The Early Reformation: An Agenda

1. Historiography

2 stories come down to us:

  1. John Foxe in the Acts and Monuments or Book of Martyrs (tells the story of a popular Reformation from below and also from above= later Dickens, Elton. From below, the Lollards and their supporters preserved the ‘true faith’ in the Middle Ages. From above, there were heroic figures like Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell, except Foxe isn’t always so polite about Eliz whom he apostrophized and gently nudged for conforming to ‘popery’ under Mary while others were defiant. Henry VIII is also criticized by Foxe for refusing to purge popish superstitions to the full extent.)
  2. Nicholas Harpsfield (a Catholic polemicist and biographer of Thomas More, who said the Reformation was the result of Henry VIII’s ‘lusts’ – emphasis on divorce and destruction of old religion = Scarisbrick, Duffy today)

2. State of play on the eve of Reformation

  • anticlericalism, may be less than once believed as Haigh says, even a spectator sport, but there were still important sectional interests at work, especially lawyers at the Inns of Court and in Parliament opposed to heresy trials
  • improved education of laity: humanism
  • liturgy OK (Duffy), confraternities, benefactions going strong, but finance a problem: churchwardens and vestries disagreed with incumbent on apportionment of funds – chancel and nave
  • vestries supplemented clerical salaries (peanuts); parochial contributions supported everything from rectors to extra confessors
  • church wardens often the trustees of local chantries, and can follow the money
  • people kept on paying to the Church, especially for chantries but only for what they wantedi.e. the donors wanted priests tosing for their souls’ (i.e.. the donors) after their deaths

3. Reformation from below: Lollards

  • Foxe praised them (they secretly kept the true faith; ‘true’ as opposed to false = Catholic Church); Foxe paints an image of 2 Churches; history a struggle between “true” and “false” Churches
  • Lollards read (especially orally) texts e.g. the Bible – also hedge-preaching, rejection of images and transubstantiation. Were they a movement?
  • the authorities thought they were. Perhaps 100 burned and 1000 abjured in century before Reformation. But were they more a tradition of piety? imagined by the enemies as a movement – as the other?
  • no one really knows how many: cf the debate of Thomas More v. St German on heresy

4. Reformation from above

  • Henry VII’s attack on canon law and benefit of clergy after 1485
  • 1515, Blackfriars, “Kings of England have never recognized any superior but God alone”, but jurisdictional not magisterial
  • 1529 acts of Parliament: probate fee and mortuary fees; non-residence and pluralism; and leasing of “farms” by clergy
  • common law allowed leasing of whole parishes by their rectors or vicars, who could pursue other interests while lay lessees controlled the parish = outsourcing
  • act had support from below: gentry wanted to stop the parish clergy farming their glebe lands, as prices and population increased.
  • this act enforced: 210 prosecutions in Henry VIII’s reign. Parishioners acquired the power to regulate their clergy and compel their presence.
  • clergy excluded from commercial interests in land (other than heritable estates)
  • Bishops Fisher, West and Clerk appeal to Rome. This annoys King and puts spotlight on Convocation, leads to Commons petitions on heresy
  • hits monasteries: prelude to Dissolution, because many parishes owned by religious houses.
  • is this as much a parishled Reformation as top down? NB either way not related to doctrinal change

5. Wolsey

  • exception to rule: the episcopate largely free from moral criticism
  • 1529: Darcy document: reform of clergy, exclude clergy from temporal lands, “that it be tried whether the putting down of the abbeys be lawful and good for great things hang thereupon”

6. Was there any preaching?

  • the speciality of the friars, especially the mendicant friars (Oxford and Cambridge); did preaching tours, and imagined by Innocent III when he founded the Dominicans and Franciscans as pulpit devices for bishops; they did “preaching tours”
  • there were also “preaching chantries” set up to emphasize preaching rather than requiems
  • Erasmus revolution: return to apostolic model of preaching: preacher is agent for spiritual transformation of society; ecstatic vision and love of faith
  • Erasmus changed “In the beginning was the Word” to “In the beginning was the Sermon”; and sola scriptura, even if not justification by faith – to preach scripture rather than the unwritten verities (cf More)
  • evangelical Cambridge group: Bilney, Arthur, Barnes, Latimer: preaching Christ and justification
  • Bilney attacked petitioning the saints; attacked mediation; against intercessions to saints and mediating clergy
  • Latimer: ‘Christ alone is our mediator’
  • Barnes: justification by faith alone
  • the evangelicals wanted intercessory institutions turned into charitable and educational bodies
  • preaching war between mendicants and reformers: reformers accuse the friars of preaching fables and stories
  • some friars defect to the reformers; remaining friars are attacked as peddlers of plenary indulgences and requiems for money

7. Penitential framework on eve of Reformation

  • most sermons are on penitence before the 1530s, but how is it to be achieved? God’s grace available through 2 competing theological systems: (1) confession to priest, then you receive the mass to get salvation through the sacraments; (2) justification by faith alone; Christ’s death and passion the only satisfaction for sin
  • (1) = Catholic; (2) = evangelical
  • And within (2) is the seed of a split between eirenic evangelicals and sacramentarians: between “Lutheran”, and “reformed” traditions of Continental Reformation, so 3-way split in doctrine coming up…

8. Printing

  • not so important yet, but by 1520s old Lollard tracts are being printed and imported from Antwerp
  • plus Lutheran books from the Steelyard and East Anglia. Book pedlars on the go. By 1525/6 Thomas More after them. – Key = printing the Bible, and first impact is Tyndale’s New Testament which first appears on the streets of London in 1526. Thereafter, translations of Luther and other Continental reformers made in Antwerp and imported.
  • even so, London presses are not tooled up for bulky religious tomes
  • not until 1530s that English printing gets under way (Cromwell as patron of the press)

9. Henry VIII’s divorce

Wants a divorce, Wolsey overthrown, Henry thrown into a bitter contest with the Pope.

10. So question to debate: Could you have had a Reformation without Henry’s divorce, or are the seeds of ‘bottom-up’, popular reform already there?

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