Front Page Titles (by Subject) LECTURE XII.: THE REFORMATION. - General History of Civilization in Europe
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
LECTURE XII.: THE REFORMATION. - François Guizot, General History of Civilization in Europe 
General History of Civilization in Europe by François Pierre Guillaume Guizot, edited, with critical and supplementary notes, by George Wells Knight (New York: D Appleton and Co., 1896).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
I have often referred to and lamented the disorder, the chaotic situation of European society; I have complained of the difficulty of comprehending and describing a state of society so loose, so scattered, and incoherent; and I have kept you waiting with impatience for the period of general interests, order, and social union. This period we have now reached; but, in treating of it, we encounter a difficulty of another kind. Hitherto, we have found it difficult to connect historical facts one with another, to class them together, to seize their common features, to discover their points of resemblance. The case is different in modern Europe; all the elements, all the incidents of social life modify, act and react upon each other; the mutual relations of men are much more numerous and complicated; so also are their relations with the government and the state, the relations of states with each other, and all the ideas and operations of the human mind. In the periods through which we have already traveled, we have found a great number of facts which were insulated, foreign to each other, and without any reciprocal influence. From this time, however, we find nothing insulated; all things press upon one another, and become modified and changed by their mutual contact and friction. What, let me ask, can be more difficult than to seize the real point of unity in the midst of such diversity, to determine the direction of such a widely spread and complicated movement, to sum up this prodigious number of various and closely connected elements, to point out at last the general and leading fact which is the sum of a long series of facts; which characterizes an era, and is the true expression of its influence, and of the part it has performed in the history of civilization? You will be able to measure at a glance the extent of this difficulty, in the great event which is now to engage our attention.
In the twelfth century we met with an event which was religious in its origin if not in its nature; I mean the crusades. Notwithstanding the greatness of this event, its long duration, and the variety of incidents which it brought about, it was easy enough for us to discover its general character, and to determine its influence with some degree of precision.
We have now to consider the religious revolution of the sixteenth century, which is commonly called the Reformation. Let me be permitted to say in passing, that I shall use this word reformation as a simple ordinary term, synonymous with religious revolution, and without attaching it to any opinion. You must, I am sure, foresee at once, how difficult it is to discover the real character of this great crisis, and to explain in a general manner what has been its nature and its effects.
The period of our inquiry must extend from the beginning of the sixteenth to the middle of the seventeenth century; for this period embraces, so to speak, the life of this event from its birth to its termination. All historical events have in some sort a determinate career. Their consequences are prolonged to infinity; they are connected with all the past and all the future; but it is not the less true, on this account, that they have a definite and limited existence; that they have their origin and their increase, occupy with their development a certain portion of time, and then diminish and disappear from the scene, to make way for some new event which runs a similar course.
The precise date which may be assigned to the Reformation is not of much importance. We may take the year 1520, when Luther publicly burnt at Wittenberg the bull of Leo X, containing his condemnation, and thus formally separated himself from the Romish church.* The interval between this period and the middle of the seventeenth century, the year 1648, when the treaty of Westphalia was concluded, comprehends the life of the Reformation. That this is the case, may be thus proved. The first and greatest effect of the religious revolution was to create in Europe two classes of states, the Catholic and the Protestant, to set them against each other and force them into hostilities. With many vicissitudes, the struggle between these two parties lasted from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the middle of the seventeenth. It was by the treaty of Westphalia, in 1648, that the Catholic and Protestant states reciprocally acknowledged each other, and engaged to live in amity and peace, without regard to difference of religion. After this, from 1648, difference of religion ceased to be the leading principle of the classification of states, of their external policy, their relations and alliances. Down to that time, notwithstanding great variations, Europe was essentially divided into a Catholic league and a Protestant league. After the treaty of Westphalia this distinction disappeared; and alliances or divisions among states took place from considerations altogether foreign to religious belief. At this point, therefore, the preponderance, or, in other words, the career of the Reformation came to an end, although its consequences, instead of decreasing, continued to develop themselves.
Let us now take a rapid survey of this career, and merely mentioning names and events, point out its course. You will see from this simple indication, from this dry and incomplete outline, what must be the difficulty of summing up a series of such various and complicated facts into one general fact; of determining what is the true character of the religious revolution of the sixteenth century, and of assigning to it its true part in the history of civilization.
The moment in which the Reformation broke out is remarkable for its political importance. It was in the midst of the great struggle between Francis I and Charles V—between France and Spain; a struggle at first for the possession of Italy, but afterwards for the German empire, and finally for preponderance in Europe. It was the moment in which the house of Austria elevated itself and became predominant in Europe. It was also the moment in which England, through Henry VIII, interfered in continental politics, more regularly, permanently, and extensively than she had ever done before.
