Page images

regard to tradition or the decrees of the Church ; and the doctrine of justification was declared to "signify remission of sins, and acceptation into the favor of God, that is to say, a perfect renovation in Christ;" but auricular confèssion was held to be necessary, the corporal presence of Christ in the sacrament was maintained, doing reverence to images and praying to saints were approved of, and various other corruptions and mere ceremonial observances were left untouched.* This limited reformation gave

little satisfaction to any, one party thinking it too much, and the other too little ; yet it tended to encourage those who wished reform, with the hope that what was thus begun 'would be gradually and thoroughly accomplished.

[1539.] In the year 1538, the English translation of the Bible was published and injunctions were given to all the clergy to procure these Bibles, one for each Church, and to encourage all persons to peruse them; condemning, at the same time, the worship of images, and permitting the prayers to saints to be omitted. But while the reformers were rejoicing in this apparently rapid progress of the good work, their hopes were suddenly cast to the ground, and their prospects darkened. The very next year the king, on the pretext of putting an end to controversies in religion, required a committee to be appointed for the purpose of drawing up articles of agreement, to which all might consent. The committee could not agree, and the subject was brought before the House of Lords by the Duke of Norfolk, who named six articles for discussion. Notwithstanding the opposition of Cranmer, these articles were passed, and all the kingdom commanded to receive them, the penalty of opposition being, imprisonment, forfeitare of property, or death as heretics. They contained the following tenets ;-The real presence in the sacrament, communion in one kind only, the celibacy of the priesthood, that vows of chastity made by either sex should be observed, that private masses should be continued, and that auricular confession was necessary, and should be retained in the Church.t By this act it was rendered abundantly evident, that little of popery had been removed but the name ; or rather, that England had obtained, instead of an ecclesiastical, a royal pope. Yet, with remarkable inconsistency, or at least want of penetration, the king very soon after consented to an act permitting private persons to purchase Bibles, and keep them in their own possession. The short-sighted despot did not perceive that the private use of the Scriptures would soon teach his people the right of private judgment also in matters of religion, which all his boasted supremacy would not long be able to control.

* Burnet's Hist. Ref., vol. i. pp. 333-338. t Ibid., vol. i. pp. 400, 401.

The fall of Cromwell, caused in a great measure by the intrigues of the popish party, allowed them to regain considerable ascendency, and retarded the progress of reformation, though it still continued slowly to gain ground. An attempt was made by the popish bishops to procure the suppression of the Bible, on the ostensible ground of its being an inaccurate translation. This, however, they did not obtain ; but an act was made “about religion, the effect of which was, to empower the king to confirm, rescind, or change any act, or any provision in any act, that treated of religion: A more complete and arbitrary supremacy in all matters of religion, than was now possessed by Henry, it is almost impossible to imagine. And the effect was correspondent to the cause ; for the king, guided alone by his own fierce and capricious will, was almost equally hostile to both parties, popish and reforming, inflicting the extreme penalty of death upon either with indiscriminate severity. But the death of the king rescued the nation from intolerable oppression, and gave opportunity for the more earnest and successful prosecution of the great work of reformation under his young and amiable successor.

[1547.] No sooner had a suitable arrangement of civil affairs been effected by the regency, than Cranmer, supported by the Protector Somerset, and countenanced by the young king, Eđward VI., resumed the important duty of prosecuting the reformation of the Church. By an act of the preceding reign the proclamation of the king, or of his counsellors if under age, was of sufficient authority to enable them to proceed, as if by act of Parliament, in cases not otherwise provided for, so as not to encroach on the just liberties of the subject, or to interfere with other acts or proclamations. They accordingly sent out visiters over England, which was for that purpose divided into six circuits. The duty of those visitors was to inquire into all Church matters, to redress all wrongs, and remove all abuses, and particularly to ascertain the sufficiency or the reverse of the clergy throughout the country. Along with these visitors, they sent the most eminent preachers that could be found, to communicate sound and full instruction in the true principles of religion to both clergy and people. And to remedy the deplorable ignorance which everywhere prevailed among the clergy, some were appointed to compile homilies, explanatory of the most important doctrines and duties of Christianity. Several of these homilies contain very clear and forcible statements and elucidations of sacred truth, others are less valuable, and some are not a little erroneous in several respects. They were, however, well fitted to meet the necessities of an ignorant clergy and an uninstructed people ; but it could scarcely have been dreamed by Cranmer that the method devised by him for the remedy of a disease would be retained for its perpetuation,—that because he provided sermons and prayers for those who could neither preach nor pray, that would come to be regarded as a precedent of force enough to prevent learned and pious men from preparing sermons and prayers for themselves.

