Page images
PDF
EPUB

churches view this subordination of the episcopacy to the caprice of a female despot, than as a religious farce, although to her own subjects the consequences were most tragical?

• The ecclesiastical supremacy,' remarks Mr. Brook, • formed a leading character in the reign of queen Elizabeth. Upon the rejection of the papal domination, and the final settlement of the legisJative reformation, her majesty's supremacy was permanently established; and no historical fact can be more obvious, than that this supremacy bad a considerable share of influence on the great national transactions of this long reign, especially on those relating to religion. The act of uniformity invested the queen with power of a very extraordinary nature ; and she failed not to appreciate and exercise this power in governing the religion of her subjects.

• This, however, was only a small portion of that vast power and authority with which her majesty was entrusted. Extraordinary as it may seem, her pliant parliament unwisely invested her with precisely the same authority in the church as the pope had formerly enjoyed, which her majesty most explicitly claimed and exercised in the government of religion. Dr. Burn, in allusion to this, observes, that the princes of this realm, intoxicated with that excess of power wbich the pope had assumed, would needs understand that the same was not extinguished, but only transferred from the popes to themselves : and they carried similar nutions into the civil administration. « This,” he adds, " excited disorders and convulsions in the State, and in the end overturned the government.", Vol. I. p. 293.

The English Reformation must, then, be admitted to have had a most baleful influence upon civil liberty. And what were its consequences as respects religion ? Originating in the dictates of brutal passion and ambition, begun, carried on, and perfected by violence, every step of its progress marked by blood, it bears upon it none of the characters of a religious transaction; and it left the nation nearly in the state in wbich it found it, immersed in the darkest ignorance, and under the bondage of the Protestant Antichrist.

Let us for a few moments reflect on what would have been the probable result, had king Henry contented himself with quietly withdrawing his allegiance to the Bishop of Rome, as king Edward III, had done bis tribute, disclaiming for bimself and his heirs the Papal jurisdiction, and letting the Churcb io this country take care of itself. In the first place, it is pretty certain, that the progress of real reformation in this country, that is to say, the emancipation of Christianity from the Romish corruptions, would liave been, if more gradual, yet, more entire and effectual, and that it would eventually have been carried much further. It is impossible, on reading the declared opinions of tbe

. Lollards, not to be struck with the fact, that their views of religion were far more liberal, far more scriptural than those of Cranwer and some of his fellow labourers. The nation appears

fo bave retrograded since the days of Wicklif; and those among the Reformers themselves who came the nearest to him in sentiment, seem to have Jaboured under a considerable degree of popish prejudice, and to have had far less clear and consistent ideas of Christianity. Latimer was, perhaps, the most truly apostolic in his sentiments and character. But how far short even the reformation of Edward VI. came of the wishes and intentions of the venerable men whom the Church of England affects to regard as the brightest ornaments of her episcopacy, is clear from extant documents. What put a stop to further improvements at that period, was the death of the admirable young monarch, and the accession of his sanguinary sister. This was the immediate cause. But what rendered it impossible for the work of reformation to go forward except at the bidding of the monarch, was the Act of Supremacy, by which the keys of St. Peter were placed among the regalia, and the faith of the nation was left at the entire disposal of the reigning despot. Henry VIII. and Elizabeth both interposed their sovereign prerogative, not merely to probibit further innovation, but to make the Church retrace its steps towards popery. The latter, as Mr. Brook remarks, commenced ber reformation by forbidding her subjects ' to be reformed sooner, and closed it ty probibiting them from * reforming further, than she thought proper.' A woman's private opinion on points of doctrine, and her taste in rites and ceremonies, were, to a whole nation, the standard of faith and the rule of religious obedience. And this was called Protestantism !

