John Albert 1843- Babington.

The reformation; a religious and historical sketch online

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inconsistencies in which they were involved, and had
taken the full measure of the obstacles and difficulties
which still lay in their path ? One fact alone was evident
to the dullest observer. The people and the Church
could not long remain as they were : the only choice lay
between retracing their steps towards the Medieval system
which Henry had abandoned, and pressing on in the
course which the Continental reformers and their friends
in England had already marked out.

It would have been well for the Reformation of the


Church of England if, under these changed circumstances,
the Primate who directed her policy and administered her
affairs had possessed the qualities which are imperatively
required of the leaders of men during troubled times.
Had Cranmer lived among the theological calms of the
eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, when his excellent
qualities would have had full play and his culpable
weaknesses would have lurked in obscurity, he might
have taken a very high place among the Primates of
the English Church. But on the stormy arena of the
sixteenth century, where the stage was filled by spiritual
gladiators, who feared nothing and trembled before no
man, the weak and timorous Archbishop shrinks into
insignificance. Beza justly boasted on a memorable
occasion that his Church was an anvil which had worn
out many hammers. But Cranmer was an anvil which the
lightest blow of any hammer could shiver into fragments.
No man who is called to a high place among his fellow
men has any right to accept the honours, and enjoy the
privileges, of his exalted station, while he shrinks from
its duties and evades its responsibilities. Yet this was
precisely what Cranmer did. The most convinced and
ardent believer in the divine right of Kings, such as Laud
or Bancroft, could not have accepted more unreservedly
the maxim that whatever the King did was right. When
the measures which Henry took were unusually startling
or exceptionally high-handed, Cranmer could only heave
the deepest sighs, cast up his eyes, lift up his hands, and
break out into a wail of despondency and regret. He had
all the servility of Bonner and Gardiner with much less
excuse than they could plead. If on any point he differed
from the King, he instantly lulled the suspicions, and
disarmed the jealousy, of his patron by the humblest
apology for his transient independence of thought and
momentary aberration of judgment. He was naturally
rewarded by the amplest measure of Henry's favour and
protection. His real piety and goodness gained the

R. '


King's esteem, his ability and learning won the King's
respect, and his undeviating pliability secured the King's
support. But it may be confidently affirmed that no man
with a high sense of rectitude and a keen sense of self-
respect could have stooped to play the pitiful part which
Cranmer played during the reign of Henry the Eighth.
Not even the palest reflection of the spirit and courage
which animated his great contemporaries could be dis-
cerned in the English Primate.

It was not long before the predominant party in the State
declared for the Reformation. How far this decision was
prompted by conscientious motives is more than doubtful.
Northumberland, the most prominent among them, con-
fessed on the scaffold that he had passed through the
reign of Edward with a lie in his right hand. Even if his
comrades were not such consummate hypocrites as he was,
there is nothing in their lives to justify the historian in
crediting them with the honour which feels a stain like
a wound. During Henry's reign they had profited by
ecclesiastical plunder ; the store was not yet completely
exhausted ; and they probably saw that under a show
of religious zeal they would be able to gratify their
unsatisfied cupidity. The Archbishop took no steps to
correct their error. Other voices were raised even in the
King's presence to denounce the growing immorality of
political and social life, to uphold the rights of the poor,
to plead the cause of education, and to assert the claims
of neglected parishioners ; but the Primate held his peace.
Distinguished members of the Council prostituted their
influence and power to base and selfish purposes ; but no
rebuke and no protest passed the Primate's lips. Com-
missioners were sent round to purify the churches from
images, pictures, and superstitious objects ; and Cranmer,
who ought to have recognized more clearly than any one
how little these violent proceedings, carried out under
such auspices, could advance the cause which he had at
heart, suffered them to go on their way unchecked. Even



when a serious rising in the western counties, hardly less
formidable than the Pilgrimage of Grace, showed how
deeply the people were attached to the old faith, and how
vehemently they were opposed to the new doctrines in
districts where the conservative elements of the nation
were strongest, Cranmer lacked the power or the will to
recognize the real significance of these events. They
might have shown him that the method of his deceased
master had been radically wrong; that a people's fciith
must be determined by the people themselves, not by
authoritative declarations of insincere rulers ; that a real
Reformation could only be carried out by convincing the
reason and touching the heart, not by overbearing the
will ; that ten earnest, able, and self-denying Preachers,
who spoke out of the abundance of a full heart, would
supply the little leaven to leaven the whole lump more
effectively than five hundred lukewarm or hypocritical
Vicars, who droned out beautiful services and masterly
homilies at the bidding of the State ; and that an Act of
Uniformity, if it were supported by the strongest and
healthiest elements in the country, might work marvels,
but if it were resisted by the avowed or secret antagonism
of a vast and reluctant majority, would assuredly end in
disaster, and leave the last state of the nation worse than
the first.

The Injunctions issued to the Clergy in 1547 give a
vivid picture of the methods which commended themselves
to the King's vicegerents, and the ideals at which they
aimed. The chief duty of every beneficed clergyman was
to lavish all the treasury of his eloquence and learning
four times a year in the task of inveighing against the
Bishop of Rome's usurped authority. It was a duty of
less importance to preach "once every quarter at the
least " in person or by proxy on the works of faith, mercy,
and charity. What zeal could be inspired, what instruction
could be conveyed, or what impression could be produced
on hostile, indifferent, ignorant, or earnest parishioners by

T 2


this quarterly sermon, the authors of the Injunctions did
not explain. But this command did not exhaust the
Preacher's material ; for he was also bound to set forth
the iniquity of pilgrimages, candles, tapers, images,
relics, praying upon beads, " and like superstition." On
Sundays, when no sermon was preached, the Incumbent
should repeat from the pulpit the Lord's Prayer, the
Creed, and the Ten Commandments in English, that the
people might learn them by heart. In every^ church a
Bible should be placed, and an English version of
Erasmus' Paraphrase of the Gospels, and each Minister
should exhort his flock to read them. The Clergy should
refrain from haunting taverns and alehouses, from drinking
and riot, from wasting their time, from cards and dice.
" But at all times (as they shall have leisure) they shall
hear and read somewhat of Holy Scripture." Every Lent
all who came to confession should be examined in the
Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments,
and should be admonished '' not to presume to come to
God's Board without a perfect knowledge " of them. If
any of the Clergy had previously extolled pilgrimages,
relics, images, or kissing and decking of images and
kneeling before them, they should openly recant and
reprove their previous teaching, and show that they had
no Scriptural grounds for it. All hinderers of God's
Word, and favourers of the Pope's pretended power,
should be reported to the Council. Every non-resident
Incumbent was bound to spend upon the poor of the parish
a tithe of the yearly revenue which he drew from it, " lest
he be worthily noted of ingratitude." If he receive from
his "benefices and other promotions in the Church"
^100 a year, he shall give out of it an exhibition to some
scholar, and for every additional ;f 100 another exhibition,
either at Oxford or Cambridge or at some German
University. Every Minister of the Gospel should possess
in Latin and English the New Testament and the Para-
phrase of Erasmus, should diligently study them, and


should be examined in them by the Bishops at tlicir
Synods and Visitations. As the sick and dying often sink
into despair, the Clergy " shall learn and have always
in readiness such comfortable places and sentences of
Scripture as do set forth the mercy, benefits, and goodness
of Almighty God towards all penitent and believing
persons." The abuses which had crept into the obser-
vance of holy days, and which led the people to imagine
that the hearing of Mass or of some other service justified
them in giving up the rest of the day to idleness, pride,
drunkenness, brawling, and quarrelling, were sternly
blamed. It was ordered that in future they should spend
the day according to God's holy will and pleasure in
hearing the Word, in communicating, in prayers, in works
of charity, and in godly employments. But the Clergy
should instruct their parishioners that they might in time
of harvest labour without scruple of conscience even upon
holy days and festivals. The higher dignitaries of the
Church were not bound to preach more than twice in the
year ; they should instruct those committed to their
charge of the great danger of superstitious ceremonies,
such as throwing holy water upon their bed, bearing about
them holy bread, ringing holy bells, and blessing with
holy candles. A Poor chest shall be kept in every church,
and parishioners shall be exhorted to give to it what they
have previously bestowed upon pilgrimages, trentals,
decking of images, offering of candles, gifts to Friars,
*' and other like blind devotions." The money derived
from Fraternities and Guilds, from gifts or bequests for
providing torches, lights, tapers, and lamps, shall be
added to the same fund. Simony in its various forms
was stringently forbidden, whether in the Clergy who
obtained benefices, or in the laity who disposed of them,
by iniquitous means. Finally, as the people in many
parts were sunk in ignorance and blindness, the Clergy
were ordered to read one of the homilies every Sunday.
These Injunctions went far beyond any orders of the


