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CHAP. VI. diffusion of liberal culture and sounder learning. Erasmus, writing a few months later, records in triumphant tones the progress of the Humanists in every nation in Christendom1. Events of the The year 1516 had witnessed not a few significant indications that the growing intelligence of the educated class was more and more developing in antagonism not merely to specific doctrines but to the whole spirit of medieval theology. It was, as we have already seen, the year in which the Novum Instrumentum of Erasmus appeared, in which Reuchlin triumphed over the machinations of his foes, in which Fox, at Oxford, so boldly declared himself on the side of innovation. In the same year there had also appeared the famous Epistola Obscurorum Virorum, that wápedpos to the Encomium Moria, which, emerging from an impenetrable obscurity, smote the ranks of bigotry and dulness with a yet heavier hand; which, in the language of Herder, 'effected for Germany incomparably more than Hudibras for England, or Garagantua for France, or the Knight of La Mancha for
Spain.' Then too was given to the world the De ImmortaliPomponatius tate Anime of Pomponatius, wherein a heresy that involved talitate. all other doctrinal belief, was unfolded and elaborated with a
candour that the transparent artifice of salva fide could not shield from punishment. While finally, in the Utopia of More, the asceticism of the monk was rejected for the theory of a life that followed nature, and the persecutor, for the first time for centuries, listened to the plea for liberty of conscience in matters of religious belief. Amid indications like these of extending liberty and boldness of thought,—though monasticism no longer sympathised with letters and the Mendicants were for the most part hostile to true learning,— Hopes of the there were yet not a few sincere and enlightened Catholics who looked forward to the establishment throughout Europe
1 'Nunc nulla est natio sub Christiana dicione in qua non omne disciplinarum genus (musis bene fortunantibus) eloquentiæ majestatem eruditionis utilitati adjungit.' Erasmi Opera, 11 350.
2 Pomponatius did not, as has often been asserted, himself deny the immortality of the soul. He simply
reargued more at length the question which had already been discussed by Averroes (see supra, pp. 115-7). His denial extended only to the philoso phic evidence, and he readily admitted the authority of revelation. His book was however burnt by the inquisitors of Venice and placed in the Index.
of a community of men of letters, who while, on the one hand, CHAP. VI. they extended the pale of orthodox belief, might, on the other, render incalculable service to the diffusion of the religious spirit. Learning and the arts, protected and countenanced by the supreme Head of the Church, would in turn become the most successful propagandists, and would exhibit to the nations of Christendom the sublime mysteries of an historic faith in intimate alliance with all that was best and most humanising in the domain of knowledge. Such at least was undoubtedly the future of which men like Erasmus, Melanchthon, Reuchlin, Sadolet, More, Colet, Fisher, and many others were dreaming; when athwart this pleasing creation of their fancy there rushed the thundercloud and the whirlwind; and when after the darkness light again returned, it was seen that the old familiar landmarks had disappeared, and like mariners navigating in strange waters, the scholar and the theologian sounded in vain with the old plummet lines, and were compelled to read the heavens anew.
Turning now to trace the progress at Cambridge of that movement of which Peter de Valence's act was perhaps the first overt indication, we perceive that the protest of the young Norman really marks the commencement of a new chapter in our university history. Hitherto it would seem to have been the pride of Cambridge that novel doctrines found little encouragement within her walls. A formal theology, drawn almost exclusively from mediæval sources, was all that was taught by her professors or studied by her scholars. To Oxford she resigned alike the allurements of unauthorised speculation and the reproach of Lollardism. It was Lydgate's boast that
by recorde all clarks seyne the same Of heresie Cambridge bare never blame1.'
But within ten years after Erasmus left the university, Cambridge was attracting the attention of all England as the centre of a new and formidable revolt from the traditions of the divinity schools.
1 See Appendix (A).
Among the scholars of Trinity Hall who came up to the university soon after Erasmus was gone, was a native of Norfolk, one Thomas Bilney; who to the reputation of an indefatigable student united two less enviable claims to distinction. The one, that of being of very diminutive stature, —which caused him to be generally known as 'little Bilney',' -the second, that of being possessed by an aversion to His eccentric music that amounted to a monomania. It is a story told by Foxe, that the chamber immediately under Bilney's was occupied by Thirleby, afterwards bishop of Ely, who, at this time at least, was as devoted to music as Bilney was averse; and whenever Thirleby commenced a tune, sprightly or solemn, on his recorder, Bilney, as though assailed by some evil spirit, forthwith betook himself to prayer. Even at church the strains of the Te Deum and Benedictus only moved him to lamentation; and he was wont to avow to his pupils that he could only look upon such modes of worship as a mockery of God. By the worldly-minded young civilians and canonists of Trinity Hall, it was probably only looked upon as a sign that Bilney's craze had taken a new direction, when it became known that he was manifesting a morbid anxiety about his spiritual welfare,-that he fasted often, went on lengthened pilgrimages, and expended all that his scanty resources permitted in the purchase of indulgences. The whole need not a physician; and to his fellow students, the poor enthusiast could scarcely have been a less perplexing enigma than Luther to the friars at Wittenberg. In an oft-quoted passage he has recorded in touching language, how completely the only remedies then known in the confessional for the conscience-stricken and penitent failed to give him 'There are those physicians,' he says in his letter to peace. Tunstal, 'upon whom that woman which was twelve years vexed had consumed all that she had, and felt no help, but was still worse and worse, until such time as at the last she came unto Christ, and after she had once touched the hem of his
His account of his spiritual experiences.
