The rural districts were the scene of numerous excesses. The abodes of the clergy were frequently the resorts of the dissolute. Cornelius Adrian, at Bruges, the Abbot Trinkler, at Cappel, imitated the customs of the East, and had their harems. Priests, contorted with abandoned characters, frequented the taveins, played dice, and finished their orgies by quarrels and blasphemy.
The council of Schaffhausen pronibited the clergy from dancing in public except at weddings; from carrying two kinds of weapons; and decreed that a priest who should be found in a house of ill-fame should be stripped of his ecclesiastical habit. In the archbishopric of Mentz they scaled the walls in the night, committed disturbances and disorders of all kinds in the inns and taverns, and broke open doors and locks. In several places the priest paid to the bishop a regular tax for the woman with whom he lived, and for every child he had by her. A German bishop, who was present at a grand entertainment, publicly declared that in one year eleven thousand priests had presented themselves to him for that purpose. It is Erasmus who records this.
The higher orders of the hierarchy were squally corrupt. Dignitaries of the Church preferred the tumult of camps to the service of the altar. To be able, lance in hand, to compel his neighbours to do him homage, was one of the most conspiciius qualifications of a bishop. Baldwin, archoishop of Treves, was constantly at war with his neighbours and Tassals; razing their castles, building fortresses of his own, and thinking only how to enlarge his territory. A certain bishop of Eichstadt, when dispensing justice, wore under his habit -.1 coat of mail, and held in his hand a long sword. He used to say he did not fear five Bavarians, provided they would but attack him in the open field. Everywhere the bishops were engaged in constant war with the towns; the citizens demanding freedom, and the bishops requiring implicit obedience If the latter triumphed, they punished the revolters, by sacrificing numerous victims to their vengeance; but the flame of insurrection broke out again at the very moment when it was thought to be extinguished.
And what a spectacle was presented by the Pontifical Throne in the generation immediately preceding the Reformation! Rome, it must be acknowledged, has seldom been witness to so much infamy.
Rodrigo Borgia, after living in illicit intercourse with a Roman lady, had continued a similar connection with one of her daughters, by name Rosa Vanozza, by whom he had five children. He was living at Rome with Vanozza and other abandoned women,—as cardinal, and archbishop, visiting the churches and hospitals,—when the death of Innocent VIII. created a vacancy in the Pontifical chair. He succeeded in obtaining it by bribing each of the cardinals at a stipulated price. Four mules, laden with silver, were publicly dri-en into the palace of Sforza, the most influential V the cardinals. Borgia became
Pope under the name of Alexander VI. and rejoiced in the attainment of the pinnacle of pleasures.
The very day of his coronation he created his son Caesar, a ferocious and dissolute youth, archbishop of Valencia and bishop of Pampeluna. He next proceeded to celebrate in the Vatican the nuptials of his daughter Lucrezia, by festivities, at which his mistress Julia Bella was present, and which were enlivened by farces and indecent songs. “Most of the ecclesiastics,” says an historian, “had their mistresses, and all the convents of the capital were houses of ill fame.” Ctesar Borgia espoused the cause of the Guelphs, and when by their assistance he had annihi lated the power of the Ghibelines, he turned upon the Guelphs, and crushed them in their turn. But he would allow none to share in the spoils of his atrocities. In the year 1497, Alexander conferred upon hU eldest son the duchy of Benevento. The Duke suddenly disappeared. That night a faggot-dealer on the banks of the Tiber saw some persons throw a corpse into the river; but he said nothing of it, for such things were common. The Duke’s body was found. His brother Caesar had been the instigator of the murder. He did not stop there. His brother-in-law stood in the way of his ambition. One day Caesar caused him to be slabbed on the staircase of the Pope’s palace, and he was carried covered with blood to his own apartments. His wife and sister never left him. Dreading lest Cesar should employ poison, they were accustomed to prepare his meals with their own hands. Alexander placed guards before his door,—But Caesar ridiculed these precautions, and on one occasion when the Pope visited him dropped the remark, “What cannot be done at dinner may be at supper.” Accordingly, he one day gained admittance to the chamber of the wounded man, turned out his wife and sister,and calling Michilotto, the executioner of hie horrors, and the only man in whom he placed any confidence, commanded him to strangle his victim before his eyes. Alexander had a favourite named Peroto, whose preferment offended the young Duke. Cesar rushed upon him, Peroto sought refuge under the Papal mantle, clasping the PorUiff in his arms;—Cesar stabbed him, and the blood of the victim spirted in the Pontiff’s face. “The Pope,” adds a contemporary and witness of these atrocities,—”loves the Duke his son, and lives in great fear of him.” Cesar was one of the handsomest and most power ful men of his age. Six wild bulls fell beneath his hand in single combat. Nightly assassinations took place in the streets of Rome. Poison often destroyed those whom the dagger could not reach. Every one feared to move or breathe lest he should be the next victim. Caesar Borgia was the hero of crime. The spot on earth where all iniquity met and overflowed was the Pontiff’s seat. When man has given himself over to the power of evil,—the higher his pretensions before God, the lower he is seen to sink in the depths of kell. The dissolute entertainments given by the Pope and his son Caesar and his daughter Lucrezia, are such as can neither he dei-cribed nor thought of. The most impure groves of ancient worship saw not the like. Historians have accused Alexander and Lucrezia of incest, but the charge is not sufficiently established. The Pope, in order to rid himself of a wealthy Cardinal, had prepared poison in a small box of sweetmeats, which was to be placed on the table after a sumptuous feast: the Cardinal receiving a hint of the design, gained over the attendant, and the poisoned box was placed before Alexander. He ate of it and perished. The whole city came together, and could hardly satiate themselves with the sight of this dead viper.
Such was the man who filled the pontifical throne at the commencement of the age of the Reformation. •
Thus the clergy had disgraced religion and themselves. Well might a powerful voice exclaim, ” The ecclesiastic order is opposed to God and to his glory. The people well know it; and it is but too evident, from the many songs, proverbs, and jests on the priests, current amongst the common people, as also from the figures of monks and priests scrawled on the walls, and even on the playing cards, that every one has a feeling of disgust at the sight or name of a priest.” It is Luther who thus speaks.
The evil had spread through all ranks; a spirit of delusion had been sent among men; the corruption of morals corresponded to the corruption of the faith; the mystery of iniquity weighed down the enslaved Church of Christ. Another consequence necessarily ensued from the neglect into which the fundamental doctrine of the Gospel had fallen. From the darkness of the understanding resulted the corruption of the heart. The priests having taken into their own hands the dispensing a salvation which belonged only to God, had thereby secured a sufficient hold on the respect of the people. What need had they to study sacred learning? It was no longer their office to explain the Scriptures, but to grant letters of indulgence; and for the fulfilling of that ministry, it was unnecessary to have acquired any great learning.
In country parts, says Wimpheling, the’y appointed as preachers poor wretches whom they had taken from beggary, and who had been cooks, musicians, huntsmen, stable boys, and even worse.
The superior clergy themselves were sunk in great ignorance. A bishop of Dunfeldt congratulated himself on never having learned Greek or Hebrew. The monks asserted that all heresies arose from these languages, but especially from the Greek. “The New Testament,” said one of them, “is a book full of serpents and thorns. Greek,” continued he, “is a modern language, but recently invented, and against which we must be upon our guard. As to Hebrew, my dear brethren, it is certain that whoever studies thai immediately becomes * Jew.” ileresbach, a friend of Erasmus,
and a respectable writer, reports theae verj words. Thomas Linacer, a learned and eel* brated divine, had never read the New Testament. Drawing near his end (in 15*24) lie called for it, but quickly threw it from him with an oath, because his eye had caught the words, “But I say unto you. Swear not at all.” “Either this is not the Gospel,” said he, ” or we are not Christians.” Even the school of theology in Paris did not scruple to declare before the Parliament, “There is an end of religion if the study of Hebrew and Greek is permitted.”
If here and there among the clergy some learning existed, it was not in sacred literature. The Ciceronians of Italy affected/* great contempt for the Bible on account of its style: men who arrogated to themselves the title of Priests of Christ’s Church translated the words of the Holy Ghost into the style of Virgil and of Horace, to accommodate them to the ears of men of taste. The Cardinal Hem ho wrote always, instead of the Holy Spirit, ” the breath of the celestial zephyr , for remission if aim he substituted the “pity of the Manes and of the Gods;” and instead of Chri»l Ike Son if God, “Minerva sprung from the brows of Jupiter.” Finding one day the respectable Sadoletus employed on a translation of the Epistle to the Romans, “Leave these childish productions,” said he, “such puerilities do not become a sensible man.’*
Behold some of the consequences of ths system that then weighed down Christendom. This picture no doubt exhibits in strong co lours both the corruption of the Church and the need of reformation. It is for that reason we have sketched it The vital doctrines of Christianity had almost disappeared, and with them the life and light which constitute the essence of true religion. The internal strength of the Church was gone, and its lifeless and exhausted frame lay stretched over the Roman world.
Who shall give it new life? Whence shall we look for a remedy for so many evils?
For ages a reformation in the church had been loudly called for, and all the powers o1 this world had attempted it. But God alone could bring it to pass. And he began by humbling the power of man, that he might exhibit man’s helplessness. We see human assailants, one after another, fail and break to pieces at the feet of the Colossus they undertook to cast down.
