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.’ 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 kings dogmatic paper, entitled Articles about religion set out by the Convocation, and published by the Kings 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 at 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, 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. ‘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.’ — ‘That is the whole substance of the catholic doctrine,’ the partisans of Rome might urge. ‘Under the form of the bread and the wine are verily, substantially, and really contained the body and very blood of the Savior which was born of the virgin. — ‘That indicates most precisely the real presence of the body,’ say the Romish doctors. ‘The merits of the Savior’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. ‘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.’ ‘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.’ ‘As for the ceremonies, such as sprinkling with holy water, distributing the consecrated bread, prostration before the cross and kissing it, exorcisms, etc., 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. ‘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.’ — ‘All that we teach is here approved of,’ said the great opponent of protestantism. 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 vobo, 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 be 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 kings 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 kings 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 have left a more glorious name if he had suffered martyrdom under Henry VIII., and not waited for the reign of Mary.
When the kings articles were known, discontent broke out in the opposite pasties. ‘Be silent, you contentious preachers and you factions schoolmen,’ said the politicians: ‘you would sooner disturb the peace of the world, than relinquish or retract one particle!’ The articles were sent all over England, with orders that everyone should conform to them at his peril.
Cranmer did not look upon the game as lost. To bend before the blast, and then rise up again and guide the Reform to a good end, was his system. He first strove to prevent the evil by suggesting measures calculated to remedy it. Convocation resolved that a petition should be addressed to the king, praying him to permit his lay subjects to read the Bible in English, and to order a new translation of it to be made; moreover, a great number of feast-days were abolished as favoring ‘sloth, idleness, thieves, excesses, vagabonds, and riots;’ and finally, on the last day of the session (20th of July), Convocation declared — to show clearly that there was no question of returning to popery — that there was nothing more pernicious than a general council; and that, consequently, they must decline to attend that which the pope intended to hold in the city of Mantua. Thereupon parliament and Convocation were dissolved, and the king did without them for three years.
Henry VIII. was satisfied with his minister. Cromwell was created Lord Privy-Seal, the 2d of July, 1536, baron, and a few days later vicegerent in ecclesiastical matters (in rebus ecclesiasticis ). Wishing to tone down what savored too much of the schools in the kings articles, he circulated among all the priests some instructions which were passably evangelical. ‘I enjoin you,’ he said, ‘to make your parishioners understand that they do rather apply themselves to the keeping of God’s commandments and fulfilling of his works of charity, and providing for their families, than if they went about to pilgrimages. Advise parents and masters to teach their children and their servants the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Ten Commandments, in their mother-tongue.’ He even undertook to reform the clergy. ‘Deans, parsons, vicars, curates, and priests,’ he said, ‘are forbidden to haunt taverns, to drink or brawl after dinner or supper, to play at cards day or night. If they have any leisure, they should read the Scriptures, or occupy themselves with some honest exercise.’
Cranmer and Cromwell went farther than this. They wished to circulate the Holy Scriptures. Tyndale’s version was, in Cromwell’s opinion, too far compromised to be officially circulated; he had, therefore, patronized another translation. Coverdale, who was born in 1488, at a place of that name in Yorkshire, had undertaken (as we have seen) to translate the bible, and had applied to Cromwell to procure him the necessary books. Tyndale was more independent, a man of firmer and bolder character than Coverdale. He did not seek the aid of men, and finished his work (so to say) alone with God. Coverdale, pious no doubt like his rival, felt the need of being supported, and said, in his letter to Cromwell, that he implored his help, ‘prostrate on the knees of his heart.’
