Short Papers on Church History — Chapter 32

The Capture of Constantinople

In the year 1453, after a close siege of fifty-three days, the capital of Eastern Christendom fell into the hands of the victorious Turks. The Emperor, who bore the name of the founder of Constantinople, displayed great valour in the siege; he threw off his purple and fought in the breach, till he, with the nobles that surrounded him, fell among the slain. This was the last of the Constantines, and the last christian Emperor of Constantinople. Most of the inhabitants that remained were either sold as slaves or massacred, and five thousand Turkish families were brought into the city as settlers. Destruction, violence, and profanity, far exceeding the power of description, followed. The ancient church of St. Sophia was stripped of all the valuable offerings of ages, the images were broken to pieces, and, after having been the scene of gross profanations, was turned into a mosque. The treasures of Greek learning — to the extent some say, of one hundred and twenty thousand manuscript books — were destroyed or dispersed. The conquest was complete, and Mahomet II. at once transferred the seat of government to Constantinople.

But the unbounded ambition of the fierce Ottoman was far from being satisfied, he contemplated nothing less than a conquest of all Christendom. And from his rapid and easy victories over many of the lesser christian principalities in the East, it would appear that, if death had not relieved the world of such a tyrant, he might have pursued his path of conquest through the heart of Europe. What city, what kingdom, what power, would arrest the fierce invader? All Europe trembled, especially Italy. The death of Nicholas V. was hastened, it is said, by the news of the capture of Constantinople. Grief and fear broke the old man's heart. But after overturning empires, kingdoms, and cities without number, Mahomet II. died, at the age of fifty, from internal pains, supposed to be the effects of poison.

Tidings of these heavy calamities in the East spread a deep gloom over all the West. But that which threatened to arrest the progress of civilization and the spread of Christianity was overruled by an all-wise and good Providence for the furtherance of both in a marvellous way. The falling of Constantinople into the hands of the infidels drove many learned Greeks into Italy, and from Italy into many other countries in Europe. It so happened, just at this time, that the reigning pope, Nicholas V., was distinguished by his love of literature, which he greatly promoted by his position and his wealth. The refugees had brought such books with them as they had been able to rescue from the ruins of their fallen empire. The study of Greek was revived by such means and became exceedingly popular. Among these students it pleased God to raise up men of highly cultivated minds and devout hearts, who did much in preparing the way for the great Reformation.

Invention of Printing — Improvement of Paper

Just at this period the Lord was making "all things work together for good" in a most remarkable way. Two silent agents of immense influence and power were ordained to precede the living voices of His gospel-preachers — the invention of printing and the manufacture of paper. These harmonious inventions were brought to great perfection during the latter half of the fifteenth century for which we can lift up our hearts in praise and thanksgiving to God.

We have now reached a turning point in our history; and not only in the history of the church, but of civilization, of the social condition of the European states, and of the human family. It is well to pause on such an eminence and look around us for a moment. We see a divine hand for the good of all gathering things together, though apparently unconnected. The falling of an empire, the flight of a few Greeks with their literary treasures, the awakening of the long dormant mind of the western world, the invention of printing from moveable types, and the discovery of making fine white paper from linen rags. Incongruous as "linen rags" may sound with the literature of the Greeks, and the skill of Guttenberg, both would have proved of little avail without the improved paper. Means, the most insignificant in man's account, when used of God, are all sufficient. By miraculous power, a dry rod in the hand of Moses shakes Egypt from centre to circumference, divides the Red Sea, and gives living water from the flinty rock: a smooth pebble from the brook, or an empty ram's horn, accomplishes great deliverances in Israel. The power is of God, and faith looks only to Him.

It is a deeply interesting fact to the Christian, that the first complete book which Guttenberg printed with his cut metal types was a folio edition of the Bible in the Latin vulgate, consisting of six hundred and forty-one leaves. Hallam, in his Literary History beautifully observes: "It is a very striking circumstance, that the high minded inventors of the great art tried at the very outset so bold a flight as the printing an entire Bible, and executed it with great success .... We may see in imagination this venerable and splendid volume leading up the crowded myriads of its followers, and imploring, as it were, a blessing on the new art, by dedicating its firstfruits to the service of heaven."*

{*Literature of Europe, vol. 1, p. 153.}

Although it scarcely falls within the line of our "Short Papers" even briefly to sketch the history of the great discovery, yet for the sake of some of our readers who may not have such histories at hand we must mention a few particulars, as it was one of the most powerful agents of the Reformation.

From an early period the mode of printing from blocks of wood had been practised. Sometimes the engravings, or impressions, were accompanied by a few lines of letters cut in the block. Gradually these were extended to a few leaves and called block-books. An ingenious blacksmith, it is said, invented in the eleventh century separate letters made of wood. The celebrated John Guttenberg, who was born at a village near Mentz, in the year 1397, substituted metal for the wooden letters, his associate Schaeffer cut the characters in a matrix, after which the types were cast, and thus completed the art of printing as it now remains.

Parchment, preparations of straw, the bark of trees, papyrus, and cotton had sufficed for the printer and transcriber, till the fourteenth century. But these preparations would have been utterly inadequate to supply the demand of the new process. Happily, however, the discovery of making paper from rags coincided with the discovery of letter-press printing. The first paper-mill in England was erected at Dartmouth by a German named Spielmann, in 1588, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

The First Printed Bible

All historians seem to agree, that Guttenberg, having spent nearly ten years in bringing his experiments to perfection, had so impoverished himself that he found it necessary to invite some capitalist to join him. John Faust, the wealthy goldsmith of Mentz, to whom he made known his secret, agreed to go into partnership with him, and to supply the means for carrying out the design. But it does not appear that Guttenberg and his associates, Schoeffer and Faust, were actuated by any loftier motive in executing this glorious work, than that of realizing a large sum of money by the enterprise. The letters were such an exact imitation of the best copyists, that they intended to pass them off as fine manuscript copies, and thus to obtain the usual high prices. Those employed in the work were bound to the strictest secrecy. The first edition appears to have been sold at manuscript prices without the secret having transpired. A second edition was brought out about 1462, when John Faust went to Paris with a number of copies. He sold one to the king for seven hundred crowns, and another to the archbishop for four hundred crowns. The prelate, delighted with such a beautiful copy at so low a price, showed it to the king. His majesty produced his, for which he had paid nearly double the money; but what was their astonishment on finding they were identical even in the most minute strokes and dots? They became alarmed, and concluded they must be produced by magic, and the capital letters being in red ink, they supposed that it was blood, and no longer doubted that he was in league with the devil and assisted by him in his magical art.

Information was forthwith given to the police against John Faust; his lodgings were searched, and his Bibles seized other copies which he had sold were collected and compared. and finding they were all precisely alike, he was pronounced a magician. The king ordered him to be thrown into prison and he would soon have been thrown into the flames, but he saved himself by confessing to the deceit, and by making a full revelation of the secret of his art. The mystery was now revealed, the workmen were no longer bound to secrecy printers were dispersed abroad, carrying the secret of their art wherever they found a welcome, and the sound of printing presses were soon heard in many lands. About 1474 the art was introduced into England by William Caxton; and in 1508 it was introduced into Scotland by Walter Chepman.

Before the days of printing, many valuable books existed in manuscript, and seminaries of learning flourished in all civilized countries, but knowledge was necessarily confined to a comparatively small number of people. The manuscripts were so scarce and dear that they could only be purchased by kings and nobles, by collegiate and ecclesiastical establishments. "A copy of the Bible cost from forty to fifty pounds for the writing only, for it took an expert copyist about ten months' labour to make one." Although several other books issued from the new presses, the Latin Bible was the favorite book with all the printers. They usually commenced operations, wherever they went, by issuing an edition of the Latin Bible. It was most in demand and brought high prices. In this way Latin Bibles multiplied rapidly. Translators now began their work; and by individual reformers in different countries, the word of God was translated into various languages in the course of a few years. "Thus an Italian version appeared in 1474, a Bohemian in 1475, a Dutch in 1477, a French in 1477, and a Spanish in 1478; as if heralding the approach of the coming Reformation."

Rome's Opposition to the Bible

But, as usual, the great enemies of truth and light and liberty took the alarm. The archbishop of Mentz placed the printers of that city under strict censorship. Pope Alexander VI. issued a bull prohibiting the printers of Mentz, Cologne, Treves, and Magdeburg from publishing any books without the express license of their archbishops. Finding that the reading of the Bible was extending, the priests began to preach against it from their pulpits. "They have found out," said a French monk," a new language called Greek: we must carefully guard ourselves against it. That language will be the mother of all sorts of heresies. I see in the hands of a great number of persons a book written in this language called, 'The New Testament;' it is a book full of brambles, with vipers in them. As to the Hebrew, whoever learns that becomes a Jew at once." Bibles and Testaments were seized wherever found, and burnt; but more Bibles and Testaments seemed to rise as if by magic from their ashes. The printers also were seized and burnt. "We must root out printing, or printing will root out us," said the vicar of Croydon in a sermon preached at Paul's Cross. And the university of Paris, panic-stricken, declared before the parliament, "There is an end of religion if the study of Greek and Hebrew is permitted."

The great success of the new translations spread alarm throughout the Romish church, she trembled for the supremacy of her own favourite Vulgate. The fears of the priests and monks were increased when they saw the people reading the scriptures in their own mother tongue, and observed a growing disposition to call in question the value of attending mass, and the authority of the priesthood. Instead of saying their prayers through the priests in Latin, they began to pray to God direct in their native tongue. The clergy, finding their revenues diminishing, appealed to the Sorbonne, the most renowned theological school in Europe. The Sorbonne called upon parliament to interfere with a strong hand. War was immediately proclaimed against books, and the printers of them. Printers who were convicted of having printed Bibles, were burnt. In the year 1534, about twenty men and one woman were burnt alive in Paris. In 1535 the Sorbonne obtained an ordinance from the king for the suppression of printing. "But it was too late," as an able writer observes; "the art was now full born, and could no more be suppressed than light, or air, or life. Books had become a public necessity, and supplied a great public want: and every year saw them multiplying more abundantly."*

{*History of the Huguenots, by Samuel Smiles, pp. 1-23.}

While Rome was thus thundering her awful prohibitions against the liberty of thought, and lengthening her arm to persecute wherever the Bible had penetrated and found followers, at least all over France God was hastening by means of His own word and the printing press, that mighty revolution which was so soon to change the destinies of both Church and State. But had the catholics succeeded in their wicked designs, we should still have been groping our way amidst the thick darkness of the middle ages. Rome has ever been hostile to new inventions and improvements; especially if they tended to the diffusion of knowledge, the promotion of civilization, the diminishing of the distance between the clergy and the laity, or in any way weakening the power of the priesthood. Ignorance, slavery, superstition, blind subjection to priestcraft, are the chief elements of her existence. Of all inventions, none has exercised a greater influence on society than that of printing; and not only so; it is the preserver of all other inventions. Thus no thanks are due to the catholics for our modem civilization, and for the privileges of our civil and religious liberties. But the living God is above all the hostility of Rome, and will accomplish all the purposes of His grace.

The darkness of the middle ages is rapidly passing away. The rising sun of the Reformation will ere long dispel the gloom of Jezebel's long reign of a thousand years. Her boasted universal supremacy is no more, and will never again return. The pillars of her strength are already shaken and many causes are combining to hasten her complete overthrow. With these causes we shall soon become more familiar.

The Immediate Precursors of Luther

We have traced with some care the chain of witnesses from the earliest period of the church's history till the beginning of the sixteenth century; we have only further to notice a few names which connect the noble line with the name and testimony of the great Reformer. There is no missing link in the divine chain. Of these the most noted were Jerome Savonarola, John of Wesalia, and John Wessilus of Groningen.

