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Erasmus & Luther: Their Attitude To Toleration -Robert H. Murray Litt.D.

THE excommunication of Luther in 1520 had rendered Erasmus even more guarded in his correspondence. His censure of the reformer tends to increase in severity, though in his desire to find a via media he is willing to extend his approval to much of Luther’s action. The Papal Bull of 1520 he describes in one of his letters after its official publication as an unfortunate mistake, showing want of charity. A peaceful adjustment of the controversy might easily have been reached by means of a council of wise men. The enemies, however, of the condemned man do not think of convincing him: they are resolved on his destruction. Two Universities have condemned Luther: they have not convinced him. To Cardinal Campeggio he admits that no one is better able than the former to arouse warmth for evangelical doctrine. The needful task then is to refute clearly his erroneous views and to believe warmly his just ones. Persuasion is the plan. It is the mark of asses to be compelled, of tyrants to compel. Erasmus urged in three memorials his solution. Was there any reason why Martin Luther should not be tried by learned and unprejudiced judges? Why should not the kings of England and Hungary appoint these judges? The more he thought about this plan the better he liked it. He eagerly sought opportunities of meeting the envoys of the King of Hungary in the Netherlands, and he no less eagerly sought an interview with the King of England. In July 1520 he met the latter. Henry VIII, with his belief in controversy, urged that the scholar should write against the reformer—an idea that was one day to bear fruit. Erasmus raised the general question of the peace of the Church.

Erasmus is quite clear that those who favour Luther are really good men. His sympathies with the Wittenberg professor were alienated by the tone of the controversial pamphlets now issued. On July 6, 1520, he wrote to Spalatin warning him that Luther was utterly lacking in moderation, and that Christ was certainly not guiding his pen: he hoped that Heaven would temper the style and mind of his master. He was not only anxious on his own account but he also manifested anxiety to retain men like Justus Jonas on his side. As for himself, he professed that he would never be dragged away, either in life or death, from communion with the ecclesiastical authority ordained by God. His complaints concerning Luther’s unrestrained violence and vituperation were ceaseless. He tells Peutinger, the friend of Poliziano, that the virulence of the pamphlets increases. He was well aware of the results that the teaching of Luther had produced on popular feeling, and he was also well aware of the effect of that feeling on the reformer himself, even attributing his obstinacy in great measure to the “plaudits of the world’s stage,” which had turned his head. In his letters he gives expression to the happy thought: the upheaval accomplished by the reformer was indeed a misfortune for his own age, but it might be a remedy for the future. There was also an upheaval in the Western world, for the very day after Erasmus wrote this important letter Cortez gained the battle which decided the fate of Mexico.

In 1520 and 1521 Erasmus says that he had been the first to condemn the Wittenberg teaching because he had foreseen danger and disturbance. There, however, he dwells more on the injury to learning. To Leo X he writes, “Free and generous minds rejoice to be taught, they are unwilling to be driven.” Such a work of teaching is not for him. For one thing, he has not the ability, and for another his absorbing studies leave him no leisure to read the books of Luther. Indeed he is so little a specialist in theology that he asks the theologians of Louvain to furnish him with solid arguments. In 1521 he tells Mountjoy: “Had I known beforehand that events would shape themselves so, I would either have refrained from writing certain matters or have written them differently.” He hears from his English correspondent that he is accused of favouring Luther, and is desired to purge himself by writing against the reformer. He denies the charge. He thinks Luther was justified in exposing the evils of the time, which were patent to all, though he dislikes his manner of doing so. He is not the author of any of the Lutheran writings attributed to him, for he has never published anything anonymously; least of all would he oppose the decrees of the Pope. He is able to tell Jonas that he has confidence in Leo X and the mildness of Charles V: no one can find the spirit of the Gospel in Luther. In any case, however, there are no words more odious to him than those of conspiracy, of schism, or of faction. Erasmus was indeed more papalist than Leo X himself. The only authority he desired to shake was that behind the scenes, the religious Orders, for he unmistakably thought their tyranny absolutely oppressive. Their wealth was so great that they were able to impose their will on the Papacy, and in not a few cases they were quite independent of the princes. Their influence encouraged gross superstitions on the part of the people, which were most abhorrent to the chief of the new knowledge. From the time of his letter to Jonas, Erasmus realizes that Luther is bringing about not a reformation, but a revolution.

The humanist wishes, so he writes to Richard Pace, that some deus ex machina would bring to a happy conclusion the tragedy that Luther has so inauspiciously begun. He has put a sword into the hand of his foes, and seems bent on his own destruction, though often advised by Erasmus and other friends to moderate the sharpness of his style. His bitterness is such that even if all he writes were true it would not turn to much account. He fears that the Jacobites and theologians will use their victory immoderately, especially those of Louvain, who have a private hatred against him, and have found a most convenient instrument for this purpose in Aleander. He is furious by nature and requires no additional prompting. The most abusive pamphlets fly on all sides; all of which Aleander attributes to Erasmus, though of many of them he had never heard except from Aleander. Luther acknowledges his own books, and attributes the Babylonian Captivity to Erasmus. He must be very prolific to produce so many books while hard at work in revising the New Testament and correcting St. Augustine, besides other studies. There is not a syllable of his in all Luther’s books, and he has never published anything abusive.

They are now showing that Luther has taken a great deal from his books, as if he had not taken still more from St. Paul’s Epistles. He sees now that the Germans wish to drag him into Luther’s affairs against his will. It is a foolish plan, more likely to alienate him. What help could he give to Luther if he shared his danger, except that two would perish for one? He cannot sufficiently admire the spirit in which he writes. He has taught many things, but spoilt them by intolerable evils. Every one has not the strength for martyrdom. He fears that if any tumult were to arise he would imitate St. Peter, and therefore follows popes and emperors when they make good laws, and bears with them when they pass bad ones. They are again attacking him for the dialogue of Julius; and leave nothing untried to hinder not so much him as learning, which they do not like to see flourishing. Christ will protect him, Whose cause all his writings will serve when Luther has departed in ashes. Everywhere preachers and theologians are sounding their own praise. Wise princes take care that good laws be not relaxed, and this rage not let loose against men who are harmless, and deserve well of the Christian religion.

The man who loves peace is evident in every line of this letter to Pace. What is the use of shrieking out that “Luther suppresses Purgatory, and blasphemes against God”? Such useless noise merely “ennobles his books” and makes people hear of them who otherwise might never have known them.

Erasmus is anxious to let Warham know that he has caught a glimpse of the King’s book against Luther. He hopes other princes will follow Henry’s example. From what he hears from Mountjoy and others he is convinced that the work is the King’s own. Luther has sent strife into the world, which is everywhere in confusion. Great as were the evils of the Church, the remedy is worse than the disease. He hates all this strife, which is detrimental to the cause of letters. As soon as he has leisure he proposes to read all the books on each side of the Lutheran controversy. The same day he writes to Pace, saying he is in great pain at hearing nothing about his Commentaries. He has only seen the King’s book in the hands of the nuncio Marini, and is very anxious to read it. He compliments the King on his performance. That his conscience was smiting him is obvious from the letter he wrote to Zwingli: “It seems to me that I have taught wellnigh all that Luther teaches, only less violently, and without so many enigmas and paradoxes.” He had indeed developed almost all of them, but he had done so at the right time, he believed, in the right place and with the right use of language. Luther had not used the crowning virtue of moderation, whereas his moderation was known to all men. As late as September 3, 1522, Erasmus wrote to Duke George of Saxony, “It cannot be denied that Luther commenced to play an excellent part, and to vindicate the cause of Christ—which had been wiped off the face of the earth—amidst great and general applause.” Little as either Erasmus or Luther suspected it, on the sixth of this month happened an event which powerfully influenced their doctrine. On that day Magellan’s squadron completed the circumnavigation of the world.

