CHAPTER VI. HENRY VIII (ii), 1509-32 - BIRTH OF THE REFORMATION
It does not appear that the writings or the preaching of the scholars had any marked effect on the conduct of the clergy, or aroused any general reforming zeal. But in one direction, that of education, they exercised a very material influence on the intellectual attitude of the younger generation. Dean Colet is known to-day to many even of those who take little interest in his times, as the founder of St. Paul's School, where he endeavoured to make the teaching of the young a real training instead of a drill in pedagogic formulae. And as he set the example which was by degrees followed in other grammar schools, so the example he had already set at Oxford was followed both there and at Cambridge by his disciples. To him, more than to any other man, was due the practical application of the new knowledge of Greek to the study of the New Testament, resulting primarily in the treatment of the Pauline Epistles as organic structures; as connected treatises, instead of collected texts according to the custom of the schoolmen; who, dragging phrases from their context, expanded, interpreted and harmonised them with other phrases for fresh expansion and interpretation; neglecting the apostolic argument to illustrate their own theses or those of the mediaeval doctors. Fox, of Winchester, when he founded Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Fisher in the Lady Margaret foundations at Cambridge, put into them men of the new school. Wolsey himself had evidently been influenced by the new methods, for his active connexion with Oxford had not ceased when Colet was there; and when in later years he founded Cardinal College, afterwards Christ Church, the men he appointed to it were chosen from the disciples of the school of Colet and Erasmus. To this higher ideal of University education, perhaps the strongest impulse was given by Erasmus himself, during the brief time about 1512 when he was Professor of Greek at Cambridge, where he proved himself the most brilliant exponent of the principles which in part at least he had imbibed from the Dean. Cranmer, his great rival Gardiner, and many others among the protagonists in the coming religious struggle, received their training under the new conditions - conditions very markedly affected by that edition of the New Testament, to which reference has already been made, issued by Erasmus from Basle in 1516 after he had left England: a work in which the Greek text appeared side by side with a new Latin translation, in place of the orthodox "Vulgate" whereof the stereotyped phraseology had acquired, through centuries of authorised interpretation, a meaning often very far removed from that of the original.
[Wolsey and the Reformation]
Thus what the Scholars accomplished was not Reform but the preparation of men's minds for Reform. What Wolsey the Statesman might have done, if foreign affairs had not occupied the best of his energies, we can only guess. His point of view was that of a Politician, not that of a man of religion. Such reforms as he might have been prepared to introduce would not have been the outcome of any lofty idealism, but only such as seemed to be dictated by public decency. As a Statesman, he was alive to the advantages of education, desired much of the wealth of the Church to be turned into that channel, and founded colleges, which he staffed with men of the new school and financed in part from the proceeds of suppressed religious houses. He went so far as to procure a papal Bull for the abolition of all Houses numbering less than seven inmates. But it may be doubted whether the real motive of the suppression was not rather the appropriation of funds for his favourite schemes than zeal for monastic morality. As Cardinal and Legate and an aspirant to the Papacy, he could never have lent himself to a policy calculated to weaken the ecclesiastical organisation; he could never have associated himself with Colet's campaign against clerical worldliness, of which there was no more conspicuous example in the kingdom than he. Having children himself by an illicit union, he could hardly have taken high ground as a reformer of morals. In brief, he must have confined his treatment of the situation within the limits of the work of a politician with educational leanings. What he actually did was to renew the monastic visitations set on foot by Cardinal Morton, to suppress some few small houses as corrupt or superfluous, and to encourage the new school of teaching which no one of authority had hitherto condemned as heretical. As to actual heresy, he looked on it with the eyes not of a theologian but of a politician; as a thing to be suppressed if it threatened public order, but otherwise negligible. He sought also to diminish the abuses connected with the ecclesiastical courts by the establishment of a Legatine Court of his own. But there is no sign that he was ever alive to the volcanic forces at work; or recognised that sooner or later the revolution which Luther initiated in Europe would have to be reckoned with in England also. Even at the time when the great Cardinal fell from power, there were but slight signs within the realm of the coming revolt, mutterings of a growing storm. No prophet had arisen denouncing the evil of the times convincingly, no statesman propounding drastic remedies; only the scholars had been preaching amendment, and occasional zealots had been bringing discredit on the cause of reformation by the violence of their incriminations. The far-reaching political effect of the religious differences was long in being realised on the Continent; in England it was still longer in making itself felt. Yet the Lutheran revolt was destined vitally to influence both the international relations and the internal order of every State in Christendom.
[The Lutheran Revolt, 1517]