Chapter I.--The causes of the ancient exaltation of the Roman Church, and its pitiful decay in essential points of Religion, especially about its solemn worship, called Mass.
The world cannot afford a sadder instance of what our Saviour Christ lamented once about Capernaum, Matt. xi. 23, than what impartial Christians see accomplished in the spiritual condition of Rome. This Church, reputed to have had her foundation laid by the hands of two great apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul; and immediately after them, raised yet higher by the pastoral care, and cemented with the blood of about thirty martyrs, who all were bishops there; upon this account, she, since her very beginning, has ever appeared most eminent and venerable among apostolical plantations. Beyond this, the city wherein She dwelt, was both the head of most nations, and the most ordinary rendezvous of mankind; which circumstance added also many cubits to her stature, among, and (I may say,) above all other patriarchical Churches. For either by a civil congruency, or by other considerations of prudence, this practice was held in the Church, even before General Councils, as it appears by the Nicene [Concil. Nicaen. Can. 6, 7.] canons, that episcopal dignities, which otherwise as to their character were all equal, should as to their exterior order and dependency, take some pre-eminence from the secular dignity, and jurisdiction of their cities. And this is the very reason wherefore Antioch, and Alexandria, great head cities then in the world, raised presently their own bishops to the dignity of Patriarchs and the second General [Concil. Constant. i. Can. 3.] Council, which was confirmed by the two [Concil. Eph. Can. 8.] others that followed next, allowed the bishop of Byzantium, which before was but low, to take place before all, next to the bishop of Rome, as soon as Byzantium was grown to be Constantinople, and made the seat of the Eastern Empire. Thus the ancient Roman Church, being then a city built upon seven mountains, that did overtop the whole world, and as it were a light burning upon seven high and conspicuous candlesticks, became very remarkable, and was deservedly looked upon as the principal Church of the world.
This lustre and principality received afterwards very great improvement, from the conversion of the Emperors: who, being then most zealous in propagating religion throughout all the parts of their empire; and taking, as it was fit they should, the bishops for their directors, when, either churches were to be built up; or heathenish temples to be pulled down; or general councils to be assembled; or, in a word, any thing done that might advance Christian piety; it could not be otherwise, but great notice should be taken of, and from all parts addresses made, to those worthy prelates, whom then the Emperors had not only in their court, but even, as it were, in their bosom.
Next to the Emperors' favour, that which much advanced, and most justly raised the credit of the Roman and other bishops in the West, was their soundness in the faith, during those days, that most Churches in the East were either infected with the heresy of the Arians, or persecuted by their rage. For then all the Latin bishops enjoying the happiness to live under such masters, as both continued orthodox, and commonly had some influence upon the Eastern Emperors, who did not so: and these worthy bishops of Rome, being then sometimes as zealous to move their Emperors to help and countenance the sound doctrine, as either the emperors or bishops of the contrary side were busy to adulterate or destroy it: if in any part of the world, any good church, or good bishop were in distress, the Roman Church did most commonly hear of it; being then the most comfortable sanctuary that sincere professors could run unto, when they were either turned out of their churches, or banished out of their countries.
Thus her bishops, during well near five hundred years after the time of the apostles, proved, (at least many of them,) the stoutest champions of the faith; if not to maintain it by their writings, (for they never were celebrated for much learning,) yet to seal it often with their blood against persecuting pagans; or else to help and protect it with their credit against Donatists, Arians, and other like false Christians.
Lastly, what completed the honour and authority deferred to the Roman and Western bishops on these accounts, was the unhappy jars and variances, which, during these Arian persecutions, the very orthodox, whether bishops, or believers, were apt to have among themselves. For as the Arian faction did not blaspheme every where in the same degree, but some kept close to the expressions and reservedness of Arius, some went further, and some followed him but half way: so the orthodox party likewise, though they had but one heart and one faith, as to the main fundamentals; yet they had not all one mouth, either to defend, or express it; but herein every one did take the liberty to follow, whether his own judgment in the method of asserting the true doctrine, or his prudence in preserving, whensoever it could be done, the peace and union of his flock. Till at last this kind of variety bred such mistrust and jealousy among the very best of them sometimes, as it appears [Apud Greg. Naz. Ep. 20. p. 789. tom. i. Edit. Paris.] by St. Basil, that they suspected one another, and oftentimes thought themselves sure of nothing, besides the Nicene Confession, unless they had it from Rome, or Italy, the parts where these points had not been disputed, nor the bishops ever tempted either to wrong, or disguise the truth. It was in those days, that even St. Jerome, [St. Hieronym. t. 2. Ep. 57. ad Damasum.] who in his retirements in Syria used to be tutor to the bishop of Rome in many points of divinity, professes he would believe nothing in this, no not so much as to admit the word hypostasis, that is person, or subsistence, (now common in the Latin Church), unless that bishop would assure him he might do it. And upon this same consideration, whensoever Valentinian, Gratian, Theodosius, and such other Emperors, famous for their faith and piety, would bring their subjects in the east to their own communion, they alleged most commonly as a prevailing inducement, that such was the faith of Damasus, or Ambrosius, &c. bishops then at Rome, and Milan.
