Banned Theology Books

[This is taken From P.H. Ditchfield's Books Fatal to Their Authors.]


Michael Molinos—Bartholomew Carranza—Jerome Wecchiettus—Samuel Clarke—Francis David—Antonio de Dominis—Noel Bede—William Tyndale—Arias Montanus—John Huss—Antonio Bruccioli—Enzinas—Louis Le Maistre—Gaspar Peucer—Grotius—Vorstius—Pasquier Quesnel—Le Courayer—Savonarola—Michael Servetus—Sebastian Edzardt—William of Ockham—Abelard.

 Since the knowledge of Truth is the sovereign good of human nature, it is natural that in every age she should have many seekers, and those who ventured in quest of her in the dark days of ignorance and superstition amidst the mists and tempests of the sixteenth century often ran counter to the opinions of dominant parties, and fell into the hands of foes who knew no pity. Inasmuch as Theology and Religion are the highest of all studies—the aroma scientiarum—they have attracted the most powerful minds and the subtlest intellects to their elucidation; no other subjects have excited men’s minds and aroused their passions as these have done; on account of their unspeakable importance, no other subjects have kindled such heat and strife, or proved themselves more fatal to many of the authors who wrote concerning them. In an evil hour persecutions were resorted to to force consciences, Roman Catholics burning and torturing Protestants, and the latter retaliating and using the same weapons; surely this was, as Bacon wrote, “to bring down the Holy Ghost, instead of the likeness of a dove, in the shape of a vulture or raven; and to set, out of the bark of a Christian Church, a flag of a bark of pirates and assassins.”

The historian then will not be surprised to find that by far the larger number of Fatal Books deal with these subjects of Theology and Religion, and many of them belong to the stormy period of the Reformation. They met with severe critics in the merciless Inquisition, and sad was the fate of a luckless author who found himself opposed to the opinions of that dread tribunal. There was no appeal from its decisions, and if a taint of heresy, or of what it was pleased to call heresy, was detected in any book, the doom of its author was sealed, and the ingenuity of the age was well-nigh exhausted in devising methods for administering the largest amount of torture before death ended his woes.

Tantum religio potuit suadere malorum.

Liberty of conscience was a thing unknown in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; and while we prize that liberty as a priceless possession, we can but admire the constancy and courage of those who lived in less happy days. We are not concerned now in condemning or defending their opinions or their beliefs, but we may at least praise their boldness and mourn their fate.

The first author we record whose works proved fatal to him was Michael Molinos, a Spanish theologian born in 1627, a pious and devout man who resided at Rome and acted as confessor. He published in 1675 The Spiritual Manual, which was translated from Italian into Latin, and together with a treatise on The Daily Communion was printed with this title: A Spiritual Manual, releasing the soul and leading it along the interior way to the acquiring the perfection of contemplation and the rich treasure of internal peace. In the preface Molinos writes: “Mystical theology is not a science of the imagination, but of feelings; we do not understand it by study, but we receive it from heaven. Therefore in this little work I have received far greater assistance from the infinite goodness of God, who has deigned to inspire me, than from the thoughts which the reading of books has suggested to me.” The object of the work is to teach that the pious mind must possess quietude in order to attain to any spiritual progress, and that for this purpose it must be abstracted from visible objects and thus rendered susceptible of heavenly influence. 

This work received the approval of the Archbishop of the kingdom of Calabria, and many other theologians of the Church. It won for its author the favour of Cardinal Estraeus and also of Pope Innocent XI. It was examined by the Inquisition at the instigation of the Jesuits, and passed that trying ordeal unscathed. But the book raised up many powerful adversaries against its author, who did not scruple to charge Molinos with Judaism, Mohammedanism, and many other “isms,” but without any avail, until at length they approached the confessor of the King of Naples, and obtained an order addressed to Cardinal Estraeus for the further examination of the book. The Cardinal preferred the favour of the king to his private friendship. Molinos was tried in 1685, and two years later was conducted in his priestly robes to the temple of Minerva, where he was bound, and holding in his hand a wax taper was compelled to renounce sixty-eight articles which the Inquisition decreed were deduced from his book. He was afterwards doomed to perpetual imprisonment. On his way to the prison he encountered one of his opponents and exclaimed, “Farewell, my father; we shall meet again on the day of judgment, and then it will be manifest on which side, on yours or mine, the Truth shall stand.” For eleven long years Molinos languished in the dungeons of the Inquisition, where he died in 1696. His work was translated into French and appeared in a Recueil de pieces sur le Quietisme, published in Amsterdam 1688. 

Molinos has been considered the leader and founder of the Quietism of the seventeenth century. The monks of Mount Athos in the fourteenth, the Molinosists, Madame Guyon, Fenelon, and others in the seventeenth century, all belonged to that contemplative company of Christians who thought that the highest state of perfection consisted in the repose and complete inaction of the soul, that life ought to be one of entire passive contemplation, and that good works and active industry were only fitting for those who were toiling in a lower sphere and had not attained to the higher regions of spiritual mysticism. Thus the ‘[Greek: Aesuchastai]’ on Mount Athos contemplated their nose or their navel, and called the effect of their meditations “the divine light,” and Molinos pined in his dungeon, and left his works to be castigated by the renowned Bossuet. The pious, devout, and learned Spanish divine was worthy of a better fate, and perhaps a little more quietism and a little less restlessness would not be amiss in our busy nineteenth century.

