A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century

By J. W. Allen | Go to book overview

monasteries and appropriated the property. In Spain the Inquisition set up by the King in defiance of the Pope, was, among other things, a royal instrument for the control of the clergy. The Reformation was part of the process by which Europe was resolved into a series of independent, secular, sovereign States.

Along with the efforts of Princes and Magistrates to master and to dispossess the Church, went, part cause and part consequence, a great religious revival. It is, perhaps, a little unfortunate that the term 'Reformation' has come to be so completely associated with Protestantism, that the Catholic revival is spoken of as Counter- Reformation. The religious revival of the century was Catholic as well as, and no less than, Protestant. A great effort was made by the Catholic Church to reform its discipline and administration and to define its doctrinal position. The intensity of the religiousness developed in Spain was at the least as great as appears in any Protestant country. Everywhere to the struggle over property and jurisdiction were added efforts to establish or maintain or propagate 'true religion'. Governments, however reluctantly, were compelled to take share and side in them. Confusion was confounded by the development of the Calvinistic ideal of a Church-State; a development peculiarly embarrassing to Protestant governments.

Enormous in extent and intensity was the resulting friction. The Reformation involved huge transferences of property and jurisdiction. It involved war, and, above all, civil war. It necessitated efforts on the part of governments to organize their conquests and to make of the reformed church an instrument of their purposes. It involved what is called religious persecution. And it involved, of course, a vast and many-sided literary controversy.

It is an error to suppose that the sixteenth century saw the development of much that was strikingly new in political philosophy. Controversy was, of course, mainly concerned with questions men were forced, by what was happening, to consider. Many old questions were, therefore, stated in new terms. But all through the century, except at least in Italy, political thought remained essentially medieval in character: All through the century the main divisions of late medieval opinion were reproduced. This was a necessary consequence of the fact that the basic assumptions made in the sixteenth century were the same that had been made by medieval thinkers. All sides assumed that the Scriptures were the very Word of God and all assumed the existence of a 'natural' moral law, recognized by all men alike and binding absolutely, world without end. Every one, too, saw or felt that, just as goodness in action is conformity with the Eternal Law, that is with God's purpose in creation, so a 'right' is something which cannot be denied without defiance of God. Every conceivable 'right' expresses Divine Will. Real

-xiv-

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