The rift in the teaching of the two men is hinted at in the letter of the scholar to Louis Marlian, declaring that unlike Luther he had never pretended “that all human actions were sins.” When Luther heard in 1522 that Erasmus was about to oppose his teaching on free will, he was moved to make remarks in his letters which seriously provoked his opponent. On May 15, 1522, Luther declared that “Erasmus has at last shown in his correspondence his profound hate for Luther and his doctrine; but his language astutely simulates friendship. He will lose by it all his glory and all his renown. Better is the open and frank hostility of Johann Eck. I detest the shifty policy and the cunning of this man, now my friend, now my enemy.” In a letter to Caspar Borner, the Leipzig professor, he stated that Erasmus understood less about these matters than the schools of the Sophists, that is, the Schoolmen. “I have no fear of being vanquished so long as I do not alter my opinion.” “Truth is stronger than eloquence, the spirit mightier than talent, faith greater than learning. It is to stammering truth and not to lying eloquence that the victory belongs.” With that habitual confidence which constituted so much of his strength, he says that were he only to stammer forth the truth he would still be sure of vanquishing the eloquence of the far-famed Erasmus. He did not wish to vex the scholar, but should he dare to attack he would be forced to confess that “Christ fears neither the gates of hell nor the powers of the air.” Did not he, Luther, know the very thoughts of Satan? In a sermon of 1522 against Carlstadt, who maintained the Zwinglian view that the body of Christ is not present in the bread in the Eucharist, Luther maintained, “I will preach, I will talk, I will write, but I will force and constrain no man with violence, for faith is by nature voluntary and uncompelled, and is to be received without compulsion.”

The humanist heard of the letter of May 28, 1522. With the expressions it contained, viz., spirit, truth, faith, triumph of Christ, he was familiar, for they were Lutheran watchwords. In season and out of season the disciples employed the language of the master. “All,” wrote Erasmus in 1524 to Theodore Hexius, “have these five words always on their lips: evangel, God’s Word, faith, Christ, and Spirit, and yet I see many behave so that I cannot doubt them to be possessed by the devil.” He saw in them the same failures, the same narrowness of outlook, the same intolerance, the same proceedings against those who refused to follow them in everything, as they denounced in their opponents. “They rage against me as an adversary,” he tells Mazzolini, “and truly I am.” He returned to the main question when he informed Zwingli, August 31, 1523, that he refused to admit “that all the acts of the saints were sins unworthy of the Divine compassion, that free will was an empty word, and that faith alone justified man.”

Dislike of too much dogma is the motive in the letter the scholar penned to Carondelet, Archbishop of Palermo, January 5, 1522: “May he not have fellowship with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who cannot explain, to the reason of a philosopher, what separates the Father from the Son, and what separates both from the Holy Ghost, what marks the difference between the nativity of the Son and the procession of the Spirit? If I believe in what has been handed down, the Trinity in Unity, what’s the use of disputation? If I don’t believe no human reason will convince me.… The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity. This can only be when we define as little as possible, and when we leave the judgment free on many matters; besides, there is the immense obscurity of very many subjects.… Our present problems are awaiting an Œcumenical Council. Better let all such questions wait the time when speculation will be removed and we shall see God no longer darkly, but face to face.” It was an earnest plea, but all sides except the writer were as anxious to define all matters as St. Thomas Aquinas himself.

Erasmus drew a sharp line between the dogmas of the Church and the definitions of men, between religion and rites, between the laws of God and the laws of the Church. Now and always in a descending scale he sees dogmatic truths, theological truths, as certain or no more than probable or mere opinions. The Church imposes the first and no one can discuss them: the rest are in another category altogether, and there is for them freedom of discussion. The opinions include the systems of St. Austin, Aquinas and Occam on human liberty and grace, and the doctrine of Luther on justification.

The Reichsregiment appointed a committee to consider the Lutheran question and on this committee the Roman jurist, Johann von Schwarzburg, was an active member. In its report in 1523 the members refused to proceed against Luther. Let the Pope respect the Concordat, reduce the grievances of the German nation, and, above all, exact no more annates but surrender these from the first to the Imperial Vicegerent and the Reichsregiment. Let the Pope, with the consent of the Emperor, summon a Council in some German town within twelve months, and let the laity have seats and votes in it. If these conditions were granted, there was to be a truce to the meeting of the Council. When the Pope pressed the Archduke Ferdinand, the Imperial viceroy, the Electors and princes, to execute the Edict of Worms, from the report of the committee, the answer was obvious. The Archduke admitted that the greater part of the nation had been convinced long before Luther’s time, and had only been strengthened in this conviction by his writings. If the Council had carried out the Edict there would have been a burst of universal indignation: just as if its members had attempted to suppress truth and to maintain and defend odious unchristian abuses; and much sedition and tumult would have ensued. In endorsing the national attitude the Estates and the Committee agreed in begging the Pope to redress the financial and other grievances indicated in the report of 1523. The national aspect on which the reformer insisted appears in the Archduke’s view that the Roman Curia had inflicted grave injustice on Germany. Rapid in thought as in action, quick in sympathy, genial in intercourse, eager for religion, anxious for power, Ferdinand was one day to take rank among the most statesmanlike of all the Holy Roman Emperors. He was just, he was conscientious, he was tactful, and the possession of these qualities combined with his statesmanship might have enabled him to offer a part solution of the problem his brother Charles V vainly attacked. The two brothers had not spent their childhood together, and circumstances separated them in their manhood. Their relations till late in life had been, in spite of jarring interests, cordial. Leo X considered Ferdinand had piu spirito than his brother, and Erasmus thought that in Ferdinand magna spes est. Ferdinand married the daughter of Vladislav of Hungary, ultimately permanently affecting the destinies of Europe by wearing the crowns of Bohemia and Hungary. Tu felix Austria nube is the orthodox remark to make, but it was also happy for Luther. For the inevitable war with the Turk compelled the new King of Hungary to neglect Germany during his brother’s absence. He had been a zealous Roman Catholic, but in time he came to advocate the use of the cup by the laity at Mass, the marriage of priests, and the principle that Councils were above Popes. When Charles granted toleration to the Lutherans, he granted it only for a season. When Ferdinand granted it, he granted it after much thought and on a permanent basis.

Erasmus assures Cardinal Wolsey, March 7, 1522, that before Luther had published his Assertions and his Babylonian Captivity he had always advised him against doing so; but the books pleased almost everybody. He had no connexion with a Lutheran any more than Wolsey himself. Instead of upholding Luther, he acknowledges him to be wrong in many things, and always said so both to his friends and his enemies. Witness the letters he wrote to Luther himself, if they will bring them forward. Many of his letters are circulated among his friends, especially one he wrote to the Bishop of Rochester from Bruges which he regrets has been published; but even this shows that he did not approve of Luther’s proceedings. He said the same thing to Duke Frederick at Cologne, to the King of Denmark, and to the captain of the Bohemians, who made him the largest promises. This is the reason the Lutherans denounce him, and threaten him with spiteful pamphlets. How then came the rumour? Two divines at Louvain who hate Erasmus and literature, aided by some monks, will do anything to ruin him … The evil must be rooted out, the contagion is so widely spread. If he were to declare himself in three words a Lutheran, we should see a very different game among us and the Germans. But he has not written against Luther. No, for he had no leisure to write books, but wrote letters. He thought he could serve Christianity better otherwise.

