The Bishop of Rome Hath No Jurisdiction in This Realm of England: The English Reformation and Foreign Jurisdiction

Note: This is the online version of an essay from the Hanover Review 3.1 on the Reformation as Renewal Symposium. Print copies are available here and full digital copies of the issue are available here. Full details about the symposium can be found here. More information about the Hanover Review is found here.

Matthew Barrett’s recent book The Reformation as Renewal provides a very helpful corrective to some narratives of the Protestant Reformation which characterize it as a schismatic movement away from classic Christian orthodoxy, placing the individual at the center of biblical interpretation, ultimately undermining all legitimate political and ecclesiastical authority.1Matthew Barrett, The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2023). Barrett’s multifaceted (and lengthy!) response to this, which makes up the majority of his nearly 900-page tome is to emphasize the fact that the Protestant Reformers, far from seeing themselves as creating a new church or promoting a novel interpretation of Holy Scripture, grounded their orthodoxy on its catholicity—that is, its continuity with orthodox theology as exposited throughout church history and finding its ultimate authority in God’s Word. This is all well and good. Yet, Barrett is quite uncomfortable with the idea that the English Reformation included the notion that the civil magistrate is the supreme head of both the civil and ecclesiastical government of England. Barrett is especially critical of Henry VIII’s claim to royal supremacy over the church of England writing:

First generation Reformers on the Continent like Luther and second-generation Reformers like Calvin looked to princes and magistrates to support the Reformation, although they still expected a certain type of pastoral and ecclesiastical freedom and authority over their people. But Henry took secular involvement to another level. His claim to supreme headship encroached on the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical affairs.2Barrett, The Reformation as Renewal, 778.

The effect of Barrett’s downplaying of the placement of defense of true religion by the civil magistrate profoundly overlooks what the Reformers saw as an indispensable element for the religious reformation of a nation more generally. Without the magisterial sword, reformation is impossible. Not only did the Reformers believe that it was the duty or moral obligation of the civil magistrate to impose true religion on his subjects, but because this is the duty of civil magistrates, it was not the duty of the subjects themselves. Why? Because they have not been given the power of physical coercion—the sword.3Cf. John Davenant, Determinationes Quaestionum Quarundam Theologicarum (Cambridge: Thomas Buck, 1639), 59. In translation: John Davenant, The Determinations in vol. 2 of A Treatise of Justification, trans. Josiah Allport (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Co., 1846), 282: “[Y]et I ask, with what instruments, by what means will they proceed to establish among us what they call their Reformation? They cannot give it the sanction of laws, because the legislative power is not in their hands. They cannot, either by pecuniary or corporal punishments, compel opponents to submit to their reformed Religion, because it is the prerogative of the Magistrate alone to inflict penalties. Finally, they cannot remove heretical Ministers from their situations, nor substitute orthodox ones in their places, because no such power over their own pastors has been given to the people from above.” Emphasis added. Yes, they may persuade— indeed, some, namely clergy, are obligated to preach and defend true religion—but they have not been appointed to be “an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4). In the Old Testament, the prophets indeed preached against high places and Baal worship, but God gave the magistrate alone the jurisdiction to actually tear them down. In this essay I would like to defend not only King Henry’s claim to ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as in keeping with English Reformational theology, but also to show that this was not simply an uncomfortable outcome of the Reformation, but perhaps should be seen one of the most essential elements of Protestantism. Put differently, the Reformers’ emphasis on the civil magistrate as the nursing father of his earthly realm, providing both civil as well as spiritual care over his subjects, was a decidedly Protestant principle.4E.J. Hutchinson, “‘Nursing Fathers’: The Magistrate and the Moral Law,” Ad Fontes (December 27, 2019).

