Growth Of Commerce And Its Results
Formation Of France
England And The Other States
The Papacy In The New Age
Summary - Medieval Civilization
Read More Articles About: Medieval Civilization
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
BY the beginning of the sixteenth century the middle ages had come to an end in almost every line of civilization. Politically, economically, and intellectually the new forces and the new methods had possession of the field. The old were not yet beaten at every point. On many matters of detail much fighting had yet to be done. In some places, perhaps, the old succeeded in maintaining itself, or even in recovering ground. But on the main issues, everywhere, the victory had been won —with one most important exception. The church was unchanged. It had remained unaffected by the new forces which had transformed everything else. It was still thoroughly medieval. In government, in doctrine, and in life it still placed the greatest emphasis upon those points which the peculiar conditions of the middle ages had built upon the foundation of the primitive Christianity, and it was determined to remain unchanged.
This was not because no attempt had been made to transform it. It was entirely impossible that it should have passed through such an era of change as that which followed the crusades without coming into contact and conflict with the new forces. We have seen the attempt which was made, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, at the Council of Constance, to bring over into the sphere of ecclesiastical government the institutions and ideas which had been produced in the course of the political transformation, which was then under way, and to make over the government of the church in harmony with the new age. That attempt failed completely, and its only effect had been to strengthen the government of the church in its medievalism.
In the line of theological belief and of life we have not followed the attempts which had been made before the Reformation to bring about a change, but they had not been wanting, and they had not lacked clearness of purpose or earnestness.
In the thirteenth century, beginning perhaps a trifle earlier, in the valley of the Rhone, there had been a revolt from the church upon these points which had never been entirely subdued. It was the region of an early and a brilliant civilization, the land of the troubadours. An active intellectual life and an inquiring spirit apparently existed there in all classes,' and a line of connection with earlier forms of heresy probably gave direction to a revolt which would have occurred without it. Two sects must be distinguished from one another in the same general region the Albigenses, more directly interested in questions of theology, and considered heretics by Protestants as well as Catholics, and the Waldenses, or Vaudois, chiefly concerned with religious questions and the conduct of life, and orthodox in theology according to Protestant standards. In the case of the Albigenses the church was able to make use of political assistance, and a civil war of some years' duration resulted in the extermination of the heretics, and finally in the annexation of the county of Toulouse by the crown of France. The Waldenses, in a more remote country, in the valleys of eastern Switzerland and Savoy, survived a persecution which was both severe and long continued. Through their earnest devotion to the study of the Bible in the vernacular, they exercised a considerable influence in many lands of continental Europe, though their share in the general pre-reformation movement has sometimes been greatly exaggerated. They seem to have received some new impulse themselves from the followers of Huss, and when the Reformation finally came they acknowledged the similarity of its principles with their own, and associated themselves frequently with Protestant organizations of a Calvinistic type.
A hundred and fifty years later, in the last half of the fourteenth century, a revolt of the same kind occurred in England. It was at the time of England's first great literary age--the time of Chaucer and Gower and Lang-land. It closely followed an age of great military glory —the victories of Crecy and of Poitiers and almost as glorious victories over the Scotch. The lower classes felt the stimulus of such an age, and, in Wat Tyler's insurrection demanded the reform of old abuses and new guarantees for their security. It is possible that even without the vigorous leadership of Wycliffe so favorable an age would have produced a demand for a religious reformation. As it was, the demand which was made seems almost wholly the result of his personal influence, of his earnest spirit and his deeply inquiring mind. In Wycliffe's work there was an attempted reformation of theology and of religion, of Christian doctrines and of the Christian life in about equal proportions, and, from the peculiar situation of things in England, it involved political ideas not necessarily connected with the others. It has been said that Wycliffe " disowned and combated almost every distinguishing feature of the medieval and papal church, as contrasted with the Protestant." 1 His " poor priests " undoubtedly were messengers of good to the poorer classes, and the fact that so large a number of manuscripts as one hundred and sixty-five, containing larger or smaller parts of his translation of the Scriptures, has been found, shows conclusively how widely the copies were circulated and how carefully they were preserved. The division of political parties in England during Wycliffe's life served to protect him and his followers from serious persecution; but after the accession of the House of Lancaster to the throne this reason no longer existed, and the church had her way with the heretics. In 1401 the first English statute was passed punishing wrong theological opinions with death,' and, in the few years following, the Lollards, as Wycliffe's followers were called, were apparently exterminated.
