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Religious persecution and persecutors, of every description, deserv
ing of the curse of God and man. Comparison between Roman Catholic and protestant persecutors. Gross inconsistency, and, of consequence, peculiar turpitude of the latter.
• To subdue th' unconquerable mind,
RELIGIOUS persecution is one of the greatest stains attached to human nature. It is in hostility with the most clear and explicit doctrines of Jesus Christ; and its absurdity is about equal to its wicked ness; as it supposes, what never was, and never can be, that men can change their belief at will, as they can change their dress. But our opinions are as independent of our volition, except where reason comes in to aid in the change, as our complexion or our height. Wherever or by whomsoever perpetrated, this odious offence, and its perpetrators, merit the curse of God and man. It makes no difference in the eye of heaven whether the victim have been or may be fined, imprisoned, or immolated at Madrid, in Paris, in London, or Dublin. It is a crime for which there never was, nor can be any apology or extenuation, and which in a peculiar degree cries to hea. ven for vengeance.
That every man has a right, inherent and indefeasible, to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, provided they do not lead to the commission of crimes, is one of those eternal maxims to which man, in every clime, unsophisticated by religious establishments, must bear testimony. The time, it is to be hoped, will arrive, when it will be a subject of astonishment, and appear wholly incredible, that it could have ever entered into the mind of any human being to coerce the religious opinions of his fellow men-or that he could have been so supremely wicked as to punish them, with fine, imprisonment, or death for the conscientious discharge of their religious duties.
The degree of the atrocity of crimes often depends upon various circumstances of time, place, and person. An act perpetrated at one time, by a certain person, or under certain circumstances, would be far more indefensible, than if perpetrated at another time, by another person, or under different circumstances.
Thus it is with religious persecution. It is, I repeat, at all times and in all places, deserving of abhorrence and execration. But it had a peculiar malignity and turpitude when perpetrated by the reformers. To be satisfied of this truth, requires but a small degree of reflection and candour.
To elucidate this point, I shall select the cases of two nations,
France and England—the former, at the moment when Calvinism was first broached there--the latter after the reformed religion was established.
At that time the Roman Catholic religion universally prevailed in France. It rested on the authority of general councils, composed of bishops and priests convened from every part of Christendom. Those councils are by Catholics universally believed to be infallible: and their religion is regarded as emanating from Jesus Christ himself, and the same as that taught by his apostles and disciples. It is wholly foreign from my purpose, to discuss the question whether these opinions were just or the contrary. Whatever decision that question might receive, would not in the slightest degree affect the argument. They believed that all innovations were heresies and schisms, and deserving of punishment. However lamentable and unjustifiable therefore it may be, it is net very wonderful, that they had recourse to pains and penalties to prevent the spread of wbat they regarded as pestiferous innovations.
But the case of England was incalculably different. The great basis of the reformation rested on the right of every man to interpret the scriptures for himself, unfettered by the decrees of popes, or councils, or synods. On the protestant standard was imprinted in conspicuous characters—“Search the scriptures. There the rule of faith is distinctly developed." The reformers, therefore, having duly searched the scriptures--abandoned, from conscientious motives, the religion of their ancestors and of their youth-and chosen a religion for themselves--it would appear that nothing but insanity could have led them to suppose that they had any right to control their neighbours' religious opinions, or that their neighbours did not possess an equal right with themselves, either to choose a new religion or to adhere to the old, às their conscience might prescribe. Yet in opposition to these plain dictates of reason and common sense, the voice of history proclaims, that in England, and indeed in almost every part of Europe, the reformers, when possessed of power, persecuted not merely the followers of the old religion, but even those, who, like themselves, had abandoned that religion, but chosen a different system from their own. This is a fertile topic-but I shall only for the present refer, for confirmation of these positions, to the noyades in Switzerland--the proceedings of the synod of Dort in Holland and more particularly to the horrible persecutions of the Quakers in England--and of the Covenanters in Scotland, by Lauderdale and archbishop, Sharp, the latter of which were not exceeded by those of the Vaudois and Albigenses.
I trust, therefore, it will appear as clear as the noon-day sun, that the persecuting reformer was far more culpable than the persecuting Roman Catholic, odious as the latter undoubtedly was. To the native and inherent turpitude of one of the most hideous crimesma crime offering outrage to the mild dictates of the religion both descriptions of Christians professed-the former added the grossest inconsistency—the most direct violation of the vital and fundamental principle on which his religion was established.
It hence follows, although every inquisitor, whether a resident of London or Madrid, of Lisbon, Glasgow, or Dublin, onght, by the ler talionis, to have been scourged with his own lash, hung on his own gibbet, impaled on his own stake, or roasted with his own faggot, that if it were possible to make a scale in which a due proportion should be observed between the crime and the punishment, the reforming persecutor might lay claim to a proud preeminence over the Roman Catholic.
Bearing these strong truths in mind, let us cast a glance at the persecution of the Irish Roman Catholics, and we shall find that it bears imprinted on its forehead the unerring mark of antichrist; for after the hundreds of volumes employed in investigating who, and what, and where is antichrist, I am fully persuaded, that the true and genuine antichrist is religious persecution; that every persecutor, of whatever denomination, was a lineal descendant of antichrist; and that religious persecution, in all its shapes and forms, whether exercised by Díoclesian at Constantinople, Mahomet at Mecca, Dominic at Madrid, Charles IX. at Paris, Calvin at Geneva, Knox in Edinburgh, Mary in England, or Elizabeth in Ireland, was utterly an. tichristian.
At the accession of Elizabeth to the throne of England, the Roman Catholic religion was professed by the Irish nation, with scarcely an exception. There was not one of any other denomination for every ten thousand Catholics. Throughout three-fourths of the island there was not a protestant in existence, and the mass of the nation knew not what the word meant. In such a state of things, so utterly inauspicious for her views, queen Elizabeth, head of the Church of England, conceived the preposterous and unholy design of subjecting the exercise of the Roman Catholic religion in Ireland, to the most oppressive penalties and forfeitures, by act of the parliament of that country,
The wickedness of this act could only be equalled by the turpitude of the means by which it was accomplished. I have shown in page 144, the flagitious mode in which Sussex* packed the parliament of 1560, convened merely for the purpose of passing it. One half of the nation, I repeat, was disfranchised--and in the other half, corruption, intrigue, and undue influence secured for the government a majority of those who composed the parliament. But for this vile system of fraud, it would have been quite as difficult to pass this act in Ireland, as it would be at the present hour to pass an act in the British parliament to establish the worship of the sun, or to substitute the Koran for the book of common prayer, or in America to pass an act renouncing our independence and subrnitting to be re-colonized.
Seventy-six ment-tell it not in Gath, publish it not in Ascalon
* The real representatives of the people made an unavailing strug. gle against this act. They were out voted. “So much had Sussex been alarmed by the opposition he had encountered in this parliament, that he dissolved it in a few weeks."338
+ The reader will bear in mind that in the parliament of 1560, there were in the House of Commons only the paltry number of seventy-six members, most of them fraudulently chosen.
393 Leland, 11. 274.
---of whom many were corruptly smuggled into parliament, in violation of the law of the land, as well as of every principle of honour and justice-some of them foreigners without any pretensions to a seat in the legislature-seventy-six men, I say, subjected an entire nation to pains, and penalties for the exercise of the religion of their ancestors--for the worship of God according to the dictates of their consciences, and attempted to dragoon them to adopt doctrines which they imperfectly understood, and which they abhorred. To aggravate the enormity of the offence, were it susceptible of aggravation, this high-handed act of persecution and despotism was perpetrated at a period when Europe resounded with the most virulent and clamorous abuse of the Roman Catholics for their persecuting spirit-a grievance which assumed a prominent place among the causes that led to a separation. “Thou hypocrite," says Jesus Christ, “first cast out the beam out of thine own eye and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
This act, thus surreptitiously obtained, thus repugnant to trụę Christianity, has been the fruitful source of a large portion of the subsequent oppression, misery, wretchedness, slaughter, and confiscation which appear so conspicuously in the blood-stained annals of Ireland. It made Helots of the mass of the nation, and laid them prostrate, tied hand and foot, at the mercy of an unfeeling, cruel, and intolerant aristocracy, in whom it fostered into the most baleful luxuriance all the hateful passions, which germinate so prodigally whenever society is divided into two classes, of which one possesses uncontrolled power over the other.
