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History of Protestantism, vol. 3

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    Chapter 2: Cardinal Wolsey and the New Testament of Erasmus

    Arthur, Prince of Wales, Dies—Question of Henry’s Marrying his Widow—Sentiments of the Primate—Dispensation of the Pope—Henry’s Coronation and Marriage—Cardinal Wolsey—His Birth—Made King’s Almoner—Made Archbishop of York—Cardinal—Chancellor—Legate-a-Latere—Rules the Kingdom Ecclesiastically and Civilly—His Grandeur—The Priests knew the War against Parliament—Are Worsted—Resume their Persecution of Heretics—Story of Richard Hun—His Murder—Burning of his Bones—Martyrdom of John Brown—Erasmus Driven out of England—Prints his Greek and Latin New Testament—Its Enthusiastic Reception in England—England’s Reformation eminently Biblical—England constituted the Custodian and Dispenser of the Bible

    Picture: View of Linacres House: Knightrider Street, London.

    Picture: Sir Thomas More.

    Henry VIII again appears on the stage. We find him still the idol of the people; his court continues to be the resort of scholars; and the enormous wealth left him by his father enables him still to extend his munificent patronage to learning, and at the same time provide those shows, tournaments, and banquets, which made his court one of the gayest in all Europe. Nothing, at this hour, was less likely than that this prince should separate himself from the communion of the Roman Church, and withdraw his kingdom from obedience to the Pontifical jurisdiction. He had been educated for the priesthood until the death of Prince Arthur, his elder brother; and though this event placed a crown instead of a mitre upon his head, it left him still so much the churchman that he plumed himself upon his theological lore, and was ever ready to do battle for a hierarchy in whose ranks he had looked forward to being enrolled, and at whose altars he had hoped to spend his life. A disciple of Thomas Aquinas, the subtlest intellect of the thirteenth century, and the man who had done more than any other doctor of the Middle Ages to fortify the basis of the Papal supremacy, Henry was not likely to be wanting in reverence for the See of Rome. Indeed, in one well-known instance he had shown abundance of zeal in the Pope’s behalf: we refer to his book against Luther, for which the conclave at Rome voted him the title of “Defender of the Faith.” But the train for the opposition he was to show, not to the doctrine of the Papacy, but to its jurisdiction, was laid nearly twenty years before; and it is instructive to mark that it was laid in an act of submission to that very jurisdiction, against which Henry was fated at a future day to rebel.HOPV3 352.2

    Arthur, Prince of Wales, was realized during his father’s lifetime to Catherine, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The bride of the young prince, who was a year older than her husband, was the wealthiest heiress in Europe, and her dowry had been a prime consideration with Henry VII in promoting the match. About five months after the marriage, Prince Arthur fell ill and died (2nd April, 1502), at the age of sixteen. When a few months had passed, and it was seen that no issue was to be expected from Arthur’s marriage, Prince Henry was proclaimed heir to the throne, and Catherine was about to return to Spain. But the parsimonious Henry VII, grieved to think that her dowry of 200,000 ducats 1Burnet, History of the Reformation in England, vol. 1., p. 35; Lond., 1681. should have to be sent back with her, to become, it might be, the possession of a scion of some other royal house, started the proposal that Henry should marry his deceased brother’s widow.HOPV3 353.1

    To this proposal Ferdinand of Spain gave his consent. Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, opposed it. “It is declared in the law of God,” said the primate, “that if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing: they shall be childless.”(Leviticus 20:21.) Fox, Bishop of Winchester, hinted that the difficulty might be got over by a dispensation from the Pope. The warlike Julius II was then reigning; he thought more of battles than of the Mosaic code, said on being applied to, he readily granted the dispensation sought. In December, 1503, a bull was issued, authorizing Catherine’s marriage with the brother of her first husband. This was followed by the betrothal of the parties, but not as yet by their marriage, the Prince of Wales being then only twelve years of age. 2Burnet, 1. 35, 36.HOPV3 353.2

