Renaissance, THE, may be considered in a general or a particular sense, as (1) the achievements of what is termed the modern spirit in opposition to the spirit which prevailed during the Middle Ages; or (2) the revival of classic, especially of Greek, learning and the recovery of ancient art in the departments of sculpture, painting, and architecture, lost for a thousand years in Western Christendom. Impossible though it be to separate these elements from the whole movement into which they enter, we may distinguish them from it for our present purpose, viz., to sum up the influences, whether good or evil, which are traceable to the antique, pre-Christian, or pagan world of letters and plastic remains, as it came to be known and studied from the end of the fourteenth century onwards, in relation to the Catholic Church. For ecclesiastical history goes through periods analogous to the changes brought about by secular revolutions. Roughly speaking, the age of the Fathers corresponds to the Imperial Roman period, closing in A.D. 476; the Middle Ages occupy those tumultuous years when barbarians turned Christians were learning slowly to be civilized, from 476 to 1400; while the modern relations of Church and State begin with the definite emergence of nationalities in the West, at an era most critical, signalized by the destruction of the Greek Empire, the invention of printing from movable type, the discovery of America, and all this leading on to the Protestant Reformation. History, like life, is a continuous web; its various stages pass into one another by the finest degrees. But after the Great Schism was healed by the Council of Constance in 1417, the Church, turning her back once for all on a worn-out feudalism, and no longer engaged in strife with Teuton emperors, found herself in the presence of new difficulties, and the character of the times was manifestly altered.
We are dwelling now in this modern epoch. The Middle Ages have become an interlude, clearly bounded on both extremities by a more civilized or humane idea of life, which men are endeavoring to realize in politics, education, manners, literature, and religion. This blending of widely dissevered ages and peoples by virtue of a complex type into a consistent, though greatly enlarged historical system, has been due to the Renaissance, taken as a whole. A glance at the map will remind us of the striking fact that Christianity is bound up in space no less than in time with the Greek and Roman World. It has never yet flourished extensively outside these borders, except in so far as it subdued to ancient culture the tribes to which it offered the Gospel. There is a mysterious and providential link, recognized in the New Testament by St. Paul, St. John, and St. Peter, between Rome as the head of secular dominion and the visible Kingdom of Christ. Roman law protected as well as persecuted the disciples; Greek philosophy lent its terms to Catholic dogma. The School of Alexandria, taught by Clement and Origen, did not scruple to quote Athenian literature in illustration of revealed truths. St. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote Greek poems in a style which was moulded on the classic tragedians. There was always in the West a Puritan spirit, of which from Tertullian and Novatian down to the Spanish Priscillian we may note examples; but the saints who established our tradition—Cyprian, Augustine, Jerome—held more tolerant views; and though St. Jerome felt compunctious visitings for the days and nights he had given to Plautus or Cicero, his own diction is severely classic. His Latin Vulgate, also, while it obeys the construction of the Hebrew, is written in cultivated, not in rustic, language. St. Gregory the Great despised grammar as a subordinate accomplishment, but was himself a good scholar.
The loss of Greek authors and the decline of Church Latin into barbarism were misfortunes in a universal ruin; neither of these events was the consequence of a deliberate break with antiquity. Latin and Greek had become sacred languages; the Western and Eastern liturgies carried them with Holy Scripture wherever they went. Catholic Rome was Latin by tradition and by choice. No German dialect ever attained to the privileges of the sanctuary which St. Cyril won for the Old Slavic from Pope Nicholas I. Under these circumstances, a revival of learning, so soon as the West was capable of it, might have been foreseen. And it was equally to be anticipated that the Vatican would not reject a movement of reconciliation, akin to that whereby so many of the ancient usages had been long ago adapted to Christian ends. Speaking of the second century, Walter Pater observes: “What has been on the whole the method of the Church, as a ‘power of sweetness and patience’, in dealing with matters like pagan art, pagan literature, was even then manifest.” There had been, at that day, an “earlier and unimpeachable Renaissance“. The Catholic principle, in accordance with its name, assimilates, purifies, and consecrates all that is not sin, provided that it will submit to the law of holiness. And the central classic authors, on whose study liberal education has been set up from the age of Aristotle among Greeks, from the Augustan era in Rome, were happily amenable to this cleansing baptism. As a literature, the chief schoolbooks were singularly free from moral deformities; their teaching fell short of the New Testament; but it was often heroic, and its perils admitted of correction. Newman happily describes Graeco-Roman civilization as “the soil in which Christianity grew up”. And Pater concludes that “it was by the bishops of Rome… that the path of what we must call humanism was thus defined”, as the ideal, namely, of a perfect training in wisdom and beauty. Quite in unison with such a temper of mind, Pope Leo X in 1515 wrote to Beroaldo, the editor of Tacitus: “Nothing more excellent or useful has been given to men by the Creator, if we except the true knowledge and worship of Himself, than these studies.”
