« AnteriorContinuar »
compromised his cause by conniving at a very serious scandal on the part of one of his princely supporters, while on the other hand he had publicly recommended the German magnates to cut down their insurgent peasantry without mercy. Towards the end of his life he was forced somewhat to qualify his doctrine to meet the case of Protestant subjects dwelling under Catholic princes, but, heroic fighter as he was himself, his name was associated rather with passive obedience than revolt. Calvin, however, as was his manner, pushed his principles to their extreme conclusion in matters of Church government. As thoroughly as Rome had organized her system from above downwards, did he proceed to work in the opposite and democratic sense. Wherever two or three were gathered together, Christ was in the midst of them. Gorgeous cathedrals and elaborate ceremonial could be dispensed with; if a few poor but elect souls could gather together in a barn or an upper room, they were as directly in communication with Christ as the most exalted of saints. The elders whom they elected were not as priests, endowed with special and mystic authority, but men like themselves, chosen for the convenience of the whole body, and answerable to them. Men did not need other men or their images to stand between them and their Saviour. It is obvious that here was an ideal organization for rebellion against constituted authority. A central control was not needed, every conventicle could stand by itself, every band of the elect needed to be stamped out separately.
It was the appearance of this new and formidable enemy that rendered inevitable some counter move on the part of the Roman Church. Some idea of reform had been in the air even before the advent of Luther, and some there were who imagined that the quickening impulse might come from the classical Renaissance. The name of Erasmus was prominent in this connection, and
many there are even now who find it a matter for regret that the Church did not follow in the path he indicated. Such an event might have appeared at one time by no means improbable, for Erasmus was the spoilt child of the Papacy, and not only was he allowed a freedom of speech denied to others, but there was even talk of giving him a Cardinal's hat. Erasmus was eminently reasonable, and his position approaches close to that of our own " modernists." But from the militant point of view, which was then all-important, his influence was wholly pernicious. The Church was in the field, fighting for her unity, nay, for her existence, against one of the most formidable heresies she had yet encountered. If she wished to survive, or regain her lost ground, she must refurbish and not cast away her weapons. Now Erasmus would have weakened her in the two respects in which it was most vital for her to be strong. He cared little for dogma, and he would have weakened the authority of the priesthood; in other words he would have reversed and stultified the superb fighting organization which it had taken centuries to construct. He did not understand nor sympathize with the Church, because, though a scholar and a man of genius, he was not at heart a Catholic. His unfitness to bear her standard is evinced by his remark that he was not of the stuff of which martyrs are made. Her heroes and even her adversaries were of that stuff.
The Counter-Reformation, when it did come, proceeded in a sense altogether different from that of Erasmus. We are not concerned to defend the shifts and intrigues by which the Council of Trent was pushed to a conclusion. But by fair means or foul the work which that Council had undertaken was efficiently accomplished. The dogma of the Church was not watered nor weakened in any way, but reaffirmed, defined and strengthened. The position of the Pope as the final authority in matters of doctrine was established, and the whole machinery of Catholic
discipline was reorganized. The hero of the CounterReformation is not Erasmus, but St. Ignatius Loyola, who was a Spaniard and a soldier, and its most successful and triumphant achievement was the most thoroughgoing system of spiritual discipline the world has yet seen, that of the Society of Jesus.
The centre of Catholic activity now shifts from Italy to Spain. The Italian cities, with the exception of Venice, which was fighting hard against the Turk for her Eastern possessions, were too obviously degenerate to take the lead in any European contest. With the death of Raphael and the despair of Michelangelo, their art was sinking towards the soullessness of the Bolognese, and the grace of the courtier was more desired than the deep-seated intensity of purpose that fires the greatest art. The Italian Renaissance literature of the sixteenth century impresses us by the lack of real depth underneath its brilliant exterior. The form becomes everything, the matter sinks into insignificance. The cynical culture of Ariosto, who can seldom refrain from a covert sneer at his own heroes, the melancholy sweetness of Tasso, are more calculated to tease us out of thought during idle hours, than to move to high contemplation or noble deeds. What help or unity could be expected from cities which hated each other worse than the foreigner, whose ideals, such as they were, were utterly divergent, which were honeycombed with corruption or submissive to monstrous tyranny, where atheism without the courage of its convictions went forth hand in hand with superstition, where cruelty and vice were carried to a pitch of refinement that a Nero might have envied, and which, before their conquest by the foreigner, had played at war with troops of hired mercenaries too conversant with the rules of the game to do each other serious injury.
