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on Laud, while Art and Genius hovered weeping round his tomb; but if we rend the veil of romance from the cavalier, we are bound not to be overdazzled by the halo of sanctity in the roundhead.
It was in 1646 that parliament consummated what would have seemed so extraordinary a revolution to the patriots of 1640, by the erection of the presbyterian system of Scotland, though with marked reservations of parliamentary control, into the established church of England. The uniformity that had rooted itself in Scotland, and had been the centre of the Solemn League and Covenant, was now nominally established throughout the island. But in name only. It was soon found in the case of church and state alike, that to make England break with her history is a thing more easily said than done, as it has ever been in all her ages. The presbyterian system struck no abiding root. The assembly, as a Scottish historian has pointedly observed, though called by an English parliament, held on English ground, and composed of English divines, with only a few Scotsmen among them, still, as things turned out, existed and laboured mainly for Scotland.
assembly, as system strucken in all her
The deliberations of the divines were haunted throughout by the red spectre of Toleration. For the rulers of states a practical perplexity rose out of protestantism. How was a system resting on the rights of individual conscience and private reason to be reconciled with either authority or unity ? The natural history of toleration seems simple, but it is in truth one of the most complex of all the topics that engage either the reasoner or the ruler ; and until nations were by their mental state ready for religious toleration, a statesman responsible for order naturally paused before committing himself
to a system that might only mean that the members of rival communions would fly at one another's throats, like catholics and Huguenots in France, or Spaniards and Beggars in Holland. In history it is our business to try to understand the possible reasons and motives for everything, even for intolerance.
Religious toleration was no novelty either in great books or in the tractates of a day. Men of broad minds, like More in England and L'Hôpital in France, had not lived for nothing; and though Bacon never made religious tolerance a political dogma, yet his exaltation of truth, knowledge, and wisdom tended to point that way. Nor should we forget that Cromwell's age is the age of Descartes and of Grotius, men whose lofty and spacious thinking, both directly and indirectly, contributed to create an atmosphere of freedom and of peace in which it is natural for tolerance to thrive. To say nothing of others, the irony of Montaigne in the generation before Cromwell was born, had drawn the true moral from the bloodshed and confusion of the long fierce wars between catholic and Huguenot. Theories in books are wont to prosper or miscarry according to circumstances, but beyond theory, presbyterians at Westminster might have seen both in France and in Holland rival professions standing side by side, each protected by the state. At one moment, in this very era, no fewer than five protestants held the rank of marshal of France. The Edict of Nantes, indeed, while it makes such a figure in history (1598-1685), was much more of a forcible practical concordat than a plan reposing on anybody's acceptance of a deliberate doctrine of toleration. It was never accepted by the clergy, any more than it was in heart accepted by the people. Even while the edict was in full force, it was at the peril of his authority with his flock that either catholic bishop or protestant pastor
in France preached moderation toward the other communion. It was not French example, but domestic necessities, that here tardily brought toleration into men's minds. Helwys, Busher, Brown, sectaries whose names find no place in literary histories, had from the opening of the century argued the case for toleration, before the more powerful plea of Roger Williams; but the ideas and the practices of Amsterdam and Leyden had perhaps a wider influence than either colonial exiles or home-bred controversialists, in gradually producing a political school committed to freedom of conscience.
The limit set to toleration in the earlier and unclouded days of the Long Parliament had been fixed and definite. So far as catholics were concerned, Charles stood for tolerance, and the puritans for rigorous enforcement of persecuting laws. In that great protest for freedom, the Grand Remonstrance itself, they had declared it to be far from their purpose or desire to let loose the golden reins of discipline and government in the church, to leave private persons or particular congregations to take up what form of divine service they pleased; " for we hold it requisite," they went on to say, “ that there should be throughout the whole realm a conformity to that order which the laws enjoin according to the Word of God.” It was the rise of the independents to political power that made toleration a party question, and forced it into the salient and telling prominence that is reserved for party questions.
The presbyterian majority in principle answered the questions of toleration and uniformity just as Laud or the Pope would have answered them-one church, one rule. The catholic built upon St. Peter's rock; the presbyterian built upon scripture. Just as firmly as the catholic, he believed in a complete and exclusive system, " and the existence of a single separatist congregation was at once a blot on its beauty and a blow at its very basis” (Shaw). Liberty of conscience was in his eyes only liberty of error, and departure from uniformity only meant a hideous deformity and multiformity of blaspheming sects. The independent and the baptist too were equally convinced of the scriptural source and the divine right of their own systems. It was political necessity that drove them reluctantly not only to work as partners with Erastian lawyers in parliament, but to extend the theoretic basis of their own claim for toleration until it comprehended the whole swarm of Anabaptists, Antinomians, Nullifidians, and the rest. Cromwell's toleration was different. It came easy to his natural temperament, when practical convenience recommended or demanded it. When he told Crawford early in the war that the state in choosing men to serve it takes no notice of their opinions, he struck the true note of toleration from the statesman's point of view. His was the practical temper, which first asks about a thing how far it helps or hinders the doing of some other given thing, and the question now with him was whether tolerance would help or hinder union and force in military strength and the general objects of the war.
A grander intellect than Cromwell's had entered the arena, for before the end of the year of Marston Areopagitica had appeared, the noble English classic of spiritual and speculative freedom. It was Milton's lofty genius that did the work of bringing a great universal idea into active relation with what all men could understand, and what all practical men wished for. There were others, indeed, who set the doctrine of toleration in a fuller light; but in Milton's writings on church government he satisfies as well as Socinus, or Roger Williams, or any of his age, the test that has been imposed of making toleration “at once a moral, a
CRAP. II MILTON ON TOLERATION 145 political, and a theological dogma.” With him the law of tolerance is no birth of scepticism or languor or indifference. It is no statesman's argument for reconciling freedom of conscience with public order, -“ toleration being a part,” as Burke called it, “ of moral and political prudence." Nor is it a pungent intellectual demonstration, like Bayle's half a century later. Intolerance with Milton is dishonour to the victim, dishonour to the tyrant. The fountain-head from which every worthy enterprise issues forth is a pious and just honouring of ourselves; it is the sanctity and freedom of the man's own soul. On this austere self-esteem the scornful distinction between lay and cleric is an outrage. The coercive power of ecclesiastics is an impious intrusion into the inner sanctuary. Shame may enter, and remorse and reverence for good men may enter, and a dread of becoming a lost wanderer from the communion of the just and holy may enter, but never the boisterous and secular tyranny of an unlawful and unscriptural jurisdiction. Milton's moving argument, at once so delicate and so haughty, for the rights and selfrespecting obligations of " that inner man which may be termed the spirit of the soul," is the hidden mainspring of the revolt against formalism, against authority, and almost against church organisation in any of its forms. And it is the true base of toleration. Alas, even Milton halts and stammers when he comes to ask himself why, on the same arguments, popery may not plead for toleration. Here he can only fall back upon the regulation commonplaces.
Milton's ideas, which were at the heart of Cromwell's vaguer and less firmly moulded thinking, were in direct antagonism to at least three broad principles that hitherto ruled the minds of men. These ideas were fatal to Uniformity of belief, not merely as a thing within reach, but as an object