Home/ Historical Writings / Church & Denominational History / Rev. James Maccaffrey / History of the Catholic Church
History of the Catholic Church
Book 1 From the Renaissance to the French Revolution - Volume 1
Chapter 1 Causes of the Reformation
(a) The Renaissance.
Baudrillart, The Catholic Church, The Renaissance, and Protestantism (Tr.), 1908 (chap. i.-iii.). Guirard, L'Eglise et les Origines de la Renaissance, 1902. Burckhardt, Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien, 11 auf., 1913 (Eng. Trans. by Middlemore, 1878). A Baumgartner, S.J., Geschichte der Weltiteratur, vol. iv., 1900. The Cambridge Modern History, vol. i. (The Renaissance, 1902). Stone, The Reformation and Renaissance, 1904. Janssen, Geschichte des deutschen Volkes, 1887 (Eng. Trans. by Mitchell and Christie, London, 1896 sqq.). Pastor, Geschichte der Papste im Zeitalter der Renaissance, Freiburg, 1886 sqq. (Eng. Trans. by Antrobus, London, 1891 sqq.). Muntz, La Renaissance en Italie et en France a l'epoque de Charles VIII., 1885. Gasquet, The Eve of the Reformation. Mourret, La Renaissance et la Reforme, 1912.
The great intellectual revival, that followed upon the successful issue of the struggle for freedom waged by Gregory VII. and his successors, reached the zenith of its glory in the thirteenth century. Scholasticism, as expounded by men like Alexander of Hales, Albert the Great, Roger Bacon, St. Bonaventure, and St. Thomas, and illustrated by a wealth of material drawn alike from the Scriptures, the writings of the Fathers, the wisdom of Pagan philosophers, and the conclusions of natural science, was alone deemed worthy of serious attention. Classical studies either were neglected entirely even in the centres of learning, or were followed merely for the assistance they might render in the solution of the philosophical and theological problems, that engaged men's minds in an age when Christian faith reigned supreme.
The Catholic Church, indeed, had never been hostile to classical studies, nor unmindful of their value, as a means of developing the powers of the human mind, and of securing both breadth of view and beauty of expression. Some few teachers here and there, alarmed by the danger of corrupting Christian youth by bringing it into contact with Pagan ideals, raised their voices in protest, but the majority of the early Fathers disregarded these warnings as harmful and unnecessary. Origen, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nazianzen, St. Basil, and St. Jerome, while not ignoring the dangers of such studies, recommended them warmly to their students, and in the spirit of these great leaders the Catholic Church strove always to combine classical culture and Christian education.
With the fall of the Empire, consequent upon its invasion by the barbarian hordes, classical studies were banished to some extent to the Western Isles, Ireland and Britain, from which they were transplanted to the Continent principally during the Carlovingian revival.  In the cathedral, collegiate, and monastic schools the classics were still cultivated, though beyond doubt compilations were used more frequently than were the original works; and even in the darkest days of the dark ages some prominent ecclesiastics could be found well versed at least in the language and literature of Rome. It looked, too, for a time, as if the intellectual revival of the twelfth century were to be turned towards the classics; but the example of men like John of Salisbury was not followed generally, and the movement developed rapidly in the direction of philosophy. As a consequence, the study of Latin was neglected or relegated to a secondary place in the schools, while Greek scholarship disappeared practically from Western Europe. The Scholastics, more anxious about the logical sequence of their arguments than about the beauties of literary expression, invented for themselves a new dialect, which, however forcible in itself, must have sounded barbarous to any one acquainted with the productions of the golden age of Roman literature or even with the writings of the early Fathers of the Latin Church. Nor was it the language merely that was neglected. The monuments and memorials of an earlier civilisation were disregarded, and even in Rome itself, the City of the Popes, the vandalism of the ignorant wrought dreadful havoc.
So complete a turning away from forces that had played such a part in the civilisation of the world was certain to provoke a reaction. Scholasticism could not hold the field for ever to the exclusion of other branches of study, especially, since in the less competent hands of its later expounders it had degenerated into an empty formalism. The successors of St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure had little of their originality, their almost universal knowledge, and their powers of exposition, and, as a result, students grew tired of the endless wranglings of the schools, and turned their attention to other intellectual pursuits.
Besides, men's ideas of politics, of social order, and of religion were changing rapidly, and, in a word, the whole outlook of the world was undergoing a speedy transformation. In the Middle Ages religion held the dominant position and was the guiding principle in morals, in education, in literature, and in art; but as the faith of many began to grow cold, and as the rights of Church and State began to be distinguished, secularist tendencies soon made themselves felt. Philosophy and theology were no longer to occupy the entire intellectual field, and other subjects for investigation must be found. In these circumstances what was more natural than that some should advocate a return to the classics and all that the classics enshrined? Again, the example set by the tyrants who had grasped the reins of power in the Italian States, by men like Agnello of Pisa, the Viscontis and Francesco Sforza of Milan, Ferrante of Naples, and the de' Medici of Florence, was calculated to lower the moral standard of the period, and to promote an abandonment of Christian principles of truth, and justice, and purity of life. Everywhere men became more addicted to the pursuit of sensual pleasure, of vain glory, and material comfort; and could ill brook the dominant ideas of
the Middle Ages concerning the supernatural end of man, self-denial, humility, patience, and contempt for the things that minister only to man's temporal happiness. With views of this kind in the air it was not difficult to persuade them to turn to the great literary masterpieces of Pagan Rome, where they were likely to find principles and ideals more in harmony with their tastes than those set before them by the Catholic Church.
The thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, then, mark a period of transition from the Middle Ages to modern times. They saw a sharp struggle being waged between two ideals in politics, in education, in literature, in religion, and in morality. In this great upheaval that was characterised by a demand for unrestricted liberty of investigation, a return to the study of nature and of the natural sciences, the rise and development of national literatures, and the appearance of a new school of art, the Humanist movement or the revival of the study of the classics, the literae humaniores, played the fundamental part. In more senses than one it may be called the Age of the Renaissance.
Nor was it a matter of chance that this revival of interest in classical studies should have made itself felt first in Italy, where the downfall of the Empire, and the subsequent development of petty states seem to have exercised a magical influence upon the intellectual development of the people. The Italians were the direct heirs to the glory of ancient Rome. Even in the days of their degradation, when the capital deserted by the Popes was fast going to ruin, and when foreigners and native tyrants were struggling for the possession of their fairest territories, the memory of the imperial authority of their country, and the crumbling monuments that bore witness to it still standing in their midst, served to turn their patriotic ardour towards the great literary treasures bequeathed to them by Pagan Rome. Greek literature, too, was not forgotten, though in the thirteenth century few western scholars possessed any acquaintance with the language. Many causes, however, combined to prepare the way for a revival of Greek. The commercial cities of Italy were in close touch with the Eastern Empire, especially since the Crusades; ambassadors, sent by the Emperors to seek the assistance of the Pope and of the Western rulers in the struggle against the Turks, were passing from court to court; the negotiations for a reunion of the Churches, which had been going on since the days of the first Council of Lyons, rendered a knowledge of Greek and of the writings of the Greek Fathers necessary for some of the leading ecclesiastics of the West; while, finally, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 forced many Greek scholars to seek a refuge in Italy or France, and provided the agents sent by the Popes and Italian rulers with a splendid opportunity of securing priceless treasures for the Western libraries.
Though Dante (1265-1321) is sometimes regarded as the earliest of the Humanist school  on account of his professed admiration for some of the Pagan masters and of the blending in his Divina Comedia of the beauties of Roman literature with the teaching of the Fathers and Scholastics, still, the spirit that inspired him was the spirit of Christianity, and his outlook on life was frankly the outlook of the Middle Ages. To Petrarch (1304-74) rather belongs the honour of having been the most prominent, if not the very first writer, whose works were influenced largely by Humanist ideals. Born in Arezzo in 1304, he accompanied his father to Avignon when the latter was exiled from Florence. His friends wished him to study law; but, his poetic tendencies proving too strong for him, he abandoned his professional pursuits to devote his energies to literature. The patronage and help afforded him willingly by the Avignonese Popes  and other ecclesiastics provided him with the means of pursuing his favourite studies, and helped him considerably in his searches for manuscripts of the classics. Though only a cleric in minor orders, he was appointed Canon of Lombez (1335), papal ambassador to Naples (1343), prothonotary apostolic (1346), and archdeacon of Parma (1348). These positions secured to him a competent income, and, at the same time, brought him into touch with libraries and influential men.
The ruin of Italy and Rome, caused in great measure by the absence of the Popes during their residence at Avignon, roused all the patriotic instincts of Petrarch, and urged him to strive with all his might for the restoration of the ancient glory of his country. Hence in his politics he was strongly nationalist, and hence, too, he threw the whole weight of his influence on the side of Cola di Rienzi, when in 1347 the latter proclaimed from the Capitol the establishment of the Roman Republic. Nor did he hesitate to attack the Popes, to whom he was indebted so deeply, for their neglect of Rome and the Papal States, as well as for the evils which he thought had fallen upon Italy owing to the withdrawal of the Popes to Avignon. He himself strove to awaken in the minds of his countrymen memories of the past by forming collections of old Roman coins, by restoring or protecting wherever possible the Pagan monuments, and by searching after and copying manuscripts of the classical writers. In poetry, Virgil was his favourite guide. As a rule he wrote in Italian, but his writings were saturated with the spirit of the early Pagan authors; while in his pursuit of glory and his love for natural, sensible beauty, he manifested tendencies opposed directly to the self-restraint, symbolism, and purity of the Middle Ages. His longest poem is Africa, devoted to a rehearsal of the glories of ancient Rome and breathing a spirit of patriotism and zeal for a long lost culture, but it
is rather for his love songs, the canzoni, that he is best remembered.
Petrarch, though a Humanist,  was no enemy of the Christian religion, nor did he imagine for a moment that the study of the Pagan classics could prove dangerous in the least degree to revealed religion. It is true that his private life did not always correspond to Christian principles of morality, and it is equally true that at times his patriotism led him to speak harshly of the rule of the Popes in Italy and Rome; but he never wavered in his religious convictions, and never recognised that Pagan literature and ideals should be judged by other than current Christian standards.
The example of Petrarch was not followed, however, by several of the later Humanists. His friend and disciple, Boccaccio (1313-75), imitated his master in his love for the classics and in his zeal for classical culture, and excelled him by acquiring, what Petrarch had failed utterly to acquire, a good knowledge of Greek. Like Petrarch, he was assisted largely by the Popes, and took service at the papal court. But his views of life and morality were coloured by Paganism rather than by Christianity. Many of his minor poems are steeped in indecency and immorality, and reflect only too clearly the tendency to treachery and deceit so characteristic of the Italian rulers of his day; while the Decameron, his greatest work, is more like the production of a Pagan writer than of one acquainted with Christian ethics and ideals. He delighted in lampooning the clergy, particularly the monks, charging them with ignorance, immorality, and hypocrisy. Such a line of conduct was not likely to recommend the apostles of the new learning to the admirers of Scholasticism, nor to create and foster a friendly alliance between the two camps. Yet, personally, Boccaccio was not an enemy of Christianity, and never aimed, as did some of the later Humanists, at reviving Paganism under the guise of promoting literature. He was unshaken in his acceptance of the Christian revelation, and, as the years advanced, he began to realise the evil of his ways and the dangerous character of his writings. Strange to say, it was to a body of the monks, whom he delighted in attacking, that he bequeathed the valuable library which he had brought together with such labour.
Had the Humanists contented themselves with advocating merely a return to classical studies, and had the Scholastics recognised that philosophy was not the only path to culture, it might have been possible to avoid a conflict. But, unfortunately for religion, there were extremists on both sides. On the one hand, some of the later Humanists, influenced largely by the low moral tone of the age, aimed at nothing less than the revival of Paganism, pure and simple; while, on the other, not a few of the Scholastics insisted strongly that Pagan literature, however perfect, should have no place in Christian education. Between these two conflicting parties stood a large body of educated men, both lay and cleric, who could see no irreconcilable opposition between Christianity and the study of the classics, and who aimed at establishing harmony by assigning to the classics the place in education willingly accorded to them by many of the Fathers of the Church.
But the influence of this latter body could not effect a reconciliation. A large section of the Humanists openly vindicated for themselves freedom from the intellectual and moral restraints imposed by Christianity. Laurentius Valla  (1405-57) in his work, De Voluptate, championed free indulgence in all kinds of sensual pleasures, attacked virginity as a crime against the human race, and ridiculed the idea of continence and self-denial, while in his own life he showed himself a faithful disciple of the Epicurianism that he propounded in his writings. His denunciations, too, of the Popes as the usurping tyrants of Rome in his work on the Constantine Donation were likely to do serious injury to the head of the Church in his spiritual as well as in his temporal capacity. But bad as were the compositions of Valla, they were harmless when compared with the books and pamphlets of Beccadelli, the Panormite, who devoted himself almost exclusively to what was indecent and repulsive. Poggio Bracciolini in his work, Facetiae, and Filelfo, though not equally bad, belong to the same category. In the hands of these men the Renaissance had become, to a great extent, a glorification of Pagan immorality. Their books were condemned by many of the religious orders, but without avail. They were read and enjoyed by thousands, in whom the wholesale corruption prevalent in Florence, Siena, and Venice, had deadened all sense of morality.
A large number of the later Renaissance school were Christians only in name. If the great body of them were judged by the heathen figures and phraseology with which their works abound, they could hardly be acquitted of Pagan tendencies; but in case of many of them these excesses are to be attributed to pedantry rather than to defection from the faith. In case of others, however, although they were wary in their expressions lest they might forfeit their positions, Christian teaching seems to have lost its hold upon their minds and hearts. Carlo Marsuppini, Chancellor of Florence, Gemistos Plethon, the well- known exponent of Platonic philosophy, Marsilio Ficino, Rinaldo degli Albizzi, and the members of the Roman Academy (1460), under the leadership of Pomponius Laetus, were openly Pagan in their lives and writings. Had the men in authority in Italy been less depraved such teaching and example would have been suppressed with firmness; or had the vast body of the people been less sound in their attachment to Christianity, Neo-Paganism would have arisen triumphant from the religious chaos. 
But not all of the Humanists belonged to the school of Valla, Beccadelli, Poggio,
and Marsuppini. The Camaldolese monk, Ambrogio Traversari, his pupil Giannozzo Manetti (1431-59), a layman thoroughly devoted to the Church, and the first of the Humanists to turn his attention to the Oriental languages, Lionardo Bruni, so long Apostolic Secretary at the papal court and afterwards Chancellor of Florence, Maffeo Vegio (1407-58), the Roman archaeologist, who in his work on education endeavoured to combine classical culture with Christian revelation, Vittorino da Feltre, a model in his life and methods for Christian teachers, Pico della Mirandola, Sadoleto, and Bida, were all prominent in the classical revival, but at the same time thoroughly loyal to the Church. They were the moderate men between the Pagan Humanists and the extreme Scholastics. Their aim was to promote learning and education, and to widen the field of knowledge by the introduction of the ancient literary masterpieces, not at the expense of an abandonment of Christianity, but under the auspices and in support of the Catholic Church. Following in the footsteps of Origen, St. Gregory, St. Basil, and St. Augustine, they knew how to admire the beauties of Pagan literature without accepting its spirit or ideals, and hence they have been called the Christian Humanists.
The revival of Greek in Italy, where Greek literature was practically unknown, is due in great measure to the arrival of Greek scholars, who were induced to come by promises of a salary and position, or who travelled thither on political or ecclesiastical missions. Of these the principal were Manuel Chruysoloras engaged at work in Florence from 1396, Cardinal Bessarion (1403?-72) who came westward for the Council of Florence and ended his days in Venice to which he bequeathed his library, Gemistos Plethon (1355-1450) the principal agent in the establishment of the Platonic academy at Florence, George of Trebizond, Theodore Gaza, Lascaris, Andronicus Callistus, and others who fled from Greece to escape the domination of the Turks. With the help of these men and their pupils a knowledge of Greek and of Greek literature was diffused through Italy, and in a short time throughout the Continent. Everywhere collections of Greek manuscripts began to be formed; agents were sent to the East to buy them wherever they could be discovered, and copyists and translators were busy at work in all the leading centres of Italy. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 tended to help the Greek revival in the West by the dispersion of both scholars and manuscripts through Italy, France, and Germany.
Humanism owes its rapid development in Italy not indeed to the universities, for the universities, committed entirely to the Scholastic principles of education, were generally hostile, but rather to the exertions of wandering teachers and to the generous support of powerful patrons. In Rome it was the Popes who provided funds for the support of Humanist scholars, for the collection and copying of manuscripts, and for the erection of libraries where the great literary treasures of Greece and Rome might be available for the general public; in Florence it was the de' Medici, notably Cosmo (1429-64) and Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-92), by whose exertions Florence became the greatest centre of literary activity in Europe; in Milan it was the Viscontis and the Sforzas; in Urbino Duke Federigo and his friends; and in Ferrara and Mantua the families of d'Este and Gonzaga. Academies took the place of universities. Of these the academy of Florence, supported by the de' Medici and patronised by the leading Greek and Italian scholars, was by far the most influential and most widely known. The academy of Rome, founded (1460) by Pomponius Laetus, was frankly Pagan in its tone and as such was suppressed by Paul II. It was revived, however, and patronised by Sixtus IV., Julius II., and Leo X. Similar institutions were to be found in most of the Italian States, notably at Venice and Naples. In nearly all these cities valuable manuscript libraries were being amassed, and were placed generously at the disposal of scholars.
Another important aid to the popularisation of the works of the Greek and Latin writers was the invention of printing and its introduction into Italy. The first printing press in Italy was established at the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco, whence it was transferred to Rome. From this press were issued editions of the Latin classics, such as the works of Lactantius, Caesar, Livy, Aulus Gellius, Virgil, Lucan, Cicero, and Ovid. Aldo Manuzio, himself an enthusiastic student of Greek literature, settled at Venice in 1490, and established a printing press with the intention of bringing out editions of the principal Greek authors. His house was the great centre for Greek scholars from all parts of Italy, and from the Aldine Press were issued cheap and accurate editions of the Greek classics. Later on when Florence and Milan were disturbed by the invasion of Charles VIII. of France (1483-98), and when Naples was captured by the Spaniards the Humanist movement found a generous patron in Leo X., a scion of de' Medici family. From the press founded by Leo X. many classical texts were issued till the pillaging of the city by the imperial troops in 1527 dealt a death blow to the revival in Italy.
That there was no opposition between the study of the classics and the teaching of Christianity is evidenced by the friendly attitude adopted by the Papacy towards the Humanist movement. The Avignon Popes, Benedict XII. (1334-42) and Clement VI. (1342-52), heaped honours and emoluments upon Petrarch and provided him with the means of acquiring manuscripts and of meeting scholars likely to assist him. A similar attitude towards the movement was adopted by Urban V. (1362-70). The leading classical scholars such as Coluccio, Salutati, Francesco Bruni, Lionardo d'Aretino, etc., were employed at the Papal court, and the apostolic college of secretaries became one of the greatest centres for the propagation of Humanism. The troubles that fell upon the Church during the Great Western Schism diverted the attention of the rival Popes from literary pursuits; but as
soon as peace had been restored by the Council of Constance Martin V. (1417-31) assembled around him in Rome many of the ablest classical scholars, and vied with his cardinals in his protection of the Humanist movement. Eugene IV. (1431-47) was, if anything, more favourable, but yet his sympathies did not blind him to the dangerous tendencies of the revival as manifested in the books of men like Beccadelli. 
