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Historical reflexions upon the Events which have happen’d in the Church since the with-drawing of the Holy Scripture.
’TWILL in this place be no useless contemplation to observe, after the Scriptures had been ravish’d from the people in the Church of Rome, what pitiful pretenders were admitted to succeed. And first, because Lay-men were presum’d to be illiterate, and easily seducible by those writings which were in themselves difficult, and would be wrested by the unlearned to their own destruction; Pictures were recommended in their stead, and complemented as the Books of the Laity, which soon improv’d into a necessity of their Worship, and that gross Superstition which renders Christianity abominated by Turks, and Jews, and Heathens unto this day.
2. 1 would not be hasty in charging Idolatry upon the Church of Rome, or all in her Communion; but that their Image-worship is a most fatal snare, in which vast numbers of unhappy Souls are taken, no man can doubt who hath with any regard travail’d in Popish Countries. I my self, and thousands of others, 181whom the late Troubles, or other Occasions sent abroad, are and have been witnesses thereof. Charity, ’tis true, believes all things, but it do’s not oblige men to disbelieve their eyes. ’Twas the out-cry of Micah against the Danites, Jud. 18. 24. ye have taken away my Gods which I have made, and the Priest, and are gone away, and what have I more? But the Laity of the Roman Communion may enlarge the complaint and say; you have taken away the Oracles of our God, and set up every where among us graven and molten Images, and Teraphims, and what have we more? And ’twas lately the loud, and I doubt is still the unanswerable complaint of the poor Americans, that they were deny’d to worship their Pagod once in the year, when they who forbad them, worship’d theirs every day.
3. THE Jews before the Captivity, notwithstanding the recent memory of the Miracles in Egypt and the Wilderness, and the first Conquest of the Land of Canaan, with those that succeeded under the Judges and Kings of Israel and Juda, as also the express Command of God, and the Menaces of Prophets, ever and anon fell to downright Idolatry: but after their return unto this day have kept themselves from falling into that Sin, tho’ they had no Prophets to instruct them, no Miracles or Government to encourage or constrain them. The reason of which a very 182learned man in his discourse of Religious Assemblies takes to be, The reading and teaching of the Law in their Synagogues; which was perform’d with great exactness after the return from the Captivity, but was not so perform’d before. And may we not invert the observation, and impute the Image-worfhip now set up in the Christian Church to the forbidding the reading of the Scriptures in the Churches, and interdicting the private use, and institution of them?
4. FOR a farther supplement in place of the Scriptures, whose History was thought not edifying enough, the Legends of the Saints were introduc’d; stories so stupid, that one would imagine them design’d as an experiment how far credulity could be impos’d upon; or else fram’d to a worse intent, that Christianity by them might be made ridiculous. Yet these are recommended to use and veneration, while in the mean time the word of God is utterly forbidden, whereby the parties to this unhappy practice (that I may speak in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah 2. 13.) Have committed two evils, they have forsaken the fountain of living waters, hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
5. FARTHER yet, the same unreasonable tyranny, which permitted not the Laity to understand Almighty God speaking to them in 183the Scripture, hinder’d them from being suffer’d to understand the Church or themselves speaking to him in their prayers; whilst the whole Roman office is so dispos’d, that in defiance of the Apostles discourse, 1 Cor. 14. he that occupies the room of the unlearned must say amen to those prayers and praises which he has no comprehension of: and by his endless repetitions of Pater’s, Ave’s and Credo’s, falls into that battology reprov’d by our Saviour, Mat. 6. 7. And as ’twas said of the woman of Samaria, Jo. 4. 22. knows not what he worships, Yet this unaccountable practice is so much the darling of that Church, that when in France about eighteen years since, the Roman Missal was translated into the vulgar Tongue, and publish’d by the direction of several of their Bishops, the Clergy of France rose up in great fury against the attempt, anathematizing in their circular Epistles, all that sold, read, or us’d the said Book: and upon complaint unto Pope 41ex. the 7. he resented the matter so deeply, as to issue out his Bull against it in the following words.
6. WHEREAS sons of perdition, endeavouring the destruction of souls, have translated the Roman Missal into the French Tongue, and so attempted to throw down and trample upon the majesty of the holy Rites comprehended in Latin words: As we abominate and detest the novelty, which will deform the beauty of the Church, and produce 184disobedience, temerity, boldness, sedition and schism; so we condemn, reprobate and forbid, the said and all other such Transactions, and interdict the reading, and keeping, to all and singular the faithful, of whatever sex, degree, order, condition, dignity, honour, or preeminence, &c. under pain of excommunication. And we command the copies to be immediatly burnt, &c. So mortal a sin it seems ’twas thought for the Laity to understand the prayers in which they must communicate.
