Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

that superstition which was the original foun-
dation of their authority; and who, in their
advancement to riches and dominion, had,
like the officers of a regular army, fallen into
a subordination of power and rank. The
doctrines and the practical conduct inculcâted
by this clergy, were such as might contribute
most effectually to their own aggrandizement.
The people were taught to believe in mysteries
which their pastors alone pretended to explain,
to approach and worship the Supreme Being
by superstitious rites and ceremonies, in which
the clergy presided, to discover to their spi-
ritual instructor all their secret thoughts and
actions, and, upon submitting to the discipline
prescribed by the church in such cases, to re-
ceive from him absolution and pardon for their
sins. In a word, the clergy were understood
to have in their possession the keys of heaven;
in consequence of which, the treasures of the
earth, and the hearts of mankind, were laid
open to them.
In the exercise and extension of their

power, they were supported, not only by their ecclesiastical leader, the Roman pontiff, but also by their temporal sovereign, who, though on some

[ocr errors]

occasions he might quarrel with them for their encroachments upon his prerogative, had commonly an interest to promote their influence over the people ; as they, on the other hand, from his having a great share in the disposal of their livings, were induced to employ that influence in promoting and maintaining his authority. Thus, between the great power of the crown and that of the church, both of which were the offspring of ignorance and prejudice, there arose a sort of family compact, which being consolidated by length of time and by mutual habits, proved no less advantageous to either party than it was inimical to the interest of the whole community.

Of all the systems of religion established at the time of the reformation, the church of England approached the nearest to that Roman Catholic stock upon which it was engrafted. It rejected, indeed, many absurd opinions adopted by the church of Rome, and, from the greater diffusion of knowledge, it acquired a more limited influence over the ininds of the people. But so far as its authority extended, its character and tendency were the same. Though its features were a little softened, it

presented the same aspect of superstition, the same pomp and parade of worship, the same dignitaries invested with jurisdiction and authority, the same opulence and splendour in the higher clergy, which tended to procure them consideration and respect, the same train of subordination in the ranks and orders of churchmen, which united them in one compact body, and enabled them, in promoting their common interest, to act with unanimity and vigour.

The constitution of the church of England had even a stronger tendency than that of Rome to render its clergy devoted to the interest of the crown. They were more uniformly dependent upon the sovereign, who, by the annihilation of the papal supremacy, became, without a rival, the acknowledged head of the church, and obtained the entire disposal of the higher ecclesiastical dignities.

The presbyterian and independent systems were of a different spirit and complexion. The adherents of the former, in correcting the errors and abuses of the church of Rome, had acquired a degree of ardour and enthusiasm, which led them, in their acts of pub

lic worship, to reject with indignation all forms and ceremonious observances, and to consider their approaches to the Deity, by prayer and supplication, as a mere sentimental intercourse, calculated to demonstrate and improve those feelings of the heart which were due to their Creator. They regarded the functions of a clergyman, therefore, as of no further importance than to preserve good order in the public exercise of religious worship, to inspect the behaviour of the people under his care, and to instruct them in the great duties of morality and religion. It was consistent with this moderate and rational estimation of the clerical character, that the clergy should be moderately provided in livings, that they should not be exalted one above another by any scale of dignities or jurisdiction, and that their authority, upon the whole, should be inconsiderable. By their activity, indeed, and by their attention to the duties of their profession, they were capable of gaining great influence and respect; but in order to do this, it was necessary that they should recommend themselves to the people rather than cultivate the patronage of men in power. They

vour.

could, therefore, be of little service to the sovereign in supporting his prerogative, and, of consequence, had little to expect from his fa

On the contrary, as their interest and habits connected them with the populace, they entered with alacrity into the popular feelings and views, beheld with jealousy and apprehension the lofty pretensions of the crown, and sounded throughout the kingdom the alarm of regal usurpation.

As the system of the independents proceeded a step further than that of the presbyterians, by declaring against all ecclesiastical establishments, and rendering the provision of every religious instructor perfectly precarious, their clergy becoming still more dependent upon their employers, were proportionably more interested in courting popular favour, and in struggling for the extension of popular privileges.

The presbyterians, as they approved of a permanent clergy, appointed and paid by the public, and possessed of a certain jurisdiction, SO, in their political system, they had no aversion to a hereditary monarch, invested with permanent civil powers, and superintending all the

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »