Page images
PDF
EPUB

ence, Gerhart Groot had founded a brotherhood of priests at Deventer, Holland, known as the “Brethren of the Common Life," because it was to be their mission to improve the masses by combating ignorance. In honor of their patron saint, Jerome, they have also been called Jeromites, or Hieronymians. These “brethren” took no monastic vows, and could withdraw from the order if they wished to do so, but they lived a very simple life, supporting themselves by copying manuscripts, and devoting all other time at their command to teaching.

They were specially devoted to the “common people,” whom they taught free of charge. In some places they served as assistants in schools already in existence; in other places they founded new schools and undertook the whole management. As long as they pursued their original purpose they taught reading, writing, singing, and the mother tongue in connection with the Scriptures, placing the emphasis upon the last two. Their services were very much in demand, and they became so popular that even before they undertook to champion humanism, they had established some forty-five "houses” closely linked together, and extending through the Netherlands, Germany, and France.

When the influence of the Italian Renaissance began to be felt in the northlands, the brethren became ardent advocates. They continued faithful to their original purpose in religion and morals, but added the classics and Hebrew, thus expanding into secondary schools. Rhetoric and theology often found a place in the higher classes, and occasionally the course covered the work of the faculty of arts in a university. In a little more than a quarter of a century after they had taken the Renaissance into their heart, the Hieronymians had established one hundred and fifty institutions, furnishing teachers for other institutions all over Europe.

Influence.—The work of the brethren deepened the impress of Renaissance wanderers, and thus helped to carry the new movement into the northern universities. Erfurt established a chair of classics in 1494, and was soon afterward completely reformed upon a humanistic basis. Other German universities, like Heidelberg, were similarly reformed. New universities, like Wittenberg in 1502, were humanistic from the beginning.

Most of the northern Renaissance leaders products of early training received in the schools of the brethren. Perhaps this was largely due to the wonderful personality and teaching power of Wessel (1420–1489), the first important champion of the new learning in the schools of the brethren. Among pupils who became famous humanists were Agricola, Reuchlin, and Erasmus.

AGRICOLA The first German humanist of great importance was Agricola (1443-1485).

Agricola.--Although best known by this name, his real name was Hussman (farmer), but, obedient to the custom of the times, he had translated it into Latin.

For a time he was a pupil of Thomas a Kempis, then he attended the University of Louvain for two years, and at Paris he came under the influence of Wessel, the great Hieronymian. Then he went to Italy to avail himself of the splendid opportunities of several famous institutions. When he returned to his own people he was the embodiment of all the best influences of the Renaissance, and his reputation for scholarship and eloquence was so great that both courts and cities vied with each other to secure his services.

Through the persuasions of his friend Dalberg, Bishop of Worms, he established himself at Heidelberg, where he divided his time between private studying and public lecturing. His knowledge of Greek and Latin were marvellous. He understood French and Italian, and at the age of forty-one he began to study Hebrew in order that he might read the Old Testament.

So great was his devotion to the cause of learning that he would not consent to accept a position as head of a school in Antwerp, even when the offer was pressed upon him. In declining the offer he gave the Antwerp school authorities a piece of advice which still lives, telling them in effect that a real teacher professionally trained is worth getting at any price, however high, and that no amount of training for anything else, even for theology or oratory, can be equivalent to such professional training. He served the cause of humanistic education notably through a treatise on “Rules of Study,” in which he exhibits much pedagogical insight.

REUCHLIN

Reuchlin.-Like his friend Agricola, Reuchlin (14551522) caught the spirit of Wessel. He studied at Paris, where he went at the age of eighteen. He continued his classical studies at Basel, where he took his degree. In 1498 he was sent to Rome on some im

[ocr errors]

portant mission, and while there devoted all his spare time to the study of Hebrew under a learned Jew, and to the collection of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.

He served the cause of humanism as professor of Latin and Greek at Basel, and also of Hebrew at Tübingen, and for a short time at Heidelberg. He wrote a Latin lexicon, published fine editions of the Greek classics, and in 1506, in the interests of true Christianity, as he wrote to his friend Cardinal Hadrian, he published a Hebrew grammar and lexicon, the first work of the kind in Germany. He was very proud of this achievement, calling it a "monument more enduring than bronze," and his friends Erasmus and Luther praised and admired these wonderful contributions to the cause of Christian theology.

Controversy.-While at Heidelberg, Reuchlin was unfortunate enough to become involved in a bitter controversy that covered nine or ten years. In 1510 a baptized rabbi, Pfefferkorn by name, to pave the way for the conversion of his race, urged Emperor Maximilian to destroy all Hebrew books except the Bible. On account of his reputation for Hebrew scholarship the matter was now referred to Reuchlin, who promptly advised that only such books as were written against Christianity should be destroyed, and added that “the best way to convert the Israelites would be to establish two professors of the Hebrew language in each university, who should teach the theologians to read the Bible in Hebrew, and thus refute the Jewish doctors.” This very reasonable advice offended the Dominican friars of Cologne, and they attacked Reuchlin with great bitterness, and the controversy became general, until finally the pope, to

whom the problem was referred, decided in favor of Reuchlin. The leading thinkers of the age, Erasmus among them, sided with Reuchlin and recognized the splendid service which this learned humanist had rendered religion and truth. He had, in fact, paved the way for Luther.

ERASMUS The most brilliant humanist of the age was Erasmus (1467-1536), a Hollander.

Erasmus.-Like Agricola and Reuchlin, Erasmus had caught the spirit of all that was best in the Renaissance from the Hieronymians. Like the German Melanchthon after him, he was very precocious. Agricola, on a visit to Deventer, saw him there at the age of eight, and prophesied his future greatness. He lost his parents when still a youth, and his guardians, in order to get possession of his patrimony, persuaded him to become a monk of the Augustinian order, but finding that he was wholly out of sympathy with monasticism, he refused to submit to the decisions of his guardians, and presently, to his great relief, was released from his vows by the Bishop of Cambrai, and sent to the University of Paris. Here, as he said, he gave up his “whole soul to Greek learning," the elements of which he had acquired by private study. He wanted to "buy Greek books," and then some clothes,” but because his allowance was small, he took pupils in Greek. In 1509, while still at Paris, he met some Greek students who induced him to visit Oxford. Here he became acquainted with Colet and More, and studied under Grocyn and Linacre. He was so delighted with the learning of his Oxford friends, especially

« PreviousContinue »