Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/715

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the all-pervading corruption of the Church and its oppressive exercise of its supernatural prerogatives, there were other factors conducing to the explosion. Sufficient provocation had long existed, and since the failure at Basel no reasonable man could continue to anticipate relief from conciliar action. The shackles which for centuries had bound the human intellect had to be loosened, before there could be a popular movement of volume sufficient to break with the traditions of the past and boldly tempt the dangers of a new and untried career for humanity. The old reverence for authority had to be weakened, the sense of intellectual independence had to be awakened and the spirit of enquiry and of more or less scientific investigation had to be created, before pious and devout men could reach the root of the abuses which caused so much indignation, and could deny the authenticity of the apostolical deposit on which had been erected the venerable and imposing structure of scholastic theology and papal autocracy.

It was the New Learning and the humanistic movement which supplied the impulse necessary for this, and they found conditions singularly favourable for their work. The Church had triumphed so completely over her enemies that the engines of repression had been neglected and had grown rusty, while the Popes were so engrossed in their secular schemes and ambition that they had little thought to waste on the possible tendencies of the fashionable learning which they patronised. Thus there came an atmosphere of free thought, strangely at variance with the rigid dogmatism of the theologians, and even in theology there was a certain latitude of discussion permissible, for the Tridentine decrees had not yet formulated into articles of faith the results of the debates of the Schoolmen since the twelfth century. It is a remarkable proof of the prevailing laxity that Nicholas V commissioned Gianozzo Manetti to make a new translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek, thus showing that the Vulgate was regarded as insufficient and that it enjoyed no such authority as that attributed to it at Trent. In view of this laxity it is not surprising that in Italy the New Learning assumed various fantastic shapes of belief—the cult of the Genius of Rome by Pomponio Leto and his Academy, the Platonism of Marsiglio Ficino, the practical denial of immortality by Pomponazzi, and the modified Averrhoism of Agostino Nifo. So long as the profits of the Curia or the authority of the Pope remained undisputed there was little disposition to trouble the dreamers and speculators. Savonarola declares, with some rhetorical exaggeration, that culture had supplanted religion in the minds of those to whom the destinies of Christianity were confided, until they lost belief in God, celebrated feasts of the devil, and made a jest of the sacred mysteries. In the polite Court circles of Leo X, we are told, a man was scarce accounted as cultured and well-bred unless he cherished a certain amount of heretical opinion; and after Luther’s doctrines had become rigidly defined Melanchthon is