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and sacramentals of the church, denying even the sick the sacrament, sometimes, until money had first been paid. In view of all this, the commons pray for a reorganization of the bishops' courts, in accordance with justice, law, equity, and good conscience. They complain, further, of the daily practice of spiritual ordinaries, in giving benefices to “ certain young folks [their illegitimate sons),* calling them their nephews, or kinsfolk," being minors, and unfit and unable to serve any such benefice; whereby the said ordinaries do keep and detain the fruits or profits of, the same benefices in their own hands, while " the poor silly souls,” the people, for lack of good curates, perish without doctrine or any good teaching. The number of holydays appointed by the church is also complained of; “ upon the which many great, abominable, and execrable vices, idle and wanton sports, be used and exercised.” Great complaint is also made of the spiritual ordinaries, their commissaries and substitutes; that sometimes for their own pleasure, sometimes by the sinister procurement of other spiritual persons, they made out processes against the king's subjects, compelling them to appear before them on a certain day and place, to answer to such articles as might then and there be, ex officio, proposed, and that secretly, and not in open places; and then, without making known to the accused the charges to be laid against them, committed them to prison for six months, a year, or more, and finally, when examination had been made and nothing proved against them, dismissed them without recompense and amends for all their cost and suffering. The commons complain, further, that where heresy was laid to the charge of any person arraigned before the bishops' courts, “the ordinaries or their ministers put to them such subtle interrogatories concerning the high mysteries of our faith, as are able quickly to trap a simple, unlearned, or yet well-witted layman without learning; and bring them by such sinister introductions soon to their own confusion.” But if the accused denied the charges of heresy, and refused to commit or accuse themselves, “ then, for the most part, such witnesses as are brought forth, be they but two in number, ever so sore defamed, of little truth or credence, they shall be allowed and enabled to testify against the accused.” *
* A report to Vicar - General Cromwell, respecting the state of morals in the diocese of Hereford, contains the following: “ The names of such persons as be permitted to live in adultery and fornication for money.” Then follow the names of four vicars, three parsons, one dean, ten knights, and three without titles — in all twenty-one persons; who, it seems, were but a part of the whole number in the diocese ; for the report adds : “With many others of the diocese of Hereford.” - State Paper Office, in Froude's Hist. Eng., I. 197, note.
The commons finally condemn the secularization of the clergy, declaring that many of them were engaged as auditors, bailiffs and stewards ; in trade, farming, tanning, brewing, and anything else but preaching and attending to spiritual duties; while they retained their benefices.*
* Rolls House Manuscript, in Froude's Hist. Eng., I. 188-200.
This picture of ecclesiastical corruption, extortion, and general hatefulness requires no comment; it sufficiently illustrates the condition of “the church," in England, at the dawn of the English Reformation; and that this was not a mere fancy sketch, or the work of the persecuted heretics, the subsequent action of parliament sufficiently shows. Bills were soon presented, and ultimately passed, by which much of the petty extortion and the malicious persecution practised by the “spirituality” was stopped; priests were deprived of their sinecure offices, driven out of their secular trades and money-making employments, compelled to reside in their parishes and benefices; and dispensations for non-residence or other violations of the laws were made penal. At subsequent sessions, the Augean stables of monasticism were cleaned out, and the monks and their concubines and children were driven to honest living or
The Petition of the clergy of Bangor to the Right Hon. Thomas Cromwell, about the year 1536, furnishes most remarkable and unexceptionable evidence of the horrible corruption of the clergy, and of the estimation in which they were then held. It begins thus:-May it please your mastership, that when of late we, your poor orators, the clergy of the diocese of Bangor, were visited by the king's visitors and yours, in the which visitation many of us (to knowledge the truth to your mastership) be detected of incontinency, as it appeareth by the visitors' books, and not unworthy, wherefore we humbly submit ourselves unto your mastership’s mercy, heartily desiring of you remission, or at leastwise merciful punishment and correction, and also to invent after your
* Froude, 1. 220, 227.
discreet wisdom some lawful and godly way for us, your aforesaid orators, that we may maintain and uphold such poor hospitalities as we have done hitherto, most by provision of such women as we have customably kept in our houses. For in case we be compelled to put away such women, according to the injunctions lately given us by the foresaid visitors, then shall we be fain to give up hospitality, to the utter undoing of such servants and families as we daily keep, and to the great loss and harms of the king's subjects, the poor people which were by us relieved to the uttermost of our powers, and we ourselves shall be driven to seek our living at alehouses and taverns, for mansions upon the benefices and vicarages we have none. And as for gentlemen and substantial honest men, for fear of inconvenience, knowing our frailty and accustomed liberty, they will in nowise board us in their houses"!*
What confessions are here! and with what simplicity and straightforwardness are they made! as though all the world knew these things, and it would be an affectation of modesty to make any concealment of them; or rather, perhaps, as though these confessors were utterly lost to the shame and sin of the crimes which they confess, and the abominable reputations which they had earned among all “ gentlemen and substantial honest men”!
* MS. State Paper Office, in Froude, III. 372.
And even ten years later than this, in 1546, the year before Henry died, and after nearly sixteen years of partial reforming, the work, so far as the mass of the clergy was concerned, was still in a very unsatisfactory state; as appears from what Strype calls “a notable book," which was published that year. It was a sort of counterpart to the “ Supplication of Beggars," which appeared in 1527, and was entitled “A Supplication of the Poor Commons to the King." In this, great complaints are made of the conduct and character of the clergy, particularly the monks, whom they call “ sturdy beggars”; and who, the king is told, are still busy in fermenting discontent among the people, attributing all that is evil in society to the circulation of the Scriptures in English! “ The poor commons," complain loudly of the law then recently passed by the procurement of the clergy, as they say, against the common and poor people having the liberty to read the Scriptures in their houses : “ Hath God," they ask, “put immortal souls in none other but such as be possessioners of this world? Did not Christ send word to John