Posts Tagged ‘British Isles’

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Religious Tourism (or Lack Thereof) in Norwich and King’s Lynn, England

Friday, July 27th, 2012

by Donna Ray

Being a fan of the medieval visionary writers Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, and assuming that many others across the globe shared my fandom, I expected at least a minor crush of tourists when I recently visited these women’s hometowns of Norwich and King’s Lynn, England. I was disappointed but not surprised to find no mention of either Julian or Margery in the official tourist literature for East Anglia despite their renown in religious and scholarly circles. Emphasis in promotional brochures was rather predictably placed on shopping, nightlife, restaurants, “family fun,” and local football.

It’s hard for long-dead religious figures to compete, however deserving: Julian (ca. 1342-ca. 1416) wrote the Revelations of Divine Love, a hopeful meditation on the tender love of God and the first known book by a woman in English. The Book of Margery Kempe, published in 1436, has less spiritual heft than Julian’s book—its protagonist being more boisterous and less stable, in every sense of the word—but is nonetheless full of theological and cultural interest and arguably the first autobiography written in English.

Norwich was up first on my trip: Only brief notice appears in a city-sponsored brochure of “numerous medieval churches” (there are, in fact, thirty-one). This paucity of boosterism, in addition to the fact that St. Julian’s Church and the Julian Centre are off the beaten path and in a rather seedy part of town, might explain why I was the only visitor there in late June.

I received a very gracious welcome, however, from the two women running the Centre (library, gift shop, and adjoining guest house), who reasoned that the recession also had something to do with the downturn in visitors; although, on a good day, they might have half a dozen. The church itself, now part of the Anglican Diocese of Norwich, is small and cozy, formally outfitted for Anglo-Catholic mass held there on Mondays and Fridays and solemn evensong on the first Sunday of each month. But the church primarily functions as a shrine to Julian, an anchoress whose small cell was attached to the south end, near the altar. An annual Julian festival and lecture are held on the grounds each May.


The south side of St. Julian’s Church, Norwich (the reconstructed anchorhold at center)


St. Julian’s Church is not far from the River Wensum, which runs through Norwich. The church can be accessed by foot by crossing the new Lady Julian Bridge (opened in 2009 and named at the behest of local Anglican nuns) over the river from a commercial district. From the quieter and older King Street on the other side, where sits a medieval trading hall, a new sign points the visitor to St. Julian’s Alley, which leads to the church.

The church and Julian Centre can also be reached by car along Rouen Road, lined with government housing, car shops, and graffiti-covered walls, just south of the city’s red-light district. Another Anglican church two blocks away serves as a drop-in counseling center for area prostitutes. Some beer cans and empty cigarette packs littered the otherwise lovely and steadfastly maintained churchyard, watched over by the Friends of Julian of Norwich and a stray white cat.


The Lady Julian Bridge, crossing the River Wensum



The neighborhood around St. Julian’s Church (not visible here, but across the street from the medieval trading hall and center)


Julian settled into her cell in 1373, at age 31, and remained there for the rest of her life. Here she led a life of prayer and devotion; wrote her Revelations, or >em>Showings; and counseled visitors who came to the south window of her cell. Another opening on the north side of the cell, toward the altar, was her window to the Blessed Sacrament; and a third allowed communication with a servant.

The original church building may have been erected in the tenth century; but the anchorhold was pulled down after the Reformation. The church was bombed and severely damaged in World War II, but it was rebuilt afterwards, including a new replica of the anchorhold based on the ancient footprint. The cell is now, however, a small carpeted chapel, so one has to mentally strip away the modern accoutrements to imagine what the space looked like when Julian lived there.


Julian’s cell as it looks now


Among the other medieval buildings of note in Norwich are the imposing Norman cathedral and castle, some distance from St. Julian’s Church but no doubt visible from it in Julian’s day. Less imposing, but important as a religious landmark, is the timber-framed Briton’s Arms, now a restaurant but once a beguinage for a small community of semi-religious women—the only surviving medieval beguinage in England, built probably in the first half of the fifteenth century. The Carmelite solitary and scholar Elizabeth Obbard is reportedly writing a book on Julian’s connection to the beguinage, possibly as a resident there before she became an anchoress. Some scholars also speculate, given Julian’s maternal sensibility, that she may have been a wife and mother before she became an anchoress. There is no evidence that she was ever a nun.


The Briton’s Arms: once a medieval beguinage, now a restaurant


Whatever the case, we know that fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Norwich was a tumultuous place: the Black Death struck there at least three times during Julian’s lifetime and wiped out half of the city’s population, perhaps including (although this is entirely speculative) Julian’s own family members. Norwich also felt the effects of the Hundred Years’ War, the Peasant Uprising of 1381, ongoing theological strife (a pit for burning Lollards stood not far from St. Julian’s Church), and papal schism. Julian’s presence must have been an eye in the storm, her cell a place of reassurance and stability. The mission of the church hasn’t changed; in its brochure, the Julian Centre says that it aims “to be a place of quietness and prayer in the midst of a busy city.” One hopes the new bridge and signage will help them fulfill that mission.



Next up on my trip was a train ride to King’s Lynn, 44 miles to the west of Norwich, on the River Ouse. Here the medieval historical sites are somewhat more front-and-center, as the town is smaller and the monuments thus loom larger. The city tourism center also offers a “pilgrimage trail” map for those wishing to see the medieval sites. On these two rainy days in early July, however, my husband and I were the only pilgrims in sight.

No one knows exactly where in the city Margery Kempe (ca. 1373-1440) lived, but her home was likely not far from the river in the market district where the well-established, wealthier families lived. (Her father was the mayor, her husband a merchant.) As in Norwich, King’s Lynn—called Bishop’s Lynn in Margery’s day, or just Lynn—is crammed with old churches and the ruins of medieval religious communities, some of them repurposed for modern non-religious use.

In contrast to Julian, Margery gave a lot of attention to physical space and movement, with vivid accounts of the many cities to which she traveled in Europe and the Holy Land. The place that features most prominently in Margery’s biographical account, however, is her home church in Lynn: St. Margaret’s, founded in 1101 and still an active (Anglican) parish church now formally named King’s Lynn Minster.

St. Margaret’s, in contrast to St. Julian’s Church, is enormous—the architectural centerpiece of the town as well as the spiritual centerpiece of Margery’s lively and sometimes tortured spiritual narrative. Margery spent hours praying there, receiving visitations and instructions from Christ, engaging in pastoral tasks, shedding her signature tears, sometimes receiving support but often noisily irritating the people around her. By her own account, she saved the church from fire by her intercessions, which were followed by a timely snowstorm. Another time, she was allegedly hit by a heavy beam that fell from the ceiling of the church, and yet was miraculously unharmed.


St. Margaret’s Church, King’s Lynn



Interior of St. Margaret’s Church


The narratives of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe come together briefly in Margery’s Book (1:18). During a visit to Norwich around 1413, Margery visited the cell of the renowned anchoress, who for three days gave her much needed reassurance, encouraging confidence in God and fearlessness in trouble. Margery in fact made more than one trip to Norwich, crossing the boggy expanse of Norfolk to receive the counsel of those celebrated for their piety, seeking as she did always and everywhere both peace and vindication.


Via Brother Leon of Walsingham, at St. Michael and All Angels, Brighton

Contemporary icon of the meeting between Julian of Norwich (left) and Margery Kempe


Nothing beats religious tourism for the church historian. Seeing a place, rather than just reading about it, gives a sense of scale and proximity and provides a total sensory environment. Despite the centuries of change, and sometimes neglect, that overlay historical sites, there is no better way than an on-site visit to absorb the spirit of the place and the people who lived there. In Norwich and King’s Lynn, as in so many historical religious sites, one can still perceive the spiritual liveliness and perseverance of the inhabitants.

