Protestation of Henry VIII to General Council called for May 1537
Seeing that the bishop of Rome calleth learned men from all parts, conducting them by great rewards, making as many of them cardinals as he thinketh most meet, and most ready to defend frauds and untruths; we could not but with much anxiety cast with ourselves, what so great a preparance of wits should mean. As chance was, we guessed even as it followed. We have been so long acquainted with Romanish subtleties and popish deceits, that we well and easily judged the bishop of Rome to intend an assembly of his adherents, and men sworn to think all his lusts to be laws: we were not deceived. Paul, the bishop of Rome, hath called a council, to which he knew well either few or none of the Christian princes could come. Both the time that he indicted it, and also the place where he appointed it to be, might assure him of this. But whither wander not these popish bulls? whither go they not astray? What king is not cited and summoned by a proud minister and servant of kings, to come to bolster up errors, frauds, deceits, and untruths, and to set forth this feigned general council? For who will not think that Paul, the bishop of Rome, goeth sooner about to make men believe that he pretendeth a general council, than that he desire one indeed? No! who can less desire it, than they that do despair of their cause, except they be judges, and give sentence themselves against their adversaries? We, which very sore against our will at any time leave off the procurement of the realm and common weal, need neither to come ourselves, nor yet to send our procurators thither; no, nor yet to make our excuse for either of both. For who can accuse us, that we come not at his call, who hath no authority to call us?
"But for a season let us (as a sort of blindlings do) grant that he may call us, and that he hath authority so to do, yet, we pray you, may not all men see, what availeth it to come to this council, where ye shall have no place, except ye be known both willing to oppress truth, and also ready to confirm and stablish errors? Do not all men perceive, as well as we, with what integrity, fidelity, and religion, these men go about to discuss matters in controversy, that take them in hand in so troublesome a time as this is? Is it not plain what fruit the common weal of Christendom may look for there, whereas Mantua is chosen the place to keep this council at? Is there any prince not being of Italy, yea, is there of Italy any prince, or other dissenting from the pope, that dareth come to this assembly, and to this place? If there come none that dare speak for trodden truth, none that will venture his life, is it marvel if (the bishop of Rome being judge, no man repining, no man gainsaying) the defenders of the papacy obtain that popish authority, now quailing and almost fallen, be set up again?
"Is this the way to help things inflicted? to redress troubled religion? to lift up oppressed truth? Shall men this way know, whether the Roman bishops (which, in very deed, are, if ye look upon either their doctrine or life, far under other bishops) ought to be made their fellows, that is, to be pastors in their own diocese, and so to use no further power; or else, whether they may make laws, not only unto other bishops, but also to kings and emperors? Oh boldness! meet to be beaten down with force, and not to be convinced with arguments! Can either Paul that now lordeth, or any of his, earnestly go about (if they alone, or at least without any adversary, be thus in a corner assembled together) to heal the sicknesses, to take away the errors, to pluck down the abuses that now are crept into the church, and there to be bolstered up by such councils as now is like to be at Mantua?
"It is very like that these, which prowl for nothing but profit, will right gladly pull down all such things as their forefathers made, only for the increase of money. Whereas their forefathers, when their honour, power, and primacy were called into question, would either in despite of God's law maintain their dignity, or, to say better, their intolerable pride, is it like that these will not tread in their steps, and make naughty new canons, whereby they may. defend old evil decrees? Howbeit, what need we to care either what they have done, or what they intend to do hereafter, forasmuch as England hath taken her leave of popish crafts for ever, never to be deluded with them hereafter? Roman bishops have nothing to do with English people. The one doth not traffic with the other; at least, though they will have to do with us, yet we will none of their merchandise, none of their stuff. We will receive them of our council no more. We have sought our hurt, and bought our loss, a great while too long. Surely their decrees, either touching things set up or put down, shall have none other place with us than all bishops' decrees have; that is, if we like them, we admit them; if we do not, we 'refuse them. But lest, peradventure, men shall think us to follow our senses too much, and that we, moved by small or no just causes, forsake the authority, censures, decrees, and popish councils, we thought it best here to show our mind to the whole world.