First temporal princes resisted Rome. The whole power of the Hohenstaufens, heroef who wore the Imperial crown,seemed directet, to humble and reform Rome, and deliver the nations, and especially Germany, from her tyranny. But the castle of Canossa gave proof of the weakness of the Imperial power against the usurped dominion of the Church. A warlike prince, the Emperor Henry IV., after a long and fruitless struggle against Rome, was reduced to pass three days and nights in the trenches of that Italian fortress, exposed to the winter’s cold, stripped of his imperial robes, barefoot, in a scanty woollen garment, imploring with tears an! cries the pity of Hildebrand, before whom he kneeled, and who, after three night* of lamentation, relaxed his papal inflexibility, and pardoned the suppliant Behold the powe.’ of the high and mighty of the earth, of kings and emperors against Rome!
To them succeeded adversaries perhaps more formidable,—men of genius and learning. Learning awoke in Italy, and its awakening wafe with an energetic protest against the Papacy. Dante, the father of Italian poetry, boldly placed in his Hell the most powerful of the Popes; he introduced St. Peter in heaven pronouncing stem and crushing censures on his unworthy successors, and drew horrible descriptions of the monks and clergy. Petrarch, that eminent genius, of a mind so superior to all the emperors and popes of his time, boldly called for the re-establishment of the primitive order of the Church. For .this purpose he invoked the efforts of the age and the power of the emperor Charles VII. Laurentius Valla, one of the must learned men of Italy, attacked with spirit the pretensions of the Popes, and. their asserted inheritance from Constantine. A legion of poets, learned men, and philosophers, followed in their track; the torch of learning was everywhere kindled, and threatened to reduce to ashes the Romish scaffolding that intercepted its beams. But every effort failed; Pope Leo X. enlisted among the supporters and satellites of his court,—literature, poetry, sciences and arts; and these came humbly kissing the feet of a power that in their boasted infancy they had attempted to dethrone. Behold the power of totters and philosophy against Rome!
At last an agency which promised more ability to reform the church came forward. This was the Church itself. At the call for Reformation, reiterated on all sides, and which had been heard for ages past, that most imposing of ecclesiastical conclaves, the Council of Constance, assembled. An immense number of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, eighteen hundred doctors of divinity and priests; the Emperor himself, with a retinue of a thousand persons; the Elector of Saxony, the Elector Palatine, the Duke of Bavaria and Austria, ami ambassadors from all nations, gave to this assembly an air of authority, unprecedented in the history of Christianity. Above the rest, we must mention the illustrious and immortal doctors of the University of Paris, the Aillys, the Gersons, the Clemangnis,—those men of piety, learning, and courage, who by their writings and eloquence communicated to the Council an energetic and salutary direction. Every thing bowed before this assembly; with one hand it deposed three Popes at once, while with the other it delivered John Huss to the flames. A commission was named, composed of deputies from different nations, to propose a fundamental reform. The Emperor Siinsmuiul supported the proposition with the whole weight of his power. The Council were unanimous. The cardinals all took an oath that he among them who should be elected Pope would not dissolve the assembly, nor leave
Constance before the desired reformation should be accomplished. Colouna was chosen under the name of Martin V. The momen* was come which was to decide the Reform of the Chuich; all the prelates, the Emperor, thi princes, and the representatives of different nations, awaited the result with intense desire. “The Council is at an end,” exclaimed Martin V. as soon as he had placed the tiara on hi? brow. Sigismund and the clergy uttered a cry of surprise, indignation, and grief; but that cry was lost upon the winds. On the 16th of May, 1418, the Pope, arrayed in the pontifical garments, mounted a mule richly caparisoned; the Emperor was on his right hand, the Elector of Brandenburg on his left, each holding the reins of his palfrey; four counts supported over the Pope’s head a magnificent canopy; several princes surrounded him bearing the trappings; and a mounted train of forty thousand persons, says an historian, composed of nobles, knights, and clergy of all ranks, joined in the solemn procession outside the walls of Constance. Then indeed did Rome, in the person of her pontiff sitting on a mule, inwardly deride the superstition that surrounded her; then did she give proof that to humble her a power must be exerted far different from any thing that could be put in motion by emperors, or kings, or bishops, or doctors of divinity, or all the learning of the age and of the church.
How could the Reformation proceed from the very thing to be reformed’! How could the wound find in itself the elements of :U cure 1
Nevertheless the means employed to reform the Church, and which the result showed to be inefficacious, contributed to weaken the obstacles and prepared the ground for the Reformers.
The evils which then afflicted Christendom, namely, superstition, incredulity, ignorance, unprofitable speculation, and corruption of morals,—evils naturally engendered in the hearts of men,—were not new on the earth They had made a great figure in the history of nations. They had invaded, especially in the East, different religious systems, which had seen their times of glory. Those enervated systems had sunk under these evils, and not one of them had ever arisen from its fall.
And was Christianity now to undergo the same destiny 1 Was it to be lost like those old religions of the nations? Was the blow that had doomed them to death to be of powei to destroy ill Wan there nothing to secure its p reservation 1 And these opposing forces which overflowed it, and which had already dethroned so many various systems of worship, were they indeed to have power to seat themselves without resistance on the ruins of the Church of Jesus Christ?
No:—there is in Christianity that which there was not in any of these national systems. It does not, like them, offer certain general ideas, mixed with tradition and fables, deatined, sooner or later, to fall before the march of human reason; but it contains within it pure
huth, bu? t upon Tacts which challenge the scrutiny of any upright and enlightened mind. Christianity has for its object not merely to excite in man certain vague religious feelings, of which the impression, once forgotten, can never be revived; its object is to satisfy, and it does in reality satisfy, all the religious wants of human nature, in whatever degree that nature may be developed. It is not the contrivance of man, whose works pass away and are forgotten, but it is the work of God, who upholds what he creates; and it has the promises f f its Divine Author for the pledge of its duration.
It is impossible that human nature can ever oe above the need of Christianity. And if ever man has for a time fancied that he could do without it, it has soon appeared to him clotned in fresh youth and vigour, as the only cure for the human soul; ana the degenerate nations have returned with new ardour to those ancient, simple, and powerful truths, which in the hour of their infatuation they despised.
In fart, Christianity displayed, in the 16th century, the same regenerative power which it had exercised in the first. After the lapse of fifteen hundred years, the same truths produced the same effects. In the days of the Reformation, as in the days of Peter and Paul, —the Gospel, with invincible energy, overcame mighty obstacles. The efficacy of its sovereign power was displayed from north to south; amidst nations differing most widely in manners, in character, and in civilization. Then,as in the times of Stephen and of James, it kindled the fire of enthusiasm and devotion in the midst of the general deadness, and raised on all sides the spirit of martyrs.
How was this revival in the Church and in the world brought to pass?
An observant mind might then have discerned two laws by which God governs the course of events.
He Irst prepares slowly and from afar that which he designs to accomplish. He has ages in which to work.
Then, when his time Is come, he effects the greatest results by the smallest means. He acts thus in nature and in providence. For the pioduction of a gigantic tree, He deposits in the earth a tiny seed ; for the renovation of his church, He makes use of the meanest instrument to accomplish what emperors, learned men, and even the heads of that church have failed to effect! We shall shortly have to investigate and bring to light this little seed that a divine hand placed in the earth in the days of the Reformation. We must now distinguish and recognise the different methods by which God prepared the way for the great change.
We will first survey the condition of the Papacy; and from thence we will carry our view over the different influences which God caused to concur to the accomplishment of his purposes.
At the period when the Reformation was on (he point of breaking forth, Roue appeared in
peace and safety. One might ha\e said thai nothing could for the future disturb her triumph. She had gained great and decisive victories. The general councils, those uppei and lower senates of Catholicism, had been subdued. The Vaudois and the Hussites had been put down. No university, (except per haps that of Paris, which sometimes raised its voice at the instance of its kings,1 doubted of the infallibility of the oracles of Rome. Every one seemed to take part with its power. The superior clergy preferred to give to a remote head the tenth of their revenues, and quietly to consume the remainder to the hazarding of all for the acquisition of an independence which would cost dear, and bring little advantage. The humbler clergy, before whom were spread the prospects and baits of higher dignities, were willing tc purchase these cherished hopes by a little slavery. Add to which, they were everywhere so overawed by the heads of the hierarchy, that they could scarcely move under their powerful hands, and much less raise themselves and make head against them. The people bowed the knee before the Roman altar, and even kings, who began in secret to despise the Bishop of Rome, could not have dared to raise the hand against it, lest they should be reputed guilty of sacrilege.
But if at the time when the Reformation broke out, opposition seemed outwardly to have subsided, or even ceased altogether, its internal strength had increased. If we take a nearer view, we discern more thanonesymptom which presaged the decline of Rome. The general councils, had, in their fall, diffused their principles through the Church, and carried disunion into the camp of those who impugned them. The defenders of the. hierarchy had separated into two parties; those who maintained the system of the absolute power of the Pope, accord ing to the maxims of Hildebrand: and those who desired a constitutional Papacy, offering securities and liberty to the churches.
To this we may add, that in all parties faith in the infallibility of the Roman bishop had been rudely shaken. If no voice was raised to attack him, it was because every one was anxious to retain the little faith he still possessed. The slightest shock was dreaded, lest it should overturn the edifice. The Christianity of the age held in its breath ; but it was to avoid a calamity in which it feared to perish. From the moment when mm trembles to quit a once venerated creed, h« no longer holds it, and he will soon abandon its very semblance.
