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long step back into paganism. He who could have looked upon this church in this period, and compared its immense complications of power and wealth, and wickedness, with the practices and teachings of the great Head of Christianity, would have perceived nothing in common between the two systems but these gleams of charity shooting athwart the vision in the vast mass of papal gloom.
During this corrupt period the charitable institutions, which had multiplied without number in the primitive ages of Christianity, under an infinity of names and organization, were, to a great extent, perverted from their true design and the objects of the founders. Monasteries, hospitals, religious houses of every name became nests of lazy drones, consuming and wasting the bounty of the charitable--the patrimony of the poor. Many. associations, which had their origin in a plan of joint labour for the poor, became sinks, swallowing the benefactions attracted to their institutions by the purity and industry
ABUSE OF CHARITABLE INSTITUTIONS.
of the early associates. The richly endowed establishments which were to feed the poor and take care of the sick, to ransom the captive, far and wide around them, ceased to be dispensers of alms, and consumed within their own walls those streams of plenty which should have watered a wide region. It is true, these houses seldom wholly shut their doors against the poor who were able to reach them, but the inmates ceased to furnish the cup of cold water to those who could not apply, to visit the sick and those who were in prison. These duties were left to the charity of individuals. Not only were these ancient establishments thus perverted and abused, but innumerable others were founded, and, in like manner, abused. The mass of these perversions and corruptions, became so great finally, as to draw the attention of all who had minds even partially free from the bondage of the church. They became an offence to all such in Christendom. The streams which fed the abuses began to
fail, and charity itself to fall into discredit. But though alms-giving to the begging poor was never given up among any Catholic population, that liberality which sustained in idleness and debauchery a lazy priesthood was sensibly checked. This led at last, to the incredibly wicked device of selling indulgences to sin, an impiety without parallel in any other form of religion, among any other people, or in any age of the world. The abuses of the divine grace of charity had opened the eyes of many to the corruptions of the church : this sale of indulgences so roused their indignation, that they shook off the chains of superstition, and, becoming free in thought, soon determined to be free in action. A very slight examination, in this frame of mind, betrayed the depths from which they had emerged, and spread before them the vast mass of benighted humanity held in the grasp of papal power;—that power which bound all its subjects to believe as it dictated, to bow to its decision in faith as well as in
FIRST EFFECTS OF THE REFORMATION.
practice; which forbade all freedom of thought or speech, and denied the word of God to those whose salvation it was intended to secure; which extinguished all thirst for knowledge and all independence of thought; which robbed God of his government and made men slaves of the Church. The long abuse of charity and its institutions had made them a stench in the nostrils of those who became awakened to papal usurpation. The church for nearly a thousand years had merely been telling her people what to do: the men who now, after a thousand years of oblivion, had taken up that rejected book, the Bible, and received it as the word of God, began to inquire almost exclusively, as they emerged from darkness, what they should believe. The intellect, set free after this long inaction, exerted itself with immense vigour. The truths of Holy Writ evolved with great rapidity, were seized with avidity by multitudes sighing for emancipation from mental
bondage. A wide field of inquiry was thus thrown open, and hosts of eager inquirers soon thronged the area. The absurdities and enormities of the papacy were exposed without mercy, and the doctrines of the gospel were proclaimed as far as voice and press could reach. It was soon experienced that freedom of thought did not produce uniformity of belief. Strong minds differed in the interpretation of the gospel; sharpened by the excitements of a new liberty, and impatient of control, differences of opinion gave rise to animated controversies, which only confirmed the disputants in the sides they had taken. Papal power could enforce a seeming uniformity of practice, but the power of the Reformation could establish no uniformity of faith. These differences, which sprang up in the sixteenth century, being magnified in importance by the special circumstances of the Reformation, being widened by protracted discussions, remain unsettled to this day; they gave origin to various sects, which maintain