The noblest prey ever captured by those keen hunters, the Inquisitors, was Bartholomew Carranza, Archbishop of Toledo, in 1558, one of the richest and most powerful prelates in Christendom. He enjoyed the favour of his sovereign Philip II. of Spain, whom he accompanied to England, and helped to burn our English Protestants. Unfortunately in an evil hour he turned to authorship, and published a catechism under this title: Commentarios sobre el Catequismo Cristiano divididos en quatro partes las quales contienen fodo loque professamor en el sancto baptismo, como se vera en la plana seguiente dirigidos al serenissimo Roy de Espana (Antwerp). On account of this work he was accused of Lutheranism, and his capture arranged by his enemies. At midnight, after the Archbishop had retired to rest, a knock was heard at the door of the chamber. “Who calls?” asked the attendant friar. “Open to the Holy Office,” was the answer. Immediately the door flew open, for none dared resist that terrible summons, and Ramirez, the Inquisitor-General of Toledo, entered. The Archbishop raised himself in his bed, and demanded the reason of the intrusion. An order for his arrest was produced, and he was speedily conveyed to the dungeons of the Inquisition at Valladolid.

For seven long years he lingered there, and was then summoned to Rome in 1566 by Pius V. and imprisoned for six years in the Castle of St. Angelo. The successor of Pope Pius V., Gregory XIII., at length pronounced him guilty of false doctrine. His catechism was condemned; he was compelled to abjure sixteen propositions, and besides other penances he was confined for five years in a monastery. Broken down by his eighteen years’ imprisonment and by the hardships he had undergone, he died sixteen days after his cruel sentence had been pronounced.  [Footnote: Cf. The Church of Spain, by Canon Meyrick. (National Churches Series.)] On his deathbed he solemnly declared that he had never seriously offended with regard to the Faith. The people were very indignant against his persecutors, and on the day of his funeral all the shops were closed as on a great festival. His body was honoured as that of a saint. His captors doubtless regretted his death, inasmuch as the Pope is said to have received a thousand gold pieces each month for sparing his life, and Philip appropriated the revenues of his see for his own charitable purposes, which happened at that time to be suppression of heresy in the Netherlands by the usual means of rack and fire and burying alive helpless victims.

A very fatal book was one entitled Opus de anno primitivo ab exordia mundi, ad annum Julianum accommodato, et de sacrorum temporum ratione.  Augustae-Vindelicorum, 1621, in folio magno. It is a work of Jerome Wecchiettus, a Florentine doctor of theology. The Inquisition attacked and condemned the book to the flames, and its author to perpetual imprisonment. Being absent from Rome he was comparatively safe, but surprised the whole world by voluntarily submitting himself to his persecutors, and surrendering himself to prison. This extraordinary humility disarmed his foes, but it did not soften much the hearts of the Inquisitors, who permitted him to end his days in the cell. The causes of the condemnation of the work are not very evident. One idea is that in his work the author pretended to prove that Christ did not eat the passover during the last year of His life; and another states that he did not sufficiently honour the memory of Louis of Bavaria, and thus aroused the anger of the strong supporters of that ancient house.

The first English author whose woes we record is Samuel Clarke, who was born at Norwich in 1675, and was for some time chaplain to the bishop of that see. He was very intimate with the scientific men of his time, and especially with Newton. In 1704 he published his Boyle Lectures, A Treatise on the Being and Attributes of God, and on Natural and Revealed Religion, which found its way into other lands, a translation being published in Amsterdam in 1721. Our author became chaplain to Queen Anne and Rector of St. James’s. He was a profoundly learned and devout student, and obtained a European renown as a true Christian philosopher. In controversy he encountered foemen worthy of his steel, such as Spinosa, Hobbes, Dodwell, Collins, Leibnitz, and others. But in 1712 he published The Scriptural Doctrine of the Trinity, which was declared to be opposed to the Christian belief and tainted with Arianism. The attention of Parliament was called to the book; the arguments were disputed by Edward Wells, John Edwards, and William Sommer; and Clarke was deprived of his offices. The charge of heterodoxy was certainly never proved against him; he did good service in trying to stem the flood of rationalism prevalent in his time, and his work was carried on by Bishop Butler. His correspondence with Leibnitz on Time, Space, Necessity, and Liberty was published in 1717, and his editions of Caesar and Homer were no mean contributions to the study of classical literature.

In the sixteenth century there lived in Hungary one Francis David, a man learned in the arts and languages, but his inconstancy and fickleness of mind led him into diverse errors, and brought about his destruction. He left the Church, and first embraced Calvinism; then he fled into the camp of the Semi-Judaising party, publishing a book De Christo non invocando, which was answered by Faustus Socinus, the founder of Socinianism. The Prince of Transylvania, Christopher Bathori, condemned David as an impious innovator and preacher of strange doctrines, and cast him into prison, where he died in 1579. There is extant a letter of David to the Churches of Poland concerning the millennium of Christ.

