But peradventure they will say, it was treason to attempt these matters without a sacred general council; for in that consisteth the whole force of the Church; there Christ hath promised He will ever be a present assistant. Yet they themselves, without tarrying for any general council, have broken the commandments of God, and the decrees of the Apostles; and, as we said a little above, they have spoiled and disannulled almost all, not only ordinances, but even the doctrine of the primitive Church. And where they say it is not lawful to make a change without a council, what was he that gave us these laws, or from whence had they this injunction?
Truly, King Agesilaus did but fondly, who, when he had a determinate answer made him of the opinion and will of mighty Jupiter, would afterward bring the whole matter before Apollo, to know whether he would allow thereof, as his father Jupiter did, or no. But yet should we do much more fondly, when we hear God Himself plainly speak to us in His most Holy Scriptures, and may understand by them His will and meaning, if we would afterward (as though this were of none effect) bring our whole cause to be tried by a council; which were nothing else but to ask whether men would allow as God did, and whether men would confirm God’s commandment by their authority.
Why, I beseech you, except a council will and command, shall not truth be truth, and God be God? If Christ had meant to do so from the beginning, as that He would preach or teach nothing without the bishop’s consent, but refer all His doctrine over to Annas and Caiaphas, where should now have been the Christian faith? or, who at any time should have heard the Gospel taught? Peter verily, whom the Pope hath oftener in his mouth, and more reverently useth to speak of than he doth of Jesus Christ, did boldly stand against the holy council, saying, “It is better to obey God than men.” And after Paul had once entirely embraced the Gospel, and had received it, “not from men, nor by man, but by the only will of God, he did not take advice therein of flesh and blood,” nor brought the case before his kinsmen and brethren, but went forthwith into Arabia, to preach God’s Divine mysteries by God’s only authority.
Yet truly, we do not despise councils, assemblies, and conference of bishops and learned men; neither have we done that we have done altogether without bishops or without a council. The matter hath been treated in open Parliament with long consultation, and before a notable synod and convocation. But touching this council which is now summoned by the Pope Pius, wherein men so lightly are condemned, which have been neither called, heard, nor seen, it is easy to guess what we may look for or hope of it.
In times past, when Nazianzen saw in his days how men in such assemblies were so blind and wilful that they were carried with affections, and laboured more to get the victory than the truth, he pronounced openly that he never had seen any good end of any council. What would he say now, if he were alive at this day, and understood the heaving and shoving of these men? For at that time, though the matter were laboured on all sides, yet the controversies were well heard, and open error was put clean away by the general voice of all parts. But these men will neither have the case to be freely disputed, nor yet, how many errors soever there be, suffer they any to be changed. For it is a common custom of theirs often and shamelessly to boast that “their Church cannot err; that in it there is no fault; and that they must give place to us in nothing.” Or if there be any fault, yet must it be tried by bishops and abbots only, because they be the directors and rulers of matters; and they be the Church of God. Aristotle saith that a “city cannot consist of bastards;” but whether the Church of God may consist of these men, let their own selves consider. For doubtless neither be the abbots legitimate abbots, nor the bishops natural right bishops. But grant they be the Church: let them be heard speak in councils; let them alone have authority to give assent: yet in old time, when the Church of God (if ye will compare it with their Church) was very well governed, both elders and deacons, as saith Cyprian, and certain also of the common people, were called thereunto, and made acquainted with ecclesiastical matters.
But I put case, these abbots [and bishops] have no knowledge: what if they understand nothing what religion is, nor how we ought to think of God? I put case, the pronouncing and ministering of the law be decayed in priests, and good counsel fail in the elders, and, as the prophet Micah saith, “The night be unto them instead of a vision, and darkness instead of prophesying:” or, as Esaias saith, “What if all the watchmen of the city are become blind?” “What if the salt have lost his proper strength and savoriness,” and, as Christ saith, “be good for no use, scant worth the casting on the dunghill?”
Well, yet then they will bring all matters before the Pope, who cannot err. To this I say, first, it is a madness to think that the Holy Ghost taketh His flight from a general council to run to Rome, to the end if He doubt or stick in any matter, and cannot expound it of Himself, He may take counsel of some other spirit, I wot not what, that is better learned than Himself. For if this be true, what needed so many bishops, with so great charges and so far journeys, have assembled their convocation at this present at Trident? It had been more wisdom and better, at least it had been a much nearer way and handsomer, to have brought all things rather before the Pope, and to have come straight forth, and have asked counsel at his divine breast. Secondly, it is also an unlawful dealing to toss our matter from so many bishops and abbots, and to bring it at last to the trial of one only man, specially of him who himself is appeached by us of heinous and foul enormities, and hath not yet put in his answer; who hath also aforehand condemned us without judgment by order pronounced, and ere ever we were called to be judged.
How say ye, do we devise these tales? Is not this the course of the councils in these days? Are not all things removed from the whole holy council, and brought before the Pope alone? that, as though nothing had been done to purpose by the judgments and consents of such a number, he alone may add, alter, diminish, disannul, allow, remit, and qualify whatsoever he list? Whose words be these, then? and why have the bishops and abbots, in the last council of Trident, but of late concluded with saying thus in the end: “Saving always the authority of the see apostolic in all things?” or why doth Pope Paschal write so proudly of himself? “As though,” saith he, “there were any general council able to prescribe a law to the Church of Rome: whereas all councils both have been made and have received their force and strength by the Church of Rome’s authority; and in ordinances made by councils, is ever plainly excepted the authority of the Bishop of Rome.” If they will have these things allowed for good, why be councils called? But if they command them to be void, why are they left in their books as things allowable?
But be it so: let the Bishop of Rome alone be above all councils, that is to say, let some one part be greater than the whole; let him be of greater power, let him be of more wisdom than all his; and, in spite of Hierom’s head, let the authority “of one city be greater than the authority of the whole world.” How, then, if the Pope have seen none of these things, and have never read either the Scriptures, or the old Fathers, or yet his own councils? How if he favour the Arians, as once Pope Liberius did? or have a wicked and a detestable opinion of the life to come, and of the immortality of the soul, as Pope John had but few years since? or, to increase his own dignity, do corrupt other councils, as Pope Zosimus corrupted the council holden at Nice in times past; and do say that those things were devised and appointed by the holy Fathers which never once came into their thought; and, to have the full sway of authority, do wrest the Scriptures, which, as Camotensis saith, is an usual custom with the Popes? How if he have renounced the faith of Christ, and become an apostate, as Lyranus saith many Popes have been? And, yet for all this, shall the Holy Ghost, with turning of a hand, knock at his breast, and even whether he will or no, yea, and wholly against his will, kindle him a light so as he may not err? Shall he straightway be the head-spring of all right; and shall all treasure of wisdom and understanding be found in him, as it were laid up in store? or, if these things be not in him, can he give a right and apt judgment of so weighty matters? or, if he be not able to judge, would he have that all those matters should be brought before him alone?
What will ye say if the Pope’s advocates, abbots and bishops, dissemble not the matter, but show themselves open enemies to the Gospel, and though they see, yet they will not see; but wry the Scriptures, and wittingly and knowingly corrupt and counterfeit the Word of God, and foully and wickedly apply to the Pope all the same things, which evidently and properly be spoken of the Person of Christ only, nor by no means can be applied to any other? And what though they say, “The Pope is all and above all?” or, “that he can do as much as Christ can?” and “that one judgment-place and one council-house serve for the Pope and for Christ both together;” or, “that the Pope is the same light which should come into the world;” which words Christ spake of Himself alone: and “that whoso is an evil-doer hateth and flieth from that light;” or that all the other bishops have received of the Pope’s fulness? Shortly, what though they make decrees expressly against God’s Word, and that not in hucker-mucker or covertly, but openly, and in the face of the world, must it needs yet be Gospel straight whatsoever these men say? Shall these be God’s holy army? or will Christ be at hand among them there? Shall the Holy Ghost flow in their tongues; or can they with truth say, “We and the Holy Ghost have thought good so?” Indeed, Peter Asotus and his companion Hosius stick not to affirm, that the same council wherein our Saviour Jesus Christ was condemned to die had both the Spirit of Prophesying, and the Holy Ghost, and the Spirit of Truth in it; and that it was neither a false nor a trifling saying when those bishops said, “We have a law, and by our law He ought to die:” and that they, so saying, did light upon the very truth of judgment (for so be Hosius’ words); and that the same plainly was a just decree whereby they pronounced that Christ was worthy to die. This, methinketh, is strange, that these men are not able to speak for themselves, and to defend their own cause, but they must also take part with Annas and Caiaphas. For if they will call that a lawful and a good council wherein the Son of God was most shamefully condemned to die, what council will they then allow for false and naught? And yet (as all their councils, to say truth, commonly be) necessity compelled them to pronounce these things of the council holden by Annas and Caiaphas.
But will these men (I say) reform us the Church, being themselves both the persons guilty and the judges too? Will they abate their own ambition and pride? Will they overthrow their own matter, and give sentence against themselves that they must leave off to be unlearned bishops, slow bellies, heapers together of benefices, takers upon them as princes and men of war? Will the abbots, the Pope’s dear darlings, judge that monk for a thief which laboureth not for his living? and that it is against all law to suffer such a one to live and to be found either in city or in country, or yet of other men’s charges? or else that a monk ought to lie on the ground, to live hardly with herbs and pease, to study earnestly, to argue, to pray, to work with hand, and fully to bend himself to come to the ministry of the Church? In faith, as soon will the Pharisees and Scribes repair again the temple of God, and restore it unto us a house of prayer instead of a thievish den.
There have been, I know, certain of their own selves which have found fault with many errors in the Church, as Pope Adrian, AEneas Sylvius, Cardinal Pole, Pighius, and others, as is aforesaid: they held afterwards their council at Trident in the selfsame place where it is now appointed. There assembled many bishops, and abbots, and others whom it behoved for that matter. They were alone by themselves; whatsoever they did, nobody gainsaid it; for they had quite shut out and barred our side from all manner of assemblies: and there they sat six years, feeding folks with a marvellous expectation of their doings. The first six months, as though it were greatly needful, they made many determinations of the Holy Trinity, of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which were godly things indeed, but not so necessary for that time. Let us see, in all that while, of so many, so manifest, so often confessed by them, and so evident errors, what one error have they amended? from what kind of idolatry have they reclaimed the people? What superstition have they taken away? What piece of their tyranny and pomp have they diminished? As though all the world may not now see that this is a conspiracy and not a council; and that those bishops whom the Pope hath now called together be wholly sworn and become bound to bear him their faithful allegiance, and will do no manner of thing but that they perceive pleaseth him, and helpeth to advance his power, and as he will have it; or that they reckon not of the number of men’s voices rather than have weight and consideration of the same; or that might doth not oftentimes overcome right.
