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our prophesied that the triumphs of his religion should spread with the effulgence and rapidity of lightning; and the Apostle Paul recording his own exertions, and those of his fellow labourers, tells us, that “their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” Whether this Apostle was the first preacher of Christianity in this Island, as Bishops Jewel and Stillingfleet contend; or whether Simon Zelotes and Joseph of Arimathea, according to the opinion of Baronius, were the first heralds of salvation to the inhabitants of Britain ;
whether the blessings of true religion were first received, in this country, at a period posterior to the lives of those venerable men, are questions which do not admit of an easy, or even of a certain solution. The accounts of King Lucius, who is said to have reigned in Britain, about the middle of the second century, and to have been the first Christian monarch in Europe, have been gathered from the apocryphal writings of some of the Fathers, and hare derived their principal authority from their being adopted by the respectable names of Bede and Usher.
If Christianity was introduced into this Island, at an earlier period of its history, than nearly the end of the sixth century, its success must have been either extremely limited, or of very short duration. When Augustine, who was sent by the Roman Pontiff, Gregory the Great, to convert the British Saxons, arrived in Kent in 597, he found Ethelbert and his subjects Pagans, though Bertha, that Prince's Queen, who had been educated in the principles of the Gospel, resolutely adhered to that holy doctrine.* The labours of Augustine, which were
Bede, Lib. s, Cap. 25.
animated by fervent zeal, were attended with great success, and he was consecrated the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and invested by Gregory with authority over all the British churches. The establishment of Christianity in England having taken place in an age, in which the power and splendor of the Church were growing with a rapidity, equal to her retrograde motion from the purity and simplicity of better times, it was necessarily contaminated with much folly and superstition. The decline of pure religion was attended with an equal decline of literature, and within a century or two, an universal torpor seems to have seized the minds of men. Even in the dismal gloom of that night which, for a thousand years, sat deep over the nations of Europe, some gleams of true piety and science darted through the thick shades, to relume the British horizon. Alfred the Great, not only cultivated religion and learning himself, but was their generous patron, and by the influence of his example and encouragement, who shone in a dark age as a star of the first magnitude, their empire was considerably extended.
Wickliff was the next in our Island who burst those fetters, which ignorance had thrown round the minds of men, and which superstition had rivetted. He roused considerable numbers from the sleep which had so powerfully seized, and so long chained the active powers of the human mind. He first awakened them to think, and then that they might think justly, he let in upon their astonished eyes the light of Revelation, by translating the Scriptures into the English language. Though all the terrors of persecution were called in to repress the inroads of truth, the Popish clergy were only able to retard, not to stop her progress.
Wickliff died in peace,
at Lutterworth, in 1384; but the doctrines he taught outlived him, and though their current was forcibly opposed, they found a secret vent; and were, by a silent course, watering and fertilizing the channel which received them. From this time to the Reformation, they may be said rather to have found a covered passage than to have become stagnant, and when the external impediments were removed, they rose with healing virtue into open day. After the translation of the Scriptures, the darkness of our midnight was past, and though the difficulty of obtaining, and the danger of being known to consult the sacred oracles, by confining, impaired their light, the former darkness, as well as the truths of Christianity, was now become visible to the
of men. When the heaven-taught eye of Luther had penetrated the mystery of iniquity which had so long bewildered Europe, and when the beams of truth had dissipated the illusion from his own mind, he set the trumpet to his mouth to proclaim the spiritual jubilee to the nations. At its sound, the doctrines taught by Wickliff, re-echoed in (murmurs distinct and loud, and shook to its centre, the empire of superstition in Britain. Among the first that ran to prop her tottering throne, was Henry the Eighth. This prince, whose character affords a striking proof of the little value that crowns and sceptres, riches and honours, bear in the sight of God, though not destitute either of natural or of acquired abilities, was a compound of pride, sensuality, jealousy, bigotry, caprice, and cruelty, of rapacity and profusion, of tyranny and sullenness, of the most violent resentments, and of the blackest ingratitude, and, in short, of almost every vice that is found to debase and brutalize the human heart. In the confidence of juvenile ardor, he wrote a book
against Luther, in defence of the seven sacraments. This production was received by the Pontill with the highest expressions of respect, and Henry received as an ample reward, the title of " Defender of the Faith;" a title which, whether we consider the character of the giver or of the receiver, or the service by which it was earned, it is strange, should still be worn by our monarchs. This doughty champion was soon confuted by Luther, with irresistible force of argument. Luther has been severely censured for the acrimony of spirit and style, with which he treated Henry; and perhaps his conduct is, in some degree indefensible; but it should be remembered, that the delicacy with which controversy, either political or religious, is now managed, was, at that time unknown; and consequently Luther's asperity has a claim to be considered as the fault, rather of the age than of the man. Besides, Henry by entering the lists with Luther, and attacking that Reformer, had put himself upon a level with his antagonist, and when Henry had forgotten that he was a monarch, is it strange that Luther should have forgotten it likewise ?
But Henry had much more formidable weapons in reserve, to oppose to the doctrines of the Reformation, than syllogisms brought from the stores of Thomas Aquinas; and by their terrors he endeavoured to suppress the Protestant religion. The violence of his own passions, however, by diverting his attention to another object, obstructed, for some time, his intolerance, and at last occasioned a total and final breach with the see of Rome. Henry, (a dispensation from Pope Julius having been previously obtained,) had married Catharine of Arragon, the widow of his brother Arthur, with whom he had long cohabited, and who had born him several children. While his Quecú
retained the charms of youth and beauty, no scruples of conscience had disturbed the peace of his own mind, but when the infirmities of declining years, as there was some disparity in their ages, had cooled the ardour, and long possession had sated the keenness of his passion for his wife, he began to suffer some qualms with respect to the legality of his marriage. These, it would appear, had derived no inconsiderable degree of force, from the beauty and attractions of Ann, maid of honour to the Queen. Having applied to Clement, the reigning Pope, for a divorce, and at the end of six years, finding his suit in endless mazes lost, he had his marriage examined in the court of Cranmer, who had been created Archbishop of Canterbury. By the sentence of that prelate, the King's marriage with Catharine was annulled, as unlawful and invalid. This contempt of the Pope was soon followed by the sentence of excommunication, which was fulminated against Henry. That prince was too high-spirited to submit tamely to such an indignity, and he threw off all subjection to the see of Rome; renounced the papal supremacy, and was, by his parliament, declared the Supreme Head of the Church of England. His quarrel with the Pope did not lessen his attachment to the principal doctrines of the Church of Rome, and the doctrine of transubstantiation, in particular, was one of his favourite tenets. The worship of images he indeed prohibited, and the translation of the Scriptures into the English language, and their general circulation, he allowed. By his order, and that of the clergy, the prayers for processions, and the litanies were made into English, and used in public worship. The King's Primer was published in 1545, which contained among other things, the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, Venite, Te Deum, and