The secular clergy alone remained; and injunction after injunction from the Vicar-General taught rector and vicar that they must learn to regard themselves as mere mouthpieces of the royal will. With the instinct of genius Cromwell discerned the part which the pulpit, as the one means which then existed of speaking to the people at large, was to play in the religious and political struggle that was at hand; and he resolved to turn it to the profit of the Monarchy. The restriction of the right of preaching to priests who received licenses from the Crown silenced every voice of opposition. Even to those who received these licenses theological controversy was forbidden; and a high-handed process of "tuning the pulpits" by directions as to the subject and tenor of each special discourse made the preachers at every crisis mere means of diffusing the royal will. As a first step in this process every bishop, abbot, and parish priest, was required to preach against the usurpation of the Papacy, and to proclaim the King as the supreme Head of the Church on earth. The very topics of the sermon were carefully prescribed; the bishops were held responsible for the compliance of the clergy with these orders, and the sheriffs were held responsible for the compliance of the bishops.
It was only when all possibility of resistance was at an end, when the Church was gagged and its pulpits turned into mere echoes of Henry's will, that Cromwell ventured on his last and crowning change, that of claiming for the Crown the right of dictating at its pleasure the form of faith and doctrine to be held and taught throughout the land. A purified Catholicism such as Erasmus and Colet had dreamed of was now to be the religion of England. But the dream of the New Learning was to be wrought out, not by the progress of education and piety, but by the brute force of the Monarchy. The Article nf Religon which Convocation received and adopted without venturing on a protest, were drawn up by the hand of Henry himself. The Bible and the three Creeds were laid down as the sole grounds of faith. The Sacraments were reduced from seven to three, only Penance being allowed to rank on an equality with Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The doctrines of Transubstantiation and Confession were maintained, as they were also in the Lutheran Churches. The spirit of Erasmus was seen in the acknowledgement of Justification by Faith, a doctrine for which the friends of the New Learning, such as Pole and Contarini, were struggling at Rome itself, in the condemnation of purgatory, of pardons, and of masses for the dead, in the admission of prayers for the dead, and in the retention of the ceremonies of the Church without material change.
Enormous as was the doctrinal revolution, not a murmur broke the assent of Convocation, and the Articles were sent by the Vicar-General into every county to be obeyed at men's peril. The policy of reform was carried steadily out by a series of royal injunctions which followed. Pilgrimages were suppressed; the excessive number of holy days diminished; the worship of images and relics discouraged in words which seem almost copied from the protest of Erasmus. His burning appeal for a translation of the Bible which weavers might repeat at their shuttle and ploughmen sing at their plough received at last a reply. At the outset of the ministry of Norfolk and More the King had promised an English version of the scriptures, while prohibiting the circulation of Tyndale's Lutheran translation. The work however lagged in the hands of the bishops; and as a preliminary measure the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments were now rendered into English, and ordered to be taught by every schoolmaster and father of a family to his children and pupils.
But the bishops' version still hung on hand; till in despair of its appearance a friend of Archbishop Cranmer, Miles Coverdale, was employed to correct and revise the translation of Tyndale; and the Bible which he edited was published in 1538 under the avowed patronage of Henry himself. The story of the royal supremacy was graven on its very title-page. The new foundation of religious truth was to be regarded throughout England as a gift, not from the Church, but from the King. It is Henry on his throne who gives the sacred volume to Cranmer, ere Cranmer and Cromwell can distribute it to the throng of priests and laymen below.
The debate on the suppression of the monasteries was the first instance of opposition with which Cromwell had met, and for some time longer it was to remain the only one. While the great revolution which struck down the Church was in progress, England looked silently on. In all the earlier ecclesiastical changes, in the contest over the Papal jurisdiction and Papal exactions, in the reform of the Church courts, even in the curtailment of the legislative independence of the clergy, the nation as a whole had gone with the King. But from the enslavement of the clergy, from the gagging of the pulpits, from the suppression of the monasteries, the bulk of the nation stood aloof. It is only through the stray depositions of royal spies that we catch a glimpse of the wrath and hate which lay seething under this silence of a whole people. For the silence was a silence of terror. Before Cromwell's rise and after his fall from power the reign of Henry the Eighth witnessed no more than the common tyranny and bloodshed of the time.
But the years of Cromwell's administration form the one period in our history which deserves the name which men have given to the rule of Robespierre. It was the English Terror. It was by terror that Cromwell mastered the King. Cranmer could plead for him at a later time with Henry as " one whose surety was only by your Majesty, who loved your Majesty, as I ever thought, no less than God." But the attitude of Cromwell towards the King was something more than that of absolute dependence and unquestioning devotion. He was " so vigilant to preserve your Majesty from all treasons," adds the Primate, "that few could be so secretly conceived but he detected the same from the beginning." Henry, like every Tudor, was fearless of open danger, but tremulously sensitive to the slightest breath of hidden disloyalty. It was on this inner dread that Cromwell based the fabric of his power. He was hardly secretary before a host of spies were scattered broadcast over the land. Secret denunciations poured into the open ear of the minister. The air was thick with tales of plots and conspiracies, and with the detection and suppression of each Cromwell tightened his hold on the King. And as it was by terror that he mastered the King, so it was by terror that he mastered the people.