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THE EARLY REFORMERS.
He who contemplates in silence and security the history
of the troubled period of the Reformation, is liable to try the events by his own experience; and to demand from the parties the cool and calm decision which himself can scarcely afford at so long an interval of time. The severe measures of the powerful party appear to him the desperate efforts of tyranny; and the reprisals of the persecuted party as the results of disappointed anger and revenge. Such an opinion, if it evinces considerable honesty of mind, betrays a great deficiency of judgment. To recommend a Reformer to stop before he has levelled every abuse which offends him, is as absurd as to advise retreat in the hour of victory, or the destruction of the crucible when the gold begins to appear.
The same energy of mind which enables a Reformer to suffer, urges him also to act; and the qualities which he must necessarily possess, afford some palliation for the occasional excesses he is led to commit. Purity of devotion, meekness of spirit, humility of conduct, an active charity, a modest benevolence, are the virtues of a christian when his religion is promoted, or even protected. But when a proud and pampered Church has made the hopes and the fears of men, and the promises and threatenings of God, the steps to its own greatness; when its priests have traded in conscience and dealt out condemnation or forgiveness at their own price, such meekness of temper becomes criminal indifference to the cause of mankind. He who then refuses to promote and to propagate the truth which he believes, is the silent advocate
of the errors, which his conscience rejects. He sets an example of forbearance, which, if followed, would more strongly rivet the chains which he would burst: he is inactive, when every energy should be roused; and he hesitates when decision or disgrace are the alternatives. The Apostles, in the humble occupation of fishermen, might have practised all the virtues which adorn obscurity; but it was when they engaged in their active and perilous ministry, that our obligations to them commence. And they who blame the Reformers for their want of candour and their zeal of innovation, must dislike also the spirit, the boldness, and the energy, which has chartered our liberty of conscience, and emancipated opinion, devotion, and learning.
These remarks will receive illustration from a short review of the lives and actions of two men, who were both indeed efficient causes of the Reformation, but not equally designed for Reformers. The acute and popular irony of Erasmus had gradually mined the feelings of implicit reverence which the Romish Church had inspired. The effect produced by periodical papers in this country, is too well known for us not to appreciate a species of writing which ridiculed the privileges of the powerful, in a style though polished yet adapted to the understandings of the people. His works accustomed men to disregard the pretensions of the Monks, and even to hold their learning and their sanctity in contempt. They attacked the most respected customs, pilgrimages, shrines, saints, and miracles. Reason or ridicule were by turns employed against prejudice and bigotry; and the voluminous compositions of the Canon Law were declared of none effect in comparison with the Scriptures. Erasmus was versed in the scholastic learning which armed him with the weapons of his adversaries; and he had the additional defence, which they wanted, of classical literature and scriptural erudition. No one will deny him to have been faithful to the cause of truth ;* yet, had he alone detected the fallacies and the pretensions of Rome, the Popes might still have arrogated to themselves the powers of pardon and penance. He himself confesses his inability to sustain the part of a Reformer. "Every one," he says, " hath not the courage requisite to make a martyr: and I am afraid that if I were put to the trial, I should imitate St. Peter." (Jortin's Life of Erasmns, p. 273.)-It was reserved for the undeviating boldness, and the prompt energies of Luther, to encounter and to defeat the powers of interested superstition and ancient institutions. Led by accident to a copy of the Scriptures, the
• We suppose our correspondent intends this in a limited sense, and with reference to the writings, rather than the conduct of Erasmus. Ed.
