The General State of the Church in this Century.
L HE same ignorance and superstition, the same vices and immoralities, which predominated in the last century, discoloured the appearance of the church in this. Real christians were still to be found either only among the waldenses, or else they worshipped God in obscurity under the unspeakable disadvantages of the general corruption. There arose, indeed, in this century various sectaries, besides the waldenses, who were cruelly persecuted both by popes and emperors, of whom, therefore, at first sight we are ready to conclude, that they must have been the real people of God. I cannot, however, find positive evidence, that any of them professed the real doctrines, or were influenced by the real spirit, of Jesus. Some of them were the disgrace of human nature, both in their principles and their practice; and I mean not to detail the narratives of fanaticisms, with which most ecclesiastical histories abound. The term lollard was affixed in general to all those, who professed, whether on solid principles of godliness or not, a greater degree of attention to acts of piety and devotion, than the rest of mankind. Of these Walter Raynard, a Dutchman, was apprehended and burnt at Cologne. This is he, whom I have already called Raynard Lollard in the account of the waldenses, and from whom the wickliffites are supposed to have acquired the name of lollards. I have carefully attended to Mosheim's account of the origin of the term,* and am convinced
• See Mosheim, vol. i. p. 744, 757.
from his reasonings, that lollard was a general name of reproach given to professors of piety, and not the proper name of any particular person. But it by no means thence follows, as Mosheim contends, that Walter Raynard always belonged to some sect of the romish communion. The accounts of the most eminent German authors constantly represent him as a protestant, and the common use of the term lollard in England, as applied to the followers of Wickliffe and of Walter Raynard, could scarcely have obtained, if the latter had continued a papist till his death.*
The church of God, therefore, considered as a society, seems only to have existed among the people, whose history has been related above.f Of other sects the detail would be as insipid, as it would be obscure and perplexed; and whoever has remarked the confusion of terms, which negligence, obloquy, or artifice, have introduced into the ecclesiastical accounts of sects and parties, will find little reason to acquiesce in the arrangements of their classes, which writers in different ages have made. Let us attend to facts rather than to terms. It is certain, that there were many societies of persons in this century called beghards, beguines, lollards, brethren of the free spirit, flagellants, &c. who suffered extremely from the iron hand of power. Among all these, the people called waldenses, and called also lollards, with what propriety is a question of little importance, seem perfectly distinguished, by their solid piety, sound scriptural judgment, and practical godliness; and therefore they may justly be accounted to have suffered for righteousness' sake; while the rest, as far as certainly appears, were the martyrs of folly, turbulence, or impiety.
Irr the east the profession of Christianity still pervaded that contracted empire of the Greeks, of which Constantinople was the metropolis. But no christian records are come down to us of any thing like the pri
* On the contrary, as it has been mentioned already, Walter Raynard, from a franciscan and an enemy, became a waldensian, preached the gospel, and suffered on that account at Cologne.
Vol. IV, 11
mitive gospel. Even the profession of christianity, which had existed in China, was extirpated through the jealousy of the reigning powers; and the famous Tamerlane the Tartar, cruelly persecuted all who bore the christian name, being persuaded, as a mahometan, that it was highly meritorious to destroy them. Thus even the form of godliness lost ground in Asia; the power of it, alas! had vanished long before. Nor were the attempts, which were made in Europe to renew the crusades, by means of indulgences, calculated to revive the light of the gospel in the east, even if they had succeeded. The holy land had been lost in 1291; and an army was collected in 1363, under the auspices of pope Urban V. commanded by John, king of France, that same monarch, who had been taken prisoner by Edward the black prince, at the battle of Poictiers. But John departed this life, and Urban's hopes from the crusade were blasted.
In the mean time the boundaries of christianity had been gradually extended in Europe.* Jagello, duke of Lithuania, was now almost the only pagan prince in that quarter of the world. And he, influenced by secular views, became a christian in name and profession, and by this means acquired the crown of Poland. The Teutonic knights continued also their military methods of obliging the Prussians and Livonians to profess the gospel, and completed in this century, what they had begun in the last.
The maxims and examples of the court of Rome were unspeakably prejudicial to the cause of godliness in this century. The practice of Provisions, which had so much inflamed the zeal of bishop Grosseteste, was now reduced into a system by the popes who resided in France, and all Europe complained of their impositions. In England, in the beginning of the reign of Edward III. almost upon every vacancy the court of Rome pretended to fill the sees in this way.f Indeed its ambition and avarice were unbounded: it claimed a right to dispose of all offices in the church both great and small, and in that way amassed incredible sums. That same Boniface VIII., whom we left in the pontifical see at the close of the last century, filled the christian world with the noise and turbulence of his ambition. He followed the steps of Hildebrand, and attempted to be equally despotic in civil and ecclesiastical matters. He it was, who forbade the clergy to pay any thing to princes without his permission.* He also instituted a jubilee, which was to be renewed every hundred years, by which he granted plenary indulgences to all strangers, who should visit the churches of St. Peter and St. Paul in Rome, f This unprincipled pontiff died in extreme misery in 1303, in the ninth year of his papacy.
* Mosheim, vol. i. p. 7K>. f Collier.
The schism which afterwards took place in the popedom was providentially a blessing to mankind. While, for the space of fifty years, the church had two or three heads at the same time; and, while each of the contending popes was anathematizing his competitors, the reverence of mankind for the popedom itself was insensibly diminished, and the labours of those, whom God raised up to propngate divine truth began to be more seriously regarded by men of conscience and probity.
In this century flourished the celebrated John Duns Scotus. Whether he was born in England, Scotland, or Ireland, has been disputed. That he was a famous schoolman is well known. But in the light of true religion I know nothing concerning him. The same thing may be said of Raymund Lully, William Ockham of Surrey, in England, and of Petrarch, that great reviver of polite literature in Italy. These were some of the most famous men in their age; but they helped not the church of God. Toward the close, however, of this period, (for the most part one of the most uninteresting in church history,) there arose in England a luminary,* whose principles, conduct, and writings will require a distinct consideration, and whom I reserve to the third chapter. The same country furnishes us also with another extraordinary, though much obscurer character, I mean Bradwardine, archbishop of Canterbury, of whom an account will be given in the next chapter. In the remainder of this it will be worth while to add a few particular circumstances, which may show in what sort of an age Bradwardine lived.
* Du Pin.
f The successors of Boniface finding, that the jubilee augmented the revenue of the Roman churoh, fixed its return to every twenty fifth year. * Wickliffe.
The accounts of individuals, in this century, who truly feared God and wrought righteousness, are extremely rare. One person, I find on the continent, who seems not unworthy of a place in these memoirs, I mean Eleazar, count of Arian in Naples, born in 1295. At the age of twenty-three he succeeded to his father's estate. That this youth, in very affluent circumstances, and at a time of life when the passions are usually strong, could support a constant tenor of devotion and religious seriousness to his death, which took place about five years after, seems scarcely to have originated from principles lower than those of real christianity. The regulations of his household are very remarkable: some of which are as follows:
" I cannot allow any blasphemy in my house, nor any thing in word or deed which offends the laws of decorum.
Let the ladies spend the morning in reading and prayer, the afternoon at some work.
Dice and all games of hazard are prohibited.
Let all persons in my house divert themselves at proper times, but never in a sinful manner.
Let there be constant peace in my family; otherwise two armies are formed under my roof, and the master is devoured by them both.
If any difference arise, let not the sun go down upon your wrath.
We must bear with something, if we have to live among mankind. Such is our frailty, we are scarcely in tune with ourselves a whole day; and if a melancholy humour come on us, we know not well what we would have.
Not to bear and not to forgive, is diabolical; to love enemies, and to do good for evil, is the mark of the children of God.
Every evening all my family shall be assembled at a godly conference, in which they shall hear something of God and salvation. Let none be absent on pretence of attending to my affairs. I have no affairs so interesting to me as the salvation of my domestics.
I seriously forbid all injustice, which may cloke itself under colour of serving me."
" If I feel an impatience under affront, said he on one occasion, I look at Christ. Can any thing, which I suffer, be like to that which he endured for me?"
We are told that his conduct in life corresponded to these maxims. I could not prevail on myself to pass over in silence such a character as this, whom general history, full of the intrigues and ambitious enterprises of popes and princes, neither knows nor regards. God has his secret saints in the dullest seasons of the church, and Eleazar seems to have been one of chese. But he was soon removed from this vale of sorrow; for he died in the twenty-eighth year of his age. His behaviour in his last sickness was of a piece with his life. The history of our Saviour's passion was read to him daily, and his mind was consoled by this means amidst the pains with which he was afflicted.*
But, whoever in these times had any serious impressions of religion, could scarcely meet with the least solid instruction. For the preaching of the word was so much disused, that it is remarked as a singular commendation of Thomas de la Mare, abbot of St. Alban's in the time of our king Edward life, that he preached in the priory of Tinmouth, where he presided, before he was elected abbot of St. Alban's, and employed many secular clergy and mendicants to do the same, perceiving the function of preaching to be wholly omitted in monasteries,* little practised by the seculars, and engrossed by the mendicants. If " faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,'' we may venture to affirm, that whenever christian preaching is disused or despised, whether through the influence of superstition or of refinement, then godliness is at a low ebb, and the principles of christianity are almost unknown. A pious Eleazar may in some measure supply the want to his own family; but what must be the state of knowledge in the world at large? The truths of the gospel are by no means obvious; they require study, attention, meditation; all the prejudices of our fallen nature oppose them when brought into full prospect: how dark then must be the minds of those, who never hear of them! The formalities of monasticism may give a false peace to the conscience, but they cannot enlighten the understanding, nor regulate the heart. Hence, amidst the most splendid appearances of religion, wickedness abounded, and a cumbersome mass of superstitions was a poor substitute for the love of God and man. In the abbey of St. Albans the superiors decked themselves with excess of pompous attire. They wore vestments as rich as art and money could make them; and though they 'changed their attire every day, they could not bring them all into use. Such was the state of things, during the presidency of Thomas de la Mare, an abbot, who was looked on as the mirror of piety.
* Butler, ix.
Some attempts were, however, made in England to stem the torrent of ecclesiastical corruption. Even in the' preceding century about the year 1265,t a national synod, held at London under Othobon, the pope's legate, undertook to reform the abuses, of whic',. the whole nation loudly complained. This synod, in which Welch, Scotch, and Irish, clergymen were present as well as English, was looked on as of great authority, and as a rule of ecclesiastical discipline to the church. Several of its canons are still in force, and make part of the canon law. The ninth canon provides against the evil of nonresidence, obliges the clergymen presented to a benefice, to resign his other preferments, and swear to reside. The twentieth provides against commutations for offences, and forbids the archdeacon ever to receive money on such accounts; for, " such practices," say the synod, " amount, in effect, to the grant of a license to sin." Severe, but just censure of the whole papal doctrine of indulgences! And how little room was there to hope, that this canon would be strictly observed in archdeaconries, or in any other limited district, while the supreme rulers of the church were breaking it continually!
* Ne\vcome's History of St. Albans. f Collier.
In a-council held at Lambeth in 1281,* a canon was enacted, which lays down rules of preaching concerning the fundamental articles of religion. It contains some wholesome truths, but mixed with much superstition. But the worst part of the canon is, that the parish priest was obliged to explain these fundamental articles only once a quarter. One is almost tempted to think, that the dignitaries of the church formerly prohibited some abuses, merely to save appearances, and were afraid, lest frequency of preaching might prove the means of a complete reformation. In this same council at Lambeth they allowed the Blood of Christ in the lesser churches, only to the priest, and the Wine which they granted to the laity, they said, was merely wine. It was expressly declared, that the whole body and blood of Christ was given at once under the species of bread; though sometimes a cup of wine was given to the people.f And thus the innovation of de' nying to the laity communion in both kinds was gradually introduced. This was one of the latest, and at the same time, one of the most shameless and absurd
^DjUier j Spelman. Concil. p. p. 329. Henry's Hist, book v.
corruptions of popery, destitute of every ground of argument, either from scripture or common sense; nor is it easy to conceive how it could ever have found its way into christendom. Was it, that those who invented it, intended to strengthen men's minds in the belief of transubstantiation, and also by sensible marks to impress on the imaginations of the people the superior dignity of the clergy? Be this as it may, we certainly find, that in the century, which we are at present reviewing, superstition has advanced some steps farther.
In the reign of Edward I. one of the wisest and most vigorous of our princes, it was natural for those who groaned under Romish oppressions, to expect some relief. But the pusillanimous conduct of his father Henry III. had, during a very long reign, enabled the popes to enslave the nation completely, and unless the successor had himself felt the spirit of godliness, of which there are no evidences, it was not to be expected, that he would exert himself for the good of the church. Edward indeed was very great in the arts both of war and of peace; but in ecclesiastical matters he did little for his country. He paid, though with reluctance, the tribute imposed on king John, which had been remitted to Rome all the days of Henry III. He would not, however, allow it to be called a tribute; and he constantly maintained that he was not a vassal of the Roman see. His weak son and successor Edward II. cannot be supposed to have been capable of relieving the nation; but under Edward III. something was done to restrain the encroachments of the popedom. This great prince resolutely refused to pay the annual stipend to Rome, and procured a parliamentary declaration, that king John had no right to reduce the English realm to a state of vassalage. By the statute of provisors he secured the rights of patrons and electors of livings against the claims of the papal see, and outlawed those who should dare to appeal to Rome.
On the continent also the papal tyranny melawith some opposition. The emperor Lewis was excommunicated by pope Clement VI. because he had dared to exercise the imperial authority, which had been conferred on him by the electors, without waiting for the confirmation of the pope: and so prevalent was the reign of superstition, that Lewis was obliged to renounce the imperial dignity. There were not wanting, however, some learned men, who protested against these papal usurpations, and particularly Marsilius of Padua, who published a defence of the emperor's authority against the encroachments of the pope, and maintained some protestant positions, not only in regard to ecclesiastical government, but also in support of thatvwhich is infinitely more important, the pure doctrine of the gospel. In substance he appears to have held * that leading article of christianity, justification before God, only for the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by faith, and not for our own works or deservings; and he affirmed, that good works are not the efficient cause of our acceptance with God, but that on the contrary, they are th'e fruits of faith and follow after justification, which, in effect never exists, for any length of time, without them. Distinctions, nice indeed, and in the eyes of superficial thinkers in religion always apparently frivolous, though they are inseparably connected with the true relief of burdened consciences, and though they directly tend not only to undermine the whole system of papal fallacy, but also to promote true holiness of heart and life. But of this same Marsilius, who saw so clearlv an essential branch of evangelical truth, I rather conjecture than affirm, that he had the spirit of a wise and holy reformer.
About the same time, that is, about the middle of this century, Conrade Hager, in the city of Herbipoli,| taught, for the space of twenty-four years together, that the mass was not properly a sacrifice for sin; and of consequence was of no avail either to the living or
* Fox, Acts and Montim. vol. i. p. 443. t Fox, Id. p. 445.
Vol. IV. 12
to the dead for their acceptance with God; and therefore that the money bestowed on the priests for masses in behalf of the deceased, was pregnant with superstitious abominations. It is probable, that he taught also good doctrine, as well as opposed that which was evil. The man was condemned as an heretic, and imprisoned; but history is silent concerning the issue of his afflictions.
In general, however, the great defect of those, who withstood the reigning corruptions in these times, was this; they distinctly complained of the fashionable abominations, but were very scanty in describing the real evangelical doctrines, which alone can relieve and sanctify the souls of men. This remark is but too applicable to the very best of the reformers, who appeared in Europe from this time till the era of the ReforMation. That was a work, which well deserved its name, because it builded up as well as pulled down, and presented the church with a new fabric, as well as demolished the old. It was a work, in which the -characters of a divine influence appeared far more completely than in any of the former attempts against popery; and therefore its effects were lasting. They remain to this day.
But THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS IS NOT TO BE DESPISED.*
In this century, and probably towards the close of it, the Ploughman's Complaint appeared in England, a tract, which, with much zeal and energy, described the reigning abuses, and which, probably, was not without effect.
