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tomed to appeal. “I will not stand to argue,” he says, “as yet with fair allowance I might, that we may as justly suspect there were some bad and slippery men in that council, as we know there are wont to be in our convocations; nor shall I need to plead at this time, that nothing hath been more attempted, nor with more subtlety brought about, both anciently by other heretics, and modernly by papists, than to falsify the editions of the councils, of which we have none but from our adversaries' hands, whence canons, acts, and whole spurious councils are thrust upon us; and hard it would be to prove in all, which are legitimate, against the lawful rejection of an urgent and free disputer. But this I purpose not to take advantage of; for what avails it to wrangle about the corrupt editions of councils, whenas we know that many years ere this time, which was almost five hundred years after Christ, the councils themselves were foully corrupted with ungodly prelatism, and so far plunged into worldly ambition as that it stood them upon long ere this to uphold their now well-tested hierarchy by what fair pretext soever they could, in like manner as they had now learned to defend many other gross corruptions by as ancient and supposed authentic tradition as episcopacy? And what hope can we have of this whole council to warrant us a matter, four hundred years at least above their time, concerning the distinction of bishop and presbyter, whenas we find them such blind judges of things before their eyes, in their decrees of precedency between bishop and bishop, acknowledging Rome for the apostolic throne, and Peter, in that see, for the rock, the basis, and the foundation of the Catholic church and faith, contrary to the interpretation of more ancient fathers?”" He next shows, by successive references to Ignatius, Polycarp, Polycrates, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria, that their testimonies were inconsistent with each other, and utterly insufficient to establish the facts for which * Prose Works, vol. ii. p. 423.
they are adduced. After demolishing the authority of Ignatius, he dismisses him with the following passage:—“Had God ever intended that we should have sought any part of useful instruction from Ignatius, doubtless he would not have so ill-provided for our knowledge, as to send him to our hands in this broken and disjointed plight; and if he intended no such thing, we do injuriously in thinking to taste better the pure evangelic manna, by seasoning our mouths with the tainted scraps and fragments of an unknown table; and searching among the verminous and polluted rags dropped overworn from the toiling shoulders of time, with these deformedly to quilt and interlace the entire, the spotless, and undecaying robe of truth, the daughter, not of time, but of Heaven, only bred up here below in Christian hearts, between two grave and holy nurses, the doctrine and discipline of the gospel.” In estimating the value of Tertullian's evidence, he says: “We grant them bishops, we grant them worthy men, we grant them placed in several churches by the apostle; we grant that Irenaeus and Tertullian affirm this; but that they were placed in a superior order above the presbytery, show from all these words why we should grant. It is not enough to say the apostle left this man bishop in Rome, and that other in Ephesus; but to show when they altered their own decree set down by St. Paul, and made all the presbyters underlings to one bishop. But suppose Tertullian had made an imparity where none was originally, should he move us, that goes about to prove an imparity between God the Father and God the Son, as these words import in his book against Praxeas?—“The Father is the whole substance, but the Son a derivation, and portion of the whole, as he himself professes, “Because the Father is greater than me.” Believe him now for a faithful relater of tradition, whom you see such an unfaithful expounder of the Scripture. Besides, in his time, all allowable tradition was now lost. For this same author, whom you bring to testify the ordination of Clement to the bishopric of Rome by Peter, testifies also, in the beginning of his treatise concerning chastity, that the Bishop of Rome did then use to send forth his edicts by the name of Pontifex Maximus, and Episcopus Episcoporum, Chief Priest, and Bishop of Bishops: for shame then do not urge that authority to keep up a bishop, that will necessarily engage you to set up a pope.” The treatise concludes with the following animated rebuke of those who would “set up their ephod and teraphim of antiquity against the brightness and perfection of the gospel:”—“Lastly, I do not know, it being undeniable that there are but two ecclesiastical orders (bishops and deacons) mentioned in the gospel, how it can be less than impiety to make a demur at that which is there so perspicuous, confronting and paralleling the sacred verity of St. Paul with the offals and sweepings of antiquity. Christ has pronounced that no tittle of his word shall fall to the ground: and if one jot be alterable, it is as possible