Beacon Lights of History, Volume 06 eBook

John Lord
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 352 pages of information about Beacon Lights of History, Volume 06.


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A.D. 1491-1556.


Next to the Protestant Reformation itself, the most memorable moral movement in the history of modern times was the counter-reformation in the Roman Catholic Church, finally effected, in no slight degree, by the Jesuits.  But it has not the grandeur or historical significance of the great insurrection of human intelligence which was headed by Luther.  It was a revival of the pietism of the Middle Ages, with an external reform of manners.  It was not revolutionary; it did not cast off the authority of the popes, nor disband the monasteries, nor reform religious worship:  it rather tended to strengthen the power of the popes, to revive monastic life, and to perpetuate the forms of worship which the Middle Ages had established.  No doubt a new religious life was kindled, and many of the flagrant abuses of the papal empire were redressed, and the lives of the clergy made more decent, in accordance with the revival of intelligence.  Nor did it disdain literature or art, or any form of modern civilization, but sought to combine progress with old ideas; it was an effort to adapt the Roman theocracy to changing circumstances, and was marked by expediency rather than right, by zeal rather than a profound philosophy.

This movement took place among the Latin races,—­the Italians, French, and Spaniards,—­having no hold on the Teutonic races except in Austria, as much Slavonic as German.  It worked on a poor material, morally considered; among peoples who have not been distinguished for stamina of character, earnestness, contemplative habits, and moral elevation,—­peoples long enslaved, frivolous in their pleasures, superstitious, indolent, fond of fetes, spectacles, pictures, and Pagan reminiscences.

The doctrine of justification by faith was not unknown, even in Italy.  It was embraced by many distinguished men.  Contarini, an illustrious Venetian, wrote a treatise on it, which Cardinal Pole admired.  Folengo ascribed justification to grace alone; and Vittoria Colonna, the friend of Michael Angelo, took a deep interest in these theological inquiries.  But the doctrine did not spread; it was not understood by the people,—­it was a speculation among scholars and doctors, which gave no alarm to the Pope.  There was even an attempt at internal reform under Paul III. of the illustrious family of the Farnese, successor of Leo X. and Clement VII., the two renowned Medicean popes.  He made cardinals of Contarini, Caraffa, Sadoleto, Pole, Giberto,—­all men imbued with Protestant doctrines, and very religious; and these good men prepared a plan of reform and submitted it to the Pope, which ended, however, only in new monastic orders.

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