An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XXXVII (Part 1)

Article XXXVII.

Of the Civil Magistrates

The Queen’s Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other her Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.

Where we attribute to the Queen’s Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in Holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all states and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.

The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.

The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences.

It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons and serve in the wars.

De Civilibus Magistratibus.

Regia Majestas in hoc Angliæ regno, ac cæteris ejus dominiis, summam habet potestatem, ad quam, omnium statuum hujus regni, sive illi ecclesiastici sint, sive civiles, in omnibus causis, suprema gubernatio pertinet, et nulli externæ jurisdictioni est subjecta, nec esse debet.

Cum Regiæ Majestati summam gubernationem tribuimus, quibus titulis intelligimus, animos quorundam calumniatorum offendi, non damus regibus nostris, aut verbi Dei, aut Sacramentorum administrationem, quod etiam injunctiones ab Elizabetha Regina nostra, nuper editæ, apertissime testantur. Sed eam tantum prærogativam, quam in sacris Scripturis a Deo ipso, omnibus piis Principibus, videmus semper fuisse attributam, hoc est, ut omnes status, atque ordines fidei suæ a Deo commissos, sive illi ecclesiastici sint, sive civiles, in officio contineant, et contumaces ac delinquentes, gladio civili coerceant.

Romanus pontifex nullam habet jurisdictionem in hoc regno Angliæ.

Leges Regni possunt Christianos propter capitalia, et gravia criminia, morte punire.

Christianis licet, ex mandato magistratus, arma portare, et justa bella administrare.

[The American Article reads: —

“Art. XXXVII. Of the Power of the Civil Magistrates.

“The Power of the Civil Magistrate extendeth to all men, as well Clergy as Laity, in all things temporal; but hath no authority in things purely spiritual. And we hold it to be the duty of all men who are professors of the Gospel, to pay respectful obedience to the Civil Authority, regularly and legitimately constituted.”

The writer ventures to consider it unfortunate that the two declarations concerning “capital punishment,” and the propriety of Christians bearing arms, were omitted. The reasons for the omission, though he can conjecture what they were, he does not feel sufficiently sure of, to state. — J. W.]

Section I. — The Supremacy of the Crown.

THE present Article concerns one of the most involved and difficult questions that have agitated Christian men: the question, namely, of the due proportions and proper relation between the civil and ecclesiastical powers in a Christian Commonwealth. The whole course of Church History, from the time of Constantine to the present, seems to have been striving to unravel the difficulty and solve the problem. Perhaps it never will be solved, until the coming of the Son of Man, when there shall be no king but Christ, and all nations, peoples, and languages, shall bow down before Him.

Without pretending then to clear up all that is dark in such a question, we may by a hasty survey of past events be enabled to place ourselves in such a position, that the mists of prejudice, whether religious or political, may not blind us to the perception of that light which Providence has given to guide us.

For the first three hundred years, the spiritual kingdom of Christ was on earth, having no relation to any earthly kingdom. The kingdoms of this world, instead of fostering, persecuted it. There was a direct antagonism between the Church and the world; and the external development of that antagonism was plainly visible in the opposing organization of Church and State. Christians indeed were from the first obedient subjects, wherever obedience was not incompatible with religion. They even marched in the armies of the heathen emperors, prayed for them in their public liturgies, and in persecution took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, resisting none but those commands which could be obeyed only by disobedience to God. But the whole Christian Church, as far as possible, shrank within itself from the polluting atmosphere of heathenism and heathen morality. The Apostle had condemned the Corinthians for going to law before the unbelievers (1 Cor. vi. 1), and had encouraged them to erect private tribunals among themselves, for the decision of disputes, which would inevitably arise.[1] The result was naturally, that the courts of the bishop became the ordinary courts of judicature, when Christians impleaded Christians. The rulers of the Church were looked up to with that kind of veneration which we call loyalty; whilst obedience to the emperor was the result of no natural enthusiasm, but of a principle of self-denying, self-sacrificing obligation.

The accession of Constantine to the throne of Augustus, his conversion to Christianity, and his removal of the seat of empire to Byzantium, produced a remarkable revolution. Christians fondly hoped, that the kingdoms of this world had become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ. They naturally recognized the duty of Christian princes to protect the faith of the Gospel. They joyfully embraced the newly opened course for the progress of the Gospel. They reasonably were thankful for the promised freedom to worship God according to their consciences; and alas! it is to be feared, that they were not averse to using the civil authority to put down the pride of the now fast increasing heresy of Arius. Constantine, on his part, whether sincere or politic in his adoption of the Gospel, could not be ignorant of the vast machinery which his connection with the Church might put into his hands. In heathen times, the supreme ruler at Rome was also the supreme administrator of the affairs of religion. There was a sacredness attached to him, however vile his personal character. The Roman Emperor even became the Pontifex Maximus.[2] And, although Constantine found it not possible to assume a sacerdotal function in the Christian Church, he yet claimed a peculiar supremacy; which was sufficiently undefined to be inoffensive to others, and yet satisfactory to himself. “You,” said he to the Christian prelates, “are bishops of the things within the Church; but I am constituted by God bishop of those which are without.”[3] The words were perhaps originally spoken in jest, but time led him to apply them in earnest.