1 In this respect Bilney resembled his celebrated contemporary and fellow-worker, Faber or Lefevre, the reformer of Paris, to whom indeed
he presents in many respects a singular likeness. See Beza Icones. Foxe-Cattley, iv 621.
garment through faith, she was so healed that presently she CHAP. VI. felt the same in her body. Oh mighty power of the Most Highest! which I also, miserable sinner, have often tasted and felt. Who before that I could come unto Christ, had even likewise spent all that I had upon those ignorant physicians, that is to say, unlearned hearers of confession, so that there was but small force of strength left in me, which of nature was but weak, small store of money, and very little knowledge or understanding; for they appointed me fastings, watching, buying of pardons, and masses: in all which things, as I now understand, they sought rather their own gain, than the salvation of my sick and perishing soul".
perhaps too much
There is perhaps no passage in the records of the Re- The contrast formation in England, that has been more frequently cited Bilney than this, by those whose aim has been to demonstrate the somewhat existence of an essential difference between the spirit of the instant mediæval and Romish Church, and the spirit of Protestant-writers. ism,-between the value of outward observances and a mechanical performance of works, and that of an inwardly active and living faith. But it may at least be questioned whether this contrast has not been pressed somewhat beyond its legitimate application. That the clergy throughout Europe, for more than a century before the Reformation, were as a body corrupt, worldly, and degenerate, few, even among Catholic writers, will be ready to deny; and as was the manner of their life, such was the spirit of their teaching. But that this corruption and degeneracy were a necessary consequence of mediæval doctrine is far from being equally certain; nor can we unhesitatingly admit, that if Bilney, at this stage of his religious experiences, had been brought into contact with a spirit like that of Anselm, Bonaventura, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas a Kempis, or Gerson, he would not have found in considerable measure the consolation that he sought. But men like these were not to be found among the priestly confessors at Cambridge in Bilney's day, and he accordingly was fain to seek for mental assurance and repose elsewhere. It was at this juncture that, as we have already 1 British Reformers, 1 267.
CHAP. VI. seen, attracted rather by his tastes as a scholar than by the Bilney reads hope of lighting upon new truth, he began to study the Testament of Novum Testamentum of Erasmus. It was the turning-point Change in his in his spiritual life. He became a strenuous opposer of the superstitions he had before so assiduously practised; and, though he retained to the last his belief in purgatory and in transubstantiation, was soon known as a student and admirer of the earlier writings of Luther. Notwithstanding his eccentricities, his honest earnest spirit and high attainments won for him the hearing of the more thoughtful among his associates: while his goodness of heart commanded their His character sympathy. I have known hitherto few such,' wrote Latimer to Sir Edward Baynton, in reviewing his career, 'so prompt and so ready to do every man good after his power, both friend and foe: noisome wittingly to no man, and towards his enemy so charitable, so seeking to reconcile them as he did, I have known yet not many, and to be short, in sum, a very simple good soul, nothing fit or meet for this wretched world'.' By Foxe he is styled 'the first framer of the universitie in the knowledge of Christ;' and he is undoubtedly to be looked upon as, for some years, the leading spirit of the Cambridge Reformers.
as drawn by Latimer.
His converts at Trinity Hall.
In his own college Bilney's converts were not numerous; nor should we look to find a keen interest in theological questions in a society professedly devoted to legal studies. It is also probable that any open declaration of novel opinions would there have soon been met by repressive measures, for among the more influential members of the college at this time, was Stephen Gardiner,-already distinguished by his attainments not only in the canon and civil law but also in the new learning,-who in 1525 succeeded to the mastership. We meet however with a few names that indicate the working of Bilney's influence. Among these was Thomas Arthur, who in 1520 migrated to St. John's, having been elected a fellow of that society on the nomination of the bishop of Ely3, and who about the same time was 2 Cooper, Athenæ, 1 139.
1 Latimer-Corrie, 11 330.
3 Ibid. 1 46.