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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: July 2009

5 - Bellum ceremoniale: scripture, custom, and ceremonial practice


As was the case with episcopacy, the evidence of scripture and the history of the early church were central to both defences and criticisms of ceremonial practice. Conformists sought to differentiate between the ceremonies of the English Church and the ceremonies described in scripture and the history of early Christianity. In addition to arguing that there was no necessary link between the two, they suggested that the Church held the power to establish ceremonial practices it deemed edifying, but yet were adiaphora. These arguments defined a church based partly in scripture and partly on ‘custom’ and the example of history; the Church was partly spiritual and partly temporal, and in its temporal aspect it could be shaped by the design of human agents. Reformists promoted a view of an institution derived from scripture and emulating it perfectly in all forms of rites and governance – a spiritual association. Hence, they stressed the perfection of the ‘first institution’ – the church established by Christ and handed to the Apostles. Writers like Henry Ainsworth condemned their opponents for reproaching ‘the faith and witnesses’ of the true church, and sought reform governed by its example. They maintained that the ceremonial practice of the English Church should be based on that described in scripture, and confirmed by the practice of the Apostolic church. Clearly, then, the reformist stance on ceremonial practice was rooted in a firm sense of historical understanding.