The Church History of Britain from the Birth of Jesus Christ until the Year MDCXLVIII.

Thomas Fuller, D.D.

Book 10

Section 4

A.D. 1611--1619. 9 to 17 James I.
Paras 1--14


Rivers are not bountiful in giving, but just in restoring, their waters unto the sea, Eccles. i. 7. However, they may seem grateful also, because openly returning thither what they secretly received thence. This my Dedication unto you cannot amount to a present, but a restitution; wherein only I tender a public acknowledgment of your private courtesies conferred upon me.

1, 2. Dangerous Opinions broached by Conradus Vorstius. Reasons moving King James to oppose him

King James took into his princely care the seasonable suppression of the dangerous doctrines of Conradus Vorstius. This doctor had lived about fifteen years a minister at Steinfurt, within the territories of the counts of Tecklenburg, Bentheim, &c. The counts whereof (to observe by the way) were the first in Germany, not in dignity or dominion, but in casting-off the yoke of papacy, and ever since continuing protestants. This Vorstius had both written and received several letters from certain Samosatenian heretics in Poland, or thereabouts; and it happened that he had handled pitch so long that at last it stuck to his fingers, and became infected therewith. Hereupon, he set forth two books, the one entitled, Tractatus Theologicus de Deo, dedicated to the landgrave of Hesse; the other, Exegesis apologetica, printed in this year, and dedicated to the States; both of them farced with many dangerous positions concerning the Deity. For, whereas it hath been the labour of the pious and learned in all ages to mount man to God, (as much as might be), by a sacred adoration (which the more humble, the more high) of the Divine Incomprehensibleness; this wretch did seek to stoop God to man, by debasing his purity, assigning him a material body; confining his immensity, as not being everywhere; shaking his immutability, as if his will were subject to change; darkening his omnisciency, as uncertain in future contingents: with many more monstrous opinions, fitter to be remanded to hell, than committed to writing. Notwithstanding all this, the said Vorstius was chosen, by the Curators of the University of Leyden, to be their public Divinity Professor, in the place of Arminius lately deceased; and, to that end, his Excellency, and the States-General, by their letters, sent and sued to the count of Tecklenburg, and obtained of him, that Vorstius should come from Steinfurt, and become public Professor in Leyden.

It happened that his Majesty of Great Britain, being this autumn in his hunting progress, did light upon and perused the aforesaid books of Vorstius. And whereas too many do but sport in their most serious employment, he was so serious amidst his sports and recreations, that, with sorrow and horror, he observed the dangerous positions therein, determining speedily to oppose them, moved thereunto with these principal considerations. First. The glory of God; seeing this ``anti-St.-John'', (as his Majesty terms him), mounting up to the heavens, belched forth such blasphemies against the Divine ineffable Essence. And was not a king on earth concerned, when the King of heaven was dethroned from his infiniteness, so far as it lay in the power of the treacherous positions of an heretic? Secondly. Charity to his next neighbours and allies. And, Lastly, a just fear of the like infection within his own dominions, considering their vicinity of situation and frequency of intercourse; many of the English youth travelling over to have their education in Leyden. And, indeed, as it hath been observed that the sin of drunkenness was first brought over into England out of the Low Countries, about the midst of the reign of queen Elizabeth; (before which time, neither general practice nor legal punishment of that vice in this kingdom); so we must sadly confess, that since that time, in a spiritual sense, many English souls have taken a cup too much of Belgic wine; whereby their heads have not only grown dizzy in matters of less moment, but their whole bodies stagger in the fundamentals of their religion.

3--5. The States entertain not the Motion of King James against Vorstius, according to just Expectation. Vorstius gives no Satisfaction in his new Declaration. King James setteth forth a Declaration against Vorstius, first written in French, since by his Leave translated into English, and amongst his other Works.

