« PreviousContinue »
ART. I.-History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.
Vol. V. The Reformation in England. By J. H. Merle
8vo. pp. 705. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. 2. The same.—Vol. IV. 8vo. pp. 544.
London and Glasgow : Blackie and Son. The appearance of this volume, so long delayed, has been looked forward to with much interest, not unmixed, perhaps, with anxiety, by all who fully appreciated the merits of Dr. D'Aubigné's History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century on the Continent of Europe. Why we have had so long to wait for it is not explained; but it is not difficult to suppose that before entering upon a phase of his subject, in which so many new elements were involved, and with which so large a portion of his readers were already in some degree acquainted, Dr. D'Aubigné would find it very necessary to pause, and survey the field before him. The authorities to be consulted, the distance of many of the localities with which the events of his history were connected, the conflicting opinions met with at every turn of his researches, would all, no doubt, tend to make this part of his work a more difficult one than that which he had already accomplished, while we can easily conceive that not a little delay may have been caused by the peculiarities of the subject rendering it difficult to determine from what point of the ecclesiastical history of N. S.-VOL. FI.
England he should proceed. Although these considerations are scarcely sufficient to account for such an interval as has elapsed between the publication of his previous volumes and the one now before us, they must have had some weight, and we may reasonably expect to find that the historian has so far profited by the delay as to justify the high opinion which has been expressed in almost every quarter respecting his History of the Reformation in Germany. It is not to be supposed that the portion of his subject on which he has now entered will elicit anything like the saine approach to unanimity of sentiment among Protestants. However much the majority of his readers may admire the clear and forcible style in which this volume is written, and even while they appreciate the sound judgment evinced, many will probably differ from the author in not a few of his deductions, and even question the accuracy of his data. Dr. D’Aubigné seems to be perfectly sensible of this himself, for, in his preface, he asks, with some anxiety, whether the present volume will be received in Great Britain and America as favourably as the others have been; and in the same page he endeavours to anticipate objections from those who regard the great movement, the events of which he is about to narrate, as nothing more than a political transformation, by distinctly expressing his opinion as to its being of an essentially religious nature. He is also at pains to state his motives for undertaking the work, conceiving that the present position of the Church of England, and the new one recently assumed by the Church of Rome, render the circumstances connected with the Reformation matters of peculiar and urgent importance. He holds by the conviction that the nature of the papacy has changed in no respect whatever so far as its external influences are concerned, since the period to which his work refers; and adducing proofs of this, he is of opinion that “the task of the sixteenth century lives again in the nineteenth, but more emancipated from the temporal power, more spiritual, more general; and that it is the Anglo-Saxon race that God chiefly employs for the accomplishment of this universal work.'
Whatever importance we may attach to these considerations, that of the subject itself must be sufficiently obvious apart from everything which may be regarded as giving it a more direct application. At once connected with, and yet in some of its most prominent features distinct from the history of the movement in Germany, it comes naturally within the scope of any well-conceived plan for presenting the world with a full and clear view of the development of the Reformation as a whole. It is connected with the events narrated in Dr. D'Aubigné's preceding volumes, so far as the end and many of the influences are concerned, but it is distinct from it in many very important points, and in none more so than the time ať which these influences began to operate.
It was absolutely necessary, then, that the historian should consider fully the state of the church in England previous to the period at which the reforming process began, and even to trace the leading features of our ecclesiastical history in order to show how, even in the very earliest ages, the primitive Christianity of Great Britain repelled the invasion of the papacy, and manifested a spirit of direct hostility to it which was never wholly extinct, in any of those subsequent struggles which preceded the diffusion of spiritual light through the translation of the Scriptures. The Christian church in Britain had passed through two great phases long prior to the appearance of Wyckliffe, the morning star of the Reformation. Its orientoapostolical origin, combined with the characteristics of the races by which our land was peopled, enabled it to baffle the efforts of Roman ecclesiasticism, as the hardy bravery of our rude forefathers baffled the might of the Roman legions. It was even aggressive to a very considerable extent, for in an age in regard to which history is in a great measure obscured by legendary fables, we find a Succat and a Columba carrying the tidings of the truth into the midst of heathen darkness, and leaving behind them a spirit of faith and zeal which even Augustine could not overcome. The lonely cells of Iona were long occupied by men who were in deed and truth the salt of the earth, and who held by the simple faith which animated the founder of their missionary college even after the crown had succumbed to the tiara, and the sword had been unsheathed on those whom the crosier could not reach. Fraud accomplished at last, however, what no other influence could effect; and at the close of the seventh century the monk Egbert secured this last stronghold of Christian purity to the now widely extended power of the popedom. With the fall of Iona the spiritual liberty of our ancestors seemed to have ended. The way had been prepared by the substitution, in many cases, of form for faith, and the darkness was to all appearance complete. There were elements beginning to work within the bosom of the church itself, however, which were soon to break that darkness with flashes of spiritual truth, fitful, it is true, and seen only at long intervals, but sufficiently powerful to pierce through the heavy clouds of error and superstition and to light up the memories of a Clement and an Alfred.
These early records of the Church in Britain form by no means the least interesting portion of Dr. D'Aubigné's volume. Though familiar to every reader of ecclesiastical history, he invests them in some cases with a new interest, and if his imagination has occasionally carried him a little beyond the domain of authentic history, we are almost reconciled to his reproduction of the doubtful, where all is so obscure, by the eloquence and the earnestness with which he lights up the obscurity.
The second phase through which England passed prior to the dawn of the Reformation, may be said to have been strictly a political one; it was the struggle of royalty in the coils of the papacy, and was the necessary consequence of the events which had led to the subjugation of the former by the latter.
William of Normandy, Edward III., Wyckliffe, and the Reformation,' says the historian, are the four ascending steps of Protestantism in England.' The internal strife with Romanism was at one time secular and at another spiritual, but while the secular is at some times more distinctly seen, the spiritual element was always at work beneath the surface. Thus, in the reign of the Conqueror, and while he lifted up his mailed hand in defiance even of the inflexible Hildebrand, there were influences in operation within the cloister, which were ere long to to make themselves felt as powerfully as the boldness of the fiery Norman. The struggle between the crown and the papacy in the reign of William was simply potsherd striving with potsherd; it produced only a premature and partial development of that which was afterwards to mar the work of the Reformation ; it was the struggle of the civil power with one which combined the civil and the ecclesiastical elements, for domination, not for that which neither could do aught but injure-viz., the progress of Christ's truth. The people had no part in it, and properly speaking it did nothing for religious liberty in England; for although Rufus ignored the papacy altogether for a time, and the three succeeding monarchs squandered the revenues of abbeys and bishoprics, the popes gradually regained their influence until, in the reign of John, the kingdom was held as a fief of Rome.
With much more correctness may the age of Edward III. be said to have been one of the steps of which the Reformation was the landing place. Then, for the first time since the events which the historian treats of in the earlier chap. ters of his volume, the spiritual element began to work manifestly; and although in this reign and the subsequent one those stringent laws were passed which struck at the supremacy of the papacy in civil affairs, we must regard such men as Grostete and Bradwardine as being the true reformers of their time. Edward advanced firmly and fearlessly in the path of policy ; but it was at the feet of his chaplain, the pious and earnes