On November 20 Erasmus wrote to King Ferdinand of Hungary: “God grant that this drastic and bitter remedy, which, in consequence of Luther’s apostasy, has stirred up all the world like a body which is sick in every part, may have a wholesome effect for the recovery of Christian morals.” The progress of Protestantism served to alienate the humanists, for with its progress there came the tendency to split up into sects. Erasmus was in the habit of referring to Luther’s work as a remedy. Such it proved to those who feared the new teaching would smash the unity of the Church. Inevitably those who were disposed to favour Luther shrank back as this prospect increasingly presented itself. Whatever the faults of the old Church were, she was better than this “seditious liberty,” this “clamour.” The Reformation seemed to have betrayed the hopes of thoughtful men. “I prefer,” confesses Erasmus, “the pontiffs, the bishops such as they are, to these pseudo-Pharisees who are much more intolerable.” Luther had accomplished a great labour, yet many of his followers believed more earnestly in faith without works than in faith itself. The Holy Roman Empire was visibly dissolving before men’s eyes, for was not the territorial independence of the princes steadily advancing?

A change had come over the Papacy, for the new Pope was in the early part of the sixteenth century that singular kind of successor of St. Peter, a Christian. No two Popes could differ more widely than Leo X and his successor, Adrian VI. The one was as much a man of the world as the other was a man of religion. As a Dutch professor Adrian had lectured Erasmus, and he had been tutor to the Archduke Charles, the present Emperor. At his old University, Louvain, humanism had made little impression. Reform of the theology of the Church met with no sympathy from him. He objected to the reformation of the Inquisition in Spain, whose head he was, and increased its energies against anything tending towards Lutheranism. Cardinal Ægidius in a memorial urged that the Lutheran pest must be rooted out, and Cardinal Soderini warmly supported this counsel. The prospects of a Council were far less in 1523 than when Erasmus made the proposal in 1520. Toleration of error was bad at any time, Adrian VI thought, but it was far worse when the Turks threatened Christendom and the Pope could take no effective action because of the dissensions of the Church. Luther ought not to be tolerated any longer. The revolt against ecclesiastical authority would surely be followed by a throwing off of secular authority: those who had not spared the goods of the Church would not spare the goods of the princes. If it was not possible, reflected the new Pope, to subdue Luther and his disciples by mild means, severe measures must be tried. The cases of Dathan and Abiram and of Ananias and Sapphira were cited. The Germans ought to follow the example of their ancestors at the Council of Constance, when John Hus and Jerome of Prague were put to death.

Punning upon his name, Hus told the Bohemians that though a goose, incapable of lofty flight, cannot break their net, yet there are other birds which, by God’s Word and a godly life, mount on high: these shall break their toils in pieces. In the days to come these birds were transformed into a swan. Of course the swan became Luther, and thus the prophecy was fulfilled. Jerome made a definite appeal. “It is certain,” he told the Council, “that you will wickedly and maliciously condemn me, although you have found no fault in me. But after my death I will fix in your consciences trouble and remorse; and I now appeal to the omnipotent God, the high and righteous judge, and challenge you, when a hundred revolving years shall have passed away, to meet me at His bar.” Hus was burnt, July 30, 1415, and Jerome May 30, 1416. Little more than a hundred years after, Lutherans and Papists were repeatedly referring to the Council of Constance. Adrian VI was ill-advised to think of such a precedent.

The Pope was animated by the sincerest desire to serve the Church over whose destinies he was unexpectedly called to preside. The pagan aspect of the Renaissance had appealed to Leo X: it made no appeal to him. The reaction was too great to last. In his short pontificate of eighteen months he attested his eagerness to reform the abuses which had honeycombed the ecclesiastical body. His earnestness and ability are transparently present. His sympathy with and his understanding of the Italian temperament are no less transparently absent, and had his pontificate been prolonged it is hard to believe that it would have proved successful. The career of Joseph II is a sufficient guarantee that with statesmen of this order, length of days merely aggravates the degree of failure. Moreover, his best efforts were of necessity directed to meeting the advance of Suleiman I after the fall of Rhodes on December 21, 1522. When Adrian ordered a truce between Charles and Francis for the sake of the Turk, Francis burst out with the remark that the real Turk was the clergy. On the tomb of Adrian is the pathetic inscription:

Proh Dolor! Quantum Refert in Quae

Tempora cuiusque Virtus Incidat.

The time, the opportunity, had indeed changed when the French king confided in the Venetian ambassador on June 24, 1523, his intention to set up an anti-Pope if Adrian persisted in imposing a truce between him and the Emperor.

The German question never ceased to absorb the mind of Adrian VI. He sent an experienced ambassador, Francesco Chieregato, as nuncio to the Diet of Nürnberg, 1522. In Spain, when Viceroy for Charles, the Pope had come to know him and to trust him. Chieregato pressed the Archduke Ferdinand to carry out the decrees against heresy and to obtain fresh ones, explaining the earnestness of his master in warring against abuses at home and in warring against the Turk abroad. For example, the annates and the fees for the pallium were no longer to go to Rome, but were to remain in Germany to defray the cost of the Turkish contest. The Diet was to ponder over the results of the new teaching, the loosening of all obedience, the permission given to every man to exert his individuality to the fullest. What was the certain effect on men? “Are they likely,” inquired Adrian, “to remain obedient to the laws of the Empire who not merely despise those of the Church, the decrees of the Fathers and Councils, but do not fear to tear them in pieces and burn them to ashes?”

The ex-professor is interested in learning, but he is far more interested in reformation. Was not Erasmus the very man for this work? As he thought of the connexion of the scholar with Luther he allowed Aleander to draft a stern letter, but on second thoughts he refused to send it. Instead, he replied on December 1, 1522, to Erasmus, thanking him for his dedication of his edition of Arnobius. The letter indicated that Adrian did not entertain very seriously the accusations brought against his old pupil. Nevertheless, it also indicated that the writer expected deeds, not words. “Rouse thyself, rouse thyself to the defence of the things of God, and go forth to employ in His behalf the great gifts of the Spirit thou hast received from Him. Consider how incumbent it is upon us, with God’s assistance, to restore to the right path very many of those whom Luther has led astray.” Rome was the place for Erasmus. There he would find manuscripts and congenial society: there he could exert himself in defence of the Church. Though Adrian had instructed Chieregato to demand from the Diet the execution of the Edict of Worms and the punishment of four Nürnberg preachers, he knew how much Erasmus abhorred such violence. Therefore he tells him that he preferred the voluntary return of the erring rather than the employment of spiritual and secular penalties. The method is obvious. Let Erasmus wield his persuasive pen against the friends of Luther.

How well Adrian divined the mind of the scholar is clear from the letter Erasmus wrote to him on December 22, 1523, pointing out the uselessness of measures of suppression and of making literary contests personal. On January 23, 1523, Adrian replied, once more inviting his old pupil to Rome. As a native of the north he eagerly awaits the promised counsel “for he has no stronger desire than to find the right means of removing from the midst of our nation this abominable disease while it is yet curable, not because our dignity and authority, so far as they touch us personally, seem endangered in the storms of the times—for not only have we never set our heart on these honours, but, as they have come to us without any plotting on our behalf, we have greatly dreaded them. God is our witness that we would gladly have declined them altogether had we not thereby feared to offend God and injure our own conscience. We see so many thousands of souls, redeemed by the blood of Christ and committed to our pastoral cares—souls too belonging, after the flesh, to men of our race, led away on the broad path of destruction through the hope of an evangelical freedom which, in reality, is bondage to the devil.”

Only part of the answer of Erasmus is preserved. He informs Adrian VI that “I see that it is the pleasure of many that this evil be cured by force, but I fear lest the result may one day show that this was an ill-advised policy: for I see more danger than I would wish lest the matter result in fearful slaughter. I no longer discuss what these parties deserve, but what may help public tranquillity. This evil has spread too widely for it to be cured either by amputation or by cauterizing. I admit that formerly among the English the faction of the Wyclifites was checked by the power of the king, but checked rather than extinguished. However, what was lawful in that realm, which wholly depends on the nod of one individual, I know not whether it would be lawful here in so vast a district and divided into so many principalities; certainly if the opinion is established to stamp out this evil by imprisonment, burning, confiscation, exile and death, there would be no need for my help here. I see, however, what a different plan appeals to your merciful nature—to cure evils rather than to punish them. That would not be very difficult if all were of the same mind as you, so that, laying aside private feelings, as you write, they would be willing to take counsel sincerely for the glory of Christ and the safety of Christian people. But if each man is intent on his own private advantage, if theologians demand to have their authority everywhere kept unbroken, if monks allow no diminution of their emoluments, if princes keep a tight grip on all their rights, it would be very difficult to take counsel for the common good. The first thing will be to find out the sources whence this evil springs up again so often; these before all things we must purify. Next after that, it might not be without advantage if exemption from punishment were again held out to those who have erred, owing to persuasion or influence from without, or rather if an amnesty of all previous wrongs, which seems to have happened by a kind of fatality. If God so acts with us from day to day, forgiving all our sins, as often as the sinner deeply laments the same, what forbids the Vicar of God from doing likewise?

“And yet meantime innovations are forced by magistrates and princes, innovations which tend very little to piety and very much to sedition. I would desire, if it is possible, that freedom of producing books should be restrained. Let the hope be held out to the world of changing certain things, with which it complains not without reason that it is oppressed All shall breathe again the precious name of liberty. We must aim at this by all means, as far as is compatible with the preservation of piety, as far as it is for the purpose of setting in order the consciences of men, but meantime none the less must we consult for the dignity of princes and bishops. But this dignity must be judged by those things wherein the dignity of those persons is centred: in like manner the liberty of the people must also be judged. Your Holiness will say, what are those sources or what are those things which require to be changed? For the weighing of those matters, I think that men should be called forth from individual districts, men above the suspicion of corruption, men of influence, merciful, enjoying favour, free from bias, whose opinion …” Here the letter abruptly ends.

The difference between the influence of Erasmus and that of Luther can be measured in this letter. There is a whole world between the man who feels the necessity of reform and one who believes with all his heart that God inspires everything he does. The De Servo Arbitrio of Luther and the Christianæ Religionis Institutio of Calvin, 1536, are books which changed the face of history. Both volumes are dominated by one idea, the absolute dependence of the soul on God, and they consequently furnished immensely strong impulses to all who accepted the guidance of their authors. What had Erasmus to offer? His cold nature made him and Vives see that learning might cure some of the evils of the day and time might heal the others. Was there anything in this to make men die for the message of the scholar? Erasmus attacked an abuse here and there, but his guiding principle of education was not sufficient to move mankind to the same degree as the dogma of justification by faith. The one was impersonal, the other personal. The one asked for time and patient labour for generations, the other for faith here and now. Man was under the might of God, according to Luther and Calvin, but he was under the might of none else.

The position of Erasmus and Luther in 1523 was not unlike that of the French sceptics of 1759 and the scientists of 1859. In the eighteenth century there were fierce attacks on Christianity. Voltaire lashed it for the Calas case, and he had a large following. His attacks were, however, guided by no widespread principle, and the result was that all the assaults were doomed to failure. After the publication of The Origin of Species there was the principle of evolution, which most scientists accept as a working hypothesis and some of them as a great deal more. The failure of 1759 and the comparative success of 1859 attest the importance of possessing a dogma which commands enthusiastic acceptance.

On September 16, 1523, Erasmus wrote a letter to Adrian’s sacristan, Peter Barbier, which is most orthodox in tone. The humanist sees that both sides insist on his taking action, and he is as unwilling as Leo X or Clement VII to make the plunge.

The successor of Adrian VI was another Medici, Clement VII, and he proved as disastrous to the Papacy from one point of view as Leo X proved from another. Clement VII and Leo X were generous patrons of art and architecture, of learning in general and humanism in particular. Both were clever and tactful, indefatigable and unscrupulous, attentive to the details of divine worship. Both were politicians first and popes afterwards: both loved their possessions and their families more than they loved the Church. Clement VII indeed possessed more good qualities than his Medici predecessor, for he was both temperate and pious. The trouble was that Clement was unable to make up his mind, or rather when he made up what he considered his mind he was unable to carry it out. The curse of Reuben was upon him. Men said that Leo X was hesitating, but he was a rock of stability when compared with Clement. Men said that Leo X sailed forth to meet the Lutheran crisis with two compasses: Clement VII sailed forth with an endless variety of compasses. The new pope so persistently veered, from one point to another, that none, friend or enemy, ever knew what his policy for the moment was.

Erasmus greeted Clement on his election with a courteous letter, apologizing for the tone of his early writings on the ground that he could not then foresee the fierce outbreak of religious dissension. At the same time he sent him a copy of his Paraphrases of the Acts of the Apostles, a book which, if Clement had examined it, was not precisely reassuring. Clement replied in the same courteous manner on April 3, 1524, sending the scholar a present of two hundred golden gulden, and exhorting him to place his talents at the service of the Church. He assured him that his enemies would be silenced. He gave practical proof of his goodwill by ordering the Spanish adversaries of Erasmus to hold their peace. The scholar’s defence of the freedom of the will won his heart.

Once more it occurs to the man of learning that a blow at the central position of the reformer would assist the cause he has at heart more than anything else. Therefore he sends to Henry VIII the first draft of his treatise De Libero Arbitrio against the determinism of Luther. It is not yet completed in consequence of his ill-health and bodily pains. If His Majesty likes the work, he will complete it, and get it printed elsewhere. No printer here (i.e. at Bâle) would dare print anything which contains the least reflection on Luther, but every one may write what he likes against the Pope. Strangely enough, this very year appeared a curious popular picture representing Erasmus hugging a fox’s tail decorated with the emblems of the Papacy. During the month of September he wrote to Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop Warham, Bishop Fisher, and Bishop Tunstall. To the Cardinal he says that in compliance with his and the King’s advice he has finished his book De Libero Arbitrio—a bold act as Germany now stands. He has not prefixed any dedication to it in order to avoid calumny: otherwise he would have dedicated it to Wolsey or the Pope. To the Archbishop he analyses the three sets of his enemies: the scholars at Rome, who do not care for theology, monks and others, and, worse than all, the Lutherans. He is glad that he has completed the Epistles of St. Jerome. To the Bishop he speaks of his numerous enemies and the extension of Luther’s doctrines in Savoy, Lorraine, France, and even Milan. He had resolved to abstain from controversy and employ himself on classical studies, but is compelled to put together some remarks on preaching. Lastly, he informs Tunstall that he has published his book on free will. He would like to have his correspondent’s opinion of it. He cannot get a copy of John Damascenus. He does not care to move from Bâle. If he did so, the Lutherans would say that he had done so through fear.

