Изображения страниц

Chillingworth found himself unable to answer the arguments of the Jesuit, nor could he, as Wood informs us, obtain any satisfactory solution of them from other persons to whom he applied in his perplexity of judgment. Being brought then to concede this point of infallibility, he was persuaded, without much difficulty, that this infallibility belonged to the Church of Rome, and that consequently that Church was the true Church, and the only Church in which men could be saved.

Being thus unduly influenced in his opinions by the ingenuity of Fisher, Chillingworth forsook the communion of the Church of England, and embraced the religion of Rome. As it was the sincere endeavour of his mind to arrive at truth without partiality or prejudice, the sacrifice which he thus had made of his early opinions to a zealous preference of that cause which appeared to him at that time to have the stronger reasons on its side, gave him an extraordinary satisfaction. This he proceeded to communicate to his friend Sheldon, in a letter which he soon after wrote to him from the country: for his fellowship at Trinity being forfeited by his renunciation of the Protestant faith, he removed to London on his conversion, and from thence had been called by some private occasions into the country. In this letter he proposes two questions for Sheldon's consideration:- "1. Whether it be not evident from Scripture, and Fathers, and Reason, from the goodness of God, and the necessity of mankind, that there must be some one Church infallible in matters of faith? 2. Whether there be any other society of men in the world, besides the Church of Rome, that either can, upon good warrant, or indeed at all, challenge to itself the privi lege of infallibility in matters of faith?" Respecting these questions, he thus expresses himself in concluding his letter:"When you have applied your most attentive consideration upon these questions, I do assure myself your resolution will be affirmative in the first, and negative in the second. And then the conclusion will be, that you will approve and follow the way wherein I have had the happiness to enter before you; and should think it infinitely increased, if it would please God to draw you after. I rest your assured friend," &c.

The Jesuit Fisher, however, was not satisfied that his convert should remain in a country, where he might be exposed to a relapse from the society of others not yet infected with the same poison, and counselled that he should repair to the college of Jesuits at Douay. As a further means of confirming him in his new profession, Chillingworth was also desired to set down in writing the motives, or reasons, that had induced him to embrace the Romish religion.

The intelligence of this serious change of sentiment on the part of Chillingworth reaching Laud, who was now Bishop of London, affected that Prelate with real concern. But, from his knowledge of the character of his Godson, Laud did not despair of bringing him back to juster conviction. With this view he commenced a correspondence with him. Chillingworth's first answer, written in a tone of moderation, candour, and impartiality, encouraged Laud to proceed with him, and press him with arguments against the doctrines and practices of the Church of Rome.

The judicious method adopted by Laud had the desired effect. Chillingworth was rescued from that mental captivity into which he had been ensnared. The arguments to which he had before been induced to yield his assent, now appeared to him in a more questionable light, and he determined to reconsider them with calm deliberation. The college at Douay was a place little calculated for the impartial prosecution of his proposed inquiry; indeed, his new associates were not men with whom he could long hold any concord of sentiment, or live on terms of agrecable intimacy; and he resolved, therefore, to leave that college and return to England. Here he arrived in the year 1631, after only a short residence among the Jesuits +.

Upon his return to England, he was received with great kindness by Laud, who, sensible of the great advantage which the Protestant cause would derive from free and impartial inquiry, expressed his approbation of the resolution which Chillingworth had now formed of retiring to Oxford, for the sake of pursuing, in the tranquillity which the University afforded, the important object of a free inquiry into religion. Laud, accordingly, is said to have dismissed him with his blessing, and a promise also that he should enjoy entire liberty to prosecute his study.

Being then once more at Oxford, Chillingworth devoted himself to the task of inquiry with the most careful and diligent application of his mind. He not only read and examined such books as were most important for his purpose, but took all opportunities of arguing with learned men of both communions, that he might discover the strongest arguments which could be alleged on each side. The result of this examination was his decision in favour of the Protestant cause, as that which was most consonant with Scripture and right reason; and now having found out the sophistry of the arguments by which he had been swayed in abandoning the right profession, he wrote a paper in confutation of them, about the year 1634, though he did not publish it.

