History of the Reformation, vol. 5


History of the Reformation—Volume 5


In the four previous volumes the author has described the origin and essential development of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century on the Continent; he has now to relate the history of the Reformation in England. HRSCV5 i.1

The notes will direct the reader to the principal sources whence the author has derived his information. Most of them are well known; some, however, had not been previously explored, among which are the later volumes of the State Papers published by order of Government, by a Commission of which the illustrious Sir Robert Peel was the first president. Three successive Home Secretaries, Sir James Graham, Sir George Grey, and the Honorable Mr. S. H. Walpole, have presented the author with copies of the several volumes of this great and important collection; in some instances they were communicated to him as soon as printed, which was the case in particular with the seventh volume, of which he has made much use. He takes this opportunity of expressing his sincere gratitude to these noble friends of literature. HRSCV5 i.2

The History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century was received with cordiality on the Continent, but it has had a far greater number of readers in the British dominions and in the United States. The author looks upon the relations which this work had established between him and many distant Christians, as a precious reward for his labors. Will the present volume be received in those countries as favorably as the others? A foreigner relating to the Anglo-Saxon race the history of their Reformation is at a certain disadvantage; and although the author would rather have referred his readers to works, whether of old or recent date, by native writers, all of them more competent than himself to accomplish this task, he did not think it becoming him to shrink from the undertaking. HRSCV5 i.3

At no period is it possible to omit the history of the Reformation in England from a general history of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century; at the present crisis it is less possible than ever. HRSCV5 i.4

In the first place, the English Reformation has been, and still is, calumniated by writers of different parties, who look upon it as nothing more than an external political transformation, and who thus ignore its spiritual nature. History has taught the author that it was essentially a religious transformation, and that we must seek for it in men of faith, and not, as is usually done, solely in the caprices of the prince, the ambition of the nobility, and the servility of the prelates. A faithful recital of this great renovation will perhaps show us that beyond and without the measure of Henry VIII there was something—everything, so to speak—for therein was the essence of the Reformation, that which makes it a divine and imperishable work. HRSCV5 i.5

A second motive forced the author to acknowledge the necessity of a true History of the English Reformation. An active party in the Episcopalian Church is reviving with zeal, perseverance, and talent, the principles of Roman-catholicism, and striving to impose them on the Reformed Church of England, and incessantly attacking the foundations of evangelical Christianity. A number of young men in the universities, seduced by that deceitful mirage which some of their teachers have placed before their eyes, are launching out into clerical and superstitious theories, and running the risk of falling, sooner or later, as so many have done already, into the ever-yawning gulf of Popery. We must therefore call to mind the reforming principles which were proclaimed from the very commencement of this great transformation. HRSCV5 i.6

The new position which the Romish court is taking in England, and its insolent aggressions, are a third consideration which seems to demonstrate to us the present importance of this history. It is good to call to mind that the primitive Christianity of Great Britain perseveringly repelled the invasion of the popedom, and that after the definitive victory of this foreign power, the noblest voices among kings, lords, priests, and people, boldly protested against it. It is good to show that, while the word of God recovered its inalienable rights in Britain, in the sixteenth century, the popedom, agitated by wholly political interests, broke of itself the chain with which it had so long bound England.—We shall see in this volume the English government fortifying itself, for instance under Edward III, against the invasions of Rome. It has been pretended in our days, and by others besides ultra-montanists, that the papacy is a purely spiritual power, and ought to be opposed by spiritual arms only. If the first part of this argument were true, no one would be readier than ourselves to adopt the conclusion. God forbid that any protestant state should ever refuse the completest liberty to the Roman-catholic doctrines. We certainly wish for reciprocity; we desire that ultra-montanism should no longer throw into prison the humble believers who seek consolation for themselves, and for their friends, in Holy Scripture. But though a deplorable fanaticism should still continue to transplant into the nineteenth century the mournful tragedies of the Middle Ages, we should persist in demanding the fullest liberty, not only of conscience, but of worship, for Roman-catholics in protestant states. We should ask it in the name of justice, whose immutable laws the injustice of our adversaries can never make us forget; we should ask it on behalf of the final triumph of truth; for if our demands proved unavailing, perhaps with God’s help it might be otherwise with our example. When two worlds meet face to face, in one of which light abounds, and in the other darkness, it is the darkness that should disappear before the light, and not the light fly from before the darkness. We might go farther than this: far from constraining the English catholics in anything, we would rather desire to help them to be freer than they are, and to aid them in recovering the rights of which the Roman bishop robbed them in times posterior to the establishment of the papacy; for instance, the election of bishops and pastors, which belongs to the clergy and the people. Indeed, Cyprian, writing to a bishop of Rome (Cornelius), demanded three elements to secure the legitimacy of episcopal election: “The call of God, the voice of the people, and the consent of the co-bishops.” And the council of Rome, in 1080, said: “Let the clergy and the people, with the consent of the apostolic see or of their metropolitan, elect their bishop.” In our days,—days distinguished by great liberty,—shall the church be less free than it was in the Middle Ages? HRSCV5 i.7

