Amid all the military clamour of the times, learning had gone on, and the human mind, perpetually questioning, questioned, as it had always done, the teachings of authority. All along there had existed an intellectual criticism of dogma, a criticism that was scarcely effective until in the minds of men greater both intellectually and morally than the Head of the Church, it was allied to humanism and social aspiration. The move to " reform " the Church came from men very jealous of its honour, and there was much in Church discipline and government to offend any honourable man. As the Papacy, as a result of the conduct of the Popes and of the corruption evidenced in the schism, declined in prestige, the reform movement made a progress that alarmed not merely worldly ecclesiastics but temporal kings. Intellectual and social criticism fused into a force; the reformer of social abuses sought the assistance of the scholar to justify reform by appeal to the Scriptures and the fathers of the Church. ^,
The Bible is an explosive book, and it was the Biblical scholar who, as much as any one, was to wreck from his desk the universality of the Church. It was unfortunate from the Pope's point of view that the reform movement coincided more or less in time with the discovery of another explosive force, the printing press. The three combined to make the Reformation not only the religious but the political turning point in European history, as the Renaissance is the cultural as well as the political turning point. As the sources of the Renaissance can be traced back to Dante and Petrarch, so can those of the Reformation to Wycliffe and Huss.
Wycliffe was typically English, a medievalWesley, an evangelical as opposed to a churchman. His teaching spread by the Lollards was less important than his translation of the Bible, but it was inspired by a genuine intellectual conviction that certain dogmas had neither the sanction of authority nor of conscience indulgences and auricular confession are cases in point that the church had a social mission, and that neither in its personnel nor in its organisation was it capable of performing that mission. In an awakening world where endless wars had set a new value on the individual as well as created a social and a class problem, the teaching found ready listeners, and particularly among the common people.
It inspired the much more bellicose Czech professor, Huss, who contrived to combine theological opinions opinions with great justice declared heretical at Romewith democratic nationalism and a fearless attack on the misgovern-ment and indiscipline of ecclesiastics. His sermons, particularly in their attack on the abuse of indulgences, roused his nation. The Czech nobility, especially the smaller gentry, the middle class and the peasantry, regarded him as a national hero, and when on Sigismund's safe conduct he went to Constance to defend himself against that charge of heresy which no heretic will or can admit is just, and was burned despite that safe conduct, Bohemia rose.
The rising was a strange mixture of fanaticism, nationalist fervour, and democratic aspiration. It produced a leader of genius in Ziska, who taught Europe how to handle guns and proved that the new weapon could put unarmoured peasants in a position to defeat mailed knights. Had not the Hussites quarrelled among themselves they might have changed the face of Europe. As it was, despite being declared the object of a crusade, they brought their king and emperor to his knees, and were for a decade or two the terror of eastern Germany. Finally, after wars and civil wars, they gave Bohemia at long last a national king, Sigismund, a brave nicker of national life before the Habsburg darkness fell upon it, and the Counter Reformation wrecked Bohemian nationalism for three centuries. The abiding merit of Huss is not only to have been the forerunner of Luther, but to have roused his countrymen to such a pitch of national self-consciousness that three centuries of oppression found the flame of resistance as bright as ever.
Sigismund died in 1437. He was a man of both ability and character, but the times were too much for him. At his death the Empire passed to the Habsburgs and they were to hold it until Napoleon ended the farce.