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

Divided the ecclesiastical rule over Luxemburg


life had become less exuberant in the end of the fifteenth century; but the Netherlands, nevertheless, produced Alexander Hegius, the greatest educational reformer of his time, and Erasmus the prince of the Humanists. Nor can the influence of the Chambers of Oratory have died out, for they had a great effect on the Reformation movement.[233]

When Charles assumed the government of the Netherlands, he found himself at the head of a group of duchies, lordships, counties, and municipalities which had little appearance of a compact principality, and he applied himself, like other princes of his time in the same situation, to give them a unity both political and territorial. He was so successful that he was able to hand over to his son, Philip II. of Spain, an almost thoroughly organised State. The divisions which Charles largely overcame reappeared to some extent in the revolt against Philip and Romanism, and therefore in a measure concern the history of the Reformation. How Charles made his scattered Netherland inheritance territorially compact need not be told in detail. Friesland was secured (1515); the acquisition of temporal sovereignty over the ecclesiastical province of Utrecht (1527) united Holland with Friesland; Gronningen and the lands ruled by that turbulent city placed themselves under the government of Charles (1536); and the death of Charles of Egmont (1538), Count of Gueldres, completed the unification of the northern and central districts.

The vague hold which France kept in some of the southern portions of the country was gradually loosened. Charles failed in the south-east. The independent principality of Lorraine lay between Luxemburg and Franche-Comte, and the Netherland Government could not seize it by purchase, treaty, or conquest. One and the same system of law regulated the rights and the duties of the whole population; and all the provinces were united into one principality by the reorganisation of a States General, which met almost annually, and which had a real if vaguely defined power to regulate the taxation of the country.

But although political and geographical difficulties might be more or less overcome, others remained which were not so easily disposed of. One set arose from the fact that the seventeen provinces were divided by race and by language. The Dutchmen in the north were different in interests and in sentiment from the Flemings in the centre; and both had little in common with the French-speaking provinces in the south. The other was due to the differing boundaries of the ecclesiastical and civil jurisdictions. When Charles began to rule in 1515, the only territorial see was Arras. Tournai, Utrecht, and Cambrai became territorial before the abdication of Charles. But the confusion between civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction may be seen at a glance when it is remembered that a great part of the Frisian lands were subject to the German Sees of Muenster, Minden, Paderborn, and Osnabrueck; and that no less than six bishops, none of them belonging to the Netherlands, divided the ecclesiastical rule over Luxemburg. Charles' proposals to establish six new bishoprics, plans invariably thwarted by the Roman Curia, were meant to give the Low Countries a national episcopate.

Sec. 2. _The Beginnings of the Reformation._

The people of the Netherlands had been singularly prepared for the great religious revival of the sixteenth century by the work of the _Brethren of the Common Lot_ and their schools. It was the aim of Gerard Groot, their founder, and also of Florentius Radevynszoon, his great educational assistant, to see "that the root of study and the mirror of life must, in the first place, be the Gospel of Christ." Their pupils were taught to read the Bible in Latin, and the Brethren contended publicly for translations of the Scriptures in the vulgar tongues. There is evidence to show that the Vulgate was well known in the Netherlands in the end of the fifteenth century, and a translation of the Bible into Dutch was published at Delft in 1477[234]. Small tracts against Indulgences, founded probably on the reasonings of Pupper and Wessel, had been in circulation before Luther had nailed his _Theses_ to the door of All Saints' church in Wittenberg. Hendrik of Zutphen, Prior of the Augustinian Eremite convent at Antwerp, had been a pupil of Staupitz, a fellow student with Luther, and had spread Evangelical teaching not only among his order, but throughout the town.[235] It need be no matter for surprise, then, that Luther's writings were widely circulated in the Netherlands, and that between 1513 and 1531 no fewer than twenty-five translations of the Bible or of the New Testament had appeared in Dutch, Flemish, and French.

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