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long-deferred but much more wonderful and happy Reformation of the church in these latter days. Sad it is to think, how that doctrine of the Gospel, planted by teachers divinely inspired, and by them winnowed and sifted from the chaff of overdated ceremonies, and refined to such a spiritual height and temper of purity, and knowledge of the Creator, that the body, with all the circumstances of time and place, were purified by the affections of the regenerate soul, and nothing left impure but sin; faith needing not the weak and fallible office of the senses to be either the ushers or interpreters of heavenly mysteries, save where our Lord himself in his sacraments ordained;-that such a doctrine should, through the grossness and blindness of her professors, and the fraud of deceivable traditions, drag so downwards, as to backslide one way into the Jewish beggary of old cast rudiments, and stumble forward another way into the newvomited paganism of sensual idolatry, attributing purity or impurity to things indifferent, that they might bring the inward acts of the spirit to the outward and customary eye-service of the body, as if they could make God earthly and fleshly, because they could not make themselves heavenly and spiritual. They began to draw down all the divine intercourse betwixt God and the soul; yea, the very shape of God himself into an exterior and bodily form, urgently pretending a necessity and obligement of joining the body in a formal reverence, and worship circumscribed; they hallowed it, they fumed it, they sprinkled it, they bedecked it, not in robes of pure innocency, but of pure linen, with other deformed and fantastic dresses, in palls and mitres, gold, and gewgaws fetched from Aaron's old wardrobe, or the Flamin's vestry. Then was the priest set to con his motions and his postures, his liturgies and his lurries, till the soul by this means of over-bodying herself, given up justly to fleshly delights, bated her wing apace downward and finding the ease she had from her visible and sensuous colleage the body, in performance of religious duties, her pinions now broken and flagging, shifted off from herself the labour of high soaring any more, forgot her heavenly flight, and left the dull and droiling carcase to plod on in the old road, and drudging trade of outward conformity. And here out of question, from her perverse conceiting of God and holy things, she had fallen to believe no God at all, had not custom and the worm of conscience nipped her incredulity: hence to all the duties of evangelical grace, instead of the adoptive and cheerful boldness which our new alliance with God requires, came servile and thral-like fear for in very deed the superstitious man by his good will is an atheist; but being scared from thence by the pangs and gripes of a boiling conscience, all in a pudder shuffles up to himself such a
God and such a worship as is most agreeable to remedy his fear; which fear of his, as is also his hope, fixed only upon the flesh, renders likewise the whole faculty of his apprehension carnal; and all the inward acts of worship, issuing from the native strength of the soul, run out lavishly to the upper skin, and there harden into a crust of formality. Hence men came to scan the Scriptures by the letter, and in the covenant of our redemption magnified the external signs more than the quickening power of the Spirit: and yet looking on them through their own guiltiness with a servile fear, and finding as little comfort, or rather terror from them again, they knew not how to hide their slavish approach to God's behests, by them not understood nor worthily received, but by cloking their servile crouching to all religious presentments, sometimes lawful, sometimes idolatrous, under the name of humility, and terming the piebald frippery and ostentation of ceremonies decency..... But, to dwell no longer in characterizing the depravities of the church, and how they sprung, and how they took increase; when I recall to mind at last, after so many dark ages, wherein the huge overshadowing train of error had almost swept all the stars out of the firmament of the church, how the bright and blissful Reformation (by Divine power) struck through the black and settled night of ignorance and antichristian tyranny; methinks a sovereign and reviving joy must needs rush into the bosom of him that reads or hears, and the sweet odour of the returning Gospel imbathe his soul with the fragrancy of heaven. Then was the sacred Bible sought out of the dusty corners, where profane falsehood and neglect had thrown it; the schools opened; divine and human learning raked out of the embers of forgotten tongues; the princes and cities trooping apace to the new erected banner of salvation; the martyrs with the unresistible might of weakness shaking the powers of darkness, and scorning the fiery rage of the old red dragon."-- Milton on Reformation in England. pp. 1-4.
Thus far Milton: and justly does he represent the change as too far-spread, and deep and sudden, to be sufficiently accounted for by reference to the solitary workings of any individual mind, though that mind were Martin Luther's: and yet, the more we consider the concurrent causes of that great revolution the stronger will become our conviction, that, among the agents of Providence in producing it, to Luther posterity has not assigned too high a place. The Papacy was, before and during his time, exposed from other quarters to much strenuous opposition and fierce assault, but chiefly of such a nature that their entire success would rather have precluded than effected the Reformation. Such was the condition of the church, that it was morally im
possible that she should escape blame and scorn and hatred, from the virtuous and the satirical and the oppressed. What was wanting then? Not malcontents, not critics; but a competitor, and a rival standard. Rome ruled and wrought, by an evil principle indeed, but still a principle speciously venerable, and of undefined power over the mind of Europe, the unity and sovereignty of the church, and her own right to utter the voice of the church's authority. No nibbling argumentation against individual dogmas, no exposal of crimes-nay, more, no mere refutation of her claims, which should not substitute in her place something positive and energetic, something mighty to build up as well as to pull down, to impel as well as to arrest-could divide with her the sway of Christian Europe. This rival standard some humble men had raised in obscure corners: some had found it too weighty for their arms; some had had it wrested from them, to wave over their death fires and to fall again : God at length gave Luther to unfurl and plant it on the high places of the European world.
