Apology of the Church of England, Part 3
11 min read
11 min read
Behold these are the horrible heresies, for the which, a good part of the world is at this day condemned by the Bishop of Rome; and yet were never heard to plead their cause. He should have commenced his suit rather against Christ, against the Apostles, and against the holy fathers. For these things did not only proceed from them, but were also appointed by them: except perhaps these men will say (as I think they will indeed), that Christ never instituted the Holy Communion to be divided amongst the faithful; or that Christ’s Apostles and the ancient fathers said private masses in every corner of the temples, now ten, now twenty together in one day: or that Christ and His Apostles banished all the common people from the Sacrament of His blood: or that the thing, which they themselves do at this day everywhere, and do it so as they condemn him for a heretic which doth otherwise, is not called of Gelasius, their own doctor, plain sacrilege: or that these be not the very words of Ambrose, Augustine, Gelasius, Theodoret, Chrysostom, and Origen: “The bread and wine in the Sacraments remain still the same they were before:” “The thing which is seen upon the Holy Table is bread;” “There ceaseth not to be still the substance of bread, and nature of wine;” “The substance and nature of bread are not changed;” “The self-same bread, as touching the material substance, goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the privy:” or that Christ, the Apostles, and holy fathers prayed not in that tongue which the people might understand: or that Christ hath not performed all things by that one offering which He once offered: or that the same sacrifice was unperfect, and so now we have need of another. All these things must they of necessity say, unless perchance they had rather say thus, that “all law and right is locked up in the treasury of the Pope’s breast,” and that, as once one of his soothing pages and claw-backs did not stick to say, “The Pope is able to dispense against the Apostles;” against a council, and against the canons and rules of the Apostles: and that he is not bound to stand neither to the examples, nor to the ordinances, nor to the laws of Christ. We, for our part, have learned these things of Christ, of the Apostles, of the devout fathers: and do sincerely, with good faith, teach the people of God the same. Which thing is the only cause why we at this day are called heretics of the chief prelates (no doubt) of religion.
O immortal God! hath Christ Himself, then, the Apostles, and so many fathers all at once gone astray? Were then Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Gelasius, Theodoret, forsakers of the Catholic faith? was so notable a consent of so many ancient bishops and learned men nothing else but a conspiracy of heretics? or is that now condemned in us, which was then commended in them? or is the thing now, by alteration only of men’s affections, suddenly become schismatic, which in them was counted Catholic? or shall that which in times past was true, now by-and-by, because it liketh not these men, be judged false? let them then bring forth another Gospel, and let them show the causes why these things, which so long have openly been observed and well-allowed in the Church of God, ought now in the end to be called in again. We know well enough that the same word which was opened by Christ, and spread abroad by the Apostles, is sufficient both, our salvation and all truth, to uphold and maintain; and also to confound all manner of heresy. By that word only do we condemn all sorts of the old heretics, whom these men say we have called out of hell again. As for the Arians, the Eutychians, the Marcionites, the Ebionites, the Valentinians, the Carpocratians, the Tatians, the Novatians, and shortly all them which have a wicked opinion, either of God the Father, or of Christ, or of the Holy Ghost, or of any other point of Christian religion, forsomuch as they be confuted by the Gospel of Christ, we plainly pronounce them for detestable and castaway persons, and defy them even unto the devil. Neither do we leave them so, but we also severely and straitly hold them in by lawful and politic punishments, if they fortune to break out anywhere, and bewray themselves.
Indeed, we grant that certain new and very strange sects, as the Anabaptists, Libertines, Menonians, and Zuenckfeldians, have been stirring in the world ever since the Gospel did first spring. But the world seeth now right well, thanks be given to our God, that we neither have bred, nor taught, nor kept up these monsters. In good fellowship, I pray thee, whosoever thou be, read our books: they are to be sold in every place. What hath there ever been written by any of our company which might plainly bear with the madness of any of those heretics. Nay, I say unto you, there is no country this day so free from their pestilent infections, as they be, wherein the Gospel is freely and commonly taught. So that if they weigh the very matter with earnest and upright advisement, this thing is a great argument, that this same is the very truth of the Gospel of Christ, which we do teach. For lightly neither is cockle wont to grow without the wheat, nor yet the chaff without the corn. For from the very Apostles’ times, who knoweth not how many heresies did rise up even together so soon, as the Gospel was first spread abroad? Who ever had heard tell of Simon, Menander, Saturninus, Basilides, Carpocrates, Cerinthus, Ebion, Valentinus, Secundus, Marcosius, Colorbasius, Heracleo, Lucianus, and Severus, before the Apostles were sent abroad? But why stand we reckoning up these? Epiphanius rehearseth up fourscore sundry heresies; and Augustine many more, which sprang up even together with the Gospel? What then? Was the Gospel therefore not the Gospel, because heresies sprang up withal? or was Christ therefore not Christ? And yet, as we said, doth not this great crop and heap of heresies grow up amongst us, which do openly, abroad, and frankly teach the Gospel. These poisons take their beginnings, their increasings, and strength, amongst our adversaries, in blindness and in darkness, amongst whom truth is with cruelty and tyranny kept under, and cannot be heard but in corners and secret meetings. But let them make a proof: let them give the Gospel free passage: let the truth of Jesu Christ give his clear light, and stretch forth His bright beams into all parts: and then shall they forthwith see how all these shadows straight will vanish and pass away at the light of the Gospel, even as the thick mist of the night consumeth at the sight of the sun. For whilst these men sit still, and make merry and do nothing, we continually repress and put back all those heresies which they falsely charge us to nourish and maintain.
Where they say, that we have fallen into sundry sects, and would be called some of us Lutherians, and some of us Zuinglians, and cannot yet well agree among ourselves touching the whole substance of doctrine: what would these men have said, if they had been in the first times of the Apostles and holy fathers, when one said, “I hold of Paul;” another, “I hold of Cephas;” another, “I hold of Apollo;” when Paul did so sharply rebuke Peter; when, upon a falling out, Barnabas departed from Paul; when, as Origen mentioneth, the Christians were divided into so many factions, as that they kept no more but the name of Christians in common among them, being in no manner of thing else like unto Christians; when, as Socrates saith, for their dissensions and sundry sects they were laughed and jested at openly of the people in the common game-plays; when, as Constantine the emperor affirmeth, there were such a number of variances and brawlings in the Church, that it might justly seem a misery far passing all the former miseries; when also Theophilus, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, Augustine, Ruffine, Hierom, being all Christians, being all fathers, being all Catholics, did strive one against another with most bitter and remediless contentions without end; when, as saith Nazianzen, the parts of one body were consumed and wasted one of another; when the east part was divided from the west, only for leavened bread and only for keeping of Easter Day; which were indeed no great matters to be strived for; and when in all councils new creeds and new decrees continually were devised. What would these men (trow ye) have said in those days? which side would they specially then have taken? and which would they then have forsaken? which Gospel would they have believed? whom would they have accounted for heretics, and whom for Catholics? And yet what a stir and revel keep they at this time upon two poor names only of Luther and Zuinglius? Because these two men do not yet fully agree upon some one point, therefore would they needs have us think that both of them were deceived; that neither of them had the Gospel; and that neither of them taught the truth aright.
But, good God, what manner of fellows be these which blame us for disagreeing? And do all they themselves, ween you, agree well together? Is every one of them fully resolved what to follow? Hath there been no strifes, no debates, no quarrels among them at no time? Why then do the Scotists and the Thomists, about that they call meritum congrui and meritum condigni, no better agree together? Why agree they no better among themselves concerning original sin in the Blessed Virgin? concerning a solemn vow and a single vow? Why say the canonists, that auricular confession is appointed by the positive law of man: and the schoolmen contrariwise, that it is appointed by the law of God? Why doth Albertus Pighius dissent from Cajetanus? Why doth Thomas dissent from Lombardus, Scotus from Thomas, Occamus from Scotus, Alliacensis [ed. 1564 Alliensis] from Occamus? And why do the Nominals disagree from the Reals? And yet say I nothing of so many diversities of friars and monks; how some of them put a great holiness in eating of fish, and some in eating of herbs; some in wearing of shoes, and some in wearing of sandals; some in going in a linen garment, and some in a woollen; some of them called white, some black; some being shaven broad, and some narrow: some stalking abroad upon pattens, some barefooted; some girt, and some ungirt. They ought, I wiss, to remember, how there be some of their own company which say, that the body of Christ is in His Supper naturally: contrary, other some of the self-same company deny it to be so. Again, that there be other of them, which say, the body of Christ in the Holy Communion “is rent and torn with our teeth:” and some again that deny the same. Some also of them there be, which write that the body of Christ is quantum in the Eucharistia; that is to say, hath his perfect quantity in the Sacrament; some other again say nay. That there be others of them which say Christ did consecrate with a certain Divine power: some, that he did the same with His blessing: some again that say, He did it with uttering five solemn chosen words: and some, with rehearsing the same words afterward again. Some will have it, that, when Christ did speak those five words, the material wheaten bread was pointed by this demonstrative pronoun hoc: some had rather have, that a certain vagum individuum, as they term it, was meant thereby. Again, others there be that say dogs and mice may truly and in very deed eat the body of Christ; and others again there be that steadfastly deny it. There be others, which say, that the very accidents of bread and wine may nourish: others again there be which say, how that the substance of bread doth return again. What need I say more? It were overlong and tedious to reckon up all things. So very uncertain, and full of controversies, is yet the whole form of these men’s religion and doctrine, even amongst themselves, from whence it did first spring and begin. For hardly at any time do they well agree between themselves: except it be peradventure as, in times past, the Pharisees and Sadducees; or as Herod and Pilate did accord against Christ.
