- The Zurich Connection and Tudor Political Theology
Glancing at the title of Torrance Kirby's latest academic venture, The Zurich Connection and Tudor Political Theology, one might find oneself recalling the words of Tertullian, 'What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?' but [End Page 355] with a slight modification - 'What has Zurich to do with Buckingham Palace?' Kirby's answer? Everything.
The principle aim of this volume, as Kirby makes clear, is to challenge the classic via media interpretation of Anglicanism 'whereby the Reformation in England is understood to be a sort of half-way house between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism.' Kirby maintains that such a view fails to take into consideration the 'Zurich Connection' established by Peter Martyr Vermigli, the exiled Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford and theological confidant of Archbishop Cranmer, and further nurtured by Zwingli's successor and Antistes of Zurich, Heinrich Bullinger. These two Zurich theologians developed strong personal relationships with many of the leading Marian exiles who had fled to Zurich during the reign of Mary Tudor and then returned to Elizabeth's England with an intensified Reformed theology and an ardent desire to reform the church. The stature of these two Zurich theologians is evidenced by the fact that the standard theological texts used at Oxford and Cambridge by the 1570s were Vermigli's Loci Communes and Bullinger's Decades. Indeed, Kirby asserts that Vermigli and Bullinger were 'no less than chief architects of the reformation of the Church of England as it came to be formed in the reign of Edward VI and reached a more settled self-understanding in the statutes of the Elizabethan religious settlement of 1559.' With such a statement, Kirby has thrown down the gauntlet to the via media interpretation.
Kirby concentrates his primary attention on the Zurich influence on the development of ecclesio-political thought in the English church, especially the religious authority and function of the Crown. Each of the five major chapters takes up one of the central themes of Tudor political theology, as addressed by either Vermigli or Bullinger. Each chapter is followed by a sixteenth-century English translation of a relevant text by Vermigli or Bullinger. The first chapter centres on the relationship between magisterial and ministerial functions and the remarkable parallels between Zurich and England. Bullinger's sermon on the 'Office of the Magistrate' from his Decades is the accompanying text. The second chapter considers the theme of the magistrate's proper exercise of ecclesiastical power and is followed by Vermigli's scholium from his commentary on Judges, 'On Civil and Ecclesiastical Power.' The third chapter focuses on the 'Prayer-Book rebellion' against Cranmer's 1549 revision of the Book of Common Prayer. Attached to this chapter is a sermon composed by Vermigli for Cranmer that offered a defence of the government's right to proceed against insurrection. The fourth chapter explores Vermigli's take on the divine authority of rulers. His epistle to Elizabeth on her assumption to the crown accompanies the chapter. The final chapter concentrates on the famous Vestarian controversy in the years immediately following the Elizabethan settlement. Bullinger's letter to [End Page 356] Bishops Horne, Grindal, and Parkhurst is the associated text. The very fact that these texts were translated into English suggests something of their influence. The appendix on the iconography of Vermigli was quite interesting, but I am not sure how it fits in the larger scheme of the book.
Kirby is an excellent writer, and his methodology of an essay accompanied by relevant primary texts is an interesting and indeed refreshing approach. I have long believed that the continental impact on the English Reformation has not received its due. At the very least, more research needs to be undertaken. Kirby is to be congratulated on establishing a much-needed beachhead for a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the continental influence on the Elizabethan settlement. More needs to done, but this is a valuable contribution and good beginning.
Frank A. James III, Department of Christian Thought