Trialogus. Chapter 15. On the Culpability of the Laity in Respect to Endowments
9 min read
9 min read
I am pleased, brother, with your doctrine, because it appears to me, that you inveigh with clearness and force against the avarice of the priests; and as, according to the apostle, 1 Tim. 1., covetousness is the root of all evil, and priests should be the root of all goodness, conveying the laity to heaven, you appear to direct your censures against the source of all sin in the church. But tell me, I pray you, whether secular men are justly liable to rebuke on account of such endowments.
I am pleased to find that you thus introduce this subject. I have often been hindered from rebuking the sins of temporal lords; and to make amends for such omission, I will state to you the belief I entertain in this matter. And, if God will, it shall come to the ears of such men.
Believe firmly, and in no way doubt, that herein temporal lords have grievously sinned. And for this cause, I doubt not, many have been suitably punished, in the righteous judgment of God, by the loss of their worldly wealth; for this endowment has given rise to wars, strife, and has brought many secular lords to poverty. And it is only just that they should be made to pay a penalty having respect to that very thing which was the means by which they committed their crime. My reason for so thinking is this, that those who are accessory to a crime, are guilty, as well as those who commit it. But the temporal powers have not only united to confer this endowment, but have consented to it in very many ways; and since such endowment is contrary to the ordinance of Christ, they are herein guilty.
For if there are six methods of consenting, as enumerated by the poet—
—it is clear as light, that temporal lords are manifestly guilty, in respect to these six modes, and especially in regard to the last two, inasmuch as they indolently withhold the assistance and rebuke by means of which this injury done to Christ and his church might be rectified. Nevertheless, it devolves on them, for many reasons, to amend this injury done to Christ. In the first place, because they are those who have sinned by the commission of this injury, therefore it is for them to make satisfaction for the sin. In the second place, because God gave the power they possess that they might regulate the affairs of his church, as appears in Romans 13. Therefore, that they be not negligent in respect to the use of this power, nor guilty of an abuse of it, they should exercise it in the instance of so great an injury done to Christ, after his own example; for Christ, in rebuking the priests of the temple, made use often of this kingly power, ejecting, in person, the buyers and sellers. And on many occasions, by his sufferings and his reproofs, Christ condemned the conduct of the priests, as may be seen at the time of his seizure and passion. And he afterwards awfully chastised that priesthood, by the hand of Titus and Vespasian his servants, as Luke had prophesied. Isodorus, also, admirably declares this doctrine, as may be seen in the twenty-third decree, q. v. c. Principes Seculi. For if they hold their temporal possessions on condition of service rendered, what service, I ask, could better befit them, than that of vindicating the wrongs done to Christ, and defending so reasonable an ordinance? Forasmuch as it is the same thing to love Christ, and to keep his law and commandments, as is shown in John 14., it is manifest that if the temporal lords love Christ above all things, it is their duty to exert their power in defending his chief ordinance. What temporal lord, I ask, would not be offended beyond measure on seeing his own decree reversed? Still more would this be the case, if that reversing were to dishonour his betrothed, and to break up his kingdom. But much more is all this true in respect to the primitive justice of Jesus Christ. Let temporal lords remember, then, how distinguished was the favour which our Lord showed them in his lifetime, without doubt intending that they should make him a return of their service.
Now I have collected from the Scripture account six instances of kindness shown by Christ to temporal lords; First, because Christ, who is the Lord of time, and who might have been born at whatever period he chose, selected that interval in which secular dominion was most flourishing; for in Luke 2. it is said, that a decree went forth that the whole world should be taxed. Second, because Christ might have had dominion, had he been so disposed, over all the kingdoms of the world; but was unwilling to detract, in the smallest degree, from the secular power of the earth—as in Matthew 8i. it is written, “The Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” In the third place, because Christ, that he might restore the secular authority undiminished to secular lords, caused the old priesthood to be despoiled of their possessions, as was foretold by Luke, when predicting the destruction of the temple, chap. 19. Fourth, because Christ paid tribute to Cæsar for himself and his little flock, as may be seen in Matthew 18. Fifth, because Christ pronounced a most decisive judgment, when he said that the goods of Cæsar should be rendered to Cæsar, Matthew 22. And in the sixth place, because Christ fed the poor tenants of secular lords, and healed them, and taught them in many ways obedience, so that the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles, show how servants ought to obey their lords. And what is infinitely more than any of these considerations, though the men of the world place such things first, Christ is the Creator, Redeemer, and finally the Rewarder of temporal lords.
What then could he do that he hath not done? On all these accounts temporal lords should remember that counsel of the apostle in Colossians 3.—“Be ye thankful.” But let the believer mark, I pray, with what manifest ingratitude they have repaid the Lord. For soon after his ascension, within the four hundredth year, they reversed his chief ordinance, by endowing the church, and, by consequence, did beget Antichrist, to the dishonour of his spouse. Hence chronicles relate that at the time of the endowment of the church, an angelic voice was heard in the air, saying, “To-day is poison poured into the holy church of God.” Whence, from the time of Constantine, who so endowed the church, the Roman empire decreased, and with it secular dominion. Nor is it of any avail to allege, in defence of this sin, that the emperor and others who endowed the church, thought that by a devotion of this nature they should secure to themselves a manifold merit, because the apostle, from a less culpable blindness, under the same persuasion, persecuted the church; and when this ignorance was no longer in his way, and he had drawn evidence from the Old Testament, he sincerely confesses that he was herein guilty of blasphemy, and sinned grievously against Christ: how then should it be that the emperor and other lords, in their grosser ignorance, could be anything but sinners against Christ, after such a showing of goodness on his part? Wherefore I warn them, that it is too hard for them to kick against the pricks.
Accordingly, if they would have their dominion kept entire, and not fiendishly torn piecemeal, and the peace of the church restored, and their tenants, according to the law of the Lord, powerful but not rebellious, let them have a proper zeal for the ordinance of Christ, to the end that they may reform the church, as much as may be, seeing that our faith gives us reason to believe that it would be ruled most prosperously under that ordinance. For then would be done away the simoniacal entanglement of the clergy in things temporal, the most scandalous ignorance, and the sloth and heresy which now disgrace the heritage of Christ. And by reason of this also, wars would come to an end, and the changing of kingdoms by conquests, and the iniquitous spoiling of the poor dwellers therein, since the lordship of the world would then be wholly in the power of the secular arm. And what is best of all, as Christ’s word would run to and fro freely everywhere, many more would wing their way to heaven. For then too would come to an end those blasphemies about the spiritual power of popes, in respect to absolution from sin and punishment, and the unwarranted granting of indulgences,—things which Christ and his apostles never granted,—with an infinite number of other blasphemies. Nor can Pseudis, or any other disciple of Antichrist, adduce perfunctory evidence to show that temporal lords have no license to correct these abuses, inasmuch as that would be the same thing as to say that, seeing they have no power to repair the mischief they have done, they must of necessity perish under the guilt of it. We, however, tell them, that not only have they the power to deprive a church habitually delinquent of its temporalities, but that they are bound, on pain of the condemnation of hell, so to do, since they ought to repent of their folly, and make satisfaction for their sin in having thus defiled the church of Christ.
You have said enough, brother, on this doctrine concerning the clergy, a doctrine especially hateful to our superiors; and the more, inasmuch as you do not show how your doctrine may be acted upon, without making too great a disturbance in the church. Pass on, I pray you, to the subject of the sacrament of matrimony, observing the same order.
No scholastic matter have I ever had more at heart than that on which I have now dwelt, forasmuch as it appears to me that it would tend above all things to the honour of God and the advantages of the universal church. Wherefore, it seems to me, that he is notably deficient in respect to perfect charity, and the love of his king and kingdom, who, from fear of losing temporal things, and the friendship of great men, nay, who even to save his life, neglects this duty. I doubt not that the apostles, and other discreet disciples of Christ, would have defended this doctrine, even to the death. But the king and kingdom are worthy of condemnation on account of this sin, to which they have given their consent. What faithful servant of the king, therefore, may remain silent with regard to this great crime? For the sovereign authorises, by such conduct, the greatest transgression on the part of his clergy, and gives his sanction to the root of that evil by which the kingdom under him is cut to pieces. And since it is necessary to true secular dominion, that the holder of it should rule justly, and so be opposed to this crime, it appears that the king, and the nobles of his kingdom, in this case, govern without the care proper to their office. For according to the law of England, if a tenant shall withhold his service from his chief lord during two years, the said chief lord, by the authority of the king of England, may seize, in his own behoof, the land which his subject had unworthily occupied to his own purposes. How much more, then, should the King of kings confiscate the property of kingdoms, if the service they owe has been neglected for many times two years, it being plain that they ought to serve Christ, by refusing all treacherous consent to the claims of Antichrist, and by opposing his works as contrary to Christ, to the extent of their power! We see clearly how long has been the time through which the service so due to God has been neglected. And as it seems to me, that liege man of the king, who should fail to expose such misdoing, would be a slothful traitor to his king, his country, and his God.
And with regard to your objection, touching the fear of disturbance to the kingdom that would ensue on the carrying out of this doctrine, consider well how Antichrist has herein blinded our military men by his chief agents. For they are bold to invade other kingdoms, either on just grounds, or on such as are doubtful, but they are slothful in respect to the discharge of a small duty, and in charitably assisting the inhabitants of their own country, whom they ought to love in a high degree, for the sake of their Lord. Nor do we hesitate to say, that Antichrist, with his principal agents, has introduced this slothfulness. That there is a facility for performing this duty, may be thus shown. It is well known that the king of England, by virtue of his regalia, on the death of a bishop or abbot, or any one possessing large endowments, takes possession of those endowments, as the sovereign; and that a new election is not entered upon without the royal assent, nor will the temporalities, in such case, pass from their last occupant to his successor, without that assent. Let the king, therefore, refuse to continue the innovation which has been the great delinquency of his predecessors, and in a short time the whole kingdom will be freed from the mischiefs which have flowed from this source. Who, I ask, would dare to seize on such temporalities, without license obtained from the king? Nor need the king, or his kingdom, to do themselves justice in this matter, smite with the sword, kill any man, or exercise their authority presumptuously. But as nature abhors sudden changes, and as this great transgression made progress by little and little, so if it were made to decrease by successive steps, as the death of the occupants succeed each other, with a small amount of prudence, the result would be anything but hurtful, either to king or people. But those who among the clergy or elsewhere oppose this doctrine, are falsifiers of the law of Scripture, and thus traitors in the worst sense to God and the king.
From all that has been said, we conclude that the king and his kingdom ought to protect poor priests who promulgate this doctrine, against their own brethren, and all enemies whomsoever, for otherwise they are born of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, and not of God, and so are not by birth sons of God, or of the kingdom of heaven, but children of the king of hell, forasmuch as they are lovers of the sons of the father of lies. It may be that false brethren, and other potentates among the clergy of the kingdom, will conspire against those who spread this opinion, contriving their death by the most unfounded falsehoods. But where is the believer who would apprehend the destruction of this veritable doctrine? Whence came the daring to proclaim these Gospel truths, if not from the hope in Christ’s defending and God’s protecting? For whoever opposes these views of things, must be ranked, without a doubt, as Antichrist,—as one contrary to the words of Christ. Woe, then, unto those who impugn this catholic doctrine, so salutary to the whole body of true believers.