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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

How could English Bishops enforce laws against incontinence


many forms. One of the most

universal was that the clergy, especially those of higher rank, busied themselves with everything save the one thing which specially belonged to them--the cure of souls. They took undue share in the government of the countries of Europe, and ousted the nobles from their legitimate places of rule. Clerical law-courts interfered constantly with the lives of burghers; and the clergy protested that they were not bound to obey the ordinary laws of the land. A brawling priest could plead the "benefit of clergy"; but a layman who struck a priest, no matter what the provocation, was liable to the dread penalty of excommunication. Their "right of sanctuary" was a perpetual encouragement to crime.[643] They and their claims menaced the quiet life of civilised towns and States. Constitutional lawyers, trained by Humanism to know the old imperial law codes of Theodosius and Justinian, traced these evils back to the interference of Canon Law with Civil, and that to the universal and absolute dominion of a papal absolutism. The Reformation desired, floated before the minds of statesmen as a reduction more or less thorough of the papal absolutism, and of the control exercised by the Pope and the clergy over the internal affairs of the State, even its national ecclesiastical regulations. The historical fact that the loosely formed kingdoms of the Middle Ages were being slowly transformed into modern States, perhaps furnished unconsciously the basis for this idea of a Reformation.

justify;">The same thought took another and more purely ecclesiastical form. The papal absolutism meant frequently that Italians received preferments all over western Europe, and supplanted the native clergy in the more important and richer benefices. Why should the Churches of Spain, England, or France be ruled by Italian prelates, whether resident or non-resident? It was universally felt that Roman rule meant a lack of spirituality, and was a source of religious as well as of national degradation. Men longed for a change, clergy as well as laity; and the thought of National Churches really independent of Rome, if still nominally under the Western Obedience, filled the minds of many Reformers.[644]

The early mediaeval Church had been a stern preacher of righteousness, had taught the barbarous invaders of Europe lessons of pure living, honesty, sobriety; it had insisted that the clergy ought to be examples as well as preachers; Canon Law was full of penalties ordained to check clerical vices. But it was notorious that the higher clergy, whose duty it was to put the laws in execution, were themselves the worst offenders. How could English Bishops enforce laws against incontinence, when Wolsey, Archbishop, Cardinal, and Legate, had made his illegitimate daughter the Abbess of Salisbury? What hope was there for strict discipline when no inconsiderable portion of a Bishop's annual income came from money paid in order to practise clerical incontinence in security? Reformers demanded a reformation of clerical morals, beginning with the Bishops and descending through all grades to monks and nuns.[645]

Humanism brought forward yet another conception of reform. It demanded either a thorough repudiation of the whole of Scholastic Theology and a return to the pure and simple "Christian Philosophy" of the Church of the first six centuries, or such a relaxation of that Scholastic as would afford room for the encouragement of the New Learning.


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