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The time when a faithful and authentic definition of the Truth was counted the thing most to be desired, was drawing to a close. In Germany, the century of Descartes' birth had been characterised by that extraordinary upheaval in its intellectual life, known as the Reformation; and this upheaval did not confine itself to the country with which it is principally associated, but in very various forms manifested itself all over the continent of Europe. The sixteenth century, at the close of which Descartes was born, was a century of dismemberment and unrest. Old landmarks were removed; the changes in the constitution of European states began, which finally left them somewhat in their present form. It seemed as though every state were passing through a time of test and trial, and no one could certainly foretell the results. What state would stand pre-eminent at the close? What would be the religion finally decided on and adopted? Would France elect, as Germany had done, to accept the principles of a faith associated with the Reformation; and would these principles spread themselves there as they appeared to have done in Germany, when the century reached its close? One fact very soon appeared, that France would be the first of all the countries seriously affected to come forward from the fray, and to take her place in Europe as supreme amongst the Christian powers. With the new century -- the seventeenth, that in which Descartes' life was spent -- came a period of reconstruction on monarchical and territorial principles. Catholicism attained a force it had hardly ever reached before. The Protestant Reformation in Germany found its weakness in its individualism, in its internal divisions and struggles for supremacy. Its work, undoubtedly, was a very necessary one, but it was a work mainly of a destructive kind, and liable to the reaction which soon, indeed, appeared in the movement which we now call by the name of Counter-Reformation. Man's right to interpret personally the reading of the Scriptures, his claim of personal relation to his God, were matters of the deepest possible importance. But this very individualism was fraught with danger. Where every man was enjoined to search for truth, every man found it in his own particular way, and yet believed he had found it for all mankind. False standards were swept away, but new ones were set up, which were more real, no doubt, but which, in the heat of controversy became as arbitrary as the rest, and were yet maintained with equal or even greater vehemence of speech. The Reformation of Catholicism was, however, something altogether different. The Church had won the battle, but the victor did not remain unchanged. The Catholicism of the seventeenth century was very different from that of the century preceding. A moral change had taken place; and the Church was in a far more healthy and active state than she had been before, and this was largely through the establishment of the Religious Orders, and, above all, by the educative forces of the Society of Jesus. The clergy were reformed, zeal and harmony came hand in hand, and, in fact, the Counter-Reformation was the sign and symbol that the lesson of the Reformation had extended where it was least expected. We cannot wonder that, with two equally vigorous sections striving for mastery, the war broke out which for thirty years was to devastate Central Europe; and in this warfare Descartes was destined to play his part as a humble soldier...


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