« Prev III. Latimer. Next »





IN the English Reformation we contemplate a state of things peculiar and unexampled: we do not see, as in Germany, a mighty spiritual movement sweeping for the moment all before it, and headed by one who gives voice and direction and triumph to it; nor yet, as in the Calvinistic Reformation, a great reconstructive organisation of the doctrinal and social elements which had been disturbed and set in motion; but a complicated action of distinctly political as well as religious forces, the former frequently crossing and impeding the latter, rather than contributing with them to one great result. This characteristic of double action—of the working of political as well as religious influences against the Papacy—goes far back into English history; and the political opposition is, in truth, the earlier and in some respects the more powerful influence. All along from the Conquest, such an opposition marks like a line of light the proud history of England, the grandest, because the richest in diverse historical elements, that the world has ever seen. From the memorable struggles of the reign of Henry II., 276when political and ecclesiastical interests stamped the impress of their fierce contention so strongly on the English character, Rome appears as an alien and antagonistic power in the country—as the threatening shadow of a concealed enemy, against which the higher and healthier national life is continually directing itself. With the reign of Edward III. and the rise of Wickliffe, the religious element attains for the first time to clear and impressive prominence, working alongside of, and even outbalancing, the political action.

Wickliffe himself, in the earlier and later phases of his career, represents both sides of the national movement against the Papacy—his primary position as the friend of John of Gaunt being mainly political, and his final position as the Theologian of the Scriptures and Rector of Lutterworth being mainly religious. We find in his words the powerful echo of the feelings then stirring the heart of England; the protesting vehemence of both nobles and people as they raised the cry, “No! England belongs not to the Pope; the Pope is but a man, subject to sin;” the awakening breath of an earnest Christian activity as he bade his followers “Go and preach; it is the sublimest work: but imitate not the priests, whom we see after the sermon sitting in the ale-houses, or at the gaming-table, or wasting their time in hunting. After your sermon is ended, do you visit the sick, the aged, the poor, the blind, and the lame, and succour them according to your ability.” The same principles which afterwards triumphed in the sixteenth century were now everywhere operating. It is singular, indeed, how 277even to its extravagances this earlier Reform movement in England mirrored the various features of the later and more powerful movement—the royal moderation, the parliamentary indignation, the spiritual revival among the lower classes, the communistic exaggerations, into which the plain truth of the Gospel, crudely apprehended, so fastly ran. This latter result, in the comparative swiftness with which it came in the fourteenth century, was a sufficient indication that the time was not yet ripe for a successful insurrection against Popery. The national mind was still too unenlightened, the popular feeling too unsteady for such an event, as the armed tumult of Wat Tyler with his hundred thousand followers proved. The hierarchy, moreover, was as yet very powerful; its intelligence and moral strength outmatched any opposition that could be brought against it.

With the death of Wickliffe in 1384 the moving energy of his principles and teaching very much died out. Their unfortunate association with the anarchy which characterised the earlier years of Richard II.’s weak and disgraceful reign, contributed to lessen and deteriorate their influence, and to provoke against them severe parliamentary penalties.121121   See Burnet, vol. i. p. 40; and Froude, vol. ii. p. 20—Act de Heretico comburendo. The spirit, however, which the great proto-reformer had kindled, lived on through the fifteenth century in Lollardism, and various obscure forms of religious life. It penetrated, as a secret and quiet influence, whole districts, binding poor families together by a spiritual bond such as they could no longer find in the corrupt 278formalism of the Church, and cherished by the private reading and transmission from hand to hand of portions of Wickliffe’s translation of the Scriptures. We can trace in the language of the parliamentary acts directed against “divers false and perverse people of a certain new sect, damnably thinking of the faith of the sacraments of the Church, and of the authority of the same,” how widely religious disaffection had spread, and with what unceasing and secret acting—"by holding and exercising schools, by making and writing books”—the Wickliffites sought to keep alive a pure faith hidden in many hearts, long after they had ceased to be a formidable power in the country. They spread into Scotland, carrying with them their precious books, and kindling wherever they went a divine light in the darkness—a peaceful and holy gleam amid the wild contentions and miseries of that unhappy time.

With the dawn of the sixteenth century, and especially as we near the great crisis of 1517, we are met by an awakening religious life in England as elsewhere; and what mainly strikes us is the varied character which it presents. It proceeds from diverse sources, and shows itself in very different classes. There is a comparative complexity in the Anglican Reformation, even on its purely religious side, and altogether apart from the great political agencies at work, which are out of the sphere of our present consideration.

There is first of all a marked Christian revival among the poorer classes, alike among the tradesmen of the metropolis and the peasantry on the banks of 279the Humber, the “Christian brethren” of London, and the “just men” of Lincolnshire. It seems most natural to connect this revival with the still unextinguished spirit of Lollardism, and to recognise in it accordingly a fresh outburst from the long-choked-up source of Wickliffe’s influence. The influence had perished in any definite national expression, but there seems no reason to question that it lived on as a hidden life; that persecution did not absolutely destroy it, but only drove it underground into obscure channels no longer traceable, from which it now again, under fresh excitement, began to emerge.122122   This seems a more likely explanation than any unexplained “second birth of Protestantism,” as conceived by Mr Froude, who represents the influence of Wickliffe as entirely extinguished in the course of the fifteenth century. In any case, we discern at this time abundant manifestations of a fresh religious interest among the poor, and it appears very much to be characterised by the old Wickliffite spirit of contempt and derision of the clergy. Some of the stories preserved by Foxe show a proud and bitter cynicism naturally bred by the circumstances of these humble people, and the stern repression of all the earnest feeling awakened in them. As a. man of the name of John Brown was descending the Thames in a passage-boat to Gravesend, he fell into conversation with a priest, who insolently admonished him that he stood too near to his sacred person. “Do you know who I am?” demanded the priest. “No, sir,” said Brown. “Well, then, you must know that I am a priest.” “Indeed, sir!” said Brown; “and pray are you a parson, or 280vicar, or lady’s chaplain?” “No; I am a soul priest; I sing masses for souls,” he pompously replied. “Do you, sir?” remarked Brown; “that is well done: and can you tell me where you find the soul when you begin mass, and where you leave it when the mass is ended?” “Go thy ways,” said the priest; “thou art a heretic, and I will be even with you.” And straightway, on reaching their destination, he communicated his suspicions of Brown to two of his companions and together they set off to Canterbury, to denounce the poor man to the archbishop. The result was, that after many sufferings Brown expiated his free speech at the stake. The story is minutely told by Foxe, and repeated by D’Aubigné;123123   Foxe, Acts, ii. 7, 8; D’Aubigné, v. 191-194. and the contrasts of the happy English home, with its quiet cheerful domesticities, and the rude seizure, torture, and death of the poor man, make a deeply touching picture. Then again, amid the fens of Lincolnshire, we are introduced to a peasant threshing his corn in his barn as a neighbour passes by and salutes him cheerfully. “Good morrow! you are hard at work.” “Yes,” replied the man, in allusion to the priestly doctrine of transubstantiation, “I am threshing God Almighty out of the straw.”124124   Ibid., p. 272. A very deep and intense feeling expresses itself in these as in many other incidents of the time. The Catholic authority might seem scarcely weakened in outward appearance, but with such a spirit slumbering amongst the people, and now constantly gathering strength, that authority was really impaired in its very foundation, and no longer presented its old capacity of resistance.


While such a spirit lurked among the people, there had appeared in the Church itself a marked revival of Christian and literary interest. A group of notable men, with Erasmus in the midst of them, meet us at the opening of the sixteenth century in the Church of England—viz., Colet, Grocyn, Linacre, Lilly, and More. All, with the exception of More, had recently returned from Italy, and some of them from Florence itself, where they had been in the very centre, not merely of the literary excitement which was then moving the Court of the Medici, but of the reformatory movement of Savonarola. The prophetic denunciations of the famous preacher of San Marco, which had converted the great scholar Pico della Mirandola, and even reached the conscience of Lorenzo de’ Medici, were not likely to leave the hearts of the young Englishmen unimpressed. The scandals of the Papacy, with a Borgia (Alexander VI.) at its head, were brought immediately under their notice, and every ecclesiastical abuse seen in its full and original enormity.

It was no wonder if they brought back to England a spirit of reforming zeal as well as of intellectual enthusiasm. This spirit was greatly promoted by the arrival of Erasmus. Invited by Lord Mountjoy, who had been one of his pupils at Paris, and who had listened with delight to his opening sallies on the monks, the rising Dutchman came to England first in 1497 or 1498. He immediately formed an intimacy with Colet, and the circle of enthusiastic scholars of which he was the chief. He was in raptures with the friendly reception he everywhere met, with the country, even with its 282climate, and especially with the ladies, and their easy manners.125125   He thus describes the frequent habit of salutation practised by the ladies—an interesting glimpse of bygone manners: “Mos nunquam satis laudatus: Sive quo venias omnium osculis exciperis, sive discedas aliquo osculis dimitteris: redis, redduntur suavia,” &c. He retired for a time to Oxford, where he devoted himself, in company with Grocyn, and Colet, and More, to the study of Greek. In this delightful seclusion, and amid such companionship, he was already laying the foundation of his future labours on the Greek Testament.

Twelve years afterwards, when Henry VIII. had ascended the throne, Erasmus came for the third time to England, and prolonged his stay for nearly five years. On his first visit he had been introduced to the young Henry, then only nine years of age, and was greatly charmed by his intelligence, vivacity, and beauty of person; above all, by a certain decision and aptitude in everything he undertook. Few boys could have been more captivating in all the pride of his youthful agility and grace, and with such a rare capacity that his father had already destined him to fill the see of Canterbury. Erasmus credited him with the highest powers. He proclaimed him the Octavius of England; and when the death of his brother and father had raised the young Duke of York to the throne, and amidst all the adulation that had greeted his accession, it was reported that he had sighed, “Ah! how I should like to be a scholar,” we can understand the eagerness with which Erasmus once more responded to the invitation of his friend Mountjoy, “Come, behold the new star; our young Octavius is on the throne.” He renewed his 283intimacy with Colet and More. In the house of the latter he concluded his famous satire, “Morias Encomium” (Praise of Folly). He assisted the former in founding the great school of St Paul’s, and composed text-books for it. Colet and his friends were encouraged by the example of Erasmus, while he in his turn received no small good from them. They defended his attacks upon the monks: he learned from their teaching a nobler zeal and more Christian use of his powers than he had yet shown. While the satires of the great Humanist connect him with Paris, Germany, and Italy, his Greek studies and Greek New Testament connect him especially with England.

Of all this band of men that ushered in the Anglican Reformation, none is more illustrious than Colet himself. Scholar, Christian, and patriot, the faithful preacher, the earnest worker, his name is among the most respected, if not the brightest, in the religious annals of England. Unlike Erasmus, whose faith, according to his own confession, was never such as would lead him to expose his life to danger for it, Colet was ready for any sacrifice to maintain the truth. Unlike More, his piety was free from that dark tinge of asceticism which so readily develops into cruelty and the love of persecution. He did not hesitate to proclaim before Henry VIII., in all the first excitement of his power and thirst for glory, the injustice of his intended war with France. “Whoever takes up arms from ambition,” he said, “fights not under the standard of Christ, but of Satan.” When he became Dean of St Paul’s, he set the example of preaching from Scripture instead of from the Schoolmen. He 284explained to the people, who came in crowds to hear him, the Gospel of St Matthew, and translated into English, and distributed among them, certain portions of Scripture, such as the Lord’s Prayer. At the opening of the Convocation of 1511, he preached a famous sermon on Conformation and Reformation, choosing for his text the words, “Be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye reformed,” &c. In this sermon he inveighed strongly against the worldly love of the clergy, their “feasts and banquetings,” their “hunting and hawking,” their covetousness and ambition. “There is no heresy more dangerous to the Church,” he said, “than the vicious lives of its priests. A reformation is needed; and that reformation must begin with the bishops and be extended to the priests.” Many of the clergy took alarm, and sought to silence him; but, strong in his integrity and moderation, as well as in the truth he preached, he maintained his position and influence till his death in 1519.

In the meantime a new and more vigorous reforming influence was beginning in the universities. The publication of Erasmus’s Greek Testament, and the news from Germany, started a spirit of inquiry in both universities almost simultaneously. Students, wearied with the subtleties of the schools, felt a fresh world opened to them in the original pages of the Gospels and Epistles. They read; and as they read, a new impulse came to them from their own quiet study. It was impossible that, amid the religious excitement everywhere astir, young and earnest and aspiring minds could be brought into contact with the divine Word without catching the life that in every page 285appealed to them, and being drawn under its stimulating power. Luther’s opinions, propagated to the very centres of the old Catholicism of England, helped this awakening. His writings passed from hand to hand under every attempt to suppress them; and the enthusiasm of his great example gave effect to his daring words. The reform movement in the English universities, however, retained a distinctive spirit of its own. Although indebted to the writings of Luther, it was still more indebted to the Greek Testament, and in its whole spirit was characteristically English. There was an earnestness and yet moderation in it—an intensity practical rather than doctrinal,—a simplicity and purity of Christian apprehension which, without lacking vigour, shrank sensitively from all violence—eminently notable, and corresponding to its source in the ancient seats of learning, and in the original soil of Scripture, rather than in the cloister, and in the solitary struggles of any one great and vehement soul.