Let us see what had brought about this singular posture of mind. The church itself was the primary cause. The errors and superstitions she had introduced into Christianity, were not, properly speaking, what had so fatally wounded her. This might indeed be thought if the nations of Christendom had risen above the Church in intellectual and religions developement. But there was an aspect of the question level to the observation of the laity, and it waslanaer that view that the Church was judged :—it was become altogether earthly. That priestly sway which governed the world, and which could not subsist but by the power of illusion, and of that halo which inTested it, had forgotten its true nature, and left Heaven and its sphere of light and glory, to immerse itself in the low interests of cititeris and princes. Born to the representation of the spirit, the priestnuod had forsaken the spirit—for the flesh. They had thrown aside the treasures of learning and the spiritual power of the word, and taken up the brute force ami false glory of the age: and this had naturally resulted. It was truly the spiritual order that the Church had at first attempted to defend. But to protect it against the resistance and invasion of the nations, she had from false policy had recourse to earthly instruments and vulgar weapons. When once the Church had begun to handle these weapons, her spiritual essence was lost. Her arm could not become carnal without her heart becoming the same; and the world soon saw her former character inverted. She had attempted to use earth in defence of Heaven: she now employed Heaven itself to defend earthly possessions. Theocratic forms became, in her hands, only instruments of worldly schemes. The offerings which the people laid at the feet of the sovereign pontiff of Christendom, were used to support the luxury of his court, and the charge of his armies. His spiritual power supplied the steps by which he placed his feet above the kings and nations of the earth. The charm was dispelled; and the power of the Church was pone, from the hour that men could say, “she 18 become as one of us.”
The great were the first to scrutinize the title to this supposed power The very questioning of it might possibly have sufficed to overturn Rome. But it was a favorable circumstance on her side, that the education of the princes wag everywhere in the hands of her adepts. These persons inculcated in their noble pupils a veneration for the Roman pontiffs. The chiefs of nations grew up in the sanctuary of the Church. Princes of ordinary minds scarce ever got beyond it. Many even desired nothing better than to be found within it at the close of life. They chose to die wearing a monk’s cowl rather than a crown.
Italy was mainly instrumental in enlightening the sovereigns of Europe. They had to contract alliances with the Popes, which had reference to the temporal Prince of the States of the Church,—and not to the Bishop of bishops. Kings were much astonished to find the Popes ready to sacrifice some of the asserted rights of the Pontiff, that they might retain the advantages of the Prince. They saw these sell-styled organs of truth resort to all the petty artifices of policy, deceit, dissimulation, and even perjury. Thm it was that the bandage dial education had drawn over the eyes of secular princes fell off. It was then that the artful Ferdinand of Arragon had re! to stratagem against stratagem; it was
then that the impetuous Louis XII. struck a medal with this legend, Perdam Baby limit nomen:* and the respectable Ma\Jnii!,,m of Austria, grieved at hearing of the treachery of Leo X., exclaimed, “This Pope, like the rest, is in my judgment a scoundrel. Henceforth I can say that in all my life no Pope hag kept his faith or word with me. I hope, if God be willing, that this one will be the last of them.”
Discoveries of this sort made by kings gradually took effect upon the people. Many other causes had unclosed the long sealed eyes of Christian nations. The most reflecting began to accustom themselves to the idea that the Bishop of Rome was a man, and sometimes even a very bad man. The people began to suspect that he was not much holier than their own bishops, whose characters were very doubtful. But the popes themselves contributed more than any single c-.nise to their own dishonour. Released from constraint after the Council of Basle, they gave themselves up to the boundless licentiousness of victory. Even the dissolute Romans shuddered. The rumours of these disorders spread through other countries. The people, incapable of arresting the torrent that swept their treasure into this gulf of profligacy, sought amends in hatred.
Whilst many circumstances contributed to sap what then existed, there were others lending to the production of something new.
The singular system of theology that had established itself in the Church, was fitted powerfully to assist in opening the eyes o< the rising generation. Formed for a dark age, as if the darkness were to endure forever, this system was destined to be superseded and scattered to the winds as soon as the age should outgrow it. And this took place. The Popes had added now this, and now that article to the Christian doctrine. They had changed or removed only what could not be made to square with their hierarchy; what was not opposed to their policy was allowed to remain during pleasure. 1 here were in this system true doctrines, such as redemption, the power of the Spirit of God, &c., which an able theolo> gian, if one had been found, could have uset to combat and overturn the rest. The pure gold mixed with the baser metal in the mint of the Vatican, was enough to reveal the fraud. It is true that if any courageous opponent tnok notice of it, the winnowing fan of Rome was immediately set to work to cast the pure grain forth. But these rejections and condemns* tions did but augment the confusion.
That confusion was without bounds, and the asserted unity was but one vast disorder. At Rome there were the doctrines of the Court, and the doctrines of the Church. The faith of the metropolis differed from that of the provinces. Even in the provinces there was an infinite diversity of opinion. There was the creed of princes, of people, and, above all, of the religious orders. There were the opinion*
, extirpate the name of Babylon
of this conv ;nt, of that district, of this doctor, and of that monk.
‘I ruth, that it might pass safe through the period when Rome would have crushed it with tier iron sceptre, had acted lik: the insect that weaves with its threads the chrysalis in which it envelopes itself during the winter. And, strange to say, the means that had served in this way to preserve the truth, were the scholastic divines so much decried. These ingenious artisans of thought had strung together all the current theological notions, and of these threads they had formed a net, under which it would have been difficult for more skilful persons than their contemporaries to recognise the truth in its first purity. We may regret, that the insect, full of life, and so lately shining wilh the brightest colours, should wrap itself in its dark and seemingly inanimate covering; but that covering preserves it. It was thus with the truth. If the interested and suspicious policy of Rome, in the days of her power, had met with the naked truth, she would have destroyed it, or, at least, endeavoured to do so. Disguised as it was by the divines of that period, under endless subtleties and distinctions, the Popes did not recognise it, or else perceived that while in that state it could not trouble them. They took under their protection both the artisans and their handy-work. Rut the spring might come, when the hidden truth might lift its head, and throw oil” nil the threads which covered it. Having acquired fresh vigour in its seeming tomb, the world might behold it in the days of its resurrection, obtain the victory over Rome and all her errors. This spring arrived. At the same time that the absurd coverings of the scholastic divines fell, one after another, beneath the skilful attacks or derisions of a new generation, the truth escaped from its concealment in full youth and beauty.
It was not only from the writings of the scholastic divines that powerful testimony was rendered to the truth. Christianity had everywhere mingle1* something of its own life with the life of the people. The Church of Christ was a dilapidated building: but in digging there were in some parts discovered in its foundations the living rock on which it had been first built. Some institutions which bore date from the best ages of the Church still existed, and could not fail to awaken in many minds evangelical sentiments opposed to the reigning superstition. The inspired writers, the earliest teachers of the. Church, whose writings were deposited in different libraries, ottered here and there a solitary voice. It was doubtless heard in silence by many an attentive ear. Let us not doubt (and it is a consoling thought) that Christians had many brethren and sistersin those very monasteries wherein we are too apt to see nothing but hypocrisy and dissoluteness.
It was not only old things that prepared the levival of religion; there was also something new which tended powerfully to favour it. The human mind was advancing. This fact tlone wouid hare brought on its enfranchise
• ment. The shrub as it increases in its gjowth ‘throws down the walls near which it was planted, and substitutes its own shade for theirs. The high priest of Rome had made himself the guardian of the nations. (I is superiority of understanding had rendered this office easy; and for a long time he kept them in a state of tutelage and forced subjection. But they were now growing and breaking bounds on all sides. This venerable guardianship, which had its origin in the principles of eternal life and of civilization, communicated by Rome to the barbarous nations, could no longer be exercised without resistance. A formidable adverversary had taken up a position opposed to her, and sought to control her. The natural disposition of the human mind to develope itself, to examine and to acquire knowledge, hail given birth to this new power. Men’s eyes were opening: they demanded a reason for every step from this long respected conductor, under whose guidance they had marched in silence, so long as ttieir eyes were closed. The infancy of the nations of Modern Europe was passed ; a period of ripe age was arrived. To a credulous simplicity, disposed to believe every thing, had succeeded a spirit of curiosity, an intelligence impatient to discover the foundations of things. They asked of each other what was the design of God in speaking ‘o the world 1 and whether men had a right to i et themselves up as mediators between God and their brethren? One thing alone could have saved the Church; and this was to risn still higher than the laity. To keep on a level with them was not enough. But, on the <•< ntrary, the Church was greatly behind them. It began to decline just when they began to arise. While the laity were ascending in lh« scale of intelligence,—the priesthood was absorbed in earthly pursuits and worldly interests. A like phenomenon has been oftun seen in history. The eaglet had become full fledged, and there was none who could reach it or prevent its taking flight.
Whilst in Europe the light was thus issuing from the prisons in which it had been held captive, the East was sending new lights In the West. “The standard of the Osmanlts, planted in 1453 on the walls of Constantinople, had driven thence the learned of that city. They had carried Grecian literature into Italy The torch of antiquity rekindled the intellectual flame which had for so msny ages been extinguished. ‘ Printing, then recently discovered, multiplied the energetic protests again*! the corruption of the Church, and the not lesi powerful calls which summoned the human mind to new paths. There was at that time, as it were, a burst of light. Errors and vain ceremonies were exposed. But this light, well suited to destroy, was most unfit to build up. It was not given to Homer or Virgil to rescue the Church.
