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

Contemplated by the Christian Humanists


It

is also to be feared that the Christian Humanists had no real sense of what was needed for that renovation of morals, public and private, which they ardently desired to see. Pictures of a Christian life lived according to the principles of reason, sharp polemic against the hierarchy, and biting mockery of the stupidity of the popular religion, did not help the masses of the people. The multitude in those early decades of the sixteenth century were scourged by constant visitations of the plague and other new and strange diseases, and they lived in perpetual dread of a Turkish invasion. The fear of death and the judgment thereafter was always before their eyes. What they wanted was a sense of God's forgiveness for their sins, and they greedily seized on Indulgences, pilgrimages to holy places, and relic-worship to secure the pardon they longed for. The aristocratic and intellectual reform, contemplated by the Christian Humanists, scarcely appealed to them. Their longing for a certainty of salvation could not be satisfied with recommendations to virtuous living according to the rules of Neo-Platonic ethics. It is pathetic to listen to the appeals made to Erasmus for something more than he could ever give:

" 'Oh! Erasmus of Rotterdam, where art thou?' said Albert Duerer. 'See what the unjust tyranny of earthly power, the power of darkness, can do. Hear, thou knight of Christ! Ride forth by the side of the Lord Christ; defend the

truth, gain the martyr's crown! As it is, thou art but an old man. I have heard thee say that thou hast given thyself but a couple more years of active service; spend them, I pray, to the profit of the gospel and the true Christian faith, and believe me the gates of Hell, the See of Rome, as Christ has said, will not prevail against thee.' "(129)

The Reformation needed a man who had himself felt that commanding need of pardon which was sending his fellows travelling from shrine to shrine, who could tell them in plain homely words, which the common man could understand, how each one of them could win that pardon for himself, who could deliver them from the fear of the priest, and show them the way to the peace of God. The Reformation needed Luther.

BOOK II. THE REFORMATION.

Chapter I. Luther to the Beginning of the Controversy About Indulgences.(130)

? 1. Why Luther was successful as the Leader in a Reformation.

Reformation had been attempted in various ways. Learned ecclesiastical Jurists had sought to bring it about in the fifteenth century by what was called _Conciliar Reform_. The sincerity and ability of the leaders of the movement are unquestioned; but they had failed ignominiously, and the Papacy with all its abuses had never been so powerful ecclesiastically as when its superior diplomacy had vanquished the endeavour to hold it in tutelage to a council.


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