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thrown down eternally into the darkest and deepest gulf of hell, where, under the despiteful control, the trample, and spurn of all the other damned, that, in the anguish of their torture, shall have no other ease than to exercise a raving and bestial tyranny over them as their slaves and negroes, they shall remain in that plight for ever, the basest, the lowermost, the most dejected, most underfoot, and downtrodden vassals of perdition!”
MILTON PUBLISHEs HIs TREATISEs “on PRELATICAL EPIscopAcy, AND “THE REASON OF CHURCH GoverNMENT URGED AGAINST PRELACY,” IN ANSWER To BISHoP HALL AND ARCHBIs Hop Usher— CRITICISM ON THEIR STYLE-ANALYSIS OF BOTH TREATISES.
WHILE the two Books on Reformation in England were hailed by that increasing portion of the British community to whom the Anglican church had become execrable through the frantic ferocity of Laud, and the transfusion of his spirit through the clergy at large, they stimulated some of the wiser and better adherents of that church to the only kind of opposition which had even a remote chance of success. The first result was the production of a treatise entitled “An Humble Remonstrance to the High Court of Parliament,” from the pen of Bishop Hall: and the publication about the same time of Archbishop Usher's work, “The Apostolical Institution of Episcopacy.” These works drew from Milton prompt replies; one being entitled, “Of Prelatical Episcopacy,” and the other, “The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy.” As literary productions, these tracts are thus characterised by Dr. Symmons: “Like his former controversial productions, they are distinguished by force, acuteness, and erudition; but their language, though bearing a greater appearance of artifice and labour, is still evidently that of a man more conversant with the authors of Greece and Rome, than with those of his own country, and seems to be formed without sufficient attention to the genius of his native tongue. This observation will apply, with very diminished force, to some of his succeeding compositions: but in all of them there is an occasional recurrence of foreign idioms and of a classic inversion of phrase, not properly admissible in a language in which prepositions supply the place and office of inflexions.” It cannot be denied that there is much justice in this observation; and it is probable that the very partial and select popularity which Milton's prose writings have enjoyed, is mainly traceable to this feature in his style. Still it must neither be attributed to affectation, nor to a defect of nicety of perception and taste. It must be recollected that the Latin language and literature were as familiar to Milton as his own; that through life he adopted that language in much of his private and all his public correspondence, as well as in the composition of those of his works for which he desired a European notoriety; and that the natural consequence of this was an unconscious appropriation of its forms similar to that which every one who has sojourned long in a foreign country must have observed in himself. Upon the argument of this controversy, Dr. Symmons's remarks are not quite so correct: “The point at issue between these polemics was the divine or the human origin of episcopacy, as a peculiar order in the church, distinct in kind and pre-eminent in degree. Thatan officer with the title of Episcopus, or Overseer, (corrupted first by our ancestors into bigcop, and afterwards softened into bishop,) had existed in the church from its first construction by the apostles, was a fact which could not be denied: but while this officer was asserted by one party to have been nothing more than the president of the elders, he was affirmed by the other to have been elevated above these elders or presbyters by essential privileges, by a separate as well as by a superior jurisdiction.”
A perusal of the opening passage of the treatise on Prelatical Episcopacy, will show where the Doctor's misconception lies. “Episcopacy,” says Milton,” “as it is taken for an order in the church above a presbyter, or, as we commonly name him, the minister of a congregation, is either of divine constitution or of human. If only of human, we have the same human privilege that all men have ever had since Adam, being born free, and in the mistress island of all the British, to retain this episcopacy, or to remove it, consulting with our own occasions and conveniences, and for the prevention of our own dangers and disquiets, in what best manner we can devise, without running at a loss, as we must needs in those stale and useless records of either uncertain or unsound antiquity; which, if we hold fast to the grounds of the reformed church, can neither skill of us, nor we of it, so oft as it would lead us to the broken reed of tradition. If it be of Divine constitution, to satisfy us fully in that, the Scripture only is able, it being the only book left us of Divine authority, not in anything more Divine than in the all-sufficiency it hath to furnish us, as with all other spiritual knowledge, so with this in particular—setting out to us a perfect man of God, accomplished to all the good works of his charge: through all which book can be nowhere, either by plain text or solid reasoning, found any difference between a bishop and a presbyter, save that they be two names to signify the same order.”
The Treatise, “Of Prelatical Episcopacy,” is throughout a close tissue of argumentation, but little relieved by those sudden gleams and fervid flashes of eloquence which throw lustre over his other productions. In his reasoning, he closely follows the track of his opponents, exposing the fallacious traditions by which prelacy is supported, through “the indigested heap and fry of authors which they call antiquity.” He clearly shows, first, the small amount of credit to be attached to those writers to whom his antagonists were accus
* Prose Works, vol. ii. p. 421.
tomed to appeal. “I will not stand to argue,” he says, “as yet with fair allowance I might, that we may as justly suspect there were some bad and slippery men in that council, as we know there are wont to be in our convocations; nor shall I need to plead at this time, that nothing hath been more attempted, nor with more subtlety brought about, both anciently by other heretics, and modernly by papists, than to falsify the editions of the councils, of which we have none but from our adversaries' hands, whence canons, acts, and whole spurious councils are thrust upon us; and hard it would be to prove in all, which are legitimate, against the lawful rejection of an urgent and free disputer. But this I purpose not to take advantage of; for what avails it to wrangle about the corrupt editions of councils, whenas we know that many years ere this time, which was almost five hundred years after Christ, the councils themselves were foully corrupted with ungodly prelatism, and so far plunged into worldly ambition as that it stood them upon long ere this to uphold their now well-tested hierarchy by what fair pretext soever they could, in like manner as they had now learned to defend many other gross corruptions by as ancient and supposed authentic tradition as episcopacy? And what hope can we have of this whole council to warrant us a matter, four hundred years at least above their time, concerning the distinction of bishop and presbyter, whenas we find them such blind judges of things before their eyes, in their decrees of precedency between bishop and bishop, acknowledging Rome for the apostolic throne, and Peter, in that see, for the rock, the basis, and the foundation of the Catholic church and faith, contrary to the interpretation of more ancient fathers?”" He next shows, by successive references to Ignatius, Polycarp, Polycrates, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria, that their testimonies were inconsistent with each other, and utterly insufficient to establish the facts for which * Prose Works, vol. ii. p. 423.