The Age of Erasmus eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 273 pages of information about The Age of Erasmus.

Such was the soil into which fell the seed that Luther went forth to sow.  When Tetzel came marching into German towns, with the Pope’s Bull borne before him on a cushion, and brandishing indulgences for the living and the dead, when the coins were tinkling in the box, and the souls, released by contract, were flying off out of purgatory, the religious sense of thinking men was outraged by this travesty of the Day of Judgement; but scarcely less were they angered to see the tinkling coins, honest German money, flying off as rapidly as the souls, to build palaces for the supercilious Italians.  In the great struggle of the Reformation the main issue was of course religious; but even its leader could feel added bitterness in the knowledge that this shocking traffic was ordained from Italy to benefit an Italian Pope.  If the sympathies of educated Germany had not already been strongly moved in the same direction, it is conceivable that Luther’s intrepid protest might have lacked the support which carried it to success.



(A paper read before the third International Historical Congress, in London, April 1913.)

Whatever may still be the troubles of the great, amongst men of learning at any rate visits of ceremony are mercifully no longer in fashion.  At first sight one is inclined to find the cause of this in an improved sense of the value of time.  Modern inventions have taught first the business man and then the world in general that time is money.  Improved communications with time-tables that may be relied upon enable us to arrange our days in such a way as to be at least more busy, if not more useful; and we have acquired a wholesome respect for the time of others.  But I do not think we should be right in accounting for the change in this way.  At all ages the scholar, looking round him at tasks which exceed the capacity of a lifetime, has been avaricious of the hours—­’labuntur anni’, ’pereunt et imputantur’ ever in his thoughts:  and though the world of old moved slower, the man of business has rarely belied his name.  A more plausible explanation is that the custom has died of surfeit.  As increased facilities of travel made the world smaller, the circle of those that might be visited and saluted by the active grew boundless; so that on both sides limits were desired.  Another consideration is that with new facilities came increased opportunities and hopes.  To-day we live in the happy consciousness that friends, however distant, may be brought across the world to our doors by the urgencies of business or pleasure; and thus no one knows what the coming year may bring forth.  In the sixteenth century men knew that opportunities lost might never recur, and that they must seize or make them as best they might.

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The Age of Erasmus from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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