|Supreme Governor of the Church|
In the previous two posts, I've noted three particular situations that impeded the progress of reform in England - 1) the Monarch as Head or Supreme Governor of the Church, 2) the presence of a large body (possibly majority) of bishops that leaned covertly or overtly towards Rome, and 3) the lack of gospel preaching clergy. Unlike the period of King Henry's rule, under Boy-King Edward the first circumstance was not much of an issue. But when Elizabeth took the throne this changed. Though a confirmed Protestant and now Supreme Governor of the Church, which theoretically bode well for further reforms, Elizabeth was nonetheless queen over the realm of England, responsible for both its domestic and diplomatic well-being. How she proceeded to rule was to return the state of reform visa-vis the Monarch to that of a mixed bag. In addition, many of the conservative bishops were also members of the upper house of Parliament. In these two entities of government, the reformation was thus faced with a mixture of state and church that ensured right doctrine and biblical truth would not always carry the day in ecclesial matters.
The historical record certainly shows that under Queen Elizabeth many strides were taken towards strengthening Protestantism in England. Those accomplishments are fairly well known, especially among reformed Anglicans. Rather than focus on those advancements, my concern is with those things that kept the glass half empty, i.e. slowed or detoured reform in England. For by the time of Archbishop Laud, the Church of England had gone in a direction that Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley would hardly have identified with. What happened was that the reformation, rather than picking up where it left off under Cranmer, was slowed in its tracks and even diverted by events under Queen Elizabeth and those that followed. From Diarmaid MacCulloch (article here):
... At home, Elizabeth wanted to conciliate conservatives [i.e. those who preferred a more medieval church practice]; abroad, she wanted to conciliate suspicious Catholic Spain and France, and also to win friends among the Lutheran princes of Germany and Scandinavia, who were increasingly hostile to the Calvinist and other Reformed Churches to their south. At the same time, however, she was identified with the Protestant cause by her birth... Elizabeth herself shows signs of having preferred his discredited first Prayer Book of 1549 to his second of 1552, but virtually no-one at the time agreed with her: to reintroduce 1549 was not practical politics.
Elizabeth's solution to her dilemmas was remarkable: quite deliberately, she established what proved to he a snapshot, frozen in time, of the Church as it had been in September 1552, ignoring the progress made in further changing the Church of England after that date.Who were the "conservatives" of which MacCulloch refers, the ones whom Elizabeth wanted to conciliate? According to ecclesiastical historian, Dom Henry Norbert Birt (1861-1919):
After a careful study of all available sources of information he estimates the number of [Catholic] priests holding livings in England at Elizabeth's accession at 7500 (p. 162). A large number, forming the majority of these, accepted, though unwillingly, the new state of things, and according to tradition many of them were in the habit of celebrating Mass early and of reading the Church of England service later on Sunday morning. (citation here)This gives insight to the concerns regarding the advancement of reform of recently arrived Marian exiles such as John Jewell who wrote, in his first letter upon returning, to Peter Martyr on March 20, 1559:
Jewell's last comment can be understood to show that, in his (hopeful?) estimation, Elizabeth was a committed Protestant and yet, due to her responsibilities of State, she was reluctant to allow the progress of reform too quickly and, as later events would show, proceed too far. In a series of letters to Martyr, he continues with his assessment of the Church's situation:
The bishops are a great hindrance to us; for being, as you know, among the nobility and leading men in the upper house, and having none there on our side to expose their artifices and falsehoods by word of mouth... The queen, meanwhile, though see openly favours our cause, yet is wonderfully afraid of allowing and innovations: this is owing partly to the influence of count Feria, a Spaniard, and Philip's ambassador. She is, however, prudently, and firmly, and piously following up her purpose, though somewhat more slowly than we could wish.
Reformer John Jewell
... yet the people everywhere, and especially the whole of the nobility, are both disgusted with their [bishop's] insolent exultation, and exceedingly thirsting for the gospel. Hence it has happened that the mass in many places has of itself fallen to the ground, without any laws for its discontinuance. If the queen herself would but banish is from her private chapel, the whole thing might easily be got rid of. Of such importance among us are the examples of princes. For whatever is done after the example of the sovereign, the people, as you well know, suppose to be done rightly. (3rd letter, April 14, 1559)
For our queen is now thinking of the league of Smalcald; but there is one who writes to her from Germany [ a former and now exiled bishop], that this can by no means be brought about, if you [Vermigli] should return to us... But however this may be, we have exhibited to the queen all our articles of religion and doctrine, and have not departed in the slightest degree from the confession of Zurich... (4th letter, April 28, 1559)
For we are all of us hitherto as strangers at home... As to religion, it has been effected, I hope, under good auspices, that it shall be restored to the same state as it was during your latest residence among us, under Edward. But, as far as I can perceive at present, there is not the same alacrity among our friends, as there lately was among the papists... and those very things which you and I so often laughed at are now seriously and solemnly entertained by certain persons (for we are not consulted(, as if the christian religion could not exist without something tawdry... Others are seeking after a golden, or, as it rather seems to me, a leaden mediocrity; and are crying out, that the half is better than the whole. (5th letter, undated)As the 5th letter reveals, there were many among the Protestants those who desired only limited reforms to the church. This was to set the stage, as it seems to me, for a continued struggle within the Church of England for the next 100 years.
On May 20, 1559 Queen Elizabeth signed the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity. According to Diarmaid MacCulloch, "One of the most striking features of Elizabeth's 1559 Settlement was that it began the Church of England's long march away from Cranmer's eucharistic theology, if only in small details... The clarity of Cranmer's sacramental intentions was undermined by restoring to the communion service the 1549 formulae of administering bread and wine to communicants which he had replaced in 1552... This, the omission of the 'black rubric', and a baffling instruction that the permissible ornaments and vestments of the Church were those in use in the year before the 1549 Prayer Book was authorised" were the backdrop of several more letters by Jewell to Bullinger and Martyr which highlighted the headwinds that he and the true friends of reform faced:
For we have at this time to contend not only with those of our friends, who of late years have fallen away from us, and gone over to the opposite party; who are now opposing us with a bitterness and obstinacy far exceeding that of any common enemy... (Bullinger-May 22, 1559)
The bishops, rather than abandon the pope, whom they so often abjured, are willing to submit to everything. Not, however, that they do so for the sake of religion, of which they have none; but for the sake of consistency, which the miserable knaves now choose to call their consciences. (Martyr-August 1, 1559)
She was altogether desirous that you should be all means be invited to England, that,as you formerly tilled, as it were, the university by your lectures, so again you might water it by the same, now it is in so disordered and wretched a condition. But since then, the deliberations about Saxony and the embassy from Smalcald have put an end to those counsels. (Martyr-November 5, 1559)
Religion among us is in the same state which I have often described to you before. The doctrine is everywhere most pure, bu, as to ceremonies and maskings, there is a little too much foolerly. That little silver cross of ill-omen origin, still maintains its place in the queen's chapel. Wretched me! this thing will soon be drawn into a precedent. (November 16, 1559)There's more to the story of "that little silver cross" of Queen Elizabeth's, but for now it's worth noting those last words of Jewell were prescient in light of the eventual drift that occurred back toward a medieval high church Eucharistic practice among those such as Laud and the Tractarians of the 1800s who birthed the Anglo-Catholic movement.
[all italics added]