The three names that may be said to represent the earlier phase of this movement are those of Tyndale, Bilney, and Frith, whom we find associated at Cambridge in the year 1520. Tyndale was a native of Gloucestershire, and descended from an old family which had suffered greatly in the Wars of the Roses. He was early sent to Oxford, where he became the pupil of Grocyn and Linacre, and imbibed their liberal principles, and especially their love of the Greek New Testament. Gradually his mind opened to the great truths which it revealed; and, collecting around him “certain students and fellows, he read privily to them, 286and instructed them in the knowledge and truths of the Scriptures.”126126   Foxe. The monks arose against him, denounced his Greek learning and the doctrines that he taught; and he fled to Cambridge. Here he found Bilney, who, like himself, had been some time before drawn to the study of Erasmus’s Testament, and, after much struggle, had reached the same truth in which he rested. Weary with fasting and vigils, and buying of masses and indulgences, in which he could find no peace, he at length lighted on the precious words of St Paul, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” “This one sentence,” he says, “through the power of God working on my heart, in a manner at that time unknown to me, rejoiced my soul, then deeply wounded by a sight and sense of my sins, and almost in the depths of despair, so that I felt an inward comfort and quietness which I cannot describe, but it caused my broken heart to rejoice.” Frith was the worthy associate of these two men. He was distinguished in mathematics as Tyndale was in classics. He was not only a “lover of learning,” Foxe says, but “an exquisite learned man;”127127   Ibid, v. of which we need no higher proof than Wolsey’s appointment of him to be one of the masters of the new college which he had instituted at Oxford. Through his acquaintance with Tyndale, he first received into his heart the seed of the Gospel, and of sincere godliness;128128   Ibid. and together with Bilney, they laboured to promote the good cause in Cambridge.

These men, and especially Tyndale, exercised a 287powerful influence in awakening the religious life of England. After leaving Cambridge Tyndale retired to his native country, and resided for some time as tutor in the house of Sir John Walsh. Here he was in the habit of holding disputations with the various clergy—“abbots, deans, archdeacons, with divers other doctors and great beneficed men” that resorted to the house. He appealed openly to Scripture in confutation of their errors and in support of his own opinions. At the same time he was busy preparing his ‘Christian Soldier’s Manual,’ which had the effect of fully converting his host and hostess to his views, so that the “doctorly prelates” were no more so often invited to the house, nor received the same welcome as before.129129   Foxe, v. Tyndale, it may be imagined, soon became an object of hatred to the clergy, and felt that he was no longer safe in the country. He was burning, moreover, with desire to enter upon his great work of translating the Scriptures into the English tongue. He could find “no place in all England” to do this, and accordingly he repaired to Hamburg, and there set about his design. At length, in 1524, his version of the New Testament appeared at Worms, and copies found their way rapidly into England. Tonstall, Bishop of London, employed a person to buy them all up; but the presses of the Low Countries supplied them more swiftly than they could be bought and consumed. The volumes circulated widely, and the light thus kindled spread throughout the country.

In the universities the movement continued to strengthen and grow into prominence. New Testaments 288and heretical tracts passed numerously from hand to hand. All the vigilance of the authorities failed to check the inroads of a literature which was fast sapping their power, and the effects of which some of them fully discerned. They seized and burned volumes without number; but new agents, with increased supplies of the prohibited volumes, arose on all sides. A very minute and interesting narrative has been preserved of the search instituted at Oxford for Master Garret, who had come down to the university loaded with Greek Testaments and other “mischievous books.” By the help of a friend, Anthony Delaber, he contrived for the time to escape; but subsequently he was captured, and, along with Delaber himself, Clarke, Farrar, and others, imprisoned and threatened with the stake. Clarke died in prison, a confessor to the truth that he had maintained, declaring with his last breath that the “true sacrament is faith.” The courage of the others gave way under their sufferings130130   Afterwards, however, a braver spirit came at last to Garret and Farrar, both of whom suffered for their faith.—they recanted, and bore fagots as Barnes had done at St Paul’s. The Oxford authorities breathed for a while in their labours of persecution; but the number of names mentioned in Delaber’s narrative shows how widely extended were the ramifications of heresy, and how deeply the “poison” had penetrated the minds of many of the most promising youth.

In Cambridge the movement had taken even deeper root. The labours of Tyndale and Bilney had not been without their reward; and, passing over names of lesser note, such as Barnes, we find a group of 289men like Cranmer and Ridley and Latimer, rising into prominence during the years that succeeded the conversion of Frith in 1520. These were all Cambridge students, and about the same period. There is no evidence of concert or of any special friendship between them thus early; but the spirit which afterwards united them, and the faith for which they suffered in common, are to be traced back beyond doubt, in the case of all of them, to this period of remarkable excitement in Cambridge. They are the three chief names of the English Reformation, so far as we are able to contemplate it distinctly as a religious movement. They did more than any others to advance it, and in their lives and in their deaths they reflect its character, and constitute its tragedy and glory.

Of the three it may be a question which is most entitled singly to represent it. Cranmer is historically the most prominent: he stood most in the light of the great public events of his time, and was the official leader, we may say, of the movement, upon which he impressed somewhat of his own hesitating and timid, but practical and modest character. He was not a lofty nor far-seeing man, and by no means a hero; but his difficulties were peculiar and his instincts honest, and by his very weakness he accomplished what perhaps another’s strength could not have done. Ridley presents a more pure, elevated, and consistent character—“wise of counsel, deep of wit, benevolent in spirit.”131131   Foxe, v. His gentleness wins us, while his scholarly and calm intrepidity fills us with 290admiration. Latimer is in many respects the most remarkable of the three. Less prominent than Cranmer, less learned than Ridley, his life possessed a broader interest, while his labours excited a more general enthusiasm than theirs. He connected far more than either of them the religious spirit moving the lower and the citizen ranks of society, with the spirit at work in the universities. Academic in education, he was in heart and mind a man of the people: to some extent a leader in the ranks of the Episcopate, he of all the bishops most influenced and led the popular feeling. We have selected him, therefore, to stand as the representative hero of the English Reformation. His claims to this position, indeed, are very different from those which place Luther and Calvin and Knox at the head of their respective movements; and with such names it may seem somewhat out of place to associate that of Latimer. But no single name in England possesses the glory of a primary and paramount leadership in the religious movement of the age. We do not find, as in Germany and Switzerland and Scotland, any single figure towering above all the others in mental and moral greatness, but groups of figures such as we have noticed, each with their own claims to distinction and notice; and as we must make a selection, Latimer appears, upon the whole, the most typical in combined display of character, and of popular activity, and in the real influence which he exercised upon the course of the Reformation.

The life of Latimer remains unwritten, and there are probably no longer materials for any adequate 291biography. We shall endeavour, however, in the light of such facts as exist in Foxe’s ‘Acts’132132    The reader will find Foxe’s narrative of Latimer’s Life and Acts in vol. vii. of Townsend’s edit., beginning at p. 437. Our references are not in all cases given to the page. and Strype’s ‘Memorials,’ and particularly in the light of the vivid picture-work of his own sermons, to furnish as complete a sketch as we can of his career and labours. There are in these many graphic and not a few grotesque etchings, giving us the very life of the man; but it is difficult to catch throughout a clear view and any continuous thread of narrative, tracing the whole and binding it in order.

Latimer was born at Thurcaston in Leicestershire in the year 1490, some say 1491. His father was an honest yeoman, and it is his own hand, in the first sermon which he preached before King Edward VI., that has drawn for us the paternal character and homestead. “My father,” he says, “was a yeoman, and had no lands of his own, only he had a farm of three or four pounds by the year at the uttermost, and hereupon he tilled so much as kept half-a-dozen men. He had walk for a hundred sheep, and my mother milked thirty kine. He was able and did find the King in harness, with himself and his horse, while he came to the place that he should receive the King’s wages. . . . He kept me to school, else I had not been able to preach before the King’s majesty now. He married my sisters with five pounds or twenty nobles apiece; so that he brought them up in godliness and fear of the Lord. He kept hospitality for his poor 292neighbours, and some alms he gave to the poor. All this he did of the said farm"133133   Sermons, Camb. edit., p. 101.—evidently a worthy, solid, and able man, fit to do his work in this world, and leave the memory of his worth, if not much more, to his children.

Latimer grew up in this old English household a vigorous, pure, and happy boy; health and manly life and a joyous feeling of home breathe in all the hints he has given us of his youth. When only six or seven years old, he tells us that he helped to buckle on his father’s armour when he went to the field of Blackheath, where the King’s forces were encamped against the Cornish rebels. It was a time of stir. Henry VII. had been at this period about ten years upon the throne, but the embers of a century’s internecine strife were still only dying out. Latimer’s father was stanch in his devotion to the new government, as this event shows; he had all a yeoman’s devotion to fighting, and to the grand old art of cross-shooting—“God’s gift to the English nation above all other nations, and the instrument whereby He had given them many victories against their enemies.”134134   Ibid., p. 197. He was careful to train his children in the love of the same soldierly arts; and the reformer afterwards recalled these exercises of his youth with pride, in contrast with the degenerate and vicious recreations of his own age. “My father,” he says,135135   Ibid., p. 197. “was as diligent to teach me to shoot as to learn any other thing: he taught me how to draw, how to lay my body in my bow, and not to draw with strength of arms as other nations do, but 293with strength of the body. I had my bows bought me according to my age and strength: as I increased in them, so my bows were made bigger and bigger; for,” he adds, in a quaint didactic vein not uncommon with him, as to the affairs of the present life as well as of that to come, “men shall never shoot well except they be brought up in it: it is a goodly art, a wholesome kind of exercise, and much commended in physic.”

So Latimer grew up, hardily trained in body as well as in mind. An atmosphere of reality surrounded his boyhood; he looked at life and nature in the fresh and rough yet beautiful forms in which they surrounded him in the old Leicestershire farmhouse, and the impressions then gathered never left him, and long afterwards helped to deliver him from the falsehoods of his scholastic training, when the higher quickening came to stir the true heart in him.

About fourteen years of age he was sent to Cambridge; and D’Aubigné has noticed that the year 1505, when he entered the university, was the same year in which Luther entered the Augustine convent at Erfurt. He is said to have been a very diligent and industrious student. In 1509, whilst yet an undergraduate, he was chosen Fellow of Clare Hall. In the following January he took his degree of Bachelor of Arts, and proceeded to that of Master of Arts in July 1514. Up to this period, when he had attained his twenty-fourth year, we do not learn anything of his religious views—for the best of all reasons, probably, that there was nothing to learn. He fell into the habits of the place in this as in other things, and probably had as yet few serious 294thoughts about the matter. He seems to have carried into his college life the heartiness and cheerfulness of the yeoman’s son—for it is to this earlier period, most likely, that the following description and story apply: “There was a merry monk in Cambridge in the college that I was in, and it chanced a great company of us to be together, intending to make good cheer and to be merry, as scholars will be merry when they are disposed. One of the company brought out this sentence—‘Nil melius quam lætari et facere bene’ There is nothing better than to be merry and to do well. ‘A vengeance of that bene,’ quoth the monk; I would that bene had been banished beyond the sea: and that bene were out it were well, for I could be merry, but I love not to do well.’”136136   Sermons, p. 153.

From 1514 Latimer betook himself to the study of divinity—“of such school divinity as the ignorance of that age did suffer”—and became exceedingly zealous in support of the established doctrines and services. As Luther said of himself that he was a “most insane Papist,” so he says, “I was as obstinate a Papist as any in England.” He was haunted with scrupulous and tormenting fears as to whether he had sufficiently mingled water with the wine in performing mass, as the missal directs; and on the occasion of his taking his degree of Bachelor in Divinity, the date of which is not preserved, he directed his “whole oration” against Melanchthon and his opinions. He appears about the same time to have distinguished himself by his hostility to Master George Stafford, “reader of the divinity lectures at Cambridge,” who had become imbued 295with the “new learning,” and succeeded in turning many of the youth who attended him to the study of the Holy Scriptures, from those “tedious authors,” as Foxe calls them, in which Latimer still found his delight. He is represented as entering Stafford’s lecture-room, and “most spitefully railing against him,”137137   Foxe, xi. while he eloquently sought to persuade the youth against his teaching.138138   Ralph Morice’s Account of his Conversion, printed by Strype—Mem. III., i. 368 and in Remains, Camb.

Here, therefore, we have the old picture of youthful sacerdotal zeal. It is the very highest qualities of the ancient system that the new spirit seizes upon and consecrates to its service. Young Latimer, hailed by the clergy as a rising champion of the papal cause, and for his talents and the excelling sanctimony of his life, preferred to be the keeper of the university cross,139139   Strype, as above. is destined to become the sharp reprover of the clergy, and the great agent in carrying out the religious changes then threatening them.

