Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/717

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revolutionary as those of Luther—yet he was allowed to die peacefully in 1489, held in great honour by the community. Still more significant of the spiritual unrest of the period was a Sorbonnique, or thesis for the doctorate, presented to the University of Paris, in 1485, by a priest named Jean Laillier, whose audacity reduced the hierarchy, including the Pope, to simple priesthood and rejected confession, absolution, indulgences, fasting, the obligation of celibacy, and the authority of tradition. The extreme difficulty encountered in procuring the condemnation of these dangerous heresies, which finally required the intervention of Innocent VIII, is a noteworthy symptom of the time, and equally so is the fact that the Bishop of Meaux, selected by Innocent as one of the judges in the case, was at that moment under censure by the University for reviving the condemned doctrine of the insufficiency of the sacraments in polluted hands. In 1498, an Observantine Friar named Jean Vitrier, in sermons at Tournay, went even further and taught that it was a mortal sin to listen to the mass of a concubinary priest. He also rejected the intercession of saints, and asserted that pardons and indulgences were the offspring of hell and the money paid for them was employed in the maintenance of brothels. The Tournay authorities were apparently powerless, and referred these utterances to the University of Paris, which extracted from them sixteen heretical propositions; but it does not appear that the audacious preacher was punished. It was still more ominous of the future when men were found ready to endure martyrdom in denial of the highest mysteries of the faith, as when, in 1491, Jean Langlois, priest of St Crispin in Paris, while celebrating mass, cast the consecrated elements on the floor and trampled on them, giving as a reason that the body and blood of Christ were not in them and persisting in his error to the stake. Similar was the obstinacy of Aymon Picard in 1503, who at the feast of St Louis in the Sainte Chapelle snatched the host from the celebrant and dashed it on the floor, for he, too, refused to recant and was burnt.

To what extent humanism was responsible for these heresies it would not be easy now to determine, save in so far as it had stimulated the spirit of enquiry and destroyed the reverence for authority. These influences are plainly observable in the career of Jacques Lefevre d’Étaples, the precursor of the Reformation in France, who commenced as a student of philosophy and, in 1492, visited Italy to sit at the feet of Marsiglio Ficino, Hermolao Barbaro, Pico della Mirandola, and Angelo Poliziano, but who, when he turned to the study of Scripture, expressed the pious wish that the profane classical writings should be burnt rather than be placed in the hands of youth. His Commentary on the Pauline Epistles, printed in 1512, was the first example of casting aside the scholastic exegesis for a treatment in which tradition was rejected and the freedom of individual judgment was exercised as a matter of right. This led him to a number of conclusions which Luther only reached