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city by his unprecedented talents, might be substituted for him in that great work. But the Pope was inflexible; and the great artist began his task, assisted by other painters; however, he soon got disgusted with them and sent them away, and worked alone. For twenty months he toiled, rarely seen, living abstemiously, absorbed utterly in his work of creation; and the greater portion of the compartments in the vast ceiling was finished before any other voice than his, except the admiring voice of the Pope, pronounced it good.

It would be useless to attempt to describe those celebrated frescos. Their subjects were taken from the Book of Genesis, with great figures of sibyls and prophets. They are now half-concealed by the accumulated dust and smoke of three hundred years, and can be surveyed only by reclining at full length on the back. We see enough, however, to be impressed with the boldness, the majesty, and the originality of the figures,–their fidelity to nature, the knowledge of anatomy displayed, and the disdain of inferior arts; especially the noble disdain of appealing to false and perverted taste, as if he painted from an exalted ideal in his own mind, which ideal is ever associated with creative power.

It is this creative power which places Michael Angelo at the head of the artists of his great age; and not merely the power to create but the power of realizing the most exalted conceptions. Raphael was doubtless superior to him in grace and beauty, even as Titian afterwards surpassed him in coloring. He delighted, like Dante, in the awful and the terrible. This grandeur of conception was especially seen in his Last Judgment, executed thirty years afterwards, in completion of the Sistine Chapel, the work on which had been suspended at the death of Julius. This vast fresco is nearly seventy feet in height, painted upon the wall at the end of the chapel, as an altar-piece. No subject could have been better adapted to his genius than this–the day of supernal terrors (_dies irae, dies illa_), when, according to the sentiments of the Middle Ages, the doomed were subjected to every variety of physical suffering, and when this agony of pain, rather than agony of remorse, was expressed in tortured limbs and in faces writhing with demoniacal despair. Such was the variety of tortures which he expressed, showing an unexampled richness in imaginative powers, that people came to see it from the remotest parts of Italy. It made a great sensation, like the appearance of an immortal poem, and was magnificently rewarded; for the painter received a pension of twelve hundred golden crowns a year,–a great sum in that age.

But Michael Angelo did not paint many pieces; he confined himself chiefly to cartoons and designs, which, scattered far and wide, were reproduced by other artists. His most famous cartoon was the Battle of Pisa, the one executed for the ducal palace of Florence, as pendant to one by Leonardo da Vinci, then in the height of his fame. This picture was so remarkable for the accuracy of drawing, and the variety and form of expression, that Raphael came to Florence on purpose to study it; and it was the power of giving boldness and dignity and variety to the human figure, as shown in this painting, which constitutes his great originality and transcendent excellence. The great creations of the painters, in modern times as well as in the ancient, are those which represent the human figure in its ideal excellence,–which of course implies what is most perfect, not in any one man or woman, but in men and women collectively. Hence the greatest of painters rarely have stooped to landscape painting, since no imaginary landscape can surpass what everybody has seen in nature. You cannot improve on the colors of the rainbow, or the gilded clouds of sunset, or the shadows of the mountain, or the graceful form of trees, or the varied tints of leaves and flowers; but you can represent the figure of a man or woman more beautiful than any one man or woman that has ever appeared. What mortal woman ever expressed the ethereal beauty depicted in a Madonna of Raphael or Murillo? And what man ever had such a sublimity of aspect and figure as the creations of Michael Angelo? Why, “a beggar,” says one of his greatest critics, “arose from his hand the patriarch of poverty; the hump of his dwarf is impressed with dignity; his infants are men, and his men are giants.” And, says another critic, “he is the inventor of epic painting, in that sublime circle of the Sistine Chapel which exhibits the origin, progress, and final dispensation of the theocracy. He has personified motion in the cartoon of Pisa, portrayed meditation in the prophets and sibyls of the Sistine Chapel and in the Last Judgment, traced every attitude which varies the human body, with every passion which sways the human soul.” His supremacy is in the mighty soaring of his intellectual conceptions. Marvellous as a creator, like Shakspeare; profound and solemn, like Dante; representing power even in repose, and giving to the Cyclopean forms which he has called into being a charm of moral excellence which secures our sympathy; a firm believer in a supreme and personal God; disciplined in worldly trials, and glowing in lofty conceptions of justice,–he delights in portraying the stern prophets of Israel, surrounded with an atmosphere of holiness, yet breathing compassion on those whom they denounce; august in dignity, yet melting with tenderness; solemn, sad, profound. Thus was his influence pure and exalted in an art which has too often been prostituted to please the perverted taste of a sensual age. The most refined and expressive of all the arts,–as it sometimes is, and always should be,–is the one which oftenest appeals to that which Christianity teaches us to shun. You may say, “Evil to him who evil thinks,” especially ye pure and immaculate persons who have walked uncorrupted amid the galleries of Paris, Dresden. Florence, and Rome; but I fancy that pictures, like books, are what we choose to make them, and that the more exquisite the art by which vice is divested of its grossness, but not of its subtle poisons,–like the New Heloise of Rousseau or the Wilhelm Meister of Goethe,–the more fatally will it lead astray by the insidious entrance of an evil spirit in the guise of an angel of light. Art, like literature, is neither good nor evil abstractly, but may become a savor of death unto death, as well as of life unto life. You cannot extinguish it without destroying one of the noblest developments of civilization; but you cannot have civilization without multiplying the temptations of human society, and hence must be guarded from those destructive cankers which, as in old Rome, eat out the virtues on which the strength of man is based. The old apostles, and other great benefactors of the world, attached more value to the truths which elevate than to the arts which soften. It was the noble direction which Michael Angelo gave to art which made him a great benefactor not only of civilization, but also of art, by linking with it the eternal ideas of majesty and dignity, as well as the truths which are taught by divine inspiration,–another illustration of the profound reverence which the great master minds of the world, like Augustine, Pascal, and Bacon, have ever expressed for the ideas which were revealed by Christianity and the old prophets of Jehovah; ideas which many bright but inferior intellects, in their egotistical arrogance, have sought to subvert.

Yet it was neither as sculptor nor painter that Michael Angelo left the most enduring influence, but as architect. Painting and sculpture are the exclusive ornaments and possession of the rich and favored. But architecture concerns all men, and most men have something to do with it in the course of their lives. What boots it that a man pays two thousand pounds for a picture to be shut up in his library, and probably more valued for its rarity, or from the caprices of fashion, than for its real merits? But it is something when a nation pays a million for a ridiculous building, without regard to the object for which it is intended,–to be observed and criticised by everybody and for succeeding generations. A good picture is the admiration of a few; a magnificent edifice is the pride of thousands. A picture necessarily cultivates the taste of a family circle; a public edifice educates the minds of millions. Even the Moses of Michael Angelo is a mere object of interest to those who visit the church of San Pietro in Vincoli; but St. Peter’s is a monument to be seen by large populations from generation to generation. All London contemplates St. Paul’s Church or the Palace of Westminster, but the National Gallery may be visited by a small fraction of the people only once a year. Of the thousands who stand before the Tuileries or the Madeleine not one in a hundred has visited the gallery of the Louvre. What material works of man so grand as those hoary monuments of piety or pride erected three thousand years ago, and still magnificent in their very ruins! How imposing are the pyramids, the Coliseum, and the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages! And even when architecture does not rear vaulted roofs and arches and pinnacles, or tower to dazzling heights, or inspire reverential awe from the associations which cluster around it, how interesting are even its minor triumphs! Who does not stop to admire a beautiful window, or porch, or portico? Who does not criticise his neighbor’s house, its proportions, its general effect, its adaptation to the uses designed? Architecture never wearies us, for its wonders are inexhaustible; they appeal to the common eye, and have reference to the necessities of man, and sometimes express the consecrated sentiments of an age or a nation. Nor can it be prostituted, like painting and sculpture; it never corrupts the mind, and sometimes inspires it; and if it makes an appeal to the senses or the imagination, it is to kindle perceptions of the severe beauty of geometrical forms.

Whoever, then, has done anything in architecture has contributed to the necessities of man, and stimulated an admiration for what is venerable and magnificent. Now Michael Angelo was not only the architect of numerous palaces and churches, but also one of the principal architects of that great edifice which is, on the whole, the noblest church in Christendom,–a perpetual marvel and study; not faultless, but so imposing that it will long remain, like the old temple of Ephesus, one of the wonders of the world. He completed the church without great deviation from the plan of the first architect, Bramante, whom he regarded as the greatest architect that had lived,–altering Bramante’s plans from a Latin to a Greek cross, the former of which was retained after Michael Angelo’s death. But it is the interior, rather than the exterior of St. Peter’s, which shows its vast superiority over all other churches for splendor and effect, and surprises all who are even fresh from Cologne and Milan and Westminster. It impresses us like a wonder of nature rather than as the work of man,–a great work of engineering as well as a marvel of majesty and beauty. We are surprised to see so vast a structure, covering nearly five acres, so elaborately finished, nothing neglected; the lofty walls covered with precious marbles, the side chapels filled with statues and monuments, the altars ornamented with pictures,–and those pictures not painted in oil, but copied in mosaic, so that they will neither decay nor fade, but last till destroyed by violence. What feelings overpower the poetic mind when the glories of that interior first blaze upon the brain; what a world of brightness, softness, and richness; what grandeur, solidity, and strength; what unnumbered treasures around the altars; what grand mosaics relieve the height of the wondrous dome,–larger than the Pantheon, rising two hundred feet from the intersection of those lofty and massive piers which divide transept from choir and nave; what effect of magnitude after the eye gets accustomed to the vast proportions! Oh, what silence reigns around! How difficult, even for the sonorous chants of choristers and priests to disturb that silence,–to be more than echoes of a distant music which seems to come from the very courts of heaven itself: to some a holy sanctuary, where one may meditate among crowds and feel alone; where one breathes an atmosphere which changes not with heat or cold; and where the ever-burning lamps and clouds of incense diffusing the fragrance of the East, and the rich dresses of the mitred priests, and the unnumbered symbols, suggest the ritualism of that imposing worship when Solomon dedicated to Jehovah the grandest temple of antiquity!

Truly was St. Peter’s Church the last great achievement of the popes, the crowning demonstration of their temporal dominion; suggestive of their wealth and power, a marble history of pride and pomp, a fitting emblem of that worship which appeals to sense rather than to God. And singular it was, when the great artist reared that gigantic pile, even though it symbolized the cross, he really gave a vital wound to that cause to which he consecrated his noblest energies; for its lofty dome could not be completed without the contributions of Christendom, and those contributions could not be made without an appeal to false principles which entered into Mediaeval Catholicism,–even penance and self-expiation, which stirred the holy indignation of a man who knew and declared on what different ground justification should be based. Thus was Luther, in one sense, called into action by the labors of Michael Angelo; thus was the erection of St. Peter’s Church overruled in the preaching of reformers, who would show that the money obtained by the sale of indulgences for sin could never purchase an acceptable offering to God, even though the monument were filled with Christian emblems, and consecrated by those prayers and anthems which had been the life of blessed saints and martyrs for more than a thousand years.

St. Peter’s is not Gothic, it is a restoration of the Greek; it belongs to what artists call the Renaissance,–a style of architecture marked by a return to the classical models of antiquity. Michael Angelo brought back to civilization the old ideas of Grecian grace and Roman majesty,–typical of the original inspirations of the men who lived in the quiet admiration of eternal beauty and grace; the men who built the Parthenon, and who shaped pillars and capitals and entablatures in the severest proportions, and fitted them with ornaments drawn from the living world,–plants and animals, especially images of God’s highest work, even of man; and of man not worn and macerated and dismal and monstrous, but of man when most resplendent in the perfections of the primeval strength and beauty. He returned to a style which classical antiquity carried to great perfection, but which had been neglected by the new Teutonic nations.

Nor is there evidence that Michael Angelo disdained the creations especially seen in those Gothic monuments which are still the objects of our admiration. Who does not admire the church architecture of the Middle Ages? Of its kind it has never been surpassed. Geometry and art–the true and the beautiful–meet. Nothing ever erected by the hand of man surpasses the more famous cathedrals of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in the richness and variety of their symbolic decorations. They typify the great ideas of Christianity; they inspire feelings of awe and reverence; they are astonishing structures, in their magnitude and in their effect. Monuments are they of religious zeal and poetical inspiration,–the creations of great artists, although we scarcely know their names; adapted to the uses designed; the expression of consecrated sentiments; the marble history of the ages in which they were erected,–now heavy and sombre when society was enslaved and mournful; and then cheerful and lofty when Christianity was joyful and triumphant. Who ever was satisfied in contemplating the diversified wonders of those venerable structures? Who would lose the impression which almost overwhelmed the mind when York minster, or Cologne, or Milan, or Amiens was first beheld, with their lofty spires and towers, their sculptured pinnacles, their flying buttresses, their vaulted roofs, their long arcades, their purple windows, their holy altars, their symbolic carvings, their majestic outlines, their grand proportions!

