The Story of Mankind
Hendrik van Loon
Part 4 out of 8
I have quite often warned you against the danger that
lies in historical dates. People take them too literally. They
think of the Middle Ages as a period of darkness and ignor-
ance. ``Click,'' says the clock, and the Renaissance begins and
cities and palaces are flooded with the bright sunlight of an
eager intellectual curiosity.
As a matter of fact, it is quite impossible to draw such
sharp lines. The thirteenth century belonged most decidedly
to the Middle Ages. All historians agree upon that. But was
it a time of darkness and stagnation merely? By no means.
People were tremendously alive. Great states were being
founded. Large centres of commerce were being developed.
High above the turretted towers of the castle and the peaked
roof of the town-hall, rose the slender spire of the newly built
Gothic cathedral. Everywhere the world was in motion. The
high and mighty gentlemen of the city-hall, who had just become
conscious of their own strength (by way of their recently
acquired riches) were struggling for more power with their
feudal masters. The members of the guilds who had just become
aware of the important fact that ``numbers count'' were
fighting the high and mighty gentlemen of the city-hall. The
king and his shrewd advisers went fishing in these troubled
waters and caught many a shining bass of profit which they
proceeded to cook and eat before the noses of the surprised and
disappointed councillors and guild brethren.
To enliven the scenery during the long hours of evening
when the badly lighted streets did not invite further political
and economic dispute, the Troubadours and Minnesingers told
their stories and sang their songs of romance and adventure
and heroism and loyalty to all fair women. Meanwhile youth,
impatient of the slowness of progress, flocked to the universities,
and thereby hangs a story.
The Middle Ages were ``internationally minded.'' That
sounds difficult, but wait until I explain it to you. We modern
people are ``nationally minded.'' We are Americans or Englishmen
or Frenchmen or Italians and speak English or French
or Italian and go to English and French and Italian universities,
unless we want to specialise in some particular branch
of learning which is only taught elsewhere, and then we learn
another language and go to Munich or Madrid or Moscow.
But the people of the thirteenth or fourteenth century rarely
talked of themselves as Englishmen or Frenchmen or Italians.
They said, ``I am a citizen of Sheffield or Bordeaux or Genoa.''
Because they all belonged to one and the same church they felt
a certain bond of brotherhood. And as all educated men could
speak Latin, they possessed an international language which
removed the stupid language barriers which have grown up
in modern Europe and which place the small nations at such
an enormous disadvantage. Just as an example, take the case
of Erasmus, the great preacher of tolerance and laughter, who
wrote his books in the sixteenth century. He was the native
of a small Dutch village. He wrote in Latin and all the world
was his audience. If he were alive to-day, he would write in
Dutch. Then only five or six million people would be able to
read him. To be understood by the rest of Europe and America,
his publishers would be obliged to translate his books into
twenty different languages. That would cost a lot of money
and most likely the publishers would never take the trouble
or the risk.
Six hundred years ago that could not happen. The greater
part of the people were still very ignorant and could not read
or write at all. But those who had mastered the difficult art
of handling the goose-quill belonged to an international republic
of letters which spread across the entire continent and which
knew of no boundaries and respected no limitations of language
or nationality. The universities were the strongholds of
this republic. Unlike modern fortifications, they did not follow
the frontier. They were to be found wherever a teacher
and a few pupils happened to find themselves together. There
again the Middle Ages and the Renaissance differed from our
own time. Nowadays, when a new university is built, the
process (almost invariably) is as follows: Some rich man
wants to do something for the community in which he lives or
a particular religious sect wants to build a school to keep its
faithful children under decent supervision, or a state needs doc-
tors and lawyers and teachers. The university begins as a
large sum of money which is deposited in a bank. This money
is then used to construct buildings and laboratories and dormitories.
Finally professional teachers are hired, entrance examinations
are held and the university is on the way.
But in the Middle Ages things were done differently. A wise man
said to himself, ``I have discovered a great truth. I must impart my
knowledge to others.'' And he began to preach his wisdom
wherever and whenever he could get a few people to listen to him,
like a modern soap-box orator. If he was an interesting speaker, the
crowd came and stayed. If he was dull, they shrugged their shoulders
and continued their way.
By and by certain young men began to come regularly to hear
the words of wisdom of this great teacher. They brought copybooks
with them and a little bottle of ink and a goose quill and
wrote down what seemed to be important. One day it rained.
The teacher and his pupils retired to an empty basement or
the room of the ``Professor.'' The learned man sat in his chair
and the boys sat on the floor. That was the beginning of the
University, the ``universitas,'' a corporation of professors and
students during the Middle Ages, when the ``teacher'' counted
for everything and the building in which he taught counted for
As an example, let me tell you of something that happened
in the ninth century. In the town of Salerno near Naples there
were a number of excellent physicians. They attracted people
desirous of learning the medical profession and for almost a
thousand years (until 1817) there was a university of Salerno
which taught the wisdom of Hippocrates, the great Greek doctor
who had practiced his art in ancient Hellas in the fifth
century before the birth of Christ.
Then there was Abelard, the young priest from Brittany,
who early in the twelfth century began to lecture on theology
and logic in Paris. Thousands of eager young men flocked
to the French city to hear him. Other priests who disagreed
with him stepped forward to explain their point of view. Paris
was soon filled with a clamouring multitude of Englishmen and
Germans and Italians and students from Sweden and Hungary
and around the old cathedral which stood on a little island in
the Seine there grew the famous University of Paris.
In Bologna in Italy, a monk by the name of Gratian had
compiled a text-book for those whose business it was to know
the laws of the church. Young priests and many laymen then
came from all over Europe to hear Gratian explain his ideas.
To protect themselves against the landlords and the innkeepers
and the boarding-house ladies of the city, they formed a corporation
(or University) and behold the beginning of the university
Next there was a quarrel in the University of Paris. We do
not know what caused it, but a number of disgruntled teachers
together with their pupils crossed the channel and found a
hospitable home in n little village on the Thames called Oxford,
and in this way the famous University of Oxford came into
being. In the same way, in the year 1222, there had been a split
in the University of Bologna. The discontented teachers (again
followed by their pupils) had moved to Padua and their proud city
thenceforward boasted of a university of its own. And so it went
from Valladolid in Spain to Cracow in distant Poland and from
Poitiers in France to Rostock in Germany.
It is quite true that much of the teaching done by these
early professors would sound absurd to our ears, trained to
listen to logarithms and geometrical theorems. The point
however, which I want to make is this--the Middle Ages and
especially the thirteenth century were not a time when the
world stood entirely still. Among the younger generation,
there was life, there was enthusiasm, and there was a restless
if somewhat bashful asking of questions. And out of this
turmoil grew the Renaissance.
But just before the curtain went down upon the last scene
of the Mediaeval world, a solitary figure crossed the stage, of
whom you ought to know more than his mere name. This
man was called Dante. He was the son of a Florentine lawyer
who belonged to the Alighieri family and he saw the light of
day in the year 1265. He grew up in the city of his ancestors
while Giotto was painting his stories of the life of St. Francis
of Assisi upon the walls of the Church of the Holy Cross, but
often when he went to school, his frightened eyes would see the
puddles of blood which told of the terrible and endless warfare
that raged forever between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines,
the followers of the Pope and the adherents of the Emperors.
When he grew up, he became a Guelph, because his father
had been one before him, just as an American boy might become
a Democrat or a Republican, simply because his father
had happened to be a Democrat or a Republican. But after a
few years, Dante saw that Italy, unless united under a single
head, threatened to perish as a victim of the disordered jealousies
of a thousand little cities. Then he became a Ghilbeiline.
He looked for help beyond the Alps. He hoped that a
mighty emperor might come and re-establish unity and order.
Alas! he hoped in vain. The Ghibellines were driven out of
Florence in the year 1802. From that time on until the day
of his death amidst the dreary ruins of Ravenna, in the year
1321, Dante was a homeless wanderer, eating the bread of
charity at the table of rich patrons whose names would have
sunk into the deepest pit of oblivion but for this single fact,
that they had been kind to a poet in his misery. During the
many years of exile, Dante felt compelled to justify himself
and his actions when he had been a political leader in his
home-town, and when he had spent his days walking along
the banks of the Arno that he might catch a glimpse of the
lovely Beatrice Portinari, who died the wife of another man, a
dozen years before the Ghibelline disaster.
He had failed in the ambitions of his career. He had
faithfully served the town of is birth and before a corrupt
court he had been accused of stealing the public funds and
had been condemned to be burned alive should he venture
back within the realm of the city of Florence. To clear
himself before his own conscience and before his contemporaries,
Dante then created an Imaginary World and with great
detail he described the circumstances which had led to
his defeat and depicted the hopeless condition of greed and lust
and hatred which had turned his fair and beloved Italy into a
battlefield for the pitiless mercenaries of wicked and selfish
He tells us how on the Thursday before Easter of the year
1300 he had lost his way in a dense forest and how he found
his path barred by a leopard and a lion and a wolf. He gave
himself up for lost when a white figure appeared amidst the
trees. It was Virgil, the Roman poet and philosopher, sent
upon his errand of mercy by the Blessed Virgin and by Beatrice,
who from high Heaven watched over the fate of her
true lover. Virgil then takes Dante through Purgatory and
through Hell. Deeper and deeper the path leads them until
they reach the lowest pit where Lucifer himself stands frozen
into the eternal ice surrounded by the most terrible of sinners,
traitors and liars and those who have achieved fame and
success by lies and by deceit. But before the two wanderers
have reached this terrible spot, Dante has met all those who
in some way or other have played a role in the history of his
beloved city. Emperors and Popes, dashing knights and
whining usurers, they are all there, doomed to eternal punishment
or awaiting the day of deliverance, when they shall
leave Purgatory for Heaven.
It is a curious story. It is a handbook of everything the
people of the thirteenth century did and felt and feared and
prayed for. Through it all moves the figure of the lonely
Florentine exile, forever followed by the shadow of his own
And behold! when the gates of death were closing upon
the sad poet of the Middle Ages, the portals of life swung
open to the child who was to be the first of the men of the
Renaissance. That was Francesco Petrarca, the son of the
notary public of the little town of Arezzo.
Francesco's father had belonged to the same political party
as Dante. He too had been exiled and thus it happened that
Petrarca (or Petrarch, as we call him) was born away from
Florence. At the age of fifteen he was sent to Montpellier
in France that he might become a lawyer like his father. But
the boy did not want to be a jurist. He hated the law. He
wanted to be a scholar and a poet--and because he wanted to
be a scholar and a poet beyond everything else, he became one,
as people of a strong will are apt to do. He made long
voyages, copying manuscripts in Flanders and in the cloisters
along the Rhine and in Paris and Liege and finally in Rome.