When, therefore, Nicholas V (1447-55) founded the Vatican Library, his act was inspired by the tradition of the Holy See, deservedly known as the nursing-mother of schools and universities, in which the seven “liberal arts” had always been taught. Paris, the greatest of them, had received formal recognition in 1211 from Innocent III. Between the years 1400 and 1506 we may reckon some twenty-eight charters granted by the popes to as many universities, from St. Andrews to Alcala, and from Caen and Poitiers to Wittenberg and Frankfort-on-the-Oder. But Humanism was propagated chiefly from Italian centers and by Italian or Greek professors. We must bear in mind a fact which is often lost sight of, that the Scholastic philosophy had never taken deep root in the Peninsula, and that its masters chiefly flourished north of the Alps. Alexander of Hales, Scotus, Middleton, Occam, were Britons; Albert the Great was a German; St. Thomas Aquinas, his disciple, taught at Paris. On the other hand, that renaissance of Roman Law which enabled Frederick Barbarossa and his successors to withstand the papacy began with Irnerius at Bologna. Again, it was Petrarch (1303-1374) who inaugurated the far-reaching movement which claimed for literature, i.e., for poetry, rhetoric, history, and all their branches, the rank hitherto maintained by logic and philosophy; Dante, who crystallizes the “Summa” of St. Thomas in miraculous verse, remains medieval; Petrarch is modern precisely by this difference, although we must not fancy him opposed to Church or Bible. Now when Greek manuscripts were eagerly sought after, and when Cicero dictated the canons of Latin style, the syllogism with its arena of disputation could not but give place to the orator’s chair and the secretary’s desk. Not science but life was the end of study. We remark no considerable achievement in metaphysics until the culminating period, both of Humanism and the Reformation, had passed away.
In 1455 the library of Pope Nicholas contained 824 Latin and 352 Greek manuscripts. In 1484, at the death of Sixtus IV, the Greek MSS. had increased to one thousand. From the catalogues we infer that much interest was taken in collecting the great Fathers, the canon law, and medieval theology. Nicholas owned the famous Vatican Codex (B) of Holy Scripture; Sixtus had in his possession fifty-eight bibles or parts of bibles. Cardinal Bessarion gave his magnificent stock of books to St. Mark’s, Venice; and the Medicean Library, collected at Florence, where it still reposes (the Laurentian), was for a while transferred to Rome by Clement VII. At Basle the Dominican cardinal, John of Ragusa, left important Greek MSS. of parts of the New Testament, which were used by Reuchlin and Erasmus with advantage. These illustrations may suffice to indicate the movement, becoming universal throughout Catholic Europe, towards recovery from all sides of the treasures of the past. Another and most important step was to print that which had been so recovered. Printing was a German invention. The local ordinaries and religious houses favored it greatly. Cloisters became the home of the Press; among them we may quote Marienthal (1468), St. Ulrich, at Augsburg (1472), the Benedictines at Bamberg (1474). Typography was introduced at Brussels in 1474 by the Brothers of the Common Life. They called themselves “preachers not in word but in type”. And the early printed books in Germany were of a popular devotional, educational, and Biblical character.