If Wycliffe's influence died out in England it was continued upon the continent in the last great religious rebellion against the medieval church which preceded Luther's. The close connection which was established between the English and Bohemian courts, and between the Universities of Prague and Oxford, as a result of the marriage of Richard II. and Anne of Bohemia, brought some Bohemian students into contact with Wycliffe's teachings and led to the carrying of his writings to their fatherland. The reform movement which resulted in Bo hemia, whose leader was John Huss, followed in all es sential matters the ideas of Wycliffe, but it placed the strongest emphasis upon other points, such, for example, as the communion in two kinds, from which one wing of the Hussites, the Utraquists, derived its name. Huss himself did not lay so much stress, perhaps, upon the translation of the Scriptures into the language of the people, but his appeal to the Bible as the final authority in questions of belief, and his assertion of his right to judge of its meaning for himself, were clear and emphatic, and his followers were as earnest translators as Wycliffe or the Waldensians could have desired. Huss and his disciple, Jerome of Prague, were burned at the stake by the Council of Constance, in 1415, but political reasons, the unending strife between the Slav and the German in part, gave his cause so much strength in Bohemia that, after twenty years of desperate warfare the revolt was ended by a compromise, and the church gave way to the Hussites, to a certain extent, in the points upon which they insisted most strongly.
These three are the most prominent of the attempts at reformation which were made before Luther. They were all very limited in their influence. None of them had anything more than an indirect effect upon the larger pre-reformation movement, upon the general demand for reform, and the general preparation for Luther's work which was being made, and which showed itself so plainly when the time came. They were rather signs that such a demand was arising than causes of its gathering strength. They were the most prominent signs of this under-current, but by no means the only ones. The whole fifteenth century was filled with evidence, in the case of individuals or small bodies of men sometimes the taint was apparently almost national, and excited the alarm of the church,' or affected ecclesiastical officers of high rank evidence of dissatisfaction with the practical Christianity of the day, or of a leaning toward theological explanations almost or quite Protestant in character. These cases, are, however, mostly independent of one another, and independent of the larger revolts which have been noticed. Nor upon Luther himself did these attempted reformations have any influence. All the positions which were afterward taken by him, which brought him into a necessary conflict with the Roman church, he had taken before he knew anything essential of the work of his forerunners in the same line.
If these premature rebellions against the medieval church were not among the immediate influences leading to the Reformation, they were certainly of the same essential nature. Two features which are characteristic of them all are of great significance in this direction. They all asserted that the Christianity of their time differed in some important particulars from the primitive Christianity, and that a return must be made to the earlier usage. They differed somewhat from one another in the particulars selected, but all alike asserted the important principle that the original Christianity is the ultimate standard, and that the professions of every age must be judged by it, as recorded in the Scriptures. In the second place, they all demanded that the right of every individual Christian to study the Bible and to reach his own conclusions should be recognized by the church. These two principles the appeal to the original sources and the right of individual investigation were established in the intellectual world by the Renaissance, but it is of the utmost importance to bear in mind the fact that they had both been definitely asserted, and with a more or less clear consciousness, in the line of religious advancement before the influence of the Renaissance began to be felt. It will be necessary to return to this point when we reach the beginning of the Reformation proper.
But all these attempts at reformation, large and small, had failed, as had those of the early fifteenth century to reform its government, leaving the church as thoroughly medieval in doctrine and in practical religion as it was in polity. It was the one power, therefore, belonging to the middle ages which still stood unaffected by the new forces and opposed to them. In other directions the changes had been many, here nothing had been changed. And its resisting power was very great. Endowed with large wealth, strong in numbers in every state, with no lack of able and thoroughly trained minds, its interests, as it regarded them, in maintaining the old were enormous, and its power of defending itself seemed scarcely to be broken.
In this state of things is to be found the explanation of the fact that the reformation of the church was so much more revolutionary and violent than the corresponding change in other directions. Everywhere else the same revolution had really been wrought. In some cases there had been an appeal to revolutionary methods in matters of detail, but, in the main, the change had been a gradual transformation by which the new had been, almost unconsciously, put in place of the old. But the church had been strong enough to resist successfully any gradual transformation or any change of details, so that when the change did come, it necessarily came suddenly and violently, and with incomplete results. The new forces had not been destroyed because they had been prevented from producing their natural results. They had been merely dammed up until they gathered an irresistible weight.