Our next author was a victim to the same inconstancy of mind which proved so fatal to Francis David, but sordid reasons and the love of gain without doubt influenced his conduct and produced his fickleness of faith. Antonio de Dominis, Archbishop of Spalatro, was a shining light of the Roman Church at the end of the sixteenth century. He was born in 1566, and educated by the Jesuits. He was learned in history and in science, and was the first to discover the cause of the rainbow, his explanation being adopted and perfected by Descartes. The Jesuits obtained for him the Professorship of Mathematics at Padua, and of Logic and Rhetoric at Brescia. After his ordination he became a popular preacher and was consecrated Bishop of Segni, and afterwards Archbishop of Spalatro in Dalmatia. He took a leading part in the controversy between the Republic of Venice and the Pope, and after the reconciliation between the two parties was obliged by the Pope to pay an annual pension of five hundred crowns out of the revenues of his see to the Bishop of Segni. This highly incensed the avaricious prelate, who immediately began to look out for himself a more lucrative piece of preferment. He applied to Sir Dudley Carleton, the English Ambassador at Venice, to know whether he would be received into the Church of England, as the abuses and corruptions of the Church of Rome prevented him from remaining any longer in her communion.

King James I. heartily approved of his proposal, and gave him a most honourable reception, both in the Universities and at Court. All the English bishops agreed to contribute towards his maintenance. Fuller says:

“It is incredible what flocking of people there was to behold this old archbishop now a new convert; prelates and peers presented him with gifts of high valuation.” Other writers of the period describe him as “old and corpulent,” but of a “comely presence”; irascible and pretentious, gifted with an unlimited assurance and plenty of ready wit in writing and speaking; of a “jeering temper,” and of a most grasping avarice. He was ridiculed on the stage in Middleton’s play, The Game of Chess, as the “Fat Bishop.” “He was well named De Dominis in the plural,” says Crakanthorp, “for he could serve two masters, or twenty, if they paid him wages.”

Our author now proceeded to finish his great work, which he published in 1617 in three large folios—De Republica Ecclesiastica, of which the original still exists among the Tanner MSS. in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. “He exclaims,” says Fuller, “’in reading, meditation, and writing, I am almost pined away,’ but his fat cheeks did confute his false tongue in that expression.” In this book he shows that the authority of the Bishop of Rome can easily be disproved from Holy Scripture, that it receives no support from the judgment of history and antiquity, that the early bishops of that see had no precedence over other bishops, nor were in the least able to control those of other countries. He declares that the inequality in power amongst the Apostles is a human invention, not founded on the Gospels; that in the Holy Eucharist the priest does not offer the sacrifice of Christ, but only the commemoration of that sacrifice; that the Church has no coercive power, that John Huss was wrongfully condemned at the Council of Constance; that the Holy Spirit was promised to the whole Church, and not only to bishops and priests; that the papacy is a fiction invented by men; and he states many other propositions which must have been somewhat distasteful to the Pope and his followers.

James rewarded De Dominis by conferring on him the Mastership of the Savoy and the Deanery of Windsor, and he further increased his wealth by presenting himself to the rich living of West Ilsley, in Berkshire.

In an unfortunate moment he insulted Count Gondomar, the Spanish Ambassador, who determined to be revenged, and persuaded the Pope to send the most flattering offers if he would return to his former faith. Pope Gregory XV., a relative of De Dominis, had just ascended the Papal throne.  The bait took. De Dominis, discontented with the non multum supra quadringentas libras annuas which he received in England, and pining after the duodecim millia Coronatorum promised by the Pope, resolved to leave our shores. James was indignant. Bishop Hall tried to dissuade him from his purpose. “Tell me, by the Immortal God, what it is that can snatch you from us so suddenly, after a delay of so many years, and drive you to Rome? Has our race appeared to you inhospitable, or have we shown favour to your virtues less than you hoped? You cannot plead that this is the cause of your departure, upon whom a most kind sovereign has bestowed such ample gifts and conferred such rich offices.” The Archbishop was questioned by the Bishops of London and Durham, by order of the king, with regard to his intentions, and commanded to leave the country within twenty days. He was known to have amassed a large sum of money during his sojourn in England, and his trunks were seized, and found to contain over £1,600. 

De Dominis fled to Brussels, and there wrote his Consilium Reditus, giving his reasons for rejoining the Roman Church, and expecting daily his promised reward—a cardinal’s hat and a rich bishopric. His hopes were doomed to be disappointed. For a short time he received a pension from Gregory XV., but this was discontinued by Urban VIII., and our author became dissatisfied and imprudently talked of again changing his faith. He was heard to exclaim at supper on one occasion, “That no Catholic had answered his book, De Republica Ecclesiastica, but that he himself was able to deal with them.” The Inquisition seized him, and he was conveyed to the Castle of St. Angelo, where he soon died, as some writers assert, by poison. His body and his books were burned by the executioner, and the ashes thrown into the Tiber. Dr. Fitzgerald, Rector of the English College at Rome, thus describes him: “He was a malcontent knave when he fled from us, a railing knave when he lived with you, and a motley particoloured knave now he is come again.” He had undoubtedly great learning and skill in controversy, [Footnote: His opinion with regard to the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan over suffragan bishops was referred to in the recent trial of the Bishop of Lincoln.] but avarice was his master, and he was rewarded according to his deserts. [Footnote: Cf. article by the Rev. C.  W. Penny in the Journal of the Berks Archaeological Society, on Antonio de Dominis.]

The lonely fortress of Mont-Saint-Michel saw the end of a bitter controversialist, Noel Bede, who died there in 1587. He wrote Natalis Bedoe, doctoris Theol. Parisiensis annotationum in Erasmi paraphrases Novi Testamenti, et Jacobi Fabri Stapulensis commentarios in Evangelistas, Paulique Epistolas, Libri III., Parisiis, 1526, in-fol. This work abounds in vehement criticisms and violent declamations. Erasmus did not fail to reply to his calumniator, and detected no less than eighty-one falsehoods, two hundred and six calumnies, and forty-seven blasphemies.  Bede continued to denounce Erasmus as a heretic, and in a sermon before the court reproached the king for not punishing such unbelievers with sufficient rigour. The author was twice banished, and finally was compelled to make a public retractation in the Church of Notre Dame, for having spoken against the king and the truth, and to be exiled to Mont-Saint-Michel.