Here upon king James presently dispatched a letter to sir Ralph Winwood, his ambassador, resident with the States, willing and requiring him to let them to understand how infinitely he should be displeased, if such a monster as Vorstius should receive any advancement in their church. This was seconded with a large letter of his Majesty's to the States, dated October 6th, to the same effect. But neither found that success which the king did earnestly desire, and might justly expect, considering the many obligations of the Crown of England on the States: ``the foundation of whose commonwealth'', as the ambassador told them, ``was first cemented with English blood''. Several reasons are assigned of their nonconcurrence with the king's motion. The Curators of Leyden University conceived it a disparagement to their judgments, if, so near at hand, they could not so well examine the soundness of Vorstius's doctrine, as a foreign prince at such a distance. It would cast an aspersion of levity and inconstancy on the States, solemnly to invite a stranger unto them, and then so soon recede from their resolution. An indignity would redound to the count of Tecklenburg, to slight that which so lately they had sued from him. The opposition of Vorstius was endeavoured by a mal-contented party amongst themselves, disaffected to the actions of authority; who, distrusting their own strength, had secretly solicited his Majesty of Great Britain to appear on their side; that as king James's motion herein proceeded rather from the instance of others, than his own inclination, so they gave out that he began to grow remiss in the matter, careless of the success thereof; that it would be injurious, yea, destructive to Vorstius and his family, to be fetched from his own home, where he lived with a sufficient salary, (promised better provisions from the landgrave of Hesse, to be Divinity Professor in his dominions), now to thrust him out with his wife and children, lately settled at Leyden; that if Vorstius had formerly been faulty in unwary and offensive expressions, he had since cleared himself in a new declaration.

For, lately he set forth a book, entitled, ``A Christian and modest Answer'', which notwithstanding by many was condemned, as no revocation, but a repetition, of his former opinions, not less pernicious, but more plausible, with sophistical qualifications. So that he was accused to aim, neither at the satisfaction of the learned, whom he had formerly offended; nor the safety of the ignorant, whom he might hereafter deceive; but merely his own security for the present. His grand evasion was this,---that what he had written before ``was but probably propounded, not dogmatically delivered''. But, alas! how many silly souls might easily be infected, mistaking his slanting problems for downright positions! In a word, he took not out any venom, but put in more honey into his opinions, which the corruption of man's nature would swallow with more greediness. And how dangerous it is for wit-wanton men to dance with their nice distinctions, on such mystical precipices, where slips in jest may cause deadly downfalls in earnest, the Roman orator doth in part pronounce, Mala est et impia consuetudo, contra Deum disputandi, sive seriò id fit, sive simulatè.

Now, king James being as little satisfied in judgment with the writings of Vorstius in his own defence, as ill-pleased, in point of honour, with the doings of the States, in return to his request, gave instructions to his ambassador to make public protestation against their proceedings; which sir Ralph Winwood, in pursuance of his master's command, most solemnly performed. Nor did his Majesty's zeal stop here, with Joash king Of Israel, smiting only but thrice, and then desisting; but, after his request, letter, and protestation had missed their desired effect, he wrote in French a declaration against Vorstius : a work well-beseeming the ``Defender of the Faith''; ``by which title'', to use his ambassador's expression, ``he did more value himself, than by the style of king of Great Britain''. Once I intended to present the reader with a brief of his Majesty's Declaration, till deterred with this consideration,---that although great masses of lead, tin, and meaner metals, may by the extraction of chymists be epitomised and abridged into a smaller quantity of silver, yet what is altogether gold already cannot, without extraordinary damage, be reduced into a smaller proportion. And seeing each word in his Majesty's Declaration is so pure and precious, that it cannot be lessened without loss, we remit the reader to the same in his Majesty's Works; and so take our leave of Vorstius for the present; whose books, by the king's command, were publicly burned at St. Paul's Cross in London, and in both universities.

6--12. The Character of Bartholomew Legate. Discourse betwixt King James and Legate. Bishop King gravelleth him with a Place of Scripture. Wholesome Caution premised before the Naming of Legate's Blasphemies. Condemned for an obstinate Heretic. Queries left to Lawyers to decide. Legate burned in Smithfield.

But leaving this outlandish---let us come to our English---Vorstius, though of far less learning, of more obstinacy and dangerous opinions: I mean, that Arian, who this year suffered in Smithfield. His name, Bartholomew Legate; native county, Essex ; person, comely; complexion, black; age, about forty years; of a bold spirit, confident carriage, fluent tongue, excellently skilled in the scriptures: and well had it been for him if he had known them less, or understood them better whose ignorance abused the word of God, therewith to oppose ``God the Word''. His conversation, for aught I can learn to the contrary, very unblamable; and the poison of heretical doctrine is never more dangerous than when served-up in clean cups and washed dishes.

King James caused this Legate often to be brought to him, and seriously dealt with him to endeavour his conversion. One time the king had a design to surprise him into a confession of Christ's Deity, (as his Majesty afterwards declared to a right reverend prelate), by asking him, whether or no he did not daily pray to Jesus Christ? Which had be acknowledged, the king would have infallibly inferred, that Legate tacitly consented to Christ's Divinity, as a ``Searcher of the hearts''. But herein his Majesty failed of his expectation, Legate returning, that indeed be had prayed to Christ in the days of his ignorance, but not for these last seven years. Hereupon the king in choler spurned at him with his foot. ``Away, base fellow!'' saith he, ``it shall never be said, that one stayeth in my presence, that hath never prayed to our Saviour for seven years together.''

Often was he convented before the bishops in the Consistory of St. Paul's; where he persisted obstinate in his opinions, flatly denying the authority of that court. And no wonder that he slighted the power of earthly bishops, denying the Divinity of Him who is ``the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls'', 1 Peter ii. 25. The disputation against him was principally managed by John King, bishop of London, who gravelled and utterly confuted him with that place of scripture: ``And now, 0 Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was'', John xvii. 5. This text, I say, was so seasonably alleged, so plainly expounded, so pathetically enforced, by the eloquence and gravity of that bishop, (qualities wherein he excelled), that it gave marvellous satisfaction to a multitude of people there present, that it is conceived it happily unproselyted some inclinable to his opinions; though Legate himself remained pertinacious, both against the impressions of arguments and scripture, daily multiplying his enormous opinions. It is the happiness nature indulgeth to monsters, that they are all barren; whereas, on the contrary, monstrous positions are most procreative of the like, or worse than themselves.

Before we set down his pestilent opinions, may writer and reader fence themselves with prayer to God against the infection thereof; lest, otherwise, touching such pitch (though but with the bare mention) defile us, casually tempting a temptation in us, and awaking some corruption, which otherwise would sleep silently in our souls. And if, notwithstanding this our caution, any shall reap an accidental evil to themselves by reading his damnable opinions, my pen is no more accessary to their harm, than that apothecary is guilty of murder, if others, out of a licorish curiosity, kill themselves with that poison which he kept in his shop for sovereign use to make antidotes hereof. His damnable tenets were as followeth:---

  1. That the Creeds called the Nicene Creed, and Athanasius's Creed, contain not a profession of the true Christian faith.
  2. That Christ is not ``God of God; begotten, not made''; but begotten and made.
  3. That there are no persons in the Godhead.
  4. That Christ was not God from everlasting, but began to be God when he took flesh of the Virgin Mary.
  5. That the world was not made by Christ.
  6. That the apostles teach Christ to be man only.
  7. That there is no generation in God, but of creatures.
  8. That this assertion, ``God to be made man'', is contrary to the rule of faith, and monstrous blasphemy.
  9. That Christ was not before the fulness of time, except by promise.
  10. That Christ was not God, otherwise than an anointed God.
  11. That Christ was not in the form of God equal with God, that is, in substance of God, but in righteousness, and giving salvation.
  12. That Christ by his Godhead wrought no miracle.
  13. That Christ is not to be prayed unto.

For maintaining these opinions, Legate had long been in prison in Newgate, yet with liberty allowed him to go abroad; not contented wherewith, he openly boasted, and often threatened to sue the court which committed him, for reparations for false imprisonment; so that his own indiscretion in this kind hastened his execution.