    The interval gave the old king time for reflection. He began strongly to suspect that the proposed marriage, the Pope’s bull notwithstanding, was contrary to the law of God; and calling Prince Henry, now fourteen years of age, to him, he caused him to sign a protest, duly authenticated, against the consummation of the marriage. 3Collier, Records, 2:1. And when four years afterwards he lay on his death-bed, he again summoned the prince to his presence, and conjured him not to marry her who had been the wife of his brother. 4Burnet, 1. 36. On the 9th of May, 1509, Henry VII was borne to the tomb; and no sooner had the coffin been lowered into the vault, and the staves of the officers of state, who stood around the grave, broken and cast in after it, than the heralds proclaimed, with flourish of trumpets, King Henry VIII. Henry could now do as he liked in the matter of the marriage. Meanwhile the amiable disposition and irreproachable virtue of Catherine had conciliated the nation, which at first had asked, “Can the Pope repeal the laws of God?” and when on the 24th of June Henry was crowned in Westminster, there sat by his side Catherine, as his bride and queen. Henry thus began his reign with an act of submission to the Papal authority; for in accepting his brother’s widow as his wife, he accepted the Pope’s dispensation as valid; and the Pontiff, on his part, rejoiced in what had taken place, as a new pledge of obedience to the Roman See on the part of England and her sovereign, seeing that with the validity of his bull was now clearly bound up the legitimacy of the future princes of the realm. The two must stand or fall together; for if his bull was naught, so too was their title to the crown.HOPV3 353.3

    Years passed away without anything remarkable taking place in the domestic life of Henry and Catherine. These years were spent in jousts and costly entertainments; in the society of scholars and the patronage of learning; in a military raid into France, chiefly at the instigation of Julius II, who, himself much occupied on the battle-field, delighted to see his brother-sovereigns similarly engaged, well knowing that their rivalries kept them weak, and that their weakness was his strength. One thing only saddened the king and queen: it seemed as if the woe denounced against him who marries his brother’s widow, “he shall be childless,” were taking effect. Henry’s male progeny all died. Catherine bore him three sons and two daughters; but “Henry beheld his sons just show themselves and then sink into the tomb.” 5Soames, History of the Reformation of the Church of England, vol. 1, p. 176; Lond., 1826. Of all the children of Catherine, Lady Mary alone, born in 1515, survived the period of infancy. Doubts touching the lawfulness of his marriage began to spring up in the king’s mind; but before seeing into what these scruples ripened, it is necessary to attend to another personage who now stepped upon the stage, and who was destined to act a great part in the events which were about to engage the attention, not of England only, but of Christendom.HOPV3 353.4

    From the lowest ranks there now sprang up a man of vast ambition and equal talent, who speedily rose to the highest posts in the State, and the most splendid dignities of the Church, and who, by his grandeur and munificence, illustrated once more before the eyes of the English people, the glory of the Church of Rome before it should finally sink and disappear. His name was Thomas Wolsey—by far the most famous of all those Englishmen who have borne the title of Cardinal. A few sentences will enable us to trace the rapid rise of this man to that blaze of power in which, for a season, he shone, only to fall as suddenly and portentously as he had risen. Wolsey (born 1471) was the son of a butcher at Ipswich, and after studying at Magdalen College, Oxford, he passed into the family of the Marquis of Dorset, as tutor. 6Hume, vol. 1., chap. 27, p. 488; Loud., 1826. Fox, Bishop of Winchester, Keeper of the Privy Seal, finding himself eclipsed by the Earl of Surrey in the graces of Henry VII, looked about him for one to counterbalance his rival; and deeming that he had found a suitable instrument in Wolsey, drew him from an obscure sphere in the country, and found a place for him at court as almoner to the king. Wolsey ingratiated himself into that monarch’s favor, by executing successfully a secret negotiation at Brussels, with such dispatch that he returned before he had had time, as Henry thought, to set out. His advancement from that moment would have been rapid but for the death of the king, which happened not long afterwards. Under the young Henry, Wolsey played his part not less adroitly. His versatility developed more freely, in the warm air of Henry VIII’s court, than it had done in the cold atmosphere of that of his predecessor. Business or pleasure came alike to Wolsey. He could be as gay as the gayest of the king’s courtiers, and as wise and grave as the most staid of his councilors. He could retail, for the monarch’s amusement, the gossip of the court, and the town, or edify him by quoting the sayings of some mediaeval doctor, and especially his favorite, the angelic Aquinas. Wolsey was no ascetic; in his presence Vice never hung her head, and he never forbade in his sovereign those liaisons in which, unless public report hugely calumniated him, he himself freely indulged. Royal favors fell thick and fast on the clever and most accommodating churchman. The mitres of Tournay, Lincoln, and York were in one year placed on his head. But Wolsey was one of those who think that nothing has been gained unless all has been won. He refused to lower the cross of York to the cross of Canterbury, thus claiming for himself equality with the primate; and when this was denied him, he reached his end by another road. He solicited, through Francis I, the Roman purple, and in this too he succeeded. In November, 1515, an envoy from Rome arrived in England, bringing to the cardinal his “red hat”—that gift which has ever in the end wrought evil to the wearer, as well as to the realm; converting, as it does, its owner into the satrap of a foreign Power.HOPV3 354.1

