Imagens das páginas

speech in Parliament, in which he exhorts his subjects to a greater exercise of Christian charity, and bids them "heal their divisions, or else I, whom God has appointed as His vicar and high minister here, will see these divisions extinct."

One of the most elaborate statements of this theory emanates from the pen of poor young Edward VI, who sets it down in an essay that suggests the painstaking schoolboy at least as much as the king. Its very quaintness and naïveté enhance its value, for Edward's mind is evidently a blank page which takes faithful impressions from the spirit of its time. The essay deals minutely with every class of the community, how they all, from noblemen to artisans, neglect their duties, and what legal steps it is necessary to take to reclaim them. In more powerful and homely phrase, the same idea is set forth in the sermons of that most attractive of all the Reformers, honest Hugh Latimer. He was a man of the people if ever there was one, he sprang from their ranks and talked their language, and was never afraid of denouncing those in high places, nobles and bishops and judges, who forgot their duties and oppressed the poor. But as to the duty of obedience, he allowed no compromise. Our rulers are appointed of God, and even if they neglect their duties, it is no excuse for neglecting ours. "Some will say, 'Our curate is naught, an ass-head, a dodipole, a lack-Latin, and can do nothing. Shall I pay him my tithes, that hath done us no good, nor none will do?' Yea, I say, thou must pay him his duty, and if he be such a one, complain to the Bishop. 'We have complained to the ordinary, and he is as negligent as he.' Complain to the Council. 'Sir, so have we done, but no remedy can be had.' Well, I will tell thee where thou shalt complain; complain to God, He will surely hear thee, He will remedy it." Even with regard to taxation, Latimer's doctrine does not admit of resistance. The King "must have as much as is

necessary for him . . . and that must not thou, or I, that are subjects, appoint, the King himself must appoint it."

Such then is the conception of the state that emerges from the turmoil of the Reformation. Whatever may be its merits in the abstract it was eminently fitted for England as she was then. A country as yet imperfectly united and passing through a critical period of transition, a country whose leading men were too often traitors, and where it was scarcely possible to collect a tax without a rebellion, a country threatened by a League of Christendom, was bound, at any cost, to get herself efficiently governed and disciplined. There could be no question of the sovereignty of the people while the people was not sufficiently united to have a will of its own. Before men can enter even into the Kingdom of England, they have in a sense to be born again, to acquire a habit of thought and a willingness for sacrifice, that can only be engendered in the course of many years. No child has been able to assume the privileges of manhood without some preliminary breaking in, and the Tudors were hard schoolmasters. Their House was not to pass away before the darkness of probation had vanished in the morning glow of victory, before the Almighty blew with his winds and scattered at once the clouds that had darkened over England, and the proud galleons which threatened her with a real, because an un-English slavery.

One aspect of our Reformation has yet to be considered, one that will, in the opinion of many, have to be written down as a misfortune. The Tory ideal of the sixteenth century was no new thing, but a confirmation and strengthening of an idea already implicit in the vision of Piers Plowman, and many another treatise of the Middle Ages. But the democracy, by which it was qualified, had received an irreparable blow. It was the idea of the Catholic Church, as it had been of primitive Christianity,

that all men are equal in the sight of God. Her position as a world power made it easier for her to be no respecter of persons, and her struggle against simony and secular control, in so far as it was successful, enabled her to fulfil her democratic functions. It is true that her organization was one of rigid subordination, but it was a service where every private carried a field-marshal's baton in his knapsack, where a peasant might rise to the Papacy, where a rich young man like St. Francis could take Poverty for his bride, and where humility was the high road to canonization. The subordination was only an official one; as God's minister, the Pope might depose an Emperor, as a man he was the servant of the humblest slave. Thomas à Becket loved and insisted upon the pomp of ceremony, but beneath his gorgeous robes was the sackcloth of affliction, and beneath that crawled the vermin. This ideal of the Church was, of course, never realized in its perfection, except by individuals, but so far did it prevail that such unrestrained comradeship as that of Chaucer's pilgrims was nothing out of the


The Anglican Church retained a system of discipline less thorough, though modelled after the Roman pattern; its recognized head was not a remote spiritual potentate, but the King of England. In other words, the fountains of temporal and spiritual honour were the same. This had tended to be the case long before the step was formally taken, but now that the royal supremacy was made the keystone of the whole system, it was inevitable that the ideals of the State should tinge those of the Church. The destruction of the monasteries, though again we must remember that they had become less and less fitted for the discharge of their functions, was a step in the same direction. When the patronage and government of the State are mainly aristocratic, it is hard for a State Church to be the engine of democracy.

Had the English Church gone the whole length of the Reformation, she might have been at least as democratic as before; the armies of Oliver Cromwell and General Booth cannot be cited as strongholds of class privilege. But the compromise on which she based herself, damped the Tory democracy of Rome, and stopped short of the Radicalism of Geneva. Her parsons bore little resemblance to him of the "Canterbury Tales," who lectured rich and poor indifferently upon their sins, and the landowner came to occupy a position in respect to the parson similar to that of the King in relation to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The saying "No bishop, no king," might have been reinforced by "No parson, no squire," and the system of local government by the landed gentry, which the subsequent reigns were to see consolidated, owed not a little of its stability to the support of the Church.

The Church had suffered another fatal blow to her independence in the dissolution of the monasteries. This unlovely episode in our history has been allowed to become a bone of theological and social contention, with the result that the true aspect of the case has been obscured by sentimental and partisan special-pleading. It is certainly ridiculous to talk of the monasteries as if they were so many oases of godliness and charity in a wilderness of oppression. On the contrary, we have the best reason for believing that, like most corporations, they were inclined to be rather worse landlords than the ordinary squire. So far back as the peasants' revolt, the monks had been singled out for special and drastic treatment. Again, the ardour of their religious sentiment is more than doubtful. The atmosphere of the time had long been unfavourable to it, though we have an isolated and beautiful instance to the contrary in the case of the Carthusians. Even if we do not accept for gospel all the statements of Henry's commissioners, their detailed and unpublishable reports afford sufficient evidence of

what we might naturally expect from such institutions in an age of infidelity.

Ever since her temporal triumph under the Lancastrians, the Church in England had been going the way of the Church all over Europe. The Renaissance Popes had well-nigh abandoned the pretence of religion; they included such shining examples as Sixtus the treacherous, Alexander the poisoner, Julius the fighter, and Leo the worldly. The spirit of the Renaissance was abroad, and men had more care to write good Latin than to lead good lives. The utter collapse of the Church at the first assault shows how fatally weakened had been the invisible and spiritual power of a Becket or an Innocent III. And only one result could be expected from large and often wealthy communities of persons vowed to celibacy, and unsustained by any divine fire.

It might have been possible to have turned the suppression of the monasteries to untold good. For there are two sorts of property in a nation; that which is held by, and for the benefit of individuals, and that which is held by public bodies for the benefit of the community. The well-being of society, as far as this can be compassed by material means, consists in the due balance of these two, for on one side lies the tyranny of the few, and on the other the worse tyranny of the majority. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, a more satisfactory balance was obtained between what Coleridge would have called the propriety and the commonalty than at any other period of our history. The "commonalty" was very large, and took a variety of forms. There was first of all the central power, whose duty it was to retain intact, despite the Lancastrian eclipse, the great machine of law and government, which had been bequeathed by Henry of Anjou. Then there was the Church, whose function, however inadequately she might perform it in practice, was to enter into a more tender and minute relation with her

« AnteriorContinuar »