REFORMATION, in church history; is that amazing change in the religion and politics of a great part of Europe, which began to take place in the early part of the sixteenth century. An event of such magnitude, with which the pro gress of the arts and universal learning is so intimately connected, demands a more enlarged and detailed account than the prescribed limits of our work will admit. It would, nevertheless, be highly impro per wholly to omit the notice of so very, important an era in the history of Europe: At a time when the peace and harmo ny of the Romish Church seemed fully established, and when the authority of the Holy See had just received a most signal triumph by the labours of the Council of the Lateran ; when the address and per severence of Leo the Tenth had sur mounted a thousand difficulties, and giv en peace to his dominions ; when Rome had begun once more to assume its an cient grandeur, and was again become the centre of genius, letters, and the arts ; when the dark clouds of the middle ages were scattered before the rays of science, and the light of genius had begun to il lumine the moral horizon, the attention of the whole Christian world was directed to an event that threatened nothing less than the speedy ruin of the Papal authori ty, and the complete demolition of that fabric of religious magnificence which the labours of myriads had united to raise, and which the lapse of centuries had left rather established than impaired. It is curious to reflect, that what bid fair to have been the glory and security of the church, conspired to her destruction, and threatened her total overthrow. Leo the Tenth, in aiming to enhance the glory of his pontificate by the encouragement of literature and the patronage of the arts, was fostering in his bosom an enemy to destroy his peace and degrade his power. The seeds of learning which his father, Lorenzo de' Medici, had sown, and he so plentifully watered, sprung up to choak his pleasures, and reward him with trou ble. No sooner had the human mind be gun to be emancipated from its slavery, than it employed its newly restored liber ty in bold and presumptuous investiga tigations into the conduct of the Roman Pontiffs, the extravagances of the Papal court, the foundations of church govern ments, and the truth of established doc trines. The errors and misconduct of
the clergy were exposed to the shafts of ridicule and the remonstrances of reason. The hardy and intrepid genius of Dante, which placed the vicars of Christ in the infernal regions, lighted up fire of Pe trarca, and encouraged him to identify the court of Rome with that of ancient Babylon. He made the vices and errors of the Church the subject of his sonnets, and the constant theme of his abuse. Protected by their genius, and respected for their character, these two great men not only escaped the censures of the Holy See, but emboldened the populace to ques tion the infallibility of a church which had „othing but luxury in its train, and learn :ng for its boast. The entertaining work of Boccaccio exposed the debaucheries of the religious, and opened the eyes of the ;ripple ; and the emancipation of the hu man race, from the ignominious shackles of ignorance and priestcraft, was hasten ed by the celebrated Facetix of Poggio, and the writings of Burchiello, Pulci, and Franco. To the light which these men threw upon the corruptions of the church, and the licentiousness of the Holy See, the patronage of painters, sculptors, and poets, and the protection and maintenance of buffoons and jesters, afforded but a poor defence. Leo X. loved and admired men of learning, notwithstanding their learning was often employed to expose his extravagances, and endanger the church.
These exposures had begun to be made during the pontificate of Sixtus IV. and that Pope, and his immediate successors, less remiss to the concerns of the church than Leo X. had taken some measures to ward off the danger ; but instead of applying the only preventative, by re forming their morals and their lives, the heads of the church sought to stifle investigation by threatenings and punishment. Several very severe re strictions had been laid upon the publi cation of those works which had a tenden cy to open the eyes of the people, and expose the errors and vices of the church. These restrictions were, however, in a great measure neglected, by the ardent love ofliterature which so eminently cha racterised the conduct of Leo X. That pontiff forgot even his own safety, amidst poets, painters, sculptors, wits, and en tertainments.