And therefore we know that divers times many good men and Catholic bishops did tarry at home, and would not come when such councils were called, wherein men so apparently laboured to serve factions and to take parts, because they knew they should but lose their travail, and do no good, seeing whereunto their enemies’ minds were so wholly bent. Athanasius denied to come, when he was called by the emperor to his council at Caesarea, perceiving plain he should but come among his enemies, which deadly hated him. The same Athanasius, when he came afterward to the council at Syrmium, and foresaw what would be the end by reason of the outrage and malice of his enemies, he packed up his carriage and went away immediately. John Chrysostom, although the Emperor Constantius commanded him by four sundry letters to come to the Arians’ council, yet kept he himself at home still. When Maximus, the Bishop of Jerusalem, sat in the council at Palestine, the old Father Paphnutius took him by the hand, and led him out at the doors, saying, “It is not lawful for us to confer of these matters with wicked men.” The bishops of the East would not come to the Syrmian council after they knew Athanasius had gotten himself thence again. Cyril called men back by letters from the council of them which were named Patropassians. Paulinus, Bishop of Triers, and many others more, refused to come to the council at Milan when they understood what a stir and rule Auxentius kept there: for they saw it was in vain to go thither, where not reason, but faction, should prevail, and where folk contended not for the truth and right judgment of the matter, but for partiality and favour.
And yet, for all those Fathers had such malicious and stiff-necked enemies, yet if they had come they should have had free speech at least in the councils. But now, sithence, none of us may be suffered so much as to sit, or once to be seen in these men’s meetings, much less suffered to speak freely our mind; and seeing the Pope’s legates, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, and abbots–all being conspired together, all linked together in one kind of fault, and all bound by one oath–sit alone by themselves, and have power alone to give their consent: and, at last, when they have all done–as though they had done nothing–bring all their opinions to be judged at the will and pleasure of the Pope, being but one man, to the end he may pronounce his own sentence of himself, who ought rather to have answered to his complaint; sithence, also, the same ancient and Christian liberty, which of all right should specially be in Christian councils, is now utterly taken away from the council–for these causes, I say, wise and good men ought not to marvel at this day, though we do the like now, that they see was done in times past in like case of so many Fathers and Catholic bishops: which is, though we choose rather to sit at home, and leave our whole cause to God, than to journey thither, whereas we neither shall have place nor be able to do any good; whereas we can obtain no audience; whereas princes’ ambassadors be but used as mocking-stocks; and whereas, also, we be condemned already, before trial, as though the matter were aforehand despatched and agreed upon. Nevertheless, we can bear patiently and quietly our own private wrongs. But wherefore do they shut out Christian kings and good princes from their convocation? Why do they so uncourteously, or with such spite, leave them out, and–as though they were not either Christian men, or else could not judge–will not have them made acquainted with the cause of Christian religion, nor understand the state of their own Churches?
Or if the said kings and princes happen to intermeddle in such matters, and take upon them to do that they may do, that they be commanded to do, and ought of duty to do, and the same things that we know both David and Solomon and other good princes have done, that is, if they–whilst the Pope and his prelates slug and sleep, or else mischievously withstand them–do bridle the priests’ sensuality, and drive them to do their duty, and keep them still to it; if they do overthrow idols, if they take away superstition, and set up again the true worshipping of God–why do they by-and-by make an outcry upon them, that such princes trouble all, and press by violence into another body’s office, and do thereby wickedly and malapertly? What Scripture hath at any time forbidden a Christian prince to be made privy to such causes? Who but themselves alone made ever any such law?
They will say to this, I guess: “Civil princes have learned to govern a commonwealth, and to order matters of war, but they understand not the secret mysteries of religion.” If that be so, what is the Pope, I pray you, at this day other than a monarch or a prince? Or what be the cardinals, who must be none other nowadays, but princes and kings’ sons? What else be the patriarchs, and, for the most part, the archbishops, the bishops, the abbots? What be they else at this present in the Pope’s kingdom but worldly princes, but dukes and earls, gorgeously accompanied with bands of men whithersoever they go; oftentimes also gaily arrayed with chains and collars of gold? They have at times, too, certain ornaments by themselves, as crosses, pillars, hats, mitres, and palls–which pomp the ancient bishops Chrysostom, Augustine, and Ambrose never had. Setting these things aside, what teach they? What say they? What do they? How live they? I say, not as may become a bishop, but as may become even a Christian man? Is it so great a matter to have a vain title, and, by changing a garment only, to have the name of a bishop?
Surely to have the principal stay and effect of all matters committed wholly to these men’s hands, who neither know nor will know these things, nor yet set a jot by any point of religion, save that which concerneth their belly and riot; and to have them alone sit as judges, and to be set up as overseers in the watch-tower, being no better than blind spies; of the other side, to have a Christian prince of good understanding and of a right judgment to stand still like a block or a stake, not to be suffered neither to give his voice nor to show his judgment, but only to wait what these men shall will and command, as one which had neither ears, nor eyes, nor wit, nor heart; and whatsoever they give in charge, to allow it without exception, blindly fulfilling their commandments, be they never so blasphemous and wicked, yea, although they command him quite to destroy all religion, and to crucify again Christ Himself: this surely, besides that it is proud and spiteful, is also beyond all right and reason, and not to be endured of Christian and wise princes. Why, I pray you, may Caiaphas and Annas understand these matters, and may not David and Ezechias do the same? Is it lawful for a cardinal, being a man of war, and delighting in blood, to have place in a council? and is it not lawful for a Christian emperor or a king? We truly grant no further liberty to our magistrates than that we know hath both been given them by the Word of God, and also been confirmed by the examples of the very best governed commonwealths. For besides that a Christian prince hath the charge of both tables committed to him by God, to the end he may understand that not temporal matters only, but also religious and ecclesiastical causes, pertain to his office: besides also that God by His prophets often and earnestly commandeth the king to cut down the groves, to break down the images and altars of idols, and to write out the book of the law for himself: and besides that the prophet Isaiah saith, “A king ought to be a patron and a nurse of the Church:” I say, besides all these things, we see by histories and by examples of the best times that good princes ever took the administration of ecclesiastical matters to pertain to their duty.