Nor was the preparation for the Reformation confined to the religious and the ecclesiastical. The discontent under the injustice and abuses in the management of the church ; the demand for a moral reformation in the lives of the clergy ; the feeling, less definite and conscious but still not slight, of opposition to the absolutism of the papacy ; and the still less clearly formulated but deep-seated dissatisfaction with the mechanical and formal Christianity of the church, as being untrue to its original spiritual character, these feelings were very widely extended European so far as the middle classes were concerned, Teutonic, at least, in the case of the lower classes who suffered the most severely from the abuses complained of, and had the least opportunity for redress. These feelings constituted an indispensable preparation for the Reformation, but other conditions were equally necessary to its complete success.
The revolution which had been wrought in the intellectual world in the century between Huss and Luther was one of the indispensable conditions. .At the death of Huss the West had only just begun the study of Greek. Since that date, the great body of classical literature had been recovered, and the sciences of philological and historical criticism thoroughly established. As a result, Luther had at his command a well-developed method and an apparatus of exegesis and research impossible to any earlier reformer, and without these his translation of the Bible, and the arguments of all the early Protestants, so largely historical in character, would have been wanting in many things. But also the world had be-come familiar with independent investigation, and with the proclamation of new views and the upsetting of old ones. By no means the least of the great services of Erasmus to civilization had been to hold up before all the world so conspicuous an example of the scholar following, as his inalienable right, the truth as he found it wherever it appeared to lead him, and honest in his public utterances to the results of his studies. He did not convince all the world of his right. But his was the crowning work of a century which had produced in the general public a greatly changed attitude of mind toward intellectual independence since the days of Huss. The printing-press was of itself almost enough to account for Luther's success as compared with his predecessors. Wycliffe made almost as direct and vigorous an appeal to the public at large, and " with an amazing industry he issued tract after tract in the tongue of the people ; " but Luther had a great advantage in the rapid multiplication of copies and in their cheapness, and he covered Europe with the issues of his press. The discovery of America, the finding of a sea route to India and the beginning of a world-commerce, the opening of another world of experiences in the recovered knowledge of history and of literature, the great inventions, a revived rapidity of intercourse throughout Europe, and a new sense of community interests, indeed, all the results of the fifteenth century that can be mentioned had combined to create a new spirit and a new atmosphere. Luther spoke to a very different public from that which Wycliffe or Huss had addressed a public European in extent, and one not merely familiar with the assertion of new ideas but tolerant, in a certain way, of the innovator, and expectant of great things in the future.
The political situation in Europe also, at the time of Luther, was, to all appearance at least an essential condition of the ultimate success of the Reformation. The large possessions brought together through the fortunate marriages of the Hapsburgs had been united with those which the diplomatic skill of Ferdinand the Catholic had acquired. The " civil arm," as represented by the Emperor Charles V., would seem to have been strong enough to deal unhesitatingly with any unwelcome religious opinion which might arise. But Charles never found a moment when he could exert this strength against Protestantism, until it was too late. On the west was the rival power of France, less in extent and apparent resources, but not scattered like his own power, closely concentrated in the hands of the brilliant and ambitious Fran-cis I. On the east was the equally dangerous Turkish empire, still at the height of its strength, and determined to push its conquests farther up the Danube valley. Three times after the Diet of Worms, where Luther was originally condemned, when Charles seemed free to use his whole power for the extermination of heresy, following no doubt his personal inclination as well as what he judged to be his political interests in 1526, in 1529, and again in 1530 was he forced, each time by some sudden turn in the affairs of Europe, some new combination against him, sometimes with the pope among his enemies, to grant a momentary toleration. In 1532 was concluded the definite Peace of Nuremberg, the price of Protestant assistance against the Turks, by which a formal agreement was made to allow matters to remain as they were until the meeting of a general council. Under this arrangement Protestantism gained so much strength that when, in 1547, the emperor at last found himself able to attack its adherents, he could not entirely subdue them, although he nearly succeeded.
