Lectures on Modern History/Calvin and Henry VIII.
CALVIN AND HENRY VIII.
For nearly thirty years Charles V. suffered the Reformation to run its course in Germany, against his will, and without admitting the principle of toleration. He did not resign the hope that unity would be restored by a Council which should effectually reform the Church and reconcile Protestants; and there was no prospect of such a consummation unless by the necessity which they created. Therefore, without ceasing to be intolerant in his other dominions, he was content to wait. At length, in 1545, the Council assembled at Trent and dealt with the chief dogmas at issue. Then, when the decrees did not satisfy the Lutherans, the Emperor combined with the Pope to coerce them. A large contingent of papal troops crossed the Alps in 1547, and were met by the Lutheran forces on the Danube. The Protestant League was divided; some of its members, true to the doctrine of non-resistance, remained away; and one of the Saxon princes, Maurice, invaded Saxony, on a promise that he should succeed to the electorate. The Elector hurried back to his own country, the muster on the Danube was broken up, and the Italians gained a decisive victory over the Germans at Mühlberg on the Elbe. Maurice obtained the stipulated reward, and being then, by virtue of his new dignity, the chief of the Protestants, turned against the law by which the Emperor, after his victory, attempted to regulate the affairs of religion. He secured the help of France by the surrender of a part of Lorraine, which Moltke did not entirely recover, and, attacking the Emperor when he was not prepared, brought him to terms.
At Augsburg, in 1555, peace was concluded between the religions, and continued until the Thirty Years' War. It abolished the fagot and the stake. The Catholics gained nothing by this, for no Lutherans had thought that it could be lawful to put the people of the old religion to death. The Lutherans obtained security that they should not be persecuted. On the other hand, it was agreed that if any territorial prelate seceded, he should forfeit the temporal power which he enjoyed by right of his ecclesiastical dignity. So that the ecclesiastical territories, which composed a large part of Germany, from Salzburg to the Black Forest, and then all down the valley of the Rhine to Liège and Münster, were to be preserved intact. No security whatever was obtained for Protestants outside the Confession of Augsburg. The Lutherans negotiated only for themselves. And no real security was given to the subject. He was not to be punished for his nonconformity, but he might be banished and compelled to pass to the nearest territory of his own persuasion. As these were very near, generally, the suffering was less than it would have been in other countries. Under that condition, the civil power could, if it chose, enforce the unity of religion.
These enactments were an immense advance, practically, but they did not involve the liberty of conscience. The absolute right of the State to determine the religion it professed was not disputed, but it was tempered by the right of emigration. No man could be compelled to change, but he might be compelled to go. State absolutism was unlimited over all who chose to keep their home within the precincts. There was no progress in point of principle. The Christian might have to depart, while the Jew remained. No Protestant could complain if he was expelled from Cologne; no Catholic if he could not have his domicile at Leipzig. The intolerance and fierceness of the Germans found relief in the wholesale burning of witches.
Charles V. would have nothing to do with these innovations. He left it all to his brother Ferdinand, King of Bohemia and Hungary, who was more elastic and pliable than himself. With the Turk over the border, he could not exist without the good-will of both parties; and he desired the vote of Lutheran electors to make him emperor. He had no Inquisition in one part of his dominions contradicting and condemning toleration in the rest. He was an earnest promoter of reform in the shape of concession. The embers of Hussitism were not extinct in the region of which Bohemia was the centre. Ferdinand had that as well as Lutheranism to contend with, and he desired to avert peril by allowing priests to marry and laymen to receive the cup. That is to say, he desired to surrender the two points for which the Church had struggled successfully against the State in the eleventh century, against the Bohemians in the fifteenth. His conciliatory policy was assisted by the moderation of the Archbishop of Mentz. At Rome they said that the empire was divided equally between Christ and the devil. But the Pope, advised by Jesuits, made no protest.