Translators of the Bible fared not well at the hands of those who were unwilling that the Scriptures should be studied in the vulgar tongue by the lay-folk, and foremost among that brave band of self-sacrificing scholars stands William Tyndale. His life is well known, and needs no recapitulation; but it may be noted that his books, rather than his work of translating the Scriptures, brought about his destruction. His important work called The Practice of Prelates, which was mainly directed against the corruptions of the hierarchy, unfortunately contained a vehement condemnation of the divorce of Catherine of Arragon by Henry VIII. This deeply offended the monarch at the very time that negotiations were in progress for the return of Tyndale to his native shores from Antwerp, and he declared that he was “very joyous to have his realm destitute of such a person.” The Practice of Prelates was partly written in answer to the Dialogue of Sir Thomas More, who was commissioned to combat the “pernicious and heretical” works of the “impious enemies of the Church.”

Tyndale wrote also a bitter Answer to the Dialogue, and this drew forth from More his abusive and scurrilous Confutation, which did little credit to the writer or to the cause for which he contended Tyndale’s longest controversial work, entitled The Obedience of a Christian Man, and how Christian Rulers ought to govern, although it stirred up much hostility against its author, very favourably impressed King Henry, who delighted in it, and declared that “the book was for him and for all kings to read.” The story of the burning of the translation of the New Testament at St. Paul’s Cross by Bishop Tunstall, of the same bishop’s purchase of a “heap of the books” for the same charitable purpose, thereby furnishing Tyndale with means for providing another edition and for printing his translation of the Pentateuch, all this is a thrice-told tale. Nor need we record the account of the conspiracy which sealed his doom. For sixteen months he was imprisoned in the Castle of Vilvoord, and we find him petitioning for some warm clothing and “for a candle in the evening, for it is wearisome to sit alone in the dark,” and above all for his Hebrew Bible, Grammar, and Dictionary, that he might spend his time in that study. After a long dreary mockery of a trial on October 16th, 1536, he was chained to a stake with faggots piled around him. “As he stood firmly among the wood, with the executioner ready to strangle him, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and cried with a fervent zeal and loud voice, ‘Lord, open the King of England’s eyes!’ and then, yielding himself to the executioner, he was strangled, and his body immediately consumed.” That same year, by the King’s command, the first edition of the Bible was published in London. If Tyndale had confined himself to the great work of translating the Scriptures, and had abandoned controversy and his Practice of Prelates, his fate might have been different; but, as Mr. Froude says, “he was a man whose history has been lost in his work, and whose epitaph is the Reformation.”

Another translator, whose fate was not so tragic, was the learned Arias Montanus, a Spaniard, who produced at the command of King Philip II. the famous Polyglot Bible printed at Antwerp in nine tomes. He possessed a wonderful knowledge of several languages, and devoted immense labour to his great work. But in spite of the royal approval of his work his book met with much opposition on the part of the extreme Roman party, who accused him to the Pope and made many false charges against him. The Pope was enraged against Montanus, and he was obliged to go to Rome to plead his cause. He at length obtained pardon from the Pope, and escaped the “chariots of fire” which bore the souls of so many martyred saints to heaven. It is a curious irony of fate that Montanus, who was one of the chief compilers of the Index Expurgatorius, should live to see his own work placed on the condemned list.

The story of the martyrdom of John Huss is well known, and need not be here related, but perhaps the books which caused his death are not so frequently studied or their titles remembered. His most important work was his De Ecclesia, in which he maintained the rigid doctrine of predestination, denied to the Pope the title of Head of the Church, declaring that the Pope is the vicar of St. Peter, if he walk in his steps; but if he give in to covetousness, he is the vicar of Judas Iscariot. He reprobates the flattery which was commonly used towards the Pope, and denounces the luxury and other corruptions of the cardinals.  Besides this treatise we have many others—Adv. Indulgentias, De Erectione Crucis, etc. He wrote in Latin, Bohemian, and German, and recently his Bohemian writings have been edited by K. J. Erben, Prague (1865). His plain speaking aroused the fury of his adversaries, and he knew his danger. On one occasion he made a strange challenge, offering to maintain his opinions in disputation, and consenting to be burnt if his conclusions were proved to be wrong, on condition that his opponents should submit to the same fate in case of defeat. But as they would only sacrifice one out of the company of his foes, he declared that the conditions were unequal, and the challenge was abandoned. When at last he was granted a safe conduct by the Emperor Sigismund, and trusted himself to the Council of Constance, his fate was sealed. Even in his noisome prison his pen (when he could procure one) was not idle, and Huss composed during his confinement several tracts on religious subjects. At length his degradation was completed; a tall paper cap painted with hideous figures of devils was placed upon his head, and a bishop said to him, “We commit thy body to the secular arm, and thy soul to the devil.” “And I,” replied the martyr, “commit it to my most merciful Lord, Jesus Christ.” When on his way to execution he saw his Fatal Books being burnt amidst an excited crowd, he smiled and remarked on the folly of people burning what they could not read.