study of them became the exclusive object of his sanguine and powerful mind. Called by circumstances into direct collision with the Church of Rome, he was carried by degrees into a systematic opposition to its power. All his operations, however, were gradual. When he opposed the Dominicans, he professed, and perhaps he felt, the deepest reverence for the Pope; nor did he raise his voice against the successor of St. Peter, until he had convinced himself of the fallacy of his pretensions, and prepared his followers to expect and encourage the attempt. This method of proceeding, which, indeed, arose from the train of his inquiries gradually extending, gave all his measures the appearance and the effects of the most refined policy. He went alone, and fearless, to the Council, where his enemies prevailed; uncertain whether the fate of Huss might not be his own. When a prisoner, he continued his good work; and preached the Reformation with his writings, as before by his personal ministry. Yet although he reproached his indifferent, and denounced his inactive followers as "sleeping dogs, loving to slumber," he was far from encouraging the spirit of rebellion which broke through every distinction of rank, age, and authority. He would have deterred the peasants from joining with the fanatic Muncer, and have drawn them away from his standard. Yet he had not the protection of Princes, for Frederic of Saxony, the only one who favoured him, was too politic to shew much enthusiasm in the cause. The Emperor, from motives of State, opposed him, while the principal feudatories of the Empire were the approved vassals of Rome. How would Erasmus have acted in similar circumstances? He probably would have respectfully temporised at the request of the Emperor, and the Cardinals: he would have weighed his pensions, his medals, and his degrees, against free opinion and truth, and he would have consented to be silent if similar restrictions were laid upon his adversaries. Luther replied to his friends when they dissuaded him from going to Worms, "I am lawfully called to appear in that city, and thither will I go in the name of the Lord, though as many devils as there are tiles on the houses were there combined against me.". When he attacked the Dominicans, they were armed with inquisitorial power; and the promise of safe conduct had been once violated on a similar occasion. The difference of these characters is a comment upon the whole Reformation. The learning, the acuteness, and the love of free inquiry, which are commendable in divines, are useless in a tumultuous period, unless as the auxiliaries of prompt and vigorous exertion. He who devotes himself to the study of truth, requires patience and self-denial in an eminent degree; but those virtues are best secured by an even and
regulated temper. But he who advances as the Champion of truth, requires patience which at another time would be obstinacy; firmness, which would appear intolerance; and courage, that would seem inconsiderate hardihood. There are many tempers congenial to the acute but hesitating Erasmus; but how few are bold enough to imitate the example of Luther? In acknowledging our obligations then to the Reformers, those high and holy ministers of the truth, let us consider that they had their portion of human weakness, and human passion; that trials, and difficulties, and sufferings, were multiplied upon them; that the eternal cause of souls was in their hands, and that the eternal prevalence of error must have followed the triumph of their enemies. Above all, let them not be weighed in a balance whose scales are poised by the hand of peace and experience, but let their proper touchstone be applied-the Nature of the Times.
PROVINCIAL LETTERS TO ROMAN CATHOLICS.
To the Reverend Mr. Sharples, Blackburn.
HAVING disposed of your accusation relating to the 14th Psalm, which, if I recollect rightly, was the only corruption you produced from the Old Testament; we shall next examine your allegations respecting a passage in the Acts of the Apostles, chap. xx. v. 28, which, in our authorised version, is rendered as follows:
"Take heed, therefore, unto yourselves, and to all the flock; over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood."
A Romanist, unskilled in controversy, but gifted with an average share of common sense, would, I am inclined to think, see nothing in these words, but a pathetic and edifying exhortation to those spiritual pastors whom St. Paul here addresses, and would never dream of their containing any thing corrupt or heretical. But there are some highlygifted persons who have the peculiar faculty of detecting latent heresy, as readily and sagaciously as your St. Philip Neri and St. Catherine of Sienna could smell wicked souls. Such an one was Gregory Martin, the Magnus Apollo of all the pitiful cavillers against English Protestant translations, and from whose stores you seem to have derived, perhaps at secondhand, at least nine-tenths of your "munitions of war." Treading in the steps of this most loyal subject and accomplished divine, you thought pro
Martin's qualifications for the office of a biblical critic, may be estimated pretty accurately from this one fact, that he uniformly speaks of the Vulgar Latin version of the Psalms as St. Jerome's translation from the Hebrew: though it is well known that it was made from the LXX many years before Jerome was born. We could produce many other instances of his ignorance and incapacity, if it were worth while. Ward's Errata is a mere compilation from Martin's Discoverie, and from the Rhemish Annotations, which were chiefly written by Bristow.
