Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bullinger and Henry VIII

The following extended quote from Pamela Biel's book Doorkeepers at the House of Righteousness: Heinrich Bullinger and the Zurich Clergy 1535-1575 gives us an insight to Bullinger’s understanding of church and state.

“Once one considers the general situation of the English church and state in the 1530’s, some of Bullinger’s assertions of the absolute power of the king’s judgment and control over his church become more comprehensible. Bullinger sought to justify the break the English church had just made from Rome while he also hoped to preserve the Episcopal structure intact. He realized that to accomplish these ends, while at the same time perhaps achieving some sort of reconciliation, perhaps via Bucer, of the English church with the Lutherans, he needed to keep Henry as free as possible from both Catholic and incipient Puritan advisors. Thus Bullinger makes a strong case for the potestatis jurdictionis of the king. Henry has the ultimate power and responsibility for the fate of the church in his land. The potential for positive change in England dictates Bulinger’s position.

Bullinger did not, however, believe that the king ought to be left entirely to his own devices when it came to matters of religion. Most of Concerning Sacred Scripture argued from the priority of the Bible in all matters of religion and specifically for the position the ministers as interpreters of Scripture. In the peroration to the king (ie his 1538 work Concerning Sacred Scripture )Bullinger returned to some of the themes that he brought up in the dedication, but now with a slightly different emphasis. Bullinger asserted that although the monarch certainly has the ultimate responsibility for the state of the church in his or her land, the bishops carry some of this weight by virtue of their advisory capacity. The bishops help the king to understand what exactly God wants from him.

Bullinger opened the peroration with the negative assertion that, whatever the abilities of the bishop, even the bishop of Rome, he has no right to reform or attempt to reform the church. Not only does such an attempt appear to be a practical impossibility, but is also a practical impossibility, but it is also out of the realm of the bishop’s duty. ‘For it is not, your serene highness,’ Bullinger argued, ‘that you actually hope fro anything from the Pope, it is rather that the council (of Trent) has sworn truly to attempt a just reformation of the church and the ministry.’ In point of fact, popes and councils have always been at their most dangerous when they have tried to usurp this or any other power which rightly belongs to the ruler.

Henry, moreover, had a wealth of advisers to help him in his difficult job as defender of the faith since ‘today is ENGLAND, your kingdom, there flourishes an abundance of doctors, wise, and pious men.’ God sent such to the monarch fro good and useful purposes:

‘By these advisers, most Christian prince, the common things of religion ought to be regulated. They ought not be judged by any others.’

Thus God did not foist the job of defender of the faith on a helpless monarch, rather God gave the leader adequate advisers fro the task. The bishops, then, are the opening through which Henry’s understanding of Scripture may pass. Like the ancient Levites, the bishops are the ultimate keepers of the sacred things of God.

Bullinger’s tactic was both skillful and persuasive. His dedication placed the responsibility for the faith of Henry’s subjects squarely on the back of the monarch while at the same time it justified the king’s decision to break with Rome. The peroration, with which he closed the booklet, stressed the importance of the king’s seeking and following the expert advice offered by the bishops if he was to decide rightly fro the church in his land.” (pp35-37)

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