Page:Henry VIII and the English Monasteries.djvu/56

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Henry VIII. and the English Monasteries

tinues, "how much that was amiss is amended, for all the godly pretence. It is amended, even as the devil amended his dame's leg (as it is in the proverb): when he should have set it right he broke it quite in pieces. The monks gave too little alms, but now, where 20l. was given yearly to the poor in more than a hundred places in England, is not one meal's meat given. This is fair amendment."

It will be necessary to examine more particularly the general state of moral discipline to be found within the monasteries of England at the beginning of the sixteenth century in considering the charges brought against them by those who thus sought to justify their dissolution. It may be here stated, however, that the most authentic evidence upon the subject is to be found in the episcopal registers of the various dioceses. These contain records, more or less minute, of the visitations made by the bishops to the monasteries within the limits of their special jurisdiction. Their injunctions and other acts prove the care with which the duty of supervision was exercised. Many monasteries, and even orders, were, of course, altogether exempted from episcopal control; but such exemptions were by no means as common as is generally stated. There is no reason whatever to suppose that the condition of the exempt religious was in any way worse than the rest. On the contrary, they were, as a rule, the larger monastic houses[1] which enjoyed the privilege, and in these, as the preamble of the Act of Parliament which suppressed the lesser houses expressly declares, "thanks be to God religion is right well kept." It is not too much, therefore, to regard the evidence furnished in the pages of these episcopal registers as giving a faithful picture of the state of the religious houses.

It would be affectation to suggest that the vast regular body in England was altogether free from grosser faults and immoralities. But it is unjust to regard them as existing to any but a very limited extent. Human nature in all ages of the world is the same. The religious habit, though a safeguard-

  1. This will hold good of Cistercians and Cluniacs, with some others. But in regard to the Benedictines, who held nearly all the monasteries of the first rank, absolute exemption in practice must not be too easily assumed. To say nothing of the wealthy cathedral priories, such monasteries as Glastonbury, in the south, and St. Mary's, York, in the north, seem from the bishops' registers to have been subject to little less than ordinary episcopal visitation. These are cited as instances only'.