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AGAINST THE CLERGY.
May 24, 1736.
I have been long considering and conjecturing, what could be the causes of that great disgust, of late, against the clergy of both kingdoms, beyond what was ever known till that monster and tyrant, Henry VIII. who took away from them, against law, reason, and justice, at least two-thirds of their legal possessions; and whose successors (except Queen Mary) went on with their rapine, till the accession of King James I. That detestable tyrant Henry VIII. although he abolished the Pope's power in England, as universal bishop, yet what he did in that article, however just it were in itself, was the mere effect of his irregular appetite, to divorce himself from a wife he was weary of, for a younger and more beautiful woman, whom he afterwards beheaded. But, at the same time, he was an entire defender of all the Popish doctrines, even those which were the most absurd. And, while he put people to death for denying him to be head of the Church, he burned every offender against the doctrines of the Roman faith; and cut off the head of Sir Thomas More, a person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced, for not directly owning him to be head of the Church. Among all the princes who ever reigned in the world there was never so infernal a beast as Henry VIII. in every vice of the most odious kind, without any one appearance of virtue: But cruelty, lust, rapine, and atheism, were his peculiar talents. He rejected the power of the Pope for no other reason, than to give his full swing to commit sacrilege, in which no tyrant, since Christianity became national, did ever equal him by many degrees. The abbeys, endowed with lands by the mistaken notions of well-disposed men, were indeed too numerous, and hurtful to the kingdom; and, therefore, the legislature might, after the Reformation, have justly applied them to some pious or public uses.
In a very few centuries after Christianity became national in most parts of Europe, although the church of Rome had already introduced many corruptions in religion; yet the piety of early Christians, as well as new converts, was so great, and particularly of princes, as well as noblemen and other wealthy persons, that they built many religious houses, for those who were inclined to live in a recluse or solitary manner, endowing those monasteries with land. It is true, we read of monks some ages before, who dwelt in caves and cells, in desert places. But, when public edifices were erected and endowed, they began gradually to degenerate into idleness, ignorance, avarice, ambition, and luxury, after the usual fate of all human institutions. The Popes, who had already aggrandized themselves, laid hold of the opportunity to subject all religious houses with their priors and abbots, to their peculiar authority; whereby these religious orders became of an interest directly different from the rest of mankind, and wholly at the Pope's devotion. I need say no more on this article, so generally known and so frequently treated, or of the frequent endeavours of some other princes, as well as our own, to check the growth, and wealth, and power of the regulars.
In later times, this mistaken piety, of erecting and endowing abbeys, began to decrease. And therefore, when some new-invented sect of monks and friars began to start up, not being able to procure grants of land, they got leave from the Pope to appropriate the tithes and glebes of certain parishes, as contiguous or near as they could find, obliging themselves to send out some of their body to take care of the people's souls: And, if some of those parishes were at too great a distance from the abbey, the monks appointed to attend them were paid, for the cure, either a small stipend of a determined sum, or sometimes a third part, or what are now called the vicarial tithes.
As to the church-lands, it hath been the opinion of many writers, that, in England, they amounted to a third part of the whole kingdom. And therefore, if that wicked prince above-mentioned, when he had cast off the Pope's power, had introduced some reformation in religion, he could not have been blamed for taking away the abbey-lands by authority of parliament. But, when he continued the most cruel persecutor of all those who differed in the least article of the Popish religion, which was then the national and established faith, his seizing on those lands, and applying them to profane uses, was absolute sacrilege, in the strongest sense of the word; having been bequeathed by princes and pious men to sacred uses.
In the reign of this prince, the church and court of Rome had arrived to such a height of corruption, in doctrine and discipline, as gave great offence to many wise, learned, and pious men, through most parts of Europe; and several countries agreed to make some reformation in religion. But, although a proper and just reformation were allowed to be necessary, even to preserve Christianity itself, yet the passions and vices of men had mingled themselves so far, as to pervert and confound all the good endeavours of those who intended well: And thus the reformation, in every country where it was attempted, was carried on in the most impious and scandalous manner that can possibly be conceived. To which unhappy proceedings we owe all the just reproachings that Roman Catholics have cast upon us ever since. For, when the northern kingdoms and states grew weary of the Pope's tyranny, and when their preachers, beginning with the scandalous abuses of indulgencies, and proceeding farther to examine several points of faith, had credit enough with their princes, who were in some fear lest such a change might affect the peace of their countries, because their bishops had great influence on the people by their wealth and power; these politic teachers had a ready answer to this purpose. "Sir, your Majesty need not be in any pain or apprehension: Take away the lands, and sink the authority of the bishops: Bestow those lands on your courtiers, on your nobles, and your great officers in your army; and then you will be secure of the people." This advice was exactly followed. And, in the Protestant monarchies abroad, little more than the shadow of Episcopacy is left; but, in the republics, is wholly extinct.
In England, the Reformation was brought in after a somewhat different manner, but upon the same principle of robbing the Church. However, Henry VIII. with great dexterity, discovered an invention to gratify his insatiable thirst for blood, on both religions.
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