same kind which had been issued in Henry's reign, and
disaffection soon broke out among the Bishops. Bonner
and Gardiner, after some hesitation and shuffling, headed
the ecclesiastical insurrection against the new system^ ;
others followed their example ; and this enabled the Council
to deprive them of their Bishoprics and to place sounder
Protestants in their Sees. Another insurrection in an
opposite quarter embarrassed the Archbishop and the
Council much more. Hooper, one of the most zealous
and able of the Evangelical Preachers, was appointed to
the Bishopric of Gloucester, but refused on conscientious
grounds to wear the episcopal robes, an ominous symptom
of a prejudice which soon pervaded the Evangelical ranks
far more widely. At length he gave way, not however
till he had spent some days in the Fleet prison.

The party to which Hooper belonged had been largely
reinforced by allies from without. The news of the change
which had come over the English Church since Henry's
death spread to the Continent ; and many exiles who had
been driven from their own countries by persecution sought
refuge in England. The active intercourse which they
kept up with the English Protestants, and the influence
which their noble surrender, for conscience' sake, of worldly
advantages and earthly ties deservedly gave them,
undoubtedly added not a little to the strength of the
Reformation in London and the eastern counties.
Cranmer's hospitality to these exiles, and the constant
efforts which he made to utilize their learning and ability for
the service of his own Church, are among the most pleasing
features of his episcopate. A Divinity Professorship at
Cambridge was given to Bucer, and at Oxford to Peter
Martyr. Fagius, one of the best Oriental scholars in
Europe, was appointed to a Professorship of Hebrew.
Foreign Churches were formed in London, and the sim-
plicity of their service and of their system powerfully
attracted men who held the opinions of Hooper.

Unquestionably the greatest work which Cranmer


undertook and carried out, a work for which his learning
his abiHty, and his temperament singularly fitted him, was
the completion of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
Not only has the use of the Prayer Book been one of the
most distinctive features of the Anglican Church, the
Prayer Book itself is the most important liturgical work
which any Reformed Church has produced. As a rule,
the breach with the Medieval Church had led the Reformed
Churches to reject liturgical forms. They had for the
most part, and with unimportant exceptions, adopted the
practice of extemporaneous prayer which had prevailed
in the Apostolic Church. They shrank from the use of
prayers composed and uttered in an unknown tongue,
which, through an evil custom of long standing, had degene-
rated into mechanical forms and vain repetitions scarcely
less absurd and less harmful than the praying-wheels of
the Buddhists. If the Church of England formed an
exception, it is easy to find the explanation. No doubt the
conservative instincts of Cranmer and his friends led them
to bridge over as far as possible the gulf which yawned
between themselves and the Medieval Church. No doubt
they desired to make the inclusion within the pale of the
Anglican Church as easy as possible for the great multitude
of those who were halting between two opinions. But
there were other reasons more cogent than these. A large
number of Clergy were still so ignorant that they were as
incapable of offering up extemporary prayers as of preaching
extemporary sermons. For them the Prayer Book was as
necessary as the Book of Homilies. A still larger number
of the Clergy were in heart members of the Church of
Rome, and, if they were allowed to conduct their own
services, could not be trusted even for one Sunday to dis-
charge their duties in a manner perfectly satisfactory to
the Archbishop and the Council. Who could be sure that,
if such secret Romanists were left to their own devices,
they would not surreptitiously introduce into the prayers
the name of that false usurper, the Bishop of Rome, or of


that rebel and traitor, Thomas a Becket ? that the worst
features of the Canon of Mass would not reappear in the
administration of the Eucharist, and that the sacrament
of Baptism would not be tainted with the gravest of the
Scholastic and Medieval errors ? To guard against such
real and pressing dangers, it was before all things necessary
to draw up full services which should meet all the wants of
the Church, and to bind the Clergy absolutely to the use
of them by an Act of Uniformity.

