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time, then, when ambition, that insatiable desire of elevation, that worm which stings the heart, and never leaves it at rest, presented the universe with the extraordinary sight of three prelates reviving the restless spirit of the Roman triumvirate, and disturbing the peace of mankind as much with their spiritual weapons, as Octavius, Athony, and Lepidus had disturbed it with their armed legions—at a time when the broachers of new doctrines were kindling up the fire of sedition, and after shaking the foundations of what was then the established religion, were shaking the foundations of thrones and empires—at that critical time, in 1414, was held the Council of Constance, with a design, as the fathers of that Council express themselves, to reform the church in her head and members; and put an end to the calamities which the restless pride of three bishops, assuming the titles of Popes by the names of Gregory the Twelfth, Benedict the Thirteenth, and John the Twenty-third, had brought on Europe, split into three grand factions by the ambition of the above-mentioned competitors. Such transactions in the ministers of a religion that preaches up peace and humility, as the solid foundations on which the structure of all Christian virtues is to be raised, may startle the unthinking reader, and give him an unfavourable idea of religion: but we are never to confound the weakness of the minister with the holiness of his ministry. We respect the sanctuary in which Stephen officiated—though Nicholas profaned it: we revere the place from whence Judas fell—and to which Matthias was promoted: the scriptures respect the chair of Moses— though they censure several pontiffs who sat in it; and no Catholic canonizes the vices of Popes—though he respects their station and dignity. The pontifical throne is still the same, whether it be filled with a cruel Alexander the Sixth, or a benevolent Ganganelli.
To the Council of Constance was cited then John Huss. a Bohemian, famous for propagating errors tending to (fear the mitre from the heads of bishops, and wrest the sceptre from the hands of kings: in a word, he was obnoxious to Church and State; and if Mr. Wesley and I preached up his doctrine in the name of God, we would be condemned in the name of the King. The Protestant and Catholic d.v.nes would banish us from their universities, and the judges of assize would exterminate us from civil society. Such a Doctor had «o indulgence to expect from a Council, which, after deposing two rivals tor the Popedom, condemned a third for contumacy, and elected another in his room.
But in mentioning John Huss, whose trial and execution at Constance have given rise to the foul charge of violation of faith with heretics, let none imagine that I am an apologist for the fiery execution of persons, on the score of religious opinions. Let the legislators who were the first to invent the cruel method of punishing the errors of the mind with the excruciating tortures of the body, and anticipating the rigour of eternaljustice, answer for their own laws. I am of opinion that the true religion, propagated by the effusion of the blood of its martyrs, would still triumph without burning the flesh of heretics; and that the Protestant* and Catholic legislators who have substituted the blazing pHe in the room of Phalaris;s brazen bull, might have pointed out a more lenient punishment for victims, who, in their opinion, had no prospect during the interminable space of a boundless eternity, but that of passing from one fire into another. If in enacting such laws they had consulted the true spirit of religion, I believe the. reformation of their own hearts would have been a more acceptable sacrifice to the Divinity, than hecatombs of human victims. 'No God nor man,' says Tertuliian, 'should be pleased with a forced service.' 'We are 'not to persecute those whom God tolerates,' says St. Augustine. That faith is fictitious which is inspired by the edge of the sword.
But still the nature of society is such, that when once the common land-marks are set up, it opposes the hand of the individual that attempts to remove them. Where one common mode of worship is established, and fenced by the laws of the state, whoever attempts to overthrow it, must expect to meet with opposition and violence, until custom softens the rigour of early prejudices, and reconciles us to men whose features and lineaments are like our own, but still seem strange to us, because their thoughts are different.
* The imperial bus which condemned heretics to the flames, hare bees put iato
execution bv CalvituQueea Elizabeth, James the First, &c.
How far opposition to religious innovations is justifiable, is not our business to discuss. But the experience of ages evinces the fact; and in dissimilar circumstances, Mr. Wesley has made the trial. In kingdoms, where,, as in the Roman Pantheon, every divinity had its altars, speculative deviations from the religion established by law, the singularity of love-feasts and nocturnal meetings, so unusual among the modern Christians of every denomination, roused the vigilance of the magistrate, and influenced the rage of the rabble. Now, that custom has rendered Mr. Wesley's meeting-houses and mode of worship familiar, and that all denominations enjoy a share of that religious liberty, whereof he would fain deprive his Roman Catholic neighbour, his matin hymns give no uneasiness either to the magistrate, or his neighbours. But had Mr. Wesley raised his notes on the high key of civil discordance—had he attempted by his sermons, his writings and exhortations, to deprive the Bishops of the established religion, of their croziers; kings of their thrones; and magistrates of die sword of justice; long ere now would his pious labours have been crowned with martyrdom, and his name registered in the calendar of Fox's Saints. Such, unfortunately, was the case of John Huss. Not satisfied with overthrowing what was then the established religion, and levelling the fences of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, he strikes at the root of all temporal power, and civil authority. He boldly asserts that 4 princes, magistrates, &c. in 'the state of mortal sin, are deprived ipso facto of all power 'and jurisdiction.'* In this doctrine was enveloped the seeds of anarchy and sedition, which subsequent preachers unfolded to the destruction rf peace and tranquillity, almost all over Europe; and which Sir William Blackstone describes as follows: 'The dreadful effects of such a religious 'bigotry, when actuated by erroneous principles, even of '. the Protestant kind, are sufficiently evident from the his• tory of the Anabaptistsf in Germany, the Covenanters in
'*. i * . . •! «• »« . > < | • I » • *' • ^
* See the acts of the Council of Constance in V Abbe's collection of Council*.
•J-This is no imputation on the Anabaptists of our days, who are as pouceable and good men as any others. Men's opinions change with the times, at in different stages •f life we change our thoughts, and settle at the age of forty the roving imagination of si»teen. Custom and mutual intercourse amongst fellow.subjects of every denomination, would soon quench the remaining sparks of religious feuds, if distinctive law*, were abolished. But, unfortunately for the suviety in which we live, the laws, whoso aim should be t» unite the inhabitants, are calculated to divide tb.em. My aeigbbou*
Scotland, and the deluge of sectaries in England, who * murdered their sovereign, overturned the church and mo'narchy, shook every pillar of law, justice, and private pro'jxrty, and most devoutly established a kingdom of saints 'in their stead.'*
John Hnss, then, after broaching the above mentioned doctrines, and making Bohemia the theatre of intestine war, is summoned to appear before the Council. He obtains a safe conduct from the Emperor Sigismund, commanding governors of provinces, &c. not to molest him on his journey to, or return from Constance; but to afford him every aid and assistance. In all the provinces and cities through which he passes, he gives public notice of his intention to appear before the Council and stand his trial. But instead of standing his trial, and retracting his errors, he attempts to make his escape, in order to disseminate, and make them take deeper root. He is arrested and confined, in order that he should take his trial, after having violated his promise, and abused a safe conduct granted him for the purpose of exculpating himself, or retracting his errors, if proved against him before his competent judges. It is here to be remarked, that John Huss was an ecclesiastic; and that in spiritual cases the bishops were his only and competent judges. The boundaries of the two powers, I mean the church and state, being kept distinct; the censer left to the pontiff, and the sword to the magistrate; the church confined to her spiritual weapons; privation of life and limb, and corporeal punishments being quite of the province of the state; one should not interfere with the other. As the body of the criminal is under the controul of the magistrate, too jealous of his privilege to permit the church to interfere with his power—so, erroneous
distrusts itie, because the penal laws held me forth as a reprobate before I was born, and during my life encourage him to seize my horse, or drag me before a magistrate for
saying my prayers, which reduces ineto the sad necessity of hating him, or considering him as an enemy, if in the great struggle between nature and grace, religion, does not triumph. Before Lewis the Fourteenth aud George the First, repealed the lawsagainst witches, every disfigured old woman was in danger of her life, and considered as a sorceress Since the witch-making laws have been repealed, there is not a witch in the land, and the dairy-maid is not under the necessity of using counter-charms to hinder the milk from being enchanted from her pail. Tnus, if the penal laws, which by a' kind of omnipotence create an origlual sin, making rogues of Catholics before they reach their hnnds to the tempting fruit, were once repealed, they would he as liouest as their neighbours, and the objects of their love and confidence.
* Blackstone's Commentaries, vol. IV. chap, 8.
doctrines are under the controulof spiritual judges', too jealous of their prerogatives, to permit the civil magistrate to interfere with their rights. Hence, when the partizans of Huss raised clamours about his confinement, and pleaded his safe-conduct, the Council published the famous decree which has given rise to so many cavils, for the space of four hundred years, though thousands of laws of a more important nature, and of which we now think but little, have been published since that time. The Council declares, 'that every 'safe conduct granted by the Emperor, Kings, and other 'temporal princes, to heretics, or persons accused of heresy, 'ought not to be of any prejudice to the Catholic faith, or to*■ the ecclesiastical jurisdiction; nor to hinder that such per'sons may and ought to be examined, judged, and punished, 'according as justice shall require, if those heretics refuse to 'revoke their errors: and the person who shall have pro< mised them security, shall not, in this case, be obliged to '.keep his promise, by whatever tie he may be engaged, be'cause he has done all that is in his power to do.' I appeal to die impartial public, whether that declaration of the Council does not regard the peculiar case of safe-conducts, granted by temporal princes, to perons who are liable to be tried by competent and independent tribunals? And, whether it be not an insult to candour and common sense, to give it such a latitude as to extend it to every lawful promise, contract, or engagement between man and man? As if the Council of Constance meant to authorize me to buy my neighbour's goods, and after a solemn promise to pay him, still to keep his substance, and break myword. The church and state are two distinct and independent powers, each in its peculiar line. A man is to be tried by the church for erroneous doctrines: a temporal prince grants this man a safe-conduct, to guard his person from any violence which may be offered him on his journey; and to procure him a fair and candid trial, on his appearance before his lawful judges.—Has not this prince done all that is in his power to do? Doth his promise to such a man authorize him to interfere with a foreign and independent jurisdiction, or to usurp the rights of another? Do not the very words of the Council, 'because he has done all