Jerome Savonarola, the descendant of an illustrious family, was born in 1452, at Ferrara. He was in early life the subject of deep religious feelings, and supposing he had been favoured with heavenly visions as to his mission, he retired from the world and entered the Dominican order at the age of twenty-one. He devoted himself to the study of the holy scriptures, with continual prayers, fastings, and mortifications. He appears to have been greatly interested in the prophetic scriptures, especially in such portions as the Apocalypse, which he was fond of expounding, and confidently maintained that the threatened judgments were near at hand. Having spent seven years in the Dominican convent of Bologna, he was removed by his superiors to St. Mark's at Florence. After some years he was elected prior, when he introduced a thorough reformation, and a return to the earlier simplicity of food and dress.

Savonarola was unequalled in his power as a preacher; but like many others at that time, he combined the politician's with the preacher's character. Reform was his one theme — reform and repentance he proclaimed as with the voice of a prophet. Reform in the discipline of the church, in the luxury and worldliness of the priesthood, and in the morals of the whole community. The Italians being peculiarly sensitive to all appeals respecting their rights as citizens, the vast cathedral of Florence was soon crowded by multitudes who eagerly hung on his words. His preaching assumed the form of prophecy, or of one authorized to speak in the name of God; although it does not appear that his predictions were more than the result of a firm conviction in the government of God and in the fulfilment of prophecy according to the principles revealed in the holy scriptures. But though he was more or less mixed up with the political factions in Italy, he was an earnest Christian and a true reformer. He unsparingly denounced the usurpation of Lorenzo de' Medici, the despotism of the aristocracy, and the sins of the prelates and clergy he mourned over the cold indifference to spiritual things which marked the character of the age. "The church had once," he said, "her golden priests, and wooden chalices; but now the chalices were gold and the priests wooden — that the outward splendour of religion had been hurtful to spirituality." So resistless was his eloquence, which partook of a prophetic character, as if he were the messenger of an offended God whose vengeance was already impending over Italy, that the multitudes believed in his heavenly mission. The people were so controlled by his appeals that the moral effect of his warnings was speedily perceptible throughout the city. "By the modesty of their dress," says Sismondi, "their discourse, their countenance, the Florentines gave evidence that they had embraced the reform of Savonarola."

But his course was watched with the evil eye of Jezebel. Such a fearless witness was not fit to live, especially in Italy. The light must be quenched; but how to accomplish it was the difficulty, as many of the citizens were ready to pass through the flames as the substitutes of Savonarola. The church of Rome, backed by the partisans of the Medici, addressed herself to this fiendish work. As usual, her plans were founded on treachery and ended in persecution. The deceitful Alexander VI. invited Savonarola in courteous language to visit him at Rome that he might confer with him on the subject of his prophetic gifts. But he knew the pope was not to be trusted notwithstanding his flattering words, and refused to obey. He next proposed to raise him to the cardinalate in the hope of getting him under his power; but Savonarola indignantly declared from the pulpit that he would have no other red hat than one dyed with the blood of martyrdom. The mask was now thrown off; blandishments were exchanged for threatenings and excommunications. He was denounced as a "sower of false doctrine." His destruction was determined. The Franciscans, already jealous of the great fame of a Dominican, entered the conspiracy. An account of their plottings would be uninteresting to the reader; but they succeeded in diverting the people, and in accomplishing the downfall of their rival.

In the year 1498 Savonarola, and his two friends, Dominic and Silvester, were seized, imprisoned, and tortured. The nervous system of the great preacher, both from his labours and his ascetic exercises, had become so sensitive that he was unable to bear the agonies which were inflicted on him. "When I am in torture," he said, "I lose myself, I am mad: that only is true which I say without torture." In the meantime, two legates arrived from Rome with the sentence of condemnation from Alexander; the prisoners were taken the following day to the place of the signory, and, after the usual ceremony of degradation, were first hanged and then burnt. Their ashes were carefully collected by the Franciscans, and cast into the Arno; yet relics of Savonarola were preserved with veneration among his many friends and followers.

