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CHAPTER IV.

State of Affairs in Europe during this Period—The Crusades—Other
Important Events—The Scholastic Divines and Philosophers—Universities—Printing.

 

I have termed the period we are now entering on   the “Revival Period,” not on religious grounds only, but also because throughout the whole period a new and powerful impulse was acting on the human mind. In some sense it might be said that the darkness had passed away. That expression, however, must be taken in a very modified acceptation. What is meant is this: before the days of Hildebrand the darkness became denser and denser; but after his days light gradually forced itself in, and the commingling led to fierce conflicts. The Church of Rome continued as dark as ever; in some respects, and in certain districts, it was an infernal blackness. Nevertheless, there were gleamings here and there, growing brighter and brighter, and tending to permanence; so that many men began to see where they were, which was a great point gained. It was as in Egypt of old. While the masses slumbered amid a darkness “which might be felt,” there was a goodly number of God’s people in the land, the true “children of Israel,” and they “had light in their dwellings.”

Significant and momentous events characterized this period. All Europe was in a ferment. First came the struggles between the Popes and the Emperors, in which many gallant warriors bit the dust, and flourishing kingdoms were laid waste. Then the Crusades—the veriest triumphs of ignorance, folly, superstition, and savagery, that the world had ever seen—which more than decimated the nobility of Europe, exalted crowns at the expense of coronets, and stuffed the maw of the Church of Rome, already pretty well gorged, with ill-gotten wealth. And yet some good came out of the evil. The tyrants of the world, whether despots or republicans (France has furnished types of both), “do not think so, or mean it in their hearts;” but the “King of kings” is on His throne, “judging right,” and they work out His will, unwittingly it may be, yet surely. So it was with the Crusades. At first the Popes seemed to have it all their own way. They had hit upon a grand expedient to lull the European population to sleep in the arms of the Church. Those who went to the holy wars traveled blindfold as priests guided them: and those who remained at home handed out gold, and silver, and precious things at the holy father’s bidding. Rome drove a profitable trade in those days! But loss was at hand. The Crusades aroused and expanded men’s minds. Commerce found additional avenues. Municipal institutions were established. The learning and the arts of the East became known. Intercourse with foreign nations was extended. Curiosity was awakened and inquiry stimulated. The literary treasures which had long been hidden in Eastern monasteries were brought to light and circulated, and “forgotten tongues” were learned again. All this was adverse to anti-Christian interests, and showed how the wise were once more “taken in their own craftiness.” We are reminding the reader of the great events of the period now before us. A simple enumeration must suffice. Think of Magna Charta, and the establishment of the English House of Commons—the invention of the mariner’s com?pass, of gunpowder, of linen paper, and of the printing press—the battles of Crecy, Poictiers, and Agincourt, with their consequences—the Great Western schism—the Council of Constance—the Wars of the Roses—the discovery of America, and of the passage to the East Indies round the Cape of Good Hope. Were they not times of activity and progress ?

The reader must not suppose that this has no connection with “Baptist History.” It has. We found the records of the last period scant and fragmentary. Why? The world was asleep, intellectually and morally asleep. Rome had administered an opiate, and Europe lay slumbering in her lap. It is not surprising that under such circumstances it is difficult to spell out the annals of thought and freedom. Baptist sentiments can hardly be understood, much less appreciated, in such dozing days as those. They require for their full development a time of mental stir. They rejoice in those collisions which produce sparks and flames, and thus illuminate the nations. They have a tendency to produce them.

Let us proceed, then, to show how enlightenment sprang up and brought forth fruit in the “Revival Period.”

It began with the Scholastic Philosophers and Divines. “The scholastic theology,” says Mr. Hallam, “was, in its general principle, an alliance between faith and reason, an endeavour to arrange the orthodox system of the Church, such as authority had made it, according to the rules and methods of the Aristotelian dialectics, and sometimes upon premises supplied by metaphysical reasoning.” The scholastic philosophy, according to the same author, “seems chiefly to be distinguished from the theology by a larger infusion of metaphysical reasoning, or by its occasional inquiries into subjects not immediately related to revealed articles of faith.”1  These philosophers and divines are often described as learned triflers who wasted their time and their energies in speculations, inquiries, and disputes, which might have been as well or better left alone; and their ponderous folios, scarcely ever read, but moldering away in public libraries, are pointed at as monuments of laborious folly. But this is a partial, perhaps a prejudiced, verdict. It is true that these men did perplex their brains with questions which they could not answer, and sometimes, like the angels Milton speaks of, “found no end, in wandering mazes lost.” It is also true that their theological investigations were conducted in a preposterous manner, since they strove to reason out their theology by the aid of the Aristotelian philosophy, instead of deriving it from the pure fountain of Holy Writ. And it must be granted that in their philosophical disquisitions they generalized and distinguished very much in the dark, and that the student of their works is constantly thrown into inextricable doubt and difficulty by their twisted reasonings, the cloudy verboseness of their style, and the barbarous unintelligible epithets they were in the habit of employing. Yet, with all these deductions, it cannot be denied that the school-men rendered great service in their day. There are bright gems in their writings, though hidden beneath much rubbish. If you sometimes meet with the uncouth, the ridiculous, or the hopelessly obscure, there are also vestiges of the profound and glimpses of the sublime. Their powerful intellects (for some of them were literary giants) were devoted, for the most part, to the upholding of Popery, and on that account we may not be sorry for the oblivion into which they have fallen. But they taught men to think, although their methods were as rude as were the mechanical tools of the times in which they lived, and the process of learning was consequently slow. Their influence gradually extended, till at length it reached those who were more desirous of applying to practice the knowledge already acquired than of striking out new paths, which might after all lead into a wilderness. There was an imperceptible and general sharpening of the human mind. The number of independent inquirers continually increased, and the circle of information was widened. Then, improved methods of mental training were devised. The establishment of numerous schools and universities was the result.

The following is a list of the principal school-men, with the curious and whimsical titles given them:

DIED A.D.

Peter Lombard, Master of Sentences.......................................................................................................    1164
Alexander of Hales, Irrefragable Doctor....................................................................................................    1245
Thomas Aquinas, Angelic Doctor..............................................................................................................    1274
Bonaventura, Seraphic Doctor..................................................................................................................    1274
Alan of Lille, Universal Doctor...................................................................................................................    1294
Roger Bacon, Wonderful Doctor................................................................................................................    1294
Richard Middleton, Solid and Copious Doctor..............................................................................................    1304
Duns Scotus, Subtle Doctor......................................................................................................................    1308
William Occam, Singular and Invincible Doctor...........................................................................................    1347
Archbishop Bradwardine, Profound Doctor.................................................................................................    1349
John Tauler, Sublime and Enlightened Doctor.............................................................................................    1361
Durand of St. Pourcain, Most Resolute.......................................................................................................    1383
Peter de Alliaco, the Eagle of France, and the Maul of Errorists....................................................................    1425
John Gerson, Most Christian Doctor............................................................................................................    1429

Universities have been mentioned. The University of Paris was founded A.D. 1206. Eight others in different parts of Europe, including Oxford and Cambridge, were founded in that century. The next century was the age of Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and our own Wycliffe and Chaucer; sixteen universities were founded in that century. Between the commencement of the fifteenth century and the close of the “Revival Period,” twenty-nine more were added to the list. Great numbers of students attended these institutions. Many of them did not learn much, and in all cases the course of study was very limited. But assuredly the poet’s affirmation—“A little learning is a dangerous thing”—is not to be regarded as oracular. The students of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were undoubtedly inferior to those of the present age: but was it not better to get “a little learning” than to remain in ignorance? And may it not be fairly inferred that the universities and schools of the times now under consideration (for schools also increased and extended in every direction), exerted a highly beneficial influence on society at large?

Printing was invented about the middle of the fifteenth century; and the study of classical literature, which had been revived more than a hundred years previously, received a powerful impetus after the fall of Constantinople, when educated Greeks emigrated into Italy and France, and the love of learning was everywhere diffused.

1 State of Europe during the Middle Ages, chap. ix, part ii. See also Bishop Hampden’s Bampton Lectures on “The Scholastic Philosophy.”

 
 
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