From: Religious Context 16th Century Bible Translation               Return to Home            

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.                               © 2016








Chapter Seven:


The Middle-of-the-Road

Official Orthodoxy


            Henry’s reformation is often pictured as imposed from above.  Although there is much truth in this portrayal, it can easily lead to the misapprehension that it was imposed upon a sullen and resentful population that virtually had to be coerced to abandon its deeply preferred traditional Catholicism.[1] 

In one sense England was the most centralized country in all of Europe.[2]  It must be remembered that this is a comparison rather than an absolute.  It was far from a police state or anything close to it in the modern sense.  Henry’s government lacked both the naked power and administrative skill to unilaterally impose a new religious system on the kingdom.  He did not even have the fundamental prerequisite of a standing army.[3] 

            Furthermore, royal decisions on religious matters could be bent, “interpreted,” “misunderstood,” undermined, or even quietly ignored on the local basis unless the king (or his agents) kept applying constant pressure.  And even then, there was the recognition that there was a danger level beyond which prudence required even a egomaniac such as the later Henry to proceed with caution rather than a root-and-branch removal of all religious foes. 

            This is not to deny that most did prefer the traditional faith, but they also--simultaneously--had an agenda of grievances about the church and the hierarchy that could be appealed to neutralize much of their sympathy.  Especially when support for the king was depicted in terms of patriotism and the religious changes as anti-papal rather than anti-Catholicism.  Stir in a healthy dose of resentment at foreign “meddling” in these “internal” affairs of England and one had a potent mixture that could be used to undermine the existing religious order. 

            Such appeals not only crossed geographic and class lines, it also breached the clerical-lay barrier as well.  It was easy for the clergy to justify (rationalize, if you disagreed with them) their decision to support Henry’s organizational secession from international Catholicism:  As nationalist-minded themselves, many had deep suspicion of papal claims that seemed to undermine the rights and prerogatives of their homeland.  They might not lead the crusade, but they were willing to follow in its wake as part of their duty to preserve the unity of the kingdom.[4] 

            Furthermore, the clergy was divided between the traditionalist, content with things the way they “always” had been and the “reformer,” convinced that a number of beliefs and/or practices had to be rectified to make the church what it should be.  The traditionalist cause was weakened by the tension between religious preference and regal obligations.  They accepted the king’s changes--but grudgingly and with as many reservations as they could obtain,[5] thereby holding on to as much of past practice as feasible but annoying the monarch in the process. 

            In contrast, the theological reformers within the English church tended to be vigorous supporters of regal intervention.  The problem with them was not that they lacked enthusiasm but that, if anything, they had so much enthusiasm that they wished to go further than the king desired.  In the emotional balancing act between these two approaches, the king naturally inclined toward those who supported him the strongest.  It did not guarantee their success but it increased the probability of it.

            Perhaps one overlooked reason for Henry’s success lies in the fact that he rarely demanded policies that the power brokers and local populace deeply resented.  Even when that barrier was crossed and local obstruction could not hinder the changes, Henry’s repeated reversals of policy held out hope that the objectionable matters might one day be removed.            

            In regard to church organizational practices and even certain of the ritual, this approach could be justified by the theory of adiaphora (“things indifferent”).  Such things might be personally preferred.  They might even be desirable.  But they were not essential and therefore the line into sin had not been crossed. 

            Using such reasoning, a major organizational shift (the break with Rome) and major changes in practice (the abolishment of monasteries and alteration of holy and fast days) could be considered as acceptable functions of the monarchy since the alterations did not involve anything inherently sinful.  Furthermore, in cases of perceived excesses, they could even be regarded as “purifications” rather than repudiations.  This was in contrast to matters such as salvation by faith alone, where the repudiation went not just to outward forms but to core beliefs.[6] 

            Even so, there was a line between change and revolution and where that line was drawn varied from cleric to cleric, with most settling for passive resistance when the line was reached or breached.  In contrast, when Edward VI’s government pushed through its far more radical agenda, there could be no question that a very real break had been made between the “old” and the “new” faiths of the monarchy.  At this point the room for fudging the issue was removed.[7] 



Protestantization of Independent

Anglican Catholicism


            If the first years of Henry's break with Rome still perpetuated Catholicism as to much of the Church’s doctrine and practice--though under the reign of the national King substituted for the Pope--the very breach of the traditional organizational bond compelled the seeking of new allies and a major source of these were other enemies of the Vatican.  Not that Catholic powers were totally unwilling to obstruct papal preferences, but this had to be done with discretion and in a manner to minimize direct repudiation of those ties.  And when conflict did ensue, it had to be carefully presented as anti-papal rather than anti-faith in intent.

            In marked contrast, were the Protestant states who were in pressing need of fellow allies to help them perpetuate their own national and religious independence.  They shared with England a powerful mutual enemy in the papacy.  Since religion and politics were so intimately intertwined in opposing the papal regime, this mutual need created a de facto alliance that had inevitable religious implications:  One could hardly hermetically seal off the Kingdom to the theological beliefs of one's political associates.  Linked together in mutual support (however token in actual practice) magnified the acceptability of studying their spiritual tenets as well.  As this was done, more and more of these beliefs became acceptable to a growing number of English religious and political leaders. 

            If political support could encourage the evolution of similar religious sentiment, the impact could develop from the other direction as well.  For those primarily motivated by religious concerns, the need to uphold the safety of those with similar convictions on the European mainland encouraged an acceptance of the political regimes that housed and sheltered them.  Regardless of whether the primary motivation was spiritual or temporal, either tended to reinforce the power of the other:  Multiple motives create far greater fervor and determination than a single motive alone.

            1536 represents the turning point from independent Catholicism to a Protestantized Anglicanism.  The Pope's jurisdiction was repudiated officially, but that did no more than endorse what had already occurred.  The suppression of the monasteries eliminated one of the most prominent public manifestations of Catholicism.  Due to their large number and (relative) decentralization, they represented potential rallying points around which traditional Catholics might have rallied. 

            Although any religious institution can be bullied into submission, it was far easier dealing with a small number of bishops and archbishops than in the many fold larger number of abbots who oversaw the various monasteries.  Probably they would never have emerged as centers of opposition.  Their general willingness to go along with disbandonment with minimum opposition argues that the spirit of rebellion was lacking in most of them.  Even so, their closure guaranteed that even the very potential was removed as well.

            Meanwhile the hierarchy was drifting toward Protestantization.  Six bishops could already be counted in the Reformer camp.[8]  With their influence weighing into the battle, 1536 saw the Convocation of the church adopting the Ten Articles of Faith, with the first public steps away from the Catholic doctrine previously embraced.  Two years later (1538) came the Injunctions to the Clergy, which accelerated this trend.  These instructions by Thomas Cromwell provided for the regular use of sermons and the teaching of the Biblical text in the language of the land.  All religious images were to be removed.  Popular zealots utilized the latter as precedent for the physical destruction of the images.           

            Thomas Cromwell fell from power in 1540.  The Duke of Norfolk was the most vigorous supporter of this removal from office.  Not coincidentally, Henry's latest wife (Catherine Howard) was the Duke's niece.  Cromwell's execution later the same year ended the active period of change in the church; indeed, Henry persuaded Parliament to pass the Act of Six Articles denouncing as heretical certain of the convictions that Cromwell had held.  So far as Henry went, his purposes in the religious sphere had been obtained.  But the forces for change that he had encouraged--even created--were not subject to full recall merely because he was now content.[9] 

            The critical cast of mind, willing to modify, change, or even reject long-established religious precedent remained alive, fermenting, brewing (among many) the desire for yet more radical alterations.  In a Christmas 1545 address to Parliament Henry expressed annoyance that the Bible was "disputed rhymed, sung and jangled in every ale-house and tavern."[10]  He simply could not control it. 

His successful spiritual insurrection had created a new set of beginning assumptions that would breed on-going Puritan-style efforts to change the modified Catholicism that had been created.  When that ultimately failed under Elizabeth, many advocates of that persuasion were willing to go full throttle into complete religious independence from the new established order.                        

            Even Henry seemed to contemplate the possibility of bringing his own public posture more in accord with the emerging consensus that was moving yet further from traditional Roman doctrine.  One sign was his designation of three Reform advocates to educate his son Edward.[11]  Another was his decision to appoint as official Protectors of the boy two adherents to Reform.[12]  Likewise the modest size council he appointed to exercise power while Edward remained in his minority was controlled by Reform sympathizers.[13] 

In the months before his death he was even considering a massive change in the nature of the church's memorial of Jesus' death:  no longer would it be a Mass; it would be a Communion.[14]  Temporary aberration, sincere change, or a calculated ploy to see what the reaction would be?  With Henry any of these was possible.  But he died too soon for anyone to know for sure.           