1.  King Henry and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction

Barrett’s survey of the history of King Henry VIII’s eventual claim to be the supreme earthly head of the Church of England provides a typical telling of the event, whereby the King is portrayed as being motivated simply by tyrannical and sensual motives in order to get out from underneath papal power. Torrance Kirby’s description of popular histories of the Elizabethean Settlement equally apply to Barrett’s reading of the Henrician Royal Supremacy: “The traditional interpretation … is that political exigency and pragmatic compromise rather than any clear embrace of Reformed theological principle dictated the terms, that this was a merely political settlement of religion but not truly a religious settlement.”5J. Torrance Kirby, The Zurich Connection and Tudor Political Theology (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 10. Emphasis original. Indeed, Barrett, perpetuating the apocryphal tale that Anne Boleyn gave Henry William Tyndale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man, says that, “Henry may have read Tyndale through his own regal agenda, as if Tyndale advocated for the king’s unconditional authority. Henry ignored Tyndale’s warning that the king himself was subject to God’s judgment if he sinned; Henry overlooked the part of the book that said God may replace a king if he was unjust.”6Barrett, The Reformation as Renewal, 765. Note that a good case can be made that King Henry had a robust political theology of his own. See André A. Gazal, Scripture and Royal Supremacy in Tudor England: The Use of the Old Testament Historical Narrative (Lampeter, UK: Edwin Mellen Press, 2013), 21–39. On the scholarship surrounding the unlikely story of Anne Boleyn giving Tyndale’s book to the King, see Gazal, Scripture and Royal Supremacy in Tudor England, 50–51. Note also Glenn Moots’ interpretation of Tyndale’s book in “Taking Christian Nationalism Seriously,” The American Mind (11.27.2023): “The pope’s assertion of authority over the English monarch subjects England to tyranny, and they must refuse the pope’s The reluctance of Henry VIII to insist on his rightful place and thereby protect England from monks, friars, and bishops means that he may be a tyrant as well. Tyndale calls his reader to be obedient not to Roman Catholic authorities but to Henry, while calling Henry to be disobedient to the pope. Submission to Henry’s civil authority will distinguish Tyndale’s readers from the disobedience of Rome.” As noted above, regarding the Act of Supremacy, Barrett maintains that King Henry’s right to be the supreme head of the English Church was somehow out-of-step with the Reformation more generally. Such myths, just as the ones Barrett rightfully rejects, unjustly obfuscate an essential part of the Protestant Reformation: the magistrate’s right to ecclesiastical and political jurisdiction within his kingdom.

In 1531, Henry, in a letter written most likely to Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall and other clergy of the York Conference,7I am not completely convinced by the argument made by G. Dickens, Lollards and Protestants in the Diocese of York 1509–1558 (London: Hambledon Press, 1982), 156–58, who sees the letter addressing only Tunstall. Rather, it seems more likely, given the wording of King Henry’s letter, that it is in response to multiple letters of objection sent to King Henry from those at the York Conference. addressed precisely the question of the King’s right of ecclesiastical jurisdiction.8Cabala, sive Scrinia Sacra, Mysteries of State and Government: In Letters […] (London: for Bedell and T. Collins, 1663), 244–48. For a background and summary of this letter, see A. G. Dickens, Lollards and Protestants in the Diocese of York 1509–1558 (London: Hambledon Press, 1982), 155–58. The occasion of the letter was the 1531 Convocation at York which demanded (among other things) that clergy profess the King to be the “singular protector, supreme lord, and even, so far as the law of Christ allows, supreme head of the English church and clergy.”9See the letter written by Tunstall to King Henry in David Wilkins, ed., Concilia Magnae Britanniae Et Hiberniae, Ab Anno MCCCL. Ad Annum , Volume 3 (London: R. Gosling et al., 1737), 745. The wording in Latin: “Ecclesiae et cleri Anglicani, cujus singularem protectorem unicum et supremum dominum, et quantum per Christi legem licet etiam supremum Caput, ipsius majestatem recognoscimus.” Tunstall and others worried that such words could be interpreted to undermine the authority of the bishops. Further, they complained that they could not consent to the idea that the King was the supreme head of the church “as much in spiritual matters as in earthly and temporal ones.”10Wilkins, Concilia, 745: “tam in spiritualibus quam in terrenis et temporalibus. Henry responded that the language of being head of the church (whom some apparently understood as applying universally, to “the church not circumscribed by place”) expressly limited his supreme power to the English Church.11Cabala, 245–46. Moreover, Henry objected to those who “shew how [Christ, the head of the Church] divided his power in earth after the distinction temporalium & spiritualium, whereof the one, ye say, he committed to Princes, the other Sacerdotibus.”12Cabala, 246. King Henry noted that the Scripture texts they alleged no doubt argue that all people—whether clergy or laity—are bound to obey the prince in temporal things, but they nowhere limit it only to temporal things. Henry wrote:

The Texts of Scripture which ye alledge having the general words [Heb. 13:17] obedite & subditi estote, contain no such words, whereby spiritual things should be excluded; but whatsoever appertaineth to the tranquillity of mans life is of necessity included, as the words plainly import, as ye also confess; wherefore [Rom. 13:4] Gladium portat Princeps not only against them that break his Commandment and Laws, but against him also that in any wise breaketh Gods Law; For we may not more regard our Law then God, nor punish the breach of our Laws, and leave the transgressor of Gods Laws unreformed: so as all spiritual things by reason whereof may arise bodily trouble and inquietation, be necessarily included in Princes Power, and so proveth the Text of Scripture by you alledged.13Cabala, 246.