To the Renaissance in its opening stage the honor belongs of scattering broadcast the printed Latin Vulgate as well as translations of it in most European languages, of course with approval from the Church. Ninety-eight complete editions of the Vulgate were sent out before 1500; a dozen editions preceded the appearance in type of any Latin classic. The first book produced by Gutenberg was that exceedingly beautiful “42-line” Bible according to St. Jerome’s version afterwards known as the Mazarine Bible and still extant in several copies. The first dated Bible came out at Mainz in 1462; the first Venetian, in 1475, was followed by twenty-one editions. The Hebrew text was printed at Soncino and Naples between 1477 and 1486; the Rabbinic Bible was dedicated at Venice to Leo X in 1517. Cardinal Ximenes renewed the labors of Origen by his Polyglot of Altar, 1514-22, which included the Greek New Testament. But Erasmus anticipated its publication by an indifferent text in 1516. Aldus printed the Septuagint in 1518. As regards translations on the Catholic side, they went on before and after Luther, from the Spanish of Boniface Ferrer in 1405 to the English of Douai in 1609. All these were printed; but space will not allow more than a reference to the details here, or to the changes in policy brought about, in consequence of heretical translations and the abuse of Scripture reading, under Paul IV and the Council of Trent. During the period commonly assigned to the Renaissance at its height (1453-1527), freedom was the rule. Nicholas V had it in mind to make Rome the intellectual center of the world. His successors entered largely into the same idea. Pius II (Piccolomini) was a man of letters, not unlike the great Erasmus. Paul II, though severe upon neopagans, such as Pomponazzo, did not condemn the Classical movement. Alexander VI was a statesman, not a scholar and not an Italian. The fierce and splendid Julius II, himself without culture, gave commissions to Raphael and Michelangelo, but openly despised the pedants about his court. From Leo X his age receives its title—he was “the incarnation of the Renaissance in its most brilliant form”.
An extraordinary enthusiasm for antiquity had set in, combined with boundless freedom of opinion, with a laxity of morals which has ever since given scandal to believers and unbelievers alike, and with a festal magnificence recalling the days and nights of Nero‘s “golden house”. The half-century which ends in the sack of Rome by Lutheran soldiers, however dazzling from a scenic point of view, cannot be dwelt on with satisfaction by any Catholic, even when we have discounted the enormous falsehoods long current in historians who accepted satires and party statements at their own value. Churchmen in high places were constantly unmindful of truth, justice, purity, self-denial; many had lost all sense of Christian ideals; not a few were deeply stained by pagan vices. The temper of ecclesiastics like Bembo and Bibbiena, shown forth in the comedies of this latter cardinal as they were acted before the Roman Court and imitated far and wide, is to us not less incomprehensible than disedifying. The earlier years of Aeneas Sylvius, the whole career of Rodrigo Borgia, the life of Farnese, afterwards Paul III, until he was compelled to reform himself as well as the Curia, these all exhibit the union of subtlety, vigor, and other worldly qualities, with a disregard for the most elementary virtues, which leaves us in dumb and sorrowful amazement. Julius II fought and intrigued like a mere secular prince; Leo X, although certainly not an unbeliever, was frivolous in the extreme; Clement VII drew on himself the contempt as well as the hatred of all who had dealings with him, by his crooked ways and cowardly subterfuges which led to the taking and pillage of Rome.
Now, it is not unfair to trace in these popes, as in their advisers, a certain common type, the pattern of which was Cesare Borgia, sometime cardinal, but always in mind and action a condottiere, while its philosopher was Machiavelli. We may express it in the words of Villari as a “prodigious intellectual activity accompanied by moral decay”. The passion for ancient literature quickened and illustrated when the buried classic marbles were brought to light, simply intoxicated that generation. Not only did they fall away from monastic severities, they lost all decent and manly self-control. The survivors of a less corrupt age, as Michelangelo in’ his sonnets, remind us that native Italian genius had done great things before this new spirit took possession of it. But there is no denying that in its triumphant days the Renaissance looked up to beauty, and looked away from duty, as the standard and the law of life. It had neither eyes nor sense for the beauty of holiness. When it is called “pagan” we mean this corrupting anarchic influence, represented more gracefully by genuine poets and men of letters like Politian, more grossly by such licentious singers as Lorenzo de’ Medici, by Poggio, Bandello, Aretino, and a thousand others who declared that the morals of Petronius Arbiter were good enough for them. When Savonarola in 1475 fled to the Dominican cloister at Ferrara, and there composed his lament on “the ruin of the Church“, he cried out: “The temple is fallen, and the house of chastity.” But the earthquake had not yet come. Worse things were to happen than he had seen. And a catastrophe was inevitable, of which he would be the prophet in St. Mark’s, Florence, sent to a partly credulous and a still more exasperated world.
Savonarola (1453-98), Erasmus (1466-1536), and Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) may be taken as figures in what has been sometimes called the Christian Renaissance. They represent beyond question the mind of the Church concerning those ancient authors, not sacrificing faith to scholarship, or Holy Writ to Homer and Horace, while they allow to culture its province and its privileges. Such was to be the lasting concordat between divinity and the humanities, but not until paganism had robbed Italy of its independence, after the popes had set their house in order, and the Society of Jesus had been entrusted with the education of youth. On the strength of his protest against the unseemly and degrading literature which abounded in his time, Savonarola was condemned as a Puritan; his “burning of the vanities” in 1497 has been cited in proof; and he employed scathing language (see the Letter to Verino, 1497) that may be strained to this conclusion. But among his penitents were artists, poets, and learned men: Pico della Mirandola, Fra Bartolommeo, Botticelli, Michelangelo. The friar himself bought for St. Mark’s at a heavy charge the famous Medicean Library; and every candid reader will perceive in his denunciation of current books and paintings an honest Christian‘s outcry against cancerous vices which were sapping the life of Italy. When we come to Erasmus, no fanatic assuredly, we discover that he too made a difference between clean and unclean. Erasmus laughed to scorn the Ciceronian pedantries of Bembo and Sadoleto; he quotes with disgust the paganizing terms in which some Roman preachers travestied the persons and scenes of the Gospels. He had a zeal for the inspired Word, and his Greek and Latin New Testament was the chief literary event of the year that saw its publication. He edited St. Jerome with minute care (1516); he did something for the chief Latin Fathers, and not a little for the Greek. In his preface to St. Hilary this true scholar commends all learning, old or new, but he would have its proper value given to each department from the Scriptures even to the Schoolmen. His “Praise of Folly” and other satirical writings were an attack, not upon medieval genius, but upon the self-Confident ignorance which declaimed against good literature without knowing what it meant. So rare and indefatigable an appraiser of literary works in every form could not be insensible to the merits of St. Augustine, however much he delighted in Virgil. The scholarship of Erasmus, given to the world in a lively Latin, was universal and often profound. It was also honestly Christian; to make Holy Scripture known and understood was the supreme purpose he kept in view. And thus the “prince of humanists” could remain Catholic, while looking for a moral restoration, during the whirlwind of Luther’s revolt. In him the Renaissance had cast away its paganism.
His friend, Sir Thomas More, a liberal scholar, a saint, and a martyr, proved by the enchanting courtesy of his daily converse and by the simple, almost ironical heroism which he displayed on the scaffold, how antique learning and Catholic virtue might combine in the loftiest of ideals. More’s “Utopia” won a place by itself, which it still keeps, far above the imitative and passing literature of those Latin versifiers, those vain rhetoricians, who at best were scholiasts, but too commonly wasted their small talents in feebly reproducing the classic themes and meters. The English chancellor took a firm grip of social and religious problems, not so much regarding theory as intent on reform according to Catholic principles. He wrote Latin with greater force than elegance; his works in the vernacular have salt and savor, wit and idiom, to commend their orthodoxy. In the same category of Christian humanists we may associate with More a goodly number of Englishmen, from the Benedictines, Hadley and Selling, who were students at Padua in 1464, to Grocyn, Linacre, Colet, Fox, and the martyred Cardinal Fisher.
In Germany the first stages of revived learning had been free from Italian dissoluteness and heathen doctrines. Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa reformed the Church, while promoting philosophy by his own speculations and collecting manuscripts. Rudolf Agricola (1443-85) united the study of the ancients with devotion to Holy Scripture; von Langen, consummate Latinist, remodeled the schools of Westphalia; he was cathedral provost at Deventer. The illustrious Wimpheling, born in 1450, taught education in principle and practice on orthodox lines. He was Reuchlin’s master, a genuine scholar, zealous against the newly-imported unchristian ways of the so-called “poets”; and when Luther rose up; Wimpheling opposed him as he had opposed the encroachments of Roman Law. With Reuchlin we are plunged into debate and controversy; but he, too, was sincerely religious, and in 1516 he triumphed at Rome over his adversaries, gaining thereby a victory for Hebrew erudition, which in other ways the popes had taken into favor. Many Humanists, by and by, made common cause with the Reformation; Melanchthon, Zwingli, Calvin, were eminently learned. But the Renaissance never was absorbed into any theological movement; reforming zeal scattered libraries, emptied universities, and too often threw back education, until its first fury was spent. The spirit of which Puritanism is a complete expression had no affinity with Classic literature; at its touch the world of art, of dramatic poetry, of painting, sacred or secular, of Humanism in life and outside of schoolbooks, fell into dust. Heine (Ueber Deutschland) saw that the Reformation was, in effect, a Teutonic answer to the Renaissance; and we now perceive that, while the dogmas of Luther and Calvin have lost their hold upon men’s hearts, the revival of letters is broadening out into a transformation of democracy by means of culture: hic labor, hoc opus; the question how to reconcile a perfectly-equipped human life with an ascetic religion and the demands of freedom for all, is one which none of the Reformers contemplated, much less did they succeed in resolving it.
