Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

ness.

in the English church; identified the church and the crown of England in interests, and not only made the monarch of these realms the defender of the faith, but the head of the church in England. It was not because the wealthy and the noble, and the titled classes of England wanted a reformation; it was not because the middle, and the intelligent, and the industrious classes of England thought a reformation was needed; it was not that the base of the pyramid was heaving and rolling itself, and turning from one side to another, so as to make the top stones shake a little, that the Reformation was begun in England. But it was that these top stones might sleep a little more magnificently, and indulge themselves at the

expense of the base on which they rested. This was the origin of the Reformation in England; but there were great men connected with the movement, notwithstanding. I will not disparage them, even in their weak

The man that could stand, and in self-accusation suffer the hand to be consumed that had signed his recantation, and that, with calm and placid submission to the Divine will, could long for the death which he was doomed to, bewailing his timid adherence to the principles and the truth of God; is not a man to be traduced lightly, or evil spoken of. There were great men in England that sought to carry out the principles of the Lollards.

But there were certain critical controversies that were going on, in consequence of the unsettled and uncertain tenure of the royal houses in England. The Tudors thought that they would consolidate their power by the aid of the people. After the barons of Runnymede had extorted from the monarchs of England certain privileges, the contest lay between the barons on one side, and the monarchs on the other. The monarchs could not fight without the people; the barons could do little against the king unless they had the people's help ; and, therefore,

ORIGIN OF THE ENGLISH REFORMATION.

51

they were obliged to look again at the base of the pyramid-the solid substratum, on which rested the power and magnificence of the whole political economy. It was in consequence of this, that there was a regard had to the people in these controversies. Popular jealousy was not at first much awakened and excited in resistance to Henry's declaration of the supremacy of the king in the Anglican church ; but the seeds of it were sown.

Henry, no doubt to gratify his own caprice, and indulge his guilty passions, resolved to sever the church of England from the authority of the Bishop of Rome. But he did not set up an established church that the people might think for themselves, and enjoy liberty of conscience. He transferred the systematic hierarchy from an elective prelate to an hereditary monarch ; in which he was to be pope, as much as any despot that ever lived, and the church his creature. He did not suffer his priests to adopt, or even to suggest, the reformation required. But if it did not please his royal heart, if it was not gratifying to his royal caprice, if Henry the Eighth was not the originator or arbiter, it should not pass, whoever was the counsellor or adviser of it. The consequence was, the rubric of the church of Rome was modified but a little ; and the forms and practices of the church of England were only a little altered from those of the church of Rome at that time. No one acquainted with the history of England will deny the truth of what I say. And the fact is, that this was owing to the despotic-I was going to say, autocratic

- the monarchical power of Henry, ruling entirely in the church, and not suffering the people to think for themselves. There were,

however, individuals in Henry's time who began to think, whether they were allowed or not. Very much they remind me of a dominant man, and a woman of spirit.

They were husband and wife, who had a domestic controversy about a matter deeply interesting to both. He was the stronger antagonist, and she had to go to the wall. He carried the argument by main force into his oppo' nent's camp. He required that she should not say another word. “Well, then," she said, "you will allow me to think.” “No, you will not think,” he replied ; " or if you do, you will go to the back door and think.” The good people of whom I speak had to go to the back door and think. They were called, in those days, puritans; and Henry hated puritans more than papists, and perse. cuted them more than the man of Rome ;--some call him the man of Sin ;-I believe they are synonymous.

He hated those who thought about conscience, or the liberty and requirements of conscience, more than those that would give their consciences to the priest, and receive their religion from the king. Henry was acknowledged by the clergy in convocation, and by the senators in parliament, supreme head of the church of England. To commemorate the dignity thus acquired by sacrilegious invasion of Divine prerogatives, and the unjust assumption of the rights of his fellow-men, he had a medal struck significant of the change; on the obverse side, is his own bust, and, on the reverse, a long inscription, reciting the fact. The law then was, “ That archbishops, bishops, archdeacons, and other ecclesiastical persons, had no manner of jurisdiction ecclesiastical but by and under the king's majesty, the only undoubted supreme head of the church of England, to whom, by holy scripture, power and authority is given to hear and determine all manner of causes whatsoever, and to correct all sin and vice whatsoever."

According to this theory, the only fountain of ecclesiastical authority is the sovereign ; and the clergy have no power but what they derive from him ; the bishops rule and ordain the clergy as his ministers, having themselves been created at his command. The conscientious men who questioned the validity of these claims, and maintained their fealty to God and their Redeemer, were driven to

PENALTIES OF CONSCIENCE.

53

seek holes and corners for a hiding place. A plebeian reformation was in progress. Spontaneous, ardent, despising worldly considerations, a true moral revolution was undertaken, in the name and with the ardour of faith. The reformation sought after by the people was based on the word of God; and, reading it in their own homes, they exercised independent thoughts, were elevated in mind and character, and became superior to the trammels of that church which the sovereign had set up. Hence there were nonconformists in this country, even in the days of Henry the Eighth. A few did associate, though in obscure, remote, or perilous circumstances; and I am not sure but that as early as his time one or two little societies were formed, even in London, of baptist companies. At all events, very shortly after Henry's time, in Edward's reign, they did appear in London, as refugees from German persecution.

In the year 1539, thirty-one persons, fifteen women and sixteen men, were banished for opposing infant baptism. They sought an asylum at Delf in Hollands; but, being there prosecuted as anabaptists, they were put to death; the men were beheaded and the women were drowned. I, therefore, think it is probable they had in England associated on common principles. But the first distinct intimations of the formation of churches, as baptist communions, with which I am acquainted, bring. us to subsequent dates; viz. 1633, 1638, and 1639, under the pastorates of a Mr. Lathorp, a Mr. Spilsbury, and a Mr. Green.

Henry was succeeded by Edward the Sixth, an amiable prince, who died too soon for the country to know what he would have done as an independent man. But all will gladly welcome the assurance that he died a happy death, and is among those who cast their crowns at the feet of Jesus. He was succeeded by her who is called in the high protestant phraseology of England, “ Bloody

Mary,” his own sister. Mary was a zealot for the church of Rome, and wished to restore the church her father had disinherited. I am not sure that Mary was as bloody as Henry. She did but employ the royal supremacy which her father and brother had used before her, to turn things back into their old channels as she thought right. I am quite sure she did not persecute good men more than her sister Elizabeth. I believe she was a more amiable woman- —a woman less subject to the caprices and violences of passion—than the woman who is called “ Glorious Queen Bess.” Indeed, if I came to compare notes on their history, I should say, give me Mary a thousand times rather than Elizabeth.

Queen Mary declared, as she was bound to do in eonscience, that she was of that religion, for which she had previously shown herself willing to lose a crown and her life; and that “ she would be glad that all her subjects would charitably receive it.” But she avowed she had no intention "to compel any of her subjects to it, till public order should be taken in it by common assent.” It is but too probable that the royal will was led by priestly assumption ; and that the bitterness of revenge was added, by a Bonner and a Gardiner, to the ferocious and blood-thirsty propensities of the bigot. Personal animosity shrouded itself under religious rancour. But Mary waited till the laws of her predecessors were repealed by parliamentary enactment.

The history of England is not written concerning the truth of political and royal characters of that day. If you look into such works as Cartwright's Memoirs, and the “ Lives of the Puritans,” and examine the procedure of government, you will learn that many were lying in prison while Elizabeth reigned-holy men, men of unblemished character — not because they desired to create a rebellion ; not because they proposed to form an independent Christian church, which should be its

« ElőzőTovább »