[1548.] The next reforming step was an act permitting the communion to be received in both kinds. Then followed another, prohibiting private masses. A catechism was soon afterwards prepared by Cranmer. And proceeding to investigate the offices, or ritual of the Church, it was at length determined that a new Liturgy should be prepared, as the best method of getting quit of the superstitions by which that in present use was disfigured. This Liturgy was confirmed by act of Parliament, in the year 1548–9, and its use commanded on the ultimate penalty of imprisonment for life.* About the same time, there were several severe proceedings against Anabaptists and other sectaries, one of whom, Joan of Kent, was condemned to the stake; but the mild and gentle young king could not be induced to sign the warrant for her execution without

* Burnet's Hist. Ref., vol. ü. pp. 116, 127

[ocr errors]

the urgent persuasions of Cranmer himself, who, in this instance, as also in those of Lambert, and Anne Askew, in the preceding reign, forgot the spirit of that gentle and gracious religion of which he was so eminent a teacher and reformer. *

[1550-1.] The Book of Ordinations was next made and ratified, which had another tendency to give a character of fixed rigidity to the Church of England. The evil consequence of undue strictness in matters of mere form and ceremony was soon apparent, when Hooper refused to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal vestments. This simple-minded and sincere reformer condemned these vestments as human inventions, brought in by tradition or custom, and not suitable to the simplicity of the Christian religion. Few impartial persons will doubt that he was perfectly in the right, both in point of fact and in propriety of feeling ; for no one can deny the human origin of such matters, and few will regard them as conferring dignity on the Gospel, so glorious in its divine simplicity. But he was to learn one direct consequence of the sovereign's supremacy, namely, that there was to be an order of the clergy decked with courtly adornments, and in that respect at least “conformed to the world,” contrary to the apostolic precept. A great and wide-spread controversy arose on this subject. Correspondence was held with foreign Churches and divines, with the view of ascertaining their opinion respecting the lawfulness of obeying the civil magistrate's order to use such vestments in the worship of God. Various opinions were given, many of the best and wisest men being extremely grieved that dangerous disputes should arise about matters not in their own nature of vital importance. Bucer recommended compliance; but wished these vestments disused, as connected with superstition, and a more complete reformation established. At length a compromise was effected. Hooper was required to wear the episcopal vestments when he was consecrated, and when he preached before the king, or in a cathedral; but was permitted to lay them aside on other occasions. This slight matter was a sufficient indication, that the reformation was to be stopped whenever it had reached as far as the king and court thought proper; and that those who wished for further reformation, and aimed at again realizing primitive simplicity and purity, would be constrained to pause, and painfully to submit to what they could not remedy. It might have been regarded as of little consequence what vestments were worn in public worship; but it was a matter of grave and serious import to find that conscientious feelings in affairs of religion were to be overborne by the dictate of the civil magistrate. From this time forward there began to be a party in Eng land who longed for a more complete reformation than had been or could be obtained, although it was not till a considerably later period that this party attracted public attention under a distinctive name.

• Burnets Hist. Ref., vol. ii. p. 179.

† Ibid., vol. ii. p. 245, et seq.

[1552.] In the year 1552, the alterations which had been made in the book of Common Prayer by the reformers during the course of the preceding year, were ratified by act of Parliament, and ordered to be universally employed, under the penalties by which the previous Liturgy had been enforced. In the same year the Articles of Religion were prepared, chiefly by Cranmer and Ridley, and published by the king's authority, a short time before his lamented death.* A book was also drawn up for giving rules to the ecclesiastical courts in all matters of government and discipline; but this was never ratified, as the king's decease took place before it was fully prepared. This was, perhaps, the greatest misfortune that befell the Church of England, in consequence of the premature death of Edward, as it was thereby left totally without government or discipline, such as, though limited by the acknowledged regal supremacy, might yet have been, in the first instance, administered by its own courts. Hence it became impossible for the Church of England to exercise any direct influence in checking immorality, reforming abuses, or even in preserving its own most sacred ordinances from profanation. Even Burnet laments its want of the power to exercise discipline, and suggests the desirableness that the power of excommunication might yet be brought into the Church.f Such, however, was the inevitable consequence of making the king the Supreme Head of the

* Burnet's Hist. Ref., vol. iii. pp. 308-310.

ť Ibid., vol. ii. p. 326.

« PreviousContinue »