Circumstances, however, which never could have produced a Reformation, had much influence over its success, and even over its character and consequences. A prodigious accumulation of argument and invective and sarcasm, against the Church of Rome, had been formed in the literature, sacred and secular, of the times preceding Luther's. But, then, we must remember how strong an embankment prevented any effusion of this on the common scene of history. Even down to the time of Erasmus, literary men were widely and decidedly separated from the mass of people, even of their own rank. In the busy scenes of common life they scarcely appeared, but as unconcerned and unnoticed spectators. They spoke a language unintelligible to the multitude, and that of the multitude was to them unintelligible. Living with their eye turned full on the past, destined to influence posterity by the results of their converse with the spirits of antiquity, their thoughts and occupations were far away from those of the great majority, who are always engaged with the present, and immediate future, and were thus peculiarly incapable of great extension of their views on either side. They stood, among them, but not of them-in a shroud of thoughts that were not their thoughts. There is an imposing grandeur in this entire consecration to a lofty and elevating employment. It seems as though these men were resolved on restoring literature and religion to the inhabitants of Europe, without condescending to ask their concurrence, or make them aware of the design. Many of the greatest of them, Erasmus for instance, were scarcely capable of conversing in their native or in any living tongue.
While this isolation from the world was to a great degree
common to the theological writers,and to the revivers and students of general literature, there are circumstances peculiar to each well worthy of our attention. There was produced in the very bosom of the Romish church, before Luther's day, much solid and profound theology; but to few-few indeed-was this accessible to very few would it have been at all intelligible, had it been open to the world and those who understood it, found spiritual and ecclesiastical questions treated so abstractly, with such subtilty of reasoning, with so little reference to existing circumstances, that, while to the people these books were then absolute nullities, to the authors themselves, and to their speculative readers, the application of their principles to abuses in the Church of Rome was usually unthought of and unknown; and the upholders of the Papacy must have regarded these abstruse investigations as in general very harmless exercises of ingenuity. During their authors' life-time, such was usually the neglect works of Christian divinity met with, from those who would otherwise have learned from them, or been incensed by them. But, to borrow again the words of the poet, "These books were not absolutely dead things, but the precious lifeblood of master-spirits, embalmed and treasured to a life beyond life." Permanent principle asserted has ultimately more effect than any thing bound down to seasons and circumstances. The number of readers and thinkers increased. The reference of great doctrines to existing practices gradually wrought itself out to the sight of thoughtful men. And, finally, the press broke open the prison-houses of these living powers, and sent them among the people, or the immediate teachers of the people.
It was quite in another manner that the cultivators of polite letters prepared the way for the Reformation; and the good they effected was much more copiously intermingled with evil. When the first great names in modern literature appeared, barbarism and ignorance were so much the character of the church, and so abominable and idolatrous was classical learning regarded to be, that their engaging in those pursuits was at once setting themselves in contrast, even in their own minds, with the clergy, and with existing Christendom in general. Combine this feeling, so to speak, of voluntary outlawry, with the fascinating and dignified Paganism which their favourite authors exhibited, in opposition to the mean and stupid and ungainly form of Christianity, so called, around them. Add their haughty and lonely consciousness of a rare and a great superiority, of a solitary tasting the sweet waters of this sealed fountain; and the irritation and concentration of this pride from the contemptuous rejection of its claims by the very unskilled herd which they despised add their access to the Scriptures, shared by so few, and used by them less for personal instruction than
for the detection of the falsehoods and nonsense vended as revealed truth by the pretenders to theology: and it will seem far from wonderful that their writings should abound with keen sarcasm, and copious invective, and ingenious reasoning, against a clergy they so much contemned, and a religious system inseparable in their minds from the clergy. Thus the belleslettres of Europe early became an armoury of the sharpest weapons of offence against Rome. In the works of Dante and Petrarch, and of our own Chaucer, in the fourteenth century, and of Mantuan in the next, the example was set to men of letters of treating the Papacy as we have described, and that boldly, because publication could scarcely be said to exist, and their influence was too little feared to be resisted with much severity. But the stream widened as it flowed. Authors multiplied, and readers increased still faster; and in the time of Erasmus there was a large body of literary men feeling, in regard to the established religion, as we have described. Still they were men who had no direct communication with the people, and were little anxious to extend their views among the profane vulgar, as they thought them: they were ready to recant or to explain; they were even willing, many of them, to serve and defend the system they despised in their hearts; and for its principles most of them had nothing to substitute but want of principle. For these reasons they were tolerated; and at the very time of the Reformation, when the popes began to add literature to their other luxuries, we find the papal throne encompassed by secretaries, bishops, and cardinals too accomplished and cultivated to be good Catholics, but too philosophical to alarm the church, or peril themselves, by any direct confronting of the ecclesiastical authority; nay, or to hesitate strenuously promoting its interests. In short, the men of letters were usually without any fixed religious belief, or any considerable personal concern in the matter: many of them, while they despised the Papacy, identified her with Christianity; and thus the school we have described were the fathers of modern infidelity. Still, at the time of the Reformation printing had given literature the first-fruits, not inconsiderable, of its general influence; and that influence was so far favourable to the Reformers, that it was hostile to their antagonists.
But, besides these speculative theologians, and these shrewd satirists, the Roman hierarchy had practical and active assailants to contend with, and daily became more and more obnoxious to assault. The character of the three popes whose reigns opened the century of the Reformation (of whom the first was a mixture of the brute and the devil; the second, a turbulent and intractable seeker of quarrels; the third, a lazy drain upon the people's wealth, that he mght exemplify and maintain the luxurious indolence of the clergy);