Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
On the Ecclesiasticism of the Church of England
By Benjamin Hoadly (16761761)
From Dedication to Pope Clement XI.
YOUR Holiness (Pope Clement) is not perhaps aware, how near the churches of us Protestants have at length come to those privileges and perfections, which you boast of, as peculiar to your own. So near, that many of the most quicksighted and sagacious persons, have not been able to discover any other difference between us, as to the main principle of all doctrine, government, worship, and discipline, but this one; viz., that you cannot err in any thing you determine, and we never do: that is, in other words, that you are infallible, and we always in the right. We cannot but esteem the advantage to be exceedingly on our side in this case, because we have all the benefits of infallibility, without the absurdity of pretending to it; and without the uneasy task of maintaining a point so shocking to the understanding of mankind. And you must pardon us, if we cannot help thinking it to be as great and as glorious a privilege in us, to be always in the right, without the pretence to infallibility, as it can be in you, to be always in the wrong, with it.
The reason therefore, why we do not openly set up an infallibility, is because we can do without it. Authority results as well from power as from right; and a majority of votes is as strong a foundation for it, as infallibility itself. Councils that may err, never do: and besides, being composed of men, whose peculiar business it is to be in the right, it is very immodest for any private person to think them not so; because this is to set up a private corrupted understanding, above a public uncorrupted judgment.
We have all sufficiently felt the load of the two topics of heresy and schism. We have been persecuted, hanged, burnt, massacred (as your Holiness well knows), for heretics and schismatics. But all this has not made us sick of those two words. We can still throw them about us, and play them off upon others, as plentifully and as fiercely, as they are dispensed to us from your quarter. It often puts me in mind (your Holiness must allow me to be a little ludicrous, if you admit me to your conversation;) it often, I say, puts me in mind of a play which I have seen amongst some merry people: A man strikes his next neighbour with all his force, and he instead of returning it to the man who gave it, communicates it, with equal zeal and strength, to another; and this to another; and so it circulates, till it returns perhaps to him who set the sport agoing. Thus your Holiness begins the attack. You call us heretics and schismatics; and burn and destroy us, as such: though God knows, there is no more right any where to use heretics or schismatics barbarously, than those who think and speak as their superiors bid them. But so it is. You thunder out the sentence against us. We think it ill manners to give it you back again; but we throw it out upon the next brethren that come in our way; and they upon others: and so it goes round, till some perhaps have sense and courage enough, to throw it back upon those who first began the disturbance, by pretending to authority where there can be none.
We have not indeed now the power of burning heretics, as our forefathers of the Reformation had. The civil power hath taken away the Act, which continued that glorious privilege to them, upon the remonstrance of several persons, that they could not sleep, whilst that Act was awake. But then everything on this side death, still remains untouched, to us: We can molest, harass, imprison, and ruin, any man who pretends to be wiser than his betters. And the more unspotted the mans character is, the more necessary we think it to take such crushing methods.
One thing more I must here mention; that the church (I mean that part of the churchmen, I am speaking of,) is now in full possession of the privilege of applying Gods judgments to their neighbours: which our forefathers so justly condemned, and took such pains to ridicule, in the worst of our separatists.
Thus, the death of our late Queen is a judgment upon a nation, unworthy of so much goodness; though some weak fanatics, on the other side, have showed them, how easy it is for any to interpret judgments in their own favour, by observing that she died the very day, upon which the late Schism-act, (designed as they think) to rob them of a natural right, took place.
After King Charles II.s restoration, the fire, which destroyed the whole city, immediately following the plague which consumed vast numbers of its inhabitants, furnished matter for this humour. How easy was it found, to make these to be great judgments, upon account of that very restoration? Now, the same impious humour, (which is the very essence of fanaticism, let it be in what church it will,) can do with a thousand times smaller matters. A fire, not to be named with that; a mortality amongst our cattle, which all Europe hath felt much more grievously: these are not only declared to be Gods judgments; (as without doubt they are;) but it is sufficiently and plainly insinuated, that they are judgments, (not for their own sins, their own private enormities, or public ingratitude to heaven for their security; for they never think of themselves in this view; but) for something at court, which should not be there: which all the world knows how to interpret.
Thus hath fanaticism its vicissitudes, like the other things of this world: sometimes reigning in the Church, and sometimes out of it; sometimes against it, and sometimes for it. And thus is it come to pass amongst us, that preaching their own passions, and indignation, and resentment, under their disappointed expectations, is called, by too many, preaching the Gospel, and delivering messages from heaven.