Ferdinand had so regulated things in his brother's interest, that the measure did not include the Netherlands. The laws which afterwards produced the revolt were not invalid by the Peace of Religion, and the victims of Alva had no right to appeal to it. Charles V. did not choose to surrender that which alone gave unity to his complicated empire. The German princes were allowed to have subjects of one religion only. That prerogative was denied to the Emperor. The imperial dignity, in its ideal character as the appointed defender and advocate of the universal Church, existed no longer. A monarch reigning over Catholic and Protestant alike was an inferior representative of unity and authority, and a poor copy of Charlemagne. There was no obvious reason for his existence. It was an intolerable hypocrisy to be the friend of Protestants where they were strong, and to burn them where they were weak. The work of his life was undone. In more than thirty years of effort he had neither reconciled the Protestants nor reformed the Church. The settlement of the Reformation was an acknowledgment of defeat, and the result of his career was that religious division had become the law of his empire. Therefore, when the Peace of Religion was concluded, Charles V. laid down the sceptre. The new empire, based on religious equality, he gave to his brother. It was only by detaching it from his hereditary dominions that he could reconstruct what had crumbled to pieces in his hands. Then he rebuilt the great conservative and Catholic monarchy for his son, assigning to him Spain, Naples, Milan, the Netherlands, the Indies, England, and the supreme protectorate of Rome. The mixed possessions went to Ferdinand. The boundless empire, based on the principle of unity, and the championship of the Catholic Church all the world over, was for Philip II. All that was his, to keep or to resign. All that he chose to resign. For with his prodigious good fortune, his inheritance of greatness, his unexampled experience of complex affairs, his opportunities for having at his elbow the best talent in the world, his admirably prudent and moderate temper, Charles V. broke down over the problem of the Reformation, as we shall see that the Counter-Reformation was fatal to his son. And it was in this way that Philip found the lines of his policy laid down for him, before he assumed the crown of Spain, by the conditions under which his father abdicated. The ancient function of the empire passed to him, and the purpose of his vast dominion, the intelligible reason of its apparition among the nations, was to accomplish that in which, under his more gifted father, imperial Germany had failed.
At the date we have reached, soon after the middle of the century, Luther was dead, and the churches of the Confession of Augsburg had reached their full measure of expansion. They predominated in Germany, and still more in Scandinavia; but Luther had not endowed them with institutions, or imparted to them the gift of self-government. In religious ideas, he was inexhaustible; but he was deficient in constructive capacity. The local governments, which were effective, had defended the Reformation and assured its success against the hostility of the central government, which was intermittent and inoperative, and as they afforded the necessary protection, they assumed the uncontested control. Lutheranism is governed not by the spiritual, but by the temporal power, in agreement with the high conception of the State which Luther derived from the long conflict of the Middle Ages. It is the most conservative form of religion, and less liable than any other to collision with the civil authority on which it rests. By its lack of independence and flexibility it was unfitted to succeed where governments were hostile, or to make its way by voluntary effort through the world. Moreover, Luther's vigorous personality has so much in it of the character of his nation, that they are attracted even by his defects—a thing which you can hardly expect to occur elsewhere. Therefore it was in other forms, and under other names, that the Protestant religion spread over Europe. They differed from the original less in their theology, which Luther had completed, than in questions of Church government, which he abandoned to others.
Apart from the sects, which are of the first importance, but whose story belongs to the Puritan Revolution and to the following century, two other systems arose at the time, one in Switzerland, the other in England. The general result of what happened when the Reformation, ceasing to be national, became European, was that it prevailed in the north, that it miscarried in the south, that it divided and agitated the centre. Switzerland was divided, the towns becoming Protestant on the Zwinglian type, the country people remaining Catholic, especially in the central cantons. The chief towns, Berne and Bâle, imitated the example of Zürich, where Zwingli committed the government of the Church to the authorities that governed the State, differing from the Lutherans in this, that Zwinglianism was republican and revolutionary. In Germany, where the organisation was defective, there was little discipline or control. In Switzerland there was a more perfect order, at the price of subjection to the secular authority. Those were the rocks ahead; that was the condition of the Protestant churches, when a man arose amongst them with a genius for organisation, a strong sense of social discipline, and a profound belief in ecclesiastical authority.