Apart from its form, there is nothing in the substance ot
the Prayer Book as revised by Cranmer and again under
Elizabeth to mark any difference of real importance
between the Anglican and the other Reformed Churches.
On more than one point its doctrine approximates less
closely than the doctrine of the Lutheran Church to
the teaching of the Church of Rome. Its Eucharistic
doctrine, in particular, follows the type of Calvin and not
the type of Luther. Knox, indeed, with the one-sided
extravagance which was the most fatal flaw in his noble
character, declared that the Prayer Book reproduced the
worst errors, and countenanced the worst superstitions, of
the Church of Rome, and detected in the petition of the
Litany against " lightning, tempest, and sudden death,"
the cloven hoof of the Beast. But it is certain that there
is nothing in the Prayer Book to which Luther and
Melanchthon would have objected on the score of its
Romanism, even if they might have demurred to more than
one passage on the ground of its excessive Protestantism.
Although the Anglican Church, following the Scandi-
navian Churches, has retained Episcopacy, and requires
Episcopal ordination for all its Ministers, the compilers of
the Prayer Book are careful to make it clear that their
Church has accepted the Protestant view of the Christian
Ministry, and not the Roman view of a sacrificing Priest-
hood. The omission of the ceremony which held the
central place in the Medieval ordination to the Priest-
hood, the delivery of the Eucharistic vessels, proved with


unmistakable significance how completely the Anglican
Church rejected the Medieval conception of the office.
Equally significant were the questions which the Bishop
asked the candidates and the commission which he delivered
to them. In both they are reminded that the primary duty
of the Christian Minister is to preach the Gospel, and his
secondary duty to administer the Sacraments. It would
be impossible to reassert more completely Saint Paul's
teaching, or to reverse more explicitly the Medieval view.
The Bishop's address in the Ordering of Priests, one of
the noblest passages of religious eloquence for elevation of
thought and beauty of language, might have been delivered
without the change of a single word by Luther in Saxony,
or Calvin in Geneva, or Bugenhagen in Denmark, or Knox
in Scotland. The chief doctrines of the Anglican Church
embodied in the Thirty-nine Articles are in perfect harmony
with the rest of the Prayer Book and the other Reformed
Confessions of Faith. That all Orders of the Ministry are
permitted by God's Word to enter the holy estate of
matrimony ; that Episcopacy is not absolutely essential
to the existence of a true Church ; that all Christians, no
matter in what particular or national Church they have
been baptized, are made in Baptism members of Christ,
children of God, and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven ;
that prayers for the temporal Governors must take prece-
dence of the prayers for the Church's spiritual Heads ; that
Princes alone have the right to summon General Councils :
these are a few of the notable tenets which prove, if proof
were needed, that the English Church rejected the
distinctive features of the Medieval system.

Even more remarkable was the attitude which the
authors of the Prayer Book took up towards the services
of the Medieval Church. They referred emphatically to
Saint Paul's rule that the service should be read in a
language which the people could understand, and there-
fore rejected Latin, which the Church of the Middle Ages
had exalted into a sacred language. The)- reproved the


Medieval practice of mutilating the Bible, according to
which three or four chapters of a Book were read in the
public worship of the Church and all the rest omitted ;
they arranged for the reading of the Bible in due order ;
and to make this possible, they cut out " Anthems,
Responds, and Invitations, and such hke things as did
break the continued course of the reading of Scripture."
A great number of rubrics were rejected, the effect of which
had been that it was more difficult "to find out what
should be read than to read it when it was found out."
Many things which w^ere false, doubtful, vain, and supersti-
tious were omitted, and nothing retained but " the pure
Word of God, or that which is agreeable to the same."

