Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/73

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65
LIBERTY OF THOUGHT.

cial departments; when each state began to declare that, in political matters, it was independent of the Church.

Still another great gain was, when a few "mighty though solitary persons" in the twelfth century, the first scholastics, asserted the right of human reason to be heard and to be consulted in the formation of opinions, as against the mere say-so of the Church; though most of these persons forbore to attack commonly received opinions upon religion; but they revolted from blind acceptance of everything the Church said. They went to work timidly. They would believe in part because the Church said so, but they wanted that belief supported also by reason. The inference would be that reason had also some claim to be heard; a further inference might be that these men were rationalists, and would only believe what reason could comprehend, but that would not follow. They only did not want to believe what contradicted reason, and they wanted the privilege of supporting their belief by reason so far as they could.

Abélard, founder of the scholastic philosophy, began the great battle. The first shock of the strife was when he threw down the gauntlet about reason, and St. Bernard, a very distinguished divine of the day, took it up. Both were men of great genius, leaders of great parties, and both were bent on reform. St. Bernard was a monk, humble, self-denying, and modest. He was celebrated for his penances, his poverty, his devotion to the distressed, as well as for his learning and eloquence. He had attacked the vices of the monastic world, and was reforming it with great zeal. It was a fight between giants, and Abélard was beaten—he was silenced.

A friend and disciple of Abélard, Arnold of Brescia, advocated liberty of thought, while he also championed the rights of the people all around to act and live as they pleased, so far as the ecclesiastical body then dominant was concerned. And, so far did this revolution go, begun by Abélard and Arnold of Brescia, that it seemed at one time likely to antedate the great religious revolution of the sixteenth century by nearly four centuries. Free, independent thinking, with heresy, was rife in all the schools. A republic existed at Rome. The most fertile of the French provinces, Languedoc, was in the power of the Albigenses. But as Abélard was silenced, so Arnold was hanged. The Roman Republic was suppressed. The Albigenses of Languedoc were exterminated. The cause of liberty came to grief, and yet the good work of emancipation was not ended.

Another great gain for free thought was in the early national literatures. They were uncompromising foes of Rome, its vices and its tyranny over thought. Petrarch denounced the Roman hierarchy, popes, cardinals, and monks, with unmeasured severity. He poured out a torrent of invective. Dante showed the ideal church, and then contrasted with it the real Church. He put popes into hell, and called Rome the very Babylon that John saw in the Apocalypse. Boccaccio