Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/641

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As to the commentators, it is even more hopeless to attempt to enter into detail. Lefevre d'Utaples, Colet, Sadoleto, Erasmus, were all of them men who advanced the cause of sacred learning by trying to ascertain the actual meaning of the words of Scripture, instead of presenting their readers with a r&chauffe of the Glossa Ordinaria or fashioning every sentence into a weapon of controversy. But besides these there were innumerable writers who contributed to the elucidation of both Testaments. They were confined to no one sect or country; but their names must not be sought here.

Something must now be said of the growth of Hebrew studies among Christian scholars. The thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries had produced a number of men who for the purpose either of Biblical study or of controversy had acquired a knowledge of Hebrew; and from time to time the Church had attempted to encourage and foster such students. The close of the fifteenth century saw a new development in this as in other branches of sacred learning. The brilliant young noble and scholar, Pico della Mirandola, may not unfairly be singled out as the beginner of the movement. His training in classical philosophy, coupled with his deep interest in theological study, made him eagerly seek and warmly welcome a system of learning which professed to be the fountain-head of both subjects. This system was the Jewish Cabbala. Ostensibly as old as the patriarch Abraham, its principal documents are now known to be productions of the thirteenth century; and intrinsically they are wholly unworthy of the reverence which has been paid to them by many great minds. The influence they exercised may be compared with that of the pseudo-Dionysian writings, though it was less widely felt, and less enduring. Pico saw no reason to doubt the claim of the Cabbalistic books to a reverend antiquity; and he did his best to impart to the world the treasure he thought he had found. His work is mainly important because of the effect it had upon Johann Reuchlin.

We have had occasion already to mention Reuchlin as a student of Greek; but in popularising the study of that language and literature he did little as compared with Erasmus and many others. In Hebrew, however, he was the teacher of the modern world. By personal instruction and by the compiling of grammars, reading-books, and a rudimentary lexicon, he became unconsciously the first who carried into effect the aspirations of Roger Bacon. And it is unquestionable that he owed the interest he felt in the sacred tongue in a large measure to the work of Pico della Mirandola. By this he was attracted to the study of the Cabbala; and in praise of the Cabbala his most voluminous works were written. Nor can his famous defence of the Rabbinic books be wholly dissociated from the consequences of Pico's influence, though in this respect the debt he owed to his Jewish instructors must evidently be taken into account.

Reuchlin, it should be further noted, was wellnigh the first German