With the election of Nicholas V. (1447-55)  the triumph of Humanism at Rome seemed secure. The new Pope was himself one of the party. As a tutor in Florence he had been brought into contact with the great literary men of the time and had become an ardent student of the classics, nor did his enthusiasm lose any of its ardour when he ascended the Papal throne. His aim was to make Rome the intellectual as well as the religious capital of the world, and with this object in view he invited to his court the most distinguished scholars of the age, and bestowed upon not a few of them, such as Albergati, Capranica, and Caesarini the rank of cardinal. That he fully recognised the advantages which religion might derive from the revival of letters, and that he aimed at employing the services of the Humanists in defence of Christianity is evident from the works to which he directed the attention of scholars. The texts of the Scripture, the translations of the Greek Fathers, and the preparation of critical studies on the Lives of the Saints were amongst the works recommended to his literary friends. At the same time he did not proclaim war upon the less orthodox of the Humanist school. Men like Valla, Poggio, Filelfo, and Marsuppini were treated with friendliness and even with favour. Whether such a line of conduct was dictated by prudence and by the hope of winning over these scholars to a better understanding, or whether his anxiety for the success of his own literary schemes blinded him to the serious excesses of such leaders it is difficult to say; but, at any rate, it serves to show the great liberty enjoyed by literary men at this period even in the very city of the Popes.
As a means of ensuring to Rome the most prominent place in the revival, agents were dispatched to Greece, Turkey, Germany, France, and even to Sweden and Norway, to hunt for manuscripts. No expense was spared to secure everything that could be purchased or to have copies made where purchase was impossible. In order to preserve these treasures and make them available for scholars the Vatican Library was undertaken by orders of the Pope. Though long before this time the library of the Popes was of considerable importance, yet on account of the immense number of volumes produced by Nicholas V. he is generally regarded as the founder of the Vatican Library. The number of volumes which it contained at the time of his death is variously estimated at from one to nine thousand. The works of the Fathers of the Church, and the Scholastics and Canonists were well represented. 
After the death of Nicholas V. the Pagan side of the Humanist movement became more and more apparent. Pius II. (1458-64), who, as Aeneas Sylvius, was well known as a clever writer of the Humanist school, seems as Pope to have been decidedly suspicious of his former friends. His own private library was filled with Christian authors, and care was taken to show favour only to those classical scholars whose writings were above reproach. Yet the cares of his office and the promotion of the crusade on which he had set his heart prevented him from taking the necessary steps for the purification of his court, and, as a result, many of the members of the College of Abbreviators were allowed to remain in office though they were really Pagan at heart. Paul II. could not tolerate such a state of affairs. He promptly abolished the College of Abbreviators, suppressed the Roman Academy, and arrested its two prominent leaders, Pomponius Laetus and Platina.
If Paul II. erred on the side of severity some of his successors went to the other extreme of laxity. The period of the political Popes, from Sixtus IV. to Julius II. (1471-1513), was marked by a serious decline in the religious spirit, nor can it be said that the policy of the Popes was calculated to check the downward tendency. Their attention was occupied too much by the politics of the petty Italian States to permit them to fulfil the duties of their high office; and, as a consequence, the interests of religion were neglected. Sixtus IV. adopted the friendly attitude of Nicholas V. towards the Renaissance. The College of Abbreviators was restored, the Roman Academy was recognised, and Platina was appointed librarian. The manuscripts in the Vatican Library were increased, more ample accommodation was provided, and every facility was given to scholars to consult the papal collection. Hence it is that Sixtus IV. is regarded generally as the second founder of the Vatican Library.
The revolutions and wars, caused by the invasion of Italy by the French and the Spaniards during the closing years of the fifteenth century and the early portion of the sixteenth, dealt a serious blow to Humanism in Florence, Milan, Venice, and other Italian centres. But the misfortunes of those cities served to strengthen the movement at Rome. Julius II. (1503-13) proved himself a generous patron of literature and in a special manner of art. Men like Giuliano da Sangello, Sansovino, Bramante, Michael Angelo, and Raphael were invited to Rome and induced to devote their genius to the service of religion and the glory of the Papacy. On the death of Julius II. in 1513 the complete triumph of
the Humanist movement in Rome was assured by the election of Giovanni de' Medici who took the name of Leo X. (1513-21).  As the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, to whom Florence owes its literary renown, and as the pupil of the celebrated Humanists, Poliziano and Marsilio Ficino, he was committed almost of necessity to the Humanist movement. Scholars and artists flocked to Rome from all sides to greet the new Pope and to assure themselves of his favour and protection. Under the new regime literary merit was the principal qualification sought for in candidates aspiring to the highest ecclesiastical honours. The Roman University was reorganised; the search for manuscripts was renewed with vigour; a new college for the promotion of Greek studies in Rome was founded, and the services of Lascaris and Musuro were secured; and artists like Raphael and Bramante received every encouragement. Humanism was at last triumphant in Rome, but, unfortunately, its triumph was secured at the expense of religion. Nor was Humanism destined to enjoy the fruits of the victory for a lengthened period. The outbreak of the Reformation and the capture of Rome by the soldiers of Charles V. turned the attention of the Popes to more pressing concerns.
The Renaissance movement in Germany is due largely to the influence of Italian scholars and to the teaching of the Brothers of the Common Life in their school at Deventer.  The close political relations existing between the German States and the cities of Northern Italy, the mission of Petrarch to the court of Charles IV., the intermingling of German and Italian scholars at the councils of Constance, Florence, and Basle, and the exertions of Aeneas Sylvius, afterwards Pius II., during his term of office as Chancellor of Frederick III., helped largely to promote the study of the classics in Germany, especially when the invention and development of the art of printing had solved the difficulty of procuring manuscripts. As in Italy, Humanism owes much of its success to the generosity of powerful patrons such as the Emperor Maximilian I., Frederick Elector of Saxony and his kinsman, Duke George, Joachim I. of Brandenburg, and Philip of the Palatinate, Bishop John von Dalberg of Worms, and Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz; and as in Italy the academies were the most powerful means of disseminating classical culture, so also in Germany learned societies like the Rhenana, founded by Bishop Dalberg, and the Danubiana in Vienna, were most successful in promoting the literary propaganda.
But, unlike the Italian, the German revival was assisted largely by the universities. Basle, Erfurt, Heidelburg, and Leipzig showed unmistakably their sympathy towards the movement, and in a short time the programmes of university studies in nearly all the leading centres were modified in accordance with the new ideas of education. Scholasticism was obliged to make way for the classics and natural science. Cologne, alone in Germany, refused to abandon its old system, and, though not unfriendly to the classics, as is evident by the presence of Ortwin Gratius on its list of professors, still it showed itself highly distrustful of the tendencies of some of the Humanist leaders. Yet German Humanism had little, if anything, in common with the flagrant irreligion and immorality of the Italian school. With one or two exceptions German Humanists never assailed revealed religion as such, but attacked instead the prevailing educational system, which they held to be responsible for the widespread ignorance and general decline of the religious spirit. Many of the leading German scholars were exemplary in their moral character and in their loyalty to the Church, and few, even of those who were regarded as hostile, showed any sympathy with Luther once they understood that he aimed at revolt rather than reform.
Some of the greatest of the German Humanists differed from their Italian contemporaries also in the fact that they turned the intellectual revival into scientific channels, and made the study of the classics subservient to mathematical and astronomical research. Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1400-64), George Peurbach of Vienna (d. 1461), John Muller of Konigsberg (1436-76), better known by his Latin name Regiomontanus, and the great churchman and astronomer Copernicus (1473-1543) belonged to this section, which prepared the way for modern scientific developments. With these men religion and science went hand in hand.
On the purely literary side the most famous of the German Humanists were Conrad Celtes (1459-1508) the most active of the promoters of the classical revival beyond the Alps and one of the earliest of the German poets; Pirkeimer (1470-1528), who hoped for great things from the Lutheran movement at first, but having realised its real nature remained loyal to the Church; Mutianus Rufus (1471-1526), a canon of Gotha and at the same time a well-known free-thinker; Grotus Rubeanus (1480-1504), who at first favoured Luther; Jakob Wimpheling (1450- 1528), and Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516), the learned historian and abbot of Sponheim; Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523), and Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522).
Of these the most important from the point of view of ecclesiastical history are von Hutten  and Reuchlin. The former was born in the year 1488 and was sent for his education to the monastery of Fulda, from which he fled with very little mental equipment except a lasting hatred and distrust for all monks and ecclesiastics. As a wandering student he visited the leading centres of learning in Germany and Northern Italy, where he was particularly remarkable for his dissolute life, his ungovernable temper, and his biting sarcasm. Taking advantage of the rising spirit of unfriendliness between the Teuton and the Latin countries, he posed as a patriot burning with love for Germany and the Germans, and despising the French, the Italians, and in particular the Pope. Against the monks and theologians he directed his bitterest satires,
to the delight of many, who did not foresee the dangers of such attacks at a time when the German nation generally was growing less friendly to the Papacy.
A dispute, which broke out about the destruction or suppression of Jewish books, afforded him a splendid opportunity of venting his spleen against the Church. A converted Jew of Cologne named Pfefferkorn advocated the suppression of all Jewish religious books except the Old Testament, as the best means of converting his former co-religionists. The Emperor, Maximilian, was not unwilling to listen to such advice supported as it was by the universities of Cologne, Mainz, and Erfut. Reuchlin, a professor of Heidelberg and himself a well-known Hebrew scholar, opposed such a policy as bad in itself and as injurious to the proper understanding of the Old Testament. A warm controversy thereupon ensued. The Dominicans of Cologne espoused the cause of Pfefferkorn, while the Humanists, scenting in the attack upon Jewish literature an onslaught directed against the entire literary revival, supported the contentions of Reuchlin. It was a war between two opposing schools--the Theologians and the Humanists; and, unfortunately for the Theologians, they had selected their ground badly, and were but poorly equipped for a battle in which victory was to be decided by popular opinion.
Reuchlin was summoned to appear before the Inquisitor to answer for the views put forward in his Augenspeigel (1511), and was condemned. He appealed to Rome, and the Bishop of Speier was ordered to investigate the case. The result was the acquittal of Reuchlin (1514), but his adversaries, having objected to the mode of trial, the case was transferred once more to the Roman courts. Meanwhile the controversy was carried on in Germany with great bitterness. Reuchlin published a volume of sympathetic letters  received by him from the leading scholars of Germany, and Erasmus issued a new edition (1515) of his Praise of Folly (Encomium Moriae) in which he ridiculed especially the monks and theologians.