With the same impartiality of judgment which had led him to this sound result, he continued to be actuated in the maintenance of his religion. After coming to a decision in favour of the Church of England, he again examined his grounds of conviction with scrupulous caution; which afforded an occasion to his adversaries of spreading a scandalous report, that he had become a Papist a second time, and then Protestant again. He wrote, indeed, a letter to Sheldon, containing some scruples which he had about leaving the Church of Rome, and returning to the Church of England; but these were only the frank expressions of a mind sincerely anxious to follow the right

* This correspondence was appealed to by Laud at his trial, in order to vindicate himself from the charge of Popery,

+ Probably about two months, though the same writer who states that period of his continuance among them, in another passage speaks of" the space of halfa-year or thereabout," during which Chillingworth was one of their number. The latter calculation includes the time when he was in England after his conversion.

'way without any prejudice whatever, and were by no means sufficient foundation for the charge of vacillation imputed to him. The Jesuit Knott*, in a pamphlet written against him, rallied him on this openness to conviction, and it led probably to the infamous insinuation of a later writer, that he was "a deist in masquerade, and at best but a sceptic in religion ;" but he himself gloried in the conscientious changes which he had made, and speaks of them as "the most satisfactory actions to himself that ever he did, and the greatest victories that ever he obtained over himself, and his affections to those things which in this world are most precious, as wherein for God's sake, and (as he was verily persuaded) out of love to the truth, he went upon a certain expectation of those inconveniences which to ingenuous natures are of all the most terrible." So also in his reply to Knott he is not backward in declaring his readiness to have changed again, if he could have seen more forcible reasons for it :-" Had you represented to my understanding," he says, "such reasons of your doctrine, as being weighed in an even balance, held by an even hand, with those on the other side, would have turned the scale, and have made your religion more credible than the contrary; certainly I should have despised the shame of one more alteration, and with both mine arms, and all my heart, most readily have embraced it."

After his reconversion to the Church of England, he received an angry letter of expostulation from a clergyman of Essex, named Lewgar, with whom he had formerly been intimate, and who had been induced by his arguments to follow his example in adopting the Romish faith. A letter of this description from an old friend, gave him much pain. He answered it, however, with so much mildness and affection, while, at the same time, he justified his freedom of inquiry, and asserted the falsehood of his enemies in accusing him of Socinianism, that Lewgar was quite disarmed of his resentment, and sought an opportunity of conferring with him. Chillingworth and himself met in the presence of Sheldon and Skinner, and discoursed together on the subject of religion. Afterwards, several papers passed between them concerning the assumed infallibility and catholicity of the Church of Rome; and an abstract of the dispute was drawn up by Chillingworth.

He continued now to be engaged in various controversies with several advocates of the Church of Rome, some of which are extant among his works: in particular, one with Knott the Jesuit, which had been commenced by Dr. Potter, Provost of Queen's College, Oxford.

* Edward Knott, his true name was Matthias Wilson; he was born at Pegsworth, near Morpeth, in Northumberland, and was for several years Professor of Divinity at the English College in Rome; then Vice-Provincial; lastly, Provincial of all the English Jesuits. He died in London, January 4, 1655.

+ Letters to William Bulstrode, Esq. a member of the Church of England, by Dr. Wood, a Roman Catholic, and Physician to the Pretender in 1710, in which Chillingworth is falsely represented to have advised an inquirer after the true religion to "keep to the religion in which he was, (which was the Roman Catholic) for if there were any religion, that it was the right; and that if there were none, that the worst that could happen to him was but so much pains lost."

The Jesuit published a work in 1630, entitled, "Charity Mistaken with the want whereof Catholics are unjustly charged; for affirming, as they do with grief, that Protestancy unrepented destroyeth Salvation." Dr. Potter answered this work in 1633, and in the following year the Jesuit replied by another work. It was this reply that Chillingworth undertook to answer. The prosecution of his studies for this purpose, in 1635, occasioned frequent visits on his part to Lord Falkland, at Great Tew, in Oxfordshire, where he both had access to a curious library, and enjoyed the great benefit of that nobleman's learned and instructive conversation: Lord Falkland himself often pointing out to him passages in books which were pertinent to his design.