Then he went to live in a lonely valley of the wild mountains
of Vaucluse, and there he studied and wrote and soon he had
become so famous for his verse and for his learning that both
the University of Paris and the king of Naples invited him
to come and teach their students and subjects. On the way
to his new job, he was obliged to pass through Rome. The
people had heard of his fame as an editor of half-forgotten
Roman authors. They decided to honour him and in the
ancient forum of the Imperial City, Petrarch was crowned with
the laurel wreath of the Poet.
From that moment on, his life was an endless career of
honour and appreciation. He wrote the things which people
wanted most to hear. They were tired of theological
disputations. Poor Dante could wander through hell as much as
he wanted. But Petrarch wrote of love and of nature and the
sun and never mentioned those gloomy things which seemed
to have been the stock in trade of the last generation. And
when Petrarch came to a city, all the people flocked out to
meet him and he was received like a conquering hero. If he
happened to bring his young friend Boccaccio, the story teller,
with him, so much the better. They were both men of their
time, full of curiosity, willing to read everything once, digging
in forgotten and musty libraries that they might find still another
manuscript of Virgil or Ovid or Lucrece or any of the
other old Latin poets. They were good Christians. Of course
they were! Everyone was. But no need of going around with
a long face and wearing a dirty coat just because some day
or other you were going to die. Life was good. People were
meant to be happy. You desired proof of this? Very well.
Take a spade and dig into the soil. What did you find?
Beautiful old statues. Beautiful old vases. Ruins of ancient
buildings. All these things were made by the people of the
greatest empire that ever existed. They ruled all the world
for a thousand years. They were strong and rich and handsome
(just look at that bust of the Emperor Augustus!). Of
course, they were not Christians and they would never be
able to enter Heaven. At best they would spend their days
in purgatory, where Dante had just paid them a visit.
But who cared? To have lived in a world like that of
ancient Rome was heaven enough for any mortal being. And
anyway, we live but once. Let us be happy and cheerful for
the mere joy of existence.
Such, in short, was the spirit that had begun to fill the
narrow and crooked streets of the many little Italian cities.
You know what we mean by the ``bicycle craze'' or the
``automobile craze.'' Some one invents a bicycle. People who
for hundreds of thousands of years have moved slowly and
painfully from one place to another go ``crazy'' over the prospect
of rolling rapidly and easily over hill and dale. Then
a clever mechanic makes the first automobile. No longer is it
necessary to pedal and pedal and pedal. You just sit and
let little drops of gasoline do the work for you. Then everybody
wants an automobile. Everybody talks about Rolls-
Royces and Flivvers and carburetors and mileage and oil. Explorers
penetrate into the hearts of unknown countries that
they may find new supplies of gas. Forests arise in Sumatra
and in the Congo to supply us with rubber. Rubber and oil
become so valuable that people fight wars for their possession.
The whole world is ``automobile mad'' and little children can
say ``car'' before they learn to whisper ``papa'' and ``mamma.''
In the fourteenth century, the Italian people went crazy
about the newly discovered beauties of the buried world of
Rome. Soon their enthusiasm was shared by all the people of
western Europe. The finding of an unknown manuscript became
the excuse for a civic holiday. The man who wrote a
grammar became as popular as the fellow who nowadays invents
a new spark-plug. The humanist, the scholar who devoted his
time and his energies to a study of ``homo'' or mankind (instead
of wasting his hours upon fruitless theological investigations),
that man was regarded with greater honour and a deeper respect
than was ever bestowed upon a hero who had just conquered
all the Cannibal Islands.
In the midst of this intellectual upheaval, an event occurred
which greatly favoured the study of the ancient philosophers
and authors. The Turks were renewing their attacks upon
Europe. Constantinople, capital of the last remnant of the
original Roman Empire, was hard pressed. In the year 1393
the Emperor, Manuel Paleologue, sent Emmanuel Chrysoloras
to western Europe to explain the desperate state of old Byzantium
and to ask for aid. This aid never came. The Roman
Catholic world was more than willing to see the Greek Catholic
world go to the punishment that awaited such wicked heretics.
But however indifferent western Europe might be to the fate
of the Byzantines, they were greatly interested in the ancient
Greeks whose colonists had founded the city on the Bosphorus
ten centuries after the Trojan war. They wanted to learn
Greek that they might read Aristotle and Homer and Plato.
They wanted to learn it very badly, but they had no books and
no grammars and no teachers. The magistrates of Florence
heard of the visit of Chrysoloras. The people of their city
were ``crazy to learn Greek.'' Would he please come and
teach them? He would, and behold! the first professor of
Greek teaching alpha, beta, gamma to hundreds of eager young
men, begging their way to the city of the Arno, living in stables
and in dingy attics that they night learn how to decline the verb
and enter into the companionship of
Sophocles and Homer.
Meanwhile in the universities, the old schoolmen, teaching
their ancient theology and their antiquated logic; explaining
the hidden mysteries of the old Testament and discussing the
strange science of their Greek-Arabic-Spanish-Latin edition of
Aristotle, looked on in dismay and horror. Next, they turned
angry. This thing was going too far. The young men were
deserting the lecture halls of the established universities to
go and listen to some wild-eyed ``humanist'' with his newfangled
notions about a ``reborn civilization.''
They went to the authorities. They complained. But one
cannot force an unwilling horse to drink and one cannot
make unwilling ears listen to something which does not really
interest them. The schoolmen were losing ground rapidly. Here
and there they scored a short victory. They combined forces
with those fanatics who hated to see other people enjoy a
happiness which was foreign to their own souls. In Florence,
the centre of the Great Rebirth, a terrible fight was fought
between the old order and the new. A Dominican monk, sour
of face and bitter in his hatred of beauty, was the leader of
the mediaeval rear-guard. He fought a valiant battle. Day
after day he thundered his warnings of God's holy wrath
through the wide halls of Santa Maria del Fiore. ``Repent,''
he cried, ``repent of your godlessness, of your joy in things
that are not holy!'' He began to hear voices and to see flaming
swords that flashed through the sky. He preached to the
little children that they might not fall into the errors of these
ways which were leading their fathers to perdition. He organised
companies of boy-scouts, devoted to the service of the
great God whose prophet he claimed to be. In a sudden moment
of frenzy, the frightened people promised to do penance
for their wicked love of beauty and pleasure. They carried
their books and their statues and their paintings to the market
place and celebrated a wild ``carnival of the vanities'' with holy
singing and most unholy dancing, while Savonarola applied his
torch to the accumulated treasures.
But when the ashes cooled down, the people began to realise
what they had lost. This terrible fanatic had made them destroy
that which they had come to love above all things. They
turned against him, Savonarola was thrown into jail. He was
tortured. But he refused to repent for anything he had done.
He was an honest man. He had tried to live a holy life. He
had willingly destroyed those who deliberately refused to
share his own point of view. It had been his duty to eradicate
evil wherever he found it. A love of heathenish books and
heathenish beauty in the eyes of this faithful son of the Church,
had been an evil. But he stood alone. He had fought the
battle of a time that was dead and gone. The Pope in Rome
never moved a finger to save him. On the contrary, he approved
of his ``faithful Florentines'' when they dragged Savonarola
to the gallows, hanged him and burned his body amidst
the cheerful howling and yelling of the mob.
It was a sad ending, but quite inevitable. Savonarola
would have been a great man in the eleventh century. In the
fifteenth century he was merely the leader of a lost cause.
For better or worse, the Middle Ages had come to an end when
the Pope had turned humanist and when the Vatican became
the most important museum of Roman and Greek antiquities.
THE AGE OF EXPRESSION
THE PEOPLE BEGAN TO FEEL THE NEED OF
GIVING EXPRESSION TO THEIR NEWLY
DISCOVERED JOY OF LIVING. THEY EXPRESSED
THEIR HAPPINESS IN POETRY
AND IN SCULPTURE AND IN ARCHITECTURE
AND IN PAINTING AND IN THE
BOOKS THEY PRINTED
IN the year 1471 there died a pious old man who had spent
seventy-two of his ninety-one years behind the sheltering walls
of the cloister of Mount St. Agnes near the good town of
Zwolle, the old Dutch Hanseatic city on the river Ysel. He
was known as Brother Thomas and because he had been born
in the village of Kempen, he was called Thomas a Kempis.
At the age of twelve he had been sent to Deventer, where
Gerhard Groot, a brilliant graduate of the universities of
Paris, Cologne and Prague, and famous as a wandering
preacher, had founded the Society of the Brothers of the
Common Life. The good brothers were humble laymen who
tried to live the simple life of the early Apostles of Christ
while working at their regular jobs as carpenters and house-
painters and stone masons. They maintained an excellent
school, that deserving boys of poor parents might be taught
the wisdom of the Fathers of the church. At this school,
little Thomas had learned how to conjugate Latin verbs and
how to copy manuscripts. Then he had taken his vows, had
put his little bundle of books upon his back, had wandered to
Zwolle and with a sigh of relief he had closed the door upon a
turbulent world which did not attract him.
Thomas lived in an age of turmoil, pestilence and sudden
death. In central Europe, in Bohemia, the devoted disciples of
Johannus Huss, the friend and follower of John Wycliffe, the
English reformer, were avenging with a terrible warfare the death
of their beloved leader who had been burned at the stake by order of
that same Council of Constance, which had promised him a safe-conduct
if he would come to Switzerland and explain his doctrines to the Pope,
the Emperor, twenty-three cardinals, thirty-three archbishops and bishops,
one hundred and fifty abbots and more than a hundred princes and
dukes who had gathered together to reform their church.
In the west, France had been fighting for a hundred years that
she might drive the English from her territories and just then was
saved from utter defeat by the fortunate appearance of Joan of Arc.
And no sooner had this struggle come to an end than France and Burgundy
were at each other's throats, engaged upon a struggle of life and death
for the supremacy of western Europe.
In the south, a Pope at Rome was calling the curses of
Heaven down upon a second Pope who resided at Avignon,
in southern France, and who retaliated in kind. In the
far east the Turks were destroying the last remnants of the
Roman Empire and the Russians had started upon a final
crusade to crush the power of their Tartar masters.
But of all this, Brother Thomas in his quiet cell never
heard. He had his manuscripts and his own thoughts and
he was contented. He poured his love of God into a little
volume. He called it the Imitation of Christ. It has since
been translated into more languages than any other book
save the Bible. It has been read by quite as many people
as ever studied the Holy Scriptures. It has influenced the
lives of countless millions. And it was the work of a man
whose highest ideal of existence was expressed in the simple
wish that ``he might quietly spend his days sitting in a little
corner with a little book.''