But beautiful, imposing, poetical, and venerable as are these hoary piles, they are not the all in all of art. Suppose all the buildings of Europe the last four hundred years had been modelled from these churches, how gloomy would be our streets, how dark and dingy our shops, how dismal our dwellings, how inconvenient our hotels! A new style was needed, at least as a supplement of the old,–as lances and shields were giving place to fire-arms, and the line and the plummet for the mariner’s compass; as a new civilization was creating new wants and developing the material necessities of man.

So Michael Angelo arose, and revived the imperishable models of the classical ages,–to be applied not merely to churches but to palaces, civic halls, theatres, libraries, museums, banks,–all of which have mundane purposes. The material world had need of conveniences, as much as the Mediaeval age had need of shrines. Humanity was to be developed as well as the Deity to be worshipped. The artist took the broadest views, looking upon Gothic architecture as but one division of art,–even as truth is greater than any system, and Christianity wider than any sect. O, how this Shakspeare of art would have smiled on the vague and transcendental panegyrics of Michelet or Ruskin, and other sentimental admirers of an age which never can return! And how he might have laughed at some modern enthusiasts, who trace religion to the disposition of stones and arches, forgetting that religion is an inspiration which comes from God, and never from the work of man’s hands, which can be only a form of idolatry.

Michael Angelo found that the ornamentations of the ancient temples were as rich and varied as those of Mediaeval churches. Mouldings were discovered of incomparable elegance; the figures on entablatures were found to be chiselled accurately from nature; the pillars were of matchless proportions, the capitals of graceful curvatures. He saw beauty in the horizontal lines of the Parthenon, as much as in the vertical lines of Cologne. He would not pull down the venerable monuments of religious zeal, but he would add to them. “Because the pointed arch was sacred, he would not despise the humble office of the lintel.” And in southern climates especially there was no need of those steep Gothic roofs which were intended to prevent a great weight of rain and snow, and where the graceful portico of the Greeks was more appropriate than the heavy tower of the Lombards. He would seize on everything that the genius of past ages had indorsed, even as Christianity itself appropriates everything human,–science, art, music, poetry, eloquence, literature,–sanctifies it, and dedicates it to the Lord; not for the pride of priests, but for the improvement of humanity. Civilization may exist with Paganism, but only performs its highest uses when tributary to Christianity. And Christianity accepts the tribute which even Pagan civilization offers for the adornment of our race,–expelled from Paradise, and doomed to hard and bitter toils,–without abdicating her more glorious office of raising the soul to heaven.

Nor was Michael Angelo responsible for the vile mongrel architecture which followed the Renaissance, and which disfigures the modern capitals of Europe, any more than for the perversion of painting in the hands of Titian. But the indiscriminate adoption of pillars for humble houses, shops with Roman arches, spires and towers erected on Grecian porticoes, are no worse than schoolhouses built like convents, and chapels designed for preaching as much as for choral chants made dark and gloomy, where the voice of the preacher is lost and wasted amid vaulted roofs and useless pillars. Michael Angelo encouraged no incongruities; he himself conceived the beautiful and the true, and admired it wherever found, even amid the excavations of ruined cities. He may have overrated the buried monuments of ancient art, but how was he to escape the universal enthusiasm of his age for the remains of a glorious and forgotten civilization? Perhaps his mind was wearied with the Middle Ages, from which he had nothing more to learn, and sought a greater fulness and a more perfect unity in the expanding forces of a new and grander era than was ever seen by Pagan heroes or by Gothic saints.

But I need not expatiate on the new ideas which Michael Angelo accepted, or the impulse he gave to art in all its forms, and to the revival of which civilization is so much indebted. Let us turn and give a parting look at the man,–that great creative genius who had no superior in his day and generation. Like the greatest of all Italians, he is interesting for his grave experiences, his dreary isolations, his vast attainments, his creative imagination, and his lofty moral sentiments. Like Dante, he stands apart from, and superior to, all other men of his age. He never could sport with jesters, or laugh with buffoons, or chat with fools; and because of this he seemed to be haughty and disdainful. Like Luther, he had no time for frivolities, and looked upon himself as commissioned to do important work. He rejoiced in labor, and knew no rest until he was eighty-nine. He ate that he might live, not lived that he might eat. For seventeen years after he was seventy-two he worked on St. Peter’s church; worked without pay, that he might render to God his last earthly tribute without alloy,–as religious as those unknown artists who erected Rheims and Westminster. He was modest and patient, yet could not submit to the insolence of little men in power. He even left the papal palace in disdain when he found his labors unappreciated. Julius II. was forced to bend to the stern artist, not the artist to the Pope. Yet when Leo X. sent him to quarry marbles for nine years, he submitted without complaint. He had no craving for riches like Rubens, no love of luxury like Raphael, no envy like Da Vinci. He never over-tasked his brain, or suffered himself, like Raphael,–who died exhausted at thirty-seven,–to crowd three days into one, knowing that over-work exhausts the nervous energies and shortens life. He never attempted to open the doors which Providence had plainly shut against him, but waited patiently for his day, knowing it would come; yet whether it came or not, it was all the same to him,–a man with all the holy rapture of a Kepler, and all the glorious self-reliance of a Newton. He was indeed jealous of his fame, but he was not greedy of admiration. He worked without the stimulus of praise,–one of the rarest things,–urged on purely by love of art. He loved art for its own sake, as good men love virtue, as Palestrina loved music, as Bacon loved truth, as Kant loved philosophy,–satisfied with itself as its own reward. He disliked to be patronized, but always remembered benefits, and loved the tribute of respect and admiration, even as he scorned the empty flatterer of fashion. He was the soul of sincerity as well as of magnanimity; and hence had great capacity for friendship, as well as great power of self-sacrifice His friendship with Vittoria Colonna is as memorable as that of Jerome and Paula, or that of Hildebrand and the Countess Matilda. He was a great patriot, and clung to his native Florence with peculiar affection. Living in habits of intimacy with princes and cardinals, he never addressed them in adulatory language, but talked and acted like a nobleman of nature, whose inborn and superior greatness could be tested only by the ages. He placed art on the highest pinnacle of the temple of humanity, but dedicated that temple to the God of heaven in whom he believed. His person was not commanding, but intelligence radiated from his features, and his earnest nature commanded respect. In childhood he was feeble, but temperance made him strong. He believed that no bodily decay was incompatible with intellectual improvement. He continued his studies until he died, and felt that he had mastered nothing. He was always dissatisfied with his own productions. _Excelsior_ was his motto, as Alp on Alp arose upon his view. His studies were diversified and vast. He wrote poetry as well as carved stone, his sonnets especially holding a high rank. He was engineer as well as architect, and fortified Florence against her enemies. When old he showed all the fire of youth, and his eye, like that of Moses, never became dim, since his strength and his beauty were of the soul,–ever expanding, ever adoring. His temper was stern, but affectionate. He had no mercy on a fool or a dunce, and turned in disgust from those who loved trifles and lies. He was guilty of no immoralities like Raphael and Titian, being universally venerated for his stern integrity and allegiance to duty,–as one who believes that there really is a God to whom he is personally responsible. He gave away his riches, like Ambrose and Gregory, valuing money only as a means of usefulness. Sickened with the world, he still labored for the world, and died in 1564, over eighty-nine years of age, in the full assurance of eternal blessedness in heaven.

His marbles may crumble down, in spite of all that we can do to preserve them as models of hopeless imitation; but the exalted ideas he sought to represent by them, are imperishable and divine, and will be subjects of contemplation when

“Seas shall waste, the skies to smoke decay, Rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away.”


Grimm’s Life of Michael Angelo; Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects; Duppa’s Life of Michael Angelo; Bayle’s Histoire de la Peinture en Italie.


* * * * *

A. D. 1483-1546.


Among great benefactors, Martin Luther is one of the most illustrious. He headed the Protestant Reformation. This movement is so completely interlinked with the literature, the religion, the education, the prosperity–yea, even the political history–of Europe, that it is the most important and interesting of all modern historical changes. It is a subject of such amazing magnitude that no one can claim to be well informed who does not know its leading issues and developments, as it spread from Germany to Switzerland, France, Holland, Sweden, England, and Scotland.

The central and prominent figure in the movement is Luther; but the way was prepared for him by a host of illustrious men, in different countries,–by Savonarola in Italy, by Huss and Jerome in Bohemia, by Erasmus in Holland, by Wyclif in England, and by sundry others, who detested the corruptions they ridiculed and lamented, but could not remove.

How flagrant those evils! Who can deny them? The papal despotism, and the frauds on which it was based; monastic corruptions; penance, and indulgences for sin, and the sale of them, more shameful still; the secular character of the clergy; the pomp, wealth, and arrogance of bishops; auricular confession; celibacy of the clergy, their idle and dissolute lives, their ignorance and superstition; the worship of the images of saints, and masses for the dead; the gorgeous ritualism of the mass; the substitution of legends for the Scriptures, which were not translated, or read by the people; pilgrimages, processions, idle pomps, and the multiplication of holy days; above all, the grinding spiritual despotism exercised by priests, with their inquisitions and excommunications, all centring in the terrible usurpation of the popes, keeping the human mind in bondage, and suppressing all intellectual independence,–these evils prevailed everywhere. I say nothing here of the massacres, the poisonings, the assassinations, the fornications, the abominations of which history accuses many of the pontiffs who sat on papal thrones. Such evils did not stare the German and English in the face, as they did the Italians in the fifteenth century. In Germany the vices were mediaeval and monkish, not the unblushing infidelity and levities of the Renaissance, which made a radical reformation in Italy impossible. In Germany and England there was left among the people the power of conscience, a rough earnestness of character, the sense of moral accountability, and a fear of divine judgment.

Luther was just the man for his work. Sprung from the people, poor, popular, fervent; educated amid privations, religious by nature, yet with exuberant animal spirits; dogmatic, boisterous, intrepid, with a great insight into realities; practical, untiring, learned, generally cheerful and hopeful; emancipated from the terrors of the Middle Ages, scorning the Middle Ages; progressive in his spirit, lofty in his character, earnest in his piety, believing in the future and in God,–such was the great leader of this emancipating movement. He was not so learned as Erasmus, nor so logical as Calvin, nor so scholarly as Melancthon, nor so broad as Cranmer. He was not a polished man; he was often offensively rude and brusque, and lavish of epithets, Nor was he what we call a modest and humble man; he was intellectually proud, disdainful, and sometimes, when irritated, abusive. None of his pictures represent him as a refined-looking man, scarcely intellectual, but coarse and sensual rather, as Socrates seemed to the Athenians. But with these defects and drawbacks he had just such traits and gifts as fitted him to lead a great popular movement,–bold, audacious, with deep convictions and rapid intellectual processes; prompt, decided, kind-hearted, generous, brave; in sympathy with the people, eloquent, Herculean in energies, with an amazing power of work; electrical in his smile and in his words, and always ready for contingencies. Had he been more polished, more of a gentleman, more fastidious, more scrupulous, more ascetic, more modest, he would have shrunk from his tasks; he would have lost the elasticity of his mind,–he would have been discouraged. Even Saint Augustine, a broader and more catholic man than Luther, could not have done his work. He was a sort of converted Mirabeau. He loved the storms of battle; he impersonated revolutionary ideas. But he was a man of thought, as well as of action.

