Page:Modern Rationalism (1897).djvu/9

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INTRODUCTION.

and literature. A freethought movement, culminating in Pomponatius (1462-1524), was very powerful in the universities of Padua and Bologna, and philosophy once more made an effort to speculate apart from theology. But the Church was still all-powerful; it crushed the Renaissance which it had at first patronized.

In the sixteenth century came the great revolt against the time-honoured authority of the Church, which effectively prepared the way for the marvellous development of Rationalism in the last three centuries. The reformers, indeed, extended little patronage to the exercise of reason in religious matters; they denounced it and its fruit, philosophical speculation, as an evil not to be tolerated; and Luther went so far as to assert (even to the disgust of the Church of Rome) that a proposition may be true in theology and false in philosophy. Still, by the force of their own example, they inevitably introduced the Rationalistic spirit, the right of personal speculation on authoritative teaching: when the impressiveness of their usurped authority waned, the practical lesson of their revolt, the right to examine and criticise, was more clearly perceived. At the same time, no adequate and permanent authority was established in place of the rejected papacy; an admittedly fallible authority only encourages criticism and individual speculation. The iron bond of unity and discipline was broken, never to be replaced; no authority remained that could absolutely enforce a devised formula, and against which revolt would have a supernatural demerit. A Church teaching in virtue of its collective wisdom, and expounding an obscure objective code of faith and morals, could never hope to repress individual vagaries.

Other causes co-operated happily in hastening the dawn of perfect liberty of thought. The rapid multiplication of sects and dissipation of spiritual jurisdiction made it possible for independent thinkers to escape a persecuting authority and take up a bold, isolated position. Culture, too, began