Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/83

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


French Protestants to join the roving captains who harassed Spanish commerce; and their efforts, begun in time of war, were continued in time of peace. Thus did the French wars with Spain develope into a general war on the part of the Protestants of Western Europe against Spain as the champion of the Papacy and the author of the Inquisition. In the New World this movement resulted in the plundering of Spanish vessels, attacks on the Spanish ports with the object of holding them to ransom, and finally attempts, unsuccessful at first, but effectual when experience in colonisation had once been gained, to found new European communities, in the teeth of all opposition, on the soil of a continent which the Spaniards regarded as most justly their own, and as before all things entrusted to them for the diffusion, and the ultimate extension over the whole globe, of the Catholic faith.

Here, at length, we reach a point of view from which the general bearing of the New World on the parallel growth of European economics and politics on the one hand, and of religious theory, philosophical thought, and scientific advancement on the other, might be brought under observation. Our remarks must be confined to the latter group of topics. For during the period covered by this chapter the political system of Europe was not sensibly disturbed, while the economic changes produced by the discovery and conquest of the New World were as yet imperfectly developed. But the sudden shattering of the old geography produced by the Discovery reacted at once in a marked way on European habits of thought. Religion is man's earliest philosophy; and what affects his habits of thought and alters his intellectual points of view cannot but modify his religious conceptions. The discovery of the New World, and its prospective employment as a place for the planting of new communities of European origin, greatly contributed to substitute for the medieval law of religious intolerance the modern principle of toleration. In the Old World the former theory had hitherto enjoyed general acceptance, and it rested on a logical basis. There was Scriptural warranty for the doctrine that the Supreme Being was a jealous God, visiting the sins of men not only upon their descendants to the third and fourth generation, but also upon the nation to which such men belonged; and it followed that to believe or conceive of Him, or to worship Him, otherwise than in accordance with the revelation graciously made by Him for the guidance of man, was something more than an offence against Himself. It was an intolerable wrong to society, for it exposed the pious many to the penalty incurred by an impious minority. Plague and pestilence, famine and destruction in war, were brought on a nation by religious apostasy; and it was therefore not merely lawful, but a national duty, to stamp out apostasy in its beginnings. The history of Christendom down to the Discovery of America is in the main one long series of more or less successful applications of this perfectly intelligible principle to the general