Page images

Another circumstance arising out of this, which weakened the Papal power, was the great Western schism. The Romans, wishing to have the Pope reside at Rome, elected one in opposition to the Pope at Avignon. Europe became divided and distracted. For fifty years, the church had two and sometimes three Popes or heads, who did little but hurl anathemas at each other. The distress and scandal of the age baffle description.

The mendicants also, throughout Europe, began to fall under a general odium. Their authority, rapaciousness, filth, and wickedness, provoked the rage of almost all clases.

In Eng. land, the University made a resolute stand against them by her, champion Wickliffe ; and in France many efforts were made to destroy their exorbitant power. Their internal conflicts were many and violent. These the Pontiffs endeavoured to subdue, and always with loss of power.

Besides the opposition of the true and faithful witnesses, the Romish communion found many in her own bosom, who, from time to time, exposed her vices and corruptions. Dante and Petrarch, in the fourteenth century, wrote against the corruptions of Rome; treating her as Babylon and the Pope as Antichrist; and, by their wit and raillery, did them incredible mischief.

In the same age, Peter Fitz Cassiodor addressed a remonstrance to the church of England against the tyranny and wickedness of Rome, urging a secession. Michael Cæsenus and William Occum exposed the various errors and heresies of John XXII. And Marsilius, a lawyer of Padua, wrote a treatise, entitled The Defender of Peace, in which he powerfully contested the Papal claim to Divine authority, or pre eminence over other bishops. In the year 1436, Thomas Rhedon, a Carmelite friar, saw the corruptions of the Papacy, and so boldly exposed them, that he was burned alive. One Jerome Savanarola, an Italian monk, also inveighed against the corruption of the papacy, and preached the doctrine of free justification by faith in Christ. He, with two companions, were imprisoned and burned alive at Florence, A. D. 1499. Thomas a Kempis

, the reputed author of the Imitation of Jesus Christ, who died in 1471, did much to enlighten the world in the nature of true piety. John Wesselus, of Groningen, shed much light on the surrounding darkness. Indeed, he has been denominated the light of the world, and the great forerunner of Luther; for he not only exposed the corruptions of popery, but preached many of those doctrines which Luther afterwards proclaimed, and which lay at the basis of the reformation.

CHAP. 11,



These and other witnesses in the bosom of the Papal Church, had excited a general feeling throughout Europe in favour of a reformation. Loud and repeated calls were made upon the ruling powers for a general council, to heal prevailing divisions and abuses. At length the Council of Constance was convened for this purpose. It was composed of 20 archbishops, 150 bishops, 150 other dignitaries, and 200 doctors. The Emperor Sigismund and the Pope were at its head. But what acts of reformation could be expected from men who were themselves grossly corrupt ;-from men, whose highest interest it was to have things remain just as they were, or rather become more degenerate? Besides, had they been disposed to do according to their best ability, they could only have effected a partial reformation of a few external corruptions. The source of evil would have remained. This was the doctrine of justification by human merit : the foundation of indulgences and almost every evil in the Papal world. This could only have been overturned by the true doctrine of justification through faith in the blood of Christ; and of this probably all in the council were ignorant. They did little, therefore, but condemn the writings of Wickliffe, and burn Huss and Jerom, better reformers than the whole assembly. Other councils were subsequently composed for the like purpose, but were equally ineffectual. The general demand, however, for a reformation of abuses continued, and was very favourable to the interests of religion.

But notwithstanding these circumstances, favourable to a reformation, the condition of Christendom was extremely deplorable. If the Popes swayed not the sceptre which was once in their hands, they still maintained and exercised a most awful despotism over the souls and consciences of men.

At the commencement of the century the chair was filled by Alexander VI., a monster in iniquity, who was continually guilty of the most execrable crimes. He was succeeded first by Pius III. ; and then, by Julius II., who was furious for war and bloodshed, and whose pontificate was a scene of military violence. His place was filled, in 1513, by Leo X., of the family of the Medicis; a man of literature and a promoter of learning, but a stranger to vital piety-accused even of atheism, and a man who spared no pains to uphold the wealth and grandeur of the Roman see.

This immense power, wielded by a thousaud dignitaries, and holding in subjection the potentates of the earth, the Waldenses were too feeble to molest; while the Hussites, wearied by long

contentions, were glad of the liberty of living and worshipping God, without being further molested or molesting others.

of the low state of religion and of its monstrous perversions, we, in this age, can have no adequate conception. It is thus described by Frederic Myconius, a writer of that period. “ The passion and satisfaction of Christ, were treated as a bare history, like the Odyssey of Homer; concerning faith, by which the righteousness of the Redeemer and eternal life are apprehended, there was the deepest silence. Christ was described as a severe judge, ready to condemn all who were destitute of the intercession of saints and of pontifical interest. In the room of Christ were substituted as saviours and intercessors, the Virgin Mary, like a Pagan Diana, and other saints who, from time to time, had been created by the Popes. Nor were men, it seems, entitled to the benefit of their prayers, except they deserved it of them by their works. What sort of works was necessary for this end was distinctly explained ; not the works prescribed in the decalogue, and enjoined on all mankind, but such as enrich the priests and monks. Those who died neglecting these, were consigned to hell, or at least to purgatory, till they were redeemed from it by a satisfaction made either by themselves or their proxies. The frequent pronunciation of the Lord's prayer, and the salutation of the Virgin, and the recitations of the canonical hours, constantly engaged those who undertook to be religious. An incredible mass of ceremonial observances was every where visible, while gross wickedness was practised under the encouragement of indulgences, by which the guilt of the crime was easily expiated. The preaching of the word was the least part of the episcopal function; rites and processions employed the bishops perpetually when engaged in religious service. The number of clergy was enormous, and their lives were most scandalous.''

