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“While these negotiations were in progress, nearly the whole of Protestant Germany was wringing with an outcry against the scandal of degrading an illustrious princess, and exemplary woman, from the throne and the bed which she had occupied, without impeachment, for twenty years. But Henry was now too deeply committed to retreat in obedience to the most vehement expressions of public feeling or opinion. The disgrace and injury inflicted on the queen —the generous sympathies of an indignant peoplethe prevalent suspicion that he was impelled by passion, rather than by conscience, to the dissolution of his marriage-all seem to have been lost sight of, in the urgency of his impatience to be delivered from his yoke. The steadiness of his resolution was confirmed by his reliance on the character of his ambassador. That Cranmer was profoundly sincere in his persuasion that the king's marriage with Catherine was incestuous, there is not the slightest reason to question. It is true that the office which he was at this time discharging, relative to the great matrimonial suit, was not of his own seeking. His appointment to it was the result of accidents beyond his control. But when once he was engaged in the cause, he devoted to it all the resources of his industry and learning. He was acting simply as the envoy and representative of his sovereign, conformably to the almost immemorial custom which, for want of laymen sufficiently accomplished, had generally consigned the functions of diplomacy to canonists and churchmen. He was laboring to bring to a prosperous issue a question in which he conceived the peace and honor of the king to be deeply involved; a question, too, which in its remoter influence, he considered as vitally important to the religion and the happiness of his country. His thoughts had long been fixed on the standard of reformation which had been reared on the continent of Europe. Originally, indeed, his own mind had been awakened by the study of the Scriptures, and by the best models of secular literature. But every day he lived, -and more especially every hour he passed at Rome, --strengthened his conviction that nothing could do justice either to the moral grandeur of England, or to the cause of scriptural truth, but an intrepid imitation of the German example. His exertions, therefore, in opposition to the supreme dispensing power of the pope, were the efforts of a genuine Christian patriot, as well as the labors of a faithful servant in behalf of an earthly master.
"An occasion speedily occurred which raised him to a station eventually still more favorable to his enlightened views. While he was on the continent, the see of Canterbury was vacated by the death of Archbishop Warham. On this event Cranmer was instantly summoned to return. Some intimation, however, appears to have reached him of the king's design to raise him to the primacy. Anxious as he might be for the spiritual deliverance of his country, the sudden approach of so arduous a responsibility staggered his resolution. His own habits had been studious and retired. His temper was so unambitious, that we have already seen him hazardously refusing the patronage of Wolsey, and anxious to escape an introduction to the king. By constitution he was diffident and cautious, perhaps even to timidity; while the unquiet aspect of the times threatened to make the primacy a post of unexampled difficulty and peril. He had recently entered, for the second time, into
the state of matrimony; an irregularity which might become a source of incessant and vexatious embarrassment to the first ecclesiastic of this yet popish kingdom. And, lastly, the character of Henry must, even then, have sufficiently developed itself to satisfy him that he would have to serve an arbitrary and “hard-ruled master. These were considerations which might well deter even a firmer and more aspiring individual from the dangerous promotion which his sovereign was now preparing to force upon him. He, accordingly, delayed his departure from Germany for several weeks, in the hope that the intention to elevate him might drop from the king's mind in the interval, and that the choice might fall upon some other person; and four months elapsed, on the whole, before he could be prevailed on to accept the formidable preferment. Even when he found that the purpose of Henry was not to be shaken by his earnest entreaties to be exempt from the burden, he farther manifested his reluctance by attempting to place another obstacle in the way of the king's design ; an obstacle which he probably hoped would be quite insurmountable. He declared that he could receive the archbishopric only from the king himself, as supreme governor of the Church of England, (a character which had already been recognized by the convocation,) and not of the pope, who, in his judgment, had no authority within the realm. This was an impediment which compelled Henry to pause.
The difficulty, however, was referred to civilians of eminence, who submitted that the affair might be adjusted, without an open and final rupture with Rome, (for which Henry was not then prepared,) by the expedient of a solemn protest, to be made by the archbishop on the day of his consecration. By this protest (it was suggested) he might declare that he did not hold himself bound by this oath to any thing against the law of God, the realm of England, or the prerogatives of the sovereign; or restrained by it from taking part in the reformation of the Church of England.
