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The History of Protestantism

by the Rev. James A. Wylie, LL.D.
Author of “The Papacy,” “Daybreak in Spain,” &c.

“Protestantism, the sacred cause of God’s Light and Truth against the Devil’s Falsity and Darkness.”—Carlyle

Volume 1

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Cassell & Company, Limited: London, Paris & New York. 1878

James A. Wylie’s History of Protestantism was first published in 1878. It is a massive work that covers the beginnings of Christianity to the Glorious Revolution in Great Britain in 1688.

The following quote on J.A. Wylie is taken from a publisher’s Preface by Mourne Missionary Press:

The Rev. James Aitken Wylie was for many years a leading Protestant spokesman. Born in Scotland in 1808, he was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen and at St. Andrews; he entered the Original Seccession Divinity Hall, Edinburgh in 1827, and was ordained in 1831.  Dr. Wylie became sub-editor of the Edinburgh Witness in 1846, and, after joining the Free Church of Scotland in 1852, edited the Free Church Record from 1852 until 1860.  In 1860 he was appointed Lecturer on Popery at the Protestant Institute, a position he held until the year of his death.  Aberdeen University awarded him the LL.D. in 1856.


Volume 1

Book 1: Progress From the First to the Fourteenth Century

Chapter 1.1: Protestantism
Chapter 1.2: Declension Of The Early Christian Church
Chapter 1.3: Development Of The Papacy From The Times Of Constantine To Those Of Hildebrand
Chapter 1.4: Development Of The Papacy From Gregory Vii. To Boniface VIII
Chapter 1.5: Mediaeval Protestant Witnesses
Chapter 1.6: The Waldenses – Their Valleys
Chapter 1.7: The Waldenses – Their Missions And Martyrdoms
Chapter 1.8: The Paulicians
Chapter 1.9: Crusades Against The Albigenses
Chapter 1.10: Erection Of Tribunal Of Inquisition
Chapter 1.11: Protestants Before Protestantism
Chapter 1.12: Abelard, And Rise Of Modern Skepticism

Book 2: Wicliffe and His Times, or Advent of Protestantism

Chapter 2.1: Wicliffe: His Birth And Education
Chapter 2.2: Wicliffe, And The Pope’s Encroachments On England
Chapter 2.3: Wicliffe’s Battle With Rome For England’s Independence
Chapter 2.4: Wicliffe’s Battle With The Mendicant Friars
Chapter 2.5: The Friars Versus The Gospel In England
Chapter 2.6: The Battle Of The Parliament With The Pope
Chapter 2.7: Persecution Of Wicliffe By The Pope And The Hierarchy
Chapter 2.8: Hierarchical Persecution Of Wicliffe Resumed
Chapter 2.9: Wicliffe’s Views On Church Property And Church Reform
Chapter 2.10: The Translation Of The Scriptures, Or The English Bible
Chapter 2.11: Wicliffe And Transubstantiation
Chapter 2.12: Wicliffe’s Appeal To Parliament
Chapter 2.13: Wicliffe Before Convocation In Person, And Before The Roman Curia By Letter
Chapter 2.14: Wicliffe’s Last Days
Chapter 2.15: Wicliffe’s Theological And Church System

Book 3: John Huss and the Hussite Wars

Chapter 3.1: Birth, Education, And First Labours Of Huss
Chapter 3.2: Huss Begins His Warfare Against Rome
Chapter 3.3: Growing Opposition Of Huss To Rome
Chapter 3.4: Preparations For The Council Of Constance
Chapter 3.5: Deposition Of The Rival Popes
Chapter 3.6: Imprisonment And Examination Of Huss
Chapter 3.7: Condemnation And Martyrdom Of Huss
Chapter 3.8: Wicliffe And Huss Compared In Their Theology, Their Character, And Their Labours
Chapter 3.9: Trial And Temptation Of Jerome
Chapter 3.10: The Trial Of Jerome
Chapter 3.11: Condemnation And Burning Of Jerome
Chapter 3.12: Wicliffe, Huss, And Jerome, Or The First Three Witnesses Of Modern Christendom
Chapter 3.13: The Hussite Wars
Chapter 3.14: Commencement Of The Hussite Wars
Chapter 3.15: Marvellous Genius Of Ziska As A General
Chapter 3.16: Second Crusade Against Bohemia
Chapter 3.17: Brilliant Successes Of The Hussites
Chapter 3.18: The Council Of Basle
Chapter 3.19: Last Scenes Of The Bohemian Reformation

Book 4: Christendom at the Opening of the Sixteenth Century

Chapter 4.1: Protestantism And Medievalism
Chapter 4.2: The Empire
Chapter 4.3: The Papacy, Or Christendom Under The Tiara

Book 5: History of Protestantism in Germany to the Leipsic Disputation, 1519

Chapter 5.1: Luther’s Birth, Childhood, And School-Days
Chapter 5.2: Luther’s College Life
Chapter 5.3: Luther’s Life In The Convent
Chapter 5.4: Luther The Monk Becomes Luther The Reformer
Chapter 5.5: Luther As Priest, Professor, And Preacher
Chapter 5.6: Luther’s Journey To Rome
Chapter 5.7: Luther In Rome
Chapter 5.8: Tetzel Preaches Indulgences
Chapter 5.9: The “Theses”
Chapter 5.10: Luther Attacked By Tetzel, Prierio, And Eck
Chapter 5.11: Luther’s Journey To Augsburg
Chapter 5.12: Luther’s Appearance Before Cardinal Cajetan
Chapter 5.13: Luther’s Return To Wittemberg And Labours There
Chapter 5.14: Miltitz – Carlstadt – Dr. Eck
Chapter 5.15: The Leipsic Disputation

Book 6: From the Leipsic Disputation to the Diet at Worms, 1521

Chapter 6.1: Protestantism And Imperialism; Or, The Monk And The Monarch
Chapter 6.2: Pope Leo’s Bull
Chapter 6.3: Interviews And Negotiations
Chapter 6.4: Luther Summoned To The Diet At Worms
Chapter 6.5: Luther’s Journey And Arrival At Worms
Chapter 6.6: Luther Before The Diet At Worms
Chapter 6.7: Luther Put Under The Ban Of The Empire

Book 7: Protestantism in England, From the Times of Wicliffe to Those of Henry VIII

Chapter 7.1: The First Protestant Martyrs In England
Chapter 7.2: The Theology Of The Early English Protestants
Chapter 7.3: Growth Of English Protestantism
Chapter 7.4: Efforts For The Redistribution Of Ecclesiastical Property
Chapter 7.5: Trial And Condemnation Of Sir John Oldcastle
Chapter 7.6: Lollardism Denounced As Treason
Chapter 7.7: Martyrdom Of Lord Cobham
Chapter 7.8: Lollardism Under Henry V. And Henry Vi
Chapter 7.9: Rome’s Attempt To Regain Dominancy In England
Chapter 7.10: Resistance To Papal Encroachments
Chapter 7.11: Influence Of The Wars Of The Fifteenth Century On The Progress Of Protestantism

Book 8: History of Protestantism in Switzerland From A.D. 1516 to Its Establishment at Zurich, 1525

Chapter 8.1: Switzerland – The Country And The People
Chapter 8.2: Condition Of Switzerland Prior To The Reformation
Chapter 8.3: Corruption Of The Swiss Church
Chapter 8.4: Zwingli’s Birth And School-Days
Chapter 8.5: Zwingli’s Progress Towards Emancipation
Chapter 8.6: Zwingli In Presence Of The Bible
Chapter 8.7: Einsiedeln And Zurich
Chapter 8.8: The Pardon-Monger And The Plague
Chapter 8.9: Extension Of The Reformation To Bern And Other Swiss Towns
Chapter 8.10: Spread Of Protestantish In Eastern Switzerland
Chapter 8.11: The Question Of Forbidden Meats
Chapter 8.12: Public Disputation At Zurich
Chapter 8.13: Dissolution Of Conventual And Monastic Establishments
Chapter 8.14: Discussion On Images And The Mass
Chapter 8.15: Establishment Of Protestantism In Zurich

Book 9: History of Protestantism From the Diet of Worms, 1521, to the Augsburg Confession, 1530

Chapter 9.1: The Gerhan New Testament
Chapter 9.2: The Abolition Of The Mass
Chapter 9.3: Pope Adrian And His Scheme Of Reform
Chapter 9.4: Pope Clement And The Nuremberg Diet
Chapter 9.5: Nuremberg. (This Chapter Is Founded On Notes Made On The Spot By The Author In 1871.)
Chapter 9.6: The Ratisbon League And Reformation
Chapter 9.7: Luther’s Views On The Sacrament And Image-Worship
Chapter 9.8: War Of The Peasants
Chapter 9.9: The Battle Of Pavia And Its Influence On Protestantism
Chapter 9.10: Dietat Spires, 1526, And League Against The Emperor
Chapter 9.11: The Sack Of Rome
Chapter 9.12: Organization Of The Lutheran Church
Chapter 9.13: Constitution Of The Church Of Hesse
Chapter 9.14: Politics And Prodigies
Chapter 9.15: The Great Protest
Chapter 9.16: Conference At Marburg
Chapter 9.17: The Marburg Confession
Chapter 9.18: The Emperor, The Turk, And The Reformation
Chapter 9.19: Meeting Between The Emperor And Pope At Bologna
Chapter 9.20: Preparations For The Augsburg Diet
Chapter 9.21: Arrival Of The Emperor At Augsburg And Opening Of The Diet
Chapter 9.22: Luther In The Coburg And Melanchthon At The Diet
Chapter 9.23: Reading Of The Augsburg Confession
Chapter 9.24: After The Diet Of Augsburg
Chapter 9.25: Attempted Refutation Of The Confession
Chapter 9.26: End Of The Diet Of Augsburg
Chapter 9.27: A Retrospect–1517-1530–Progress

Volume 1

Book 1: Progress From The First To The Fourteenth Century

Chapter 1.1: Protestantism

Protestantism – The Seed of Arts, Letters, Free States, etc. – Its History a Grand Drama – Its Origin – Outside Humanity – A Great Creative Power – Protestantism Revived Christianity.

Engraving of James Wylie

THE History of Protestantism, which we propose to write, is no mere history of dogmas. The teachings of Christ are the seeds; the modern Christendom, with its new life, is the goodly tree which has sprung from them. We shall speak of the seed and then of the tree, so small at its beginning, but destined one day to cover the earth.

How that seed was deposited in the soil; how the tree grew up and flourished despite the furious tempests that warred around it; how, century after century, it lifted its top higher in heaven, and spread its boughs wider around, sheltering liberty, nursing letters, fostering art, and gathering a fraternity of prosperous and powerful nations around it, it will be our business in the following pages to show. Meanwhile we wish it to be noted that this is what we understand by the Protestantism on the history of which we are now entering. Viewed thus—and any narrower view would be untrue alike to philosophy and to fact—the History of Protestantism is the record of one of the grandest dramas of all time. It is true, no doubt, that Protestantism, strictly viewed, is simply a principle. It is not a policy. It is not an empire, having its fleets and armies, its officers and tribunals, wherewith to extend its dominion and make its authority be obeyed. It is not even a Church with its hierarchies, and synods and edicts; it is simply a principle. But it is the greatest of all principles. It is a creative power. Its plastic influence is all-embracing. It penetrates into the heart and renews the individual. It goes down to the depths and, by its omnipotent but noiseless energy, vivifies and regenerates society. It thus becomes the creator of all that is true, and lovely, and great; the founder of free kingdoms, and the mother of pure churches. The globe itself it claims as a stage not too wide for the manifestation of its beneficent action; and the whole domain of terrestrial affairs it deems a sphere not too vast to fill with its spirit, and rule by its law.

Whence came this principle? The name Protestantism is very recent: the thing itself is very ancient. The term Protestantism is scarcely older than 350 years. It dates from the protest which the Lutheran princes gave in to the Diet of Spires in 1529. Restricted to its historical signification, Protestantism is purely negative. It only defines the attitude taken up, at a great historical era, by one party in Christendom with reference to another party. But had this been all, Protestantism would have had no history. Had it been purely negative, it would have begun and ended with the men who assembled at the German town in the year already specified. The new world that has come out of it is the proof that at the bottom of this protest was a great principle which it has pleased Providence to fertilize, and make the seed of those grand, beneficent, and enduring achievements which have made the past three centuries in many respects the most eventful and wonderful in history. The men who handed in this protest did not wish to create a mere void. If they disowned the creed and threw off the yoke of Rome, it was that they might plant a purer faith and restore the government of a higher Law. They replaced the authority of the Infallibility with the authority of the Word of God. The long and dismal obscuration of centuries they dispelled, that the twin stars of liberty and knowledge might shine forth, and that, conscience being unbound, the intellect might awake from its deep somnolency, and human society, renewing its youth, might, after its halt of a thousand years, resume its march towards its high goal.

We repeat the question—Whence came this principle? And we ask our readers to mark well the answer, for it is the key-note to the whole of our vast subject, and places us, at the very outset, at the springs of that long narration on which we are now entering.

Protestantism is not solely the outcome of human progress; it is no mere principle of perfectibility inherent in humanity, and ranking as one of its native powers, in virtue of which when society becomes corrupt it can purify itself, and when it is arrested in its course by some external force, or stops from exhaustion, it can recruit its energies and set forward anew on its path. It is neither the product of the individual reason, nor the result of the joint thought and energies of the species. Protestantism is a principle which has its origin outside human society: it is a Divine graft on the intellectual and moral nature of man, whereby new vitalities and forces are introduced into it, and the human stem yields henceforth a nobler fruit. It is the descent of a heaven-born influence which allies itself with all the instincts and powers of the individual, with all the laws and cravings of society, and which, quickening both the individual and the social being into a new life, and directing their efforts to nobler objects, permits the highest development of which humanity is capable, and the fullest possible accomplishment of all its grand ends. In a word, Protestantism is revived Christianity.

Chapter 1.2: Declension Of The Early Christian Church

Early Triumphs of the Truth – Causes – The Fourth Century – Early Simplicity lost – The Church remodeled on the Pattern of the Empire – Disputes regarding Easter-day – Descent of the Gothic Nations – Introduction of Pagan Rites into the Church – Acceleration of Corruption – Inability of the World all at once to receive the Gospel in its greatness.

ALL through, from the fifth to the fifteenth century, the Lamp of Truth burned dimly in the sanctuary of Christendom. Its flame often sank low, and appeared about to expire, yet never did it wholly go out. God remembered His covenant with the light, and set bounds to the darkness. Not only had this heaven-kindled lamp its period of waxing and waning, like those luminaries that God has placed on high, but like them, too, it had its appointed circuit to accomplish. Now it was on the cities of Northern Italy that its light was seen to fall; and now its rays illumined the plains of Southern France. Now it shone along the course of the Danube and the Moldau, or tinted the pale shores of England, or shed its glory upon the Scottish Hebrides. Now it was on the summits of the Alps that it was seen to burn, spreading a gracious morning on the mountain-tops, and giving promise of the sure approach of day. And then, anon, it would bury itself in the deep valleys of Piedmont, and seek shelter from the furious tempests of persecution behind the great rocks and the eternal snows of the everlasting hills. Let us briefly trace the growth of this truth to the days of Wicliffe.

The spread of Christianity during the first three centuries was rapid and extensive. The main causes that contributed to this were the translation of the Scriptures into the languages of the Roman world, the fidelity and zeal of the preachers of the Gospel, and the heroic deaths of the martyrs. It was the success of Christianity that first set limits to its progress. It had received a terrible blow, it is true, under Diocletian. This, which was the most terrible of all the early persecutions, had, in the belief of the Pagans, utterly exterminated the “Christian superstition” So far from this, it had but afforded the Gospel an opportunity of giving to the world a mightier proof of its divinity. It rose from the stakes and massacres of Diocletian, to begin a new career, in which it was destined to triumph over the empire which thought that it had crushed it. Dignities and wealth now flowed in upon its ministers and disciples, and according to the uniform testimony of all the early historians, the faith which had maintained its purity and rigor in the humble sanctuaries and lowly position of the first age, and amid the fires of its pagan persecutors, became corrupt and waxed feeble amid the gorgeous temples and the worldly dignities which imperial favor had lavished upon it.

From the fourth century the corruptions of the Christian Church continued to make marked and rapid progress. The Bible began to be hidden from the people. And in proportion as the light, which is the surest guarantee of liberty, was withdrawn, the clergy usurped authority over the members of the Church. The canons of councils were put in the room of the one infallible Rule of Faith; and thus the first stone was laid in the foundations of “Babylon, that great city, that made all nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” The ministers of Christ began to affect titles of dignity, and to extend their authority and jurisdiction to temporal matters, forgetful that an office bestowed by God, and serviceable to the highest interests of society, can never fail of respect when filled by men of exemplary character, sincerely devoted to the discharge of its duties. The beginning of this matter seemed innocent enough. To obviate pleas before the secular tribunals, ministers were frequently asked to arbitrate in disputes between members of the Church, and Constantine made a law confirming all such decisions in the consistories of the clergy, and shutting out the review of their sentences by the civil judges.1 Proceeding in this fatal path, the next step was to form the external polity of the Church upon the model of the civil government. Four vice-kings or prefects governed the Roman Empire under Constantine, and why, it was asked, should not a similar arrangement be introduced into the Church? Accordingly the Christian world was divided into four great dioceses; over each diocese was set a patriarch, who governed the whole clergy of his domain, and thus arose four great thrones or princedoms in the House of God. Where there had been a brotherhood, there was now a hierarchy; and from the lofty chair of the Patriarch, a gradation of rank, and a subordination of authority and office, ran down to the lowly state and contracted sphere of the Presbyter.2 It was splendor of rank, rather than the fame of learning and the luster of virtue, that henceforward conferred distinction on the ministers of the Church.

Such an arrangement was not fitted to nourish spirituality of mind, or humility of disposition, or peacefulness of temper. The enmity and violence of the persecutor, the clergy had no longer cause to dread; but the spirit of faction which now took possession of the dignitaries of the Church awakened vehement disputes and fierce contentions, which disparaged the authority and sullied the glory of the sacred office. The emperor himself was witness to these unseemly spectacles. “I entreat you,” we find him pathetically saying to the fathers of the Council of Nice, “beloved ministers of God, and servants of our Savior Jesus Christ, take away the cause of our dissension and disagreement, establish peace among yourselves.”3

While the, “living oracles” were neglected, the zeal of the clergy began to spend itself upon rites and ceremonies borrowed from the pagans. These were multiplied to such a degree, that Augustine complained that they were “less tolerable than the yoke of the Jews under the law.”4 At this period the Bishops of Rome wore costly attire, gave sumptuous banquets, and when they went abroad were carried in litters.5 They now began to speak with an authoritative voice, and to demand obedience from all the Churches. Of this the dispute between the Eastern and Western Churches respecting Easter is an instance in point. The Eastern Church, following the Jews, kept the feast on the 14th day of the month Nisan6—the day of the Jewish Passover. The Churches of the West, and especially that of Rome, kept Easter on the Sabbath following the 14th day of Nisan. Victor, Bishop of Rome, resolved to put an end to the controversy, and accordingly, sustaining himself sole judge in this weighty point, he commanded all the Churches to observe the feast on the same day with himself. The Churches of the East, not aware that the Bishop of Rome had authority to command their obedience in this or in any other matter, kept Easter as before; and for this flagrant contempt, as Victor accounted it, of his legitimate authority, he excommunicated them.7 They refused to obey a human ordinance, and they were shut out from the kingdom of the Gospel. This was the first peal of those thunders which were in after times to roll so often and so terribly from the Seven Hills.

Riches, flattery, deference, continued to wait upon the Bishop of Rome. The emperor saluted him as Father; foreign Churches sustained him as judge in their disputes; heresiarchs sometimes fled to him for sanctuary; those who had favors to beg extolled his piety, or affected to follow his customs; and it is not surprising that his pride and ambition, fed by continual incense, continued to grow, till at last the presbyter of Rome, from being a vigilant pastor of a single congregation, before whom he went in and out, teaching them from house to house, preaching to them the Word of Life, serving the Lord with all humility in many tears and temptations that befell him, raised his seat above his equals, mounted the throne of the patriarch, and exercised lordship over the heritage of Christ. The gates of the sanctuary once forced, the stream of corruption continued to flow with ever-deepening volume. The declensions in doctrine and worship already introduced had changed the brightness of the Church’s morning into twilight; the descent of the Northern nations, which, beginning in the fifth, continued through several successive centuries, converted that twilight into night. The new tribes had changed their country, but not their superstitions; and, unhappily, there was neither zeal nor vigor in the Christianity of the age to effect their instruction and their genuine conversion. The Bible had been withdrawn; in the pulpit fable had usurped the place of truth; holy lives, whose silent eloquence might have won upon the barbarians, were rarely exemplified; and thus, instead of the Church dissipating the superstitions that now encompassed her like a cloud, these superstitions all but quenched her own light. She opened her gates to receive the new peoples as they were. She sprinkled them with the baptismal water; she inscribed their names in her registers; she taught them in their invocations to repeat the titles of the Trinity; but the doctrines of the Gospel, which alone can enlighten the understanding, purify the heart, and enrich the life with virtue, she was little careful to inculcate upon them. She folded them within her pale, but they were scarcely more Christian than before, while she was greatly less so. From the sixth century down-wards Christianity was a mongrel system, made up of pagan rites revived from classic times, of superstitions imported from the forests of Northern Germany, and of Christian beliefs and observances which continued to linger in the Church from primitive and purer times. The inward power of religion was lost; and it was in vain that men strove to supply its place by the outward form. They nourished their piety not at the living fountains of truth, but with the “beggarly elements” of ceremonies and relics, of consecrated lights and holy vestments. Nor was it Divine knowledge only that was contemned; men forbore to cultivate letters, or practice virtue. Baronius confesses that in the sixth century few in Italy were skilled in both Greek and Latin. Nay, even Gregory the Great acknowledged that he was ignorant of Greek. “The main qualifications of the clergy were, that they should be able to read well, sing their matins, know the Lord’s Prayer, psalter, forms of exorcism, and understand how to compute the times of the sacred festivals. Nor were they very sufficient for this, if we may believe the account some have given of them. Musculus says that many of them never saw the Scriptures in all their lives. It would seem incredible, but it is delivered by no less an authority than Amama, that an Archbishop of Mainz, lighting upon a Bible and looking into it, expressed himself thus: ‘Of a truth I do not know what book this is, but I perceive everything in it is against us.’”8

Apostasy is like the descent of heavy bodies, it proceeds with ever-accelerating velocity. First, lamps were lighted at the tombs of the martyrs; next, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated at their graves; next, prayers were offered for them and to them;9 next, paintings and images began to disfigure the walls, and corpses to pollute the floors of the churches. Baptism, which apostles required water only to dispense, could not be celebrated without white robes and chrism, milk, honey, and salt.10 Then came a crowd of church officers whose names and numbers are in striking contrast to the few and simple orders of men who were employed in the first propagation of Christianity. There were sub-deacons, acolytes, exorcists, readers, choristers, and porters; and as work must be found for this motley host of laborers, there came to be fasts and exorcisms; there were lamps to be lighted, altars to be arranged, and churches to be consecrated; there was the Eucharist to be carried to the dying; and there were the dead to be buried, for which a special order of men was set apart. When one looked back to the simplicity of early times, it could not but amaze one to think what a cumbrous array of curious machinery and costly furniture was now needed for the service of Christianity. Not more stinging than true was the remark that “when the Church had golden chalices she had wooden priests.”

So far, and through these various stages, had the declension of the Church proceeded. The point she had now reached may be termed an epochal one. From the line on which she stood there was no going back; she must advance into the new and unknown regions before her, though every step would carry her farther from the simple form and vigorous life of her early days. She had received a new impregnation from an alien principle, the same, in fact, from which had sprung the great systems that covered the earth before Christianity arose. This principle could not be summarily extirpated; it must run its course, it must develop itself logically; and having, in the course of centuries, brought its fruits to maturity, it would then, but not till then, perish and pass away.

Looking back at this stage to the change which had come over the Church, we cannot fail to see that its deepest originating cause must be sought, in the inability of the world to receive the Gospel in all its greatness. It was a boon too mighty and too free to be easily understood or credited by man. The angels in their midnight song in the vale of Bethlehem had defined it briefly as sublimely, “goodwill to man.” Its greatest preacher, the Apostle Paul, had no other definition to give of it. It was not even a rule of life but “grace,” the “grace of God,” and therefore sovereign, and boundless. To man fallen and undone the Gospel offered a full forgiveness, and a complete spiritual renovation, issuing at length in the inconceivable and infinite felicity of the Life Eternal. But man’s narrow heart could not enlarge itself to God’s vast beneficence. A good so immense, so complete in its nature, and so boundless in its extent, he could not believe that God would bestow without money and without price; there must be conditions or qualifications. So he reasoned. And hence it is that the moment inspired men cease to address us, and that their disciples and scholars take their place—men of apostolic spirit and doctrine, no doubt, but without the direct knowledge of their predecessors—we become sensible of a change; an eclipse has passed upon the exceeding glory of the Gospel. As we pass from Paul to Clement, and from Clement to the Fathers that succeeded him, we find the Gospel becoming less of grace and more of merit. The light wanes as we travel down the Patristic road, and remove ourselves farther from the Apostolic dawn. It continues for some time at least to be the same Gospel, but its glory is shorn, its mighty force is abated; and we are reminded of the change that seems to pass upon the sun, when after contemplating him in a tropical hemisphere, we see him in a northern sky, where his slanting beams, forcing their way through mists and vapors, are robbed of half their splendor. Seen through the fogs of the Patristic age, the Gospel scarcely looks the same which had burst upon the world without a cloud but a few centuries before.

This disposition—that of making God less free in His gift, and man less dependent in the reception of it: the desire to introduce the element of merit on the side of man, and the element of condition on the side of God—operated at last in opening the door for the pagan principle to creep back into the Church. A. change of a deadly and subtle kind passed upon the worship. Instead of being the spontaneous thanksgiving and joy of the soul, that no more evoked or repaid the blessings which awakened that joy than the odors which the flowers exhale are the cause of their growth, or the joy that kindles in the heart of man when the sun rises is the cause of his rising—worship, we say, from being the expression of the soul’s emotions, was changed into a rite, a rite akin to those of the Jewish temples, and still more akin to those of the Greek mythology, a rite in which lay couched a certain amount of human merit and inherent efficacy, that partly created, partly applied the blessings with which it stood connected. This was the moment when the pagan virus inoculated the Christian institution.

This change brought a multitude of others in its train. Worship being transformed into sacrifice—sacrifice in which was the element of expiation and purification—the “teaching ministry” was of course converted into a “sacrificing priesthood.” When this had been done, there was no retreating; a boundary had been reached which could not be recrossed till centuries had rolled away, and transformations of a more portentous kind than any which had yet taken place had passed upon the Church.

Chapter 1.3: Development Of The Papacy From The Times Of Constantine To Those Of Hildebrand

Imperial Edicts – Prestige of Rome – Fall of the Western Empire – The Papacy seeks and finds a New Basis of Power – Christ’s Vicar – Conversion of Gothic Nations – Pepin and Charlemagne – The Lombards and the Saracens – Forgeries and False Decretals – Election of the Roman Pontiff.

BEFORE opening our great theme it may be needful to sketch the rise and development of the Papacy as a politico-ecclesiastical power. The history on which we are entering, and which we must rapidly traverse, is one of the most wonderful in the world. It is scarcely possible to imagine humbler beginnings than those from which the Papacy arose, and certainly it is not possible to imagine a loftier height than that to which it eventually climbed. He who was seen in the first century presiding as the humble pastor over a single congregation, and claiming no rank above his brethren, is beheld in the twelfth century occupying a seat from which he looks down on all the thrones temporal and spiritual of Christendom. How, we ask with amazement, was the Papacy able to traverse the mighty space that divided the humble pastor from the mitered king?

We traced in the foregoing chapter the decay of doctrine and manners within the Church. Among the causes which contributed to the exaltation of the Papacy this declension may be ranked as fundamental, seeing it opened the door for other deteriorating influences, and mightily favored their operation. Instead of “reaching forth to what was before,” the Christian Church permitted herself to be overtaken by the spirit of the ages that lay behind her. There came an after-growth of Jewish ritualism, of Greek philosophy, and of Pagan ceremonialism and idolatry; and, as the consequence of this threefold action, the clergy began to be gradually changed, as already mentioned, from a “teaching ministry” to a “sacrificing priesthood.” This made them no longer ministers or servants of their fellow-Christians; they took the position of a caste, claiming to be superior to the laity, invested with mysterious powers, the channels of grace, and the mediators with God. Thus there arose a hierarchy, assuming to mediate between God and men.

The hierarchical polity was the natural concomitant of the hierarchical doctrine. That polity was so consolidated by the time that the empire became Christian, and Constantine ascended the throne (311), that the Church now stood out as a body distinct from the State; and her new organization, subsequently received, in imitation of that of the empire, as stated in the previous chapter, helped still further to define and strengthen her hierarchical government. Still, the primacy of Rome was then a thing unheard of. Manifestly the 300 Fathers who assembled (A.D. 325) at Nicaea knew nothing of it, for in their sixth and seventh canons they expressly recognize the authority of the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and others, each within its own boundaries, even as Rome had jurisdiction within its limits; and enact that the jurisdiction and privileges of these Churches shall be retained.1 Under Leo the Great (440–461) a forward step was taken. The Church of Rome assumed the form and exercised the sway of an ecclesiastical principality, while her head, in virtue of an imperial manifesto (445) of Valentinian III., which recognized the Bishop of Rome as supreme over the Western Church, affected, the authority and pomp of a spiritual sovereign.

Still further, the ascent of the Bishop of Rome to the supremacy was silently yet Powerfully aided by that mysterious and subtle influence which appeared to be indigenous to the soil on which his chair was placed. In an age when the rank of the city determined the rank of its pastor, it was natural that the Bishop of Rome should hold something of that pre-eminence among the clergy which Rome held among cities. Gradually the reverence and awe with which men had regarded the old mistress of the world, began to gather round the person and the chair of her bishop. It was an age of factions and strifes, and the eyes of the contending parties naturally turned to the pastor of the Tiber. They craved his advice, or they submitted their differences to his judgment. These applications the Roman Bishop was careful to register as acknowledgments of his superiority, and on fitting occasions he was not forgetful to make them the basis of new and higher claims. The Latin race, moreover, retained the practical habits for which it had so long been renowned; and while the Easterns, giving way to their speculative genius, were expending their energies in controversy, the Western Church was steadily pursuing her onward path, and skillfully availing herself of everything that could tend to enhance her influence and extend her jurisdiction.

The removal of the seat of empire from Rome to the splendid city on the Bosphorus, Constantinople, which the emperor had built with becoming magnificence for his residence, also tended to enhance the power of the Papal chair. It removed from the side of the Pope a functionary by whom he was eclipsed, and left him the first person in the old capital of the world. The emperor had departed, but the prestige of the old city—the fruit of countless victories, and of ages of dominion—had not departed. The contest which had been going on for some time among the five great patriarchates—Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Rome—the question at issue being the same as that which provoked the contention among the disciples of old, “which was the greatest,” was now restricted to the last two. The city on the Bosphorus was the seat of government, and the abode of the emperor; this gave her patriarch Powerful claims. But the city on the banks of the Tiber wielded a mysterious and potent charm over the imagination, as the heir of her who had been the possessor of all the power, of all the glory, and of all the dominion of the past; and this vast prestige enabled her patriarch to carry the day. As Rome was the one city in the earth, so her bishop was the one bishop in the Church. A century and a half later (606), this pre-eminence was decreed to the Roman Bishop in an imperial edict of Phocas. Thus, before the Empire of the West fell, the Bishop of Rome had established substantially his spiritual supremacy. An influence of a manifold kind, of which not the least part was the prestige of the city and the empire, had lifted him to this fatal pre-eminence. But now the time has come when the empire must fall, and we expect to see that supremacy which it had so largely helped to build up fall with it. But no! The wave of barbarism which rolled in from the North, overwhelming society and sweeping away the empire, broke harmlessly at the feet of the Bishop of Rome. The shocks that overturned dynasties and blotted out nationalities, left his power untouched, his seat unshaken. Nay, it was at that very hour, when society was perishing around him, that the Bishop of Rome laid anew the foundations of his power, and placed them where they might remain immovable for all time. He now cast himself on a far stronger element than any the revolution had swept away. He now claimed to be the successor of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and the Vicar of Christ. The canons of Councils, as recorded in Hardouin, show a stream of decisions from Pope Celestine, in the middle of the fifth century, to Pope Boniface II. in the middle of the sixth, claiming, directly or indirectly, this august prerogative.2 When the Bishop of Rome placed his chair, with all the prerogatives and dignities vested in it, upon this ground, he stood no longer upon a merely imperial foundation. Henceforward he held neither of Caesar nor of Rome; he held immediately of Heaven. What one emperor had given, another emperor might take away. It did not suit the Pope to hold his office by so uncertain a tenure. He made haste, therefore, to place his supremacy where no future decree of emperor, no lapse of years, and no coming revolution could overturn it. He claimed to rest it upon a Divine foundation; he claimed to be not merely the chief of bishops and the first of patriarchs, but the vicar Of the Most High God.

With the assertion of this dogma the system of the Papacy was completed essentially and doctrinally, but not as yet practically. It had to wait the full development of the idea of vicarship, which was not till the days of Gregory VII. But here have we the embryotic seed—the vicarship, namely—out of which the vast structure of the Papacy has sprung. This it is that plants at the center of the system a pseudo-divine jurisdiction, and places the Pope above all bishops with their flocks, above all king with their subjects. This it is that gives the Pope two swords. This it is that gives him three crowns. The day when this dogma was proclaimed was the true birthday of the Popedom. The Bishop of Rome had till now sat in the seat of Caesar; henceforward he was to sit in the seat of God. From this time the growth of the Popedom was rapid indeed. The state of society favored its development. Night had descended upon the world from the North; and in the universal barbarism, the more prodigious any pretensions were, the more likely were they to find both belief and submission. The Goths, on arriving in their new settlements, beheld a religion which was served by magnificent cathedrals, imposing rites, and wealthy and powerful prelates, presided over by a chief priest, in whose reputed sanctity and ghostly authority they found again their own chief Druid. These rude warriors, who had overturned the throne of the Caesars, bowed down before the chair of the Popes. The evangelization of these tribes was a task of easy accomplishment. The “Catholic faith,” which they began to exchange for their Paganism or Arianism, consisted chiefly in their being able to recite the names of the objects of their worship, which they were left to adore with much the same rites as they had practiced in their native forests. They did not much concern themselves with the study of Christian doctrine, or the practice of Christian virtue. The age furnished but few manuals of the one, and still fewer models of the other.

The first of the Gothic princes to enter the Roman communion was Clovis, King of the Franks. In fulfillment of a vow which he had made on the field of Tolbiac, where he vanquished the Allemanni, Clovis was baptized in the Cathedral of Rheims (496), with every circumstance of solemnity which could impress a sense of the awfulness of the rife on the minds of its rude proselytes. Three thousand of his warlike subjects were baptized along with him.3 The Pope styled him “the eldest son of the Church,” a title which was regularly adopted by all the subsequent Kings of France. When Clovis ascended from the baptismal font he was the only as well as the eldest son of the Church, for he alone, of all the new chiefs that now governed the West, had as yet submitted to the baptismal rite.

The threshold once crossed, others were not slow to follow. In the next century, the sixth, the Burgundians of Southern Gaul, the Visigoths of Spain, the Suevi of Portugal, and the Anglo-Saxons of Britain entered the pale of Rome. In the seventh century the disposition was still growing among the princes of Western Europe to submit themselves and refer their disputes to the Pontiff as their spiritual father. National assemblies were held twice a year, under the sanction of the bishops. The prelates made use of these gatherings to procure enactments favorable to the propagation of the faith as held by Rome. These assemblies were first encouraged, then enjoined by the Pope, who came in this way to be regarded as a sort of Father or protector of the states of the West. Accordingly we find Sigismund, King of Burgundy, ordering (554) that all assembly should be held for the future on the 6th of September every year, “at which time the ecclesiastics are not so much engrossed with the worldly cares of husbandry.”4 The ecclesiastical conquest of Germany was in this century completed, and thus the spiritual dominions of the Pope were still farther extended.

In the eighth century there came a moment of supreme peril to Rome. At almost one and the same time she was menaced by two dangers, which threatened to sweep her out of existence, but which, in their issue, contributed to strengthen her dominion. On the west the victorious Saracens, having crossed the Pyrenees and overrun the south of France, were watering their steeds at the Loire, and threatening to descend upon Italy and plant the Crescent in the room of the Cross. On the north, the Lombards—who, under Alboin, had established themselves in Central Italy two centuries before—had burst the barrier of the Apennines, and were brandishing their swords at the gates of Rome. They were on the point of replacing Catholic orthodoxy with the creed of Arianism. Having taken advantage of the iconoclast disputes to throw off the imperial yoke, the Pope could expect no aid from the Emperor of Constantinople. He turned his eyes to France. The prompt and powerful interposition of the Frankish arms saved the Papal chair, now in extreme jeopardy. The intrepid Charles Martel drove back the Saracens (732), and Pepin, the Mayor of the palace, son of Charles Martel, who had just seized the throne, and needed the Papal sanction to color his usurpation, with equal promptitude hastened to the Pope’s help (Stephen II.) against the Lombards (754). Having vanquished them, he placed the keys of their towns upon the altar of St. Peter, and so laid the first foundation of the Pope’s temporal sovereignty. The yet more illustrious son of Pepin, Charlemagne, had to repeat this service in the Pope’s behalf. The Lombards becoming again troublesome, Charlemagne subdued them a second time. After his campaign he visited Rome (774). The youth of the city, bearing olive and palm branches, met him at the gates, the Pope and the clergy received him in the vestibule of St. Peter’s, and entering “into the sepulcher where the bones of the apostles lie,” he finally ceded to the pontiff the territories of the conquered tribes.5 It was in this way that Peter obtained his “patrimony,” the Church her dowry, and the Pope his triple crown.

The Pope had now attained two of the three grades of power that constitute his stupendous dignity. He had made himself a bishop of bishops, head of the Church, and he had become a crowned monarch. Did this content him? No! He said, “I will ascend the sides of the mount; I will plant my throne above the stars; I will be as God.” Not content with being a bishop of bishops, and so governing the whole spiritual affairs of Christendom, he aimed at becoming a king of kings, and so of governing the whole temporal affairs of the world. He aspired to supremacy, sole, absolute, and unlimited. This alone was wanting to complete that colossal fabric of power, the Popedom, and towards this the pontiff now began to strive.

Some of the arts had recourse to in order to grasp the coveted dignity were of an extraordinary kind. An astounding document, purporting to have been written in the fourth century, although unheard of till now, was in the year 776 brought out of the darkness in which it had been so long suffered to remain. It was the “Donation” or Testament of the Emperor Constantine. Constantine, says the legend, found Sylvester in one of the monasteries on Mount Soracte, and having mounted him on a mule, he took hold of his bridle rein, and walking all the way on foot, the emperor conducted Sylvester to Rome, and placed him upon the Papal throne. But this was as nothing compared with the vast and splendid inheritance which Constantine conferred on him, as the following quotation from the deed of gift to which we have referred will show: “We attribute to the See of Peter all the dignity, all the glory, all the authority of the imperial power. Furthermore, we give to Sylvester and to his successors our palace of the Lateran, which is incontestably the finest palace on the earth; we give him our crown, our miter, our diadem, and all our imperial vestments; we transfer to him the imperial dignity. We bestow on the holy Pontiff in free gift the city of Rome, and all the western cities of Italy. To cede precedence to him, we divest ourselves of our authority over all those provinces, and we withdraw from Rome, transferring the seat of our empire to Byzantium; inasmuch as it is not proper that an earthly emperor should preserve the least authority, where God hath established the head of his religion.”6

A rare piece of modesty this on the part of the Popes, to keep this invaluable document beside them for 400 years, and never say a word about it; and equally admirable the policy of selecting the darkness of the eighth century as the fittest time for its publication. To quote it is to refute it. It was probably forged a little before A.D. 754. It was composed to repel the Longobards on the one side, and the Greeks on the other, and to influence the mind of Pepin. In it, Constantine is made to speak in the Latin of the eighth century, and to address Bishop Sylvester as Prince of the Apostles, Vicar of Christ, and as having authority over the four great thrones, not yet set up, of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Constantinople. It was probably written by a priest of the Lateran Church, and it gained its object—that is, it led Pepin to bestow on the Pope the Exarchate of Ravenna, with twenty towns to furnish oil for the lamps in the Roman churches.

During more than 600 years Rome impressively cited this deed of gift, inserted it in her codes, permitted none to question its genuineness, and burned those who refused to believe in it. The first dawn of light in the sixteenth century sufficed to discover the cheat.

In the following century another document of a like extraordinary character was given to the world. We refer to the “Decretals of Isidore.” These were concocted about the year 845. They professed to be a collection of the letters, rescripts, and bulls of the early pastors of the Church of Rome—Anacletus, Clement, and others, down to Sylvester—the very men to whom the terms “rescript” and “bull” were unknown. The burden of this compilation was the pontifical supremacy, which it affirmed had existed from the first age. It was the clumsiest, but the most successful, of all the forgeries which have emanated from what the Greeks have reproachfully termed “the native home of inventions and falsifications of documents.” The writer, who professed to be living in the first century, painted the Church of Rome in the magnificence which she attained only in the ninth; and made the pastors of the first age speak in the pompous words of the Popes of the Middle Ages. Abounding in absurdities, contradictions, and anachronisms, it affords a measure of the intelligence of the age that accepted it as authentic. It was eagerly laid hold of by Nicholas I. to prop up and extend the fabric of his power. His successors made it the arsenal from which they drew their weapons of attack against both bishops and kings. It became the foundation of the canon law, and continues to be so, although there is not now a Popish writer who does not acknowledge it to be a piece of imposture. “Never,” says Father de Rignon, “was there seen a forgery so audacious, so extensive, so solemn, so persevering.”7 Yet the discovery of the fraud has not shaken the system. The learned Dupin supposes that these decretals were fabricated by Benedict, a deacon of Mainz, who was the first to publish them, and that, to give them greater currency, he prefixed to them the name of Isidore, a bishop who flourished in Seville in the seventh century. “Without the pseudo-Isidore,” says Janus, “there could have been no Gregory VII. The Isidorian forgeries were the broad foundation which the Gregorians built upon.”8

All the while the Papacy was working on another line for the emancipation of its chief from interference and control, whether on the side of the people or on the side of the kings. In early times the bishops were elected by the people.9 By-and-by they came to be elected by the clergy, with consent of the people; but gradually the people were excluded from all share in the matter, first in the Eastern Church, and then in the Western, although traces of popular election are found at Milan so late as the eleventh century. The election of the Bishop of Rome in early times was in no way different from that of other bishops—that is, he was chosen by the people. Next, the consent of the emperor came to be necessary to the validity of the popular choice. Then, the emperor alone elected the Pope. Next, the cardinals claimed a voice in the matter; they elected and presented the object of their choice to the emperor for confirmation. Last of all, the cardinals took the business entirely into their own hands. Thus gradually was the way paved for the full emancipation and absolute supremacy of the Popedom.

Chapter 1.4: Development Of The Papacy From Gregory VII To Boniface VII

The Wax of Investitures – Gregory VII. and Henry IV. – The Miter Triumphs over the Empire – Noon of the Papacy under Innocent III. – Continued to Boniface VIII. – First and Last Estate of the Roman Pastors Contrasted – Seven Centuries of Continuous Success – Interpreted by Some as a Proof that the Papacy is Divine – Reasons explaining this Marvelous Success – Eclipsed by the Gospel’s Progress

WE come now to the last great struggle. There lacked one grade of power to complete and crown this stupendous fabric of dominion. The spiritual Supremacy was achieved in the seventh century, the temporal sovereignty was attained in the eighth; it wanted only the pontifical supremacy—sometimes, although improperly, styled the temporal supremacy to make the Pope supreme over kings, as he had already become over peoples and bishops, and to vest in him a jurisdiction that has not its like on earth—a jurisdiction that is unique, inasmuch as it arrogates all powers, absorbs all rights, and spurns all limits. Destined, before terminating its career, to crush beneath its iron foot thrones and nations, and masking an ambition as astute as Lucifer’s with a dissimulation as profound, this power advanced at first with noiseless steps, and stole upon the world as night steals upon it; but as it neared the goal its strides grew longer and swifter, till at last it vaulted over the throne of monarchs into the seat of God.

This great war we shall now proceed to consider. When the Popes, at an early stage, claimed to be the vicars of Christ, they virtually challenged that boundless jurisdiction of which their proudest era beheld them in actual possession. But they knew that it would be imprudent, indeed impossible, as yet to assert it in actual fact. Their motto was Spes messis in semine. Discerning “the harvest in the seed,” they were content meanwhile to lodge the principle of supremacy in their creed, and in the general mind of Europe, knowing that future ages would fructify and ripen it. Towards this they began to work quietly, yet skillfully and perseveringly. At length came overt and open measures. It was now the year 1073. The Papal chair was filled by perhaps the greatest of all the Popes, Gregory VII., the noted Hildebrand. Daring and ambitious beyond all who had preceded, and beyond most of those who have followed him on the Papal throne, Gregory fully grasped the great idea of Theocracy. He held that the reign of the Pope was but another name for the reign of God, and he resolved never to rest till that idea had been realized in the subjection of all authority and power, spiritual and temporal, to the chair of Peter. “When he drew out,” says Janus, “the whole system of Papal omnipotence in twenty-seven theses in his ‘Dictatus,’ these theses were partly mere repetitions or corollaries of the Isidorian decretals; partly he and his friends sought to give them the appearance of tradition and antiquity by new fictions.”1 We may take the following as samples. The eleventh maxim says, “the Pope’s name is the chief name in the world;” the twelfth teaches that “it is lawful for him to depose emperors;” the eighteenth affirms that “his decision is to be withstood by none, but he alone may annul those of all men.” The nineteenth declares that “he can be judged by no one.” The twenty-fifth vests in him the absolute power of deposing and restoring bishops, and the twenty-seventh the power of annulling the allegiance of subjects.2 Such was the gage that Gregory flung down to the kings and nations of the world—we say of the world, for the pontifical supremacy embraces all who dwell upon the earth.

Now began the war between the miter and the empire; Gregory’s object in this war being to wrest from the emperors the power of appointing the bishops and the clergy generally, and to assume into his own sole and irresponsible hands the whole of that intellectual and spiritual machinery by which Christendom was governed. The strife was a bloody one. The miter, though sustaining occasional reverses, continued nevertheless to gain steadily upon the empire. The spirit of the times helped the priesthood in their struggle with the civil power. The age was superstitious to the core, and though in no wise spiritual, it was very thoroughly ecclesiastical. The crusades, too, broke the spirit and drained the wealth of the princes, while the growing power and augmenting riches of the clergy cast the balance ever more and more against the State.

For a brief space Gregory VII. tasted in his own case the luxury of wielding this more than mortal power. There came a gleam through the awful darkness of the tempest he had raised—not final victory, which was yet a century distant, but its presage. He had the satisfaction of seeing the emperor, Henry IV. of Germany—whom he had smitten with excommunication—barefooted, and in raiment of sackcloth, waiting three days and nights at the castle-gates of Canossa, amid the winter drifts, suing for forgiveness. But it was for a moment only that Hildebrand stood on this dazzling pinnacle. The fortune of war very quickly turned. Henry, the man whom the Pope had so sorely humiliated, became victor in his turn. Gregory died, an exile, on the promontory of Salerno; but his successors espoused his project, and strove by wiles, by arms, and by anathemas, to reduce the world under the scepter of the Papal Theocracy. For well-nigh two dismal centuries the conflict was maintained. How truly melancholy the record of these times! It exhibits to our sorrowing gaze many a stricken field, many an empty throne, many a city sacked, many a spot deluged with blood!

But through all this confusion and misery the idea of Gregory was perseveringly pursued, till at last it was realized, and the miter was beheld triumphant over the empire. It was the fortune or the calamity of Innocent III. (1198-1216) to celebrate this great victory. Now it was that the pontifical supremacy reached its full development. One man, one will again governed the world. It is with a sort of stupefied awe that we look back to the thirteenth century, and see in the foreground of the receding storm this Colossus, uprearing itself in the person of Innocent III., on its head all the miters of the Church, and in its hand all the scepters of the State. “In each of the three leading objects which Rome has pursued,” says Hallam—“independent sovereignty, supremacy over the Christian Church, control over the princes of the earth it was the fortune of this pontiff to conquer.”3 “Rome,” he says again, “inspired during this age all the terror of her ancient name; she was once more mistress of the world, and kings were her vassals.”4 She had fought a great fight, and now she celebrated an unequaled triumph. Innocent appointed all bishops; he summoned to his tribunal all causes, from the gravest affairs of mighty kingdoms to the private concerns of the humble citizen. He claimed all kingdoms as his fiefs, all monarchs as his vassals; and launched with unsparing hand the bolts of excommunication against all who withstood his pontifical will. Hildebrand’s idea was now fully realized. The pontifical supremacy was beheld in its plenitude—the plenitude of spiritual power, and that of temporal power. It was the noon of the Papacy; but the noon of the Papacy was the midnight of the world.

The grandeur which the Papacy now enjoyed, and the jurisdiction it wielded, have received dogmatic expression, and one or two selections will enable it to paint itself as it was seen in its noon. Pope Innocent III. affirmed “that the pontifical authority so much exceeded the royal power as the sun doth the moon.”5 Nor could he find words fitly to describe his own formidable functions, save those of Jehovah to his prophet Jeremiah: “See, I have set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down.” “The Church my spouse,” we find the same Pope saying, “is not married to me without bringing me something. She hath given me a dowry of a price beyond all price, the plenitude of spiritual things, and the extent of things temporal;6 the greatness and abundance of both. She hath given me the miter in token of things spiritual, the crown in token of the temporal; the miter for the priesthood, and the crown for the kingdom; making me the lieutenant of him who hath written upon his vesture, and on his thigh, ‘the King of kings and the Lord of lords.‘ I enjoy alone the plenitude of power, that others may say of me, next to God, ’and out of his fullness have we received.’”7 “We declare,” ,says Boniface VIII. (1294-1303), in his bull Unam Sanetam, “define, pronounce it to be necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” This subjection is declared in the bull to extend to all affairs. “One sword,” says the Pope, “must be under another, and the temporal authority must be subject to the spiritual power; whence, if the earthly power go astray, it must be judged by the spiritual.”8 Such are a few of the “great words” which were heard to issue from the Vatican Mount, that new Sinai, which, like the old, encompassed by fiery terrors, had upreared itself in the midst of the astonished and affrighted nations of Christendom.

What a contrast between the first and the last estate of the pastors of the Roman Church!—between the humility and poverty of the first century, and the splendor and power in which the thirteenth saw them enthroned! This contrast has not escaped the notice of the greatest of Italian poets. Dante, in one of his lightning flashes, has brought it before us. He describes the first pastors of the Church as coming—

“barefoot and lean, Eating their bread, as chanced, at the first table.”

And addressing Peter, he says:

“E’en thou went’st forth in poverty and hunger
To set the goodly plant that,
from the Vine It once was,
now is grown unsightly bramble.” 9

Petrarch dwells repeatedly and with more amplification on the same theme. We quote only the first and last stanzas of his sonnet on the Church of Rome:

The fire of wrathful heaven alight,
And all thy harlot tresses smite,
Base city! Thou from humble fare,
Thy acorns and thy water, rose
To greatness, rich with others’ woes,
Rejoicing in the ruin thou didst bear.
In former days thou wast not laid
On down, nor under cooling shade;
Thou naked to the winds wast given,
And through the sharp and thorny road
Thy feet without the sandals trod;
But now thy life is such it smells to heaven.10

There is something here out of the ordinary course. We have no desire to detract from the worldly wisdom of the Popes; they were, in that respect, the ablest race of rulers the world ever saw. Their enterprise soared as high above the vastest scheme of other potentates and conquerors, as their ostensible means of achieving it fell below theirs. To build such a fabric of dominion upon the Gospel, every line of which repudiates and condemns it! to impose it upon the world without an army and without a fleet! to bow the necks not of ignorant peoples only, but of mighty potentates to it! nay, to persuade the latter to assist in establishing a power which they could hardly but foresee would clash themselves! to pursue this scheme through a succession of centuries without once meeting any serious check or repulse—for of the 130 Popes between Boniface III. (606), who, in partnership with Phocas, laid the foundations of the Papal grandeur, and Gregory VII., who tint realized it, onward through other two centuries to Innocent III. (1216) and Boniface VIII. (1303), who at last put the top-stone upon it, not one lost an inch of ground which his predecessor had gained!—to do all this is, we repeat, something out of the ordinary course. There is nothing like it again in the whole history of the world. This success, continued through seven centuries, was audaciously interpreted into a proof of the divinity of the Papacy. Behold, it has been said, when the throne of Caesar was overturned, how the chair of Peter stood erect! Behold, when the barbarous nations rushed like a torrent into Italy, overwhelming laws, extinguishing knowledge, and dissolving society itself, how the ark of the Church rode in safety on the flood! Behold, when the victorious hosts of the Saracen approached the gates of Italy, how they were turned back! Behold, when the miter waged its great contest with the empire, how it triumphed! Behold, when the Reformation broke out, and it seemed as if the kingdom of the Pope was numbered and finished, how three centuries have been added to its sway! Behold, in fine, when revolution broke out in France, and swept like a whirlwind over Europe, bearing down thrones and dynasties, how the bark of Peter outlived the storm, and rode triumphant above the waves that engulfed apparently stronger structures! Is not this the Church of which Christ said, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it?”

What else do the words of Cardinal Baronius mean? Boasting of a supposed donation of the kingdom of Hungary to the Roman See by Stephen, he says, “It fell out by a wonderful providence of God, that at the very time when the Roman Church might appear ready to fall and perish, even then distant kings approach the Apostolic See, which they acknowledge and venerate as the only temple of the universe, the sanctuary of piety, the pillar of truth, the immovable rock. Behold, kings—not from the East, as of old they came to the cradle of Christ, but from the North—led by faith, they humbly approach the cottage of the fisher, the Church of Rome herself, offering not only gifts out of their treasures, but bringing even kingdoms to her, and asking kingdoms from her. Whoso is wise, and will record these things, even he shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord.”11

But the success of the Papacy, when closely examined, is not so surprising as it looks. It cannot be justly pronounced legitimate, or fairly won. Rome has ever been swimming with the tide. The evils and passions of society, which a true benefactress would have made it her business to cure—at least, to alleviate—Rome has studied rather to foster into strength, that she might be borne to power on the foul current which she herself had created. Amid battles, bloodshed, and confusion, has her path lain. The edicts of subservient Councils, the forgeries of hireling priests, the arms of craven monarchs, and the thunderbolts of excommunication have never been wanting to open her path. Exploits won by weapons of this sort are what her historians delight to chronicle. These are the victories that constitute her glory! And then, there remains yet another and great deduction from the apparent grandeur of her success, in that, after all, it is the success of only a few—a caste—the clergy. For although, during her early career, the Roman Church rendered certain important services to society—of which it will delight us to make mention in fitting place when she grew to maturity, and was able to develop her real genius, it was felt and acknowledged by all that her principles implied the ruin of all interests save her own, and that there was room in the world for none but herself. If her march, as shown in history down to the sixteenth century, is ever onwards, it is not less true that behind, on her path, lie the wrecks of nations, and the ashes of literature, of liberty, and of civilization.

Nor can we help observing that the career of Rome, with all the fictitious brilliance that encompasses it, is utterly eclipsed when placed beside the silent and sublime progress of the Gospel. The latter we see winning its way over mighty obstacles solely by the force and sweetness of its own truth. It touches the deep wounds of society only to heal them. It speaks not to awaken but to hush the rough voice of strife and war. It enlightens, purifies, and blesses men wherever it comes, and it does all this so gently and unboastingly! Reviled, it reviles not again. For curses it returns blessings. It unsheathes no sword; it spills no blood. Cast into chains, its victories are as many as when free, and more glorious; dragged to the stake and burned, from the ashes of the martyr there start up a thousand confessors, to speed on its career and swell the glory of its triumph. Compared with this how different has been the career of Rome!—as different, in fact, as the thunder-cloud which comes onward, mantling the skies in gloom and scathing the earth with fiery bolts, is different from the morning descending from the mountain-tops, scattering around it the silvery light, and awakening at its presence songs of joy.

Chapter 1.5: Mediaeval Protestant Witnesses

Ambrose of Milan – His Diocese – His Theology – Rufinus, Presbyter of Aquileia – Laurentius of Milan – The Bishops of the Grisons – Churches of Lombardy in Seventh and Eighth Centuries – Claude in the Ninth Century – His Labors – Outline of his Theology – His Doctrine of the Eucharist – His Battle against Images – His Views on the Roman Primacy – Proof thence arising – Councils in France approve his Views – Question of the Services of the Roman Church to the Western Nations.

THE apostasy was not universal. At no time did God leave His ancient Gospel without witnesses. When one body of confessors yielded to the darkness, or was cut off by violence, another arose in some other land, so that there was no age in which, in some country or other of Christendom, public testimony was not borne against the errors of Rome, and in behalf of the Gospel which she sought to destroy.

The country in which we find the earliest of these Protesters is Italy. The See of Rome, in those days, embraced only the capital and the surrounding provinces. The diocese of Milan, which included the plain of Lombardy, the Alps of Piedmont, and the southern provinces of France, greatly exceeded it in extent.1 It is an undoubted historical fact that this powerful diocese was not then tributary to the Papal chair. “The Bishops of Milan,” says Pope Pelagius I. (555), “do not come to Rome for ordination.” He further informs us that this “was an ancient custom of theirs.”2 Pope Pelagius, however, attempted to subvert this “ancient custom,” but his efforts resulted only in a wider estrangement between the two dioceses of Milan and Rome. For when Platina speaks of the subjection of Milan to the Pope under Stephen IX.,3 in the middle of the eleventh century, he admits that “for 200 years together the Church of Milan had been separated from the Church of Rome.” Even then, though on the very eve of the Hildebrandine era, the destruction of the independence of the diocese was not accomplished without a protest on the part of its clergy, and a tumult on the part of the people. The former affirmed that “the Ambrosian Church was not subject to the laws of Rome; that it had been always free, and could not, with honor, surrender its liberties.” The latter broke out into clamor, and threatened violence to Damianus, the deputy sent to receive their submission. “The people grew into higher ferment,” says Baronius;4 “the bells were rung; the episcopal palace beset; and the legate threatened with death.” Traces of its early independence remain to this day in the Rito or Culto Ambrogiano, still in use throughout the whole of the ancient Archbishopric of Milan.

One consequence of this ecclesiastical independence of Northern Italy was, that the corruptions of which Rome was the source were late in being introduced into Milan and its diocese. The evangelical light shone there some centuries after the darkness had gathered in the southern part of the peninsula. Ambrose, who died A.D. 397, was Bishop of Milan for twenty-three years. His theology, and that of his diocese, was in no essential respects different from that which Protestants hold at this day. The Bible alone was his rule of faith; Christ alone was the foundation of the Church; the justification of the sinner and the remission of sins were not of human merit, but by the expiatory sacrifice of the Cross; there were but two Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and in the latter Christ was held to be present only figuratively.5 Such is a summary of the faith professed and taught by the chief bishop of the north of Italy in the end of the fourth century.6

Rufinus, of Aquileia, first metropolitan in the diocese of Milan, taught substantially the same doctrine in the fifth century. His treatise on the Creed no more agrees with the catechism of the Council of Trent than does the catechism of Protestants.7 His successors at Aquileia, so far as can be gathered from the writings which they have left behind them, shared the sentiments of Rufinus.

To come to the sixth century, we find Laurentius, Bishop of Milan, holding that the penitence of the heart, without the absolution of a priest, suffices for pardon; and in the end of the same century (A.D. 590) we find the bishops of Italy and of the Grisons, to the number of nine, rejecting the communion of the Pope, as a heretic, so little then was the infallibility believed in, or the Roman supremacy acknowledged.8 In the seventh century we find Mansuetus, Bishop of Milan, declaring that the whole faith of the Church is contained in the Apostles’ Creed; from which it is evident that he did not regard as necessary to salvation the additions which Rome had then begun to make, and the many she has since appended to the apostolic doctrine. The Ambrosian Liturgy, which, as we have said, continues to be used in the diocese of Milan, is a monument to the comparative purity of the faith and worship of the early Churches of Lombardy.

In the eighth century we find Paulinus, Bishop of Aquileia, declaring that “we feed upon the divine nature of Jesus Christ, which cannot be said but only with respect to believers, and must be understood metaphorically.” Thus manifest is it that he rejected the corporeal manducation of the Church at Rome. He also warns men against approaching God through any other mediator or advocate than Jesus Christ, affirming that He alone was conceived without sin; that He is the only Redeemer, and that He is the one foundation of the Church. “If any one,” says Allix, “will take the pains to examine the opinions of this bishop, he will find it a hard thing not to take notice that he denies what the Church of Rome affirms with relation to all these articles, and that he affirms what the Church of Rome denies.”9

It must be acknowledged that these men, despite their great talents and their ardent piety, had not entirely escaped the degeneracy of their age. The light that was in them was partly mixed with darkness. Even the great Ambrose was touched with a veneration for relics, and a weakness for other superstitious of his times. But as regards the cardinal doctrines of salvation, the faith of these men was essentially Protestant, and stood out in bold antagonism to the leading principles of the Roman creed. And such, with more or less of clearness, must be held to have been the profession of the pastors over whom they presided. And the Churches they ruled and taught were numerous and widely planted. They flourished in the towns and villages which dot the vast plain that stretches like a garden for 200 miles along the foot of the Alps; they existed in those romantic and fertile valleys over which the great mountains hang their pine forests and snows, and, passing the summit, they extended into the southern provinces of France, even as far as to the Rhone, on the banks of which Polycarp, the disciple of John, in early times had planted the Gospel, to be watered in the succeeding centuries by the blood of thousands of martyrs. Darkness gives relief to the light, and error necessitates a fuller development and a clearer definition of truth. On this principle the ninth century produced the most remarkable perhaps of all those great champions who strove to set limits to the growing superstition, and to preserve, pure and undefiled, the faith which apostles had preached. The mantle of Ambrose descended on Claudius, Archbishop of Turin. This man beheld with dismay the stealthy approaches of a power which, putting out the eyes of men, bowed their necks to its yoke, and bent their knees to idols. He grasped the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and the battle which he so courageously waged, delayed, though it could not prevent, the fall of his Church’s independence, and for two centuries longer the light continued to shine at the foot of the Alps. Claudius was an earnest and indefatigable student of Holy Scripture. That Book carried him back to the first age, and set him down at the feet of apostles, at the feet of One greater than apostles; and, while darkness was descending on the earth, around Claude still shone the day.

The truth, drawn from its primeval fountains, he proclaimed throughout his diocese, which included the valleys of the Waldenses. Where his voice could not reach, he labored to convey instruction by his pen. He wrote commentaries on the Gospels; he published expositions of almost all the epistles of Paul, and several books of the Old Testament; and thus he furnished his contemporaries with the means of judging how far it became them to submit to a jurisdiction so manifestly usurped as that of Rome, or to embrace tenets so undeniably novel as those which she was now foisting upon the world.10 The sum of what Claude maintained was that there is but one Sovereign in the Church, and He is not on earth; that Peter had no superiority over the other apostles, save in this, that he was the first who preached the Gospel to both Jews and Gentiles; that human merit is of no avail for salvation, and that faith alone saves us. On this cardinal point he insists with a clearness and breadth which remind one of Luther. The authority of tradition he repudiates, prayers for the dead he condemns, as also the notion that the Church cannot err. As regards relics, instead of holiness he can find in them nothing but rottenness, and advises that they be instantly returned to the grave, from which they ought never to have been taken.

Of the Eucharist, he writes in his commentary on Matthew (A.D. 815) in a way which shows that he stood at the greatest distance from the opinions which Paschasius Radbertus broached eighteen years afterwards.

Paschasius Radbertus, a monk, afterwards Abbot of Corbei, pretended to explain with precision the manner in which the body and blood of Christ are present in the Eucharist. He published (831) a treatise, “Concerning the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.” His doctrine amounted to the two following propositions:

This new doctrine excited the astonishment of not a few, and called forth several powerful opponents—amongst others, Johannes Scotus.11 Claudius, however, thought that the Lord’s Supper was a memorial of Christ’s death, and not a repetition of it, and that the elements of bread and wine were only symbols of the flesh and blood of the Savior.12 It is clear from this that transubstantiation was unknown in the ninth century to the Churches at the foot of the Alps. Nor was it the Bishop of Turin only who held this doctrine of the Eucharist; we are entitled to infer that the bishops of neighboring dioceses, both north and south of the Alps, shared the opinion of Claude. For though they differed from him on some other points, and did not conceal their difference, they expressed no dissent from his views respecting the Sacrament, and in proof of their concurrence in his general policy, strongly urged him to continue his expositions of the Sacred Scriptures. Specially was this the case as regards two leading ecclesiastics of that day, Jonas, Bishop of Orleans, and the Abbot Theodemirus. Even in the century following, we find certain bishops of the north of Italy saying that “wicked men eat the goat and not the lamb,” language wholly incomprehensible from the lips of men who believe in transubstantiation.13

The worship of images was then making rapid strides. The Bishop of Rome was the great advocate of this ominous innovation; it was on this point that Claude fought his great battle. He resisted it with all the logic of his pen and all the force of his eloquence; he condemned the practice as idolatrous, and he purged those churches in his diocese which had begun to admit representations of saints and divine persons within their walls, not even sparing the cross itself.14 It is instructive to mark that the advocates of images in the ninth century justified their use of them by the very same arguments which Romanists employ at this day; and that Claude refutes them on the same ground taken by Protestant writers still. We do not worship the image, say the former, we use it simply as the medium through which our worship ascends to Him whom the image represents; and if we kiss the cross we do so in adoration of Him who died upon it. But, replied Claude—as the Protestant polemic at this hour replies in kneeling to the image, or kissing the cross, you do what the second commandment forbids, and what the Scripture condemns as idolatry. Your worship terminates in the image, and is the worship not of God, but simply of the image. With his argument the Bishop of Turin mingles at times a little raillery. “God commands one thing,” says he, “and these people do quite the contrary. God commands us to bear our cross, and not to worship it; but these are all for worshipping it, whereas they do not bear it at all. To serve God after this manner is to go away from Him. For if we ought to adore the cross because Christ was fastened to it, how many other things are there which touched Jesus Christ! Why don’t they adore mangers and old clothes, because He was laid in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes? Let them adore asses, because He, entered into Jerusalem upon the foal of an ass.”15

On the subject of the Roman primacy, he leaves it in no wise doubtful what his sentiments were. “We know very well,” says he, “that this passage of the Gospel is very ill understood—‘thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church: and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven,’ under pretense of which words the stupid and ignorant common people, destitute of all spiritual knowledge, betake themselves to Rome in hopes of acquiring eternal life. The ministry belongs to all the true superintendents and pastors of the Church, who discharge the same as long as they are in this world; and when they have paid the debt of death, others succeed in their places, who enjoy the same authority and power. Know thou that he only is apostolic who is the keeper and guardian of the apostle’s doctrine, and not he who boasts himself to be seated in the chair of the apostle, and in the meantime doth not acquit himself of the charge of the apostle.”16

We have dwelt the longer on Claude, and the doctrines which he so powerfully advocated by both voice and pen, because, although the picture of his times—a luxurious clergy but an ignorant people, Churches growing in magnificence but declining in piety, images adored but the true God forsaken—is not a pleasant one, yet it establishes two points of great importance. The first is that the Bishop of Rome had not yet succeeded in compelling universal submission to his jurisdiction; and the second that he had not yet been able to persuade all the Churches of Christendom to adopt his novel doctrines, and follow his peculiar customs. Claude was not left to fight that battle alone, nor was he crushed as he inevitably would have been, had Rome been the dominant power it came soon thereafter to be. On the contrary, this Protestant of the ninth century received a large amount of sympathy and support both from bishops and from synods of his time. Agobardus, the Bishop of Lyons, fought by the side of his brother of Turin 17 In fact, he was as great an iconoclast as Claude himself.18 The emperor, Louis the Pious (le Debonnaire), summoned a Council (824) of “the most learned and judicious bishops of his realm,” says Dupin, to discuss this question. For in that age the emperors summoned synods and appointed bishops. And when the Council had assembled, did it wait till Peter should speak, or a Papal allocution had decided the point? “It knew no other way,” says Dupin, “to settle the question, than by determining what they should find upon the most impartial examination to be true, by plain text of Holy Scripture, and the judgment of the Fathers.”19 This Council at Paris justified most of the principles for which Claude had contended,20 as the great Council at Frankfort (794) had done before it. It is worthy of notice further, as bearing on this point, that only two men stood up publicly to oppose Claude during the twenty years he was incessantly occupied in this controversy. The first was Dungulas, a recluse of the Abbey of St. Denis, an Italian, it is believed, and biased naturally in favor of the opinions of the Pope; and the second was Jonas, Bishop of Orleans, who differed from Claude on but the one question of images, and only to the extent of tolerating their use, but condemning as idolatrous their worship—a distinction which it is easy to maintain in theory, but impossible to observe, as experience has demonstrated, in practice.

And here let us interpose an observation. We speak at times of the signal benefits which the “Church” conferred upon the Gothic nations during the Middle Ages. She put herself in the place of a mother to those barbarous tribes; she weaned them from the savage usages of their original homes; she bowed their stubborn necks to the authority of law; she opened their minds to the charms of knowledge and art; and thus laid the foundation of those civilized and prosperous communities which have since arisen in the West. But when we so speak it behooves us to specify with some distinctness what we mean by the “Church” to which we ascribe the glory of this service. Is it the Church of Rome, or is it the Church universal of Christendom? If we mean the former, the facts of history do not bear out our conclusion. The Church of Rome was not then the Church, but only one of many Churches. The slow but beneficent and laborious work of evangelizing and civilizing the Northern nations, was the joint result of the action of all the Churches—of Northern Italy, of France, of Spain, of Germany, of Britain—and each performed its part in this great work with a measure of success exactly corresponding to the degree in which it retained the pure principles of primitive Christianity. The Churches would have done their task much more effectually and speedily but for the adverse influence of Rome. She hung upon their rear, by her perpetual attempts to bow them to her yoke, and to seduce them from their first purity to her thinly disguised paganisms. Emphatically, the power that molded the Gothic nations, and planted among them the seeds of religion and virtue, was Christianity—that same Christianity which apostles preached to men in the first age, which all the ignorance and superstition of subsequent times had not quite extinguished, and which, with immense toil and suffering dug up from under the heaps of rubbish that had been piled above it, was anew, in the sixteenth century, given to the world under the name of Protestantism.

Chapter 1.6: The Waldenses—Their Valleys

Submission of the Churches of Lombardy to Rome – The Old Faith maintained in the Mountains – The Waldensian Churches – Question of their Antiquity – Approach to their Mountains – Arrangement of their Valleys – Picture of blended Beauty and Grandeur.

WHEN Claude died it can hardly be said that his mantle was taken up by any one. The battle, although not altogether dropped, was henceforward languidly maintained. Before this time not a few Churches beyond the Alps had submitted to the yoke of Rome, and that arrogant power must have felt it not a little humiliating to find her authority withstood on what she might regard as her own territory. She was venerated abroad but contemned at home. Attempts were renewed to induce the Bishops of Milan to accept the episcopal pall, the badge of spiritual vassalage, from the Pope; but it was not till the middle of the eleventh century (1059), under Nicholas II., that these attempts were successful.1 Petrus Damianus, Bishop of Ostia, and Anselm, Bishop of Lucca, were dispatched by the Pontiff to receive the submission of the Lombard Churches, and the popular tumults amid which that submission was extorted sufficiently show that the spirit of Claude still lingered at the foot of the Alps. Nor did the clergy conceal the regret with which they laid their ancient liberties at the feet of a power before which the whole earth was then bowing down; for the Papal legate, Damianus, informs us that the clergy of Milan maintained in his presence, “That the Ambrosian Church, according to the ancient institutions of the Fathers, was always free, without being subject to the laws of Rome, and that the Pope of Rome had no jurisdiction over their Church as to the government or constitution of it.”2

But if the plains were conquered, not so the mountains. A considerable body of Protesters stood out against this deed of submission. Of these some crossed the Alps, descended the Rhine, and raised the standard of opposition in the diocese of Cologne, where they were branded as Manicheans, and rewarded with the stake. Others retired into the valleys of the Piedmontese Alps, and there maintained their scriptural faith and their ancient independence. What we have just related respecting the dioceses of Milan and Turin settles the question, in our opinion, of the apostolicity of the Churches of the Waldensian valleys. It is not necessary to show that missionaries were sent from Rome in the first age to plant Christianity in these valleys, nor is it necessary to show that these Churches have existed as distinct and separate communities from early days; enough that they formed a part, as unquestionably they did, of the great evangelical Church of the north of Italy. This is the proof at once of their apostolicity and their independence. It attests their descent from apostolic men, if doctrine be the life of Churches. When their co-religionists on the plains entered within the pale of the Roman jurisdiction, they retired within the mountains, and, spurning alike the tyrannical yoke and the corrupt tenets of the Church of the Seven Hills, they preserved in its purity and simplicity the faith their fathers had handed down to them. Rome manifestly was the schismatic, she it was that had abandoned what was once the common faith of Christendom, leaving by that step to all who remained on the old ground the indisputably valid title of the True Church.

Behind this rampart of mountains, which Providence, foreseeing the approach of evil days, would almost seem to have reared on purpose, did the remnant of the early apostolic Church of Italy kindle their lamp, and here did that lamp continue to burn all through the long night which descended on Christendom. There is a singular concurrence of evidence in favor of their high antiquity. Their traditions invariably point to an unbroken descent from the earliest times, as regards their religious belief. The Nobla Leycon, which dates from the year 1100,3 goes to prove that the Waldenses of Piedmont did not owe their rise to Peter Waldo of Lyons, who did not appear till the latter half of that century (1160). The Nobla Leycon, though a poem, is in reality a confession of faith, and could have been composed only after some considerable study of the system of Christianity, in contradistinction to the errors of Rome. How could a Church have arisen with such a document in her hands? Or how could these herdsmen and vine-dressers, shut up in their mountains, have detected the errors against which they bore testimony, and found their way to the truths of which they made open profession in times of darkness like these? If we grant that their religious beliefs were the heritage of former ages, handed down from an evangelical ancestry, all is plain; but if we maintain that they were the discovery of the men of those days, we assert what approaches almost to a miracle. Their greatest enemies, Claude Seyssel of Turin (1517), and Reynerius the Inquisitor (1250), have admitted their antiquity, and stigmatized them as “the most dangerous of all heretics, because the most ancient.”

Rorenco, Prior of St. Roch, Turin (1640), was employed to investigate the origin and antiquity of the Waldenses, and of course had access to all the Waldensian documents in the ducal archives, and being their bitter enemy he may be presumed to have made his report not more favorable than he could help. Yet he states that “they were not a new sect in the ninth and tenth centuries, and that Claude of Turin must have detached them from the Church in the ninth century.”

Within the limits of her own land did God provide a dwelling for this venerable Church. Let us bestow a glance upon the region. As one comes from the south, across the level plain of Piedmont, while yet nearly a hundred miles off, he sees the Alps rise before him, stretching like a great wall along the horizon. From the gates of the morning to those of the setting sun, the mountains run on in a line of towering magnificence. Pasturages and chestnut-forests clothe their base; eternal snows crown their summits. How varied are their forms! Some rise strong and massy as castles; others shoot up tall and tapering like needles; while others again run along in serrated lines, their summits torn and cleft by the storms of many thousand winters. At the hour of sunrise, what a glory kindles along the crest of that snowy rampart! At sunset the spectacle is again renewed, and a line of pyres is seen to burn in the evening sky.

Drawing nearer the hills, on a line about thirty miles west of Turin, there opens before one what seems a great mountain portal. This is the entrance to the Waldensian territory. A low hill drawn along in front serves as a defense against all who may come with hostile intent, as but too frequently happened in times gone by, while a stupendous monolith—the Castelluzzo—shoots up to the clouds, and stands sentinel at the gate of this renowned region. As one approaches La Torre the Castelluzzo rises higher and higher, and irresistibly fixes the eye by the perfect beauty of its pillar-like form. But; to this mountain a higher interest belongs than any that mere symmetry can give it. It is indissolubly linked with martyr-memories, and borrows a halo from the achievements of the past. How often, in days of old, was the confessor hurled sheer down its awful steep and dashed on the rocks at its foot! And there, commingled in one ghastly heap, growing ever the bigger and ghastlier as another and yet another victim was added to it, lay the mangled bodies of pastor and peasant, of mother and child! It was the tragedies connected with this mountain mainly that called forth Milton’s well-known sonnet:

Avenge, O Lord, Thy slaughter’d saints,
whose bones Lie scatter’d on the Alpine mountains cold.
* * * in Thy book record their groans
Who were Thy sheep, and in their ancient fold,
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese,
that roll’d Mother with infant down the rocks.
Their moans The vales redoubled to the hills,
and they To heaven.

The elegant temple of the Waldenses rises near the foot of the Castelluzzo. The Waldensian valleys are seven in number; they were more in ancient times, but the limits of the Vaudois territory have undergone repeated curtailment, and now only the number we have stated remain, lying between Pinerolo on the east and Monte Viso on the west—that pyramidal hill which forms so prominent an object from every part of the plain of Piedmont, towering as it does above the surrounding mountains, and, like a horn of silver, cutting the ebon of the firmament.

The first three valleys run out somewhat like the spokes of a wheel, the spot on which we stand—the gateway, namely—being the nave. The first is Luserna, or Valley of Light. It runs right out in a grand gorge of some twelve miles in length by about two in width. It wears a carpeting of meadows, which the waters of the Pelice keep ever fresh and bright. A profusion of vines, acacias, and mulberry-trees fleck it with their shadows; and a wall of lofty mountains encloses it on either hand. The second is Rora, or Valley of Dews. It is a vast cup, some fifty miles in circumference, its sides luxuriantly clothed with meadow and corn-field, with fruit and forest trees, and its rim formed of craggy and spiky mountains, many of them snow-clad. The third is Angrogna, or Valley of Groans. Of it we shall speak more particularly afterwards. Beyond the extremity of the first three valleys are the remaining four, forming, as it were, the rim of the wheel. These last are enclosed in their turn by a line of lofty and craggy mountains, which form a wall of defense around the entire territory. Each valley is a fortress, having its own gate of ingress and egress, with its caves, and rocks, and mighty chestnut-trees, forming places of retreat and shelter, so that the highest engineering skill could not have better adapted each several valley to its end. It is not less remarkable that, taking all these valleys together, each is so related to each, and the one opens so into the other, that they may be said to form one fortress of amazing and matchless strength—wholly impregnable, in fact. All the fortresses of Europe, though combined, would not form a citadel so enormously strong, and so dazzlingly magnificent, as the mountain dwelling of the Vaudois. “The Eternal, our God,” says Leger “having destined this land to be the theater of His marvels, and the bulwark of His ark, has, by natural means, most marvelously fortified it.” The battle begun in one valley could be continued in another, and carried round the entire territory, till at last the invading foe, overpowered by the rocks rolled upon him from the mountains, or assailed by enemies which would start suddenly out of the mist or issue from some unsuspected cave, found retreat impossible, and, cut off in detail, left his bones to whiten the mountains he had come to subdue.

These valleys are lovely and fertile, as well as strong. They are watered by numerous torrents, which descend from the snows of the summits. The grassy carpet of their bottom; the mantling vine and the golden grain of their lower slopes; the chalets that dot their sides, sweetly embowered amid fruit-trees; and, higher up, the great chestnut-forests and the pasture-lands, where the herdsmen keep watch over their flocks all through the summer days and the starlit nights: the nodding crags, from which the torrent leaps into the light; the rivulet, singing with quiet gladness in the shady nook; the mists, moving grandly among the mountains, now veiling, now revealing their majesty; and the far-off summits, tipped with silver, to be changed at eve into gleaming gold—make up a picture of blended beauty and grandeur, not equaled perhaps, and certainly not surpassed, in any other region of the earth.

In the heart of their mountains is situated the most interesting, perhaps, of all their valleys. It was in this retreat, walled round by “hills whose heads touch heaven,” that their barbes or pastors, from all their several parishes, were wont to meet in annual synod. It was here that their college stood, and it was here that their missionaries were trained, and, after ordination, were sent forth to sow the good seed, as opportunity offered, in other lands. Let us visit this valley. We ascend to it by the long, narrow, and winding Angrogna. Bright meadows enliven its entrance. The mountains on either hand are clothed with the vine, the mulberry, and the chestnut. Anon the valley contracts. It becomes rough with projecting rocks, and shady with great trees. A few paces farther, and it expands into a circular basin, feathery with birches, musical with falling waters, environed atop by naked crags, fringed with dark pines, while the white peak looks down upon one out of heaven. A little in advance the valley seems shut in by a mountainous wall, drawn right across it; and beyond, towering sublimely upward, is seen an assemblage of snow-clad Alps, amid which is placed the valley we are in quest of, where burned of old the candle of the Waldenses. Some terrible convulsion has rent this mountain from top to bottom, opening a path through it to the valley beyond. We enter the dark chasm, and proceed along on a narrow ledge in the mountain’s side, hung half-way between the torrent, which is heard thundering in the abyss below, and the summits which lean over us above. Journeying thus for about two miles, we find the pass beginning to widen, the light to break in, and now we arrive at the gate of the Pra.

There opens before us a noble circular valley, its grassy bottom watered by torrents, its sides dotted with dwellings and clothed with corn-fields and pasturages, while a ring of white peaks guards it above. This was the inner sanctuary of the Waldensian temple. The rest of Italy had turned aside to idols, the Waldensian territory alone had been reserved for the worship of the true God. And was it not meet that on its native soil a remnant of the apostolic Church of Italy should be maintained, that Rome and all Christendom might have before their eyes a perpetual monument of what they themselves had once been, and a living witness to testify how far they had departed from their first faith?4

Chapter 1.7: The Waldenses—Their Missions And Martyrdoms

Their Synod and College – Their Theological Tenets – Romaunt Version of the New Testament – The Constitution of their Church – Their Missionary Labors – Wide Diffusion of their Tenets – The Stone Smiting the Image.

ONE would like to have a near view of the barbes or pastors, who presided over the school of early Protestant theology that existed here, and to know how it fared with evangelical Christianity in the ages that preceded the Reformation. But the time is remote, and the events are dim. We can but doubtfully glean from a variety of sources the facts necessary to form a picture of this venerable Church, and even then the picture is not complete. The theology of which this was one of the fountainheads was not the clear, well-defined, and comprehensive system which the sixteenth century gave its; it was only what the faithful men of the Lombard Churches had been able to save from the wreck of primitive Christianity. True religion, being a revelation, was from the beginning complete and perfect; nevertheless, in this as in every other branch of knowledge, it is only by patient labor that man is able to extricate and arrange all its parts, and to come into the full possession of truth. The theology taught in former ages, in the peak-environed valley in which we have in imagination placed ourselves, was drawn from the Bible. The atoning death and justifying righteousness of Christ was its cardinal truth. This, the Nobla Leycon and other ancient documents abundantly testify. The Nobla Leycon sets forth with tolerable clearness the doctrine of the Trinity, the fall of man, the incarnation of the Son, the perpetual authority of the Decalogue as given by God,1 the need of Divine grace in order to good works, the necessity of holiness, the institution of the ministry, the resurrection of the body, and the eternal bliss of heaven.2 This creed, its professors exemplified in lives of evangelical virtue. The blamelessness of the Waldenses passed into a proverb, so that one more than ordinarily exempt from the vices of his time was sure to be suspected of being a Vaudes.3 If doubt there were regarding the tenets of the Waldenses, the charges which their enemies have preferred against them would set that doubt at rest, and make it tolerably certain that they held substantially what the apostles before their day, and the Reformers after it, taught. The indictment against the Waldenses included a formidable list of “heresies.” They held that there had been no true Pope since the days of Sylvester; that temporal offices and dignities were not meet for preachers of the Gospel; that the Pope’s pardons were a cheat; that purgatory was a fable; that relics were simply rotten bones which had belonged to no one knew whom; that to go on pilgrimage served no end, save to empty one’s purse; that flesh might be eaten any day if one’s appetite served him; that holy water was not a whit more efficacious than rain water; and that prayer in a barn was just as effectual as if offered in a church. They were accused, moreover, of having scoffed at the doctrine of transubstantiation, and of having spoken blasphemously of Rome, as the harlot of the Apocalypse.4 There is reason to believe, from recent historical researches, that the Waldenses possessed the New Testament in the vernacular. The “Lingua Romana” or Romaunt tongue was the common language of the south of Europe from the eighth to the fourteenth century. It was the language of the troubadours and of men of letters in the Dark Ages. Into this tongue—the Romaunt—was the first translation of the whole of the New Testament made so early as the twelfth century. This fact Dr. Gilly has been at great pains to prove in his work, The Romaunt Version5 of the Gospel according to John. The sum of what Dr. Gilly, by a patient investigation into facts, and a great array of historic documents, maintains, is that all the books of the New Testament were translated from the Latin Vulgate into the Romaunt, that this was the first literal version since the fall of the empire, that it was made in the twelfth century, and was the first translation available for popular use. There were numerous earlier translations, but only of parts of the Word of God, and many of these were rather paraphrases or digests of Scripture than translations, and, moreover, they were so bulky, and by consequence so costly, as to be utterly beyond the reach of the common people. This Romaunt version was the first complete and literal translation of the New Testament of Holy Scripture; it was made, as Dr Gilly, by a chain of proofs, shows, most probably under the superintendence and at the expense of Peter Waldo of Lyons, not later than 1180, and so is older than any complete version in German, French, Italian, Spanish, or English. This version was widely spread in the south of France, and in the cities of Lombardy. It was in common use among the Waldenses of Piedmont, and it was no small part, doubtless, of the testimony borne to truth by these mountaineers to preserve and circulate it. Of the Romaunt New Testament six copies have come down to our day. A copy is preserved at each of the four following places, Lyons, Grenoble, Zurich, Dublin; and two copies are at Paris. These are plain and portable volumes, contrasting with those splendid and ponderous folios of the Latin Vulgate, penned in characters of gold and silver, richly illuminated, their bindings decorated with gems, inviting admiration rather than study, and unfitted by their size and splendor for the use of the People.

The Church of the Alps, in the simplicity of its constitution, may be held to have been a reflection of the Church of the first centuries. The entire territory included in the Waldensian limits was divided into parishes. In each parish was placed a pastor, who led his flock to the living waters of the Word of God. He preached, he dispensed the Sacraments, he visited the sick, and catechized the young. With him was associated in the government of his congregation a consistory of laymen. The synod met once a year. It was composed of all the pastors, with an equal number of laymen, and its most frequent place of meeting was the secluded mountain-engirdled valley at the head of Angrogna. Sometimes as many as a hundred and fifty barbes, with the same number of lay members, would assemble. We can imagine them seated—it may be on the grassy slopes of the valley—a venerable company of humble, learned, earnest men, presided over by a simple moderator (for higher office or authority was unknown amongst them), and intermitting their deliberations respecting the affairs of their Churches, and the condition of their flocks, only to offer their prayers and praises to the Eternal, while the majestic snow-clad peaks looked down upon them from the silent firmament. There needed, verily, no magnificent fane, no blazonry of mystic rites to make their assembly august.

The youth who here sat at the feet of the more venerable and learned of their barbes used as their text-book the Holy Scriptures. And not only did they study the sacred volume; they were required to commit to memory, and be able accurately to recite, whole Gospels and Epistles. This was a necessary accomplishment on the part of public instructors, in those ages when printing was unknown, and copies of the Word of God were rare. Part of their time was occupied in transcribing the Holy Scriptures, or portions of them, which they were to distribute when they went forth as missionaries. By this, and by other agencies, the seed of the Divine Word was scattered throughout Europe more widely than is commonly supposed. To this a variety of causes contributed. There was then a general impression that the world was soon to end. Men thought that they saw the prognostications of its dissolution in the disorder into which all things had fallen. The pride, luxury, and profligacy of the clergy led not a few laymen to ask if better and more certain guides were not to be had. Many of the troubadours were religious men, whose lays were sermons. The hour of deep and universal slumber had passed; the serf was contending with his seigneur for personal freedom, and the city was waging war with the baronial castle for civic and corporate independence. The New Testament—and, as we learn from incidental notices, portions of the Old—coming at this juncture, in a language understood alike in the court as in the camp, in the city as in the rural hamlet, was welcome to many, and its truths obtained a wider promulgation than perhaps had taken place since the publication of the Vulgate by Jerome.

After passing a certain time in the school of the barbes, it was not uncommon for the Waldensian youth to proceed to the seminaries in the great cities of Lombardy, or to the Sorbonne at Paris. There they saw other customs, were initiated into other studies, and had a wider horizon around them than in the seclusion of their native valleys. Many of them became expert dialecticians, and often made converts of the rich merchants with whom they traded, and the landlords in whose houses they lodged. The priests seldom cared to meet in argument the Waldensian missionary. To maintain the truth in their own mountains was not the only object of this people. They felt their relations to the rest of Christendom. They sought to drive back the darkness, and re-conquer the kingdoms which Rome had overwhelmed. They were an evangelistic as well as an evangelical Church. It was an old law among them that all who took orders in their Church should, before being eligible to a home charge, serve three years in the mission field. The youth on whose head the assembled barbes laid their hands saw in prospect not a rich benefice, but a possible martyrdom. The ocean they did not cross. Their mission field was the realms that lay outspread at the foot of their own mountains. They went forth two and two, concealing their real character under the guise of a secular profession, most commonly that of merchants or peddlers. They carried silks, jewelry, and other articles, at that time not easily purchasable save at distant marts, and they were welcomed as merchants where they would have been spurned as missionaries. The door of the cottage and the portal of the baron’s castle stood equally open to them. But their address was mainly shown in vending, without money and without price, rarer and more valuable merchandise than the gems and silks which had procured them entrance. They took care to carry with them, concealed among their wares or about their persons, portions of the Word of God, their own transcription commonly, and to this they would draw the attention of the inmates. When they saw a desire to possess it, they would freely make a gift of it where the means to purchase were absent.

There was no kingdom of Southern and Central Europe to which these missionaries did not find their way, and where they did not leave traces of their visit in the disciples whom they made. On the west they penetrated into Spain. In Southern France they found congenial fellow-laborers in the Albigenses, by whom the seeds of truth were plentifully scattered over Dauphine and Languedoc. On the east, descending the Rhine and the Danube, they leavened Germany, Bohemia, and Poland6 with their doctrines, their track being marked with the edifices for worship and the stakes of martyrdom that arose around their steps. Even the Seven-hilled City they feared not to enter, scattering the seed on ungenial soil, if perchance some of it might take root and grow. Their naked feet and coarse woolen garments made them somewhat marked figures, in the streets of a city that clothed itself in purple and fine linen; and when their real errand was discovered, as sometimes chanced, the rulers of Christendom took care to further, in their own way, the springing of the seed, by watering it with the blood of the men who had sowed it.7

Thus did the Bible in those ages, veiling its majesty and its mission, travel silently through Christendom, entering homes and hearts, and there making its abode. From her lofty seat Rome looked down with contempt upon the Book and its humble bearers. She aimed at bowing the necks of kings, thinking if they were obedient meaner men would not dare revolt, and so she took little heed of a power which, weak as it seemed, was destined at a future day to break in pieces the fabric of her dominion. By-and-by she began to be uneasy, and to have a boding of calamity. The penetrating eye of Innocent III. detected the quarter whence danger was to arise. He saw in the labors of these humble men the beginning of a movement which, if permitted to go on and gather strength, would one day sweep away all that it had taken the toils and intrigues of centuries to achieve. He straightway commenced those terrible crusades which wasted the sowers but watered the seed, and helped to bring on, at its appointed hour, the catastrophe which he sought to avert.8

Chapter 1.8: The Paulicians

The Paulicians the Protesters against the Eastern, as the Waldenses against the Western Apostasy – Their Rise in A.D. 653 – Constantine of Samosata-Their Tenets Scriptural – Constantine Stoned to Death – Simeon Succeeds – Is put to Death – Sergius – His Missionary Travels – Terrible Persecutions-The Paulicians Rise in Arms – Civil War – The Government Triumphs – Dispersion of the Paulicians over the West – They Blend with the Waldenses – Movement in the South of Europe – The Troubadour, the Barbe, and the Bible, the Three Missionaries – Innocent III. – The Crusades.

BESIDES this central and main body of oppositionists to Rome—Protestants before Protestantism—placed here as in an impregnable fortress, upreared on purpose, in the very center of Roman Christendom, other communities and individuals arose, and maintained a continuous line of Protestant testimony all along to the sixteenth century. These we shall compendiously group and rapidly describe. First, there are the Paulicians. They occupy an analogous place in the East to that which the Waldenses held in the West. Some obscurity rests upon their origin, and additional mystery has on purpose been cast over it, but a fair and impartial examination of the matter leaves no doubt that the Paulicians are the remnant that escaped the apostasy of the Eastern Church, just as the Waldenses are the remnant saved from the apostasy of the Western Church. Doubt, too, has been thrown upon their religious opinions; they have been painted as a confederacy of Manicheans, just as the Waldenses were branded as a synagogue of heretics; but in the former case, as in the latter, an examination of the matter satisfies us that these imputations had no sufficient foundation, that the Paulicians repudiated the errors imputed to them, and that as a body their opinions were in substantial agreement with the doctrine of Holy Writ. Nearly all the information we have of them is that which Petrus Siculus, their bitter enemy, has communicated. He visited them when they were in their most flourishing condition, and the account he has given of their distinguishing doctrines sufficiently proves that the Paulicians had rejected the leading errors of the Greek and Roman Churches; but it fails to show that they had embraced the doctrine of Manes,1 or were justly liable to be styled Manicheans.

In A.D. 653, a deacon returning from captivity in Syria rested a night in the house of an Armenian named Constantine, who lived in the neighborhood of Samosata. On the morrow, before taking his departure, he presented his host with a copy of the New Testament. Constantine studied the sacred volume. A new light broke upon his mind: the errors of the Greek Church stood clearly revealed, and he instantly resolved to separate himself from so corrupt a communion. He drew others to the study of the Scriptures, and the same light shone into their minds which had irradiated his. Sharing his views, they shared with him his secession from the established Church of the Empire. It was the boast of this new party, now grown to considerable numbers, that they adhered to the Scriptures, and especially to the writings of Paul. “I am Sylvanus,” said Constantine, “and ye are Macedonians,” intimating thereby that the Gospel which he would teach, and they should learn, was that of Paul; hence the name of Paulicians, a designation they would not have been ambitious to wear had their doctrine been Manichean.2

These disciples multiplied. A congenial soil favored their increase, for in these same mountains, where are placed the sources of the Euphrates, the Nestorian remnant had found a refuge. The attention of the Government at Constantinople was at length turned to them, and persecution followed. Constantine, whose zeal, constancy, and piety had been amply tested by the labors of twenty-seven years, was stoned to death. From his ashes arose a leader still more powerful. Simeon, an officer of the palace who had been sent with a body of troops to superintend his execution, was converted by his martyrdom; and, like Paul after the stoning of Stephen, forthwith began to preach the faith which he had once persecuted. Simeon ended his career, as Constantine had done, by sealing his testimony with his blood; the stake being planted beside the heap of stones piled above the ashes of Constantine.

