Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

and shifting from them, by no violent transition, settled at last on the offices which they enjoyed ; the effects of the reformation would naturally have extended not only to the doctrine, but to the government in the popish church ; and the same spirit which abolished the former would have overturned the latter. But, in Germany, England, and the northern kingdoms, its operations were checked by the power and policy of their princes ; and the ancient episcopal jurisdiction, under a few limitations, was still continued in those churches. The episcopal hierarchy appears to be more conformable to the practice of the church, since christianity became the established religion of the Roman empire. The ecclesiastical government was, at that time, plainly copied from the civil; the first not only borrowed its form, but derived its authority from the latter'; and the dioceses and jurisdictions of patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops, corresponded with the division and constitution of the empire. In Switzerland and the low countries, the nature of the government allowing full scope to the genius of the reformation, all pre-eminence of order in the church was destroyed, and an equality established more suitable to the spirit of republican policy. The situation of the primitive church suggested the idea, and furnished the model of the latter system, which has since been called Presbyterian. The first christians, oppressed by continual persecutions, and obliged to hold their religious assemblies by stealth, and in corners, were contented with a form of government extremely simple. The influence of religion concurred with the sense of danger, in extinguishing among them the spirit of ambition, and in preserving a parity of rank, the effect of their sufferings, and the cause of many of their virtues. Calvin, whose decisions were received among the protestants of that ag'e with incredible submission, was the patron and restorer of this scheme of eccle. siastical policy. The church of Geneva, formed under his eye, and by his direction, was esteemed the most perfect model of this government; and Knox, who, during his residence in that city had stu: died and admired it, warmly recommended it to the imitation of his countrymen.

But, on the first introduction of his system, Knox did not deem it expedient to depart altogether from the ancient form. Instead of bishops, he proposed to establish ten or twelve superintendants in different parts of the kingdom. These, as the name implies, were empowered to inspect the life and doctrine of the other clergy: They presided in the inferior judicatories of the church, and performed several other parts of the episcopal function. Their jurisdiction, however, extended to sacred things only: they claimed no seat in parliament, and pretended no right to the dignity or revenues of the former bishops.

The number of inferior clergy, to whom the care of parochial duty could be committed, was still extremely small; they had embraced the principles of the reformation at different times, and from various motives ; during the public commotions, they were scattered, merely by chance, over the different provinces of the kingdom ; and in a few places only were formed into regular classes or societies. The first general assembly of the church, which was held this year, bears all the marks of an infant and unformed society. The members were but few in number, and of no considerable rank ; no uniform or consistent rule seems to have been observed in electing them. From a great part of the kingdom no representatives appeared. In the name of some entire counties, but one person was present; while in other places, a single town or church sent several members. A convention, so feeble and

a

irregular, could possess no great authority; and conscious of their own weakness, the members put an end to their debates without venturing upon any decision of much importance.

In order to give greater strength and consistence to the presbyterian plan, Knox, with the assistance of his brethren, composed the first book of discipline, which contains the model or platform of the intended policy. They presented it to a convention of estates, which was held in the beginning of this year. Whatever regulations were proposed with regard to ecclesiastical discipline and jurisdiction, would have easily obtained the sanction of that assembly ; but a design to recover the patrimony of the church, which is there insinuated, met with very

different reception.

When the lords of the congregation assumed their authority, Knox was appointed protestant minister of Edinburgh ; and while they were assembled at Perth, disregarding a summons from the queen-regent, he preached a violent sermon against popery, and all the monuments of it. The populace, roused by his fervid eloquence, assaulted the priests, and demolished the monasteries in different parts of the kingdom. The example of Knox was imitated by the rest of the clergy. While the civil government was severely convulsed, the clergy struggled hard to form a system agreeable to their wishes.

In the first parliament, however, which met after Mary's return, no attempt was made to obtain her consent to the laws establishing the protestant religion. Her ministers, though zealous protestants themselves, were aware that this could not be urged without manifest danger and imprudence. She had consented through their influence, to tolerate and protect the reformed doctrine. They had even prerailed on her to imprison and prosecute the

archbishop of St. Andrew's and the prior of Whithorn, for celebrating mass contrary to her proclamation. Mary, however, was still passionately devoted to the Romish church; and though, from political motives, she had granted a temporary indul. gence to opinions which she disapproved, there were no grounds to hope that she would agree to establish them for perpetuity. The moderation of those who professed it, was the best method for reconciling the queen to the protestant religion. Time might abate her bigotry. Her prejudices might wear off gradually, and at last she might yield to the wishes of her people, what their importunity or their violence could never have extorted. Many laws of importance were to be proposed in parliament; and to defeat all these, by such a fruitless and ill-timed application to the queen, would have been equally injurious to individuals, and detrimental to the public.

The zeal of the protestant clergy was deaf to all these considerations of prudence or policy. Eager and impatient; it brooked no delay : severe and inflexible, it would condescend to no compliances. The leading men of that order insisted, that this opportunity of establishing religion by law was not to be neglected. They pronounced the moderation of the courtiers, apostacy; and their endeavours to gain the queen, they reckoned criminal and servile. Knox solemnly renounced the friendship of the earl of Murray, as a man devoted to Mary, and so blindly zealous for her service, as to become regardless of those objects which he had hitherto esteemed most sacred. This rupture, which is a strong proof of Murray's sincere attachment to the queen at that period, continued above a year and a half.

The preachers being disappointed by the men in whom they placed the greatest confidence, gave vent

to their indignation in their pulpits. These echoed more loudly than ever with declamations against idolatry ; with dismal presages concerning the queen's marriage with a foreigner; and with bitter reproaches against those who, from interested motives, had deserted that cause which they once reckoned it their honour to support. The people, inflamed by such vehement declamations, which were dictated by a zeal more sincere than prudent, proceeded to rash and unjustifiable acts of violence. During the queen's absence, on a progress into the west, mass continued to be celebrated

in her chapel at Holyroodhouse. The multitude of those who openly resorted thither, gave great offence to the citizens of Edinburgh, who, being free from the restraint which the royal presence imposed, assembled in a riotous manner, interrupted the service, and filled such as were present with the utmost consternation. Two of the ringleaders in this tumult were seized, and a day appointed for their trial.

Knox, who esteemed the zeal of these persons laudable, and their conduct meritorious, considered them as sufferers in a good cause; and in order to screen them from danger, he issued circular letters, requiring all who professed the true religion, or were concerned for the preservation of it, to assemble at Edinburgh on the day of trial, and by their presence to comfort and assist their distressed brethren. One of these letters fell into the queen's hands. To assemble the subjects without the authority of the sovereign, was construed to be treason, and a resolution was taken to prosecute Knox for that crime before the privy council. Happily for him, his judges were not only zealous protestants, but the very men who, during the late commotions, had openly resisted and set at defiance the queen's authority. It was under precedents drawn

« AnteriorContinuar »