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Pre-Reformation Ignorance


Ryle describes the spiritual state of England before the Reformation:

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Before the Reformation, one leading feature of English religion was dense ignorance. There was among all classes a conspicuous absence of all knowledge of true Christianity. A gross darkness overspread the land, a darkness that might be felt. Not one in a hundred could have told you as much about the Gospel of Christ as we could now learn from any intelligent Sunday School child.

We need not wonder at this ignorance. The people had neither schools nor Bibles. Wycliffe’s New Testament, the only translation extant till Henry VIII’s Bible was printed, cost £2 16s. 3d.* of our money. The prayers of the Church were in Latin, and of course the people could not understand them. Preaching there was scarcely any. Quarterly sermons indeed were prescribed to the clergy, but not insisted on. Latimer says that while Mass was never to be left unsaid for a single Sunday, sermons might be omitted for twenty Sundays, and nobody was blamed. After all, when there were sermons, they were utterly unprofitable: and latterly to be a preacher was to be suspected of being a heretic.

To cap all, the return that Hooper got from the diocese of Gloucester, when he was first appointed Bishop in 1551, will give a pretty clear idea of the ignorance of Pre-Reformation times. Out of 311 clergy of his diocese, 168 were unable to repeat the Ten Commandments; 31 of the 168 could not state in what part of Scripture they were to be found; 40 could not tell where the Lord’s prayer was written; and 31 of the 40 were ignorant who was the author of the Lord’s prayer!

If this is not ignorance, I know not what is. If such were the pastors, what must the people have been! If this was the degree of knowledge among the parsons, what must it have been among the people!

—J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times (Banner of Truth, 2015), 62.

* I.e., in 1890. Current value (2017), about $366 US dollars, by my estimation.



Posted 2017·05·11 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Church History · J C Ryle · John Hooper · Light from Old Times · Papism

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