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This History of the Reformation has been written with the intention of describing a great religious movement amid its social environment. The times were heroic, and produced great men, with striking individualities not easily weighed in modern balances. The age is sufficiently remote to compel us to remember that while the morality of one century can be judged by another, the men who belong to it must be judged by the standard of their contemporaries, and not altogether by ours. The religious revival was set in a framework of political, intellectual, and economic changes, and cannot be disentangled from its surroundings without danger of mutilation. All these things add to the difficulty of description.
My excuse, if excuse be needed, for venturing on the task is that the period is one to which I have devoted special attention for many years, and that I have read and re-read most of the original contemporary sources of information. While full use has been made of the labours of predecessors in the same field, no chapter in the volume, save that on the political condition of Europe, has been written without constant reference to contemporary evidence
A History of the Reformation, it appears to me, must describe five distinct but related things—the social and religious conditions of the age out of wbich the great
movement came; the Lutheran Reformation down to 1555, when it received legal recognition; the Reformation in countries beyond Germany which did not submit to the guidance of Luther; the issue of certain portions of the religious life of the Middle Ages in Anabaptism, Socinianism, and Anti-Trinitarianism ; and, finally, the CounterReforination.
The second follows the first in natural succession ; but the third was almost contemporary with the second. If the Reformation won its way to legal recognition earlier in Germany than in any other land, its beginnings in France, England, and perhaps the Netherlands, had appeared before Luther had published his Theses. I have not found it possible to describe all the five in chronological order.
This volume describes the eve of the Reformation and the movement itself under the guidance of Luther. second volume I hope to deal with the Reformation beyond Germany, with Anabaptism, Socinianism, and kindred matters which had their roots far back in the Middle Ages, and with the Counter-Reformation.
The first part of this volume deals with the intellectual, social, and religious life of the age which gave birth to the Reformation. The intellectual life of the times has been frequently described, and its economic conditions are beginning to attract attention. But few have cared to investigate popular and family religious life in the decades before the great revival. Yet for the history of the Reformation movement nothing can be more important. When it is studied, it can be seen that the evangelical revival was not a unique phenomenon, entirely unconnected with the immediate past. There was a continuity in the religious life of the period. The same hymns were sung in public and in private after the Reformation which had been in
use before Luther raised the standard of revolt. Many of the prayers in the Reformation liturgies came from the service-books of the mediæval Church. Much of the family instruction in religious matters received by the Reformers when they were children was in turn taught by them to the succeeding generation. The great Reformation had its roots in the simple evangelical piety which had never entirely disappeared in the mediæval Church. Luther's teaching was recognised by thousands to be no startling novelty, but something which they had always at heart believed, though they might not have been able to formulate it. It is true that Luther and his fellowReformers taught their generation that Our Lord, Jesus Christ, filled the whole sphere of God, and that other mediators and intercessors were superfluous, and that they also delivered it from the fear of a priestly caste ; but men did not receive that teaching as entirely new; they rather accepted it as something they had always felt, though they had not been able to give their feelings due and complete expression. It is true that this simple piety had been set in a framework of superstition, and that the Church had been generally looked upon as an institution within which priests exercised a secret science of redemption through their power over the sacraments ; but the old evangelical piety existed, and its traces can be found when sought for.
A portion of the chapter which describes the family and popular religious life immediately preceding the Reformation has already appeared in the London Quarterly Review for October 1903.
In describing the beginnings of the Lutheran Reformation, I have had to go over the same ground covered by my chapter on “Luther" .contributed to the second volume of the Cambridge Modern History, and have found it impossible