Good Brother Thomas represented the purest ideals of the
Middle Ages. Surrounded on all sides by the forces of the
victorious Renaissance, with the humanists loudly proclaiming
the coming of modern times, the Middle Ages gathered
strength for a last sally. Monasteries were reformed. Monks
gave up the habits of riches and vice. Simple, straightforward
and honest men, by the example of their blameless
and devout lives, tried to bring the people back to the ways of
righteousness and humble resignation to the will of God. But
all to no avail. The new world rushed past these good people.
The days of quiet meditation were gone. The great era of
``expression'' had begun.
Here and now let me say that I am sorry that I must use
so many ``big words.'' I wish that I could write this history in
words of one syllable. But it cannot be done. You cannot
write a text-book of geometry without reference to a hypotenuse
and triangles and a rectangular parallelopiped. You
simply have to learn what those words mean or do without
mathematics. In history (and in all life) you will eventually
be obliged to learn the meaning of many strange words of
Latin and Greek origin. Why not do it now?
When I say that the Renaissance was an era of expression,
I mean this: People were no longer contented to be the
audience and sit still while the emperor and the pope told
them what to do and what to think. They wanted to be actors
upon the stage of life. They insisted upon giving ``expression''
to their own individual ideas. If a man happened to be interested
in statesmanship like the Florentine historian, Niccolo
Macchiavelli, then he ``expressed'' himself in his books which
revealed his own idea of a successful state and an efficient
ruler. If on the other hand he had a liking for painting, he
``expressed'' his love for beautiful lines and lovely colours in
the pictures which have made the names of Giotto, Fra Angelico,
Rafael and a thousand others household words wherever
people have learned to care for those things which express
a true and lasting beauty.
If this love for colour and line happened to be combined with
an interest in mechanics and hydraulics, the result was a Leonardo
da Vinci, who painted his pictures, experimented with
his balloons and flying machines, drained the marshes of the
Lombardian plains and ``expressed'' his joy and interest in all
things between Heaven and Earth in prose, in painting, in
sculpture and in curiously conceived engines. When a man of
gigantic strength, like Michael Angelo, found the brush and
the palette too soft for his strong hands, he turned to sculpture
and to architecture, and hacked the most terrific creatures out
of heavy blocks of marble and drew the plans for the church
of St. Peter, the most concrete ``expression'' of the glories
of the triumphant church. And so it went.
All Italy (and very soon all of Europe) was filled with
men and women who lived that they might add their mite to
the sum total of our accumulated treasures of knowledge and
beauty and wisdom. In Germany, in the city of Mainz, Johann
zum Gansefleisch, commonly known as Johann Gutenberg, had
just invented a new method of copying books. He had studied
the old woodcuts and had perfected a system by which individual
letters of soft lead could be placed in such a way that
they formed words and whole pages. It is true, he soon lost
all his money in a law-suit which had to do with the original
invention of the press. He died in poverty, but the ``expression''
of his particular inventive genius lived after him.
Soon Aldus in Venice and Etienne in Paris and Plantin in
Antwerp and Froben in Basel were flooding the world with
carefully edited editions of the classics printed in the Gothic
letters of the Gutenberg Bible, or printed in the Italian type
which we use in this book, or printed in Greek letters, or in
Then the whole world became the eager audience of those
who had something to say. The day when learning had been
a monopoly of a privileged few came to an end. And the
last excuse for ignorance was removed from this world, when
Elzevier of Haarlem began to print his cheap and popular
editions. Then Aristotle and Plato, Virgil and Horace and
Pliny, all the goodly company of the ancient authors and
philosophers and scientists, offered to become man's faithful
friend in exchange for a few paltry pennies. Humanism had
made all men free and equal before the printed word.
THE GREAT DISCOVERIES
BUT NOW THAT PEOPLE HAD BROKEN
THROUGH THE BONDS OF THEIR NARROW
MEDIAEVAL LIMITATIONS, THEY HAD TO
HAVE MORE ROOM FOR THEIR WANDERINGS.
THE EUROPEAN WORLD HAD
GROWN TOO SMALL FOR THEIR AMBITIONS.
IT WAS THE TIME OF THE GREAT
VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY
THE Crusades had been a lesson in the liberal art of travelling.
But very few people had ever ventured beyond the well-
known beaten track which led from Venice to Jaffe. In the
thirteenth century the Polo brothers, merchants of Venice,
had wandered across the great Mongolian desert and after
climbing mountains as high as the moon, they had found their
way to the court of the great Khan of Cathay, the mighty
emperor of China. The son of one of the Polos, by the name
of Marco, had written a book about their adventures, which
covered a period of more than twenty years. The astonished
world had gaped at his descriptions of the golden towers of
the strange island of Zipangu, which was his Italian way of
spelling Japan. Many people had wanted to go east, that
they might find this gold-land and grow rich. But the trip was
too far and too dangerous and so they stayed at home.
Of course, there was always the possibility of making the
voyage by sea. But the sea was very unpopular in the Middle
Ages and for many very good reasons. In the first place, ships
were very small. The vessels on which Magellan made his
famous trip around the world, which lasted many years, were
not as large as a modern ferryboat. They carried from twenty
to fifty men, who lived in dingy quarters (too low to allow any
of them to stand up straight) and the sailors were obliged to
eat poorly cooked food as the kitchen arrangements were very
bad and no fire could be made whenever the weather was the
least bit rough. The mediaeval world knew how to pickle herring
and how to dry fish. But there were no canned goods
and fresh vegetables were never seen on the bill of fare as
soon as the coast had been left behind. Water was carried in
small barrels. It soon became stale and then tasted of rotten
wood and iron rust and was full of slimy growing things. As
the people of the Middle Ages knew nothing about microbes
(Roger Bacon, the learned monk of the thirteenth century
seems to have suspected their existence, but he wisely kept
his discovery to himself) they often drank unclean water and
sometimes the whole crew died of typhoid fever. Indeed the
mortality on board the ships of the earliest navigators was
terrible. Of the two hundred sailors who in the year 1519 left
Seville to accompany Magellan on his famous voyage around
the world, only eighteen returned. As late as the seventeenth
century when there was a brisk trade between western Europe
and the Indies, a mortality of 40 percent was nothing unusual
for a trip from Amsterdam to Batavia and back. The greater
part of these victims died of scurvy, a disease which is caused
by lack of fresh vegetables and which affects the gums and
poisons the blood until the patient dies of sheer exhaustion.
Under those circumstances you will understand that the sea
did not attract the best elements of the population. Famous
discoverers like Magellan and Columbus and Vasco da Gama
travelled at the head of crews that were almost entirely composed
of ex-jailbirds, future murderers and pickpockets out
of a Job.
These navigators certainly deserve our admiration for the
courage and the pluck with which they accomplished their
hopeless tasks in the face of difficulties of which the people of
our own comfortable world can have no conception. Their
ships were leaky. The rigging was clumsy. Since the middle
of the thirteenth century they had possessed some sort of a
compass (which had come to Europe from China by way of
Arabia and the Crusades) but they had very bad and incorrect
maps. They set their course by God and by guess. If luck
was with them they returned after one or two or three years.
In the other case, their bleeched bones remained behind on
some lonely beach. But they were true pioneers. They gambled
with luck. Life to them was a glorious adventure. And
all the suffering, the thirst and the hunger and the pain were
forgotten when their eyes beheld the dim outlines of a new coast
or the placid waters of an ocean that had lain forgotten since
the beginning of time.
Again I wish that I could make this book a thousand pages
long. The subject of the early discoveries is so fascinating.
But history, to give you a true idea of past times, should be
like those etchings which Rembrandt used to make. It should
cast a vivid light on certain important causes, on those which
are best and greatest. All the rest should be left in the shadow
or should be indicated by a few lines. And in this chapter I
can only give you a short list of the most important discoveries.
Keep in mind that all during the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries the navigators were trying to accomplish just ONE
THING--they wanted to find a comfortable and safe road to the
empire of Cathay (China), to the island of Zipangu (Japan)
and to those mysterious islands, where grew the spices which
the mediaeval world had come to like since the days of the
Crusades, and which people needed in those days before the
introduction of cold storage, when meat and fish spoiled very
quickly and could only be eaten after a liberal sprinkling of
pepper or nutmeg.
The Venetians and the Genoese had been the great navigators
of the Mediterranean, but the honour for exploring the
coast of the Atlantic goes to the Portuguese. Spain and Portugal
were full of that patriotic energy which their age-old
struggle against the Moorish invaders had developed. Such
energy, once it exists, can easily be forced into new channels.
In the thirteenth century, King Alphonso III had conquered
the kingdom of Algarve in the southwestern corner of the
Spanish peninsula and had added it to his dominions. In the
next century, the Portuguese had turned the tables on the
Mohammedans, had crossed the straits of Gibraltar and had
taken possession of Ceuta, opposite the Arabic city of Ta'Rifa
(a word which in Arabic means ``inventory'' and which by way
of the Spanish language has come down to us as ``tariff,'') and
Tangiers, which became the capital of an African addition to
They were ready to begin their career as explorers.
In the year 1415, Prince Henry, known as Henry the
Navigator, the son of John I of Portugal and Philippa, the
daughter of John of Gaunt (about whom you can read in
Richard II, a play by William Shakespeare) began to make
preparations for the systematic exploration of northwestern
Africa. Before this, that hot and sandy coast had been visited
by the Phoenicians and by the Norsemen, who remembered it
as the home of the hairy ``wild man'' whom we have come to
know as the gorilla. One after another, Prince Henry
and his captains discovered the Canary Islands--re-discovered
the island of Madeira which a century before had been visited
by a Genoese ship, carefully charted the Azores which had
been vaguely known to both the Portuguese and the Spaniards,
and caught a glimpse of the mouth of the Senegal River on
the west coast of Africa, which they supposed to be the western
mouth of the Nile. At last, by the middle of the Fifteenth
Century, they saw Cape Verde, or the Green Cape, and the
Cape Verde Islands, which lie almost halfway between the
coast of Africa and Brazil.
But Henry did not restrict himself in his investigations to
the waters of the Ocean. He was Grand Master of the Order
of Christ. This was a Portuguese continuation of the crusading
order of the Templars which had been abolished by
Pope Clement V in the year 1312 at the request of King
Philip the Fair of France, who had improved the occasion by
burning his own Templars at the stake and stealing all their
possessions. Prince Henry used the revenues of the domains
of his religious order to equip several expeditions which explored
the hinterland of the Sahara and of the coast of Guinea.
But he was still very much a son of the Middle Ages and
spent a great deal of time and wasted a lot of money upon a
search for the mysterious ``Presser John,'' the mythical Christian
Priest who was said to be the Emperor of a vast empire
``situated somewhere in the east.'' The story of this strange
potentate had first been told in Europe in the middle of the
twelfth century. For three hundred years people had tried
to find ``Presser John'' and his descendants Henry took part
in the search. Thirty years after his death, the riddle was
In the year 1486 Bartholomew Diaz, trying to find the land
of Prester John by sea, had reached the southernmost point
of Africa. At first he called it the Storm Cape, on account of
the strong winds which had prevented him from continuing his
voyage toward the east, but the Lisbon pilots who understood
the importance of this discovery in their quest for the India
water route, changed the name into that of the Cape of Good
One year later, Pedro de Covilham, provided with letters
of credit on the house of Medici, started upon a similar mission
by land. He crossed the Mediterranean and after leaving
Egypt, he travelled southward. He reached Aden, and from
there, travelling through the waters of the Persian Gulf which
few white men had seen since the days of Alexander the Great,
eighteen centuries before, he visited Goa and Calicut on the
coast of India where he got a great deal of news about the
island of the Moon (Madagascar) which was supposed to lie
halfway between Africa and India. Then he returned, paid
a secret visit to Mecca and to Medina, crossed the Red Sea
once more and in the year 1490 he discovered the realm of
Prester John, who was no one less than the Black Negus (or
King) of Abyssinia, whose ancestors had adopted Christianity
in the fourth century, seven hundred years before the Christian
missionaries had found their way to Scandinavia.
These many voyages had convinced the Portuguese geographers
and cartographers that while the voyage to the Indies
by an eastern sea-route was possible, it was by no means easy.
Then there arose a great debate. Some people wanted to continue
the explorations east of the Cape of Good Hope. Others
said, ``No, we must sail west across the Atlantic and then we
shall reach Cathay.''
Let us state right here that most intelligent people of that
day were firmly convinced that the earth was not as flat as a
pancake but was round. The Ptolemean system of the universe,
invented and duly described by Claudius Ptolemy, the great
Egyptian geographer, who had lived in the second century of
our era, which had served the simple needs of the men of the
Middle Ages, had long been discarded by the scientists of the
Renaissance. They had accepted the doctrine of the Polish
mathematician, Nicolaus Copernicus, whose studies had con-
vinced him that the earth was one of a number of round planets
which turned around the sun, a discovery which he did not venture
to publish for thirty-six years (it was printed in 1548,
the year of his death) from fear of the Holy Inquisition, a
Papal court which had been established in the thirteenth century
when the heresies of the Albigenses and the Waldenses
in France and in Italy (very mild heresies of devoutly pious
people who did not believe in private property and preferred
to live in Christ-like poverty) had for a moment threatened the
absolute power of the bishops of Rome. But the belief in the
roundness of the earth was common among the nautical experts
and, as I said, they were now debating the respective
advantages of the eastern and the western routes.
Among the advocates of the western route was a Genoese
mariner by the name of Cristoforo Colombo. He was the son
of a wool merchant. He seems to have been a student at the
University of Pavia where he specialised in mathematics and
geometry. Then he took up his father's trade but soon we find
him in Chios in the eastern Mediterranean travelling on business.
Thereafter we hear of voyages to England but whether
he went north in search of wool or as the captain of a ship we
do not know. In February of the year 1477, Colombo (if we
are to believe his own words) visited Iceland, but very likely
he only got as far as the Faroe Islands which are cold enough
in February to be mistaken for Iceland by any one. Here
Colombo met the descendants of those brave Norsemen who
in the tenth century had settled in Greenland and who had
visited America in the eleventh century, when Leif's vessel
had been blown to the coast of Vineland, or Labrador.
What had become of those far western colonies no one
knew. The American colony of Thorfinn Karlsefne, the husband
of the widow of Leif's brother Thorstein, founded in the
year 1003, had been discontinued three years later on account
of the hostility of the Esquimaux. As for Greenland, not a
word had been heard from the settlers since the year 1440.
Very likely the Greenlanders had all died of the Black Death.
which had just killed half the people of Norway. However
that might be, the tradition of a ``vast land in the distant west''
still survived among the people of the Faroe and Iceland, and
Colombo must have heard of it. He gathered further information
among the fishermen of the northern Scottish islands and
then went to Portugal where he married the daughter of one
of the captains who had served under Prince Henry the
From that moment on (the year 1478) he devoted himself
to the quest of the western route to the Indies. He sent his
plans for such a voyage to the courts of Portugal and Spain.
The Portuguese, who felt certain that they possessed a monop-
oly of the eastern route, would not listen to his plans. In
Spain, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, whose
marriage in 1469 had made Spain into a single kingdom, were
busy driving the Moors from their last stronghold, Granada.
They had no money for risky expeditions. They needed every
peseta for their soldiers.
Few people were ever forced to fight as desperately for
their ideas as this brave Italian. But the story of Colombo
(or Colon or Columbus, as we call him,) is too well known to
bear repeating. The Moors surrendered Granada on the second
of January of the year 1492. In the month of April of the
same year, Columbus signed a contract with the King and
Queen of Spain. On Friday, the 3rd of August, he left Palos
with three little ships and a crew of 88 men, many of whom
were criminals who had been offered indemnity of punishment
if they joined the expedition. At two o'clock in the morning
of Friday, the 12th of October, Columbus discovered land. On
the fourth of January of the year 1493, Columbus waved farewell
to the 44 men of the little fortress of La Navidad (none
of whom was ever again seen alive) and returned homeward.
By the middle of February he reached the Azores where the
Portuguese threatened to throw him into gaol. On the fifteenth
of March, 1493, the admiral reached Palos and together with
his Indians (for he was convinced that he had discovered some
outlying islands of the Indies and called the natives red
Indians) he hastened to Barcelona to tell his faithful patrons
that he had been successful and that the road to the gold and
the silver of Cathay and Zipangu was at the disposal of their
most Catholic Majesties.
Alas, Columbus never knew the truth. Towards the end
of his life, on his fourth voyage, when he had touched the mainland
of South America, he may have suspected that all was
not well with his discovery. But he died in the firm belief
that there was no solid continent between Europe and Asia
and that he had found the direct route to China.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese, sticking to their eastern route,
had been more fortunate. In the year 1498, Vasco da Gama
had been able to reach the coast of Malabar and return safely
to Lisbon with a cargo of spice. In the year 1502 he had
repeated the visit. But along the western route, the work of
exploration had been most disappointing. In 1497 and 1498
John and Sebastian Cabot had tried to find a passage to Japan
but they had seen nothing but the snowbound coasts and the
rocks of Newfoundland, which had first been sighted by the
Northmen, five centuries before. Amerigo Vespucci, a Florentine
who became the Pilot Major of Spain, and who gave his
name to our continent, had explored the coast of Brazil, but
had found not a trace of the Indies.
In the year 1513, seven years after the death of Columbus,
the truth at last began to dawn upon the geographers of
Europe. Vasco Nunez de Balboa had crossed the Isthmus of
Panama, had climbed the famous peak in Darien, and had
looked down upon a vast expanse of water which seemed to
suggest the existence of another ocean.
Finally in the year 1519 a fleet of five small Spanish ships
under command of the Portuguese navigator, Ferdinand de
Magellan, sailed westward (and not eastward since that route,
was absolutely in the hands of the Portuguese who allowed no
competition) in search of the Spice Islands. Magellan crossed
the Atlantic between Africa and Brazil and sailed southward.
He reached a narrow channel between the southernmost point
of Patagonia, the ``land of the people with the big feet,'' and
the Fire Island (so named on account of a fire, the only sign of
the existence of natives, which the sailors watched one night).
For almost five weeks the ships of Magellan were at the mercy
of the terrible storms and blizzards which swept through the
straits. A mutiny broke out among the sailors. Magellan
suppressed it with terrible severity and sent two of his men
on shore where they were left to repent of their sins at leisure.
At last the storms quieted down, the channel broadened, and
Magellan entered a new ocean. Its waves were quiet and
placid. He called it the Peaceful Sea, the Mare Pacifico.
Then he continued in a western direction. He sailed for
ninety-eight days without seeing land. His people almost
perished from hunger and thirst and ate the rats that infested
the ships, and when these were all gone they chewed pieces of
sail to still their gnawing hunger.
In March of the year 1521 they saw land. Magellan called
it the land of the Ladrones (which means robbers) because the
natives stole everything they could lay hands on. Then further
westward to the Spice Islands!
Again land was sighted. A group of lonely islands. Magellan
called them the Philippines, after Philip, the son of his
master Charles V, the Philip II of unpleasant historical memory.
At first Magellan was well received, but when he used
the guns of his ships to make Christian converts he was killed
by the aborigines, together with a number of his captains and
sailors. The survivors burned one of the three remaining ships
and continued their voyage. They found the Moluccas, the
famous Spice Islands; they sighted Borneo and reached Tidor.
There, one of the two ships, too leaky to be of further use,
remained behind with her crew. The ``Vittoria,'' under Sebastian
del Cano, crossed the Indian Ocean, missed seeing the
northern coast of Australia (which was not discovered until
the first half of the seventeenth century when ships of the
Dutch East India Company explored this flat and inhospitable
land), and after great hardships reached Spain.
This was the most notable of all voyages. It had taken
three years. It had been accomplished at a great cost both of
men and money. But it had established the fact that the earth
was round and that the new lands discovered by Columbus were
not a part of the Indies but a separate continent. From that
time on, Spain and Portugal devoted all their energies to the
development of their Indian and American trade. To prevent
an armed conflict between the rivals, Pope Alexander VI (the
only avowed heathen who was ever elected to this most holy
office) had obligingly divided the world into two equal parts
by a line of demarcation which followed the 50th degree of
longitude west of Greenwich, the so-called division of Tordesillas
of 1494. The Portuguese were to establish their colonies
to the east of this line, the Spaniards were to have theirs
to the west. This accounts for the fact that the entire American
continent with the exception of Brazil became Spanish and
that all of the Indies and most of Africa became Portuguese
until the English and the Dutch colonists (who had no respect
for Papal decisions) took these possessions away in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries.
When news of the discovery of Columbus reached the
Rialto of Venice, the Wall street of the Middle Ages, there
was a terrible panic. Stocks and bonds went down 40 and 50
percent. After a short while, when it appeared that Columbus
had failed to find the road to Cathay, the Venetian merchants
recovered from their fright. But the voyages of da Gama and
Magellan proved the practical possibilities of an eastern water-
route to the Indies. Then the rulers of Genoa and Venice,
the two great commercial centres of the Middle Ages and the
Renaissance, began to be sorry that they had refused to listen
to Columbus. But it was too late. Their Mediterranean became
an inland sea. The overland trade to the Indies and
China dwindled to insignificant proportions. The old days
of Italian glory were gone. The Atlantic became the new
centre of commerce and therefore the centre of civilisation.