Bilney, we have already remarked, was one of the most active in the new movement. He had watched with interest the progress of Latimer. He appreciated his high qualities, and saw how much could be made of his zeal, if only it could be turned in the right direction. He had been one of his auditors when, as Bachelor of Divinity, he lectured against Melanchthon, and the thought was forced upon him of trying what he could do to convert the youthful enthusiast. His device was a strange one, and will be best narrated, 296with the results that followed, in Latimer’s own brief words. “Bilney heard me at that time, and perceived that I was zealous without knowledge; and he came to me afterwards in my study, and desired me, for God’s sake, to hear his confession. I did so; and, to say the truth, by his confession I learned more than I did before in many years. So from that time forward I began to smell the Word of God, and forsook the school doctors and such fooleries.”140140   Sermons, p. 334.

Such was the turning-point in Latimer’s spiritual history. We do not impart more meaning to his. simple statement by dwelling upon it, and trying tc point out more particularly the influences whirl moved him. One earnest heart in communion with another regarding their deepest secrets before God, is all that we are permitted to see. The effect produced on Latimer was decided. “Whereas before he was an enemy, and almost a persecutor of Christ, he was now a zealous seeker after Him.”141141   Foxe. He was frequently in conference with Bilney; and he sought out Stafford to beg his forgiveness for his former rudeness to him. His change of religious feeling immediately began to assume a practical form. He accompanied Bilney in visiting the sick and the prisoners in the tower of Cambridge; and by-and-by he felt that he was called even to a nobler work than his friend. His energy and enthusiasm began to find their natural outlet in the pulpit. Recognising this as above all his vocation, “he preached mightily in the university day by day, both in English and ad clerum, to the great admiration 297of all men who aforetime had known him of a contrary severe opinion.’’142142    Account of Morice.

Cambridge was greatly excited by Latimer’s discourses. The spirit which had been working secretly in it for some time now became manifest. The fruit of Bilney’s prayers and of Stafford’s divinity lectures showed itself in the enthusiasm which welcomed the earnest preacher, and the eagerness especially with which the students gathered round him and drank in his clear and powerful words. To one of these students, Thomas Becon, who afterwards became chaplain to Cranmer, we are indebted for some brief hints of the character and effect of these early sermons of Latimer. “I was present,” Becon says,143143   Jewel of Joy, Becon's Works (Parker Society), pp. 424, 425. “when, with manifest authorities of God’s Word, and arguments invincible, besides the allegations of doctors, he proved in his sermons that the Holy Scriptures ought to be read in the English tongue of all Christian people, whether they were priests or laymen, as they be called. . . . Neither was I absent when he inveighed against temple-works, good intents, blind zeal, superstitious devotion, as the painting of tabernacles, gilding of images, setting up of candles, running on pilgrimage, and such other idle inventions of men, whereby the glory of God was obscured, and the works of mercy the less regarded. I remember also how he was wont to rebuke the beneficed men, with the authority of God’s Word, for neglecting and not teaching their flock, and for being absent from their cures,—they themselves being idle, and masting themselves 298like hogs of Epicurus’s flock, taking no thought though their poor parishioners miserably pine away, starve, perish, and die for hunger. Neither have I forgotten how at that time he condemned foolish, ungodly, and impossible vows to be fulfilled, as the vow of chastity, &c. O how vehement was he in rebuking all sins, and how sweet and pleasant were his words in exhorting unto virtue!”

The practical, earnest, undoctrinal character of Latimer’s earlier as of his later preaching is clearly shown in this description. He aimed, in the same spirit as Tyndale, to bring the minds of men in contact with the living truth of Scripture—to divert them from all mere pretences of religion, the mockery and uselessness of which he had himself been brought to feel, to the real interests and duties of the Christian life. He spoke from the heart of his own fresh experience, swayed by an enthusiasm not wild or stormy, but direct, vehement, and caustic; and the effect was irresistible on all who heard him. “He spake nothing,” continues Becon, “but it left, as it were, certain pricks or stings in the hearts of the hearers, which moved them to consent to his doctrine. None but the stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart went away from his sermons without being affected with high detestation of sin, and moved to all godliness and virtue. I did know certain men which, through the persuasion of their friends, went unto his sermons swelling blown full, and puffed up, like unto Esop’s frog, with envy and malice towards him; but when they returned, the sermon being done, and demanded how they liked him and his doctrine, they answered, 299with the bishops’ and Pharisees’ servants, ‘There was never man that spake like unto this man!’” According to another testimony,144144   Turner's Preservative against the Poison of Pelagius. the practical results of these sermons were equally decided. “Numbers were brought from their will-works, as pilgrimage and setting up of candles, unto the work that God commanded expressly in His Holy Scripture, and to the reading and study of God’s Word.” To his preaching Latimer added works of charity and piety, not less impressive in their influence. “He watered,” continues the admiring Becon, “with good deeds whatsoever he had before planted with godly words.”

A time not merely of excitement but of blessing had come to Cambridge; a new life was spreading in the university and the city; hearts were awakened and disciples multiplying, and the memory of this happy period of evangelical revival was long preserved in the popular doggerel—“When Master Stafford read, and Master Latimer preached, then was Cambridge blessed.”

Such a state of things could not last long without opposition. It was not to be supposed that the clergy could quietly contemplate the daring operations of their former champions, now turned against them. It was not in human nature, and certainly not in clerical nature, to do this. A feeling of amazement and humiliation may at first have kept them silent; but soon they began to realise the peril of their position and the necessity of action; or, to use the words of old Foxe, “Belike Satan began to feel himself and his kingdom to be touched too near, and therefore300thought it time to look about him, and to make out his men of arms.” The devil’s men of arms accordingly appear in “whole swarms of friars and doctors, who flocked against Mr Latimer on every side.”

It is not easy to trace the chronological succession of the difficulties and controversies into which Latimer was now plunged. Already to some extent the guidance of dates has forsaken us. Our last date was 1514, when he had taken his Master’s degree, and between this and 1529, or during a period of fifteen years, we have no very distinct thread of chronological arrangement. A general statement of his own, that he “walked in darkness and the shadow of death” until he was thirty years of age, enables us to fix his entrance upon his new career about 1521. The subsequent eight years, representing his first activity as a preacher, and now described as so memorable in their results, remain in great confusion. According to Foxe, the famous sermons “on the Card” would seem to have been among the first causes of excitement and disturbance against him. But we learn from Foxe’s own statement that these sermons were not preached till about Christmas 1529, and there is every reason to conclude, therefore, that the interference of the Bishop of Ely, and the reformer’s citation before Wolsey at the instance of “divers Papists in the university,” who made a “grievous complaint” against him, occurred in the interval between 1521 and this later period.

The story of his encounter with Bishop West is very characteristic. He was preaching one day ad clerum 301in the university, when the bishop, attended by a troop of priests, entered the church. Latimer paused until they had taken their seats, and then remarking that a new audience demanded a new theme, said that he would alter his intended topic of discourse, and preach from Heb. ix. 11, “Christus existens Pontifex futurorum bonorum,”—“Christ a high priest of good things to come.” From this text he took occasion to represent Christ as “the true and perfect pattern unto all other priests;” and in his usual pithy manner drew out the contrasts between this pattern and the English prelates of the day. It may be imagined that the bishop was not particularly pleased. He sent for Latimer and held some parley with him, commending his talents, and urging him to display them in a sermon against Luther from the same pulpit. Latimer, however, was not to be ensnared, and boldly replied, “If Luther preaches the Word of God, he needs no confutation; but if he teaches the contrary, I will be ready with all my heart to confound his doctrine as much as lies in me.” The bishop cautioned him that “he smelled somewhat of the pan,” and that he would one day or another repent his conduct. He forthwith issued an edict forbidding him to preach any more within the churches of the university; but Latimer found refuge in the church of the Augustine Friars,145145   Barnes was Prior of the Augustines, 1525. This appears about the date of Latimer’s encounter with West. which was exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, and there continued his stirring sermons. The bishop, along with others, complained to Wolsey, who sent for the bold preacher, and held an interview with him 302which has been preserved in detail in Strype’s ‘Memorials.’ It presents a very good picture of the courtly, magnificent cardinal, and the plain-spoken and ready preacher.

The scene was “York Place”; “there, attending upon the cardinal’s pleasure, the reformer was called before him into his inner chamber by the sound of a little bell which the cardinal used to ring when any person should come or approach unto him. When Mr Latimer was before him he well-advised him, and said, ‘Is your name Latimer?’ ‘Yea, forsooth,’ quoth Latimer. ‘You seem,’ quoth the cardinal, ‘that you are of good years, nor no babe, but one that should wisely and soberly use yourself in all your doings; and yet it is reported to me of you that you are much infected with this new fantastical doctrine of Luther, and suchlike heretics; that you do very much harm among the youth and other light heads with your doctrine.’ ‘Your grace is misinformed,’ Latimer replied; ‘for I ought to have some more knowledge than to be so simply reported of, by reason that I have studied in my time both of the ancient doctors of the Church and also of the school-doctors.’ ‘Marry, that is well said,’ quoth the cardinal; Mr Doctor Capon, and you, Mr Doctor Marshall’ (both being then present), ‘say you somewhat to Mr Latimer touching some question in Dunce.’ Whereupon Dr Capon propounded a question to Mr Latimer. Mr Latimer being fresh then of memory, and not discontinued from study as those two doctors had been, answered very roundly; somewhat helping them to cite their own allegations rightly, where they had not truly nor perfectly alleged 303them. The cardinal, perceiving the ripe and ready answering of Latimer, said, ‘What mean you, my masters, to bring such a man before me into accusation? I had thought that he had been some lightheaded fellow that never studied such kind of doctrine as the school-doctors are. I pray thee, Latimer, tell me the cause why the Bishop of Ely and others doth mislike thy preaching: tell me the truth, and I will bear with thee upon amendment.’ Quoth Latimer, ‘Your grace must understand that the Bishop of Ely cannot favour me, for that not long ago I preached before him in Cambridge a sermon of this text—"Christus existens Pontifex,” &c., wherein I described the office of a bishop so uprightly as I might, according to the text, that never after he could abide me; but hath not only forbidden me to preach in his diocese, but also found the means to inhibit me from preaching in the university.’ ‘I pray you tell me,’ quoth the cardinal, ‘what thou didst preach before him upon that text.’ Mr Latimer plainly and simply (committing his cause unto Almighty God, who is director of princes’ hearts) declared unto the cardinal the whole effect of his sermon preached before the Bishop of Ely. The cardinal, nothing at all misliking the doctrine of the Word of God that Latimer had preached, said unto him, ‘Did you not preach any other doctrine than you have rehearsed?’ ‘No, surely,’ said Latimer. And examining thoroughly with the doctors what else. could be objected against him, the cardinal said unto Mr Latimer, ‘If the Bishop of Ely cannot abide such doctrine, you shall have my licence, and preach it unto his beard, let him 304say what he will!’ And thereupon, after a gentle monition, the cardinal discharged him with his licence home to preach throughout England.”146146   Strype, Eccl. Mem. III., i. 368.

His two sermons “on the Card” are the earliest of his printed sermons that we possess. These discourses, so remarkable in their quaintness, and the keen and plain tone of their practical exhortation, renewed the monkish commotion against him in the university. The prior of the Black Friars, one Buckenham, tried to rival him as a preacher, and to outdo him even in his peculiar line of homely popular allusion. “About the same time of Christmas,”147147   This statement of Foxe, if we can rely at all upon his chronological statements, would seem to fix Buckenham’s encounter with Latimer to this date of 1529. D’Aubigné, however, has advanced it to the very beginning of his career as a Protestant preacher (vol. v. chap. vii. ) Foxe says,148148   Book XI. “When Mr Latimer brought forth his cards (to deface belike the doings of the other), the prior brought out his Christmas dice, casting them to his audience cinque and quator;” and in some unintelligible manner aiming, through this poor counter-device to Latimer’s symbolic cards, to prove the inexpediency of entrusting the Scriptures in English to the vulgar. The prior’s sense and eloquence seem alike to have been at fault. He brought forward the most miserable arguments against the use of the Scriptures; as, for example, that the ploughmen, when hearing that “no man that layeth his hand to the plough, and looketh back, is worthy of the kingdom of God,” might peradventure cease from his plough; and that the 305baker, in a similar manner, might be induced to leave his bread unleavened on hearing that “a little leaven corrupteth a whole lump.” It was a dangerous line of argument to enter upon with an opponent like Latimer, who had so keen an eye for the comic aspects of stupidity. He had been an auditor of the friar’s, and taken note of such points for future use. Soon after he is the preacher, and the friar a listener among “a great multitude, as well of the university as of the town, met with great expectation to hear what he would say.” The arguments of the friar were dallied with in a manner that must have touched the quick even beneath his thick conceit. Such figures of speech, the preacher said, were no worse to be understood than the most common representation of painters, such as they paint on walls and on houses. “As, for example,” he continued, casting a meaning glance at the friar, who sat opposite him, “when they paint a fox preaching out of a friar’s cowl, none is so mad to take this to be a fox that preacheth, but know well enough the meaning of the matter, which is to point out unto us what hypocrisy, craft, and subtle dissimulation lieth hid many times in these friars’ cowls, willing us thereby to beware of them.” “Friar Buckenham,” the chronicler adds, was so “dashed with this sermon, that he never after durst peep out of the pulpit against Master Latimer.”

