eager for the aggrandizement of his family, the princely Medicis, he could not practise the economy necessary to recruit his finances, and he therefore had recourse to every device that his ingenuity could suggest to raise money for the splendid designs he contemplated. Among these he introduced an extensive sale of indulgences, which often had proved a source of large profits to the church.

The origin of indulgences has been sometimes misrepresented by eminent writers; and as we have now reached a period when their abuse produced the most decisive blow which the papacy had yet received, it will be necessary to take a brief survey of their history. In the primitive church it was customary that those who had committed any heinous offence should perform a public penance before the congregation, “ that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord ; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend." In process of time rich and noble offenders became anxious to avoid public exposure, and private penances or a pecuniary compensation were substituted for the former discipline. On this change the popes founded a new doctrine, which, combined with the commutation of indulgences, opened the way for profitable traffic. They taught the world that all the good works of the saints, over and above those which were necessary to their own justification, are deposited, together with the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, in one inexhaustible treasury. The keys of this were committed to St. Peter and his successors the popes, who may open

may open it at pleasure, and by transferring a portion of this superabundant merit to any particular person for service in a crusade, or for a sum of money, may convey to him either the pardon of his own sins, or a release for any one, in whose happiness he is interested, from the pains of purgatory. These indulgences were first issued to those who joined personally in the expeditions for the recovery of the Holy Land; subsequently to those who hired a soldier for that purpose ; and finally to all who gave money for accomplishing any work which it pleased the popes to describe as good and pious. Julius II. bestowed indulgences on all who contributed to the building of St. Peter's at Rome, and Leo continued the traffic under the same pretence.

Different orders of monks derived considerable profit from the sale of indulgences, and great indignation was excited among the Augustinian friars when the monopoly of the trade in Germany was granted to their rivals, thė Dominicans. Tetzel, the chief agent in retailing them, was a man of licentious morals, but of an active spirit, and remarkable for his noisy and popular eloquence.* He executed his com


* The following is the form of absolution used by Tetzel :-“ May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon thee, and absolve thee by all the merits of his most holy passion; and I, by his authority, that of his blessed apostles, Peter and Paul, and of the most holy pope, granted anů committed to me in these parts, do absolve thee first from all ecclesiastical censures, in wliatever manner they have been incurred, and then from all thy sins, transgressions, and excesses, how enormous soever they may be, even from such as are reserved for the cognizance of the holy see : and as far as the keys of the holy church extend, I remit to you all punishment which you deserve in purgatory on their account; and I restore you to the holy sacraments of the church, to the unity of the faithful, and to that innocence and purity which you possessed at baptism; so that when you die, the

mission with little regard to discretion or decency, describing the merits of the indulgences in such a blasphemous style of exaggeration, that all men of sense were disgusted, and even the ignorant began to suspect the worth of pardons for sins dispensed by men whose profligacy was notorious and disgusting. The princes and nobles of Germany were enraged by witnessing the large sums of money drained from their vassals to support the lavish expenditure of the pontiff

, and many of the higher ranks of the clergy viewed with jealousy the favor displayed to the monastic orders.

MARTIN LUTHER, an Augustinian friar of great learning and indomitable courage, had prepared his mind for the noble career on which he was about to enter by a diligent study of the Holy Scriptures; the question of indulgences early engaged his attention, and he convinced himself that the Bible, which he began to consider as the great standard of theological truth, afforded no countenance to a practice equally subversive of faith and morals. Having vainly sought to procure the suppression of the traffic from the archbishop of Magdeburgh, he appealed to the suffrages of men of letters, by publishing ninety-five theses condemning the sale of indulgences as contrary to reason and Scripture.

Much has been written respecting the personal character of this daring reformer; his boldness frequently degenerated into violence, his opposition to the corrupt discipline of the church sometimes passed the bounds of decency; but these errors arose from the circumstances of his position ; he was in fact the representative of the public opinion of his age; and before we pass too severe a censure on the aberrations shat sully his career, we must remember that the age had scarcely emerged from barbarism, and that the human mind, as yet unaccustomed to freedom, when suddenly delivered from habitual restraint, necessarily rushed into some extravagances. While hostile writers describe Luther as the vilest of sinners, or the purest of saints, they forget that there is a previous question of some importance, the standard by which his conduct must be measured. We have no right to expect that Luther, engaged in a struggle for life and death, should display the moderation of a modern controversialist, or to look for the intelligence of the nineteenth century at the commencement of the sixteenth. Remembering the school in which he was educated, it is reasonable to believe that many monnish absurdities must long have been perceptible in his words and actions; we need not, therefore, deny that he was sometimes wrong, we need not disguise nor palliate his errors, for the cause which he promoted depends not on the character of him or of any other per

His adversaries, however, have never ventured to deny his courage, his sincerity, his integrity of purpose, and his superiority to all pecuniary considerations. He lived and died poor, though Rome would have purchased his return by wealth and dignity, though the leading reformers were ready to reward his perseverance by any grants he might have required.


gates of punishment shall be shut, and the gates of the paradise of delight shall be opened; and if you shall not die at present, this grace shall remain in full force when you are at the point of death. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”

Luther comprehended the state of public opinion; his publications were the manifestation of the revolt of reason against authority, rather than a thesis in his theology. His perseverance, the very violence and grossness of his invectives, showed that he felt human reason to be on his side. If he had not at first calculated the effect of his first blow, he showed great sagacity in measuring its results. Numerous echoes responded to his summons; Zuinglius began to preach in Switzerland, and the reform engaged the attention of enlightened men of letters ; among others, the celebrated Erasmus pointed out corruptions in the church, though he had not moral courage enough to separate himself from it openly. The papal party accepted Luther's challenge, fully believing that the slightest exertion of power would at once stifle opposition (A. D. 1520). Leo X., too indolent to examine the state of the public mind, and too proud to trouble himself about the opposition of a simple friar, published a bull condemning the theses of Luther as heretical and impious (A. D. 1520). The bold reformer at once declared open war against the papacy, by appealing to a general council, and burning the bull of excommunication in presence of a vast multitude at Wittemberg. He treated the volumes of the canon law with the same contumely, and justified his action in a manner more offensive to the advocates of the papacy than the action itself. Having collected from the canon law some of the most extravagant propositions with regard to the plenitude and omnipotence of the papal power, as well as the subordination of all secular jurisdiction to the authority of the holy see, he published these, with a commentary, pointing out the impiety of such tenets, and their evident tendency to subvert all civil governments. From this time, the interests of princes were even more deeply engaged on the side of Luther than popular reason. In fact, as a Romish historian has remarked, “policy became more Lutheran than religous reform!” Sovereigns naturally received with enthusiasm a doctrine which placed at their disposal the enormous wealth of the clergy, and gave them mastery over more riches than could be acquired by the most formidable force, or the most sanguinary combats. Thus, in Germany, Luther, who could at first with difficulty procure a horse when he had to appear before the diet, soon counted princes and entire nations among his disciples. Frederick the Wise, duke of Saxony, was the first among his converts, and the most powerful of his protectors.

It is assuredly very inconsistent in the advocates of the Romish church, to expose the mixture of secular and religious motives in the active supporters of the Reformation ; for the abuses which they condemned were equally temporal and spiritual. Indeed, it is very obvious, that the corruptions of doctrine were introduced to serve the political purposes of the papacy; a sordid desire for wealth was the foundation of the system of indulgences, which first provoked the revolt; an ambitious lust for power had caused the subversion of the independence of the national churches, which it was the earliest object of the Luther

Politics influenced the enemies of the papacy only because popery was itself a political system, and because in the struggle that now menaced its existence, it had at once recourse to secular auxiliaries

John Calvin, another reformer, was a follower of Zuinglius; he was

ans to restore.


a native of Noyon, in Picardy, and began first to publish his opinions at Paris (A. D. 1532). Driven thence by the persecutions of the French clergy, he removed to Strasburgh, where he soon rendered himself so eminent by his talents as a writer and a preacher, that the name of Calvinists were given to that section of the reformed congregations which had at first been named Zuinglians.

Calvin was subsequently invited to Geneva, where he organized a system of church-government on the presbyterian principle ; and under the pretence of providing for purity of morals and the continuance of sound doctrine, he contrived to transfer no small portion of the power of the state to the ecclesiastical courts. Unfortunately, these courts soon began to emulate the tyranny of the Romish inquisition, by persecuting those who differed from the standard of religious opinion adopted by the church of Geneva, and an unfortunate Spaniard, named Servetus, was burned alive for publishing some obnoxious doctrines on the subject of the Trinity. The differences which arose between the followers of Luther and Calvin, the obstinacy manifested by each of the parties in support of their own opinions, and the virulence with which they inveighed against each other, sadly checked the progress of the Reformation, and produced a reaction which enabled the court of Rome to recover several countries which it had very nearly lost.

Although much of the early success of the Reformation was cwing to the general progress of intelligence and scientific research, there were many among the leading reformers who viewed all secular learning with suspicion, and thus enabled their adversaries to identify their cause with ignorance and barbarism. This was a serious injury to the progress of improvement, for there were many like Erasmus who would gladly have joined in overthrowing the monkish corruptions which had defaced Christianity, but who were alarmed at the prospect of being subjected to the bigoted caprice of the presbyteries and other bodies which began to claim and exercise a power of control over opinion in most of the cities where the reformed religion was established. Whether the Romish church would have displayed a greater spirit of concession, had the reformers exhibited more moderation in their demands for innovation, may be questioned, but it is certain that the papal party could not have made so effectual a struggle as it maintained, had it not taken advantage of the violence, the imprudence, and the dissensions of the reformars themselves.

The rapid progress of the new doctrines was attempted to be checked by the diet of Spires (1. D. 1529), where a decree was promulgated, forbidding any innovation until the assembling of a general council. Luther's friends and followers protested against this decree, and hence the professors of the reformed religion received the common name of Protestants. Soon afterward they presented a general confession of their faith to the emperor at Augsburgh ; but unfortunately this celebrated document showed that there were irreconcilable differences between the Calvinistic and Lutheran sections of the reformers.

As the struggle, once begun, was maintained with great obstinacy, it soon led to serious political convulsions. Half of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Prussia, and Livonia, adopted the doctrines of Luther, as taught in the confession of Augsburg. England, Scotland Holland, and Switzerland, embraced the tenets of Zuinglius and Calvin ; while efforts to establish similar principles were made in France, Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland.

The means taken to end the controversy only aggravated the evil. It was proposed that the entire matter of dispute should be submitted to a general council, but it was impossible to determine the basis on which it should be convoked. After much delay, a council was assembled at Trent (A. D. 1545), whose sittings were continued, with some interruption, for several years ; but when at the close (A. D. 1563), its decrees were published, they were rejected, not only by the protestants, but by many catholic princes, especially the king of France, as subversive of the independence of national churches, and destructive of the lawful authority of sovereigns.

SECTION III.-History of the Negotiations and Wars respecting Italy. In the midst of the civil and ecclesiastical changes produced by the progress of intelligence, a system of policy for regulating the external relations of states was gradually formed, and attention began to be paid to what was called the Balance of Power ; that is, the arrangement of the European states in such a system that the weak might be protected from the aggressions of the powerful and the ambitious. This system first began in Italy, which was divided into a number of petty states; its chief members were the dutchy of Milan, and the republic of Venice, in the north ; the republic of Florence, and the states of the church, in the centre; and the kingdom of Naples, in the south. Encouraged by the distracted condition of the peninsula, foreigners were induced to attempt its conquest; and the kings of France and Spain, and the em perors of Germany, made this country the battle-field of rival ambition

After the expulsion of the house of Anjou from Italy, it was established in the petty principality of Provence, where the graces of courtly refinement and light literature were more sedulously cultivated than in any other part of Europe. Renè, the last monarch of the line, the father of the heroic English queen, Margaret of Anjou, had the prudence not to hazard his security by mingling in the troubled politics of France and Burgundy, but amused himself and his subjects by floral games and poetic contests, heedless of the sanguinary wars that convulsed the surrounding states.

On Rene's death Provence became a county under the French crown, and was justly deemed a most important acquisition (A.D. 1481). But with the substantial dominions of the house of Anjou, the French monarchs also inherited its pretensions to the thrones of Naples and Sicily Louis XI. was far too prudent a monarch to waste his strength on the assertion of such illusory claims; he directed his attention to a far more useful object, the establishment of the royal power over the great vassals of the crown, several of whom possessed greater real power than the nominal sovereign.

Charles VIII. departed from his father's prudent line of policy ; instead of securing the royal authority at home, he directed his atiention to foreign conquests, and resolved to assert his imaginary claims to the throne of Naples. He was instigated also by the invitations of Ludov.

« ElőzőTovább »