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WHAT, THEN, DID HAPPEN AT THE
'HAT happened at the English Reformation is a question which seems by common consent of scholars to be carried over to a general and still unsettled account. Hardly a student who is not by faith or profession a partisan is to be found ready with an answer. Yet there does exist on this subject, as indeed on most subjects, a popular opinion, and it was therefore a piece of rather poor affectation of the Archbishop of Canterbury's the other day to appear surprised at the notion being abroad that Anne Boleyn had anything to do with the Reformation, and to proceed, as he did, to pour gentle ridicule on the proposition that what then happened was serious enough to break the continuity of English Church history. The Archbishop must know that these errors, if errors they be, are widely spread throughout the commonalty. How should it be otherwise? Ordinary unleisured folk, who have not the Lambeth Library at their elbows, have to pick up their scanty scraps of historical information as best they can from such common and possibly tainted sources as hearsay and popular histories, and the information they thus acquire assures them that the Church of Parker and Laud, and
Tillotson and Tait, is not the Church of Warham and Morton, and Becket and Anselm. Lord Macaulay's History, like Pickwick, is a book of great repute and wide circulation. The historical accuracy of both works may be challenged, but to ignore their influence is absurd. The great body of our literature, our poetry, our drama, our history, is and has been ever since the Reformation broadly, almost brutally, Protestant, and has proceeded on the assumption that what happened at the Reformation was not only rupture with Rome and the Begging Friars (of whom our pre-Reformation literature is so disagreeably full), but a resettlement of religion on a new footing. If it was not, most grievously for the last three hundred years has the public ear been abused. To disabuse the public mind, to Catholicise John Bull, will prove a task of huge difficulty, and demand a bolder front and a far more vigorous dialectic than Dr. Benson seems prepared either to exhibit or to employ.
A serious difficulty in the way of the Anglican party is the considerable and daily increasing hold on the popular imagination that has of late years been obtained by the Roman Catholics. Englishmen are ever prone to flatter a fallen foe, and there is much that is touching and forlorn in the spectacle of an English Roman Catholic no longer able to adore his risen Lord in any one of those stately Mother Churches built by the piety and still instinct with the genius of his ancestors, or to hear within their walls the tinkle of that bell, a sound carrying with it a richer freight of religious association than any other sound or incident of Christian worship.
Dr. Lingard's History of England, though not
so widely read as Macaulay's still is, or as Hume's once was, enjoys a great reputation; and it would, I think, be safe to assert that for one nonRoman Catholic Englishman who is acquainted with the Anglican presentation of the Reformation there are hundreds who are familiar (in its main outline) with the Roman Catholic presentation of the same series of events.
It is by biography and scraps of story about interesting people that historical tradition is chiefly kept alive in the breasts of the vulgar, and it so happens that no Anglican saint or hero has as yet obtained any hold upon the popular imagination; whilst on the Roman side Sir Thomas More, for example, is a universal favourite, and the story of his being led to death for denying the religious supremacy of a monarch to whom he was personally attached is one of the best known in English history. The fate of John Fisher excites the compassion of many who are not in the habit of calling him "Blessed John Fisher," but on the other hand to mourn the execution, cruel as it was, of Archbishop Laud is to belong to a coterie.
The fact is that most people have not left room enough in their minds for the Anglican view, which, old as it is and excellent as it is, and well supported as it may be, is yet for (to use John Locke's convenient phrase) "the bulk of mankind" a new view. Protestants we know, and Papists we know, but who are you?
This difficulty, serious as it is (the sooner it is faced the better), will be got over, and more time will shortly be occupied with the question, "What
happened at the Reformation?" than is likely to please the fine gentlemen who are quite willing to be called members of the Church of England, and to be married and buried (when their time comes) according to her rites, but who, save as aforesaid, busily absent themselves from her services, ridicule her pretensions to supernatural gifts, and would (can we doubt it ?) lustily denounce their Mother Church for an impertinent hussy were she to attempt to submit them to that religious discipline they so often so sorely need.
The importance of the question can hardly be overstated, involving as it does for many minds the gravest consequences; for should it appear probable that what happened at the Reformation was a breach of the visible unity of the Church, those men the peace of whose minds is bound up with visible unity must seek that unity elsewhere.
When we remember, and it is difficult long to forget, the intellectual incapacity of nearly all of us, our melancholy inability to fix our attention upon any subject for a lengthened period of time, how soon we grow tired, how quickly a judicial attitude of mind becomes irksome to us, and how quick we are to abandon it altogether, and once more to give our passions, prejudices, and predilections the free play they so dearly love; and whilst we ruefully call to mind under what a mass of documents, pamphlets, sermons, liturgies, Acts of Parliament and of Convocation the history of the Reformation lies buried, and all the Canons and Councils of the Church by which, when the history is ascertained, it must be judged, it is sorrowful to reflect that the peace of mind of a
single soul should be stretched up or as Hume's an inquiry which must necessarily and it would, tracted one. But how can it be ave one nonmatter does not lie beyond the province quainted judgment. There is (ex hypothesi) no formaauthority to which an appeal can safely be in its No use asking the Bishop of Rome what he thiraof the Reformation. The Greek Church cannot t got to take any interest in the matter. Historians. their name is Perfidy! Unless they have good styles they are so hard to read, and if they have good styles they are so apt to lie. By what means shall a plain man-a busy man, a man very partially educated-make up his mind what happened at the Reformation?
How do we ever make up our minds about anything? I can only suppose that it is by a mixed process of rejection and concentration. We reject a whole host of surrounding matters, not because we deliberately consider them irrelevant, but because, for one reason or another, they are alien both to our likes and our dislikes-they leave us unmoved; whilst other men, differently constituted, brought up in other surroundings-in a different library, for example—may find amongst the considerations we disregard the motive power of their resolutions. And as we reject what does not move us, so we concentrate ourselves on what does, and thus is the battlefield selected. Each one of us has his own. The contest over, we stand committed to one side or the other. We seldom repeat the process. The brick once hardened in the sun, the mould is thrown away, and the shape remains for ever determined.