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History of the Church: Later Middle Ages - Notre Dame

The Western Schism and the Renascence

[Illustration] from Church - Later Middle Ages by Notre Dame

I. Rome and Avignon.

In passing from the story of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries to that of the fourteenth and fifteenth, the transition is sharp from glory to decay. The causes are far to seek, but three may be briefly noted. First, the immense growth of the power and wealth of European nations, and the attendant luxury of living, which during these centuries resulted, through the abandonment of simple and austere forms of life, in the loss of much of the virile force and energy of character so noticeable in the earlier period. Second, the disrepute into which the Papacy fell in consequence of the disputes about the rightful occupant of the See of St. Peter. Cardinal Newman joins these two causes together when accounting for the unsuccessful attempts to organize new crusades against the Turks. He says that wealth and prosperity alienated the States from the Holy See, and made men indifferent to religion and the motives of a life of faith. Third, the spread of loose and erroneous opinions on faith and morals, noted as commencing during the previous period, but attaining enormous development in this, under the influence of what men called the "New Learning."

The Western Schism was quite the severest trial that the Church had yet encountered, perhaps the severest she has ever encountered. Persecutions had attacked her from without, heresies and schisms had shaken her from within; some of the children of the Church had brought disgrace upon her by their unworthy lives, but the Western Schism struck at the very centre of the Church's unity, the Papacy itself, and would have brought her to utter ruin had she been a human institution. The causes which led to this fatal division were numerous. The party strifes by which Italy had now been torn for centuries were more than the occasion—they fanned the flame of discord throughout the entire struggle. Then, hardly had the Church shaken herself free from the domination of Germany than she fell under that of France. At first the ascendancy of France was masked under the appearance of friendly patronage, an influence even more disastrous to the Popes than had been the tyranny and hostility of the German Emperors; for while danger and difficulty fostered a spirit of independence in the Popes, the ease and luxury which French manners and customs introduced into the papal Court, and the necessity for keeping on good terms with the French sovereigns, tended to enervate and cripple the energies of even the best intentioned of a long line of Pontiffs. When, after the cessation of the Western Schism, France came into collision with the Papacy, the affectation of patronage was exchanged for a spirit of intense antagonism to the claims of the Popes. From the throne it passed into the universities, and thence to the clergy generally, giving rise to an opposition to papal authority which goes by the name of Gallicanism.

It is a fact not often noticed, but still sufficiently curious, that, about thirty years after the Popes were thus enslaved by France, France herself fell under the galling yoke of England, and that the end of the Western Schism (the direct consequence of French influence) was separated from the final deliverance of France from England by about the same period. A still stranger coincidence occurs in the manner of their deliverance. It was by the hand of a woman that both the Church and France were saved in the moment of direst peril. Both liberators, too, died victims to the cause to which, at the call of God, they had devoted themselves. St. Catherine, in the unearthly eminence of her sanctity, laid down her life for the peace of the Church, while the Venerable Joan of Arc, in the pure beauty of her maidenhood, was betrayed, condemned, and burnt to death by her own countrymen in league with the English masters of France. Neither lived to see the victory which came none the less surely for being delayed.

But the event which actually led up to the schism was the removal of the papal residence from Rome to Avignon, a fair city in the fairest province of Southern France. When, in 1305, Clement V., a Frenchman, was elected Pope, he was induced by Philip the Fair of France not to go at once to Rome, and in 1309 to take up his abode at Avignon, which at that time belonged to Naples. Six Popes in succession, Frenchmen by birth, when elected, proceeded at once to Avignon, where French influence prevailed. The majority of the cardinals, too, were Frenchmen. Rome was abandoned to civil strife and the horrors of misgovernment by factions. The papal States were gradually lost to the Holy See, one State after another throwing off its allegiance and declaring itself independent. So great was the misery to which Rome was reduced that the bold attempt of the patriot Rienzi to restore order was favoured by Clement VI., 1347. The adventurer, tempted by his first success, wished to make himself dictator, and the Pope did not oppose his project. But his wild acts when raised to supreme power alienated his supporters, and he was forced to flee from Rome. Some years of misgovernment ensued, and Rienzi again appeared, to be hailed with mad delight. The fickle Romans, however, were soon disgusted with their idol, and during a popular tumult Rienzi's house was fired, and he perished in the flames. The Romans then thought of turning to the Pope for help. During these events, the military cardinal, Albornoz, was engaged in reconquering the papal States. But the form of government chosen by the Pope, who placed legates over the recovered provinces, displeased the people, and discontent was rife. All wanted the Popes back again, but French influence was brought to bear to prevent them from returning to Rome.

St. Catherine of Siena.

But in 1367, Urban V., in spite of the opposition of the French king, Charles V., and of the cardinals, took up his abode in Rome amid universal rejoicings. The old lawlessness, however, had too strong a hold on the population to cease all at once. Riots and seditions occurred. The Pope was told it was not safe to remain, and he took refuge once more in Avignon, where he died the next year, 1370. Sinister rumours suggested that he had been poisoned because it was known that he wished to return to Rome.

In 1371, Gregory IX. ascended the papal throne, like his predecessors, at Avignon. Italy had been for some time a prey to the depredations of bands of lawless free-lances, companies of mercenary soldiers, whose services were not just then needed by France or England, whose long warfare the peace of Bretigny had interrupted. In consequence of sonic of their misdeeds, a quarrel had arisen between the powerful city of Florence and the Pope. Eighty friendly cities joined Florence, and threatened to deluge Italy anew in blood. Every means of reconciliation was tried in vain.

Then occurred one of those remarkable episodes which show how firm, even in those days of horrible faction fights, was the hold of faith over the minds of men. St. Catherine of Siena, whose marvellous influence over the hearts of her countrymen had already been shown in healing many a feud, was asked to attempt what men had failed to do. At her bidding Florentine Guelfs and Ghibellines agreed to drop their private quarrels and to submit terms of reconciliation to the Pope at Avignon, St. Catherine being chosen as ambassador. Underhand dealings on the part of one section of the Florentines destroyed the hopes to which the gracious reception of St. Catherine by Gregory IX. had given rise, but an event of greater consequence to the Church resulted from the fervent exhortations of the saintly envoy. She induced the Pope to return to Rome, in spite of the vehement protestations of the cardinals and the entreaties of his relations.

Early in 1377 Gregory IX. reached the Eternal City. The Romans, wild with joy at the termination of what men called the Seventy Years' Captivity, greeted the Pope with enthusiastic welcome. But Rome was almost in ruins—a desolate contrast to the gay city of Avignon—the Florentine war blazed out afresh, and before long the health of the Pope gave way. St. Catherine undertook another embassy to Florence at the Pope's desire, but before she could win over the Florentines, now a prey to the utmost horrors of civil strife within and of attack from without, Gregory IX. died. The intrepid saint braved every danger, and at last had the satisfaction of seeing peace signed between Florence and the Holy See, to which meanwhile Urban VI. had succeeded under circumstances which brought about the Great Schism.

When Gregory IX. died, the College of Cardinals only numbered twenty-three members. Of these, seven French cardinals were at Avignon. The remaining sixteen, of whom five only were not French (namely, four Italians and one Spaniard, the famous Pedro de Luna), proceeded at once to the election of a new Pope. The Romans, remembering their ancient privilege of having a voice in the choice of a Pontiff who was at once their sovereign and their bishop as well as Pope, loudly clamoured for a Roman or an Italian. But the former alternative was impossible: there were only two Romans among the cardinals, one so aged and ailing that he died but a few weeks later, the other so young that he had not attained the canonical age. The French cardinals, naturally preferring Avignon to Rome, wanted to choose one of their own number, in the hope that the papal Court might again be transplanted thither. But they were not decided as to whom it should he. Feeling the necessity for immediate action, however, they came to a speedy unanimity. Their choice was Bartholomew Prignani, the Archbishop of Bari, and as he was not a cardinal, and therefore not among the electors, they sent for him. When he strove to reject the proffered responsibility, they overcame his resistance, and Prignani was declared Pope, April 9, 1378. So far all was well, but the anger of the Romans had to be faced, and no one dared announce the truth. The mob caught at a rumour which had originated, it is difficult to say how, that the aged Roman cardinal, Tebaldeschi, had been elected. Appeased for a moment, they were more infuriated when they learned what had really taken place, and the night was passed in fierce rioting. Morning, however, brought calm, and on the same day, April to, Urban VI. was enthroned. A week later, on Easter Sunday, he was solemnly crowned, all the sixteen cardinals assisting at the ceremony, Some 'of these had returned on purpose from a place of safety to which they had fled during the riots. The seven Avignon cardinals, to whom those in Rome had announced the election, held a state function, paying the customary homage to the papal escutcheon, while those in Rome did the same to the Pope in person. Then all the cardinals united in issuing circular letters to the various sovereigns stating that they had elected Bartholomew Prignani, who had taken the name of Urban VI., as successor of St. Peter.

But by Pentecost, although the cardinals again 'assembled round Urban, and celebrated the festival with him in St. Peter's, as they had done before at the Ascension, a feeling of grave dissatisfaction was rapidly gaining ground. Urban had begun much-needed reforms, but with a harshness that angered the cardinals, some of whom were among the delinquents. The Pope had, moreover, highly offended Joanna, Queen of Naples, a woman of violent character. It was feared that the stern and inflexible zeal of the new Pontiff would lead him yet further, and the cardinals thought of requiring him to abdicate on the ground that they had been intimidated in their choice. The French cardinals all immediately withdrew to Anagni, whence they tried to gain over the Italian and Spanish cardinals, even going to the length of secretly promising each the tiara if he would side with them. The trap was well baited, and not one cardinal remained faithful to Urban VI., who at once nominated twenty-six Italian cardinals. The revolted cardinals, feeling that there could be no truce now, elected as Pope, under the name of Clement VII., one of their own number, a Frenchman named Robert of Geneva, a prince more distinguished for military prowess than for priestly virtues. The Italians, finding they had been duped, withdrew, but not to side with the lawful Pope.

But an antipope would have had little authority, unless supported by some powerful European sovereign. The French cardinals set to work to procure this help. They began by informing each of the sovereigns that the previous election was null and void, having been the result of force, and that now that they were free and at a distance from danger, they had elected Robert of Geneva as Pope, and begged that he might receive their allegiance. Joanna of Naples was easily won. The consequences to her were serious. Urban VI., after every means of winning her back had been tried, excommunicated her, and declared her deposed in favour of Charles Durazzo, whom she had herself chosen as her heir. She had, however, previously married and then murdered Durazzo's brother. Now she met the same fate at the hands of the exasperated prince, who, not long after, himself died by the hand of an assassin. The antipope was also joined by France, for hints were freely given that Urban favoured the English. This overcame the hesitation of Charles. He put it to the Sorbonne to decide between the rival Popes. Their reply gave the preference to the Frenchman. France and Naples were the only important States that supported Clement VII., if we except Scotland, then an ally of France, and thus necessarily a foe to England. All the other sovereigns of note adhered to Urban VI. Among the universities, Oxford distinguished itself by its masterly defence of the justice of Urban's claims. Thus the whole of Christendom was torn by a rancorous hostility, aroused by the rival claims of the two obediences and by the uncertainty as to which claimant was really the lawful successor of St. Peter.

This painful state of things did not terminate on the death of Urban in 1389. The proposition that all the cardinals should unite in choosing Clement VII. fell, to the ground, and the schism continued under Benedict XII. and Innocent VII., the successors of Urban VI. Worse still, when the antipope, Clement VII., died, the more violent of his adherents chose in his place the Spanish cardinal, already named, Pedro de Luna, who took the name of Benedict XIII. At this juncture France withdrew her allegiance from the antipope, but without submitting to the other claimant. Thus the spirit of independence of papal authority gained ground considerably in France.

When, in 1406, Innocent VII. died and Gregory XII. was elected to succeed him, it was proposed that both claimants to the Papacy should abdicate, and that another should be chosen. Thus the schism would have been ended. But negotiations were fruitless. Benedict XIII. agreed, on condition that the meeting between the rivals should take place in Savona. Gregory XII., however, was afraid to trust himself on French soil, where he would have been in the power of the opposite side.

So disastrous were the effects of the schism, and so futile all attempts to heal it, that it was felt by all right-minded persons that vigorous measures must be taken to close the unhappy strife. The cardinals of both parties met to concert means, and a Council was decided on. A large number of cardinals and bishops, together with ambassadors from all Catholic nations, assembled at Pisa, 1409. It is very difficult to say what course should have been adopted; but that which was chosen, with the best intentions but on a wrong principle, only aggravated the evil. For the Council, seeing only one way out of the difficulty, as neither claimant would yield, declared both deposed. Then the cardinals proceeded to a new election, and nominated Alexander V. Now neither Benedict XIII. nor Gregory XII. recognised the right of the Council to depose them. Their view of the case was correct; but whether they acted rightly in holding out is another matter, and not so easily decided. As it was, each held to his position. It is clear that if one of the two earlier claimants was lawful Pope, Alexander V. had no right whatever; but the members of the Council upheld its authority and the nomination it had made. Never was there such a scene of confusion as ensued. The nations sided with one or the other Pope, as they thought right. England, for once siding with France, her ancient foe, supported Alexander V., as did Italy, Portugal, and the city of Avignon. But Alexander V. soon died, and was succeeded by John XXIII., so the triple fight went on.

A disputed succession to the Imperial Crown of Germany was terminated by John XXIII. in favour of Sigismund of Hungary. It was by the instrumentality of this prince that the long-continued schism was at length healed. He proposed that a General Council should be convened. John XXIII. consented, and proclaimed his intention of presiding. Constance was chosen as neutral territory, and it is said that eighteen thousand ecclesiastics presented themselves to take part in the Council. Owing to the peculiar nature of the matter to be treated of, it was agreed that in the preliminary meetings everyone should vote, and that the questions in dispute should be carried by the majority. Then it was decided that in the Council Sessions the power should be vested in the five great nations, each nation having a vote. The opening sessions were presided over by John XXIII., each of the other claimants sending a nuncio to represent him. After some discussion, it was decided to ask John to abdicate. John consented with every appearance of noble self-sacrifice; but, in an evil hour, he listened to adverse advice, fled from Constance, and revoked his consent. The Council ruled that the abdication had been valid and could not be withdrawn, therefore it declared John deposed. John's better nature reasserted itself, and he accepted the sentence with dignified submission. Gregory XII. then recognized the authority of the Council (this recognition is considered by some theologians as rendering its earlier sessions (Ecumenical), and he laid down the tiara, 1415. Benedict XIII., however, held out. Every effort was made to induce him to yield. The Emperor Sigismund in person pleaded the cause of justice, but in vain; St. Vincent Ferrer had no better success; and though none supported him except one little Spanish town, the aged prelate could not be moved.

No fresh election took place, however, and the Council undertook to govern the Church on the assumption, which was gaining favour among some of the French theologians, that its authority was superior to that of the Pope. During this time the heresies of Wyclif and of John Huss were condemned, and several other matters were treated of, but little was concluded, the want of a head being too apparent. At length, finding that difficulties were likely to multiply if no Pope were elected, the Council proceeded to depose Benedict XIII., and to elect a successor to the See of St. Peter in the person of Cardinal Colonna, who took the name of Martin V., 1417. Peace was thus restored to the Church, but the mischief caused by the schism was not and could not be repaired. The contempt which the miserable contest drew upon the persons of the rival Popes had extended to their office. The claimants could exercise no authority for good even in the nations which supported them. They dared not oppose too strongly the practices of those on whom they depended for possession of the tiara, so abuses grew apace, and the seeds were sown of a bitter harvest reaped but a hundred years later in the so-called Reformation. This was not all. Not only did whole nations then fling off the yoke of the Church, but, in those which remained faithful, a deadly spirit of opposition to the full rights of the Popes manifested itself, and did incalculable mischief by sapping the vigour of loyal adherence to the Holy See, thus laying them open to the attacks of the pernicious heresies which were gaining ground around them.

II. Affairs in the East

In 1301, the last of the Seljukian line of Turkish sultans died, and his dominions split up into ten different states; that under Othman or Osman, descendant of a chief of Tartar raiders, who had made themselves useful to the Seljukians, and had received a territory named Sugut in return for their military services, rapidly absorbed all the others, and Othman himself became founder of the Ottoman line of sultans, which to this day holds the throne of Constantinople. Othman and his son and successor, by a series of daring exploits, made themselves masters of the lands facing the now decrepit Greek Empire, the southern shores of the Bosphorus and the Propontis.

As a preparation for further conquests, the celebrated military body, the Janizaries, was organized. It was the first standing army of modern times, and seems to have been modeled on, or to have reproduced, a kindred band, the Saracen Mamelukes, whose leaders by this time were holding the Egyptian Sultanate. The Janizaries, like the Mamelukes, were recruited wholly from Christian sources. Boys captured from their parents were brought up Mohammedans, and carefully trained for a military career.

Gallipoli was the first European town seized by the Ottoman Turks; but by 1375 all the Balkan Peninsula, with the exception of Constantinople and its environs, was in their hands. The Greek Empire was thus reduced to the last extremity. It might have looked for succour to the west, but the old bitter feeling born of the Greek schism had shown itself in treacherous dealings during the Crusades, whose attempts to free the Holy Land it had signally thwarted. The setting up of the Latin Empire at Constantinople, in 1204, had but made friendship between east and west more unlikely than ever. The Greeks, hating both the Latins and their Church with a frenzied violence, contemning them, moreover, as ignorant and uncultivated, would not consent to be helped even when peril was greatest. The sovereigns alone, with some of the more far-sighted ecclesiastics, seeing the impending danger, ventured to accept the aid proffered by the Popes.

But the west had little succour to give. We have come to the period when England and France struggled during generations for possession of the fair lands of Provence, Gascony, and Guienne; when the German throne was occupied by a succession of insignificant princes, and Spain stilt lay prostrate under the Saracen yoke. The Popes, however, never abandoned either the idea of overthrowing the Turks, and thus freeing the Holy Land, or of bringing back the eastern Schismatic Churches into the unity of the fold of Christ. Thus we find one Pope after another striving to arouse anew the crusading zeal, as well as treating with the eastern emperors and patriarchs for the reunion of the Churches. But, as we have seen, the Popes themselves lost much of their influence during the disastrous western Schism, and, as Cardinal Newman says: "Resistance to the Pope's authority on the part of the States of Europe generally is pretty nearly coincident with the rise of the Ottoman Empire." Thus it was almost impossible that the western sovereigns should be got to co-operate against the common foe, though year by year the power of the Moslems was increasing in Europe, and the frontiers of their widening provinces were ever being pushed further into the heart of Catholic lands.

At length, Bajazet I., one of the most arrogant of the Turkish Sultans, pressed northward towards Hungary. The imminent danger at last roused the western princes, and a crusade was preached. A hundred thousand men marched under Sigismund of Hungary to encounter the invaders. The desperate battle of Nicopolis, 1396, resulted in complete victory to Bajazet, whose inhuman cruelty satiated itself by the revolting spectacle of eleven thousand prisoners slaughtered in cold blood. But Bajazet himself had to fight for his empire and his life. Timur the Tartar, another of those wild conquerors whose horrible deeds of brutality mark the history of the east, was over-running Asia Minor. The story of this warlike barbarian rivals that of Genghis Khan. There is the same tale of massacre, pillage, and desolation, with features of additional ferocity. For instance, Timur would follow up his victories by erecting pyramids of human skulls near the site of demolished towns, whose fall he thus commemorated. Bajazet was taken prisoner by this monster, and experienced some of the sufferings he had wantonly inflicted on others. After eight months' imprisonment, spent in a cage which graced the Tartar monarch's caravan in his progress from one slaughter to another, he died ignominiously. It seemed as though the Ottoman Empire would have fallen at this time; but a year later, 1402, under Mohammed I., it began a new career of prosperity. Had a crusade been organized while Timur was attacking the Turks, there is no doubt that the revival of the Turkish Empire would have been prevented. But it was too soon after Nicopolis to gather an army sufficiently powerful to drive the Turks from Europe. The lost opportunity never recurred.

Seeing the desperate condition of his affairs, the Greek emperor, John Paleologus, in 1438, made overtures to Pope Eugenius IV. for a reunion of the Greek and Latin Churches. The advance was cordially met. The Council which had been sitting at Basle was transferred first to Ferrara and then to Florence. At this Council, Greek as well as Latin prelates appeared. Long, and at times bitter, disputes were held, but at length the Greeks accepted the Catholic teaching on the three points in which it was found that they did not hold the orthodox faith—namely, the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son, the existence of Purgatory, and the supremacy of the Pope.

Great rejoicings were held in Rome over the accomplishment of the long-desired reunion. But at Constantinople the matter met with another reception. The people opposed the movement with all their force, and the patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, though they had been amongst those to accept the decree, anathematized all who submitted, 1443. During these proceedings, the Turks had been held at bay by Hunnyades, a valiant warrior known as the White Knight of Wallachia, who for twenty years kept up a ceaseless border warfare against the invaders. In 1444, he advanced into their territory and met the Turks at Varna. The Pope had raised another band of Crusaders, and sent them with a legate, the Cardinal Julian, to the aid of Hunnyades. The King of Poland also joined with a large body of troops. The Christians fought splendidly, but were overthrown with frightful slaughter, the Polish king and the legate being among the slain. This defeat was a death-blow to the Christian cause. Though Hunnyades, encouraged by St. John Capistran, who had also been in the field of Varna, and Scanderbeg, Prince of Albania, kept back the Turkish forces as long as they lived, all hope was at an end of saving the Greek Empire. Mohammed II., grandson of the Mohammed just mentioned, commenced his reign with the cry, ominous for Europe, of "Constantinople and then Rhodes!" It will be remembered that the Knights of St. John had established themselves in this island after their expulsion from Acre. During all this long struggle, they had kept the mastery of the Mediterranean, in spite of the determined efforts of the Turks to wrest it from them.

The last emperor of Constantinople, Constantine Palmologus, was a man of another stamp from his predecessors. Brave, able, and a sincere Catholic, he succeeded in rallying round him a little band of defenders, determined to hold the city or die in the attempt. But his difficulties were not confined to combating enemies without the walls. The Greeks within would not co-operate with the Latins who flocked to aid the gallant emperor in his fatal struggle. They preferred, they said, to have the Turks as masters than to be free and in alliance with Rome. Nine thousand warriors only answered the summons of Constantine, when the Turks stormed the walls with seventy thousand men. The unequal combat lasted for hours. An unguarded way admitted the Turks in the rear of the devoted band, and all hope was over. Constantine fell; his corpse, when found, was so disfigured with wounds that he was recognised only by his sandals. Days of hideous slaughter followed.

It is said that forty thousand perished in the massacre. A far larger number were sold as slaves. Some few escaped, among them some of the learned men of the place, who bore with them as many precious manuscripts as they could rescue from the burning libraries. Every church and public monument was desecrated, and devastation reigned supreme. The great church of Justinian, the Sancta Sophia, became a mosque, and the throne of the Eastern Caesars was seized by the Turk, Mohammed II., whose descendants to this day hold it as their own. Thus, in 1453, fell the last remnant of the Roman Empire.

III. The Moors in Spain

Spain, as we have seen, fell beneath the power of the Moors in the eighth century. The invaders gradually acquired possession of almost the whole peninsula, which soon broke up into a number of independent States. But the Spaniards, true to their faith, rarely mingled with the conquering race. Intercourse between the two peoples naturally brought about a slight change in their language, but, considering that the Moors remained nearly eight centuries as the ruling race among the Spaniards, a period about as long as from the Norman Conquest to the accession of Queen Victoria, it is remarkable how purely Latin a language Spanish is. This is an indirect testimony to the almost complete independence of thought and belief maintained by the Spaniards during their long servitude. The Moors were a highly cultivated and accomplished people, and up to the twelfth century were in advance of most of the other races of Europe in science and architecture. This was because Spain had comparative peace during the centuries when most northern lands were still struggling against invaders. From the twelfth to the fifteenth century, however, the Moorish dominion gradually but surely lost its hold. When the Caliphate of Cordova fell in 1236, the Moorish principalities became totally independent of each other, and a series of petty wars broke out, weakening the power of the Mohammedans and raising the courage of the Spaniards. Along the southern slopes of the Pyrenees and mountains of Asturias, little Christian States had already begun to be formed. A row of frontier castles had been erected to mark off the boundary-line between the rising States and their enemies.

This castle-studded borderland—hence called Castile—became independent towards the end of the tenth century. The kingdom of Leon had been formed fifty years earlier. In the eleventh century, Castile and Leon were united into one kingdom. Then Portugal established its independence. Aragon, still further south, was founded in the twelfth century. Under St. Ferdinand, in the thirteenth century, the Moors were gradually driven seaward out of the central provinces. Five of their States fell before him, and a sixth, the important kingdom of Granada, became tributary in 1246. Several military orders were instituted to repel the attacks of the Moors, who did not readily submit to being turned out of the fertile lands they had held so long.

The period that followed was a glorious one in the history of Spain. Her sturdy adherence to the true faith bore fruit in these days of regained freedom, and her sons were distinguished for their devotedness to the Holy See and the cause of religion. Magnificent cathedrals rose all over the land, and a period of prosperity set in for both Church and State.

When, in 1468, Isabella, the heiress of Castile, married Ferdinand, King of Aragon, the two most important States were united. The sovereigns determined to free all the Spaniards still subjugated to the Moslem yoke, and to rid their country of the Moors. A brief but desperate contest followed, during which the Moors lost one fortress after another. The valour of the Moslems was crippled by divided counsels among their leaders. Ten years after, Ferdinand and Isabella began the final struggle. Granada surrendered in January, 1482, and Boabdil, the last king of the last Moorish State in Spain, withdrew with the remnant of his people to Africa. Thence for a hundred years the former masters of Spain harassed their old thralls, but never again did they obtain a foothold in the land.

The Moors who remained among the Spaniards became a serious difficulty to the sovereigns. A similar danger was experienced from the Jews, and both bodies were very numerous. Many attempts were made to induce them to embrace Catholicity. It will be remembered from many incidents in English history that persecution of Jews was by no means rare in the Middle Ages. As Jews were wealthy and money-lenders by profession, the temptation to permit this treatment was great to needy rulers. To escape persecution, many Spanish Jews made outward profession of Christianity, while keeping up their own belief and worship in secret. A suspicion arose that certain Jews who had been converted and raised to high positions in Church and State were still in league with their nation, and plotting against the sovereigns. Then Ferdinand and Isabella established the new form of Inquisition already spoken of, and in 1481 it began its functions by seeking out Maranos, as relapsed Jews were called. If the accused were convicted, and refused to abjure Judaism, he was burnt alive. If he recanted, he was still burnt, but was strangled to death first.

Liberty of worship was guaranteed to the Moors remaining in Spain when Granada fell. But Ferdinand and Isabella attempted to convert them, and, to help on the work, offered considerable advantages to those who became Christians. Moorish converts, therefore, like the Jewish ones, were not quite free agents; at any rate, their sincerity may be doubted. But the unconverted Moors were indignant, and persecuted their countrymen who had yielded. Probably, among the hot-blooded Spaniards, retaliation would follow, or they would think themselves bound to defend the converts. Whatever the cause may have been, the Moors revolted. When subdued, they were offered conversion as a condition of peace. Then followed with the Moors what had been seen among the Jews—outward profession of one religion, and secret practice of the other. Relapsed Moors were called Moriscos. These, too, were hunted down and denounced to the Inquisition, with the usual result. Pope Clement VIII. (1592–1605) forbade the confiscation of property belonging to the innocent members of a family, and condemned the use of capital punishment for apostasy.

Meanwhile Spain was rising into a prominent position in Europe. The union of the whole peninsula, Portugal excepted, under one crown, had strengthened her position at home, and the moment had come when a vaster field of influence was opened to Spanish enterprise than any other nation had yet enjoyed. The intelligent daring of Isabella gained a new world for a country which was about to become mistress of a great part of the old. Portuguese navigators, too, were already creeping round Africa, and finding their way into the Indian Ocean. Five years after the day when, by a splendid mistake, Columbus found a new continent, Vasco da Gama, sailing east, reached what Columbus had sought—India. But the story of Spain at the zenith of her power belongs to the next period.

IV. The Renascence

While the events already alluded to were in progress, a gradual change was coming over the spirit of Europe. Medieval institutions were breaking up, and an unsettled state of things succeeded in politics, in literature, in art, and in social life. This could not fail to affect the attitude of men towards the Church. By the end of the period feudalism was almost extinct; the power of the great nobles was being absorbed into that of the sovereign, whose rule was becoming more and more absolute. We have seen that the Pope could no longer rouse Europe with the old cry of "God wills it!" which had once thrown the valiant hosts of Christendom across the path of the Turks, who were yet ever advancing; for, though Spain was shaking off the Moslem yoke, the faltering Greek Empire was bending beneath it. The nations of Europe were settling down gradually into the limits they have to-day: England was making her first attempt at empire, fortunately for her an unsuccessful one; France, when once she had shaken herself free from English servitude, had to consolidate her newly regained provinces. Such, too, was Spain's occupation at the same time. The great Italian republics were being transformed into duchies and princedoms; Russia was about to appear in history; Poland had started anew her existence as a kingdom. In the midst of these changes, a guiding hand was needed to check the evil tendencies which were sure to arise side by side with those which made for good, and which would want fostering. The saddest feature of the whole period is that at the moment of greatest need the guiding hand was wanting. The Church herself was, as we have seen, running the gravest perils she had ever yet encountered: first a schism in the Papacy itself, and then a time when Popes were rather political rulers than pastors of souls. Where were men to turn for help? No wonder that, in a time fraught with so many dangers, many should have made shipwreck among the shoals and quicksands of human thought. For the Church's battlefield was no longer one of action; the contest, as in the days of the Eastern heresies, was one of thought.

The deep supernaturalism of the early Middle Ages, rendered more intense by the widespread interest in scholastic and mystical learning, had a threefold development. In the purest and best natures, the desire for higher things took the form of a craving for a spiritual life, and under the guidance of such men as Tauler and Thomas a Kempis, the author of the "Imitation," numbers advanced to very great sanctity. But others, abandoning the traditions handed down by the saints of old, struck out new paths for themselves, and became wild fanatics, whose extravagant practices of prayer and penance brought contempt on themselves and on the Church, which was supposed, though erroneously, to have encouraged them. Chief among these were the so-called religious societies of the Brethren of the Free Spirit, and the Beguines and Begards, so notorious in the fifteenth century. Among the very ignorant, the craving for the supernatural showed itself in the form of a belief in witchcraft. This horrible superstition spread alarmingly, and up to the close of the seventeenth century it had scarcely declined. Every European nation prosecuted witches, who were hunted down with savage cruelty, tortured to extort a confession of evil practices, and burned when convicted. Finally, there were those who threw off every semblance of religion, good or bad, and who, under the influence of classical learning, returned to a pagan form of living.

In the domain of knowledge, the same triple aspect has to be considered. There were those who held on to the beaten tracks, and it must be owned, far too rigidly. The magnificent results already obtained by the scholastic method, as it was called, satisfied one section of students, and they would go no farther. By clinging with absurd persistence to the old form of study, and neglecting to seek out new matter of inquiry, they brought themselves deservedly, and the scholastic method undeservedly, into disrepute. But the opposite party, with a remnant of the tremendous energy inherited from the earlier age, flung itself upon whatever promised to satisfy its appetite for novelty. The classic literature of Rome was ransacked and studied with passionate earnestness; and after the fall of Constantinople, that of Greece also was added to their treasures. But for these zealous students it was not enough to pore over the ancient authors: everything must be conformed to a classic standard. The evil of this was that, splendid as are these monuments of human genius, they are profoundly pagan. The writers of the heathen world preach the indulgence of pride, and the spirit they foster is the worship of pleasure and beauty, the pursuit of all that makes this life enjoyable. Their new disciples entered fully into the spirit of their teaching—the thought of the next world, with its grave and salutary lessons, was cast aside, and they lived but for the satisfaction of every passion, till society became a repetition of what it was before the Gospel was preached to the world. This rejection of Christianity, its pure doctrines and noble morality, in favour of pagan letters and pagan spirit, is called Humanism, which in its worst sense means the exaltation of man in the place of God.

It was in Florence that the "New Learning," as it was called, was most highly cultivated. The sovereign dukes, who belonged to the famous Medici family, were liberal patrons of literature and art, and in their courts the profession of Humanism was accompanied by the most luxurious living, and the utmost abandonment of every restraint imposed by moral laws, human or Divine. Splendid magnificence and the vilest of crimes went hand in hand. Though not carried to the same excess everywhere, there were few careers or states of life which were not influenced by this spirit. Among Churchmen, for instance, it was considered a sign of vulgarity and ignorance to quote scriptural language, or teach doctrine in plain, unvarnished terms. Sermons became simply studies of poetical or fanciful ideas, clothed in beautiful language, the very names of God, our Lady, and the Saints being translated into mythological forms. Many of the hymns of the Divine office were remodeled to suit the new taste, and not a few of the glorious churches of an earlier date were altered to slavish imitations of pagan temples; while, literally, the statues of angels and of saints were exchanged for those of the gods and goddesses of the heathen world.

It is not to be supposed that this revolt against the usages of the Church would be unaccompanied by attacks against Churchmen. Unfortunately, there were only too many whose conduct laid them open to slanders. The worldliness of many in high places was too manifest to escape notice, and even Popes were not exempt from this failing. That several of the fifteenth-century Pontiffs acted more like temporal princes than as heads of the Church is well known, and it is now generally admitted that Alexander VI. (Rodrigo Borgia) disgraced his sacred office by strange misconduct. There were many ready enough to denounce these abuses loudly, and we find also that really good and earnest men of the time often spoke very strongly against a state of things that was bringing the Church into discredit and hindering the salvation of souls.

Foremost among the men who undertook to bring back the practice of the laws of the Church was Jerome Savonarola. He was a Dominican friar who, in 1489, was appointed Lenten preacher at St. Mark's, in Florence. His youth had been studious and very innocent, and, from the time he entered the Order, he was a holy and fervent religious. He had held several important posts, and when he began to preach he had already seen and mourned over the vices of Florence. His words, full of passionate earnestness, soon found an echo in the hearts of his hearers. Crowds gathered round him, till the vast church could no longer contain them. He denounced the wickedness of the Florentines in no measured terms, and spared none, however high their station. The face of the city was changed, and in their desire for reformation, the people declared that Lorenzo de Medici was not fit to govern them. Savonarola had warned the Florentines that the French would come and attack the city if an improvement in manners did not take place, and his prediction came true. Charles VIII. advanced on the city. Pietro de Medici, son and successor of Lorenzo, surrendered, which so angered the Florentines, that they exiled their rulers, and a new government was set up.

[Illustration] from Church - Later Middle Ages by Notre Dame

Many reforms were commenced, and though Savonarola took no part in the Council of State, it was he who led the whole movement. A marvellous transformation came over the city, luxury in dress and furniture was put a stop to, and even the most lawless conformed to the simple severity of a virtuous life. A "bonfire of vanity," as it was called, was heaped up in the great square, at which fair ladies and gay lords burnt all the trophies of their former lavish indulgence. Those who would not join the converted Florentines in their new way of living, became violent enemies of the man who had wrought the change, and they accused him to the Pope, Alexander VI.

The Dominican was called to Rome to answer for himself. A letter is extant in which he laid before the Pope his inability to do so from the state of his health and the need of his presence in Florence. Then he was forbidden to preach. For a time he obeyed, but at last, sheltering himself behind the statement that the Pope had been wrongly informed (that excuse made so often by those who find a command inconvenient), he once more began to preach. This was the fault which blots an otherwise fair memory, and which brought on him the sentence of excommunication. In 1498 Florence was the scene of violent riots. An attempt was made to reinstate the Medici, and failed. Five of the conspirators were executed without the benefit of appeal, which was usual in the city. This act brought down a storm of abuse on the government, of which Savonarola was supposed to be the leading spirit. He was accused of heresy, and when challenged to an ordeal of fire by a Franciscan, would not consent, thus giving offence to his enthusiastic supporters. These two incidents turned the tide of popular feeling against him.

Fierce mobs raged round his convent at St. Mark's. Savonarola was carried off and imprisoned. Pope Alexander VI. wished to have him tried in Rome, but the Florentines refused to give him up. The Pope then sent the General of the Dominicans and a Legate to represent him. At the trial which followed, Savonarola was again accused of heresy, and when under torture made some statement which was construed into an admission of guilt. As he afterwards retracted or corrected this assertion, he was condemned, as a relapsed heretic, to capital punishment. His last days were spent in fervent exercises of prayer and penance, he received Holy Communion before being conducted to the scaffold, where he protested that he died in complete submission to the Holy See, and in the bosom of the Church. The Pope sent him a plenary indulgence for the hour of death, which he gratefully received. He was strangled, and his body committed to the flames. The judgment against Savonarola was modified, and his writings were in after-days pronounced free from heresy. Pope Alexander himself is said to have deeply regretted the sentence passed on him.

We have yet to mention the band of eminent men who stand midway between the paganizing Humanists and the Scholastics. They shared the love of literature and art of the former with the religious convictions of the latter. The most famous of these is Dante, whose great poem, the "Divine Comedy," is the finest example of the spirit and teaching of the Middle Ages that exists. Teachers like Vittorino da Feltre exercised vast influence for good in Italy, as did the Brothers of the Common Life in Germany and the Netherlands. A mere list of names would convey but little idea of the splendid talent of such children of the Church as our English Chaucer; the wonderful scholar, Pico Bella Mirandola; the painter, poet, architect, and sculptor, Michael Angelo; the founder of modern astronomy, Copernicus, Canon of Frauenberg, in Prussia; and innumerable others distinguished in every art and science. The invention of the printing press at this time lent an immense impetus to the progress of learning. It is incredible what enormous numbers of books were produced as soon as the art was once known. The Holy Scriptures and doctrinal works seem to have been the most numerous, but only second to these were editions of the classics and treatises on education.

It is to the period we have just reviewed that the name Renascence is applied. To those who look upon the Protestant Revolution as the grandest event in history after the life of our Blessed Lord, this time is regarded as a New Birth of light and liberty, a time when men, long held in thraldom by the Church of the Middle Ages, were flinging off the bonds that had hitherto crippled their energies, and were awaking to a new sense of manly dignity and self-assertion. They claim the great men named above, together with Savonarola and some others, as the heralds of Protestantism.

As to the charge of thraldom, it is hard to believe that anyone who had studied thoughtfully any part of the history, literature, or art of the Middle Ages could possibly think that the magnificent results achieved were the works of slaves. If there is one characteristic which shines in all, it is the unfettered boldness and freedom with which doctor and artist, soldier and merchant alike, deal with the problem in hand. Liberty, and not slavery, is surely the hallmark of these ages.

But why are the great men above named claimed as the precursors of the so-called Reformation? The circumstances of the age had opened up new fields of energy and of thought, and undoubtedly ideas current around them found an echo in the writings, the sermons, the statues, and the paintings of the masters of thought and of art. Thus, Dante, who was a Ghibelline, spoke with the violence of his time against certain of the Popes, Chaucer could mock at the gay monk or the grasping friar, Michael Angelo seek inspiration for his glorious works from the antique, Savonarola denounce the unworthy lives of both Popes and prelates, and Blessed John Fisher revel in Greek learning; but no one who has studied their works could doubt for an instant that they were all Catholics to the backbone, that they loved the Church, and firmly held her doctrines. Theirs was no revolt against the Church and her teaching. They declaimed against the men who failed to rise to the ideal held out to them by the Church:—they condemned not the mother, but her unworthy sons.

But there was a Re-Birth and there was a Revolt. We have seen that the Pagan spirit was revived under the influence of the exclusive study of the classics, and that among these votaries of the antique, the tendency to throw off all restraint was strong. Hence the new thoughts and new principles to which this period gave birth. Up to this time, in spite of all the sad disorders we have witnessed, we have not met with any denial of papal authority, with open reviling of the teaching of the Church, with resolute casting aside of the necessary restraints she imposes on human conduct. Neither have we heard of the proclamation of the right of man to frame his own creed and his own code of moral law, nor of the exaltation of human learning over divine. But we do meet with these ideas henceforward, and once they were let loose upon Europe, they spread with terrible rapidity, and a corresponding looseness of life gained sway from the highest to the lowest. Is it, then, too much to say that, if the term Renascence be allowed, it must be applied to the revival of Paganism, and that licence, not liberty, was the spirit it engendered? Thoughtful-minded men, like Blessed Thomas More, could see that, despite outward prosperity, a fearful time was at hand for the Church, a time when the spirit of a man would be tested to the uttermost. A mighty storm was about to burst, one which, while it was to sweep away the rotten branches from the parent stem, would, by this very pruning, restore to the venerable tree its pristine vigour. It was Luther's hand which unchained the tempest.

[Illustration] from Church - Later Middle Ages by Notre Dame