Among Frenchmen, to whom we owe the word renaissance, that problem was not mooted at first. The Italian, Aleandro, coming to Paris in 1508, gave lectures in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. He was made rector of the university. Aleandro became a strenuous opponent of Luther; and the Sorbonne is charged by Mark Pattison with persecuting the great printer, Robert Estienne (1503-59), though he always obtained licence to sell his bibles and testaments. The Sorbonne objected, however, to any publication of Scripture without approved Catholic notes; and this in a day which might be justly termed one of rebuke and blasphemy. France had its own type of Humanist in that extraordinary man, Rabelais (1490?-1553), a physician, priest, and obscene jester whose book is the glory and the shame of his native tongue. Rabelais, treating the Christian religion as a creed outworn, falls back upon a kind of liberal Platonism; he would leave men to their instincts and the joy of life. Much the same philosophy, though in graver tones, is insinuated by Montaigne (1533-92) in essays tinged with scepticism and disenchantment. These two writers, who lie beyond the springtide of the revival, open in France the anti-Christian war which has lasted, with growing violence, down to our time. But the seventeenth century witnessed an adaptation of the classical forms to literature and preaching by Catholics of genius, by Pascal, Bossuet, Racine, and Fenelon, which yielded a highly original blending of religion with eloquent prose and refined verse. In general, nevertheless, we shall probably allow Taine’s contention that the influence of the Classics (Latin rather than Greek always) on French education has not been favorable to Christianity.
At Rome an “incredible liberty” of discussion prevailed under the spell of the Renaissance. Lord Acton quotes well-known instances. Poggio, the mocking adversary of the clergy, was for half a century in the service of the popes—Filelfo, a pagan unabashed and foul, was handsomely rewarded by Nicholas V for his abominable satires. Pius II had the faults of a smart society journalist, and took neither himself nor his age seriously. Platina, with whom Paul II quarrelled on political grounds, wrote a vindictive slanderous book, “The Lives of the Roman Pontiffs”, which, however, was in some degree justified by the project of reformation in “head and members” constantly put forth and never fulfilled until Christendom had been rent in twain. Yet Sixtus IV made Platina librarian of the Vatican. It is equally significant that “The Prince”, by Machiavelli, was published with papal licence, though afterwards severely prohibited. This toleration of evil bore one good consequence: it allowed historical criticism to begin fair. There was need of a revision which is not yet complete, ranging over all that had been handed down from the Middle Ages under the style and title of the Fathers, the Councils, the Roman and other official archives. In all these departments forgery and interpolation as well as ignorance had wrought mischief on a great scale.
In 1440 Lorenzo Valla counselled Eugenius IV not to rely upon the Donation of Constantine, which he proved to be spurious. Valla’s tract was printed by Ulrich von Hutten; it became popular among Germans, and influenced Luther. But it opened to this enemy of the temporal power a place in the house-hold of Nicholas V. For another commencement of criticism we are indebted to the same unpleasant but sharp-sighted man of letters. It was Valla who first denied the authenticity of those writings which for centuries had been going about as the treatises composed by Dionysius the Areopagite. Three centuries later the Benedictines of St. Maur and the Bollandists were still engaged in sifting out the true from the false in patristic literature, in hagiology, in the story of the foundation of local churches. Mabillon, Ruinart, Papebroch, and their successors have cleared the ground for research into the Christian origins; they have enabled divines to consider a theory of development, the materials of which were hopelessly confused when Valla tilted against the Donation itself, accepted and deplored as a fact by Dante. How great that confusion was, the Benedictine editions of the Fathers, which largely put an end to it, abundantly show: the “authentic and necessary evidences of historical religion” could not be given their full value until this work was done. It called for a disposition at once literary and critical, which the old method of training did not create and scarcely would tolerate. But this chapter falls outside the limits of our subject.
It is remarkable that the healthy Christian use of ancient literature was destined to be taught by a Spanish reforming saint, himself not learned and certainly no dilettante. This was Ignatius Loyola, whose antecedents did not promise him the inheritance which Bembo and the other Ciceronian pedants had turned to such ill account. St. Ignatius, who began his order in Paris, who walked the same streets with Erasmus, Calvin, and Rabelais, did the most astonishing feat recorded in modern history. He reformed the Church by means of the papacy when sunk to its lowest ebb; and he took the heathen Classics from neo-pagans to make them instruments of Catholic education. Spain had been but little affected by the Renaissance. In temper crusading and still medieval, its poetry, drama, theology, were distinguished by qualities peculiarly its own. The Italian manner had not yet found imitators at its court when Ignatius wrote chivalrous sonnets to an unknown lady. His intensely practical turn of mind led him to employ every talent in the Divine service; and he saw that learning, if it could be cleansed from its present stains, would not only adorn but defend the Holy Place. He had looked into the lighter productions of Erasmus; they gave him a shock; but he recognized the power, if not the charm, which Humanism wielded over young imaginations. His militant company took up again, without distinctly perceiving it, the task that Erasmus intended and Petrarch had set before Italians two hundred years previously.
In May, 1527, Rome was laid waste, its churches profaned, its libraries pillaged, by a rabble of miscreants. “But”, said Cardinal Cajetan, “it was a just judgment on the Romans.” The pagan Renaissance fell, stricken to death; it was high time for the Counter-Reformation (q.v.) to begin. The Council of Trent and the Society of Jesus took in hand to distinguish between what was permissible and what was forbidden in dealing with literature. The Roman Index was established by Paul IV. A rigorous censorship watched over the Italian printing press. By 1600 German importation of books across the Alps had ceased. If we would reckon the greatness of the change now wrought, we may compare the “Orlando Furioso” of Ariosto, dedicated in 1516 to Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, with Tasso’s “Gerusalemme”, especially as revised by the poet himself, and at the dictation of the Roman censor, Antoniano. It was a change so marked that Scaliger termed the Italians generally hypocrites; but we know from the calendar of saints at this time and other sources how much had been done to check the wild licence of thought and speech in the Peninsula. Giordano Bruno, renegade and pantheist, was burnt in 1600; Campanella spent long years in prison. The different measures meted out to Copernicus by Clement VII and to Galileo by Paul V need no comment. The papacy aimed henceforth at becoming an “ideal government under spiritual and converted men”. Urban VIII was the last who could be deemed a Renaissance pontiff (1623-44).
St. Ignatius, alive to the causes which had provoked many nations into revolt from the clergy, made learning, piety, and obedience governing principles in his plan of reform. The old system of arts and teaching was already growing obsolete, previous to 1450. Humanism had begun to take the place of Scholasticism. Vittorino da Feltre (1378-1446), a devout layman, set up his classes at Mantua in 1435 on the basis of good Latin, including poetry, oratory, Roman history, and Stoic discipline. He gave an all-round training, social, physical, religious. At Venice and Ferrara his friend Guarino (1370-1460) was another eminent schoolmaster, mighty in Greek. We have seen how Erasmus by example and by criticism advanced the cause of literature, which was henceforth acknowledged as the proper subject of a liberal education. A gentleman—the cortegiano whom Castiglione described—ought to be proficient in the language of antiquity; such was the idea of the public school everywhere; and such it remains in England to this day. The Jesuit Order, springing up after 1530, not founded on the tradition of Benedict or Dominic adopted this view, and their “Ratio Studiorum‘; (1599) was, in consequence, a literary classical scheme. The first of their colleges arose at Coimbra (1542); in Paris they had the Hotel de Clermont; in Germany they began at Ingoldstadt. The German College at Rome, due to St. Francis Borgia, like the Roman College of the Society itself, the English and other houses governed by them, attested their zeal for learning and their success in controversy. The Fathers were always cultivated men; they taught “a good silver Latin”; and they wrote with ease, though scarcely with such idiomatic vivacity as we admire in Erasmus and Joseph Scaliger. Soon they possessed a hundred houses and colleges; “For nearly three centuries”, says a recent critic, “they were accounted the best schoolmasters in Europe.” Bacon’s judgment can never be passed over: “As for the pedagogical part, the shortest rule would be, consult the schools of the Jesuits; for nothing better has been put in practice” (De Augment., VI, 4). They established free day schools, devised new schoolbooks, expurgated objectionable authors, preached sound doctrines in a clear Latin style, and bestowed even upon the technicalities. of medieval logic a certain grace. Some, like Mariana, wrote with native power in the classic forms. But their most telling man in the field of theology is Petavius, who belongs to France and the seventeenth century. His large volumes on the Fathers may be compared in point of language with Calvin’s “Institutes” and the “Augustinus” of Jansen. They discard the method familiar to Scotus and St. Thomas; they furnish to some extent criticism as well as history. And they suggest the development of dogma with an approach to its philosophy, which neither Bossuet nor Bull could quite comprehend.
All these things form part of “that matured and completed Renaissance” whereby the evil was purged out which had made it perilous in the same degree to faith and to morals. Nicholas V and other popes did well in not refusing to add culture, even the finest of the Greek, to religion. Their fault lay in the weakness which could not resist pagan luxury and a frivolous dilettantism. Now serious work was undertaken for the good of the Church. Gregory XIII reformed the calendar; the text of the canon law was corrected; under Sixtus V and Clement VIII the Latin Vulgate after years of revision attained its actual shape; and the Vatican Septuagint came forth in 1587. Baronius, urged by St. Philip Neri, brought out eleven folio volumes of “the greatest church history ever written”. The Roman Breviary, enlarged and edited anew, was republished by authority of St. Pius V and Urban VIII.
But the Renaissance had indulged its “pride of state, of knowledge, and of system” with disastrous consequences to our Christian inheritance. It trampled on the Middle Ages and failed to understand that in them which was truly original. The Latin of Cicero which Urban VIII cultivated, the meters of Horace, did grievous wrong to the prose and verse of our church offices, so far as they were altered. The showy architecture now designed, though sometimes magnificent, was not inspired by religion; before long it sank to the rococo and the grotesque; and it filled the churches with pagan monuments to disedifying celebrities. In painting we descend from the heaven of Fra Angelico to the “corregiosity” of Corregio, nay, lower still, for Venus too often masquerades as the Madonna. Christian art became a thing of the past when the Gothic cathedral was looked upon as barbarous even by such champions of the Faith as Bossuet and Fenelon. Never did a poet inspired by Renaissance models—not even Vida nor Sannazzarorise to the sublimity of the “Dies Iras”; never did that style produce a work equal to the “Imitation”. Dante triumphs as the supreme Catholic singer; St. Thomas Aquinas cannot be dethroned from his sovereignty as the Angelic Doctor, still, as regards faith and philosophy, he is the true “master of those that know”. But Dante and St. Thomas lived before the Renaissance. It was not large or liberal enough to absorb the Middle Ages. Hence its failure at the beginning as a philosophic movement, its lack of the deepest human motives, its superficiality and its pedantries; hence, afterwards, its fall into the commonplace, and the extinction of art in vulgarity, of literature in empty rhetoric. Hence, finally, the need of a French Revolution to teach it that life was something more serious than a “Carneval de Venice“, and of Romanticism to discover, among the ruined choirs and in the neglected shrines which men had scornfully passed by, tokens of that mighty medieval genius, Catholic, Latin, Teuton, and French, misunderstanding of which was the folly, and the spoiling of its achievements the crime, that we must charge upon the Renaissance in the day of its power. “It remained for a later age”, says one who glorified it, “to conceive the true method of effecting a scientific reconciliation of Christian sentiment with the imagery, the legends, the theories about the world, of pagan poetry and philosophy” (Pater, “Renaissance“, 49). Not less did it become the task of Goethe, Scott, Chateaubriand, Ruskin, of Fried-rich Schlegel and the best German critics, to show that European culture, divorced from the Middle Ages, would have been a pale reflection of dead antiquity.