Coverdale knew Greek and Hebrew. He began his task in 1530; on the 4th of October, 1535, the book appeared, probably at Zurich, under the title: BIBLIA, the Bible, that is to say, the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament ; and reached England in the early part of 1536. At the beginning of the volume was a dedication to Henry VIII., which ended by imploring the divine blessing on the king and on his ‘dearest, just wife, and most virtuous princess, queen Anne.’ Cromwell was to present this translation to the king, and circulate it throughout the country; but this dearest wife, this most virtuous princess, had just been accused by Henry, charged before the tribunals, and beheaded. It was impossible to distribute a single copy of this version without arousing the monarch’s anger. Those who desired that the ship which had come so far should not be wrecked in the harbor, had recourse to several expedients. The decapitated queen’s name was Anne, that of the queen-regnant was Jeanne : there was a resemblance between them. Some copies corrected with a pen have instead of queen Anne, queen JAne ; in others the name of the queen is simply scratched out. These expedients were not sufficient: a new title-page was printed and dated 1536, the current year. But it was all of no use: it was impossible to obtain the royal sanction.
Still, if Coverdale’s Bible was not admitted into England, the Reformation, taught by pious ministers, was spreading more and more. The priests murmured in vain: ‘Not long ago,’ they said, ‘the Lollards were put to death for reading the Gospel in English, and now we are ordered to teach it in that language. We are robbed of our privileges, and our labors are increased.’
The king had proclaimed and laid down his ten articles to little purpose: faith gave pious ministers and Christians a courage which the great ones of the earth did not possess. John Gale, pastor of Twaite, in Suffolk, a quick, decided, but rather imprudent man, attacked the royal articles from his pulpit. But he did not stop there. His church was ornamented with images of the Virgin and Saints, before which the devout used to stick up tapers. ‘Austin,’ said he one day to a parishioner, ‘follow me;’ and the two men, with great exertions, took away the iron rods on which the worshippers used to set their tapers, and turned the images to the wall. — ‘Listen,’ said Dr. Barret to his parishioners, ‘the lifting up of the host betokens simply that the Father has sent his Son to suffer death for man, and the lifting up of the chalice, that the Son has shed his blood for our salvation. ’ — ‘Christ,’ said Bale, prior of Dorchester, ‘does not dwell in churches of stone, but in heaven above and in the hearts of men on earth.’ The minister of Hothfield declared that: ‘Our Lady is not the queen of heaven, and has no more power than another woman.’ ‘Pull him out of the pulpit,’ said the exasperated bailiff to the vicar. ‘I dare not,’ answered the latter. In fact, the congregation were delighted at hearing their minister say of Jesus, as Peter did: Neither is there salvation in any other, and that very day more than a hundred embraced their pastor’s doctrines. Jerome, vicar of Stepney, endeavored to plant the pure truth of Christ in the conscience, and root out all vain traditions, dreams and fantasies. Being invited to preach at St. Paul’s Cross, on the fourth Sunday in Lent, he said: ‘There are two sorts of people among you: the free, who are freely justified without the penance of the law and without meritorious works; and the slaves, who are still under the yoke of the law.’ — Even a bishop, Barlow of St. David’s, said in a stately cathedral: ‘If two or three cobblers or weavers, elect of God, meet together in the name of the Lord, they form a true Church of God.’ This was going too far: proceedings were commenced against those who had thus braved the kings articles. Jerome appeared before Henry VIII. at Westminster. The poor fellow, intimidated by the royal majesty, tremblingly acknowledged that the sacraments were necessary for salvation; but he was burnt five years after in the cause of the Gospel.
Gale and others were accused of heresy and treason before the criminal court. The books were not spared. There were some, indeed, that went beyond all bounds. One, entitled The little garden of the soul, contained a passage, in which the beheading of John the Baptist and of Anne Boleyn were ascribed to the same motive — the reproach of a criminal love uttered against two princes: one by Anne, and the other by John. Henry compared to Herod! Anne Boleyn to Saint John the Baptist! Tonstall denounced this audacious publication to Cromwell.
The crown-officers were to see that the doctrines of the pope were taught everywhere; but, without the pope and his authority, this system has no solid foundation. The Holy Scriptures, to which evangelical Christians appeal, is a firm foundation. The authority of the pope — a vicious principle — at least puts those who admit it in a position to know what they believe. But catholicism with Romish doctrine and without the pope, has no ground to stand on. Non-Roman-catholicism has but a treacherous support. Another system had already, in the sixteenth century, set up reason as the supreme rule; but it presents a thousand different opinions, and no absolute truth. There is but one real foundation: Thy word is truth, says Jesus Christ.