Even in the faded and damaged places, one can get an immediate whiff of the long-term narrative and appreciate the vacillating fortunes and failures of religious institutions and people, even to the present day. For anyone who seeks them out, these places still convey a comforting sense of stability amidst chaos, whatever it may be.


Donna Ray is a lecturer in History and Religious Studies at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

The Re-Ordination of Presbyters in the Restoration Church of England

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

by Jonathan Warren

The ecclesiastical settlement of the Restoration Church of England in 1660 produced a crisis of conscience for many of the Puritan or “godly” (as they referred to themselves) ministers who had been ordained in Presbyterian fashion (that is, who were ordained by laying on of hands by presbyters rather than by a bishop) during the Interregnum (1649-1660). A number of these ministers had taken the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643, requiring them to “endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy…superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of Godliness,” and they felt themselves bound by conscience to oppose rule by Bishops.

However, a number of ministers had never been bound by the oath, and others who had taken the oath found faults within it that excused them from obedience to it. Among these godly ministers who were Presbyterially ordained but amenable to episcopal oversight, a principal (though not the only) remaining reservation concerned the requirement imposed by the Restoration bishops of episcopal ordination or re-ordination.1 Presbyterians believed that the New Testament made no distinction between the office of presbyter and bishop, such that the ministerial power of both was identical, but many acknowledged that there could be degrees of eminence among presbyters, such that one presbyter might rule over the rest, though not in opposition to the rest.2

Those Presbyterians who allowed such a distinction often tended to distinguish between “apostolical” and “apostatical” bishops, or between episcopus praeses (presiding bishop) and episcopus princeps (ruling bishop),3 or – as we might more simply put it – “good” and “bad” bishops. They argued that Reformed Anglican bishops like Edmund Grindal, George Abbott, and James Ussher, who were opposed to grasping and lordly “prelacy” could serve as exemplars for bishops in the Restoration era.4

James Ussher (1581–1656)Wikimedia Commons

Ussher was especially reverenced among these Presbyterians, as he proposed a “primitive” or “reduced” episcopacy “balanced and managed with a due commixtion of presbyters therewith,” rather than prelatical or “popish” bishops who arrogated power to themselves. Ussher’s scheme approximated what many Presbyterians saw as the pattern in the New Testament and early church.5

Many of the Restoration bishops, however, were of what we might anachronistically refer to as a “high church” persuasion (contemporaries thought of them as “Laudians,” so named after the Catholicizing Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, who was a plague to Puritans in the 1630s and was executed in 1645). They saw the office of bishop as part of the apostolic deposit and so necessary to the structure of any legitimate church.6 For these bishops, the right of ordination belonged solely to the bishop, such that presbyterial ordination was per se unlawful and null.

John Gauden (1605-1662)Wikimedia Commons

Among this group of Laudians, which included Brian Duppa, Matthew Wren, John Cosin, William Lucy, and Gilbert Sheldon, among others, there was a resolute insistence that episcopal ordination was not “re-ordination,” but first ordination, because the ordination by presbyters was invalid.7 These bishops, of course, were not the natural conversation partners for the godly, but there were other conciliatory bishops such as Edward Reynolds, John Gauden, and Thomas Sydserff (despite his earlier Laudian convictions, for which he was deposed in 1638), who ultimately insisted upon episcopal ordination, but were willing to allow compromise formulas that attempted to preserve the conscience of Presbyterians. A.G. Matthews notes that Sydserff, the Bishop of Orkney, “required of candidates for ordination no more than a general promise that they would not contravene the discipline of the church.”8

Another formula that was discussed phrased the ordination conditionally: “In a Conference (as I have heard between the Presbyterian and present Bishops, it was proposed for an Accomodation in this case, that an Hypothetical forme might be used, Si non ordinatus sit, &c.9 It was also proposed among at least some of the godly that, regardless of what the Bishop thought, ordination might be thought of as external confirmation or acknowledgement of an internal call by the Holy Spirit, or perhaps as a kind of licensing to practice one’s calling as a minister.10

As a result of these discussions, at least 420 of the clergy ultimately ejected in 1662 were persuaded to be episcopally ordained in the early years of the Restoration.11 It was thus the engagement with these conciliatory bishops that produced difficult soul-searching among the godly.

John Humfrey, who we have already mentioned, was a divine who received episcopal ordination. Humfrey was persuaded by John Piers, Bishop of Bath and Wells, to accept re-ordination, which Humfrey defended in print and for which he received sustained criticism from among the godly. Humfrey argued that reordination could be conceived of as public recognition or licensing of ordination already received, and so merely a solemnization of ordination already received, akin to being married in a church after being married only civilly before.

Richard Alleine, writing anonymously, pointed out that no bishop saw the matter this way. “Let Mr. Humfrey but procure us to be ordained in such a way, as shall only license us to exercise that Ministerial Authority we already have…and then he need not doubt, but we shall most readily and thankfully accept of it.”12 The anonymous I.R. added that the fact that no bishop agreed with Humfrey’s interpretation made his distinction impossible to sustain.13

Humfrey protested that if the bishop allowed the presbyter to voice his understanding that his first ordination was not nullified by episcopal ordination, then the bishop’s intention in the matter was not an issue.14 Humfrey confessed, however, that although he was initially convinced of this argument, he later came to feel uneasy about it: “I confess I did not doubt in the least when I did this, but that my former Ordination was valid, and in the taking this new upon me, I find it is like a double garment put on for the fashion, and experiencedly proves uneasie to be worn.”15

The excruciating difficulty that many of the godly felt in this matter is visible in the fact that Humfrey eventually found he could not live with himself and recanted his re-ordination and was ejected from his living at Frome Selwood in August 1662 following the Act of Uniformity.16 A majority of the godly concluded, moreover, in contrast to Humfrey’s initial decision, that re-ordination meant renunciation of their previous ordination, which would in effect “unchurch” the Reformed churches of Europe, which accepted and practiced Presbyterial ordination. Giles Firmin, for instance, explained that

if it comes to this, that I must renounce my Presbyterial Ordination and be ordained by a Bishop, or I must be silenced, I shall desire grace from the Lord, and resolve to lay down my Ministry, before I will my Ordination: for in being re-ordained by Bishops…I must plainly condemn all Ministers of other Churches, who are ordained only by Presbyters: how abominable is this? To null all other Ministers that have not Episcopal ordination.17

The matter of re-ordination was thus a serious case of conscience for the godly in the early Restoration. By no means were all of them resolutely opposed to government by bishops, and indeed many of them were willing to accept episcopal ordination if bishops were amenable to the terms on which the godly could accept it. It was the constriction of an initially “liberal” position open to the godly at the outset of the Restoration that led to the ejection of so many of the godly after the passage of the Act of Uniformity in 1662.

Jonathan Warren is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Christianity at Vanderbilt University. He holds a B.A. from Wake Forest, a J.D. from Georgia State University College of Law, and an M.A. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. His dissertation is on the life and writings of Giles Firmin, a seventeenth century Puritan and Dissenter.



[1] See Robert Bosher, The Making of the Restoration Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians, 1649-1662 (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1951), 151-3; Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed. Matthew Sylvester (London, 1696), 230-2. John Spurr has argued that there may have been as many as 2000 Presbyterians who, given certain allowances, would have accepted Episcopal oversight. English Puritanism, 1603-1689 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 1998), 130.

[2] The parity between bishops and presbyters was a claim that animated, among other tracts, the reprint of William Prynne’s 1636 The Unbishoping of Timothy and Titus (1661). The scheme of “reduced episcopacy” was advocated by the party of the “Reconcilers,” as Richard Baxter called them. See, e.g. R. Thomas, “The Rise of the Reconcilers,” in The English Presbyterians, eds. C.G. Bolam et al. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1968), 46-72.

[3] Giles Firmin, Questions between the Conformist and Non-Conformist (1681), 103-4.