But, as the highest floods are followed by lowest ebbs, it is sad to observe, what visible decay the Church of Rome fell soon into, from this great exaltation. The first step which she made downwards, may very well be conceived to be, her vain delight to look down on all below herself, which often makes their heads giddy who stand in very high places.
One of the most holy, as well as judicious bishops of his age, I mean St. Cyprian, [St. Cyprian. Epist. l. 2. Ep. 1. ad Stephanum. Idem. t. 2. Ep. ad Quir.] observed some shrewd beginnings of that haughty spirit, even when Pagan persecution should in all likelihood have kept it low. As soon as better times, and the favour of the Emperors had made it warm, presently appeared with greater evidence the occidental arrogancy, which St. Basil [St. Basil. ad Euseb. Samos. Ep. 10.] takes notice of; and the secular pride and pomp, which St. Augustin, [Concil. Afric. sub Bonifac. Epist. ad Bonif. Et Ep. ad Celestin.] and a whole council taxes in the Roman prelates, when yet they were very good men; which are infallible proofs, both of this unhappy declination, and of the great difficulty to be both great and humble at once.
When this passion first began to flame, it prevailed upon three of these bishops, Sozimus, Boniface, and Celestin, otherwise deserving men, so far as to set them upon invading [Ibid.] the common right and liberties of the best churches in the world, (for such were in those days the African,) either by a most shameful forgery, or, which is less probable, with a most stupid ignorance: and transported Pope Gregory the Great so much beside himself, that the desire of making himself yet greater by the favour of an emperor, tempted him to applaud the bloody [Baron. ad An. Chr. 602. n. 19.] Phocas (that inhuman monster, who first killed the five sons of Mauritius one after another, in the presence of their own father; and after he had stabbed to the heart that good prince, his lord and sovereign, with this most tragical spectacle, really murdered him at last, and imbrued his hands in his blood); him, I say, Pope Gregory flattered in a solemn letter, inviting Heaven and Earth [St. Greg. Regist. l. 11. Ep. 38.] to rejoice at his promotion and singular clemency, who was guilty of those abominable butcheries.
This St. Gregory the Great, as they call him, was a great saint, if you take the pains to compare him with those many droves of bears and tigers, who have succeeded him. For if you search out the times past, and run over all successions, either of Consuls from Brutus, or of Emperors from Caesar, or of Sultans from Mahomed, the best historian shall be very hard put to seek, before he find among them all, as long a list of abominable livers, as this Roman See, from this Gregory, can afford. Sometimes whole sets of popes, as their own authors [Luitprand. 1. 2. c. 13. Baron. ad An. 908.] do confess, were advanced to that dignity by known whores. Sometimes being magicians, they advanced themselves to it by their own art; [Fascic. tempor. de Serg. fol. 71.] and oftener by murder, [Card. Bemb. in vita Hildebrand.] and poison. Cardinal Bembo [Idem.] says, that Gregory the VII, who first notoriously raised popes above kings, had an honest friend Brasutus, who to make him room somewhat sooner, dispatched in this way many of his predecessors. And to this purpose an honest bishop [Joh. Sarisb. Polycrat.] used to say, with a sad allusion to Hebr. ix. 7, that their high-priests did not often enter into their sanctuary without blood, even of their own brothers. Hell itself cannot suggest any kind of either crime, or uncleanness, adultery, incest, and sodomy, which you may not find in some pope. And these villains, or, as they themselves call some of them, [Concil. Const. sess. 11. "In tantum ecclesiam Christi scandalizans, quod inter Christi fideles vitam et mores suos cognoscentes, vulgariter dicitur diabolus incarnatus."] incarnate devils, thronging [Genebr. ad An. 901. p. 553,] by twenties and thirties, one upon another: and sometimes two or three together, do make up that succession, that now a days the Church of Rome so much stands upon.
It is no wonder, if these men, having so notoriously put away all good conscience, have also made fearful shipwrecks concerning faith. Not to speak of those Popes, who, either out of infirmity, as Marcellin and Liberius; or out of ignorance, and ill persuasions, as Zepherinus, Felix, Anastasius, Honorius, John XX., John XXIII., &c., sided with heretics: and to mention only some of those doctrines, that have a general influence to poison that whole body; who knows not, that by degrees the blessed Virgin hath been made the ordinary object of Roman adoration; that Christ Himself is by special masses [Miss. Paris. Missa de B. Mar. p. 18.] sacrificed to the honour of this goddess: and that by solemn psalters, [Psalter. S. Bonav.] bibles, [Biblik Mariae. Where most part of the things contained in the Holy Bible, is applied to the Virgin Mary.] and rosaries, the highest strains of prayer and piety, that David and other saints, in their several times, were able to worship God Almighty with, are largely bestowed on her.
On the other side, who knows not also how by a fearful fall from that seat of glory, where some missals will have her [Miss. Paris. ut sup.] to command our very Saviour, their legends bring her down sometimes to such services, as no woman of ordinary honesty would undertake? As for example, [Magn. Spec__l. Titul. B. Mar. Exempl. 19.] for fifteen whole years together to take at Church both the form and the office of an incontinent nun, lest it should appear all the while, that she was out of the convent, rambling up and down in bawdy houses; and to appear [Magn. Specul. Tit. Conf. Exemp. 7.] before judges in behalf of a lady, who in the absence of her husband, had enticed her own son, and murdered the child, whom she had by that incest. Here Catholics have exceeded Turks and Pagans: these never raised a creature so high, nor those ever depressed the Blessed Virgin so low.
The Christian world hath no church of any denomination or communion but the Roman, that ever sought for salvation by trivial methods of mere human invention, that neither any apostles ever taught, nor any fathers of the ancient Church ever heard of. For instance, a vast treasure [Clement. 6. Extra Unigenit. de Paenitent. et remiss.] is pretended to be left in that Church, and continually supplied and filled up with new satisfactions of their saints; which our Saviour did not think of in that parable of his, where He makes virgins so incredibly foolish, as not to know where to get oil. A sovereign power [Ibidem.] is said to be in the Pope, which Paul and Peter never had, of distributing out of this large profusion of indulgences and pardons, even sometimes for thousands of years. Rosaries, great [Clavis magni Thesaur. B. Alanus.] and small [Al. Gazaeus de Oflìc. B. M.] offices are made and published, for the recommending whereof to the special devotion of Christian people, many instances are produced to demonstrate, that the most desperate sinners cannot die without confession, [R. P. Seraphin. Bazius Hort. Exemp. titul. de B. V. Ex. 29.] (although hangmen [Tho. Cantior. de Apib. l. 2. c. 29. Caesarius Mirac. Et Hist. Mirab. l. 7. c. 59.] cut off their heads, or fishes [Alexis de Salo Meth. Adm. c. 7. fol. 151. Id. Mir. 68.] eat up their whole bodies,) if upon certain days they will read these books, or procure them to be read by others. Devotions and fastings upon Saturdays are enjoined to the honour of the Virgin Mary, who upon this very account takes, as they say, sometimes robbers, [B. Alanus i. p. c. 19. Clavis, &c. 21, 22.] sometimes lewd women, [Alexis de Salo ex Scalâ Coeli Privil. 3.] sometimes worse criminals [Id Privil. 5. fol. 33.] into her protection. Scapularies [Chronic. B. Genitr. p. 72. Aurea Corona Dominic. Sexages.] and other such instruments are recommended, whereby any man or woman may draw towards him or herself, the benefit of all the prayers and satisfactions and penances, that whole fraternities of Mount Carmel, or St. Dominick, or St. Francis, have ever since their foundation sweated for. And to make all good, there are many bulls, especially that which is called the Sabbathine, [Bulla Sabbathina Johannis XXII.] confirmed authentically by diverse Popes. Thus numbers of people, that have all imaginable reason to fear hell, and can hope no pardon from heaven, as long as they live as they do, are easily tempted to go to Rome, which now, more than in her first original, is become an asylum to all villainy.
The very light of common honesty, which all the original corruption of nature hath not as yet been able to put out, and which Pagans and Turks cannot forbear to reverence, is not safe, at this very day, among many doctors of that apostolic and infallible See. Not to speak of those bloody bulls, that undertake to dethrone kings, and to give leave to their subjects to be forsworn; nor of those infamous licences, whereby a Mass priest was allowed to keep, besides one concubine at home, tres putanas, that is, among his other spiritual preferments, three or four prostitutes, who pay him a weekly tribute of what they can get by their trade. [Cornel. Agrippa de vanit. Scient. c. de Lenon. Sic enim Proverb. Eccles.] The rules of Christian holiness, that goes next to the angelical, are of late times brought down so low beneath the heathenish honesty, that great and eminent directors, such as the reverend fathers, Escobar, Bauny, Lessius, &c. can comfort tender consciences with a new art, which they have found, of justifying almost any sin; either by directing intentions; or by virtue of what they call probable opinion: or by some other good method of teaching men; how it is lawful, for example, for good children, to be glad that their father is departed: for careful servants, to pay themselves such wages, as they think they may well deserve, out of their master's purse, without his knowledge, or consent: for gentlemen to destroy one another upon such either affronts or injuries, as may be esteemed worth five shillings: for young men or women, upon lawful occasions, to venture themselves into such places, where they can probably foresee, they shall be ensnared to sin, &c. And though these confessors meet in their Church, sometimes with refractory consciences, which cannot admit of such doctrines, these plump casuists have the best seat and countenance in the synagogue, when their opposers are kept, for the most part, under a cloud.
Now since these guides dare be such knaves in a plain way, where all honest persons may see well enough to guide themselves: what can it be thought they may not dare, about high points and Mysteries, which none but learned men can understand? And thus it happens unluckily, that that which concerns the Sacrifice and Sacrament of Christ's body, as it is both the most holy and proper centre of as well invisible, as visible Christian worship, is now a days the most grossly and visibly abused. And if God give me life and health, I can most clearly demonstrate, that the Roman clergy hath made choice of the most sacred place of the Church, there to set up the most pernicious abuse, which they call Mass.