EARLY TRACES OF BAPTISTS IN BRITAIN.
"The true origin of Anabaptists," says Mosheim, "is hid in the remote depths of antiquity." But there is no reason to doubt that as early as the Third Century Baptists already existed in Britain. At that period "no persons were admitted to baptism by the churches generally"--still to quote Mosheim--"but such as had been previously instructed in the principal points of Christianity, and had also given satisfactory proofs of pious dispositions and upright intentions." Coupling with this testimony the statement of Tertullian, the celebrated African writer, that in 209 "those parts of Britain into which the Roman arms never penetrated have yielded subjection to Christ," we are warranted in saying that the early British Christians were men holding the distinctive principles of Baptists.
We have no further trace of Baptists in these islands until the Fifth Century, although there existed, during the interval, as we learn from various sources, a numerous, well-ordered, and flourishing Christian community. In the year 410, the Britons were not only harassed and oppressed by the Saxons, but were distracted by religious controversies. Pelagius, who had once been a monk at Bangor, in North Wales, succeeded in spreading the poison of his opinions among his fellow-countrymen. Among these opinions was the belief in the lawfulness and necessity of infant-baptism. Two zealous bishops from the Continent laboured to check the progress of Pelagius' opinions, and many wanderers were reclaimed and baptized in the river Allen, near Chester.
The third trace of Baptists in Britain is found in the time of Ethelbert. Again the Principality claims the honour of having sheltered and preserved, if it did not originate, some of the earliest Baptist confessors in this country; but the claim rests upon an obscure passage in the Chronicle of the Venerable Bede, and upon a version of Bede's words found in Fabyan's New Chronicles of England and France, a book published in the time of Henry the Seventh, and which had the honour of being burnt in the following reign by order of Cardinal Wolsey. We give the story in which the passage occurs, and for two reasons: first, it reveals the Scriptural character of the Christianity of Britain before the time of Romish corruptions; and secondly, it shows with what sturdy independence these early Christians rejected the arrogant pretensions of Rome.
But to the story of
Austin and the Monks of Bangor.
Austin, or Augustine, the abbot of a monastery founded in Rome by Gregory the Great (although the pope's title to the term is very questionable), was sent into England in 596 to convert the Saxons. The Abbot proceeded with becoming caution at the outset, lived in a humble and self-denying fashion, and revealed no part of his future policy. His success far exceeded his expectations. Camden tells us that multitudes confessed their belief in his doctrines, and, going into the water, were dipped in the name of the Trinity. So far there was a concession to what was known to have been the practice of the early British Churches. Gregory now sends Austin further help, chiefly monks, with one Mellitus as their abbot. They bring with them presents for King Ethelbert, an archbishop's pall for Austin, some copies of portions of the Scriptures, certain Romish devotional books, relics to be used in the consecration of new churches, and Gregory's very trenchant replies to Austin's puerile questions. With more liberality, or with more policy than Austin, Gregory, among other things, suggests that in settling the order of the new church which had been founded in England, Austin should not exclusively follow the example of Rome, but should select, whatever was good, no matter where he might find it--a sentiment deserving of special notice as coming from the mouth of a Roman bishop.
Austin now makes Canterbury the seat of the first English archbishopric; becomes very zealous, with his new monkish staff of supporters, in winning over the Saxons; sprinkles the heathen temples with holy water, at least such temples as he could obtain; sanctifies them, after the Romish fashion, by making them the shrines of certain relics--bones and rags of Romish saints; converts the said heathen temples into churches; establishes festivals in honour of the saints whose relics are henceforth preserved in them, taking care, as Gregory also advised him, that the times and the ceremonies of these new festivals should be made as palatable as possible to the half-heathenish Saxons, so that they might be the more easily persuaded to substitute the new rites for the old.
Austin's ambition increases with his success. This "pretended apostle and sanctified ruffian," as Jortin styles him, with something of passionate abuse, lusts after the sole and undivided ecclesiastical sway over the whole island. But how was he to secure the realisation of his dreams? A large and flourishing body of British Christians were now living in Wales, whither they had sought refuge from the cruelties of the Saxons. Undisturbed in their liberties and their worship in the fastnesses of Wales, they had waxed stronger and stronger. At Caerleon, in the south, and at Bangor-is-y-coed, in the north, large and flourishing monasteries, or, more properly speaking, missionary stations, were established. Bangor alone could number, in association with it, over two thousand "brethren." These societies had little in common with Romish monasteries, either of that age or of the following. The greater part of "the brethren" were married laymen, who followed their worldly calling, and those among them who showed aptitude for study and missionary work were permitted to give themselves to the reading of the Scriptures and holy services. All were maintained out of a common fund, and yet a large surplus was distributed in the shape of food and clothing to the neighbouring poor.
Austin's problem was this: how best to obtain ecclesiastical authority over these primitive British Christians? Ethelbert suggested and arranged a conference with some of their leading men. The conference was accordingly held in Worcestershire, near what was still called, in the days of Bede, "Austin's Oak." The British clergy of the province adjoining were invited, and Deynoch, the distinguished abbot of Bangor, a man in great repute for his piety and learning, came with them. Austin opened the conference by stating his desire that, as good Christian men, the people in Wales should submit themselves to the Pope of Rome, as the Father of fathers, and to himself as his duly accredited representative. Deynoch's reply is every way remarkable: "We are ready to listen to the Church of God, to the Pope of Rome, and to every pious Christian; so that we may show to each, according to his station, perfect love, and uphold him by word and deed. We know not that any other obedience can be required of us towards him whom you call the pope, the Father of fathers. But this obedience we are constantly prepared to render to him, and to every other Christian."
Nothing came of this conference, so far as Austin was concerned. The Welsh asked that, previous to deciding what further reply to give, a larger number of their own party might be present. A second conference was, therefore, determined upon; but before attending it, the Welsh consulted a pious hermit, who was held by them in the greatest veneration. "May we obey this Austin?" asked the simple-minded Welsh. "Yes," answered the hermit, "if he be a man of God." "But how are we to know that?" The hermit answered, "If he be meek and lowly in spirit, after the pattern of our Lord, he will himself, being a disciple of Christ, bear the Master's yoke, and put no heavier burden upon you. But if he be violent, and of overbearing spirit, it is plain that he is not born of God; and you will do well not to heed his words." Still the enquirers were not satisfied. Like so many others, they wanted some outward and visible sign by which to judge of Austin's character; and again they pressed the hermit to help them. "By what token, or sign, shall we know that he is a meek and holy man?" The hermit, evidently with a shrewd guess at the sort of man they had to deal with in Austin, responded: "Permit Austin and his attendants to enter first the place of meeting. If, on your entrance, he should at once rise to receive you, he is a servant of Christ. But if he should still remain sitting, notwithstanding the size and character of your company, you cannot so account him." Of course Austin neither answered to the hermit's description of a disciple of Christ, nor showed the hermit's sign of courtesy and humility. He sat stiffly up in his chair of state when the Welsh entered, and at once proceeded to the business of the conference. But the Welsh were in no humour to enter upon any agreement, or even quietly to discuss its terms. The hermit had rightly divined the character of Austin, and the Welsh did not conceal their uneasiness in the prelate's presence. Austin first tries what can be done by concession. "We know, at Rome," said he, "that many of your customs are contrary to ours; but if you will only consent to these three things, we will say nothing about the rest: (1) Alter your time of observing Easter; (2) Administer baptism according to the custom of the Roman Church; (3) And join with me in preaching to the Saxons." Still the Welsh hung back, little loth, by putting their necks under a foreign yoke, to lose their dearly-bought independence. Austin now changes his tone, and more than justifies the hermit's description of one "not born of God." Cajolery has failed; he will try menace. "Well, well," said Austin, with ill-concealed anger, "if you will not have my blessing, and be brethren, you shall have my curse, and the Saxon's sword." Whereupon the council abruptly broke up, the monks returned to their quiet homes, and Austin comes back to the Saxons to foment further ill-will between them and the Welsh. There is little doubt that, indirectly, Austin is responsible for the cold-blooded massacre by Ethelfrid of upwards of a thousand unarmed monks of Bangor, although, when the dastardly deed was done, the ambitious and revengeful Austin was slumbering in his grave.
