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to do great harm if no means were taken to prevent it. Men's actions must be judged by the circumstances under which they acted, and it would be altogether unjust to regard the prohibition of the Tyndale Scriptures as a final attempt on the part of the English Church to prevent the circulation of the vernacular Scriptures. To the authori. ties in those days at least, the book in question did not represent the Sacred Text at all. That it was full of errors, to say the least, is confessed by Tyndale himself ; and as to the chief points in his translation which he defended and which Sir Thomas More so roundly condemned, posterity has sided with More and not with Tyndale, for not one of these special characteristics of the translation in which so much of Tyndale's Lutheran teaching was allowed to appear, was suffered to remain in subsequent revisions. From this point of view alone, those who examine the question with an unbiassed mind must admit that there was ample justification for the prohibition of Tyndale's printed Testament. If this be so, the further point may equally well be conceded, namely, that the Church on the eve of the Reformation did not prohibit the vernacular Scriptures as such at all, and that many churchmen in common with the king, Sir Thomas More, and other laymen, would under happier circumstances, have been glad to see a properly translated English Bible.
IT it very commonly assumed that on the eve of the Reformation, and for a long period before, there was little in the way of popular religious instruction in England. We are asked to believe that the mass of the people were allowed to grow up in ignorance of the meaning of the faith that was in them, and in a studied neglect of their supposed religious practices. So certain has this view of the pre-Reformation Church seemed to those who have not inquired very deeply into the subject, that more than one writer has been led by this assumption to assert that perhaps the most obvious benefit of the religious upheaval of the sixteenth century was the introduction of some general and systematic teaching of the great truths of religion. Preaching is often considered as characterising the reforming movement, as contrasted with the old ecclesiastical system, which it is assumed certainly admitted, even if it did not positively encourage, ignorance as the surest foundation of its authority. It becomes of importance, therefore, to inquire if such a charge is founded upon fact, and to see how far, if at all, the people in Catholic England were instructed in their religion.
At the outset, it should be remembered that the questions at issue in the sixteenth century were not, in the first place at least, connected with the influence of religious teaching on the lives of the people at large. No one contended that the reformed doctrines would be found to make people better,
or would help them to lead lives more in conformity with Gospel teaching. The question of what may be called practical religion never entered into the disputes of the time. Mr. Brewer warns the student of the history of this period that he will miss the meaning of many things altogether, and quite misunderstand their drift, if he starts his inquiry by regarding the Reformation as the creation of light to illuminate a previous period of darkness, or the evolution of practical morality out of a state of antecedent chaotic corruption. “In fact,” he says, “the sixteenth century was not a mass of moral corruption out of which life emerged by some process unknown to art or nature; it was not an addled egg cradling a living bird; quite the reverse.” For, as the historian of the German people, Janssen, points out, the truth is that the entire social order of the Middle Ages “ was established on the doctrine of good works being necessary for the salvation of the Christian soul.” Whilst, as Mr. Brewer again notes, Luther's remonstrances were directed not against bad works, but against the undue stress laid by the advocates of the old religion upon good works. Moreover, an age which could busy itself about discussions of questions as to “righteousness," whether of “faith or works," " is not a demoralised or degenerate age. These are not the thoughts of men buried in sensuality.”
Two questions are contained in the inquiry as to preReformation religious teaching, namely, as to its extent and as to its character. There can hardly be much doubt that the duty of giving instruction to the people committed to their charge was fully recognised by the clergy in mediæval times. In view of the positive legislation of various synods on the subject of regular and systematic teaching, as well as of the constant repetition of the obligation in the books of English canon law, it is obvious that the priests were not ignorant of what was their plain duty. From the time of the Constitution of Archbishop Peckham at the Synod of Oxford in 1281, to the time of the reli. gious changes, there is every reason to suppose that the ordinance contained in the following words was observed in every parish church in the country: “ We order," says the Constitution, “that every priest having the charge of a flock do, four times in each year (that is, once each quarter) on one or more solemn feast days, either himself cr by some one else, instruct the people in the vulgar lan. guage simply and without any fantastical admixture of subtle distinctions, in the articles of the Creed, Ten Commandments, the Evangelical Precepts, the seven works of mercy, the seven deadly sins with their offshoots, the seven principal virtues, and the seven Sacraments."
This means that the whole range of Christian teaching, dogmatic and moral, was to be explained to the people four times in every year; and in order that there should be no doubt about the matter, the Synod proceeds to set out in considerable detail each of the points upon which the priest was to instruct his people. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the great number of manuals intended to help the clergy in the execution of this law attest the fact that it was fully recognised and very generally complied with. When at the close of the latter century, the invention of printing made the multiplication of such manuals easy, the existence both of printed copies of this Constitution of Archbishop Peckham, and of printed tracts drawn up to give every assistance to the parochial clergy in the preparation of these homely teachings, proves that the law was understood and acted upon. In the face of such evidence it is impossible to doubt that, whatever may have been the case as to set sermons and formal discourses, simple, straightforward teaching was not neglected in pre-Reformation England, and every care was taken that the clergy might be furnished with material suitable for the fundamental religious teaching contemplated by the law. As late as 1466, a synod of the York Province, held by Archbishop Nevill, not only reiterated this general decree about regular quarterly instruc
tions of a simple and practical kind, but set out at great length the points of these lessons in the Christian faith and life upon which the parish priests were to insist.
Even set discourses of a more formal kind, though probably by no means so frequent as in these times, when they have to a great extent superseded the simple instructions of old Catholic days, were by no means neglected. Volumes of such sermons in manuscript and in print, as well as all that is known of the great discourses constantly being delivered at St. Paul's Cross, may be taken as sufficient evidence of this. For the conveyance of moral and religious instruction, however, the regular and homely talks of a parish priest to his people were vastly more important than the set orations, and it is with these familiar instructions that the student of this period of our history has chiefly to concern himself. All the available evidence goes to show that the giving of these was not only regarded as an obligation on the pastor; but attendance at them was looked upon as a usual and necessary portion of the Christian duty. For example, in the examinations of conscience intended to assist lay people in their preparation for the Sacrament of penance, there are indications that any neglect to attend at these parochial instructions was considered sufficiently serious to become a matter of confession. It is, of course, hardly conceivable that this should be so, if the giving of these popular lessons in the duties of the Christian life was neglected by the priests, or if they were not commonly frequented by the laity. To take a few instances. “ Also," runs one such examination, “ I have been slow in God's service, and negligent to pray and to go to church in due time . . . loth to hear the Word of God, and the preacher of the Word of God. Neither have I imprinted it in my heart and borne it away and wrought thereafter.”? Again : “ I have been setting nought by preaching and teaching of God's Word, by
· B. Mus. Harl. MS., 172 f. 12b.