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Catholic tradition, in the shape of an all-pervading and long-established Church, towered high above the nations. It kept its jurisdiction intact, its clergy exempt, and held its own Courts all over Christendom.
It owned from a fifth to a third of the soil in mortmain.
Along every line of enterprise and from every point of the compass, except one, they were visible.
They would not dedicate themselves to the long-sought reformation in head and members, although they allowed its necessity again and again in the most emphatic terms.
Corruption on a scale so wide as, in the opinion of many, to justify revolt from Pope and bishops, was matched by remarkable earnestness in preaching necessary reforms, by devotion to learning in the service of religion, by an extraordinary flow of beneficence, attested by the establishment of schools, hospitals, brotherhoods, gilds, and asylums for the destitute, no less than by the magnificent churches, unrivalled paintings, and multiplied festivals, and by the new shrines, pilgrimages, miracle-plays, and popular gatherings for the celebration of such events as the Jubilees of 14, which fling over the whole period an air of gaiety and suggest that life in the days of the Renaissance was often a public masquerade.The Church, too, maintained her pre-eminence, though shaken once and again, in the old Universities, at Paris, Oxford, and Bologna, while founding new seats of learning at Louvain (1426) or along the Rhine; as far east as Ingolstadt (1472) or even Frankfort-on-the-Oder (1506), and as far south as Alcalä (1499).Her authority was still strong enough to put down the Hussites for a time, though not without conceding to them points of discipline.That plea has been urged on behalf of Sixtus IV, and still more of Julius II.The other was that it had not long emerged from a period of revolution.