The revival of letters, of science, and of the arts, was not the moving principle of the Reformation. We may rather say that the Paganism of the poets, when it re-appeared in Italy, brought with it the Paganism of thn heart. Vain superstitions were attacked ;— but it was incredulity that eslahlished itself in their stea.’, with a smile of disdain and nockery. Ridicule of all tilings, even the most sacred, was the fashion, and deemed the mark of wit. Religion was regarded only ao an instrument of government. “I have one feat,” exclaimed Erasmus in 1516, ” it is that with the study of ancient literature the ancient Paganism should re-appear.”
True, the world saw then, as after the mockeries of the Augustan age, and as in our own times after those of the last century, a r.ew Platonic Philosophy, which, in its turn, attacked this impudent incredulity; and sought, like the philosophy of our own days, to inspire respect for Christianity, and re-animate the sentiments of religion. At Florence the Medici favoured these efforts of the Platonisls. Out never can philosophical religion regenerate the Church or the World. Proud—despising the preaching of the cross—pretending to see in the Christian dogmas only types and symbols unintelligible 10 the majority of minds—it may evaporate in mystical enthusiasm, but must ever be powerless to reform or to save.
What then would have ensued if true Christianity had not re-appeared in the world —and if true faith had not replenished the heart with its strength and holiness 7 The Reformation saved religion, and with it society. If the Church of Rome had had at heart the glory of God, and the happiness of nations, she would have welcomed the Reformation with joy. But what were these to a Leo X?
In Germany, the study of ancient learning had effects the very reverse of those which attended it in Italy and France. It was •mixed with faith.’ What had, in the latter, produced only a certain trivial and sterile refinement of taste, penetrated the lives and habits of the Germans, warmed their hearts, and prepared them for a better light. The first restorers of letters in Italy and in France were remarkable for their levity; often for their immorality. The German followers, with a grave spirit, sought zealously for truth. There was formed in that country a union of free, learned, and generous individuals, among whom were some of the princes of the land, and who laboured to render science useful to religion. Some of them brought to their studies the humble teachableness of children: others an enlightened and penetrating judgment, inclined perhaps to overstep the limits of sound and deliberate criticism; but both contributed to clear the passages of the temple, hitherto obstructed by so many superstitions.
The monkish theologians perceived the danger, and they began to clamour against the very same studies that they had tolerated in Italy and France, because they were there mixed with levity and dissoluteness. A conspiracy was entered into against languages and sciences, for in their rear they perceived the true faith. One day a monk, cautioning some one against the heresies of Erasmus, was asked
“in what they consisted V He confessed he had not read the work he spoke of, ai:d could but allege “that it was written in too good Latin.”
Still all these exterior causes would hava been insufficient to prepare the renovation of the Church.
Christianity had declined, because the two guiding truths of the new covenant had been lost. The first, in contradistinction to Church assumption, is the immediate relation existing between every individual soul and the Fountain of Truth—i-the second, (and this stood directly opposed to the idea of merit in human works,) is the doctrine of salvation by Gru-,e. Of these two principles, Immutable and immortal in themselves,,—forever true, however slighted or corrupted, which,—it might then have been asked,—was to he first set in motion, and give the regenerative impulse to the Church t—Was it to be the former, the principle of Church authority 1 Or was it to be the latter, the energy of the Spirit?—In out days men pretend to operate through the social condition upon the soul; through human nature in general,upon individual character. It will be concluded that the principle of a Church was prominent in the movement:— History has shown the very contrary:—it ha* proved that it is by individual influence that an impression is produced on the community, and that the first step toward restoring the social condition—is to regenerate the soul. All the efforts for amelioration witnessed in the middle ages arose out of religious feeling; —the question of authority was never moo’ed till men were compelled to defend against the hierarchy the newly discovered truth—It was the same in later times, in Luther’s case.— When the Truth that saves appears on the one side, sustained by the authority of God’s word, —and on the other, the Error that destroys, hacked by the power of the Roman hierarchy, Christians cannot long hesitate; and in spite of the most specious sophisms and the fairest credentials,*the claim to authority is soon disposed of.
The Church had fallen because the great doctrine of Justification through faith in Christ had been lost. It was therefore necessary that this doctrine should be restored to her before she could arise. Whenever this fundamental truth should be restored, all the errors and devices which had usurped its place, the train of saints, works, penances, masses, and indulgences would vanish. The moment the Oki Mediator and his One sacrifice were acknowledged, all other mediators, and all othot sacrifices, would disappear. “This articta of justification,” says one* whom we may look upon as enlightened on the subject, “is that which forms the Church, nourishes it, builds it up, preserves and defends it. No one can well teach in the Church, or successfully resist its adversary, if he continue not in his attachment to this grand truth.” “It is,” adds the Reformer, referring to the earliest
* Luther to Bremiua.
, ” the heel that crushes the serpent’s
God, who was then preparing his work, raised up, during a long course of ages, a succession of witnesses to this truth. But the generous men, who bore testimony to this truth, did not clearly comprehend it, or at least did not know how to bring it distinctly forward. Incapable of accomplishing the work, they were well suited to prepare it. We may add also, that if they were not prepared for this work, the work itself was not ready for them. The measure was not yet full—the need of the true remedy was not yet fell so extensively as was necessary.
Thus, instead of felling the tree at the root by preaching chiefly and earnestly the doctr.ne of salvation by grace, they confined themselves to questions of ceremonies, to the government of the Church, to forms of worships, to the adoration of saints and images, or to the transubstantialion, &c.; and thus limiting their efforts to the branches, they might succeed in pruning the tree here and there, but they left it still standing. In order to a salutary reformation without, there must be a real reformation within. And faith alone can effect this.
Scarcely had Rome usurped power before a vigorous opposition was formed against her; and this endured throughout the middle ages.
Archbishop Claudius of Turin, in the ninth century, Peter of Bruys, his pupil Henry, Arnold of Brescia, in the twelfth century, in France and Italy, laboured to restore the worship of God in spirit and in truth; but they sought that worship too much in the riddance from images and outward ceremony.
The Mystics, who have existed in almost e,very age, seeking in silence, holiness, righteousness of life, and quiet communion with God, beheld with alarm and sorrow the wretched condition of the Church. They carefully abstained from the quarrels of the schools, and all the unprofitable discussions beneath which true piety had hi Vu well nigh buried. They laboured to turn men from the empty form of an outward worship, from noise and pomp of ceremonies, that they might lead them to the inward peace of the soul that seeks all its happiness in God. They could not do this without coming in collision with all the received opinions, and exposing the wounds of the Church; but still even they had no clear views of the doctrine of justification by faith.
Far superior to the Mystics in purity of doctnne, the Vaudois formed a long-continued Chain of witnesses for the truth. Men more free than the rest of the Church appear from early limes to have inhabited the summits of the Piedmontese Alps. Their numbers had increased, and their doctrine had been purified by the disciples of Valdo. From the heights of their mountains the Vaudois protested for ag-ps against the superstitions of Kerne. ‘• “‘hey contended,” said they, “for their ‘ively hope in God through Christ; for regeneration and inward renewal by faith, hope,
and charity; for the merits of Christ, and th* all-sufficiency of his grace and rijghteousi.es
And yet this primary truth of the Justification of the sinner, which ought to rise preeminent above other doctrines, like Mount Blanc above the surrounding Alps, was not sufficiently prominent in their system.
Pierre Vaud, or Valdo, a rich merchant of Lyons, (a. n. 1170,) sold all his goods anil gave to the poor. He and his friends appear to have had for their object to re-establish in the intercourse of life the perfection of primitive Christianity. He began then, like others, at the branches, and not at the root. Nevertheless his preaching was powerful; for he recalled the minds of his hearers to the Scriptures which menaced the Roman hierarchy in its foundation.
In 1360, Wicklif made his appearance in England, and appealed from the Pope to the Word of God; but the real inward wound of the Church appeared to him as only one of many symptoms of its malady.
John Hubs preached in Bohemia a centunbefore Luther appeared in Saxony. He seemed to enter more deeply than all who had gone before him into the essence of Christian truth. He besought Christ to grant him grace to glory only in his cross, and in the inestimable humiliation of his sufferings. But he attacked rather the lives of the clergy than the errors of the Church. And yet he was, if we may be allowed the expression, the John the Baptist of the Reformation. The flames of his martyrdom kindled a fire which shed an extensive light in the midst of tin general gloom, and was destined not to be speedily extinguished.
John Huss did more: prophetic words resounded from the depths of his dungeon. Ho foresaw that a real reformation of the Churcli was at hand. When driven from Prague, and compelled to wander in the fields of Bohemia, where he was followed by an immense crowd eager to catch his words, he exclaimed: “The wicked have begun by laying treacherous snares for the goou.* But if even the goose, which is only a domestic fowl, a tame creature, and unable to rise high in the air, has yet broken their snares, other birds, whosa flight carries them boldly towards heaven, will break them with much more power. Instead of a feeble goose, the truth will send forth eagles and keen-eyed falcons.” The Reform era fulfilled this prediction.
