Beacon Lights of History, Volume 3, Part 2
John Lord

Part 3 out of 6

nations can try satisfactorily but one experiment at a time, and
are not likely to repeat it with the same enthusiasm. As the mind
is unbounded in its capacities, and our world affords inexhaustible
fields of enterprise, the progress of the race is to be seen in the
new developments which successively appear, but in which only a
certain limit has thus far been reached. Not in absolute
perfection in any particular sphere is this progress seen, but
rather in the variety of the experiments. It may be doubted
whether any Grecian edifice will ever surpass the Parthenon in
beauty of proportion or fitness of ornament; or any nude statue
show grace of form more impressive than the Venus de Milo or the
Apollo Belvedere; or any system of jurisprudence be more completely
codified than that systematized by Justinian; or any Gothic church
rival the lofty expression of Cologne cathedral; or any painting
surpass the holy serenity and ethereal love depicted in Raphael's
madonnas; or any court witness such a brilliant assemblage of wits
and beauties as met at Versailles to render homage to Louis XIV.;
or any theological discussion excite such a national interest as
when Luther confronted Doctor Eck in the great hall of the
Electoral Palace at Leipsic; or any theatrical excitement such as
was produced on cultivated intellects when Garrick and Siddons
represented the sublime conceptions of the myriad-minded
Shakspeare. These glories may reappear, but never will they shine
as they did before. No more Olympian games, no more Roman
triumphs, no more Dodona oracles, no more Flavian amphitheatres, no
more Mediaeval cathedrals, no more councils of Nice or Trent, no
more spectacles of kings holding the stirrups of popes, no more
Fields of the Cloth of Gold, no more reigns of court mistresses in
such palaces as Versailles and Fontainbleau,--ah! I wish I could
add, no more such battlefields as Marengo and Waterloo,--only
copies and imitations of these, and without the older charm. The
world is moving on and perpetually changing, nor can we tell what
new vanity will next arise,--vanity or glory, according to our
varying notions of the dignity and destiny of man. We may predict
that it will not be any mechanical improvement, for ere long the
limit will be reached,--and it will be reached when the great mass
cannot find work to do, for the everlasting destiny of man is toil
and labor. But it will be some sublime wonders of which we cannot
now conceive, and which in time will pass away for other wonders
and novelties, until the great circle is completed; and all human
experiments shall verify the moral wisdom of the eternal
revelation. Then all that man has done, all that man can do, in
his own boastful thought, will be seen, in the light of the
celestial verities, to be indeed a vanity and a failure, not of
human ingenuity and power, but to realize the happiness which is
only promised as the result of supernatural, not mortal, strength,
yet which the soul in its restless aspirations never ceases its
efforts to secure,--everlasting Babel-building to reach the
unattainable on earth.

Now the revival of art in Italy was one of the great movements in
the series of human development. It peculiarly characterized the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It was an age of artistic
wonders, of great creations.

Italy, especially, was glorious when Michael Angelo was born, 1474;
when the rest of Europe was comparatively rude, and when no great
works in art, in poetry, in history, or philosophy had yet
appeared. He was descended from an illustrious family, and was
destined to one of the learned professions; but he could not give
up his mind to anything but drawing,--as annoying to his father as
Galileo's experiments were to his parent; as unmeaning to him as
Gibbon's History was to George III.,--"Scribble, scribble,
scribble; Mr. Gibbon, I perceive, sir, you are always a-
scribbling." No perception of a new power, no sympathy with the
abandonment to a specialty not indorsed by fashions and traditions,
but without which abandonment genius cannot easily be developed.
At last the father yielded, and the son was apprenticed to a
painter--a degradation in the eyes of Mediaeval aristocracy.

The celebrated Lorenzo de' Medici was then in the height of power
and fame in Florence, adored by Roscoe as the patron of artists and
poets, although he subverted the liberties of his country. This
over-lauded prince, heir of the fortunes of a great family of
merchants, wishing to establish a school for sculpture, filled a
garden with statues, and freely admitted to it young scholars in
art. Michael Angelo was one of the most frequent and enthusiastic
visitors to this garden, where in due time he attracted the
attention of the magnificent Lord of Florence by a head chiselled
so remarkably that he became an inmate of the palace, sat at the
table of Lorenzo, and at last was regularly adopted as one of the
Prince's family, with every facility for prosecuting his studies.
Before he was eighteen the youth had sculptured the battle of
Hercules with the Centaurs, which he would never part with, and
which still remains in his family; so well done that he himself, at
the age of eighty, regretted that he had not given up his whole
life to sculpture.

It was then as a sculptor that Michael Angelo first appears to the
historical student,--about the year 1492, when Columbus was
crossing the great unknown ocean to realize his belief in a western
passage to India. Thus commercial enterprise began with the
revival of art, and was destined never to be separated in its
alliance with it, since commerce brings wealth, and wealth seeks to
ornament the palaces and gardens which it has created or purchased.
The sculptor's art was not born until piety had already edifices in
which to worship God, or pride the monuments in which it sought the
glories of a name; but it made rapid progress as wealth increased
and taste became refined; as the need was felt for ornaments and
symbols to adorn naked walls and empty spaces, especially statuary,
grouped or single, of men or animals,--a marble history to
interpret or reproduce consecrated associations. Churches might do
without them; the glass stained in every color of the rainbow, the
altar shining with gold and silver and precious stones, the pillars
multiplied and diversified, and rich in foliated circles, mullions,
mouldings, groins, and bosses, and bearing aloft the arched and
ponderous roof,--one scene of dazzling magnificence,--these could
do without them; but the palaces and halls and houses of the rich
required the image of man,--and of man not emaciated and worn and
monstrous, but of man as he appeared to the classical Greeks, in
the perfection of form and physical beauty. So the artists who
arose with the revival of commerce, with the multiplication of
human wants and the study of antiquity, sought to restore the
buried statues with the long-neglected literature and laws. It was
in sculptured marbles that enthusiasm was most marked. These were
found in abundance in various parts of Italy whenever the vast
debris of the ancient magnificence was removed, and were
universally admired and prized by popes, cardinals, and princes,
and formed the nucleus of great museums.

The works of Michael Angelo as a sculptor were not numerous, but in
sublimity they have never been surpassed,--non multa, sed multum.
His unfinished monument of Julius II., begun at that pontiff's
request as a mausoleum, is perhaps his greatest work; and the
statue of Moses, which formed a part of it, has been admired for
three hundred years. In this, as in his other masterpieces,
grandeur and majesty are his characteristics. It may have been a
reproduction, and yet it is not a copy. He made character and
moral force the first consideration, and form subservient to
expression. And here he differed, it is said by great critics,
from the ancients, who thought more of form than of moral
expression,--as may be seen in the faces of the Venus de Medici and
the Apollo Belvedere, matchless and inimitable as these statues are
in grace and beauty. The Laocoon and the Dying Gladiator are
indeed exceptions, for it is character which constitutes their
chief merit,--the expression of pain, despair, and agony. But
there is almost no intellectual or moral expression in the faces of
other famous and remarkable antique statues, only beauty and
variety of form, such as Powers exhibited in his Greek Slave,--an
inferior excellence, since it is much easier to copy the beautiful
in the nude statues which people Italy, than to express such
intellectual majesty as Michael Angelo conceived--that intellectual
expression which Story has succeeded in giving to his African
Sibyl. Thus while the great artist retained the antique, he
superadded a loftiness such as the ancients rarely produced; and
sculpture became in his hands, not demoralizing and Pagan,
resplendent in sensual charms, but instructive and exalting,--
instructive for the marvellous display of anatomical knowledge, and
exalting from grand conceptions of dignity and power. His
knowledge of anatomy was so remarkable that he could work without
models. Our artists, in these days, must always have before their
eyes some nude figure to copy.

The same peculiarities which have given him fame as a sculptor he
carried out into painting, in which he is even more remarkable; for
the artists of Italy at this period often combined a skill for all
the fine arts. In sculpture they were much indebted to the
ancients, but painting seems to have been purely a development. In
the Middle Ages it was comparatively rude. No noted painter arose
until Cimabue in the middle of the thirteenth century. Before him,
painting was a lifeless imitation of models afforded by Greek
workers in mosaics; but Cimabue abandoned this servile copying, and
gave a new expression to heads, and grouped his figures. Under
Giotto, who was contemporary with Dante, drawing became still more
correct, and coloring softer. After him, painting was rapidly
advanced. Pietro della Francesca was the father of perspective;
Domenico painted in oil, discovered by Van Eyck in Flanders, in
1410; Masaccio studied anatomy; gilding disappeared as a background
around pictures. In the fifteenth century the enthusiasm for
painting became intense; even monks became painters, and every
convent and church and palace was deemed incomplete without
pictures. But ideal beauty and harmony in coloring were still
wanting, as well as freedom of the pencil. Then arose Da Vinci and
Michael Angelo, who practised the immutable principles by which art
could be advanced; and rapidly following in their steps, Fra
Bartolommeo, Fra Angelico, Rossi, and Andrea del Sarto made the age
an era in painting, until the art culminated in Raphael and
Corregio and Titian. And divers cities of Italy--Bologna, Milan,
Parma, and Venice--disputed with Rome and Florence for the empire
of art; as also did many other cities which might be mentioned,
each of which has a history, each of which is hallowed by poetic
associations; so that all men who have lived in Italy, or even
visited it, feel a peculiar interest in these cities,--an interest
which they can feel in no others, even if they be such capitals as
London and Paris. I excuse this extravagant admiration for the
wonderful masterpieces produced in that age, making marble and
canvas eloquent with the most inspiring sentiments, because, wrapt
in the joys which they excite, the cultivated and imaginative man
forgets--and rejoices that he can forget--the untidiness of that
World Capital, the many reminders of ages of unthrift, which stare
ordinary tourists in the face, and all the other disgusting
realities which philanthropists deplore so loudly in that
degenerate but classical and ever-to-be-hallowed land. For, come
what will, in spite of past turmoils it has been the scene of the
highest glories of antiquity, calling to our minds saints and
martyrs, as well as conquerors and emperors, and revealing at every
turn their tombs and broken monuments, and all the hoary remnants
of unsurpassed magnificence, as well as preserving in churches and
palaces those wonders which were created when Italy once again
lived in the noble aspiration of making herself the centre and the
pride of the new civilization.

Da Vinci, the oldest of the great masters who immortalized that
era, died in 1519, in the arms of Francis I. of France, and Michael
Angelo received his mantle. The young sculptor was taken away from
his chisel to paint, for Pope Julius II., the ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel. After the death of his patron Lorenzo, he had
studied and done famous work in marble at Bologna, at Rome, and
again at Florence. He had also painted some, and with such
immediate success that he had been invited to assist Da Vinci in
decorating a hall in the ducal palace at Florence. But sculpture
was his chosen art, and when called to paint the Sistine Chapel, he
implored the Pope that he might be allowed to finish the mausoleum
which he had begun, and that Raphael, then dazzling the whole city
by his unprecedented talents, might be substituted for him in that
great work. But the Pope was inflexible; and the great artist
began his task, assisted by other painters; however, he soon got
disgusted with them and sent them away, and worked alone. For
twenty months he toiled, rarely seen, living abstemiously, absorbed
utterly in his work of creation; and the greater portion of the
compartments in the vast ceiling was finished before any other
voice than his, except the admiring voice of the Pope, pronounced
it good.

It would be useless to attempt to describe those celebrated
frescos. Their subjects were taken from the Book of Genesis, with
great figures of sibyls and prophets. They are now half-concealed
by the accumulated dust and smoke of three hundred years, and can
be surveyed only by reclining at full length on the back. We see
enough, however, to be impressed with the boldness, the majesty,
and the originality of the figures,--their fidelity to nature, the
knowledge of anatomy displayed, and the disdain of inferior arts;
especially the noble disdain of appealing to false and perverted
taste, as if he painted from an exalted ideal in his own mind,
which ideal is ever associated with creative power.