In the same year, some of his friends recommended him to Sir Thomas Coventry, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, for some preferment, and there was every readiness on the part of his Lordship to accede to the recommendation. Chillingworth's circumstances, at this time, were such as to have rendered preferment most welcome to him; but he had conscientious scruples with regard to subscription to the Articles, which prevented his availing himself of the provision so honourably intended for him. He felt scruples with regard to the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian Creed, which he considered as contrary to the word of God, and therefore such as could not be subscribed with a good conscience. Another difficulty occurred to him with respect to the fourth commandment, which seemed to him to be acknowledged as part of the Christian law, by the prayer which follows the declaration of it in the communion service. This he considered contrary to the doctrine of the Gospel by which the Jewish Sabbath is abolished, and to the sense of the Church of England. While he balanced in his mind the awful alternative of incurring the displeasure of God, by the solemn prevarication of a subscription to declarations which he did not believe, and a submission to practices which he never intended to follow, he recoiled with horror from the very thought of subscription. His heart was dilated with a secret joy and satisfaction at this triumph of conscience over the temptations of worldly advantage; and under these impressions he wrote to Sheldon, communicating to him the circumstance-detailing the misery which he had suffered whilst his mind was unsettled, and the real comfort which he felt at having preferred the love of God before worldly happiness.

It appears that several letters passed between Sheldon and himself on the subject-some of which, for the greater secrecy, were written in the third person. His biographer, however, says, he was unable to meet with even the answer to this letter; but he infers the continuance of the correspondence from a paper containing the heads of another answer from Sheldon. From this paper also it appears, that Chillingworth afterwards expressed his objections to other points in the articles, and to the articles on the whole, as an imposition on men's consciences, much like that authority which the Church of Rome assumes. Sheldon answered these various objections, and with some severity at last; but he did not influence Chillingworth to a change of purpose.

His reply to Knott still engaged his attention. But Knott, who had

heard of Chillingworth's intended reply, could not readily brook that a man who had once been a glorious acquisition to the Church of Rome, should now become the champion of Protestantism. He would not, therefore, wait for the appearance of the promised reply, but at once published a libellous pamphlet to prejudice the public mind against the book and its author. This sinister purpose he endeavoured to effect by throwing out a malignant charge of Socinianism against the author. In the mean time, Chillingworth offered, through a common acquaintance, to meet the Jesuit, and hold a conference with him on the points in dispute, challenging him "to choose out of his whole book, any one argument whereof he was most confident, and by which he would be content the rest should be judged of, and if he could make it appear that he had not, or could not answer it, that he would desist from the work which he had undertaken;"-but the Jesuit as constantly refused to meet him, answering, that he would have no conference with him but in print.

The reply was very nearly finished by the beginning of the year 1637. Laud, who was then Archbishop of Canterbury, and Chancellor of Oxford, aware of the freedom with which Chillingworth was in the habit of expressing his sentiments, wrote to Prideaux *, the Divinity Professor, requesting that he would revise it, and that it might be published with his approbation annexed. It was revised accordingly by Prideaux, as also by Baylie, the Vice-Chancellor, and Fell, the Lady Margaret's Professor in Divinity, and soon after sent to the at Oxford.


Knott was then in Oxford, and hearing that the work was in the press, contrived to obtain the sheets in succession as they were printed.

The Archbishop being apprized of this underhand proceeding by Dr. Potter, wrote to the Vice-Chancellor, desiring him to be careful of that matter, and to inform the printer, that "if he found that Knott made a more speedy answer than was otherwise possible without such seeing of the sheets, he should take that for proof enough to proceed to discommission him, and to suppress his press.

When the impression of the book was nearly completed, as it only contained an answer to the first part of Knott's work, Chillingworth stated to the Vice-Chancellor his reasons for not proceeding to notice the second part, and these reasons were transmitted to Laud. Laud urged in reply, that they ought to be stated at the end of his present work, to acquaint the world that both parts were answered in onewhich suggestion was adopted: and the book then appeared at the latter end of the year 1637, with this title: "The Religion of Protestants a safe way to Salvation; or an answer to a Book entitled Mercy and Truth, or Charity maintained by Catholics,' which pretends to prove the contrary. By William Chillingworth, M.Á. of the University of Oxford."

Chillingworth presented his book to the King, with a dedication remarkable for its spirit of freedom and modest piety. In the conclusion of it, he intimates that Potter's Vindication of the Protestant religion

* Afterwards Bishop of Worcester.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »