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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 7 — Protestantism in England, From the Times of Wicliffe to Those of Henry VIII

Chapter 10 — Resistance to Papal encroachments

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Embroilment of the Papaey – Why Angry with Archbishop Chicheley – A Former Offence – Advlses the King not to Receive a Legate-a-Latere – Powers of the Legate – Promise exacted of Legate Beaufort – Pope's Displeasure – -Holds the Statutes Void – Commands the Archbishop to Disobey them – Pope's Letter to Duke of Bedford – Chicheley advises Parliament to Repeal the Act – Parliament Refuses – The Pope resumes his Encroachments – Two Currents in England in the Fifteenth Century – Both Radically Protestant – The Evangelic Principle the Master-spring of all Activities then beginning in Society.

WHY this explosion of Papal wrath against the Primate of England? Why this torrent of abusive epithets and violent acusations? Even granting the Act of Praemunire to have been the atrociously wicked thing the Pope held it to be–the very acme of rebellion against God, against St. Peter, and against one whom the Pope seemed to think greater than either–himself– could Archbishop Chicheley have prevented the passing of it? It was passed before his time. And why, we may ask, was this tempest reserved for the head of Arctibishop Chicheley? Why was not the See of Canterbury taxed with cowardice and prevarication before now? Why were not Courtney and Arundel reprimanded upon the same score? Why had the Pope held his peace till this time? The flock in England for half a century had been suffering the treble scourge of being driven over a precipice, of being poisoned, and of being torn by wolves, and yet the Pontiff had not broken silence or uttered a cry of warning all that time. The chief shepherd had been slumbering as well as the under-shepherd, and ought first to have made confession of his own faults before so sharply calling others to a reckoning for theirs. Why was this?

We have already hinted at the reasons. The affairs of the Papal See were in great confusion. The schism was in its vigor. There were at times three claimants of St. Peter's chair. While matters were so embroiled, it would have been the height of imprudence to have ruffled the English bishops; it might have sent them over to a rival interest. But now Martin had borne down all competitors, he had climbed to the sole occupancy of the Papal throne, and he will let both the English Parliament and the English Primate know that he is Pope.

But Chicheley had offended in another point, and though the Pope does not mention it, it is possible that it wounded his pride just as deeply as the other. The archbishop, in his first Convocation, moved the annulling of Papal exemptions in favor of those under age. "This he did," says Walsingham, "to show his spirit." [1] This was an act of boldness which the court of Rome was not likely to pardon. But, further, the archbishop brought himself into yet deeper disfavor by counselling Henry V. to refuse admission to the Bishop of Winchester [2] as legate-a-latere. The Pope could not but deem this a special affront. Chicheley showed the king that "this commission of legate-a-latere might prove of dangerous consequence to the realm; that it appeared from history and ancient records that no legates-a-latere had been sent into England unless upon very great occasions; that before they were admitted they were brought under articles, and limited in the exercise of their character. Their commission likewise determined within a year at farthest, whereas the Bishop of Winchester's was granted for life." [3]

Still further to convince the king of the danger of freely admitting such a functionary, he showed from canon law the vast jurisdiction with which he was vested; that from the moment the legate entered, he, Henry, would be but half a king; that the legate-a-latere was the Pope in all but the name; that he would bring with him the Pope's power in all but its plenitude; that the chair of the legate would eclipse the throne of the king; that the courts of the legate would override the courts of Westminster Hall; that the legate would assume the administration of all the Church property in the kingdom; that he would claim the right of adjudicating upon all causes in which, by any pretext, it could be made appear that the Church had interest; in short, that the legate-a-latere would, divide the allegiance of the subjects between the English crown and the Roman tiara, reserving the lion's share to his master.

Henry V. was not the man to fill the place of lieutenant while another was master in his kingdom. Winchester had to give way; as the representative of Rome's majesty the Pope's other self–he must not tread the English sod while Henry lived. But in the next reign, after a visit to Rome, the bishop returned in the full investiture of the legatine power (1428). He intimated his commission to the young king and the Duke of Gloucester, who was regent, but he did not find the way so smooth as he hoped.

Richard Caudray, being named the king's deputy, met him with a protest in form, that no legate from the Pope could enter the realm without the king's consent, that the kings of England had long enjoyed this privilege, and that if Winchester intended to stretch his legatine authority to the breach of this ancient custom, and enter of his own right, it was at his peril. The cardinal, finding the king firm, gave his solemn promise that he would do nothing to the prejudice of the prerogatives of the crown, and the rights and privileges of the kingdom, [4] The spirited and patriotic conduct of Archbishop Chicheley, in advising that the legate-a-latere should not be recognised, was the more honorable to him inasmuch as the man who in this case bore the legatine commission was an Englishman, and of the blood royal. It was rare indeed that any but an Italian

was appointed to an office that came so near equality, in its influence and dignity, with the Papal chair itself. [5]

The primate's conduct in the matter was, doubtless, reported at Rome. It must have been specially offensive to a court which held it as a maxim that to love one's country is to hate one's Church. But the Vatican could not show its displeasure or venture on resenting the indignity while the warlike Henry V. occupied the throne. Now, however, the silent aisles of Westminster had received him. The offense was remembered, and the kingdom from whom it had come must be taught how heinous it is to humiliate the See of Rome, or encroach upon the regaltries of St. Peter. The affair of the legate-a-latere was but one in a long series of affronts. To avenge it was not enough; the Pope must go further back and deeper down, and get at the root of that spirit of rebellion which had actuated England from the days of Edward III., and which had come to a head in the Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire. [6]

We have seen the primate commanded to go to the Privy Council, and also to Parliament, and demand the repeal of these statutes. Excommunication was to be the penalty of refusal. But the Pope went further. In virtue of his own supremacy he made void these laws. He wrote to the Archbishops of York and Canterbury–for the Pope names York before Canterbury, as if he meant to modify the latter–commanding them to give no obedience to the Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire–that is, to offer no resistance to English causes being carried for adjudication to the courts of Rome, or to the appointment of foreigners to English livings, and the transport beyond sea of their revenues–and declaring that should they themselves, or any others, submit to these laws, they would ipso facto be excommunicated, and denied absolution, except at the point of death and from the Pope himself. [7] About the same time the Pope pronounced a censure upon the archbishop, and it serves to illustrate the jealousy with which the encroachments of the Vatican were watched by the English sovereign and his council, to find the primate complaining to the Pope that he could not be informed of the sentence in the regular way, that he knew it only by report, "for he had not so much as opened the bulls that contained the censure, because he was commanded by the king to bring these instruments, with the seals whole, and lodge them in the paper-office till the Parliament sat." [8]

The Pope did not rest with enjoining the clergy to hold the obnoxious statutes null and void; he took the extraordinary step of writing four letters–two to the king, one to the Parliament, and another to the Duke of Bedford, then Regent of France–urging and commanding them, as they valued the salvation of their souls, to repeal the Act of Praemunire.

The Pope's letter to the Duke of Bedford is a specimen of the spirit that animated the Popedom under Martin V. It is fair to state, however, that the Pope at that moment had received a special provocation which explains so far, if it does not excuse, the heat of his language. His nuncio had been lately imprisoned in England for delivering his briefs and letters. It may be supposed, although the bull does not acknowledge it, that they contained matter prejudicial to the crown. The Pope, in his letter to the Duke of Bedford, appears to strike only at the Act of Praemunire, but he does so with all his might. He calls it "an execrable statute," that was contrary to all reason and religion; that in pursuance of this Act the law of nations and the privilege of ambassadors were violated, and his nuncios much more coarsely used in a Christian country than those of that character among Saracens and Turks; that it was a hideous reproach to the English to fall thus short of infidels in justice and humanity; and that, without speedy reformation, it was to be feared some heavy judgment would be drawn down upon them. He concludes by desiring the Duke of Bedford to use his interest to wipe off the imputation from the Government, to retrieve the honor of the Church, and "chain up the rigor of these persecuting statutes." It is an old trick of Rome to raise the cry of "persecution," and to demand "justice," whenever England has withstood her encroachments, and tried to bind up her hands from meddling with the gold or violating the laws of the nation.

When Parliament assembled, the two archbishops, Canterbury and York, accompanied by several bishops and abbots, presented themselves in the Refectory of the Abbey of Westminster, where the Commons were sitting, and, premising that they intended nothing to the prejudice of the king's prerogative or the integrity of the Constitution, they craved Parliament to satisfy the Pope by repealing the Act of Praemunire. Chicheley had begun to quail before the storm gathering at Rome. Happily the Commons were more jealous of the nation's honor and independence than the hierarchy. Rejecting the archbishops' advice to "serve two masters," they refused to repeal the Act. [9]

The Pope, notwithstanding that he had been balked in his attempts to bend the Parliament of England to his will, continued his aggressions upon the privileges of the English Church. He sustained himself its chief bishop, and conducted himself as if the Act of Praemunire did not exist. Paying no respect to the right of the chapters to elect, and the power of the king to grant his conge d'elire, he issued his provisors appointing to vacant livings, not on the ground of piety or learning, but of riches and interest. The highest price in the market of Rome commanded the benefice. Pope Martin V., on the termination of the Council of Constance, promoted

not less than fourteen persons to various bishoprics in the province of Canterbury alone. The Pope empowered his favorites to hold sees in commendam, that is, to draw their temporalities, while another discharged the duty, or professed to do so. Pope Eugene IV. (1438)gave the bishopric of Ely in cornmendam to the Archbishop of Rouen, and after some resistance this Frenchman was allowed to enjoy the revenues. [10] He ventured on other stretches of his supremacy in the matter of pluralities, of non-residence, and of exemptions in favor of minors, as the holders of ecclesiastical livings. We find the Pope, further, issuing bulls empowering his nuncios to impose taxes upon the clergy, and collect money. We trace, in short, in the ecclesiastical annals of the time, a steady and persistent effort on the one side to encroach, and a tolerably steady and continuous effort on the other to repel. The Ven. Henry Edward Manning, Archdeacon of Chichester, [11] with strict historical truth, says: "If any man will look down along the line of early English history, he will see a standing contest between the rulers of this land and the Bishops of Rome. The Crown and Church of England with a steady opposition resisted the entrance and encroachment of the secularised power of the Pope in England." [12] From the days of King John the shadow of the Vatican had begun to go back on England; it was still shortening in the fifteenth century, and its lessening line gave promise of a time, for the advent of which the good Lord Cobham had expressed an ardent wish, when that ominous penumbra, terminating at Calais, would no longer be projected across the sea to the English shore.

While the English monarchs were fighting against the Papal supremacy with the one hand, they were persecuting Lollardism with the other. At the very time that they were framing such Acts as those of Provisors and Praemunire, to defend the canons of the Church, and the constitution of the State, from the utter demolition with which both were threatened by a foreign tyranny, they were enacting edicts for the conviction of Lollards, and planting stakes to burn them. This does not surprise us. It is ever so in the earliest stage of a great reform. The good which has begun to stir in the quiet depths below, sends the evil to the surface in quickened activity.

Hence such contradictions as that before us. To a casual eye, matters appear to be getting worse; whereas the very effervescence and violence of the old powers is a sign that the new are not far off, and that a reformation has already set in. The Jews have a proverb to this effect–"When the tale of bricks is doubled, then Moses will come," which saying, however, if it were more exactly to express the truth of the fact and the law of the Divine working, should run–The tale of bricks has been doubled, therefore Moses is come.

We trace in the England of the fifteenth century two powerful currents, and both are, in a sense, Protestant.

Lollardism, basing itself upon the Word of God and the rights of conscience, was essentially and wholly Protestant. The fight against the Roman supremacy, basing itself upon the canons of the Church and the laws of the kingdom, was also so far Protestant. It was a protest against a power that was lifting its seat above all law, and crushing every right. And what, we ask, engendered this spirit of opposition? Little did the party who were fighting against the supremacy dream whence their movement drew its existence. They would have been ashamed to own it, even if made aware of it. And yet it is true that the very Lollardism which they were seeking to trample out had originated the spirit that was now shown in defense of national independence and against Papal encroachments. The Lollard, or Protestant, or Christian principle–for it matters not by which one of these three names we designate it–had all along through the Dark Ages been present in the bosom of European Christendom, preserving to the conscience some measure of action and power, to the intellect some degree of energy and expansion, and to the soul the desire and the hope of liberty. Ordinarily this principle attested its presence by the piety with which it nourished the heart, and the charity and purity with which it enriched the lives of individual men and women, scattered up and down in monasteries, or in cathedral chapters, or in rural vicarages, or in hidden places where history passed them by. At other times it forced itself to the surface, and revealed its power on a large scale, as in the Albigensan revival. But the powers of evil were then too strong, to permit of its keeping the footing it had momentarily obtained. Beaten down, it again became torpid. But in the great spring-time which came along with Wicliffe it was effectually roused never again to shunber. Taking now its place in the front, it found itself supported by a host of agencies, of which itself was the real although the indirect creator. For it was the Lollard or Christian spirit, never, amid all the barbarism and strifes and superstitions that overlaid Mediaeval society, eliminated or purged out, that hailed letters in that early morning, that tasted their sweetness, that prompted to the cultivation of them, that panted for a wider sphere, for a greater liberty, for a purer state of society, and never rested till it had achieved it. This despised principle–for in the fifteenth century it is seen at the bar of tribunals, in prisons, at stakes, in the guise of a felon–was in truth the originator of these activities; it communicated to them the first impulse. Without it they never would have been: night, not morning, would have succeeded the Dark Ages. It was the day-spring to Christendom. And this is certified to us

when, tracing the course of the two contemporary currents which we find flowing in England in the century under review, we see them, at a point a little way only in advance of that at which we are now arrived, uniting their streams, and forming one combined movement, known as the English Reformation.

But before that point could be reached England had to pass through a terrible conflict.

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Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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