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period, it must in no sense be regarded as even an exhaustive calendar of the available material. Rolls, records, and documents of all kinds exist in public and private archives, which are not included in these State Papers, but which are equally necessary for the formation of a sound and reliable opinion on the whole story. Besides this vast mass of material, the entire literature of the period demands careful examination, as it must clearly throw great light on the tone and temper of men's minds, and reveal the origin and growth of popular views and opinions.
Writers, such as Burnet, for example, and others, have indeed presented their readers with the story of the Reformation as a whole, and have not hesitated to set out at length, and with assurance, the causes which led up to that event. Whether true or false, they have made their synthesis, and taking a comprehensive view of the entire subject, they have rendered their story more plausible by the unity of idea it was designed to illustrate and confirm. The real value of such a synthesis, however, must of course entirely depend on the data upon which it rests. The opening up of new sources of information and the examination of old sources in the critical spirit now demanded in all historical investigations have fully proved, however, not merely this or that fact to be wrong, but that whole lines of argument are without justification, and general deductions without reasonable basis. In other words, the old synthesis has been founded upon false facts and false inferences.
Whilst, however, seeing that the old story of the Reformation in England is wrong on some of the main lines upon which it depended, it is for reasons just stated impossible at present to substitute a new synthesis for the old. However unsatisfactory it may appear to be reduced to the analysis of sources and the examination of details, nothing more can safely be attempted at the present time. A general view cannot be taken until the items that compose it have been proved and tested and found correct. Till such time a provisional appreciation at best of the general subject is alone possible. The present volume then is occupied solely with some details, and I have endeavoured mainly by an examination of the literature of the period in question to extract evidence of the mental attitude of the English people towards the religious system which prevailed before the rejection of the Roman jurisdiction by Henry VIII.
In regard to the general question, one or two observations may be premised.
At the outset it may be allowed that in many things there was need of reform in its truest sense. This was recognised by the best and most staunch sons of Holy Church; and the Council of Trent itself, when we read its decrees and measure its language, is sufficient proof that by the highest authorities it was acknowledged that every effort must be made to purify the Church from abuses, superstitions, and scandals which, in the course of the long ages of its existence, had sprung from its contact with the world and through the human weaknesses of its rulers and ministers. In reality, however, the movement for reform did not in any way begin with Trent, nor was it the mere outcome of a terror inspired by the wholesale defection of nations under the influence of the Lutheran Reformation. The need had long been acknowledged by the best and most devoted sons of the Church. There were those, whom M. Eugène Müntz has designated the “morose cardinals,” who saw whither things were tending, and strove to the utmost of their power to avert the impending catasirophe. As Janssen has pointed out, in the middle of the fifteenth century, for instance, Nicholas of Cusa initiated reforms in Germany, with the approval—if not by the positive injunctions of the Pope. It was, however, a true reform, a reform founded on the principle “ not of destruction, but of purification and renewal.” Holding that "it was not for men to change what was holy; but 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
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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 Protestantism. “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."
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 pro
Opera Omnia (ed. Frankfort) tom. x. p. 56.
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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