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Elizabethan Separatists, Puritan Conformists and the Bible

  • TIM COOPER (a1)

Abstract

Sixteenth-century English separatists and Puritan conformists held a great deal in common but one simple distinction set them apart. Separatists recognised no other authority but Scripture: not logic, philosophy or reason; not tradition; not any human writing. Puritan conformists allowed a place for those authorities, though subordinate to Scripture. That distinction shaped printed debate over church government and worship. Separatists worked within an ‘all-or-nothing mentality’; in response, conformists were forced to adopt a ‘bare-minimum mentality’, which was quite different from how they argued in the opposite direction against the bishops of the Church of England.

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This article is so much stronger for the shrewd advice of generous colleagues: John Coffey, Kirk Essary, Crawford Gribben, Michael Haykin, Peter Matheson and Michael Winship. I also wish to acknowledge the excellent observations and recommendations of the anonymous reader for this Journal.

In all transcriptions from published sources I have silently corrected all instances of u instead of v, and vv instead of w. Abbreviations are extended with the added letters in italics; original text in italic font is silently corrected to Roman font.

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1 Barrow, Henry, Brief discoverie of the false Church, [Dordrecht?] 1590 [1591?] (ESTC 111924), 1.

2 Ibid. 204. See also p. 260.

3 Ibid. 206–7, 215. For a general discussion see Powicke, Fred. J., Henry Barrow, separatist (1550?–1593), London 1900, 91ff, and White, B. R., The English separatist tradition: from the Marian martyrs to the Pilgrim Fathers, Oxford 1971, 73ff.

4 Jones, John Gwynfor, ‘Nonconformists and the Bible, ca 1559–1804’, in Pope, Robert (ed.), T&T Clark companion to Nonconformity, London 2013, 113.

5 All the authors listed in this paragraph are introduced in White, English separatist tradition; for Robert Browne see ch. iii.

6 Jones, R. Tudor, Congregationalism in England, 1662–1962, London 1962, 15, 17, 19, 21.

7 See McDowell, Nicholas, The English radical imagination: culture, religion, and revolution, 1630–1660, Oxford 2003, 48.

8 For these dates and the general outline of this story of early separatism see Watts, Michael R., The Dissenters: from the Reformation to the French Revolution, Oxford 1978.

9 See Scott Culpepper, Francis Johnson and the English separatist influence, Macon, Ga 2011, ch. ii; for Henry Barrow, see Powicke, Henry Barrow, separatist.

10 See Culpepper, Francis Johnson, ch. ii.

11 Ibid. 116–20; Michael E. Moody, ‘Ainsworth, Henry (1569–1622), separatist minister and religious controversialist’, ODNB.

12 Elton, G. R., Reformation Europe, 1517–1559, 2nd edn, Oxford 1999, 28. For other discussions of the Bible in the context of the Reformation see Timothy George, Theology of the reformers, Nashville, Tn 2013; Cummings, Brian, The literary culture of the Reformation: grammar and grace, Oxford 2002; and Matheson, Peter, ‘The Reformation’, in Sawyer, John F. A. (ed.), The Blackwell companion to the Bible and culture, Malden, Ma 2006, 6983. Brad Gregory's provocative assessment has caused recent debate: The unintended reformation: how a religious revolution secularized society, Cambridge, Ma 2012. For responses see Allen, Michael and Swain, Scott R., Reformed Catholicity: the promise of retrieval for theology and biblical interpretation, Grand Rapids, Mi 2015; Vanhoozer, Kevin J., Biblical authority after Babel: retrieving the solas in the spirit of mere Protestant Christianity, Grand Rapids, Mi 2016; and Ian Provan, The Reformation and the right reading of Scripture, Waco, Tx 2017. Finally, for an assessment of the place of the Bible within the English Dissenting tradition, one that begins with the staunchly biblicist stance of sixteenth-century English separatists see Coffey, John, ‘The Bible and theology’, in Coffey, John (ed.), The Oxford history of Protestant dissenting traditions, I: Beginnings to the Toleration Act, Oxford 2020. I am grateful to Professor Coffey for allowing me to see his essay before publication.

13 Robert Armstrong posits ‘three waves’ in the Bible's expansion in sixteenth-century England, ‘washing in at different speeds, and with differing intensities’: ‘Introduction: Protestant England and the English Bible’, in Robert Armstrong and Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin (eds), The English Bible in the early modern world, Leiden 2018, 2. See also Ian Green's essay in the same volume. Green argues that the impact of the newly available Bible ‘was probably limited for decades’: ‘The laity and the Bible in early modern England’, 54.

14 Maxwell, Julie offers an original perspective on this in ‘Early modern religious prose’, in Lemon, Rebecca, Mason, Emma, Roberts, Jonathan and Rowland, Christopher (eds), The Blackwell companion to the Bible in English literature, Malden, Ma 2009, 184.

