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Hugh, who was born in the farm-house about the year 1470, in the eleventh year of king Edward the Fourth, and put to the grammar-school at Thurcaston, and afterwards at Luicester, took his learning so well, that it was determined to breed him to the church. With this view, as soon as he was fit, he was sent to Cam. bridge, in 1484, where, at the usual time, he took his degrees in arts, and, entering into priest's orders, behaved with remarkable zeal and warmth in defence of popery, his religion, against the reformed opinions, which had lately discovered themselves in England. He heard those new teachers with high indignation : He inveighed, pub. licly and privately, against the Reformers. He looked upon them in so bad a light, that he declared he was of opinion, the last times, the day of judgment, and the end of the world, were now approaching. “ Impiety, he " said, was gaining ground apace; and what lengths may « not men be expected to run, when they begin to ques“ tion even the infallibility of the pope?" If any, inclined to the Reformation, and particularly good Mr Stafford, divinity-lecturer in Cambridge, read lectures in the schools, Mr Latimer was sure to be there, to drive out the scholars; and, when he commenced batchelor of divinity, (which was in the year 1515, when he was fortyfive
years of age) he took occasion to give an open testimony of his dislike to their proceedings, in an oration, which he made against Philip Melancthon, whom he treated with great severity, for his « impious innovations (as he “ called them) in religion.” His zeal was so much taken notice of in the university, that he was elected, in the next year, into the office of cross-bearer in all public processions; an employment which he accepted with reverence, and discharged with becoming solemnity for the space of seven years.
Among those, who about this period favoured the Re. formation, the most considerable was Mr Thomas Bilney, whose life we have related to our readers.
It was Mr Latimer's happiness to be well acquainted with this good man, who had indeed long conceived very favourable sentiments of him. He had known Latimer's life in the university to be a life strictly moral and de. vout; he ascribed his failings to the genius of his religion, and, notwithstanding his more than ordinary zeal in the profession of that religion, he could observe in him a very candid temper, prejudiced by no sinister views, and an integrity, which gave him great hopes of his refor
Induced by these favourable appearances, Mr Bilney failed not, as opportunities offered, to suggest many things to him about corruptions in religion in general, whence he used frequently to drop a hint concerning some in the Romish church in particular, till having prepared the way by degrees, he at length made an earnest persuasion, that his friend would only endeavour to divest biinself of his prejudices, and place the two sides of the question before him.
How Mr Latimer at first received these few declarations, and by what steps he came to be settled in the truth of the gospel, we have no particular account ; only we find in general, that his friend's application had its desired effect. This was in the year 1523, when Latimer liad nearly attained the fifty-third year of his age.
Mr Suitimer no sooner ceased from being a zealous papist, ihan he became, with the same zeal and integrity, a zealous protestant, very active in supporting and propagating the reformed doctrine, and assiduous to make converts both in the town and university. He preached in public, exhorted in private, and every where pressed the necessity of true faith and holiness, in opposition to those outward performances, which were then esteemed the very essentials of religion. A behaviour of this kind was immediately taken notice of ; Cambridge, no less than the rest of this kingdom, was entirely popish ; every new opinion was watched with the strictest jealousy; and Mr Latimer soon perceived, how obnoxious he had made himself. The first remarkable opposition he met with from the popish party, was occasioned by a course of sermons he preached during the Christmas holidays, before the university; in which he spoke his sentiments with great freedom upon many opinions and usages maintained and practised in the Romish church, and particularly insisted upon the great abuse of locking up the scripture in an unknown tougue. Few of the tenets of popery were then questioned in England, but such as tended to a selaxation of manners; transubstantiation, and other points rather speculative, still held their dominion; Mr Latimer therefore chiefly dwelt upon those of immoral tendency. He shewed what true religion was; that it was seated in the heart, and that in comparison with it, external appointments were of no value.
Great was the outcry occasioned by these discourses.