Many comments could be made of this passage, but note that King Henry felt obliged—nay, perhaps more obliged—to defend God’s law than even his own laws. This hardly sounds like someone ignorant or dismissive of God’s law.

The second part of their objection was that the administration of spiritual things has been committed to the clergy, such as preaching and the administration of the sacraments. King Henry agreed, but he insisted that however much excellency clergy have in their profession, it cannot be proved that “their persons, acts and deeds, should not be under the power of their Prince by God assigned: whom they should acknowledge as their Head.”14Cabala, 246. Henry noted that Christ who most perfectly exercised the office of the priest did not, on such grounds, deny the authority of Pilate, nor did the Apostles like Paul who said, “I stand before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried.”15Cabala, 246. Appealing to the fact that (1 Cor. 7:14) although husbands, who are the head of their wives, do not have power over their own bodies, but their wife does, so Henry admitted that while the Magistrate is in a certain sense under the Church, yet “she [i.e., the Church] for respect of our [i.e., the Prince’s] dignity shall honour us by Gods commandment likewise.”16Cabala, 246. Employing a similitude that later English theologians like Richard Baxter would use, Henry noted that while a physician excels a prince in his ability to cure sickness, the latter is not better—that is, superior in dignity and honor—than the former. Henry had no qualms admitting that “Emperours and Princes obey Bishops and Priests as doers of the message of Christ, and his Ambassadours for that purpose,” nor that “Princes be filii Ecclesiae [sons of the Church],” defined as the universal church.17Cabala, 246. Cf. Baxter, A Holy Commonwealth, Or Political Aphorisms, Opening the True Principles of Government […] (London: Thomas Underhill and Francis Tyton, 1659), 289, 300. Yet, neither notion is opposed to idea that the king is “Suprema Capita of the Congregations of Christian men in their Countries.”18Cabala, 246.

Henry also discussed the ambiguity over the term spiritual. Of course, he noted, in one sense it would be “superfluous” to add (as some of the clergy wished) that the magistrate is only over temporal things, given that “men being here themselves earthy and temporal, cannot be head and Governour to things eternal, not yet spiritual, taking the word spiritual not as the common speech abuseth it,” but as understood in the way Paul uses it in Romans 8: those things which are done by the Spirit are bound by no law and are free.19Cabala, 247. Yet, if one understands spiritual things as “spiritual men,” i.e., “priests, clerks, and their good acts and deeds worldly,” then Henry insisted he was authorized to order and govern them. Henry maintained, “as in all those Articles concerning the persons of priests, their Laws, their Acts and order of living, forasmuch as they be indeed all temporal, and concerning this present life only, in those we (as we be called) be indeed in this Realm Caput; and because there is no man above us here, be indeed Supremum Caput.”20Cabala, 247. Dealing with the magistrate’s relationship to spiritual matters such as the sacraments, Henry wrote that only Christ was the head of such an institution, and that clergy are those to whom God has given the right of administration. Yet, if such clergy administer the sacraments in a scandalous way, then the King does have the authority to step in and hold the clergy accountable.

Henry did not give any indication that he is above God’s law, nor did he seek to undermine the work of the English church by usurping the keys of the kingdom. Instead, he saw himself as its nursing father. This magisterial ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as opposed to papal ecclesiastical jurisdiction, was as important for the Reformation as any other doctrinal reformational principle, including sola scriptura or sola fide.

