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THE Reformation of the sixteenth century can only be fully understood when we recognise it as the result of a long preparation. On the first view it seems a sudden outburst of spiritual life and intellectual freedom, led on by a few great men, whose energy and success appear almost miraculous in the face of the obstacles amidst which they contend; but, on a nearer and more comprehensive inspection, we discern several series of converging forces running through the preceding ages, all tending towards the same end,—and whose long-gathering impulse, as represented and expressed in the Leaders of the movement, more than anything else, precipitates the crisis. These Leaders must always fix our main attention: they not only cover the scenes of the actual movement by their great figures, but what they said and did forms the highest expression of the spiritual and intellectual influences previously in operation, 2and which then reached their highest point of development. Yet these men will also be better appreciated, when we view the gradual lines of advance which they headed, the “increasing purpose” of reform which manifested itself in the earlier centuries, and which, continually stifled and interrupted, nevertheless renewed itself with a deepening intention and meaning. The great actors on the stage become more intelligible and more interesting when we obtain a glimpse of the springs which moved them, and the prior and long-maturing conditions out of which their teaching and influence grew.

The preparation which led to the great crisis of the sixteenth century, may be said to carry us back to the first ages. The light of primitive truth was never entirely extinguished. It flickered indeed but feebly amid the encroaching darkness, yet we can still trace it here and there; and when the earliest Reformers appealed, as they did, to the primitive and apostolical character of their teaching in contrast to the sacerdotal corruptions and abuses against which they protested, there is no reason to doubt that their appeal often rested on a true succession of “simpler manners and purer laws,” which had never been altogether lost. This succession appears especially in the south of Europe, along the Mediterranean coast, and in the romantic country which separates Italy from what we now call France. From Vigilantius, the opponent of Jerome, and the earnest denouncer of the increasing licence of monasticism in the fifth century, to Claude of Turin in the beginning of the ninth century—who distinguished 3himself by hostility to the idol-worship patronised at Rome, and who declared, as to the Pontiff, that “he is not to be called apostolic who merely occupies the apostolic seat, but he who fulfils the functions of an apostle,”—there were, no doubt, many witnesses to the like truth and faith which they defended. The same Alpine valleys which sheltered the last days of Vigilantius, saw the rise of Claude, and it is not likely that in the interval there should have been an entire lack of the reformatory spirit which animated them. There is reason to think, indeed, that the spirit which three centuries later broke out with such intrepid intensity in these very valleys, had lived on from the very first ages, obscure, and often ignorant, but never altogether submissive or absorbed in the ecclesiastical life, which spread from Rome, and sought to mould everything to its own dictates.

Rome, however, made a steady advance during all this period. From the alleged donation of Constantine to the grants of Pepin, it continued to grow in power and in centralised dominion. When, in return for the protection and privileges conceded to it, Leo III. placed the imperial crown of the West on the brow of Charlemagne (800), the Papacy may be said to have been fully consolidated, and to have entered upon the career of triumph which, amid all temporary reverses and disgraceful pollutions, it maintained for five centuries. From the middle of the eleventh to the close of the thirteenth century its career culminated. This is the time of its greatest ascendancy, of its proudest names—Gregory VII. (Hildebrand), Innocent III., and Boniface VIII. By the light of these names, separated 4from each other by about a century,22   1073, 1198, and 1294. we trace the highest successes of the Roman Pontificate. It reigned supreme, not only in the realm of religious thought, and over all the movements of ecclesiastical life, but it claimed to be the arbiter between contending sovereigns, to exercise feudal as well as spiritual supremacy over many kingdoms, and even to dispose of crowns, and award empire according to its will.

The spirit of religious opposition had sunk to its lowest ebb during the earliest part of this period. Throughout the tenth and eleventh centuries, there is no reforming name which can be said to arrest our attention. The following age, however, was destined to be one of extraordinary intellectual and religious conflict. While the Papacy reached its most scornful height towards the close of the twelfth century, and was enthusiastically supported by some of the most striking manifestations, both of its thought and activity,—the mysticism of Bernard, the scholasticism of Peter Lombard, the fierce bigotry of the Crusades—a series of reformatory energies at the same time broke out, and assailed it from different sides. Two of these were of an especially powerful and interesting character. The one, intellectual in its origin, passed into a movement of practical reform, directed against the overgrown temporal power of the Pope and the clergy generally; the other, spiritual in its beginning, maintained throughout an entirely religious character. The former is deeply important in its twofold speculative and political aspect the latter moves us by the terrible 5pathos of the sufferings which mark its course, and the tragic picturesqueness of its incidents. Abelard and Arnold of Brescia are the great names which signalise the one; Peter Waldo, the poor men of Lyons, and the peasants of the Cevennes and the Val de Sesia are the heroes of the other. Both were crushed beneath the heel of the triumphant hierarchical despotism, but both left their enduring trace on the mind of Europe.

It may seem singular to conjoin Abelard and Arnold of Brescia—the profound and subtle intellectualist and the stern practical reformer—the philosopher and the demagogue but there is no doubt that Arnold imbibed his spirit of life and zeal from Abelard, although it assumed in him a very different direction from that which distinguished it in his great master. When the latter retired from the Abbey of St Denis to a lonely priory near Troyes, Arnold was one of the eager and enthusiastic students who gathered in crowds around the famous teacher. His intellectual independence and ethical ardour kindled in Arnold an intense disgust at the worldly lives of the clergy, and led him to devote himself to an energetic mission of reform on his return to his native country. He appeared as the apostle of a primitive simplicity, setting an example, in his own life, of complete self-denial to all the pleasures of the world, and calling upon the clergy to renounce their secular callings and worldly positions. A secularised church, he held, was no longer a true church, and priests and bishops plunged in the affairs of the world were no longer the true ministers of Him whose kingdom was not of this world. The inspiring idea of all his movements was to restore the purity of the early faith, 6and to renovate the spiritual order after the pattern of the apostolic ritual. The influence of Arnold extended. widely. Many who did not sympathise with his religious sentiments, hailed him as the hero of a political emancipation from the Papacy. Expelled from Brescia, he fled for a time beyond the Alps and settled in Zurich, where he may have scattered the seeds which afterwards ripened into the teaching of Zwingli; but the popular spirit which had spread in Italy, very much as the result of his teaching, drew him back to Rome in 1145, where he and his party established a republic, and for nearly ten years upheld its ascendancy. Under the terrors of ‘an interdict, however, he was again expelled. He sought shelter in Campania, but was at length seized by order of the Emperor, transferred to Rome, and executed with such secrecy and despatch, that the mode of his death remains uncertain. Only one thing is known, that his ashes were flung into the Tiber, lest the devoted populace should pay honour to the remains of the martyr to their liberties.

This abortive but magnanimous movement of Arnold is only one of many symptoms of revolt that marked the first half of the twelfth century. We have mentioned how it connected itself with the teaching of Abelard and Abelard himself, in his inquisitive and rationalistic theology, may be said to follow, although he does not appear to have been influenced by Berengar of Tours, in the end of the preceding century. Differing in many respects, and without any common aim, these three names stand forth together as antagonists of Catholicism in the greatness of its fame. Nor do 7they stand alone. In the south of France, where the spiritual agitation of the times seems to have been concentrated, various disturbing elements may be traced.—some of them the mere reflex of the great Manichean schism, casting forth its troubled energies from. the East, but others of them of native growth, marking the insurrection of the religious principle in behalf of evangelical simplicity and practical earnestness.