Still the Paulicians multiplied; other leaders arose to fill the place of those who had fallen, and neither the anathemas of the hierarchy nor the sword of the State could check their growth. All through the eighth century they continued to flourish. The worship of images was now the fashionable superstition in the Eastern Church, and the Paulicians rendered themselves still more obnoxious to the Greek authorities, lay and clerical, by the strenuous opposition which they offered to that idolatry of which the Greeks were the great advocates and patrons. This drew upon them yet sorer persecution. It was now, in the end of the eighth century, that the most remarkable perhaps of all their leaders, Sergius, rose to head them, a man of truly missionary spirit and of indomitable energy. Petrus Siculus has given us an account of the conversion of Sergius. We should take it for a satire, were it not for the manifest earnestness and simplicity of the writer. Siculus tells us that Satan appeared to Sergius in the shape of an old woman, and asked him why he did not read the New Testament? The tempter proceeded further to recite portions of Holy Writ, whereby Sergius was seduced to read the Scripture, and so perverted to heresy; and “from sheep,” says Siculus, “turned numbers into wolves, and by their means ravaged the sheepfolds of Christ.”3

During thirty-four years, and in the course of innumerable journeys, he preached the Gospel from East to West, and converted great numbers of his countrymen. The result was more terrible persecutions, which were continued through successive reigns. Foremost in this work we find the Emperor Leo, the Patriarch Nicephorus, and notably the Empress Theodora. Under the latter it was affirmed, says Gibbon, “that one hundred thousand Paulicians were extirpated by the sword, the gibbet, or the flames.” It is admitted by the same historian that the chief guilt of many of those who were thus destroyed lay in their being Iconoclasts.4 The sanguinary zeal of Theodora kindled a flame which had well-nigh consumed the Empire of the East. The Paulicians, stung by these cruel injuries, now prolonged for two centuries, at last took up arms, as the Waldenses of Piedmont, the Hussites of Bohemia, and the Huguenots of France did in similar circumstances. They placed their camp in the mountains between Sewas and Trebizond, and for thirty-five years (A.D. 845—880) the Empire of Constantinople was afflicted with the calamities of civil war. Repeated victories, won over the troops of the emperor, crowned the arms of the Paulicians, and at length the insurgents were joined by the Saracens, who hung on the frontier of the Empire. The flames of battle extended into the heart of Asia; and as it is impossible to restrain the ravages of the sword when once unsheathed, the Paulicians passed from a righteous defense to an inexcusable revenge. Entire provinces were wasted, opulent cities were sacked, ancient and famous churches were turned into stables, and troops of captives were held to ransom or delivered to the executioner. But it must not be forgotten that the original cause of these manifold miseries was the bigotry of the government and the zeal of the clergy for image-worship. The fortune of war at last declared in favor of the troops of the emperor, and the insurgents were driven back into their mountains, where for a century afterwards they enjoyed a partial independence, and maintained the profession of their religious faith.

After this, the Paulicians were transported across the Bosphorus, and settled in Thrace.5 This removal was begun by the Emperor Constantine Copronymus in the middle of the eighth century, was continued in successive colonies in the ninth, and completed about the end of the tenth. The shadow of the Saracenic woe was already blackening over the Eastern Empire, and God removed His witnesses betimes from the destined scene of judgment. The arrival of the Paulicians in Europe was regarded with favor rather than disapproval. Rome was becoming by her tyranny the terror and by her profligacy the scandal of the West, and men were disposed to welcome whatever promised to throw additional weight into the opposing scale. The Paulicians soon spread themselves over Europe, and though no chronicle records their dispersion, the fact is attested by the sudden and simultaneous outbreak of their opinions in many of the Western countries.6 They mingled with the hosts of the Crusaders returning from the Holy Land through Hungary and Germany; they joined themselves to the caravans of merchants who entered the harbor of Venice and the gates of Lombardy; or they followed the Byzantine standard into Southern Italy, and by these various routes settled themselves in the West.7 They incorporated with the preexisting bodies of oppositionists, and from this time a new life is seen to animate the efforts of the Waldenses of Piedmont, the Albigenses of Southern France, and of others who, in other parts of Europe, revolted by the growing superstitions, had begun to retrace their steps towards the primeval fountains of truth. “Their opinions,” says Gibbon, “were silently propagated in Rome, Milan, and the kingdoms beyond the Alps. It was soon discovered that many thousand Catholics of every rank, and of either sex, had embraced the Manichean heresy.”8 From this point the Paulician stream becomes blended with that of the other early confessors of the Truth. To these we now return.

When we cast our eyes over Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, our attention is irresistibly riveted on the south of France. There a great movement is on the eve of breaking out. Cities and provinces are seen rising in revolt against the Church of Rome. Judging from the aspect of things on the surface, one would have inferred that all opposition to Rome had died out. Every succeeding century was deepening the foundations and widening the limits of the Romish Church, and it seemed now as if there awaited her ages of quiet and unchallenged dominion. It is at this moment that her power begins to totter; and though she will rise higher ere terminating her career, her decadence has already begun, and her fall may be postponed, but cannot be averted. But how do we account for the powerful movement that begins to show itself at the foot of the Alps, at a moment when, as it seems, every enemy has been vanquished, and Rome has won the battle? To attack her now, seated as we behold her amid vassal kings, obedient nations, and entrenched behind a triple rampart of darkness, is surely to invite destruction.

The causes of this movement had been long in silent operation. In fact, this was the very quarter of Christendom where opposition to the growing tyranny and superstitions of Rome might be expected first to show itself. Here it was that Polycarp and Irenaeus had labored. Over all those goodly plains which the Rhone waters, and in those numerous cities and villages over which the Alps stretch their shadows, these apostolic men had planted Christianity. Hundreds of thousands of martyrs had here watered it with their blood, and though a thousand years well-nigh had passed since that day, the story of their terrible torments and heroic deaths had not been altogether forgotten. In the Cottian Alps and the province of Languedoc, Vigilantius had raised his powerful protest against the errors of his times. This region was included, as we have seen, in the diocese of Milan, and, as a consequence, it enjoyed the light which shone on the south of the Alps long after Churches not a few on the north of these mountains were plunged in darkness. In the ninth century Claude of Turin had found in the Archbishop of Lyons, Agobardus, a man willing to entertain his views and to share his conflicts. Since that time the night had deepened here as everywhere else. But still, as may be conceived, there were memories of the past, there were seeds in the soil, which new forces might quicken and make to spring up. Such a force did now begin to act. It was, moreover, on this spot, and among these peoples—the best prepared of all the nations of the West—that the Word of God was first published in the vernacular. When the Romance version of the New Testament was issued, the people that sat in darkness saw a great light. This was in fact a second giving of Divine Revelation to the nations of Europe; for the early Saxon renderings of portions of Holy Writ had fallen aside and gone utterly into disuse; and though Jerome’s translation, the Vulgate, was still known, it was in Latin, now a dead language, and its use was confined to the priests, who though they possessed it cannot be said to have known it; for the reverence paid it lay in the rich illuminations of its writing, in the gold and gems of its binding, and the curiously-carved and costly cabinets in which it was locked up, and not in the earnestness with which its pages were studied. Now the nations of Southern Europe could read, each in “the tongue wherein he was born,” the wonderful works of God.

This inestimable boon they owed to Peter Valdes or Waldo, a rich merchant in Lyons, who had been awakened to serious thought by the sudden death of a companion, according to some, by the chance lay of a traveling troubadour, according to others. We can imagine the wonder and joy of these people when this light broke upon them through the clouds that environed them. But we must not picture to ourselves a diffusion of the Bible, in those ages, at all so wide and rapid as would take place in our day when copies can be so easily multiplied by the printing press. Each copy was laboriously produced by the pen; its price corresponded to the time and labor expended in its production; it had to be carried long distances, often by slow and uncertain conveyances; and, last of all, it had to encounter the frowns and ultimately the prohibitory edicts of a hostile hierarchy. But there were compensatory advantages. Difficulties but tended to whet the desire of the people to obtain the Book, and when once their eyes lighted on its page, its truths made the deeper an impression on their minds. It stood out in its sublimity from the fables on which they had been fed. The conscience felt that a greater than man was speaking from its page. Each copy served scores and hundreds of readers.

Besides, if the mechanical appliances were lacking to those ages, which the progress of invention has conferred on ours, there existed a living machinery which worked indefatigably. The Bible was sung in the lays of troubadours and minnesingers. It was recited in the sermons of barbes. And these efforts reacted on the Book from which they had sprung, by leading men to the yet more earnest perusal and the yet wider diffusion of it. The Troubadour, the Barbe, and, mightiest of all, the Bible, were the three missionaries that traversed the south of Europe. Disciples were multiplied: congregations were formed: barons, cities, provinces, joined the movement. It seemed as if the Reformation was come. Not yet. Rome had not filled up her cup; nor had the nations of Europe that full and woeful demonstration they have since received, how crushing to liberty, to knowledge, to order, is her yoke, to induce them to join universally in the struggle to break it.

Besides, it happened, as has often been seen at historic crises of the Papacy, that a Pope equal to the occasion filled the Papal throne. Of remarkable vigor, of dauntless spirit, and of sanguinary temper, Innocent III. but too truly guessed the character and divined the issue of the movement. He sounded the tocsin of persecution. Mail-clad abbots, lordly prelates, “who wielded by turns the crosier, the scepter, and the sword;”9 barons and counts ambitious of enlarging their domains, and mobs eager to wreak their savage fanaticism on their neighbors, whose persons they hated and whose goods they coveted, assembled at the Pontiff’s summons. Fire and sword speedily did the work of extermination. Where before had been seen smiling provinces, flourishing cities, and a numerous, virtuous, and orderly population, there was now a blackened and silent desert. That nothing might be lacking to carry on this terrible work, Innocent III. set up the tribunal of the Inquisition. Behind the soldiers of the Cross marched the monks of St. Dominic, and what escaped the sword of the one perished by the racks of the other. In one of those dismal tragedies not fewer than a hundred thousand persons are said to have been destroyed.10 Over wide areas not a living thing was left: all were given to the sword. Mounds of ruins and ashes alone marked the spot where cities and villages had formerly stood. But this violence recoiled in the end on the power which had employed it. It did not extinguish the movement: it but made the roots strike deeper, to spring up again and again, and each time with greater vigor and over a wider area, till at last it was seen that Rome by these deeds was only preparing for Protestantism a more glorious triumph, and for herself a more signal overthrow.

But these events are too intimately connected with the early history of Protestantism, and they too truly depict the genius and policy of that power against which Protestantism found it so hard a matter to struggle into existence, to be passed over in silence, or dismissed with a mere general description. We must go a little into detail.

Chapter 1.9: Crusades Against The Albigenses

Rome founded on the Dogma of Persecution – Begins to act upon it – Territory of the Albigenses – Innocent III. – Persecuting Edicts of Councils – Crusade preached by the Monks of Citeaux – First Crusade launched – Paradise – Simon de Montfort – Raymond of Toulouse – His Territories Overrun and Devastated – Crusade against Raymond Roger of Beziers – Burning of his Towns – Massacre of their Inhabitants – Destruction of the Albigenses.

THE torch of persecution was fairly kindled in the beginning of the thirteenth century. Those baleful fires, which had smoldered since the fall of the Empire, were now re-lighted, but it must be noted that this was the act not of the State but of the Church. Rome had founded her dominion upon the dogma of persecution. She sustained herself “Lord of the conscience.” Out of this prolific but pestiferous root came a whole century of fulminating edicts, to be followed by centuries of blazing piles. It could not be but that this maxim, placed at the foundation of her system, should inspire and mold the whole policy of the Church of Rome. Divine mistress of the conscience and of the faith, she claimed the exclusive right to prescribe to every human being what he was to believe, and to pursue with temporal and spiritual terrors every form of worship different from her own, till she had chased it out of the world. The first exemplification, on a great scale, of her office which she gave mankind was the crusades. As the professors of an impure creed, she pronounced sentence of extermination on the Saracens of the Holy Land; she sent thither some millions of crusaders to execute her ban; and the lands, cities, and wealth of the slaughtered infidels she bestowed upon her orthodox sons. If it was right to apply this principle to one pagan country, we do not see what should hinder Rome—unless indeed lack of power—from sending her missionaries to every land where infidelity and heresy prevailed, emptying them of their evil creed and their evil inhabitants together, and re-peopling them anew with a pure race from within her own orthodox pale.

But now the fervor of the crusades had begun sensibly to abate. The result had not responded either to the expectations of the Church that had planned them, or to the masses that had carried them out. The golden crowns of Paradise had been all duly bestowed, doubtless, but of course on those of the crusaders only who had fallen; the survivors had as yet inherited little save wounds, poverty, and disease. The Church, too, began to see that the zeal and blood which were being so freely expended on the shores of Asia might be turned to better account nearer home. The Albigenses and other sects springing up at her door were more dangerous foes of the Papacy than the Saracens of the distant East. For a while the Popes saw with comparative indifference the growth of these religious communities; they dreaded no harm from bodies apparently so insignificant; and even entertained at times the thought of grafting them on their own system as separate orders, or as resuscitating and purifying forces. With the advent of Innocent III., however, came a new policy. He perceived that the principles of these communities were wholly alien in their nature to those of the Papacy, that they never could be made to work in concert with it, and that if left to develop themselves they would most surely effect its overthrow. Accordingly the cloud of exterminating vengeance which rolled in the skies of the world, whithersoever he was pleased to command, was ordered to halt, to return westward, and discharge its chastisement on the South of Europe.

Let us take a glance at the region which this dreadful tempest is about to smite. The France of those days, instead of forming an entire monarchy, was parted into four grand divisions. It is the most southerly of the four, or Narbonne-Gaul, to which our attention is now to be turned. This was an ample and goodly territory, stretching from the Dauphinese Alps on the east to the Pyrenees on the south-west, and comprising the modern provinces of Dauphine, Provence, Languedoc or Gascogne. It was watered throughout by the Rhone, which descended upon it from the north, and it was washed along its southern boundary by the Mediterranean. Occupied by an intelligent population, it had become under their skillful husbandry one vast expanse of corn-land and vineyard, of fruit and forest tree. To the riches of the soil were added the wealth of commerce, in which the inhabitants were tempted to engage by the proximity of the sea and the neighborhood of the Italian republics. Above all, its people were addicted to the pursuits of art and poetry. It was the land of the troubadour. It was further embellished by the numerous castles of a powerful nobility, who spent their time in elegant festivities and gay tournaments.

But better things than poetry and feats of mimic war flourished here. The towns, formed into communes, and placed under municipal institutions, enjoyed no small measure of freedom. The lively and poetic genius of the people had enabled them to form a language of their own—namely, the Provencal. In richness of vocables, softness of cadence, and picturesqueness of idiom, the Provencal excelled all the languages of Europe, and promised to become the universal tongue of Christendom. Best of all, a pure Christianity was developing in the region. It was here, on the banks of the Rhone, that Irenaeus and the other early apostles of Gaul had labored, and the seeds which their hands had deposited in its soil, watered by the blood of martyrs who had fought in the first ranks in the terrible combats of those days, had never wholly perished. Influences of recent birth had helped to quicken these seeds into a second growth. Foremost among these was the translation of the New Testament into the Provencal, the earliest, as we have shown, of all our modern versions of the Scriptures. The barons protected the people in their evangelical sentiments, some because they shared their opinions, others because they found them to be industrious and skillful cultivators of their lands. A cordial welcome awaited the troubadour at their castle-gates; he departed loaded with gifts; and he enjoyed the baron’s protection as he passed on through the cities and villages, concealing, not unfrequently, the colporteur and missionary under the guise of the songster. The hour of a great revolt against Rome appeared to be near. Surrounded by the fostering influences of art, intelligence, and liberty, primitive Christianity was here powerfully developing itself. It seemed verily that the thirteenth and not the sixteenth century would be the date of the Reformation, and that its cradle would be placed not in Germany but in the south of France.

The penetrating and far-seeing eye of Innocent III. saw all this very clearly. Not at the foot of the Alps and the Pyrenees only did he detect a new life: in other countries of Europe, in Italy, in Spain, in Flanders, in Hungary—wherever, in short, dispersion had driven the sectaries, he discovered the same fermentation below the surface, the same incipient revolt against the Papal power. He resolved without loss of time to grapple with and crush the movement. He issued an edict enjoining the extermination of all heretics.1 Cities would be drowned in blood, kingdoms would be laid waste, art and civilization would perish, and the progress of the world would be rolled back for centuries; but not otherwise could the movement be arrested, and Rome saved.

A long series of persecuting edicts and canons paved the way for these horrible butcheries. The Council of Toulouse, in 1119, presided over by Pope Calixtus II., pronounced a general excommunication upon all who held the sentiments of the Albigenses, cast them out of the Church, delivered them to the sword of the State to be punished, and included in the same condemnation all who should afford them defense or protection.2 This canon was renewed in the second General Council of Lateran, 1139, under Innocent II.3 Each succeeding Council strove to excel its predecessor in its sanguinary and pitiless spirit. The Council of Tours, 1163, under Alexander III., stripped the heretics of their goods, forbade, under peril of excommunication, any to relieve them, and left them to perish without succor.4 The third General Council of Lateran, 1179, under Alexander III., enjoined princes to make war upon them, to take their possessions for a spoil, to reduce their persons to slavery, and to withhold from them Christian burial.5 The fourth General Council of Lateran bears the stern and comprehensive stamp of the man under whom it was held. The Council commanded princes to take an oath to extirpate heretics from their dominions. Fearing that some, from motives of self-interest, might hesitate to destroy the more industrious of their subjects, the Council sought to quicken their obedience by appealing to their avarice. It made over the heritages of the excommunicated to those who should carry out the sentence pronounced upon them. Still further to stimulate to this pious work, the Council rewarded a service of forty days in it with the same ample indulgences which had aforetime been bestowed on those who served in the distant and dangerous crusades of Syria. If any prince should still hold back, he was himself, after a year’s grace, to be smitten with excommunication, his vassals were to be loosed from their allegiance, and his lands given to whoever had the will or the power to seize them, after having first purged them of heresy. That this work of extirpation might be thoroughly done, the bishops were empowered to make an annual visitation of their dioceses, to institute a very close search for heretics, and to extract an oath from the leading inhabitants that they would report to the ecclesiastics from time to time those among their neighbors and acquaintances who had strayed from the faith.6 It is hardly necessary to say that it is Innocent III. who speaks in this Council. It was assembled in his palace of the Lateran in 1215; it was one of the most brilliant Councils that ever were convened, being composed of 800 abbots and priors, 400 bishops, besides patriarchs, deputies, and ambassadors from all nations. It was opened by Innocent in person, with a discourse from the words, “With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you.”

We cannot pursue farther this series of terrific edicts, which runs on till the end of the century and into the next. Each is like that which went before it, save only that it surpasses it in cruelty and terror. The fearful pillagings and massacrings which instantly followed in the south of France, and which were re-enacted in following centuries in all the countries of Christendom, were but too faithful transcripts, both in spirit and letter, of these ecclesiastical enactments. Meanwhile, we must note that it is out of the chair of the Pope—out of the dogma that the Church is mistress of the conscience—that this river of blood is seen to flow.

Three years was this storm in gathering. Its first heralds were the monks of Citeaux, sent abroad by Innocent III. in 1206 to preach the crusade throughout France and the adjoining kingdoms. There followed St. Dominic and his band, who traveled on foot, two and two, with full powers from the Pope to search out heretics, dispute with them, and set a mark on those who were to be burned when opportunity should offer. In this mission of inquisition we see the first beginnings of a tribunal which came afterwards to bear the terrible name of the “Inquisition.” These gave themselves to the work with an ardor which had not been equaled since the times of Peter the Hermit. The fiery orators of the Vatican but too easily succeeded in kindling the fanaticism of the masses. War was at all times the delight of the peoples among whom this mission was discharged; but to engage in this war what dazzling temptations were held out! The foes they were to march against were accursed of God and the Church. To shed their blood was to wash away their own sins—it was to atone for all the vices and crimes of a lifetime. And then to think of the dwellings of the Albigenses, replenished with elegances and stored with wealth, and of their fields blooming with the richest cultivation, all to become the lawful spoil of the crossed invader! But this was only a first installment of a great and brilliant recompense in the future. They had the word of the Pope that at the moment of death they should find the angels prepared to carry them aloft, the gates of Paradise open for their entrance, and the crowns and delights of the upper world waiting their choice. The crusader of the previous century had to buy forgiveness with a great sum: he had to cross the sea, to face the Saracen, to linger out years amid unknown toils and perils, and to return—if he should ever return—with broken health and ruined fortune. But now a campaign of forty days in one’s own country, involving no hardship and very little risk, was all that was demanded for one’s eternal salvation. Never before had Paradise been so cheap! The preparations for this war of extermination went on throughout the years 1207 and 1208. Like the mutterings of the distant thunder or the hoarse roar of ocean when the tempest is rising, the dreadful sounds filled Europe, and their echoes reached the doomed provinces, where they were heard with terror. In the spring of 1209 these armed fanatics were ready to march,7 One body had assembled at Lyons. Led by Arnold, Abbot of Citeaux and legate of the Pope, it descended by the valley of the Rhone. A second army gathered in the Agenois under the Archbishop of Bordeaux. A third horde of militant pilgrims marshaled in the north, the subjects of Philip Augustus, and at their head marched the Bishop of Puy.8 The near neighbors of the Albigenses rose in a body, and swelled this already overgrown host. The chief director of this sacred war was the Papal legate, the Abbot of Citeaux. Its chief military commander was Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester a French nobleman, who had practiced war and learnt cruelty in the crusades of the Holy Land. In putting himself at the head of these crossed and fanatical hordes he was influenced, it is believed, quite as much by a covetous greed of the ample and rich territories of Raymond, Count of Toulouse, as by hatred of the heresy that Raymond was suspected of protecting. The number of crusaders who now put themselves in motion is variously estimated at from 50,000 to 500,000. The former is the reckoning of the Abbot of Vaux Cernay, the Popish chronicler of the war; but his calculation, says Sismondi, does not include “the ignorant and fanatical multitude which followed each preacher armed with scythes and clubs, and promised to themselves that if they were not in a condition to combat the knights of Languedoc, they might, at least, be able to murder the women and children of the heretics.”9

This overwhelming host precipitated itself upon the estates of Raymond VI., Count of Toulouse. Seeing the storm approach, he was seized with dread, wrote submissive letters to Rome, and offered to accept whatever terms the Papal legate might please to dictate. As the price of his reconciliation, he had to deliver up to the Pope seven of his strongest towns, to appear at the door of the Church, where the dead body of the legate Castelneau, who had been murdered in his dominions, lay, and to be there beaten with rods.10 Next, a rope was put about his neck, and he was dragged by the legate to the tomb of the friar, in the presence of several bishops and an immense multitude of spectators. After all this, he was obliged to take the cross, and join with those who were seizing and plundering his cities, massacring his subjects, and carrying fire and sword throughout his territories. Stung by these humiliations and calamities, he again changed sides. But his resolution to brave the Papal wrath came too late. He was again smitten with interdict; his possessions were given to Simon de Montfort, and in the end he saw himself reft of all.11

Among the princes of the region now visited with this devastating scourge, the next in rank and influence to the Count of Toulouse was the young Raymond Roger, Viscount of Beziers. Every day this horde of murderers drew nearer and nearer to his territories. Submission would only invite destruction. He hastened to put his kingdom into a posture of defense. His vassals were numerous and valiant, their fortified castles covered the face of the country; of his towns, two, Beziers and Carcassonne, were of great size and strength, and he judged that in these circumstances it was not too rash to hope to turn the brunt of the impending tempest. He called round him his armed knights, and told them that his purpose was to fight: many of them were Papists, as he himself was; but he pointed to the character of the hordes that were approaching, who made it their sole business to drown the earth in blood, without much distinction whether it was Catholic or Albigensian blood that they spilled. His knights applauded the resolution of their young and brave liege lord.

The castles were garrisoned and provisioned, the peasantry of the surrounding districts gathered into them, and the cities were provided against a siege. Placing in Beziers a number of valiant knights, and telling the inhabitants that their only hope of safety lay in making a stout defense, Raymond shut himself up in Carcassonne, and waited the approach of the army of crusaders. Onward came the host: before them a smiling country, in their rear a piteous picture of devastation—battered castles, the blackened walls and towers of silent cities, homesteads in ashes, and a desert scathed with fire and stained with blood.

In the middle of July, 1209, the three bodies of crusaders arrived, and sat down under the walls of Beziers. The stoutest heart among its citizens quailed, as they surveyed from the ramparts this host that seemed to cover the face of the earth. “So great was the assemblage,” says the old chronicle, “both of tents and pavilions, that it appeared as if all the world was collected there.”12 Astonished but not daunted, the men of Beziers made a rush upon the pilgrims before they should have time to fortify their encampment. It was all in vain The assault was repelled, and the crusaders, mingling with the citizens as they hurried back to the town in broken crowds, entered the gates along with them, and Beziers was in their hands before they had even formed the plan of attack. The knights inquired of the Papal legate, the Abbot of Citeaux, how they might distinguish the Catholics from the heretics. Arnold at once cut the knot which time did not suffice to loose by the following reply, which has since become famous; “Kill all! kill all! The Lord will know His own.”13

The bloody work now began. The ordinary population of Beziers was some 15,000; at this moment it could not be less than four times its usual number, for being the capital of the province, and a place of great strength, the inhabitants of the country and the open villages had been collected into it. The multitude, when they saw that the city was taken, fled to the churches, and began to toll the bells by way of supplication. This only the sooner drew upon themselves the swords of the assassins. The wretched citizens were slaughtered in a trice. Their dead bodies covered the floor of the church; they were piled in heaps round the altar; their blood flowed in torrents at the door. “Seven thousand dead bodies,” says Sismondi, “were counted in the Magdalen alone. When the crusaders had massacred the last living creature in Beziers, and had pillaged the houses of all that they thought worth carrying off, they set fire to the city in every part at once, and reduced it to a vast funeral pile. Not a house remained standing, not one human being alive. Historians differ as to the number of victims. The Abbot of Citoaux, feeling some shame for the butchery which he had ordered, in his letter to Innocent III. reduces it to 15,000; others make it amount to 60,000.”14

The terrible fate which had overtaken Beziers—in one day converted into a mound of ruins dreary and silent as any on the plain of Chaldaea—told the other towns and villages the destiny that awaited them. The inhabitants, terror-stricken, fled to the woods and caves. Even the strong castles were left tenantless, their defenders deeming it vain to think of opposing so furious and overwhelming a host. Pillaging, burning, and massacring as they had a mind, the crusaders advanced to Carcassonne, where they arrived on the lst of August. The city stood on the right bank of the Aude; its fortifications were strong, its garrison numerous and brave, and the young count, Raymond Roger, was at their head. The assailants advanced to the walls, but met a stout resistance. The defenders poured upon them streams of boiling water and oil, and crushed them with great stones and projectiles. The attack was again and again renewed, but was as often repulsed. Meanwhile the forty days’ service was drawing to an end, and bands of crusaders, having fulfilled their term and earned heaven, were departing to their homes. The Papal legate, seeing the host melting away, judged it perfectly right to call wiles to the aid of his arms. Holding out to Raymond Roger the hope of an honorable capitulation, and swearing to respect his liberty, Arnold induced the viscount, with 300 of his knights, to present himself at his tent. “The latter,” says Sismondi, “profoundly penetrated with the maxim of Innocent III., that ‘to keep faith with those that have it not is an offense against the faith,’ caused the young viscount to be arrested, with all the knights who had followed him.”

When the garrison saw that their leader had been imprisoned, they resolved, along with the inhabitants, to make their escape overnight by a secret passage known only to themselves—a cavern three leagues in length, extending from Carcassonne to the towers of Cabardes. The crusaders were astonished on the morrow, when not a man could be seen upon the walls; and still more mortified was the Papal legate to find that his prey had escaped him, for his purpose was to make a bonfire of the city, with every man, woman, and child within it. But if this greater revenge was now out of his reach, he did not disdain a smaller one still in his power. He collected a body of some 450 persons, partly fugitives from Carcassonne whom he had captured, and partly the 300 knights who had accompanied the viscount, and of these he burned 400 alive and the remaining 50 he hanged.15

Chapter 1.10: Erection Of Tribunal Of Inquisition

The Crusades still continued in the Albigensian Territory – Council of Toulouse, 1229 – Organizes the Inquisition – Condemns the Reading of the Bible in the Vernacular – Gregory IX., 1233, further perfects the Organization of the Inquisition, and commits it to the Dominicans – The Crusades continued under the form of the Inquisition – These Butcheries the deliberate Act of Rome – Revived and Sanctioned by her in our own day – Protestantism of Thirteenth Century Crushed – Not alone – Final Ends.

THE main object of the crusades was now accomplished. The principalities of Raymond VI., Count of Toulouse, and Raymond Roger, Viscount of Beziers, had been “purged” and made over to that faithful son of the Church, Simon de Montfort. The lands of the Count of Foix were likewise overrun, and joined with the neighboring provinces in a common desolation. The Viscount of Narbonne contrived to avoid a visit of the crusaders, but at the price of becoming himself the Grand Inquisitor of his dominions, and purging them with laws even more rigorous than the Church demanded,1

The twenty years that followed were devoted to the cruel work of rooting out any seeds of heresy that might possibly yet remain in the soil. Every year a crowd of monks issued from the convents of Citeaux, and, taking possession of the pulpits, preached a new crusade. For the same easy service they offered the same prodigious reward—Paradise—and the consequence was, that every year a new wave of fanatics gathered and rolled toward the devoted provinces. The villages and the woods were searched, and some gleanings, left from the harvests of previous years, were found and made food for the gibbets and stakes that in such dismal array covered the face of the country. The first instigators of these terrible proceedings—Innocent III., Simon de Montfort, the Abbot of Citeaux—soon passed from the scene, but the tragedies they had begun went on. In the lands which the Albigenses—now all but extinct—had once peopled, and which they had so greatly enriched by their industry and adorned by their art, blood never ceased to flow nor the flames to devour their victims. It would be remote from the object of our history to enter here into details, but we must dwell a little on the events of 1229. This year a Council was held at Toulouse, under the Papal legate, the Cardinal of St. Angelo. The foundation of the Inquisition had already been laid. Innocent III. and St. Dominic share between them the merit of this good work.2 In the year of the fourth Lateran, 1215, St. Dominic received the Pontiff’s commission to judge and deliver to punishment apostate and relapsed and obstinate heretics.3 This was the Inquisition, though lacking as yet its full organization and equipment. That St. Dominic died before it was completed alters not the question touching his connection with its authorship, though of late a vindication of him has been attempted on this ground, only by shifting the guilt to his Church. The fact remains that St. Dominic accompanied the armies of Simon de Montfort, that he delivered the Albigenses to the secular judge to be put to death—in short, worked the Inquisition so far as it had received shape and form in his day. But the Council of Toulouse still further perfected the organization and developed the working of this terrible tribunal. It erected in every city a council of Inquisitors consisting of one priest and three laymen,4 whose business it was to search for heretics in towns, houses, cellars, and other lurking-places, as also in caves, woods, and fields, and to denounce them to the bishops, lords, or their bailiffs. Once discovered, a summary but dreadful ordeal conducted them to the stake. The houses of heretics were to be razed to their foundations, and the ground on which they stood condemned and confiscated—for heresy, like the leprosy, polluted the very stones, and timber, and soil. Lords were held responsible for the orthodoxy of their estates, and so far also for those of their neighbors. If remiss in their search, the sharp admonition of the Church soon quickened their diligence. A last will and testament was of no validity unless a priest had been by when it was made. A physician suspected was forbidden to practice. All above the age of fourteen were required on oath to abjure heresy, and to aid in the search for heretics.5 As a fitting appendage to those tyrannical acts, and a sure and lasting evidence of the real source whence that thing called “heresy,” on the extirpation of which they were so intent, was derived, the same Council condemned the reading of the Holy Scriptures. “We prohibit,” says the fourteenth canon, “the laics from having the books of the Old and New Testament, unless it be at most that any one wishes to have, from devotion, a psalter, a breviary for the Divine offices, or the hours of the blessed Mary; but we forbid them in the most express manner to have the above books translated into the vulgar tongue.”6 In 1233, Pope Gregory IX. issued a bull, by which he confided the working of the Inquisition to the Dominicans.7 He appointed his legate, the Bishop of Tournay, to carry out the bull in the way of completing the organization of that tribunal which has since become the terror of Christendom, and which has caused to perish such a prodigious number of human beings. In discharge of his commission, the bishop named two Dominicans in Toulouse, and two in each city of the province, to form the Tribunal of the Faith;8 and soon, under the warm patronage of Saint Louis (Louis IX.) of France, this court was extended to the whole kingdom. An instruction was at the same time furnished to the Inquisitors, in which the bishop enumerated the errors of the heretics. The document bears undesigned testimony to the Scriptural faith of the men whom the newly-erected court was meant to root out. “In the exposition made by the Bishop of Tournay, of the errors of the Albigenses,” says Sismondi, “we find nearly all the principles upon which Luther and Calvin founded the Reformation of the sixteenth century.”9

Although the crusades, as hitherto waged, were now ended, they continued under the more dreadful form of the Inquisition. We say more dreadful form, for not so terrible was the crusader’s sword as the Inquisitor’s rack, and to die fighting in the open field or on the ramparts of the beleaguered city, was a fate less horrible than to expire amid prolonged and excruciating tortures in the dungeons of the “Holy Office.” The tempests of the crusades, however terrible, had yet their intermissions; they burst, passed away, and left a breathing-space between their explosions. Not so the Inquisition. It worked on and on, day and night, century after century, with a regularity that was appalling. With steady march it extended its area, till at last it embraced almost all the countries of Europe, and kept piling up its dead year by year in ever larger and ghastlier heaps. These awful tragedies were the sole and deliberate acts of the Church of Rome. She planned them in solemn council, she enunciated them in dogma and canon, and in executing them she claimed to act as the vicegerent of Heaven, who had power to save or to destroy nations. Never can that Church be in fairer circumstances than she was then for displaying her true genius, and showing what she holds to be her real rights. She was in the noon of her power; she was free from all coercion whether of force or of fear; she could afford to be magnanimous and tolerant were it possible she ever could be so; yet the sword was the only argument she condescended to employ. She blew the trumpet of vengeance, summoned to arms the half of Europe, and crushed the rising forces of reason and religion under an avalanche of savage fanaticism. In our own day all these horrible deeds have been reviewed, ratified, and sanctioned by the same Church that six centuries ago enacted them: first in the Syllabus of 1864, which expressly vindicates the ground on which these crusades were done—namely, that the Church of Rome possesses the supremacy of both powers, the spiritual and the temporal; that she has the right to employ both swords in the extirpation of heresy; that in the exercise of this right in the past she never exceeded by a hair’s breadth her just prerogatives, and that what she has done aforetime she may do in time to come, as often as occasion shall require and opportunity may serve. And, secondly, they have been endorsed over again by the decree of Infallibility, which declares that the Popes who planned, ordered, and by their bishops and monks executed all these crimes, were in these, as in all their other official acts, infallibly guided by inspiration. The plea that it was the thirteenth century when these horrible butcheries were committed, every one sees to be wholly inadmissible. An infallible Church has no need to wait for the coming of the lights of philosophy and science. Her sun is always in the zenith. The thirteenth and the nineteenth century are the same to her, for she is just as infallible in the one as in the other.

So fell, smitten down by this terrible blow, to rise no more in the same age and among the same people, the Protestantism of the thirteenth century. It did not perish alone. All the regenerative forces of a social and intellectual kind which Protestantism even at that early stage had evoked were rooted out along with it. Letters had begun to refine, liberty to emancipate, art to beautify, and commerce to enrich the region, but all were swept away by a vengeful power that was regardless of what it destroyed, provided only it reached its end in the extirpation of Protestantism. How changed the region from what it once was! There the song of the troubadour was heard no more. No more was the gallant knight seen riding forth to display his prowess in the gay tournament; no more were the cheerful voices of the reaper and grape-gatherer heard in the fields. The rich harvests of the region were trodden into the dust, its fruitful vines and flourishing olive-trees were torn up; hamlet and city were swept away; ruins, blood, and ashes covered the face of this now “purified” land.

But Rome was not able, with all her violence, to arrest the movement of the human mind. So far as it was religious, she but scattered the sparks to break out on a wider area at a future day; and so far as it was intellectual, she but forced it into another channel. Instead of Albigensianism, Scholasticism now arose in France, which, after flourishing for some centuries in the schools of Paris, passed into the Skeptical Philosophy, and that again, in our day, into Atheistic Communism. It will be curious if in the future the progeny should cross the path of the parent.

It turned out that this enforced halt of three centuries, after all, resulted only in the goal being more quickly reached. While the movement paused, instrumentalities of prodigious power, unknown to that age, were being prepared to give quicker transmission and wider diffusion to the Divine principle when next it should show itself. And, further, a more robust and capable stock than the Romanesque—namely, the Teutonic—was silently growing up, destined to receive the heavenly graft, and to shoot forth on every side larger boughs, to cover Christendom with their shadow and solace it with their fruits.

Chapter 1.11: Protestants Before Protestantism

Berengarius – The First Opponent of Transubstantiation – Numerous Councils Condemn him – His Recantation – The Martyrs of Orleans – Their Confession – Their Condemnation and Martyrdom – Peter de Bruys and the Petrobrusians – Henri – Effects of his Eloquence – St. Bernard sent to Oppose him – Henri Apprehended – His Fate unknown – Arnold of Brescia – Birth and Education – His Picture of his Times – His Scheme of Reform – Inveighs against the Wealth of the Hierarchy – His Popularity – Condemned by Innocent II. and Banished from Italy – Returns on the Pope’s Death – Labors Ten Years in Rome – Demands the Separation of the Temporal and Spiritual Authority – Adrian IV. – He Suppresses the Movement – Arnold is Burned

IN pursuing to an end the history of the Albigensian crusades, we have been carried somewhat beyond the point of time at which we had arrived. We now return. A succession of lights which shine out at intervals amid the darkness of the ages guides our eye onward. In the middle of the eleventh century appears Berengarius of Tours in France. He is the first public opponent of transubstantiation.1 A century had now passed since the monk, Paschasius Radbertus, had hatched that astounding dogma. In an age of knowledge such a tenet would have subjected its author to the suspicion of lunacy, but in times of darkness like those in which this opinion first issued from the convent of Corbei, the more mysterious the doctrine the more likely was it to find believers. The words of Scripture, “this is my body,” torn from their context and held up before the eyes of ignorant men, seemed to give some countenance to the tenet. Besides, it was the interest of the priesthood to believe it, and to make others believe it too; for the gift of working a prodigy like this invested them with a superhuman power, and gave them immense reverence in the eyes of the people. The battle that Berengarius now opened enables us to judge of the wide extent which the belief in transubstantiation had already acquired. Everywhere in France, in Germany, in Italy, we find a commotion arising on the appearance of its opponent. We see bishops bestirring themselves to oppose his “impious and sacrilegious” heresy, and numerous Councils convoked to condemn it. The Council of Vercelli in 1049, under Leo IX., which was attended by many foreign prelates, condemned it, and in doing so condemned also, as Berengarius maintained, the doctrine of Ambrose, of Augustine, and of Jerome. There followed a succession of Councils: at Paris, 1050; at Tours, 1055; at Rome, 1059; at Rouen, 1063; at Poitiers, 1075; and again at Rome, 1078: at all of which the opinions of Berengarius were discussed and condemned.2 This shows us how eager Rome was to establish the fiction of Paschasius, and the alarm she felt lest the adherents of Berengarius should multiply, and her dogma be extinguished before it had time to establish itself. Twice did Berengarius appear before the famous Hildebrand: first in the Council of Tours, where Hildebrand filled the post of Papal legate, and secondly at the Council of Rome, where he presided as Gregory VII.

The piety of Berengarius was admitted, his eloquence was great, but his courage was not equal to his genius and convictions. When brought face to face with the stake he shrank from the fire. A second and a third time did he recant his opinions; he even sealed his recantation, according to Dupin, with his subscription and oath.3 But no sooner was he back again in France than he began publishing his old opinions anew. Numbers in all the countries of Christendom, who had not accepted the fiction of Paschasius, broke silence, emboldened by the stand made by Berengarius, and declared themselves of the same sentiments. Matthew of Westminster (1087) says, “that Berengarius of Tours, being fallen into heresy, had already almost corrupted all the French, Italians, and English.”4 His great opponent was Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, who attacked him not on the head of transubstantiation only, but as guilty of all the heresies of the Waldenses, and as maintaining with them that the Church remained with them alone, and that Rome was “the congregation of the wicked, and the seat of Satan.”5 Berengarius died in his bed (1088), expressing deep sorrow for the weakness and dissimulation which had tarnished his testimony for the truth. “His followers,” says Mosheim, “were numerous, as his fame was illustrious.”6

We come to a nobler band. At Orleans there flourished, in the beginning of the eleventh century, two canons, Stephen and Lesoie, distinguished by their rank, revered for their learning, and beloved for their numerous alms-givings. Taught of the Spirit and the Word, these men cherished in secret the faith of the first ages. They were betrayed by a feigned disciple named Arefaste. Craving to be instructed in the things of God, he seemed to listen not with the ear only, but with the heart also, as the two canons discoursed to him of the corruption of human nature and the renewal of the Spirit, of the vanity of praying to the saints, and the folly of thinking to find salvation in baptism, or the literal flesh of Christ in the Eucharist. His earnestness seemed to become yet greater when they promised him that if, forsaking these “broken cisterns,” he would come to the Savior himself, he should have living water to drink, and celestial bread to eat, and, filled with “the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” would never know want again. Arefaste heard these things, and returned with his report to those who had sent him. A Council of the bishops of Orleans was immediately summoned, presided over by King Robert of France. The two canons were brought before it. The pretended disciple now became the accuser.7 The canons confessed boldly the truth which they had long held; the arguments and threats of the Council were alike powerless to change their belief, or to shake their resolution. “As to the burning threatened,” says one, “they made light of it even as if persuaded that they would come out of it unhurt.”8 Wearied, it would seem, with the futile reasonings of their enemies, and desirous of bringing the matter to an issue, they gave their final answer thus—“You may say these things to those whose taste is earthly, and who believe the figments of men written on parchment. But to us who have the law written on the inner man by the Holy Spirit, and savor nothing but what we learn from God, the Creator of all, ye speak things vain and unworthy of the Deity. Put therefore an end to your words! Do with us even as you wish. Even now we see our King reigning in the heavenly places, who with His right hand is conducting us to immortal triumphs and heavenly joys.”9

They were condemned as Manicheans. Had they been so indeed, Rome would have visited them with contempt, not with persecution. She was too wise to pursue with fire and sword a thing so shadowy as Manicheism, which she knew could do her no manner of harm. The power that confronted her in these two canons and their disciples came from another sphere, hence the rage with which she assailed it. These two martyrs were not alone in their death. Of the citizens of Orleans there were ten,10 some say twelve, who shared their faith, and who were willing to share their stake.11 They were first stripped of their clerical vestments, then buffeted like their Master, then smitten with rods; the queen, who was present, setting the example in these acts of violence by striking one of them, and putting out his eye. Finally, they were led outside the city, where a great fire had been kindled to consume them. They entered the flames with a smile upon their faces12 Together this little company of fourteen stood at the stake, and when the fire had set them free, together they mounted into the sky; and if they smiled when they entered the flames, how much more when they passed in at the eternal gates! They were burned in the year 1022. So far as the light of history serves us, theirs were the first stakes planted in France since the era of primitive persecutions.13 Illustrious pioneers! They go, but they leave their ineffaceable traces on the road, that the hundreds and thousands of their countrymen who are to follow may not faint, when called to pass through the same torments to the same everlasting joys.

We next mention Peter de Bruys, who appeared in the following century (the twelfth), because it enables us to indicate the rise of, and explain the name borne by, the Petrobrussians. Their founder, who labored in the provinces of Dauphine, Provence, and Languedoc, taught no novelties of doctrine; he trod, touching the faith, in the steps of apostolic men, even as Felix Neff, five centuries later, followed in his. After twenty years of missionary labors, Peter de Bruys was seized and burned to death (1126)14 in the town of St. Giles, near Toulouse. The leading tenets professed by his followers, the Petrobrussians, as we learn from the accusations of their enemies, were—that baptism avails not without faith; that Christ is only spiritually present in the Sacrament; that prayers and alms profit not dead men; that purgatory is a mere invention; and that the Church is not made up of cemented stones, but of believing men. This identifies them, in their religious creed, with the Waldenses; and if further evidence were wanted of this, we have it in the treatise which Peter de Clugny published against them, in which he accuses them of having fallen into those errors which have shown such an inveterate tendency to spring up amid the perpetual snows and icy torrents of the Alps.15

When Peter de Bruys had finished his course he was succeeded by a preacher of the name of Henri, an Italian by birth, who also gave his name to his followers—the Henricians. Henri, who enjoyed a high repute for sanctity, wielded a most commanding eloquence. The enchantment of his voice was enough, said his enemies, a little envious, to melt the very stones. It performed what may perhaps be accounted a still greater feat; it brought, according to an eye-witness, the very priests to his feet, dissolved in tears. Beginning at Lausanne, Henri traversed the south of France, the entire population gathering round him wherever he came, and listening to his sermons. “His orations were powerful but noxious,” said his foes, “as if a whole legion of demons had been speaking through his mouth.” St. Bernard was sent to check the spiritual pestilence that was desolating the region, and he arrived not a moment too soon, if we may judge from his picture of the state of things which he found there. The orator was carrying all before him; nor need we wonder if, as his enemies alleged, a legion of preachers spoke in this one. The churches were emptied, the priests were without flocks, and the time-honored and edifying customs of pilgrimages, of fasts, of invocations of the saints, and oblations for the dead were all neglected. “How many disorders,” says St. Bernard, writing to the Count of Toulouse, “do we every day hear that Henri commits in the Church of God! That ravenous wolf is within your dominions, clothed with a sheep’s skin, but we know him by his works. The churches are like synagogues, the sanctuary despoiled of its holiness, the Sacraments looked upon as profane institutions, the feast days have lost their solemnity, men grow up in sin, and every day souls are borne away before the terrible tribunal of Christ without first being reconciled to and fortified by the Holy Communion. In refusing Christians baptism they are denied the life of Jesus Christ.”16

Such was the condition in which, as he himself records in his letters, St. Bernard found the populations in the south of France. He set to work, stemmed the tide of apostasy, and brought back the wanderers from the Roman fold; but whether this result was solely owing to the eloquence of his sermons may be fairly questioned, for we find the civil arm operating along with him. Henri was seized, carried before Pope Eugenius III., who presided at a Council then assembled at Rheims, condemned and imprisoned.17 From that time we hear no more of him, and his fate can only be guessed at.18

It pleased God to raise up, in the middle of the twelfth century, a yet more famous champion to do battle for the truth. This was Arnold of Brescia, whose stormy but brilliant career we must briefly sketch. His scheme of reform was bolder and more comprehensive than that of any who had preceded him. His pioneers had called for a purification of the faith of the Church, Arnold demanded a rectification of her constitution. He was a simple reader in the Church of his native town, and possessed no advantages of birth; but, fired with the love of learning, he traveled into France that he might sit at the feet of Abelard, whose fame was then filling Christendom. Admitted a pupil of the great scholastic, he drank in the wisdom he imparted without imbibing along with it his mysticism. The scholar in some respects was greater than the master, and was destined to leave traces more lasting behind him. In subtlety of genius and scholastic lore he made no pretensions to rival Abelard; but in a burning eloquence, in practical piety, in resoluteness, and in entire devotion to the great cause of the emancipation of his fellow-men from a tyranny that was oppressing both their minds and bodies, he far excelled him.

From the school of Abelard, Arnold returned to Italy—not, as one might have feared, a mystic, to spend his life in scholastic hair-splittings and wordy conflicts, but to wage an arduous and hazardous war for great and much-needed reforms. One cannot but wish that the times had been more propitious. A frightful confusion he saw had mingled in one anomalous system the spiritual and the temporal. The clergy, from their head downwards, were engrossed in secularities. They filled the offices of State, they presided in the cabinets of princes, they led armies, they imposed taxes, they owned lordly domains, they were attended by sumptuous retinues, and they sat at luxurious tables. Here, said Arnold, is the source of a thousand evils—the Church is drowned in riches; from this immense wealth flow the corruption, the profligacy, the ignorance, the wickedness, the intrigues, the wars and bloodshed which have overwhelmed Church and State, and are ruining the world.

A century earlier, Cardinal Damiani had congratulated the clergy of primitive tunes on the simple lives which they led, contrasting their happier lot with that of the prelates of those latter ages, who had to endure dignities which would have been but little to the taste of their first predecessors. “What would the bishops of old have done,” he asked, concurring by anticipation in the censure of the eloquent Breseian, “had they to endure the torments that now attend the episcopate? To ride forth constantly attended by troops of soldiers, with swords and lances; to be girt about by armed men like a heathen general! Not amid the gentle music of hymns, but the din and clash of arms! Every day royal banquets, every day parade! The table loaded with delicacies, not for the poor, but for voluptuous guests! while the poor, to whom the property of light belongs, are shut out, and pine away with famine.”

Arnold based his scheme of reform on a great principle. The Church of Christ, said he, is not of this world. This shows us that he had sat at the feet of a greater than Abelard, and had drawn his knowledge from diviner fountains than those of the scholastic philosophy. The Church of Christ is not of this world; therefore, said Arnold, its ministers ought not to fill temporal offices, and discharge temporal employments.19 Let these be left to the men whose duty it is to see to them, even kings and statesmen. Nor do the ministers of Christ need, in order to the discharge of their spiritual functions, the enormous revenues which are continually flowing into their coffers. Let all this wealth, those lands, palaces, and hoards, be surrendered to the rulers of the State, and let the ministers of religion henceforward be maintained by the frugal yet competent provision of the tithes, and the voluntary offerings of their flocks. Set free from occupations which consume their time, degrade their office, and corrupt their heart, the clergy will lead their flocks to the pastures of the Gospel, and knowledge and piety will again revisit the earth.

Attired in his monk’s cloak, his countenance stamped with courage, but already wearing traces of care, Arnold took his stand in the streets of his native Brescia, and began to thunder forth his scheme of reform.20 His townsmen gathered round him. For spiritual Christianity the men of that age had little value, still Arnold had touched a chord in their hearts, to which they were able to respond. The pomp, profligacy, and power of Churchmen had scandalized all classes, and made a reformation so far welcome, even to those who were not prepared to sympathize in the more exclusively spiritual views of the Waldenses and Albigenses. The suddenness and boldness of the assault seem to have stunned the ecclesiastical authorities; and it was not till the Bishop of Brescia found his entire flock, deserting the cathedral, and assembling daily in the marketplace, crowding round the eloquent preacher and listening with applause to his fierce philippics, that he bestirred himself to silence the courageous monk.

Arnold kept his course, however, and continued to launch his bolts, not against his diocesan, for to strike at one miter was not worth his while, but against that lordly hierarchy which, finding its center on the Seven Hills, had stretched its circumference to the extremities of Christendom. He demanded nothing less than that this hierarchy, which had crowned itself with temporal dignities, and which sustained itself by temporal arms, should retrace its steps, and become the lowly and purely spiritual institute it had been in the first century. It was not very likely to do so at the bidding of one man, however eloquent, but Arnold hoped to rouse the populations of Italy, and to bring such a pressure to bear upon the Vatican as would compel the chiefs of the Church to institute this most necessary and most just reform. Nor was he without the countenance of some persons of consequence. Maifredus, the Consul of Brescia, at the first supported his movement.21

The bishop, deeming it hopeless to contend against Arnold on the spot, in the midst of his numerous followers, complained of him to the Pope. Innocent II. convoked a General Council in the Vatican, and summoned Arnold to Rome. The summons was obeyed. The crime of the monk was of all others the most heinous in the eyes of the hierarchy. He had attacked the authority, riches, and pleasures of the priesthood; but other pretexts must be found on which to condemn him. “Besides this, it was said of him that he was unsound in his judgment about the Sacrament of the altar and infant baptism.” “We find that St. Bernard sending to Pope Innocent II. a catalogue of the errors of Abelardus,” whose scholar Arnold had been, “accuseth him of teaching, concerning the Eucharist, that the accidents existed in the air, but not without a subject; and that when a rat doth eat the Sacrament, God withdraweth whither He pleaseth, and preserves where He pleases the body of Jesus Christ.”22 The sum of this is that Arnold rejected transubstantiation, and did not believe in baptismal regeneration; and on these grounds the Council found it convenient to rest their sentence, condemning him to perpetual silence.

Arnold now retired from Italy, and, passing the Alps, “he settled himself,” Otho tells us, “in a place of Germany called Turego, or Zurich, belonging to the diocese of Constance, where he continued to disseminate his doctrine,” the seeds of which, it may be presumed, continued to vegetate until the times of Zwingle.

Hearing that Innocent II. was dead, Arnold returned to Rome in the beginning of the Pontificate of Eugenius III. (1144-45). One feels surprise, bordering on astonishment, to see a man with the condemnation of a Pope and Council resting on his head, deliberately marching in at the gates of Rome, and throwing down the gage of battle to the Vatican—“the desperate measure,” as Gibbon calls it,23 “of erecting his standard in Rome itself, in the face of the successor of St. Peter.” But the action was not so desperate as it looks. The Italy of those days was perhaps the least Papal of all the countries of Europe. “The Italians,” says M’Crie, “could not, indeed, be said to feel at this period” (the fifteenth century, but the remark is equally applicable to the twelfth) “a superstitious devotion to the See of Rome. This did not originally form a discriminating feature of their national character; it was superinduced, and the formation of it can be distinctly traced to causes which produced their full effect subsequently to the era of the Reformation. The republics of Italy in the Middle Ages gave many proofs of religious independence, and singly braved the menaces and excommunications of the Vatican at a time when all Europe trembled at the sound of its thunder.”24 In truth, nowhere were sedition and tumult more common than at the gates of the Vatican; in no city did rebellion so often break out as in Rome, and no rulers were so frequently chased ignominiously from their capital as the Popes.

Arnold, in fact, found Rome on entering it in revolt. He strove to direct the agitation into a wholesome channel. He essayed, if it were possible, to revive from its ashes the flame of ancient liberty, and to restore, by cleansing it from its many corruptions, the bright form of primitive Christianity. With an eloquence worthy of the times he spoke of, he dwelt on the achievements of the heroes and patriots of classic ages, the sufferings of the first Christian martyrs, and the humble and holy lives of the first Christian bishops. Might it not be possible to bring back those glorious times? He called on the Romans to arise and unite with him in an attempt to do so. Let us drive out the buyers and sellers who have entered the Temple, let us separate between the spiritual and the temporal jurisdiction, let us give to the Pope the things of the Pope, the government of the Church even, and let us give to the emperor the things of the emperor—namely, the government of the State; let us relieve the clergy from the wealth that burdens them, and the dignities that disfigure them, and with the simplicity and virtue of former times will return the lofty characters and the heroic deeds that gave to those times their renown. Rome will become once more the capital of the world. “He propounded to the multitude,” says Bishop Otho, “the examples of the ancient Romans, who by the maturity of their senators’ counsels, and the valor and integrity of their youth, made the whole world their own. Wherefore he persuaded them to rebuild the Capitol, to restore the dignity of the senate, to reform the order of knights. He maintained that nothing of the government of the city did belong to the Pope, who ought to content himself only with his ecclesiastical.” Thus did the monk of Brescia raise the cry for separation of the spiritual from the temporal at the very foot of the Vatican.

For about ten years (1145-55) Arnold continued to prosecute his mission in Rome. The city all that time may be said to have been in a state of insurrection. The Pontifical chair was repeatedly emptied. The Popes of that era were short-lived; their reigns were full of tumult, and their lives of care. Seldom did they reside at Rome; more frequently they lived at Viterbo, or retired to a foreign country; and when they did venture within the walls of their capital, they entrusted the safety of their persons rather to the gates and bars of their stronghold of St. Angelo than to the loyalty of their subjects. The influence of Arnold meanwhile was great, his party numerous, and had there been virtue enough among the Romans they might during these ten favorable years, when Rome was, so to speak, in their hands, have founded a movement which would have had important results for the cause of liberty and the Gospel. But Arnold strove in vain to recall a spirit that was fled for centuries. Rome was a sepulcher. Her citizens could be stirred into tumult, not awakened into life.

The opportunity passed. And then came Adrian IV., Nicholas Breakspear, the only Englishman who ever ascended the throne of the Vatican. Adrian addressed himself with rigor to quell the tempests which for ten years had warred around the Papal chair. He smote the Romans with interdict. They were vanquished by the ghostly terror. They banished Arnold, and the portals of the churches, to them the gates of heaven, were re-opened to the penitent citizens. But the exile of Arnold did not suffice to appease the anger of Adrian. The Pontiff bargained with Frederic Barbarossa, who was then soliciting from the Pope coronation as emperor, that the monk should be given up. Arnold was seized, sent to Rome under a strong escort, and burned alive. We are able to infer that his followers in Rome were numerous to the last, from the reason given for the order to throw his ashes into the Tiber, “to prevent the foolish rabble from expressing any veneration for his body.”25

Arnold had been burned to ashes, but the movement he had inaugurated was not extinguished by his martyrdom. The men of his times had condemned his cause; it was destined, nevertheless, seven centuries afterwards, to receive the favorable and all but unanimous verdict of Europe. Every succeeding Reformer and patriot took up his cry for a separation between the spiritual and temporal, seeing in the union of the two in the Roman princedom one cause of the corruption and tyranny which afflicted both Church and State. Wicliffe made this demand in the fourteenth century; Savonarola in the fifteenth; and the Reformers in the sixteenth. Political men in the following centuries reiterated and proclaimed, with ever-growing emphasis, the doctrine of Arnold. At last, on the 20th of September, 1870, it obtained its crowning victory. On that day the Italians entered Rome, the temporal sovereignty of the Pope came to an end, the scepter was disjoined from the miter, and the movement celebrated its triumph on the same spot where its first champion had been burned.

Chapter 1.12: Abelard, And Rise Of Modern Skepticism

Number and Variety of Sects – One Faith – Who gave us the Bible? – Abelard of Paris – His Fame – Father of Modern Skepticism – The Parting of the Ways – Since Abelard three currents in Christendom – The Evangelical, the Ultramontane, the Skeptical.

ONE is apt, from a cursory survey of the Christendom of those days, to conceive it as speckled with an almost endless variety of opinions and doctrines, and dotted all over with numerous and diverse religious sects. We read of the Waldenses on the south of the Alps, and the Albigenses on the north of these mountains. We are told of the Petrobrussians appearing in this year, and the Henricians rising in that. We see a company of Manicheans burned in one city, and a body of Paulicians martyred in another. We find the Peterini planting themselves in this province, and the Cathari spreading themselves over that other. We figure to ourselves as many conflicting creeds as there are rival standards; and we are on the point, perhaps, of bewailing this supposed diversity of opinion as a consequence of breaking loose from the “center of unity” in Rome. Some even of our religious historians seem haunted by the idea that each one of these many bodies is representative of a different dogma, and that dogma an error. The impression is a natural one, we own, but it is entirely erroneous. In this diversity there was a grand unity. It was substantially the same creed that was professed by all these bodies. They were all agreed in drawing their theology from the same Divine fountain. The Bible was their one infallible rule and authority. Its cardinal doctrines they embodied in their creed and exemplified in their lives.

Individuals doubtless there were among them of erroneous belief and of immoral character. It is of the general body that we speak. That body, though dispersed over many kingdoms, and known by various names, found a common center in the “one Lord,” and a common bond in the “one faith” Through one Mediator did they all offer their worship, and on one foundation did they all rest for forgiveness and the life eternal. They were in short the Church—the one Church doing over again what she did in the first ages. Overwhelmed by a second irruption of Paganism, reinforced by a flood of Gothic superstitions, she was essaying to lay her foundations anew in the truth, and to build herself up by the enlightening and renewing of souls, and to give to herself outward visibility and form by her ordinances, institutions, and assemblies, that as a universal spiritual empire she might subjugate all nations to the obedience of the evangelical law and the practice of evangelical virtue.

It is idle for Rome to say, “I gave you the Bible, and therefore you must believe in me before you can believe in it.” The facts we have already narrated conclusively dispose of this claim. Rome did not give us the Bible—she did all in her power to keep it from us; she retained it under the seal of a dead language; and when others broke that seal, and threw open its pages to all, she stood over the book, and, unsheathing her fiery sword, would permit none to read the message of life, save at the peril of eternal anathema.

We owe the Bible—that is, the transmission of it—to those persecuted communities which we have so rapidly passed in review. They received it from the primitive Church, and carried it down to us. They translated it into the mother tongues of the nations. They colported it over Christendom, singing it in their lays as troubadours, preaching it in their sermons as missionaries, and living it out as Christians. They fought the battle of the Word of God against tradition, which sought to bury it. They sealed their testimony for it at the stake. But for them, so far as human agency is concerned, the Bible would, ere this day, have disappeared from the world. Their care to keep this torch burning is one of the marks which indubitably certify them as forming part of that one true Catholic Church, which God called into existence at first by His word, and which, by the same instrumentality, He has, in the conversion of souls, perpetuated from age to age.

But although under great variety of names there is found substantial identity of doctrine among these numerous bodies, it is clear that a host of new, contradictory, and most heterogeneous opinions began to spring up in the age we speak of. The opponents of the Albigenses and the Waldenses—more especially Alanus, in his little book against heretics; and Reynerius, the opponent of the Waldenses—have massed together all these discordant sentiments, and charged them upon the evangelical communities. Their controversial tractates, in which they enumerate and confute the errors of the sectaries, have this value even, that they present a picture of their times, and show us the mental fermentation that began to characterize the age. But are we to infer that the Albigenses and their allies held all the opinions which their enemies impute to them? that they at one and the same time believed that God did and did not exist; that the world had been created, and yet that it had existed from eternity; that an atonement had been made for the sin of man by Christ, and yet that the cross was a fable; that the joys of Paradise were reserved for the righteous, and yet that there was neither soul nor spirit, hell nor heaven? No. This were to impute to them an impossible creed. Did these philosophical and skeptical opinions, then, exist only in the imaginations of their accusers? No. What manifestly we are to infer is that outside the Albigensian and evangelical pale there was a large growth of sceptical and atheistical sentiment, more or less developed, and that the superstition and tyranny of the Church of Rome had even then, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, impelled the rising intellect of Christendom into a channel dangerous at once to her own power and to the existence of Christianity. Her champions, partly from lack of discrimination, partly from a desire to paint in odious colors those whom they denominated heretics, mingled in one the doctrines drawn from Scripture and the speculations and impieties of an infidel philosophy, and, compounding them into one creed, laid the monstrous thing at the door of the Albigenses, just as in our own day we have seen Popes and Popish writers include in the same category, and confound in the same condemnation, the professors of Protestantism and the disciples of Pantheism.

From the twelfth century and the times of Peter Abelard, we can discover three currents of thought in Christendom. Peter Abelard was the first and in some respects the greatest of modern skeptics. He was the first person in Christendom to attack publicly the doctrine of the Church of Rome from the side of free-thinking. His Skepticism was not the avowed and fully-formed infidelity of later times: he but sowed the seeds; he but started the mind of Europe—then just beginning to awake—on the path of doubt and of philosophic Skepticism, leaving the movement to gather way in the following ages. But that he did sow the seeds which future laborers took pains to cultivate, cannot be doubted by those who weigh carefully his teachings on the head of the Trinity, of the person of Christ, of the power of the human will, of the doctrine of sin, and other subjects.1 And these seeds he sowed widely. He was a man of vast erudition, keen wit, and elegant rhetoric, and the novelty of his views and the fame of his genius attracted crowds of students from all countries to his lectures. Dazzled by the eloquence of their teacher, and completely captivated by the originality and subtlety of his daring genius, these scholars carried back to their homes the views of Abelard, and diffused them, from England on the one side to Sicily on the other. Had Rome possessed the infallibility she boasts, she would have foreseen to what this would grow, and provided an effectual remedy before the movement had gone beyond control.

She did indeed divine, to some extent, the true character of the principles which the renowned but unfortunate2 teacher was so freely scattering on the opening mind of Christendom. She assembled a Council, and condemned them as erroneous. But Abelard went on as before, the laurel round his brow, the thorn at his breast, propounding to yet greater crowds of scholars his peculiar opinions and doctrines. Rome has always been more lenient to sceptical than to evangelical views. And thus, whilst she burned Arnold, she permitted Abelard to die a monk and canon in her communion.

But here, in the twelfth century, at the chair of Abelard, we stand at the parting of the ways. From this time we find three great parties and three great schools of thought in Europe. First, there is the Protestant, in which we behold the Divine principle struggling to disentangle itself from Pagan and Gothic corruptions. Secondly, there is the Superstitious, which had now come to make all doctrine to consist in a belief of “the Church’s” inspiration, and all duty in an obedience to her authority. And thirdly, there is the Intellectual, which was just the reason of man endeavoring to shake off the trammels of Roman authority, and go forth and expatiate in the fields of free inquiry. It did right to assert this freedom, but, unhappily, it altogether ignored the existence of the spiritual faculty in man, by which the things of the spiritual world are to be apprehended, and by which the intellect itself has often to be controlled. Nevertheless, this movement, of which Peter Abelard was the pioneer, went on deepening and widening its current century after century, till at last it grew to be strong enough to change the face of kingdoms, and to threaten the existence not only of the Roman Church,3 but of Christianity itself.

Book 2: Wicliffe And His Times, Or Advent Of Protestantism

Chapter 2.1: Wicliffe: His Birth And Education

The Principle and the Rite – Rapid Growth of the One – Slow Progress and ultimate Triumph of the Other – England – Wicliffe – His Birthplace – His Education – Goes to Oxford – Enters Merton College – Its Fame – The Evangelical Bradwardine – His Renown – Pioneers the Way for Wicliffe – The Philosophy of those Days – Wicliffe’s Eminence as a Scholastic – Studies also the Canon and Civil Laws – His Conversion – Theological Studies – The Black Death – Ravages Greece, Italy, etc. – Enters England – Its awful Desolations – Its Impression on Wicliffe – Stands Face to Face with Eternal Death – Taught not to Fear the Death of the Body.

WITH the revolving centuries we behold the world slowly emerging into the light. The fifth century brought with it a signal blessing to Christianity in the guise of a disaster. Like a tree that was growing too rapidly, it was cut down to its roots that it might escape a luxuriance which would have been its ruin. From a Principle that has its seat in the heart, and the fruit of which is an enlightened understanding and a holy life, Religion, under the corrupting influences of power and riches, was being transformed into a Rite, which, having its sphere solely in the senses, leaves the soul in darkness and the life in bondage.

These two, the Principle and the Rite, began so early as the fourth and fifth centuries to draw apart, and to develop each after its own kind. The rite rapidly progressed, and seemed far to outstrip its rival. It built for itself gorgeous temples, it enlisted in its service a powerful hierarchy, it added year by year to the number and magnificence of its ceremonies, it expressed itself in canons and constitutions; and, seduced by this imposing show, nations bowed down before it, and puissant kings lent their swords for its defense and propagation.

Far otherwise was it with its rival. Withdrawing into the spiritual sphere, it appeared to have abandoned the field to its antagonist. Not so, however. If it had hidden itself from the eyes of men, it was that it might build up from the very foundation, piling truth upon truth, and prepare in silence those mighty spiritual forces by which it was in due time to emancipate the world. Its progress was consequently less marked, but was far more real than that of its antagonist. Every error which the one pressed into its service was a cause of weakness; every truth which the other added to its creed was a source of strength. The uninstructed and superstitious hordes which the one received into its communion were dangerous allies. They might follow it in the day of its prosperity, but they would desert it and become its foes whenever the tide of popular favor turned against it. Not so the adherents of the other. With purified hearts and enlightened understandings, they were prepared to follow it at all hazards. The number of its disciples, small at first, continually multiplied. The purity of their lives, the meekness with which they bore the injuries inflicted on them, and the heroism with which their death was endured, augmented from age to age the moral power and the spiritual glory of their cause. And thus, while the one reached its fall through its very success, the other marched on through oppression and proscription to triumph.

We have arrived at the beginning of the fourteenth century. We have had no occasion hitherto to speak of the British Isles, but now our attention must be turned to them. Here a greater light is about to appear than any that had illumined the darkness of the ages that had gone before.

In the North Riding of Yorkshire, watered by the Tees, lies the parish of Wicliffe. In the manor-house of this parish, in the year 1324,1 was born a child, who was named John. Here his ancestors had lived since the time of the Conquest, and according to the manner of the times, they took their surname from the place of their residence, and the son now born to them was known as John de Wicliffe. Of his boyhood nothing is recorded. He was destined from an early age for the Church, which gives us ground to conclude that even then he discovered that penetrating intelligence which marked his maturer years, and that loving sympathy which drew him so often in after life to the homesteads and the sick-beds of his parish of Lutterworth. Schools for rudimental instruction were even then pretty thickly planted over England, in connection with the cathedral towns and the religious houses; and it is probable that the young Wicliffe received his first training at one of these seminaries in his own neighborhood.2

At the age of sixteen or thereabouts, Wicliffe was sent to Oxford. Here he became first a scholar, and next a fellow of Merton College, the oldest foundation save one in Oxford.3 The youth of England, athirst for knowledge, the fountains of which had long been sealed up, were then crowding to the universities, and when Wicliffe entered Merton there were not fewer than 30,000 students at Oxford. These numbers awaken surprise, but it is to be taken into account that many of the halls were no better than upper schools. The college which Wicliffe joined was the most distinguished at that seat of learning. The fame, unrivaled in their own day, which two of its scholars, William Occam and Duns Scotus, had attained, shed a luster upon it. One of its chairs had been filled by the celebrated Bradwardine,4 who was closing his career at Merton about the time that the young Wicliffe was opening his in Oxford. Bradwardine was one of the first mathematicians and astronomers of his day; but having been drawn to the study of the Word of God, he embraced the doctrines of free grace, and his chair became a fountain of higher knowledge than that of natural science. While most of his contemporaries, by the aid of a subtle scholasticism, were endeavoring to penetrate into the essence of things, and to explain all mysteries, Bradwardine was content to accept what God had revealed in His Word, and this humility was rewarded by his finding the path which others missed. Lifting the veil, he unfolded to his students, who crowded round him with eager attention and admiring reverence, the way of life, warning them especially against that Pelagianism which was rapidly substituting a worship of externals for a religion of the heart, and teaching men to trust in their power of will for a salvation which can come only from the sovereign grace of God. Bradwardine was greater as a theologian than he had been as a philosopher. The fame of his lectures filled Europe, and his evangelical views, diffused by his scholars, helped to prepare the way for Wicliffe and others who were to come after him. It was around his chair that the new day was seen first to break.

A quick apprehension, a penetrating intellect, and a retentive memory, enabled the young scholar of Merton to make rapid progress in the learning of those days. Philosophy then lay in guesses rather than in facts. Whatever could be known from having been put before man in the facts of Nature or the doctrines of Revelation, was deemed not worth further investigation. It was too humble an occupation to observe and to deduce. In the pride of his genius, man turned away from a field lying at his feet, and plunged boldly into a region where, having no data to guide him and no ground for solid footing, he could learn really nothing. From this region of vague speculation the explorer brought back only the images of his own creating, and, dressing up these fancies as facts, he passed them off as knowledge.

Such was the philosophy that invited the study of Wicliffe.5 There was scarce enough in it to reward his labor, but he thirsted for knowledge, and giving himself to it “with his might,” he soon became a master in the scholastic philosophy, and did not fear to encounter the subtlest of all the subtle disputants in the schools of Oxford. He was “famously reputed,” says Fox, “for a great clerk, a deep schoolman, and no less expert in all kinds of philosophy.” Walden, his bitter enemy, writing to Pope Martin V. respecting him, says that he was “wonderfully astonished” at the “vehemency and force of his reasonings,” and the “places of authority” with which they were fortified.6 To his knowledge of scholastics he added great proficiency in both the canon and civil laws. This was a branch of knowledge which stood him in more stead in after years than the other and more fashionable science. By these studies he became versed in the constitution and laws of his native country, and was fitted for taking an intelligent part in the battle which soon thereafter arose between the usurpations of the Pontiff and the rights of the crown of England. “He had an eye for the most different things,” says Lechler, speaking of Wicliffe, “and took a lively interest in the most multifarious questions.”7

But the foundation of Wicliffe’s greatness was laid in a higher teaching than any that man can give. It was the illumination of his mind and the renewal of his heart by the instrumentality of the Bible that made him the Reformer—certainly, the greatest of all the Reformers who appeared before the era of Luther. Without this, he might have been remembered as an eminent scholastic of the fourteenth century, whose fame has been luminous enough to transmit a few feeble rays to our own age; but he never would have been known as the first to bear the axe into the wilderness of Papal abuses, and to strike at the roots of that great tree of which others had been content to lop off a few of the branches. The honor would not have been his to be the first to raise that Great Protest, which nations will bear onwards till it shall have made the circuit of the earth, proclaiming, “Fallen is every idol, razed is every stronghold of darkness and tyranny, and now is come salvation, and the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever.”

How Wicliffe came to a knowledge of the truth it is not difficult to guess. He was, d’Aubigne informs us, one of the scholars of the evangelical Bradwardine.8 As he heard the great master discourse day by day on the sovereignty of grace and the freeness of salvation, a new light would begin to break upon the mind of the young scholastic. He would turn to a diviner page than that of Plato. But for this Wicliffe might have entered the priesthood without ever having studied a single chapter of the Bible, for instruction in theology formed no part of preparation for the sacred office in those days.

No doubt theology, after a fashion, was studied, yet not a theology whose substance was drawn from the Bible, but a man-invented system. The Bachelors of Theology of the lowest grade held readings in the Bible. Not so, however, the Bachelors of the middle and highest grades: these founded their prelections upon the Sentences of Peter Lombard. Puffed up with the conceit of their mystical lore, they regarded it beneath their dignity to expound so elementary a book as the Holy Scriptures. The former were named contemptuously .Biblicists; the latter were honorably designated Sententiarii, or Men of the Sentences.9

“There was no mention,” says Fox, describing the early days of Wicliffe, “nor almost any word spoken of Scripture. Instead of Peter and Paul, men occupied their time in studying Aquinas and Scotus, and the Master of Sentences.” “Scarcely any other thing was seen in the temples or churches, or taught or spoken of in sermons, or finally intended or gone about in their whole life, but only heaping up of certain shadowed ceremonies upon ceremonies; neither was there any end of their heaping. The people were taught to worship no other thing but that which they did see, and they did see almost nothing which they did not worship.”10 In the midst of these groveling superstitions, men were startled by the approach of a terrible visitant. The year 1348 was fatally signalized by the outbreak of a fearful pestilence, one of the most destructive in history. Appearing first in Asia, it took a westerly course, traversing the globe like the pale horse and his rider in the Apocalypse, terror marching before it, and death following in its rear. It ravaged the Shores of the Levant, it desolated Greece, and going on still toward the west, it struck Italy with terrible severity. Florence, the lovely capital of Etruria, it turned into a charnel-house. The genius of Boccaccio painted its horrors, and the muse of Petrarch bewailed its desolations. The latter had cause, for Laura was among its victims. Passing the Alps it entered Northern Europe, leaving, say some contemporary historians, only a tenth of the human race alive. This we know is an exaggeration; but it expresses the popular impression, and sufficiently indicates the awful character of those ravages, in which all men heard, as it were, the footsteps of coming death. The sea as well as the land was marked with its devastating prints. Ships voyaging afar on the ocean were overtaken by it, and when the winds piloted them to land, they were found to be freighted with none but the dead.

On the 1st of August the plague touched the shores of England. “Beginning at Dorchester,” says Fox, “every day twenty, some days forty, some fifty, and more, dead corpses, were brought and laid together in one deep pit.” On the 1st day of November it reached London, “where,” says the same chronicler, “the vehement rage thereof was so hot, and did increase so much, that from the 1st day of February till about the beginning of May, in a church-yard then newly made by Smithfield [Charterhouse], about two hundred dead corpses every day were buried, besides those which in other church-yards of the city were laid also.”11

“In those days,” says another old chronicler, Caxton, “was death without sorrow, weddings without friendship, flying without succor; scarcely were there left living folk for to bury honestly them that were dead.” Of the citizens of London not fewer than 100,000 perished. The ravages of the plague were spread over all England, and a full half of the nation was struck down. From men the pestilence passed to the lower animals. Putrid carcasses covered the fields; the labors of the husbandman were suspended; the soil ceased to be ploughed, and the harvest to be reaped; the courts of law were closed, and Parliament did not meet; everywhere reigned terror, mourning, and death.

This dispensation was the harbinger of a very different one. The tempest that scathed the earth opened the way for the shower which was to fertilize it. The plague was not without its influence on that great movement which, beginning with Wicliffe, was continued in a line of confessors and martyrs, till it issued in the Reformation of Luther and Calvin. Wicliffe had been a witness of the passage of the destroyer; he had seen the human race fading from off the earth as if the ages had completed their cycle, and the end of the world was at hand. He was then in his twenty-fifth year, and could not but be deeply impressed by the awful events passing around him. “This visitation of the Almighty,” says d’Aubigne, “sounded like the trumpet of the judgment-day in the heart of Wicliffe.”12 Bradwardine had already brought him to the Bible, the plague brought him to it a second time; and now, doubtless, he searched its page more earnestly than ever. He came to it, not as the theologian, seeking in it a deeper wisdom than any mystery which the scholastic philosophy could open to him; nor as the scholar, to refine his taste by its pure models, and enrich his understanding by the sublimity of its doctrines; nor even as the polemic, in search of weapons wherewith, to assail the dominant superstitions; he now came to the Bible as a lost sinner, seeking how he might be saved. Nearer every day came the messenger of the Almighty. The shadow that messenger cast before him was hourly deepening; and we can hear the young student, who doubtless in that hour felt the barrenness and insufficiency of the philosophy of the schools, lifting up with increasing vehemency the cry, “Who shall deliver me from the wrath to come?”

It would seem to be a law that all who are to be reformers of their age shall first undergo a conflict of soul. They must feel in their own ease the strength of error, the bitterness of the bondage in which it holds men, and stand face to face with the Omnipotent Judge, before they can become the deliverers of others. This only can inspire them with pity for the wretched captives whose fetters they seek to break, and give them courage to brave the oppressors from whose cruelty they labor to rescue them. This agony of soul did Luther and Calvin undergo; and a distress and torment similar in character, though perhaps not so great in degree, did Wicliffe endure before beginning his work. His sins, doubtless, were made a heavy burden to him—so heavy that he could not lift up his head. Standing on the brink of the pit, he says, he felt how awful it was to go down into the eternal night, “and inhabit everlasting burnings.” The joy of escape from a doom so terrible made him feel how small a matter is the life of the body, and how little to be regarded are the torments which the tyrants of earth have it in their power to inflict, compared with the wrath of the Ever-living God. It is in these fires that the reformers have been hardened. It is in this school that they have learned to defy death and to sing at the stake. In this armor was Wicliffe clad before he was sent forth into the battle.

Chapter 2.2: Wicliffe, And The Pope’s Encroachments On England

Personal Appearance of Wicliffe – His Academic Career – Bachelor of Theology – Lectures on the Bible – England Quarrels with the Pope – Wicliffe Defends the King’s Prerogative – Innocent III. – The Pope Appoints to the See of Canterbury – King John Resists – England Smitten with Interdict – Terrors of the Sentence – The Pope Deposes the King – Invites the French King to Conquer England – John becomes the Pope’s Vassal – The Barons extort Magna Charta – The Pope Excommunicates the Barons – Annuls the Charter – The Courage of the Barons Saves England – Demand of Urban V. – Growth of England – National Opposition to Papal Usurpations – Papal Abuses – Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire.

OF the merely personal incidents of Wicliffe’s life almost nothing is recorded. The services done for his own times, and for the ages that were to follow, occupy his historians to the exclusion of all strictly personal matters. Few have acted so large a part, and filled so conspicuous a place in the eyes of the world, of whom so few private reminiscences and details have been preserved. The charm of a singular sweetness, and the grace of a rare humility and modesty, appear to have characterized him. These qualities were blended with a fine dignity, which he wore easily, as those nobly born do the insignia of their rank. Not blameless merely, but holy, was the life he lived in an age of unexampled degeneracy. “From his portrait,” says the younger M’Crie, “which has been preserved, some idea may be formed of the personal appearance of the man. He must have been a person of noble aspect and commanding attitude. The dark piercing eye, the aquiline features, and firm-set lips, with the sarcastic smile that mantles over them, exactly agree with all we know of the bold and unsparing character of the Reformer.”1

A few sentences will suffice to trace the various stages of Wicliffe’s academic career. He passed twenty years at Merton College, Oxford—first as a scholar and next as a fellow. In 1360 he was appointed to the Mastership of Balliol College. This preferment he owed to the fame he had acquired as a scholastic.2

Having become a Bachelor of Theology, Wicliffe had now the privilege of giving public lectures in the university on the Books of Scripture. He was forbidden to enter the higher field of the Sentences of Peter of Lombardy—if, indeed, he was desirous of doing so. This belonged exclusively to the higher grade of Bachelors and Doctors in Theology. But the expositions he now gave of the Books of Holy Writ proved of great use to himself. He became more profoundly versed in the knowledge of divine things; and thus was the professor unwittingly prepared for the great work of reforming the Church, to which the labors of his after-life were to be directed.3

He was soon thereafter appointed (1365) to be head of Canterbury Hall. This was a new college, founded by Simon de Islip,,4 Archbishop of Canterbury. The constitution of this college ordained that its fellowships should be held by four monks and eight secular priests. The rivalship existing between the two orders was speedily productive of broils, and finally led to a conflict with the university authorities; and the founder, finding the plan unworkable, dismissed the four monks, replaced them with seculars, and appointed Wicliffe as Master ,or Warden. Within a year Islip died, and was succeeded in the primacy by Langham, who, himself a monk, restored the expelled regulars, and, displacing Wicliffe from his Wardenship, appointed a new head to the college. Wicliffe then appealed to the Pope; but Langham had the greater influence at Rome, and after a long delay, in 1370, the cause was given against Wicliffe.5

It was pending this decision that events happened which opened to Wicliffe a wider arena than the halls of Oxford. Henceforth, it was not against the monks of Canterbury Hall, or even the Primate of England—it was against the Prince Pontiff of Christendom that Wicliffe was to do battle. In order to understand what we are now to relate, we must go back a century.

The throne of England was then filled by King John, a vicious, pusillanimous, and despotic monarch, but nevertheless capable by fits and starts of daring and brave deeds. In 1205, Hubert, the Primate of England, died. The junior canons of Canterbury met clandestinely that very night, and without any conge d’elire, elected Reginald, their sub-prior, Archbishop of Canterbury, and installed him in the archiepiscopal throne before midnight.6 By the next dawn Reginald was on his way to Rome, whither he had been dispatched by his brethren to solicit the Pope’s confirmation of his election. When the king came to the knowledge of the transaction, he was enraged at its temerity, and set about procuring the election of the Bishop of Norwich to the primacy. Both parties—the king and the canons—sent agents to Rome to plead their cause before the Pope.

The man who then filled the chair of Peter, Innocent III., was vigorously prosecuting the audacious project of Gregory VII., of subordinating the rights and power of princes to the Papal See, and of taking into his own hands the appointment to all the episcopal sees of Christendom, that through the bishops and priests, now reduced to an absolute monarchy entirely dependent upon the Vatican, he might govern at his will all the kingdoms of Europe. No Pope ever was more successful in this ambitious policy than the man before whom the King of England on the one hand, and the canons of Canterbury on the other, now carried their cause. Innocent annulled both elections—that of the canons and that of the king—and made his own nominee, Cardinal Langton, be chosen to the See of Canterbury.7 But this was not all. The king had appealed to the Pope; and Innocent saw in this a precedent, not to be let slip, for putting in the gift of the Pontiff in all time coming what, after the Papal throne, was the most important dignity in the Roman Church.

John could not but see the danger, and feel the humiliation implied in the step taken by Innocent. The See of Canterbury was the first seat of dignity and jurisdiction in England, the throne excepted. A foreign power had appointed one to fill that august seat. In an age in which the ecclesiastical was a more formidable authority than the temporal, this was an alarming encroachment on the royal prerogative and the nation’s independence. Why should the Pope be content to appoint to the See of Canterbury? Why should he not also appoint to the throne, the one other seat in the realm that rose above it? The king protested with many oaths that the Pope’s nominee should never sit in the archiepiscopal chair. He waxed bold for the moment, and began the battle as if he meant to win it. He turned the canons of Canterbury out of doors, ordered all the prelates and abbots to leave the kingdom, and bade defiance to the Pope. It was not difficult to foresee what would be the end of a conflict carried on by the weakest of England’s monarchs, against the haughtiest and most powerful of Rome’s Popes. The Pontiff smote England with interdict;8 the king had offended, and the whole nation must be punished along with him. Before we can realize the terrors of such a sentence, we must forget all that the past three centuries have taught us, and surrender our imaginations to the superstitious beliefs which armed the interdict with its tremendous power. The men of those times, on whom this doom fell, saw the gates of heaven locked by the strong hand of the Pontiff, so that none might enter who came from the unhappy realm lying under the Papal ban. All who departed this life must wander forlorn as disembodied ghosts in some doleful region, amid unknown sufferings, till it should please him who carried the keys to open the closed gates. As the earthly picture of this spiritual doom, all the symbols of grace and all the ordinances of religion were suspended. The church-doors were closed; the lights at the altar were extinguished; the bells ceased to be rung; the crosses and images were taken down and laid on the ground; infants were baptized in the church-porch; marriages were celebrated in the church-yard; the dead were buried in ditches or in the open fields. No one durst rejoice, or eat flesh, or shave his beard, or pay any decent attention to his person or apparel. It was meet that only signs of distress and mourning and woe should be visible throughout a land over which there rested the wrath of the Almighty; for so did men account the ban of the Pontiff.

King John braved this state of matters for two whole years. But Pope Innocent was not to be turned from his purpose; he resolved to visit and bow the obstinacy of the monarch by a yet more terrible infliction. He pronounced sentence of excommunication upon John, deposing him from his throne, and absolving his subjects from allegiance. To carry out this sentence it needed an armed force, and Innocent, casting his eyes around him, fixed on Philip Augustus, King of France, as the most suitable person to deal the blow on John, offering him the Kingdom of England for his pains. It was not the interest of Philip to undertake such an enterprise, for the same boundless and uncontrollable power which was tumbling the King of England from his throne might the next day, on some ghostly pretense or other, hurl King Philip Augustus from his. But the prize was a tempting one, and the monarch of France, collecting a mighty armament, prepared to cross the Channel and invade England.9

When King John saw the brink on which he stood, his courage or obstinacy forsook him. He craved an interview with Pandulf, the Pope’s legate, and after a short conference, he promised to submit himself unreservedly to the Papal See. Besides engaging to make full restitution to the clergy for the losses they had suffered, he “resigned England and Ireland to God, to St. Peter, and St. Paul, and to Pope Innocent, and to his successors in the apostolic chair; he agreed to hold these dominions as feudatory of the Church of Rome by the annual payment of a thousand marks; and he stipulated that if he or his successors should ever presume to revoke or infringe this charter, they should instantly, except upon admonition they repented of their offense, forfeit all right to their dominions.” The transaction was finished by the king doing homage to Pandulf, as the Pope’s legate, with all the submissive rites which the feudal law required of vassals before their liege lord and superior. Taking off his crown, it is said, John laid it on the ground; and the legate, to show the mightiness of his master, spurning it with his foot, kicked it about like a worthless bauble; and then, picking it out of the dust, placed it on the craven head of the monarch. This transaction took place on the 15th May, 1213. There is no moment of profounder humiliation than this in the annals of England.10

But the barons were resolved not to be the slaves of a Pope; their intrepidity and patriotism wiped off the ineffable disgrace which the baseness of the monarch had inflicted on the country. Unsheathing their swords, they vowed to maintain the ancient liberties of England, or die in the attempt. Appearing before the king at Oxford, April, 1215, “here,” said they, “is the charter which consecrates the liberties confirmed by Henry II., and which you also have solemnly sworn to observe.” The king stormed. “I will not,” said he, “grant you liberties which would make me a slave.” John forgot that he had already become a slave. But the barons were not to be daunted by haughty words which the king had no power to maintain: he was odious to the whole nation; and on the 15th of June, 1215, John signed the Magna Charta at Runnymede.11 This was in effect to tell Innocent that he revoked his vow of vassalage, and took back the kingdom which he had laid at his feet.

When tidings were carried to Rome of what John had done, the ire of Innocent III. was kindled to the uttermost. That he, the vicar of God, who held all the crowns of Christendom in his hand, and stood with his foot planted upon all its kingdoms, should be so affronted and so defied, was not to be borne! Was he not the feudal lord of the kingdom? was not England rightfully his? had it not been laid at his feet by a deed and covenant solemnly ratified? Who were these wretched barons, that they should withstand the Pontifical will, and place the independence of their country above the glory of the Church? Innocent instantly launched an anathema against these impious and rebellious men, at the same time inhibiting the king from carrying out the provisions of the Charter which he had signed, or in any way fulfilling its stipulations.12

But Innocent went still farther. In the exercise of that singular prescience which belongs to that system by which this truculent holder of the tiara was so thoroughly inspired, and of which he was so perfect an embodiment, he divined the true nature of the transaction at Runnymede. Magna Charta was a great political protest against himself and his system. It inaugurated an order of political ideas, and a class of political rights, entirely antagonistic to the fundamental principles and claims of the Papacy. Magna Charta was constitutional liberty standing up before the face of the Papal absolutism, and throwing down the gage of battle to it. Innocent felt that he must grapple now with this hateful and monstrous birth, and strangle it in its cradle; otherwise, should he wait till it was grown, it might be too strong for him to crush. Already it had reft away from him one of the fairest of those realms which he had made dependent upon the tiara; its assaults on the Papal prerogative would not end here; he must trample it down before its insolence had grown by success, and other kingdoms and their rulers, inoculated with the impiety of these audacious barons, had begun to imitate their example. Accordingly, fulminating a bull from the plenitude of his apostolic power, and from the authority of his commission, as set by God over the kingdoms “to pluck up and destroy, to build and to plant,” he annulled and abrogated the Charter, declaring all its obligations and guarantees void.13

In the signing of the Great Charter we see a new force coming into the field, to make war against that tyranny which first corrupted the souls of men before it enslaved their bodies. The divine or evangelic element came first, political liberty came after. The former is the true nurse of the latter; for in no country can liberty endure and ripen its fruits where it has not had its beginning in the moral part of man. Innocent was already contending against the evangelical principle in the crusades against the Albigenses in the south of France, and now there appeared, among the hardy nations of the North, another antagonist, the product of the first, that had come to strengthen the battle against a Power, which from its seat on the Seven Hills was absorbing all rights and enslaving all nations. The bold attitude of the barons saved the independence of the nation. Innocent went to the grave; feebler men succeeded him in the Pontifical chair; the Kings of England mounted the throne without taking the oath of fealty to the Pope, although they continued to transmit, year by year, the thousand marks which John had agreed to pay into the Papal treasury. At last, in the reign of Edward II., this annual payment was quietly dropped. No remonstrance against its discontinuance came from Rome.

But in 1365, after the payment of the thousand marks had been intermitted for thirty-five years, it was suddenly demanded by Pope Urban V. The demand was accompanied with an intimation that should the king, Edward III., fail to make payment, not only of the annual tribute, but of all arrears, he would be summoned to Rome to answer before his liege lord, the Pope, for contumacy. This was in effect to say to England, “Prostrate yourself a second time before the Pontifical chair.” The England of Edward III. was not the England of King John; and this demand, as unexpected as it was insulting, stirred the nation to its depths. During the century which had elapsed since the Great Charter was signed, England’s growth in all the elements of greatness had been marvelously rapid. She had fused Norman and Saxon into one people; she had formed her language; she had extended her commerce; she had reformed her laws; she had founded seats of learning, which had already become renowned; she had fought great battles and won brilliant victories; her valor was felt and her power feared by the Continental nations; and when this summons to do homage as a vassal of the Pope was heard, the nation hardly knew whether to meet it with indignation or with derision.

What made the folly of Urban in making such a demand the more conspicuous, was the fact that the political battle against the Papacy had been gradually strengthening since the era of Magna Charta. Several stringent Acts had been passed with the view of vindicating the majesty of the law, and of guarding the property of the nation and the liberties of the subject against the persistent and ambitious encroachments of Rome. Nor were these Acts unneeded. Swarm after swarm of aliens, chiefly Italians, had invaded the kingdom, and were devouring its substance and subverting its laws. Foreign ecclesiastics were nominated by the Pope to rich livings in England; and, although they neither resided in the country nor performed any duty in it, they received the revenues of their English livings, and expended them abroad. For instance, in the sixteenth year of Edward III., two Italian cardinals were named to two vacancies in the dioceses of Canterbury and York, worth annually 2,000 marks. “The first-fruits and reservations of the Pope,” said the men of those times, “are more hurtful to the realm than all the king’s wars.”14 In a Parliament held in London in 1246, we find it complained of, among other grievances, that “the Pope, not content with Peter’s pence, oppressed the kingdom by extorting from the clergy great contributions without the king’s consent; that the English were forced to prosecute their rights out of the kingdom, against the customs and written laws thereof; that oaths, statutes, and privileges were enervated; and that in the parishes where the Italians were beneficed, there were no alms, no hospitality, no preaching, no divine service, no care of souls, nor any reparations done to the parsonage houses.”15

A worldly dominion cannot stand without revenues. The ambition and the theology of Rome went hand in hand, and supported one another. Not an article was there in her creed, not a ceremony in her worship, not a department in her government, that did not tend to advance her power and increase her gain. Her dogmas, rites, and orders were so many pretexts for exacting money. Images, purgatory, relics, pilgrimages, indulgences, jubilees, canonisations, miracles, masses, were but taxes under another name. Tithes, annats, investitures, appeals, reservations, expectatives, bulls, and briefs were so many drains for conveying the substance of the nations of Christendom to Rome. Every new saint cost the country of his birth 100,000 crowns. A consecrated pall for an English archbishop was bought for £1,200. In the year 1250, Walter Gray, Archbishop of York, paid £10,000 for that mystic ornament, without which he might not presume to call councils, make chrism, dedicate churches, or ordain bishops and clerks. According to the present value of money, the price of this trifle may amount to £100,000. With good reason might the Carmelite, Baptista Mantuan, say, “If Rome gives anything, it is trifles only. She takes your gold, but, gives nothing more solid in return than words. Alas! Rome is governed only by money.”16

These and similar usurpations were rapidly converting the English soil into an Italian glebe. The land was tilled that it might feed foreign monks, and Englishmen were becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water to the Roman hierarchy. If the cardinals of Rome must have sumptuous banquets, and purple robes, and other and more questionable delights, it is not we, said the English people, that ought, to be fleeced to furnish these things; we demand that a stop be put to this ruinous game before we are utterly beggared by it.17 To remedy these grievances, now become intolerable, a series of enactments were passed by Parliament. In the twentieth year of Edward’s reign, all alien monks were ordered to depart the kingdom by Michaelmas, and their livings were given to English scholars.18

By another Act, the revenues of all livings held by foreign ecclesiastics, cardinals, and others, were given to the king during their lives.19 It was further enacted—and the statute shows the extraordinary length to which the abuse had gone—“that all such alien enemies as be advanced to livings here in England (being in their own country shoemakers, tailors, or chamberlains to cardinals) should depart before Michaelmas, and their livings be disposed to poor English scholars.”20 The payment of the 2,000 marks to the two cardinals already mentioned was stopped. It was “enacted further, that no Englishman should bring into the realm, to any bishop, or other, any bull, or any other letters from Rome, or any alien, unless he show the same to the Chancellor or Warden of the Cinque Ports, upon loss of all he hath.”21 One person, not having the fear of this statute before his eyes, ventured to bring a Papal bull into England; but he had nearly paid the forfeit of his life for his rashness; he was condemned to the gallows, and would have been hanged but for the intercession of the Chancellor.22

We can hardly wonder at the popular indignation against these abuses, when we think of the host of evils they brought in their train. The power of the king was weakened, the jurisdiction of the tribunals was invaded, and the exchequer was impoverished. It was computed that the tax paid to the Pope for ecclesiastical dignities was five-fold that paid to the king from the whole realm.23 And, further, as the consequence of this transportation to other countries of the treasure of the nation, learning and the arts were discouraged, hospitals were falling into decay, the churches were becoming dilapidated, public worship was neglected, the lands were falling out of tillage, and to this cause the Parliament attributed the frequent famines and plagues that had of late visited the country, and which had resulted in a partial depopulation of England.

