171. THOMAS BILNEY
Thomas Bilney, and Thomas Arthur, who abjured at Norwich. Persecuted by Cardinal Wolsey; Nixe, bishop of Norwich; the friars of Ipswich; Friar Bird; Friar Hodgkins; Doctor Stokes; Sir Thomas More; Friar Brusierd; Friar John Huggen, provincial of the Dominics; Friar Jeffrey Julles; Friar Jugworth; Master William Jecket, gentleman; William Nelson; and by Thomas Williams, A.D. 1531.
In the story above passed of Cardinal Wolsey, mention was made of certain whom the said cardinal caused to abjure, as Bilney, Jeffrey Lome, Garret, Barnes, and such others, of whom we have now (the Lord directing us) specially to treat. This Thomas Bilney was brought up in the university of Cambridge, even from a child profiting in all kind of liberal sciences, even unto the profession of both laws. But at the last, having gotten a better schoolmaster, even the Holy Spirit of Christ, who endued his heart, by secret inspiration, with the knowledge of better and more wholesome things, he came at thelast unto this point, that, forsaking the knowledge of man's laws, he converted his study to those things which tended more unto godliness than gainfulness.
Finally, as he himself was greatly inflamed with the love of true religion and godliness, even so again was in his heart an incredible desire to allure many unto the same, desiring nothing more, than that he might stir up and encourage any to the love of Christ, and sincere religion. Neither were his labours vain; for he converted many of his fellows unto the knowledge of the gospel, amongst which number were Thomas Arthur, and Master Hugh Latimer; which Latimer at that time was cross-keeper at Cambridge, bringing it forth upon procession days. At last, Bilney, forsaking the university, went into many places, teaching and preaching, being associated with Arthur, which accompanied him from the university. The authority of Thomas Wolsey, cardinal of York, of whom ye have heard before, at that time was great in England, but his pomp and pride much greater; which did evidently declare unto all wise men the manifest vanity, not only of his life, but also of all the bishops and clergy: whereupon Bilney, with other good men, marvelling at the incredible insolency of the clergy, which they could now no longer suffer or abide, began to shake and reprove this excessive pomp of the clergy, and also to pluck at the authority of the bishop of Rome.
Then it was time for the cardinal to awake, and speedily to look about his business; neither lacked he in this point any craft or subtlety of a serpent, for he understood well enough, upon how slender a foundation their ambitious dignity was grounded, neither was he ignorant that their Luciferous and proud kingdom could not long continue against the manifest word of God; especially if the light of the gospel should once open the eyes of men. For otherwise he did not greatly fear the power and displeasure of kings and princes. Only this he feared, the voice of Christ in his gospel; lest it should disclose and detect their hypocrisy and deceits, and force them to come into an order of godly discipline: wherefore he thought good speedily, in time, to withstand these beginnings; whereupon he caused the said Bilney and Arthur to be apprehended and cast into prison, as before you have heard.
After this, on the twenty-seventh day of November, 1527, the said cardinal, accompanied with a great number of bishops, as the archbishop of Canterbury, Cuthbert of London, John of Rochester, Nicholas of Ely, John of Exeter, John of Lincoln, John of Bath and Wells, Harry of St. Asaph, with many others, both divines and lawyers, came into the chapter-house of Westminster, where the said Master Thomas Bilney, and Thomas Arthur, were brought before them; and the said cardinal there inquired of Master Bilney, whether he had, privately or publicly, preached or taught to the people the opinions of Luther or any others condemned by the church, contrary to the determination of the church: whereunto Bilney answered, that wittingly he had not preached or taught any of Luther's opinions, or any others contrary to the catholic church. Then the cardinal asked him, whether he had not once made an oath before, that he should not preach, rehearse, or defend any of Luther's opinions, but should impugn the same every where? He answered that he had made such an oath; but not lawfully. Which interrogatories so ministered, and answers made, the cardinal caused him to swear, to answer plainly to the articles and errors preached and set forth by him, as well in the city and diocese of London, as in the diocese of Norwich and other places, and that he should do it without any craft, qualifying, or leaving out any part of the truth.
After he was thus sworn and examined, the said cardinal proceeded to the examination of Master Thomas Arthur there present, causing him to take the like oath that Master Bilney did. Which done, he asked him whether he had not once told Sir Thomas More, knight, that in the sacrament of the altar was not the very body of Christ? Which interrogatory he denied. Then the cardinal gave him time to deliberate till noon, and to bring in his answer in writing. After noon the same day, what time the examination of the aforesaid Thomas Arthur was ended, the cardinal and bishops, by their authority ex officio, did call in for witnesses before Master Bilney, certain men; namely, John Huggen, chief provincial of the Friars Preachers throughout all England, Jeffrey Julles, and Richard Jugworth, professors of divinity of the same order. Also William Jecket, gentleman, William Nelson, and Thomas William, which were sworn that, all favour, hate, love, or reward set apart, they should, without concealing any falsehood, or omitting any truth, speak their minds, upon the articles laid against him, or preached by him, as well within the diocese of London, as the diocese of Norwich: and because he was otherwise occupied about the affairs of the realm, he committed the hearing of the matter to the bishop of London, and to other bishops there present, or to three of them, to proceed against all men, as well spiritual as temporal, as also against schedules, writings, and books, set forth and translated by Martin Luther, lately condemned by Pope Leo the Tenth, and by all manner of probable means to inquire and root out their errors and opinions; and all such as were found culpable, to compel them to abjuration according to the law, orif the matter so required, to deliver them unto the secular power, and to give them full power and authority to determine upon them.
The twenty-seventh day of November, in the year aforesaid, the bishop of London, with the bishops of Ely and Rochester, came unto the bishop of Norwich's house, where likewise, ex officio, they did swear certain witnesses against Master Thomas Arthur, in like sort as they had done before against Master Thomas Bilney, and so proceeded to the examination of Master Arthur: which being ended upon certain interrogatories, the bishop of London warned him, by virtue of his oath, that he should not reveal his examinations, nor his answers, nor any part or parcel thereof.
The second day of December, the bishops assembled again in the same place, and swore more witnesses against Master Bilney: that done, they called for Master Arthur, unto whose charge they laid these articles following:
I. That he exhorted the people, in his prayers, to pray especially for those that now be in prison. -- Which article he denied.
II. That he said, "Though men be restrained to preach now-a-days, (which is against God's laws,) yet I may preach; first, by the authority of my lord cardinal; for I have his licence: secondly, by the authority of the university: thirdly, by the pope: fourthly, by the authority of God, by which authority every man may preach, and there is neither bishop nor ordinary, nor yet the pope, that may make any law to hinder any man to preach the gospel." -- This article he confessed that he spake.
III. When he spake of laws, he brought a similitude of crosses, set up against the walls of London, that men should not offend there. "When there was but one cross, or a few more, men did reverence them, and offended not there; but when there was in every corner a cross set, then men of necessity were compelled to offend upon the crosses. So, in like manner, when there was but a few holy and devout laws in the church, then men were afraid to offend them. Afterwards they made many laws for their advantage; and such as were pecuniary, those they do observe; and such as are not pecuniary, those they call palea, and regard them not: and so now-a-days there are so many laws, that whether a man do ill or well, he shall be taken in the law." -- He confessed that he spake the very same, or the like words.
IV. He said, "Good people! if I should suffer persecution for the preaching of the gospel of God, yet there are seven thousand more that would preach the gospel of God as I do now. Therefore, good people! good people! (which words he often rehearsed, as it were lamenting,) think not that if these tyrants and persecutors put a man to death, the preaching of the gospel therefore is to be forsaken." -- This article he confessed that he spake in like words and sense, saving that he made no mention of tyrants.
V. That every man, yea, every layman, is a priest. -- He confessed that he spake such words, declaring in his sermon, that every Christian man is a priest, offering up the sacrifice of prayer; and if they did murmur against the order of the priesthood, they murmur against themselves.
VI. That men should pray to no saints in heaven, but only to God; and they should use no other mediator for them, but Christ Jesus our Redeemer only. -- This article he denied.
VII. He preached that they should worship no images of saints, which were nothing but stocks and stones. -- This he also denied.
VIII. He did preach upon Whit Sunday last, within the university of Cambridge, such or like words and sentences: that a bachelor of divinity, admitted of the university, or any other person having or knowing the gospel of God, should go forth and preach in every place, and let for no man, of what estate or degree soever he were: and if any bishop did accurse them for so doing, their curses should turn to the harm of themselves. -- He confessed this.
Which answers thus made and acknowledged, the said Master Arthur did revoke and condemn the said articles against him administered, and submitted himself to the punishment and judgment of the church .
The third of December, the bishop of London, with the other bishops assembling in the place aforesaid, after that Bilney had denied utterly to return to the Church of Rome, the bishop of London, in discharge of his conscience, (as he said,) lest he should hide any thing that had come to his hands, he did really exhibit unto the notaries, in the presence of the said Master Bilney, certain letters, to wit, five letters or epistles, with one schedule in one of the epistles, containing his articles and answers folded therein, and another epistle folded in manner of a book, with six leaves; which, all and every one, he commanded to be written out and registered, and the originals to be delivered to him again.
This was done in the presence of Master Bilney, desiring a copy of them, and he bound the notaries with an oath, for the safe keeping of the copies, and true registering of the same: which articles and answers, with three of the same epistles, with certain depositions deposed by the aforesaid witnesses, here follow truly drawn; partly out of his own handwriting, and partly out of the register:
I. Whether they did believe with their hearts, that the assertions of Luther, which are impugned by the bishop of Rochester, were justly and godly condemned; and that Luther, with his adherents, was a wicked and detestable heretic?
II. Whether they did believe that the general councils and ecclesiastical constitutions, once received, and not abrogated again, ought to be observed of all men, even for conscience' sake, and not only for fear?
III. Whether they did believe that the pope's laws were profitable and necessary to the preferment of godliness, not repugnant to the Holy Scriptures, neither by any means to be abrogated, but to be reverenced by all men?
IV. Whether they did believe that the catholic church may err in the faith or no? and whether they think that catholic church to be a sensible church, which may be demonstrated and pointed out as it were with a finger; or that it is only a spiritual church, intelligible and known only unto God?
V. Whether they think that the images of saints are Christianly set in the churches, and ought to be worshipped of all true Christians?
VI. Whether that a man may believe, without hurt to his faith, or note of heresy, the souls of Peter and Paul, and of our Lady, either to be, or not to be, in heaven; and that there is yet no judgment given upon the souls departed?
VII. Whether that a man may believe, without spot of heresy, that our Lady remained not always a virgin?
VIII. Whether holy-days and fasting-days, ordained and received by the church, may be broken by any private man, at his will and pleasure, without sin or obstinacy?
IX. Whether we are bound to be obedient unto prelates, bishops, and kings, by God's commandment, as we are unto our parents?
X. Whether they believe that the church doth well and godly in praying to the saints?
XI. Whether they think that Christ only ought to be prayed unto, and that it is no heresy, if any man affirm that saints should not be prayed unto?
XII. Whether they do think all true Christians to be by like right priests, and all those to have received the keys of binding and loosing at the hands of Christ, which have obtained the Spirit of God, and only such, whether they be laymen or priests?
XIII. Whether they believe with their hearts, that faith may be without works and charity?
XIV. Whether they believe that it is more agreeable to the faith, that the people should pray in their own tongue, than in a learned unknown tongue; and whether they commend the prayer in a strange tongue or no?
XV. Whether they would have the masses and Gospels openly to be read in churches in the vulgar tongue, rather than in the Latin tongue?
XVI. Whether they commend that children should only be taught the Lord's Prayer, and not the Salutation of the Virgin, or Creed?
XVII. Whether they do think the wooden beads, which the common people do use, worthy to be denied or not?
XVIII. Whether they do think the whole Scripture ought to be translated into English, or that it should be more profitable for the people, than as it is now read?
XIX. Whether they would have the organs, and all manner of songs, to be put out of the church of God?
XX. Whether they do think that it pertaineth to the bishops to punish any man with bonds or imprisonment, or that they have any temporal power and authority?
XXI. Whether they think that constitution to be godly, that no man should preach in another man's diocese without letters of commendation and licence obtained of the bishop?
XXII. Whether they think the vows of religious men, and private religion, to be constituted and ordained by the Spirit of God; neither by any means to be repugnant to a free and perfect Christian life?
XXIII. Whether they believe that we should pray for the dead, or believe that there is a purgatory; or that we are bound by the necessity of faith, to believe neither of them: but that it is free without sin, either to believe it, or not to believe it?
XXIV. Whether they believe that moral philosophy and natural, do prevail any thing for the better understanding of the Scriptures, and for the exposition and defence of the truth?
