06 June 2018

Convivium 2018 Part 2: Defining Catholic (1)

If Brad Littlejohn is right (see my summary of his paper here) and Reformed catholicity is "some combination of ... orthodoxy plus orthopraxis--applied with a charitable bent," we are still left with the question of defining the perimeter of orthodoxy. In other words, what is the "catholic faith" that measure the bounds of Reformed Catholicity?

Three papers addressed some aspect of this question. First was Andre Gazal's Reforming Catholicity in Tudor England: John Jewel's Doctrine of the Universal Church. To an extent hard to appreciate today, maintaining England's identity as a "catholic nation" was a matter of national security in the 16th century. Without a credible claim to catholicity on the part of the Church of England (credible at least to a substantial majority of the subjects of Queen Elizabeth I), the stability of the Tudor monarch and the viability of the reformation of England's church would have been exposed to even graver danger than already was the case. If enough folks believed England's church and queen were outside the catholic fold, they might be persuaded to take action to remedy matters in the way the Pope and Philip II hoped.

Enter John Jewel (1522-1571), bishop of Salisbury whose works Gazal ably summarizes to the effect that catholicity was reconfigured from communion with the bishop of Rome to a worked-out version of the Vincentian Canon (catholic belief is that which has been believed "everywhere, always, and by all"). Elaborating on what Vincent of Lerins had written, Jewel first identified four criteria for orthodoxy: Scripture, the first four ecoumenical councils, the writings of the church fathers, and the example of the primitive (i.e., first 600 years) of the church. The reformed Church of England, Jewel concluded, easily satisfied these criteria of orthodoxy (while the Church of Rome did not). The CoE thus remained catholic and the duties of the subjects of England's catholic queen remained unimpaired.

Gazal goes on to develop Jewel's defense of the episcopal government of the Church of England and its concomitant rejection of assertions of papal monarchianism as well as Jewel's revision of late-medieval conciliarism with an eye to undercutting the authority of the Council of Trent. I won't summarize these parts of his paper or the conclusions Gazal draws from them but I can say I found all of them persuasive.

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