From this representation, we may easily perceive that ap awful ignorance of religion, accompanied by the vilest superstition, pervaded all classes. The public schools of learning were filled by monks ;-a class of men, who had a barbarous aversion to all mental improvement, and who thought they did God service, if they locked up the faculties of youth.

Scholastic divinity, and the logic of Aristotle, filled the schools. Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the 13th, and Duns Scotus of the 14th century, became the heads of powerful sects, called the Scotists and Thomists, who were ever disputing about the nature of the divine co-operation with the human will, the measure of divine grace essential to

CHAP. 11.



salvation, personal identity, and the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. By them philosophy was carried, it was thought, to the highest degree of perfection, but was, in truth, the most silly and unintelligible farrago. 6 The beautiful subtleties of sophistical syllogism, enabled the disputants to divide the hair of controverted points, which neither understood; and prove it when split, to be alter, or idem, or tertium quid ; with quid-dities, and quo-dities and entities, and a profundity of like wisdom, that made an admiring audience gape, or the listening pupil stand amazed, lost in the depths of this unfathomable learning."

The best theological instruction was of so poor a character, that, when Luther rose, not a man could be found in the University of Paris, the best school of learning of the age, who could dispute with him in the Scriptures. Men preached; but their sermons were senseless unmeaning harangues upon the blessed Virgin ; the merits of the Saints; the efficacy of relics ; the burnings of purgatory; and the utility of indulgences. If there were men of elevation in society, who read and thought, they were puffed up with a sense of their own excellence, by the Aristotelian philosophy, which was then prevalent in the schools, and which would write foolishness upon the doctrine of salvation by a crucified Redeemer.

The avarice of the popes was unbounded. Desirous of maintaining the authority, grandeur, and splendour of the Roman See; they continually devised new schemes for draining Christendom of its treasures. Every ecclesiastic was required to pay annats, or the first year's produce of his living to the Pope. The richest benefices throughout Europe, were sold, when vacant, and sometimes before, to the highest bidder. Frequent demands of free gifts were made from the clergy, and civil rulers; and extraordinary levies of tenths on ecclesiastical revenues, upon pretence of expeditions against the Turks, or some other pious purposes, never executed, were continually exacted.

But the greatest source of wealth to the Pontiffs, was the sale of indulgences. This traffic was carried to awful excesses. For persuading the people, that there was an infinite treasure of merit in Christ and the Saints, beyond what they needed themselves ;-a treasure which was committed to the Popes, the bishops, the clergy, the Dominican and Franciscan friars, to be sold by them for money, and that whoever would purchase it, should be absolved themselves, from the greatest crimes, and deliver their friends, too, from the fires of purgatory; these crafty men had secured treasures of wealth almost

unbounded. It was this abominable traffic, which first opened the eyes of Martin Luther to the corruptions of popery, and roused his spirit to the work of reformation,

This wonderful man, who holds the first place in modern ecclesiastical history, and who must ever be loved, and revered, as one of the greatest benefactors of mankind, was born at Isleben, in Saxony, in the year 1483. His father was a man of integrity, employed in the mines of Mansfield; but he acted like a man of enlarged mind, in giving his son a learned education. At an early period, Martin discovered uncommon powers of mind; and having passed through the ordinary studies at Magdeburg, Eisenach, and Erfurt, he commenced master of arts at the University of Erfurt, at the age of twenty-two, and devoted himself to the study of civil law. But a providential occurrence suddenly changed the whole course of his life. While walking in the fields with an intimate friend, that friend was suddenly killed by lightning. Luther viewed it as a call from heaven, to devote himself to the divine service; and he retired in 1505 into a convent of Augustinian friars. As yet he was a stranger to vital piety; and his monastic life, having the form without the power and joy of godliness, was very glooray. But his mind was too highly cultivated for him to sit down an idle drone. The fire of genius burned within him; and had he been left to himself, and the ordinary course of the monastic life, he would have found his way to the papal chair. But an invisible hand conducted him to an old Latin bible in the library of the monastery.. He seized it with avidity, and gave it a faithful perusal. Light shone in upon his understanding, and comfort dawned upon his soul. In this sacred treasury, he found the doctrine of justification by faith, the reception of which, at once elevated his mind far above that scholastic philosophy and theology, which were then in vogue, and of which he had become perfect master; and made his once gloomy monastery a paradise of bliss.. Abandoning all other pursuits, he gave himself with incredible ardour to the study of the sacred volume ; and such were his attainments in divine truth, that he was soon viewed as the most learned divine in all Germany.. In 1507 he was ordained priest; and, as a reward for his diligence, and astonishing attainments

, he was made, in 1508, professor of philosophy and theology in the University of Wittemberg, on the Elbe, by Frederick, elector of Saxony. He also officiated as pastor of the Church in Wittemberg, as the substitute of Simon Hensius, who was disabled by infirmity.

Luther is presented to us in history, as remarkably strong and healthy, and of a sanguine and bilious temperament. His eyes

« PreviousContinue »