It is this creative power which places Michael Angelo at the head
of the artists of his great age; and not merely the power to create
but the power of realizing the most exalted conceptions. Raphael
was doubtless superior to him in grace and beauty, even as Titian
afterwards surpassed him in coloring. He delighted, like Dante, in
the awful and the terrible. This grandeur of conception was
especially seen in his Last Judgment, executed thirty years
afterwards, in completion of the Sistine Chapel, the work on which
had been suspended at the death of Julius. This vast fresco is
nearly seventy feet in height, painted upon the wall at the end of
the chapel, as an altar-piece. No subject could have been better
adapted to his genius than this--the day of supernal terrors (dies
irae, dies illa), when, according to the sentiments of the Middle
Ages, the doomed were subjected to every variety of physical
suffering, and when this agony of pain, rather than agony of
remorse, was expressed in tortured limbs and in faces writhing with
demoniacal despair. Such was the variety of tortures which he
expressed, showing an unexampled richness in imaginative powers,
that people came to see it from the remotest parts of Italy. It
made a great sensation, like the appearance of an immortal poem,
and was magnificently rewarded; for the painter received a pension
of twelve hundred golden crowns a year,--a great sum in that age.

But Michael Angelo did not paint many pieces; he confined himself
chiefly to cartoons and designs, which, scattered far and wide,
were reproduced by other artists. His most famous cartoon was the
Battle of Pisa, the one executed for the ducal palace of Florence,
as pendant to one by Leonardo da Vinci, then in the height of his
fame. This picture was so remarkable for the accuracy of drawing,
and the variety and form of expression, that Raphael came to
Florence on purpose to study it; and it was the power of giving
boldness and dignity and variety to the human figure, as shown in
this painting, which constitutes his great originality and
transcendent excellence. The great creations of the painters, in
modern times as well as in the ancient, are those which represent
the human figure in its ideal excellence,--which of course implies
what is most perfect, not in any one man or woman, but in men and
women collectively. Hence the greatest of painters rarely have
stooped to landscape painting, since no imaginary landscape can
surpass what everybody has seen in nature. You cannot improve on
the colors of the rainbow, or the gilded clouds of sunset; or the
shadows of the mountain, or the graceful form of trees, or the
varied tints of leaves and flowers; but you can represent the
figure of a man or woman more beautiful than any one man or woman
that has ever appeared. What mortal woman ever expressed the
ethereal beauty depicted in a Madonna of Raphael or Murillo? And
what man ever had such a sublimity of aspect and figure as the
creations of Michael Angelo? Why, "a beggar," says one of his
greatest critics, "arose from his hand the patriarch of poverty;
the hump of his dwarf is impressed with dignity; his infants are
men, and his men are giants." And, says another critic, "he is the
inventor of epic painting, in that sublime circle of the Sistine
Chapel which exhibits the origin, progress, and final dispensation
of the theocracy. He has personified motion in the cartoon of
Pisa, portrayed meditation in the prophets and sibyls of the
Sistine Chapel and in the Last Judgment, traced every attitude
which varies the human body, with every passion which sways the
human soul." His supremacy is in the mighty soaring of his
intellectual conceptions. Marvellous as a creator, like
Shakspeare; profound and solemn, like Dante; representing power
even in repose, and giving to the Cyclopean forms which he has
called into being a charm of moral excellence which secures our
sympathy; a firm believer in a supreme and personal God;
disciplined in worldly trials, and glowing in lofty conceptions of
justice,--he delights in portraying the stern prophets of Israel,
surrounded with an atmosphere of holiness, yet breathing compassion
on those whom they denounce; august in dignity, yet melting with
tenderness; solemn, sad, profound. Thus was his influence pure and
exalted in an art which has too often been prostituted to please
the perverted taste of a sensual age. The most refined and
expressive of all the arts,--as it sometimes is, and always should
be,--is the one which oftenest appeals to that which Christianity
teaches us to shun. You may say, "Evil to him who evil thinks,"
especially ye pure and immaculate persons who have walked
uncorrupted amid the galleries of Paris, Dresden, Florence, and
Rome; but I fancy that pictures, like books, are what we choose to
make them, and that the more exquisite the art by which vice is
divested of its grossness, but not of its subtle poisons,--like the
New Heloise of Rousseau or the Wilhelm Meister of Goethe,--the more
fatally will it lead astray by the insidious entrance of an evil
spirit in the guise of an angel of light. Art, like literature, is
neither good nor evil abstractly, but may become a savor of death
unto death, as well as of life unto life. You cannot extinguish it
without destroying one of the noblest developments of civilization;
but you cannot have civilization without multiplying the
temptations of human society, and hence must be guarded from those
destructive cankers which, as in old Rome, eat out the virtues on
which the strength of man is based. The old apostles, and other
great benefactors of the world, attached more value to the truths
which elevate than to the arts which soften. It was the noble
direction which Michael Angelo gave to art which made him a great
benefactor not only of civilization, but also of art, by linking
with it the eternal ideas of majesty and dignity, as well as the
truths which are taught by divine inspiration,--another
illustration of the profound reverence which the great master minds
of the world, like Augustine, Pascal, and Bacon, have ever
expressed for the ideas which were revealed by Christianity and the
old prophets of Jehovah; ideas which many bright but inferior
intellects, in their egotistical arrogance, have sought to subvert.

Yet it was neither as sculptor nor painter that Michael Angelo left
the most enduring influence, but as architect. Painting and
sculpture are the exclusive ornaments and possession of the rich
and favored. But architecture concerns all men, and most men have
something to do with it in the course of their lives. What boots
it that a man pays two thousand pounds for a picture to be shut up
in his library, and probably more valued for its rarity, or from
the caprices of fashion, than for its real merits? But it is
something when a nation pays a million for a ridiculous building,
without regard to the object for which it is intended,--to be
observed and criticised by everybody and for succeeding
generations. A good picture is the admiration of a few; a
magnificent edifice is the pride of thousands. A picture
necessarily cultivates the taste of a family circle; a public
edifice educates the minds of millions. Even the Moses of Michael
Angelo is a mere object of interest to those who visit the church
of San Pietro in Vincoli; but St. Peter's is a monument to be seen
by large populations from generation to generation. All London
contemplates St. Paul's Church or the Palace of Westminster, but
the National Gallery may be visited by a small fraction of the
people only once a year. Of the thousands who stand before the
Tuileries or the Madeleine not one in a hundred has visited the
gallery of the Louvre. What material works of man so grand as
those hoary monuments of piety or pride erected three thousand
years ago, and still magnificent in their very ruins! How imposing
are the pyramids, the Coliseum, and the Gothic cathedrals of the
Middle Ages! And even when architecture does not rear vaulted
roofs and arches and pinnacles, or tower to dazzling heights, or
inspire reverential awe from the associations which cluster around
it, how interesting are even its minor triumphs! Who does not stop
to admire a beautiful window, or porch, or portico? Who does not
criticise his neighbor's house, its proportions, its general
effect, its adaptation to the uses designed? Architecture appeal
to the common eye, and have reference to the necessities of man,
and sometimes express the consecrated sentiments of an age or a
nation. Nor can it be prostituted, like painting and sculpture; it
never corrupts the mind, and sometimes inspires it; and if it makes
an appeal to the senses or the imagination, it is to kindle
perceptions of the severe beauty of geometrical forms.

Whoever, then, has done anything in architecture has contributed to
the necessities of man, and stimulated an admiration for what is
venerable and magnificent. Now Michael Angelo was not only the
architect of numerous palaces and churches, but also one of the
principal architects of that great edifice which is, on the whole,
the noblest church in Christendom,--a perpetual marvel and study;
not faultless, but so imposing that it will long remain, like the
old temple of Ephesus, one of the wonders of the world. He
completed the church without great deviation from the plan of the
first architect, Bramante, whom he regarded as the greatest
architect that had lived,--altering Bramante's plans from a Latin
to a Greek cross, the former of which was retained after Michael
Angelo's death. But it is the interior, rather than the exterior
of St. Peter's, which shows its vast superiority over all other
churches for splendor and effect, and surprises all who are even
fresh from Cologne and Milan and Westminster. It impresses us like
a wonder of nature rather than as the work of man,--a great work of
engineering as well as a marvel of majesty and beauty. We are
surprised to see so vast a structure, covering nearly five acres,
so elaborately finished, nothing neglected; the lofty walls covered
with precious marbles, the side chapels filled with statues and
monuments, the altars ornamented with pictures,--and those pictures
not painted in oil, but copied in mosaic, so that they will neither
decay nor fade, but last till destroyed by violence. What feelings
overpower the poetic mind when the glories of that interior first
blaze upon the brain; what a world of brightness, softness, and
richness; what grandeur, solidity, and strength; what unnumbered
treasures around the altars; what grand mosaics relieve the height
of the wondrous dome,--larger than the Pantheon, rising two hundred
feet from the intersection of those lofty and massive piers which
divide transept from choir and nave; what effect of magnitude after
the eye gets accustomed to the vast proportions! Oh, what silence
reigns around! How difficult, even for the sonorous chants of
choristers and priests to disturb that silence,--to be more than
echoes of a distant music which seems to come from the very courts
of heaven itself: to some a holy sanctuary, where one may meditate
among crowds and feel alone; where one breathes an atmosphere which
changes not with heat or cold; and where the ever-burning lamps and
clouds of incense diffusing the fragrance of the East, and the rich
dresses of the mitred priests, and the unnumbered symbols, suggest
the ritualism of that imposing worship when Solomon dedicated to
Jehovah the grandest temple of antiquity!

Truly was St. Peter's Church the last great achievement of the
popes, the crowning demonstration of their temporal dominion;
suggestive of their wealth and power, a marble history of pride and
pomp, a fitting emblem of that worship which appeals to sense
rather than to God. And singular it was, when the great artist
reared that gigantic pile, even though it symbolized the cross, he
really gave a vital wound to that cause to which he consecrated his
noblest energies; for its lofty dome could not be completed without
the contributions of Christendom, and those contributions could not
be made without an appeal to perversions which grew out of
Mediaeval Catholicism,--even penance and self-expiation, which
stirred the holy indignation of a man who knew and declared on what
different ground justification should be based. Thus was Luther,
in one sense, called into action by the labors of Michael Angelo;
thus was the erection of St. Peter's Church overruled in the
preaching of reformers, who would show that the money obtained by
misinterpreted "indulgences" could never purchase an acceptable
offering to God, even though the monument were filled with
Christian emblems, and consecrated by those prayers and anthems
which had been the life of blessed saints and martyrs for more than
a thousand years.

St. Peter's is not Gothic, it is a restoration of the Greek; it
belongs to what artists call the Renaissance,--a style of
architecture marked by a return to the classical models of
antiquity. Michael Angelo brought back to civilization the old
ideas of Grecian grace and Roman majesty,--typical of the original
inspirations of the men who lived in the quiet admiration of
eternal beauty and grace; the men who built the Parthenon, and who
shaped pillars and capitals and entablatures in the severest
proportions, and fitted them with ornaments drawn from the living
world,--plants and animals, especially images of God's highest
work, even of man; and of man not worn and macerated and dismal and
monstrous, but of man when most resplendent in the perfections of
the primeval strength and beauty. He returned to a style which
classical antiquity carried to great perfection, but which had been
neglected by the new Teutonic nations.

Nor is there evidence that Michael Angelo disdained the creations
especially seen in those Gothic monuments which are still the
objects of our admiration. Who does not admire the church
architecture of the Middle Ages? Of its kind it has never been
surpassed. Geometry and art--the true and the beautiful--meet.
Nothing ever erected by the hand of man surpasses the more famous
cathedrals of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in the richness
and variety of their symbolic decorations. They typify the great
ideas of Christianity; they inspire feelings of awe and reverence;
they are astonishing structures, in their magnitude and in their
effect. Monuments are they of religious zeal and poetical
inspiration,--the creations of great artists, although we scarcely
know their names; adapted to the uses designed; the expression of
consecrated sentiments; the marble history of the ages in which
they were erected,--now heavy and sombre when society was enslaved
and mournful; and then cheerful and lofty when Christianity was
joyful and triumphant. Who ever was satisfied in contemplating the
diversified wonders of those venerable structures? Who would lose
the impression which almost overwhelmed the mind when York minster,
or Cologne, or Milan, or Amiens was first beheld, with their lofty
spires and towers, their sculptured pinnacles, their flying
buttresses, their vaulted roofs, their long arcades, their purple
windows, their holy altars, their symbolic carvings, their majestic
outlines, their grand proportions!

