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Reformation a line of descent from any form of English Lollardism. It is impossible to study the century which preceded the overthrow of the old religious system in England without coming to the conclusion that as a body the Lollards had been long extinct, and that as individuals, scattered over the length and breadth of the land, without any practical principle of cohesion, the few who clung to the tenets of Wycliffe were powerless to effect any change of opinion in the overwhelming mass of the population at large. Lollardry, to the Englishman of the day, was "heresy," and any attempt to teach it was firmly repressed by the ecclesiastical authority, supported by the strong arm of the State; but it was also an offence against the common feeling of the people, and there can be no manner of doubt that its repression was popular. The genius of Milton enabled him to see the fact that "Wycliffe's preaching was soon damped and stifled by the Pope and prelates for six or seven kings' reigns," and Mr. James Gairdner, whose studies in this period of our national history enable him to speak with authority, comes to the same conclusion. "Notwithstanding the darkness that surrounds all subjects connected with the history of the fifteenth century," he writes, "we may venture pretty safely to affirm that Lollardry was not the beginning of modern Protestantism. Plausible as it seems to regard Wycliffe as 'the morning star of the Reformation,' the figure conveys an impression which is altogether erroneous. Wycliffe's real influence did not long survive his own day, and so far from Lollardry having taken any deep root among the English people, the traces of it had wholly disappeared long before the great revolution of which it is thought to be the forerunner. At all events, in the rich historical material for the beginning of Henry VIII.'s reign, supplied by the correspondence of the time, we look in vain for a single indication that any such thing as a Lollard sect existed. The movement had died a natural death; from the time of Oldcastle it sank into insignificance. Though still for a while considerable in point of numbers, it no longer counted among its adherents any men of note; and when another generation had passed away the serious action of civil war left no place for the crotchets of fanaticism."1
On the only evidence available, the student of the reign of Henry VII. and of that of Henry VIII. up to the breach with Rome, is bound to come to the same conclusion as to the state of the English Church. If we except manifestations of impatience with the Pope and Curia, which could be paralleled in any age and country, and which were rather on the secular side than on the religious, there is nothing that would make us think that England was not fully loyal in mind and heart to the established ecclesiastical system. In fact, as Mr. Brewer says, everything proves that "the general body of the people had not as yet learned to question the established doctrines of the Church. For the most part, they paid their Peter's pence and heard mass, and did as their fathers had done before them.""
It may be taken, therefore, for granted, that the seeds of religious discord were not the product of the country itself, nor, so far as we have evidence on the subject at all, does it appear that the soil of the country was in any way especially adapted for its fructification. The work, both of raising the seed and of scattering it over the soil of England, must be attributed, if the plain facts of history are to be believed, to Germans and the handful of English followers of the German Reformers. If we would rightly understand the religious situation in England at the commencement of the Reformation, it is of importance to inquire into the methods of attack adopted in the Lutheran invasion, and to note,the chief doctrinal points which were first assailed.
1 The same high authority, in a letter to the Guardian, March I, 1899, says, "People will tell you, of course, that the seeds of the Reformation were sown before Henry VIII.'s days, and particularly that it was Wycliffe who brought the great movement on. I should be sorry to depreciate Wycliffe, who did undoubtedly bring about a great movement in his day, though a careful estimate of that movement is still a desideratum. Even in theology the cardinal doctrine of the Reformation—justification by faith—is in Wycliffe, I should say, conspicuous by its absence. But, whatever may be the theological debt of England to Wycliffe at the present day, twenty Wycliffes, all highly popular, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries would not have brought about a Reformation like that under which we have lived during the last centuries. That was a thing which could only have been effected by royal power—as in England, or by a subversion of royal authority through the medium of successful rebellion—as in Scotland."
"Henry VIII. i., p. 51.
Very shortly after the religious revolt had established itself in Germany, the first indications of a serious attempt to undermine the traditional faith of the English Church became manifest in England. Roger Edgworth, a preacher during the reigns of Henry and Queen Mary, says that his "long labours have been cast in most troublesome times and most encumbered with errO>s*and heresies, change of minds and schisms that ever was in the realm. . . . Whilst I was a young student in divinity," he continues, " Luther's heresies rose and were scattered here in this realm, which, in less space than a man would think, had so sore affected the Christian folk, first the youth and then the elders, where the children could set their fathers to school, that the king's Majesty and all Christian clerks in the realm had much ado to extinguish them. This they could not so perfectly quench, but that ever since, when they might have any maintenance by man or woman of great power, they burst forth afresh, even like fire hid under chaff."1
Sir Thomas More, when Chancellor in 1532, attributed the rapid spread of what to him and most people of his day in England was heresy, to the flood of literature which was poured forth over the country by the help of printing. "We have had," he writes, "some years of late, plenteous of evil books. For they have grown up so fast and sprung up so thick, full of pestilent errors and pernicious heresies, that they have infected and killed, I fear me, more simple souls than the famine of the dear years have destroyed bodies."1
1 Roger Edgworth, Sermons (London: Robert Caly, 1557), preface.
We are not left in ignorance as to the books here referred to, as some few years previously the bishops of England had issued a list of the prohibited volumes. Thus, in October, 1526, Bishop Tunstall ordered that in London people should be warned not to read the works in question, but that all who possessed them should deliver them over to the bishop's officials in order that they might be destroyed as pernicious literature. The list included several works of Luther, three or four of Tyndale, a couple of Zwingle, and several isolated works, such as the Supplication of Beggars, and the Dyalogue between the Father and the Son*
In 153o the king by proclamation forbade the reading or possession of some eighty-five works of Wycliffe, Luther, CEcolampadius, Zwingle, Pomeranus, Bucer, Wesselius, and indeed the German divines generally, under the heading of "books of the Lutheran sect or faction conveyed into the city of London." Besides these Latin treatises, the prohibition included many English tracts, such as A book of the old God and the new, the Burying of the Mass, Frith's Disputation concerning Purgatory, and several prayerbooks intended to propagate the new doctrines, such as Godly prayers; Matins and Evensong with the seven Psalms and other heavenly psalms with commendations; the H or t1ll us Anim.t in English,' and the Primer in English.
1 English Works, p. 339.
'Strype, Eccl. Mem. (ed. 1822), I. i. p. 2J4.
'This book was apparently condemned for reflecting on the king's divorce rather than for its Lutheran tendencies. "The Soul's Garden," as Bishop Tunstall calls it, was printed abroad, and "very many lately
In his proclamation Henry VIII. speaks of the determination of the English nation in times past to be true to the Catholic faith and to defend the country against "wicked sects of heretics and Lollards, who, by perversion of Holy Scripture, do induce erroneous opinions, sow sedition amongst Christian people, and disturb the peace and tranquillity of Christian realms, as lately happened in some parts of Germany, where, by the procurement and sedition of Martin Luther and other heretics, were slain an infinite number of Christian people." To prevent like misfortunes happening in England, he orders prompt measures to be taken to put a stop to the circulation of books in English and other languages, which teach things "intolerable to the clean ears of any good Christian man."1
By the king's command, the convocation of Canterbury drew up a list of prohibited heretical books. In the first catalogue of fifty-three tracts and volumes, there is no mention of any work of Wycliffe, and besides some volumes which had come from the pens of Tyndale, Frith, and Roy, who were acknowledged disciples of Luther, the rest are all the compositions of the German Reformers. The same may be said of a supplementary list of tracts, the authors of which were unknown. All these are condemned as containing false teaching, plainly contrary to the Catholic faith, and the bishops add: "Moreover, following closely in the footsteps of our fathers, we prohibit all from selling, giving, reading, distributing, or publishing any tract, booklet, pamphlet, or book, which translates or interprets the Holy Scripture in the vernacular ... or even knowbrought into the realm, chiefly into London and into other haven towns." The objectionable portion was contained in "a declaration made in the kalendar of the said book, about the end of the month of August, upon the day of the decollation of St. John Baptist, to show the cause of why he was beheaded." (Strype, ut supra, ii., p. 274.) 'Wilkins, Concilia, iii., p. 737.