France, and, for a time, in other lands where the Reformation was afterward crushed out, was a power of mental freedom.
Yet mental enslavement continued. The reformers would only change the master. He certainly was not to be the Roman Catholic Church, they said; he was only to be a more legitimate power. Standards were still set up, and ecclesiastical and civil power stood behind them, to compel religious, philosophical, scientific, and other thought, not to differ from them. Every one, Romish or Protestant, claimed the right to defend and to propagate opinion by force; every one was in favor of calling in the civil power to aid in a controversy in thought. But matters have much improved in the ecclesiastical sphere during these last four centuries. There is now marked progress in liberty of religious thought. The fierce invectives once hurled back and forth between Protestant and Catholic are dropped. The war of denominations has largely ceased. Convictions seriously entertained are now generally respected. Although a change of religion, or even in ministers a change of denomination, frequently causes more or less petty persecution, still there is improvement since the time, several centuries ago, when the apostasy of any one from the rest was regarded as one of the worst of crimes. A change of religion or even of denomination, from a sense of duty, is now commonly allowed among intelligent men. To-day the Protestant nations and the Roman Catholic countries of France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Bavaria, and Spanish America, have abandoned intolerance and enjoy freedom of opinion.
There is also marked progress in liberty of scientific thought—in the seventeenth century, that freedom to prosecute and publish investigation in science, which is so necessary to the advancement of science, hardly existed as yet. Though the political influence of the Church of Rome had much diminished, though European society had largely passed from the dominion of the Roman Church to that of temporal governments, yet that Church, though less tyrannical, freer from abuses, and more tolerant than before, was still disposed to maintain at every point the doctrines and opinions already expressed upon questions of science and learning; while also in Protestant lands popular prejudice still to an extent repressed mental freedom.
But there arose practical reformers in science—Leonardo da Vinci Copernicus, Fabricius, Galileo, Kepler, and Tycho Brahe. Science began to make decided advances in geography, astronomy, chemistry, physics, anatomy, medicine, geology, political economy, and other branches. The conflict with the astronomers is well known and has been well described—the fear of Copernicus, the imprisonment of Galileo, the burning at the stake in Rome of Giordano Bruno for upholding the teaching of modern astronomy as to the immensity of the universe and the plurality of worlds.
Still liberty of thought in science began to grow in various lands, giving us Bacon, Harvey, Descartes, Hooker, Barrow, Newton, Locke,