But beautiful, imposing, poetical, and venerable as are these hoary
piles, they are not the all in all of art. Suppose all the
buildings of Europe the last four hundred years had been modelled
from these churches, how gloomy would be our streets, how dark and
dingy our shops, how dismal our dwellings, how inconvenient our
hotels! A new style was needed, at least as a supplement of the
old,--as lances and shields were giving place to fire-arms, and the
line and the plummet for the mariner's compass; as a new
civilization was creating new wants and developing the material
necessities of man.

So Michael Angelo arose, and revived the imperishable models of the
classical ages,--to be applied not merely to churches but to
palaces, civic halls, theatres, libraries, museums, banks,--all of
which have mundane purposes. The material world had need of
conveniences, as much as the Mediaeval age had need of shrines.
Humanity was to be developed as well as the Deity to be worshipped.
The artist took the broadest views, looking upon Gothic
architecture as but one division of art,--even as truth is greater
than any system, and Christianity wider than any sect. O, how this
Shakspeare of art would have smiled on the vague and transcendental
panegyrics of Michelet or Ruskin, and other sentimental admirers of
an age which never can return! And how he might have laughed at
some modern enthusiasts, who trace religion to the disposition of
stones and arches, forgetting that religion is an inspiration which
comes from God, and never from the work of man's hands, which can
be only a form of idolatry.

Michael Angelo found that the ornamentations of the ancient temples
were as rich and varied as those of Mediaeval churches. Mouldings
were discovered of incomparable elegance; the figures on
entablatures were found to be chiselled accurately from nature; the
pillars were of matchless proportions, the capitals of graceful
curvatures. He saw beauty in the horizontal lines of the
Parthenon, as much as in the vertical lines of Cologne. He would
not pull down the venerable monuments of religious zeal, but he
would add to them. "Because the pointed arch was sacred, he would
not despise the humble office of the lintel." And in southern
climates especially there was no need of those steep Gothic roofs
which were intended to prevent a great weight of rain and snow, and
where the graceful portico of the Greeks was more appropriate than
the heavy tower of the Lombards. He would seize on everything that
the genius of past ages had indorsed, even as Christianity itself
appropriates everything human,--science, art, music, poetry,
eloquence, literature,--sanctifies it, and dedicates it to the
Lord; not for the pride of builders, but the improvement of
humanity. Civilization may exist with Paganism, but only performs
its highest uses when tributary to Christianity. And Christianity
accepts the tribute which even Pagan civilization offers for the
adornment of our race,--expelled from Paradise, and doomed to hard
and bitter toils,--without abdicating her more glorious office of
raising the soul to heaven.

Nor was Michael Angelo responsible for the vile mongrel
architecture which followed the Renaissance, and which disfigures
the modern capitals of Europe, any more than for the perversion of
painting in the hands of Titian. But the indiscriminate adoption
of pillars for humble houses, shops with Roman arches, spires and
towers erected on Grecian porticoes, are no worse than schoolhouses
built like convents, and chapels designed for preaching as much as
for choral chants made dark and gloomy, where the voice of the
preacher is lost and wasted amid vaulted roofs and useless pillars.
Michael Angelo encouraged no incongruities; he himself conceived
the beautiful and the true, and admired it wherever found, even
amid the excavations of ruined cities. He may have overrated the
buried monuments of ancient art, but how was he to escape the
universal enthusiasm of his age for the remains of a glorious and
forgotten civilization? Perhaps his mind was wearied with the
Middle Ages, from which he had nothing more to learn, and sought a
greater fulness and a more perfect unity in the expanding forces of
a new and grander era than was ever seen by Pagan heroes or by
Gothic saints.

But I need not expatiate on the new ideas which Michael Angelo
accepted, or the impulse he gave to art in all its forms, and to
the revival of which civilization is so much indebted. Let us turn
and give a parting look at the man,--that great creative genius who
had no superior in his day and generation. Like the greatest of
all Italians, he is interesting for his grave experiences, his
dreary isolations, his vast attainments, his creative imagination,
and his lofty moral sentiments. Like Dante, he stands apart from,
and superior to, all other men of his age. He never could sport
with jesters, or laugh with buffoons, or chat with fools; and
because of this he seemed to be haughty and disdainful. Like
Luther, he had no time for frivolities, and looked upon himself as
commissioned to do important work. He rejoiced in labor, and knew
no rest until he was eighty-nine. He ate that he might live, not
lived that he might eat. For seventeen years after he was seventy-
two he worked on St. Peter's church; worked without pay, that he
might render to God his last earthly tribute without alloy,--as
religious as those unknown artists who erected Rheims and
Westminster. He was modest and patient, yet could not submit to
the insolence of little men in power. He even left the papal
palace in disdain when he found his labors unappreciated. Julius
II. was forced to bend to the stern artist, not the artist to the
Pope. Yet when Leo X. sent him to quarry marbles for nine years,
he submitted without complaint. He had no craving for riches like
Rubens, no love of luxury like Raphael, no envy like Da Vinci. He
never over-tasked his brain, or suffered himself, like Raphael,--
who died exhausted at thirty-seven,--to crowd three days into one,
knowing that over-work exhausts the nervous energies and shortens
life. He never attempted to open the doors which Providence had
plainly shut against him, but waited patiently for his day, knowing
it would come; yet whether it came or not, it was all the same to
him,--a man with all the holy rapture of a Kepler, and all the
glorious self-reliance of a Newton. He was indeed jealous of his
fame, but he was not greedy of admiration. He worked without the
stimulus of praise,--one of the rarest things,--urged on purely by
love of art. He loved art for its own sake, as good men love
virtue, as Palestrina loved music, as Bacon loved truth, as Kant
loved philosophy,--satisfied with itself as its own reward. He
disliked to be patronized, but always remembered benefits, and
loved the tribute of respect and admiration, even as he scorned the
empty flatterer of fashion. He was the soul of sincerity as well
as of magnanimity; and hence had great capacity for friendship, as
well as great power of self-sacrifice. His friendship with
Vittoria Colonna is as memorable as that of Jerome and Paula, or
that of Hildebrand and The Countess Matilda. He was a great
patriot, and clung to his native Florence with peculiar affection.
Living in habits of intimacy with princes and cardinals, he never
addressed them in adulatory language, but talked and acted like a
nobleman of nature, whose inborn and superior greatness could be
tested only by the ages. He placed art on the highest pinnacle of
the temple of humanity, but dedicated that temple to the God of
heaven in whom he believed. His person was not commanding, but
intelligence radiated from his features, and his earnest nature
commanded respect. In childhood he was feeble, but temperance made
him strong. He believed that no bodily decay was incompatible with
intellectual improvement. He continued his studies until he died,
and felt that he had mastered nothing. He was always dissatisfied
with his own productions. Excelsior was his motto, as Alp on Alp
arose upon his view. His studies were diversified and vast. He
wrote poetry as well as carved stone, his sonnets especially
holding a high rank. He was engineer as well as architect, and
fortified Florence against her enemies. When old he showed all the
fire of youth, and his eye, like that of Moses, never became dim,
since his strength and his beauty were of the soul,--ever
expanding, ever adoring. His temper was stern, but affectionate.
He had no mercy on a fool or a dunce, and turned in disgust from
those who loved trifles and lies. He was guilty of no immoralities
like Raphael and Titian, being universally venerated for his stern
integrity and allegiance to duty,--as one who believes that there
really is a God to whom he is personally responsible. He gave away
his riches, like Ambrose and Gregory, valuing money only as a means
of usefulness. Sickened with the world, he still labored for the
world, and died in 1564, over eighty-nine years of age, in the full
assurance of eternal blessedness in heaven.

His marbles may crumble down, in spite of all that we can do to
preserve them as models of hopeless imitation; but the exalted
ideas he sought to represent by them, are imperishable and divine,
and will be subjects of contemplation when

"Seas shall waste, the skies to smoke decay,
Rocks fall to dust, and mountains melt away."


Grimm's Life of Michael Angelo; Vasari's Lives of the Most
Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects; Duppa's Life of
Michael Angelo; Bayle's Histoire de la Peinture en Italie.


A. D. 1483-1546.


Among great benefactors, Martin Luther is one of the most
illustrious. He headed the Protestant Reformation. This movement
is so completely inter-linked with the literature, the religion,
the education, the prosperity--yea, even the political history--of
Europe, that it is the most important and interesting of all modern
historical changes. It is a subject of such amazing magnitude that
no one can claim to be well informed who does not know its leading
issues and developments, as it spread from Germany to Switzerland,
France, Holland, Sweden, England, and Scotland.

The central and prominent figure in the movement is Luther; but the
way was prepared for him by a host of illustrious men, in different
countries,--by Savonarola in Italy, by Huss and Jerome in Bohemia,
by Erasmus in Holland, by Wyclif in England, and by sundry others,
who detested the corruptions they ridiculed and lamented, but could
not remove.

How flagrant those evils! Who can deny them? The papal despotism,
and the frauds on which it was based; monastic corruptions;
penance, and indulgences for sin, and the sale of them, more
shameful still; the secular character of the clergy; the pomp,
wealth, and arrogance of bishops; auricular confession; celibacy
of the clergy, their idle and dissolute lives, their ignorance
and superstition; the worship of the images of saints, and
masses for the dead; the gorgeous ritualism of the mass; the
substitution of legends for the Scriptures, which were not
translated, or read by the people; pilgrimages, processions,
idle pomps, and the multiplication of holy days; above all, the
grinding spiritual despotism exercised by priests, with their
inquisitions and excommunications, all centring in the terrible
usurpation of the popes, keeping the human mind in bondage, and
suppressing all intellectual independence,--these evils prevailed
everywhere. I say nothing here of the massacres, the poisonings, the
assassinations, the evil doings of various kinds of which history
accuses many of the pontiff's who sat on papal thrones. Such evils
did not stare the German and English in the face, as they did the
Italians in the fifteenth century. In Germany the vices were
mediaeval and monkish, not the unblushing infidelity and levities
of the Renaissance, which made a radical reformation in Italy
impossible. In Germany and England there was left among the people
the power of conscience, a rough earnestness of character, the
sense of moral accountability, and a fear of divine judgment.

Luther was just the man for his work. Sprung from the people,
poor, popular, fervent; educated amid privations, religious by
nature, yet with exuberant animal spirits; dogmatic, boisterous,
intrepid, with a great insight into realities; practical, untiring,
learned, generally cheerful and hopeful; emancipated from the
terrors of the Middle Ages through great struggles; progressive in
his spirit, lofty in his character, earnest in his piety, believing
in the future and in God,--such was the great leader of this
emancipating movement. He was not so learned as Erasmus, nor so
logical as Calvin, nor so scholarly as Melancthon, nor so broad as
Cranmer. He was not a polished man; he was often offensively rude
and brusque, and lavish of epithets. Nor was he what we call a
modest and humble man, he was intellectually proud, disdainful, and
sometimes, when irritated, abusive. None of his pictures represent
him as a refined-looking man, scarcely intellectual, but coarse and
sensual rather, as Socrates seemed to the Athenians. But with
these defects and drawbacks he had just such traits and gifts as
fitted him to lead a great popular movement,--bold, audacious, with
deep convictions and rapid intellectual processes; prompt, decided,
kind-hearted, generous, brave; in sympathy with the people,
eloquent, Herculean in energies, with an amazing power of work;
electrical in his smile and in his words, and always ready for
contingencies. Had he been more polished, more of a gentleman,
more fastidious, more scrupulous, more ascetic, more modest, he
would have shrunk from his tasks; he would have lost the elasticity
of his mind, he would have been discouraged. Even Saint Augustine,
a broader and more catholic man than Luther, could not have done
his work. He was a sort of converted Mirabeau. He loved the
storms of battle; he impersonated revolutionary ideas. But he was
a man of thought, as well as of action.

Luther's origin was of the humblest. Born in Eisleben, Nov. 10,
1483, the son of a poor peasant, his childhood was spent in penury.
He was religious from a boy. He was religious when he sang hymns
for a living, from house to house, before the people of Mansfield
while at school there, and also at the schools of Magdeburg and
Eisenach, where he still earned his bread by his voice. His
devotional character and his music gained for him a friend who
helped him through his studies, till at the age of eighteen he
entered the University at Erfurt, where he distinguished himself in
the classics and the Mediaeval philosophy. And here his religious
meditations led him to enter the Augustinian monastery: he entered
that strict retreat, as others did, to lead a religious life. The
great question of all time pressed upon his mind with peculiar
force, "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" And it
shows that religious life in Germany still burned in many a heart,
in spite of the corruptions of the Church, that a young man like
Luther should seek the shades of monastic seclusion, for meditation
and study. He was a monk, like other monks; but it seems he had
religious doubts and fears more than ordinary monks. At first he
conformed to the customary ways of men seeking salvation. He
walked in the beaten road, like Saint Dominic and Saint Francis; he
accepted the great ideas of the Middle Ages, which he was
afterwards to repudiate,--he was not beyond them, or greater than
they were, at first; he fasted like monks, and tormented his body
with austerities, as they did from the time of Benedict, he sang in
the choir from early morn, and practised the usual severities. But
his doubts and fears remained. He did not, like other monks, find
peace and consolation; he did not become seraphic, like Saint
Francis, or Bonaventura, or Loyola. Perhaps his nature repelled
asceticism; perhaps his inquiring and original mind wanted
something better and surer to rest upon than the dreams and visions
of a traditionary piety. Had he been satisfied with the ordinary
mode of propitiating the Deity, he would never have emerged from
his retreat.

To a scholar the monastery had great attractions, even in that age.
It was still invested with poetic associations and consecrated
usages; it was indorsed by the venerable Fathers of the Church; it
was favorable to study, and free from the noisy turmoil of the
world. But with all these advantages Luther was miserable. He
felt the agonies of an unforgiven soul in quest of peace with God;
he could not get rid of them, they pursued him into the immensity
of an intolerable night. He was in despair. What could
austerities do for HIM? He hungered and thirsted after the truth,
like Saint Augustine in Milan. He had no taste for philosophy, but
he wanted the repose that philosophers pretended to teach. He was
then too narrow to read Plato or Boethius. He was a self-tormented
monk without relief; he suffered all that Saint Paul suffered at
Tarsus. In some respects this monastic pietism resembled the
pharisaism of Saul, in the schools of Tarsus,--a technical, rigid,
and painful adherence to rules, fastings, stated prayers, and petty
ritualisms, which, originally framed as aids to grace, by
repetition lose their power; based on the enormous error that man
may win heaven by external practices, in which, however, he can
never perfect himself, though he were to live, like Simeon
Stylites, on the top of a pillar for twenty years without once
descending; an eternal unrest, because perfection cannot be
attained; the most terrible slavery to which a man can be
conscientiously doomed, verging into hypocrisy and fanaticism.

It was then that a kind and enlightened friend visited him, and
recommended him to read the Bible. The Bible never has been a
sealed book to monks; it was ever highly prized; no convent was
without it: but it was read with the spectacles of the Middle Ages.
Repentance meant penance. In Saint Paul's Epistles Luther
discovers the true ground of justification,--not works, but faith;
for Paul had passed through similar experiences. Works are good,
but faith is the gift of God. Works are imperfect with the best of
men, even the highest form of works, to a Mediaeval eye,--self-
expiation and penance; but faith is infinite, radiating from divine
love; faith is a boundless joy,--salvation by the grace of God, his
everlasting and precious boon to people who cannot climb to heaven
on their hands and knees, the highest gift which God ever bestowed
on men,--eternal life.

Luther is thus emancipated from the ideas of the Middle Ages and of
the old Syriac monks and of the Jewish Pharisees. In his
deliverance he has new hopes and aspirations; he becomes cheerful,
and devotes himself to his studies. Nothing can make a man more
cheerful and joyful than the cordial reception of a gift which is
infinite, a blessing which is too priceless to be bought. The
pharisee, the monk, the ritualist, is gloomy, ascetic, severe,
intolerant; for he is not quite sure of his salvation. A man who
accepts heaven as a gift is full of divine enthusiasm, like Saint
Augustine. Luther now comprehends Augustine, the great doctor of
the Church, embraces his philosophy and sees how much it has been
misunderstood. The rare attainments and interesting character of
Luther are at last recognized; he is made a professor of divinity
in the new university, which the Elector of Saxony has endowed, at
Wittenberg. He becomes a favorite with the students; he enters
into the life of the people. He preaches with wonderful power, for
he is popular, earnest, original, fresh, electrical. He is a monk
still, but the monk is merged in the learned doctor and eloquent
preacher. He does not yet even dream of attacking monastic
institutions, or the Pope; he is a good Catholic in his obedience
to authorities; but he hates the Middle Ages, and all their
ghostly, funereal, burdensome, and technical religious customs. He
is human, almost convivial,--fond of music, of poetry, of society,
of friends, and of the good cheer of the social circle. The people
love Luther, for he has a broad humanity. They never did love
monks, only feared their maledictions.

About this time the Pope was in great need of money: this was Leo
X. He not only squandered his vast revenues in pleasures and
pomps, like any secular monarch; he not only collected pictures and
statues,--but he wanted to complete St. Peter's Church. It was
the crowning glory of papal magnificence. Where was he to get
money except from the contributions of Christendom? But kings and
princes and bishops and abbots were getting tired of this
everlasting drain of money to Rome, in the shape of annats and
taxes; so Leo revived an old custom of the Dark Ages,--he would
sell "plenary indulgences"; and he sent his agents to market them
in every country.

The agent in Saxony was a very popular preacher, a shrewd Dominican
prior by the name of Tetzel. Luther abhorred him, not so much
because he was vulgar and noisy, but because his infamous business
derogated from the majesty of God and religion. In wrathful
indignation he preached against Tetzel and his practices,--the
abominable traffic of indulgences. Only God can forgive sins. It
seemed to him to be an insult to the human understanding that any
man, even a pope, should grant an absolution for crime. These
indulgences also provided the release of deceased friends from
purgatory. And it was useless to preach against them so long as
the principles on which they were based were not assailed.
Everybody believed in penance; everybody believed that this, in
some form, would insure salvation. It consisted in a temporal
penalty or punishment inflicted on the sinner after confession
to the priest, as a condition of his receiving absolution
or an authoritative pardon of his sin by the Church as God's
representative. And the indulgence was originally an official
remission of this penalty, to be gained by offerings of money to
the Church for its sacred uses. However ingenious this theory, the
practice inevitably ran into corruption. The people who bought,
the agents who sold, the popes who dispensed, these indulgences
wrested them from their original intention.

Fortunately, in those times in Germany everybody felt he had a soul
to save. Neither the popes nor the Church ever lost that idea.
The clergy ruled by its force,--by stimulating fears of divine
wrath, whereby the wretched sinner would be physically tormented
forever, unless he escaped by a propitiation of the Deity,--the
common form of which was penance, deeds of supererogation,
donations to the Church, self-expiation, works of fear and
penitence, which commended themselves to the piety of the age; and
this piety Luther now believed to be unenlightened, not the kind
enjoined by Christ or Paul.

So, to instruct his students and the people as to the true ground
of justification, which he had worked out from the study of the
Bible and Saint Augustine amid the agonies of a tormented
conscience, Luther prepared his theses,--those celebrated ninety-
five propositions, which he affixed to the gates of the church of
Wittenberg, and which excited a great sensation throughout Northern
Germany, reaching even the eyes of the Pope himself, who did not
comprehend their tendency, but was struck with their power. "This
Doctor Luther," said he, "is a man of fine genius." The students
of the university, and the people generally, were kindled as if by
Pentecostal fires. The new invention of printing scattered those
theses everywhere, far and near; they reached the humble hamlet as
well as the palaces of bishops and princes. They excited immediate
and immense enthusiasm: there was freshness in them, originality,
and great ideas. We cannot wonder at the enthusiasm which those
religious ideas excited nearly four hundred years ago when we
reflect that they were not cant words then, not worn-out
platitudes, not dead dogmas, but full of life and exciting
interest,--even as were the watchwords of Rousseau--"Liberty,
Fraternity, Equality"--to Frenchmen, on the outbreak of their
political revolution. And as those watchwords--abstractly true--
roused the dormant energies of the French to a terrible conflict
against feudalism and royalty, so those theses of Luther kindled
Germany into a living flame. And why? Because they presented more
cheerful and comforting grounds of justification than had been
preached for one thousand years,--faith rather than penance; for
works hinged on penance. The underlying principle of those
propositions was GRACE,--divine grace to save the world,--the
principle of Paul and Saint Augustine; therefore not new, but
forgotten; a mighty comfort to miserable people, mocked and cheated
and robbed by a venal and a gluttonous clergy. Even Taine
admits that this doctrine of grace is the foundation stone of
Protestantism as it spread over Europe in the sixteenth century.
In those places where Protestantism is dead,--where rationalism or
Pelagian speculations have taken its place,--this fact may be
denied; but the history of Northern Europe blazes with it,--a fact
which no historian of any honesty can deny.

Very likely those who are not in sympathy with this great idea of
Luther, Augustine, and Paul may ignore the fact,--even as Caleb
Cushing once declared to me, that the Reformation sprang from the
desire of Luther to marry Catherine Bora; and that learned and
ingenious sophist overwhelmed me with his citations from infidel
and ribald Catholic writers like Audin. Greater men than he deny
that grace underlies the whole original movement of the reformers,
and they talk of the Reformation as a mere revolt from Rome, as a
war against papal corruption, as a protest against monkery and the
dark ages, brought about by the spirit of a new age, the onward
march of humanity, the necessary progress of society. I admit the
secondary causes of the Reformation, which are very important,--the
awakened spirit of inquiry in the sixteenth century, the revival of
poetry and literature and art, the breaking up of feudalism,
fortunate discoveries, the introduction of Greek literature, the
Renaissance, the disgusts of Christendom, the voice of martyrs
calling aloud from their funeral pyres; yea, the friendly hand of
princes and scholars deploring the evils of a corrupted Church.
But how much had Savonarola, or Erasmus, or John Huss, or the
Lollards aroused the enthusiasm of Europe, great and noble as were
their angry and indignant protests? The genius of the Reformation
in its early stages was a RELIGIOUS movement, not a political or a
moral one, although it became both political and moral. Its
strength and fervor were in the new ideas of salvation,--the same
that, gave power to the early preachers of Christianity,--not
denunciations of imperialism and slavery, and ten thousand evils
which disgraced the empire, but the proclamation of the ideas of
Paul as to the grounds of hope when the soul should leave the body;
the salvation of the Lord, declared to a world in bondage. Luther
kindled the same religious life among the masses that the apostles
did; the same that Wyclif did, and by the same means,--the
declaration of salvation by belief in the incarnate Son of God,
shedding his blood in infinite love. Why, see how this idea spread
through Germany, Switzerland, and France, and took possession of
the minds of the English and Scotch yeomanry, with all their stern
and earnest ruggedness. See how it was elaborately expanded by
Calvin, how it gave birth to a new and strong theology, how it
entered into the very life of the people, especially among the
Puritans,--into the souls of even Cromwell's soldiers. What made
"The Pilgrim's Progress" the most popular book ever published in
England? Because it reflected the theology of the age, the
religion of the people, all based on Luther's theses,--the revival
of those old doctrines which converted the Roman provinces from
Paganism. I do not care if these statements are denied by
Catholics, or rationalists, or progressive savants. What is it to
me that the old views have become unfashionable, or are derided, or
are dead, in the absorbing materialism of this Epicurean yet
brilliant age? I know this, that I am true to history when I
declare that the glorious Reformation in which we all profess to
rejoice, and which is the greatest movement, and the best, of our
modern time,--susceptible of indefinite application, interlinked
with the literature and the progress of England and America,--took
its first great spiritual start from the ideas of Luther as to
justification. This was the voice of heaven's messenger
proclaiming aloud, so that the heavens re-echoed to the glorious
and triumphant annunciation, and the earth heard and rejoiced with
exceeding joy, "Behold, I send tidings of salvation: it is grace,
divine grace, which shall undermine the throne of popes and pagans,
and reconcile a fallen world to God!"