Such, then, was the long and general preparation for the Reformation — religious, intellectual, and political. So deep was the current setting in this direction that nothing could have held it back. Lefèvre and Zwingli and Luther, beginning at the same time in three different countries, and entirely independent of one another, the same work, show clearly how inevitable the movement was. We associate the beginning of the Reformation especially with the name of Luther, and correctly so. His attack was directed so squarely at the central point of the papal defences ; lie began it in so conspicuous a way, and upon a question of such general interest; it was connected, also, so directly with the empire ; and the preparation for it extended so far down among the people to whom he immediately appealed, that it attracted at once universal attention, and became the forefront of the whole European movement. But it is as certain as any unenacted history can be that this was an irrepressible revolution. If Luther had been weak, or if he had been a coward, some other leader would have taken the command, and the Reformation would have occurred in the same age, and with the same general characteristics. It is not possible to understand this great movement if this inevitable character is not appreciated. It must be recognized as being, like the French Revolution, the bursting forth of the deeper forces of history, through the obstacles that confined them, sweeping a clear road for a new advance.
Luther did not create the Reformation. He was the popular leader who translated into the terms of common life, into direct and passionate words that came close home to men of every rank, the principles of religious, ecclesiastical, and intellectual reform, which had been proclaimed before him in more remote ways, and turned into great historic forces the influences which had been slowly engendered in the world of scholars and thinkers. He was, though independent himself, the popularizer of other men's labors.
But the Reformation, as it really occurred, was largely his work. His powerful personality impressed itself upon the whole movement. He gave it form and direction, and personal traits of his became characteristics of it, not so much perhaps, because they were his personal traits, as because they were an expression in the individnal of the tendencies of the age. Of these characteristics there are four which are noteworthy, as especially general and lasting.
In the first place, as the starting-point of all, Luther was one of those not infrequent men, usually men of great moral force and power, who are perpetually driven by a sense of personal guilt and sin, unfelt by the general run of men, and by a compelling necessity, to find in some way a counterbalancing sense of reconciliation with God. This feeling it was which led him into the monastery against so many influences to keep him out. But he did not free himself from it by this step. He speedily found the insufficiency of the best means at the disposal of the cloister, of worship and holy works, of penance, and private prayer, and spiritual meditation, to meet the need which he felt.
This was because of another characteristic of Luther's mind, as deep and impelling as his sense of sin. It would be absurd to deny that monasticism has furnished a complete and final spiritual refuge to thousands of pious souls in every age. But they have been, as a rule, of the contemplative and unquestioning kind. This Luther certainly was not. His intellectual nature was as active as his moral. The demand for a philosophical theory of the process by which reconciliation with God takes place, which should be satisfactory to his intellect, was as imperative as the demand for the reconciliation itself, and the one was not possible for him without the other.
The strong theological or philosophical bent of Luther's mind, this demand for an intellectual explanation be-fore the soul could be at rest, is one of the vital points at the beginning of the Reformation, and one of the dominating characteristics of Protestantism so long as the direct influence of the Reformation age lasted. It was the union in Luther's mind of these two elements the keen sense of guilt and the demand for a reasonable theory of the means of relief that led him to the first, and wholly unconscious step in his revolt against the prevailing church system. Had either existed alone he might have been satisfied with things as they were. But when, under the heavy spiritual burden which he felt, he turned, with his power of sharp analysis, to the accepted doctrine of the efficacy of works, of acquired merit, it failed to satisfy his reason, although he tested it in the genuine ascetic spirit. It seemed absurd to him that anything which he might do should have any bearing upon the removal of his guilt in the sight of God. If a sense of forgiveness in which he could rest was to be found, he must obtain from some source an explanation of the method of salvation which should differ from the prevailing one in placing less emphasis upon the action of the individual and more upon the divine agency.