In the meantime Luther was busily engaged in working out the relations of his party to the State, and the position he arrived at was at once the strength and the weakness of his movement. His work, On the secular power: How far obedience is due to it, appeared in March 1523. In the appeal To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation on the Improvement of the Christian Estate, he had certainly elevated the civil power to ecclesiastical rank. The new book flatly contradicts this standpoint. The task of the State is conceived to be secular: it has no duty to make men pious, for laissez-faire is its proper attitude in these high matters. It is a position strikingly like the Gallican one. The Gallican doctors admit that the Church has coercive power, even in the external forum; but this constraint is supernatural and moral. Can there be such a thing as a Christian State, asks Luther? No, for God calls such a body into existence on account of the wicked. The world through sin was estranged from God. The prince therefore simply had to maintain order by force when peace was disturbed or men suffered injustice. The State is in itself a moral organism outside and apart from the Church, a view which was one day to effect weighty results. Real Christians require no secular rulers. To Stoics like Posidonius and Seneca, to Fathers like St. Austin and Gregory the Great, it was possible to conceive the State without coercive power. Though William of Occam conferred such power on the State, yet in his Dialogus, Marsiglio of Padua in his Defensor Pacis and Jacques Almain in his Expositio … super potestate summi pontifices, 1512, grant that “He who has supreme control in temporal matters must only govern in the temporal: he who holds it in spiritual must not meddle with public matters.” Such a theory, working in practice, would have excluded the massacre of St. Bartholomew, the devilries of Alva, and those wrought in France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Luther’s Von weltlicher Obrigkeit speaks most plainly in favour of toleration; it reaches a loftiness of thought as penetrating as that of The Feeedom of a Christian Man, and this loftiness was not approached to the days of Milton’s Areopagitica, one hundred and twenty-one years later. The great revolutionary believes that “no one can command or ought to command the soul, except God, who only can show it the way to heaven.” He puts forth the plea that “the thoughts and mind of man are discerned only by God,” and hence it is useless and impossible to command or by force to compel any man’s belief. The conclusion is inevitable. “Faith is a voluntary matter which cannot be forced: indeed it is a divine work in the spirit. Hence it is a common saying which is also found in Augustine: ‘Faith cannot and ought not to be forced on any one.’ ”

Some, however, adduce the argument that the aid of the State ought to be invoked, especially to prevent heretics from leading the people astray. They quote passages like Romans 13:1: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” It is also material to their point of view that St. Peter says, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto the governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” In spite of his leaning to St. Paul, Luther boldly places the last quotation alongside the sayings of Jesus Christ, applying Matthew 20:21, “Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” It “is the duty of bishops, not of princes. For heresy can never be kept off by force; another argument is required for that; this is another quarrel than that of the sword. If this fails, the worldly power avails naught, though it fill the world with blood. Heresy is a spiritual matter that cannot be hewn down by iron, not burned by fire, nor drowned by water. But God’s Word meets it, as Paul says, ‘Our weapons are not carnal, but mighty in God’ (2 Cor. 10:4–5).”

In the same year as the publication of the Von weltlicher Obrigkeit Luther sent forth his exposition of the First Epistle of St. Peter. On the exhortation to fear God and honour the King, he remarks, “If the civil magistrate interferes with spiritual matters of conscience in which God only must rule, we ought not to obey at all, but rather lose our head. Civil government is confined to external and temporal affairs.” He powerfully urges, “If an emperor or prince asked me about my faith, I would reply, not because of his command, but because of my duty to confess my faith before men. But if he should go further, and command me to believe this or that, I would answer, ‘Dear sir, mind your secular business: you have no right to interfere with God’s reign, and therefore I shall not obey you at all.’ ”

There is a similar standpoint advanced by Hooper, in 1548, in his Declaration of the Ten Holy Commandments of Almighty God. He points out: “As touching the superior powers of the earth, it is not unknown unto all them that hath readen and marked the scripture, that it appertaineth nothing unto their office to make any law to govern the conscience of their subjects in religion, but to reign over them in this case as the word of God commandeth. Deut. 17:1; 1 Sam. 12; 2 Chron. 8; Wisd. 6.” Robert Browne, in his Treatise of Reform, published in 1582, enunciated the same views on the relations between the secular power and the Church.

The political philosopher arrives at principles which were utterly at variance with those he employed in his dealings during the year 1522, and indeed other years. The orthodox inhabitants, for instance, of Eilenburg, Altenburg, Schwarzburg and Wittenberg were conversant with the Lutheran conception that the State had the right to dictate a creed to its subjects. They would have been surprised to learn less than a year after they had endured persecution that though the State exists by God’s will and institution, yet it has no concern with spiritual matters. They might, however, have entertained a shrewd suspicion that the implication of this thesis was that no difficulties were to be placed in the path of the preaching of the Word. Has the State the right to forbid the circulation of books delivering the new message? Has it the capacity of excommunication? Can it hinder the new worship? To all these questions the philosopher has a reasonable answer grounded on principle, the principle of the non-interference of the State in all religious affairs: temporal rulers are to prevent outward crimes and maintain outward peace as “God’s taskmasters and executioners.” It is indeed a humble position for the territorial prince to be allotted, compared with the dreams of boundless authority he was about to claim. There is more method in the design of the author than might appear, for he was forced to consider what the Elector Frederick and other sovereigns would think of his proposals. He wished them to get rid of the notion that a Lutheran was an embryo rebel. Did not Charles V and his princes fear that in the near future a struggle with the adherents of the new faith was probable? On the Secular Power, then, is a livre de circonstance. If the author, like Cavour, had all the imprudences of a statesman, he also had the prudences. Now he only asks of the State what Diogenes asked of Alexander—keep out of my sunshine.

There had been memoranda on the question of armed resistance drawn up by Luther for the instruction of his Elector Frederick. For instance, on February 8, 1523, he drew the attention of his prince to the fact that publicly he had hitherto preserved an attitude of neutrality in religious questions, and had merely given out that as a layman he was waiting for the triumph of the truth. Hence it was necessary that he should declare himself for the justice of Luther’s cause, if he intended to abandon his attitude of submission to the imperial authority. Then he might have recourse to arms as a stranger who comes to the rescue, but not as a sovereign of the Holy Roman Empire. In short, “he must do this only at the call of a singular spirit and faith, otherwise he must give way to the sword of the higher power and die with his Christians.” A man who was called The Wise was not likely to listen to such a mystic summons. Should he be attacked, not by the Emperor but by the Catholic princes, then, after attempting to bring about peace, he must repel force by force. This was not consistent with his book of the next month, but is consistency a virtue, especially in time of revolution? Luther did not think it was.

In The Freedom of a Christian Man he had been eager to show that the sphere of religion and that of the world cannot be divided except at the price of injuring both. That unity he now flung to the winds. In 1523 he is no less eager to maintain the division of the human race into two classes, one belonging to the kingdom of God and the other belonging to the kingdom of the world. To the first class belong all true believers in Christ and under Christ, for Christ is King and Lord in the kingdom of God. These people require no worldly sword or law, thus anticipating the teaching of Roger Williams by 120 years, and that of Locke by more than 160. If the world were composed of true Christians, it would require no prince, king, or lord, no sword or law, for they have the Holy God in their hearts. They suffer wrong gladly and themselves do wrong to none. There is no need of quarrel or contention, and there is no need of court or punishment. There are emphatically two kingdoms of men. He completely departs—for the moment, at least—from the mediæval theory of the identity of Church and State in one society, for now he is convinced that the secular power—he is particularly thinking of the lands where it is Catholic—cannot exercise any authority in spiritual matters. Even the De Monarchia of Dante and the Defensor Pacis of Marsiglio are far from his thoughts. In his mind the citizenship in the secular State bulks smaller than the mystic fellowship in the Civitas Dei, the city of God. Hence he says: “These two governments must be carefully kept asunder, and both be preserved, the one to render men pious, the other to safeguard outward peace and prevent evil deeds.” What he called spiritual government was entirely voluntary, as voluntary as the State Herbert Spencer desired. It was, for example, “without command,” possessing only “the inward sovereignty of the Word.” It was “Christ’s spiritual dominion” where souls obey the evangel. “Christians do all what is good without compulsion, and God’s Word suffices them.” Melanchthon agreed with Luther that the power to make and enforce laws in this world belongs only to the secular arm. To it he transfers most of the prerogatives belonging in the Middle Ages to the Church. From Luther and Melanchthon to Hooker, from this standpoint, the transition is not difficult. “Priests and bishops” have neither “supremacy nor power”: the “godly prince” has both, for he is the only omnipotent being in his own land.

