Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

from the materialism of the Middle Ages. It may seem bold, in face of the vast secularization of church
property and other things in the sixteenth century, to speak of emancipation from materialism.

Nevertheless, there was a distinct step in the progress of men's minds from that primitive condition of

intelligence in which they can only grasp material symbols of the real conception. Rudimentary

jurisprudence had confessed its inability to penetrate men's thoughts and differentiate their actions

according to their motives; there had been a time when possession had seemed more real than property,

and when the transference of a right was incomprehensible without the transference of its concrete

symbols. There could be no gift without its manual conveyance, no marriage without a ring, no king

without a coronation. Many of these material swaddling-clothes remain and have their value. A national

flag stimulates loyalty, gold lace helps the cause of discipline. Bishop Gardiner, in the sixteenth century,

defended images on the ground that they were documents all could read, while few could read the

Scriptures. To unimaginative men there could be no priest without vestments, no worship without ritual,

no communion of the Spirit without the presence of the Body, no temple not made with hands, no God

without an image. To break the image, to abolish the vestments and the ritual, to deny the

transubstantiation, was to destroy the religion and reverence of the masses, who could only grasp matter

and worship with their senses.

Protestantism was, therefore, not a popular religion, and to thousands of educated men it did not appeal.
Few people are so immaterialistic that they can dispense with symbols; many can idealize symbols in

which others see nothing but matter; and only those devoid of artistic perception deny the religious value

of sculpture, painting, and music. Protestantism might be an ideal religion if men were compounded of

pure reason; being what they were, many adopted it because they were impervious to artistic influence or

impatient of spiritual discipline. It will hardly do to divide the nation into intelligent Protestants and

illiterate Catholics: the point is that the somewhat crude symbolism which had satisfied the cravings of

the average man had ceased to be sufficient for his newer intelligent needs; he demanded either a higher

symbolism or else as little as possible. Some felt the symbol a help, others felt it a hindrance to the

realization of the ideal; so some men can see better with, others without, spectacles, but that fact would

hardly justify their abolition.

Henry VIII confined his sympathies to the revolt of the nation against Rome and the revolt of the laity
against the priests. The former he used to make himself Supreme Head of the church, the latter to subdue

convocation and despoil the monasteries. All civilized countries have found it expedient sooner or later

to follow his example with regard to monastic wealth; and there can be little doubt that the withholding

of so much land and so many men and women from productive purposes impeded the material prosperity

of the nation. But the devotion of the proceeds to the foundation of private families, instead of to

educational endowment, can only be explained and not excused by the exigencies of political tactics. His

real services were political, not religious. He taught England a good deal of her insular confidence; he

proclaimed the indivisible and indisputable sovereignty of the crown in parliament; he not only

incorporated Wales and the county palatine of Chester with England, and began the English

re-organization of Ireland, but he united England north with England south of the Humber, and

consolidated the Borders, those frayed edges of the national state. He carried on the work of Henry II and

Edward I, and by subduing rival jurisdictions stamped a final unity on the framework of the government.

The advisers of Edward VI embarked on the more difficult task of making this organization Protestant;
and the haste with which they, and especially Northumberland, pressed on the change provoked first

rebellion in 1549 and then reaction under Mary. They were also confronted with social discontent arising

out of the general substitution of competition for custom as the ruling economic principle. Capital

 

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