XXV. Whether they think that the pope's indulgences and pardons are rather to be rejected than received?
XXVI. Whether it be contrary to the doctrine of Christ and his apostles, that Christians should by any means contend in the law, to seek any manner of restitution?
XXVII. Whether they believe all things pertaining to salvation and damnation to come of necessity, and nothing to be in our own wills?
XXVIII. Whether they believe God to be the author of all evil, as well of the fault, as of the punishment?
XXIX. Whether they think mass only to be profitable to him which saith it, and whether every man may alter or leave out the rite and order of the mass without hurt of faith?
XXX. Whether they believe that there can be any moral virtues without the grace of Christian living; or that the virtues which Aristotle hath set out, are rather feigned?
XXXI. Whether they think it heresy to teach the people, that it is free to give tithes unto priests, or to any other poor man?
XXXII. Whether they do think it more Christian-like to take away the images out of the churches, or to permit them to adorn them and honour them?
XXXIII. Whether they think it the part of a Christian man, that preachers should exhort men to pilgrimage, or to the worshipping of relics?
XXXIV. Whether that thou, Thomas Bilney being cited upon heresy to appear before my lord cardinal, and, before the day of thy appearance, not having made thy purgation upon those points that thou wast cited, hast preached openly in divers churches of the city and diocese of London, without sufficient licence from the bishop or any other?
Concerning the answers unto these articles, gentle reader! forasmuch as in the most part of them, Bilney with Arthur seemed to consent and agree, (although not fully and directly, but by way and manner of qualifying,) yet because he did not expressly deny them, it shall not be needful here to recite them all, save only such, wherein he seemed to dissent from them.
Bilney's answers to the interrogatories aforesaid.
To the first and second articles he answered affirmatively. To the third he said, "I believe that many of the pope's laws are profitable and necessary, and do prevail unto godliness, neither in any point are repugnant unto the Scriptures, nor by any means are to be abrogate, but of all men to be observed and reverenced. But touching all those laws, I cannot determine: for as for such as I have not read, I trust notwithstanding they are good also; and as for those that I have read, I did never read them to the end and purpose to reprove them, but, according to my power, to learn and understand them. And as touching the multitude of laws, St. Augustine in his time did much complain; and Gerson also, who marvelled that we could by any means live in safety amongst so many snares of constitutions, when our forefathers, being pure before their fall, could not observe one only precept."
To the fourth article he said, that "the catholic church can by no means err in faith, for it is the whole congregation of the elect, and so known only unto God, which knoweth who are his: otherwise no man should be ascertained of another man's salvation, or of his own, but only through faith and hope. For it is written, No man knoweth whether he be worthy of hatred or love. It is also sensible, and may be demonstrate so far forth as it is sufficient to establish us in all things that are to be believed and done: for I may truly say of the general council being congregate in the Holy Ghost, Behold here the catholic church; denominating the whole, by the most worthy part."
To the fifth article he answered affirmatively.
To the sixth article he answered, that he did not believe that they are in heaven; being so taught by the Scriptures, and holy fathers of the church.
To the seventh article he said, that it is not to be thought contrary.
To the eighth article, whether a man may not observe the feasts and fasts of the church prescribed; he thought that there is no man but he ought to observe them.
To the ninth article he said, that we are likewise bound, as unto parents.
To the fourteenth article he answered thus: "The fourteenth chapter of St. Paul, in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, moveth me to believe, that it is best that the people should have the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed in English, so that the devotion might the more be furthered by the understanding thereof; and also that thereby they might be the more prompt and expert in the articles of their faith, of the which, it is to be feared, a great number are ignorant. Surely I have heard many say, that they never heard speak of the resurrection of the body: and being certified thereof, but they became much more apt and ready unto goodness, and more fearful to do evil."
To the fifteenth article he said, he would "wish that the Gospels and Epistles should be read in English; For I would (saith Paul) rather have five words, &c., that the church might he edified, &c.; and Chrysostom exhorteth his hearers to look upon books, that they might the better commit unto memory those things which they had heard; and St. Bede did translate St. John's Gospel into English."
Touching the eighteenth article, for the translation of the Scripture into English, concerning the whole, he did partly doubt; notwithstanding he wished that the Gospels and Epistles of the day might be read in English, that the people might be made the more apt to hear sermons. But here some will say, there might also be danger for error: whereunto he answered, "But good and vigilant pastors might easily help that matter, by adding the plain interpretation of the fathers in the margins in English, upon the dark and obscure places, which would put away all doubts. Oh how great profit of souls should the vigilant pastors get thereby! Which contrariwise, through their slothfulness, bring great ruin and decay."
To the five-and-twentieth article, as touching pardons, he said, that "as they be used, and have too long been, it were better that they should be restrained, than that they should be any longer used as they have been, to the injury of Christ's passion."
Touching the six-and-twentieth article he said, that "it is not against the doctrine of Christ and his apostles to contend in the law, so it be done with charity, if St. Augustine, and the reverend father Marcus Marulus, did not err, which granted that liberty to the weak Christians: albeit the true Christians ought to give ear unto St. Paul's saying, Why do ye not rather suffer injury? and to Christ himself, which saith, He that would contend with thee in the law, and take away thy coat, give him thy cloak also."
Touching the eight-and-twentieth, he answered, that "God is the author of the punishment only, but not of the offence, as Basil the Great teacheth in his sermon upon these words of the prophet, Non est malum in civitate quod non fecit Dominus. And St. Augustine in another place, as I remember, prayeth, that he be not led into that temptation, that he should believe God to be the author of sin and wickedness."
Here ensueth a brief summary or collection of certain depositions, deposed by the several witnesses aforenamed, upon certain interrogatories ministered unto them for the inquiry of Master Bilney's doctrine and preaching.
First it was deposed, that in his sermon in Christ's church in Ipswich, he should preach and say, "Our Saviour Christ is our Mediator between us and the Father: what should we need then to seek any saint for remedy? Wherefore, it is great injury to the blood of Christ, to make such petitions, and blasphemeth our Saviour.
"That man is so imperfect of himself, that he can in no wise merit by his own deeds."
Also, that "the coming of Christ was long prophesied before, and desired by the prophets: but John Baptist, being more than a prophet, did not only prophesy, but with his finger showed him, saying, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world. Then, if this were the very Lamb, which John did demonstrate, which taketh away the sins of the world, what injury is it to our Saviour Christ, that to be buried in St. Francis' cowl should remit four parts of penance! What is then left to our Saviour Christ, which taketh away the sills of the world? This I will justify to be a great blasphemy to the blood of Christ."
Also, that "it was a great folly to go on pilgrimage, and that preachers, in times past, have been antichrists; and now it hath pleased God somewhat to show forth their falsehood and errors."
Also, that "the miracles done at Walsingham, at Canterbury, and there, in Ipswich, were done by the devil, through the sufferance of God, to blind the poor people: and that the pope hath not the keys that Peter had, except he follow Peter in his living."
Moreover, it was deposed against him, that he was notoriously suspected as a heretic, and twice pulled out of the pulpit in the diocese of Norwich.
Illustration -- Bilney pulled out of the pulpit
Also it was deposed against him, that he should, in the parish church of Wilsdon, exhort the people to put away their gods of silver and gold, and leave their offerings unto them; for that such things as they offered have been known oftentimes afterward to have been given to the vilest of women. Also that Jews and Saracens would have become Christian men long ago, had it not been for the idolatry of Christian men, in offering of candles, wax, and money, to stocks and stones.
Over and besides these cavilling matters articulated and deposed against him, here follow certain other articles whereupon he was detected, gathered out of his sermon which he preached in the parish church of St. Magnus, in Whitsun week, A.D. 1527.
First he said, "Pray you only to God, and to no saints," rehearsing the Litany; and when he cameto Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis, that is, Holy Mary pray for us, he said, "Stay there."
He said, that "Christian men ought to worship God only, and no saints."
He said, that "Christian people should set up no light before the images of saints: for saints in heaven need no light, and the images have no eyes to see."
He said, "As Hezekiah destroyed the brazen serpent that Moses made by the commandment of God; even so should kings and princes now-a-days destroy and burn the images of saints set up in churches.
"These five hundred years there hath been no good pope, and in all the times past, we can find but fifty: for they have neither preached, nor lived well, or conformably to their dignity; wherefore, till now, they have borne the keys of simony. Against them, good people! we must preach and teach unto you, for we cannot come to them; it is great pity they have sore slandered the blood of Christ.
"The people have used foolishly of late pilgrimages, which for them had been better they had been at home.
"Many have made certain vows, which be not possible for them to fulfil, and those nothing meritorious.
"The preachers before this have been antichrists, and now it hath pleased our Saviour Christ to show their false errors, and to teach another way and manner of the holy gospel of Christ, to the comfort of your souls.
"I trust that there shall and will come other besides me, which shall show and preach to you the same faith and manner of living that I do show and preach to you, which is the very true gospel of our Saviour Christ, and the mind of the holy fathers, whereby you shall be brought from their errors, wherein you have been long seduced; for before this there have been many that have slandered you, and the gospel of our Saviour Christ."
These and many other such-like depositions were deposed against him by the deponents and witnesses before sworn, which wholly to recite would be too long and tedious; wherefore these shall suffice at this time, being the principal matters, and in manner the effect of all the rest. But now, before we return again to the order of his examination, we think it good here to infer a certain dialogue, containing a communication between a friar named John Brusierd, and Master Thomas Bilney, which we have thought meet for this place, because it was done in Ipswich, and also about the time of these examinations: the copy whereof we have written with the friar's own hand in Latin, the translation whereof in English here ensueth.
Brusierd. "Although you have blasphemed most perniciously the immaculate flock of Christ with certain blasphemies of yours, yet, being moved partly with your gentle petitions, partly pitying your case and towardly disposition, I am come hither to talk with you secretly, before the rumour be disclosed, upon the consideration of the threefold errors which I see in you. First, for that when you began to shoot the dart of your pestiferous error more vehemently than you ought, against the breast of the ignorant multitude, you seemed to pour upon the ground the precious blood of Christ, as with a certain vehement violence, out of the miserable vessel of your heart. Whereas you said that none of the saints do make intercession for us, nor obtain for us any thing, you have perilously blasphemed the efficacy of thewhole church, consecrated with the precious blood of Christ. Which thing you are not able to deny, especially seeing the same so incessantly doth knock at the gates of heaven, through the continual intercession of the saints, according as in the sevenfold Litany manifestly appeareth to be seen."
Bilney. "I marvel at you, and doubtless cannot marvel enough, but that the strong and vain custom of superstitious men, thinking themselves not to be heard but in much babbling, doth put an end to my admiration: for our heavenly Father knoweth what we have need of before we ask. Also it is written, There is one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus. If then there be but one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, where is our blessed Lady? where are then St. Peter and other saints?"
Brusierd. "I suppose that no man is ignorant but that the divines of the primitive church have all affirmed to be one mediator between God and man. Neither could any at that time praise or pray to the saints, when as yet they, living in the calamities of this body, and wrestling with the contrary winds of this world, were not yet come to the port of rest whereunto they were travelling. Paul, I grant, did rightly affirm to be but one mediator of God and man, what time as yet there was no saint canonized, or put into the calendar. But now, seeing the church doth know, and doth certainly believe, through the undoubted revelations of God, that the blessed Virgin and other saints are placed in the bosom of Abraham, she, therefore, like a good mother, hath taught, and that most diligently, us her children, to praise the omnipotent Jesus in his saints; and also to offer up by the same saints our petitions unto God. Thereof it is the psalmist. saith, Praise ye the Lord in his saints. Rightly also do we say and affirm, that saints may pray for us. One man may pray for another; ergo, much more may saints who do enjoy the fruition of his High Majesty. For so it is written, God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit, in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I remember you in my prayers always for you, &c."
Bilney. "I marvel, doubtless, that you, a man learned, are not yet delivered out of the confused dungeon of heresy, through the help of the holy gospel; especially seeing that in the same gospel it is written, Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever you ask the Father in my name he will give it unto you: he saith not, Whatsoever ye ask the Father in the name of St. Peter, St. Paul, or other saints; but in my name. Let us ask therefore help in the name of him, which is able to obtain for us of his Father whatsoever we ask, lest with all the clergy, did pray for corporal infirmity, it appeareth manifestly that we ought to worship the saints, and also to give honour in a manner to their images: further also, to pray to Almighty God and all saints for corporal infirmity, that we may be delivered from the same, so that they may say the like for us, which is said in the Gospel, Send them away, because they cry after us. And although there be infinite places inexpugnable to be alleged out of the Holy Scripture, wherewith we might easily resist this your error, yet standing herewith content, as sufficient at this present, we will proceed now to your second pestiferous error, wherein you, like an ingrate child, go about to tear out the bowels of your mother. For in that you say and affirm, blasphemously, the bishop of Rome to be the very antichrist, and that his privilege have no force against the gates of hell; in so saying, what do you, but, like a most unkind and unnatural child, spoil your loving mother of all her treasures, and wound her, being spoiled; and being wounded, pluck out her bowels most miserably upon the earth? But forasmuch as there is nothing so absurd, or so heretical, but shall be received by some itching ears, I would therefore now hear you declare, how he sitteth in the temple of God as God, being exalted and worshipped alove all that is named God; or how that he showeth himself as Lord, in power and signs and wonders deceitful."