If we follow the course of the sixteenth century in France, we shall find it entirely occupied by the great religious wars between Protestants and Catholics; wars which became the means and the occasion of a new attempt of the great nobles to repossess themselves of the power which they had lost, and to obtain an ascendancy over the sovereign. This was the political meaning of the religious wars of France, of the League,* of the struggle between the houses of Guise and Valois,—a struggle which was put an end to by the accession of Henry IV.
In Spain, the revolution of the United Provinces broke out about the middle of the reign of Philip II. The Inquisition on one hand, and civil and religious liberty on the other, made these provinces the theatre of war under the names of the Duke of Alva and the Prince of Orange. Perseverance and prudence secured the triumph of liberty in Holland, but it perished in Spain, where absolute power, ecclesiastical and civil, reigned without control.
In England, the circumstances to be noted are, the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth; the struggle of Elizabeth, as head of the Protestant interests, against Philip II; the accession of James Stuart to the throne of England; and the rise of the great dispute between the monarchy and the people.*
About the same time we note the creation of new powers in the north. Sweden was raised into existence by Gustavus Vasa, in 1523. Prussia was created by the secularization of the Teutonic order. The northern powers assumed a place in the politics of Europe which they had not occupied before, and the importance of which soon afterwards showed itself in the Thirty Years’ War.
I now come back to France, to note the reign of Louis XIII; the change in the internal administration of this country effected by Cardinal Richelieu; the relations of France with Germany, and the support which she afforded to the Protestant party.† In Germany, during the latter part of the sixteenth century, there was the war with the Turks; in the beginning of the seventeenth, the Thirty Years’ War, the greatest of modern events in eastern Europe; Gustavus Adolphus, Wallenstein, Tilly, the Duke of Brunswick, the Duke of Weimar, are the greatest names of which Germany at this time could boast.
At the same period, in France, took place the accession of Louis XIV and the commencement of the Fronde;‡ in England broke out the great revolution, or, as it is sometimes improperly called, the Great Rebellion, which dethroned Charles I.
In this survey, I have only glanced at the most prominent events of history, events which everybody has heard of; you see their number, their variety, their importance. If we seek for events of another kind, events less conspicuous and less distinguished by great names, we shall find them not less abundant during this period; a period remarkable for the great changes which took place in the political institutions of almost every country; the period in which pure monarchy prevailed in most of the great states, while in Holland there arose the most powerful republic in Europe; and in England constitutional monarchy achieved, or nearly achieved, a final triumph. Then, in the Church, it was during this period that the old monastic orders lost almost all their political power, and were replaced by a new order of a different character, and whose importance, erroneously perhaps, is considered much superior to that of its precursors,—I mean the Jesuits. At the same period the Council of Trent obliterated all that remained of the influence of the Councils of Constance and Basel, and secured the definitive ascendency of the Court of Rome in ecclesiastical affairs.* Leaving the Church, and taking a passing glance at the philosophy of the age, at the unfettered career of the human mind, we observe two men, Bacon and Descartes, the authors of the greatest philosophical revolution which the modern world has undergone, the chiefs of the two schools which contended for supremacy. It was in this period too that Italian literature shone forth in its fullest splendor, while that of France and England was still in its infancy. Lastly, it was in this period that the colonial system of Europe had its origin; that great colonies were founded; and that commercial activity and enterprise were carried to an extent never before known.
Thus, under whatever point of view we consider this era, we find its political, ecclesiastical, philosophical, and literary events, more numerous, varied, and important, than in any of the preceding ages. The activity of the human mind displayed itself in every way; in the relations of men with each other—in their relations with the governing powers—in the relations of states, and in the intellectual labors of individuals. In short, it was the age of great men and of great things. Yet, among the great events of this period, the religious revolution which now engages our attention was the greatest. It was the leading fact of the period; the fact which gives it its name, and determines its character.* Among the many powerful causes which have produced so many powerful effects, the Reformation was the most powerful; it was that to which all the others contributed; that which has modified, or been modified by, all the rest. The task which we have now to perform, then, is to review, with precision, this event; to examine this cause, which, in a period of the greatest causes, produced the greatest effects—this event, which, in this period of great events, prevailed over all the rest.
