Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

logical improvements, without recourse to either Testament; and those unfashionable sages, who continued to study the sacred writings, were styled, in derision, “ Bible-men," and could neither find rooms wherein to read lectures, nor pupils* to listen to their instructions, in any European university. Again, it should be considered, that the system of chaunting requiems, and causing masses to be said for the repose of departed souls, was invented by these people. We also know, that a large contribution to a monastery was considered an atonement for a life of wickedness; every monk in the convent being ready to declare such a patron a saint, and that he died in the “ odour of sanctity.” We must remember the common custom of taking the habit of a monk when near to death, and in this disguise “dying like a fool, after living like a villain;" which custom the monks countenanced and encouraged, as a means of enriching their coffers. Taking all these things into consideration, can we acquit the monks of poisoning the pure stream of Christianity with corruptions oozing from their filthy institutions ? --and, when we know that all these delusions were the effect of avarice and a lust of power, can we refrain from expressions of the highest indignation against such a system?

The political effects, however, resulting from the unprincipled actions of the monks, were still more to be dreaded. The power of the church, during the middle ages, was enormous; which power, as would be shewn, was obtained foully, and used, when obtained, most tyranically. The monks were, on all occasions, ready to promote their own advancement, no matter at whose expense they were raised, or on whose necks they trod in their progress: their whole faculties were bent on aggrandizement; their learning was all directed to that one object; they reduced religion to a commodity, the price of which they kept well up in the market, and which was a profitable article to the manufacturers. Every thing that happened was a source of profit to these people. Did one man kill another, he paid to the monastery a large sum for his pardon. Was a man desirous of marrying his second cousin, it was forbidden,--but gold softened the hearts of the priesthood,—they were married. Did the man afterwards grow tired of his wife, let him complain that his conscience was hurt at his cohabiting with a relation; and, by paying freely, his wife was divorced. They encouraged a superstitious belief in devils and evil spirits, and they were the persons employed to destroy these supernatural agents of the devil. Bequests of whole estates were made to abbeys, for

Wood. Antiq., apud Henry.

the good of the soul of the benefactor; sums of money were left to establish chauntries, where masses might be sung for the repose of some departed soul: tithes, too, which never ought to have been given to any but the priests, were given to these institutions, to the very ruin and beggary of the pastors. * And to such an extent did these people carry their depredations, that, at one time, nearly half the land in England was held by the Church, and almost all the gold and silver; t and what they once got they held with a firm grasp : they had the keys of heaven and hell, and woe to the wretch who invaded the Church's property! It was as much an article of belief, that he who robbed holy Church would be damned, as that there was a Trinity. Charles Martel, who robbed the monks to pay his troops, was not merely supposed to be damned, but, if we may believe sixty-five priests, they had evident proof of it. Ingulphus, the abbot of Croyland, who had a dispute with Asford of Helieston, says, in plain terms, “that the soul of this proud adversary of his Creator went down to hell;” and, in this manner, any attempt at invasion of their property was successfully repelled. We are not without writers who go so far as to say, that property merely passing through their hands was by no means safe. Morant insinuates as much in his account of the public institutions of Colchester; and, if they were so disposed, it is clear that great facility was afforded to ecclesiastics to commit wrong, as they were not amenable to the same laws with their fellow-subjects. Not satisfied with that influence which wealth always obtains, they proceeded to establish a church government totally independent of the state. An attempt was made by the pope to nominate bishops by his own authority, and even in defiance of the wishes of the prince, and which was at length effected, chiefly by the influence of the monks; and this was as well a source of wealth as of power. Walter de Gray (see p. 384) paid to the Pope a sum equal to 40,0001. modern

money, in his appointment to that see. Rome had already established its claim to premiums for winking at, or rather encouraging, aggressions of one nation against another. We find Gregory the Seventh demanding of William the Conqueror homage for the Crown of England, because Alexander the Second had supplied the invader with a consecrated banner;† and, although William stoutly refused the thing, alleging that he had already paid for the favor, yet, we find, that Henry bis son, who usurped this throne, to the exclusion of Robert his elder brother, fearing that the pope would espouse Robert's

* Ridley's Ecclesiastical Law. + Tyrrell's England, vol. ii.-See also the Domesday Book.

Epistola Gregorii, vii.

*

cause, was most anxious to secure favor at Rome at any price. The whole of which incident, perhaps, explains the character of the politics of the church in those times, more clearly than a set treatise on the subject.

But the power of excommunication and interdiction was the most dreadful of all the pope's offensive weapons : ' by the force of a few lines, it was in the power of this man to prevent either marriage, baptism, or burial, in a kingdom. No bishop dare proceed in his usual avocations; he was the pope's subject, and not his prince's: and this power so completely established the sway of Rome, that, until the Reformation, we find few instances of rebellion against the pontiff's authority.

There was, perhaps, never any thing more disgraceful than the invasion of this kingdom by Louis of France, backed by a consecrated' banner from Rome; the cowardice of John, in surrendering his crown to the pope unconditionally; and, above all, the duplicity and sheer impudence of his holiness, in suddenly turning round on his now useless friend, Louis, and bidding him depart in peace: and, let it be always recollected, that the act of John, so disgraceful to England, was owing to the abuse of an enormous power put into the hands of Rome by our monastic institutions. The inquisition, the very name of which is so terrible,—that powerful engine of torture and destruction - whose motions were seldom heard, and perhaps on that account more dreadful, --separating fathers from their families, and mothers from their children, 'to be killed by excessive tortures, which none but monks, or their scarce-superior geniuses, devils, could have invented,

was a scheme of a monk, as he pretended to think, for the glory of God.

After charges of such weight, it would be almost idle to say any thing of their minor crimes. So 'much, however, had been said of their humility, piety, and charity, that it would be, perhaps, useful to say one word on these subjects.

In the supplication of beggars,"4 after a powerful exposure of the frauds of the monks, it is asked, “But what remedy to relieve us, your poore, sick, lame, and sore beadsmen? To make 'many hospitalls for the reliefe of the poore

In Juliana Berners's Boke of St. Albans, (1496,) amongst other useful precepts, as, how to choose a good horse, &c., we find this :

Merke well thysc foure thynges. There be foure thynges pryncypally to be dradde of every wyse man: the fyrste is, the curse of our holy fader the pope ; the second is, thyndignacon of a prynce,”' &c.

A certain libell or booke, entituled the Supplication of Beggar, throwne and scattered in the procession at Westminster, on Candlemas-day, before King Henry the Eighth, for him to read and peruse; made and compiled by Master Simon Fish,

[ocr errors]

VOL, I. PART II.

D D

people? Nay, truly. The more the worse. For ever the fat of the whole foundation hangeth on the priests' beards.” It had been urged, that monasteries fed the poor, who, since the dissolution of religious houses, have been a heavy burden on this state. Now, the act dissolving monasteries was in the thirty-first session of Henry the Eighth, in 1539; and the act for relieving the poor was in the forty-third session of Elizabeth, in 1601, sixty-two years afterwards ; from which it would appear, that the poor could not have been much affected by the change. Barrington, in his remarks on the statutes, says, “ It is generally supposed that the dissolution of monasteries occasioned the provision for the poor in the latter end of Queen Elizabeth's reign, which I should much doubt : for, in the first place, I do not find that great numbers of poor are subsisted by the monasteries, which continue still in the Roman Catholic countries; and Dr. Ducarrell* informs us, that he paid a particular attention to this in the province of Normandy, and could not find that the poor had any very considerable charity or support from the religious houses; and he also alludes to the length of time elapsed before the statute relieving the poor was passed."

The excessive debauchery of the monks would be a subject of important inquiry, were it not forgotten in their other vices. Honest John Fox, in his Ecclesiastical History, bas numerous pleasant stories of the monks' luxuries, and their immorality; he shews, in a broad light, the hypocrisy of these fellows, who, pretending to associate“ pro remissione et redemptione peccatorum, &c., fasted on fat capons and rich wine, and indulged in every sort of pleasure and sensuality, undisturbed by the voice of their own consciences, or by the loud report of their evil fame spread every where abroad.”

On the whole, viewing the question in every light; granting, that, in the early history of monachism we may find something to admire, and to be grateful for; yet it appeared indisputably, that the monastic institutions were decidedly injurious, that they were much corrupted shortly after their institution, and at length became intolerable.

IN REPLY, it was remarked, that the principal facts and arguments brought forward in favor of monachism, remained unshaken by any thing said against them. The fact of the Scriptures being preserved, was alone sufficient to determine the question. Suppose the monks to have been as wicked as they were described, ten times that degree of wickedness could never work so much harm, as the preservation of the Bible worked good. It was boldly asked, Has evil example had so powerful an effect as to render revelation nugatory? If not, and if we are indebted to the monks for this revelation, then monastic institutions have been more beneficial than injurious.

* Dr. Ducarrell's Tour in Normandy.

But the fact is, monasteries ought not to be considered in the light in which they were placed by the advocates of the other side of the question. What could be more unfair, than the charging monasteries with ignorance, because Meinhard was a dunce? Did the gentleman never meet with a dunce at Cambridge? Did he never hear of a solitary " wooden spoon?" Yet surely he would not argue that the Cambridge men are, therefore, all wooden spoons. We were told of the worthy prelates' bad Latin, but not a word had been said of Roger Bacon. We had heard lamentations for the lost decades, but not a word of gratitude for the preservation of those we have : because the monks did not precisely all that they might have done, they are to have no credit for what they have effected.

It had been attempted, on the other side, to deny the literary merit of the monks; but the weight of the charge against monachism, was its corruption of Christianity, and its baneful effect on the political institutions of Europe. Granting all that could be said on these heads, still the old question presented itself,—What would have been the state of things if monachism had not existed? Was not any religion better than none? And would it have been better that we should have been spared the evils of monkery, and without the Scriptures? If the Scriptures have worked infinitely, more good to mankind than monkish wickedness has done harm; and, if the monks preserved these Scriptures, then, it was repeated, that the balance of good was in favor of monachism. The vices of the monks had been highly colored, and their virtues had been hidden. It is true, that one monk invented the system since called the Inquisition; but this system was certainly opposed by others of the fraternity. And the following remark of Salvianus was frequently quoted by the advocates of milder proceedings; viz." They (i. e. the heretics) believe what they profess to be true; and they think themselves to be orthodox. As they are heretics in our esteem, even so are we in theirs."* The depravity of church-government is no proof of the general wickedness of the priesthood. From what body of men was the priesthood formed, after the Reformation, if not from the old and established clergy. It was not at all

* Salvianus de Gubernat. “ Hæretici ergo sunt, sed non scientes. Denique apud nos bæretici, apud se non sunt. Nam in tantum se Catbolicos esse judicant, ut nos ipsos titulo hæreticæ appellationis in. fament."

« ZurückWeiter »