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"Scottish, and Irish Roman-catholics ;" and you will oblige me by perusing what I have written in that work upon this subject.
In a preceding letter, I have inserted the encomiastic account given of monasteries by M. Mallêt an intelligent and candid protestant. I shall now transcribe what is said of them, by an abler writer, not unknown to yourself*.
"The world has never been so deeply indebted "to any body of men, as to this illustrious order; "but historians, when relating the evil of which
they are the occasion, have forgotten the good "which they produced. Even the commonest "readers are familiar with the history of that arch “miracle-monger St. Dunstan; whilst the most "learned of our countrymen scarce remember the "names of those admirable men, who went forth "from England, and became the apostles of the "North. Tinian and Juan Fernandez are not "more beautiful spots on the ocean, than Malms
bury, and Lendisfarne, and Jarrow, in the ages "of our heptarchy. A community of pious men, "devoted to literature, and to the useful arts, as "well as to religion, seems, in those ages, like a green oasis amid the desert; like stars in a moon"less night, they shine upon us with a tranquil 66 ray. If ever there was a man who could truly "be called venerable, it was he to whom that ap
pellation is constantly fixed, Bede, whose life "was past in instructing his own generation, and preparing records for posterity. In those days
Quarterly Review for December 1811.
"the church offered the only asylum from the "evils to which every country was exposed: amidst " continual wars the church enjoyed peace; it was “regarded as a sacred realm by men, who, though "they hated each other, believed and feared the same God. Abused as it was, by the worldly"minded and ambitious, and disgraced by the "artifices of the designing, and the follies of the “fanatic, it afforded a shelter to those who were "better than the world in their youth, or weary of "it in their age: the wise, as well as the timid and "the gentle, fled to this Goshen of God, which enjoyed its own light and calm, amid darkness and "storms."
After perusing this splendid tribute, evidently given by no mean hand, to the useful and the edifying habits of the inhabitants of the monasteries, it is difficult to believe, that the lives of a great proportion of them were so scandalous, or even so useless, as to justify a total suppression of them.
The best account of this extraordinary event, which has come to my hands, is given in " Collier's "Ecclesiastical History." He sheds a generous tear over the sufferers; and, while he admits the criminality of some individuals, and the disorders of some houses, he honourably and successfully advocates the general integrity of the body.
In my opinion, the report of the commissioners, employed in the visitation of the monasteries, is wholly unworthy of credit. We see how little attention to truth, and how great a violation, both of
the substance and forms of justice, were shown, even in the proceedings in parliament, and in the highest courts of justice, against the most exalted and most distinguished personages, whom the king wished to oppress, and whom all, except the king, wished to preserve. How much less, then, must necessarily have been the attention paid, either to truth or justice, when monks and nuns were to be persecuted? where obscure individuals were appointed to report upon their conduct? where the king was determinately bent upon their ruin? where his courtiers were indifferent to their fate? and where plunder of them was the general aim and immediate expectation of many, and the sanguine hope of almost all?
Alleged Negligence of the Church of Rome, in remedying Ecclesiastical Abuses.
You remark, that " much might have been done "by the timely removal of abuses, so gross, that "the romanists of the present age are reduced, in "the face of notorious facts, to deny what they find "it impossible to defend."
Do we really deserve this abusive language? In the passage which I translated, in a former page, from Bossuet, are the abuses in the church denied? Are they even palliated? Is not this passage alone, particularly if we take into account the documents which it cites, and, therefore, incorporates, a complete refutation of the most con
tumelious charge, which you, in this place, bring against us? In the fifth of his excellent letters to doctor Sturges, doctor Milner expressly acknowledges "the increasing spirit of irreligion and im"morality among different nations, and in none "more than our own, during a considerable time "previous to the reformation." Are not these as full confessions of the abuses in the church, as you can require? We believe that they were not so extensive, or so enormous, as you represent them. We think your description of them a hideous caricature; but their existence, to a great and lamentable height and extent, we never deny. If you look into Mr. Alban Butler's "Lives of the Saints," one of the most popular works which have issued from the roman-catholic press, you will scarcely find in it the life of any saint, who flourished during the middle ages, in which, on the one hand, the then existing disorders, and, on the other, his exertions to remove them, are not mentioned.
Thus, contrary to your strong accusation, do our writers acknowledge the existence of abuses in our own church. But why are you silent on the unceasing efforts of the roman-catholic church to remedy them? In 789, the council of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 813, the council of Châlons, proscribed the abuses in pilgrimages. In 1215, the council of Lateran, in 1274, the council of Lyons, came to resolutions against the multiplication of religious orders. In the last of these councils, and in that of Constance, much was said against the prodigality, with which indulgences were then distributed. Are you ignorant of the
resolutions taken at the councils of Constance and Basil, against the abuses of papal power? Æneas Silvius, afterwards pope Pius II, informs us, that "the doctrine held in those councils was that of the
greater number of catholic divines, of the lights "of the church, of the doctors of truth, and of 66 most of the universities and schools in Christen"dom *.""
Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims, and cardinal Cusa, publicly called into question the authenticity of the decretals. Look into the histories of the pontificates of Leo IV, Leo XI, Gregory VII, Innocent III, Urban V, you will find abundant proof of the exertions of the popes, to preserve both integrity of faith and purity of morals in every part of Christendom, and to propagate christianity in the remotest regions of the earth. Open Wilkins; see what was done by the English roman-catholic clergy, during the middle ages, to promote the honour of God and the welfare of man.
gory VII, Alexander III, Innocent IV," says Muller, a protestant writer of celebrity," arrested "the torrent of immorality which was then swallow"ing up the world..... If the hierarchy had been " removed, Europe would have been deprived of an "order of men, which, (although it be for their own "interest only,) has always had its eyes upon the public welfare. An asylum against the wrath of
kings was found in the altar; an asylum against "the abuse of ecclesiastical power was found in the
throne, and the public good resulted from the
Comment. Pii II. p. m. 15.