Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

226

Condition of the Lower Orders.

truces of God,” repeatedly enforced by ecclesiastical authority, or by establishing between the combatants themselves those courtesies which are at once the chief grace and glory of chivalry; but, to judge by the result as offered, even so late as the eighteenth century, those attempts must be regarded as

having proved altogether abortive. Backward England, at the close of the Age of Faith, had for long been condition of England. a chief pecuniary tributary to Italy, the source from which

large revenues had been drawn, the fruitful field in which herds of Italian ecclesiastics had been pastured. A wonderful change was impending. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the island was far more backward intellectually and politically than is commonly supposed. Its population hardly reached five millions, and was stationary at that point, not so much because of the effects of civil and foreign war as merely through the operation of ordinary economical causes. There was no reason to call more men into existence. It was regarded as good statesmanship to maintain the population at a constant standard. The municipal policy corresponded to the national; it was not so much advanced as that contemporaneously existing in Peru. Swarms of idle ecclesiastics had set such a per

nicious example that the indisposition among common people Apparent to work had become quite a formidable difficulty. In every decline of

village there were stocks for the punishment of “valiant begrity. gars," as they were termed. By the act of 1531, vagrants

“whole and mighty in body" caught begging for the first time might be whipped at the cart-tail; the second time their ears were to be slit; by the act of 1536, if caught the third time, they were to be put to death. In all directions large towns were falling into decay, a misfortune popularly attributed to the laziness of the lower orders, but in reality due to causes of a very different kind. Hitherto land had been the representative of authority and the source of power. Society had been organized upon that imperfect basis; a descending scale of landed proprietors had been established, and in that system every man had a place assigned to him, just as in Peru, though less perfectly. It was a system of organized labour, the possession of land being a trust, not a property. But now commerce

its

prospe

[blocks in formation]

ted to the

irritation of

was beginning to disturb the foundations on which all these arrangements had been sustained, and to compel a new distribution of population; trading companies were being established; men were unsettled by the rumours or realities of im. mense fortunes rapidly gained in foreign adventure. Maritime enterprise was thus not only dislocating society, but even destroying its spirit, substituting self-interest for loyalty. A na. It is impution so illiterate that many of its peers in Parliament could clergy. neither read nor write, was hardly able to trace the troubles befalling it to their proper source; with one voice it imputed them to the bad example and shortcomings of the clergy. Long before Henry VIII., England was ready for the suppression of the monasteries. She regarded them as the very hotbeds of her evils. There were incessant complaints against the clergy for their scandalous lusts, for personal impurities such as in modern times we do not allude to, for their holding of livings in plurality, for their extortion of exorbitant profits, and neglect in the discharge of their duty. In the public opinion, Causes of to so great an extent had these immoralities gone, that it was the laity openly asserted that there were one hundred thousand women

against the

clergy. in England made dissolute by the clergy. It was well known that brothels were kept in London for their use. affirmed that the confessional was shamefully abused, and, through it, advantage taken of females; that the vilest crime in an ecclesiastic might be commuted for money, six shillings and eightpence being sufficient in the case of mortal sin. Besides these general causes of complaint, there were some which, though of a minor, were not of a less irritating kind; such, for instance, as the mortuary, soul-shot, or corpse present, a claim for the last dress worn by persons brought to a priest for burial, or some exaggerated commutation thereof. That such was the demoralized condition of the English Accusation

against the Church, and such its iniquitous relations to the people, we have clergy by the most unimpeachable evidence, under circumstances of an of Comimposing and solemn character. The House of Commons brought an accusation against the clergy before the king. When Parliament met A.D. 1529, that House, as its very first act, declared to the sovereign that sedition and heresy were

It was

the House

mons.

228

Charges of Parliament against them.

pervading the land, and that it had become absolutely necessary to apply a corrective. It affirmed that the troubles into which the realm had fallen were attributable to the clergy; that the chief foundation, occasion, and cause thereof was the parallel jurisdiction of the Church and State ; that the incompatible legislative authority of Convocation lay at the bottom of the mischief. Among other specific points it alleged the following :—That the houses of convocation made laws without the royal assent, and without the consent or even the knowledge of the people; that such laws were never published in the English language, and that nevertheless men were daily punished under them without ever having had an opportunity to eschew the penalties; that the demoralization extended from the Archbishop of Canterbury down to the lowest priest, that dignitary having tampered with the dispatch of justice in his Court of Arehes; that parsons, vicars, priests, and curates were in the habit of denying the administration of the sacraments save upon the payment of money; that

poor men were harassed without any legal cause in the spiritual courts for the mere purpose of extortion, and exorbitant fees were exacted from them without cause; that the probate of wills was denied except on the gratification of the appetite of prelates and ordinaries for money; that the high ecclesiastics extorted large sums for the induction of persons into benefices, and that they did daily confer benefices on "young folk,” their nephews and relatives, being minors, for the purpose of detaining the fruits and profits in their own hands; that the bishops illegally imprisoned, sometimes for a year or more, persons in their jails, without informing them of the cause of their imprisonment or the name of their accuser; that simple, unlearned men, and even “well-witted” ones, were entrapped by subtle questions into heresy in the ecclesiastical courts, and punishment procured against them.

