CHAPTER I. CAUSES OF THE REFORMATION
On the purely literary side the most famous of the German Humanists were Conrad Celtes (1459-1508) the most active of the promoters of the classical revival beyond the Alps and one of the earliest of the German poets; Pirkeimer (1470-1528), who hoped for great things from the Lutheran movement at first, but having realised its real nature remained loyal to the Church; Mutianus Rufus (1471-1526), a canon of Gotha and at the same time a well-known free-thinker; Grotus Rubeanus (1480-1504), who at first favoured Luther; Jakob Wimpheling (1450- 1528), and Johannes Trithemius (1462-1516), the learned historian and abbot of Sponheim; Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523), and Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522).
Of these the most important from the point of view of ecclesiastical history are von Hutten and Reuchlin. The former was born in the year 1488 and was sent for his education to the monastery of Fulda, from which he fled with very little mental equipment except a lasting hatred and distrust for all monks and ecclesiastics. As a wandering student he visited the leading centres of learning in Germany and Northern Italy, where he was particularly remarkable for his dissolute life, his ungovernable temper, and his biting sarcasm. Taking advantage of the rising spirit of unfriendliness between the Teuton and the Latin countries, he posed as a patriot burning with love for Germany and the Germans, and despising the French, the Italians, and in particular the Pope. Against the monks and theologians he directed his bitterest satires, to the delight of many, who did not foresee the dangers of such attacks at a time when the German nation generally was growing less friendly to the Papacy.
A dispute, which broke out about the destruction or suppression of Jewish books, afforded him a splendid opportunity of venting his spleen against the Church. A converted Jew of Cologne named Pfefferkorn advocated the suppression of all Jewish religious books except the Old Testament, as the best means of converting his former co-religionists. The Emperor, Maximilian, was not unwilling to listen to such advice supported as it was by the universities of Cologne, Mainz, and Erfut. Reuchlin, a professor of Heidelberg and himself a well-known Hebrew scholar, opposed such a policy as bad in itself and as injurious to the proper understanding of the Old Testament. A warm controversy thereupon ensued. The Dominicans of Cologne espoused the cause of Pfefferkorn, while the Humanists, scenting in the attack upon Jewish literature an onslaught directed against the entire literary revival, supported the contentions of Reuchlin. It was a war between two opposing schools - the Theologians and the Humanists; and, unfortunately for the Theologians, they had selected their ground badly, and were but poorly equipped for a battle in which victory was to be decided by popular opinion.
Reuchlin was summoned to appear before the Inquisitor to answer for the views put forward in his Augenspeigel (1511), and was condemned. He appealed to Rome, and the Bishop of Speier was ordered to investigate the case. The result was the acquittal of Reuchlin (1514), but his adversaries, having objected to the mode of trial, the case was transferred once more to the Roman courts. Meanwhile the controversy was carried on in Germany with great bitterness. Reuchlin published a volume of sympathetic letters received by him from the leading scholars of Germany, and Erasmus issued a new edition (1515) of his Praise of Folly (Encomium Moriae) in which he ridiculed especially the monks and theologians.
But the book which was most damaging to the opponents of Humanism was beyond doubt the Epistolae virorum obscurorum. It was a work consisting of two volumes, the first brought out by Grotus Rubeanus in 1514, and the second mostly from the pen of Urich von Hutten (1517). Like Reuchlin's work it purported to be a collection of letters addressed by the theologians to Ortwin Gratius, the champion of Cologne university and, indeed, of the whole Scholastic party. It was full of bitterness and vulgarity, but, as a humorous caricature of the theologians, their arguments and modes of expression, it was calculated to make them ridiculous especially in the eyes of the university students. Against an attack of this kind serious arguments were unavailing, and, unfortunately, there was no apologist of theology capable of producing a reply couched in a strain similar to that of the Epistolae. Gratius himself did undertake the task in his Lamentationes obscurorum virorum, but without success, and undoubtedly in the eyes of the general public the victory rested with the Humanists. The whole controversy was extremely unfortunate, because it helped to blind many to the real issues at stake when the Lutheran movement began. By it the Theologians and Humanists were divided into two hostile camps, with the result that the latter were inclined to support Luther against their own former opponents and in vindication of the liberal policy which they had advocated; while the Theologian, having been discredited as narrow-minded obscurantists in the eyes of a large body of university men, were handicapped seriously in a struggle with Luther even though their struggle was for fundamental religious principles.