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

Another intercessor had to be found


for it, another intercessor

had to be found. This gracious personality was discovered in the Virgin Mother, who was to be entreated to intercede with her Son on behalf of poor sinning human creatures. The last half of the fifteenth century saw a deep-seated and widely-spread craving to cling to the protection of the Virgin Mother with a strength and intensity hitherto unknown in mediaeval religion. It witnessed the furthest advance that had yet been made towards what must be called Mariolatry. This devotion expressed itself, as religious emotion continually does, in hymns; a very large proportion of the mediaeval hymns in praise of the Virgin were written in the second half of the fifteenth century--the period of this strange revival based upon fear. Dread of the Son as Judge gave rise to the devotion to the Mother as the intercessor. Little books for private and family devotion were printed, bearing such titles as the _Pearl of the Passion_ and the _Little Gospel_, containing, with long comments, the words of our Lord on the cross to John and to Mary. She became the ideal woman, the ideal mother, the "Mother of God," the _mater dolorosa_, with her heart pierced by the sword, the sharer in the redemptive sufferings of her Son, retaining her sensitive woman's heart, ready to listen to the appeals of a suffering, sorrowful humanity. We can see this devotion to the Virgin Mother impregnating the social revolts from Hans Boehm to Joss Fritz. The theology of the schools followed in the wake of the popular sentiment,
and the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was more strictly defined and found its most strenuous supporters during the later decades of this fifteenth century.

The thought of motherly intercession went further; the Virgin herself had to be interceded with to induce her to plead with her Son for men sunk in sin, and _her_ mother (St. Anna) became the object of a cult which may almost be said to be quite new. Hymns were written in her praise.(90) Confraternities, modelled on the confraternities dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, were formed in order to bring the power of the prayers of numbers to bear upon her. These confraternities spread all over Germany and beyond it.(91) It is almost possible to trace the widening area of the cult from the chronicles of the period. The special cult of the Virgin seems to have begun, at least in its extravagant popular form, in North France, and to have spread from France through Germany and Spain; but so far as it can be traced, this cult of St. Anna, "the Grandmother," had a German origin, and the devotion manifested itself most deeply on German soil. Even the Humanist poets sang her praises with enthusiasm, and such collectors of relics as Frederick of Saxony and the Cardinal Archbishop of Mainz rejoiced when they were able to add a thumb of St. Anna to their store. Luther himself tells us that "St. Anna was his idol"; and Calvin speaks of his mother's devotion to the saint. Her name was graven on many a parish church bell, and every pull at the ropes and clang of the bell was supposed to be a prayer to her to intercede. The Virgin and St. Anna brought in their train other saints who were also believed to be the true intercessors. The three bells of the church in which Luther was baptized bore the following inscriptions carved deeply in the brass:--"God help us; Mary have mercy. 1499." "Help us Anna, also St. Peter, St. Paul. 1509." "Help us God, Mary, Anna, St. Peter, Paul, Arnold, Stephan, Simon. 1509." The popular religion always represented Jesus, Mecum (Myconius) tells us, as the stern Judge who would convict and punish all those who had not secured righteousness by the intercession of the saints or by their own good works.


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