Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

[pontiffs, took deeper root; and was at length, in some places with difficult, in others never yet extirpated. For this we might call to witness the black intrigues of the Jesuits, at one time triumphant over Christendom; but the subject under our present consideration rather leads us to investigate the vast strides which were formerly made in this kingdom by the popish clergy,—how nearly they arrived to effecting their grand design,-some few of the means they made use of for establishing their plan,and how almost all of them have been defeated or converted to better purposes, by the vigour of our free constitution and the wisdom of successive parliaments.

The antient British Church, by whomsoever planted, was a stranger to the bishop of Rome and all his pretended authority. But the pagan Saxon invaders, having driven the professors of Christianity to remotest corners of our island, their own conversion was afterwards effected by Augustin the monk and other missionaries from the court of Rome. This naturally introduced some few of the papal corruptions in point of faith and doctrine; but we read of no civil authority claimed by the Pope in these kingdoms till the era of the Norman conquest; when the then reigning pontiff, having favoured Duke William in his projected invasion by blessing his host and consecrating his banners, took that opportunity also of establishing his spiritual encroachments; and was even permitted so to do by the policy of the Conqueror, in order more effectually to humble the Saxon clergy and aggrandize his Norman prelates—prelates, who, being bred abroad in the doctrine and practice of slavery, had contracted a reverence and regard for it, and took a pleasure in riveting the chains of a free-born people.

The most stable foundation of legal and rational government, is a due subordination of rank, and a gradual scale of authority; and tyranny also itself is most surely surported, by a regular increase of despotism arising from the slave to the sultan. With this difference, however, (that the measure of obedience in the one is grounded on the principles of society, and is extended no further than reason and necessity will warrant; in the other it is limited only by absolute will and pleasure, without permitting the inferior to examine the title upon which it is founded. More effectually therefore to enslave the consciences and minds of the people, the Romish clergy themselves paid the most implicit obedience to their own superiors or prelates: and they, in their turns, were as blindly devoted to the will of the sovereign pontiff; whose decisions they held to be infallible, and his authority co-extensive with the Christian world. Hence his legates, à latere, were introduced into every kingdom in Europe; his bulls and decretal epistles became the rule both of faith and discipline; his judgment was the final resort in all cases of doubt or difficulty; his decrees were enforced by anathemas and spiritual censures; he dethroned even kings that were refractory: and denied to whole kingdoms, when undutiful, the exercise of Christian ordinances, and the benefits of the gospel of God.

But though the being spiritual head of the Church was a thing of great sound, and of greater authority, yet the court of Rome was fully apprised that among the bulk of mankind power cannot be obtained without property ; and therefore its attention began very early to be riveted upon every method that promised pecuniary advantage. The doctrine of purgatory was introduced, and with it the purchase of masses to redeem the souls of the deceased. New-fangled offences were created and indulgences were sold to the wealthy, for liberty to sin without danger.

The canon law took cognizance of crimes, enjoined penances pro salute anime, and commuted that penance

Non-residence and pluralities among the clergy, and marriages among the laity related within the seventh degree, were strictly prohibited by canon; but dispensations were seldom denied to those who could afford to buy them. In short, all the wealth of Christendom

for money.

[was gradually drained by a thousand channels into the coffers of the holy see.

The establishment also of the feudal system in most of the governments of Europe, whereby the lands of all private proprietors were declared to be holden of the prince, gave a hint to the court of Rome for usurping a similar authority over all the preferments of the Church, which began first in Italy, and gradually spread into England.

The Pope became a feudal lord, and all ordinary patrons were to hold their right of patronage under this universal superior. Estates held by feudal tenure, being originally gratuitous donations, were at that time denominated beneficia; their very name as well as constitution was borrowed, and the care of the souls of a parish thence came to be denominated a benefice (c). Lay fees were conferred by investiture or delivery of corporal possessions; and spiritual benefices, which at first were universally donative, now received in like manner a spiritual investiture by institution from the bishop and induction under his authority. As lands escheated to the lord in defect of a legal tenant, so benefices lapsed to the bishop upon non-presentation by the patron, in the nature of a spiritual escheat. The annual tenths collected from the clergy, were equivalent to the feudal render, or rent, reserved upon a grant; the oath of canonical obedience was copied from the oath of fealty required from the vassal by his superior; the primer seisins of our military tenures, whereby the first profits of an heir's estate were cruelly extorted by his lord, gave birth to as cruel an exaction of first-fruits from the beneficed clergy: and the occasional aids and talliages levied by the prince on his vassals, gave a handle to the Pope to levy, by the means of his legates à latere, Peter-pence and other exactions.

At length the holy father went a step beyond any ex

(c) Vido sup. vol. 1. p. 173.

[ample, of either emperor or feudal lord ; he reserved to himself, by his own apostolical authority, the presentation to all benefices which became vacant while the incumbent was attending the court of Rome upon any occasion, or on his journey thither or back again ; and, moreover, such also as became vacant by his promotion to a bishopric or abbey, etiamsi ad illa persona consueverint et debuerint per electionem, aut quemvis alium modum, assumi(d). And this last, the canonists declared, was no detriment at all to the patrons, being only like the change of a life in a feudal estate by the lord.

Dispensations to avoid these vacancies begat the doctrine of commendams; and papal provisions were the previous nomination to such benefices before they became actually void, though afterwards indiscriminately applied to any right of patronage exerted or usurped by the Pope. In consequence of which the best livings were filled by Italian and other foreign clergy; equally unskilled in, and adverse to, the laws and constitutions of England. The very nomination to bishoprics,—that antient prerogative of the Crown,—was wrested from King Henry the first and afterwards from his successor King John, and seemingly indeed conferred on the chapters belonging to each see; but by means of the frequent appeals to Rome, through the intricacy of the laws which regulated canonical elections, was eventually vested in the Pope. And to sum up this head with a transaction most unparalleled and astonishing in its kind, Pope Innocent the third had at length the effrontery to demand, and King John the meanness to consent to, a resignation of his crown to the Pope, whereby England was to become for ever St. Peter's patrimony; and the dastardly monarch re-accepted his sceptre from the hands of the papal legate, to hold as the vassal of the holy see, at the annual rent of a thousand marks.

(d) Extrav. 1. 3, t. 2, c. 13.

[Another engine set on foot, or at least greatly improved by the court of Rome, was a masterpiece of papal policy. Not content with the ample provision of tithes which the law of the land had given to the parochial clergy, they endeavoured to grasp at the lands and inheritances of the kingdom ; and had not the legislature withstood them, would in time probably have been masters of every foot of ground in the kingdom. To this end they introduced the monks of the Benedictine, and other rules; men of sour and austere religion, separated from the world and its concerns by a vow of perpetual celibacy, yet fascinating the minds of the people by pretences to extraordinary sanctity, while all their aim was to aggrandize the power and extend the influence of their grand superior the Pope. And as in those times of civil tumult, great rapines and violence were daily committed by overgrown lords and their adherents, they were taught to believe that founding a monastery a little before their deaths would atone for a life of incontinence, disorder and bloodshed. Hence, innumerable abbeys and religious houses were built within a century after the Conquest, and endowed not only with the tithes of parishes, (which were ravished from the secular clergy,) but also with lands, manors, lordships, and extensive baronies. And the doctrine inculcated was, that whatever was so given to, or purchased by, the monks and friars, was consecrated to God himself; and that to alienate or take it away was no less than the sin of sacrilege.

We might here have enlarged upon other contrivances set on foot by the court of Rome, for effecting an entire exemption of its clergy from any intercourse with the civil magistrate ;—such as the separation of the ecclesiastical court from the temporal; the appointment of its judges by merely spiritual authority, without any interposition from the Crown; the exclusive jurisdiction it claimed over all ecclesiastical persons and causes;

« НазадПродовжити »