Jewel's Gem: Reflections on the 450th Anniversary of Bishop John Jewel's Apologia

Reflections on the 450th anniversary of Bishop John Jewel's 'Apologia'

Jewel’s Gem:

Reflections on the 450th Anniversary of

Bishop John Jewel’s Apologia

by Graham Kings, Bishop of Sherborne


John Jewel was consecrated Bishop of Salisbury in 1560, two years after Elizabeth I acceded to the throne. It was a heady time of tumult in Church and realm. Two years later, in 1562, he published his Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae, which was translated into English in 1564 as An Apology, or Answer in Defence, of the Church of England and soon became a key theological text.

So ‘Apology’ means ‘defence’ or ‘setting out the case’, rather than the modern meaning of ‘giving an apology for something done wrong‘.

Why did he write it? Why did it become so celebrated as a seminal work of theology? Is it still significant 450 years later?

We shall be looking first at an outline of Jewel’s life, second at the context and translation of his Apologia, third at its contents, and finally at its significance.

  1. Outline of Jewel’s Life

Jewel was born in 1522, in the Village of Buden, near Ilfracombe, Devon, in the Diocese of Exeter. He was educated at Merton College and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he was influenced by Peter Martyr, the Italian reformer. He focused his studies there on patristics, using the new edition of the Fathers of the Church, which Erasmus of Rotterdam had made available. He became a Fellow of Corpus in 1547.

He was secretary to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishop Nicholas Ridley at their disputations, in 1554, when Mary was Queen. He then went into exile, having repented of signing Catholic Articles in autumn of 1554, and lived in Frankfurt in 1555, where he opposed John Knox, the Scottish Reformer. Later, he joined Peter Martyr in Strasbourg and travelled with him to Zurich.

At the accession of Queen Elizabeth in 1558, he returned to England and was consecrated Bishop of Salisbury in 1560, aged 38, one of 17 bishops appointed by Elizabeth, who had been exiles during Mary’s reign.

Jewel’s Apologia was published January in 1562, when he was aged 40. In my Parker Society edition of 1848, it has 42 pages in Latin and 56 pages in English translation.

His book was attacked by the Jesuit Thomas Harding, who defended the Papacy. There followed a brisk publishing controversy: Harding’s Answer (1564); Jewel’s Reply (1565); Harding’s Confutation (1565); Jewel’s Defence of the Apology (1566 and 1567). The Parker Society edition has 511 pages of the Defence, which includes quotations from Harding.

Jewel died in 1571 aged 49, after preaching a sermon at Lacock, Wiltshire, and was buried in Salisbury Cathedral.

  1. Context and Translation of the Apologia

Elizabeth’s Government was considering the possibility of admitting a Papal Nuncio to England and of sending representatives to the third and final period of the Pope’s Council of Trent, (1562-3: the two earlier periods were 1545-7 and 1551-2).

The invitation to write the Apologia came from William Cecil, later Lord Burghley, the Queen’s Chief Secretary of State and main architect of her policies. It was written in Latin, early in 1561, and published on 1 Jan 1562.

The aim was to denounce Roman Catholicism and prove that the changes made in the previous 20 years or so had been authorised properly. In this context concerning the authority of councils, Jewel stressed that nothing had happened without the sanction of Parliament. Mark Chapman, in his magisterial new book, Anglican Theology (T&T Clark, 2012), shows that ‘Parliament served as a kind of lay synod operating in conjunction with the bishops’ (p. 63). He continues:

Jewel claimed that it was only civil power that had the authority to convene a Council, a teaching which had already been incorporated into Cranmer’s articles (Article XXI). Besides, he noted, ‘Whatsoever it be, the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ dependeth not upon councils’. The Council of Trent thus fell far short of a truly ecumenical Council, since it was principally concerned to bolster papal authority... The claims of the Council of Trent are thus tested by the standard of the primitive church. Again they are found wanting.

The Apologia was translated into English by Lady Anne Bacon, mother of Francis Bacon, and wife of Sir Nicholas Bacon. It was published in 1564 and read widely abroad. There is an interesting connection with William Cecil, for Lady Anne’s sister, Mildred, married Cecil, who became Lord Burghley. Anne and Mildred were the daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke, tutor to Edward VI, and were two of the most learned women in England. The Preface to the translation was written by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, who, with Jewel, perused it and passed it ‘without reproach’.

The Apologia was commended by Jewel’s mentor, Peter Martyr, who wrote to him on 24 August 1562 (ZL p 339) that Heinrich Bullinger, the Swiss Reformer, and other church leaders of Zurich thought the book ‘so wise, admirable, and eloquent, that they can make no end of commending it, and think that nothing in these days hath been set forth more perfectly.’

Peter Martyr’s Italian name was Pietro Martire Vermigli, 1499-1562. He was an Italian reformer in Zurich, Basle, and then Strasbourg where he was Professor of Theology in 1542. He was appointed Regius Professor of Theology at the University of Oxford in 1548 and was consulted by Thomas Cranmer for the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. Under Queen Mary, he was allowed to move to Europe and became Professor of Theology again in Strasbourg 1554, then Professor of Hebrew 1556 at Zurich. From there he exchanged letters on English affairs with Jewel. Jewel was close to Martyr whom he called, ‘my father, my pride, even the half of my soul’.

  1. Content of the Apologia

The work is in six parts.

Part I.

Jewel shows clearly that there are precedents for being spoken against and attacked for the same had happened to the prophets, to Christ, to Paul and to Stephen.

On pages 53- 4 he sets out the Roman accusations against the Church of England and the continental Protestants, and states:

There have been besides wilily procured by the bishop of Rome certain persons of eloquence enough, and not unlearned neither, which should put their help to this cause’. (p. 54)

He mentions Pope Pius IV, who was Pope from 1559-65, and the Council of Trent:

Pope Pius...would not in his bull, wherby he lately pretended a council, so rashly have condemned so great a part of the world, so many learned and godly men, so many commonwealths, so many kings, and so many princes, only upon his own blind prejudices and fore-determinations, and that without hearing of them speak, or without shewing cause why.’ (p 56)

We see here the cause of the Apology. The Church of England had been accused in the earlier periods of the Council of Trent, was not able to defend itself in person as the third period approached, and so, to avoid the impression that silence implied fault, a written defence was needed:

But because [the bishop of Rome] hath already so noted us openly, lest by holding our peace we should seem to grant a fault, and specially because we can by no means have audience in the public assembly of the general council...for this cause chiefly we thought it good to yield up an account of our faith in writing, and truly and openly to make answer to those things wherewith we have been openly charged. (p 56)

We may note his style:

We will deal herein neither bitterly nor brablingly, nor yet be carried away with anger and heat, though he ought to be reckoned neither bitter nor brabler that speaketh the truth. (p 56)

A ‘brable’, according to the Short Oxford English Dictionary, was a ‘paltry or noisy quarrel’ (1566)

The Apology was also, in some sense, evangelistic:

We then hope and trust, that none of them will be so negligent and careless of his own salvation, but he will at length study and bethink himself, to whether part he were best to join him. (P 56)

Part II

This concerns doctrine and echoes the Augsburg Confession (1530), written mostly by the Lutheran Philip Melanchthon, who stressed that the reforming movement was not a new sect with heresies, but continuous with the ancient church (p 58ff). Jewel writes:

And according to the judgement of the Nicene council, we say that the bishop of Rome hath no more jurisdiction over the church of God, than the rest of the patriarchs, either of Alexandria or Antiochia, have. (p 60)

He then continues with some sharp words describing the Pope:

That [the bishop of Rome] is the king of pride; that he is Lucifer, which preferreth himself before his brethren; that he hath forsaken the faith, and is the forerunner of antichrist. (p 60)

He describes how it is proper for clergy to be allowed to marry, (p 61) and that there are two sacraments: baptism and eucharistia, the supper of the Lord. Concerning Christ’s presence and the sacraments, he states:

For we affirm that Christ doth truly and presently give his own self in his sacraments; in baptism, that we may put him on; and in his supper, that we may eat him by faith and spirit, and may have everlasting life by his cross and blood. And we say not, this is done slightly and coldly, but effectually and truly. For, although we do not touch the body of Christ with teeth and mouth, yet we hold him fast, and eat him by faith, by understanding, and by the spirit.

