Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER X.

ELIZABETHAN LITERATURE-RELIGION.

RICHARD HOOKER (1558-1600).

The joy which hailed the accession of Queen Elizabeth rose out of the strong religious feeling of the time. It was not only because the persecutions of Mary's reign were over that the English people were filled with gladness at the idea of having a Protestant sovereign on the throne; but they hoped that the English Church, which had been forced back into Romanism, and had persecuted its children, would now be purified, and become again the Church of the English people. This settlement of what was to be for the future the creed and ritual of the English Church was one of the most difficult and important questions of the reign.

There was on the one side a large body of Romanists in the Church, who desired no reform at all. On the other side there were a number of Protestants, who during the persecution had taken refuge in Geneva, and who wished the whole framework of the Church to be taken down and re-modelled, according to the Swiss or Presbyterian form of government. Between these two parties was a third, who looking on the Church as the Church of the English people, and not of one sect or party in the nation, desired to have it settled on a basis wide enough to include the largest possible number of the nation. In accordance with this view, a Commission was appointed by the queen in the first year of her reign, to prepare a book of services such as might be used by persons who, while agreeing on many points, differed on others; and it was hoped that such a Liturgy might be accepted as the “Common" (or general) “Prayer Book” of the whole nation. On this Commission were men belonging to the different religious parties of the time; and at the head was Archbishop Parker, a man sincerely in earnest in his endeavour to make the Church thoroughly national. When the Book of Common Prayer was completed, an Act of Uniformity was passed obliging every clergyman to use this book in the public services of the Church. A second Book of Homilies, or sermons, was also compiled, and this, in addition to the Book of Homilies published in Edward VI.'s reign, was ordered to be read in churches, so as to prevent clergymen of difierent parties from giving expression to their own private opinions in the pulpit. But although the design was to promote peace and unity in the Church, there was so much activity of thought among the people on religious subjects that discussions respecting the new order of things soon began to arise. The first opposition came from those who disliked the changes made, and desired to return to the alliance with Rome. They regarded the Church as a newlyfounded system, the product of the later times of the Refor. mation. The chief writer in defence of the Church from attacks on this side is Archbishop Parker. He wrote to show that a new Church had not been established, but that the Church in England was, and ever had been, since the earliest times of British history, the Church of the nation, giving expression to the religion of the nation, and holding itself independent of Rome. And now, in purifying itselt from the errors and corruptions which had crept in from the Romish Church, it was only returning to its original faith and practice.

Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury, took up the same line of defence, and in his “Apology for the Church of England” goes back to the times of the early Christians, and shows how the errors and corruptions, from which the English Church had now been purified, had no place in the earliest times, but were an after-growth of human invention and origin.

Both Parker and Jewel addressed themselves to that party which was opposed to the Reformation, because at the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign the chief attacks upon the Church were from this side ; but as time passed on, many of the elder generation, who were attached to the old forms, passed away, and the more violent among the Romanists withdrew from the English Church, and were busied with plots against the queen, rather than with controversy. Meantime there was a growing desire to see further reforms carried out within the Church. Those who had consented to the retaining of certain old practices in the Church, for the sake of the older generation who were attached to them, felt now that this reason had less weight; while the plots of Philip of Spain, the persecutions in the Netherlands, and the massacres of St. Bartholomew's Day in Paris, aroused a hatred among the English people to everything associated with the Church of Rome. The queen, however, had made up her mind that the settlement of the Church already agreed to in the earlier years of her reign should not be disturbed. She compelled the more strict enforcing of the Act of Uniformity; and congregations of Puritans began to be formed outside of the Church.

Archbishop Parker, who had defended the Church against the attacks of the Romanist party, had died, and was followed by Grindal, who was himself in favour of reform and of the free preaching of the clergy ; but on his death in 1583, John Whitgift was made archbishop. He was ready to second the queen in her determination to allow no changes to be made in the Church, and to bring the force of the law to bear against those who objected to the form of government and service appointed for the Church at the beginning of Elizabeth's reign. The later controversy of this time lay between the upholders of the Church as already established, and the Puritans, who desired to make further changes. Many of these held the opinion that nothing should be admitted into the government or ritual of a Christian Church which is not mentioned in the New Testament, or in the very early times of Christianity; and such persons now turned against the English Church the very arguments from the example of the early Church which Parker and Jewel had used in its defence. Another line of defence was therefore required to meet these attacks.

Meantime persecution called forth violence and bitter feeling. Thomas Cartwright, who was Professor of Divinity at Cambridge while Spenser was there, had denounced with violence the whole system by which the Church was governed, and had been replied to by Whitgift, who claimed an authority for the Church over the people in matters of religion almost equal to the demands of the Romish Church. Then a new element, which can scarcely be called religious, was brought into the controversy. A series of tracts now appeared, written by different writers, but all published under the name of “ Martin Mar-prelate.” They were printed in secret, and the writers were anonymous. Grotesque titles were chosen, such as attracted attention, and there was in all of them a strain of satire and rough humour which caused them to be largely read. These tracts were replied to in the same vein by the wits and dramatists of the time. Of this part of the controversy Lord Bacon no doubt expressed what many felt on both sides when he wrote: “It is more than time that there were an end and surcease made of this immodest and deformed manner of writing lately entertained, whereby matters of religion are handled in the style of the stage.”

Another result of the claims made for the Church by its supporters was that the Puritans gave up hope of further reform, and began to form small congregations of their own, where they could carry out their religious convictions. There began also to rise about this time a body of persons called at first Brownists, but afterwards Independents. Like the Presbyterians, they held that nothing should be admitted into the rule or service of a church which was not distinctly mentioned in the New Testament. They saw the difficulties of the union of the whole nation in one Church, and maintained that each congregation should be independent of every other, and should be at liberty to choose for itself whatever order of service and teaching of doctrine it judged to be most agreeable to the Word of God. They also held that the over-rule of bishops, and of a presbytery (or meeting of the clergy), were contrary to Scripture ; but they allowed the authority in religious matters of a majority of the persons composing the congregation.

Although Whitgift had ably defended the Church against the attacks of Cartwright, it was felt that there was still needed some more complete justification of the whole system of the English Church, and especially an intelligent explanation of the ground on which those things rested for which there were no express directions in the New Testament. From the first the Reformers had all held the Word of God as the highest authority; and it seemed to many good and earnest men as if the English Church had departed from this principle when certain laws and practices were retained in it, of which there was no mention in the New Testament. It was in the use of this argument that the greatest strength of the Puritans lay ; and it was to meet this that Richard Hooker entered the field as a combatant.

Richard Hooker was a true hero, and may well stand as the best and highest representative of those engaged in the battle for the English Church. He was a man of great learning, far-sighted, and wide-minded, caring more for the general good and order of the Church than for the triumph

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »