Anglican Notables – John Jewel

Anglican Notables – John Jewel

[This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel.  Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, this series will occasionally acknowledge differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and will do so in a spirit of charity and respect.  However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us.]

John Jewel

24 May 1522 (Berrynarbor, Devon) – 23 September 1571 (Monkton Farleigh, Wiltshire)

Bishop of Salisbury 1559-1571

Perhaps the best way to distill Jewel’s contribution to the Anglican tradition is to quote from the entry on him in the online Encylopaedia Britannica: “The works Jewel produced during the 1560s defined and clarified points of difference between the churches of England and Rome, thus strengthening the ability of Anglicanism to survive as a permanent institution.”[1]  His best known work is Apologia ecclesiae Anglicanae (the Apology of the Anglican Church), published in 1562.

Two points from Jewel’s life and works come to mind.  The first is that this was a period of immense religious and political turmoil—or “religio-political” turmoil, one could call it, since church and state were so intertwined that sermons were delivered and theological works published with no little thought to how those in political power would respond.  Given this turmoil, it is no surprise that Jewel is like others among the English Reformers in that his precise theological opinions are sometimes difficult to pin down, and his views seem to shift.  It is for this reason, among others, that Jewel’s contribution to Anglican ecclesiology seems more important as a kind of brave heuristic effort than as an enduringly solid foundation on which to build uniformity—if uniformity was even his aim.  Indeed, he is one of the voices of the so-called Elizabethan Settlement, which established some accommodations for both Catholic and Protestant leanings.  The Elizabethan Settlement did not allay controversy or prevent persecution.  But from a Catholic perspective, the Elizabethan Settlement provided a basis for Anglicanism’s High Church wing (as it was later known) to exist and develop.

An example of Jewel’s shifting perspective is in the fact that his view of the Puritans in England changed from favor to disfavor.  These opinions were not stated clearly enough and Jewel’s influence was not strong enough for him to prevent the religio-political conflicts that resulted in England’s Civil War and Cromwell’s Commonwealth.  Nor did his increasing wariness about Puritanism mean an increasing rapprochement with Rome.  But at a minimum we can say that as one of the major architects of England’s established church, Jewel knew the ecclesiastical structure’s foundation had to have some spots that were less than adamantine.

The second observation concerning Jewel’s contribution to Anglicanism is that he was one of the voices in the Tudor era who appealed to the Church Fathers as authorities in support of England’s religious identity.  As I have noted elsewhere, this appeal to patristic writings distinguished the English Reformers from the Reformation movements on the continent.  It bears repeating that the Anglican theologians of this period were more selective in drawing from patristic writings than was apparent to many of their readers and listeners.  But such was the respect for the Church Fathers in a general sense that—in theory, at least—the entire patristic library was available to Anglicans.  This too provided the basis for later theological development among Anglicans of High Church beliefs and sensibilities.

Brother John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.


[1] https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Jewel, accessed 20 September 2020.

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