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No sort of religious enthusiasm was apparent under the auspices of a Medici or Farnese, and it is even said that the priests, as they celebrated mass, used to mutter in irony, "Bread thou art, bread thou wilt remain! Wine thou art, wine thou wilt remain!" The Pope himself, Leo X, had remarked after his election, "Now that we have the Papacy, let us enjoy it!" But those who imagined that the Church, lazy and godless as she had grown, had lost all power of recovery, had reckoned ill with the strength of that tremendous organization. It is a trite saying that in human affairs the form is nothing, the spirit everything, but there may come times when the spirit has died away, but the form lives on to receive and direct and give it power when the revival takes place at last.
It was thus that our constitutional liberties, which had lain dormant under the House of Tudor, revived under their successors and drank life at the fountains of precedent, and it was thus that Catholicism, so far from yielding to the shock of the Reformation, assumed that new lease of power and vitality which we call the Counter Reformation.
To understand the nature and probability of such a revival, we must remember what we have already ascertained about the essence of the Catholic system. The Church had come into existence as a fighting body, and it was towards the strengthening of her militant efficiency that she had forged her armoury of dogma, and her more than Roman discipline. Since the time of her last revival under Hildebrand and Innocent, when she had launched the crusades and broken the power of the Hohenstaufen, she had let her armour grow rusty and her discipline slack. Luther, the great mutineer; had caught her at her weakest and worst, and entered the battle with all the might of holiness and truth, against cynicism and Mammon. The huge, inert mass seemed incapable of
resistance, and allowed province after province to be torn away with hardly a blow. Of the two temporal heads of Catholicism, one did not scruple to invoke the aid of the heathen Turk, while the Emperor himself took twentyfive years to bring his forces into action against the Lutherans, only to meet with ignominious failure when the hour arrived. The Papacy itself had suffered the supreme humiliation at the hands of the imperial troops, and had sunk into a position of seemingly hopeless dependency upon her spoiler. To a devout Catholic it might well seem as if the last hour had come, and the abomination of desolation already stood where it ought not.
About the middle of the century a striking and similar change begins to take place on both sides. The fighting efficiency of both stood in need of strengthening. Luther's system, with its frank acknowledgment of divine right, was well enough fitted to prevail where, as in Saxony, the Prince happened to support it; but in France or the Netherlands, where the whole machinery of government was in motion against it, something more vigorous, more capable of standing by itself, was required. Of several attempts to answer this demand the most promising was that of the Frenchman, John Calvin, who, with the clear-cut logic characteristic of his nation, put the ideas of the Reformation into a form more radical and more dangerous than anything of which Luther had dreamed. It is from Geneva, and not from Wittenberg, that the impulse came which was to tear the Low Countries from Spain, and his kingdom from Charles I. It was because the system of Geneva comes into action before that of Trent that the Catholic cause suffers its heaviest blows just about the time of Elizabeth's accession.
It may seem a paradox to assert that Calvin succeeded in strengthening the will-power of his followers, by denying the very existence of a free will. If the mass of men were perfectly logical, the belief that they were helpless
machines would result in spiritual paralysis. But the doctrine of predestination, or determinism, is one that may be asserted, but has certainly never commanded the complete assent of any human mind, because the notion of one's own will being enslaved is unthinkable. Thus we find modern scientific philosophers stoutly denying free will, and yet talking as if they, the helpless resultants of blind forces, were capable of distinguishing truth from falsehood, and right from wrong, saying in fact, “You are machines that talk and think and act because you cannot help it," and then, in the same breath, " Ye are as gods, knowing good and evil."
Because a will completely unfree is also unthinkable, its upholders have always been fain to stop short at some tacit compromise with the doctrine they oppose. Thus the modern determinist will very likely deny that we ought to blame criminals, but he will emphatically blame the man who does blame criminals, and the government of men that allows its action to be influenced by such motives.
Calvinist predestination is not to be interpreted logically. If this were the case we should have to believe that God, whose judgments are inscrutable, and according to Calvin, not to be judged by human standards, has predestined his helpless creature to eternal joy or eternal torture before birth, and that no amount of human effort can make the least difference as to the result. There would then be no valid answer to what Calvin describes as the "grunt of filthy swine," that if God has arranged everything beforehand, human effort is stultified. Calvin avoids this by vehement abuse and an argument ingenuously circular, which lets us into the real secret of his system. The ungodly man will say that being damned, holiness on his part is simply thrown away. Nay, replies Calvin, the very fact of his living a holy life is evidence of his election, for the end of election is holiness. Therefore
he has no excuse for not striving after holiness, and to this extent, at any rate, his will is free. The fallacy of this argument, which mixes cause with effect, and alternately assumes and dispenses with one and the same proposition, will be no less obvious than its practical utility.
What it amounts to is this: Mankind is divided into two rigid and exclusive classes, the saved and the damned. Evidence of salvation is in the breast of every true believer, and in unspeakable gratitude and love he reposes himself upon the mercy of the Giver. It was only natural that those who had received the true doctrine, in other words, the followers of Calvin, should come to number themselves among God's elect. From the militant standpoint, the results were momentous. Here was a body of men, profoundly convinced of their own salvation, moving about in the midst of the damned. In the days of their primitive sincerity, nothing else mattered to them beyond this supremely important fact. Since they had entered into the communion of the elect, since they were predestined for joys to which the sufferings of this world could not be compared, nothing could touch them, and an invincible firmness and confidence was the result. This was balanced by what may fairly be described as the besetting sin of Calvinism, a spiritual pride almost Satanic. They often behaved, logically enough, as if they were a company of angels in the midst of fiends, and the way in which Milton's priggish angels address their opponents is not different from the style in which a Puritan saint would rebuke a sinner. A peculiarly hard and ungenial temperament was found not to be inconsistent with the most austere self-sacrifice, and the popular idea of the lank, snuffling and uncharitable preacher was not devoid of foundation in fact. Calvinists were not slow to take upon themselves some of the unamiable qualities with which they endowed their Deity.
Human charity was too often lacking towards those whom God Himself had presumably reserved for hell fire. A child at Geneva was put to death, under Calvin's auspices, for striking his father, and we find Cromwell writing complacently how, at Drogheda, one of the Cavaliers was heard to cry in his agony from a burning building, “I burn, I burn," with the evident implication that he would have even better cause to do so in another world. Puritanism has an evil connection with the slave trade.
But as a system of discipline, Calvin's was not unworthy to compare with that which he designed to shatter. No inquisitor ever established a more grinding tyranny than did he of Geneva, a tyranny which presumed to regulate and pry into the most intimate affairs of life. It was his influence which produced that strangest of prodigies, an army not only brave, but as godly as any religious brotherhood. Fatalism has often made troops fearless of death, and the half-naked hordes who immolated themselves at Omdurman had some, at least, of the spirit of the Ironsides. The discipline of Geneva, and the courage of predestination, were reinforced by the study of the Jewish scriptures, themselves the product of one of the fiercest warrior nations ever known. To hew down the Amalekites, to smite the ungodly hip and thigh, to bind kings in chains, to emulate the massacres of Joshua, or the treachery of Jael, could claim the sanction of infallible and divine wisdom, which it might be the sin of Saul to call in question.
In another respect Calvinism was peculiarly suited for its work as an instrument of revolution. We have seen that the essence of the Reformation was to substitute a Radical for a Tory system in the religious sphere. But Luther was almost as much of a conservative as Henry VIII himself. Up to the very end of his life he made himself the champion of divine right, and even