Moses, a civil magistrate, and chief guide of the people, both received from God, and delivered to the people, all the order for religion and sacrifices, and gave Aaron the bishop a vehement and sore rebuke for making the golden calf, and for suffering the corruption of religion. Joshua also, though he were none other than a civil magistrate, yet as soon as he was chosen by God, and set as a ruler over the people, he received commandments specially touching religion and the service of God. King David, when the whole religion was altogether brought out of frame by wicked king Saul, brought home again the Ark of God; that is to say, he restored religion again; and was not only amongst them himself as a counsellor and furtherer of the work, but he appointed also hymns and psalms, put in order the companies, and was the only doer in setting forth that whole solemn show, and in effect ruled the priests. King Solomon built unto the Lord the Temple which his father David had but purposed in his mind to do: and after the finishing thereof, he made a goodly oration to the people concerning religion and the service of God: he afterward displaced Abiathar the priest, and set Sadok in his place. After this, when the Temple of God was in shameful wise polluted through the naughtiness and negligence of the priests, King Hezekiah commanded the same to be cleansed from the rubble and filth, the priests to light up candles, to burn incense, and to do their Divine service according to the old and allowed custom; the same king also commanded the brazen serpent, which then the people wickedly worshipped, to be taken, down and beaten to powder. King Jehoshaphat overthrew and utterly made away the hill altars and groves; whereby he saw God’s honour hindered and the people holden back with a private superstition from the ordinary Temple, which was at Jerusalem, whereto they should by order have resorted yearly from every part of the realm. King Josiah with great diligence put the priests and bishops in mind of their duties; King Joash bridled the riot and arrogancy of the priests; Jehu put to death the wicked prophets.
And to rehearse no more examples out of the old law, let us rather consider, since the birth of Christ, how the Church hath been governed in the Gospel’s time. The Christian emperors in the old time appointed the councils of the bishops. Constantine called the council at Nice; Theodosius the First called the council at Constantinople; Theodosius the Second, the council at Ephesus; Martian, the council at Chalcedon; and when Ruffine the heretic had alleged for authority a council which, as he thought, should make for him, St. Hierom his adversary, to confute him, “Tell us,” quod he, “what emperor commanded that council to be called.” The same St. Hierom again, in his epitaph upon Paula, maketh mention of the emperor’s letters which gave commandment to call the “bishops of Italy and Greece to Rome to a council.” Continually for the space of five hundred years, the emperor alone appointed the ecclesiastical assemblies, and called the councils of the bishops together.
We now therefore marvel the more at the unreasonable dealing of the Bishop of Rome, who, knowing what was the emperor’s right when the Church was well ordered, knowing also that it is now a common right to all princes, for so much as the kings are now fully possessed in the several parts of the whole empire, doth so without consideration assign that office alone to himself, and taketh it sufficient, in summoning a general council, to make that man that is prince of the whole world no otherwise partaker thereof than he would make his own servant. And although the modesty and mildness of the Emperor Ferdinand be so great that he can bear this wrong, because, peradventure, he understandeth not well the Pope’s packing, yet ought not the Pope of his holiness to offer him that wrong, nor to claim as his own another man’s right.
But hereto some will reply: The emperor, indeed, called councils at that time ye speak of, because the Bishop of Rome was not yet grown so great as he is now, but yet the emperor did not then sit together with the bishops in council, or once bare any stroke with his authority in their consultation. I answer, Nay, that it is not so; for, as witnesseth Theodoret, the Emperor Constantine sat not only together with them in the Council of Nice, but gave also advice to the bishops how it was best to try out the matter by the Apostles’ and Prophets’ writings, as appeareth by these his own words: “In disputation,” saith he, “of matters of divinity, we have set before us to follow the doctrine of the Holy Ghost. For the Evangelists’ and the Apostles’ works, and the Prophets’ sayings, show us sufficiently what opinion we ought to have of the will of God.” The Emperor Theodosius, as saith Socrates, did not only sit amongst the bishops, but also ordered the whole arguing of the cause, and tare in pieces the heretics’ books, and allowed for good the judgment of the Catholics. In the council at Chalcedon a civil magistrate condemned for heretics, by the sentence of his own mouth, the bishops Dioscorus, Juvenalis, and Thalassius, and gave judgment to put them down from their dignities in the Church. In the third council at Constantinople, Constantine, a civil magistrate, did not only sit amongst the bishops, but did also subscribe with them. “For,” saith he, “we have both read and subscribed.” In the second council called Arausicanum, the prince’s ambassadors, being noble men born, not only spake their mind touching religion, but set to their hands also, as well as the bishops. For thus it is written in the latter end of that council: “Petrus, Marcellinus, Felix, and Liberius, being most noble men, and famous lieutenants, and captains of France, and also peers of the realm, have given their consent, and set to their hands.” Further: “Syagrius, Opilio, Pantagathus, Deodatus, Cariattho, and Marcellus, men of very great honour, have subscribed.” If it be so, then, that lieutenants, captains, and peers have had authority to subscribe in council, have not emperors and kings the like authority?
