« AnteriorContinuar »
Europe : the extensive powers of his prerogative, and the submissive, not to say slavish disposition of his parliaments, made it the more easy for him to assume and maintain that entire dominion, by which his reign is so much distinguished in the English history.
It may seem a little extraordinary, that notwithstanding his cruelty, his extortion, his violence, his arbitrary administration, this prince not only acquired the regard of his subjects, but never was the object of their hatred : he seems even in some degree to have possessed to the last their love and affection. His exterior qualities were advantageous, and fit to captivate the multitude : his magnificence and personal bravery rendered him illustrious in vulgar eyes : and it may be said with truth, that the English in that age were so thoroughly subdued that like eastern slaves they were inclined to admire those acts of violence and tyranny which were exercised over themselves, and at their own expence.
164.-CONDITION OF THE PEOPLE.
From "Strype's Memorials.' As we have given some character of the king, so here shall follow another of the people : of whom take this account, as it seems they were about the latter end of the king's reign. Both the gentry and the clergy grew extreme covetous. As for the lay-sort, they fell to raising their old rents, turned their arable into pasture for grazing sheep, and enclosed commons, to the great oppression of the poor. This may be best understood by reading what one writes who lived in those days. " How do the rich men, and especially such as be sheep-mongers, oppress the king's liege people, by devouring their common pastures with their sheep. So that the poor people are not able to keep a cow for the comfort of them and of their poor familyes, but are like to starve and perish for hunger, if there be not provisions made shortly. What sheep ground scapeth these caterpillars of the common weal. How swarm they with abundance of flocks of sheep; and yet when was wool ever so dear, or mutton of so great price? If these sheepmongers go forth as they begin, the people shall both miserably die for cold, and wretchedly perish for hunger. For these greedy wolves, and cumberous cormorants, will either sell their wool and their sheep at their own price, or else they will sell none. 0! what a diversity is this in the sale of wools? A stone of wool sometime to be sold at eight groats, and now for eight shillings; and so likewise of the sheep. God have mercy on us.” And a little after : "Rich men were never so much estranged from all pity and compassion towards the poor people, as they be at this present time. They devour the people as it were a morsel of bread. If any piece of ground delight their eye, they must needs have it, other by hook or by crook. If the poor man will not satisfy their covetous desires, he is sure to be molested, troubled and disquieted in such sort, that whether he will or not, (though both he, the careful wife, and miserable children with the whole family, perish for hunger), he shall forego it, or else it were as good for him to live among the furies of hell, as to dwell by those rich earles and covetous churles.”
There was another evil these rich men were guilty of ; namely, of depopulating towns, by letting houses and cottages fall down to the ground, or pulling them down. They got many houses and tenements into their hands, yea, whole townships sometimes; and then they would suffer them to go to utter decay and ruin : by which means whole towns became desolate, and like to a wilderness, no man dwelling there, except it were a shepherd and his dog. Insomuch, that the before-mentioned author said, “ That he himself knew many towns and villages sore decayed : so
that, whereas in times past, there were in some towns an hundred households, now there remained not thirty ; in some fifty, there were not then ten; yea, which was more to be lamented, some towns so wholly decayed, that there was neither stick nor stone standing, as they use to say. Where many men had good livings, and maintained hospitality : able at all times to help the king in his wars, and to sustain other charges; able also to help their poor neighbours, and vertuously to bring up their children in godly letters and good sciences, now sheep and conies devour altogether, no man inhabiting the foresaid places. So that, he addeth, those beasts which were bred of God for the nourishment of man, do now devour man. And since gentlemen began to be sheep-masters, and feeders of cattle, the poor had neither victual nor cloth at any reasonable price. For these forestallers of the market had gotten all things so into their hands, that the poor even must either buy it at their price, or else miserably starve for hunger, and die for cold. They abhorred the names of monks, friars, canons, nuns, &c. : but their goods they greedily griped. And yet, where the cloisters kept hospitality, let out their farmes at a reasonable price, nourished schools, brought up youth in good letters, they did none of all these things. They lightly esteemed, and in a manner contemned the priests, parsons, vicars, prebendaries, &c. Yet their possessions they gladly embraced, and niggardly retained. So that now they were become in effect, saith he, though not in name, very monks, friars, canons, priests, parsons, vicars, prebendaries, and at the last, what not? And yet how vainly those goods be spent, who seeth not ?"
As for the spiritual men, they affected mightily courtly living, and taking their pleasure ; little residence upon their benefices, and less hospitality. “God commandeth, saith the same author, tythes to be paid; but for what cause ? That the ministers should spend them in the court, or at the university, or in keeping of hawks or dogs, or in maintaining a sort of idle, valiant lubbers, and do nothing but consume the good fruits of the earth ? Nay, verily, but that there should be meat in his house. For the parsonage, or vicarage, is God's house.” The vast number of priests made them contemptible : for there were mass-priest, dirigepriests, chantry-priests, sacrificing-priests, as the author of the Defence of Priests Marriage reckons them up, and tells us, that Pighius in his Book of Controversies, complaining of the contempt of priests, attributes the same to the great swarm and multitude of them, over many. The great neglect of their parishes added also to their disrepute : for they made them only serve as means to accumulate wealth to themselves, without any conscience to discharge their duties there. For they for the most part followed divers trades and occupations secular : some were surveyors of lands, some receivers, some stewards, some clerks of the kitchen, many gardeners, and orchyard-makers. And commonly this was the trade, the better benefice, and the cure the more, the seldomer was the parson or vicar resident at home. If they wanted now and then sermons to be preached in their churches, they got friars to do it for them. Or as the author above mentioned expressed it, “If any of them thought for manners sake to have some sermons in their cures, they had friars at their hand ready to supply such parts at their pleasure."
165.--BEGINNINGS OF THE REFORMATION IN SCOTLAND,
SIR WALTER SCOTT. James V. was nephew to Henry VIII of England, being a son of Margaret, sister of that monarch. This connexion, and perhaps the policy of Henry, who was aware that it was better for both countries that they should remain at peace together, prevented for several years the renewal of the destructive wars between the two divisions of the island. The good understanding would probably have been still more complete, had it not been for the great and general change in religious matters, called in history the Reformation. I must give you some idea of the nature of this alteration, otherwise you cannot understand the consequences to which it led.
After the death of our Blessed Saviour Jesus Christ, the doctrine which he preached was planted in Rome, the principal city of the great Roman empire, by the Apostle Peter, as it is said, whom the Catholics, therefore, term the first bishop of Rome. In process of time, the bishops of Rome, who succeeded, as they said, the apostle in his office, claimed an authority over all others in Christendom. Good and well-meaning persons, in their reverence for the religion which they had adopted, admitted these pretensions without much scrutiny. As the Christian religion was more widely received, the emperors and kings who embraced it, thought to distinguish their piety by heaping benefits on the Church, and on the bishops of Rome in particular, who at length obtained great lands and demesnes as temporal princes ; while, in their character of clergymen, they assumed the title of Popes, and the full and exclusive authority over all other clergymen in the Christian world. As the people of those times were extremely ignorant, any little knowledge which remained was to be found among the clergy, who had some leisure to study; while the laity, that is, all men who were not clergymen, learned little, excepting to till, fight, and feast. The Popes of Rome, having established themselves as heads of the Church, went on, by degrees, introducing into the simple and beautiful system delivered to us in the gospel, other doctrines, many of them inconsistent with, or contradictory of, pure Christianity, and all of them tending to extend the power of the priests over the minds and consciences of other men. It was not difficult for the popes to make these alterations. For as they asserted that they were the visible successors of Saint Peter, they pretended that they were as infallible as the apostle himself, and that all that they published in their ordinances, which they called Bulls, must be believed by all christian men, as much as if the same had been enjoined in the holy Scripture itself. We shall notice two or three of these innovations.
Some good men, in an early age of Christianity, had withdrawn from the world to worship God in desert and desolate places. They wrought for their bread, gave alms to the poor, spent their leisure in the exercise of devotion, and were justly respected. But by degrees, as well-meaning persons bestowed great sums to support associations of such holy men, bequeathed lands to the monasteries or convents in which they lived, and made them wealthy, the monks, as they were called, departed from the simplicity of their order, and neglected the virtues which they undertook to practise. Besides, by the extravagant endowments of these convents, great sums of money and large estates were employed in maintaining a useless set of men, who, under pretence of performing devotional exercises, withdrew themselves from the business of the world, and from all domestic duties. Hence, though there continued to be amongst the monks many good, pious, and learned men, idleness and luxury invaded many of the institutions, and corrupted both their doctrines and their morals.
The worship also of saints, for which Scripture gives us no warrant whatever, was
introduced in those ignorant times. It is natural we should respect the memory of any remarkably_good man, and that we should value anything which has belonged to him. The error lay in carrying this natural veneration to extremity, in worshipping the relics of a saintly character, such as locks of hair, bones, articles of clothing, and other trumpery, and in believing that such things are capable of curing sickness, or of working other miracles shocking to common sense. Yet the Roman Church opened the way to this absurdity, and imputed to these relics, which were often a mere imposture, the power, which God alone possesses, of altering those laws of nature which his wisdom has appointed. The popes also encouraged and enjoined the worship of saints, that is, the souls of holy men deceased, as a sort of subordinate deities, whose intercession may avail us before the throne of God, although the gospel has expressly declared that our Lord Jesus Christ is our only mediator. And in virtue of this opinion, not only were the Virgin Mary, the apostles, and almost every other person mentioned in the gospels, erected by the Roman Catholics into the office of intercessors with the Deity, but numerous others, some of them mere names, who never existed as men, were canonized, as it was called, that is, declared by the pope to be saints, and had altars and churches dedicated to them. Pictures also and statues, representing these alleged holy persons, were exhibited in churches, and received the worship, which ought not, according to the second commandment, to be rendered to any idol or graven image.