You must, at once, perceive how difficult it is to link together facts so diversified, so immense, and so closely connected, into one great historical unity. It must, however, be done; when events are once consummated, when they have become matter of history, the most important business is then to be attempted; that which man most seeks for are general facts—the linking together of causes and effects. This is what I may call the immortal portion of history, which all generations must study, in order to understand the past as well as the present time. This desire after generalization, of obtaining rational results, is the most powerful and noblest of all our intellectual desires; but we must beware of being satisfied with hasty and incomplete generalizations. No pleasure is more seducing than that of indulging ourselves in determining on the spot, and at first sight, the general character and permanent results of an era or an event. The human intellect, like the human will, is eager to be in action, impatient of obstacles, and desirous of coming to conclusions. It willingly forgets such facts as impede and constrain its operations; but while it forgets, it cannot destroy them; they still live to convict it of error at some after period. There is only one way of escaping this danger; it is by a resolute and dogged study of facts, till their meaning is exhausted, before attempting to generalize, or coming to conclusions respecting their effects. Facts are, for the intellect, what the rules of morals are for the will. The mind must be thoroughly acquainted with facts, and must know their weight; and it is only when she has fulfilled this duty—when she has completely traversed, in every direction, the ground of investigation and inquiry—that she is permitted to spread her wings and take her flight towards that higher region, whence she may survey all things in their general bearings and results. If she endeavor to ascend prematurely, without having first acquired a thorough knowledge of the territory which she desires to contemplate from above, she incurs the most imminent risk of error and downfall. As, in a calculation of figures, an error at the outset leads to others, ad infinitum, so, in history, if we do not, in the first instance, take every fact into account—if we allow ourselves to indulge in a spirit of precipitate generalization—it is impossible to tell how far we may be led astray from the truth.
In these observations, I am, in some measure, putting you on your guard against myself. In this course I have been able to do little more than make some attempts at generalization, and take some general views of facts which we had not studied closely and together. Having now arrived at a period where this task is much more difficult, and the chances of error greater than before, I think it necessary to make you aware of the danger, and warn you against my own speculations. Having done so, I shall now continue them, and treat the Reformation in the same way that I have other events. I shall endeavor to discover its leading fact, to describe its general character, and to show the part which this great event has performed in the process of European civilization.
You remember the situation in which we left Europe, at the end of the fifteenth century.* We saw, in the course of it, two great attempts at religious revolution or reform; an attempt at legal reform by the councils, and an attempt at revolutionary reform, in Bohemia, by the Hussites; we saw both these stifled and rendered abortive; and yet we concluded that the event was one which could not be staved off, but that it must necessarily reappear in one shape or another; and that what the fifteenth century attempted would be inevitably accomplished by the sixteenth.† I shall not enter into any details respecting the religious revolution of the sixteenth century, which I consider as being generally known.‡ I shall confine myself solely to the consideration of its general influence on the destinies of mankind.
In the inquiries which have been made into the causes which produced this great event, the enemies of the Reformation have imputed it to accidents and mischances, in the course of civilization; for instance, to the sale of indulgences* having been intrusted to the Dominicans, which the jealousy of the Augustines. Luther was an Augustine; and this, therefore, was the moving power which put the Reformation in action. Others have ascribed it to the ambition of sovereigns—to their rivalry with the ecclesiastical power, and to the avidity of the lay nobility, who wished to take possession of the property of the Church. In this manner the Reformation has been accounted for, by looking at the evil side of human nature and human affairs; by having recourse to the private interests and selfish passions of individuals.
On the other hand, the friends and partisans of the Reformation have endeavored to account for it by the pure desire of effectually reforming the existing abuses of the Church. They have represented it as a redress of religious grievances, as an enterprise conceived and executed with the sole design of reconstituting the Church in its primitive purity. Neither of these explanations appears to me well founded. There is more truth in the latter than in the former; at least, the cause assigned is greater, and in better proportion to the extent and importance of the event; but, still, I do not consider it as correct. In my opinion, the Reformation neither was an accident, the result of some casual circumstance, or some personal interest, nor arose from unmingled views of religious improvement, the fruit of Utopian humanity and truth. It had a more powerful cause than all these; a general cause, to which all the others were subordinate. It was a vast effort made by the human mind to achieve its freedom; it was a new born desire which it felt to think and judge, freely and independently, of facts and opinions which, till then, Europe received, or was considered bound to receive, from the hands of authority. It was a great endeavor to emancipate human reason; and to call things by their right names, it was an insurrection of the human mind against the absolute power of spiritual order. Such, in my opinion, was the true character and leading principle of the Reformation.
When we consider, on one hand, the state of the human mind, at this time, and, on the other, the state of the spiritual power of the Church, which had the government of the human mind, a double fact presents itself to our notice.
In looking at the human mind, we observe much greater activity, and a much greater desire to develop its powers, than it had ever felt before. This new activity was the result of various causes which had been accumulating for ages. For example, there were ages in which heresies sprang up, subsisted for a time, and then gave way to others; there were other ages in which philosophical opinions ran just the same course as heresies. The labors of the human mind, whether in the sphere of religion or of philosophy, had been accumulating from the eleventh to the sixteenth century; and the time was now come when they must necessarily have a result. Besides this, the means of instruction created or favored in the bosom of the Church itself, had brought forth fruit. Schools* had been instituted; these schools had produced men of considerable knowledge, and their number had daily increased. These men began to wish to think for themselves, for they felt themselves stronger than they had ever been before. At last came that restoration of the human mind to a pristine youth and vigor, which the revival of the learning and arts of antiquity brought about, the progress and effects of which I have already described.
These various causes combined, gave, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, a new and powerful impulse to the human mind, an imperious desire to go forward.