Two statutes in particular were passed during this period to set bounds to the Papal usurpations; these were the well-known and famous statutes of Provisors and Praemunire. The first declared it illegal to procure any presentations to any benefice from the Court of Rome, or to accept any living otherwise than as the law directed through the chapters and ordinary electors. All such appointments were to be void, the parties concerned in them were to be punished with fine and imprisonment, and no appeal was allowed beyond the king’s court. The second statute, which came three years afterwards, forbade all appeals on questions of property from the English tribunals to the courts at Rome, under pain of confiscation of goods and imprisonment during the king’s pleasure.24 Such appeals had become very common, but a stop was now put to them by the vigorous application of the statute; but the law against foreign nominations to benefices it was not so easy to enforce, and the enactment, although it abated, did not abolish the abuse.

Chapter 2.3: Wicliffe’s Battle With Rome For England’s Independence

Impatience of the King and the Nation—Assembling of Lords and Commons—Shall England Bow to Rome? – The Debate – The Pope’s Claim Unanimously Repudiated – England on the Road to Protestantism – Wicliffe’s Influence – Wicliffe Attacked by an Anonymous Monk – His Reply – Vindicates the Nation’s Independence – A Momentous Issue – A Greater Victory than Crecy – His Appeal to Rome Lost – Begins to be regarded as the Centre of a New Age.

WHEN England began to resist the Papacy it began to grow in power and wealth. Loosening its neck from the yoke of Rome, it lifted up its head proudly among the nations. Innocent III., crowning a series of usurpations by the submission of King John—an act of baseness that stands alone in the annals of England—had sustained himself master of the kingdom. But the great Pontiff was bidden, somewhat gruffly, stand off. The Northern nobles, who knew little about theology, but cared a great deal for independence, would be masters in their own isle, and they let the haughty wearer of the tiara know this when they framed Magna Charta. Turning to King John they told him, in effect, that if he was to be the slave of an Italian priest, he could not be the master of Norman barons. The tide once turned continued to flow; the two famous statutes of Provisors and Praemunire were enacted. These were a sort of double breast-work: the first was meant to keep out the flood of usurpations that was setting in from Rome upon England; and the second was intended to close the door against the tithes, revenues, appeals, and obedience, which were flowing in an ever-augmenting stream from England to the Vatican. Great Britain never performed an act of resistance to the Papacy but there came along with it a quickening of her own energies and a strengthening of her liberty. So was it now; her soul began to bound upwards.

This was the moment chosen by Urban V. to advance his insolent demand. How often have Popes failed to read the signs of the times! Urban had signally failed to do so. The nation, though still submitting to the spiritual burdens of Rome, was becoming restive under her supremacy and pecuniary exactions. The Parliament had entered on a course of legislation to set bounds to these avaricious encroachments. The king too was getting sore at this “defacing of the ancient laws, and spoiling of his crown,” and with the laurels of Crecy on his brow, he was in no mood for repairing to Rome as Urban commanded, and paying down a thousand marks for permission to wear the crown which he was so well able to defend with his sword. Edward assembled his Parliament in 1366, and, laying the Pope’s letter before it, bade it take counsel and say what answer should be returned.

“Give us,” said the estates of the realm, “a day to think over the matter.”1 The king willingly granted them that space of time. They assembled again on the morrow—prelates, lords, and commons. Shall England, now becoming mistress of the seas, bow at the feet of the Pope? It is a great crisis! We eagerly scan the faces of the council, for the future of England hangs on its resolve. Shall the nation retrograde to the days of John, or shall it go forward to even higher glory than it has achieved under Edward? Wicliffe was present on that occasion, and has preserved a summary of the speeches. The record is interesting, as perhaps the earliest reported debate in Parliament, and still more interesting from the gravity of the issues depending thereon.2

A military baron is the first to rise. “The Kingdom of England,” said he, opening the debate, “was won by the sword, and by that sword has been defended. Let the Pope then gird on his sword, and come and try to exact this tribute by force, and I for one am ready to resist him.” This is not spoken like an obedient son of the Church, but all the more a leal subject of England. Scarcely more encouraging to the supporters of the Papal claim was the speech of the second baron. “He only,” said he, “is entitled to secular tribute who legitimately exercises secular rule, and is able to give secular protection. The Pope cannot legitimately do either; he is a minister of the Gospel, not a temporal ruler. His duty is to give ghostly counsel, not corporal protection. Let us see that he abide within the limits of his spiritual office, where we shall obey him; but if he shall choose to transgress these limits, he must take the consequences.” “The Pope,” said a third, following in the line of the second speaker, “calls himself the servant of the servants of God. Very well: he can claim recompense only for service done. But where are the services which he renders to this land? Does he minister to us in spirituals? Does he help us in temporals? Does he not rather greedily drain our treasures, and often for the benefit of our enemies? I give my voice against this tribute.”

“On what grounds was this tribute originally demanded?” asked another. “Was it not for absolving King John, and relieving the kingdom from interdict? But to bestow spiritual benefits for money is sheer simony; it is a piece of ecclesiastical swindling. Let the lords spiritual and temporal wash their hands of a transaction so disgraceful. But if it is as feudal superior of the kingdom that the Pope demands this tribute, why ask a thousand marks? why not ask the throne, the soil, the people of England? If his title be good for these thousand marks, it is good for a great deal more. The Pope, on the same principle, may declare the throne vacant, and fill it with whomsoever he pleases.” “Pope Urban tells us”—so spoke another—“that all kingdoms are Christ’s, and that he as His vicar holds England for Christ; but as the Pope is peccable, and may abuse his trust, it appears to me that it were better that we should hold our land directly and alone of Christ.” “Let us,” said the last speaker, “go at once to the root of this matter. King John had no right to gift away the Kingdom of England without the consent of the nation. That consent was never given. The golden seal of the king, and the seals of the few nobles whom John persuaded or coerced to join him in this transaction, do not constitute the national consent. If John gifted his subjects to Innocent like so many chattels, Innocent may come and take his property if he can. We the people of England had no voice in the matter; we hold the bargain null and void from the beginning.”3

So spake the Parliament of Edward III. Not a voice was raised in support of the arrogant demand of Urban. Prelate, baron, and commoner united in repudiating it as insulting to England; and these men expressed themselves in that plain, brief, and pithy language which betokens deep conviction as well as determined resolution. If need were, these bold words would be followed by deeds equally bold. The hands of the barons were on the hilts of their swords as they uttered them. They were, in the first place, subjects of England; and, in the second place, members of the Church of Rome. The Pope accounts no one a good Catholic who does not reverse this order and put his spiritual above his temporal allegiance—his Church before his country. This firm attitude of the Parliament put an end to the matter. The question which Urban had really raised was this, and nothing less than this: Shall the Pope or the king be sovereign of England? The answer of the Parliament was, “Not the Pope, but the king;” and from that hour the claim of the former was not again advanced, at least in explicit terms.

The decision at which the Parliament arrived was unanimous. It reproduced in brief compass both the argument and spirit of the speeches. Few such replies were in those days carried to the foot of the Papal throne. “Forasmuch”—so ran the decision of the three estates of the realm—“as neither King John, nor any other king, could bring his realm and kingdom into such thraldom and subjection but by common assent of Parliament, the which was not given, therefore that which he did was against his oath at his coronation, besides many other causes. If, therefore, the Pope should attempt anything against the king by process, or other matters in deed, the king, with all his subjects, should, with all their force and power, resist the same.”4

Thus far had England, in the middle of the fourteenth century, advanced on the road to the Reformation. The estates of the realm had unanimously repudiated one of the two great branches of the Papacy. The dogma of the vicarship binds up the spiritual and the temporal in one anomalous jurisdiction. England had denied the latter; and this was a step towards questioning, and finally repudiating, the former. It was quite natural that the nation should first discover the falsity of the temporal supremacy, before seeing the equal falsity of the spiritual. Urban had put the matter in a light in which no one could possibly mistake it. In demanding payment of a thousand marks annually, he translated, as we say, the theory of the temporal supremacy into a palpable fact. The theory might have passed a little longer without question, had it not been put into this ungracious form. The halo which encompassed the Papal fabric during the Middle Ages began to wane, and men took courage to criticize a system whose immense prestige had blinded them hitherto. Such was the state of mind in which we now find the English nation. It betokened a reformation at no very great distance.

But largely, indeed mainly, had Wicliffe contributed to bring about this state of feeling in England. He had been the teacher of the barons and commons. He had propounded these doctrines from his chair in Oxford before they were proclaimed by the assembled estates of the realm. But for the spirit and views with which he had been quietly leavening the nation, the demand of Urban might have met a different reception. It would not, we believe, have been complied with; the position England had now attained in Europe, and the deference paid her by foreign nations, would have made submission impossible; but without Wicliffe the resistance would not have been placed on so intelligible a ground, nor would it have been urged with so resolute a patriotism. The firm attitude assumed effectually extinguished the hopes of the Vatican, and rid England ever after of all such imitating and insolent demands.

That Wicliffe’s position in this controversy was already a prominent one, and that the sentiments expressed in Parliament were but the echo of his teachings in Oxford, are attested by an event which now took place. The Pope found a supporter it England, though not in Parliament. A monk, whose name has not come down to us, stood forward to demonstrate the righteousness of the claim of Urban V. This controversialist laid down the fundamental proposition that, as vicar of Christ, the Pope is the feudal superior of monarchs, and the lord paramount of their kingdoms. Thence he deduced the following conclusions: that all sovereigns owe him obedience and tribute; that vassalage was specially due from the English monarch in consequence of the surrender of the kingdom to the Pope by John; that Edward had clearly forfeited his throne by the non-payment of the annual tribute; and, in fine, that all ecclesiastics, regulars and seculars, were exempt from the civil jurisdiction, and under no obligation to obey the citation or answer before the tribunal of the magistrate. Singling out Wicliffe by name, the monk challenged him to disprove the propositions he had advanced.

Wicliffe took up the challenge which had been thrown down to him. The task was one which involved tremendous hazard; not because Wicliffe’s logic was weak, or his opponent’s unanswerable; but because the power which he attacked could ill brook to have its foundations searched out, and its hollowness exposed, and because the more completely Wicliffe should triumph, the more probable was it that he would feel the heavy displeasure of the enemy against whom he did battle. He had a cause pending in the Vatican at that very moment, and if he vanquished the Pope in England, how easy would it be for the Pope to vanquish him at Rome! Wicliffe did not conceal from himself this and other greater perils; nevertheless, he stepped down into the arena. In opening the debate, he styles himself “the king’s peculiar clerk,”5 from which we infer that the royal eye had already lighted upon him, attracted by his erudition and talents, and that one of the royal chaplaincies had been conferred upon him.

The controversy was conducted on Wicliffe’s side with great moderation. He contents himself with stating the grounds of objection to the temporal power, rather than working out the argument and pressing it home. These are—the natural rights of men, the laws of the realm of England, and the precepts of Holy Writ. “Already,” he says, “a third and more of England is in the hands of the Pope. There cannot,” he argues, “be two temporal sovereigns in one country; either Edward is king or Urban is king. We make our choice. We accept Edward of England and refuse Urban of Rome.” Then he falls back on the debate in Parliament, and presents a summary of the speeches of the spiritual and temporal lords.6 Thus far Wicliffe puts the estates of the realm in the front, and covers himself with the shield of their authority: but doubtless the sentiments are his; the stamp of his individuality and genius is plainly to be seen upon them. From his bow was the arrow shot by which the temporal power of the Papacy in England was wounded. If his courage was shown in not declining the battle, his prudence and wisdom were equally conspicuous in the manner in which he conducted it. It was the affair of the king and of the nation, and not his merely; and it was masterly tactics to put it so as that it might be seen to be no contemptible quarrel between an unknown monk and an Oxford doctor, but a controversy between the King of England and the Pontiff of Rome.7

And the service now rendered by Wicliffe was great. The eyes of all the European nations were at that moment on England, watching with no little anxiety the issue of the conflict which she was then waging with a power that sought to reduce the whole earth to vassalage. If England should bow herself before the Papal chair, and the victor of Crecy do homage to Urban for his crown, what monarch could hope to stand erect, and what nation could expect to rescue its independence from the grasp of the tiara? The submission of England would bring such an accession of prestige and strength to the Papacy, that the days of Innocent III. would return, and a tempest of excommunications and interdicts would again lower over every throne, and darken the sky of every kingdom, as during the reign of the mightiest of the Papal chiefs. The crisis was truly a great one. It was now to be seen whether the tide was to advance or to go back. The decision of England determined that the waters of Papal tyranny should henceforth recede, and every nation hailed the result with joy as a victory won for itself. To England the benefits which accrued from this conflict were lasting as well as great. The fruits reaped from the great battles of Crecy and Poitiers have long since disappeared; but as regards this victory won over Urban V., England is enjoying at this very hour the benefits which resulted from it. But it must not be forgotten that, though Edward III. and his Parliament occupied the foreground, the real champion in this battle was Wicliffe.8

It is hardly necessary to say that Wicliffe was nonsuited at Rome. His wardenship of Canterbury Hall, to which he was appointed by the founder, and from which he had been extruded by Archbishop Lingham, was finally lost. His appeal to the Pope was made in 1367; but a long delay took place, and it was not till 1370 that the judgment of the court of Rome was pronounced, ratifying his extrusion, and putting Langham’s monks in sole possession of Canterbury College. Wicliffe had lost his wardenship, but he had largely contributed to save the independence of his country. In winning this fight he had done more for it than if he had conquered on many battle-fields. He had yet greater services to render to England, and yet greater penalties to pay for his patriotism. Soon after this he took his degree of Doctor in Divinity—a distinction more rare in those days than in ours; and the chair of theology, to which he was now raised, extended the circle of his influence, and paved the way for the fulfillment of his great mission. From this time Wicliffe began to be regarded as the center of a new age.

Chapter 2.4: Wicliffe’s Battle With The Mendicant Friars

Wicliffe’s Mental Conflicts – Rise of the Monastic Orders – Fascinating Pictures of Monks and Monasteries – Early Corruption of the Orders – Testimony of Contemporary Witnesses – The New Monastic Orders – Reason for their Institution – St. Francis – His Early Life – His Appearance before Innocent III. – Commission to Found an Order – Rapid Increase of the Franciscans – St. Dominic – His Character – Founds the Dominicans – Preaching Missionaries and Inquisitors – Constitution of the New Orders – The Old and New Monks Compared – Their Vow of Poverty – How Evaded – Their Garb – Their Vast Wealth – Palatial Edifices – Their Frightful Degeneracy – Their Swarms Overspread England – Their Illegal Practices – The Battle against them Begun by Armachanus – He Complains against them to the Pope – His Complaint Disregarded – He Dies.

WE come now to relate briefly the second great battle which our Reformer was called to wage; and which, if we have regard to the prior date of its origin—for it was begun before the conclusion of that of which we have just spoken—ought to be called the first. We refer to his contest with the mendicant friars. It was still going on when his battle against the temporal power was finished; in fact it continued, more or less, to the end of his life. The controversy involved great principles, and had a marked influence on the mind of Wicliffe in the way of developing his views on the whole subject of the Papacy. From questioning the mere abuse of the Papal prerogative, he began to question its legitimacy. At every step a new doubt presented itself; this sent him back again to the Scriptures. Every page he read shed new light into his mind, and discovered some new invention or error of man, till at last he saw that the system of the Gospel and the system of the Papacy were utterly and irreconcilably at variance, and that if he would follow the one he must finally renounce the other. This decision, as we gather from Fox, was not made without many tears and groans. “After he had a long time professed divinity in Oxford,” says the chronicler, “and perceiving the true doctrine of Christ’s Gospel to be adulterate, and defiled with so many filthy inventions of bishops, sects of monks, and dark errors, and that he after long debating and deliberating with himself (with many secret sighs and bewailings in his mind the general ignorance of the whole world) could no longer suffer or abide the same, he at the last determined with himself to help and to remedy such things as he saw to be wide and out of the way. But forasmuch as he saw that this dangerous meddling could not be attempted or stirred without great trouble, neither that these things, which had been so long time with use and custom rooted and grafted in men’s minds, could be suddenly plucked up or taken away, he thought with himself that this matter should be done by little and little. Wherefore he, taking his original at small occasions, thereby opened himself a way or mean to greater matters. First he assailed his adversaries in logical and metaphysical questions… by these originals the way was made unto greater points, so that at length he came to touch the matters of the Sacraments, and other abuses of the Church.”1

The rise of the monastic orders, and their rapid and prodigious diffusion over all Christendom, and even beyond it, are too well known to require minute or lengthy narration. The tombs of Egypt, the deserts of Thebais, the mountains of Sinai, the rocks of Palestine, the islands of the AEgean and Tuscan Seas, were peopled with colonies of hermits and anchorites, who, fleeing from the world, devoted themselves to a life of solitude and spiritual meditation. The secularity and corruption of the parochial clergy, engendered by the wealth which flowed in upon the Church in early times, rendered necessary, it was supposed, a new order, which might exhibit a great and outstanding example of virtue. Here, in these anchorites, was the very pattern, it was believed, which the age needed. These men, living in seclusion, or gathered in little fraternities, had renounced the world, had taken a vow of poverty and obedience, and were leading humble, laborious, frugal, chaste, virtuous lives, and exemplifying, in a degenerate time, the holiness of the Gospel. The austerity and poverty of the monastery redeemed Christianity from the stain which the affluence and pride of the cathedral had brought upon it. So the world believed, and felt itself edified by the spectacle.

For a while, doubtless, the monastery was the asylum of a piety which had been banished from the world. Fascinating pictures have been drawn of the sanctity of these establishments. Within their walls peace made her abode when violence distracted the outer world. The land around them, from the skillful and careful cultivation of the brotherhood, smiled like a garden, while the rest of the soil, through neglect or barbarism, was sinking into a desert; here letters were cultivated, and the arts of civilized life preserved, while the general community, engrossed in war, prosecuted but languidly the labors of peace. To the gates of the monastery came the halt, the blind, the deaf; and the charitable inmates never failed to pity their misery and supply their necessities. In fine, while the castle of the neighboring baron resounded with the clang of weapons, or the noise of wassail, the holy chimes ascending from the monastery at morn and eve, told of the devotions, the humble prayers, and the fervent praises in which the Fathers passed their time.

These pictures are so lovely, and one is so gratified to think that ages so rude, and so ceaselessly buffeted by war, had nevertheless their quiet retreats, where the din of arms did not drown the voice of the muses, or silence the song of piety, that we feel almost as if it were an offense against religion to doubt their truth. But we confess that our faith in them would have been greater if they had been painted by contemporary chroniclers, instead of being mostly the creation of poets who lived in a later age. We really do not know where to look in real history for the originals of these enchanting descriptions. Still, we do not doubt that there is a measure of truth in them; that, during the early period of their existence, these establishments did in some degree shelter piety and preserve art, did dispense alms and teach industry. And we know that even down to nearly the Reformation there were instances of men who, hidden from the world, here lived alone with Christ, and fed their piety at the fountains of the Word of God. These instances were, however, rare, and suggested comparisons not favorable to the rest of the Fathers. But one thing history leaves in no wise doubtful, even that the monastic orders speedily and to a fearful degree became corrupt. It would have been a miracle if it had been otherwise. The system was in violation of the fundamental laws of nature and of society, as well as of the Bible. How can virtue be cultivated apart from the exercise of it? If the world is a theater of temptation, it is still more a school of discipline, and a nursery of virtue. “Living in them,” says a nun of Cambray, a descendant of Sir Thomas More, “I can speak by experience, if one be not in a right course of prayer, and other exercises between God and our soul, one’s nature groweth much worse than ever it would have been if she had lived in the world.”2 It is in society, not in solitude, that we can be trained to self-denial, to patience, to loving-kindness and magnanimity. In solitude there is nothing to be borne with or overcome, save cold, or hunger, or the beasts of the desert, which, however much they may develop the powers of the body, cannot nourish the virtues of the soul.

In point of fact, these monasteries did, we know, become eventually more corrupt than the world which their inmates had forsaken. By the year 1100 one of their advocates says he gives them up.3 The pictures which some Popish writers have given us of them in the thirteenth century—Clemangis, for instance—we dare not transfer to our pages. The repute of their piety multiplied the number of their patrons, and swelled the stream of their benefactions. With riches came their too frequent concomitants, luxury and pride. Their vow of poverty was no barrier; for though, as individuals, they could possess no property, they might as a body corporate own any amount of wealth. Lands, houses, hunting-grounds, and forests; the tithing of tolls, of orchards, of fisheries, of kine, and wool, and cloth, formed the dowry of the monastery. The vast and miscellaneous inventory of goods which formed the common property of the fraternity, included everything that was good for food and pleasant to the eye; curious furniture for their apartments, dainty apparel for their persons; the choice treasures of the field, of the tree, and the river, for their tables; soft-paced mules by day, and luxurious couches at night. Their head, the abbot, equaled princes in wealth, and surpassed them in pride. Such, from the humble beginnings of the cell, with its bed of stone and its diet of herbs, had come to be the condition of the monastic orders long before the days of Wicliffe. From being the ornament of Christianity, they were now its opprobrium; and from being the buttress of the Church of Rome, they had now become its scandal.

We shall quote the testimony of one who was not likely to be too severe in reproving the manners of his brethren. Peter, Abbot of Cluny, thus complains: “Our brethren despise God, and having passed all shame, eat flesh now all the days of the week except Friday. They run here and there, and, as kites and vultures, fly with great swiftness where the most smoke of the kitchen is, and where they smell the best roast and boiled. Those that wilt not do as the rest, they mock and treat as hypocrites and profane. Beans, cheese, eggs, and even fish itself, can no more please their nice palates; they only relish the flesh-pots of Egypt. Pieces of boiled and roasted pork, good fat veal, otters and hares, the best geese and pullets, and, in a word, all sorts of flesh and fowl do now cover the tables of our holy monks. But why do I talk? Those things are grown too common, they are cloyed with them. They must have something more delicate. They would have got for them kids, harts, boars, and wild bears. One must for them beat the bushes with a great number of hunters, and by the help of birds of prey must one chase the pheasants, and partridges, and ring-doves, for fear the servants of God (who are our good monks) should perish with hunger.”4

St. Bernard, in the twelfth century, wrote an apology for the monks of Cluny, which he addressed to William, Abbot of St. Thierry. The work was undertaken on purpose to recommend the order, and yet the author cannot restrain himself from reproving the disorders which had crept into it; and having broken ground on this field, he runs on like one who found it impossible to stop. “I can never enough admire,” says he, “how so great a licentiousness of meals, habits, beds, equipages, and horses, can get in and be established as it were among monks.” After enlarging on the sumptuousness of the apparel of the Fathers, the extent of their stud, the rich trappings of their mules, and the luxurious furniture of their chambers, St. Bernard proceeds to speak of their meals, of which he gives a very lively description. “Are not their mouths and ears,” says he, “equally filled with victuals and confused voices? And while they thus spin out their immoderate feasts, is there any one who offers to regulate the debauch? No, certainly. Dish dances after dish, and for abstinence, which they profess, two rows of fat fish appear swimming in sauce upon the table. Are you cloyed with these? the cook has art sufficient to prick you others of no less charms. Thus plate is devoured after plate, and such natural transitions are made from one to the other, that they fill their bellies, but seldom blunt their appetites. And all this,” exclaims St. Bernard, “in the name of charity, because consumed by men who had taken a vow of poverty, and must needs therefore be denominated ‘the poor.’” From the table of the monastery, where we behold course following course in quick and bewildering succession, St. Bernard takes us next to see the pomp with which the monks ride out. “I must always take the liberty,” says he, “to inquire how the salt of the earth comes to be so depraved. What occasions men, who in their lives ought to be examples of humility, by their practice to give instructions and examples of vanity? And to pass by many other things, what a proof of humility is it to see a vast retinue of horses with their equipage, and a confused train of valets and footmen, so that the retinue of a single abbot outshines that of two bishops! May I be thought a liar if it be not true, that I have seen one single abbot attended by above sixty horse. Who could take these men for the fathers of monks, and the shepherds of souls? Or who would not be apt to take them rather for governors of cities and provinces? Why, though the master be four leagues off, must his train of equipage reach to his very doors? One would take these mighty preparations for the subsistence of an army, or for provisions to travel through a very large desert.”5

But this necessitated a remedy. The damage inflicted on the Papacy by the corruption and notorious profligacy of the monks must be repaired—but how? The reformation of the early orders was hopeless; but new fraternities could be called into existence. This was the method adopted. The order of Franciscans was instituted by Innocent III. in the year 1215, and the Dominicans were sanctioned by his successor Honorius III. a few years later (1218).6 The object of their institution was to recover, by means of their humility, poverty, and apostolic zeal, the credit which had been lost to the Church through the pride, wealth, and indolence of the elder monks. Moreover, the new times on which the Church felt that she was entering, demanded new services. Preachers were needed to confute the heretics, and this was carefully kept in view in the constitution of the newly-created orders.

The founders of these two orders were very unlike in their natural disposition and temper.

St. Francis, the founder of the Franciscans, or Minorites, as they came to be termed, was born at Assisi, in Umbria, in 1182. His father was a rich merchant of that town. The historians of St. Francis relate that certain signs accompanied his birth, which prognosticated his future greatness. His mother, when her time had come, was taken in labor so severe, and her pains were prolonged for so many days, that she was on the point of death. At that crisis an angel, in the guise of a pilgrim, presented himself at her door, and demanded alms. The charity sought was instantly bestowed, and the grateful pilgrim proceeded to tell the inmates what they must do in order that the lady of the mansion might become the joyful mother of a son. They were to take up her couch, carry her out, and lay her in the stable. The pilgrim’s instructions were followed, the pains of labor were now speedily ended, and thus it came to pass that the child first saw the light among the “beasts.” “This was the first prerogative,” remarks one of his historians, “in which St. Francis resembled Jesus Christ—he was born in a stable.”7

Despite these auguries, betokening a more than ordinary sanctity, Francis grew up “a debauched youth,” says D’Emillianne, “and, having robbed his father, was disinherited, but he seemed not to be very much troubled at it.”8 He was seized with a malignant fever, and the frenzy that it induced appears never to have wholly left him. He lay down on his bed of sickness a gay profligate and spendthrift, and he rose up from it entirely engrossed with the idea that all holiness and virtue consisted in poverty. He acted out his theory to the letter. He gave away all his property, he exchanged garments with a beggar whom he met on the highway; and, squalid, emaciated, covered with dirt and rags, his eyes burning with a strange fire, he wandered about the country around his native town of Assisi, followed by a crowd of boys, who hooted and jeered at the madman, which they believed him to be. Being joined by seven disciples, he made his way to Rome, to lay his project before the Pope. On arriving there he found Innocent III. ailing himself on the terrace of his palace of the Lateran.

What a subject for a painter! The haughtiest of the Pontiffs—the man who, like another Jove, had but to nod and kings were tumbled from their thrones, and nations were smitten down with interdict—was pacing to and fro beneath the pillared portico of his palace, revolving, doubtless, new and mightier projects to illustrate the glory and strengthen the dominion of the Papal throne. At times his eye wanders as far as the Apennines, so grandly walling in the Campagna, which lies spread out beneath him—not as now, a blackened expanse, but a glorious garden sparkling with villas, and gay with vineyards and olive and fig-trees. If in front of his palace was this goodly prospect, behind it was another, forming the obverse of that on which the Pontiff’s eye now rested. A hideous gap, covered with the fragments of what had once been temples and palaces, and extending from the Lateran to the Coliseum, marred the beauty of the Pontifical city. This unsightly spectacle was the memorial of the war of Investitures, and would naturally carry the thoughts of Innocent back to the times of Hildebrand, and the fierce struggles which his zeal for the exaltation of the Papal chair had provoked in Christendom.

What a tide of prosperous fortune had flowed in upon Rome, during the century which had elapsed since Gregory VII. swayed the scepter that Innocent now wielded! Not a Pontificate, not a decade, that had not witnessed an addition to the height of that stupendous Babel which the genius and statesmanship of all the Popes from Gregory to Innocent had been continuously and successfully occupied in rearing. And now the fabric stood complete, for higher it was hardly possible to conceive of its being carried. Rome was now more truly mistress of the world than even in the days of the Caesars. Her sway went deeper into the heart and soul of the nations. Again was she sending forth her legates, as of old her pro-consuls, to govern her subject kingdoms; again was she issuing her edicts, which all the world obeyed; again were kings and suppliant princes waiting at her gates; again were her highways crowded with ambassadors and suitors from every quarter of Christendom; from the most distant regions came the pilgrim and the devotee to pray at her holy shrines; night and day, without intermission, there flowed from her gates a spiritual stream to refresh the world; crosiers and palls, priestly offices and mystic virtues, pardons and dispensations, relics and amulets, benedictions and anathemas; and, in return for this, the tribute of all the earth was being carried into her treasuries. On these pleasurable subjects, doubtless, rested the thoughts of Innocent as Francis of Assisi drew near.

The eye of the Pontiff lights upon the strange figure. Innocent halts to survey more closely the man. His dress is that of a beggar, his looks are haggard, his eye is wild, yet despite these untoward appearances there is something about him that seems to say, “I come with a mission, and therefore do I venture into this presence. I am here not to beg, but to give alms to the Popedom;” and few kings have had it in their power to lay greater gifts at the feet of Rome than that which this man in rags had come to bestow. Curious to know what he would say, Innocent permitted his strange visitor to address him. Francis hurriedly described his project; but the Pope failed to comprehend its importance, or to credit Francis with the power of carrying it out; he ordered the enthusiast to be gone; and Francis retired, disappointed and downcast, believing his scheme to be nipped in the bud.9

The incident, however, had made a deeper impression upon the Pontiff than he was aware. As he lay on his couch by night, the beggar seemed again to stand before him, and to plead his cause. A palm-tree—so Innocent thought in his sleep—suddenly sprang up at his feet, and waxed into a goodly stature. In a second dream Francis seemed to stretch out his hand to prop up the Lateran, which was menaced with overthrow.10 When the Pope awoke, he gave orders to seek out the strange man from Umbria, and bring him before him. Convening his cardinals, he gave them an opportunity of hearing the project. To Innocent and his conclave the idea of Francis appeared to be good; and to whom, thought they, could they better commit the carrying of it out than to the enthusiast who had conceived it? To this man in rags did Rome now give her commission. Armed with the Pontifical sanction, empowering him to found, arrange, and set a-working such an order as he had sketched out, Francis now left the presence of the Pope and cardinals, and departed to begin his work.11 The enthusiasm that burned so fiercely in his own brain kindled a similar enthusiasm in that of others. Soon St. Francis found a dozen men willing to share his views and take part in his project. The dozen speedily multiplied into a hundred, and the hundred into thousands, and the increase went on at a rate of which history scarcely affords another such example. Before his death, St. Francis had the satisfaction of seeing 5,000 of his monks assemble in his convent in Italy to hold a general chapter, and as each convent sent only two delegates, the convocation represented 2,500 convents.12 The solitary fanatic had become an army; his disciples filled all the countries of Christendom; every object and idea they subordinated to that of their chief; and, bound together by their vow, they prosecuted with indefatigable zeal the service to which they had consecrated themselves. This order has had in it five Popes and forty-five cardinals.13

St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominicans, was born in Arragon, 1170. He was cast in a different mold from St. Francis. His enthusiasm was as fiery, his zeal as intense;14 but to these qualities he added a cool judgment, a firm will, a somewhat stern temper, and great knowledge of affairs. Dominic had witnessed the ravages of heresy in the southern provinces of France; he had also had occasion to mark the futility of those splendidly equipped missions, that Rome sent forth from time to time to convert the Albigenses. He saw that these missionaries left more heretics on their departure than they had found on their arrival. Mitered dignitaries, mounted on richly caparisoned mules, followed by a sumptuous train of priests and monks, and other attendants, too proud or too ignorant to preach, and able only to dazzle the gaze of the multitude by the magnificence of their ceremonies, attested most conclusively the wealth of Rome, but did not attest with equal conclusiveness the truth of her tenets. Instead of bishops on palfreys, Dominic called for monks in wooden soles to preach to the heretics.

Repairing to Rome, he too laid his scheme before Innocent, offering to raise an army that would perambulate Europe in the interests of the Papal See, organized after a different fashion, and that, he hoped, would be able to give a better account of the heretics. Their garb as humble, their habits as austere, and their speech as plain as those of the peasants they were to address, these missionaries would soon win the heretics from the errors into which they had been seduced; and, living on alms, they would cost the Papal exchequer nothing. Innocent, for some reason or other, perhaps from having sanctioned the Franciscans so recently, refused his consent. But Pope Honorius was more compliant; he confirmed the proposed order of Dominic; and from beginnings equally small with those of the Franciscans, the growth of the Dominicans in popularity and numbers was equally rapid.15

The Dominicans were divided into two bands. The business of the one was to preach, that of the other to slay those whom the first were not able to convert.16 The one refuted heresy, the other exterminated heretics. This happy division of labor, it was thought, would secure the thorough doing of the work. The preachers rapidly multiplied, and in a few years the sound of their voices was heard in almost all the cities of Europe. Their learning was small, but their enthusiasm kindled them into eloquence, and their harangues were listened to by admiring crowds. The Franciscans and Dominicans did for the Papacy in the centuries that preceded the Reformation, what the Jesuits have done for it in the centuries that have followed it.

Before proceeding to speak of the battle which Wicliffe was called to wage with the new fraternities, it is necessary to indicate the peculiarities in their constitution and organization that fitted them to cope with the emergencies amid which their career began, and which had made it necessary to call them into existence. The elder order of monks were recluses. They had no relation to the world which they had abandoned, and no duties to perform to it, beyond the example of austere piety which they offered for its edification. Their sphere was the cell, or the walls of the monastery, where their whole time was presumed be spent in prayer and meditation.

The newly-created orders, on the other hand, were not confined to a particular spot. They had convents, it is true, but these were rather hotels or temporary abodes, where they might rest when on their preaching tours. Their sphere was the world; they were to perambulate provinces and cities, and to address all who were willing to listen to them. Preaching had come to be one of the lost arts. The secular or parochial clergy seldom entered a pulpit; they were too ignorant to write a sermon, too indolent to preach one even were it prepared to their hand. They instructed their flocks by a service of ceremonials, and by prayers and litanies, in a language which the people did not understand. Wicliffe assures us that in his time “there were many unable curates that knew not the ten commandments, nor could read their psalter, nor could understand a verse of it.”17 The friars, on the other hand, betook themselves to their mother tongue, and, mingling familiarly with all classes of the community, they revived the forgotten practice of preaching, and plied it assiduously Sunday and week-day. They held forth in all places, as well as on all days, erecting their pulpit in the market, at the streetscorner, or in the chapel. In one point especially the friars stood out in marked and advantageous contrast to the old monastic orders. The latter were scandalously rich, the former were severely and edifyingly poor. They lived on alms, and literally were beggars; hence their name of Mendicants. Christ and His apostles, it was affirmed, were mendicants; the profession, therefore, was an ancient and a holy one. The early monastic orders, it is true, equally with the Dominicans and Franciscans, had taken a vow of poverty; but the difference between the elder and the later monks lay in this, that while the former could not in their individual capacity possess property, in their corporate capacity they might and did possess it to an enormous amount; the latter, both as individuals and as a body, were disqualified by their vow from holding any property whatever. They could not so much as possess a penny in the world; and as there was nothing in their humble garb and frugal diet to belie their profession of poverty, their repute for sanctity was great, and their influence with all classes was in proportion. They seemed the very men for the times in which their lot was cast, and for the work which had been appointed them. They were emphatically the soldiers of the Pope, the household troops of the Vatican, traversing Christendom in two bands, yet forming one united army, which continually increased, and which, having no impedimenta to retard its march, advanced alertly and victoriously to combat heresy, and extended the fame and dominion of the Papal See.

If the rise of the Mendicant orders was unexampled in its rapidity, equally unexampled was the rapidity of their decline. The rock on which they split was the same which had proved so fatal to their predecessors—riches. But how was it possible for wealth to enter when the door of the monastery was so effectually barred by a most stringent vow of poverty? Neither as individuals nor as a corporation, could they accept or hold a penny. Nevertheless, the fact was so; their riches increased prodigiously, and their degeneracy, consequent thereon, was even more rapid than the declension which former ages had witnessed in the Benedictines and Augustinians.

The original constitution of the Mendicant orders remained unaltered, their vow of poverty still stood unrepealed; they still lived on the alms of the faithful, and still wore their gown of coarse woolen cloth,18 white in the case of the Dominicans, and girded with a broad sash; brown in the case of the Franciscans, and tied with a cord of three knots: in both cases curiously provided with numerous and capacious pouches, in which little images, square bits of paper, amulets, and rosaries, were mixed with bits of bread and cheese, morsels of flesh, and other victuals collected by begging.19

But in the midst of all these signs of poverty, and of the professed observance of their vow, their hoards increased every day. How came this? Among the brothers were some subtle intellects, who taught them the happy distinction between proprietors and stewards. In the character of proprietors they could possess absolutely nothing; in the character of stewards they might hold wealth to any amount, and dispense it for the ends and uses of their order.20 This ingenious distinction unlocked the gates of their convents, and straightway a stream of gold, fed by the piety of their admirers, began to flow into them. They did not, like the other monastic fraternities, become landed proprietors—this kind of property not coming within the scope of that interpretation by which they had so materially qualified their vow—but in other respects they claimed a very ample freedom. The splendor of their edifices eclipsed those of the Benedictines and Augustinians. Churches which the skill of the architect and the genius of the painter did their utmost to glorify, convents and cloisters which monarchs might have been proud to inhabit,21 rose in all countries for the use of the friars. With this wealth came a multiform corruption—indolence, insolence, a dissolution of manners, and a grievous abuse of those vast privileges and powers which the Papal See, finding them so useful, had heaped upon them. “It is an awful presage,” exclaims Matthew Paris, only forty years after their institution, “that in 300 years, nay, in 400 years and more, the old monastic orders have not so entirely degenerated as these fraternities.”

Such was the state in which Wicliffe found the friars. Nay, we may conclude that in his time the corruption of the Mendicants far exceeded what it was in the days of Matthew Paris, a century earlier. He found in fact a plague fallen upon the kingdom, which was daily spreading and hourly intensifying its ravages. It was in 1360 that he began his public opposition to them. The Dominican friars entered England in 1321. In that year Gilbert de Fresney and twelve of his brethren settled at Oxford.22 The same causes that favored their growth on the Continent operated equally in England, and this little band recruited their ranks so rapidly, that soon they spread their swarms over all the kingdom. Forty-three houses of the Dominicans were established in England, where, from their black cloak and hood, they were popularly termed the Black Friars.23

Finding themselves now powerful, they attacked the laws and privileges of the University of Oxford, where they had established themselves, claiming independence of its jurisdiction. This drew on a battle between them and the college authorities. The first to oppose their encroachments was Fitzralph (Armachanus), who had been appointed to the chancellorship of Oxford in 1333, and in 1347 became Archbishop of Armagh. Fitzralph declared that under this “pestiferous canker,” as he styled mendicancy, everything that was good and fair—letters, industry, obedience, morals—was being blighted. He carried his complaints all the way to Avignon, where the Popes then lived, in the hope of effecting a reformation of this crying evil. The heads of the address which he delivered before the Pontiff were as follow: That the friars were propagating a pestiferous doctrine, subversive of the testament of Jesus Christ; that, owing to their machinations, the ministers of the Church were decreasing; that the universities were decaying; that students could not find books to carry on their studies; that the friars were recruiting their ranks by robbing and circumventing children; that they cherished ambition under a feigned humility, that they concealed riches under a simulated poverty; and crept up by subtle means to be lords, archbishops, cardinals, chancellors of kingdoms, and privy councilors of monarchs.

We must give a specimen of his pleading before the Pontiff, as Fox has preserved it. “By the privileges,” says Armachanus, “granted by the Popes to the friars, great enormities do arise.” Among other abuses, he enumerates the following: “The true shepherds do not know the faces of their flock. Item, great contention and sometimes blows arise between the friars and the secular curates, about titles, impropriations, and other avails. Item, divers young men, as well in universities as in their fathers’ houses, are allured craftily by the friars, their confessors, to enter their orders; from whence, also, they cannot get out, though they would, to the great grief of their parents, and no less repentance to the young men themselves. No less inconvenience and danger also by the said friars riseth to the clergy, forsomuch as laymen, seeing their children thus to be stolen from them in the universities by the friars, do refuse therefore to send them to their studies, rather willing to keep them at home to their occupation, or to follow the plough, than so to be circumvented and defeated of their sons at the university, as by daily experience doth manifestly appear. For, whereas, in my time there were in the university of Oxford 30,000 students, now there are not to be found 6,000. The occasion of this great decay is to be ascribed to no other cause than the circumvention only of the friars above mentioned.”

As the consequence of these very extraordinary practices of the friars, every branch of science and study was decaying in England. “For that these begging friars,” continues the archbishop, “through their privileges obtained of the Popes to preach, to hear confessions, and to bury, and through their charters of impropriations, did thereby grow to such great riches and possessions by their begging, craving, catching, and intermeddling with Church matters, that no book could stir of any science, either of divinity, law, or physic, but they were both able and ready to buy it up. So that every convent having a great library, full, stuffed, and furnished with all sorts of books, and being so many convents within the realm, and in every convent so many friars increasing daily more and more, by reason thereof it came to pass that very few books or none at all remain for other students.”

“He himself sent to the university four of his own priests or chaplains, who sent him word again that they neither could find the Bible, nor any other good profitable book of divinity profitable for their study, and so they returned to their own country.”24

In vain had the archbishop undertaken his long journey. In vain had he urged these complaints before the Pontiff at Avignon. The Pope knew that these charges were but too well-founded; but what did that avail? The friars were indispensable to the Pope; they had been created by him, they were dependent upon him, they lived for him, they were his obsequious tools; and weighed against the services they were rendering to the Papal throne, the interests of literature in England were but as dust in the balance. Not a finger must be lifted to curtail the privileges or check the abuses of the Mendicants. The archbishop, finding that he had gone on a bootless errand, returned to England, and died three years after.

Chapter 2.5: The Friars Versus The Gospel In England

The Joy of the Friars – Wicliffe Resumes the Battle – Demands the Abolition of the Orders – The Arrogance of the Friars – Their Luxury – Their Covetousness – Their Oppression of the Poor – The Agitation in England – Questions touching the Gospel raised thereby – Is it from the Friar or from Christ that Pardon is to be had? – Were Christ and the Apostles Mendicants? – Wicliffe’s Tractate, Objections to Friars – It launches him on his Career as a Reformer – Preaches in this Tractate the Gospel to England – Attack on the Power of the Keys – No Pardon but from God – Salvation without Money.

THE joy of the friars when they heard that their enemy was dead was great; but it was of short duration. The same year in which the archbishop died (1360) Wicliffe stood up and began that opposition to the Mendicants which he maintained more or less to the very close of his life. “John Wicliffe,” says an unknown writer, “the singular ornament of his time, began at Oxford in the year of our Lord 1360, in his public lectures, to correct the abuses of the clergy, and their open wickedness, King Edward III. being living, and continued secure a most valiant champion of the truth among the tyrants of Sodom.”1

Wicliffe saw deeper into the evil than Armachanus had done. The very institution of the order was unscriptural and corrupt, and while it existed, nothing, he felt, but abuse could flow from it; and therefore, not content, as his predecessor would have been, with the reformation of the order, he demanded its abolition. The friars, vested in an independent jurisdiction by the Pope, were overriding the canons and regulations of Oxford, where their head-quarters were pitched; they were setting at defiance the laws of the State; they were inveigling young children into their “rotten habit;” they were perambulating the country; and while they would allow no one but themselves to preach, their sermons were made up, Wicliffe tells us, “of fables, chronicles of the world, and stories from the siege of Troy.” The Pope, moreover, had conferred on them the right of shriving men; and they performed their office with such a hearty good-will, and gave absolution on terms so easy, that malefactors of every description flocked to them for pardon, and the consequence was a frightful increase of immorality and crime.2 The alms which ought to have been given to the “bed-rid, the feeble, the crooked,” they intercepted and devoured. In flagrant contempt of the declared intention of their founder, and their own vow of poverty, their hoards daily increased. The wealth thus gathered they expended in palatial buildings, in sumptuous tables, or other delights; or they sent it abroad to the impoverishing of the kingdom. Not the money only, but the secrets of the nation they were suspected of discovering to the enemies of the realm. To obey the Pope, to pray to St. Francis, to give alms to the friar, were the sum of all piety. This was better than all learning and all virtue, for it could open the gates of heaven. Wicliffe saw nothing in the future, provided the Mendicants were permitted to carry on their trade, but the speedy ruin of both Church and State.

The controversy on which Wicliffe now entered was eminently wholesome—wholesome to himself and to the nation. It touched the very foundations of Christianity, and compelled men to study the nature of the Gospel. The Mendicants went through England, selling to men the pardons of the Pope. Can our sins be forgiven for a little money? men were led to ask. Is it with Innocent or with God that we have to do? This led them to the Gospel, to learn from it the ground of the acceptance of sinners before God. Thus the controversy was no mere quarrel between the regulars and the seculars; it was no mere collision between the jurisdiction of the Oxford authorities and the jurisdiction of the Mendicants; the question was one between the Mendicants and the Gospel. Is it from the friars or from Jesus Christ that we are to obtain the forgiveness of our sins? This was a question which the England of that age eminently needed to have stirred.

The arguments, too, by which the friars endeavored to cover the lucrative trade they were driving, helped to import a salutary element into the controversy. They pleaded the sanction of the Savior for their begging. Christ and the apostles, said they, were mendicants, and lived on alms.3 This led men to look into the New Testament, to see if this really were so. The friars had made an unwitting appeal to the right of private judgment, and advertised a book about which, had they been wise for their own interests, they would have been profoundly silent. Wicliffe, especially, was led to the yet closer study of the Bible. The system of truth in Holy Scripture revealed itself more and more to him; he saw how widely the Church of Rome had departed from the Gospel of Christ, and what a gulf separated salvation by the blood of the Lamb from salvation by the pardons of the Pope. It was now that the Professor of Divinity in Oxford rose up into the Reformer of England—the great pioneer and founder of the Reformation of Christendom.

About this time he published his Objections to Friars, which fairly launched him on his career as a Reformer. In this tractate he charges the friars with “fifty heresies and errors, and many moe, if men wole seke them well out.”4 Let us mark that in this tract the Reformer does not so much dispute with the friars as preach the Gospel to his countrymen. “There cometh,” says Wicliffe, “no pardon but of God.” “The worst abuses of these friars consist in their pretended confessions, by means of which they affect, with numberless artifices of blasphemy, to purify those whom they confess, and make them clear from all pollution in the eyes of God, setting aside the commandments and satisfaction of our Lord.”

“There is no greater heresy than for a man to believe that he is absolved from his sins if he give money, or if a priest lay his hand on this head, and say that he absolveth thee; for thou must be sorrowful in thy heart, and make amends to God, else God absolveth thee not.” “Many think if they give a penny to a pardoner, they shall be forgiven the breaking of all the commandments of God, and therefore they take no heed how they keep them. But I say this for certain, though thou have priests and friars to sing for thee, and though thou, each day, hear many masses, and found churches and colleges, and go on pilgrimages all thy life, and give all thy goods to pardoners, this will not bring thy soul to heaven.” “May God of His endless mercy destroy the pride, covetousness, hypocrisy, and heresy of this reigned pardoning, and make men busy to keep His commandments, and to set fully their trust in Jesus Christ.”

“I confess that the indulgences of the Pope, if they are what they are said to be, are a manifest blasphemy. The friars give a color to this blasphemy by saying that Christ is omnipotent, and that the Pope is His plenary vicar, and so possesses in everything the same power as Christ in His humanity. Against this rude blasphemy I have elsewhere inveighed. Neither the Pope nor the Lord Jesus Christ can grant dispensations or give indulgences to any man, except as the Deity has eternally determined by His just counsel.”5

Thus did John Wicliffe, with the instincts of a true Reformer, strike at that ghostly principle which serves the Pope as the foundation-stone of his kingdom. Luther’s first blows were in like manner aimed at the same principle. He began his career by throwing down the gauntlet to the pardon-mongers of Rome. It was “the power of the keys” which gave to the Pope the lordship of the conscience; for he who can pardon sin—open or shut the gate of Paradise—is God to men. Wicliffe perceived that he could not shake into ruin that great fabric of spiritual and temporal power which the Pontiffs had reared, and in which, as within a vast prison-house, they kept immured the souls and bodies of men, otherwise than by exploding the false dogma on which it was founded. It was this dogma therefore, first of all, which he challenged. Think not, said he, in effect, to his countrymen, that God has given “the keys” to Innocent of Rome; think not that the friar carries heaven in his wallet; think not that God sends his pardons wrapped up in those bits of paper which the Mendicants carry about with them, and which they sell for a piece of silver. Listen to the voice of the Gospel: “Ye are not redeemed with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, the Lamb without blemish and without spot.” God pardons men without money and without price. Thus did Wicliffe begin to preach “the acceptable year of the Lord,” and to proclaim “liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”

Chapter 2.6: The Battle Of The Parliament With The Pope

Resume of Political Progress – Foreign Ecclesiastics appointed to English Benefices – Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire meant to put an End to the Abuse – The Practice still Continued – Instances – Royal Commissioners sent to Treat with the Pope concerning this Abuse – Wicliffe chosen one of the Commissioners – The Negotiation a Failure – Nevertheless of Benefit to Wicliffe by the Insight it gave him into the Papacy – Arnold Garnier – The “Good Parliament” – Its Battle with the Pope – A Greater Victory than Crecy – Wicliffe waxes Bolder – Rage of the Monks.

WE have already spoken of the encroachments of the Papal See on the independence of England in the thirteenth century; the cession of the kingdom to Innocent III. by King John; the promise of an annual payment to the Pope of a thousand marks by the English king; the demand preferred by Urban V. after payment of this tribute had lapsed for thirty-five years; the reply of the Parliament of England, and the share Wicliffe had in the resolution to which the Lords temporal and spiritual came to refuse the Papal impost. We have also said that the opposition of Parliament to the encroachments of the Popes on the liberties of the kingdom did not stop at this point, that several stringent laws were passed to protect the rights of the crown and the property of the subjects, and that more especially the Statutes of Provisors and Praemunire were framed with this view. The abuses which these laws were meant to correct had long been a source of national irritation. There were certain benefices in England which the Pope, in the plenitude of his power, reserved to himself. These were generally the more wealthy livings. But it might be inconvenient to wait till a vacancy actually occurred, accordingly the Pope, by what he termed a provisor, issued an appointment beforehand. The rights of the chapter, or of the crown, or whoever was patron, were thus set aside, and the legal presentee must either buy up the provisor, or permit the Pope’s nominee, often a foreigner, to enjoy the benefice. The very best of these dignities and benefices were enjoyed by Italians, Frenchmen, and other foreigners, who were, says Lewis, “some of them mere boys; and not only ignorant of the English language, but even of Latin, and who never so much as saw their churches, but committed the care of them to those they could get to serve them the cheapest; and had the revenues of them remitted to them at Rome or elsewhere, by their proctors, to whom they let their tithes.”1 It was to check this abuse that the Statute of Provisors was passed; and the law of Praemunire, by which it was followed, was intended to fortify it, and effectually to close the drain of the nation’s wealth by forbidding any one to bring into the kingdom any bull or letter of the Pope appointing to an English benefice.

The grievances were continued nevertheless, and became even more intolerable. The Parliament addressed a new remonstrance to the king, setting forth the unbearable nature of these oppressions, and the injury they were doing to the royal authority, and praying him to take action on the point. Accordingly, in 1373, the king appointed four commissioners to proceed to Avignon, where Pope Gregory XI. was residing, and laying the complaints of the English nation before him, request that for the future he would forbear meddling with the reservations of benefices. The ambassadors were courteously received, but they could obtain no redress.2 The Parliament renewed their complaint and request that “remedy be provided against the provisions of the Pope, whereby he reaps the first-fruits of ecclesiastical dignities, the treasure of the realm being thereby conveyed away, which they cannot bear.” A Royal Commission was issued in 1374 to inquire into the number of ecclesiastical benefices and dignities in England held by aliens, and to estimate their exact value. It was found that the number of livings in the hands of Italians, Frenchmen, and other foreigners was so great that, says Fox, “were it all set down, it would fill almost half a quire of paper.”3 The clergy of England was rapidly becoming an alien and a merely nominal one. The sums drained from the kingdom were immense.

The king resolved to make another attempt to arrange this matter with the Papal court. He named another commission, and it is an evidence of the growing influence of Wicliffe that his name stands second on the list of these delegates. The first named is John, Bishop of Bangor, who had served on the former commission; the second is John de Wicliffe, S.T.P. The names that follow are John Guter, Dean of Sechow; Simon de Moulton, LL.D.; William de Burton, Knight; Robert Bealknap, and John de Henyngton.4

The Pope declined receiving the king’s ambassadors at Avignon. The manners of the Papal court in that age could not bear close inspection. It was safer that foreign eyes should contemplate them from a distance. The Pope made choice of Bruges, in the Netherlands, and thither he sent his nuncios to confer with the English delegates.5 The negotiation dragged on for two years: the result was a compromise; the Pope engaging, on his part to desist from the reservation of benefices; and the king promising, on his, no more to confer them by his writ “quare impedit.” This arrangement left the power of the Pope over the benefices of the Church of England at least equal to that of the sovereign. The Pope did not renounce his right, he simply abstained from the exercise of it—tactics exceedingly common and very convenient in the Papal policy—and this was all that could be obtained from a negotiation of two years. The result satisfied no one in England: it was seen to be a hollow truce that could not last; nor indeed did it, for hardly had the commissioners returned home, when the Pope began to make as free with English benefices and their revenues as though he had never tied his hands by promise or treaty.6

There is cause, indeed, to suspect that the interests of England were betrayed in this negotiation. The Bishop of Bangor, on whom the conduct of the embassy chiefly devolved, on his return home was immediately translated to the See of Hereford, and in 1389 to that of St. David’s. His promotion, in both instances the result of Papal provisors, bore the appearance of being the reward of subserviency. Wicliffe returned home in disgust at the time which had been wasted, and the little fruit which had been obtained. But these two years were to him far from lost years. Wicliffe had come into communication with the Italian, Spanish, and French dignitaries of the Church, who enjoyed the confidence of the Pope and the cardinals. There was given him an insight into a circle which would not have readily opened to his view in his own country. Other lessons too he had been learning, unpleasant no doubt, but most important. He had not been so far removed from the Papal court but he could see the principles that reigned there, and the motives that guided its policy. If he had not met the Pope he had met his representatives, and he had been able to read the master in his servants; and when he returned to England it was to proclaim on the house-tops what before he had spoken in the closet. Avarice, ambition, hypocrisy, these were the gods that were worshipped in the Roman curia—these were the virtues that adorned the Papal throne. So did Wicliffe proclaim. In his public lectures he now spoke of the Pope as “Antichrist, the proud worldly priest of Rome, and the most cursed of clippers and purse-kervers.” And in one of his tracts that remain he thus speaks: “They [the Pope and his collectors] draw out of our land poor men’s livelihood, and many thousand marks by the year, of the king’s money, for Sacraments and spiritual things, that is cursed heresy of simony, and maketh all Christendom assent and meyntene his heresy. And certes though our realm had a huge hill of gold, and never other man took thereof but only this proud worldly priest’s collector, by process of time this hill must be spended; for he taketh ever money out of our land, and sendeth nought agen but God’s curse for his simony.”7 Soon after his return from Bruges, Wicliffe was appointed to the rectorship of Lutterworth, in Leicestershire, and as this preferment came not from the Pope but the king, it may be taken as a sign of the royal approval of his conduct as a commissioner, and his growing influence at the court.

The Parliament, finding that the negotiation at Bruges had come to nothing, resolved on more decisive measures. The Pope took advantage of the king’s remissness in enforcing the statutes directed against the Papal encroachments, and promised many things, but performed nothing. He still continued to appoint aliens to English livings, notwithstanding his treaties to the contrary. If these usurpations were allowed, he would soon proceed to greater liberties, and would appoint to secular dignities also, and end by appropriating as his own the sovereignty of the realm. It was plain to the Parliament that a battle must be fought for the country’s independence, and there were none but themselves to fight it. They drew up a bill of indictment against the Papal usurpations. In that document they set forth the manifold miseries under which the country was groaning from a foreign tyranny, which had crept into the kingdom under spiritual pretexts, but which was rapaciously consuming the fruits of the earth and the goods of the nation. The Parliament went on to say that the revenue drawn by the Pope from the realm was five times that which the king received; that he contrived to make one and the same dignity yield him six several taxes; that to increase his gains he frequently shifted bishops from one see to another; that he filled livings with ignorant and unworthy persons, while meritorious Englishmen were passed over, to the great discouragement of learning and virtue; that everything was venal in “the sinful city of Rome;” and that English patrons, corrupted by this pestilential example, had learned to practice simony without shame or remorse; that the Pope’s collector had opened an establishment in the capital with a staff of officers, as if it were one of the great courts of the nation, “transporting yearly to the Pope twenty thousand marks, and most commonly more;” that the Pope received a richer revenue from England than any prince in Christendom drew from his kingdom; that this very year he had taken the first-fruits of all benefices; that he often imposed a special tax upon the clergy, which he sometimes expended in subsidizing the enemies of the country; that “God hath given His sheep to the Pope to be pastured, and not shorn and shaven;” that “therefore it would be good to renew all the statutes against provisions from Rome,” and that “no Papal collector or proctor should remain in England, upon pain of life and limb; and that no Englishman, on the like pain, should become such collector or proctor, or remain at the court of Rome.”8

In February, 1372, there appeared in England an agent of the Pope, named Arnold Garnier, who traveled with a suite of servants and six horses through England, and after remaining uninterruptedly two and a half years in the country, went back to Rome with no inconsiderable sum of money. He had a royal license to return to England, of which he afterwards made use. He was required to swear that in collecting the Papal dues he would protect the rights and interests of the crown and the country. He took the oath in 1372 in the Palace of Westminster, in presence of the councilors and dignitaries of the crown. The fears of patriots were in no way allayed by the ready oath of the Papal agent; and Wicliffe in especial wrote a treatise to show that he had sworn to do what was a contradiction and an impossibility.9

It was Wicliffe who breathed this spirit into the Commons of England, and emboldened them to fight this battle for the prerogatives of their prince, and their own rights as the free subjects of an independent realm. We recognize his graphic and trenchant style in the document of the Parliament. The Pope stormed when he found the gage of battle thrown down in this bold fashion. With an air of defiance he hastened to take it up, by appointing an Italian to an English benefice. But the Parliament stood firm; the temporal Lords sided with the Commons. “We will support the crown,” said they, “against the tiara.” The Lords spiritual adopted a like course; reserving their judgment on the ecclesiastical sentences of the Pope, they held that the temporal effects of his sentences were null, and that the Papal power availed nothing in that point against the royal prerogative. The nation rallied in support of the Estates of the Realm. It pronounced no equivocal opinion when it styled the Parliament which had enacted these stringent edicts against the Papal bulls and agents “the Good Parliament.” The Pope languidly maintained the conflict for a few years, but he was compelled ultimately to give way before the firm attitude of the nation. The statutes no longer remained a dead letter. They were enforced against every attempt to carry out the Papal appointments in England. Thus were the prerogatives of the sovereign and the independence of the country vindicated, and a victory achieved more truly valuable in itself, and more lasting in its consequences, than the renowned triumphs of Crecy and Poitiers, which rendered illustrious the same age and the same reign.

This was the second great defeat which Rome had sustained. England had refused to be a fief of the Papal See by withholding the tribute to Urban; and now, by repelling the Pontifical jurisdiction, she claimed to be mistress in her own territory. The clergy divined the quarter whence these rebuffs proceeded. The real author of this movement, which was expanding every day, was at little pains to conceal himself. Ever since his return from Brages, Wicliffe had felt a new power in his soul, propelling him onward in this war. The unscriptural constitution and blasphemous assumptions of the Papacy had been more fully disclosed to him, and he began to oppose it with a boldness, an eloquence, and a force of argument which he had not till now been able to wield. Through many channels was he leavening the nation—his chair in Oxford; his pulpit in Lutterworth; the Parliament, whose debates and edicts he inspired; and the court, whose policy he partly molded. His sentiments were finding an echo in public opinion. The tide was rising. The hierarchy took the alarm. They cried for help, and the Pope espoused their cause, which was not theirs only, but his as well. “The whole glut of monks or begging friars,” says Fox, “were set in a rage or madness, which (even as hornets with their stings) did assail this good man on every side, fighting (as is said) for their altars, paunches, and bellies. After them the priests, and then after them the archbishop took the matter in hand, being then Simon Sudbury.”10

Chapter 2.7: Persecution Of Wicliffe By The Pope And The Hierarchy

Wicliffe’s Writings Examined – His Teaching submitted to the Pope – Three Bulls issued against him – Cited to appear before the Bishop of London – John of Gaunt Accompanies him – Portrait of Wicliffe before his Judges – Tumult – Altercation between Duke of Lancaster and Bishop of London – The Mob Rushes in – The Court Broken up – Death of Edward III. – Meeting of Parliament – Wicliffe Summoned to its Councils – Question touching the Papal Revenue from English Sees submitted to him – Its Solution – England coming out of the House of Bondage.

THE man who was the mainspring of a movement so formidable to the Papacy must be struck down. The writings of Wicliffe were examined. It was no difficult matter to extract from his works doctrines which militated against the power and wealth of Rome. The Oxford professor had taught that the Pope has no more power than ordinary priests to excommunicate or absolve men; that neither bishop nor Pope can validly excommunicate any man, unless by sin he has first made himself obnoxious to God; that princes cannot give endowments in perpetuity to the Church; that when their gifts are abused they have the right to recall them; and that Christ has given no temporal lordship to the Popes, and no supremacy over kings. These propositions, culled from the tracts of the Reformer, were sent to Pope Gregory XI.1

These doctrines were found to be of peculiarly bad odor at the Papal court. They struck at a branch of the Pontifical prerogative on which the holders of the tiara have always put a special value. If the world should come to be of Wicliffe’s sentiments, farewell to the temporal power of the Popes, the better half of their kingdom. The matter portended a terrible disaster to Rome, unless prevented in time. For broaching a similar doctrine, Arnold of Brescia had done expiation amid the flames. Wicliffe had been too long neglected; he must be immediately attended to.

Three separate bulls were drafted on the same day, May 22nd, 1377, 2 and dispatched to England. These bulls hinted surprise at the supineness of the English clergy in not having ere now crushed this formidable heresy which was springing up on their soil, and they commanded them no longer to delay, but to take immediate steps for silencing the author of that heresy. One of the bulls was addressed to Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury, and William Courtenay, Bishop of London; the second was addressed to the king, and the third to the University of Oxford. They were all of the same tenor. The one addressed to the king dwelt on the greatness of England, “as glorious in power and richness, but more illustrious for the piety of its faith, and for its using to shine with the brightness of the sacred page.”3 The Scriptures had not yet been translated into the vernacular tongue, and the Papal compliment which turns on this point is scarcely intelligible.

The university was commanded to take care that tares did not spring up among its wheat, and that from its chairs propositions were not taught “detestable and damnable, tending to subvert the state of the whole Church, and even of the civil government.” The bull addressed to the bishops was expressed in terms still more energetic. The Pope could not help wishing that the Rector of Lutterworth and Professor of Divinity “was not a master of errors, and had run into a kind of detestable wickedness, not only and openly publishing, but also vomiting out of the filthy dungeon of his breast divers professions, false and erroneous conclusions, and most wicked and damnable heresies, whereby he might defile the faithful sort, and bring them from the right path headlong into the way of perdition.” They were therefore to apprehend the said John Wicliffe, to shut him up in prison, to send all proofs and evidence of his heresy to the Pope, taking care that the document was securely sealed, and entrusted to a faithful messenger, and that meanwhile they should retain the prisoner in safe custody, and await further instructions. Thus did Pope Gregory throw the wolfs hide over Wicliffe, that he might let slip his Dominicans in full cry upon his track,4

The zeal of the bishops anticipated the orders of the Pope. Before the bulls had arrived in England the prosecution of Wicliffe was begun. At the instance of Courtenay, Bishop of London, Wicliffe was cited to appear on the 19th of February, 1377, in Our Lady’s Chapel in St. Paul’s, to answer for his teaching. The rumor of what was going on got wind in London, and when the day came a great crowd assembled at the door of St. Paul’s. Wicliffe, attended by two powerful friends—John, Duke of Lancaster, better known as John of Gaunt, and Lord Percy, Earl Marshal of England—appeared at the skirts of the assemblage. The Duke of Lancaster and Wicliffe had first met, it is probable, at Bruges, where it chanced to both to be on a mission at the same time. Lancaster held the Reformer in high esteem, on political if not on religious grounds. Favoring his opinions, he resolved to go with him and show him countenance before the tribunal of the bishops. “Here stood Wicliffe in the presence of his judges, a meager form dressed in a long light mantle of black cloth, similar to those worn at this day by doctors, masters, and students in Cambridge and Oxford, with a girdle round the middle; his face, adorned with a long thick beard, showed sharp bold features, a clear piercing eye, firmly closed lips, which bespoke decision; his whole appearance full of great earnestness, significance, and character.”5

But the three friends had found it no easy matter to elbow their way through the crowd. In forcing a passage something like an uproar took place, which scandalized the court. Percy was the first to make his way into the Chapel of Our Lady, where the clerical judges were assembled in their robes and insignia of office.

“Percy,” said Bishop Courtenay, sharply—more offended, it is probable, at seeing the humble Rector of Lutterworth so powerfully befriended, than at the tumult which their entrance had created—“if I had known what masteries you would have kept in the church, I would have stopped you from coming in hither.” “He shall keep such masteries,” said John of Gaunt, gruffly, “though you say nay.”

“Sit down, Wicliffe,” said Percy, having but scant reverence for a court which owed its authority to a foreign power—“sit down; you have many things to answer to, and have need to repose yourself on a soft seat.”

“He must and shall stand,” said Courtenay, still more chafed; “it is unreasonable that one on his trial before his ordinary should sit.” “Lord Percy’s proposal is but reasonable,” interposed the Duke of Lancaster; “and as for you,” said he, addressing Bishop Courtenay, “who are grown so arrogant and proud, I will bring down the pride not of you alone, but that of all the prelacy in England.”

To this menace the bishop calmly replied “that his trust was in no friend on earth, but in God.” This answer but the more inflamed the anger of the duke, and the altercation became yet warmer, till at last John of Gaunt was heard to say that “rather than take such words from the bishop, he would drag him out of the court by the hair of the head.”

It is hard to say what the strife between the duke and the bishop might have grown to, had not other parties suddenly appeared upon the scene. The crowd at the door, hearing what was going on within, burst the barrier, and precipitated itself en masse into the chapel. The angry contention between Lancaster and Courtenay was instantly drowned by the louder clamors of the mob. All was now confusion and uproar. The bishops had pictured to themselves the humble Rector of Lutterworth standing meekly if not tremblingly at their bar. It was their turn to tremble. Their citation, like a dangerous spell which recoils upon the man who uses it, had evoked a tempest which all their art and authority were not able to allay. To proceed with the trial was out of the question. The bishops hastily retreated; Wicliffe returned home; “and so,” says one, “that council, being broken up with scolding and brawling, was dissolved before nine o’clock.”6

The issues of the affair were favorable to the Reformation. The hierarchy had received a check, and the cause of Wicliffe began to be more widely discussed and better understood by the nation. At this juncture events happened in high places which tended to shield the Reformer and his opinions. Edward III., who had reigned with glory, but lived too long for his fame, now died (June 21st, 1377). His yet more renowned son, the Black Prince, had preceded him to the grave, leaving as heir to the throne a child of eleven years, who succeeded on his grandfather’s death, under the title of Richard II. His mother, the dowager Princess of Wales, was a woman of spirit, friendly to the sentiments of Wicliffe, and not afraid, as we shall see, to avow them. The new sovereign, two months after his accession, assembled his first Parliament. It was composed of nearly the same men as the “Good Parliament” which had passed such stringent edicts against the “provisions” and other usurpations of the Pope. The new Parliament was disposed to carry the war against the Papacy a step farther than its predecessor had done. It summoned Wicliffe to its councils. His influence was plainly growing. The trusted commissioner of princes, the counselor of Parliaments, he had become a power in England. We do not wonder that the Pope singled him out as the man to be struck down. While the bulls which were meant to crush the Reformer were still on their way to England, the Parliament unequivocally showed the confidence it had in his wisdom and integrity, by submitting the following question to him: “Whether the Kingdom of England might not lawfully, in case of necessity, detain and keep back the treasure of the Kingdom for its defense, that it be not carried away to foreign and strange nations, the Pope himself demanding and requiring the same, under pain of censure.” This appears a very plain matter to us, but our ancestors of the fourteenth century found it encompassed with great difficulties. The best and bravest of England at that day were scared by the ghostly threat with which the Pope accompanied his demand, and they durst not refuse it till assured by Wicliffe that it was a matter in which the Pope had no right to command, and in which they incurred no sin and no danger by disobedience. Nothing could better show the thraldom in which our fathers were held, and the slow and laborious steps by which they found their way out of the house of their bondage.

But out of what matter did the question now put to Wicliffe arise? It related to an affair which must have been peculiarly irritating to Englishmen. The Popes were then enduring their “Babylonish captivity,” as they called their residence at Avignon. All through the reign of Edward III., the Papacy, banished from Rome, had made its abode on the banks of the Rhone. One result of this was that each time the Papal chair became vacant it was filled with a Frenchman. The sympathies of the French Pope were, of course, with his native country, in the war now waging between France and England, and it was natural to suppose that part at least of the treasure which the Popes received from England went to the support of the war on the French side. Not only was the country drained of its wealth, but that wealth was turned against the country from which it was taken. Should this be longer endured? It was generally believed that at that moment the Pope’s collectors had a large sum in their hands ready to send to Avignon, to be employed, like that sent already to the same quarter, in paying soldiers to fight against England. Had they not better keep this gold at home? Wicliffe’s reply was in the affirmative, and the grounds of his opinion were briefly and plainly stated. He did not argue the point on the canon law, or on the law of England, but on that of nature and the Bible. God, he said, had given to every society the power of self-preservation; and any power given by God to any society or nation may, without doubt, be used for the end for which it was given. This gold was England’s own, and might unquestionably be retained for England’s use and defense. But it might be objected, Was not the Pope, as God’s vice-regent, supreme proprietor of all the temporalities, of all the sees and religious corporations in Christendom? It was on the ground of his temporal supremacy that he demanded this money, and challenged England at its peril to retain it. But who, replied the Reformer, gave the Pope this temporal supremacy? I do not find it in the Bible. The Apostle Peter could give the Pope only what he himself possessed, and Peter possessed no temporal lordship. The Pope, argued Wicliffe, must choose between the apostleship and the kingship; if he prefers to be a king, then he can claim nothing of us in the character of an apostle; or should he abide by his apostleship, even then he cannot claim this money, for neither Peter nor any one of the apostles ever imposed a tax upon Christians; they were supported by the free-will offerings of those to whom they ministered. What England gave to the Papacy she gave not as a tribute, but as alms. But alms could not be righteously demanded unless when the claimant was necessitous. Was the Papacy so? Were not its coffers overflowing? Was not England the poorer of the two? Her necessities were great, occasioned by a two-fold drain, the exactions of the Popes and the burdens of the war. Let charity, then, begin at home, and let England, instead of sending her money to these poor men of Avignon, who are clothed in purple and fare sumptuously every day, keep her own gold for her own uses. Thus did the Reformer lead on his countrymen, step by step, as they were able to follow.

Chapter 2.8: Hierarchical Persecution Of Wicliffe Resumed

Arrival of the Three Bulls – Wicliffe’s Anti-Papal Policy – Entirely Subversive of Romanism – New Citation – Appears before the Bishops at Lambeth – The Crowd – Its Reverent Behavior to Wicliffe – Message from the Queen – Dowager to the Court – Dismay of the Bishops – They abruptly Terminate the Sitting – English Tumults in the Fourteenth Century compared with French Revolutions in the Nineteenth – Substance of Wicliffe’s Defense – The Binding and Loosing Power.

MEANWHILE, the three bulls of the Pope had arrived in England. The one addressed to the king found Edward in his grave. That sent to the university was but coldly welcomed. Not in vain had Wicliffe taught so many years in its halls. Oxford, moreover, had too great a regard for its own fame to extinguish the brightest luminary it contained. But the bull addressed to the bishops found them in a different mood. Alarm and rage possessed these prelates. Mainly by the instrumentality of Wicliffe had England been rescued from sheer vassalage to the Papal See. It was he, too, who had put an extinguisher upon the Papal nominations, thereby vindicating the independence of the English Church. He had next defended the right of the nation to dispose of its own property, in defiance of the ghostly terrors by which the Popes strove to divert it into their own coffers. Thus, guided by his counsel, and fortified by the sanction of his name, the Parliament was marching on and adopting one bold measure after another. The penetrating genius of the man, his sterling uprightness, his cool, cautious, yet fearless courage, made the humble Rector of Lutterworth a formidable antagonist. Besides, his deep insight into the Papal system enabled him to lead the Parliament and nation of England, so that they were being drawn on unawares to deny not merely the temporal claims, but the spiritual authority also of Rome. The acts of resistance which had been offered to the Papal power were ostensibly limited to the political sphere, but they were done on principles which impinged on the spiritual authority, and could have no other issue than the total overthrow of the whole fabric of the Roman power in England. This was what the hierarchy foresaw; the arrival of the Papal bulls, therefore, was hailed by them with delight, and they lost no time in acting upon them.

The primate summoned Wicliffe to appear before him in April, 1378. The court was to sit in the archbishop’s chapel at Lambeth. The substance of the Papal bulls on which the prelates acted we have given in the preceding chapter. Following in the steps of condemned heresiarchs of ancient times, Wicliffe (said the Papal missive) had not only revived their errors, but had added new ones of his own, and was to be dealt with as men deal with a “common thief.” The latter injunction the prelates judged it prudent not to obey. It might be safe enough to issue such an order at Avignon, or at Rome, but not quite so safe to attempt to execute it in England. The friends of the Reformer, embracing all ranks from the prince downward, were now too numerous to see with unconcern Wicliffe seized and incarcerated as an ordinary caitiff. The prelates, therefore, were content to cite him before them, in the hope that this would lead, in regular course, to the dungeon in which they wished to see him immured. When the day came, a crowd quite as great as and more friendly to the Reformer than that which besieged the doors of St. Paul’s on occasion of his first appearance, surrounded the Palace of Lambeth, on the right bank of the Thames, opposite Westminster, where several councils had been held since the times of Anselm of Canterbury. Wicliffe now stood high in popular favor as a patriot, although his claims as a theologian and Reformer were not yet acknowledged, or indeed understood. Hence this popular demonstration in his favor.

To the primate this concourse gave anything but an assuring augury of a quiet termination to the trial. But Sudbury had gone too far to retreat. Wicliffe presented himself, but this time no John Gaunt was by his side. The controversy was now passing out of the political into the spiritual sphere, where the stout and valorous baron, having a salutary dread of heresy, and especially of the penalties thereunto annexed, feared to follow. God was training His servant to walk alone, or rather to lean only upon Himself. But at the gates of Lambeth, Wicliffe saw enough to convince him that if the batons were forsaking him, the people were coming to his side. The crowd opened reverently to permit him to pass in, and the citizens, pressing in after him, filled the chapel, and testified, by gestures and speeches more energetic than courtly, their adherence to the cause, and their determination to stand by its champion. It seemed as if every citation of Wicliffe was destined to evoke a tempest around the judgment-seat. The primate and his peers were consulting how they might eject or silence the intruders, when a messenger entered, who added to their consternation. This was Sir Lewis Clifford, who had been dispatched by the queen-mother to forbid the bishops passing sentence upon the Reformer. The dismay of the prelates was complete, and the proceedings were instantly stopped. “At the wind of a reed shaken,” says Walsingham, who describes the scene, “their speech became as soft as oil, to the public loss of their own dignity, and the damage of the whole Church. They were struck with such a dread, that you would think them to be as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs.”1 The only calm and self-possessed man in all that assembly was Wicliffe. A second time he returned unhurt and uncondemned from the tribunal of his powerful enemies. He had been snatched up and carried away, as it were, by a whirlwind.

A formidable list of charges had been handed to Wicliffe along with his citation. It were tedious to enumerate these; nor is it necessary to go with any minuteness into the specific replies which he had prepared, and was about to read before the court when the storm broke over it, which brought its proceedings so abruptly to a close. But the substance of his defense it is important to note, because it enables us to measure the progress of the Reformer’s own emancipation: and the stages of Wicliffe’s enlightenment are just the stages of the Reformation. We now stand beside the cradle of Protestantism in England, and we behold the nation, roused from its deep sleep by the Reformer’s voice, making its first essay to find the road of liberty. If a little noise accompanies these efforts, if crowds assemble, and raise fanatical cries, and scare prelates on the judgment-seat, this rudeness must be laid at the door of those who had withheld that instruction which would have taught the people to reform religion without violating the laws, and to utter their condemnation of falsehoods without indulging their passions against persons. Would it have been better that England should have lain still in her chains, than that she should disturb the repose of dignified ecclesiastics by her efforts to break them? There may be some who would have preferred the torpor of slavery. But, after all, how harmless the tumults which accompanied the awakening of the English people in the fourteenth century, compared with the tragedies, the revolutions, the massacres, and the wars, amid which we have seen nations since—which slept on while England awoke—inaugurate their liberties!2 The paper handed in by Wicliffe to his judges, stripped of its scholastic form—for after the manner of the schools it begins with a few axioms, runs out in numerous divisions, and reaches its conclusions through a long series of nice disquisitions and distinctions—is in substance as follows: That the Popes have no political dominion, and that their kingdom is one of a spiritual sort only; that their spiritual authority is not absolute, so as that they may be judged of none but God; on the contrary, the Pope may fall into sin like other men, and when he does so he ought to be reproved, and brought back to the path of duty by his cardinals; and if they are remiss in calling him to account, the inferior clergy and even the laity “may medicinally reprove him and implead him, and reduce him to lead a better life;” that the Pope has no supremacy over the temporal possessions of the clergy and the religious houses, in which some priests have vested him, the better to evade the taxes and burdens which their sovereign for the necessities of the State imposes upon their temporalities; that no priest is at liberty to enforce temporal demands by spiritual censures; that the power of the priest in absolving or condemning is purely ministerial; that absolution will profit no one unless along with it there comes the pardon of God, nor will excommunication hurt any one unless by sin he has exposed himself to the anger of the great Judge.3

This last is a point on which Wicliffe often insists; it goes very deep, striking as it does at one of the main pillars on which the Pope’s kingdom stands, and plucking from his grasp that terrible trident which enables him to govern the world—the power of anathema. On this important point, “the power of the keys,” as it has been technically designated, the sum of what Wicliffe taught is expressed in his fourteenth article. “We ought,” says he, “to believe that then only does a Christian priest bind or loose, when he simply obeys the law of Christ; because it is not lawful for him to bind or loose but in virtue of that law, and by consequence not unless it be in conformity to it.”4

Could Wicliffe have dispelled the belief in the Pope’s binding and loosing power, he would have completely rent the fetters which enchained the conscience of his nation. Knowing that the better half of his country’s slavery lay in the thraldom of its conscience, Wicliffe, in setting free its soul, would virtually, by a single stroke, have achieved the emancipation of England.

Chapter 2.9: Crusades Against The Albigenses

Rome founded on the Dogma of Persecution – Begins to act upon it – Territory of the Albigenses – Innocent III. – Persecuting Edicts of Councils – Crusade preached by the Monks of Citeaux – First Crusade launched – Paradise – Simon de Montfort – Raymond of Toulouse – His Territories Overrun and Devastated – Crusade against Raymond Roger of Beziers – Burning of his Towns – Massacre of their Inhabitants – Destruction of the Albigenses.

THERE was another matter to which Wicliffe often returned, because he held it as second only in importance to “the power of the keys.” This was the property of the Church. The Church was already not only enormously rich, but she had even proclaimed a dogma which was an effectual preventive against that wealth ever being less by so much as a single penny; nay, which secured that her accumulations should go on while the world stood. What is given to the Church, said the canon law, is given to God; it is a devoted thing, consecrated and set apart for ever to a holy use, and never can it be employed for any secular or worldly end whatever; and he who shall withdraw any part thereof from the Church robs God, and commits the awful sin of sacrilege. Over the man, whoever he might be, whether temporal baron or spiritual dignitary, who should presume to subtract so much as a single acre from her domains or a single penny from her coffers, the canon law suspended a curse. This wealth could not even be recovered: it was the Church’s sole, absolute, and eternal inheritance. This grievance was aggravated by the circumstance that these large possessions were exempt from taxes and public burdens. The clergy kept no connection with the country farther than to prey on it. The third Council of the Lateran forbade all laics, under the usual penalties, to exact any taxes from the clergy, or lay any contributions upon them or upon their Churches.1 If, however, the necessities of the State were great, and the lands of the laity insufficient, the priests might, of their own good pleasure, grant a voluntary subsidy. The fourth General Council of Lateran renewed this canon, hurling excommunication against all who should disregard it, but graciously permitting the clergy to aid in the exigencies of the State if they saw fit and the Pope were willing.2 Here was “a kingdom of priests,” the owners of half the soil, every inch of which was enclosed within a sacred rail, so that no one durst lay a finger upon it, unless indeed their foreign head, the Pontiff, should first give his consent.

In these overgrown riches Wicliffe discerned the source of innumerable evils. The nation was being beggared and the Government was being weakened. The lands of the Church were continually growing wider, and the area which supported the burdens of the State and furnished the revenues of the Crown was constantly growing narrower. Nor was the possession of this wealth less hurtful to the corporation that owned it, than its abstraction was to that from whom it had been torn. Whence flowed the many corruptions of the Church, the pride, the luxury, the indolence of Churchmen? Manifestly, from these enormous riches. Sacred uses! So was it pleaded. The more that wealth increased, the less sacred the uses to which it was devoted, and the more flagrant the neglect of the duties which those who possessed it were appointed to discharge. But Wicliffe’s own words will best convey to us an idea of his feelings on this point, and the height to which the evil had grown.

“Prelates and priests,” says he, “cry aloud and write that the king hath no jurisdiction or power over the persons and goods of Holy Church. And when the king and the secular Lords, perceiving that their ancestors’ alms are wasted in pomp and pride, gluttony and other vanities, wish to take again the superfluity of temporal goods, and to help the land and themselves and their tenants, these worldly clerks bawl loudly that they ought to be cursed for intromitting with the goods of Holy Church, as if secular Lords and Commons were no part of Holy Church.”

And again he complains that property which was not too holy to be spent in “gluttony and other vanities,” was yet accounted too holy to bear the burdens of the State, and contribute to the defense of the realm. “By their new law of decretals,” says he, “they have ordained that our clergy shall pay no subsidy nor tax for keeping of our king and realm, without leave and assent of the worldly priest of Rome. And yet many times this proud worldly priest is an enemy of our land, and secretly maintains our enemies in war against us with our own gold. And thus they make an alien priest, and he the proudest of all priests, to be the chief lord of the whole of the goods which clerks possess in the realm, and that is the greatest part thereof.”3 Wicliffe was not a mere corrector of abuses; he was a reformer of institutions, and accordingly he laid down a principle which menaced the very foundations of this great evil.

Those acres, now covering half the face of England, those cathedral and conventual buildings, those tithes and revenues which constitute the “goods” of the Church are not, Wicliffe affirmed, in any legal or strict sense the Church’s property. She neither bought it, nor did she win it by service in the field, nor did she receive it as a feudal, unconditional gift. It is the alms of the English nation. The Church is but the administrator of this property; the nation is the real proprietor, and the nation is bound through the king and Parliament, its representatives, to see that the Church devotes this wealth to the objects for which it was given to her; and if it shall find that it is abused or diverted to other objects, it may recall it. The ecclesiastic who becomes immoral and fails to fulfill the duties of his office, forfeits that office with all its temporalities, and the same law which applies to the individual applies to the whole corporation or Church. Such, in brief, was the doctrine of Wicliffe.4

But further, the Reformer distinguished between the lands of the abbacy or the monastery, and the acres of the neighboring baron. The first were national property, the second were private; the first were held for spiritual uses, the second for secular; and by how much the issues depending on the right use of the first, as regarded both the temporal and eternal interests of mankind, exceeded those depending upon the right use of the second, by so much was the nation bound closely to oversee, and jealously to guard against all perversion and abuse in the case of the former. The baron might feast, hunt, and ride out attended by ever so many men-at-arms; he might pass his days in labor or in idleness, just as suited him. But the bishop must eschew these delights and worldly vanities. He must give himself to reading, to prayer, to the ministry of the Word; he must instruct the ignorant, and visit the sick, and approve himself in all things as a faithful minister of Jesus Christ.5

But while Wicliffe made this most important distinction between ecclesiastical and lay property, he held that as regarded the imposts of the king, the estates of the bishop and the estates of the baron were on a level. The sovereign had as good a right to tax the one as the other, and both were equally bound to bear their fair share of the expense of defending the country. Further, Wicliffe held the decision of the king, in all questions touching ecclesiastical property, to be final. And let no one, said the Reformer in effect, be afraid to embrace these opinions, or be deterred from acting on them, by terror of the Papal censures. The spiritual thunder hurts no one whose cause is good.

Even tithes could not now be claimed, Wicliffe held, on a Divine authority. The tenth of all that the soil yielded was, by God’s command, set apart for the support of the Church under the economy of Moses. But that enactment, the Reformer taught, was no longer binding. The “ritual” and the “polity” of that dispensation had passed away, and only the “moral” remained. And that “moral” Wicliffe summed up in the words of the apostle, “Let him that is taught in the word minister to him that teacheth in all good things.” And while strenuously insisting on the duty of the instructed to provide for their spiritual teachers, he did not hesitate to avow that where the priest notoriously failed in his office the people were under no obligation to support him; and if he should seek by the promise of Paradise, or the threat of anathema, to extort a livelihood, for work which he did not do and from men whom he never taught, they were to hold the promise and the threat as alike empty and futile. “True men say,” wrote Wicliffe, “that prelates are more bound to preach truly the Gospel than their subjects are to pay them dymes [tithes]; for God chargeth that more, and it is more profitable to both parties. Prelates, therefore, are more accursed who cease from their preaching than are their subjects who cease to pay tithes, even while their prelates do their office well.”6

These were novel and startling opinions in the age of Wicliffe. It required no ordinary independence of mind to embrace such views. They were at war with the maxims of the age; they were opposed to the opinions on which Churches and States had acted for a thousand years; and they went to the razing of the whole ecclesiastical settlement of Christendom. If they were to be applied, all existing religious institutions must be remodeled. But if true, why should they not be carried out? Wicliffe did not shrink from even this responsibility.

He proposed, and not only did he propose, he earnestly pleaded with the king and Parliament, that the whole ecclesiastical estate should be reformed in accordance with the principles he had enunciated. Let the Church surrender all her possessions—her broad acres, her palatial building, her tithes, her multiform dues—and return to the simplicity of her early days, and depend only on the free-will offerings of the people, as did the apostles and first preachers of the Gospel. Such was the plan Wicliffe laid before the men of the fourteenth century.7 We may well imagine the amazement with which he was listened to.

Did Wicliffe really indulge the hope that his scheme would be carried into effect? Did he really think that powerful abbots and wealthy prelates would sacrifice their principalities, their estates and honors, at the call of duty, and exchanging riches for dependence, and luxurious ease for labor, go forth to instruct the poor and ignorant as humble ministers of the Gospel? There was not faith in the world for such an act of self-denial. Had it been realized, it would have been one of the most marvelous things in all history. Nor did Wicliffe himself expect it to happen. He knew too well the ecclesiastics of his time, and the avarice and pride that animated them, from their head at Avignon down to the bare-footed mendicant of England, to look for such a miracle. But his duty was not to be measured by his chance of success. Reform was needed; it must be attempted if Church and State were to be saved, and here was the reform which stood enjoined, as he believed, in the Scriptures, and which the example of Christ and His apostles confirmed and sanctioned; and though it was a sweeping and comprehensive one, reversing the practice of a thousand years, condemning the maxims of past ages, and necessarily provoking the hostility of the wealthiest and most powerful body in Christendom, yet he believed it to be practicable if men had only virtue and courage enough. Above all, he believed it to be sound, and the only reform that would meet the evil; and therefore, though princes were forsaking him, and Popes were fulminating against him, and bishops were summoning him to their bar, he fearlessly did his duty by displaying his plan of reform in all its breadth before the eyes of the nation, and laying it at the foot of the throne.

But Wicliffe, a man of action as well as of thought, did not aim at carrying this revolution by a stroke. All great changes, he knew, must proceed gradually. What he proposed was that as benefices fell vacant, the new appointments should convey no right to the temporalities, and thus in a short time, without injury or hardship to any one, the whole face of England would be changed. “It is well known,” says he, “that the King of England, in virtue of his regalia, on the death of a bishop or abbot, or any one possessing large endowments, takes possession of these endowments as the sovereign, and that a new election is not entered upon without a new assent; nor will the temporalities in such a case pass from their last occupant to his successor without that assent. Let the king, therefore, refuse to continue what has been the great delinquency of his predecessors, and in a short time the whole kingdom will be freed from the mischiefs which have flowed from this source.”

It may perhaps be objected that thus to deprive the Church of her property was to injure vitally the interests of religion and civilization. With the abstract question we have here nothing to do; let us look at the matter practically, and as it must have presented itself to Wicliffe. The withdrawal of the Church’s property from the service of religion was already all but complete. So far as concerned the religious instruction and the spiritual interests of the nation, this wealth profited about as little as if it did not exist at all. It served but to maintain the pomps of the higher clergy, and the excesses which reigned in the religious houses. The question then, practically, was not, Shall this property be withdrawn from religious uses? but, Shall it be withdrawn from its actual uses, which certainly are not religious, and be devoted to other objects more profitable to the commonwealth? On that point Wicliffe had a clear opinion; he saw a better way of supporting the clergy, and he could not, he thought, devise a worse than the existing one. “It is thus,” he says, “that the wretched beings of this world are estranged from faith, and hope, and charity, and become corrupt in heresy and blasphemy, even worse than heathens. Thus it is that a clerk, a mere collector of pence, who can neither read nor understand a verse in his psalter, nor repeat the commandments of God, bringeth forth a bull of lead, testifying in opposition to the doom of God, and of manifest experience, that he is able to govern many souls. And to act upon this false bull he will incur costs and labor, and often fight, and get fees, and give much gold out of our land to aliens and enemies; and many are thereby slaughtered by the hand of our enemies, to their comfort and our confusion.”8

Elsewhere he describes Rome as a market, where the cure of souls was openly sold, and where the man who offered the highest price got the fattest benefice. In that market, virtue, piety, learning were nought. The only coin current was gold. But the men who trafficked there, and came back invested with a spiritual office, he thus describes: “As much, therefore, as God’s Word, and the bliss of heaven in the souls of men, are better than earthly goods, so much are these worldly prelates, who withdraw the great debt of holy teaching, worse than thieves; more accursedly sacrilegious than ordinary plunderers, who break into churches, and steal thence chalices, and vestments, and never so much gold.”9

Whatever may be the reader’s judgment of the sentiments of Wicliffe on this point, there can be but one opinion touching his independence of mind, and his fidelity to what he believed to be the truth. Looking back on history, and looking around in the world, he could see only a unanimous dissent from his doctrine. All the ages were against him; all the institutions of Christendom were against him. The Bible only, he believed, was with him. Supported by it, he bravely held and avowed his opinion. His peril was great, for he had made the whole hierarchy of Christendom his enemy. He had specially provoked the wrath of that spiritual potentate whom few kings in that age could brave with impunity. But he saw by faith Him who is invisible, and therefore he feared not Gregory. The evil this wealth was doing, the disorders and weakness with which it was afflicting the State, the immorality and ignorance with which it was corrupting society, and the eternal ruin in which it was plunging the souls of men, deeply affected him; and though the riches which he so earnestly entreated men to surrender had been a million of times more than they were, they would have been in his account but as dust in the balance compared with the infinite damage which it cost to keep them, and the infinite good which would be reaped by parting with them.

Nor even to the men of his own time did the measure of the Reformer seem so very extravagant. Doubtless the mere mention of it took away the breath from those who had touched this gold; but the more sober and thoughtful in the nation began to see that it was not so impracticable as it looked, and that instead of involving the destruction it was more likely to be the saving of the institutions of learning and religion. About twenty-four years after the Reformer’s death, a great measure of Church reform, based on the views of Wicliffe, was proposed by the Commons. The plan took shape in a petition which Parliament presented to the king, and which was to the following effect: That the crown should take possession of all the property of the Church; that it should appoint a body of clergy, fifteen thousand in number, for the religious service of the kingdom; that it should assign an annual stipend to each; and that the surplus of the ecclesiastical property should be devoted to a variety of State purposes, of which the building and support of almshouses was one.10

Those who had the power could not or would not see the wisdom of the Reformer. Those who did see it had not the power to act upon it, and so the wealth of the Church remained untouched; and, remaining untouched, it continued to grow, and along with it all the evils it engendered, till at last these were no longer bearable. Then even Popish governments recognized the wisdom of Wicliffe’s words, and began to act upon his plan. In Germany, under the treaty of Westphalia, in Holland, in our own country, many of the richest benefices were secularized. When, at a later period, most of the Catholic monarchies suppressed the Jesuits, the wealth of that opulent body was seized by the sovereign. In these memorable examples we discover no trace of property, but simply the resumption by the State of the salaries of its public servants, when it deemed their services or the mode of them no longer useful.