But the book which was most damaging to the opponents of Humanism was beyond doubt the Epistolae virorum obscurorum. It was a work consisting of two volumes, the first brought out by Grotus Rubeanus in 1514, and the second mostly from the pen of Urich von Hutten (1517). Like Reuchlin's work it purported to be a collection of letters addressed by the theologians to Ortwin Gratius, the champion of Cologne university and, indeed, of the whole Scholastic party. It was full of bitterness and vulgarity, but, as a humorous caricature of the theologians, their arguments and modes of expression, it was calculated to make them ridiculous especially in the eyes of the university students. Against an attack of this kind serious arguments were unavailing, and, unfortunately, there was no apologist of theology capable of producing a reply couched in a strain similar to that of the Epistolae. Gratius himself did undertake the task in his Lamentationes obscurorum virorum, but without success, and undoubtedly in the eyes of the general public the victory rested with the Humanists. The whole controversy was extremely unfortunate, because it helped to blind many to the real issues at stake when the Lutheran movement began. By it the Theologians and Humanists were divided into two hostile camps, with the result that the latter were inclined to support Luther against their own former opponents and in vindication of the liberal policy which they had advocated; while the Theologian, having been discredited as narrow-minded obscurantists in the eyes of a large body of university men, were handicapped seriously in a struggle with Luther even though their struggle was for fundamental religious principles. 
The most remarkable of the men, who, though not Germans, were closely identified with German Humanists, was Desiderius Erasmus (1466- 1535).  He was born at Rotterdam, was sent to school with the Brothers of the Common Life at Deventer, entered a monastery of the Canons Regular attracted by its library rather than by its rule, and left it after two years to become secretary to the Bishop of Cambrai. He studied classics at the University of Paris, and after his ordination as priest by the Bishop of Utrecht he became a tutor to an English nobleman. Later on he paid a visit to England, where he received a warm welcome from scholars like Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Colet, Dean of St. Paul's, and Sir Thomas More, and where he was honoured by an appointment as Professor of Greek in Oxford. But the fever of travel was upon him. He returned to Paris, made a brief stay at Louvain, and started out to visit the leading literary centres of Italy, notably Bologna, Venice, and Rome, in the latter of which he was well received by Julius II.
On the accession of Henry VIII. he returned to England and lectured for some time at Cambridge. Later on he removed to Basle and settled down to the work of preparing editions of the New Testament and of the Fathers. The triumph of the Reformation party in Basle drove him for a time to seek a refuge in Freiburg, but he returned to die at Basle in 1536.
In his wanderings Erasmus was brought into contact with the leading scholars of France, England, Germany, and Italy, and was thoroughly acquainted with the lights and shadows of the Renaissance movement. In his knowledge of Greek he was surpassed by few of his contemporaries, and in the purity and ease of his Latin style he stood without a serious rival. Like many others of the Humanist school he delighted in attacking the ignorance of the monks and Scholastics, and in denouncing the abuses of the age, though, as was the case with most of the literary reformers of the time, his own life as an ecclesiastic was far from exemplary.
Yet Erasmus himself was never an enemy
of Christianity, nor did he desire the overthrow of ecclesiastical authority. He did, indeed, advocate reform, and in his advocacy of reform he may have been carried too far at times, but in his heart Erasmus had little sympathy with doctrinal changes. Ignorance he believed to be at the root of the decline of religion, and hence he would have welcomed a complete change in the educational system of the Church. Instead of Scholasticism he advocated study of the Scriptures and of the early Fathers, and in order to prepare the way for such a policy he devoted himself at Basle to the task of preparing an edition of the New Testament and of the Greek Fathers. He was on terms of the closest intimacy with the leading Humanists of Germany, and shared all their contempt for scholastic theologians and much of their distrust of the Pope and the Roman Curia. Hence the sympathy and encouragement of Erasmus were not wanting to Luther during the early days of his revolt and before the true object of the movement was rightly understood; but once Erasmus realised that union with Luther meant separation from the Church he became more reserved in his approval, and finally took the field against him. In his work, De Libero Arbitrio, he opposed the teaching of Luther on free will, and before his death he received a benefice from Paul III. which he accepted, and an offer of a cardinal's hat which he declined. His life as an ecclesiastic was certainly not edifying, and his hatred of ignorance, antiquated educational methods, and abuses may have led him into excesses, but his theology was still the theology of the Middle Ages rather than that of the German Reformers.
In France the earliest of the Humanists were Nicholas of Clemanges and Gerson, both rectors of Paris University, and both well-known theologians. They were specially active in putting an end to the Great Western Schism, but in doing so they laid down certain principles that led almost inevitably to Gallicanism. The influence of these two men did not, however, change the policy of Paris University. For years France lagged behind in the classical movement, and it was only in the early portion of the sixteenth century that French Humanism made itself felt.
The movement gained ground by the exertions of individuals and of literary societies, by the results of the activity of the printing press, and the protection of influential patrons at the Court of Francis I. (1515-47). Paris University became more friendly to the classics, and eminent scholars like Lascaris and Aleandro were invited to lecture on Greek. The College of St. Barbe became a great classical stronghold within the university, and the movement began to develop so rapidly as to excite the jealousy and suspicions of the theologians. This unfortunate division was rendered more acute by the foundation of the College de France in 1529. It was handed over entirely to the Humanistic party in spite of the opposition of the more conservative school, and served as a centre for all kinds of literary, philological, and antiquarian researches.
The most eminent of the French Humanists were Budaeus (1467-1540), regarded in his own time as but slightly inferior to Erasmus, Germanus Brixius (Germain de Brie), Canon of Notre Dame and translator of portion of the works of St. John Chrysostom, Stephen Poncher, Bishop of Paris and advocate of the Humanist party at the Court of Francis I., the Dominican, William Petit, Robert (1503-59) and Henri (1528-98) Estienne (Stephanus) to whom we are indebted for the two monumental works, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae and Linguae Graecae, Scaliger (1540-1609) the well-known authority on chronology and epigraphy, and the philologist and classicist Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614).
In France there was a sharp rivalry from the beginning between the Scholastics and the Humanists. The university was divided into separate camps. The college of St. Barbe was opposed by the Montaigue College, the rector of which was the leader of the Scholastic party. The Humanists regarded the Theologians as antiquated, while the Theologians looked upon their opponents as supporters of the Reformation movement. In case of a few of these, as for example Lefevre d'Etaples,  Gerard Roussel, and others, these suspicions were fully justified; but in case of many others their faith was sound, and however much they may have wavered in life they preferred to die at peace with the Church. To this latter section belongs Marguerite of Valois,  sister of Francis I. She was a patroness of the Humanists and Reformers in Paris and was opposed undoubtedly to many Catholic practices; but it is not so clear that she wished for a religious revolution, and at any rate it is certain that she died a Catholic. This rivalry between the Theologians and Humanists and the misunderstandings to which it gave rise are largely responsible for the rapid development of Calvinism amongst certain classes of French society.
The classical movement in England is due largely to Italian influences, though the visit of the Greek Emperor Manuel in 1400, and the subsequent visits of Greek envoys and scholars must have contributed not a little to awaken an interest among English students in Greek studies. Individual Englishmen began to turn towards the great centres of Italian Humanism, and to return to their own country imbued with something of the literary zeal of their Italian masters. Of these the two who, more than others, contributed to give Greek and Latin a good standing in the schools of the country were William Selling and William Hadley, both Benedictine monks of Canterbury. They studied at Bologna, Padua and Rome, and were brought into contact with Politian and other distinguished Humanists. Selling was recognised as an accomplished Greek scholar, and on his return he set himself to remodel the course of studies at Canterbury so as
to ensure for the classics their proper place. The influence of Canterbury and of Prior Selling helped very much to spread the classical revival in England.
Selling's most remarkable pupil was Thomas Linacre (1460-1524), who went to Oxford after having completed his early education at Canterbury, and was chosen Fellow of All Soul's College. Later on he accompanied his old master to Italy, where he had an opportunity of mastering the intricacies of Latin style from Politian, the tutor of the children of Lorenzo de' Medici, and of Greek from Demetrius Chalcondylas. He turned his attention to medicine and received a degree both at Padua and Oxford. His position at the courts of Henry VII. and Henry VIII. gave him an opportunity of enlisting the sympathies of the leading ecclesiastical and lay scholars of his day in favour of the literary revival. In his later years he was ordained priest and held some important ecclesiastical offices. Other distinguished scholars and patrons of the revival in England were Grocyn, a companion of Linacre at Oxford and in Italy and afterwards lecturer on Greek at Exeter College, Oxford; John Colet (1467-1519), Dean of St. Paul's, the friend of Budaeus, Erasmus, Linacre, and Grocyn, and founder of St. Paul's School; William Lilly, appointed by Dean Colet as first master in this school; Fisher (1459-1535) Bishop of Rochester; and Sir Thomas More (1480-1535).
The Humanist movement in England, unlike the corresponding movement in Italy, was in no sense hostile to religion or to the Catholic Church. Many of its leaders desired reform, but not a single one of the prominent scholars of the period showed any sympathy with Luther's revolt. The very founders of the revival in England, Selling, Hadley, Linacre and Grocyn, were ecclesiastics whose faith was beyond suspicion; Colet died as he had lived, thoroughly devoted to the Church; while Fisher and Sir Thomas More sealed their loyalty to the ancient faith with their blood. 
The revival in Spain owes much to the patronage of Queen Isabella and the exertions of Cardinal Ximenez (1436-1517). The leading universities, Seville, Alcala, and Salamanca, were not unfriendly, and the whole educational system was remodelled in favour of the classics. Cardinal Ximenez devoted himself to the preparation of the Polyglot edition of the Bible, the New Testament portion of which was printed so early as 1514, and the whole work was published in 1522. The leading Humanist scholars were Lebrixa, or as he is called in Latin Lebrissensis, Nunez, and Ludovico Vives (1492-1540), the latter of whom was deemed by his contemporaries not unworthy of being compared with Erasmus and Budaeus.
