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and moral condition of society in England for many years prior to 1525, and strive to recount the toils and struggles which its publication crowned.

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The latter half of the 15th century and the earlier part of the 16th formed the period of what may be called England's dawn. Its beginning was marked by darkness which the light gradually penetrated, combated and eventually dispelled. It is instructive to observe how England's nadir was likewise the nadir of the Scriptures in England. When the degradation of the laity was the lowest, and the corruption, ignorance, simony and avarice of the clergy at their worst, then the Bible was the most neglected and least understood. The elevation of the people and the rise of the clergy in knowledge and character were attended by a corresponding rise of the scriptures in popular acquaintance and esteem. So also we find during this period that the Bible was the centre of public conflict. The obstructive party, "the children of the darkness as they may be called, attacked it and sought to quench its light; the progressive party, the reformers both of literature and religion, "the children of the light and of the day," defended it, held it aloft and sought to spread its blessed radiance. Such considerations as these, though they fail to make us bibliolaters, must heighten our reverence for the Bible. They force the conclusion upon the mind that the “entrance of God's word giveth light,” and that its absence creates what the scriptures comprehensively call "gross darkness." We see that the elements and possibilities of true progress are somehow involved in the scriptures, and that these can only be unfolded and realized by loyalty to the truth. We see that " a people which is without a Bible in its mothertongue, or is restrained from using it, or wilfully neglects it, is also imperfect, or degenerate, or lifeless in its apprehension of Christian truth, and proportionately bereft of the strength which flows from a living creed."

And now let our eye rest on the dreary prospect which presented itself during the last few decades of the 15th century, until through the providence of God and the devotion of his servants we see it gradually become more inviting.

The Bible of the Romish Church in England was still the Latin Vulgate, prepared by Jerome in the 4th century; all other versions were proscribed and put down. But let not the reader suppose that manuscript copies of the Vulgate were even tolerably plentiful in those days; that they were to be found in every church or chapel; in every vicar's study; in every monk's cell; and in the wallet of every itinerating friar. Neither let him in imagination see each priest mount the lectern to read out to his congregation from the Vulgate as distinctly as Ezra did from the law of God, “and to give the sense and cause them to understand the reading;

and, what Butler calls "the forward, delusive faculty," will need to be checked still further, should the reader suppose that after listening to them who had the cure of their souls, the members of a medieval congregation as a general rule returned to their homes greatly edified and blessed. Let him not fancy he overhears them thanking God for such wise physicians, who, lest their patients should poison themselves by an unskilful taking of the strong medicine of truth, kindly poured it down their throats in carefully measured doses. Perhaps a fervent admirer of the good old times, who dips his pen in ink coleur de rose whenever he writes about monks and monkish times, would have us believe this. But the truth is, Bibles were at that time almost as scarce as blackberries in spring. The Scriptures were not considered indispensable to the holding of a religious service, for the priest had what was to him of far greater importance, his missal or mass-book, and his breviary, or lessons in latin from the Old and New Testaments. These, rather than the Bible, were the books the monk loved to illuminate in the Scriptarium, and portions from which the priest mumbled over at service-time to his congregation, who would be as little edified thereby as was Tennyson's northern farmer with the sounds coming from the parson that fell on his tympanum:

"Au 'eerd un a bummin awaây

Loike a buzzard-clock ower my yead."

Need we wonder that the bulk of the laity, being so ignorant of God's simple truth, should credulously receive the unscriptural dogmas foisted upon them, or that they should fall an easy prey to the avarice of the Romish hierarchy. Religion was an expensive thing indeed then. Never were the ministers of extortion more numerous, and never was its machinery more complex and effective. For, as though the secular clergy and monks had not been plague enough, and had not consumed the substance of the people sufficiently, the mendicant friars were going about everywhere, like the locusts devouring what the hail had left. The names of many things that brought grist to the priests' mill are forgotten, though once they were as familiar as Church Rates and Tithes to us. We might find it hard to tell at first sight the precise nature of mortuaries, trentals, bead-rolls, month-minds, peace-minds, &c. Tyndale, speaking of the thousand-and-one ways by which the priesthood wrung from the people their worldly goods, uses these plain words:" The parson sheareth, the vicar shaveth, the parish priest polleth, the friar scrapeth, and the pardoner pareth; we lack but a butcher to pull off the skin." Alas! poor flock.

The ignorance of the people reacted upon the priesthood. Why should the clergy weary the flesh in tedious study not rigidly exacted by the necessities of their office? Why should they moil

and toil to acquire learning which the people did not care for, and Icould not understand? What followed need not surprise us; for we have only to reflect a moment to see that the most powerful stimulus and the sharpest goadings from without are alike needed to enable men to overcome the vice of mental sloth. Even while we are talking about the propriety of establishing compulsory education in our land, there is an education of a compulsory kind going on all over, which the law can take no cognizance of. So unable to pursue truth for its own sake, and not compelled to pursue it for their people's satisfaction, the bulk of the mediæval clergy sank into profound ignorance. Many could only muster sufficient knowledge just to mumble over the prescribed sentences in their missal, or breviary, as though they were repeating the formula of a spell or incantation. To some the very tradition that there were such languages as Greek and Latin was lost. Bishop Aylmer, in his life by Strype, tells of a ridiculous blunder which the vicar of Trumpington made in reading the Passion upon Palm Sunday. Coming to the words eli eli lama sabacthani, he stopped, and calling to the churchwardens, said, "Neighbours, this gear must be amended. Here is Eli twice in this book. I assure you if my lord of Ely come this way and see it, he will have the book since his name is in it; therefore, by mine advice, we shall scrape it out, and put in our own name, viz., Trumpington, Trumpington, lama sabacthani." The tale almost passes belief; but whether true or false, the men who tell it warrant us in regarding it as representing, to a considerable extent, the amazing ignorance of those times.

