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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 9 — Rome's attempt to regain dominancy in England

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Henry VI. – His Infancy – Distractions of the Nation – The Romish Church becomes more Intolerant – New Festival – St. Dunstan's and St. George's Days – Indulgences at the Shrine of St. Edmund, etc. – Fresh Attempts by Rome to Regain Dominancy in England – What Led to these – Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire Denounced – Archbishop Chicheley Reprimanded for Permitting these Statutes to Exist – The Pope's Letter.

HENRY V., overtaken by death in the midst of his wars in a foreign land, left his throne, as we have seen, to his son, then only a few months old. England now experienced, in amplest measure, the woe predicted of the land whose king is a child. During the long minority, many evil fruits grew out of the counsel tendered to the king by the clergy. If ever a country needed a firm will and a strong hand, it was England at the era that saw this infant placed on its throne. There were factions to be repressed; turbulent nobles to be curbed; conspirators, though the Lollards were not of the number, to be hunted out and punished; and, above all, there was the rising spirit of reform to be guided into the channel of peaceful progress, that so it might rectify institutions without destroying them. But the power, the enlightenment, and the patriotism necessary for this were lacking, and all these elements of conflict, unregulated and uncontrolled, broke out, and strove together in the now distracted and miserable country.

The natural tendency of corruptions, when first approached by the pruning-knife, is to strengthen themselves–to shoot up in new and ranker luxuriance–the better to resist the attacking forces. So was it with the Church of Rome at this era in England. On the one side Lollardism had begun to question the truth of its doctrines, on the other the lay power was assailing the utility of its vast possessions, and the Roman hierarchy, which had not made up its mind to yield to the call for reformation now addressed to it, had no alternative but to fortify itself against both the Lollards without and the cry for reform within. It became instantly more exacting in its homage and more stringent in its beliefs. Aforetime a very considerable measure of freedom had been allowed to friend and foe on both points. If one was disposed to be witty, or satirical, or humorous at the expense of the Church or her servants, he might be so without running any great risk of being branded as a heretic. Witness the stinging diatribes and biting satires of Petrarch, written, we may say, under the very roof of the Popes at Avignon. But now the wind set in from another quarter, and if one spoke irreverently of saint, or indulged in a quiet laugh at monk, or hinted a doubt of any miracle or mystery of "Holy Church," he drew upon himself the suspicion of heresy, and was fortunate indeed if he escaped the penalties thereto annexed. Some there were who aimed only at being wits, who found to their dismay that they were near becoming martyrs.

Protestantism, which has only one object of worship, has only one great Festival–that DAY which stands in majesty unapproachable among the other days. But the fetes and festivals of Rome crowded the calendar, and if more should be added to the list, it would be almost necessary that more days should be added to the year. Yet now there came a great addition to these days of unholy idleness. The previous century had entrenched the Romish ceremonial with "All Souls," the "Conception of the Blessed Virgin," and "Corpus Christi." To these Boniface IX. had added the Salutation of Mary and Elizabeth, "cram-full of indulgences," as Walsingham says, for those who should duly honor the feast. Treading in the footsteps of the Pontiff, although at a becoming distance, Archbishop Arundel contributed his share to this department of the nation's piety by raising, cum permissu, St. Dunstan's and St. George's days to the rank of the greater festivals. Next came the monks of Bury in this pious work of enriching England with sacred days and holy places. They procured special indulgences for the shrine of St. Edmund. Nor were the monks of Ely and Norwich behind their brethren of Bury. They were enabled to offer full absolution to all who should come and confess themselves in their churches in Trinity week. Even the bloody field of Agincourt was made to do its part in augmenting the nation's spiritual wealth: from October 25th, this day began to be observed as a greater festival. And, not to multiply instances, the canons of St. Bartholomew, hard by Smithfield, where the fires of martyrdom were blazing, were diligently exercising their new privilege of pardoning all sorts of persons all manner of sins, one sin only excepted, the unpardonable one of heresy. The staple of the trade now being so industriously driven was pardon; the material cost nothing, the demand was extensive, the price was good, and the profits were correspondingly large. This multiplication of festivals was Rome's remedy for the growing irreverence of the age. It was the only means she knew of heightening the spirit of devotion among her members, and strengthening the national religion.

It was at this time that Pope Martin V., of the haughty house of Colonna, who was elevated to the Papal chair by the Council of Constance, which place he soon thereafter left for Rome in a blaze of magnificence, [1] turned his eyes on England, thinking to put it as completely under his feet as it had been under those of Innocent III., in the days of King John. The statutes of Provisors and Praemunire, passed in the reigns of Edward III. and Richard II., were heavy blows to the Papal power in England. The Popes had never acquiesced in this state of matters, nor relinquished the

hope of being able to compel Parliament to cancel these "execrable statutes." But the calamities of the Popedom, and more especially the schism, which lasted forty years, delayed the prosecution of the fixed determination of the Papal See. Now, however, the schism was healed, a prince, immature in years and weak in mind, occupied the throne of England, the nation had a war with France upon its hands, factions and conspiracies were weakening the country at home, and success was ceasing to gild its arms abroad, and so the Pope thought the time ripe for advancing anew his claim for supremacy over England. His demand was, in short, that the statutes of Provisors and Praemunire, which had shut out his briefs and bulls, his bishops and legates, and had cut off the outflow of English gold, so much prized at Rome, should be repealed.

