The clergy too at large shared in the discredit and unpopularity of the Papacy. Though they suffered more than any other class from the exactions of Avignon, they were bound more and more to the Papal cause. The very statutes which would have protected them were practically set aside by the treacherous diplomacy of the Crown.
It is, perhaps, on the whole, the strongest book, as its author was the strongest man of any who appeared among the Evangelicals. To find its equal we must go back to the previous century. We have hitherto been tracing the work of the Evangelical clergy in remote country villages and in London. We have now to turn to one whose most important work was done in a different sphere from either.
CLERGYY AND LAITY. There was a change from the time when the clergy were the sole possessors of knowledge, and the exclusive guides of opinion. In the lay part of society, there was an awaking of intellectual activity and a spirit of self-assertion. A brief sketch of important ecclesiastical changes, some of which have been adverted to, will be here in place.
The Roman clergy, he says, is united, not by its formal assemblies, but by communion and excommunication, which are its social compact, and by means of which it will always retain the mastery over kings and nations. All the priests who are in communion are citizens, although at the ends of the earth. This invention is a masterpiece of politics.
In a country where the Church had a rental of 15,000,000 francs, there were many parish priests who had not an income of £20; a state of things seen to be anomalous by the best ecclesiastics themselves, but their efforts at conciliation failed because the Holy See would not recognise the right of the civil authority to interfere in any question affecting the status or property of the clergy, and this right was the real point at issue.
"Oh, my son," exclaimed his mother in great distress, "how are we to help you young fellows? Do you think if the clergy were more faithful, they could help you more than they do?" "I don't think they would listen to what a parson says." "Then if doctors were to warn you more plainly than they do?"
The harshness of the Penal Laws was steadily being relaxed. All restrictions on worship, or the number of clergy allowed, had long since fallen into abeyance. Roman Catholic students were admitted into Trinity College, Dublin; and the authorities of the University expressed their readiness to appoint a Divinity Professor of their own faith for them if they wished it.
In a short time the barbarous Clotaire passed from a state of rabid fury to one of the most abject despair, so that he required little persuasion from the clergy ere he sent a messenger to Rome, bearing rich presents, to beg for absolution from the pope.
But it would be inaccurate to represent the one simply as the successor of the other. The two movements were, to a certain extent, contemporaneous, and were for a time so blended together that it is difficult to separate them. Besides the clergy already noticed, there were several others scattered throughout the country who clearly belonged to the Evangelicals rather than to the Methodists.
The Church of England, at a very early period, claimed, as the only "Protestant clergy" recognized by English law, the exclusive use of the lands in question, and Bishop Mountain, who became in 1793 Anglican bishop of Quebec, with a jurisdiction extending over all Canada, took the first steps to sustain this assertion of exclusive right.