The situation of the spiritual power, which then had the government of the human mind, was totally different; it, on the contrary, had fallen into a state of imbecility, and remained stationary. The political influence of the Church and Court of Rome was much diminished. European society had passed from the dominion of Rome to that of temporal governments. Yet in spite of all this, the spiritual power still preserved its pretensions, splendor, and outward importance. The same thing happened to it which has so often happened to long established governments. Most of the complaints made against it were now almost groundless. It is not true, that in the sixteenth century, the Court of Rome was very tyrannical; it is not true, that its abuses were more numerous and crying than they had been at former periods. Never, perhaps, on the contrary, had the government of the Church been more indulgent, more tolerant, more disposed to let things take their course, provided it was not itself implicated, provided that the rights it had hitherto enjoyed were acknowledged even though left unexercised, and that it was assured of its usual existence, and received its usual tributes. It would willingly have left the human mind to itself, if the human mind had been as tolerant towards its offences. But it usually happens, that just when governments have begun to lose their influence and power, just when they are comparatively harmless, that they are most exposed to attack; it is then that, like the sick lion, they may be attacked with impunity, though the attempt would have been desperate when they were in the plenitude of their power.
It is evident, therefore, simply from the consideration of the state of the human mind at this period, and of the power which then governed it, that the Reformation must have been, I repeat it, a sudden effort made by the human mind to achieve its liberty, a great insurrection of human intelligence. This, doubtless, was the leading cause of the Reformation, the cause which soared above all the rest; a cause superior to every interest either of sovereigns or of nations, superior to the need of reform properly so called, or of the redress of the grievances which were complained of at this period.
Let us suppose, that after the first years of the Reformation had passed away, when it had made all its demands, and insisted on all its grievances,—let us suppose, I say, that the spiritual power had conceded everything, and said, “Well, be it so; I will make every reform you desire; I will return to a more legal, more truly religious order of affairs. I will suppress arbitrary exactions and tributes; even in matters of belief I will modify my doctrines, and return to the primitive standard of Christian faith. But, having thus redressed all your grievances, I must preserve my station, and retain, as formerly, the government of the human mind, with all the powers and all the rights which I have hitherto enjoyed.”—Can we believe that the religious revolution would have been satisfied with these concessions, and would have stopped short in its course? I cannot think so; I firmly believe that it would have continued its career, and that after having obtained reform, it would have demanded liberty. The crisis of the sixteenth century was not merely of a reforming character; it was essentially revolutionary. It cannot be deprived of this character, with all the good and evil that belongs to it; its nature may be traced in its effects.
Let us take a glance at the destinies of the Reformation; let us see, more particularly, what it has produced in the different countries in which it developed itself. It can hardly escape observation that it exhibited itself in very different situations, and with very different chances of success; if then we find that, notwithstanding this diversity of situations and chances, it has always pursued a certain object, obtained a certain result, and preserved a certain character, it must be evident that this character, which has surmounted all the diversities of situation, all the inequalities of chance, must be the fundamental character of the event; and that this result must be the essential object of its pursuit.
Well then, wherever the religious revolution of the sixteenth century prevailed, if it did not accomplish a complete emancipation of the human mind, it procured it a new and great increase of liberty. It doubtless left the mind subject to all the chances of liberty or thraldom which might arise from political institutions; but it abolished or disarmed the spiritual power, the systematic and formidable government of the mind. This was the result obtained by the Reformation, notwithstanding the infinite diversity of circumstances under which it took place. In Germany there was no political liberty; the Reformation did not introduce it; it rather strengthened than enfeebled the power of princes; it was rather opposed to the free institutions of the middle ages than favorable to their progress. Still, in spite of this, it excited and maintained in Germany a greater freedom of thought, probably, than in any other country. In Denmark, too, a country in which absolute power predominated in the municipal institutions, as well as the general institutions of the state, thought was emancipated through the influence of the Reformation, and freely exercised on every subject. In Holland, under a republic; in England, under a constitutional monarchy, and in spite of a religious tyranny which was long very severe, the emancipation of the human mind was accomplished by the same influence. And lastly, in France, which seemed from its situation the least likely of any to be affected by this religious revolution, even in this country, where it was actually overcome, it became a principle of mental independence, of intellectual freedom. Till the year 1685, that is, till the revocation of the Edict of Nantes,* the Reformation enjoyed a legal existence in France. During this long space of time, the reformers wrote, disputed, and provoked their adversaries to write and dispute with them. This single fact, this war of tracts and disputations between the old and new opinions, diffused in France a greater degree of real and active liberty than is commonly believed; a liberty which redounded to the advantage of science and morality, to the honor of the French clergy, and to the benefit of the mind in general. Look at the conferences of Bossuet with Claude,† and at all the religious controversy of that period, and ask yourselves if Louis XIV would have permitted a similar degree of freedom on any other subject. It was between the reformers and the opposite party that the greatest freedom of opinion existed in the seventeenth century. Religious questions were treated in a bolder and freer spirit of speculation than political, even by Fenelon himself in his Telemachus. This state of things lasted till the revocation of the edict of Nantes. Now, from the year 1685 to the explosion of the human mind in the eighteenth century, there was not an interval of forty years; and the influence of the religious revolution in favor of intellectual liberty had scarcely ceased when the influence of the revolution in philosophy began to operate.
