Page:Henry VIII and the English Monasteries.djvu/61

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Cardinal Wolsey and the Monasteries

Never before in England, or probably in Christendom, had similar powers been vested in any single individual. The high office of chancellor and the dominant influence Wolsey possessed over his royal master gave him the control of all secular authority. His legatine faculties, increased by the additional powers of visitation he had extorted from the pope, made him no less supreme in matters ecclesiastical. In the hand of one man were grasped the two swords of Church and State. One mind directed the policy of secular and ecclesiastical administration in England. Had that man been a saint, the danger of such a combination would have been considerable, but when he was a worldly and ambitious man like Wolsey, it was fatal.

No sooner had Wolsey obtained the powers of visitation so long sought than he proceeded to put them in force. On March 19, 1519, he issued statuta to be observed by the order of Canons Regular of St. Augustin, which were to remain in force till the feast of Holy Trinity, 1521.[1] The ordinances thus enacted are valuable evidence as to the state of the great Augustinian order at that time in England. They point to a severity of discipline and a mortified mode of life altogether incompatible with that general laxity since attributed to them in common with the other great bodies of regular clergy. The mere enactments of the primary principles of the monastic life or declarations of the unlawfulness of certain evil customs must never be considered in such injunctions as proof of the existence of evil. As well might the vigorous denunciations of sin from the pulpit, or the constant reassertion of the Ten Commandments, be held as evidence that God's law was uniformly violated by those to whom such words are addressed. The tendency of human nature is ever to fall away from any standard of excellence. Hence the necessity of unwearied iteration in setting out the ideal to be aimed at, and this is sufficient to explain why constitutions and statutes of religious orders inveigh against abuses.

It is impossible not to approve the spirit which dictated constitutions such as these. And it would have been well had Wolsey continued in the same way the work he thus begun, and by watchful care endeavoured to recall the reli-

  1. Wilkins, Concilia, iii. p. 613.