Saturday, March 12, 2005

Out of the Dark Ages

The following is an excerpt from John Foxe's Acts and Monuments (Foxe's Book of Martyrs) and describes the condition of the Church in his day. Contemporary parallels are evident and Foxe's assessment and description of the Church of his day bears contemplating.

From Acts and Monuments

Volume II Book 5

John Wicliff’s Times: State of The Church

It appeareth by such as have observed the order and course of times, that this Wickliff flourished about A.D. 1371, Edward III. reigning in England; for thus we do find in the Chronicles of Caxton: “In the year of our Lord 1871,” saith he, “Edward III., king of England, in his parliament was against the pope’s clergy: he willingly hearkened and gave ear to the voices and tales of heretics, with certain of his council conceiving and following sinister opinions against the clergy; wherefore, afterwards, he tasted and suffered much adversity and trouble.

And not long after, in the year of our Lord,” saith he, “1872, he wrote unto the bishop of Rome, that he should not by any means intermeddle any more within his kingdom, as touching the reservation or distribution of benefices; and that all such bishops as were under his dominion should enjoy their former and ancient liberty, and be confirmed of their metropolitans, as hath been accustomed in times past,” etc.

Thus much writeth Caxton. But, as touching the just number of the year and time, we will not be very curious or careful about it at present: this is out of all doubt, that at what time all the world was in most desperate and vile estate, and that the lamentable ignorance and darkness of God’s truth had overshadowed the whole earth, this man stepped forth like a valiant champion, unto whom that may justly be applied which is spoken in the book called Ecclesiasticus, of one Simon, the son of Onias: “Even as the morning star being in the midst of a cloud, and as the moon being full; her course, and as the bright beams of the sun; so doth he shine and glister in the temple and church of God.” [chap. 1. 5:6.]

Thus doth Almighty God continually succor and help, when all things are in despair’ being always, according to the prophecy of the Psalm [Psalm 60, 5:9.], “a helper in time of need;” which tiling never more plainly appeared, than in these latter days and extreme age of the church, when the whole state and condition, not 0nly of worldly things, but also of religion, was so depraved and corrupted: that, like the disease named lethargy amongst the physicians, even so the state of religion amongst the divines, was past all man’s help and remedy.

The name only of Christ remained amongst Christians, but his true and lively doctrine was as far unknown to the most part, as his name was common to all men. As touching faith, consolation, the end and use of the law, the office of Christ, our impotency and weakness, the Holy Ghost, the greatness and strength of sin, true works, grace and free justification by faith, the liberty of a Christian man, wherein consisteth and resteth the whole sum and matter of our profession, there was almost no mention, nor any word spoken. Scripture, learning, and divinity, were known but to a few, and that in the schools only; and there also they turned and converted almost all into sophistry. Instead of Peter and Paul, men occupied their time in studying Aquinas and Scotus, and the Master of Sentences. the world, leaving and forsaking the lively power of God’s spiritual word and doctrine, was altogether led and blinded with outward ceremonies and human traditions, wherein the whole scope, in a manner, of all Christian perfection, did consist and depend. In these was all the hope of obtaining salvation fully fixed; hereunto all things were attributed; insomuch that scarcely any other thing was seen in the temples or churches, taught or spoken of in sermons, or finally intended or gone about in their whole life, but only heaping up of certain shadowy ceremonies upon ceremonies; neither was there any end of this their heaping.

The people were taught to worship no other thing but that which they did see; and did see almost nothing which they did not worship.

The church, being degenerated from the true apostolic institution above all measure, reserving only the name of the apostolic church, but far from the truth thereof in very deed, did fall into all kind of extreme tyranny; whereas the poverty and simplicity of Christ was changed into cruelty and abomination of life. Instead of the apostolic gifts and continual labors and travails, slothfulness and ambition was crept in amongst the priests.

Beside all this, there arose and sprang up a thousand sorts and fashions of strange religions; being only the root and well-head of all superstition. How great abuses and depravations were crept into the sacraments, at the time they were compelled to worship similitudes and signs of things for the very things themselves; and to adore such things as were instituted and ordained only for memorials! Finally, what thing was there in the whole state of Christian religion so sincere, so sound, and so pure, which was not defiled and spotted with some kind of superstition? Besides this, with how many bonds and snares of daily new-fangled ceremonies were the silly consciences of men, redeemed by Christ to liberty, ensnared and snarled; insomuch that there could be no great difference perceived between Christianity and Jewishness, save only the name of Christ: so that the state and condition of the Jews might seem somewhat more tolerable than ours! There was nothing sought for out of the true fountains, but out of the dirty puddles of the Philistines; the Christian people were wholly carried away as it were by the nose, with mere decrees and constitutions of men, even whither it pleased the bishops to lead them, and not as Christ’s will did direct them. All the whole world was filled and overwhelmed with error and darkness; and no great marvel: for why? the simple and unlearned people, being far from all knowledge of the holy Scripture, thought it quite enough for them to know only those things which were delivered them by their pastors and shepherds, and they, on the other part, taught in a manner nothing else but such things as came forth of the court of Rome; whereof the most part tended to the profit of their order, more than to the glory of Christ. The Christian faith was esteemed or accounted none other thing then, but that every man should know that Christ once suffered; that is to say, that all men should know and understand that thing which the devils themselves also knew. Hypocrisy was accounted for wonderful holiness.

All men were so addicted unto outward shows, that even they themselves, who professed the most absolute and singular knowledge of the Scriptures, scarcely did understand or know any other thing. And this did evidently appear, not only in the common sort of doctors and teachers, but also in the very heads and captains of the church, whose whole religion and holiness consisted, in a manner, in the observing of days, meats, and garments, and such like rhetorical circumstances, as of place, time, person, etc. Hereof sprang so many sorts and fashions of vestures and garments; so many differences of colors and meats, with so many pilgrimages to several places, as though St. James at Compostell 1352 could do that, which Christ could not do at Canterbury; or else that God were not of like power and strength in every place, or could not be foam but by being sought for by running gadding hither and thither. Thus the holiness of the whole year was transported and put off unto the Lent season. No country or land was counted holy, but only Palestine, where Christ had walked himself with his corporal feet. Such was the blindness of that time, that men did strive and fight for the cross at Jerusalem, as it had been for the chief and only force and strength of our faith. It is a wonder to read the monuments of the former times, to see and understand what great troubles and calamities this cross hath caused almost in every Christian commonwealth; for the Romish champions never ceased, by writing, admonishing, and counseling, yea, and by quarrelling, to move and stir up princes’ minds to war and battle, even as though the faith and belief of the gospel were of small force, or little effect without that wooden cross. This was the cause of the expedition of the most noble prince king Richard unto Jerusalem; who being taken in the same journey, and delivered unto the emperor, could scarcely be ransomed home again for thirty thousand marks. In the same enterprise or journey, Frederic, the emperor of Rome, a man of most excellent virtue, was drowned in a certain river there, A.D. 1190; and also

Philip, the king of France, scarcely returned home again in safety, and not without great losses: so much did they esteem the recovery of the holy city and cross.1353

Upon this alone all men’s eyes, minds, and devotions were so set and bent, as though either there were no other cross but that, or that the cross of Christ were in no other place but only at Jerusalem. Such was the blindness and superstition of those days, which understood or knew nothing but such things as were outwardly seen; whereas the profession of our religion standeth in much other higher matters and greater mysteries.

What was the cause why Urban did so vex and torment himself? Because

Jerusalem with the holy cross was lost out of the hands of the Christians; for so we do find it in the Chronicles, at what time as Jerusalem with king Guido and the cross of our Lord was taken, and under the power of the sultan, Urban took the matter so grievously, that for very sorrow he died. In his place succeeded Albert, who was called Gregory VIII., by whose motion it was decreed by the cardinals, that (setting apart all riches and voluptuousness) “they should preach the cross of Christ, and by their poverty and humility first of all should take the cross upon them, and go before others into the land of Jerusalem.” These are the words of the history;1354 whereby it is evident unto the vigilant reader, unto what grossness the true knowledge of the spiritual doctrine of the gospel was degenerated and grown in those days; how great blindness and darkness were in those days, even in the first primacy and supremacy of the bishop of Rome: as though the outward succession of Peter and the apostles had been of greater force and effect to that matter. What doth it force in what place Peter did rule or not rule? It is much more to be regarded that every man should labor and study with all his endeavor to follow the life and confession of Peter; and that man seemeth unto me to be the true successor of Peter against whom the gates of hell shall not prevail. For if Peter in the Gospel do bear the type and figure of the Christian church (as all men, in a manner, do affirm), what more foolish or vain thing can there be, than through private usurpation, to restrain and to bind that unto one man, which, by the appointment of the Lord, is of itself free and open to so many?

Thus, in these so great and troublous times and horrible darkness of ignorance, what time there seemed in a manner to be no one so little a spark of pure doctrine left or remaining, this aforesaid Wick-lift, by God’s providence, sprang and rose up, through whom the Lord would first waken and raise up again the world, which was overmuch drowned and whelmed in the deep streams of human traditions. Thus you have here the time of Wickliff’s original: *now we will also in few words show somewhat of his troubles and conflicts.*

This Wickliff, after he had now a long time professed divinity in the university of Oxford, and perceiving the true doctrine of Christ’s gospel to be adulterated and defiled with so many filthy inventions of bishops, sects of monks, and dark errors: and that he, after long debating and deliberating with himself (with many secret sighs, and bewailing in his mind the general ignorance of the whole world), could no longer suffer or abide the same, at the last determined with himself to help and to remedy such things as he saw to be wide, and out of the way. But, forsomuch as he saw that this dangerous meddling could not be attempted or stirred without great trouble, neither that these things, which had been so long time with use and custom rooted and grafted in men’s minds, could be suddenly plucked up or taken away, he thought with himself that this matter should be done by little and little, * even as he that plucked out the hairs out of the horse tail, as the proverb saith.* Wherefore he, taking his original at small occasions, thereby opened himself a way or mean to greater matters. And first he assailed his adversaries in logical and metaphysical questions, disputing with them of the first form and fashion of things, of the increase of time, and of the intelligible substance of a creature, with other such like sophisms of no great effect; but yet, notwithstanding, it did not a little help and furnish him, who minded to dispute of greater matters. So in these matters first began Keningham, a Carmelite, to dispute and argue against John Wickliff.

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