The Universities, instead of being centres of enlightenment, did but

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The scholastic philosophy, with all its solemn trifling and laborious pedantry, was yet in vogue. We are told that it was only when a student had been Master of Arts two years, that is, after he had brawled eight or ten years in Logic, Metaphysics, &c., and his judgment had thereby become " utterly corrupt," that he was allowed to begin his divinity studies, and then not at the Scriptures, but at Duns Scotus, Aquinas, Occam, or some other doctor. Now," says Tyndale, "whatsoever every man findeth with his doctor, that is his gospel, and that is only true with him, and that holdeth he all his life long; and every man to maintain his doctor withal, corrupteth the Scripture and fashioneth it out of his own imagination, as a potter doth his clay. Of what text thou provest hell, will another prove purgatory, another limbo patrum, another the

assumption of our body, and another shall prove of the same text that an ape hath a tail. And of what text the grey friar proveth that our body was without original sin, will the black friar prove that she was conceived in original sin." Frivolous, and even profane questions; as, for instance, whether the glorified body of Christ were sitting or standing, and his body in the sacrament dressed or undressed, were discussed with as much gravity, ardour, and persistency, as if the temporal and eternal welfare of the disputants depended upon the issue.

In all this ignorance and profitless labour we may see something retributive. Truth, like God himself, is jealous of her honour, and punishes disloyalty to her person by withdrawing from the mind in which she has resided. They who, through indifference, fear, or policy, keep the truth to themselves instead of imparting it to others, fare like the miser whose silver and gold are cankered, and whose stored-up grain the weevil destroys.

There never, however, was a period so dark but it was relieved by some faint glimmerings of light. When desponding Elijah thought all beside himself idolatrous, there were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. We have said that England and the Bible were at their Nadir about the middle of the 15th century but the figure halts a little, as most figures do. For when the Romish clergy were most corrupt and the Bible least known and prized, there were a few humble men who, at the cost of privation and risk of life, itinerated the country for the purpose of instructing small congregations of "Brethren in Christ," as they were called, in the unadulterated truth of God's Word. These true successors of the Apostles and prototypes of the early Methodist preachers were the disciples of Wycliffe, and it was copies, or parts of copies, of the Wycliffe English versions that they carried with them and used. Thus the "Word of God was precious in those days" to a few. It was the height of their ambition to possess even a fragment of the Scriptures. One man is said to have given a load of hay for a few chapters of Paul's Epistles. Those who had skill and opportunity eagerly and faithfully transcribed the words of Christ and of His Apostles. Taught caution by the sense of danger, they read the Bible in secret, or repeated portions of it by the ingle-side at night, instead of the popular ballads about Robin Hood. "Amongst the 170 copies, or parts of copies, of the Wycliffe versions that have been examined, about half are of a small size, such as could be the daily companion of their owners." These were the men who kindled watch-fires in England, that shone as "lights in a dark place until the day dawned." Many of their names would have been lost but for the accident that they are preserved in the registers of Lincoln and Norwich, as amongst those who suffered for the offence of reading the "New Law [Testament] in English."

But, meanwhile, two events had occurred that were destined to exert a mighty influence over Europe for good:-Constantinople was taken by the Turks (1444), and some Germans-aided and abetted by the devil, as many gave out had invented the art of printing. The first event, calamitous as it seemed, led to the revival of learning, since it served to scatter Greeks and Greek manuscripts through Europe. The second event ensured the spread and permanence of that revival, by multiplying the masterpieces of antiquity, and supplying the grammars and lexicons requisite for studying them. Amongst those who caught the enthusiasm for the "New Learning," was a clever Dutchman, who came over to the regenerated University of Oxford, to perfect his knowledge of the Greek language. Desiderius Erasmus-ex-monk, wit, the friend of Dean Colet and Sir Thomas Moore-is one, whose name calls up much that we could willingly stay to consider; but it is as a helper-on of the Reformation that he now claims notice at our hand. Not that the title of Reformer belongs of right to him, as it does to Luther and others; for his heart was divided towards the movement, the Romanists getting one half, the Reformers the other. Hence, as might have been expected, he has shared the proverbial fate of most mediators and trimmers, having failed to satisfy fully both Lutherans and Papists. Some of his enemies indeed have pursued him into the eternal state, and there have meted out poetic justice to him with such exactness as to hang him up between heaven and hell,* as though not quite good enough for the former and scarcely deserving of the latter. He never left the Papal communion, yet while he lived nobody exposed its abuses or "showed up" the iniquities of its hierarchy more than he, and when dying, he refused absolution, and would confess to none but Christ the only priest. Although Erasmus was certainly as much out of his place within the Romish pale, as a bull in a china-shop, he could neither be coaxed nor driven therefrom. When some of his reforming friends urged him to side with them and take the consequences, he answered-" It is not every one who receives the grace which makes a martyr, and in the day of trial I fear that I should repeat St. Peter." Erasmus' industry was prodigious. The titles of the works of which he was the author, editor, or subject, fill a folio volume in the catalogue of the British Museum, conclusive proof that he was a man who made no small stir in the world. In many of the works he wrote-such as The Praise of Folly, and the Colloquies he has wielded a blade as keen as the scimitar of Saladin, a weapon quite as effective in its way against Romish errors and abuses, as the iron mace of the lion-hearted Luther. The catalogue also teaches us the further fact, that Erasmus edited

Ls Estrange's Preface to Colloquies, 1699.

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