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REFORMATION IN ENGLAND.
BTITISH AND ANGLO-SAXON CHURCHES.-INTERCOURSE
THE Reformation is not to be regarded as a great and sudden event which took the nation by surprise. It was merely the crisis to which things had been tending for some centuries; and if the fire did at last run over the country with wonderful rapidity, it was because the trees were all dry. It is a mistake to suppose that whilst the Roman catholic religion prevailed all was unity. True it is, that the elements of discontent were as yet working for the most part under ground, but they were not on that account the less likely to make themselves eventually felt. The strong man armed was keeping the house, and therefore his goods were at peace; but he was in jeopardy long before he was spoiled. Luther was the match that produced the explosion, but the train had been laid by the events of generations before him.
It may not then be the least useful, nor, perhaps, the least interesting portion of a History. of the Reformation in England, to trace some of the causes that led to it; some
of the incidents that made it practicable, and some of the abuses that rendered it necessary. And here there is no need to conceal the obligations we were under in the first instance to the church of Rome. Neither Gregory himself, nor Augustin his messenger, appears to have been influenced by any other than a truly Christian spirit in seeking the conversion of England, then no very tempting prize; and though there can be no doubt that Christianity had been introduced into this island much earlier, whether by any of the apostles themselves; whether after the persecution on the death of Stephen, by some of the Syrian Christians, "who were scattered abroad, and went every where preaching the word;"* or whether by devout soldiers of the same nation, whom the famine foretold by Agabus might have driven into the armies of Claudius, and who might have come with him into Britain;† or whether by some of the Jewish converts dispersed over the world, when that same emperor "commanded all Jews to depart from Rome;"‡-whether from these or from other sources unknown to us, England was in some degree Christianised, the existence of a British church before the arrival of Augustin in the year 597 is a fact clearly established. Its independent origin is sufficiently attested by the subjects of controversy between the Anglo-Roman and British Christians; the time of Easter, in which the Britons followed, as they said, St. John and the eastern Christians, a point of heterodoxy, it may be observed, in which the Irish also concurred,§ who in some other respects accorded with the British church, building their places of worship, for instance, with wood, and thatching them with reeds; the tonsure, whether it should be that of Peter or
* Acts, xi. 19.
† Acts, xi. 28.
§ Bede's Hist. Eccles. 169.
CONVERSION OF ENGLAND.
Paul, or none whatever;* the rite of Baptism, with regard to which, however, the nature of the difference between the churches does not appear, though a difference there was,t and the same may be said of the celibacy of the clergy. The Britions had churches of their own; built after a fashion of their own; their own saints; their own hierarchy, the British bishops attending a council as such; and holding no intercourse with the Angles even in Bede's time, but looking on them as Samaritans. Moreover, the jealousy with which the Welsh long afterwards regarded all ecclesiastical interference on the part of England, their resolute assertion of their right to a metropolitan of their own at St. Davids, and their actual exercise of that right till the time of Henry I, argues the same difference in the rock from which the English and British churches were originally hewn. Let, however, tribute be paid to whom tribute is due: Augustin was the founder of the English church as distinguished from the British, for the Britons made a conscience of leaving the Pagan invaders to die in their ignorance and their sins: and it is probable that both in doctrine and discipline the religion of this country owed to the great Apostle of England (as he has been called) its revival, extension, and permanent establishment. But Gregory was no pope in the more modern sense of the word; it was his desire that the church of Rome should be followed by the church of England when there was reason for it, not otherwise; he would have some errors reproved; some he would have tolerated; some he would not have seen, that all might be done away; ecclesiastical property he would have recovered where it had been plundered; but that more should be exacted than had been taken away, or that a merchandise
* Bede, 255. 459. 480. Bede, 34. 158. 169.
+ Bede, 437.
§ Girald, Cambr. apud Hen. Wharton, v. ii. p. 533. Anglia Sacra.
should be made of the loss, that was to be far from the church.* No wonder that the Gospel, mixed though it certainly was even then with some alloy, should have made its way in England, recommended by a spirit like this, and that kings should have been found its nursing fathers;† accordingly they erected crosses; built and endowed churches and monasteries, and the fierce superstitions of the Saxons made way for the religion of Jesus. But the mystery of iniquity had begun to work even in Bede's time. His portrait of Aidanus or Madoc, a missionary from Ikolmkill to the Angles near a century before, is clearly meant to contrast with the ecclesiastics of his own day. He might have been the prototype of Chaucer's poore parson of a towne." He was chaste; he lived as he taught others to live; he travelled through the villages teaching the word, not on horseback, but on foot. Those whom he met, if believers, he confirmed in the faith; if unbelievers, he initiated in it; unlike the idlers of these times (says Bede), all who were in his company, whether priests or people, were busied in reading the Scriptures, or learning the Psalms by rote. There was a stirring amongst the dry bones through his exertions; the people flocked to hear the word of God; churches were built in many places, and monasteries were enriched by the bounty of the king. Such is the picture drawn by Bede, coloured perhaps somewhat too highly; for it seems unlikely that such effects, to their full extent, should have been produced by a teacher who spoke the language of his hearers but imperfectly, and had occasional need of an interpreter.§ Much, however, might have been done, in a popular cause, even in spite of such an obstacle. Giraldus tells us that when he preached the crusades to the Welshmen at Haverford West, he could gain 200 recruits at a sermon in French or Latin, of which
* Bede 82. et seq.
+ Bede, 116. § Bede, 166.
the people did not understand one word, though they knew and approved its object.* Still in a sketch which Bede gives us of the state of a convent (consisting as was not uncommon both of monks and nuns), at a period not much later than Madoc, there is a sad falling off. The case is indeed spoken of as a flagrant one, and the facts are to be gathered out of a fabulous story of a warning sent by an angel to a monk of that house; signifying that a judgment was coming upon it; for that of its inmates none (save one only) were occupied with the good of their souls; all were asleep, or only awake to sin, both men and women; the cells intended for study and prayer had been converted into chambers of revelry and excess; the virgins who had dedicated themselves to God, having no respect unto their vows, employed all their leisure hours in adorning their persons, as though they were brides, or wished to be. Indeed, on one occasion about the same time, when a panic prevailed through the country by reason of the plague, it was actually attempted in one quarter of the island where Christianity had been received, to repair the temples and restore idolatry.‡ Whatever, therefore, the wheat might be that had been sown by Augustin and his companions, the tares, it seems, were growing about it apace, and were ready to choke it. The truth, however, appears to be, that as yet there was no well-organised church in England. There was wanted a system in matters ecclesiastical, what was done was done chiefly by good and zealous individuals. Rome might have supplied the defect; but the relation in which England stood to Rome is not easily determined from the history of Bede; it was probably ill defined, fluctuating, and uncertain, depending in a great measure upon the acci
* Angl. Sacra, v. ii. p. 491. + Bede, 250.
+ Bede, 339.