A Summer 2003 NEH Institute.
Directed by David Cressy
and Lori Anne Ferrell.


 Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677).
Chori Ecclesiae Cathodralis S. Pauli, 1658

• Good and Bad Clergy

    Good and Bad Clergy

From the earliest efforts at Reformation of the Church of England (first under Henry VIII, then under his children-Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I), the English were preoccupied with distinctions between good and wicked clergy.

The first emblem in Thomas Stirry's A Rot Amongst the Bishops, published in 1641, nearly a century after those early reforming efforts, shows how persistently that preoccupation remained in English minds. Stirry's emblem attacks the wickedness of four prominent and powerful churchmen: Archbishop William Laud, then head of the Church of England, is first, followed by Sir John Lambe, Bishop Matthew Wren, and Sir Arthur Duck. Stirry's book portrays them as falling from power in yet another effort to reform the Church of England. In the emblem, these wicked men are riding in a ship, named "High Commission," piloted by a devil, and sailing right over "The Church & Commonwealth of England" straight for Hell. Lambe and Duck were civil lawyers active in that Court of High Commission; it had been created to enforce uniformity in the worship service of every parish in England, and hence the duties of every pastor, according to Archbishop Laud's views of how the worship service should be conducted, views which some Englishmen, Stirry included, considered wicked. In the next emblem, the ship has almost totally sunk.

In what follows, you will be able to read documents, printed at various times over the seventeenth century, which set out the primary duties of pastors-to preach and to administer the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. You will learn what the sacrament of the Eucharist was thought to be and then the importance of fervid preaching. This will lead to two fictional pieces. The first is part of a polemical dialogue between a zealous (or overly zealous) Puritan and a person whose pastor the Puritan condemns for not preaching properly. The second is a poem by George Herbert about preaching with at least two possible readings of the poem, once it is considered in the context of this sample of writing about the clergy.

In addition, some of the images will allow you to see the appearance and type-faces of books printed 400 years ago-books which look very much like the printed plays of Shakespeare.

Thomas Stirry, who was celebrating the fall of Laud and his crew satirically, also provided a verse commentary on this image linking these men to Satan.

The Infernall Tempter, when he first begun
To trade for soules, no labour did he shun;
He would not stay (for hast) to take advise,
But trots on foot as farre as Paradise,
Where he not ceast to use (be't good or bad)
Such Retorick the Land of Darknesse had:
And all to gaine that pure immortall breath,
Blown from the spring of life, then free from death;
And having got but one poore soule in store,
Forthwith to it he addeth many more.

But now who lives, and doth not plainly see
That under Heavens Star-spangled Canopie,
Ther's scarce a place, or Countery to be found,
Wherein this Hell-born crew doth not abound;
Deceiving soules and griping in their hands
The wealth and riches of the fruitfull Lands,
Witnesse this Iland, which not long agoe,
Was in subjection to this Hell-born foe:
For who can say he did not see, or heare,
What sway the Lordly Prelates [often used as an abusive term for bishops] late did beare?
None scarce durst preach without these Lords admission,
But streight were hoist aboard their High Commission,
Which in full Sayle here fixt before thine eyes,
Adumbrate plaine, that wicked Hierarchie;
'Tis now in pomp, and makes a glorious sight,
Though now 'tis faire, it may be foule ere night.
Now Winds obey, and send a Soveraigne gale,
Which makes these Sea-Men thus hoyst up their Sayle,
And o're blest Albions Church and State to ride,
Discharging Canons [a rule, law, or decree of the church, with a pun] in their furious pride;
Whence flew the Oath, Et Cetera [an oath pledging never to consent "to alter the government of this Church by archbishops, deans, and archdeacons,
       &c." Many found the "etc." far too broad for comfort.]; after came
A good strong Halter to conclude the game;
The Duck takes wing, and to the Topsayle flyes,
And on a Flag a Processe [a writ or summons for a person to be brought into court and tried] neatly tyes;
The Sayles have got a Licence, to proclaime,
No preaching 'thout a Licence in their name;
Their Colours are displaid, that all may see,
How in this Ship the Devill and they agree.
Hell's mouth wide open, sure it is to show,
Both Ship and Saylers with the Devill must goe. . . .

But he that sits in heaven did them deride,
He turned the streame in height of all their pride:
For turn the leafe, and there in brief I'll show,
What wofull shipwrack now they undergoe.

Partly because of Laud's thorough enforcement policies within the church, partly as a result of King Charles I's insistence on the divine right of kings to rule absolutely, and partly for economic and other reasons, a crisis was created in 1640: a rift opened between King and Parliament, and only two years later civil war broke out. Matters moved with such speed that by 1641, the Church of England had almost completely collapsed; many of the bishops (or "prelates," if one hated episcopacy) had fled or would flee or be imprisoned. Archbishop Laud, Bishop of Canterbury, was imprisoned, and as the war continued, he was executed, in 1645. The "Terrible Tempest" in his "See" had begun to engulf him, the pamphlet enthused, with a pun on a term for the authority or jurisdiction of a bishop.

The cartoon echoes back to that long-standing Protestant (and also Roman Catholic) suspicion that some pastors might mislead their flock. Rome created the Inquisition to regulate its clergy's teaching, among other things. In England under Elizabeth I, the "Court of High Commission" (Laud's ship in Stirry's emblem) was created in part to detect, reform, and, if necessary, punish pastors thought to be errant. Almost immediately its powers provoked uneasiness that it might function like the Roman Catholic Inquisition, and that uneasiness became increasingly fearful in the 1630s as William Laud was promoted by King Charles I to head the Church of England as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Although many Roman Catholic apologists felt that the Protestant reformers had innovated in matters of religion, Archbishop Laud was also commonly accused of "innovation" by Puritans, as well. One wants to remember that the clergy of the Church of England had, by and large, been firmly Protestant for almost a century by 1641; however, during the 1630s, Laud had proposed changes in the form of worship which severely emphasized both the separateness of the clergy from the laity and the beauty of the liturgy, much as the Roman Catholic Church was thought by Puritans to do. Furthermore, Laud stressed hierarchy in the Church, and with it, the power to punish lesser clergy who did not worship as his regime felt they should.

To be sure, the hierarchic distinction between clergy and laity as well as between bishops and lesser clergy was important from the very beginnings of the Protestant Church of England. That is evident if we turn way back to 1549, and The forme and maner of makyng and consecratyng of Archebishoppes Bishoppes Priestes and Deacons.

"It is evident unto all men, diligently reading holy scripture and ancient authors, that from the Apostles' time there hath been these orders of Ministers in Christ's church: Bishops, and Deacons: which Offices were evermore had in such reverent estimation, that no man by his own private authority might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and known to have such qualities as were requisite for the same; and also, by public prayer, with imposition of hands, approved, and admitted thereto. And therefore, to the intent these orders should be continued, and reverently used, and esteemed, in this Church of England, it is requisite, that no man (not being at this present [time] Bishop, Priest, nor Deacon) shall execute any of them, except he be called, tried, examined, and admitted, according to the form hereafter following. . . . And every man which is to be admitted a Priest, shall be full twenty-four years old."

Reformed churches, including the Church of England, regularly traced their worship and doctrine back to "the Apostles' time," or to "ancient authors," as this tract does; they argued that the Roman Church had deviated from or corrupted the pure practices of the original apostles.

Pastors, in this view, were to experience a calling, were to examine themselves, and were to be examined and ordained by ordained bishops. The Protestant Church of England was part of what is called the "magisterial reformation," which emphasized "knowledge"—that is, an understanding of salvation through Christ and the signs of being one of the elect or a reprobate; the candidate was to know his own heart as well as his theology, and was to be examined by knowledgeable clergy as well.

Finally, in the ceremony of ordination, a bishop touched the candidate (called "imposition of hands") as a sort of hands-on transmission, theoretically over generations, of the powers of the clergy.

The most basic duties of the clergy were outlined in Article Nineteen of the Articles Whereunto it was Agreed by the Archbishoppes and Bishoppes in the yere 1562, an English translation published in 1571 of the international, Latin edition, commonly referred to as The Thirty-Nine Articles:

"The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. . . ."

The "visible" Church of England theoretically included all the citizens of England. Assuming that all citizens were not saved, contemporary writers also posited an "invisible church" consisting only of the redeemed. Pastors were to administer the two sacraments of Baptism and of the Eucharist. Those were the signs of a true church, and those were the basic duties of the pastors.

Click for a Larger View
Administering the sacrament of the Eucharist involved changing the nature of the bread and wine. But, the Protestant church held that the bread and wine did not become the actual body and blood of Christ (the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation). Arthur Hildersham's The Doctrine of communicating worthily in the Lords Supper explained one change through question and answer:

Q. After the bread and wine have been thus consecrated by the minister of Christ, are they not then by vertue of this consecration changed from that which they were before?

A. Yes: but they are changed onely in their use, not in their nature; because here they are not used to that end, that other bread and wine are used for; namely, to the nourishment of the body, but to a holy and spiritual end; but the wine remaineth the very same after the consecration that it was before.

Bread and wine ordinarily nourish just the body, but consecrated bread and wine, although they remain bread and wine, have been changed from a physical to a spiritual use. Something spiritual has been added by the sacrament that the pastor performs.

Preaching the Word was another of the minister's primary duties. A small but telling example of the very great importance of preaching surfaced when William Perkins, probably the greatest and most influential Puritan theologian, re-worked an old pattern of meditation on "Christ Crucified." The aim of this pattern of meditation initially was for the meditator to picture imaginatively and to identify emotionally with all features of his execution—the pains he suffered, the abuse, the wounds, the nails-and thus to get as emotionally close as possible to God's gift of resurrection in the crucifixion. Perkins outlined a more bookish exercise for both pastors and members of the congregation, stressing the Protestant emphasis on lay-reading of the bible. The meditator is counseled "When thou readest" to apply some feature of the crucifixion to him/herself.

"When thou readest that Christ was taken and bound, thinke that thy sinnes brought him into the power of his enemies, and were the very bonds wherewith he was tied: thinke that thou shouldest have beene bound in the very same manner unles he had beene a suretie and pledge for thee: thinke also that thou in the self same manner art bound and tied with the chaines of thine own sinnes, and that by nature thy will, affections, and whole spirit is tied and chained to the will of the devill, so as thou canst doe nothing but that which he willeth: lastly, thinke and beleeve that the bonds of Christ serve to purchase thy libertie from hell, death, and damnation, When thou hearest that he was brought before Annas and Caiaphas, thinke it was meet, that thy suretie and pledge who was to suffer the condemnation due unto thee, should by the high priest as by the mouth of God, be condemned: and wonder at this, that the very coessentiall and eternall sonne of God, even the very soveraigne judge of the world, stands to be judged, and that by wicked men; perswading thy selfe that this so great confusion comes of thy sinnes. Whereupon beeing further amazed at thy fearefull estate, humble thy self in dust and ashes, and pray God so to soften thy stonie heart, that thou maist turne to him, and by true faith lay hold on Christ, who hath thus exceedingly abased himselfe, that his ignominie may be thy glorie, and his arraignment thy perfect absolution."

"Read" or "Hear" and "Think"; that is the basic pattern of Perkins' meditation, appropriate for both laity and pastor. Reading is important, but the laity needs to be taught through sermons, as well.

In another work, The arte of prophecying, Perkins made suggestions for the actual act of preaching. The pastor must manifest "grace" in his life, that is "holinesse of the heart, and an unblamable life": "Which howsoever it makes not a Minister, yet it is very neessarie. 1. Because the doctrine of the word is hard both to understand and to be practised, therefore the Minister ought to expresse that by his example, which hee teacheth, as it were by a type. . . . 2. He that is not godly, howsoever hee may understand the Scriptures, yet doth he not perceive the inward sense and experience of the word in his heart. . . 3. It is a thing execrable in the sight of God, that godly speech should bee conjoyned with an ungodly life. . . . It is a strange sight to see him, that is the guide of the way to others, to wander out of the way himselfe, and to see a Physitian of others to be ful of botches himselfe in the meane while. . . . 4. It is an ecclesiasticall secret: that the Minister ought to cover his infirmities, that they be not seene. For the simple people behold not the ministerie, but the person of the Minister. . . . It is an easie matter to shew wisedome in words; teach me to live by thy life, this is the best teaching. For words make not such an impression in the soule as workes doe. 5. A Minister, that is wicked either openly or secretly, is not worthy to stand before the face of the most holy, and the almightie God."