Other doctrines there were, about fasting on particular days, and abstaining from particular kinds of food, all of which were gradually introduced into the Roman Catholic faith, though contrary to the gospel.
But the most important innovation, and that by which the priests made most money, was the belief, that the Church, or, in other words, the priest, had the power
pardoning such sins as were confessed to him, upon the culprit's discharging coch penance as the priest imposed on him. Every person was, therefore, obliged to confess himself to a priest, if he hoped to have his sins pardoned ; and the priest enjoined certain kinds of penance, more or less severe, according to the circumstances of the offence. But, in general, these penances might be excused, providing a corresponding sum of money were paid to the Church, which possessed thus a perpetual and most lucrative source of income, which was yet more incrcased by the belief in Purgatory.
We have no right, from Scripture, to believe in the existence of any intermediate state betwixt that of happiness, which we call heaven, to which good men have access immediately after death, or that called hell, being the place of eternal punishment, to which the wicked are consigned with the devil and his angels. But the Catholic priests imagined the intervention of an intermediate state, called purgatory. They supposed that many, or indeed that most people, were not of such piety as to deserve immediate admission into a state of eternal happiness, until they should have sustained a certain portion of punishment; but yet were not so wicked as to deserve instant and eternal condemnation. For the benefit of these, they invented the intermediate situation of purgatory, a place of punishment, to which almost every one, not doomed to hell itself, was consigned for a greater or less period, in proportion to his sins, before admission into a state of happiness. But here lay the stress of the doctrine. The power was in the Church to obtain pardon, by prayer, for the souls who were in purgatory, and to have the gates of that place of torture opened for their departure souner than would otherwise have taken place. Men, therefore, whose consciences told them that they deserved a long abode in this place of punishment, left liberal sums to the Church to have prayers said for the behoof of their souls. Children, in like manner, procured masses, (that is, a
particular sort of devotional worship practised by Catholics) to be said for the souls of their deceased parents. Widows did the same for their departed husbandshusbands for their wives. All these masses and prayers could only be obtained by money, and all this money went to the priests.
But the pope and his clergy carried the matter still farther; and not only sold, as they pretended, the forgiveness of heaven, to those who had committed sins, but also granted them (always for money) a liberty to break through the laws of God and the Church. These licences were called indulgences, because those who purchased them were indulged in the privilege of committing irregularities and vice, without being supposed answerable to the divine wrath.
To support this extraordinary fabric of superstition, the pope assumed the most extensive powers, even to the length of depriving kings of their thrones, by his sentence of excommunication, which declared their subjects free from their oath of allegiance, and at liberty to rise up against their sovereign and put him to death, At other times the pope took it upon him to give the kingdoms of the excommunicated prince to some ambitious neighbour. The rule of the Church of Rome was as severe over inferior persons as over princes. If a layman read the Bible, he was accounted guiity of a great offence ; for the priests well knew that a perusal of the Sacred Scriptures would open men's eyes to their extravagant pretensions. If an individual presumed to disbelieve any of the doctrines which the Church of Rome taught, or to entertain any which were inconsistent with these doctrines, he was tried as a heretic, and subjected to the horrible punishment of being burnt alive ; and this penalty was inflicted without mercy for the slightest expressions approaching to what the papists called heresy.
This extraordinary and tyrannical power over men's consciences was usurped during those ages of European history which are called dark, because men were at that period without the light of learning and information. But the discovery of the art of printing began, in the fifteenth century, to open men's minds. The Bible, which had been locked up in the hands of the clergy, then became common, and was generally read ; and wise and good men, in Germany and Switzerland, made it their study to expose the errors and corruptions of the See of Rome. The doctrine of saint-worship was shown to be idolatrous, that of pardons and indulgences, a foul encouragement to vice; that of purgatory, a cunning means of ertorting money ; and the pretensions of the pope to infallibility, a blasphemous assumption of the attributes proper to God alone. These new opinions were termed the doctrines of the Reformiers, and those who embraced them became gradually more and more numerous. The Roman Catholic priests attempted to defend the tenets of their Church by argument; but as that was found difficult, they endeavoured, in most countries of Europe, to enforce them by violence. But the reformers found protection in various parts of Germany. Their numbers seemed to increase rather than diminish, and to promise a great revolution in the Christian world.
Henry VIII., the king of England, was possessed of some learning, and had a great disposition to show it in this controversy. Being, in the earlier part of his reign, sincerely attached to the Church of Rome, he wrote a book in defence of its doctrines, against Martin Luther one of the principal reformers. The pope was so much gratified by this display of zeal, that he conferred on the king the appellation of Defender of the Faith ; a title which Henry's successors continue to retain, although in a very different sense from that in which it was granted.
Now Henry, you must know, was married to a very good princess, named Catherine, who was a daughter of the King of Spain, and sister to the emperor of Germany. She had been, in her youth, contracted to Henry's elder brother Arthur: