Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/645

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

Erasmus points out (in a Preface to Athanasius) the way in which a letter of Anteros was made up. Naturally, however, the attitude of the "Evangelical" critics towards the credentials of the Latin Church was a far more radical one. Everything, in their eyes, was corrupt. A return to primitive simplicity was essential: and the width of the chasm which separated the Roman usages of their day from those of the Apostolic age could easily be demonstrated by a categorical setting forth of the history and development of those usages from the beginning. With such an object the great compilation of the "Magdeburg Centuriators" was begun; and it has some claim to be looked upon as the first Church History compiled on critical principles. It was of course a Tendenzschrift; nothing else was possible; nevertheless, it brought together and laid before the world for the first time an enormous amount of information either dispersed or unknown before. A committee, whose composition varied from time to time, was responsible for the work. The period dealt with was divided into centuries, and the events, literature, doctrine, and other characteristics of each century were separately treated according to a regular plan. The twelfth century was the last that was reached. The moving spirit of the committee was Matthias Flacius Illyricus, who had already made himself a name as a controversialist on the Protestant side. His Clavis Sacrae Scripturae sums up the exegetical knowledge of his day. His book on the testimony of earlier ages against the papacy (Catalogus Testium Veritatls) gives proof of an enormous range of reading; and among our smaller debts to him may be reckoned the fact that he collected and printed as a supplement to that work a large mass of medieval Latin poetry, largely from a manuscript of English origin.

Whatever the merits or demerits of the Magdeburg History may have been, it speedily became a famous and influential book: so famous and so influential, indeed, that those whose position it attacked were compelled to issue a counterblast. A worthy champion was found in Cesare Baronio, Cardinal of the title of SS. Nereus and Achilleus. The twelve volumes of his Annexes Ecclesiastici, published between 1588 and 1607, cover the same period as the work of the Centuriators. The stores of the Vatican, of which after 1596 he was librarian, furnished an unrivalled stock of material, and his own previous studies, of which some fruit had already been seen in his edition of the Roman Martyrology, enabled him to use this material to advantage. That Baronius, like the Centuriators, was a partisan needs hardly to be said; his accuracy and critical instinct, moreover, leave much to be desired. Still, his erudition was enormous, his services to learning great, and his love of antiquity genuine and fervent. An eloquent witness of this love is the appeal to posterity inscribed in the Cardinal's own titular church, whose ancient arrangements he had himself restored,