Let us now turn, for a moment, to the passage in Bede's Chronicle, on account of which the claim already mentioned is set up by the Welsh. It runs as follows : "Ut ministerium baptisandi, quo Deo renascimur, juxta sanctæ Romanæ Apostolicæ ecclesiæ, compleatis." ("That you shall duly administer the rite of baptism, by which we are born again unto God, after the manner of the holy Roman Apostolic Church.") From these words it is evident that there was a marked difference between the mode of administering baptism in use among the Welsh, and that generally adopted by the Roman Church; but what precisely that difference was it is by no means easy to discover. Lingard, the Roman Catholic historian, gives an explanation which Hook, in his Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, contends that he has no actual warrant for making. Lingard says the difference lay in the necessity for confirmation after baptism. Baxter and others contend that it refers to the use in baptism of white garments, milk, and honey. But most Baptists argue that the difference was, not at all as to the mode of baptism, but as to the subjects who should submit to that ordinance. It is, unquestionably, true, as Gregory the Great tells us, that he himself, and others in Italy, administered baptism by trine immersion ("nos tertio mergimus"), but they also administered it to infants. Whether, however, this last was an actual point in dispute between Austin and the monks of Bangor, we cannot learn from the words of Bede. Dr. Evans and others with him, regard the collateral evidence on the question as distinctly pointing to this issue.
Perhaps the mode of baptism would have been the only question raised by the words of Bede, if D'Anvers had not pointed out that, in the translation of Bode's account given by Fabyan, the second condition of agreement laid down by Austin to the Welsh was this: "That ye given Christendom to children.'' D'Anvers therefore concluded that Austin wished to force infant baptism upon the Welsh, and this was evidently Fabyan's opinion. Many writers since the days of D'Anvers have followed in his wake; but in our judgment, none have succeeded in making more than probable the early Baptist reputation of the Welsh people at the time of the brave old Deynoch and the imperious and bigoted Austin.
The fourth trace we have in English history of the opposition of the people to infant baptism, is in
The Law of Ina.
Towards the close of the Seventh Century, Ina. a Saxon prince, endeavoured to settle the baptism question in a very summary manner. He enacted a law by which all infants, within thirty days of their birth, should be baptized. For any violation of this enactment the penalties were unusually severe. A fine of £30 in our money was imposed upon the parents who did not comply; and in the event of the child dying un-baptized their whole personal estate was forfeited. People who had thus to be compelled to have their infants baptized were no great sticklers for its observance.
The three following centuries were religiously as dreary in England as in other countries. They have been rightly called "the dark ages." During this period of gloom, Europe had still its own witnesses to the truth. Passing under different names--Paulicians, Vaudois or Waldenses, Albigenses, Berengarians, Arnoldists--these godly men kept alive some glimmer of light amidst all this darkness. There were many among them who were opponents of infant baptism. About the Eleventh Century they rapidly multiplied on the Continent, and in the following century came over to England in great numbers. We discover them by
Lanfranc's Opposition to the English Waldenses.