And when the venerable priest was summoned, by order of Sigismund. before the Council of Constance, and cast into prison, the ch’apel of Bethlehem, where he had proclaimed the Gospel and the future triumph of Christ, employed his thoughts more than his own defence. One night, the holy martyr thought he saw from the depths of his dungeon the pictures of Christ, which he had painted on the walls of his oratory, effaced by the Pope and his bishops. This dream distressed him. Next night he saw several painters
* The word Hugs in Bohemian signifying gooac.
in restoring the figures in greater numbers and more vivid colouring; and this work performed, the painters, surrounded by an immense multitude, exclaimed: “Now let the popes and bishops come when they will, they will never again be able to efface \hern.”—” And many persons thereupon rejoiced in Bethlehem, and I amongst them,” idds Huss. “Think of your defence, rather than of your dreams,” said his faithful friend, ‘In- Chevalier de Chlum, to whom he had imparted his dream. “I am no dreamer,” replied Huss; “bull hold it certain, that the image of Christ will never be effaced. They desired to destroy it, but it will be imprinted anew on the hearts of men by much better preachers than myself. The nation that loves Christ will rejoice at this. And I, awaking from the dead, and rising as it were from the grave, shall leap for joy.”
A century elapsed; and the Gospel torch, rekindled by the Reformers, did in truth enlighten many nations, who rejoiced in its beams.
But it was not only amongst those whom Rome regarded as her adversaries, that a lifegiving word-was heard at that period. Catholicism itself—and we may take comfort from the thought—reckons amongst its own members numerous witnesses for the truth. The primitive edifice had been consumed; but a holy fire smouldered beneath its ashes, and from time to time bright sparks were seen to escape.
Anselm of Canterbury, in a work for the use of the dying, exhorted them “to look solely to the merits of Jesus Christ.”
A monk, named Arnoldi, offered up every day in his peaceful cell this fervent prayer, “Oh, Lord Jesus Christ! I believe that in thee alone 1 have redemption and righteousness.”
A pious bishop of Bale, Christopher de Utenheim, had his name written upon a picture painted on glass, which is still at Bale, and round it this motto, which he wished to have always before him,—” My hope is in the cross of Christ; 1 seek grace, and not works.”
A poor Carthusian, brother Martin, wrote this affecting confession: “Oh, most merciful God! I know that I can only be saved, and satisfy thy righteousness, by the merit, the innocent suffering, and death of thy wellbeloved Son. Holy Jesus! my salvation is in thy hands. Thou canst not withdraw the hands of thy love from me; for they have created, and formed, and redemeed me. Thou hast inscribed my name with a pen of iron, in rich mercy, and so as nothing can efface it, on thy side, thy hands, and thy feet; &c. &c. After this the good Carthusian placed his confession in a wooden box, and enclosed the box in a hole he had made in the w all of his cell.
The piety of brother Martin would never h.ivc been known, if his box had not been 1’i.iiinl. on the 2lst of December, 1776, in taking do-vn an old building which had been part of the Carthusian convent at Bale. How
! many convents may have concealed eimiiL treasures!
But these holy men only held this faith themselves, and did not know how to communicate it to others. Living in retirement, they might, more or less adopt the words of good brother Martin, written in his box: ••/.Y M Imc pradicta confiteri non passim lingua, con Jileur tamen enrde cl icripto.—If I cannot confess these things with my tongue, 1 at least confess them with my pen and with my heart.” The word of truth was laid up in the sanctuary of many a pious mind, but to use an expression in the Gospel, it had not free course in the world.
If men did not openly confess the doctrine of salvation, they at least did not fear, even within the pale of the Romish Church, boldly to protest against the abuses which disgraced it. Italy itself had at that time her witnesses against the priesthood. The Dominican, Savaronola, preached at Florence in 1498 against the insupportable vices of Rome; but the powers that then were, despatched him by the inquisition and the stake.
Geiler of Kaisersberg was for three-andthirty years the great preacher of Germany He attacked the clergy with energy. “When the summer leaves turn yellow,” said he, ” we say that the root is diseased; and thus it is, a dissolute people proclaim a corrupted priesthood.” “If no wicked man ought to say mass,” said he to his bishop, ” drive out all the priests from your diocese.” The people, hearing this courageous minister, learned even in the sanctuary to see the enormities of their spiiitual guides.
This state of things in the Church itself deserves our notice. When the Wisdom of God shall again utter his teachings, there will everywhere be understandings and hearts to. comprehend. When the sower shall again come forth to sow, he will find ground prepared to receive the seed. When the word of truth shall resound, it will find echoes to repeat it. When the trumpet shall utter a war-note in the Church, many of her children will prepare themselves to the battle. ‘We are arrived near the scene on which Luther appeared. Before we begin the history of that great commotion, which caused to shoot up in all its brilliancy that light of truth which had been so long concealed, and which, by renovating the Church, renovated so many nations, and called others into existence, creating a new £urope and a new Christianity, let us take a glance at the different nations in the midst of whom this revolution in religion took place.
The Empire was a confederacy of different states, with the Emperor at their head. Each of these slates possessed sovereignty over in own territory. The Imperial Diet, composed of all the princes, or sovereign states, exercised the legislative power for the whole of the Germanic body. The Emperor ratified the laws, decrees, or resolutions, of this assembly, and it was his office to publish end execute them. The seven more powerful princes, unJcr the ttt.e of Electors, had the privilege of awarding tlu Imperial crown.
The princes and states of the Germanic Confederacy had been anciently subjects of the Emperors, and held their lands of them. But after the accession of Rodolph of Hapsbikrg, (I’JTX) a series of troubles had taken place, in which princes, free cities, and bishops, acquired a considerable degree of independence, at the expense of the Imperial sovereign.
The north of Germany, inhabited chiefly by the old Saxon race, had acquired most liberty. The Emperor, incessantly attacked by the Turks in his hereditary possessions, was disposed to keep on good terms with courageous chiefs and communities, whose alliance was then necessary to him. Several free cities in the north-west and south of Europe had, by commerce, manufactures, and industry, attained a considerable degree of prosperity, and, by that means, of independence. The powerful house of Austria, which wore the crown of the Empire, controlled the majority of the states of central Germany, overlooked their movements, and was preparing to extend its dominion, over and beyond the whole Empire, when the Reformation interposed a powerful barrier to its encroachments, and saved the liberties of Europe.
If, in the time of St. Paul, or of AmbroBo, of Austin, of Chrysostom, or even in the days of Anselrn and Bernard, the question had been asked, what people or nation God would be likely to use to reform the church,—the thought might have turned to the countries honoured by the Apostles’ ministry,—to Asia, to Greece, or to Rome, perhaps to Britain or to France, where men of great learning had preached; but none would have thought of the barbarous Germans. All other countries of Christendom had, in their turn, shone in the history of the Church; Germany alone had continued dark. Yet it was Germany that was chosen.
God, who prepared during four thousand years the Advent of his Messiah, and led through differentdispensations, for many ages, the people among whom he was to be born, also prepared Germany in secret and unobserved, unknown indeed even to itself, to be’ the cradle of a Religious Regeneration, which, in a later day, should awaken the various nations of Christendom.
As Judea, the birthplace of our religion, lay in the centre of the ancient world, so Germany was situated in the midst of Christian nations. She looked upon the Netherlands, England, France, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, Denmark, and the whole of the north. It was fit that the principle of life should develope itself in the heart of Europe,—that its pulses might circulate through all the arteries of the body the generous blood designed to vivify its members.
The particular form of constitution that the Empire had received, by the dispensations of Providence, favoured the propagation of new ideas. If Germany had been a monarchy, strictly so called, like France or England, the arbitrary will of the sovereign might have suf
ficed to delay for a long time the progress of the Gospel. But it was a confederacy. The truth, opposed in one state, might be received with favour by another. Important centres of light, which might gradually penetrate through the darkness, and enlighten the surrounding imputation, might be quickly formed in different districts of the Empire.
The internal peace which Maximilian had given to the Empire was no less favourable to the Reformation. For a long while, the numerous members of the Germanic body had laboured to disturb each other. Nothing had been seen but confusions, quarrels, wars incessantly breaking out between neighbours, cities, and chiefs. Maximilian had laid a solid basis of public order by instituting the Imperial chamber appointed to settle all differences between the states—The Germans, after so many confusions and anxieties, saw a new a-r.i of safety and repose. This condition of affairs powerfully contributed to harmonize the general mind. It was now possible in the cities and peaceful valleys of Germany to seek and adopt ameliorations, which discord might have banished. We may add, that it is in the bosom of peace that the Gospel loves most to gain its blessed victories. Tims it had been the will of God, fifteen centuries before, that Augustus should present a pacified world for the blessed triumphs of Christ’s religion. Nevertheless the Reformation performed a double part in the peace then beginning for the Empire. It was as much cause as effect. Germany, when Luther appeared, offered to the contemplation of an observer the sort of movement which agitates the sea after a continued storm. The calm did not promise to be lasting. The first breath might again call up the tempest. We shall see more than one example of this. The Reformation, by communicating a new impulse to the population, destroyed forever the old motives of agitation. It made an end of the system of barbarous times, and cave to Europe one entirely new.
Meanwhile the religion of Jesus Christ had had its accustomed influence on Germany. The common people had rapidly advanced; numerous institutions arose in the Empire, and particularly in the free cities,—well adapted to develope the minds of the mass of the people. The arts flourished; the burghers followed in security their peaceable labours and the duties of social life. They gradually opened to information, and thus acquired respect and influence. It was not magistrates bending conscience to political expediency, or ncbles emulous of military glory, or a clergy seeking gain or power, and regarding religion as their peculiar property, who were to bo the founders of the Reformation in Germany. It was to be the work of the bourgeoisie—of the people—of the whole nation.
The peculiar character of the Germans was such as especially to favour a Reformation in Religion. A false civilization had not enfeebled them. The precious seeds that a fear of God deposits in a nation had not been scattered to the winds. Ancient manners still •ubsiated There was in Germany that uprightness, fidelity, love, and toil, and perseverance,—that religious habit of mind—which we still find there, and which presages more success to the Gospel than the scornful or brutal levity of other European nations.
Another circumstance may have contributed lo render Germany a soil more favourable to the revival of Christianity than many other countries. God had fenced it in; he had preserved its strength for the day of its giving birth to his purpose. It had not fallen from the faith after a period of spiritual vigour, as had been the case with the churches of Asia, of Greece, of Italy, of France, and of Britain. The Gospel had never been offered to Germany in its primitive purity; the first missionaries who visited the country gave to it a religion already vitiated in more than one particular. It was a law of the Church, a spiritual discipline, that Boniface and his successors carried to the Prisons, the Saxons, and other German nations. Faith in the ” good tidings,” that faith which rejoices the heart and makes it free indeed, had remained unknown to them. Instead of being slowly corrupted, the religion of the Germans had rather been purified. Instead of declining, it had arisen. It was indeed to be expected that more life and spiritual strength would be found among this people than among those enervated nations of Christendom where deep darkness had succeeded to the light of truth, and an almost universal corruption had taken place of the sanctity of the earliest times.
We may make the like remark on the exterior relation between the Germanic body and the Chureh. The Germans had received from Rome that element of modem civilization, the faith. Instruction, legislation, all, save their courageand their weapons, had come to them from the Sacerdotal city. Strong ties had from that time attached Germany to the Papacy. The former was a spiritual conquest of the latter, and we know to what use Rome has ever turned her conquests. Other nations, which had held the faith and civilization before the Roman Pontiff existed, had continued in more independence of him. But this subjection of Germany was destined only to make the reaction more powerful at the moment of awakening. When Germany should open her eyes, she would indignantly tear away the trammels in which she had been so long kept bound. The very measure of slavery she had had toendure would make herdeliverance and liberty more indispensable to her, and strong champions of the truth would come forth from the enclosure of control and re-. Btriction in which her population had for ages been shut up.
When we lake a nearer view of the limes of the Reformation, we see, in the government of Germany, still further reasons to admire the wisdom of Him, by whom kings reign and princes execute judgment. There was, at that time, something resembling what has in our own days been termed a system of ueKtw When an energetic sovereign presided
over the Empire, the imperial power was strengthened ; on the other hand, when he wa» of feeble character, the authority of the Electors gained force.
Under Maximilian, the predecessor of Charles V., this alternate rise and depression of the various states was especially remarkable. At that time the balance was altogether against the Emperor. The princes had repeatedly formed close alliances with one another. The emperors themselves had urged them to do so, in order that they might direct them at one effort against some common enemy. But the strength that the princes acquired from such alliances against a passing danger, might, at an after period, be turned against the encroachments or power of the Emperor. This did indeed ensue. At no period had the electors felt themselves more independent of their head, than at the period of the Reformation. And their head having taken part against it, it is easy to see that this state of things was favourable to the propagation of the Gospel.
We may add, that Germany was weary of what the Romans contemptuously termed -tkt patience of Iht German*. The latter had, in truth, manifested much patience ever since the time of Louis of Bavaria. From that period the emperors had laid down their arms, and the ascendency of the tiara over the crown of the Ciesars was acknowledged. But the battle had only changed its field. It was to be fought on lower ground. The same contests, of which emperors and popes had set the example, were quickly renewed in miniature, in all the towns of Germany, between bishops and magistrates. The commonalty had caught up the sword dropped by the chiefs of the empire. As early as 1329, the citizens of Frankfort on the Oder had resisted with intrepidity their ecclesiastical superiors. Excommunicated for their fidelity to the Margrave Louis, they had remained twenty-eight years without masses, baptisms, marriage, or funeral rites. And afterwards, when the monks and priests reappeared, they had openly ridiculed their return as a farce. Deplorable irreverence, doubtless j but of which the clergy themselves were the cause. At the epoch of the Reformation, the animosity between the magistrates and the ecclesiastics had increased. Every hour the privileges and temporal possessions of the clergy gave rise to collision. If the magistrates refused to give way, the bishops and priests imprudently had recourse to the extreme means at their disposal. Sometimes the Pope interfered; and it was to give an example of the most revolting partiality, or to endure the humiliating necessity of leaving the triumph in the handp of the commons, obstinately resolved to maintain their right. These continual conflicts had filled the cities with hatred and contempt of the Pope, and the bishops, and the priests.
But not only among the burgomasters, councillors, and town clerks did Rome and the clergy find adversaries; they had opponents both above and below the middle rhssca of society. From the commencement of the 16th century, the Imperial Diet displayed an inflexible firmnest against the papal envoys. In May, 1510, the States assembled at Augsburg, handed to the Emperor a statement of len leading grievances against the Pope and clergy of Rome. About the same time, there was a- violent ferment among the populace. It broke onvin 1518 in the Rhenish provinces; where the peasantry, indignant at the weight of the yoke imposed by their ecclesiastical sovereigns, formed among themselves the League of the Shoes.
Thus, on all sides, from above and from beneath, was heard a low murmur, the forerunner of the thunderbolt that was about to fall. Germany appeared ripe for the work appointed for the 16lh century. Providence, in its slow course, had prepared all things; and even the passions which God condemns were to be turned by His power to the fulfilment of His purposes.
Let us take a view of other nations.
Thirteen small republics, placed with their allies in the centre of Europe, among mountains which compose as it were its citadel, formed a simple and brave population. Who would have thought of looking to these obicure valleys tor the men whom God would thoose to be, jointly with the children of the Germans, the liberators of the church 1 Who would have guessed that poor and unknown villages, just raised above barbarism—hidden among inaccessible mountains, in the extremity of lakes never named in history,— would, in their connexion with Christianity, eclipse Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome? Yet so it was. Such was the will of him who causelh it to rain upon one city, and causeth it not to rain upon another city, and maketh his showers to descend on one piece of land, while another withereth under drought. (Amos iv. 7.)
Circumstances of another kind seemed to surround with multiplied rocks the course of (he Reformation in Ihe bosom of the Swiss population. If, in a monarchy, it had to fear the hinderances of power; in a democracy it was exposed to the hazards of the precipitation of the people. True, this Reformation, which, in the states of the Empire, could but advance slowly and step by step, might have its su’Tr-s decided in one day in the general council of the Swiss republic. But it was necessary to guard against an imprudent haste, which, unwilling to wait a favourable moment, should abruptly introduce innovations, otherWise most useful, and so compromise the public peace, the constitution of the state, and even the future prospects of the Reformation itself.
But Switzerland also had had its preparations. It was a wild tree, but one of generous nature, which had been guarded in the depth of the valleys, that it might one day be grafted with a fruit of the highest value. Providence had diffused among this recent people, principles of Dourage, independence, and liberty, destined to manifest all their strength when
the signal of conflict with Rome shou.d be given. The Pope had conferred m the Swim the title of protectors of the liberties of the Church; but it seems they had understood this honourable name in a totally different sense from the pontiff. If their soldiers guarded the Pope in the neighbourhood of the Capitol, their citizens, in the bosom of the Alps, carefully guarded their own religious liberties against the invasion of the Pope and of the clergy. Ecclesiastics were forbidded to have recourse to any foreign jurisdiction. The “lettre des pretres” was a bold protest of S wist liberty against the corruptions and power of the clergy. Zurich was especially distinguished by its courageous opposition to the claims of Rome. Geneva, at the other extremity of Switzerland, struggled against its bishops. Doubtless the love of political independence may have made many of its citizens forget the true liberty; but God had decreed that this love of independence should lead others to the reception of a doctrine which should truly enfranchise the nation. These two leading cities distinguished themselves among all the rest in the great struggle we have undertaken to describe.
But if the Helvetic towns, open and accessible to ameliorations, were likely to be drawn early within thecurren’, nf the Reformation, the case was very different with the mountain districts. It nu.ilit have been thought that these communities, more simple and energetic than their confederates in the towns, would have embraced with ardour a doctrine of which the characteristics were simplicity and force: but He who said—”At that time two men shall be in the field, the one shall be taken and the other left,” saw fit to leave these mountaineers, while He took the men of the plain. Perhaps an attentive observer might have d iscerned some symptoms of the difference which was about to manifest itself between the people of the town and of the liills. Intelligence had not penetrated to those heights. Those Cantons, which had founded Swiss liberty, proud of the part they had played in the grand struggle for independence, were not disposed to be tamely instructed by their younger brethren of lh» plain. Why, they might ask, should they change the faith in which they had expelled the Austrians, and which had consecrated by altars all the scenes of their triumphs? Their priests were the only enlightened guides to whom they could apply; their worship and their festivals were occupation and diversion for their tranquil lives, and enlivened the silence of their peaceful retreats. They continued close against religious innovations.
Passing the Alps, we find ourselves in thai Italy, which, in the eyes of many, was the Holy Land of Christianity. Whence would Europe look for good to the Church but from
1 Italy, and from Rome itself! The power which placed successively upon the pontifical chair so many dimWcr.t characters, might it
I not one day place thereon a pontiff who should become an instrument of b.’esaing tu the Lord’s
heritage 1 Even if no hope was to be placed on the popes, were the-e not there bishops and councils which would reform the Church 1 Nothing good can come out of Nazareth; it must proceed from Jerusalem,—from Rome. Such might have been the thoughts of man, but God’s thoughts were not as theirs. He says, ” Let him that is filthy be filthy still;” Rev. xxii. 11, and He left Italy to its unrighteousness. Many causes conspired to deprive this unhappy country of Gospel light. Its different states, sometimes rivals, sometimes enemies, came into violent collision as often as they were shaken by any commotion. This lano. of ancient glory was by turns the prey of intestine wars and foreign invasions; the stratagems of policy, the violence of factions, the agitation of battles, seemed to be its sole occupation, and to banish for a long time the Gospel of peace.
Italy, broken to pieces, and without unity, appeared but little suited to receive one general impulse. Every frontier line was a new barrier, where truth would be stopped and challenged, if it sought to cross the Alps, or land on those smiling shores. It was true the Papacy was then planning a union of all Italy, desiring, as Pope Julius expressed it, to expel the bariariant,—that is, the foreign princes; and she hovered like a bird of prey over the mutilated and palpitating members of ancient Italy. But if she had gained her ends, we may easily believe that the Reformation would not have been thereby advanced.
And if the truth was destined to come tn them from the north, how could the Italians so enlightened, of so refined a taste and social habits, so delicate in their own eyes, condescend to receive any thing at the hands of the barbarous Germans. Their pride, in fact, raised between the Reformation and themselves a barrier higher than the Alps. But the very nature of their mental culture was a still greater obstacle than the presumption of their hearts. Could men, who admired the elegance of a well cadenced sonnet more than the majestic simplicity of the Scriptures, be a propitious soil for the seed of God’s word? A false civilization is, of all conditions of a nation, that which is most repugnant to the Gospel.
Finally, whatever might be the slate of things to Italy—Rome was always Rome. Not only did the temporal power of the Popes incline the several parties in Italy to court at any cost their alliance and favour, but, in addition to this, the universal sway of Rome offered more than one’inducement to the avarice and vanity of the Italian states. Whenever it should become a question of emancipation of the rest of the world from the yoke of Rome, Italy would again become Italy! Domestic quarrels would not be suffered to prevail to the advantage of a foreign system; and attacks directed against the head of the peninpula would immediately rail up the affections and common interests from their long sleep.
The Reformation, then, had little prospect
of success in thst country. Nsrertheless there were found within its confines souls prepared to receive the Gospel light, and Italy was not then entirely disinherited.
Spain possessed what Italy did not,—a serious and noble people, whose religious mind had resisted even the stern trial of the eighteenth century, and of the Revolution, and maintained iuelf to our own days. In every age this people has had among its clergy men of piety and learning, and it was sufficiently mmole from Rome to throw off without difficulty her yoke. There are few nations wherein one might more reasonably have hoped for a revival of that primitive Christianity, which Spain had probably received from St. Paul himself. And yet Spain did not then stand up among the nations. She was destined to be an example of that word of the Divine Wisdom, “The first shall be last” Various circumstances conduced to this deplorable result
Spain, considering its isolated position, and remoteness from Germany, would feel but slightly the shocks of the great earthquake which shook the Empire. But more than this, she was busily occupied in seeking treasure very different from that which the Word of God was then offering to the nations. In her eyes the new world outshone the eternal world. A virgin soil, which seemed to be composed of gold and silver, inflamed the imagination of her people. An eager desire after riches left no room in the heart of the Spaniard for nobler thoughts. A powerfu, clergy, having the scaffolds and the treasures of the land to their disposal, ruled the Peninsula. Spain willingly rendered to its priests a servile obedience, which, releasing it from spiritual pre-occupalions, left it to follow ita passions, and go forward in quest of riches, and discoveries of new continents. Victorious over the Moors, she had, at the expense of her noblest blood, thrown down the crescent from the towers of Granada, and many other cities, and planted in its place the cross of Jesus Christ. This great zeal for Christianity, which promised so much, — turned against the truth,—for could Catholic Spain, that had triumphed over infidels, refuse to oppose heretics 1 How could a people who had expelled Mahomet from their noble country, allow Luther to make way in it? Their kings went further. They fitted out their fleets against the Reformation. They went forth to meet and conquer it in England and in Holland. But these attacks had the effect of elevating the nations assailed; and, ere long, their power crushed the power of Spain. Thus those Catholic countries lost, owing to the Reformation, that very temporal wealth which had led them, at the first, to reject the spiritual liberty of the Gospel. Yet the Spanish nation was generous and brave; and many of its noble people, with equal ardour and better knowledge, than those who had rushed upon the swords of the Arabs,—gave up their lives at the stake to the Inquisition.
Portugal was nearly in the same condition as Spain. Emanuel the Fortunate gave to it an ” Age of gold,” which tended to unfit it for that self-denial which Christianity require*. The nation precipitating itself on the newly discovered routes to India and the Brazils, turned its back upon Europe and the Reformation.
Few countries seemed likely to be better disposed than France for the reception of the evangelical doctrines. Almost all the intellectual and spiritual life of the middle ages was concentrated in her. It might have been s.iiii that the paths were everywhere trodden for a grand manifestation of the truth. Men of the moit opposite characters, and whose influence over the people had been most powerful, had in some degree countenanced the Reformation. Saint Bernard had set the example of that heartfelt faith, that inward piety which is the most beautiful feature of its character. Abelard had introduced into the study of theology the rational principle, which, though incapable of developing the truth, is yet powerful for the destruction of error. Many heretics, so called, had revived the l.’zht of God’s word in the provinces. The University of Paris had placed itself in opposition to the Church, and had not feared to combat it. In the beginning of the fifteenth century, the Clemangis and the Gersons had spoken out with undaunted courage. The Pragmatic Sanction had been a grand Act of Independence, and promised to be the palladium of Gallic liberty. The French nobility, numerous, jealous of their pre-eminence, and having at this period been gradually deprived of their privileges by the growing power of their kings, must have been favourably disposed towards a religious change which might restore to them some portion of the independence they had lost. The people, of quick feelings, intelligent, and susceptible of generous emotions, were as open, or even more so, than most other nations, to the truth. It seemed as if the Reformation must be, among them, the birth which should crown the travail of several centuries. But the chariot of France, which for so many generations seemed to be advancing to the same goal, suddenly turned at the moment of the Reformation, and took a contrary direction. Such was the will of Him who rules nations and their kings. The prince, then seated in the chariot, and holding the reins, and who, as a pattern of learning, seemed likely to be foremost in promoting the Reformation, turned his people in another direction. The augury of ages was deceived, and the impulse given to France was spent and lost in straggles against the ambition and fanaticism of her kings. The race of Valois deprived her of her rights. Perhaps if she had received the Gospel, she might have become too powerful. God had chosen a weaker people, a people that as yet was not,—to be the depository of his truth. France, after having been almost reformed, found herself, in the result, Roman Catholic. The sword of her pj-inces, cast into the scale, caused it to incline in favour of Rome. Alas!
another sword, that of the Reformeis themselves, insured the failure of the effort for Reformation. The hands that had become accustomed to warlike weapons, ceased to be lifted up in prayer. It is by the blood of its confessors, not by that of its adversaries, that the Gospel triumphs. Blood shed by its defenders, extinguishes and smothers it. Francis I., in the very beginning of his reign, eagerly sacrificed the Pragmatical Sanction to the Papacy, substituting a concordat detrimental to France, and advantageous to the crown and to the Pope. Maintaining by his sword the rights of the German Protestants at war with his rival, this ” father of the sciences” plunged it up to the hilt in the hearts of his own reformed subjects. His successors did, from motives of fanaticism, or weakness, or to silence the clamours of a guilty conscience, ‘what he had done for ambition. They met indeed with a powerful resistance, but it was not always such as the martyrs of the first ages had opposed to their Pagan persecutors. The strength of the Protestanis was the source of their weakness; their success drew after it their ruin.
The Low Countries formed, at that period, one of the most flourishing portions of Europe.’ Its population was industrious, bettei informed, owing to its numerous connections with different -regions of the earth, full ot courage, and passionately atUched to its inde pendence, its privileges, and its liberty. On the very borders of Germany, it would be the first to hear the report of the Reformation; it was capable of receiving it. But all did not receive it. To the poor it was given to re ceive the truth. The hungry were rilled with good things, and the rich sent empty away. The Netherlands, which had always been more or less connected with the Empire, had forty years before fallen to the possession of Austria, and after Charles V., they devolved to the Spanish branch, and so to the ferocious Philip. The princes and governors of this ill-fated country trampled the Gospel under foot, and waded through the blood of its martyrs. The country was composed of two divisions widely dissimilar the one from the other. The south, rich, and increased in goods succumbed. How could its extensive manufactures, carried to sucl perfection,— how could Bruges, the great u art of northern merchandise, or Antwerp, the queen of commercial cities, make their interests consist with a long and bloody struggle for the things of faith 1 But the northern provinces, defended by their dykes, the sea, their marshes, and, still more, by the simple manners of the population, and their determination to suffer tlic loss of all, rather than of the Gospel,not only preserved their franchises, their pri vileges and their faith, but achieved independ ence and a glorious existence as a nation.
England then gave little promise of all sh« has subsequently acquired. Driven from the Continent, where she had long obstinately contended for the conquest of France, she began to turn her eyes towards the ocean as to the empire which was designed to be the tme end of her victories, and of which the inheritance was reserved for her. Twice converted to Christianity, first under the Britons, then under the Anglo-Saxons, she paid devotilly the annual tribute of St. Peter’s pence. Yet was she reserved for a lofty destiny. Mistress of the ocean, everywhere present through all parts of the earth, she was ordained to be one day, with the people to whom she should give birth, as the hand of God to scatter the seed of life in remotest islands and on boundless continents. Already some circumstances gave presage of her destinies. Great intellectual light had shone in the British Isles, and some glimmerings of it still remained. A crowd of foreigners, artists, merchants, workmen, from the Low Countries, Germany, and other regions, thronged her harbours and cities. The new religious opinions would therefore be easily and quickly introduced. Finally, England had then an eccentric king, who, endowed with some learning and considerable courage, was continually changing his purposes and notions, and turning from one side to another, according to the direction in which his violent passions impelled him. It was possible that one of the inconsistencies of Henry V11I. might prove favourable to the Reformation.
Scotland was then torn by factions. A king five years old, a queen regent, ambitious nobles, an influential clergy, harassed this courageous nation on all sides. It was however destined to hold a distinguished place amongst the nations which should receive the Reformation.
The three northern kingdoms, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, were united under one government. These rude and warlike people seemed likely to have little sympathy with the doctrine of love and peace. Yet from the very energy of their character, they were perhaps better disposed to receive the spirit of the evangelical doctrine than the southern nations. But these descendants of warriors and pirates brought perhaps too warlike a spirit to the support of the Protestant cause; in subsequent times they defended it heroically by the sword.
Russia, situate at the extremity of Europe, hud but little connection with other states, we may add, that she belonged to the Greek Church. The Reformation effected in the West had little or no influence upon the East.
Poland seemed well prepared for a reformation. The vicinity of the Bohemian and Moravian Christians had disposed it to receive that religious impulse which the neighbouring states of Germany were destined speedily to impart to it. As early as the year 1500, the nobility of Poland had demanded that the cup should be given to the laity, appealing to the custom of the primitive Church. The liberty which was enjoyed in the cities, and the independence of its nobles, made this country a safe asylum for Christians who were persecuted in their own. The truth they brought with them was joyfully welcomed by num
bers.—It is the country which in our times has the fewest confessors of the Gospel.
The flame of Reformation, which h^d long flickered in Bohemia, had almost been extinguished in blood. Nevertheless some pool survivors, escaped from the .jarnage, were still living to see the day that Huss had predicted.
Hungary had been distracted by intestina wars, under the rule of princes without ability or experience, who, in the result, made the country a dependency of Austria, by enrolling that powerful house among the heirs of the crown.
Such was the condition of Europe at the beginning of that sixteenth century, which was destined to produce so mighty a change in the great Christian family.
But we have already observed, it was on the vast platform of Germany, and more particularly in Witlemberg, in the heart of the Empire, that the grand drama of the Reformation was to commence.
Let us contemplate the actors in the prologue which ushered in, or contributed to the work of which Luther was appointed to be in God’s hands the hero.
Of all the electors of the Empire the most powerful at that time was Frederick of Saxony, surnamed the Wise. The influence he exercised, joined to his wealth and generosity, raised him above his equals. God selected him to serve as a tree, under shadow of which the seed of truth might put forth its first shoot without being rooted up by the tempests around it.
Born atTorgua in 14G3, he manifested from his early youth much love for science, philosophy, and piety. Succeeding, in 1487, in con junction with his brother John, to the government of the hereditary states of his family, he received the dignity of Elector from the Emperor Frederick III. In 1493, the pious prince undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre. Henry of Schautnburg on that sacred spot conferred upon him the order of the Holy Sepulchre. He returned to Saxony in the following summer. In 1502 he founded the university of Wittemberg, which was destined to be the nursery of the Reformation.
When the light dawned, he did not commit himself on either side, but stood by to secure it. No man was fitter for this office; he possessed the general esteem, and was in the intimate confidence of the Emperor. He even acted for him in his absence. His wisdom consisted not in the skilful working of deep laid policy, but in an enlightened and prescient prudence, of which the first law was never for the sake of any self-interest to infringe the rules of honour and religion.
At the same time he felt in his heart the power of the word of God. One day, when the Vicar-General, Staupilz, was in his com. pany, the conversation turned on public declaimers: “All sermons,” said the Elector “made up of mere subtleties and human traditions, are marvellously cold, without nerve or power, since there is no subtlety we can advance that may n< t by another subtlety be orerturned. Holy Scripture alone is clothed with such power and majesty that shaming us out of nur rules of reasoning, it compels us to cry out ‘ Never man spake as this.'” Staupitz assenting entirely to his opinion, the Elector cordially extended his hand to him, and said. “Promise me that you will always think thus.”
Frederic was precisely the prince that was Deeded for the cradle of the Reformation. Too much weakness on the part of those friendly to the work might have allowed it to be crushed. Too much haste would hare caused too early an explosion of the storm that from its origin gathered against it. Frederic was moderate but firm; he possessed that Christian grace which God has in all times required from bis worshippers; he waited for God. He put in practice the wise counsel of Gamaliel— “If this work be of man it will come to naught;—if it be of God we cannot overthrow it.” “Things are come to such a pass,” said the prince to one of the most enlightened men of his time, Spengler of Nuremberg, “that men can do no more:—God alone can effect anything; therefore we must leave to his power those great events which are too hard for us.” We may well admire the wisdom of Providence in the choice of such a prince to guard the small beginnings of its work.
Maximilian I., who wore the Imperial crown from 1493 to 1519, may be reckoned among those who contributed to prepare the way of the Reformation. He afforded to the other princes the example of enthusiasm for literature and science. He was less attached than any other to the Popes, and had even thoughts of seizing on the Papacy. No one can say what it might have become in his hands; but we may be allowed to imagine from this circumstance, that a rival power to the Pope, cuch as the Reformation, would not have reckoned the Emperor of Germany among its fiercest opponents.
Among even the princes of the Romish Church were found venerable men, whom sacred study and sincere piety had prepared for the divine work about to be wrought in the world. Christopher of Stadion, bishop of Augsburg, knew and loved the truth; but he would have had to sacrifice all by a courageous confession of it. Laurentius de Biba, bishop of Wurlzburg, a kind, pious, and wise man, and esteemed by the Emperor and princes, was accustomed to speak openly against the corruption of the Church. Out he died in 1519, too early to take part in the Reformation. John VI., bishop of Meissen, was used to say, ” As often as I read the Bible, I find there a different religion from that which is taught to us.” John Thurzo, bishop of Breslau, was called by Luther the best bishop of the tge. But he, too, died in 1520. William Briconnet, bishop of Meaux, contributed largely to introduce the Reformation in France. Who indeed can say to what extent the enlightened piety of these bishops and of many others, was of use in preparing, each in his diocese, and beyond it, the great work of the Reformation t
But it was reserved to men of lower station than these princes or bishops to become the chief instruments of God’s providence in the work of preparation. It was the scholars and the learned, then termed humanists, who ex ercised the greatest influence on their age.
There existed at that time open war between these disciples of letters and the scholastic divines. The latter beheld with alarm the great movements going on in the field of intelligence, and took up with the notion that immobility and ignorance would be the best safeguards of the Church. It was to save Rome that divines opposed the revival of letters; but by so doing they in reality contributed to her ruin, and Rome herself unconsciously cooperated in it. In an unguarded moment, under the pontificate of Leo X., she forsook her old friends, and embraced her youthful adversaries. The Papacy formed with literature a union which seemed likely to break the old alliance with the monastic orders. The Popes did not at first perceive that what they had taken up as a toy was in reality a sword that might destroy them. Thus in the last century we beheld princes who received at their courts a tone of politics and a philosophy which, if they had experienced their full effect, would have overturned their thrones. The alliance of which we have spoken did not last long. Literature advanced, entirely regardless of that which might endanger the power of its patrons. The monks and the scholastic divines perceived that to forsake the Pope would be to abandon their own interests. And the Pope, notwithstanding the transient patronage which he bestowed upon the fine arts, adopted, when it suited his interest, measures most opposed to the spirit of the time.
The revival of letters presented at that time an animating spectacle. Let us sketch some lines of this picture, selecting such as have the closest connexion with the revival of the true faith.
In order that the truth might triumph, it was necessary that the arms that were to achieve the victory should be taken from the arsenal in which for ages they had lain hidden. These weapons were the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. It was necessary to revive in Christendom the love and study of the sacred Greek and Hebrew texts. The man chosen by God for this work was John Reuchlin.
A very sweet toned child’s voice had been noticed in the choir of the church of Pforzheim. It attracted the attention of the Margrave of Baden It proved to be that of John Reuchlin, a young boy, of pleasing manners and of a sprightly disposition, the son of an honest citizen of the place. The Margrave treated him with great favour, and made choice of him in 1473 to accompany his son Frederick to the University of Paris.