This year of 1529, which presents to us Latimer in hot conflict with his popish adversaries in the university of Cambridge, was a memorable one in English history. Wolsey had fallen in the beginning of the year; Sir Thomas More had been installed as his successor. 306The country was strongly excited on the subject of the negotiations with Rome as to the King’s divorce, which had been procrastinated from time to time under the most wearying pretences. The extortions of the clergy in the consistory courts, and the manifold abuses long complained of, but still maintained by them, and now grown to an intolerable height, had produced a widespread feeling of indignation, which only waited for a fitting opportunity to burst forth. Writs were issued for a new parliament in the September of this year, and no sooner had it met in November, than the feelings of the country found voice in the famous petition against the bishops and clergy. The main abuses detailed in the petition were afterwards the subject of special legislation; and the bench of bishops beheld with amazement bill after bill pass the Commons, “all to the destruction of the Church,” as Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, said. There was no help for it, however; and the “Probate and Mortuary Act,” the “Clergy Discipline Act,” and the “Residence and Pluralities Act,” rapidly carried through both Houses in defiance of episcopal apposition, sufficiently showed the temper of the times, and signalised the legislative activity of a brief session of six weeks.

It deserves to be noticed that, with all this opposition to the clergy, the. Parliament of 1529 was so far from having any sympathy with the awakened spiritual life represented by such men as Tyndale and Latimer, and out of which Protestantism was growing, that it was especially anxious to clear itself from all suspicion of countenancing heresy, and in fact encouraged 307the more active prosecution of heretics which was about this time commenced.

In the course of the following year, the differences between Latimer and his accusers were the subject of official investigation before the Vice-Chancellor. The latter seems to have shrunk from the challenge to lay a regular charge against the reformer; and the affair terminated in both parties being bound to keep the peace, and to abstain from using offensive expressions against each other in the pulpit, on pain of excommunication. The virulence of his enemies, rather than the imprudent speech of the daring preacher, seems to have called forth this judgment.

Latimer was one of the divines appointed by the university of Cambridge to examine into the lawfulness of the King’s marriage with Catherine. He declared on the side of the King, and the decision of the university in favour of the divorce was given on the 9th of March 1530. On, the following Sunday he preached before the King, who “greatly praised his sermon.” Henry, who, whatever may have been his faults, had certainly a rare appreciation of character, and a genuine respect for a true and able man when he came in his way and was likely to be useful to him, appears to have been strongly taken with the honest and unsparing preacher. He appointed him one of his chaplains the same year. And although he did not take his advice any more now than afterwards, unless when it suited him, he extended his friendship to the man who had the courage to counsel him in words dictated by no courtly interest, but by a manly and unshaken conviction of their truth. Henry had, 308with the sanction of a convention of learned men, issued an inhibition against Tyndale’s Bible as well as all English books either containing or tending to any matters of Scripture. Latimer was one of this convention on the part of the university of Cambridge, and one of an excepting minority149149   There can be no doubt of this. He himself clearly implies so much in his letter to Henry—(Foxe); and there is no possible room for the conjecture of his having changed his mind between the date of the advice to the King and the issuing of the proclamation in December of the same year. The statement of the proclamation, that all gave their free “assent,” cannot be held as valid against such evidence, and every presumption to the contrary. to the advice tendered to Henry, and upon which he acted. Unsuccessful in his previous resistance to the course of persecution, he addressed an energetic letter to the King on his own behalf. It is printed at length by Foxe, and in its spirit, power, and eloquence, heroic yet modest, courageous yet respectful, is one of the most remarkable of his writings. The King did not yield to the remonstrance. “It did not prevail, through the iniquity of the time,” says Foxe in his usual way; but so far from displeasing Henry, it seems only to have excited in him a more cordial goodwill towards the reformer.

In 1531, Latimer received from the King, at the instance of Cromwell, and Dr Butts, the King’s physician, the living of West Kington in Wiltshire, and, weary of court, he gladly retired to the more congenial and earnest labours of his parish. He was not destined, however, to enjoy quiet. His unresting spirit would not suffer him to confine his preaching to a single congregation; and being one of the twelve preachers yearly licensed by the university to preach, 309with the express sanction of the sovereign, throughout the realm, he extended his diligence to all the country about. He travelled to Bristol, to London, to Kent, everywhere preaching the truth—opportune, importune, tempestive, to use the language ironically applied by him to the Bishop of London,150150   Letter to Sir Ed. Baynton—Foxe, vol. vii. p. 485.—and this, too, with his health greatly weakened and impaired. His zeal and activity could not long pass without notice. Complaints were made against him by the country priests; the bishops were on the watch to entrap him; there was no safety for them, and no peace, they felt, so long as he was at large, moving the country by his marvellous eloquence. They were triumphantly busy just then, besides, in the destruction of heretics. Poor Bilney, having wiped out the disgrace of his fall151151   He had been induced to recant. in a few months of faithful preaching and self-denial, expiated at the stake, in August this year, his Christian heroism, not the less grand, certainly, that it was the heroism of a trembling and sensitive nature. Bayfield and Tewkesbury followed before the expiry of the year; and Bainham, whose affecting interview with Latimer is preserved in Strype’s ‘Memorials,’ crowned the list on the 5th of May 1532. These were the closing months of the chancellorship of Sir Thomas More, around whose memory still lingers the dark stain of these dreadful tragedies. But the appetite of the bishops was still unsatisfied,—they hungered for more victims; and Latimer became the special object of their vengeance. Fortunately they were destined to be disappointed.


The zealous preacher was summoned to appear before Stokesley, the Bishop of London, on the ground of his having preached in St Abb’s Church in the City without the bishop’s permission, and, moreover, for his alleged defence of Bilney and his cause. His friends expressed anxiety for him, and he himself was not without concern, as he knew very well that the real aim of the bishop was to get him into the hands of the Convocation, and to deal with him summarily for his free speech as to the corruptions of the clergy. He pleaded in excuse the length of the journey, the deep winter, and the miserable condition of his health.152152   “Not only exercised with my old disease in my head and side, but also with new—both the colic and the stone.”—Foxe, p. 485.He appealed at the same time to his own ordinary, Sir Ed. Baynton, the chancellor of the diocese of Sarum, and it is from his long and interesting letter on the subject of his appeal that we gather these facts, and the state of his feelings at this time. After some delay, the citation was formally issued, and Latimer “was had up to London, where he was greatly molested, and detained a long time from his cure at home.”

The circumstances of his present persecution, and especially the extent to which he yielded after being repeatedly examined and remanded, and even excommunicated and imprisoned, are involved in some obscurity. His trial lasted on through January, February, March, and April, and was prosecuted not only before the Bishop of London and the Archbishop (Warham) and bishops collectively, but also before the Convocation. The bishops devised a series of 311articles153153   Foxe, vol. vii. p. 458. which he was called upon to subscribe, and which he at first refused to do, especially objecting to two of them, one of which concerned the power of the Pope. For this refusal he was pronounced contumacious, excommunicated, and delivered up to the custody of Warham. This appears to have occurred in Convocation on the 11th of March. On the 21st it was resolved, after a long debate, “to absolve him from the sentence of excommunication if he should subscribe the two articles in question,” and he is represented on the same authority as making his appearance at the next sitting, and kneeling down and humbly craving forgiveness, confessing that he “misordered himself very far, in that he had so presumptuously and boldly preached, reproving certain things by which the people that were infirm hath taken occasion of ill.” It was not till a subsequent day, however—the 10th of April—that he is stated to have subscribed the eleventh and fourteenth articles, to which he had taken exception; and even then he appears to have been in difficulty, owing to some further matter having been presented against him, arising out of a letter he had written to a graduate at Cambridge. It was then that he appealed to the King; and the Convocation was given to understand, by a message conveyed through Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, that it was not desirable to proceed to further extremities, although the disposal of the case was still left in their hands. The end of the affair was that, after a further and more special submission, he was relieved of all penalties, and “taken into favour 312again at the special request of the King,” although with grudging and protest on the part of certain of the bishops, who did not think that his submission implied any “renunciation of his errors,” as was usual in such cases.154154   This account is founded upon Wilkins’s Concilia, as quoted in the Notes in Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Biography, vol. iii. pp. 98, 99. It seems to present the most minute and faithful account of the matter, directly founded on the proceedings of Convocation; and Foxe’s belief evidently is, that Latimer submitted and subscribed the articles, although he is reluctant to admit the idea of his retractation. Mr Froude (vol. ii. p. 106) apparently does not understand that Latimer’s submission went so far, but calls in the interposition of the King at a previous stage. Latimer’s own account of his examination before the bishops is found in a sermon preached by him at Stamford, many years after, in 1550. It is very characteristic, and proves the unscrupulousness of his enemies, but it does not throw any light on the course of his trial.—Sermons, p. 294.

Latimer returned to his parish, but still not to rest. Enemies rose up on all sides against him, as he tells us in a letter to his friend Morice; for it is to this period that the letter seems to refer. Certain priests, who at first had desired and welcomed him, now actively sought to stay his preaching because he was not in possession of the bishop’s licence. They procured certain preachers “to blatter against him,” and especially one Hubberdin, who distinguished himself by his empty violence and ridiculous zeal against the reformer. Foxe has given so comical an account of this man and his preaching, that we cannot refrain from quoting it: it may serve to give a glimpse of the ludicrous features that mingled themselves with the tragical shadows of the great struggle that was now proceeding in England. Every cause, for the most 313part, has its buffoon—a man of “no great learning, nor yet of stable wit” (as Latimer characterised Hubberdin)—but who makes up for better qualities by uproarious zeal, and stands forward in virtue of his simple absurdity and grotesque officiousness. In neither Germany nor England does Popery seem at this crisis to have lacked such supporters.

“Forasmuch as mention has been made,” says Foxe,155155   Vol. vii. p. 477.—Strype’s Account, vol. i. p. 245, is of the same character, only with the ludicrous features less prominent. “of Hubberdin, an old divine of Oxford, a right painted Pharisee, and a great strayer abroad in all quarters of the realm, to deface and impeach the springing of God’s holy Gospel, something should be added more touching that man, whose doings and pageants, if they might be described at large, it were as good as any interlude for the reader to behold. . . . But because the man is now gone, to spare therefore the dead, this shall be enough for example’s sake for all Christian men necessarily to observe—how the said Hubberdin, after his long railing in all places against Luther, Melanchthon, Zwinglius, John Frith, Tyndale, Latimer, and other like professors,—riding in his long gown down to the horses’ heels, like a Pharisee, or rather like a sloven, dirted up to the horse’s belly—after his forged tales and fables, dialogues, dreams, dancings, hoppings and leapings, with other like histrionical toys and gestures used in the pulpit, at last riding by a church side where the youth of the parish were dancing in the churchyard, suddenly lighting from his horse, he came into the church, and there causing the bell to toll in the people, thought, instead of a fit of 314mirth, to give them a sermon of dancing: in the which sermon, after he had patched up certain common texts out of the Scripture, and then coming to the doctors, first to Augustine, then to Ambrose, so to Jerome, and Gregory, Chrysostome, and other doctors, had made every one of them (after his dialogue manner) by name to answer to his call, and to sing after his tune against Luther, Tyndale, Latimer, and other heretics, as he called them,—at last, to show a perfect harmony of all these doctors together, as he made them before to sing after his tune, so now to make them dance after his pipe, first he called out Christ and His apostles, then the doctors and seniors of the Church, as in a round ring, all to dance together, with pipe of Hubberdin. Now dance Peter, Paul; now dance Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome: and then old Hubberdin, as he was dancing with his doctors lustily in the pulpit, how he stampt and took on I cannot tell, but crash quoth the pulpit, down cometh the dancer, and there lay Hubberdin, not dancing, but sprawling in the midst of his audience, where altogether he brake not his neck, yet he so brake his leg and bruised his old bones that he never came in pulpit more.”

More prosperous days, however, were about to dawn on Latimer. Old Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, died this year; and in the following year (1533) Cranmer was elevated to the primacy. This distinguished prelate, destined to take so active a lead in the progress of the Reformation, to carry it on with his own advance of opinion to a higher and more Scriptural expression, and finally to crown the labours of his life by martyrdom along with Latimer and 315Ridley, had been a Cambridge student of about the same standing as our reformer.156156   Cranmer was born at Aslacton, in Nottinghamshire, in 1489, and entered Jesus College, Cambridge, at the age of fourteen, only a year in advance of Latimer, in each case. He took his degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1623, just in the heat of Latimer’s first reforming zeal as a university preacher. Whether or not early friends, they were clearly known to each other. Cranmer understood well Latimer’s worth; and when raised to his exalted position, he extended towards him his protection as Primate, and entered into the most confidential relations with him. It was now no longer, therefore, a time of persecution with the unresting rector of West Kington; the frown of episcopal authority lay on him no more, and friars and priests, Hubberdin and Dr Powel of Salisbury, and all his other enemies, were forced to retreat, or yield to the powers now intrusted to him. At the instance and request of Latimer, we are told that “Cranmer was in the habit of licensing divers to preach within his province”; and in his own district the reformer was empowered to deal with preachers, and even to withdraw their licences if he saw fit to do so.157157   Cranmer’s remains, edit. Jenkyns, vol. i. p. 121. Latimer, moreover, was recalled to the discharge of his previous duties at the court, and admitted to preach before the King on all the Wednesdays of Lent 1534.

This renewed intercourse with his sovereign probably served to strengthen Henry’s liking for him, and to bring about the important result which followed in the subsequent year. Cromwell is mentioned by Foxe as particularly concerned in Latimer’s promotion to a 316bishopric, and we may well believe so. The astute secretary and vicar-general, the enemy of monks and the intrepid friend of the new movement in all its directions, must have recognised a congenial spirit and fellow-labourer in the great preacher. They were worthy allies, and trode with equal courage, although swayed by somewhat different impulses, the same perilous path terminating in death—as noble work commonly did in that unhappy time.

Latimer was consecrated Bishop of Worcester in the autumn of 1535, and in the June of the following year we behold him in a position, perhaps, save the last of all, the grandest and most trying in his whole life. The Convocation assembled on the 9th of June 1536, the nation heaving with the excitement of coming change; the clergy sullen with feelings of affront and injury; the great question of reform in all its branches staring them in the face. The fabric of ecclesiastical abuse had been already rudely shaken, but it was obvious that things could not remain as they were, and that further and more extensive invasions of clerical privilege must come. It was at the request of Cranmer that Latimer, in these circumstances, undertook the office of opening the Convocation with two sermons, which have been preserved; and which, viewed in the light of the situation in which they were uttered, are among the boldest sermons ever preached. They ring fresh and powerful in our hearts as we read them now, and think of the scowling faces that must have looked upon the preacher from priest’s hood and abbot’s mitre. Mr Froude has pictured the scene with such rare spirit and grouping 317of impressive effects, that we cannot venture to touch it save in his words.

“There were assembled in St Paul’s on this occasion, besides the bishops,” he says, “mitred abbots, meditating the treason for which, before many months were past, their quartered limbs would be rotting by the highways; earnest sacramentarians making ready for the stake; the spirits of the two ages, the past and the future, in fierce collision; and above them all, in his vicar-general’s chair, sat Cromwell, the angry waters lashing round him, but, proud and powerful, lording over the storm. The present hour was his. The enemies’ turn in due time would come also. . . . The mass had been sung; the roll of the organ had died away. It was the time for the sermon, and Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, rose into the pulpit. Nine-tenths of all those eyes which were then fixed on him, would have glistened with delight could they have looked instead upon his burning. The whole crowd of passionate men were compelled by a changed world to listen quietly while he shot his bitter arrows at them. His object on the present occasion was to tell the clergy what especially he thought of themselves; and Latimer was a plain speaker. They had no good opinion of him. His opinion of them was very bad. His text was from the 16th chapter of St Luke’s Gospel: The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.’” He then presents his readers with a summary of the sermons, which, however, we shall not attempt to do. Latimer’s words, when they are telling, do not bear to be summarised, however they may be extracted. One 318must read them in their natural quaintness and colour in order to feel their right force—the vivid and rapid impress which they make upon the mind—like a rain of rattling hail upon the ground.

The conclusion of the second and longer sermon, rising into a strain of sweeping ironical urgency that must at once have awed and galled the hearts of many who heard him, will afford a good specimen of their boldness and power. “If there be nothing to be amended and redressed, my lords, be of good cheer—be merry—and at the least, because we have nothing else to do. Let us reason the matter how we may be richer; let us fall to some pleasant communication. After, let us go home even as good as we came hither—that is, right-begotten children of the world, and utterly worldlings. And while we live here, let us all make bone cheer (bonne chère); for after this life there is small pleasure, little mirth for us to hope for, if now there be nothing to be changed in our fashions. Let us not say, as St Peter did, ‘Our end approacheth nigh’: this is an heavy hearing; but let us say as the evil servant said, ‘It will be long ere my master come.’ This is pleasant. Let us beat our fellows; let us eat and drink with drunkards. Surely as oft as we do not take away the abuse of things, so oft we beat our fellows. As oft as we give not the people their true food, so oft we beat our fellows. As oft as we let them die in superstition, so oft we beat them. To be short, as oft as we blind lead them blind, so oft we beat, and grievously beat, our fellows. When we welter in pleasures and idleness, then we eat and drink with drunkards. But God will come, God will come; He 319will not tarry long away. He will come upon such a day as we nothing look for Him, and at such hour as we know not. He will come and cut us in pieces; He will reward us as He doth the hypocrites. He will set us where wailing shall be, my brethren; where gnashing of teeth shall be, my brethren. And let here be the end of our tragedy, if ye will. . . . But if ye will not thus be vexed, be ye not the children of the world. If ye will not die eternally, live not worldly. Come, go to, leave the love of your profit, study for the glory and profit of Christ: seek in your consultations such things as pertain to Christ, and bring forth at the last somewhat that may please Christ. Feed ye tenderly, with all diligence, the flock of Christ. Preach truly the Word of God. Love the light, walk in the light, and so be ye the children of the light while ye are in the world, that ye may shine in the world that is to come, bright as the Son with the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, to whom be all honour, praise, and glory.—Amen.”

The work of the Convocation thus opened was in many respects memorable. In this year of 1536, the same year in which Calvin entered Geneva, the English Reformation touched its highest point under Henry VIII. Cranmer and the King were now united hand in hand, and notwithstanding the gloomy displeasure of many of the clergy, a great advance was made. The opening sermons were indeed followed up by a memorial to the King on the subject of prevailing heresies, containing several thrusts at Latimer’s supposed opinions. This sufficiently showed the temper of the Convocation; but it met in Henry, for the 320moment, a temper equally excited and far more authoritative. He addressed to them in reply a series of articles of religion, imposed with a view to the settlement of differences. These Articles (the King’s own composition, it has been supposed158158   The evidence seems very slight (except on his ground of believing implicitly in State documents) on which Mr Froude comes to this conclusion (vol. iii. p. 67). Cranmer, I should think, was the more likely author of the “Fourteen Articles,” although the King may well have had a share in them, and even “put his own pen to the book” on the subject. But supposing the Articles were the production of the King himself, the inference Mr Froude would found upon this fact as to the moral position of the King at the moment in relation to Ann Boleyn’s death (he had been married only three weeks to Jane Seymour), is, to say the least, of a very uncertain character. That a man is to be held less guilty of a great crime because he can busy himself, some few weeks after, with the dictation of a series of theological articles, is certainly warranted neither by the facts of evidence nor by the workings of human nature.) mark a decided progress of opinion. They still retain the cherished doctrine of the corporeal presence in the Eucharist, to which Henry’s mind clung with a faithful tenacity, and in which both Cranmer and Latimer were as yet contented to rest; but the great Protestant doctrine of justification by faith is plainly and comprehensively asserted; purgatory, in any special sense, and as the basis of the gross papal corruption which had so widely prevailed, denied; while prayer for souls departed is merely commended as a good and charitable deed. “The Articles were debated in Convocation, and passed, because it was the King’s will. No party was pleased. The Protestants exclaimed against the countenance given to superstition; the Anglo-Catholics lamented the visible taint of heresy, the reduced number of the sacraments, the doubtful language upon purgatory, and 321the silence, dangerously significant, on the nature of the priesthood.”159159   Froude's History, vol. p. 74. They were signed, however, by all sides, and remain of great interest to this day, as the “first authoritative statement of doctrine in the Anglican Church.”

Besides the Articles thus passed, the power of the Pope to call general councils was expressly denied; directions were issued for the instruction of the people in the Paternoster, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Commandments, lately published in England; and as the crowning and most important act of all, the English Bible was authorised in every parish. Every church was “to provide a book of the whole Bible in Latin and English, and lay the same in the quire for every man that will to read and look thereon.”160160   The Bible thus authorised for popular perusal was Coverdale’s edition of Tyndale’s translation, sanctioned by Cranmer.

Onwards from the point that we have now reached.—where we see Latimer in a distinct attitude of authority, as it were, heading the Anglican reform movement—it might be supposed that we would be able to trace his career in a clear light. This, however, is not the case. After his appearance in the Convocation of 1536, he withdraws again from public view, and his activity is mainly traceable in quiet works of reform. within his own diocese. It is characteristic of him, in comparison with all the other reformers, that he nowhere takes an active part in the political changes which attended the course of the Reformation. There is some reason to think that, not only now, but afterwards, he was a chief friend and counsellor of Cranmer, 322as he was a frequent resident at Lambeth; while his letters to Cromwell show what a lively interest he cherished in all that was going on, and what constant and ready service he continued to render to the Secretary. Still he does not, even during the time that he continued to hold his bishopric, stand out in any sense as a political leader. His influence seems everywhere present, but it does not obtrude itself, save at isolated points, upon public notice. We are the less reluctant, therefore, to be obliged to sum up in a very brief space the main facts of his future life, and to characterise them in general terms.

First of all, we see him devoting himself with great zeal and diligence to his special duty as Bishop of Worcester. This is mainly the view we get of him in the vague and desultory notices of Foxe. His life is represented as a constant round of “study, readiness, and continual carefulness in teaching, preaching, exhorting, writing, correcting, and reforming, either as his ability would serve, or else the time would bear.” This was his true nature; he was eminently practical, wise, and prudent, doing what he could, although “the days then were so dangerous and variable that he could not in all things do that he would.” His zeal he reserved for the pulpit. All his episcopal acts were characterised by a cautious wisdom and moderation. Where he could not remove corruptions altogether, he did his best to amend them: he so wrought that they should be used with as little hurt and as much profit as might be. Holy water and holy bread, for example, must still be dispensed. Neither the priestly nor the popular feeling could understand or tolerate their disuse. 323But he prepared a few plain verses, embodying a significant Christian lesson in each case, which he instructed the clergy of his diocese to repeat to the people on delivering the old symbols.161161   Foxe, vol. vii. p. 461.

In such sort of work we see the genuine spirit of the English Reformation—proceeding not from any dogmatic or comprehensive principle of an ideal right or good in the Church, but simply working onwards under a practical Christian impulse. The “sparkling relics” of the old superstition are got rid of for the most part gradually; and where, as in the case of some of the most flagrant ecclesiastical impostures,162162   As, for example, the blood of Hailes (with the investigation into the nature of which Latimer was connected, Remains, p. 407), and the Rood of Boxley.—See Froude, vol. iii. pp. 286, 287. we see them fall violently, even the violence is legalised—there is an order preserved in it; and the popular feeling, where it comes into play, is stimulated by a just indignation at the grossness of the delusion practised upon it, rather than by any polemical and anti-idolatrous excitement.

Latimer’s cheerful labours in his diocese were no doubt most to his heart. A shadow falls upon him so soon as we begin to contemplate him in any other capacity. He is in trouble, but ill-satisfied with his work; and, worse than all, he is a sharer—we gather from his own letter on the subject—a reluctant sharer in one, at least, of the most tragic and pathetic of the miserable and contradictory martyrdoms which signalise the period.

In 1537 he was engaged, along with his brethren of 324the Episcopal bench and other divines, in the publication of the book known as ‘The Institution of a Christian Man’—a book designed as a religious manual for the times. It consisted of an exposition of the Creed, the Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer,163163   This book presents an analogy to a book connected with the Scottish Reformation—viz., Archbishop Hamilton’s Catechism. and was characterised by a mild and temperate spirit of devotion and great beauty of composition. Latimer, however, was but indifferently pleased with its doctrines, which formed a reaction rather than an advance upon the articles of the previous year. The bishops were obviously, from the manner in which he writes on the subject to Cromwell,164164   Remains, p. 380. greatly divided about it. “It is a troublous thing,” he says, “to agree upon a doctrine in things of such controversy with judgment of such diversity, every man (I trust) meaning well, and yet not all meaning one way. . . . If there be anything either uncertain or impure, I have good hope that the King’s highness will separare quicquid est veteris fermenti; at least, may give it some note that it may appear he perceiveth, though he do tolerate it for a time—so giving place for a season to the frailty and gross capacity of his subjects.”

It is in the following year (1538) that we find him associated with the martyrdom of Friar Forrest. Forrest had been Prior of the Observants’ Convent at Greenwich. His main offence, like that of Sir Thomas More and others, was resistance to the Royal Supremacy Act. He appears to have submitted, and been pardoned, and then to have recanted his submission. 325The peculiarity in his case was, that he was finally condemned, not under the treason law, according to which his sentence might have had some show of justice, but under the law of heresy. Certain monstrous articles were devised against him by Cranmer, and he was adjudged to the fate of heretics in its most aggravated form. The judgment was carried out with unmitigated severity. He was literally roasted alive in an iron cage. One shudders to read the account of it, and to think that the names of both Cranmer and Latimer remain associated with so foul an atrocity. For Cranmer’s share in it there can be found no excuse, save the usual one of the spirit of the times. Latimer’s connection with it appears to have been more accidental. He was appointed by Cromwell to preach the sermon on the occasion; and there is a strange sadness in the way he writes about it, his unrelenting humour playing, like a wintry gleam, around the tragic story. “And, sir, if it be your pleasure, as it is, that I shall play the fool after my customable manner when Forrest shall suffer, I would wish that my stage stood near unto Forrest; for I would endeavour myself so to content the people that therewith I might also convert Forrest, God so helping, or rather altogether working. Wherefore I would that he should hear what I shall say, si forte, &c. If he could yet with heart return to his abjuration, I would wish his pardon: such is my foolishness.”165165   Remains, p. 391. He is moved obviously for the unhappy wretch, and the work is painful to him; but he cannot help himself, and the utterance of pity almost dies on his lips, as if 326it were something to be ashamed of.166166   Froude, vol. iii. p. 295.—See his vivid description of the martyrdom. “Hard times,” indeed! (as Foxe complains), which could so lock up the warm impulses in Latimer’s honest heart.

An ecclesiastical system which sought to prop itself by such means, was plainly in a very fluctuating and unstable condition. It was moved to and fro, in fact, by every changing impulse of the royal temper; and this temper reflected the agitated spirit of the times. To regard Henry’s changes as mere brutal caprice, according to the long-prevailing traditionary views of his character, is probably what few would now do; but to recognise in them throughout a clear principle of conviction or intelligent guidance, seems no less absurd, on any fair construction of the facts. Henry was true to one thing, and one thing alone—his own supposed interest. This, in conjunction with his strong national feeling, was in many cases a sufficiently equitable rule of statecraft; but we cannot, without an amazing stretch of credulity, identify the royal will at all points with the national interest, and presume that the King acted from the higher principle. Henry is not the monster of the old and uncritical tradition; but he is not, even on his historian’s own evidence, in the least the hero that he has been supposed to be.

On the present occasion it is easy to understand how a reaction set in. The northern insurrections had proved how strong was the hold which the old superstitions still had upon the hearts of the people. The King himself, having secured his object against Rome, 327was disposed to cling to the Catholic doctrine in its completeness. It was very natural, therefore, that a party should spring up, attaching itself, on the one hand, to the Royal Supremacy Act, and, on the other hand, very strongly to the old ecclesiastical tradition—a party which has received the distinctive title of Anglo-Catholic, and which may be briefly characterised as doctrinally Romanist, but ecclesiastically Anglican. This party evidently represented a strong national feeling. The “Pilgrimage of grace,” the insurrections in Yorkshire and Lancashire, testified to the strength of this feeling; it was such even as seriously to affect the stability of the throne; and Henry, true to the instinct of serving himself by a proper balance of parties, saw fit at this crisis to throw the weight of his influence into the rising party, headed in the Church by the well-known names of Gardiner and Bonner. The result of this was the six articles of 1539,167167   They rendered it penal to deny, or in any way to impugn, transubstantiation, communion in one kind, celibacy, lawfulness of monastic vows, private masses, auricular confession. which undid as far as possible the work of the fourteen articles previously passed, and sought to check the reforming impulse communicated by them. Cranmer laboured with all his might to defeat them, but in vain; and so soon as they were confirmed, Latimer resigned his bishopric.

During the remainder of Henry’s reign, Latimer lived in great privacy. At first, indeed, he suffered a mild imprisonment in the house of Dr Sampson, the Bishop of Chichester: he then appears to have been permitted to retire to the country, where he received 328an injury from the fall of a tree, and, coming up to London for medical advice, “he was molested and troubled by the bishops”; and finally, in 1546, just before the close of Henry’s reign, he was brought before the Privy Council, and cast into the Tower, where he remained prisoner till the time that “blessed King Edward entered his crown.”168168   Foxe, vol. vii. p. 463. Such is the brief sum of all we know of this period of his life. Whether, during the time he was at liberty, he continued to preach, is not indicated; probably he did not. His imprisonment, his growing infirmities, and the dangers around him, may have damped his old ardour and kept him quiet. That he considered his own life in danger during his confinement, he himself tells us. He had a great interest, he says, to hear of the executions in the City, while he was in ward with the Bishop of Chichester, “because I looked that my part should have been herein. I looked every day to be called to it myself.”169169   Sermons, p. 164.

With the accession of Edward VI. he again emerged into public view. He remained, however, true to his old character, and not only did not mix himself up with political affairs, but declined to receive back his bishopric, which was offered to him in the second year of Edward’s reign. The fact that this offer was made at the instance of the House of Commons, gives us a touching glimpse of the popularity of the great preacher. His honest character and eloquence had made a deep impression on the mind of the country, and it found a voice in this notable matter. We can only guess at his reasons for declining an offer so honourable to him. 329The state of his health, and his conscientious feeling of inadequacy to the multiplied duties that would devolve upon him,170170   He had, as everything shows, a strong feeling of the responsibility of the episcopal office, and of the oppression of the multiplied duties connected with it. Foxe relates, in reference to his previous resignation of his bishopric: “At what time he first put off his rochet in his chamber among his friends, suddenly he gave a skip on the floor for joy, feeling his shoulder so light, and being discharged (as he said) of such a heavy burden.”—Vol. vii. p. 463. probably form the explanation. He felt also that preaching was his peculiar vocation, and that he could do more good to the cause of the Reformation in this way than in any other. He devoted himself, therefore, to the pulpit, and to practical works of benevolence on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. Leaving the public ordering of the affairs of the Reformation to others, he made it his aim to arouse in all classes a practical spirit of reform. He found his most natural and powerful source of influence in the eloquence which moved congregated thousands, and by his sermons more than anything, his name remains memorably associated with the reign of Edward VI. Among the other actors of the time, he stands forth as the great reforming preacher. The old picture represents him with uplifted arm preaching in Whitehall Gardens in front of the young monarch, who is seated at a window, while a dense crowd in various attitudes testifies to the lively interest which greeted his sermons. “In the same place of the inward garden,” says Foxe, “which was before applied to lascivious and courtly pastimes, there he dispensed the fruitful word of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, preaching there before the King and his whole court, to the edification 330of many.”171171   Foxe, vol. vii. p. 463. We trace him besides at Stamford, delivering a series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer before the Duchess of Suffolk; and again in Lincolnshire, and at Grimsthorpe. “In this his painful travail he occupied himself all King Edward’s days, preaching for the most part every Sunday twice, to no small shame of all other loitering and unpreaching prelates, which occupy great rooms and do little good; and that so much more to their shame, because he being a sore bruised man, and above sixty-seven years of age [this is an exaggeration], took so little care and sparing of himself to do the people good. Not to speak of here his indefatigable travail, and diligence in his own private studies; who, notwithstanding both his years and other pains in preaching, every morning ordinarily, winter and summer, about two of the clock in the morning was at his book most diligently. So careful was his heart of the preservation of the Church, and the good success of the Gospel.”

Thus Latimer spent those years of blessing to England ere the evil days came, whose approach he seems to have foreseen; for, according to Foxe, he did “most evidently prophesy all these kinds of plagues which afterwards ensued.”

With the lamented death of Edward he felt that his work was done, and that he had only to prepare himself for the fate to which he had long looked forward. So soon as Mary was settled upon the throne, and the reactionary party, headed by their old leaders, had once more triumphed, he and the other chief agents of the Reformation were sought out, summoned 331to London before the Privy Council, and committed to the Tower. Latimer appears to have been in Worcestershire when a “pursuivant,” in the language of the chronicler, was sent down into the country to call him up. He was duly apprised of his danger; and, to do the Government justice, they seem to have afforded him the fair means of escape, if he had been disposed to flee out of the country, like so many others. But flight was far from his thoughts. The one strength that remained to him was to bear the crown of martyrdom and passing through Smithfield on his way to the Council, he was heard, in his usual cheerful manner, to say that it “had long groaned for him.” His health, already greatly weakened, was further injured by the hardships of his confinement in the Tower. He was kept “without fire in the frosty winter,” and the picture is a bitterly touching one of the suffering old man, “wellnigh starved with cold,” and jesting with his keeper on his chances of cheating his persecutors, “if they did not look better to him.”

In the April of the following year (1554) he was conveyed to Oxford, along with Cranmer and Ridley, for the purpose of holding disputations on the subject of the mass before certain commissioners appointed to examine them. We find him, on the 18th of April, in the presence of these commissioners, declining to dispute. He pleaded that he was an old man, and that he had not, during these twenty years, much used the Latin tongue. “Then replied to him Master Smith of Oriel College; Doctor Cartwright, Master Harpsfield, and divers others, had snatches at him, and gave him bitter taunts. He did not escape 332hisses and scornful laughing. He was very faint, and desired that he might not long tarry.”172172   Foxe, Remains, p. 250. It is miserable spectacle: insolence and brutality on the one side, and weakness and old age on the other. If we could wonder at any disgrace perpetrated in the name of religion, we might wonder at the singular debasement which could prompt such conduct on the part of learned men towards one who, amidst the widest differences of opinion, had such claims upon their sympathy and respect. The disputation, as in all such cases, led to nothing. Latimer was permitted to give in a lengthened protestation of his faith, upon which there followed some discussion, terminating in a curiously emphatic denunciation of the Protestants by Dr Weston, who took the lead in the argument on behalf of the commissioners: “A sort of fling-brains and light-heads,” he said they were, “which were never constant in any one thing; as it was to be seen in the turning of the table, where, like a sort of apes, they could not tell which way to turn their tails, looking one day west, and another day east—one that way, and another this way.”173173   Ibid., p. 277.

After this examination, Latimer was transferred to Bocardo, the common jail in Oxford, and there he lay, with his companions, imprisoned for more than a year. During this long imprisonment “they were most godly occupied either with brotherly conference, or with fervent prayer, or with fruitful writing, albeit Master Latimer, by reason of the feebleness of his age, wrote least of them all in this last time. But in prayer he was fervently occupied, wherein oftentimes so long he 333continued kneeling, that he was not able to rise without help.”174174   Foxe. At length, on the 30th of September 1555, he was again summoned before the commissioners. Ridley had preceded him in examination, and in the meantime he was kept waiting, as he complains, “gazing upon the cold walls.” Suffering and poverty were depicted in his appearance as he bowed before them, “holding his hat in his hand, with a kerchief bound round his head, and upon it a nightcap or two, and a great cap, such as horsemen used in those days, with two broad flaps to button under the chin. He wore an old threadbare Bristol frieze gown, girded to his body with a penny leather girdle; his Testament was suspended from this girdle by a leather sling, and his spectacles, without a case, hung from his neck upon his breast.”175175   Ibid., p. 529. He was exhorted to consider his estate, to remember his age and infirmity, and to spare his body by admitting the claims of the Papacy. He replied with something of his old spirit, taking up the special arguments urged by the Bishop of Lincoln, who had addressed him. Especially he exposed the unfairness of a book recently published by the Bishop of Gloucester, in which it was argued that the clergy possessed the same authority as the Levites; and whereas the Bible said that the Levites, if there arose any controversy among the people, should decide the matter according to the law of God, these words were left out in the book in question, and the text quoted as saying that as the priests should decide the matter, so it ought to be taken of the people—“A large authority, I assure you!” he exclaimed. “What gelding 334of Scripture is this? what clipping of God’s coin?"176176   Foxe, vol. vii. p. 531. The Bishop of Gloucester, who happened to be one of the commissioners, came forward to defend his book and Latimer acknowledged that he did not know him, and was not aware of his presence. A scene of laughter ensued in the old brutal fashion.177177   Ibid. The bishop reproached him with his want of learning. “Lo!” he exclaimed, in just indignation at the unworthy taunt, “you look for learning at my hand, which have gone so long to the school of oblivion, making the bare walls my library; keeping me so long in prison without book, or pen, or ink; and now you let me loose to come and answer to articles. You deal with me as though two were appointed to fight for life and death; and overnight the one, through friends and favour, is cherished and hath good counsel given him how to encounter with his enemy; the other, for envy or lack of friends, all the whole night is set in the stocks. In the morning, when they shall meet, the one is in strength and lively; the other is stark of his limbs, and almost dead for feebleness. Think you that to run through this man with a spear is not a goodly victory?"178178   Ibid., p. 532.