"Wherefore we protest, before God and all men, that we embrace, profess, and will ever so do, the right and holy doctrine of Christ. All the articles of his faith, no jot omitted, be all so dear unto us, that we would much sooner stand in jeopardy of our realm, than to see any point of Christ's religion in jeopardy with us. We protest that we never went from the unity of this faith, neither that we will depart an inch from it. No, we will much sooner lose our lives, than any article of our belief shall decay in England. We, which in all this cause seek nothing but the glory of God, the profit and quietness of the world, protest that we can suffer deceivers no longer. We never refused to come to a general council; no, we promise all our labour, study, and fidelity, to the setting up of trodden truth, and troubled religion, in their place again, and to do all that shall lie in us, to finish such controversies as have a great while too long vexed Christendom. Only we will all Christian men to be admonished, that we can suffer no longer that they be esteemed willing to take away errors, which indeed, by all the ways their wits will serve them, go about this alone, that no man, under pain of death, may speak against any error or abuse.
"We would have a council; we desire it, yea, and crave nothing so oft of God, as that we may have one. But yet we will that it be such as Christian men ought to have; that is, frank and free, where every man without fear may say his mind. We desire that it be a holy council, where every man may go about to set up godliness, and not apply all their study to the oppressing of truth. We will it be general, that is to say, kept at such time, and in such place, that every man who seeketh the glory of God may be present, and there frankly utter his mind: for then it shall seem general, either when no man that dissenteth from the bishop of Rome is compelled to be from it; or when they that be present are not letted by any just terror, to say boldly what they truly think: for who would not gladly come to such a council, except it be the pope, his cardinals, and popish bishops? On the other side, who is so foolish, where the chief point that is to be handled in this council is the pope's own cause, power, and primacy, to grant that the pope should reign, should be judge, should be president of this council? If he, which indeed can never think himself able to defend his cause before any other judge, be evermore made his own judge, and so controversies not decided, but errors set up, what can be devised in the commonwealth of Christendom more hurtful to the truth, than general councils?
"And here to touch somewhat their impudent arrogancy: By what law, power, or honest title take they upon them to call kings, to summon princes to appear, where their bulls command them? In time past all councils were appointed by the authority, consent, and commandment of the emperor, kings, and princes: why now taketh the bishop of Rome this upon him? Some will say, 'It is more likely that bishops will more tender the cause of religion, gladlier have errors taken away, than emperors, kings, or princes.' The world hath good experience of them, and every man seeth how faithfully they have handled religious matters. Is there any man that doth not see how virtuously Paul now goeth about by this occasion to set up his tyranny again? Is it not like that he that chooseth such a time as this is to keep a council, much intendeth the redress of things that now are amiss? that he seeketh the restoring of religion, who now calleth to a council the emperor and the French king, two princes of great power, so bent to wars, that neither they, nor any other Christian prince, can, in a manner, do any thing but look for the end of this long war? Go to, go to, bishop of Rome I Occasion long wished for offereth herself unto you: take her! she openeth a window for your frauds to creep in at. Call your cardinals, your own creatures, show them that this is a jolly time to deceive princes in.
"O fools! O wicked men! May we not justly so call you? Are ye not fools, who, being long suspected, not only by princes, but by all Christian people, in a manner, that in no case you could be brought to a general council, plainly show the whole world, that by these your conciliables, your butter-mutter in corners, you take away all hope of a lawful, catholic, and general council? Are you not wicked, which so hate truth, that except she be utterly banished, ye will never cease to vex her? The living God is alive, neither can truth, his darling, be being alive, be called to so great shame, contumely, and injury; or, if it may be called to all these, yet can it come to none of them. Who is he that grievously lamenteth not men to be of such shameful boldness, to show apertly that they be enemies unto Christ himself? on the other side, who will not be glad to see such men as foolish as they be wicked? The world is not now in a light suspicion, as it hath been hitherto, that you will no reformation of errors; but every man seeth before his eyes your deceits, your wicked minds, your immortal hatred that ye bear against the truth. Every man seeth how many miserable tragedies your pretence of a unity and concord hath brought into Christendom. They see your fair face of peace hath served sedition, and troubled almost all Christian realms. They see ye never oppugn religion more than when ye will seem most to defend it. They be sorry to see that great wits a long season have spent their whole strength in defence of deceits: reason, to put his whole power to the promoting of pride and ungodliness; virtue to serve vice; holiness to be slave to hypocrisy; prudence to subtlety; justice to tyranny. They be glad that Scripture now fighteth for itself, and not against itself. They be glad that God is not compelled to be against God; Christ against Christ. They be glad that subtlety hath done no more hurt to religion in time past, than now constancy doth good to truth. They see the marks that ye have shot at, in all your councils past, to be lucre, money, gains. They see you sought your profit, yea, though it were joined with the slaughter of truth. They see ye would ever that sooner injury should be done to the gospel, than that your authority, that is to say, arrogant impudency, should in any point be diminished.
"And, we pray you, what may Paul the bishop of Rome seem now to go about, who, seeing all princes occupied in great affairs, would steal (as he calleth it) a general council? what other thing, than hereby to have some excuse to refuse a general council hereafter, when time and place much better for the handling of matters of religion shall be given unto the princes of Christendom? He will think he may then do as princes now do. He will think it lawful not to come then, because princes now come not. We pray God that we ever brawl not one with another for religion: and whereas dissension is amongst us, we yet for our parts do say, that we, as much as men may, defend the better part, and be in the right way. We pray God that the world may enjoy peace and tranquillity, and that then we may have both time and place to settle religion: for except princes first agree, and so (war laid aside) seek peace, he loseth his labour that seeketh a general council If the bishop of Rome may keep his council while they thus be together, will not there be made many pretty decrees? If they, which would come if they had leisure, be absent, and we, which though we safely might come, will not lose any part of our right; trow you, in all our absence, that the bishop of Rome will not handle his profit and primacy well?
"Paul! how can any of ours not refuse to come to Mantua, through so many perils, a city so far set from England, so nigh your friends, kinsmen, and adherents? Is he not unworthy of life, who, when he may tarry at home, will pass through so many jeopardies of life? Can he who cometh to Cremona, a city not far from Mantua, be safe if he be taken not to be the bishop of Rome's friend, that is, (as the common sort of deceived people do interpret,) a heretic? And if there come to Mantua such a number as would furnish a general council, may not Mantua seem too little to receive so many guests? Put these two together: all the way from England to Mantua is full of just perils, and yet if ye escape all those, the very plate where the council is kept is more to be suspected than all the way. Do ye not know all civil laws to compel no man to come to any place, where he shall be in jeopardy of his life all the way? We have no safe-conduct to pass and return by the dominions of other princes. And if we had a safe-conduct, yet should not we be charged with rashness, that where just terror might have dissuaded us from such a journey, we committed ourselves to such perils? Surely he, who, the time being as it is, things standing as they do, will go from England to Mantua, may be careless, if he lack wit: sure of his arrival, or return from thence, he cannot be; for who doth not know how oft the bishops of Rome have played false parts with them that in such matters have trusted to their safe-conducts? How oft have they caused, by their perfidy, such men to be slain, as they have promised by their faith before, that they should both come safe, and go safe? These be no news, that popes are false, that popes keep no promise either with God or man; that popes, contrary to their oaths, do defile their cruel hands with honest men's blood. But we tarry too long in things that as well touch all men as us.