"In this arrangement, Cranmer, though most reluctantly, acquiesced. He lived in an age when, to decline an office imposed by the sovereign was regarded as an act of almost treasonable contumacy. He had, nevertheless, already stood out for four months against the wishes of the king: and having now an opportunity offered him of declaring, in the face of the world, the precise extent of obligation which he conceived to be imposed upon him by his oath to the pope, he felt that it would be scarcely possible to resist any longer the importunity of his sovereign. To the very last, however, he never ceased to manifest his conviction that the customary bulls for his investment with the primacy, were altogether nugatory and worthless : and when it was proposed to him that a messenger should be despatched to Rome for those instruments, and should take the usual oath in his name, he replied that whoever did so must take the responsibility on his own soul !
" It does not appear that the application for the bulls in question met with the slightest difficulty at Rome. And yet, the pope must have known Cranmer well. Cranmer had already contended against the papal power of dispensation, in the grand cause of the divorce. He had done this first openly at the Vatican. He had, subsequently, been carrying the same doctrine with him over Germany. He had farther, by his own marriage, very intelligibly declared war against the discipline and policy of the Romish Church. So that if his protest were to have been read in the ear of Clement himself, before he fixed his seal to the instruments demanded, it could have conveyed to him no new intelligence. The life and writings of Cranmer had, of themselves, been a virtual and notorious protest, to the same effect as his intended declaration at Westminster. It would, therefore, be idle to imagine that the pope was entrapped into the admission of a secret enemy, to the primacy of England. When he sent the bulls required, he must doubtless have been aware, that to refuse them would only have been to bring on a crisis which would inevitably expose their insignificance.
“When these documents arrived, and were delivered to Cranmer, he instantly deposited them in the hands of the king: as if to intimate that these were instruments which he himself did not consider as at all essential to the validity of his appointment, and which had been obtained purely in compliance with the royal will and pleasure. The day fixed for his consecration was the 30th of March, more than seven months subsequently to the decease of Archbishop War. ham. On that day, previously to his taking the oath to the pope, he presented and read his protestation, to the effect above mentioned, in the presence of the royal prothonatory, of two doctors of law, of one of the royal chaplains, and of the official principal of the court of Canterbury: and he required that the protestation should be formally recorded, and attested by the witnesses present. This was done, not in a 'private room,' hut in the chapter house at Westminster. At the steps of the altar in the Church, he again presented his protestation, declaring that he understood and took the oath according to the tenor of that protest; and required that a record should be made of this declaration, attested by the same witnesses as before. Lastly, when he was about to receive the pall, he once more proclaimed at the altar, that he understood the oath under the limitations of the same instrument; and demanded, for the third time, that the proceeding might be solemnly attested and enrolled. It appears, therefore, that his paper was first read in the presence of official witnesses, in the place appropriated to the performance of all such public acts; that it was twice produced at the altar, in the presence of a crowded congregation; and that, at every stage of the proceeding, he insisted that his declaration should be invested with the solemnity of a public record.
“In order to form a righteous estimate of Cranmer's conduct on this celebrated occasion, it will be necessary that the reader should have before him the two oaths which, in those times, were imposed on all bishops, previously to their consecration. The first of these was their oath to the pope : and its tenor is as follows :
“ I, John, bishop or abbot of A., from this hour forward, shall be faithful and obedient to St. Peter, and to the holy Church of Rome, and to my lord the pope and his successors canonically entering. I shall not be of counsel nor consent that they shall lose either life or member, or shall be taken, or suffer any violence or any wrong, by any means. Their counsel to me credited by them, their messengers, or letters, I shall not willingly discover to any person. The papacy of Rome, the rules of the holy fathers, and the regality of St. Peter, I shall help, and maintain, and defend, against all men. The legate of the see apostolic, going and coming, I shall honorably entreat. The rights, honors, privileges, authorities, of the Church of Rome, and of the pope and his successors, I shall cause to be conserved, defended, augmented, and promoted. I shall not be, in council, treaty, or any act, in which any thing shall be imagined against him, or the Church of Rome, their rights, seats, honors, or powers.
And if I know any such to be moved or compassed, I shall resist it to my power, and as soon as I can I shall advertise him, or such as may give him knowledge. The rules of the holy fathers, the decrees, ordinances, sentences, dispositions, reservations, provisions, and commandments, apostolic, to my power I shall keep, and cause to be kept of others. Heretics, schismatics, and rebels to our holy father and his successors, I shall resist and persecute to my power. I shall come to the synod when I am called, except I be letted by a canonical impediment. The thresholds of the apostles, I shall visit yearly, personally, or by my deputy. I shall not alienate or sell my possessions, without the pope's counsel. So God help me, and the holy evangelists.
“ The following is the oath of the bishops to the king :
“I, John, bishop of A., utterly renounce, and clearly forsake, all such clauses, words, sentences, and grants, which I have, or shall have, hereafter of the pope's holiness, of and for the bishopric of A., that in any wise hath been, is, or hereafter may be hurtful or prejudicial to your highness, your heirs, dignity, privilege, or estate royal. And also I do swear, that I shall be faithful and true, and faith and truth I shall bear to you, my sovereign lord, and to your heirs, kings of the same, of life and limb, and yearly worship, above all creatures, for to live and die for you and yours, against all people. And diligently I shall be attendant to all your needs and business, after my wit and power, and your counsel I shall keep and hold, acknowledging myself to hold my bishopric of you only, beseeching you of restitution of the temporalities of the same, promising, as before, that I shall be a faithful, true, and obedient subject, to your said highness, heirs, and successors, during my life, and the services and other things due to you highness for the restitution of the temporalities of the said bishopric, I shall truly do, and obediently perform. So God help me, and all saints.”
Being thus elevated to the highest ecclesiastical post in the kingdom, and which brought him in close contact with one of the most haughty, restless, and in some sense the most voluptuous and unrelenting monarchs which ever disgraced a throne, Cranmer had a very difficult part to act; and his difficulties increased tenfold in consequence of the many jarring interests with which he had to contend in consequence of the part he took against the pope and his adherents, as well as by the untractable spirits with which he was surrounded on all sides.
The first and most important official act which the archbishop was called upon to perform, was to pronounce the marriage of Henry with Catherine unlawful, and thus to absolve the conjugal
Vol. VII.- January, 1836.
ties publicly which had for some time been severed secretly, not only by the alienation of his affections from his spouse, but by a secret marriage with the object of his fond desires. Whatever may be thought of the act itself which declared the marriage of the king and queen illegal and nugatory, Cranmer was supported by the opinion of the bench of bishops, with the exception of one solitary voice,—by the most celebrated universities of Europe,-the sentence of the English convocation, as well as by his own uniform decision from the time he began to deliberate on the subject. Being thus supported, as well as urged on by the king's earnest entreaties, the marriage contract was, May 23, 1533, pronounced by Cranmer to be null and void, and soon thereafter the king's marriage with Ann Boleyn, which had been performed in the month of January preceding, secretly and without the archbishop's knowledge, was publicly proclaimed, and the coronation soon followed with great pomp and ceremony. We give these as historical facts, without attempting to decide on the righteousness of the course pursued by Cranmer, although, even with those who are disposed to accuse him of being biassed in his decision by kingly authority, he will doubtless find an apology in the spirit of the times in which he lived, in the great deference which was wont to be paid to royal prerogative, as well as the animosity which was just then waking up against popery. This act of the archbishop's aroused the indignation of the pope and his adherents, and brought a flood of obloquy upon Cranmer; and it was followed by a revocation of the sentence of Cranmer, declaring the king's marriage unlawful, and his excommunication from the Church of Rome soon followed. These arbitrary and high-handed proceedings on the part of the pope and his conclave, eventuated in the severance of the British dominions from the Roman hierarchy, and the establishment of the Protestant religion.
But how very imperfectly were the principles of religious toleration understood in those days! At the very time that the nation was rejoicing at the coronation of the new queen, and Cranmer had escaped from the merciless claws of his bitter persecutors, he was giving his sanction to persecution for conscience' sake. Though delivered from the supremacy of the pope, Cranmer still held fast the absurd doctrine of transubstantiation; and for calling in question the truth of this dogma, to us incredible, two men were condemned to the flames, under the sanction of Cranmer, and were accordingly executed. How inveterate is prejudice! And what a frightful symptom is this of the general spirit which pervaded the age in which Cranmer lived. And what cause of gratitude is it, that we live at a period when such acts are reprobated by the general voice of mankind. The difficulties of Cranmer's situation are thus depicted by his biographer: