Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

her childless;*-that the case of the Corinthian does not admit of the interpretation that he took his father's wife before his father's death, for that the seventh commandment alone was provision enough against such an abuse, and that the eighteenth chapter of Leviticus, in which this and similar abominations are forbidden, and to which St. Paul has here an eye, must have contemplated something distinct from adultery, and does in fact contemplate the case of incestuous alliance.

Much more was said. But the question was not debated upon scriptural grounds only. The fathers, the schoolmen, and the Pope's decretals were all brought into the controversy, and a case under no circumstances very simple became immeasurably complicated. It was at this period, about the year 1529, that the King being upon a journey, chanced to pass a night at Waltham-Cross; on this occasion it fell to the lot of two of his servants, to sleep at the house of one Mr. Cressy, of Waltham, where the conversation at the supper-table happened to turn upon the great topic of the day--the royal divorce. Of the party, was a fellow of Jesus' College, Cambridge, whom the plague had driven from the University, and who had taken up his quarters meanwhile at Mr. Cressy's house, being a relation of his wife, and the tutor of his children; his opinion was asked, he being a learned academician,-it went to this, that the question was one concerning the meaning of Scripture and nothing else; and that of this, men of learning, and the Universities more especially, would be the fittest judges; for "that the Bishop of Rome had no such authority as whereby he might dispense with the word of God." Here were some great principles involved; Scripture set up as the rule of action; the interpretation of it asserted to be matter of private right; and the Pope himself declared not to be above

* Joseph. Antiq. lib, xviii. § 6, p. 807.

[blocks in formation]

it. The sentiment was reported to the King, already wearied with his "infinite cause," as he called it; and the author of it, much against his own will, was sent for to court -it was Cranmer.

"How far God fetches his purposes about!" is the contemplation of Bishop Hall on the manner of Saul's call to the kingly office. "The asses of Kish, Saul's father, are strayed away; what is that to the news of a kingdom? But God lays these small accidents for the ground of greater designs."* The sickness at Cambridge, the moment at which it occurred, the trifle which determined Waltham above all places for the retreat of Cranmer, the casual sojourn of the king there for a single night, the house of all the houses to which his secretary and almoner were directed for their evening's lodging, and the subject-matter of the conversation, incidents, most of them inconsiderable in themselves, and independent of one another, yet all conspiring to call out of obscurity probably the fittest, perhaps the only fit man in the whole kingdom, for superintending ecclesiastical affairs at a crisis so peculiar--this is altogether a combination of circumstances, which it may be philosophy to call a chapter of accidents, but which it is not superstition to ascribe to the finger of "a God that governs the earth." With so splendid an instance before our eyes, that opinion can scarcely be treated with disrepect, which holds the call to the ministry to be in some degree, though certainly in a subordinate degree, external; to be the voice of events which have been so ordered as to guide the party to his novitiate, and to land him at last in the priestly office. But this by the way. Cranmer had been a hard student, and in the subjects of his study had kept pace with the times in which he lived. He began, where most scholars in those days

[ocr errors]

* Contemplations, lib. xii.

ended, with Duns Scotus and the subtle doctors, a discipline which had at least the merit of making astute disputants; and, as Bishop Berkeley said of academical learning in general, might serve even when forgotten, like a crop when ploughed under, to improve and enrich the soil.* Escaped from the schools, he betook himself to the writings of Erasmus, for whom he seems ever to have entertained a strong personal regard, perhaps as being the author who first opened his eyes. Luther absorbed him in his turn; and now the controversy between that reformer and his opponents being serious, agitating matters no less than the fundamentals of the Christian faith (agitur de vita et sanguine), the appeal moreover being made to Scripture alone, Cranmer set himself resolutely to the examination of the word of God, that he might qualify himself for exercising a sound judgment on these high arguments; and of the patience, the learning, the discrimination, with which he did this, the Liturgy of our church (were there no other) would be an everlasting monument, in which, whoever will be at the pains of taking a prayer or a clause to pieces, will find occasion to wonder at the masterly knowledge of the Bible which the selection even of some single expression often betrays, so that having pursued happily, as he thinks, some intricate point of theology through windings manifold, and having arrived at a conclusion which he almost fancies his very own, he will be surprised to find that our reformer has been beforehand with him even in this, and has given some unobtrusive indication of his being in possession of the secret

* The Querist, § 198. A work containing perhaps as much genuine humour, as many sagacious guesses at the real causes of various social and political evils affecting commonwealths, Ireland in particular (for it is written for the benefit of that country), and as many shrewd and practical hints for the removal of them, as any in our language.

LEARNING OF CRANMER.

123

by a word in season dropped out of his abundance as he passes on his way.

Such was the man whom the accidents we have recounted introduced to King Henry. Henry commanded him to digest in writing the substance of what he had uttered on the question of the divorce, and committed him to the hospitality of the Earl of Wiltshire, the most accomplished nobleman of the day, the father of Ann Bullen, where that friendship was formed between the future archbishop and the future queen, which still further promoted the cause of the Reformation, and disposed the latter to be in heart, as well as in principle, a nursing mother to the infant church.

Meanwhile the King's cause, which had been submitted in an early stage of it to the Pope's decision, had made small progress. Cardinal Campejus had been united in a commission with Wolsey to try it in England, but there was no serious intention of ever giving judgment. Whatever hand Wolsey might have had in stirring the question at first, he soon found that he should not be able to substitute for Katharine a queen of his own; and though not a cordial churchman, nor caring about giving offence to churchmen, nor very nice upon the sin of sacrilege (for his example was afterwards quoted in the dissolution of the abbeys), still he was not desirous of exchanging even the most rigorous Romanist for a Lutheran, and he therefore was lukewarm in the prosecution of the suit. His colleague had his private instructions and private interests too. The affair was embarrassing to the Pope: he could not decide without exasperating an Emperor of Germany or a King of England, and he seems to have halted between the two, hoping perhaps that some propitious accident of death or disaster might intervene to release him from his unpleasant dilemma. Accordingly, the judgment of the commissioners is expected from day to day; the court meets, de

liberates, examines witnesses, and determines nothing. It was for the credit of the King that matters should not seem to be done in heat or haste. The Queen was to be cited; on her non-appearance, to be pronounced contumacious; a fresh citation to be issued; a reservation to be made of some collateral question for the Pope's own decision; the sittings of the court to follow the rules of the Consistory of Rome, of which it was but a branch, and the cause to be suspended during the vacations at Rome; finally, the commission was to be closed, and the whole process to be transferred to the hearing of the Pontiff himself, and the King and Queen to appear before him in person or by proxy. But this last was an alternative to which the King had too high a stomach to submit, who pleaded the prerogative of his crown, which did not allow of being subjected to foreign jurisdiction, and the liberties of his people, which demanded that questions of marriage should be tried at home and by their own church.* Thus passed away six long years in fruitless negotiations, till Henry, having now secured the opinion of nearly all the universities at home and abroad in his favour, a measure which Cranmer, whom he had sent upon the Continent as his champion for this purpose, had been very instrumental in accomplishing, as well as the verdict of the most distinguished individuals amongst the divines and scholars of Europe, gave proof that the "strong blood" of the Plantagenets was in his veins, took the law into his own hands, married Ann Bullen probably on the 14th November, 1532, and set the Pope at defiance.

On reviewing the question of the divorce (as by a misnomer it has been called), there can be little doubt, we suppose, that the marriage was in the first instance unlawful. The authorities which declared it so preponderated at the

* Burnet, Hist. Reform. lib. i. 125. fol.

« PoprzedniaDalej »