How can true believers be under the law or the sword? Does not Christ command them not to use the sword and to refrain from violence? “The words of Christ are clear and peremptory: ‘resist not evil.’ These words and the whole passage concerning the blow on the cheek, the Sophists (i.e. the Schoolmen) had indeed interpreted as a mere counsel. In reality, however, they constitute a command, though only for Christians.” He points out to Duke John, the Elector’s brother, who sympathized with him and to whom he dedicated this book, that the sword has no place among Christians. “Hence you cannot use it on or among Christians, since they need it not.” Nevertheless, he proceeds to tell him that even the Christian ruler must not lay aside the sword because there are few such Christians. Therefore the sword is still “useful and necessary everywhere.” His old peasant sense obliges him to see that “the world cannot and will not do without” authority or force, call it what you will. In his own case the faithful man adheres literally to Christ’s word, “so that you would gladly offer the other cheek to the smiter and give up your cloak after your coat if the matter affected yourself or your cause,” The individual must “allow himself to be insulted and disgraced,” though in his neighbour’s cause he must insist on justice even if he has recourse to the sword of authority.

The faithful, in the author’s conception, formed merely a union of souls without any spiritual authority. Necessarily there was only one body competent to issue commands, and that was the State. Among true believers the sword is quite out of place. “You cannot make use of it on or among Christians who have no need of it,” though the world cannot do without it. “Christians can be governed by nothing but the word of God. For Christians must be ruled by faith, not by outward works.… Those who do not believe are not Christians, nor do they belong to the kingdom of Christ, but to the kingdom of the world. Hence they must be coerced, and driven with the sword and by the outward government. Christians do everything that is good of their own accord and without being compelled and God’s Word is enough for them.” It is wrong for Christians to sentence men to death, for such measures savour of the devil. “Whoever is under the secular rule,” he announces in a sermon in his Church Homilies, “is still far from the kingdom of heaven, for the place where all this belongs is hell; for instance, the prince who governs his people in such a way as to allow none to suffer injustice and no evildoer to go unrequited, does well and receives praise.… Nevertheless, as explained above, this is not appointed for those who belong to the kingdom of heaven but merely in order that people may not sink yet deeper into hell, and make things worse. Therefore no one who is under the secular government can boast that he is acting rightly before God; in His sight it is still all wrong.”

The conclusion is obvious. With such a negative view of the functions of the State it is clear that the Bible stands apart from the institutions of the Government. The work of the theologian is not to uphold a dynasty but to set forth the work of Christ; his kingdom is emphatically not one of this world. Decrees and ordinances there must be: these, and indeed all legal institutions, come from the law of nature.

The author’s language must have been a shock to Duke John or Duke George! He denounces not only the “clever squires who seek to uproot heresy,” but also “our Christian princes who defend the faith.” The secular authorities, “instead of allowing God’s Word to have free course,” impose the orthodox creed on their subjects, thus creating “liars by compulsion.” They act “without the clear Word of God”: they “command men to feel with the Pope.” Naturally they perish in their? “perverted understanding.” In the dedication he claims to be the first to teach “the princes and secular authorities to remain Christians with Christ as their Lord, and yet not to make mere counsels out of Christ’s commands.” The Sophists, however, “have made a liar of Christ, and placed Him in the wrong in order that the princes may be honoured.… Their poisonous order has made its way throughout the world, so that every one looks upon Christ’s teaching as counsels for the perfect, and not as obligatory commands, binding on all.” The book was a livre de circonstance. There was permanent matter in it. The writer never shook himself free from the doctrine of the supremacy of the princely power and the consequent abrogation of the spiritual government. Thus in his Instructions for Visitations, 1528, and in the Instruction itself the visitors have no public authority to hold the visitation. They must be conversant with the Bible, and they must find therein their qualifications. They are appointed by the Elector, who alone exercises force or compulsion. As they represent him, they share in his secular power. “It is part of the duty of the authorities” to “establish and regulate the matrimonial courts.” If the work of the pastor has been a failure, the civil power employs its “own means for the spiritual and temporal protection of the Christianity of the country against scandal and false doctrine.” The Bible is the sole code. For the spiritual government consists exclusively “in the Word and preaching office, and can only penetrate into the heart by means of the Word and the work of the pastor.” The sub-title of the book proposes to solve the problem of the extent of obedience to the secular arm. If it exceed its limits and the rulers demand what is against the conscience, then God is to be obeyed rather than man.

If the civil powers prescribe forms of belief, order the confiscation of books, they are not to be obeyed and they are not to be resisted. “Should they therefore seize your property and punish you for disobedience, you should esteem yourself happy and thank God.” In the margravate of Meissen and in the March, the rulers required under penalties the surrender of the Lutheran translation of the New Testament, but “the subjects are not to give up a single leaflet, nor even a letter, for whoever does such a thing gives up Christ into the hands of Herod.”

The writer’s own position forced him to take a deep interest in his thesis that the secular authorities have no right to interfere in doctrinal questions. For almost two years he had been under the ban of the Empire, an impossible position if he could carry conviction to Duke John and other rulers. “God,” he holds, “will permit none to rule over the soul but He Himself alone.… Hence when the secular power takes upon itself to make laws for the soul, it is trespassing upon God’s domain and merely seducing and corrupting souls. We are determined to make this so plain that every one can grasp it, and that our squires, princes and bishops may see what fools they are when with laws and commandments they try to force the people to believe this or that.”

In accordance with The Freedom of a Christian Man, he teaches that “True is the proverb, ‘Thoughts are free of taxes.’ ” “It is a vain and impossible task” to compel the heart. The soul is “placed in the hands of God alone.” How can man have power over it? The ruler has just as little control over the soul as he has over the moon. “Faith is a voluntary act to which no one can be forced, nay it is a divine work of the Spirit.” “Every man’s salvation depends on his belief, and he must accordingly look to it that he believes aright.” His thesis is proved. “The secular power must be content to wait and allow people to believe this or that as they please and are able, and not compel any man by force.” “Heresy can never be withstood by force.… Something else is needed.… God’s word must here do the work, and, if it fails, then the secular power will certainly not achieve it, though it should fill the world with blood.”

