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Martin Luther
by [?]

They came in the name of the Lord–they were supposed to have authority. They said, “He who giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord.” They blessed those who gave, and cursed those who refused. Some of them presumed to forgive the sins of those who paid. And soon the idea suggested itself of forgiving in advance, or granting an indulgence. They made promises of mansions in the skies to those who conformed, and threatened with the pains of hell those who declined their requests. So the monks occasionally became rich.

And when they grew rich they often became arrogant, dictatorial, selfish, gluttonous and licentious. They undertook to manage the government which they had before in their poverty renounced. They hired servants to wait upon them. The lust of power, and the lust of the flesh, and the pride of the heart all became manifest.

However, there were always a few men, pure of heart and earnest in purpose, who sought to stem the evil tendencies. And so the history of monasticism and the history of the Church is the record of a struggle against idleness and corruption. To shave a man’s head, give him a new name, and clothe him in strange garments, does not change his nature. Monks grown rich and powerful will become idle, and the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience are then mere jokes and jests.

No man knew this better than Benedict, who lived in the Sixth Century. The profligacy, ignorance and selfishness of the fat and idle monks appalled him. With the aid of Cassiodorus he set to work to reform the monasteries by interesting the inmates in beautiful work. Cassiodorus taught men to write, illumine and bind books. Through Italy, France and Germany he traveled and preached the necessity of manual labor, and the excellence of working for beauty. The art impulse in the nunneries and monasteries began with Benedict and Cassiodorus, who worked hand in hand for beauty, purity and truth. Benedict had the greater executive ability, but Cassiodorus had the more far-reaching and subtle intellect. He anticipated all that we have to say today on the New Education–the necessity of playing off one faculty of the mind against another through manual labor, play and art creation. He even anticipated the primal idea of the Kindergarten, for he said, “The pleasurable emotion that follows the making of beautiful forms with one’s hands is not a sin, like unto the pleasure that is gained for the sake of pleasure–rather to do good and beautiful work is incense to the nostrils of God.”

In all Benedictine monasteries flagellations ceased, discipline was relaxed, and the inmates were enjoined to use their energies in their work, and find peace by imitating God, and like Him creating beautiful things.

Beautiful bookmaking traces its genesis almost directly to Benedict and Cassiodorus.

But a hundred years after the death of these great men, the necessity of reform was as great as ever, and other men took up the herculean task.

And so it has happened that every century men have arisen who protested against the abuses inside the Church. The Church has tried to keep religion pure, but when she has failed and scandalized society at large, monasteries were wiped out of existence and their property confiscated. Since the Fifteenth Century, regularly once every hundred years, France has driven the monks from her borders, and in this year of our Lord Nineteen Hundred Three she is doing what Napoleon did a hundred years ago; what Cromwell did in England in Sixteen Hundred Forty-five; what has been done time and again in every corner of Christendom.

Martin Luther’s quarrel with the Church began simply as a protest against certain practises of the monks, and that his protests should develop into a something called “Protestantism” was a thing he never for a moment anticipated or desired. He had no thought of building an institution on negation; and that he should be driven from the Church, because he loved the Church and was trying to purify and benefit it, was a source to him of deepest grief.