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process, order, and meaning of the text. The Romanists understood perfectly well how little the practice of their Church was supported by Scripture; and that if the Ark of the Covenant was admitted, Dagon must fall. No sooner, therefore, was it discovered that copies of this translation were industriously dispersed in England, and eagerly bought, than Archbishop Warham and Tonstal prohibited it, as being corrupted with articles of heretical pravity, and opinions erroneous, pernicious, pestilent, scandalous, tending to seduce persons of simple and unwary dispositions; and they issued orders and monitions for bringing them in and burning them. Tonstal himself, who of all the Romish Prelates was the most averse to the cruelties in which he was engaged, employed a merchant secretly to purchase the copies that remained in Tindal's hands, as the easiest and surest mode of preventing their dispersion. The agent in this transaction was secretly a friend of Tindal, who, being very desirous of correcting the translation, gladly sold them, and with the money which he thus obtained, printed an improved edition.
A spirit had now been roused, which no persecution could suppress. Dangerous as it was to possess the book, it was eagerly sought for ; and of those persons who dispersed it, some were punished by penance and heavy fines; others, who preached and avowed its doctrines, by the flames. A brother of Tindal, with two others concerned in circulating these Testaments, were sentenced to pay the enormous fine of 18,8401. and ten-pence; and they were made to ride with their faces to the horse's tail, papers on their heads, and as many of the condemned books as they could carry fastened to their clothes all around them, to the standard in Cheapside, and there, with their own hands, throw the copies which had been seized into the fire. But burning the Testament appears to have excited some surprise and displeasure, even in those who regarded the burning of those who read it as an affair in the regular course of things. Tonstal, , therefore, who saw with what effect the press was employed against the Romish Church, requested Sir Thomas More to write and publish against Tindal's translation, and the other condemned books written by Tindal and his coadjutors, for which purpose a license was granted him to read them. Well had it
1 Strype's Cranmer, 81.
been for humanity, if no other means had ever been employed for opposing or extending the principles of the Reformation.
Sir Thomas More is represented, by the Protestant Martyrologists, as a cruel persecutor ; by Catholics, as a blessed martyr. Like some of his contemporaries, he was both. But the character of this illustrious man deserves a fairer estimate than has been given it, either by his adorers or his enemies. It behoves us ever to bear in mind, that while actions are always to be judged by the immutable standard of right and wrong, the judgement which we pass upon men must be qualified by considerations of age, country, situation, and other incidental circumstances; and it will then be found, that he who is most charitable in his judgement, is generally the least unjust. Sir Thomas More would, in any age of the world, have ranked among the wisest and best of men. One generation earlier, he would have appeared as a precursor of the Reformation, and perhaps have delayed it by procuring the correction of grosser abuses, and thereby rendering its necessity less urgent. One generation later, and his natural place would have been in Elizabeth's Council, among the pillars of the State, and the founders of the Church of England. But the circumstances wherein he was placed were peculiarly unpropitious to his disposition, his happiness, and even his character in after-times. His high station (for he had been made Chancellor upon Wolsey's disgrace) compelled him to take an active part in public affairs ; in forwarding the work of persecution, he believed that he was discharging not only a legal, but a religious duty; and it is but too certain that he performed it with activity and zeal. “ The Lord forgive Sir Thomas More,” were among the last words which Bainham uttered amid the flames. The Protestants who, by his orders, and some of them actually in his sight, were flogged and racked, to make them declare with whom they were connected, and where was the secret deposit of their forbidden books, imputed the cruelty of the laws to his personal inhumanity. In this they were as unjust to him as he was in imputing moral criminality to them; for his was one of those unworldly dispositions which are ever more willing to endure evil than to inflict it. It is because this was so certainly his temper and his principle, that his decided intolerance has left a
stain upon his memory; what in his contemporaries was only consistent with themselves and with the times, appearing monstrous in him, who in other points was advanced so far beyond his age. But by this very superiority it may partly be explained. . He perceived, in some of the crude and perilous opinions which were now promulgated, consequences to which the Reformers, in the ardour and impatience of their sincerity, were blind: he saw that they tended to the subversion, not of existing institutions alone, but of civil society itself: the atrocious frenzy of the Anabaptists in Germany confirmed him in this apprehension; and the possibility of re-edifying the Church upon its old foundations, and giving it a moral strength which should resist all danger, entered not into his mind, because he was contented with it as it stood, and in the strength of his attachment to its better principles, loved some of its errors and excused others. Herein he was unlike his friend Erasmus, whom he resembled equally in extent of erudition and in sportiveness of wit. But More was characteristically devout; the imaginative part of Romanism had its full effect upon him: its splendid ceremonials, its magnificent edifices, its alliance with music, painting, and sculpture, (the latter arts then rapidly advancing to their highest point of excellence,) its observances, so skilfully interwoven with the business, the festivities, and the ordinary economy of life, ... in these things he delighted, ... and all these the Reformers were for sweeping away. But the impelling motive for his conduct was, his assent to the tenet that belief in the doctrines of the Church was essential to salvation. For upon that tenet, whether it be held by Papist or Protestant, toleration becomes, what it has so often been called, ... soul-murder ; persecution is then, in the strictest sense, a duty; and it is an act of religious charity to burn heretics alive, for the purpose of deterring others from damnation. The tenet is proved to be false by its intolerable consequences, ... and no stronger exam. ple can be given of its injurious effect upon the heart, than that it should have made Sir Thomas More a persecutor.
The first of his controversial works was not unworthy of its author. It was in the form of a dialogue with one whose mind had been unsettled by the new doctrines; and the worse cause had the better advocate. It was, however, not uncandidly or
unfairly managed. Sir Thomas seemed willing to take the opportunity of commenting upon some scandalous practices, while he defended the Church of Rome on all main points; and this was done with characteristic pleasantry, not the less likely to please because of its occasional coarseness, in good humour with the disputant, kindly in manner, always with an appearance of reason, and sometimes cogently. Still it was strongly tinctured with the bitterness of the Romish spirit, and the heretics were spoken of as branches cut from the vine, and reserved only for the fire, first' here, and afterwards in hell. The dialogue was answered by Tindal: and More, in his subsequent writings, degenerated into the worst form of controversy, and its worst temper.
Two men, of great note among the Reformers, wrote in defence of Tindal and his opinions. Robert Barnes, the one, had been Prior of the Augustines in Cambridge, but after bearing a faggot, had escaped beyond sea. The other, John Frith, was one of the Cambridge men whom Wolsey removed to the college which he had founded at Oxford, a proof in what estimation he was held for his abilities, conduct, and attainments. It was soon discovered that many of these persons inclined to the new doctrines : Frith among others : he had, in fact, become the disciple and friend of Tindal, during Tindal's abode at Cambridge. Some of them died in consequence of confinement in an unwholesome cellar: their death excited Wolsey's compassion, and he ordered the others to be released, on condition of their remaining within a certain distance of Oxford. Frith, however, fled to the Continent, and, returning, after a few years, was apprehended as a vagabond at Reading, and set in the stocks. The schoolmaster of the town, hearing him bewail himself in Latin, entered into conversation with him, and, finding him an accomplished scholar, procured his liberty. It appears that he had come over to diffuse his opinions at all risks; and yet with a fervour which approached to enthusiasm in his love of the truth, and his devotion to it, few of the Reformers were so temperate in their opinions. In this his own cool judgement accorded with the advice of Tindal, that avoiding high questions, which surpass common capacity, and expounding the law so as to convince men of sin, he
1 Dialogue, ff. 47.
should " set abroach the mercy of our Lord and Saviour,” and let wounded consciences drink of the living waters. The manner in which Tindal, writing to him at the time, speaks both of himself and his friend, will show what these men were, whom Sir Thomas More described as fit only for the fire here, and hereafter! “There liveth not,” he says, “ in whom I have so good hope and trust, and in whom my heart rejoiceth, as in you; not the thousandth part so much for your learning, and what other gifts else you have, as because you will creep a-low by the ground, and walk in those things that the conscience may feel, and not in the imaginations of the brain; in fear, and not in boldness; in open necessary things, and not to pronounce or define of hid secrets, or things that neither help nor hinder, whether it be so or no; in unity, and not in seditious opinions : insomuch that if you be sure you know, yet, in things that may abide leisure, ye will defer and let it pass; and stick you stiffly and stubbornly in earnest and necessary things. And I trust you be persuaded even so of me ; for I call God to record, that I never altered one syllable of God's word”... (More had accused him of so doing) ..." against my conscience; nor would this day, if all that is on the earth, whether it be pleasure, honour, or riches, might be given me ... If there were in me any gift that could help at hand and aid you, if need required, I promise you I would not be far off, and commit the end to God . . . But God hath made me evil-favoured in this world, and without grace in the sight of men ; speechless and rude, dull and slow-witted. Your part shall be to supply what lacketh in me, remembering, that as lowliness of heart shall make you high with God, even so meekness of words shall make you sink into the hearts of men. Nature giveth age authority, but meekness is the glory of youth.”
When this letter was delivered to him, he was a prisoner in the Tower, a paper of his, upon transubstantiation, written by the desire of one of his friends, having been treacherously delivered to Sir Thomas More, who thereupon used all means for discovering him, and finally succeeded, though he repeatedly changed his dress and his place of abode. To the arguments which More published against his treatise, Frith replied from prison, with great ability and great moderation; not shrinking from avowing his entire disbelief in a corporeal presence, but desiring