Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE REFORMATION.—XIX.

a

DOLCISO AND PRIESTLY VENGEANCE. SAGARELLI was not to die unavenged we said. From his ashes sprang up Dolcino, a man cast in an heroic mould. He was both a wiser leader and a more determined adversary than Sagarelli, whose place, as the head of the Apostolical Brethren, he was now to supply. Expelled from Italy with his followers, after the death of Sagarelli, lie and they found refuge in the Valleys of Piedmont, and there, in that land, to be consecrated by so many heresies, and the noble endurance of persecution through so many centuries, Dolcino and his followers lived for a time in peace. They seem to have added some peculiar doctrines to those of the Eternal Gospel ; or, as is probable, the doctrines already preached among the Fraticelli received a different setting at the hands of Dolcino. The most peculiar of the views held by the Apostolical Brethren, was, that they looked upon perfection as consisting in overcoming the severest temptation ; each Apostolical “ brother” had, therefore, a “sister," and, both being under the vow of celibacy, they lived

a together in the most perfect chastity. Some have thought it necessary to denounce this in no measured terms, others have given credit to the scandalous tales that have been told regarding these brotherly and sisterly unions. Be it remarked, however, that we find instances of similar things among the African Christians of the second century, and as to the scandalous talestold in the one instance as mnch as the other—the probability is that there is as much of truth as of falsehood in them, in both cases. The “ sister” of Dolcino was the beautiful Margarita, whose fate all must commiserate, while no one can refuse to admire her bravery.

The Church, at length, cast her eyes towards the peaceful Val de Sesia, where the followers of Dolcino had now congregated in many thousands ; and, ere long, the thunders of the Vatican, made terrible by the arms of the Guelfic Barons, are directed against these unoffending people. Through a long and unrelenting war, the defence is conducted with consummate skill, by Dolcino, and the miseries thereof are borne with uncomplaining fortitude by his followers; nor were they without the satisfaction of having inflicted, by their forays and sallies, very considerable damage on the Papal troops, who, in fact, only achieved the conquest by dint of overpowering numbers. The end is, that the victory, dearly bought, places such of the Dolcinites as have not been starved or killed in the power of the Church. Not one would recant; they were all burnt: Dolcino and Margarita being reserved for a more public and terrible fate. Before the eyes of Dolcino, Margarita, whom he loved (whether with a guilty or holy love), was literally torn to pieces with red-hot pincers ; she uttered not a groan the while. A like fate, less terrible than this prelude, was inflicted upon him.

But why call up the remembrance of these deeds of horror ? some may say. Even as Waddington, in his History of the Church, passes over, with slight reference, her crimes against humanity, saying: “It would be a painful “office, and of little profit, in the present prevalence of reason and humanity, " to pursue the frightful details of religious massacre.” Why then refer to these things ? why give the details of Albigensian crusades, and heretical persecutions? Because it is well for men to know what Priestcraft is; and to remember that Priestcraft is Priestcraft still. Does it not still preach a God of blood and vengeance? Is not the God of the Jews, that blood.

:

thirsty Deity who ordered the sacrifice of whole hetacombs of human beings, who assisted in the slaughter of innocent women and children, and the history of whose chosen people, doing His behests, contains a catalogue of crimes against humanity unparalleled elsewhere in the history of the world—is not this still the God of Priestcraft ? Are we not even now taught to read that history as something more holy and sacred than any other? Are not Genesis, Judges, and Joshua, still called from the pulpits of our land the Word of God? Yes! Priestcraft is Priestcraft still. It is true, that by the progress of reason and humanity its claws have been cut, its sting in some measure removed, its strength somewhat lessened, but it still aims at enslaving the minds and souls of men, its teaching still consecrates crime and immorality. Though no longer able to shoot down and murder its enemies, it still seeks to murder their reputation, to render them hateful to their fellows, and to strew as many thorns in their life-path as possible.

Let us never forget that Priestcraft was not destroyed by the success of the Reformation. The old Church is still a power in the world, a power for evil. The Church of the Reformation, too, by no means slook itself entirely clear of the evils of the old system; it inherited the spirit of persecution. It, too, has the mark of blood upon it; and though it rendered the world a mighty service in shaking the old tyranny, and acknowledging the claims of the individual reason, practically it has but too frequently repudiated its own theory. The God we preach, in whom we would have men believe, is not the God of the Priest. Not an Avenging Deity, but the Universal Father ; not a God of Fear, but a God of Love, is He whom we, as Religious Reformers, would proclaim to men. That God is Love, is a Truth long since spoken, but not yet fully acknowledged among men; but one which we are called upon to spread—to work, and suffer for, if need be. It is this Truth which the Churches have for so many ages buried in a theological coffin ; Priestcraft, for its own purposes, seeking the while to crush humanity beneath the weight of the thought that a God of Vengeance reigns above, whom only a dutiful submission to the Priest can appease.

The lesson of True Toleration is one which men have yet to learn in its fullness. The days of the fagot and the torture are past, it is true, but a subtler means of tyranny has been found, and the man of Freethought is still the object of the detestation of the reformed no less than of the old Church. Priests will say, even now, that they are intolerant of what they call Infidelity for the sake of the Truth. Let no man be deceived. The TRUTH needs not the support of Churches and Priests ; it is (as was well said in olden times) mighty, and must prevail. It will do this without the aid of man; it will do this as by a law of God. We can speak with certainty on this point; it will do this, because it has done this. No portion of the Truth, once

. discovered by man, has ever been lost; hidden it may have been, buried for a time-opposed it has been on every hand by prejudice, selfishness, and bigotry, but ever it has reappeared and won its way in spite of all. All human endeavours to destroy it have ever proved futile. There is, in fact, , no power in the universe that can destroy it." In the past triumphs of Truth, we see the prophecy and promise of its future and greater triumphs. These are certain, because God's great Law of Progress lies behind the Truth, to aid every effort to spread it, and secure its acceptance among men. It needs not, then, the support of Churches and Priests, and it defies their enmity. We repeat it, let no man be deceived; the intolerant are ever foes to the Truth. Those who would have it prevail

, those who earnestly believe in its

66

power, will ever be tolerant; because they know that, with a fair field and no favour, Truth has nothing to fear from Error. In the intolerance of the Churches, whether of the past or the present, therefore, we find their condemnation; and in this lies the proof that they themselves have not now, nor ever had, any earnest belief that that which they have taught, and still teach, is, verily, the Truth.

It is as well, also, to look into this Past, not alone that we may know the true nature of Priestcraft, but that we may learn through what struggles the witnesses for truth were willing to pass, what difficulties they had to conquer in working out for us the possibilities of a higher and nobler progress in the Future-that we inay learn, too, that the present prevalence of " reason and humanity,” has been achieved through long centuries of suffering inflicted by the Priest; and that, learning these things, we may remember that there are yet more victories to be won, that the truth has still to be battled and struggled for; and from seeing what has been done by those who have gone before, we may gather strength for the work we have to do. The truth, which those Fraticelli and Apostolicals of old fought and suffered for, may not be our truth, but it would be well if the spirit in which they suffered might be ours. In looking at these struggles of the Past, we would look beyond the mere doctrine of those who suffered. We detest the Church because her aim, in inflicting this suffering, was to establish a despotism and enslave humanity; while we honour the heretics, for that they fought and suffered for Freedom, and, by their action, opened a path for a nobler Freedom, not yet fully obtained—Freedom from Slavery to Ideas.

And was the heresy destroyed ? Nay, not so; never was heresy destroyed by those means.

If

you would give a truth an immediate and lasting success, persecute it; if you would make even an error strong, persecute it. The Church took long to learn this lesson, and with her Dominicans sought to sweep away all who opposed her in her pride of power and spiritual despotism. But she was never weaker than when making these attempts. Already she had cleared Languedoc of heresy by fire and sword, but the work had to be done over again ere a hundred years had passed. It is somewhat strange that the Fraticelli abounded in the very region whence the Albigenses had been exterminated. Dolcino and his associates were but the first to suffer, and with them the bloody work of persecution was but begun. No less than 2000 persons were burnt by the Inquisition, in the course of a few years from that time, for their inflexible adherence to the rule of "holy “ poverty." Nor did this suffice to destroy the sect, for Pope Nicholas V. again revived the persecution towards the end of the fourteenth century. But to extirpate it was beyond the might of the Church, for it subsisted in Germany down to the time of the Reformation, when it was absorbed by that movement.

Through all the countries of Europe the tendencies represented by the Fraticelli soon became widely disseminated, giving birth to Beghards, Brethren of the Common Lot, Beguines, Lollards, and various other societies characterised by their austere morals and anti-sacerdotal opinions. In fact, the Fraticelli were but one expression of the consciousness of the European mind of their time, becoming ever more and more distinct, that a Reformation was needed and must come. In the true Franciscans we, therefore, see forerunners of the Reformation; and amid all their vagaries and aberrations of thought and doctrine, should recognise that they had possession of at least one truth, namely, that the Church had become thoroughly corrupt. The Mendicant Friars, whom the Church retained as her dutiful children, were, in fact, mendicants no longer, and remained but to add to the corruption within the Church. The Dominicans, on the one hand, standing guard over the dungeons, and lighting the fires of the Church for “heretics,” that is, all who escaped the contagion of priestly vice and corruption. The Franciscans, on the other, in their laziness, luxury, and avarice, becoming an eyesore to every good man of the time; useful, however, as provoking opposition to the Church. We have seen that the Mendicants (so far, at least, as the Franciscans were concerned), in their earlier mission, met a want of their age. With Francis of Assissi, and the companions who joined him in his mission, at the first, Franciscanism was a fact, it was no sham to them; the earlier Franciscans were no hypocrites, they were men with a purpose. But, as the Order grew, fashion and popular applause, and sundry advantages of a more or less sordid character, drew men into its ranks—the idea upon which it was founded was no longer a truth to them, and that which was at first a principle, a real thing, became a sham. The usual results followed, as we have seen, and those who retained the spirit of the Founder, the true men amongst the Franciscans, revolted at the hypocrisy which retained the name without the spirit, which sought the advantages and eschewed the duties. The soul departed out of Franciscanism, even as it must do out of any theory of life which is founded on exceptional circumstances, or propounded by exceptional men. The only truth which Franciscanism contained, the democratic idea on which it was based, that remained to do its work in the world, and did it, nay, is still doing it; but the rest, the grey tunic and the cord, the mendicancy and the "holy poverty," became a mere form, covering hypocrisy and emptiness. In this, Franciscanism was but a type of Christianity-to Christ, and the early Christians, the theory of life propounded by him was a fact they lived; but, as the ages rolled, the theory ceased to be a fact, forms took its name, and other theories usurped its place. What was true in the earlier theory remained to do its work, and is still doing it; and had not Priestcraft intervened, would have done it long since. With the one it

as with the other,—the Franciscanism of Francis, degenerated into “sturdy begging,” even as the Christianity of Christ degenerated into Priesteraft. The Mendicant Communities, with their strange Fraticelli and other outcomes, form a useful index to the spiritual aspects of their age,

and what they were we shall show in our next.

JAS. L. GOODING.

was

[ocr errors]

a

[ocr errors]

THE PULPIT AND MODERN CHRISTIANITY. The Churches of our day afford much food for serious thought. They are really dead, in spite of the gigantic efforts which have been made to restore energy to their inert systems. “ Revival narratives," now among the things of the past; and "Special Sermons," already added to the vast pile of

” theological rubbish which no one reads or dreams of reading ; and “United “Prayings," have exerted no greater life-restoring power than a galvanicbattery does upon a corpse: the limbs have been shaken, but they have not given proof of life ; a noise has been made, but it arose only from the pressure of artificial forces—not from any real power within. The reflective man, given to analyzing things as they are, turns with disgust from the vulgar machinery of revival agitators, and asks why it is that, after ages of toil, of sacrifice, and of struggle, the Christianity of modern times should be thus far powerless

a

and lifeless. Can it be that the system is evil? Can it be that the ideas underlying the doctrines are untrue? Surely not! The teaching of the gentle Nazarene, uncontaminated by the wretched dogmas which have been added to it by priests, is thoroughly adapted to the moral wants of humanity. Why, then, have we so much weakness and mental death in the Churches ? Why have we such a want of healthful vigour on the part of their most sincere advocates ? or why have we revivals which, instead of giving, what the mass of men ask for, the essence of religious thought, only serve to rob the wretched devotees of their intellectual powers, and make them mere slaves of the “class“ leader” or the minister ? These are questions which every reflective man who is not harnessed to a system is asking; and, moreover, they are questions which must be answered. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that real religion is not growing in the hearts of the people in the same ratio as the increase of population; or if we try to blot out the reflection, it will

, like a cancer in the flesh whose warnings we stifle, eat its way into the heart of English life and destroy its vitality. Many and varied causes have been at work to produce the evils connected with the Churches, but we believe the worst and most numerous may be traced to pulpit influences.

Much of the lifelessness of the Christian Churches may be traced to the pulpit, and although the minister seeks to shelter himself by throwing the blame on his people, we are convinced that in the majority of cases much of the sin lies at his door. We have in the Churches men who are no more fitted to lead the people than a dustman would be to lecture on science. There is a vast dearth of talent in the pulpit-here and there a great preacher appears, and men rush after him as a wonder-so strange does it seem to hear anything noble and true from a * Man of God.” Sometimes, too, a clever talker, possessed of more language and impudence than real thought, draws his thousands, and attracts attention in the newspapers. But these are exceptions. The rule is flat insipidity, or downright folly and ignorance. It is not difficult to trace the cause of this. The practice, which finds favour among Dissenters, of selecting talkative young men (who make themselves conspicuous by speaking on subjects they do not understand) to train for the ministerial office, is one of the chief curses of modern religious teaching. A youth has a talent for talking, folly or wisdom it matters not, provided he be orthodox; he preaches at the corners of the streets, exhorting all to be “ saved,” and after a little practice can very glibly string together number of sentences respecting “grace" and “ redemption."

. He is, ere long, noticed by the deacons ; Mr. Drawl, who is conspicuous for nothing but his remarkable power of asperating H's which should not be sounded, but who is, notwithstanding, considered a very clever man and “powerful in prayer," takes the youth in hand, and explains at the next Church Meeting that he is a “ dear, good young man,” who would make a "saving worker in the vine“yard,” and ought to be a minister. Our youth is examined, not as regards his knowledge of man or of the world, or with reference to his insight into the workings of the human mind, but in his faith, i.e., his power of repeating by rote certain set phrases. He preaches his trial sermon, and is approved by the sages who sit in judgment upon him; and now he is sent to study to be a teacher of the people, a fisher of men-has to prepare for what should be considered the most important of all human occupations. What training does he go through? Is it a discipline that will enable him to think independently—to stand out, if need be, as the unaided champion of truth-to become the philosophical leader of his sheep ? Nothing of the kind! He

a

[ocr errors]

a

[ocr errors]

a

« EelmineJätka »