From this period the Church, though never endowed by the State, received a full and ample protection for the revenues which it might acquire. The Christian princes ever considered themselves as its protectors, and in some sense as its governors. There is good reason to think, that the power, which they so exercised, was often by no means paternal, but as tyrannical and arbitrary as was their more secular administration. The bishops indeed maintained the exclusive right of the clergy to minister in sacred things: and the emperors readily admitted that to the clergy alone such functions appertained.[4] Moreover, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of bishops and patriarchs was carefully preserved to them. Patriarchs were permitted to call provincial, and bishops to call diocesan synods; but a synod of the universal Church was never called but by the Emperor himself. Though the decrees of the councils were made by the bishops, yet the Emperor thought himself justified in enforcing them by his own temporal power. Thus Arius, condemned at Nice, was banished by Constantine; and there is too good reason to fear that court influence was unsparingly used to intimidate the members of a synod into voting with the Emperor, or absenting themselves altogether. Eusebius assigns to Constantine a principle, which was probably never admitted by the Church at large, but which may have materially influenced him in his own conduct; namely, that as a kind of universal bishop, he assembled councils of the ministers of God.[5]

From this time, then, the Church and the State were no longer in the position of a persecuting power and a patient victim. They no longer represented, respectively, the principle of good and the principle of evil. The good of the one had penetrated the other; and it may be feared, that there was something of reciprocal interchange. They had, however, entered into an alliance; but still, more or less, the Christianized state was sure to retain some of the worldly elements which characterized it when heathen; and there was still a struggle, though less conspicuous, between the Church in the Church and the world in the State. In the East, the power of the Emperor over the Church was the greater, because the East had become the seat of empire; and there is little doubt, that the degeneracy of the Eastern Church had much connection with the influence of the court. Nay! the power of that court became at once apparent, when, on the adoption of heresy by the Emperor, the whole East seemed suddenly overspread with Arianism.

There was a different state of things in the West; the result, it may be, in part, of the greater vigour of the Western bishops, but still more of the absence of the seat of government from Rome. The Church was no longer the same isolated, distinct body that it had been when the empire was heathen; and had it not been for the nucleus formed for it by the clergy, it might have been all dissipated in the midst of the half Christianized people that were around it. But the clergy were still a substantive, tangible body; and, irrespective of any ambition of their own, it was almost essential to the existence of the Church, that they should form themselves into that kind of close corporation which had before embraced the whole society of Christians. Besides which, as their sacred character brought them respect even in the eyes of their tyrants, as they had a prescriptive right to hold private tribunals for the settlement of their private differences, as their sacred buildings had conceded to them the right of sanctuary possessed of old by heathen temples; they had in their hands the power, not only of supporting religion, but also of evading, or at least limiting, both for themselves and their fellow-Christians, the tyrannical domination of the emperor. The subject has been so clearly and liberally set forth by an accomplished writer of the day, that we may well use his own words. “If it be right to condemn the fiscal tyranny of the Roman rulers, it can hardly be also right to condemn those sacerdotal claims, and those imperial concessions, by which the range of that tyranny was narrowed … The Church is arraigned as selfish and ambitious, because it formed itself into a vast clerical corporation, living under laws and usages peculiar to itself, and not acknowledging the jurisdiction of the temporal tribunals. That the Churchmen of the fourth century lived beneath a ruthless despotism no one attempts to deny. That they opposed to it the only barrier by which the imperial tyranny could, in that age, be arrested in its course, is equally indisputable. If they had been laymen, they would have been celebrated as patriots by the very persons who, because they were priests, have denounced them as usurpers. If the bishops of the fourth century had lived under the republic, they would have been illustrious as tribunes of the people. If the Gracchi had been contemporaries of Theodosius, their names would have taken the place which Ambrose and Martin of Tours at present hold in ecclesiastical history. A brave resistance to despotic authority has surely no less title to our sympathy, if it proceeds from the episcopal throne, than if it be made amidst the tumults of the forum.”[6]

If this was true of the relation of the Church to the empire, it was certainly not less true as regards its condition under the several kingdoms which were formed by the Gothic barbarians out of the ruins of the empire. The feudal monarchies, whether in their earlier condition or in their more matured and full-grown despotism, were amongst the most lawless, oppressive, and tyrannical forms of government that an unhappy people have ever groaned under. In those days when might was the only right, “we may rejoice to know,” says the just-cited authority, “that the early Church was the one great antagonist of the wrongs which were then done upon the earth, that she narrowed the range of fiscal tyranny, — that she mitigated the overwhelming poverty of the people, — that she promoted the accumulation of capital, — that she contributed to the restoration of agriculture, — that she balanced and held in check the imperial despotism, — that she revived within herself the remembrance and the use of the franchise of popular election, — and that the gloomy portraits which have been drawn of her internal or moral state, are the mere exaggerations of those who would render the Church responsible for the crimes with which it is her office to contend, and for the miseries which it is her high commission effectually, though gradually, to relieve.”[7]

The same may be said of much later times. The struggle between the crown and the clergy was, in fact, often a struggle of religion against lawlessness, avarice, licentiousness, and tyranny. The clergy were the guardians not only of the Church, but of the people; and one great secret of their increasing power was the conviction, even among their opponents, of the righteousness of their cause, and, among those whom they defended, of the blessings of their protection.

