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

Mainly because they were tinged with Humanist culture


We

look in vain for any indication that those Christian Humanists perceived that they were actually living in a time of revolution, and were really standing on the edge of a crater which was about to change European history by its eruption. Sir Thomas More's instincts of religious life were all mediaeval. Colet had persuaded him to abandon his earlier impulse to enter a monastic order, but More wore a hair shirt next his skin till the day of his death. Yet in his sketch of an ideal commonwealth, he expanded St. Paul's thought of the equality of all men before Christ into the conception that no man was to be asked to work more than six hours a day, and showed that religious freedom could only flourish where there was nothing in the form of the mediaeval Church. The lovable and pious young Englishman never imagined that his academic dream would be translated into rude practical thoughts and ruder actions by leaders of peasant and artisan insurgents, and that his _Utopia_ (1515), within ten years after its publication, and ten years before his own death (1535), would furnish texts for communist sermons, preached in obscure public-houses or to excited audiences on village greens. The satirical criticisms of the hierarchy, the monastic orders, and the popular religious life, which Erasmus flung broadcast so recklessly in his lighter and more serious writings, furnished the weapons for the leaders in that "tumult" which he had dreaded all his days; and when he complained that few seemed
to care for the picture of a truly pious life, given in his _Enchiridion_, he did not foresee that it would become a wonderfully popular book among those who renounced all connection with the See of Rome to which the author had promised a life-long obedience. The Christian Humanists, one and all, were strangely blind to the signs of the times in which they lived.

No one can fail to appreciate the nobility of the purpose to work for a great moral renovation of mankind which the Christian Humanists ever kept before them, or refuse to see that they were always and everywhere preachers of righteousness. When we remember the century and a half of wars, so largely excited by ecclesiastical motives, which desolated Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, few can withhold their sympathy from the Christian Humanist idea that the path of reformation lay through a great readjustment of the existing conditions of the religious life, rather than through ecclesiastical revolution to a thorough-going reconstruction; although we may sadly recognise that the dynastic struggles of secular princes, the rapacity and religious impotence of Popes and ecclesiastical authorities, and the imperious pressure of social and industrial discontent, made the path of peace impossible. But what must fill us with surprise is that the Christian Humanists seemed to believe with a childlike innocence that the constituted authorities, secular and ecclesiastical, would lead the way in this peaceful reform, mainly because they were tinged with Humanist culture, and were the patrons of artists and men of learning. Humanism meant to Pope Leo X. and to the young Archbishop of Mainz additional sources of enjoyment, represented by costly pictures, collections of MSS., and rare books, the gratification of their taste for jewels and cameos, to say nothing of less harmless indulgences, and the adulation of the circle of scholars whom they had attracted to their courts; and it meant little more to the younger secular princes.


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