Some sort of an Italian revival did indeed take place, for during the latter half of the century we have a suc
cession of earnest and devout Popes, who, if they were bad friends to beauty, had at least the cause of religion at heart. It was at this time that the kindest and most urbane of holy men was walking the streets of Rome, the blessed St. Philip of Neri, who once said that the children might chop wood on his body if it were not displeasing to God; it was then that a Pope had the bells rung to celebrate St. Bartholomew's massacre. But the most striking manifestations of revived Catholicism came not from Italy, but from Spain. The Peninsula gave evidence of the intensity of her Catholic feeling by an overflow of mystic ecstasy. She produced no less than three of those rare and exalted spirits who have, to a pre-eminent degree, pierced through the forms of religion to its essence, and without discarding dogma, have made even the most abstruse theological propositions glow with a new and awful radiance. We refer to St. Ignatius himself, St. Theresa and St. John of the Cross.
The long struggle with the heathen conquerors had rendered Spain a fighting nation of the most formidable type, and hence peculiarly suited to lead the CounterReformation. Everything centred in dog-like devotion to the King. Proud, bigoted, and intensely in earnest, Philip was just the monarch to appeal to the Spanish temperament. Intense personal dignity, and blind loyalty to King and Church, were what served the Spaniard in place of patriotism, and made him seem to his foes something more wicked and more terrible than an ordinary man. Even the splendid army of Alva was little better than a band of condottieri. Of the four divisions of that army, when it marched from Italy, not one was Spanish, and in the Netherlands it was in a chronic state of mutiny, the native Spaniards being the worst of all.
Though its motive power was derived from Spain, the Counter-Reformation was, by nature, cosmopolitan. In France, patriotism was at a low ebb, and the Catholic
League did not hesitate to invoke Spanish support against their own countrymen. The Catholic cause in Scotland was supported by a French garrison. In England, as we shall see, the keenest anxiety of the Government was lest orthodoxy should engender treason. Finally we have, on the part of Philip, the effort to revive the old crusading fervour against the Infidel which was crowned with victory at Lepanto.
When once the Counter-Reformation was under way, there was no mistaking its power nor its intensity of devotion. Even in Germany the tide of heresy was turned. Village by village, district by district, the southern provinces were won back for Rome. The Jesuits were everywhere, ready to sacrifice life and conscience for the cause, adapting themselves to every exigency, braving every peril. Nor was Calvinism idle: France, Scotland, the Low Countries, were all on fire; the two spiritual armies were everywhere fulfilling the prediction of their common Founder, that He had not come to bring peace, but a sword. It was a battle of giants. There was the Duke of Alva, a gaunt, cadaverous figure hiding beneath the courtesy of the hidalgo the cruelty of a fiend and the patience of a Red Indian; there was John Knox, in whom the austerity of Calvin was joined to the grimness of the old Scotch ballads, a terrible union; there was Don John of Austria, the young, the chivalrous, the ill-fated; there was William of Orange, the first of those Dutch heroes who found perfection, as is the manner of Dutch art, in thoroughness rather than brilliance; there were Egmont, and Parma, and the Guises, and Henry of Navarre. But the chief figure of all was neither a hero nor a saint, but a devout, plodding mediocrity, and yet the very soul of the Counter-Reformation, never hurried and never turned aside, ponderously revolving in that gloomy Escurial the schemes by which Europe was again to become one fold, and he himself its all-powerful guardian.