You see, then, that wherever the Reformation penetrated, wherever it acted an important part, whether conqueror or conquered, its general, leading, and constant result was an immense progress in mental activity and freedom; an immense step towards the emancipation of the human mind.
Again, not only was this the result of the Reformation, but it was content with this result. Wherever this was obtained, no other was sought for; so entirely was it the very foundation of the event, its primitive and fundamental character! Thus, in Germany, far from demanding political liberty, the Reformation accepted, I shall not say servitude, but the absence of liberty. In England, it consented to the hierarchical constitution of the clergy, and to the existence of a Church, as full of abuses as ever the Romish church had been, and much more servile. Why did the Reformation, so ardent and rigid in certain respects, exhibit, in these instances, so much facility and suppleness? Because it had obtained the general result to which it tended, the abolition of the spiritual power, and the emancipation of the human mind. I repeat it; wherever the Reformation attained this object, it accommodated itself to every form of government, and to every situation.
Let us now test this fact by the opposite mode of proof; let us see what happened in those countries into which the Reformation did not penetrate, or in which it was early suppressed. We learn from history that, in those countries, the human mind was not emancipated; witness two great countries, Spain and Italy. While, in those parts of Europe into which the Reformation very largely entered, the human mind, during the last three centuries, has acquired an activity and freedom previously unknown;—in those other parts, into which it was never allowed to make its way, the mind, during the same period, has become languid and inert: so that opposite sets of facts, which happened at the same time, concur in establishing the same result.*
The impulse which was given to human thought, and the abolition of absolute power in the spiritual order, constituted, then, the essential character of the Reformation, the most general result of its influence, the ruling fact in its destiny.
I use the word fact, and I do so designedly. The emancipation of the human mind, in the course of the Reformation, was a fact rather than a principle, a result rather than an intention.† The Reformation, I believe, has in this respect, performed more than it undertook,—more, probably, than it desired. Contrary to what has happened in many other revolutions, the effects of which have not come up to their design, the consequences of the Reformation have gone beyond the object it had in view; it is greater, considered as an event, than as a system; it never completely foresaw all that it effected, nor, if it had, would it have completely avowed it.
What are the reproaches constantly applied to the Reformation by its enemies? Which of its results are thrown in its face, as it were, as unanswerable?
The two principal reproaches are, first, the multiplicity of sects, the excessive license of thought, the destruction of all spiritual authority, and the entire dissolution of religious society; secondly, tyranny and persecution. “You provoke licentiousness,” it has been said to the Reformers,—“you produced it; and, after having been the cause of it, you wish to restrain and repress it. And how do you repress it? By the most harsh and violent means. You take upon yourselves, too, to punish heresy, and that by virtue of an illegitimate authority.”
If we take a review of all the principal charges which have been made against the Reformation, we shall find, if we set aside all questions purely doctrinal, that the above are the two fundamental reproaches to which they may all be reduced.
These charges gave great embarrassment to the reform party. When they were taxed with the multiplicity of their sects, instead of advocating the freedom of religious opinion, and maintaining the right of every sect to entire toleration, they denounced sectarianism, lamented it, and endeavored to find excuses for its existence. Were they accused of persecution? They were troubled to defend themselves; they used the plea of necessity; they had, they said, the right to repress and punish error, because they were in possession of the truth. Their articles of belief, and their institutions, they contended, were the only legitimate ones; and if the Church of Rome had not the right to punish the reformed party, it was because she was in the wrong and they in the right.
And when the charge of persecution was applied to the ruling party in the Reformation, not by its enemies, but by its own offspring; when the sects denounced by that party said, “We are doing just what you did; we separate ourselves from you, just as you separated yourselves from the Church of Rome,” this ruling party were still more at a loss to find an answer, and frequently the only answer they had to give was an increase of severity.
The truth is, that while laboring for the destruction of absolute power in the spiritual order, the religious revolution of the sixteenth century was not aware of the true principles of intellectual liberty. It emancipated the human mind, and yet pretended still to govern it by laws. In point of fact it produced the prevalence of free inquiry; in point of principle it believed that it was substituting a legitimate for an illegitimate power. It had not looked up to the primary motive, nor down to the ultimate consequences of its own work. It thus fell into a double error. On the one side it did not know or respect all the rights of human thought; at the very moment that it was demanding these rights for itself, it was violating them towards others.* On the other side, it was unable to estimate the rights of authority in matters of reason. I do not speak of that coercive authority which ought to have no rights at all in such matters, but of that kind of authority which is purely moral,* and acts solely by its influence upon the mind. In most reformed countries something is wanting to complete the proper organization of intellectual society, and to the regular action of old and general opinions. What is due to and required by traditional belief, has not been reconciled with what is due to and required by freedom of thinking; and the cause of this undoubtedly is, that the Reformation did not fully comprehend and accept its own principles and effects.
