|The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a treasure hid in a field.| -- Matt
When the Services of the Church were first drawn up, almost everyone in the East spoke Greek, and most people in the West understood Latin; and when the Teutons learnt Christianity, they also, with it, learnt a little Latin. Thus the Prayers and the Scriptures remained in that tongue, but the people themselves spoke each their own language. German, English, French, Spanish, and Italian are mixtures in different degrees of Latin and Teuton, and only learned persons who understood the old language, could follow the Prayers, or read the Bible. So the people missed more and more of the real truth and meaning of sacred things; and some of the clergy who had grown corrupt, took advantage of their ignorance and deceived them. Whereas the Pope had once declared that those who went on a Crusade were sure of dying in a state of salvation, he now declared, that to give alms for building the great Church of St. Peter at Rome, would answer the same purpose; and indulgences, namely, promises of so many years less of purgatory, used to be absolutely sold; and it was very difficult to set these errors right, for anyone who was thought to speak against the doctrine of the Church, was liable to be punished by being burnt to death. This was quite contrary to the ways of the early Church, which, however bad a heretic might have been, never attempted to harm his person, but only separated him from her Communion.
As the Holy Spirit within the Church is ever cleansing and sanctifying it, witnesses against these errors began to be raised up. The way to print books, instead of writing them out, had been discovered in the fifteenth century; and as this art made them much more cheap and common, many more people began to read and to think. In the year 1517, a German monk, named Martin Luther, began to declare how far the selling of indulgences was from the doctrine of the Apostles; and he spoke such plain truth, that he convinced a great number of Germans, and there was a great longing for the cleansing of the Church, especially after Luther had translated the Bible into his own tongue, and everyone could see how unlike the teaching there was to what had been so long believed.
In England, King Henry VIII. separated from the Roman Church because the Pope would not please him by breaking a marriage, which certainly never ought to have been sanctioned; but which having been permitted by the Pope, and having continued twenty years, it was very wrong to dissolve. He called himself Head of the Church in England; and though he believed all the later errors, he allowed the Lessons to be read from a new English translation of the Bible. He pretended to reform the convents, some of which were in a very bad state, and had forgotten their rules; but instead of setting them to rights, he seized their wealth, and turned all the monks and nuns adrift.
The new notions were favoured by his break with the Pope. The whole Western Church was in a ferment; the reformers were constantly writing and preaching against the many errors of the Roman Church, and were rejoicing over the real treasure of true faith they had found hidden within her. Many other sincere and good men were shocked at such disobedience to what they had once respected; and unhappily, almost all the Italian clergy and cardinals were so food of the riches and power in which they were maintained by misleading the people, that they dreaded nothing so much as having them set right.
The Emperor, Charles V., strove hard to bring about a General Council of the Church, as the only hope of making matters right, but he was much hindered by his wars with the King of France, and by the double dealing of the Pope; and in the meantime Luther and his friends drew up a protest against the false doctrines of Rome, and were, for that reason, called Protestants. In Switzerland and France, another reformer, named John Calvin, was preaching against the doctrine of the Pope; and though he neglected what the Church of old pure times had decided, and thus threw away much that was good, as well as much that was untrue, great numbers followed him; but unfortunately, none of the higher clergy on the Continent would listen to these views, and there seemed no choice but to accept falsehood, or to break into a schism. After many trials, Charles V. got together some Italian, Spanish, and German clergy at Trent, in the Tyrol, and called them a council; but this was far from being a true General Council, as there was nobody from the Eastern Church, nor from many branches of the Western. The Protestants knew they should not be fairly treated, and that if these Italians should decide that they were heretics, they might very probably be burnt; so, instead of coming to it, they acted as the early Christians never did, they took up arms and fought, and this attempt at a council broke up in confusion.
Things were happier in England. After the death of Henry VIII., Archbishop Cranmer, and the other guardians of his little son, Edward VI., set to work to clear away the corruptions from the Church in England, so as to make it as like as they could to what it had been in the Apostles' time. The Bible had been translated, and they put the whole Prayer-Book into English, leaving out all that savoured of idolatry, all the notions about purgatory, and everything of error, and keeping the real old precious services of the early Church, restoring to the people the blessed privilege of the Cup, while the Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, went on in an uninterrupted line, as from the beginning. On Edward's early death, his sister, Queen Mary, who was married to Philip II., the son of the Emperor, thought all these changes very wicked, and endeavoured to put them down. Four Bishops, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, and Hooper, were burnt for their share in them, with many other persons, and England was again reconciled to Rome; but Mary only reigned five years, and her sister Elizabeth was a sound Churchwoman, and held fast by the Catholic English Church in her reformed state.
Philip II., the son of Charles V., managed to accomplish another sitting of the Council of Trent, and the Church of Rome considers it a true council, though there were only two hundred and fifty-five Bishops, and they condemned the Protestants without hearing their defence. It did some good to the Romish Church by putting down the sale of indulgences, and some bad practices of the clergy; but it bound her to all the errors renounced by the Reformers, and put her into a state of schism from the Catholic Church.
The Lutheran Protestants in Germany, and the Calvinists in France, Holland, and Scotland, as they could have no bishops, made up their minds that none were needed, though this was quite contrary to Scripture, and to the ways of the Apostles. There was a sad time of warfare through all the centre of Europe; and the Spaniards and French horribly persecuted the Protestants and Calvinists, thinking in their blindness that they were thus doing God service; but Queen Elizabeth stood up as the firm friend of all the distressed Reformers; and at last matters settled down again, though not till all Christianity had been grievously shattered and rent, and there was no more outward unity.
There were four branches of the Church Catholic keeping their Bishops, the Greek, the Roman, the English, the Swedish; but none of these were in outward communion the one with the other, though still owning one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, and waging the same fight with the Devil and his works. The Roman Church was spread over all Italy, Spain, France, and great part of Germany, and tried to force down all differences of opinion by cruel and bloody means, caring more for unity than for truth, and boasting of being the only Catholic Church, instead of only one branch of it. The Lutheran doctrine was taught in Norway, Denmark, and many parts of Germany, and the Calvinist teaching gained a great hold in Holland, Scotland, and on such French as were not Roman Catholic. The Greek Church meanwhile stood fast through much tribulation in the Turkish dominions, and had gradually won the whole great Russian Empire, where, as the people ceased to be barbarous, they became most devout members of the ancient unchanging Greek Catholic Church.