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“Where?” asked the professor, stretching out his hand

time: 2023-11-29 21:04:24laiyuan:toutiaovits: 9

That the people of England as a body hearkened to the instructions of their pastors is clear enough from the testimony of foreign visitors, from the records of the episcopal visitations, the pilgrimages to shrines of devotion at home and abroad, from the anxiety for God's honour and glory as shown in the zeal which dictated the building or decoration of so many beautiful cathedrals and churches, the funds for which were provided by rich and poor alike, and from the spirit of charity displayed in the numerous bequests for the relief of the poor and the suffering. The people of England at the beginning of the sixteenth century were neither idol-worshippers nor victims of a blind superstition. They understood just as well as Catholics understand at the present day devotions to Our Lady and to the Saints; Images, Pictures and Statues, Purgatory, Indulgences and the effects of the Mass. Nor were they so ignorant of the Sacred Scriptures as is commonly supposed. The sermons were based upon some Scripture text taken as a rule from the epistle and gospel proper to the Sunday or festival, and were illustrated with a wealth of references and allusions drawn from both the Old and New Testament sufficient to make it clear that the Bible was not a sealed book either for the clergy or laity. The fact that there was such a demand for commentaries on and concordances to the Scriptures makes it clear that the clergy realised sufficiently the importance of Scriptural teaching from the pulpits, and the abundant quotations to be found in the books of popular devotion, not to speak of the religious dramas based upon events in biblical history, go far to show that the needs of the laity in this respect were not overlooked.[5]

“Where?” asked the professor, stretching out his hand

It is said, however, that the use of the Scriptures in the vernacular was forbidden to the English people, and a decree of a Synod held at Oxford in 1408 is cited in proof of this statement. The Synod of Oxford did not forbid the use of vernacular versions. It forbade the publication or use of unauthorised translations,[6] and in the circumstances of the time, when the Lollard heretics were strong and were endeavouring to win over the people to their views by disseminating corrupt versions of the Scripture, such a prohibition is not unintelligible. It should be borne in mind that French was the language of the educated and was the official language of the English law courts and of the Parliament till after 1360. The French or Latin versions then current were, therefore, amply sufficient for those who were likely to derive any advantage from the study of the Bible, while at the same time the metrical paraphrases of the important books of the Old Testament and of the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles, and the English prose translation of the Psalms, went far to meet the wants of the masses. From the clear evidence of writers like Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England and one of the best informed men of his time, of Cranmer, the first Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, and of Foxe the author of the so-called Martyrology, it can be established beyond the shadow of a doubt that prior to the Reformation there existed an English Catholic version of the Scriptures, which was approved for use by the ecclesiastical authorities.[7] It is true, indeed, that the bishops of England made extraordinary efforts to prevent the circulation of the versions made by Tyndale and Coverdale, but considering the glosses, the corruptions, and the mis-translations with which these abound no fair-minded person could expect them to have acted otherwise. Their action was not dictated by hostility to the reading of the Scriptures but by their opposition to heretical doctrines, which it was sought to disseminate among the people by means of dishonest versions of the Scriptures. The English bishops were not content merely with prohibiting the use of these works. They were most anxious to bring out a correct translation of the Scriptures for general use, and were prevented from doing so only by the action of Henry VIII. and of the heretical advisers, who urged him to make it impossible for the bishops to carry out their design.[8]

“Where?” asked the professor, stretching out his hand

It would, however, be far from the truth to assert that everything was faultless during the years preceding the Reformation, or that all the clergy were as perfect as they might have been. England, like every other country at the same period, was afflicted with the terrible evils resulting from the appropriation of parishes by laymen and by religious establishments, a system which made it impossible for a bishop to govern his diocese properly, from the non-residence of both bishops and higher clergy, and from the plurality of benefices, which meant that a person might be permitted to hold two or more benefices to which the care of souls was attached, thereby rending impossible the proper discharge of pastoral duties. More priests, too, were ordained than could be provided with appointments, and consequently many of the clergy were forced to act as chaplains and tutors in private families, where they were treated as servants rather than as equals, and where it was only too easy for them to lose the sense of respect for their dignity and for themselves, and to sink to the level of those with whom they were obliged to consort. It is not to be wondered at if evidence is forthcoming that in particular cases, more especially in Wales, clerical celibacy was not observed as it should have been, or that in several instances the duty of preaching and instructing the people was not discharged, nor is it surprising to find that men who were comparatively unlearned were promoted over the heads of their more educated companions to the disgust of the universities and of those interested in the better education of the clergy. Considering the fact that so many of the bishops were engaged in the service of the State to the neglect of their duties in their dioceses, and bearing also in mind the selfish use made too frequently of the rights of lay patronage and the disorganisation to which even the most enlightened use of such patronage was likely to lead, it is little less than marvellous that the great body of the clergy were as educated, zealous, and irreproachable as they can be proved to have been.

“Where?” asked the professor, stretching out his hand

As a result of the disorganisation wrought by the Black Plague, the civil strife which disturbed the peace of the country, and the constant interference of the crown and lay patrons, many of the religious houses, influenced to some extent by the general spirit of laxity peculiar to the age, fell far short of the standard of severity and discipline that had been set in better days. While on the one hand it should be admitted freely that some of the monastic and conventual establishments stood in urgent need of reform, there is, on the other side, no sufficient evidence to support the wild charges of wholesale corruption and immorality levelled against the monks and nuns of England by those who thirsted for their destruction. The main foundation for such an accusation is to be sought for in the letters and reports (/Comperta/) of the commissioners sent out to examine into the condition of the monasteries and convents in 1535. Even if these documents could be relied upon as perfectly trustworthy they affect only a very small percentage of the religious houses, since not more than one-third of these establishments were visited by the commissioners during their hurried tour through the country, and as regards the houses visited serious crimes were preferred against at most two hundred and fifty monks and nuns.

But there are many solid grounds for rejecting the reliability of these documents. The commissioners were appointed by Cromwell with the professed object of preparing the public mind for the suppression of the monasteries and convents. They showed themselves to be his most obsequious agents, always ready to accept as testimony popular rumours and suspicions founded in many cases on personal dislikes, and, like their master, more anxious to extract money bribes from the religious than to arrive at the truth about their lives or the condition of their establishments. That they were prejudiced witnesses, arrogant and cruel towards the monks and nuns, and willing to do anything that might win them the approval of Cromwell and the king is evident from their own letters and reports, while if we are to credit the statements of contemporaries, backed by a tradition, which survived for centuries amongst the Catholic body in England, they were most unscrupulous and immoral in their attitude towards the unfortunate nuns who were placed at their mercy. Indeed the charges which they make are so filthy and repulsive, and the delight with which they revel in such abominations is so apparent, that one is forced to the conviction that they must have been men of depraved tastes quite capable of committing or of attempting to commit the crimes laid to their charge. Even if it had been otherwise, had the two commissioners been unprejudiced and fair in their proceedings, it is impossible to understand how they could have had an opportunity of making a really searching investigation into the condition of the monasteries and convents during the short time assigned for the work. They began only in July 1535 and their work was completed in February 1536.

In favour of the reliability of these reports the fact is urged that they were placed before Parliament, and that the members of both Houses were so impressed by the tale of corruption and wickedness which they disclosed that they decided on the immediate suppression of the monasteries. If this were true and if Parliament in the days of Henry VIII. enjoyed the same rights and privileges as it enjoys to-day such action would be in itself a strong corroboration of the veracity of the commissioners. But there is no sufficient evidence to prove that the reports or compilations made from them were ever submitted to Parliament. The king and Cromwell informed the Houses of the charges made by the commissioners, and demanded their consent to the bill of suppression. The whole measure was passed in a few days (11th to 18th March, 1536) and there is no proof that the /Comperta/ or a "Black Book" were presented to the members. On the contrary, it is clear from the preamble to the Act that in the larger monasteries "religion was right well kept and observed," and that it was only in the smaller houses with less than twelve members that disorder and corruption existed, whereas in the reports of the commissioners no such distinction is observed, the charges being levelled just as strongly against the larger as against the smaller communities. Had Parliament been in possession of the reports or had there been any adequate discussion, it is difficult to see how such an arbitrary distinction, founded neither on the nature of things, nor on the findings of the commissioners, could have been allowed to pass. It is noteworthy too that many of the individuals, whose names were associated in the /Comperta/ with very serious crimes, were placed in the possession of pensions on the dissolution of the monasteries, and some of them were promoted to the highest ecclesiastical offices in the gift of the crown.

Besides, if the reports of Leigh and Leyton be compared with the episcopal visitations of the same houses or with those of the royal visitors appointed in 1536 to carry out the suppression of the smaller monasteries, it will be found that in regard to the very same houses there exists a very open contradiction between their findings. Unfortunately the accounts of the visitations have disappeared to a great extent except in case of the diocese of Norwich. In this diocese the visitations were carried out very strictly and very minutely, and although some abuses were detected the bishop could find nothing of the wholesale corruption and immorality discovered a few years later by the minions of Cromwell. Similarly the commission appointed in 1536 to superintend the suppression decreed in that year, the members of which were drawn from the leading men in each county, report in the highest terms of houses which were spoken of as hot-beds of iniquity only a few months before. Finally, if the monasteries and convents were really so bad as they are painted, it is a curious fact that although Leigh and Leyton were empowered by Cromwell to open the doors to many of the monks and nuns they could find in the thirteen counties which they visited only two nuns and fifty-three monks willing to avail themselves of the liberty which they offered.[9]

As a general rule the monasteries were regarded with kindly feelings by the great body of the people on account of their charity and hospitality towards the poor and the wayfarer, their leniency and generosity as compared with other employers and landlords, their schools which did so much for the education of the district, and their orphanages and hospitals. Many of them were exceedingly wealthy, while some of them found it difficult to procure the means of existence, and all of them suffered greatly from the financial burdens imposed upon them in the shape of pensions, etc., by the king or by the family by whom their endowments were provided originally. For this reason some of the religious houses, imitating the example of the landowners generally, began to form grazing enclosures[10] out of their estates which had been hitherto under cultivation, a step that led in some cases to eviction and in all cases to a great reduction in the number of labourers employed. Others of them set up tanneries and such like industries that had been best left to the laymen. These measures led to ill-feeling and to a certain amount of hostility, but that the religious houses were not hated by the people is proved to demonstration by the rebellions which their suppression evoked in so many different parts of the country.

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