Hence, too, the Reformation acquired an appearance of inconsistency and narrowness of mind, which has often given an advantage to its enemies. The latter knew very well what they were about, and what they wanted; they cited the principles of their conduct without scruple, and avowed all its consequences. There never was a government more consistent and systematic than that of the Church of Rome. In point of fact, the Court of Rome made more compromises and concessions than the Reformation; in point of principle, it adhered much more closely to its system, and maintained a more consistent line of conduct. Great strength is gained by a thorough knowledge of the nature of one’s own views and actions, by a complete and rational adoption of a certain principle and design: and a striking example of this is to be found in the course of the religious revolution of the sixteenth century. Everybody knows that the principal power instituted to contend against the Reformation was the order of the Jesuits.* Look for a moment at their history; they failed everywhere; wherever they interfered, to any extent, they brought misfortune upon the cause in which they meddled. In England they ruined kings; in Spain, whole masses of the people. The general course of events, the development of modern civilization, the freedom of the human mind, all these forces with which the Jesuits were called upon to contend, rose up against them and overcame them. And not only did they fail, but you must remember what sort of means they were constrained to employ. There was nothing great or splendid in what they did; they produced no striking events, they did not put in motion powerful masses of men. They proceeded by dark and hidden courses; courses by no means calculated to strike the imagination, or to conciliate that public interest which always attaches itself to great things, whatever may be their principle and object. The party opposed to them, on the contrary, not only overcame, but overcame signally; did great things and by great means; overspread Europe with great men; changed, in open day, the condition and form of states. Every thing, in short, was against the Jesuits, both fortune and appearances; reason, which desires success,—and imagination, which requires éclat,—were alike disappointed by their fate. Still, however, they were undoubtedly possessed of grandeur; great ideas are attached to their name, their influence, and their history. The reason is, that they knew what they did, and what they wished to accomplish; that they were fully and clearly aware of the principles upon which they acted, and of the object which they had in view. They possessed grandeur of thought and of will; and it was this that saved them from the ridicule which attends constant reverses, and the use of paltry means. Wherever, on the contrary, the event has been greater than the design, wherever there is an appearance of ignorance of the first principles and ultimate results of an action, there has always remained a degree of incompleteness, inconsistency, and narrowness of view, which has placed the very victors in a state of rational or philosophical inferiority, the influence of which has sometimes been apparent in the course of events. This, I think, in the struggle between the old and the new order of things, in matters of religion, was the weak side of the Reformation, which often embarrassed its situation, and prevented it from defending itself so well as it had a right to do.
I might consider the religious revolution of the sixteenth century under many other aspects. I have said nothing, and have nothing to say, respecting it as a matter of doctrine—respecting its effects on religion, properly so called, or respecting the relations of the human soul with God and an eternal futurity; but I might exhibit it in its various relations with social order, everywhere producing results of immense importance. For example, it introduced religion into the midst of the laity, into the world, so to speak, of believers. Till then, religion had been the exclusive domain of the ecclesiastical order. The clergy distributed the proceeds, but reserved to themselves the disposal of the capital, and almost the exclusive right even to speak of it. The Reformation again threw matters of religious belief into general circulation, and again opened to believers the field of faith into which they had not been permitted to enter. It had, at the same time, a further result; it banished, or nearly so, religion from polities, and restored the independence of the temporal power. At the same moment that religion returned into the possession of believers, it quitted the government of society. In the reformed countries, in spite of the diversities of ecclesiastical constitutions, even in England, whose constitution is most nearly akin to the old order of things, the spiritual power has no longer any serious pretensions to the government of the temporal power.*
I might enumerate many other consequences of the Reformation, but I must limit myself to the above general views; and I am satisfied with having placed before you its principal feature—the emancipation of the human mind, and the abolition of absolute power in the spiritual order; an abolition which, though, undoubtedly, not complete, is yet the greatest step which, down to our own times, has ever been made towards the attainment of that object.
Before concluding, I pray you to remark, what a striking resemblance of destiny there is to be found, in the history of modern Europe, between civil and religious society, in the revolutions they have had to undergo.
