A CATHOLIC VIEW OF PRE-REFORMATION ENGLAND.*
IF we except the origin of Christianity itself, there is no sub- ject in the range of human experience on which it is so impossible to focus what Bacon called "dry light" as the Reformation, and yet there is no subject on which it is more necessary to look with the spirit of absolute truth if we would understand the subsequent history of Christendom. How was the Reformation caused ? What were its results P Wert. they on the whole evil or beneficent P Were the people favour- able to the Reformation, or was it a movement imposed upon them ? What was its relation to the contemporary Renas- cence movement? Here are questions of immense and far- reaching significance on which equally learned and excellent men are still divided, and concerning which it is almost hope- less to expect any one to be so intellectually detached as to survey them with the impassive impartiality which would be displayed in the face of a mathematical problem. Dr. Gasquet, a Roman theologian and a Benedictine, whose very able and learned work lies before us, has no doubts or hesita- tion on the main questions; he gives us frankly a strong anti-Reformation treatise designed to show that the Refor- mation was in every way a misfortune for England,—for it is of England alone, and not the Continent, that he is treating. While taking np, however, a most decided line on what he, of course, believes to be a matter of life and death, no critic could find fault with the main tissue or the general tone of Dr. Gasquet's work, which is not so much controversial as historical. Nor does the author deny the need of a Reforma- tion in the sixteenth century, any more than did more than one of the occupants of the Papal chair. What he objects to is the Reformation as it actually was,—the methods of Luther, of some of the German Princes, of Henry VIII. and Thomas Cromwell; the crudity, the violence, the pillage; above all, the a undering in fragments of the historic religions system of Western Europe.
Speaking broadly, Dr. Gasquet's position is that on the eve of the Reformation in England the English were still sincerely Catholic, almost untouched by heresy, in close and sincere communion with the Roman See, and pledged to obedience to Papal authority. We are assured that the Lol. lard movement had entirely died out, being in its nature sporadic, and having no organic relation with the later Puritan movement. The English Reformation, therefore, from this point of view, was forced on the people by an ambitious and unscrupulous King, fond of splendour and eager for monastic spoils, surrounded by courtiers and adventurers themselves eager for gain, and who, as a matter of fact, directed the pillage of the ecclesiastical fabrics which the people themselves had but recently enriched. It is shown that as late as the first quarter of the sixteenth century the people were busily engaged in enriching and adorning their
• The Ere of the Beformatton. Br Francis Aldan Gasquet, D.D., O.S.B. Loudon : John C. Nimmo.
ancient parish churches, and that, therefore (such is the in- ference), they could not have been in the least tainted with heresy or captivated by Protestantism. In a word, Protes- tantism came from the seat of political power, and was, in the main, a political rather than a religions force. That the people were, long after the birth of Luther, sincerely Catholic alike in form and spirit, we think there can be little doubt. We should be inclined to go still further, and to maintain that a century after, had a poll been taken in England, the adherents of the old faith would possibly have been found in a majority. Hence the compromising character of Elizabeth's ecclesiastical legislation. All this is elaborated in the chapters of Dr. Gasquet's work entitled "England and the Pope," " Clergy and Laity," "Teaching and Preaching," "Parish Life in Catholic England," and "Pre-Reformation Guild Life." What Dr. Gasquet does ignore or minimise is that there was always in England from earliest times a certain quasi-independence of the See of Rome; and that, as the Papacy hardened and crystallised, this anti-Roman sentiment, which was quite consistent with general Catholic tradition and belief, grew strongly, especially with the growth of corruption in the Church,—a fact which Dr. Gasquet, in common with educated Catholics, admits.
Dr. Gasquet's work is of especial interest as bearing on the relation of the Reformation to the revival of Greek learning. Was the Reformation an ally of the Renascence ? We know that much Protestant zeal has been devoted to showing that the new religion and the new scholarship went hand in hand. But it must be admitted that Dr. Gasquet makes havoc of that theory, especially in his able chapter on " Erasmus." He contends that the Renascence and the "new learning" were quite distinct terms, the former per. taining to the revived secular learning, the latter to the new Lutheran opinions in religion, in regard to which the dubious word " learning" has been misleading. The scholarship of the Reformers, especially of Luther himself, was despised by Erasmus, who, along with such great and genuine scholars as More, Colet, Fisher, and others, remained within the bosom of the Roman Church and died in her com- munion. The Renascence, in point of fact, was bred under the shadow of the Vatican by a series of paganised Popes, under the patronage of the Medici in Florence, above all among the Greek refugees in Venice, who brought thither their priceless manuscripts. It is not a Reformation move- ment, and was, as a matter of undoubted fact, hostile rather than friendly to the tone and methods of the Reformation as conducted by Luther. We are now trying to look at the Reformation dispassionately, and are bound to say that on this point Dr. Gasquet has the truth on his side, though he is probably going too far when he insinuates that men like Reuchlin were uncultivated blunderers.
Over-zealous Protestantism which accepts its account of the Reformation as final will do well to study this work, in spite of phrases here and there which will grate upon the ear. No competent judge will pretend to deny that there was much in the English Reformation which was crude, un- fortunate, unwise, and unjust. The fierce strife which followed, the grave economic evils which befcl the poor, the menace to liberty caused by the swollen Tudor Monarchy, are all proofs that the religious changes had been mixed with some dubious elements, and that greed and lust of power had masqueraded under the cloak of religion. On the whole, we call Dr. Gasquet's work an antidote to Mr. Froude's glorifica- tion of Henry VIII. and Thomas Cromwell. It is not the whole truth; but perhaps in that convenient via media whose cool shade is so grateful to the student of history we may find safe paths to our feet.
But perhaps, after all, the beat defence of the Reformation is to be found in the movements which sprang from it. If the Reformation in England is judged by its fruits, will any candid man desire to condemn it P From it sprang the Puritans, to whom England owed and still owes so much. Milton, Bunyan, Richard Baxter were its children. But so also were the great Anglican divines,—Hooker, Herbert, Jeremy Taylor. The latter, as much as the former, were the offspring of the Reformation. It is by such men and their spiritual comrades that we are content to see it weighed and judged. •