The pastor should live with "a good conscience. . . . If this be wanting, the mouth of the speaker is shut." Further a preacher must experience "an inward feeling of the doctrine to be delivered. Wood that is capable of fire, doth not burne, unlesse fire be put to it: and he must first be godly affected himselfe, who would stirre up godly affections in other men. Therefore what motions a sermon doth require, such the Preacher shall stirre up privately in his owne minde, that he may kindle up the same in his hearers. And the pastor must have "The fear of God, whereby, beeing throughly strucken with a reverent regard of Gods Majestie, he speaketh soberly and moderately."

Overall, one gets the impression that Perkins felt a successful preacher, one who taught and led his congregation fully, must have more than a good voice and pleasing words. He must feel what he teaches within, and live that feeling with his fellow humans.

But clearly, pastors did not perform those duties in a uniform way. Clerical differences emerge from the very beginning of a fictional argument concerning pastors between two characters, Zelotes and Atheos, who encounter each other while travelling. They were created by George Gifford in A Briefe discourse of certaine points of the religion, which is among the common sort of Christians, which may be termed the Countrie Divinitie. With a manifest confutation of the same, after the order of a Dialogue (1582), as they met traveling:

Zelotes says: Well overtaken my friende.

Atheos says: I thanke you.

Zelotes says: How farre doe youe travell this way?

Atheos says: Twentie myles.

Zelotes says: Doe you dwell in Essex.

Atheos says: Yea, not farr from Chelmsforde.

Zelotes says: What call yee the Towne where you dwell?

Atheos says: G. B. [anonymous town]

Zelotes says: Have yee a preacher there?

Atheos says: Wee have an honest man our Curat.

Zelotes says: Doth he teach his flock?

Atheos says: Hee doth his good will, and more ye cannot require of a man.

Zelotes says: Yee did commende him even now, to be an honest man.

Atheos says: Commende him: yea I maye commende him: I am perswaded wee have the beste Prieste in this Countreye, wee would bee lothe too forgoe him for the Learnedest of them all.

Zelotes says: I praye ye let mee heare what his virtues bee, for which yee doe commend him so highly.

Atheos says: He is as gentle a person as ever I see: a verye good fellowe, hee will not sticke when good Fellowes and honest men meete together too spende his groate at the Alehouse: I cannot tell, they preache and preache, but hee doeth live as well as the best of them all. I am afrayde when he is gone wee shall never have the like againe.

Zelotes says: Bee these the greate vertues whiche yee doe commende him for, hee maye have all these, and yet be more meete for to keepe swine, then too bee a Sheapherde over the flocke of Christe, is hee able to teache the people, and doeth hee instruct them in Gods woord?

Atheos says: I knowe not what teaching yee woulde have, hee doeth reade the service, as well as anye of them all, and I thinke there is as good edifiyng in those prayers and Homilies, as in anye that the Preacher canne make: let us learne those first.

Zelotes says: That is not all which is required of a Minister, for a boye of tenne yeers olde canne doe all this: doeth hee not teache them too knowe the will of GOD and reprove nauughtinesse among the people?

Atheos says: Yes that hee doeth, for if there be anye that doe not agree, hee will seeke for too make them friends: for hee will gette them too playe a game or two at Bowles or Cardes, and too drynke together at the Alehouse: I thynke it a Godlye waye, to make Charitie: hee is none of those busie Controulers: for if hee were, hee could not be so well liked of some (and those not of the meanest) as he is.

The zealous Christian perhaps thinks himself a member of the invisible church or wishes to convert his opponent, styled an atheist, into one of its members. He asks "Doth [Atheos' pastor] teach his flock?" and he repeats "is hee able to teache the people, and doth he instruct them in Gods word?" In his view, a pastor teaches through preaching, and Gifford's Zelotes feels that is essential. Atheos comments that in contrast to his pastor, other pastors "preache and preache"; his reads the official Book of Homilies.

Atheos does not want the "learnedest" pastor; he appreciates one who will "spende his groat at the Alehouse," and who smoothes strife among his parishioners by getting "them to playe a game or two at Bowles or Cards" or having them "drinke together." Games and drink are anathema to the Puritan Zelotes, however. In his view, the man is a bad and misleading pastor.

Atheos' belief that it is "a Godlye waye, to make Charitie," or love, has considerable attraction for most readers, particularly given the Apostle Paul's view that, of the three Christian virtues, Love was greater than faith and hope. Something of that sentiment may color George Herbert's poem "The Windows":

                            The Windows

Lord how can man preach thy eternall word?
              He is a brittle crazie glasse:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
              This glorious and transcendent place
              To be a window, through thy grace.

But when thou does anneal in glasse thy storie,
              Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preachers; then the light and glorie
              More rev'rend grows, & more doth win
              Which else shows watrish, bleak, & thin.

Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
              When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and aw: but speech alone
              Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
              And in the eare, not conscience ring.

"The Windows" occurs in The Temple, a collection of Herbert's poems published after his death in 1633. Like this one, some of his poems depart from, or comment on, architectural features of a standard church of the time—poems with titles like "The Altar," "Church-monuments," "Church-lock and key," and "The Church-floore."

Clearly, the poem is focused on preaching, first by raising the question how a finite human can present the eternal deity in human speech, since humans and human language, like glass, can crack, or break, or have no strength.

There is hope, however, since in church the pastor can become a "window"—letting in light and enlightening the congregation; it is well to remember that churches did not have electric lighting and that many windows in many churches were stained. At times, the poem suggests, the deity can "anneal" (that is, heat the glass to fix the coloring) his "story" (perhaps the story of the gospels or, as Perkins suggests, the crucifixion) so that it shines within "the holy Preachers." When that happens, perhaps this glowing "more doth win" than at other times, perhaps in other places, perhaps in other moods. Win more what? Win how and whom? The line is a puzzle.

The third stanza seems to oppose the words of a preacher against the glowing of a "window-like" life. "Speech alone / Doth vanish like a flaring thing." It affects the ear, not the conscience.

Is this poem attacking pastors like Zelotes, who stressed preaching? It is possible. The Temple was published in the same year that that great "innovator," William Laud, became Archbishop of Canterbury. Many contemporaries, both those who stressed preaching and those who stressed (as did Laud) administration of the sacraments, might well have read the poem that way.

Further, Laud stressed the importance of "the beauty of holiness," which led him to refurbish and redecorate many churches—including the stained glass. "The Windows" certainly can be read as evoking "the beauty of holiness." When Laud fell, to Stirry's delight, some Puritans destroyed stained glass windows in reaction to Laud's efforts.

At the same time, Herbert's verse often shows a very common, basic, English, Calvinist approach to Christian life and doctrine, and one could wonder if the gift of light and especially of color in the poem might be to suggest a kind of zeal. Here we need to think about the conventional form of sermons. The preacher began almost always with a biblical verse or text. He then explained what "doctrines" of Christian life the text illustrated or taught. Finally, he would close the sermon with "uses" or "applications," suggesting how one might live out the doctrine. The phrase "Doctrine and life" then might suggest the need for a zealous, glowing living out of Christian faith inspired by zealous preaching.

Finally Perkins' remarks about preaching, published more than three decades before Herbert's The Temple, might also be taken as a gloss on "The Windows." Recall that a preacher was to experience "an inward feeling of the doctrine to be delivered." Perkins illuminated that with a striking simile: "Wood that is capable of fire, doth not burne, unlesse fire be put to it: and he must first be godly affected himselfe, who would stirre up godly affections in other men." Another comment might as well gloss the poem: "words make not such an impression in the soule as workes doe."

In short, we can read Herbert's poem as celebrating "the beauty of holiness" as well as illuminating William Laud's program for the Church of England. But we can also read it as manifesting the Puritan values of successful preaching which Perkins put forth, especially in his fiery simile.

And perhaps more importantly, Herbert's poem and its place in this small sampling of language about good and bad clergy may suggest that historical terms which indicate massive oppositions in the Church of England—like Puritan versus Anglican—distort the picture of a church in which much language was shared. Clerics and laypersons who made considerable noise about their differences concerning lesser matters also joined their voices together in praise of their God.

Boyd Berry
Virginia Commonwealth University

© 2004 Folger Institute