THE PROGRESS OF THE HUMAN RACE IS BEST COMPARED TO A GIGANTIC PENDULUM WHICH FOREVER SWINGS FORWARD AND BACKWARD. THE RELIGIOUS INDIFFERENCE AND THE ARTISTIC AND LITERARY ENTHUSIASM OF THE RENAISSANCE WERE FOLLOWED BY THE ARTISTIC AND LITERARY INDIFFERENCE AND THE RELIGIOUS ENTHUSIASM OF THE REFORMATION
OF course you have heard of the Reformation. You think of a small but courageous group of pilgrims who crossed the ocean to have ``freedom of religious worship.'' Vaguely in the course of time (and more especially in our Protestant countries) the Reformation has come to stand for the idea of ``liberty of thought.'' Martin Luther is represented as the leader of the vanguard of progress. But when history is something more than a series of flattering speeches addressed to our own glorious ancestors, when to use the words of the German historian Ranke, we try to discover what ``actually happened,'' then much of the past is seen in a very different light.
Few things in human life are either entirely good or entirely bad. Few things are either black or white. It is the duty of the honest chronicler to give a true account of all the good and bad sides of every historical event. It is very difficult to do this because we all have our personal likes and dislikes. But we ought to try and be as fair as we can be, and must not allow our prejudices to influence us too much.
Take my own case as an example. I grew up in the very Protestant centre of a very Protestant country. I never saw any Catholics until I was about twelve years old. Then I felt very uncomfortable when I met them. I was a little bit afraid. I knew the story of the many thousand people who had been burned and hanged and quartered by the Spanish Inquisition when the Duke of Alba tried to cure the Dutch people of their Lutheran and Calvinistic heresies. All that was very real to me. It seemed to have happened only the day before. It might occur again. There might be another Saint Bartholomew's night, and poor little me would be slaughtered in my nightie and my body would be thrown out of the window, as had happened to the noble Admiral de Coligny.
Much later I went to live for a number of years in a Catholic country. I found the people much pleasanter and much more tolerant and quite as intelligent as my former countrymen. To my great surprise, I began to discover that there was a Catholic side to the Reformation, quite as much as a Protestant.
Of course the good people of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who actually lived through the Reformation, did not see things that way. They were always right and their enemy was always wrong. It was a question of hang or be hanged, and both sides preferred to do the hanging. Which was no more than human and for which they deserve no blame.
When we look at the world as it appeared in the year 1500, an easy date to remember, and the year in which the Emperor Charles V was born, this is what we see. The feudal disorder of the Middle Ages has given way before the order of a number of highly centralised kingdoms. The most powerful of all sovereigns is the great Charles, then a baby in a cradle. He is the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella and of Maxi- milian of Habsburg, the last of the mediaeval knights, and of his wife Mary, the daughter of Charles the Bold, the ambitious Burgundian duke who had made successful war upon France but had been killed by the independent Swiss peasants. The child Charles, therefore, has fallen heir to the greater part of the map, to all the lands of his parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins and aunts in Germany, in Austria, in Holland, in Belgium, in Italy, and in Spain, together with all their colonies in Asia, Africa and America. By a strange irony of fate, he has been born in Ghent, in that same castle of the counts of Flanders, which the Germans used as a prison during their recent occupation of Belgium, and although a Spanish king and a German emperor, he receives the training of a Fleming.
As his father is dead (poisoned, so people say, but this is never proved), and his mother has lost her mind (she is travelling through her domains with the coffin containing the body of her departed husband), the child is left to the strict discipline of his Aunt Margaret. Forced to rule Germans and Italians and Spaniards and a hundred strange races, Charles grows up a Fleming, a faithful son of the Catholic Church, but quite averse to religious intolerance. He is rather lazy, both as a boy and as a man. But fate condemns him to rule the world when the world is in a turmoil of religious fervour. Forever he is speeding from Madrid to Innsbruck and from Bruges to Vienna. He loves peace and quiet and he is always at war. At the age of fifty-five, we see him turn his back upon the human race in utter disgust at so much hate and so much stupidity. Three years later he dies, a very tired and disappointed man.