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I for the holy to change man," he began by reforming himself and preaching by example. He restored discipline and eagerly welcomed the revival of learning and the invention of printing as the most powerful auxiliaries of true religion. His projects of general ecclesiastical reforms presented to Pius II. are admirable. Without wishing to touch the organisation of the Church, he desired full and drastic measures of " reformation in head and members." But all this was entirely different from the spirit and aim of those who attacked the Church under the leadership of Luther and his followers. Their object was not the reform and purification of abuses, but the destruction and overthrow of the existing religious system. Before, say 1517 or even 1521, no one at this period ever dreamt of wishing to change the basis of the Christian religion, as it was then understood. The most earnest and zealous sons of the Church never hesitated to attack this or that abuse, and to point out this or that spot, desiring to make the edifice of God's Church as they understood it, more solid, more useful, and more like Christ's ideal. They never dreamt that their work could undermine the edifice, much less were their aims directed to pulling down the walls and digging up the foundations; such a possibility was altogether foreign to their conception of the essential constitution of Christ's Church. To suggest that men like Colet, More, and Erasmus had any leaning to, or sympathy with, " the Reformation " as we know it, is, in view of what they have written, absolutely false and misleading. The fact is, that round the true history of the Reformation movement in England, there has grown up, as Janssen has shown had been the case in Germany, a mass of legend from which it is often difficult enough to disentangle the truth. It has been suggested, for instance, that the period which preceded the advent of the new religious ideas was, to say the least, a period of stagnation. That, together with the light of what is called the Gospel, came the era of national prosperity, and that the golden
age of literature and art, was the outcome of that liberty and freedom of ^spirit which was the distinct product of the Protestant Reformation. And yet what are the facts? Was the age immediately before the religious upheaval of the sixteenth century so very black, and was it the magic genius of Luther who divined how to call forth the light out of the "void and empty darkness "? Luther, himself, shall tell us his opinion of the century before the rise of Protestanism. "Any one reading the chronicles," he writes, "will find that since the birth of Christ there is nothing that can compare with what has happened in our world during the last hundred years. Never in any country have people seen so much building, so much cultivation of the soil. Never has such good drink, such abundant and delicate food been within the reach of so many. Dress has become so rich that it cannot in this respect be improved. Who has ever heard of commerce such as we see it to-day? It circles the globe; it embraces the whole world! Painting, engraving—all the arts—have progressed and are still improving. More than all, we have men so capable, and so learned, that their wit penetrates everything in such a way, that nowadays a youth of twenty knows more than twenty doctors did in days gone by."1
In this passage we have the testimony of the German reformer himself that the eve of the Reformation was in no sense a period of stagnation. The world was fully awake, and the light of learning and art had already dawned upon the earth. The progress of commerce and the prosperity of peoples owed nothing to the religious revolt of the sixteenth century. Nor is this true only for Germany. There is evidence to prove that Luther's picture is as correct at that period for England. Learning, there can be no question, in the fifteenth century, found a congenial soil in this country. In its origin, as well as in its pro1 Optra Omnia (ed. Frankfort) torn. x. p. 56.
gress, the English revival of letters, which may be accurately gauged by the renewal of Greek studies, found its chief patrons in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries among the clergy and the most loyal lay sons of the Church. The fears of Erasmus that the rise of Lutheranism would prove the death-blow of solid scholarship were literally fulfilled. In England, no less than in Germany, amid the religious difficulties and the consequent social disturbances, learning, except in so far as it served to aid the exigencies of polemics or meet the controversial needs of the hour, declined for well-nigh a century; and so far from the Reformation affording the congenial soil upon which scholarship and letters flourished, it was in reality —to use Erasmus' own favourite expression about the movement—a "catastrophe," in which was overwhelmed the real progress of the previous century. The state of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, before and after the period of religious change, is an eloquent testimony as to its effect on learning in general; whilst the differences of opinion in religious matters to which the Reformation gave rise, at once put a stop to the international character of the foreign universities. English names forthwith disappeared from the students' lists at the great centres of learning in France and Italy, an obvious misfortune, which had a disastrous effect on English scholarship; the opening up of the schools of the reformed churches of Germany in no wise compensating for the international training hitherto received by most English scholars of eminence.
In art and architecture, too, in the second half of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth, there was manifested an activity in England which is without a parallel. There never was a period in which such life and energy was displayed in the building and adornment of churches of all kinds as on the very eve of the Reformation. Not in one part of the country only, nor in regard only to the greater churches, was this characteristic activity shown, but throughout the length and breadth of England the walls of our great cathedrals and minsters, and those of well-nigh every little parish church in the land, still bear their testimony to what was done out of love for God's house during the period in question by the English people. Moreover, by the aid of the existing accounts and inventories it can be proved to demonstration that it was a work which then, more than at any other period of our national existence, appealed to the people at large and was carried out by them. No longer, as in earlier times, was the building and beautifying of God's house left in this period to some great noble benefactor or rich landowner. During the fifteenth century the people were themselves concerned with the work, initiated it, found the means to carry it out, and superintended it in all its details.
The same may be said of art. The work of adorning the walls of the churches with paintings and frescoes, the work of filling in the tracery of the windows with pictured glass, the work of setting up, and carving, and painting, and decorating; the making of screens, and stalls, and altars, all during this period, and right up to the eve of the change, was in every sense popular. It was the people who carried out these works, and evidently for the sole reason because they loved to beautify their churches, which were, in a way now somewhat difficult to realise, the centre no less of their lives, than of their religion. Popular art grows, and only grows luxuriantly, upon a religious soil, and under the inspiration of a popular enthusiasm the parish churches of England became, if we may judge from the evidence of the wills, accounts and inventories which still survive, not merely sanctuaries, but veritable picture galleries, teaching the poor and unlettered the history and doctrine of their religion. Nor were the pictures themselves the miserable daubs which some have suggested. The stained glass windows were not only multiplied in the churches of England during this period, but by those best able to judge, the time between 1480 and 1520 has been regarded as the golden age of the art; and as regards the frescoes and decorations themselves, there is evidence of the existence in England of a high proficiency, both in design and execution, before the Reformation. Two examples may be taken to attest the truth of this: the series of paintings against which the stalls in Eton College Chapel are now placed, and the pictures on the walls of the Lady Chapel at Winchester, now unfortunately destroyed by the whitewash with which they had been covered on the change of religion. Those who had the opportunity of examining the former series, when many years ago they were uncovered on the temporary removal of the stalls, have testified to their intrinsic merit. Indeed, they appeared to the best judges of the time as being so excellent in drawing and colour that on their authority they were long supposed to have been the work of some unknown Italian artist of the school of Giotto. By a fortunate discovery of Mr. J. Willis Clarke, however, it is now known that both these, and the Winchester series, were in reality executed by an Englishman, named Baker.
The same is true with regard to decoration and carving work. In screen work, the Perpendicular period is allowed to have excelled all others, both in the lavish amount of the ornament as well as in the style of decoration. One who has paid much attention to this subject says: "During this period, the screen work was usually enriched by gilding and painting, or were 'depensiled,' as the phrase runs, and many curious works of the limner's art may still be seen in the churches of Norfolk and Suffolk. In Sussex, the screens of Brighton and Horsham may be cited as painted screens of beauty and merit, both having been thus ornamented in a profuse and costly manner, and each bore figures of saints in their panels."1 The
'J. L. Andre in Sussex Archaeological Journal, xxxix. p. 31.