These are serious charges; they imply that the Church had degenerated into a contrivance for the extortion of money. The House of Commons petitioned the king to make such laws as should furnish a remedy. The king submitted the petition to the bishops, and required of them an answer.

Reply of the Bishops.

229 In that answer the ecclesiastical manner of thought is very Reply of striking. The bishops insist that the laws of the realm shall to that acgive way to the canon law, or, if incompatible, shall be altered cusation, so as to suit it; they identify attacks on themselves with those on the doctrine of the Church, a time-honoured and well-tried device; they affirm that they have no kind of enmity against the laymen, “their ghostly children, but only against the pestilent poison of heresy; that their authority for making laws is grounded on the Scriptures, to which the laws of the realm must be made to conform; that they cannot conscientiously permit the king's consent to the laws, since that would be to put him in the stead of God, under whose inspiration they are made; that, as to troubling poor men, it is the Holy Ghost who inspireth them to acts tending to the wealth of his elect folk, that, if any ecclesiastic hath offended in this respect, though “in multis offendimus omnes," as St. James hath it, let him bear his own fault, and let not the whole Church be blamed ; that the Protestants, their antagonists, are lewd, idle fellows, who have embraced the abominable opinions recently sprung up in Germany; that there are many advantages in commuting Church penances and censures for money; that tithes are a divine institution, and that debts of money owing to God may be recovered after one hundred or seven hundred years of non-payment, since God can never lose his rights thereto; that, however, it is not well to collect a tithe twice over; that priests may lawfully engage in secular occupations of a certain kind; that the punishments inflicted on the laymen have been for the health of their souls, and that, generally, the saints may claim powers to which common men are not entitled.

A fierce struggle between the Commons and the bishops en - The House sued; but the House was firm, and passed several bills, and Clergy Disamong them the Clergy Discipline Act. The effect was to cipline Act. cut down ecclesiastical incomes, probate and legacy duties were defined, mortuaries were curtailed, extortionate fees for burial terminated, clergymen were forbidden to engage in farming, tanning, brewing, or to buy merchandise for the purpose of selling it again. It was made unlawful any longer to

by his

peo

230 Compulsory Submission of the Bishops.
hold eight or nine benefices, or to purchase dispensations for
not doing duty; they were compelled to reside in the parishes
for the care of which they were paid, under penalty of £10
a month; and it was made a high penal offence to obtain.
dispensations from any of the provisions of this act from

Rome. The Church Nothing could be more significant of the position of the is compelled to submit. parties than the high-toned, the conservative moderation of

these acts. The bishops did not yield, however, without a struggle. In all directions from the pulpits arose a cry of "atheism," " lack of faith," "heresy." But the House resolutely stood to its ground. Still more, it sent its speaker to the king with a complaint against the Bishop of Rochester, who had dared to stigmatize it as “infidel.” The bishop was

compelled to equivocate and apologize. The king is The English nation and their king were thus together in sustained

the suppression of the monasteries; they were together in ple,

the enforcing of ecclesiastical reforms. It was nothing but
this harmony which so quickly brought the clergy to reason,
and induced them, in 1532, to anticipate both Parliament and
the people in actually offering to separate themselves from
Rome. In the next year the king had destroyed the vast
power which in so many centuries had gathered round eccle-
siastical institutions, and had forced the clergy into a fitting
subordination. Henceforth there was no prospect that they
would monopolize all the influential and lucrative places in the
realm ; henceforth, year by year,

with
many

vicissitudes and changes, their power continued to decline. Their special pursuit, theology, was separated more and more perfectly from politics. In the House of Lords, of which they had once con

stituted one-half, they became a mere shadow. Religious Henry VIII. cannot, therefore, be properly considered as feeling of the nation the author of the downfall of ecclesiasticism in England, changed.

though he was the instrument by which it was ostensibly accomplished. The derisive insinuation that the Gospel light had flashed upon him from Anna Boleyn's eyes was far from expressing all the truth. The nullity of Papal disciplines, excommunications, interdicts, penances, proved that the old tone

« AnteriorContinuar »