The simplicity of their lives (so different from the pomp and corruption of the Romish clergy of that period), and the purity of their doctrine, led to the rapid increase of their adherents in all parts of the country. Not only were their sentiments warmly adopted by the humbler classes, but also by many of the nobility and gentry of the chief towns and villages. The priests became alarmed, and preyed on the fears of William the Conqueror. It was presently enacted by that energetic Sovereign "that those who denied the Pope should not trade with his subjects." Nor was this all. The able and zealous Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, sought to check the progress of their opinions by publishing a book in opposition to the views held by Berengar and the Waldenses. In this treatise he roundly asserts that these sectaries, "by denying infant-baptism, oppose the general doctrine and universal consent of the Church." It is not on record, so far as we know, that these Waldenses or Berengarians, suffered any direct persecution from William the Conqueror and Lanfranc, although it is hardly probable that the act of William was allowed to remain a dead letter, or that Lanfranc contented himself with hurling words at their heads, if he had it in his power to use harder weapons.
The sixth trace of Baptists in England is found in
Gerard and his Companions.
We are entirely indebted for our information about these thirty men and women to the pens of monkish historians. It is well to remember this fact, since two important advantages are thereby gained: first, we are better able to test the actual value of their opinions of these so-called heretics; and, secondly, we are forced to the conclusion, since such obviously prejudiced observers could find so little evil in them, that Gerard and his companions were very exemplary Christians.
Their story, as it has come down to us, is sadly too brief. In substance it is this. Henry the Second, King of England, showed, according to Roger de Hovendon, remarkable leniency to the Waldenses of Aquitaine, Poitou, Gascoigne, and Normandy. The Dutch and Flemish, on the other hand, treated them with the utmost rigour, and burnt many at the stake. Owing to some sudden outburst of persecution in Holland, a number of Waldenses, or as some think them, disciples of Arnold of Brescia, fled to England, hoping thereby to obtain a secure asylum from their cruel persecutors. In this, they were grievously disappointed. Henry was at this period in open rupture with Thomas à Beckett, but was still anxious to stand well with the Pope and the ecclesiastics generally. The poor fugitives, in avoiding Scylla, had fallen into Charybdis. They were presently made the convenient pretext for illustrating the soundness of the King's faith, and his devotion in all matters of doctrine to the "holy Roman Apostolic Church."
No very flattering picture of Gerard and his companions is given by the monks. "They were a company of ignorant rustics;" which means, that they were persons in very humble life. "Their understandings were very gross and unimproved;" although the very reverse seems to be nearer the truth, judging from their general behaviour. "Their obstinacy and self-opinion were such, that the convincing of them by argument, and the retrieving them of their mistake, was next to an impossibility" In other words, they held firmly the opinions they had already received.
But what were their opinions? Strange to say, these "ignorant rustics" did not believe in the Romish doctrine of purgatory. They rejected prayers for the dead. They regarded the invocation of saints as useless. On some points they held orthodox views; but when they came to be examined on the seven sacraments of the Church, to the horror and confusion of their priestly questioners, they were grievously unsound. Marriage, said these men, was no sacrament. The sacrifice of the mass was an abomination. But worse still remained behind; they rejected the baptism of infants! What further proof was needed of their "gross and unimproved understandings?"
"On their first landing in England," so the monks assure us, "they concealed their heterodoxy, and pretended other business." But there is no proof from any quarter that they were other than quiet and inoffensive foreigners, who went on with such work as they could obtain. The singularity of their religious opinions, however (for Rome was now in the ascendant), soon became known. The King, prompted by the clergy, whom he was anxious to conciliate, orders their arrest and imprisonment. After some time had elapsed, they are all brought before a synod of priests at Oxford. Gerard was their chief spokesman. "The rest," say the monks, "were altogether unlettered, and perfect boors in knowledge and conversation. Their language was high Dutch." We may perhaps discover in this last circumstance the one secret of their contempt for Gerard's companions. He alone of the whole party was able to converse freely in English.
