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Century XIII, Chapter V




The General State of the Church in this Century.

IT was judged proper, in the preceding volume, to give one unbroken narrative of waldensian transactions in ecclesiastical matters, till the time of the reformation.

That narrative is contained in the four last chapters of the volume; and though it does not belong to the thirteenth century exclusively, it is, however, as was before observed, ascribed to it, because in the course of the thirteenth century, most extraordinary persecutions and conflicts took place among the waldenses, and particularly excited the attention of Europe. Our immediate business must now be the continuation of that century.

From the animosity of the waldensian persecutions, and from the unanimity, with which the powers of the earth, both secular and ecclesiastical, supported these persecutions, the reader is prepared already to conclude, that, abstracted from the churches of the valleys and their connexions, there was scarcely in Europe, at that time, a visible church of Christ to be found. But there were, as the waldenses confessed, some " individual souls in Babylon," who loved the Lord, and served him with their spirit under all these disadvantages. I shall reserve to the two next chapters the distinct account of these individuals.

In this chapter I propose to give a view of the general state of christendom, which, though it be an indirect method of illustrating the circumstances of

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the real church of Christ, is yet the only one which the depravity of the times can afford us.

The gloom of ignorance was immensely great, nor was it abated, but, in some respects, rather increased, by the growing celebrity of the aristotelian philosophy. For by it the understandings of men were furnished with polemical weapons, but by no means enlightened with useful truths. Endless questions were started; and as every disputant, by the very nature of the learning then in vogue, was much more engaged in confounding his adversary, than in explaining any one object of science, hence, every serious inquirer after truth must have been embarrassed beyond measure. The controversial combatants, while they raised and agitated the dust of contentions, suffocated each other, and gave no real light either to themselves, or to the world in general. The unlettered part of mankind admired their " seraphic"* skill and ingenuity, little suspecting that these disputatious doctors were not, in their knowledge, many degrees removed above the most ignorant and vulgar. Some few there were of superior genius and penetration, who saw through the sophistry of the fashionable learning, and cultivated a more reasonable mode of intellectual improvement.

Roger Bacon, the franciscan friar, stands distinguished among these. His knowledge of astronomy, optics, and mathematics, as well as of Greek and oriental learning, was wonderful for those times. But he and a very few others shone in vain, except to themselves, in the firmament of knowledge. All feared, scarce any aided, and very few understood them. Bacon himself, the glory of the British nation, was many years confined in a loathsome prison, and was strongly suspected of dealing in magic. I know no evidence of his piety and love of evangelical truth; and therefore it is not pertinent to the design of this history to enlarge on his character. But a few words expressive of his contempt of the learning of his contemporaries deserve to be quoted.* " Never," says he, " was there so great an appearance of wisdom, nor so much exercise of study, in so many faculties and in so many countries, as within these last forty years. For doctors are every where dispersed, in every city and borough, especially by the two studious orders, when at the same time there never was so great ignorance. • The herd of students fatigue themselves, and play the fool about the miserable translations of Aristotle, and lose their time, their labour, and their expense. Appearances alone engage them; and they have no care to acquire real knowledge, but only to seem knowing in the eyes of the senseless multitude."

* Bonaventura was called the seraphic doctor; Francis the seraphic father.

Bacon, by the two studious orders, means the dominicans and franciscans, who were almost the only orders, which devoted themselves to study. These men had Ample buildings and princely houses. f Theyattended the deathbeds of the rich and great, and urged them to bequeath immense legacies to their own orders. The subtile jargon of the schools infected their whole semblance of learning. However, as they appeared more knowing, and were certainly more studious than the other orders, they gained much ground in this century; and indeed, till the time of the institution of the Jesuits, they were the pillars of the papacy. Persecution of heretics, so called, formed a great part of their employment. The dominicansj in particular were the founders of the inquisition. These last came into England about the year 1221, and first appeared at Oxford. The franciscans were first settled at Canterbury in 1234. They both cultivated the aristotelian philosophy, and being the confidential agents of the pope, they, under various pretences, exacted large sums of money through the kingdom, and fleeced even the abbots of the monasteries. The bishops and secular clergy saw themselves excluded by these means from the confidence of the laity. For, in auricular confessions,and other superstitions of the times, the friars had, by the pope's authority, very much arrogated to themselves the power, which had formerlybeen possessed by the clergy.*

* Mosheim.

t History of the Abbey of St. Albans, by Newcome. \ These were also tailed jacobins, from their settlement in St. James's street in Paris.

