King James, Du Moulin, and the Union of the Reformation

King James felt it his responsibility to reunite the churches of Christendom.  He never wanted to carry this out at the expense of truth, however, as can be seen by his refusal to submit to the Roman Catholic Church.  The pope was eager to convert James, sending gifts and rosaries to his wife, but James had them returned.  In fact, James chose to work with definitively Reformed theologians to further his cause.

The most ambitious plan was crafted with the help of Peter Du Moulin of Paris.  According to their combined efforts, the Reformed churches of England and France would lead the effort, seeking to obtain alliance with the Swiss and Dutch churches.  From there, the Lutherans would be invited.  W. B. Patterson writes:

Du Moulin’s plan, with twenty articles, sought to find a basis for bringing together the Reformed churches, including the Church of England, and, subsequently, for bringing together these churches and the Lutheran churches. This would be done in two stages by means of an international assembly held with the support of the civil rulers of the Protestant states, especially the king of Great Britain, who is described in the first article as “the greatest and most powerful” of the sovereign princes of countries not under the subjection of the pope. The international assembly described in the plan would be a meeting of two theologians sent by the British king, two by the churches of France, two by those in the Netherlands, two by the Swiss cantons, and “one or two from each prince of Germany of our confession.” In addition, King James and the Elector Palatine might seek the support of some of the Lutheran princes, especially the king of Denmark and the dukes of Saxony, Wurttemberg, and Brunswick, in sending representatives there. The deputies at the assembly would put on the table the Reformed confessions of the various churches, including those of England and Scotland, and draw up a common confession. Some matters “not necessary to salvation” might be passed over, including the opinions of Arminius on predestination. Once this doctrinal accord had been drawn up, the delegates would formally declare that their churches did not condemn each other because of differences in ceremonies and ecclesiastical polity. The deputies would then seek to meet with deputies of the Lutheran churches in order to enlarge the association. On the perennially contentious issues of the necessity of baptism, the manner of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper, and the reception of the body of Christ in the Supper, agreement would be sought with the Lutherans on broad theological principles. But where complete agreement could not be reached, differing views would be tolerated among the churches. At the conclusion of the assembly a celebration of the Lord’s Supper would be held at which the Lutheran pastors and the others would communicate together.

~ King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom pg. 161

He concludes that:

After their return home, the deputies would submit their work for the approval of their respective churches, while the princes would seek to abolish the names of Lutheran, Calvinist, and Zwinglian in favor of the name Christian Reformed Churches.

Superintendents and Bishops

I’ve mentioned before about the Scottish episcopal system here and here.  Patterson gives us a good look at the specifics of the original makeup:

The Book of Discipline had recognized the need for officials who would oversee local churches, supervise the establishment of new ones, and ensure that only qualified persons would serve as ministers. It specified that such officials, called superintendents, would be in charge of areas whose boundaries were intended to reflect the geographical configurations of the country. In the early 1560s five superintendents and three bishops who conformed to the new religious settlement had begun their work.

~ W. B. Patterson King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom. pg. 7-8

What this means is that there were five superintendents, of the Reformed persuasion, and three continuing bishops retaining their positions from the pre-Reformation polity.  All were now united under the Church of Scotland and the Magistrate.

Early Scots-Episcopacy

While reading about the Aberdeen doctors, I discovered that they were all Episcopalians. I thought this was interesting because I usually associate Reformed versions of episcopacy with England rather than Scotland.

John Forbes of Corse was the most famous representative of the Aberdeen doctors, and he was exiled for his views. Indeed, it seems that the only position of which he could be found culpable in the eyes of the Scottish theologians was his refusal to sign the Solemn League and Covenant. The Covenanters deposed him from his teaching position at the university, took his house, exiled him to Holland, and even forbade him a burial alongside his family. Charming fellows they were.

Forbes’ defense of the Scottish system of “Superintendents” is available on google books.

It turns out that Robert Rollock also held to an episcopal form of church government, as he penned a work entitled Episcopal Government instituted by Christ, and confirmed by Scripture and Reason.

In fact, the first Book of Discipline put out by the Scottish Church in 1560 divided Scotland into 10 ecclesiastical districts, each with their own superintendent. This was the official form of government until 1592, when Melville succeeded in acquiring a Presbyterian form of government, though it only lasted for about twenty years. This stage of Prebyterianism never fully took over, as Aberdeen resisted it. Episcopacy was reinstated until the so-called second Reformation where the Covenanters claimed a divine right of presbyterian rule. The Aberdeen doctors made their stand against jure divino on the lawfully established forms of the Scottish Church, and they accused the Covenanters of innovation and rebellion.

Geddes MacGregor explains that this form of Scottish episcopacy, whose bishops went by the name “superintendents,” was an attempt at preserving the continuing Ecclesia Scoticana. MacGregor writes:

The Ecclesia Scoticana they were bent on restoring was in many ways anomalous and paradoxical. In Columban times, for instance, it had had features that would be inconsistent with modern Presbyterian, Anglican, and Roman practice alike. Its primates, presbyters-abbots, had no commission from Rome; its bishops were nullius dioceseos and subject to the authority of presbyters; its presbyters did not exercise Episcopal functions corporately or otherwise, reserving these strictly to the bishops acting as individuals yet under presbyteral direction.

Corpus Christi, 75

About the Scottish Church at the time of the Reformation he adds:

The notion of a separation from the old Church could not well be in the Scottish Reformers’ minds, since in 1560, of the thirteen Roman Sees, four were vacant officially while five others were for practical purposes vacant, so that apart from questions of ecclesiology, which was still everywhere immature if not inchoate, it would have seemed more natural to the Scottish Reformers to view their action as casting off the Kirk’s bonds than of separating from these.

ibid, 71

Thus the Scottish Church naturally adopted a system of government that it saw as basically consistent with the established order. It rarely had to overthrow powerful Roman bishops. Few were to be found.

MacGregor describes the role of these superintendents in stating:

The superintendents had the pastoral and administrative functions of bishops and were placed over regions described as dioceses; in 1572 the Kirk adopted instead the designation ‘bishops’ and ‘archbishops.’

ibid, 70

He also mentions that Knox was offered an episcopate, but declined due to inopportune circumstances. Knox did not protest another taking the see, however, and indeed it was under Knox that the first Book of Discipline was issued.

Obviously episcopal government is not inconsistent with Reformed theology. The Churches in England and in Hungary retained bishops, and now we see that the Scots did as well, though their form was later changed.

We also begin to see, particularly through a study of Rollock along with the Aberdeen doctors, that a true “moderate” (acknowledging the infelicity of this term) Calvinism existed in Scotland, as well as in England and Germany.

No One is Satisfied with their Denomination

At the Auburn Ave. Pastors’ Conference there were Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, and various assortments of “Reformed” ministers. They all agreed that the status quo needs reform. When I went to the Augustine Conference at Fordham there were Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and a few Reformed people, and again, all agreed that the status quo needs reform. There are even voices of truth in the PCUSA and United Church of Christ.

We’ve got to have big-picture glasses.

The Church simply will not be the same in one generation. People are willing to look through other perspectives, and the desire to reduce every theological question to a historical battle is waining quickly.

If you don’t like your denomination, do not immediately freak out. Decide whether or not you trust your leadership, and if you are a minister, whether or not you can possibly hold a job. If the answers are positive, then I’d say make friends and plan for the long haul.

What History Is

Sometimes in reaction to American naivete and historical groundlessness, various sectors of the Church will appeal to “history” and “tradition” as an antidote. I hope it is clear that I do in fact value tradition and want to listen to “the mind of the church,” however I am equally committed to being honest about what this means.

Somewhere along the way, the myth of the seven councils took an astonishing hold on the mind of various traditionalists. This myth basically states that back in the good ol’ days, the Church (the unified, holy, purest Church) held seven councils which defined true Christianity, and most of our problems today would be solved if we would just run back to these councils. Some people up the ante and say we should sign on to all of the lesser canons of the councils, and perhaps they will even say that these councils are infallible. Protestants are regularly challenged on why they don’t subscribe to Nicea II. “If you don’t subscribe to that one, what is stopping you from rejecting all the rest?” Continue reading