7. NOR is this all; agreeable to the other attempts upon the holy Scripture was the bold insolence of making a new authentick Text in that unknown Tongue in which the offices of prayer had been, and were to be kept disguis’d; which was done by the decree of the Council of Trent in the fourth Session. But when the Council had given this Prerogative to the Version which it call’d vulgar, the succeeding Popes began to consider what that Version was; and this work Pius the fourth and fifth set upon, but prevented by death fail’d to compleat it; so that the honour of the performance fell to Sixtus the fifth, who in the plenitude of his Apostolick power, the Translation being reform’d to his mind, commanded it to be that genuine ancient Edition which the Trent Fathers had before made authentick, and under the pain of excommunication requir’d it to be so received: which he do’s in this 185form.Of our certain knowledge, and the plenitude of Apostolick power, we order and declare that the vulgar Edition which has been receiv’d for authentick by the Council of Trent, is without doubt or controversy to be esteem’d this very one, which being amended as well as it is possible, and printed at the Vatican Press, we publish to be read in the whole Christian Republick, and in all Churches of the Christian world. Decreeing that it having been approv’d by the consent of the holy universal Church, and the holy Fathers, and then by the Decree of the general Council of Trent, and now by the Apostolick authority deliver’d to us by the Lord; is the true, legitimate authentick, and undoubted, which is to be received and held in all publick and private Disputations, Lectures, Preachings, and Expositions, &c. But notwithstanding this certain knowledge, and plenitude of Apostolick power, soon after came Clement the eighth, and again resumes the work of his Predecessor Sixtus, discovers great and many errours in it, and puts out one more reform’d, yet confess’d by himself to be imperfect; which now stands for the authentick Text, and carries the title of the Bible put forth by Sixtus, notwithstanding all its alterations. So well do’s the Roman Church deserve the honour which she pretends to, of being the mistress of all Churches; and so infallible is the holy Chair in its determinations; and lastly, so authentick a Transcript of the word of God (concerning 186which ’tis said; Matt. 5. 18. one jot or one title shall not fail) is that which the establish’d, and that has receiv’d so many, and yet according to the confession of the infallible Corrector, wants still more alterations.
8. DEPENDENT upon this, and as great a mischief as any of the former, consequent to the withdrawing of the Scripture, I take to be the step it made to the overthrow of the Ancient and most useful discipline of the Church in point of Penance, whose rigours always heretofore proceeded the possibility of having absolution. Now of this we know a solemn part was the state of Audience, when the laps’d person was receiv’d, after long attendance without doors, prostrations, and lamentations there, within the entrance of the Church; and was permitted with the Catechumens or Candidates of Baptism, to hear the readings of the Scripture, and stay till Prayer began, but then depart. He was oblig’d to hear the terrours of the Lord, the threats of the divine Law against sin and sinners, to stand among the unbaptiz’d and heathen multitude, and learn again the elements of that holy Faith from which he had prevaricated; and so in time be render’d capable of the devotions of the faithful, and afterwards of the reception of the Eucharist. But when the Scriptures were thought useless or dangerous to be understood and heard, it 187was consequent that the state of Audience should be cut off from Penance, and that the next to it, upon the self-same principle should be dismiss’d: and so the long probation formerly requir’d should be supplanted: and the compendious way of Pardoning first, and Repenting afterwards, the endless circle of Sinning and being Absolv’d, and then Sinning and being Absolv’d again, should prevail upon the Church. Which still obtains, notwithstanding the complaints, and irrefragable demonstrations of learned men even of the Romish Communion, who plainly shew this now receiv’d method to be an Innovation groundless and unreasonable, and most pernicious in its consequents.
9 AND, by the way, we may take notice that there cannot be a plainer evidence of the judgement of the Church, concerning the necessity of the Scriptures being known, not only by the learned but mean Christians, and the interest they have therein, than is the ancient course of Penance, establish’d by the practice of all the first Ages, and almost as many Councils, whether general or local, as have decreed any thing concerning Discipline, with the Penitentiary Books and Canons, which are written for the first eleven hundred years in the whole Christian world. For if even the unbaptiz’d Catechumen, and the laps’d Sinner, notwithstanding their slender 188knowledge in the mysteries of Faith, or frail pretence to the priviledge thereof, had a right to the state of Audience, and was oblig’d to hear the Scripture read; surely the meanest unobnoxious Laick was in as advantageous circumstances, and might not only be trusted with the reading of those sacred Books, but might claim them as his birthright.
10. I may justly, over and above what has been hitherto alledg’d, impute to the Governours of the same Church, and their withholding from the Laity the Holy Scripture, the many dangerous errours, gross ignorances, and scandalous immoralities which have prevail’d among them both. It is no new method of Divine vengeance, that there should be like People, like Priest, Hos. 4. 9. And that the idle Shepherd who led his flock into the ditch, should fall therein himself, Mat. 15. 14. And as the Prophet Zachary describes it, ch. 11. 17. The sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkned.
11. BUT no consequence can be more obviously deducible from that practice, than that men should justify the with-holding of the Scripture by lessening its Credit, and depreciating its Worth: which has occasion’d those reproaches which by the Writers of the Church of Rome, of best note, have been cast 189upon it. As that it was a Nose of wax, a leaden rule, a deaf and useless Deputy to God in the office of a Judge; of less authority than the Roman Church, and of no more credit than Æsops Fables, but for the testimony of the said Church; that they contain things apt to raise laughter or indignation, that the Latin Translation in the Complutensian Bible is placed between the Hebrew Text and the Septuagint Version, as our Saviour was at his Crucifixion between two thieves; and that the Vulgar Edition is of such authority that the Originals ought to be mended by it, rather than it should be mended from them: which are the complements of Cardinal Bellarmin, Hofius, Eckius, Perron, Ximines, Coqueus, and others of that Communion: words to be answer’d by a Thunderbolt, and fitter for the mouth of a Celsus or a Porphyry, than of the pious Sons, and zealous Champions of the Church of Christ.
12. ’TIS to be expected that the Romanists should now wipe their mouths, and plead not guilty; telling us that they permit the Scripture to the Laity in their Mother Tongue: And to that purpose the Fathers of Rhemes and Doway have publish’d an English Bible for those of their Communion. I shall therefore give a short and plain account of the whole affair, as really it stands, and then on Gods Name let the Romanists make the best of their Apology.190
13. THE fourth rule of the Index of prohibited Books compos’d upon the command and auspice of the Council of Trent, and publish’d by the Authority of Pius the fourth, Sixtus the fifth, and Clement the eighth, runs thus: Since ’tis manifest by experience, that if the Holy Bible be suffer’d promiscuously in the Vulgar Tongue, such is the temerity of men, that greater detriment than advantage will thence arise; in this matter let the judgement of the Bishop or Inquisitor be stood to: that with the advice of the Curate or Confessor, they may give leave for the reading of the Bible in the vulgar Tongue, Translated by Catholicks, to such as they know will not receive damage, but increase of Faith and Piety thereby. Which faculty they shall have an writing; and whosoever without such faculty shall presume to have or to read the Bible, he shall not ’till he has deliver’d it up, receive Absolution of his Sins. Now (to pass over the iniquity of obliging men to ask leave to do that which God Almighty commands) when ’tis consider’d how few of the Laity can make means to the Bishop or, Inquisitor, or convince them, or the Curate or Confessor, that they are such who will not receive damage, but increase of Faith and Piety by the reading of the Scripture; and also have interest to prevail with them for their favour herein: and after all, can and will be at the charge of taking out the faculty, which is so penally requir’d: ’tis 191easy to guess what thin numbers of the Laity are likely, or indeed capable of reaping benefit by this Indulgence pretended to be allowed them.
14. BUT, besides all this, what shall we say, if the power it self of giving Licences be a mere shew, and really signifies just nothing? In the observation subjoyn’d to this fourth rule it is declar’d, that the Impression and Edition thereof gives no new faculty to Bishops, or Inquisitors, or Superiors of regulars, to grant Licenses of buying, reading, or retaining Bibles publish’d in a vulgar Tongue; since hitherto by the command and practice of the holy Roman and universal Inquisition, the power of giving such faculties, to read or retain vulgar Bibles, or any parts of Scripture of the Old or New Testament, in any vulgar Tongue; or also summaries or historical compendiums of the said Bibles or Books of Scripture, in whatsoever Tongue they are written, has been taken away. And sure if a Lay-man cannot read the Bible without a faculty, and it is not in any ones power to grant it, ’twill evidently follow that he cannot read it: And so the pretence of giving liberty, owns the shame of openly refusing it, but has no other effect or consequence. And if any Romanist among us, or in any other Protestant Country enjoys any liberty herein, ’tis merely by connivance, and owed to a fear lest the Votary would be lost, and take 192the Bible where it was without difficulty to be had, if strictness should be us’d. And should Popery, which God forbid, become paramount; the Translations of the Scripture into our Mother Tongues would be no more endur’d here, than they are in Spain and they who have formerly been wary in comunicating the Scriptures, remembring how thereby their errours have been detected, would upon a revolution effectually provide for the future, and be sure to keep their people in an Egyptian darkness that might it self be felt, but that allow’d the notices of no other object. They would not be content with that composition of the Ammonites, to thrust out all the right eyes of those that submitted to them, 1 Sam. 11. 2. but would put out both, as the Philistines did to Samson, that they might make their miserable captives for ever grind in their Mill, Jud. 16. 21.
15. BUT this heaviest of judgements will never fall upon the reform’d Churches, till by their vicious practice and contempt of the divine Law, they have deferred their profession, and made themselves utterly unworthy of the blessings they enjoy, and the light of that Gospel which with noon-day brightness has shin’d among them. Upon which account, I suppose it may not be impertinent in the next place to subjoyn some plain directions, and cautionary advices, concerning the use of these sacred Books.193
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