Yes, it was a Christian philosopher, a theologian,--a doctor of
divinity, working out in his cell and study, through terrible
internal storm and anguish, and against the whole teaching of monks
and bishops and popes and universities, from the time of
Charlemagne, the same truth which Augustine learned in his
wonderful experiences,--who started the Reformation in the right
direction; who became the greatest benefactor of these modern
times, because he based his work on everlasting and positive ideas,
which had life in them, and hope, and the sanction of divine
authority; thus virtually invoking the aid of God Almighty to bring
about and restore the true glory of his Church on earth,--a glory
forever to be identified with the death of his Son. I see no law
of progress here, no natural and necessary development of nations;
I see only the light and power of individual genius, brushing away
the cobwebs and sophistries and frauds of the Middle Ages, and
bringing out to the gaze of Europe the vital truth which, with
supernatural aid, made in old times the day of Pentecost. And I
think I hear the emancipated people of Saxony exclaim, from the
Elector downwards, "If these ideas of Doctor Luther are true, and
we feel them to be, then all our penances have been worse than
wasted,--we have been Pagans. Away with our miserable efforts to
scale the heavens! Let us accept what we cannot buy; let us make
our palaces and our cottages alike vocal with the praises of Him
whom we now accept as our Deliverer, our King, and our Eternal

Thus was born the first great idea of the Reformation, out of
Luther's brain, out of his agonized soul, and sent forth to
conquer, and produce changes most marvellous to behold.

It is not my object to discuss the truth or error of this
fundamental doctrine. There are many who deny it, even among
Protestants. I am not a controversialist, or a theologian:
I am simply an historian. I wish to show what is historically
true and clear; and I defy all the scholars and critics of the
world to prove that this doctrine is not the basal pillar of
the Reformation of Luther. I wish to make emphatic the statement
that JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH was, as an historical fact, the great
primal idea of Luther; not new, but new to him and to his age.

I have now to show how this idea led to others; how they became
connected together; how they produced not only a spiritual
movement, but political, moral, and intellectual forces, until all
Europe was in a blaze.

Thus far the agitation under Luther had been chiefly theological.
It was not a movement against popes or institutions, it was not
even the vehement denunciation against sin in high places, which
inflamed the anger of the Pope against Savonarola. To some it
doubtless seemed like the old controversy between Augustine and
Pelagius, like the contentions between Dominican and Franciscan
monks. But it was too important to escape the attention of even
Leo X., although at first he gave it no thought. It was a
dangerous agitation; it had become popular; there was no telling
where it would end, or what it might not assail. It was deemed
necessary to stop the mouth of this bold and intellectual Saxon

So the voluptuous, infidel, elegant Pope--accomplished in manners
and pagan arts and literature--sent one of the most learned men of
the Church which called him Father, to argue with Doctor Luther,
confute him, conquer him,--deeming this an easy task. But the
doctor could not be silenced. His convictions were grounded on the
rock; not on Peter, but on the rock from which Peter derived his
name. All the papal legates and cardinals in the world could
neither convince nor frighten him. He courted argument; he
challenged the whole Church to refute him.

Then the schools took up the controversy. All that was imposing in
names, in authority, in traditions, in associations, was arrayed
against him. They came down upon him with the whole array of
scholastic learning. The great Goliath of controversy in that day
was Doctor Eck, who challenged the Saxon monk to a public
disputation at Leipsic. All Germany was interested. The question
at issue stirred the nation to its very depths.

The disputants met in the great hall of the palace of the Elector.
Never before was seen in Germany such an array of doctors and
theologians and dignitaries. It rivalled in importance and dignity
the Council of Nice, when the great Constantine presided, to settle
the Trinitarian controversy. The combatants were as great as
Athanasius and Arius,--as vehement, as earnest, though not so
fierce. Doctor Eck was superior to Luther in reputation, in
dialectical skill, in scholastic learning. He was the pride of the
universities. Luther, however, had deeper convictions, more
genius, greater eloquence, and at that time he was modest.

The champion of the schools, of sophistries and authorities, of
dead-letter literature, of quibbles, refinements, and words, soon
overwhelmed the Saxon monk with his citations, decrees of councils,
opinions of eminent ecclesiastics, the literature of the Church,
its mighty authority. He was on the eve of triumph. Had the
question been settled, as Doctor Eck supposed, by authorities, as
lawyers and pedants would settle the question, Luther would have
been beaten. But his genius came to his aid, and the consciousness
of truth.

He swept away the premises of the argument. He denied the supreme
authority of popes and councils and universities. He appealed to
the Scriptures, as the only ultimate ground of authority. He did
not deny authority, but appealed to it in its highest form. This
was unexpected ground. The Church was not prepared openly to deny
the authority of Saint Paul or Saint Peter; and Luther, if he did
not gain his case, was far from being beaten, and--what was of
vital importance to his success--he had the Elector and the people
with him.

Thus was born the second great idea of the Reformation,--the
supreme authority of the Scriptures, to which Protestants of every
denomination have since professed to cling. They may differ in the
interpretation of texts,--and thus sects and parties gradually
arose, who quarrelled about their meaning,--but none of them deny
their supreme authority. All the issues of Protestants have been
on the meaning of texts, on the interpretation of the Scriptures,--
to be settled by learning and reason. It was not until rationalism
arose, and rejected plain and obvious declarations of Scripture, as
inconsistent with reason, as interpolations, as uninspired, that
the authority of the Scriptures was weakened; and these
rationalists--and the land of Luther became full of them--have gone
infinitely beyond the Catholics in undermining the Bible. The
Catholics never have taken such bold ground as the rationalists
respecting the Scriptures. The Catholic Church still accepts the
Bible, but explains away the meaning of many of its doctrines; the
rationalists would sweep away its divine authority, extinguish
faith, and leave the world in night. Satan came into the
theological school of the Protestants, disguised in the robes of
learned doctors searching for truth, and took away the props of
religious faith. This was worse than baptizing repentance with the
name of penance. Better have irrational fears of hell than no
fears at all, for this latter is Paganism. Pagan culture and Pagan
philosophy could not keep society together in the old Roman world;
but Mediaeval appeals to the fears of men did keep them from crimes
and force upon them virtues.

The triumph of Luther at Leipsic was, however, incomplete. The
Catholics rallied after their stunning blow. They said, in
substance: "We, too, accept the Scriptures; we even put them above
Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and the councils. But who can
interpret them? Can peasants and women, or even merchants and
nobles? The Bible, though inspired, is full of difficulties; there
are contradictory texts. It is a sealed book, except to the
learned; only the Church can reconcile its difficulties. And what
we mean by the Church is the clergy,--the learned clergy,
acknowledging allegiance to their spiritual head, who in matters of
faith is also infallible. We can accept nothing which is not
indorsed by popes and councils. No matter how plain the Scriptures
seem to be, on certain disputed points only the authority of the
Church can enlighten and instruct us. We distrust reason,--that
is, what you call reason,--for reason can twist anything, and
pervert it; but what the Church says, is true,--its collective
intelligence is our supreme law [thus putting papal dogmas above
reason, above the literal and plain declarations of Scripture].
Moreover, since the Scriptures are to be interpreted only by
priests, it is not a safe book for the people. We, the priests,
will keep it out of their hands. They will get notions from it
fatal to our authority; they will become fanatics: they will, in
their conceit, defy us."

Then Luther rose, more powerful, more eloquent more majestic than
before; he rose superior to himself. "What," said he, "keep the
light of life from the people; take away their guide to heaven;
keep them in ignorance of what is most precious and most exalting;
deprive them of the blessed consolations which sustain the soul in
trial and in death; deny the most palpable truths, because your
dignitaries put on them a construction to bolster up their power!
What an abomination! what treachery to heaven! what peril to the
souls of men! Besides, your authorities differ. Augustine takes
different ground from Pelagius; Bernard from Abelard; Thomas
Aquinas from Dun Scotus. Have not your grand councils given
contradictory decisions? Whom shall we believe? Yea, the popes
themselves, your infallible guides,--have they not at different
times rendered different decisions? What would Gregory I. say to
the verdicts of Gregory VII.?

"No, the Scriptures are the legacy of the early Church to universal
humanity; they are the equal and treasured inheritance of all
nations and tribes and kindreds upon the face of the earth, and
will be till the day of judgment. It was intended that they should
be diffused, and that every one should read them, and interpret
them each for himself; for he has a soul to save, and he dare not
intrust such a precious thing as his soul into the keeping of
selfish and ambitious priests. Take away the Bible from a peasant,
or a woman, or any layman, and cannot the priest, armed with the
terrors and the frauds of the Middle Ages, shut up his soul in a
gloomy dungeon, as noisome and funereal as your Mediaeval crypts?
And will you, ye boasted intellectual guides of the people,
extinguish reason in this world in reference to the most momentous
interests? What other guide has a man but his reason? And you
would prevent this very reason from being enlightened by the
Gospel! You would obscure reason itself by your traditions, O ye
blind leaders of the blind! O ye legal and technical men,
obscuring the light of truth! O ye miserable Pharisees, ye bigots,
ye selfish priests, tenacious of your power, your inventions, your
traditions,--will ye withhold the free redemption, God's greatest
boon, salvation by the blood of Christ, offered to all the world?
Yea, will you suffer the people to perish, soul and body, because
you fear that, instructed by God himself, they will rebel against
your accursed despotism? Have you considered what a mighty crime
you thus commit against God, against man? Ye rule by an infernal
appeal to the superstitious fears of men; but how shall ye
yourselves, for such crimes, escape the damnation of that hell into
which you would push your victims unless they obey YOU?

"No, I say, let the Scriptures be put into the hands of everybody;
let every one interpret them for himself, according to the light he
has; let there be private judgment; let spiritual liberty be
revived, as in Apostolic days. Then only will the people be
emancipated from the Middle Ages, and arise in their power and
majesty, and obey the voice of enlightened conscience, and be true
to their convictions, and practise the virtues which Christianity
commands, and obey God rather than man, and defy all sorts of
persecution and martyrdom, having a serene faith in those blessed
promises which the Gospel unfolds. Then will the people become
great, after the conflicts of generations, and put under their feet
the mockeries and lies and despotisms which grind them to despair."

Thus was born the third great idea of the Reformation, out of
Luther's brain, a logical sequence from the first idea,--the right
of private judgment, religious liberty, call it what you will; a
great inspiration which in after times was destined to march
triumphantly over battle-fields, and give dignity and power to the
people, and lead to the reception of great truths obscured by
priests for one thousand years; the motive of an irresistible
popular progress, planting England with Puritans, and Scotland with
heroes, and France with martyrs, and North America with colonists;
yea, kindling a fervid religions life; creating such men as Knox
and Latimer and Taylor and Baxter and Howe, who owed their
greatness to the study of the Scriptures,--at last put into every
hand, and scattered far and wide, even to India and China. Can
anybody doubt the marvellous progress of Protestant nations in
consequence of the translation and circulation of the Scriptures?
How these are bound up with their national life, and all their
social habits, and all their religious aspirations; how they have
elevated the people, ten hundred millions of times more than the
boasted Renaissance which sprang from apostate and infidel and
Pagan Italy, when she dug up the buried statues of Greece and Rome,
and revived the literature and arts which soften, but do not save--
for private judgment and religious liberty mean nothing more and
nothing less than the unrestricted perusal of the Scriptures as the
guide of life.

This right of private judgment, on which Luther was among the first
to insist, and of which certainly he was the first great champion
in Europe, was in that age a very bold idea, as well as original.
It flattered as well as stimulated the intellect of the people, and
gave them dignity; it gave to the Reformation its popular
character; it appealed to the mind and heart of Christendom. It
gave consolation to the peasantry of Europe; for no family was too
poor to possess a Bible, the greatest possible boon and treasure,--
read and pondered in the evening, after hard labors and bitter
insults; read aloud to the family circle, with its inexhaustible
store of moral wealth, its beautiful and touching narratives, its
glorious poetry, its awful prophecies, its supernal counsels, its
consoling and emancipating truths,--so tender and yet so exalting,
raising the soul above the grim trials of toil and poverty into the
realms of seraphic peace and boundless joy. The Bible even gave
hope to heretics. All sects and parties could take shelter under
it; all could stand on the broad platform of religion, and survey
from it the wonders and glories of God. At last men might even
differ on important points of doctrine and worship, and yet be
Protestants. Religious liberty became as wide in its application
as the unity of the Church. It might create sects, but those sects
would be all united as to the value of the Scriptures and their
cardinal declarations. On this broad basis John Milton could shake
hands with John Knox, and John Locke with Richard Baxter, and
Oliver Cromwell with Queen Elizabeth, and Lord Bacon with William
Penn; and Bishop Butler with John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards with
Doctor Channing.