Luther seems to have worked himself out from this state of doubt and difficulty through long and heavy experience, and with the aid of slight suggestions received from various sources, from Staupitz, the Vicar of his Order, from the writings of St. Bernard and of Gerson, and, perhaps, from men less known to history. He had been from the beginning of his life as a monk a most earnest student of the Bible, as prescribed by the rules of his Order, but he does not seem to have found any satisfactory answer to his needs in the Bible until the suggestion which served as a guide to him in his search had reached him from some outside source or from his own experience. When he had obtained from such sources the suggestion of justification by faith, of salvation as the free gift of God, of forgiveness of sins as the direct result of the redemption made by Christ, accepted by the immediate faith of the sinner, he found this idea abundantly supported in the Scriptures, and easily wrought into a logical and systematic theory under the influence of St. Augustine and St. Paul. Luther had read St. Augustine to some extent before he had hit upon the idea of justification by faith, but it was from the standpoint of the later scholastic theology, which had no sympathy with the main current of St. Augustine's thought, and he had been blind to his meaning. Now, however, he had found the key, and under the influence of his new reading of St. Augustine, the theoretical side of his belief grew rapidly into systematic form, though to a form slightly different from that of his teacher, and he found his confidence that he had discovered the truth greatly strengthened. So thoroughly in sympathy did he become with the ideas of the great theologian of the West that he was able to detect the spuriousness of a work on penances, which had long passed under St. Augustine's name, because it was out of harmony with his system.
This result, the formation of a clearer theory of justification by faith as the confident and satisfactory answer to the need of personal reconciliation with God which lie felt, was the first step in the Reformation, the great step of the preparation of the leader to take command of the movement when the crisis should arise which would demand a leader. These results Luther did not reach until after he had been transferred to the University of Wittenberg, but they were in definite shape and part of his university teaching before his attention had been called in any especial way to their bearing upon the current doctrine of indulgences.
When Luther had once reached these conclusions he held them and defended them with the spirit and the methods of the genuine humanist. He attacked with vigor Aristotle and the schoolmen. Ho appealed to the original Christianity and to its early documents as the only valid evidence, and he handled these documents in a critical spirit. He called in the evidence of history against the papal pretensions, and he accepted without hesitation the results which his new position logically involved in opposition to the reigning theories of the church, the results, that is, of individual independence and of the right of private judgment, even so far as to a complete break with the church. Erasmus himself was scarcely more a child of the Renaissance in spirit and in methods than Luther. This is the third of the characteristics of Luther's work which were of wide and permanent influence in the larger movement. If the great principles which are seen and stated by the thinkers ever give a fresh impulse to the world, and turn the currents of history in new directions, it is because they are taken possession of by some popular leader and transformed from the abstract into the concrete, identified with some great interest of life held dear by the masses of men. This Luther did for the principle of free thought. It had been asserted long before him in the world of scholars, but Luther now associated it forever with one of the dearest interests of the race, its religious aspirations, so that in the future for every Bruno who might be found ready to die for the philosopher's freedom of thought, a thousand simple men would gladly embrace the stake for the liberty to believe in God as they understood him, and the right of free thought was henceforth counted among the most sacred rights of the individual.
But it must be admitted so far as the evidence allows us to judge, and it seems to be conclusive that Luther did not reach the theological position which necessitated his rebellion against the church and his assertion of the right of free thought, as a result of the influence of the Renaissance upon him, nor by the use of the humanistic methods of study. On the contrary, it seems that he was led to adopt the principles of the Renaissance because that result was involved in his determination to maintain the theological conclusions which he had reached. It was along the medieval road that Luther had advanced the study of the schoolmen, dependence upon speculation and authority, the use of the Bible as a theological text-book and the result which he reached was merely the putting of one theological system in place of another. Recent and more careful researches appear to make it certain that, even in his student days, in the university of Erfurt, and before his entry into the cloister, Luther did not come under the direct influence of Humanism to any such extent as was formerly supposed. It may have been that its results and its spirit were in the air, and were absorbed by Luther unconsciously; but it is far more likely that he arrived at its fundamental position from another side, as the Waldenses and Wycliffe and Huss had done, before the Renaissance began, and found himself in harmony with the principle of free inquiry and free opinion, because that principle seemed the unavoidable corollary of his answer to the question, which was for all the reformers, early and late, a purely religious question : What is the means of union between God and man revealed to us in Christianity, and what does it re-quire of us ?
