These are facts which we must remember when we come to consider the Reformation, which, as far as this book is concerned, must be seen as a desperate attempt by patrists to restore patrist ideals by other means, after abandoning all hope of the Church itself doing so. Luther tells us quite explicitly that it was his horror at what he found in Rome that first turned his thoughts towards an heretical secession.
Moreover, some part of the general rejection of authority which was occurring must be seen as a rejection of the Church’s authority in particular. Indeed, there were many who hated the Church with a deep and bitter hatred. While von Urslingen declared himself the enemy of God, Malvezzi consciously befriended heretics and prided himself upon violating nuns. Braccio so detested the Church that he had monks thrown down from their own church tower. But whether people hated the Church because they hated all authority, or hated all authority because they rejected the Church, is difficult to determine. The psychological evidence points to the first alternative. Burckhardt, like most historians, tends to the latter interpretation. At the peak of the Renaissance, the upper and middle classes, he says, felt for the Church “a deep and contemptuous aversion”, even though they still revered the Holy Sacraments and performed the ceremonies.
“History does not record a heavier responsibility than that which rests upon the decaying church. She set up as absolute Truth, and by the most violent means, a doctrine which she had distorted to serve her own aggrandisement. Safe in the sense of her inviolability, she abandoned herself to the most scandalous profligacy and in order to maintain herself in this state, she levelled mortal blows against the conscience and the intellect of nations, and drove multitudes of the noblest spirits, whom she had inwardly estranged, into the arms of unbelief and despair.”
In Italy, the Renaissance had passed its peak of achievement before ever the patrist reaction known as the Reformation developed. But in England, by a freak of history, the Reformation took place, at least technically, almost simultaneously with the Renaissance to which it was, properly speaking, a reaction. Renaissance influences only began to affect England in the time of Henry Tudor, who was a friend of the Duke of Urbino. Despite the Lollards, it did not seem likely that any extensive movement of religious revolt was likely to occur, and when the break came it was made for political and personal reasons, rather than from a desire for religious reform. Henry VIII had been peacefully married for twenty-four years when the syphilis which he had contracted as a young man began to affect his brain and led to the satyriasis which drove him to change his wife five times in ten years, to keep (it is said) in his palace a room for the King’s Prostitutes, and to decline into premature senility. (118) Thus to a single, invisible spirochaete we owe the fact that England departed from the Catholic communion without bloodshed or civil strife. We also owe to it the fact that in England the Renaissance and the Reformation — two contrary movements, one patrist and restrictive, the other matrist and productive — were developing at the same time. Because of this curious contradiction, the reformers, or Puritans as they came to be called, always had the status of a minority opposition, and in their despair of reimposing a restrictive regime, many of them went off to Amsterdam and thence to America, thus endowing New England with the stern and puritan morality for which it has become renowned. If a further result of this was the establishment of North America as an English-speaking, rather than a French or Dutch-speaking, territory, then we might also attribute to this spirochaete some of the difficulties of lingual misunderstanding that beset Anglo-American relations today.