01 April 2009

John Calvin's request for a Reformed Episcopacy

Here is the text of Calvin's request to the English Archbishop for the episcopacy. It really is an interesting read. I have preserved most of the original formatting so you can experience the flow from Strype's Lives.
[The Life and Acts of Matthew Parker: The First Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth By John Strype Published by Clarendon Press, 1821. vol. 20]
This book can be downloaded from Google Books.

He [Matthew Parker] asked,
" What was it occasioned the Romish writers
" to write against the Bishop of Rome? What was it caused
" Luther, Calvin, and other orthodox Clergymen, to re-
" nounce Rome and her Church, but this thing, called the
" Bishop of Rome's tribunal? That several learned men,
" from the time that the Bishop of Rome begun to demand
" tribute, and to set up a tribunal, had written, that that very
" thing had caused those Bishops to forget their Maker,
" and also their Redeemer: and that they, by their demands
" to us, to own Rome and her tribunal, had forgotten their
" duties to God, with their father the Bishop of Rome : for
" that his usurping of a tribunal to make all nations subject
" to his beck, had caused him and his successors ever since
" to forget the living God.

Anno 1560.

"That they, his followers and acknowledgers, partook of
" this sin also, and had occasioned the Bishops of Rome to
" fall into these errors: for they had made it sacrilege to
" dispute of what he did, and heresy to doubt of his power;
" Paganism to disobey him, and blasphemy against the Holy
" Ghost, to act or speak against his decrees. Nay, that which
" is most horrible, they had made it presumption in any man,
" not to go to the devil after him, without any grudging:
" which was so shameful and so sinful a subjection, that Lu-
" cifer himself never demanded the like from his slaves in hell.
" He bade them consider of these things: and that it
" should be the continual prayer of our Reformed Church,
" to convert them all to the truth of God's word, and to
" obedience to their Sovereign Lady Elizabeth their Queen :
" and in so doing, they would glorify Christ, and the eternal
" God in heaven ; who alone was the chief and absolute Ruler
" of princes." And concluding friendly, subscribed himself, Their faithful brother in Christ. This notable letter was dated March the 26th, 1560.

Calvin writes to the Archbishop about the union of protestants M.Park.MS.Hunt.Rom.Fox.

And this is the account of the Popish Clergy's letter to the Archbishop, and his behaviour thereupon. There was another letter this year sent to him from the hands of a great Divine but of another temper, and for another and a better end; namely, from John Calvin, the great French Reformer: importing,

" how he rejoiced in the happiness of England,
" and that God had raised up so gracious a Queen, to be in-
" strumental in propagating the true faith of Jesus Christ,
" by restoring the Gospel, and expelling idolatry, together
" with the Bishop of Rome's usurped power. And then
" made a serious motion of uniting Protestants together,"
[as he had done before in King Edward's reign.]
" He en-
" treated the Archbishop to prevail with her Majesty to
" summon a general assembly of all the Protestant Clergy,
" wheresoever dispersed; and that a set form and method
" i. e. of public service, and government of the Church]
" might be established, not only within her dominions, but
" also among all the Reformed and Evangelic Churches " abroad." "

This was a noble offer, and the Archbishop soon acquaint-ed the Queen's Council with it. And they took it into con-sideration, and desired his Grace to thank Calvin ; and to let him know they liked his proposals, which were fair and desirable : yet, as to the government of the Church, to signify to him, that the Church of England would still retain her episcopacy; but not as from Pope Gregory, who sent over Augustin the monk hither, but from Joseph of Ari-mathea; as appeared by Gildas, printed first anno 1525. in the reign of King Henry VIII.; and so far agreeing to Eleu- therius, sometime Bishop of Rome, who acknowledged Lucius, King of Britain, Christ's Vicar within his own dominions. All this being before Rome usurped over princes: yet also renouncing the Romish manner, way, and ceremonies of episcopacy, which were either contrary to God's glory, or the English monarchy. This was a great work, and created seri-ous thoughts in the Archbishop's mind, for the framing a proper method to set it on foot. But he had considered but a little while of these matters, when news arrived at Court that Calvin was dead.

Calvin for episcopacy
And how Calvin stood affected in the said point of epi-scopacy, and how readily and gladly he and other heads of the Reformed Churches would have received it, is evident enough from his writings and epistles. In his book Of the Necessity of reforming the Church, he hath these words: Talem nobis hierarchiam exhibeant, &c.
"Let them give us
" such an hierarchy, in which Bishops may be so above the
" rest, as they refuse not to be under Christ, and depend
" upon him as their only Head; that they maintain a bro-
" therly society, &c. If there be any that do not behave
" themselves with all reverence and obedience towards them,
" there is no anathema, but I confess them worthy of it."

But especially his opinion of episcopacy is manifest from a letter he and Bullinger, and others, learned men of that sort, wrote anno 1549. to King Edward VI. offering to make him their Defender, and to have Bishops in their Churches for better unity and concord among them : as may be seen in - Archbishop Cranmer's Memorials; and likewise by a writ-ing of Archbishop Abbot, found among the MSS. of Arch-bishop Usher: which, for the remarkableness of it, and the mention of Archbishop Parker's papers, I shall here set down.

Archbishop Parker's account there-of found in his papers by Archbishop Abbot
" Perusing some papers of our predecessor Matthew Par-
" ker, we find that John Calvin, and others of the Protest-
" ant churches of Germany and elsewhere, would have had
" episcopacy, if permitted : but could not upon several ac-
" counts, partly fearing the other princes of the Roman Ca-
" tholic faith would have joined with the Emperor and the
" rest of the Popish Bishops, to have depressed the same ;
" partly being newly reformed, and not settled, they had
" not sufficient wealth to support episcopacy, by reason of
" their daily persecutions. Another, and a main cause was,
" they would not have any Popish hands laid over their Cler-
" gy. And whereas John Calvin had sent a letter in King
" Edward the VIth's reign, to have conferred with the Cler-
" gy of England about some things to this effect, two Bishops,
" viz. Gardiner and Boner, intercepted the same: whereby
" Mr. Calvin's offerture perished. And he received an an-
" swer, as if it had been from the reformed Divines of those
" times; wherein they checked him, and slighted his propo-
" sals: from which time John Calvin and the Church of Eng-
" land were at variance in several points; which otherwise
" through God's mercy had been qualified, if those papers
" of his proposals had been discovered unto the Queen's
" Majesty during John Calvin's life. But being not disco-
" vered until or about the sixth year of her Majesty's
" reign, her Majesty much lamented they were not found
" sooner: which she expressed before her Council at the
" same time, in the presence of her great friends, Sir Henry
" Sidney, and Sir William Cecil."

In an post a few years back I called this one of the great "what-ifs" of history. What is more, it seems to be a damning blow to those still supporting a system of elder-plurality within the Church. Their own great figure, John Calvin, repeatedly requested the better system of episcopacy specifically for the cause of unity--never to receive it on the continent during the reformation.

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