Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/710

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

zeal. A man like San Giovanni Capistrano could scarce walk the streets of a city without an armed guard to preserve his life from the surging crowds eager to secure a rag of his garments as a relic or to carry away some odour of his holiness by touching him with a stick. Venice, which cared little for an interdict, offered in vain ten thousand ducats, in 1455, for a seamless coat of Christ. Siena and Perugia went to war over the wedding-ring of the Virgin. At no period was there greater faith in the thaumaturgic virtue of images and saintly relics; never were religious solemnities so gorgeously celebrated; never were processions so magnificent or so numerously attended; never were fashionable shrines so largely thronged by pilgrims. In his Encheiridion Militis Christiani, written in 1502 and approved by Adrian VI, then head of the University of Louvain, Erasmus had the boldness to protest against this new kind of Judaism which placed its reliance on observances, like magic rites, which drew men away from Christ; and again, in 1519, in a letter to Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz, he declared that religion was degenerating into a more than Judaic formalism of ceremonies, and that there must be a change.

A priesthood trained in this formalism, which had practically replaced the ethical values of Christianity, secure that its supernatural attributes were unaffected by the most flagitious life, and selected by such methods as were practised by the Curia and imitated by the prelates, could not be expected to rise above the standards of the community. Rather, indeed, were the influences, to which the clergy were exposed, adapted to depress them below the average. They were clothed with virtually irresponsible power over their subjects, they were free from the restraints of secular law, and they were condemned to celibacy in times when no man was expected to be continent. For three hundred years it had been the constant complaint that the people were contaminated by their pastors and the complaint continued. After the death of Calixtus III, in 1458, the Cardinals about to enter the Conclave were told in the address made to them by Domenico de Domenichi, Bishop of Torcello, “The morals of the clergy are corrupt, they have become an offence to the laity, all discipline is lost. From day to day the respect for the Church diminishes; the power of her censures is almost gone.” In 1519, Briçonnet, Bishop of Meaux, in his diocesan synod, did not shrink from describing the Church as a stronghold of vice, a city of refuge from transgression, where one could live in safety, free from all fear of punishment. The antagonism towards the priesthood, thus aroused among the people, was indicated in the career of Hans Böheim, a wandering musician, who settled in Niklashausen, where he announced revelations from the Virgin. She instructed him to proclaim to her people that she could no longer endure the pride, the avarice, and the lust of the priesthood and that the world would be