that all should perish; and this shall be our righteousness, our ample warrant, and strong assurance, both now and at the last day, never to be ashamed of, against all the heaped names of angels and martyrs, councils and fathers, urged upon us, if we have given ourselves up to be taught by the pure and living precept of God's word only; which, without more additions, may, with a forbidding of them, hath within itself the promise of eternal life, the end of all our wearisome labours and all our sustaining hopes.”f “The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy” is a more extended treatise, and far more richly characterised by the genius of Milton than that on “Prelatical Episcopacy.” It commences with some general considerations on church government, among which we find the following noble passage on discipline:” “And certainly discipline is not only the removal of disorder; but if any visible shape can be given to divine things, the very visible shape and image of virtue, whereby she is not only seen in the regular gestures and motions of her heavenly paces as she walks, but also makes the harmony of her voice audible to mortal ears. Yea, the angels themselves, in whom no disorder is feared, as the apostle that saw them in his rapture describes, are distinguished and quaternioned into their celestial princedoms and satrapies, according as God himself has writ his imperial decrees through the great provinces of heaven. The state also of the blessed in paradise, though never so perfect, is not therefore left without discipline, whose golden surveying reed marks out and measures every quarter and circuit of New Jerusalem. Yet is it not to be conceived, that those eternal effluences of sanctity and love in the glorified saints should by this means be confined and cloyed with repetition of that which is prescribed, but that our happiness may orb itself into a thousand vagancies of glory and delight, and with a kind of eccentrical equation, be, as it were, an invariable planet of joy and felicity; how much less can we believe that God would leave his frail and feeble, though not less beloved, church here below, to the perpetual stumble of conjecture and disturbance in this our dark voyage, without the card and compass of discipline?”f And here, it may be allowable to notice, in passing, an objection brought against our author by one of his greatest admirers, and certainly the most acute and judicious editor * Prose Works, vol. ii. p. 442. + This language will remind the reader of Hooker's much-admired passage on law, which for the sake of comparison I shall subjoin with. out comment:—“The seat of law is the bosom of God; her voice the harmony of the world: all things in heaven and earth do her homage; the very least as feeling her care, the greatest as not exempt from her power:—both angels and men, and creatures of what condition soever, though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform conof his prose writings, Mr. St. John. “It is surprising,” he says, “Milton should have taken this view of the matter, since every section of the Christian church has a different form of government. To contend for uniformity in this matter, would be to re-establish the papacy; for without the infallibility of the pope there is obviously no deciding what form of church government is prescribed in the gospel. Simply, in my opinion, because no form of church government is there prescribed.” This reasoning, I think, fairly admits of two replies. First, if no form of church government at all is prescribed in the Scriptures, then all objection to the papacy itself, as a system of church government, falls to the ground; and, secondly, although many particulars of ecclesiastical discipline are left to Christian liberty and discretion, to be regulated, in many instances, by the necessity of the case, yet negatively so much is taught as to leave little to be desired by the greatest lover of uniformity. The omission of prelatical distinctions in the church would of itself be tantamount to a prohibition, even if we were not abundantly supplied with general principles applicable to nearly every variety of circumstance. Let any one, for example, compare the words of the apostle—“Call no man master on earth : for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren”—with the system of prelatical domination in every phase it has exhibited throughout its long and disastrous history, and he will not need to search further for the decision of Scripture. The appeals of the supporters of prelacy to the Old Testament, which had recently been re-produced by the primate of Armagh, Milton thus deals with: “The primate, in his discourse about the original of episcopacy newly revised, begins thus: “The ground of episcopacy is fetched partly from the pattern prescribed by God in the Old Testament, and partly from the imitation thereof brought in by the apostles.’ Herein I must entreat to be excused of the desire I have to be satisfied how, for example, the ground of
* Prose Works, vol. ii. p. 428.
sent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy.”—Ecclesias. tical Polity, Book I. ad finem,