THE KING-PONTIFF AGAINST THE ROMANCATHOLICS AND THE PAPACY. (1534 AND 1535.)
WHILE the Roman papacy was triumphing in the Low Countries, a lay papacy was being established in England. Henry VIII. gave his orders like a sovereign bishop, summus episcopus, and the majority of the priests obeyed him. They believed that such an extraordinary state of things would be but of short duration, and thought that it was not worth the trouble of dying in battle against what would perish of itself. They muttered with their lips what the king ordered them, and waited for the coming deliverance.
Every preacher was bound to preach once at least against the usurpations of the papacy; to explain on that occasion the engagements made by the pope with the king of England, the duplicity shown by Clement, and the obligation by which the monarch was bound to thwart so much falsehood and trickery. The ministers of the Church were ordered to proclaim the Word of Christ purely, but to say nothing about the adoration of saints, the marriage of priests, justification by works and other doctrines rejected by the reformers, which the king intended to preserve. The secular clergy generally obeyed.
There were however numerous exceptions, particularly in the north of England, and the execution of Henry’s orders gave rise to scenes more or less riotous. Generally speaking, the partisans of Rome did not merit a very lively interest; but we must give due credit to those who ventured to resist a formidable power in obedience to conscientious principles. There were here and there a few signs of opposition. On the 24th of August Father Ricot, when preaching at Sion Monastery, called the king, according to his orders, ‘the head of the Church;’ but added immediately after, that he who had given the order was alone responsible before God, and that he ‘ought to take steps for the discharge of his conscience.’ The other monks went farther still: as soon as they heard Henry’s new title proclaimed, there was a movement among them. Father Lache, who far from resembling his name was inflexible even to impudence, got up; eight other monks rose with him and left the chapel ‘contrary to the rule of their religion’ and to the great scandal of all the audience. These nine friars, boldly quitting the church one after another, were the living protest of the monks of England. That their desire was not to acknowledge Jesus Christ alone as head, is intelligible: they wanted to maintain the dominion of the pope in the Church, and in the State also. The king pope would have none of these freaks of independence. Bedell, who had received Cromwell’s order to inspect this convent, proposed to send the nine monks to prison, ‘to the terrible example of theft adherents.’ The priests, finding that they must act with prudence, avoided a repetition of such outbreaks and began secretly to school their penitents in the confessional, bidding them employ mental reservations, in order to conciliate everything. They set the example themselves: ‘I have abjured the pope in the outward man, but not in the inward man ,’ said one of them to some of his parishioners. The confessor at Sion Monastery had proclaimed the king’s new title and even preached upon it; yet when one of his penitents showed much uneasiness because he had heard Latimer say that the pope himself could not pardon sin: ‘Do not be afraid,’ said the confessor; ‘the pope is assuredly the head of the Church. True, king and parliament have turned him out of office here in England; but that will not last long. The world will change again, you will see, and that too before long.’ — ‘But we have made oath to the king as head of the Church,’ said some persons to a priest. ‘What matters!’ replied he. ‘An oath that is not very strictly made may be broken the same way.’
These mental reservations, however, made many ecclesiastics and laymen too feel uneasy. They longed for deliverance: they were on the look out; they turned their eyes successively towards Ireland which had risen for the pope, and towards the Low Countries, whence an imperial fleet was to sail for the subjugation of England. Men grew excited. In the convents there were fanatical and visionary monks who, maddened by the abuses of power under which they suffered, and fired by persecution, dreamt of nothing but reaction and vengeance, and expressed their cruel wishes in daring language. One of them named Maitland, belonging to the Dominican convent in London, exclaimed presumptuously, as if he were a prophet: ‘Soon I shall behold a scaffold erected... On that scaffold will pass in turn the heads of all those who profess the new doctrine, and Cranmer will be one of them... The king will die a violent and shameful death, and the queen will be burnt.’ Being addicted to the black art, Maitland pretended to read the future by the help of Satanic beings. All were not so bold: there were the timid and fearful. Several monks of Sion House, despairing of the papacy, were making preparations to escape and hide themselves in some wilderness or foreign cloister. ‘If we succeed,’ they said, ‘we shall be heard of no more, and nobody will know where we are.’ This being told to Bedell, Cromwell’s agent, he was content to say: ‘Let them go; the loss will not be great.’ Roman-catholicism was, however, to find more honorable champions.
Two men, a layman and a bishop, celebrated throughout. Christendom, Fisher and Sir Thomas More, were about to present an opposition to the king which probably he had not expected. Since More had fathomed the king’s intentions, and resigned the office of chancellor, he often passed whole nights without sleep, shuddering at the future which threatened him, and watering his bed with tears. He feared that he was not firm enough to brave death. ‘O God!’ he exclaimed during his agitated vigils, ‘come and help me. I am so weak I could not endure a fillip.’ His children wept, his wife stormed against her husband’s enemies, and he himself employed a singular mode of preparing his family for the fate that awaited him. One day, when they were all at table, a serjeant entered the room and summoned him to appear before the king’s commissioners. ‘Be of good cheer,’ said More; ‘the time is not yet come. I paid this man in order to prepare you for the calamity that hangs over you.’ It was not long delayed.
Shortly after the condemnation of Elizabeth Barton the nun, Sir Thomas More, Fisher, and many other influential men were summoned to the archbishop’s palace to take the oath prescribed in the Act of Succession.
More confessed, received the sacrament, and forbidding his wife and children to accompany him, as was their custom, to the boat which was to carry him to Lambeth, he proceeded in great emotion towards the place where his future would be decided. His startled family watched him depart. The ex-chancellor taking his seat. in the boat along with his son-inlaw William Roper, endeavored to restrain his tears and struggled but without success against his sorrow. At length his face became more serene, and turning to Roper, he whispered in his ear, ‘I thank our Lord, my son; the field is won.’ On his arrival at Lambeth palace, where bishop Fisher and a great number of ecclesiastics assembled, More, who was the only layman, was introduced first. The chancellor read the form to him: it stated in the preamble that the troubles of England, the oceans of blood that had been shed in it and many other afflictions, originated in the usurped power of the popes; that the king was the head of the Anglican Church, and that the bishop of Rome possessed no authority out of his own diocese. ‘I cannot subscribe that form,’ said More, ‘without exposing my soul to everlasting damnation. I am ready to give my adhesion to the Act of Succession which is a political act — but without the preamble.’ ‘You are the first man who has refused,’ said the chancellor. ‘Think upon it.’ A great number of bishops, doctors, and priests who were successively introduced, took the required oath. But More remained firm, and so did bishop Fisher. Cranmer, who earnestly desired to save these two conscientious men, asked Cromwell to accept the oath they proposed, and the latter consulted the king upon it. ‘They must give way,’ exclaimed Henry, ‘or I will make an example of them that shall frighten others.’ As the king was inexorable, they were attainted by act of parliament for refusing to take the required oath, and sent to the Tower. This was in December 1534. The family of Sir Thomas More was plunged in affliction. His daughter Margaret having obtained permission to see him, hurried to the Tower, penetrated to his cell, and incapable of speaking, fell weeping into his arms. ‘Daughter,’ said More, restraining himself with an effort, ‘let us kneel down.’ He repeated the seven penitential Psalms, and then rising up, said: ‘Dear Meg, those who have put me here think they have done me a high displeasure, but God treats me as He treats his best friends.’ Margaret, who thought of nothing but to save her father, exclaimed: ‘Take the oath! death is hanging over your head.’ ‘Nothing will happen to me but what pleases God,’ replied Sir Thomas More. His daughter left the Tower overwhelmed with grief. His wife, who also went to see him, chancellor Audley, the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Cromwell, and other of the king’s counselors were not more successful than Margaret. Bishop Fisher met similar solicitations with a similar refusal.
As the king’s government did not wish to hurry on the trial of these illustrious men, they turned from the chiefs to the followers. The Carthusians of London were in great odor of sanctity; they never spoke except at certain times, ate no meat, and affirmed that God had visited them in visions and miracles. Their house was not free from disorders, but many of the monks took their vocation seriously. When the royal commissioners visited them to tender the oath of succession, Prior Haughton, a man of small stature but agreeable appearance and noble carriage, appeared before them. The commissioners required him to acknowledge Henry’s second marriage to be lawful; Haughton at first sought a loophole, and answered that the king might be divorced and married without him or his monks having anything to say to it. ‘It is the king’s command,’ answered the commissioners, ‘that you and your brethren acknowledge by oath the lawfulness of his union. Call the monks together.’ The Carthusians appeared, and all refused to take the oath.
The prior and proctor were consequently sent to the Tower. The bishop of London used all his influence to make them change their opinions, and succeeded in persuading them that they might take the oath, by making several reservations. They therefore returned to the Charter House and prevailed upon their brethren to do as they had done.