Gerard was asked, "What were the opinions of himself and his friends?" To which he promptly replied, "We are Christians, and the doctrines of the Apostles are our only rule of faith." This was esteemed but a lame and insufficient answer by the Romish priests; and again they return to the charge. It then came out, one by one, that they held the opinions already stated. "While they were sufficiently orthodox," say the monks, "about the Trinity and the Incarnation, on many other material points they were dangerously mistaken." The priests, seeing the respect paid by Gerard and his friends to the Scriptures, sought to convince them by ingeniously suggested texts, or "old odd ends stolen out of Holy Writ;" but they remained unshaken in their opinions. They were reasoned with. They were admonished. They were threatened. All was in vain. Again and again they were reminded by their priestly judges that "they would be punished for their incorrigibleness;" and at last, say the monks, “they were so unhappy as to misapply that text of our Saviour's to their own case, ‘Blessed are they that suffer persecution for righteousness' sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’”
The end was now near. To prevent the spread of "the contagion of their opinions," the priests pronounced them incorrigible heretics, and delivered them over to the secular magistrate. Instigated by the priests, the King ordered them to be branded in the forehead with a red-hot iron; to be whipped through the streets of Oxford; and, after their clothes were cut short at their girdles, to be turned into the open fields, although it was the depth of winter. The inhumanity of this treatment was heightened by the fact that all persons, under the heaviest penalties, were forbidden to offer them any relief. Gerard and his friends were nothing daunted by this severity, but went forth through the city streets, singing as they went, "Blessed are ye when men shall hate you." There could be, however, but one end to their story. The whole company of men and women, with their faithful leader and guide, perished with cold and hunger.
It came out on their trial that only one convert had been won to their faith, a poor woman of humble life. No time was lost by the priests in hunting her out. She was put to the torture; her strength failed her; and, in the anguish of her body, she hastily recanted.
Baptist opinions were held by many of
It should be remembered that the Paulicians, the Waldenses, the Picards, and the Paterines, were all sometimes designated by this general name. Whatever the origin of the name itself, it has never been questioned that great numbers of the Lollards held Baptist sentiments. It is stated by some early historians that about thirty years after the cruel treatment of Gerard and his companions, Henry the Second so far changed his policy as to permit a company of Waldenses to settle peacefully in Kent, as tenants of the Manor of Darenth, and that in the reign of Edward the Third, colonies of Lollards came into the county of Norfolk. Mosheim affirms that Peter Lollard himself visited this country in the early part of the fourteenth century, and contemporary historians speak of the wide prevalence of Lollard's opinions in England, even before the time of John Wycliffe. There is little doubt that they prepared the way for the general diffusion of that great Reformer's opinions. What
Wycliffe's Opinions on Baptism
were, it is now needful very briefly to state. Taking some passages by themselves, it would not be difficult to claim Wycliffe as a holder, in part, of Baptist opinions. "How necessary the sacrament of Baptism is to the believer," says Wycliffe, "may be seen by the words of Christ to Nicodemus, ‘Unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' And such, accordingly, is the authority from Scripture on which believers are customarily baptized." Again, "Chrism and other such ceremonies are not to be used in baptism." Still further, " Baptism doth not confer, but only signify, grace which was given before." Another passage declares, "that those are fools and presumptuous which affirm such infants not to be saved which die without baptism, and that all sins were abolished in baptism." But on this last point Wycliffe contradiets himself, since, in another place, when speaking about a child dying un-baptized, he says, "I hold my peace as one dumb, . . . because it doth not seem to me clear whether such an infant would be saved or lost."
