Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/711

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destroyed because of their wickedness unless they should speedily amend their ways. Tithes and tribute should be purely voluntary; tolls and customs dues and game-preserving should be abolished; Rome had no claim to the primacy of the Church; purgatory was a figment and he had power to rescue souls from hell. The fame of the inspired preacher spread far and wide between the Rhineland and Meissen; crowds from all quarters flocked to hear him and he frequently addressed assemblages rated at twenty or thirty thousand souls who brought him rich offerings. In 1476 Rudolf Bishop of Würzburg put an end to this dangerous propaganda by seizing and burning the prophet, but belief in him continued until Diether of Mainz placed an interdict on the church of Niklashausen in order to check the concourse of pilgrims who persisted in visiting it.

Perhaps the most complete and instructive presentation which we have of the opinions and aspirations of the medieval populations is embodied in the ample series of the Spanish Cortes published by the Real Academía de la Historía. In the petitions or cahiers of these representative bodies we find an uninterrupted expression of hostility towards the Church, unrelieved by any recognition of services, whether as the guardian of religious truth or as the mediator between God and man. To the Castilian of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries it was simply an engine of oppression, an instrument through which rapacious men could satisfy their greed and inflict misery on the people by its exactions and its constantly encroaching jurisdiction, enforced through unrestricted power of excommunication. Bitter were the reiterated complaints of the immunity which it afforded to criminals, and there was constant irritation at clerical exemption from public duties and burdens. In short, it seems to have been regarded as a public enemy, and the slight respect in which it was held is amply evidenced in the repeated complaints of the spoliation of churches which were robbed of their sacred vessels, apparently without compunction.

The popular literature of the period similarly reflects this mingled contempt and hatred for the priesthood. The Franciscan Thomas Murner, who subsequently was one of the most savage opponents of Luther, in the curious rhymed sermons which, in 1512, he preached in Frankfort-on-the-Main, and which, under the names of the Schelmenzunft and the Narrenbeschweerung, had a wide popularity, is never tired of dwelling on the scandals of all classes of the clergy, from bishops to monks and nuns. All are worldly, rapacious, and sensual. When the lay lord has shorn the sheep, the priest comes and fairly disembowels it, the begging friar follows and gets what he can and then the pardoner. If a bishop is in want of money he sends around his fiscal among the parish priests to extort payment for the privilege of keeping their concubines. In the nunneries the sister who has the most children is made the abbess. If Christ were on earth to-day He would be betrayed,