Reflections on the Life of Savonarola

The prior of St. Mark's is spoken of in history, as the most faithful public witness for Christ that had yet appeared in Italy; but there was much in his course that was contrary to the spirit and calling of a true Christian, especially in his mixing up politics with religion. It is said that he thought to combine the characters of Jeremiah and Demosthenes — to weep over sin and denounce God's judgments like the one, and to stir up the people to struggle for their liberties like the other. This was his mistake, owing to his ignorance of the teaching of the New Testament; and that which led to his dishonour and his downfall. But great allowance must be made for his education, circumstances, and the spirit of the age. Many of the later reformers fell into the same snare. They had not learnt, in those revolutionary times, that the calling of the Christian is a heavenly one — that while the Jew was blessed with all temporal mercies in a pleasant land, the Christian is blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. They did not see that the purpose of God in the present period is to gather out from among the nations a people for His name by the preaching of the gospel. (Acts 15) But how few even in the present day see that the church of God is an out-calling, and so ought to walk in separation from the world!

The highest good that the preacher can accomplish for his fellow men is to gather them out of the world to the rejected Saviour. But such preachers are neither popular nor understood, even in the last quarter of the nineteenth century: indeed we may raise the question — Is the state of "the churches" generally, as regards politics, in advance of the ideas of Savonarola? He interfered in the direction of public affairs in order that the republic of Florence might be to the honour of his Lord and Master. His motives were doubtless good, but he was entirely mistaken in thinking he could unite heavenly and earthly things. His grand idea is seen in the fact, that one of the coins struck whilst Florence was under his influence bore the inscription, "Christ our king. " But not only did this remarkable man desire to see a great Reformation in both Church and State, he also longed for the salvation of souls, while his own heart rejoiced in the glorious doctrine of justification by faith alone.

The following extract from his meditations on Psalm 31 during his imprisonment will give the reader an idea of his inmost thoughts as guided by the Holy Spirit of God. "No man can boast of himself; and if in the presence of God, the question were put to every justified sinner, Have you been saved by your own strength?' all would with one voice exclaim, 'Not unto us, O Lord, but unto Thy name be the glory!' Therefore, O God, I seek Thy mercy, and I bring Thee not my own righteousness: the moment Thou justifiest me by Thy grace, Thy righteousness belongs to me; for grace is the righteousness of God. So long, O man, as thou believest not, thou art, because of sin, deprived of grace. O God, save me by Thy righteousness, that is, by Thy Son, who alone was found righteous before Thee." As taught of God, with what holy and lofty thoughts his mind must have been filled from the study, in a prison, of that most beautiful psalm of sorrow and triumphant praise !*

{*J.C. Robertson, vol. 4, p. 548. Waddington, vol. 3, p. 383. Universal History, Bagster and Sons, London, vol. 6, p. 173.}

Ah! fairest city, who hast seen expire
Three chosen martyrs in devouring fire,
Who, linked together, amidst scorn and pain,
In dying smiled, and proved "to die is gain:" —
Thy rich and honoured stream, whose bosom wide
Doth those blest ashes, as its treasure hide,
Shall see the tyrant-chief at last expire.
And every infidel destroyed by fire;
Shall see all vice and evil come to nought,
And hail new light from heavenly regions brought.

John of Wesalia, a doctor of divinity at Erfurt, was distinguished for his boldness, energy, and opposition to Rome. He incurred the indignation of the monastic orders by preaching that men are saved by grace through faith, and not by a monastic life; that a man is eternally safe who believes in Christ though all the priests in the world should condemn and excommunicate him. He pronounced indulgences, the holy oil, and pilgrimages, to be of no avail; that the pope, bishops, and priests were not instruments of salvation. He was what would now be called strictly calvinistic in his views of grace. The archbishop of Mentz ordered his imprisonment; he was brought to trial before a council of priests in the year 1479, and notwithstanding his age, ill health, and feebleness, he was subjected to a puzzling examination of his opinions, which lasted five successive days. Some things he explained, some he disavowed, and some he retracted; but his judges had no mercy, though he was bending beneath the weight of years; he was condemned to perpetual penance by the holy Inquisition and soon perished in its dungeons.

