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and a considerable advance in general culture, has long been known and acknowledged. There is little doubt, however, that the date usually assigned both for the dawning of the light and for the time of its full development is altogether too late; whilst the circumstances which fostered the growth of the movement have apparently been commonly misunderstood, and the chief agents in initiating it altogether ignored. The great period of the reawakening would ordinarily be placed without hesitation in post-Reformation times, and writers of all shades of opinion have joined in attributing the revival of English letters to the freedom of minds and hearts purchased by the overthrow of the old ecclesiastical system, and their emancipation from the narrowing and withering effects of mediævalism.
On the assumption that the only possible attitude of English churchmen on the eve of the great religious changes would be one of uncompromising hostility to learning and letters, many have come to regard the one, not as inseparably connected with the other, but the secular as the outcome of the religious movement. The undisguised opposition of the clergy to the “ New Learning" is spoken of as sufficient proof of the Church's dislike of learning in general, and its determination to check the nation's aspirations to profit by the general classical revival. This assumption is based upon a complete misapprehension as to what was then the meaning of the term “ New Learning.” It was in no sense connected with the revival of letters, or with what is now understood by learning and culture; but it was in the Reformation days a well-recognised expression used to denote the novel religious teachings of Luther and his followers, Uncom
i The use of the expression “ New Learning ” as meaning the revival of letters is now so common that any instance of it may seem superfluous. Green, for example, in his History of the English People, vol. i., constantly speaks of it. Thus (p. 81), “ Erasmus embodied for the Teutonic peoples the quickening influence of the New Learning during the long
promising hostility to such novelties, no doubt, marked the religious attitude of many, who were at the same time the most strenuous advocates of the renaissance of letters. This is so obvious in the works of the period, that were it not for the common misuse of the expression at the present day, and for the fact that opposition to the “ New Learning" is assumed on all hands to represent hostility to letters, rather than to novel teachings in religious matters, there would be no need to furnish examples of its real use at the period in question. As it is, some instances taken from the works of that time become almost a necessity, if we would understand the true position of many of the chief actors at this period of our history.
Roger Edgworth, a preacher, for instance, after speaking of those who “so arrogantly glory in their learning, had by study in the English Bible, and in these seditious English books that have been sent over from our English runagates now abiding with Luther in Saxony," praises the simple-hearted faith that was accepted unquestioned by all “ before this wicked New Learning' arose in Saxony and came over into England amongst us."
From the preface of The Praier and Complaynte of the Ploweman, dated February, 1531, it is equally clear that the expression “ New Learning” was then understood only of religious teaching. Like the Scribes and Pharisees in the time of Our Lord, the author says, the bishops and priests are calling out: “What New Learning' is it? These fellows teach new learning: these are they that trouble all the world with their new learning? . . . Even now after the same manner, our holy bishops with all their ragman's roll are of the same sort. ... They defame,
scholar-life which began at Paris and ended amidst sorrow at Basle." Again (p. 84), “ the group of scholars who represented the New Learning in England.” Again (p. 86), “On the universities the influence of the New Learning was like a passing from death to life.” Again (p. 125), “ As yet the New Learning, though scared by Luther's intemperale language, had steadily backed him in his struggle.”
2 Sermons. London: Robert Caly, 1557, p. 36.
slander, and persecute the word and the preachers and followers of it, with the selfsame names, calling it . New Learning' and them new masters.'”1
The same meaning was popularly attached to the words even after the close of the reign of Henry VIII. Aobook published in King Edward's reign, to instruct the people “concerning the king's majesty's proceedings in the communion," bears the title, The olde Faith of Great Brittayne and the new learning of England. It is, of course, true, that the author sets himself to show that the reformed doctrines were the old teachings of the Christian Church, and that, when St. Gregory sent St. Augustine over into England, “the new learning was brought into this realm, of which we see much yet remaining in the Church at the present day." But this fact rather emphasises than in any way
i The Praier and Complaynte of the Ploweman unto Christ, sig. Aij.