But, secondly, had it not been for this fatal usurpation, ecclesiastical power would never have attained the height which it did in ibis country under a Protestant hierarchy. When England, or rather its monarch, revolted from the Pope, it seemned at the time that one of the heads of the Apocalyptic Beast was “ wounded to death;” but “ the deadly wound was “ soon bealed " when the Papal supremacy was revived under another form ; and “ all the world wondered after the beast." Prior to this, before the novelty of a royal Head of the Church was contemplated, the Reformers were disposed to regard the alliance of ihe spiritual functions with temporal power as the very badge of Antichrist. In the Book of Conclusions introduced into Parliament in the reign of Richard II., the sentiments which were then beld by the followers of Wicklif on this point, and which had spread very extensively through all ranks of the nation, are thus unequivocally expressed.

• " Our usual priesthood, which took its original at Rome, and is framed to be a power higher than the angels, is not that priesthood which Christ ordained to his disciples. The Romish priesthood is done by signs, pontifical rites and ceremonies, and benedictions, of

[ocr errors]

no force or effect, having no ground in Scripture; and forasmuch as the bishops' Ordinal and the New Testament do nothing at all agree; neither do we see that the Holy Ghost doth give any good gift by any such signs or ceremonies, because that he, with all noble and good gifts, cannot consist and be in any person of deadly sin. It is, therefore, lamentable and dolorous mockery to wise men, to see the bishops mock and play with the Holy Ghost, in giving their orders: their character is the mark of antichrist, brought into holy church, to cloak and cover their idleness. That a king and a bishop both in one person, a prelate and a justice in temporal causes, a curate and an officer in worldly office, puts every kingdom out of good order, Therefore we, the procurators of God in this case, do sue unto the parliament, that it may be enacted, that all such as be of the clergy, as well of the highest degree as the lowest, should be fully excused, and occupy themselves with their own cure and charge, and not with others." . In conclusion they add: “ Wherefore we earnestly desire and beseech God for his goodness sake, that he will wholly reform our church, now altogether out of frame, unto the perfection of her first beginning and original", Vol. I. p. 99.

. Scarcely less bold are the declarations of the Reformers of the reign of Henry VII., as contained in the Bishop's Book,

It is out of all doubt, that there is no mention made in Scripture or in the writings of any authentic doctor of the church within the time of the apostles, that Christ did ever make or institute any distinction or difference in the pre-eminence of power, order, or jurisdiction among the apostles themselves, or among bishops them, selves ; but that they were all equal in power, order, authority, and jurisdiction. That there is now, and since the time of the apostles, any such diversity or difference among the bishops, it was devised by the ancient fathers, for the conservation of good order and unity of the catholic church; and by the consent and authority, or at least by the permission and sufferance of princes and civil powers.

"" We think it convenient, that all bishops and preachers shall instruct and teach the people committed to their spiritual charge; that Christ did by express words prohibit his apostles and all their successors, under pretence of authority given them by Christ, from taking upon them the authority of the sword: that is to say, the authority of kings, or any civil power in this world. For the kingdom of Christ in his church is a spiritual, and not a carnal kingdom of the world. The very kingdom that Christ by himself, or by his apostles and disciples sought here in this world; was to bring all nations from the carnal kingdom of the prince of darkness, to the light of his spiritual kingdom; and so himself to reign in the hearts of the people, by grace, faith, hope, and charity. Therefore Christ did never seek nor exercise any worldly dominion in this world ; but rather refusing and fleeing from it, did leave the said worldly govern. ment of kingdoms, realms, and nations to princes and potentates, and commanded also his apostles and disciples to do the same. What, soever priestor bishop will arrogate or presume to take upon him any such authority, and will pretend the authority of the Gospel fo

his defence, he crowneth Christ again with a crown of thorns, and traduceth and bringeth him forth, with his purple robe, to be mocked and scorned by the world.” Vol. I. pp. 135, 6.

