He’s not in our calendar of commemorations but today is the death date of Bishop John Jewel, who was one of the great defenders of the Church of England during the Reformation. You can read about him on Wikipedia if you like, or this article I wrote inspired by his works last year, or better yet you can read his Apology or Defense of the Church of England, but what I’d like to put down here today is a general introduction to this man.

He was born in 1522; so the early stages of the English Reformation took place during his young adulthood, and was studying and teaching at Oxford throughout the 1540’s. His ministry as a vicar began in 1552, the year the second Prayer Book was published, and he survived the Marian persecution by fleeing to Frankfurt, Strausbourg, and Zurich. Like many of the Marian exiles, he returned when Queen Elizabeth took the throne, and by 1559 he was an official voice for the Church of England in the ongoing disputes with the Romanists. He had already opposed John Knox (the Scottish Presbyterian reformer), and so Jewel became a quintessential representative of the Elizabethan Settlement, standing between the Romanists at one extreme and the Puritans on the other. Some may retroactively called this the via media, but as you explore the polemics of Jewel and others, you’ll find that they were not seeking a middle ground to negotiate between extremes, but The Catholic Faith, to the opposition of heretics on either side.

His most famous and enduring work from these efforts is “An APOLOGY, or ANSWER in defence of the Church of England.” There he set out in passionate-but-sane detail the substance of the Catholic Faith, how the Church of England receives and proclaims it, and how the Romanists do not. Six sections to this work can be traced:

  1. Of true religion
  2. Doctrine received in the church
  3. Source and origin of heresies
  4. Popes claiming headship of church
  5. Church fathers & councils
  6. Of great councils, abused by papists

His sections on true religion and doctrine are informative for any Christian desiring to read a summary of the faith. His sections dealing with the Papacy and the Early Church are informative for any Protestant considering becoming Roman Catholic. Some of the issues he outlines are dated, but many of them remain relevant to this day. He makes the argument (contrary to how we normally use the word today) that the Roman Church is NOT CATHOLIC, and that to be truly Catholic is to be Reformed. Now, this doesn’t mean ‘Reformed’ in the Calvinist sense, but in the general sense of magisterial Protestantism, of which Calvinism is but one offshoot.

Reading this sort of thing could give the worshiper an extra kick of certainty and assertiveness when reciting the creeds – “we believe in the holy Catholic Church”! His legacy reminds us of our catholicity, neither fretting about the Roman deviancy from catholicism, nor being so lenient toward the radical reformers so as to stretch the term “catholic” to include virtually anything. Ours is a distinct heritage, firmly grounded in the Scriptures and the historic Church. We cannot allow Rome to steal the word “catholic” from us as if it rightly theirs, and we cannot allow the radical Protestants to expunge the word “catholic” from our vocabulary as if it is evil.

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