These examples are the best testimony to the substantial soundness of Wicliffe’s views; and the more we contemplate the times in which he formed them, the more are we amazed at the sagacity, the comprehensiveness, the courage, and the faith of the Reformer.

In these events we contemplate the march of England out of the house of her bondage. Wicliffe is the one and only leader in this glorious exodus. No Aaron marches by the side of this Moses. But the nation follows its heroic guide, and steadfastly pursues the sublime path of its emancipation. Every year places a greater distance between it and the slavery it is leaving, and brings it nearer the liberty that lies before it. What a change since the days of King John! Then Innocent III. stood with his heel on the country. England was his humble vassal, fain to buy off his interdicts and curses with its gold, and to bow down even to the dust before his legates; but now, thanks to John Wicliffe, England stands erect, and meets the haughty Pontiff on at least equal terms.

And what a fine logical sequence is seen running through the process of the emancipation of the country! The first step was to cast off its political vassalage to the Papal chair; the second was to vindicate the independence of its Church against her who haughtily styles herself the “Mother and Mistress of all Churches;” the third was to make good the sole and unchallenged use of its own property, by forbidding the gold of the nation to be carried across the sea for the use of the country’s foes. And now another step forward is taken. A proposal is heard to abate the power of superstition within the realm, by curtailing its overgrown resources, heedless of the cry of sacrilege, the only weapon by which the Church attempted to protect the wealth that had been acquired by means not the most honorable, and which was now devoted to ends not the most useful. England is the first of the European communities to flee from that prison-house in which the Crowned Priest of the Seven Hills had shut up the nations. That cruel taskmaster had decreed an utter and eternal extinction of all national independence and of all human rights. But He who “openeth the eyes of the blind,” and “raiseth them that are bowed down,” had pity on those whom their oppressor had destined to endless captivity, and opened their prison-doors. We celebrate in songs the Exodus of early times. We magnify the might of that Hand and the strength of that Arm which broke the power of Pharaoh; which “opened the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder;” which divided the sea, and led the marshalled hosts of the Hebrews out of bondage. Here is the reality of which the other was but the figure. England comes forth, the first of the nations, led on by Wicliffe, and giving assurance to the world by her reappearance that all the captive nationalities which have shared her bondage shall, each in its appointed season, share her deliverance. Rightly understood, is there in all history a grander spectacle, or a drama more sublime? We forget the wonders of the first Exodus when we contemplate the mightier scale and the more enduring glories of the second. When we think of the bitterness and baseness of the slavery which England left behind her, and the glorious of freedom and God-given religion to which she now began to point her steps, we can find no words in which to vent our gratitude and praise but those of the Divine Ode written long before, and meant at once to predict and to commemorate this glorious emancipation:

He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the sons of men. (Psalm 107:14,15)11

Chapter 2.10: The Translation Of The Scriptures, Or The English Bible

Peril of Wicliffe – Death of Gregory XI. – Death of Edward III. – Consequent Safety of Wicliffe – Schism in the Papal Chair – Division in Christendom – Which is the True Pope? – A Papal Thunderstorm – Wicliffe Retires to Lutterworth – His Views still Enlarging – Supreme Authority of Scripture – Sickness, and Interview with the Friars – Resolves to Translate the Bible – Early Translations – Bede, etc. – Wicliffe’s Translation – Its Beauty – The Day of the Reformation has fairly Broken – Transcription and Publication – Impression produced – Right to Read the Bible – Denounced by the Priests –Defended by Wicliffe – Transformation accomplished on England.

WHILE Wicliffe was struggling to break first of all his own fetters, and next the fetters of an enslaved nation, God was working in the high places of the earth for his preservation. Every day the number of his enemies increased. The shield of John of Gaunt no longer covered his head. Soon not a friend would there be by his side, and he would be left naked and defenseless to the rage of his foes. But He who said to the patriarch of old, “Fear not, I am thy shield,” protected his own chosen champion. Wicliffe had ,offered inexpiable affront to Gregory; he had plucked England as a prey out of his very teeth; he had driven away his taxgatherers, who continually hovered like a flock of cormorants round the land. But not content with clipping the talons of the Papacy and checking her rapacity in time to come, he was even now meditating how he might make her reckon for the past, and disgorge the wealth which by so many and so questionable means she had already devoured, and send forth abbot and monk as poor as were the apostles and first preachers. This was not to be borne. For a hundredth part of this, how many men had ere this done expiation in the fire! No wonder that Wicliffe was marked out as the man to be struck down. Three bulls did Gregory dispatch with this object. The university, the hierarchy, the king: on all were the Pontifical commands laid to arrest and imprison the heretic—the short road to the stake. Wicliffe was as good as dead; so doubtless was it thought at Avignon. Death was about to strike, but it was on Gregory XI. that the blow was destined to fall. Instead of a stake at Oxford, there was a bier at the Vatican. The Pope a little while before had returned to Rome, so terminating the “Babylonish captivity;” but he had returned only to die (1378). But death struck a second time: there was a bier at Westminster as well as at the Vatican. When Courtenay, Bishop of London, was about to summon Wicliffe to his bar, Edward III., whose senility the bishop was likely to take advantage of against the Reformer, died also, and John of Gaunt became regent of the kingdom. So now, when the Papal toils were closing around Wicliffe, death suddenly stiffened the hand that had woven them, and the commission of delegates which the now defunct Gregory had appointed to try, and which he had commanded to condemn the Reformer, was dissolved.1

In another way did the death of the Pope give a breathing-time to the Reformer and the young Reformation of England. On the 7th of April, 1378, the cardinals assembled in the Quirinal to elect a successor to Gregory. The majority of the sacred college being Frenchmen, the Roman populace, fearing that they would place one of their own nation in the vacant chair, and that the Pontifical court would again retire to Avignon, gathered round the palace where the cardinals were met, and with loud tumult and terrible threats demanded a Roman for their Pope. Not a cardinal should leave the hall alive, so did the rioters threaten, unless their request was complied with. An Italian, the Archbishop of Bari, was chosen; the mob was soothed, and instead of stoning the cardinals it saluted them with “Vivas.” But the new Pope was austere, penurious, tyrannical, and selfish; the cardinals soon became disgusted, and escaping from Rome they met and chose a Frenchman—Robert, Bishop of Geneva—for the tiara, declaring the former election null on the plea that the choice had been made under compulsion. Thus was created the famous schism in the Papal chair which for a full half-century divided and scandalized the Papal world.

Christendom now saw, with feelings bordering on affright, two Popes in the chair of Peter. Which was the true vicar, and which carried the key that alone could open and shut the gates of Paradise? This became the question of the age, and a most momentous question it was to men who believed that their eternal salvation hung upon its solution. Consciences were troubled; council was divided against council; bishop baffled with bishop; and kings and governments were compelled to take part in the quarrel. Germany and England, and some of the smaller States in the center of Europe, sided with the first-elected Pope, who took possession of the Vatican under the title of Urban VI. Spain, France, and Scotland espoused the cause of the second, who installed himself at Avignon under the name of Clement VII. Thus, as the first dawn of the Gospel day was breaking on Christendom, God clave the Papal head in twain, and divided the Papal world.2

But for this schism Wicliffe, to all human appearance, would have been struck down, and his work in England stamped out. But now the Popes found other work than to pursue heresy. Fast and furious from Rome to Avignon, and from Avignon back again to Rome, flew the Papal bolts. Far above the humble head of the Lutterworth rector flashed these lightnings and rolled these thunders. While this storm was raging Wicliffe retired to his country charge, glad doubtless to escape for a little while from the attacks of his enemies, and to solace himself in the bosom of his loving flock. He was not idle however. While the Popes were hurling curses at each other, and shedding torrents of blood—for by this time they had drawn the sword in support of their rival claims to be Christ’s vicar while flagrant scandals and hideous corruptions were ravaging the Church, and frightful crimes and disorder were distracting the State (for it would take “another Iliad,”3 as Fox says, to narrate all the miseries and woes that afflicted the world during this schism), Wicliffe was sowing by the peaceful waters of the Avon, and in the rural homesteads of Lutterworth, that Divine seed which yields righteousness and peace in this world, and eternal life in that which is to come.

It was now that the Reformer opened the second part of his great career. Hitherto his efforts had been mainly directed to breaking the political fetters in which the Papacy had bound his countrymen. But stronger fetters held fast their souls. These his countrymen needed more to have rent, though perhaps they galled them less, and to this higher object the Reformer now exclusively devoted what of life and strength remained to him. In this instance, too, his own fuller emancipation preceded that of his countrymen. The “schism,” with the scandals and crimes that flowed from it, helped to reveal to him yet more clearly the true character of the Papacy. He published a tract On the Schism of the Popes, in which he appealed to the nation whether those men who were denouncing each other as the Antichrist were not, in this case, speaking the truth, and whether the present was not an opportunity given them by Providence for grasping those political weapons which He had wrested from the hands of the hierarchy, and using them in the destruction of those oppressive and iniquitous laws and customs under which England had so long groaned. “The fiend,” he said, “no longer reigns in one but in two priests, that men may the more easily, in Christ’s name, overcome them both.”4

We trace from this time a rapid advance in the views of the Reformer. It was now that he published his work On the Truth and Meaning of Scripture. In this work he maintains “the supreme authority of Scripture,” “the right of private judgment,” and that “Christ’s law sufficeth by itself to rule Christ’s Church.” This was to discrown the Pope, and to raze the foundations of his kingdom. Here he drops the first hint of his purpose to translate the Bible into the English vernacular—a work which was to be the crown of his labours.5

Wicliffe was now getting old, but the Reformer was worn out rather by the harassing attacks of his foes, and his incessant and ever-growing labors, than with the weight of years, for he was not yet sixty. He fell sick. With unbounded joy the friars heard that their great enemy was dying. Of course he was overwhelmed with horror and remorse for the evil he had done them, and they would hasten to his bedside and receive the expression of his penitence and sorrow. In a trice a little crowd of shaven crowns assembled round the couch of the sick man—delegates from the four orders of friars. “They began fair,” wishing him “health and restoration from his, distemper;” but speedily changing their tone, they exhorted him, as one on the brink of the grave, to make full confession, and express his unfeigned grief for the injuries he had inflicted on their order. Wicliffe lay silent till they should have made an end, then, making his servant raise him a little on his pillow, and fixing his keen eyes upon them, he said with a loud voice, “I shall not die, but live and declare the evil deeds of the friars.” The monks rushed in astonishment and confusion from the chamber.6 As Wicliffe had foretold so it came to pass. His sickness left him, and he rose from his bed to do the most daring of his impieties as his enemies accounted it, the most glorious of his services as the friends of humanity will ever esteem it. The work of which so very different estimates have been formed, was that of giving the Bible to the people of England in their own tongue. True, there were already copies of the Word of God in England, but they were in a language the commonalty did not understand, and so the revelation of God to man was as completely hidden from the people as if God had never spoken.

To this ignorance of the will of God, Wicliffe traced the manifold evils that afflicted the kingdom. “I will fill England with light,” he might have said, “and the ghostly terrors inspired by the priests, and the bondage in which they keep the people through their superstitious fears, will flee away as do the phantoms of the night when the sun rises. I will re-open the appointed channel of holy influence between earth and the skies, and the face of the world will be renewed.” It was a sublime thought.

Till the seventh century we meet with no attempt to give the Bible to the people of England in their mother-tongue. Caedmon, an Anglo-Saxon monk, was the first to give the English people a taste of what the Bible contained. We cannot call his performance a translation. Caedmon appears to have possessed a poetic genius, and deeming the opening incidents of inspired history well fitted for the drama, he wove them into a poem, which, beginning with the Creation, ran on through the scenes of patriarchal times, the miracles of the Exodus, the journey through the desert, till it terminated at the gates of Palestine and the entrance of the tribes into the Promised Land. Such a book was not of much account as an instruction in the will of God and the way of Life. Others followed with attempts at paraphrasing rather than translating portions of the Word of God, among whom were Alfric and Alfred the Great. The former epitomized several of the books of the Old Testament; the latter in the ninth century summoned a body of learned men to translate the Scriptures, but scarcely was the task begun when the great prince died, and the work was stopped.

The attempt of Bede in the eighth century deserves our notice. He is said to have translated into the Anglo-Saxon tongue the Gospel of John. He was seized with a fatal illness after beginning, but he vehemently longed to finish before breathing forth his spirit. He toiled at his task day by day, although the malady continued, and his strength sank lower and lower. His life and his work were destined to end together. At length the morning of that day dawned which the venerable man felt would be his last on earth.

There remained yet one chapter to be translated. He summoned the amanuensis to his bed-side. “Take your pen,” said Bede, who felt that every minute was precious—“quick, take your pen and write.” The amanuensis read verse by verse from the Vulgate, which, rendered into Anglo-Saxon by Bede, was taken down by the swift pen of the writer. As they pursued their joint labor, they were interrupted by the entrance of some officials, who came to make arrangements to which the assent of the dying man was required. This over, the loving scribe was again at his task. “Dear master,” said he, “there is yet one verse.” “Be quick,” said Bede. It was read in Latin, repeated in Anglo-Saxon, and put down in writing. “It is finished,” said the amanuensis in a tone of exultation. “Thou hast truly said it is finished,” responded in soft and grateful accents the dying man. Then gently raising his hands he said, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost,” and expired.7

From the reign of Alfred in the ninth century till the age of Wicliffe there was no attempt if we except that; of Richard Roll, Hermit of Hampole, in the same century with Wicliffe—to give a literal translation of any portion of the Bible.8 And even if the versions of which we have spoken had been worthier and more complete, they did not serve the end their authors sought. They were rarely brought beyond the precincts of the cell, or they were locked up as curiosities in the library of some nobleman at whose expense copies had been made. They did not come into the hands of the people.

Wicliffe’s idea was to give the whole Bible in the vernacular to the people of England, so that every man in the realm might read in the tongue wherein he was born the wonderful works of God. No one in England had thought of such a thing before. As one who turns away from the sun to guide his steps by the light of a taper, so did the men of those days turn to tradition, to the scholastic philosophy, to Papal infallibility; but the more they followed these guides, the farther they strayed from the true path. God was in the world; the Divine Light was in the pavilion of the Word, but no one thought of drawing aside the curtain and letting that light shine upon the path of men. This was the achievement Wicliffe now set himself to do. If he could accomplish this he would do more to place the liberties of England on an immutable foundation, and to raise his country to greatness, than would a hundred brilliant victories.

He had not, however, many years in which to do his great work. There remained only the portion of a decade of broken health. But his intellectual rigor was unimpaired, his experience and graces were at their ripest. What had the whole of his past life been but a preparation for what was to be the glorious task of his evening? He was a good Latin scholar. He set himself down in his quiet Rectory of Lutterworth. He opened the Vulgate Scriptures, that book which all his life he had studied, and portions of which he had already translated. The world around him was shaken with convulsions; two Popes were hurling their anathemas at one another. Wicliffe pursued his sublime work undisturbed by the roar of the tempest.

Day by day he did his self-appointed task. As verse after verse was rendered into the English tongue, the Reformer had the consolation of thinking that another ray had been shot into the darkness which brooded over his native land, that another bolt had been forged to rend the shackles which bound the souls of his countrymen. In four years from beginning his task, the Reformer had completed it. The message of Heaven was now in the speech of England. The dawn of the Reformation had fairly broken. Wicliffe had assistance in his great work. The whole of the New Testament was translated by himself; but Dr. Nicholas de Hereford, of Oxford, is supposed to have been the translator of the Old Testament, which, however, was partly revised by Wicliffe. This version is remarkably truthful and spirited. The antique Saxon gives a dramatic air to some passages.9 Wicliffe’s version of the Bible rendered other services than the religious one, though that was pre-eminent and paramount. It powerfully contributed to form the English tongue, in the way of perfecting its structure and enlarging its vocabulary. The sublimity and purity of the doctrines reacted on the language into which they were rendered, communicating to it a simplicity, a beauty, a pathos, a precision, and a force unknown to it till then. Wicliffe has been called the Father of English Prose, as Chaucer is styled the Father of English Poetry. No man in his day wrote so much as Wicliffe. Writing for the common people, he studied to be simple and clear. He was in earnest, and the enthusiasm of his soul supplied him with direct and forcible terms. He wrote on the highest themes, and his style partook of the elevation of his subject; it is graphic and trenchant, and entirely free from those conceits and puerilities which disfigure the productions of all the other writers of his day. But his version of the Bible surpasses all his other compositions in tenderness, and grace, and dignity.10 Lechler has well said on this point: “If we compare, however, Wicliffe’s Bible, not with his own English writings, but with the other English literature before and after him, a still more important consideration suggests itself. Wicliffe’s translation marks in its own way quite as great an epoch in the development of the English language, as Luther’s translation does in the history of the German language. Luther’s Bible opened the period of the new high German, Wicliffe’s Bible stands at the top of the medieval English. It is true, Geoffrey Chaucer, the Father of English Poetry, and not Wicliffe, is generally considered as the pioneer of medieval English literature. But with much more reason have later philologists assigned that rank to the prose of Wicliffe’s Bible. Chaucer has certainly some rare traits—liveliness of description, charming grace of expression, genuine English humor, and masterly power of language—but such qualities address themselves more to men of culture. They are not adapted to be a form of speech for the mass of the people. That which is to propagate a new language must be something on which the weal and woe of mankind depend, which therefore irresistibly seizes upon all, the highest as well as the lowest, and, as Luther says, ‘fills the heart.’ It must be a moral, religious truth, which, grasped with a new inspiration, finds acceptance and diffusion in a new form of speech. As Luther opened up in Germany a higher development of the Teutonic language, so Wicliffe and his school have become through his Bible the founders of the medieval English, in which last lie the fundamental features of the new English since the sixteenth century.”11

The Reformer had done his great work (1382). What an epoch in the history of England! What mattered it when a dungeon or a grave might close over him? He had kindled a light which could never be put out. He had placed in the hands of his countrymen their true Magna Charta. That which the barons at Runnymede had wrested from King John would have been turned to but little account had not this mightier charter come after. Wicliffe could now see the Saxon people, guided by this pillar of fire, marching steadily onward to liberty. It might take one or it might take five centuries to consummate their emancipation; but, with the Bible in their mother-tongue, no power on earth could retain them in thraldom. The doors of the house of their bondage had been flung open.

When the work of translating was ended, the nearly as difficult work of publishing began. In those days there was no printing-press to multiply copies by the thousand as in our times, and no publishing firm to circulate these thousands over the kingdom. The author himself had to see to all this. The methods of publishing a book in that age were various. The more common way was to place a copy in the hall of some convent or in the library of some college, where all might come and read, and, if the book pleased, order a copy to be made for their own use; much as, at this day, an artist displays his picture in a hall or gallery, where its merits find admirers and often purchasers. Others set up pulpits at cross-ways, and places of public resort, and read portions of their work in the hearing of the audiences that gathered round them, and those who liked what they heard bought copies for themselves. But Wicliffe did not need to have recourse to any of these expedients. The interest taken in the man and in his work enlisted a hundred expert hands, who, though they toiled to multiply copies, could scarcely supply the many who were eager to buy. Some ordered complete copies to be made for them; others were content with portions; the same copy served several families in many instances, and in a very short time Wicliffe’s English Bible had obtained a wide circulation,12 and brought a new life into many an English home.

As when the day opens on some weary traveler who, all night long, has been groping his way amid thickets and quagmires, so was it with those of the English people who read the Word of Life now presented to them in their mother-tongue. As they were toiling amid the fatal pitfalls of superstition, or were held fast in the thorny thickets of a skeptical scholasticism, suddenly this great light broke upon them. They rejoiced with an exceeding great joy. They now saw the open path to the Divine Mercy-seat; and putting aside the many mediators whom Rome had commissioned to conduct them to it, but who in reality had hidden it from them, they entered boldly by the one Mediator, and stood in the presence of Him who sitteth upon the Throne.

The hierarchy, when they learned what Wicliffe had done, were struck with consternation. They had comforted themselves with the thought that the movement would die with Wicliffe, and that he had but a few years to live. They now saw that another instrumentality, mightier than even Wicliffe, had entered the field; that another preacher was destined to take his place, when the Reformer’s voice should be silent. This preacher they could not bind to a stake and burn. With silent foot he was already traversing the length and breadth of England. When head of princely abbot and lordly prelate reposed on pillow, this preacher, who “did not know sleep with his eye day nor night,” was executing his mission, entering the homes and winning the hearts of the people. They raised a great cry. Wicliffe had attacked the Church; he wished to destroy religion itself. This raised the question of the right of the people to read the Bible. The question was new in England, for the plain reason that till now there had been no Bible to read. And for the same reason there was no law prohibiting the use of the Bible by the people, it being deemed both useless and imprudent to enact a law against an offense it was then impossible to commit. The Romaunt version, the venacular of the south of Europe in the Middle Ages, had been in existence for two centuries, and the Church of Rome had forbidden its use. The English was the first of the modern tongues into which the Word of God was translated, and though this version was to fall under the ban of the Church,13 as the Romaunt had done before it, the hierarchy, taken unawares, were not yet ready with their fulmination, and meanwhile the Word of God spread mightily. The Waters of Life were flowing through the land, and spots of verdure were beginning to beautify the desert of England.

But if not a legal, a moral interdict was instantly promulgated against the reading of the Bible by the people. Henry de Knighton, Canon of Leicester, uttered a mingled wail of sorrow and denunciation. “Christ,” said he, “delivered His Gospel to the clergy and doctors of the Church, that they might administer to the laity and to weaker persons, according to the state of the times and the wants of men. But this Master John Wicliffe translated it out of Latin into English, and thus laid it more open to the laity, and to women who could read, than it had formerly been to the most learned of the clergy, even to those of them who had the best understanding. And in this way the Gospel pearl is cast abroad, and trodden under foot of swine, and that which was before precious to both clergy and laity is rendered, as it were, common jest to both.”14

In short, a great clamor was raised against the Reformer by the priests and their followers, unhappily the bulk of the nation. He was a heretic, a sacreligious man; he had committed a crime unknown to former ages; he had broken into the temple and stolen the sacred vessels; he had fired the House of God. Such were the terms in which the man was spoken of, who had given to his country the greatest boon England ever received. Wicliffe had to fight the battle alone. No peer or great man stood by his side. It would seem as if there must come, in the career of all great reformers—and Wicliffe stands in the first rank—a moment when, forsaken of all, and painfully sensible of their isolation, they must display the perfection and sublimity of faith by leaning only on One, even God.

Such a moment had come to the Reformer of the fourteenth century. Wicliffe stood alone in the storm. But he was tranquil; he looked his raging foes calmly in the face. He retorted on them the charges they had hurled against himself. You say, said he, that “it is heresy to speak of the Holy Scriptures in English.” You call me a heretic because I have translated the Bible into the common tongue of the people. Do you know whom you blaspheme? Did not the Holy Ghost give the Word of God at first in the mother-tongue of the nations to whom it was addessed? Why do you speak against the Holy Ghost? You say that the Church of God is in danger from this book. How can that be? Is it not from the Bible only that we learn that God has set up such a society as a Church on the earth? Is it not the Bible that gives all her authority to the Church? Is it not from the Bible that we learn who is the Builder and Sovereign of the Church, what are the laws by which she is to be governed, and the rights and privileges of her members? Without the Bible, what charter has the Church to show for all these? It is you who place the Church in jeopardy by hiding the Divine warrant, the missive royal of her King, for the authority she wields and the faith she enjoins.15

The circulation of the Scriptures had arrayed the Protestant movement in the panoply of light. Wielding the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, it was marching on, leaving behind it, as the monuments of its prowess, in many an English homestead, eyes once blind now opened; hearts lately depraved now purified. Majestic as the morning when, descending from the skies, she walks in steps of silent glory over the earth, so was the progress of the Book of God. There was a track of light wherever it had passed in the crowded city, in the lofty baronial hall, in the peasant’s humble cot. Though Wicliffe had lived a thousand years, and occupied himself during all of them in preaching, he could not have hoped for the good which he now saw in course of being accomplished by the silent action of the English Bible.

Chapter 2.11: Wicliffe And Transubstantiation

Wicliffe Old – Continues the War – Attacks Transubstantiation – History of the Dogma – Wicliffe’s Doctrine on the Eucharist – Condemned by the University Court – Wicliffe Appeals to the King and Parliament, and Retires to Lutterworth – The Insurrection of Wat Tyler – The Primate Sudbury Beheaded – Courtenay elected Primate – He cites Wicliffe before him – The Synod at Blackfriars – An Earthquake – The Primate reassures the Terrified Bishops – Wicliffe’s Doctrine on the Eucharist Condemned – The Primate gains over the King – The First Persecuting Edict – Wicliffe’s Friends fall away.

DID the Reformer now rest? He was old and sickly, and needed repose. His day had been a stormy one; sweet it were at its even-tide to taste a little quiet. But no. He panted, if it were possible and if God were willing, to see his country’s emancipation completed, and England a reformed land, before closing his eyes and descending into his grave. It was, he felt, a day of visitation. That day had come first of all to England. Oh that she were wise, and that in this her day she knew the things that belonged to her peace! If not, she might have to buy with many tears and much blood, through years, and it might be centuries, of conflict, what seemed now so nearly within her reach. Wicliffe resolved, therefore, that there should be no pause in the war. He had just ended one battle, he now girded himself for another. He turned to attack the doctrinal system of the Church of Rome.

He had come ere this to be of opinion that the system of Rome’s doctrines, and the ceremonies of her worship, were anti-Christian—

a “new religion, founded of sinful men,” and opposed to “the rule of Jesus Christ given by Him to His apostles;”

but in beginning this new battle he selected one particular dogma, as the object of attack. That dogma was Transubstantiation. It is here that the superstition of Rome culminates: it is in this more than in any other dogma that we find the sources of her prodigious authority, and the springs of her vast influence. In making his blow to fall here, Wicliffe knew that the stroke would have ten-fold more effect than if directed against a less vital part of the system. If he could abolish the sacrifice of the priest, he would bring back the sacrifice of Christ, which alone is the Gospel, because through it is the “remission of sins,” and the “life everlasting.”

Transubstantiation, as we have already shown, was invented by the monk Paschasius Radbertus in the ninth century; it came into England in the train of William the Conqueror and his Anglo-Norman priests; it was zealously preached by Lanfranc, a Benedictine monk and Abbot of St. Stephen of Caen in Normandy,1 who was raised to the See of Canterbury under William; and from the time of Lanfranc to the days of Wicliffe this teller was received by the Anglo-Norman clergy of England.2 It was hardly to be expected that they would very narrowly or critically examine the foundations of a doctrine which contributed so greatly to their power; and as regards the laity of those days, it was enough for them if they had the word of the Church that this doctrine was true.

In the spring of 1381, Wicliffe posted up at Oxford twelve propositions denying the dogma of transubstantiation, and challenging all of the contrary opinion to debate the matter with him.3 The first of these propositions was as follows:

The consecrated Host, which we see upon the altar, is neither Christ nor any part of Him, but an efficacious sign of Him.

He admitted that the words of consecration invest the elements with a mysterious and venerable character, but that they do in nowise change their substance. The bread and wine are as really bread and wine after as before their consecration. Christ, he goes on to reason, called the elements “bread” and “My body;” they were “bread” and they were Christ’s “body,” as He Himself is very man and very God, without any commingling of the two natures; so the elements are “bread” and “Christ’s body”—“bread” really, and “Christ’s body” figuratively and spiritually. Such, in brief, is what Wicliffe avowed as his opinion on the Eucharist at the commencement of the controversy, and on this ground he continued to stand all throughout it.4

Great was the commotion at Oxford. There were astonished looks, there was a buzz of talk, heads were laid close together in earnest and subdued conversation; but no one accepted the challenge of Wicliffe. All shouted heresy; on that point there was a clear unanimity of opinion, but no one ventured to prove it to the only man in Oxford who needed to have it proved to him. The chancellor of the university, William de Barton, summoned a council of twelve—four secular doctors and eight monks. The council unanimously condemned Wicliffe’s opinion as heretical, and threatened divers heavy penalties against any one who should teach it in the university, or listen to the teaching of it.5

The council, summoned in haste, met, it would seem, in comparative secrecy, for Wicliffe knew nothing of what was going on. He was in his classroom, expounding to his students the true nature of the Eucharist, when the door opened, and a delegate from the council made his appearance in the hall. He held in his hand the sentence of the doctors, which he proceeded to read. It enjoined silence on Wicliffe as regarded his opinions on transubstantiation, under pain of imprisonment, suspension from all scholastic functions, and the greater excommunication. This was tantamount to his expulsion from the university. “But,” interposed Wicliffe, “you ought first to have shown me that I am in error.” The only response was to be reminded of the sentence of the court, to which, he was told, he must submit himself, or take the penalty. “Then,” said Wicliffe, “I appeal to the king and the Parliament.”6

But some time was to elapse before Parliament should meet; and meanwhile the Reformer, watched and lettered in his chair, thought best to withdraw to Lutterworth. The jurisdiction of the chancellor of the university could not follow him to his parish. He passed a few quiet months ministering the “true bread” to his loving flock; being all the more anxious, since he could no longer make his voice heard at Oxford, to diffuse through his pulpit and by his pen those blessed truths which he had drawn from the fountains of Revelation. He needed, moreover, this heavenly bread for his own support. “Come aside with Me and rest awhile,” was the language of this Providence. In communion with his Master he would efface the pain of past conflicts, and arm himself for new ones. His way hitherto had been far from smooth, but what remained of it was likely to be even rougher. This, however, should be as God willed; one thing he knew, and oh, how transporting the thought!—that he should find a quiet home at the end of it.

New and unexpected clouds now gathered in the sky. Before Wicliffe could prosecute his appeal in Parliament, an insurrection broke out in England. The causes and the issues of that insurrection do not here concern us, farther than as they bore on the fate of the Reformer. Wat Tyler, and a priest of the name of John Ball, traversed England, rousing the passions of the populace with fiery harangues preached from the text they had written upon their banners:

When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?

These tumults were not confined to England, they extended to France and other Continental countries, and like the sudden yawning of a gulf, they show us the inner condition of society in the fourteenth century. How different from its surface!—the theater of wars and pageants, which alone the historian thinks it worth his while to paint. There was nothing in the teaching of Wicliffe to minister stimulus to such ebullitions of popular wrath, yet it suited his enemies to lay them at his door, and to say, “See what comes of permitting these strange and demoralizing doctrines to be taught.” It were a wholly superfluous task to vindicate Wicliffe or the Gospel on this score.

But in one way these events did connect themselves with the Reformer. The mob apprehended Sudbury the primate, and beheaded him.7 Courtenay, the bitter enemy of Wicliffe, was installed in the vacant see. And now we look for more decisive measures against him. Yet God, by what seemed an oversight at Rome, shielded the venerable Reformer. The bull appointing Courtenay to the primacy arrived, but the pall did not come with it. The pall, it is well known, is the most essential of all those badges and insignia by which the Pope conveys to bishops the authority to act under him. Courtenay was too obedient a son of the Pope knowingly to transgress one of the least of his father’s commandments. He burned with impatience to strike the head of heresy in England, but his scrupulous conscience would not permit him to proceed even against Wicliffe till the pall had given him full investiture with office.8 Hence the refreshing quiet and spiritual solace which the Reformer continued to enjoy at his country rectory. It was now that Wicliffe shot another bolt—the Wicket.

At last the pall arrived. The primate, in possession of the mysterious and potent symbol, could now exercise the full powers of his great office. He immediately convoked a synod to try the Rector of Lutterworth. The court met on the 17th of May, 1382, in a place of evil augury—when we take into account with whom Wicliffe’s life-battle had been waged—the Monastery of Blackfriars, London. The judges were assembled, including eight prelates, fourteen doctors of the canon and of the civil law, six bachelors of divinity, four monks, and fifteen Mendicant friars. They had taken their seats, and were proceeding to business, when an ominous sound filled the air, and the building in which they were assembled began to rock. The monastery and all the city of London were shaken by an earthquake.9

Startled and terrified, the members of the court, turning to the president, demanded an adjournment. It did seem as if “the stars in their courses” were fighting against the primate. On the first occasion on which he summoned Wicliffe before him, the populace forced their way into the hall, and the court broke up in confusion. The same thing happened over again on the second occasion on which Wicliffe came to his bar; a popular tempest broke over the court, and the judges were driven from the judgment-seat. A third time Wicliffe is summoned, and the court meets in a place where it was easier to take precautions against interference from the populace, when lo! the ground is suddenly rocked by an earthquake. But Courtenay had now got his pall from Rome, and was above these weak fears. So turning to his brother judges, he delivered to them a short homily on the earthly uses and mystic meanings of earthquakes, and bade them be of good courage and go on. “This earthquake,” said he, “portends the purging of the kingdom from heresies. For as there are shut up in the bowels of the earth many noxious spirits, which are expelled in an earthquake, and so the earth is cleansed, but not without great violence: so there are many heresies shut up in the hearts of reprobate men, but by the condemnation of them the kingdom is to be cleansed, but not without irksomeness and great commotion.”10 The court accepting, on the archbishop’s authority, the earthquake as a good omen, went on with the trial of Wicliffe.

An officer of the court read out twenty-six propositions selected from the writings of the Reformer. The court sat three days in “good deliberation” over them.11 It unanimously condemned ten of them as heretical, and the remainder as erroneous. Among those specially branded as heresies, were the propositions relating to transubstantiation, the temporal emoluments of the hierarchy, and the supremacy of the Pope, which last Wicliffe admitted might be deduced from the emperor, but certainly not from Christ. The sentence of the court was sent to the Bishop of London and all his brethren, the suffragans of the diocese of Canterbury, as also to the Bishop of Lincoln, Wicliffe’s diocesan, accompanied by the commands of Courtenay, as “Primate of all England,” that they should look to it that these pestiferous doctrines were not taught in their dioceses.12

Besides these two missives, a third was dispatched to the University of Oxford, which was, in the primate’s eyes, nothing better than a hot-bed of heresy. The chancellor, William de Barton, who presided over the court that condemned Wicliffe the year before, was dead, and his office was now filled by Robert Rigge, who was friendly to the Reformer. Among the professors and students were many who had imbibed the sentiments of Wicliffe, and needed to be warned against the “venomous serpent,” to whose seductions they had already began to listen. When the primate saw that his counsel did not find the ready ear which he thought it entitled to from that learned body, but that, on the contrary, they continued to toy with the danger, he resolved to save them in spite of themselves. He carried his complaint to the young king, Richard II. “If we permit this heretic,” said he, “to appeal continually to the passions of the people, our destruction is inevitable; we must silence these lollards.”13 The king was gained over. He gave authority “to confine in the prisons of the State any who should maintain the condemned propositions.”14

The Reformation was advancing, but it appeared at this moment as if the Reformer was on the eve of being crushed. He had many friends—every day was adding to their number—but they lacked courage, and remained in the background. His lectures at Oxford had planted the Gospel in the schools, the Bible which he had translated was planting it in the homes of England. But if the disciples of the Reformation multiplied, so too did the foes of the Reformer. The hierarchy had all along withstood and persecuted him, now the mailed hand of the king was raised to strike him. When this was seen, all his friends fell away from him. John of Gaunt had deserted him at an earlier stage. This prince stood stoutly by Wicliffe so long as the Reformer occupied himself in simply repelling encroachments of the hierarchy upon the prerogatives of the crown and independence of the nation. That was a branch of the controversy the duke could understand. But when it passed into the doctrinal sphere, when the bold Reformer, not content with cropping off a few excrescences, began to lay the axe to the root—to deny the Sacrament and abolish the altar—the valiant prince was alarmed; he felt that he had stepped on ground which he did not know, and that he was in danger of being drawn into a bottomless pit of heresy. John of Gaunt, therefore, made all haste to draw off. But others too, of whom better things might have been expected, quailed before the gathering storm, and stood aloof from the Reformer. Dr. Nicholas Hereford, who had aided him in translating the Old Testament, and John Ashton, the most eloquent of those preachers whom Wicliffe had sent forth to traverse England, consulted their own safety rather than the defense of their leader, and the honor of the cause they had espoused.15 This conduct doubtless grieved, but did not dismay Wicliffe. Not an iota of heart or hope did he abate therefore. Nay, he chose this moment to make a forward movement, and to aim more terrible blows at the Papacy than any he had yet dealt it.

Chapter 2.12: Wicliffe’s Appeal To Parliament

Parliament meets – Wicliffe appears, and demands a Sweeping Reform – His Propositions touching the Monastic Orders – The Church’s Temporalities – Transubstantiation – His growing Boldness – His Views find an echo in Parliament – The Persecuting Edict Repealed.

THE Parliament met on the 19th November, 1382 1 . Wicliffe could now prosecute his appeal to the king against the sentence of the university court, condemning his twelve propositions. But the prelates had been beforehand with him. They had inveigled the sovereign into lending them the sword of the State to wield at will against Wicliffe, and against all who should doubt the tremendous mystery of transubstantiation. Well, they might burn him tomorrow, but he lived today, and the doors of Parliament stood open. Wicliffe made haste to enter with his appeal and complaint. The hierarchy had secretly accused him to the king, he openly arraigns them before the Estates of the Realm.

The complaint presented by Wicliffe touched on four heads, and on each it demanded a very sweeping measure of reform. The first grievance to be abated or abolished was the monastic orders. The Reformer demanded that they should be released from the unnatural and immoral vow which made them the scandal of the Church, and the pests of society. “Since Jesus Christ shed His blood to free His Church,” said Wicliffe, “I demand its freedom. I demand that every one may leave these gloomy walls [the convents] within which a tyrannical law prevails, and embrace a simple and peaceful life under the open vault of heaven.”

The second part of the complaint had reference to the temporalities of the Church. The corruption and inefficiency of the clergy, Wicliffe traced largely to their enormous wealth. That the clergy themselves would surrender these overgrown revenues he did not expect; he called, therefore, for the interference of the State, holding, despite the opposite doctrine promulgated by the priests, that both the property and persons of the priesthood were under the jurisdiction of the king. “Magistracy,” he affirms, is “God’s ordinance;” and he remarks that the Apostle Paul, “who putteth all men in subjection to kings, taketh out never a one.” And analogous to this was the third part of the paper, which related to tithes and offerings. Let these, said Wicliffe, be remodeled. Let tithes and offerings be on a scale which shall be amply sufficient for the support of the recipients in the discharge of their sacred duties, but not such as to minister to their luxury and pride; and if a priest shall be found to be indolent or vicious, let neither tithe nor offering be given him. “I demand,” he said, “that the poor inhabitants of our towns and villages be not constrained to furnish a worldly priest, often a vicious man and a heretic, with the means of satisfying his ostentation, his gluttony and his licentiousness—of buying a showy horse, costly saddles, bridles with tinkling bells, rich garments and soft furs, while they see the wives and children of their neighbors dying of hunger.”2

The last part of the paper went deeper. It touched on doctrine, and on that doctrine which occupies a central place in the Romish system—transubstantiation. His own views on the dogma he did not particularly define in this appeal to Parliament, though he did so a little while after before the Convocation; he contented himself with craving liberty to have the true doctrine of the Eucharist, as given by Christ and His apostles, taught throughout England. In his Trialogus, which was composed about this time, he takes a luminous view of the dogma of transubstantiation. Its effects, he believed, were peculiarly mischievous and far-extending. Not only was it an error, it was an error which enfeebled the understanding of the man who embraced it, and shook his confidence in the testimony of his senses, and so prepared the way for any absurdity or error, however much in opposition to reason or even to sense. The doctrine of the “real presence,” understood in a corporeal sense, he declares to be the offspring of Satan, whom he pictures as reasoning thus while inventing it: “Should I once so far beguile the faithful of the Church, by the aid of Antichrist my vicegerent, as to persuade them to deny that this Sacrament is bread, and to induce them to regard it as merely an accident, there will be nothing then which I will not bring them to receive, since there can be nothing more opposite to the Scriptures, or to common discernment. Let the life of a prelate be then what it may, let him be guilty of luxury, simony, or murder, the people may be led to believe that he is really no such man—nay, they may then be persuaded to admit that the Pope is infallible, at least with respect to matters of Christian faith; and that, inasmuch as he is known by the name Most Holy Father, he is of course free from sin.”3 “It thus appears,” says Dr. Vaughan, commenting on the above,

that the object of Wicliffe was to restore the mind of man to the legitimate guidance of reason and of the senses, in the study of Holy Writ, and in judging of every Christian institute; and that if the doctrine of transubstantiation proved peculiarly obnoxious to him, it was because that dogma was seen as in the most direct opposition to this generous design. To him it appeared that while the authority of the Church was so far submitted to as to involve the adoption of this monstrous tenet, no limit could possibly be assigned to the schemes of clerical imposture and oppression.

The enemies of the Reformer must have been confounded by this bold attack. They had persuaded themselves that the hour was come when Wicliffe must yield. Hereford, Repingdon, Ashton—all his friends, one after the other, had reconciled themselves to the hierarchy. The priests waited to see Wicliffe come forward, last of all, and bow his majestic head, and then they would lead him about in chains as a trophy of their victory, and a proof of the complete suppression of the movement of Reform. He comes forward, but not to retract, not even to apologize, but with heart which grows only the stouter as his years increase and his enemies multiply, to reiterate his charges and again to proclaim in the face of the whole nation the corruption, tyranny, and errors of the hierarchy. His sentiments found an echo in the Commons, and Parliament repealed the persecuting edict which the priests and the king had surreptitiously passed. Thus the gain remained with Wicliffe

Chapter 2.13: Wicliffe Before Convocation In Person, And Before The Roman Curia By Letter

Convocation at Oxford – Wicliffe cited – Arraigned on the Question of Transubstantiation – Wicliffe Maintains and Reiterates the Teaching of his whole Life – He Arraigns his Judges – They are Dismayed – Wicliffe Retires Unmolested – Returns to Lutterworth – Cited by Urban VI. to Rome – Unable to go – Sends a Letter – A Faithful Admonition – Scene in the Vatican – Christ’s and Antichrist’s Portraits.

BAFFLED before the Parliament, the primate turned to Convocation. Here he could more easily reckon on a subservient court. Courtenay had taken care to assemble, a goodly number of clergy to give eclat to the trial, and to be the spectators, as he fondly hoped, of the victory that awaited him.

There were, besides the primate, six bishops, many doctors in divinity, and a host of inferior clergy. The concourse was swelled by the dignitaries and youth of Oxford. The scene where the trial took place must have recalled many memories to Wicliffe which could not but deeply stir him. It was now forty years since he had entered Oxford as a scholar; these halls had witnessed the toils of his youth and the labors of his manhood. Here had the most brilliant of his achievements been performed; here had his name been mentioned with honor, and his renown as a man of erudition and genius formed not the least constituent in the glory of his university.

But this day Oxford opened her venerable gates to receive him in a new character. He came to be tried, perchance to be condemned; and, if his judges were able, to be delivered over to the civil power and punished as a heretic. The issue of the affair might be that that same Oxford which had borrowed a luster from his name would be lit up with the flames of his martyrdom.

The indictment turned specially upon transubstantiation. Did he affirm or deny that cardinal doctrine of the Church? The Reformer raised his venerable head in presence of the vast assembly; his eyes sought out Courtenay, the archbishop, on whom he fixed a steady and searching gaze, and proceeded. In this, his last address before any court, he retracts nothing; he modifies nothing; he reiterates and confirms the whole teaching of his life on the question of the Eucharist. His address abounded in distinctions after the manner of that scholastic age, but it extorted praise for its unrivaled acuteness even from those who dissented from it.

Throughout it Wicliffe unmistakably condemns the tenet of transubstantiation, affirming that the bread still continues bread, that there is no fleshly presence of Christ in the Sacrament, nor other presence save a sacramental and spiritual one.1

Wicliffe had defended himself with a rare acuteness, and with a courage yet more rare. But acquittal he will neither crave nor accept from such a court. In one of those transformations which it is given to only majestic moral natures to effect, he mounts the judgment-seat and places his judges at the bar. Smitten in their consciences, they sat chained to their seats, deprived of the power to rise and go away, although the words of the bold Reformer must have gone like burning arrows to their heart. “They were the heretics,” he said, “who affirmed that the Sacrament was an accident without a subject. Why did they propagate such errors? Why, because, like the priests of Baal, they wanted to vend their masses. With whom, think you,” he asked in closing, “are ye contending? with an old man on the brink of the grave? No! with Truth—Truth which is stronger than you, and will overcome you.”2 With these words he turned to leave the court. His enemies had not power to stop him. “Like his Divine Master at Nazareth,” says d’Aubigne, “he passed through the midst of them.”3 Leaving Oxford, he retired to his cure at Lutterworth.

Wicliffe must bear testimony at Rome also. It was Pope Urban, not knowing what he did, who arranged that the voice of this great witness, before becoming finally silent, should be heard speaking from the Seven Hills. One day about this time, as he was toiling with his pen in his quiet rectory—for his activity increased as his infirmities multiplied, and the night drew on in which he could not work—he received a summons from the Pontiff to repair to Rome, and answer for his heresy before the Papal See. Had he gone thither he certainly would never have returned. But that was not the consideration that weighed with Wicliffe. The hand of God had laid an arrest upon him. He had had a shock of palsy, and, had he attempted a journey so toilsome, would have died on the way long before he could have reached the gates of the Pontifical city. But though he could not go to Rome in person, he could go by letter, and thus the ends of Providence, if not the ends of Urban, would be equally served. The Pontiff and his conclave and, in short, all Christendom were to have another warning—another call to repentance—addressed to them before the Reformer should descend into the tomb.

John Wicliffe sat down in his rectory to speak, across intervening mountains and seas, to Urban of Rome. Than the epistle of the Rector of Lutterworth to the Pontiff of Christendom nothing can be imagined keener in its satire, yet nothing could have been more Christian and faithful in its spirit. Assuming Urban to be what Urban held himself to be, Wicliffe went on to say that there was no one before whom he could so joyfully appear as before Christ’s Vicar, for by no one could he expect Christ’s law to be more revered, or Christ’s Gospel more loved. At no tribunal could he expect greater equity than that before which he now stood, and therefore if he had strayed from the Gospel, he was sure here to have his error proved to him, and the path of truth pointed out. The Vicar of Christ, he quietly assumes, does not affect the greatness of this world; oh, no; he leaves its pomps and vanities to worldly men, and contenting himself with the lowly estate of Him who while on earth had not where to lay His head, he seeks no glory save the glory of resembling his Master. The “worldly lordship” he is compelled to bear is, he is sure, an unwelcome burden, of which he is fain to be rid. The Holy Father ceases not, doubtless, to exhort all his priests throughout Christendom to follow herein his own example, and to feed with the Bread of Life the flocks committed to their care. The Reformer closes by reiterating his willingness, if in aught he had erred, “to be meekly amended, if needs be, by death.”4

We can easily imagine the scowling faces amid which this letter was opened and read in the Vatican. Had Wicliffe indulged in vituperative terms, those to whom this epistle was addressed would have felt only assailed; as it was, they were arraigned, they felt themselves standing at the bar of the Reformer. With severe and truthful hand Wicliffe draws the portrait of Him whose servants Urban and his cardinals professed to be, and holding it up full in their sight, he asks, “Is this your likeness? Is this the poverty in which you live? Is this the humility you cultivate?” With the monuments of their pride on every hand—their palaces, their estates, their gay robes, their magnificent equipages, their luxurious tables—their tyranny the scourge and their lives the scandal of Christendom—they dared not say, “This is our likeness.” Thus were they condemned: but it was Christ who had condemned them. This was all that Urban had gained by summoning Wicliffe before him. He had but erected a pulpit on the Seven Hills, from the lofty elevation of which the English Reformer was able to proclaim, in the hearing of all the nations of Europe, that Rome was the Antichrist.

Chapter 2.14: Wicliffe’s Last Days

Anticipation of a Violent Death – Wonderfully Shielded by Events – Struck with Palsy – Dies December 31st, 1384 – Estimate of his Position and Work – Completeness of his Scheme of Reform – The Father of the Reformation – The Founder of England’s Liberties.

WHEN Wicliffe had indited and dispatched this letter, he had “finished his testimony.” It now remained only that he should rest a little while on earth, and then go up to his everlasting rest. He himself expected that his death would be by violence—that the chariot which should carry him to the skies would be a “chariot of fire.” The primate, the king, the Pope, all were working to compass his destruction; he saw the iron circle contracting day by day around him; a few months, or a few years, and it would close and crush him. That a man who defied the whole hierarchy, and who never gave way by so much as a foot-breadth, but was always pressing on in the battle, should die at last, not in a dungeon or at a stake, but in his own bed, was truly a marvel. He stood alone; he did not consult for his safety. But his very courage, in the hand of God, was his shield; for while meaner men were apprehended and compelled to recant, Wicliffe, who would burn but not recant, was left at liberty. “He that loveth his life shall lose it.” The political troubles of England, the rivalry of the two Popes, one event after another came to protect the life and prolong the labors of the Reformer, till his work attained at last a unity, a completeness, and a grandeur, which the more we contemplate it appears the more admirable. That it was the fixed purpose of his enemies to destroy him cannot be doubted; they thought they saw the opportune moment coming. But while they waited for it, and thought that now it was near, Wicliffe had departed, and was gone whither they could not follow.

On the last Sunday of the year 1384, he was to have dispensed the Eucharist to his beloved flock in the parish church of Lutterworth; and as he was in the act of consecrating the bread and wine, he was struck with palsy, and fell on the pavement. This was the third attack of the malady. He was affectionately borne to the rectory, laid on his bed, and died on the 31st of December, his life and the year closing together. How fitting a conclusion to his noble life! None of its years, scarcely any of its days, were passed unprofitably on the bed of sickness. The moment his great work was finished, that moment the Voice spake to him which said, “Come up hither.” As he stood before the earthly symbols of his Lord’s passion, a cloud suddenly descended upon him; and when its darkness had passed, and the light had returned, serener and more bright than ever was dawn or noon of earthly day, it was no memorial or symbol that he saw; it was his Lord Himself, in the august splendor of His glorified humanity. Blessed transition! The earthly sanctuary, whose gates he had that morning entered, became to him the vestibule of the Eternal Temple; and the Sabbath, whose services he had just commenced, became the dawn of a better Sabbath, to be closed by no evening with its shadows, and followed by no week-day with its toils.

If we can speak of one center where the light which is spreading over the earth, and which is destined one day to illuminate it all, originally arose, that center is England. And if to one man the honour of beginning that movement which is renewing the world can be ascribed beyond controversy, that man is John Wicliffe. He came out of the darkness of the Middle Ages—a sort of Melchisedek. He had no predecessor from whom he borrowed his plan of Church reform, and he had no successor in his office when he died; for it was not till more than 100 years that any other stood up in England to resume the work broken off by his death. Wicliffe stands apart, distinctly marked off from all the men in Christendom. Bursting suddenly upon a dark age, he stands before it in a light not borrowed from the schools, nor from the doctors of the Church, but from the Bible. He came preaching a scheme of re-institution and reformation so comprehensive, that no Reformer since has been able to add to it any one essential principle. On these solid grounds he is entitled to be regarded as the Father of the Reformation. With his rise the night of Christendom came to an end, and the day broke which has ever since continued to brighten. Wicliffe possessed that combination of opposite qualities which marks the great man. As subtle as any schoolman of them all, he was yet as practical as any Englishman of the nineteenth century. With intuitive insight he penetrated to the root of all the evils that afflicted England, and with rare practical sagacity he devised and set agoing the true remedies. The evil he saw was ignorance, the remedy with which he sought to cure it was light. He translated the Bible, and he organized a body of preachers—simple, pious, earnest men—who knew the Gospel, and were willing to preach it at crossroads and in market-places, in city and village and rural lane—everywhere, in short. Before he died he saw that his labors had been successful to a degree he had not dared to hope. “His doctrine spread,” said Knighton, his bitter enemy, “like suckers from the root of a tree.” Wicliffe himself reckoned that a third of the priests of England were of his sentiment on the question of the Eucharist; and among the common people his disciples were innumerable. “You could not meet two men on the highway,” said his enemies, “but one of them is a Wicliffite.”1

The political measures which Parliament adopted at Wicliffe’s advice, to guard the country against the usurpations of the Popes, show how deeply he saw into the constitution of the Papacy, as a political and worldly confederacy, wearing a spiritual guise only the better to conceal its true character and to gain its real object, which was to prey on the substance and devour the liberty of nations. Matters were rapidly tending to a sacerdotal autocracy. Christendom was growing into a kingdom of shorn and anointed men, with laymen as hewers of wood and drawers of water. Wicliffe said, “This shall not be;” and the best proof of his statesmanship is the fact that since his day all the other States of Europe, one after the other, have adopted the same measures of defense to which England had recourse in the fourteenth century. All of them, following in our wake, have passed laws to guard their throne, to regulate the appointment of bishops, to prevent the accumulation of property by religious houses, to restrict the introduction of bulls and briefs. They have done, in short, what we did, though to less advantage, because they did it later in the day. England foresaw the evil and took precautions in time; other countries suffered it to come, and began to protect themselves only after it had all but effected their undoing.

It was under Wicliffe that English liberty had its beginnings. It is not the political constitution which has come out of the Magna Charta of King John and the barons, but the moral constitution which came out of that Divine Magna Charta, that Wicliffe gave her in the fourteenth century, which has been the sheet-anchor of England. The English Bible wrote, not merely upon the page of the Statute Book, but upon the hearts of the people of England, the two great commandments: Fear God; honor the king. These two sum up the whole duty of nations, and on these two hangs the prosperity of States. There is no mysterious or latent virtue in our political constitution which, as some seem to think, like a. good genius protects us, and with invisible hand guides past our shores the tempests that cover other countries with the memorials of their devastating fury. The real secret of England’s greatness is her permeation, at the very dawn of her history, with the principles of order and liberty by means of the English Bible, and the capacity for freedom thereby created. This has permitted the development, by equal stages, of our love for freedom and our submission to law; of our political constitution and our national genius; of our power and our self-control—the two sets of qualities fitting into one another, and growing into a well-compacted fabric of political and moral power unexampled on earth. If nowhere else is seen a similar structure, so stable and so lofty, it is because nowhere else has a similar basis been found for it. It was Wicliffe who laid that basis.

But above all his other qualities—above his scholastic genius, his intuitive insight into the working of institutions, his statesmanship—was his fearless submission to the Bible. It was in this that the strength of Wicliffe’s wisdom lay. It was this that made him a Reformer, and that placed him in the first rank of Reformers. He held the Bible to contain a perfect revelation of the will of God, a full, plain, and infallible rule of both what man is to believe and what he is to do; and turning away from all other teachers, from the precedents of the thousand years which had gone before, from all the doctors and Councils of the Church, he placed himself before the Word of God, and bowed to God’s voice speaking in that Word, with the docility of a child.

And the authority to which he himself so implicitly bowed, he called on all men to submit to. His aim was to bring men back to the Bible. The Reformer restored to the Church, first of all, the principle of authority. There must be a Divine and infallible authority in the Church. That authority cannot be the Church herself, for the guide and those whom he guides cannot be the same. The Divine infallible authority which Wicliffe restored for the guidance of men was the Bible—God speaking in His Word. And by setting up this Divine authority he displaced that human and fallible authority which the corruption of the ages had imposed upon the Church. He turned the eyes of men from Popes and Councils to the inspired oracles of God.2

Wicliffe, by restoring authority to the Church, restored to her liberty also. While he taught that the Bible was a sufficient and all-perfect rule, he taught also that every man had a right to interpret the Word of God for his own guidance, in a dependence upon the promised aid of the Holy Spirit. Thus he taught men to cast off that blind submission to the teaching of mere human authority, which is bondage, and to submit their understandings and consciences to God speaking in His Word, which alone is liberty.

These are the two first necessities of the Church of God—authority and liberty; an infallible Guide, and freedom to follow Him. These two must ever go together, the one cannot exist without the other. Without authority there can be no liberty, for liberty without order becomes anarchy; and without freedom there can be no Divine authority, for if the Church is not at liberty to obey the will of her Master, authority is overthrown. In the room of the rule of God is put the usurpation of man. Authority and freedom, like the twins of classic story, must together flourish or together die.

Chapter 2.15: Wicliffe’s Theological And Church System

His Theology drawn from the Bible solely – His Teaching embraced the Following Doctrines: The Fall – Man’s Inability – Did not formulate his Views into a System – His “Postils” – His Views on Church Order and Government – Apostolic Arrangements his Model – His Personal Piety – Lechler’s Estimate of him as a Reformer.

STANDING before the Bible, Wicliffe forgot all the teaching of man. For centuries before his day the human mind had been busy in the field of theology. Systems had been invented and built up; the glosses of doctors, the edicts of Councils, and the bulls of Popes had been piled one above the other till the structure looked imposing indeed. Wicliffe dug down through it all till he came to the first foundations, to those even which the hands of prophets and apostles had laid. Hence the apostolic simplicity and purity of his doctrine.1 With all the early Fathers he gave prominence to the free grace of God in the matter of man’s salvation; in fact, he ascribed it entirely to grace. He taught man was fallen through Adam’s transgression; that he was utterly unable to do the will of God, or to merit Divine favor or forgiveness, by his own power. He taught the eternal Godhead of Christ—very God and very man; His substitution in the room of the guilty; His work of obedience; His sacrifice upon the cross, and the free justification of the sinner through faith in that sacrifice. “Here we must know,” says he, “the story of the old law… As a right looking on that adder of brass saved the people from the venom of serpents, so a right looking by full belief on Christ saveth His people. Christ died not for His own sins as thieves do for theirs, but as our Brother, who Himself might not sin, He died for the sins that others had done.”2

What Wicliffe did in the field of theology was not to compile a system, but to give a plain exposition of Scripture; to restore to the eyes of men, from whom they had long been hidden, those truths which are for the healing of their souls. He left it for those who should come after him to formulate the doctrines which he deduced from the inspired page. Traversing the field of revelation, he plucked its flowers all fresh as they grew, regaling himself and his flock therewith, but bestowing no pains on their classification. Of the sermons, or “postils,” of Wicliffe, some 300 remain. The most of these have now been given to the world through the press, and they enable us to estimate with accuracy the depth and comprehensiveness of the Reformer’s views. The men of the sixteenth century had not the materials for judging which we possess; and their estimate of Wicliffe as a theologian, we humbly think, did him no little injustice. Melanchthon, for instance, in a letter to Myconius, declared him to be ignorant of the “righteousness of faith.” This judgment is excusable in the circumstances in which it was formed; but it is not the less untrue, for the passages adduced above make it unquestionable that Wicliffe both knew and taught the doctrine of God’s grace, and of man’s free justification through faith in the righteousness of Christ.3

The early models of Church government and order Wicliffe also dug up from underneath the rubbish of thirteen centuries. He maintained that the Church was made up of the whole body of the faithful; he discarded the idea that the clergy alone are the Church; the laity, he held, are equally an essential part of it; nor ought there to be, he held, among its ministers, gradation of rank or official pre-eminence. The indolence, pride, and dissensions which reigned among the clergy of his day, he viewed as arising from violation of the law of the Gospel, which declares “it were better for the clerks to be all of one estate.” “From the faith of the Scriptures,” says he in his Trialogus, “it seems to me to be sufficient that there should be presbyters and deacons holding that state and office which Christ has imposed on them, since it appears certain that these degrees and orders have their origin in the pride of Caesar.” And again he observes, “I boldly assert one thing, namely, that in the primitive Church, or in the time of Paul, two orders of the clergy were sufficient—that is, a priest and a deacon. In like manner I affirm that in the time of Paul, the presbyter and bishop were names of the same office. This appears from the third chapter of the first Epistle to Timothy, and in the first chapter of the Epistle to Titus.”4

As regards the claims of the clergy alone to form the Church, and to wield ecclesiastical power, Wicliffe thus expresses himself: “When men speak of Holy Church, anon, they understand prelates and priests, with monks, and canons, and friars, and all men who have tonsures, though they live accursedly, and never so contrary to the law of God. But they call not the seculars men of Holy Church, though they live never so truly, according to God’s law, and die in perfect charity… Christian men, taught in God’s law, call Holy Church the congregation of just men, for whom Jesus Christ shed His blood, and not mere stones and timber and earthly dross, which the clerks of Antichrist magnify more than the righteousness of God, and the souls of men.”5 Before Wicliffe could form these opinions he had to forget the age in which he lived, and place himself in the midst of apostolic times; he had to emancipate himself from the prestige which a venerable antiquity gave to the institutions around him, and seek his model and principles in the Word of God. It was an act of stupendous obedience done in faith, but by that act he became the pioneer of the Reformation, and the father of all those, in any age or country, who confess that, in their efforts after Reformation, they seek a “City” which hath its “foundations” in the teachings of prophets and apostles, and whose “Builder and Maker” is the Spirit of God. “That whole circle of questions,” says Dr. Hanna, “concerning the canon of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, and the right of private interpretation of Scripture, with which the later controversies of the Reformation have made us so familiar, received their first treatment in this country at Wicliffe’s hands. In conducting this fundamental controversy, Wicliffe had to lay all the foundations with his own unaided hand. And it is no small praise to render to his work to say that it was even as he laid them, line for line, and stone for stone, that they were relaid by the master builders of the Reformation.”6

Of his personal piety there can be no doubt. There remain, it is true, scarce any memorials, written or traditional, of his private life; but his public history is an enduring monument of his personal Christianity. Such a life nothing could have sustained save a deep conviction of the truth, a firm trust in God, a love to the Savior, and an ardent desire for the salvation of men. His private character, we know, was singularly pure; none of the vices of the age had touched him; as a pastor he was loving and faithful, and as a patriot he was enlightened, incorruptible, and courageous. His friends fell away, but the Reformer never hesitated, never wavered. His views continued to grow, and his magnanimity and zeal grew with them. Had he sought fame, or wealth, or promotion, he could not but have seen that he had taken the wrong road: privation and continual sacrifice only could he expect in the path he had chosen. He acted on the maxim which he taught to others, that “if we look for an earthly reward our hope of eternal life perisheth.”

His sermons afford us a glimpse into his study at Lutterworth, and show us how his hours there were passed, even in meditation on God’s Word, and communion with its Author. These are remarkable productions, expressed in vigorous rudimentary English, with no mystic haze in their thinking, disencumbered from the phraseology of the schools, simple and clear as the opening day, and fragrant as the breath of morning. They burst suddenly upon us like a ray of pure light from the very heart of the darkness, telling us that God’s Word in all ages is Light, and that the Holy Spirit has ever been present in the Church to discharge His office of leading “into all truth” those who are willing to submit their minds to His guidance.

“If we look from Wicliffe,” says Lechler, “backwards, in order to compare him with the men before him, and arrive at a scale of measurement for his own power, the fact is brought before us that Wicliffe concentratedly represented that movement towards reform of the foregoing centuries, which the degeneracy of the Church, arising from its secular possessions and simonies, rendered necessary. That which, in Gregory VII.’s time, Arnold of Brescia, and the community of the Waldenses, Francis of Assisi, and the begging orders of the Minorites strove after, what the holy Bernard of Clairvaux longed for, the return of the Church to apostolic order, that filled Wicliffe’s soul specially at the beginning of his public career… In the collective history of the Church of Christ Wicliffe makes an epoch, in so far as he is the first reforming personality. Before him arose, it is true, here and there many schemes and active endeavors, which led also to dissensions and collisions, and ultimately to the formation of separate communities; but Wicliffe is the first important personality who devoted himself to the work of Church reform with the whole bent of his mind, with all the thinking power of a superior intellect, and the full force of will and joyful self-devotion of a man in Christ Jesus. He worked at this his life long, out of an earnest, conscientious impulse, and in the confident trust that the work is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). He did not conceal from himself that the endeavors of evangelical men would in the first place be combated, persecuted, and repressed. Notwithstanding this, he consoled himself with the thought that it would yet come in the end to a renewing of the Church according to the apostolic pattern.” “How far Wicliffe’s thoughts have been, first of all, rightly understood, faithfully preserved, and practically valued, till at last all that was true and well proved in them deepened and strengthened, and were finally established in the Reformation of the sixteenth century, must be proved by the history of the following generations.”7

Wicliffe, had he lived two centuries later, would very probably have been to England what Luther was to Germany, and Knox to Scotland. His appearance in the fourteenth century enabled him to discharge an office that in some respects was higher, and to fill a position that is altogether unique in the religious history of Christendom. With Wicliffe the world changes from stagnancy to progress. Wicliffe introduces the era of moral revivals. He was the Forerunner of all the Reformers, and the Father of all the Reformations of Christendom.

Book 3: John Huss And The Hussite Wars

Chapter 3.1: Birth, Education, And First Labours Of Huss

Bohemia – Introduction of the Gospel – Wicliffe’s Writings – Pioneers – Militz, Stiekna, Janovius – Charles IV. – Huss – Birth and Education – Prague – Bethlehem Chapel

IN spring-time does the husbandman begin to prepare for the harvest. He turns field after field with the plough, and when all have been got ready for the processes that are to follow, he returns on his steps, scattering as he goes the precious seed on the open furrows. His next care is to see to the needful operations of weeding and cleaning. All the while the sun this hour, and the shower the next, are promoting the germination and growth of the plant. The husbandman returns a third time, and lo! over all his fields there now waves the yellow ripened grain. It is harvest.

So was it with the Heavenly Husbandman when He began His preparations for the harvest of Christendom. For while to the ages that came after it the Reformation was the spring-time, it yet, to the ages that went before it, stood related as the harvest.

We have witnessed the great Husbandman ploughing one of His fields, England namely, as early as the fourteenth century. The war that broke out in that age with France, the political conflicts into which the nation was plunged with the Papacy, the rise of the universities with the mental fermentation that followed, broke up the ground. The soil turned, the Husbandman sent forth a skillful and laborious servant to cast into the furrows of the ploughed land the seed of the translated Bible. So far had the work advanced. At this stage it stopped, or appeared to do so. Alas! we exclaim, that all this labor should be thrown away! But it is not so. The laborer is withdrawn, but the seed is not: it lies in the soil; and while it is silently germinating, and working its way hour by hour towards the harvest, the Husbandman goes elsewhere and proceeds to plough and sow another of His fields. Let us cast our eyes over wide Christendom. What do we see? Lo! yonder in the far-off East is the same preparatory process begun which we have already traced in England. Verily, the Husbandman is wisely busy. In Bohemia the plough is at work, and already the sowers have come forth and have begun to scatter the seed.

In transferring ourselves to Bohemia we do not change our subject, although we change our country. It is the same great drama under another sky. Surely the winter is past, and the great spring time has come, when, in lands lying so widely apart, we see the flowers beginning to appear, and the fountains to gush forth.

We read in the Book of the Persecutions of the Bohemian Church: “In the year A.D. 1400, Jerome of Prague returned from England, bringing with him the writings of Wicliffe.”1 “A Taborite chronicler of the fifteenth century, Nicholaus von Pelhrimow, testifies that the books of the evangelical doctor, Master John Wicliffe, opened the eyes of the blessed Master John Huss, as several reliable men know from his own lips, whilst he read and re-read them together with his followers.”2

Such is the link that binds together Bohemia and England. Already Protestantism attests its true catholicity. Oceans do not stop its progress. The boundaries of States do not limit its triumphs. On every soil is it destined to flourish, and men of every tongue will it enroll among its disciples. The spiritually dead who are in their graves are beginning to hear the voice of Wicliffe—yea, rather of Christ speaking through Wicliffe—and to come forth.

The first drama of Protestantism was acted and over in Bohemia before it had begun in Germany. So prolific in tragic incident and heroic character was this second drama, that it is deserving of more attention than it has yet received. It did not last long, but during its career it shed a resplendent luster upon the little Bohemia. It transformed its people into a nation of heroes. It made their wisdom in council the admiration of Europe, and their prowess on the field the terror of all the neighboring States. It gave, moreover, a presage of the elevation to which human character should attain, and the splendor that would gather round history, what time Protestantism should begin to display its regenerating influence on a wider area than that to which until now it had been restricted.

It is probable that Christianity first entered Bohemia in the wake of the armies of Charlemagne. But the Western missionaries, ignorant of the Slavonic tongue, could effect little beyond a nominal conversion of the Bohemian people. Accordingly we find the King of Moravia, a country whose religious condition was precisely similar to that of Bohemia, sending to the Greek emperor, about the year 863, and saying: “Our land is baptized, but we have no teachers to instruct us, and translate for us the Holy Scriptures. Send us teachers who may explain to us the Bible.”3 Methodius and Cyrillus were sent; the Bible was translated, and Divine worship established in the Slavonic language.

The ritual in both Moravia and Bohemia was that of the Eastern Church, from which the missionaries had come. Methodius made the Gospel be preached in Bohemia. There followed a great harvest of converts; families of the highest rank crowded to baptism, and churches and schools arose everywhere.4

Though practicing the Eastern ritual, the Bohemian Church remained under the jurisdiction of Rome; for the great schism between the Eastern and the Western Churches had not yet been consummated. The Greek liturgy, as we may imagine, was displeasing to the Pope, and he began to plot its overthrow. Gradually the Latin rite was introduced, and the Greek rite in the same proportion displaced. At length, in 1079, Gregory VII.

(Hildebrand) issued a bull forbidding the Oriental ritual to be longer observed, or public worship celebrated in the tongue of the country. The reasons assigned by the Pontiff for the use of a tongue which the people did not understand, in their addresses to the Almighty, are such as would not, readily occur to ordinary men. He tells his “dear son,” the King of Bohemia, that after long study of the Word of God, he had come to see that it was pleasing to the Omnipotent that His worship should be celebrated in an unknown language, and that many evils and heresies had arisen from not observing this rule.5

This missive closed in effect every church, and every Bible, and left the Bohemians, so far as any public instruction was concerned, in total night. The Christianity of the nation would have sunk under the blow, but for another occurrence of an opposite tendency which happened soon afterwards. It was now that the Waldenses and Albigenses, fleeing from the sword of persecution in Italy and France, arrived in Bohemia. Thaunus informs us that Peter Waldo himself was among the number of these evangelical exiles.

Reynerius, speaking of the middle of the thirteenth century, says: “There is hardly any country in which this sect is not to be found.” If the letter of Gregory was like a hot wind to wither the Bohemian Church, the Waldensian refugees were a secret dew to revive it. They spread themselves in small colonies over all the Slavonic countries, Poland included; they made their headquarters at Prague. They were zealous evangelizers, not daring to preach in public, but teaching in private houses, and keeping alive the truth during the two centuries which were yet to run before Huss should appear.

It was not easy enforcing the commands of the Pope in Bohemia, lying as it did remote from Rome. In many places worship continued to be celebrated in the tongue of the people, and the Sacrament to be dispensed in both kinds. The powerful nobles were in many cases the protectors of the Waldenses and native Christians; and for these benefits they received a tenfold recompense in the good order and prosperity which reigned on the lands that were occupied by professors of the evangelical doctrines. All through the fourteenth century, these Waldensian exiles continued to sow the seed of a pure Christianity in the soil of Bohemia.

All great changes prognosticate themselves. The revolutions that happen in the political sphere never fail to make their advent felt. Is it wonderful that in every country of Christendom there were men who foretold the approach of a great moral and spiritual revolution? In Bohemia were three men who were the pioneers of Huss; and who, in terms more or less plain, foretold the advent of a greater champion than themselves. The first of these was John Milicius, or Militz, Archdeacon and Canon of the Archiepiscopal Cathedral of the Hradschin, Prague. He was a man of rare learning, of holy life, and an eloquent preacher. When he appeared in the pulpit of the cathedral church, where he always used the tongue of the people, the vast edifice was thronged with a most attentive audience. He inveighed against the abuses of the clergy rather than against the false doctrines of the Church, and he exhorted the people to Communion in both kinds. He went to Rome, in the hope of finding there, in a course of fasting and tears, greater rest for his soul. But, alas! the scandals of Prague, against which he had thundered in the pulpit of Hradschin, were forgotten in the greater enormities of the Pontifical city. Shocked at what he saw in Rome, he wrote over the door of one of the cardinals, “Antichrist is now come, and sitteth in the Church,”6 and departed. The Pope, Gregory XI., sent after him a bull, addressed to the Archbishop of Prague, commanding him to seize and imprison the bold priest who had affronted the Pope in his own capital, and at the very threshold of the Vatican.

No sooner had Milicius returned home than the archbishop proceeded to execute the Papal mandate. But murmurs began to be heard among the citizens, and fearing a popular outbreak the archbishop opened the prison doors, and Milicius, after a short incarceration, was set at liberty. He survived his eightieth year, and died in peace, A.D. 1374. 7

His colleague, Conrad Stiekna—a man of similar character and great eloquence, and whose church in Prague was so crowded, he was obliged to go outside and preach in the open square—died before him. He was succeeded by Matthew Janovius, who not only thundered in the pulpit of the cathedral against the abuses of the Church, but traveled through Bohemia, preaching everywhere against the iniquities of the times. This drew the eyes of Rome upon him. At the instigation of the Pope, persecution was commenced against the confessors in Bohemia. They durst not openly celebrate the Communion in both kinds, and those who desired to partake of the “cup,” could enjoy the privilege only in private dwellings, or in the yet greater concealment of woods and caves. It fared hard with them when their places of retreat were discovered by the armed bands which were sent upon their track. Those who could not manage to escape were put to the sword, or thrown into rivers. At length the stake was decreed (1376) against all who dissented from the established rites. These persecutions were continued till the times of Huss.8 Janovius, who “taught that salvation was only to be found by faith in the crucified Savior,” when dying (1394) consoled his friends with the assurance that better times were in store. “The rage of the enemies of the truth,” said he, “now prevails against us, but it will not be for ever; there shall arise one from among the common people, without sword or authority, and against him they shall not be able to prevail.”9

Politically, too, the country of Bohemia was preparing for the great part it was about to act. Charles I., better known in Western Europe as Charles IV., Emperor of Germany, and author of the Golden Bull, had some time before ascended the throne. He was an enlightened and patriotic ruler. The friend of Petrarch and the protector of Janovius, he had caught so much of the spirit of the great poet and of the Bohemian pastor, as to desire a reform of the ecclesiastical estate, especially in the enormous wealth and overgrown power of the clergy. In this, however, he could effect nothing; on the contrary, Rome had the art to gain his concurrence in her persecuting measures. But he had greater success in his efforts for the political and material amelioration of his country. He repressed the turbulence of the nobles; he cleared the highways of the robbers who infested them; and now the husbandman being able to sow and reap in peace, and the merchant to pass from town to town in safety, the country began to enjoy great prosperity. Nor did the labors of the sovereign stop here. He extended the municipal libraries of the towns, and in 1347 he founded a university in Prague, on the model of those of Bologna and Paris; filling its chairs with eminent scholars, and endowing it with ample funds. He specially patronized those authors who wrote in the Bohemian tongue, judging that there was no more effectual way of invigorating the national intellect, than by cultivating the national language and literature. Thus, while in other countries the Reformation helped to purify and ennoble the national language, by making it the vehicle of the sublimest truths, in Bohemia this process was reversed, and the development of the Bohemian tongue prepared the way for the entrance of Protestantism.10 Although the reign of Charles IV. was an era of peace, and his efforts were mainly directed towards the intellectual and material prosperity of Bohemia, he took care, nevertheless, that the martial spirit of his subjects should not decline; and thus when the tempest burst in the beginning of the fifteenth century, and the anathemas of Rome were seconded by the armies of Germany, the Bohemian people were not unprepared for the tremendous struggle which they were called to wage for their political and religious liberties.

Before detailing that struggle, we must briefly sketch the career of the man who so powerfully contributed to create in the breasts of his countrymen that dauntless spirit which bore them up till victory crowned their arms. John Huss was born on the 6th of July, 1373, in the market town of Hussinetz, on the edge of the Bohemian forest near the source of the Moldau river, and the Bavarian boundary.11 He took his name from the place of his birth. His parents were poor, but respectable. His father died when he was young. His mother, when his education was finished at the provincial school, took him to Prague, to enter him at the university of that city. She carried a present to the rector, but happening to lose it by the way, and grieved by the misfortune, she knelt down beside her son, and implored upon him the blessing of the Almighty.12 The prayers of the mother were heard, though the answer came in a way that would have pierced her heart like a sword, had she lived to witness the issue.

The university career of the young student, whose excellent talents sharpened and expanded day by day, was one of great brilliance. His face was pale and thin; his consuming passion was a desire for knowledge; blameless in life, sweet and affable in address, he won upon all who came in contact with him. He was made Bachelor of Arts in 1393, Bachelor of Theology in 1394, Master of Arts in 1396; Doctor of Theology he never was, any more than Melanchthon. Two years after becoming Master of Arts, he began to hold lectures in the university. Having finished his university course, he entered the Church, where he rose rapidly into distinction. By-and-by his fame reached the court of Wenceslaus, who had succeeded his father, Charles IV., on the throne of Bohemia. His queen, Sophia of Bavaria, selected Huss as her confessor.

He was at this time a firm believer in the Papacy. The philosophical writings of Wicliffe he already knew, and had ardently studied; but his theological treatises he had not seen. He was filled with unlimited devotion for the grace and benefits of the Roman Church; for he tells us that he went at the time of the Prague Jubilee, 1393, to confession in the Church of St. Peter, gave the last four groschen that he possessed to the confessor, and took part in the processions in order to share also in the absolution—an efflux of superabundant devotion of which he afterwards repented, as he himself acknowledged from the pulpit.13

The true career of John Huss dates from about A.D. 1402, when he was appointed preacher to the Chapel of Bethlehem. This temple had been founded in the year 1392 by a certain citizen of Prague, Mulhamio by name, who laid great stress upon the preaching of the Word of God in the mother-tongue of the people. On the death or the resignation of its first pastor, Stephen of Colonia, Huss was elected his successor. His sermons formed an epoch in Prague. The moral condition of that capital was then deplorable. According to Comenius, all classes wallowed in the most abominable vices. The king, the nobles, the prelates, the clergy, the citizens, indulged without restraint in avarice, pride, drunkenness, lewdness, and every profligacy.14 In the midst of this sunken community stood up Huss, like an incarnate conscience. Now it was against the prelates, now against the nobles, and now against the ordinary clergy that he launched his bolts. These sermons seem to have benefited the preacher as well as the hearers, for it was in the course of their preparation and delivery that Huss became inwardly awakened. A great clamor arose. But the queen and the archbishop protected Huss, and he continued preaching with indefatigable zeal in his Chapel of Bethlehem,15 founding all he said on the Scriptures, and appealing so often to them, that it may be truly affirmed of him that he restored the Word of God to the knowledge of his countrymen.

The minister of Bethlehem Chapel was then bound to preach on all church days early and after dinner (in Advent and fast times only in the morning), to the common people in their own language. Obliged to study the Word of God, and left free from the performance of liturgical acts and pastoral duties, Huss grew rapidly in the knowledge of Scripture, and became deeply imbued with its spirit. While around him was a daily-increasing devout community, he himself grew in the life of faith. By this time he had become acquainted with the theological works of Wicliffe, which he earnestly studied, and learned to admire the piety of their author, and to be not wholly opposed to the scheme of reform which he had promulgated.16 Already Huss had commenced a movement, the true character of which he did not perceive, and the issue of which he little foresaw. He placed the Bible above the authority of Pope or Council, and thus he had entered, without knowing it, the road of Protestantism. But as yet he had no wish to break with the Church of Rome, nor did he dissent from a single dogma of her creed, the one point of divergence to which we have just referred excepted; but he had taken a step which, if he did not retrace it, would lead him in due time far enough from her communion.

The echoes of a voice which had spoken in England, but was now silent there, had already reached the distant country of Bohemia. We have narrated above the arrival of a young student in Prague, with copies of the works of the great English heresiarch. Other causes favored the introduction of Wicliffe’s books. One of these was the marriage of Richard II. of England, with Anne, sister of the King of Bohemia, and the consequent intercourse between the two countries. On the death of that princess, the ladies of her court, on their return to their native land, brought with them the writings of the great Reformer, whose disciple their mistress had been. The university had made Prague a center of light, and the resort of men of intelligence. Thus, despite the corruption of the higher classes, the soil was not unprepared for the reception and growth of the opinions of the Rector of Lutterworth, which now found entrance within the walls of the Bohemian capital.17

Chapter 3.2: Huss Begins His Warfare Against Rome

The Two Frescoes – The University of Prague – Exile of Huss – Return – Arrival of Jerome – The Two Yoke-fellows – The Rival Popes, etc.

AN incident which is said to have occurred at this time (1404) contributed to enlarge the views of Huss, and to give strength to the movement he had originated in Bohemia. There came to Prague two theologians from England, James and Conrad of Canterbury. Graduates of Oxford, and disciples of the Gospel, they had crossed the sea to spread on the banks of the Moldau the knowledge they had learned on those of the Isis. Their plan was to hold public disputations, and selecting the Pope’s primacy, they threw down the gage of battle to its maintainers. The country was hardly ripe for such a warfare, and the affair coming to the ears of the authorities, they promptly put a stop to the discussions. Arrested in their work, the two visitors did not fail to consider by what other way they could carry out their mission. They bethought them that they had studied art as well as theology, and might now press the pencil into their service. Having obtained their host’s leave, they proceeded to give a specimen of their skill in a drawing in the corridor of the house in which they resided. On the one wall they portrayed the humble entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, “meek, and riding upon an ass.” On the other they displayed the more than royal magnificence of a Pontifical cavalcade. There was seen the Pope, adorned with triple crown, attired in robes bespangled with gold, and all lustrous with precious stones. He rode proudly on a richly caparisoned horse, with trumpeters proclaiming his approach, and a brilliant crowd of cardinals and bishops following in his rear. In an age when printing was unknown, and preaching nearly as much so, this was a sermon, and a truly eloquent and graphic one. Many came to gaze, and to mark the contrast presented between the lowly estate of the Church’s Founder, and the overgrown haughtiness and pride of His pretended vicar.1 The city of Prague was moved, and the excitement became at last so great, that the English strangers deemed it prudent to withdraw. But the thoughts they had awakened remained to ferment in the minds of the citizens.

Among those who came to gaze at this antithesis of Christ and Antichrist was John Huss; and the effect of it upon him was to lead him to study more carefully than ever the writings of Wicliffe. He was far from able at first to concur in the conclusions of the English Reformer. Like a strong light thrown suddenly upon a weak eye, the bold views of Wicliffe, and the sweeping measure of reform which he advocated, alarmed and shocked Huss. The Bohemian preacher had appealed to the Bible, but he had not bowed before it with the absolute and unreserved submission of the English pastor. To overturn the hierarchy, and replace it with the simple ministry of the Word; to sweep away all the teachings of tradition, and put in their room the doctrines of the New Testament, was a revolution for which, though marked alike by its simplicity and its sublimity, Huss was not prepared. It may be doubted whether, even when he came to stand at the stake, Huss’s views had attained the breadth and clearness of those of Wicliffe.

Lying miracles helped to open the eyes of Huss still farther, and to aid his movement. In the church at Wilsnack, near the lower Elbe, there was a pretended relic of the blood of Christ. Many wonderful cures were reported to have been done by the holy blood. People flocked thither, not only out of the neighboring countries, but also from those at a greater distance—Poland, Hungary, and even Scandinavia. In Bohemia itself there were not wanting numerous pilgrims who went to Wilsnack to visit the wonderful relic. Many doubts were expressed about the efficacy of the blood. The Archbishop of Prague appointed a commission of three masters, among whom was Huss, to investigate the affair, and to inquire into the truth of the miracles said to have been wrought. The examination of the persons on whom the alleged miracles had been performed, proved that they were simply impostures. One boy was said to have had a sore foot cured by the blood of Wilsnack, but the foot on examination was found, instead of being cured, to be worse than before. Two blind women were said to have recovered their sight by the virtue of the blood; but, on being questioned, they confessed that they had had sore eyes, but had never been blind; and so as regarded other alleged cures. As the result of the investigation, the archbishop issued a mandate in the summer of 1405, in which all preachers were enjoined, at least once a month, to publish to their congregations the episcopal prohibition of pilgrimages to the blood of Wilsnack, under pain of excommunication.2

Huss was able soon after (1409) to render another service to his nation, which, by extending his fame and deepening his influence among the Bohemian people, paved the way for his great work. Crowds of foreign youth flocked to the University of Prague, and their numbers enabled them to monopolize its emoluments and honors, to the partial exclusion of the Bohemian students. By the original constitution of the university the Bohemians possessed three votes, and the other nations united only one. In process of time this was reversed; the Germans usurped three of the four votes, and the remaining one alone was left to the native youth. Huss protested against this abuse, and had influence to obtain its correction. An edict was passed, giving three votes to the Bohemians, and only one to the Germans. No sooner was this decree published, than the German professors and students—to the number, say some, of 40,000; but according to AEneas Sylvius, a contemporary, of 5,000—left Prague, having previously bound themselves to this step by oath, under pain of having the two first fingers of their right hand cut off. Among these students were not a few on whom had shone, through Huss, the first rays of Divine knowledge, and who were instrumental in spreading the light over Germany. Elevated to the rectorship of the university, Huss was now, by his greater popularity and higher position, abler than ever to propagate his doctrines.3

What was going on at Prague could not long remain unknown at Rome. On being informed of the proceedings in the Bohemian capital, the Pope, Alexander V., fulminated a bull, in which he commanded the Archbishop of Prague, Sbinko, with the help of the secular authorities, to proceed against all who preached in private chapels, and who read the writings or taught the opinions of Wicliffe. There followed a great auto da fe, not of persons but of books. Upwards of 200 volumes, beautifully written, elegantly bound, and ornamented with precious stones—the works of John Wicliffe—were, by the order of Sbinko, piled upon the street of Prague, and, amid the tolling bells, publicly burned.4 Their beauty and costliness showed that their owners were men of high position; and their number, collected in one city alone, attests how widely circulated were the writings of the English Reformer on the continent of Europe.

This act but the more inflamed the zeal of Huss. In his sermons he now attacked indulgences as well as the abuses of the hierarchy. A second mandate arrived from Rome. The Pope summoned him to answer for his doctrine in person. To obey the summons would have been to walk into his grave. The king, the queen, the university, and many of the magnates of Bohemia sent a joint embassy requesting the Pope to dispense with Huss’s appearance in person, and to hear him by his legal counsel. The Pope refused to listen to this supplication. He went on with the case, condemned John Huss in absence, and laid the city of Prague under interdict.5

The Bohemian capital was thrown into perplexity and alarm. On every side tokens met the eye to which the imagination imparted a fearful significance. Prague looked like a city stricken with sudden and terrible calamity. The closed church-doors—the extinguished altar-lights—the corpses waiting burial by the way-side—the images which sanctified and guarded the streets, covered with sackcloth, or laid prostrate on the ground, as if in supplication for a land on which the impieties of its children had brought down a terrible curse—gave emphatic and solemn warning that every hour the citizens harbored within their walls the man who had dared to disobey the Pope’s summons, they but increased the heinousness of their guilt, and added to the vengeance of their doom. “Let us cast out the rebel,” was the cry of many, “before we perish.”

Tumult was beginning to disturb the peace, and slaughter to dye the streets of Prague. What was Huss to do? Should he flee before the storm, and leave a city where he had many friends and not a few disciples? What had his Master said? “The hireling fleeth because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.” This seemed to forbid his departure. His mind was torn with doubts. But had not the same Master commanded, “When they persecute you in one city, flee ye to another”? His presence could but entail calamity upon his friends; so, quitting Prague, he retired to his native village of Hussinetz.

Here Huss enjoyed the protection of the territorial lord, who was his friend. His first thoughts were of those he had left behind in Prague—the flock to whom he had so lovingly ministered in his Chapel of Bethlehem. “I have retired,” he wrote to them, “not to deny the truth, for which I am willing to die, but because impious priests forbid the preaching of it.”6 The sincerity of this avowal was attested by the labors he immediately undertook. Making Christ his pattern, he journeyed all through the surrounding region, preaching in the towns and villages. He was followed by great crowds, who hung upon his words, admiring his meekness not less than his courage and eloquence. “The Church,” said his hearers, “has pronounced this man a heretic and a demon, yet his life is holy, and his doctrine is pure and elevating.”7

The mind of Huss, at this stage of his career, would seem to have been the scene of a painful conflict. Although the Church was seeking to overwhelm him by her thunderbolts, he had not renounced her authority. The Roman Church was still to him the spouse of Christ, and the Pope was the representative and vicar of God. What Huss was warring against was the abuse of authority, not the principle itself. This brought on a terrible conflict between the convictions of his understanding and the claims of his conscience. If the authority was just and infallible, as he believed it to be, how came it that he felt compelled to disobey it? To obey, he saw, was to sin; but why should obedience to an infallible Church lead to such an issue?. This was the problem he could not solve; this was the doubt that tortured him hour by hour. The nearest approximation to a solution, which he was able to make, was that it had happened again, as once before in the days of the Savior, that the priests of the Church had become wicked persons, and were using their lawful authority for unlawful ends. This led him to adopt for his own guidance, and to preach to others for theirs, the maxim that the precepts of Scripture, conveyed through the understanding, are to rule the conscience; in other words, that God speaking in the Bible, and not the Church speaking through the priesthood, is the one infallible guide of men. This was to adopt the fundamental principle of Protestantism, and to preach a revolution which Huss himself would have recoiled from, had he been able at that hour to see the length to which it would lead him. The axe which he had grasped was destined to lay low the principle of human supremacy in matters of conscience, but the fetters yet on his arm did not permit him to deliver such blows as would be dealt by the champions who were to follow him, and to whom was reserved the honor of extirpating that bitter root which had yielded its fruits in the corruption of the Church and the slavery of society.

Gradually things quieted in Prague, although it soon became evident that the calm was only on the surface. Intensely had Huss longed to appear again in his Chapel of Bethlehem—the scene of so many triumphs—and his wish was granted. Once more he stands in the old pulpit; once more his loving flock gather round him. With zeal quickened by his banishment, he thunders more courageously than ever against the tyranny of the priesthood in forbidding the free preaching of the Gospel. In proportion as the people grew in knowledge, the more, says Fox, they “complained of the court of Rome and the bishop’s consistory, who plucked from the sheep of Christ the wool and milk, and did not feed them either with the Word of God or good examples.”8

A great revolution was preparing in Bohemia, and it could not be ushered into the world without evoking a tempest. Huss was perhaps the one tranquil man in the nation. A powerful party, consisting of the doctors of the university and the members of the priesthood, was now formed against him. Chief among these were two priests, Paletz and Causis, who had once been his friends, but had now become his bitterest foes. This party would speedily have silenced him and closed the Chapel of Bethlehem, the center of the movement, had they not feared the people. Every day the popular indignation against the priests waxed stronger. Every day the disciples and defenders of the Reformer waxed bolder, and around him were now powerful as well as numerous friends. The queen was on his side; the lofty character and resplendent virtues of Huss had won her esteem. Many of the nobles declared for him—some of them because they had felt the Divine power of the doctrines which he taught, and others in the hope of sharing in the spoils which they foresaw would by-and-by be gleaned in the wake of the movement. The great body of the citizens were friendly. Captivated by his eloquence, and taught by his pure and elevating doctrine, they had learned to detest the pride, the debaucheries, and the avarice of the priests, and to take part with the man whom so many powerful and unrighteous confederacies were seeking to crush.9

But Huss was alone; he had no fellow-worker; and had doubtless his hours of loneliness and melancholy. One single companion of sympathizing spirit, and of like devotion to the same great cause, would have been to Huss a greater stay and a sweeter solace than all the other friends who stood around him. And it pleased God to give him such: a true yoke-fellow, who brought to the cause he espoused an intellect of great subtlety, and an eloquence of great fervor, combined with a fearless courage, and a lofty devotion. This friend was Jerome of Faulfish, a Bohemian knight, who had returned some time before from Oxford, where he had imbibed the opinions of Wicliffe. As he passed through Paris and Vienna, he challenged the learned men of these universities to dispute with him on matters of faith; but the theses which he maintained with a triumphant logic were held to savor of heresy, and he was thrown into prison. Escaping, however, he came to Bohemia to spread with all the enthusiasm of his character, and all the brilliancy of his eloquence, the doctrines of the English Reformer.10

With the name of Huss that of Jerome is henceforward indissolubly associated. Alike in their great qualities and aims, they were yet in minor points sufficiently diverse for one to be the complement of the other. Huss was the more powerful character, Jerome was the more eloquent orator. Greater in genius, and more popular in gifts, Jerome maintained nevertheless towards Huss the relation of a disciple. It was a beautiful instance of Christian humility. The calm reason of the master was a salutary restraint upon the impetuosity of the disciple. The union of these two men gave a sensible impulse to the cause. While Jerome debated in the schools, and thundered in the popular assemblies, Huss expounded the Scriptures in his chapel, or toiled with his pen at the refutation of some manifesto of the doctors of the university, or some bull of the Vatican. Their affection for each other ripened day by day, and continued unbroken till death came to set its seal upon it, and unite them in the bonds of an eternal friendship.

The drama was no longer confined to the limits of Bohemia. Events were lifting up Huss and Jerome to a stage where they would have to act their part in the presence of all Christendom. Let us cast our eyes around and survey the state of Europe. There were at that time three Popes reigning in Christendom. The Italians had elected Balthazar Cossa, who, as John XXIII., had set up his chair at Bologna. The French had chosen Angelo Corario, who lived at Rimini, under the title of Gregory XII.; and the Spaniards had elected Peter de Lune (Benedict XIII.), who resided in Arragon. Each claimed to be the legitimate successor of Peter, and the true vicegerent of God, and each strove to make good his claim by the bitterness and rage with which he hurled his maledictions against his rival. Christendom was divided, each nation naturally supporting the Pope of its choice. The schism suggested some questions which it was not easy to solve. “If we must obey,” said Huss and his followers, “to whom is our obedience to be paid? Balthazar Cossa, called John XXIII., is at Bologna; Angelo Corario, named Gregory XII., is at Rimini; Peter de Lune, who calls himself Benedict XIII., is in Arragon. If all three are infallible, why does not their testimony agree? and if only one of them is the Most Holy Father, why is it that we cannot distinguish him from the rest?”11 Nor was much help to be got towards a solution by putting the question to the men themselves. If they asked John XXIII. he told them that Gregory XII. was “a heretic, a demon, the Antichrist;” Gregory XII. obligingly bore the same testimony respecting John XXIII., and both Gregory and John united in sounding, in similar fashion, the praises of Benedict XIII., whom they stigmatized as “an impostor and schismatic,” while Benedict paid back with prodigal interest the compliments of his two opponents. It came to this, that if these men were to be believed, instead of three Popes there were three Antichrists in Christendom; and if they were not to be believed, where was the infallibility, and what had become of the apostolic succession?

The chroniclers of the time labor to describe the distractions, calamities, and woes that grew out of this schism. Europe was plunged into anarchy; every petty State was a theater of war and rapine. The rival Popes sought to crush one another, not with the spiritual bolts only, but with temporal arms also. They went into the market to purchase swords and hire soldiers, and as this could not be done without money, they opened a scandalous traffic in spiritual things to supply themselves with the needful gold. Pardons, dispensations, and places in Paradise they put up to sale, in order to realize the means of equipping their armies for the field. The bishops and inferior clergy, quick to profit by the example set them by the Popes, enriched themselves by simony. At times they made war on their own account, attacking at the head of armed bands the territory of a rival ecclesiastic, or the castle of a temporal baron. A bishop newly elected to Hildesheim, having requested to be shown the library of his predecessors, was led into an arsenal, in which all kinds of arms were piled up. “Those,” said his conductors, “are the books which they made use of to defend the Church; imitate their example.”12 How different were the words of St. Ambrose! “My arms,” said he, as the Goths approached his city, “are my tears; with other weapons I dare not fight.”