Still more striking was the manner in which they dealt
with ceremonies. The rule which they laid down on the
threshold of their work was, that no ceremonies should
be retained, except such as served for " s. decent order in
the Church " or tended to edification. They swept away
all that had been turned to vanity and superstition, or
introduced into the Church by indiscreet devotion and
a zeal without knowledge, or had blinded the people,
obscured the glory of God, and darkened, instead of
setting forth, the benefits of Christ. They enlarged upon
the excessive multitude and the intolerable burden of the
Medieval ceremonies, which changed Christ's Gospel into
a ceremonial law instead of a religion for serving God
" not in bondage of the figure but in freedom of the
spirit " ; and commented bitterly on the insatiable avarice
** of such as sought more their own lucre than the glory
of God." In conclusion, they expressly state that in
this they, unlike their successors, condemned no other
nation, nor proscribed anything except to their own
people : " for we think it convenient that every country
should use such ceremonies as they shall think best to
the setting forth of God's honour and glory, and to the
reducing of the people to a most perfect and godly living,
without error or superstition; and that they should put


away other things which from time to time they per-
ceive to be most abused, as in men's ordinances it often
chanceth diversely in divers countries."

What the condition of the Church was at the close of
Edward's reign cannot be exactly determined. Thousands
of clergymen, who had complacently exchanged the supre-
macy of the Pope for the supremacy of Henry, exchanged
the supremacy of Henry with equal complacency for the
supremacy of the Prayer Book. No country in Europe could
present such an unique spectacle of consciences which were
readily sold to the lowest as well as to the highest bidder.
Economic distress and civil war, the moral example of
unprincipled statesmen, and the religious example of
churchmen who strained at gnats and swallowed camels,
assuredly had not tended to foster a deeply religious spirit
among the mass of the population. Now and then for a
moment the curtain is lifted, and we catch glimpses of
churches in which not a single sermon had been preached
for five or six years, of avowed Romanists thrust upon
parishes by simoniacal transactions, of the property of
Grammar Schools sold to grasping landowners, of cattle
given to the poor and forcibly taken from them, of
Episcopal and Cathedral lands which were confiscated on
the pious plea that excessive wealth had in bygone times
demoralized the Clergy, of monstrous exactions practised
upon the laity at time of marriage, or burial, or payment
of tithes, of priests who while conforming outwardly to
the Reformed doctrine claimed the right to hold what
opinions they pleased, of Incumbents with five or six
livings apiece, of patrons who bestowed benefices on their
stewards or huntsmen on condition of receiving half the
income, of services gabbled till they were as unintclhgible
as the tongues of Calicut or Tunis, of baptisms slurred
over, of marriages converted into comedies, of the total
absence of all catechizing for the instruction of the
ignorant, of open sinners unrebukcd by any public or
private admonitions, of buying, selling, and gaming m


churches and their precincts, of great men appropriating
moneys bequeathed to the Universities, of laymen who
bought Hvings and left the parishes without Ministers,
of the richest parsonages converted from " shepherds'
houses" into "thievish dens," of parsons' deputies with-
out ability, power, and authority to do anything but
extort ecclesiastical dues, of gentlemen seizing upon
benefices worth £40 or £^0 a year and hiring for five or
six pounds curates who never went near them, of noblemen
rewarding their servants with livings in their gifts, of
a thousand pulpits in England covered with dust, of
simple country folk saying of their Curate, " He minisheth
God's sacraments, he slubbereth up His service, and he
cannot read the homilies." Such were some of the fruits
of five years' Evangelical zeal under the leadership of
Somerset, Northumberland, and Cranmer.

If the conduct of religious affairs during Edward's
reign had not been of a nature to prejudice the people in
favour of the Reformation, still less had the conduct of

Online LibraryJohn Albert 1843- BabingtonThe reformation; a religious and historical sketch → online text (page 24 of 31)