The Christian Institution of Man, published in 1537 by His Majesty, King Henry VIII, is a fantastic read. The chapter on “the Sacrament of Orders” is highly recommended, offering a gem on the lawful powers of bishopric– amongst which is found the moderate application of church discipline, historic creation of minor orders, and the use of OT temple ordinances as a model for NT canon law. But especially noteworthy is the larger treatment on the usurpation of Rome against temporal Princes, and how the Pope’s claim to universal power departed from the original limits and nature of the Bishopric itself. The bishopric’s liberties have been treated in an earlier essay, Reversing Desuestude. What follows here is a continuation of Bishop’s right to decide common order in the church.
Jurisdiction in Common Order: The Thirty-nine articles attribute common order to both convocation and crown. However, according to the catechism the power to make canon belonged to bishops before christian princes who later took upon the external ordering of the church for the sake of better quiet. The reverse of Princely intervention might happen when bishops assume roles of secular princes, e.g., taxing and fining subjects. However, according to the catechism, once spiritual and temporal jurisdictions were confused between gospel command and external ordering, the invention of a Papacy with extra-ordinary powers began. Nonetheless, both Prince and bishop have rights to define common order but within limits set by scripture, and herein begins the “third part” of jurisdiction.
The catechism divides bishopric jurisdiction into three parts. The first two deal with powers given by God, namely, the spiritual keys of Christ where episcopacy may either loosen (e.g., excommunicate) or admit (e.g., lay hands). It’s made quite clear that Kings couldn’t interfere in these two jurisdictions, “we may not think it doth appertain unto the office of kings and princes to preach and teach, to administer the sacraments, to absolve, to excommunicate, and such other things belonging to the office and administration of bishops and priests” (Formularies, p. 121). Yet, the third part deals with matters of ecclesiastical law where the bishopric orders common prayer with an authority older than the King:
“The third point, wherein consisteth the jurisdiction committed unto priests and bishops by the authority of God’s law, is to make and ordain certain rules or canons concerning holy days, fasting days, the manner and ceremonies to be used in the ministration of the sacraments, the manner of singing the psalms and spiritual hymns, the diversity of degrees among the ministers, the form and manner of their ornaments, and finally concerning such other rites, ceremonies, and other observances as do tend and conduce to the preservation of quietness and decent order to be had and used among the people when they shall be assembled together in the temple.” (Formularies, p. 110)
The catechism then explains certain justifications for canons, namely, the for suppressing great trouble and restraining threats to common order often posed by private opinion if not heresy. Thus, order and the proper teaching of doctrine– often called ‘edification’– have a tight and natural relation:
“And forasmuch also as great trouble, unqueitness, and tumult might arise among the multitude so assembled, in cases there were no certain rules, ordinances, and ceremonies prescribed unto them, whereby they should be contained in quietness, and not suffered to do every man after his own fashion or appetite; it belongeth unto the jurisdiction of priests or bishops to make certain rules or canons concenrning all these things, and for the casuse safroresaid.” (p. 110).
We might reference the Ten Articles which began, “being very desirous to eschew not only the dangers of souls, but also the outward inquietness which by occasion of the said diversity in opinions might have perchance ensued” (p. 4). Again, canonical rules were introduced for ‘quietness’.
Although scripture generally informs the whole bishopric, express or necessary command isn’t always ready concerning particulars. Thus, “before princes were christened”, minsters of the church, with the consent of the people, made positive laws and ordinances “upon great and urgent considerations” (p.111-112). The institution of Sundays, Easter-day, Lent, and even certain “painted histories” (icons, images) are examples of such “necessary introduction or learning expedient”. It should be kept in mind the regulation of liturgy is important because prayer itself has a definite teaching function. Thus, canon not only assures a climate of order where teaching can prosper, but by excluding strange rites dangerous or heretical ideas are also avoided. The catechism frequently repeats this reason– i.e., ceremonies and rules secure a necessary order so men can benefit from stable instruction, increasing Christ’s religion. Thus, common order is the natural precondition to true religion, and this should give a lesson to Evangelicals today.
The Rise of Prince-Bishops: Next, the catechism explains the emergence of Papacy from abuses that grew out of early medieval Prince-Bishoprics. The Prince-Bishop was a medieval phenomena which somewhat reversed the relation of sovereign over church. Allegedly, in order to secure a peace for the church, bishops and priests begged Christian princes to ‘interpone their authority’ against men who stirred unnecessary controversy. What followed seems to be a classical description of ‘erastianism’ by the catechism. The church is described as only having spiritual authority, namely, condemning error and rebuking sin. It does not have a right commanded by the gospel to execute corporal punishment. The plea by antique presbyters to civil authority most likely alludes to Constantine’s Nicene orthodoxy.