Bilney. "Although incredulity doth not suffer you, notwithstanding your learning, to understand these things, yet I will go about something to help your incredulity herein, through the help of the Lord: beseeching you that, setting all superstition apart, you will understand those things that are above. Do ye know the table of the ten commandments?"
Brusierd. "According as the catholic doctors do expound them, I know them meanly; but how you do expound them I cannot tell."
Bilney. "And do you know also the constitutions of men, which are devised only by the dreams of men; whereunto men are so straitly bound, that, under pain of death, they are compelled to observe them?"
Brusierd. "I know certain sanctions of the holy fathers; but such as you speak of, to be devised by men's dreams, I know none."
Bilney. "Now then let us set and compare these two together, and so shall you easily understand the bishop of Rome, whom they call the pope, to sit in the temple of God as God, and to be extolled above all that is named God. It is written, The temple of Lord is holy, which is you. Therefore the conscience of man is the temple of the Holy Ghost; in peradventure hereafter, in the end of the world, at the strait judgment, we shall hear, Hitherto in my name ye have asked nothing."
Brusierd. "Where ye marvel (with what mind, I cannot tell) that I, being a learned man, (as you say,) am not delivered yet from the confused dungeon of heresy, through the help of the gospel; much more do you, that are far better learned than I, cause me to marvel at your foolish admiration. Neither can I choose but laugh at you, as one being rapt to the third heaven of such high mysteries, and yet see not those things which be done here, in the lower parts of terrene philosophy: for what a ridiculous thing is it, for a man to look so long upon the sun, that he can see nothing else but the sun, nor cannot tell whither to turn him? Moreover, what student is there in all Cambridge, be he never so young, that knoweth not that the argument of authority, brought out negatively, hath no force?"
Bilney. "So as the Pharisees took Christ, you take my words, much otherwise than I meant."
Brusierd. "Your words, which wander far from the scope of Scripture, I do not like. What is in your meaning, and lieth inwardly in your mind, I cannot tell."
Bilney. "Such as invocate the help either of Christ, or of any other saint, for any corporal infirmity, to be delivered from the same, may be well resembled to delicate patients, who, being under the hand of physicians, and having medicines ministered against their diseases, not abiding the pain thereof, rap all asunder: wherefore I say, no man ought to implore the help of God, or of any saint, for corporal infirmity."
Brusierd. "O most pernicious and perilous heresy of all that ever I heard! Thus you, fleeing the smoke, fall into the fire and avoiding the danger of Scylla, you run upon Charybdis. O heart of man, wrapped in palpable darkness! I wish, Master Bilney, that you would but once search and fetch out the first origin of these Rogation days: for so we read in the church story, that they were first ordained by Pope Gregory, with fasting, prayers, and holy processions, against the pestilence, by the infection of the air, then reigning among the people; at what time, the people then going in the procession, a certain image like to our blessed Lady, painted by the hands of St. Luke the evangelist, did go before them; about the which image, in honour of the Virgin, angels did sing this anthem: 'O queen of heaven, be glad!' to which anthem the pope also adjoined this, 'Pray to the Lord for us.' Wherefore, seeing the angels did worship the image of the glorious Virgin Mary, in the honour of her; and seeing moreover the holy father, Pope Gregory, which temple I will prove the pope to sit as God, and to be exalted above all that is called God. For whoso contemneth the decalogue, or the table of the commandments of God, there is but a small punishment for him; neither is that punishment to death: but contrariwise, he that shall contemn or violate the constitutions, which you call the sanctions of men, is counted by all men's judgment guilty of death. What is this, but for the high bishop of Rome to sit and reign in the temple of God, (that is, in man's conscience,) as God?"
Brusierd. "Although this exposition seemeth unworthy for Christian ears, yet I would hear you further, how he showeth himself in signs and wonders deceitful."
Bilney. "These wonders, which they call miracles, be wrought daily in the church, not by the power of God, as many think; but by the illusion of Satan rather, who, as the Scripture witnesseth, hath been loose now abroad five hundred years, according as it is written in the book of the Apocalypse, After a thousand years Satan shall be let loose, &c. Neither are they to be called miracles of true Christian men, but illusions rather, whereby to delude men's minds; to make them put their faith in our Lady, and in other saints, and not in God alone, to whom be honour and glory for ever."
Brusierd. "But that I believe and know that God and all his saints will take everlasting revenge-meat upon thee, I would surely, with these nails of mine, be thy death, for this horrible and enormous injury against the precious blood of Christ. God saith, I will not the death of a sinner, but rather that he convert and live. And thou blasphemest him, as though he should lay privy snares of death for us secretly, that we should not espy them; which if it were true, we might well say with Hugh de Saint Victore in this manner: If it be an error, it is by thee, O God, that we are deceived; for these be confirmed with such signs and wonders, which cannot be done but by thee. But I am assured it is untrue and heretical, and therefore I will leave this matter, and will talk with you concerning the merits of saints; for once I remember, in a certain sermon of yours, you said, that no saint, though his suffering were never so great, and his life most pure, deserved any thing for us with God, either by his death or life: which is contrary to St. Augustine."
Bilney. "Christ saith one thing, St. Augustine another: whether of these two shall we believe? for Christ, willing to deliver us out of this dark dungeon of ignorance, gave forth a certain parable of ten virgins, of which five were fools, and five were wise. By the five foolish virgins, wanting the oil of good works, he meant all us sinners: by the wisevirgins, he meant the company of all holy saints. Now let us hear what the five wise virgins answered to the five foolish, craving oil of them; No, say they, lest peradventure we have not sufficient for us and for you. Get you rather to them that sell, and buy of them to serve your turn. Wherefore, if they had not oil sufficient for themselves, and also for the others, where then be the merits of saints wherewith they can deserve both for themselves and for us, certes I cannot see."
Brusierd. "You wrest the Scriptures from the right understanding to a reprobate sense, that I am scarce able to hold mine eyes from tears, hearing with mine ears these words of you. Fare ye well!"
The submission of Master Thomas Bilney.
The fourth day of December, the bishop of London, with the other bishops, his assistants, assembled again in the chapter-house of Westminster; whither also Master Bilney was brought, and was exhorted and admonished to abjure and recant; who answered, that he would stand to his conscience. Then the bishop of London, with other bishops, did publish the depositions of the witnesses, with his articles and answers, commanding that they should be read. That done, the bishop exhorted him again to deliberate with himself, whether he would return to the church, and renounce his opinions, or no; and bade him to depart into a void place, and there to deliberate with himself. Which done, the bishop asked him again if he would return? who answered, Let justice and judgment be done in the name of the Lord. And being divers times admonished to abjure, he would make no other answer, but Fiat justitia, &c., and, This is the day God made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Then the bishop, after deliberation, putting off his cap, said, In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, Amen: Exurgat Deus et dissipentur inimici ejus. And making a cross on his forehead and his breast, by the counsel of the other bishops he gave sentence against Master Bilney, being there present, in this manner: "I, by the consent and counsel of my brethren here present, do pronounce thee, Thomas Bilney, who hast been accused of divers articles, to be convicted of heresy; and for the rest of the sentence we take deliberation till to-morrow."
The fifth day of December, the bishops assembled there again, before whom Bilney was brought; whom the bishop asked, if he would yet return to the unity of the church, and revoke his heresies which he had preached. Whereupon Bilney answered that he would not be a slander to the gospel, trusting that he was not separate from the church; and that if the multitude of witnesses might be credited, he might have thirty men of honest life on his part, against one to the contrary brought in against him. Which witnesses, the bishop said, came too late; for after publication they could not be received by the law. Then Bilney alleging the story of Susan and Daniel, the bishop of London still exhorted him to return to the unity of the church, and to abjure his heresies, and permitted him to go into some secret place, there to consult with his friends, till one o'clock in the afternoon of the same day.
At afternoon, the bishop of London again asked him whether he would return to the church, and acknowledge his heresies. Bilney answered, that he trusted he was not separate from the church; and required time and place to bring in witnesses: which was refused. Then the bishop once again required of him, whether he would return to the catholic church: whereunto he answered, that if they could teach and prove sufficiently, that he was convicted, he would yield and submit himself: and he desired again to have time and space to bring in again his refused witnesses; and other answer he would give none.
Then the bishop put Master Bilney aside, and took counsel with his fellows; and afterwards calling in Master Bilney, asked him again, whether he would abjure? But he would make no other answer than before. Then the bishop, with the consent of the rest, did decree and determine, that it was not lawful to hear a petition which was against the law: and inquiring again, whether he would abjure, he answered plainly, No; and desired to have time to consult with his friends, in whom his trust was. And being once again asked whether he would return, and instantly desired thereunto, or else the sentence must be read, he required the bishop to give him licence to deliberate with himself until the next morrow, whether he might abjure the heresies wherewith he was defamed or no. The bishop granted him that he should have a little time to deliberate with Master Dancaster; but Bilney required space till the next morrow, to consult with Master Farmer and Master Dancaster, but the bishop would not grant him his request, for fear lest he should appeal. But at last the bishop, inclining unto him, granted him two nights' respite to deliberate; that is to say, till Saturday at nine o'clock in the forenoon: and then to give a plain determinate answer, what he would do in the premises.
The seventh day of December, in the year and place aforesaid, the bishop of London with the other bishops being assembled, Bilney also personally appeared; whom the bishop of London asked, whether he would now return to the unity of the church, and revoke the errors and heresies whereof be stood accused, detected, and convicted. Who answered, that now he was persuaded by Master Dancaster and others his friends, he would submit himself, trusting that they would deal gently with him, both in his abjuration and penance. Then he desired that he might read his abjuration; which the bishop granted. When be had read the same secretly by himself, and was returned, being demanded what he would do in the premises, he answered, that he would abjure and submit himself; and there openly read his abjuration, and subscribed, and delivered it to the bishop, which then did absolve him, and, for his penance, enjoined him, that he should abide in a prison appointed by the cardinal, till he were by him released: and, moreover, the next day he should go before the procession, in the cathedral church of St. Paul, bareheaded, with a faggot on his shoulder; and should stand before the preacher at Paul's Cross all the sermon time.
Here, forasmuch as mention is made before of five letters or epistles, which this good man wrote to Cuthbert Tonstal, bishop of London, and by the said bishop delivered unto the registrars, we thought good to insert certain thereof, such as could come to our hands: the copy of which letters, as they were written by him in Latin, because they are in the former edition to be seen and read in the same Latin wherein he wrote them, it shall suffice in this book to express the same only in English. Concerning the first epistle, which containeth the whole story of his conversion, and seemeth more effectual in the Latin than in the English; we have exhibited it in the second edition, and therefore here have only made mention of the same briefly. The same in English is as followeth
"To the reverend father in Christ, Cuthbert, bishop of London, Thomas Bilney wisheth health in Christ, with all submission due unto such a prelate:
"In this behalf, most reverend father in Christ, I think myself most happy that it is my chance to be called to examination before your Reverence, for that you are of such wisdom and learning, of such integrity of life, which all men do confess to be in you, that even yourself cannot choose, (if you do not too lightly esteem God's gifts in you,) as often as you shall remember the great things which God hath done unto you, but straightways secretly in your heart, to his high praise, say, He that is mighty hath done great things unto me, and holy is his name. I rejoice that I have now happened upon such a judge, and with all my heart give thanks unto God, who ruleth all things.
"And albeit (God is my witness) I know not myself guilty of any error in my sermons, neither of any heresy or sedition, which divers do slander me of, seeking rather their own lucre and advantage than the health of souls: notwithstanding I do exceedingly rejoice, that it is so foreseen by God's divine providence, that I should be brought before the tribunal seat of Tonstal, who knoweth as well as any other, that there will never be wanting a Jannes and a Jambres, who will resist the truth; that there shall never be lacking some Elymas, who will go about to subvert the straight ways of the Lord; and finally, that some Demetriuses, Pithonises, Balaams, Nicolaitans, Cains, and Ishmaels, will be always at hand, which will greedily hunt and seek after that which pertaineth unto themselves, and not that which pertaineth to Jesus Christ. How can it then be, that they can suffer Christ to be truly and sincerely preached? for if the people begin wholly in every place once to put their confidence in Christ, which was for them crucified, then straight-ways that which they have hitherto embraced instead of Christ, shall utterly decay in the hearts of the faithful.
"Then they shall understand that Christ is not in this place, or in that place, but the kingdom of God to be in themselves. Then shall they plainly see, that the Father is not to be worshipped, neither in the mount of Samaria, nor at Jerusalem, but in all places, in spirit and in truth: which thing if it come once to pass, the beasts of the field will think all their gain and lucre lost. In whom the saying of Ezekiel is fulfilled: My sheep are dispersed because they had no shepherd, and are devoured of the beast of the field, and strayed abroad: my flock hath erred and wandered in every mountain, and upon every high hill, and is dispersed throughout all the earth; and there is no man which hath sought to gather them together; no, there was no man which once sought after them. But if any man would seek to reduce those which were gone astray, into the fold of Christ, that is, the unity of faith, by and by there rise up certain against him, which are named pastors, but indeed are wolves; which seek no other thing of their flock, but the milk, wool, and flesh, leaving both their own souls, and the souls of their flock, unto the devil.
"These men, I say, rise up like unto Demetrius, crying out, This heretic dissuadeth and seduceth much people every where, saying, that they are not gods which are made with hands. These are they, these I say, most reverend father! are they, which, under the pretence of persecuting heretics, follow their own licentious lives; enemies unto the cross of Christ, which can suffer and bear any thing rather than the sincere preaching of Christ crucified for our sins. These are they unto whom Christ threateneth eternal damnation, where he saith, Woe be unto you, scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites! which shut up the kingdom of heaven before men, and you yourselves enter not in, neither suffer those which would enter, to come in. These are they that have come in another way to the charge of souls, as it appeareth; For if any man, saith Christ, come in by me, he shall be saved; and shall come in, and go out, and find pasture. These men do not find pasture, for they never teach and draw others after them, that they should enter by Christ, which alone is the door whereby we must come unto the Father; but set before the people another way, persuading them to come unto God through good works, oftentimes speaking nothing at all of Christ, thereby seeking rather their own gain and lucre, than the salvation of souls: in this point being worse than those which upon Christ (being the foundation) do build wood, hay, and straw. These men confess that they know Christ, but by their deeds they deny him.
"These are those physicians upon whom that woman that was twelve years vexed with the bloody flux had consumed all that she had, and felt no help, but was still worse and worse, until such time as she came at last unto Christ; and after she had once touched the hem of his vesture, through faith she was so healed, that by and by she felt the same in her body. O mighty power of the most Highest! which I also, miserable sinner, have often tasted and felt, which, before I could come unto Christ, had even likewise spent all that I had upon those ignorant physicians, that is to say, unlearned hearers of confession; so that there was but small force of strength left in me, (which of nature was but weak,) small store of money, and very little wit or understanding: for they appointed me fastings, watchings, buying of pardons, and masses; in all which things (as I now understand) they sought rather their own gain, than the salvation of my sick and languishing soul.
"But at the last I heard speak of Jesus, even then when the New Testament was first set forth by Erasmus; which understanding to be eloquently done by him, and being allured rather by the Latin than for the word of God, (for at that time I knew not what it meant,) I bought it even by the providence of God, as I do now well understand and perceive: and at the first reading (as I well remember) I chanced upon this sentence of St. Paul, (O most sweet and comfortable sentence to my soul!) in 1 Tim. i. 15, It is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be embraced, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the chief and principal. This one sentence, through God's instruction and inward working, which I did not then perceive, did so exhilarate my heart, being before wounded with the guilt of my sins, and being almost in despair, that immediately I felt a marvellous comfort and quietness, insomuch that my bruised bones leaped for joy.
"After this, the Scripture began to be more pleasant unto me than the honey or the honeycomb; wherein I learned, that all my travails, all my fasting and watching, all the redemption of masses and pardons, being done without trust in Christ, who only saveth his people from their sins; these, I say, I learned to be nothing else but even (as St. Augustine saith) a hasty and swift running out of the right way; or else much like to the vesture made of fig leaves, wherewithal Adam and Eve went about in vain to cover themselves, and could never before obtain quietness and rest, until they believed in the promise of God, that Christ, the seed of the woman, should tread upon the serpent's head: neither could I be relieved or eased of the sharp stings and bitings of my sins, before I was taught of God that lesson which Christ speaketh of in John iii.: Even as Moses exalted the serpent in the desert, so shall the Son of man be exalted, that all which believe on him should not perish, but have life everlasting.
"As soon as (according to the measure of grace given unto me of God) I began to taste and savour of this heavenly lesson, which no man can teach but only God, who revealed the same unto Peter, I desired the Lord to increase my faith; and at last I desired nothing more, than that I, being so comforted by him, might be strengthened by his Holy Spirit and grace from above, that I might teach the wicked his ways, which are mercy and truth; and that the wicked might be converted unto him by me, which sometime was also wicked; which thing, whilst with all my power I did endeavour before my lord cardinal and your fatherhood, Christ was blasphemed in me, (and this is my only comfort in these my afflictions,) whom with my whole power I do teach and set forth, being made for us by God his Father, our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and finally our satisfaction; who was made sin for us, (that is to say, a sacrifice for sin,) that we, through him, should be made the righteousness of God; who became accursed for us, to redeem us from the curse of the law; who also came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. The righteous, I say, who falsely judge and think themselves so to be, (for all men have sinned, and lack the glory of God, whereby he freely forgiveth sins unto all believers, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,) because that all mankind was grievously wounded in him who fell amongst thieves, between Jerusalem and Jericho. And therefore, with all my whole power, I teach, that all men should first acknowledge their sins, and condemn them, and afterwards hunger and thirst for that righteousness whereof St. Paul speaketh, The righteousness of God, by faith in Jesus Christ, is upon all them which believe in him; for there is no difference: all have sinned, and lack the glory of God, and are justified freely through his grace, by the redemption which is in Jesus Christ: the which whosoever doth hunger or thirst for, without doubt they shall at length be so satisfied, that they shall not hunger and thirst for ever.
"But, forasmuch as this hunger and thirst was wont to be quenched with the fulness of man's righteousness, which is wrought through the faith of our own elect and chosen works; as pilgrimages, buying of pardons, offering of candles, elect and chosen fasts, and oftentimes superstitious; and finally all kind of voluntary devotions, (as they call them,) against which God's word speaketh plainly in Dent. iv. 2, saying, Thou shalt not do that which seemeth good unto thyself; but that which I command thee for to do, that do thou, neither adding to, neither diminishing any thing from it. Therefore, I say, oftentimes I have spoken of those works, not condemning them, (as I take God to be my witness,) but reproving their abuse; making the lawful use of them manifest even unto children; exhorting all men not so to cleave unto them, that they, being satisfied therewith, should loathe or wax weary of Christ, as many do: in whom I bid your fatherhood most prosperously well to fare.
"And this is the whole sum. If you will appoint me to dilate more at large the things here touched, I will not refuse to do it, so that you will grant me time (for to do it out of hand I am not able for the weakness of my body); being ready always, if I have erred in any thing, to be better instructed."
Another letter of Master Thomas Bilney, to Cuthbert Tonstal, bishop of London.
"Albeit I do not remember, reverend father in Christ! whether I have either spoken or written that the gospel hath not been sincerely preached now of long time, which your Lordship seemeth to have gathered, either by some Momus and sinister hearers of my sermons, who (like Malchus, having their right ear cut off) only bring their left ear to sermons; or else by some words or writings of mine, which have rashly passed me, rather than upon any evil intent; yet, forasmuch as in this behalf your Reverence doth command me, and that of a good mind I trust, (for how can I think in Tonstal any craft or doubleness to dwell?) I will briefly declare unto you what I have learned of God, through Christ, in the Scriptures; and how that the doctors, even of great fame and renown, have not taught the same of late in their sermons; referring, or rather submitting, all things unto your fatherly judgment, which is more quick and sharp than that it can by any means be blinded; and so sincere, that it will not in any point seek slander or discord. Therefore I do confess, that I have often been afraid that Christ hath not been purely preached now a long time: for who hath been now, a long season, offended through him? Who hath now these many years suffered any persecution for the gospel's sake? Where is the sword which he came to send upon the earth? And finally, where are the rest of the sincere and uncorrupt fruits of the gospel? which, because we have not a long time seen, is it not to be feared, that the tree which bringeth forth those fruits hath now a long time been wanting in our region or country? Much less is it to be believed, that it hath been nourished amongst us. Have we not seen all things quiet and peaceable a long time? But what saith the church? My grief most bitter is turned to peace, &c. But the malignant church saith, Peace, peace; and there is no peace, but only that whereof it is written, When the mighty armed man keepeth his gates, he possesseth all things in quiet; but when he seeth that he shall be vanquished of a stronger than he himself is, he spoileth and destroyeth all things.
"What now-a-days beginneth again to be attempted, I dare not say. God grant us grace that we do not refuse and reject (if it be Christ) him that cometh unto us, lest that we do feel that terrible judgment against us: Because, saith he, they have not received the love of truth, that they might be saved; therefore God will send upon them the blindness of error, that they shall give credit unto lies. O terrible sentence, (which God knoweth whether a great number have not already incurred,) That all they might be judged which have not given credit unto the truth, but consented unto iniquity. The time shall come, saith he, when that they will not suffer the true doctrine to be preached."
"And what shall we then say of that learning, which hath now so long time reigned and triumphed, so that no man hath once opened his mouth against it? shall we think it sound doctrine? Truly iniquity did never more abound, nor charity was ever so cold. And what should we say to be the cause thereof? Hath the cause been for lack of preaching against the vices of men, and exhorting to charity? That cannot be, for many learned and great clerks sufficiently can witness to the contrary. And yet, all these notwithstanding, we see the life and manners of men do greatly degenerate from true Christianity, and seem to cry out indeed, that it is fulfilled in us, which God in times past threatened by his prophet Amos, saying, Behold, the day shall come, saith the Lord, that I will send hunger upon the earth: not hunger of bread, neither thirst of water, but of hearing the word of God. And the people shall be moved from sea to sea, and from the west unto the east; and shall run about seeking for the word of God, but shall not find it. In those days the fair virgins and young men shall perish for thirst, &c.
"But now, to pass over many things whereby I am moved to fear that the word of God hath not been purely preached, this is not the least argument, that they which come, and are sent, and endeavour themselves to preach Christ truly, are evil spoken of for his name, which is the rock of offence, and stumbling-block unto them which stumble upon his word, and do not believe on him on whom they are builded.
"But you will ask, Who are those men, and what is their doctrine? Truly, I say, whosoever entereth in by the door, Christ, into the sheepfold: which thing all such men shall do, as seek nothing else but the glory of God, and salvation of souls. Of all such it may be truly said, that whom the Lord sendeth, he speaketh the word of God. And why so? Because he representeth the angel of the church of Philadelphia, unto whom St. John writeth, saying, This saith he which is holy and true; which hath the keys of David; which .openeth and no man shutteth; shutteth and no man openeth. Behold, saith he, (speaking in the name of Christ, which is the door and door-keeper,) I have set before thee an open door, that is to say, of the Scriptures, opening thy senses, that thou shouldest understand the Scriptures; and that, because thou hast entered in by me which am the door: For whosoever entereth in by me, which am the door, shall be saved; ye shall go in and come out, and find pasture: for the door-keeper openeth the door unto him, and the sheep hear his voice. But contrariwise, they which have not entered in by the door, but have climbed in some other way, by ambition, avarice, or desire of rule, they shall even in a moment go down into hell, except they repent. And by them is the saying of Jeremy verified; All beauty is gone away from the daughter of Zion, because her princes are become like rams, not finding pasture. And why so? because like thieves and robbers they have climbed another way, not being called nor sent.
"And what marvel is it if they do not preach, when they are not sent, but run for lucre; seeking their own glory, and not the glory of God, and salvation of souls? And this is the root of all mischief in the church, that they are not sent inwardly of God; for without this inward calling it helpeth nothing, before God, to be a hundred times elect, and consecrate by a thousand bulls, either by pope, king, or emperor. God beholdeth the heart, whose judgments are according to truth, howsoever we deceive the judgment of men for a time; which also at the last shall see their abomination. This, I say, is the original of all mischief in the church, that we thrust in ourselves into the charge of souls, whose salvation and the glory of God (which is, to enter in by the door) we do not thirst nor seek for, but altogether our own lucre and profit.
"Hereupon it cometh, that we know not how to preach Christ purely; For how should they preach Christ, saith the apostle, except they be sent? for otherwise many thieves and robbers do preach him, but with their lips only, for their heart is far from him: neither yet do we suffer those which do know how to preach, but persecute them, and go about to oppress the Scriptures now springing, under the pretence of godliness; fearing, as I suppose, lest the Romans should come and take our place. Ah! thou wicked enemy Herod! why art thou afraid Christ should come? He taketh not away mortal and earthly kingdoms, which giveth heavenly kingdoms. O blindness! O our great blindness! yea, more than that of Egypt; of which if there be any that would admonish the people, by and by saith Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron! why do ye cause the people to cease from their labours? and truly called their labours. Get you to your burdens. Lay more work upon them, and cause them to do it, that they hearken not unto lies. Thus the people was dispersed throughout all the land of Egypt, to gather up chaff; I say, to gather up chaff. Who shall grant unto us, that God shall say, I have looked down, and beholden the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and have heard their sighs, and am come down to deliver them? But whither hath this zeal carried me? whether after knowledge or not, I dare not say: it appertaineth to you, reverend father! to judge thereupon.
"Now you do look that I should show unto you at large, (as you write,) how that they ought sincerely to preach, to the better edifying hereafter of your flock. Here, I confess, I was afraid that you had spoken in some derision, until that I well perceived that you had written it with your own hand.
Then again I began to doubt, for what intent Tonstal should require that of Bilney: an old soldier, of a young beginner; the chief pastor of London, of a poor silly sheep. But for what intent soever you did it, I trust it was of a good mind; and albeit that I am weak of body, yet, through the grace of Christ given unto me, I will attempt this matter, although it do far pass my power: under the which burden if I be oppressed, yet I will not deceive you, for that I have promised nothing but a prompt and ready will to do that which you have commanded.
"As touching that pertaineth to preaching of the gospel, I would to God you would give me leave privately to talk with you, that I might speak freely that which I have learned in the Holy Scriptures for the consolation of my conscience; which if you will so do, I trust you shall not repent you. All things shall be submitted unto your judgment; who (except I be utterly deceived) will not break the reed that is bruised, and put out the flax that is smoking; but rather, if I shall be found in any error, (as indeed I am a man,) you, as spiritual, shall restore me through the spirit of gentleness, considering yourself, lest that you also be tempted: for every bishop, which is taken from among men, is ordained for men, not violently to assault those which are ignorant, and do err; for he himself is compassed in with infirmity, that he, being not void of evils, should learn to have compassion upon other miserable people.
"I desire you that you will remember me tomorrow, that by your aid I may be brought before the tribunal seat of my lord cardinal; before whom I had rather stand, than before any of his deputies.
Yours, THOMAS BILNEY."
A letter of Master Bilney, to Tonstal, bishop of London, fruitful and necessary for all ministers to read.
"Most reverend father! salutations in Christ. You have required me to write unto you at large, wherein men have not preached as they ought, and how they should have preached better. This is a burden too heavy for my strength, under the which if I shall faint, it belongeth to you, which have laid this burden upon my shoulders, to ease me thereof. As touching the first part, they have not preached as they ought, which, leaving the word of God, have taught their own traditions; of the which sort there are not a few, as it is very evident, in that they do report those which preach the word of God sincerely, to teach new doctrine. This is also no small testimony thereof, that in all England you shall scarce find one or two that are mighty in the Scriptures; and what marvel is it, if all godly things do seem new unto them unto whom the gospel is new and strange, being nursed in men's traditions now a long time? Would to God these things were not true which I utter unto you! but alas, they are too true.
"They have also preached evil, which either have wrested the Scriptures themselves, or have rashly gathered them out of old rotten papers, being wrested by others: and how should it be but that they should wrest them, or else how should they judge them, being falsely interpreted by others, when they have not once read over the Bible orderly? Of this sort there is truly a very great number, from which number many great rabbins or masters shall hardly excuse themselves; whom the people have hitherto reverenced instead of gods. And these are they that now serve their bellies, seeking their own glory, and not the true glory of God, which might be set forth even by Balaam's ass; much less then ought we to contemn such abjects, which preach the word of God. We have, saith St. Paul, this treasure in brickle vessels, that the glory of the power might be of God, and not of us. God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and the weak things God hath chosen to confound the mighty; and vile things of the world, and despised, hath he chosen, and things that are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in his sight. But now all men in a manner will be wise, and therefore they are ashamed of the simple gospel; they are ashamed truly to say with Paul, and to perform it indeed, I brethren, when I came unto you, did not come with excellency of words, or of wisdom, preaching the testimony of Christ; for I esteemed not myself to know any thing amongst you, but only Jesus Christ, and him crucified. O voice of a true evangelist! But now we are ashamed of this foolish preaching, by the which it hath pleased God to save all those that believe in him; and being puffed up with our own fleshly mind, we choose rather proudly to walk in those things which we have not seen, preaching fables and lies, and not the law of God, which is undefiled, converting souls.
"But how should they teach the law of God, which they have not once read in the books, much less learned at the mouth of God? But in a pastor and a bishop this is required: Thou, son of man! saith God, lay up in thy heart all my words which I do speak unto thee, &c.: and shortly after he saith, Thou, son of man! I have ordained and given thee a watchman unto the house of Israel. I have given thee, saith he; not coming in by ambition, nor thrusting in thyself, nor climbing in anotherway, but I gave thee when thou lookedst not for it, that thou shouldst attend thereupon, and give warning from the top of the watch-tower, if any enemies should approach. I have given thee unto the house of Israel, and not the house of Israel unto thee, that thou shouldst acknowledge thyself to be the servant of the sheep, and not their Iord; for I have not given the sheep for the shepherd, but the shepherd for the sheep. He that sitteth down, is greater than he that doth minister and serve unto him: which thing was well known of him who truly said, We are your servants for Christ's cause.
"But for what purpose have I given thee unto the house of Israel? -- that thou shouldst only minister the sacraments? consecrate wood, stones, and churchyards? (This, I take God to witness, with great sighs and groans I write unto you, pouring out before you the grief of my heart.) No, truly. What then? First followeth the office of the bishop, Thou shalt hear the word out of my mouth. This is but a short lesson, but such as all the world cannot comprehend, without they be inwardly taught of God.
"And what else meaneth this, Out of my mouth thou shalt hear the word, but that thou shalt be taught of God? Therefore as many as are not taught of God, although they be ever so well exercised in the Scriptures by man's help, yet are they not watchmen given by God; and much less they that do not understand and know the Scriptures. And therefore such as these be, lest they should keep silence, and say nothing, are always harping upon the traditions and doctrines of men, that is, lies: for he that speaketh of himself, speaketh lies. Of these it is written, They would be doctors of the law, not understanding what they speak, neither of whom they speak. Such of necessity they must all be, who speak that with their mouth, which they do not believe, because they are not inwardly taught of God, neither are persuaded in their hearts that it is true: and therefore they are to be accounted as sheep, although they boast themselves to be shepherds. But contrariwise, touching the true and learned pastors given by God, it may be truly said, We speak that which we know, and that which we have seen (even with the infallible eyes of our faith) we do witness: and these are neither deceived, neither do deceive. Moreover, the deceivers proceed to worse and worse, erring themselves, and bringing others also to error; and because they are of the world, the world doth willingly hear them. They are of the world, saith St. John, and therefore they speak those things which are of the world, and the world giveth ear unto them.
"Behold, reverend father! this is the touchstone of our daily preaching. Hath not the world given ear unto them now a long time with great pleasure and delight? But the flesh could never suffer the preaching of the cross, nor yet the wisdom of the flesh, which is an enemy unto God, neither is subject unto his law, nor can be. And why then are they accused to be heretics and schismatics, who will not seek to please men, but only to their edifying? being mindful of that place of Scripture, God hath dispersed the bones of them which please men, saying unto them, Speak unto us pleasant things. But now, letting these matters pass, we will come unto the second point, wherein you ask how a man should preach better? Forsooth, if we had heard Him of whom the Father spake, saying, This is my dearly beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear him; who also, speaking of himself, said, It was meet that Christ should suffer, and rise again the third day from death, and that in his name repentance and remission of sins should be preached unto all people. What other thing is that, than the same which the other evangelists do write, Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel unto every creature: he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved? What can be more pleasant, sweet, or acceptable unto afflicted consciences, being almost in despair, than these most joyful tidings?
"But here, whether Christ have been a long time heard, I know not, for that I have not heard all the preachers of England, and if I had heard them, yet till it was within this year or two, I could not sufficiently judge of them. But this I dare be bold to affirm, that as many as I have heard of late preach, (I speak even of the most famous,) they have preached such repentance, that if I had heard such preachers of repentance in times past, I should utterly have been in despair. And to speak of one of those famous men, (not uttering his name,) after he had sharply inveighed against vice, (wherein he pleased every godly man, forasmuch as it could not be sufficiently cried out upon,) he concluded, "Behold," said he, "thou hast lien rotten in thine own lusts, by the space of these sixty years, even as a beast in his own dung, and wilt thou presume in one year to go forward toward heaven, and that in thine age, as much as thou wentest backward from heaven toward hell in sixty years?" Is not this, think you, a goodly argument? Is this the preaching of repentance in the name of Jesus? or rather to tread down Christ with antichrist's doctrine? For what other thing did he speak in effect, than that Christ died in vain for thee? He will not be thy Jesus or Saviour; thou must make satisfaction for thyself, or else thou shalt perish eternally! Then doth St. John lie, who saith, Behold the Lamb of God! which taketh away the sins of the world; and in another place, His blood hath cleansed us from all our sins; and again, He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world: besides an infinite number of other places. What other thing is this, than that which was spoken by the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of Peter, saying, There shall be false teachers that shall deny the Lord Jesus, who hath redeemed them? And what followeth upon such doctrine of devils, speaking lies through hypocrisy? A conscience despairing, and without all hope, and so given over unto all wicked lusts, according to the saying of St. Paul, After that they be come to this point, that they sorrow no more, they give themselves over unto wantonness, to commit all kind of filthiness, even with a greedy desire. For seeing that it is impossible for them to make satisfaction to God, either they murmur against God, or else they do not believe him to be so cruel, as they do preach and declare him to be.
"The want of paper will not suffer me to write any more, and I had rather to speak it in private talk unto yourself; whereunto if you would admit me, I trust you shall not repent you thereof: and unto me (Christ I take to my witness) it would be a great comfort, in whom I wish you, with all your flock, heartily well to fare.
"Your prisoner, and humble beadman unto God for you,
Thus have you the letters, the abjuration, and the articles of Thomas Bilney. After this abjuration, made about A.D. 1529, the said Bilney took such repentance and sorrow, that he was near the point of utter despair, as by the words of Master Latimer is credibly testified; whose words for my better discharge, I thought here to annex, written in his seventh sermon preached before King Edward, which be these: "I knew a man myself, Bilney, little Bilney, that blessed martyr of God, who, what time he had borne his faggot, and was come again to Cambridge, had such conflicts within himself, (beholding this image of death,) that his friends were afraid to let him be alone. They were fain to be with him day and night, and comfort him as they could, but no comforts would serve. And as for the comfortable places of Scripture, to bring them unto him, it was as though a man should run him through the heart with a sword. Yet for all this he was revived, and took his death patiently, and died well against the tyrannical see of Rome."
Again, the said Master Latimer, speaking of Bilney in another of his sermons preached in Lincolnshire, hath these words following: "That same Master Bilney, which was burnt here in England for God's word's sake, was induced and persuaded by his friends to bear a faggot at the time when the cardinal was aloft, and bare the swinge. Now when the same Bilney came to Cambridge again, a whole year after, he was in such anguish and agony, that nothing did him good, neither eating nor drinking, nor even any other communication of God's word; for he thought that all the whole Scriptures were against him, and sounded to his condemnation: so that I many a time communed with him (for I was familiarly acquainted with him); but all things whatsoever any man could allege to his comfort, seemed to him to make against him. Yet for all that afterwards he came again. God endued him with such strength and perfectness of faith, that he not only confessed his faith in the gospel of our Saviour Jesus Christ, but also suffered his body to be burned for that same gospel's sake, which we now preach in England," &c.
Furthermore, in the first sermon of the said Master Latimer before the duchess of Suffolk, he, yet speaking more of Bilney, inferreth as followeth "Here I have," said he, "occasion to tell you a story which happened at Cambridge. Master Bilney, or rather Saint Bilney, that suffered death for God's word's sake, the same Bilney was the instrument whereby God called me to knowledge. For I may thank him, next to God, for that knowledge that I have in the word of God; for I was as obstinate a papist as any was in England, insomuch that when I should he made bachelor of divinity, my whole oration went against Master Philip Melancthon, and against his opinions. Bilney heard me at that time, and perceived that I was zealous without knowledge, and came to me afterwards in my study, and desired me, for God's sake, to hear his confession. I did so, and to say the truth, by his confession I learned more than afore in many years. So from that time forward I began to smell the word of God, and forsake the school-doctors, and such fooleries," &c. And much more he hath of the same matter, which ye may see hereafter in the life of Master Latimer.
By this it appeareth how vehemently this good man was pierced with sorrow and remorse for his abjuration, the space almost of two years; that is, from the year 1529 to the year 1531. It followed then that he, by God's grace and good counsel, came at length to some quiet of conscience, being fully resolved to give over his life for the confession of that truth which before he had renounced. And thus, being fully determined in his mind, and setting his time, he took his leave in Trinity Hall, at ten o'clock at night, of certain of his friends, and said, that he would go to Jerusalem; alluding belike to the words and example of Christ in the Gospel, going up to Jerusalem, what time he was appointed to suffer his passion. And so Bilney, meaning to give over his life for the testimony of Christ's gospel, told his friends that he would go up to Jerusalem, and so would see them no more; and immediately departed to Norfolk, and there preached first privily in households, to confirm the brethren and sisters, and also to confirm the anchoress, whom he had converted to Christ. Then preached he openly in the fields, confessing his fact, and preaching publicly the doctrine which he before had abjured, to be the very truth, and willed all men to beware by him, and never to trust to their fleshly friends, in causes of religion. And so, setting forward on his journey toward the celestial Jerusalem, he departed from thence to the anchoress in Norwich, and there gave her a New Testament of Tyndale's translation, and the Obedience of a Christian Man; whereupon he was apprehended and carried to prison, there to remain till the blind bishop Nie sent up for a writ to burn him.
In the mean season, the friars and religious men, with the residue of their doctors and civil canon, resorted to him, busily labouring to persuade him not to die in those opinions, saying, he should be damned body and soul if he so continued; among whom, first, were sent to him of the bishop, Dr. Call, minister (as they call him) or provincial of the Grey Friars; and Dr. Stokes, an Augustine friar, who lay with him in prison in disputation, till the writ came that he should be burned. Dr. Call, by the word of God, through the means of Bilney's doctrine and good life, whereof he had good experience, was somewhat reclaimed to the gospel's side. Dr. Stokes remained obdurate, and doth yet to this day; whose heart also the Lord (if it be his will) reform, and open the eyes of his old age, that he may forsake the former blindness of his youth. Another great doer against him was one Friar Bird with one eye, provincial of the White Friars. This Bird was a suffragan in Coventry, and afterwards bishop of Chester, and was he that brought apples to Bonner, mentioned in the story of Hawkes. Another was a Black Friar, called Hodgkins, who, after being under the archbishop of Canterbury, married, and afterwards, in Queen Mary's time, put away his wife. These four orders of friars were sent (as is said) to bait Bilney; who, notwithstanding, as he had planted himself upon the firm rock of God's word, was at a point; and so continued unto The end.
But here now cometh in Sir Thomas More, trumping in our way with his painted card, and would needs take up this Thomas Bilney from us, and make him a convert after his sect. Thus these coated cards, though they could not by plain Scriptures convince him, being alive; yet now, after his death, by false play they will make him theirs, whether he will or no. This Sir Thomas More, in his railing preface before his book against Tyndale, doth challenge Bilney to his catholic church, and saith, that not only at the fire, but many days before, both in words and writing, he revoked, abhorred, and detested his heresies before holden. And how is this proved? By three or four mighty arguments, as big as mill-posts, fetched out of Utopia, from whence thou must know, reader, can come no fictions, but all fine poetry.
First, he saith, that certain Norwich men, writing to London, and denying that Bilney did recant, afterwards, being thereupon examined, were compelled to grant, that he, at his examination, read a bill; but what it was they could not tell, for they stood not so near to hear him. And albeit they stood not so near, yet some of them perceived certain things there spoken, whereby they thought that he did revoke. Some again added to those things spoken certain additions of their own, to excuse him from recantation.
First, to answer hereunto, and to try out this matter somewhat roundly with Master More, let us see with what conveyance he proceedeth in this narration. "At his first examination," saith he, "he waxed stiff in his opinions, but yet God was so good a Lord unto him, that he was fully converted to the true catholic faith," &c. And when might this goodly conversion begin?" Many days," quoth he, "before his burning." Here is no certain day assigned, but many days left at large, that he might have the larger room to walk invisible. Well then, but how many days these could be, I would fain learn of Master More, when he was not many days in their hands; no longer than they could send up to London for a writ to burn him. Belike then shortly after his apprehension, at the first coming of the friars unto him, by and by he revolted. A strange matter, that he, which two years before had lain in such a burning hell of despair for his first abjuration, and could find no other comfort but only in returning to the same doctrine again which before be had denied, utterly resigning himself over to death, and taking his leave of his friends, and setting his face with Christ purposely to go to Jerusalem, voluntarily there to fall into the hands of the scribes and Pharisees for that doctrine's sake, should now so soon, even at the first brunt, give over to the contrary doctrine again. It is not likely. "God was so good a Lord unto him," saith Master More. That God was a good Lord unto him, very true it is: but that God did so turn him indeed, to be a member of that Romish Church, that hath not Master More yet sufficiently proved. To affirm without proof or demonstration in matters of story, it is not sufficient. But what hath been done indeed, that must be proved by good evidence, and special demonstration of witnesses, that we may certainly know it so to be.
It followeth moreover in Master More: "And there lacked not some," saith he, "that were sorry for it." No doubt but if our Bilney had so relented, some would have been very sorry therefore. But what one man in all this sum, in all Norwich, was sorry, that Master More must specify unto us before we believe him; so well are we acquainted with his poetical fictions. But how else should this narration of Master More seem to run with probability, if it were not watered with such additions? He addeth moreover, and saith, "And some wrote out of Norwich to London, that he had not revoked his heresies at all, but still did abide in them." This soundeth rather to come more near to a truth; and here is a knack of Simon's art, to interlard a tale of untruth with some parcel of truth now and then among it, that some things being found true, may win credit to the rest which is utterly false. And why then be not the letters of these Norwich men believed, for the not recanting of Bilney?" Because," saith he, L0 afterward they, being called to examination, it was there proved plainly to their faces, that Bilney revoked." By whom was it proved?" By those," saith he, "which at his execution stood by, and heard him read his revocation himself," &c. What men were these? or what were their names? or what was any one man's name in all the city of Norwich, that heard Bilney recant? There Master More will give us leave to seek them out if we can, for he can name us none. Well, and why could not the other part hear Bilney read his revocation as well as these?" Because," saith More, "he read so softly that they could not hear him."
Well, all this admitted, that Bilney read his revocation so softly that some could hear, some could not hear him, then this would be known, what was the cause why Bilney read his revocation so softly; which must needs be either for lack of good will to read, or good voice to utter. If good will were absent in reading that revocation, then it appeareth that he recanted against his own mind and conscience: if it were by imbecility of voice and utterance, then how followeth it, Master More! in this your narration, where you say, that the said persons which could not hear him read the bill, yet, not withstanding could hear him rehearse certain other things spoken by him the same time in the fire, whereby they could not but perceive well, that he revoked his errors, &c. Ah Master More! for all your powder of experience, do ye think to cast such a mist before men's eyes, that we cannot see how you juggle with truth, and take you tardy in your own narration? unless peradventure you will excuse yourself, per licentiam poeticam, after the privilege of poets and painters.
Now if this vein of yours, which so extremely raileth and fareth against the poor martyrs and servants of Christ, be so copious, that you dare take in hand any false matter to prove, and to make men believe, that Bilney died a papist, yet the manner of handling hereof would have required some more artificial conveyance; that men, although they see the matter to be false, yet might commend the workmanship of the handler, which (to say the truth) neither hanged with itself, nor beareth any semblance of any truth. But because Master More is gone and dead, I will cease any further to insult upon him, lest I may seem to incur the same vice of his. Yet forasmuch as his books be not yet dead, but remain alive to the hurt of many, having therefore to do, not with him, but with his book-disciples, this would I know, how hangeth his gear together? Bilney was heard, and yet not heard; he spake softly, and yet not softly! Some said he did recant; some said he did not recant. Over and besides, how will this be answered, that forasmuch as the said Bilney (as he saith) revoked many days before his burning, and the same was known to him at London, then how chanced the same could not be as well known to them of Norwich? who (as his own story affirmeth) knew nothing thereof before the day of his execution; then, seeing a certain bill in his hand, which some said was a bill of his revocation, some other heard it not. All this would be made plain, especially in such a matter as this is, which he knew himself peradventure to be false: at least, he knew would be doubted, suspected, and coutraried of a great multitude.
I pass now to his second reason, where he reporteth that the said Bilney, forthwith upon his judgment and degradation, kneeled down in the presence of all the people, and asked of the chancellor absolution from the sentence of excommunication; holding him well content with his death, which he confessed himself to have deserved, &c.
As touching the patient receiving of his death, I do well assent, although I do not think that he had deserved any such for his doctrine. And as for his kneeling down in the presence of the people, upon his judgment and degradation, as I do not denythat he might so do, so I suppose again the cause of his kneeling not to be unto the chancellor, to ask absolution from his excommunication. And if he were assoiled from his excommunication, yet doth it not thereupon follow that he recanted, no more than before, when he came to Master Latimer in his study, humbly to be confessed and assoiled from his sins, as the blindness of that time then led him. But whether he kneeled down, and was assoiled or no, neither was I there to see him, nor yet Master More himself; and therefore, with the like authority as he affirmeth, I may deny the same, unless he brought better demonstration for his assertion than he doth, having no more for himself, but only his own, aürõs l'qn. And yet nevertheless, admit he did so, being a man of a timorous conscience, of a humble spirit, and not fully resolved touching that matter of the church, yet it followeth not thereby, (as is said,) that he revoked his other articles and doctrine by him before professed.
The like answer may also be shaped to his third reason, where he saith, that certain days after his judgment, he made great labour that he might receive the blessed body of Christ in form of bread, which the chancellor, after a great sticking awhile, at length did grant, perceiving his devotion thereto, &c. Whereunto I answer as before, that it is not impossible, but that Bilney might both hear mass, and desire to receive the sacrament: for in that matter it may be that he was not resolved otherwise than common custom then led both him and many others. Neither do I find in all the articles objected against Bilney, that ever he was charged with any such opinion, concerning either the mass or the sacrament; which maketh me think that he was yet ignorant, and also devout as others then were.
Also fourthly, be it admitted, as Master More saith, that in receiving of the sacrament, he, holding up his hands, should say the collect, Domine Jesu Christe: and coming to these words, Ecclesiæ tuæ pacem et concordiam, he knocked upon his breast, divers times repeating the same words, &c.: all this being granted to Master More, yet it argueth no necessary alteration of his former doctrine, which he preached and taught before. And yet if I listen here to stand dallying with Master More, in the state inficial, and deny what he affirmeth, how will he make good that which he saith? He saith, that Bilney, kneeling before the chancellor, desired absolution: then, coming to mass fully devoutly, required to receive the body of Christ in form of bread, repeating divers times the words of the collect, Domine Jesu Christe, &c. By what argument proveth he all this to be so? Master More in his preface before the book against
Tyndale so saith: ergo it is certain. If Master More had never made fictions in his writings beside, or had never broken the head of verity in so many places of his books as I could show him, then might this argument go for somewhat. But here I ask, Was this Master More present at the judgment of Bilney? No. Or else, what registers had he for his direction? None. Or else, by what witnesses will he avouch this to be certain? Go and seek these witnesses, good reader! where thou canst find them; for Master More nameth none. Only because Master More so saith, that is sufficient! Well, give this to Master More: although he hath cracked his credit so often, and may almost be bankrupt, yet let his word go for payment at this time, and let us imagine all to be oracles that he saith; yet nevertheless here must needs remain a scruple: for what will Master More, or (because he is gone) what will his disciples say to this; that if Bilney was before assoiled upon his judgment, (as they pretend,) how was he then afterwards degraded? what assoiling is this, to be forgiven first, and then to be punished after? Again, if he were (as they surmise) converted so fully to the catholic faith, and also assoiled, why then did the chancellor stick so greatly for a while, to housel him with the body of Christ in form of bread? I am sure that if Christ had been here himself in form of his own flesh, he would nothing have stuck to receive him, being so converted at the first. To be short: If Bilney was so graciously reduced to the holy mother the Catholic Church, repenting his errors, and detesting his heresies, and now being in no purgatory, but being a very saint in heaven, as ye say he is, why then did ye burn him whom ye yourselves knew should be a saint? Thus if ye burn both God's enemies and God's saints too, what cruel men are you!
