CHAPTER I. CAUSES OF THE REFORMATION
Had the Humanists contented themselves with advocating merely a return to classical studies, and had the Scholastics recognised that philosophy was not the only path to culture, it might have been possible to avoid a conflict. But, unfortunately for religion, there were extremists on both sides. On the one hand, some of the later Humanists, influenced largely by the low moral tone of the age, aimed at nothing less than the revival of Paganism, pure and simple; while, on the other, not a few of the Scholastics insisted strongly that Pagan literature, however perfect, should have no place in Christian education. Between these two conflicting parties stood a large body of educated men, both lay and cleric, who could see no irreconcilable opposition between Christianity and the study of the classics, and who aimed at establishing harmony by assigning to the classics the place in education willingly accorded to them by many of the Fathers of the Church.
But the influence of this latter body could not effect a reconciliation. A large section of the Humanists openly vindicated for themselves freedom from the intellectual and moral restraints imposed by Christianity. Laurentius Valla (1405-57) in his work, De Voluptate, championed free indulgence in all kinds of sensual pleasures, attacked virginity as a crime against the human race, and ridiculed the idea of continence and self-denial, while in his own life he showed himself a faithful disciple of the Epicurianism that he propounded in his writings. His denunciations, too, of the Popes as the usurping tyrants of Rome in his work on the Constantine Donation were likely to do serious injury to the head of the Church in his spiritual as well as in his temporal capacity. But bad as were the compositions of Valla, they were harmless when compared with the books and pamphlets of Beccadelli, the Panormite, who devoted himself almost exclusively to what was indecent and repulsive. Poggio Bracciolini in his work, Facetiae, and Filelfo, though not equally bad, belong to the same category. In the hands of these men the Renaissance had become, to a great extent, a glorification of Pagan immorality. Their books were condemned by many of the religious orders, but without avail. They were read and enjoyed by thousands, in whom the wholesale corruption prevalent in Florence, Siena, and Venice, had deadened all sense of morality.
A large number of the later Renaissance school were Christians only in name. If the great body of them were judged by the heathen figures and phraseology with which their works abound, they could hardly be acquitted of Pagan tendencies; but in case of many of them these excesses are to be attributed to pedantry rather than to defection from the faith. In case of others, however, although they were wary in their expressions lest they might forfeit their positions, Christian teaching seems to have lost its hold upon their minds and hearts. Carlo Marsuppini, Chancellor of Florence, Gemistos Plethon, the well- known exponent of Platonic philosophy, Marsilio Ficino, Rinaldo degli Albizzi, and the members of the Roman Academy (1460), under the leadership of Pomponius Laetus, were openly Pagan in their lives and writings. Had the men in authority in Italy been less depraved such teaching and example would have been suppressed with firmness; or had the vast body of the people been less sound in their attachment to Christianity, Neo-Paganism would have arisen triumphant from the religious chaos.
But not all of the Humanists belonged to the school of Valla, Beccadelli, Poggio, and Marsuppini. The Camaldolese monk, Ambrogio Traversari, his pupil Giannozzo Manetti (1431-59), a layman thoroughly devoted to the Church, and the first of the Humanists to turn his attention to the Oriental languages, Lionardo Bruni, so long Apostolic Secretary at the papal court and afterwards Chancellor of Florence, Maffeo Vegio (1407-58), the Roman archaeologist, who in his work on education endeavoured to combine classical culture with Christian revelation, Vittorino da Feltre, a model in his life and methods for Christian teachers, Pico della Mirandola, Sadoleto, and Bida, were all prominent in the classical revival, but at the same time thoroughly loyal to the Church. They were the moderate men between the Pagan Humanists and the extreme Scholastics. Their aim was to promote learning and education, and to widen the field of knowledge by the introduction of the ancient literary masterpieces, not at the expense of an abandonment of Christianity, but under the auspices and in support of the Catholic Church. Following in the footsteps of Origen, St. Gregory, St. Basil, and St. Augustine, they knew how to admire the beauties of Pagan literature without accepting its spirit or ideals, and hence they have been called the Christian Humanists.