? R.V. The olde Faith of Great Brittayne, &c.—The style of the book may be judged by the following passages :-“How say you (O ye popish bishops and priests which maintain Austen's dampnable ceremonies)--For truly so long as ye say masse and lift the bread and wine above your heads, giving the people to understand your mass to be available for the quick and the dead, ye deny the Lord that bought you ; therefore let the mass go again to Rome, with all Austen's trinkets, and cleave to the Lord's Supper.” ... Again :-“Gentle reader: It is not unknown what an occasion of sclander divers have taken in that the king's majesty hath with his honourable council gone about to alter and take away the abuse of the communion used in the mass. ... The ignorant and unlearned esteem the same abuse, called the mass, to be the principal point of Christianity, to whom the altering thereof appears very strange. . . . Our popish priests still do abuse the Lord's Supper or Communion, calling it still a new name of Missa or Mass.” The author strongly objects to those like Bishop Gardiner and Dr. Smythe who have written in defence of the old doctrine of the English Church on the Blessed Sacrament: “Yea, even the mass, which is a derogation of Christ's blood. For Christ left the sacrament of his body and blood in bread and wine to be eaten and drunk in remembrance of his death, and not to be looked upon as the Israelites did the brazen serpent.... Paul saith not, as often as the priest lifts the bread and wine above his shaven crown, for the papists to gaze at.” All this, as “the New Learning ” brought over to England by St. Augustine of Canterbury, the author would send back to Rome from whence it came.
obscures the common understanding of the expression
“Some ther be that do defye
For it preferreth the learning most olde." As the author of the previous volume quoted, so Urbanus Regius compares the exclamation of the Jews against our Lord: “What new learning is this?" with the objection, • What is this new doctrine ?” made by the Catholics against the novel religious teaching of Luther and his followers. “This,” they say, “is the new doctrine lately devised and furnished in the shops and workhouses of heretics. Let us abide still in our old faith. . . . Wherefore,” continues the author, “I, doing the office of Christian brother, have made a comparison between the • New Learning' and the olden, whereby, dear brother, you may easily know whether we are called worthily or unworthily the preachers of the New Learning. For so did they call us of late.” He then proceeds to compare under various headings what he again and again calls “the New Learning” and “the Old Learning.” For example, according to the latter, people are taught that the Sacraments bring grace to the soul; according to the former, faith alone is needful. According to the latter, Christ is present wholly under each kind of bread and wine, the mass is a sacrifice for the living and the dead, and “oblation is made in the person of the whole church"; according to the former, the Supper is a memorial only of Christ's death, “and not a sacrifice, but a remembrance of the sacrifice that was once offered up on the cross,” and that “all oblations except that of our Lord are vain and void.”1
In view of passages such as the above, and in the absence of any contemporary evidence of the use of the expression to denote the revival of letters, it is obvious that any judgment as to a general hostility of the clergy to learning based upon their admitted opposition to what was then called the “New Learning ” cannot seriously be maintained. It would seem, moreover, that the religious position of many ecclesiastics and laymen has been completely misunderstood by the meaning now so commonly assigned to the expression. Men like Erasmus, Colet, and to a great extent, More himself, have been regarded, to say the least, as at heart very lukewarm adherents of the Church, precisely because of their strong advocacy of the movement known as the literary revival, which, identified by modern writers with the “New Learning," was, it is wrongly assumed, condemned by orthodox churchmen. The Reformers are thus made the champions of learning; Catholics, the upholders of ignorance, and the hereditary and bitter foes of all intellectual improvement. No one, however, saw more clearly than did Erasmus that the rise of Lutheran opinions was destined to be the destruction of true learning, and that the atmosphere of controversy was not the most fitting to assure its growth. To Richard Pace he expressed his ardent wish that some kindly Deus ex machinâ would put an end to the whole Lutheran agitation, for it had most certainly brought upon the humanist movement unmerited hatred. In subsequent
i Urbanus Regius, A comparison betwene the old learnynge and the newe, translated by William Turner. Southwark : Nicholson, 1537, sig. Aij to Cvij.
? Opera (ed. Le Clerc), Ep. 583.