It has remained so ever since.
See how strangely civilisation has progressed since those
early days, fifty centuries before, when the inhabitants of the
Valley of the Nile began to keep a written record of history,
From the river Nile, it went to Mesopotamia, the land between
the rivers. Then came the turn of Crete and Greece and
Rome. An inland sea became the centre of trade and the cities
along the Mediterranean were the home of art and science and
philosophy and learning. In the sixteenth century it moved
westward once more and made the countries that border upon
the Atlantic become the masters of the earth.
There are those who say that the world war and the suicide
of the great European nations has greatly diminished the
importance of the Atlantic Ocean. They expect to see civilisation
cross the American continent and find a new home in the
Pacific. But I doubt this.
The westward trip was accompanied by a steady increase in
the size of ships and a broadening of the knowledge of the navigators.
The flat-bottomed vessels of the Nile and the Euphrates
were replaced by the sailing vessels of the Phoenicians, the
AEgeans, the Greeks, the Carthaginians and the Romans.
These in turn were discarded for the square rigged vessels of
the Portuguese and the Spaniards. And the latter were driven
from the ocean by the full-rigged craft of the English and the
At present, however, civilisation no longer depends upon
ships. Aircraft has taken and will continue to take the place
of the sailing vessel and the steamer. The next centre of
civilisation will depend upon the development of aircraft and
water power. And the sea once more shall be the undisturbed
home of the little fishes, who once upon a time shared their deep
residence with the earliest ancestors of the human race.
BUDDHA AND CONFUCIUS
CONCERNING BUDDHA AND CONFUCIUS
THE discoveries of the Portuguese and the Spaniards had
brought the Christians of western Europe into close contact
with the people of India and of China. They knew of course
that Christianity was not the only religion on this earth. There
were the Mohammedans and the heathenish tribes of northern
Africa who worshipped sticks and stones and dead trees. But
in India and in China the Christian conquerors found new
millions who had never heard of Christ and who did not want
to hear of Him, because they thought their own religion, which
was thousands of years old, much better than that of the West.
As this is a story of mankind and not an exclusive history of
the people of Europe and our western hemisphere, you ought
to know something of two men whose teaching and whose
example continue to influence the actions and the thoughts
of the majority of our fellow-travellers on this earth.
In India, Buddha was recognised as the great religious
teacher. His history is an interesting one. He was born in
the Sixth Century before the birth of Christ, within sight of the
mighty Himalaya Mountains, where four hundred years before
Zarathustra (or Zoroaster), the first of the great leaders of
the Aryan race (the name which the Eastern branch of the
Indo-European race had given to itself), had taught his people
to regard life as a continuous struggle between Ahriman,
and Ormuzd, the Gods of Evil and Good. Buddha's
father was Suddhodana, a mighty chief among the tribe of the
Sakiyas. His mother, Maha Maya, was the daughter of a
neighbouring king. She had been married when she was a very
young girl. But many moons had passed beyond the distant
ridge of hills and still her husband was without an heir who
should rule his lands after him. At last, when she was fifty
years old, her day came and she went forth that she might be
among her own people when her baby should come into this
It was a long trip to the land of the Koliyans, where Maha
Maya had spent her earliest years. One night she was resting
among the cool trees of the garden of Lumbini. There her son
was born. He was given the name of Siddhartha, but we know
him as Buddha, which means the Enlightened One.
In due time, Siddhartha grew up to be a handsome young
prince and when he was nineteen years old, he was married to
his cousin Yasodhara. During the next ten years he lived
far away from all pain and all suffering, behind the protecting
walls of the royal palace, awaiting the day when he should
succeed his father as King of the Sakiyas.
But it happened that when he was thirty years old, he drove
outside of the palace gates and saw a man who was old and
worn out with labour and whose weak limbs could hardly carry
the burden of life. Siddhartha pointed him out to his coachman,
Channa, but Channa answered that there were lots of
poor people in this world and that one more or less did not
matter. The young prince was very sad but he did not say
anything and went back to live with his wife and his father
and his mother and tried to be happy. A little while later he
left the palace a second time. His carriage met a man who
suffered from a terrible disease. Siddhartha asked Channa
what had been the cause of this man's suffering, but the coachman
answered that there were many sick people in this world
and that such things could not be helped and did not matter
very much. The young prince was very sad when he heard this
but again he returned to his people.
A few weeks passed. One evening Siddhartha ordered his
carriage in order to go to the river and bathe. Suddenly his
horses were frightened by the sight of a dead man whose rotting
body lay sprawling in the ditch beside the road. The young
prince, who had never been allowed to see such things, was
frightened, but Channa told him not to mind such trifles. The
world was full of dead people. It was the rule of life that all
things must come to an end. Nothing was eternal. The grave
awaited us all and there was no escape.
That evening, when Siddhartha returned to his home, he
was received with music. While he was away his wife had
given birth to a son. The people were delighted because now
they knew that there was an heir to the throne and they
celebrated the event by the beating of many drums. Siddhartha,
however, did not share their joy. The curtain of life had been
lifted and he had learned the horror of man's existence. The
sight of death and suffering followed him like a terrible dream.
That night the moon was shining brightly. Siddhartha
woke up and began to think of many things. Never again
could he be happy until he should have found a solution to the
riddle of existence. He decided to find it far away from all
those whom he loved. Softly he went into the room where
Yasodhara was sleeping with her baby. Then he called for
his faithful Channa and told him to follow.
Together the two men went into the darkness of the night,
one to find rest for his soul, the other to be a faithful servant
unto a beloved master.
The people of India among whom Siddhartha wandered for
many years were just then in a state of change. Their ancestors,
the native Indians, had been conquered without great difficulty
by the war-like Aryans (our distant cousins) and thereafter
the Aryans had been the rulers and masters of tens of
millions of docile little brown men. To maintain themselves in
the seat of the mighty, they had divided the population into
different classes and gradually a system of ``caste'' of the most
rigid sort had been enforced upon the natives. The descendants
of the Indo-European conquerors belonged to the highest
``caste,'' the class of warriors and nobles. Next came the caste
of the priests. Below these followed the peasants and the
business men. The ancient natives, however, who were called
Pariahs, formed a class of despised and miserable slaves and
never could hope to be anything else.
Even the religion of the people was a matter of caste. The
old Indo-Europeans, during their thousands of years of
wandering, had met with many strange adventures. These had
been collected in a book called the Veda. The language of
this book was called Sanskrit, and it was closely related to the
different languages of the European continent, to Greek and
Latin and Russian and German and two-score others. The
three highest castes were allowed to read these holy scriptures.
The Pariah, however, the despised member of the lowest caste,
was not permitted to know its contents. Woe to the man of
noble or priestly caste who should teach a Pariah to study the
The majority of the Indian people, therefore, lived in
misery. Since this planet offered them very little joy, salvation
from suffering must be found elsewhere. They tried to
derive a little consolation from meditation upon the bliss of
their future existence.
Brahma, the all-creator who was regarded by the Indian
people as the supreme ruler of life and death, was worshipped
as the highest ideal of perfection. To become like Brahma, to
lose all desires for riches and power, was recognised as the most
exalted purpose of existence. Holy thoughts were regarded
as more important than holy deeds, and many people went
into the desert and lived upon the leaves of trees and starved
their bodies that they might feed their souls with the glorious
contemplation of the splendours of Brahma, the Wise, the
Good and the Merciful.
Siddhartha, who had often observed these solitary wanderers
who were seeking the truth far away from the turmoil
of the cities and the villages, decided to follow their example.
He cut his hair. He took his pearls and his rubies and sent
them back to his family with a message of farewell, which the
ever faithful Channa carried. Without a single follower, the
young prince then moved into the wilderness.
Soon the fame of his holy conduct spread among the mountains.
Five young men came to him and asked that they might
be allowed to listen to his words of wisdom. He agreed to be
their master if they would follow him. They consented, and
he took them into the hills and for six years he taught them
all he knew amidst the lonely peaks of the Vindhya Mountains.
But at the end of this period of study, he felt that he was still
far from perfection. The world that he had left continued to
tempt him. He now asked that his pupils leave him and then
he fasted for forty-nine days and nights, sitting upon the roots
of an old tree. At last he received his reward. In the dusk of
the fiftieth evening, Brahma revealed himself to his faithful
servant. From that moment on, Siddhartha was called Buddha
and he was revered as the Enlightened One who had come to
save men from their unhappy mortal fate.
The last forty-five years of his life, Buddha spent within
the valley of the Ganges River, teaching his simple lesson of
submission and meekness unto all men. In the year 488 before
our era, he died, full of years and beloved by millions of people.
He had not preached his doctrines for the benefit of a single
class. Even the lowest Pariah might call himself his disciple.
This, however, did not please the nobles and the priests and
the merchants who did their best to destroy a creed which recognised
the equality of all living creatures and offered men the
hope of a second life (a reincarnation) under happier circumstances.
As soon as they could, they encouraged the people of
India to return to the ancient doctrines of the Brahmin creed
with its fasting and its tortures of the sinful body. But
Buddhism could not be destroyed. Slowly the disciples of the
Enlightened One wandered across the valleys of the Himalayas,
and moved into China. They crossed the Yellow Sea
and preached the wisdom of their master unto the people of
Japan, and they faithfully obeyed the will of their great master,
who had forbidden them to use force. To-day more people
recognise Buddha as their teacher than ever before and their
number surpasses that of the combined followers of Christ and Mohammed.
As for Confucius, the wise old man of the Chinese, his
story is a simple one. He was born in the year 550 B.C. He
led a quiet, dignified and uneventful life at a time when China
was without a strong central government and when the Chinese
people were at the mercy of bandits and robber-barons who
went from city to city, pillaging and stealing and murdering
and turning the busy plains of northern and central China into
a wilderness of starving people.
Confucius, who loved his people, tried to save them. He
did not have much faith in the use of violence. He was a very
peaceful person. He did not think that he could make people
over by giving them a lot of new laws. He knew that the only
possible salvation would come from a change of heart, and he
set out upon the seemingly hopeless task of changing the character
of his millions of fellow men who inhabited the wide plains
of eastern Asia. The Chinese had never been much interested
in religion as we understand that word. They believed in
devils and spooks as most primitive people do. But they had
no prophets and recognised no ``revealed truth.'' Confucius
is almost the only one among the great moral leaders who did
not see visions, who did not proclaim himself as the messenger
of a divine power; who did not, at some time or another, claim
that he was inspired by voices from above.
He was just a very sensible and kindly man, rather given
to lonely wanderings and melancholy tunes upon his faithful
flute. He asked for no recognition. He did not demand that
any one should follow him or worship him. He reminds us
of the ancient Greek philosophers, especially those of the Stoic
School, men who believed in right living and righteous thinking
without the hope of a reward but simply for the peace of
the soul that comes with a good conscience.
Confucius was a very tolerant man. He went out of his
way to visit Lao-Tse, the other great Chinese leader and the
founder of a philosophic system called ``Taoism,'' which was
merely an early Chinese version of the Golden Rule.
Confucius bore no hatred to any one. He taught the virtue
of supreme self-possession. A person of real worth, according
to the teaching of Confucius, did not allow himself to be
ruffled by anger and suffered whatever fate brought him with
the resignation of those sages who understand that everything
which happens, in one way or another, is meant for the best.
At first he had only a few students. Gradually the number
increased. Before his death, in the year 478 B.C., several of the
kings and the princes of China confessed themselves his disciples.
When Christ was born in Bethlehem, the philosophy of
Confucius had already become a part of the mental make-up
of most Chinamen. It has continued to influence their lives
ever since. Not however in its pure, original form. Most religions
change as time goes on. Christ preached humility and
meekness and absence from worldly ambitions, but fifteen
centuries after Golgotha, the head of the Christian church was
spending millions upon the erection of a building that bore
little relation to the lonely stable of Bethlehem.
Lao-Tse taught the Golden Rule, and in less than three
centuries the ignorant masses had made him into a real and
very cruel God and had buried his wise commandments under
a rubbish-heap of superstition which made the lives of the average
Chinese one long series of frights and fears and horrors.
Confucius had shown his students the beauties of honouring
their Father and their Mother. They soon began to be more
interested in the memory of their departed parents than in the
happiness of their children and their grandchildren. Deliberately
they turned their backs upon the future and tried to
peer into the vast darkness of the past. The worship of the
ancestors became a positive religious system. Rather than
disturb a cemetery situated upon the sunny and fertile side of
a mountain, they would plant their rice and wheat upon the
barren rocks of the other slope where nothing could possibly
grow. And they preferred hunger and famine to the desecration
of the ancestral grave.
At the same time the wise words of Confucius never quite
lost their hold upon the increasing millions of eastern Asia.
Confucianism, with its profound sayings and shrewd observations,
added a touch of common-sense philosophy to the soul of
every Chinaman and influenced his entire life, whether he was
a simple laundry man in a steaming basement or the ruler of vast
provinces who dwelt behind the high walls of a secluded palace.
In the sixteenth century the enthusiastic but rather uncivilised
Christians of the western world came face to face with
the older creeds of the East. The early Spaniards and Portuguese
looked upon the peaceful statues of Buddha and contemplated
the venerable pictures of Confucius and did not in
the least know what to make of those worthy prophets with
their far-away smile. They came to the easy conclusion that
these strange divinities were just plain devils who represented
something idolatrous and heretical and did not deserve the
respect of the true sons of the Church. Whenever the spirit
of Buddha or Confucius seemed to interfere with the trade in
spices and silks, the Europeans attacked the ``evil influence''
with bullets and grape-shot. That system had certain very
definite disadvantages. It has left us an unpleasant heritage
of ill-will which promises little good for the immediate future.
THE PROGRESS OF THE HUMAN RACE IS BEST
COMPARED TO A GIGANTIC PENDULUM
WHICH FOREVER SWINGS FORWARD AND
BACKWARD. THE RELIGIOUS INDIFFERENCE
AND THE ARTISTIC AND LITERARY
ENTHUSIASM OF THE RENAISSANCE
WERE FOLLOWED BY THE ARTISTIC AND
LITERARY INDIFFERENCE AND THE RELIGIOUS
ENTHUSIASM OF THE REFORMATION
OF course you have heard of the Reformation. You think
of a small but courageous group of pilgrims who crossed the
ocean to have ``freedom of religious worship.'' Vaguely in the
course of time (and more especially in our Protestant countries)
the Reformation has come to stand for the idea of
``liberty of thought.'' Martin Luther is represented as the
leader of the vanguard of progress. But when history is
something more than a series of flattering speeches addressed
to our own glorious ancestors, when to use the words of the
German historian Ranke, we try to discover what ``actually
happened,'' then much of the past is seen in a very different
Few things in human life are either entirely good or entirely
bad. Few things are either black or white. It is the duty of
the honest chronicler to give a true account of all the good and
bad sides of every historical event. It is very difficult to do
this because we all have our personal likes and dislikes. But
we ought to try and be as fair as we can be, and must not allow
our prejudices to influence us too much.
Take my own case as an example. I grew up in the very
Protestant centre of a very Protestant country. I never saw
any Catholics until I was about twelve years old. Then I felt
very uncomfortable when I met them. I was a little bit afraid.
I knew the story of the many thousand people who had been
burned and hanged and quartered by the Spanish Inquisition
when the Duke of Alba tried to cure the Dutch people of their
Lutheran and Calvinistic heresies. All that was very real
to me. It seemed to have happened only the day before. It
might occur again. There might be another Saint Bartholomew's
night, and poor little me would be slaughtered in my
nightie and my body would be thrown out of the window, as
had happened to the noble Admiral de Coligny.
Much later I went to live for a number of years in a Catholic
country. I found the people much pleasanter and much
more tolerant and quite as intelligent as my former countrymen.
To my great surprise, I began to discover that there
was a Catholic side to the Reformation, quite as much as a
Of course the good people of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries, who actually lived through the Reformation, did
not see things that way. They were always right and their
enemy was always wrong. It was a question of hang or be
hanged, and both sides preferred to do the hanging. Which
was no more than human and for which they deserve no blame.
When we look at the world as it appeared in the year 1500,
an easy date to remember, and the year in which the Emperor
Charles V was born, this is what we see. The feudal disorder
of the Middle Ages has given way before the order of a number
of highly centralised kingdoms. The most powerful of
all sovereigns is the great Charles, then a baby in a cradle.
He is the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella and of Maxi-
milian of Habsburg, the last of the mediaeval knights, and of
his wife Mary, the daughter of Charles the Bold, the ambitious
Burgundian duke who had made successful war upon France
but had been killed by the independent Swiss peasants. The
child Charles, therefore, has fallen heir to the greater part of
the map, to all the lands of his parents, grandparents, uncles,
cousins and aunts in Germany, in Austria, in Holland, in
Belgium, in Italy, and in Spain, together with all their colonies
in Asia, Africa and America. By a strange irony of fate, he
has been born in Ghent, in that same castle of the counts of
Flanders, which the Germans used as a prison during their
recent occupation of Belgium, and although a Spanish king
and a German emperor, he receives the training of a Fleming.
As his father is dead (poisoned, so people say, but this is
never proved), and his mother has lost her mind (she is travelling
through her domains with the coffin containing the body
of her departed husband), the child is left to the strict
discipline of his Aunt Margaret. Forced to rule Germans and
Italians and Spaniards and a hundred strange races, Charles
grows up a Fleming, a faithful son of the Catholic Church,
but quite averse to religious intolerance. He is rather lazy,
both as a boy and as a man. But fate condemns him to rule
the world when the world is in a turmoil of religious fervour.
Forever he is speeding from Madrid to Innsbruck and from
Bruges to Vienna. He loves peace and quiet and he is always
at war. At the age of fifty-five, we see him turn his back upon
the human race in utter disgust at so much hate and so much
stupidity. Three years later he dies, a very tired and disappointed
So much for Charles the Emperor. How about the Church,
the second great power in the world? The Church has changed
greatly since the early days of the Middle Ages, when it started
out to conquer the heathen and show them the advantages of
a pious and righteous life. In the first place, the Church has
grown too rich. The Pope is no longer the shepherd of a flock
of humble Christians. He lives in a vast palace and surrounds
himself with artists and musicians and famous literary men.
His churches and chapels are covered with new pictures in
which the saints look more like Greek Gods than is strictly
necessary. He divides his time unevenly between affairs of
state and art. The affairs of state take ten percent of his time.
The other ninety percent goes to an active interest in Roman
statues, recently discovered Greek vases, plans for a new summer
home, the rehearsal of a new play. The Archbishops and
the Cardinals follow the example of their Pope. The Bishops
try to imitate the Archbishops. The village priests, however,
have remained faithful to their duties. They keep themselves
aloof from the wicked world and the heathenish love of beauty
and pleasure. They stay away from the monasteries where
the monks seem to have forgotten their ancient vows of simplicity
and poverty and live as happily as they dare without
causing too much of a public scandal.
Finally, there are the common people. They are much
better off than they have ever been before. They are more
prosperous, they live in better houses, their children go to better
schools, their cities are more beautiful than before, their
firearms have made them the equal of their old enemies, the
robber-barons, who for centuries have levied such heavy taxes
upon their trade. So much for the chief actors in the
Now let us see what the Renaissance has done to Europe,
and then you will understand how the revival of learning and
art was bound to be followed by a revival of religious interests.
The Renaissance began in Italy. From there it spread
to France. It was not quite successful in Spain, where
five hundred years of warfare with the Moors had made the
people very narrow minded and very fanatical in all religious
matters. The circle had grown wider and wider, but once the
Alps had been crossed, the Renaissance had suffered a change.
The people of northern Europe, living in a very different
climate, had an outlook upon life which contrasted strangely
with that of their southern neighbours. The Italians lived out
in the open, under a sunny sky. It was easy for them to laugh
and to sing and to be happy. The Germans, the Dutch, the
English, the Swedes, spent most of their time indoors, listening
to the rain beating on the closed windows of their comfortable
little houses. They did not laugh quite so much. They
took everything more seriously. They were forever conscious
of their immortal souls and they did not like to be funny about
matters which they considered holy and sacred. The ``humanistic''
part of the Renaissance, the books, the studies of ancient
authors, the grammar and the text-books, interested them
greatly. But the general return to the old pagan civilisation
of Greece and Rome, which was one of the chief results of the
Renaissance in Italy, filled their hearts with horror.
But the Papacy and the College of Cardinals was almost
entirely composed of Italians and they had turned the Church
into a pleasant club where people discussed art and music and
the theatre, but rarely mentioned religion. Hence the split
between the serious north and the more civilised but easy-going
and indifferent south was growing wider and wider all the
time and nobody seemed to be aware of the danger that threatened
There were a few minor reasons which will explain why the
Reformation took place in Germany rather than in Sweden
or England. The Germans bore an ancient grudge against
Rome. The endless quarrels between Emperor and Pope had
caused much mutual bitterness. In the other European countries
where the government rested in the hands of a strong
king, the ruler had often been able to protect his subjects
against the greed of the priests. In Germany, where a shadowy
emperor ruled a turbulent crowd of little princelings, the good
burghers were more directly at the mercy of their bishops and
prelates. These dignitaries were trying to collect large sums
of money for the benefit of those enormous churches which
were a hobby of the Popes of the Renaissance. The Germans
felt that they were being mulcted and quite naturally they did
not like it.