The distinction should be carefully observed between these two classes of phenomena. Sometimes they may have mingled with and crossed one another. The Bogomiles, the Catharists, and the Pasagians, are apt to appear confounded with the Petrobrusians and Henricians; but they were in reality very different. The former were all offshoots from the decaying trunk of Manicheism—expiring fragments of the great Gnostic heresy, which, attacking Christianity in the beginning of the second century, clung to it with a fatal tenacity through the most varying developments. They have no interest in our point of view. They were not signs of reviving health. Their opposition to Rome did not spring from any new excitement of the religious feeling. They were sects by long descent, and dragged out their existence in the midst of persecution from the mere lingering strength of the profound but half-forgotten principle in which they originated, rather than from any vitality of spiritual coherence. The latter were the expressions of a really reforming Christian spirit. Occupying in part the same area as the others, they have no affinity with them, save in opposition to the Papacy. Springing from within the bosom of the 8Church, they mark an awakening spiritual life, and not a decaying intellectual subtlety.

Peter of Brueys was a preacher of Languedoc, and Henry, a monk of Cluny. The restoration of a simple and less worldly religion was the aim of both, called forth by the same spectacle of ecclesiastical corruption which had moved Arnold of Brescia. Along with this practical bent we detect in the former certain theoretical tendencies similar to those of the later Anabaptist; but upon the whole a spiritual zeal and earnestness for the truth governed both. Both, like Arnold, were eminently preachers of righteousness, and not theosophists or rationalising mystics. They were the forerunners, in fact, of the great spiritual movement which burst forth in the second half of the century, and which, as it was more pervading and permanent, has become more historical than their comparatively insulated efforts. It absorbed these latter, and gathered under a common name the wide-spread spiritual excitement which at this time had nearly alienated from the Church of Rome the whole of the south of France, the fair region of Provençal song and civilisation. It was this, more than any singular power in their leader, or any traditionary inheritance of the truth, such as has been sometimes arrogated to them, that gave to the Waldensian, or, to adopt the still more general name, the Albigensian movement, which marks the close of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century, its great significance and most lasting influence. The spiritual forces which had been long in action, springing out here and there, at length spread themselves into a general stream, which drew the attention of the whole 9Church, and required the most consummate efforts of policy and cruelty to counteract and destroy it.

The special origin of the Waldenses seems clearly settled, notwithstanding the controversy which has gathered round the subject. Peter Waldo (Pierre de Vault) was a rich citizen of Lyons in the middle of the twelfth century. While attending a meeting of his fellow-citizens, one of them suddenly fell down and expired. The incident made a deep impression upon him, and returning home he resolved to give himself to the study and advancement of religion. He disposed of his wealth among the poor, assumed himself the garb of poverty, and invited others to share with him a life of evangelical simplicity and self-denial. In so far, we see in him only the same characteristic reaction against clerical worldliness that distinguishes all the Reformers of the period; but his love of Scripture, and the means which he took to promote its knowledge, give to his labours a peculiar and enduring stamp. Unsatisfied with the mere fragments of Scripture retailed by the preachers or accessible in the ritual of the Church, he employed two persons with competent attainments to translate for him the whole of the Gospels, and other portions of the Bible, into the Romance language. These he studied with great avidity, and multiplied and spread abroad copies among the people. Gradually he had the whole or the greater part of Scripture translated and widely circulated; and from this source of knowledge and quickening, more than from anything else, the movement connected with his name made progress and gathered a permanent 10meaning and influence. This connection with Scripture, and the vigorous and unextravagant evangelical life which was the consequence, signalise the Waldensian Reformation from the similar attempts that mark the age, and enabled it to absorb them, thereby warranting the popular idea which brings the Waldensian movement more prominently than any that preceded it into connection with the Great Reformation.

Peter Waldo and his followers seem at first to have had no inclination to separate from the Church. They desired rather to be recognised within the Church—to be allowed to study Scripture and follow their self-chosen mission of instructing the ignorant and neglected under its highest sanctions. For this purpose, when they were forbidden by the Archbishop of Lyons to expound Scripture, they appealed to the Pope, Alexander III. They sent delegates to Rome, bearing a copy of their Romance version of the Bible, and soliciting the approval of the Holy See to their formation into a spiritual society. The knowledge of this fact we derive from the account of an English Franciscan monk,33   Walter de Mapes. Neander, vol. viii. p. 426. who was present in Rome at the time, and who has left us a graphic account of the external aspect of the poor men of Lyons, as they appeared in the streets of the Holy City, but who discovers too plainly, at the same time, that he did not understand the spirit that animated them. “They go about barefoot, two by two,” he says, “in woollen garments, possessing nothing, but, like the apostles, having all things in common—following naked Him who had not where to lay his head.” The Pope appointed a commission 11to converse with the poor men, and inquire into their story. The members of the commission, of whom the Franciscan monk was one, performed their part ill. When they could find no harm or heresy in the men, they sought to cover them with ridicule, and by their advice the Pope refused the request of the deputation. It was one of those critical moments in the history of the Papacy when its usual penetration and policy forsook it, and its very consciousness of strength proved a source of weakness. The opportunity once passed, it could never be recalled. The Waldenses. had no wish to separate from the Church; but the thought of abandoning their mission of Scriptural instruction and preaching never entered into the minds of these simple men, and the result was, they were driven outside of the Church, to which they might have given a new life and strength, throughout the south of Europe. Innocent III., with his higher discernment, saw the mistake of his predecessors, and sought to correct it by forming the now widely spread sect into a church society of Pauperes Catholici, but it was then too late. They had by that time learned to look with indifference on the sanction of the Church, and assumed somewhat of an attitude of hostility to it.

In the course of thirty years the poor men of Lyons had multiplied into the great Albigensian sect, covering the whole of the south of France. It was in 1170 that the deputation waited in Rome the decision of the Lateran Council in their case; it was in the opening of the thirteenth century that a special embassage, headed by no fewer than three papal legates, 12met on its pompous journey a Spanish ecclesiastic, who condoled with its members on the almost universal disaffection towards the Church of the fair district through which they passed. Something more than condolence, however, was already moving the heart of St Dominic. He saw far more clearly than his companions the real state of matters, and the remedy that was needed. “It is not by the display of a pompous procession, by the celebration of worldly dignity and a host of retainers,” he said, “that the cause of the truth will be advanced among these poor and ignorant, but zealous and simple-minded people. Zeal like theirs must be met by zeal, humility by humility, preaching falsehood by preaching the truth.” Such was the great work which he undertook amongst them. Now, as later, zeal called forth zeal, earnestness without the Church awoke earnestness within it; and Dominic, at the head of his black friars, was the historical reaction, within the Church of. Rome, of Peter Waldo and his followers without it. Dominic, however, or at any rate his followers, soon brought more than spiritual weapons to their aid. The Inquisition, with all its gloomy horrors, was set up in Toulouse, and its secret and terrible power soon reached to every village and family of the suspected heretics. Unmoved by friars’ preaching, unyielding before the darkest tortures, the bloody sword of the Crusader was finally invoked to crush the poor peasants of Languedoc. Under the leadership of one of those men who live in history, branded by its vilest stigma of religious ruffianism—Simon de Montfort—a war of devastation was carried into those beautiful 13provinces. Men, women, and children were massacred or driven from their homes to seek a precarious shelter amid the wild fastnesses and lonely valleys, whose romance still receives its most hallowed charm from the sanctified memory of their faith and the pathetic glory of their sufferings.

