I find I can't separate my thoughts I had from reading the book from my re-read of chapter 1.
First, the book is dense, full of facts and ideas, many of which are easy to skip over in the mind without obtaining the full benefit.
My sense of Chapter 1 is a longing for the success of people like Erasmus to make change, but accepting of the fatalistic idea that only the right concocture of independently aligned selfish forces can bring about major change, with an underlying populace sentiment part of the selfish people's unwitting servants.
I recall a note, perhaps in a later chapter, the idea that before the reformation everyone thought the same way, and that the idea of life eternal is very comforting. The reformation destroyed that idea. If there are multiple views of what religion is, they can not all be correct, and that adds doubt.
I had often wondered how it was possible that simple ideas like "crop rotation" and "horses are better beasts of burden than oxen" were lost in the middle ages until I recently read that fathers died before their sons were adults. How much support would people need in that time to get through their lives? Embracing a common idea like Catholicism (different then than in 1942), must have been wonderful. I wonder even if hell was much a part of the equation then, though clearly purgatory became a major force as wealth increased.
So to that extent, I think of the pre-Lutheran times as Nirvana. Everywhere you went, people knew your values and morals, and knew that your future life depended on your own actions.
A few years ago I went to a church, which served several thousand people, and the expression was amazing. People had so much emotion, and there were even people closing their eyes with hands outspread to receive God. But even the need to express in that way is an expression of doubt, the need to exclaim one's faith. I can't imagine that form of emotional expression in any environment, except perhaps at a football game in which everyone knows it is pretend.
The Reformation destroyed that Nirvana of common understanding and brotherhood.
I wonder whether something that good simply can not last without the misery that enabled it. Perhaps it is not a part of human nature to live in Nirvana, and eventually that leads to decadence, and as Barzun says, the change itself must be violent.
Perhaps Barzun's first chapter is really an expression the sane course of Erasmus is the path humanity will not traverse.