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of St. John for youths, and various wardens were appointed to collect the money necessary to keep the various lights, such as St. Anne's light, St. John's light, St. Katherine's light, and the light of the Holy Rood. "These things," writes the editor of these interesting accounts, "all go to show what life and activity there was in this little parish, which never wanted willing men to devote their time and influence to the management of their own affairs."
The parish was small, numbering perhaps hardly more than 400 souls. "But if small," says the same authority, "it was thoroughly efficient, and the religious and intellectual work was as actively carried on as the social." At the close of the reign of Henry VIII. the church possessed a library of some fifty volumes. Of these about a dozen were religious plays, part, no doubt, of the Corpus Christi mystery plays, which were carried out at St. Dunstan's with undiminished splendour till the advent of the new ideas in the reign of Edward VI.
These parish accounts prove that many cases of disagreement and misunderstanding, which in modern times would most likely lead to long and protracted cases in the Law Courts, were not infrequently settled by arbitration, or by means of a parish meeting or a jury of neighbours. Sometimes, undoubtedly, the law had to be invoked in defence of parochial rights. A case in point is afforded in the accounts of St. Dunstan's, Canterbury. Nicholas Reugge, as we have said above, had left money to purchase four cows as an endowment for the Paschal candle and the Font taper. Things went well, apparently, till 1486, when William Belser, who rented the stock, died, and his executors either could not or would not, or, at any rate, did not pay. To recover the common property, the churchwardens, as trustees for the parish, had to commence a suit at law. Chief-Justice Fineux and Mr. Attorney-General John Roper were two of the parishioners, and the parish had their advice, it may be presumed gratuitously. The case, however, seems to have dragged on for five years, as it was finally settled only in 1491, when the parish scored a pyrrhic victory, for although they recovered 30s., the value of three of the cows, their costs had mounted up to 35s. 2d., and as they never could get more than a third of that amount from the defendants, on the whole they were out of pocket by their adventure with the law.
For the most part, however, the parish settled its own difficulties in its own way. Documents preserved almost by chance clearly show that a vast number of small cases —police cases we should call them—were in pre-Reformation days arranged by the ecclesiastical authority. Disputes, brawls, libels, minor immoralities, and the like, which nowadays would have to be dealt with by the local justices of the peace or by the magistrates at quarter sessions, or even by the judges at assizes, were disposed of by the parson and the parish. It may not have been an ideal system, but it was patriarchal and expeditious. The Sunday pulpit was used not only for religious instruction, properly so called, and for the "bedes-bidding," but for the publication of an endless variety of notices of common interest. The church was, as we have said, the centre of popular life, and it was under these circumstances the natural place for the proclamation of the commencement of some inquiry into a local suit, or one in which local people were concerned. It was here, in the house of God, and at the Sunday service at which all were bound to be present, that witnesses were cited and accused persons warned of proceedings against them. Here was made the declaration of the probate of wills of deceased persons, and warning given to claimants against the estate to come forward and substantiate their demands. Here, too, were issued proclamations against such as did not pay their just debts or detained the goods of others; here those who had been guilty of defamation of character were ordered to restore the good name of those they had calumniated; and those who, having been joined in
wedlock, had separated without just and approved cause, were warned of the obligations of Christian marriage. The transactions of business of this kind in the parish church by the parish officials made God's house a practical reality and God's law a practical code in the ordinary affairs of life, and gave religion a living importance in the daily lives of every member of every parish throughout the country.
It would be impossible to fully understand the conditions of life on the eve of the Reformation without some knowledge of the working and purposes of mediaeval guilds. These societies or brotherhoods were so common, formed such a real bond of union between people of all ranks and conditions of life, and fulfilled so many useful and even necessary purposes before their suppression under Edward VI., that a study of their principles of organisation and of their practical working cannot but throw considerable light on the popular social life of the period. To appreciate the position, it is necessary to bear in mind the very real hold the Gospel principles of the Christian brotherhood had over the minds of all in pre-Reformation days, the extinction of the general sense that man did not stand alone being distinctly traceable to the tendencies in regard to social matters evolved during the period of turmoil initiated by the religious teachings of the Reformers. What M. Simeon Luce says about the spirit of common life existing in the villages of Normandy in the fourteenth century might be adopted as a picture of English life in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. "Nobles, priests, religious clerks, sons of the soil who laboured at various manual works," he writes, "lived then, so to say, in common, and they are found continually together in all their daily occupations. So far from this community of occupations, this familiar daily intercourse, being incompatible with the great inequality of conditions which then existed, in reality it resulted from it. It was where no strict line of demarcation divided the various classes that they ordinarily affected to keep at a distance one from the other."1
There can be no doubt as to the nature of the teaching of the English Church in regard to the relation which, according to true Christian principles, should exist between all classes of society. In particular is this seen in all that pertained to the care of the poorer members of the Christian family. The evidence appears clear and unmistakeable enough in pre-Reformation popular sermons and instructions, in formal pronouncements of Bishops and Synods, and in books intended for the particular teaching of clergy and laity in the necessary duties of the Christian man. Whilst fully recognising as a fact that in the very nature of things there must ever be the class of those who " have," and the class of those who "have not," our Catholic forefathers in pre-Reformation days knew no such division and distinction between the rich man and the poor man as obtained later on, when pauperism, as distinct from poverty, had come to be recognised as an inevitable consequence of the new era. To the Christian moralist, and even to the bulk of Catholic Englishmen, whether secular or lay, in the fifteenth century, those who had been blessed by God's providence with worldly wealth were regarded not so much as the fortunate possessors of personal riches, their own to do with what they listed, and upon which none but they had right or claim, as in the light of stewards of God's good gifts to mankind at large, for the right use and ministration of which they were accountable to Him who gave them.
Thus, to take one instance: the proceeds of ecclesiastical benefices were recognised in the Constitutions of Legates and Archbishops as being in fact as well as in theory the eleetnosynte ct spes pauperum—the alms and the hope
1 Simeon Luce, Histoire de Bertranddu Gutsclin, p. 19.