Temporarily strengthened by such a bloody triumph and the earnestness and zeal everywhere called forth by her new mendicant orders, the Church of Rome seemed once more alone in its proud predominance—its enemies crushed and its members elated with the fire of a freshly kindled energy. During a century and a half longer, it may be said to have maintained the unchallenged ascendancy to which the rivalrous zeal of Dominican and Franciscan, the tortures of the Inquisition, and the sword of the Crusader had once more raised it. This long period, indeed, was not without witnesses to the reforming earnestness for which Arnold of Brescia and Peter of Brueys had suffered, and the simple truth for which the poor men of Lyons had been massacred or driven from their homes. Robert Grostête, of Lincoln, by his simple and quiet dignity, and blameless holiness of life, withstood the insolent pride of Innocent III. in his last years. William of Occam attacked the scandals of the Papacy by his withering satire. The Fraticelli and Spirituals, as they were called among the Franciscans, and many of the Tertiaries or secular fraternity attached to the same body, raised their voice against the disorders of the Church; and in a book, entitled the ‘Everlasting Gospel,’ supposed to be the production of the Abbot Joachim, 14anticipated a reformation destined to come through the humble power of the preaching of the Word. The spirit of evangelical purity and simple-minded and benevolent zeal which so prominently characterised the movements of the twelfth century, continued to live, especially in Flanders and Germany, in societies known under various names, such as Beghards and Cellites, and the “Vineyard of the Lord.” Through these different undercurrents the unextinguished Christian life of the twelfth century propagated itself onward to the fourteenth century, but none of them assumed any historical prominence; in none of them did the opposition to Rome rise into any consistent vitality or vigour.

In the course of the fourteenth century, the Papacy, by its own weakness, may be said to have invited the extensive movement of opposition which then again set in against it. The enforced residence of the Popes at Avignon during the first seventy years of the century, and the disgraceful schism which followed their return to Rome, and lasted for the next forty years, proclaimed the weakness of the great power which had hitherto governed Christendom. Not only so, but those very orders whose first institution had done so much to reinvigorate Catholicism, and before whose preaching and regular organisation no less than before the sword of the Crusader and the arm of civil authority, the heretics had been crushed and driven out of sight, had now yielded almost everywhere to the process of corruption that seemed inherent in every species of monasticism. The friars, black and grey, had ceased to be the self-sacrificing and earnest 15preachers that in the beginning they had been. Their simplicity and zeal had perished, and ignorance and cupidity taken their place. They wandered about from country to country, vending relics and disposing of pardons to the highest bidders: their sermons had become mere fables—“chronicles of the world, and stories from the siege of Troy.” The ignorant crowds that gathered around them in the villages through which they passed were pleasantly deluded by their lies; their letters of fraternity were a passport to self-indulgence. It is not to be wondered at that a cry of indignation arose against them from many of the regular clergy, as well as all in whom there remained any reality of religion.

It was at such a time that John Wicliffe appeared, the greatest of all the “Reformers before the Reformation,” and who initiated a movement which not only spread throughout England and the south and west of Scotland, but also reached to Bohemia, and whose suppressed but powerful agitations lasted till the great outbreak of the sixteenth century. There are two distinct periods in the reforming career of Wicliffe, in the first of which he appears as the great opponent of the Mendicants, and the intrepid advocate of national rights and liberties against the usurpations of the Papacy—in the second of which he assumes the higher character of a doctrinal reformer, denouncing not merely the ecclesiastical abuses but the false teaching of the Papacy. In both points of view he rises far above all preceding Reformers, if not in the consistency and heroism of his character, in the clear and thorough comprehension of the principles from which 16he argued, and in the intellectual power and moral dignity with which he maintained them. We recognise in him, the more we know of him, a man who was not merely moved by a violent hatred of the papistical abuses amidst which he lived, and who stood forward in a half-political, half-religious attitude against them, but who was moreover animated by the most liberal culture of his day, and took a foremost rank among the leaders of its thought. He remains undoubtedly the greatest reforming spirit that England has produced—the hero, more than any one that has followed him, of its democratic religious sympathies—the embodiment, in the fourteenth century, of the principles and energies which, in every Protestant country more than in England in the sixteenth century, brought forth men of heroic mould, reaching far above their contemporaries.

Wicliffe’s hostility to the monks was first stimulated by his regard for the privileges and interests of the University of Oxford, of which, in the course of twenty years of residence,44   He was born in 1324. He entered Oxford, when sixteen years old, in 1340, and he emerges into public notice about 1362. first as a scholar, and then as a fellow of Merton College, he had become a distinguished member. The Mendicants swarmed in Oxford as in Paris and the other universities, and strove zealously to acquire and keep all academic influence in their hands. They sought to regulate the degrees according to their pleasure, and to facilitate, in defiance of certain statutes, the course by which a youth could become one of their number. Parents became alarmed, and students rapidly and greatly diminished. The 17university was violently divided; and Wicliffe, not content with resistance to them on this particular matter, boldly denounced their whole system as an imposture.

A dispute affecting his own academic position and rights no doubt quickened his zeal. He had been appointed to the head of Balliol Hall, and almost immediately afterwards to the head of a new college instituted by Islip, Archbishop of Canterbury, which received the name of Canterbury Hall. According to its original constitution, this college was to be partly composed of monks and of secular priests; but the keen rivalry of the two classes rendered such a constitution impracticable. The archbishop accordingly expelled the monks and the warden, whom he had set at their head, filled their place with secular students, and appointed Wicliffe to be warden; but, having died in the following year, the new primate, Langham, himself a monk, restored the expelled members and their former warden to their position, and in fact converted the new college into a monastic establishment. Wicliffe appealed to Rome, although with little hope of receiving justice in such a quarter.

While Wicliffe’s own case was still pending at Rome, a question of great national importance occurred betwixt the King of England and the Papacy. Urban V. had made a demand for the payment of the arrears of the one thousand merks which Innocent III. had extorted from King John as the annual acknowledgment of the alleged fealty of the kingdom to the Roman See. The tax had been intermitted for thirty-three years, and the unwise demand for it was encountered on the part of nobles and King with proud and high-hearted 18resistance. “Julius Cæsar exacted tribute by force, which can give no perpetual right; let the Pope come and take it by force—I am ready to stand up and resist him.” Such was the spirit that animated not only one of the warlike peers that Edward consulted in his council-chamber, but the country. After all that had happened, and with the red blood of Cressy and Poictiers still fresh in the memories of men who had gloried in the national triumph, it was not to be supposed that a French Pope should be quietly permitted to exact tribute from England. Wicliffe, who had been advanced to be one of the King’s chaplains, and who, in this capacity, had been present at the debate on the subject in the King’s council, was called upon to reply to a defence of the papal claim which had been anonymously sent abroad. He ingeniously set forth his arguments in the name of the bold barons who had resolved to resist the claim; and in this manner, while protecting himself as yet from direct conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities, he assumed the front, as it were, in a great national movement against the pretensions of the Papacy. Occupying such a position, it may be imagined that his interests were not likely to thrive in Rome; and in 1370, accordingly, decision was pronounced against him in reference to the wardenship of Canterbury Hall.

