Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

now honoured the pope with a solemn embassy to Avignon, Christianity was extirpated by the victorious Timur Beg ; who faithfully exerted against the professors of the Gospel the persecuting spirit of the Koran. In Constantinople the necessity of the assistance of the West to withstand the encroaching hostility of the Turks was so apparent, that scarcely any sacrifices for the purpose of obtaining it were thought too great. Three successive embassies were sent to different pontiffs to prepare the way for the union of the two churches. Rome at length beheld within her walls, A. D. 1367, the Grecian patriarch negotiating for his own submission to the pope. The patriarch was followed two years afterwards by a nobler suitor, the Greek emperor himself. But the majority of his subjects dreaded and abhorred the Turk less than the pontiff; and the treaty evaporated in furious debates.

Though several of the pontiffs of this century exerted themselves no less fiercely than their predecessors in excommunicating and deposing emperors and kings; and extended under the names of reserves and provisions the claims of the papacy to fill up ecclesiastical vacancies of all kinds and in every quarter : the authority of the holy see encountered some shocks by which it was manifestly impaired. The first of these concussions took place in the quarrel between the popes and the King of France. Boniface VIII. having acquainted the world in a memorable bull, that the successor of St. Peter ruled the earth, by Divine right, with the temporal sword, no less than the church with the spiritual; and that every man who presumed to question this doctrine was excluded from the possibility of salvation ; was accused. A.D. 1303, of heresy and other crimes, by the command of the French monarch, Philip the Fair; and was afterwards seized

and wounded by one of the officers of Philip. On the subsequent vacancy of the papal chair, A.D. 1305, Philip, by his manæuvres, procured the election of Clement V., a French prelate, who, at the desire of the king, transferred the papal residence from Rome to Avignon, where it continued during seventy years, denominated by the Italians the Babylonian captivity. By this long absence the power of the pontiffs experienced in Italy considerable diminution. Potent factions established themselves even in Rome ; and many cities revolted from their allegiance. French ecclesiastics continued to succeed to the popedom; until another event gave a fresh blow to the papal authority. On the death of Gregory XI., A. D. 1378, Urban VI. was chosen to succeed him. But a party of the cardinals speedily repenting of the choice, professed to discover a flaw in the election ; and raised a rival, Clement VII., to the pontificate. Thus began the great schism, which divided the Western church during fifty years. The reverence of the Catholic world was claimed at the same moment by two, sometimes by three, competitors ; each asserting his own plenary apostolical authority, and fulminating anathemas against his opposers. A third source of detriment to the papal domination may be traced to the new hostilities which raged between its most useful adherents, the Dominicans and the Franciscans, concerning the antient subject of their dissensions, the absolute poverty of Christ. John XXII. unfortunately decided, that Christ was not altogether without a certain species of property in the clothes which he wore, and in the food by which he was sustained. Every true Franciscan ear tingled at the blasphemous assertion. The same pontiff also presumed to mitigate in some respects the rigid institutions of St. Francis. The Franciscans exclaimed that the rules of their founder were an inspired Gospel imparted to him by Christ, and unalterable by man. John, in a transport of rage, denounced his curses on the apostate contemners of his authority: and the Dominican inquisitors were the eager instruments of his vengeance. Not even Jews or judicial astrologers were hunted with greater fury. France, Spain, Italy, Germany, saw numbers of the Franciscans perish at the stake. Succeeding pontiffs at last owned the prudence of more lenient measures ; and by mutual concessions peace was restored between the Franciscan order and the holy see. The increase, partly of mystics and other fanatical sects, partly of sects who fully deserved the yet unknown appellation of Protestants, must be enumerated as a fourth cause of injury to the sovereignty of the pontiff. In every quarter the inquisitors chased their victims with zeal alike a stranger to mercy and to weariness. But the reviving crop sprang up throughout papal Europe too rapidly to be kept down by the scythe of the church. And the list of the enemies of popery now acquired unexampled force by the accession of the name of Wicliff.

John Wicliff was born, A.D. 1324, in the reign of Edward II. Having distinguished himself at Oxford by supporting the privileges of the university against the encroachments of the mendicant friars settled within its precincts, he was appointed warden of the new College of Canterbury Hall. Being ejected from that station by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who succeeded the founder, he appealed to the pope. Edward III., in the mean time, withdrew, with the approbation of his parliament, the tribute which John had engaged to pay to the see of Rome. menaced, and the clergy in general clamoured on his

The pope

side. Wicliff, in a spirited treatise, opposed the papal claim; and his cause was immediately decided at Rome against him. Wicliff, dissatisfied with the scholastic commentators, had long been a diligent student of the Scriptures. Shocked at the scandalous lives of the monastic elergy, and at the temporal usurpations of the Romish church, he the more easily became sensible of several of the doctrinal corruptions of popery. The errors which he detected were the subjects of his pointed animadversion from the chair of the professorship of divinity, to which he had now been elected. Of that post also he was, in consequence, deprived. John of Ghent, Duke of Lancaster, governed England at this period for his feeble father, Edward III. The popish clergy he detested; and regarding Wicliff as one of their victims, took him into confidence, and sent him with the Bishop of Bangor at the head of an embassy to Bruges to reclaim the national right of conferring ecclesiastical benefices, with the general liberties of the English church, from the papal commissioners, who acceded, and paid no regard, to a compromising treaty. The insight which Wicliff gained on this occasion into the proceedings of Rome contributed to open his eyes. On his return he became rector of Lutterworth, in Leicestershire. Scarcely had he repaired thither, when a prosecution for heresy was commenced against him, under the auspices of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London. He was rescued by the forcible interposition of the Duke of Lancaster. On the accession of Richard II. the power of Lancaster expired ; and five papal bulls instantly reached the two prelates, the king, and the university of Oxford, requiring the condign punishment of Wicliff. Lancaster again contrived to save him. He now sent forth into the world the noble work on which he had been for years employed, a translation, the first complete translation which ever appeared in our language, of the Bible. The clergy were thunderstruck at the profane exposure of the Scriptures; and the bishops brought a bill into parliament for the suppression of the book. Scarcely had they beheld the rejection of the bill by a great majority, when they heard that Wicliff was preaching against transubstantiation. At Oxford they rallied their forces; procured the condemnation of Wicliff's tenets; and obliged him finally to retire from the university, which he had still continued occasionally to visit. He withdrew to Lutterworth ; and died, A.D. 1384. The seed which he had sown made rapid progress during his life; and ripened after his death into a glorious harvest. I

Among the heretics of this century the first place would be due, if accusations were to be accounted proofs, to the Knights Templars. Philip the Fair could not forgive the assistance which they had afforded to his enemy, Boniface VIII. From Clement V., whom he raised to the popedom, he required their destruction. At an appointed time, A.D. 1307, they were seized, unsuspicious of danger, throughout Europe. Blasphemy, apostasy, idolatry, and the most detestable vices, were laid to their charge. The knights who refused to confess were put to death: they, from whom tortures or promises obtained an acknowledgement of guilt, were set at liberty. By the council of Vienne, A.D. 1311, the order was abolished. Of its vast possessions part was bestowed on the knights of St. John, and the remainder, situated

1 For a full and impartial statement of the opinions and conduct of Wicliff, see Gilpin's Lives of the Reformers.

« AnteriorContinua »