And then there is the rarely mentioned fact that Germany
was the home of the printing press. In northern Europe books
were cheap and the Bible was no longer a mysterious manu-
script owned and explained by the priest. It was a household
book of many families where Latin was understood by the
father and by the children. Whole families began to read it,
which was against the law of the Church. They discovered that
the priests were telling them many things which, according to
the original text of the Holy Scriptures, were somewhat different.
This caused doubt. People began to ask questions. And
questions, when they cannot be answered, often cause a great
deal of trouble.
The attack began when the humanists of the North opened
fire upon the monks. In their heart of hearts they still had
too much respect and reverence for the Pope to direct their
sallies against his Most Holy Person. But the lazy, ignorant
monks, living behind the sheltering walls of their rich monasteries,
offered rare sport.
The leader in this warfare, curiously enough, was a very
faithful son of the church Gerard Gerardzoon, or Desiderius
Erasmus, as he is usually called, was a poor boy, born in
Rotterdam in Holland, and educated at the same Latin school
of Deventer from which Thomas a Kempis had graduated.
He had become a priest and for a time he had lived in a monastery.
He had travelled a great deal and knew whereof he wrote,
When he began his career as a public pamphleteer (he would
have been called an editorial writer in our day) the world was
greatly amused at an anonymous series of letters which had
just appeared under the title of ``Letters of Obscure Men.''
In these letters, the general stupidity and arrogance of the
monks of the late Middle Ages was exposed in a strange
German-Latin doggerel which reminds one of our modern
limericks. Erasmus himself was a very learned and serious
scholar, who knew both Latin and Greek and gave us the first
reliable version of the New Testament, which he translated
into Latin together with a corrected edition of the original
Greek text. But he believed with Sallust, the Roman poet,
that nothing prevents us from ``stating the truth with a smile
upon our lips.''
In the year 1500, while visiting Sir Thomas More in Eng-
land, he took a few weeks off and wrote a funny little book,
called the ``Praise of Folly,'' in which he attacked the monks
and their credulous followers with that most dangerous of all
weapons, humor. The booklet was the best seller of the sixteenth
century. It was translated into almost every language
and it made people pay attention to those other books of
Erasmus in which he advocated reform of the many abuses of
the church and appealed to his fellow humanists to help him
in his task of bringing about a great rebirth of the Christian
But nothing came of these excellent plans. Erasmus was
too reasonable and too tolerant to please most of the enemies
of the church. They were waiting for a leader of a more
He came, and his name was Martin Luther.
Luther was a North-German peasant with a first-class
brain and possessed of great personal courage. He was a
university man, a master of arts of the University of Erfurt;
afterwards he joined a Dominican monastery. Then he became
a college professor at the theological school of Wittenberg
and began to explain the scriptures to the indifferent ploughboys
of his Saxon home. He had a lot of spare time and this he used
to study the original texts of the Old and New Testaments.
Soon he began to see the great difference which existed between
the words of Christ and those that were preached by the Popes and the Bishops.
In the year 1511, he visited Rome on official business.
Alexander VI, of the family of Borgia, who had enriched himself
for the benefit of his son and daughter, was dead. But his
successor, Julius II, a man of irreproachable personal character,
was spending most of his time fighting and building and
did not impress this serious minded German theologian with
his piety. Luther returned to Wittenberg a much disappointed
man. But worse was to follow.
The gigantic church of St. Peter which Pope Julius had
wished upon his innocent successors, although only half begun,
was already in need of repair. Alexander VI had spent every
penny of the Papal treasury. Leo X, who succeeded Julius
in the year 1513, was on the verge of bankruptcy. He reverted
to an old method of raising ready cash. He began to sell
``indulgences.'' An indulgence was a piece of parchment which
in return for a certain sum of money, promised a sinner a decrease
of the time which he would have to spend in purgatory.
It was a perfectly correct thing according to the creed of the
late Middle Ages. Since the church had the power to forgive
the sins of those who truly repented before they died, the
church also had the right to shorten, through its intercession
with the Saints, the time during which the soul must be punfied
in the shadowy realms of Purgatory.
It was unfortunate that these Indulgences must be sold for
money. But they offered an easy form of revenue and besides,
those who were too poor to pay, received theirs for nothing.
Now it happened in the year 1517 that the exclusive territory
for the sale of indulgences in Saxony was given to a
Dominican monk by the name of Johan Tetzel. Brother
Johan was a hustling salesman. To tell the truth he was a
little too eager. His business methods outraged the pious
people of the little duchy. And Luther, who was an honest
fellow, got so angry that he did a rash thing. On the 31st of
October of the year 1517, he went to the court church and upon
the doors thereof he posted a sheet of paper with ninety-five
statements (or theses), attacking the sale of indulgences.
These statements had been written in Latin. Luther had no
intention of starting a riot. He was not a revolutionist. He
objected to the institution of the Indulgences and he wanted his
fellow professors to know what he thought about them. But
this was still a private affair of the clerical and professorial
world and there was no appeal to the prejudices of the community
Unfortunately, at that moment when the whole world had
begun to take an interest in the religious affairs of the day
it was utterly impossible to discuss anything, without at once
creating a serious mental disturbance. In less than two
months, all Europe was discussing the ninety-five theses of
the Saxon monk. Every one must take sides. Every obscure
little theologian must print his own opinion. The papal
authorities began to be alarmed. They ordered the Wittenberg
professor to proceed to Rome and give an account of his action.
Luther wisely remembered what had happened to Huss. He
stayed in Germany and he was punished with excommunication.
Luther burned the papal bull in the presence of an
admiring multitude and from that moment, peace between himself
and the Pope was no longer possible.
Without any desire on his part, Luther had become the
leader of a vast army of discontented Christians. German
patriots like Ulrich von Hutten, rushed to his defence. The
students of Wittenberg and Erfurt and Leipzig offered to
defend him should the authorities try to imprison him. The
Elector of Saxony reassured the eager young men. No harm
would befall Luther as long as he stayed on Saxon ground.
All this happened in the year 1520. Charles V was twenty
years old and as the ruler of half the world, was forced to
remain on pleasant terms with the Pope. He sent out calls
for a Diet or general assembly in the good city of Worms on
the Rhine and commanded Luther to be present and give an
account of his extraordinary behaviour. Luther, who now
was the national hero of the Germans, went. He refused to
take back a single word of what he had ever written or said.
His conscience was controlled only by the word of God. He
would live and die for his conscience
The Diet of Worms, after due deliberation, declared
Luther an outlaw before God and man, and forbade all Germans
to give him shelter or food or drink, or to read a single
word of the books which the dastardly heretic had written.
But the great reformer was in no danger. By the majority
of the Germans of the north the edict was denounced as a most
unjust and outrageous document. For greater safety, Luther
was hidden in the Wartburg, a castle belonging to the Elector
of Saxony, and there he defied all papal authority by translating
the entire Bible into the German language, that all the
people might read and know the word of God for themselves.
By this time, the Reformation was no longer a spiritual
and religious affair. Those who hated the beauty of the modern
church building used this period of unrest to attack and
destroy what they did not like because they did not understand
it. Impoverished knights tried to make up for past losses by
grabbing the territory which belonged to the monasteries.
Discontented princes made use of the absence of the Emperor
to increase their own power. The starving peasants, following
the leadership of half-crazy agitators, made the best of
the opportunity and attacked the castles of their masters and
plundered and murdered and burned with the zeal of the old
A veritable reign of disorder broke loose throughout the
Empire. Some princes became Protestants (as the ``protesting''
adherents of Luther were called) and persecuted their
Catholic subjects. Others remained Catholic and hanged their
Protestant subjects. The Diet of Speyer of the year 1526
tried to settle this difficult question of allegiance by ordering
that ``the subjects should all be of the same religious denomination
as their princes.'' This turned Germany into a checkerboard
of a thousand hostile little duchies and principalities and
created a situation which prevented the normal political
growth for hundreds of years.
In February of the year 1546 Luther died and was put
to rest in the same church where twenty-nine years before he
had proclaimed his famous objections to the sale of Indulgences.
In less than thirty years, the indifferent, joking and
laughing world of the Renaissance had been transformed into
the arguing, quarrelling, back-biting, debating-society of the
Reformation. The universal spiritual empire of the Popes
came to a sudden end and the whole Western Europe was
turned into a battle-field, where Protestants and Catholics
killed each other for the greater glory of certain theological
doctrines which are as incomprehensible to the present generation
as the mysterious inscriptions of the ancient Etruscans.
THE AGE OF THE GREAT RELIGIOUS
THE sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the age of
If you will notice you will find that almost everybody
around you is forever ``talking economics'' and discussing
wages and hours of labor and strikes in their relation to the
life of the community, for that is the main topic of interest
of our own time.
The poor little children of the year 1600 or 1650 fared
worse. They never heard anything but ``religion.'' Their
heads were filled with ``predestination,'' ``transubstantition,''
``free will,'' and a hundred other queer words, expressing
obscure points of ``the true faith,'' whether Catholic or
Protestant. According to the desire of their parents they were
baptised Catholics or Lutherans or Calvinists or Zwinglians
or Anabaptists. They learned their theology from the Augsburg
catechism, composed by Luther, or from the ``institutes
of Christianity,'' written by Calvin, or they mumbled the
Thirty-Nine Articles of Faith which were printed in the English
Book of Common Prayer, and they were told that these
alone represented the ``True Faith.''
They heard of the wholesale theft of church property
perpetrated by King Henry VIII, the much-married monarch of
England, who made himself the supreme head of the English
church, and assumed the old papal rights of appointing bishops
and priests. They had a nightmare whenever some one
mentioned the Holy Inquisition, with its dungeons and its
many torture chambers, and they were treated to equally horrible
stories of how a mob of outraged Dutch Protestants had
got hold of a dozen defenceless old priests and hanged them
for the sheer pleasure of killing those who professed
a different faith. It was unfortunate that the two
contending parties were so equally matched. Otherwise
the struggle would have come to a quick solution.
Now it dragged on for eight generations, and
it grew so complicated that I can only tell you the most
important details, and must ask you to get the
rest from one of the many histories of the Reformation.
The great reform movement of the Protestants
had been followed by a thoroughgoing reform
within the bosom of the Church. Those popes who
had been merely amateur humanists and dealers in Roman
and Greek antiquities, disappeared from the scene and
their place was taken by serious men who spent twenty hours
a day administering those holy duties which had been placed
in their hands.
