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“Lower us! Send the Mermaid down!” Mark cried again.

It may be said in a general way that the relations between priests and people were neither particularly close nor particularly strained. The rights and privileges claimed by the clergy did indeed give rise to murmurings and complaints in certain quarters, but these were neither so serious nor so general as to indicate anything like a deep-rooted and sharp division between priests and people. The question of the rights of sanctuary, according to which criminals who escaped into the enclosures of monasteries and churches were guaranteed protection from arrest, led to a sharp conflict between the ecclesiastical and secular jurisdictions, but with a little moderation on both sides it was not a matter that could have excited permanent ill-feeling. In the days when might was right the privileges of sanctuary served a useful purpose. That in later times they occasioned serious abuses could not be denied, and on the accession of Henry VII. the Pope restricted the rights of sanctuary very considerably, thereby setting an example which it was to be expected would have been followed by his successors. The /privilegium fori/, by which clerics were exempted from punishment by a secular tribunal, was another cause of considerable friction. In 1512 Parliament passed a law abolishing this privilege in case of clerics accused of murder, etc., and though it was to have force only for two years it excited the apprehension of the clergy more on account of what it heralded than of what it actually enacted. When it came up again for discussion in 1515 even those of the clergy who were most remarkable for their subservience to the king protested vehemently against it. In a discussion that took place in the presence of Henry VII. one of the friars brought forward many arguments to prove that such a law was not outside the competence of the state, much to the disgust of the bishops and of Cardinal Wolsey. The king was most emphatic in his declaration that he intended to take such action as would vindicate and safeguard his rights as supreme lord of England, but notwithstanding this sharp reproof to his opponents the measure was allowed to drop.

“Lower us! Send the Mermaid down!” Mark cried again.

The excessive fees charged in the episcopal courts for the probate of wills, the gifts known as mortuaries claimed on occasions of death, the absence of the bishops and the clergy from their dioceses and parishes to the consequent neglect of their duties to the people, the bestowal of benefices oftentimes on poorly qualified clerics to the exclusion of learned and zealous priests, the appointment of clerics to positions that should have been filled by laymen on the lands of the bishops and monasteries, and the interference of some of the clergy both secular and regular in purely secular pursuits were the principal grievances brought forward in 1529 by the House of Commons against the spirituality. But in determining the value of such a document it should be remembered that it was inspired by the king, and in fact drafted by Thomas Cromwell, at a time when both king and minister were determined to crush the power of the Church, and that, therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that it is exaggerated and unfair. According to the express statement of Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, who was in a position to know and appreciate the relations between clergy and people, the division was neither so acute nor so serious as it was painted by those who wished to favour religious innovations or to ingratiate themselves with the king and his advisers.[11]

“Lower us! Send the Mermaid down!” Mark cried again.

But, even though there existed some differences of opinion about matters concerned with the temporalities of the Church or the privileges of the clergy, there is no indication during the thirty years preceding the revolt of any marked hostility to the doctrines and practices of the Church. In an earlier age the Lollards, as the followers of Wycliff were called, put forward doctrines closely akin to those advocated by the early Reformers, notably in regard to the constitution of the Church, the Papacy, the Scriptures, Transubstantiation, Purgatory, and Tradition, but the severe measures adopted by both Church and State had succeeded in breaking the influence of Lollardy in England. Very few if any followers of this sect remained to disturb the peace of the community in the early years of the reign of Henry VIII., though it is quite possible that the memory of their teaching and of the sturdy struggle which they had waged did not fail to produce its effects at a later period. It is true that in 1512 the statement is attributed to the Bishop of London in connexion with the trial of an ecclesiastic, that on account of their leaning towards heresy any twelve men of the city would bring in a verdict of guilty against a cleric placed on his trial before them,[12] but it is impossible to believe that such a statement conveys an accurate view of the state of affairs. It is out of harmony with the results of the episcopal visitations, with the records of the few trials for heresy which took place, most of which resulted in the repentance of the alleged culprits, and with the considered judgment of such a well qualified contemporary authority as Sir Thomas More.

“Lower us! Send the Mermaid down!” Mark cried again.

It is certain that during the first quarter of the sixteenth century the student of history will search in vain for any evidence of opposition among the clergy and people of England to the spiritual supremacy of the Holy See. Disputes there had been, some of which were peculiarly bitter in their tone, between the English sovereigns and the Pope. Complaints had been made by the clergy against what they considered the unwarranted interferences of the Roman Curia in domestic affairs; but these disputes and complaints were concerned either with purely secular matters, as for example the annual tribute claimed by the Holy See since the famous surrender of the kingdom made by King John, or with the temporal side of the spiritual jurisdiction. The clergy and people resented generally the wholesale rights of reservation exercised by the Pope in regard to English benefices, the appointment of foreigners to offices in England, the heavy taxes levied by the Roman Curia directly or indirectly in the shape of Annats or First Fruits, the withdrawal of comparatively trivial cases from the local courts, and the exercise of jurisdiction over the highest dignitaries of England by the legates commissioned by the Holy See. But it is one thing to criticise the actual working of papal supremacy as interpreted by Roman officials, or to seek to limit its exercise in the every-day life of any particular church, and another to call in question the supremacy itself. The English clergy and people did, indeed, object to allow papal supremacy to be pushed too far in what they regarded as purely domestic affairs, but even in the most prolonged and heated discussions they never once questioned the fact that the Pope was Supreme Head of the Church in England, or that he was Supreme Head of the Catholic Church throughout the world.