The Humanist movement and the general revival of literary, scientific, philological and historical studies to which it gave birth were not in themselves anti-religious, nor did they find in the Catholic Church a determined opponent. Such studies, on the contrary, might have contributed much to promote a more enlightened understanding of theology, and more especially of the Scriptures, a fact which was understood thoroughly by the ablest ecclesiastics of the time. In Italy, Germany, France, and England, bishops and abbots vied with secular princes in their patronage of scholars, while the influence of the Popes, notably Nicholas V., Sixtus IV., Julius II., and Leo X. was entirely in favour of the Humanist party.
Yet, while all this is true, the Humanist movement did much, undoubtedly, to prepare men's minds for the great religious revolt of the sixteenth century. Springing into life as it did at a time when the faith of the Middle Ages was on the wane, and when many educated men were growing tired of the cold formalism and antiquated methods of the Schoolmen, it tended to develop a spirit of restless inquiry that could ill brook any restriction. The return to the classics recalled memories of an earlier civilisation and culture opposed in many particulars to the genius of Christianity, and the return of nature tended to push into the background the supernatural idea upon which the Christian religion is based. But the revival did more. The study of the classics brought into prominence serious problems regarding the authenticity, age, and value of certain writings and manuscripts, and by so doing it created a spirit of criticism and of doubt for which the Theologians of the day were but poorly prepared. In a word, it was a period of transition and of intellectual unrest, when new ideals in education were endeavouring to supplant the old ones, and when neither the friends of the old nor of the new had distinguished clearly between what was essential in Christianity and what was purely accidental.
In such a time it was to be expected that ardent Humanists, filled with their new-born zeal for classical studies, should advance too rapidly, and by confounding religion with the crude methods of some of its defenders should jump to the conclusion that a reconciliation between the revival and religion was impossible. Nor should it be a matter of surprise that the Theologians, confident in the strength of their own position and naturally suspicious of intellectual novelties, were not inclined to look with favour on a movement which owed its inspiration largely to Pagan sources. Moderate men, on the contrary, whether Humanists or Scholastics, aimed at a complete reconciliation. They realised that the great literary and scientific revival could do much for the defence of religion, and that the Pagan classics must be appraised according to Christian standards.
But this work of reconciliation was rendered very difficult by the attitude of extremists on both sides. Many of the Italian Humanists, as has been shown, were Christians only in name. In their writings and in their lives they showed clearly that they were thoroughly imbued with the spirit of Paganism. Such men merited severe condemnation, and it is to be regretted that the Popes, particularly Sixtus IV.
and Leo X., did not adopt a firmer attitude towards this section of the Italian school. But before judging too harshly the friendly relations maintained by Sixtus IV. and Leo X. with the Italian Humanists, it is well to remember that the age in which they lived was noted for its general laxity and for the decline of a proper religious spirit, that the Pagan tone and Pagan forms of expression used by these writers were regarded as exhibitions of harmless pedantry rather than as clear proofs of opposition to Christianity, that most of these writers were always ready to explain away whatever might appear objectionable in their works, and that, finally, mildness in the circumstances may have been deemed the best policy. The attitude of the Popes at any rate prevented an open conflict between the representatives of the two schools in Italy until the outbreak of the Reformation and the invasion of Rome put an end to the danger by destroying the Humanist movement.
In Germany and France there were few traces of an anti-Christian tendency amongst the supporters of the new learning. But in both countries, more especially in the former, the supporters of the new learning criticised severely the ignorance of the monks and Theologians, and took little pains to conceal their contempt for the Scholastic methods of education. They blamed the Popes for their neglect of the true interests of the Church, and held them responsible in a large measure for the general decline of religion. According to them the study of theology must be reformed so as to give a more prominent place to the Scriptures and the writings of the early Fathers; the development of the internal spirit of religion as distinct from mere external formalism was to be encouraged, and many of the existing practices might be discarded as superstitious. Such views tended naturally to excite the opposition of the Theologians and to unsettle the religious convictions of educated men who watched the struggle with indifference.
In this way the ground was prepared for a complete religious revolt. Luther's movement was regarded by many as merely the logical sequence of Humanism, but that the Humanists themselves were not willing to accept this view is clear from the fact that once the early misunderstandings had been removed, and once the real issues were apparent, most of the Humanists in Germany and France remained true to the Church. Instead of regarding Luther as a friend they looked upon him as the worst enemy of their cause, and on the Reformation as the death-knell of the Renaissance.
(b) Political and Social Condition of Europe.
See the works of Pastor, Janssen and Gasquet cited in section (a). The Cambridge Modern History, vol. i (gives an excellent bibliography). Hergenrother-Kirsch, Handbuch der Allgemeinen Kirchengeschichte, Bd. 2 (pp. 996-1002). Ranke, Deutsche Geschichte im Zeitalter der Reformation, 1844 (Eng. Trans. by Austin, 1845-7). Idem., Geschichte der Romanischen und Germanischen Volker (1419-1514). Kaser, Deutsche Geschichte zur Zeit Maximilians I. (1486-1519), 1912. Cherrier, Histoire de Charles VIII., 1868. Prescott, Ferdinand and Isabella, 1887. Busch-Todd, England under the Tudors, 1892-5. Hunt-Poole, The Political History of England, vol. v., 1910 (chap. v.).
The struggle between the Papacy and the Empire, ending, as it did, in the downfall of the House of Hohenstaufen, put an end to the old conception of the universal monarchy presided over by the Emperor and the Pope. A new tendency began to make itself felt in European politics. Hitherto the feudal system, on which society was based, had served as a barrier against the development of royal power or the formation of united states. Under this system the king was sometimes less powerful than some of his nominal subjects, and was entirely dependent upon the good-will of the barons for the success of any action he might take outside his own hereditary dominions. This was the real weakness of the system, and so long as it remained the growth of Nationalism was impossible.
Gradually, however, by the exertions of powerful sovereigns the power of the barons was broken, the smaller states were swallowed up in the larger ones, and the way was prepared for the rise of the nations of Modern Europe. In France the policy of centralisation begun in the thirteenth century, was carried to a successful conclusion in the days of Louis XI. (1461-83). The English provinces, Aquitane, Burgundy, and Brittany, were all united to form one state, knowing only one supreme ruler. In Spain the old divisions disappeared almost completely with the union of Castile and Aragon under Ferdinand (1479-1516) and Isabella the Catholic (1474-1504), and with the complete destruction of the Moorish power by the conquest of Granada (1492). In England the slaughter of the nobility in the Wars of the Roses left the way ready for the establishment of the Tudor dominion. As part of the same movement towards unification Henry VIII. was declared to be King of Ireland instead of Feudal Lord, and serious attempts were made to include Scotland within his dominions. Inside the Empire similar tendencies were at work, but with exactly opposite results. The interregnum in the Empire and a succession of weak rulers left the territorial princes free to imitate the rulers of Europe by strengthening their own power at the expense of the lower nobility, the cities, and the peasantry; but, having secured themselves, they used their increased strength to arrest the progress of centralisation and to prevent the development of a strong imperial power.
As a direct result of this centralisation tendency and of the increase in royal authority that it involved, the rulers of Europe initiated a campaign against all constitutional restrictions on the exercise of their authority. The feudal system with all its faults was in some senses wonderfully democratic. The sovereign was dependent upon the decisions of the various representative assemblies; and though the lower classes had little voice except in purely local affairs, yet the rights and privileges of all classes
were hedged round so securely by written charters or immemorial usage that any infringement of them might be attended with serious results. In England the Parliament, in Spain the Cortes, in France the States General, and in Germany the Diet, should have proved a strong barrier against absolute rule. But the authority of such assemblies was soon weakened or destroyed. Under the Tudors the English Parliament became a mere machine for registering the wishes of the sovereign; the Cortes and States General were rarely consulted in Spain and France; and, though the Diet retained its position in the Empire, it was used rather to increase the influence of the princes than to afford any guarantee of liberty to the subject.
In bringing about such a complete revolution the rulers were assisted largely by the introduction of the Roman Code of Justinian.  According to the principles of the Roman Code the power of the sovereign was unlimited, and against his wishes no traditional customs or privileges could prevail. Such a system was detested especially by the Germans, who clung with great pertinacity to their own national laws and customs; but the princes, supported by the universities, carried through the reform on which they had set their heart. They succeeded in strengthening their own power and in trampling down the rights guaranteed to their subjects by the old Germanic Code, while at the same time they were untiring in their resistance to imperial reforms, and were unwilling to do anything to increase the power of the Emperor.
As a result of the development of arbitrary rule the lower classes had great reason to complain of the increase of taxation and of the difficulties of obtaining justice in the ordinary courts of law. They were ready to listen to the advice of interested leaders, who urged them to band together in defence of their rights against the usurpation of land owners and kings. As a result nearly every country in Europe found itself involved in a great struggle. The Peasants' War in Hungary (1514), the revolt against Charles V. in Spain (1520), the resistance of the Flemish Communes, led by Ghent, to the ordinances of the Dukes of Burgundy, the discontent of the lower classes in France with the excessive taxes levied by Louis XI., and the secret associations which prepared the way for the great uprising of the lower classes in Germany (1524), were clear indications that oppression and discontent were not confined to any particular country in Europe.
With all these political developments the interests of religion and of the Church were closely connected. Even though it be admitted that in themselves there is no real opposition between Nationalism and Catholicism, yet in the circumstances of the time, when national rivalry was acute, the dependence of the Holy See upon any particular nation was certain to excite serious jealousy. From that time nations began to regard the Pope as an ally or an enemy according to the side he favoured instead of looking to him as a common father, and consequently the danger of a conflict between national patriotism and loyalty to the Head of the Church was rendered less improbable. This feeling was increased by the residence of the Popes at Avignon, when the Holy See was so completely associated with the interests of France, and by the policy pursued by Sixtus IV. and his successors in regard to the Italian States. Nowhere, however, was this opposition to the Papacy manifested more clearly than in Germany. This was due partly to the growing feeling of antipathy between the Teutonic and the Latin races, partly to the tradition of the great struggle of the thirteenth century in which the Emperors were worsted by the Popes, and partly also to the discontent excited amongst all classes of the German people, lay and cleric, by the taxations of the Curia. The attitude of the three ecclesiastical electors in 1455, the complaints of the clergy in 1479, and the list of Gravamina presented to Maximilian in 1510 were harbingers of the revolution that was to come.
Besides, the growth of absolutism in Europe was likely to prove dangerous to the liberties of the Church. Rulers, who aimed at securing for themselves unlimited authority, were not blind to the importance of being able to control the ecclesiastical organisation, and to attain this result their legal advisers quoted for them the maxims of the old Roman Code, according to which the king was the source of all spiritual as well as temporal power. Their predecessors had usurped already a strong voice in the appointments to benefices, but now civil rulers claimed as a right what those who had gone before were glad to accept as a privilege. Hence they demanded that the Holy See should hand over to them the nomination of bishops, that it should modify the old laws regarding exemption of ecclesiastical property from taxation, trial of clerics, and right of sanctuary, and that it should submit its pronouncements for the royal Exequator before they could have the force of law in any particular state. The Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (1438) and the Concordat wrung from Leo X. by Francis I. of France in 1516, the Concordat of Princes in 1447, and the new demands formulated by the Diet of the Empire, the Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire in England (1453), and the concessions insisted upon by Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain (1482), were clear proofs that absolutism was destined to prove fatal to the liberty of the Church and the authority of the Holy See.
Finally, the universal discontent of the masses, and the great social revolutions of the first quarter of the sixteenth century were likely to prove dangerous to ecclesiastical authority. In all revolutions the most extreme men are certain to assume control at least in the earlier stages of the movement, and their
wildest onslaughts on Church and State are sure to receive the applause of the crowd. But there was special danger that these popular outbreaks might be turned into anti- religious channels at a time when so many of the bishops were secular princes, and when the Church appeared to be so closely identified with the very interests against which the peasants took up arms. In these circumstances it was not difficult for designing men to push forward their plans of a religious reform under guise of a campaign for liberty and equality. 
(c) The Religious Condition of Europe.
Pastor, op. cit. Janssen, op. cit. Creighton, History of the Papacy from the Great Western Schism to the Sack of Rome, 2nd edition, 1897. Ranke, Die Romische Papste im 16 und 17 jahrhunderten (xxxvii-xxxix), 1900 (Eng. Trans., 3 vols., 1866). Haller, Papsttum und Kirchenreform, 1904. Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Collectio, 1900. Hefele, Conciliengeschichte 2 auf. 1873-90 (Eng. Trans. in part, French Trans.). Imbart de la Tour, Les origines de la Reforme, ii., 1909. Thomas, Le Concordat de 1516, 1910. Ullman, Reformatoren vor der Reformation, 1866 (Eng. Trans. by Menzies, 1855).
The withdrawal of the Popes from the capital of Christendom and the unfortunate schism, for which their residence at Avignon is mainly responsible, proved disastrous to the authority of the Holy See. The Avignon Popes were Frenchmen themselves. Their cardinals and officials belonged for the most part to the same favoured nation. They were dependent upon the King of France for protection, and in return, their revenues were at times placed at his disposal in order to ensure victory for the French banners. Such a state of affairs was certain to alienate the rulers and people of other nations, especially of Germany and England, and to prepare the way for a possible conflict in the days that were to come.
The Great Western Schism that followed upon the residence at Avignon divided Christian Europe into hostile camps, and snapped the bond of unity which was already strained to the utmost by political and national rivalries. Sincere believers were scandalised at the spectacle of two or three rival Popes, each claiming to be the successor of St. Peter, and hurling at his opponents and their supporters the severest censures of the Church. While the various claimants to the Papacy were contending for supreme power in the Church, they were obliged to make concession after concession to the rulers who supported them and to permit them to interfere in religious affairs, so that even when peace was restored and when Martin V. was universally recognised as the lawful Pope, he found himself deprived of many of the rights and prerogatives, for which his predecessors from Gregory VII. to Boniface VIII. had struggled so bravely.
Nor was this all. In their efforts to bring about a reunion, and despairing of arriving at this happy result by an agreement among the contending Popes, many honest theologians put forward principles, which, however suitable to the circumstances of the schism, were utterly subversive of the monarchical constitution of the Church. They maintained that in case of doubtful Popes the cardinals had the right to summon a General Council to decide the issue, and that all Christians were bound to submit to its decrees. In accordance with these principles the Council of Constance was convoked, and, elated with the success of this experiment, many of the more ardent spirits seemed determined to replace, or at least, to limit the authority of the Popes by the authority of General Councils summoned at regular intervals. The Pope was to be no longer supreme spiritual ruler. His position in the Church was to be rather the position of a constitutional sovereign in a state, the General Council being for the Pope what modern Parliaments are for the king.
Fortunately for the Popes such a theory was completely discredited by the excesses of its supporters at the Council of Basle, but it served to weaken the authority of the Holy See, and to put into the hands of its opponents a weapon which they were not slow to wield whenever their personal interests were affected. Henceforth appeals from the Pope to a General Council, although prohibited, were by no means unfrequent.
Yet in spite of all these reverses, had the Church been blessed with a succession of worthy Popes burning with zeal for religion, free to devote themselves to a thorough reform, and capable of understanding the altered political and social conditions of the world, the Papacy might have been restored to its old position. But unfortunately the Popes from Nicholas V. to Leo X. were not the men to repair the damage that was done, or to ward off impending danger. The calamities that threatened Europe from the advance of the Turks, and the necessity of rousing its rulers to a sense of their responsibilities occupied a large share of their attention; while the anxiety which they displayed in the miserable squabbles of the Italian kingdoms, sometimes out of disinterested regard for the temporal States of the Church, as in the case of Julius II., more frequently from a desire of providing territories for their unworthy relations, left them little time to safeguard the general well-being of the Church. In case of some of them, too, if one may judge them by their actions, the progress of Humanism seemed to be nearer to their hearts than the progress of religion.
In his personal life Nicholas V. (1447-55) was not unworthy of his exalted position, but the necessity of repairing the damage that had been done by the unruly assembly at Basle, which arrogated to itself the authority of an independent General Council, the removal of the last obstacle to the Turkish invasion of Europe in the fall of Constantinople, and the importance of securing for Rome a pre-eminent position in the great classical revival, engaged all his energies to the exclusion of necessary reforms. Calixtus III. (1455-58) was
too old to do much, yet, notwithstanding his advancing years and the indifference of the European rulers, he threw himself into the struggle against the Turks, aiding and encouraging Hungary and Albania in their resistance, and it is due largely to his efforts that the victorious advance of Mahomet II. was checked by the overthrow of his forces at Belgrade (1456). Pius II.  (1458-64), though in his youth not the most exemplary of the Humanist school, devoted himself with earnestness and zeal to the duties of his sacred office. He published a Bull retracting all the attacks which he had made against the Papacy in his capacity as secretary to the Concilabulum at Basle. He set himself to study the Scriptures and the early Fathers in place of the Pagan classics, and he showed his approbation of the Christian Humanists. But he was unable to undertake the work of reform. In view of the danger that still threatened Europe he convoked an assembly of the princes at Mantua to organise a crusade against the Turks, but they turned a deaf ear to his appeals, and, at last weary of their refusals and indifference, he determined to place himself at the head of the Christian forces for the defence of Europe and Christianity. He reached Ancona broken down in spirits and bodily health, and died before anything effective could be done. Paul II. (1464-71), who succeeded, made some efforts to purify the Roman Court. He suppressed promptly the College of Abbreviators who were noted for their greed for gold and their zeal for Paganism, and closed the Roman Academy. On account of his severity in dealing with the half Christian Humanists of the Curia he has been attacked with savage bitterness by Platina, one of the dismissed officials, in his Lives of the Popes,  but nobody is likely to be deceived by scurrilous libels, the motives of which are only too apparent. The worst that can be said against Paul II. is that he was too fond of appointing his relatives to high positions in the Church; but in mitigation of that it is well to remember that his reforms had raised up so many enemies against him in Rome, and disaffection was so rife amongst even the highest officials of his court, that he may have deemed it prudent to have relatives around him on whom he could rely.
Sixtus IV. (1471-84) was the first of the political Popes, Leo X. being the last. They are so called on account of the excessive interest they displayed in Italian politics of the period, to the neglect of the higher interests with which they were entrusted. Most of them, with the exception of Alexander VI., were not positively unworthy men, but they were too much concerned with secular pursuits to undertake a reform of the gross abuses which flourished at the very gates of their palace. The papal court was no worse and very little better than the courts of contemporary rulers, and the greed for money, which was the predominant weakness of the curial officials, alienated the sympathy of all foreigners, both lay and cleric.
Julius II. (1503-13) did, indeed, undertake the difficult task of restoring the States of the Church that had been parcelled out into petty kingdoms by his predecessors, but his policy soon brought him into conflict with Louis XII. of France. Louis demanded that a General Council should be convoked, not so much out of zeal for reform as from a desire to embarrass the Pope, and when Julius II. refused to comply with his request the king induced some of the rebellious cardinals to issue invitations for a council to meet at Pisa (Sept. 1511). Most of the bishops who met at Pisa at the appointed time were from France. The Emperor Maximilian held aloof, and the people of Pisa regarded the conventicle with no friendly feelings. The sessions were transferred from Pisa to Milan, and finally to Lyons. As a set off to this Julius II. convoked a council to meet at Rome, the fifth Lateran Council (May 1512), for the threefold purpose of healing the French schism, of proscribing certain doctrinal errors, and of undertaking the work of reform. The earlier sessions were taken up almost entirely with the schism, and before the work of reform was begun Julius II. passed away.