They were best, therefore, to go and set peace at home rather among their own selves. Of a truth, unity and concord doth best become religion: yet is not unity the sure and certain mark whereby to know the Church of God. For there was the greatest consent that might be amongst them that worshipped the golden calf; and among them which with one voice jointly cried against our Saviour Jesus Christ, “Crucify Him.” Neither, because the Corinthians were unquieted with private dissensions: or because Paul did square with Peter, or Barnabas with Paul: or, because the Christians, upon the very beginning of the Gospel, were at mutual discord touching some one matter or other, may we therefore think there was no Church of God amongst them. And as for those persons, whom they upon spite call Zuinglians and Lutherians, in very deed they of both sides be Christians, good friends and brethren. They vary not betwixt themselves upon the principles and foundations of our religion, nor as touching God, nor Christ, nor the Holy Ghost, nor of the means of justification, nor yet everlasting life, but upon one only question, which is neither weighty nor great: neither mistrust we, or make doubt at all, but they will shortly be agreed. And if there be any of them which have other opinion than is meet, we doubt not but ere it be long they will put apart all affections and names of parties, and that God will reveal it unto them: so that by better considering and searching out of the matter, as once it came to pass in the Council of Chalcedon, all causes and seeds of dissension shall be thoroughly plucked up by the root, and be buried, and quite forgotten for ever. Which God grant.
But this is the most grievous and heavy case, that they call us wicked and ungodly men, and say we have thrown away all care of religion. Though this ought not to trouble us much, whilst they themselves that thus have charged us know full well how spiteful and false a saying it is: for Justin the martyr is a witness, how that all Christians were called [Greek text], that is, godless, as soon as the Gospel first began to be published, and the Name of Christ to be openly declared. And when Polycarpus stood to be judged, the people stirred up the president to slay and murder all them which professed the Gospel, with these words, [Greek text], that is to say, “Rid out of the way these wicked and godless creatures.” And this was not because it was true that the Christians were godless, but because they would not worship stones and stocks which were then honoured as God. The whole world seeth plainly enough already, what we and ours have endured at these men’s hands for religion and our only God’s cause. They have thrown us into prison, into water, into fire, and imbrued themselves in our blood: not because we were either adulterers, or robbers, or murderers, but only for that we confessed the Gospel of Jesu Christ, and put our confidence in the living God; and for that we complained too justly and truly (Lord, thou knowest), that they did break the law of God for their own most vain traditions; and that our adversaries were the very foes to the Gospel, and enemies to Christ’s Cross, who so wittingly and willingly did obstinately despise God’s commandments.
Wherefore, when these men saw they could not rightly find fault with our doctrine, they would needs pick a quarrel and inveigh and rail against our manners, surmising, how that we do condemn all well-doings: that we set open the door to all licentiousness and lust, and lead away the people from all love of virtue. And in very deed, the life of all men, even of the devoutest and most Christian, both is, and evermore hath been, such as one may always find some lack, even in the very best and purest conversation. And such is the inclination of all creatures unto evil, and the readiness of all men to suspect that the things which neither have been done, nor once meant to be done, yet may be easily both heard and credited for true. And like as a small spot is soon espied in the neatest and whitest garment, even so the least stain of dishonesty is easily found out in the purest and sincerest life. Neither take we all them which have at this day embraced the doctrine of the Gospel, to be angels, and to live clearly without any mote or wrinkle; nor yet think we these men either so blind, that if anything may be noted in us, they are not able to perceive the same even through the least crevice: nor so friendly, that they will construe aught to the best: nor yet so honest of nature nor courteous, that they will look back upon themselves, and weigh our fashions by their own. If so be we list to search this matter from the bottom, we know in the very Apostles’ times there were Christians, through whom the Name of the Lord was blasphemed and evil spoken of among the Gentiles. Constantius the emperor bewaileth, as it is written in Sozomenus, that many waxed worse after they had fallen to the religion of Christ. And Cyprian, in a lamentable oration, setteth out the corrupt manners in his time: “The wholesome discipline,” saith he, “which the Apostles left unto us, hath idleness and long rest now utterly marred: everyone studied to increase his livelihood; and clean forgetting either what they had done before whilst they were under the Apostles, or what they ought continually to do, having received the faith they earnestly laboured to make great their own wealth with an unsatiable desire of covetousness. There is no devout religion,” saith he, “in priests, no sound faith in ministers, no charity showed in good works, no form of godliness in their conditions: men are become effeminate, and women’s beauty is counterfeited.” And before his days, said Tertullian, “O how wretched be we, which are called Christians at this time! for we live as heathens under the Name of Christ.” And without reciting of many more writers, Gregory Nazianzen speaketh thus of the pitiful state of his own time: “We,” saith he, “are in hatred among the heathen for our own vices’ sake; we are also become now a wonder, not only to angels and men, but even to all the ungodly.” In this case was the Church of God, when the Gospel first began to shine, and when the fury of tyrants was not as yet cooled, nor the sword taken off from the Christians’ necks. Surely it is no new thing that men be but men, although they be called by the name of Christians.