            When anti-papalism began to result in major changes in actual faith and practice, pivotal compromises had already been made by the resident religious hierarchy.  Those opposed to further alterations were too few in number and too lacking in popular support to fully reverse the trend of change the king had embraced. 

Yet the king looked out on events in his kingdom, shook his head in anger, and reversed certain of his innovations.  Ironically, more than once he even reversed the reversals.  In these we see indications not only of Henry’s own unsettled course, but also his confidence that, barring something extremely outrageous, the public would at least tolerate if not enthusiastically implement the contradictory changes. 

            The monarch discovered that having granted royal blessing upon the concept of reform, he could not always guarantee that “reform” would follow strictly within regally approved patterns.  And having given it royal sanction, in the public mind he transformed a minority of disgruntled dissenters into respectable advocates of change.  He could abort their more daring suggestions, imprison and behead a few here and there, and make it difficult to publicly push for further reform.  On the other hand, barring a 180 degree reversal (which would require considerable humiliation and financial loss to the kingdom), he had created a self-perpetuating and growing lobby that would increasingly look upon the king as having launched a revolution that it was their responsibility to complete.

            In a very real sense all the parties were in a self-created trap.  The king could establish whatever religious policy he desired--but knew full well there were limits as to how far he could go.  The traditionalists wanted a full return to the original condition of the church, but by their long tolerance of the changes fatally compromised their capacity to push but so hard.  On the other hand, the reformers also were trapped by their professed loyalty to the monarch from breaking free and carrying the religious revolution to the full fruits they desired

            No matter what policies were adopted, they, like the traditionalists also, would usually be careful to limit their degree of visible and public dissent.  Even when Henry backed clear-cut “Romanist” traditionalist policies, the most they would do was privately express a preference for a different approach while being careful to outwardly conform to the newest decrees.[15]  Cranmer summed up the mind frame well in his 1547 address as Archbishop when he discusses how the religious errors of King, the royal council, and Parliament should be handled,[16]


Being bound by my function to lay these things before your royal highness, the one as a reward if you fulfill; the other as a judgement from God if you neglect them; yet I openly declare before the living God and before the nobles of the land, that I have no commission to denounce your majesty deprived [of the throne, rw], if your highness miss in part, or in whole, of these performances, much less to draw up indentures between God and your majesty, or to say that you forfeit your crown with a clause. . . .            


            As Bishop Hugh Latimer later expressed it, one could neither launch a violent rebellion nor a major public controversy with the King, “ . . . I may refuse to obey with a good conscience, yet for all that I may not rise up against the magistrates or make any uproar; for if I do so, I sin damnably.  I must be content to suffer whatsoever God shall lay upon me.”[17]      

            Hence both traditionalists and reformists felt that loyalty to the crown required a backing off from any extreme public steps that would publicly put them at odds with the king.  Both sides ultimately faced considerable repression and rejection rather than openly break with their sovereign.

            This is not the place to examine in detail the many further steps toward Protestantization of both Anglicanism and England.  Rather, here our central point is that Anglicanism was an actively evolving system, moving first in one direction and then another.  The very spiritual forces that had given it an inner dynamic continued to operate in directions new kings and queens did not always approve.  Yet the very strength of these forces made it increasingly difficult to convince the bulk of the population that a return to traditional Catholicism could ever again be an acceptable option.

            Furthermore, the divisions in the Protestant front made Anglicanism into the middle ground of spiritual “moderation,” especially when, under Elizabeth and James, the Puritan element failed in its effort to seize control.  The problem with moderation is, of course, its moderation.  To some the moderation reflected lack of deep convictions or a convenient political tool to further one's own interests.  To many others it represented an effort to remove the worst offenses without “throwing out the baby with the bath water.”              

Many, however, viewed these as ungodly compromises hindering the complete reformation required of the church and the nation.  If they were able to think in such terms, they might well have conceded that Anglicanism represented the “center” of the religious spectrum in the nation.  Of course, given their own spiritual perspectives, it was a weak-kneed center that refused to adopt the more vigorous stance that more thorough-going reform insisted upon.     

            When the English moved beyond Independent Catholicism into its own distinctive Anglicanism, this emphasized the propriety--even the necessity--of examining a wide variety of practices and doctrines.  Previously things were done and believed a  certain way because that was the way it was.  Now everything was up for grab--in moderation and with caution.

            Although anyone could prove what they wished from the papal encyclicals (royal lawyers had made careers out of doing so), the shift from papal to Biblical authority and from Latin to English permitted multitudes to begin to judge for themselves what they believed the Scriptures truly taught.  Previously the sources of disputation (encyclicals and in Latin) were open to only a small learned minority; now a significant minority of the population had the central religious document of their faith--the Bible--available in a language they understood.  If they did not personally own one, they had at least periodic access to a copy—or, if not that, to hearing it read in the vernacular.  The very act of making the population more literate produced religious controversies to an unprecedented degree. 

            The basic documents of discussion were now available not just to a handful of royal or church officials but to the masses.  By its very nature this had to transform the nature of the religious debate.  Just as the king, in a growing sense, had to “answer” to the “people” politically through the instrument of Parliament, the ruler now had to “answer” to the masses religiously through the medium of both Parliament and the internal reform movement within Anglicanism.

            Ease of access to the scriptures encouraged a rugged individualism in interpretation, in which everyone felt qualified to interpret the entire Bible.  At its positive best, this encouraged the open clash of opinions, the testing of interpretations, and the sometimes unwilling junking of those that did not hold up.  Negatively, it encouraged individuals to express strong opinions when their actual knowledge of the text was modest.[18]  Having created a new church over the indignant protests of the traditional clergy, the new, Anglican establishment now had to hold onto its power and the scripturality of its doctrine and practice when assailed by its own more reform minded individuals.

            Several factors worked to keep the dissidents from gaining the upper hand, however.  At least well into Elizabeth’s reign there was the recognition that excessive divisiveness could lose the entire reform cause to Rome.  If not a “united front,” at least acquiescence was recognized as desirable if not absolutely essential. 

            Furthermore, except for Edward’s brief reign, a dedicated reform militant never gained the throne.  Instead we find those who reined in the louder militants and attempted to suppress them whenever practical.  Yet so deep was the sentiment for more pervasive “reform,” that it is quite easy to conceive of their successful seizure of the reins of church power if they had been backed by a similarly minded ruler.  

            One powerful ideological reservoir that provided a unifying strength throughout the first century of the English reformation was that of shared Calvinism.  (We speak here of the concepts rather than the label.)  All factions shared its doctrine of predestination,[19] the conviction that one’s individual eternal destiny was determined by the unilateral decision of God:  however one might fight it, that decision was ultimately reflected in one’s conduct, beliefs, and--beyond this life--in an everlasting home among either the redeemed or the damned.   

            From the rejecter’s standpoint (and these mainly begin to appear in the seventeenth century), this was the doctrine that one’s eternal destiny was not determined by one’s acts of omission and commission and was never altered by these.  Those favoring the doctrine, would have argued that one’s acts of omission and behavior are always in accord with one’s predestined fate; predestination and conduct are irrevocably linked and no one can break that linkage and initiate a truly independent course of conduct.  True, one receives a final judgment “based,” in an accommodative use of the term, upon that belief and behavior, but the underlying reason behind the faith and manner of life is the type of predestination given to the individual by God. 

Even here Anglicans tended to put their own distinctive emphasis upon the concept of predestination, stressing the positive and encouraging aspect of predestination, that of eternal life rather than, as in normative Calvinism, putting an equal stress upon predestination to eternal damnation.

            Only in the 1600s did Arminianism’s rejection of this approach begin to register as a theological alternative in the clerical and lay religious minds.  To them our destiny was determined by our own decisions and actions; God imposed on humans answerability for those decisions rather than locked us inevitably into a predetermined and unchangeable eternal destiny.

To what extent this provided a significant challenge during the early seventeenth century has been intensely debated by historians.[20]  To the extent that Arminianism gained a hold, it was within the mainline, controlling faction of the Church of England.  To both the Calvinist dissidents and many mainliners, anger over the Arminian innovation was fueled not only by repugnance at the “unscripturality” of the doctrine, but also out of the fear that it would become the theological stepping stone for many to return to Catholicism.[21]            

            With the growing popularity of Arminianism, we find a distinct theological breach undermining the traditional unifying factor of Calvinism within the higher echelons of the church.  (Archbishop Laud often bears the blame for this, but the alternative was already being seriously examined--and even accepted by some--decades before he came to power.)  With the overt repudiation of the theological foundation (with verbal fig-leafs, upon occasion, for dissenters), the Anglican movement had begun to evolve a theology so distinct from the past that even the powerful shared agenda of anti-papalism could not hold Puritanism within its ranks. 

            Of course, by this time there were many inside the Anglican church who had no more interest in maintaining the Anglican-Puritan theological axis than did the more militant on the Puritan side.  With the voices for spiritual war dominant and the shared ties decreasing, two antithetical religious movements were vying for the soul of the nation.  The victory for one was perceived as requiring the defeat of the other--a perception shared by both factions. 

Yet the Armianism of the seventeenth century was only the cumulative divisive issue.  During Elizabeth and James the breach between what became the two groups had already produced one battle after another and many mutual recriminations.      

            We would be ill-advised to consider that the Puritans were the only obstacles the Anglican establishment faced.  There were pressures pushing it in many directions and those pressures varied in intensity over both time and geography. 


            In real-life religious and religio-politcal issues are rarely perceived as clear-cut ones.  Hence the reality of personal interactions and shifting alliances often play as great a role in the ultimate outcome as theoretical convictions.  In the 1570s in England, for example, you had at least three significant power players:  You had the bishops who wished to assure their own authority while instituting elements of reform.  You had Catholic noblemen and you had concerned pro-reform gentry.  How these elements interacted varied greatly:  two might band together against the other or one might be able to grind to a virtual stand-still the desires of another.

            For example, in Suffolk the bishop and the Catholic factions teamed up against the Puritan element.  In Cambridgeshire the reform element made life miserable for Bishop Cox by constantly undermining his agenda and program.  In Chichester Bishop Curteys was on the receiving end, but here it was the Catholic traditionalists who virtually neutralized his policies and reform efforts.[22] 

            Of course things were actually even more complicated than this.  One had the official agenda of Elizabeth, which all three groupings had to contend with.  One had a dramatically differing degree of local religious enthusiasm from place to place--which, of course, could itself shift according to various local and national events.  Furthermore, one had that strange phenomena that we today call “public opinion”--never written in concrete but always perceived as a social reality that shapes and molds both what is acceptable policy and how one goes about defending and executing it.



Anglicanism Defines Itself Through

Conflict with Puritanism



            The area of Calvinism least likely to gain regal and hierarchical support was in regard to church structure.  Calvinism endorsed a theoretically local-based church government, with regular meetings of these congregations’ representatives constituting a downward-to-upward relationship in power:  the regional and national meetings only had whatever authority the local congregations were willing to concede to them.  The bishop-based system inherited from Catholicism was based upon power flowing in the opposite direction, from upward-to-downward:  The local churches were doing the “right” thing because the higher powers had authorized it.

            The church as a bureaucratic institution had an automatic bias in favor of the existing system.  From the political standpoint, it gave the ruler the maximum degree of control over the church, one that could never be obtained if one had to deal with thousands of local congregations rather than through a limited number of superior authority-figures recognized by both the churches and the king as having power in their own right.  No king or queen was ever willing to remove his or her levers of control and hence the Puritan lobbying for severe decentralization into a parish based system never could garner the pivotal political support to translate it into reality.

            Since both Calvinists and Anglicans claimed to recognize the supreme authority of the scriptures, both had to present an analysis of the Biblical text consistent with their convictions.  The Calvinists had the better of this since it was far easier to point to evidence of presbyter-based church government than it was to find clear texts that seemed to allude to church government via higher level authorities (i.e., “bishops”).  The Calvinists argued that the absence of reference to the latter established the presbyter-based/local-church-based organizational structure as the only proper one.  

            Although there were texts that could be used to attempt to prove that bishops existed as distinct and superior to presbyter-elders in the first century church, it was a far weaker and less compelling case.  (To use my own evaluation of the relative power of their respective scriptural exegesis.) 

Anglicans tended to increasingly rely upon the line of reasoning spelled out by Whitgift’s reasoning in his anti-puritan writings, “I find no one certain and perfect kind of government prescribed or commanded in the scriptures to the church of Christ; which no doubt should have been done, if it had been a matter necessary unto the salvation of the church.”[23]  Hence to Anglicans the issue was one of expediency and best judgment in a given historical situation; to Calvinists and their Puritan advocates in England it was a matter of accepting the Biblical pattern or rejecting it.             

            The shared doctrinal Calvinism of the English church provided a strong unifying strand that discouraged either Anglican or (what became) Puritan from usually pushing their agendas to the point of an irreconcilable breach.[24]  These ties were already under heavy stress by the end of the sixteenth century, as manifested by the evolution of doctrinal dissent in a more “radical” direction and by intense disagreements over the proper organizational structure of the church. 

            The divisions were accentuated and ultimately pushed to the point of no return by several factors.  Although we usually think of these questions as explaining why Puritanism became a dissenting (and even separatist) movement, it would be useful to keep in mind that the anti-Puritan controversies also played a pivotal role in the effort of Anglicanism to define its true nature.  Self-definition comes not just from what one favors but also evolves from the fires of controversy as one determines what one is against.

            Of the stress lines that came to define the nature and definition of both Puritanism and Anglicanism, first there was the evolution of anti-episcopal thought itself.  Under the impact of the Marian exile and the continuing alignment of the King with a different strain of thought, Puritan doctrine evolved in a more independent direction than before.  To a lesser and lesser extent did it matter what the mainstream thought or, for that matter, was it vitally important what continental reformers of a more radical bend were thinking.  The Puritan movement had set down its own domestic roots and had hit a critical mass where it was self-perpetuating and self-involving.

            Writing in 1589, Thomas Cooper could, even then, see how Puritan thought had changed through the decades in a more and more irreconcilable direction.[25]


At the beginning some learned and godly preachers, for private respects in themselves, made strange to wear the surplice, cap, or tippet:  but yet so that they declared themselves to think the thing indifferent, and not to judge evil of such as did use them. 

                        Shortly after rose up another defending that they were not things             indifferent but disdained with antichristian idolatry, and therefore not to be             suffered in the Church.

Not long after came another sort affirming that those matters touching apparel were but trifles, and not worthy contention in the Church, but that there were greater things of fear more weight and importance, and indeed touching faith and religion, and therefore meet to be altered in a church rightly.  As the Book of Common Prayer, the administration of the Sacraments, the government of the Church, the election of ministers, and a number of other like.  

Fourthly, now break out another sort earnestly affirming and teaching, that we have no Church, no bishops, no ministers, no sacraments; and therefore that all that love Jesus Christ ought with all speed to separate themselves from our congregation, because our assemblies are profane, wicked and antichristian.


            These trends of challenge and compromise/acceptance (or defeat of the alterations) continued in the new century.  The proportion of those willing to yield token/superficial conformity, however, grew fewer in number as the years went by. 

            Looking at it from the “mainstream” viewpoint of Anglicanism, the passage of decades allowed the new religious establishment to set down roots of its own.  It became not so much “revolutionary” as “establishmentarian.”  It was not so much interested in opposing the powers of Rome as--at least equally--upholding its own newly established powers and prerogatives. 

The backing of the king(s) encouraged the development of this trend since the king was the supreme head of the church and used it as an expression of his own religious aspirations and agenda.  The new traditionalism of Anglicanism began to see itself as upholding a continuity of viewpoint; it saw itself as establishing a new, viable tradition that was proper, appropriate, and useful in its own right.  As such it was worthy of defense against those who would demand more radical change.

            Reinforcing the development of Anglicanism as a distinct movement was the suffering its leaders endured under Mary.  It now had its own martyrs--individuals who neither resorted to foreign exile nor (in the ideal situation) unduly compromised their own convictions while remaining behind. 

In turn, especially late in Elizabeth’s reign and in the early seventeenth century, one began to see large numbers of the religiously active local citizens begin to have an intense personal commitment to the new orthodoxy.  Protests became common not just against the bishops and the church’s practice, but also against those who desired to alter or abolish those practices.  In short, the hierarchy was gaining the major grass roots support essential for its long-range control of the church’s direction.[26] 

            Furthermore, there was a growing difference in perception of the central functioning role of ministers.  To the Puritan it was the preached word--to reform the wayward and to maintain the righteous on the straight and narrow road to heaven.  To what became the Anglicans, the central purpose of the ministry was to carry out the ordained rituals and practices of worship. 