Truly there had been no need to handle so plain a matter as this is with so many words, and so at length, if we had not to do with those men who, for a desire they have to strive and to win the mastery, use of course to deny all things, be they never so clear–yea, the very same which they presently see and behold with their own eyes. The Emperor Justinian made a law to correct the behaviour of the clergy, and to cut short the insolency of the priests. And albeit he were a Christian and a Catholic prince, yet put he down from their papal throne two Popes, Sylverius and Vigilius, notwithstanding they were Peter’s successors and Christ’s vicars.
Let us see, then, such men as have authority over the bishops, such men as receive from God commandments concerning religion, such as bring home again the Ark of God, make holy hymns, oversee the priests, build the Temple, make orations touching Divine service, cleanse the temples, destroy the hill altars, burn the idols’ groves, teach the priests their duties, write them out precepts how they should live, kill the wicked prophets, displace the high priests, call together the councils of bishops, sit together with the bishops, instructing them what they ought to do, condemn and punish an heretical bishop, be made acquainted with matters of religion, which subscribe and give sentence; and do all these things, not by any other man’s commission, but in their own name, and that both uprightly and godly: shall we say it pertaineth not to such men to have to do with religion? or shall we say a Christian magistrate, which dealeth amongst others in these matters, doth either naughtily, or presumptuously, or wickedly? The most ancient and Christian emperors and kings that ever were, did busy themselves with these matters, and yet were they never for this cause noted either of wickedness or of presumption. And what is he that can find out either more Catholic princes or more notable examples?
Wherefore, if it were lawful for them to do thus, being but civil magistrates, and having the chief rule of commonweals, what offence have our princes at this day made, which may not have leave to do the like, being in the like degree? or what especial gift of learning, or of judgment, or of holiness have these men now, that, contrary to the custom of all the ancient and Catholic bishops, who used to confer with princes and peers concerning religion, they do now thus reject and cast off Christian princes from knowing of the cause, and from their meetings? Well, thus doing, they wisely and warily provide for themselves and for their kingdom, which otherwise they see is like shortly to come to nought. For if so be they whom God hath placed in greatest dignity did see and perceive these men’s practices, how Christ’s commandments be despised by them, how the light of the Gospel is darkened and quenched out by them, and how themselves also be subtly beguiled and mocked, and unawares be deluded by them, and the way to the kingdom of heaven stopped up before them: no doubt they would never so quietly suffer themselves neither to be disdained after such a proud sort, nor so despitefully to be scorned and abused by them. But now, through their own lack of understanding, and through their own blindness, these men have them fast yoked, and in their danger.
We truly for our parts, as we have said, have done nothing in altering religion either upon rashness or arrogancy; nor nothing but with good leisure and great consideration. Neither had we ever intended to do it, except both the manifest and most assured will of God, opened to us in His Holy Scriptures, and the regard of our own salvation, had even constrained us thereunto. For though we have departed from that Church which these men call Catholic, and by that means get us envy amongst them that want skill to judge, yet is this enough for us, and ought to be enough for every wise and good man, and one that maketh account of everlasting life, that we have gone from that Church which had power to err: which Christ, who cannot err, told so long before it should err; and which we ourselves did evidently see with our eyes to have gone both from the holy fathers, and from the Apostles, and from Christ His own self, and from the primitive and Catholic Church; and we are come as near as we possibly could to the Church of the Apostles and of the old Catholic bishops and fathers; which Church we know hath hereunto been sound and perfect, and, as Tertullian termeth it, a pure virgin, spotted as yet with no idolatry, nor with any foul or shameful fault: and have directed, according to their customs and ordinances, not only our doctrine, but also the Sacraments and the form of common prayer.
And, as we know both Christ Himself and all good men heretofore have done, we have called home again to the original and first foundation that religion which hath been foully foreslowed, and utterly corrupted by these men. For we thought it meet thence to take the pattern of reforming religion from whence the ground of religion was first taken: because this one reason, as saith the most ancient father Tertullian, hath great force against all heresies, “Look, whatsoever was first, that is true; and whatsoever is latter, that is corrupt.” Irenaeus oftentimes appealed to the oldest churches, which had been nearest to Christ’s time, and which it was hard to believe had erred. But why at this day is not the same respect and consideration had? Why return we not to the pattern of the old churches? Why may not we hear at this time amongst us the same saying, which was openly pronounced in times past in the council at Nice by so many bishops and Catholic fathers, and nobody once speaking against it [Greek text]: that is to say, “hold still the old customs!” When Esdras went about to repair the ruins of the Temple of God, he sent not to Ephesus, although the most beautiful and gorgeous temple of Diana was there; and when he purposed to restore the sacrifices and ceremonies of God, he sent not to Rome, although peradventure he had heard in that place were the solemn sacrifices called Hecatombae, and other called Solitaurilia, Lectisternia, and Supplicationes, and Numa Pompilius’ ceremonial books. He thought it enough for him to set before his eyes, and follow the pattern of the old Temple, which Solomon at the beginning builded according as God had appointed him, and also those old customs and ceremonies which God Himself had written out by special words for Moses.
The prophet Aggaeus, after the temple was repaired again by Esdras, and the people might think they had a very just cause to rejoice on their own behalf for so great a benefit received of Almighty God, yet made he them all burst out into tears, because that they which were yet alive and had seen the former building of the Temple, before the Babylonians destroyed it, called to mind how far off it was yet from that beauty and excellency which it had in the old times past before. For then, indeed, would they have thought the Temple worthily repaired if it had answered to the ancient pattern and to the majesty of the first Temple. Paul, because he would amend the abuse of the Lord’s Supper, which the Corinthians even then began to corrupt, he set before them Christ’s institution to follow, saying: “I have delivered unto you that which I first received of the Lord.” And when Christ did confute the error of the Pharisees, “Ye must,” saith He, “return to the first beginning; for from the beginning it was not thus.” And when He found great fault with the priests for their uncleanness of life and covetousness, and would cleanse the Temple from all evil abuses, “This house,” saith He, “at the first beginning it was a house of prayer,” wherein all the people might devoutly and sincerely pray together. And so it were your part to use it now also at this day, for it was not builded to the end it should be a “den of thieves.” Likewise all the good and commendable princes mentioned of in the Scriptures were praised specially by these words, that they had walked in the ways of their father David: that is, because they had returned to the first and original foundation, and had restored religion even to the perfection wherein David left it. And therefore, when we likewise saw all things were quite trodden under foot of these men, and that nothing remained in the temple of God but pitiful spoils and decays, we reckoned it the wisest and the safest way to set before our eyes those churches which we know for a surety that they never had erred, nor never had private mass, nor prayers in a strange and barbarous language, nor this corrupting of sacraments, and other toys.
And forsomuch as our desire was to have the Temple of the Lord restored anew, we would seek none other foundation than the same which we know was long ago laid by the Apostles, that is to wit, “Our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” And forasmuch as we heard God Himself speaking unto us in His word, and saw also the notable examples of the old and primitive Church; again, how uncertain a matter it was to wait for a general council, and that the success thereof would be much more uncertain, but specially forsomuch as we were most ascertained of God’s will, and counted it a wickedness to be too careful and overcumbered about the judgments of mortal men: we could no longer stand taking advice with flesh and blood, but rather thought good to do the same thing, that both might rightly be done, and hath also many a time been done, as well of good men as of many Catholic bishops–that is, to remedy our own churches by a provincial synod. For thus know we the old fathers used to put in experience before they came to the public universal council. There remain yet at this day canons written in councils of free cities, as of Carthage under Cyprian, as of Ancyra, Neocaesarea, and Gangra, which is in Paphlagonia, as some think, before that the name of the general council at Nice was ever heard of. After this fashion in old time did they speedily meet with and cut short those heretics, the Pelagians and the Donatists at home, by private disputation, without any general council. Thus, also, when the Emperor Constantine evidently and earnestly took part with Auxentius, the bishop of the Arians’ faction, Ambrose, the bishop of the Christians, appealed not unto a general council, where he saw no good could be done, by reason of the emperor’s might and great labour, but appealed to his own clergy and people, that is to say, to a provincial synod. And thus it was decreed in the council at Nice that the bishops should assemble twice every year. And in the council at Carthage it was decreed that the bishops should meet together in each of their provinces at least once in the year, which was done, as saith the council of Chalcedon, of purpose that if any errors and abuses had happened to spring up anywhere, they might immediately at the first entry be destroyed where they first began. So likewise when Secundus and Palladius rejected the council at Aquileia, because it was not a general and a common council, Ambrose, bishop of Milan, made answer that no man ought to take it for a new or strange matter that the bishops of the west part of the world did call together synods, and make private assemblies in their provinces, for that it was a thing before then used by the west bishops no few times, and by the bishops of Greece used oftentimes and commonly to be done. And so Charles the Great, being emperor, held a provincial council in Germany for putting away images, contrary to the second council at Nice. Neither, pardy, even amongst us is this so very a strange and new a trade. For we have had ere now in England provincial synods, and governed our churches by home-made laws. What should one say more? Of a truth, even those greatest councils, and where most assembly of people ever was (whereof these men use to make such an exceeding reckoning), compare them with all the churches which throughout the world acknowledge and profess the name of Christ, and what else, I pray you, can they seem to be but certain private councils of bishops and provincial synods? For admit, peradventure, Italy, France, Spain, England, Germany, Denmark, and Scotland meet together, if there want Asia, Greece, Armenia, Persia, Media, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, and Mauritania, in all which places there be both many Christian men and also bishops, how can any man, being in his right mind, think such a council to be a general council? or where so many parts of the world do lack how can they truly say they have the consent of the whole world? Or what manner of council, ween you, was the same last at Trident? Or how might it be termed a general council, when out of all Christian kingdoms and nations there came unto it but only forty bishops, and of the same some so cunning that they might be thought meet to be sent home again to learn their grammar, and so well learned that they had never studied divinity.
Whatsoever it be, the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ dependeth not upon councils, nor, as St. Paul saith, upon mortal creature’s judgment. And if they which ought to be careful for God’s Church will not be wise, but slack their duty, and harden their hearts against God and His Christ, going on still to pervert the right ways of the Lord, God will stir up the very stones, and make children and babes cunning, whereby there may ever be some to confute these men’s lies. For God is able (not only without councils), but also, will the councils, nill the councils, to maintain and advance His own kingdom. “Full many be the thoughts of man’s heart” (saith Solomon); “but the counsel of the Lord abideth steadfast:” “There is no wisdom, there is no knowledge, there is no counsel against the Lord.” “Things endure not” (saith Hilarius), “that be set up with men’s workmanship: by another manner of means must the Church of God be builded and preserved: for that Church is grounded upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, and is holden fast together by one corner stone, which is Christ Jesu.”