Richard Fizraff was one of the most eminent confessors in this age. He was brought up at Oxford, and promoted by Edward III. to the archbishopric of Armagh in Ireland. He distinguished himself by opposing the pretensions of the mendicant orders; who, armed with papal authority, encroached on the rights of the secular clergy, and prevented them from the exercise of godly discipline. " I have," said he, " in my diocese of Armagh, about two thousand persons, who stand condemned by the censures of the church, denounced every year against murderers, thieves, and such like malefactors, of all which number scarcely fourteen have applied to me or my clergy, for absolution. Yet they all receive the sacraments, as others do, because they are absolved, or pretend to be absolved, by friars."
* Zech. iv. t Fox, p. 464, &c.
Nor was this the only point in which Fizraf opposed the mendicants. He withstood their practice of begging; and maintained, that it is every man's duty to support himself by honest labour; that it forms no part of christian wisdom and holiness for men to profess themselves mendicants; that to subsist by begging ought to be matter of necessity, never of choice; that the Son of God, as he never taught such doctrine, so he never practised it in his own person; and that, though he was always poor when on earth, he never was a beggar. This was to strike at the root of the pretended sanctity of the friars, who were enraged to find the very practice, in which they gloried as matter of extraordinary virtue, represented as in its own nature unlawful. Fizraf was therefore cited by the friars to appear before pope Innodent VI. and to give an account of the doctrine, which he had broached and maintained both in the pulpit and in conversation. The archbishop obeyed; and, in the presence of the pope, defended at large the rights of parochial ministers against the intrusions of the mendicants, and exposed the various enormities of the latter. What effect his defence had on the mind of the pope, does not distinctly appear. It is certain, however, that this confessor was persecuted both by civil and ecclesiastical powers, and underwent a variety of hardships. In a certain confession or prayer which our martyrologist* saw, and intended, as he tells us, to publish, Fizraf describes the history of his own life, and, particularly declares how the Lord had instructed him, and brought him out of the vanities of aristotelian subtilty to the study of the scriptures. The beginning of the prayer in Latin is given us by Fox, and ft will deserve to be translated: " To thee be praise, glory and thanksgiving, O Jesus most holy, most powerful, most amiable, who hast said, ' I am the way, the truth, and the life;' a way without aberration, truth without a cloud, and a life without end. For thou hast shown to me the way; thou hast taught me the truth; and thou hast promised me life. Thou wast my way in exile, thou wast my truth in counsel, and thou wilt be my life in reward."
This holy person was seven or eight years in banishment, and died in that situation, having defended his tenets by words and by writings to his death. Of his refutation of the reigning abuses the account is large, but to us at least at this day tedious and unnecessary; of his christian spirit, doctrine, and sufferings, the account is very brief, but I think sufficient to show,
that GOD WAS WITH HIM.
About the year 1372, pope Gregory XI. despatched a bull to the archbishop of Prague, in which he commanded him to excommunicate Militzius, a Bohemian. This man had belonged to some religious order at Prague, and having forsaken it, had given himself to preaching, and had certain congregations following him. Among these were several harlots, who, being converted from their wickedness, now led a godly life. Militzius was wont to say of them, that in religious attainments they were superior to all the nuns in christendom. Another of his assertions, which provoked the indignation of pope Gregory, was, that antichrist was already come. In his writings he declared, that he was moved by the holy Spirit, to search out by the scriptures, concerning the coming of antichrist. Little more is recorded concerning this confessor, than that he was at length silenced and imprisoned by the archbishop of Prague.
There were others who opposed the corruptions of the times; but the account is too obscure and scanty to be interesting. And he, who loves to see the practical power of divine truth, would wish, not only that opposition should be made to antichrist, but much more that the positive marks of christian godliness should be manifest. Both in private and in public life there were, doubtless, some sincere servants of God and his Christ; and I wish I could gratify the mind of the pious reader with an instructive relation of them. But of such men history is almost silent. Apparent Rari Nantes In Gurgite Vasto. However, in the dearth of faithful and intelligent christians, a brief review of the character and writings of Thomas Bradwardine will not only afford gratification, but excite surprise. He appears to have been an extraordinary man; and he has left behind him unequivocal marks of real holiness. <
-fe -•<-,.'•.:-• ;