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HOME > Classical Novels > History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin > CHAPTER XII.
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(Autumn, 1536.)
After Anne Boleyn's death, the men of the Reformation had taken the initiative, and Cranmer, Cromwell, Latimer, and Alesius seemed on the point of winning the prize of the contest. The intervention of a greater personage was about to turn the medal.
Anne's disgrace and the wedding with Jane Seymour had occupied the king with far other matters than theology. Cranmer had the field free to advance the Reformation. This was not what Henry meant; and as soon as he noticed it, he roused himself, as if from slumber, and hastened to put things in order. Though rejecting the authority of the pope, he remained faithful to his doctrines. He proceeded to act in his character as head of the Church, and resolved to fulminate a bull, as the pontiffs had done. Reginald Pole, in the book which he had addressed to him, observed that in matters touching the pope, we must not regard either his character or his life, but only his authority; and that the lapses of a pope in morals detract nothing from his infallibility in faith. Henry understood this distinction very clearly, and showed himself a pope in every way. He did not believe that there was any incompatibility between the right he claimed of taking a new wife whenever he pleased, by means of divorce or the scaffold, and that of declaring the oracles of God on contrition, justification,
and ecclesiastical rites and ceremonies. The rupture of the negotiations with the protestants gave him more liberty, and even caused him a little vexation. His chagrin was not unmingled with anger, and he was not grieved to show those obstinate Germans what they gained by not accepting him. In this respect Henry was like a woman who, annoyed at being rejected by the man she prefers, gives her hand to his rival in bravado. He returned, therefore, to his theological labors. The doctors of the scholastic party spared him the pains of drawing up for himself the required articles; but he revised them and was elated at the importance of his work. 'We have in our own person taken great pain, study, labors, and travails,' he said, 'over certain articles which will establish concord in our Church.'[393] Cromwell, always submissive to his master and well knowing the cost of resistance, laid this royal labor before the upper house of Convocation. In religious matters Henry had never done anything so important. The doctrine of the authority of the prince over the dogmas of the Church now became a fact. The king's dogmatic paper, entitled Articles about religion set out by the Convocation, and published by the King's authority, bears a strong resemblance to the Exposition and the Type of Faith, published in the seventh century, during the monothelite controversy, by the emperors of Constantinople—Heraclius and Constant II. That prince, who in a political sense gave England a new impulse, sought his models as an ecclesiastical ruler, in the Lower Empire. Everybody was eager to know what doctrines the new head of the Church was going to proclaim. The partisans of Rome were doubtless quite as much surprised as the Reformers, but their astonishment was that of joy; the surprise of the evangelicals was that of fear. The vicar-general read the royal oracles aloud: 'All
the words contained in the whole canon of the Bible.' he said, 'and in the three creeds—the Apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian—according to the interpretation which the holy approved doctors in the Church do defend,[394] shall be received and observed as the infallible words of God, so that whosoever rejects them is not a member of Christ but a member of the devil, and eternally damned.'
That was the Romish doctrine, and Bossuet, in his examination of the royal document, appears much satisfied with the article.[395]
'The sacrament of baptism should be administered to infants, in order that they may receive the Holy Ghost and be purified of sin by its secret virtue and operation. If a man falls after baptism the sacrament of penance is necessary to his salvation; he must go to confession, ask absolution at the priest's hands, and look upon the words uttered by the confessor as the voice of God speaking out of heaven.'[396]
——'That is the whole substance of the catholic doctrine,' the partisans of Rome might urge.[397]
'Under the form of the bread and the wine are verily, substantially, and really contained the body and very blood of the Saviour which was born of the Virgin.'
——'That indicates most precisely the real presence of the body,' say the Romish doctors.[398]
'The merits of the Saviour's passion are the only and worthy causes of our justification; but, before giving it to us, God requires of us inward contrition, perfect faith, hope, and charity, and all the other spiritual motions which must necessarily concur in the remission of our sins.'
——The council of Trent declared the same doctrine not long after.[399]
'Images ought to be preserved in the churches. Only let those who kneel before them and adore them know that such honor is not paid to the images, but to God.'
——'To use such language,' Roman-catholics have said, 'is to approve of image-worship to the extreme.'[400]
'It is praiseworthy,' continued Cromwell, 'to address prayers to our Blessed Lady, to St. John the Baptist, to each of the apostles, or to any other saint, in order that they may pray for us and with us; but without believing there is more mercy in them than in Christ.'
——'If the king looks upon this as a kind of Reformation,' said a Romish doctor, 'he is only making game of the world; for no catholic addresses the saints except to have their prayers.'[401]
'As for the ceremonies, such as sprinkling with holy water, distributing the consecrated bread, prostration before the cross and kissing it, exorcisms, &c., these rites and others equally praiseworthy ought to be maintained as putting us in remembrance of spiritual things.'
——'That is precisely our idea,' said the partisans of Romish tradition.[402]
'Finally, as to purgatory, the people shall be taught that Christians ought to pray for the souls of the dead, and give alms, in order that others may pray for them, so that their souls may be relieved of some part of their pain.'[403]
——'All that we teach is here approved of,' said the great opponent of protestantism.[404]
Such was the religion which the prince, whom some
writers call the father of the Reformation, desired to establish in England. If England became protestant, it was certainly in spite of him.
A long debate ensued in convocation and elsewhere. The decided evangelicals could see nothing in these articles but an abandonment of Scripture, a 'political daubing,' in which the object was only to please certain persons and to attain certain ends. The men of the moderate party said, on the other hand, 'Ought we not to rejoice that the Scriptures and ancient creeds are re-established as rules of faith, without considering the pope?' But above these opposite opinions rose the terrible voice of the king: Sic volo, sic jubeo: Such is my pleasure, such are my orders. If the primate and his friends resisted, they would be set aside and the Reformation lost.
It does not appear that Cranmer had any share in drawing up these articles, but he signed them. It has been said, to excuse him, that neither he, nor many of his colleagues, had at that time a distinct knowledge of such matters, and that they intended to make amendments in the articles; but these allegations are insufficient. Two facts alone explain the concessions of this pious man: the king's despotic will and the archbishop's characteristic weakness. He always bent his head; but, we must also acknowledge, it was in order to raise it again. Archbishop Lee, sixteen bishops, forty abbots or priors, and fifty archdeacons or proctors signed after Cromwell and the primate. The articles passed through Convocation, because—like Anne's condemnation—it was the king's will. Nothing can better explain the concessions of Cranmer, Cromwell, and others in the case of Anne Boleyn, than their support of these articles, which were precisely the opposite of the Scriptural doctrine whose triumph they had at heart. In both cases they had yielded slavishly to those magic words: Le roi le veut, The king wills it. Those four words were
sufficient: that man was loyal who sacrificed his own will to the sovereign. It was only by degrees that the free principles of protestantism were to penetrate among the people, and give England liberty along with order. Still that excuse is not sufficient: Cranmer would hav............
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