[4] See, e.g. James Ussher, The Reduction of Episcopacie (London, 1656); I.R., A Peaceable Enquiry into that Novel Controversie about Reordination (London, 1661), 5; Giles Firmin, Presbyterial Ordination Vindicated (1660), 3. Paul Lim, in discussing Richard Baxter, has shown that the godly also used a confessionalized hermeneutic for church history to substantiate this claim: “just as [Baxter] would bifurcate the Anglican bishops between the Grindal and Abbot type in one camp and the Laudians on the other, he did the same with the bishops of the fourth and fifth centuries, lest he tarnish all bishops with the same brush. So Baxter extolled “Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory Nyssen, Basil, Chrysostom, Augustine, Hillary, Prosper, Fulgentius, &c.” who made a mental inward separation “from the Councils and Communion of the prevailing turbulent sort of the Prelates, to signifie their disowning of their sins.” Here in Baxter’s description, moderate Puritans of his own type found their forebears in the Cappadocians and Augustine. Thus, with the bishops of Cappadocian and Augustinian sensibilities, true piety flourished. Conversely, with the avaricious bishops only in name, “hereticating was in fashion.” Paul Lim, Mystery Unveiled (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 250.

[5] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, 232ff.

[6] See, e.g. Jeremy Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, in The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D., 15 vols. (London, 1839), vii.77-91, 113-116, 232-235.

[6] See, e.g. Richard Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou (London, 1661), 6-7; Edward Wakeman, The Pattern of Ecclesiastical Ordination or Apostolick Separation (London, 1664), 22; Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, vii.127-142.

[7] See, e.g. Richard Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou (London, 1661), 6-7; Edward Wakeman, The Pattern of Ecclesiastical Ordination or Apostolick Separation (London, 1664), 22; Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, vii.127-142.

[8] A.G. Matthews, Calamy Revised (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934), lxi.

[9] John Humfrey, A Second Discourse about Reordination (London, 1662), 25; Ian Green, The Re-Establishment of the Church of England 1660-1663 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 130-1, 150-1.

[10] John Humfrey, The Question of Re-Ordination (London, 1661), 81-2.

[11] Matthews, Calamy Revised, lxi.

[12] Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou, 66.

[13] I.R., Peaceable Enquiry, 17-19.

[14] Humfrey, Question of Reordination, 52-55.

[15] Humfrey, Second Discourse, 96.

[16] See the entry on Humfrey by E. Vernon in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[17] Firmin, Presbyterial Ordination Vindicated, 29; For a comparable conclusion, see Zachary Crofton, A Serious Review of Presbyters Reordination by Bishops (n.d.), 6, cf. 11, 15, 21, 27, 29, 38 and I.R., Peaceable Inquiry, 146. Although couched with exceptions, Richard Baxter also agreed that “re-ordination morally and properly so called, is unlawful: for…it is (or implieth) a lie, viz. that we were not truly dedicated and separated to this office before.” Baxter, A Christian Directory, in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, 4 vols. (London, 1838), i.642.

John Knox and His Role in the English Reformation

Friday, May 11th, 2012

by Roberta Shepherd


© Copyright Gwen and James Anderson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Via Geograph

Presbyterians are typically aware that John Knox was a leading figure in the Reformation in Scotland. He was also involved in the effort to establish the Reformation in England. Knox was born around 1514, and raised in Haddington, Scotland. Educated as a Roman Catholic priest, he did not join a priestly order but worked as a notary and as a tutor to the sons of Scottish nobles.

The Scottish government supported the Roman Catholic Church as the only true religion and allowed them to burn Protestants at the stake as heretics. During the 1540’s Knox became a Protestant, and in fear of being arrested and executed, he joined other Protestants who were seeking refuge from the Scottish government in St. Andrews’ Castle in April 1547. While at St. Andrew’s, Knox received his call to preach, and his sermons vigorously defended the Reformed faith. In August 1548 the Castle fell to the French allies of Scotland, and the inhabitants became prisoners of war. Some were imprisoned in castles in France; Knox and a few others were consigned to French galleys as slaves. After nineteen months, and extensive negotiations between the Duke of Somerset in England and the French King, some of the prisoners were released, including Knox.

In Scotland the people embraced Protestantism and opposed the government imposition of religion. In contrast, in England the people believed the King had the right to establish the religious doctrine for the country and appoint the clergy. Preachers were licensed by the King to preach. The advisors to Edward VI, who was a minor, had begun to implement Protestant reforms and they needed strong preachers to support the new doctrine.

In the spring of 1549, the English and Scots were fighting each other along the Scottish border, and Knox believed he was still in danger of arrest and execution by the Roman Catholics in Scotland for his Reformed views. Knox was offered, and accepted, a position as a preacher in Berwick-on-Tweed, an English military post three miles from the Scottish border, located in the diocese of Durham. Although the first Book of Common Prayer (“common” meant public) had been published and by law was to replace the Mass, the Bishop of Durham continued to support the celebration of the Mass. Knox was the first in the diocese to preach Reformed doctrine, and he won many converts.

Reformed preachers brought a very different experience to worship from the Roman Catholic priests. Priests gave short homilies since the primary focus of the service was celebration of the Mass. In contrast, Reformation preachers, such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, Heinrich Bullinger, and Ulrich Zwingli, typically preached on Scripture for two or three hours at a time, sometimes several times each week. Knox preached from both the Old and New Testaments, first reading the passage, then explaining it. His preaching, which he maintained was inspired by the Holy Spirit, influenced many to convert to Reformed beliefs. Knox looked to 2 Timothy 4:2 as his guide: “Preach thou the word, be fervent, be it in season or out of season: Improve, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine.”

He later preached in Newcastle-on-Tyne, the seat of the diocese, as well as Berwick. His preaching is believed to have attracted Reformed Scots across the border to move to Berwick and Newcastle. During 1552 Knox was appointed as one of six Royal Chaplains to Edward VI. His role was to travel and preach. The Royal Chaplains also preached at court to the King and Council.

In the autumn of 1552, the second Book of Common Prayer was being prepared to address the shortcomings of the first edition. This contained a new instruction that the communicant was required to kneel while receiving the bread and wine. The Reformed preachers were concerned that this would encourage the communicant to worship the elements instead of Jesus. Knox rode to London with the Duke of Northumberland in October.

© Copyright kim traynor and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Via Geograph

A few days before the Book of Common Prayer was to go to press, Knox preached a sermon to the King and Council at Windsor Castle against the new requirement to kneel during communion, preferring to sit at a table as the disciples did in the Gospels. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer defended the practice of kneeling, but the Council appeared to have been swayed by Knox’s reasoning. When the Book of Common Prayer went to press, it contained the “black rubric” that kneeling was an act of respect and did not constitute worship of the elements. A rubric was an instruction, and was normally printed with red ink. In this case, the printer was out of red ink and so printed it in black. Jasper Ridley wrote in his biography of Knox that “The black rubric would never have been issued if it had not been for Knox’s sermon at Windsor.”

That same autumn Knox also preached against one of the articles of the Forty-two Articles of Religion which declared the ceremonies in the Book of Common Prayer to be consistent with Scripture. Although several of the preachers collaborated in writing the sermon, it was Knox who delivered it before the King and Council. His objection was primarily the requirement to kneel for communion. This article was modified to state that the doctrine of the Book was consistent with Scripture. Ridley considered Knox to have been one of the leaders of the Reformed preachers in England (John Knox 126-128).

The Duke of Northumberland, a Regent for Edward VI, was displeased with the immigration of Scottish Protestants to Berwick and Newcastle to hear Knox preach. Knox was offered the post of Bishop of Rochester, and a position as Vicar at All Hallows Church in London, both of which he refused, arguing that he would better serve the church elsewhere. He was concerned that these posts would corrupt him, and he wanted to return to Berwick and Newcastle where he had close friends and a fiancée. However, he was assigned to Amersham in Buckinghamshire that spring, which was near London.

As discussed above, as a Scotsman he was not limited by the English worldview that the monarch had the right to establish the religion of the people. He was aware of two things in spring of 1553: Edward’s half sister Mary was still being allowed to celebrate Mass, and Edward was terminally ill with tuberculosis. He predicted that the Roman Catholics would again take control of England and persecute the Protestants. In the summer of 1553 Edward VI died and Mary I ascended the throne. She reinstated the Roman Catholic religion and began to arrest the Reformed preachers and bishops. Knox continued to travel and preach until the early fall, at which time he went into hiding and eventually fled to the Continent in January 1554.

While on the Continent, Knox accepted a call to preach to English exiles in Frankfurt. He participated with William Whittingham, Christopher Goodman, and others in drawing up an order of service known as the Book of Common Order as a substitute for the Book of Common Prayer. Due to political machinations by an English preacher, Dr. Cox, who preferred the Book of Common Prayer, Knox lost his post and moved to Geneva. Part of the congregation in Frankfurt followed him to Geneva and they formed a new church. John Calvin approved the Book of Common Order and its format was used by the Presbyterians in England and the Reformed Church in Scotland.

Peter Lorimer wrote that the manner in which Knox celebrated the Lord’s Supper was influential in the Puritan religion in England later that century. When Mary I died, her half-sister, Elizabeth I, reinstated Protestantism. During her reign Knox’s approach to worship spread in the northern borders of England. Goodman, Whittingham, and others of Knox’s colleagues on the Continent returned to England and formed the Puritan church. Knox returned permanently to Scotland in 1560 and was involved in the establishment of the Reformed Church in that country.

Scripture and the State During the English Reformation

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

by André A. Gazal


Elizabeth I on the frontispiece of the Bishops’ Bible (1659)

The foundational belief of the evangelical Reformers in the sixteenth century was sola Scriptura, the principle that Scripture was the ultimate authority in determining Christian doctrine. This is not to say that they (the Anabaptists notwithstanding) discounted the interpretive function of earlier Christian tradition. Even a cursory reading of works by Martin Luther (1483-1546), Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), and John Calvin (1509-64), as well as many other Reformers, would show that they frequently cited patristic authors, especially St. Augustine (354-430), as authoritative support for their particular interpretations of various biblical texts. Rather, the Reformers asserted the supremacy of Scripture to the writings of Church Fathers and the pronouncements of general councils in establishing articles of faith, with the Church Fathers acting as helpful interpreters.

While the Reformers typically contended for Scripture as the sole basis for doctrines touching salvation such as justification, other thinkers in the sixteenth century, some of whom agreed with the Reformer’s soteriology, while others did not, argued that the same Scriptures gave divine instruction for the state and its institutions. One such place where direct appeal to Scripture was made to validate some newly acquired prerogatives by the state was Tudor England.

The account of Henry VIII’s (r. 1509-47) relentless pursuit of an annulment from his marriage to Katherine of Aragon is well known. When the controversy reached the point at which the pope summoned Henry to Rome with regards to the case, the issue came to involve more than the divorce. It now evolved into a dispute concerning the king’s authority in his own realm. At this juncture Henry’s government and apologists employed an array of means to defend the position that there was no authority superior to the king’s in his domain. One of the definitive pieces of legislation, which both facilitated the divorce and laid the basis for the eventual severance of England from Roman obedience, The Act in Restraint of Appeals (1533), averred as the grounds of the finality of royal authority “that this realm of England is an empire,” meaning the king’s power in his own realm is essentially imperial, or that it derived from that of the Roman emperors.

A year later, Parliament passed, at the urging of Henry and his government, the Act of Supremacy, which separated the Church in England from the jurisdiction of Roman see, declaring the king “Supreme Head of the Church in England.” In declaring the monarch “Supreme Head,” the Act gave him “full power and authority from time to time to visit, repress, redress, reform, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offences, contempts, and enormities, whatsoever they be, which by any manner spiritual authority or jurisdiction ought or may be lawfully reformed, repressed, ordered, redressed, corrected, restrained, or amended, most to the pleasure of Almighty God….” By legislative fiat, ecclesiastical jurisdiction became a central feature of royal authority.