But there was one important element at work, which we have now to take into account. From the earliest times, the Bishop of Rome was the most important prelate in the West. His see was in the imperial city. It claimed the chief of the Apostles as its founder. The Apostolic sees were everywhere respected; and Rome was the only Church in Europe certainly Apostolic. So early as the third century, St. Cyprian had urged the priority of St. Peter, and the precedence of the Bishops of Rome, as an argument for the unity of the Church. To all Europe Rome was, on every account, a centre; and the ambition of its prelates never ceased to turn such advantage to their own account. There were few Churches which owed not some obligation to the Roman Church; if not as founding, yet as strengthening and enlightening them. There were a thousand causes tending to give additional importance to the Popes. The emperors found it politic to court them. The patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch sought defence from them against the overwhelming power of Constantinople in the East. The kings of distant nations asked for missionaries from them, to instruct their people more perfectly in the Gospel. The removal of the seat of empire to Constantinople, whilst it raised the see of that city to the position of eminence next to that of Rome, yet rather favoured the increase of the power of the latter. When there was an emperor at Rome, the Pope was controlled by a superior; but when the emperor was at a distance, the Christian bishop became the most important person in the imperial city. By degrees a primacy, which might have been reasonable, became a supremacy which was pernicious. The whole constitution of Europe favoured such an arrangement. As all Europe looked to Rome as its civil centre, so Christian Europe looked to Rome as its ecclesiastical centre. Then, the power of the Pope was a happy counterpoise for the power of the sovereign. In the Middle Ages the barons owed fealty to their feudal suzerain; and the bishops and clergy owed a spiritual fealty to their ecclesiastical head. The Church, as an united body, was disposed to look to one visible centre, one visible head. Evil as its consequences have been, still in these dark and troubled times such union and submission on the one hand, and a corresponding aid and protection on the other, may possibly have been the means of keeping the Church from utter disintegration, by protecting it from that lawless and arbitrary feudalism which might otherwise have swept away both Church and religion from the earth.

But the authority, thus fostered and matured, now overtopped all other authorities, and grew into a tyranny as intolerable as that against which it once promised to be a bulwark. Like a dictatorship after a republic, it was more absolute than legitimate monarchy. The power of the Pope was not merely spiritual, but political.[8] In the first place, the clergy were not esteemed as subjects of the crown, in the country in which they lived. The Pope was their virtual sovereign; to him they owed a supreme allegiance. All causes concerning them were referred to spiritual tribunals, and there was a final appeal to the jurisdiction of Rome itself. Bishops felt the grievance of such a power, when the Pope at his pleasure exempted monasteries from their control, and claimed all benefices, as of right vested in the supreme pontiff, and not held legally without his permission. But kings felt it still more; when a large portion of their subjects were withdrawn from their authority; when a large number of causes, under the name of ecclesiastical, were withdrawn from their courts; when taxes were levied in the name of Peter’s pence upon their kingdoms; when their clergy and many of their people could be armed against them by a foreign influence; and, worst of all, when the right was asserted of putting their whole country under an interdict, nay, even of either granting to them new kingdoms,[9] or of deposing them from their thrones, and releasing their people from their oaths of allegiance.[10]

The Reformation was a reaction from this state of things, as well as a throwing off of internal corruption of faith. It was viewed indeed by different persons according to their respective feelings and interests. The prince desired it, for the sake of regaining his former, and more than his former authority. The nobles desired it, that they might fatten on the spoils of the Church. The reforming prelates and clergy desired it, that they might be freed from the power of Rome, and have liberty to order God’s worship aright. The people desired it, that they might have freedom of conscience and purity of faith. As the fathers had hailed the conversion of an emperor, to free them from heathen tyranny; as clergy and people in the Middle Ages had sought a refuge at Rome from the exactions of their domestic oppressors; so now the reformers hoped that the throne would prove to them a protection from the tyranny of the Vatican. We must plead this in excuse for what is the foulest stain on the Reformation, namely, the undue servility of the ecclesiastical leaders of it to the vicious and tyrannical princes that sided with it.

In England, Henry, whose love for reformation was love only for his own power, passions, and interests, wished not to free religion from restraint, but to transfer to himself the power formerly wielded by the Pope. And we may partly account for the opposition to reform among the commonalty, who had originally sighed for it, by remembering that they discovered now a prospect for themselves of the same tyranny here in England which had heretofore been as distant as Rome. Their desire for a restoration to a simpler worship and a purer faith had been met by a rapacious seizing of those ecclesiastical revenues from which so much benefit had ever been derived to the poor and to the oppressed; and by a transference of a power over their consciences from one whom they did look up to as a Christian prelate, to an avaricious and bloodstained sovereign.

However, notwithstanding the difficulties of the case, and the evil passions of some, the problem was working itself out. The Pope’s power was happily abolished. Appeals to Rome were no longer legal. Ecclesiastical as well as civil causes were heard in the king’s name. The acts of Convocation in the reforming of the doctrines and formularies were sanctioned by the crown. The clergy were all made amenable to the civil tribunals, and became in fact subjects of the throne of England, not of the throne of St. Peter.

But in what sense had the king thus become the head or chief governor of the Church? The very principle of the Reformation may be said to have been, that there is no Supreme Head of Christ’s Church but Christ Himself. Yet by the acts 26 Henry VIII. c. 1, and 35 Henry VIII. c. 3, the king is declared in express terms, “the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England.” And in the following reign, the Article of 1552 is worded in accordance with such acts, “The King of England is supreme head in earth, next under Christ, of the Church of England and Ireland.”[11]

Many thoughtful men, not disinclined to the Reformation, were much offended at this apparent assumption of spiritual authority over Christ’s flock by a temporal sovereign. Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More went to the scaffold, rather than acknowledge it. But among those who submitted to the authority, there was a diversity of feeling as to the sense attached to it. Henry himself doubtless wished to be both pope and king. The Parliament probably accepted the title in no very definite signification; but rejoiced in any advance of the lay power to preeminence over the clergy. The Convocation thought it doubtfully consistent with their allegiance to God, and recognized the title only “so far as by the law of Christ they could.”[12]

What was the opinion of the leading divines of the Reformation on this subject, and especially of the Archbishop, must be an interesting question. I have been surprised to find so little about it in the writings of Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer. Cranmer had evidently, at one time, a very extravagant notion of the sacredness of kings, as he had a very low view of the office of the ministry; so that he even ventured a statement, that the royal power might make a priest.[13] But this sentiment he afterwards entirely abandoned. We may remark then, that he ever constantly affirmed that in all countries the king’s power is the highest power under God, to whom all men by God’s laws owe most loyalty and obedience; and that he hath power and charge over all, as well bishops and priests as others.[14] But the occasion on which he gave the fullest exposition of the meaning which he and his fellows attached to the supremacy, was in his examination before Brokes, just before his death. Then he declared, that “every king in his own realm is supreme head, and therefore that the king of England is supreme head of the Church of Christ in England.” He admits that on this principle, “Nero was Peter’s head,” and “head of the Church;” and that “the Turk is the head of the Church in Turkey.”[15] “After this, Dr. Martin demanded of him, who was supreme head of the Church of England? Marry, quoth my Lord of Canterbury, Christ is head of this member, as He is of the whole body of the universal Church. Why, quoth Dr. Martin, you made King Henry the Eighth supreme head of the Church. Yea, said the Archbishop, of all the people of England, as well ecclesiastical as temporal. And not of the Church, said Martin. No, said He, for Christ is the only head of His Church, and of the faith and religion of the same. The king is head and governor of his people, which are the visible Church. What! quoth Martin, you never durst tell the king so. Yes, that I durst, quoth he, and did. In the publication of his style, wherein he was named supreme head of the Church, there was never other thing meant.”[16]

Whether Cranmer durst or durst not tell the king thus, the king probably took it differently; and indeed it is pretty clear, that something more than the power of Nero, or of “the Turk,” over Christians in their dominions, was intended to be assigned to Christian kings over their Christian subjects. Whatever too was meant by the publication of the style, “Supreme head of the Church,” it caused offence to many besides those who were sure to take offence. Accordingly, when the Acts of Henry VIII. and Edw. VI. had been repealed by the Statute 1 Philip and Mary, c. 8, the title, “Supreme head,” was never revived by authority, but was rejected by Elizabeth, and “Supreme governor” substituted in its place.[17] The Statute 1 Eliz. c. 1, is an “act for restoring to the crown the ancient jurisdiction over the state ecclesiastical and spiritual, and abolishing all foreign power repugnant to the same.” In this act all foreign jurisdiction is abolished, and the power of visiting and correcting ecclesiastical abuses is, by the authority of Parliament, annexed to the imperial crown of the realm. But the acts conferring the title of “Head of the Church” (26 Henry VIII. c. 1, 35 Henry VIII. c. 3) are not revived, and thenceforward “government” is substituted for “headship.”[18]

In Elizabeth’s reign, the authorized formularies explain, to a considerable extent, the meaning attached at that time to the authority in question. First comes this article, the words of which should be carefully considered. It excludes all foreign domination, assigns to the sovereign the only supreme authority over all sorts of men, whether civil or ecclesiastical, but especially denies that sovereigns have any ministerial function in the Church, whether as regards the Sacraments or the word of God; but the power which they have is such as godly princes in Scripture had, — “to rule all estates and degrees, whether ecclesiastical or temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.”

The Injunctions of Elizabeth, to which the Article refers, enjoin all ecclesiastics to observe the laws made for restoring to the crown the ancient jurisdiction over the state ecclesiastical, and abolishing all foreign authority. The queen’s power is declared to be “the highest under God, to whom all men within the same realms and dominions by God’s law owe most loyalty and obedience.”[19]

In the reign of James I. the Convocation agreed on the Canons of 1603. The second canon expressly affirms, that the “king’s majesty hath the same authority in causes ecclesiastical that the godly kings had among the Jews, and Christian emperors of the Primitive Church;” and both the first and second canon speak of the laws, as having “restored to the crown of this kingdom the ancient jurisdiction over the state ecclesiastical.” The XXXVIth Canon contains three articles, which are subscribed by all ministers at their ordination. The first is, I. “That the king’s majesty, under God, is the only supreme governor of this realm, and of all other his highness’s dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal; and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, or potentate hath, or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, preeminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within his majesty’s said realms, dominions, and countries.”

These documents, then, which at present form the charter of union between Church and State, evidently assign to the sovereign no new functions. The principle enunciated by them is, that the sovereign is entitled to those ancient privileges which belonged, 1, to devout princes in Scripture; 2, to Christian emperors in primitive times; 3, to the ancient sovereigns of England before the times of Papal domination. The very reference to Scriptural and primitive examples seems to be a demonstration of the justice of the claims; for, if nothing is claimed beyond what Scripture warrants and the Catholic fathers allowed, the claim should seem to be both Scriptural and Catholic. Yet some important objections may be urged, which we must not neglect to consider.

1. It is said that “godly princes in Scripture” must mean “godly kings among the Jews.” Now the Jewish dispensation was utterly dissimilar from the Christian; for the Jewish Church was national, the Christian Church is not national, but Catholic. Hence naturally among the Jews the king, as head of the nation, was supreme over the Church. But the Catholic Church acknowledges no local distinctions; and to assign a national supremacy is to rend the Church of Christ into separate societies. Kings, as well as others, are but members of the one spiritual body, which meddles not with temporal distinctions, but holds all alike as subjects and servants of Christ.

To this we reply, that our kings, since at least the time of Elizabeth, have not an authority such as should separate one portion of the Church from the other. It is not our national distinctions, but our doctrinal differences, which divide us from our fellow-Christians. Our sovereigns claim only those powers which were exercised by their predecessors, in times which Romanists must acknowledge to have been Catholic, but before the full-grown authority of the see of Rome. Gregory VII. was the original founder of that great authority, and it culminated under Innocent III. But we see not that the Church was less Catholic in the days of Alfred and Edward the Confessor, than in the reigns of the Plantagenets. If then we concede to our princes the influence of the Saxon monarchs, we shall not have destroyed the Catholicity of the Church, more than it was destroyed centuries before the Reformation.

2. It is said again that the Jewish princes can be no examples for us, because, from the theocratic nature of the Jewish kingdom, there was a sacredness attaching to their office, as that of God’s special vicegerents, which cannot attach to ordinary rulers. Israel, as a theocracy, was a type of the Church; and its kings were types of Christ. As the high priests foreshadowed His priestly office in His Church, so the kings foreshadowed His regal authority over His spiritual kingdom. But there is no vicegerent of Christ on earth; no type now of His spiritual sovereignty. Hence earthly kings now cannot claim the position and privileges of the ancient Jewish kings.

This is doubtless a very weighty argument, and is a just reply to some who would unduly magnify the royal authority in things ecclesiastical. But it has been observed in a former Article,[20] that the Jewish state may be considered in some respects as a model republic; and that, notwithstanding the peculiar circumstances and special object of its institution, we may still derive lessons of political wisdom from the ordinances appointed by the All-wise for the government of His own chosen race. Now, in that government, He was pleased to conjoin the spiritual and secular elements, in such a manner that the king was to show a fatherly care for religion, yet not to intrude upon its sacred offices (see 1 Sam. xiii. 8‒14; 2 Chron. xix. 11, &c.); and we may humbly conclude, that what was ordained by heavenly wisdom then, cannot be wholly evil now.[21] Besides which, we see throughout Scripture that there is a sacredness in civil government. Kings are always said to hold their power of God, and to be especially under His protection and guidance. They are His ministers for good; and therefore to be esteemed by God’s people, as exercising in some degree God’s authority (see Prov. viii. 15; Dan. ii. 21, 37; Rom. xiii. 1‒5; 1 Pet. ii. 13, 17; 1 Tim. ii. 1, 2, &c.).[22]

3. Another objection to the precedents claimed by the English monarchs is, that the influence of the Christian emperors, and the connection of religion with the state, which sprang up after the time of Constantine, were the very origin of evil and corruption in the Church. It was an unhallowed alliance between the Church and the world, and never had God’s blessing on it.

It perhaps cannot be denied that the sunshine of worldly prosperity has never been the most favourable condition for the development of Christian graces. When the Church could no longer say, “Silver and gold have I none,” it could no longer command the impotent man to “arise and walk.” Yet we cannot thence conclude, that the Church is ever to seek persecution, or to refuse such vantage-ground as God’s providence permits it to stand upon. To court or fawn upon the great is indeed most earnestly to be shunned. The minister of God must reason before the governor, of “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come;” and, if possible, make the ungodly ruler “tremble,” as much as the meanest of the people. Yet St. Paul rejoiced to gain converts in Cæsar’s household (Phil. i. 13; iv. 22). And, as there seems no more probable way to Christianize a people than to Christianize their rulers, it is obviously desirable that the government of a country should be induced to support religion in it. And again, on the other hand, it is the plain duty of sovereigns and constituted authorities to maintain true religion in the land. Nations and rulers are as much responsible to God’s judgment as private individuals. Scripture condemns ungodly rulers and ungodly nations, as much as ungodly individuals; and praise is given to such sovereigns as fear God and honour His name. (See Psalm ii. 10. Jer. xviii. 7‒10. Jonah passim.) National, as well as individual, mercies and judgments come from Him. Now, nations and their rulers can only show their piety to God in a public and national manner, by maintaining true religion and the public service of religion. Moreover, it was prophesied concerning the Christian Church, that “kings should be her nursing fathers and queens her nursing mothers” (Isai. xlix. 23); and it is difficult to know how they can be nurses to the Church, if it be forbidden her to have any connection with them.[23]

If we once admit the propriety of a connection between the Church and the State, and at the same time deny the supremacy of the Pope, it seems almost to follow of necessity, that we should admit a supremacy of the sovereign. The sovereign must in that case hold some position in the Church; and it can only be the highest. It is not consistent with his sovereignty that he should have a superior in his own kingdom. But, in considering the sovereign as chief ruler over all persons in all causes, ecclesiastical as well as civil, we must remember one or two particulars. “It may be, that two or three of our princes at the most (the greater part whereof were Roman Catholics) did style themselves, or gave others leave to style them, ‘the Heads of the Church within their dominions.’ But no man can be so simple as to conceive, that they intended a spiritual headship, — to infuse the life and motion of grace into the hearts of the faithful; such an Head is Christ alone; no, nor yet an ecclesiastical headship. We did never believe that our kings, in their own persons, could exercise any act pertaining either to order or jurisdiction; nothing can give that to another which it hath not itself. They meant only a civil or political head, as Saul is called ‘the head of the tribes of Israel;’ to see that public peace is preserved; to see that all subjects, as well ecclesiastics as others, do their duties in their several places; to see that all things be managed for that great and architectonical end, that is, the weal and benefit of the whole body politic, both for soul and body.”[24]

The sovereign “assumes not the office of teaching or of explaining the doubtful points of the law, nor of preaching or of ministering Sacraments, of consecrating persons or things, of exercising the power of the keys, or of ecclesiastical censures. In short, he undertakes not anything which belongs to the office of the ministers of Christ. But in matters of external polity he claims the right of legislating; and we gladly give it him. The care of religion is an affair of the sovereign and the nation, not merely of the clergy.”[25]

Again, the supremacy of the crown must not (according to our constitution in Church and state) be considered as an arbitrary and unlimited supremacy. Everything in England is limited by law; and nothing more than the power of the sovereign. In matters of state, the power of the crown is limited by the two houses of Parliament; in the affairs of the Church, it is limited also by the two houses of Convocation. Legally and constitutionally, the sovereign or the sovereign’s government can do nothing concerning the state of the Church, her doctrine and discipline, without first consulting the clergy in Convocation, and the laity in Parliament; so that, when we acknowledge the supremacy of the crown, we do not put our consciences under the arbitrary guidance of the sovereign or the ministry; for we know, that legally nothing can be imposed upon us, but what has received the consent of our clergy and laity, as represented respectively.

Indeed, of late, no small difficulty has arisen. The supremacy of the crown is now wielded, not by the sovereign personally, but by the minister; that minister is the choice of the House of Commons: that House of Commons is elected by the three kingdoms; and, in two out of those three kingdoms, the vast majority of electors are not members of the Church of this kingdom of England. In short, the supremacy of the crown has insensibly passed, or at least is rapidly passing, into a virtual supremacy of Parliament. This unhappily is not a supremacy of the laity of the Church of England; because Parliament is composed of representatives from England, Ireland, and Scotland; and in the two last the majority are Roman Catholics and Presbyterians. This difficulty existed not at the period of the Reformation; but is steadily increasing on us at present. Up to the time of the Reformation, the whole nation was of one faith, and united as one Church. The Reformation did not introduce a new faith, but restored purity to the old, and removed the abuses which time had permitted. It was the work of prince, prelates, and people; and the Church, which had from the beginning been protected by the state, was protected by it still.[26]

It has been reasonably thought, that the supremacy of the Pope, which was suffered before the Reformation, was (to use a term growing into use) the extreme expression for the superiority of the clergy and their dominance over the laity; whereas the supremacy of the crown was the counter expression for the independence and power of the laity.

The same principle only would be expressed by the supremacy of Parliament, and so of the minister, if Parliament represented only the laity of the English Church. But, as at present constituted, it in part represents, not only the laity, but the clergy also of other communions, which we must, alas! almost call hostile to us.

It is utterly vain to speculate on the future. We cannot question, that the relation between Church and state is now widely different from that which once existed, and that it is fraught with new dangers. Yet perhaps it may also bring new advantages. And the Rock of the Church still stands unshaken; and shall forever stand. There is our hope; not in the favour of princes, nor of multitudes of the people. Nor need our fear be of their frown. Our real danger is, lest the lukewarmness of the Church lead to Erastian indifference, or her zeal degenerate into impatience, faction, or intemperance.

[NOTE. A few words may be added, on a point which, it is believed, is not generally understood.

It is matter of history, that Cranmer and other Bishops took out commissions from Edward VI. for the exercise of their Episcopal functions. This has been insisted on, especially by the late Lord Macaulay, as proof positive that they regarded the Sovereign as the source of their spiritual authority. The truth however is, that the act was the natural result of a distinction which was made between spiritual power, and the right to exercise that power, after a coercive manner, in any country or state.

There is contemporaneous evidence, in the book called the Institution of a Christian man, published in 1537, that this distinction was made. It is therein asserted, that “God’s law committed to bishops or priests the power of jurisdiction in excommunicating or absolving offenders, but without corporeal restraint or violence.” This last is something which it clearly contemplates as coming from the State, and which, therefore, the State can revoke.

So too Bramhall, in his first Vindication, says, “It is true the habitual jurisdiction of bishops flows from their ordination; but the actual exercise of it, in public courts, after a coercive manner, is from the gracious concessions of Sovereign Princes.” And again, “Habitual jurisdiction is derived only by ordination. Actual jurisdiction is a right to exercise that habit, arising from the lawful application of the matter or the subject.” And yet again, “We must distinguish between the interior and the exterior courts, — between the court of conscience and the court of the Church. . . . The power which is exercised in the court of conscience is solely from ordination. But that power which is exercised in the court of the Church [i. e. as he explains it, coercive power imposing other than spiritual penalties] is partly from the Sovereign Magistrate.”

The commissions, then, which Cranmer and his brethren in the Episcopate received from the Sovereign, were not considered to convey habitual jurisdiction. That had been received in ordination. But they gave them the right to exercise that habitual jurisdiction, in recognized courts, and after a coercive manner. The idea of course grows out of the union of Church and State; and however little it may approve itself to us, however undesirable it may seem to add temporal penalties to spiritual censures, it at least proves that no such theory was entertained as the taking out of the commissions has been supposed to indicate. — J. W.]