Another translator of the Bible was Antonio Bruccioli, who published in Venice, in 1546, the following edition of the Holy Scriptures: Biblia en lengua toscana, cioe, i tutti i santi libri del vecchio y Novo Testamento, in lengua toscana, dalla hebraica verita, e fonte greco, con commento da Antonio Bruccioli. Although a Roman Catholic, he favoured Protestant views, and did not show much love for either the monks or priests. His bold comments attracted the attention of the Inquisition, who condemned his work and placed it on the Index. The author was condemned to death by hanging, but happily for him powerful friends interceded, and his punishment was modified to a two years’ banishment. He died in 1555, when Protestant burnings were in vogue in England.

Enzinas, the author of a Spanish translation of the New Testament entitled El Nuevo Testamento de N. Redemptor y Salvador J. C. traduzido en lengua castellana (En Amberes, 1543, in-8), dedicated his work to Charles V. But it caused him to be imprisoned fifteen months. Happily he discovered a means of escape from his dungeon, and retired to safe quarters at Geneva.  In France he adopted the nom-de-plume of Dryander, and his History of the Netherlands and of Religion in Spain forms part of the Protestant martyrology published in Germany. The author’s brother, John Dryander, was burnt at Rome in 1545.

The Jansenist Louis Le Maistre, better known under the name of de Sacy, was imprisoned in the Bastille on account of his opinions and also for his French translation of the New Testament, published at Mons, in 1667, and entitled Le Nouveau Testament de N.S.J.C., traduit en francais selon l’edition Vulgate, avec les differences du grec (2 vols., in-12). This famous work, known by the name of the New Testament of Mons, has been condemned by many popes, bishops, and other authorities. Louis Le Maistre was assisted in the work by his brother, and the translation was improved by Arnaud and Nicole. Pope Clement IX. described the work as “rash, pernicious, different from the Vulgate, and containing many stumbling-blocks for the unlearned.” When confined in the Bastille, Le Maistre and his friend Nicolas Fontaine wrote Les Figures de la Bible, which work is usually attributed to the latter author. According to the Jesuits, the Port-Royalists are represented under the figure of David, their antagonists as Saul. Louis XIV. appears as Rehoboam, Jezebel, Ahasuerus, and Darius. But these fanciful interpretations are probably due to the imagination of the critics.

The fate of Gaspar Peucer enforces the truth of the old adage that “a shoemaker ought to stick to his last,” and shows that those men court adversity who meddle with matters outside their profession. Peucer was a doctor of medicine of the academy of Wuertemberg, and wrote several works on astronomy, medicine, and history. He was a friend of Melanchthon, and became imbued with Calvinistic notions, which he manifested in his publication of the works of the Reformer. On account of this he was imprisoned eleven years. By the favour of the Elector he was at length released, and wrote a History of his Captivity (Zurich, 1605). A curious work, entitled A Treatise on Divination, was published by Peucer at Wuertemberg, written in Latin, in 1552. He ranks among the most learned men of Germany of the sixteenth century.

There were many Fatal Books in Holland during the famous controversy between the Arminians and the Gomarists, which ended in the famous Synod of Dort, and for vehemence, bigotry, and intolerance is as remarkable as any which can be found in ecclesiastical history. The learned historian Grotius was imprisoned, but he wrote no book which caused his misfortune.  Indeed his books were instrumental in his escape, which was effected by means of his large box containing books brought into the prison by his wife. When removed from the prison it contained, not the books, but the author. Vorstius, the successor of Arminius as Professor of Theology at Leyden, was not so happy. His book, Tractatus de Deo, seu de natura et attributis Dei (Steinfurti, 1610, in-4), aroused the vengeance of the Gomarists, and brought about the loss of his professorship and his banishment from Holland; but any injustice might have been expected from that extraordinary Synod, where theology was mystified, religion disgraced, and Christianity outraged. [Footnote: Cf. Church in the Netherlands, by P.H. Ditchfield, chap. xvii.]

Few books have created such a sensation in the world or aroused so prolonged a controversy as Les Reflexions Morales of Pasquier Quesnel, published in 1671. The full title of the work is Le Nouveau Testament en Francais, avec des reflexions morales sur chaque verset (Paris, 1671, i vol., in-12), pour les quatre Evangiles seulement. Praslard was the publisher. In 1693 and 1694 appeared another edition, containing his reflexions morales, not only on the Gospels, but also on the Acts and the Epistles. Many subsequent editions have appeared. Not only France, but the whole of the Western Church was agitated by it, and its far-reaching effects have hardly yet passed away. It caused its author a long period of incarceration; it became a weapon in the hands of the Jesuits to hurl at the Jansenists, and the Papal Bull pronounced against it was the cause of the separation of a large body of the faithful from the communion of the Roman Church. Its author was born at Paris in 1634, and was educated in the congregation of the Oratory. Appointed director of its school in Paris, he wrote Pensees Chretiennes sur les quatre Evangiles, which was the germ of his later work. In 1684 he fled to Brussels, because he felt himself unable to sign a formulary decreed by the Oratorians on account of its acceptance of some of the principles of Descartes to which Arnauld and the famous writers of the school of Port-Royal always offered vehement opposition.

A second edition of Reflexions Morales appeared in 1694 with the approval of De Noailles, then Bishop of Chalons, afterwards Archbishop of Paris. But a few years later, by the intrigues of the Jesuits, and by the order of Philip V., Quesnel was imprisoned at Mechlin. In 1703 he escaped and retired to Amsterdam, where he died in 1719. But the history of the book did not close with the author’s death. It was condemned by Pope Clement XI. in 1708 as infected with Jansenism. Four years later an assembly of five cardinals and eleven theologians sat in judgment upon it; their deliberations lasted eighteen months, and the result of their labours was the famous Bull Unigenitus, which condemned one hundred and one propositions taken from the writings of Quesnel.

The unreasonableness and injustice of this condemnation may be understood from the following extracts:--

Proposition 50.—“It is in vain that we cry to God, My Father, if it is not the Spirit of love that cries.”

This is described as “pernicious in practice, and offensive to pious ears.”

Proposition 54.—“It is love alone that speaks to God; it is love alone that God hears.”

This, according to the cardinals, “is scandalous, temerarious, impious, and erroneous.”

The acceptance of the Bull was a great stumbling-block to many churchmen.  Louis XIV. forced it upon the French bishops, who were entertained at a sumptuous banquet given by the Archbishop of Strasbourg and by a large majority decided against the Quesnelites. It is unnecessary to follow the history of this controversy further. France was long agitated by it, and the Church of Holland was and is excommunicate from Rome mainly on account of its refusal to accept the Bull Unigenitus, which was called forth by and so unjustly condemned Quesnel’s famous book.

In connection with the history of this Bull we may mention the work of one of its most vehement opponents, Pierre Francois le Courayer, of the order of the canons regular of St. Augustine, who wrote a book of great interest to English churchmen, entitled Dissertation sur la validite des Ordinations Anglicanes (Bruxelles, 1723, 2 vols., in-12). This book was condemned and its author excommunicated. He retired to the shelter of the Church whose right of succession he so ably defended, and died in London in 1776.

Few authors have received greater honour for their works, or endured severer calamities on account of them, than the famous Florentine preacher Savonarola. Endowed with a marvellous eloquence, imbued with a spirit of enthusiastic patriotism and intense devotion, he inveighed against the vices of the age, the worldliness of the clergy, the selfish ease of the wealthy while the poor were crying for bread in want and sickness. The good citizens of Florence believed that he was an angel from heaven, that he had miraculous powers, could speak with God and foretell the future; and while the women of Florence cast their jewels and finery into the flames of the “bonfire of vanities,” the men, inspired by the preacher’s dreams of freedom, were preparing to throw off the yoke of the Medicis and proclaim a grand Florentine Republic. The revolution was accomplished, and for three years Savonarola was practically the ruler of the new state. His works were: Commentatiuncula de Mahumetanorum secta; Triumphus crucis, sive de fidei Christianae veritate in four books (1497), de Simplicitate vitae Christianae in five books, and Compendium Revelationis (1495), and many volumes of his discourses, some of which are the rarest treasures of incunabula.

[Footnote: At Venice in the library of Leo S. Olschki I have met with some of these volumes, the rarest of which is entitled:--

Da Ferrara facie lanno del. 1496
negiorni delle feste, finito che
hebbe la quaresima: & prima
riposatosi circa uno mese
ricomincio eldi di Sco
Michele Adi. viii di
Maggio. MCCCC


The text commences “CREDITE IN Dno Deo uestro & securi eritis.” In the cell of Savonarola at the Monastery of St. Mark is preserved a MS. volume of the famous preacher. The writing is very small, and must have taxed the skill of the printers in deciphering it.]

The austerity of his teaching excited some hostility against him, especially on the part of the monks who did not belong to his order—that of the Dominicans. He had poured such bitter invective both in his books and in his sermons upon the vices of the Popes and the Cardinals, that they too formed a powerful party in league against him. In addition the friends of the Medicis resented the overthrow of their power, and the populace, ever fickle in their affections, required fresh wonders and signs to keep them faithful to their leader. The opportunity of his enemies came when Charles VIII. of France retired from Florence. They accused Savonarola of all kinds of wickedness. He was cast into prison, tortured, and condemned to death as a heretic. In what his heresy consisted it were hard to discover. It was true that when his poor, shattered, sensitive frame was being torn and rent by the cruel engines of torture, he assented to many things which his persecutors strove to wring from him. The real cause of his destruction was not so much the charges of heresy which were brought against his books and sermons, as the fact that he was a person inconvenient to Pope Alexander VI. On the 23rd of May, 1498, he met his doom in the great piazza at Florence where in happier days he had held the multitude spell-bound by his burning eloquence. There sentence was passed upon him. Stripped of his black Dominican robe and long white tunic, he was bound to a gibbet, strangled by a halter, and his dead body consumed by fire, his ashes being thrown into the river Arno.  Such was the miserable end of the great Florentine preacher, whose strange and complex character has been so often discussed, and whose remarkable career has furnished a theme for poets and romance-writers, and forms the basis of one of the most powerful novels of modern times.

Not only were the Inquisitors and the Cardinals guilty of intolerance and the stern rigour of persecution, but the Reformers themselves, when they had the power, refrained not from torturing and burning those who did not accept their own particular belief. This they did not merely out of a spirit of revenge conceived against those who had formerly condemned their fathers and brethren to the stake, but sometimes we see instances of Reformers slaughtering Reformers, because the victims did not hold quite the same tenets as those who were in power. Poor Michael Servetus shared as hard a fate at the hands of Calvin, as ever “heretic” did at the hands of the Catholics; and this fate was entirely caused by his writings. This author was born in Spain, at Villaneuva in Arragon, in 1509. At an early age he went to Africa to learn Arabic, and on his return settled in France, studying law at Toulouse, and medicine at Lyons and Paris.

