The Cambridge Modern History - Vol. 2

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview
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THE Reformation emerges as an inevitable result from the interaction and opposition of many and complex forces. The spirit of the time, even when intending to be its enemy, proved its friend. The Renaissance, which had raised the ancient classical world from its grave, was not in itself opposed to the Catholic Church; but in the reason it educated and the historical temper it formed, in the literature it recovered and the languages it loved, in the imagination it cultivated and the new sense of the beautiful it created, there were forces of subtle hostility to the system which had been built upon the ruins of classical antiquity. Erasmus used his wit to mock the vulgar scholasticism of Luther. But Erasmus more than any man made Protestantism necessary and the Papacy impossible, especially to the grave and reverent peoples of the North. The navigators, who by finding new continents enlarged our notions both of the earth and man, seemed but to add fresh provinces to Rome; but, by moving the centre of social and intellectual gravity from the shores of the Mediterranean to those of the Atlantic, they inflicted on her a fatal wound. Moreover, by the easy acquisition of the wealth which lower races had accumulated, there was begotten in the Latin peoples so fierce and intolerant an avarice that their highest ambitions appeared ignoble, in contrast with the magnanimity and the enterprise of the Teutonic nations that became Protestant.

And just as the history of man's past lengthened and the earth around him broadened and with it his horizon, so the nature beneath him and the heavens above began by telling him their secrets to throw over him their spell. With the new knowledge of nature came new hopes which looked more to the energies that were creating the future than to the authorities that had fashioned the past. Faith in man as man, and not simply as King or noble, as Pope or priest, was reborn; and he appeared as the maker of history and the doer of the deeds that distinguish time. The most famous of the humanists were either themselves poor or sons of poor men, though they might affect, especially in Italy, the Courts of Kings and the palaces of the great, who had patronage as well as


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The Cambridge Modern History - Vol. 2


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