The long and rather disgraceful happiness of the monasteries
came to an end. Monks and nuns were forced to be up
at sunrise, to study the Church Fathers, to tend the sick and
console the dying. The Holy Inquisition watched day and
night that no dangerous doctrines should be spread by way of
the printing press. Here it is customary to mention poor
Galileo, who was locked up because he had been a little too
indiscreet in explaining the heavens with his funny little
telescope and had muttered certain opinions about the behaviour
of the planets which were entirely opposed to the official views
of the church. But in all fairness to the Pope, the clergy and
the Inquisition, it ought to be stated that the Protestants were
quite as much the enemies of science and medicine as the Catholics
and with equal manifestations of ignorance and intolerance
regarded the men who investigated things for themselves
as the most dangerous enemies of mankind.
And Calvin, the great French reformer and the tyrant
(both political and spiritual) of Geneva, not only assisted the
French authorities when they tried to hang Michael Servetus
(the Spanish theologian and physician who had become famous
as the assistant of Vesalius, the first great anatomist), but
when Servetus had managed to escape from his French jail and
had fled to Geneva, Calvin threw this brilliant man into prison
and after a prolonged trial, allowed him to be burned at the
stake on account of his heresies, totally indifferent to his fame
as a scientist.
And so it went. We have few reliable statistics upon the
subject, but on the whole, the Protestants tired of this game
long before the Catholics, and the greater part of honest men
and women who were burned and hanged and decapitated on
account of their religious beliefs fell as victims of the very
energetic but also very drastic church of Rome.
For tolerance (and please remember this when you grow
older), is of very recent origin and even the people of our own
so-called ``modern world'' are apt to be tolerant only upon such
matters as do not interest them very much. They are tolerant
towards a native of Africa, and do not care whether he becomes
a Buddhist or a Mohammedan, because neither Buddhism nor
Mohammedanism means anything to them. But when they
hear that their neighbour who was a Republican and believed
in a high protective tariff, has joined the Socialist party and
now wants to repeal all tariff laws, their tolerance ceases and
they use almost the same words as those employed by a kindly
Catholic (or Protestant) of the seventeenth century, who was
informed that his best friend whom he had always respected
and loved had fallen a victim to the terrible heresies of the
Protestant (or Catholic) church.
``Heresy'' until a very short time ago was regarded as a
disease. Nowadays when we see a man neglecting the personal
cleanliness of his body and his home and exposing himself
and his children to the dangers of typhoid fever or another
preventable disease, we send for the board-of-health and the
health officer calls upon the police to aid him in removing this
person who is a danger to the safety of the entire community.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a heretic, a man
or a woman who openly doubted the fundamental principles
upon which his Protestant or Catholic religion had been
founded, was considered a more terrible menace than a typhoid
carrier. Typhoid fever might (very likely would) destroy the
body. But heresy, according to them, would positively destroy
the immortal soul. It was therefore the duty of all good and
logical citizens to warn the police against the enemies of the
established order of things and those who failed to do so were
as culpable as a modern man who does not telephone to the
nearest doctor when he discovers that his fellow-tenants are
suffering from cholera or small-pox.
In the years to come you will hear a great deal about
preventive medicine. Preventive medicine simply means that our
doctors do not wait until their patients are sick, then step
forward and cure them. On the contrary, they study the patient
and the conditions under which he lives when he (the patient)
is perfectly well and they remove every possible cause of illness
by cleaning up rubbish, by teaching him what to eat and what
to avoid, and by giving him a few simple ideas of personal
hygiene. They go even further than that, and these good
doctors enter the schools and teach the children how to use
tooth-brushes and how to avoid catching colds.
The sixteenth century which regarded (as I have tried to
show you) bodily illness as much less important than sickness
which threatened the soul, organised a system of spiritual
preventive medicine. As soon as a child was old enough to spell
his first words, he was educated in the true (and the ``only
true'') principles of the Faith. Indirectly this proved to be a
good thing for the general progress of the people of Europe.
The Protestant lands were soon dotted with schools. They
used a great deal of very valuable time to explain the Catechism,
but they gave instruction in other things besides theology.
They encouraged reading and they were responsible
for the great prosperity of the printing trade.
But the Catholics did not lag behind. They too devoted
much time and thought to education. The Church, in this matter,
found an invaluable friend and ally in the newly-founded
order of the Society of Jesus. The founder of this remarkable
organisation was a Spanish soldier who after a life of unholy
adventures had been converted and thereupon felt himself
bound to serve the church just as many former sinners, who
have been shown the errors of their way by the Salvation Army,
devote the remaining years of their lives to the task of aiding
and consoling those who are less fortunate.
The name of this Spaniard was Ignatius de Loyola. He
was born in the year before the discovery of America. He had
been wounded and lamed for life and while he was in the hospital
he had seen a vision of the Holy Virgin and her Son, who
bade him give up the wickedness of his former life. He decided
to go to the Holy Land and finish the task of the Crusades.
But a visit to Jerusalem had shown him the impossibility
of the task and he returned west to help in the warfare
upon the heresies of the Lutherans.
In the year 1534 he was studying in Paris at the Sorbonne.
Together with seven other students he founded a fraternity.
The eight men promised each other that they would lead holy
lives, that they would not strive after riches but after righteousness,
and would devote themselves, body and soul, to the service
of the Church. A few years later this small fraternity
had grown into a regular organisation and was recognised by
Pope Paul III as the Society of Jesus.
Loyola had been a military man. He believed in discipline,
and absolute obedience to the orders of the superior dignitaries
became one of the main causes for the enormous success of the
Jesuits. They specialised in education. They gave their
teachers a most thorough-going education before they allowed
them to talk to a single pupil. They lived with their students
and they entered into their games. They watched them with
tender care. And as a result they raised a new generation of
faithful Catholics who took their religious duties as seriously
as the people of the early Middle Ages.
The shrewd Jesuits, however, did not waste all their efforts
upon the education of the poor. They entered the palaces
of the mighty and became the private tutors of future emperors
and kings. And what this meant you will see for yourself
when I tell you about the Thirty Years War. But before
this terrible and final outbreak of religious fanaticism, a great
many other things had happened.
Charles V was dead. Germany and Austria had been left
to his brother Ferdinand. All his other possessions, Spain and
the Netherlands and the Indies and America had gone to his
son Philip. Philip was the son of Charles and a Portuguese
princess who had been first cousin to her own husband. The
children that are born of such a union are apt to be rather
queer. The son of Philip, the unfortunate Don Carlos, (murdered
afterwards with his own father's consent,) was crazy.
Philip was not quite crazy, but his zeal for the Church bordered
closely upon religious insanity. He believed that Heaven had
appointed him as one of the saviours of mankind. Therefore,
whosoever was obstinate and refused to share his Majesty's
views, proclaimed himself an enemy of the human race and
must be exterminated lest his example corrupt the souls of
his pious neighbours.
Spain, of course, was a very rich country. All the gold and
silver of the new world flowed into the Castilian and Aragonian
treasuries. But Spain suffered from a curious eco-
nomic disease. Her peasants were hard working men and
even harder working women. But the better classes maintained
a supreme contempt for any form of labour, outside of
employment in the army or navy or the civil service. As for
the Moors, who had been very industrious artisans, they had
been driven out of the country long before. As a result, Spain,
the treasure chest of the world, remained a poor country because
all her money had to be sent abroad in exchange for the
wheat and the other necessities of life which the Spaniards
neglected to raise for themselves.
Philip, ruler of the most powerful nation of the
sixteenth century, depended for his revenue upon the taxes
which were gathered in the busy commercial bee-hive of
the Netherlands. But these Flemings and Dutchmen were
devoted followers of the doctrines of Luther and Calvin
and they had cleansed their churches of all images and holy
paintings and they had informed the Pope that they no
longer regarded him as their shepherd but intended to follow
the dictates of their consciences and the commands of their
newly translated Bible.
This placed the king in a very difficult position. He could
not possibly tolerate the heresies of his Dutch subjects, but
he needed their money. If he allowed them to be Protestants
and took no measures to save their souls he was deficient in
his duty toward God. If he sent the Inquisition to the Netherlands
and burned his subjects at the stake, he would lose the
greater part of his income.
Being a man of uncertain will-power he hesitated a long
time. He tried kindness and sternness and promises and
threats. The Hollanders remained obstinate, and continued to
sing psalms and listen to the sermons of their Lutheran and
Calvinist preachers. Philip in his despair sent his ``man of
iron,'' the Duke of Alba, to bring these hardened sinners to
terms. Alba began by decapitating those leaders who had not
wisely left the country before his arrival. In the year 1572
(the same year that the French Protestant leaders were all
killed during the terrible night of Saint Bartholomew), he
attacked a number of Dutch cities and massacred the inhabitants
as an example for the others. The next year he laid siege
to the town of Leyden, the manufacturing center of Holland.
Meanwhile, the seven small provinces of the northern
Netherlands had formed a defensive union, the so-called union
of Utrecht, and had recognised William of Orange, a German
prince who had been the private secretary of the Emperor
Charles V, as the leader of their army and as commander of
their freebooting sailors, who were known as the Beggars of
the Sea. William, to save Leyden, cut the dykes, created a
shallow inland sea, and delivered the town with the help of a
strangely equipped navy consisting of scows and flat-bottomed
barges which were rowed and pushed and pulled through the
mud until they reached the city walls.
It was the first time that an army of the invincible Spanish
king had suffered such a humiliating defeat. It surprised the
world just as the Japanese victory of Mukden, in the Russian-
Japanese war, surprised our own generation. The Protestant
powers took fresh courage and Philip devised new means for
the purpose of conquering his rebellious subjects. He hired
a poor half-witted fanatic to go and murder William of
Orange. But the sight of their dead leader did not bring the
Seven Provinces to their knees. On the contrary it made them
furiously angry. In the year 1581, the Estates General (the
meeting of the representatives of the Seven Provinces) came
together at the Hague and most solemnly abjured their
``wicked king Philip'' and themselves assumed the burden
of sovereignty which thus far had been invested in their
``King by the Grace of God.''
This is a very important event in the history of the great
struggle for political liberty. It was a step which reached
much further than the uprising of the nobles which ended with
the signing of the Magna Carta. These good burghers said
``Between a king and his subjects there is a silent understanding
that both sides shall perform certain services and shall
recognise certain definite duties. If either party fails to live
up to this contract, the other has the right to consider it ter-
minated.'' The American subjects of King George III in
the year 1776 came to a similar conclusion. But they had three
thousand miles of ocean between themselves and their ruler
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