I annex a sketch of some of the leading features of this odious act:
I. Any clergyman who refused to use the common prayer in his church, or who used any other form of worship, rite, ceremony, or manner of celebrating the Lord's supper, openly or privily, than was mentioned in the said book of common prayer, was to forfeit all the profit or income of his benefice for one whole year, and also suffer imprisonment for six months.
II. For the second offence, he was to forfeit his income for ever, and suffer imprisonment for one year.
III. For the third offence he was to suffer imprisonment for life.
Thus a Roman Catholic or even a protestant dissenting clergyman, who three times worshipped God according to the dictates of his conscience, was to be incarcerated for life, under the glorious light of the reformation, which, we are vauntingly told, dispelled the Cimme. rian darkness with which the Christian world had been overspread by popery for so many centuries!
İV. Laymen for the first offence were to undergo imprisonment for one year-and, for the second, imprisonment for life.
V. Any person, who dared, by any interludes, plays, songs, rhimes, or by other open words, declare or speak any thing in derogation of the book of common prayer, or interrupt any clergyman in the use of it, for the first offence was subject to a fine of one hundred marks for the second, four hundred; and for the third offence, was to forfeit all his goods and chattels, and suffer imprisonment for life.
Here, again, we see the glorious light of the reformation beaming
on á benighted world. The best man in Ireland, a Socrates, an Aristides, or a Washington, if he dared three times to speak in derogation of the common prayer, was liable to imprisonment for life!!
VI. Every person in the kingdom, absenting himself from the usual place where common prayer was used,” on Sundays and Holidays, was subject to a fine of twelve pence, and to the censures of the church.
Supposing only eight holidays in the year, each individual who did Àot attend what he regarded as an heretical worship, was liable to a penalty of three pounds per annum. To those with a family of two persons, an addition would be made of six pounds. This, at the then value of money, was worth about 100l. sterling* at present, or four hundred and fifty dollars. To this enormous annual penalty, a man with a wife, and a single child, arrived at maturity, was liable, for obeying the dictates of his conscience! Such was the Christian and liberal spirit of toleration in the halcyon days of Elizabeth-and such was the exact conformity between profession and practice.
VII. By another clause, the queen, or the lord deputy, or other governor or governors of Ireland, were authorized, with the advice of council, to publish such further ceremonies or rites, as they might judge proper, for the advancement of God's glory, the edifying of the church, and the due reverence of Christ's holy mysteries and sacraments.t
* In a work of reputation, it is stated, that the value of money was twelve times as great in 1800 as in 1530. The change from 1530 to 1560 was inconsiderable.
+" If any manner of person, vicar or other whatsoever minister that ought or should sing or say common-prayer mentioned in the said book, or minister the sacraments, from and after the feast of Saint John the Baptist aforesaid, refuse to use the said common-prayers or to minister the sacraments in such cathedral or parish church or other places as he should use to minister the same, in such order and form as they be mentioned and set forth in the said book, or shall wilfully or obstinately standing in the same, use any other rite, ceremony, order, forme, or manner of celebrating of the Lord's Supper openly or privily, or mattens, or evensong, administration of the sacraments, or other open prayers than is mentioned and set forth in the said book, or shall preach, declare, or speake, any thing in the derogation or depraving of the said book, or any thing therein conteyned, or of any part thereof, and shall be thereof lawfully convicted according to the lawes of this realm, by verdict of twelve men, or by his own confession, or by the notorious evidence of the fact, shall lose and forfeit to the queens highness, her heires and successors, for his first offence the profit of all his spirituall benefices or promotions, comming or arising in one whole year, next after his conviction, and also the
per"Open prayer in and throughout this act, is meant that prayer which is for others to come unto, or hear, either in common churches or privy chappels, or oratories, commonly called the service of the church.