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

And George Spalatin in Germany


"I have striven with all my might to kindle men from those chilling argumentations in which they had been so long frozen up, to a zeal for theology which should be at once more pure and more serious. And that this labour has so far not been in vain I perceive from this, that certain persons are furious against me, who cannot value anything they are unable to teach and are ashamed to learn. But, trusting to Christ as my witness, whom my writings above all would guard, to the judgment of your Holiness, to my own sense of right and the approval of so many distinguished men, I have always disregarded the yelpings of these people. Whatever little talent I have, it has been, once for all, dedicated to Christ: it shall serve His glory alone; it shall serve the Roman Church, the prince of that Church, but especially your Holiness, to whom I owe more than my whole duty."

He dedicated the various parts of the _Paraphrases_ of the New Testament to Cardinal Campeggio, to Cardinal Wolsey, to Henry VIII., to Charles V., and to Francis I. of France. He deliberately placed himself under the protection of those princes, ecclesiastical and secular, who could not be suspected of having any revolutionary designs against the existing state of things in Church or in State.

In all this he was followed for the time being by the most distinguished Christian Humanists in England,

France, and Germany. They were full of the brightest hopes. A Humanist Pope sat on the throne of St. Peter, young Humanist kings ruled France and England, the Emperor Maximilian had long been the patron of German Humanism, and much was expected from his grandson Charles, the young King of Spain. Erasmus, the acknowledged prince of Christian learning, was enthusiastically supported by Colet and More in England, by Buddaeus and Lefevre in France, by Johann Staupitz, Cochlaeus, Thomas Murner, Jerome Emser, Conrad Mutianus, and George Spalatin in Germany. They all believed that the golden age was approaching, when the secular princes would forbid wars, and the ecclesiastical lay aside their rapacity, and when both would lead the peoples of Europe in a reformation of morals and in a re-establishment of pure religion. Their hopes were high that all would be effected without the "tumult" which they all dreaded, and when the storm burst, many of them became bitter opponents of Luther and his action. Luther found no deadlier enemies than Thomas Murner and Jerome Emser. Others, like George Spalatin, became his warmest supporters. Erasmus maintained to the end his attitude of cautious neutrality. In a long letter to Marlianus, Bishop of Tuy in Spain, he says that he does not like Luther's writings, that he feared from the first that they would create a "tumult," but that he dare not altogether oppose the reformer, "because he feared that he might be fighting against God." The utmost that he could be brought to do after the strongest persuasions, was to attack Luther's Augustinian theology in his _De Libero Arbitrio_, and to insinuate a defence of the principle of ecclesiastical authority in the interpretation of Scripture, and a proof that Luther had laid too much stress on the element of "grace" in human actions. He turned away from the whole movement as far as he possibly could, protesting that for himself he would ever cling to the Roman See.

The last years of his life were spent in excessive literary work--in editing the earlier Christian Fathers; he completed his edition of Origen in 1536, the year of his death. He settled at Louvain, and found it too hotly theological for his comfort; went to Basel; wandered off to Freiburg; then went back to Basel to die. After his death he was compelled to take the side he had so long shrunk from. Pope Paul IV. classed him as a notorious heretic, and placed on the first papal "Index" "all his commentaries, notes, scholia, dialogues, letters, translations, books, and writings, even when they contain nothing against religion or about religion."


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