This result did not seriously affect his position at Oxford. He was appointed Doctor and Professor of Divinity; and from this time we may date the growing enlightenment of his mind as to the whole subject of the Papacy, the unscriptural character of its doctrines, at well as the unnational and degrading 19effects of its worldly pretensions. For some time still, however, we merely see him in the capacity of a practical reformer, leading on a general national movement supported by the King and the Parliament. Great dissatisfaction had long prevailed at the papal interference with the royal patronage in the appointment to livings, and especially at the number of rich benefices bestowed upon foreign prelates, and the constant drain of the national resources in consequence toward the papal court. The grievance was of old standing; and, in order to avert it, the first statute of Provisors had been passed in the reign of Edward I. The abuse, however, had continued, to the indignation of the Parliament as well as the King. The most determined resolutions were formed to withstand all further encroachments of the papal see. The Pope, on his part, complained that his apostolic briefs were not allowed to be published in England, and that his nuncios were ignominiously prevented from entering the country. A commission was appointed to confer with the papal legate at Bruges on the disputed point, and Wicliffe was nominated as second in the commission. The result of the negotiation was a compromise between the contending parties, which removed special difficulties that had occurred in the course of the dispute, but which did not attempt to deal with the general question, and settle the rights on either side.

On his return Wicliffe was promoted to a prebend, and received the Rectory of Lutterworth, so associated with his last years. He may be said to have now stood at the height of his fame—a name of power in the country, allied with that of his great friend and protector 20the Duke of Gaunt, the King’s brother—a terror to the monks—an apprehension to the hierarchy. His brief residence at Bruges, and what he learned there in intercourse with the papal legates, had deepened his dislike to the system, and at length he hesitated not to attack it openly. The Pope had become to him Antichrist,—“the proud worldly priest of Rome—the most cursed of clippers and purse-kervers!” The extortionate spirit which the Papacy everywhere manifested kindled his keenest indignation. “Though our realm had a huge hill of gold,” he said, “and never another man took therefrom but only this proud worldly priest-collector, in process of time the hill would be spent; for he is ever taking money out of our land, and rendering nothing back but God’s curse for his simony, and some accursed clerk of Antichrist to rob the land more for wrongful privilege, or else leave to do God’s will, which men should do without his leave.” Looking to the frightful evils which had sprung out of the worldly grasping of the clergy, with the Court of Rome at their head, Wicliffe was led to adopt views fundamentally at variance with all right of Church property and the endowment of the Church. The Roman bishop who accepted the endowed protection of Constantine, he considered to have introduced ecclesiastical corruption, and he boldly and passionately called upon the King and Parliament to withdraw the temporal property of the Church, and restore it to its primitive condition of evangelical purity and usefulness; for, “by reducing the clergy to meekness and useful piety, and ghostly travail, as lived Christ and His apostles, sin should be destroyed, and holiness of 21life brought in, and secular law strengthened, and the poor communion aided, and good government, both spiritual and temporal, come again; and, what is best of all, as Christ’s Word would run to and fro freely everywhere, many men would wing their way to heaven.”

It was not to be supposed that sentiments such as these should long pass unnoticed. The hierarchy were watching their opportunity against the Reformer; and, at a meeting of Convocation in the beginning of 1377, he was summoned to be examined as to his opinions. Courtenay, Bishop of London, now, as afterwards when raised to the primacy, distinguished himself as his chief opponent. Wicliffe obeyed the summons, and on the 19th February attended at St Paul’s, the place of citation—but not alone. His friend John of Gaunt and Lord Percy, earl marshal, accompanied him. An immense and excited crowd had collected, whose sympathies appear to have been by no means in favour of reform. The popular feeling at the time ran high against the great Duke, who was supposed to cherish sinister designs against the young Richard, son of the Black Prince, who had been the idol of the nation, and whose death, during the previous year, was still deeply mourned. It was the outbreak of this feeling, no doubt, that Wicliffe now experienced. With difficulty could he and his friends get admittance to the chapel; and the wild scene which ensued, when at length they forced their entrance, is graphically narrated by the historians. Courtenay and John of Gaunt broke out into a violent altercation. As the fierce words of the Duke that he would drag the bishop out of the church by the hair of the head circulated, an irresistible 22tumult rose among the multitude outside. The assembly was broken up, and Wicliffe escaped under the protection of his friends. The popular excitement, however, vented itself against the Duke’s palace; it was attacked, the arms on it reversed, and the palace itself would have been burnt to the ground but for the intervention of the bishop.

Foiled for the time in their aims, the bishops resolved to call in the papal authority to their help. Information of Wicliffe’s opinions was despatched to Avignon, and their condemnation solicited. The Pope, Gregory VI., eagerly responded to the call, and replied by five bulls, three addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops, one to the King, and one to the University of Oxford, commanding an inquest into the erroneous doctrines attributed to the Reformer. As the consequence of these proceedings, Wicliffe was summoned before the prelates at Lambeth. The meeting took place in the spring of 1378, and no fewer than eighteen articles were exhibited against him, but none of them, as yet, touching any point of doctrine. They mainly concerned his principles as to Church property and the validity of Church censures. On this occasion he was no longer backed by his noble friends. The accession of Richard II. in the interval had changed the tactics of John of Gaunt, and withdrawn him at least from open connection with the Reformer. He had now, however, a more powerful backing. The popular feeling had turned toward him with enthusiasm, and its impatient and threatening manifestation awed the Assembly. When it had scarcely commenced, it was hurriedly closed by the 23entrance of Sir John Clifford, who, in the name of the Dowager Princess of Wales, commanded the bishops to desist from further proceedings. They barely had time to lay upon Wicliffe an injunction to refrain from preaching the obnoxious doctrines when they dispersed. The Catholic historian, Walsingham, contemplates their easy conduct with indignation. “As reeds shaken by the wind,” he says, “their speech became soft as oil, to their own discredit and the degradation of the Church: they were panic-stricken as men that hear not, and in whose mouth there is no reproof.”

Wicliffe was now the recognised head of an extensive reaction against the hierarchy. His own views became enlarged, and his untiring energies sought additional means of influence, and more familiar channels for diffusing his opinions. He entered upon his great work of translating the Scriptures, and as he progressed in it, he began to question the doctrines, as well as the external powers and prerogatives, of the Church. He especially attacked the doctrine of transubstantiation, He denied that the substance of the bread after consecration was destroyed, according to the current view; it was only exalted to a nobler substance. It did not cease to be bread although it became the body of Christ. The Duke of Lancaster and others warned him that they could not follow him in the perilous path on which he had now entered. But Wicliffe no longer sought for such encouragement: he was firm in his own strong and brightening convictions. By his indefatigable exertions the Scriptures were widely circulated, and his opinions spread abroad. He had a numerous retinue of poor preachers, who itinerated 24from village to village, carrying copies of parts of the Scriptures with them. The common people heard them gladly, and the silly sermons of the monks were neglected. Many of the burghers and middle class adhered to his views, and lent their countenance in the diffusion of the Bible. His influence seemed likely to grow into a great schism, which might have alienated the greater part of the nation from Rome.

The time, however, was not yet ripe. A series of popular commotions, which, in their origin, had no connection with the dissemination of Wicliffe’s opinions, but which were easily identified with them in the minds of the timid and the prudent, broke forth throughout England. The sack of London, the murder of the archbishop, the wild levelling doctrines proclaimed by the leaders of the movement, alarmed all the friends of order. Now, as in later times, the supporters of religious reform were discredited by the apostles of anarchy: all innovation was confounded with disorder; and in the minds of many the name of Wicliffe became scarcely less opprobrious than that of Wat Tyler or John Ball.

Under the influence of such suspicions, and with Courtenay elevated to the primacy in place of the murdered Sudbury, the clergy resolved to proceed more resolutely than they had yet done against the Reformer. He was summoned to a synod at the Grey friars in London. As the synod convened, an earthquake shook the city, and many were disposed to regard it as an unhappy omen; but Courtenay, with great presence of mind, said, “It is the earth throwing off its noxious vapours, that the Church might appear in her perfect purity.” Twenty-four articles were exhibited against 25Wicliffe. After three days’ debate ten were condemned as heretical, the rest as erroneous. Among the heretical articles, prominence was given to his denial of transubstantiation; and many who were otherwise inclined to follow him, shrank from his views on this head. Every solemnity was given to the promulgation of the decrees of this synod, and a preacher sent down to Oxford, the great seat of Wicliffe’s influence, to uphold the cause of the Church. The Reformer himself was prostrated with illness, but nothing daunted in spirit. When supposed near to death, he raised himself in his bed, and said, “I shall not die but live, and declare the work of the friars.”

In a few months his voice was again heard in reply to the Council of the Greyfriars, and in a petition addressed to the King and Parliament, in which he claims that he may be allowed to defend the articles contained in his writings, as proved by authority or reason to be the Christian faith. The Parliament was convened in autumn (1382) at Oxford. The Convocation met along with it. The latter body, less confident than the synod at the Greyfriars, hesitated to stir the question as to the temporal privileges of the hierarchy, while Parliament declined to interpose in the matter of doctrine: it had no wish to defend any heresy as to transubstantiation. The result was that the Reformer was summoned to answer on this single point. He appeared, and debated it before his auditory with a profound and perplexing subtlety. Master of a homely and rugged speech in addressing the common people, he was at the same time a most skilfully trained disputant, possessed of the highest scholastic attainments, which he did not 26hesitate to employ to confound and puzzle his adversaries. But though confounded, they were resolved. Lancaster strongly counselled him to submission; but he would not yield. He was condemned, and his condemnation publicly promulgated in the very place where he was holding his lecture. No extreme measures, however, followed this step. He was permitted to retire to Lutterworth, where, in the quiet labours of his parish, and in unremitting zeal for the truth, he spent the two remaining years of his life. Worn out by labours and anxieties, the paralysis from which he had formerly suffered again attacked him. On the last Sunday of the year 1384, while engaged in conducting public worship, he was struck down, and, two days afterwards, expired.

The high character of Wicliffe, the ardour of his faith, the spiritual energy of his life, had made a strong impression. He himself asserts that a third of the clergy had adopted his views. Knyghton, the chronicler, regretfully declares that, “of two persons met on the road, one of them was sure to be a Wicliffite.” His disciples, known as Lollards, abounded everywhere—in the Church, in the castle, on the throne—among the poor, the wealthy burghers, and the nobles. The widow of the Black Prince was favourable to them, and the good Queen Anne was almost an active partisan. To what height Lollardism might have grown in England, save for the political mischances which had in some degree overtaken it before its founder’s death, and which continued to pursue it, it is difficult to say. The accession of the Lancasterian family to the throne, the support which they gave to the hierarchy, and 27which the hierarchy in return rendered to them, the revolutionary designs attributed to the Lollards, and for which their leader, Sir John Oldcastle (Lord Cobham), suffered in 1417, all contributed to crush the party; while the long wars of the Roses which followed, still further served to obscure the light of truth which had been kindled in England. As we shall see, however, this light was never entirely extinguished. It lived on in faint streaks here and there, until it was swallowed up in the dawning glory of the sixteenth century.

Not in England, but in a country which would seem at first to have little connection with it, is the movement of Wicliffe found renewing itself, and rising into European prominence. Bohemia stood in many respects isolated from. the German states: a Sclavonian kingdom, surrounded by Teutonic neighbours, with interests of its own, and a population inquiring, earnest, and independent. The University of Prague was a centre of attraction to thousands of students from Germany and Poland: its halls were as thronged as those of Paris and Oxford, and its scholastic reputation scarcely inferior. A spirit of freedom in the Church had raised up a succession of men distinguished by reforming zeal and practical earnestness—Militz, Conrad of Waldhausen, and Matthias of Janow. By the pastoral labours of the first, the most wonderful moral change had been wrought among certain classes of the brilliant but dissolute city. Conrad was even more distinguished as a preacher; the very Jews flocked in crowds to hear him. He 28inveighed against the worldly practices of the Church, and especially the taking of money in exchange for spiritual blessings, which he denounced as the worst of heresies. He exposed the hypocrisy and pretended poverty of the monks. He tried to elevate the popular mind above its idolatry of relics, and held forth the supremacy of the spiritual life. “They only,” he said, “who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.” Dominicans and Franciscans combined against him, and tried to silence him. They drew up twenty-nine articles of heresy, drawn from his sermons, but at length shrunk from prosecuting them, and he was allowed to continue his work in peace till his death in 1369. Matthias of Janow was rather a theologian than a preacher. By his writings, however, he contributed to a spirit of inquiry even more than Conrad by his sermons; and his influence is very visibly impressed upon the movement which followed.

John Huss entered into the religious inheritance of these men. First a student, and then a teacher in the University of Prague, of deep seriousness of character and unaffected piety, he was naturally drawn towards the small but earnest party which, for nearly half a century, had been labouring to advance the cause of truth in Bohemia. He became, about the close of the fourteenth century, confessor to the queen, and preacher in what was called the Bethlehem Chapel, attached to the university. At first his denunciations were of a general character, and the clergy were among his warm admirers; but he soon began to direct his most unsparing attacks against the luxury and licentiousness 29of the Church, and gradually advanced to deeper and more fundamental views of reform. The writings of Wicliffe are said to have been mainly instrumental in producing this advance in Huss’s opinions. They had at this time been largely introduced into Bohemia. The marriage of Richard II. with Anne, the sister of the King (Wenzel), had established a peculiar connection between the two countries. The scholastic renown of their great seats of learning helped to strengthen this connection. Bohemian students found their way to Oxford, and Oxford scholars to Bohemia. In this manner Wicliffe’s writings became subjects of lively interest in the University of Prague—an interest owing to their philosophical no less than to their religious character.

The long-standing feud between Nominalist and Realist raged in the university,—the Germans on the former side, the Bohemians on the latter. Wicliffe was known as a distinguished Realist one of his earliest writings by which his scholastic reputation had been acquired having been on the “Reality of Universal Conceptions.” Both in his case and in that of Huss, the philosophical bias of reform had entirely and “somewhat singularly changed. The Nominalism of Abelard and Occam—the philosophy of the turbulent reforming spirits of the Church—had found refuge and defence within its bosom; while the traditionary philosophy of orthodoxy of Lanfranc, of Anselm, and of Aquinas—was now become the watchword of the movement party.

Wicliffe’s Realism greatly contributed to his influence in Prague. It was not without its effect upon 30Huss, but it was the deeper Christian spirit of the Englishman’s writings that chiefly moved him. “I am drawn to them,” he said, “by the manner in which they strive to lead all men back to Christ.” The Bohemian, however, never seems to have clearly adopted the advanced views of the English reformer on transubstantiation. The bent of Huss’s mind was practical rather than doctrinal or speculative; and the reform which he courted was, above all, a reform of the Christian life. He did not aim, like Wicliffe, to reconstruct the whole edifice of the Church.

Associated with Huss was a young knight, Jerome of Prague, distinguished by his intellectual culture and restless ardour. He had studied in Oxford and Paris. He had visited Jerusalem, Hungary, and even Russia, and everywhere attracted notice by his accomplishments, his energy and eloquence. He became an enthusiastic disciple of Wicliffitism. “Until now,” he said, “we had nothing but the shell of science: Wicliffe first laid open the kernel.” Huss and Jerome were fast friends, and laboured in zealous co-operation; the latter more impulsive and enterprising—the former more moderate, self-possessed, and gentle in his manners.

In 1403 the contest in Prague regarding the opinions of Wicliffe came to a head. Certain propositions ascribed to the English reformer were brought before a meeting of the university. The Bohemians and Germans were divided; but the great majority of the German students gave them an easy victory. This, far from allaying, only served to increase the feeling of bitterness between the two parties. Two years 31later Pope Innocent III. issued a bull, addressed to Archbishop Sbynko, urging him to suppress and condemn the Wicliffite heresies spreading in Bohemia. Hitherto the archbishop, if not cordial in favour of the Reform movement, had not been hostile to it; and even for some time still there was no disturbance of the good understanding subsisting between him and Huss. A rupture, however, could not in the nature of things be long postponed. A royal edict regarding the manner of voting in the university, designed to secure the Bohemian students against the preponderance in numbers of the Germans and other foreigners, became a sort of turning-point in the controversy. Indignant at the edict, the German students left Prague in a body. The Bohemian party were left in undivided possession of power; and, as a sign of this, Huss was immediately elected rector of the university. The rejected students spread everywhere abroad the report of heresy against the Bohemians. Not merely high-churchmen, but those addicted to the more liberal theology and ecclesiasticism of Paris, represented by Gerson and D’Ailly, took alarm at the rise of a system that seemed to aim at the overthrow of the hierarchy altogether. The archbishop and a majority of the clergy began to realise the nature of the crisis, and to place themselves in vigorous opposition to the Hussite party.

Through various alternations this opposition ran its course during the next ten years. The writings of Wicliffe were burned by order of the archbishop. Huss appealed to the Pope, and was summoned to appear at Rome; but the King refused him permission 32to obey the summons, and sent an embassy in his stead. Sentence of excommunication was passed upon the Reformer, and an interdict laid upon the city. The popular excitement against the clergy became extreme. The archbishop began to feel that he had carried matters too far, and showed an eagerness for some settlement. A commission was appointed to negotiate the matter, and the result was that Huss made a confession of faith designed to vindicate his orthodoxy, which the archbishop saw reason to accept; while he, on his part, reported to the Pope that his diocese was at length purged of heresy.

But this compromise, which took place in 1411, was too hollow to last, even if Rome had not immediately provoked the renewal of the struggle. While the embassy from Bohemia still remained in Rome, the vendors of the papal indulgences were sent forth into the country—everywhere excited by a spirit of reform—and began, with their usual arts, their nefarious traffic. Huss was moved to irrepressible indignation, and raised his eloquent voice against them. They were subjected to popular outrage. The unguarded zeal of Jerome fanned the flame, and the most violent commotions ensued. In their attempts to maintain order, the magistrates seized some of the rioters, and three young men were executed. The populace looked upon them as martyrs. Their dead bodies were protected, and, amid songs and prayers, conveyed to the Bethlehem Chapel, and interred there. The anti-Hussite party, however, had in the interval gathered strength; and, aided in their designs at Rome by a crafty priest, Michael de Causis, who had formerly been in the employment 33of the King of Bohemia, they were violently determined to uphold their ascendancy. At his instance the Bohemian ambassadors were imprisoned; the ban of excommunication launched forth anew against Huss; and Prague laid again under an interdict. King Wenzel hesitated amid the elements of disorder that raged around him, and Huss withdrew from the city—but only by his eloquence and zeal to spread his opinions more extensively throughout the country.

Things were in this excited state when the Council of Constance met. It was a great event in the history of the Church. The abuses of monasticism, the scandal of a divided Papacy, the growth of heresy, had all called for an expression of the public opinion of Christendom, and this was at length to be given forth. The Council was to be a reforming one in the nature of the case. Its great work was to purify and reestablish the Church in undivided strength. Huss, therefore, did not require to be urged to attend it. To vindicate his preaching, and raise his voice against the prevailing corruptions, in presence of its representatives, assembled from every quarter, was, above all, what he desired to do. The Emperor Sigismund promised him, in the most solemn manner, a safe-conduct. He was to have the opportunity of fully explaining his sentiments before the Council; and if he did not accept its decision, his safe return to Bohemia was guaranteed.

Huss accordingly set out for Constance in October 1414. A spirit of heroic faith animated him, yet he was not without dark misgivings. He left a letter in 34the hands of one of his disciples, which was only to be opened on the certain intelligence of his death, and which contained his will, with many pious confessions and exhortations. He reached Constance on the 3d of November, a few days after Pope John, whose numerous and splendid escort had passed him on the way. All along his journey he had received many tokens of sympathy and approval. Like Luther, afterwards, in his famous journey to Worms, he travelled in a kind of state. Wherever he passed, he professed his willingness to explain his views, and to defend himself from the charge of heresy. The clergy in many places sought his counsel. The parish priest of Pernau, with his vicars, waited upon him at his lodgings, drank to his health in a large tankard of wine, and freely conversed with him on matters of Christian faith. At Nuremberg the “friends of God” welcomed him; and, while he was engaged in church in discussion with them, three Bohemian nobles arrived, bearing the Emperor’s safe-conduct; and to them was intrusted the particular duty of watching over and protecting their countryman in his mission.

All these arrangements, however, were only preliminaries to a base betrayal on the part of the Emperor, and a mock trial on the part of the Council. For about three weeks after his arrival he was left at liberty; and to all who visited him, he freely explained his opinions, while he continued to urge his claims to be publicly heard. His enemies, in the meantime, were quietly concocting his ruin. Even those who otherwise professed the reformation of abused, could only see in his aims the overthrow of the Church; 35and Gerson and D’Ailly joined no less rigorously than Pope John and Michael de Causis in his condemnation. He was seized and thrown into prison on the 28th of December. He and his friends had still a hope in the safe-conduct of the Emperor. The Bohemian nobles urgently remonstrated against the violation of the Emperor’s protection, and he himself, when he first heard of Huss’s imprisonment, threatened to break open the doors of his prison by force. Craft and bigotry, however, were destined to prevail. The Emperor, after his arrival, was wrought upon in such a manner as to abandon his safe-conduct and leave Huss to his fate. No excuse can be made for such an act of perfidy. But Sigismund plainly saw that he must either give up Huss or see the Council dissolved, which, after so many difficulties, had assembled at his summons. He chose the former alternative. Huss was summoned four several times before the assembled representatives of the Church, confronted with certain articles from his works, and urged to unconditional submission. Amid uproar and insult, and the meanest attempts to entangle him in logical subtleties on the subject of transubstantiation, he replied to his accusers with admirable confidence and self-possession. He would submit when convinced, but no other considerations moved him. “Let the lowest in the Council convince me, and I will humbly own my error,” he said—meek but brave words, the day for understanding which, however, had not yet come! He was condemned to be degraded from the priestly office, and then burned. The sentence was carried out with every circumstance of ignominy 36and cruelty. As they stripped him of his priestly robes, he said, “These mockeries I bear with equal mind, for the name and truth of Christ!” “We devote thy soul to the devils in hell!” cried his enemies. “And I commend my soul to the most merciful Lord Jesus!” he calmly replied. Thus perished John Huss, the Bohemian Reformer, like his great Master, amid the curses of a triumphant hierarchy.

Jerome of Prague, who had come with rash confidence to be near his friend, and who had also been seized and imprisoned, was next summoned before the Council. Worn out by his miserable imprisonment, his spirits broken and his health feeble, he was induced to make a recantation of his errors; but with time for reflection, he regained his vigour of mind, and professed his determination to maintain to the death the doctrines of Wicliffe and John Huss. His condemnation followed; and, as if to make up for his temporary weakness, he died with the most cheerful intrepidity. Bound naked to the stake, as the flames consumed him, he continued to sing hymns in a “clear, untrembling” voice.

The execution of Huss and Jerome kindled the flames of war in Bohemia—a war distinguished alike for atrocity and heroism. Alienation of race mingled with bitterness of religious hatred; and Bohemians fought with Germans, not merely to vindicate the cause of their martyred countrymen, but to avenge their insulted patriotism. Crusading army after army, sent forth by the Emperor and blessed by the Church, were met and routed by the Hussites, under the proud 37leadership of Ziska and Procopius. The insurrectionary movement embraced the whole country, and strengthened itself by successive victories. The Council of Basle, which met in 1433, was fain to negotiate with the triumphant Hussites, and a temporary concordat was arranged between them and the Emperor. This did not long prevent the renewal of hostilities, but it served to give permanent effect to dissensions that had already begun to weaken the cause of the reformers. They separated into two great parties, known by the name of the Calixtines and the Taborites. These dissensions accomplished in course of time what the arms of the Empire had failed to effect. The opposition to Rome gradually languished. So many violent and merely secular feelings had mingled in it, that when the tension of active contest was relaxed, the religious attitude of resistance gave way. A small remnant, however, proving faithful to its principles, formed the seed of the famous Community of Bohemian or Moravian Brethren, whose zealous Christian life survived, not only to the time of the Reformation, but long beyond it.

The decaying issue of the Hussite movement brings us to the verge of the sixteenth century. Yet it cannot be said that we trace any direct links of connection between the German and the Bohemian reformer: Luther bears no such relation to Huss as Huss did to Wicliffe. The immediate effect of the Bohemian insurrection, on the contrary, was to strengthen the power of the Church in Germany. The Germans regarded with offence the opinions of a hostile people, 38whose arms had not only kept the imperial forces at bay, but invaded and laid waste their provinces and cities. The course of the reform movement seems, therefore, to run out at this point. The torch, if not extinguished, does not pass from hand to hand; yet it remained a grand beacon, at once of encouragement and warning. Luther did not spring in any historical connection from Huss, but the Bohemian reformer remained to him a noble example of heroic principle, and the Hussite struggle an affecting memory of the inefficacy of the sword to secure the great work of religious reformation.

In the meantime, throughout the fifteenth century, new seeds of preparation for the great revolt were everywhere ripening. The reforming efforts hitherto made had failed, not from any lack of heroism in the men that led them, nor from any deficiency of the truth that animated them, but above all, from the inadequate field prepared to receive the truth. The darkness of ignorance lay as yet, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, too heavy upon the popular mind. Intellectual as well as political power were too strongly centred in the Church to permit of a successful resistance either to the one or the other. A wider field of interest was necessary before individual resistance could rise into triumph; but such a field was now, in the course of the fifteenth century, rapidly preparing, especially in Germany.55   The movement of Savonarola in Italy is very memorable and important in itself, but it remained too isolated from the general results, and presents too close a parallel to previous movements, to require from us separate notice. We can 39trace this wider movement of preparation in three several directions,—political, religious, and literary; and, with a brief glance at these combined preparatory influences, we shall find ourselves on the threshold of the great crisis of the sixteenth century.

The worldly and degraded spirit of the hierarchy, and the exactions which it everywhere made, continued to come always into more jarring conflict with the advancing interests of national pride and political freedom. Notwithstanding the disgraceful schisms which had so long rent it, its conflicts with successful Councils, and not least, its own profligacy and crimes—notorious to Christendom in the infamies of a Baldassare Cossa, and the tragic and appalling wickedness of a Borgia—the Papacy relaxed none of its pretensions. It spread its intrigues everywhere, aided by many of the most able and unscrupulous of the prelatic aristocracy, and the swarming herds of monks, sunk in ignorance and vice. The great end of its existence was to procure money to feed its insatiable avarice or prop its assailed power—in some instances, it must be confessed, to minister to great works of art and civilisation. For this purpose, the instrumentality of indulgences, the manufacture and the sale of pardons, had received an enormous extension, and reached a flagrant height of abuse. Huss, we have seen, had already been aroused by it. The tracts of Wicliffe and the poems of Chaucer, still earlier, testify to its popular notoriety. We shall see to what tremendous significance it was destined to grow in the life of Luther.


It is not wonderful that a widespread excitement as to these abuses of the Papacy continued to gather force, notwithstanding all the vigorous checks its successive outbreaks had encountered. These checks had mastered the opposition for the time, but left its roots still uneradicated and strong, ready to spring up after a fresh season of repose. Wherever there was any reality of national life, any feeling of political hope, there could not fail to be found a rising spirit inimical to the pretensions of Rome. More than any other nation, Germany possessed at this time such a national life. The weakness of the Papacy on the one hand, and the distance of the Empire on the other, had given prominence and power to its several states, and promoted a spirit of healthy activity and freedom in its great municipalities. The old conflict of the Emperor with the Pope, although the spirit of opposition had been modified by recent circumstances, such as the Bohemian war, still served as a tradition of hostility. It was the floating banner, the symbol, of an immemorial national cause, which allured men like Sickingen and Hutten, and under which they burned to go forth and fight. Germany, moreover, was virgin soil, or nearly so, as far as the hitherto impeded footsteps of reformation were concerned. She had not been left to languish like England, Bohemia, France, and Italy, under the defeat of a reformatory impulse in which she had prematurely put forth the best and heartiest fibres of her national energies. In air these respects Germany might have been seen to be politically destined as the scene of the next great movement of Reform.


But such political, or, as we may call them, external influences, while they formed the necessary conditions of such a movement, could never by themselves have given a true and enduring life to it. This came, and could alone come, from the Divine influences surviving in the heart of German Christendom, and which, although they had not hitherto, as in other countries, broken forth into any violent flame, had yet lived on in devout seclusion and patient doing of works of mercy, or in the earnest doctrines of some great teacher, whom the Church had not approved, but not violently extruded.