Luther’s origin was of the humblest. Born in Eisleben, Nov. 10, 1483, the son of a poor peasant, his childhood was spent in penury. He was religious from a boy. He was religious when he sang hymns for a living, from house to house, before the people of Mansfield while at school there, and also at the schools of Magdeburg and Eisenach, where he still earned his bread by his voice. His devotional character and his music gained for him a friend who helped him through his studies, till at the age of eighteen he entered the University at Erfurt, where he distinguished himself in the classics and the Mediaeval philosophy. And here his religious meditations led him to enter the Augustinian monastery: he entered that strict retreat, as others did, to lead a religious life. The great question of all time pressed upon his mind with peculiar force, “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” And it shows that religious life in Germany still burned in many a heart, in spite of the corruptions of the Church, that a young man like Luther should seek the shades of monastic seclusion, for meditation and study. He was a monk, like other monks; but it seems he had religious doubts and fears more than ordinary monks. At first he conformed to the customary ways of men seeking salvation. He walked in the beaten road, like Saint Dominic and Saint Francis; he accepted the great ideas of the Middle Ages, which he was afterwards to repudiate,–he was not beyond them, or greater than they were, at first; he fasted like monks, and tormented his body with austerities, as they did from the time of Benedict; he sang in the choir from early morn, and practised the usual severities. But his doubts and fears remained. He did not, like other monks, find peace and consolation; he did not become seraphic, like Saint Francis, or Bonaventura, or Loyola. Perhaps his nature repelled asceticism; perhaps his inquiring and original mind wanted something better and surer to rest upon than the dreams and visions of a traditionary piety. Had he been satisfied with the ordinary mode of propitiating the Deity, he would never have emerged from his retreat.

To a scholar the monastery had great attractions, even in that age. It was still invested with poetic associations and consecrated usages; it was indorsed by the venerable Fathers of the Church; it was favorable to study, and free from the noisy turmoil of the world. But with all these advantages Luther was miserable. He felt the agonies of an unforgiven soul in quest of peace with God; he could not get rid of them, they pursued him into the immensity of an intolerable night. He was in despair. What could austerities do for _him_? He hungered and thirsted after the truth, like Saint Augustine in Milan. He had no taste for philosophy, but he wanted the repose that philosophers pretended to teach. He was then too narrow to read Plato or Boethius. He was a self-tormented monk without relief; he suffered all that Saint Paul suffered at Tarsus. In some respects this monastic pietism resembled the pharisaism of Saul, in the schools of Tarsus,–a technical, rigid, and painful adherence to rules, fastings, obtrusive prayers, and petty ritualisms, which form the essence and substance of all pharisaism and all monastic life; based on the enormous error that man deserves heaven by external practices, in which, however, he can never perfect himself, though he were to live, like Simeon Stylites, on the top of a pillar for twenty years without once descending; an eternal unrest, because perfection cannot be attained; the most terrible slavery to which a man can be conscientiously doomed, verging into hypocrisy and fanaticism.

It was then that a kind and enlightened friend visited him, and recommended him to read the Bible. The Bible never has been a sealed book to monks; it was ever highly prized; no convent was without it: but it was read with the spectacles of the Middle Ages. Repentance meant penance. In Saint Paul’s Epistles Luther discovers the true ground of justification,–not works, but faith; for Paul had passed through similar experiences. Works are good, but faith is the gift of God. Works are imperfect with the best of men, even the highest form of works, to a Mediaeval eye,–self-expiation and penance; but faith is infinite, radiating from divine love; faith is a boundless joy,–salvation by the grace of God, his everlasting and precious boon to people who cannot climb to heaven on their hands and knees, the highest gift which God ever bestowed on men,–eternal life.

Luther is thus emancipated from the ideas of the Middle Ages and of the old Syriac monks and of the Jewish Pharisees. In his deliverance he has new hopes and aspirations; he becomes cheerful, and devotes himself to his studies. Nothing can make a man more cheerful and joyful than the cordial reception of a gift which is infinite, a blessing which is too priceless to be bought. The pharisee, the monk, the ritualist, is gloomy, ascetic, severe, intolerant; for he is not quite sure of his salvation. A man who accepts heaven as a gift is full of divine enthusiasm, like Saint Augustine. Luther now comprehends Augustine, the great doctor of the Church, embraces his philosophy and sees how much it has been misunderstood. The rare attainments and interesting character of Luther are at last recognized; he is made a professor of divinity in the new university, which the Elector of Saxony has endowed, at Wittenberg. He becomes a favorite with the students; he enters into the life of the people. He preaches with wonderful power, for he is popular, earnest, original, fresh, electrical. He is a monk still, but the monk is merged in the learned doctor and eloquent preacher. He does not yet even dream of attacking monastic institutions, or the Pope; he is a good Catholic in his obedience to authorities; but he hates the Middle Ages, and all their ghostly, funereal, burdensome, and technical religious customs. He is human, almost convivial,–fond of music, of poetry, of society, of friends, and of the good cheer of the social circle. The people love Luther, for he has a broad humanity. They never did love monks, only feared their maledictions.

About this time the Pope was in great need of money: this was Leo X. He not only squandered his vast revenues in pleasures and pomps, like any secular monarch; he not only collected pictures and statues,–but he wanted to complete St. Peter’s Church. It was the crowning glory of papal magnificence. Where was he to get money except from the contributions of Christendom? But kings and princes and bishops and abbots were getting tired of this everlasting drain of money to Rome, in the shape of annats and taxes; so Leo revived an old custom of the Dark Ages,–he would sell indulgences for sin; and he sent his agents to peddle them in every country.

The agent in Saxony was a very vulgar, boisterous, noisy, bullying Dominican, by the name of Tetzel. Luther abhorred him, not so much because he was vulgar and noisy, but because his infamous business derogated from the majesty of God and religion. In wrathful indignation he preached against Tetzel and his practices,–the abominable traffic of indulgences. Only God can forgive sins. It seemed to him to be an insult to the human understanding that any man, even a pope, should grant an absolution for crime. These indulgences were the very worst form of penance, since they made a mockery of virtue. And it was useless to preach against them so long as the principles on which they were based were not assailed. Everybody believed in penance; everybody believed that this, in some form, would insure salvation. It consisted in a temporal penalty or punishment inflicted on the sinner after confession to the priest, as a condition of his receiving absolution or an authoritative pardon of his sin by the Church as God’s representative. And the indulgence was originally an official remission of this penalty, to be gained by offerings of money to the Church for its sacred uses. However ingenious this theory, the practice inevitably ran into corruption. The people who bought, the agents who sold, the popes who dispensed, these indulgences used them for the vilest purposes.

Fortunately, in those times in Germany everybody felt he had a soul to save. Neither the popes nor the Church ever lost that idea. The clergy ruled by its force,–by stimulating fears of divine wrath, whereby the wretched sinner would be physically tormented forever, unless he escaped by a propitiation of the Deity,–the common form of which was penance, deeds of supererogation, donations to the Church, self-expiation, works of fear and penitence, which commended themselves to the piety of the age; and this piety Luther now believed to be unenlightened, not the kind enjoined by Christ or Paul.

So, to instruct his students and the people as to the true ground of justification, which he had worked out from the study of the Bible and Saint Augustine amid the agonies of a tormented conscience, Luther prepared his theses,–those celebrated ninety-five propositions, which he affixed to the gates of the church of Wittenberg, and which excited a great sensation throughout Northern Germany, reaching even the eyes of the Pope himself, who did not comprehend their tendency, but was struck with their power. “This Doctor Luther,” said he, “is a man of fine genius.” The students of the university, and the people generally, were kindled as if by Pentecostal fires. The new invention of printing scattered those theses everywhere, far and near; they reached the humble hamlet as well as the palaces of bishops and princes. They excited immediate and immense enthusiasm: there was freshness in them, originality, and great ideas. We cannot wonder at the enthusiasm which those religious ideas excited nearly four hundred years ago when we reflect that they were not cant words then, not worn-out platitudes, not dead dogmas, but full of life and exciting interest,–even as were the watchwords of Rousseau–“Liberty, Fraternity, Equality”–to Frenchmen, on the outbreak of their political revolution. And as those watchwords–abstractly true–roused the dormant energies of the French to a terrible conflict against feudalism and royalty, so those theses of Luther kindled Germany into a living flame. And why? Because they presented more cheerful and comforting grounds of justification than had been preached for one thousand years,–faith rather than penance; for works hinged on penance. The underlying principle of those propositions was _grace_,–divine grace to save the world,–the principle of Paul and Saint Augustine; therefore not new, but forgotten; a mighty comfort to miserable people, mocked and cheated and robbed by a venal and a gluttonous clergy. Even Taine admits that this doctrine of grace is the foundation stone of Protestantism as it spread over Europe in the sixteenth century. In those places where Protestantism is dead,–where rationalism or Pelagian speculations have taken its place,–this fact may be denied; but the history of Northern Europe blazes with it,–a fact which no historian of any honesty can deny.

Very likely those who are not in sympathy with this great idea of Luther, Augustine, and Paul may ignore the fact,–even as Caleb Gushing once declared to me, that the Reformation sprang from the desire of Luther to marry Catherine Bora; and that learned and ingenious sophist overwhelmed me with his citations from infidel and ribald Catholic writers like Audin. Greater men than he deny that grace underlies the whole original movement of the reformers, and they talk of the Reformation as a mere revolt from Rome, as a war against papal corruption, as a protest against monkery and the dark ages, brought about by the spirit of a new age, the onward march of humanity, the necessary progress of society. I admit the secondary causes of the Reformation, which are very important,–the awakened spirit of inquiry in the sixteenth century, the revival of poetry and literature and art, the breaking up of feudalism, fortunate discoveries, the introduction of Greek literature, the Renaissance, the disgusts of Christendom, the voice of martyrs calling aloud from their funeral pyres; yea, the friendly hand of princes and scholars deploring the evils of a corrupted Church. But how much had Savonarola, or Erasmus, or John Huss, or the Lollards aroused the enthusiasm of Europe, great and noble as were their angry and indignant protests? The genius of the Reformation in its early stages was a _religious_ movement, not a political or a moral one, although it became both political and moral. Its strength and fervor were in the new ideas of salvation,–the same that gave power to the early preachers of Christianity,–not denunciations of imperialism and slavery, and ten thousand evils which disgraced the empire, but the proclamation of the ideas of Paul as to the grounds of hope when the soul should leave the body; the salvation of the Lord, declared to a world in bondage. Luther kindled the same religious life among the masses that the apostles did; the same that Wyclif did, and by the same means,–the declaration of salvation by belief in the incarnate Son of God, shedding his blood in infinite love. Why, see how this idea spread through Germany, Switzerland, and France and took possession of the minds of the English and Scotch yeomanry, with all their stern and earnest ruggedness. See how it was elaborately expanded by Calvin, how it gave birth to a new and strong theology, how it entered into the very life of the people, especially among the Puritans,–into the souls of even Cromwell’s soldiers. What made “The Pilgrim’s Progress” the most popular book ever published in England? Because it reflected the theology of the age, the religion of the people, all based on Luther’s theses,–the revival of those old doctrines which converted the Roman provinces from Paganism. I do not care if these statements are denied by Catholics, or rationalists, or progressive savants. What is it to me that the old views have become unfashionable, or are derided, or are dead, in the absorbing materialism of this Epicurean yet brilliant age? I know this, that I am true to history when I declare that the glorious Reformation in which we all profess to rejoice, and which is the greatest movement, and the best, of our modern time,–susceptible of indefinite application, interlinked with the literature and the progress of England and America,–took its first great spiritual start from the ideas of Luther as to justification. This was the voice of heaven’s messenger proclaiming aloud, so that the heavens re-echoed to the glorious and triumphant annunciation, and the earth heard and rejoiced with exceeding joy, “Behold, I send tidings of salvation: it is grace, divine grace, which shall undermine the throne of popes and pagans, and reconcile a fallen world to God!”

Yes, it was a Christian philosopher, a theologian,–a doctor of divinity, working out in his cell and study, through terrible internal storm and anguish, and against the whole teaching of monks and bishops and popes and universities, from the time of Charlemagne, the same truth which Augustine learned in his wonderful experiences,–who started the Reformation in the right direction; who became the greatest benefactor of these modern times, because he based his work on everlasting and positive ideas, which had life in them, and hope, and the sanction of divine authority; thus virtually invoking the aid of God Almighty to bring about and restore the true glory of his Church on earth,–a glory forever to be identified with the death of his Son. I see no law of progress here, no natural and necessary development of nations; I see only the light and power of individual genius, brushing away the cobwebs and sophistries and frauds of the Middle Ages, and bringing out to the gaze of Europe the vital truth which, with supernatural aid, made in old times the day of Pentecost. And I think I hear the emancipated people of Saxony exclaim, from the Elector downwards, “If these ideas of Doctor Luther are true, and we feel them to be, then all our penances have been worse than wasted,–we have been Pagans. Away with our miserable efforts to scale the heavens! Let us accept what we cannot buy; let us make our palaces and our cottages alike vocal with the praises of Him whom we now accept as our Deliverer, our King, and our Eternal Lord.”

Thus was born the first great idea of the Reformation, out of Luther’s brain, out of his agonized soul, and sent forth to conquer, and produce changes most marvellous to behold.

It is not my object to discuss the truth or error of this fundamental doctrine. There are many who deny it, even among Protestants. I am not a controversialist, or a theologian: I am simply an historian. I wish to show what is historically true and clear; and I defy all the scholars and critics of the world to prove that this doctrine is not the basal pillar of the Reformation of Luther. I wish to make emphatic the statement that _justification by faith_ was, as an historical fact, the great primal idea of Luther; not new, but new to him and to his age.

I have now to show how this idea led to others; how they became connected together; how they produced not only a spiritual movement, but political, moral, and intellectual forces, until all Europe was in a blaze.

Thus far the agitation under Luther had been chiefly theological. It was not a movement against popes or institutions, it was not even the vehement denunciation against sin in high places, which inflamed the anger of the Pope against Savonarola. To some it doubtless seemed like the old controversy between Augustine and Pelagius, like the contentions between Dominican and Franciscan monks. But it was too important to escape the attention of even Leo X., although at first he gave it no thought. It was a dangerous agitation; it had become popular; there was no telling where it would end, or what it might not assail. It was deemed necessary to stop the mouth of this bold and intellectual Saxon theologian.

So the voluptuous, infidel, elegant Pope–accomplished in manners and pagan arts and literature–sent one of the most learned men of the Church which called him Father, to argue with Doctor Luther, confute him, conquer him,–deeming this an easy task. But the doctor could not be silenced. His convictions were grounded on the rock; not on Peter, but on the rock from which Peter derived his name. All the papal legates and cardinals in the world could neither convince nor frighten him. He courted argument; he challenged the whole Church to refute him.

Then the schools took up the controversy. All that was imposing in names, in authority, in traditions, in associations, was arrayed against him. They came down upon him with the whole array of scholastic learning. The great Goliath of controversy in that day was Doctor Eck, who challenged the Saxon monk to a public disputation at Leipsic. All Germany was interested. The question at issue stirred the nation to its very depths.

The disputants met in the great hall of the palace of the Elector. Never before was seen in Germany such an array of doctors and theologians and dignitaries. It rivalled in importance and dignity the Council of Nice, when the great Constantine presided, to settle the Trinitarian controversy. The combatants were as great as Athanasius and Arius,–as vehement, as earnest, though not so fierce. Doctor Eck was superior to Luther in reputation, in dialectical skill, in scholastic learning. He was the pride of the universities. Luther, however, had deeper convictions, more genius, greater eloquence, and at that time he was modest.

The champion of the schools, of sophistries and authorities, of dead-letter literature, of quibbles, refinements, and words, soon overwhelmed the Saxon monk with his citations, decrees of councils, opinions of eminent ecclesiastics, the literature of the Church, its mighty authority. He was on the eve of triumph. Had the question been settled, as Doctor Eck supposed, by authorities, as lawyers and pedants would settle the question, Luther would have been beaten. But his genius came to his aid, and the consciousness of truth. He swept away the premises of the argument. He denied the supreme authority of popes and councils and universities. He appealed to the Scriptures, as the only ultimate ground of authority. He did not deny authority, but appealed to it in its highest form. This was unexpected ground. The Church was not prepared openly to deny the authority of Saint Paul or Saint Peter; and Luther, if he did not gain his case, was far from being beaten, and–what was of vital importance to his success–he had the Elector and the people with him.

Thus was born the second great idea of the Reformation,–the _supreme authority of the Scriptures_, to which Protestants of every denomination have since professed to cling. They may differ in the interpretation of texts,–and thus sects and parties gradually arose, who quarrelled about their meaning,–but none of them deny their supreme authority. All the issues of Protestants have been on the meaning of texts, on the interpretation of the Scriptures,–to be settled by learning and reason. It was not until rationalism arose, and rejected plain and obvious declarations of Scripture, as inconsistent with reason, as interpolations, as uninspired, that the authority of the Scriptures was weakened; and these rationalists–and the land of Luther became full of them–have gone infinitely beyond the Catholics in undermining the Bible. The Catholics never have taken such bold ground as the rationalists respecting the Scriptures. The Catholic Church still accepts the Bible, but explains away the meaning of many of its doctrines; the rationalists would sweep away its divine authority, extinguish faith, and leave the world in night. Satan came into the theological school of the Protestants, disguised in the robes of learned doctors searching for truth, and took away the props of religious faith. This was worse than baptizing repentance with the name of penance. Better have irrational fears of hell than no fears at all, for this latter is Paganism. Pagan culture and Pagan philosophy could not keep society together in the old Roman world; but Mediaeval appeals to the fears of men did keep them from crimes and force upon them virtues.

The triumph of Luther at Leipsic was, however, incomplete. The Catholics rallied after their stunning blow. They said, in substance: “We, too, accept the Scriptures; we even put them above Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and the councils. But who can interpret them? Can peasants and women, or even merchants and nobles? The Bible, though inspired, is full of difficulties; there are contradictory texts. It is a sealed book, except to the learned; only the Church can reconcile its difficulties. And what we mean by the Church is the clergy,–the learned clergy, acknowledging allegiance to their spiritual head, who in matters of faith is also infallible. We can accept nothing which is not indorsed by popes and councils. No matter how plain the Scriptures seem to be, on certain disputed points only the authority of the Church can enlighten and instruct us. We distrust reason,–that is, what you call reason,–for reason can twist anything, and pervert it; but what the Church says, is true,–its collective intelligence is our supreme law [thus putting papal dogmas above reason, above the literal and plain declarations of Scripture]. Moreover, since the Scriptures are to be interpreted only by priests, it is not a safe book for the people. We, the priests, will keep it out of their hands. They will get notions from it fatal to our authority; they will become fanatics; they will, in their conceit, defy us.”

Then Luther rose, more powerful, more eloquent, more majestic than before; he rose superior to himself. “What,” said he, “keep the light of life from the people; take away their guide to heaven; keep them in ignorance of what is most precious and most exalting; deprive them of the blessed consolations which sustain the soul in trial and in death; deny the most palpable truths, because your dignitaries put on them a construction to bolster up their power! What an abomination! what treachery to heaven! what peril to the souls of men! Besides, your authorities differ: Augustine takes different ground from Pelagius; Bernard from Abelard; Thomas Aquinas from Dun Scotus. Have not your grand councils given contradictory decisions? Whom shall we believe? Yea, the popes themselves, your infallible guides,–have they not at different times rendered different decisions? What would Gregory I. say to the verdicts of Gregory VII.?

“No, the Scriptures are the legacy of the early Church to universal humanity; they are the equal and treasured inheritance of all nations and tribes and kindreds upon the face of the earth, and will be till the day of judgment. It was intended that they should be diffused, and that every one should read them, and interpret them each for himself; for he has a soul to save, and he dare not intrust such a precious thing as his soul into the keeping of selfish and ambitious priests. Take away the Bible from a peasant, or a woman, or any layman, and cannot the priest, armed with the terrors and the frauds of the Middle Ages, shut up his soul in a gloomy dungeon, as noisome and funereal as your Mediaeval crypts? And will you, ye boasted intellectual guides of the people, extinguish reason in this world in reference to the most momentous interests? What other guide has a man but his reason? And you would prevent this very reason from being enlightened by the Gospel! You would obscure reason itself by your traditions, O ye blind leaders of the blind! O ye legal and technical men, obscuring the light of truth! O ye miserable Pharisees, ye bigots, ye selfish priests, tenacious of your power, your inventions, your traditions,–will ye withhold the free redemption, God’s greatest boon, salvation by the blood of Christ, offered to all the world? Yea, will you suffer the people to perish, soul and body, because you fear that, instructed by God himself, they will rebel against your accursed despotism? Have you considered what a mighty crime you thus commit against God, against man? Ye rule by an infernal appeal to the superstitious fears of men; but how shall ye yourselves, for such crimes, escape the damnation of that hell into which you would push your victims unless they obey _you_?

“No, I say, let the Scriptures be put into the hands of everybody; let every one interpret them for himself, according to the light he has; let there be private judgment; let spiritual liberty be revived, as in Apostolic days. Then only will the people be emancipated from the Middle Ages, and arise in their power and majesty, and obey the voice of enlightened conscience, and be true to their convictions, and practise the virtues which Christianity commands, and obey God rather than man, and defy all sorts of persecution and martyrdom, having a serene faith in those blessed promises which the Gospel unfolds. Then will the people become great, after the conflicts of generations, and put under their feet the mockeries and lies and despotisms which grind them to despair.”

Thus was born the third great idea of the Reformation, out of Luther’s brain, a logical sequence from the first idea,–_the right of private judgment_, religious liberty, call it what you will; a great inspiration which in after times was destined to march triumphantly over battlefields, and give dignity and power to the people, and lead to the reception of great truths obscured by priests for one thousand years; the motive of an irresistible popular progress, planting England with Puritans, and Scotland with heroes, and France with martyrs, and North America with colonists; yea, kindling a fervid religious life; creating such men as Knox and Latimer and Taylor and Baxter and Howe, who owed their greatness to the study of the Scriptures,–at last put into every hand, and scattered far and wide, even to India and China. Can anybody doubt the marvellous progress of Protestant nations in consequence of the translation and circulation of the Scriptures? How these are bound up with their national life, and all their social habits, and all their religious aspirations; how they have elevated the people, ten hundred millions of times more than the boasted Renaissance which sprang from apostate and infidel and Pagan Italy, when she dug up the buried statues of Greece and Rome, and revived the literature and arts which soften, but do not save!–for private judgment and religious liberty mean nothing more and nothing less than the unrestricted perusal of the Scriptures as the guide of life.

This right of private judgment, on which Luther was among the first to insist, and of which certainly he was the first great champion in Europe, was in that age a very bold idea, as well as original. It flattered as well as stimulated the intellect of the people, and gave them dignity; it gave to the Reformation its popular character; it appealed to the mind and heart of Christendom. It gave consolation to the peasantry of Europe; for no family was too poor to possess a Bible, the greatest possible boon and treasure,–read and pondered in the evening, after hard labors and bitter insults; read aloud to the family circle, with its inexhaustible store of moral wealth, its beautiful and touching narratives, its glorious poetry, its awful prophecies, its supernal counsels, its consoling and emancipating truths,–so tender and yet so exalting, raising the soul above the grim trials of toil and poverty into the realms of seraphic peace and boundless joy. The Bible even gave hope to heretics. All sects and parties could take shelter under it; all could stand on the broad platform of religion, and survey from it the wonders and glories of God. At last men might even differ on important points of doctrine and worship, and yet be Protestants. Religious liberty became as wide in its application as the unity of the Church. It might create sects, but those sects would be all united as to the value of the Scriptures and their cardinal declarations. On this broad basis John Milton could shake hands with John Knox, and John Locke with Richard Baxter, and Oliver Cromwell with Queen Elizabeth, and Lord Bacon with William Penn, and Bishop Butler with John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards with Doctor Channing.

This idea of private judgment is what separates the Catholics from the Protestants; not most ostensibly, but most vitally. Many are the Catholics who would accept Luther’s idea of grace, since it is the idea of Saint Augustine; and of the supreme authority of the Scriptures, since they were so highly valued by the Fathers: but few of the Catholic clergy have ever tolerated religious liberty,–that is, the interpretation of the Scriptures by the people,–for it is a vital blow to their supremacy, their hierarchy, and their institutions. They will no more readily accept it than William the Conqueror would have accepted the Magna Charta; for the free circulation and free interpretation of the Scriptures are the charter of human liberties fought for at Leipsic by Gustavus Adolphus, at Ivry by Henry IV. This right of worshipping God according to the dictates of conscience, enlightened by the free reading of the Scriptures, is just what the “invincible armada” was sent by Philip II. to crush; just what Alva, dictated by Rome, sought to crush in Holland; just what Louis XIV., instructed by the Jesuits, did crush out in France, by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Satanic hatred of this right was the cause of most of the martyrdoms and persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was the declaration of this right which emancipated Europe from the dogmas of the Middle Ages, the thraldom of Rome, and the reign of priests. Why should not Protestants of every shade cherish and defend this sacred right? This is what made Luther the idol and oracle of Germany, the admiration of half Europe, the pride and boast of succeeding ages, the eternal hatred of Rome; not his religious experiences, not his doctrine of justification by faith, but the emancipation he gave to the mind of the world. This is what peculiarly stamps Luther as a man of genius, and of that surprising audacity and boldness which only great geniuses evince when they follow out the logical sequence of their ideas, and penetrate at a blow the hardened steel of vulcanic armor beneath which the adversary boasts.

Great was the first Leo, when from his rifled palace on one of the devastated hills of Rome he looked out upon the Christian world, pillaged, sacked, overrun with barbarians, full of untold calamities,–order and law crushed; literature and art prostrate; justice a byword; murders and assassinations unavenged; central power destroyed; vice, in all its enormities, vulgarities, and obscenities, rampant and multiplying itself; false opinions gaining ground; soldiers turned into banditti, and senators into slaves; women shrieking in terror; bishops praying in despair; barbarism everywhere, paganism in danger of being revived; a world disordered, forlorn, and dismal; Pandemonium let loose, with howling and shouting and screaming, in view of the desolation predicted alike by Jeremy the prophet and the Cumaean sybil;–great was that Leo, when in view of all this he said, with old patrician heroism, “I will revive government once more upon this earth; not by bringing back the Caesars, but by declaring a new theocracy, by making myself the vicegerent of Christ, by virtue of the promise made to Peter, whose successor I am, in order to restore law, punish crime, head off heresy, encourage genius, conserve peace, heal dissensions, protect learning; appealing to love, but ruling by fear. Who but the Church can do this? A theocracy will create a new civilization. Not a diadem, but a tiara will I wear, the symbol of universal sovereignty, before which barbarism shall flee away, and happiness be restored once more.” As he sent out his legates, he fulminated his bulls and established tribunals of appeal; he made a net-work of ecclesiastical machinery, and proclaimed the dangers of eternal fire, and brought kings and princes before him on their knees. The barbaric world was saved.

But greater than Leo was Luther, when–outraged by the corruptions of this spiritual despotism, and all the false and Pagan notions which had crept into theology, obscuring the light of faith and creating an intolerable bondage, and opposing the new spirit of progress which science and art and industry and wealth had invoked–he courageously yet modestly comes forward as the champion of a new civilization, and declares, with trumpet tones, “Let there be private judgment; liberty of conscience; the right to read and interpret Scripture, in spite of priests! so that men may think for themselves, not only on the doctrines of eternal salvation but on all the questions to be deduced from them, or interlinked with the past or present or future institutions of the world. Then shall arise a new creation from dreaded destruction, and emancipated millions shall be filled with an unknown enthusiasm, and advance with the new weapons of reason and truth from conquering to conquer, until all the strongholds of sin and Satan shall be subdued, and laid triumphantly at the foot of His throne whose right it is to reign.”

Thus far Luther has appeared as a theologian, a philosopher, a man of ideas, a man of study and reflection, whom the Catholic Church distrusts and fears, as she always has distrusted genius and manly independence; but he is henceforth to appear as a reformer, a warrior, to carry out his idea, and also to defend himself against the wrath he has provoked; impelled step by step to still bolder aggressions, until he attacks those venerable institutions which he once respected,–all the frauds and inventions of Mediaeval despotism, all the machinery by which Europe had been governed for one thousand years; yea, the very throne of the Pope himself, whom he defies, whom he insults, and against whom he urges Christendom to rebel. As a combatant, a warrior, a reformer, his person and character somewhat change. He is coarser, he is more sensual-looking, he drinks more beer, he tells more stories, he uses harder names; he becomes arrogant, dogmatic; he dictates and commands; he quarrels with his friends; he is imperious; he fears nobody, and is scornful of old usages; he marries a nun; he feels that he is a great leader and general, and wields new powers; he is an executive and administrative man, for which his courage and insight and will and Herculean physical strength wonderfully fit him,–the man for the times, the man to head a new movement, the forces of an age of protest and rebellion and conquest.

How can I compress into a few sentences the demolitions and destructions which this indignant and irritated reformer now makes in Germany, where he is protected by the Elector from Papal vengeance? Before the reconstruction, the old rubbish must be cleared away, and Augean stables must be cleansed. He is now at issue with the whole Catholic regime, and the whole Catholic world abuse him. They call him a glutton, a wine-bibber, an adulterer, a scoffer, an atheist, an imp of Satan; and he calls the Pope the scarlet mother of abominations, Antichrist, Babylon. That age is prodigal in offensive epithets; kings and prelates and doctors alike use hard words. They are like angry children and women and pugilists; their vocabulary of abuse is amusing and inexhaustible. See how prodigal Shakspeare and Ben Jonson are in the language of vituperation. But they were all defiant and fierce, for the age was rough and earnest. The Pope, in wrath, hurls the old weapons of the Gregorys and the Clements. But they are impotent as the darts of Priam; Luther laughs at them, and burns the Papal bull before a huge concourse of excited students and shopkeepers and enthusiastic women. He severs himself completely from Rome, and declares an unextinguishable warfare. He destroys and breaks up the ceremonies of the Mass; he pulls down the consecrated altars, with their candles and smoking incense and vessels of silver and gold, since they are the emblems of Jewish and Pagan worship; he tears off the vestments of priests, with their embroideries and their gildings and their millineries and their laces, since these are made to impose on the imagination and appeal to the sense; he breaks up monasteries and convents, since they are dens of infamy, cages of unclean birds, nurseries of idleness and pleasure, abodes at the best of narrow-minded, ascetic Asiatic recluses, who rejoice in penance and self-expiation and other modes of propitiating the Deity, like soofists and fakirs and Braminical devotees. In defiance of the most sacred of the institutions of the Middle Ages, he openly marries Catherine Bora and sets up a hilarious household, and yet a household of prayer and singing. He abolishes the old Gregorian service; and for Mediaeval chants, monotonous and gloomy, he prepares hymns and songs,–not for boys and priests to intone in the distant choir, but for the whole congregation to sing, inspired by the melodies of David and the exulting praises of a Saviour who redeems from darkness into light. How grand that hymn of his,–

“A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing.”

He makes worship more heartfelt, and revives apostolic usages: preaching and exhortation and instruction from the pulpit,–a forgotten power. He appeals to reason rather than sense; denounces superstitions, while he rebukes sins; and kindles a profound fervor, based on the recognition of new truths. He is not fully emancipated from the traditions of the past; for he retains the doctrine of transubstantiation, and keeps up the holidays of the Church, and allows recreation on the Sabbath. But what he thinks the most of is the circulation of the Scriptures among plain people. So he translates them into German,–a gigantic task; and this work, almost single-handed, is done so well that it becomes the standard of the German language, as the Bible of Tindale helped to form the English tongue; and not only so, but it has remained the common version in use throughout Germany, even as the authorized King James version, made nearly a century later by the labor of many scholars and divines, has remained the standard English Bible. Moreover, he finds time to make liturgies and creeds and hymns, and to write letters to all parts of Christendom,–a Jerome, a Chrysostom, and an Augustine united; a kind of Protestant pope, to whom everybody looks for advice and consolation. What a wonderful man! No wonder the Germans are so fond of him and so proud of him,–a Briareus with a hundred arms; a marvel, a wonder, a prodigy of nature; the most gifted, versatile, hard-working man of his century or nation!

At last, this great theologian, this daring innovator, is summoned by imperial, not papal, authority before the Diet of the empire at Worms, where the Emperor, the great Charles V., presides, amid bishops, princes, cardinals, legates, generals, and dignitaries. Thither Luther must go,–yet under imperial safe conduct,–and consummate his protests, and perhaps offer up his life. Painters, poets, historians, have made that scene familiar,–the most memorable in the life of Luther, as well as one of the grandest spectacles of the age. I need not dwell on that exciting scene, where, in the presence of all that was illustrious and powerful in Germany, this defenceless doctor dares to say to supremest temporal and spiritual authority, “Unless you confute me by arguments drawn from Scripture, I cannot and will not recant anything … Here I stand; I cannot otherwise: God help me! Amen.” How superior to Galileo and other scientific martyrs! He is not afraid of those who can kill only the body; he is afraid only of Him who hath power to cast both soul and body into hell. So he stands as firm as the eternal pillars of justice, and his cause is gained. What if he did not live long enough’ to accomplish all he designed! What if he made mistakes, and showed in his career many of the infirmities of human nature! What if he cared very little for pictures and statues,–the revived arts of Greece and Rome, the Pagan Renaissance in which he only sees infidelity, levities, and luxuries, and other abominations which excited his disgust and abhorrence when he visited Italy! _He_ seeks, not to amuse and adorn the Papal empire, but to reform it; as Paul before him sought to plant new sentiments and ideas in the Roman world, indifferent to the arts of Greece, and even the beauties of nature, in his absorbing desire to convert men to Christ. And who, since Paul, has rendered greater service to humanity than Luther? The whole race should be proud that such a man has lived.

We will not follow the great reformer to the decline of his years; we will not dwell on his subsequent struggles and dangers, his marvellous preservation, his personal habits, his friendships and his hatreds, his joys and sorrows, his bitter alienations, his vexations, his disappointments, his gloomy anticipations of approaching strife, his sickened yet exultant soul, his last days of honor and of victory, his final illness, and his triumphant death in the town where he was born. It is his legacy that we are concerned in, the inheritance he left to succeeding generations,–the perpetuated ideas of the Reformation, which he worked out in anguish and in study, and which we will not let die, but will cherish in our memories and our hearts, as among the most precious of the heirlooms of genius, susceptible of boundless application. And it is destined to grow brighter and richer, in spite of counter-reformation and Jesuitism, of Pagan levities and Pagan lies, of boastful science and Epicurean pleasures, of material glories, of dissensions and sects and parties, as the might and majesty of ages coursing round the world regenerates institutions and nations, and proclaims the sovereignty of intelligence, the glory and the power of God.


Ranke’s Reformation in Germany; D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation; Luther’s Letters; Mosheim’s History of the Church; Melancthon’s Life of Luther: Erasmi Epistolae; Encyclopaedia Britannica.


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A. D. 1489-1556.


As the great interest of the Middle Ages, in an historical point of view, centres around the throne of the popes, so the most prominent subject of historical interest in our modern times is the revolt from their almost unlimited domination. The Protestant Reformation, in its various relations, was a movement of transcendent importance. The history of Christendom, in a moral, a political, a religious, a literary, and a social point of view, for the last three hundred years, cannot be studied or comprehended without primary reference to that memorable revolution.

We have seen how that great insurrection of human intelligence was headed in Germany by Luther, and we shall shortly consider it in Switzerland and France under Calvin. We have now to contemplate the movement in England.

The most striking figure in it was doubtless Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, although he does not represent the English Reformation in all its phases. He was neither so prominent nor so great a man as Luther or Calvin, or even Knox. But, taking him all in all, he was the most illustrious of the English reformers; and he, more than any other man, gave direction to the spirit of reform, which had been quietly working ever since the time of Wyclif, especially among the humbler classes.

The English Reformation–the way to which had been long preparing–began in the reign of Henry VIII.; and this unscrupulous and tyrannical monarch, without being a religious man, gave the first great impulse to an outbreak the remote consequences of which he did not anticipate, and with which he had no sympathy. He rebelled against the authority of the Pope, without abjuring the Roman Catholic religion, either as to dogmas or forms. In fact, the first great step towards reform was made, not by Cranmer, but by Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, as the prime minister of Henry VIII.,–a man of whom we really know the least of all the very great statesmen of English history. It was he who demolished the monasteries, and made war on the whole monastic system, and undermined the papal power in England, and swept away many of the most glaring of those abuses which disgraced the Papal Empire. Armed with the powers which Wolsey had wielded, he directed them into a totally different channel, so far as the religious welfare of the nation is considered, although in his principles of government he was as absolute as Richelieu. Like the great French statesman, he exalted the throne; but, unlike him, he promoted the personal reign of the sovereign he served with remarkable ability and devotion.

Thomas Cromwell, the prime minister of Henry VIII., after the fall of Wolsey, was born in humble ranks, and was in early life a common soldier in the wars of Italy, then a clerk in a mercantile house in Antwerp, then a wool merchant in Middleborough, then a member of Parliament, and was employed by Wolsey in suppressing some of the smaller monasteries. His fidelity to his patron Wolsey, at the time of that great cardinal’s fall, attracted the special notice of the King, who made him royal secretary in the House of Commons. He made his fortune by advising Henry to declare himself Head of the English Church, when he was entangled in the difficulties growing out of the divorce of Catharine. This advice was given with the patriotic view of making the royal authority superior to that of the Pope in Church patronage, and of making England independent of Rome.

