CHAPTER I. CAUSES OF THE REFORMATION
The most remarkable of the men, who, though not Germans, were closely identified with German Humanists, was Desiderius Erasmus (1466- 1535). He was born at Rotterdam, was sent to school with the Brothers of the Common Life at Deventer, entered a monastery of the Canons Regular attracted by its library rather than by its rule, and left it after two years to become secretary to the Bishop of Cambrai. He studied classics at the University of Paris, and after his ordination as priest by the Bishop of Utrecht he became a tutor to an English nobleman. Later on he paid a visit to England, where he received a warm welcome from scholars like Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Colet, Dean of St. Paul's, and Sir Thomas More, and where he was honoured by an appointment as Professor of Greek in Oxford. But the fever of travel was upon him. He returned to Paris, made a brief stay at Louvain, and started out to visit the leading literary centres of Italy, notably Bologna, Venice, and Rome, in the latter of which he was well received by Julius II.
On the accession of Henry VIII. he returned to England and lectured for some time at Cambridge. Later on he removed to Basle and settled down to the work of preparing editions of the New Testament and of the Fathers. The triumph of the Reformation party in Basle drove him for a time to seek a refuge in Freiburg, but he returned to die at Basle in 1536.
In his wanderings Erasmus was brought into contact with the leading scholars of France, England, Germany, and Italy, and was thoroughly acquainted with the lights and shadows of the Renaissance movement. In his knowledge of Greek he was surpassed by few of his contemporaries, and in the purity and ease of his Latin style he stood without a serious rival. Like many others of the Humanist school he delighted in attacking the ignorance of the monks and Scholastics, and in denouncing the abuses of the age, though, as was the case with most of the literary reformers of the time, his own life as an ecclesiastic was far from exemplary.
Yet Erasmus himself was never an enemy of Christianity, nor did he desire the overthrow of ecclesiastical authority. He did, indeed, advocate reform, and in his advocacy of reform he may have been carried too far at times, but in his heart Erasmus had little sympathy with doctrinal changes. Ignorance he believed to be at the root of the decline of religion, and hence he would have welcomed a complete change in the educational system of the Church. Instead of Scholasticism he advocated study of the Scriptures and of the early Fathers, and in order to prepare the way for such a policy he devoted himself at Basle to the task of preparing an edition of the New Testament and of the Greek Fathers. He was on terms of the closest intimacy with the leading Humanists of Germany, and shared all their contempt for scholastic theologians and much of their distrust of the Pope and the Roman Curia. Hence the sympathy and encouragement of Erasmus were not wanting to Luther during the early days of his revolt and before the true object of the movement was rightly understood; but once Erasmus realised that union with Luther meant separation from the Church he became more reserved in his approval, and finally took the field against him. In his work, De Libero Arbitrio, he opposed the teaching of Luther on free will, and before his death he received a benefice from Paul III. which he accepted, and an offer of a cardinal's hat which he declined. His life as an ecclesiastic was certainly not edifying, and his hatred of ignorance, antiquated educational methods, and abuses may have led him into excesses, but his theology was still the theology of the Middle Ages rather than that of the German Reformers.
In France the earliest of the Humanists were Nicholas of Clemanges and Gerson, both rectors of Paris University, and both well-known theologians. They were specially active in putting an end to the Great Western Schism, but in doing so they laid down certain principles that led almost inevitably to Gallicanism. The influence of these two men did not, however, change the policy of Paris University. For years France lagged behind in the classical movement, and it was only in the early portion of the sixteenth century that French Humanism made itself felt.
The movement gained ground by the exertions of individuals and of literary societies, by the results of the activity of the printing press, and the protection of influential patrons at the Court of Francis I. (1515-47). Paris University became more friendly to the classics, and eminent scholars like Lascaris and Aleandro were invited to lecture on Greek. The College of St. Barbe became a great classical stronghold within the university, and the movement began to develop so rapidly as to excite the jealousy and suspicions of the theologians. This unfortunate division was rendered more acute by the foundation of the College de France in 1529. It was handed over entirely to the Humanistic party in spite of the opposition of the more conservative school, and served as a centre for all kinds of literary, philological, and antiquarian researches.