This idea of private judgment is what separates the Catholics from
the Protestants; not most ostensibly, but most vitally. Many are
the Catholics who would accept Luther's idea of grace, since it is
the idea of Saint Augustine; and of the supreme authority of the
Scriptures, since they were so highly valued by the Fathers: but
few of the Catholic clergy have ever tolerated religious liberty,--
that is, the interpretation of the Scriptures by the people,--for
it is a vital blow to their supremacy, their hierarchy, and their
institutions. They will no more readily accept it than William the
Conqueror would have accepted the Magna Charta; for the free
circulation and free interpretation of the Scriptures are the
charter of human liberties fought for at Leipsic by Gustavus
Adolphus, at Ivry by Henry IV. This right of worshipping God
according to the dictates of conscience, enlightened by the free
reading of the Scriptures, is just what the "invincible armada" was
sent by Philip II. to crush; just what Alva, dictated by Rome,
sought to crush in Holland; just what Louis XIV., instructed by the
Jesuits, did crush out in France, by the revocation of the Edict of
Nantes. The Satanic hatred of this right was the cause of most of
the martyrdoms and persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. It was the declaration of this right which emancipated
Europe from the dogmas of the Middle Ages, the thraldom of Rome,
and the reign of priests. Why should not Protestants of every
shade cherish and defend this sacred right? This is what made
Luther the idol and oracle of Germany, the admiration of half
Europe, the pride and boast of succeeding ages, the eternal hatred
of Rome; not his religious experiences, not his doctrine of
justification by faith, but the emancipation he gave to the mind of
the world. This is what peculiarly stamps Luther as a man of
genius, and of that surprising audacity and boldness which only
great geniuses evince when they follow out the logical sequence of
their ideas, and penetrate at a blow the hardened steel of vulcanic
armor beneath which the adversary boasts.

Great was the first Leo, when from his rifled palace on one of the
devastated hills of Rome he looked out upon the Christian world,
pillaged, sacked, overrun with barbarians, full of untold
calamities,--order and law crushed; literature and art prostrate;
justice a byword; murders and assassinations unavenged; central
power destroyed; vice, in all its enormities, vulgarities, and
obscenities, rampant and multiplying itself; false opinions gaining
ground; soldiers turned into banditti, and senators into slaves;
women shrieking in terror; bishops praying in despair; barbarism
everywhere, paganism in danger of being revived; a world
disordered, forlorn, and dismal; Pandemonium let loose, with
howling and shouting and screaming, in view of the desolation
predicted alike by Jeremy the prophet and the Cumaean sybil;--great
was that Leo, when in view of all this he said, with old patrician
heroism, "I will revive government once more upon this earth; not
by bringing back the Caesars, but by declaring a new theocracy, by
making myself the vicegerent of Christ, by virtue of the promise
made to Peter, whose successor I am, in order to restore law,
punish crime, head off heresy, encourage genius, conserve peace,
heal dissensions, protect learning; appealing to love, but ruling
by fear. Who but the Church can do this? A theocracy will create
a new civilization. Not a diadem, but a tiara will I wear, the
symbol of universal sovereignty, before which barbarism shall flee
away, and happiness be restored once more." As he sent out his
legates, he fulminated his bulls and established tribunals of
appeal; he made a net-work of ecclesiastical machinery, and
proclaimed the dangers of eternal fire, and brought kings and
princes before him on their knees. The barbaric world was saved.

But greater than Leo was Luther, when--outraged by the corruptions
of this spiritual despotism, and all the false and Pagan notions
which had crept into theology, obscuring the light of faith and
creating an intolerable bondage, and opposing the new spirit of
progress which science and art and industry and wealth had invoked
--he courageously yet modestly comes forward as the champion of a
new civilization, and declares, with trumpet tones, "Let there be
private judgment; liberty of conscience; the right to read and
interpret Scripture, in spite of priests! so that men may think for
themselves, not only on the doctrines of eternal salvation but on
all the questions to be deduced from them, or interlinked with the
past or present or future institutions of the world. Then shall
arise a new creation from dreaded destruction, and emancipated
millions shall be filled with an unknown enthusiasm, and advance
with the new weapons of reason and truth from conquering to
conquer, until all the strongholds of sin and Satan shall be
subdued, and laid triumphantly at the foot of His throne whose
right it is to reign."

Thus far Luther has appeared as a theologian, a philosopher, a man
of ideas, a man of study and reflection, whom the Catholic Church
distrusts and fears, as she always has distrusted genius and manly
independence; but he is henceforth to appear as a reformer, a
warrior, to carry out his ideas and also to defend himself against
the wrath he has provoked; impelled step by step to still bolder
aggressions, until he attacks those venerable institutions which he
once respected,--all the dexterous inventions of Mediaeval
despotism, all the machinery by which Europe had been governed for
one thousand years; yea, the very throne of the Pope himself, whom
he defies, whom he insults, and against whom he urges Christendom
to rebel. As a combatant, a warrior, a reformer, his person and
character somewhat change. He is coarser, he is more sensual-
looking, he drinks more beer, he tells more stories, he uses harder
names; he becomes arrogant, dogmatic; he dictates and commands; he
quarrels with his friends; he is imperious; he fears nobody, and is
scornful of old usages; he marries a nun; he feels that he is a
great leader and general, and wields new powers; he is an executive
and administrative man, for which his courage and insight and will
and Herculean physical strength wonderfully fit him,--the man for
the times, the man to head a new movement, the forces of an age of
protest and rebellion and conquest.

How can I compress into a few sentences the demolitions and
destructions which this indignant and irritated reformer now makes
in Germany, where he is protected by the Elector from Papal
vengeance? Before the reconstruction, the old rubbish must be
cleared away, and Augean stables must be cleansed. He is now at
issue with the whole Catholic regime, and the whole Catholic world
abuse him. They call him a glutton, a wine-bibber, an adulterer, a
scoffer, an atheist, an imp of Satan; and he calls the Pope the
scarlet mother of abominations, Antichrist, Babylon. That age is
prodigal in offensive epithets; kings and prelates and doctors
alike use hard words. They are like angry children and women and
pugilists; their vocabulary of abuse is amusing and inexhaustible.
See how prodigal Shakspeare and Ben Jonson are in the language of
vituperation. But they were all defiant and fierce, for the age
was rough and earnest. The Pope, in wrath, hurls the old weapons
of the Gregorys and the Clements. But they are impotent as the
darts of Priam; Luther laughs at them, and burns the Papal bull
before a huge concourse of excited students and shopkeepers and
enthusiastic women. He severs himself completely from Rome, and
declares an unextinguishable warfare. He destroys and breaks up
the ceremonies of the Mass; he pulls down the consecrated altars,
with their candles and smoking incense and vessels of silver and
gold, since they are the emblems of Jewish and Pagan worship; he
tears off the vestments of priests, with their embroideries and
their gildings and their millineries and their laces, since these
are made to impose on the imagination and appeal to the sense; he
breaks up monasteries and convents, since they are dens of infamy,
cages of unclean birds, nurseries of idleness and pleasure, abodes
at the best of narrow-minded, ascetic Asiatic recluses, who rejoice
in penance and self-expiation and other modes of propitiating the
Deity, like soofists and fakirs and Braminical devotees. In
defiance of the most sacred of the institutions of the Middle Ages,
he openly marries Catherine Bora and sets up a hilarious household,
and yet a household of prayer and singing. He abolishes the old
Gregorian service; and for Mediaeval chants, monotonous and gloomy,
he prepares hymns and songs,--not for boys and priests to intone in
the distant choir, but for the whole congregation to sing, inspired
by the melodies of David and the exulting praises of a Saviour who
redeems from darkness into light. How grand that hymn of his,--

"A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing."

He makes worship more heartfelt, and revives apostolic usages:
preaching and exhortation and instruction from the pulpit,--a
forgotten power. He appeals to reason rather than sense; denounces
superstitions, while he rebukes sins; and kindles a profound
fervor, based on the recognition of new truths. He is not fully
emancipated from the traditions of the past; for he retains the
doctrine of transubstantiation, and keeps up the holidays of the
Church, and allows recreation on the Sabbath. But what he thinks
the most of is the circulation of the Scriptures among plain
people. So he translates them into German. And this, not the
first but the best translation, is done so well that it becomes the
standard of the German language, as the Bible of Tindale helped to
form the English tongue; and not only so, but it has remained the
common version in use throughout Germany, even as the authorized
King James version, made nearly a century later by the labor of
many scholars and divines, has remained the standard English Bible.
Moreover, he finds time to make liturgies and creeds and hymns, and
to write letters to all parts of Christendom,--a Jerome, a
Chrysostom, and an Augustine united; a kind of Protestant pope, to
whom everybody looks for advice and consolation. What a wonderful
man! No wonder the Germans are so fond of him and so proud of
him,--a Briareus with a hundred arms; a marvel, a wonder, a prodigy
of nature; the most gifted, versatile, hard-working man of his
century or nation!

At last, this great theologian, this daring innovator, is summoned
by imperial, not papal, authority before the Diet of the empire at
Worms, where the Emperor, the great Charles V., presides, amid
bishops, princes, cardinals, legates, generals, and dignitaries.
Thither Luther must go,--yet under imperial safe conduct,--and
consummate his protests, and perhaps offer up his life. Painters,
poets, historians, have made that scene familiar,--the most
memorable in the life of Luther, as well as one of the grandest
spectacles of the age. I need not dwell on that exciting scene,
where, in the presence of all that was illustrious and powerful in
Germany, this defenceless doctor dares to say to supremest temporal
and spiritual authority, "Unless you confute me by arguments drawn
from Scripture, I cannot and will not recant anything . . . Here I
stand; I cannot otherwise: God help me! Amen." How superior to
Galileo and other scientific martyrs! He is not afraid of those
who can kill only the body; he is afraid only of Him who hath power
to cast both soul and body into hell. So he stands as firm as the
eternal pillars of justice, and his cause is gained. What if he
did not live long enough to accomplish all he designed! What if he
made mistakes, and showed in his career many of the infirmities of
human nature! What if he cared very little for pictures and
statues,--the revived arts of Greece and Rome, the Pagan
Renaissance in which he only sees infidelity, levities, and
luxuries, and other abominations which excited his disgust and
abhorrence when he visited Italy! HE seeks, not to amuse and adorn
the Papal empire, but to reform it; as Paul before him sought to
plant new sentiments and ideas in the Roman world, indifferent to
the arts of Greece, and even the beauties of nature, in his
absorbing desire to convert men to Christ. And who, since Paul,
has rendered greater service to humanity than Luther? The whole
race should be proud that such a man has lived.

We will not follow the great reformer to the decline of his years;
we will not dwell on his subsequent struggles and dangers, his
marvellous preservation, his personal habits, his friendships and
his hatreds, his joys and sorrows, his bitter alienations, his
vexatious, his disappointments, his gloomy anticipations of
approaching strife, his sickened yet exultant soul, his last days
of honor and of victory, his final illness, and his triumphant
death in the town where he was born. It is his legacy that we are
concerned in, the inheritance he left to succeeding generations,--
the perpetuated ideas of the Reformation, which he worked out in
anguish and in study, and which we will not let die, but will
cherish in our memories and our hearts, as among the most precious
of the heirlooms of genius, susceptible of boundless application.
And it is destined to grow brighter and richer, in spite of
counter-reformation and Jesuitism, of Pagan levities and Pagan
lies, of boastful science and Epicurean pleasures, of material
glories, of dissensions and sects and parties, as the might and
majesty of ages coursing round the world regenerates institutions
and nations, and proclaims the sovereignty of intelligence, the
glory and the power of God.


Ranke's Reformation in Germany; D'Aubigne's History of the
Reformation; Luther's Letters; Mosheim's History of the Church;
Melancthon's Life of Luther: Erasmi Epistolae; Encyclopaedia


A. D. 1489-1556.


As the great interest of the Middle Ages, in an historical point of
view, centres around the throne of the popes, so the most prominent
subject of historical interest in our modern times is the revolt
from their almost unlimited domination. The Protestant
reformation, in its various relations, was a movement of
transcendent importance. The history of Christendom, in a moral, a
political, a religious, a literary, and a social point of view, for
the last three hundred years, cannot be studied or comprehended
without primary reference to that memorable revolution.

We have seen how that great insurrection of human intelligence was
headed in Germany by Luther, and we shall shortly consider it in
Switzerland and France under Calvin. We have now to contemplate
the movement in England.

The most striking figure in it was doubtless Thomas Cranmer,
Archbishop of Canterbury, although he does not represent the
English Reformation in all its phases. He was neither so prominent
nor so great a man as Luther or Calvin, or even Knox. But, taking
him all in all, he was the most illustrious of the English
reformers; and he, more than any other man, gave direction to the
spirit of reform, which had been quietly working ever since the
time of Wyclif, especially among the humbler classes.

The English Reformation--the way to which had been long preparing--
began in the reign of Henry VIII.; and this unscrupulous and
tyrannical monarch, without being a religious man, gave the first
great impulse to an outbreak the remote consequences of which he
did not anticipate, and with which he had no sympathy. He rebelled
against the authority of the Pope, without abjuring the Roman
Catholic religion, either as to dogmas or forms. In fact, the
first great step towards reform was made, not by Cranmer, but by
Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, as the prime minister of Henry
VIII.,--a man of whom we really know the least of all the very
great statesmen of English history. It was he who demolished the
monasteries, and made war on the whole monastic system, and
undermined the papal power in England, and swept away many of the
most glaring of those abuses which disgraced the Papal Empire.
Armed with the powers which Wolsey had wielded, he directed them
into a totally different channel; so far as the religious welfare
of the nation is considered, although in his principles of
government he was as absolute as Richelieu. Like the great French
statesman, he exalted the throne; but, unlike him, he promoted the
personal reign of the sovereign he served with remarkable ability
and devotion.

Thomas Cromwell, the prime minister of Henry VIII., after the fall
of Wolsey, was born in humble ranks, and was in early life a common
soldier in the wars of Italy, then a clerk in a mercantile house in
Antwerp, then a wool merchant in Middleborough, then a member of
Parliament, and was employed by Wolsey in suppressing some of the
smaller monasteries. His fidelity to his patron Wolsey, at the
time of that great cardinal's fall, attracted the special notice of
the King, who made him royal secretary in the House of Commons. He
made his fortune by advising Henry to declare himself Head of the
English Church, when he was entangled in the difficulties growing
out of the divorce of Catharine. This advice was given with the
patriotic view of making the royal authority superior to that of
the Pope in Church patronage, and of making England independent of

The great scandal of the times was the immoral lives of the clergy,
especially of the monks, and the immunities they enjoyed. They
were a hindrance to the royal authority, and weakened the resources
of the country by the excessive drain of gold and silver sent to
Rome to replenish the papal treasury. Cromwell would make the
clergy dependent on the King and not on the Pope for their
investitures and promotions; and he abominated the idle and
vagabond lives of the monks, who had degenerated in England,
perhaps more than in any other country in Europe, in consequence of
the great wealth of their monasteries. He was able to render his
master and the kingdom a great service, from the powers lavished
upon him. He presided at convocations as the King's vicegerent;
controlled the House of Commons, and was inquisitor-general of the
monasteries; he was foreign and home secretary, vicar-general and
president of the star-chamber or privy-council. The proud
Nevilles, the powerful Percies, and the noble Courtenays all bowed
before this plebeian son of a mechanic, who had arisen by force of
genius and lucky accidents,--too wise to build a palace like
Hampton Court, but not ecclesiastical enough in his sympathies to
found a college like Christ's Church as Wolsey did. He was a man
simple in his tastes, and hard-working like Colbert,--the great
finance minister of France under Louis XIV., whom he resembled in
his habits and policy.

His great task, as well as his great public service, was the
visitation and suppression of monasteries. He perceived that they
had fulfilled their mission; that they were no longer needed; that
they had become corrupt, and too corrupt to be reformed; that they
were no longer abodes of piety, or beehives of industry, or
nurseries of art, or retreats of learning; that their wealth was
squandered; that they upheld the arm of a foreign power; that they
shielded offenders against the laws; that they encouraged vagrancy
and extortion; that, in short, they were dangerous to the realm.

The monks and friars opposed the new learning now extending from
Italy to France, to Germany, and to England. Colet came back from
Italy, not to teach Platonic mysticism, but to unlock the
Scriptures in the original,--the centre of a group of scholars at
Oxford, of whom Erasmus and Thomas More stood in the foremost rank.
Before the close of the fifteenth century, it is said that ten
thousand editions of various books had been printed in different
parts of Europe. All the Latin authors, and some of the Greek,
were accessible to students. Tunstall and Latimer were sent to
Padua to complete their studies. Fox, bishop of Winchester,
established a Greek professorship at Oxford. It was an age of
enthusiasm for reviving literature,--which, however, received in
Germany, through the influence chiefly of Luther, a different
direction from what it received in Italy, and which extended from
Germany to England. But to this awakened spirit the monks
presented obstacles and discouragements. They had no sympathy with
progress; they belonged to the Dark Ages; they were hostile to the
circulation of the Scriptures; they were pedlers of indulgences and
relics; impostors, frauds, vagabonds, gluttons, worldly, sensual,
and avaricious.

So notoriously corrupt had monasteries become that repeated
attempts had been made to reform them, but without success. As
early as 1489, Innocent VII. had issued a commission for a general
investigation. The monks were accused of dilapidating public
property, of frequenting infamous places, of stealing jewels from
consecrated shrines. In 1511, Archbishop Warham instituted another
visitation. In 1523 Cardinal Wolsey himself undertook the task of
reform. At last the Parliament, in 1535, appointed Cromwell vicar
or visitor-general, issued a commission, and intrusted it to
lawyers, not priests, who found that the worst had not been told,
and reported that two thirds of the monks of England were living in
concubinage; that their lands were wasted and mortgaged, and their
houses falling into ruins. They found the Abbot of Fountains
surrounded with more women than Mohammed allowed his followers, and
the nuns of Litchfield scandalously immoral.

On this report, the Lords and Commons--deliberately, not rashly--
decreed the suppression of all monasteries the income of which was
less than two hundred pounds a year, and the sequestration of their
lands to the King. About two hundred of the lesser convents were
thus suppressed, and the monks turned adrift, yet not entirely
without support. This spoliation may have been a violation of the
rights of property, but the monks had betrayed their trusts. The
next Parliament completed the work. In 1539 all the religious
houses were suppressed, both great and small. Such venerable and
princely retreats as St. Albans, Glastonbury, Reading, Bury St.
Edmunds, and Westminster, which had flourished one thousand years,--
founded long before the Conquest,--shared the common ruin. These
probably would have been spared, had not the first suppression
filled the country with rebels. The great insurrection in
Lincolnshire which shook the foundation of the throne, the
intrigues of Cardinal Pole, the Cornish conspiracy in which the
great house of Neville was implicated, and various other
agitations, were all fomented by the angry monks.

Rapacity was not the leading motive of Henry or his minister, but
the public welfare. The measure of suppression and sequestration
was violent, but called for. Cromwell put forth no such
sophistical pleas as those revolutionists who robbed the French
clergy,--that their property belonged to the nation. In France the
clergy were despoiled, not because they were infamous, but because
they were rich. In England the monks probably suffered injustice
from the severity of their punishment, but no one now doubts that
punishment was deserved. Nor did Henry retain all the spoils
himself: he gave away the abbey lands with a prodigality equal to
his rapacity. He gave them to those who upheld his throne, as a
reward for service or loyalty. They were given to a new class of
statesmen, who led the popular party,--like the Fitzwilliams, the
Russells, the Dudleys, and the Seymours,--and thus became the
foundation of their great estates. They were also distributed to
many merchants and manufacturers who had been loyal to the
government. From one-third to two-thirds of the landed property of
the kingdom,--as variously estimated,--thus changed hands. It was
an enormous confiscation,--nearly as great as that made by William
the Conqueror in favor of his army of invaders. It must have
produced an immense impression on the mind of Europe. It was
almost as great a calamity to the Catholic Church of England as the
emancipation of slaves was to their Southern masters in our late
war. Such a spoliation of the Church had not before taken place in
any country of Europe. How great an evil the monastic system must
have been regarded by Parliament to warrant such an act! Had it
not been popular, there would have been discontents amounting to a
general hostility to the throne.

It must also be borne in mind that this dissolution of the
monasteries, this attack on the monastic system, was not a
religious movement fanned by reformers, but an act of Parliament,
at the instance of a royal minister. It was not done under the
direction of a Protestant king,--for Henry was never a Protestant,
but as a public measure in behalf of morality and for reasons of
State. It is true that Henry had, by his marriage with Anne
Boleyn and the divorce of his virtuous queen, defied the Pope
and separated England from Rome, so far as appointments to
ecclesiastical benefices are concerned. But in offending the Pope
he also equally offended Charles V. The results of his separation
from Rome, during his life, were purely political. The King did
not give up the Mass or the Roman communion or Roman dogmas of
faith; he only prepared the way for reform in the next reign. He
only intensified the hatred between the old conservative party and
the party of reform and progress.

How far Cromwell himself was a Protestant it is difficult to tell.
Doubtless he sympathized with the new religious spirit of the age,
but he did not openly avow the faith of Luther. He was the able
and unscrupulous minister of an absolute monarch, bent on sweeping
away abuses of all kinds, but with the idea of enlarging the royal
authority as much, perhaps, as promoting the prosperity of the

He therefore turned his attention to the ecclesiastical courts,
which from the time of Becket had been antagonistic to royal
encroachments. The war between the civil power and these courts
had begun before the fall of Wolsey, and had resulted in the
curtailment of probate duties, legacies, and mortuaries, by which
the clergy had been enriched. A limitation of pluralities and
enforcement of residence had also been effected. But a still
greater blow to the privileges of the clergy was struck by the
Parliament under the influence of Cromwell, who had elevated it in
order to give legality to the despotic measures of the Crown; and
in this way a law was passed that no one under the rank of a
subdeacon, if convicted of felony, should be allowed to plead his
"benefit of clergy," but should be punished like ordinary
criminals,--thus re-establishing the constitutions of Clarendon in
the time of Becket. Another act also was passed, by which no one
could be summoned, as aforetime, to the archbishop's court out of
his own diocese,--a very beneficent act, since the people had been
needlessly subject to great expense and injustice in being obliged
to travel considerable distances. It was moreover enacted that men
could not burden their estates beyond twenty years by providing
priests to sing masses for their souls. The Parliament likewise
abolished annats,--a custom which had long prevailed in Europe,
which required one year's income to be sent to the Pope on any new
preferment; a great burden to the clergy; a sort of tribute to a
foreign power. Within fifty years, one hundred and sixty thousand
pounds had thus been sent from England to Rome, from this one
source of papal revenue alone,--equal to three million pounds at
the present time, or fifteen millions of dollars, from a country of
only three millions of people. It was the passage of that act
which induced Sir Thomas More (a devoted Catholic, but a just and
able and incorruptible judge) to resign the seals which he had so
long and so honorably held,--the most prominent man in England
after Cromwell and Cranmer; and it was the execution of this lofty
character, because he held out against the imperious demands of
Henry, which is the greatest stain upon this monarch's reign.
Parliament also called the clergy to account for excessive acts of
despotism, and subjected them to the penalty of a premunire (the
offence of bringing a foreign authority into England), from which
they were freed only by enormous fines.

Thus it would seem that many abuses were removed by Cromwell and
the Parliament during the reign of Henry VIII. which may almost be
considered as reforms of the Church itself. The authority of the
Church was not attacked, still less its doctrines, but only abuses
and privileges the restraint of which was of public benefit, and
which tended to reduce the power of the clergy. It was this
reduction of clerical usurpations and privileges which is the main
feature in the legislation of Henry VIII., so far as it pertained
to the Church. It was wresting away the power which the clergy had
enjoyed from the days of Alfred and Ina,--a reform which Henry II.
and Edward I., and other sovereigns, had failed to effect. This
was the great work of Cromwell, and in it he had the support of his
royal master, since it was a transfer of power from the clergy to
the throne; and Henry VIII. was hated and anathematized by Rome as
Henry IV. of Germany was, without ceasing to be a Catholic. He
even retained the title of Defender of the Faith, which had been
conferred upon him by the Pope for his opposition to the
theological doctrines of Luther, which he never accepted, and which
he always detested.

Cromwell did not long survive the great services he rendered to his
king and the nation. In the height of his power he made a fatal
mistake. He deceived the King in regard to Anne of Cleves, whose
marriage he favored from motives of expediency and a manifest
desire to promote the Protestant cause. He palmed upon the King a
woman who could not speak a word of English,--a woman without
graces or accomplishments, who was absolutely hateful to him.
Henry's disappointment was bitter, and his vengeance was
unrelenting. The enemies of Cromwell soon took advantage of this
mistake. The great Duke of Norfolk, head of the Catholic party,
accused him at the council-board of high treason. Two years
before, such a charge would have received no attention; but Henry
now hated him, and was resolved to punish him for the wreck of his
domestic happiness.

Cromwell was hurried to that gloomy fortress whose outlet was
generally the scaffold, he was denied even the form of trial. A
bill of attainder was hastily passed by the Parliament he had
ruled. Only one person in the realm had the courage to intercede
for him, and this was Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury; but his
entreaties were futile. The fallen minister had no chance of life,
and no one knew it so well as himself. Even a trial would have
availed nothing; nothing could have availed him,--he was a doomed
man. So he bade his foes make quick work of it; and quick work was
made. In eighteen days from his arrest, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of
Essex, Knight of the Garter, Grand Chamberlain, Lord Privy Seal,
Vicar-General, and Master of the Wards, ascended the scaffold on
which had been shed the blood of a queen,--making no protestation
of innocence, but simply committing his soul to Jesus Christ, in
whom he believed. Like Wolsey, he arose from an humble station to
the most exalted position the King could give; and, like Wolsey, he
saw the vanity of delegated power as soon as he offended the source
of power.

"He who ascends the mountain-tops shall find
The loftiest peak most wrapped in clouds and storms.
Though high above the sun of glory shines,
And far beneath the earth and ocean spread,
Round HIM are icy rocks, and loudly blow
Contending tempests on his naked head."

On the disappearance of Cromwell from the stage, Cranmer came
forward more prominently, he was a learned doctor in that
university which has ever sent forth the apostles of great
emancipating movements. He was born in 1489, and was therefore
twenty years of age on the accession of Henry VIII. in 1509, and
was twenty-eight when Luther published his theses. He early
sympathized with the reform doctrines, but was too politic to take
an active part in their discussion. He was a moderate, calm,
scholarly man, not a great genius or great preacher. He had none
of those bold and dazzling qualities which attract the gaze of the
world. We behold in him no fearless and impetuous Luther,--
attacking with passionate earnestness the corruptions of Rome;
bracing himself up to revolutionary assaults, undaunted before
kings and councils, and giving no rest to his hands or slumber to
his eyes until he had consummated his protests,--a man of the
people, yet a dictator to princes. We see no severely logical
Calvin,--pushing out his metaphysical deductions until he had
chained the intellect of his party to a system of incomparable
grandeur and yet of repulsive austerity, exacting all the while the
same allegiance to doctrines which he deduced from the writings of
Paul as he did to the direct declarations of Christ; next to Thomas
Aquinas, the acutest logician the Church has known; a system-maker,
like the great Dominican schoolmen, and their common master and
oracle, Saint Augustine of Hippo. We see in Cranmer no
uncompromising and aggressive reformer like Knox,--controlling by a
stern dogmatism both a turbulent nobility and an uneducated people,
and filling all classes alike with inextinguishable hatred of
everything that even reminded them of Rome. Nor do we find in
Cranmer the outspoken and hearty eloquence of Latimer,--appealing
to the people at St. Paul's Cross to shake off all the trappings of
the "Scarlet Mother," who had so long bewitched the world with her

Cranmer, if less eloquent, less fearless, less logical, less able
than these, was probably broader, more comprehensive in his views,--
adapting his reforms to the circumstances of the age and country,
and to the genius of the English mind. Hence his reforms, if less
brilliant, were more permanent. He framed the creed that finally
was known as the Thirty-nine Articles, and was the true founder of
the English Church, as that Church has existed for more than three
centuries, neither Roman nor Puritan, but "half-way between Rome
and Geneva;" a compromise, and yet a Church of great vitality, and
endeared to the hearts of the English people. Northern Germany--
the scene of the stupendous triumphs of Luther--is and has been,
since the time of Frederick the Great, the hot-bed of rationalistic
inquiries; and the Genevan as well as the French and Swiss churches
which Calvin controlled have become cold, with a dreary and formal
Protestantism, without poetry or life. But the Church of England
has survived two revolutions and all the changes of human thought,
and is still a mighty power, decorous, beautiful, conservative, yet
open to all the liberalizing influences of an age of science and
philosophy. Cranmer, though a scholastic, seems to have perceived
that nothing is more misleading and uncertain and unsatisfactory
than any truth pushed out to its severest logical conclusions
without reference to other truths which have for their support the
same divine authority. It is not logic which has built up the most
enduring institutions, but common-sense and plain truths, and
appeals to human consciousness,--the cogito, ergo sum, without
whose approval most systems have perished. In mediis tutissimus
ibis, is not indeed an agreeable maxim to zealots and partisans and
dialectical logicians, but it seems to be induced from the varied
experiences of human life and the history of different ages and
nations, and applies to all the mixed sciences, like government and
political economy, as well as to church institutions.

As Cromwell made his fortune by advising the King to assume the
headship of the Church in England, so Cranmer's rise is to be
traced to his advice to Henry to appeal to the decision of
universities whether or not he could be legally divorced from
Catharine, since the Pope--true to the traditions, of the Catholic
Church, or from fear of Charles V.--would not grant a dispensation.
All this business was a miserable quibble, a tissue of scholastic
technicalities. But it answered the ends of Cranmer. The schools
decided for the King, and a great injustice and heartless cruelty
was done to a worthy and loyal woman, and a great insult offered to
the Church and to the Emperor Charles of Germany, who was a nephew
of the Spanish Princess and English Queen. This scandal resulted
in a separation from Rome, as was foreseen both by Cromwell and
Cranmer; and the latter became Archbishop of Canterbury, a prelate
whose power and dignity were greater then than at the present day,
exalted as the post is even now,--the highest in dignity and rank
to which a subject can aspire,--higher even than the Lord High
Chancellorship; both of which however, pale before the position of
a Prime Minister so far as power is concerned.

The separation from Rome, the suppression of the monasteries, and
the curtailment of the powers of the spiritual courts were the only
reforms of note during the reign of Henry VIII., unless we name
also the new translation of the Bible, authorized through Cranmer's
influence, and the teaching of the creed, the commandments, and the
Lord's prayer in English. The King died in 1547. Cranmer was now
fifty-seven, and was left to prosecute reforms in his own way as
president of the council of regency, Edward VI. being but nine
years old,--"a learned boy," as Macaulay calls him, but still a boy
in the hands of the great noblemen who composed the regency, and
who belonged to the progressive school.

I do not think the career of Cranmer during the life of Henry
is sufficiently appreciated. He must have shown at least
extraordinary tact and wisdom,--with his reforming tendencies and
enlightened views,--not to come in conflict with his sovereign as
Becket did with Henry II. He had to deal with the most capricious
and jealous of tyrants; cruel and unscrupulous when crossed; a man
who rarely retained a friendship or remembered a service; who never
forgave an injury or forgot an affront; a glutton and a sensualist;
although prodigal with his gifts, social in his temper, enlightened
in his government, and with very respectable abilities and very
considerable theological knowledge. This hard and exacting master
Cranmer had to serve, without exciting his suspicions or coming in
conflict with him; so that he seemed politic and vacillating, for
which he would not be excused were it not for his subsequent
services, and his undoubted sincerity and devotion to the
Protestant cause. During the life of Henry we can scarcely call
Cranmer a reformer. The most noted reformer of the day was old
Hugh Latimer, the King's chaplain, who declaimed against sin with
the zeal and fire of Savonarola, and aimed to create a religious
life among the people, from whom he sprung and whom he loved,--a
rough, hearty, honest, conscientious man, with deep convictions and
lofty soul.

In the reforms thus far carried on we perceive that, though
popular, they emanated from princes and not from the people. The
people had no hand in the changes made, as at Geneva, only the
ministers of kings and great public functionaries. And in the
reforms subsequently effected, which really constitute the English
Reformation, they were made by the council of regency, under the
leadership of Cranmer and the protectorship of Somerset.

The first thing which the Government did after the accession of
Edward VI. was to remove images from the churches, as a form of
idolatry,--much to the wrath of Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, the
ablest man of the old conservative and papal party. But Ridley,
afterwards Bishop of Rochester, preached against all forms of papal
superstition with so much ability and zeal that the churches were
soon cleared of these "helps to devotion."

Cranmer, now unchecked, turned his attention to other reforms, but
proceeded slowly and cautiously, not wishing to hazard much at the
outset. First communion of both kinds, heretofore restricted to
the clergy, was appointed; and, closely connected with it, Masses
were put down. Then a law was passed by Parliament that the
appointment of bishops should vest in the Crown alone, and not, as
formerly, be confirmed by the Pope. The next great thing to which
the reformers directed their attention was the preparation of a new
liturgy in the public worship of God, which gave rise to
considerable discussion. They did not seek to sweep away the old
form, for it was prepared by the sainted doctors of the Church of
all ages; but they would purge it of all superstitions, and retain
what was most beautiful and expressive in the old prayers. The Ten
Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and the early creeds of course
were retained, as well as whatever was in harmony with primitive
usages. These changes called out letters from Calvin at Geneva,
who was now recognized as a great oracle among the Protestants: he
encouraged the work, but advised a more complete reformation, and
complained of the coldness of the clergy, as well as of the general
vices of the times. Martin Bucer of Strasburg, at this time
professor at Cambridge, also wrote letters to the same effect; but
the time had not come for more radical reforms. Then Parliament,
controlled by the Government, passed an act allowing the clergy to
marry,--opposed, of course, by many bishops in allegiance to Rome.
This was a great step in reform, and removed many popular scandals;
it struck a heavy blow at the conditions of the Middle Ages,
holding that celibacy sprung from no law of God, but was Oriental
in its origin, encouraged by the Church to cement its power. And
this act concerning the marriage of the clergy was soon followed by
the celebrated Forty-two Articles, framed by Cranmer and Ridley,
which are the bases of the English Church,--a theological creed,
slightly amended afterwards in the reign of Elizabeth; evangelical
but not Calvinistic, affirming the great ideas of Augustine and
Luther as to grace, justification by faith, and original sin, and
repudiating purgatory, pardons, the worship and invocation of
saints and images; a larger creed than the Nicene or Athanasian,
and comprehensive,--such as most Protestants might accept. Both
this and the book of Common Prayer were written with consummate
taste, were the work of great scholars,--moderate, broad,
enlightened, conciliatory.

The reformers then gave their attention to an alteration of
ecclesiastical laws in reference to matters which had always been
decided in ecclesiastical courts. The commissioners--the ablest
men in England, thirty-two in number--had scarcely completed their
work before the young King died, and Mary ascended the throne.

We cannot too highly praise the moderation with which the reforms
had been made, especially when we remember the violence of the age.
There were indeed two or three capital executions for heresy.
Gardiner and Bonner, who opposed the reformation with unparalleled
bitterness were only deprived of their sees and sent to the Tower.
The execution of Somerset was the work of politicians, of great
noblemen jealous of his ascendency. It does not belong to the
reformation, nor do the executions of a few other noblemen.

Cranmer himself was a statesman rather than a preacher. He left
but few sermons, and these commonplace, without learning, or wit,
or zeal,--ordinary exhortations to a virtuous life. The chief
thing, outside of the reforms I have mentioned, was the publication
of a few homilies for the use of the clergy,--too ignorant to write
sermons,--which homilies were practical and orthodox, but
containing nothing to stir up an ardent religious life. The Bible
was also given a greater scope; everybody could read it if he
wished. Public prayer was restored to the people in a language


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