"We will, these now laid apart, turn our oration unto such things, as privately touch both us, King Henry the Eighth, and all Englishmen. Is it unknown to any man, what mind Paul the bishop of Rome beareth to us King Henry the Eighth, to us his nobility, to us his Grace's bishops, and to us all his Grace's subjects, for the pulling down of his usurped power, and proud primacy? for expelling of his usurped jurisdiction, and for delivering of our realm from his grievous bondage and pollage? Who seeth not him even inflamed with hatred against us, and the flames to be much greater than he can now keep them in? He is an open enemy, he dissembleth no longer, provoking all men, by all the means that he can, to endamage us and our country. These three years he hath been occupied in no one thing so much, as how he might stir up the commons of England, now corrupting some with money, some with dignities. We let pass what letters he hath written to Christian princes: with how great fervent study he hath exhorted them to set upon us. The good vicar of Christ, by his doing, showeth how he understandeth the words of Christ. He thinketh he playeth Christ's part well, when he may say, as Christ did, I come not to make peace in earth, but to send swords about; and not such swords as Christ would his to be armed withal, but such as cruel man-quellers abuse in the slaughter of their neighbours. We marvel little though they vex other princes oft, seeing they recompense our favour showed to them with contumelies, our benefits with injuries.
"We will not rehearse here how many our benefits bestowed upon Roman bishops be lost. God be with such ingrate carles, unworthy to be numbered amongst men: certes such, that a man may well doubt whether God or man hath better cause to hate them. But that we have learned to owe good will even to them that immortally hate us, what could we wish them so evil, but they have deserved much worse? We wish them this hurt alone, that God send them a better mind. God be thanked, we have made all their seditious intents sooner to show their great malice towards us, then to do us much hurt; yea, they have well taught us, ever. more to take good heed to our enemies. Undoubtedly it were good going to Mantua, and to leave their whelps amongst the lambs of our flock. When we be weary of our wealth, we will even do then, as they would have us now do. No, no! as long as we shall see his heart so good towards us, we trust upon his warning we shall well provide to withstand his cruel malice. No, let him now spend his deceits, when they can hurt none but such as would deceive, and are deceived.
"They have, by sundry ways, made us privy, how much we be bound to them. It went nigh their hearts, to see the judgment of Julius, of Clement the Seventh, of Paul the Third, nothing to be regarded with us. They be afraid, if we should sustain no hurt because we justly rejected their primacy, that other princes would begin to do likewise, and to shake off their shoulders the heavy burdens that they so long have borne against Scriptures, all right, and reason. They be sorry to see the way stopped, that now their tyranny, avarice, and pride, can have no passage unto England, which was wont to walk, to triumph, to toss, to trouble all men. They can scarce suffer privileges, that is to say, licence to spoil our citizens, given them by our forefathers, and brought in by errorful custom, to be taken from them. They think it unlawful that we require things lawful of them that will be under no laws. They think we do them wrong, because we will not suffer them to do us wrong any longer. They see their merchandise to be banished, to be forbidden. They see that we will buy no longer chalk for cheese. They see they have lost a fair fleece, vengeably sorry that they can despatch no more pardons, dispensations, totquots, with the rest of their baggage and trumpery. England is no more a babe. There is no man here, but now he knoweth that they do foolishly, who give gold for lead, more weight of that than they receive of this. They pass not, though Peter and Paul's faces be graven in the lead, to make fools fain. No, we be sorry that they should abuse holy saints' visages, to the beguiling of the world.
"Surely, except God take away our right wits, not only his authority shall be driven out for ever, but his name also shortly shall be forgotten in England. We will from henceforth ask counsel of him and his, when we lust to be deceived, when we covet to be in error; when we desire to offend God, truth, and honesty. If a man may guess the whole work by the foundation, where deceits begin the work, can any other than deceits be builded upon this foundation? What can you look for in this Mantuan council, other than the oppression of truth and true religion? If there be any thing well done, think, as every man doth, bishops of Rome to be accustomed to do a few things well, that many evils may the better be taken at their hands. They, when they lust, can yield some part of their right. They are content that some of their decrees, some of their errors and abuses, be reprehended: but they are never more to be feared, than when they show themselves most gentle; for if they grant a few, they ask many; if they leave a little, they will be sure of a great deal. Scarce a man may know how to handle himself, that he take no hurt at their hands, yea, when they bless him; which seldom do good, but for an intent to do evil. Certainly, come whoso will to these shops of deceits, to these fairs of frauds, we will lose no part of our right in coming at his call, who ought to be called, and not to call. We will neither come at Mantua, nor send thither for this matter.
From Foxe’s Book of Martyrs