- Defending Royal Supremacy and Discerning God's Will in Tudor England
Daniel Eppley offers an in-depth examination of the various defenses for royal supremacy in Tudor England in light of the overwhelming drive to establish not only orthodoxy, but also order, unity, and accord among English Christians. His book focuses on two "ideologists" (2): Christopher St. German, a legal writer and barrister of the Middle Temple writing in the 1530s, and Richard Hooker, a theologian of the Elizabethan period who wrote Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.
The threads that run throughout Eppley's discussion question the justification for legitimate disobedience to worldly authorities, when an individual Christian's prior obedience is to God; the locus of hermeneutical authority; and the nature of orthodoxy and orthopraxis. With the Henrician supremacy, apologists and propagandists had to convince the public that the newly established religious order was "righteous" (15) and that the king himself was truly concerned with the eternal fate of the English Christians' souls.
Eppley begins his discussion of the Henrician supremacy with a look at the polemical writings of William Tyndale, Stephen Gardiner, and Thomas Starkey. Eppley asserts that while Tyndale advocated obedience to the crown, his continual urging for Christians to read the scriptures in English revealed his own disobedience to civil authority over matters of faith. For Tyndale, the way to right belief and holy living was through the individual's reading of scripture and discerning God's will, not through Parliamentary legislation.
In his polemical writings, such as De vera obedientia oratio, Gardiner made a distinction between the concept of acting in obedience and acting by faith alone. According to Eppley, Gardiner concludes that the authority to discern God's will was outside of the royal office. For Starkey, whose writings appeared after those of St. German, the final word on orthodoxy had been determined at the council of Nicaea; all other concerns were things indifferent.
After introducing some of the major concerns about supremacy and the authority to define doctrine that were being expressed in the 1520s and 1530s, Eppley turns to examine the writings of St. German, whose most famous work, Doctor and Student, became a popular law-student text on English common law and on equity. Eppley also looks at St. German's shorter polemics, which have only recently been definitely been attributed to the author, and illustrates St. German's ideas about conscience: what conscience should be bound to, and how it should be bound.
Eppley then moves to a consideration of the Elizabethan supremacy and the Admonition Controversy and the Presbyterian movement of the 1570s and 1580s. He begins this section with a look at John Whitgift, who believed that the individual Christian should obey church authorities and godly magistrates in particular, and at Thomas Cartwright, who looked to reason as the standard for ordering things indifferent. But, as Eppley observes, looking to reason suggested [End Page 1363] that obedience should be determined by the subjective insight of the individual, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This subjectivity, says Eppley, could easily lead to calls for radical changes in church polity, discord, disobedience, and uprisings.
Richard Hooker wrote Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity to defend the church against the Puritans who were insisted on further reform of church governance. In looking at the parts of Hooker's work that were published during Elizabeth's reign, Eppley continues to push the question of who has authority to define doctrine (the crown in Parliament? the crown with Convocation?). Eppley analyzes Hooker's assertion that English Christians should subordinate their readings of scripture to the interpretations of the church speaking through the crown in Parliament—the via media that Hooker called for in response to the Act of Uniformity.
By including St. German's major work in his discussion, Eppley brings the legal discourse of the sixteenth century and the secularization of law during that time into the debate over...