Christian society, as we have seen when I spoke of the Church, was, at first, a state of society perfectly free, formed entirely in the name of a common belief, without institutions or government, properly so called; regulated, solely, by moral and variable powers, according to the exigencies of the moment. Civil society began, in like manner, in Europe, partly, at least, by bands of barbarians; it was a state of society perfectly free, in which every one remained, because he wished to do so, without laws or powers created by institutions. In emerging from that state which was inconsistent with any great social development, religious society placed itself under a government essentially aristocratic; its governors were the clergy, the bishops, the councils, the ecclesiastical aristocracy. A fact of the same kind took place in civil society when it emerged from barbarism; it was, in like manner, the aristocracy, the feudalism of the laity, which laid hold of the power of government. Religious society quitted the aristocratic form of government to assume that of pure monarchy; this was the rationale of the triumph of the Court of Rome over the Councils and the ecclesiastical aristocracy of Europe. The same revolution was accomplished in civil society; it was, in like manner, by the destruction of the aristocratic power, that monarchy prevailed, and took possession of the European world. In the sixteenth century, in the heart of religious society, an insurrection broke out against the system of pure ecclesiastical monarchy, against absolute power in the spiritual order. This revolution produced, sanctioned, and established freedom of inquiry in Europe. In our own time we have witnessed a similar event in civil society.* Absolute temporal power, in like manner, was attacked and overcome. You see, then, that the two orders of society have undergone the same vicissitudes and revolutions; only religious society has always been the foremost in this career.
We are now in possession of one of the great facts in the history of modern society—freedom of inquiry, the liberty of the human mind. We see, at the same time, the almost universal prevalence of political centralization. In my next lecture I shall consider the revolution in England; the event in which freedom of inquiry and a pure monarchy, both results of the progress of civilization, came, for the first time, into collision.†
[* ] This act may be considered as the logical consequence of social forces set in motion by the posting of the ninety-five theses in 1517. For a carefully prepared translation of these theses, and of other documents connected with this period, see Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History (University of Pennsylvania), vol. ii, No. 6.
[* ] Henry, Duke of Guise, organized the Holy League (1576), of which the ostensible purpose was to resist the Huguenots, but the real purpose was to aid the duke in gaining the crown. His death, and also that of the king, in 1589, not only dissolved the league, but made certain the accession of Henry of Navarre.
[* ] Consult Lecture XIII.
[† ] Richelieu’s policy in the Thirty Years’ War was dictated purely by political motives.
[‡ ] The Fronde, a political party and insurrection whose chief aim was to stir up strife against the government, bears a superficial resemblance to the Great Rebellion in England. They were alike so far as both made absolutism the prime object of attack, but utterly different in the spirit underlying each. The religious element was entirely wanting to the Fronde.
[* ] See page 306.
[* ] Especially was this the case in Germany. In England and Spain, commerce and colonization are prominent facts of the period, while in France the upbuilding of the monarchy stands out in high relief.
[* ] See pages 304, 310ff.
[† ] The reappearance of the religious reform movement connects itself closely with the revival of learning, the two chief phenomena of which are (1) the founding of universities in Germany and (2) the multiplication of books. These factors forbade the dissolution of reform ideas. Books preserved the thoughts of Wycliffe and Huss. The printing press disseminated those of Erasmus and Luther.
[‡ ] It is manifestly impossible within the space of a brief note to attempt any historical sketch of this great period. A good knowledge of the events is, however, essential to the appreciation of M. Guizot’s discussion. In addition to the brief accounts given in the general histories ordinarily accessible, the following works may be used with advantage by the student who desires a more comprehensive idea of the scope and meaning of the period: Seebohm, Protestant Reformation (contains a brief but good bibliography); Ranke, History of the Popes; Häusser, The Period of the Reformation; Fisher, History of the Reformation; D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation (intensely Protestant); Spalding, History of the Protestant Reformation (strongly Roman Catholic); Köstlin’s Martin Luther will also be found of value. Fisher, Outlines of Universal History, p. 450, and Andrews, Institutes of General History, p. 256, give brief bibliographies. (that is, of the confession and satisfaction which are performed under the ministry of priests).”
“(4) The penalty thus continues as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inward penitence); namely, till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.”
“(35) They preach no Christian doctrine who teach that contrition is not necessary for those who buy souls out of purgatory or buy confessional licenses.
“(36) Every Christian who feels true compunction has of right plenary remission of punishment and guilt, even without letters of pardon.”
“(81) This license in the preaching of pardons makes it no easy thing, even for learned men, to protect the reverence due to the pope against the calumnies, or, at all events, the keen questionings of the laity.” Translations and Reprints, vol. ii, No. 6.
[* ] The sale of indulgences in general, and by Tetzel and his colleagues in particular, constitutes a most important feature of the movement. The theory of indulgences as preached by Tetzel is shown in a pattern sermon to be used by the priests in his district around Leipzig: “With these confessional letters you will be able at any time in life to obtain full indulgence for all penalties imposed upon you, in all cases except in the four reserved to the Apostolic See. Throughout your whole life, whenever you wish to make confession, you may receive the same remission, except in cases reserved to the pope, and afterwards, at the hour of death, a full indulgence as to all penalties and sins, and your share of all spiritual blessings that exist in the Church militant and all its members. . . . Are you not willing, then, for the fourth part of a florin, to obtain these letters, by virtue of which you may bring, not your money, but your divine and immortal soul, safe and sound into the land of Paradise?”
