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TEXT-BOOK OF POPERY.
State of Religion and Morals in Europe at the Commencement of
the Sixteenth Century-Rise of the Reformation-Luther's Appeal to a Council---His Condemnation by Leo X.-Diet of Worms--Adrian VI. and the Diet of Nuremburg–The Hundred Grievances--Clement VII.—Diet of Augsburg-Expectation of a Council --Peace of Nuremburg-Paul III.-A Council summoned-Its Postponement--Commission of Cardinals to inquire into Abuses-Their Report-Convocation of a Council at Trent -Its Suspension--Diet of Spire--Re-assembly of the Council at Trent.
The state of religion and morals in Europe, at the commencement of the sixteenth century, was truly deplorable. In the general depravation of manners that prevailed, the ecclesiastics, even of the highest order, largely participated. The murmurs and complaints of all Christendom, frequently and unequivocally expressed, verify this fact beyond the possibility of contradiction. It is also confirmed by the reluctant admissions of the parties themselves.
History bears ample testimony to the truth of these remarks. The writers of the period above-mentioned agree in confessing that gross immorality and cruel oppression distinguished the priesthood, and justly exposed it to the contempt and hatred of the community. A volume might be compiled from the statements of unexceptionable witnesses, who possessed personal knowledge of the facts which they relate. From such sources we learn the following facts:—that the forced celibacy of the priests produced among them unbridled and shameless licentiousness, concubinage being generally practised; that they had contrived to obtain possession of so much wealth, that in Germany more thanı one half of the national property was in their hands; that by their fees and exactions, often wrung from the people by vile imposture, they impoverished every Christian country, while they refused to share the burden of taxation; that they claimed exemption from the jurisdiction of the laity, and could therefore commit crime with comparative impunity, in which they were further indulged by the easy terms on which pardon or dispensation could be procured at Rome; that the venality of the pontifical court was so notorious that the sale of offices was open and public; that the detestable traffic in indulgences gave rise to the most scandalous impositions, and legalised every species of avarice and fraud; that by reservations, appeals, expectative graces, annates, &c. the Popes had subdued to their will the whole hierarchy, leaving to the bishops little more than the shadow of power, and exalting above them the monastic orders, their sworn and faithful vassals; and that those same pontiffs, so far from being examples of virtue and religion, were generally destitute of both, and too frequently patterns of the most horrible vices. I
It must not be forgotten, that with these abuses were connected the most awful corruptions in doctrine and worship. Human merit was substituted for justification by faith. Fastings, penances, idle ceremonies, and the opus operatum of the sacraments, were instead of sanctification by the influences of the Holy Spirit. The
i Consnlt every part of the Work entitled, Fasciculus Rerum Expetendarum et Fugiendarum, “a collection of things to be desired and of those to be avoided:” “a Bull of the Devil, in which the father admonishes his Pope, and instructs him in what manner he ought to conduct himself in governing the Roman church and the whole world"--a rare tract, without name, date, or place, but evidently the production of the early part of the sixteenth century: “ Antilogia Papa, Reply of the Pope :" concerning the corrupt condition of the Church and the perverseness of the whole Romish clergy, &c. Basileæ, 1555. Referring to this period, Bellarmine says, “There was no restraint in morals, no acquaintance with sacred literature, no respect paid to holy things, in a word, hardly any Religion. Opera, tom. vi. col. 296. Edit. Colon. 1617, quoted by Gerdesius, in his "Historia Evang. Renovati,” tom. i. p. 25. Edit. Groninge, 1744. The English reader may consult Bower's Lives of the Popes, Mosheim's Eccl. Hist. Cent. 16. sect. 1. chap. 1. and Robertson's Charles V. book 2.
Virgin Mary and the saints had in great measure supplanted Jesus Christ, and robbed him of his honours.
The Scriptures were studiously withheld from the people, and little studied by the priests, many of whom were, in fact, totally ignorant of the word of God. Worship was performed in Latin, which scarcely any understood. Incense perfumed the air; gold, and jewels, and magnificent pageantry, dazzled the eyes; melodious sounds of music fell upon the ear; but the mind was unenlightened, and the heart unimpressed. Faith had to do with little else than the “lying wonders” by which a system of impudent trickery was upheld; hope rested on the intercession of saints, the power of priestly absolution, and the efficacy of prayers for the dead; charity was reserved for those, and those only, who bowed the knee before the “man of sin.”
For a century past, all Europe had felt the necessity of reformation, and groaned with impatience under the galling yoke. Several attempts at improvement had been made. The Councils of Constance and Basle3 boldly asserted their superiority to the Pope, and avowed their intention to effect a reform"in the head and members," as it used then to be expressed. But means were always found by successive pontiffs to evade the just demands of an indignant people. Corruptions and abuses were defended with such tenacity, and the intriguos of the Romish Court were so successfully ernployed, that remonstrances, memorials, the requests of princes, the decrees of councils, and even the general voice of the church, were unavailing.
In the year 1517, Luther commenced that series of attacks on the papacy which issued in the great event usually denominated “The Reformation."
At first, indeed, he thought of nothing less. He was a good subject of Leo X., and would have submitted to his decrees, even after his public cpposition to Tetzel, had the pontiff promptly interfered to check his progress, or adopted mild and conciliatory measures. His mind
2 A. D. 1414.
3 A. D. 1431. 4 See his Letter to the Pope. The concluding words are truly remarkable: “Wherefore, most holy father, I cast myself at the feet of thy holiness, and offer up there all that I am, all that I possess.
was solely engaged with the doctrine and abuse of in. dulgences, and against them all his efforts were directed. Had the Pope yielded to his remonstrances, and either suppressed or modified that nefarious traffic, it is probable that the world would have heard no more of the troublesome monk of Wittemburg. But, by the good providence of God, the "spirit of slumber” fell upon Leo; he let Luther alone till it was too late to think of crushing him, and when he did interfere, he employed means which rather tended to further, than to stop the dreaded reform.
Maximilian I. was then Emperor of Germany; a man of small talent, but firm in his attachment to popery, and fearful of all innovation. He persuaded Leo to cite Luther to Rome; but by the interference of Frederic, Elector of Saxony, the cause was committed to Cajetan, the papal legate, who had come into Germany to attend a diet of the empire at Augsburg. With him the reformer had three conferences; it is not surprising that they were entirely unsatisfactory. Unshaken in his opinions, Luther was prevailed on by his friends to leave Augsburg, but not till he had appealed from the Pope, ill informed as he then was, to the same Pope when he should better understand his cause.Shortly afterwards, understanding that the legate had written to Frederic, soliciting him to withdraw his protection, and suffer him to be given up to the Pope, and hearing also that he had been already condemned at Rome, he appealed to a general council. 5
In this appeal Luther was doubtless influenced by the prevailing opinion respecting such assemblies. Councils had been long held in the highest veneration, and the universal church submitted to their decisions. Many causes, probably, conduced to this veneration; such as the reputation and official dignity of the ecclesiastics who were convened on those occasions, their number, and the presumed infallibility of their decrees, secured by the presence and aid of the Holy Spirit himself!
Give me life or death, call, recall, approve or disapprove as it may please thee, I will acknowledge thy commands—the commands of Christ ruling and speaking in thee, &c. Le Plat, ii. 1-4. Milner, iv. 357.
5 Le Plat, ü. p. 37–42.