The Bishop's Book was subscribed by the two archbishops, nineteen bishops, and a great number of other diguitaries. Although the above passage may be considered as a protestation against the ussumption of civil power by the clergy, rather than an explicit disavowal of such power as illegitimate and anticliristian even when derived from the Crown, yet, no one, we think, can impagine that such a union of king and bishop as was afterwards establisbed, was then in their contemplation. Such language as this would not bave been held by Queen Elizabeth's bishops, nor would it have comported with the spirit of the ecclesiastical proceedings in her reign. And whatever unight bave been the views of the Reformers themselves with respect to ecclesiastical power, they could never bave put in force their claims to domination over the conscience, had they not been supported by the monarch in bis new character of Defender of the Faith. The intolerance of both Papist and Protestant inight bave spent itself in logical contests and mutual anathemas, bad not the State interfered, and put unhallowed weapons into the bands of the hostile parties. Then, the bishops, elated with supreme power, laying aside the sword of the Spirit for that of Mabomined, thought only of converting the Dation by act of parliament, forgetting, as the trustees at once of legislative and executive power, their character as the ministers of Christ. The Papists were persecuted on precisely the same grounds as the Protestants in Queen Mary's reigo. But the acts of Gardiner and Bopper were in unison with the maxims of the Romish Church, and with the claims of the Head of that Church to worldly dominion. The nation, which had long groaned under the oppression of the Romish clergy, though far from being generally averse to Popery itself, saw in the Reformation an innovation in religion, but no extension of liberty: it was equally opposed to their prejudices and their rights. Hevce, the Reformation in King Edward's reign, appears never to have taken deep root among the people. For what difference could it make to them, whether the Pope or the King was the Head of that Church which they knew only in the character of an oppressor? The Act of Supremacy, which made religion a branch of the royal prerogative, necessarily rendered the Church intolerant, and armed that intolerance with power. The High Commission Court, and all the ecclesiastical tyranny of the succeeding reigns, are chargeable on this fatal error in laying tbe foundations of the Reformed Church. : Thirdly, had the Reformation been left to be effected by the

6

preaching of the Reformers and the extension of religious liberty, especially in respect of printing and reading the English Scriptures, while the internal reform and government of the Church were left to the bishops, without suffering them to make men eitber

fry a faggot or hop headless for nonconformity,'—we can, for our own parts, entertain no doubt that pure and undefiled religion would bave spread more rapidly, and that England would have become, in a far bigher sense of the word, Protestant ;-that her! Church would have had to boast of more saints and fewer martyrs.

All that the Reformers stood in neerl of was, protection. All that the interests of religion demanded of the Civil Ruler, was, that the obstacles to its progress should be removed by á repeal of the bloody statutes of the preceding reigos, and a permission to embrace and tu propagate the Reformed faith with impunity. Nothing could have stopped the diffusion of scriptural light and the triumph of Christianity at this period, but the enslavement and secularization of the Church by royal pa. tronage. But for this, the disputes about vestments and ceremonies would soon have subsided : the Papists would have had too much on their haods to wrangle about square caps, and the Reformers would have been better occupied. Finally, had this opportunity been taken to afflix constitutional limits to ecclesiastical power, instead of anvexing the popedom of the empire to the Crown, all the blood that was subsequently shed in the struggle to maintain unimpaired this precious branch of the prerogative, might bave been spared. James would have. had no inducement to abjure Presbyterianism, and Charles would not have lost either his bead or his crown.

We have dwelt so long on this interesting era in our bistory, that we must be brief in our notice of the remaining contents of these volumes. But a correct view of the ecclesiastical transactions of the reigns of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, is necessary in order to appreciate the merits of the ensuing contest between the king and the parliament. James did not carry his notions of prerogative higher than did Elizabeth; but they became bim less as a Kirk-bred Scotchman, and there was nothing in his character to support his absurd pretensions. If he did not carry matters with quite so high a hand as the Virgin Defender of the Faith, he talked more about his prerogative than she did, and made that ridiculous by bis pedantry, which his predecessor bad made terrible by her despotism. Personal vanity was the ruling passion of the British Solomon, and by flattering this weakness, the bishops, who did not scruple to employ the language of blasphemous adulation, easily contrived to get the power into their own hands. James had, at one time, termed the liturgys.

an evil said mass in English,' and had said, that the order of

« PreviousContinue »