But the principles of the Reformed religion attracted him; he studied the Scriptures in their original languages, and the writings of the fathers and schoolmen. Unhappily his perverse and self-reliant spirit led him into grievous errors with regard to the doctrine of the Trinity. In vain the gentle Reformer Oecolampadius at Basle reasoned with him. He must needs disseminate his opinions in a book entitled De Trinitatis Erroribus, which has handed the name of Servetus down to posterity as the author of errors opposed to the tenets of the Christian Faith. Bucer declared that he deserved the most shameful death on account of the ideas set forth in this work. In his next work, Dialogues on the Trinity and A Treatise on the Kingdom of Christ, Servetus somewhat modified his views, and declared that his former reasonings were merely “those of a boy speaking to boys”; but he blamed rather the arrangement of his book, than retracted the opinions he had expressed.

He also annotated Pagnini’s Latin version of the Sacred Scriptures, entitled Biblia sacra latina ex hebraeo, per Sanctum Pagninum, cum praefatione et scholiis Michaelis Villanovani (Michel Servet). Lugduni, a Porta, 1542, in-folio. This edition was vigorously suppressed on account of the notes of Servetus.

After sojourning some time in Italy, he returned to France in 1534, and settled at Lyons, where he published a new and highly esteemed edition of the Geography of Ptolemy, inscribing himself as Michael Villanovanus, from the name of his birthplace. His former works had been published under the name of Reves, formed by the transposition of the letters of his family name. In Paris he studied medicine, and began to set forth novel opinions which led him into conflict with other members of the faculty. In one of his treatises he is said to have suggested the theory of the circulation of the blood. In 1540 he went to Vienne and published anonymously his well-known work De Restitutione Christianismi. This book, when its authorship became known, brought upon him the charge of heresy, and he was cast into prison. Powerful friends enabled him to escape, and his enemies were obliged to content themselves with burning his effigy and several copies of his books in the market-place at Vienne. Servetus determined to fly to Naples, but was obliged to pass through Geneva, where at the instigation of the great Reformer Calvin he was seized and cast into prison. It is unnecessary to follow the course of Servetus’ ill-fated history, the bitter hostility of Calvin, the delays, the trials and colloquies. At length he was condemned, and the religious world shuddered at the thought of seeing the pile lighted by a champion of the Reformation and religious freedom. Loud and awful shrieks were heard in the prison when the tidings of his sentence were conveyed to Servetus. Soon the fatal staff was broken over his head as a sign of his condemnation, and on the Champel Hill, outside the gates of Geneva, the last tragic scene took place. With his brow adorned with a crown of straw sprinkled with brimstone, his Fatal Books at his side, chained to a low seat, and surrounded by piles of blazing faggots, the newness and moisture of which added greatly to his torture, in piteous agony Servetus breathed his last, a sad spectacle of crime wrought in religion’s name, a fearful example of how great woes an author may bring upon himself by his arrogance and self-sufficiency. The errors of Servetus were deplorable, but the vindictive cruelty of his foes creates sympathy for the victim of their rage, and Calvin’s memory is ever stained by his base conduct to his former friend.

The name of Sebastian Edzardt is not so well known. He was educated at Wuertemberg, and when Frederick I. of Prussia conceived the desire of uniting the various reformed bodies with the Lutherans, he published a work De causis et natura unionis, and a treatise Ad Calvanianorum Pelagianisinum. In this book he charged the Calvinists with the Pelagian heresy—a charge which they were accustomed to bring against the Lutherans. It was written partly against a book of John Winckler, Arcanum Regium de conciliandis religionibus subditorum diffidentibus, published in 1703 in support of the King’s designs. In the same year he published Impietas cohortis fanatica, expropriis Speneri, Rechenbergii, Petersenii, Thomasii, Arnoldi, Schutzii, Boehmeri, aliorumque fanaticorum scriptis, plusquam apodictis argumentis, ostensa. Hamburgi, Koenig, 1703, in-4.  This work was suppressed by order of the senate of Hamburg. Frederick was enraged at Edzardt’s opposition to his plans, ordered his first book to be burnt, and forbade any one to reply to it. Nor was our author more successful in his other work, Kurtzer Entwurff der Einigkeit der Evangelisch-Lutherischen und Reformirten im Grunde des Glaubens: von dieser Vereinigung eigentlicher Natur und Beschaffenheit, wherein he treated of various systems of theology. This too was publicly burnt, but of the fate of its author I have no further particulars.

The last of the great schoolmen, William of Ockham, called the “Invincible Doctor,” suffered imprisonment and exile on account of his works. He was born at Ockham in Surrey in 1280, and, after studying at Oxford, went to the University of Paris. He lived in stirring times, and took a prominent part in the great controversies which agitated the fourteenth century.  Pope John XXII. ruled at Avignon, a shameless truckster in ecclesiastical merchandise, a violent oppressor of his subjects, yet obliged by force of circumstances to be a mere subject of the King of France. The Emperor Ludwig IV. ruled in Germany in spite of the excommunication pronounced against him by the Pope. Many voices were raised in support of Louis denouncing the assumptions of the occupant of the Papal See. Marcilius of Padua wrote his famous Defensor Pacis against Papal pretensions, and our author, William of Ockham, issued his still more famous Defence of Poverty, which startled the whole of Christendom by its vigorous onslaught on the vices of the Papacy and the assumptions of Pope John. The latter ordered two bishops to examine the work, and the “Invincible Doctor” was cast into prison at Avignon. He would certainly have been slain, had he not contrived to effect his escape, and taken refuge at the court of the German emperor, to whom he addressed the words, “Tu me defendas gladio, ego te defendam calamo.” There he lived and wrote, condemned by the Pope, disowned by his order, the Franciscans, threatened daily with sentences of heresy, deprivation, and imprisonment; but for them he cared not, and fearlessly pursued his course, becoming the acknowledged leader of the reforming tendencies of the age, and preparing the material for that blaze of light which astonished the world in the sixteenth century. His works have never been collected, and are very scarce, being preserved with great care in some of the chief libraries of Europe.