He writes against processions of the consecrated host, and describes purgatory as: better than a blockish and an old wives’ device. (p 65)

Jewel makes subtle use of Fathers even when they do not back him explicitly. For example on purgatory:

Augustine indeed sometime saith, there is such a certain place: sometime he denieth not but there may be such a one: sometime he doubteth: sometime again he utterly denieth it to be, and thinketh that men are therein deceived by a natural good-will they bear their friends departed. (p 65)

He writes against ‘vain ceremonies’ and backs prayers in an ‘understandable tongue’. He stresses there is only one mediator, Jesus Christ and that the saints are not mediators. Finally, he emphases that we are justified by faith and not by our own works.

Part III

Jewel considers the accusation that the reformers are heretics by asking the question, ’were the Fathers heretics?’:

Were then Origen, Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Gelasius, Theodoret, forsakers of the catholic faith?

He writes against both the historic heresies and the contemporary heresies ‘Anabaptists, Libertines, Menonians, and Zuenckfeldians (p 67):

But the world seeth now right well (thanks be given to our God), that we neither have bred, nor taught, nor kept up these monsters...

What then? Was the gospel therefore not the gospel, because heresies sprang up withal? Or was Christ therefore not Christ?

His argument could be summarised as ‘just because there are lots of current heresies around the Protestant Reformation, it does not mean the centre of the Reformation is not sound.’

He grants that Protestants disagree amongst themselves but points out forcefully that so do Roman Catholics (p 68). To the accusation that some are for Luther and some for Zwingli, he discusses 1 Corinthians chapter 1 where some are ‘for Paul’, some ‘for Apollos’ and some for ‘Cephas’, but God gives the unity. (p 68)

Jewel is most stung by this accusation:

But this is the most grievous and heavy case, they call us wicked and ungodly men.

He defends the behaviour of the Reformers and the leaders of the Church of England.

Part IV

Jewel points out harlots in Rome and that Cardinal Campegius taught that ‘a priest which keepeth a concubine doth live more holily and chastely than he which hath a wife in matrimony.’ (p 71-73)

He counters the charge of revolution and treason (p 73) and gives examples of treason and notorious political deeds of the bishop of Rome (p 75-7).

Concerning the question whether only Roman Catholics are ‘catholic’, he states:

The Arians, notwithstanding they were heretics, yet bragged they that they alone were catholics, calling all the rest, now Ambrosians, now Athanasians, now Johannite. (p 78)

He quotes St Bernard the Abbot and Roger Bacon the philosopher and continues:

Bernard was no Lutheran: Bernard was no heretic: he had not forsaken the catholic church; yet, nevertheless he did not let to call the bishops that then were, deceivers, beguilers, and Pilates. (p 82)

Part V

In this section, Jewel stresses the concept of continuity rather than newness and in an extraordinary rhetorical satire, speaks directly to the Pope:

But I have a special fancy to common a word or two rather with the pope’s good holiness, and to say these things to his own face. Tell us, I pray you, good holy father, seeing ye do crack so much of all antiquity, and boast yourself that all men are bound to you alone, which of all the fathers have at any time called you by the name of the highest prelate, the universal bishop, or the head of the church? Which of them ever said that both the swords were committed to you? Which of them ever said that you have authority and a right to call councils? Which of them ever said that the whole world is but your diocese? (p 88)

Jewel exaggerates when he goes on to ask: ‘Which of them, that you are the Lord God?’ (p 88)

He counters the idea that church cannot err by claiming it hath ‘shamefully and wickedly erred in every deed.’ ( p 90) and concludes concerning the question of departure:

It is true that we have departed from them, and for doing so we both give thanks to almighty God, and greatly rejoice on our own behalf. But yet for all this, from the primitive church, from the apostles, and from Christ, we have not departed. (p 91)

Part VI

In his final part, Jewel counters the charge of not waiting for a general council for reform by pointing out that Jesus did not refer his doctrine to the Chief Priests Annas and Ciaphas and that Peter, in front of the Sanhedrin, (the Council) says, ‘It is better to obey God than man.’ (p 93)

Jewel does not despise councils and shows that the changes of recent years had all passed before Parliament and before a notable synod and convocation.

He concludes by discussing the Council of Trent (p 93ff). He cites various rogue decisions of the Pope (p 95), is rhetorically sarcastic about previous two periods of the Council Trent (p 96) and points out examples of the Church Fathers who did not attend councils, such as Athanasius and Chrysostom.

He posits a key question, which will lead into his final flourish: why leave out Christian Kings and Princes from the council? He states:

The Christian prince hath charge of both tables committed to him by God (p 98).

This refers to the Ten Commandments, the first section of which concerns God, and the second of which concerns society.

He describes Moses as a civil magistrate and Aaron as priest (p 98) and suggests Joshua and David as precursors of Christian Emperors. He points out that the Emperor Justinian made a law to correct the behaviour of the clergy (p 99).

He moves into the key of ‘erastian’ rhetoric (p 99) in showing that such men have authority over bishops.

He stresses that the Council of Trent cannot be called a General Council since a long of list of countries will not be there (p 102), questions whether the Pope is the successor of Peter (p 104) and mentions King Henry VIII (p 105) before recapitulating his discussion throughout his Apologia.

  1. Conclusion: Significance

Bishop John Jewel’s Apologia is a gem of foundational Anglican theology.

A key feature of Jewel’s significance and legacy is his influence on the seminal Anglican theologian Richard Hooker, who wrote much of his famous Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity when he was Rector of Boscombe near Salisbury (1591-95). Jewel was his mentor and patron. He helped Hooker financially and prepared him for the University of Oxford in his house.

Hooker stated that Jewel was the ‘worthiest divine that Christendom hath bred for some hundreds of years’. Archbishops of Canterbury John Whitgift and Richard Bancroft secured his reputation. Bancroft had Jewel’s works published in Folio in 1609 and ordered the Apology to be placed in churches.

So we may trace a significant theological succession from Peter Martyr to John Jewel to Richard Hooker. All three were members of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and were rooted in a deep knowledge of both Holy Scripture and of the Church Fathers.

The Authority of Scripture was supreme. The Fathers of the undivided Church of the first six centuries were interpreters of the Word, but were not put on the same level as the Word.

Jewel was especially countering Roman Catholicism. Some of his sharp rhetoric may be forgiven in the raw light of recent martyrdoms under Queen Mary: Thomas Cranmer had been burnt at the stake in Oxford with other reformers in 1556, only five years before Jewel was writing. Jewel takes on some of the Puritans with his stress on the importance of ‘comeliness and good order’ on matters of ecclesiastical dress and the significance of order and uniformity in Church and realm.

Hooker, in his magisterial Eccleciastical Polity, countered both Puritans and Roman Catholics, in a measured style. He was writing 30 years later and developed the key concept of ‘reason’ as a twin interpreter of Scripture together with the Fathers.

What of today? The Second Vatican Council took place between 1962 and 65 and there have been a flurry of articles from different perspectives eg in The Times, by John Wilkins, former editor of The Tablet, and William Oddie, former editor of The Catholic Herald, The Tablet 2012 Lecture by Roger Blair Kaiser, and events celebrating the 50th anniversary of its beginning, including a Synod of Bishops in Rome. On 10 October 2012, Rowan Williams gave the first address ever by an Archbishop of Canterbury to the Synod of Bishops in Rome, on ‘Contemplation and Evangelization’.

Vatican II blew fresh breath into Roman Catholicism, with a stress on a vernacular Bible and liturgy (two emphases of the Reformation), and an openness to other ecclesial bodies, to other faiths and to God’s work in the world outside the Church.

Amongst many others consequences, flowed the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), the visit of Pope John Paul II to Britain in 1982 and of Pope Benedict XVI in 2011.

Jewel, I believe, would have been amazed and delighted by this ‘updating’ of the Roman Catholic Church, but would have been worried, perhaps, by the recent conservative retrenchments, including the launching of the ‘Ordinariate’.

Jewel’s gem is certainly worth reading today for many reasons including the following: reliving the context of the Elizabethan Settlement; delighting in the depth of quotation from the Fathers; underlining the central doctrines of the Reformation; and enjoying a foundational Anglican document.


The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings is Bishop of Sherborne and theological secretary of Fulcrum

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