introduction by luckboy


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At least since the Apostle peter’s response to the Sanhedrin, as Acts 5 tells it, that followers of Christ must obey God rather than men, the definition of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxis has been a social and political as well as a theological issue. When the Roman Emperor Constantine began to promote Christianity in the fourth century, he also assumed a prominent role in shaping Christian teaching. in the eighth century, Charlemagne’s father, pepin, parlayed a papal pronouncement regarding the right ordering of political affairs into a palace coup issuing in the Carolingian dynasty. Centuries later, pope innocent iii claimed authority to arbitrate European diplomacy the basis of the injunction in Matthew 18 that disputes between Christians should be taken to ‘the church’ for resolution. Also at least since Peter’s defiance of the Sanhedrin, interpretations of God’s will propounded by Christian individuals and communities have been used to legitimate disobedience of and even rebellion against political and religious authorities. Bishop Athanasius defied a fourth-century Emperor on the basis of his conviction that the latter supported an erroneous Christology. in the twelfth century, Valdes, a merchant turned mendicant, came to believe that he was called to preach the gospel. When church officials ordered him to stop preaching, he refused, and his efforts led to the establishment of a counter-church. The sixteenth century in particular is well-known for the political disruption that religious convictions could foment. As summarized by A.S. McGrade:
The political history of the Reformation was not neutral background to an essentially separate spiritual process, but itself bore spiritual meaning. Conversely, the period’s spiritual warfare about biblical interpretation and ecclesiastical authority had momentous political implications, ranging from the coercive imposition of Roman Catholic or Protestant belief to the overthrow of established royal authority by assassination, insurrection, or invasion.

England is no exception to this generalization regarding religion and politics in Reformation Europe. Rarely if ever has there been a time in the history of England during which issues surrounding the definition of Christian doctrine and the determination of the divine will posed more of a threat to unity, order and stability than the Tudor-Stuart period. in addition to the general instability to which religious ferment gave rise in
1 A.S. McGrade, ‘Introduction: Book VIII’, in W. Speed Hill (gen. ed.), The Folger Library Edition of the Works of Richard Hooker, vol. 6 (Binghamton, ny, 1993), p. 343.



sixteenth-century Europe, assumption by the civil authorities of leadership of the English Church in the 1530s rendered them directly responsible for religious policy and made them a primary target of dissatisfaction with the Church. Because much opposition to government policies during this period was based solely or partly on a perception that the authorities were not acting in accord with the divine will, effective defence of the English Church and of royal supremacy over the Church required that the issue of the discernment of God’s will be addressed. Unless polemicists defending the royal supremacy and the established Church took steps to ensure that the faith was defined in a manner compatible with official policy, there was little hope of securing the orderly and peaceful England unified behind obedience to its prince for which these defenders worked. Despite the importance of the definition of doctrine, the majority of defences of royal supremacy penned in Tudor England did not adequately address hermeneutical issues. Most defences of Henry Viii’s and Elizabeth i’s Churches, while allowing the petrine principle of prior obedience to God, failed to safeguard against false understandings of God’s will being used to underwrite disobedience of the Church authorities. Consequently, they left the ecclesiastical authorities vulnerable to resistance that would be legitimate even according to the standards laid down by the Church’s defenders themselves. This study will focus on two ideologists who are exceptions to this generalization. My purpose is to show that the Henrician lawyer Christopher St German (c.1460–1541) and the Elizabethan churchman Richard Hooker (1554–1600) rendered the condition that one must obey God before human law moot for English Christians by claiming for the authors of human law the authority to pronounce definitively regarding God’s will. Consideration of St German’s defence of order and obedience in Church and realm begins with a chapter providing an overview of the Henrician Reformation, paying special attention to the assumption by the civil authorities of the power to define doctrine in the late 1530s and 1540s. A second chapter briefly assesses defences of royal supremacy penned by William Tyndale (c.1494–1536), Stephen Gardiner (c.1495–1555), and Thomas Starkey (c.1498–1538), highlighting the hermeneutical principles outlined by each author as well as the forms of resistance to royal policy that each defender recognized as legitimate. our attention will then turn to St German’s defence of the royal supremacy. St German is known for his determination that the royal supremacy over the Church be exercised by the Crown in parliament, not the Crown solus. What has not been sufficiently appreciated is the fact that St German stands out among defenders of the Henrician supremacy because of his claim that the king in parliament, as the voice of the community of Christians in England, is



authorized to definitively pronounce regarding God’s will. Consequently, as envisioned by St German, obedience to the Crown is in all circumstances commensurate with obedience to God’s will. The study will then shift to consideration of Richard Hooker’s efforts to ensure obedience and order in the Church by claiming for the Church’s royal governor authority to define as well as defend the faith. As with St German, Hooker will be placed in context, in this case the Elizabethan Church, with special attention to claims made regarding the definition of doctrine. Hooker’s more specific ideological context is the challenge raised against the Elizabethan Church by presbyterian critics. Consideration of his work will thus be preceded by an assessment of John Whitgift’s (1530/31–1604) earlier efforts to win presbyterian acquiescence to the Church authorities. When we turn our attention to Hooker, the focus will again be on hermeneutics and the relationship between ensuring that God’s will is correctly discerned and ensuring that obedience is rendered to the Crown in Parliament in ecclesiastical affairs. like St German, Hooker provides a hermeneutic that identifies the Crown in Parliament (with, he adds, Convocation) as the highest authority in the determination of Christian truth. Consequently, Hooker reaches the same conclusion as had St German regarding the responsibility of English Christians to subordinate their own understandings of God’s will to the interpretation of God’s will propounded by the Church authorities. While the result is similar, Hooker’s approach to the issue is more theologically sophisticated than St German’s, employing a rationalist and consensus-based hermeneutic as the foundation of his claim that the Crown in parliament with the Convocation should be recognized as the authoritative interpreter of God’s will. The willingness of St German and Hooker to claim for the Crown authority over the discernment of God’s will sets them apart from other Tudor defenders of royal ecclesiastical supremacy. By effectively addressing this important issue, they are able to consistently argue that in practice English subjects can never legitimately refuse to obey the commands of the Church authorities on the basis of conscience. This, in turn, allows Hooker and St German to fashion defences of royal ecclesiastical supremacy that ensure order in Church and realm by reconciling obedience to God with obedience to the Church authorities.

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