His bitter opponent, Walsingham, speaks in no choice language about his opinions. "That most damnable heretic, John Wycliffe," says Walsingham, "re-assumed the cursed opinions of Berengar, which was, as you have heard, to deny infant baptism and transubstantiation." Walden, who wrote bitterly against the Reformer, terms him "one of the seven heads that rose up out of the bottomless pit, for denying infant baptism, that heresy of the Lollards, of whom he is so great a ringleader." But whatever his enemies' opinions of him, these are his own words in his Triologues: "On account of the words of the last chapter in Matthew, our church introduces believers who answer for the infant which has not yet arrived at years of discretion." In another place he thus writes: "Nor is it of moment whether the baptized be immersed once, or thrice, or whether the water be poured upon his head. But the ceremony must be performed according to the usage of the place, and is as legitimate one way as another. For it is certain, that bodily baptism or washing is of little avail, unless there goes with it the washing of the mind by the Holy Ghost from original or actual sin; for herein is a fundamental article of belief, that whenever a man is duly baptized, baptism destroys whatever sin was found in the man." There is still a third opinion expressed about children dying un-baptized. "I think it probable that Christ might, without any such washing, spiritually baptize, and by consequence save infants."
Again, on the validity of baptism, he writes: "When an infidel baptizes a child, not supposing that baptism to be of any avail for his salvation, we are not to regard such a baptism as serviceable to the baptized. Yet we believe that where any old woman or despised person duly baptizes with water, God completes the baptism of the Spirit along with the words of the sacrament."
It will be seen, from these various quotations, that Wycliffe's mind was not entirely free from Popish errors on the subject of baptism; but the half-truths he uttered set other men thinking; and, by the aid of the New Testament, which Wycliffe put into their hands, many of his followers openly avowed distinct Baptist opinions. Especially was this the case with
East Anglia, Middlesex, Kent, Hereford, and the Midland Counties, were the chief centres of their influence. Like Berengar, they refused to take their children to the church to be baptized. At Amersham, in Buckinghamshire, where they were numerous during the later half of the Fourteenth Century, they were commonly known by the people as Just-fast-men, and Known-men, on account of their fidelity to each other during the fierce persecutions they had to suffer. "The heretics and Lollards of Wycliffe's opinions were at first permitted to preach abroad boldly, to gather conventicles unto them, to keep schools in men's houses, to write books, to complete treatises, and write ballads; to teach privately in angles and corners, as in woods, pastures, meadows, groves, and caves in the ground;" the monks attributing their eloquence and ready skill as disputants to the direct help of the devil. The whole country was leavened with Wycliffe's opinions, and the opinions of the Bible-men; and the storm of clerical rage that presently burst over them, while it "rooted out" some of these "evil weeds and offendicles, planted by the new and damnable Lollardie," as the persecuting priests were pleased to call them, still left many disciples untouched by its fury.
The Chesterton Separatists.
It is now our unpleasant duty to mar a very agreeable picture, painted by Robert Robinson, and quoted by nearly every Baptist historian since his day. In a "Brief Dissertation on the Ministry of the Divine Word by Public Preaching," prefixed to the second volume of his translation of Claude's Essay on the Composition of a Sermon, Mr. Robinson writes:--
"I have seen enough to convince me that the present English Dissenters, contending for the sufficiency of the Scriptures, and for primitive Christian liberty to judge of its meaning, may be traced back, in authentic manuscripts, to the Nonconformists, to the Puritans, to the Lollards, to the Yallenses (Waldenses), to the Albigenses, and, I suspect, through the Paulicians, and others, to the Apostles. These churches had sometimes a clandestine existence; and at other times a visible, I wish I could say a legal one: but, at all times, they held more truth and less error than the prevailing factions that persecuted them. One branch uniformly denied the baptism of infants; all allowed Christian liberty; and all were enemies to the established hierarchy reigning over the consciences of their brethren." So far Robinson is correct. But when he proceeds to write about certain men, since known as the Chesterton Separatists, he generalises too hastily. His words are:--"I have now before me a manuscript Register of Gray, Bishop of Ely, which proves, that in the year 1457, there was a congregation of this sort in this village, Chesterton, where I live, who privately assembled for Divine worship, and had preachers of their own, who taught them the very doctrine which now we preach. Six of them were accused of heresy before the tyrant of the district, and condemned to abjure heresy, and to do penance, half naked, with a faggot at their backs, and a taper in their bands, in the public market-places of Ely and Cambridge, and in the churchyard of Great Swaffham. It was a pity the poor fools were forced to abjure the twelfth article of their accusation, in which they were said to have affirmed, that ‘all priests and people in orders were incarnate devils!’ . . The thirteenth article objected against the above-mentioned Chesterton culprits, by the bishop, in his Consistory at Downton, is this:–‘Also, you affirm, that every man may be called a church of God, so that if any one of you should be summoned before his ecclesiastical judge, and should happen to be asked this question, Do you believe in the Church? He may fairly answer, that he does; meaning that he believes in the Church, because he believes the Church is in every man, who is a temple of God.' Now is not this affirming, that every good man was bound to follow his own judgment in religious matters, and not to be set down by a domineering faction, calling themselves the church? Is a man strong for being called a Samson, or wise for naming himself Solomon? Does it not mean that every man had as much right of judging in himself solely as the whole community had collectively? We go further, and prove that these six men, although all in one community, did not all hold the same articles; some agreed to one, and some to another. But they all, the Register says, affirmed the thirteenth. Does not this prove that their ecclesiastical economy allowed a Christian liberty, and that they held a mixed communion?"
A recent examination of Gray's Register (still preserved in the University Library of Cambridge, and known as the Baker Manuscripts) shows that Robinson consulted the Register hurriedly, and was thus led into several errors. He is right in saying that one of the men who were examined by Bishop Gray, "the tyrant of the district,"* confessed that he had taught and affirmed certain false articles and opinions, and also that he had been present when such articles and opinions were taught, learned, and affirmed by others." In other words, that he and others belonged to a body of men who, if not a church, according to the Prayer-book definition of a church--("a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments are duly administered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that are of necessity requisite to the same")--had yet meetings of their own for Divine worship, and teachers among them, judging from the terms of Bishop Gray's indictment, able to express themselves with distinctness and force. But Robinson is wrong in saying that they were six men, and that their meeting was held in Chesterton. The Register mentions but three men, and only one of them lived in the village where Robinson resided at the time of writing his often-quoted words. The names of these men were--John Baile, of Chesterton; Robert Sparke, of Reche, in the parish of Swaffham; and John Crud, alias Crowd, of Cambridge.
[*Gray was not destitute of humanity, at least, to those of his own faith Even in his old age, John Capgrave, the chronicler and monk of King's Lynn, "Remembers with what pious attention Gray showed his affection towards him when a wretched pilgrim, and lying ill at Rome."]
In addition to the opinions quoted by Robinson, which these men were charged with holding, we may now add some others, especially as they reveal still further the character of their belief. They are charged with asserting "that fasting is not binding on labourers and married people, but only on clericos et religiosos--the priests and monks." They affirmed, "that there was no benefit in burial in consecrated ground, and that the money spent thereby would be better applied to the poor than given to gratify the avarice of the priests." They represented transubstantiation as a vain oblation. They declared, "that it was better to confess to a man cut off from the fellowship of the faithful (the Romish Church), than to a priest." They taught, "that as God was the searcher of hearts, mental prayer in the fields was as profitable as oral prayer in a church." They held, concerning marriage, "that the priest's presence was merely required at its celebration for the sake of gain." "Extreme unction," they confessed, "did no good to the soul, and only defiled the body."
