« PreviousContinue »
Christian. From such a privilege the public generally will infer that these pages are occupied by a subject worthy of investigation, and that endeavours to vindicate our national religion from the charge of novelty are very far from hopeless.
That an elevation, which has ever enjoyed the rare felicity of affording universal satisfaction, may long continue to benefit the Church of England, is the earnest prayer,
My Lord Archbishop,
July 8, 1830.
FROM the publication of Ælfric's decisive testimonies against transubstantiation early in the reign of queen Elizabeth, it has become generally known, that the principal Romish article of belief was not entertained by the Anglo-Saxon Church. Archbishop Parker, under whose judicious patronage this important fact was communicated to the world, numbered, among many qualities of higher value, a liberal taste for our national antiquities, especially for such of them as concerned his own profession. Hence he diligently improved the opportunities afforded by opulence and high station, for preserving from farther injury the wreck of those monastic libraries which had been so wisely and munificently accumulated by former generations, so inexcusably spoiled and neglected by his own. Probably, therefore, this discreet, learned, and virtuous metropolitan was perfectly aware, that, besides transubstantiation, several other distinctive features of the religion recently overthrown were at variance with the theological remains of ancient England. The numerous and anxious avocations, however, necessarily pressing upon official eminence in an agitated period, are amply sufficient to account for the very limited use made of these literary treasures when first consigned to a custody professedly Protestant. Perhaps, also, archbishop Parker even doubted the expediency of encouraging his contemporaries to form prematurely an extensive acquaintance with the monuments of Anglo-Saxon divinity. These venerable records, it is true, supply most remarkable confirmations of those religious principles which the reformers established. But then they also inculcate various usages and ceremonies which separatists from Rome abolished as cumbrous or pernicious. Vainly would men generally have been reminded, when established opinions were violently ejected, and pecuniary spoliation lent acrimony to polemical discussion, that mere externals could only afford a superficial and seeming encouragement to the papal system. The times would hardly allow the great mass of minds to distinguish accurately and effectively between dogmatic and ecclesiastical traditions. Where attachment to Romish principles and usages swayed the affections, it would have been certainly assumed, that countenance from the latter class of traditions was conclusive in favour of the former class also. Daily experience of such a disposition would obviously have a tendency to restrain cautious leaders of public opinion from communicating information for which society hitherto had become but imperfectly ripe. The days, however, for maintaining this reserve rapidly wore away, and in the next age, accordingly, Abraham Whelock, public librarian at Cambridge, gave general satisfaction, by proving, among his Notes upon Bede, from the Saxon homilies under his care, that our Ante-Norman fathers differed from the modern Romanists upon many other doctrines besides that of transubstantiation. The extracts, however, establishing this important fact being mere appendages to one among the editions of Bede, were not placed in a situation to attract permanently extensive notice, and they seem now to have become in a great measure forgotten. It has hence been indolently assumed by the great majority of men, that the Reformation expelled from the Church of England a series of doctrines which had been entertained, with the exception of transubstantiation, uninterruptedly within her bosom ever since the time of Augustine. Whelock's Bede would not allow the writer of these pages
to doubt that our public libraries must afford ample means of convicting this assumption of unsoundness. He was induced, accordingly, to venture upon the task of exploring these noble repositories, and of embodying the result of his inquiries in the present volume.
In this will be found some evidence hitherto unpublished, and that already easy of access, ranged under the several heads to which the various portions of it respectively belong. The whole work will therefore, it is hoped, supply such as are desirous of investigating the ancient religion of England with much greater facilities than those which are offered for that purpose by any former publication.
The Saxon extracts have been translated into English; the venerable language of our distant ancestry being but little understood. These trans lations have been made with strict literal fidelity. Such a servile adherence to the original text appeared indispensable in matters of evidence. It was, besides, thought not undesirable to exhibit the style and phraseology of those from whom we derive mainly our present speech. This object has led also to the preservation of their Latin forms in proper names, and in some other words, adopted by the Anglo-Saxons from the ecclesiastical literature of Rome, and transferred unchanged into their own books. In the spelling of Saxon words the MSS. have been followed. The extracts from Latin MSS. do not, however, appear with an equal degree of orthographical accuracy. A habit of writing the same words in a different form often imperceptibly affected the transcripts ; and hence it became impossible, in many cases, on preparing these pages for the press, to ascertain the ancient scribe's orthography without a new reference to