Immediately all was confusion in the monastery. Several monks in deep distress could not tell which course to follow; others, more decided, exclaimed that they would not yield at any price. ‘They are minded to offer themselves in sacrifice to the great idol of Rome,’ wrote Bedell to Cromwell. At last, when the soldiers appeared to take the rebels to the Tower, the terrified monks lost heart, and took the oath to the new marriage of Henry VIII. ‘so far as it was lawful.’ The bitter cup was removed, but not for long.
Whilst England was separating from Rome, Clement VII. was dying of vexation. The hatred felt by the Romans towards him was only equalled by the joy they experienced at the election of his successor.
Alexander Farnese, the choice of the French party, was a man of the world, desirous of putting down the protestants, recovering England, reforming the Church, and above all enriching his own family. When Da Casale, Henry’s envoy, presented his homage: ‘There is nothing in the world,’ said Paul III. to him, ‘that I have more at heart than to satisfy your master.’ It was too late.
Clement’s behavior had produced an evil influence on the character of the Tudor king. The services rendered by this prince to the papacy had been overlooked, his long patience had not been rewarded: he fancied himself despised and deceived. His pride was irritated, his temper grew fiercer, his violence for some time restrained, broke out, and unable to reach the pope, he revenged himself on the papacy. Until now, he had scarcely been worse than most of the sovereigns of Christendom: from this moment, when he proclaimed himself head of the Church, he became harsh, and cared for nothing but gratifying his evil inclinations, his despotic humors, his bloodthirsty cruelty. As a prince, he had at times shown a few amiable qualities; as a pope, he was nothing but a tyrant.
Henry VIII. observing the agitation his pretensions caused in England, and wishing to strengthen his new authority, had caused several bills concerning the Church to be brought into the parliament, which met on the 3rd of November, 1534. The ministers who had drafted them, far from being protestants, were zealous partisans of scholastic orthodoxy. It was the cunning Gardiner, a furious Catholic; the duke of Norfolk who assisted in the king’s movements against Rome, only to prevent him from falling into the arms of the reformers; and the politic Cromwell, who, despite his zeal against the pope, declared at his death, possibly giving a particular meaning to the words, that he died in the catholic faith. The first act passed by parliament was the ratification of the king’s new rifle, already officially recognized by the clergy. Henry’s ministers knew how to make the law strict and rigorous. ‘It is enacted,’ so ran the act, ‘that our lord the king be acknowledged sole and supreme head on earth of the Church of England; that he shall possess not only the honors, jurisdictions, and profits attached to that dignity, but also full authority to put down all heresies and enormities, whatever be the customs and the laws that may be opposed to it.’ Shortly after, on the 1st of February, parliament still more imperious, enacted that ‘whoever should do anything tending to deprive the king or his heirs of any of their titles, or should call him heretic, schismatic, usurper, etc., should be guilty of high treason.’ Thus Henry VIII. united the two swords in his hand.— ‘A Mohammedan union,’ says a modern historian. This writer might have contented himself with calling it ‘a papal union.’ Whether a pope claims to be king, or a king claims to be pope, it comes to nearly the same thing. At the time when the Reformation was emancipating the long-enslaved Church, a new master was given it, and what a master! The consciences of Christians revolted against this order of things. One day — it was some time later — Cranmer was asked: ‘Who is the supreme head of the Church of England?’ — ‘Christ,’ was the reply, ‘as He is of the universal Church.’ — ‘But did you not recognize the king as supreme head of the Church?’ — ‘We recognized him as head of all the people of England ,’ answered Cranmer, ‘of churchmen, as well as of laymen .’ — ‘What! not of the Church?’ ‘No! Supreme head of the Church never had any other meaning than what I tell you.’ This is explicit, if the title given Henry only signified that he was king of the clergy as well as of the laity, and that the former were under the jurisdiction of the royal courts as well as the latter, in all matters of common law, there can be nothing fairer. But how was it that Cranmer did not find as much courage in Henry’s lifetime to speak according to his conscience, as when examined in 1555 by Brokes, the papal sub-delegate?
An interpretative document drawn up by the government at almost the same time as the act of parliament, corroborates however the explanation made by Cranmer; it said: ‘The title of supreme head of the Church gives the king no new authority-it does not signify that he can assume any spiritual power.’ This document declares that the words reform abuses and heresies, indicate the authority which the king possesses to suppress the powers which the bishop of Rome or other bishops have usurped in his realm. ‘We heartily detest,’ said Fulke, master of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, ‘the notion that the king can do what he likes in matters of religion.’ Even Elizabeth refused the title of head of the Church. Probably these are facts which are not generally known.