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

Said Zwingli with his master Erasmus


"Oh

the folly of it!" said Zwingli with his master Erasmus,--"the crass, unmitigated stupidity of it all!" and they scorned it, and laughed at it, and attacked it with the light keen shafts of raillery and derisive wit. "Oh the pity of it!" said Luther; and he turned men travelling by the wrong road on their quest for pardon (a real quest for them) into the right path. Zwingli never seemed to see that under the purchase of indulgences, the tramping on pilgrimages from shrine to shrine, the kissing, reverencing, and adoring of relics, there was a real inarticulate cry for pardon of sins felt if not vividly repented of. Luther knew it, and sympathised with it. He was a man of the people, not merely because he was a peasant's son and had studied at a burgher University, but because he had shared the religion of the common people. He had felt with them that the repeated visits of the plague, the new mysterious diseases, the dread of the Turks, were punishments sent by God because of the sins of the generation. He had gone through it all; plunged more deeply in the terror, writhed more hopelessly under the wrath of God, wandered farther on the wrong path in his quest for pardon, and at last had seen the "Beatific Vision." The deepest and truest sympathy with fellow-men and the vision of God are needed to make a Reformer of the first rank, and Luther had both as no other man had, during the first quarter of the sixteenth century.

So men listened to him

all over Europe wherever there had been a stirring of the heart for reformation, and it would be hard to say where there had been none. Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles in the east; Spaniards, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Dutch, and Scots in the west; Swedes in the north, and Italians in the south--all welcomed, and read, and were moved by what Luther wrote. First the _Theses_, then sermons and tracts, then the trumpet call _To the Nobility of the German Nation_ and the _Praeludium to the Babylonian Captivity of the Church of Christ_, and, above all, his booklet _On the Liberty of a Christian Man_. As men read, what had been only a hopeful but troubled dream of the night became a vision in the light of day. They heard proclaimed aloud in clear unfaltering speech what they had scarcely dared to whisper to themselves. Fond and devout imaginations became religious certainties. They risked all to get possession of the sayings of this "man of God." Cautious, dour Scotch burghers ventured ship and cargo for the sake of the little quarto tracts hid in the bales of cloth which came to the ports of Dundee and Leith. Oxford and Cambridge students passed them from hand to hand in spite of Wolsey's proclamations and Warham's precautions. Luther's writings were eagerly studied in Paris by town and University as early as May 1519.[8] Spanish merchants bought Luther's books at the Frankfurt Fair, spent some of their hard won profits in getting them translated and printed in Spanish, and carried them over the Pyrenees on their pack mules. Under the influence of these writings the Reformation took shape, was something more than the devout imagination of a few pious thinkers, and became an endeavour to give expression to common religious certainties in change of creed, institutions, and worship. Thus Luther helped the Reformation in every land. The actual beginnings in England, France, the Netherlands, and elsewhere had come into existence years before Luther had become known; it is possible that the movements might have come to fruition apart from his efforts; but the influence of his writings was like that of the sun when it quickens and makes the seed sprout that has been "happed" in a tilled and sown field.


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