It is distressing to dwell on this deplorable picture. Of the practice of piety nothing remained save a few superstitious rites. Truth, justice, and order banished from among men, force was the arbiter in all things, and nothing was heard but the clash of arms and the sighings of oppressed nations, while above the strife rose the furious voices of the rival Popes frantically hurling anathemas at one another. This was truly a melancholy spectacle; but it was necessary, perhaps, that the evil should grow to this head, if peradventure the eyes of men might be opened, and they might see that it was indeed a “bitter thing” that they had forsaken the “easy yoke” of the Gospel, and submitted to a power that set no limits to its usurpations, and which, clothing itself with the prerogatives of God, was waging a war of extermination against all the rights of man.

Chapter 3.3: Growing Opposition Of Huss To Rome

The “Six Errors” – The Pope’s Bull against the King of Hungary – Huss on Indulgences and Crusades – Prophetic Words – Huss closes his Career in Prague

THE frightful picture which society now presented had a very powerful effect on John Huss. He studied the Bible, he read the early Fathers, he compared these with the sad spectacles passing before his eyes, and he saw more clearly every day that “the Church” had departed far from her early model, not in practice only, but in doctrine also. A little while ago we saw him leveling his blows at abuses; now we find him beginning to strike at the root on which all these abuses grew, if haply he might extirpate both root and branch together.

It was at this time that he wrote his treatise On the Church, a work which enables us to trace the progress of his emancipation from the shackles of authority. He establishes in it the principle that the true Church of Christ has not necessarily an exterior constitution, but that communion with its invisible Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, is alone necessary for it: and that the Catholic Church is the assembly of all the elect.1

This tractate was followed by another under the title of The Six Errors. The first error was that of the priests who boasted of making the body of Jesus Christ in the mass, and of being the creator of their Creator. The second was the confession exacted of the members of the Church—“I believe in the Pope and the saints”—in opposition to which, Huss taught that men are to believe in God only. The third error was the priestly pretension to remit the guilt and punishment of sin. The fourth was the implicit obedience exacted by ecclesiastical superiors to all their commands. The fifth was the making no distinction between a valid excommunication and one that was not so. The sixth error was simony. This Huss designated a heresy, and scarcely, he believed, could a priest be found who was not guilty of it.2

This list of errors was placarded on the door of the Bethlehem Chapel. The tract in which they were set forth was circulated far and near, and produced an immense impression throughout the whole of Bohemia. Another matter which now happened helped to deepen the impression which his tract on The Six Errors had made. John XXIII. fulminated a bull against Ladislaus, King of Hungary, excommunicating him, and all his children to the third generation. The offense which had drawn upon Ladislaus this burst of Pontifical wrath was the support he had given to Gregory XII., one of the rivals of John. The Pope commanded all emperors, kings, princes, cardinals, and men of whatever degree, by the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ, to take up arms against Ladislaus, and utterly to exterminate him and his supporters; and he promised to all who should join the crusade, or who should preach it, or collect funds for its support, the pardon of all their sins, and immediate admission into Paradise should they die in the war—in short, the same indulgences which were accorded to those who bore arms for the conquest of the Holy Land. This fulmination wrapped Bohemia in flames; and Huss seized the opportunity of directing the eyes of his countrymen to the contrast, so perfect and striking, between the vicar of Christ and Christ Himself; between the destroyer and the Savior; between the commands of the bull, which proclaimed war, and the precepts of the Gospel, which preached peace.

A few extracts from his refutation of the Papal bull will enable us to measure the progress Huss was making in evangelical sentiments, and the light which through his means was breaking upon Bohemia. “If the disciples of Jesus Christ,” said he, “were not allowed to defend Him who is Chief of the Church, against those who wanted to seize on Him, much more will it not be permissible to a bishop to engage in war for a temporal domination and earthly riches.” “As the secular body,” he continues, “to whom the temporal sword alone is suitable, cannot undertake to handle the spiritual one, in like manner the ecclesiastics ought to be content with the spiritual sword, and not make use of the temporal.” This was flatly to contradict a solemn judgment of the Papal chair which asserted the Church’s right to both swords.

Having condemned crusades, the carnage of which was doubly iniquitous when done by priestly hands, Huss next attacks indulgences. They are an affront to the grace of the Gospel. “God alone possesses the power to forgive sins in an absolute manner.” “The absolution of Jesus Christ,” he says, “ought to precede that of the priest; or, in other words, the priest who absolves and condemns ought to be certain that the case in question is one which Jesus Christ Himself has already absolved or condemned.” This implies that the power of the keys is limited and conditional, in other words that the priest does not pardon, but only declares the pardon of God to the penitent. “If,” he says again, “the Pope uses his power according to God’s commands, he cannot be resisted without resisting God Himself; but if he abuses his power by enjoining what is contrary to the Divine law, then it is a duty to resist him as should be done to the pale horse of the Apocalypse, to the dragon, to the beast, and to the Leviathan.”3

Waxing bolder as his views enlarged, he proceeded to stigmatize many of the ceremonies of the Roman Church as lacking foundation, and as being foolish and superstitious. He denied the merit of abstinences; he ridiculed the credulity of believing legends, and the groveling superstition of venerating relics, bowing before images, and worshipping the dead. “They are profuse,” said he, referring to the latter class of devotees, “towards the saints in glory, who want nothing; they array bones of the latter with silk and gold and silver, and lodge them magnificently; but they refuse clothing and hospitality to the poor members of Jesus Christ who are amongst us, at whose expense they feed to repletion, and drink till they are intoxicated.” Friars he no more loved than Wicliffe did, if we may judge from a treatise which he wrote at this time, entitled The Abomination of Monks, and which he followed by another, wherein he was scarcely more complimentary to the Pope and his court, styling them the members of Antichrist.

Plainer and bolder every day became the speech of Huss; fiercer grew his invectives and denunciations. The scandals which multiplied around him had, doubtless, roused his indignation, and the persecutions which he endured may have heated his temper. He saw John XXIII., than whom a more infamous man never wore the tiara, professing to open and shut the gates of Paradise, and scattering simoniacal pardons over Europe that he might kindle the flames of war, and extinguish a rival in torrents of Christian blood. It was not easy to witness all this and be calm. In fact, the Pope’s bull of crusade had divided Bohemia, and brought matters in that country to extremity. The king and the priesthood were opposed to Ladislaus of Hungary, and consequently supported John XXIII., defending as best they could his indulgences and simonies. On the other hand, many of the magnates of Bohemia, and the great body of the people, sided with Ladislaus, condemned the crusade which the Pope was preaching against him, together with all the infamous means by which he was furthering it, and held the clergy guilty of the blood which seemed about to flow in torrents. The people kept no measure in their talk about the priests. The latter trembled for their lives. The archbishop interfered, but not to throw oil on the waters. He placed Prague under interdict, and threatened to continue the sentence so long as John Huss should remain in the city. The archbishop persuaded himself that if Huss should retire the movement would go down, and the war of factions subside into peace. He but deceived himself. It was not now in the power of any man, even of Huss, to control or to stop that movement. Two ages were struggling together, the old and the new. The Reformer, however, fearing that his presence in Prague might embarrass his friends, again withdrew to his native village of Hussinetz.

During his exile he wrote several letters to his friends in Prague. The letters discover a mind full of that calm courage which springs from trust in God; and in them occur for the first time those prophetic words which Huss repeated afterwards at more than one important epoch in his career, the prediction taking each time a more exact and definite form. “If the goose” (his name in the Bohemian language signifies goose), “which is but a timid bird, and cannot fly very high, has been able to burst its bonds, there will come afterwards an eagle, which will soar high into the air and draw to it all the other birds.” So he wrote, adding, “It is in the nature of truth, that the more we obscure it the brighter will it become.”4

Huss had closed one career, and was bidden rest awhile before opening his second and sublimer one. Sweet it was to leave the strife and clamor of Prague for the quiet of his birth-place. Here he could calm his mind in the perusal of the inspired page, and fortify his soul by communion with God. For himself he had no fears; he dwelt beneath the shadow of the Almighty. By the teaching of the Word and the Spirit he had been wonderfully emancipated from the darkness of error. His native country of Bohemia had, too, by his instrumentality been rescued partially from the same darkness. Its reformation could not be completed, nor indeed carried much farther, till the rest of Christendom had come to be more nearly on a level with it in point of spiritual enlightenment. So now the Reformer is withdrawn. Never again was his voice to be heard in his favorite Chapel of Bethlehem. Never more were his living words to stir the hearts of his countrymen. There remains but one act more for Huss to do—the greatest and most enduring of all. As the preacher of Bethlehem Chapel he had largely contributed to emancipate Bohemia, as the martyr of Constance he was largely to contribute to emancipate Christendom.

Chapter 3.4: Preparations For The Council Of Constance

Picture of Europe – The Emperor Sigismund – Pope John XXIII. – Shall a Council be Convoked? – Assembling of the Council at Constance – Entry of the Pope – Coming of John Huss – Arrival of the Emperor

WE have now before us a wider theater than Bohemia. It is the year 1413. Sigismund—a name destined to go down to posterity along with that of Huss, though not with like fame—had a little before mounted the throne of the Empire. Wherever he cast his eyes the new emperor saw only spectacles that distressed him. Christendom was afflicted with a grievous schism. There were three Popes, whose personal profligacies and official crimes were the scandal of that Christianity of which each claimed to be the chief teacher, and the scourge of that Church of which each claimed to be the supreme pastor. The most sacred things were put up to sale, and were the subject of simoniacal bargaining. The bonds of charity were disrupted, and nation was going to war with nation; everywhere strife raged and blood was flowing. The Poles and the knights of the Teutonic order were waging a war which raged only with the greater fury inasmuch as religion was its pretext. Bohemia seemed on the point of being rent in pieces by intestine commotions; Germany was convulsed; Italy had as many tyrants as princes; France was distracted by its factions, and Spain was embroiled by the machinations of Benedict XIII., whose pretensions that country had espoused. To complete the confusion the Mussulman hordes, encouraged by these dissensions, were gathering on the frontier of Europe and threatening to break in and repress all disorders, in a common subjugation of Christendom to the yoke of the Prophet.1 To the evils of schism, of war, and Turkish invasion, was now added the worse evil—as Sigismund doubtless accounted it—of heresy. A sincere devotee, he was moved even to tears by this spectacle of Christendom disgraced and torn asunder by its Popes, and undermined and corrupted by its heretics. The emperor gave his mind anxiously to the question how these evils were to be cured. The expedient he hit upon was not an original one certainly—it had come to be a stereotyped remedy—but it possessed a certain plausibility that fascinated men, and so Sigismund resolved to make trial of it: it was a General Council.

This plan had been tried at Pisa,2 and it had failed. This did not promise much for a second attempt; but the failure had been set down to the fact that then the miter and the Empire were at war with each other, whereas now the Pope and the emperor were prepared to act in concert. In these more advantageous circumstances Sigismund resolved to convene the whole Church, all its patriarchs, cardinals, bishops, and princes, and to summon before this august body the three rival Popes, and the leaders of the new opinions, not doubting that a General Council would have authority enough, more especially when seconded by the imperial power, to compel the Popes to adjust their rival claims, and put the heretics to silence. These were the two objects which the emperor had in eye—to heal the schism and to extirpate heresy.

Sigismund now opened negotiations with John XXIII.3 To the Pope the idea of a Council was beyond measure alarming. Nor can one wonder at this, if his conscience was loaded with but half the crimes of which Popish historians have accused him. But he dared not refuse the emperor. John’s crusade against Ladislaus had not prospered. The King of Hungary was in Rome with his army, and the Pope had been compelled to flee to Bologna; and terrible as a Council was to Pope John, he resolved to face it, rather than offend the emperor, whose assistance he needed against the man whose ire he had wantonly provoked by his bull of crusade, and from whose victorious arms he was now fain to seek a deliverer. Pope John was accused of opening his way to the tiara by the murder of his predecessor, Alexander V.,4 and he lived in continual fear of being hurled from his chair by the same dreadful means by which he had mounted to it. It was finally agreed that a General Council should be convoked for November 1st, 1414, and that it should meet in the city of Constance.5

The day came and the Council assembled. From every kingdom and state, and almost from every city in Europe, came delegates to swell that great gathering. All that numbers, and princely rank, and high ecclesiastical dignity, and fame in learning, could do to make an assembly illustrious, contributed to give eclat to the Council of Constance. Thirty cardinals, twenty archbishops, one hundred and fifty bishops, and as many prelates, a multitude of abbots and doctors, and eighteen hundred priests came together in obedience to the joint summons of the emperor and the Pope. Among the members of sovereign rank were the Electors of Palatine, of Mainz, and of Saxony; the Dukes of Austria, of Bavaria, and of Silesia. There were margraves, counts, and barons without number.6 But there were three men who took precedence of all others in that brilliant assemblage, though each on a different ground. These three men were the Emperor Sigismund, Pope John XXIII., and—last and greatest of all—John Huss.

The two anti-Popes had been summoned to the Council. They appeared, not in person, but by delegates, some of whom were of the cardinalate. This raised a weighty question in the Council, whether these cardinal delegates should be received in their red hats. To permit the ambassadors to appear in the insignia of their rank might, it was argued, be construed into a tacit admission by the Council of the claims of their masters, both of whom had been deposed by the Council of Pisa; but, for the sake of peace, it was agreed to receive the deputies in the usual costume of the cardinalate.7 In that assembly were the illustrious scholar, Poggio; the celebrated Thierry de Niem, secretary to several Popes, “and whom,” it has been remarked, “Providence placed near the source of so many iniquities for the purpose of unveiling and stigmatizing them;”—AEneas Sylvius Piccolomini, greater as the elegant historian than as the wearer of the triple crown; Manuel Chrysoloras, the restorer to the world of some of the writings of Demosthenes and of Cicero; the almost heretic, John Charlier Gerson;8 the brilliant disputant, Peter d’Ailly, Cardinal of Cambray, surnamed “the Eagle of France,” and a host of others.

In the train of the Council came a vast concourse of pilgrims from all parts of Christendom. Men from beyond the Alps and the Pyrenees mingled here with the natives of the Hungarian and Bohemian plains. Room could not be found in Constance for this great multitude, and booths and wooden erections rose outside the walls. Theatrical representations and religious processions proceeded together. Here was seen a party of revelers and masqueraders busy with their cups and their pastimes, there knots of cowled and hooded devotees devoutly telling their beads. The orison of the monk and the stave of the bacchanal rose blended in one. So great an increase of the population of the little town—amounting, it is supposed, to 100,000 souls—rendered necessary a corresponding enlargement of its commissariat.9 All the highways leading to Constance were crowded with vehicles, conveying thither all kinds of provisions and delicacies:10 the wines of France, the breadstuffs of Lombardy, the honey and butter of Switzerland; the venison of the Alps and the fish of their lakes, the cheese of Holland, and the confections of Paris and London.

The emperor and the Pope, in the matter of the Council, thought only of circumventing one another. Sigismund professed to regard John XXIII. as the valid possessor of the tiara; nevertheless he had formed the secret purpose of compelling him to renounce it. And the Pope on his part pretended to be quite cordial in the calling of the Council, but his firm intention was to dissolve it as soon as it had assembled if, after feeling its pulse, he should find it to be unfriendly to himself. He set out from Bologna, on the 1st of October, with store of jewels and money. Some he would corrupt by presents, others he hoped to dazzle by the splendor of his court.11 All agree in saying that he took this journey very much against the grain, and that his heart misgave him a thousand times on the road. He took care, however, as he went onward to leave the way open behind for his safe retreat. As he passed through the Tyrol he made a secret treaty with Frederick, Duke of Austria, to the effect that one of his strong castles should be at his disposal if he found it necessary to leave Constance. He made friends, likewise, with John, Count of Nassau, Elector of Mainz.

When he had arrived within a league of Constance he prudently conciliated the Abbot of St. Ulric, by bestowing the miter upon him. This was a special prerogative of the Popes of which the bishops thought they had cause to complain. Not a stage did John advance without taking precautions for his safety—all the more that several incidents befell him by the way which his fears interpreted into auguries of evil. When he had passed through the town of Trent his jester said to him, “The Pope who passes through Trent is undone.”12 In descending the mountains of the Tyrol, at that point of the road where the city of Constance, with the lake and plain, comes into view, his carriage was overturned. The Pontiff was thrown out and rolled on the highway; he was not hurt the least, but the fall brought the color into his face. His attendants crowded round him, anxiously inquiring if he had come by harm: “By the devil,” said he, “I am down; I had better have stayed at Bologna;” and casting a suspicious glance at the city beneath him, “I see how it is,” he said, “that is the pit where the foxes are snared.”13

John XXIII. entered Constance on horseback, the 28th of October, attended by nine cardinals, several archbishops, bishops, and other prelates, and a numerous retinue of courtiers. He was received at the gates with all possible magnificence. “The body of the clergy,” says Lenfant, “went to meet him in solemn procession, bearing the relics of saints. All the orders of the city assembled also to do him honor, and he was conducted to the episcopal palace by an incredible multitude of people. Four of the chief magistrates rode by his side, supporting a canopy of cloth of gold, and the Count Radolph de Montfort and the Count Berthold des Ursins held the bridle of his horse. The Sacrament was carried before him upon a white pad, with a little bell about its neck; after the Sacrament a great yellow and red hat was carried, with an angel of gold at the button of the ribbon. All the cardinals followed in cloaks and red hats.

Reichenthal, who has described this ceremony, says there was a great dispute among the Pope’s officers as to who should have his horse, but Henry of Ulm put an end to it by saying that the horse belonged to him, as he was burgomaster of the town, and so he caused him to be put into his stables. The city made the presents to the Pope that are usual on these occasions; it gave a silver-gilt cup weighing five marks, four small casks of Italian wine, four great vessels of wine of Alsace, eight great vessels of the country wine, and forty measures of oats, all which presents were given with great ceremony. Henry of Ulm carried the cup on horseback, accompanied by six councilors, who were also on horseback. When the Pope saw them before his palace, he sent an auditor to know what was coming. Being informed that it was presents from the city to the Pope, the auditor introduced them, and presented the cup to the Pope in the name of the city. The Pope, on his part, ordered a robe of black silk to be presented to the consul.”14

While the Pope was approaching Constance on the one side, John Huss was traveling towards it on the other. He did not conceal from himself the danger he ran in appearing before such a tribunal. His judges were parties in the cause. What hope could Huss entertain that they would try him dispassionately by the Scriptures to which he had appealed? Where would they be if they allowed such an authority to speak? But he must appear; Sigismund had written to King Wenceslaus to send him thither; and, conscious of his innocence and the justice of his cause, thither he went. In prospect of the dangers before him, he obtained, before setting out, a safe-conduct from his own sovereign; also a certificate of his orthodoxy from Nicholas, Bishop of Nazareth, Inquisitor of the Faith in Bohemia; and a document drawn up by a notary, and duly signed by witnesses, setting forth that he had offered to purge himself of heresy before a provincial Synod of Prague, but had been refused audience. He afterwards caused writings to be affixed to the doors of all the churches and all the palaces of Prague, notifying his departure, and inviting all persons to come to Constance who were prepared to testify either to his innocence or his guilt. To the door of the royal palace even did he affix such notification, addressed “to the King, to the Queen, and to the whole Court.” He made papers of this sort be put up at every place on his road to Constance. In the imperial city of Nuremberg he gave public notice that he was going to the Council to give an account of his faith, and invited all who had anything to lay to his charge to meet him there. He started, not from Prague, but from Carlowitz. Before setting out he took farewell of his friends as of those he never again should see. He expected to find more enemies at the Council than Jesus Christ had at Jerusalem; but he was resolved to endure the last degree of punishment rather than betray the Gospel by any cowardice. The presentiments with which he began his journey attended him all the way. He felt it to be a pilgrimage to the stake.15

At every village and town on his route he was met with fresh tokens of the power that attached to his name, and the interest his cause had awakened. The inhabitants turned out to welcome him. Several of the country cures were especially friendly; it was their battle which he was fighting as well as his own, and heartily did they wish him success. At Nuremberg, and other towns through which he passed, the magistrates formed a guard of honor, and escorted him through streets thronged with spectators eager to catch a glimpse of the man who had begun a movement which was stirring Christendom.16 His journey was a triumphal procession in a sort. He was enlisting, at every step, new adherents, and gaining accessions of moral force to his cause. He arrived in Constance on the 3rd of November, and took up his abode at the house of a poor widow, whom he likened to her of Sarepta.17

The emperor did not reach Constance until Christmas Eve. His arrival added a new attraction to the melodramatic performance proceeding at the little town. The Pope signalized the event by singing a Pontifical mass, the emperor assisting, attired in dalmiatic in his character as deacon, and reading the Gospel—“There came an edict from Caesar Augustus that all the world,” etc. The ceremony was ended by John XXIII. presenting a sword to Sigismund, with an exhortation to the man into whose hand he put it to make vigorous use of it against the enemies of the Church. The Pope, doubtless, had John Huss mainly in his eye. Little did he dream that it was upon himself that its first stroke was destined to descend.18

The Emperor Sigismund, whose presence gave a new splendor to the fetes and a new dignity to the Council, was forty-seven years of age. He was noble in person, tall in stature, graceful in manners, and insinuating in address. He had a long beard, and flaxen hair, which fell in a profusion of curls upon his shoulders. His narrow understanding had been improved by study, and he was accomplished beyond his age. He spoke with facility several languages, and was a patron of men of letters. Having one day conferred nobility upon a scholar, who was desirous of being ranked among nobles rather than among doctors, Sigismund laughed at him, and said that “he could make a thousand gentlemen in a day, but that he could not make a scholar in a thousand years.”19 The reverses of his maturer years had sobered the impetuous and fiery spirit of his youth. He committed the error common to almost all the princes of his age, in believing that in order to reign it was necessary to dissemble, and that craft was an indispensable part of policy. He was a sincere devotee; but just in proportion as he believed in the Church, was he scandalized and grieved at the vices of the clergy. It cost him infinite pains to get this Council convoked, but all had been willingly undertaken in the hope that assembled Christendom would be able to heal the schism, and put an end to the scandals growing out of it.

The name of Sigismund has come down to posterity with an eternal blot upon it. How such darkness came to encompass a name which, but for one fatal act, might have been fair, if not illustrious, we shall presently show. Meanwhile let us rapidly sketch the opening proceedings of the Council, which were but preparatory to the great tragedy in which it was destined to culminate.

Chapter 3.5: Deposition Of The Rival Popes

Canonization of St. Bridget – A Council Superior to the Pope – Wicliffe’s Writings Condemned – Trial of Pope John – Indictment against him – He Escapes from Constance – His Deposition – Deposition of the Two Anti-Popes – Vindication of Huss beforehand

THE first act of the Council, after settling how the votes were to be taken—namely, by nations and not by persons—was to enroll the name of St. Bridget among the saints. This good lady, whose piety had been abundantly proved by her pilgrimages and the many miracles ascribed to her, was of the blood-royal of Sweden, and the foundress of the order of St. Savior, so called because Christ himself, she affirmed, had dictated the rules to her. She was canonized first of all by Boniface IX. (1391); but this was during the schism, and the validity of the act might be held doubtful. To place St. Bridget’s title beyond question, she was, at the request of the Swedes, canonized a second time by John XXIII. But unhappily, John himself being afterwards deposed, Bridget’s saintship became again dubious; and so she was canonized a third time by Martin V. (1419), to prevent her being overtaken by a similar calamity with that of her patron, and expelled from the ranks of the heavenly deities as John was from the list of the Pontifical ones.1

While the Pope was assigning to others their place in heaven, his own place on earth had become suddenly insecure. Proceedings were commenced in the Council which were meant to pave the way for John’s dethronement. In the fourth and fifth sessions it was solemnly decreed that a General Council is superior to the Pope. “A Synod congregate in the Holy Ghost,” so ran the decree, “making a General Council, representing the whole Catholic Church here militant, hath power of Christ immediately, to the which power every person, of what state or dignity soever he be, yea, being the Pope himself, ought to be obedient in all such things as concern the general reformation of the Church, as well in the Head as in the members.”2 The Council in this decree asserted its absolute and supreme authority, and affirmed the subjection of the Pope in matters of faith as well as manners to its judgment.3

In the eighth session (May 4th, 1415), John Wicliffe was summoned from his rest, cited before the Council, and made answerable to it for his mortal writings. Forty-five propositions, previously culled from his publications, were condemned, and this sentence was fittingly followed by a decree consigning their author to the flames. Wicliffe himself being beyond their reach, his bones, pursuant to this sentence, were afterwards dug up and burned.4 The next labor of the Council was to take the cup from the laity, and to decree that Communion should be only in one kind. This prohibition was issued under the penalty of excommunication.5

These matters dispatched, or rather while they were in course of being so, the Council entered upon the weightier affair of Pope John XXIII. Universally odious, the Pope’s deposition had been resolved on beforehand by the emperor and the great majority of the members. At a secret sitting a terrible indictment was tabled against him. “It contained,” says his secretary, Thierry de Niem, “all the mortal sins, and a multitude of others not fit to be named.” “More than forty-three most grievous and heinous crimes,” says Fox, “were objected and proved against him: as that he had hired Marcillus Permensis, a physician, to poison Alexander V., his predecessor. Further, that he was a heretic, a simoniac, a liar, a hypocrite, a murderer, an enchanter, a dice-player, and an adulterer; and finally, what crime was it that he was not infected with?”6 When the Pontiff heard of these accusations he was overwhelmed with affright, and talked of resigning; but recovering from his panic, he again grasped firmly the tiara which he had been on the point of letting go, and began a struggle for it with the emperor and the Council. Making himself acquainted with everything by his spies, he held midnight meetings with his friends, bribed the cardinals, and labored to sow division among the nations composing the Council. But all was in vain. His opponents held firmly to their purpose. The indictment against John they dared not make public, lest the Pontificate should be everlastingly disgraced, and occasion given for a triumph to the party of Wicliffe and Huss; but the conscience of the miserable man seconded the efforts of his prosecutors. The 7Pope promised to abdicate; but repenting immediately of his promise, he quitted the city by stealth and fled to Schaffhausen.7

We have seen the pomp with which John XXIII. entered Constance. In striking contrast to the ostentatious display of his arrival, was the mean disguise in which he sought to conceal his departure. The plan of his escape had been arranged beforehand between himself and his good friend and staunch protector, the Duke of Austria. The duke, on a certain day, was to give a tournament. The spectacle was to come off late in the afternoon; and while the whole city should be engrossed with the fete, the lords tilting in the arena and the citizens gazing at the mimic war, and oblivious of all else, the Pope would take leave of Constance and of the Council.8

It was the 20th of March, the eve of St. Benedict, the day fixed upon for the duke’s entertainment, and now the tournament was proceeding. The city was empty, for the inhabitants had poured out to see the tilting and reward the victors with their acclamations. The dusk of evening was already beginning to veil the lake, the plain, and the mountains of the Tyrol in the distance, when John XXIII., disguising himself as a groom or postillion, and mounted on a sorry nag, rode through the crowd and passed on to the south. A coarse grey loose coat was flung over his shoulders, and at his saddlebow hung a crossbow; no one suspected that this homely figure, so poorly mounted, was other than some peasant of the mountains, who had been to market with his produce, and was now on his way back. The duke of Austria was at the moment fighting in the lists, when a domestic approached him, and whispered into his ear what had occurred. The duke went on with the tournament as if nothing had happened, and the fugitive held on his way till he had reached Schaffhausen, where, as the town belonged to the duke, the Pope deemed himself in safety. Thither he was soon followed by the duke himself.9

When the Pope’s flight became known, all was in commotion at Constance. The Council was at an end, so every one thought; the flight of the Pope would be followed by the departure of the princes and the emperor: the merchants shut their shops and packed up their wares, only too happy if they could escape pillage from the lawless mob into whose hands, as they believed, the town had now been thrown. After the first moments of consternation, however, the excitement calmed down. The emperor mounted his horse and rode round the city, declaring openly that he would protect the Council, and maintain order and quiet; and thus things in Constance returned to their usual channel.

Still the Pope’s flight was an untoward event. It threatened to disconcert all the plans of the emperor for healing the schism and restoring peace to Christendom. Sigismund saw the labors of years on the point of being swept away. He hastily assembled the princes and deputies, and with no little indignation declared it to be his purpose to reduce the Duke of Austria by force of arms, and bring back the fugitive. When the Pope learned that a storm was gathering, and would follow him across the Tyrol, he wrote in conciliatory terms to the emperor, excusing his flight by saying that he had gone to Schaffhausen to enjoy its sweeter air, that of Constance not agreeing with him; moreover, in this quiet retreat, and at liberty, he would be able to show the world how freely he acted in fulfilling his promise of renouncing the Pontificate.

John, however, was in no haste, even in the pure air and full freedom of Schaffhausen, to lay down the tiara. He procrastinated and maneuvered; he went farther away every few days, in quest, as suggested, of still sweeter air, though his enemies hinted that the Pope’s ailment was not a vitiated atmosphere, but a bad conscience. His thought was that his flight would be the signal for the Council to break up, and that he would thus checkmate Sigismund, and avoid the humiliation of deposition.10 But the emperor was not to be baulked. He put his troops in motion against the Duke of Austria; and the Council, seconding Sigismund with its spiritual weapons, wrested the infallibility from the Pope, and took that formidable engine into its own hands. “This decision of the Council,” said the celebrated Gallican divine, Gerson, in a sermon which he preached before the assembly, “ought to be engraved in the most eminent places and in all the churches of the world, as a fundamental law to crush the monster of ambition, and to stop the months of all flatterers who, by virtue of certain glosses, say, bluntly and without any regard to the eternal law of the Gospel, that the Pope is not subject to a General Council, and cannot be judged by such.”11

The way being thus prepared, the Council now proceeded to the trial of the Pope. Public criers at the door of the church summoned John XXIII. to appear and answer to the charges to be brought against him. The criers expended their breath in vain; John was on the other side of the Tyrol; and even had he been within ear-shot, he was not disposed to obey their citation. Three-and-twenty commissioners were then nominated for the examination of the witnesses. The indictment contained seventy accusations, but only fifty were read in public Council; the rest were withheld from a regard to the honor of the Pontificate—a superfluous care, one would think, after what had already been permitted to see the light. Thirty-seven witnesses were examined, and one of the points to which they bore testimony, but which the Council left under a veil, was the poisoning by John of his predecessor, Alexander V. The charges were held to be proven, and in the twelfth session (May 29th, 1415) the Council passed sentence, stripping John XXIII. of the Pontificate, and releasing all Christians from their oath of obedience to him.12

When the blow fell, Pope John was as abject as he had before been arrogant. He acknowledged the justice of his sentence, bewailed the day he had mounted to the Popedom, and wrote cringingly to the emperor, if haply his miserable life might be spared 13—which no one, by the way, thought of taking from him.

The case of the other two Popes was simpler, and more easily disposed of. They had already been condemned by the Council of Pisa, which had put forth an earlier assertion than the Council of Constance of the supremacy of a Council, and its right to deal with heretical and simoniacal Popes. Angelus Corario, Gregory XII., voluntarily sent in his resignation; and Peter de Lune, Benedict XIII., was deposed; and Otta de Colonna, being unanimously elected by the cardinals, ruled the Church under the title of Martin V.

Before turning to the more tragic page of the history of the Council, we have to remark that it seems almost as if the Fathers at Constance were intent on erecting beforehand a monument to the innocence of John Huss, and to their own guilt in the terrible fate to which they were about to consign him. The crimes for which they condemned Balthazar Cossa, John XXIII., were the same, only more atrocious and fouler, as those of which Huss accused the priesthood, and for which he demanded a reformation. The condemnation of Pope John was, therefore, whether the Council confessed it or not, the vindication of Huss. “When all the members of the Council shall be scattered in the world like storks,” said Huss, in a letter which he wrote to a friend at this time, “they will know when winter cometh what they did in summer. Consider, I pray you, that they have judged their head, the Pope, worthy of death by reason of his horrible crimes. Answer to this, you teachers who preach that the Pope is a god upon earth; that he may sell and waste in what manner he pleaseth the holy things, as the lawyers say; that he is the head of the entire holy Church, and governeth it well; that he is the heart of the Church, and quickeneth it spiritually; that he is the well-spring from whence floweth all virtue and goodness; that he is the sun of the Church, and a very safe refuge to which every Christian ought to fly. Yet, behold now that head, as it were, severed by the sword; this terrestrial god enchained; his sins laid bare; this never-failing source dried up; this divine sun dimmed; this heart plucked out, and branded with reprobation, that no one should seek an asylum in it.”14

Chapter 3.6: Imprisonment And Examination Of Huss

The Emperor’s Safe-conduct – Imprisonment of Huss – Flame in Bohemia – No Faith to be kept with Heretics – The Pope and Huss in the same Prison – Huss brought before the Council – His Second Appearance – An Eclipse – Huss’s Theological Views – A Protestant at Heart – He Refuses to Retract – His Dream

WHEN John Huss set out for the Council, he carried with him, as we have already said, several important documents.1 But the most important of all Huss’s credentials was a safe-conduct from the Emperor Sigismund. Without this, he would hardly have undertaken the journey. We quote it in full, seeing it has become one of the great documents of history. It was addressed “to all ecclesiastical and secular princes, etc., and to all our subjects.” “We recommend to you with a full affection, to all in general and to each in particular, the honorable Master John Huss, Bachelor in Divinity, and Master of Arts, the bearer of these presents, journeying from Bohemia to the Council of Constance, whom we have taken under our protection and safeguard, and under that of the Empire, enjoining you to receive him and treat him kindly, furnishing him with all that shall be necessary to speed and assure his journey, as well by water as by land, without taking anything from him or his at coming in or going out, for any sort of duties whatsoever; and calling on you to allow him to PASS, SOJOURN, STOP, AND RETURN FREELY AND SECURELY, providing him even, if necessary, with good passports, for the honor and respect of the Imperial Majesty. Given at Spiers this 18th day of October of the year 1414, the third of our reign in Hungary, and the fifth of that of the Romans.”2 In the above document, the emperor pledges his honor and the power of the Empire for the safety of Huss. He was to go and return, and no man dare molest him. No promise could be more sacred, no protection apparently more complete. How that pledge was redeemed we shall see by-and-by. Huss’s trust, however, was in One more powerful than the kings of earth. “I confide altogether,” wrote he to one of his friends, “in the all-powerful God, in my Savior; he will accord me his Holy Spirit to fortify me in his truth, so that I may face with courage temptations, prison, and if necessary a cruel death.”3

Full liberty was accorded him during the first days of his stay at Constance. He made his arrival be intimated to the Pope the day after by two Bohemian noblemen who accompanied him, adding that he carried a safe-conduct from the emperor. The Pope received them courteously, and expressed his determination to protect Huss.4 The Pope’s own position was too precarious, however, to make his promise of any great value.

Paletz and Causis, who, of all the ecclesiastics of Prague, were the bitterest enemies of Huss, had preceded him to Constance, and were working day and night among the members of the Council to inflame them against him, and secure his condemnation. Their machinations were not without result. On the twenty-sixth day after his arrival Huss was arrested, in flagrant violation of the imperial safe-conduct, and carried before the Pope and the cardinals.5 After a conversation of some hours, he was told that he must remain a prisoner, and was entrusted to the clerk of the Cathedral of Constance. He remained a week at the house of this official under a strong guard. Thence he was conducted to the prison of the monastery of the Dominicans on the banks of the Rhine. The sewage of the monastery flowed close to the place where he was confined, and the damp and pestilential air of his prison brought on a raging fever, which had well-nigh terminated his life.6 His enemies feared that after all he would escape them, and the Pope sent his own physicians to him to take care of his health.7

When the tidings of his imprisonment reached Huss’s native country, they kindled a flame in Bohemia. Burning words bespoke the indignation that the nation felt at the treachery and cruelty with which their great countryman had been treated. The puissant barons united in a remonstrance to the Emperor Sigismund, reminding him of his safe-conduct, and demanding that he should vindicate his own honor, and redress the injustice done to Huss, by ordering his instant liberation. The first impulse of Sigismund was to open Huss’s prison, but the casuists of the Council found means to keep it shut. The emperor was told that he had no right to grant a safe-conduct in the circumstances without the consent of the Council; that the greater good of the Church must over-rule his promise; that the Council by its supreme authority could release him from his obligation, and that no formality of this sort could be suffered to obstruct the course of justice against a heretic.8 The promptings of honor and humanity were stifled in the emperor’s breast by these reasonings. In the voice of the assembled Church he heard the voice of God, and delivered up John Huss to the will of his enemies.

The Council afterwards put its reasonings into a decree, to the effect that no faith is to be kept with heretics to the prejudice of the Church.9 Being now completely in their power, the enemies of Huss pushed on the process against him. They examined his writings, they founded a series of criminatory articles upon them, and proceeding to his prison, where they found him still suffering severely from fever, they read them to him. He craved of them the favor of an advocate to assist him in framing his defense, enfeebled as he was in body and mind by the foul air of his prison, and the fever with which he had been smitten. This request was refused, although the indulgence asked was one commonly accorded to even the greatest criminals. At this stage the proceedings against him were stopped for a little while by an unexpected event, which turned the thoughts of the Council in another direction. It was now that Pope John escaped, as we have already related. In the interval, the keepers of his monastic prison having fled along with their master, the Pope, Huss was removed to the Castle of Gottlieben, on the other side of the Rhine, where he was shut up, heavily loaded with chains.10

While the proceedings against Huss stood still, those against the Pope went forward. The flight of John had brought his affairs to a crisis, and the Council, without more delay, deposed him from the Pontificate, as narrated above.

To the delegates whom the Council sent to intimate to him his sentence, he delivered up the Pontifical seal and the fisherman’s ring. Along with these insignia they took possession of his person, brought him back to Constance, and threw him into the prison of Gottlieben,11 the same stronghold in which Huss was confined. How solemn and instructive! The Reformer and the man who had arrested him are now the inmates of the same prison, yet what a gulf divides the Pontiff from the martyr! The chains of the one are the monuments of his infamy. The bonds of the other are the badges of his virtue. They invest their wearer with a luster which is lacking to the diadem of Sigismund.

The Council was only the more intent on condemning Huss, that it had already condemned Pope John. It instinctively felt that the deposition of the Pontiff was a virtual justification of the Reformer, and that the world would so construe it. It was minded to avenge itself on the man who had compelled it to lay open its sores to the world. It felt, moreover, no little pleasure in the exercise of its newly-acquired prerogative of infallibility: a Pope had fallen beneath its stroke, why should a simple priest defy its authority?

The Council, however, delayed bringing John Huss to his trial. His two great opponents, Paletz and Causis—whose enmity was whetted, doubtless, by the discomfitures they had sustained from Huss in Prague—feared the effect of his eloquence upon the members, and took care that he should not appear till they had prepared the Council for his condemnation. At last, on the 5th of June, 1415, he was put on his trial.12 His books were produced, and he was asked if he acknowledged being the writer of them. This he readily did. The articles of crimination were next read. Some of these were fair statements of Huss’s opinions; others were exaggerations or perversions, and others again were wholly false, imputing to him opinions which he did not hold, and which he had never taught. Huss naturally wished to reply, pointing out what was false, what was perverted, and what was true in the indictment preferred against him, assigning the grounds and adducing the proofs in support of those sentiments which he really held, and which he had taught. He had not uttered more than a few words when there arose in the hall a clamor so loud as completely to drown his voice. Huss stood motionless; he cast his eyes around on the excited assembly, surprise and pity rather than anger visible on his face. Waiting till the tumult had subsided, he again attempted to proceed with his defense. He had not gone far till he had occasion to appeal to the Scriptures; the storm was that moment renewed, and with greater violence than before. Some of the Fathers shouted out accusations, others broke into peals of derisive laughter. Again Huss was silent. “He is dumb,” said his enemies, who forgot that they had come there as his judges. “I am silent,” said Huss, “because I am unable to make myself audible midst so great a noise.” “All,” said Luther, referring in his characteristic style to this scene, “all worked themselves into rage like wild boars; the bristles of their back stood on end, they bent their brows and gnashed their teeth against John Huss.”13

The minds of the Fathers were too perturbed to be able to agree on the course to be followed. It was found impossible to restore order, and after a short sitting the assembly broke up.

Some Bohemian noblemen, among whom was Baron de Chlum, the steady and most affectionate friend of the Reformer, had been witnesses of the tumult. They took care to inform Sigismund of what had passed, and prayed him to be present at the next sitting, in the hope that, though the Council did not respect itself, it would yet respect the emperor.

After a day’s interval the Council again assembled. The morning of that day, the 7th June, was a memorable one. An all but total eclipse of the sun astonished and terrified the venerable Fathers and the inhabitants of Constance. The darkness was great. The city, the lake, and the surrounding plains were buried in the shadow of portentous night. This phenomenon was remembered and spoken of long after in Europe. Till the inauspicious darkness had passed the Fathers did not dare to meet. Towards noon the light returned, and the Council assembled in the hall of the Franciscans, the emperor taking his seat in it. John Huss was led in by a numerous body of armed men.14 Sigismund and Huss were now face to face. There sat the emperor, his princes, lords, and suite crowding round him; there, loaded with chains, stood the man for whose safety he had put in pledge his honor as a prince and his power as emperor. The irons that Huss wore were a strange commentary, truly, on the imperial safe-conduct. Is it thus, well might the prisoner have said, is it thus that princes on whom the oil of unction has been poured, and Councils which the Holy Ghost inspires, keep faith? But Sigismund, though he could not be insensible to the silent reproach which the chains of Huss cast upon him, consoled himself with his secret resolve to save the Reformer from the last extremity. He had permitted Huss to be deprived of liberty, but he would not permit him to be deprived of life. But there were two elements he had not taken into account in forming this resolution. The first was the unyielding firmness of the Reformer, and the second was the ghostly awe in which he himself stood of the Council; and so, despite his better intentions, he suffered himself to be dragged along on the road of perfidy and dishonor, which he had meanly entered, till he came to its tragic end, and the imperial safe-conduct and the martyr’s stake had taken their place, side by side, ineffaceably, on history’s eternal page.

Causis again read the accusation, and a somewhat desultory debate ensued between Huss and several doctors of the Council, especially the celebrated Peter d’Ailly, Cardinal of Cambray. The line of accusation and defense has been sketched with tolerable fullness by all who have written on the Council. After comparing these statements it appears to us that Huss differed from the Church of Rome not so much on dogmas as on great points of jurisdiction and policy. These, while they directly attacked certain of the principles of the Papacy, tended indirectly to the subversion of the whole system—in short, to a far greater revolution than Huss perceived, or perhaps intended. He appears to have believed in transubstantiation;15 he declared so before the Council, although in stating his views he betrays ever and anon a revulsion from the grosser form of the dogma. He admitted the Divine institution and office of the Pope and members of the hierarchy, but he made the efficacy of their official acts dependent on their spiritual character. Even to the last he did not abandon the communion of the Roman Church. Still it cannot be doubted that John Huss was essentially a Protestant and a Reformer. He held that the supreme rule of faith and practice was the Holy Scriptures; that Christ was the Rock on which our Lord said he would build his Church; that “the assembly of the Predestinate is the Holy Church, which has neither spot nor wrinkle, but is holy and undefiled; the which Jesus Christ, calleth his own;” that the Church needed no one visible head on earth, that it had none such in the days of the apostles; that nevertheless it was then well governed, and might be so still although it should lose its earthly head; and that the Church was not confined to the clergy, but included all the faithful. He maintained the principle of liberty of conscience so far as that heresy ought not to be punished by the magistrate till the heretic had been convicted out of Holy Scripture. He appears to have laid no weight on excommunications and indulgences, unless in cases in which manifestly the judgment of God went along with the sentence of the priest. Like Wicliffe he held that tithes were simply alms, and that of the vast temporal revenues of the clergy that portion only which was needful for their subsistence was rightfully theirs, and that the rest belonged to the poor, or might be otherwise distributed by the civil authorities.16 His theological creed was only in course of formation. That it would have taken more definite form—that the great doctrines of the Reformation would have come out in full light to his gaze, diligent student as he was of the Bible had his career been prolonged, we cannot doubt. The formula of “justification by faith alone”—the foundation of the teaching of Martin Luther in after days—we do not find in any of the defenses or letters of Huss; but if he did not know the terms he had learned the doctrine, for when he comes to die, turning away from Church, from saint, from all human intervention, he casts himself simply, upon the infinite mercy and love of the Savior. “I submit to the correction of our Divine Master, and I put my trust in his infinite mercy.”17 “I commend you,” says he, writing to the people of Prague, “to the merciful Lord Jesus Christ, our true God, and the Son of the immaculate Virgin Mary, who hath redeemed us by his most bitter death, without all our merits, from eternal pains, from the thraldom of the devil, and from sin.”18

The members of the Council instinctively felt that Huss was not one of them; that although claiming to belong to the Church which they constituted, he had in fact abandoned it, and renounced its authority. The two leading principles which he had embraced were subversive of their whole jurisdiction in both its branches, spiritual and temporal. The first and great authority with him was Holy Scripture; this struck at the foundation of the spiritual power of the hierarchy; and as regards their temporal power he undermined it by his doctrine touching ecclesiastical revenues and possessions.

From these two positions neither sophistry nor threats could make him swerve. In the judgment of the Council he was in rebellion. He had transferred his allegiance from the Church to God speaking in his Word. This was his great crime. It mattered little in the eyes of the assembled Fathers that he still shared in some of their common beliefs; he had broken the great bond of submission; he had become the worst of all heretics; he had rent from his conscience the shackles of the infallibility; and he must needs, in process of time, become a more avowed and dangerous heretic than he was at that moment, and accordingly the mind of the Council was made up—John Huss must undergo the doom of the heretic.

Already enfeebled by illness, and by his long imprisonment—for “he was shut up in a tower, with fetters on his legs, that he could scarce walk in the day-time, and at night he was fastened up to a rack against the wall hard by his bed”19—he was exhausted and worn out by the length of the sitting, and the attention demanded to rebut the attacks and reasonings of his accusers. At length the Council rose, and Huss was led out by his armed escort, and conducted back to prison. His trusty friend, John de Chlum, followed him, and embracing him, bade him be of good cheer. “Oh, what a consolation to me, in the midst of my trials,” said Huss in one of his letters, “to see that excellent nobleman, John de Chlum, stretch forth the hand to me, miserable heretic, languishing in chains, and already condemned by every one.”20

In the interval between Huss’s second appearance before the Council, and the third and last citation, the emperor made an ineffectual attempt to induce the Reformer to retract and abjure. Sigismund was earnestly desirous of saving his life, no doubt out of regard for Huss, but doubtless also from a regard to his own honor, deeply at stake in the issue. The Council drew up a form of abjuration and submission. This was communicated to Huss in prison, and the mediation of mutual friends was employed to prevail with him to sign the paper. The Reformer declared himself ready to abjure those errors which had been falsely imputed to him, but as regarded those conclusions which had been faithfully deduced from his writings, and which he had taught, these, by the grace of God, he never would abandon. “He would rather,” he said, “be cast into the sea with a mill-stone about his neck, than offend those little ones to whom he had preached the Gospel, by abjuring it.”21 At last the matter was brought very much to this point: would he submit himself implicitly to the Council? The snare was cunningly set, but Huss had wisdom to see and avoid it. “If the Council should even tell you,” said a doctor, whose name has not been preserved, “that you have but one eye, you would be obliged to agree with the Council.” “But,” said Huss,. “as long as God keeps me in my senses, I would not say such a thing, even though the whole world should require it, because I could not say it without wounding my conscience.”22 What an obstinate, self-opinionated, arrogant man! said the Fathers. Even the emperor was irritated at what he regarded as stubbornness, and giving way to a burst of passion, declared that such unreasonable obduracy was worthy of death.23

This was the great crisis of the Reformer’s career. It was as if the Fathers had said, “We shall say nothing of heresy; we specify no errors, only submit yourself implicitly to our authority as an infallible Council. Burn this grain of incense on the altar in testimony of our corporate divinity. That is asking no great matter surely.” This was the fiery temptation with which Huss was now tried. How many would have yielded—how many in similar circumstances have yielded, and been lost! Had Huss bowed his head before the infallibility, he never could have lifted it up again before his own conscience, before his countrymen, before his Savior. Struck with spiritual paralysis, his strength would have departed from him. He would have escaped the stake, the agony of which is but for a moment, but he would have missed the crown, the glory of which is eternal.

From that moment Huss had peace—deeper and more ecstatic than he had ever before experienced. “I write this letter,” says he to a friend, “in prison, and with my fettered hand, expecting my sentence of death tomorrow… When, with the assistance of Jesus Christ, we shall meet again in the delicious peace of the future life, you will learn how merciful God has shown himself towards me—how effectually he has supported me in the midst of my temptations and trials.”24 The irritation of the debate into which the Council had dragged him was forgotten, and he calmly began to prepare for death, not disquieted by the terrible form in which he foresaw it would come. The martyrs of former ages had passed by this path to their glory, and by the help of Him who is mighty he should be able to travel by the same road to his. He would look the fire in the face, and overcome the vehemency of its flame by the yet greater vehemency of his love. He already tasted the joys that awaited him within those gates that should open to receive him as soon as the fire should loose him from the stake, and set free his spirit to begin its flight on high. Nay, in his prison he was cheered with a prophetic glimpse of the dawn of those better days that awaited the Church of God on earth, and which his own blood would largely contribute to hasten. Once as he lay asleep he thought that he was again in his beloved Chapel of Bethlehem. Envious priests were there trying to efface the figures of Jesus Christ which he had got painted upon its walls. He was filled with sorrow. But next day there came painters who restored the partially obliterated portraits, so that they were more brilliant than before. “‘Now,’ said these artists, ‘let the bishops and the priests come forth; let them efface these if they can;’ and the crowd was filled with joy, and I also.”25

“Occupy your thoughts with your defense, rather than with visions,” said John de Chlum, to whom he had told his dream “And yet,” replied Huss, “I firmly hope that this life of Christ, which I engraved on men’s hearts at Bethlehem when I preached his Word, will not be effaced; and that after I have ceased to live it will be still better shown forth, by mightier preachers, to the great satisfaction of the people, and to my own most sincere joy, when I shall be again permitted to announce his Gospel—that is, when I shall rise from the dead.”26

Chapter 3.7: Condemnation And Martyrdom Of Huss

Sigismund and Huss face to face – The Bishop of Lodi’s Sermon – Degradation of Huss – His Condemnation – His Prophecy – Procession – His Behaviour at the Stake – Reflections on his Martyrdom

THIRTY days elapsed. Huss had languished in prison, contending with fetters, fetid air, and sickness, for about two months. It was now the 6th of July, 1415—the anniversary of his birth. This day was to see the wishes of his enemies crowned, and his own sorrows terminated. The hall of the Council was filled with a brilliant assemblage. There sat the emperor; there were the princes, the deputies of the sovereigns, the patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, and priests; and there too was a vast concourse which the spectacle that day was to witness had brought together. It was meet that a stage should be erected worthy of the act to be done upon it—that when the first champion in the great struggle that was just opening should yield up his life, all Christendom might see and bear witness to the fact.

The Archbishop of Riga came to the prison to bring Huss to the Council. Mass was being celebrated as they arrived at the church door, and Huss was made to stay outside till it was finished, lest the mysteries should be profaned by the presence of a man who was not only a heretic, but a leader of heretics.1 Being led in, he was bidden take his seat on a raised platform, where he might be conspicuously in the eyes of the whole assembly. On sitting down, he was seen to engage in earnest prayer, but the words were not heard. Near him rose a pile of clerical vestments, in readiness for the ceremonies that were to precede the final tragedy. The sermon, usual on such occasions, was preached by the Bishop of Lodi. He chose as his text the words, “That the body of sin might be destroyed.” He enlarged on the schism as the source of the heresies, murders, sacrileges, robberies, and wars which had for so long a period desolated the Church, and drew, says Lenfant, “such a horrible picture of the schism, that one would think at first he was exhorting the emperor to burn the two anti-Popes, and not John Huss. Yet the bishop concluded in these terms, addressed to Sigismund: ‘Destroy heresies and errors, but chiefly’ (pointing to John Huss) ‘ that OBSTINATE HERETIC.’”2

The sermon ended, the accusations against Huss were again read, as also the depositions of the witnesses; and then Huss gave his final refusal to abjure. This he accompanied with a brief recapitulation of his proceedings since the commencement of this matter, ending by saying that he had come to this Council of his own free will, “confiding in the safe-conduct of the emperor here present.” As he uttered these last words, he looked full at Sigismund, on whose brow the crimson of a deep blush was seen by the whole assembly, whose gaze was at the instant turned towards his majesty.3

Sentence of condemnation as a heretic was now passed on Huss. There followed the ceremony of degradation—an ordeal that brought no blush upon the brow of the martyr. One after another the priestly vestments, brought thither for that end, were produced and put upon him, and now the prisoner stood full in the gaze of the Council, sacerdotally appareled. They next put into his hand the chalice, as if he were about to celebrate mass. They asked him if now he were willing to abjure. “With what face, then,” replied he, “should I behold the heavens? How should I look on those multitudes of men to whom I have preached the pure Gospel? No; I esteem their salvation more than this poor body, now appointed unto death.”4

Then they took from him the chalice, saying, “O accursed Judas, who, having abandoned the counsels of peace, have taken part in that of the Jews, we take from you this cup filled with the blood of Jesus Christ.”5

“I hope, by the mercy of God,” replied John Huss, “that this very day I shall drink of his cup in his own kingdom; and in one hundred years you shall answer before God and before me.”6

The seven bishops selected for the purpose now came round him, and proceeded to remove the sacerdotal garments—the alb, the stole, and other pieces of attire—in which in mockery they had arrayed him. And as each bishop performed his office, he bestowed his curse upon the martyr. Nothing now remained but to erase the marks of the tonsure.

On this there arose a great dispute among the prelates whether they should use a razor or scissors. “See,” said Huss, turning to the emperor, “they cannot agree among themselves how to insult me.” They resolved to use the scissors, which were instantly brought, and his hair was cut cross-wise to obliterate the mark of the crown.7 According to the canon law, the priest so dealt with becomes again a layman, and although the operation does not remove the character, which is indelible, it yet renders him for ever incapable of exercising the functions of the priesthood.

There remained one other mark of ignominy. They put on his head a cap or pyramidal-shaped miter of paper, on which were painted frightful figures of demons, with the word Arch-Heretic conspicuous in front. “Most joyfully,” said Huss, “will I wear this crown of shame for thy sake, O Jesus, who for me didst wear a crown of thorns.”8

When thus attired, the prelates said, “Now, we devote thy soul to the devil.” “And I,” said John Huss, lifting up his eyes toward heaven, “do commit my spirit into thy hands, O Lord Jesus, for thou hast redeemed me.”

Turning to the emperor, the bishops said, “This man John Huss, who has no more any office or part in the Church of God, we leave with thee, delivering him up to the civil judgment and power.”9 Then the emperor, addressing Louis, Duke of Bavaria—who, as Vicar of the Empire, was standing before him in his robes, holding in his hand the golden apple, and the cross—commanded him to deliver over Huss to those whose duty it was to see the sentence executed. The duke in his turn abandoned him to the chief magistrate of Constance, and the magistrate finally gave him into the hands of his officers or city sergeants.

The procession was now formed. The martyr walked between four town sergeants. The princes and deputies, escorted by eight hundred men-at-arms, followed. In the cavalcade, mounted on horseback, were many bishops and priests delicately clad in robes of silk and velvet. The population of Constance followed in mass to see the end.

As Huss passed the episcopal palace, his attention was attracted by a great fire which blazed and crackled before the gates. He was informed that on that pile his books were being consumed. He smiled at this futile attempt to extinguish the light which he foresaw would one day, and that not very distant, fill all Christendom.

The procession crossed the bridge and halted in a meadow, between the gardens of the city and the gate of Gottlieben. Here the execution was to take place. Being come to the spot where he was to die, the martyr kneeled down, and began reciting the penitential psalms. He offered up short and fervent supplications, and oftentimes repeated, as the by-standers bore witness, the words, “Lord Jesus, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

“We know not,” said those who were near him, “what his life has been, but verily he prays after a devout and godly fashion.” Turning his gaze upward in prayer, the paper crown fell off. One of the soldiers rushed forward and replaced it, saying that “he must be burned with the devils whom he had served.”10 Again the martyr smiled.

The stake was driven deep into the ground. Huss was tied to it with ropes. He stood facing the east. “This,” cried some, “is not the right attitude for a heretic.” He was again unbound, turned to the west, and made fast to the beam by a chain that passed round his neck. “It is thus,” said he, “that you silence the goose, but a hundred years hence there will arise a swan whose singing you shall not be able to silence.”11

He stood with his feet on the faggots, which were mixed with straw that they might the more readily ignite. Wood was piled all round him up to the chin. Before applying the torch, Louis of Bavaria and the Marshal of the Empire approached, and for the last time implored him to have a care for his life, and renounce his errors. “What errors,” asked Huss, “shall I renounce? I know myself guilty of none. I call God to witness that all that I have written and preached has been with the view of rescuing souls from sin and perdition; and, therefore, most joyfully will I confirm with my blood that truth which I have written and preached.” At the hearing of these words they departed from him, and John Huss had now done talking with men.

The fire was applied, the flames blazed upward. “John Huss,” says Fox, “began to sing with a loud voice, ‘Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.’ And when he began to say the same the third time, the wind so blew the flame in his face that it choked him.” Poggius, who was secretary to the Council, and AEneas Sylvius, who afterwards became Pope, and whose narratives are not liable to the suspicion of being colored, bear even higher testimony to the heroic demeanor of both Huss and Jerome at their execution. “Both,” says the latter historian, “bore themselves with constant mind when their last hour approached. They prepared for the fire as if they were going to a marriage feast. They uttered no cry of pain. When the flames rose they began to sing hymns; and scarce could the vehemency of the fire stop their singing.”12

Huss had given up the ghost. When the flames had subsided, it was found that only the lower parts of his body were consumed, and that the upper parts, held fast by the chain, hung suspended on the stake. The executioners kindled the fire anew, in order to consume what remained of the martyr. When the flames had a second time subsided, the heart was found still entire amid the ashes. A third time had the fire to be kindled. At last all was burned. The ashes were carefully collected, the very soil was dug up, and all was carted away and thrown into the Rhine; so anxious were his persecutors that not the slightest vestige of John Huss—not even a thread of his raiment, for that too was burned along with his body—should be left upon the earth.13

When the martyr bowed his head at the stake it was the infallible Council that was vanquished. It was with Huss that the victory remained; and what a victory! Heap together all the trophies of Alexander and of Caesar, what are they all when weighed in the balance against this one glorious achievement? From the stake of Huss,14 what blessings have flowed, and are still flowing, to the world! From the moment he expired amid the flames, his name became a power, which will continue to speed on the great cause of truth and light, till the last shackle shall be rent from the intellect, and the conscience emancipated from every usurpation, shall be free to obey the authority of its rightful Lord. What a surprise to his and the Gospel’s enemies! “Huss is dead,” say they, as they retire from the meadow where they have just seen him expire. Huss is dead. The Rhine has received his ashes, and is bearing them on its rushing floods to the ocean, there to bury them for ever. No: Huss is alive. It is not death, but life, that he has found in the fire; his stake has given him not an entombment, but a resurrection. The winds as they blow over Constance are wafting the spirit of the confessor and martyr to all the countries of Christendom. The nations are being stirred; Bohemia is awakening; a hundred years, and Germany and all Christendom will shake off their slumber; and then will come the great reckoning which the martyr’s prophetic spirit foretold: “In the course of a hundred years you will answer to God and to me.”

Chapter 3.8: Wicliffe And Huss Compared In Their Theology, Their Character, And Their Labours

Wicliffe and Huss, Representatives of their Epoch: the Former the Master, the Latter the Scholar – Both Acknowledge the Scriptures to be Supreme Judge and Authority, but Wicliffe more Completely – True Church lies in the “Totality of the Elect” – Wicliffe Fully and Huss more Feebly Accept the Truth of the Sole Mediatorship of Christ – Their Views on the Doctrine of the Sacraments – Lechler’s Contrast between Wicliffe and Huss

BEFORE advancing to the history of Jerome, let us glance back on the two great men, representatives of their epoch, who have passed before us, and note the relations in which they stand to each other. These relations are such that the two always come up together. The century that divides them is annihilated. Everywhere in the history—in the hall of the University of Prague, in the pulpit of the Bethlehem Chapel, in the council chamber of Constance—these two figures, Wicliffe and Huss, are seen standing side by side.

Wicliffe is the master, and Huss the scholar. The latter receives his opinions from the former—not, however, without investigation and proof—and he incorporates them with himself, so to speak, at the cost of a severe mental struggle. “Both men,” says Lechler, “place the Word of God at the foundation of their system, and acknowledge the Holy Scriptures as the supreme judge and authority. Still they differ in many respects.

Wicliffe reached his principle gradually, and with laborious effort, whilst Huss accepted it, and had simply to hold it fast, and to establish it.”1 To Wicliffe the principle was an independent conquest, to Huss it came as a possession which another had won. The opinions of Wicliffe on the head of the sole authority of Scripture were sharply defined, and even received great prominence, while Huss never so clearly defined his sentiments nor gave them the same large place in his teaching. Wicliffe, moreover, repudiated the limitary idea that Scripture was to be interpreted according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers, and held that the Spirit makes known the true sense of the Word of God, and that Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture. Huss, on the other hand, was willing to receive the Scriptures as the Holy Ghost had given wisdom to the Fathers to explain them.

“Both Wicliffe and Huss held that ‘the true Church lies in nothing else than the totality of the elect.’ His whole conceptions and ideas of the Church, Huss has derived from no other than the great English Reformer. Wicliffe based the whole of his Church system upon the eternal purposes of God respecting the elect, building up from the foundations, and making his whole plan sublimely accordant with the nature of God, the constitution of the universe, and the divine government of all things. Huss’s conception of the Church lay more on the surface, and the relations between God and his people were with him those of a disciple to his teacher, or a servant to his master.”

As regards the function of Christ as the one Mediator between God and man, Huss was at one with Wicliffe. The English Reformer carried out his doctrine, with the strength and joy of a full conviction, to its logical issue, in the entire repudiation of the veneration and intercession of the saints. Huss, on the other hand, grasping the glorious truth of Christ’s sole mediatorship more feebly, was never able to shake himself wholly free from a dependence on the intercession and good offices of the glorified. Nor were the views of Huss on the doctrine of the Sacraments nearly so well defined or so accordant with Scripture as those of Wicliffe; and, as has been already said, he believed in transubstantiation to the end. On the question of the Pope’s authority he more nearly approximated Wicliffe’s views; Huss denied the divine right of the Bishop of Rome to the primacy of the Church, and wished to restore the original equality which he held existed among the bishops of the Church. Wicliffe would have gone farther; equality among the priests and not merely among the bishops would alone have contented him.

Lechler has drawn with discriminating hand a contrast between these two men. The power of their intellect, the graces of their character, and the achievements of their lives are finely and sharply brought out in the contrasted lights of the following comparison:

Huss is indeed not a primitive, creative, original genius like Wicliffe, and as a thinker neither speculatively inclined nor of systematic talent. In the sphere of theological thinking Wicliffe is a kingly spirit, of an inborn power of mind, and through unwearied mental labor gained the position of a leader of thought; whilst Huss appears as a star of the second magnitude, and planet-like revolves around Wicliffe as his sun. Both indeed circle round the great central Sun, which is Christ himself. Further, Huss is not a character like Wicliffe, twice tempered and sharp as steel—an inwardly strong nature, going absolutely straight forward, without looking on either side, following only his conviction, and carrying it out logically and energetically to its ultimate consequences, sometimes even with a ruggedness and harshness which wounds and repulses. In comparison with Wicliffe, Huss is a somewhat soft personality, finely strung, more receptively and passively inclined than with a vocation for independent power and heroic conquest. Nevertheless, it is not to be inferred that he was a weakling, a characterless, yielding personality. With softness and tenderness of soul it is quite possible to combine a moral toughness, an immutable faith, an unbending firmness, forming a union of qualities which exerts an attractive and winning influence, nay, challenges the highest esteem and veneration.

Added to this is the moral purity and unselfishness of the man who exercised an almost ascetic severity towards himself; his sincere fear of God, tender conscientiousness, and heart-felt piety, whereby he cared nothing for himself or his own honor, but before all put the honor of God and his Savior, and next to that the honor of his fatherland, and the unblemished reputation for orthodox piety of his countrymen. In honest zeal for the cause of God and Jesus Christ, both men—Wicliffe and Huss—stand on the same footing. Only in Wicliffe’s case the zeal was of a more fiery, manly, energetic kind, whilst in Huss it burned with a warm, silent glow, in union with almost feminine tenderness, and fervent faith and endurance. And this heart, with all its gentleness, unappalled by even the most terrible death, this unconquerable, this all-overcoming patience of the man in his confession of evangelical truth, won for him the affections of his cotemporaries, and made the most lasting impression upon his own times and on succeeding generations. If Wicliffe was surpassingly a man of understanding, Huss was surpassingly a man of feeling; not of a genial disposition like Luther, but rather of a deep, earnest, gentle nature. Further, if Wicliffe was endowed with a powerful, resolute, manly, energetic will, Huss was gifted with a true, earnest, enduring will. I might say Wicliffe was a man of God, Huss was a child of God; both, however, were heroes in God’s host, each according to the gifts which the Spirit of God had lent them, and in each these gifts of mind were used for the good of the whole body. Measured by an intellectual standard, Huss was certainly not equal to Wicliffe; Wicliffe is by far the greater; he overtops by a head not only other men, but also even a Huss. Despite that, however, John Huss, as far as his character was concerned, for his true noble personality, his conscientious piety, his conquering inviolable faith in the midst of suffering and oppression, was in all respects a worthy follower of Wicliffe, a worthy representative upon the Continent of Europe of the evangelical principle, and of Wicliffe’s true, fearless idea of reform, which so loftily upheld the honor of Christ.2

Chapter 3.9: Trial And Temptation Of Jerome

Jerome – His Arrival in Constance – Flight and Capture – His Fall and Repentance – He Rises again

WE have pursued our narrative uninterruptedly to the close of Huss’s life. We must now retrace our steps a little way, and narrate the fate of his disciple and fellow-laborer, Jerome. These two had received the same baptism of faith, and were to drink of the same cup of martyrdom. When Jerome heard of the arrest of Huss, he flew to Constance in the hope of being able to succor, in some way, his beloved master. When he saw that without doing anything for Huss he had brought his own life into peril, he attempted to flee. He was already far on his way back to Prague when he was arrested, and brought to Constance, which he entered in a cart, loaded with chains and guarded by soldiers, as if he had been a malefactor.1

On May 23rd, 1415, he appeared before the Council. The Fathers were thrown into tumult and uproar as on the occasion of Huss’s first appearance before them. Jerome’s assailants were chiefly the doctors, and especially the famous Gerson, with whom he had chanced to dispute in Paris and Heidelberg, when attending the universities of these cities.2 At night he was conducted to the dungeon of a tower in the cemetery of St. Paul. His chains, riveted to a lofty beam, did not permit of his sitting down; and his arms, crossed behind on his neck and tied with fetters, bent his head downward and occasioned him great suffering. He fell ill, and his enemies, fearing that death would snatch him from them, relaxed somewhat the rigor of his treatment; nevertheless in that dreadful prison he remained an entire year.3

Meanwhile a letter was received from the barons of Bohemia, which convinced the Council that it had deceived itself when it fancied it had done with Huss when it threw his ashes into the Rhine. A storm was evidently brewing, and should the Fathers plant a second stake, the tempest would be all the more sure to burst, and with the more awful fury. Instead of burning Jerome, it were better to induce him to recant. To this they now directed all their efforts, and so far they were successful. They brought him before them, and summarily offered him the alternative of retractation or death by fire. Ill in body and depressed in mind from his confinement of four months in a noisome dungeon, cut off from his friends, the most of whom had left Constance when Huss was burned, Jerome yielded to the solicitation of the Council. Me shrank from the bitter stake and clung to life.

But his retractation (September 23rd, 1415) was a very qualified one. He submitted himself to the Council, and subscribed to the justice of its condemnation of the articles of Wicliffe and Huss, saving and excepting the “holy truths” which they had taught; and he promised to live and die in the Catholic faith, and never to preach anything contrary to it.4 It is as surprising that such an abjuration should have been accepted by the Council, as it is that it should have been emitted by Jerome. Doubtless the little clause in the middle of it reconciled it to his conscience. But one trembles to think of the brink on which Jerome at this moment stood. Having come so far after that master whom he has seen pass through the fire to the sky, is he able to follow him no farther? Huss and Jerome have been lovely in their lives; are they to be divided in their deaths? No! Jerome has fallen in a moment of weakness, but his Master will lift him up again. And when he is risen the stake will not be able to stop his following where Huss has gone before.

To turn for a moment from Jerome to the Council: we must remark that the minds of the people were, to some extent, prepared for a reformation of the Church by the sermons preached on that subject from time to time by the members of the Council. On September 8th a discourse was delivered on the text in Jeremiah, “Where is the word of the Lord?” The name of the preacher has not been preserved. After a long time spent in inquiring after the Church, she at length appeared to the orator in the form of a great and beautiful queen, lamenting that there was no longer any virtue in the world, and ascribing this to the avarice and ambition of the clergy, and the growth of heresy. “The Church,” exclaimed the preacher, “has no greater enemies than the clergy. For who are they that are the greatest opposers of the Reformation? Are they the secular princes? Very far from it, for they are the men who desire it with the greatest zeal, and demand and court it with the utmost earnestness. Who are they who rend the garment of Jesus Christ but the clergy?—who may be compared to hungry wolves, that come into the sheepfolds in lambskins, and conceal ungodly and wicked souls under religious habits.” A few days later the Bishop of Lodi, preaching from the words “Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die and not live,” took occasion to inveigh against the Council in similar terms.5 It seemed almost as if it was a voluntary penance which the Fathers had set themselves when they permitted one after another of their number to mount the pulpit only to draw their likenesses and to publish their faults. An ugly picture it truly was on which they were invited to gaze, and they had not even the poor consolation of being able to say that a heretic had painted it.

The abjuration of Jerome, renouncing the errors but adhering to the truths which Wicliffe and Huss had taught, was not to the mind of the majority of the Council. There were men in it who were resolved that he should not thus escape. His master had paid the penalty of his errors with his life, and it was equally determined to spill the blood of the disciple. New accusations were preferred against him, amounting to the formidable number of a hundred and seven. It would be extraordinary, indeed, if in so long a list the Council should be unable to prove a sufficient number to bring Jerome to the stake. The indictment now framed against him had reference mainly to the real presence, indulgences, the worship of images and relics, and the authority of the priests. A charge of disbelief in the Trinity was thrown in, perhaps to give all air of greater gravity to the inculpation; but Jerome purged himself of that accusation by reciting the Athanasian Creed.. As regarded transubstantiation, the Fathers had no cause to find fault with the opinions of Huss and Jerome. Both were believers in the real presence. “It is bread before consecration,” said Jerome, “it is the body of Christ after.”6 One would think that this dogma would be the first part of Romanism to be renounced; experience shows that it is commonly the last; that there is in it a strange power to blind, or fascinate, or enthral the mind. Even Luther, a century later, was not able fully to emancipate himself from it; and how many others, some of them in almost the first rank of Reformers, do we find speaking of the Eucharist with a mysticism and awe which show that neither was their emancipation complete! It is one of the greatest marvels in the whole history of Protestantism that Wicliffe, in the fourteenth century, should have so completely rid himself of this enchantment, and from the very midnight of superstition passed all at once into the clear light of reason and Scripture on this point.

As regards the other points included in the inculpation, there is no doubt that Jerome, like his master John Huss, fell below the standard of the Roman orthodox faith. He did not believe that a priest, be he scandalous or be he holy, had power to anathematize whomsoever he would; and pardons and indulgences he held to be worthless unless they came from God.7 There is reason, too, to think that his enemies spoke truly when they accused him of showing but scant reverence for relics, and of putting the Virgin’s veil, and the skin of the ass on which Christ sat when He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on the same level as regards their claim to the homage of Christians. And beyond doubt he was equally guilty with Huss in arraigning the priesthood for their avarice, ambition, tyranny, and licentiousness. Of the truth of this charge, Constance itself was a monument.8 That city had become a Sodom, and many said that a shower of fire and brimstone only could cleanse it from its manifold and indescribable iniquities. But the truth of the charge made the guilt of Jerome only the more heinous.

Meanwhile Jerome had reflected in his prison on what he had done. We have no record of his thoughts, but doubtless the image of Huss, so constant and so courageous in the fire, rose before him. He contrasted, too, the peace of mind which he enjoyed before his retractation, compared with the doubts that now darkened his soul and shut out the light of God’s loving-kindness. He could not conceal from himself the yet deeper abjurations that were before him, before he should finish with the Council and reconcile himself to the Church. On all this he pondered deeply. He saw that it was a gulf that had no bottom, into which he was about to throw himself. There the darkness would shut him in, and he should no more enjoy the society of that master whom he had so greatly revered on earth, nor behold the face of that other Master in heaven, who was the object of his yet higher reverence and love. And for what was he foregoing all these blessed hopes? Only to escape a quarter of an hour’s torment at the stake! “I am cast out of Thy sight,” said he, in the words of one in a former age, whom danger drove for a time from the path of duty, “but I will look again toward Thy holy temple.” And as he looked, God looked on him. The love of his Savior anew filled his soul—that love which is better than life—and with that love returned strength and courage. “No,” we hear him say, “although I should stand a hundred ages at the stake, I will not deny my Savior. Now I am ready to face the Council; it can kill the body, but it has no more that it can do.” Thus Jerome rose stronger from his fall.

Chapter 3.10: The Trial Of Jerome

The Trial of Jerome – Spirit and Eloquence of his Defense – Expresses his Sorrow for his Recantation – Horrors of his Imprisonment – Admiration awakened by his Appearance – Letter of Secretary Poggio – Interview with the Cardinal of Florence

WHEN the accusations were communicated to Jerome, he refused to reply to them in prison; he demanded to be heard in public. With this request his judges deemed it expedient to comply; and on May 23rd, 1416, he was taken to the cathedral church, where the Council had assembled to proceed with his cause.1

The Fathers feared exceedingly the effect of the eloquence of their prisoner, and they strove to limit him in his defenses to a simple “Yes” or “No.” “What injustice! What cruelty!” exclaimed Jerome. “You have held me shut up three hundred and forty days in a frightful prison, in the midst of filth, noisomeness, stench, and the utmost want of everything. You then bring me out before you, and lending an ear to my mortal enemies, you refuse to hear me. If you be really wise men, and the lights of the world, take care not to sin against justice. As for me, I am only a feeble mortal; my life is but of little importance; and when I exhort you not to deliver an unjust sentence, I speak less for myself than for you.”

The uproar that followed these words drowned his further utterance. The furious tempest by which all around him were shaken left him untouched. As stands the rock amid the weltering waves, so stood Jerome in the midst of this sea of passion. His face breathing peace, and lighted up by a noble courage, formed a prominent and pleasant picture amid the darkened and scowling visages that filled the hall. When the storm had subsided it was agreed that he should be fully heard at the sitting of the 26th of May.

On that day he made his defense in an oration worthy of his cause, worthy of the stage on which he pleaded it, and of the death by which he was to seal it. Even his bitterest enemies could not withhold the tribute of their admiration at the subtlety of his logic, the resources of his memory, the force of his argument, and the marvelous powers of his eloquence. With great presence of mind he sifted every accusation preferred against him, admitting what was true and rebutting what was false. He varied his oration, now with a pleasantry so lively as to make the stern faces around him relax into a smile,2 now with a sarcasm so biting that straightway the smile was changed into rage, and now with a pathos so melting that something like “dewy pity” sat upon the faces of his judges. “Not once,” says Poggio of Florence, the secretary, “during the whole time did he express a thought which was unworthy of a man of worth.” But it was not for life that he appeared to plead; for life he did not seem to care. All this eloquence was exerted, not to rescue himself from the stake, but to defend and exalt his cause.

Kneeling down in presence of the Council before beginning his defense, he earnestly prayed that his heart and mouth might be so guided as that not one false or unworthy word should fall from him. Then turning to the assembly he reviewed the long roll of men who had stood before unrighteous tribunals, and been condemned, though innocent; the great benefactors of the pagan world, the heroes and patriots of the Old Dispensation, the Prince of martyrs, Jesus Christ, the confessors of the New Dispensation—all had yielded up their life in the cause of righteousness, and by the sentence of mistaken or prejudiced judges. He next recounted his own manner of life from his youth upward; reviewed and examined the charges against him; exposed the prevarications of the witnesses, and, finally, recalled to the minds of his judges how the learned and holy doctors of the primitive Church had differed in their sentiments on certain points, and that these differences had tended to the explication rather than the ruin of the faith.

The Council was not unmoved by this address; it awoke in some breasts a sense of justice—we cannot say pity, for pity Jerome did not ask—and not a few expressed their astonishment that a man who had been shut up for months in a prison, where he could see neither to read nor to write, should yet be able to quote so great a number of authorities and learned testimonies in support of his opinions.3 The Council forgot that it had been promised,

When ye are brought before rulers and kings for my sake,… take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. (Mark 13:9, 11)4

Jerome at his former appearance before the Council had subscribed to the justice of Huss’s condemnation. He bitterly repented of this wrong, done in a moment of cowardice, to a master whom he venerated, and he cannot close without an effort to atone for it.5 “I knew him from his childhood,” said he, speaking of Huss; “he was a most excellent man, just and holy. He was condemned not-withstanding his innocence. He has ascended to heaven, like Elias, in the midst of flames, and from thence he will summon his judges to the dread tribunal of Christ. I also—I am ready to die. I will not recoil before the torments which are prepared for me by my enemies and false witnesses, who will one day have to render an account of their impostures before the great God whom nothing can deceive.”6

The Council was visibly agitated. Some desired to save the life of a man so learned and eloquent. The spectacle truly was a grand one. Pale, enfeebled by long and rigorous confinement, and loaded with fetters, he yet compelled the homage of those before whom he stood, by his intellectual and moral grandeur. He stood in the midst of the Council, greater than it, throwing its assembled magnificence into the shade by his individual glory, and showing himself more illustrious by his virtues and sufferings than they by their stars and miters. Its princes and doctors felt humbled and abashed in presence of their own prisoner.

But in the breast of Jerome there was no feeling of self-exaltation. If he speaks of himself it is to accuse himself.

“Of all the sins,” he continued, “that I have committed since my youth, none weighs so heavily on my mind, and causes me such poignant remorse, as that which I committed in this fatal place, when I approved of the iniquitous sentence recorded against Wicliffe, and against the holy martyr John Huss, my master and my friend. Yes, I confess it from my heart, and declare with horror that I disgracefully quailed when, through a dread of death, I condemned their doctrines. I therefore supplicate Almighty God to deign to pardon me my sins, and this one in particular, the most heinous of all.7 You condemned Wicliffe and Huss, not because they shook the faith, but because they branded with reprobation the scandals of the clergy—their pomp, their pride, and their luxuriousness.”

These words were the signal for another tumult in the assembly. The Fathers shook with anger. From all sides came passionate exclamations. “He condemns himself. What need have we of further proof? The most obstinate of heretics is before us.”

Lifting up his voice—which, says Poggio, “was touching, clear, and sonorous, and his gesture full of dignity”—Jerome resumed: “What! do you think that I fear to die? You have kept me a whole year in a frightful dungeon, more horrible than death. You have treated me more cruelly than Saracen, Turk, Jew, or Pagan, and my flesh has literally rotted off my bones alive; and yet I make no complaint, for lamentation ill becomes a man of heart and spirit, but I cannot but express my astonishment at such great barbarity towards a Christian.”

The clamor burst out anew, and the sitting closed in confusion. Jerome was carried back to his dungeon, where he experienced more rigorous. treatment than ever. His feet, his hands, his arms were loaded with fetters. This severity was not needed for his safe-keeping, and could have been prompted by nothing but a wish to add to his torments.8

Admiration of his splendid talents made many of the bishops take an interest in his fate. They visited him in his prison, and conjured him to retract. “Prove to me from the Scriptures,” was Jerome’s reply to all these importunities, “that I am in error.” The Cardinal of Florence, Zabarella, sent for him,9 and had a lengthened conversation with him. He extolled the choice gifts with which he had been enriched; he dwelt on the great services which these gifts might enable him to render to the Church, and on the brilliant career open to him, would he only reconcile himself to the Council; he said that there was no office of dignity, and no position of influence, to which he might not aspire, and which he was not sure to win, if he would but return to his spiritual obedience; and was it not, he asked, the height of folly to throw away all these splendid opportunities and prospects by immolating himself on the heretic’s pile? But Jerome was not moved by the words of the cardinal, nor dazzled by the brilliant offers he made him. He had debated that matter with himself in prison, in tears and agonies, and he had made up his mind once for all. He had chosen the better part. And so he replied to this tempter in purple as he had done to those in lawn, “Prove to me from the Holy Writings that I am in error, and I will abjure it.”

“The Holy Writings!” scornfully replied the cardinal; “is everything then to be judged by them? Who can understand them till the Church has interpreted them?”

“What do I heal?” cried Jerome; “are the traditions of men more worthy of faith than the Gospel of our Savior? Paul did not exhort those to whom he wrote to listen to the traditions of men, but said, ‘search the Scriptures.’”

“Heretic,” said the cardinal, fixing his eyes upon him and regarding him with looks of anger, “I repent having pleaded so long with you. I see that you are urged on by the devil.”10 Jerome was remanded to his prison.

Chapter 3.11: Condemnation And Burning Of Jerome

Jerome Condemned – Appareled for the Fire – Led away – Sings at the Stake – His Ashes given to the Rhine

ON the 30th of May, 1416, Jerome was brought to receive his sentence. The grandees of the Empire, the dignitaries of the Church, and the officials of the Council filled the cathedral. What a transition from the gloom of his prison to this brilliant assembly, in their robes of office and their stars of rank! But neither star of prince nor miter of bishop was so truly glorious as the badges which Jerome wore—his chains.

The troops were under arms. The townspeople, drawn from their homes by the rumor of what was about to take place, crowded to the cathedral gates, or pressed into the church.

Jerome was asked for the last time whether he were willing to retract; and on intimating his refusal he was condemned as a heretic, and delivered up to the secular power. This act was accompanied with a request that the civil judge would deal leniently with him, and spare his life,1 a request scarcely intelligible when we think that the stake was already planted, that the faggots were already prepared, and that the officers were in attendance to lead him to the pile.

Jerome mounted on a bench that he might the better be heard by the whole assembly. All were eager to catch his last words. He again gave expression to his sorrow at having, in a moment of fear, given his approval of the burning of John Huss. He declared that the sentence now pronounced on himself was wicked and unjust, like that inflicted upon that holy man. “In dying,” ,said he, “I shall leave a sting in your hearts, and a gnawing worm in your consciences. And I cite you all to answer to me before the most high and just Judge within all hundred years.”2

A paper miter was now brought in, with red devils painted upon it. When Jerome saw it he threw his cap on the floor among the cardinals, and put the miter upon his head, accompanying the act with the words which Huss had used on a similar occasion: “As my Lord for me did wear a crown of thorn, so I, for Him, do wear with joy this crown of ignominy.” The soldiers now closed round him. As they were leading him out of the church, “with a cheerful countenance,” says Fox, “and a loud voice, lifting his eyes up to heaven, he began to sing, ‘Credo in unum Deum,’ as it is accustomed to be sung in the Church.” As he passed along through the streets his voice was still heard, clear and kind, singing Church canticles. These he finished as he came to the gate of the city leading to Gottlieben, and then he began a hymn, and continued singing it all the way to the place of execution. The spot where he was to suffer was already consecrated ground to Jerome, for here John Huss had been burned. When he came to the place he kneeled down and began to pray. He was still praying when his executioners raised him up, and with cords and chains bound him to the stake, which had been carved into something like a rude likeness of Huss. When the wood and faggots began to be piled up around him, he again began to sing, “Hail, happy day!” When that hymn was ended, he sang once more, “Credo in unum Deum,” and then he addressed the people, speaking to them in the German tongue, and saying, “Dearly-beloved children, as I have now sung, so do I believe, and none otherwise; and this creed is my whole faith.”

The wood was heaped up to his neck, his garments were then thrown upon the pile, and last of all the torch was brought to light the mass. His Savior, who had so graciously supported him amid his dreadful sufferings in prison, was with him at the stake. The courage that sustained his heart, and the peace that filled his soul, were reflected upon his countenance, and struck the beholders. One short, sharp pang, and then the sorrows of earth will be all behind, and the everlasting glory will have come. Nay, it was already come; for, as Jerome stood upon the pile, he looked as one who had gotten the victory over death, and was even now tasting the joys to which he was about to ascend. The executioner was applying the torch behind, when the martyr checked him. “Come forward,” said he, “and kindle the pile before my face; for had I been afraid of the fire I should not be here.”3

When the faggots began to burn, Jerome with a loud voice began to sing “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit.” As the flame waxed fiercer and rose higher, and the martyr felt its scorching heat, he was heard to cry out in the Bohemian language, “O Lord God, Father Almighty, have mercy upon me, and be merciful unto mine offenses, for Thou knewest how sincerely I have loved Thy truth.”4

Soon after the flame checked his utterance, and his voice ceased to be heard. But the movement of his head and rapid motion of his lips, which continued for about a quarter of an hour, showed that he was engaged in prayer. “So burning in the fire,” says Fox, “he lived with great pain and martyrdom whilst one might easily have gone from St. Clement’s over the bridge unto our Lady Church.”5

When Jerome had breathed his last, the few things of his which had been left behind in his prison were brought out and burned in the same fire. His bedding, his boots, his hood, all were thrown upon the still smoldering embers and consumed. The heap of ashes was then carefully gathered up, and put into a cart, and thrown into the Rhine. Now, thought his enemies, there is an end of the Bohemian heresy. We have seen the last of Huss and Jerome. The Council may now sleep in peace. How short-sighted the men who so thought and spoke! Instead of having stamped out this heresy, they had but scattered its seeds over the whole face of Christendom; and, so far from having erased the name and memory of Huss and Jerome, and consigned them to an utter oblivion, they had placed them in the eyes of the whole world, and made them eternal.

We have recorded with some minuteness these two martyrdoms. We have done so not only because of the rare qualities of the men who endured them, the tragic interest that belongs to their sufferings, and the light which their story throws upon their lives, but because Providence gave their deaths a representative character, and a moulding influence. These two martyr-piles were kindled as beacon-lights in the dawn of modern history. Let us briefly show why.

Chapter 3.12: Wicliffe, Huss, And Jerome, Or The First Three Witnesses Of Modern Christendom

Great Eras and their Heralds – Dispensation for the Approach of which Wicliffe was to Prepare the Way – The Work that Wicliffe had done – Huss and Jerome follow Wicliffe – The Three Witnesses of Modern Christendom

EACH new era, under the Old Dispensation, was ushered in by the ministry of some man of great character and splendid gifts, and the exhibition of miracles of stupendous grandeur. This was needful to arouse and fix the attention of men, to tell them that the ages were passing, that God was “changing the times and the seasons,” and bringing in a new order of things. Gross and brutish, men would otherwise have taken no note of the revolutions of the moral firmament. Abraham stands at the head of one dispensation; Moses at that of another; David at the head of a third; and John the Baptist occupies the van in the great army of the preachers, confessors and martyrs of the Evangelic Dispensation. These are the four mighties who preceded the advent of One who was yet mightier.

And so was it when the time drew nigh that a great moral and spiritual change should pass over the world, communicating a new life to Churches, and a liberty till then unknown to nations. When that era approached Wicliffe was raised up. Abundantly anointed with that Holy Spirit of which Councils and Popes vainly imagined they had an exclusive monopoly, what a deep insight he had into the Scriptures; how firmly and clearly was he able to lay hold of the scheme of Free Salvation revealed in the Bible; how completely did he emancipate himself from the errors that had caused so many ages to miss the path which he found, and which he found not by a keener subtilty or a more penetrating intellect than that of his contemporaries, but simply by his profound submission to the Bible. As John the Baptist emerged from the very bosom of Pharisaical legalism and traditionalism to become the preacher of repentance and forgiveness, so Wicliffe came forth from the bosom of a yet more indurated traditionalism, and of a legalism whose iron yoke was a hundred times heavier than that of Pharisaism, to preach repentance to Christendom, and to proclaim the great Bible truth that Christ’s merits are perfect and cannot be added to; for God bestows His salvation upon men freely, and that “he that believeth on the Son hath life.”

So had Wicliffe spoken. Though his living voice was now silent, he was, by his writings, at that hour publishing God’s re-discovered message in all the countries of Europe. But witnesses were needed who should come after Wicliffe, and attest his words, and seal with their blood the doctrine which he had preached. This was the office to which Huss and Jerome were appointed. First came the great preacher; after him came the two great martyrs, attesting that Wicliffe had spoken the truth, and sealing their testimony with their lives. At the mouth of these Three, Christendom had admonition tendered to it. They said to an age sunk in formalism and legalism,

Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. (Acts 3:19)1

Such is the place which these two martyrdoms occupy, and such is the importance which attaches to them. If proof of this were needed, we have it in the proceedings of the Council of Constance. The Fathers, not knowing what they did, first and with much solemnity condemned the doctrines of Wicliffe; and in the next place, they burned at the stake Huss and Jerome for adhering to these doctrines. Yes, the Spirit of God was present at Constance, guiding the Council in its decisions, but after a different fashion, and toward another and different end, than the Fathers dreamed of.

The “still small voice,” which was now heard speaking in Christendom after ages of silence, must needs be followed by mighty signs—not physical, but moral—not changes in the sky, but changes still more wonderful in the hearts of men. And such was the phenomenon displayed to the eyes of the men of that age in the testimony of Huss and Jerome. All about that testimony was arranged by God with the view of striking the imagination and, if possible, convincing the understandings of those before whom it was borne. It was even invested with dramatic effect, that nothing might be wanting to gain its end, and leave those who resisted it without excuse. A conspicuous stage was erected for that testimony; all Christendom was assembled to hear it. The witnesses were illustrious for their great intellectual powers. These compelled the attention and extorted the admiration even of their enemies. Yet more illustrious were they for their spiritual graces—their purity, their humility, their patience of suffering, their forgiveness of wrong, their magnanimity and noble-mindedness—the garlands that adorned these victims. And the splendor of these virtues was brought out in relief against the dark background of an age woefully corrupt, and the yet darker background of a Council whose turpitude rotted the very soil on which it met, poisoned the very air, and bequeathed to history one of the foulest blots that darken it. And to crown all there comes, last and highest, the glory of their deaths, tarnished by no dread of suffering, by no prayer for deliverance, by no tear shed over their fate, by no cry wrung from them by pain and anguish; but, on the contrary, glorified by their looks of gladness as they stood at the stake, and the triumphant hallelujahs which they sang amid the fires.

Such was the testimony of these three early witnesses of Christendom, and such were the circumstances that adapted it to the crisis at which it was borne. Could portent in the sky, could even preacher from the dead, have been so emphatic? To a sensual age, sunk in unbelief, without faith in what was inward, trusting only in what it saw or did, and content with a holiness that was entirely dissevered from moral excellence and spiritual virtue, how well fitted was this to testify that there was a diviner agency than the ghostly power of the priesthood, which could transform the soul and impart a new life to men—in short, that the early Gospel had returned to the world, and that with it was returning the piety, the self-sacrifice, and the heroism of early times!

God, who brings forth the natural day by gradual stages—first the morning star, next the dawn, and next the great luminary whose light brightens as his orb ascends, till from his meridian height he sheds upon the earth the splendors of the perfect day—that same God brought in, in like manner, by almost imperceptible stages, the evangelical, day. Claudius and Berengarius, and others, were the morning stars; they appeared while as yet all was dark. With Wicliffe the dawn broke; souls caught its light in France, in Italy, and especially in Bohemia. They in their turn became light-bearers to others, and thus the effulgence continued to spread, till at last, “centum revolutis annis,” the day shone out in the ministry of the Reformers of the sixteenth century.

Chapter 3.13: The Hussite Wars

Effect of Huss’s Martyrdom in Bohemia – Spread of Hussism – The New Pope – Formalities of Election – Enthronisation – Bull against the Hussites – Pope’s Departure for Rome – Ziska – Tumults in Prague

HUSS had been burned; his ashes, committed to the Rhine, had been borne away to their dark sepulcher in the ocean; but his stake had sent a thrill of indignation and horror through Bohemia. His death moved the hearts of his countrymen more powerfully than even his living voice had been able to do. The vindicator of his nation’s wrongs—the reformer of his nation’s religion—in short, the representative man of Bohemia, had been cruelly, treacherously immolated; and the nation took the humiliation and insult as done to itself. All ranks, from the highest to the lowest, were stirred by what had occurred. The University of Prague issued a manifesto addressed to all Christendom, vindicating the memory of the man who had fallen a victim to the hatred of the priesthood and the perfidy of the emperor. His death was declared to be murder, and the Fathers at Constance were styled “an assembly of the satraps of Antichrist.” Every day the flame of the popular indignation was burning more fiercely. It was evident that a terrible outburst of pent-up wrath was about to be witnessed in Bohemia.

The barons assumed a bolder tone. When the tidings of Huss’s martyrdom arrived, the magnates and great nobles held a full council, and, speaking in the name of the Bohemian nation, they addressed an energetic protest to Constance against the crime there enacted. They eulogized, in the highest terms, the man whom the Council had consigned to the flames as a heretic, calling him the “Apostle of Bohemia; a man innocent, pious, holy, and a faithful teacher of the truth.”1 Holding the pen in one hand, while the other rested on their sword’s hilt, they said, “Whoever shall affirm that heresy is spread abroad in Bohemia, lies in his throat, and is a traitor to our kingdom; and, while we leave vengeance to God, to Whom it belongs, we shall carry our complaints to the footstool of the indubitable apostolic Pontiff, when the Church shall again be ruled by such an one; declaring, at the same time, that no ordinance of man shall hinder our protecting the humble and faithful preachers of the words of our Lord Jesus, and our defending them fearlessly, even to the shedding of blood.” In this remonstrance the nobles of Moravia concurred.2

But deeper feelings were at work among the Bohemian people than those of anger. The faith which had produced so noble a martyr was compared with the faith which had immolated him, and the contrast was found to be in no wise to the advantage of the latter. The doctrines which Huss had taught were recalled to memory now that he was dead. The writings of Wicliffe, which had escaped the flames, were read, and compared with such portions of Holy Writ as were accessible to the people, and the consequence was a very general reception of the evangelical doctrines. The new opinions struck their roots deeper every day, and their adherents, who now began to be called Hussites, multiplied one might almost say hourly.

