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Century XIV, Chapter II


Thomas Bradwardine.

-1 HIS learned and pious person is supposed to have been born about the middle of the reign of king Edward I. He was of Merton College Oxford, and was one of the proctors of that university in 1325. He excelled in mathematical knowledge, and was in general distinguished for his accurate and solid investigations in divinity. There was a depth in his researches, which entitled him to the name of " the Profound."* He seems to have been so devoted to a recluse and sedentary life, that very little has come down to us concerning his conduct and transactions. He was confessor to king Edward III. and attended that monarch in his French wars. It is observed that he often preached before the army. On occasion of a vacancy in the see of Canterbury, the monks of that city chose him archbishop; but Edward, who was fond of his company, refused to part with him. Another vacancy happening soon after, the monks elected him a second time, and Edward yielded to their desires. The modesty and innocence of his manners, and his unquestionable piety and integrity, seem to have been the principal causes of his advancement. He was, however, by no means adapted to a court; and soon found himself out of his element. His personal manners and deportment were the object of derision to the courtiers; and when he was consecrated at Avignon, Cardinal Hugh, a nephew of the pope, ridiculed the prelate by introducing into the hall a person habited as a peasant riding on an ass, petitioning the pope to make him archbishop of Canterbury.* This was one of " the spurns, which patient merit of the unworthy takes." But the jest was found not to answer the ungenerous views of him who made it. It appeared to the assembly, that solid learning and understanding, though destitute of exterior accomplishments, when clothed with piety and humility, as in Bradwardine's case, were by no means proper subjects of ridicule and contempt. The pope and his cardinals resented the indignity, and frowned on the insolent contriver.

* Bradwardine's Life prefixed to his works.

Bradwardine was consecrated in 1349, in the twentythird year of Edward III., but not many weeks after his consecration, and only seven days after his return into England, he died at Lambeth. His departure out of life seems to have been a providential mercy to himself. For we may well doubt whether his elevation would have increased either his comfort or his reputation. He, who, before his promotion, was judged of all men the most worthy to preside in the church, would in all probability, partly on account of the habits of a studious life, and partly on account of the complexion of the times, have soon been deemed unequal to the office. In the early periods of the church he might have shone with distinguished lustre; but a pious archbishop of simple manners could have done little service to the church in that age.

* Henry's Hist, of England, fourteenth century.

His great work was " concerning the cause of God against Pelagius." An admirable performance! whether one considers the force of his genius, the solidity of his reasoning powers, or the energy of his devotion. In reviewing it, it gave me great satisfaction to observe, that the Spirit of God had not forsaken the church; but, on the contrary, in one of the darkest periods had raised up a defender of divine truth, who might have done honour to the brightest. Abstracted from the spirit of the times in which he lived, Bradwardine gave himself up to the investigation of real gospel truth; and he published to the world, in a large volume, the fruit of his researches. Some few extracts may give the reader a just idea of his doctrine and spirit; and may also throw some light on the state of religion in the age in which he lived.

In the preface he lays open his heart, and explains the exercises of his mind on the great subject of divine grace, which he attempts to defend against the supporters of the doctrine of freewill; a term, which I have repeatedly observed to be improper; and which, as used by him and by most, if not all, of the fathers, who really loved evangelical truth, means much the same, as selfsufficiency. Bradwardine had observed how very few in his days appeared to be conscious of their need of the holy Spirit to renew their natures; and, being himself deeply sensible of the * desperate wickedness of the human heart, and of the preciousness of the grace of Christ, he seems to have overlooked or little regarded the fashionable superstitions of his time, and to have applied the whole vigor and vehemence of his spirit to the defence of the foundations of the gospel. But let us hear him speak for himself.

" As I am somewhat encouraged by the countenance of those who love the cause of God, so I own I am discouraged by the opposition of those who embrace the cause of Pelagius, who are, alas! far more numerous. For behold, I speak it with real grief of heart, as formerly 850 prophets, with the addition of numbers of the populace without end, were united against one prophet of the Lord, so at this day, how many, O Lord, contend for freewill against thy gratuitous graces, and against St. Paul the spiritual champion of grace! How many indeed in our times despise thy saving grace; and maintain, that freewill suffices for salvation! or if they use the term grace, how do they boast, that they deserve it by the strength of freewill; so that grace in their eyes appears to be sold at a price*and not freely conferred from above! How many, presuming on the power of their own freewill, refuse thy influence in their operations, saying with the ungodly, depart from us! How many, extolling the liberty of their own will, refuse thy service; or, if with their lips they own that thou coopera4:est with them, how do they, like the proud, disobedient, angels of old, who hated thee, refuse that thou shouldst reign over them! Nay, prouder than Satan, and not content to esteem themselves thy equals, they most arrogantly boast, that they reign above thee, the King of kings. For they fear not to maintain, that their own will in common actions goes before as the mistress, that thine follows as a handmaid; that they go before as lords, that thou followest as a servant; that they as kings command, and that thou as a subject obeyest. How many support pelagianism with clamour, raillery, and derision! Almost the whole world is gone after Pelagius into error. Arise, O Lord, judge thy own cause: sustain him who undertakes to defend thy truth; protect, strengthen, and comfort me. For thou knowest, that, no where relying on my own strength, but trusting in thine, I, a weak worm, attempt to maintain so great a cause."

* Jerem. xvii. 9.

From the vehemence of his complaints it appears, that together with the triumphant progress of superstition, the christian world had made rapid advances in selfsufficiency. The scholastic learning, which was ardently cultivated, had enlisted itself on the side of pelagianism, or at least of semipelagianism. Those, who were not hardy enough to maintain the merit of condignity, yet strenuously held the merit ofcongruity, which was indeed the favourite theme of the fashionable divines. By its assistance they arrogated to themselves the merit of doing certain good actions, which would render it meet and equitable, that God should confer saving grace on their hearts.* This is that grace of congruity, which the church of England condemns in her 13th article; and it was, among others, only one of those methods, by which the natural pride of a heart unacquainted with its own total apostacy endeavours to support its dignity, and to prevent an ingenuous confession of helplessness and of complete unworthiness. History shows this sentiment to be perfectly semipelagian. " Inward preventing grace, say that sect, is not necessary to form in the soul the first beginnings of true repentance and amendment; every one is capable of producing these by the mere power of his natural faculties, as also of exercising faith in Christ, and of forming the purposes of a holy, and sincere obedience," but they acknowledge also, that " none can persevere or advance in that holy and virtuous course, without the perpetual support and the powerful assistance of grace."f

Something like this, seems to be the religion natural to man as a fallen creature, when he " leans to his own understanding," and derives not his creed from divine revelation; and when at the same time he is not advanced by a more uncommon degree of hardihood into the pride of perfect pelagianism. On this pjan, Bradwardine thinks, that God is made the servant, man the master; and it is remarkable, that a poet of

* Condignity implies merit; and of course, claims reward on the score of justice. Congruity pretends only to a sort of imperfect qualification for the gi' and reception of God's grace.

f Mosheim, vol. i. p. 277.

Vol. IV. 13

our own, who seems to have embraced this scheme, admits the same thought when he says,

Heaven but persuades, almighty man decrees;
Man is the maker of immortal fates. •

I am sensible, how much has been said, and may be said with great plausibility in support of the poet's doctrine. But it is perfectly foreign to the design of this history, to enter into so boundless a field of controversy. Suffice it once more to refer the reader to Edward's treatise on the freedom of the will, for a full and complete confutation of the scheme. I shall only add, that all truly humble souls, whose consciences have felt the force of christian doctrine, are assuredly persuaded that their salvation is altogether of grace from first to last, by the certain testimony not only of scripture, but also of their own experience, though they may never have formally discussed the controversy before us. Such a soul, if I mistake not, was that of Bradwardine; and as he was conscious of the pernicious tendency of Selfsufficiency, he writes from a heart inflamed with zeal for the divine glory, and labouring with charitable concern for the souls of men.

Bradwardine goes on in his preface to inform us, how he had prayed, and with what strength and consolation he had been favoured. His spirit appears to have been under the steady influence of humility and piety, while he was reflecting on the subject. After having described the opposition made to divine grace from age to age, he thus concludes: " I know, O Lord God, that thou dost not despise nor forsake those who love thee, but thou dost sustain, teach, cherish, strengthen, and confirm them. Relying on this thy goodness and truth, I undertake to war under thy invincible banners."

The treatise itself is worthy of him who was called the Profound. The author appears to have been endowed with a strong argumentative mind; but the work is too metaphysical for the perusal of ordinary readers, nor would it answer any valuable purpose to present the reader with a regular abridgment of its contents. The mode of writing in that age was tedious and prolix beyond measure; and it must be ascribed to the infection of the scholastic turn of those times, that Bradwardine wrote against the errors of the schoolmen in their own style and manner. He possessed not the useful qualification of writing in a plain scriptural manner, and of making use of arguments equally capable of impressing all ranks of men. The popular talent of perspicuously displaying divine truths, and of happily illustrating them by proofs drawn from scripture and experience, was at that time hardly known in christendom.

* Young's Night Thoughts, Night 7. <

Some concise observations however, and a selection of a few remarkable passages, may give the reader an idea of the nature of the work.

He undertakes to lay before mourning penitents the consolations of the gospel; and particularly, to animate and cheer the hearts of those who are ready to despair on account of the greatness of their transgressions.* He tells us, that some Jews once declared to him, that those, who had sinned four times repeatedly, were entirely excluded from all possibility of pardon, grounding their notion on the expression several times repeated in the first chapter of Amos, " for three transgressions, and for four." Against this mean conceit, worthy of a rabbinical taste, he shows the immensity of the divine perfections of goodness and mercy, and represents them as far surpassing the limited evils of man, provided the sinner repent and humbly come to God.

"Josephusf tells us, says he, that the sadducees thought it a glorious thing to contend against the renowned doctors of their nation in philosophical points: thus, at this day I fear very many seek glory by overturning or seeming to overturn the constructions and interpretations of others. They, who have not a singlc house or cottage* of their own erection, are peculiarly infected with the love of glory; they are indeed the bolder in dismantling the buildings of others, because they are in no fear of retaliation, as they have nothing of their own to lose." So exactly similar have sceptics been in all ages! for example, the sadducees in the time of Josephus, the pelagians in the time of Bradwardine, and those who at this day arrogate to themselves exclusively the credit of being Rational in religion. Dubious and hesitating in regard to their own systems, vehement and decisive against the systems of others, they even glory that they have not yet completed their own creed, while they condemn as bigots all who profess to have determinate articles of faith, as if the perfection of wisdom lay in reasoning against every thing, and in determining nothing; or as if the scripture was not a form of sound words, which we ought to hold fast without wavering, so far as it reveals to us the doctrines of God and the path of duty. Bradwardine observing, that a disputatious and sceptical spirit resulted from the pride of the heart, prays earnestly for a heaven taught simplicity of mind; and while he takes notice, that God despises the proud, he thankfully owns that he visits, illuminates, and rejoices with the simple.

* Book i. p. 20. fP-145.

He maintains the doctrine of a universal, decisive, providence; and justly exposes the absurdity of the common language of mankind concerning fortune, f He observes how often it is said in scripture, that the Lord will put his fear into the hearts of the enemies of his people, will fight for his church, will go before them, &c. He asserts, that God meant to show by these declarations,J that this is his general plan of government, which is always carried on by His energy, though that energy may be often invisible, or not accompanied with sensible miracles; that the promises of divine support are specially applicable to spiritual conflicts; as, in them more particularly, the Lord means to teach the impotent and the miserable where they should place their hope, and seek for strength, victory, and salvation. " Let him, says he, who likes not these things, hope in princes, trust in man, make flesh his arm, and in his heart depart from the Lord; let him trust in his bow, let him fancy that his sword will save him; and if he be successful, let him not return thanks nor bless the Lord in hymns of grateful acknowledgment, because he owes, forsooth, no obligation to him: and I no way doubt, but though he call himself a christian; he will pay less regard to the true God, than a pagan does to an idol, to whom he offers sacrifice. But, let others hope as they please, it is good for me, in every conflict, to hold fast bv God."

* This metaphorical language is used by Bradwardine against the boasting critics of his own day, to denote their poverty of invention in religious subjects. - f Page 267. t Page 277.

He makes an excellent practical use of his doctrine of providence.* " He, who excludes from his creed the view of divine providence, disposing of all events, not permissively, but actually, removes, so far as in him lies, from every troubled person the greatest encouragements to patience, hope, consolation and joy. Who will serenely bear adversity, if he believe it to proceed from chance, or ultimately from an enemy; and if he do not know, that it really proceeds from, and is guided by, the unerring direction of the allwise God, who, by this means, though invisible to human sight, purges sins, exercises virtues, and accumulates rewards? He, doubtless, who does thus believe in divine providence, has every advantage for patience and composure of mind, because he knows that all things work together for his good. Thus rough places are made smooth to all the saints of God, hard things are softened, the edge of suffering is blunted, and bitter things are tempered sweetly: And thus a singular solace, a principle and a never failing refreshment, in all adversities, is provided for me, a sinful worm. With what patience may all disagreeable events be endured by the man, who fears and loves God; and who firmly believes, that the great and wise Being, who can require nothing but what is wise and good, actually requires him to bear such things! This, I think, is to make the Lord's yoke easy, and his burden light."

* Page 288.

I find* that he agrees with the account, which has been given, concerning the author of the latter to Demetrius.f For he shows, that Augustin, in his first book against Pelagius and Celestius, asserts that letter to be the work .of Pelagius, quoting and arguing against a part of it in the plainest terms, and that nothing can be a more groundless surmise than to ascribe the epistle in question to Jerom. He also goes over the same ground which Augustin had gone over before him in confuting pelagianism.

He largely refutes the error, more famous than any other in his day, namely, that men, by their works, deserve grace of congruity.J " By this it is, says he, that men rush headlong into pelagianism. Not content with gratuitous grace, men would have grace to be sold by God, though at a very cheap rate." He proves, that men are naturally destitute of the least spark of genuine love of God, without which it seems impossible that they should have any claim upon him in any sense whatever. He also§ disapproves the error of those, who contend, that grace is conferred on account of future merits foreseen. g

He observes, [| that Robert, bishop of Lincoln, in his questions on the will of God, and in his other works, seems to favour pelagianism, when he teaches, that the supreme Being does never antecedently determine the free acts of the will, but that the will, in its own nature, possesses a selfdetermining power; and that the event may always be either compliance or noncompliance with those gracious influences by which God excites the mind to virtue.

Page 312. f Vol. ii. page 431. J Page 325. $ Page 363. | Page 602. lib. ii.

The following is an extract of Bradwardine's devout meditations on the subjects discussed in the treatise.

" O great and wonderful Lord, our God, thou only light of the eyes! Open, I implore thee, the eyes of my heart, and of others my fellow creatures, that we may truly understand and contemplate thy wondrous works! And the more thoroughly we comprehend them, the more may our minds be affected, in the contemplation, with pious reverence and profound devotion. Who is not struck with awe in beholding thy allpowerful Will, completely efficacious throughout every part of the creation? It is by this same sovereign and irresistible Will, that whom, and when thou pleasest, thou bringest low and liftest up, killest and makest alive. How intense and how unbounded is thy love to me, O Lord! Whereas, my love, how feeble and remiss! My gratitude, how cold and inconstant! Fur be it from thee, that thy love should ever resemble mine; for in every kind of excellence thou art consummate. O thou, who fillest heaven and earth, why fillest thou not this narrow heart? O human soul, low, abject, and miserable, whoever thou art, if thou be not fully replenished with the love of so great a good, why dost thou not open all thy doors, expand all thy folds, extend all thy capacity, that, by the sweetness of love so great, thou mayest be wholly occupied, satiated, and ravished; especially, since, little as thou art, thou canst not be satisfied with the love of any good inferior to the One Supreme? Speak the word, that thou mayest become my God and most amiable in mine eyes, and it shall instantly be so, without the possibility of failure. What can be more efficacious to engage the affections, than preventing love? Most gracious Lord, by thy love thou hast prevented me, wretch that I am, who had no love for thee, but was at enmity with my Maker and Redeemer. I see, Lord, that it is easy to say and to write these things, but very difficult to execute them. Do thou, therefore, to whom nothing is difficult, grant, that I may more easily practise these things with my heart, than utter them with my lips. Open thy liberal hand, that nothing may be easier, sweeter, or more delightful to me, than to be employed in these things. Thou, who preventest thy servants with thy gracious love, whom dost not thou elevate with the hope of finding thee? And, what canst thou deny to him, who loves thee, who is in need, and who supplicates thy aid? Permit me, I pray, to reason with thy magnificent goodness, that my hopes may be enlarged. It is not the manner, even of human friendship, to reject a needy friend, especially when the ability to relieve is abundant.

" Why do we fear to preach the doctrine of the predestination of saints, and of the genuine grace of God? Is there any cause to dread, lest man should be induced to despair of his condition, when his hope is demonstrated to be founded on God alone? Is there not much stronger reason for him to despair, if, in pride and unbelief, he founds his hope of salvation on himself."

Such were the ardent breathings of soul in a studious and thoughtful scholar of the fourteenth century; who, unaided by human connexions, in an age dreary and unpromising throughout Europe and in our own island full of darkness, seems to have lived the life of faith on the Son of God. The light of the waldensian doctrine had been all along confined to the continent. But He, who shows mercy, because he will show mercy, and who had, in some measure, paved the way to the more copious exhibition of his grace by the life and writings of Bradwardine, was preparing, not long after his decease, to revive the light of divine truth in England, and there to form a people for himself, who should set forth his praise.

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