But here you will allege perhaps your law of relapse, by the which the first fall is pardonable, but the second fall into heresy is in no case pardonable; for so standeth your law, I grant. But how this law standeth with the true church of Christ, and with his word, now let us reason. For this being a law not of politic or civil government, (where such laws be expedient for public necessity,) but only being a mere law ecclesiastical, what a cruel mother church is this, that will not and cannot forgive her children, rising and repenting the second fault or error committed, but needs must burn their bodies, that their souls may be saved from the painful passion of purgatory, whom nevertheless they know forthwith shall be blessed in heaven! If God do save them, why do you burn them? If God do pardon them, why do you condemn them? And if this be the law of your church, according to your doctrine, to burn them at the second time, though they be amended; how then doth this church agree with the word of Christ, and the nature of his true spouse, which only seeketh repentance and amendment of sinners? which once being had, she gladly openeth her bosom, and motherly receiveth them whensoever they return. Wherefore, if Bilney did return to your church, (as ye did say,) then was your church a cruel mother, and unnatural, which would not open her bosom unto him, but thrust him into the fire, when he had repented.
Furthermore, how will you defend this law by the word of God, who, in express words, teaching all bishops and pastors, by the example of Christ the great bishop of our souls, (being compassed about with temptations, that he might have the more compassion of them that be infirm,) exhorteth. all other spiritual persons by the like example, saying, For every bishop which is taken from among men, is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, to offer gifts and sacrifice for sins, that he may be merciful to the ignorant, and to such as err; forasmuch as he himself is compassed about with infirmity, &c. Besides which scripture, add also, that some doctors of the canon law, if they be well scanned, will not deny, but that they which be fallen in relapse, whether it be vere, or ficte, yet if they earnestly return from their errors before the sentence be given, they may be sent to perpetual prison to some monastery, &c. Wherefore, if Bilney did so earnestly retract and detest his former opinions, so many days (as More saith) before his suffering, then needed not he to suffer that death as he did, but might have been sent to perpetual prison.
Thus, although I need not to stand longer upon this matter, being so plain, and having said enough, yet (briefly to repeat that which before hath been said) this I say again: first, if Thomas Bilney was assoiled from excommunication, and after that heard his mass so devoutly, and at the end of the mass was confessed, and consequently after confession was houseled, and lastly, asked mercy for contemning of the church, as Master More doth bear us in hand, (to see now how this tale hangeth together,) why then did the chancellor stick so greatly to give him the sacrament of the altar, whom he himself had assoiled, and received to the sacrament of penance before; which is plain against the canon law? Again, the said Thomas Bilney, if he were now received to the mother church by the sacraments of penance and of the altar, why then was he afterward degraded, and cut from the church, since the canon permitteth no degradation, but to them only which be incorrigible? Furthermore, the said Bilney, if he, being converted so many days before (as More pretendeth) to the Catholic faith, was now no heretic, how then did the sentence pronounce him for a heretic? or finally, how could they, or why would they, burn him being a Catholic, especially since the canon law would bear with him, to be judged rather to perpetual prison in some monastery, as is afore touched, if they had pleased?
Wherefore, in three words to answer to Master More: first, All this tale of his may be doubted, because of the matter not hanging together: secondly, It may also well be denied, for the insufficiency of probation and testimony: thirdly, If all this were granted, yet neither hath Master More any great advantage against Bilney, to prove him to have recanted; nor yet Master Cope against me, which, by the authority of Master More, seeketh to bear me down, and disprove my former story. For be it granted that Bilney, at his death, did hold with the mass, with confession, and with the authority of the Romish Church, being a humble-spirited man, and yet no further brought; yet all this notwithstanding proveth not that he recanted. Forasmuch as he never held nor taught any thing before against the premises, therefore he could not recant that which he never did hold.
For the better demonstration hereof I will recite out of the registers some part of his teaching and preaching, as was objected against him by one Richard Neal, priest; who, amongst other witnesses, deposed against him for preaching in the town of Wilsdon, these words following:
"Put away your golden gods, your silver gods, your stony gods, and leave your offerings, and lift up your hearts to the sacrament of the altar." Also the said Master Bilney said in his sermon, "I know certain things have been offered in such places, which have been afterwards given to abandoned women; and I call them abandoned women, that be naught of their living," &c.
Item, By another witness, named William Cade, it was deposed against him, thus to preach, "Jews and Saracens would have become Christian men long ago, had not idolatry of Christian men been, by offering of candles, wax, or money to the stocks and stones of images, set and standing in the churches," &c.
Item, By the said deponent against Bilney: that "the priests take away the offerings, and hang them about their women's necks: and after that, they take them again from the women if they please them not, and hang them upon the images; and is not that a great relic, when it is hanged there again?"
Item, By the said deponent it was testified against Bilney: that "going on pilgrimage is naught, and that no man should use it, for it were better not, and rather to tarry at home, and give somewhat in alms, and offer your hearts, wills, and minds, to the sacrament, and leave your idolatry to saints."
Item, By William Nelmis of Wilsdon, that Bilney should preach, "They gild their gods, and bear them about, and men say they do speak; and if they do speak, it is the devil that speaketh in them, and not God," &c.
Item, By Thomas Daly of Wilsdon, that Bilney thus preached: "You come hither on pilgrimage to stocks and stones. You do naught; keep you at home, and worship the sacrament at home," &c.
Item, By friar John Huggen, that Bilney thus preached at Ipswich: "The coming of our Saviour Christ was long desired, and by divers and many prophets prophesied, that he should come. But John the Baptist, more than a prophet, did not only prophesy, but with his finger showed, Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world! Then if this were the very Lamb, which John did demonstrate and show, which taketh away the sins of the world, what injury is this bull of the bishop of Rome to our Saviour Jesus Christ, that to be buried in the cowl of St. Francis should or may remit four parts of the penance! What is left to our Saviour Jesus Christ which taketh away the sins of the world? This will I justify to be a great blasphemy against the blood of Christ," &c.
Item, By another friar, Julles, that Bilney thus preached: "I trust there shall and will come others beside me, the which shall show and preach to you the same faith and manner of living that I do, which is the very true gospel of our Saviour, whereby you shall be brought from your errors, wherein you have been so long seduced: for before this, there have been many that have slandered you and the gospel of our Saviour Christ; of whom speaketh our Saviour Christ, Matt. xviii."
Add moreover to these the testimony of Richard Seman, that Bilney in Ipswich should preach these words: "Our Saviour Christ is our Mediator between us and the Father: what then should we need to seek for remedy to any saint inferior to Christ? Wherefore to make such petition to any, but to our Saviour Christ, trusting thereby to have remedy, doth great injury to the blood of Christ, and deformeth our Saviour Christ; like as if a man should take and strike off the head, and set it under the foot, and to set the foot above.
Thus much, being partly touched before, I thought here to insinuate again out of the registers, touching the opinions of Thomas Bilney; whereby may appear the whole sum of his preaching and doctrine to proceed chiefly against idolatry, invocation of saints, vain worship of images, false trust to men's merits, and such other gross points of religion, as seemed prejudicial and derogatory to the blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ. As touching the mass, and sacrament of the altar, as he never varied from himself, so he never differed therein from the most gross catholics. And as concerning his opinion of the Church of Rome, how blind it was at that time, may sufficiently appear by his own hand in Latin, which I have to show, as followeth: "Credo plerasque leges pontificias utiles esse, necessarias, et ad pietatem quoque plurimum promoventes, nec sacris Scripturis repugnantes, imo ab omnibus plurimum observandas, &c. De omnibus non possum pronunciare, utpote quas non legi, et quas legi, nunquam in hoc legi, ut reprehenderem, sed ut discerem intelligere, ac pro virili facere, et docere. De multiplicitate legum questus est suo tempore St. Augustinus, et item Gearsonus, qui miratur quomodo non post lapsum inter tot laqueos constitutionum tuti esse possimus, quum primi parentes adhuc puri, et ante lapsum, et unicum præceptum non observarint," &c. Moreover, concerning the authority of the keys, thus he writeth, answering to his twelfth article, "Soli sacerdotes, ordinati rite per pontifices, habent claves, quarum virtute ligant et solvunt (clave non errante) quod et facere eos non dubito, quamlibet sint peccatores. Nam sacramentorum efficatiam non minuit, nedum tollit ministrorum indignitas, quamdiu ab Ecclesia tolerantur," &c.
By these words of Bilney, written by him in Latin, although it may be thought how ignorant and gross he was, after the rudeness of those days, yet by the same, notwithstanding, it may appear, how falsely he is noted and slandered by Master More, and Cope my friend, to have recanted the articles, which he did never hold or maintain otherwise in all his life. And therefore, (as I said,) though it be granted to Master More, or in his absence to my friend Cope, that Bilney was assoiled, was confessed, and houseled before his burning, yet all this argueth not that he recanted.
Now that I have sufficiently, I trust, put off the reasons of Master More and others, whereby they pretend falsely to face us out, that Bilney the second time again recanted at his death, it remaineth, on the other part, that I likewise do infer my probations, whereby I have to argue and convince, that Bilney did not the second time recant, as he is untruly slandered. And first, I will begin even with the words and testimony of Master More's own mouth, who, being lord chancellor, when message was sent to him for a writ of discharge to burn Bilney, spake in this wise to the messengers that came, "Go your ways," saith he, "and burn him first; and then afterwards come to me for a bill of my hand." Which words may give us evidence enough, that Bilney was not thought then to have recanted, for then the lord chancellor would not have been so greedy and hasty, no doubt, to have him despatched. And how standeth this with Master More's words now, which beareth us in hand, that he recanted many days before his burning?
The like evidence we may also take by the verdict of the bishop himself that burned him, whose words were these, (after he had burned him, and then heard tell of Doctor Shaxton,) "Christ's mother!" said he, (that was his oath,) "I fear I have burnt Abel and let Cain go," &c.; as who would say, "I had thought before, that I had punished Cain, and let Abel go; but now I fear I have burnt Abel, and let Cain escape." Hereby it is plain to understand what the bishop's judgment of Bilney, before his burning; that is, that he was a Cain, and the other an Abel: but after the burning of Bilney, the bishop hearing now of Shaxton, turneth his judgment, and correcteth himself, swearing now the contrary; that is, lest he had burned Abel, and let Cain go.
Furthermore, where the bishop feared, in burning Bilney, that he had burned Abel, what doth this fear of the bishop import, but a doubting of his mind uncertain? for who feareth that whereof he is sure? Wherefore the case is plain, that Bilney at his burning did not recant, as More reporteth. For then the bishop, knowing Bilney to die a catholic convert, and a true member of the church, would not have feared, nor doubted, but would have constantly affirmed Bilney to have died a true Abel indeed. And to conclude this matter, if Bilney died an Abel, then the bishop, by his own confession, must needs prove himself to be a Cain, which slew him. What more clear probation could we bring, if there were a thousand, or what need we any other, having this alone?
Now, for testimony and witness of this matter to be produced, forasmuch as Master More allegeth none to prove that Bilney at his death did recant, I will assay what testimony I have on the contrary side, to avouch and prove that Bilney did not recant.
And forasmuch as Bilney was a Cambridge man, and the first framer of that university in the knowledge of Christ, and was burned at Norwich, being not very far distant from Cambridge; there is no doubt but that amongst so many friends as he had in that university, some went thither to hear and see him. Of these one was Thomas Allen, then fellow of Pembroke-hall, who, returning the same time from Bilney's burning, declared to Doctor Turner, dean of Wells, being yet alive, (a man whose authority neither is to be neglected, nor credit to be distrusted,) that the said Bilney took his death most patiently, and suffered most constantly, without any recantation for the doctrine which he before had professed.
In the city of Norwich, Necton and many others be now departed, who were then present at the burning of Bilney: nevertheless some be yet alive, whose witnesses, if need were, I could fetch with a little labour, and will (God willing) as time shall require. In the mean time, at the writing hereof here was one Thomas Russel, a right honest occupier, and a citizen of Norwich, who likewise, being there present on horseback at the execution of this godly man, beholding all things that were done, did neither hear him recant any word, nor yet heard of his recantation.
I could also add hereunto the testimony of another, being brother to the archbishop of Canterbury, named Master Baker, a man yet alive, who, being the same time present at the examination of Bilney, both heard him and saw him, when a certain friar called him heretic; whereunto Bilney, replying again, made answer, "If I be a heretic," said he, "then are you an antichrist, who of late have buried a certain gentlewoman with you, in St. Francis's cowl, assuring her to have salvation thereby." Which fact, although the friar the same time did deny, yet this cannot be denied but Bilney spake these words, whereby he may easily be judged to be far from the mind of any recantation; according as by the said gentleman it is also testified, that after that, he never heard of any recantation that Bilney either meant or made.
