Defending the Faith Conference, Salisbury, 16-17 September 2014

This conference was held to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the publication of John Jewel’s An apologie or answere in defence of the Churche of Englande, an English translation of Jewel’s Apologia ecclesiae anglicanae of 1562. The Apology was the first major defence of the Elizabethan settlement of religion and the Protestant Church of England, and became a standard text used by Protestants against Roman Catholics until the civil wars in the mid seventeenth century.

John JewelJohn Jewel (1522-71), an Oxford scholar, had enthusiastically supported Protestantism during the reign of Edward VI and had fled abroad to the Protestant havens of Strasbourg and then Zürich when Mary re-imposed Catholicism on England, returning home in 1559 after the accession of the Protestant Elizabeth.

Anon., Bishop John Jewel, Wikimedia Commons


In the autumn of 1559 Jewel issued his famous ‘challenge sermon’, provocatively calling on the Roman Catholics to bring forward evidence out of Scripture, the primitive church, or the church fathers before 600 AD in support of various Roman doctrines, particularly the theology of the eucharist. Jewel had chosen his ground very carefully to show both divisions within the Roman church and the lack of early support for its teachings. The ensuing debate grew into the ‘great controversy’ of the 1560s, spawning around 50 books in which both the Church of England and the Roman Catholics were forced not only to defend but also to define their positions. Although the controversy made two churches methodically set out their rival claims over thousands of pages, it was also conducted within narrow confines. Most of the contributors on both sides were former Oxford academics who knew one another; most of the Roman apologists were English recusants who had fled to Louvain (then in the Spanish Netherlands); both Jewel and his chief opponent, Thomas Harding, were born in Devon, attended Barnstaple Grammar School, went to Oxford University, and were for a time senior clergymen associated with Salisbury Cathedral.

Queen Elizabeth appointed Jewel as bishop of Salisbury in 1559, and his defence of the Protestant church made him both the champion of, and the most famous bishop in, the Church of England. His Apology was regularly placed in parish churches for the laity to read.

The conference explored several aspects of Jewel’s writings, including the internal workings of the genres of challenge sermons and religious polemic, and points of controversy between Protestants and Roman Catholics about the excommunication by the pope of princes, and the validity of monasticism. My own paper, ‘Defending England’s Cathedral’s, looked at the arguments used by some English Protestants to defend the place of cathedrals in the English church, in response to bitter Puritan attacks on cathedrals as ‘popish’ institutions filled with lazy, greedy and immoral clergy, ‘Dennes of Lazie Loytering Lubberds, the verie harboroures of all disceitfull and Tymeserving hippocrites’. The paper explored reasons for why, in the face of such an onslaught, cathedrals remained a feature of the English church while other Protestant churches (such as the Scottish Kirk) abolished them. It was fitting, therefore, that the conference was held in the Close at Salisbury where Jewel, as bishop of Salisbury, had lived, overlooking the cathedral where Jewel had preached and where he was buried. The conference included a tour of the former bishop’s palace in Salisbury (now Salisbury Cathedral School) and the option of attending Evensong in the Cathedral, including an anthem by Jewel’s contemporary William Byrd

Papers at the conference also explored various legacies, reputations and images, including the Protestant view of Pope Gregory VII as the archetypal tyrannical and sexually immoral pontiff, and the ways in which Jewel’s role as defender of the church was assumed a generation after his death by Richard Hooker. Nonetheless, Jewel was not forgotten, and one paper explored how, in the mid twentieth century, he was adopted by an Oxford undergraduate society designed to preserve and promote the Reformed heritage of the Anglican Church – the Bishop Jewel Society.