For hereupon bishop King finally convented him in the Consistory of St. Paul's; and that worthy prelate, foreseeing that his proceedings herein would meet with many listening ears, prying eyes, and prating tongues, chose many reverend bishops, able divines, and learned lawyers to assist him. So that the Consistory, so replenished for the time being, seemed not so much a large Court, as a little Convocation. By the counsel and consent of these, by his definitive sentence, March 3rd, he ``pronounced, decreed, and declared the foresaid Bartholomew Legate an obdurate, contumacious, and incorrigible heretic.'' And by an instrument called a significavit, certified the same into the chancery, delivering him up unto the secular power; the church-keys in such cases craving the help of the civil sword. Whereupon, king James, with his letters, dated March 11th, under the Privy-Seal, gave order to the Broad-Seal to direct the writ de heretico comburendo to the sheriffs of London, for the burning of the foresaid Legate.

Now, as the bishop herein surrendered Legate to the secular power, my Ecclesiastical History in like manner resigns him to the civil historian, together with all the doubts, difficulties, and legal scruples attending on or resulting from his condemnation. Let the learned in the law consider on what statute the writ for his burning was grounded,---whether on those old statutes enacted in the reigns of Richard II. and Henry IV., or on the branch of some other new statute to that effect. Let them satisfy us how far those laws were repealed in primo Elizabethœ, and how far they still stand in force; as, though not to pretended Lollardism, yet to blasphemy. Let them examine the judgment of the learned Fitz-Herbert, whether sound in his assertion, that ``heretics, before the writ of their burning be issued out against them, must first be convicted of heresy before a provincial Convocation.'' ( De Natura Brevium, fol. 269, a.) Whilst others affirm, that they being convicted before their ordinary, sufficeth; provided it be for such opinions which Convocations have formerly condemned for heretical.

To Smithfield he was brought to be burned, March 18th. See here: it is neither the pain, nor the place, but only the cause, makes a martyr. In this very Smithfield, how many saints, in the Marian days, suffered for the testimony of Jesus Christ! Whereas now one therein dieth in his own blood for denying him. Vast was the conflux of people about him. Never did a scare-fire at midnight summon more hands to quench it, than this at noon-day did eyes to behold it. At last, refusing all mercy, be was burned to ashes. And so we leave him, the first that for a long time suffered death in that manner: and, O that he might be the last to deserve it!

13, 14. Wightman worse than Legate. The Success of this Severity.

In the next month, April 11th, Edward Wightman of Burton-upon-Trent, convicted before Richard Neile, bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, was burned at LichfieId for far worse opinions (if worse might be) than Legate maintained. Mary Magdalene indeed was once possessed of seven devils; but ten several heresies were laid to Wightman's charge; namely, those of Ebion, Cerinthus, Valentinian, Arius, Macedonius, Simon Magus, Manes, Manichæus, Photinus, and of the Anabaptists. Lord! what are we when God leaves us! Did ever man maintain one heresy, and but one heresy? ``Chains of darkness'', Jude 6, we see, have their links, and errors are complicated together.

God may seem well-pleased with this seasonable severity; for, the fire, thus kindled, quickly went out for want of fuel. I mean, there was none ever after that openly avowed these heretical doctrines; only a Spanish Arian, who, condemned to die, was notwithstanding suffered to linger out his life in Newgate, where he ended the same. Indeed, such burning of heretics much startled common people, pitying all in pain, and prone to asperse justice itself with cruelty, because of the novelty and hideousness of the punishment. And the purblind eyes of vulgar judgments looked only on what was next to them, (the suffering itself), which they beheld with compassion, not minding the demerit of the guilt, which deserved the same. Besides, such, being unable to distinguish betwixt constancy and obstinacy, were ready to entertain good thoughts even of the opinions of those heretics who sealed them so manfully with their blood. Wherefore king James politicly preferred, that heretics hereafter, though condemned, should silently and privately waste themselves away in the prison, rather than to grace them, and amuse others, with the solemnity of a public execution, which in popular judgments usurped the honour of a persecution.

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