2.  Magisterial Reformers, English Theologians, and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction

The Puritan non-conformist, Richard Baxter, wrote in his famous Christian Directory, that “usurption of government is the very essence of popery.”21Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory: Or, A Summ of Practical Theologie, and Cases of Conscience (London: Robert White, 1673), pt. 4, 31. Expanding on this, in his Of National Churches, Baxter claimed that at the heart of Roman Catholicism was not its doctrinal errors, which admittedly were many, but usurption of ecclesiastical jurisdiction:

I have long known that Popery doth not essentially consist in the other Errours about Doctrine or Worship, as Images, praying to Saints and Angels, Masses, Relicts, Merits, Justification, Free-will, Purgatory, Transubstantiation, &c. If a Greek, or Armenian, or Abassine, hold these and no more, he is not therefore a Papist. You may call them Integral parts of Popery if you will, but not essential. The Essence is only the Opinion of Universal Humane Church Soveraignty, and a Church Universal Unified and formally Constituted thereby.22Richard Baxter, Of National Churches: Their Description, Institution, Use, Preservation, Danger, Maladies and Cure: Parly Applied to England (London: T. Snowden, 1691), 41.

For many modern Protestants such a claim may seem incredible, but during the Protestant Reformation, the taking back of ecclesiastical jurisdiction from Rome and giving this jurisdiction to the civil magistrates was not simply a ploy by some over-zealous kings, like King Henry, but was believed to be essential for Reformation of the church by Protestant clergy.

The Magisterial Reformers, including those with close ties with the Church of England, agreed with King Henry’s claim to supreme ecclesiastical jurisdiction over his realm. They consistently complained that the Pope usurped this power, a power which was rightly delegated to the civil magistrate.

For example, the Italian Reformer and, later, the Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, Peter Martyr Vermigli, protested that the Roman Catholics pretended that “there are two lights in the church; and that the pope with his bishops is the greater light, but the emperor, kings, and magistrates are the lesser light, and that it is right for the latter to care for (that is, to ruin) bodies, but the former to care for souls. Thus, they want princes to be only herding shepherds, in order to fatten up bodies.”23As translated by J. Hutchinson. The original Latin can be found in Peter Martyr Vermigli, Loci Communes (Heidelberg, Johannes Lancellott, 1603), 912. Cf. Torrance Kirby, “Political Theology: The Godly Prince,” in A Companion to Peter Martyr Vermigli, eds. Torrance Kirby, Emidio Campi, and Frank A. James (Leiden: Brill, 2009), 401–421. The reference to two lights, the greater being the papal authority, the lesser magisterial authority, is no doubt an allusion to Pope Innocent III’s sun and moon allegory, and it mirrors Pope Boniface VIII’s two swords doctrine, whereby the secular sword is subordinated to the spiritual.24Innocent III, Sicut Universitatis Conditor (1198); Pope Boniface III, Unam Sanctam (1302). Each were often charged by early modern Protestants of providing the principles which undergirded the magistrates’ subserviency to the Roman Church.25E.g., Innocent III: George Gillespie, Aarons Rod Blossoming […] (London: E.G., 1646), To the Reader [10]; Boniface: Vermigli, Common Places, 4.13.7–8. Roman Catholics were charged with perpetuating the notion that the civil magistrate had no care over the souls of the people; that the magistrate is only to concern himself with the physical well-being of his subjects, with the spiritual well-being of the people left to the jurisdiction of the church alone.

The sixteenth century Bishop of Salisbury, John Jewel, unambiguously viewed the Reformation as a removal of ecclesiastical (and civil) jurisdiction from the hand of the papacy and a placing it in the hands of the magistrate.26See John Jewel, An Apology, or Answer, in Defence of the Church of England in The Works of John Jewel, 4 vols. (Cambridge: The Parker Society, 1848), 3:97–99. In his Apology for the Church of England, Jewel lamented the fact that in former times, kings had bequethed their rightful power to the papacy.27Jewel, An Apology, or Answer, in Defence of the Church of England in Works, 3:105. Yet, “if our kings, in that darkness and blindness of former times, gave them these things of their own accord and liberality, for religion sake, being moved with a certain opinion of their feigned holiness; now, when ignorance and error is spied out, may the kings, their successors, take them away again, seeing they have the same authority the kings their ancestors had before.”28Jewel, An Apology, or Answer, in Defence of the Church of England in Works, 3:105. Just in case it was not clear what rights he had in mind, it is clear both from his Apology and from his famous letter to the Venetian by the name of Scipio that he had in mind ecclesiastical jurisdiction as well as civil. In his Apology, he summarized the ecclesiastical power of the magistrate:

We truly grant no further liberty to our magistrates than that we know hath both been given them by the word of God, and also confirmed by the examples of the very 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 the book of the law for himself; and besides that the prophet Esaias saith, ‘A king ought to be a patron and nurse of the church;’”29Jewel, An Apology, or Answer, in Defence of the Church of England in Works, 3:98–99.

In his letter to Scipio, Jewel addressed the fact that “the realm of England alone hath neither sent any ambassadors” nor excused their absence to the Council of Trent.30Jewel, Epistola P. Joannis Juelli, Episcopi Sarisburiensis, ad Virum Nobilem, D. Scipionem, Patricium Venetum in Works, 4:1094. Following the typical Roman Catholic position, Scipio had argued that, “all godly princes, if any doubt had risen concerning the God’s worship, still referred it to a public consultation.”31Jewel, Epistola in Works, 4:1095. Moreover, Scipio said that “Moses, Joshua, David, Ezekias [Hezekiah], Josias [ Josiah], and other judges, kings did not advise, concerning matters of religion, elsewhere than in an assembly of bishops.”32Jewel, Epistola in Works, 4:1095. The whole letter is worth reading, but it is near the end where he most particularly deals with the jurisdiction of the magistrate. He claimed that “princes are nursing fathers of the church, and keepers of both tables. Neither for any greater cause hath God willed governments to exist, than that there might be always some to maintain and preserve religion and piety.”33Jewel, Epistola in Works, 4:1125–26. In fact, it is a great sin for the magistrate to default on this sacred obligation:

Princes therefore now-a-days do most grievously offend, who are called indeed Christians, but who sit at ease, follow their pleasures, and patiently suffer impious rites and contempt of God, leaving all unto the bishops, to those very men to whom they know that all religion is a laughing-stock; as if the care of the church and of God’s people belonged not to them, or as if they were pastors but of sheep and oxen, as it and had care of their bodies, and not also of their souls. They remember not that they are God’s servants, chosen of purpose to serve him.34Jewel, Epistola in Works, 4:1126.

Responding to the English Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Stapleton, Richard Hooker, speaking for English Protestant theologians more generally, would famously write:

A gross error it is, to think that regal power ought to serve for the good of the body, and not of the soul; for men’s temporal peace, and not for their eternal safety: as if God had ordained kings for no other end and purpose but only to fat up men like hogs, and to see that they have their mast? […] [but there is] no cause in the world to think them uncapable of supreme authority in the outward government which disposeth the affairs of religion, so far forth as the same are disposable by human authority, and to think them uncapable thereof, only for that the said religion is everlastingly beneficial to them that faithfully continue in it.35Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity in The Works of […] Richard Hooker, 3 vols (Oxford: At the University Press, 1845), 363 [VIII.iii.2].

Vermigli, Jewel, and Hooker all charged Roman Catholics with perpetuating the myth that the civil magistrate had no care over the soul of the people, that the magistrate is only to concern himself with the physical well-being of his subjects. Moreover, all were agreed that the clergy are subject to the magistrate not just as citizens of the commonwealth, but also insofar as they function as administrators of the spiritual kingdom. Vermigli, in no uncertain terms, taught that “it is the office of a magistrate to compel [clergy] to an order, and to see to it that do not teach corruptly, and that they do not mix in fables, nor abuse the sacraments, or deliver things in a different way that the Lord has commanded.”36Vermigli, Loci Communes, 13.12. Vermigli even noted that “although a king is able to remove a useless and hurtful bishop, nevertheless a bishop is not, on the other hand, able to depose the king if he has sinned.”37Vermigli, Loci Communes, 13.12. Incidentally, this view of the magistrate is why later English theologians would explicitly argue that the reformation of the church is only lawfully done with the consent of the magistrate.38See Davenant, “The People may not Attempt a Reformation in the Church Against the Consent of the Magistrate,” in The Determinations in vol. 2 of A Treatise of Justification, 279–83. There is no reason to claim, as Barrett does, that Tyndale’s “evangelical commitments … meant working against the political authorities.”39Barrett, The Reformation as Renewal, 771. Emphasis original. This description of Tyndale is also not in keeping with the central theme of Tyndale’s The Obedience of a Christian Man, viz., obedience to the civil magistrate. There is an important difference between disobedience to unlawful magisterial laws and “working against the political authorities,” which is never countenanced in Tyndale’s book. Whereas, Barrett contends that the English Reformation’s “top-down implementation (even imposition)” of true religion was simply an element of the Reformation, the English Reformers themselves saw it as the sine qua non of Reformation.40Barrett, The Reformation as Renewal, 771. Cf. Gilbert Burnet, The History of the Reformation of the Church of England (London: T.H., 1681), ar. Writing to Charles II, Burnet: “The first step that was made in the Reformation of this Church was the restoring to your royal ancestors the rights of the crown, and an entire dominion over all their subjects; of which they had been disseized by the craft and violence of an unjust Pretender: to whom the Clergy, though your Majesty’s progenitors had enriched them by a bounty no less profuse than ill managed, did not only adhere, but drew with them the laity, over whose consciences they had gained so absolute an authority, that our Kings were to expect no obedience from their people, but what the Popes were pleased to allow.”

As for King Henry’s title of supreme head of the English church, it is true that John Calvin did not approve of the title, calling it blasphemous.41John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, trans. John Owen, vol. 14 of Calvin’s Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 349. Yet, a good case can be made that Calvin was not overly familiar with how the English understood the title. This is precisely the case made by Alexander Nowell, a great sympathizer of Calvin and his theology, who noted that Calvin’s view of royal supremacy was sourced from his meeting with Bishop Stephen Gardiner, at the Colloquy of Regensburg in 1541, where Martin Bucer questioned King Henry’s doctrine of clerical celibacy with Gardiner appealing to Henry’s royal supremacy.42Alexander Nowell, The Reproufe of M. Dorman his proufe of certaine Articles in Religion […] (London: Henry Wykes, 1566), fol.125r-125v. Cf. André A. Gazal, Scripture and Royal Supremacy in Tudor England, 356–57. Nowell argued that whether or not Calvin agreed with the title, Calvin’s own teaching on the role and jurisdiction of the civil magistrate was substantially the same as the English Protestant position.43Francis Mason, Vindiciae Ecclesiae Anglicanae […] (London: Felix Kingston, 1646), 318–19. This is quite in line with Vermigli’s own comments on King Henry’s claim to be head of the English church. While Vermigli admitted that such language was unusual (insolens), he went on to say, “but if we consider the substance itself, [the King] wanted nothing else but that which we have now said.”44Vermigli, Loci Communes, 3.6. What Vermigli had now just said was that some people dream of two civil powers: one ecclesiastical and one profane. The former is what the Pope has, the other is the magistrate’s. Yet, “this is all in vain: For the civil magistrate is sufficient (satis) for that which pertains to ecclesiastical power.”45Vermigli, Loci Communes, 3.6. In other words, the civil magistrate is sufficient to exercise the sort of ecclesiastical jurisdiction which the Pope usurped to himself and universalized.

Although the King’s claim to be supreme head of the English church had been dropped from the oath of supremacy, Baxter, in the next century, defended the magistrate’s royal supremacy over the English church, including the licitness of taking the oath of supremacy. Baxter wrote that there was no reason to scruple, so long as one understood:

1. That the title [Causes Ecclesiastical46Here is the wording of an oath with which Baxter would have been familiar: “I B. do utterly testify and declare in my Conscience, that the King’s Highness is the only Supreme Governor of this Realm, and of all other his Highness’s Dominions and Countries, as well in all Spiritual or Ecclesiastical Things or Causes, as Temporal: And that no Foreign Prince, Person, Prelate, State, or Potentate, hath, or ought to have any Iurisdiction, Power, Superiority, Preeminence, or Authority Ecclesiastical or Spiritual, within this Realm. And therefore I do utterly renounce and forsake all Foreign Iurisdictions, Privileges, Preeminences, and Authorities, granted or belonging to the King’s Highness, his Heirs and Successors, as united and annexed to the Imperial Crown of this Realm.” Cf. Richard Baxter, Against the Revolt to Foreign Jurisdiction […] (London: For Tho. Parkhurst, 1691), 41.] is taken from the ancient usurpation of the Pope and his Prelates, who brought much of the Magistrates work into their Courts, under the name of [Causes Ecclesiastical.] 2. That our Canons and many Declarations of our Princes, have ex∣pounded it fully, by disclaiming all proper Pastoral power. 3. That by [Governour] is meant only one that Governeth coercively, or by the sword: so that it is no more than to swear, that In all causes Ecclesiastical, so far as coercive Government is required, it belongeth not to Pope or Prelates under him, but to the King and his Officers or Courts alone: Or that the King is chief in Governing by the Sword in causes Ecclesiastical as well as Civil. So that if you put [spiritual] instead of Ecclesiastical, the word is taken materially and not formally: not that the King is chief in the spiritual Government by the Keyes of Excommunication and Absolution, but that he is chief in the coercive Government about spiritual matters, as before explained.47Baxter, Christian Directory, pt. 4, pg. 20.

This is all in keeping with Westminster Divine Philip Nye’s own defense of the oath, including his approbation of the language of “supreme head,” as interpreted by King Henry in his letter discussed earlier in this paper, saying that “King Henry well defends” such a title.48Philip Nye, The lawfulnes of the oath of supremacy, and power of the King in ecclesiastical affairs […] (London: Printed for Jonathan Robinson and Samuel Crowch, 1683), 6. Baxter also approved of Henry’s defense of the title in that same letter.49Baxter, Against the Revolt to Foreign Jurisdiction, 49, 258.

Arguments in favor of the magistrates’ ecclesiastical jurisdiction like the ones made above can also be found in Bucer and Bullinger, both strongly influencing the magisterial Reformation of the English Church.50On Bullinger, see esp., Kirby, The Zurich Connection and Tudor Political Theology, 25–41. On Bucer, see , Thomas Dandelet, “Creating a Protestant Constantine: Martin Bucer’s De Regno Christi and the Foundations of English Imperial Political Theology,” in Politics and Reformations: Communities, Polities, Nations, and Empires: Essays in Honor of Thomas A. Brady, Jr., eds. Christopher Ocker, Michael Printy, Peter Starenko, and Peter Wallace (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 539–50. Moreover, though space precludes, another aspect that goes hand-in-hand with magisterial jurisdiction is the relativizing of the authority of so-called ecumenical councils and foreign provencial ones.51Baxter, Against the Revolt to Foreign Jurisdiction, 45–47. Indeed, the first four so-called ecumenical councils, (Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum 1.14) are not seen as binding “except in so far as they can be proved out of the Holy Scriptures.” See Gerald Bray, Tudor Church Reform: The Henrician Canons of 1535 and the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum (Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press, 2000), 180–83. For example, George Carleton, an English delegate to the Synod of Dordt and Bishop of Llandaff deemed the Council of Trent unlawful, “because it was not gathered by the authority of the Emperour, and of Christian Kings.”52George Carleton, Iurisdiction regall, episcopall, papall […] (London: Iohannis Norton, 1610), 111–12. Baxter questioned the lawfulness of ecumenical councils and the Laudian Bishop Jeremy Taylor severely limited their authority and ecclesiastical jurisdiction.53Richard Baxter, The Second Part of The Nonconformists Plea for Peace being an Account of their Principles about Civil and Ecclesiastical Authority and Obedience […] (London: For John Hancock, 1680), 69; Jeremy Taylor, Ductor Dubitantium, or, The Rule of Conscience in All Her Generall Measures Serving as a Great Instrument for the Determination of Cases of Conscience (London: James Flesher, 1660), 285–86, 353–54.

3.  Conclusion

It is worth observing that Barrett’s chapter title for the English Reformation is “An Apology for the Universal Church.” Presumably, he is playing off of the title of the aforementioned work by Jewel, An Apology for the Church of England. We ought to push-back on the temptation to overlook or underplay the language of Jewel’s book! The English Reformation was not simply an attempt to claim the catholicity of Protestant doctrine, but it also, and equally strongly, rejected the universality of ecclesiastical jurisdiction both of the papacy or any other pretended usurper, instead lodging that jurisdiction in the hands of the magistrate. The Reformation was as much a political affair as it was a theological one. The catholicity of the Reformation was not an embrace of one sort of universal ecclesiastical jurisdiction (papal) for another, whether that be a universal visible church community or the so-called ecumenical councils, but a return to the catholic Augustinian position that placed such jurisdiction in the hands of kings and their kingdoms. As Augustine famously asked after quoting Psalm 2:10–11 (Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling):

How, then, do kings serve the Lord with fear except by forbidding and punishing with religious severity actions done against the Lord’s commandments? For he serves in one way because he is a man, and he serves in another way because he is king. For, because he is a man, he serves him by living a life of faith, but, because he is also a king, he serves him by upholding with appropriate force laws that command what is just and forbid what is unjust.  Kings, then, insofar as they are kings, serve the Lord when they do those things to serve him that only kings can do.”541. Augustine, Letters 156–210 (Epistulae), trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J., in II/3 of Works, letter 185 [pg. 190].

Not a Pope but a King. This was at the very heart of the Protestant Reformation.


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