He was succeeded by the young and learned John de' Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent of Florence, who took the name of Leo X. (1513-21). Like his father, the new Pope was a generous patron of art and literature, and bestowed upon his literary friends, some of whom were exceedingly unworthy, the highest dignities in the Church. Humanism was triumphant at the Papal Court, but, unfortunately, religion was neglected. Though in his personal life Leo X. could not be described as a deeply religious man, yet he was mindful of his vows of celibacy, attentive to the recitation of the divine, office, abstemious, and observant of the fasts of the Church. As a secular ruler he would have stood incomparably higher than any of the contemporary sovereigns of Europe, but he was out of place considerably as the head of a great religious organisation. Worldliness and indifference to the dangers that threatened the Church are the most serious charges that can be made against him, but especially in the circumstances of the time, when the Holy See should have set itself to combat the vicious tendencies of society, these faults were serious enough.
The defeat of the French forces at Novara (1513), and the loyalty of the other rulers of Europe to the Holy See induced Louis XII. of France to make peace with the new Pope, and to recognise the Lateran Council. But on the accession of Francis I. (1515-47) a
fresh expedition into Italy was undertaken; the Swiss troops were overthrown at Marignano (1515) and Leo X. was obliged to conclude a Concordat  with the French King. By the terms of this agreement France agreed to abandon the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, while the Pope bestowed upon Francis I. and his successors the right of presentation to the bishoprics and abbacies in his dominions. The work of reform, which should have claimed special attention at the Lateran Council, was never undertaken seriously. Some decrees were passed prohibiting plurality of benefices, forbidding officials of the Curia to demand more than the regulation fees, recommending preaching and religious instruction of children, regulating the appointment to benefices, etc., but these decrees, apart from the fact that they left the root of the evils untouched, were never enforced. The close of the Lateran Council synchronises with the opening of Luther's campaign in Germany, for the success of which the Council's failure to respond to the repeated demands for reform is to a great extent responsible.
In any scheme for the reform of the abuses that afflicted the Church the reformation of the Papal Court itself should have occupied the foremost place. At all times a large proportion of the cardinals and higher officials were men of blameless lives, but, unfortunately, many others were utterly unworthy of their position, and their conduct was highly prejudicial to religion and to the position of the Holy See. Much of the scandalous gossip retailed by Platina in his Lives of the Popes, and by Burcard  and Infessura  in their Diaries may be attributed to personal disappointment and diseased imaginations, but even when due allowance has been made for the frailty of human testimony, enough remains to prove that the Papal Court in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was not calculated to inspire strangers to Rome with confidence or respect. Such corrupt and greedy officials reflected discredit on the Holy See, and afforded some justification for the charges levelled against them of using religion merely as a means of raising money.
The various taxations,  direct and indirect, levied by the Popes during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries helped to give colour to these accusations. It ought to be remembered, however, that the Popes could not carry on the government of the Church, and support the large body of officials whose services were absolutely necessary, without requiring help from their subjects in all parts of the world. During the residence of the Popes at Avignon additional expenses were incurred owing to the necessity of providing residences for themselves and their court, and, at the same time, the rebellions and disorders in the Papal States put an end to any hope of deriving any revenue from their own temporal dominions. On their return to Rome money was required to repair the palaces that had gone into ruin, and to enable the Popes to maintain their position as patrons of art and literature, and as the leaders of Europe in its struggle against the forces of Islam.
For this last purpose, namely, to organise the Christian forces against the Turks, the Popes claimed the right of levying a fixed tax on all ecclesiastical property. The amount of this varied from one- thirtieth to one-tenth of the annual revenue, and as a rule it was raised only for some definite period of years. Even in the days when the crusading fever was universal, such a tax excited a great deal of opposition; but when Europe had grown weary of the struggle, and when the Popes could do little owing to the failure of the temporal rulers to respond to their appeals, this form of taxation was resented bitterly, and the right of the Popes to raise taxes in this way off ecclesiastical property was questioned by the ecclesiastics affected as well as by the temporal rulers. England and France took measures to protect themselves; but in Germany the absence of any strong central authority, and the want of unity among the princes made it difficult to offer any effective resistance to these demands. In 1354, 1372, 1459, 1487, and in 1500, the German bishops protested strongly against the attempts of the Pope to levy taxes on ecclesiastical property.
But in addition to these extraordinary levies there were many permanent sources of revenue for the support of the Papal Court. In the first place from the time of Boniface IX. annats, which consisted of a certain proportion of the first year's revenue, were to be paid by all clerics on whom a minor benefice was conferred by the Holy See. In case of the major benefices, bishoprics and abbacies, the servitia communia and the servitia minuta took the place of annats. The servitia communia was a fixed sum the amount of which depended upon the annual revenue of the See or abbey, and was divided between the Pope and the cardinals of the Curia. The servitia minuta, amounting to about 3 12 per cent. of the servitia communia/, was given to the lower officials, who prepared the letters of appointment. The revenues of vacant Sees and the property of deceased bishops were also claimed by the Holy See. From England the Pope received yearly the Peter's Pence, and from all countries that acknowledged his feudal jurisdiction he was entitled to a definite annual tribute.
Furthermore, the reservations  of benefices were another fruitful source of revenue. The policy of reserving benefices to the Holy See might be defended, on the ground
that it was often necessary in order to counterbalance the interference of secular rulers in regard to ecclesiastical appointments, and that it afforded the Pope a convenient means of rewarding officials whose services were required for the government of the Church. But the right of the Pope to reserve benefices was abused during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and gave rise to constant friction with the civil and ecclesiastical authorities in different countries of Europe. Reservations, instead of being the exception, became very general, and, as a result, the eyes of all ambitious clerics were turned towards Rome from which they hoped to receive promotion, whether their immediate superiors deemed them worthy or unworthy. Such a state of affairs opened the way to the most serious abuses, and not unfrequently to disedifying wrangles between rival candidates, all of whom claimed to have received their appointments from Roman officials.
Intimately connected with papal reservations were expectancies or promises given to certain persons that they would be appointed to certain benefices as soon as a vacancy would occur. Such promises of appointment were unknown in the Church before the twelfth century, but later on they became very general, and led to most serious abuses during the residence of the Popes at Avignon and during the disturbances caused by the Great Western Schism. Expectancies were adopted as a means of raising money or of securing support. Various attempts were made to put an end to such a disastrous practice, as for example at the Councils of Constance and Basle, but it was reserved for the Council of Trent to effect this much needed reform.
Again the custom of handing over benefices in commendam, that is of giving some person the right of drawing the revenues of a vacant benefice for a certain specified time, was highly prejudicial to the best interests of religion. Such a practice, however justifiable in case of benefices to which the care of souls was not attached, was entirely indefensible when adopted in regard to bishopric, abbacies, and minor benefices, where so much depended upon personal activity and example. The person who held the benefice in commendam did nothing except to draw the revenue attached to his office, while the whole work was committed to an underpaid vicar or representative, who was obliged often to resort to all kinds of devices to secure sufficient means of support. Again though plurality of benefices was prohibited by several decrees, yet during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries nothing was more common than to find one individual holding, by virtue of a papal dispensation, two, three, six, ten, and possibly more benefices to most of which the care of souls was attached. Such a state of affairs was regarded as an intolerable scandal by right minded Christians, whether lay or cleric, and was condemned by decrees of Popes and councils; but as exceptions were made in favour of cardinals or princes, and as even outside these cases dispensations were given frequently, the evils of plurality continued unabated.
Again, the frequent applications for and concessions of dispensations in canonical irregularities by the Roman congregations were likely to make a bad impression, and to arouse the suspicion that wholesome regulations were being abandoned for the sake of the dispensation fees paid to the officials. Similarly, too, complaints were made about the dispensations given in the marriage impediments, and the abuses alleged against preachers to whose charge the duty of preaching indulgences was committed. Furthermore, the custom of accepting appeals in the Roman Courts, even when the matters in dispute were of the most trivial kind, was prejudicial to the local authorities, while the undue prolongation of such suits left the Roman lawyers exposed to the charge of making fees rather than justice the motive of their exertions.
The disturbances produced by the schism, and the interference of the state in episcopal elections helped to secure the appointment of many unworthy bishops. Even in the worst days of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries a large proportion of the bishops in the different countries of Europe were excellent men, but a large percentage also, especially in Germany, were thoroughly worldly. They were more anxious about their position as secular princes or proprietors than about the fulfilment of their sacred duties. Very often they were sprung from the nobility, and were appointed on account of their family influence without any regard to their qualifications, and, as a rule, the duties of visitation, of holding synods, and even of residing in their dioceses, were neglected. Besides, even when they were anxious to do their best, the claims of the lay patrons and the papal reservation of benefices made it difficult for them to exercise proper disciplinary control over their clergy. In many cases, too, the cathedral chapters were utterly demoralised, mainly owing to outside influence in the appointment of the canons. The clergy as a body were very far from being as bad as they have been painted by fanatical reformers or by the followers of Luther. The collections of sermons that have come down to us, the prayer books for the instruction of the faithful, the catechisms, the compilations from the Holy Scriptures, the hymns, theological works, and especially the compendiums prepared for the use of those engaged in hearing confessions, give the lie to the charge of wholesale neglect  ; but, at the same time the want of sufficient control, the interference of lay patrons in the appointments to benefices, the absence of seminaries, and the failure of the universities to give a proper ecclesiastical training, produced their natural effect on a large body of the clergy. Grave charges of ignorance, indifference, concubinage, and simony were not wholly groundless, as the decrees of various councils sufficiently testify.
Many causes contributed to bring about a relaxation of
discipline in many of the religious orders. The uncanonical appointment of abbots, the union of various abbacies in the hands of a single individual, the custom of holding abbacies in commendam, and the wholesale exemption from episcopal authority for which many of the religious orders contended, are sufficient to account for this general relaxation. The state of the various houses and provinces even belonging to the same order depended largely on the character of the superiors, and hence it is not fair to judge one country or one province, or even one house, by what happened in other countries, provinces, or houses. Hence arises the difficulty of arriving at any general conclusion about the religious houses. It is safe, however, to say that with the exception of the Carthusians all the older orders required reform. From the beginning of the fifteenth century attempts were made to restore the old discipline in the Benedictine communities and with considerable success. The Carmelites were divided into two main branches, the Calced and the Discalced; the Franciscans were divided into three main bodies, the Conventuals, the Observants, and the Capuchins; the Dominicans made various efforts to restore the ancient discipline especially from about the beginning of the fifteenth century; while many of the Augustinians who were determined on reform established new congregations, as for example, the Discalced Augustinian Hermits, who spread themselves over France, Spain, and Portugal. In addition, various new congregations, amongst them the Oblates founded in 1433 by St. Francisca Romana, and the Hermit Brothers in 1435 by St. Francis of Paula, were established to meet the necessities of the age. 
Unfortunately the endless disputes between the religious and secular clergy  at this period tended to distract the attention of both from their spiritual work, and to give rise to considerable disorder and discontent. On the one side, men like the Paris professor, John Poilly and Richard Fitzralph, Archbishop of Armagh, were too extreme and seemed inclined to leave to the religious orders no place in the ministration of the Church, while on the other, some of the religious, such as the Franciscan, John von Gorrel, wished to assert for themselves complete independence of episcopal control. Various attempts were made by Boniface VIII., Benedict XI., Alexander V., John XXII., Calixtus III., Sixtus IV., and by the Councils of Constance and Basle to settle these disputes, but without much permanent result. It was only in the eleventh session of the Fifth Lateran Council (1516) that Leo X. promulgated the decrees, which in substance hold good at the present time, fixing the relation between the bishops and the regular clergy. 
Many of the fanatical preachers anxious for reform were guilty of undoubted exaggeration in the pictures which they painted of clerical life at the time, as were also not a few of the Humanists, anxious to cast ridicule on their opponents. But even when all due allowance has been made for these exaggerations in such works as the Onus Ecclesiae  of Bishop Berthold, the rhymed sermons of one of the great Franciscan opponents of Luther, Thomas Murner (1475-1537), which became popular in Germany under the titles of the Narrenbeschworung and the Schelmenzunft, Faber's Tractatus de Ruinae Ecclesiae Planctu, the Encomium Moriae of Erasmus, the Dialogues of St. German in England, the Narrenschiff of Sebastian Brant, and the petitions of the Spanish Cortes, enough remains to convince any reasonable man that a reform of the clergy was an urgent necessity.
For many years the cry of reform of the Church in its head and members had been heard in nearly every country of Europe. The justice of such a demand was admitted universally, but the difficulties in the way were so great that no Pope cared to risk a generous scheme of reform. Most of the abuses of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries might be traced back to the decline of the papal power during the Avignon exile and the Great Western Schism. When peace was restored to the Church, and when the Popes might have done something for the revival of ecclesiastical discipline, the advocates of the conciliar theory blocked the way by their extravagant attacks on the Papacy, and by their attempts to destroy the supremacy of the Holy See under the guise of reforming the Roman Curia. Besides, it was impossible to carry through any effective measures for the removal of abuses without attacking what were regarded as vested interests, and the holders of these interests were determined not to yield without a struggle. The cardinals wished to restrict the rights of the Pope; the bishops wished to reform the cardinals and the Papal Court; the Paris doctors wished to reform the bishops and the regular clergy; while the regular clergy traced all the evils in the Church to the indifference and neglect of the secular priests. Unfortunately there was no man endowed with the foresight and the courage of Gregory VII. to put his finger upon the real cause of the downfall, namely the slavery of the Church, and to lead a campaign for the independence of the spiritual power, particularly for the restoration of free canonical elections.
At the Council of Constance everybody recognised the necessity of reform, but the jealousies of the various nations, the opposition of the interests concerned, and the fear of provoking a new schism, made it impossible to do more than to adopt temporary expedients, which, it was hoped, might give some relief. Decrees concerning exemption from episcopal authority, the union of benefices, simony, tithes, and the duties of the clerical state were promulgated in the fourteenth session, and the other questions, upon which the different nations could not agree, were to be regulated by Concordats with the Holy See. The Concordat with the German nation dealt
with canonical election, appeals to Rome, annats, indulgences, dispensations, and the limitation of excommunication; the English Concordat insisted on the right of England to be represented in the college of cardinals and contained clauses dealing with indulgences and dispensations; the Concordant with Castile regarded the number of cardinals, the reservation and collation of benefices, annats, commendams, appeals, and indulgences; by the Concordat with France it was arranged that owing to the wars in which France was engaged the annats and other taxes payable to the Holy See should be reduced considerably. Measures such as these were utterly inadequate even had they been observed to the letter, but in reality complaints were made frequently, especially in Germany, that they were disregarded.
The Council which met in Siena (1524) was entirely unrepresentative, and was dissolved without having accomplished anything. But great hopes were expressed that the Council of Basle would formulate and carry out a thorough scheme of reform. Unfortunately, however, these hopes were doomed to disappointment. An extreme section, hostile to the Papacy and determined to weaken its position, dominated the Council, and made it impossible to do the work for which the assembly had been convoked. Though the council held its first session in 1431, nearly four years passed before any reform decrees were issued. They dealt with concubinage, excommunication, the abuse of interdicts, and the abolition of annats and other taxes payable to the Holy See. The violence with which the Council assailed Eugene IV., and the fear of a new schism alienated many who were anxious for reform, but who were not willing to attack the essential prerogatives of the Pope. The clergy of France met at Bourges in 1432, and with their consent the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges was published by the king in 1438. According to this edict annats were retained, but were reduced to one- fifth of the amount formerly paid, and most of the reformatory decrees of Basle were adopted for use in France. Germany was desirous of reform, but at the same time unwilling to break with the Holy See, and hence the German nation remained neutral in the disputes between Eugene IV. and the Council. Finally Germany returned to its allegiance, and the Concordat of Vienna was signed in 1448, according to which the right of the Pope to make appointments to benefices in the Empire and the amount of the fees to be paid to the Curia were regulated. This agreement was not regarded with favour in some parts of Germany, and complaints were made frequently by the princes that the terms of the agreement were not observed by the Roman officials. England also took steps to protect itself by the Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire (1453). These statutes rendered null and void all collations, reservations or provisions of benefices made by the Holy See in England, and forbade all appeals to the Roman tribunal on questions which could be settled before English tribunals.
During the pontificate of Nicholas V., Calixtus III., and Pius II., very little was done for reform. The fear that if another General Council were convoked the disgraceful scenes of Basle might be repeated, and the dangers which threatened Europe from a Turkish invasion, seem to have paralysed the Popes, and to have prevented them from taking effective measures to abolish evident abuses. Paul II. did, indeed, take action against the Pagan Humanists who barely concealed their antipathy to Christianity even in the city of the Popes, but he took no steps to remove the influences which had made such a state of affairs possible. As a rule at each successive conclave the cardinal electors pledged themselves that whichever of them should be elected would undertake certain measures, some of which might have redounded to the good of the universal Church, others of them merely to the advantage of the sacred college itself; but these election agreements were always quashed, and the evil was allowed to increase without check. From the election of Sixtus IV. the tendency was steadily downwards, till in the days of Alexander VI. the Papacy reached its lowest point. At a time when even people indifferent to religion were shocked by the state of affairs at the Roman Court, it is no wonder that a zealous and holy ecclesiastic like the great Dominican Savonarola  should have denounced these abuses in no uncertain language, and should have warned Alexander VI. of the terrible judgment in store for the Church unless some steps were taken to avert the indignation of an offended Almighty. The threats and warnings of Savonarola were, however, scoffed at as the unbridled outbursts of a disappointed fanatic, and the cry for reform was put aside as unworthy of attention.
Julius II. (1503-13) was personally above reproach, but the circumstances of his time allowed him very little opportunity to undertake a generous plan of reform. The recovery of the Papal States that had been frittered away by his predecessors in providing territories for their family connections, the wars in Italy, and the schemes of Louis XII. forced the Pope to play the part of a soldier rather than that of an ecclesiastic, and delayed the convocation of the General Council to which right-minded Christians looked for some relief. Louis XII., taking advantage of this general desire, forestalled the Pope by inducing some of the cardinals to summon a General Council to meet at Pisa (September 1511). The assembly met at Pisa and adjourned to Lyons, but the feeling of loyalty to the Pope was too strong for Louis XII., and the assembly at Lyons could count on very little support outside France. Julius II. determined to summon a General Council to meet in Rome for the reformation of the Church. This, the Fifth Lateran Council, as it was called, was opened in May 1512, but the earlier sessions were devoted almost entirely to the condemnation of the French schism, the decrees
of the Conciliabulum at Lyons, and the Pragmatic Sanction. Before the work of reform could be taken in hand Julius XII. died (1513), and the young cardinal deacon, John de' Medici, ascended the papal throne under the title of Leo X.
From the new Pope, if one were to judge him by his antecedents, a development of classical learning and art might be expected rather than a renewal of religion. Personally Leo X. was not a wicked man. On the contrary in his private life he was attentive to his religious duties, but he was indifferent and inclined to let things shape their own course. The Lateran Council did, indeed, undertake the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline. It condemned abuses in connexion with the bestowal of benefices, decreed the reformation of the Curia, especially in regard to taxes, defined the position of the regulars in regard to the bishops of the dioceses in which their houses were situated, ordered the bishops to enforce their censorship over books published within their jurisdiction, and approved of the Concordat that had been arranged between Leo and Francis I. (1516).
Such reforms as these were so completely inadequate that they failed to give satisfaction to the host of clerics and laymen who desired a thorough reform. The news that the Council was dissolved in March 1517 without having grappled with the urgent reform of the Church in its head and members, sent a thrill of dismay throughout the Christian world, and secured for Luther the sympathy of many when a few months later he opened his campaign at Wittenberg. It was thought at first that he aimed merely at the removal of abuses, and in this work he could have counted upon the active co-operation of some of the leading German ecclesiastics, who showed themselves his strongest opponents once they realised that he aimed not so much at reform as at the destruction of the Church and of all religious authority.
Sunday, February 26th, 2017
Transfiguration Sunday / the Last Sunday after Epiphany
Search Historical Writings