The end of all was, that he and Ridley were condemned to suffer; and on the 16th of October 1555 they were led forth to martyrdom “without Bocardo gate,” to a spot opposite Balliol College, where the splendid Martyrs’ Memorial now stands. They embraced each other, knelt in prayer, and at last, when they were about to kindle the pile, he first thanked 335God audibly for His faithfulness to him, and then, turning to his companion, said, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man: we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Thus perished the great preacher reformer of England, closing his honest, laborious, and intrepid life by a heroic death, shedding its radiance back upon all his previous work, and transfiguring it into a higher glory.

The character of Latimer presents a combination of noble and disinterested qualities, scarcely rising to greatness, but highly significant and interesting. The natural healthiness of his earlier years at the Leicestershire farm, of “three or four pounds by the year at the uttermost,” reappears in all his future career as a student, a preacher, a bishop, a martyr. The same simple spirit, and honest temper, and cheery humour, and unresting faithfulness, are visible in all he said and did. The man is never lost sight of, in whatever special attitude he shows himself; nay, the rustic boy, who was the “father of the man,” is scarcely ever forgotten. A fresh and rough fragrance of nature hangs about him everywhere, impregnating and purifying with a rare and happy heartiness all his work.

A simplicity verging on originality is perhaps his most prominent characteristic—a simplicity as far as possible from that which we noted in Calvin: the one, the naked energy of intellect; the other, a guileless evenness of heart. The single way in which Latimer looks at life, with his eyes unblinded by conventional 336drapery of any kind, and his heart responsive to all its broadest and most common interests,—of which he speaks in language never nice and circumlocutory, but straight, plain, and forcible,—gives to his sermons their singular air of reality, and to his character the sort of piquancy which vie at once recognise as a direct birth of nature. He is a kind of Goldsmith in theology, exhibiting the same artless feeling and sunny temper in the midst of all difficulties—the same disregard of his own comforts, and warm and kindly play of benevolent humour meeting you at every turn, like a roving and gleeful presence, and flashing laughter in your face. It would be absurd, of course, to push this comparison further. There is beneath all the oddities of Latimer’s character a deep and solemn consistency of purpose, and a spirit of righteous indignation against wrong which, apart from all dissimilarities of work, destroys any more essential analogy between the great humourist of the Reformation in England and the later humourist of its literature. Yet the same childlike transparency of character is beheld in both, and the same fresh stamp of nature, which, in its simple originality, is found to outlast far more brilliant and imposing, but artificially cultured qualities.

In mere intellectual strength, Latimer can take no place beside either Luther or Calvin. His mind has neither the rich. compass of the one, nor the symmetrical vigour of the other. He is no master in any department of intellectual interest, or even of theological inquiry. We read his sermons, not for any light or reach of truth which they unfold, nor because they 337exhibit any peculiar depth of spiritual apprehension, but simply because they are interesting—and interesting mainly from the very absence of all dogmatic or intellectual pretensions. Yet, without any mental greatness, there is a pleasant and wholesome harmony of mental powers displayed in his writings,179179   Besides his sermons, his letters—not merely his comparatively short business letters to Cromwell, but those to Sir Ed. Baynton, Archbishop Warham, and King Henry—should be read by the student. which gives to them a wonderful vitality. There is a proportion and vigour, not of logic, but of sense and feeling, in them eminently English, and showing everywhere a high and well-toned capacity. He is coarse and low at times his familiarity occasionally descends to meanness but the living hold which he takes of reality at every point, often carries him also to the height of an indignant and burning eloquence.

Of his private social life we learn comparatively little. His nature was one keenly susceptible of friendship, and must have everywhere drawn to itself objects of affection. We can mark in the dim traces of his life the surrounding footsteps of his friends—Bilney, and Cranmer, and Cromwell, and Dr Butts, and, at the last, Ridley. There is no glimmering, however, of any dearer and more intimate affection,—no light of love, flushing with its soft warm presence the hard and darkening course of his energetic and unwearied labours. The singleness of his aim as a reformer—his untiring spirit of self-sacrifice, “minding not his own things, but the things of others"—his self-sustaining vigour in his work, and equable delight in it may sufficiently account for this absence. 338It takes an interest from his life, but at the same time simplifies our view of it. The impression remains deepened of a simple and earnest, rather than of a broad and powerful character.

In turning to estimate Latimer’s work as a reformer, we are at first struck very much with the same peculiarity—that is to say, with its comparative simplicity and narrowness of meaning. It possesses neither the national grandeur of the work of Luther, nor the theological and spiritual influence of that of Calvin. It is practical rather than doctrinal; and deep and powerful and abiding as have been its traces, it never attains to that comprehensive sweep and issue which at once impress us in the work of each of our other reformers. And yet Latimer was a true leader in the great movement of the sixteenth century. He did not, indeed, and could not, take up and express the various and complex impulses that were then bearing the national life of England onwards in the direction of reform. There was no single teacher capable of doing this. There were far too great diversity and richness in the impulses then moving England to permit of their finding united expression in any one man. But while Latimer did not, like Luther or Calvin, sum up in himself the great principles of the movement of which he was a leader, he expressed, beyond doubt, the most characteristic features of that movement. He represented those qualities of earnestness, and yet of moderation, of Scriptural faithfulness, and yet traditionary respect,—at once reforming and conservative,—which peculiarly distinguish the English character, and have 339stamped their, impress more than any other upon the spirit of the Church of England.

The spirit of this Church is not, and never has been, definite and consistent. From the beginning it repudiated the distinct guidance of any theoretical principles, however exalted and apparently Scriptural. It held fast to its historical position, as a great Institute still living and powerful under all the corruptions which had overlaid it; and while submitting to the irresistible influence of reform which swept over it, as over other churches in the sixteenth century, it refused to be refashioned according to any new model. It broke away from the medieval bondage, under which it had always been restless, and destroyed the gross abuses which had sprung from this bondage; it rose in an attitude of proud and successful resistance to Rome; but in doing all this, it did not go to Scripture, as if it had once more, and entirely anew, to find there the principles either of doctrinal truth or of practical government and discipline. Scripture was eminently the condition of its revival; but Scripture was not made anew the foundation of its existence. There was too much of old historical life in it to seek any new foundation; the new must grow out of the old, and fit itself into the old. The Church of England was to be reformed, but not reconstituted. Its life was too vast, its influence too varied, its relations too complicated,—touching the national existence in all its multiplied expressions at too many points,—to be capable of being reduced to any new and definite form in supposed uniformity with the model of Scripture, or the simplicity of the primitive Church. Its extensive 340and manifold organisation was to be reanimated by a new life, but not remoulded according to any arbitrary or novel theory.

This spirit, at once progressive and conservative, comprehensive rather than intensive, historical, and not dogmatical, is one eminently characteristic of the English mind, and, as it appears to us, in the highest degree characteristic of the English Reformation. It is far, indeed, from being an exhaustive characteristic of it. Two distinct tendencies of a quite different character, expressly dogmatic in opposite extremes, are found running alongside this main and central tendency: on the one hand, a medieval dogmatism on the other hand, a puritanical dogmatism. The current of religious life in England, as it moved forward and took shape in the sixteenth century, is marked by this threefold bias, which has perpetuated itself to the present time. There was then, as there remains to this day, an upper, middle, and lower tendency—a theory of High-churchism, and a theory of Low-churchism—and between these contending dogmatic movements the great confluence of what was and is the peculiar type of English Christianity—a Christianity diffusive and practical rather than direct and theoretical—elevated and sympathetic rather than zealous and energetic—Scriptural and earnest in its spirit, but undogmatic and adaptive in its form.

In the sixteenth century Latimer appears along with Cranmer—although in a more natural manner than the latter, as being comparatively free from the complications of political interest—to be the great representative of this middle movement in the Church of 341England while Gardiner and Bonner on one side, and Hooper and his followers on the other side, represent respectively the medieval and puritanical tendencies. It may be doubtful to some, whether there is not much in Latimer that seems to ally him with the latter school: whether his principles, in their natural development, would not have led him to join them, had he lived on till they came into more distinct prominence as opposed to the ecclesiastical despotisms of Elizabeth.180180   This is apparently Mr Froude’s view of both Latimer and Cranmer—vol. iii. p. 362. Such a question cannot be absolutely determined, and is, in fact, irrelevant. For it is idle to speculate what Latimer or any man might have become in very different circumstances from those in which we find him. It appears to us with sufficient clearness that Latimer never would, and never could have become a Puritan, without an entire change of the peculiar spirit of natural sense, of moderation, and of conciliatory doctrinism which distinguishes him. In the early dogmatic puritanism of the Church of England—of Hooper, for example, and subsequently of Travers and Cartwright—there was a distinct foreign element which Latimer, with his genuine English feeling, would have strongly repudiated; and there was, moreover, a dogmatic narrowness and an exaggerated importance attached to form and externality, which were entirely alien to his cast of mind, and the spirit of reform which animated him.

This spirit was throughout pre-eminently practical. He had no special reforming schemes of any kind in view; he had no special doctrines even to urge once 342more into prominence. The Gospel did not come to him as it came to Luther, in the shape of a new truth; nor yet as it came to Calvin, in the shape of a new system. It came to him simply as a new spirit of life, and earnestness, and Christian activity. As he studied the Bible, and as Bilney and he prayed over it, it was not the fire of dogmatic zeal nor of disciplinary urgency that was kindled in him, but the glow of simple evangelical earnestness. He awoke as from a dream, in which the forms of superstition had haunted him as the only realities, to find that they were no realities at all, but the mere inventions and fancies of men, draping and concealing the great truths of God. The meaning of life and duty—of real service to God in holy obedience and works of mercy—in comparison with mere religious observances and will-works,—this was what dawned upon him. And this was, above all, the kind of reformation after which he sought, and for which he laboured,—a reformation of life—a Church of England once more animated by a Christian spirit, destroying by its very presence and power the gross medieval abuses which had fastened upon it till they seemed a part of its very existence; whereas, in truth, they were only corrupting excrescences. The Catholic faith seemed to him, scarcely less than to Sir Thomas More, to survive in England, and in the old Church of England, if it were only purified from such traditions and corruptions. His own preaching presented to himself nothing new, nor even contrary to the decrees of the Fathers. In his letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1533, we find such a reforming position exactly described as 343the one on which he considered himself to stand. “If any man has any fault to object against my preaching, as being obscure or uncautiously uttered, I am ready to explain my doctrine by further discourse; for I have never preached anything contrary to the truth, or contrary to the decrees of the Fathers, nor, as far as I know, contrary to the Catholic faith. I have desired, I own, and do desire, a reformation in the judgment of the vulgar. I have desired, and still desire, that they should make a distinction between duties, and regard and maintain each according to its proper value, its place and time, its rank and degree, in order that all men should know that there is a very great difference between those works which God hath prepared for each of us, zealously discharging the duties of our respective callings, to walk in, and those that are voluntary, which we undertake by our own strength and pleasure. It is lawful, I own, to make use of images, to go upon pilgrimages, to invoke the saints to be mindful of souls in purgatory; but those things which are voluntary are so to be moderated that God’s commandments of necessary obligation, which bring eternal life to those who keep them, and eternal death to those who neglect them, be not deprived of their just value. . . . I therefore, hitherto, stand fixed on the side of the commandments of God, so aiming not at my own gain, but that of Christ; so seeking not my own glory, but that of God; and as long as life shall be permitted to me, I will not cease thus to continue imitating herein all true preachers of the Word that have hitherto lived in the world.”181181   See Latin original—Foxe, vol. vii. pp. 4-7.


The same supremely practical tendency manifests itself more or less in all his sermons; and in none more than in those preached before Edward VI., which may be supposed to contain his mature views of reform. He is vigilant and urgent against all abuses, alike in Church and State, in society and in private life. He exposes them with homely and crushing invective, sparing no class, passing by no oppression, whether that of the poor vicar having an extensive cure in a market-town, on “but twelve or fourteen marks by the year,” so “that he is not able to buy him books, nor give his neighbour drink”;182182   Sermons, p. 101. or that of the gentlewoman from whom a great man kept certain lands of hers, and who in a whole twelvemonth could only get one day for the hearing of her matter; or that of the poor widow lying in the Fleet.183183   Ibid., p. 127. He has a sound English heart, hating all evil, and especially all proud and lying evil, all dastardly mockeries of truth, all mere pretences in the Church or out of it, all disorders, all indifference and deadness. His spirit kindles, and his language rises into more concentrated pith and vigour, when he catches sight of some great wrong, or some social folly or immorality, and wishes that it lay in his poor tongue to explicate it “with such light of words that he might seem rather to paint it before their eyes than to speak it.” It is this characteristic of Latimer’s sermons that makes them still so fresh and living to us while we read them. Had they been more doctrinal, we should have examined them perhaps with equal or even greater curiosity, as serving to illustrate the state of Christian thought in his age, but we 345certainly should not have found in them that vivifying power with which they still touch us; for nothing becomes more dead in the course of transmission than the popular forms of doctrinal teaching, so that one generation finds mere barrenness in what greatly interested and delighted its predecessor. Even the doctrinal sermons of Luther are no exception to this.