The throne of Bohemia was at that time filled by Wenceslaus, the son of the magnanimous and patriotic Charles IV. In this grave position of affairs much would of necessity depend on the course the king might adopt. The inheritor of his father’s dignities and honors, Wenceslaus did not inherit his father’s talents and virtues. A tyrant and voluptuary, he had been dethroned first by his nobles, next by his own brother Sigismund, King of Hungary; but, regaining his throne, he discovered an altered but not improved disposition. Broken in spirit, he was now as supine and lethargic as formerly he had been overbearing and tyrannical. If his pride was stifled and his violence curbed, he avenged himself by giving the reins to his low propensities and vices. Shut up in his palace, and leading the life of a sensualist, the religious opinions of his subjects were to him matters of almost supreme indifference. He cared but little whether they kept the paths of orthodoxy or strayed into those of heresy. He secretly rejoiced in the progress of Hussism, because he hoped the end would be the spoiling of the wealthy ecclesiastical corporations and houses, and that the lion’s share would fall to himself. Disliking the priests, whom he called “the most dangerous of all the comedians,” he turned a deaf ear to the ecclesiastical authorities when they importuned him to forbid the preaching of the new opinions.3

The movement continued to make progress. Within four years from the death of Huss, the bulk of the nation had embraced the faith for which he died. His disciples included not a few of the higher nobility, many of the wealthy burghers of the towns, some of the inferior clergy, and the great majority of the peasantry. The accession of the latter, whose single-heartedness makes them capable of a higher enthusiasm and a more entire devotion, brought great strength to the cause. It made it truly national. The Bohemians now resumed in their churches the practice of Communion in both kinds, and the celebration of their worship in the national language. Rome had signalized their subjugation by forbidding the cup, and permitting prayers only in Latin. The Bohemians, by challenging freedom in both points, threw off the marks of their Roman vassalage.

A slight divergence of sentiment was already traceable among the Hussites. One party entirely rejected the authority of the Church of Rome, and made the Scriptures their only standard. These came to bear the name of Taborites, from the scene of one of their early encampments, which was a hill in the neighborhood of Prague bearing a resemblance, it was supposed, to the Scriptural Tabor. The other party remained nominally in the communion of Rome, though they had abandoned it in heart. Their distinctive tenet was the cup or chalice, meaning thereby Communion in both kinds; hence their name, Calixtines.4 The cup became the national Protestant symbol. It was blazoned on their standards and carried in the van of their armies; it was sculptured on the portals of their churches, and set up over the gates of their cities. It was ever placed in studied contrast to the Roman symbol, which was the cross. The latter, the Hussites said, recalled scenes of suffering, and so was an emblem of gloom; the former, the cup, was the sign of an accomplished redemption, and so a symbol of gladness. This divergence of the two parties was meanwhile only incipient. It widened in process of time; but for years the great contest in which the Hussites were engaged with Rome, and which assembled Taborites and Calixtines on the same battle-field, where they joined their prayers as well as their arms, kept them united in one body.

We must bestow a glance on what meanwhile was transacting at Constance. The Council knew that a fire was smoldering in Bohemia, and it did its best to fan it into a conflagration. The sentence of utter extermination, pronounced by old Rome against Carthage, was renewed by Papal Rome against Bohemia, a land yet more accursed than Carthage, overrun by heresy, and peopled by men not worthy to enjoy the light of day.5 But first the Council must select a new Pope. The conclave met; and being put upon “a thin diet,”6 the cardinals came to an early decision. In their haste to announce the great news to the outer world, they forced a hole in the wall, and shouted out, “We have a Pope, and Otho de Colonna is he!” (November 14th, 1417.)

Acclamations of voices and the pealing of bells followed this announcement, in the midst of which the Emperor Sigismund entered the conclave, and, in the first burst of his joy or superstition, falling down before the newly elected Pope, he kissed the feet of the Roman Father. The doors of the conclave being now thrown open, the cardinals eagerly rushed out, glad to find themselves again in the light of day. Their temporary prison was so guarded and shut in that even the sun’s rays were excluded, and the Fathers had to conduct their business with the light of wax tapers. They had been shut up only from the 8th to the 11th of November, but so thin and altered were their visages when they emerged, owing to the meager diet on which they were compelled to subsist, that their acquaintances had some difficulty in recognizing them. There were fifty-three electors in all—twenty-three cardinals, and thirty deputies of the nations—for whom fifty-three separate chambers had been prepared, and distributed by lot. They were forbidden all intercourse with their fellow-electors within the conclave, as well as with their friends outside, and even the dishes which were handed in to them at a window were carefully searched, lest they should conceal contraband letters or missives.

Proclamation was made by a herald that no one was to come within a certain specified distance of the conclave, and it was forbidden, under pain of excommunication, to pillage the house of the cardinal who might happen to be elected Pope. It was a custom at Rome to hold the goods of the cardinal elect a free booty, on pretense that being now arrived at all riches he had no further need of anything. At the gates of the conclave the emperor and princes kept watch day and night, singing devoutly the hymn “Veni Creator,” but in a low strain, lest the deliberations within should be disturbed. The election was finished in less time than is usually required to fill the Papal chair. The French and Spanish members of the conclave contended for a Pope of their own nation, but the matter was cut short by the German deputies, who united their votes in favor of the Italian candidate, and so the affair issued in the election of Otho, of the most noble and ancient house of Colonna. His election falling on the fete of St. Martin of Tours, he took the title of Martin V.7 Platina, who is not very lavish of his incense to Popes, commends his prudence, good-nature, love of justice, and his dexterity in the management of affairs and of tempers.8 Windeck, one of Sigismund’s privy councilors, says, in his history of the emperor, that the Cardinal de Colonna was poor and modest, but that Pope Martin was very covetous and extremely rich.9

A few hours after the election, through the same streets along which Huss and Jerome had been led in chains to the stake, there swept another and very different procession. The Pope was going in state to be enthroned. He rode on a white horse, covered with rich scarlet housings. The abbots and bishops, in robes of white silk, and mounted on horses, followed in his train. The Pontiff’s bridle-rein was held on the right by the emperor, and on the left by the Elector of Brandenburg,10 these august personages walking on foot. In this fashion was he conducted to the cathedral, where seated on the high altar he was incensed and received homage under the title of Martin V.11

Bohemia was one of the first cares of the newly anointed Pope. The great movement which had Wicliffe for its preacher, and Huss and Jerome for its martyrs, was rapidly advancing. The Pope hurled excommunication against it, but he knew that he must employ other and more forcible weapons besides spiritual ones before he could hope to crush it. He summoned the emperor to give to the Papal See worthier and more substantial proofs of devotion than the gala service of holding his horse’s bridle-rein. Pope Martin V., addressing himself to Sigismund, with all the kings, princes, dukes, barons, knights, states, and commonwealths of Christendom, adjured them, by “the wounds of Christ,” to unite their arms and exterminate that “sacrilegious and accursed nation.”12 A liberal distribution was promised of the customary rewards—crowns and high places in Paradise—to those who should display the most zeal against the obnoxious heresy by shedding the greatest amount of Bohemian blood. Thus exhorted, the Emperor Sigismund and several of the neighboring German states made ready to engage in the crusade. The Bohemians saw the terrible tempest gathering on their borders, but they were not dismayed by it.

While this storm is brewing at Prague, we shall return for the last time to Constance; and there we find that considerable self-satisfaction is prevalent among the members of the Council, which has concluded its business amid general felicitations and loud boastings that it had pacified Christendom. It had extinguished heresy by the stakes of Huss and Jerome. It had healed the schism by the deposition of the rival Popes and the election of Martin V. It had shot a bolt at Bohemian discontent which would save all further annoyance on that side; and now, as the result of these vigorous measures, an era of tranquillity to Europe and of grandeur to the Popedom might be expected henceforth to commence. Deafened by its own praises, the Council took no note of the underground mutterings, which in all countries betokened the coming earthquake. On the 18th of April, 1418, the Pope promulgated a bull “declaring the Council at an end, and giving every one liberty to return home.” As a parting gift he bestowed upon the members “the plenary remission of all their sins.” If only half of what is reported touching the doings of the Fathers at Constance be true, this beneficence of Pope Martin must have constituted a very large draft indeed on the treasury of the Church; but doubtless it sent the Fathers in good spirits to their homes.

On the 15th of May the Pope sang his last mass in the cathedral church, and next day set out on his return for Italy. The French prelates prayed him to establish his chair at Avignon, a request that had been made more than once of his predecessors without avail. But the Pope told them that “they must yield to reason and necessity; that as he had been acknowledged by the whole world for St. Peter’s successor, it was but just that he should go and seat himself on the throne of that apostle; and that as the Church of Rome was the head and mother of all the Churches, it was absolutely necessary that the sovereign Pontiff should reside at Rome, as a good pilot ought to keep at the stern and not at the prow of the vessel.”13 Before turning to the tragic scenes on the threshold of which we stand, let us bestow a moment’s glance on the gaudy yet ambitious pomp that marked the Pope’s departure for Rome. It is thus related by Reichenthal:

Twelve led horses went first, with scarlet housings; which were followed by four gentlemen on horseback, bearing four cardinals’ caps upon pikes. After them a priest marched, beating a cross of gold; who was followed by another priest, that carried the Sacrament. Twelve cardinals marched next, adorned with their red hats, and followed by a priest tiding on a white horse, and offering the Sacrament to the populace, under a kind of canopy surrounded by men bearing wax tapers. After him followed John de Susate, a divine of Westphalia, who likewise carried a golden cross, and was encompassed by the canons and senators of the city, beating wax tapers in their hands. At last the Pope appeared in his Pontificalibus, riding on a white steed. He had upon his head a tiara, adorned with a great number of jewels, and a canopy was held over his head by four counts—viz., Eberhard, Count of Nellenburg; William, Count of Montserrat; Berthold, Count of Ursins; and John, Count de Thirstein. The emperor held the reins of the Pope’s horse on the right hand, being followed by Lewis, Duke of Bavaria of Ingolstadt, who held up the housing or horse-cloth. The Elector of Brandenburg held the reins on the left, and behind him Frederick of Austria performed the same office as Lewis of Ingolstadt. There were four other princes on both sides, who held up the horse-cloth. The Pope was followed by a gentleman on horseback, who carried an umbrella to defend him in case of need, either from the rain or sun. After him marched all the clergy and all the nobility on horseback, in such numbers, that they who were eye-witnesses reckoned up no less than forty thousand, besides the multitudes of people that followed on foot. When Martin V. came to the gate of the town, he alighted from his horse, and changed his priest’s vestments for a red habit. He also took another hat, and put that which he wore upon the head of a certain prelate who is not named. Then he took horse again, as did also the emperor and the princes, who accompanied him to Gottlieben, where he embarked on the Rhine for Schaffhausen. The cardinals and the rest of his court followed him by land, and the emperor returned to Constance with the other princes.14

Leaving Pope Martin to pursue his journey to Rome, we shall again turn our attention to Prague. Alas, the poor land of Bohemia! Woe on woe seemed coming upon it. Its two most illustrious sons had expired at the stake; the Pope had hurled excommunication against it; the emperor was collecting his forces to invade it; and the craven Wenceslaus had neither heart to feel nor spirit to resent the affront which had been done his kingdom. The citizens were distracted, for though on fire with indignation they had neither counselor nor captain. At that crisis a remarkable man arose to organize the nation and lead its armies. His name was John Trocznowski, but he is better known by the sobriquet of Ziska——that is, the one-eyed. The circumstances attending his birth were believed to foreshadow his extraordinary destiny. His mother went one harvest day to visit the reapers on the paternal estates, and being suddenly taken with the pains of labor, she was delivered of a son beneath an oak-tree in the field.15 The child grew to manhood, adopted the profession of arms, distinguished himself in the wars of Poland, and returning to his native country, became chamberlain to King Wenceslaus. In the palace of the jovial monarch there was little from morning to night save feasting and revelry, and Ziska, nothing loth, bore his part in all the coarse humors and boisterous sports of his master. But his life was not destined to close thus ignobly.

The shock which the martyrdom of Huss gave the whole nation was not unfelt by Ziska in the palace. The gay courtier suddenly became thoughtful. He might be seen traversing, with pensive brow and folded arms, the long corridors of the palace, the windows of which look down on the broad stream of the Moldau, on the towers of Prague, and the plains beyond, which stretch out towards that quarter of the horizon where the pile of Huss had been kindled. One day the monarch surprised him in this thoughtful mood. “What is this?” said Wenceslaus, somewhat astonished to see one with a sad countenance in his palace. “I cannot brook the insult offered to Bohemia at Constance by the murder of John Huss,” replied the chamberlain. “Where is the use,” said the king, “of vexing one’s self about it? Neither you nor I have the means of avenging it. But,” continued the king, thinking doubtless that Ziska’s fit would soon pass off, “if you are able to call the emperor and Council to account, you have my permission.” “Very good, my gracious master,” rejoined Ziska, “will you be pleased to give me your permission in writing?” Wenceslaus, who liked a joke, and deeming that such a document would be perfectly harmless in the hands of one who had neither friends, nor money, nor soldiers, gave Ziska what he asked under the royal seal.16

Ziska, who had accepted the authorization not in jest but in earnest, watched his opportunity. It soon came. The Pope fulminated his bull of crusade against the Hussites. There followed great excitement throughout Bohemia, and especially in its capital, Prague.17 The burghers assembled to deliberate on the measures to be adopted for avenging the nation’s insulted honor, and defending its threatened independence. Ziska, armed with the royal authorization, suddenly appeared in the midst of them. The citizens were emboldened when they saw one who stood so high, as they believed, in the favor of the king, putting himself at their head; they concluded that Wenceslaus also was with them, and would further their enterprise. In this, however, they were mistaken. The liberty accorded their proceedings they owed, not to the approbation, but to the pusillanimity of the king. The factions became more embittered every day. Tumult and massacre broke out in Prague. The senators took refuge in the town-house; they were pursued thither, thrown out at the window, and received on the pikes of the insurgents. The king, on receiving the news of the outrage, was so excited, whether from fear or anger is not known, that he had a fit of apoplexy, and died in a few days.18

Chapter 3.14: Commencement Of The Hussite Wars

War Breaks out – Celebration in Both Kinds – First Success – The Turk – Ziska’s Appeal – Second Hussite Victory – The Emperor Besieges Prague – Repulsed – A Second Repulse – The Crown of Bohemia Refused to the Emperor – Valour of the Hussites – Influence of their Struggle on the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century

WENCESLAUS being dead, and the queen espousing the side of the Catholics, the tumults burst out afresh. There was a whole week’s fighting, night and day, between the Romanists and the Hussites, on the bridge of the Moldau, leading to the royal castle. No little blood was shed; the churches and convents were pillaged, the monks driven away, and in some instances massacred.1 But it was likely to have fared ill with the insurgent Bohemians. The Emperor Sigismund, brother of the deceased Wenceslaus, now claimed the crown of Bohemia.. A bitter partizan of Rome, for whose sake he had incurred the eternal disgrace of burning the man to whom he had given his solemn promise of safety, was not likely to stand on scruples or fear to strike. He was marching on Prague to quell the insurrection and take possession of the crown. “Perish that crown,” said the Bohemians, “rather than it shall sit on the head of one who has incurred the double odium of tyrant and traitor.” The Bohemians resolved on resistance; and now it was that the tempest burst. But the party to strike the first blow was Sigismund.

The campaign, which lasted eighteen years, and which was signalized throughout by the passions of the combatants, the carnage of its fields, and the marvelous, we had almost said miraculous victories which crowned the arms of the Hussites, owed its commencement to the following incident:
The Hussites had agreed to meet on Michaelmas Day, 1419, on a great plain not far from Prague, and celebrate the Eucharist. On the day appointed some 40,000, it is said, from all the towns and villages around, assembled at the place of rendezvous. Three tables were set, the sacred elements were brought forth and placed upon them, and a priest officiated at each, and gave the Communion in both kinds to the people. The affair was the simplest possible; neither were the tables covered, nor did the priests wear their habits, nor had the people arms; they came as pilgrims with their walking-staves. The affair over, they made a collection to indemnify the man on whose ground they had met; and agreeing to assemble again for a like purpose before Martinmas, they separated, the most part taking the road to Prague, where they arrived at night with lighted torches. Such is the account given by an eye-witness, Benesius Horzowicki, a disciple and friend of Huss; but, says the Jesuit Balbinus, “though a heretic, his account of the affair is trustworthy.”

The matter got wind; and the second meeting was not allowed to pass off so quietly as the first. Several hundreds were already on their way, bearing, as before, not arms but walking-staves, when they were met by the intelligence that the troops of the emperor, lying in ambuscade, were waiting their approach. They halted on the road, and sent messengers to the towns in their rear begging assistance. A small body of soldiers was dispatched to their aid, and in the conflict which followed, the imperial cavalry, though in superior force, were put to flight. After the battle, the pilgrims with their defenders pursued their way to Prague, which they entered amid acclamations of joy. The first battle had been fought with the troops of the emperor, and the victory remained with the Bohemians.2

The Rubicon had been crossed. The Bohemians must now go forward into the heart of the conflict, which was destined to assume dimensions that were not dreamed of by either party. The Turk, without intending it, came to their help. He attacked the Empire of Sigismund on the side opposite to that of Bohemia. This divided the emperor’s forces, and weakened his front against Ziska. But for this apparently fortuitous but in reality Providential occurrence, the Hussite movement might have been crushed before there was time to organize it. The prompt and patriotic Hussite leader saw his advantage, and made haste to rally the whole of Bohemia, before the emperor should have got the Moslem off his hands, and before the armed bands of Germany, now mustering in obedience to the Papal summons, should have had time to bear down upon his little country. He issued a manifesto, signed “Ziska of the Chalice,” in which he invoked at once the religion and the patriotism of his countrymen. “Imitate,” said he, “your ancestors the ancient Bohemians, who were always able to defend the cause of God and their own… We are collecting troops from all parts, in order to fight against the enemies of truth, and the destroyers of our nation, and I beseech you to inform your preacher that he should exhort, in his sermons, the people, to make war on the Antichrist, and that every one, old and young, should prepare himself for it. I also desire that when I shall be with you there should be no want of bread, beer, victuals, or provender, and that you should provide yourselves with good arms… Remember your first encounter, when you were few against many, unarmed against well-armed men. The hand of God has not been shortened. Have courage, and be ready. May God strengthen you!—Ziska of the Chalice: in the hope of God, Chief of the Taborites.”3

This appeal was responded to by a burst of enthusiasm. From all parts of Bohemia, from its towns and villages and rural plains, the inhabitants rallied to the standard of Ziska, now planted on Mount Tabor. These hastily assembled masses were but poorly disciplined, and still more poorly armed; but the latter defect was about to be supplied in a way they little dreamed of.

They had scarce begun their march towards the capital when they encountered a body of imperial cavalry. They routed, captured, and disarmed them. The spoils of the enemy furnished them with the weapons they so greatly needed, and they now saw themselves armed. Flushed with this second victory, Ziska, at the head of his now numerous host, a following rather than an army, entered Prague, where the righteousness of the Hussite cause, and the glory of the success that had so far attended it, were tarnished by the violence committed on their opponents. Many of the Roman Catholics lost their lives, and the number of churches and convents taken possession of, according to both Protestant and Catholic historians, was about 500. The monks were specially obnoxious from their opposition to Huss. Their establishments in Prague and throughout Bohemia were pillaged. These were of great magnificence. AEneas Sylvius, accustomed though he was to the stately edifices of Italy, yet speaks with admiration of the number and beauty of the Bohemian monasteries. A very short while saw them utterly wrecked, and their treasure, which was immense, and which consisted in gold and silver and precious stones, went a long way to defray the expenses of the war.4

That the emperor could be worsted, supported as he was by the whole forces of the Empire and the whole influence of the Church, did not enter into any man’s mind. Still it began to be apparent that the Hussites were not the contemptible opponents Sigismund had taken them for. He deemed it prudent to come to terms with the Turk, that he might be at liberty to deal with Ziska.

Assembling an army, contemporary historians say of 100,000 men, of various nationalities, he marched on Prague, now in possession of the Hussites, and laid siege to it. An idea may be formed of the strength of the besieging force from the rank and number of the commanders. Under the emperor, who held of course the supreme command, were five electors, two dukes, two landgraves, and more than fifty German princes. But this great host, so proudly officered, was destined to be ignominiously beaten. The citizens of Prague, under the brave Ziska, drove them with disgrace from before their walls. The imperialists avenged themselves for their defeat by the atrocities they inflicted in their retreat. Burning, rapine, and slaughter marked their track, for they fancied they saw in every Bohemian a Hussite and enemy.5

A second attempt did the emperor make on Prague the same year (1420), only to subject himself and the arms of the Empire to the disgrace of a second repulse. Outrages again marked the retreating steps of the invaders.6 These repeated successes invested the name of Ziska with great renown, and raised the expectations and courage of his followers to the highest pitch. It is not wonderful if their minds began to be heated, seeing as they did the armies of the Empire fleeing before them. Mount Tabor, where the standard of Ziska continued to float, was to become, so they thought, the head of the earth, more holy than Zion, more invulnerable than the Capitol. It was to be the center and throne of a universal empire, which was to bless the nations with righteous laws, and civil and religious freedom. The armies of Ziska were swelled from another and different cause. A report was spread throughout Bohemia that all the towns and villages of the country (five only excepted) were to be swallowed up by an earthquake, and this prediction obtaining general credence, the cities were forsaken, and many of their inhabitants crowded to the camp, deeming the chance of victory under so brave and fortunate a leader as Ziska very much preferable to waiting the certainty of obscure and inglorious entombment in the approaching fate of their native villages.7

At this stage of the affair the Bohemians held a Diet at Czaslau (1521) to deliberate on their course for the future. The first matter that occupied them was the disposal of their crown. They declared Sigismund unworthy to wear it, and resolved to offer it to the King of Poland or to a prince of his dynasty. The second question was, on what basis should they accept a Peace? The four following articles they declared indispensable in order to this, and they ever after adhered to them in all their negotiations, whether with the imperial or with the ecclesiastical authorities. These were as follow:

  1. The free preaching of the Gospel.
  2. The celebration of the Sacrament of the Supper in both kinds.
  3. The secularization of the ecclesiastical property, reserving only so much of it as might yield a comfortable subsistence to the clergy. 4. The execution of the laws against all crimes, by whomsoever committed, whether laics or clerics.8

Further, the Diet established a regency for the government of the kingdom, composed of magnates, nobles, and burghers, with Ziska as ,its president.9 The Emperor Sigismund sent proposals to the Diet, offering to confirm their liberties and redress all their just wrong, provided they would accept him as their king, and threatening them with war in case of refusal. The promises and the threats of the emperor, the Diet held in equal contempt. They returned for answer an indignant rejection of his propositions, reminding Sigismund that he had broken his word in the matter of the safe-conduct, that he had inculpated himself by participating in the murder of Huss and Jerome,10 and that he had assumed the attitude of an enemy of Bohemia by publishing the bull of excommunication which the Pope had fulminated against their native land, and by stirring up the German nationalities to invade it.11

The war now resumed its course. It was marked by the usual concomitants of military strife, rapine and siege, fields wasted, cities burned, and the arts and industries suspended. The conflict was interesting as terrible, the odds being so overwhelming. A little nation was seen contending single-handed against the numerous armies and various nationalities of the Empire. Such a conflict the Bohemians never could have sustained but for their faith in God, whose aid would not be wanting, they believed, to their righteous cause. Nor can any one who surveys the wonderful course of the campaign fail to see that this aid was indeed vouchsafed. Victory invariably declared on the side of the Hussites. Ziska won battle after battle, and apart from the character of the cause of which he was the champion, he may be said to have deserved the success that attended him, by the feats of valor which he performed in the field, and the consummate ability which he displayed as a general. He completely outmaneuvered the armies of the emperor; he overwhelmed them by surprises, and baffled them by new and masterly tactics. His name had now become a tower of strength to his friends, and a terror to his enemies. Every day his renown extended, and in the same proportion did the confidence of his soldiers in him and in themselves increase. They forgot the odds arrayed against them, and with every new day they went forth with redoubled courage to meet their enemies in the field, and to achieve new and more glorious victories.

The cause for which they fought had a hallowing effect upon their conduct in the camp, and raised them above the fear of death. In their marches they were commonly preceded by their pastors, who bore aloft the Cup, the symbol in which they conquered. Before joining battle the Sacrament was administered in both kinds to the soldiers, and, having partaken, they went into action singing hymns. The spirit with which the Hussites contended, combining that of confessors with soldiers, was wholly new in the armies of that age. In the rear of the army came the women, who tended the sick and wounded, and in cases of necessity worked upon the ramparts. Let us pause a moment in our tragic narration. To this day the Hussites have never had justice done them. Their cause was branded with every epithet of condemnation and abhorrence by their contemporaries. At this we do not wonder. But succeeding ages even have been slow to perceive the sublimity of their struggle, and reluctant to acknowledge the great benefits that flowed from it to Christendom. It is time to remove the odium under which it has long lain. The Hussites present the first instance in history of a nation voluntarily associating in a holy bond to maintain the right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience. True, they maintained that right with the sword; but for this they were not to blame. It was not left to them to choose the weapons with which to fight their sacred battle. The fulmination of the Pope, and the invasion of their country by the armies of the emperor, left them no alternative but arms. But, having reluctantly unsheathed the sword, the Hussites used it to such good purpose that their enemies long remembered the lesson that had been taught them. Their struggle paved the way for the quiet entrance of the Reformation upon the stage of the sixteenth century. Had not the Hussites fought and bled, the men of that era would have had a harder struggle before they could have launched their great movement. Charles V. long stood with his hand upon his sword before he found courage to draw it, remembering the terrible recoil of the Hussite war on those who had commenced it.

Chapter 3.15: Marvellous Genius Of Ziska As A General

Blindness of Ziska – Hussite mode of Warfare – The Wagenburg – The Iron Flail – Successes – Ziska’s Death – Grief of his Countrymen.

OUR space does not permit us to narrate in detail the many battles, in all of which Ziska bore himself so gallantly. He was one of the most remarkable generals that ever led all army. Cochlaeus, who bore him no good-will, says, that all thing considered, his blindness, the peasants he had to transform into soldiers, and the odds he had to meet, Ziska was the greatest general that ever lived. Accident deprived him in his boyhood of one of his eyes. At the siege of Raby he lost the other, and was now entirely blind. But his marvelous genius for arranging an army and directing its movements, for foreseeing every emergency and coping with every difficulty, instead of being impaired by this untoward accident, seemed to be strengthened and enlarged, for it was only now that his great abilities as a military leader fully revealed themselves. When an action was about to take place, he called a few officers around him, and made them describe the nature of the ground and the position of the enemy. His arrangement was instantly made as if by intuition. He saw the course the battle must run, and the succession of maneuvers by which victory was to be grasped.

While the armies were fighting in the light of day, the great chief who moved them stood apart in a pavilion of darkness. But his inner eye surveyed the whole field, and watched its every movement. That blind giant, like Samson his eyes put out, but unlike Samson his hands not bound, smote his enemies with swift, terrible, and unerring blows, and having overwhelmed them in ruin, himself retired from the field victorious.1

What contributed not a little to this remarkable success were the novel methods of defense which Ziska employed in the field. He conferred on his soldiers the advantages of men who contend behind walls and ramparts, while their enemy is all the time exposed. It is a mode of warfare in use among Eastern and nomadic tribes, from whom it is probable the Poles borrowed it, and Ziska in his turn may have learned it from them when he served in their wars. It consisted in the following contrivance: The wagons of the commissariat, linked one to another by strong iron chains, and ranged in line, were placed in front of the host. This fortification was termed a Wagenburg; ranged in the form of a circle, this wooden wall sometimes enclosed the whole army. Behind this first rampart rose a second, formed of the long wooden shields of the soldiers, stuck in the ground. These movable walls were formidable obstructions to the German cavalry. Mounted on heavy horses, and armed with pikes and battle-axes, they had to force their way through this double fortification before they could close with the Bohemians. All the while that they were hewling at the wagons, the Bohemian archers were plying them with their arrows, and it was with thinned ranks and exhausted strength that the Germans at length were able to join battle with the foe.

Even after forcing their way, with great effort and loss, through this double defense, they still found themselves at a disadvantage; for their armor scarce enabled them to contend on equal terms with the uncouth but formidable weapons of their adversaries. The Bohemians were armed with long iron flails, which they swung with prodigious force. They seldom failed to hit, and when they did so, the flail crashed through brazen helmet, skull and all. Moreover, they carried long spears which had hooks attached, and with which, clutching the German horseman, they speedily brought him to the ground and dispatched him. The invaders found that they had penetrated the double rampart of their foes only to be dragged from their horses and helplessly slaughtered. Besides numerous skirmishes and many sieges, Ziska fought sixteen pitched battles, from all of which he returned a conqueror.

The career of this remarkable man terminated suddenly. He did not fall by the sword, nor did he breathe his last on the field of battle; he was attacked by the plague while occupied in the siege of Prysbislav, and died on October 11th, 1424. 2

The grief of his soldiers was great, and for a moment they despaired of their cause, thinking that with the death of their leader all was lost. Bohemia laid her great warrior in the tomb with a sorrow more universal and profound than that with which she had ever buried any of her kings. Ziska had made the little country great; he had filled Europe with the renown of its arms; he had combated for the faith which was now that of a majority of the Bohemian nation, and by his hand God had humbled the haughtiness of that power which had sought to trample their convictions and consciences into the dust. He was buried in the Cathedral of Czaslau, in fulfillment of his own wish. His countrymen erected a monument of marble over his ashes, with his effigies sculptured on it, and an inscription recording his great qualities and the exploits he had performed. Perhaps the most touching memorial of all was his strong iron mace, which hung suspended above his tomb.3

The Bohemian Jesuit Balbinus, who had seen numerous portraits of Ziska, speaks of him as a man of middle size, strong chest, broad shoulders, large round head, and aquiline nose. He dressed in the Polish fashion, wore a mustache, and shaved his head, leaving only a tuft of brown hair, as was the manner in Poland.4

Chapter 3.16: Second Crusade Against Bohemia

Procopius Elected Leader – The War Resumed – New Invasion of Bohemia – Battle of Aussig – Total Rout and Fearful Slaughter of the Invaders – Ballad descriptive of the Battle

THE Hussites had lost their great leader; still the tide of success continued to flow. When dying Ziska had named Procopius as his successor, and his choice, so amply justified by its results, attests that his knowledge of men was not inferior to his skill in the field. When the Bohemians laid Ziska in the grave, they looked around with no hope of finding one equally great to fill his place. In Procopius they found a greater, though his fame has been less. Nor is this surprising. A few great qualities intensely, and it may be disproportionately developed, strike the world even more than an assemblage of gifts harmoniously blended.

Procopius was the son of a nobleman of small fortune. Besides an excellent education, which his maternal uncle, who had adopted him as his heir, took care he should receive, he had traveled in many foreign countries, the Holy Land among others, and his taste had been refined, and his understanding enlarged, by what he had seen and learned abroad. On his return he entered the Church—in compliance with his uncle’s solicitations, it is said, not from his own bent—and hence he was sometimes termed the Tonsured. But when the war broke out he entered with his whole heart into his country’s quarrel, and, forsaking the Church, placed himself under the standard of Ziska. His devotion to the cause was not less than Ziska’s. If his spirit was less fiery it was not because it was less brave, but because it was better regulated. Ziska was the soldier and general; Procopius was the statesman in addition.

The enemies of the Hussites knowing that Ziska was dead, but not knowing that his place was filled by a greater, deemed the moment opportune for striking another blow. Victory they confidently hoped would now change sides. They did not reflect that the blood of Huss and Jerome was weighing upon their swords. The terrible blind warrior, before whom they had so often fled, they would never again encounter in battle; but that righteous Power that had made Ziska its instrument in chastising the perfidy which had torn in pieces the safe-conduct of Huss, and then burned his body at the stake, they should assuredly meet on every battle-field on Bohemian soil on which they should draw sword. But this they had yet to learn, and so they resolved to resume the war, which from this hour, as they fondly believed, would run in a prosperous groove.

The new summons to arms came from Rome. The emperor, who was beginning to disrelish being continually beaten, was in no great haste to resume the campaign. To encourage and stimulate him, the Pope wrote to the princes of Germany and the King of Poland, exhorting them to unite their arms with those of Sigismund, and deal a blow which should make an end, once for all, of this troublesome affair. Than the Hussite heretics, the Turk himself, he said, was less the foe of Christianity; and it was a more urgent as well as a more meritorious work to endeavor to bring about the extirpation of the Bohemian adversary than the overthrow of the Moslem one.1

This letter was speedily followed by a bull, ordaining a new crusade against the Hussites. In addition to the letter which the Pope caused to be forwarded to the King of Poland, exhorting him to extirpate the Bohemian heresy, he sent two legates to see after the execution of his wishes. He also ordered the Archbishop of Lemberg to levy in his diocese 20,000 golden ducats, to aid the king in prosecuting the war. The Pontiff wrote to the same effect to the Duke of Lithuania. There is also a bull of the same Pope, Martin V., addressed to the Archbishops of Mainz, of Treves, and of Cologne, confirming the decree of the Council of Constance against the Hussites, and the several parties into which they were divided.2

At the first mutterings of the distant tempest, the various sections of the Hussites drew together. On the death of Ziska they had unhappily divided. There were the Taborites, who acknowledged Procopius as leader; there were the Orphans, who had lost in Ziska a father, and would accept no one in his room; and there were the Calixtines, whom Coribut, a candidate for the Bohemian crown, commanded. But the sword, now so suddenly displayed above their heads, reminded them that they had a common country and a common faith to defend. They forgot their differences in presence of the danger that now menaced them, stood side by side, and waited the coming of the foe.

The Pontiff’s summons had been but too generally responded to. The army now advancing against this devoted land numbered not less than 70,000 picked men; some historians say 100,000.3 They brought with them 3,000 wagons and 180 pieces of cannon. On Saturday, June 15th, 1426, they entered Bohemia in three columns, marching in the direction of Aussig, which the Hussites were besieging, and which lies on the great plain between Dresden and Toplitz, on the confines of the Slavonic and German worlds. On Sabbath morning, as they drew near the Hussite camp, Procopius sent a proposal to the invaders that quarter should be given on both sides. The Germans, who did not expect to need quarter for themselves, refused the promise of it to the Hussites, saying that they were under the curse of the Pope, and that to spare them would be to violate their duty to the Church. “Let it be so, then,” replied Procopius, “and let no quarter be given on either side.”

On Sabbath forenoon, the 16th of June, the battle began. The Bohemians were entrenched behind 500 wagons, fastened to one another by chains, and forming a somewhat formidable rampart. The Germans attacked with great impetuosity. They stormed the first line of defense, hewing in pieces with their battle-axes the iron fastenings of the wagons, and breaking through them. Pressing onward they threw down the second and weaker line, which consisted of the wooden shields stuck into the ground. They arrived in the area within, weary with the labor it had cost them to break through into it. The Bohemians the while were resting on their arms, and discharging an occasional shot from their swivel guns on the foe as he struggled with the wagons. Now that they were face to face with the enemy they raised their war-cry, they swung their terrible flails, they plied their long hooks, and pulling the Germans from their horses, they enacted fearful slaughter upon them as they lay on the ground. Rank after rank of the invaders pressed forward, only to be blended in the terrible carnage which was going on, on this fatal spot. The battle raged till a late hour of the afternoon. The German knights contested the action with great valor and obstinacy, on a soil slippery with the blood and cumbered with the corpses of their comrades. But their bravery was in vain. The Bohemian ranks were almost untouched; the Germans were every moment going down in the fearful tempest of arrows and shot that beat upon them, and in the yet more terrible buffeting of the iron flails, which crushed the hapless warrior on whom they fell. The day closed with the total rout of the invaders, who fled from the field in confusion, and sought refuge in the mountains and woods around the scene of action.4

The fugitives when overtaken implored quarter, but themselves had settled it, before going into battle, and, accordingly, no quarter was given. Twenty-four counts and barons stuck their swords in the ground, and knelt before their captors, praying that their lives might be spared. But in vain. In one place three hundred slain knights are said to have been found lying together in a single heap. The loss in killed of the Germans, according to Palacky, whose history of Bohemia is based upon original documents, and the accuracy of which has never been called in question, was fifteen thousand. The wounded and missing may have swelled the total loss to fifty thousand, the number given in the Bohemian ballad, a part of which we are about to quote. The German nobility suffered tremendous loss, nearly all their leaders being left on the field. Of the Hussites there fell in battle thirty men.

A rich booty was reaped by the victors. All the wagons, artillery, and tents, and a large supply of provisions and coin fell into their hands. “The Pope,” said the Hussites jeeringly, “owes the Germans his curse, for having enriched us heretics with such boundless store of treasure.” But the main advantage of this victory was the splendid prestige it gave the Hussites. From that day their arms were looked upon as invincible.

The national poets of Bohemia celebrated in song this great triumph. The following fragment is not unlike the ballads in which some of the early conflicts of our own country were commemorated. In its mingled dialogue and description, its piquant interrogatories and stinging retorts, it bears evidence of being contemporary, or nearly so, with the battle. It is only a portion of this spirited poem for which we can here find room.

In mind let all Bohemians bear,
How God the Lord did for them care,
And victory at Aussig gave,
When war they waged their faith to save.
The year of grace—the time to fix—
Was fourteen hundred twenty-six;
The Sunday after holy Vite
The German host dispersed in flight.
Many there were look’d on the while,
Looked on Bohemia’s risk with guile,
For gladsome they to see had been
Bohemians suffer woe and teen.
But thanks to God the Lord we raise,
To God we glory give and praise,
Who aided us with mighty hand
To drive the German from our land.
The host doth nigh Bavaria war,
Crusading foes to chase afar,
Foes that the Pope of Rome had sent,
That all the faithful might be shent.
The tale of woe all hearts doth rend,
Thus to the host for aid they send:
‘Bohemia’s faith doth stand upright,
If comrade comrade aids in fight.’
The Count of Meissen said in sight,
‘If the Bohemian bands unite,
Evil, methinks, will us betide;
Asunder let us keep them wide.
Fear strikes me, when the flails I see,
And those black lads so bold and free!
’tis said that each doth crush the foe
Upon whose mail he sets a blow.’
Our Marshal, good Lord Vanek, spake:
‘Whoe’er God’s war will undertake,
Whoe’er will wage it free from guile,
Himself with God must reconcile.’
On Friday then, at morning light,
The Czechians service held aright,
Received God’s body and His blood,
Ere for their faith in fight they stood.
Prince Sigmund did the same likewise,
And prayed to God with tearful eyes,
And urged the warriors firm to stand,
And cheer’d the people of the land.
By Predlitz, on Behani’s height,
The armies met and closed in fight;
Stout Germans there, Bohemians here,
Like hungry lions, know no fear.
The Germans loud proclaim’d that day,
The Czechians must their creed unsay,
Submit themselves and sue for grace,
Or leave their lives upon the place.
‘‘Gainst us ye cannot stand,’ they said,
‘Against our host ye are but dead;
Look at our numbers; what are ye?
A cask of poppy-seed are we.’5

The bold Bohemians made reply:
‘Our creed we hold until we die,
Our fatherland we will defend,
Though in the fight we meet our end.
And though a little band to see,
A spoonful small of mustard we,
Yet none the less we’ll sharply bite,
If Christ but aid us in the fight.
But be this pact betwixt us twain:
Whoe’er’s by either army ta’en,
Bind him and keep him, slay him not;
Expect from us the selfsame lot.’
Said they: ‘this thing we cannot do;
The Pope’s dread curse is laid on you,
And we must slay in fury wild
Both old and young, both maid and child.’
The Czechians too same pact did make,
No German prisoners to take;
Then each man call’d his God upon,
And thought his faith, his honor on.
The Germans jeer’d them as they stood,
On came their horsemen like a flood:
‘Our foes,’ they say, ‘like geese.’6

With axe, with dirk, with mace we’ll slay.
Soon lose shall many a maid and wife,
Sire, brother, husband in the strife,
In sad bereavement shall remain;
Woe waits the orphans of the slain.’
When each on other ’gan to fall,
The Czechians on their God did call;
They saw before their van in view
A stranger knight, whom no man knew.
The Taborites begin the fight,
Like men they forwards press and smite;
Where’er the Orphans took their road,
There streams of blood like brooklets flow’d.
And many a knight display’d his might,
And many a lord was good in fight,
’twere vain to strive each name to say—
Lord! bless them and their seed for aye!
For there with valor without end
They did the truth of God defend,
They gave their lives right valiantly,
With thee, O Lord! in heav’n to be.
When long the fight had fiercely burn’d,
The wind against the Germans turn’d,
Their backs the bold Bohemians see,
Quick to the woods and hills they flee.
And those that ’scaped the bloody scene
Right sadly told the Margravine,
For faith and creed how fierce and wood
The Czechian heretics had stood.
Then fourteen counts and lords of might
Did from their coursers all alight,
Their sword-points deep in earth did place
And to the Czechians sued for grace.
For prayers and cries they cared not aught,
Silver and gold they set at naught,
E’en as themselves had made reply,
So ev’ry man they did to die.
Thus thousands fifty, thousands twain,
Or more, were of the Germans slain,
Besides the youths, that did abide
In helmets by the army’s side;
But these they kept alive, to tell
Their lady how her people fell,
That all might think the fight upon,
At Aussig that for God was won.
Ho! all ye faithful Christian men!
Each lord and knight and citizen!
Follow and hold your fathers’ creed
And show ye are their sons indeed!
Be steadfast in God’s truth always,
And so from God ye shall have praise;
God on your offspring blessings pour,
And grant you life for evermore!

Chapter 3.17: Brilliant Successes Of The Hussites

Another Crusade – Bishop of Winchester its Leader – The Crusaders – Panic – Booty reaped by the Hussites – Sigismund Negotiates for the Crown – Failure of Negotiation – Hussites Invade Germany and Austria – Papal Bull – A New Crusade – Panic and Flight of the Invaders.

SCARCE had this tempest passed over the Hussites when a more terrible one was seen rolling up against their devoted land. The very next year (1427)a yet greater crusade than that which had come to so inglorious an issue, was organized and set in motion. This invasion, like the former, was instigated by the Pope, who this time turned his eyes to a new quarter for a captain to lead it. He might well despair of finding a German prince willing to head such an expedition, after the woeful experience the nobles, of that land had had of Bohemian warfare. The English were at that time winning great renown in France, and why should they be unwilling, thought the Pope, to win equal fame, and at the same time to serve the Church, by turning their arms against the heretics of Bohemia?. Who could tell but the warlike Norman might know how to break the spell which had hitherto chained victory to the Hussite banners, although the Teuton had not found out the important secret?

Pope Martin, following out his idea, selected Henry de Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, the son of the celebrated John of Gaunt, and brother of Henry IV., as a suitable person on whom to bestow this mark of confidence. He first created him a cardinal, he next made him his legate-a-latere, accompanying this distinguished dignity with a commission equally distinguished, and which, if difficult, would confer honor proportionately great if successfully accomplished. In short, the Pope put him at the head of a new Bohemian crusade, which he had called into existence by his bull given at Rome, February 16th, 1427. This bull the Pope sent to Henry of Winchester, and the bishop had forthwith to provide the important additions of money, soldiers, and success.1

The bishop, now become legate-a-latere, published in England the bull sanctioning the crusade, not doubting that he should instantly see thousands of enthusiastic warriors pressing forward to fight under his banner. He was mortified, however, to find that few Englishmen were ambitious of taking part in an enterprise beyond doubt very holy, but which beyond doubt would be very bloody. Beaufort crossed the sea to Belgium, where better fortune awaited him. In the venerable and very ecclesiastical city of Mechlin he published the Pope’s bull, and waited the effect. It was all that the warlike legate-a-latere could wish. No such response had been given to any similar summons since the day that the voice of Peter the Hermit had thrilled the Western nations, and precipitated them in fanatical masses upon the infidels of Palestine. The whole of that vast region which extends from the Rhine to the Elbe, and from the shores of the Baltic to the summits of the Alps, seemed to rise up at the voice of this new Peter. Around his standard there gathered a host of motley nationalities, composed of the shepherds of the mountains, and the artisans and traders of the towns, of the peasants who tilled the fields, and the lords and princes that owned them. Contemporary writers say that the army that now assembled consisted of ninety thousand infantry and an equal number of cavalry. This doubtless is so far a guess, for in those days neither armies nor nations were accurately told, but it is without doubt that the numbers that swelled this the fourth crusade very much exceeded those of the former one. Here were swords enough surely to convert all the heretics in Bohemia.

Led by three electors of the Empire, by many princes and counts, and headed by the legate-a-latere of the Pope, this great host marched forward to the scene, as it believed, of its predestined triumph. It would strike such a blow as would redeem all past defeats, and put it out of the power of heresy ever again to lift up its head on the soil of the holy Roman Empire. The very greatness of the danger that now threatened the Hussites helped to ward it off. The patriotism of all ranks in Bohemia, from the magnate to the peasant, was roused. Many Roman Catholics who till now had opposed their Protestant countrymen, feeling the love of country stronger in their bosom than the homage of creed, joined the standard of the great Procopius. The invaders entered Bohemia in June, 1427, and sat down before the town of Meiss which they meant to besiege.

The Bohemians marched to meet their invaders. They were now within sight of them, and the two armies were separated only by the river that flows past Meiss. The crusaders were in greatly superior force, but instead of dashing across the stream, and closing in battle with the Hussites whom they had come so far to meet, they stood gazing in silence at those warriors, whose features, hardened by constant exposure, and begrimed with the smoke and dust of battle, seemed to realize the pictures of terror which report had made familiar to their imaginations long before they came in contact with the reality. It was only for a few moments that the invaders contemplated the Hussite ranks. A sudden panic fell upon them. They turned and fled in the utmost confusion. The legate was as one who awakens from a dream. His labors and hopes at the very moment when, as he thought, they were to be crowned with victory, suddenly vanished in a shameful rout. The Hussites, plunging into the river, and climbing the opposite bank, hung upon the rear of the fugitives, slaughtering them mercilessly. The carnage was increased by the fury of the peasantry, who rose and avenged upon the foe, in his retreat, the ravages he had committed in his advance. The booty taken was so immense that there was scarcely an individual, of whatever station, in all Bohemia, who was not suddenly made rich.2

The Pope comforted the humiliated Henry de Beaufort by sending him a letter of condolence (October 2nd, 1427), in which he hinted that a second attempt might have a better issue. But the legate, who had found that if the doctrines of the Hussites were false their swords were sharp, would meddle no further in their affairs. Not so the Emperor Sigismund. Still coveting the Bohemian crown, but despairing of gaining possession of it by arms, he now resolved to try what diplomacy could effect. But the Bohemians, who felt that the gulf between the emperor and themselves, first opened by the stake of Huss, had been vastly widened by the blood since shed in the wars into which he had forced them, declined being ruled by him. Such, at least, was the feeling of the great majority of the nation. But Procopius was unwilling to forego the hopes of peace, so greatly needed by a stricken and bleeding country. He had combated for the Bohemian liberties and the Hussite faith on the battle-field. He was ready to die for them. But he hinged, if it were possible on anything like honorable and safe terms, to close these frightful wars. In this hope he assembled the Bohemian Diet at Prague, in 1429, and got its consent to go to Vienna and lay the terms of the Bohemian people before the emperor in person.

These were substantially the same as the four articles mentioned in a former chapter, and which the Hussites, when the struggle opened, had agreed on as the indispensable basis of all negotiations for peace that might at any time be entered upon—namely, the free preaching of the Gospel, Communion in both kinds, a satisfactory arrangement of the ecclesiastical property, and the execution of the laws against all crimes by whomsoever committed. The likelihood was small that so bigoted a monarch as Sigismund would agree to these terms; but though the journey had been ten times longer, and the chance of success ten times smaller, Procopius would have done what he did if thereby he might bind up his country’s wounds. It was as might have been anticipated. Sigismund would not listen to the voice of a suffering but magnanimous and pious people; and Procopius returned to Prague, his embassy unaccomplished, but with the satisfaction that he had held out the olive-branch, and that if the sword must again be unsheathed, the blood which would flow would lie at the door of those who had spurned the overtures of a just and reasonable peace.

The Hussites now assumed the offensive, and those nations which had so often carried war into Bohemia experienced its miseries on their own soil.3 This policy might appear to the Bohemians, on a large view of their affairs, the wisest that they could pursue. We know at least that it was adopted at the recommendation of the enlightened and patriotic man who guided their councils. Their overtures for peace had been haughtily rejected; and it was now manifest that they could reckon on not a day’s tranquillity, save in the way of an unconditional surrender of their crown to the emperor, and an equally unconditional surrender of their conscience to the Pope. Much as they loved peace, they were not prepared to purchase it at such a price. And instead of waiting till war should come to them, they thought it better to anticipate it by carrying it into the countries of their enemies. Procopius entered Germany (1429) at the head of 80,000 warriors, and in the campaign of that and the following summers he carried his conquests from the gates of Magdeburg in the north, to the further limits of Franconia in the south. The whole of Western Germany felt the weight of his sword. Some hundred towns and castles he converted into ruins: he exacted a heavy ransom from the wealthy cities, and the barons and bishops he made to pay sums equally large as the price of their escape from captivity or death. Such towns as Bamberg and Nuremberg, and such magnates as the Elector of Brandenburg and the Bishop of Salzburg, were rated each at 10,000 ducats. This was an enormous sum at a time when the gold-yielding countries were undiscovered, and the affluence of their mines had not cheapened the price of the precious metals in the markets of Europe. The return homeward of the army of Procopius was attended by 300 wagons, which groaned under the weight of the immense booty that he carried with him on his march back to Bohemia.

We record this invasion without either justifying or condemning it. Were we to judge of it, we should feel bound to take into account the character of the age, and the circumstances of the men. The Bohemians were surrounded by nationalities who bitterly hated them, and who would not be at peace with them. They knew that their faith made them the objects of incessant intrigues. They had it in their choice, they believed, to inflict these ravages or to endure them, and seeing war there must be, they preferred that it should be abroad, not at home.

But we submit that the lasting tranquillity and the higher interests of the nation might have been more effectually secured in the long run by a policy directed to the intellectual, the moral, and especially the spiritual elevation of Bohemia. The heroism of a nation cannot be maintained apart from its moral and spiritual condition. The seat of valor is the conscience.

Conscience can make of the man a coward, or it can make of him a hero. Living as the Hussites did in the continual excitement of camps and battles and victories, it could not be but that their moral and spiritual life should decline. If, confiding in that Arm which had hitherto so wonderfully guarded their land, which had given them victory on a score of battlefields, and which had twice chased their enemies from their soil when they came against them in overwhelming numbers—if, we say, leaning on that Arm, they had spread, not their swords, but their opinions over Germany, they would have taken the best of all revenges, not on the Germans only, but on Her whose seat is on the Seven Hills, and who had called up and directed against their nation all those terrible tempests that had burst, one after the other, over it. These are the invasions which Rome dreads most. It is not men clad in mail, but men clad in the armor of truth, wielding not the sword but the Scriptures, before whom Rome trembles. But we must recall our canon of criticism, and judge the Hussites by the age in which they lived.

It was not their fault if the fifteenth century did not put them in possession of that clear, well-defined system of Truth, and of those great facilities for spreading it over the earth, which the nineteenth has put within our reach. Their piety and patriotism, as a principle, may have been equal, nay, superior to ours, but the ethical maxims which regulate the, display of these virtues were not then so fully developed. Procopius, the great leader of the Bohemians, lived in an age when missions were yet remote.

There was trembling through all Germany. Alarm was felt even at Rome, for the Hussites had made their arms the terror of all Europe. The Pope and the emperor took counsel how they might close a source of danger which threatened to devastate Christendom, and which they themselves in an evil hour had opened. They convoked a Diet at Nuremberg. There it was resolved to organize a new expedition against Bohemia. The Pope—not Martin V., who died of apoplexy on the 20th of February, 1431; but Eugenius IV., who succeeded him on the 16th of March—proclaimed through his legate, Cardinal Julian Cesarini, a fifth crusade. No ordinary advantages were held forth as inducements to embark in this most meritorious but most hazardous service. Persons under a vow of pilgrimage to Rome, or to St. James of Compostella in Spain, might have release on condition of giving the money they would have spent on their journey to aid in the war. Nor were rewards wanting to those who, though unable to fight, were yet willing to pray. Intending crusaders might do shrift for half a Bohemian penny, nor need the penitent pay even this small sum unless he chose. Confessors were appointed to give absolution of even the most heinous crimes, such as burning churches, and murdering priests, that the crusader might go into battle with a clear conscience. And verily he had need of all these aids to fortify him, when he thought of those with whom he was about to join battle; for every Hussite was believed to have within him a legion of fiends, and it was no light matter to meet a foe like this. But whatever might happen, the safety of the crusader had been cared for. If he fell in battle, he went straight to Paradise; and if he survived, there awaited him a Paradise on earth in the booty he was sure to reap in the Bohemian land, which would make him rich for life.4

Besides these spiritual lures, the feeling of exasperation was kept alive in the breasts of the Germans, by the memorials of the recent Hussite invasion still visible on the face of the country. Their ravaged fields and ruined cities continually in their sight whetted their desire for vengeance. Besides, German valor had been sorely tarnished by defeat abroad and by disaster at home, and it was not wonderful that the Teutons should seize this chance of wiping out these stains from the national escutcheon. Accordingly, every day new troops of crusaders arrived at the place of rendezvous, which was the city of Nuremberg, and the army now assembled there numbered, horse and foot, 130,000 men.5

On the 1st of August, 1431, the crusaders crossed the Bohemian frontier, penetrating through the great forest which covered the country on the Bavarian side. They were brilliantly led, as concerned rank, for at their head marched quite a host of princes spiritual and temporal. Chief among these was the legate Julian Cesarini. The very Catholic Cochlaeus hints that these cardinals and archbishops might have found worthier employment, and he even doubts whether the practice of priests appearing in mail at the head of armies can be justified by the Levites of old, who were specially exempt from serving in arms that they might wholly attend to their service in the Tabernacle. The feelings of the Hussites as day by day they received tidings of the numbers, equipments, and near approach of the host, we can well imagine. Clouds as terrible had ere this darkened their sky, but they had seen an omnipotent Hand suddenly disperse them. They were prepared, as aforetime, to stand shoulder to shoulder in defense of their country and their faith, but any army they could hope to bring into the field would not amount to half the number of that which was now marching against them. They reflected, however, that victory did not always declare on the side of the largest battalions, and, lifting their eyes to heaven, they calmly awaited the approach of the foe. The invading host advanced, “chanting triumph before victory,” says Lenfant, and arriving at Tachau, it halted there a week. Nothing could have better suited the Bohemians. Forming into three columns the invaders moved forward. Procopius fell back on their approach, sowing reports as he retreated that the Bohemians had quarreled among themselves, and were fleeing. His design was to lure the enemy farther into the country, and fall upon him on all sides. On the morning of the 14th August the Bohemians marched to meet the foe. That foe now became aware of the stratagem which had been practiced upon him. The terrible Hussite soldiers, who were believed to be in flight, were advancing to offer battle.

The enemy were encamped near the town of Reisenberg. The Hussites were not yet in sight, but the sounds of their approach struck upon the ear of the Germans. The rumble of their wagons, and their war-hymn chanted by the whole army as it marched bravely forward to battle, were distinctly heard. Cardinal Cesarini and a companion climbed a little hill to view the impending conflict. Beneath them was the host which they expected soon to see engaged in victorious fight. It was an imposing spectacle, this great army of many nationalities, with its waving banners, its mail-clad knights, its helmeted cavalry, its long lines of wagons, and its numerous artillery. The cardinal and his friend had gazed only a few minutes when they were startled by a strange and sudden movement in the host. As if smitten by some invisible power, it appeared all at once to break up and scatter. The soldiers threw away their armor and fled, one this way, another that; and the wagoners, emptying their vehicles of their load, set off across the plain at full gallop. Struck with consternation and amazement, the cardinal hurried down to the field, and soon learned the cause of the catastrophe. The army had been seized with a mysterious panic. That panic extended to the officers equally with the soldiers. The Duke of Bavaria was one of the first to flee. He left behind him his carriage, in the hope that its spoil might tempt the enemy and delay their pursuit. Behind him, also in inglorious flight, came the Elector of Brandenburg; and following close on the elector were others of less note, chased from the field by this unseen terror. The army followed, if that could be styled an army which so lately had been a marshaled and bannered host but was now only a rabble rout, fleeing when no man pursued.

To do him justice, the only man who did not lose his head that day was the Papal legate Cesarini. Amazed, mortified, and indignant, he took his stand in the path of the crowd of fugitives, in the hope of compelling them to stand and show fight. He addressed them with the spirit of a soldier, bidding them remember the glory of their ancestors. If their pagan forefathers had shown such courage in fighting for dumb idols, surely it became their descendants to show at least equal courage in fighting for Christ, and the salvation of souls. But deeming, it may be, this style of argument too high-pitched for the men and the occasion, the cardinal pressed upon the terrified crowd the more prudential and practical consideration, that they had a better chance of saving their lives by standing and fighting than by running away; that they were sure to be overtaken by the light cavalry of the Bohemians, and that the peasantry, whose anger they had incurred by the pillage and slaughter they had inflicted in their advance, would rise upon them and cut them down in their flight. With these words he succeeded in rallying some bodies of the fugitives. But it was only for a few minutes. They stood their ground only till the Bohemians were within a short distance of them, and then that strange terror again fell upon them, and the stampede (to use a modern phrase) became so perfectly uncontrollable, that the legate himself was borne away in the current of bewildered and hurrying men. Much did the cardinal leave behind him in his enforced flight. First and chiefly, he lost that great anticipated triumph of which he had been so sure. His experience in this respect was precisely that of another cardinal-legate, his predecessor, Henry de Beaufort. It was a rude awakening, in which he opened his eyes, not on glorious victory, but on humiliating and bitter defeat. Cesarini incurred other losses on this fatal field. He left behind him his hat, his cross, his bell, and the Pope’s bull proclaiming the crusade—that same crusade which had come to so ridiculous a termination. The booty was immense. Wagon-loads of coin, destined for the payment of the troops, became now the property of the Bohemians, besides the multifarious spoil of the field—artillery, arms, banners, dresses, gold and silver plate, and utensils of all kinds; and, adds an old chronicler, with a touch of humor, “many wagons of excellent wine.”6

This was now the second time the strange phenomenon of panic had been repeated in the Hussite wars. The Germans are naturally brave; they have proved their valor on a hundred fields. They advanced against the Bohemians in vastly superior numbers; and if panic there was to be, we should rather have looked for it in the little Hussite army. When they saw the horizon filled with German foot and horse, it would not have been surprising if the Bohemians had turned and fled. But that the Germans should flee is explicable only with reference to the moral state of the combatants. It shows that a good conscience is the best equipment of an army, and will do much to win victory. But there is something more in the facts we have related than the courage inspired by the consciousness of a good cause, and the feebleness and cowardice engendered by the consciousness of a bad one. There is here the touch of a Divine finger—the infusion of a preternatural terror. So great was the stupefaction with which the crusaders were smitten that many of them, instead of continuing their flight into their own country, wandered back into Bohemia; while others of them, who reached their homes in Nuremberg, did not know their native city when they entered it, and began to beg for lodgings as if they were among strangers.

Chapter 3.18: The Council Of Basle

Negotiations – Council of Basle – Hussites Invited to the Council – Entrance of Hussite Deputies into Basle – Their Four Articles – Debates in the Council – No Agreement – Return of the Deputies to Prague – Resumption of Negotiations – The Compactata – Its Equivocal Character – Sigismund accepted as King

ARMS, which had served the cause of Rome so ill, were now laid aside, and in their room resort was had to wiles.1 It was now evident that those great armaments, raised and fitted out at an expense so enormous, and one after another launched against Bohemia—a little country, but peopled by heroes—were accomplishing no end at all, save that of fattening with corpses and enriching with booty the land they were meant to subdue. There were other considerations which recommended a change of policy on the part of the imperial and ecclesiastical powers. The victorious Hussites were carrying the war into the enemy’s country. They had driven the Austrian soldiers out of Moravia. They had invaded Hungary and other provinces, burning towns and carrying off booty. These proceedings were not without their effect in opening the eyes of the Pope and the emperor to the virtue of conciliation, to which till now they had been blind. In the year 1432, they addressed letters to the Bohemians, couched in the most friendly terms, and evidently designed to open the way to peace, and to give the emperor quiet possession of the kingdom in which, as he said, he was born, and over which his father, brother, and uncle had reigned. Not otherwise than as they had reigned would he reign over them, should they permit him peaceably to enter. So he promised.

A General Council of the Church had been convoked, and was now in session at Basle. On the frontier between Germany and Switzerland, washed by the Rhine, skirted on the east by the hills of the Black Forest, while in the southern horizon appear the summits of the Jura Alps, is situated the pleasant town where the Council was now assembled, and where a century later the seeds of the Reformation found a congenial soil. Letters from the emperor and the legate Julian invited the Bohemians to come to Basle and confer on their points of difference.2 To induce them to accept this invitation, the Fathers offered them a safe-conduct to and from the Council, and a guarantee for the free celebration of their worship during their stay, adding the further assurance that the Council “would lovingly and gently hear their reasons.”3

The Hussites were not at all sanguine that the result of the conference would be such as would enable them to sheathe the sword over a satisfactory arrangement of their affairs. They had doubts, too, touching their personal safety. Still the matter was worth a good deal of both labor and risk; and after deliberating, they resolved to give proof of their desire for peace by attending the Council. They chose deputies to represent them at Basle, of whom the chief were Procopius “the Great,” William Rosca, Baron of Poscupicz, a valiant knight; John Rochyzana, preacher of Prague; and Nicolas Galecus, pastor of the Taborites.4 They were accompanied by Peter Payne, an Englishman, “of excellent prompt and pregnant wit,” says Fox; and who did good service at Basle.5 A company of 300 in all set out on horseback for the Council.

The arrival of the Bohemian deputies was looked forward to with much interest in the Swiss town. The prodigies recently enacted upon its soil had made Bohemia a land of wonders, and very extraordinary pictures indeed had been circulated of the men by whom the victories with which all Europe was now ringing had been won. The inhabitants of Basle waited their arrival half in expectation, half in terror, not knowing whether they were heroes or monsters whom they were about to receive into their city. At length their approach was announced. All the inhabitants of Basle turned out to see those men whose tenets were so abominable, and whose arms were so terrible. The streets were lined with spectators; every window and roof had its cluster of eager and anxious sight-seers; and even the venerable Fathers of the Council mingled in the crowd, that they might have an early view of the men whom they were to meet in theological battle. As the cavalcade crossed the long wooden bridge that spans the Rhine, and slowly climbed the opposite bank, which is crowned with the cathedral towers and other buildings of the city, its appearance was very imposing. The spectators missed the “teeth of lions and eyes of demons” with which the Hussites were credited by those who had fled before them on the battle-field; but they saw in them other qualities which, though less rare, were more worthy of admiration. Their tall figures and gallant bearing, their faces scarred with battle, and their eyes lit with courage, were the subject of general comment. Procopius drew all eyes upon him. “This is the man,” said they one to another, “who has so often put to flight the armies of the faithful—who has destroyed so many cities—who has massacred so many thousands; the invincible—the valiant.”6

The deputies had received their instructions before leaving Prague. They were to insist on the four following points (which, as already mentioned, formed the pre-arranged basis on which alone the question of a satisfactory adjustment of affairs could be considered) as the indispensable conditions of peace: I. The free preaching of the Word. II. The right of the laity to the Cup, and the use of the vernacular tongue in all parts of Divine worship. III. The ineligibility of the clergy to secular office and rule. IV. The execution of the laws in the case of all crimes, without respect of persons.7 Accordingly, when the deputies appeared before the Council, they made the Fathers aware that their deliberations must be confined to these four points; that these were the faith of the Bohemian nation; that that nation had not empowered them to entertain the question of a renunciation of that faith, but only to ascertain how far it might be possible, in conformity with the four articles specified, to arrange a basis of peace with the Church of Rome, and permit a Roman Catholic sovereign to wear the crown of Bohemia, and that they had appeared in the Council not to discuss with it generally the tenets of Huss and Jerome.8

These four articles may be said to have formed the new constitution of the kingdom of Bohemia. They struck at the foundation of the Roman hierarchy, and implied a large measure of reformation. The eventual consolidation of the nation’s civil and religious liberties would have been their inevitable result. The supreme authority of the Scriptures, which the Hussites maintained, implied the emancipation of the conscience, the beginning of all liberty. The preaching of the Gospel and the celebration of public worship in the language of the people, implied the purification of the nation’s morals and the enlightenment of the national intellect. Communion in both kinds was a practical repudiation of the doctrine of the mass; for to insist on the Cup as essential to the Sacrament is tacitly to maintain that the bread is simply bread, and not the literal flesh of Christ. And the articles which disqualified priests from civil rule, displaced them from the state offices which they filled, and subjected them to the laws in common with others. This article struck at the idea that the priesthood forms a distinct and theocratic kingdom. The four articles as they stand, it will be observed, lie within the sphere of administration; they do not include any one principle fundamentally subversive of the whole scheme of Romanism. In this respect, they fall short of Wicliffe’s programme, which preceded them, as well as of Luther’s which came after. In Bohemia, the spiritual and intellectual forces are less powerfully developed; the patriotic and the military are in the ascendant. Still, it is to be borne in mind that the Bohemians had acknowledged the great principle that the Bible is the only infallible authority, and where this principle is maintained and practically carried out, there the fabric of Romanism is undermined. Put the priest out of court as an infallible oracle, and the Bible comes in his room; and the moment the Word of God enters, the shackles of human authority and tradition fall off.

Cardinal Julian, the Papal legate, opened the proceedings with a long and eloquent oration of a conciliatory character. He exhorted the delegates from Bohemia, says Fox, to unity and peace, saying that “the Church was the spouse of Jesus Christ, and the mother of all the faithful; that it hath the keys of binding and loosing, and also that it is white and fair, and without spot or wrinkle, and that it cannot err in those points necessary to salvation. He exhorted them also to receive the decrees of the Council, and to give no less credit unto the Council than unto the Gospel, by whose authority the Scriptures themselves are received and allowed. Also, that the Bohemians, who call themselves the children of the Church, ought to hear the voice of their mother, who is never unmindful of her children… that in the time of Noah’s flood as many as were without the ark perished; that the Lord’s passover was to be eaten in one house; that there is no salvation to be sought for out of the Church, and that this is the famous garden and fountain of water, whereof whosoever shall drink shall not thirst everlastingly; that the Bohemians have done as they ought, in that they have sought the fountains of this water at the Council, and have now at length determined to give ear unto their mother.”9

The Bohemians made a brief reply, saying that they neither believed nor taught anything that was not founded on the Word of God; that they had come to the Council to vindicate their innocence in open audience, and ended by laying on the table the four articles they had been instructed to insist on as the basis of peace.10

Each of these four articles became in its turn the subject of discussion. Certain of the members of Council were selected to impugn, and certain of the Bohemian delegates were appointed to defend them.11 The Fathers strove, not without success, to draw the deputies into a discussion on the wide subject of Catholicism. They anticipated, it may be, an easy victory over men whose lives had been passed on the battle-field; for if the Hussites were foiled in the general argument, they might be expected to yield more easily on the four points specially in debate. But neither on the wider field of Catholicism or on the narrower ground of the four articles did the Bohemians show any inclination to yield. Wherever they had learned their theology, they proved themselves as obstinate combatants in the council-chamber as they had done on the field of battle; they could marshal arguments and proofs as well as soldiers, and the Fathers soon found that Rome was likely to win as little fame in this spiritual contest as she had done in her military campaigns. The debates dragged on through three tedious months; and at the close of that period the Council was as far from yielding the Hussite articles, and the delegates were as far from being convinced that they ought to refrain from urging them, as they had been on the first day of the debate. This was not a little mortifying to the Fathers; all the more so that it was the reverse of what they had confidently anticipated. The Hussites, they thought, might cling to their errors in the darkness that brooded over the Bohemian soil; but at Basle, in the presence of the polemical giants of Rome, and amidst the blaze of an Ecumenical Council, that they should continue to maintain them was not less a marvel than a mortification to the Council. Procopius especially bore himself gallantly in this debate. A scholar and a theologian, as well as a warrior, the Fathers saw with mingled admiration and chagrin that he could wield his logic with not less dexterity than his sword, and could strike as heavy a blow on the ecclesiastical arena as on the military. “You hold a great many heresies,” said the Papal legate to him one day. “For example, you believe that the Mendicant orders are an invention of the devil.” If Procopius grant this, doubtless thought the legate, he will mortally offend the Council; and if he deny it, he will scandalize his own nation. The legate waited to see on which horn the leader of the Taborites would do penance. “Can you show,” replied Procopius, “that the Mendicants were instituted by either the patriarchs or the prophets under the Old Testament, or Jesus Christ and the apostles under the New? If not, I ask you, by whom were they instituted?” We do not read that the legate pressed the charge further.12

After three months’ fruitless debates, the Bohemian delegates left Basle and returned to their own country. The Council would come to no terms unless the Bohemians would engage to surrender the faith of Huss, and submit unconditionally to Rome. Although the Hussites, vanquished and in fetters, had been prostrate at the feet of the Council, it could have proposed nothing more humiliating. The Council forgot that the Bohemians were victorious, and that it was it that was suing for peace. In this light, it would seem, did the matter appear to the members when the deputies were gone, for they sent after them a proposal to renew at Prague the negotiations which had been broken off at Basle.13

Shrinking from the dire necessity of again unsheathing the sword, and anxious to spare their country the calamities that attend even victorious warfare, the Bohemian chiefs returned answer to the Council bidding them send forward their delegates to Prague. Many an armed embassy had come to Prague, or as near to it as the valor of its heroic sons would permit; now messengers of peace were traveling toward the land of John Huss. Let us, said the Bohemians, display as great courtesy and respect on this occasion as we have shown bravery and defiance on former ones. The citizens put on their best clothes, the bells were tolled, flags were suspended from the steeples and ramparts and gates, and every expression of public welcome greeted the arrival of the delegates of the Council.

The Diet of Bohemia was convoked (1434)14 with reference to the question which was about to be reopened. The negotiations proceeded more smoothly on the banks of the Moldau than they had done on those of the Rhine. The negotiations ended in a compromise. It was agreed that the four articles of the Hussites should be accepted, but that the right of explaining them, that is of determining their precise import, should belong to the Council—in other words, to the Pope and the emperor. Such was the treaty now formed between the Roman Catholics and the Hussites; its basis was the four articles, explained by the Council—obviously an arrangement which promised a plentiful crop of misunderstandings and quarrels in the future. To this agreement was given the name of the Compactata. As with the Bible so with the four Hussite articles—Rome accepted them, but reserved to herself the right of determining their true sense. It might have been foreseen that the Interpretation and not the Articles would henceforth be the rule. So was the matter understood by AEneas Sylvins, an excellent judge of what the Council meant. “This formula of the Council,” said he, “is short, but there is more in its meaning than in its words. It banishes all such opinions and ceremonies as are alien to the faith, and it takes the Bohemians bound to believe and to maintain all that the Church Catholic believes and maintains.”15 This was said with special reference to the Council’s explication of the Hussite article of Communion in both kinds. The administrator was to teach the recipient of the Eucharist, according to the decree of the Council in its thirtieth session, that a whole Christ was in the cup as well as in the bread. This was a covert reintroduction of transubstantiation.

The Compactata, then, was but a feeble guarantee of the Bohemian faith and liberties; in fact, it was a surrender of both; and thus the Pope and the emperor, defeated on so many bloody fields, triumphed at last on that of diplomacy. Many of the Bohemians, and more especially the party termed the Calixtines, now returned to their obedience to the Roman See, the cup being guaranteed to them, and the Emperor Sigismund was now acknowledged as legitimate sovereign of Bohemia.16

Chapter 3.19: Last Scenes Of The Bohemian Reformation

The Two Parties, Calixtines and Taborites – The Compactata Accepted by the First, Rejected by the Second – War between the Two – Death of Procopius – Would the Bohemian Reformation have Regenerated Christendom? – Sigismund Violates the Compactata – He Dies – His Character – George Podiebrad – Elected King – The Taborites – Visited by AEneas Sylvius – Their Persecutions – A Taborite Ordination – Multiplication of their Congregations.

THE Bohemians were now divided into two strongly marked and widely separated parties, the Taborites and the Calixtines. This division had existed from the first; but it widened in proportion as the strain of their great struggle was relaxed. The party that retained most of the sprint of John Huss were the Taborites. With them the defense of their religion was the first concern, that of their civil rights and privileges the second. The latter they deemed perfectly safe under the aegis of the former. The Calixtines, on the other hand, had become lukewarm so far as the struggle was one for religion. They thought that the rent between their country and Rome was unnecessarily wide, and their policy was now one of approximation. They had secured the cup, as they believed, not reflecting that they had got transubstantiation along with it; and now the conflict, they thought, should cease. To the party of the Calixtines belonged the chief magnates, and most of the great cities, which threw the preponderance of opinion on the side of the Compactata. Into this scale was thrown also the influence of Rochyzana, the pastor of the Calixtines. “He was tempted with the hope of a bishopric,” says Comenius, and used his influence both at Basle and Prague to further conciliation on terms more advantageous to Rome than honorable to the Bohemians. “In this manner,” says Comenius, “they receded from the footsteps of Huss and returned to the camp of Antichrist.”1

In judging of the conduct of the Bohemians at this crisis of their affairs, we are to bear in mind that the events narrated took place in the fifteenth century; that the points of difference between the two Churches, so perfectly irreconcilable, had not yet been so dearly and sharply defined as they came to be by the great controversies of the century that followed. But the Bohemians in accepting this settlement stepped down from a position of unexampled grandeur. Their campaigns are amongst the most heroic and brilliant of the wars of the world. A little country and a little army, they nevertheless were at this hour triumphant over all the resources of Rome and all the armies of the Empire. They had but to keep their ground and remain united, and take care that their patriotism, kindled at the altar, did not decline, and there was no power in Europe that would have dared attack them. From the day that the Bohemian nation sat down on the Compactata, their prestige waned, they gained no more victories; and the tone of public feeling, and the tide of national prosperity, began to go back. The Calixtines accepted, the Taborites rejected this arrangement. The consequence was the deplorable one of an appeal to arms by the two parties. Formerly, they had never unsheathed the sword except against a common enemy, and to add new glory to the glory already acquired; but now, alas! divided by that power whose wiles have ever been a hundred times more formidable than her arms, Bohemian unsheathed the sword against Bohemian. The Calixtines were by much the larger party, including as they did not only the majority of those who had been dissentients from Rome, but also all the Roman Catholics. The Taborites remained under the command of Procopius, who, although most desirous of composing the strife and letting his country have rest, would not accept of peace on terms which he held to be fatal to his nation’s faith and liberty. Bohemia, he clearly saw, had entered on the descending path. Greater concessions and deeper humiliations were before it. The enemy before whom she had begun to humble herself would not be satisfied till he had reft from her all she had won on the victorious field. Rather than witness this humiliation, Procopius betook himself once more to the field at the head of his armed Taborites.

Bloody skirmishes marked the opening of the conflict. At last, the two armies met on the plain of Lipan, twelve English miles from Prague, the 29th of May, 1434, and a great battle was fought. The day, fiercely contested on both sides, was going in favor of Procopius, when the general of his cavalry rode off the field with all under his command.2 This decided the action. Procopius, gathering round him the bravest of his soldiers, rushed into the thick of the foe, where he contended for awhile against fearful odds, but at last sank overpowered by numbers. With the fall of Procopius came the end of the Hussite wars.

A consummate general, a skillful theologian, an accomplished scholar, and an incorruptible patriot, Procopius had upheld the cause of Bohemia so long as Bohemia was true to itself, AEneas Sylvius Piccolomini said of him that “he fell weary with conquering rather than conquered.”3 His death fulfilled the saying of the Emperor Sigismund, “that the Bohemians could be overcome only by Bohemians.” With him fell the cause of the Hussites. No effectual stand could the Taborites make after the loss of their great leader; and as regards the Calixtines, they riveted their chains by the same blow that struck down Procopius. Yet one hardly can wish that this great patriot had lived longer. The heroic days of Bohemia were numbered, and the evil days had come in which Procopius could take no pleasure. He had seen the Bohemians united and victorious. He had seen puissant kings and mighty armies fleeing before them. He had seen their arts, their literature, their husbandry, all flourishing. For the intellectual energy evoked by the war did not expend itself in the camp; it overflowed, and nourished every interest of the nation. The University of Prague continued open, and its classrooms crowded, all throughout that stormy period. The common schools of the country were equally active, and education was universally diffused. AEneas Sylvius says that every woman among the Taborites was well acquainted with the Old and New Testaments, and unwilling as he was to see any good in the Hussites, he yet confesses that they had one merit—namely, “the love of letters.” It was not uncommon at that era to find tracts written by artizans, discussing religious subjects, and characterized by the elegance of their diction and the rigor of their thinking.4 All this Procopius had seen. But now Bohemia herself had dug the grave of her liberties in the Compactata. And when all that had made Bohemia dear to Procopius was about to be laid in the sepulcher, it was fitting that he too should be consigned to the tomb.

One is compelled to ask what would the result have been, had the Bohemians maintained their ground? Would the Hussite Reformation have regenerated Christendom? We are disposed to say that it would not. It had in it no principle of sufficient power to move the conscience of mankind. The Bohemian Reformation had respect mainly to the corruptions of the Church of Rome—not those of doctrine, but those of administration. If the removal of these could have been effected, the Bohemians would have been content to accept Rome as a true and apostolic Church. The Lutheran Reformation, on the other hand, had a first and main respect to the principle of corruption in the individual man. This awoke the conscience. “How shall I, a lost sinner, obtain pardon and life eternal?” This was the first question in the Reformation of Luther. It was because Rome could not lift off the burden from the conscience, and not simply because her administration was tyrannical and her clergy scandalous, that men were constrained to abandon her. It was a matter of life and death with them. They must flee from a society where, if they remained, they saw they should perish everlastingly. Had Huss and Jerome lived, the Bohemian Reformation might have worked itself into a deeper groove; but their death destroyed this hope: there arose after them no one of equally commanding talents and piety; and the Bohemian movement, instead of striking its roots deeper, came more and more to the surface. Its success, in fact, might have been a misfortune to Christendom, inasmuch as, by giving it a reformed Romanism, it would have delayed for some centuries the advent of a purer movement.

The death of Procopius, as we have already mentioned, considerably altered the position of affairs. With him died a large part of that energy and vitality which had invariably sustained the Bohemians in their resolute struggles with their military and ecclesiastical enemies; and, this being so, the cause gradually pined away.

The Emperor Sigismund was now permitted to mount the throne of Bohemia, but not till he had sworn to observe the Compactata, and maintain the liberties of the nation (July 12th, 1436). A feeble guarantee! The Bohemians could hardly expect that the man who had broken his pledge to Huss would fulfill his stipulations to them. “In striking this bargain with the heretics,” says AEneas Sylvius, “the emperor yielded to necessity, being desirous at any price of gaining the crown, that he might bring back his subjects to the true Church.”5 And so it turned out, for no sooner did the emperor feel himself firm in his seat than, forgetful of the Compactata, and his oath to observe it, he proceeded to restore the dominancy of the Church of Rome in Bohemia.6 This open treachery provoked a storm of indignation; the country was on the brink of war, and this calamity was averted only by the death of the emperor in 1437, within little more than a year after being acknowledged as king by the Bohemians.7

Born to empire, not devoid of natural parts, and endowed with not a few good qualities, Sigismund might have lived happily and reigned gloriously. But all his gifts were marred by a narrow bigotry which laid him at the feet of the priesthood. The stake of Huss cost him a twenty years’ war. He wore out life in labors and perils; he never knew repose, he never tasted victory. He attempted much, but succeeded in nothing. He subdued rebellion by subtle arts and deceitful promises; content to win a momentary advantage at the cost of incurring a lasting disgrace. His grandfather, Henry VII., had exalted the fortunes of his house and the splendor of the Empire by opposing the Papal See; Sigismund lowered both by becoming its tool. His misfortunes thickened as his years advanced. He escaped a tragical end by a somewhat sudden death. No grateful nation mourned around his grave.

There followed some chequered years. The first rent in Bohemian unity, the result of declension from the first rigor of the Bohemian faith, was never healed. The Calixtines soon began to discover that the Compactata was a delusion, and that it existed only on paper. Their monarchs refused to govern according to its provisions. To plead it as the charter of their rights was only to expose themselves to contempt. The Council of Basle no doubt had appended its seal to it, but the Pope refused to look at it, and ultimately annulled it. At length, during the minority of King Vladislav, George Podiebrad, a Bohemian nobleman, and head of the Calixtines, became regent of the kingdom, and by his great talents and upright administration gave a breathing-space to his distracted nation. On the death of the young monarch, Podiebrad was elected king. He now strove to make the Compactata a reality, and revive the extinct rights and bring back the vanished prestige of Bohemia; but he found that the hour of opportunity had passed, and that the difficulties of the situation were greater than his strength could overcome. He fondly hoped that AEneas Sylvius, who had now assumed the tiara under the title of Pius II., would be more compliant in the matter of the Compactara than his predecessor had been. As secretary to the Council of Basle, AEneas Sylvius had drafted this document; and Podiebrad believed that, as a matter of course, he would ratify as Pope what he had composed as secretary. He was doomed to disappointment. Plus II. repudiated his own handiwork, and launched excommunication against Podiebrad (1463)8 for attempting to govern on its principles. AEneas’ successor in the Papal chair, Paul II., walked in his steps. He denounced the Compactata anew; anathematized Podiebrad as an excommunicated heretic, whose reign could only be destructive to mankind, and published a crusade against him. In pursuance of the Papal bull a foreign army entered Bohemia, and it became again the theater of battles, sieges, and great bloodshed.

Podiebrad drove out the invaders, but he was not able to restore the internal peace of his nation. The monks had returned, and priestly machinations were continually fomenting party animosities. He retained possession of the throne; but his efforts were crippled, his life was threatened, and his reign continued to be full of distractions till its very close, in 1471.9 The remaining years of the century were passed in similar troubles, and after this the history of Bohemia merges in the general stream of the Reformation.

We turn for a few moments to the other branch of the Bohemian nation, the Taborites. They received from Sigismund, when he ascended the throne, that lenient treatment which a conqueror rarely denies to an enemy whom he despises. He gave them the city of Tabor,10 with certain lands around, permitting them the free exercise of their worship within their allotted territory, exacting in return only a small tribute. Here they practiced the arts and displayed the virtues of citizens. Exchanging the sword for the plough, their domain bloomed like a garden. The rich cultivation that covered their fields bore as conclusive testimony to their skill as husbandmen, as their victories had done to their courage as warriors. Once, when on a tour through Bohemia, AEneas Sylvius came to their gates;11 and though “this rascally people” did not believe in transubstantiation, he preferred lodging amongst them for the night to sleeping in the open fields, where, as he confesses, though the confession somewhat detracts from the merit of the action, he would have been exposed to robbers. They gave the future Pope a most cordial welcome, and treated him with “Slavonic hospitality.”12

About the year 1455, the Taborites formed themselves into a distinct Church under the name of the “United Brethren.” They looked around them: error covered the earth; all societies needed to be purified, the Calixtines as well as the Romanists; “the evil was immedicable.”13 So they judged; therefore they resolved to separate themselves from all other bodies, and build up truth anew from the foundations. This step exposed them to the bitter enmity of both Calixtines and Roman Catholics. They now became the object of a murderous persecution, in which they suffered far more than they had done in common with their countrymen in the Hussite wars. Rochyzana, who till now had befriended them, suffered himself to be alienated from and even incensed against them; and Podiebrad, their king, tarnished his fame as a patriotic and upright ruler by the cruel persecution which he directed against them. They were dispersed in the woods and mountains; they inhabited dens and caves; and in these abodes they were ever careful to prepare their meals by night, lest the ascending smoke should betray their lurking-places. Gathering round the fires which they kindled in these subterranean retreats in the cold of winter, they read the Word of God, and united in social worship. At times, when the snow lay deep, and it was necessary to go abroad for provisions, they dragged a branch behind them on their return, to obliterate their footsteps and make it impossible for their enemies to track them to their hiding-places.14

Were they alone of all the witnesses of truth left on the earth, or were there others, companions with them in the faith and patience of the kingdom of Jesus Christ? They sent messengers into various countries of Christendom, to inquire secretly and bring them word again. These messengers returned to say that everywhere darkness covered the face of the earth, but that nevertheless, here and there, they had found isolated confessors of the truth—a few in this city and a few in that, the object like themselves of persecution; and that amid the mountains of the Alps was an ancient Church, resting on the foundations of Scripture, and protesting against the idolatrous corruptions of Rome. This intelligence gave great joy to the Taborites; they opened a correspondence with these confessors, and were much cheered by finding that this Alpine Church agreed with their own in the articles of its creed, the form of its ordination, and the ceremonies of its worship.

The question of ordination occasioned the Taborites no little perplexity. They had left the Roman Church, they had no bishop in their ranks; how were they to perpetuate that succession of pastors which Christ had appointed in his Church? After many anxious deliberations, for “their minds were harassed,” says Comenius, “with the fear that the ordination of presbyter by presbyter would not be held valid,”15 they proceeded according to the following somewhat novel fashion. In the year 1467 their chief men, to the number of about seventy, out of all Bohemia and Moravia, met in a plain called Lhota, in the neighborhood of the town of Richnovia. Humbling themselves with many tears and prayers before God, they resolved on an appeal by lot to the Divine omniscience as to who should be set over them as pastors. They selected by suffrage nine men from among themselves, from whom three were to be chosen to be ordained. They then put twelve schedules or voting papers into the hands of a boy who was kept ignorant of the matter, and they ordered him to distribute these schedules among the nine persons already selected. Of the twelve voting papers nine were blanks, and three were inscribed with the word Est—i.e., It is the will of God. The boy distributed the schedules, and it was found that the three bearing the word Est had been given to the three following persons: Matthew Kunwaldius, “one of the most pious of men;” Thomas Przelaucius, “a very learned man;” and Elias Krzenovius, who was “distinguished for his great parts.” They received ordination, by the imposition of hands, from a body of Waldensian pastors, including two whom Comenius styles bishops, and one of whom, Stephen, soon thereafter suffered martyrdom at the stake in Vienna.16

The death of Podiebrad and the accession of the Polish prince, Vladislav, in 1471 brought them deliverance from persecution. The quiet they now enjoyed was followed by an increase in the number of their congregations. Their lot was cast in evil days, but they knew that the appointed years of darkness must be fulfilled. They remembered the words first uttered by Huss, and repeated by Jerome, that a century must revolve before the day should break. These were to the Taborites what the words of Joseph were to the tribes in the House of Bondage: “I die, and God will surely visit you, and bring you out.” The prediction kept alive their hopes in the night of their persecution, and in the darkest hour their eyes were still turned towards the horizon like men who watch for the morning. Year passed after year. The end of the century arrived: it found 200 churches of the “United Brethren” in Bohemia and Moravia.17 So goodly was the remnant which, escaping the destructive fury of fire and sword, was permitted to see the dawning of that day which Huss had foretold.

Book 4: Christendom At The Opening Of The Sixteenth Century

Chapter 4.1: Protestantism And Medievalism

Ancient Society Discarded – New Races brought on Stage – Their Capacity for Progress – The Reformation not Possible before the Sixteenth Century – Medievalism Revives – A Conflict – Odds – The Victory of the Weak.

WE are now arrived at the sixteenth century. For a thousand years the Great Ruler had been laying, in the midst of wars and great ethnical revolutions, the foundations of a new and more glorious edifice than any that former ages had seen. Ancient society was too enfeebled by slavery, and too corrupted by polytheism, to be able to bear the weight of the structure about to be erected. The experiment had been tried of rearing the new social edifice upon the old foundations, but the attempt had turned out a failure. By the fourth century, the Gospel, so warmly embraced at first by the Greek and Roman nations, had begun to decline—had, in fact, become greatly corrupted. It was seen that these ancient races were unable to advance to the full manhood of Christianity and civilization. They were continually turning back to old models and established precedents. They lacked the capacity of adapting themselves to new forms of life, and surrendering themselves to the guidance of great principles. What was to be done? Must the building which God purposed to erect be abandoned, because a foundation sufficiently strong and sound could not be found for it? Should Christianity remain the half-finished structure, or rather the defaced ruin, which the fourth and fifth centuries beheld it?

An answer was given to this question when the gates of the North were opened, and new and hardy races, issuing from the obscure regions of Germany, spread themselves over Southern and Western Europe. An invisible Power marched before these tribes, and placed each—the Huns, the Vandals, the Burgundians, the Franks, the Lombards—in that quarter of Christendom which best suited the part each was destined to play in that great drama of which the stamping out of the laws, the religion, and the government of the old world was the first act. The same Power which guided their march from the remote lands of their birth, and chose for them their several habitations, continued to watch over the development of their manners, the formation of their language, and the growth of their literature and their art, of their laws and their government; and thus, in the slow course of the centuries, were laid firm and broad the foundations of a new order of things. These tribes had no past to look back upon. They had no storied traditions and observances which they trembled to break through. There was no spell upon them like that which operated so mischievously upon the Greek and Latin races. They were free to enter the new path. Daring, adventurous, and liberty-loving, we can trace their steady advance, step by step, through the convulsions of the tenth century, the intellectual awakening of the twelfth, and the literary revival of the fifteenth, onward to the great spiritual movement of the sixteenth.

It is at this great moral epoch that we are now arrived. It will aid us if we pause in our narrative, and glance for a moment at the constitution of Europe, and note specially the spirit of its policy, the play of its ambitions, and the crisis to which matters were fast tending at the opening of the sixteenth century. This will enable us to understand what we may term the timing of the Reformation. We have just seen that this great movement was not possible before the century we speak of, for till then there was no stable basis for it in the condition of the Teutonic nations. The rapid survey that is to follow will show us further that this renewal of society could not, without the most disastrous consequences to the world, have been longer delayed. Had the advent of Protestantism been postponed for a century or two beyond its actual date, not only would all the preparations of the previous ages have miscarried, but the world would have been overtaken, and society, it may be, dissolved a second time, by a tremendous evil, which had been growing for some time, and had now come to a head. Without the Protestantism of the sixteenth century, not only would the intellectual awakening of the twelfth and the literary revival of the fifteenth century have been in vain, but the mental torpor, and it may be the religion also, of the Turk, would at this day have been reigning in Europe. Christendom, at the epoch of which we speak, had only two things in its choice—to accept the Gospel, and fight its way through scaffolds and stakes to the liberty which the Gospel brings with it, or to crouch down beneath the shadow of a universal Spanish monarchy, to be succeeded in no long time by the yet gloomier night of Moslem despotism.

It would require more space than is here at our disposal to pass in review the several kingdoms of Europe, and note the transformation which all of them underwent as the era of Protestantism approached. Nor is this necessary. The characteristic of the Christendom of that age lay in two things—first in the constitution and power of the Empire, and secondly in the organization and supremacy of the Papacy. For certain ends, and within certain limits, each separate State of Europe was independent; it could pursue its own way, make war with whom it had a mind, or conclude a peace when it chose; but beyond these limits each State was simply the member of a corporate body, which was under the sway of a double directorate. First came the Empire, which in the days of Charlemagne, and again in the days of Charles V., assumed the presidency of well-nigh the whole of Europe. Above the Empire was the Papacy. Wielding a subtler influence and armed with higher sanctions, it was the master of the Empire in even a greater degree than the Empire was the master of Europe.

It is instructive to mark that, at the moment when the Protestant principle was about to appear, Medievalism stood up in a power and grandeur unknown to it for ages. The former was at its weakest, the latter had attained its full strength when the battle between them was joined. To see how great the odds, what an array of force Medievalism had at its service, and to be able to guess what would have been the future of Christendom and the world, had not Protestantism come at this crisis to withstand, nay, to vanquish the frightful combination of power that menaced the liberties of mankind, and to feel how marvelous in every point of view was the victory which, on the side of the weaker power, crowned this great contest, we must turn first to the Empire.

Chapter 4.2: The Empire

Fall of Ancient Empire – Revived by the Pope – Charlemagne – The Golden Bull – The Seven Electors – Rules and Forms of Election – Ceremony of Coronation – Insignia – Coronation Feast – Emperor’s Power Limited – Charles V. – Capitulation – Spain – Becomes One Monarchy on the Approach of the Reformation – Its Power Increased by the Discoveries of Columbus – Brilliant Assemblage of States under Charles V. – Liberty in Danger – Protestantism comes to Save it

THE one great Empire of ancient Rome was, in the days of Valentinian (A.D. 364), divided into two, the Eastern and the Western. The Turk eventually made himself heir to the Eastern Empire, taking forcible possession of it by his great guns, and savage but warlike hordes. The Western Empire has dragged out a shadowy existence to our own day. There was, it is true, a parenthesis in its life; it succumbed to the Gothic invasion, and for awhile remained in abeyance; but the Pope raised up the fallen fabric. The genius and martial spirit of the Caesars, which had created this Empire at the first, the Pope could not revive, but the name and forms of the defunct government he could and did resuscitate. He grouped the kingdoms of Western Europe into a body or federation, and selecting one of their kings he set him over the confederated States, with the title of Emperor. This Empire was a fictitious or nominal one; it was the image or likeness of the past reflecting itself on the face of modern Europe.

The Empire dazzled the age which witnessed its sudden erection. The constructive genius and the marvelous legislative and administrative powers of Charlemagne, its first head, succeeded in giving it a show of power; but it was impossible by a mere fiat to plant those elements of cohesion, and those sentiments of homage to law and order, which alone could guarantee its efficiency and permanency. It supposed an advance of society, and a knowledge on the part of mankind of their rights and duties, which was far from being the fact. “The Empire of the Germans,” says the historian Muller, “was constituted in a most extraordinary manner: it was a federal republic; but its members were so diverse with regard to form, character, and power, that it was extremely difficult to introduce universal laws, or to unite the whole nation in measures of mutual interest.”1 “The Golden Bull,” says Villers, “that strange monument of the fourteenth century, fixed, it is true, a few relations of the head with the members; but nothing could be more indistinct than the public law of all those States, independent though at the same time united… Had not the Turks, at that time the violent enemies of all Christendom, come during the first years of the reign of Frederick to plant the crescent in Europe, and menaced incessantly the Empire with invasion, it is not easy to see how the feeble tie which bound that body together could have remained unbroken. The terror inspired by Mahomet II. and his ferocious soldiers, was the first common interest which led the princes of Germany to unite themselves to one another, and around the imperial throne.”2

The author last quoted makes mention of the Golden Bull. Let us bestow a glance on this ancient and curious document; it will bring before us the image of the time. Its author was Charles IV., Emperor and King of Bohemia. Pope Gregory, about the year 997, it is believed, instituted seven electors. Of these, three were Churchmen and three lay princes, and one of kingly rank was added, to make up the mystic number of seven, as some have thought, but more probably to prevent equality of votes. The three Churchmen were the Archbishop of Treves, Chancellor for France; the Archbishop of Mainz, Chancellor for Germany; the Archbishop of Cologne, Chancellor for Italy. The four laymen were the King of Bohemia, the Duke of Saxony, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, and the Marquis of Brandenburg.

