Page images

land. If any professor, suspected of favoring their tenets, read lectures, he attended; and the University, in recompense for his zeal, having conferred upon him the office of cross-bearer, he exercised his authority over the scholars by driving them from their schools.*

Fortunately however for the cause of the Reformation in England, of which he subsequently became so illustrious a support, he contracted an acquaintance with Mr. Thomas Bilney ; who entertaining a good opinion of him from his moral character, and having entered into some conferences with him upon religious subjects, took occasional opportunities of insinuating, that some of the tenets of popery were not consonant to primitive Christianity; thus gradually exciting a spirit of inquiry in Latimer, who had always acted upon honest principles; till in the end, he was fully convinced of his errors. From this time, he became extremely active in propagating the reformed faith ; preaching in public, exhorting in private, and every where pressing the necessity of a holy life, in opposition to the superstitious mummeries which then prevailed in the Romish church.

The first remarkable opposition he encountered from the popish party, was occasioned by, a course of sermons, which he preached during the festival

* Upon taking his degree of B. D., he delivered an oration against Melanchthon, whom he treated with great severity, for what he called his impious innovations in religion !



of Christmas before the University. In these he? delivered his sentiments concerning the impiety of indulgences, the uncertainty of tradition, and the vanity of works of supererogation; inveighed against the multiplicity of ceremonies with which religion was at that time encumbered, and the pride and usurpation of the hierarchy; and dwelt more particularly upon the great abuse of locking up the Scriptures in an unknown language.

Great was the outcry occasioned by these discourses. Latimer was already a preacher of considerable eminence, and displayed a remarkable address in adapting himself to the capacities of the people. The orthodox clergy observing him much followed, thought it high time to oppose him openly. This task was undertaken by Dr. Buckingham, prior of the Black Friars, who appeared in the pulpit a few Sundays afterward, and with great pomp and prolixity endeavoured to show the dangerous tendency of the new opinions, especially those which contended for the publication of the Scriptures in the vernacular tongue. "The ploughman,” said he," when he heareth this in the Gospel, “No man that layeth his hand on the plough and looketh back, is meet for the kingdom of God,' might peradventure, hearing this, cease from the plough. Likewise the baker, when he hears that A little leaven corrupteth a whole lump of dough,' might percase leave our bread unleavened, and so our bodies shall be unseasoned. Also the simple man, when he heareth in the Gospel, “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee,'

may make himself blind, and so fill the world full of beggars."

To this species of reasoning his ardent opponent listened with secret pleasure, and determined in his next discourse to expose the solemn trifler. On the following Sunday, when it was known Latimer would preach, the whole University assembled. All his words and actions were pervaded by a vein of pleasantry and humor, which it was imagined, would upon this occasion have its full course: and the preacher was not a little conscious of his own superiority. To complete the scene, just before the sermon began, Buckingham himself entered the church with his friar's cowl about his shoulders, and seated himself with an air of importance before the pulpit.

Latimer having first with great gravity recapitulated the learned doctor's arguments, and placed them in the strongest light, proceeded to rally them with such a flow of wit, and at the same time with so much good humor, that without the least appearance of ill-nature he made his adversary in the highest degree ridiculous. He then ably appealed to the people, descanted upon the low esteem in which their holy guides had always held their understanding, expressed the utmost offence at their being treated with so much contempt, and wished “his honest countrymen might only be indulged in the use of the Scriptures till they showed themselves such absurd interpreters.' He concluded his discourse with a few observations upon Scripture metaphors. A figurative manner of speech, he con



tended, was common in all languages: representations of this kind were in daily use, and generally understood. “As for example, said he addressing himself to that part of the audience, where the Prior was seated) when they paint a fox preaching out of a friar's cowl, none is so mad to take this to be a fox that preacheth, but knows well enough the meaning of the matter; which is to point out unto us, what hypocrisy, craft, and subtile dissimulation lieth hid many times in these friars' cowls, willing us thereby to beware of them.*

This levity, however, Latimer himself probably thought not necessarily demanded by the subject; for when one Venetus, a foreigner, not long afterward attacked him again, in a manner the most scurrilous and provoking, upon the same subject, we find him using a graver strain. He answers, like a scholar, what is worth answering ; and like a man of sense, he leaves the absurd part to answer itself. But whether jocose or serious, his haro? angues were so animated, that they seldom failed of their intended effect: his light raillery had shut up the Prior within his monastery, and his solid arguments drove Venetus from the University. From the joint labors of Bilney and Latimer, whose lives strictly corresponded with the purity of their doctrines, the protestant cause speedily acquired great credit at Cambridge; and no academ

** With this sermon," says Fox, “friar Buckingham was so dashed, that never after he durst peep out of the pulpit against Mr. Latimer.”

ical censures were found sufficient to deter the students from attending their lectures.

Dr. West, Bishop of Ely, being solicited to silence Latimer, after hearing him preach, though he. expressed his approbation of his discourse, prohibited him from occupying any of the pulpits within his diocese. But this gave no great check to the reformers; for a Prior* in Cambridge, who favored the principles of the reformation, and whose monastery was exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, boldly licensed him to preach there. Hither his party followed him; and the late opposition having strongly excited public curiosity, the Friars' chapel was unable to contain the crowds which attended. His diocesan himself was frequently one of his hearers; and candidly declared, that Mr. Latimer was one of the best preachers he had ever heard.

The credit which he had thus gained by his preaching, he maintained by the sanctity of his manners. Nor did Mr. Bilney and he satisfy themselves with acting unexceptionably: they gave daily instances of piety and benevolence, which malice could not scandalize, nor envy misinterpret. They were always in company, concerting measures for the advancement of true religion; and the place where they used to walk, was long afterward known by the name of The Heretics' Hill.' Cambridge at the time, was full of their good actions; and their extensive charities to the poor, with their friendly

[merged small][ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »