Friday, August 14, 2009

A Conservative Reformation (Part II)

On her accession in November 1558 the three most pressing issues for Elizabeth were - an empty treasury, an incomplete and inconclusive war with France, and the settlement of Religion. The first and second of these took care of themselves. Hostilities had ceased with France, and the treasury began to refill from the Queen's ordinary revenue. This left religion as the thorniest problem.

Elizabeth's own religious convictions do not seem to have been a major force in her life by the standards of her time, but it is nonetheless clear that she preferred Protestantism. She had, after all, been educated by reform-minded Christian humanists like John Cheke, and she had dissimulated on the subject of religion, as only Elizabeth could dissimulate, throughout her half-sister's reign. Even if she had had a less protestant education, given that the Roman Church had declared her mother's marriage invalid, and her a bastard, she was not predisposed to remain under the Papal obedience. It therefore became clear that as soon as possible she would reinstate the Act of Supremacy as the first step towards a religious settlement. England quickly broke with Rome with Parliament declaring Elizabeth "Supreme Governor... on earth" (not as is popularly supposed 'Supreme Head") of the Church of England. Then comes a curious lull of several months as Elizabeth takes soundings, and allows the renewed break with Rome sink in. There seems to have been some neccessary delay, firstly, for Parliament's Christmas recess, and secondly, to allow Elizabeth and the Privvy Council to fill the bishoprics left vacant as all but two of Mary's bishops resigned or were deprived of their livings.

The clearest sign of where Elizabeth's religious policy was going was the Westminster Conference that took place early in 1559. This set piece was intended to signal a move back to Protestant camp. At the same time the second Prayer Book of King Edward VI began to reappear in some key parishes, and some hot heads began cleansing churches of "idols" until the government forbade such wanton destruction.

A few months later, when the Act of Uniformity appeared it was a basically a restoration of the status quo as it had existed in 1552/3, except that Elizabeth and her Council made several conservative amendments to the 1552 BCP. Firstly, "chancels were to remain as in times past;" secondly, the traditional vestments were restored; thirdly, the BlackRubric was removed and the words "The body (blood) of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given (shed) for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life" were added to preface the more Reformed form of 1552; and finally, the condemnation of the Pope was removed from the Litany. All of these changes moved the Church away from a more strictly Reformed position to make it possible to reach and accomodation with the English Lutherans.

For her Archbishop Elizabeth choose Matthew Parker. Born in Norwich in 1504, Parker had been Ann Boleyn, and later Henry VIII's chaplain. He had been Dean of Stoke by Clare from 1536-1546, but after the college was dissolved in the latter year he married and moved back to Cambridge. He was know to be a moderate advocate of the reformation, but after being removed from his Ecclesiastical offices in 1553 he was allowed to remain quietly on his farm in Suffolk through Mary I's reign. Parker was a moderate, but convinced Protestant, who had had a scholarly career at Cambridge and was a friend of both Peter Martyr and Martin Bucer. Elizabeth and Cecil had to work on Parker in order to get him to agree to become the Archbishop of Canterbury, but he eventually agreed and was consecrated on Dec. 19th 1559.

Parker did not have much time to get his earings as Archbishop as within a few months, he and his brother bishops issued some interim injunctions modifying the provisions f the 1559 BCP regarding vestments. Elizabeth also gave orders the restoration of some fifty minor Holydays to the calendar - without making liturgical provsion for them - forbade controversial preaching and limited the number of licensed preachers. Parker also laboured on making the cumbersome machinery of the Church of England work for a reformed Church.

Phases 1 and 2 of Elizabeth's settlement - the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity - seem to have met with little opposition, and not much enthusiasm. In the past ten years there had been four changes of religion, so most folks were prepared to go to their parish churches and take what was offered. Elizabeth and Parker's careful implimentation of the settlement had kept both the Lutherans and Reformed on board by pursuing a "Via Media" between Wittenberg and Geneva. However, there was still a need to produce some sort of doctrinal statement, and this was achieved at a join session of the Convocations of Canterbury and York in the winter of 1562/3.

It seems almost certain that Archbishop Parker was the guiding light in the reworking of Cranmer's Forty-Two Articles as the Thirty-Nine Articles. In this he was assisted by Edmund Grindal, Bishop of London. Things had moved on a bit in the preceeding nine years as the Anabaptist threat had receded and the Council of Trent was finally drawing to its close. Parker's redrafting of the Articles removed many of the references to the Anabaptists, whilst responses to some of the already issued decrees of Trent were incorporated into the text. The final draft was presented to a Convocation that was in a Reformed and reforming mood. A measure to remove organs from churches had been only narrowly defeated, so it must have come as a surprise when the Thirty-Nine Articles came through the neccessary debate relatively unscathed. The Queen, however, suppressed Article 29 as being offensive to Lutherans and others who held the traditional doctrine of the Real Presence, before they were issued in 1563. This may have irritated some of the more ardent spirits on the Reformed wing but it was a short-lived annoyance as it was restored in 1571 as the influence of Lutheranism waned in England, and there was less need to appease "Church Papists."

