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the ordinaries, I trust he lies in regard to other countries, for as for England I am sure he lies.”ı
It would of course be untrue to suggest that there were no grounds whatever for objection to the clerical life of the period. At all times the ministers of the Church of God are but human instruments, manifesting now more now less the human infirmities of their nature. A passage in a sermon preached by Bishop Longland of Lincoln in 1538 suggests that the most crying abuse among the clergy of that time was simony. “Yet there is one thing, or ill which the prophet saw not in this city (of Sodom). What is that? That which specially above other things should have been seen. What is it? That which most is abused in this world. I pray thee, what is it ? Make no more ado: tell it. That which almost destroyed the Church of Christ. Then, I pray thee, shew it: shew what it is: let it be known, that remedy may be had and the thing holpen. What is it? Forsooth it is simony, simony: chapping and changing, buying and selling of benefices and of spiritual gifts and promotions. And no better merchandise is nowadays than to procure advowsons of patrons for benefices, for prebends, for other spiritual livelihood, whether it be by suit, request, by letters, by money bargain or otherwise : yea, whether it be to buy them or to sell them, thou shalt have merchants plenty, merchants enough for it.
These advowsons are abroad here in this city. In which city ? In most part of all the great cities of this realm. In the shops, in the streets, a common merchandise. And they that do come by their benefices or promotions under such a manner shall never have grace of God to profit the Church."
It is interesting to recall the fact that the late Mr. Brewer, whose intimate knowledge of this period of our national history is admitted on all hands, arrived, after the
1 English Works, p. 620. · A Sermonde ... made in 1538. By John Longlande, Bishop of Lincolne. London: f. 2.
fullest investigation, at a similar conclusion as to the real state of the Church in pre-Reformation England. Taking first the religious houses, this high authority considers that no doubt many circumstances had contributed at this time to lower the tone of religious discipline; but taking a broad survey, the following is the historian's verdict :“That in so large a body of men, so widely dispersed, seated for so many centuries in the richest and fairest estates of England, for which they were mainly indebted to their own skill, perseverance, and industry, discreditable members were to be found (and what literary chiffonnier, raking in the scandalous annals of any profession, cannot find filth and corruption ?) is likely enough, but that the corruption was either so black or so general as party spirit would have us believe, is contrary to all analogy, and is unsupported by impartial and contemporary evidence."
“ It is impossible," he says in another place, " that the clergy can have been universally immoral and the laity have remained sound, temperate and loyal.” This, by the way, is exactly what More, who lived in the period, insisted upon.
“ But," continues Brewer, “ if these general arguments are not sufficient, I refer my readers to a very curious document, dated the 8th of July, 1519, when a search was instituted by different commissioners on a Sunday night, in London and its suburbs, for all suspected and disorderly persons. I fear no parish in London, nor any town in the United Kingdoni, of the same amount of population, would at this day pass a similar ordeal with equal credit."2 And in another place he sums up the question in these words: “ Considering the temper of the English people, it is not probable that immorality could have existed among the ancient clergy to the degree which the exaggeration of poets, preachers, and satirists might lead us to suppose.
le that imman per of the prestion in th
Henry VIII., vol. ii., pp. 50-1.
Ibid., vol. i., p. 600.
r greater that in the cn was exermat thus
The existence of such corruption is not justified by authentic documents or by any impartial and broad estimate of the character and conduct of the nation before the Reformation. If these complaints of preachers and moralists are to be accepted as authoritative on this head, there would be no difficulty in producing abundant evidence from the Reformers themselves that the abuses and enormities of their own age, under Edward VI. and Elizabeth, were far greater than in the ages preceding."1
It is too often assumed that in the choice and education of the clergy little care and discretion was exercised by the bishops and other responsible officials, and that thus those unfit for the sacred ministry by education and character often found their way into the priesthood. In the last Convocation held on the eve of the Reformation, a serious attempt was evidently made to correct whatever abuses existed in this matter, when it was enacted that no bishop might ordain any subject not born in his diocese or beneficed in it, or without a domi. cile in it for three months, even with dimissorial letters. Further, that no secular clerk should be ordained without testimonial letters as to character from the parish priest of the place where he was born or had lived for three years, sealed by the archdeacon of the district, or in the case of a university, by the seal of the vice-chancellor. No one whatsoever was to be admitted to the subdiaconate “ who was not so versed in the Epistles and Gospels, at least those contained in the Missal, as to be able at once to explain their grammatical meaning to the examiner." He must also show that he understands and knows whatever pertains to his office.?
The most important book of this period dealing with the life and education of the clergy is a tract printed by Wynkyn de Worde about the beginning of the sixteenth century. It was written by William de Melton, Chan.
* Ibid., ii., p. 470.
? Wilkins, Concilia, iii., 717.
cellor of York, and at the end is the declaration of Colet that he has read it and highly approves of its contents." The author states that he desires to instruct in their duties the “many young men ” who every Ember time come up to York for ordination. No person, he says, ought to present himself to receive the priesthood who is not pre. pared to lead a life in all things worthy of the sacred ministry. He should remember that he is really to be accounted one of the twelve who sat with our Lord at His Last Supper. He must be sufficiently versed in the learning of the world not to dishonour the priestly calling, and above all be taught in His school “who has said, • Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.'”.
“And since I am now on the question of those only partly well learned," continues the author, “I wish all coming for ordination to understand that always and every. where those who have not yet attained to at least a fair knowledge of good letters are to be rejected as candidates for Holy Orders. They can in no way be considered to have a fair knowledge of letters who, though skilful in grammar, do not possess the science well enough to read promptly and easily Latin books, and above all, the sacred Scriptures, and expound their meaning and the literal signification of the words as they stand in the books; and this not haltingly, but readily and easily, so as to show that they know the language not merely slightly and slenderly, but that they possess a full and radical knowledge of it and its construction. Therefore, those who read the sacred Scriptures or other Latin work with difficulty, or, whilst reading, often mistake the proper connection of the words, or read them with such pauses as to seem not to be used to the Latin language, are to be refused Sacred Orders until, by diligent study, they have become more skilled in their letters."
In the same way the tract goes on to declare that those
* Sermo Exhortatorius, W. de Worde.
who are unable to explain or understand the spiritual signification of Scripture are to be refused ordination to the sacred ministry until they show themselves at least fairly well able to do so. “To be reckoned among even the fairly proficient, we require,” says the author, “such a thorough and sure foundation of grammatical knowledge that there may be hopes that alone and without other teachers they may, from books and diligent study, endeavour day by day to improve themselves by reading and study." Then addressing the candidates the author begs them, if they feel they have not this necessary foundation, “not through mere presumption to offer themselves to the examiners.” “Seek not a position in the Church of God in which neither now nor during your whole life will you be able to show yourself a fitting minister. For those who before taking Holy Orders have not fitted themselves fairly well in learning rarely if ever are seen to make progress in literature. On the contrary, they ever remain, even to old age, dunces and stupid, and, furthermore, such priests known to the common people for such manifest ignorance are a great scandal which involves the whole sacred ministry.”
Great damage is done to the whole Church of God through the ignorance of the clergy. Both in towns and country places there are priests who occupy themselves, some in mean and servile work, some who give themselves to tavern drinking; the former can hardly help mixing themselves up with women, the latter employ their time in games of dice, &c., and some of them pass it in the vanities of hunting and hawking. Thus do they spend their whole lives to extreme old age in idleness and nonreligious occupations. Nor could they do otherwise, for as they are quite ignorant of good letters, how can they be expected to work at and take a pleasure in reading and study; rather throwing away these despised and neglected books, they turn to that kind of miserable and unpriestly