If I should recite all that here might be brought, I might sooner lack room in my book to contain them, than names enough to fill up a grand jury. But what need I to spend time about witness, when one Master Latimer may stand for a thousand, one martyr to bear witness to another? And though my friend Cope, pressing me with the authority of Master More, saith, that he will believe him before me; yet I trust he will not refuse to credit this so ancient a seignior, Father Latimer, being both in Bilney's time, and also by Bilney converted, and familiarly with him acquainted; who being the same time at Cambridge, I suppose would inquire as much, and could know more of this matter than Master More.
Touching the testimonial of which Latimer I have noted before, how he, in three sundry places of his sermons, hath testified of "good Bilney," of "thatblessed Bilney," of "Saint Bilney;" how he died patiently, "against the tyrannical see of Rome," &c. And in another sermon also, how the said Bilney "suffered his body to be burned for the gospel's sake," &c. Item, in another place, how "the said Bilney suffered death for God's word's sake."
I may be thought perhaps of some to have stayed too long about the discourse of this matter; but the caused that moved, and half constrained, me thereunto, was Sir Thomas More, sometime lord chancellor of England, and now a great arch-pillar of all our English papists; a man otherwise of a pregnant wit, full of pleasant conceits; also for his learning above the common sort of his estate: esteemed industrious no less in his studies, than well exercised in his pen; who, if he had kept himself in his own shop, and applied the faculty, being a layman, whereunto he was called, and had not overreached himself to prove masteries in such matters wherein he had little skill, less experience, and which pertained not to his profession, he had deserved not only much more commendation, but also longer life.
But forasmuch as he, not contented with his own vocation, hath, with Uzzah, reached out his unmeet hand to meddle with God's ark-matters, wherein he had little cunning; and while he thinketh to help religion, destroyeth religion, and is an utter enemy to Christ, and to his spiritual doctrine, and his poor afflicted church: to the intent therefore that he, being taken for a special ringleader and a chief stay in the pope's church, might the better he known what he is, and that the ignorant and simple may see what little credit is to be given unto him, as well in his other false facing out of matters, as namely in this present history of Bilney's recantation, I have diligently searched out and procured the true certificate of Master Bilney's burning, with all the circumstances and points thereto belonging, testified not by somesays and by hearsays, (as Master More useth,) but truly witnessed, and faithfully recorded, by one, who, as in place and degree he surmounteth the estate of Master More, (though he were lord chancellor,) so being also both a spiritual person, and there present the same time, coming for the same purpose the day before to see his burning, was a present beholder of things there done, αυτοπτης και μαρτυς [Greek:autoptes kai martys] of his martyrdom, whose credit I am sure will counterpoise with the credit of Master More. The order of which martyrdom was this as followeth:
Thomas Bilney, after his examination and condemnation before Dr. Pelles, doctor of law, and chancellor, first was degraded by suffragan Underwood, according to the custom of their popish manner, by the assistance of all the friars and doctors of the same suit. Which done, he was immediately committed to the lay power, and to the two sheriffs of the city, of whom Thomas Necton was one. This Thomas Necton was Bilney's special good friend, and sorry to accept him to such execution as followed; but such was the tyranny of that time, and dread of the chancellor and friars, that he could no otherwise do, but needs must receive him: who notwithstanding, as he could not bear in his conscience himself to be present at his death, so, for the time that he was in custody, he caused him to be more friendly looked unto, and more wholesomely kept concerning his diet, than he was before.
After this, the Friday following, at night, which was before the day of his execution, being St. Magnus' day, and on Saturday, the said Bilney had divers of his friends resorting unto him in the Guildhall, where he was kept. Amongst whom, one of the said friends, finding him eating of an ale-brew with such a cheerful heart and quiet mind as he did, said, that he was glad to see him at that time, so shortly before his heavy and painful departure, so heartily to refresh himself. Whereunto he answered, "O," said he, "I follow the example of the husbandmen of the country, who, having a ruinous house to dwell in, yet bestow cost as long as they may, to hold it up. And so do I now with this ruinous house of my body, and with God's creatures, in thanks to him, refresh the same as ye see." Then, sitting with his said friends in godly talk to their edification, some put him in mind, that though the fire, which he should suffer the next day, should be of great heat unto his body, yet the comfort of God's Spirit should cool it to his everlasting refreshing. At this word the said Thomas Bilney, putting his hand toward the flame of the candle burning before them, (as also he did divers times besides,) and feeling the heat thereof, "O," (said he,) "I feel by experience, and have known it long by philosophy, that fire, by God's ordinance, is naturally hot: but yet I am persuaded by God's holy word, and by the experience of some, spoken of in the same, that in the flame they felt no heat, and in the fire they felt no consumption: and I constantly believe, that howsoever the stubble of this my body shall be wasted by it, yet my soul and spirit shall be purged thereby; a pain for the time, whereon notwithstanding followeth joy unspeakable." And here he much treated of this place of Scripture, "Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, and called thee by thy name; thou art mine own. When thou goest through the water I will be with thee, and the strong floods shall not overflow thee. When thou walkest in the fire, it shall not burn thee, and the flame shall not kindle upon thee, for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel." This he did most comfortably treat of, as well in respect of himself, as applying it to the particular use of his friends there present; of whom some took such sweet fruit therein, that they caused the whole said sentence to be fairly written in tables, and some in their books; the comfort whereof, in divers of them, was never taken from them to their dying day.
The Saturday next following, when the officers of execution (as the manner is) with their glaves and halberts were ready to receive him, and to lead him to the place of execution without the city gate, called Bishop's Gate, in a low valley, commonly called The Lollards' Pit, under St. Leonard's hill, environed about with great hills, (which place was chosen for the people's quiet, sitting to see the execution,) at the coming forth of the said Thomas Bilney out of the prison-door, one of his friends came to him, and with few words, as he durst, spake to him, and prayed him in God's behalf to be constant, and to take his death as patiently as he could. Whereunto the said Bilney answered, with a quiet and mild countenance, "Ye see when the mariner is entered his ship to sail on the troublous sea, how he for a while is tossed in the billows of the same, but yet, in hope that he shall once come to the quiet haven, be beareth in better comfort the perils which he feeleth: so am I now toward this sailing; and whatsoever storms I shall feel, yet shortly after shall my ship be in the haven, as I doubt not thereof, by the grace of God, desiring you to help me with your prayers to the same effect."
And so he, going forth in the streets, giving much alms by the way by the hands of one of his friends, and accompanied by one Dr. Warner, doctor of divinity, and parson of Winterton, whom he did choose, as his old acquaintance, to be with him for his ghostly comfort, came at the last to the place of execution, and descended down from the hill to the same, apparelled in a layman's gown, with his sleeves hanging down and his arms out, his hair being piteously mangled at his degradation (a little single body in person, but always of a good upright countenance,) and drew near to the stake prepared; and somewhat tarrying the preparation of the fire, he desired that he might speak some words to the people, and there standing, thus he said: "Good people! I am come hither to die, and born I was to live under that condition, naturally to die again; and that ye may testify that I depart out of this present life as a true Christian man, in a right belief towards Almighty God, I will rehearse unto you in a fast faith the articles of my creed." And then he began to rehearse them in order, as they be in the common Creed, with oft elevating his eyes and hands to Almighty God; and at the article of Christ's incarnation, having a little meditation in himself, and coming to the word "crucified," he humbly bowed himself, and made great reverence; and then proceeding in the articles, and coming to these words, "I believe the catholic church," there he paused, and spake these words: "Good people! I must here confess to have offended the church, in preaching once against the prohibition of the same, at a poor cure belonging to Trinity-hall, in Cambridge, where I was fellow; earnestly entreated thereunto by the curate and other good people of the parish, showing that they had no sermon there of long time before: and so in my conscience moved, I did make a poor collation unto them, and thereby ran into the disobedience of certain authority in the church, by whom I was prohibited; howbeit I trust at the general day, charity, that moved me to this act, shall bear me out at the judgment-seat of God:" and so he proceeded on, without any manner of words of recantation, or charging any man for procuring him to his death.
This once done, he put off his gown, and went to the stake, and kneeling upon a little ledge coming out of the stake, whereon he should afterward stand to be better seen, he made his private prayer with such earnest elevation of his eyes and hands to heaven, and in so good and quiet behaviour, that he seemed not much to consider the terror of his death; and ended at last his private prayers with the Psalm, beginning, Hear my prayer, O Lord! consider my desire. And the next verse he repeated in deep meditation thrice: And enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified: and so finishing that Psalm, he ended his private prayers.
After that, he turned himself to the officers, asking them if they were ready, and they answered, Yea. Whereupon he put off his jacket and doublet, and stood in his hose and shirt, and went unto the stake, standing upon that ledge, and the chain was cast about him; and standing thereon, the said Dr. Warner came to him to bid him farewell, who spake but few words for weeping: upon whom the said Thomas Bilney did most gently smile, and inclined his body to speak to him a few words of thanks; and the last were these, "O Master Doctor! Feed your flock, feed your flock; that when the Lord cometh, he may find you so doing." And, "Farewell, good Master Doctor! and pray for me;" and so Warner departed without any answer, sobbing and weeping. And while Bilney thus stood upon the ledge at the stake, certain friars, doctors, and priors of their houses, being there present, (as they were uncharitably and maliciously present at his examination and degradation, &c.,) came to him and said, "O Master Bilney, the people be persuaded that we be the causers of your death, and that we have procured the same, and thereupon it is likely that they will withdraw their charitable alms from us all, except you declare your charity towards us, and discharge us of the matter:" whereupon the said Thomas Bilney spake with a loud voice to the people and said, "I pray you, good people! be never the worse to these men for my sake, as though they should be the authors of my death; it was not they:" and so he ended.
Then the officers put reeds and faggots about his body, and set fire on the reeds, which made a very great flame, which sparkled and deformed the visor of his face; he holding up his hands, and knocking upon his breast, crying sometimes "Jesus!" sometimes, Credo! which flame was blown away from him by the violence of the wind, which was that day, and two or three days before, notably great; in which it was said, that the fields were marvellously plagued by the loss of corn; and so, for a little pause, he stood without flame, the flame departing and re-coursing thrice ere the wood took strength to be the sharper to consume him; and then he gave up the ghost, and his body, being withered, bowed downward upon the chain. Then one of the officers, with his halberd, smote out the staple in the stake behind him, and suffered his body to fall into the bottom of the fire, laying wood upon it; and so he was consumed.
Thus have ye, good readers! the true history and martyrdom of this good man; that is, of blessed Saint Bilney, (as Master Latimer doth call him,) without any recantation, testified and ratified by the authority abovesaid: ? by which authority and party being there present and yet alive, it is furthermore constantly affirmed, that Bilney not only did never recant, but also that he never had any such bill, or scrip, or scroll, in his hand to read, either softly or apertly, as Master More would bear us down. Wherefore, even as ye see Master More deal in this, so ye may trust him in the residue of his other tales, if ye will.
Master Stafford, of Cambridge.
As the death of this godly Bilney did much good in Norfolk, where he was burned; so his diligent travail, in teaching and exhorting other, and example of life correspondent to his doctrine, left no small fruit behind him in Cambridge, being a great means of framing that university, and drawing divers unto Christ. By reason of whom, and partly also of another, called Master Stafford, the word of God began there most luckily to spread, and many toward wits to flourish; in the company of whom was Master Latimer, Dr. Barnes, Dr. Thistell of Pembroke-hall, Master Fooke of Benet-college, and Master Soude of the same college, Dr. Warner above-mentioned, with divers others more. This Master Stafford was then the public reader of the divinity lecture in that university; who, as he was an earnest professor of Christ's gospel, so was he as diligent a follower of that which he professed, as by this example here following may appear.
For as the plague was then sore in Cambridge, and amongst other a certain priest, called Sir Henry Conjurer, lay sore sick of the said plague, Master Stafford, hearing thereof, and seeing the horrible danger that his soul was in, was so moved in conscience to help the dangerous case of the priest, that he, neglecting his own bodily death, to recover the other from eternal damnation, came unto him, exhorted, and so laboured him, that he would not leave him before he had converted him, and saw his conjuring books burned before his face. Which being done, Master Stafford went home, and immediately sickened, and, shortly after, most Christianly deceased.
Concerning which Master Stafford, this moreover is to be noted, how that Master Latimer, being yet a fervent and a zealous papist, standing in the schools when Master Stafford read, bade the scholars not to hear him; and also, preaching against him, exhorted the people not to believe him: and yet the said Latimer confessed himself, that he gave thanks to God, that he asked him forgiveness before he departed. And thus much by the way of good Master Stafford, who, for his constant and godly adventure in such a cause, may seem not unworthy to go with blessed Bilney, in the fellowship of holy and blessed martyrs.