Page images
PDF
EPUB

82

LESSONS TAUGHT BY ROVE. translated ; an attempt was made in parliament to condemn the translation, but failed through the manliness of John of Gannt. He boldly affirmed that Englishmen“ would not be the dregs of all, seeing other nations have the law of God, which is the law of our faith written in their own language." In 1408, however, the translation and the perusal of the Scriptures were formally prohibited in a convocation held at Oxford under archbishop Arundel.

These revivals of religion-all connected, it will be noticed, with the use of the Scriptures in the vernacular tongue, and the explanation of them to the people—had various results. Among the first was an appeal by the pope to the people of northern France to suppress, by force of arms, the heresy which had sprung up on their southern frontier. To encourage such a movement, he offered to the superstitious pardons as ample as had been offered, a century before, to the deliverers of the holy sepulchre. To the profligate, he offered the fertile and wealthy cities of the heretics. In answer to this appeal, a " war, distinguished even among wars of religion by its merciless atrocity," destroyed the Albigensian heresy, and with it the

erre and national existence of the most

ne intelligent part of Europe. Rome right herself of other plans forstrength

policy ; she instituted the order of ď the order of Dominio-friars grey k; and set up the tribunal of the

THE REFORMATION BEGINS.

83

Inquisition, hoping thus to fortify herself by the gratitude, if she might, and at all events by the terror, of mankind. Among the lessons taught her by this history-the history of the revival of religion before the Reformation-was the power of the Bible, a power which she now began to regard with a dread she has never subsequently lost.

Two hundred and fifty eventful years bring us to the time of the Reformation. During that interval the papacy underwent painful changes. The pope had been seized in his own palace by the soldiers of the king of France, and carried off to Avignon. Two claimants of the supreme power in the church, ench with a doubtful title, had made Europe ring with their mutual recriminations and anathemas, and men's minds had become everywhere unsettled. This danger to the influence of the papacy, however, had passed away. The council of Constance put an end to this unseemly dispute, and once more united the Catholic world under one head. The Albigenses, and other heretics, had been slaughtered in great numbers; the Lollards had been put down in England ; none dared to “peep or mutter,” so complete seemed the re-establishment of the papal authority.

The times, however, had also changed. The church had no longer a monopoly of learning ; lawyers, and educated men generally, viewed her encroachments with suspicion. In most of the towns of Europe the burghers had made

84

THE REFORMATION SPREADS. great progress in freedom. And, above all, the invention of printing in the fifteenth century had increased the facilities of intercourse between mind and mind. It is to be feared, too, that the vices of the clergy, including the very orders which had been instituted to strengthen the church, had become so gross as to produce general distrust. It is at least a significant fact, that much of the earlier literature of nearly all modern languages consists of satires on their ignorance and immorality.

Under such circumstances the Reformation commenced. In fifty years from the time when Luther renounced communion with the papacy, and burned the bull of Leo at the gates of Wittemberg, Protestantism had become predominant throughout half of Europe. In England, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Prussia, Saxony, Wirtemberg, the Palatinate, a large part of Switzerland, and all the northern Netherlands, the Reformation had triumphed. Such a change within so brief a period is without a parallel in history. To what cause is it to be ascribed ?

To this question historians have given various replies. The northern nations of Europe, it is said, detested the dominion of men who, like the Italians, were alieus in blood and in language. The observances of the church were a burden which men were unwilling to bear. The large sums which, under different pretexts, were exacted by the court of Rome, were often felt to be an humbling, as well as a.

CAUSES OF PROGRESS.

85

costly tribute. The character of that court, moreover, and its representatives, could not · fail to excite the disgust of a grave, devout, and earnest race. Such are the explanations which are sometimes given of the rapid progress of the Reformation ; and no doubt all the circumstances thus enumerated had force among the early friends of the new theology. But other influences were at work; and it may be questioned whether those just named were the chief. France and Spain, for example, though not fond of the government of foreigners, continued submissive. England had for centuries disowned the temporal power of the pope, and declined to pay him tribute, without casting off, however, her spiritual allegiance. The vices of the court of Rome, moreover, are hardly sufficient to explain the ready reception given to a new faith. In fact, these explanations, true as far as they go, leave out of view the mightiest influence of all, the power of the Bible among the people.

The proof of this power is twofold. First, it was extensively circulated through a large part of Europe before the Reformation began, and the evidence of its circulation is, to all who understand the Bible, evidence of its influence. And, secondly, this circulation of the Bible was regarded with bitter hostility by the Romish church, and she ascribed to it most of the disasters which the Reformation introduced. This twofold proof we proceed to lay before our readers.

86

THE BIBLE : EARLY TRANSLATIONS.

The name of the inventor of printing is not certainly known; but it is agreed on all hands that the first book ever printed was the Latin Vulgate, and that it came from the press soine time between the years A.D. 1450 and 1455. This edition is known among bibliographers as the Mazarin Bible, and there are not less than eighteen copies of it in the different libraries of Europe. It shows the spirit of the inventors that at the outset they attempted to print so large a work, and executed it with such astonishing success. It illustrates, too, the esteem in which Scripture was held. May we not regard it, moreover, as a token for good that the first-fruits of this new art were dedicated to the holiest cause, and placed on the altar of religion? By the year 1459, two copies of the Psalter had been printed, and in 1460 the Bible was printed in German, at Bamberg, by Pfiester. In 1462, Fust, who had been partner with Gutenberg, the probable inventor of the new art, published a second edition of the Bible in German, at Mentz, the town giving its name to the edition. Throughout the German empire there were published, between the year 1461 and 1470, seven editions of the Bible, of which five were in Latin and two in German, In 1471, the Bible was printed in Italian, by Malermi, a Venetian, and two other editions of that or a different version were issued the same year ; eleven editions in Italian are enumerated

Panzer as published before the close of the enth century. A Flemish version appeared

Y

« PreviousContinue »