King Henry VIII on the frontispiece to the Great Bible (1799)


While royal supremacy became the law of the realm by act of Parliament, its authority did not rest on statute alone. Apologists for the regime presented this distinctive feature of the English national church as a doctrine deriving from Scripture as the Word of God. This required using Scripture in a particular way. These Tudor apologists, most of whom were trained theologians, regarded the historical books of the Old Testament (Joshua through Nehemiah) as normative and therefore prescriptive.

In other words, the historical narratives of the Old Testament, which specifically record the actions of Israelite kings such as David, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah with regard to religious matters, showed that monarchs should exercise authority over church matters. Having established royal supremacy as a biblical doctrine in this way, the apologists would then cite the Church Fathers, civil and canon law as well as various ecclesiastical histories to confirm their interpretation and application of Scripture.

Two principal works which defend royal supremacy primarily as a biblical doctrine by employing this interpretive approach were The True Difference Between Ye Regal and Ecclesiastical Power (1534) by Edward Foxe (1496-1538), and Stephen Gardiner’s On True Obedience (1535). At this point, it is interesting to note that Foxe was an evangelical of a Lutheran persuasion while Gardiner was a traditional Catholic (who later repudiated his position on royal supremacy), which shows that during the Henrician period, royal supremacy was a doctrine promoted in England by theologians of both confessions, even though they disagreed strongly on other doctrines, like justification.

During the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VI (r.1547-53), royal supremacy functioned as a biblical doctrine which served the purpose of evangelical church reform. Towards this end, evangelical proponents of royal supremacy utilized the same interpretive scheme, especially emphasizing the initiatives taken by Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah to eradicate idolatry as constituting divine, biblical mandate for the young king of England to advance aggressively the cause evangelical religion throughout the realm. A representative example of this evangelical appropriation of the doctrine of royal supremacy is the speech given by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) at Edward’s coronation. This same use of the biblical doctrine of royal supremacy is also present in the sermons of Hugh Latimer (1487-1555), who was one of the young Edward’s favorite preachers.

After the reign of Mary Tudor (r. 1553-58), who had the Act of Supremacy repealed, her sister Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) ascended to the throne. Under Elizabeth, Parliament passed another Act of Supremacy (1559) in which the monarch was styled, “Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” During her long reign, royal supremacy became one of the central doctrines of an institutionalized Protestant national church. As did their predecessors, the Elizabethan apologists also portrayed royal supremacy as a biblical doctrine by assigning a normative and prescriptive function to the Old Testament narrative passages recounting the actions taken by the kings of Israel and Judah in the interest of religion.

The support of royal supremacy as a biblical idea by these means comes to most succinct, eloquent expression by John Jewel (1522-71) in his Apology of the Church of England (1562):

We truly grant no further liberty to our magistrates than that we know hath both been given by the Word of God and also confirmed by the examples of the best governed commonwealths. For, besides, that a Christian prince hath the charge of both tables committed to him by God, to the end he may understand that not temporal matters only, but also religious and ecclesiastical causes pertain to his office; besides also that God by his prophets often and earnestly commandeth the king to cut down the groves, to break down the images and altars of idols, and to write out a book of the law for himself; and besides that the prophet Isaiah saith, “A king ought to be patron and nurse of the church.”

Scripture, as the Word of God, consigns to the monarch ecclesiastical authority that he or she is to exercise for the well-being of the Church.

For the exception of Richard Hooker (1554-1600), who, towards the end of the sixteenth century, based his defense of royal supremacy on natural law, the majority of apologists continued, even into the seventeenth century, contending for it as a biblical doctrine by means of the interpretive methodology established during the reign of Henry VIII. Indeed, the Reformation in England united Scripture to the scepter so that the Church would submit to the monarch as its “head,” or “governor,” in keeping with the “Word of God.”