This request Pope Martin did not send directly to the king or the regent. The Vatican in such cases commonly acts through its spiritual machinery. In the first place, the Pontiff is too exalted above other monarchs to make suit in person to them; and in the second place, he is too politic to do so. It lessens the humiliation of a rebuff that it be given to the servant and not the master. Pope Martin wrote to Archbishop Chicheley, frowning right pontitfically upon him for a state of things which Chicheley could no more prevent than Martin himself could. [3] Collier, vol. 1, pp. 653, 654.">2]

"Martin, Bishop, servant of the servants of God," began the Pontiff–it is the usual Papal phraseology, especially when some arrogant demand is to follow– to his reverend brother, the Archbishop of Canterbury, greeting, and apostolic benediction." So far well, but the sweetness exhales in the first sentence; the brotherly kindness of Papal benediction is soon exhausted, and then comes the Papal displeasure. Pope Martin goes on to accuse his "reverend brother" of forgetting what "a strict account he had to give to Almighty God of the flock committed to his care." He upbraids him as "sleepy and negligent," otherwise he would have opposed to the utmost of his power "those who had made a sacrilegious invasion upon the privileges settled by our Savior upon the Roman Church "–the statutes of Provisors and Praemunire, to wit. While Archbishop Chicheley was slumbering, "his flock, alas!" the Pope tells him, "were running down a precipice before his face." The flock in the act of hurling themselves over a precipice are seen, in the next sentence, feeding quietly beside their shepherd; for the Pope immediately continues, "You suffer them to feed upon dangerous plants, without warning; and, which is horribly surprising, you seem to put poison in their mouths with your own hands." He had forgotten that Archbishop Chicheley's hands were at that moment folded in sleep, and that he was now uttering a cry to awaken him. But again the scene suddenly shifts, and the Papal pencil displays a new picture to our bewildered sight; for, adds the writer, "you can look on and see the wolves scatter and pull them in pieces, and, like a dumb dog, not so much as bark upon the occasion."

After the rhetoric comes a little business. "What abominable violence has been let loose upon your province, I leave it to yourself to consider. Pray peruse that royal law" the Pope now comes to the point–" if there is anything that is either law or royal belonging to it. For how can that be called a statute which repeals the laws of God and the Church? I desire to know, reverend brother, whether you, who are a Catholic bishop, can think it reasonable such an Act as this should be in force in a Christian country?" Not content with having exhibited the statute of Praemunire under the three similitudes of a "precipice," "poison," and "wolves," Pope Martin goes on thus:–

" Under color of this execrable statute, the King of England reaches into the spiritual jurisdiction, and governs so fully in ecclesiastical matters, as if our Savior had constituted him His Vicar. He makes laws for the Church, as if the keys of the kingdom of heaven were put into his hands.

"Besides this hideous encroachment, he has enacted," continues the Pope, "several terrible penalties against the clergy."

This "rigor," worse, the Pope calls it, than any to which "Jew" or "Turk" was subjected, was the exclusion from the kingdom of those Italians and others whom the Pope had nominated to English livings without the king's consent, and in defiance of the statute.

"Was ever," asks the Pope, "such iniquity as this passed into a law? Can that be styled a Catholic kingdom where such profane laws are made and practised? where St. Peter's successor is not allowed to execute our Savior's commission? For this Act will not allow St. Peter's See to proceed in the functions of government, nor make provisions suitable to the necessities of the Church."

"Is this," asks the Pope, in fine, "a Catholic statute, or can it be endured without dishonor to our Savior, without a breach upon the laws of the Gospel, and the ruin of people's souls? Why, therefore, did you not cry aloud? why did you not lift up your voice like a trumpet? Show your people their transgressions, and the house of Jacob their sins, that their blood may not be required at your hands." [3]

Such were the terms in which Pope Martin deemed it becoming to speak of the Act by which the Parliament prohibited foreigners–many of whom did not know our tongue, and some of whom, too lazy to come in person, sent their cooks or butlers to do duty for them–holding livings in England. He rates the Senate of a great nation as if it were a chapter of friars or a corps of Papal pensioners, who dared not meet till he had given them leave, nor transact

the least piece of business till they had first ascertained whether it was agreeable to his Pontifical pleasure. And the primate, the very man who at that moment was enacting new edicts against heresy, deeming the old not severe enough, and was burning Lollards for the "greater glory" of the Church, he indecently scolds as: grossly and traitorously negligent of the interests of the Papal See. This sharp reprimand was followed by an order to the archbishop, under pain of excommunication, instantly to repair to the Privy Council, and exert his utmost influence to have the statute repealed; and he was further enjoined, as soon as Parliament should sit, to apply to it for the same purpose, and to tell the Lords and Commons of England from the Pope, "that all who obeyed that statute were under excommunication." The primate was further required to charge all the clergy to preach the same doctrine. And, lastly, he was ordered to take two grave personages with him to attest his diligence, and to certify the Pope of the result of the matter. [4]

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