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the excuse that these men were martyrs, he replies, that this is no proof of their being incapable of error; and he instances the Arians and Pelagians, “which were slain by the heathen for Christ’s sake, yet we take both of these for no true friends of Christ.”
And here withall I invoke the Immortal Deity, revealer and judge of secrets, that wherever I have in this book plainly and roundly, though worthily and truly, laid open the faults and blemishes of Fathers, martyrs, or Christian emperors, or have otherwise inveighed against error and superstition with vehement expressions, I have done it neither out of malice nor list [inclination] to speak evil, nor any vain glory; but of mere necessity, to vindicate the spotless truth from an ignominious bondage, whose native worth is now become of such a low esteem that she is like to find small credit with us for what she can say, unless she can bring a ticket from Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley, or prove herself a retainer to Constantine and wear his badge. More tolerable it were for the Church of God that all these names were utterly abolished, like the Brazen Serpent, than that men’s fond opinion should thus idolize them, and the heavenly truth be thus captivated.
The time of Edward VI., from its unsettled nature, was no time for forming a perfect constitution, and those to whom it was committed had different ends in view. We are not therefore to argue in favour of episcopacy from its being then continued. Episcopacy is to be judged from its effects, and it actually, he thinks, “ worsens and slugs the most learned and seeming religious of our ministers.”
But what [for what] do we suffer misshapen and enormous prelatism,* as we do, thus to blanch and varnish her deformities with the fair colours, as before of martyrdom, so now of episcopacy? They are not bishops, God and all good men know they are not, that have filled this land with late confusion and violence,
* We are to observe that Milton throughout distinguishes prelates from bishops.
but a tyrannical crew and corporation of impostors, that have blinded the world so long under that name. He that, enabled with gifts from God, and the lawful and primitive choice of the Church, assembled in convenient number, faithfully from that time forward feeds his parochial flock, has his coequal and compresbyterial power to ordain ministers and deacons, by public prayer and vote of Christ’s congregation, in like sort as he himself was ordained, and is a true apostolic bishop. But when he steps up into the chair of pontifical pride, and changes a moderate and exemplary house, for a misgoverned and haughty palace, spiritual dignity for carnal precedence, and secular high oflice and employment for the high negociations of his heavenly embassage, then he degrades, then he unbishops himself. He that makes him a bishop, makes him no
He gives as an instance St. Martin, who complained to Sulpitius Severus, that since he had been a bishop, he felt a sensible decay of the gifts and graces that God had previously given him, though Sulpitius says there was no change in his manners or habits.
The same impediments, he proceeds to say, prevailed in Elizabeth’s reign, and the crude constitutions made in the time of Edward were established for good and all, though they had not satisfied even those who made them; and their impugners were branded with the name of Puritans and persecuted, while the Queen was made to believe that she would endanger her prerogative if she consented to do away with bishops. He then comes to his own times, and he divides the hinderers of Reformation into three classes, Antiquitarians (“for so I had rather call them than Antiquaries, whose labours are useful and laudable ”), Libertines, and Politicians.
In answer to the first, he undertakes to show that, if “they will conform our bishops to the purer times, they must mew their feathers and their pounces,* and make
* Mew is the same as moult ,- pounce is scent or perfume.
but curtailed bishops of them;” secondly, that “those purer times were corrupt, and their books corrupted soon after ;” thirdly, that the best writers of those times disclaim all authority and send men to the Scriptures.
He first shows, by the testimony of Ignatius, that bishops must be elected by the hands of the whole Church; and, from him and Camden, that previous to the year 268 bishops had no fixed dioceses, but exercised their authority wherever they came. He further proves from Cyprian, that bishops could not lawfully be appointed without the consent of the people, and shows from an epistle of the Council of Niceea, and the example of St. Martin, that such was the practice down to the end of the fourth century, and apparently to the end of the ninth. From Ignatius and Cyprian he shows, that bishops were only the first among their compresbyters, and could do nothing without their counsel and consent; a glimpse of which, he says, remains at Rome, where the Pope “ performeth all ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as in consistory among his cardinals, which were originally but the parish-priests of Rome.”
Thus then did the spirit of unity and meekness inspire and animate every joint and sinew of the mystical body. But now the gravest and worthiest minister, a true bishop of his fold, shall be reviled and rufiied by an insulting and only canon-wise prelate, as if he were some slight paltry companion [fellow] ; and the people of God, redeemed and washed with Christ’s blood, and dignified with so many glorious titles of Saints and Sons in the Gospel, are now no better respected than impure Ethnics and lay dogs. Stones and pillars and crucifixes have now the honour and the alms due to Christ’s living members; the table of communion, now become a table of separation, stands like an exalted platform upon the brow of the quire, fortified with bulwark and barricade to keep off the profane touch of the laics; while the obscene and surfeited priest scruples not to paw and mammoc the sacramental bread as familiarly as his tavern-biscuit. And thus the people, vilified and rejected by them, give over the earnest study of virtueand godliness, as a thing of greater purity than they need, and the search of divine knowledge as a mystery too high for their capacities, and only for churchmen to meddle with,—which is what the prelates desire, that, when they have brought us back to Popish blindness, we might commit to their dispose the whole management of our salvation; for they think it was never fair world with them since that time. But he that will mould a modern bishop into a primitive, must yield him to be elected by the popular voice, undiocesed, unreverenced, unlorded, and leave him nothing but brotherly equality, matchless temperance, frequent fasting, incessant prayer and preaching, continual watchings and labours in his ministry,—which, what a rich booty it would be, what a plump endowment to the many-benefice-gaping mouth of a prelate, what a relish it would give to his canary-sucking and swan-eating palate, let old bishop Mountain judge for me.*
His second assertion, that those purer times themselves were corrupt, is proved by the testimony of Ignatius and Eusebius. The writings of those times also are full of errors, for “who,” says he, “is ignorant of the foul errors, the ridiculous wrestings of Scripture, the heresies, the vanities thick-sown through the volumes of Justin Martyr, Clemens, Origen, Tertullian, and others of the eldest time?” Further, “ who knows not how many superstitious works are ingraffed into the legitimate writings of the Fathers? and of those books that pass for authentic, who knows what hath been tampered withal, what hath been rased out, what hath been inserted ?” He then comes to Constantine, the great object of the praise of the clergy, and exposes his cruelty, his Arianism, and his persecution of the “ faithful and invincible ” Athanasius, and the superstition of himself and his mother respect
* What precedes is directed against the Laudian innovations. Bishop Mountain, who it seems was a gourmand, was an active promoter of them.
ing the true cross, and asks, “ How should then the dim taper of this Emperor’s age, that had such need of snuff
ing, extend any beam to our times, wherewith we might _
hope to be better lighted than by those luminaries which God hath set up to shine to us far nearer hand?” He enumerates the corruptions introduced into the Church by and through this Prince, whose successors proved to be the one “a fiat Arian,” the other an apostate, and there his race ended. The Church then, according to the testimony of St. Martin and Sulpitius, went on growing continually worse and worse. He quotes passages from Dante, Petrarca, and Ariosto, in proof of its being “ a received opinion, even among men professing the Romish faith, that Constantine marred all in the Church.” When therefore “the prelates cry out, Let the Church be reformed according to Constantine, it should sound to a judicious ear no otherwise than if they should say, Make us rich, make us lofty, make us lawless [free from law]. For if any under him were not so, thanks to those ancient remains of integrity which were not yet quite worn out, and not to his government.”
That the most ancient and best of the Fathers disclaimed all authority, is proved by the testimony of Cyprian, Lactantius, and Austin; and that they referred the decision of all controversy to the Scriptures is shown briefly from Ignatius and copiously from Cyprian ,- he also quotes a passage to the same effect from Basil. To the objections that “ the Scriptures are diflicult to be understood, and therefore require the explanation of the Fathers,” he replies, “ It is true there be some books, and especially some places in these books, that remain clouded, yet ever that which is most necessary to be
known is most easy, and that which is most diflicult so z