19 April 2012

On the Cyclical Nature of History

"My lords, I pray you for God's sake, consider what bills are here daily preferred from the Commons.  What the same may sound in some of your ears I cannot tell, but in my ears they sound all to this effect, that our holy mother the Church, being left unto us by the great liberality and diligence of our forefathers in most perfect and peaceable freedom, shall now by us be brought into servile thralldom like a bondmaid, or rather by little and little to be clean banished and driven out of our confines and dwelling places.  For else to what end should all this importunate and injurious petitions from the Commons tend?  What strange words be here uttered, not to be heard of any Christian ears and unworthy to be spoken in the hearing of Christian princes?  For they say that bishops and their officials, abbots, priests, and others of the clergy are covetous, ravenous, insatiable, idle, cruel and so forth.  What?  Are all of this sort, or is there any of these abuses that the clergy seek not to extirpate and destroy?  Be there not laws already provided by them against such and many more disasters?  Are not books full of them to be read of such as list to read them if they were executed?  But, my lords, beware yourself and your country, nay, beware the liberty of our mother the Church.  Luther, one of the most cruel enemies to the faith that ever was, is at hand, and the common people study for novelties and with good will hear what can be said in favor of heresy.  What success is there to be hoped for in these attempts other than such as our neighbors have already tasted, whose harms may be a good warning to us?  Remember with yourselves what these sects and divisions have wrought among the Bohemians and Germans, who, besides and innumerable number of mischiefs fallen among them, have almost lost their ancient and catholic faith.  And what by the snares of John Huss and after him of Martin Luther (whom they reverence like a prophet) they have almost excluded themselves from the unity of Christ's Holy Church?  These men now among us seem to reprove the life and doings of the clergy, but after such a sort as they endeavor to bring them into contempt and hatred of the laity.  And so finding fault with other men's manners, whom they have no authority to correct, omit and forget their own, which is far worse and much more out of order than the other.  But if the truth were known, ye shall find that they rather hunger and thirst after the riches and possessions of the clergy than after amendment of their faults and abuses.  And therefore it was not for nothing that this motion was lately made for the small monasteries to be taken into the king's hands.  Wherefore I will tell you, my lords, plainly what I think.  Except ye resist manfully by your authorities this violent heap of mischief offered by the Commons, ye shall shortly see all obedience withdrawn first from the clergy and after from yourselves.  Whereupon will ensue the utter ruin and danger of the Christian faith, and in place of it (that which is likely to follow) the most wicked and tyrannical government of the Turks.  For ye shall find that all these mischiefs among them riseth only through lack of faith."

— St. John Fisher, bishop and martyr,
a speech delivered in 1529 
to the house of Lords