John Wesselus, a native of Groningen, in Holland, was undoubtedly the most remarkable of the immediate forerunners of the Reformation. He was one of the most learned men of the fifteenth century. But happily for John Wesselus himself, and for thousands more, his light was not only that of human learning — he was taught of God. The light of the glorious gospel of the grace of God burned brightly in his heart, in his words, in his life. He was doctor in divinity successively at Cologne, Louvain, Heidelberg, and Groningen; and he boldly exposed many of the evil doctrines and flagrant abuses of the church of Rome. He was also for some years professor of Hebrew at the university of Paris, and even there he spoke out boldly. "All satisfaction for sin," he declared, "made by men is blasphemy against Christ." But the following testimony of Luther to the writings of John Wesselus makes it unnecessary to particularize his opinions.

About thirty years after the death of Wesselus, Luther was preaching the same doctrines which his forerunner had committed to writing, though he had not then seen any of his. works. They had been led and taught by the same Holy Spirit, and instructed out of the same holy book, and fitted for the same work. The great reformer was so astonished and delighted when he first met with some of the writings of Wesselus, that he wrote a preface for a printed edition of his works in 1522, in which he says, "By the wonderful providence of God I have been compelled to become a public man, and to fight battles with those monsters of indulgences and papal decrees. All along I supposed myself to stand alone; yet have I preserved so much animation in the contest, as to be everywhere accused of heat and violence, and of hitting hard. However, the truth is, I have earnestly wished to have done with these followers of Baal among whom my lot is cast, and to live quietly in some corner, for I have utterly despaired of making any impression on these brazen foreheads and iron necks of impiety. But behold, in this state of mind, I am told that even in these days there is in secret a remnant of the people of God. Nay, I am not only told so, but I rejoice to see a proof of it. Here is a new publication by Wesselus, of Groningen, a man of an admirable genius, and of an uncommonly enlarged mind. It is very plain he was taught of God, as Isaiah prophesied that Christians should be: and as in my own case, so with him, it cannot be supposed that he received his doctrines from men. If I had read his works before, my enemies might have supposed that I had learnt everything from Wesselus, such a perfect coincidence there is in our opinions. As to myself, I derive not only pleasure but strength and courage from this publication. It is now impossible for me to doubt whether I am right in the points which I have inculcated, when I see so entire an agreement in sentiment, and almost the same words used by this eminent person, who lived in a different age, in a distant country, and in circumstances very unlike my own. I am surprised that this excellent christian writer should be so little known; the reason may be that he lived without blood and contention, for this is the only thing in which he differs from me."

We will only further relate an anecdote respecting Wesselus, which proves how thoroughly the spirit of the gospel had satisfied and filled his heart, and raised him above the most powerful temptation.

When Sixtus IV. was raised to the pontifical throne, not forgetful of an acquaintance which he had formed with Wesselus in France, he offered to grant him any request he would make. The pious Dutchman gravely replied, "May he who is regarded as the supreme shepherd of the church on earth so act as that, when the Chief Shepherd shall appear he may hear Him say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.' " "That must be my care," replied Sixtus; "but do you ask something for yourself." "Give me, then," said Wesselus, "out of the Vatican Library a Greek and a Hebrew Bible." "You shall have them," replied the pope; "but is not this folly? Why do you not ask for a bishopric, or something of that sort?" "Because," said the unambitious professor, "I do not desire such things."

He was allowed to end his days in peace in the year 1489, having reached the age of seventy. His last words were "God be praised! all I know is Jesus Christ and Him crucified."*

{*Milner, vol. 3, p. 421.}

Ulric von Hutten, a German knight, having a reforming zeal, and being a great admirer of Luther, has found a place in most of the histories. Descended from an ancient family, and of brilliant talents, he distinguished himself in early life as a soldier, and afterwards as a literary adventurer, but greatly wanting, we fear, in moral weight. He published an acrimonious invective against Erasmus, and a most effective satire against the court and tyranny of Rome. "Few books," says Hallam, "have been more eagerly received than Hutten's epistles at their first appearance in 1516." But he was not long spared, either to unveil the abuses of popery, or advocate the doctrines of the Reformation. He died in 1523 at the early age of thirty-five. "He forms the link," says D'Aubigne, "between the knights and the men of letters." He was present at the siege of Padua in 1513, and his powerful book against popery appeared in 1516.

Reuchlin and Erasmus — these famous names — may be conveniently and appropriately introduced here. Although not reformers, they contributed much to the success of the Reformation. They were called "Humanists" — men eminent for human learning. The revival of literature, but especially the critical study of the languages in which the holy scriptures were written — Hebrew, Greek, and Latin — rendered the highest service to the first reformers. As in the days of Josiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah, the great Reformation was in immediate connection with the recovery and study of the written word of God. The Bible, which had lain so long silent in manuscript beneath the dust of old libraries, was now printed, and laid before the people in their own tongue. This was light from God, and that which armed the reformers with invincible power. Down to the days of Reuchlin and Erasmus the Vulgate was the received text. Greek and Hebrew were almost unknown in the West.

Reuchlin studied at the university of Paris. Happily for him, the celebrated Wesselus was then teaching Hebrew at that renowned school of theology. There he received, not only the first rudiments of the language, but a knowledge of the gospel of the grace of God. He also studied Greek, and learned to speak Latin with great purity. At the early age of twenty he began to teach philosophy, Greek, and Latin, at Basle; "and," says D'Aubigne, "what then passed for a miracle, a German was heard speaking Greek. " He afterwards settled at Wittemberg — the cradle of the Reformation — instructed the young Melancthon in Hebrew, and prepared for publication the first Hebrew and German grammar and lexicon. Who can estimate all that the Reformation owes to Reuchlin, though he remained in the communion of the Romish church!

Erasmus, who was about twelve years younger than Reuchlin, pursued the same line of study, but with still higher powers and greater celebrity. From about 1500 to 1518, when Luther rose into notice, Erasmus was the most distinguished literary person in Christendom. He was born at Rotterdam in 1465; was left an orphan at the age of thirteen; was robbed by his guardians, who, to cover their dishonesty, persuaded him to enter a monastery. In 1492, he was ordained a priest, but he always entertained the greatest dislike for a monastic life, and embraced the first opportunity to regain his liberty. After leaving the Augustinian convent at Stein, he went to pursue his favorite studies at the university of Paris.

With the most indefatigable industry he devoted himself entirely to literature, and soon acquired a great reputation among the learned. The society of the poor student was courted by the varied talent of the time. Lord Mountjoy, whom he met as a pupil at Paris, invited him to England. His first visit to this country, in 1498, was followed by several others, down to the year 1515, during which he became acquainted with many eminent men, received many honours, formed some warm friendships, and spent most of his brightest days. He resided at both the universities, and, during his third and longest visit, was professor of Greek at Cambridge. All acknowledged his supremacy in the world of letters, and for a long time he reigned without a rival. But our object at present is rather to inquire, "What was his influence on the Reformation?"

Under the gracious, guiding hand of Him who sees the end from the beginning, Erasmus bent all his great mental powers, and all his laborious studies, to the preparation of a critical edition of the Greek Testament. This work appeared at Basle in 1516, one year before the Reformation, accompanied by a Latin translation, in which he corrected the errors of the Vulgate. This was daring work in those days. There was a great outcry from many quarters against this dangerous novelty. "His New Testament was attacked," says Robertson; "why should the language of the schismatic Greeks interfere with the sacred and traditional Latin? How could any improvement be made on the Vulgate translation? There was a college at Cambridge, especially proud of its theological character, which would not admit a copy within its gates. But the editor was able to shelter himself under the name of Pope Leo, who had accepted the dedication of the volume. "

To question the fidelity of the Vulgate, was a crime of the greatest magnitude in the eyes of the Roman Catholic church. The Vulgate could no longer be of absolute exclusive authority; the Greek was its superior not only in antiquity, but yet more as the original text. At this time, Erasmus stood at the head of scholars and men of letters. He was patronized by the pope, many prelates, and by the chief princes of Europe. Sheltered behind such an ample shield, he was perfectly secure, and, knowing this, fearlessly went on with his great work.*

{*Although the Greek New Testament of Erasmus, published at Basle in 1516, was the first edition in which the original text of the Holy Scriptures was given to the learned world, it was not the first either as to design or printing. The Complutensian New Testament was finished in January 1514; but as it awaited the completion of the Bible and the license of the pope, it was not published until 1522. Thus it was that the edition of Erasmus appeared six years earlier than the Complutensian, though printed two years later.

This was the first Polyglott Bible, and since known as the Complutensian; Paris and London Polyglotts followed. This great work appears to have been the original conception of the celebrated Cardinal Ximenes, of Toledo, and executed at his expense. With a view to this he collected manuscripts, employed a number of scholars as editors, and imported type-cutters from Germany. The outlay is stated to have exceeded twenty-three thousand pounds-a vast sum in those days-but the yearly income of the Primate was four times that amount.

The Complutensian Polyglott, in six volumes folio, was completed at Alcala, in Spain, in 1517, but the preparations were begun as early as 1502. These six noble volumes contain the Old Testament in Hebrew, Latin and Greek; and the New Testament in Greek and Latin, with a Hebrew dictionary, and other supplementary matter.

John Froben, an enterprising publisher at Basle, having heard of this forthcoming Bible, and eager to forestall it, urged Erasmus to undertake immediately an edition of the New Testament. The first was very faulty, as Froben's haste gave him little leisure to do his work. It passed through three editions in six years: on the fourth and fifth editions Erasmus bestowed more pains, having seen the Complutensian in 1522.-See an able and useful book, entitled, "A Plain Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament," by Dr. Scrivener: George Bell and Sons, London. See also some interesting particulars in J.C. Robertson's Church History, vol. 4, p. 664.}

To give the reader some idea of the popularity of this singularly great, yet in some respects weak man, we may just notice that his book, entitled "Praise of Folly," went through twenty-seven editions during his lifetime; and his "Colloquies" were so eagerly received, that in one year twenty-four thousand copies were sold. In these books he assailed with great power, and the most bitter satire, the inconsistencies of the monks — their intrusiveness and rapacity in connection with deathbeds, wills, and funerals and thus indirectly served the cause of the Reformation.*

{*J.C. Robertson, vol. 4, p. 673.}

Erasmus had many tempting offers as to pensions and promotion, but his love for his learned labours led him to prefer comparative poverty with perfect liberty. In 1516 he took up his abode at Basle, where his works were printed by Froben, and he diligently laboured in correcting proofs, and otherwise assisting that learned printer with his fine editions of classical works.

But the great work for which he seems to have been specially fitted by God was his Greek New Testament. "Erasmus," says D'Aubigne, "thus did for the New Testament what Reuchlin had done for the Old. Henceforward divines were able to read the word of God in the original languages, and at a later period to recognize the purity of the reformed doctrines. The New Testament of Erasmus gave out a bright flash of light. His paraphrases on the Epistles, and on the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. John; his editions of Cyprian and Jerome; his translations of Origen, Athanasius, and Chrysostom; his "Principles of True Theology," his "Preacher," and his commentaries on various psalms, contributed powerfully to diffuse a taste for the word of God, and for pure theology. The result of his labours even went beyond his intentions. Reuchlin and Erasmus gave the Bible to the learned; Luther gave it to the people."*

{*D'Aubigne, vol. 1, p. 166.}

The chain of witnesses was now complete. Wesselus, Reuchlin, Erasmus, and Luther were linked together. The silver line of God's grace is thus traceable from the days of the apostles, or at least from the days of Constantine, to the time of Luther. There was no room for a separate line of witnesses till after the union of Church and State. The existence and testimony of the Waldenses have been traced back to these early times. Then we have witnesses for Christ in the Paulicians, the Albigenses, the Wycliffites, the Bohemians, the Moravians, or United Brethren, Savonarola, and other individual Protestants in the different nations of Europe.

And now, having pursued our dreary way through the dark ages till the beginning of the sixteenth century, we find the Bible in the original languages, and the printing press standing ready to multiply copies by thousands and tens of thousands, and broad-cast them over the face of Christendom.

The way was thus prepared for the great change which was at hand. The unblushing wickedness of Rome, the blood of God's martyred saints, and the vast multitude of souls who were perishing for lack of knowledge all cried aloud for the hand that would shorten the dominion of the papacy, and rescue the nations of Europe from the darkness and bondage of a thousand years. This was now to be done, but not by mere scholarship, or by men of polite literature, but by faith in the word of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.