Still the unrighteous require the law to teach, constrain, and compel them to do right. It is for them the law is given. Christ rules without law, solely through the Spirit, but worldly government keeps peace with the sword. Nevertheless, it is the right of the bishops to restrain heretics. Along with this opinion he was also able to think that there was no longer a Church able to direct men heavenwards without danger of error. He believed so firmly and so unwaveringly in the mystical conception of the Invisible Church that he was able to exclude the Visible Church from all connexion with the State. It is noteworthy that in his translation of the Bible he constantly uses the word “congregation” instead of “Church.” An ecclesiastical organization he could not describe: the State he could. He can analyse the duties of the prince in a tone and temper not unworthy of comparison with the Institutio Principis Christiani of Erasmus. The Christian prince must, for example, above all “lay aside the notion that he is to rule and govern by violence.” As Erasmus urged the reform of all universities, so Luther urges the reform of the German universities. The motives of the two men differ fundamentally. Luther’s strong desire for a change is that the blind heathen master Aristotle reigned in the schools more than Christ. The Lutheran State is one in which justice is done, but the whole conception is poor compared with the Erasmian. The Latin world had made a sharp distinction between secular and sacred, which Luther now also made. Had he persisted in this distinction, he could not contribute what he did in paving the way for that high theory of the State to which Hegel gave new life.

There is an after-history to Von welltlicher Oberkeyt in Switzerland. There Sebastian Castellion, under the name of Martin Bellius, published in 1554 his plea in favour of toleration, entitled Traicte des Hérétiques. Castellion’s object is twofold. He seeks answers to two questions. One is, What is a heretic? The other is, How must we treat him? Here are the names he invokes, and they are a strange medley, on behalf of his thesis: Luther, Brenz, Erasmus, Sebastian Franck, Lactantius, Caspar Hedio, John Agricola, Jakob Schenk, Christoph Hofman, John Calvin, Otto Brunfels, Conrad Pellican, Urbanus Rhegius, St. Austin, St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, Cælius Secundus Curio, Sebastian Castellion, Georg Kleinberg, and Basil Montfort.

The passage Castellion quotes from Luther is taken from Von welltlicher Oberkeyt. The doctrines of the two domains, the kingdom of God under Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of the world under the magistrate, were calculated to allow the existence of toleration—when each authority may not trespass on the field of the other. Castellion is not content with such an argument in his favour: he proceeds in his noteworthy book to quote from Luther’s sermon on the tares and the wheat, which obviously proclaims the difficulty and the danger of detecting the heretic.

Castellion makes use of two works of Erasmus, the first is the work he wrote in 1526 against the Sorbonne, entitled Supputatio errorum Bedæ. It substantially develops the same conception of the Church and the State as the Von welltlicher Oberkeyt, for Erasmus draws a distinction between the ecclesiastical and secular pains and penalties. “Is this to disarm the Church?” Erasmus asks indignantly, and he answers his own question, “Dare I (remove) from the bishops their authority to teach, correct and excommunicate? What right have they beyond these functions? What laws of the Church are they of which I am reminded in this connexion? Is a bishop one who only knows how to bind, throttle, torment—burn?” The passage attracted the attention of the Sorbonne, notably of Beda, who passionately attacked it, and in 1527, the hostile sentences of this body were promulgated, condemning certain opinions as heretical.

On November 4, 1529, Erasmus wrote a Letter to the would-be Evangelists, protesting that he does not take from the prince the power of the sword that Christ and the Apostles had recognized. There is room for severity against two grave heresies, where they assume a blasphemous character—it is his usual limitation on toleration—and where they take a seditious form. Still he maintains in his Declarations ad censuras Lutetiæ vulgatas sub nomine Facultatis theologiæ Parisiensis, that in spite of the Sorbonne his interpretation of the parable of the tares and the wheat is true. Castellion does not quote from this document, but he takes his second excerpt from the Apologia adversus articulos aliquot per monachos quosdam in Hispania exhibitos.

The account of the Church in Luther’s book On the Secular Power may be supplemented from the addresses of the indefatigable prophet during the year of its publication. On Maundy Thursday he preached in Wittenberg for the first time on his plan of separating the faithful from the common herd. He was then publishing a new rule making penance, or a general confession of sin, a condition of receiving the Supper. In future none but true Christians were to partake: there was a preliminary examination in faith. About Easter, 1523, appeared Das eyn Christliche Versamlung odder Gemeyne Recht und Macht babe alle Lere zu urteylen. It lays down that it is the congregation, not the bishops or the learned or the councils, who have the right and duty of judging the preacher and of choosing a successor if he does not proclaim the evangel, regardless of the rights of church patronage. In writing to the magistrates and congregation at Prague, De instituendis ministris ecclesiæ, November 1523, he tried, without great success, to show that everywhere the members of the congregation were to elect faithful pastors. In time the clergy were to choose the Visitors and the Archbishop. The flock “will indeed be weak and sinful,” but, “seeing they have the Word, they are at least not ungodly.”

Luther could not expect that Erasmus would approve of his conception of the relations or rather want of relations between Church and State. The rift between the two was deepening. Melanchthon had considered himself as a simple soldier under the standards of the humanist general, and when he became the warm friend of Luther there was nothing he desired more ardently than an agreement between his master and his friend. “Martin Luther,” he told the humanist, “is your convinced admirer and desires your full approbation.” Martin Bucer wrote to Beatus Rhenanus, after an interview with Luther, that the latter was entirely in agreement with Erasmus save that he proclaimed freely what Erasmus merely insinuated. Eoban of Hesse, a fanatical admirer of Erasmus and Luther, thought he rendered homage to his two divinities by publicly explaining that he considered the Manual for the Christian Soldier the catechism of the Reformation. The scholar, it was believed, was the only obstacle to the destruction of Luther. In 1520 Bucentes declared that Luther was a pest, but Erasmus was a greater one, for it was from the breasts of Erasmus that Luther sucked his poison.

In the eyes of Alcander, Reuchlinians, Erasmians and Lutherans were all in the same category. He persuaded the Prince of Carpi to think that “either Luther seems to Erasmianize or Erasmus to Lutherize.” Aleander maintained that “Erasmus has written worse things than Luther,” believing that Erasmus had preached a real intellectual revolt in Flanders and the Rhinelands. One of the margraves, at a banquet at the court of Bohemia, declared that Erasmus and Luther were in perfect agreement. Luther was fond of saying that he merely spoke out plainly what Erasmus in his timidity only ventured to hint at. According to the reformer “Erasmus has fulfilled his mission: he has revived the study of the classical languages and recalled men from sacred studies. Perhaps, like Moses, he will die in the plains of Moab. He has shown the evil, which is enough: but I perceive he can neither show the good nor lead us into the Promised Land.” More dangerous still, Hutten strove to demonstrate in his Expostulation that, before the appearance of Luther, Erasmus was the sole hope of true Christians. Vainly Erasmus protests that he is not responsible for the borrowings made from his writings, and that he has neither desired nor foreseen the course events are taking. The more he protests the more suspicions are confirmed. Nicholas of Egmond prays God, after the example of St. Paul, to transform Luther and Erasmus, the two persecutors of the Church, into apostles of truth. His opponents endeavour to persuade Charles V that Erasmus is “the source and head of all the Lutheran heresy.” The humanist tells Mount joy that he is not the author of any of the Lutheran writings attributed to him.

A characteristic allegory represents Luther and Hutten “bearing a box surmounted by two chalices with the following inscription: ‘Arch of the true faith.’ Erasmus precedes them singing and playing on the harp like David; John Hus follows.… In another corner of the tableau we see the Pope and his cardinals surrounded with the halberdiers of the guard.” Ulrich von Hutten, scion of a knightly Franconian family, had led the life of a wandering student, going from one University to another in North and South Germany, and in Italy. Liberty was the ideal which this forerunner of Lessing set before him early in life, and to this ideal, in days of poverty and prosperity, he always clung. In Erasmus he believed he saw a kindred spirit. Therefore he addressed the scholar as the German Socrates, who was no less anxious for the education of the German people than Socrates had been for the Greeks. He maintained that he should cleave to him as faithfully as Alcibiades had to Socrates. In the Reuchlin controversy Hutten organized public opinion outside the universities on the side of the scholar, and Crotus Rubianus and he published the Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum, which satirized so savagely the attitude of the average thinker. Erasmus, in spite of his sympathy with the object, did not relish its tone, and Hutten observed that “Erasmus is a man for himself.” His national feelings gave him sympathies with Luther, which made him anti-Roman, and in 1519 appeared his epigrammatic dialogue Vadiscus, which inveighs bitterly against the exactions of Rome. Standish and Lee entirely share the attitude depicted in the tableau, so far as it concerned Luther and Hutten. The pamphleteers of the years 1520, 1521 and 1523 associate the names of Erasmus and Luther.

Albrecht Dürer of Nürnberg and Martin Luther are not two names often coupled together, yet both felt that there were too many ceremonies in religion and too much greediness in the monks. To Spalatin the painter expressed his eager hopes. “God grant that I may meet with Dr. Martin Luther, for I will then make a careful sketch of him and engrave it in copper, so that the memory of that Christian may long be preserved, for he has helped me out of much anxiety.” In Holland he heard the rumour of the capture and disappearance of the prophet after the Diet of Worms. There is only one man living to take his place. At once he summons Erasmus to undertake the reform of the Church. “O Erasmus of Rotterdam, why hangest thou back? See what is the power of the unjust tyranny of the time. Listen, O Christian knight, ride forth by the side of the Lord Jesus, defend the cause of truth, gain the crown of the martyrs. Are you not now an old man?… Then the gates of hell, the Roman See, shall, as Christ says, not prevail against thee. O Erasmus, put thyself in the forefront that God may praise thee, as it is written of David, for you can do it; yea, assuredly thou canst overthrow Goliath … for God is on the side of the holy Christian Churches.” And he ends prophetically, “Await the completing of the number of those who have been slain innocently, and then I will judge.”

“O God,” Dürer exclaims, “if Luther is dead, who will henceforth expound the Holy Gospel to us so clearly? What would he not have written for us in ten or twenty years?” “Never has any one written more clearly during the last one hundred and forty years, never has God given any one so evangelical a spirit.” “Every one who reads Dr. Martin Luther’s books sees that it is the Gospel which he upholds. Hence they must be held sacred and not to be burnt.”

Different as the natures of Albrecht Dürer and Wilibald Pirkheimer were, they were sympathetic to the new teaching and the new knowledge of their day. In particular they were powerfully attracted to the study of mathematics and astronomy, and in the latter subject they had before them the writings of three such Germans as Cardinal Nicholas Krebs, named Cusanus, from Cues near Treves; of Regiomontanus and of Georg Peuerbach, the most eminent astronomer of his time. Long before Nicholas Copernicus, Cusanus demonstrated the fact of the earth’s motion and its rotation on its axis. Regiomontanus and Peuerbach were true scientific observers and calculators. The former wrote a work on the planets which the latter edited: it fell into the hands of Copernicus, inducing him to devote his life to astronomy. What they failed to achieve through their own labours they achieved through the labours of another. Indeed, this is a characteristic of their work. In his factory at Nürnberg Regiomontanus produced astronomical instruments, globes, compasses and maps. Nürnberg sea-compasses were among the most famous in Europe, rivalling the reputation of its maps. Regiomontanus improved the astrolabe, invented Jacob’s staff and founded the scientific annual called Ephemerides. The improved astrolabe and Jacob’s staff enabled men to calculate distances by ascertaining the height of the sun. Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Magellan could not have succeeded in their venture had it not been for the assistance afforded them by this astrolabe and Jacob’s staff. When Columbus and Vespucci sailed for the shores of India, they brought with them the calculations which Regiomontanus had worked during the thirty-two years for his Ephemerides. By his employment of these calculations Columbus predicted an eclipse of the moon in the West Indies. Among the pupils of Regiomontanus were Martin Behaim and Bernard Walther, who proved a generous patron. Behaim of Nürnberg was a cosmographer and a navigator, who at sea verified information that had reached him. For example, he traced on his map the route to the East Indies, round the Cape of Good Hope, six years before its discovery by Vasco da Gama. Magellan was chivalrous enough to admit that he found the Straits, afterwards given his name, on a map of Behaim’s, and it was this map which suggested the idea to him that it might be a route to the Molucca Islands.

In the geographical discoveries of the age Regiomontanus could claim that he and his pupils had a share. He could also justly claim that he was among the earliest to perform experiments, anticipating in this respect the spirit of Erasmus in another. Not content with his own work, he laboured to found a school or at least a system. He devised problems for his students and offered prizes for their solution. He lectured on his results to the citizens of Nürnberg, for he was anxious that all educated men should share his knowledge. Fortunately for him Bernard Walther was wealthy, and he enabled Regiomontanus to establish a printing-press with the object of producing learned mathematical and astronomical works; he also published the first popular almanac. Walther built for him the first good observatory in Europe, equipping it with the best instruments of the day. Regiomontanus was the first astronomer, at least of the western world, to calculate the size, distance and orbits of the comets, thus enlarging the scientific horizon of men.

The scientific spirit of men like Cusanus, Peuerbach and Regiomontanus took generations before they affected other thinkers, and generations more before they touched the middle classes. “The die is cast,” wrote Kepler; “I have written my book. It will be read; whether in the present age or by posterity matters little. It can wait for its readers. Has not God waited six thousand years for one to contemplate His works?” Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations was published in 1776: Free Trade was not completely in force till after 1846. Edmund Burke dissected all the arguments in favour of the Penal Laws with incomparable force from 1760 to 1787: they were not abolished till 1829. A generation passed before the poetry of either Wordsworth or Browning was at all widely read. Even to-day it is a generation and a half before the thought of Cambridge or Oxford reaches the mind of the educated man: in the sixteenth century it was probably three or four generations. In one respect this century was fortunate. The geographical discoverers produced such far-reaching results that they compelled men to listen to the astronomer: the crust of prejudice in their brain, the cake of custom in their life, was so rudely broken that the shock obliged them to receive the new as well as the old. What Darwin accomplished in the nineteenth century by his Origin of Species, what Newton accomplished in the eighteenth by his Principia, Columbus and Copernicus accomplished in the sixteenth. On the natural man matters immediate, like the work of Vasco da Gama and his fellow-geographers, exercise more influence than matters remote, like that of Regiomontanus and his fellow-astronomers. In the geographical discoveries the citizen of the Holy Roman Empire attended more promptly to those affecting the East Indies than to those affecting the West Indies. The day of the North Sea and the Atlantic was not as yet.

In Germany the centre of commercial gravity changed. The northern cities ultimately increased in prosperity while the southern decreased. Augsburg, Lübeck, Nürnberg, Ratisbon and Ulm were the chief cities trading between Germany and Venice. The connexion was so intimate that the merchants of Augsburg used to send their young business men to Venice because of its excellence as a school of commerce. Magellan’s new sea route to the East Indies affected the current of commerce between Europe and Asia. For a time southern Germany was not appreciably altered. The merchants of Augsburg and Nürnberg enjoyed the advantages of their central position. They still sent their goods to Asia by the two old routes, that is, through Venice and Geneva and by the long sea route from Antwerp and round the western shores of Europe. There was the new way through Lisbon, and as an outcome of Magellan’s work they almost at once employed it. North Germany prospered, and the Hansa entered upon a career of prosperity.








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