The 39 Articles as they emerged from the 1563 Convocation are an interesting document. Parker was going for consensus, and for the most part the Articles seem closer in spirit to the Augsburg Confession than to the various Swiss Confessions of the preceeding thirty years. The Lutherans lost out on with the (briefly suppressed) Twenty-ninth Article which takes a clearly Reformed position. On the other hand, the Lutheran concept of Adiaphora - that ceremonials not clearly contrary to Scripture may be regulated by the church - is firmly entrenched in the Articles, which marks a serious defeat for the Calvinist party.

The Articles really mark the end of the legislative phase of the Elizabethan Settlement. In theory the Church of England had a reformed liturgy, but with the traditional vestments still in use. Church interiors should have been changed only by the removal of altars, roods, rood lofts, and superstitious images, the last named were to be replaced with illuminated sentences a scripture painted on the church walls. Its doctrine was Protestant, treading a middle path between Lutheranism and Reformed positions. It government remained in the hands of Bishops in the Apostolic Succession, and the old cathedral establishments and church courts continued as before. In practice, there were compromises.

For a start, the unofficially cleansing of superstitious objects from churches often went beyond what was strictly neccessary. Organs had been removed from some churches, and were no longer used in others. Sacred music was at a low ebb. The churches were increasingly used as two rooms - the nave for Matins and Evensong, and the chancel for the Lord's Supper. Vestments - other than cassock, surplice, cope, tippet and hood - seem to have disappeared in many areas and did not reappear until modern times. Some ministers - particularly those of what was soon to be called a Puritan persuasion - omitted parts of the Prayer Book Services to make more time for preaching. Parker moved against these abuses in a variety of ways.

Firstly, he made it clear that simple church music in English was to be encouraged. This provision was, after some hesitation, embraced with enthusiasm and gradually the large scale choral services that we associate with Anglicanism developed as composers such as Thomas Tallis and William Byrd write grand music for the cathedrals and Elizabeth's Chapel Royal. Parker also promoted the compilation of the "Old Version" of the Psalms of David in Metre, and incident that led to the Church of England being "psalmody only" in many places until c.1800.

Secondly, he and Archbishop Grindal of York ordered that Morning Prayer, the Litany, and the Communion service were to be read as one in parish churches. This made it easier for magistrates to spot omissions. It also led to the characteristic Anglican "Dry Service" of Matins, Litany and Ante-Communion ending with a sermon. Due to the inertia of the faithful and the reformation's "no Mass without Communicants" rule, celebations of Holy Communion declined to once a month, once in two months, or once a quarter depending on the size of the parish. A few big city parishes and the cathedrals still maintained weekly celebrations.

Thirdly, in an attempt to secure uniformity in ceremonial, he required the use of cassock, surplice, tippet and hood at all services in parishes churches. He also required the use of the Cope in cathedrals and collegiate churches. Eucharistic vestments were allowed to quietly disappear, but remained legal.

Gradually, this Via Media Anglicana settled down to being the religion of England, though for the next century - until after 1662 - there was persistant agtitation for a further reformation of religion to put England in the Reformed or Calvinist camp.


  1. I really really like computers...anyway thank for this excellent article and Im looking forward to the next one.

  2. I have a question:

    1. When you say Article 29 was suppressed and then restored, are you sure this wasn't a gain for the Lutheran party. Article 29 states, "although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing."

    From what I understand, the Reformed would have disagreed with the local objectivity of the sacrament in the bread. Given sacramental union of bread to the body, there is nothing in Article 29 I believe the Lutherans would have objected with. They would say the food is spiritual yet we press the body of christ with our teeth. Calvinists rejected this. ?

    I very much see the Articles and Parker bringing the understanding of the eucharist closer to Luther than Bucer or Calvin?

    2. Were there any injunctions or otherwise which required removal of roods by Elizabeth? I thought the preservation of chancels included both the option (?) to keep both altars and roods? The royal chapel was a reservoir of conservatism, yet I know no positive injunction by Elizabeth forbidding roods? I think it was a local option in the end which very few ministers at teh time were sympathetic to besides a few high church men in the chapel and around Parker?
    Can you clarify this for me?