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Huss, Luther, Calvin and others successively discovered and unfolded the peaceful, the benign and republican doctrines of the Gospel. They made known the great truth that all men are born to a common inheritence of freedom and equality before God, and that faith in Jesus Christ and repentance of sin were the means of salvation. To purify the church of its erroneous reliance on the priesthood, instead of the Saviour, on the purchase of the remission of sins by papal indulgences, instead of divine grace, repentance and faith, they sought to enlighten the people by diffusing the knowledge of the Bible among them. With this view, Wickliffe in the fourteenth century translated the Bible into the English language, but by the hierarchal influence in the reign of Henry the 5th, by a law of England, it was enacted that the reading of the Bible in the native language was a felony subjecting offenders to loss of life and property. In 1408 the Arch Bishop of Canterbury forbade unauthorized persons to translate even texts of scripture. William Tyndale, an English subject, for printing the New Testament in English at Antwerp, was condemned to the stake as a heretic by the Emperor at the instance of Henry the Sth of England. The venders of the English Testaments, published by Tyndale, were severely and ignominiously punished in England.
These laws dictated by ignorant and bigotted priests and monks, exhibited a like practical ferocity and injustice in the fifteenth century, in the pretended trial and condemnation of Joan of Arc, as a sorceress and heretic at Rouen. The same blind fanatical spirit of intolerance and persecution, has, in all ages, sought to establish itself by perpetuating the ignorance of the people. From the reformation in the sixteenth century, the Pope has steadily resisted the publication, or use of books, except such as his holiness, or his inquisitors, should authorize. The celebrated council of Trent, in the sixteenth century, pursuant to papal instructions, in the fourth rule of the Index of prohibited books, thus decreed:—“Inasmuch as it is manifest from experience, that if the Holy Bible, translated into the vulgar tongue, be indiscriminately allowed to every one, the temerity of men will cause more evil than good to arise from it, it is on this point referred to the judgment of the Bishops or inquisitors, who may, by the advice of the Priest or confessor, permit the reading of the Bible, translated into the vulgar tongue by Catholic authors, to those persons whose faith and piety they apprehend will be augmented, and not injured by it; and this permission they must have in writing. But if any one shall have the presumption to read or possess it without such written permission, he shall not receive absolution until he have first delivered up such Bible to the ordinary. Booksellers who shall sell, or otherwise dispose of Bibles in the vulgar tongue, to any person not having such permision, shall forfeit the value of the books to be applied by the Bishop to some pious use, and shall be subjected to such other penalties as the Bishop shall judge proper. But regulars shall neither read nor purchase such Bibles, without a special license from their superiors.” The holy office, with fire and saggot, enforced this decree wherever priestcraft could enthrone itself upon the ignorance and bigotry of a doomed people. As late as the nineteenth century the reigning Pope reaffirmed, in the face of civilized Europe and America, the ancient creed of ignorance and bigotry in these words:– “It is evident, from experience, that the Holy Scriptures, when circulated in the vulgar tongue, have, through the temerity of men, produced more harm than benefit.” A papal encyclical letter, published in the present century, has pronounced the anathema of his holyness upon freedom of conscience and opinion, and upon a free press. The policy of Leo the Xth is still found in Rome. The same unfriendly spirit to freedom yet dwells in the Vatican. When it is recollected that the papal power was
unshaken in Europe until the sixteenth century, that since that era a few European nations only have slowly escaped from its influence, and that the reformers themselves have often exhibited the spirit of the original church of Rome, who can wonder at the small progress of Christianity in Europe. This is more readily accounted for, when we look at the history of the press. About the period of the Reformation the Church and State in Europe formed a close alliance, and the monarchs and hierarchy sought to hold the press and the people within their joint power, and in countries, Catholic and Protestant, this unholy union has kept the many poor and ignorant, and borne down, in a great degree, the freedom and happimess of the people of that continent. In some countries the effects were more disasterous than in others. In England the greatest amount of liberty has been enjoyed; but even there, as well as in Ireland and Scotland, the blighting influence, and the cruel oppression arising from a union of Church and State, are seen in our day. From this cause arose the general ignorance of the common people of Europe. Even in our day knowledge belongs there to the few. In consequence of this combination of spiritual and temporal power the press in Europe has been subject to a censorship that has deprived it of its natural power and effect. In England the censorship, by law, ceased only in 1694, and in France in 1830. In Italy, Spain, Austria, Prussia, and all the states of the Germanic confederation, and Russia, it exists in full force; and in some other European countries, it is still maintained in some degree. The Germanic confederation has been a steady and active enemy. In England two cases of capital punishment for political libels occurred in the seventeenth century. Religious freedom at that era was suppressed by like punishments. In additon to these impediments to the advancement of Christianity, liberty and knowledge, the Catholic and Protestant wars and persecutions, that for a century and a half desolated Europe, furnish a satisfactory solution of the present state of Europe. Knowledge there is confined to the few, ignorance and poverty are the inheritance of the many. In consequence of this partial influence of Christianity at the beginning of the seventeenth century, it was a received opinion that it was lawful to conquer infidels by arms to convert them to the doctrines of the Prince of Peace. The Pope acting on this idea, divided the world between Spain and Portugal for conquest and converison. Ignorance of international law was not only exhibited by the Pope, but by leading Protestants.