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 Issues | Church History | John Jewell


John Jewel by G.W. Bromiley

The Importance of Jewell

We have surveyed the life and character of Jewell and outlined his most famous work. The time has now come to attempt some estimation of his influence and importance. We may notice first the importance of Jewell for his own time. We can then go beyond to see whether his life and work have not a wider importance for the Church of England as a whole.

The importance of Jewell for his own time is obvious enough. Jewell helped to re-establish Protestantism and to shape the Reformation Settlement, both in theory and in practice, at a time when the Marian reaction and its failure had left theological and ecclesiastical life in England in a state of confusion and even chaos. Against Romanists he maintained the essential principles of Reform. Against the extremists who had imbibed more radical notions, he loyally maintained the Edwardian policy: a thorough-going reformation in doctrine, a minimum of change in liturgical and ecclesiastical structure. Jewell was the scholar who could answer the charges of Rome, and he was also the pastor who could translate the Settlement into terms of diocesan and parochial life.

Jewell was not perhaps the outstanding character of his day either in thought or in action, but it would still be true to say that apart from his immediate importance he has in many respects an importance for the Church of England even at the present time. In a lesser but by no means negligible sphere, he sets an example of the English diocesan bishop at his best: a scholar, conscientious in the discharge of his pastoral duties, playing his part worthily in the wider councils of the Church, not pre-occupied, however, with matters of policy and organization. The English Church has produced many such characters, but the diocesan bishop today who aims to be worthy of his high calling could do worse than study again the conduct and the work of this Elizabethan Bishop of Salisbury.

In the sphere of scholarship Jewell excelled, not as the original thinker but as the pure scholar. Here too the modern Anglican has much to learn from Jewell, who showed once and for all that the Church of England must take its side with the Reformed churches in withdrawal from Rome, and that so long as Rome refuses to reform itself by the Scriptures, such withdrawal is justified. The cry for reunion so often sounded in our own day is a dangerous cry if it is uttered at the expense of the fundamentally Protestant character of the Church of England in doctrine and practice. Jewell teaches us that the separation from Rome is still a justifiable separation, and that there can be no unity with a church which remains so flagrantly non-scriptural, non-apostolic, and non-catholic.

But Jewell had a wider importance than that. He not only marked off the Anglican as a Reformed church ; in the tradition of Cranmer he also taught Anglican theologians to seek their authority in the early Fathers and Councils as well as in Scripture. The Reformers abroad had been willing to appeal to the Fathers, to Augustine, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Bernard, but not perhaps so freely and wholeheartedly as did the Anglicans. In his appeal to patristic authority Jewell permanently influenced the course of theology in England. His pupil Hooker carried the appeal a stage further. The Carolines went a stage further still. In our own time the appeal to the early Fathers is still made, and the Church of England has produced a notable line of patristic scholars.

It ought to be noticed that the appeal of Jewell has often been misunderstood. That is why many positions have been advocated on the grounds of patristic authority which are at variance with the principles of Reformed theology. It may be that Jewell has still something to teach us in this respect. Jewell did not appeal to the Fathers as to a source of author- ity additional to that which we have in Scripture. His appeal was historical, having this aim, to show that the present Roman Church is not historically the church of the early centuries either in practice or in doctrine. Jewell granted that in its earlier period the Church was purer, and that it ought to be studied for that reason. He did not urge, however, that Scripture must be accepted as interpreted by the Fathers. He did not wish to argue that the early Church was infallible either in Scripture-interpretation or in conduct. The Church in all ages remained under the final judgment of Scripture.

One of the great needs in the Church of England at the present time is that those who follow in the Reformed tradition should take up again the work which Jewell so nobly began. The essentially Reformed nature of Anglican doctrine needs to be asserted plainly against enemies without and within. Jewell had no thought of the Church of England as a bridge - church between the Romanist and the Reformed groups. Historical circumstance have perhaps made that position appear possible, but doctrinally it is impossible. The Anglican Church of Jewell was thoroughly Protestant, and thoroughly anti-Roman. A further great need is that Anglican scholars on the Evangelical and Protestant side should devote themselves more thoroughly to the Fathers as Jewell did. They will find many loose and incautious expressions in the Fathers. They will see the beginnings of doctrines which later were to develop into erroneous interpretations. But they will see also that in the early Fathers there is both the complete confutation of the medieval corruptions which still afflict the Church of Rome, and also a general confirmation of the Evangelical understanding of the Scriptures.

In past centuries the successors of Jewell have used their patristic studies to pervert or to weaken the Reformed doctrines of Anglicanism. The fact remains, however, that in the tradition of Jewell, Reformed Anglicanism has still a distinctive service to render to the Protestant cause as a whole: to show the catholicity as well as the scripturalness of Reformed teaching and practice in opposition to the corruptions and errors of Romanism. The fulfilment of that service would be of far greater value to the cause of Christian truth and scholarship than flirtation with Scholasticism, or the attempt to create a "catholic " theology apart from the scriptural norm. The challenge of Jewell's beginning rings across the centuries to the Evangelical and Protestant scholar of today.

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Related Links
John Jewell

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