    Wolsey was not yet satisfied: there was something higher still, and he must continue to climb. The pious Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, wearying of contending with the butcher’s son, who had clothed his person in Roman purple, and his mind in more than Roman pride, now resigned the seals as Chancellor of the Kingdom, and the king put them into the hands of Wolsey. 7Hume, vol. 1., chap. 28, p. 495. He was now near the summit: one more effort and he would reach it: at last it was gained. There came a bull appointing him the Cardinal Legate-a-Latere of “Holy Church.” This placed him a little, and only a little, below the Papal throne itself. To it Wolsey began to lift his eyes, as the only one of earth’s grandeurs now above him; but meanwhile the pursuit of this dazzling prize was delayed, and he gave himself to the consolidation of those manifold powers which he wielded in England. His jurisdiction was immense. All church courts, all bishops and priests, the primate himself, all colleges and monasteries, were under him. All causes in which the Church was interested, however remotely, were adjudicated by him. He decided in all matters of conscience, in wills and testaments, in marriages and divorces, and in those actions which, though they might not be punishable by the law, were censurable by the Church as violations of good morals. From his sentences there was no appeal to the king’s tribunals. The throne and Parliament must submit to have their prerogatives, laws, and jurisdiction circumscribed and regulated by the cardinal, as the representative of God’s Vicar in England. Those causes which were excluded from his jurisdiction as Legate-a-Latere, came under his cognizance as Chancellor of the Kingdom, so that Wolsey really governed both Church and State. He was virtually king, and his own famous phrase, Ego et Rex meus—“I and my king”—was not less in accordance with fact than it was with the idiom of the language in which it was expressed.HOPV3 355.1

    Of the grandeurs of his palace, the sumptuousness of his table, the number of his daily guests, and the multitude of his servants, it is needless to speak. The list of his domestics was upwards of 500, and some of the nobles of England did not account it beneath them to be enrolled in the number. When he moved out of doors he wore a dress of crimson velvet and silk; his shoes glittered with jewels; the goodliest priests of the realm marched before him, carrying silver crosses, while his pomp was swelled by a retinue of becoming length. When Wolsey said mass, it was after the manner of the Pope himself; bishops and abbots aided him in the function, and some of the first nobility gave him water and the towel. 8Hume, vol. 1., chap. 28, p. 499.HOPV3 356.1

    But with his pomps, pleasures, and hospitalities he mingled manifold labours. His capacity was great, and seemed to enlarge with the elevation of his rank and the increase of his offices. His two redeeming qualities were the patronage of learning and the administration of justice. His decisions in Chancery were impartial and equitable, and his enormous wealth, gathered from innumerable sources, enabled him to surround himself with scholars, and to found institutions of learning, for which he had his reward in the praises of the former, and the posthumous glory of the latter. Nevertheless he did not succeed in making himself popular. His haughty deportment offended the people, who knew him to be hollow, selfish, and vicious, despite his grand masses and his ostentatious beneficence.HOPV3 356.2

    The rise at this hour of such a man, who had gathered into his single hand all the powers of the State, seemed of evil augury for the Reformation. Rome, in all her dominancy, was in him rising up again in England. The priests were emboldened to declare war, first against the scholars by sounding the alarm against Greek, which they stigmatized as a main source of heresy, and next against Parliament by demanding back the immunities of which they had been stripped during preceding reigns. In addition to former losses of prerogative, the priests were threatened with a new encroachment on their privileges. In 1513 a law was passed, ordering ecclesiastics who should commit murder or theft to be tried in the secular courts-bishops, priests, and deacons excepted. It was discovered that though the Pope could dispense with the laws of God, the Parliament could not. The Abbot of Winchelcomb, preaching at St. Paul’s, gave the signal for battle, exclaiming, “‘Touch not mine anointed,’ said the Lord.” Thereafter a clerical deputation, headed by Wolsey, proceeded to the palace to demand that the impious law should be annulled. “Sire,” said the cardinal, “to try a clerk is a violation of God’s laws.” “By God’s will we are King of England,” replied Henry, who saw that to put the clergy above the Parliament was to put them above himself, “and the Kings in England, in times past, had never any superior but God only. Therefore know you well that we will maintain the right of our crown.”HOPV3 356.3

    Baffled in their attack on Parliament, the priests vented their fury upon others. There were still many Lollards who, although living in the bosom of the Roman Church, gave the priests much disquiet. One of these was Richard Hun, a tradesman in London, who spent a portion of each day in the study of the Bible. He was summoned before the legate’s court on the charge of refusing to pay a fee imposed by a priest, which he deemed exorbitant. Indignant at being made answerable before a foreign court, Hun lodged an accusation against the priest under the Act Praemunire. 9See ante, vol. 1., p. 394. “Such boldness must be severely checked,” said the clergy, “otherwise not a citizen but will set the Church at defiance.” Hun was accused of heresy, consigned to the Lollards’ Tower in St. Paul’s, and left there in irons, chained so heavily that his fetters hardly permitted him to drag his steps across the floor. On his trial no such proof of heresy was produced as would suffice for his condemnation, and his persecutors found themselves in a greater dilemma than before, for to set him at liberty would proclaim their defeat. Three of their fanatical agents undertook to extricate them from their difficulties. Climbing to his cell at midnight (3rd December, 1514), and dragging Hun out of bed, they first strangled him, and then putting his own belt round his neck, they suspended the body by an iron ring in the wall, to make believe that he had hanged himself. 10Fox, Acts and Mon., vol. 4., pp. 183-155. Lond., 1846.HOPV3 356.4

    A great horror straightway fell upon two of the perpetrators of the deed, so that they fled, and thus revealed the crime. “The priests have murdered Hun,” was the cry in London; and the fact being amply attested at the inquest, as well as by the confession of the murderers, the priests were harder put to than ever, and had recourse to the following notable device:HOPV3 357.1

    — They examined the Bible which Hun had been wont to read, and found it was Wicliffe’s translation. This was enough. Certain articles of indictment were drafted against Hun; a solemn session of Fitzjames, Bishop of London, with certain assessors, was held, and sentence was pronounced, finding Hun guilty and condemning his dead body to be burned as that of a heretic. His corpse was dug up and burned in Smithfield on the 20th of December. “The bones of Richard Hun have been burned,” argued the priests, “therefore he was a heretic; he was a heretic, therefore he committed suicide.” The Parliament, however, not seeing the force of this syllogism, found that Hun had died by the hands of others, and ordained restitution of his goods to be made to his family. The Bishop of London, through Wolsey, had influence enough to prevent the punishment of the murderers. 11Ibid., p. 188.HOPV3 357.2

    There was quite a little cloud of sufferers and martyrs in London, from the accession of Henry VIII to 1517, the era of Luther’s appearance. Their knowledge was imperfect, some only had courage to witness unto the death, but we behold in them proofs that the Spirit of God was returning to the world, and that he was opening the eyes of not a few to see in the midst of the great darkness the errors of Rome. The doctrine about which they were generally incriminated was that of transubstantiation. Among other tales of persecution furnished by the times, that of John Brown, of Ashford, has been most touchingly told by the English martyrologist. Brown happened to seat himself beside a priest in the Gravesend barge. “After certain communication, the priest asked him,” says Fox, “‘Dost thou know who I am?HOPV3 357.3

    Thou sittest too near me: thou sittest on my clothes.’ ‘No, sir,’ said Brown; ‘I know not what you are.’ ‘I tell thee I am a priest.’ ‘What, sir, are you a parson, or vicar, or a lady’s chaplain?’ ‘No,’ quoth he again; ‘I am a soul-priest, I sing for a soul,’ saith he. ‘Do you so, sir?’ quoth the other; ‘that is well done.’ ‘I pray you sir,’ quoth he, ‘where find you the soul when you go to mass?’ ‘I cannot tell thee,’ said the priest. ‘I pray you, where do you leave it, sir, when the mass is done?’ ‘I cannot tell thee,’ said the priest.’ ‘You can neither tell me where you find it when you go to mass, nor where you leave it when the mass is done: how can you then have the soul?’ said he. ‘Go thy ways,’ said the priest; ‘thou art a heretic, and I will be even with thee.’ So at the landing the priest, taking with him Walter More and William More, two gentlemen, brethren, rode straightway to the Archbishop Warham.”HOPV3 357.4

    Three days thereafter, as Brown sat at dinner with some guests, the officers entered, and dragging him from the house, they mounted him upon a horse, and tying his feet under the animals belly, rode away. His wife and family knew not for forty days where he was or what had been done to him. It was the Friday before Whit-Sunday. The servant of the family, having had occasion to go out, hastily returned, and rushed into the house exclaiming, “I have seen him! I have seen him!” Brown had that day been taken out of prison at Canterbury, brought back to Ashford, and placed in the stocks. His poor wife went forth, and sat down by the side of her husband. So tightly was he bound in the stocks, that he could hardly turn his head to speak to his wife, who sat by him bathed in tears. He told her that he had been examined by torture, that his feet had been placed on live coals, and burned to the bones, “to make me,” said he, “deny my Lord, which I will never do; for should I deny my Lord in this world, he would hereafter deny me. I pray thee, therefore,” said he, “good Elizabeth, continue as thou hast begun, and bring up thy children virtuously, and in the fear of God.” On the next day, being Whir-Sunday, he was taken out of the stocks and bound to the stake, where he was burned alive. His wife, his daughter Alice, and his other children, with some friends, gathered round the pile to receive his last words. He stood with invincible courage amid the flames. He sang a hymn of his own composing; and feeling that now the fire had nearly done its work, he breathed out the prayer offered by the great Martyr: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O Lord of truth,” and so he ended. 12Fox, Acts and Mon., vol. 4., pp. 181, 182. Shrieks of anguish rose from his wife and daughter. The spectators, moved with compassion, regarded them with looks of pity; but, turning to the executioners, they cast on them a scowl of anger. “Come,” said Chilton, a brutal ruffian who had presided at the dreadful tragedy, and who rightly interpreted the feeling of the bystanders—“Come, let us cast the children into the fire, lest they, too, one day become heretics.” So saying, he rushed towards Alice and attempted to lay hold upon her; but the maiden started back, and avoided the villain. 13Ibid., p. 182.HOPV3 357.5

    Next to the heretics, the priests dreaded the scholars. Their instincts taught them that the new learning boded no good to their system. Of all the learned men now in England the one whom they hated most was Erasmus, and with just reason. He stood confessedly at the head of the scholars, whether in England or on the Continent. He had great influence at court; he wielded a pungent wit, as they had occasion daily to experienceHOPV3 358.1

    — in short, he must be expelled the kingdom. But Erasmus resolved to take ample compensation from those who had driven him out. He went straight to Basle, and establishing himself at the printing-press of Frobenius, issued his Greek and Latin New Testament. The world now possessed for the first time a printed copy in the original Greek of the New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was the result of combined labor and scholarship; the Greek was beautifully pure; the Latin had been purged from the barbarisms of the Vulgate, and far excelled it in elegance and clearness. Copies were straightway dispatched to London, Oxford, and Cambridge. It was Erasmus’ gift to England—to Christendom, doubtless, but especially England; and in giving the country this gift he gave it more than if he had added the most magnificent empire to its dominion.HOPV3 358.2

    The light of the English Renaissance was now succeeded by the light of the English Reformation. The monks had thought to restore the darkness by driving away the great scholar: his departure was the signal for the rising on the realm of a light which made what had been before it seem but as twilight. The New Testament of Erasmus was hailed with enthusiasm. Everywhere it was sought after and read, by the first scholars in Greek, by the great body of the learned in Latin. The excitement it caused in England was something like that which Luther’s appearance produced in Germany. The monk of Saxony had not yet posted up his Theses, when the Oracles of Truth were published in England. “The Reformation of England,” says a modern historian, who of all others evinces the deepest insight into history— “The Reformation of England, perhaps to a greater extent than that of the Continent, was effected by the Word of God.” 14D’Aubigne, Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, vol. 5., p. 199; Edin., 1853.HOPV3 358.3

    To Germany, Luther was sent; Geneva and France had Calvin given to them; but England received a yet greater Reformer-the Bible. Its Reformation was more immediate and direct, no great individuality being interposed between it and the source of Divine knowledge. Luther had given to Germany his Theses; Calvin had given to France the Institutes; but to England was given the Word of God. Within the sea-girt isle, in prospect of the storms that were to devastate the outer world, was placed this Divine Light-the World’s Lamp-surely a blessed augury of what England’s function was to be in days to come. The country into whose hands was now placed the Word of God, was by this gift publicly constituted its custodian. Freely had she received the Scriptures, freely was she to give them to the nations around her. She was first to make them the Instructor of her people; she was next to enshrine them as a perpetual lamp in her Church. Having made them the foundation-stone of her State, she was finally to put them into the hands of all the nations of the earth, that they too might be guided to Truth, Order, and Happiness.HOPV3 358.4

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