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 Issues | Church History | John Jewell


John Jewel by G.W. Bromiley

The Life of Jewell

John Jewel, like so many other great Elizabethans, was a Devonshire man. Incidentally, it is interesting to reflect how representative the Reforming leaders were. To take a few examples, Cranmer and Latimer were from the East and West Midlands, Ridley and Grindal from the North, Jewell himself from the West country. Jewell was born on the 24th of May, 1522 - just after the epoch-making Diet of Worms. He came of an old-established family living at Buden, Berrynarbor, and was one of ten children. In early years he seems to have been deeply attached to and greatly influenced by his mother.

The foundations of Jewell's distinguished intellectual career were laid by his mother's brother, Rector John Bellamy. Jewell later attended school at Braunton and Barnstaple. During his school days he contracted small-pox - a scourge which took heavy toll in Europe right up to modern times. Possibly his later weak health owed some- thing to this illness. He quickly revealed himself above the average as a scholar, both in aptitude and also in industry. An intellectual career obviously awaited him. Already in his early years he evinced something of that modesty which later was to be one of his foremost characteristics.

The next step was the University. Cambridge was the main Reforming centre, but Jewell went up to Oxford, entering Merton College in 1535. The comparatively early age at which a University course commenced in those days may be noted. Jewell held a postmastership at Merton and studied under John Parkhurst, probably the first to introduce him to Reformed doctrines. In 1539 he moved to Corpus where he quickly distinguished himself, arousing the admiration of some and the envy of others. He took his Bachelor's degree in 1540, but continued in study for the Mastership, which was successfully achieved during the year 1544-1545.

It was during these years that Jewell accumulated his vast stores of erudition. The field over which he worked was limitless, notwithstanding the comparative fewness of books and restricted nature of scholarship in his day. He made himself thoroughly acquainted not only with the Classics, but also with History, Rhetoric, Philosophy and Mathematics. He devoted much time to the study of the Evangelical Father, Augustine. In order to make himself thoroughly the master of his craft, Jewell worked at his books early and late. Like so many others of his age, he was an early riser. His day began at 4 a.m., and he often finished work only at 10p.m.

These years of study affected Jewell vitally in two ways. Physically, he was affected for the worse, for his health was ruined. He began to suffer from a rheumatic affection which remained with him throughout life, and resulted in lame- ness. Theologically and spiritually, he gained better re-wards. His studies led him in the direction of the Reformed theology. The cautious reforms which Cranmer was able to initiate during these later years of Henry's reign had their impulse from Lutheran rather than Reformed sources. The teaching of Zwingli and of the younger Calvin had begun to have their effect, however, and the day was soon to come when it would almost completely carry the day. Jewell himself was amongst those who already leaned to the fuller and more systematic formulations of the Swiss. His Master's degree completed, he remained in Oxford, finding employment as a tutor and as a reader in the Humanities and in Rhetoric. His obvious abilities and his exemplary life attracted the notice of many benefactors, and Jewell was clearly destined to play a notable part in the work of ecclesiastical reform.

The accession of Edward opened up the way for a more radical reformation. One of Cranmer's more important moves on the theological side was the importing of out- standing continental Reformers to fill chairs of theology at the Universities. Bucer was perhaps the foremost of these foreign scholars. He was only too pleased to find an asylum and a sphere of work in England at a time when the military defeat of the Lutherans and the enforcement of the Augsburg Interim made his position in Strassburg impossible. Hardly less eminent and more pronouncedly and definitely Reformed was Peter Martyr, who came to Oxford in 1549. Jewell attended the lectures given by Martyr in that year, and quickly became an admirer and a friend. He copied out the important disputation of Martyr with Chedsey upon the subject of the Lord's Supper-the central battle-field between the Romanists and the Reformed theologians, and indeed between the Reformed party and the Lutherans. In 1551 Jewell was licensed to preach, and in addition to his academic work he took over the cure of Sunningwell. He became an acceptable preacher at the University.

The death of Edward did not immediately blight Jewell's career. He was ejected from his college - a strong Roman centre - but found a new home in Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke), and gathered many pupils. The situation was ominous, but Jewell, peaceable rather than disputatious by nature, probably hoped that by abstaining from controversy he would be allowed to continue his academic work. He was still highly regarded for his learning, and he must have been encouraged when he was elected to the post of University orator. In this capacity he moved an address to the Queen. In 1554, when Ridley and Cranmer were in Oxford, Jewell was still unmolested. He did not hide his Reformed sympathies, for he acted as notary to the two Reformers in their disputations.

The blow fell swiftly, and perhaps to a certain extent un-expectedly. It certainly caught Jewell himself unprepared. He was required later in this year to sign Romanizing articles. In a moment of weakness he complied. We must not judge him too harshly. Like Cranmer, he was by nature a scholar rather than a man of action. One thing was now clear, however, that the hope of a quiet academic life in the new England was a vain and empty one. Jewell had to make a choice between recantation and martyrdom, or seek safety as so many others had done by flight. He chose flight.

At the end of 1554, helped by Latimer's faithful servant Bernher, he escaped from Oxford. He spent some time in hiding, and finally secured a passage to the Continent. He made his way to that centre of English religious refugees, Frankfurt, where the exiles had been hospitably received. Jewell himself did not meet with a very good reception from the strongly reformed leaders of the English Church, Whittingham and Knox. For one thing, he was a weakling and a traitor. For another, he remained loyal to the reforms of Cranmer, and was opposed to the more radical liturgical reconstruction desired by the admirers of Geneva. Jewell atoned for his fault by public confession, but he allied himself from the first with Cox and the Prayer Book party against those who wished to conduct the worship of the refugees (in the church kindly allowed them by the City Fathers) along “purer” lines than those laid down in the 1552 book. Knox and Whittingham had strong support, but after a battle not very creditably conducted on either side the Prayer Book party carried the day. The struggle became so bitter that it became a public scandal in Frankfurt. Eventually Cox and Jewell complained to the magistrates and secured the ejection of Knox from the city. Clearly two parties were now developing within the Anglican Reforming movement, agreed in points of doctrine, but disagreeing widely in matters of ceremonial, discipline, and government. Out of this struggle arose the great and disastrous Puritan controversy of the reigns of Elizabeth and the Stuarts. Jewell threw in his lot with the more conservative Reformers, choosing to follow in the footsteps of Cranmer rather than in those of Calvin.

The English by their quarrels had destroyed the goodwill of the Frankfurters, and Jewell himself left in the year 1555. He moved to Strassburg to join his old master and friend, Peter Martyr. Here he enjoyed the company of many leading Reformers, Grindal, Sandys, Nowel, and others. Martyr was invited to Zurich the following year as Professor of Hebrew, and Jewell accompanied him. At Zurich he found Lever and Pilkington, and his former teacher, Parkhurst. The plight of the exiles became wretched at this time, for Gardiner had succeeded in cutting off the supplies which influential sympathizers in London had forwarded for their maintenance. Bullinger and the Zurich church came to their rescue with liberal gifts. Jewell spent the rest of his exile in Zurich - except possibly for a visit to Padua - and he used his time profitably in assisting Peter Martyr and in furthering his own studies.

The death of Mary in 1558 was the signal for a return to England and the re-establishment of the work of reform. Jewell left Zurich in that year and arrived back in his own land in 1559. On the way he was able to assist Parlihurst, who had suffered robbery. Jewell never forgot the kind fellowship which he had experienced in Zurich. Some of the letters which passed between himself and the Zurich leaders have been preserved in the valuable Parker Society edition of the Zurich Letters. Bullinger was highly thought of in Elizabethan England, and his Decades became recommended reading for the ministers of the English Church.

Back in England, Jewell very quickly found scope for his talents. He acted as a Reformed representative at the abortive Westminster disputation, and he preached one of the famous St. Paul's Cross sermons. It was on this latter occasion that he first issued his bold challenge to the Romanists to submit certain disputed points to the judment of the reputable and acknowledged Fathers of the first six centuries. In his appeal to Patristic authority Jewell followed Cranmer, who had also argued that the Fathers favoured the Reformers rather than their opponents. The challenge was naturally the call to a battle of scholarship for which the diligent and learned Jewell was singularly well equipped.

At this time he also served as a commissioner in the Visitation of 1559, acting in the South-Western area. The work was important in itself, but it had this further significance, that it brought Jewell into contact with, and earned him the personal enmity of, his later Romanist adversary, Harding. Like not a few others, Harding had for a time professed Protestant views. He recanted in the reign of Mary, and had risen to be Treasurer of Salisbury. He was a known and active Romanist, who was not prepared to forswear himself again. The Commissioners ejected him from his office.

Many bishoprics were vacant in this year, partly through death, partly through the solid opposition of the Marian bishops to the proposed Settlement, and their consequent deprivation. It was only natural that the higher offices should be entrusted to the returned exiles, and a man like Jewell, loyal to the Edwardian Reformation, was an obvious choice for a bishopric. Accordingly, he was elected to the see of Salisbury in 1559, and consecrated the following year. It is noteworthy that Jewell was sufficiently Reformed to scruple at the vestments and the crucifix, but not such a precisian as to allow such small and in themselves indifferent matters to hinder him from useful pastoral and spiritual work. In 1560 Jewell repeated his challenge, enlarging the number of articles which he was prepared to defend, and appealing now to the threefold authority, Scripture, the early Fathers, and the early Councils. His correspondence with Cole began in this year.

From 1560 onwards Jewell devoted himself wholeheartedly to the rule of his diocese. As was so frequently the case in the century, the see had been wasted by his predecessor (Capon), but the revenues were still ample, especially for one who, like Jewcll, did not maintain a luxurious state. One of his anxieties was the dearth of preaching ministers. Jewell did not spare himself in preaching, and in earnest ordination charges he set out the high calling of the minister of the Gospel. He applied himself to redress many of the abuses in diocesan life, especially seeking to remedy the twin evils, the spoliation and misapplication of benefices.

Diocesan affairs did not completely absorb Jewell's time and energies. He found time to preach again at St. Paul's Cross in 1561, and he also devoted much time to literary and academic work. The first-fruits of his scholarship was his defence of the Anglican Reformation against Harding, the famous Apology of the Church of England. This greatest and most widely-read of Jewell's works was published in Latin in 1562. An English translation was quickly made. This same year he wrote his Epistle to Scipio, and during the years 1563-1564 he probably had some hand in the issuing of the Second Book of Homilies.

Harding, now at Louvain, entered the lists against the Anglican champion in 1564, and a lively literary battle ensued. Jewell replied in 1565. In the same year he was awarded his Doctorate at Oxford and also found himself engaged against the Puritan, Humphreys, over the subject of subscription. Many of the controversies of this period had a personal aspect. Harding bore a grudge against Jewell for his ejection, and Whitgift and Cartwright were University rivals. The dispute between Jewell and Humphreys, however, was strictly one of principle, and the two men remained good friends. In the meantime Harding was busy. He issued his Confutation of the Answer in 1565, and further rejoinders in the following years. Jewell set about the task of writing a comprehensive reply, the great Defence of the Apology, the first edition of which appeared in 1568. In the following years, 1569-1570, Jewell enlarged the Defence, and the massive second edition became a repository for his vast stores of learning. It was reprinted in 1571.

Jewell was now barely 50 years of age, but his Herculean labours, his years of ill-health, and the mental sufferings of the exile had combined to make him an old man. His life was obviously drawing to its close. He had sufficient strength to attend the Convocation and Parliament of 1571. He saw the Thirty-Nine Articles firmly established by Parliament as the norm of doctrine of the Reformed Anglican Church. Against the Puritans, now moving on from the Vestiarian controversy to the second phase of their attack, the Presbyterian controversy, Jewell stood firm. He regretted that so many of his friends and companions in exile took the Puritan side. There was certainly no bitterness in his resistance to their attempts. His own position, however, was clear.

Jewell was able to carry through a visitation of his diocese in 1572. As the year wore on, however, sickness overtook him, and it was soon evident that it would be his last. As Jewell had glorified God in his life, so he glorified Him in his death. His last hours were spent in godly exercises. He gave a last address, testifying to his Lord and Saviour to the very last. A psalm and prayers surrounded his death-bed with praise and supplication. On the night of September 22-23 Jewell passed from his earthly praises to the worship of eternity. He had been granted only a short span, but he died worn out with labours for his Master. He had fought a good fight. He had finished his course. Henceforth there was laid up for him a crown of glory.

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John Jewell

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