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During the Reign of King HENRY the Eighth. From the Year 1509, to the Year 1547.
T hath already appeared, in the courfe of our hiftory, that intellectual light had, for fome time, been breaking in upon the nations of Europe. Indeed, for nearly the fpace of two centuries, it had made an increafing, though, at first, a very flow progrefs. But after the taking of Conftantinople, and the invention of printing, it had advanced with a confiderable degree of rapidity. The multiplication of the copies of books, though most of them were but indifferent or trifling compofitions, could not fail of giving a wider fpread to the exercife of the human understanding. By the recovery, in particular, of the ancient authors, and the attention that was paid to claffical learning, new fubjects were opened of fpeculation and enquiry: nor when the mind was once fet afloat, could it eafily be reftrained in its excurfions. It was happy that this effect was not forefeen by fome of the zealous patrons of Greek and Roman Literature, and the encouragers of 17876 elegant
elegant compofition. Perhaps the princes of the house of Medici, and Pope Leo the Tenth, would have held back their munificence, if they had apprehended that the advancement of polite knowledge would have tended to introduce a boldness of thinking in matters which had long been generally deemed too facred to be difputed.
Even in the darkest ages, fome few perfons were found who revolted at the doctrines and practices of popery. Thefe doctrines were fo abfurd, thefe practices fo corrupt, and, at the fame time, the ignorance and licentioufnefs of many of the clergy were fo palpable to obfervation, that they could not efcape the notice of thofe minds which were difpofed to any degree of reflection. But, though fuch minds will exist in every period, little can be done by them, till there is a concurrence of circumstances which is favourable to a general alteration. In the reign to which we are now arrived that concurrence took place. So many caufes had paved the way for the emancipation of mankind from that ecclefiaftical tyranny, under which they had for a number of centuries laboured, that fome fingle event only was wanted to roufe and enflame the paffions of men, and to engage them to exert the vigour of their understandings in enquiries of the moft effential importance to the progrefs of knowledge and of happiness. This event occurred in the oppofition, of Luther to the papal indulgences. Never was there a man more admirably fitted for producing a great revolution in the ftate of human fociety. His active mind carried him on from one object to another, and his courage was equal to every undertaking. It is to the fpirited and unconquerable exertion of Luther that we owe the reformation, which is the moft illuftrious and momentous tranfaction, next to the appearance of the founder of our holy religion, that is to be met with in the hiftory of the world.
This tranfaction, which happened in the reign of king Henry the Eighth, had a very powerful influence with regard to the advancement of religious knowledge in our own country. The fpirit of enquiry, which was excited in Germany, fpread itself, more or lefs, through every
part of Europe; and in England the way had, in fome measure, been prepared for it by the exertions of Wickliff How boldly that eminent divine had attacked feveral of the capital doctrines of the church of Rome, hath appeared in former Articles; and he had still a number of followers in this kingdom, though they had been fo much perfecuted and depreffed that they did not now make any confiderable figure. These men would have their attention awakened. by what was going forward abroad, and would derive no fmall degree of encouragement from what they heard of the new reformers. Additions, too, might hence be expected to be made to the converts from popery. Those who had paid no attention to Wickliff's opinions would have their curiofity raised by the controverfies which Luther had occafioned; and the gratification of their curiofity would tend, in feveral inftances, to produce a conviction of the truth of his pofitions. All this was in fact fo much the cafe, that a revolution of no fmall importance was wrought in the minds of many of our countrymen. Various perfons, of confiderable eminence with respect to their fituation, rapk, or literature, rofe fuperior to the ignorance and errors of their ancestors, broke the fetters of authority, and indulged a freedom of thinking concerning points of the greatest magnitude..
At first, however, the reformation was violently oppofed by the chief governors of the nation. The king took an active part against it, and fuch was his zeal, that it induced him to appear in a very peculiar light, which was that of a Royal Author. This was a character which princes in general had for many ages ceafed to affume, and there had been no example of it in our own country, fince the days of Alfred; unlefs, with Mr. Walpole, we are dif pofed to affign that rank to Richard the First, on account of his having.compofed a fonnet, during his captivity, on his return from the Crufades. Henry the Eighth was certainly more capable of diftinguishing himself as a writer than most of the monarchs by whom he had been preceded, because he had received a literary education, and was not unacquainted with the fchool-divinity
Whether he was the real author of the Vindication of the Seven Sacraments, in oppofition to Luther, has indeed been called in queftion. Some have afcribed it to Sir Thomas More, and others, with greater probability to Fisher, bishop of Rochester. That the king had ample affiftance in the compofition of it, cannot reafonably be doubted; notwithstanding which, it might, perhaps, be in part his own production for unless his majefty had been known to pofsess a certain degree of learning, the work could not have been published under his name without a manifeft breach of decorum.
When fovereign princes condefcend to prefent themfelves to the world under the character of authors, their writings, whatever imperfections may attend them, are fure of receiving a high tribute of applaufe. Nor is it a praise of a common kind which will be thought fufficient for fuch exalted adventurers in the republic of literature. The merit of Henry was fo great, that an extraordinary reward was thought proper to be conferred upon him; and accordingly, the Pope folemnly invefted him with the title of " Defender of the Faith." This was a title by which he was, no doubt, highly gratified; and it is a title that has been affumed by all his fucceffors. Henry himself afterwards deviated from it, in the fenfe in which it was originally beftowed; and in that fenfe it could not belong to any of our proteftant princes. Nevertheless, to be ftyled Defenders of the Faith is ftill deemed a part of the prerogative of our monarchs, and is confidered as a jewel in the British crown. But the real propriety and value of fuch a title may juftly be queftioned: for what has a king to do with any particular faith? It is his proper business and duty equally to protect all his fubjects, without regard to their religious principles, provided they behave as peaceable members of fociety. With their theological tenets he fhould have no concern; it being fufficient for him to take care of their temporal fecurity and welfare, leaving their fouls to God and their own con-fciences.
Whatever degree of honour or applause king Henry the Eighth might derive from his performance, little effect was hence produced in controlling the progrefs of the new opinions. The dawning light was highly pleafing; and, as it proceeded in its courfe, it became too forcible to be obfcured by the clouds which were endeavoured to be raised against it, either by our royal author or by any other theologian. A ftill greater and greater attention was paid to the principles of the Reformation; and the more they were examined, the more did they engage the affent of honest and open minds. They were embraced too, by many perfons, with a zeal of which, at present, we have but a very feeble conception. Others, likewise, who had not the fpirit of confefforship or martyrdom in them, rejoiced in the diffufion of liberal fentiments, and in the oppofition to the tyranny of the church of Rome. It is poffible that men in high life, and of worldly views, might anticipate, in their imaginations, the benefits which might accrue to themselves from the plunder of that church.
The most remarkable fact in the religious hiftory of this time is, that, at length, Henry himself, though at first fo ardent in his oppofition to Luther, and though always maintaining the fpeculative doctrines of the Roman Catholic faith, fhould be the founder of the Reformation in England. A fact fo extraordinary arose from a concurrence of circumftances, with which fcarcely any of our readers can be unacquainted. Partly from fcruples of confcience, and partly from a defire of gratifying his paffions, the king wifhed to be divorced from his first wife, Catherine, who had been married to his brother Arthur. The Pope not readily complying with his folicitations for obtaining a divorce, he took another method of accomplishing his purpose. The opinions of learned doctors and univerfities were fought for, and appealed to; and it was determined, by many decifions, that the marriage was contrary to the law of God. The refult of the affair was an abfolute quarrel with the court of Rome; which concluded in the total renunciation of the pope's fupremacy,