But marvellous notable, and to very good purpose for these days, be Hierom’s words: “Whosoever” (saith he) “the devil hath deceived, and enticed to fall asleep, as it were with the sweet and deathly enchantments of the mermaids the Syrens, those persons doth God’s word awake up, saying unto them, Arise, thou that sleepest; lift up thyself, and Christ shall give thee light. Therefore, at the coming of Christ, of God’s word, of the ecclesiastical doctrine, and of the full destruction of Nineveh, and of that most beautiful harlot, then, then shall the people, which heretofore had been cast in a trance under their masters, be raised up, and shall make haste to go to the mountains of the Scripture; and there shall they find hills, Moses verily, and Joshua the son of Nun, other hills also, which are the Prophets; and hills of the New Testament, which are the Apostles and the Evangelists. And when the people shall flee for succour to such hills, and shall be exercised in the reading of those kind of mountains, though they find not one to teach them (for the harvest shall be great, but the labourers few), yet shall the good desire of the people be well accepted, in that they have gotten them to such hills; and the negligence of their masters shall be openly reproved.” These be Hierom’s sayings, and that so plain, as there needeth no interpreter. For they agree so just with the things we now see with our eyes have already come to pass, that we may verily think that he meant to foretell, as it were, by the spirit of prophecy, and to paint before our face the universal state of our time; the fall of the most gorgeous harlot Babylon; the repairing again of God’s Church; the blindness and sloth of the bishops, and the good will and forwardness of the people. For who is so blind, that he seeth not these men be the masters, by whom the people, as saith Hierom, hath been led into error and lulled asleep? Or who sooth not Rome, that is their Nineveh, which sometime was painted with fairest colours, but now, her vizard being palled off, is both better seen and less set by? Or who seeth not that good men, being awaked, as it were, out of their dead sleep at the light of the Gospel and at the voice of God, have resorted to the hills of the Scriptures, waiting not at all for the councils of such masters?
But, by your favour, some will say, these things ought not to have been attempted without the Bishop of Rome’s commandment, forsomuch as he only is the knot and band of Christian society. He only is that priest of Levi’s order whom God signified in the Deuteronomy, from whom counsel in matters of weight and true judgment ought to be fetched; and whoso obeyeth not his judgment, the same man ought to be killed in the sight of his brethren; and that no mortal creature hath authority to be judge over him, whatsoever he do: that Christ reigneth in heaven, and he in earth; that he alone can do as much as Christ or God Himself can do, because Christ and he have but one council-house; that without him is no faith, no hope, no Church; and whoso goeth from him quite casteth away and renounceth his own salvation. Such talk have the canonists, the Pope’s parasites, surely, but with small discretion or soberness. For they could scant say more, at least they could not speak more highly of Christ Himself.
As for us, truly we have fallen from the Bishop of Rome upon no manner of worldly respect or commodity. And would to Christ he so behaved himself as this falling away needed not; but so the case stood, that unless we left him we could not come to Christ. Neither will he now make any other league with us than such a one as Nahas the king of the Ammonites would have made in times past with them of the city of Jabez, which was to put out the right eye of each one of the inhabitants. Even so will the Pope pluck from us the holy Scripture, the Gospel of our salvation, and all the confidence which we have in Christ Jesu. And upon other condition can he not agree upon peace with us.
For whereas some use to make so great a vaunt, that the Pope is only Peter’s successor, as though thereby he carried the Holy Ghost in his bosom, and cannot err, this is but a matter of nothing, and a very trifling tale. God’s grace is promised to a good mind, and to one that feareth God, not unto sees and successions. “Riches,” saith Hierom, “may make a bishop to be of more might than the rest: but all the bishops,” whosoever they be, “are the successors of the Apostles.” If so be the place and consecrating only be sufficient, why then Manasses succeeded David, and Caiaphas succeeded Aaron. And it hath been often seen, that an idol hath stand in the temple of God. In old time Archidamus the Lacedaemonian boasted much of himself, how he came of the blood of Hercules. But one Nicostratus in this wise abated his pride: “Nay,” quoth he, “thou seemest not to descend from Hercules. For Hercules destroyed ill men, but thou makest good men evil.” And when the Pharisees bragged of their lineage, how they were of the kindred and blood of Abraham: “Ye,” saith Christ, “seek to kill me, a man which have told you the truth, as I heard it from God. Thus Abraham never did. Ye are of your father the devil, and will needs obey his will.”
Yet notwithstanding, because we will grant somewhat to succession, tell us, hath the Pope alone succeeded Peter? And wherein, I pray you? In what religion? in what office? in what piece of his life hath he succeeded him? What one thing (tell me) had Peter ever like unto the Pope, or the Pope like unto Peter? Except peradventure they will say thus: that Peter, when he was at Rome, never taught the Gospel, never fed the flock, took away the keys of the kingdom of heaven, hid the treasures of his Lord, sat him down only in his castle in S. John Lateran, and pointed out with his finger all the places of purgatory, and kinds of punishments, committing some poor souls to be tormented, and other some again suddenly releasing thence at his own pleasure, taking money for so doing: or that he gave order to say private masses in every corner: or that he mumbled up the holy service with a low voice, and in an unknown language: or that he hanged up the Sacrament in every temple, and on every altar, and carried the same about before him whithersoever he went, upon an ambling jannet, with lights and bells; or that he consecrated with his holy breath, oil, wax, wool, bells, chalices, churches, and altars, or that he sold jubilees, graces, liberties, advowsons, preventions, first fruits, palls, the wearing of palls, bulls, indulgences, and pardons; or that he called himself by the name of the head of the Church, the highest bishop, bishop of bishops, alone most holy: or that by usurping he took upon himself the right and authority over other folk’s churches; or that he exempted himself from the power of any civil government; or that he maintained wars, and set princes together at variance: or that he sitting in his chair, with his triple crown full of labels, with sumptuous and Persian-like gorgeousness, with his royal sceptre, with his diadem of gold, and glittering with stones, was carried about, not upon palfrey, but upon the shoulders of noble men. These things, no doubt, did Peter at Rome in times past, and left them in charge to his successors, as you would say, from hand to hand; for these things be now-a-days done at Rome by the popes, and be so done, as though nothing else ought to be done. Or contrariwise, peradventure they had rather say thus, that the Pope doth now all the same things, which we know Peter did many a day ago: that is, that he runneth up and down into every country to preach the gospel, not only openly abroad, but also privately from house to house: that he is diligent, and applieth that business in season and out of season, in due time and out of due time: that he doth the part of an evangelist, that he fulfilleth the work and ministry of Christ, that he is the watchman of the House of Israel, receiveth answers and words at God’s mouth; and even as he receiveth them, so delivereth them over to the people: that he is the salt of the earth: that he is the light of the world: that he doth not feed his own self, but his flock: that he doth not entangle himself with the worldly cares of this life: that he doth not use a sovereignty over the Lord’s people: that he seeketh not to have other men minister to him, but himself rather to minister unto others: that he taketh all bishops as his fellows and equals; that he is subject to princes, as to persons sent from God: that he giveth to Caesar that which is Caesar’s: and that he, as the old bishops of Rome did without any question, calleth the emperor his lord. Unless, therefore, the popes do the like now-a-days, and Peter did the things aforesaid, there is no cause at all why they should glory so of Peter’s name, and of his succession.
Much less cause have they to complain of our departing, and to call us again to be fellows and friends with them, and to believe as they believe. Men say, that one Cobilon, a Lacedaemonian, when he was sent ambassador to the king of the Persians to treat of a league, and found by chance them of the court playing at dice, he returned straightway home again, leaving his message undone. And when he was asked why he did slack to do the things which he had received by public commission to do, he made answer, he thought it should be a great reproach to his commonwealth to make a league with dicers. But if we should content ourselves to return to the Pope, and to his popish errors, and to make a covenant not only with dicers, but also with men far more ungracious and wicked than any dicers be; besides that this should be a great blot to our good name, it should also be a very dangerous matter, both to kindle God’s wrath against us, and to clog and condemn our own souls for ever. For of very truth we have departed from him, who we saw had blinded the whole world this many a hundred year: from him, who too far presumptuously was wont to say, “he could not err,” and whatsoever he did “no mortal man had power to condemn him, neither kings, nor emperors, nor the whole clergy,” nor yet all the people in the world together; no, and though he should carry away with him to hell a thousand souls from him who took upon him power to command, not only men, but even God’s angels, to go, to return, to lead souls into purgatory, and to bring them back again when he list himself: whom Gregory said, without all doubt, is the very forerunner and standard-bearer of Antichrist, and hath utterly forsaken the Catholic faith, from whom also these ringleaders of ours, who now with might and main resist the gospel, and the truth, which they know to be the truth, have ere this departed every one of their own accord and goodwill, and would even now also gladly depart from him, if the note of inconstancy and shame, and their own estimation among the people, were not a let unto them. In conclusion, we have departed from him, to whom we were not bound, and who had nothing to say for himself, but only I know not what virtue or power of the place where he dwelleth, and a continuance of succession.
And as for us, we of all others most justly have left him. For our kings, yea, even they which with greatest reverence did follow and obey the authority and faith of the bishops of Rome, have long since found and felt well enough the yoke and tyranny of the Pope’s kingdom. For the bishops of Rome took the crown off from the head of our King Henry the Second, and compelled him to put aside all majesty, and like a mere private man to come unto their legate with great submission and humility, so as all his subjects might laugh him to scorn. More than this, they caused bishops and monks, and some part of the nobility, to be in the field against our King John, and set all the people at liberty from their oaths, whereby they ought allegiance to their king; and at last, wickedly and most abominably they bereaved the king, not only of his kingdom, but also of his life. Besides this, they excommunicated and cursed king Henry the Eighth, that most famous prince, and stirred up against him, sometime the Emperor, sometime the French king: and as much as in them was, put in adventure our realm to have been a very prey and spoil. Yet were they but fools and mad, to think that either so mighty a prince could be scared with bugs and rattles; or else, that so noble and great a kingdom might so easily, even at one morsel, be devoured and swallowed up.
And yet, as though all this were too little, they would needs make all the realm tributary to them, and exacted thence yearly most unjust and wrongful taxes. So dear cost us the friendship of the city of Rome. Wherefore, if they have gotten these things of us by extortion, through their fraud and subtle sleights, we see no reason why we may not pluck away the same from them again by lawful ways and just means. And if our kings in that darkness and blindness of former times, gave them these things of their own accord and liberality for religion’s sake, being moved with a certain opinion of their feigned holiness; now when ignorance and error is espied out, may the kings, their successors, take them away again, seeing they have the same authority the kings their ancestors had before. For the gift is void, except it be hallowed by the will of the giver, and that cannot seem a perfect will, which is dimmed and hindered by error.