Baptists have too readily claimed these men as holding their opinions, since, according to the third count in the indictment, all that they affirmed on this subject was, "that children neither have need of baptism, nor ought they to be baptized, since the baptism of their parents was sufficient." It was, however, by no means uncommon for the Romish clergy in those days thus to describe the Baptist opinions held by many of the Lollards. Fox, the Martyrologist, himself no great admirer of Baptists, quoting a similar accusation against the Norwich Lollards some years before the date at which Sparke and his friends were examined by Bishop Gray, suggests, "that the thing is so contrary to the manifest word, that it is not to be thought any to be so ignorant of the Gospel that they ever would or did affirm the same." Whether, therefore, these men were Baptists still remains doubtful ; but that they were unable to bear the strain put upon them by Bishop Gray is too patent from the Bishop's Register. Robert Sparke was first examined, and endeavoured to defend his opinions; was reasoned with, and recanted. He was nevertheless excommunicated; but on subsequent evidence of repentance, and swearing obedience, he was forgiven, the following penance being imposed:--"That on the eve of Pentecost next you shall walk about the market-place of Ely, when most people were there, wearing only your shirt and breeches (solis comitia et braccis indutus), bearing a faggot upon your back, humbly carrying a wax taper in your hand, and declaring publicly the reasons for your penance." On the eve of Trinity next he was to do the same in the Cambridge market. Also, on the next Sunday, after the feast of Corpus Christi, and on the Sunday following that, he was to do penance in like manner in the parish church of Swaffham. Sparke was compelled to swear "that from that hour he would neither hold nor propagate any opinion against orthodoxy; nor in any way favour such, nor yet go to conventicalæ illicitæ, unlawful conventicles;" a clear proof that such Conventicles did actually at that time exist; but not that one existed at Chesterton, where Robinson was living at the time he quotes "Gray's Register." The sentences on Crowd and Baile were similar, save that the places of church penance were Cambridge and Chesterton.**
[**From the Paston Letters, a few quotations illustrating the national and social history of England at this time (1457) may be given. One, William Conyn, a wealthy merchant of Bristol, and the mayor of that year, showed his patriotism by offering to build, at his own cost, "a stately vessel, only for the warre;" and, owing to the fear of a French invasion, "the lords appointed to keep the sea were making hem redye yn all haste;" not a whit too soon, as events afterwards proved. All this time, the common every-day life of the people went on as usual; and very curious are the revelations found of it in this collection of Letters. For instance, one lays bare the anxiety of a good mother about her son, who was at school in London. Judging from the mother's letter, Clement Paston had a better wardrobe than wit. Although carefully describing the "five gowns," and their colours and respective ages, his mother shows that her chief trouble is about Clement's dulness,--a dulness that prompts her to think that he must be "trewly belassched" (whipped) unless he mends, telling the London friend to whom she writes, that that was how his former master at Cambridge treated him, "and the best he ever had," says the reflecting mother. But thinking of the disgrace of failure in the new school, she adds, with more energy than tenderness, "I had lever (rather) he were fairly buried than lost for default." During the same year, "thieves and malefactors had justice done upon them daily, for which the people were glad." Moreover, perhaps in prospect of war, "the soldiers were more temperate than they were."]
Before leaving the Baker Manuscripts, in which the above facts are recorded, it may not be uninteresting to give another quotation referring to events which happened about twenty-six years (1431) before the date of Bishop Gray's examination of Sparke and his friends. It appears, from this entry, that a proclamation had been issued by Henry the Sixth, "against certain heretics and Lollards." They are charged with holding "errors tending to the subversion of religion and government, and with circulating false and seditious tracts (billæ falsæ et seditiones)." Whoever had such, "shall immediately tear them into small fragments, or burn them;" and "any one failing in this is to be held answerable as the author, until he find the author." Proclamation is further to be made, "that any one informing against another who has written, or stuck up, or in any way communicated such a tract, shall, on conviction, receive a sure reward of twenty pounds (about £180 in our money), and half the property of the person convicted." Power was also given to arrest or imprison persons in any way circulating such billæ. The Proclamation is addressed by the King to the Sheriff of London, and a similar brief was sent to all the sheriffs of England.
The inference, therefore, is plain: at that time numerous books, advocating the opinions of the Lollards, were in general circulation throughout all parts of the country; and, as many of the Lollards held and advocated Baptist opinions, the seed of future harvests was thus being widely scattered.