The great scandal of the times was the immoral lives of the clergy, especially of the monks, and the immunities they enjoyed. They were a hindrance to the royal authority, and weakened the resources of the country by the excessive drain of gold and silver sent to Rome to replenish the papal treasury. Cromwell would make the clergy dependent on the King and not on the Pope for their investitures and promotions; and he abominated the idle and vagabond lives of the monks, who had degenerated in England, perhaps more than in any other country in Europe, in consequence of the great wealth of their monasteries. He was able to render his master and the kingdom a great service, from the powers lavished upon him. He presided at convocations as the King’s vicegerent; controlled the House of Commons, and was inquisitor-general of the monasteries; he was foreign and home secretary, vicar-general, and president of the star-chamber or privy-council. The proud Nevilles, the powerful Percies, and the noble Courtenays all bowed before this plebeian son of a mechanic, who had arisen by force of genius and lucky accidents,–too wise to build a palace like Hampton Court, but not ecclesiastical enough in his sympathies to found a college like Christ’s Church as Wolsey did. He was a man simple in his tastes, and hard-working like Colbert,–the great finance minister of France under Louis XIV.,–whom he resembled in his habits and policy.

His great task, as well as his great public service, was the visitation and suppression of monasteries. He perceived that they had fulfilled their mission; that they were no longer needed; that they had become corrupt, and too corrupt to be reformed; that they were no longer abodes of piety, or beehives of industry, or nurseries of art, or retreats of learning; that their wealth was squandered; that they upheld the arm of a foreign power; that they shielded offenders against the laws; that they encouraged vagrancy and extortion; that, in short, they were nests of unclean birds.

The monks and friars opposed the new learning now extending from Italy to France, to Germany, and to England. Colet came back from Italy, not to teach Platonic mysticism, but to unlock the Scriptures in the original,–the centre of a group of scholars at Oxford, of whom Erasmus and Thomas More stood in the foremost rank. Before the close of the fifteenth century, it is said that ten thousand editions of various books had been printed in different parts of Europe. All the Latin authors, and some of the Greek, were accessible to students. Tunstall and Latimer were sent to Padua to complete their studies. Fox, bishop of Winchester, established a Greek professorship at Oxford. It was an age of enthusiasm for reviving literature,–which, however, received in Germany, through the influence chiefly of Luther, a different direction from what it received in Italy, and which extended from Germany to England. But to this awakened spirit the monks presented obstacles and discouragements. They had no sympathy with progress; they belonged to the Dark Ages; they were hostile to the circulation of the Scriptures; they were pedlers of indulgences and relics; impostors, frauds, vagabonds, gluttons, worldly, sensual, and avaricious.

So notoriously corrupt had monasteries become that repeated attempts had been made to reform them, but without success. As early as 1489, Innocent VII. had issued a commission for a general investigation. The monks were accused of dilapidating public property, of frequenting infamous places, of stealing jewels from consecrated shrines. In 1511, Archbishop Warham instituted another visitation. In 1523 Cardinal Wolsey himself undertook the task of reform. At last the Parliament, in 1535, appointed Cromwell vicar or visitor-general, issued a commission, and intrusted it to lawyers, not priests, who found that the worst had not been told. It was found that two thirds of the monks of England were living in concubinage; that their lands were wasted and mortgaged, and their houses falling into ruins. They found the Abbot of Fountains surrounded with more women than Mohammed allowed his followers, and the nuns of Litchfield scandalously immoral.

On this report, the Lords and Commons–deliberately, not rashly–decreed the suppression of all monasteries the income of which was less than two hundred pounds a year, and the sequestration of their lands to the King. About two hundred of the lesser convents were thus suppressed, and the monks turned adrift, yet not entirely without support. This spoliation may have been a violation of the rights of property, but the monks had betrayed their trusts. The next Parliament completed the work. In 1539 all the religious houses were suppressed, both great and small. Such venerable and princely retreats as St. Albans, Glastonbury, Beading, Bury St. Edmunds, and Westminster, which had flourished one thousand years,–founded long before the Conquest,–shared the common ruin. These probably would have been spared, had not the first suppression filled the country with traitors. The great insurrection in Lincolnshire which shook the foundation of the throne, the intrigues of Cardinal Pole, the Cornish conspiracy in which the great house of Neville was implicated, and various other agitations, were all fomented by the angry monks.

Rapacity was not the leading motive of Henry or his minister, but the public welfare. The measure of suppression and sequestration was violent, but called for. Cromwell put forth no such sophistical pleas as those revolutionists who robbed the French clergy,–that their property belonged to the nation. In France the clergy were despoiled, not because they were infamous, but because they were rich, In England the monks may have suffered injustice from the severity of their punishment, but no one now doubts that punishment was deserved. Nor did Henry retain all the spoils himself: he gave away the abbey lands with a prodigality equal to his rapacity. He gave them to those who upheld his throne, as a reward for service or loyalty. They were given to a new class of statesmen, who led the popular party,–like the Fitzwilliams, the Russells, the Dudleys, and the Seymours,–and thus became the foundation of their great estates. They were also distributed to many merchants and manufacturers who had been loyal to the government. From one-third to two-thirds of the landed property of the kingdom,–as variously estimated,–thus changed hands. It was an enormous confiscation,–nearly as great as that made by William the Conqueror in favor of his army of invaders. It must have produced an immense impression on the mind of Europe. It was almost as great a calamity to the Catholic Church of England as the emancipation of slaves was to their Southern masters in our late war. Such a spoliation of the Church had not before taken place in any country of Europe. How great an evil the monastic system must have been regarded by Parliament to warrant such an act! Had it not been popular, there would have been discontents amounting to a general to the throne.

It must also be borne in mind that this dissolution of the monasteries, this attack on the monastic system, was not a religious movement fanned by reformers, but an act of Parliament, at the instance of a royal minister. It was not done under the direction of a Protestant king,–for Henry was never a Protestant,–but as a public measure in behalf of morality and for reasons of State. It is true that Henry had, by his marriage with Anne Boleyn and the divorce of his virtuous queen, defied the Pope and separated England from Rome, so far as appointments to ecclesiastical benefices are concerned. But in offending the Pope he also equally offended Charles V. The results of his separation from Rome, during his life, were purely political. The King did not give up the Mass or the Roman communion or Roman dogmas of faith; he only prepared the way for reform in the next reign. He only intensified the hatred between the old conservative party and the party of reform and progress.

How far Cromwell himself was a Protestant it is difficult to tell. Doubtless he sympathized with the new religious spirit of the age, but he did not openly avow the faith of Luther. He was the able and unscrupulous minister of an absolute monarch, bent on sweeping away abuses of all kinds, but with the idea of enlarging the royal authority as much, perhaps, as promoting the prosperity of the realm.

He therefore turned his attention to the ecclesiastical courts, which from the time of Becket had been antagonistic to royal encroachments. The war between the civil power and these courts had begun before the fall of Wolsey, and had resulted in the curtailment of probate duties, legacies, and mortuaries, by which the clergy had been enriched. A limitation of pluralities and enforcement of residence had also been effected. But a still greater blow to the privileges of the clergy was struck by the Parliament under the influence of Cromwell, who had elevated it in order to give legality to the despotic measures of the Crown; and in this way a law was passed that no one under the rank of a sub-deacon, if convicted of felony, should be allowed to plead his “benefit of clergy,” but should be punished like ordinary criminals,–thus re-establishing the constitutions of Clarendon in the time of Becket. Another act also was passed, by which no one could be summoned, as aforetime, to the archbishop’s court out of his own diocese,–a very beneficent act, since the people had been needlessly subject to great expense and injustice in being obliged to travel considerable distances. It was moreover enacted that men could not burden their estates beyond twenty years by providing priests to sing masses for their souls. The Parliament likewise abolished annats,–a custom which had long prevailed in Europe, which required one year’s income to be sent to the Pope on any new preferment; a great burden to the clergy; a sort of tribute to a foreign power. Within fifty years, one hundred and sixty thousand pounds had thus been sent from England to Rome, from this one source of papal revenue alone,–equal to three million pounds at the present time, or fifteen millions of dollars, from a country of only three millions of people. It was the passage of that act which induced Sir Thomas More (a devoted Catholic, but a just and able and incorruptible judge) to resign the seals which he had so long and so honorably held,–the most prominent man in England after Cromwell and Cranmer; and it was the execution of this lofty character, because he held out against the imperious demands of Henry, which is the greatest stain upon this monarch’s reign. Parliament also called the clergy to account for excessive acts of despotism, and subjected them to the penalty of a premunire (the offence of bringing a foreign authority into England), from which they were freed only by enormous fines.

Thus it would seem that many abuses were removed by Cromwell and the Parliament during the reign of Henry VIII. which may almost be considered as reforms of the Church itself. The authority of the Church was not attacked, still less its doctrines, but only abuses and privileges the restraint of which was of public benefit, and which tended to reduce the power of the clergy. It was this reduction of clerical usurpations and privileges which is the main feature in the legislation of Henry VIII., so far as it pertained to the Church. It was wresting away the power which the clergy had enjoyed from the days of Alfred and Ina,–a reform which Henry II. and Edward I., and other sovereigns, had failed to effect. This was the great work of Cromwell, and in it he had the support of his royal master, since it was a transfer of power from the clergy to the throne; and Henry VIII. was hated and anathematized by Rome as Henry IV. of Germany was, without ceasing to be a Catholic. He even retained the title of Defender of the Faith, which had been conferred upon him by the Pope for his opposition to the theological doctrines of Luther, which he never accepted, and which he always detested.

Cromwell did not long survive the great services he rendered to his king and the nation. In the height of his power he made a fatal mistake. He deceived the King in regard to Anne of Cleves, whose marriage he favored from motives of expediency and a manifest desire to promote the Protestant cause. He palmed upon the King a woman who could not speak a word of English,–a woman without graces or accomplishments, who was absolutely hateful to him. Henry’s disappointment was bitter, and his vengeance was unrelenting. The enemies of Cromwell soon took advantage of this mistake. The great Duke of Norfolk, head of the Catholic party, accused him at the council-board of high treason. Two years before, such a charge would have received no attention; but Henry now hated him, and was resolved to punish him for the wreck of his domestic happiness.

Cromwell was hurried to that gloomy fortress whose outlet was generally the scaffold. He was denied even the form of trial. A bill of attainder was hastily passed by the Parliament he had ruled. Only one person in the realm had the courage to intercede for him, and this was Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury; but his entreaties were futile. The fallen minister had no chance of life, and no one knew it so well as himself. Even a trial would have availed nothing; nothing could have availed him,–he was a doomed man. So he bade his foes make quick work of it; and quick work was made. In eighteen days from his arrest, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Knight of the Garter, Grand Chamberlain, Lord Privy Seal, Vicar-General, and Master of the Wards, ascended the scaffold on which had been shed the blood of a queen,–making no protestation of innocence, but simply committing his soul to Jesus Christ, in whom he believed. Like Wolsey, he arose from an humble station to the most exalted position the King could give; and, like Wolsey, he saw the vanity of delegated power as soon as he offended the source of power.

“He who ascends the mountain-tops shall find The loftiest peak most wrapped in clouds and storms. Though high above the sun of glory shines, And far beneath the earth and ocean spread, Round _him_ are icy rocks, and loudly blow. Contending tempests on his naked head.”

On the disappearance of Cromwell from the stage, Cranmer came forward more prominently. He was a learned doctor in that university which has ever sent forth the apostles of great emancipating movements. He was born in 1489, and was therefore twenty years of age on the accession of Henry VIII. in 1509, and was twenty-eight when Luther published his theses. He early sympathized with the reform doctrines, but was too politic to take an active part in their discussion. He was a moderate, calm, scholarly man, not a great genius or great preacher. He had none of those bold and dazzling qualities which attract the gaze of the world. We behold in him no fearless and impetuous Luther,–attacking with passionate earnestness the corruptions of Rome; bracing himself up to revolutionary assaults, undaunted before kings and councils, and giving no rest to his hands or slumber to his eyes until he had consummated his protests,–a man of the people, yet a dictator to princes. We see no severely logical Calvin,–pushing out his metaphysical deductions until he had chained the intellect of his party to a system of incomparable grandeur and yet of repulsive austerity, exacting all the while the same allegiance to doctrines which he deduced from the writings of Paul as he did to the direct declarations of Christ; next to Thomas Aquinas, the acutest logician the Church has known; a system-maker, like the great Dominican schoolmen, and their common master and oracle, Saint Augustine of Hippo. We see in Cranmer no uncompromising and aggressive reformer like Knox,–controlling by a stern dogmatism both a turbulent nobility and an uneducated people, and filling all classes alike with inextinguishable hatred of everything that even reminded them of Rome. Nor do we find in Cranmer the outspoken and hearty eloquence of Latimer,–appealing to the people at St. Paul’s Cross to shake off all the trappings of the “Scarlet Mother,” who had so long bewitched the world with her sorceries.

Cranmer, if less eloquent, less fearless, less logical, less able than these, was probably broader, more comprehensive in his views,–adapting his reforms to the circumstances of the age and country, and to the genius of the English mind. Hence his reforms, if less brilliant, were more permanent. He framed the creed that finally was known as the Thirty-nine Articles, and was the true founder of the English Church, as that Church has existed for more than three centuries,–neither Roman nor Puritan, but “half-way between Rome and Geneva;” a compromise, and yet a Church of great vitality, and endeared to the hearts of the English people. Northern Germany–the scene of the stupendous triumphs of Luther–is and has been, since the time of Frederick the Great, the hot-bed of rationalistic inquiries; and the Genevan as well as the French and Swiss churches which Calvin controlled have become cold, with a dreary and formal Protestantism, without poetry or life. But the Church of England has survived two revolutions and all the changes of human thought, and is still a mighty power, decorous, beautiful, conservative, yet open to all the liberalizing influences of an age of science and philosophy. Cranmer, though a scholastic, seems to have perceived that nothing is more misleading and uncertain and unsatisfactory than any truth pushed out to its severest logical conclusions without reference to other truths which have for their support the same divine authority. It is not logic which has built up the most enduring institutions, but common-sense and plain truths, and appeals to human consciousness,–the _cogito, ergo sum_, without whose approval most systems have perished. _In mediis tutissimus ibis_, is not indeed an agreeable maxim to zealots and partisans and dialectical logicians, but it seems to be induced from the varied experiences of human life and the history of different ages and nations, and applies to all the mixed sciences, like government and political economy, as well as to church institutions.

As Cromwell made his fortune by advising the King to assume the headship of the Church in England, so Cranmer’s rise is to be traced to his advice to Henry to appeal to the decision of universities whether or not he could be legally divorced from Catharine, since the Pope–true to the traditions of the Catholic Church, or from fear of Charles V.–would not grant a dispensation. All this business was a miserable quibble, a tissue of scholastic technicalities. But it answered the ends of Cranmer. The schools decided for the King, and a great injustice and heartless cruelty was done to a worthy and loyal woman, and a great insult offered to the Church and to the Emperor Charles of Germany, who was a nephew of the Spanish Princess and English Queen. This scandal resulted in a separation from Rome, as was foreseen both by Cromwell and Cranmer; and the latter became Archbishop of Canterbury, a prelate whose power and dignity were greater then than at the present day, exalted as the post is even now,–the highest in dignity and rank to which a subject can aspire,–higher even than the Lord High Chancellorship; both of which, however, pale before the position of a Prime Minister so far as power is concerned.

The separation from Rome, the suppression of the monasteries, and the curtailment of the powers of the spiritual courts were the only reforms of note during the reign of Henry VIII., unless we name also the new translation of the Bible, authorized through Cranmer’s influence, and the teaching of the creed, the commandments, and the Lord’s prayer in English. The King died in 1547. Cranmer was now fifty-seven, and was left to prosecute reforms in his own way as president of the council of regency, Edward VI. being but nine years old,–“a learned boy,” as Macaulay calls him, but still a boy in the hands of the great noblemen who composed the regency, and who belonged to the progressive school.

I do not think the career of Cranmer during the life of Henry is sufficiently appreciated. He must have shown at least extraordinary tact and wisdom,–with his reforming tendencies and enlightened views,–not to come in conflict with his sovereign as Becket did with Henry II. He had to deal with the most capricious and jealous of tyrants; cruel and unscrupulous when crossed; a man who rarely retained a friendship or remembered a service; who never forgave an injury or forgot an affront; a glutton and a sensualist; although prodigal with his gifts, social in his temper, enlightened in his government, and with very respectable abilities and very considerable theological knowledge. This hard and exacting master Cranmer had to serve, without exciting his suspicions or coming in conflict with him; so that he seemed politic and vacillating, for which he would not be excused were it not for his subsequent services, and his undoubted sincerity and devotion to the Protestant cause. During the life of Henry we can scarcely call Cranmer a reformer. The most noted reformer of the day was old Hugh Latimer, the King’s chaplain, who declaimed against sin with the zeal and fire of Savonarola, and aimed to create a religious life among the people, from whom, he sprung and whom he loved,–a rough, hearty, honest, conscientious man, with deep convictions and lofty soul.

In the reforms thus far carried on we perceive that, though popular, they emanated from princes and not from the people. The people had no hand in the changes made, as at Geneva, only the ministers of kings and great public functionaries. And in the reforms subsequently effected, which really constitute the English Reformation, they were made by the council of regency, under the leadership of Cranmer and the protectorship of Somerset.

The first thing which the Government did after the accession of Edward VI. was to remove images from the churches, as a form of idolatry,–much to the wrath of Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, the ablest man of the old conservative and papal party. But Ridley, afterwards Bishop of Rochester, preached against all forms of papal superstition with so much ability and zeal that the churches were soon cleared of these “helps to devotion.”

Cranmer, now unchecked, turned his attention to other reforms, but proceeded slowly and cautiously, not wishing to hazard much at the outset. First communion of both kinds, heretofore restricted to the clergy, was appointed; and, closely connected with it, Masses were put down. Then a law was passed by Parliament that the appointment of bishops should vest in the Crown alone, and not, as formerly, be confirmed by the Pope. The next great thing to which the reformers directed their attention was the preparation of a new liturgy in the public worship of God, which gave rise to considerable discussion. They did not seek to sweep away the old form, for it was prepared by the sainted doctors of the Church of all ages; but they would purge it of all superstitions, and retain what was most beautiful and expressive in the old prayers. The Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the early creeds of course were retained, as well as whatever was in harmony with primitive usages. These changes called out letters from Calvin at Geneva, who was now recognized as a great oracle among the Protestants: he encouraged the work, but advised a more complete reformation, and complained of the coldness of the clergy, as well as of the general vices of the times. Martin Bucer of Strasburg, at this time professor at Cambridge, also wrote letters to the same effect; but the time had not come for more radical reforms. Then, Parliament, controlled by the Government, passed an act allowing the clergy to marry,–opposed, of course, by many bishops in allegiance to Rome. This was a great step in reform, and removed many popular scandals; it struck a heavy blow at the superstitions of the Middle Ages, and showed that celibacy sprung from no law of God, but was Oriental in its origin, encouraged by the popes to cement their throne. And this act concerning the marriage of the clergy was soon followed by the celebrated Forty-two Articles, framed by Cranmer and Ridley, which are the bases of the English Church,–a theological creed, slightly amended afterwards in the reign of Elizabeth; evangelical but not Calvinistic, affirming the great ideas of Augustine and Luther as to grace, justification by faith, and original sin, and repudiating purgatory, pardons, the worship and invocation of saints and images; a larger creed than the Nicene or Athanasian, and comprehensive,–such as most Protestants might accept. Both this and the book of Common Prayer were written with consummate taste, were the work of great scholars,–moderate, broad, enlightened, conciliatory.

The reformers then gave their attention to an alteration of ecclesiastical laws in reference to matters which had always been decided in ecclesiastical courts. The commissioners–the ablest men in England, thirty-two in number–had scarcely completed their work before the young King died, and Mary ascended the throne.

We cannot too highly praise the moderation with which the reforms had been made, especially when we remember the violence of the age. There were only two or three capital executions for heresy. Gardiner and Bonner, who opposed the reformation with unparalleled bitterness were only deprived of their sees and sent to the Tower. The execution of Somerset was the work of politicians, of great noblemen jealous of his ascendency. It does not belong to the reformation, nor do the executions of a few other noblemen.

Cranmer himself was a statesman rather than a preacher. He left but few sermons, and these commonplace, without learning, or wit, or zeal,–ordinary exhortations to a virtuous life. The chief thing, outside of the reforms I have mentioned, was the publication of a few homilies for the use of the clergy,–too ignorant to write sermons,–which homilies were practical and orthodox, but containing nothing to stir up an ardent religious life. The Bible was also given a greater scope; everybody could read it if he wished. Public prayer was restored to the people in a language which they could understand, and a few preachers arose who appealed to conscience and reason,–like Latimer and Ridley, and Hooper and Taylor; but most of them were formal and cold. There must have been great religious apathy, or else these reforms would have excited more opposition on the part of the clergy, who generally acquiesced in the changes. But the Reformation thus far was official; it was not popular. It repressed vice and superstition, but kindled no great enthusiasm. It was necessary for the English reformers and sincere Protestants to go through a great trial; to be persecuted, to submit to martyrdom for the sake of their opinions. The school of heroes and saints has ever been among blazing fires and scaffolds. It was martyrdom which first gave form and power to early Christianity. The first chapter in the history of the early Church is the torments of the martyrs. The English Reformation had no great dignity or life until the funeral pyres were lighted. Men had placidly accepted new opinions, and had Bibles to instruct them; but it was to be seen how far they would make sacrifices to maintain them.

This test was afforded by the accession of Mary, daughter of Catharine the Spaniard,–an affectionate and kind-hearted woman enough in ordinary times, but a fiend of bigotry, like Catherine de’ Medicis, when called upon to suppress the Reformation, although on her accession she declared that she would force no man’s conscience. But the first thing she does is to restore the popish bishops,–for so they were called then by historians; and the next thing she does is to restore the Mass, and the third to shut up Cranmer and Latimer in the Tower, attaint and execute them, with sundry others like Ridley and Hooper, as well as those great nobles who favored the claims of the Lady Jane Grey and the religious reforms of Edward VI. She reconciles herself with Rome, and accepts its legate at her court; she receives Spanish spies and Jesuit confessors; she marries the son of Charles V., afterwards Philip II.; she executes the Lady Jane Grey; she keeps the strictest watch on the Princess Elizabeth, who learns in her retirement the art of dissimulation and lying; she forms an alliance with Spain; she makes Cardinal Pole Archbishop of Canterbury; she gives almost unlimited power to Gardiner and Bonner, who begin a series of diabolical persecutions, burning such people as John Rogers, Sanders, Doctor Taylor of Hadley, William Hunter, and Stephen Harwood, ferreting out all suspected of heresy, and confining them in the foulest jails,–burning even little children. Mary even takes measures to introduce the Inquisition and restore the monasteries. Everywhere are scaffolds and burnings. In three years nearly three hundred people were burned alive, often with green wood,–a small number compared with those who were executed and assassinated in France, about this time, by Catherine de’ Medicis, the Guises, and Charles IX.

In those dreadful persecutions which began with the accession of Mary, it was impossible that Cranmer should escape. In spite of his dignity, rank, age, and services, he could hope for no favor or indulgence from that morose woman in whose sapless bosom no compassion for the Protestants ever found admission, and still less from those cruel, mercenary, bigoted prelates whom she selected for her ministers. It was not customary in that age for the Roman Church to spare heretics, whether high or low. Would it forgive him who had overturned the consecrated altars, displaced the ritual of a thousand years, and revolted from the authority of the supreme head of the Christian world? Would Mary suffer him to pass unpunished who had displaced her mother from the nuptial bed, and pronounced her own birth to be stained with an ignominious blot, and who had exalted a rival to the throne? And Gardiner and Bonner, too, those bigoted prelates and ministers who would have sent to the flames an unoffending woman if she denied the authority of the Pope, were not the men to suffer him to escape who had not only overturned the papal power in England, but had deprived them of their sees and sent them to the Tower. No matter how decent the forms of law or respectful the agents of the crown, Cranmer had not the shadow of a hope; and hence he was certainly weak, to say the least, to trust to any deceitful promises made to him. What his enemies were bent upon was his recantation, as preliminary to his execution; and he should have been firm, both for his cause, and because his martyrdom was sure. In an evil hour he listened to the voice of the seducer. Both life and dignities were promised if he would recant. “Confounded, heart-broken, old,” the love of life and the fear of death were stronger for a time than the power of conscience or dignity of character. Six several times was he induced to recant the doctrines he had preached, and profess an allegiance which could only be a solemn mockery.