The franciscans particularly undermined the influence of the secular ecclesiastics by popular practices: they preached both in towns and in the country: they pretended to no property: they lived on contributions of their audiences, and walked barefoot and in mean habits. On Sundays and holidays crowds were collected to hear them; and they were received as confessors in preference to the bishops and clergy: and thus, when the credit of the other monastic orders was well nigh exhausted, and the secular clergy, through immoralities had been reduced to contempt, two new orders, having the semblance of worth, not the substance, revived the authority of the Romish church, supported the papacy, strengthened every reigning superstition, and, by deeplaid plans of hypocrisy, induced numbers to enrich both the papacy and the monastic foundations.

A remarkable instance of papal tyranny, exercised through their means in this century, will show the abject slavery and superstition under which this island groaned. In 1247, Innocent IV. gave a commission to John the franciscan, as follows: " We charge you, that, if the major part of the English prelates should make answer, that they are exempt from foreign jurisdiction, you demand a greater sum, and compel them, by ecclesiastical censures, to withdraw their appeals, any privilege or indulgence notwithstanding."

This was the famous " non obstante clause," by which the pope, in the plenitude of his dominion, assumed to himself the same dispensing power in the church, which king James II. did long after in the state. But the punishment of the former for his temerity and arrogance followed not so soon as in the case of the latter. For God had put into the hearts of princes and statesmen to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled.* And thus the wickedness of men in neglecting his gospel was justly punished.

* Hist. Abbey of St. Albans.

So shameless were the popes at this time in their exactions, and so secure was their hold on the abject superstition of mankind, that they grossly defrauded even the franciscans themselves, and were not afraid of the consequences. Men, who received not the testimony of Jesus Christ, and refused submission to his easy yoke, were induced to kiss the iron rod of an Italian tyrant.

Two observations of Matthew Paris, taken from different parts of his history, and compared together, seem to me to illustrate in a good degree the nature of the subjection in which the spirits of men were held in those times. Speaking of the innumerable oppressions and corruptions of the popedom, which particularly prevailed during the long reign of Henry III. the pusillanimous successor of king John, he breaks out into an animated apostrophe to the pope. " Holy father, why do you permit such disorders? You deserve the hardships you undergo: you deserve to wander like Cain through the earth. I would know what preferment an Englishman ever obtains in Italy? What just reason can possibly be assigned, why foreigners should prey on the revenues of our church? Our sins have brought these calamities upon us."f The historian alludes to the residence of Innocent IV. at Lyons, where he was obliged to hide himself from the factions, which had expelled him from Italy at that time. I observe also, that this is that same pope, who gave the imperious commission to John the franciscan mentioned above, which commission also was dated from Lyons. If the reader lay all these circumstances together, the unexampled tyranny of the papal measures, the shameless violation of every principle of equity and decorum in the conduct of the Italian legates and agents, the strong indignation expressed against these things by such learned men as Matthew Paris, and even the open opposition made to the pope in those times, he may be disposed to wonder why the Roman hierarchy was not destroyed by a combination of princes and states. If this be a difficulty, the consideration of another passage of Matthew Paris will sufficiently explain it. Though he himself has given us the plainest accounts of the enormities of king John, who was beyond.question, in every light, one of the worst of princes, and one of the worst of men, yet he observes, "We ought to hope, and most assuredly to trust, that some good works, which he did in this life, will plead for him before the tribunal of Jesus Christ. For he built one abbey, and dying bequeathed a sum of money to another." So grossly ignorant was this ingenious and valuable historian of the all-important article of justification by the merit of Jesus Christ alone through faith! It was the revival of this article, which subverted the foundation of the Roman religion at the time of the reformation. For while men allow themselves to doubt of the sufficiency of Christ as a saviour, so long as the conscience is harassed with doubts or perplexities, it will naturally betake itself to any superstitions which happen to prevail, in order to pacify the mind. And the popedom held out, by monastic institutions, and a variety of other means, such a quantity of false reliefs to a guilty conscience, that even the shameless king John might seem to merit the kingdom of heaven by certain good works. M. Paris himself was entangled in the same nets of pharisaical religion. So were the greater part of mankind throughout Europe at that time. We have seen, however, that the waldenses could find peace and relief of conscience, and the expectation of heaven through Jesus Christ alone by faith; and hence were enabled to despise the whole popedom with all its append

* Rev. xvii. 17. f Collier'sEcc. vol. i,

ages; while others, who trembled in conscience for their sins, and knew not the holy wisdom of resting on Christ alone for salvation, might swell with indignation at the wickedness of the court of Rome, but durst not emancipate themselves from its bonds. It has been said by those who are willing to palliate the Roman abominations, that such a power as that of the pope was necessary at that time to tame the ferocious spirits of men; and that the power of the pope preserved some order in society. It may be allowed that it was a cement, but it was a cement of iniquity. Men were held by it in the cords of superstition, and were even encouraged to live in wickedness, by false hopes of heaven. Such hopes did not sanctify, but corrupt their minds: whereas the faith of Christ at once gives peace to the conscience, and leads it to true holiness.

To do justice to the real protestant character, which began with Claudius of Turin, and at length produced the reformation, it ought to be known, that the idolatry, the encouragement of sin, and the selfrighteous superstitions subversive of the real merit of Christ, and the grace of the gospel, were no less flagrant in the popedom than they have been represented, and were understood to be by our fathers. Therefore, against some modern attempts to give a specious colour to the Roman abominations, it may be proper, in addition to what has already been stated, to give two authentic facts, which will not need much comment.

In the year 1234, pope Gregory IX. willing to revive the cause of the eastern crusades, which, through a series of disastrous events was now much on the decline; and feeling the connexion between this cause and the credit of the popedom, by a bull directed to all christendom, invited men to assume the cross, and proceed to the holy land. " Notwithstanding, says he, the ingratitude of christians, the. goodness of God is not withdrawn from them. His* providence is still actively engaged to promote the happiness of mankind: his remedies suit their temper, his prescriptions are proportioned to the disease. The service to which they are now invited is an Effectual Atonement for the miscarriages of a negligent life: the discipline of a regular penance would have discouraged many offenders so much, that they would have had no heart to venture upon it: but the Holy War is a compendious method of discharging men from guilt, and restoring them to the divine favour. Even if they die on their march, the intention will be taken for the deed, and many in this way may be crowned without fighting."

* Collier's Eccl. vol. i.

As I have ventured to contradict some positions of Mosheim and other protestant writers, who seemed to me to date the gross corruptions of popedom too early, so the same regard for veracity, which is the capital quality of a real historian, requires me to bear witness to the strict truth of their representations of Romish evils, in the times in which they really did prevail. In opposition, therefore, to the glosses of those, who seem to maintain, that papal indulgences had no connexion with men's eternal state, but related only to their ecclesiastical privileges in this life, let it be submitted tcthe reader, whether every person who reads the bull of Gregory IX. must not have understood, that he pretended in the name of God to absolve crusaders from real guilt, and to insure to them the kingdom of heaven itself: whether he did not in effect oppose the doctrine of the atonement of Christ, and teach men to ground their justification from God, in contempt of that atonement, on the merit of the performance of the military service which he enjoined. It is easy to multiply futile distinctions; but to what purpose are they introduced at all, when the obvious practical sense of the bull could only be that, which I have mentioned, when it was so understood, and when it induced men to act with such hopes and views as have been stated?

Indeed while severe penances had been in repute, and men were in the habit of submitting to undergo them, the atonement of Christ had long been rendered in effect insignificant; and selfrighteous prospects of the divine favour had been encouraged throughout the christian world. But the evil was now multiplied exceedingly. The additional doctrine of commutation for penances, while it removed the mind still farther from the faith of Christ, and fixed its dependence more strongly on the popedom, opened the floodgates of wickedness and vice, taught men to gratify every disposition of corrupt nature, and to believe such gratifications consistent with a prospect of gaining the divine favour, even while they remained as impure in heart and life as ever. It is then to no purpose for men to declaim with M. Paris against the corruptions of this or that pope, while with him they maintain the selfrighteous principle of popery itself. Evils of the worst kind must prevail, while we think ourselves capable of making atonement for our sins by any kind of works whatever. Let us learn the true humility and the genuine faith of the gospel, which works by the love of God and man; and then the practical evils will vanish for want of a founda tion. Protestants will always have a strong temptation to embrace some selfrighteous notions, as those of popery or socinianism, or perhaps they may ultimately have recourse to atheism itself, when they neglect the real peculiarity of christianity. These considerations merit a very serious attention: they evince the importance of the reformation itself, and illustrate the nature of its fundamental principles.

The other fact, which demonstrates the genuine character of the religion which predominated in Europe, I have extracted from a work lately published.John Maryns was abbot of St. Albans about the end of the thirteenth century, whose dying words are recorded to have been to this effect. " O, holy Alban, whom I have loved and addressed as my best aid! as I have existed and lived by thy help, so, O glorious

* Hist, of the Abbey pf St, Albans, by Nevrrome, p. 20.".

saint! defend me from the pains of hell." Who this same Alban was, or whether he ever existed at all, are questions not easily answered, nor is it material to our purpose to inquire whether he was a real or a fictitious saint; but it is evident that John Maryns, by a solemn act of worship, placed the same confidence in him, which Stephen did in Jesus Christ when he committed his departing spirit into his hands. The distinctions, it seems, insisted on by the papists, between the higher and inferior kinds of worship, are futile evasions. Serious worshippers of their communion practically opposed the fundamental maxim of christianity, " There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man."* The devotions of Maryns were perfectly analogous to those then in fashion. The idolatry of the romish communion is evident; and when the reader recollects what has been said of the doctrines of the waldenses, he -will see how far their representations of antichrist are founded in fact.

That the ecclesiastical powers in these miserable times were not at all inclined to promote piety and virtue among their subjects, but that they studied chiefly their secular emoluments, appears from numberless evidences in this century. Let it suffice in this place to mention two. First, the franciscans and dominicans were employed in inlisting men into the service of the crusades by Gregory IX. the author of the impious bull mentioned above. These men engaged in the business with much ardor: and it often happened that persons, who in the warmth of zeal had taken the cross, repented afterwards, when they began to think seriously of the difficulties of the enterprise. The friars were employed to release such devotees from their vows, on the payment of a fine. It may easily be conceived, that much wealth would be amassed by this dispensing power, f Secondly, in 1242, Innocent IV. sent a provisional bull to king Henry III. of England, which informed him, that if he should happen to lay violent hands on an ecclesiastic, and to fall under the censure of the canons, he might be absolved on submitting to the customary penance!*

* 1 Tim. ii. 5. f Collier, vol. i..

At this time, during the prevalence of the aristotelian philosophy, the doctrine of "grace of congruity" was in high repute: in other words, justification by men's own works, was insisted on: and while some decent show of respect was made in Words to the merits of Christ, the real meritorious objects, on which men were taught to place their hope, were some performances, by which they might, in a lower sense, Deserve grace, and purchase the application of it to themselves.-)- Thus, a religion prevailed, which accommodated all sorts of sinners. Those of a more decent cast were taught to expect the divine favours by their own works, which deserve grace of congruity, and the most scandalous transgressors, by the doctrine of commutation for offences, might still obtain forgiveness: the exercise of munificence toward the hierarchy was sure to cover all crimes; but the humble and the contrite alone, who felt what sin is, and sighed for a remedy, found no relief to consciences, which could not admit the delusive refreshments provided by the papacy. These, either mourned in se-' cret, and poured out their souls to that God, who says to his creatures, " seek and ye shall find," or if they united themselves in a body of faithful people, maintained the character of those " of whom the world was not worthy," and suffered the extremities of persecution, under the name of waldenses.

The scripture in all this time was neglected: the knowledge of the Hebrew tongue was in a great measure lost; and, as if the prince of darkness, through the medium of ignorance and superstition, had not sufficiently blinded the minds of men in religious concerns, even the learning itself, which was reviving, became a powerful instrument of augmenting the ge

• Collier, vol. i. t Thirteenth article of the church of Eng.

neral obscurity. For the schoolmen, admitting no first principles, reasoned on every subject, and thus involved every religious notion in sceptical intricacy. The word of God itself was not appealed to, but Aristotle and the fathers were considered as decisive.*

That sophistical kind of learning, which Roger Bacon denied, was thriving throughout all this period. And in 1252 the college of divines at Paris, called Sorbonne, was erected by Robert De Sorbonne, a particular friend of Lewis IX.f

With what difficulties men who truly feared God in Europe at that day had to grapple, in working out their salvation, is abundantly evident from this review. Not even nobility of rank could secure such persons from the horrors of persecution. Some noblemen in Alsace had dared to reprehend the conduct of Innocent III. particularly his imposition of celibacy on the clergy. The bishops of that country had influence enough to oppress these innovators; and, in one day they burnt in the flames a hundred of them or their associates. Individuals, however, there doubtless were, who, having no opportunity of christian fellowship, worshipped God in secret, and found that


Of the eastern churches scarce any thing worthy of relation occurs: yet it may be proper to mention, that in the year 1299 Othman, in the east, was proclaimed sultan and founded a new empire. The people afterwards, as well as the emperor, were called after his name. The mixed multitude, of which this people was composed, were the remains of four sultanies which had for some time subsisted in the neighbourhood of the river Euphrates. Thus the four angels which were bound in Euphrates were loosed, and under the name of Turks succeeded the Saracens both in the propagation of mahometanism, and in diffusing

* Preface to 13 cent. Magdeburg.

t Mosheim, 13 cent- pars, ii. cap. i. sect. iii.

j 1 John, ii. 27.

the horrors of war.* Providence had destined them to scourge the people of Europe for their idolatry and flagitiousness; and Europe still repented not. But the divine prophecies were fulfilled—and " he may read that runneth." ,

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