While England had not yet begun to sway with the agitations of the Wicliffite reform, Germany and the Low Countries were nursing in their bosom various elements of a free spiritual life. Cologne, which, by the time of the sixteenth century, had sunk into the main refuge of monkish ignorance, was at this earlier period the centre of a spiritual earnestness which propagated itself by means of various associations, such as we have already mentioned. It was the characteristic of these societies, in contrast to the regular monkish establishments, that they were comparatively free and unorganised. They grew up under an operation of a common inward principle, rather than of an associative external bond; and their aim was to foster the spread of this principle, leaving it to its free action rather than to secure its permanence by legal restraints. Some of them were composed of women, such as the Beguines, others of men, such as the Beghards; some appear to have been more practical, others more contemplative, 42in their sphere of work. Among the latter must be reckoned the Brethren of the Free Spirit—the nursery of the great names of German mysticism—Eckart, Tauler, Suso, Ruysbroek. The labours of these men, especially the inward spiritualising and free character of their teaching, standing at the very opposite extreme to the prevailing scholastic theology, kept alive a spirit of inquiry and Christian zeal. They were not reformers—this is not the point of view in which they are interesting; but through them the warm current of Christian life, without which the Reformation could never have arisen, continued to pour itself onwards with fertilising vigour.

When these earlier associations had degenerated in virtue of the very licence which, to some extent, they represented, the Brethren of the Common Life sprung up towards the beginning of the fifteenth century. These societies were distinguished from those of the Free Spirit by the comparatively evangelical character of the aim of the Brethren, their devotion to the study of Scripture and the active work of education, as well as almsgiving and visiting the poor and sick. Many of them spent their lives in multiplying and diffusing copies of the Scriptures, and watching over the care of the young. Their simple manner of living, their spirit of soberness and faithful self-denial, their extended beneficence, gave them a powerful influence—to which, more than to any other cause, was owing the latent heat of Christian susceptibility spread throughout Germany, and which responded so rapidly to the touch of Luther’s glowing words. Gerhard Groot may be said to have been the founder of the Brethren 43of the Common Life, and Thomas à Kempis is their most illustrious name.

Alongside this undercurrent of Christian life, which largely pervaded German society in the fourteenth century, and in fact springing out of it, there is found a succession of distinguished teachers of the Augustinian theology, in opposition to the Pelagian tendencies of the prevailing scholasticism. John Pupper of Goch, chiefly known by a work on Christian Liberty; John of Wesel, professor at Erfurt, and then preacher at Mayence and Worms; and especially John Wessel of Gröningen, are the representatives of this doctrinal tendency. The last and most eminent of them was educated under the guidance of Thomas à Kempis, and, as a theologian, may be said to have anticipated Luther in every direction, and on the doctrine of the Eucharist to have gone beyond him.. Luther himself said of him: “If I had read Wessel before I began, my opponents would have imagined that I had derived everything from him, so entirely do we agree in spirit.” Combining profound devotional feeling with great dialectical and speculative power, Wessel is preeminently the theological forerunner of the Reformation. The Mystics, Ullmann says, “contributed warmth and spiritual life; others, like Huss, were greater in action; but Wessel was supreme in reformatory thinking, research, and doctrine.” He contributed light to the approaching movement.

Following these names, that of Staupitz, the friend and long the patron of Luther, deserves special mention. He was allied by his contemplative thoughtfulness, simple and gentle character, and fervent piety to 44the Mystics, of whose writings he was an ardent student and admirer. It was at his instance that Luther edited in 1516 the ‘Theologia Germanica,’ the text-book of German mysticism, whose perusal profoundly moved him; and we shall see more particularly in the sequel how decided an influence Staupitz exercised upon the great reformer at the most critical period of his life.

The influences which we have now marked were among the most direct and powerful in preparing the way for the Reformation of the sixteenth century. They were those which it took up most directly into its bosom, and which most immediately helped, by their energy, to stimulate and strengthen it. Something more, however, was needed to secure to the movement that wide diffusion and intellectual and historical importance which it so soon obtained. The unripeness of the times had especially proved fatal to the preceding movements. The superiority of intellect and the highest knowledge that prevailed had, upon the whole, remained with the Church. Scholasticism was still in the ascendant, its vigour still unspent. But now at length a great revival of intellectual life spread beyond the Church; and, in many of its aspects and most distinguished representatives, came closely into collision with its decaying forms. This revival had already begun in Italy, when the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, and the dispersion of its scholars throughout the south of Europe, gave a greatly increased impetus to it. Classical studies everywhere gained ground, and this irrespectively of any application to theological or ecclesiastical 45purposes. They were pursued for their own sakes, and as the basis of a new and general human culture, the idea of which survives in the name66   Literæ Humaniores—“Humanity.” that came to be universally applied to them.

Taking its start in Italy, this literary renaissance soon extended into Germany and the Low Countries. Rudolf Agricola, a friend and companion of Wessel, is one of the first names that attract our attention. He may be reckoned the father of German Humanism. His scholarship was everywhere applauded his literary knowledge esteemed marvellous. The two great names, however, that represent this new intellectual movement, are those of Reuchlin and Erasmus. The early contests of the latter with the monks, the piquancy and success of his famous satires, brought him into immediate connection with the reformatory tendencies of his time. There was no name that, for a while, was more a symbol of reviving Christian as well as literary interest. His New Testament studies widely stimulated inquiry, and called forth principles at variance with the traditionary theology. He was the great leader of the Humanists; the prominent representative of a spirit of culture directly inimical to the long-venerated Scholasticism, and before the spread of which it was destined to perish. We shall afterwards have occasion. to estimate the special position which he took up towards Luther, and the diversities of aim and modes of thinking and action by which they were characterised.

Reuchlin again became the centre of a conflict singularly significant of the insurrectionary spirit abroad, and the rottenness of the defences opposed to it. A 46baptised Jew of the name of Pfefferkorn, at Cologne; raised a cry against all Jewish writings as full of blasphemies against Christ, and called upon the Emperor to commit them to the flames. The Dominicans joined with him, and urged that the Jews should be proceeded against as heretics. The Imperial Council consulted Reuchlin in the circumstances. The son of a poor messenger, he had risen by his great accomplishments and happy manners to a post of influence at the court of Würtemberg, and was especially distinguished by his Oriental learning, and the attention he had given to the Rabbinical writings. As may be imagined, Reuchlin protested strongly against the proposal of the Dominicans. They were enraged at his interference, and attacked him with all the bitterness of ignorant and offended pride. He retorted with stinging sarcasm; and Hochstraten, the Cologne inquisitor, summoned him before his tribunal. Reuchlin appealed to Leo X. The contest widened and raged, not only throughout Germany but in Paris. Hutten and his coadjutors in the ‘Epistolæ Obscurorum virorum’ joined in it. In coarse and broad, but vigorous and vivid satire, the stupidity and obscenity of the monks were made to tell their own story in a continually running allusion to their quarrel with Reuchlin. The effect was so felicitous that (as in the no less famous case of Pascal’s Provincials) some of the monks themselves thought the letters genuine.

This occurred in 1516, on the very eve of the Reformation. A revelation of such mingled pride, ignorance, and wickedness, was in itself a revelation of 47weakness which could not fail to make a deep impression everywhere. Even the Pope felt ashamed of the Cologne ecclesiastics, and gave sentence in the dispute against them. A house thus divided against itself could not long stand. The monks, and especially the Dominicans, had become, in their deepened corruption, a constant and dangerous source of affliction to the Papacy; and Tetzel, with his indulgences and money bag, was soon to prove this with a conspicuous fatality.

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