That the practice was grossly abused at this time admits of no question. Tetzel’s appearance at Jüterbogk, but a few miles from Wittenberg, aroused Luther to action. His views (subject to revision on convicion) are expressed in the following, among the ninety-five theses: “(1) Our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, in saying ‘Repent ye,’ etc., intended that the whole life of believers should be penitence.
“(2) This word cannot be understood of sacramental penance
[* ] With the rise of scholasticism there sprang up independent, free associations of students, after the ancient Greek order. These free associations became formal organizations afterwards, with a single recognized head, called the “rector.” Municipalities and princes, as well as the papacy, granted them charters, and they became permanent institutions equally with the monasteries and communes. Each school had its specialty, as: Paris, theology; Bologna, law; Salerno, medicine. Later, other faculties were added to each, and modern universities were born.
[* ] The Edict of Nantes (1598) guaranteed to the Huguenots liberty of conscience; freedom of worship; right to all public offices equally with Catholics; exclusive political control for eight years over Nîmes, Montauban, La Rochelle, and a few other towns; and the right to assemble by deputies every three years in order to present to the government their complaints. The latter clause, constituting them a veritable imperium in imperio, afforded a sufficient pretext for the revocation of the entire edict by Louis XIV.
[† ] Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704), a famous French orator and Roman Catholic theologian, author of several books in exposition of Roman Catholic doctrines. Jean Claude (1619-1687), a prominent French Protestant preacher and theologian. Bossuet and Claude were engaged in frequent theological controversy; in 1678 occurred their noted conference or discussion on the authority of the Church; both claimed the victory. This freedom of discussion ceased with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
[* ] Climatic conditions as well as political considerations must not be overlooked.
[† ] This statement is more exact than the passage on page 328, with which it is not easily harmonized.
No doubt the assertion of this principle of absolute independence, or the unlimited right of private judgment in religion, became and has continued to be the great characteristic result of the religious revolution. But the Reformation did not at the outset (any more than many other great revolutions) generalize itself, define and enunciate the principles on which it proceeded. It began with opposition to special abuses and corruptions. Neither Luther nor his associates comprehended at first how far they should be carried. It was only in the sequel that the right of private judgment in religion was brought out, asserted, and contended for as a principle. Luther himself and the earliest reformers did not contend for it as an absolute principle. This is evident from the continual offers of Luther to submit himself implicitly to the decision of a general council. It is evident, moreover, from the fact that the reformers, just as much as the papists, held it right to inflict coercion, physical pains, and death upon those who denied what they regarded as the essential faith.
[* ] From the point of view of our age, the inconsistency of the Reformation is glaring, when one recalls the intolerance of the reformers.
Now whether the principle of independence of all authority, the absolutely unlimited right of private judgment in matters of religious faith, be or be not a correct principle, it will not be disputed at the present day that absolute independence of all human authority, and so far forth the unlimited right of private judgment, is a correct principle, and that all coercion or physical punishment is a monstrous absurdity and a monstrous crime. Yet nothing is clearer from history than that the reformers did not understand, did not act upon this principle; it was a century and a half before Protestants learned definitively that they had no right to inflict death, imprisonment, stripes or fines upon heretics, and no right beyond that of simply separating from their communion.
[* ] Intellectual authority is doubtless included, respect for which rests on the double basis (1) of recognition of equality and superiority in others, and (2) a profound regard for the truth as revealed in the experience of others.
[* ] Rose, Ignatius Loyola and the Rise of the Jesuits, may be consulted. An excellent sketch of the rise of the Jesuits is given in Sir James Stephens’s essay on Loyola, in his Ecclesiastical Essays. The literature of the subject is abundant.
[* ] Since the time of Henry VIII the power of the Church over legislation and administration has been gradually decreasing. Since Archbishop Laud (1645), the advisers and ministers of the sovereign have, almost without exception, been laymen.
[* ] The French revolution of 1789.
[† ] Perhaps there is no epoch in the world’s history where one can find more diversified interests and conflicting motives than in the Reformation. It has a separate history for each nation and a separate history for the various classes of society. To the German peasant it seemed to offer an escape from the burdens of feudalism; to the noble, an opportunity for gain; to the emperor, another force to check the the papacy; to the scholar, it meant intellectual emancipation. The Reformation cannot be separated from the period which preceded it. The new spirit, which in Italy produced its magic effects in art, literature, and culture, in Germany awoke the religious fervor of the people. As one has said, “This new spirit in Italy emancipated the human intelligence by the classics; in Germany it emancipated the human intelligence by the Bible.” The struggle was between Teutonic freedom and Latin authority, between the spirit of Saxon and Roman law. It was, in fact, the last Germanic invasion of the sacred soil of Rome. It prepared the way for the political revolutions which followed.