But if we do not fear to claim for Roman-catholics the rights of the church of the first ages, and a greater liberty than what they now possess, even in the very seat of the popedom, are we therefore to say that the state, whether under Edward III or in later times, should oppose no barrier against Romish aggressions? If it is the very life and soul of popery to pass beyond the boundaries of religion, and enter into the field of policy, why should it be thought strange for the state to defend itself, when attacked upon its own ground? Can the state have no need of precautions against a power which has pretended to be paramount over England, which gave its crown to a French monarch, which obtained an oath of vassalage from an English king, and which lays down as its first dogma its infallibility and immutability? HRSCV5 ii.1

And it was not only under Edward III and throughout the Middle Ages that Rome encroached on royalty; it has happened in modern times also. M. Mignet has recently brought to light some remarkable facts. On the 28th of June 1570, a letter from Saint Pius V was presented to the catholic king Philip II by an agent just arrived from Rome. “Our dear son, Robert Ridolfi,” says the writer, “will explain (God willing) to your majesty certain matters which concern not a little the honor of Almighty God… We conjure your majesty to take into your serious consideration the matter which he will lay before you, and to furnish him with all the means your majesty may judge most proper for its execution.” The pope’s “dear son,” accordingly, explained to the duke of Feria, who was commissioned by Philip to receive his communication, “that it was proposed to kill queen Elizabeth; that the attempt would not be made in London, because it was the seat of heresy, but during one of her journeys; and that a certain James G------would undertake it.” The same day the council met and deliberated on Elizabeth’s assassination. Philip declared his willingness to undertake the foul deed recommended by his holiness; but as it would be an expensive business, his ministers hinted to the nuncio that the pope ought to furnish the money. This horrible but instructive recital will be found with all its details in the Histoire de Marie Stuart, by M. Mignet, vol. ii. p. 159, etc. It is true that these things took place in the sixteenth century; but the Romish church has canonized this priestly murderer, an honor conferred on a very small number of popes, and the canonization took place in the eighteenth century. This is not a very distant date. HRSCV5 ii.2

And these theories, so calculated to trouble nations, are still to be met with in the nineteenth century. At this very moment there are writers asserting principles under cover of which the pope may interfere in affairs of state. The kings of Europe, terrified by the deplorable outbreaks of 1848, appear almost everywhere ready to support the court of Rome by arms; and ultra-montanism takes advantage of this to proclaim once more, “that the popedom is above the monarchy; that it is the duty of the inferior (the king) to obey the superior; that it is the duty of the superior (the pope) to depose the sovereigns who abuse their power, and to condemn the subjects who resist it; and, finally, that this public law of Christian Europe, abolished by the ambition of sovereigns or the insubordination of peoples, should be revived.” Such are the theories now professed not only by priests but by influential laymen. To this opinion belong, at the present hour, all the zeal and enthusiasm of Romanism, and this alone we are bound to acknowledge is consistent with the principles of popery. And accordingly it is to be feared that this party will triumph, unless we oppose it with all the forces of the human understanding, of religious and political liberty, and above all, of the word of God. The most distinguished organ of public opinion in France, alarmed by the progress of these ultramontane doctrines, said not long ago of this party: “In its eyes there exists but one real authority in the world, that of the pope. All questions, not only religious but moral and political, are amenable to one tribunal, supreme and infallible, the pope’s. The pope has the right to absolve subjects of their oath of fidelity; subjects have the right to take up arms against their prince when he rebels against the decisions of the holy see. This is the social and political theory of the Middle Ages.” HRSCV5 ii.3