True, Cranmer came to himself; he perceived that he was mocked, and felt both grief and shame in view of his apostasy. His last hours were glorious. Never did a good man more splendidly redeem his memory from shame. Being permitted to address the people before his execution,–with the hope on the part of his tormentors that he would publicly confirm his recantation,–he first supplicated the mercy and forgiveness of Almighty God, and concluded his speech with these memorable words: “And now I come to the great thing that troubleth my conscience more than anything I ever did or said, even the setting forth of writings contrary to the truth, which I now renounce and refuse,–those things written with my own hand contrary to the truth I thought in my heart, and writ for fear of death and to save my life. And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished; for if I come to the fire, it shall first be burned. As for the Pope, I denounce him as Christ’s enemy and Antichrist, with all his false doctrines.” Then he was carried away, and a great multitude ran after him, exhorting him, while time was, to remember himself. “Coming to the stake,” says the Catholic eye-witness, “with a cheerful countenance and willing mind, he took off his garments in haste and stood upright in his shirt. Fire being applied, he stretched forth his right hand and thrust it into the flame, before the fire came to any other part of his body; when his hand was to be seen sensibly burning, he cried with a loud voice, ‘This hand hath offended.'”

Thus died Cranmer, in the sixty-seventh year of his age, after presiding over the Church of England above twenty years, and having bequeathed a legacy to his countrymen of which they continue to be proud. He had not the intrepidity of Latimer; he was supple to Henry VIII.; he was weak in his recantation; he was not an original genius,–but he was a man of great breadth of views, conciliating, wise, temperate in reform, and discharged his great trust with conscientious adherence to the truth as he understood it; the friend of Calvin, and revered by the Protestant world.

Queen Mary reigned, fortunately, but five years, and the persecutions she encouraged and indorsed proved the seed of a higher morality and a loftier religious life.

“For thus spake aged Latimer:
I tarry by the stake,
Not trusting in my own weak heart, But for the Saviour’s sake.
Why speak of life or death to me, Whose days are but a span?
Our crown is yonder,–Ridley, see! Be strong and play the man!
God helping, such a torch this day We’ll light on English land,
That Rome, with all her cardinals, Shall never quench the brand!”

The triumphs of Gardiner and Bonner too were short. Mary died with a bruised heart and a crushed ambition. On her death, and the accession of her sister Elizabeth, exiles returned from Geneva and Frankfort to advocate more radical changes in government and doctrine. Popular enthusiasm was kindled, never afterwards to be repressed.

The great ideas of the Reformation began now to agitate the mind of England,–not so much the logical doctrines of Calvin as the emancipating ideas of Luther. The Renaissance had begun, and the two movements were incorporated,–the religious one of Germany and the Pagan one of Italy, both favoring liberality of mind, a freer style of literature, restless inquiries, enterprise, the revival of learning and art, an intense spirit of progress, and disgust for the Dark Ages and all the dogmas of scholasticism. With this spirit of progress and moderate Protestantism Elizabeth herself, the best educated woman in England, warmly sympathized, as did also the illustrious men she drew to her court, to whom she gave the great offices of state. I cannot call her age a religious one: it was a merry one, cheerful, inquiring, untrammelled in thought, bold in speculation, eloquent, honest, fervid, courageous, hostile to the Papacy and all the bigots of Europe. It was still rough, coarse, sensual; when money was scarce and industries in their infancy, and material civilization not very attractive. But it was a great age, glorious, intellectual, brilliant; with such statesmen as Burleigh and Walsingham to head off treason and conspiracy; when great poets arose, like Jonson and Spenser and Shakspeare; and philosophers, like Bacon and Sir Thomas Browne; and lawyers, like Nicholas Bacon and Coke; and elegant courtiers, like Sidney and Raleigh and Essex; men of wit, men of enterprise, who would explore distant seas and colonize new countries; yea, great preachers, like Jeremy Taylor and Hall; and great theologians, like Hooker and Chillingworth,–giving polish and dignity to an uncouth language, and planting religious truth in the minds of men.

Elizabeth, with such a constellation around her, had no great difficulty in re-establishing Protestantism and giving it a new impetus, although she adhered to liturgies and pomps, and loved processions and fetes and banquets and balls and expensive dresses,–a worldly woman, but progressive and enlightened.

In the religious reforms of that age you see the work of princes and statesmen still, rather than any great insurrection of human intelligence or any great religious revival, although the germs of it were springing up through the popular preachers and the influence of Genevan reformers. Calvin’s writings were potent, and John Knox was on his way to Scotland.

I pass by rapidly the reforms of Elizabeth’s reign, effected by the Queen and her ministers and the convocation of Protestant bishops and clergy and learned men in the universities. Oxford and Cambridge were then in their glory,–crowded with poor students from all parts of England, who came to study Greek and Latin and read theology, not to ride horses and row boats, to put on dandified airs and sneer at lectures, running away to London to attend theatres and flirt with girls and drink champagne, beggaring their fathers and ruining their own expectations and their health. In a very short time after the accession of Elizabeth, which was hailed generally as a very auspicious event, things were restored to nearly the state in which they were left by Cranmer in the preceding reign. This was not done by direct authority of the Queen, but by acts of Parliament. Even Henry VIII. ruled through the Parliament, only it was his tool and instrument. Elizabeth consulted its wishes as the representation of the nation, for she aimed to rule by the affections of her people. But she recommended the Parliament to conciliatory measures; to avoid extremes; to drop offensive epithets, like “papist” and “heretic;” to go as far as the wants of the nation required, and no farther. Though a zealous Protestant, she seemed to have no great animosities. Her particular aversion was Bonner,–the violent, blood-thirsty, narrow-minded Bishop of London, who was deprived of his see and shut up in the Tower, put out of harm’s way, not cruelly treated,–he was not even deprived of his good dinners. She appointed, as her prerogative allowed, a very gentle, moderate, broad, kind-hearted man to be Archbishop of Canterbury,–Parker, who had been chaplain to her mother, and who was highly esteemed by Burleigh and Nicholas Bacon, her most influential ministers. Parliament confirmed the old act, passed during the reign of Henry VIII., making the sovereign the head of the English Church, although the title of “supreme head” was left out in the oath of allegiance, to conciliate the Catholic party. To execute this supremacy, the Court of High Commission was established,–afterwards so abused by Charles I. The Church Service was modified, and the Act of Uniformity was passed by Parliament, after considerable debate. The changes were all made in the spirit of moderation, and few suffered beyond a deprivation of their sees or livings for refusing to take the oath of supremacy.

Then followed the Thirty-nine Articles, setting forth the creed of the Established Church,–substantially the creed which Cranmer had made,–and a new translation of the Bible, and the regulation of ecclesiastical courts.

But whatever was done was in good taste,–marked by good sense and moderation,–to preserve decency and decorum, and repress all extremes of superstition and license. The clergy preached in a black gown and Genevan bands, using the surplice only in the liturgy; we see no lace or millinery. The churches were stripped of images, the pulpits became high and prominent, the altars were changed to communion-tables without candles and symbols. There was not much account made of singing, for the lyric version of the Psalms was execrable. For the first time since Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzen, preaching became the chief duty of the clergyman; and his sermons were long, for the people were greedy of instruction, and were not critical of artistic merits. Among other things of note, the exiles were recalled, who brought back with them the learning of the Continent and the theology of Geneva, and an intense hatred for all the old forms of superstition,–images, crucifixes, lighted candles, Catholic vestments,–and a supreme regard for the authority of the Scriptures, rather than the authority of the Church.

These men, mostly learned and pious, were not contented with the restoration as effected by Elizabeth’s reformers,–they wanted greater simplicity of worship and a more definite and logical creed; and they made a good deal of trouble, being very conscientious and somewhat narrow and intolerant. So that, after the re-establishment of Protestantism, the religious history of the reign is chiefly concerned with the quarrels and animosities within the Church, particularly about vestments and modes of worship,–things unessential, minute, technical,–which led to great acerbity on both sides, and to some persecution; for these quarrels provoked the Queen and her ministers, who wanted peace and uniformity. To the Government it seemed strange and absurd for these returned exiles to make such a fuss about a few externals; to these intensified Protestants it seemed harsh and cruel that Government should insist on such a rigid uniformity, and punish them for not doing as they were bidden by the bishops.

So they separated from the Established Church, and became what were called Nonconformists,–having not only disgust of the decent ritualism of the Church, but great wrath for the bishops and hierarchy and spiritual courts. They also disapproved of the holy days which the Church retained, and the prayers and the cathedral style of worship, the use of the cross in baptism, godfathers and godmothers, the confirmation of children, kneeling at the sacrament, bowing at the name of Jesus, the ring in marriage, the surplice, the divine right of bishops, and some other things which reminded them of Rome, for which they had absolute detestation, seeing in the old Catholic Church nothing but abominations and usurpations, no religion at all, only superstition and anti-Christian government and doctrine,–the reign of the beast, the mystic Babylon, the scarlet mother revelling in the sorceries of ancient Paganism. These terrible animosities against even the shadows and resemblances of what was called Popery were increased and intensified by the persecution and massacres which the Catholics about this time were committing on the Protestants in France and Germany and the Low Countries, and which filled the people of England,–especially the middle and lower classes,–with fear, alarm, anger, and detestation.

I will not enter upon the dissensions which so early crept into the English Church, and led to a separation or a schism, whatever name it goes by,–to most people in these times not very interesting or edifying, because they were not based on any great ideas of universal application, and seeming to such minds as Bacon and Parker and Jewell rather narrow and frivolous.

The great Puritan controversy would have no dignity if it were confined to vestments and robes and forms of worship, and hatred of ceremonies and holy days, and other matters which seemed to lean to Romanism. But the grandeur and the permanence of the movement were in a return to the faith of the primitive Church and a purer national morality, and to the unrestricted study of the Bible, and the exaltation of preaching and Christian instruction over forms and liturgies and antiphonal chants; above all, the exaltation of reason and learning in the interpretation of revealed truth, and the education of the people in all matters which concern their temporal or religious interests, so that a true and rapid progress was inaugurated in civilization itself, which has peculiarly marked all Protestant countries having religious liberty. Underneath all these apparently insignificant squabbles and dissensions there were two things of immense historical importance: first, a spirit of intolerance on the part of government and of church dignitaries,–the State allied with the Church forcing uniformity with their decrees, and severely punishing those who did not accept them,–in matters beyond all worldly authority; and, secondly, a rising spirit of religious liberty, determined to assert its glorious rights at any cost or hazard, and especially defended by the most religious and earnest part of the clergy, who were becoming Calvinistic in their creed, and were pushing the ideas of the Reformation to their utmost logical sequence. This spirit was suppressed during the reign of Elizabeth, out of general respect and love for her as a Queen, and the external dangers to which the realm was exposed from Spain and France, which diverted the national mind. But it burst out fiercely in the next reigns, under James and Charles, about the beginning of the seventeenth century. And this is the last development of the Reformation in England to which I can allude,–the great Puritan contest for liberty of worship, running, when opposed unjustly and cruelly, into a contest for civil liberty; that is, the right to change forms and institutions of civil government, even to the dethronement of kings, when it was the expressed and declared will of the people, in whom was vested the ultimate source of sovereignty.

But here I must be brief. I tread on familiar ground, made familiar by all our literature, especially by the most brilliant writer of modern times, though not the greatest philosopher: I mean that great artist and word-painter Macaulay, whose chief excellence is in making clear and interesting and vivid, by a world of illustration and practical good-sense and marvellous erudition, what was obvious to his own objective mind, and obvious also to most other enlightened people not much interested in metaphysical disquisitions. No man more than he does justice to the love of liberty which absolutely burned in the souls of the Puritans,–that glorious party which produced Milton and Cromwell, and Hampden and Bunyan, and Owen and Calamy, and Baxter and Howe.

The chief peculiarity of those Puritans–once called Nonconformists, afterwards Presbyterians and Independents–was their reception of the creed of John Calvin, the clearest and most logical intellect that the Reformation produced, though not the broadest; who reigned as a religious dictator at Geneva and in the Reformed churches of France, and who gave to John Knox the positivism and sternness and rigidity which he succeeded in impressing upon the churches of Scotland. And the peculiar doctrines which marked Calvin and his disciples were those deduced from the majesty of God and the comparative littleness of man, leading to and bound up with the impotence of the will, human dependence, the necessity of Divine grace,–Augustinian in spirit, but going beyond Augustine in the subtlety of metaphysical distinctions and dissertations on free-will election, and predestination,–unfathomable, but exceedingly attractive subjects to the divines of the seventeenth century, creating