The scholastic philosophy of the fourteenth century, the disputes between the Nominalists and the Realists, in which he took the part of the former, the principle that “entities are not to be multiplied except by necessity,” or the “hypostatic existence of abstractions,” have ceased to create any very keen interest in the minds of readers. But how bitterly the war of words was waged in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries! And it was not only a war of words; one who witnessed the contests wrote that “when the contending parties had exhausted their stock of verbal abuse, they often came to blows; and it was not uncommon in their quarrels about universals, to see the combatants engaged not only with their fists, but with clubs and swords, so that many have been wounded and some killed.” These controversies have passed away, upon which, says John of Salisbury, more time had been wasted than the Caesars had employed in making themselves masters of the world; and it is unnecessary here to revive them. Ockham’s principal works are: Quaestiones et decisiones in quatuor libros sententiarum cum centilogio theologico (Lyons, 1495), [Footnote: I have met with a copy of this work amongst the incunabula in the possession of M. Olschki, of Venice. The printer’s name is John Trechsel, who is described as vir hujus artis solertissimus.] Summa logicae (Paris, 1483), Quodlibeta (Paris, 1487), Super potestate summi pontifia (1496). He died at Munich in 1343.

The Introductio ad Theologiam of the famous Abelard, another schoolman, was fatal to him. Abelard’s name is more generally known on account of the golden haze of romance which surrounded him and the fair Heloise; and their loving letters have been often read and mourned over by thousands who have never heard of his theological writings. At one time the famous Canon of Notre Dame at Paris had an enthusiastic following; thousands flocked to his lectures from every country; his popularity was enormous.  He combated the abuses of the age and the degeneracy of some of the clergy, and astonished and enraged many by the boldness of his speech and the novelty of his opinions. His views with regard to the doctrine of the Trinity expressed in his Introductio (Traite de la Trinite) were made the subject of a charge against him, and certainly they cannot be easily distinguished from Sabellianism. The qualities or attributes of the Godhead, power, wisdom, goodness, were stated to be the three Persons. The Son of God was not incarnate to deliver us, but only to instruct us by His discourses and example. Jesus Christ, God and Man, is not one of the Persons in the Trinity, and a man is not properly called God. He did not descend into hell. Such were some of the errors with which Abelard was reproached. Whether they were actually contained in his writings, it is not so evident. We have only fragments of Abelard’s writings to judge from, which have been collected by M. Cousin—Ouvrages inedits d’Abelard—and therefore cannot speak with certain knowledge of his opinions. At least they were judged to be blasphemous and heretical by the Council of Soissons, when he was condemned to commit his books to the flames and to retire to the Convent of St. Denys.

Some years later, when he had recovered from the horrible mutilation to which he had been subjected by the uncle of Heloise, and his mind had acquired its usual strength, we find him at Paris, again attracting crowds by his brilliant lectures, and pouring forth books, and alas! another fatal one, Sic et Non, [Footnote: Petri Abelardi Sic et Non (Marburgi, Sumptibus Librariae; Academy Elwertianae, 1851). The best edition of Abelard’s letters is P. Abaelardi et Heloisae conjugis ejus Epistolae, ab erroribus purgatae et cum codd. MSS. collatae cura Richardi Rawlinson, Londini, 1718, in-8. There is also an edition published in Paris in 1616, 4to, Petri Abelardi et Heloisae conjugis ejus, opera cum praefatione apologetica Franc. Antboesii, et Censura doctorum parisiensium; ex editione Andreae Quercetani (Andre Duchesne).] which asked one hundred and fifty-eight questions on all kinds of subjects. The famous champion of orthodoxy, St. Bernard, examined the book, and at the Council of Sens in 1140 obtained a verdict against its author. He said that poor Abelard was an infernal dragon who persecuted the Church, that Arius, Pelagius, and Nestorius were not more dangerous, as Abelard united all these monsters in his own person, and that he was a persecutor of the faith and the precursor of Antichrist. These words of the celebrated Abbot of Clairvaux are more creditable to his zeal than to his charity.

 Abelard’s disciple Arnold of Brescia attended him at the Council, and shared in the condemnations which St. Bernard so freely bestowed. Arnold’s stormy and eventful life as a religious and political reformer was ended at Rome in 1155, where he was strangled and burnt by order of the Emperor Frederick, his ashes being cast into the Tiber lest they should be venerated as relics by his followers. St. Bernard described him as a man having the head of a dove and the tail of a scorpion. Abelard was condemned to perpetual silence, and found a last refuge in the monastery of Cluny. Side by side in the graveyard of the Paraclete Convent the bodies of Abelard and Heloise lie, whose earthly lives, though lighted by love and cheered by religion, were clouded with overmuch sorrow, and await the time when all theological questions will be solved and doubts and difficulties raised by earthly mists and human frailties will be swept away, and we shall “know even as also we are known.”



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