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 Issues | Church History | John Jewell


John Jewel by G.W. Bromiley

The Character of Jewell

It would not be out of order to examine with more care and in greater detail the character of this great Reformation leader. Jewell was one of the most attractive of the leading men of his age. Although he played his part worthily in the great affairs of the time, he was the scholar and the recluse rather than the man of action. He had the strength of quietness rather than the robustness which goes with the man of affairs. In many respects his temperament resembled that of Cranmer, but he was not called to a position of so great and exacting responsibility, and he found better opportunity for the quiet exercise of his peculiar talents. Jewell might well be regarded as a strong candidate for the title of the scholar-saint of the Anglican Reformation.

As a scholar he certainly excelled. He had great natural aptitude; he also had indefatigable industry. His memory was good, so that with limited library resources - although he himself had a good private library - he was able to draw constantly upon an almost illimitable store of learning. Naturally he made mistakes. This was inevitable when he could only know many writers at second-hand. But he had the integrity of the true scholar. He never willingly or wittingly misquoted. He took the utmost pains to check his references, and was always willing to admit a fault where an opponent caught him in error. The remarkable thing is that over so wide a field, and with equipment comparatively so slight, Jewell made so few mistakes of real consequence.

Like his great predecessor, Cranmer, Jewell made extensive use of common-place books, into which he entered everything which served his purpose. So great did his collection become that he found it necessary to make a private index. In order that no relevant texts should be neglected, he kept a diary of passages to be consulted. Much of his scholarship he owed to his methodical habits, but the bulk of it he owed to his habit of hard work. The astonishing, and indeed excessive, hours which he kept in his Oxford days have already been noted. Even during his busy life as a diocesan bishop and as the champion of Reformed Anglicanism, Jewell did not neglect his books. He still rose early in the morning, and spent some time in writing and study before breakfast. During meals he normally had readings either of Scripture or of literary disputations, in order that time should not be lost in idle and unprofitable talk. By 1660 the back of his task as a student had been broken, and he already felt competent to issue his famous challenge. He was now able to make use of the learning acquired rather than to amass new learning. So omniscient did Jewell appear that some opponents attributed his knowledge to devilish inspiration!

Yet with all his learning he remained honest, kindly, and humble in disputation. He wrote forcibly and strongly where he felt that he had a solid grounding, but he took no pride in his own superior attainments, and treated his adversaries with fairness. It was the custom of the controversialists of the time to write of their opponents with a vigour which is too strong for modern tastes. Jewell wrote strongly enough and he did not mince his words, but he wrote with comparative mildness, and without excessive bias. He stated facts and convictions plainly in his controversial writings, but he was always the scholar first. Occasionally he treated important themes in perhaps too light a manner, and the criticism has been levelled against him that he did not always choose the most felicitous or cautions language. These blemishes do not, however, affect the fundamental soundness of his learning and understanding.

In his personal life as a diocesan bishop, Jewell attained a very high standard at a time when many bishops abused their office either by non-attendance to their business, or by diverting their revenues to personal ends. Of the returned exiles Aylmer was soon to be notorious for his shady transactions, especially in the matters of the drapers' wool and the Fulham elms to which the Marprelate tracts drew attention. Few bishops entered upon their temporalities without a lawsuit for the recovery of large sums in dilapidations from their predecessors or their heirs and executors. Jewell was not without his difficulties, but he kept dear of scandals and conducted himself blamelessly. He had no desire for personal gain and no taste for luxury. He was hospitable, as a bishop was expected to be, but his table, although plentiful, was plain. He himself ate sparingly and lived ascetically. In later life he presented an emaciated appearance.

Jewell took his responsibilities as a bishop seriously. He aimed particularly to improve the standard of parochial life, in order that pure religion might be promoted amongst the people. The state of decay of the universities and the lack of trained men made his task difficult and indeed well-nigh impossible. Jewell himself preached a good deal. He always took pains with his sermons, writing them out and memorizing the heads. Each day he devoted the afternoon to the business of the diocese. He made a conscientious attempt to preserve uniformity in his diocese in accordance with the Settlement, and although he himself had slight Puritan leanings, he maintained the basic loyalty to the work of the Edwardian Reformers which he had already displayed at Frankfurt. Of a kindly and even indulgent disposition, Jewell proved charitable to the poor and to prisoners.

In order to maintain the tradition of sound scholarship he made it a practice to help and encourage promising young scholars who were brought to his notice. It was in this way that the illustrious Hooker gained his support. As Jewell established the Anglican position against Romanist attacks, so his pupil and protege was later to establish it against the Puritans and Separatists. To say that Hooker owed everything to Jewell would be an exaggeration. Genius has the power of making its own way. Jewell, however, certainly helped forward the development of Hooker at a time when adverse conditions might have checked it. Hooker at many points went beyond his patron, not always to the best advantage of Anglican theology. Fundamentally, however, he went forward along the general lines already laid down by Jewell.

In private life Jewell maintained the practice of private devotion. He normally breakfasted at eight, the earlier hours being divided between study and devotion. He was interested as a good bishop to rule well his own household, taking a kindly but firm interest in the moral and spiritual welfare of his servants. Prayers were held at the close of the day, and Jewell made a habit of enquiring into his servants' conduct, bestowing praise or calling for amendment as occasion required. The more personal and patriarchal manner of life of the sixteenth century made this possible. Although Jewell was ascetic in many respects, he was not a severe disciplinarian. He had the saintly graces of kindliness and even jocularity, and a distinctive humility. Many of the Elizabethan Bishops - Whitgift, Aylmer, and Bancroft for example - had excellent qualities and qualifications of their own, but they fell far short of that saintliness of life and conduct which so well becomes the episcopal office. Perhaps Matthew Parker, another quiet and peaceable student, thrust like Cranmer into an office beyond his powers or ambitions, resembled Jewell most closely in this respect. Even the bitterest opponent of Jewell could hardly deny him these eminent qualities of Christian life.

At one point only did Jewell fail badly. During the Marian persecution he attempted to take the scholar's course, continuing his academic life irrespective of ecclesiastical change. Such a course was impossible for a Cranmer, but Jewell had better hope. Did not Matthew Parker live out the period in quiet obscurity? Jewell, however, was too much in the centre of reaction, and his convictions were too well known. He also had too many envious rivals. The crisis caught him unprepared, as it caught Cranmer, and even the incorruptible and incomparable Cheke. In a moment of weakness he renounced his most cherished convictions.

It is easy for those who have not to face the stake to accuse Jewell of cowardice. Perhaps it is true that there was a strain of pliability and weakness in his character. But Jewell did not go the whole length and actively espouse the cause of Romanism for the sake of self-protection and self- advancement. He was no turncoat like Harding, or like the contemptible Perne, who in Elizabeth's day re-found his Protestantism. Jewell himself knew and bitterly repented of his weakness. Those who admire him for the Christian graces which he did display would do well to extend to him the judgment of humility and charity, seeking to emulate him in saintly living, and praying that in a like emergency they would be granted the fortitude to confess and to endure for the truth's sake.


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John Jewell

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