15 Lake, Peter, Moderate Puritans and the Elizabethan Church, Cambridge 1982, 78–9.

16 See Brachlow, Stephen, The communion of saints: radical Puritan and separatist ecclesiology, 1570–1625, Oxford 1988, especially the introduction and conclusion; the quotations are drawn from pp. 11, 13 and 272. For important examples of that earlier scholarship see Burrage, Champlin, The early English dissenters in the light of recent research (1550–1641), New York 1912, and White, English separatist tradition. For scholarship on later separatists see Murray Tolmie, The triumph of the saints: the separate churches of London, 1616–1649, Cambridge 1977. Theodore Dwight Bozeman also sees within a broad Puritan primitivism the ideal of a ‘closed, all-sufficient, timeless’ pattern of Church polity revealed in Scripture: To live ancient lives: the primitivist dimension in Puritanism, Chapel Hill, NC 1988, 17.

17 Johnson, Francis, An answer to Maister H. Jacob his defence of the Churches and ministry of England, [Amsterdam?] 1600 (ESTC 121679), 34.

18 Idem, A treatise of the ministery of the Church of England, [Low Countries?] 1595 (ESTC 117234), 20. Dan G. Danner notes that this was a particularly English tendency: in distinction to Luther and Calvin, the English Marian exiles saw the Bible as ‘a book of propositions, precepts and laws to be followed. It contained models or patterns to be emulated’: Pilgrimage to Puritanism: history and theology of the Marian exiles at Geneva, 1555–1560, New York 1999, 105. See also pp. 143, 144.

19 [Ainsworth, Henry and Johnson, Francis], An apologie or defence of such true Christians as are commonly (but unjustly) called Brownists, [Amsterdam?] 1604 (ESTC 118591), 103.

20 Barrow, Henry, The pollution of universitie-learning: or, Sciences (falsly so called), London 1642 (ESTC R18358), 6. For biblical allusions to the schools of the prophets see 1 Samuel xix.18–24, 2 Kings ii, and 2 Kings iv.38–41.

21 Patrick Collinson, ‘Barrow, Henry (c. 1550–1593), religious separatist’, ODNB.

22 Barrow, Pollution of universitie-learning, 7–8.

23 For another attack on the universities see Barrow, Henry and Greenwood, John, A plaine refutation of M. G. Giffardes reprochful booke, [Dordrecht?] 1591 (ESTC 104500), 116–23.

24 Barrow, Pollution of universitie-learning, 1.

25 Backus, Irena, ‘The Fathers and the Reformation’, in Parry, Kenneth (ed.), The Wiley Blackwell companion to patristics, Malden, Ma 2015, 428–41. See also Backus, Irena (ed.), Reception of the Church Fathers in the West: from the Carolingians to the Maurists, ii, Leiden 1997.

26 [Browne, Robert], An answere to Master Cartwright his letter for joyning with the English Churches, London [1585?] (ESTC 109433), 57.

27 Barrow, Brief discoverie, 56, 23.

28 [Ainsworth and Johnson], Apologie, 103. For the general Puritan view of university education see Morgan, John, Godly learning: Puritan attitudes towards reason, learning and education, 1560–1640, Cambridge 1988.

29 Johnson, Treatise of the ministery, 116.

30 Ibid. [142–3].

31 Idem, Answer to Maister H. Jacob, 9.

32 [Browne], An answere to Master Cartwright, 45.

33 For context see Pearson, A. F. Scott, Thomas Cartwright and Elizabethan Puritanism, 1535–1603, Gloucester, Ma 1966, 211–23.

34 [Browne], An answere to Master Cartwright, 91–2. For another text of Cartwright's letter see Cartwrightiana: Elizabethan Nonconformist texts, i, ed. Albert Peel and Leland H. Carlson, London 1951, 48–58.

35 Cartwrightiana, 64.

36 Ibid. 64, 65, 66, 68.

37 For context see Pearson, Thomas Cartwright and Elizabethan Puritanism, 86–101.

38 C[artwright], T[homas], Replye to an answere made of M. Doctor Whitgifte against the admonition to the Parliament, [Hemel Hempstead? 1573] (ESTC 120563), 36.

39 Ibid. 83. See also pp. 32–3.

40 Ibid. 84.

41 Ibid. 83.

42 Brachlow, Communion of saints, 26.

43 C[artwright], Replye to an answere, 29–30.

44 Ibid. 29.

45 Ibid. 32–3, 82, 116.

46 For example, see the exchange between Francis Johnson and Arthur Hildersham in Johnson, Treatise of the ministery, 5–6, 9.

47 Johnson, Answer to Maister H. Jacob, 59. The scriptural allusion is to Revelation ix.7–10.

48 Johnson, Answer to Maister H. Jacob, 118.

49 Henry Barrow and John Greenwood believed that the ‘generall defection & apostasie’ that they saw around them showed that they were living in the Last Days ‘most liuely described in the booke of the Reuelation’: A plaine refutation, ‘Welcome to the reader’, sig. A.

50 Numbers xvi.21. All scriptural quotations are from The Geneva Bible: a fascimile of the 1560 edition, Madison–Milwaukee–London 1969. The Geneva Bible was the translation preferred by separatists: Culpepper, Francis Johnson, 94.

51 [Browne], An answere to Master Cartwright, 22.

52 2 Kings xxii.11.

53 Barrow, Brief discoverie, ‘epistle to the reader’, sig. A ii.

54 Johnson, Treatise of the ministery, 9, 19, 20.

55 See Shagan, Ethan H., The rule of moderation: violence, religion and the politics of restraint in early modern England, Cambridge 2011.

56 Barrow, Brief discoverie, 112.

57 Brett Usher, ‘Gifford, George (1547/8–1600), Church of England clergyman and author’, ODNB.

58 Gifford, George, A short treatise against the Donatists of England, whome we call Brownists, London 1590 (ESTC 114289), ‘Preface to the gentle reader’, sig. A[1].

59 Ibid. sig. A3v, pp. 103, 105.

60 Barrow and Greenwood, Plaine refutation, ‘Welcome to the reader’, sig. Av.

61 Ibid. 1.

62 Ibid. 28, 30, 68.

63 Ibid. 26–7. See also p. 101.

64 Ibid. 103–4. For a description of these offices see Culpepper, Francis Johnson, 51–6.

65 Barrow and Greenwood, Plaine refutation, 105–35.

66 Ibid. ‘Epistle to the reader’, sig. Av.

67 Gifford, Short treatise, ‘Epistle to the reader’, sig. Av.

68 Ibid. 106–7.

69 Ibid. 90.

70 Ibid.

71 Ibid. 77.

72 Barrow and Greenwood, Plaine refutation, 26.

73 Ibid. 25.

74 Ibid. 26.

75 Ibid. 137.

76 Gifford, Short treatise, 4–6.

77 Barrow and Greenwood, Plaine refutation, 24–5.

78 Gifford, Short treatise, 102.

79 Barrow and Greenwood, Plaine refutation, 100. See also p. 119. Ainsworth and Johnson made a similar point: ‘it is strange that in all this tyme, though they write book after book, yet none of them hath an heart or ability hereunto [to make their case from Scripture], if it be a thing that could be done’: Apologie, 107.

80 Barrow and Greenwood, Plaine refutation, 65.

81 Ibid. 146–7.

82 Ibid. 100.

83 Brachlow, Communion of saints, 57.

84 S. Wright, ‘Jacob, Henry (1562/3–1624), semi-separatist minister’, ODNB.

85 Winship, Michael P., Godly republicanism: Puritans, pilgrims, and a city on a hill, Cambridge, Ma 2012, 100. In 1604 ‘he argued for the first time that salvation would ordinarily be confined to members of visible churches more in keeping with God's law’: Wright, ‘Jacob, Henry’.

86 Jacob, Henry, Defence of the churches and ministrery of Englande, Middelburgh 1599 (ESTC 107526), 19.

87 Ibid. 14.

88 Ibid. 24.

89 Brachlow, Communion of saints, 57.

90 [Jacob, Henry], Reasons taken out of Gods word and the best humane testimonies proving a necessitie of reforming our churches in England, [Middelburgh] 1604 (ESTC 120955), 13.

91 Ibid. 12.

92 Ibid. 5.

93 Ibid. 13.

94 Ibid. 2.

95 Ibid. 18.

96 Ibid. 39–40.

97 Rathband, William (ed.), A most grave, and modest confutation of the errors of the sect, commonly called Brownists, London 1644 (ESTC R209828), ‘The publisher to the reader’, sig. *3v.

98 Ibid. 4–6.

99 Ibid. ‘The preface of the authors … to the reader’, sig. [A4r], p. 62.

100 Although, as we have seen, Thomas Cartwright tried to do just that in what he thought would remain unpublished private letters.

101 Rathband, A most grave, and modest confutation, ‘The publisher to the reader’, sig. [*4v].

This article is so much stronger for the shrewd advice of generous colleagues: John Coffey, Kirk Essary, Crawford Gribben, Michael Haykin, Peter Matheson and Michael Winship. I also wish to acknowledge the excellent observations and recommendations of the anonymous reader for this Journal.

In all transcriptions from published sources I have silently corrected all instances of u instead of v, and vv instead of w. Abbreviations are extended with the added letters in italics; original text in italic font is silently corrected to Roman font.

Elizabethan Separatists, Puritan Conformists and the Bible

  • TIM COOPER (a1)

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