This fact does not make Luther's indebtedness to the Renaissance any the less. The position of opposition to old beliefs which Luther's conclusions forced him to take was one with which the world was now familiar, thanks to that movement, and the emancipated judgment and conscience of thousands in every land were ready to follow him, or, if circumstances rendered it impossible for some to follow, at least to sympathize fully with the stand he had taken and with his aims. And we have indicated the aid which he received in other ways from the results of the revival of learning. But many things in the character of the Reformation and of early Protestantism will remain difficult to understand, unless it be remembered that if Luther was a child of the Renaissance, as has been said, he was an adopted child. He was not by nature the heir of its spirit, nor of all its tendencies. He accepted its principles and its methods because they were necessary to him, not because he had been formed under their influence, and must therefore give them expression in his action. And he never adopted them completely nor in all their logical results. He asserted for himself the right of free thought. But when the same principle began to be applied against his doctrines by the numerous sects which sprang up as one of the first and natural results of the Reformation, he did not recognize their right with equal clearness. Free thought meant the freedom of the conscience to hold the truth, and as the system which he held contained the truth, no opposing doctrine could have any rights. As thoroughly characteristic of Luther as any of the three traits which have been mentioned his spiritual sense, his philosophical tendency, and his humanistic spirit---was this fourth one also of intellectual narrowness, was the fact that he remained to the end of his life, upon one side of his nature, a medieval monk. That this was in complete contradiction with his own fundamental position, and with the methods by which he defended himself, gave him no uneasiness. He had not the slightest consciousness of self-contradiction, nor had any of the early Protestants, who were like him in this regard. So intense was their interest in the theological theories which seemed to them to contain the whole truth that their eyes were closed to all else, and it was only here and there during the first two hundred years after the Reformation that official Protestantism really escaped from the medieval point of view and became true to itself.
By a medieval method Luther had reached a result which was mainly intellectual in character, and which was to bring him, in some of the most decisive consequences of his work, into harmony with the great intellectual movement of the end of the middle ages. But the strong impelling force in Luther's development, it must be remembered, that which had started him in this direction and which carried him on irresistibly to the conclusions he had reached, was the spiritual necessity of personal reconciliation with God, a religious need so deeply felt that its satisfaction involved as matters of secondary import all the rest, rebellion against the old church with its infallible authority, the adoption of all the current popular demands of religious and ecclesiastical reform, as closely related ends, and of the principles established by the Renaissance as indispensable allies. And now it must be noticed that this religious element in Luther's character was also the moving force in his next step, in the first public act of his which opened the Reformation.
Not very long after Luther had reached the results in which he rested, and after he had begun to teach them in his lectures on the Bible, Tetzel came into the neighborhood of Wittenberg preaching a peculiarly crude and debasing theory of the efficacy of indulgences for the forgiveness of sins there can be no doubt of this, how-ever much Tetzel may have modified the worst crudities when he came to put his words into print and attracting much attention among the people. Luther was instantly aroused. He had already preached against the popular trust in indulgences, but now something further was demanded and the ninety-five theses were posted.
In this act Luther was following a common university custom. The theses were propositions which he proposed to defend in set debate against all-comers. They stated the beliefs on the subject which Luther had reached, but they also contained some things of which he was not entirely sure, and some things whose full bearing he did not see. They were stated in scholastic form, and not intended for the general circulation which they received.
It is certain that the moving purpose in this step of Luther's was religious rather than theological. The form was theological, but what he had most nearly at heart was the practical object. t was to save men from a fatal delusion, from trust in a false and destroying method of salvation, and to bring them back to the true Christian faith as he saw it that he attacked the popular ideas. All the other things which followed as later consequences of this action were unintended and unforeseen by him. In regard to some of them, if he had seen that he was likely to be led on to them, he would undoubtedly, feeling as he then did, have hesitated long before taking the first step. He believed that he was defending the theology of the church against ideas which had become prevalent but which were nevertheless abuses. The seventy-first of his theses pronounces a woe upon those who speak against the truth of apostolic indulgences, and the seventy-second a blessing upon those who object to the loose words of the preachers of indulgences. But the leading motive of his action was not his wish to put the true theology in place of the false as a matter of science, it was his zeal for the souls of men, lost, as he believed, through a mistaken belief.
The effect of the publication of the theses was a surprise to Luther. In two weeks, he says, they had gone through all Germany. In four weeks, says a contemporary, they had gone through all Christendom as if the angels themselves had been the messengers.1 Luther had intended to influence opinion in Wittenberg and vicinity, scarcely at all beyond, but the effect was universal, so deep was the preparation for them which no one had suspected. Instinctively, as it were, the public recognized the declaration of war, more clearly than the leader himself, and instantly the hosts began to gather and to draw up against one another. The next two years was a period of rapid development in Luther's under-standing of his real position toward the old church, and of what he would be obliged to do if he was resolved to maintain that position. t was because he had reached his position by the pathway of inner experience that he was so slow to realize all that it meant, but the logic of the events which followed the publication of the theses was sharp and clear.
