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persecuting zeal of the old Bishop of London, was shown by his charging Dean Colet with the duty of delivering the opening address. It was a task by no means to be envied ; but Colet resolved to do his duty, and to preach a sermon suited to the occasion.
He commenced his sermon by reminding the assembled bishops and clergy that they were come hither for the reformation of the Church, of which there had never been more need.”
“ I came hither to-day, fathers, to warn you that with all your
think upon the reformation of the Church. But, forsooth, I came not willingly, for I knew mine own unworthiness. I saw before how hard it was to please the precise judgment of so many men. I judged it utterly unworthy and unmete that I, a servant, should counsel my lords; that I, a son, should teach you, my fathers. Truly it had been meter for some one of the fathers to have done it. You prelates might have done it with more grave authority and greater wisdom. But the most reverend Father and Lord Archbishop, president of this council, hath laid upon me this burden. And his commandment must be obeyed. For obedience is better than sacrifice. Wherefore, I pray you, fathers, to help me at the beginning with your good prayers. Let us pray, too, for this, your congregation, that God may inspire your minds so with one accord to agree to such profit and fruit of the Church that ye seem not at the end of the council to have been gathered together in vain. Let us pray.”
And then the assembly having joined in the Paternoster, Colet rose from his knees, to proceed with his address. There he stood in the midst of this convocation, called expressly for the extirpation of heretics, strong in his own plain honesty and severely virtuous life, itself a rebuke which had already cut to the heart many of those whose zeal against Lollards was greater than the sanctity of their own lives,—there he stood, with the Bishop of London and others of the persecuting party around him, and pronounced as his text the words of St. Paul, “Be ye not conformed to this world.”
"Be ye not conformed to this world. This did the apostle write to all Christian men, but most chiefly to priests and bishops. Priests and bishops ought to be the lights of the world, but if priests and bishops run in the dark way of the world, how dark then shall the secular people be! .... Wherefore it was more than all to the priests and bishops that St. Paul said, “Be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye reformed,'” &c.
And having thus pressed home this injunction to the priests and bishops, he spoke plainly to them in order of their “secular and worldly living,” their feasts and banqueting, their “hunting and hawking,” their covetousness in seeking nothing but fat benefices and high promotions.
“Yes, said he, I repeat it again, I beat it into your ears,—covetousness is the root of all your evils .... We are grieved now-a-days by heretics—men mad with marvellous foolishness; but their heresies are not so pestilent and pernicious to the people as the evil and wicked lives of priests ; ... for verily there be many Catholic and faithful men in their preaching, who are heretics in their working. There is no
heresy worse and more perilous than a wicked life. .... Wherefore, you fathers, you priests, and all of you of the clergy, at the last wake up from your sleep in this forgetful world, and listen unto St. Paul crying unto you, 'Be ye not conformed to this world.'
“And now for the reformation. It, too, must begin with you, fathers. You must first taste this medicine of purgation of manners, and then offer it after to us. No new laws are needed, but those which are made already must be kept. Let the laws be rehearsed against simony; those which command the personal residence of curates in their churches; those which forbid clerks to be merchants and hunters and to haunt taverns; those which command temperance in apparel ; which command monks and religious men to keep to the straight way which leadeth to heaven. Above all let those laws be rehearsed which pertain to you, my reverend fathers and lords bishops, which command your residence in your dioceses to take heed to the health of souls, to sow the word of God, and to sustain the widows and fatherless; the laws which command that the goods of the Church be spent, not in costly buildings, not in apparel and pomps, not in feasting and banqueting, not in the enriching of kinsfolk, or in the keeping of hounds, but in things profitable and necessary to the Church. And when these laws have been rehearsed, let them be put in execution; and with all due reverence I call chiefly upon you, fathers, for it must begin with you.”
In conclusion, as if calling to mind how bold he had been, he trusted that what he had said “would in gentleness be taken to the best."
“And if it be thought" (he continued)" that I have passed my bounds in this sermon, or have said anything out of temper, forgive it me, and ye shall forgive a man speaking out of very zeal, a man sorrowing for the decay of the Church. Consider the thing itself, and do not regard any foolishness of mine. Suffer not this convocation to slip by for nought.”
And then, as if carried away by his boldness again
“Truly” (says he) “ ye are often gathered together, but (to speak the truth) I see not what fruit to the Church comes of your assemblies. Go ye now in the spirit that
ye have called on to find out, discern, and ordain those things which are profitable to the Church, praise unto you, and honour unto God.”
What immediate effect this noble sermon of Colet's had upon
the assembled clergy does not appear. But one authentic picture of a scene which there can be little doubt occurred in this Convocation has been preserved to give a passing glimpse into the nature of the discussion which followed upon the subject of the “extirpation of heresy.” In the course of the debate the advocates of increased severity against poor Lollards were asked, it seems, to point out, if they could, a single passage in the Canonical Scriptures which commands the capital punishment of heretics. Whereupon an old divine (was it Bishop Fitzjames ?) rose from his seat, and with some sererity and temper quoted the command of St. Paul to Titus : “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject.” The old man quoted the words as they stand in the Vulgate version : “Hæreticum hominem post unam et alteram correptionem derita !” “ De rita!” he repeated with emphasis; and again, louder still, he thundered “DE-VITA!” till every one wondered what had happened to the man. At length he proceeded to explain that the meaning of the Latin verb “ devitare” being “de vita tollere” (!), the passage in question was clearly a direct command to punish heretics by death!
A smile passed round among those members of Convocation who were learned enough to detect the gross ignorance of the old divine; but to the rest his logic appeared perfectly conclusive, and he was allowed to proceed triumphantly to support his position by quoting, again from the Vulgate, the text translated in the English version, “Suffer not a witch to live.” For the word “witch" the Vulgate
a version has “malificus.” A heretic, he declared, was clearly “malificus,” and therefore ought not to be suffered to live. By which conclusive logic the learned members of the Convocation of 1512 were, it is said, completely carried away.
This story, resting wholly or in part upon Colet's own relation to Erasmus, is the only glimpse which can be gathered of the proceedings of this Convocation “ for the extirpation of heresy.”
2. COLET is CHARGED WITH HERESY (1512).
Before the spring of 1512 was passed, Colet's Sermon to Convocation was printed and distributed both in Latin and English, probably by himself; and as there was an immediate lull in the storm of persecution, he may be regarded rather as victor than as vanquished, in
, spite of the seeming triumph of the persecuting party in Convocation.
The bold position he had taken had rallied round him not a few honest-hearted men, and had made him, as it were unconsciously on his part, the man to whom earnest truth-seekers looked up as to a leader, and upon whom the blind leaders of the blindly orthodox party vented all their jealousy and hatred.
He was henceforth a marked man. That school of his in St. Paul's Churchyard, to the erection of which he had devoted his fortune, which he had the previous autumn made his will to endow, had now risen into a conspicuous building, and the motives of the Dean in building it were, of course everywhere canvassed. The school was
(1) See note of Erasmus in his “Annotations” in loco, Titus üi., 10; also the “Praise of Folly,” where the story is told in connection with further particulars. The exact wincidence between the two accounts of the old divino's construction of Titus iii. 10, leads one to conclude that the rest of the story, as given in the Praise of Folly, is also literally true. Knight, in his Life of Colet, concludes that as the story is told in the Fraise of Folly, the incident must have occurred in a prerious Conrocation, as this satire was written before 1512. (Knight, pp. 199, 200.) But I find that the story is not inserted in the edition of 1515, or the carlier ones, nor in the first edition of the Annotations, but it is inserted in the Basle edition of the Encomion Moriæ, 12th of November, 1519, published just after Colet’s death, p. 226.
now fairly at work. Lilly, the godson of Grocyn, the late Professor of Greek at Oxford, was already appointed head-master; and as he was known to have himself travelled in Greece to perfect his classical knowledge, it could no longer be doubted by any that here, under the shadow of the great cathedral, was to be taught to the boys that “heretical Greck” which was regarded with so much suspicion. Here was in fact a school of the "new learning” sowing in the minds of English youth the seeds of that free thought and heresy which Colet had so long been teaching to the people from his pulpit at St. Paul's. More had already facetiously told Colet that he could not wonder if his school should raise a storm of malice, for " it was,” he said, " like the wooden horse in which were concealed armed Greeks for the destruction of barbarian Troy."!
No wonder indeed if the wrath of Bishop Fitzjames should be kindled against Colet; no wonder if, having failed in his attempt effectually to stir up the spirit of persecution in the recent-Convocation, he should now vent his spleen upon the newly-founded school.
But how fully, amid all, Colet preserved his temper and persevered in his work may be gathered from the following letter to Erasmus, who, in intervals of leisure from graver labours, was devoting his literary talents to the service of Colet's school, and whose little book, “ De Copia Verborum,” was part of it already in the printer's
Colet to Erasmus, 2
“Indeed, dearest Erasmus, since you left London I have heard nothing of you.
“I have been spending a few days in the country with my mother, consoling her in her grief on the death of my servant, who died at her house, whom she loved as a son, and for whose death she wept as though he had been more than a son. The night on which I returned to town I received your
letter. “Now listen to a joke! A certain bishop, who is held, too, to be one of the wiser ones, has been blaspheming our school before a large concourse of people, declaring that I have erected what is a useless thing; yea, a bad thing; yea more (to give his own words), a temple of idolatry. Which, indeed, I fancy he called it because the poets are to be taught there! At this, Erasmus, I am not angry, but laugh heartily. .
“I send you a little book containing the sermon [to the Convocation ?]. The printers said they had sent some to Cambridge.
“ Farewell. Do not forget the verses for our boys, which I want you to finish with all good nature and courtesy. Take care to let us have the second part of your Copia.”
The second part of the Copia was accordingly completed, and the whole sent to the press in May, with a prefatory letter to Colet in which Erasmus paid a loving tribute to his friend's character and work. He dwelt upon Colet's noble self-sacrificing devotion to the
(1) Stapleton, “Tres Thomæ," p. 166.
(2) Erroneously dated 1517. (Brewer, vol. ii., No. 3190.) The true date, 1512, is clearly fixed by the allusion to the “De Copia,” &c. (Eras., Epist., App. ccccvi.)
good of others, and the judgment he had shown in singling out two main objects at which to labour, as the most powerful means of furthering the great cause so dear to his heart.
To implant Christ in the hearts of the common people, by constant preaching, year after year, from his pulpit at St. Paul's,—this, wrote Erasmus, had been Colet's first great work, and surely it had borne much fruit !
To found a School wherein the sons of the people should drink in Christ along with a sound education, that thereby, as it were in the cradle of coming generations, the foundation might be laid of the future welfare of his country,—this had been the second great work to which Colet had devoted time, talents, and a princely fortune.
“What is this I ask, but to act as a father to all your children and fellow-citizens ? You rob yourself to make them rich. You strip yourself to clothe them. You wear yourself out with toil that they may be quiekened into life in Christ. In a word, you spend yourself away that you may gain them for Christ !
" He must be envious, indeed, who does not back with all his might the man who engages in a work like this. He must be wicked, indeed, who can gainsay or interrupt him. That man is an enemy to England who does not care to give a helping hand where he can."
Which words in praise of Colet's self-sacrificing work were not merely uttered within hearing of those who might hang upon of the aged Fitzjames or the bishop who had “ blasphemed” the school —they passed, with edition after edition of the Copia of Erasmus, into the hands of every scholar in Europe, until they were known and read of all men !
But Bishop Fitzjames, whose unabating zeal against heretics had become the ruling passion of his old age, no longer able to control his hatred of the Dean, associated with himself two other bishops of like opinions and spirit in the ignoble work of making trouble for Colet. They resorted to their usual weapon-persecution. They exhibited
to the Archbishop of Canterbury articles against Colet extracted from his sermons.
Their first charge was that he had preached that images ought not to be worshipped. The second charge was that he had denied that Christ, when he commanded Peter the third time to " feed his lambs,” made any allusion to the application of episcopal revenues in hospitality or anything else, seeing that Peter was a poor man and had no episcopal revenues at all. The third charge was that in speaking once from his pulpit of those who were accustomed to read their sermons, he meant to give a side hit at the Bishop of London, who, on account of his old age, was in the habit of reading his
But the archbishop, thoroughly appreciating as he did the high qualities of the Dean, became his protector and advocate, instead of his judge. Colet himself, says Erasmus, did not deign to make any