  1. 1 Cor. vi. 4. Some consider the word ἐξουθενημένους, used in this verse, to mean persons destitute of any public authority in the state.
  2. Gibbon, ch. XX.
  3. Euseb. Vit. Constant. IV. 24.
  4. The story of St. Ambrose forbidding Theodosius to enter the chancel (Theodoret, l. v. c. 18) is well known.
  5. Οἱά τις κοινὸς ἐπίσκοπος ἐκ Θεοῦ καθιστάμενος, συνόδους τῶν Θεοῦ λειτουργῶν συνεκρότει. — De Vit. Constantin. Lib. I. c. 44.
  6. Lectures on the History of France, by the Rt. Hon. Sir James Stephen, I, p. 33.
  7. Lectures on the History of France, by the Rt. Hon. Sir James Stephen, I. p. 37.
  8. Bellarmine calls it a heresy not to allow to the Pope power over sovereign princes in temporal affairs. And Baronius says, “They are branded as heretics, who take from the Church of Rome and the see of St. Peter one of the two swords, and allow only the spiritual.” This heresy Baronius calls the “Heresy of the Politici.” Bellarmin. De Rom. Pont. V. 1; Baronius, Anno 1053, § 14; Anno 1073, § 13, quoted by Barrow, On the Pope’s Supremacy, p. 17. Bellarmine states it as a general Catholic sentiment, that popes have not directly temporal authority, but that indirectly, by virtue of their spiritual authority, they have temporal authority.
  9. As Alexander III. gave Henry II. a grant of Ireland.
  10. As Gregory VII. did to the Emperor Henry IV. A. D. 1076; Alexander III. did to the Emperor Frederick I. A. D. 1168; Innocent III. did to the Emperor Otho IV. A. D. 1210; and to our own King John, A. D. 1212. Thomas Aquinas, the great school authority, lays it down as a principle, that the subject of excommunicate princes are relased from their allegiance. “Quum quis per sententiam denunciatur propter apostasiam, excommunicatus, ipso facto ejus subditi a dominio et juramento fidelitatis ejus liberati sunt.” — Tom. II. Secund. qu. 12, Art. II.; Barrow, On the Pope’s Supremacy, p. 3.
  11. “Rex Angliæ est supremum caput in terris, post Christum, Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ et Hiberniæ.”
  12. “Ecclesiæ et cleri Anglicani, cujus singularem protectorem et supremum Dominum, et quantum per Christi legem licet, etiam supremum caput ipsius majestatem recognoscimus.”
  13. Answers to Questions on the Sacraments, A. D. 1540. See this subject considered under Article XXIII.
  14. See Cranmer’s Works, IV. Appendix. pp. 266, 308, 328, &c.
  15. Works, IV. p. 98.
  16. Cranmer’s Works, IV. pp. 116, 117.
  17. Jewel mentions the Queen’s refusal of the title of Head of the Church in a letter to Bullinger, May 22, 1559: “The Queen is unwilling to be addressed, either by word of mouth, or in writing, as the Head of the Church of England. For she seriously maintains, that this honour is due to Christ alone, and cannot belong to any human being whatever.” — Collier, Church History, pt. II. Bk. VI.
  18. See a very learned pamphlet entitled The Papal Brief Considered, by Ralph Barnes, Esq. Rivingtons, 1850. Note, page 90.
  19. Sparrow’s Collection of Articles, p. 67. See also p. 83.
  20. Art. VII. See above, p. 214.
  21. The way in which kings and rulers among the Jews interfered in the affairs of religion may be seen from the following passages: Josh. xxiv. 25, 26; 1 Chron. xv. 12; xxiii. 6; 2 Chron. viii. 14, 15; xv. 8, 9; xvii. 9; xx. 3, 4; xxix. 3‒5, 25; xxxiv. 31, 32.
  22. Rom. xiii. 1: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.” Archbishop Laud thus sums up the consent of the ancient fathers, that “omnis anima, every soul, comprehends all without exception, all spiritual men, even the highest bishop; Πᾶσι ταῦτα διατάττεται, καὶ ἱερεῦσι. . . . Omnibus ista imperantur et sacerdotibus et monachis . . . . Et postea: Etiamsi Apostolus sis, si evangelista, si propheta, sive quisquis tandem fueris. — St. Chrysost. Hom. XXIII. in Rom. Sive est sacerdos, sive antistes. — Theodoret. In Rom. xiii. Si omnis anima est vestra. Quis vos excipit ex universitate? . . . . Ipsi sunt qui vobis dicere solent, servatis vestræ sedis honorem. . . . . Sed Christus aliter et jussit et gessit, &c. — S. Bernard. Epist. 42 ad Henricum Senonensem Archiepiscopum. Et Theophylact. In Rom. xiii., where it is very observable that Theophylact lived in the time of Pope Gregory VII., and St. Bernard after it; and yet this truth obtained then: and this was about the year 1130.” — Laud, Conference with Fisher, p. 170, note. Oxford, 1839.
  23. The Eastern Church admits the supremacy of the Crown, probably in a more unrestricted sense than the Anglican Church. Yet they maintain the sole spiritual Headship of Jesus Christ, as opposed to the supremacy of the Pope. “In 1590 certain prelates of the Russian Church joined the Roman communion on some concessions being made to them. Thus Rome raised the Unia; and it continued nearly 250 years. At the first partition of Poland, between two and three million uniats returned to the Eastern Church; and in 1839 the remaining Russian uniats were received into the unity of the Eastern Church, the only act of profession required being, that ‘Our Lord Jesus Christ is the only true Head of the one true Church.’” — Neale’s History of the Eastern Church, I. pp. 56, 57. “In 1833 a Synod met at Nauplia for the regeneration of the Greek Church. The two following propositions were approved by thirty-six prelates: — “1. The Eastern Orthodox and Apostolic Church of Greece, which spiritually owns no head but the Head of the Christian faith, Jesus Christ our Lord, is dependent on no external authority, while she preserves unshaken dogmatic unity with all the Eastern orthodox churches . . . . with respect to the administration of the Church, which belongs to the Crown, she acknowledges the King of Greece to be here supreme head as is in nothing contrary to the holy Canons. “2. A permanent synod shall be established, consisting entirely of archbishops and bishops appointed by the king, to be highest ecclesiastical authority, after the model of the Russian Church.” — Ibid. p. 60.
  24. Archbishop Bramhall, Answer to M. de Milletière, Works, I. pp. 29, 30.
  25. The words are those of Bishop Andrewes, selected by James I. to defend his supremacy against Bellarmine: “Docendi munus vel dubia legis explicandi non assumit, vel conciones habendi, vel rei sacræ præeundi, vel sacramenta celebrandi; non vel personas sacrandi vel res; non vel clavium jus, vel censuræ. Verbo dicam, nihil ille sibi, nihil nos illi fas putamus attingere, quæ ad sacerdotale munus spectant, seu potestatem ordinis consequuntur. Procul hæc habet Rex; procul a se abdicat. “Atqui in his quæ exterioris politiæ sunt, ut præcipiat, suo sibi jure vendicat; suosque adeo illi lubentes merito deferimus. Religionis enim curam rem regiam esse, non modo pontificiam,” &c. — Andrewes, Tortura Torti, p. 380, p. 467, Anglo-Catholic Library.
  26. The remarks in the text are abundant answer to the cavil, that the Church of England is an Act of Parliament Church. At the time of the Reformation, and at the various reviews of our Services, the Church was, to a very great extent, truly represented as to its clergy in Convcation, as to its laity in Parliament. The acts of Convocation and Parliament, ratified by the Crown, were therefore the true acts of the Church of England, king, priests, and people.

E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.

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