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8TATE OF RELIGIOUS PARTIES IN ENGLAND-PERSECUTIONS BY LAUD AND THE COURTS OF HIGH COMMISSION AND STAR CHAMBER—PERSECUTING BIGOTRY OF THE PRESBYTERIANS – MEETING OF THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY-THE SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT— CATASTROPHE OF THE ROYAL CAUSE - REPENTANCE AND RETURN of MILTON's wife—HE PUBLISHEs His TREATISE ON EDUCATION.— ANAI.YSIS OF THE WORK.
BEFORE detailing the effects produced by the publication of the Treatises on Divorce, and the bearing they had upon Milton's subsequent career, it is necessary to notice the state of parties, and especially of ecclesiastical parties, at this period. While the secularity and corruption of the clergy had brought the Anglican church into contempt, the tyrannical cruelty of the bishops had excited against it the bitterest feelings of hostility. An attempt was made by the House of Commons, in the first parliament of Charles I., which met June 18, 1625, to abridge the causes of this odium, by restoring those of the clergy who had been, silenced as Puritans, and moderating non-residences, pluralities, and commendams. This effort was rendered abortive by the abrupt dissolution of Parliament, after an existence of less than two months. Two years afterwards, this spirit of dissatisfaction was greatly increased by the publication of a Sermon, at the special command of the king, under the title of “Religion and Allegiance,” by Dr. Manwaring. In this discourse the preacher maintained, “That the
King is not beund to observe the laws of the realm, concerning the subjects' rights and liberties; but that his royal will ... and eonmand, in imposing ioans and taxes, without com:--mon consent, in parliament, doth oblige the subjects' conscience upon pain of eternal damnation.” The Commons, in their indignation, indicated how little they understood the principles of true liberty, by visiting the offender with a sentence, a fine, imprisonment, and suspension, and the • breach between the king and his Parliament was much widened by his not only releasing and pardoning his parasite, but by rewarding him with the gift of a living in Essex, in addition to that of St. Giles's in the Fields, which he already held. Meanwhile the power and malignity of Laud increased together; and the absolute devastation committed by the two unconstitutional courts—those of the High Commission and the Star Chamber—rivalled the atrocities of the Popish Inquisition. Multitudes of Dissenters were driven to emigrate to what were then the wilds of the North American continent, many of whom perished there by famine. Numerous petitions were now presented for the abolition of the obnoxious courts, and of episcopacy itself, which was scarcely less detested. The second expedition against the Scotch, popularly called the bishops' war, in 1640, met with the ill success which it deserved; it was closed by the humiliating treaty of Rippon, and the 3rd of November in that year witnessed the memorable meeting of the Long Parliament. In this, the petitions setting forth the corruptions and praying for the abolition of the episcopacy, were redoubled. One of these was signed by fifteen thousand citizens of London, and another, known as the ministers' petition, signed by seven hundred clergymen. These were met by counter petitions, procured by the influence of the aristocracy and the bishops, to which no fewer than one hundred thousand names are said to have been attached. A resolution passed the House of Commons, “That the legislative and judicial power of bishops in the House of Peers, in parliament, is a great hinderance to the discharge of their spiritual functions, prejudicial to the commonwealth, and fit to be taken away by bill.” On the following day a similar vote was passed respecting their being in the commission of the peace, or having any judicial power in the Star Chamber, or in any civil court, and, on the 26th of the same month, their employment as privy councillors, or in any other temporal offices, was also condemned.” " On this resolution a bill was founded, the object of which was to exclude the bishops from the legislature, and to disqualify them from all administrative offices of a similar kind. After encountering a strong opposition in the House of Lords, it was met by four resolutions, the purpose of which was, to exclude the clergy from the Star Chamber, the Privy Council, and other secular offices, but to continue to them their privilege of sitting in the Upper House; the Commons objected to this exception, and the bill was ultimately lost. A second and more sweeping measure was within a few days brought under the consideration of the House of Commons; it contemplated no less than “the utter abolishing and taking away of all archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissaries; deans, deans and chapters; archdeacons, prebendaries, chanters, canons, and all other their under officers.” Political events, however, interposed delays, which led to the abandonment of this measure, though the spirit by which it was dictated remained unimpaired. Next followed an impeachment, in the name of the Commons, of thirteen of the bishops, for having made and promulgated, in the convocation of 1640, divers canons, hostile “to the King's prerogative, to the fundamental laws and statutes of the realm, to the rights of Parliament, and to the property and liberty of the subject.” But here again
the supporters of episcopacy adopted the victorious policy of delay, and at once balked and exasperated the resolves of the people. Meanwhile the controversial writings of Milton, which have already been noticed, had produced a marked effect upon the parliament and the country; and in so far as they argumentatively demolished episcopacy, they had been hailed with delight by the Presbyterians, both Scotch and English, whose repugnance to that form of church government had been confirmed and intensified, in the one case by the outrages which had been committed on a religion intertwined with the deepest sentiments of nationality; and in the other, by those almost vindictive feelings which persecution engenders, and which piety itself has seldom prevailed to control. Unhappily for the cause of religious freedom in this and, perhaps, in every subsequent age, the bitter aversion of the Presbyterians to episcopacy was unconnected with any enlarged love of religious freedom, and extended with sectarian acrimony to Christians of every communion but their own. The prevalent sentiments of that denomination shall be described in the language of Dr. Price; and in quoting it, I take the opportunity of saying that his history of Protestant Nonconformity, by its great research, its judicious discrimination, the enlightened views which it ex
hibits, and the expansive candour and catholicity of senti
ment which pervades it, commends itself as by far the most valuable work we possess in this department of ecclesiastical literature. “The Scotch,” the Doctor observes, “were bigotedly devoted to the Presbyterian form of ecclesiastical government. It had been erected on the ruins of Popery by Knox, the most fearless and masculine of modern reformers, and had been endeared to the nation by the fearful struggle which they made on its behalf. What James had contemplated, Charles commissioned Laud to achieve; and the disciples of Presbytery groaned beneath
his heartless policy. The sufferings inflicted in the cause of episcopacy naturally engendered an unconquerable aversion to it. The people loathed it as a disguised and virulent form of Popery, and at length wrested from the reluctant hand of Charles the recognition of their beloved and more simple polity. Unhappily, however, the Presbyterians of Scotland had not learned wisdom from their sufferings. Their passions were inflamed without their views being rectified; and they came forth from the school of adversity as narrow-minded and intolerant as any of the bishops. Hence arose a great difficulty in the negociations of the Parliament with their brethren in Scotland.” The latter insisted on the ecclesiastical government of England being conformed to their own platform, and required the enforcement of penal laws against all Dissenters. The General Assembly, in a communication to the English Parliament, after referring to the request of the Scotch commissioners, in the late treaty for peace, “That in all His Majesty's dominions there might be one confession of faith, one directory of worship, one public catechism, and one form of church government;” and that, “the names of heresies and sects, puritans, conformists, separatists, anabaptists, &c., which do rend asunder the bowels both of kirk and kingdom,” might be suppressed, proceeded to declare that they are encouraged to renew the proposition made by the forenamed commissioners, for beginning the work of reformation at the uniformity of kirk government. “For what hope,” say they, “can there be of unity in religion, of one confession of faith, one form of worship, and one catechism, till there be first one form of ecclesiastical government: yea, what hope can the Kingdom and Kirk of Scotland have of a firm and durable peace, till the prelacy, which hath been the main cause of their miseries and troubles, first and last, be plucked up, root and branch, as a plant which God hath not planted, and from which no better fruit can be expected, than such sour grapes as this