“Insofar that kings and princes, after they had once received the faith of Christ, and were baptized, considering the same to tend to the furtherance of Christ’s religion, did not only approve the said canons, then made by the church, but did also enact and make their own, concerning good order of the church, and furthermore did also constrain their subjects, by corporal pain and punishment, to observe the same.” (p. 113)
The history of Kingly intervention thus occurs at a time of necessity when crisis, such as Arianism, griped the church and the added civil authority restored order. This is perfectly fine as long as limits of adiaphora are recognized and the king doesn’t invade the vicarage of justification, meaning, he doesn’t wield the keys, but limits himself to externals. However, as the system developed, responsibilities between the spiritual and earthly kingdoms not only meshed but their rationale was sorely confused. As Christened kings properly punished wickedness (e.g., Rom. 13), they eventually delegated back to Bishops not only portions of their assumed canonical duties but also wider areas of secular administration to favored ministers of the church:
“For it is out of all doubt that the priests and bishops enver had any authority by the gospel to pushin any man by corporal violence; and theefore they wer often times moved of necessity to require Christian princes to interponse their authoirty, and by the same to constrain tand reduce inobedient perisons unto the obedience and good order of the church: which the Christian princes, as God’s ministers in that part, and for thezewal they ahd to the establishing of Christ’s religion, not only did gladly execute, but did also give unto priest and bishops further power and jurisdiction in certain other emporal and civl matters, like as by the laws, statutes, immunities, privleges, and grants of princes made in that behalf, and by the uses also and customs of sundry realms and regions, it doth mainfstly appear.” p.113-114
Civil powers historically given to the church weren’t normally extravagant. Usually they involved rather mundane secular functions like collecting rents, leveling taxes, or materially provisioning food and work to the poor. But occasionally the Prince legislated “fighting bishops” who administered civil courts, set fines, punished and jailed criminals, and even supplied troops if not fielded private armies . An example of an English “fighting bishop” was Durham.
Durham, as part of the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, survived the Norman conquest by agreeing to defend England from hostile Scots. William I created Durham’s office of earl-bishopric for William Walcher, and this ultimately awarded Northumbria relative autonomy of the basis of military defense. On the continent a number of arch-bishoprics existed as Prince-Electors within the Holy Roman Empire. The Archbishop of Cologne, Franz von Waldeck, was one such “fighting bishop”, renowned in his time for the ready suppression of Munster’s anabaptist uprising in 1535, thereby enforcing the Edict of Worms.
Despite the often provocative history of Europe’s medieval prince-bishops, Henry’s catechism is careful not to credit episcopal temporal powers as inherent to the priesthood but incidental and contingent upon the prerogative of the Sovereign. This would be the classical Anglican “right use” argument. The catechism is careful to explain the limit of secular power delegated to bishops while those powers belonging properly to the office of a Prince are ultimately reserved and unalienable from Ceasar. Therefore, such is subject to recall from the Bishop at any time upon King’s discretion,
“And therefore it was and shall be always lawful unto the said kings and princes, and their successors, with the consent of their parliaments to revoke and call again into their own hands, or otherwise to restrain all the power and jurisdiction which was given and assigned unto priest and bishops by the licence, consent, and authority of the said kings and princes, and not by the authority of God and his gospel, whensoever they shall have such grounds and causes so to do, as shall be necessary, wholesome, and expedient for the weal of their realms” (p.114).
Of course the above is also a sly theological defense of Henry VIII’s 1541-47 dissolution of monastic benefices. Contrary to Roman propaganda, Henry’s revocation of church temporalities did not pillage the Italian See but returned the very land and wealth that had always belonged to the English Crown. When the Papacy claimed it’s land stolen, this was under the assumption the Pope, by reason of Christ, owned every principality and government upon earth. Instead, the bishop of Rome had impugned England’s sovereignty, and what power the Italian bishop did possess was by human convention, namely, the ancient councils, not the gospel. The Papacy as a divine institution is thus refuted. The catechism sketches this same history,
“As for the bishop of Rome, it was many hundred years after Christ before he could acquire or get any primacy or governance above any other bishops, out of his province in Italy. Sith the which time he hath ever usurped more and more. And though some part of his power was given unto him by the consent of the emperors, kings, adn princes, and by the consent of the clergy in general councils assembled; yet surely he attained the most part thereof by marvelous subtlety and craft, and specially by colluding with great kings and princes; sometime training them into his devotion by pretense and colour of holiness and sanctimony, and sometime constraining them by force and tyranny: whereby the said bishops of Rome aspired and arose at length unto such greatness in strength and authority, that they presumed and took upon them to be heads, and to put laws by their own authority, not only unto all other bishps within Christendom, but also unto the emperors, kings, and other the princes and lords of the world, and that under the repentance of the authority committed unto them by the gospel” (p. 117)
The Christian Institution of Man ends this section “of Orders” clearing the essential difference of ecclesiastical to civil authority. Typically, Anglican thought corrects Romish claims not by denying all points but returning primitive balance to catholic doctrine. The catechism’s follow this methodology, claiming civil and ecclesiastical powers may indeed cooperate and share external functions, but this is predicated upon a correct understanding of power, and what belongs to positive law vs. what is commanded by Christ. The chapter on Sacrament of Orders applies the usual Anglican answer to adiaphora, granting the King final say in matters indifferent. If the office of Prince-Bishop is to continue, this is ultimately a consideration of the King himself not a required mark of the Episcopate. In this case, the Crown provides the authority for the bishop– be it through the issuance of canon or– less commonly– public statutes. Therefore, the cooperation of temporal and spiritual is not abhorred by any means but contained and managed by distinguishing between God’s command and man’s convenience:
“And for the better confirmation of this part, we think it also convenient, that all bishops and preachers shall instruct and teach the people committed unto their spiritual charge, that Christ did by express words prohibit that none of his apostles, or any of their successors, should, under the pretence of the authority given unto them by Christ, take upon them the authority of the sword; that is to say, the authority of kings, or of any other civil power in this world; yea or any authority to make laws or ordinances, in causes appertaining unto civil powers. Truth it is, that priests and bishops may execute all such temporal power and jurisdiction as is committed unto them by the ordinance and authority of kings, or other civil powers, and by the consent of the people, (as officers and ministers under the said kings and powers,) so long as it shall please the said kings and people to permit and suffer them so to use and execute the same. Notwithstanding, if any bishop, of what estate or dignity soever he be, be he bishop of Rome, or of any other city, province, or diocese, do presume, or take upon him authority or jurisdiction, in causes or matters which appertain unto kings and the civil powers, and their courts, and will maintain or think that he may so do by the authority of Christ and his gospel, although the kings and princes would not permit and suffer him so to do; no doubt that bishop is not worthy to be called a bishop, but rather a tyrant, and an usurper of other men’s rights, contrary to the laws of God, and is worthy to be reputed one otherwise than he that goeth about to subvert the kingdom of Christ. For the kingdom of Christ in his church is a spiritual, and not a carnal kingdom of the world; that is to say, the very kingdom that Christ, by himself for by his apostles and disciples, sought here in this world, was to bring all nations from the carnal kingdom of the prince of darkness unto the light of his spiritual kingdom; and so to reign himself in the hearts of people by grace, faith, hope, and charity.” (p. 119-120).
Some Thoughts: There may be future benefit in developing a political theory of prince-bishops vis-a-vis today’s pagan culture and ubiquitous sectarianism. But note, sovereignty comes by divine right, and where lesser magistrates– described earlier in the catechism also as “founders and patrons, or others persons, according to the laws and ordinances of men provided for the same” (p. 109) [or, as the prayer book says, “thy servants the President of the United States, the Governor of this State, and all others in authority”]– have authority it is derivative of the King’s prior jurisdiction. In the case of the American revolution, the King never explicitly abducted his States until the Treaty of Paris which wasn’t fulfilled until the peace of 1814. Meantime, the crown had deferred sovereignty to loyalists in the Northwest territory and Indian lands. This is an interesting period of U.S. history. Today we might know the U.S. constitution certainly bans inherited title– and therefore a civil nobility. But the first amendment also inadvertently gives shelter to noble title for those churches where a continued succession of Bishops exist. It may very well happen a “reduced” prince-bishopric (meaning one that acts in lesser civil functions such as welfare) is not beyond the scope of the U.S. constitution, even in today’s rabidly post-christian society?
- Various, Formularies of Faith put forth during the Reign of Henry VIII, Oxford 1825.