To judge fairly the attitude and policy of the English Puritans, that is of three-fourths of the Protestants of England, at this moment, we must cursorily review the fortunes of Protestantism during the reign of Elizabeth. At its opening the success of the Reformation seemed almost everywhere secure. Already triumphant in the north of Germany at the peace of Augsburg, it was fast advancing to the conquest of the south. The nobles of Austria as well as the nobles and the towns of Bavaria were forsaking the older religion. A Venetian ambassador estimated the German Catholics at little more than one-tenth of the whole population of Germany. The new faith was firmly established in Scandinavia. Eastward the nobles of Hungary and Poland became Protestants in a mass. In the west France was yielding more and more to heresy. Scotland flung off Catholicism under Alary, and England veered round again to Protestantism under Elizabeth. Only where the dead hand of Spain lay heavy, in Castille, in Aragon, or in Italy, was the Reformation thoroughly crushed out; and even the dead hand of Spain failed to crush heresy in the Low Countries. But at the very instant of its seeming triumph, the advance of the new religion was suddenly arrested.
The first twenty years of Elizabeth's reign were a period of suspense. The progress of Protestantism gradually ceased. It wasted its strength in theological controversies and persecutions, and in the bitter and venomous discussions between the Churches which followed Luther and the Churches which followed Zwingli or Calvin. It was degraded and weakened by the prostitution of the Reformation to political ends, by the greed and worthlessness of the German princes who espoused its cause, by the factious lawlessness of the nobles in Poland, and of the Huguenots in France. Meanwhile the Papacy succeeded in rallying the Catholic world round the Council of Trent. The Roman Church, enfeebled and corrupted by the triumph of ages, felt at last the uses of adversity. Her faith was settled and defined. The Papacy was owned afresh as the centre of Catholic union. The enthusiasm of the Protestants roused a counter enthusiasm among their opponents; new religious orders rose to meet the wants of the day; the Capuchins became the preachers of Catholicism, the Jesuits became not only its preachers., but its directors, its schoolmasters, its missionaries, its diplomatists.
[Authorities. - Mr. Gardiner's "History of England from the Accession of James I." is invaluable for its fairness and good sense, and for the fresh information collected in it. We have Camden's " Annals of James I.,'"' Goodman's "Court of James I.," Weldon's "Secret History of the Court of James I.," Roger Coke's "Detection," the correspondence in the "Cabala," the letter? in the "Court and Times of James L," the documents in Winwood's " Memorials of State," and the reported proceedings of the last two Parliaments. The Camden Society has published the correspondence of James with Cecil, and Walter Yonge's "Diary." The letters and works of Bacon (fully edited by Mr. Spedding) are necessary for a knowledge of the period. Hacket's "Life of Williams," and Harrington's " Nugse Antiquac " throw valuable side-light on the politics of the time. But the Stuart system can only be fairly studied in the State-papers, calendars of which are being published by the Master of the Rolls.] [The State Papers are now carried on to 1644. - Ed].
Their organization, their blind obedience, their real ability, their fanatical zeal galvanized the pulpit, the school, the confessional into a new life. If the Protestants had enjoyed the profitable monopoly of martyrdom at the opening of the century, the Catholics won a fair share of it as soon as the disciples of Loyola came to the front. The tracts which pictured the tortures of Campian and Southwell roused much the same fire at Toledo or Vienna as the pages of Foxe had roused in England. Even learning came to the aid of the older faith. Bellarmine, the greatest of controversialists at this time, Baronius, the most erudite of Church historians, were both Catholics. With a growing inequality of strength such as this, we can hardly wonder that the tide was seen at last to turn. A few years before the fight with the Armada Catholicism began definitely to win ground. Southern Germany, where Bavaria was restored to Rome, and where the Austrian House so long lukewarm in the faith at last became zealots in its defence, was re Catholicized. The success of Socinianism in Poland severed that kingdom from any real communion with the general body of the Protestant Churches; and these again were more and more divided into two warring camps by the controversies about the Sacrament and Free Will. Everywhere the Jesuits won converts, and their peaceful victories were soon backed by the arms of Spain. In the fierce struggle which followed, Philip was undoubtedly worsted.
England was saved by its defeat of the Armada; the United Provinces of the Netherlands rose into a great Protestant power through their own dogged heroism and the genius of William the Silent. France was rescued from the grasp of the Catholic League, at a moment when all hope seemed gone, by the unconquerable energy of Henry of Navarre. But even in its defeat Catholicism gained ground. In the Low Countries, the Reformation was driven from the Walloon provinces, from Brabant, and from Flanders. In France Henry the Fourth found himself obliged to purchase Paris by a mass; and the conversion of the King was followed by a quiet breaking up of the Huguenot party. Nobles and scholars alike forsook Protestantism; and though the Reformation remained dominant south of the Loire, it lost all hope of winning France as a whole to its side.
At the death of Elizabeth, therefore, the temper of every earnest Protestant, whether in England or abroad, was that of a man who, after cherishing the hope of a crowning victory, is forced to look on at a crushing and irremediable defeat. The dream of a Reformation of the universal Church was utterly at an end. The borders of Protestantism were narrowing every day, nor was there a sign that the triumph of the Papacy was arrested. As hope after hope died into defeat and disaster, the mood of the Puritan grew sterner and more intolerant. What intensified the dread was a sense of defection and uncertainty within the pale of the Church of England itself. As a new Christendom fairly emerged from the troubled waters, the Renascence again made its influence felt. Its voice was heard above all in the work of Hooker, and the appeal to reason and to humanity which there found expression coloured through its results the after history of the English Church. On the one hand the historical feeling showed itself in a longing to ally the religion of the present with the religion of the past, to claim part in the great heritage of Catholic tradition.