It is very much, therefore, because Latimer was no dogmatist that he remains so interesting to us, and his words still retain such a zest, and flavour, and power. He contends for no particular theory of the truth; his new-born life does not need any new doctrinal vehicle of expression; it is slow even to cast off the least worthy additions that have gathered round the Catholic faith, and out of which have sprung, by a sure process, the worst abuses which he deplores. He nowhere takes up an attitude of doctrinal hostility to the old Church, nor aims to set forth any specific doctrinal principles to which the whole line of the reform movement should be attached, and from which it ought to proceed. And yet it would be a total misapprehension of his spirit and position to suppose him latitudinarian, or indifferent to dogmatic truth; he simply does not realise its separate importance. Trained in the scholastic philosophy, he of all our reformers retains no trace of its rationalising and controversial spirit. He had obviously little or no faith in controversy—a wonderful point of advance for that age. He is no theologian: dogmas in and by themselves have no interest for his homely, healthy mind. He apprehends all, and clues for all, only in the concrete. Truth for him is not this or that view or theory, but the life of faithful obedience 346towards God, and of active charity towards man. This is the highest truth, and the only worthy reality or him in all the world—“To fear God, and keep His commandments.” And it is his great mission as a reformer to awaken men everywhere to the need of this living truth, to recall them from shadows and-superstitions, from “inventions and fancies,” from will-works and fantasies of their own, to the reality of true Christian work, and the glory of this only divine service.

It was as a preacher, above all, that he discharged this great mission; and his sermons remain, as a whole, its most interesting and graphic expression. Their highest qualities are exactly those that characterise his general work—life, reality, and earnestness. He uses the pulpit not so much as a vehicle of instruction, but as a means of impulse and movement. He never uses it as a mere theatre of eloquence. He is eloquent, not because he thinks of being eloquent, and tries to be so, but simply because there is in him a living and honest meaning which he desires to communicate to others. The fire burned within him, and he spake as it moved him. His sermons, accordingly, while frequently deficient in all method, and sometimes—where they aim to be explanatory or argumentative—vague and unimpressive, are yet, in the main, instinct with a vigorous and fresh and happy interest. To interest, and so move and reform, was the great aim of all of them; and so everything is sacrificed to the necessity of making those whom he is addressing feel the truth and force of what he is saying. The most homely illustrations, and most startling and ludicrous conjunctions, headlong and unsparing invective, and 347wayward and joyous humour, are all given full play to—each impulse obeyed as it comes—in order that the hearers may be touched by his own obvious and irresistible inspiration. The result is what sometimes appears to us, reading them with the cold eye of criticism, coarseness rather than power, meanness of language rather than impressiveness of idea, and caricature rather than humour; but the manly and genial critic will acknowledge the natural healthiness and vigour even of many illustrations which have incurred the censure of more fastidious tastes—while there is a relish as of good old wine, sound and ripe after three centuries, in many more; and the intellectual appetite, jaded with the weak mixtures of modern religious sentiment, grows keen and glad over the numerous passages of vigorous and racy sense, homely and joyous picturesqueness, and pungent, earnest, and happy humour.

It is difficult to give any adequate specimens of his style. The good things of such a preacher appear poor when extracted and apart from their setting. The reader, therefore, must study the sermons themselves, if he care to appreciate them. The following passage, in which irony mingles with earnestness and the picture, if somewhat low and audacious, is exceedingly graphic and powerful—may stand by itself perhaps as well as any other:—“But now for the fault of unpreaching prelates, methinks I could guess what might be said for excusing of them. They are so troubled with lordly living, they be so placed in palaces, couched in courts, ruffling in their rents, dancing in their dominions, burdened with embassages, pampering of their paunches, like a monk 348that maketh his jubilee, munching in their mangers, and moiling in their gay manors and mansions, and so troubled with looking on their lordships, that they cannot attend it. They are otherwise occupied, some in the King’s matters, some are ambassadors, some of the Privy Council, some to furnish the court, some are lords of the Parliament, some are presidents and comptrollers of mints. Should we have ministers of the Church to be comptrollers of the mints? Is this a meet office for a priest that hath cure of souls? Is this his charge? I would here ask one question—I would fain know who controlleth the devil at home in his parish while he controlleth the mint? . . . Who is the most diligentest bishop and prelate in all England, that passeth all the rest in doing his office? I can tell, for I know him who it is—I know him well. But now I think I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him. There is one that passeth all the other, and is the most diligent prelate and preacher in all England. And will you know who it is? I will tell you—it is the devil. He is the most diligent preacher of all others. He is never out of his diocese, he is never from his cure; ye shall never find him unoccupied; he is ever in his parish; he keepeth residence at all times; ye shall never find him out of the way; call for him when you will, he is ever at home; he is ever at his plough, no lording nor loitering can hinder him—you shall never find him idle, I warrant you. And his office is to hinder religion, to maintain superstition, to set up idolatry. When the devil 349is resident and hath his plough going, then away with books, and up with candles; away with Bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the Gospel, and up with the light of candles, yea at noonday. . . . Down with Christ’s cross, and up with purgatory pick-purse, up with him—the Popish purgatory, I mean. Away with clothing the naked, the poor, and the impotent, up with the decking of images and gay garnishing of stocks and stones; up with man’s traditions and his laws, down with God’s traditions and His most holy Word; down with the old honour due to God, and up with the new god’s honour.”184184   “Sermon of the Plough”—Sermons, pp. 68-70.

There is no feature of Latimer’s sermons more pervading than their invective. He is ever on the watch for wrong and abuses, and he pours out upon them the most free and startling rebukes. He spares no class, and he spurns no weapon of ridicule or denunciation against the powers of misrule, indolence, superstition, and bigotry, that he would strike down. It is now the bishops, and now the lawyers and judges, among whom he sends his swift and piercing arrows. “But I will be a suitor to your grace,” he says, in his second sermon before King Edward VI., “that you will give your bishops charge, ere they go home, to look better to their flock, and to see your Majesty’s injunctions better kept, and send your visitors in their tails; and if they be found negligent or faulty in their duties, out with them! I require it on God’s behalf: make them quondams, all the pack of them. But peradventure 350ye will say, ‘Where shall we have any to put in their rooms?’ . . . If your Majesty’s chaplains and my lord protectors be not able to furnish their places, there is in this realm (thanks be to God!) a great sight of laymen well learned in the Scriptures, and of virtuous and godly conversations, better learned than a great sight of us of the clergy.”185185   Sermons, p. 122. Speaking of a certain bishop of Winchester in “King Henry VI.’s days,” who opposed Humphrey, the “good Duke” of Gloucester, and to whom the Pope sent a cardinal’s hat, he says, “He should have had a Tyburn tippet, a halfpenny halter, and all such proud prelates. These Romish hats never brought good into England.”186186   Ibid., p. 119. “Bishops!” he cries, “nay, rather buzzards!” And ridiculing the mode of pronouncing the Episcopal blessing, he asks, “What is blessing? Not wagging of the fingers, as our bishops are wont.” He does not hesitate, with a somewhat Dantesque severity, to lift the veil from the pit of suffering, and point to the unpreaching prelates in torments. “If one were admitted to view hell thus, and behold it thoroughly, the devil would cry, ‘On yonder side are punished unpreaching prelates.’”187187   Ibid., p. 158. On turning to the judges and magistrates, his comments are not less outspoken. “They are bribe-takers,” he says. “Nowadays they call them gentle rewards: let them leave their colouring, and call them by their Christian names—bribes. Wo worth these gifts! they subvert justice everywhere. A good fellow on a time bade another of his friends to breakfast, and said, ‘If you will come 351you shall be welcome; but I tell you beforehand you shall have but one dish, and that is all.’ ‘What is that?’ said he. ‘A pudding, and nothing else.’ ‘Marry!’ said he, ‘you cannot please me better; of all meats, that is for mine own tooth: you may draw me round about the town with a pudding.’ These bribing magistrates and judges follow gifts faster than the fellow would follow the pudding.”188188   Sermons, p. 140. And in a higher vein he exclaims that the matters of the poor “are not heard: they are fain to go home with weeping tears that fall down by their cheeks and ascend up to heaven and cry for vengeance. Let judges look about them, for surely God will revenge His elect one day. . . . God hath pulled the judges’ skins over their heads for the poor man’s sake. Yea, the poor widow will one way do him more hurt with her poor paternoster in her mouth than any other weapon; and with two or three words she shall bring him down to the ground and destroy his jollity, and cause him to lose more in one day than he gat in seven years.”189189   Ibid., p. 157.

The increasing licentiousness of the age, the extravagance of ladies’ attire, especially the laying out of the hair in “tussocks and tufts,” the assumptions of ladies themselves—“because they will be quartermasters with their husbands. Quarter-masters! Nay, half-masters; yea, some of them will be whole masters, and rule the roast as they list themselves.”190190   Ibid., p. 254. The indolent effeminacy of the rich and noble, “who now have taken up whoring in town instead of shooting in the fields”—the misunderstood exactions of the 352aldermen, “who nowadays are become colliers—I would wish they might eat nothing but coals for a while till they had amended it”—are all painted by him with a breadth of brush, and a strong light of piquant satire, that enable us to understand his popularity. He never minces epithets: “dodipoles,” “hoddypecks,” “velvet coats,” “upskips,”—such are some of the round names that he scatters about; and we can imagine the thrilling effect with which they fell among auditories accustomed to monkish trifling or ecclesiastical commonplaces. It was as a denouncer of flagrant and widely felt abuses, and as an unceasing preacher of righteousness and benevolence against wrong and hardness of heart, that the people above all looked upon him and loved him; and the strength and prevalency of the popular feeling are sufficiently shown in the cry with which the boys used to follow him in the streets—“Have at them, Master Latimer!” In every time of extensive change, when old oppressions are relaxing and new responsibilities dawning, honest and hearty denunciation is sure to be popular; and it is easy, therefore, to imagine the enthusiasm which greeted the great preacher who had the courage in such an age to utter manful and unsparing words in the ears of the wealthy and powerful, the corrupt and tyrannical.

The humour of the sermons is eminently notable—a pungent, nipping, pursuing humour, lacking the richness and depth and boisterous freedom of Luther’s, but singularly funny, seizing one in the oddest ways and at the most unexpected turns. As when speaking of coming to church, he says: “I had rather ye should 353come, as the tale is by the gentlewoman of London. One of her neighbours met her on the street, and said, ‘Mistress, whither go ye?’ ‘Marry,’ said she, ‘I am going to St Thomas of Acres, to the sermon; I could not sleep all this last night, and I am going now thither; I never failed of a good nap there.’”191191   Sermons, p. 201. Again, when in one of his perorations he adds, in allusion to Elias stopping the rain,—“I think there be some Elias about at this time, which stoppeth the rain; we have not had rain a good while.” Such turns—some broader, some more delicate—flash upon us every now and then. You are never sure, even in the most solemn passages, that his humour will not peep out with its wayward and comic glance, and start a reactionary smile as the shadow of thought is beginning to steal over the countenance. Explosive and striking in its effect, it is gentle in its spirit. There is not a touch of ill-nature in it. It cuts to the quick, not because the preacher delights in giving offence, but because his keen eye and pure heart cannot help seeing through the mockeries and vanities and wrongs which he exposes. He sees always their absurdity as well as their iniquity, and he cannot help saying so. If stupidity is offended, and superstition alarmed, and oppression indignant, so much the worse for all of them. The preacher is not to blame who lights them up as he paints them with the lambent glances of a humorous scorn, which has merely searched them through and through. As with all other preaching humorists, his fun is no doubt sometimes out of place. A chill taste will shrink from some of its 354displays, and certain tempers may feel offended. Identifying religion not only with gloom but with stupidity, such tempers find harm where there is merely amusement, and wrong where there is merely the free play of innocent strength. A hearty religious feeling, though sometimes startled, will never be shocked by our Reformer’s oddest sallies, but will recognise in them only the radiant sparks from an ever bright and warm heart looking out upon life with an intense gaze of reality, and apprehending its marvellous contrasts in the sunlight of an ever-cheerful temper.

Nothing is more remarkable in Latimer than this cheerfulness. Ill in body, tried and persecuted, and cast down by many troubles, he is always cheerful,—cheerful at Cambridge, amidst the scowls of friars—cheerful in his parish, under Episcopal frowns, and in his diocese, amidst an obtuse and opposing clergy—cheerful in the Tower when nearly starved to death with cold—cheerful at the stake, in the thought of the illumining blaze that he and Ridley would make for the glory of the Gospel and the happiness of England. An earnest, hopeful, and happy man, honest, fearless, open-hearted, hating nothing but baseness, and fearing none but God—not throwing away his life, yet not counting it dear when the great crisis came—calmly yielding it up as the crown of his long sacrifice and struggle. There may be other reformers who more engage our admiration; there is no one who more excites our love.

« Prev III. Latimer. Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection