aA
aA
aA
History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
« Prev The Preparations for the Reformation Next »

§ 4. The Preparations for the Reformation.


C. Ullmann: Reformatoren vor der Reformation. Hamburg, 1841, 2d ed. 1866, 2 vols. (Engl. trans. by R. Menzies, Edinb. 1855, 2 vols.). C. de Bonnechose: Réformateurs avant réforme du xvi. siècle. Par. 1853, 2 vols. A good résumé by Geo. P. Fisher: The Reformation. New York, 1873, ch. III. 52–84; and in the first two lectures of Charles Beard: The Reformation, London, 1883, p. 1–75. Comp., also the numerous monographs of various scholars on the Renaissance, on Wiclif, Hus, Savonarola, Hutten, Reuchlin, Erasmus, etc. A full account of the preparation for the Reformation belongs to the last chapters of the History of Mediaeval Christianity (see vol. V.). We here merely recapitulate the chief points.


Judaism before Christ was sadly degenerated, and those who sat in Moses’ seat had become blind leaders of the blind. Yet "salvation is of the Jews;" and out of this people arose John the Baptist, the Virgin Mary, the Messiah, and the Apostles. Jerusalem, which stoned the prophets and crucified the Lord, witnessed also the pentecostal miracle and became the mother church of Christendom. So the Catholic church in the sixteenth century, though corrupt in its head and its members, was still the church of the living God and gave birth to the Reformation, which removed the rubbish of human traditions and reopened the pure fountain of the gospel of Christ.

The Reformers, it should not be forgotten, were all born, baptized, confirmed, and educated in the Roman Catholic Church, and most of them had served as priests at her altars with the solemn vow of obedience to the pope on their conscience. They stood as closely related to the papal church, as the Apostles and Evangelists to the Synagogue and the Temple; and for reasons of similar urgency, they were justified to leave the communion of their fathers; or rather, they did not leave it, but were cast out by the ruling hierarchy.

The Reformation went back to first principles in order to go forward. It struck its roots deep in the past and bore rich fruits for the future. It sprang forth almost simultaneously from different parts of Europe and was enthusiastically hailed by the leading minds of the age in church and state. No great movement in history—except Christianity itself—was so widely and thoroughly prepared as the Protestant Reformation.

The reformatory Councils of Pisa, Constance, and Basel; the conflict of the Emperors with the Popes; the contemplative piety of the mystics with their thirst after direct communion with God; the revival of classical literature; the general intellectual awakening; the biblical studies of Reuchlin, and Erasmus; the rising spirit of national independence; Wiclif, and the Lollards in England; Hus, and the Hussites in Bohemia; John von Goch, John von Wesel, and Johann Wessel in Germany and the Netherlands; Savonarola in Italy; the Brethren of the Common Life, the Waldenses, the Friends of God,—contributed their share towards the great change and paved the way for a new era of Christianity. The innermost life of the church was pressing forward to a new era. There is scarcely a principle or doctrine of the Reformation which was not anticipated and advocated in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Luther made the remark that his opponents might charge him with having borrowed everything from John Wessel if he had known his writings earlier. The fuel was abundant all over Europe, but it required the spark which would set it ablaze.

Violent passions, political intrigues, the ambition and avarice of princes, and all sorts of selfish and worldly motives were mixed up with the war against the papacy. But they were at work likewise in the introduction of Christianity among the heathen barbarians. "Wherever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel close by." Human nature is terribly corrupt and leaves its stains on the noblest movements in history.

But, after all, the religious leaders of the Reformation, while not free from faults, were men of the purest motives and highest aims, and there is no nation which has not been benefited by the change they introduced.


« Prev The Preparations for the Reformation Next »

Advertisements


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |