Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-g4d8c Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-30T06:00:58.906Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Clerical Polemic in Defence of Ministers' Maintenance During the English Reformation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 1998


Preaching before parliament in April 1571, the bishop of London, Edwin Sandys, lamented the low popular esteem which clergy enjoyed in the England of his own time, which encouraged the gospel message to be undervalued or ignored. Lay greed impoverished the Church, depriving God's ministers of their lawful maintenance. Little had changed since the break with Rome, when the crown and laymen began to secularise the church's lands and revenues in the name of religious reform. Sandys observed in sorrow that ‘the Gospel hath evil luck: it is never preached, but the patrimony thereof is pinched’. This Reformation legacy of lay sacrilege would haunt the English Church throughout the sixteenth century, and pose a serious threat to the preservation and advance of Protestantism. The sixteenth-century English Church faced fundamental economic problems, which hindered her clergy from fulfilling the increased pastoral duties demanded by reformers. While doctrine and liturgy were reformed, clerical finances and the parochial structure remained largely untouched. At the same time, the decline in offerings and payment of personal tithes, the prohibition of lucrative pilgrimages and prayers for the dead, and the fiscal consequences of the royal supremacy (especially increased taxation) all damaged clerical finances. Reform of the clerical economy was essential. While some wealthier clergy continued to prosper, the perception of poverty and decline became commonplace. Many commentators responded to rising lay and clerical expectation of ministers by stressing the urgent need to recover and reallocate the church's economic resources. At the heart of this discussion of ministers' maintenance lay an unresolved tension between a state Reformation with strong political and economic elements and a religious reform movement.

Research Article
© 1998 Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)