The Statute of Provisors (1350-1), by which all appointments to English benefices were to be made by canonical election or by the nomination of lay patrons to the exclusion of papal provisions, is cited sometimes as a proof that the English nation disregarded the claims of the Holy See, but with equal justice and for a similar reason it might be maintained that the Council of Trent rejected the Supremacy of the Pope (Session xxiv., chap. 19). The Statute was called for, owing to the spiritual and economic losses inflicted on the country by the appointment of foreigners, and its passage was secured mainly by the lay patrons, whose rights of patronage were infringed by the constant stream of papal provisions. It was neither inspired by hostility to the Holy See, nor by any doubt about the supremacy of the Pope, and in itself it was a piece of legislation that might have merited the approval of the most loyal supporters of Rome. But as a matter of fact, lest their acceptance of such a measure might be misunderstood, the English bishops offered the most strenuous opposition to the Statute of Provisors and insisted that their protests against it should be registered, a policy which, it might be added, was followed by the University of Oxford. The bishops demanded later on that it should be repealed. Their request was not granted, but from the numerous provisions made to bishoprics in England and from the appointments made to English benefices during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it is evident that the Statute was allowed to fall into abeyance. Similarly the Statute of Praemunire (1353) by which it was forbidden under the penalty of forfeiture and outlawry to bring cases cognizable in the English courts before foreign courts, or to introduce into the realm provisions, reservations, or letters contrary to the rights of the king or his subjects, was passed to prevent an undoubted abuse at the time, and was enforced rarely as the frequent appeals to Rome amply prove.

These measures serve to indicate at most only the attitude of the Crown towards the Pope, not the attitude of the English clergy and people. The loyal submission of the latter is evidenced from the papal appointments to bishoprics and benefices, from the First Fruits paid willingly to the Holy See by those who were called upon to pay them, by the constant interference of the Holy See in regard to the division and boundaries of parishes, the visitation of monasteries, the rights of bishops, etc., as well as by the courts held in England in virtue of the jurisdiction of the Pope. That the Pope was above the law and that to dispute the authority of a papal decree was to be guilty of heresy was a principle recognised by the English ecclesiastical authorities and accepted also in practice by English jurists. The oaths of loyalty to the Holy See taken by all the archbishops and bishops, the tone and form of the letters addressed to the Pope, the assertion of papal rights against the errors and attacks of Wycliff and Luther, the full admission of papal supremacy contained in Henry VIII.'s /Assertio Septem Sacramentorum/, and in the formal dying declaration of Archbishop Warham of Canterbury (1533), and the resolute attitude of two such learned representatives of the English clergy and laity as Bishop Fisher of Rochester and Sir Thomas More, are in themselves sufficient to establish the fact that in the days of Henry VIII. England joined with the rest of the Catholic world in recognising the supreme spiritual jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome.[13]

The controversies which had raged were not concerned with spiritual supremacy nor were they peculiar to England. Much worse ones had arisen to disturb the friendly relations that should exist between the Holy See and France or Spain, and yet nobody would care to deny that both of these nations acknowledged their subjection to Rome. Neither were they between the English clergy or the English people and the Pope; they were waged rather between the Crown and the Holy See. As royal absolutism began to develop in Europe the policy of kings was to increase their power over the ecclesiastical organisation in their dominions by lessening the authority of the Pope. This tendency is brought out clearly in the concessions wrung from the Pope by Ferdinand I. of Spain and Louis XII. of France, but more especially in the Concordat negotiated between Leo X. and Francis I. (1516), according to which all appointments in the French Church were vested practically in the hands of the king. Henry VIII. was a careful observer of Continental affairs and was as anxious as Francis I. to strengthen his own position by grasping the authority of the Church. He secured a /de facto/ headship of the Church in England when he succeeded in getting Cardinal Wolsey invested with permanent legatine powers. Through Wolsey he governed ecclesiastical affairs in England for years, and on the fall of Wolsey he took into his own hands the control that he had exercised already through his favourite and minister. Had Leo X. consented to a concordat similar to that concluded with France, whereby the royal demands would have been conceded frankly and occasions of dispute removed, or else had he taken the strong step of refusing to delegate his authority indefinitely to a minister of the king, he would have prevented trouble and misunderstanding, and would have made the battle for royal supremacy much more difficult than it proved to be in reality. ----------

[1] Lupton, /Life of Dean Colet/, 1887.

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