At the time when persecution suddenly began to rage in France John Calvin escaped to Strasburg, and there composed his Institute, the finest work of Reformation literature. He wrote with a view to show that there was nothing in the Protestant religion to alarm the government, and that the change it demanded was in the Church, not in the State. He dealt more largely with theology than with practical religion, and did not disclose those ideas on the government of religious society that have made him the equal of Luther in History. Geneva, when he came there in 1536, was a small walled town of less than 20,000 inhabitants, with so narrow a territory that France was within cannon range on one side and Savoy on the other. It was secure in the alliance and protection of Berne, which came almost to the gates; for what is now the canton of Vaud was, until the French Revolution, a Bernese dependency. It had been an episcopal city, but the bishop had retired to Annecy, and the Genevese Reformation had been at the same time a Genevese Revolution. Power over Church and State passed to the commonwealth, to the municipality. The new masters, rejoicing in their independence, did not at once settle down; the place was disturbed by factions, and was not a scene of edification.
Calvin set to work to reform the community, to introduce public order and domestic virtue. He was a foreigner by birth, and not conciliatory in disposition; and after a brief experiment, the offended Genevese cast him out. He was not yet thirty. He returned to Strasburg and rewrote his Institute, expounding his theocratic theory of the government of the Church by the Church, and of the State by the union of Church and State. He was present at the Diet of Ratisbon, and saw the Lutherans in a yielding mood, when Melanchthon and Contarini, with the urgent mediator Gropper of Cologne, were very near understanding each other. That event, as everybody knows, did not come off; but everybody does not know the consequences, for we shall see that the Counter-Reformation sprang from those conferences at Ratisbon. Calvin had no part in Irenics. He was persuaded that the work before them was to create not a new church, but a new world, to remodel not doctrine only, but society; that the chasm could never be bridged, but must grow wider with time. That conviction was not yet strongly held by the German Lutherans, and they do not all hold it at the present day. During his absence Cardinal Sadolet wrote to the Genevese, intreating them not to break up the unity of Latin Christendom; for Geneva was the first town beyond the Teutonic range that went over. Sadolet was not only reputed the finest Latinist of the age, but he was the most gracious of the Roman prelates, a friend of Erasmus, an admirer of Contarini, and the author of a commentary on St. Paul in which Lutheran Justification was suspected. The Genevese were not then so rich in literature as they afterwards became, and they were not prepared to answer the challenge, when Calvin did it for them. In 1541, after a change of government, he was recalled. He came back on condition that his plans for the Church were accepted, and his position remained unshaken until his death.
The Strasburg clergy, in losing him, wrote that he was unsurpassed among men, and the Genevese felt his superiority and put him on the commission which revised the Constitution. It was not changed in any important way, and the influence of the Geneva Constitution upon Calvin was greater than his influence on the government of Geneva. The city was governed by a Lesser or Inner Council of twenty-five, composed of the four syndics, the four of last year, and as many more as made up the twenty-five. These belonged to the ruling families, and were seldom renewed. Whilst the Lesser Council administered, through the syndics, the Great Council of two hundred was the legislature. Its members were appointed, not by popular election, but by the Lesser Council. Between the twenty-five and the two hundred were the sixty, who only appeared when the Lesser Council wanted to prepare a majority in the Greater Council. Its function was to mediate between the executive and the legislature. It was a system of concentric circles; for the twenty-five became the sixty by adding the necessary number of thirty-five, and the sixty became the two hundred by the addition of one hundred and forty members. Beyond this was the assembly of citizens, who only met twice a year to elect the syndics and the judge, from names presented by the Lesser Council. The popular element was excluded. Beyond the citizens were the burghers, who did not enjoy the franchise. Between the two there was material for friction and a constitutional struggle, the struggle from which Rousseau proceeded, and which had some share in preparing the French Revolution.
Upon this background Calvin designed his scheme of Church government and discipline. His purpose was to reform society as well as doctrine. He did not desire orthodoxy apart from virtue, but would have the faith of the community manifested in its moral condition. And as the mere repression of scandals would promote hypocrisy, it was necessary that private life should be investigated by the same authority that was obeyed in public. Teaching and preaching belong to the clergy alone. But jurisdiction is exercised by the pastors in conjunction with the elders. And the elders were the choice of the civil power, two representing the Lesser Council, four the sixty, and six the two hundred. That was all that he could obtain. His success was incomplete, because the government worked with him. A hostile government would be more adapted to his purpose, for then the elders would be elected, not by the State, but by the congregation. With a weak clergy the civil magistrate would predominate over the Church, having a majority in the consistory. While Calvin lived no such thing was likely to happen. The Church co-operated with the State to put down sin, the one with spiritual weapons, the other with the material sword. The moral force assisted the State, the physical force assisted the Church. A scheme substantially the same was introduced by Capito at Frankfort in 1535.
But the secret of Calvin's later influence is that he claimed for the Church more independence than he obtained. The surging theory of State omnipotence did not affect his belief in the principle of self-government. Through him an idea of mutual check was introduced which became effective at a later time, though nothing more unlike liberty could be found than the state of Geneva when he was the most important man there. Every ascertainable breach of divine law was punished with rigour. Political error was visited with the sword, and religious error with the stake. In this spirit Calvin carried out his scheme of a Christian society and crushed opposition. Already, before he came, the Council had punished vice with imprisonment and exile, and the idea was traceable back to the Middle Ages. It had never found so energetic an advocate.
The crown was set upon the system by the trial and execution of Servetus. The Germans, in their aversion for metaphysics, had avoided the discussion of questions regarding the Trinity, which in the south of Europe excited more attention. As early as 1531, long before the rise of the Socinians, the Spaniard Servetus taught anti-Trinitarianism, and continued to do it for more than twenty years. He remained isolated, and it was not until after his death that his opinions attracted followers. Calvin, who thought him dangerous, both by his doctrines and his talent, declared that if ever he came to Geneva he would never leave it alive. He caused him to be denounced to the Inquisition, and he was imprisoned at Vienne on the Rhone, tried, and condemned to be burnt at a slow fire, on evidence supplied by Calvin in seventeen letters. Servetus escaped, and on his way to Italy stopped at Geneva, under a false name, for he knew who it was that had set the machinery of the Holy Office in motion against him, and who had said that he deserved to be burnt wherever he could be found. He was recognised, and Calvin caused him to be arrested and tried without a defender. The authorities at Vienne demanded his extradition, and the Governor of Dauphiny requested that any money Servetus had about him might be sent back to him, as he was to have had it if the execution had occurred in his territory. Calvin disputed with his prisoner, convicted him of heresy, and claimed to have convicted him of Pantheism, and he threatened to leave Geneva if Servetus was not condemned. The Council did not think that the errors of a Spanish scholar who was on his way to Italy were any business of theirs, and they consulted the Swiss churches, hoping to be relieved of a very unpleasant responsibility. The Swiss divines pronounced against Servetus, and he was sentenced to die by fire, although Calvin wished to mitigate the penalty, but refused, at a last interview, the Spaniard's appeal for mercy. The volume which cost Servetus his life was burnt with him, but falling from his neck into the flames, it was snatched from the burning, and may still be seen in its singed condition, a ghastly memorial of Reformation ethics, in the National Library at Paris.
The event at Geneva received the sanction of many leading divines, both of Switzerland and Germany; and things had moved so far since Luther was condemned for his toleration, that Melanchthon could not imagine the possibility of a doubt. Hundreds of humble Anabaptists had suffered a like fate and nobody minded. But the story of the execution at Champel left an indelible and unforgotten scar. For those who consistently admired persecution, it left the estimate of Calvin unchanged. Not so with others, when they learnt how Calvin had denounced Servetus long before to the Catholic Inquisitors in France; how he had done so under the disguise of an intermediary, in a prolonged correspondence; how he had then denied the fact, and had done a man to death who was guilty of no wrong to Geneva, and over whom he had no jurisdiction. It weakened the right of Protestants to complain when they were in the hands of the executioner, and it deprived the terrors of the Inquisition of their validity as an argument in the controversy with Rome. Therefore, with the posting of the Thesis at Wittenberg; with Worms, and Augsburg, and Ratisbon; with the flight of Charles V. before Maurice, and with the Peace of Religion, it marks one of the great days in the Church history of the century. But it obtained still greater significance in the times that were to come. On the whole, though not without exceptions, the patriarchs approved. Their conclusions were challenged by younger and obscurer men, and a controversy began which has not ceased to cause the widest division among men.
The party of Liberty—Castellio, Socinus, Coornhert in the sixteenth century, like Williams and Penn, Locke and Bayle in the seventeenth—were not Protestants on the original foundation. They were Sectaries; and the charge of human freedom was transferred from the churches to the sects, from the men in authority to the men in opposition, to Socinians and Arminians and Independents, and the Society of Friends. By the thoroughness and definiteness of system, and its practical adaptability, Calvinism was the form in which Protestant religion could be best transplanted; and it struck root and flourished in awkward places where Lutheranism could obtain no foothold, in the absence of a sufficient prop. Calvinism spread not only abroad but at home, and robbed Luther of part of Germany, of the Palatinate, of Anhalt, of the House of Brandenburg, and in great part of Hungary. This internal division was a fact of importance later on. It assisted the work of the Counter-Reformation, and became the key to the Thirty Years' War. The same thing that strengthened the Protestant cause abroad weakened it on its own soil. Apart, then, from points of doctrine, the distinctive marks of Calvin's influence are that it promoted expansion, and that it checked the reigning idea that nothing limits the power of the State.
Exactly the reverse of this distinguishes the movement which took place at the same time in England, proceeding from the government before the wave of Reformation struck the shores. Here there were local reminiscences of Lollardry, and a tradition, as old as the Conquest, of resistance to the medieval claims of Rome; but the first impulse did not arise on the domain of religion. From the beginning there was a body of opinion hostile to the king's marriage. The practice was new, it was discountenanced by earlier authorities, and it belonged to the same series of innovations as the recent system of indulgences which roused the resistance of Germany. Precedents were hard to find. Alexander VI. had granted the same dispensation to Emmanuel of Portugal, but with misgivings; and had refused it until the king undertook to make war in person against the Moors of Africa. Julius II., coming immediately after, had exacted no such condition from Henry VII., so that he had done what was never done before him. Sixtus V. afterwards declared that Clement had deserved the calamities that befel him, because he had not dissolved so unholy a union. Others thought so at the time. No protest could well be heard before 1523, when Adrian censured his predecessors for exceeding their powers. After that it could be no offence to say that Julius was one of those whose conduct was condemned by his next successor but one. But it was still a dangerous point to raise, because any action taken upon it implied a breach with the queen's nephew Charles V., and the loss of the old alliance with the House of Burgundy.
After the triumph of Pavia, the captivity of Francis I., and his defiance of the treaty by which he obtained his deliverance, Wolsey accepted a pension of 10,000 ducats from France, England renounced friendship with the Habsburgs, and the breach was already accomplished. The position of Catharine became intolerable, and she led the opposition to Wolsey, the author of the change. Therefore, from 1526, both the religious and the political motive for silence ceased to operate, and there were, just then, evident motives for speech. There was no hope that Catharine would have a son, and the secret that a queen may reign by her own right, that the nation may be ruled by the distaff, had not been divulged in England. In foreign policy and in home policy alike, there were interests which favoured a new marriage, if its legitimacy could be assured.
Wolsey had an additional inducement to promote what we call the divorce, though it was nothing of the kind, in the fact that the queen was his enemy. He had reasons to hope for success. The armies of Charles had invaded Italy and threatened Rome, and the papal minister, Giberti, enchanted with the zeal of the great English cardinal, wished that he had him at the Vatican in the place of the tremulous and inconstant Clement. Spain was the enemy; England was the ally. It was probable that the Pope would do what he could in the interest of England, to keep up its enmity with Spain. The case was a difficult one, not to be decided on evidence. Something would remain uncertain, and some allowance must be made for good or ill will at Rome. If the invading Imperialists were defeated, the prospects would be good. If they held their ground and made the Pope their dependent, it would be all over with the divorce. Wolsey admitted afterwards that he prompted the attempt, and persuaded the king that he could carry it through. But at first he shifted the responsibility on to the French envoy, Grammont, afterwards a cardinal, who came over to arrange a marriage with Mary Tudor. He said that when he raised some preliminary objection, Grammont lost his temper, and told him that they might be glad of such an offer for a princess who was not legitimate. Another story put into circulation was that Henry had married under protest, and by compulsion, having been warned that if he refused he would be dethroned. Erasmus, who admired Henry, took care to explain that a king of England who lost his throne was likely to lose his life. Wolsey intended to cement the French alliance by a marriage with Renée, daughter of Lewis XII., not believing that Anne Boleyn would be an obstacle. But the friends of Anne, the cluster of English nobles who were weary of being excluded from affairs by the son of the butcher of Ipswich, soon made it clear that she was only to be won by the promise of a crown.
From that moment Wolsey, with all his astuteness, was digging his own pit. If he succeeded, he would fall to make way for the Boleyn faction. If he failed, he involved the Catholic cause in his downfall. The first step in the business was the demand for permission to marry a lady not named, notwithstanding any impediment arising from an intrigue with her sister. With that the secret was out, and they knew at Rome what the king's scruples were worth. This was done behind the cardinal's back. When he took the matter in hand, he asked that the Pope should dissolve the first marriage, on the ground that Julius II. had issued a dispensation in terms which could not be justified. That this might not be taken as denying the plenitude of the prerogative, he further asked for a dispensation to marry a second wife without repudiating the first. And he desired that the cause might be judged in this country and not at Rome.
When these negotiations commenced, in the spring and summer of 1527, Rome had been sacked by the Imperialists, and Clement was a prisoner in St. Angelo, or a fugitive at Orvieto, with the strongest motive for resentment against the author of his humiliation. By the summer of 1528, when Lautrec was in Italy at the head of a French army, Clement had conceded virtually the whole of the English demands. He removed every impediment to the marriage with Anne other than the fact that Henry was married already. He authorised the trial of the case in England by Wolsey and Warham; or again, by Wolsey and Campeggio, Archbishop of Bologna, the best jurist of the sacred college. He pronounced on the question of law, leaving questions of fact to the legates, and he pronounced against the terms of the dispensation, intimating that Julius had done what no Pope has a right to do. He promised that judgment as given in England would be final, and that he would not remove the cause to Rome. He was willing that Richmond, the king's son, should marry the king's daughter, Mary Tudor. He did not turn a deaf ear even to the proposal of bigamy. For several years he continued to suggest that Henry should marry Anne Boleyn and renounce the quest of a divorce. In 1530, somebody informed him that this would not do, and that brought him to the last of his resources. He proposed to the Imperialists, in order to prevent a schism, that Henry should live with Anne without marriage and without divorce. That he might not be hopelessly wrong with the Emperor, he required that the most compromising of these documents should be kept secret. His friendliness rose with the French advance and fell with the French disasters. If Lautrec would approach the vicinity of Rome, he said, he would do more, because the Emperor would excuse him on the ground of compulsion. When Campeggio reached England, Lautrec was dead and his army defeated. The papal secretary wrote, "Decide nothing, for the Emperor is victorious, and we cannot afford to provoke him." There was nothing more to be done.
While the Court was sitting in London, the Pope made his peace with Charles; Catharine appealed to him from his legates in England, and he was obliged to call the case before him. The queen's friends demanded the strongest measures, and Aleander wrote that if you resisted Henry VIII. he became as gentle as a lamb. Such persuasions did not influence the Pope, who put off action as long as he could, knowing that a breach would inevitably follow. The French Chancellor warned him that he would be known to be acting under pressure of the Emperor, that the censure of Henry would be resented as the victory of Charles. The French defeat in Italy was the ruin of Wolsey, who had caused the breach with Spain without any advantage. A year later, when Campeggio prorogued the Legatine Court, and the divorce had to be given up, he was dismissed.
One further step had to be taken before settling the matter in England. By advice of a Cambridge Don the universities were consulted. They gave various replies, but those that helped the king were not convincing, for they cost him more than £100,000, and he obliged the clergy to give him that sum. As it was obvious for what purpose Henry was arming himself with these opinions, Charles V. conceived serious scruples, and thought for a moment that to give way might be the lesser evil. At the same time he sent 450,000 ducats to Rome to facilitate matters; for the divorce was the one pending question which delayed the conclusion of that treaty of Barcelona which laid Italy for centuries at the feet of Spain. The uncertainty in the policy of Rome as the power of the Emperor rose and fell, the open avowal that so much depended on political considerations, besides the strange proposal in respect of two wives, led to a belief in England that the cause was lost by the pressure of interest and fear, not by principle. Therefore, the establishment of the Spanish dominion over Italy was quickly followed by the rejection of papal supremacy in favour of the English state. The bishops themselves were impressed with the danger of allowing the spiritual power to be influenced through the temporal power by an enemy of this country, so that they made no resistance. England broke with the Papacy on these, and not on strictly religious grounds.
Tunstall, coming up to attend Parliament, suffered himself to be stopped by a letter from the king, dispensing with his presence. Fisher alone offered opposition. He caused the royal supremacy to be accepted with the proviso, "so far as the divine law permits." And as this proved only a stepping-stone to the unconditional headship of the Church, he regarded it as his own fault. He refused submission, and put himself in communication with the Imperialists with a view to effective intervention. Sir Thomas More, the most modern and original mind among the men of his time, showed greater caution. He admitted the right of Parliament to determine the succession, and made no struggle for Mary Tudor, as he had made none for her mother. He did not openly contest the royal supremacy until after sentence. Besides these two, a large number of monks were executed during Cromwell's ministry.
Having given up the Pope, the government had no ground for keeping the religious orders. They did not belong to the primitive Church, and some of them, Grey Friars and Black Friars, were an essential part of the medieval system which was rejected with the papal authority. When Rome was taken in 1527, and Clement a prisoner, Wolsey, with some other cardinals, proposed that he should act as his vicar during captivity, so that the Church should not be receiving orders from the Emperor through the Pope. This proposal is a first glimpse of what was now introduced. The idea of a middle course, between Rome and Wittemberg, occurred easily to every constant reader of Erasmus; and many divines of the fifteenth century suggested something similar. What then prevailed was not a theological view, but a political view. The sovereignty of the modern State, uncontrolled by the opinions of men, commanded the minds both of Cromwell and of Gardiner, rivals though they were. Cromwell is the first public man known to have been a student of Machiavelli's writings; and the first to denounce them was his enemy, Reginald Pole. It is the advent of a new polity. Gardiner believed in it, thinking that nothing else could save Catholicism after the mismanagement of the Church in Germany. And it is the dominant note of the following years, whichever party was prevailing.
That is the broad distinction between the continental Reformation and the contemporary event in England. The one was the strongest religious movement in the history of Christendom; the other was borne onward on the crest of a wave not less overwhelming, the state that admits no division of power. Therefore, when the spirit of foreign Protestantism caught the English people they moved on lines distinct from those fixed by the Tudors; and the reply of the seventeenth century to the sixteenth was not a development, but a reaction. Whereas Henry could exclude, or impose, or change religion at will with various aid from the gibbet, the block, or the stake, there were some among the Puritans who enforced, though they did not discover, the contrary principle, that a man's conscience is his castle, with kings and parliaments at a respectful distance.