« AnteriorContinuar »
as the Popes in their wisdom might think fit. So they, in their infallibility, declared, and so the people believed! The Popes were liberal of this treasure. If they wished to promote a new practice of devotion, or encourage a particular shrine, they granted to those who should perform the one, or visit the other, an indulgence, that is, a dispensation for so many years of Purgatory; sometimes for shorter terms, but often by centuries, or thousands of years, and in many cases, the indulgence was plenary, ... a toll-ticket entitling the soul to pass scot-free.
All persons, however, could not perform pilgrimages; and even the accommodating device of the Church, which promised large indulgences for saying certain prayers before the engraved portrait of a miraculous image, was liable, in numerous instances, to be frustrated. The picture might not find its way to remote places; the opportunity of acquiring it might be neg. lected, or it might remain in the possession of its unthinking owner, a forgotten thing. The Romish Church, in its infinite benevolence, considered this; and therefore sold indulgences, making the act of purchasing them, and thus contributing to its wants, a merit of itself sufficient to deserve so inestimable a reward. It was taught also, that merits were transferable by gift or purchase : under this persuasion, large endowments were bestowed upon convents, on condition that the donor should par. take in the merits of the community; and few persons who had any property at their own disposal, went out of the world without bequeathing some of it to the Clergy, for saying masses, in number proportioned to the amount of the bequest, for the benefit of their souls. The wealthy founded chantries, in which service was to be performed, for ever, to this end. Thus were men taught to put their trust in riches: their wealth being thus invested, became available to them beyond the grave; and in whatever sins they indulged, provided they went through the proper forms, and obtained a discharge, they might purchase a free passage through Purgatory, or at least, an abbreviation of the term, and a mitigation of its torments while they lasted. How severe these torments were to be, might in some degree be estimated by the scale appointed for those who were willing to commute, at a certain rate, while they were alive. The set-off for a single year was fixed at the recitation of thirty psalms, with
an accompaniment of one hundred stripes to each : the whole psalter, with its accompaniment of fifteen thousand, availing only to redeem five years. The chronicles of the middle ages are filled with horrible legends, invented to promote a superstition so profitable to the Priests: and that it might be the more deeply impressed upon the people, the representations of souls weltering in fire were exposed in churches, and in streets, and by the way-side ; fraternities were established to beg for them ; and to give money for their use is part of the penance which is usually, at this day, appointed by the Confessor.
But Purgatory was not the only invisible world over which the authority of the Church extended ; for to the Pope, as to the representative of St. Peter, it was pretended that the keys of Heaven and Hell were given ; a portion of this power was delegated to every Priest, and they inculcated, that the soul which departed without confession and absolution, bore with it the weight of its deadly sins to sink it to perdition. This also was a practice of priestcraft, ingrafted upon a wholesome discipline, which had grown out of a just religious feeling. The primitive Christians, when their conscience smote them for the neglect of duty, or the commission of sin, used to take shame to themselves, by acknowledging the fault before God and man, in the face of the congregation. While they were a small community, each known to the others, this was no inconvenience : but when numbers increased, and zeal abated, the confession was then made privately to the Priest alone; and the Clergy so clearly perceived the influence which they derived from this, that they soon insisted upon it as a peremptory duty, imperative upon all persons; and according to the usual craft, they propagated a thousand tales of ghosts who had visited earth to reveal their horrible doom for having left it unperformed. Of all the practices of the Romish Church, this is the one which has proved most injurious; and if it be regarded in connexion with the celibacy of the Clergy, the cause will be apparent why the state of morals is generally so much more corrupt in Catholic than in Protestant countries. This obvious and enormous mischief is not its only evil consequence. The uses of conscience were at an end when it was delivered into the keeping of a Confessor.
1 Sozomen, 1. 7. c.
Actions, then, instead of being tried by the eternal standard of right and wrong, on which the unsophisticated heart unerringly pronounces, were judged by the rules of a pernicious casuistry, the intent of which was to make men satisfied with themselves upon the cheapest terms. The inevitable effect was, that the fear of human laws became the only restraint upon evil propensities, when men were taught to believe that the account with Divine Justice might easily be settled. Tables were actually set forth by authority, in which the rate of absolution for any imaginable crime was fixed, and the most atrocious might be committed with spiritual impunity for a few shillings. The foulest murderer and parricide, if he escaped the hangman, might, at this price, set his conscience at ease concerning all farther consequences !
If the boundless credulity of mankind be a mournful subject for consideration, as in truth it is, it is yet more mournful to observe the profligate wickedness with which that credulity has been abused. The Church of Rome appears to have delighted in insulting as well as in abusing it, and to have pleased itself with discovering how far it was possible to subdue and degrade the human intellect, as an Eastern despot measures his own greatness by the servile prostration of his subjects. If farther proof than has already appeared were needful, it would be found in the prodigious doctrine of Transubstantiation. This astonishing doctrine arose from taking figurative words in a literal sense ; and the Romanists do not shrink from the direct inference, that if their interpretation be just, Christ took his own body in his own hands, and offered it to his disciples. But all minor difficulties may easily be overlooked, when the flagrant absurdity of the doctrine itself is regarded. For, according to the Church of Rome, when the words of consecration have been pronounced, the bread becomes that same actual body of flesh and blood in which our Lord and Saviour suffered upon the Cross; remaining bread to the sight, touch, and taste, yet ceasing to be so, ... and into how many parts soever the bread may be broken, the whole entire body is contained in every part. And this, they pretend, is that daily bread, for which our Saviour has instructed us to pray!
Of all the corruptions of Christianity, there was none which the Popes so long hesitated to sanction as this. When the ques
tion was brought before Hildebrand, he not only inclined to the opinion of Berenger, by whom it was opposed, but appointed one of his clergy to consult the Virgin Mary, and then declared that she had pronounced against it. Nevertheless, it prevailed, and was finally declared, by Innocent III., at the fourth Lateran Council, to be a tenet necessary to salvation. Strange as it may appear, the doctrine had become popular, . . . with the people, for its very extravagance, ... with the Clergy, because they grounded upon it their loftiest pretensions. For if there were in the sacrament this actual and entire sole presence, which they denoted by the term of transubstantiation, it followed that divine worship was something more than a service of prayer and thanksgiving; an actual sacrifice was performed in it, wherein they affirmed the Saviour was again offered up, in the same body which had suffered on the cross, by their hands. The Priest, when he performed this stupendous function of his ministry, had before his eyes, and held ? in his hands, the Maker of Heaven and Earth ; and the inference which they deduced from so blasphemous an assumption was, that the Clergy were not to be subject to any secular authority, seeing that they could create 3 God their Creator ! Let it not be supposed that the statement is in the slightest part exaggerated, it is delivered faithfully in their own words.
If such then were the power of the Clergy, even of the meanest priest, what must be attributed to their earthly head, the successor of St. Peter? They claimed for him a plenitude of power; and it has been seen that he exercised it over the Princes of Christendom in its fullest meaning. According to the Canonists, the Pope was as far above all Kings, as the sun is greater than the moon.
He was King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, though he subscribed himself the Servant of Servants. His power it was which was intended," when it was said to the Prophet Jeremiah, “Behold, I have this day set thee over the nations and the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and
Mosheim, vol. ii. p. 335, note z. (English trans. 2d ed. 1768.) Martene and Durand. Thes. Anec. t. iv. 108.
2 Urban VIII. In his preface before the missal. Quoted in Hicke's True Notion of Persecution stated, p. 22.
* Eadmer. Acta Sanctorum Apr. t. ii. p. 919. Stella Clericorum, quoted by Jeremy Taylor, vol. ix. p. 408. * Barrow, vol. vi. p. 11. P. Innocent III. quoted. Foulis, p. 30.
to throw down, to build, and to plant.” It was an incomprehensible and infinite power, because! “great is the Lord, and great is his power, and of his greatness there is no end.” The immediate and sole rule of the whole world belonged to him by natural, moral, and divine right; all authority depending upon him.
As supreme King, he might? impose taxes upon all Christians; and the Popes declared it was to be held as a point necessary to salvation, that every human creature is subject to the Roman Pontiff. That he might lawfully depose Kings, was averred to be so certain a doctrine, that it could only be denied by madmen, or through the instigation of the Devil ; it was more pernicious and intolerable to deny it, than to err concerning the Sacraments. And, indeed, God would not have sufficiently provided for the preservation of his Church, and the safety of souls, if he had not appointed this power of depriving or“ restraining apostate princes. All nations and kingdoms were under the Pope's jurisdiction, for to him God had delivered over the power and dominion in Heaven and Earth. Nay, he might take away kingdoms and empires, with or without cause, and give them to whom he pleased, though the sovereign, whom he should depose, were in every respect not merely blameless, but meritorious : it was reason enough for the change that the Pope 6 deemed it convenient. The Spouse of the Church was Vice-God: men were commanded to bow ? at his name, as at the name of Christ; the proudest sovereigns waited upon him like menials, led his horse by the bridle, and held his stirrup while he alighted ; and there were ambassadors, who prostrated themselves before him, saying, “O thou, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us ! ”
The advocates of the Papal power proclaimed that any secular laws which might be passed against a decree of the Roman Pontiff, were in themselves null and void ; and that all pontifical decrees ought for ever to be observed by all men, like the word of God, to be received as if they came from the mouth of
· Barrow, vol. vi. p. 5. Oxford edit. Aug. Triumph. de Potest. Eccl. in præf. ad P. Joh. xxii. quoted. ? Barrow, vol. vi. p. 5. 3 Barrow, vol. vi.
* Cardinal Allen, quoted by Foulis, p. 62. s Barrow, vol. vi. p. 6. 6 Bozius, quoted by Foulis, p. 98. ? Foulis, p. 34. Paris Crassus, de ceremoniis Cardinalium, etc. Epist. 1. i. c. 22. quoted. Paulus Æmilius, p. 384. (Basiliæ, 1569.) Paradin Cronique de Savoye, p. 192. Lyon.
9 Decreta, Par. i. Dis. 19. ff. 18.
pp. 9, 184,