directions for pastoral work and the cure of souls. It is somewhat difficult


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