Since the popedom asserts claims both spiritual and temporal, the church and the state ought to resist it, each in its own sphere, and with its peculiar arms: the church (by which I mean the believers), solely with Holy Scripture; the state with such institutions as are calculated to secure its independence. What! the church is bound to defend what belongs to the church, and the state is not to defend what belongs to the state? If robbers should endeavour to plunder two houses, would it be just and charitable for one neighbor to say to the other, “I must defend my house, but you must let yours be stripped?” If the pope desires to have the immaculate conception of the Virgin, or any other religious doctrine, preached, let the fullest liberty be granted him, and let him build as many churches as he pleases to do it in: we claim this in the plainest language. But if the pope, like Saint Pius, desires to kill the Queen of England, or at least (for no pope in our days, were he even saint enough to be canonized, would conceive such and idea), if the pope desires to infringe in any way on the rights of the state, then let the state resist him with tried wisdom and unshaken firmness. Let us beware of an ultra-spiritualism which forgets the lessons of history, and overlooks the rights of kings and peoples. When it is found among theologians, it is an error; in statesmen, it is a danger. HRSCV5 iii.1

Finally, and this consideration revives our hopes, there is a fourth motive which gives at this time a particular importance to the history we are about to relate. The Reformation is now entering upon a new phasis. The movement of the sixteenth century had died away during the seventeenth and eighteenth, and it was often to churches which had lost every spark of life that the historian had then to recount the narrative of this great revival. This is the case no longer. After three centuries, a new and a greater movement is succeeding that which we describe in these volumes. The principles of the religious regeneration, which God accomplished three hundred years ago, are now carried to the end of the world with the greatest energy. The task of the sixteenth century lives again in the nineteenth, but more emancipated from the temporal power, more spiritual, more general; and it is the Anglo-Saxon race that God chiefly employs for the accomplishment of this universal work. The English Reformation acquires therefore, in our days, a special importance. If the Reformation of Germany was the foundation of the building, that of England was its crowning stone. HRSCV5 iii.2

The work begun in the age of the apostles, renewed in the times of the reformers, should be resumed in our days with a holy enthusiasm; and this work is very simple and very beautiful, for it consists in establishing the throne of Jesus Christ both in the church and on earth. HRSCV5 iii.3

Evangelical faith does not place on the throne of the church either human reason or religious conscientiousness, as some would have it; but it sets thereon Jesus Christ, who is both the knowledge taught and the doctor who teaches it; who explains his word by the word, and by the light of his Holy Spirit; who by it bears witness to the truth, that is to say, to his redemption, and teaches the essential laws which should regulate the inner life of his disciples. Evangelical faith appeals to the understanding, to the heart, and to the will of every Christian, only to impose on them the duty to submit to the divine authority of Christ, to listen, believe, love, comprehend, and act, as God requires. HRSCV5 iii.4

Evangelical faith does not place on the throne of the church the civil power, or the secular magistrate; but it sets thereon Jesus Christ, who has said, I am King; who imparts to his subjects the principle of life, who establishes his kingdom here on earth, and preserves and develops it; and who, directing all mortal events, is now making the progressive conquest of the world, until he shall exercise in person his divine authority in the kingdom of his glory. HRSCV5 iii.5

Finally, evangelical faith does not place on the throne of the church priests, councils, doctors, or their traditions,—or that vice-God (veri Dei vicem gerit in terris, as the Romish gloss has it), that infallible pontiff, who, reviving the errors of the pagans, ascribes salvation to the forms of worship and to the meritorious works of men. It sets thereon Jesus Christ, the great High-priest of his people, the God-man, who, by an act of his free love, bore in our stead, in his atoning sacrifice, the penalty of sin;—who has taken away the curse from our heads, and thus become the creator of a new race. HRSCV5 iii.6

Such is the essential work of that Christianity, which the apostolic age transmitted to the reformers, and which it now transmits to the Christians of the nineteenth century. HRSCV5 iv.1

While the thoughts of great numbers are led astray in the midst of ceremonies, priests, human lucubrations, pontifical fables, and philosophic reveries, and are driven to and fro in the dust of this world, evangelical faith rises even to heaven, and falls prostrate before Him who sitteth on the throne. HRSCV5 iv.2

The Reformation is Jesus Christ. HRSCV5 iv.3

“Lord, to whom shall we go, if not unto thee?” Let others follow the devices of their imaginations, or prostrate themselves before traditional superstitions, or kiss the feet of a sinful man O King of glory, we desire but Thee alone! Eaux-Vives, Geneva, March 1853. HRSCV5 iv.4