per to accuse us of an insidious desire of diminishing ecclesiastical authority, first because we have employed the term overseers instead of bishops; and secondly, because we say, "feed the Church of God," instead of rule or govern." "There is a great difference," you facetiously remarked, "between a bishop and an overseer..” True, between a bishop and an overseer of the poor, which you affected to suppose is the sense of our version; but between a bishop and an overseer of the clergy, and the flock of God under them,-none whatever. If, therefore, St. Paul's auditors were all bishops, our translation does not degrade or wrong them in the least. But what if it should appear that authorities somewhat superior to Gregory Martin, and, (sit venia verbo,) not at all inferior to Mr. Sharples, have regarded this point as more than doubtful? Let us hear once more the divinity professor of Douay. In his commentary on Philippians, i. 1., after observing that a difficulty has been found to exist in the Apostle's addressing himself to the bishops of Philippi, since there could only be one, properly so called, in each city: he adds,"There are two ways of solving this difficulty; one is, if with Chrysostom, and many others, both Greeks and Latins, we say that in the time of the Apostles, the title of bishop (nomen Episcopi) was also common to presbyters or priests, as on the other hand, that of presbyter was to bishops. This latter evidently appears from the first chapter of the Epistle to Titus, and from other passages of Scripture; for the Apostles Peter and John, in their Epistles, also call themselves elders, that is, presbyters. And that the title of episcopus was given to presbyters, they also think is proved from the twentieth chapter of Acts, where the presbyters of the city of Ephesus, called by the (Latin) interpreter majores natu or elders, are by St. Paul afterwards called episcopi. 66 Take heed, says he, to yourselves and the whole flock-in quo vos Spiritus Sanctus posuit episcopos."§
In your next course of lectures, we hope you will reserve some of your vituperation for Chrysostom, and those numerous Greek and Latin commentators who roundly affirm that St. Paul's auditors were no bishops at all, but simple presbyters. We mean not to deny that this is a disputed point, and that Divines of great eminence, both Protestants and Romanists, have thought otherwise; but we maintain that this very contrariety of opinion furnishes a reason for commending the fidelity and impartiality of our translators. If the persons in question were not bishops, it would be clearly improper to call them so, and if they were
• Mr. S.'s method of demonstrating this was sufficiently summary. He first read over the verse in the original, then compared our version of it with one "made for the use of the faithful," and as these two were found not to agree with each other, he immediately pronounced the Protestant translation to be wilfully corrupted!! By the same easy and expeditious process, he might also demonstrate the wilful corruption of the Vulgate, and of the Greek original itself; for that version "for the use of the faithful," assumed by him as the unerring standard of accuracy, differs in many important passages from them both; and, we may add, from every known version in Europe.
+ Every scholar knows that the Greek appellation for a bishop is used both in sacred and profane literature to denote a superintendent of any kind. In 2 Chron. xxxiv. 12 & 17, where the LXX has ewikowo, we find in the Vulgate "præpositi operantium," and "præfectis artificum;" which literally denotes "overlookers or foremen of the workpeople." Minerva is called by Demosthenes Ewokowos Ing woλews; and therefore, we suppose Mr. S. would rigorously insist on having her styled bishop of Athens !!
Estius, Comment. in Epistol. p 645. We may just add, that the Jesuit Emanuel Sa, in his note on the passage, observes, "Etiam Presbyteri Episcopi vocabantur interdum." On the word regere he also observes, that the Greek term woμaIVEIV denotes pascere, to feed.
Tillemont, who assumes it as a thing certain that there was no bishop of Ephesus before A. D. 64, six years after the interview at Miletus, describes them without any hesitation as priests only ;---" les Prêtres d'Ephése." Irenæus thinks that both bishops and priests were present, which is very possible.