Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bullinger and the Vestarian Controversy

Following the enactment of the Elizabethan Settlement on 1559 there was the real threat of schism because of the differing views concerning uniformity of church ornaments and ecclesiastical dress.

In 1559 An Act for the Uniformity of Common Prayer and Service in the Church and Administration of the Sacraments was passed. The first effect of this statute was to repeal the Act of Mary as and from 24 June 1559, and to restore the Book of Common Prayer from that date. The Second Prayer Book (1552) of Edward VI with certain additions and alterations was thenceforth to be used. There were severe penalties for detractors.
Sampson, Jewel and others sought Vermigli’s advice (he was then on the continent). They, and others, termed the vestments “the relics of the Amorites”.
Sampson wrote a letter to Bullinger dated 16 February 1566 (Zurich Letters I, pp153-155) in which twelve key questions were posed. Bullinger’s reply was addressed to Laurence Humphrey and Thomas Sampson and dated 1 May 1566. A full discussion of this letter is found in Walter Phillips, “Henry Bullinger and the Elizabethan Vestarian Controversy: An Analysis of Influence”, Journal of Religious History 2 (1981), pp363-384.

Basically, Bulinger’s view was that the clerical dress was acceptable “for the sake of decency, and comeliness of appearance, or dignity or order”, that they are allowable as “a matter of indifference and civil order”. Furthermore, he quotes Vermigli in support of such clerical dress being “agreeable to the light of nature”.
Bullinger was no supporter of popish ceremony and any “relics of the Amorites”. However, the necessary requirement of preaching the gospel takes unconditional priority over the retention or abolition of things “of themselves” indifferent. For Bullinger separation would have been a greater injury than the burden of conformity.
Bullinger sent copies of the letter to former Marian exiles who had been in Zurich and had since become bishops. Grindal published the letter in both Latin and English for the benefit of the clergy as whole.

Grindal then wrote to Bullinger: “Some of the clergy influenced by your judgment and authority, have relinquished their former intention of deserting their ministry. And may also fo the laity have begun to entertain milder sentiments, now that they have understood that our ceremonies were by no means considered by you as unlawful, though you do not yourselves adopt them; but of this, before the publication of your letter, no one could have persuaded them. There are nevertheless some, among whom are masters Humphrey and Sampson, and others, who still continue in their former opinion. Nothing would be easier to reconcile them to the Queen, if they would but be bought to change their mind; but until they do this, we are unable to effect any thing with Her Majesty, irritated as she is by the controversy.”

(summarized from Torrance Kirby’s ‘The Zurich Connection and Tudor Political Theology’)

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