At least as early as the Hampton Court Conference the difference was summed up by one of the Anglican mentality as a contrast between a preaching and a praying ministry, the two terms being both literal and symbolic of the different roles ministers were to play.  The Bishop of London, Richard Bancroft, fell to his knees before the king at one point in the Conference and implored,[27]


Because I see this is a time of moving petitions, may I humbly present two or three to your Majesty:  First, that there be amongst us a praying ministry; it being now come to pass, that men think it the only duty of ministers to spend their time in the pulpit.  I confess, in a church newly to be planted, preaching is most necessary, not so in one so long established, that prayer should be neglected.


            It is not a matter of which side was sincere and which side was not.  With the normal exceptions one finds within any movement, both sides were dominated by those who genuinely thought their own approach was the best and most proper one.[28]  Sincerity did not mean, however, there was necessarily room for compromise.  Especially when the gulf became established for too long and bridging the chasm would require such a profound alteration in sentiment and practice that it could not be implemented without repudiating one’s own basic convictions.



The Anglican Mentality



            If it is common to speak of a “Puritan” mentality, it is far less so to speak of an “Anglican” one.  Perhaps this is due to the reading of a negative, condemnatory evaluation into the expression, rather than utilizing it as it should be, as a framework for analysis. 

            Anglicanism represented the merger of the perceived virtues of both Catholicism and the Reformation.  To many individuals, there is an innate appeal in the ceremonial and the ritualistic.  Perhaps it represents stability and order in a world that all too often seems chaotic.  To such individuals the steady reliability of traditional practices was vastly reassuring on the emotional level. 

            Anglicanism also represented loyalty to the crown.  To many this was adequate in its own right to establish spiritual propriety.  They did not have to make a purely personal decision; the government had decided the issue for them.  The choice seemed reasonable and, after all, weren’t God’s people commanded to obey the government?

            By attending Anglican services and participating in its rituals one simultaneously exhibited one’s piety and one’s loyalty to the government.  Hence Anglicanism served a dual purpose also manifested in the ancient emperor cult of the Roman Empire.  (Catholicism, as the established religion, performed a similar function in Spain and other such lands.)  There was, of course, a very crucial difference:  instead of worshipping the nation or the emperor it was the worship required by the ruler. 

            In a number of countries in the twentieth century one was required to demonstrate one’s loyalty to the government through obligatory membership in the political organization (or associated groups) that ran the government.  Even when not explicitly required it was often implicitly essential, since all recognized that the only sure road to advancement--to the best education, the best jobs, and the best housing--was through membership and active participation.

            Likewise the English government required membership in the Church of England.  It is highly likely that a far higher percentage of the English actually believed in the established church than their modern counterparts have believed in the required political apparatuses of the twentieth century.  In short, there was always a large number of citizens who took their religion quite seriously and interpreted involvement in the state church as a privilege rather than a mere obligation.  The latter it was, but it was a secondary concern at best.     

            Furthermore, Anglicanism represented an episcopal (government by bishop) system that had the potential for reigning in the divisive potential of the Reformation.  When Henry pushed through his independentizing of Catholicism, he certainly had no desire to see the English church splinter under the impact of religious conflict.  Likewise, those who took the church from organizational independence into doctrinal and liturgical independence under the following rulers had no desire to see the spiritual unity of the realm disintegrate.

            Yet it was no secret (especially by the middle of Elizabeth’s rule) that there was no longer a “united” state church.  Even under Henry this explosive potential was clear and alarming.  Hence the government efforts to rein them in throughout the era.  Many remained in the state church while espousing beliefs and ecclesiastical theories that would undermine its power; while others created independent congregations. 

            The possibility of the church splintering in a hundred directions under the onslaught of doctrinal dissent and congregationalism was not a mere bogeyman to haunt the nightmares of the clergy.  It was a stark possibility.  Hence as early as Archbishop Cranmer it was recognized that the preservation of an effective episcopate might well provide the ecclesiastical clout to compel into conformity (or at least silence) of those who would push the disagreements beyond rhetoric into rebellion and separation.[29] 

            On a social level, the episcopal system also had the potential for a meaningful suppression of the social vices of the era.  However laudable the congregational orientation of the Presbyterians might be in the abstract, any strict adherence to that principle seriously compromised the ability to inflict strong church discipline upon the reprobate. 

When operating in a congregational framework, one could theoretically simply move to another congregation (in actual practice it was not that simple); the geographically widespread authority of the bishop made such an escape from responsibility far more difficult.  Furthermore, as the representative of state authority, the bishop had the right contacts and influence to hope to bring to bear the powers of the state in cases of flagrant misconduct.[30]

            Because of such factors, the Anglican did not see himself as occupying a futile middle ground between papalism and Protestant radicalism.  He or she could see in the balancing between tradition and change, the making of a new synthesis that could provide for the spiritual well-being of the people as well as having the potential for curbing the worst of societal excesses.  






[1] Loades, Revolution in Religion, 3.


[2] Diarmaid MacCulloch, “England,” in The Early Reformation in Europe, edited by Andrew Pettegree (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1992), 166. 


[3] Rosemary O’Day, The Debate on the English Reformation (London:  Methuen, 1986), 108. 


[4] Haigh, “Conclusion,” 212. 


[5] Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, 379.


[6] On the use of adiaphora as a tool to rationalize accepting the King’s changes, see  Loades, Oxford Martyrs, 55-56


[7] Haigh, “Conclusion,” 212.


[8] Bindoff, 109.


[9] Ibid., 110-111.


[10] As quoted by Ibid., 149.


[11] Ibid.


[12] Ibid.


[13] Ibid., 150.


[14] Ibid.


[15] For Cranmer as an example, see Loades, Oxford Martyrs, 61-62.


[16] As quoted by Ibid., 63.


[17] As quoted by Ibid., 91.  Contrast his condemnation of rejecting a religious belief in private that one seemed to be following in practice (57).


[18] For quotations from the sixteenth and early seventeenth century focusing on this weakness, see Timothy George, “The Translator’s Tale:  Celebrating the Five-Hundredth Birthday of William Tyndale, the Father of the English Bible,” Christianity Today 38 (October 24, 1994):   36.


[19] MacCulloch, Latter Reformation in England, 75-78.


[20] Margo Todd, “ ‘All One with Tom Thumb’:  Arminianism, Popery, and the Story of the Reformation in Early Stuart Cambridge,” Church History 64 (December 1995):  563. 


[21] Ibid., 575.


[22] MacCulloch, Latter Reformation in England, 48, provides the three-prong analysis and these specific examples.


[23] As quoted by MacCulloch, Latter Reformation, 55.


[24] On shared Calvinism as a vital unifying force see Nicholas Tyacke, “Archbishop Laud,” in The Early Stuart Church, 1603-1642, edited by Kenneth Fincham (Stanford, California:  Stanford University Press, 1993), 67.


[25] An Admonition to the People of England (1589), as quoted by Stuart B. Babbage, Puritanism and Richard Bancroft (London:  SPCK, 1962), 9.


[26] For examples of local church protests against Puritan-type demands, see Judith Maltby, “ ‘By this Book’:  Parisioners, the Prayer Book and the Established Church,” in The Early Stuart Church, 1603-1642.  In The Early Stuart Church, 1603-1642, edited by Kenneth Fincham (Stanford, California:  Stanford University Press, 1993), 118-128.     


[27] As quoted by Lori Anne Ferrell, “Kneeling and the Body Politic,” in Religion, Literature, and Politics in Post-Reformation England, 1540-1688, edited by Donna B. Hamilton and Richard Strier (Cambridge [England]:  Cambridge University Press, 1996), 71.  She argues that this was part of a conscious strategy (73-74) to tap into the King’s fundamental concern for maintaining control over the church.  Symbolically, prayer (i.e., kneeling prayer) suggests submission and obedience while preaching suggests intellectual challenge and even potential revolt.  The former imagery reinforces the submission any king sought; the latter imagery could result in a challenge of it and James was already convinced that Puritans were too ready to go in that direction.


[28] For the argument of equal dedication on both sides see Judith Maltby, 115-116


[29] On this as a factor in Cranmer’s thinking, see Maurice Elliott, “Cranmer’s Attitude to the Episcopate:  Bishops, Priests and Deacons,” Churchman 109 (1995):  322-323.        


[30] For Archbishop Cranmer being motivated in favor of the preservation of the episcopate on such utilitarian grounds, see Ibid., 324-325.