The Archbishop of Mainz, by letters patent, was to fix the day of election, which was to take place not later than three months from the death of the former emperor. Should the archbishop fail to summon the electors, they were to meet notwithstanding within the appointed time, and elect one to the imperial dignity. The electors were to afford to each other free passage and a safe-conduct through their territories when on their way to the discharge of their electoral duties. If an elector could not come in person he might send a deputy. The election was to take place in Frankfort-on-the-Maine. No elector was to be permitted to enter the city attended by more than two hundred horsemen, whereof fifty only were to be armed. The citizens of Frankfort were made responsible for the safety of the electors, under the penalty of loss of goods and privileges. The morning after their arrival, the electors, attired in their official habits, proceeded on horseback from the council-hall to the cathedral church of St. Bartholomew, where mass was sung. Then the Archbishop of Mainz administered an oath at the altar to each elector, that he would, without bribe or reward, choose a temporal head for Christendom. Thereafter they met in secret conclave. Their decision must be come to within thirty days, but if deferred beyond that period, they were to be fed on bread and water, and prevented leaving the city till they had completed the election. A majority of votes constituted a valid election, and the decision was to be announced from a stage erected for the purpose in front of the choir of the cathedral.

The person chosen to the imperial dignity took an oath to maintain the profession of the Catholic faith, to protect the Church in all her rights, to be obedient to the Pope, to administer justice, and to conserve all the customs and privileges of the electors and States of the Empire. The imperial insignia were then given him, consisting of a golden crown, a scepter, a globe called the imperial apple, the sword of Charlemagne, a copy of the Gospels said to have been found in his grave, and a rich mantle which was presented to one of the emperors by an Arabian prince.3 The ceremonies enjoined by the Golden Bull to be observed at the coronation feast are curious; the following minute and graphic account of them is given by an old traveler: “In solemn court the emperor shall sit on his throne, and the Duke of Saxony, laying a heap of oats as high as his horse’s saddle before the court-gate, shall, with a silver measure of twelve marks’ price, deliver oats to the chief equerry of the stable, and then, sticking his staff in the oats, shall depart, and the vice-marshal shall distribute the rest of the oats. The three archbishops shall say grace at the emperor’s table, and he of them who is chancellor of the place shall lay reverently the seals before the emperor, which the emperor shall restore to him; and the staff of the chancellor shall be worth twelve marks silver. The Marquis of Brandenburg, sitting upon his horse, with a silver basin of twelve marks’ weight, and a towel, shall alight from his horse and give water to the emperor. The Count Palatine, sitting upon his horse, with four dishes of silver with meat, each dish worth three marks, shall alight and set the dishes on the table. The King of Bohemia, sitting upon his horse, with a silver cup worth twelve marks, filled with water and wine, shall alight and give it the emperor to drink. The gentleman of Falkenstein, under-chamberlain, the gentleman of Nortemberg, master of the kitchen, and the gentleman of Limburch, vice-buffer, or in their absence the ordinary officers of the court, shall have the said horses, basin, dishes, cup, staff, and measure, and shall after wait at the emperor’s table. The emperor’s table shall be six feet higher than any other table, where he shall sit alone, and the table of the empress shall be by his side three feet lower. The electors’ tables shall be three feet lower than that of the empress, and all of equal height, and three of them shall be on the emperor’s right hand, three on his left hand, and one before his face, and each shall sit alone at his table. When one elector has done his office he shall go and stand at his own table, and so in order the rest, till all have performed their offices, and then all seven shall sit down at one time.”

“The emperor shall be chosen at Frankfort, crowned at Augsburg, and shall hold his first court at Nuremberg, except there be some lawful impediment. The electors are presumed to be Germans, and their sons at the age of seven years shall be taught the grammar, and the Italian and Slavonian tongues, so as at fourteen years of age they may be skillful therein and be worthy assessors to the emperor.”4

The electors are, by birth, the privy councilors of the emperor; they ought, in the phraseology of Charles IV., “to enlighten the Holy Empire, as seven shining lights, in the unity of the sevenfold spirit;” and, according to the same monarch, are “the most honorable members of the imperial body.”5 The rights which the emperor could exercise on his own authority, those he could exert with the consent of the electors, and those which belonged to him only with the concurrence of all the princes and States of the Empire have been variously described. Generally, it may be said that the emperor could not enact new laws, nor impose taxes, nor levy bodies of men, nor make wars, nor erect fortifications, nor form treaties of peace and alliances, except with the concurrent voice of the electors, princes, and States. He had no special revenue to support the imperial dignity, and no power to enforce the imperial commands. The princes were careful not to make the emperor too powerful, lest he should abridge the independent sovereignty which each exercised within his own dominions, and the free cities were equally jealous lest the imperial power should encroach upon their charters and privileges. The authority of the emperor was almost entirely nominal. We speak of the times preceding the peace of Westphalia; by that settlement the constitution of the Empire was more accurately defined.

Its first days were its most vigorous. It began to decline when no longer upheld by the power and guided by the genius of Charlemagne. The once brilliant line of Pepin had now ceased to produce warriors and legislators. By a sudden break-down it had degenerated into a race of simpletons and imbeciles. By-and-by the Empire passed from the Frank kings to the Saxon monarchs. Under the latter it recovered a little strength; but soon Gregory VII. came with his grand project of making the tiara supreme not only over all crowns, but above the imperial diadem itself. Gregory succeeded in the end of the day, for the issue of the long and bloody war which he commenced was that the Empire had to bow to the miter, and the emperor to take an oath of vassalage to the Pontiff. The Empire had only two elements of cohesion—Roman Catholicism within, and the terror of the Turk without. Its constituent princes were rivals rather than members of one confederacy. Animosities and dissensions were continually springing up amongst them. They invaded each other’s territories, regardless of the displeasure of the emperor. By these wars trade was impeded, knowledge repressed, and outrage and rapine flourished to a degree that threatened society itself with destruction. The authors of these calamities at last felt the necessity of devising some other way of adjusting their quarrels than by the sword. The Imperial Council, the Aulic Diet, the Diet of the Empire, were the successive methods had recourse to for obviating these frequent and cruel resorts to force, which were giving to the provinces of the Empire the appearance of a devastated and uninhabited region. In A.D. 1519, by the death of Maximilian, the imperial crown became vacant. Two illustrious and powerful princes came forward to contest the brilliant prize—Francis I. of France, and Charles of Austria, the grandson of Maximilian, and King of Spain. Henry VIII. of England, the third great monarch of the age, also entered the lists, but finding at an early stage of the contest that his chance of success was small, he withdrew. Francis I. was a gallant prince, a chivalrous soldier, a friend of the new learning, and so frank and affable in his manners that he won the affection of all who approached him. But the Germans were averse to accept as the head of their Empire the king of a nation whose genius, language, and manners were so widely different from their own. Their choice fell on Charles, who, though he lacked the brilliant personal qualities of his rival, drew his lineage from their own race, had his cradle in one of their own towns, Ghent, and was the heir of twenty-eight kingdoms.

There was danger as well as safety in the vast power of the man whom the Germans had elected to wear a crown which had in it so much grandeur and so little solid authority. The conqueror of the East, Selim II., was perpetually hovering upon their frontier. They needed a strong arm to repel the invader, and thought they had found it in that of the master of so many kingdoms; but the hand that shielded them from Moslem tyranny might, who could tell, crush their own liberties. It behooved them to take precautions against this possible catastrophe. They framed a Capitulation or claim of rights, enumerating and guaranteeing the privileges and immunities of the Germanic Body; and the ambassadors of Charles signed it in the name of their master, and he himself confirmed it by oath at his coronation. In this instrument the princes of Germany unconsciously provided for the defense of higher rights than their own royalties and immunities. They had erected an asylum to which Protestantism might retreat, when the day should come that the emperor would raise his mailed hand to crush it.

Charles V. was more powerful than any emperor had been for many an age preceding. To the imperial dignity, a shadow in the case of many of his predecessors, was added in his the substantial power of Spain. A singular concurrence of events had made Spain a mightier kingdom by far than any that had existed in Europe since the days of the Caesars. Of this magnificent monarchy the whole resources were in the hands of the man who was at once the wearer of the imperial dignity and the enemy of the Reformation. This makes it imperative that we should bestow a glance on the extent and greatness of the Spanish kingdom, when estimating the overwhelming force now arrayed against Protestantism.

As the Reformation drew nigh, Spain suddenly changed its form, and from being a congeries of diminutive kingdoms, it became one powerful empire. The various principalities, which up till this time dotted the surface of the Peninsula, were now merged into the two kingdoms of Arragon and Castile. There remained but one other step to make Spain one monarchy, and that step was taken in A.D. 1469, by the marriage of Ferdinand of Arragon and Isabella of Castile. In a few years thereafter these two royal personages ascended the thrones of Arragon and Castile, and thus all the crowns of Spain were united on their head. One monarch now swayed his scepter over the Iberian Peninsula, from San Sebastian to the Rock of Gibraltar, from the Pyrenees to the straits that wash the feet of the mountains of Mauritania. The whole resources of the country now found their way into one exchequer; all its tribes were gathered round one standard; and its whole power was wielded by one hand.

Spain, already great, was about to become still greater. Columbus was just fitting out the little craft in which he was to explore the Atlantic, and add, by his skill and adventurous courage, to the crown of Spain the most brilliant appendage which subject ever gave to monarch. Since the days of old Rome there had arisen no such stupendous political structure as that which was about to show itself to the world in the Spanish Monarchy. Spain itself was but a unit in the assemblage of kingdoms that made up this vast empire. The European dependencies of Spain were numerous. The fertile plains and vine-clad hills of Sicily and Naples were hers. The vast garden of Lombardy, which the Po waters and the Alps enclose, with its queenly cities, its plantations of olive and mulberry, its corn and oil and silk, were hers. The Low Countries were hers, with their canals, their fertile meadows stocked with herds, their cathedrals and museums, and their stately towns, the seats of learning and the hives of industry. As if Europe were too narrow to contain so colossal a power, Spain stretched her scepter across the great western sea, and ample provinces in the New World called her mistress. Mexico and Peru were hers, and the products of their virgin soils and the wealth of their golden mines were borne across the deep to replenish her bazaars and silver shops. It was not the Occident only that poured its treasures at her feet; Spain laid her hand on the Orient, and the fragrant spices and precious gems of India ministered to her pleasure. The sun never set on the dominions of Spain. The numerous countries that owned her sway sent each whatever was most precious and most prized among its products, to stock her markets and enrich her exchequer. To Spain flowed the gums of Arabia, the drugs of Molucca, the diamonds of Borneo, the wheat of Lombardy, the wine of Naples, the rich fabrics worked on the looms of Bruges and Ghent, the arms and cutlery forged in the factories and wrought up in the workshops of Liege and Namur.

This great empire was served by numerous armies and powerful fleets. Her soldiers, drawn from every nation, and excellently disciplined, were brave, hardy, familiar with danger, and inured to every climate from the tropics to the arctic regions. They were led by commanders of consummate ability, and the flag under which they marched had conquered on a hundred battle-fields. When the master of all these provinces, armies and fleets, added the imperial diadem, as Charles V. did, to all his other dignities, his glory was perfected. We may adapt to the Spanish monarch the bold image under which the prophet presented the greatness of the Assyrian power. “The” Spaniard “was a cedar in” Europe “with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of an high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs. The waters made him great, the deep set him up on high with her rivers running round about his plants, and sent out her little rivers unto all the trees of the field. Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long because of the multitude of waters, when he shot forth.” (Ezekiel 31:3-5)6

The monarch of Spain, though master of so much, was laying schemes for extending the limits of his already overgrown dominions, and making himself absolute and universal lord. Since the noon of the Roman power, the liberties of the world had at no time been in so great peril as now. The shadow of a universal despotism was persistently projecting itself farther and yet farther upon the kingdoms and peoples of Western Europe. There was no principle known to the men of that age that seemed capable of doing battle with this colossus, and staying its advance. This despotism, into whose hands as it seemed the nations of Christendom had been delivered, claimed a Divine right, and, as such, was upheld by the spiritual forces of priestcraft, and the material aids of fleets and legions. Liberty was retreating before it. Literature and art had become its allies, and were weaving chains for the men whom they had promised to emancipate. As Liberty looked around, she could see no arm on which to lean, no champion to do battle for her. Unless Protestantism had arrived at that crisis, a universal despotism would have covered Europe, and Liberty banished from the earth must have returned to her native skies. “Dr. Martin Luther, a monk from the county of Mansfeld… by his heroism alone, imparted to the half of Europe a new soul; created an opposition which became the safeguard of freedom.”7

Chapter 4.3: The Papacy, Or Christendom Under The Tiara

Complex Constitution of the Papacy – Temporal Sovereignty limited to Papal States – Pontifical Supremacy covers all Christendom – Governmental Machinery – Legate-a-latere – Interdict – The Concordat – Concordat with Austria – The Papacy in Piedmont – Indulgences – The Confessional – The Papacy Absolute in Temporals as in Spirituals – Enormous Strength

WE now ascend to the summit of the European edifice as constituted at the beginning of the sixteenth century. There was a higher monarch in the world than the emperor, and a more powerful kingdom in Christendom than the Empire. That monarch was the Pope—that Empire, the Papacy.

Any view of Christendom that fails to take note of the relations of the Papacy to its several kingdoms, overlooks the prominent characteristic of Europe as it existed when the great struggle for religion and liberty was begun. The relation of the Papacy to the other kingdoms of Christendom was, in a word, that of dominancy. It was their chief, their ruler. It taught them to see in the Seven Hills, and the power seated thereon, the bond of their union, the fountain of their legislation, and the throne of their government. It thus knit all the kingdoms of Europe into one great confederacy or monarchy. They lived and breathed in the Papacy. Their fleets and armies, their constitutions and laws, existed more for it than for themselves. They were employed to advance the policy and uphold the power of the sovereigns who sat in the Papal chair.

In the one Pontifical government there were rolled up in reality two governments, one within the other. The smaller of these covered the area of the Papal States; while the larger, spurning these narrow limits, embraced the whole of Christendom, making of its thrones and nations but one monarchy, one theocratic kingdom, over which was stretched the scepter of an absolute jurisdiction.

In order to see how this came to pass, we must briefly enumerate the various expedients by which the Papacy contrived to exercise jurisdiction outside its own special territory, and by which it became the temporal not less than the spiritual head of Christendom—the real ruler of the kingdoms of medieval Europe. How a monarchy, professedly spiritual, should exercise temporal dominion, and especially how it should make its temporal dominion co-extensive with Christendom, is not apparent at first sight. Nevertheless, history attests the fact that it did so make it. One main expedient by which the Papacy wielded temporal power and compassed political ends in other kingdoms was the office of “legate-a-latere.” The term signifies an ambassador from the Pope’s side. The legate-a- latere was, in fact, the alter ego of the Pope, whose person he represented, and with whose power he was clothed. He was sent into all countries, not to mediate but to govern; his functions being analogous to those of the deputies or rulers whom the pagan masters of the world were wont to send from Rome to govern the subject provinces of the Empire.

In the prosecution of his mission the legate-a-latere made it his first business in the particular country into which he entered to set up his court, and to try causes and pronounce judgment in the Pope’s name. Neither the authority of the sovereign nor the law of the land was acknowledged in the court of the legate; all causes were determined by the canon law of Rome. A vast multitude of cases, and these by no means spiritual, did the legate contrive to bring under his jurisdiction. He claimed to decide all questions of divorce. These decisions involved, of course, civil issues, such as the succession to landed estates, the ownership of other forms of wealth, and in some instances the right to the throne. All questions touching the lands and estates of the convents, monasteries, and abbeys were determined by the legate. This gave him the direct control of one-half the landed property of most of the kingdoms of Europe. He could impose taxes, and did levy a penny upon every house in France and England. He had power, moreover, to impose extraordinary levies for special objects of the Church upon both clergy and laity. He made himself the arbiter of peace and war.1 He meddled in all the affairs of princes, conducted perpetual intrigues, fomented endless quarrels, and sustained himself umpire in all controversies. If any one felt himself aggrieved by the judgment of the legate, he could have no redress from the courts of the country, nor even from the sovereign. He must go in person to Rome. Thus did the Pope, through his legate-a-latere, manage to make himself the grand justiciary of the kingdom.2

The vast jurisdiction of the legate-a-latere was supported and enforced by the “interdict.” The interdict was to the legate instead of an army. The blow it dealt was more rapid, and the subjugation it effected on those on whom it fell was more complete, than any that could have been achieved by any number of armed men. When a monarch proved obdurate, the legate unsheathed this sword against him. The clergy throughout the length and breadth of his kingdom instantly desisted from the celebration of the ordinances of religion. All the subjects were made partners with the sovereign in this ghostly but dreadful infliction. In an age when there was no salvation but through the priesthood, and no grace but through the channel of the Sacraments, the terrors of interdict were irresistible. All the signs of malediction everywhere visible throughout the land on which this terrible chastisement had been laid, struck the imagination with all the greater force that they were viewed as the symbols of a doom which did not terminate on earth, but which extended into the other world. The interdict in those ages never failed to gain its end, for the people, punished for the fault, real or supposed, of their sovereign, broke out into murmurs, sometimes into rebellion, and the unhappy prince found in the long run that he must either face insurrection or make his peace with the Church. It was thus the shadow of power only which was left the king; the substance of sovereignty filched from him was carried to Rome and vested in the chair of the Pope.3

Another contrivance by which the Papacy, while it left to princes the name of king, took from them the actual government of their kingdoms, was the Concordat. These agreements or treaties between the Pope and the kings of Christendom varied in their minor details, but the leading provisions were alike in all of them, their key-note being the supremacy of Rome, and the subordination of the State with which that haughty power had deigned to enter into compact. The Concordat bound the government with which it was made to enact no law, profess no religion, open no school, and permit no branch of knowledge to be taught within its dominions, until the Pope had first given his consent. Moreover, it bound it to keep open the gates of the realm for the admission of such legates, bishops, and nuncios as the Pope might be pleased to send thither for the purpose of administering his spiritual authority, and to receive such bulls and briefs as he might be pleased to promulgate, which were to have the force of law in the counter whose rights and privileges these missives very possibly invaded, or altogether set aside. The advantages secured by the contracting parties on the other side were usually of the most meager kind, and were respected only so long as it was not for the interests of the Church of Rome to violate them. In short, the Concordat gave the Pope the first place in the government of the kingdom, leaving to the sovereign and the Estates of the Realm only the second. It bound down the prince in vassalage, and the people in serfdom political and religious.4

Another formidable instrumentality for compassing the same ends was the hierarchy. The struggle commenced by Hildebrand, regarding investitures, ended in giving to the Pope the power of appointing bishops throughout all the Empire. This placed in the hands of the Pontiff the better half of the secular government of its kingdoms. The hierarchy formed a body powerful by their union, their intelligence, and the reverence which waited on their sacred office. Each member of that body had taken a feudal oath of obedience to the Pope.5 The bishop was no mere priest, he was a ruler as well, being possessed of jurisdiction—that is, the power of law—the law he administered being the canon law of Rome. The “chapter” was but another term for the court by which the bishop exercised that jurisdiction, and as it was a recognized doctrine that the jurisdiction of the bishop was temporal as well as spiritual, the hierarchy formed in fact a magistracy, and a magistracy planted in the country by a foreign power, under an oath of obedience to the power that had appointed it—a magistracy independent of the sovereign, and wielding a combined temporal and spiritual jurisdiction over every person in the realm, and governing him alike in his religious acts, in his political duties, and in his temporal possessions.

Let us take the little kingdom of Sardinia as an illustration. On the 8th of January, 1855, a bill was introduced into the Parliament of Turin for the suppression of convents and the more equal distribution of Church lands. The habitable portion of Sardinia is mostly comprised in the rich valley of the Po, and its population amounts only to about four and a half millions. Yet it appeared from the bill that in this small territory there were seven archbishops, thirty-four bishops, forty-one chapters, with eight hundred and sixty canons attached to the bishoprics; seventy-three simple chapters, with four hundred and seventy canons; eleven hundred livings for the canons; and lastly, four thousand two hundred and forty-seven parishes, with some thousands of parish priests. The domains of the Church represented a capital of four hundred millions of francs, yielding a yearly revenue of seventeen millions and upwards. Nor was even this the whole of the ecclesiastical burden borne by the little State. To the secular clergy we have to add eight thousand five hundred and sixty-three persons who wore cowls and veils. These were distributed into six hundred and four religious houses, whose annual cost was two millions and a half of francs.

There were thus from twelve to twenty thousand persons in Piedmont, all under oath, or under vows equivalent to an oath, to obey only the orders that came from Rome. These held one-fourth of the lands of the kingdom; they were exempt from the jurisdiction of the laws. They claimed the right of dictating to all the subjects of the realm how to act in every matter in which duty was involved—that is, in every matter absolutely—and they had the power of compelling obedience by penalties of a peculiarly forcible kind. It is obvious at a glance that the actual government of the kingdom was in the hands of these men—that is, of their master at Rome.

Let us glance briefly at the other principalities of the peninsula—the Levitical State, as Italy was wont to be called. We leave out of view the secular clergy with their gorgeous cathedrals, so rich in silver and gold, as well as in statuary and paintings; nor do we include their ample Church lands, and their numerous dues drawn from the people. We confine ourselves to the ranks of the cloister. In 1863 a “Project of Law” was tabled in the Italian Chamber of Deputies for their suppression.6 From this “Project” it appeared that there were in Italy eighty-four orders of monks, distributed in two thousand three hundred and eighty-two religious houses. Each of these eighty-four orders had numerous affiliated branches radiating over the country. All held property, save the four Mendicant orders. The value of the conventual property was estimated at forty million lire, and the number of persons made a grand total of sixty-three thousand two hundred and thirty-nine. This does not include the conventual establishments of the Papal States, nor the religious houses of Piedmont, which had been suppressed previous to 1863. If we take these into account, we cannot estimate the monastic corps of Italy at less than a hundred thousand.7

Besides those we have enumerated there were a host of instrumentalities all directed to the same end, the enforcement even of the government of Rome, mainly in things temporal, in the dominions of other sovereigns. Chief among these was the Confessional. The Confessional was called “the place of penitence;” it was, in reality, a seat of jurisdiction. It was a tribunal the highest of all tribunals, because to the Papist the tribunal of God. Its terrors as far transcended those of the human judgment-seat, as the sword of eternal anathema transcends the gallows of temporal governments. It afforded, moreover, unrivaled facilities for sowing sedition and organizing rebellion. Here the priest sat unseen, digging, hour by hour and day after day, the mine beneath the prince he had marked out for ruin, while the latter never once suspected that his overthrow was being prepared till he was hurled from his seat. There was, moreover, the device of dispensations and indulgences. Never did merchant by the most daring venture, nor statesman by the most ingenious scheme of finance, succeed in amassing such store of wealth as Rome did simply by selling pardon. She sent the vendors of her wares into all countries, and as all felt that they needed forgiveness, all flocked to her market; and thus, “as one gathereth eggs,” to employ the language of the prophet, so did Rome gather the riches of all the earth. She took care, moreover, that these riches should not “take to themselves wings and flee away.” She invented mortmain. Not a penny of her accumulated hoards, not an acre of her wide domains, did her “dead hand” ever let go. Her property was beyond the reach of the law; this crowned the evil. The estates of the nobles could be dealt with by the civil tribunals, if so overgrown as to be dangerous to the public good. But it was the fate of the ecclesiastical property ever to grow—and with it, of course, the pride and arrogancy of its owners—and however noxious the uses to which it was turned, however much it tended to impoverish the resources of the State, and undermine the industry of the nation, no remedy could be applied to the mischief. Century after century the evil continued and waxed stronger, till at length the Reformation came and dissolved the spell by which Rome had succeeded in making her enormous possessions inviolable to the arm of the law; covering them, as she did, with the sanctions of Heaven.

Thus did Rome by these expedients, and others which it were tedious here to enumerate, extend her government over all the countries of Christendom, alike in temporals as in spirituals. “The Pope’s jurisdiction,” said a Franciscan, “is universal, embracing the whole world, its temporalities as well as its spiritualities.”8 Rome did not set up the chair of Peter bodily in these various countries, nor did she transfer to them the machinery of the Papal government as it existed in her own capital. It was not in the least necessary that she should do so. She gained her end quite as effectually by legates-a-latere, by Concordats, by bishops, by bulls, by indulgences, and by a power that stood behind all the others and lent them its sanction and force—namely, the Infallibility—a fiction, no doubt, but to the Romanist a reality—a moral omnipotence, which he no more dared disobey than he dared disobey God, for to him it was God. The Infallibility enabled the Pope to gather the whole Romanist community dispersed over the world into one army, which, obedient to its leader, could be put in motion from its center to its wide circumference, as if it were one man, forming an array of political, spiritual, and material force, which had not its like on earth.

Nor, when he entered the dominions of another sovereign, did the Pontiff. put down the throne, and rule himself in person. Neither was this in the least necessary. He left the throne standing, together with the whole machinery of the government tribunals, institutions, the army—all as aforetime, but he deprived them of all force, and converted them into the instrumentalities and channels of Papal rule. They were made outlying portions of the Pontifical monarchy. Thus did Rome knit into one great federation the diverse nationalities and kingdoms of Western Europe. One and the same character—namely, the theocratic—did she communicate to all of them. She made all obedient to one will, and subservient to one grand scheme of policy. The ancient Rome had exhibited a marvelous genius for welding the nations into one, and teaching them obedience to her behests; but her proudest triumphs in this field were eclipsed by the yet greater success of Papal Rome. The latter found a more powerful principle of cohesion wherewith to cement the nations than any known to the former, and she had, moreover, the art to imbue them with a spirit of profounder submission than was ever yielded to her pagan predecessor; and, as a consequence, while the Empire of the Caesars preserved its unity unbroken, and its strength unimpaired, for only a brief space, that of the Popes has continued to flourish in power and great glory for well-nigh a thousand years.

Such was the constitution of Christendom as fully developed at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century. The verdict of Adam Smith, pronounced on Rome, viewed as the head and mistress of this vast confederation, expresses only the sober truth: “The Church of Rome,” said he, “is the most formidable combination that ever was formed against the authority and security of civil government, as well as against the liberty, reason, and happiness of mankind.” It is no mere scheme of ecclesiastical government that is before us, having for its aim only to guide the consciences of men in those matters that appertain to God, and the salvation of their souls. It is a so-called Superhuman Jurisdiction, a Divine Vicegerency, set up to govern men in their understandings and consciences, in their goods, their liberties, and their lives. Against such a power mere earthly force would have naught availed. Reason and argument would have fought against it in vain. Philosophy and literature, raillery and skepticism, would have shot their bolts to no purpose. A Divine assailant only could overthrow it: that assailant was PROTESTANTISM.

Book 5: History Of Protestantism In Germany To The Leipsic Disputation, 1519

Chapter 5.1: Luther’s Birth, Childhood, And School-Days

Geological Eras – Providential Eras – Preparations for a New Age – Luther’s Parents – Birth of Martin – Mansfeld – Sent to School at Magdeburg – School Discipline – Removes to Eisenach – Sings for Bread – Madame Cotta – Poverty and Austerity of his Youth – Final Ends.

GEOLOGISTS tell us of the many revolutions, each occupying its cycle of ages, through which the globe passed before its preparation for man was completed. There were ages during which the earth was shrouded in thickest night and frozen with intensest cold: and there were ages more in which a blazing sun shed his light and heat upon it. Periods passed in which the ocean slept in stagnant calm, and periods succeeded in which tempest convulsed the deep and thunder shook the heavens; and in the midst of the elemental war, the dry land, upheaved by volcanic fires, might have been seen emerging above the ocean. But alike in the tempest and in the calm nature worked with ceaseless energy, and the world steadily advanced toward its state of order. At last it reached it; and then, beneath a tranquil sky, and upon an earth covered with a carpet of verdure, man, the tenant and sovereign of the world, stood up.

So was it when the world was being prepared to become the abode of pure Churches and free nations. From the fall of the Western Empire to the eleventh century, there intervened a period of unexampled torpor and darkness. The human mind seemed to have sunk into senility. Society seemed to have lost the vital principle of progress. Men looked back to former ages with a feeling of despair. They recalled the varied and brilliant achievements of the early time, and sighed to think that the world’s better days were past, that old age had come upon the race, and that the end of all things was at hand. Indeed a belief was generally entertained that the year One thousand would usher in the Day of Judgment. It was a mistake. The world’s best days were yet to come, though these—its true golden age—it could reach not otherwise than through terrible political and moral tempests.

The hurricane of the crusades it was that first broke the ice of the world’s long winter. The frozen bands of Orion being loosed, the sweet influences of the Pleiades began to act on society. Commerce and art, poetry and philosophy appeared, and like early flowers announced the coming of spring. That philosophy, it is true, was not of much intrinsic value, but, like the sports of childhood which develop the limbs and strengthen the faculties of the future man, the speculations of the Middle Ages, wherewith the young mind of Europe exercised itself, payed the way for the achievements of its manhood.

By-and-by came the printing-press, truly a Divine gift; and scarcely had the art of printing been perfected when Constantinople fell, the tomb of ancient literature was burst open, and the treasures of the ancient world were scattered over the West. From these seeds were to spring not the old thoughts, but new ones of greater power and beauty. Next came the mariner’s compass, and with the mariner’s compass came a new world, or, what is the same thing, the discovery by man of the large and goodly dimensions of the world he occupies. Hitherto he had been confined to a portion of it only; and on this little spot he had planted and built, he had turned its soil with the plough, but oftener reddened it with the sword, unconscious the while that ampler and wealthier realms around him were lying unpeopled and uncultivated. But now magnificent continents and goodly islands rose out of the primeval night. It seemed a second Creation. On all sides the world was expanding around man, and this sudden revelation of the vastness of that kingdom of which he was lord, awoke in his bosom new desires, and speedily dispelled those gloomy apprehensions by which he had begun to be oppressed. He thought that Time’s career was finished, and that the world was descending into its sepulcher; to his amazement and joy he saw that the world’s youth was come only now, and that man was as yet but at the beginning of his destiny. He panted to enter on the new career opening before him.

Compared with his condition in the eleventh century, when man was groping in the thick night, and the rising breath of the crusades was just beginning to stir the lethargy of ages, it must have seemed to him as if he had already seen the full opening of the day. But the true light had not yet risen, if we except a feeble dawn, in the skies of England and Bohemia, where gathering clouds threatened to extinguish it. Philosophy and poetry, even when to these are added ancient learning and modern discoveries, could not make it day. If something better had not succeeded, the awakening of the sixteenth century would have been but as a watch in the night. The world, after those merely terrestrial forces had spent themselves, would have fallen back into its tomb. It was necessary that God’s own breath should vivify it, if it was to continue to live. The logic of the schools, the perfume of letters, the galvanic forces of art could not make of the corpse a living man. As with man at first, so with society, God must breathe into it in order that it might become a living soul. The Bible, so long buried, was resuscitated, was translated into the various tongues of Europe, and thus the breath of God was again moving over society. The light of heaven, after its long and disastrous eclipse, broke anew upon the world.

Three great princes occupied the three leading thrones of Europe. To these we may add the potentate of the Vatican, in some points the least, but in others the greatest of the four. The conflicting interests and passions of these four men preserved a sort of balance, and restrained the tempests of war from ravaging Christendom. The long and bloody conflicts which had devastated Germany were ended as the fifteenth century drew to its close.

The sword rested meanwhile in Europe. As in the Roman world the wars of centuries were concluded, and the doors of the temple of Janus were shut, when a great birth was to take place, and a new era to open, so was it once again at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Protestantism was about to step upon the stage, and to proclaim the good news of the recovery of the long-lost Gospel; and on all sides, from the Carpathians to the Atlantic, there was comparative quiet, that the nations might be able to listen to the blessed tidings. It was now that Luther was born.

First of the father. His name was John—John Luther. His family was an old one,1 and had dwelt in these parts a long while. The patrimonial inheritance was gone, and without estate or title, rich only in the superior qualities of his mind, John Luther earned his daily bread by his daily labor. There is more of dignity in honest labor than in titled idleness.

This man married a daughter of one of the villagers of Neustadt, Margaret Lindemann by name. At the period of their marriage they lived near Eisenach, a romantic town at the foot of the Wartburg, with the glades of the Thuringian forest around it. Soon after their marriage they left Eisenach, and went to live at Eisleben, a town near by, belonging to the Counts of Mansfeld.2

They were a worthy pair, and, though in humble condition, greatly respected. John Luther, the father of the Reformer, was a fearer of God, very upright in his dealings and very diligent in his business. He was marked by his good sense, his manly bearing, and the firmness with which he held by his opinions. What was rare in that age, he was a lover of books. Books then were scarce, and consequently dear, and John Luther had not much money to spend on their purchase, nor much time to read those he was able to buy. Still the miner—for he was a miner by trade—managed to get a few, which he read at meal-times, or in the calm German evenings, after his return from his work.

Margaret Lindemann, the mother of Luther, was a woman of superior mind and character.3 She was a peasant by birth, as we have said, but she was truly pious, and piety lends a grace to humble station which is often wanting in lofty rank. The fear of God gives a refinement to the sentiments, and a delicacy and grace to the manners, more fascinating by far than any conventional ease or airs which a coronet can bestow. The purity of the soul shining through the face lends it beauty, even as the lamp transmits its radiance through the alabaster vase and enhances its symmetry. Margaret Lindemann was looked up to by all her neighbors, who regarded her as a pattern to be followed for her good sense, her household economy, and her virtue. To this worthy couple, both much given to prayer, there was born a son, on the 10th of November, 1483.4 He was their first-born, and as the 10th of November is St. Martin’s Eve, they called their son Martin. Thus was ushered into the world the future Reformer.

When a prince is born, bells are rung, cannons are discharged, and a nation’s congratulations are carried to the foot of the throne. What rejoicings and splendors around the cradle where lies the heir of some great empire! When God sends his heroes into the world there are no such ceremonies. They step quietly upon the stage where they are to act their great parts. Like that kingdom of which they are the heralds and champions, their coming is not with observation. Let us visit the cottage of John Luther, of Eisleben, on the evening of November 10th, 1483; there slumbers the miner’s first-born. The miner and his wife are proud of their babe, no doubt; but the child is just like other German children; there is no indication about it of the wondrous future that awaits the child that has come into existence in this lowly household. When he grows up he will toil doubtless with his father as a miner. Had the Pope (Sextus V. was then reigning) looked in upon the child, and marked how lowly was the cot in which he lay, and how entirely absent were all signs of worldly power and wealth, he would have asked with disdain, “Can any harm to the Popedom come of this child? Can any danger to the chair of Peter, that seat more august than the throne of kings, lurk in this poor dwelling?” Or if the emperor had chanced to pass that way, and had learned that there was born a son to John Luther, the miner, “Well, what of that?” he would have asked; “there is one child more in Germany, that is all. He may one day be a soldier in my ranks, who knows, and help to fight my battles.” How greatly would these potentates, looking only at things seen, and believing only in material forces, have miscalculated! The miner’s child was to become mightier than Pope, mightier than emperor. One Luther was stronger than all the cardinals of Rome, than all the legions of the Empire. His voice was to shake the Popedom, and his strong hands were to pull down its pillars that a new edifice might be erected in its room. Again it might be said, as at the birth of a yet greater Child, “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.”

When Martin was six months old his parents removed to Mansfeld. At that time the portion of this world’s goods which his father possessed was small indeed; but the mines of Mansfeld were lucrative, John Luther was industrious, and by-and-by his business began to thrive, and his table was better spread. He was now the owner of two furnaces; he became in time a member of the Town Council,5 and was able to gratify his taste for knowledge by entertaining at times the more learned among the clergy of his neighborhood, and the conversation that passed had doubtless its influence upon the mind of a boy of so quick parts as the young Martin. The child grew, and might now be seen playing with the other children of Mansfeld on the banks of the Wipper. His home was happier than it had been, his health was good, his spirits buoyant, and his clear joyous voice rang out above those of his playmates. But there was a cross in his lot even then. It was a stern age. John Luther, with all his excellence, was a somewhat austere man. As a father he was a strict disciplinarian; no fault of the son went unpunished, and not un-frequently was the chastisement in excess of the fault. This severity was not wise. A nature less elastic than Luther’s would have sunk under it into sullenness, or it may be hardened into wickedness. But what the father on earth did for his own pleasure, or from a mistaken sense of duty, the Father in heaven overruled for the lasting good of the future Reformer. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth, for it is in youth, sometimes even in childhood, that the great turning-points of life occur. Luther’s nature was one of strong impulses; these forces were all needed in his future work; but, had they not been disciplined and brought under control, they might have made him rash, impetuous, and headlong; therefore he was betimes taught to submit to the curb. His nature, moreover, rich in the finest sensibilities, might, but for this discipline, have become self-indulgent. Turning away from the harder tasks of life, Luther might have laid himself out only to enjoy the good within his reach, had not the hardships and severities of his youth attempered his character, and imported into it that element of hardness which was necessary for the greater trials before him.

Besides the examples of piety which he daily beheld, Luther received a little rudimental instruction under the domestic roof. But by-and-by he was sent to school at Mansfeld. He was yet a “little one,” to use Melancthon’s phrase; so young, indeed, that his father sometimes carried him to school on his shoulders.6 The thought that his son would one day be a scholar, cheered John Luther in his labors; and the hope was strengthened by the retentive memory, the sound understanding, and the power of application which the young Luther already displayed.

At the age of fourteen years (1497) Martin was sent to the Franciscan school at Magdeburg.7 At school the hardships and privations amid which his childhood had been passed not only attended him but increased. His master often flogged him; for it was a maxim of those days that nothing could be learned without a free use of the rod; and we can imagine that the buoyant or boisterous nature of the boy often led him into transgressions of the rules of school etiquette. He mentions having one day been flogged fifteen times. What added to his hardships was the custom then universal in the German towns, and continued till a recent date, if even now wholly abandoned, of the scholars begging their bread, in addition to the task of conning their lessons. They went, in small companies, singing from door to door, and receiving whatever alms the good burghers were pleased to give them. At times it would happen that they received more blows, or at least more rebuffs, than alms.

The instruction was gratis, but the young scholar had not bread to eat, and though the means of his father were ampler than before, all were needed for the support of his family, now numerous; and after a year Luther was withdrawn from Magdeburg and sent to a school in Eisenach, where having relatives, he would have less difficulty, it was thought, in supporting himself. These hopes were not realized, because perhaps his relations were poor. The young scholar had still to earn his meals by singing in the streets. One day Luther was perambulating Eisenach, stopping before its likeliest dwellings, and striving with a brief hymn to woo the inmates to kindness. He was sore pressed with hunger, but no door opened, and no hand was extended to him. He was greatly downcast; he stood musing within himself what should become of him. Alas! he could not endure these hardships much longer; he must abandon his studies; he must return home, and work with his father in the mines. It was at that moment that Providence opened for him a home.

As he stood absorbed in these melancholy thoughts, a door near him was opened, and a voice bade him come in. He turned to see who it was that spoke to him. It was Ursula, the wife of Conrad Cotta, a man of consideration among the burghers of Eisenach.8 Ursula Cotta had marked the young scholar before. He was accustomed to sing in the church choir on Sundays. She had been struck with the sweetness of his voice. She had heard the harsh words with which he had been driven away from other doors. Taking pity, she took him in, and made him sit down at her board; and not only did she appease his hunger for the time, but her husband, won by the open face and sweet disposition of the boy, made him come and live with them.

Luther had now a home; he could eat without begging or singing for his bread. He had found a father and mother in this worthy pair. His heart opened; his young genius grew livelier and lovelier every day. Penury, like the chill of winter, had threatened to blight his powers in the bud; but this kindness, like the sun, with genial warmth, awakened them into new vigor. He gave himself to study with fresh ardor; tasks difficult before became easy now. If his voice was less frequently heard in the streets, it cheered the dwelling of his adopted parents. Madame Cotta was fond of music, and in what way could the young scholar so well repay her kindness as by cultivating his talent for singing, and exercising it for the delight of this “good Shunammite?” Luther passed, after this, nearly two years at Eisenach, equally happy at school in the study of Latin, rhetoric, and verse-making, and at home where his hours of leisure were filled up with song, in which he not unfrequently accompanied himself on the lute. He never, all his after-life, forgot either Eisenach or the good Madame Cotta. He was accustomed to speak of the former as “his own beautiful town,” and with reference to the latter he would say, “There is nothing kinder than a good woman’s heart.” The incident helped also to strengthen his trust in God. When greater perils threatened in his future career, when man stood aloof, and he could descry no deliverance near, he remembered his agony in the streets of Eisenach, and how visibly God had come to his help.

We cannot but mark the wisdom of God in the training of the future Reformer. By nature he was loving and trustful, with a heart ever yearning for human sympathy, and a mind ever planning largely for the happiness of others. But this was not enough. These qualities must be attempered by others which should enable him to confront opposition, endure reproach, despise ease, and brave peril. The first without the last would have issued in mere benevolent schemings, and Luther would have died sighing over the stupidity or malignity of those who had thwarted his philanthropic projects. He would have abandoned his plans on the first appearance of opposition, and said, “Well, if the world won’t be reformed, I shall let it alone.” Luther, on the other hand, reckoned on meeting this opposition; he was trained to endure and bear with it, and in his early life we see the hardening and the expanding process going on by turns. And so is it with all whom God selects for rendering great services to the Church or to the world. He sends them to a hard school, and he keeps them in it till their education is complete. Let us mark the eagle and the bird of song, how dissimilar their rearing. The one is to spend its life in the groves, flitting from bough to bough, and enlivening the woods with its melody. Look what a warm nest it lies in; the thick branches cover it, and its dam sits brooding over it. How differently is the eaglet nursed! On yonder ledge, amid the naked crags, open to the lashing rain, and the pelting hail, and the stormy gust, are spread on the bare rock a few twigs. These are the nest of that bird which is to spend its after-life in soaring among the clouds, battling with the winds, and gazing upon the sun.

Luther was to spend his life in conflict with emperors and Popes, and the powers of temporal and spiritual despotism; therefore his cradle was placed in a miner’s cot, and his childhood and youth were passed amid hardship and peril. It was thus he came to know that man lives not to enjoy, but to achieve; and that to achieve anything great, he must sacrifice self, turn away from man, and lean only on God.

Chapter 5.2: Luther’s College Life

Erfurt – City and University – Studies – Aquinas, etc. – Cicero and Virgil – A Bible – Bachelor of Arts – Doctor of Philosophy – Illness – Conscience awakens – Visits his Parents – Thunderstorm – His Vow – Farewell Supper to his Friends – Enters a Monastery

IN 1501 Luther entered the University of Erfurt. He had now attained the age of eighteen years.1 This seat of learning had been founded about a century before; it owed its rise to the patronage of the princely houses of Brunswick and Saxony, and it had already become one of the more famous schools of Central Europe. Erfurt is an ancient town. Journeying from Eisenach eastward, along the Thuringian plain, it makes an imposing show as its steeples, cathedral towers, and ramparts rise before the eye of the traveler. Thirsting for knowledge, the young scholar came hither to drink his fill. His father wished him to study law, not doubting that with his great talents he would speedily achieve eminence, and fill some post of emolument and dignity in the civic administration of his country. In this hope John Luther toiled harder than ever, that he might support his son more liberally than heretofore.

At Erfurt new studies engaged the attention of Luther. The scholastic philosophy was still in great repute. Aristotle, and the humbler but still mighty names of Aquinas, Duns, Occam, and others, were the great sovereigns of the schools.2 So had the verdict of the ages pronounced, although the time was now near when that verdict would be reversed, and the darkness of oblivion would quench those lights placed, as was supposed, eternally in the firmament for the guidance of mankind. The young man threw himself with avidity upon this branch of study. It was an attempt to gather grapes of thorns and figs of thistles; yet Luther profited by the effort, for the Aristotelian philosophy had some redeeming virtues. It was radically hostile to the true method of acquiring knowledge, afterwards laid open by Bacon; yet it tried the strength of the faculties, and the discipline to which it subjected them was beneficial in proportion as it was stringent. Not only did it minister to the ripening of the logical understanding, it gave an agility of mind, a keenness of discrimination, a dialectic skill, and a nicety of fence which were of the greatest value in the discussion of subtle questions. In these studies Luther forged the weapon which he was to wield with such terrible effect in the combats of his after-life. Two years of his university course were now run. From the thorny yet profitable paths of the scholastics, he would turn aside at times to regale himself in the greener and richer fields opened to him in the orations of Cicero and the lays of Virgil. What he most studied to master was not the words but the thinking of the ancients; it was their wisdom which he wished to garner up.3 His progress was great; he became par excellence the scholar of Erfurt.4

It was now that an event occurred that changed the whole future life of the young student. Fond of books, like his father, he went day by day to the library of the university and spent some hours amid its treasures. He was now twenty years of age, and he reveled in the riches around him. One day, as he took down the books from their shelves, and opened them one after another, he came to a volume unlike all the others. Taking it from its place, he opened it, and to his surprise found that it was a Bible—the Vulgate, or Latin translation of the Holy Scriptures, by Jerome.5

The Bible he had never seen till now. His joy was great. There are certain portions which the Church prescribes to be read in public on Sundays and saints’ days, and Luther imagined that these were the whole Bible. His surprise was great when, on opening the volume, he found in it whole books and epistles of which he had never before heard. He began to read with the feelings of one to whom the heavens have been opened. The part of the book which he read was the story of Samuel, dedicated to the Lord from his childhood by his mother, growing up in the Temple, and becoming the witness of the wickedness of Eli’s sons, the priests of the Lord, who made the people to transgress, and to abhor the offering of the Lord. In all this Luther could fancy that he saw no very indistinct image of his own times.

Day after day Luther returned to the library, took down the old book, devoured some Gospel of the New or story of the Old Testament, rejoicing as one that finds great store of spoil, gazing upon its page as Columbus may be supposed to have gazed on the plains and mountains of the New World, when the mists of ocean opened and unveiled it to him. Meanwhile, a change was passing upon Luther by the reading of that book. Other books had developed and strengthened his faculties, this book was awakening new powers within him. The old Luther was passing away, another Luther was coming in his place. From that moment began those struggles in his soul which were destined never to cease till they issued not merely in a new man, but a new age—a new Europe. Out of the Bible at Oxford came the first dawn of the Reformation: out of this old Bible at Erfurt came its second morning.

It was the year 1503. Luther now took his first academic degree. But his Bachelorship in Arts had nearly cost him his life. So close had been his application to study that he was seized with a dangerous illness, and for some time lay at the point of death. Among others who came to see him was an old priest, who seems to have had a presentiment of Luther’s future distinction. “My bachelor,” said he, “take heart, you shall not die of this sickness; God will make you one who will comfort many others; on those whom he loves he lays the holy cross, and they who bear it patiently learn wisdom.” Luther heard, in the words of the aged priest, God calling him back from the grave. He recovered, as had been foretold, and from that hour he carried within him an impression that for some special purpose had his life been prolonged.6

After an interval of two years he became Master of Arts or Doctor of Philosophy. The laureation of the first scholar at Erfurt University, then the most renowned in Germany, was no unimportant event, and it was celebrated by a torch-light procession. Luther saw that he already held no mean place in the public estimation, and might aspire to the highest honors of the State. As the readiest road to these, he devoted himself, in conformity with his father’s wishes, to the bar, and began to give public lectures on the physics and ethics of Aristotle.7 The old book seems in danger of being forgotten, and the Reformer of Christendom of being lost in the wealthy lawyer or the learned judge.

But God visited and tried him. Two incidents that now befell him brought back those feelings and convictions of sin which were beginning to be effaced amid the excitements of his laureation and the fascinations of Aristotle. Again he stood as it were on the brink of the eternal world. One morning he was told that his friend Alexius had been overtaken by a sudden and violent death.8 The intelligence stunned Luther. His companion had fallen as it were by his side. Conscience, first quickened by the old Bible, again awoke.

Soon after this, he paid a visit to his parents at Mansfeld. He was returning to Erfurt, and was now near the city gate, when suddenly black clouds gathered overhead, and it began to thunder and lighten in an awful manner. A bolt fell at his feet. Some accounts say that he was thrown down. The Great Judge, he thought, had descended in this cloud, and he lay momentarily expecting death. In his terror he vowed that should God spare him he would devote his life to His service. The lightning ceased, the thunders rolled past, and Luther, rising from the ground and pursuing his journey with solemn steps, soon entered the gates of Erfurt.9

The vow must be fulfilled. To serve God was to wear a monk’s hood—so did the age understand it, and so too did Luther. To one so fitted to enjoy the delights of friendship, so able to win the honors of life—nay, with these honors all but already grasped—a terrible wrench it must be to tear himself from the world and enter a monastery—a living grave. But his vow was irrevocable. The greater the sacrifice, the more the merit. He must pacify his conscience; and as yet he knew not of the more excellent way. Once more he will see his friends, and then—He prepares a frugal supper; he calls together his acquaintances; he regales them with music; he converses with apparent gaiety. And now the feast is at an end, and the party has broken up. Luther walks straight to the Augustinian Convent, on the 17th of August, 1505. He knocks at the gate; the door is opened, and he enters.

To Luther, groaning under sin, and seeking deliverance by the works of the law, that monastery—so quiet, so holy, so near to heaven, as he thought—seemed a very Paradise. Soon as he had crossed its threshold the world would be shut out; sin, too, would be shut out; and that sore trouble of soul which he was enduring would be at an end. At this closed door the “Avenger” would be stayed. So thought Luther as he crossed its threshold. There is a city of refuge to which the sinner may flee when death and hell are on his track, but it is not that into which Luther had now entered.

Chapter 5.3: Luther’s Life In The Convent

Astonishment of his Townsmen – Anger of his Father – Luther’s Hopes – Drudgery of the Convent – Begs by Day – Studies by Night – Reads Augustine – Studies the Bible – His Agony of Soul – Needful Lessons

WHEN his friends and townsmen learned on the morrow that Luther had taken the cowl, they were struck with stupefaction. That one with such an affluence of all the finer intellectual and social qualities, and to whom his townsmen had already assigned the highest post that genius can fill, should become a monk, seemed a national loss. His friends, and many members of the university, assembled at the gates of the monastery, and waited there two whole days, in the hope of seeing Luther, and persuading him to retrace the foolish step which a fit of caprice or a moment’s enthusiasm had led him to take. The gate remained closed; Luther came not forth, though the wishes and entreaties of his friends were not unknown to him. What to him were all the rewards of genius, all the high posts which the world could offer? The one thing with him was how he might save his soul. Till a month had elapsed Luther saw no one.

When the tidings reached Mansfeld, the surprise, disappointment, and rage of Luther’s father were great. He had toiled night and day to be able to educate his son; he had seen him win one academical honor after another; already in imagination he saw him discharging the highest duties and wearing the highest dignities of the State. In a moment all these hopes had been swept away; all had ended in a monk’s hood and cowl. John Luther declared that nothing of his should his son ever inherit, and according to some accounts he set out to Erfurt, and obtaining an interview with his son at the convent gate, asked him sharply, “How can a son do right in disobeying the counsel of his parents?”

On an after-occasion, when telling his father of the impression made upon his mind by the thunderstorm, and that it was as if a voice from heaven had called him to be a monk, “Take care,” was John Luther’s reply, “lest you have been imposed upon by an illusion of the devil.”1

On entering the convent Luther changed his name to Augustine. But in the convent life he did not find that rest and peace to enjoy which he had fled thither. He was still seeking life, not from Christ, but from monastic holiness, and had he found rest in the convent he would have missed the eternal rest. It was not long till he was made to feel that he had carried his great burden with him into the monastery, that the apprehensions of wrath which haunted him in the world had followed him hither; that, in fact, the convent bars had shut him in with them; for here his conscience began to thunder more loudly than ever, and his inward torments grew every day more insupportable. Whither shall Luther now flee? He knows no holier place on earth than the cell, and if not here, where shall he find a shadow from this great heat, a rock of shelter from this terrible blast? God was preparing him for being the Reformer of Christendom, and the first lesson it was needful to teach him was what a heavy burden is unpardoned guilt, and what a terrible tormentor is an awakened conscience, and how impossible it is to find relief from these by works of self-righteousness. From this same burden Luther was to be the instrument of delivering Christendom, and he himself, first of all, must be made to feel how awful is its weight.

But let us see what sort of life it is that Luther leads in the monastery of the Augustines: a very different life indeed from that which he had led in the university!

The monks, ignorant, lazy, and fond only of good cheer, were incapable of appreciating the character or sympathizing with the tastes of their new brother. That one of the most distinguished doctors of the university should enroll himself in their fraternity was indeed an honor; but did not his fame throw themselves into the shade? Besides, what good would his studies do their monastery? They would replenish neither its wine-cellar nor its larder. His brethren found a spiteful pleasure in putting upon him the meanest offices of the establishment. Luther unrepiningly complied. The brilliant scholar of the university had to perform the duties of porter, “to open and shut the gates, to wind up the clock, to sweep the church, and to clean out the cells.”2 Nor was that the worst; when these tasks were finished, instead of being permitted to retire to his studies, “Come, come!” would the monks say, “saccum per hackum—get ready your wallet: away through the town, and get us something to eat.” The book had to be thrown aside for the bag. “It is not by studying,” would the friars say, “but by begging bread, corn, eggs, fish, meat and money, that a monk renders himself useful to the cloister.” Luther could not but feel the harshness and humiliation of this: the pain must have been exquisite in proportion as his intellect was cultivated, and his tastes refined. But having become a monk, he resolved to go through with it, for how otherwise could he acquire the humility and sanctity he had assumed the habit to learn, and by which he was to earn peace now, and life hereafter? No, he must not draw back, or shirk either the labor or the shame of holy monkhood. Accordingly, traversing the streets, wallet on back the same through which he had strode so often as an honored doctor—or knocking at the door of some former acquaintance or friend, and begging an alms, might now be seen the monk Augustine.

In this kind of drudgery was the day passed. At night, when the other monks were drowned in sleep, or in the good things which brother Martin had assisted in begging for them, and when he too, worn out with his many tasks, ought to have laid himself down to rest, instead of seeking his couch he trimmed his lamp, and opening the patristic and scholastic divines, he continued reading them till far into the night. St. Augustine was his especial favorite. In the writings of the Bishop of Hippo there is more of God’s free grace, in contrast with the deep corruption of man, to himself incurable, than in any other of the Fathers; and Luther was beginning to feel that the doctrines of Augustine had their echo in his own experience. Among the scholastic theologians, Gerson and Occam, whom we have already mentioned as opponents of the Pope’s temporal power, were the writers to whom he most frequently turned.3

But though he set great store on Augustine, there was another book which he prized yet more. This was God’s own Word, a copy of which he lighted on in the monastery. Oh! how welcome to Luther, in this dry and parched land, this well of water, whereat he that drinketh, as said the great Teacher, “shall never thirst.” This Bible he could not take with him to his cell and there read and study it, for it was chained in the chapel of the convent; but he could and did go to it, and sometimes he spent whole days in meditation upon a single verse or word. It was now that he betook him to the study of the original tongues, that being able to read the Scriptures in the languages in which they were at first written, he might see deeper into their meaning. Reuchlin’s Hebrew Lexicon had recently appeared, and with this and other helps he made rapid progress in the knowledge of the Hebrew and Greek.4 In the ardor of this pursuit he would forget for weeks together to repeat the daily prayers. His conscience would smite him for transgressing the rules of his order, and he would neither eat nor sleep till the omitted services had been performed, and all arrears discharged. It once happened that for seven weeks he scarcely closed his eyes.5

The communicative and jovial student was now changed into the taciturn solitary. The person as well as the manners of Luther had undergone a transformation. What with the drudgery of the day, the studies of the night, the meager meals he allowed himself—“a little bread and a small herring were often his only food”6—the fasts and macerations he practiced, he was more like a corpse than a living man. The fire within was still consuming him. He fell sometimes on the floor of his cell in sheer weakness. “One morning, the door of his cell not being opened as usual, the brethren became alarmed. They knocked: there was no reply. The door was burst in, and poor Fra Martin was found stretched on the ground in a state of ecstasy, scarcely breathing, well-nigh dead. A monk took his flute, and gently playing upon it one of the airs that Luther loved, brought him gradually back to himself.”7 The likelihood at that moment was that instead of living to do battle with the Pope, and pull down the pillars of his kingdom, a quiet grave, somewhere in the precincts of the monastery, would ere long be the only memorial remaining to testify that such a one as Martin Luther had ever existed.

It was indeed a bitter cup that Luther was now drinking, but it could by no means pass from him. He must drink yet deeper, he must drain it to its dregs. Those works which he did in such bondage of spirit were the price with which he thought to buy pardon. The poor monk came again and again with this goodly sum to the door of heaven, only to find it closed. Was it not enough? “I shall make it more,” thought Luther. He goes back, resumes his sweat of soul, and in a little returns with a richer price in his hand. He is again rejected. Alas, the poor monk! What shall he do? He can think but of longer fasts, of severer penances, of more numerous prayers. He returns a third time. Surely he will now be admitted? Alas, no! the sum is yet too small; the door is still shut; justice demands a still larger price. He returns again and again, and always with a bigger sum in his hand; but the door is not opened. God is teaching him that heaven is not to be bought by any sum, however great: that eternal life is the free gift of God. “I was indeed a pious monk,” wrote he to Duke George of Saxony, at a future period of his life, “and followed the rules of my order more strictly than I can express. If ever monk could obtain heaven by his monkish works, I should certainly have been entitled to it. Of this all the friars who have known me can testify. If I had continued much longer I should have carried my mortifications even to death, by means of my watchings, prayers, readings, and other labors.”8

But the hour was not yet come when Luther was to enjoy peace. Christ and the redemption He had wrought were not yet revealed to him, and till these had been made known Luther was to find no rest. His anguish continued, nay, increased, and his aspect was now enough to have moved to pity his bitterest enemy. Like a shadow he glided from cell to cell of his monastery; his eyes sunk, his bones protruding, his figure bowed down to the earth; on his brow the shadows of those fierce tempests that were raging in his soul; his tears watering the stony floor, and his bitter cries and deep groans echoing through the long galleries of the convent, a mystery and a terror to the other monks. He tried to disburden his soul to his confessor, an aged monk. He had had no experience of such a case before; it was beyond his skill; the wound was too deep for him to heal. “’save me in thy righteousness’—what does that mean?” asked Luther. “I can see how God can condemn me in his righteousness, but how can he save me in his righteousness?” But that question his father confessor could not answer.9

It was well that Luther neither despaired nor abandoned the pursuit as hopeless. He persevered in reading Augustine, and yet more in studying the chained Bible; and it cannot be but that some rays must have broken in through his darkness. Why was it that he could not obtain peace? This question he could not but put to himself—“What rule of my order have I neglected—or if in aught I have come short, have not penance and tears wiped out the fault? And yet my conscience tells me that my sin is not pardoned. Why is this? Are these rules after all only the empirical devices of man? Is there no holiness in those works which I am toiling to perform, and those mortifications to which I am submitting? Is it a change of garment only or a change of heart that I need?” Into this train the monk’s thoughts could scarce avoid falling. And meanwhile he persevered in the use of those means which have the promise connected with them—“Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” “If thou criest after wisdom, if thou liftest up thy voice for understanding, then shalt thou find the fear of the Lord, and understand the knowledge of thy God.” It is not Luther alone whose cries we hear. Christendom is groaning in Luther, and travailing in pain to be delivered. The cry of those many captives, in all the lands of Christendom, lying in fetters, goes up in the cry of this captive, and has entered into the ears of the Great Ruler: already a deliverer is on the road. As Luther, hour by hour, is sinking in the abyss, nearer, hour by hour, are heard the approaching footsteps of the man who is to aid him in breaking the bars of his own and the world’s prison.

Chapter 5.4: Luther The Monk Becomes Luther The Reformer

Staupitz – Visits the Convent at Erfurt – Meets Luther – Conversations between the Vicar-General and the Monk – The Cross – Repentance – A Free Salvation – The Dawn Begins – The Night Returns – An Old Monk – “The Forgiveness of Sins” – Luther’s Full Emancipation – A Rehearsal – Christendom’s Burden – How Delivered

AS in the darkest night a star will at times look forth, all the lovelier that it shines out amidst the clouds of tempest, so there appeared at intervals, during the long and dark night of Christendom, a few men of eminent piety in the Church of Rome. Taught of the Spirit, they trusted not in the Church, but in Christ alone, for salvation; and amid the darkness that surrounded them they saw the light, and followed it. One of these men was John Staupitz.

Staupitz was Vicar-General of the Augustines of Germany. He knew the way of salvation, having learned it from the study of Augustine and the Bible. He saw and acknowledged the errors and vices of the age, and deplored the devastation they were inflicting on the Church. The purity of his own life condemned the corruptions around him, but he lacked the courage to be the Reformer of Christendom. Nevertheless, God honored him by making him signally serviceable to the man who was destined to be that Reformer.1

It chanced to the Vicar-General to be at this time on a tour of visitation among the convents of the Augustinians in Germany, and the path he had traced for himself led him to that very monastery within whose walls the sore struggle we have described was going on. Staupitz came to Erfurt. His eye, trained to read the faces on which it fell, lighted on the young monk. The first glance awoke his interest in him. He marked the brow on which he thought he could see the shadow of some great sorrow, the eye that spoke of the anguish within, the frame worn to almost a skeleton by the wrestlings of the spirit; the whole man so meek, so chastened, so bowed down; and yet about him withal an air of resolution not yet altogether vanquished, and of strength not yet wholly dried up. Staupitz himself had tasted the cup of which Luther was now drinking. He had been in trouble of soul, although, to use the language of the Bible, he had but “run with the footmen,” while Luther was contending “with horses.” His own experience enabled him to guess at the inner history of the monk who now stood before him.

The Vicar-General called the monk to him, spoke words of kindness—accents now become strange to Luther, for the inmates of his monastery could account for his conflicts only by believing him possessed of the Evil One—and by degrees he won his confidence. Luther felt that there was a mysterious influence in the words of Staupitz, which penetrated his soul, and was already exerting a soothing and mitigating effect upon his trouble. In the Vicar-General the monk met the first man who really understood his case.

They conversed together in the secrecy of the monastic cell. Luther laid open his whole soul; he concealed nothing from the Vicar-General. He told him all his temptations, all his horrible thoughts—his vows a thousand times repeated and as often broken; how he shrank from the sight of his own vileness, and how he trembled when he thought of the holiness of God. It was not the sweet promise of mercy, but the fiery threatening of the law, on which he dwelt. “Who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth?”

The wise Staupitz saw how it was. The monk was standing in the presence of the Great Judge without a days-man. He was dwelling with Devouring Fire; he was transacting with God just as he would have done if no cross had ever been set up on Calvary, and no “place for repentance.” “Why do you torture yourself with these thoughts? Look at the wounds of Christ,” said Staupitz, anxious to turn away the monk’s eye from his own wounds—his stripes, macerations, fastings—by which he hoped to move God to pity. “Look at the blood Christ shed for you,” continued his skillful counselor; “it is there the grace of God will appear to you.” “I cannot and dare not come to God,” replied Luther, in effect, “till I am a better man; I have not yet repented sufficiently.” “A better man!” would the Vicar-General say in effect; “Christ came to save not good men, but sinners. Love God, and you will have repented; there is no real repentance that does not begin in the love of God; and there is no love to God that does not take its rise in all apprehension of that mercy which offers to sinners freedom from sin through the blood of Christ.” “Faith in the mercies of God! This is the star that goeth before the face of Repentance, the pillar of fire that guideth her in the night of her sorrows, and giveth her light,”2 and showeth her the way to the throne of God.

These were wise words, and “the words of the wise are as nails, and as goads fastened in a sure place by the master of assemblies.” So was it with the words of the Vicar-General; a light from heaven accompanied them, and shone into the understanding of Luther. He felt that a healing balm had touched his wound, that a refreshing oil had been poured upon his bruised spirit. Before leaving him, the Vicar-General made him the present of a Bible, which Luther received with unbounded joy; and most sacredly did he obey the parting injunction of Staupitz: “Let the study of the Scriptures be your favorite occupation.”3

But the change in Luther was not yet complete. It is hard to enter into life—to cast out of the heart that distrust and fear of God with which sin has filled it, and take in the grand yet true idea of God’s infinite love, and absolutely free and boundless mercy.

Luther’s faith was as yet but as a grain of mustard-seed. After Staupitz had taken leave of him he again turned his eye from the Savior to himself; the clouds of despondency and fear that instant gathered; and his old conflicts, though not with the same violence, were renewed. He fell ill, and in his sore sickness he lay at the gates of death. It pleased God on this bed, and by a very humble instrument, to complete the change which the Vicar-General had commenced. An aged brother-monk who, as Luther afterwards said, was doubtless a true Christian though he wore “the cowl of damnation,” came to his bedside, and began to recite with much simplicity and earnestness the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Luther repeated after him in feeble accents, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” “Nay,” said the monk, “you are to believe not merely in the forgiveness of David’s sins, and of Peter’s sins; you must believe in the forgiveness of your own sins.”4 The decisive words had been spoken. A ray of light had penetrated the darkness that encompassed Luther. He saw it all: the whole Gospel in a single phrase, the forgiveness of sins—not the payment, but the forgiveness.

In that hour the principle of Popery in Luther’s soul fell. He no longer looked to himself and to the Church for salvation. He saw that God had freely forgiven him in His Son Jesus Christ. His prison doors stood open. He was in a new world. God had loosed his sackcloth and girded him with gladness. The healing of his spirit brought health to his body; and in a little while he rose from that bed of sickness, which had so nearly been to him the bed of death. The gates of destruction were, in God’s marvelous mercy, changed into the gates of Paradise.

The battle which Luther fought in this cell was in reality a more sublime one than that which he afterwards had to fight before the Diet of the Empire at Worms. Here there is no crowd looking on, no dramatic lights fall upon the scene, the conflict passes in the obscurity of a cell; but all the elements of the morally sublime are present. At Worms, Luther stood before the powers and principalities of earth, who could but kill the body, and had no more that they could do. Here he meets the powers and principalities of darkness, and engages in a struggle, the issue of which is to him eternal life or eternal death. And he triumphs! This cell was the cradle of a new life to Luther, and a new life to Christendom. But before it could be the cradle of a new life it had first to become a grave. Luther had here to struggle not only to tears and groans: he had to struggle unto death. “Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.” So did the Spirit of God inspire Paul to announce what is a universal law. In every case death must precede a new life. The new life of the Church at the beginning of the Christian era came from a grave, the sepulcher of Christ. Before we ourselves can put on immortality we must die and be buried. In this cell at Erfurt died Martin Luther the monk, and in this cell was born Martin Luther the Christian, and the birth of Luther the Christian was the birth of the Reformation in Germany.5

Let us pause here, and notice how the Reformation rehearsed itself first of all in the cell at Erfurt, and in the soul of Luther, before coming forth to display its power on the public stage of Germany and of Christendom. The finger of God touched the human conscience, and the mightiest of all forces awoke. The Reformation’s birth-place was not the cabinet of kings, nor the closet of philosophers and scholars: it had its beginnings in the depths of the spiritual world—in the inextinguishable needs and longings of the human soul, quickened, after a long sleep, by divinely ordained instrumentalities.

For ages the soul of man had “groaned, being burdened.” That burden was the consciousness of sin. The method taken to be rid of that burden was not the forgiveness, but the payment of sin. A Church arose which, although retaining “the forgiveness of sins” as an article in her creed, had discarded it from her practice; or rather, she had substituted her own “forgiveness of sins” for God’s.

The Gospel came to men in the beginning preaching a free pardon. To offer forgiveness on any other terms would have been to close heaven while professing to open it. But the Church of Rome turned the eyes of men from the salvation of the Gospel, to a salvation of which she assumed to be the exclusive and privileged owner. That on which the Gospel had put no price, knowing that to put upon it the smallest price was wholly to withhold it, the Church put a very great price. Salvation was made a marketable commodity; it was put up for sale, and whoever wished to possess it had to pay the price which the Church had put upon it. Some paid the price in good works, some paid it in austerities and penances, and some in money. Each paid in the coin that most suited his taste, or convenience, or ability; but all had to pay. Christendom, in process of time, was covered with a vast apparatus for carrying on this spiritual traffic. An order of men was established, through whose hands exclusively this ghostly merchandise passed. Over and above the great central emporium of this traffic, which was opened on the Seven Hills, hundreds and thousands of inferior marts were established all over Christendom. Cloisters and convents arose for those who chose to pay in penances; temples and churches were built for those who chose to pay in prayers and masses; and privileged shrines and confessional-boxes for those who preferred paying in money. One half of Christendom reveled in sin because they were wealthy, and the other half groaned under self-inflicted mortifications because they were poor. When at length the principle of a salvation purchased from the Church had come to its full height, it fell.

But Christendom did not deliver itself on the principle of payment. It was not by remaining the bondsman of the Church, and toiling in its service of penances and works of merit, that it wrought out its emancipation. It found that this road would never lead to liberty. Its burden, age after age, was growing but the heavier. Its case had become hopeless, when the sound of the old Gospel, like the silver trumpets of the Day of Jubilee, broke upon its ear: it listened: it cast off the yoke of ceremonies: it turned from man’s pardon to God’s; from the Church to Christ; from the penance of the cell to the sacrifice of the Cross. Its emancipation was accomplished.

Chapter 5.5 Luther As Priest, Professor, And Preacher

Ordained as a Priest – Wittemberg University – Luther made Professor – Lectures on the Bible – Popularity – Concourse of Students – Luther Preaches at Wittemberg – A Wooden Church – The Audience – The Impression – The Gospel Resumes its March – Who shall Stop it?

LUTHER had been two years in the monastery, when on Sunday, 2nd May, 1507, he was ordained to the priesthood. The act was performed by Jerome, Bishop of Brandenburg. John Luther, his father, was present, attended by twenty horsemen, Martin’s old comrades, and bringing to his son a present of twenty guilders. The earliest letter extant of Luther is one of invitation to John Braun, Vicar of Eisenach. It gives a fine picture of the feelings with which Luther entered upon his new office. “Since the glorious God,” said he, “holy in all his works, has deigned to exalt me, who am a wretched man and every way an unworthy sinner, so eminently, and to call me to his sublime ministry by his sole and most liberal mercy, may I be grateful for the magnificence of such Divine goodness (as far at least as dust and ashes may) and duly discharge the office committed to me.”1

In the Protestant Churches, the office into which ordination admits one is that of ministry; in the Church of Rome, in which Luther received ordination, it is that of priesthood. The Bishop of Brandenburg, when he ordained Luther, placed the chalice in his hand, accompanying the action with the words, “Receive thou the power of sacrificing for the quick and the dead.”2 It is one of the fundamental tenets of Protestantism that to offer sacrifice is the prerogative of Christ alone, and that, since the coming of this “one Priest,” and the offering of His “one sacrifice,” sacrificing priesthood is for ever abolished. Luther did not see this then; but the recollection of the words addressed to him by the bishop appalled him in after years. “If the earth did not open and swallow us both up,” said he, “it was owing to the great patience and long-suffering of the Lord.”

Luther passed another year in his cell, and left it in haste at last, as Joseph his prison, being summoned to fill a wider sphere. The University of Wittemberg was founded in 1502 by Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony. He wished, as he said in its charter, to make it the light of his kingdom. He little dreamed what a fulfillment awaited his wish. The elector was looking round him for fit men for its chairs. Staupitz, whose sagacity and honorable character gave him great weight with Frederick, recommended the Augustinian monk at Erfurt. The electoral invitation was immediately dispatched to Luther, and accepted by him. And now we behold him, disciplined by God, rich in the experience of himself, and illumined with the knowledge of the Gospel, bidding the monastery a final adieu, though not as yet the cowl, and going forth to teach in the newly-founded University of Wittemberg.3

The department assigned to Luther was “dialectics and physics”—in other words, the scholastic philosophy. There was a day—it had not long gone by—when Luther reveled in this philosophy, and deemed it the perfection of all wisdom. He had since tasted the “old wine” of the apostles, and had lost all relish for the “new wine” of the schoolmen. Much he longed to unseal the fountains of the Water of Life to his students. Nevertheless, he set about doing the work prescribed to him, and his labors in this ungenial field were of great use, in the way of completing his own preparation for combating and overthrowing the Aristotelian philosophy—one of the idols of the age.

Soon “philosophy” was exchanged for “theology,” as the department of the new professor. It was now that Luther was in his right place. He opened the New Testament; he selected for exposition the Epistle to the Romans4—that book which shines like a glorious constellation in the firmament of the Bible, gathering as it does into one group all the great themes of revelation.

Passing from the cell to the class-room with the open Bible in his hand, the professor spoke as no teacher had spoken for ages in Christendom.5 It was no rhetorician, showing what a master of his art he was; it was no dialectician, proud to display the dexterity of his logic, or the cunning of his sophistry; it was no philosopher, expounding with an air of superior wisdom the latest invention of the schools; Luther spoke like one who had come from another sphere. And he had indeed been carried upwards, or, to speak with greater accuracy, he had, more truly than the great poet of the Inferno, gone down into Hades, and at the cost of tears, and groans, and agonies of soul he had learned what he was now communicating so freely to others. Herein lay the secret of Luther’s power. The youths crowded round him; their numbers increased day by day; professors and rectors sat at his feet; the fame of the university went forth to other lands, and students flocked from foreign countries to hear the wisdom of the Wittemberg professor. The living waters shut up so long were again let loose, and were flowing among the habitations of men, and promised to convert the dry and parched wilderness which Christendom had become into the garden of the Lord.

“This monk,” said Dr. Mallerstadt, the rector of the university, himself a man of great learning and fame, “will reform the whole Church. He builds on the prophets and apostles, which neither Scotist nor Thomist can overthrow.”6

Staupitz watched the career of the young professor with peculiar and lively satisfaction. He was even now planning a yet wider usefulness for him. Why, thought Staupitz, should Luther confine his light within the walls of the university? Around him in Wittemberg, and in all the towns of Germany, are multitudes who are as sheep without a shepherd, seeking to satisfy their hunger with the husks on which the monks feed them; why not minister to these men also the Bread of Life? The Vicar-General proposed to Luther that he should preach in public. He shrank back from so august an office—so weighty a responsibility. “In less than six months,” said Luther, “I shall be in my grave.” But Staupitz knew the monk better than he knew himself; he continued to urge his proposal, and at last Luther consented. We have followed him from the cell to the professor’s chair, now we are to follow him from the chair to the pulpit.

Luther opened his public ministry in no proud cathedral, but in one of the humblest sanctuaries in all Germany. In the center of the public square stood an old wooden church, thirty feet long and twenty broad. Far from magnificent in even its best days, it was now sorely decayed. Tottering to its fall, it needed to be propped up on all sides. In this chapel was a pulpit of boards raised three feet over the level of the floor. This was the place assigned to the young preacher. In this shed, and from this rude pulpit, was the Gospel proclaimed to the common people for the first time after the silence of centuries.

“This building,” says Myconius, “may well be compared to the stable in which Christ was born. It was in this wretched enclosure that God willed, so to speak, that his well-beloved Son should be born a second time. Among those thousands of cathedrals and parish churches with which the world is filled, there was not one at that time which God chose for the glorious preaching of eternal life.”7

If his learning and subtlety fitted Luther to shine in the university, not less did his powers of popular eloquence enable him to command the attention of his countrymen. Before his day the pulpit had sunk ineffably low. At that time not a secular priest in all Italy ever entered a pulpit.8 Preaching was wholly abandoned to the Mendicant friars. These persons knew neither human nor Divine knowledge. To retain their hearers they were under the necessity of amusing them. This was not difficult, for the audience was as little critical as the preacher was fastidious. Gibes—the coarser, the more effective; legends and tales—the more wonderful and incredible, the more attentively listened to; the lives and miracles of the saints were the staple of the sermons of the age. Dante has immortalized these productions, and the truth of his descriptions is attested by the representations of such scenes which have come clown to us in the sculpture-work of the cathedrals.9 But the preacher who now appeared in the humble pulpit of the wooden chapel of Wittemberg spoke with authority, and not as the friars. His animated face, his kindling eye, his thrilling tones—above all, the majesty of the truths which he announced—captivated the hearts and awed the consciences of his hearers. He proclaimed pardon and heaven, not as indirect gifts through priests, but as direct from God. Men wondered at these tidings—so new, so strange, and yet so refreshing and welcome. It was evident, to use the language of Melancthon, that “his words had their birth-place not on his lips, but in his soul.”10

His fame as a preacher grew. From the surrounding cities came crowds to hear him. The timbers of the old edifice creaked under the multitude of listeners. It was far too small to accommodate the numbers that flocked to it.

The Town Council of Wittemberg now elected him to be their preacher, and gave him the use of the parish church. On one occasion the Elector Frederick was among his hearers, and expressed his admiration of the simplicity and force of his language, and the copiousness and weight of his matter. In presence of this larger audience his eloquence burst forth in new power. Still wider shone the light, and more numerous every day were the eyes that turned towards the spot where it was rising. The Reformation was now fairly launched on its path. God had bidden it go onwards, and man would be unable to stop it. Popes and emperors and mighty armies would throw themselves upon it; scaffolds and stakes would be raised to oppose it: over all would it march in triumph, and at last ascend the throne of the world. Emerging from this lowly shed in the square of Wittemberg, as emerges the sun from the mists of earth, it would rise ever higher and shine ever brighter, till at length Truth, like a glorious noon, would shed its beams from pole to pole.

Chapter 5.6: Luther’s Journey To Rome

A Quarrel – Luther Deputed to Arrange it – Sets out for Rome – His Dreams – Italian Monasteries – Their Luxuriousness – A Hint – His Illness at Bologna – A Voice – “The Just shall Live by Faith” – Florence – Beauty of Site and Buildings – The Renaissance – Savonarola – Campagna di Roma – Luther’s First Sight of Rome

IT was necessary that Luther should pause a little while in the midst of his labors. He had been working for some time under high pressure, and neither mind nor body would long have endured the strain. It is in seasons of rest and reflection that the soul realizes its growth and makes a new start. Besides, Luther needed one lesson more in order to his full training as the future Reformer, and that lesson he could receive only in a foreign land. In his cell at Erfurt he had been shown the sinfulness of his own heart, and his helplessness as a lost sinner. This must be the foundation of his training. At Rome he must be shown the vileness of that Church which he still regarded as the Church of Christ and the abode of holiness.

As often happens, a very trivial matter led to what resulted in the highest consequences both to Luther himself and to Christendom. A quarrel broke out between seven monasteries of the Augustines and their Vicar-General. It was agreed to submit the matter to the Pope, and the sagacity and eloquence of Luther recommended him as the fittest person to undertake the task. This was in the year 1510, or, according to others, 1512. 1 We now behold the young monk setting out for the metropolis of Christendom. We may well believe that his pulse beat quicker as every step brought him nearer the Eternal City, illustrious as the abode of the Caesars; still more illustrious as the abode of the Popes. To Luther, Rome was a type of the Holy of Holies. There stood the throne of God’s Vicar. There resided the Oracle of Infallibility. There dwelt the consecrated priests and ministers of the Lord. Thither went up, year by year, armies of devout pilgrims, and tribes of holy anchorites and monks, to pay their vows in her temples, and prostrate themselves at the footstool of the apostles. Luther’s heart swelled with no common emotion when he thought that his feet would stand within the gates of this thrice-holy city.

Alas, what a terrible disenchantment awaited the monk at the end of his journey; or rather, what a happy emancipation from an enfeebling and noxious illusion! For so long as this spell was upon him, Luther must remain the captive of that power which had imprisoned truth and enchained the nations. An arm with a fetter upon it was not the arm to strike such blows as would emancipate Christendom. He must see Rome, not as his dreams had painted her, but as her own corruptions had made her. And he must go thither to see her with his own eyes, for he would not have believed her deformity although another had told him; and the more profound the idolatrous reverence with which he approaches her, the more resolute his purpose, when he shall have re-crossed her threshold, to leave of that tyrannical and impious power not one stone upon another.

Luther crossed the Alps and descended on the fertile plains of Lombardy. Those magnificent highways which now conduct the traveler with so much ease and pleasure through the snows and rocks that form the northern wall of Italy did not then exist, and Luther would scale this rampart by narrow, rugged, and dangerous tracks. The sublimity that met his eye and regaled him on his journey had, doubtless, an elevating and expanding effect upon his mind, and mingled something of Italian ideality with his Teutonic robustness. To him, as to others, what a charm in the rapid transition from the homeliness of the German plains, and the ruggedness of the Alps, to the brilliant sky, the voluptuous air, and the earth teeming with flowers and fruits, which met his gaze when he had accomplished his descent! Weary with his journey, he entered a monastery situated on the banks of the Po, to refresh himself a few days. The splendor of the establishment struck him with wonder. Its yearly revenue, amounting to the enormous sum of thirty-six thousand ducats,2 was all expended in feeding, clothing, and lodging the monks. The apartments were sumptuous in the extreme. They were lined with marble, adorned with paintings, and filled with rich furniture. Equally luxurious and delicate was the clothing of the monks.

Silks and velvet mostly formed their attire; and every day they sat down at a table loaded with exquisite and skillfully cooked dishes. The monk who, in his native Germany, had inhabited a bare cell, and whose day’s provision was at times only a herring and a small piece of bread, was astonished, but said nothing.

Friday came, and on Friday the Church has forbidden the faithful to taste flesh. The table of the monks groaned under the same abundance as before. As on other days, so on this there were dishes of meat. Luther could no longer refrain. “On this day,” said Luther, “such things may not be eaten. The Pope has forbidden them.” The monks opened their eyes in astonishment on the rude German. Verily, thought they, his boldness is great. It did not spoil their appetite, but they began to be apprehensive that the German might report their manner of life at head-quarters, and they consulted together how this danger might be obviated. The porter, a humane man, dropped a hint to Luther of the risk he would incur should he make a longer stay. Profiting by the friendly counsel to depart hence while health served him, he took leave, with as little delay as possible, of the monastery and all in it.

Again setting forth, and traveling on foot, he came to Bologna, “the throne of the Roman law.” In this city Luther fell ill, and his sickness was so sore that it threatened to be unto death. To sickness was added the melancholy natural to one who is to find his grave in a foreign land. The Judgment Seat was in view, and alarm filled his soul at the prospect of appearing before God. In short, the old anguish and terror, though in moderated force, returned. As he waited for death he thought he heard a voice crying to him and saying, “The just shall live by faith.”3 It seemed as if the voice spoke to him from heaven, so vivid was the impression it made. This was the second time this passage of Scripture had been borne into his mind, as if one had spoken it to him. In his chair at Wittemberg, while lecturing from the Epistle to the Romans, he had come to these same words, “The just shall live by faith.” They laid hold upon him so that he was forced to pause and ponder over them. What do they mean? What can they mean but that the just have a new life, and that this new life springs from faith? But faith on whom, and on what? On whom but on Christ, and on what but the righteousness of Christ wrought out in the poor sinner’s behalf? If that be so, pardon and eternal life are not of works but of faith: they are the free gift of God to the sinner for Christ’s sake.

So had Luther reasoned when these words first arrested him, and so did he again reason in his sick-chamber at Bologna. They were a needful admonition, approaching as he now was a city where endless rites and ceremonies had been invented to enable men to live by works. His sickness and anguish threw him back upon the first elements of life, and the one only source of holiness. He was taught that this holiness is restricted to no soil, to no system, to no rite; it springs up in the heart where faith dwells. Its source was not at Rome, but in the Bible; its bestower was not the Pope, but the Holy Spirit.

“The just shall live by faith.” As he stood at the gates of death a light seemed, at these words, to spring up around him. He arose from his bed healed in body as in soul. He resumed his journey. He traversed the Apennines, experiencing doubtless, after his sickness, the restorative power of their healthful breezes, and the fragrance of their dells gay with the blossoms of early summer. The chain crossed, he descended into that delicious valley where Florence, watered by the Arno, and embosomed by olive and cypress groves, reposes under a sky where light lends beauty to every object on which it falls. Here Luther made his next resting-place.4

The “Etrurian Athens,” as Florence has been named, was then in its first glory. Its many sumptuous edifices were of recent erection, and their pristine freshness and beauty were still upon them. Already Brunelleschi had hung his dome—the largest in the world—in mid-air; already Giotto had raised his Campanile, making it, by its great height, its elegant form, and the richness of its variously-colored marbles, the characteristic feature of the city. Already the Baptistry had been built, with its bronze doors which Michael Angelo declared to be “worthy of being the gates of Paradise.” Besides these, other monuments and works of art adorned the city where the future Reformer was now making a brief sojourn. To these creations of genius Luther could not be indifferent, familiar as he had hitherto been with only the comparatively homely architecture of a Northern land. In Germany and England wood was then not unfrequently employed in the construction of dwellings, whereas the Italians built with marble.

Other things were linked with the Etrurian capital, which Luther was scholar enough to appreciate. Florence was the cradle of the Renaissance. The house of Medici had risen to eminence in the previous century.

Cosmo, the founder of the family, had amassed immense riches in commerce. Passionately fond of letters and arts, he freely expended his wealth in the munificent patronage of scholars and artists. Lovers of letters from every land were welcomed by him and by his son Lorenzo in his superb villa on the sides of Fiesole, and were entertained with princely hospitality. Scholars from the East, learned men from England and the north of Europe, here met the philosophers and poets of Italy; and as they walked on the terraces, or gathered in groups in the alcoves of the gardens—the city, the Arno, and the olive and cypress-clad vale beneath them—they would prolong their discourse on the new learning and the renovated age which literature was bringing with it, till the shadows fell, and dusk concealed the domes of Florence at their feet, and brought out the stars in the calm azure overhead. Thus the city of the Medici became the center of that intellectual and literary revival which was then radiating over Europe, and which heralded a day of more blessed light than any that philosophy and letters have ever shed. Alas, that to Italy, where this light first broke, the morning should so soon have been turned into the shadow of death! But Florence had very recently been the scene of events which could not be unknown to Luther, and which must have touched a deeper chord in his bosom than any its noble edifices and literary glory could possibly awaken. Just fourteen years (1498) before Luther visited this city, Savonarola had been burned on the Piazza della Gran’ Ducca, for denouncing the corruptions of the Church, upholding the supreme authority of Scripture, and teaching that men are to be saved, not by good works, but by the expiatory sufferings of Christ.5 These were the very truths Luther had learned in his cell; their light had broken upon him from the page of the Bible; the Spirit, with the iron pen of anguish, had written them on his heart; he had preached them to listening crowds in his wooden chapel at Wittemberg; and on this spot, already marked by a statue of Neptune, had a brother-monk been burned alive for doing the very same thing in Italy which he had done in Saxony. The martyrdom of Savonarola he could not but regard as at once of good and of evil augury. It cheered him, doubtless, to think that in this far-distant land another, by the study of the same book, had come to the same conclusion at which he himself had arrived respecting the way of life, and had been enabled to witness for the truth unto blood. This showed him that the Spirit of God was acting in this land also, that the light was breaking out at various points, and that the day he waited for was not far distant.6

But the stake of Savonarola might be differently interpreted; it might be construed into a prognostic of many other stakes to be planted hereafter. The death of the Florentine confessor showed that the ancient hatred of the darkness to the light was as bitter as ever, and that the darkness would not abdicate ,without a terrible struggle. It was no peaceful scene on which Truth was about to step, and it was not amid the plaudits of the multitude that her progress was to be accomplished. On the contrary, tempest and battle would hang upon her path; every step of advance would be won over frightful opposition; she must suffer and bleed before she could reign. These were among the lessons which Luther learned on the spot to which doubtless he often came to muse and pray.7

How many disciples had Savonarola left behind him in the city in which he had poured out his blood? This, doubtless, was another point of anxious inquiry to Luther; but the answer was not encouraging. The zeal of the Florentines had cooled. It was hard to enter into life as Savonarola had entered into it—the gate was too narrow and the road too thorny. They praised him, but they could not imitate him. Florence was not to be the cradle of an evangelical Renaissance. Its climate was voluptuous and its Church was accommodating: so its citizens, who, when the voice of their great preacher stirred them, seemed to be not far from the kingdom of heaven, drew back when brought face to face with the stake, and crouched down beneath the twofold burden of sensuality and superstition.

So far Luther had failed to discover that sanctity which before beginning his journey he had pictured to himself, as springing spontaneously as it were out of this holy soil. The farther he penetrated into this land of Italy, the more was he shocked at the irreverence and impiety which characterized all ranks, especially the “religious.” The relaxation of morals was universal. Pride, avarice, luxury, abominable vices, and frightful crimes defiled the land; and, to crown all, “sacred things” were the subjects of contempt and mockery. It seemed as if the genial climate which nourished the fruits of the earth into a luxuriance unknown to his Northern home, nourished with a like luxuriance the appetites of the body and passions of the soul. He sighed for the comparative temperance, frugality, simplicity, and piety of his fatherland.

But he was now near Rome, and Rome, said he to himself, will make amends for all. In that holy city Christianity will be seen in the spotless beauty of her apostolic youth. In that city there are no monks bravely appareled in silks and velvets; there are no conventual cells with a luxurious array of couches and damasks, and curious furniture inlaid with silver and mother-of-pearl, while their walls are aglow with marbles, paintings, and gilding. There are no priests who tarry by the wine-cup, or sit on fast-days at boards smoking with dishes of meat and venison. The sound of the viol, the lute, and the harp is never heard in the monasteries of Rome: there ascend only the accents of devotion: matins greet the day, and even-song speeds its departure. Into that holy city there entereth nothing that defileth. Eager to mingle in the devout society of the place to which he was hastening, and there forget the sights which had pained him on the way thither, he quitted Florence, and set out on the last stage of his journey.

We see him on his way. He is descending the southern slopes of the mountains on which Viterbo is seated. At every short distance he strains his eyes, if haply he may descry on the bosom of the plain that spreads itself out at his feet, some signs of her who once was “Queen of the Nations.” On his right, laving the shore of Latium, is the blue Mediterranean; on his left is the triple-topped Soracte and the “purple Apennine”—white towns hanging on its crest, and olive-woods and forests of pine clothing its sides—running on in a magnificent wall of craggy peaks, till it fades from the eye in the southern horizon. Luther is now traversing the storied Campagna di Roma.

The man who crosses this plain at the present day finds it herbless, silent, and desolate. The multitude of men which it once nourished have perished from its bosom. The numerous and populous towns, that in its better days crowned every conical height that dots its surface, are now buried in its soil: its olive-woods and orange-groves have been swept away, and thistles, wiry grass, and reeds have come in their room. Its roads, once crowded with armies, ambassadors, and proconsuls, are now deserted and all but untrodden. Broken columns protruding through the soil, stacks of brick-work with the marble peeled off, substructions of temples and tombs, now become the lair of the fox or the lurking-place of the brigand, and similar memorials are almost all that remain to testify to the flourishing cultivation, and the many magnificent structures, that once adorned this great plain.

But in the days of Luther the Campagna di Roma had not become the blighted, treeless, devastated expanse it is now. Doubtless many memorials of decay met his eye as he passed along. War had left some frightful scars upon the plain: the indolence and ignorance of its inhabitants had operated with even worse effect: but still in the sixteenth century it had not become so deserted of man, and so forsaken of its cities, as it is at this day.8 The land still continued to enjoy what has now all but ceased upon it, seed-time and harvest. Besides, it was the beginning of summer when Luther visited it, and seen under the light of an Italian sun, and with the young verdure clothing its surface, the scene would be by no means an unpleasant one. But one object mainly engrossed his thoughts: he was drawing nigh to the metropolis of Christendom. The heights of Monte Mario, adjoining the Vatican—for the cupola of St. Peter’s was not yet built—would be the first to catch his eye; the long ragged line formed by the buildings and towers of the city would next come into view. Luther had had his first sight of her whom no one ever yet saw for the first time without emotion, though it might not be so fervent, nor of the same character exactly, as that which thrilled Luther at this moment. Falling on his knees, he exclaimed, “Holy Rome, I salute thee!”9

Chapter 5.7: Luther In Rome

Enchantment – Ruins – Holy Places – Rome’s Nazarites – Rome’s Holiness – Luther’s Eyes begin to Open – Pilate’s Stairs – A Voice heard a Third Time – A Key that Opens the Closed Gates of Paradise – What Luther Learned at Rome

AFTER many a weary league, Luther’s feet stand at last within the gates of Rome. What now are his feelings? Is it a Paradise or a Pandemonium in which he is arrived?

The enchantment continued for some little while. Luther tried hard to realize the dreams which had lightened his toilsome journey. Here he was breathing holier air, so he strove to persuade himself; here he was mingling with a righteous people; while the Nazarites of the Lord were every moment passing by in their long robes, and the chimes pealed forth all day long, and, not silent even by night, told of the prayers and praises that were continually ascending in the temples of the metropolis of Christendom.

The first things that struck Luther were the physical decay and ruin of the place. Noble palaces and glorious monuments rose on every side of him, but, strangely enough, mingled with these were heaps of rubbish and piles of ruins. These were the remains of the once imperial glory of the city—the spoils of war, the creations of genius, the labors of art which had beautified it in its palmy days. They showed him what Rome had been under her pagan consuls and emperors, and they enabled him to judge how much she owed to her Popes.1

Luther gazed with veneration on these defaced and mutilated remains, associated as they were in his mind with the immortal names of the great men whose deeds had thrilled him, and whose writings had instructed him in his native land. Here, too, thought Luther, the martyrs had died; on the floor of this stupendous ruin, the Coliseum, had they contended with the lions; on this spot, where now stands the sumptuous temple of St. Peter, and where the Vicar of Christ has erected his throne, were they used “as torches to illumine the darkness of the night.” Over this city, too, Paul’s feet had walked, and to this city had that letter been sent, and here had it first been opened and read, in which occur the words that had been the means of imparting to him a new life—“The just shall live by faith.”

The first weeks which Luther passed in Rome were occupied in visiting the holy places,2 and saying mass at the altars of the more holy of its churches. For, although Luther was converted in heart, and rested on the one Mediator, his knowledge was imperfect, and the darkness of his mind still remained in part. The law of life in the soul may not be able all at once to develop into an outward course of liberty, and the ideas may be reformed while the old acts and habits of legal belief may for a time survive. It was not easy for Luther or for Christendom to find its way out of a night of twelve centuries. Even to this hour that night remains brooding over a full half of Europe.

If it was the physical deformities of Rome—the scars which war or barbarism had inflicted—that formed the first stumbling-blocks to Luther, it was not long till he began to see that these outward blemishes were as nothing to the hideous moral and spiritual corruptions that existed beneath the surface. The luxury, lewdness, and impiety that shocked him in the first Italian towns he had entered, and which had attended him in every step of his journey since crossing the Alps, were all repeated in Rome on a scale of seven-fold magnitude. His practice of saying mass at all the more favored churches brought him into daily contact with the priests; he saw them behind the scenes; he heard their talk, and he could not conceal from himself—though the discovery unspeakably shocked and pained him—that these men were simply playing a part, and that in private they held in contempt and treated with mockery the very rites which in public they celebrated with so great a show of devotion. If he was shocked at their profane levity, they on their part were no less astonished at his solemn credulity, and jeered him as a dull German, who had not genius enough to be a skeptic, nor cunning enough to be a hypocrite—a fossilized specimen, in short, of a fanaticism common enough in the twelfth century, but which it amazed them to find still existing in the sixteenth.

One day Luther was saying mass in one of the churches of Rome with his accustomed solemnity. While he had been saying one mass, the priests at the neighboring altars had sung seven. “Make haste, and send Our Lady back her Son:” such was the horrible scoff with which they reproved his delay, as they accounted it.3 To them “Lady and Son” were worth only the money they brought. But these were the common priests. Surely, thought he, faith and piety still linger among the dignitaries of the Church! How mistaken was even this belief, Luther was soon to discover. One day he chanced to find himself at table with some prelates. Taking the German to be a man of the same easy faith with themselves, they lifted the veil a little too freely. They openly expressed their disbelief in the mysteries of their Church, and shamelessly boasted of their cleverness in deceiving and befooling the people. Instead of the words, “Hoc est meum corpus,” etc.—the words at the utterance of which the bread is changed, as the Church of Rome teaches, into the flesh and blood of Christ—these prelates, as they themselves told him, were accustomed to say, “Panis es, et panis manebis,” etc.—Bread thou art, and bread thou wilt remain—and then, said they, we elevate the Host, and the people bow down and worship.

Luther was literally horrified: it was as if an abyss had suddenly yawned beneath him. But the horror was salutary; it opened his eyes. Plainly he must renounce belief in Christianity or in Rome. His struggles at Erfurt had but too surely deepened his faith in the first to permit him to cast it off: it was the last, therefore, that must be let go; but as yet it was not Rome in her doctrines and rites, but Rome in her clergy, from which Luther turned away.

Instead of a city of prayers and alms, of contrite hearts and holy lives, Rome was full of mocking hypocrisy, defiant skepticism, jeering impiety, and shameless revelry. Borgia had lately closed his infamous Pontificate, and the warlike Julius II. was now reigning. A powerful police patrolled the city every night. They were empowered to deal summary justice on offenders, and those whom they caught were hanged at the next post or thrown into the Tiber. But all the vigilance of the patrol could not secure the peace and safety of the streets. Robberies and murders were of nightly occurrence. “If there be a hell,” said Luther, “Rome is built over it.”4

And yet it was at Rome, in the midst of all this darkness, that the light shone fully into the mind of the Reformer, and that the great leading idea, that on which his own life was based, and on which he based the whole of that Reformation which God honored him to accomplish—the doctrine of justification by faith alone—rose upon him in its full-orbed splendor. We naturally ask, How did this come about? What was there in this city of Popish observances to reveal the reformed faith? Luther was desirous of improving every hour of his stay in Rome, where religious acts done on its holy soil, and at its privileged altars and shrines, had a tenfold degree of merit; accordingly he busied himself in multiplying these, that he might nourish his piety, and return a holier man than he came; for as yet he saw but dimly the sole agency of faith in the justification of the sinner.

One day he went, under the influence of these feelings, to the Church of the Lateran. There is the Scala Sancta, or Holy Stairs, which tradition says Christ descended on retiring from the hall of judgment, where Pilate had passed sentence upon him. These stairs are of marble, and the work of conveying them from Jerusalem to Rome was reported to have been undertaken and executed by the angels, who have so often rendered similar services to the Church—Our Lady’s House at Loretto for example. The stairs so transported were enshrined in the Palace of the Lateran, and every one who climbs them on his knees merits an indulgence of fifteen years for each ascent. Luther, who doubted neither the legend touching the stairs, nor the merit attached by the bulls of the Popes to the act of climbing them, went thither one day to engage in this holy act. He was climbing the steps in the appointed way, on his knees namely, earning at every step a year’s indulgence, when he was startled by a sudden voice, which seemed as if it spoke from heaven, and said, “The just shall live by faith.” Luther started to his feet in amazement. This was the third time these same words had been conveyed into his mind with such emphasis, that it was as if a voice of thunder had uttered them. It seemed louder than before, and he grasped more fully the great truth which it announced. What folly, thought he, to seek an indulgence from the Church, which can last me but a few years, when God sends me in his Word an indulgence that will last me for ever!5 How idle to toil at these performances, when God is willing to acquit me of all my sins not as so much wages for so much service, but freely, in the way of believing upon his Son! “The just shall live by faith.”6

From this time the doctrine of justification by faith alone—in other words, salvation by free grace—stood out before Luther as the one great comprehensive doctrine of revelation. He held that it was by departing from this doctrine that the Church had fallen into bondage, and had come to groan under penances and works of self-righteousness. In no other way, he believed, could the Church find her way back to truth and liberty than by returning to this doctrine. This was the road to true reformation. This great article of Christianity was in a sense its fundamental article, and henceforward Luther began to proclaim it as eminently the Gospel—the whole Gospel in a single phrase. With relics, with privileged altars, with Pilate’s Stairs, he would have no more to do; this one sentence, “The just shall live by faith,” had more efficacy in it a thousand times over than all the holy treasures that Rome contained. It was the key that unlocked the closed gates of Paradise; it was the star that went before his face, and led him to the throne of a Savior, there to find a free salvation. It needed but to re-kindle that old light in the skies of the Church, and a day, clear as that of apostolic times, would again shine upon her. This was what Luther now proposed doing.

The words in which Luther recorded this purpose are very characteristic. “I, Doctor Martin Luther,” writes he, “unworthy herald of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, confess this article, that faith alone without works justifies before God; and I declare that it shall stand and remain for ever, in despite of the Emperor of the Romans, the Emperor of the Turks, the Emperor of the Tartars, the Emperor of the Persians; in spite of the Pope and all the cardinals, with the bishops, priests, monks, and nuns; in spite of kings, princes, and nobles; and in spite of all the world, and of the devils themselves; and that if they endeavor to fight against this truth they will draw the fires of hell upon their own heads. This is the true and holy Gospel, and the declaration of me, Doctor Martin Luther, according to the teaching of the Holy Ghost. We hold fast to it in the name of God. Amen.” This was what Luther learned at Rome. Verily, he believed, it was worth his long and toilsome journey thither to learn this one truth. Out of it were to come the life that would revive Christendom, the light that would illuminate it, and the holiness that would purify and adorn it. In that one doctrine lay folded the whole Reformation. “I would not have missed my journey to Rome,” said Luther afterwards, “for a hundred thousand florins.”

When he turned his back on Rome, he turned his face toward the Bible. The Bible henceforward was to be to Luther the true city of God.

Chapter 5.8: Tetzel Preaches Indulgences

Luther Returns to Wittemberg – His Study of the Bible – Leo X. – His Literary Tastes – His Court – A Profitable Fable – The Re-building of St. Peter’s – Sale of Indulgences – Archbishop of Mainz – Tetzel – His Character – His Red Cross and Iron Chest-Power of his Indulgences – Extracts from his Sermons – Sale – What the German People Think.

LUTHER’s stay in Rome did not extend over two weeks, but in that short time he had learned lessons not to be forgotten all his life long. The grace he had looked to find at Rome he had indeed found there, but in the Word of God, not in the throne of the Pope. The latter was a fountain that had ceased to send forth the Water of Life; so, turning from this empty cistern, he went back to Wittemberg and the study of the Scriptures.

The year of his return was 1512. It was yet five years to the breaking out of the Reformation in Germany. These years were spent by Luther in the arduous labors of preacher, professor, and confessor at Wittemberg. A few months after his return he received the degree of Doctor in Divinity,1 and this was not without its influence upon the mind of the Reformer. On that occasion Luther took an oath upon the Bible to study, propagate, and defend the faith contained in the Holy Scriptures. He looked upon himself henceforward as the sworn knight of the reformed faith. Taking farewell of philosophy, from which in truth he was glad to escape, he turned to the Bible as his life-work. A more assiduous student of it than ever, his acquaintance with it daily grew, his insight into its meaning continually deepened, and thus a beginning was made in Wittemberg and the neighboring parts of Germany, by the evangelical light which he diffused in his sermons, of that great work for which God had destined him.2 He had as yet no thought of separating himself from the Roman Church, in which, as he believed, there resided some sort of infallibility. These were the last links of his bondage, and Rome herself was at that moment unwittingly concocting measures to break them, and set free the arm that was to deal the blow from which she should never wholly rise.

We must again turn our eyes upon Rome. The warlike Julius II., who held the tiara at the time of Luther’s visit, was now dead, and Leo X. occupied the Vatican. Leo was of the family of the Medici, and he brought to the Papal chair all the tastes and passions which distinguished the Medicean chiefs of the Florentine republic. He was refined in manners, but sensual and voluptuous in heart, he patronized the fine arts, affected a taste for letters, and delighted in pomps and shows. His court was perhaps the most brilliant in Europe.3 No elegance, no amusement, no pleasure was forbidden admission into it. The fact that it was an ecclesiastical court was permitted to be no restraint upon its ample freedom. It was the chosen home of art, of painting, of music, of revels, and of masquerades.

The Pontiff was not in the least burdened with religious beliefs and convictions. To have such was the fashion of neither his house nor his age. His office as Pontiff, it is true, connected him with “a gigantic fable” which had come down from early times; but to have exploded that fable would have been to dissolve the chair in which he sat, and the throne that brought him so much magnificence and power. Leo was, therefore, content to vent his skepticism in the well-known sneer, “What a profitable affair this fable of Christ has been to us!” To this had it come! Christianity was now worked solely as a source of profit to the Popes.4

Leo, combining, as we have said, the love of art with that of pleasure, conceived the idea of beautifying Rome. His family had adorned Florence with the noblest edifices. Its glory was spoken of in all countries, and men came from afar to gaze upon its monuments. Leo would do for the Eternal City what his ancestors had done for the capital of Etruria. War, and the slovenliness or penury of the Popes had permitted the Church of St. Peter to fall into disrepair. He would clear away the ruinous fabric, and replace it with a pile more glorious than any that Christendom contained. But to execute such a project millions would be needed. Where were they to come from? The shows or entertainments with which Leo had gratified the vanity of his courtiers, and amused the indolence of the Romans, had emptied his exchequer. But the magnificent conception must not be permitted to fall through from want of money. If the earthly treasury of the Pope was empty, his spiritual treasury was full; and there was wealth enough there to rear a temple that would eclipse all existing structures, and be worthy of being the metropolitan church of Christendom. In short, it was resolved to open a special sale of indulgences in all the countries of Europe.5 This traffic would enrich all parties. From the Seven Hills would flow a river of spiritual blessing. To Rome would flow back a river of gold.

Arrangements were made for opening this great. market (1517). The license to sell in the different countries of Europe was disposed of to the highest bidder, and the price was paid beforehand to the Pontiff. The indulgences in Germany were farmed out to Albert, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg.6 The archbishop was in Germany what Leo X. was in Rome. He loved to see himself surrounded with a brilliant court; he denied himself no pleasure; was profuse in entertainments; never went abroad without a long retinue of servants; and, as a consequence, was greatly in want of money. Besides, he owed to the Pope for his pall—some said, 26,000, others, 30,000 florins.7 There could be no harm in diverting a little of the wealth that was about to flow to Rome, into channels that might profit himself. The bargain was struck, and the archbishop sought out a suitable person to perambulate Germany, and preach up the indulgences. He found a man every way suited to his purpose. This was a Dominican monk, named John Diezel, or Tetzel, the son of a goldsmith of Leipsic. He had filled the odious office of inquisitor, and having added thereto a huckstering trade in indulgences, he had acquired a large experience in that sort of business. He had been convicted of a shameful crime at Innspruck, and sentenced to be put into a sack and drowned; but powerful intercession being made for him, he was reprieved, and lived to help unconsciously in the overthrow of the system that had nourished him.8

Tetzel lacked no quality necessary for success in his scandalous occupation. He had the voice of a town-crier, and the eloquence of a mountebank. This latter quality enabled him to paint in the most glowing colors the marvelous virtues of the wares which he offered for sale. The resources of his invention, the power of his effrontery, and the efficacy of his indulgences were all alike limitless.9

This man made a progress through Germany. The line of the procession as it moved from place to place might be traced at a distance by the great red cross, which was carried by Tetzel himself, and on which were suspended the arms of the Pope. In front of the procession, on a velvet cushion, was borne the Pontiff’s bull of grace; in the rear came the mules laden with bales of pardoils, to be given, not to those who had penitence in the heart, but to those who had money in the hand.

When the procession approached a town it was announced to the inhabitants that “The Grace of God and of the Holy Father was at their gates.” The welcome accorded was commonly such as the extraordinary honor was fitted to draw forth. The gates were opened, and the tall red cross, with all the spiritual riches of which it was the sign, passed in, followed by a long and imposing array of the ecclesiastical and civic authorities, the religious orders, the various trades, and the whole population of the place, which had come out to welcome the great pardon-monger. The procession advanced amid the beating of drums, the waving of flags, the blaze of tapers, and the pealing of bells.10

When he entered a city, Tetzel and his company went straight to the cathedral. The crowd pressed in and filled the church. The cross was set up in front of the high altar, a strong iron box was put down beside it, in which the money received for pardons was deposited, and Tetzel, in the garb of the Dominicans, mounting the pulpit began to set forth with stentorian voice the incomparable merit of his wares. He bade the people think what it was that had come to them. Never before in their times, nor in the times of their fathers, had there been a day of privilege like this. Never before had the gates of Paradise been opened so widely. “Press in now: come and buy while the market lasts,” shouted the Dominican; “should that cross be taken down the market will close, heaven will depart, and then you will begin to knock, and to bewail your folly in neglecting to avail yourselves of blessings which shall then have gone beyond your reach.” So in effect did Tetzel harangue the crowd. But his own words have a plainness and rigor which no paraphrase can convey. Let us cull a few specimens from his orations.

“Indulgences are the most precious and the most noble of God’s gifts,” said Tetzel. Then pointing to the red cross, which stood full in view of the multitude, he would exclaim, “This cross has as much efficacy as the very cross of Christ.”11 “Come, and I will give you letters all properly sealed, by which even the sins which you intend to commit may be pardoned.”12 “I would not change my privileges for those of St. Peter in heaven, for I have saved more souls by my indulgences than the apostle did by his sermons.”13 The Dominican knew how to extol his own office as well as the pardons he was so desirous to bestow on those who had money to buy. “But more than this,” said Tetzel, for he had not as yet disclosed the whole wonderful virtues of his merchandise, “indulgences avail not only for the living but for the dead.” So had Boniface VIII. enacted two centuries before; and Tetzel goes on to the particular application of the dogma. “Priest, noble, merchant, wife, youth, maiden, do you not hear your parents and your other friends who are dead, and who cry from the bottom of the abyss: ‘We are suffering horrible torments! A trifling alms would deliver us; you can give it, and you will not’?”14

These words, shouted in a voice of thunder by the monk, made the hearers shudder.

“At the very instant,” continues Tetzel, “that the money rattles at the bottom of the chest, the soul escapes from purgatory, and flies liberated to heaven.15 Now you can ransom so many souls, stiff-necked and thoughtless man; with twelve groats you can deliver your father from purgatory, and you are ungrateful enough not to save him! I shall be justified in the Day of Judgment; but you—you will be punished so much the more severely for having neglected so great salvation. I declare to you, though you have but a single coat, you ought to strip it off and sell it, in order to obtain this grace… The Lord our God no longer reigns, he has resigned all power to the Pope.”

No argument was spared by the monk which could prevail with the people to receive his pardons; in other words, to fill his iron box. From the fires of purgatory—dreadful realities to men of that age, for even Luther as yet believed in such a place—Tetzel would pass to the ruinous condition of St. Peter’s, and draw an affecting picture of the exposure to the rain and hail of the bodies of the two apostles, Peter and Paul, and the other martyrs buried within its precincts.16 Pausing, he would launch a sudden anathema at all who despised the grace which the Pope and himself were offering to men; and then, changing to a more meek and pious strain, he would wind up with a quotation from Scripture, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you that many prophets have desired to see those things that ye see, and have not seen them, and to hear those things that ye hear, and have not heard them.”17 And having made an end, the monk would rush down the pulpit stairs and throw a piece of money into the box, which, as if the rattle of the coin were infectious, was sure to be followed by a torrent of pieces.

All round the church were erected confessional stalls. The shrift was a short one, as if intended only to afford another opportunity to the penancer of impressing anew upon the penitent the importance of the indulgences. From confession the person passed to the counter behind which stood Tetzel. He sharply scrutinized all who approached him, that he might guess at their rank in life, and apportion accordingly the sum to be exacted. From kings and princes twenty-five ducats were demanded for an ordinary indulgence; from abbots and barons, ten; from those who had an income of five hundred florins, six; and from those who had only two hundred, one.18 For particular sins there was a special schedule of prices. Polygamy cost six ducats; church robbery and perjury, nine; murder, eight; and witchcraft, two. Samson, who carried on the same trade in Switzerland as Tetzel in Germany, charged for parricide or fratricide one ducat. The same hand that gave the pardon could not receive the money. The penitent himself must drop it into the box. There were three keys for the box. Tetzel kept one, another was in the possession of the cashier of the house of Fugger in Augsburg, the agent of the Archbishop and Elector of Mainz, who farmed the indulgences; the third was in the keeping of the civil authority. From time to time the box was opened in presence of a notary-public, and its contents counted and registered.

The form in which the pardon was given was that of a letter of absolution. These letters ran in the following terms:

“May our Lord Jesus Christ have pity on thee, N. N., and absolve thee by the merits of his most holy passion. And I, by virtue of the apostolic power which has been confided to me, do absolve thee from all ecclesiastical censures, judgments, and penalties which thou mayest have merited, and from all excesses, sins, and crimes which thou mayest have committed, however great or enormous they may be, and for whatsoever cause, even though they had been reserved to our most Holy Father the Pope and the Apostolic See. I efface all attainders of unfitness and all marks of infamy thou mayest have drawn on thee on this occasion; I remit the punishment thou shouldest have had to endure in purgatory; I make thee anew a participator in the Sacraments of the Church; I incorporate thee afresh in the communion of the saints; and I reinstate thee in the innocence and purity in which thou wast at the hour of thy baptism; so that, at the hour of thy death, the gate through which is the entrance to the place of torments and punishments shall be closed against thee, and that which leads to the Paradise of joy shall be open. And shouldest thou be spared long, this grace shall remain immutable to the time of thy last end. In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

“Brother John Tetzel, Commissioner, has signed it with his own hand.”19

Day by day great crowds repaired to this market, where for a little earthly gold men might buy all the blessings of heaven. Tetzel and his indulgences became the one topic of talk in Germany. The matter was discussed in all circles, from the palace and the university to the market-place and the wayside inn. The more sensible portion of the nation were shocked at the affair. That a little money should atone for the guilt and efface the stain of the most enormous crimes, was contrary to the natural justice of mankind. That the vilest characters should be placed on a level with the virtuous and the orderly, seemed a blow at the foundation of morals—an unhinging of society. The Papal key, instead of unlocking the fountains of grace and holiness, had opened the flood-gates of impiety and vice, and men trembled at the deluge of licentiousness which seemed ready to rush in and overflow the land. Those who had some knowledge of the Word of God viewed the matter in even a worse light. They knew that the pardon of sin was the sole prerogative of God: that he had delegated that power to no mortal, and that those who gathered round the red cross of Tetzel and bought his pardons were cheated of their money and their souls at the same time. Christianity, instead of a source of purity, appeared to be a fountain of pollution; and, from being the guardian and nurse of virtue, seemed to have become the patron and promoter of all ungodliness.

The thoughts of others took another direction. They looked at the “power of the keys” under the new light shed upon it by the indulgences, and began to doubt the legitimacy of that which was now being so flagrantly abused. What, asked they, are we to think of the Pope as a man of humanity and mercy? One day a miner of Schneeberg met a seller of indulgences. “Is it true,” he asked, “that we can, by throwing a penny into the chest, ransom a soul from purgatory?” “It is so,” replied the indulgence-vendor. “Ah, then,” resumed the miner, “what a merciless man the Pope must be, since for want of a wretched penny he leaves a poor soul crying in the flames so long!” Luther embodied in his Theses on Indulgences what was a very general sentiment, when he asked, “Why does not the Pope deliver at once all the souls from purgatory by a holy charity and on account of their great wretchedness, since he delivers so many from love of perishable money and of the Cathedral of St. Peter?”20 It was all very well to have a fine building at Rome, thought the people of Germany, but to open the gates of that doleful prison in which so many miserable beings live in flames, and for once make purgatory tenantless, would be a nobler monument of the grace and munificence of the Pope, than the most sumptuous temple that he can by any possibility rear in the Eternal City.

Meanwhile Friar John Tetzel and Pope Leo X. went on laboring with all their might, though wholly unwittingly and unintentionally, to pave the way for Luther. If anything could have deepened the impression produced by the scandals of Tetzel’s trade, it was the scandals of his life. He was expending, day by day, and all day long, much breath in the Church’s service, extolling the merit of her indulgences, and when night came he much needed refreshment: and he took it to his heart’s content. “The collectors led a disorderly life,” says Sarpi; “they squandered in taverns, gambling-houses, and places of ill-fame all that the people had saved from their necessities.”21

As regards Leo X., when the stream of gold from the countries beyond the Alps began to flow, his joy was great. He had not, like the Emperor Charles, a “Mexico” beyond the Atlantic, but he had a “Mexico” in the credulity of Christendom, and he saw neither limit nor end to the wealth it might yield him. Never again would he have cause to bewail an empty treasury. Men would never cease to sin, and so long as they continued to sin they would need pardon; and where could they go for pardon if not to the Church—in other words, to himself? He only, of all men on the earth, held the key. He might say with an ancient monarch, “Mine hand hath found as a nest the riches of the nations, and as one gathereth eggs so have I gathered all the earth.” Thus Leo went on from day to day, building St. Peter’s, but pulling down the Papacy.

Chapter 5.9: The “Theses”

Unspoken Thoughts – Tetzel’s Approach – Opens his Market at Juterbock – Moral Havoc – Luther Condemns his Pardons – Tetzel’s Rage – Luther’s Opposition grows more Strenuous – Writes to the Archbishop of Mainz – A Narrow Stage, but a Great Conflict – All Saints’ Eve – Crowd of Pilgrims – Luther Nails his Theses to the Church Door – Examples – An Irrevocable Step – Some the Movement inspires with Terror – Others Hail it with Joy – The Elector’s Dream.

THE great red cross, the stentorian voice of Tetzel, and the frequent chink of money in his iron chest, had compelled the nations of Germany to think. Rome had come too near these nations. While she remained at a distance, separated from them by the Alps, the Teutonic peoples had bowed down in worship before her; but when she presented herself as a hawker of spiritual wares for earthly pelf, when she stood before them in the person of the monk who had so narrowly escaped being tied up in a sack and flung into the river Inn, for his own sins, before he took to pardoning the sins of others, the spell was broken. But as yet the German nations only thought; they had not given utterance to their thoughts. A few murmurs might be heard, but no powerful voice had yet spoken.

Meanwhile, Tetzel, traveling from town to town, eating of the best at the hostelries, and paying his bills in drafts on Paradise; pressing carriers and others into his service for the transport of his merchandise, and recompensing them for the labor of themselves and their mules by letters of indulgence, approached within four miles of Luther. He little suspected how dangerous the ground on which he was now treading! The Elector Frederick, shocked at this man’s trade, and yet more at the scandals of his life, had forbidden him to enter Saxony; but he came as near to it as he durst; and now at Juterbock, a small town on the Saxon frontier, Tetzel set up his red cross, and opened his market. Wittemberg was only an hour and a half’s walk distant, and thousands flocked from it to Juterbock, to do business with the pardon-monger. When Luther first heard of Tetzel, which was only a little while before, he said, “By the help of God, I will make a hole in his drum:” he might have added, “and in that of his master, Leo X.” Tetzel was now almost within ear-shot of the Reformer.

Luther, who acted as confessor as well as preacher, soon discovered the moral havoc which Tetzel’s pardons were working. For we must bear in mind that Luther still believed in the Church, and in obedience to her commands exacted confession and penance on the part of his flock, though only as preparatives, and not as the price, of that free salvation which he taught, comes through the merit of Christ, and is appropriated by faith alone. One day, as he sat in the confessional, some citizens of Wittemberg came before him, and confessed having committed thefts, adulteries, and other heinous sins. “You must abandon your evil courses,” said Luther, “otherwise I cannot absolve you.” To his surprise and grief, they replied that they had no thought of leaving off their sins; that this was not in the least necessary, inasmuch as these sins were already pardoned, and they themselves secured against the punishment of them. The deluded people would thereupon pull out the indulgence papers of Tetzel, and show them in testimony of their innocence. Luther could only tell them that these papers were worthless, that they must repent, and be forgiven of God, otherwise they should perish everlastingly.1

Denied absolution, and sore at losing both their money and their hope of heaven, these persons hastened back to Tetzel, and informed him that a monk in Wittemberg was making light of his indulgences, and was warning the people against them as deceptions. Tetzel literally foamed with rage, and bellowing more loudly than ever, poured out a torrent of anathemas against the man who had dared to speak disparagingly of the pardons of the Pope. To energetic words, Tetzel added significant acts. Kindling a fire in the market-place of Juterbock, he gave a sign of what would be done to the man who should obstruct his holy work. The Pope, he said, had given him authority to commit all such heretics to the flames.

Nothing terrified by Tetzel’s angry words, or by the fire that blazed so harmlessly in the market-place of Juterbock, Luther became yet more strenuous in his opposition. He condemned the indulgences in his place in the university. He wrote to the Prince Archbishop of Mainz, praying him to interpose his authority and stop a proceeding that was a scandal to religion and a snare to the souls of men.2 He little knew that he was addressing the very man who had farmed these indulgences. He even believed the Pope to be ignorant, if not of the indulgences, of the frightful excesses that attended the sale of them. From the pulpit, with all affection but with all fidelity, he warned his flock not to take part in so great a wickedness. God, he said, demands a satisfaction for sin, but not from the sinner; Christ has made satisfaction for the sinner, and God pardons him freely. Offenses against herself the Church can pardon, but not offenses against God. Tetzel’s indulgences cannot open the door of Paradise, and they who believe in them believe in a lie, and unless they repent shall die in their sins.

In this Luther differed more widely from his Church than he was then aware of. She holds with Tetzel rather than with Luther. She not merely remits ecclesiastical censures, she pardons sin, and lifts off the wrath of God from the soul.

We have here a narrow stage but a great conflict. From the pulpit at Wittemberg is preached a free salvation. At Juterbock stands the red cross, where heaven is sold for money. Within a radius of a few miles is fought the same battle which is soon to cover the face of Christendom. The two systems—salvation by Christ and salvation by Rome—are here brought face to face; the one helps sharply to define the other, not in their doctrines only, but in their issues, the holiness which the one demands and the licentiousness which the other sanctions, that men may mark the contrast between the two, and make their choice between the Gospel of Wittemberg and the indulgence-market of Juterbock. Already Protestantism has obtained a territorial foothold, where it is unfurling its banner and enlisting disciples.

Tetzel went on with the sale of his indulgences, and Luther felt himself driven to more decisive measures. The Elector Frederick had lately built the castle-church of Wittemberg, and had spared neither labor nor money in collecting relics to enrich and beautify it. These relics, in their settings of gold and precious stones, the priests were accustomed to show to the people on the festival of All Saints, the 1st of November; and crowds came to Wittemberg to nourish their piety by the sight of the precious objects, and earn the indulgence offered to all who should visit the church on that day. The eve of the festival (October 31st) was now come. The street of Wittemberg was thronged with pilgrims. At the hour of noon, Luther, who had given no hint to any one of what he purposed, sallied forth, and joined the stream that was flowing to the castle-church, which stood close by the eastern gate. Pressing through the crowd, and drawing forth a paper, he proceeds to nail it upon the door of the church. The strokes of his hammer draw the crowd around him, and they begin eagerly to read. What is on the paper? It contains ninety-five “Theses” or propositions on the doctrine of indulgences. We select the following as comprehensive of the spirit and scope of the whole:

V. The Pope is unable and desires not to remit any other penalty than that which he has imposed of his own good pleasure, or conformably to the canons—that is, to the Papal ordinances.
VI. The Pope cannot remit any condemnation, but can only declare and confirm the remission that God himself has given, except only in cases that belong to him. If he does otherwise, the condemnation continues the same.
VIII. The laws of ecclesiastical penance can be imposed only on the living, and in no wise respect the dead.
XXI. The commissaries of indulgences are in error, when they say that by the Papal indulgence a man is delivered from every punishment and is saved.
XXV. The same power that the Pope has over purgatory in the Church at large, is possessed by every bishop and every curate in his own particular diocese and parish.
XXXII. Those who fancy themselves sure of salvation by indulgences will go to perdition along with those who teach them so. 411
XXXVII. Every true Christian, dead or living, is a partaker of all the blessings of Christ, or of the Church, by the gift of God, and without any letter of indulgence.
XXXVIII. Yet we must not despise the Pope’s distributive and pardoning power, for his pardon is a declaration of God’s pardon.
XLIX. We should teach Christians that the Pope’s indulgence is good if we put no confidence in it, but that nothing is more hurtful if it diminishes our piety.
L. We should teach Christians that if the Pope knew of the extortions of the preachers of indulgences, he would rather the Mother Church of St. Peter were burned and reduced to ashes, than see it built up with the skin, the flesh, and the bones of his flock.
LI. We should teach Christians that the Pope (as it is his duty) would distribute his own money to the poor, whom the indulgence-sellers are now stripping of their last farthing, even were he compelled to sell the Mother Church of St. Peter.
LII. To hope to be saved by indulgences is a lying and an empty hope, although even the commissary of indulgences—nay, further, the Pope himself—should pledge their souls to guarantee it.
LIII. They are the enemies of the Pope and of Jesus Christ who, by reason of the preaching of indulgences, forbid the preaching of the Word of God.
LXII. The true and precious treasure of the Church is the holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.
LXXVI. The Papal pardons cannot remit even the least of venal sins as regards the guilt.3

These propositions Luther undertook to defend next day in the university against all who might choose to impugn them. No one appeared.

In this paper Luther struck at more than the abuses of indulgences. Underneath was a principle subversive of the whole Papal system. In the midst of some remaining darkness—for he still reverences the Pope, believes in purgatory, and speaks of the merits of the saints—he preaches the Gospel of a free salvation. The “Theses” put God’s gift in sharp antagonism to the Pope’s gift. The one is free, the other has to be bought. God’s pardon does not need the Pope’s indorsement, but the Pope’s forgiveness, unless followed by God’s, is of no avail; it is a cheat, a delusion. Such is the doctrine of the “Theses.” That mightiest of all prerogatives, the power of pardoning sins and so of saving men’s souls, is taken from the “Church” and given back to God.

The movement is fairly launched. It is speeding on; it grows not by weeks only, but by hours and moments; but no one has yet estimated aright its power, or guessed where only it can find its goal. The hand that posted up these propositions cannot take them down. They are no longer Luther’s, they are mankind’s.

The news traveled rapidly. The feelings awakened were, of course, mixed, but in the main joyful. Men felt a relief—they were conscious of a burden taken from their hearts; and, though they could scarce say why, they were sure that a new day had dawned. In the homes of the people, and in the cell of many a monk even, there was joy. “While those,” says Mathesius, “who had entered the convents to seek a good table, a lazy life, or consideration and honor, heaped Luther’s name with revilings, those monks who lived in prayer, fasting, and mortification, gave thanks to God as soon as they heard the cry of that eagle which John Huss had foretold a century before.” The appearance of Luther gladdened the evening of the aged Reuchlin. He had had his own battles with the monks, and he was overjoyed when he saw an abler champion enter the lists to maintain the truth.

The verdict of Erasmus on the affair is very characteristic. The Elector of Saxony having asked him what he thought of it, the great scholar replied with his usual shrewdness, “Luther has committed two unpardonable crimes—he has attacked the Pope’s tiara, and the bellies of the monks.” There were others whose fears predominated over their hopes, probably from permitting their eyes to rest almost exclusively upon the difficulties.

The historian Kranz, of Hamburg, was on his death-bed when Luther’s “Theses” were brought to him. “Thou art right, brother Martin,” exclaimed he on reading them, “but thou wilt not succeed. Poor monk, hie thee to thy cell, and cry, ‘O God, have pity on me.’”4 An old priest of Hexter, in Westphalia, shook his head and exclaimed, “Dear brother Martin, if thou succeed in overthrowing this purgatory, and all these paper-dealers, truly thou art a very great gentleman.” But others, lifting their eyes higher, saw the hand of God in the affair. “At last,” said Dr. Fleck, prior of the monastery of Steinlausitz, who had for some time ceased to celebrate mass, “At last we have found the man we have waited for so long;” and, playing on the meaning of the word Wittemberg, he added, “All the world will go and seek wisdom on that mountain, and will find it.”

We step a moment out of the domain of history, to narrate a dream which the Elector Frederick of Saxony had on the night preceding the memorable day on which Luther affixed his “Theses” to the door of the castle-church.

The elector told it the next morning to his brother, Duke John, who was then residing with him at his palace of Schweinitz, six leagues from Wittemberg. The dream is recorded by all the chroniclers of the time. Of its truth there is no doubt, however we may interpret it. We cite it here as a compendious and dramatic epitome of the affair of the “Theses,” and the movement which grew out of them.

On the morning of the 31st October, 1517, the elector said to Duke John, “Brother, I must tell you a dream which I had last night, and the meaning of which I should like much to know. It is so deeply impressed on my mind, that I will never forget it, were I to live a thousand years. For I dreamed it thrice, and each time with new circumstances.”

Duke John: “Is it a good or a bad dream?”

The Elector: “I know not; God knows.”

Duke John: “Don’t be uneasy at it; but be so good as tell it to me.”

The Elector: “Having gone to bed last night, fatigued and out of spirits, I fell asleep shortly after my prayer, and slept calmly for about two hours and a half; I then awoke, and continued awake to midnight, all sorts of thoughts passing through my mind. Among other things, I thought how I was to observe the Feast of All Saints. I prayed for the poor souls in purgatory; and supplicated God to guide me, my counsels, and my people according to truth. I again fell asleep, and then dreamed that Almighty God sent me a monk, who was a true son of the Apostle Paul. All the saints accompanied him by order of God, in order to bear testimony before me, and to declare that he did not come to contrive any plot, but that all that he did was according to the will of God. They asked me to have the goodness graciously to permit him to write something on the door of the church of the Castle of Wittemberg. This I granted through my chancellor. Thereupon the monk went to the church, and began to write in such large characters that I could read the writing at Schweinitz. The pen which he used was so large that its end reached as far as Rome, where it pierced the ears of a lion that was crouching there, and caused the triple crown upon the head of the Pope to shake. All the cardinals and princes, running hastily up, tried to prevent it from falling. You and I, brother, wished also to assist, and I stretched out my arm;—but at this moment I awoke, with my arm in the air, quite amazed, and very much enraged at the monk for not managing his pen better. I recollected myself a little; it was only a dream.”

“I was still half asleep, and once more closed my eyes. The dream returned. The lion, still annoyed by the pen, began to roar with all his might, so much so that the whole city of Rome, and all the States of the Holy Empire, ran to see what the matter was. The Pope requested them to oppose this monk, and applied particularly to me, on account of his being in my country. I again awoke, repeated the Lord’s prayer, entreated God to preserve his Holiness, and once more fell asleep.”

“Then I dreamed that all the princes of the Empire, and we among them, hastened to Rome, and strove, one after another, to break the pen; but the more we tried the stiffer it became, sounding as if it had been made of iron. We at length desisted. I then asked the monk (for I was sometimes at Rome, and sometimes at Wittemberg) where he got this pen, and why it was so strong. ‘the pen,’ replied he, ‘belonged to an old goose of Bohemia, a hundred years old. I got it from one of my old schoolmasters. As to its strength, it is owing to the impossibility of depriving it of its pith or marrow; and I am quite astonished at it myself.’ Suddenly I heard a loud noise—a large number of other pens had sprung out of the long pen of the monk. I awoke a third time: it was daylight.”

Duke John: “Chancellor, what is your opinion? Would we had a Joseph, or a Daniel, enlightened by God!”

Chancellor: “Your highness knows the common proverb, that the dreams of young girls, learned men, and great lords have usually some hidden meaning. The meaning of this dream, however, we shall not be able to know for some time—not till the things to which it relates have taken place. Wherefore, leave the accomplishment to God, and place it fully in his hand.”

Duke John: “I am of your opinion, Chancellor; ‘tis not fit for us to annoy ourselves in attempting to discover the meaning. God will overrule all for his glory.”

Elector: “May our faithful God do so; yet I shall never forget, this dream. I have, indeed, thought of an interpretation, but I keep it to myself. Time, perhaps, will show if I have been a good diviner.”5

So passed the morning of the 31st October, 1517, in the royal castle of Schweinitz. The events of the evening at Wittemberg we have already detailed. The elector has hardly made an end of telling his dream when the monk comes with his hammer to interpret it.

Chapter 5.10: Luther Attacked By Tetzel, Prierio, And Eck

Consequences – Unforeseen by Luther – Rapid Dissemination of the “Theses” – Counter-Theses of Tetzel – Burned by the Students at Wittemberg – Sylvester, Master of the Sacred Palace, Attacks Luther – The Church All, the Bible Nothing – Luther Replies – Prierio again Attacks – Is Silenced by the Pope – Dr. Eck next Attacks – Is Discomfited

THE day on which the monk of Wittemberg posted up his “Theses,” occupies a distinguished place among the great days of history. It marks a new and grander starting-point in religion and liberty.1 The propositions of Luther preached to all Christendom that God does not sell pardon, but bestows it as a free gift on the ground of the death of his Son; the “Theses” in short were but an echo of the song sung by the angels on the plain of Bethlehem fifteen centuries before—“On earth peace: good-will to men.”

The world had forgotten that song: no wonder, seeing the Book that contains it had long been hidden. Taking God to be a hard task-master, who would admit no one into heaven unless he paid a great price, Christendom had groaned for ages under penances and expiatory works of self-righteousness. But the sound of Luther’s hammer was like that of the silver trumpet on the day of Jubilee: it proclaimed the advent of the year of release—the begun opening of the doors of that great prison-house in which the human soul had sat for ages and sighed in chains.

Luther acted without plan—so he himself afterwards confessed. He obeyed an impulse that was borne in upon him; he did what he felt it to be his duty at the moment, without looking carefully or anxiously along the line of consequences to see whether the blow might not fall on greater personages than Tetzel. His arm would have been unnerved, and the hammer would have fallen from his grasp, had he been told that its strokes would not merely scare away Tetzel and break up the market at Juterbock, but would resound through Christendom, and centuries after he had gone to his grave, would be sending back their echoes in the fall of hierarchies, and in the overthrow of that throne before which Luther was still disposed to bow as the seat of the Vicar of Christ.

Luther’s eye did not extend to these remote countries and times; he looked only at what was before him—the professors and students of the university; his flock in Wittemberg in danger of being ensnared; the crowd of pilgrims assembled to earn an indulgence—and to the neighboring towns and parts of Germany. These he hoped to influence.

But far beyond these modest limits was spread the fame of Luther’s “Theses.” They contained truth, and truth is light, and light must necessarily diffuse itself, and penetrate the darkness on every side. The “Theses” were found to be as applicable to Christendom as to Wittemberg, and as hostile to the great indulgence-market at Rome as to the little one at Juterbock. Now was seen the power of that instrumentality which God had prepared beforehand for this emergency—the printing-press. Copied with the hand, how slowly would these propositions have traveled, and how limited the number of persons who would have read them! But the printing-press, multiplying copies, sowed them like snow-flakes over Saxony. Other printing-presses set to work, and speedily there was no country in Europe where the “Theses” of the monk of Wittemberg were not as well known as in Saxony.

The moment of their publication was singularly opportune; pilgrims from all the surrounding States were then assembled at Wittemberg. Instead of buying an indulgence they bought Luther’s “Theses,” not one, but many copies, and carried them in their wallets to their own homes. In a fortnight these propositions were circulated over all Germany.2 They were translated into Dutch, and read in Holland; they were rendered into Spanish, and studied in the cities and universities of the Iberian peninsula. In a month they had made the tour of Europe.3 “It seemed,” to use the words of Myconius, “as if the angels had been their carriers.” Copies were offered for sale in Jerusalem. In four short weeks Luther’s tract had become a household book, and his name a household word in all Europe.

The “Theses” were the one topic of conversation everywhere—in all circles, and in all sorts of places. They were discussed by the learned in the universities, and by the monks in their cells.4 In the market-place, in the shop, and in the tavern, men paused and talked together of the bold act and the new doctrine of the monk of Wittemberg. A copy was procured and read by Leo X. in the Vatican.

The very darkness of the age helped to extend the circulation and the knowledge of the “Theses.” The man who kindles a bonfire on a mountain-top by day will have much to do to attract the eyes of even a single parish. He who kindles his signal amid the darkness of night will arouse a whole kingdom. This last was what Luther had done. He had lighted a great fire in the midst of the darkness of Christendom, and far and wide over distant realms was diffused the splendor of that light; and men, opening their eyes on the sudden illumination that was brightening the sky, hailed the new dawn.

No one was more surprised at the effects produced than Luther himself. That a sharp discussion should spring up in the university; that the convents and colleges of Saxony should be agitated; that some of his friends should approve and others condemn, was what he had anticipated; but that all Christendom should be shaken as by an earthquake, was an issue he had never dreamed of. Yet this was what had happened. The blow he had dealt had loosened the foundations of an ancient and venerable edifice, which had received the reverence of many preceding generations, and his own reverence among the rest. It was now that he saw the full extent of the responsibility he had incurred, and the formidable character of the opposition he had provoked. His friends were silent, stunned by the suddenness and boldness of the act. He stood alone. He had thrown down the gage, and he could not now decline the battle. That battle was mustering on every side. Still he did not repent of what he had done. He was prepared to stand by the doctrine of his “Theses.” He looked upward.

Tetzel by this time had broken up his encampment at Juterbock—having no more sins to pardon and no more money to gather—and had gone to the wealthier locality of Frankfort-on-the-Oder. He had planted the red cross and the iron box on one of the more fashionable promenades of the city. Thither the rumor of the Wittemberg “Theses” followed him. He saw at a glance the mischief the monk had done him, and made a show of fight after his own fashion. Full of rage, he kindled a great fire, and as he could not burn Luther in person he burned his “Theses.” This feat accomplished, he rubbed up what little theology he knew, and attempted a reply to the doctor of Wittemberg in a set of counter-propositions. They were but poor affairs. Among them were the following:

III. “Christians should be taught that the Pope, in the plenitude of his power, is superior to the universal Church, and superior to Councils; and that entire submission is due to his decrees.”

IV. “Christians should be taught that the Pope alone has the right to decide in questions of Christian doctrine; that he alone, and no other, has power to explain, according to his judgment, the sense of Holy Scripture, and to approve or condemn the words and works of others.” V. “Christians should be taught that the judgment of the Pope, in things pertaining to Christian doctrine, and necessary to the salvation of mankind, can in no case err.”

XVII. “Christians should be taught that there are many things which the Church regards as certain articles of the Catholic faith, although they are not found either in the inspired Scripture or in the earlier Fathers.”5

There is but one doctrine taught in Tetzel’s “Theses”—the Pontifical supremacy, namely; and there is but one duty enjoined—absolute submission. At the feet of the Pope are to be laid the Holy Scriptures, the Fathers, human reason. The man who is not prepared to make this surrender deserves to do penance in the fire which Tetzel had kindled. So thought the Pope’s vendor of pardons.

The proceeding of Tetzel at Frankfort soon came to the knowledge of the students of Wittemberg. They espoused with more warmth than was needed the cause of their professor. They bought a bundle of Tetzel’s “Theses” and publicly burned them. Many of the citizens were present, and gave unmistakable signs, by their laughter and hootings, of the estimation in which they held the literary and theological attainments of the renowned indulgence-monger. Luther knew nothing of the matter. The proceedings savored too much of Rome’s method of answering an opponent to find favor in his eyes. When informed of it, he said that really it was superfluous to kindle a pile to consume a document, the extravagance and absurdity of which would alone have effected its extinction.

But soon abler antagonists entered the lists. The first to present himself was Sylvester Mazzolini, of Prierio. He was Master of the Sacred Palace at Rome, and discharged the office of censor. Stationed on the watch-tower of Christendom, this man had it in charge to say what books were to be circulated, and what were to be suppressed; what doctrines Christians were to believe, and what they were not to believe. Protestant liberty, claiming freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom of printing, came at this early stage into immediate conflict with Roman despotism, which claimed absolute control over the mind, the tongue, and the pen. The monk of Wittemberg, who nails his “Theses” on the church door in the open day, encounters the Papal censor, who blots out every line that is not in agreement with the Papacy.6

The controversy between Luther and Prierio, as raised by the latter, turned on “the rule of faith.” Surely it was not altogether of chance that this fundamental point was debated at this early stage. It put in a clear light the two very different foundations on which Protestantism and the Papacy respectively stood.

Prierio’s performance took the form of a dialogue. He laid down certain great principles touching the constitution of the Church, the authority vested in it, and the obedience due by all Christians to that authority.7 The universal Church essentially, said Prierio, is a congregation for worship of all believers; virtually it is the Roman Church; representatively it is the college of cardinals; concentratively and organically it is the supreme Pontiff, who is the head of the Church, but in a different sense from Christ. Further he maintained that, as the Church universal cannot err in determining questions pertaining to faith and morals, neither can the organs through which the Church elaborates and expresses its decisions—the Councils and the supreme Pontiff—err.8 These principles he applied practically, thus: “Whoever does not rely on the teaching of the Roman Church and of the Roman Pontiff, as the infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scriptures themselves derive their strength and their authority, is a heretic.”

It is curious to note that already, in this first exchange of arguments between Protestantism and the Papacy, the controversy was narrowed to this one great question: Whom is man to believe, God or the Church?—in other words, have we a Divine or a human foundation for our faith? The Bible is the sole infallible authority, said the men of Wittemberg. No, said this voice from the Vatican, the sole infallible authority is the Church. The Bible is a dead letter. Not a line of it can men understand: its true sense is utterly beyond their apprehension. In the Church—that is, in the priests—is lodged the power of infallibly perceiving the true sense of Scripture, and of revealing it to Christians. Thus there are two Bibles. Here is the one a book, a dead letter; a body without living spirit or living voice; practically of no use. Here is the other, a living organization, in which dwells the Holy Spirit. The one is a written Bible: the other is a developed Bible. The one was completed and finished eighteen hundred years since: the other has been growing with the ages; it has been coming into being through the decisions of Councils, the rules of canonists, and the edicts of Popes. Councils have discussed and deliberated; interpreters and canonists have toiled; Popes have legislated, speaking as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance; and, as the product of all these minds and of all these ages, you have now the Bible—the deposit of the faith—the sole infallible authority to which men are to listen. The written book was the original seed; but the Church—that is, the hierarchy—is the stem which has sprung from it. The Bible is now a dead husk; the living tree which has grown out of it—the fully rounded and completely developed body of doctrine, now before the world in the Church—is the only really useful and authoritative revelation of God, and the one infallible rule by which it is his will that men should walk. The Master of the Sacred Palace deposited the germ of this line of argument. Subsequent Popish polemics have more fully developed the argument, and given it the form into which we have thrown it.

Prierio’s doctrine was unchallengeably orthodox at the Vatican, for the meridian of which it was calculated. At Wittemberg his tractate read like a bitter satire on the Papacy. Luther thought, or affected to think, that an enemy had written it, and had given it on purpose this extravagant loftiness, in order to throw ridicule and contempt over the prerogatives of the Papal See. He said that he recognized in this affair the hand of Ulric von Hutten—a knight, whose manner it was to make war on Rome with the shafts of wit and raillery.

But Luther soon saw that he must admit the real authorship, and answer this attack from the foot of the Papal throne. Prierio boasted that he had spent only three days over his performance: Luther occupied only two in his reply. The doctor of Wittemberg placed the Bible of the living God over against the Bible of Prierio, as the foundation of men’s faith. The fundamental position taken in his answer was expressed in the words of Holy Writ: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” Prierio had centered all the faith, obedience, and hopes of men in the Pope: Luther places them on that Rock which is Christ. Thus, with every day, and with each new antagonist, the true nature of the controversy, and the momentous issues which it had raised, were coming more clearly and broadly into view.

Prierio, who deemed it impossible that a Master of the Sacred Palace could be vanquished by a German monk, wrote a reply. This second performance was even more indiscreet than his first. The Pope’s prerogative he aimed at exalting to even a higher pitch than before; and he was so ill-advised as to found it on that very extraordinary part of the canon law which forbids any one to stop the Pope, or to admit the possibility of his erring, though he should be found on the high road to perdition, and dragging the whole world after him.9 The Pope, finding that Sylvester’s replies were formidable only to the Papacy, enjoined silence upon the too zealous champion of Peter’s See.10 As regarded Leo himself, he took the matter more coolly than the master of his palace. There had been noisy monks in all ages, he reflected; the Papacy had not therefore fallen. Moreover, it was but a feeble echo of the strife that reached him in the midst of his statues, gardens, courtiers, and courtesans. He even praised the genius of brother Martin;11 for Leo could pardon a little truth, it spoken wittily and gracefully. Then, thinking that he had bestowed too much praise on the Germans, he hinted that the wine-cup may have quickened the wit of the monk, and that his pen would be found less vigorous when the fumes of the liquor had subsided, as they would soon do.

Scarcely had Prierio been disposed of, when another combatant started up. This was Hochstraten, an inquisitor at Cologne. This disputant belonged to an order unhappily more familiar with the torch than with the pen; and it was not long till Hochstraten showed that his fingers, unused to the one, itched to grasp the other. He lost his temper at the very outset, and called for a scaffold. If, replied Luther, nothing daunted by this threat, it is the faggot that is to decide the controversy, the sooner I am burned the better, otherwise the monks may have cause to rue it.

Yet another opponent! The first antagonist of Luther came from the Roman Curia; the second from monachism; he who now appears, the third, is the representative of the schools. This was Dr. Eck, professor of scholastic theology at Ingolstadt.12 He rose up in the fullness of his erudition and of his fame, to extinguish the monk of Wittemberg, although he had but recently contracted a friendship with him, cemented by an interchange of letters. Though a scholar, the professor of Ingolstadt did not account it beneath him to employ abuse, and resort to insinuation. “It is the Bohemian poison which you are circulating,” said he to Luther, hoping to awaken against him the old prejudice which still animated the Germans against Huss and the Reformers of Bohemia. So far as Eck condescended to argue, his weapons, taken from the Aristotelian armory, were adapted for a scholastic tournament only; they were useless in a real battle, like that in which he now engaged. They were speedily shivered in his hand. “Would you not hold it impudence,” asked Luther, meeting Dr. Eck on his own ground, “in one to maintain, as a part of the philosophy of Aristotle, what one found it impossible to prove Aristotle had ever taught? You grant it. It is the most impudent of all impudence to affirm that to be a part of Christianity which Christ never taught.”

The doctor of Ingolstadt sank into silence. One after another the opponents of the Reformer retire from Luther’s presence discomfited. First, the Master of the Sacred Palace advances against the monk, confident of crushing him by the weight of the Pope’s authority. “The Pope is but a man, and may err,” says Luther, as with quiet touch he demolishes the mock infallibility: “God is truth, and cannot err.” Next comes the Inquisitor, with his hints that there is such an institution as the “Holy Office” for convincing those whom nothing else can. Luther laughs these threats to scorn. Last of all appears the doctor, clad in the armor of the schools, who shares the fate of his predecessors. The secret of Luther’s strength they do not know, but it is clear that all their efforts to overcome it can but advertise men that Roman infallibility is a quicksand, and that the hopes of the human heart can repose in safety nowhere, save on the Eternal Rock.

Chapter 5.11: Luther’s Journey To Augsburg

Luther Advances – Eyes of the Curia begin to Open – Luther Cited to Rome – University of Wittemberg Intercedes for him – Cajetan Deputed to Try the Cause in Germany – Character of Cajetan – Cause Prejudged – Melancthon – Comes to Wittemberg – His Genius – Yoke-fellows – Luther Departs for Augsburg – Journey on Foot – No Safe-conduct – Myconius – A Borrowed Coat – Prognostications – Arrives at Augsburg

THE eyes of the Pope and the adherents of the Papacy now began to open to the real importance of the movement inaugurated at Wittemberg. They had regarded it slightingly, almost contemptuously, as but a quarrel amongst that quarrelsome generation the monks, which had broken out in a remote province of their dominions, and which would speedily subside and leave Rome unshaken. But, so far from dying out, the movement was every day deepening its seat and widening its sphere; it was allying itself with great spiritual and moral forces; it was engendering new thoughts in the minds of men; already a phalanx of disciples, created and continually multiplied by its own energies, stood around it, and, unless speedily checked, the movement would work, they began to fear, the downfall of their system.

Every day Luther was making a new advance. His words were winged arrows, his sermons were lightning-flashes, they shed a blaze all around: there was an energy in his faith which set on fire the souls of men, and he had a wonderful power to evoke sympathy, and to win confidence. The common people especially loved and respected him. Many cheered him on because he opposed the Pope, but not a few because he dealt out to them that Bread for which their souls had long hungered.

His “Theses” had been mistaken or misrepresented by ignorant or prejudiced persons; he resolved to explain them in clearer language. He now published what he styled his “Resolutions,” in which, with admirable moderation and firmness, he softens the harder and lights up the darker parts of his “Theses,” but retracts nothing of their teaching.

In this new publication he maintains that every true penitent possesses God’s forgiveness, and has no need to buy an indulgence; that the stock of merit from which indulgences are dispensed is a pure chimera, existing only in the brain of the indulgence-monger; that the power of the Pope goes no farther than to enable him to declare the pardon which God has already bestowed, and that the rule of faith is the Holy Scriptures. These statements were the well-marked stages the movement had already attained. The last especially, the sole infallible authority of the Bible, was a reformation in itself—a seed from which must spring a new system. Rome, at this crisis, had need to be decided and prompt; she strangely vacillated and blundered. Leo X. was a skeptic, and skepticism is fatal to earnestness and rigor. The Emperor Maximilian was more alive to the danger that impended over the Papal See than Leo. He was nearer the cradle of the movement, and beheld with dismay the spread of the Lutheran doctrines in his own dominions. He wrote energetically, if mayhap he might rouse the Pope, who was slumbering in his palace, careless of everything save his literary and artistic treasures, while this tempest was gathering over him. The Diet of the Empire was at that moment (1518) sitting at Augsburg. The emperor sought to inflame the members, of the Diet by pronouncing a furious philippic against Luther, including the patrons and defenders whom the Reformer had found among the powerful. The Elector Frederick of Saxony was especially meant. It helped to augment the chagrin of the emperor, that mainly through the influence of Frederick he had been thwarted in carrying a project through the Diet, on which he was much set as tending to the aggrandizement of his dynasty—the election of his grandson, the future Charles V., to succeed him in the Empire. But if Frederick herein did the emperor a disfavor, he won for himself greater consideration at the court of the Pope, for there were few things that Leo X. dreaded more than the union of half the scepters of Europe in one hand. Meanwhile the energetic letter of Maximilian was not without effect, and it was resolved to lay vigorous hold upon the Wittemberg movement. On the 7th August, 1518, Luther was summoned to answer at Rome, within sixty days, to the charges preferred against him.1 To have gone to Rome would have been to march into his grave. But the peril of staying was scarcely less than the peril of going. He would be condemned as contumacious, and the Pope would follow up the excommunication by striking him, if not with his own hand, with that of the emperor. The powers of earth, headed by the King of the Seven Hills, were rising up against Luther. He had no visible defense—no acknowledged protector. There seemed no escape for the unbefriended monk.

The University of Wittemberg, of which Luther was the soul, made earnest intercession for him at the court of the Vatican,2 dwelling with special emphasis upon the unsuspected character of his doctrine, and the blameless manners of his life, not reflecting, apparently, how little weight either plea would carry in the quarter where it was urged. A more powerful intercessor was found for Luther in the Elector Frederick, who pleaded that it was a right of the Germans to have all ecclesiastical questions decided upon their own soil, and urged in accordance therewith that some fit person should be deputed to hear the cause in Germany, mentioning at the same time his brother-elector, the Archbishop of Treves, as one every way qualified to discharge this office. The peril was passed more easily than could have been anticipated. The Pope remembered that Frederick of Saxony had done him a service at the Diet of Augsburg, and he thought it not improbable that he might need his good offices in the future. And, further, his legate-a-latere, now in Germany, was desirous to have the adjudication of Luther’s case, never doubting that he should be able to extinguish heresy in Germany, and that the glory of such a work would compensate for his mortification at the Diet of Augsburg, where, having failed to engage the princes in a war against the Turk, he was consequently without a pretext for levying a tax upon their kingdoms. The result was that the Pope issued a brief, on the 23rd of August, empowering his legate, Cardinal de Vio, to summon Luther before him, and pronounce judgment in his case.3 Leo, while appearing to oblige both Frederick and the cardinal, did not show all his hand. This transference of the cause to Germany was but another way, the Pope hoped, of bringing Luther to Rome.

Thomas de Vio, Cardinal St. Sixti, but better known as Cardinal Cajetan, cited the doctor of Wittemberg to appear before him at Augsburg. The man before whom Luther was now about to appear was born (1469) at Gaeta, a frontier town of the Neapolitan kingdom, to which events in the personal history of a subsequent Pope (Pius IX.) long afterwards gave some little notoriety. He belonged to the Dominican order, and was, moreover, a warm admirer and a zealous defender of the scholastic philosophy. The cardinal’s manners were suave to a degree, but his spirit was stern. Beneath a polished, courtly, and amiable exterior, there lurked the Dominican. His talents, his learning, and his fame for sanctity made him one of the most distinguished members of the Sacred College. His master, the Pope, reposed great confidence in him, and he merited it; for De Vie was a sincere believer in all the dogmas of the Church, even in the gross forms into which they now began to develop; and no one placed the Papal prerogatives higher, or was prepared to do stouter battle for them, than he. Cardinal Cajetan took his place on the judgment-seat with much pomp, for he held firmly by the maxim that legates are above kings; but he sat there, not to investigate Luther’s cause, but, to receive his unqualified and unconditional submission. The cause, as we shall afterwards see, was already decided in the highest quarter. The legate’s instructions were brief but precise, and were to this effect: that he should compel the monk to retract; and, failing this, that he should shut him up in safe custody till the Pope should be pleased to send for him.4 This was as much as to say, “Send him in chains to Rome.”

We must pause here, and relate an episode which took place just as Luther was on the point of setting out for Augsburg, and which, from a small beginning, grew into most fruitful consequences to the Reformation, and to Luther personally. A very few days before Luther’s departure to appear before the cardinal, Philip Melancthon arrived at Wittemberg, to fill the Greek chair in its university.5 He was appointed to this post by the Elector Frederick, having been strongly recommended by the famous Reuchlin.6 His fame had preceded him, and his arrival was awaited with no little expectations by the Wittemberg professors. But when he appeared amongst them, his exceedingly youthful appearance, his small figure, his shy manners, and diffident air, but ill corresponded with their preconceptions of him. They looked for nothing great from their young professor of Greek. But they did not know as yet the treasure they had found; and little especially did Luther dream what this modest, shrinking young man was to be to him in after-days.

In a day or two the new professor delivered his inaugural lecture, and then it was seen what a great soul was contained in that small body. He poured forth, in elegant Latintry, a stream of deep, philosophical, yet luminous thought, which delighted all who listened, and won their hearts, as well as compelled the homage of their intellects. Melancthon displayed in his address a knowledge so full, and a judgment so sound and ripened, combined with an eloquence of such grace and power, that all felt that he would make for himself a great name, and extend the fame of their university. This young scholar was destined to do all this, and a great deal more.7

We must devote a few sentences to his previous life—he was now only twenty-one. Melancthon was the son of a master armourer in Bretten in the Palatinate. His birth took place on February 14th, 1497. His father, a pious and worthy man, died when he was eleven years of age, and his education was cared for by his maternal grandfather.8 His disposition was as gentle as his genius was beautiful, and from his earliest years the clearness and strength of his understanding made the acquisition of knowledge not only easy to him, but an absolute pleasure. His training was conducted first under a tutor, next at the public school of Pforzheim, and lastly at the University of Heidelberg,9 where he took his bachelor’s degree at fourteen. It was about this time that he changed his name from the German Schwartzerd to the Greek Melancthon.10 The celebrated Reuchlin was a relation of his family, and charmed with his genius, and his fondness for the Greek tongue, he presented him with a Greek grammar and a Bible: two books which were to be the study of his life.11

Luther now stood on the threshold of his stormy career. He needed a companion, and God placed Melancthon by his side. These two were the complement the one of the other; united, they formed a complete Reformer. In the one we behold a singular assemblage of all the lovelier qualities, in the other an equally singular combination of all the stronger. The gentleness, the timidity, the perspicacity of Melancthon were the companion graces of the strength, the courage, the passionate energy of Luther. It doubled the working powers of each for both to draw in the same yoke. Genius alone would have knit them into friendship, but they found a yet more sacred bond in their love of the Gospel. From the day that the two met at Wittemberg there was a new light in the heart of Luther, a new force in the movement of the Reformation.

As at the beginning of Christianity, so was it now as regards the choice of instruments by whom the work of reforming, as before of planting, the Church, was to be done. From no academy of Greek philosophy, from no theater of Roman eloquence, from no school of Jewish learning were the first preachers of the Gospel taken. These bottles were too full of the old wine of human science to receive the new wine of heavenly wisdom. To the hardy and unlettered fishermen of Galilee was the call addressed, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

All the leading Reformers, without exception, were of lowly birth. Luther first saw the light in a miner’s cottage; Calvin was the grandson of a cooper in Picardy; Knox was the son of a plain burgess of a Scottish provincial town; Zwingle was born in a shepherd’s hut in the Alps; and Melancthon was reared in the workshop of an armourer. Such is God’s method. It is a law of the Divine working to accomplish mighty results by weak instruments. In this way God glorifies himself, and afterwards glorifies his servants.

We return to the scenes which we recently left. Luther departed, amid the trembling of his friends, to appear before the Legate of Rome. He might be waylaid on the road, or his journey might end in a Roman dungeon. Luther himself did not share these apprehensions. He set out with intrepid heart. It was a long way to Augsburg, and it had all to be gone on foot, for whatever the conflict had brought the monk, it had not brought him wealth. The Elector Frederick, however, gave him money for his journey,12 but not a safe-conduct.13 This last, he said, was unnecessary. The fate of John Huss, which many called to mind, did not justify his confidence.

On September 28th, our traveler reached Weimar, and lodged in the convent of the Bare-footed friars. A young inmate of the monastery, who had already received Luther’s doctrine into his heart, sat gazing upon him, but durst not speak to him. This was Myconius.14 The Cordeliers were not favorably disposed to their guest’s opinions, and yet one of their number, John Kestner, the purveyor, believing that Luther was going to his death, could not help expressing his sympathy. “Dear brother,” he said, “in Augsburg you will meet with Italians, who are learned men, but more likely to burn you than to answer you.”15 “Pray to God, and to his dear Son Jesus Christ,” replied Luther, “whose cause it is, to uphold it for me.” Luther here met the elector, who was returning from Augsburg, and at his request preached before the court on St. Michael’s day, but said not a word, as was remarked, in praise of the saint.

From Weimar, Luther pursued his way, still on foot, to Nuremberg. Here he was welcomed by warm friends. Among these were the illustrious painter and sculptor, Albert Durer, Wenceslaus Link, monk and preacher, and others. Nuremberg had formerly enjoyed an enriching trade; it was still famous for the skill of its artists; nor were letters neglected, and the independence of mind thus engendered had led to the early reception of Luther’s doctrines within it. Many came to see him, but when they found that he was traveling without a safe-conduct, they could not conceal their fears that he would never return from Augsburg. They tried to dissuade him from going farther, but to these counsels Luther refused to listen. No thoughts of danger could alter his purpose or shake his courage. “Even at Augsburg,” wrote he, “in the midst of his enemies, Christ reigns. May Christ live, may Luther die: may the God of my salvation be exalted.”

There was one favor, however, which Luther did not disdain to accept at the hands of his friends in Nuremberg. His frock, not the newest or freshest when he started from Wittemberg, by the time he reached the banks of the Pegnitz bore but too plain marks of his long journey, and his friends judged that it was not fit to appear in before the legate. They therefore attired him in a frock belonging to his friend Link. On foot, and in a borrowed cloak, he went on his way to appear before a prince of the Church, but the serge of Luther was more sublime than the purple and fine linen of De Vio.

Link and another friend accompanied him, and on the evening of October 7th they entered the gates of Augburg, and took up their abode at the Augustine monastery. On the morrow he sent Link to notify his arrival to the cardinal.

Had Luther come a few weeks earlier he would have found Augsburg crowded with princes and counts, among whom would have been found some willing to defend him; but now all had taken their departure, the Diet being at an end, and no one remained save the Roman Legate, whose secret purpose it was that Luther should unconditionally submit, or otherwise never depart alive out of those gates within which, to De Vio’s delight, he had now entered.

Chapter 5.12: Luther’s Appearance Before Cardinal Cajetan

Urban of Serra Longa – His Interview with Luther – Revoco – Non-Revoco – A Safe-Conduct – Luther and the Papal Legate Face to Face – Luther Breaks Silence – Doctrines to be Retracted – Refusal – Second Interview – Discussion on the Sacrament and Indulgences – Luther takes his Stand on Scripture – Third Interview – Luther Reads Statement of his Views – The Legate’s Haughtiness – The Difference Irreconcilable

A LITTLE melodrama preceded the serious part of the business. Early on the day after Luther’s arrival, an Italian courtier, Urban of Serra Longa—a creature of the cardinal’s, though he took care not to say so—presented himself at the door of the monastery where Luther lodged. He made unbounded professions of friendship for the doctor of Wittemberg, and had come, he said, to give him a piece of advice before appearing in the presence of De Vio. A greater contrast it is impossible to imagine than that between the smiling, bowing, and voluble Italian, and the bluff but honest German.

The advice of Urban was expressed in a single word—“Submit. Surely he had not come this long way to break a lance with the cardinal: of course he had not. He spoke, he presumed, to a wise man.”

Luther hinted that the matter was not so plain as his adviser took it to be. “Oh,” continued the Italian, with a profusion of politeness., “I understand: you have posted up ‘theses;’ you have preached sermons, you have sworn oaths; but three syllables, just six letters, will do the business—Revoco.”

“If I am convinced out of the Sacred Scriptures,” rejoined Luther, “that I have erred, I shall be but too glad to retract.”

The Italian Urban opened his eyes somewhat widely when he heard the monk appeal to a Book which had long ceased to be read or believed in at the metropolis of Christendom. But surely, he thought, Luther will not be so fanatical as to persist in putting the authority of the Bible in opposition to that of the Pope; and so the courtier continued.

“The Pope,” he said, “can by a single nod change or suppress articles of faith,1 and surely you must feel yourself safe when you have the Pope on your side, more especially when emolument, position, and life might all lie on your coming to the same conclusion with his Holiness.” He exhorted him not to lose a moment in tearing down his “Theses” and recalling his oaths.

Urban of Serra Longa had overshot the mark. Luther found it necessary to tell him yet more plainly that the thing was impossible, unless the cardinal should convince him by arguments drawn from the Word of God that he had taught false doctrine.

That a single monk, nay, that a whole army of monks should stand up to contest a matter with Rome, appeared to the supple Italian an astounding prodigy. The thing was incomprehensible to him. The doctor of Wittemberg appeared to the courtier a man bent on his own ruin. “What!” continued the Italian, “do you imagine that any princes or lords will protect you against the Holy See? What support can you have? Where will you remain?”

“I shall still have heaven,” answered Luther.2 Luther saw through this man’s disguise, despite his craft, and his protestations of regard, and perceived him to be an emissary of the legate, sent to sound and it might be to entrap him. He therefore became more reserved, and dismissed his loquacious visitor with the assurance that he would show all humility when he appeared before the cardinal, and would retract what was proved to be erroneous. Thereupon Urban, promising to return and conduct him into the legate’s presence, went back to the man from whom he had come, to tell him how he had failed in his errand.

Augsburg was one of the chief cities of the Empire, and Luther was encouraged by finding that even here his doctrines had made considerable way. Many of the more honorable councilors of the city waited upon him, invited him to their tables, inquired into his matters; and when they learned that he had come to Augsburg without a safe-conduct, they could not help expressing their astonishment at his boldness—“a gentle name,” said Luther, “for rashness.” These friends with one accord entreated him on no account to venture into the legate’s presence without a safe-conduct, and they undertook to procure one for him from the emperor, who was still in the neighborhood hunting. Luther deemed it prudent to follow their advice; they knew De Vio better than he did, and their testimony regarding him was not assuring. Accordingly, when Urban returned to conduct him to the audience of the cardinal, Luther had to inform him that he must first obtain a safe-conduct. The Italian affected to ridicule the idea of such a thing; it was useless; it would spoil all; the legate was gentleness itself. “Come,” he urged, “come, and let us have the matter settled off-hand; one little word will do it,” he repeated, imagining that he had found a spell before which all difficulties must give way; “one little word—Revoco.” But Luther was immovable: “Whenever I have a safe-conduct I shall appear.” The grimacing Italian was compelled to put up with his repulse, and, biting his finger,3 he returned to tell the legate that his mission had sped even worse the second than the first time.

At length a safe-conduct was obtained, and the 11th of October was fixed for Luther’s appearance before De Vio. Dr. Link, of Nuremberg, and some other friends, accompanied him to the palace of the legate. On his entrance the Italian courtiers crowded round him, eager to have “a peep at the Erostratus who had kindled such a conflagration.” Many pressed in after him to the hall of audience, to be the witnesses of his submission, for however courageous at Wittemberg, they never doubted that the monk would be pliant enough when he stood before the Roman purple.

The customary ceremonies over, a pause ensued. The monk and the cardinal looked at each other in silence: Luther because, having been cited, he expected Cajetan to speak first; and the cardinal because he deemed it impossible that Luther would appear in his presence with any other intention than that of retracting. He was to find that in this he was mistaken.

It was a moment of supreme interest. The new age now stood face to face with the old. Never before had the two come into such close contact. There sat the old, arrayed in the purple and other insignia of an ancient and venerable authority: there stood the new, in a severe simplicity, as befitted a power which had come to abolish an age of ceremony and form, and bring in one of spirit and life. Behind the one was seen a long vista of receding centuries, with their traditions, their edicts, and their Popes. Behind the other came a future, which was as yet a “sealed book,” for the opening of which all men now waited—some in terror, others in hope; but all in awe, no one knowing what that future might bring, and the boldest not daring to imagine even the half of what it was destined to bring—the laws it was to change; the thrones and altars it was to cast down; the kingdoms it was to overturn, breaking in pieces the strong, and lifting up the weak to dominion and glory. No wonder that these two powers, when brought for the first time into the immediate presence of each other, paused before opening a conflict from which issues so vast were to spring.

Finding that the legate still kept silence, Luther spoke: “Most worthy Father, in obedience to the summons of his Papal Holiness, and in compliance with the orders of my gracious Lord the Elector of Saxony, I appear before you as a submissive and dutiful son of the Holy Christian Church, and acknowledge that I have published the propositions and theses ascribed to me. I am ready to listen most obediently to my accusation, and if I have erred, to submit to instruction in the truth.” These words were the first utterance of the Reformation before a bar where in after-times its voice was to be often heard.

De Vio thought this an auspicious commencement. A submission was not far off. So, putting on a very gracious air, and speaking with condescending kindness, he said that he had only three things to ask of his dear son: first, that he would retract his errors; secondly, that he would abstain in future from promulgating his opinions; and thirdly, that he would avoid whatever might tend to disturb the peace of the Church.4 The proposal, with a little more circumlocution, was precisely that which his emissary had already presented—“Retract.”

Luther craved that the Papal brief might be read, in virtue of which the legate had full powers to treat of this matter.

The courtiers opened their eyes in astonishment at the monk’s boldness; but the cardinal, concealing his anger, intimated with a wave of his hand that this request could not be granted.

“Then,” replied Luther, “deign, most reverend Father, to point out to me wherein I have erred.” The courtiers were still more astonished, but Cajetan remained unruffled. The legate took up the “Theses” of Luther: “Observe,” said he, “in the seventh proposition you deny that the Sacrament can profit one unless he has faith; and in your fifty-eighth proposition you deny that the merits of Christ form part of that treasure from which the Pope grants indulgences to the faithful.”5

These both were heinous errors in the estimation of Rome. The power of regenerating men by the opus operatum—that is, the simple giving of the Sacrament to them, irrespective altogether of the disposition of the recipient—is a mighty power, and invests her clergy with boundless influence. If, by the mere performance or the non-performance of a certain act, they can save men or can destroy men, there is no limit to the obedience they may exact, and no limit to the wealth that will flow in upon them. And so of indulgences. If the Pope has a treasury of infinite merit on which he can draw for the pardon of men’s sins, all will come to him, and will pay him his price, how high soever he may choose to fix it. But explode these two dogmas; prove to men that without faith, which is the gift not of the Pope but of God, the Sacrament is utterly without efficacy—an empty sign, conferring neither grace now nor meetness for heaven hereafter—and that the Pope’s treasury of inexhaustible merits is a pure fiction; and who after that will bestow a penny in buying Sacraments which contain no grace, and purchasing pardons which convey no forgiveness?

This was precisely what Luther had done. His “Theses” had broken the spell which opened to Rome the wealth of Europe. She saw at a glance the whole extent of the damage: her markets forsaken, her wares unsaleable, and the streams of gold which had flowed to her from all countries dried up. Cardinal Cajetan, therefore, obeying instructions from head-quarters, put his finger upon those two most damaging points of the “Theses,” and demanded of Luther an unconditional retractation of them. “You must revoke both these errors,” said De Vio, “and embrace the true doctrine of the Church.”

“That the man who receives the holy Sacrament must have faith in the grace offered him,” said Luther, “is a truth I never can and never will revoke.”

“Whether you will or no,” returned the legate, getting angry, “I must have your recantation this very day, or for this one error I shall condemn all your propositions.”

“But,” replied the professor of Wittemberg, with equal decision, though with great courteousness, “I demand proof from Scripture that I am wrong; it is on Scripture that my views rest.”

But no proof from Scripture could the Reformer get. The cardinal could only repeat the common-places of Rome, re-affirm the doctrine of the opus operatum, and quote one of the Extravagants of Clement VI.6 Luther, indignant at seeing what stress the legate laid on a Papal decree, exclaimed, “I cannot admit any such constitution in proof of matters so weighty as those in debate. These interpretations put Scripture to the torture.” “Do you not know,” rejoined De Vio, “that the Pope has authority and power over these things?” “Save Scripture,” said Luther eagerly.

“Scripture!” said the cardinal derisively, “the Pope is above Scripture, and above Councils.7 Know you not that he has condemned and punished the Council of Basle?” “But,” responded Luther, “the University of Paris has appealed.” “And the Parisian gentlemen,” said De Vio, “will pay the penalty.”

Luther saw plainly that at this rate they would never arrive at a settlement of the matter. The legate sat in state, treating the man before him with affected condescension, but real contempt. When Luther quoted Scripture in proof of his doctrine, the only answer he received from the cardinal webs a shrug of his shoulders, or a derisive laugh. The legate, despite his promise to reason the matter out on the foundation of the Word of God, would not, or perhaps could not, meet Luther on that ground.8 He kept exclusively by the decretals and the schoolmen. Glad, perhaps, to escape for the present from a controversy which was not so manageable as he had hoped to find it, he offered to give the doctor of Wittemberg a day for deliberation, but intimated at the same time that he would accept of nothing but a retractation. So ended the first interview.

On returning to his convent his delight was great to find his valued friend Staupitz, the Vicar-General of the Augustines, who had followed him to Augsburg, in the hope of being serviceable to him at this crisis. On the morning when Luther returned to his second interview with the cardinal, the Vicar-General and four imperial councilors accompanied him, along with many other friends, a notary, and witnesses. After the customary obeisance, Luther read a paper, protesting that he honored and followed the Holy Roman Church; that he submitted himself to the judgment and determination of that Church; that he was ready here present to answer in writing whatever objection the legate of the Pope might produce against him; and, moreover, that he was willing to submit his “Theses” to the judgment of the Imperial Universities of Basle, Fribourg, and Louvain, and, if these were not enough, of Paris—from of old ever the most Christian, and in theology ever the most flourishing university.9

The legate evidently had some difficulty in knowing what to reply to these reasonable and manly proposals. He tried to conceal his embarrassment under an affected pity for the monk. “Leave off,” he said, in accents of great mildness, “these senseless counsels, and return to your sound mind. Retract, my son, retract.” Luther once more appealed to the authority of Scripture, but De Vio becoming somewhat ruffled, the conference ended, after Staupitz had craved and obtained leave for Luther to put his views in writing.10

At the third and last interview, the doctor of Wittemberg read a full statement of his views on all the points which had been under consideration. He maintained all his former positions, largely fortifying them by quotations from Augustine and other early Fathers, but more especially from Holy Writ.11 The cardinal could not help, even on the judgment-seat, displaying his irritation and chagrin. Drawing himself up in his robes, he received the “declaration” with a look of contempt, and pronounced it “mere words,” “a long phylactery;” but said that he would send the paper to Rome. Meanwhile the legate threatened him with the penalties enacted by the Pope unless he retracted.12 He offered Luther, somewhat earnestly, a safe-conduct, if he would go to Rome and there be judged. The Reformer knew what this meant. It was a safe-conduct to a dungeon somewhere in the precincts of the Vatican. The proffered favor was declined, much to the annoyance of De Vio, who thought, no doubt, that this was the best way of terminating an affair which had tarnished the Roman purple, but lent eclat to the monk’s serge.

This was a great crisis in the history of Protestantism, and we breathe more freely when we find it safely passed. Luther had not yet sounded the Papal dogmas to the bottom. He had not as yet those clear and well-defined views to which fuller investigation conducted him. He still believed the office of Pope to be of Divine appointment, and while condemning the errors of the man, was disposed to bow to the authority of his office.

There was risk of concessions which would have hampered him in his future course, or have totally wrecked his cause. From this he was saved, partly by his loyalty to his own convictions, partly also by the perception on the part of the theologians of Rome that the element of “faith,” on which Luther so strenuously insisted, constituted an essential and eternal difference between his system and theirs. It substituted a Divine for a human agency, the operation of the Holy Spirit for the opus operatum. On such a point there could be no reconcilement on the basis of mutual concession, and this led them to insist on absolute and unconditional retractation. Luther used to say that he “did not learn all his divinity at once, but was constrained to sink deeper and deeper. The Pope said, ‘Although Christ be the Head of the Church, yet notwithstanding there must be a visible and corporeal head of the Church on earth.’ With this I could have been well content, in case he had but taught the Gospel purely and clearly, and had not brought forward human inventions and lies instead thereof.”13

So ended the first conflict between the old and the new powers. The victory remained with the latter. This was no small gain. Besides, the two men had been able to take each the measure of the other.

Luther had looked through and through Cajetan. He was astonished to find how weak a polemic and how flimsy a theologian was the champion to whom Rome had committed her battle. “One may guess from this,” wrote Luther to Spalatin, “what is the calibre of those of ten times or a hundred times lower rank.” The Reformer went forth ever after to meet Rome’s mighty men with less anxiety touching the issue. But the cardinal had formed no contemptuous opinion of the monk, although he could find none but contemptuous epithets in which to speak of him. “I will have no more disputing with that beast,” said he, when Staupitz pressed him to debate the matter once more with the doctor of Wittemberg, “for he has deep eyes and wonderful speculation in his head.”14

Chapter 5.13: Luther’s Return To Wittemberg And Labours There

Luther Writes to the Cardinal, and Leaves Augsburg – His Journey – The Pope’s Bull Condemning him – Luther’s Protestation – De Vio’s Rage – Luther Enters Wittemberg – Cajetan’s Letter to Elector Frederick – Frederick’s Reply – Luther’s Account of the Conference – Activity in the University – Study of the Bible – The Pope’s Bull on Indulgences – Luther Appeals from the Pope to the Church – Frederick Requests Luther to Leave Saxony – Whither shall he Go? – Supper with his Friends – Anguish and Courage

TWO days had passed since the legate had bidden Luther “be gone, and see his face no more, unless he changed his mind.”1 After leaving the cardinal’s presence, Luther wrote him a letter (October 16th) in which, although he retracted nothing, he expressed great respect and submission. The cardinal returned no answer to this. What did his silence mean? “It bodes no good,” said Luther’s friends; “he is concocting some plot with the emperor; we must be beforehand with him.”

In fact, Cajetan did not need to consult the emperor or any one else. He had received instructions from his master at Rome in view of the possible miscarriage of his mission. If he delayed to put these instructions in force, it was because he thought he had snared his victim: the walls of Augsburg had shut him in.

The trap was not quite so sure as the cardinal deemed it. Mounted on a horse, provided for him by his friends, a trusty guide by his side, Luther is traversing before dawn the silent streets of Augsburg. He is escaping from the cardinal. He approaches a small gate in the city walls. A friendly hand opens it, and he passes out into the open country.2 This was on the morning of the fourth day (October 20th) after his last interview.

Behind him is the sleeping city, before him is the champaign country, just beginning to be visible in the early daybreak. In what direction shall he turn his horse’s head? He stands a moment uncertain. The French ambassador had mentioned his name with favor at the late Diet; may he not expect protection in his master’s dominions? His hand is on his bridle-rein to direct his flight to France. But no; he turns northward. It was Wittemberg, not Paris, that was destined to be the center of the new movement.

The two travelers rode away at what speed they could. Luther was but little accustomed to the saddle, the horse he rode was a hard trotter, and so overcome by fatigue was he, that when he arrived at the end of his first stage, unable to stand upright, he lay down upon the straw in the stable of the hostelry where he was to pass the night.3 On arriving at Nuremberg, he read for the first time the directions forwarded from Rome to De Vio, touching the way in which himself and his cause were to be disposed of.4 These showed him that he had left Augsburg not a moment too soon, and that during his stay there a sword had all the while been hanging above his head.

The Papal brief—in the hands of the legate when he sat down on the judgment-seat—enjoined him to compel Luther to retract. From Rome, then, had come the one word Revoco, which Serra Longa first, and Cajetan next, dictated as that which Luther was contritely to utter. If he could be brought to retract, and to beg forgiveness for the disturbance he had made, and the scandal he had caused to the hierarchy, the legate was empowered to “receive him into the unity of our Holy Mother the Church.” But if the monk should prove obstinate, De Vio was to use summary and sharp measures to have the business ended. He was to seize the person of Luther, and keep him in safe custody, that he might be sent to Rome. To effect this, should it be necessary, the legate was to demand the aid of the emperor, of the princes of Germany, and of all the communities and potentates ecclesiastical and secular. If, notwithstanding, Luther should escape, he was to proscribe him in every part of Germany, and lay under interdict all those princes, communities, universities, and potentates, with their cities, towns, countries, and villages, which should offer him an asylum, or in any way befriend him.5

Even before the summons to appear before De Vio had been put into Luther’s hands, his cause had been adjudged and himself condemned as a heretic in a Papal court, that of Jerome, Bishop of Ascoli. Of this Luther knew nothing when he set out for Augsburg. When he learned it he exclaimed, “Is this the style and fashion of the Roman court, which in the same day summons, exhorts, accuses, judges, condemns, and declares a man guilty, who is so far from Rome, and who knows nothing of all these things?” The danger was passed before he knew its full extent; but when he saw it he gave thanks with his whole soul to God for his escape. The angel of the Lord had encamped round about him and delivered him.

Like the Parthian, Luther discharged his arrows as he fled. He did not leave Augsburg without leaving behind him something that would speak for him when he was gone; and not in Augsburg only, but in all Christendom. He penned an appeal to Rome. In that document he recapitulated the arguments with which he had combated indulgences, and characterized the cardinal’s procedure as unreasonable, in insisting on a retractation without deigning to show him wherein he had erred. He had not yet renounced the authority of the Pope: he still reverenced the chair of Peter, though disgraced by mal-administrations, and therefore he closed his appeal in the following terms: “I appeal from the Most Holy Father the Pope, ill-informed, to the Most Holy Father the Pope Leo X., by the grace of God to be better-informed.”6

This appeal was to be handed to the legate only when the writer was at a safe distance. But the question was, who should bell the cat. De Vio was in no mood to be approached with such a document. The cardinal burned with a sense of the disaster which had befallen himself and the cause of Rome, in Luther’s flight. He, and all the men of craft, his advisers, had been outwitted by the German! He had failed to compel the retractation of the monk; his person was now beyond his reach; and he carried with him the prestige of victory; Rome had been foiled in this her first passage of arms with the new faith; the cardinal, who hoped to rehabilitate himself as a diplomatist, had come out of the affair as a bungler: what would they say of him at Rome? The more he reflected, the greater appeared to him the mischief that would grow out of this matter. He had secretly exulted when told that Luther was in Augsburg; but better the monk had never entered its gates, than that he should come hither to defy Rome in the person of her legate, and go away, not only unharmed, but even triumphing. The cardinal was filled with indignation, shame, and rage.

Meanwhile Luther was every day placing a greater distance between himself and the legate. The rumor spread through Germany that the monk had held his own before the cardinal, and the inhabitants of the villages and towns in his route turned out to congratulate him on his victory. Their joy was the greater inasmuch as their hopes had been but faint that he should ever return. Germany had triumphed in Luther. Proud Italy, who sent her dogmas and edicts across the Alps, to be swallowed without examination, and who followed them by her tax-gatherers, had received a check. That haughty and oppressive Power had begun to fall, and the dawn of deliverance had broke for the Northern nations.

Luther re-entered Wittemberg on the day (October 30th, 1518) preceding the anniversary of that on which he had posted up his “Theses.” The 1st of November was All Saints’ Day. There came this year no crowd of pilgrims to Wittemberg to visit the relics and purchase indulgences. So much for the blow Luther had struck: the trade of Rome in these parts had well-nigh been ruined; it was manifest that the doctrines of the Reformer were spreading.

But if the crowd of pilgrims that annually resorted to Wittemberg was all but extinct, that of students had greatly increased. With the growing renown of Luther grew the fame of the university, and the Elector Frederick saw with joy the prosperity of a seminary in which he took so deep an interest. This helped to draw him to the side of the Reformer. Luther resumed, with heart and soul, his labors in his chair. He strove to forget what Rome might be hatching; he knew that trouble was not far off; but meanwhile he went on with his work, being all the more anxious to make the best use of the interval of quiet, the more he felt that it would be short.

It was short indeed. On November the 19th Frederick of Saxony received a letter from Cardinal Cajetan, giving his version of the interviews at Augsburg,7 and imploring the elector no longer to sully the fame of his name and the glory of his house by protecting a heretic, whom the tribunals of Rome were prosecuting, and of whom and of whose affairs he had now and for ever washed his hands. The result of this application was the more to be dreaded inasmuch as Frederick was as yet ignorant of the reformed doctrine. But he well merited the epithet bestowed on him of “Wise;” in all things he acted with consideration and candor, and he might be expected to do so in this. The elector had no sooner received the legate’s letter than, desirous of hearing both sides, he sent it to Luther.8 The latter gave Frederick his account of the affair, dwelling on Cajetan’s promise, which he had not kept, to convince him out of Scripture; the unreasonableness of his demand, that he should retract, and the gross and manifest perversion of those passages from Sacred Writ on which, in his letter to the elector, Cajetan had professed to ground his cause; and all with such clearness, force, and obvious truth, that Frederick resolved not to abandon Luther. He knew his virtues, though he did not understand his doctrines, and he knew the grievances that Germany groaned under from Italian pride and Papal greed. The reply of Frederick to De Vio was in reality the same with that of Luther—“Prove the errors which you allege”—a reply which deepened the mortification and crowned the misfortunes of the cardinal.

To the unhappy De Vio, and the cause which he represented, one calamity followed another in rapid succession. The day following that on which the Elector Frederick dispatched his letter to the legate, Luther’s narrative of the Augsburg interview, which he had been some time carefully preparing, issued from the press. The elector had requested Luther to withhold it for a little while, and the Reformer was firmly purposed to do so. But the eagerness of the public and the cupidity of the printers overreached his caution. The printing-house was besieged by a crowd of all ranks and ages, clamoring for copies. The sheets were handed out wet from the press, and as each sheet was produced a dozen hands were stretched out to clutch it. The author was the last person to see his own production. In a few days the pamphlet was spread far and near.

Luther had become not the doctor of Wittemberg only, but of all Germany. The whole nation, not less than the youth in the university, had been drawn into the study of theology. Through the printing-press Luther’s voice reached every hearth and every individual in the Fatherland. It was a new life that men were breathing; it was a new world that was opening to their eyes; it was a new influence, unfelt for ages, that was stirring their souls; the ancient yoke was being broken and cast away. In the university especially the theology of the Holy Scriptures was being studied with an ardor and a perseverance to which we can find in later times no parallel. Professors and students, kindled with the enthusiasm of Luther, if they could not keep pace with, strove to follow him as closely as possible. “Our university,” wrote Luther, “glows with industry like an ant-hill.”

With each new day came a new batch of students, till the halls of the university and the accommodation at Wittemberg overflowed. Not from Germany only, but from far countries, came these youths to receive here the seed of a reformed life, and to bear it thence and scatter it over regions remote.

Great attention was given to the study of Hebrew and Greek, “the two languages which, like porters, sit at the entrance of the Bible, holding the keys.” From the university the passion for theological study passed to the court. The elector’s secretary, Spalatin, in his correspondence with Luther, was perpetually asking and receiving expositions of Scripture, and it was believed that behind the secretary’s shadow sat the elector himself, quietly but earnestly prosecuting that line of inquiry which was ultimately to place him by the side of Luther.

Meanwhile the plot was thickening. The tidings of Cajetan’s “victory,” as he himself phrased it, had reached Rome; but the news of that “victory” caused only consternation. The cannon of St. Angelo, which have proclaimed so many triumphs before and since, forbore to proclaim this one. There were gloomy looks and anxious deliberations in the halls of the Vatican. Rome must repair the disaster that had befallen her; but here, too, fatality attended her steps. She could have done nothing better to serve the cause of Luther than the course she took to oppose it. Serra Longa had blundered, De Vio had blundered, and now Leo X. blunders worst of all. It seemed as if the master wished to obliterate the mistakes of his servants by his own greater mistakes.

On November 9 the Pontiff issued a new decretal, in which he sanctioned afresh the doctrine of indulgences, and virtually confirmed all that Tetzel first and Cardinal Cajetan next had taught on the head of the Church’s power to pardon sin. The edict ran as follows: “That the Roman Church, the mother of all Churches, had handed down by tradition that the Roman Pontiff, the successor of St. Peter, by the power of the keys—that is, by removing the guilt and punishment due for actual sins by indulgence—can for reasonable causes grant to the faithful of Christ, whether in this life or in purgatory, indulgences out of the superabundance of the merits of Christ and the saints; can confer the indulgence by absolution, or transfer it by suffrage. And all those who have acquired indulgences, whether alive or dead, are released from so much temporal punishment for their actual sins as is the equivalent of the acquired indulgence. This doctrine is to be held and preached by all, under penalty of excommunication, from which only the Pope can absolve, save at the point of death.”9 This bull was sent to Cajetan, who was then living at Linz, in Upper Austria, whence copies were despatched by him to all the bishops of Germany, with injunctions to have it published.

The weight that belonged to the utterance of Peter’s successor would, the Pope believed, overwhelm and silence the monk of Wittemberg; and, the conscience of Christendom set at rest, men would return to their former quiescence under the scepter of the Vatican. He little understood the age on which he was entering, and the state of public feeling and sentiment north of the Alps. The age was past when men would bow down implicitly before sheets of parchment and bits of lead. Wherein, men asked, does the Pope’s teaching on indulgences differ from Tetzel’s, unless in the greater decency of its language? The doctrine is the same, only in the one case it is written in the best Latin they are now masters of at Rome, whereas in the other it is proclaimed with stentorian voice in the coarsest Saxon. But plain it is that the Pope as really as Tetzel brings the money-chest to our doors, and expects that we shall fill it. He vaunts his treasure of merits, but it is as the chapman vaunts his wares, that we may buy; and the more we sin, the richer will they be at Rome. Money—money—money, is the beginning, middle, and end of this new decretal. It was in this fashion that the Germans spoke of the edict of November 9, which was to bolster up Cajetan and extinguish Luther. The Pope had exonerated Tetzel, but it was at the expense of taking the whole of this immense scandal upon himself and his system. The chief priest of Christendom presented himself before the world holding the bag with as covetous a grip as any friar of them all.

In another way the decree of the Pope helped to overthrow the system it was meant to uphold. It compelled Luther to go deeper than he had yet ventured to do in his investigations into the Papacy. He now looked at its foundations. The doctrine of indulgences in its sacrilegious and blasphemous form he had believed to be the doctrine of Tetzel only; now he saw it to be the doctrine of Leo of Rome as well. Leo had endorsed Tetzel’s and Cajetan’s interpretation of the matter. The conclusion to which Luther’s studies were tending is indicated in a letter which he wrote about this time to his friend Wenceslaus Link at Nuremberg: “The conviction is daily growing upon me,” says he, “that the Pope is Antichrist.” And when Spalatin inquired what he thought of war against the Turk—“Let us begin,” he replied, “with the Turk at home; it is fruitless to fight carnal wars and be overcome in spiritual wars.”10

The conclusion was in due time reached. The Reformer drew up another appeal, and on Sunday, the 28th of November, he read it aloud in Corpus Christi Chapel, in the presence of a notary and witnesses. “I appeal,” he said, “from the Pontiff, as a man liable to error, sin, falsehood, vanity, and other human infirmities—not above Scripture, but under Scripture—to a future Council to be legitimately convened in a safe place, so that a proctor deputed by me may have safe access.” This appeal marks a new stage in Luther’s enlightenment. The Pope is, in fact, abjured: Luther no longer appeals from Leo ill-informed to Leo well-informed,11 but from the Papal authority itself to that of a General Council, from the head of the Church to the Church herself.12

So closed the year 1518. The sky overhead was thick with tempest. The cloud grew blacker and bigger every day. The Reformer had written the appeal read in Corpus Christi Chapel on the 28th of November, as the Israelites ate their last supper in Egypt, “his robe tucked up and his loins girded, ready to depart,” though whither he knew not. He only knew that he could go nowhere where God would not be his “shield, and exceeding great reward.” The Papal anathemas he knew were being prepared at Rome; they were not, improbably, at this moment on their way to Germany. Not because he feared for himself, but because he did not wish to compromise the Elector Frederick, he held himself ready at a day’s notice to quit Saxony. His thoughts turned often to France. The air seemed clearer there, and the doctors of the Sorbonne spoke their thoughts with a freedom unknown to other countries; and had Luther been actually compelled to flee, most probably he would have gone to that country. And now the die was cast as it seemed. The elector sent a message to him, intimating his wishes that he should quit his dominions. He will obey, but before going forth he will solace himself, most probably for the last time, in the company of his friends. While seated with them at supper, a messenger arrives from the elector. Frederick wishes to know why Luther delays his departure. What a pang does this message send to his heart!

What a sense of sadness and desolation does he now experience! On earth he has no protector. There is not for him refuge below the skies. The beloved friends assembled round him—Jonas, Pomeranus, Carlstadt, Amsdorf, the jurist Schurff, and, dearest of all, Melancthon—are drowned in grief, almost in despair, as they behold the light of their university on the point of being quenched, and the great movement which promises a new life to the world on the brink of overthrow. So sudden an overcasting of the day they had not looked for. They waited for light, and behold darkness! No prince in all Christendom, no, not even their own wise and magnanimous elector, dare give an asylum to the man who in the cause of righteousness has stood up against Rome.<