Page images



temporal and spiritual, has been continually declining from the moment that the common people have usurped a pretended right to read more. Above all, it is that book which, more than any other, has raised against us these agitations and storms which have driven us to the very brink of the pit : and it must be acknowledged that if any person examines it minutely, and then compares separately its contents with what is practised in our churches, he will find very great differences, and will see that our doctrines are not only quite different from what the Scripture teaches, but still further, are often entirely opposed to it. Therefore, from the momen that the people, excited by any one of our learned adversaries, shall have acquired this knowledge, the outcry against us will not cease till all is divulged, and we become the objects of universal hatred. Therefore, those very few writings must be kept from notice, but yet with due caution and exact care, lest the measure should raise against us still greater uproar and disturbance." This document is dated Bologna, Oct. 20, 1533.* It sounds strange to our ears and well nigh incre. dible. There is no real ground, however, to doubt its genuineness, and it shows that the question of giving the Bible to the people really involved the very existence of the Romish church, and completes the evidence of the spirituality of the movement of the Reformation.

It was

* See Dr. P. Smith's Reasons for the Protestant Religion, 1851, p. 47.



clearly rerarded as a question between evangelical truth and dead ceremonies—between ibe authority of God and the usurpations of men.

With these facts before us, we are prepared to estimate the correctness of the statements sometimes set forth by Roman Catholie writers. The church of Rome, they say, holds in all points the ancient faith; as a rule, the Bible is not withbeid from the people: they hare liberty to read it; to prohibit the Bible is the exception,* Day, more, in most countries the Roman Catholics bave been the first to translate the Bible and to circulate it.

These are bold and sweeping assertions, and would be found to be false in fact, did we attempt to test them by the practice of Roman Catholic countries. Primitive Christians, as we have seen, gare the Bible to the people, and exhorted them to read it. Ever since the twelfth century, and even before, it has been the practice of the Romish church to deny the Bible, and to forbid the people to read it. Fenelon has manfully brought together the bulls, ordinances, and decrees in which this prohibition is enforced. Councils, synods, and popes have all concurred in this view ; nor is there a single country in Europe where the translation of the Scriptures into the vernacular language, and the perusal of them by the people, has not been authoritatively condemned. Now, the dilemma is obvious ; if berein Rome copies

* Charles Butler's Works, vol. iv. p. 211.


99 the early Christian church, what means the admission of Fenelon to the effect, that the practice of the early church was the very opposite ? If herein she does not copy the early church, what then becomes of her pretended immutability ? She now condemns the very things she once allowed.

The other statement, that there has been in the communion of the Romish church a succession of men who have translated the Bible into the vernacular tongues long before the days of the Reformation, we gladly admit; but herein they were none of them good Catholics, for the council of Trent has condemned them all, and the most strenuous efforts had been made long before the Reformation to suppress the versions they had made. Here again the dilemma is obvious; if they did right, why condemn them? And if they did wrong, and were justly condemned, why appeal to their labours as an evidence of the readiness of the Romisha church to give the Bible to mankind ?

It will be said, no doubt, as it has been said, that the change in the practice of the church was a consequence of the troubles occasioned by the Albigensian heresy. “It should seem," says Fenelon, “that the Waldenses and Albigenses obliged the church to refuse the perusal of the sacred Scriptures to all persons who were not disposed to read them with advantage." “It had become unsafe to permit the people at large to read the sacred text.” Perhaps so; but how comes it that, on a point so vital,



SIR T. MORE'S OPINION. church has departed from the primitive faith? and may we not question the authority and sufficiency of the church herself, as she has questioned the sufficiency of the Bible? There is no end in truth to such pleas. How much more noble is the reasoning of sir Thomas More, a Roman Catholic, but an Englishman—“ Which fear,” says he, after quoting this very argument, “I promise you nothing feareth me. For whosoever would of their own malice or folly take harm of that thing which is of itself ordained to do all men good, I would never for the avoiding of their harm take from others the profit which they might take and nothing deserve to lose. For else, if the abuse of a good thing should cause that taking away thereof from others that would use it well, Christ should himself never have been born nor brought his faith into the world."*

Having traced the influence of the Bible in preparing the way for the Reformation, let us notice its influence on the Reformation itself.

The nine years which had elapsed between the day when Luther took his degree at Wittemberg, swearing to “teach according to the authority of the Holy Scriptures," and the diet at Worms (1521,) had witnessed great changes. The monk of Erfurt had become a world's talk. His gospel—at once his, and Paul's, and Christ's had resounded from the plains of Saxony to the walls of Rome, to Paris, and even to

* Dialogues, pp. 114-115.



London. Princes and communities admired and loved him, and thousands were ready for his life to lay down their own.

But the results of his teaching up to this time were faulty in two respects. The Reformation had become concentrated in his person. He was all but worshipped by many of his followers, and when the report was spread that his corpse had been seen pierced through and through, multitudes swore to avenge his death. " The only means left to serve ourselves," said a Roman Catholic to the archbishop of Mentz, “is to light torches, and to look for Luther all over the world till we find him, and restore him to the nation that demands him." If this excessive admiration and dependence bespoke danger to Luther's humility, it bespoke danger no less imminent to the interests of evangelical truth.

Moreover, widely as the great doctrine of salvation by grace had been diffused by Luther's preaching, it had not as yet altered the outward forms of the church. Justification by faith had as a doctrine effected a lodgment in the hearts of many who never dreamt of questioning the papal authority. Luther himself had earnestly proclaimed it, and had denounced the corruptions, and many of the practices of the Romish church, without abandoning her communion. Thousands had embraced the new faith, and yet they observed the rites and discipline of the ancient creed. In Saxony, and even at

* Merle D'Aubigné, book 1x.

« PreviousContinue »