The first result was to bring Luther to see that some points which he had stated were in reality opposed to the accepted church theology, and not in harmony with it, as he had thought. He was also made to realize that the question of the relation of the pope to the church was necessarily involved. This was the weak spot in Luther's case, and was especially selected by his opponents for attack. t had been far from his intention to raise the question, but he did not shrink from it when it was pressed upon him. It was in this direction, indeed, and not so much in any other, that further growth was necessary for him. He began believing in the infallibility of the church certainly, if not in that of the pope, and in the duty of the individual to submit his judgment to the judgment of the church. But the attacks which were made upon him during these two years forced him to clearer views. Step by step he was led on from his assertion to Cardinal Cajetan that the declaration of the pope was to be regarded as the voice of God only when it was in conformity with the Bible, and his statement in writing that a general council of the church might err, to the final position of complete rebellion, into which he was forced by the skill of Dr. Eck in the great debate in Leipsic, in 1519, that the church universal might be in error in some formally adopted declaration, and was so regarding Huss. Henceforth his position in regard to the old church was logically complete. He must make war upon it, and establish an independent church if he could, or he must submit and be burned as a heretic. The burning of the pope's bull, in December, 1520, was only an especially public and dramatic repetition of declarations already clearly made.
The primary meaning of the Reformation is religious, It was a religious motive from which the reformers acted, and a religious result which they sought as their supreme object. In this direction what they consciously attempted, was to return to a more simple and truer Christianity from the additions and corruptions which the middle ages had introduced. And in very many and very essential respects, the Reformation did make such a return. In ceremonies and in forms of government the Protestant of any name is undoubtedly nearer to the original Christianity than the Catholic. In the matter of the abuses and oppressions of which Europe complained so bitterly just before the Reformation, not merely was a great change worked in Protestant lands, but also in the Catholic church itself. The work of Luther forced a reformation which was, in the most important particulars, thorough and complete. t is true that such a reform would have been made in the Catholic church in time without Luther, but the attack which he led forced a more speedy and perhaps a more decided change than would otherwise have taken place. In administration and in morals the Catholic church has been, since the middle of the sixteenth century, a re-formed church.
In regard to the more directly religious question which the reformers had especially at heart, the question of the reconciliation of the sinner with God, it can hardly be denied that the Reformation was, also, a re-turn to a simpler and truer Christianity. Divested of technical statement the work of the Reformation in this respect was to emphasize the immediate personal relation between God and man, and to bring into practical consciousness far more clearly than had been done under the old system the fact that individual faith in Christ as the Saviour is the centre and source of the religious life.' Undoubtedly this fact had been realized by thousands of saintly men in the medieval centuries, undoubtedly, also, the religiously cultivated soul may realize it as truly in the Roman catholic as in any church, but it is also equally certain that the Protestant church keeps this fact much more clearly and distinctly before the mass of men than does the Catholic, and makes its full realization easier for them. The crude abuses of the Catholic teaching which led to the first public protest of Luther have been comparatively rare since that time. But it is a fact of easy observation that the doctrine of that church upon this point is very easily misunderstood by the more ignorant, and, when misunderstood, lends itself as readily today as in the days of Tetzel to debasing beliefs and to practices that are essentially pagan.
If, however, the main object which the reformers sought was religious their way of looking at it was theological, was under the form of a doctrine rather than of a principle of life. The improved doctrinal statement seemed to them the greatest improvement made. t was the right to hold this for which they contended. t was the impossibility of holding it in the old church which had forced them to withdraw from it and to form an independent church. Indeed the whole religious life seemed to them so completely controlled and conditioned by the theological opinion that they were disposed to deny the possibility of its existence under any form of doctrine different from their own, and that which sustained alike the Protestant and the Catholic martyr of this time in his sufferings was not merely the religious life which was alike in both--no Protestant can doubt this who studies the life of Sir Thomas More but it was his earnest conviction that the religious life of which he was conscious was inseparably bound up with the intellectual system which he held and his supreme devotion to that system and to his rights as he conceived them in an age of bitter conflict of opinion.
