In spite of the efforts of centuries, this super-imperial power held by the throat a struggling world.
To break that gnarled and bony hand, which locked up everything in its grasp; to bring down the towering altitude of that olden tyranny, whose head was lifted to the clouds; to strike from the soul its clanking chains and set the suffering nations free; to champion the inborn rights of afflicted humanity, and conquer the ignorance and imposture which had governed for a thousand years,—constituted the work and office of the man the four hundredth anniversary of whose birth half the civilized world is celebrating to-day.
TIME OF THE REFORMATION.
It has been said that when this tonsured Augustinian came upon the stage almost any brave man might have brought about the impending changes. The Reformers before the Reformation, though vanquished, had indeed not lived in vain. The European peoples were outgrowing feudal vassalage, and moving toward nationalization and separation between the secular and ecclesiastical powers. Travel, exploration, and discovery had introduced new subjects of human interest and contemplation. Schools of law, medicine, and liberal education were being established and largely attended. The common mind was losing faith in the professions and teachings of the old hierarchy. Free inquiry was overturning the dominion of authority in matters of thought and opinion. The intellect of man was beginning to recover from the nightmare of centuries. A mightier power than the sword had sprung up in the art of printing. In a word, the world was gravid with a new era. But it was not so clear who would be able to bring it safely to the birth.
There were living at the time many eminent men who might be thought of for this office had it not been assigned to Luther. Reuchlin, Erasmus, Huetten, Sickingen, and others have been named, but the list might be extended, and yet no one be found endowed with the qualities to accomplish the work that was needed and that was accomplished.
FREDERICK THE WISE.
The Saxon Elector, Frederick the Wise, was the worthiest, most popular, and most influential ruler then in Europe. He could have been emperor in place of Charles V. had he consented to be. The history of the world since his time might have been greatly different had he yielded to the general desire. His principles, his attainments, his wisdom, and his spirit were everything to commend him. He founded the University of Wittenberg in hope that it would produce preachers who would leave off the cold subtleties of Scholasticism and the uncertainties of tradition, and give discourses that would possess the nerve and power of the Gospel of God. He sought out the best and most pious men for his advisers. He was the devoted friend of learning, truth, and virtue. By his prudence