Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Persecution, Papist and Protestant
By John Milton (16081674)
From A Treatise of Civil Power in Ecclesiastical Causes
HOW many persecutions, then imprisonments, banishments, penalties, and stripes; how much bloodshed have the forcers of conscience to answer for, and protestants rather than papists! For the papist, judging by his principles, punishes them who believe not as the church believes, though against the scripture; but the protestant, teaching every one to believe the scripture, though against the church, counts heretical, and persecutes against his own principles, them who in any particular so believe as he in general teaches them; them who most honour and believe divine scripture, but not against any human interpretation though universal; them who interpret scripture only to themselves, which by his own position, none but they to themselves can interpret: them who use the scripture no otherwise by his own doctrine to their edification, than he himself uses it to their punishing; and so whom his doctrine acknowledges a true believer, his discipline persecutes as a heretic. The papist exacts our belief as to the church due above scripture; and by the church, which is the whole people of God, understands the pope, the general councils, prelatical only, and the surnamed fathers: but the forcing protestant, though he deny such belief to any church whatsoever, yet takes it to himself and his teachers, of far less authority than to be called the church, and above scripture believed: which renders his practice both contrary to his belief, and far worse than that belief which he condemns in the papist. By all which, well considered, the more he professes to be a true protestant, the more he hath to answer for his persecuting than a papist. No protestant therefore, of what sect soever, following scripture only, which is the common sect wherein they all agree, and the granted rule of every mans conscience to himself, ought by the common doctrine of protestants to be forced or molested for religion. But as for popery and idolatry, why they also may not hence plead to be tolerated, I have much less to say. Their religion the more considered, the less can be acknowledged a religion; but a Roman principality rather, endeavouring to keep up her old universal dominion under a new name, and mere shadow of a catholic religion; being indeed more rightly named a catholic heresy against the scripture, supported mainly by a civil, and, except in Rome, by a foreign, power: justly therefore to be suspected, not tolerated, by the magistrate of another country. Besides, of an implicit faith which they profess, the conscience also becomes implicit, and so by voluntary servitude to mans law, forfeits her Christian liberty. Who then can plead for such a conscience, as being implicitly enthralled to man instead of God, almost becomes no conscience, as the will not free, becomes no will? Nevertheless, if they ought not to be tolerated, it is for just reason of state, more than of religion; which they who force, though professing to be protestants, deserve as little to be tolerated themselves, being no less guilty of popery in the most popish point. Lastly, for idolatry, who knows it not to be evidently against all scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, and therefore a true heresy, or rather an impiety, wherein a right conscience can have nought to do; and the works thereof so manifest, that a magistrate can hardly err in prohibiting and quite removing at least the public and scandalous use thereof.