The state of religion at that time is well described, in the following words, gathered from the ecclesiastical historians of the reign of king Henry the Eighth. o The * cathedral clergy (say they) throughout the kingdom • gave themselves up wholly to idleness and pleasure ; • they decried and discouraged learning ; affirming, that
learning would bring in heresy and all manner of mischief. The rural and parochial clergy were universally
ignorant, slothful, idle, superstitious, proud, and vicious; • preaching, most of them, but once a quarter on a Sun• day, and but few, more than once a month, on the • first Sunday thereof. In Lent, sermons were more fre
quent; but these usually turned on abstinence, con• fession, the necessity of corporal severities, pilgrimages, • the enriching of the shrines; and the relics of the saints, • and the great use of indulgences. No pains were taken • to inform the people of the hatefulness of vice, the • excellency of holiness, or the wonderful love of Christ. • It was far otherwise on the holy or saints' days; for on • them the monks, and the friars, and others, would ascend • the pulpit, and instead of sermons, harangue the peo• ple on the merits, supererogations, and miracles of the • saints, to the memory of whom days were dedicated ; • magnifying their relics, which they always took care to o inform them, were laid up in such and such places:« The clergy in general were so proud and insolent; that, • if any man denied them any part of that respect, or of • those advantages to which they pretended, he was pre
sently brought under the suspicion of heresy, and vexed « with imprisonments; and articles in the spiritual courts ' were exhibited against him.'
Learning was at a very low ebb, in both the universities, in the year 1526. Cambridge was then the seat and asylum of ignorance, bigotry, and superstition ; and every reformed opinion and person was persecuted with the most inveterate hatred and zeal. Latimer had, by this time, through his daily and indefatigable searching of the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, made himself a complete master of all the scriptural arguments, proper to confute the reigning errors of the church of Rome. He spoke largely against the abominable superstition and idle usage of saying mass in an uniknown tongue, and gave the most solid reasons, why the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments should be translated into English, printed, and put into the hands of the most illiterate. This preaching of his had a very great effect; and, with great truth, it may be said, that we greatly owé, under God, to Mr Latimer, the inestimable blessing of reading the bible in our own tongue.
Mr Latimer now became a preacher of particular eminence, and displayed a remarkable address in adapting himself to the capacities of the people. The orthodox clergy, observing him thus followed, thought it high time to oppose him openly. This task was undertaken by Dr Buckingham, or Buckenham, prior of the Black-Friars, who appeared in the pulpit against him, and with great pomp and prolixity, shewed the dangerous tendency of Mr Latimer's opinions ; particularly, he inveighed against his heretical notions of having the scriptures in English; laying open the ill effects of such an innovation. 6 If • that heresy, said he, prevail, we should soon see an end • of every thing useful among us. The ploughman, ' reading, that if he put his hand to the plough, and
should happen to look back, he was unfit for the king• dom of God, would soon lay aside his labour; the
baker likewise reading, that a little Jeaven will corrupt « his lump, would give us very insipid bread: The simple • man also finding himself commanded to pluck out his • eyes, in a few years we should have the nation full • of blind beggars. Mr Latimer could not but smile at this ingenious reasoning; and promised to balance accounts with the prior on the next Sunday, and to expose this solemn trifler. The whole university accordingly met together on the next Sunday; as the news was gene. rally spread, that Mr Latimer would preach. That vein of pleasantry and humour which ran through all his words and actions, would here, it was imagined, have its full scope: And, to say the truth, the preacher was not a little conscious of his own superiority. To complete the scene, just before the sermon began, prior Buckingham himself entered the church with his cowl about his shoulders, and seated himself with an air of importance, before the pulpit. Mr Latimer, with great gravity, recapitulated the learned doctor's arguments, placed them in the strongest light, and then rallied them with such a flow of wit, and at the same time with so much good humour, that without the appearance of ill-nature, he made his adversary in the highest degree ridiculous. He then, with great address, appealed to the people, des canted upon the low esteem in which their holy guides had always held their understandings; expressed the utmost offence at their being treated with such contempt, and wished his honest countrymen might only have the