This prevailingly theological character of early Protestantism has already been emphasized. :But certain con-sequences of it in modern times and to-day should be noticed. In the first place, it made the more zealous Protestants, and especially those who were under an official responsibility for the safety of their faith, as intolerant of opposing or dangerous opinions as the Catholic, and for the same reason, the supposed vital necessity of a correct theology.' In most cases state churches as rigidly organized and as devotedly supported by the laws, took the place of the old ecclesiastical system. The roll of Protestant martyrs made by Protestant bigotry is not a short nor an inglorious one, and new theories in the sciences had always bitter opposition to meet from Protestant theologians. Only slowly, and aided largely by commercial considerations, was full toleration established as the rule, but it has been reserved to the present century, with a few glorious exceptions, and to a growing understanding of the true position which theological opinion holds in religion, to bring Protestantism to a consciousness of its own logical position, and to secure complete religious liberty in Protestant states, though evidently not as yet with the universal extinction of the old feelings.
In the second place, the strong intellectual tendency in Protestantism pushed the sermon to the front as a more prominent portion of the church service than it had been. The Catholic was and is more a religion of worship, less a religion of individual thought and conviction. Protestantism implies more intellectual activity among the lay membership and an interest on their part in the problems of theology. When there was, in truth, such an interest in the community at large in theological discussion, often the most intense interest of the time, there could hardly be too many or too long sermons. But it is clear that a popular interest of the old kind in such discussions does not exist to-day. It would not be possible for any body of average Protestants of the present time to "beguile the weariness " of a long sea-voyage with three sermons a day, of the Puritan sort, as is recorded of the passengers of the Griffin, on its way to the Massachusetts colony in 1633. From this fact arises one of the practical problems which the Protestant churches are discussing how to increase the interest in the sermon and this explains also one of the elements of attraction which many, trained under the more rigid Protestant services, find in forms of service which have retained more of the element of worship, or even for the forms of the Catholic church itself.
The result of the Reformation in the direction of intellectual freedom is now evident. t planted itself squarely on the principles enunciated by the Revival of Learning, but those who led the movement did not do so from choice, and their support of liberty of thought was never more than half-hearted. But they could not control the consequences of their action. The general result was an atmosphere of intellectual independence and inquiry in all Protestant countries, seen in the rapid multiplication of religious sects, which could not be checked, and in the history of philosophy, science, and the book-trade. The intellectual history of the world since the Reformation is the history of the growing prevalence of this spirit in Protestant countries and of its introduction into Roman Catholic countries as the result of the sceptical philosophy of the eighteenth century and of the French Revolution.
There should be added to complete the statement of the influence of the Reformation the more detailed results which are often referred to but cannot be here treated at length. Such are its influence on the study of the Bible by people of all classes, a result especially marked in Anglo-Saxon countries, and not without its influence on Roman Catholic policy ; its influence on public schools of the lower grades ; on the fixing of the literary forms of national languages ; and on the use of the printing press to influence public opinion.
The Reformation, as was implied at the beginning of the chapter, completes the history of the middle ages. The church was the institution which had tarried farthest behind in the progress of the later centuries, and the Reformation was the revolution by which, for a large part of the church, the medieval was transformed into the modem. In matters directly religious, to escape from the medieval was the object most earnestly sought by the reformers. In other respects the transformation took place against their will and without their knowledge, but it took place. For a portion of the church, however, this was not the case. That part of it which remained faithful to Rome did, indeed, in some points share the change, notably in the matter of moral and ecclesiastical abuses, but in its chief theories and its distinguishing doctrines the Roman church remained medieval. Its theory of continued inspiration and continued miracles; its belief in the infallibility of the church or of the pope, as built upon that theory; its doctrines of transubstantiation and of supererogatory merit, are all medieval, based upon mental conceptions and habits of thought which are foreign to the mind of to-day.
In general, also, the Reformation must not be judged, as seems now and then to be the tendency, to be some-thing final. It was but one phase in a constant process, gaining a peculiar importance because of its violent and revolutionary character due to the fact that the process had not been permitted to go on naturally. If it is allow-able to judge our own age, its great work, religiously and intellectually, has been to carry a long step farther the principles which the Reformation incompletely realized.