by Charles Bartlett. Original published in the Kinist Review, Summer 2010 (pp. 38-42)
The national idea has an early origin in Christianity, but it is especially so for Protestant ecclesiology. Only in the last century has it been marginalized. The roots of the national idea date back to the Byzantine era where the emperor stood as Davidic King, regulating both civil and ecclesiastic bodies. Where soul and body are ‘whole yet distinct’, the roles of bishop and prince likewise inter-penetrated. This was especially so when one sword faltered, the other came to the rescue assuming the former’s functions until crisis passed. Christendom’s national basis grew from these ‘equal yet distinct’ principles, simultaneously giving rise to collegiality and monarchy in the church. The overlapping of ecclesial with civil allowed the Roman diocese to become a common ecclesiastical jurisdiction where major dioceses contained imperial cities like Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Antioch that early-on gained leading (patriarchal) status. At Nicaea the most prestigious were recognized as a ‘pentarchy’, and, from the primitive pentarchy, national churches and their ethnarchates developed
However, by the end of the first millennium, collegiality amongst provincial bishops and their pentarchs was undermined by a series of ambitious Popes (Gregory VII to Benefice VIII, c. 1075-1302). This peculiar succession of Popes claimed extraordinary, if not infinite, power over fellow bishops and princes undermining the conciliar unity behind Christendom. Amidst the Papacy’s campaign for greater power, clerical celibacy proved especially important in weakening the independence of Western bishops who were often married or progeny of royal dynasties. The relation of Western bishops to secular power was therefore disrupted by celibacy, and those celibate bishops pledging fealty to Rome’s were given the pallium yoke as the mark of their lealty. While much more could be said about the rise and fall of first millennium national bishops, the early Reformation had a keen sense of what was lost. Reformers pleaded the example of the primitive church (five centuries), together with Constantine with the ecclesiastical pentarchy, as examples of normal polity, thus undermining Papal claims through the ancient rights of national churches and their princes.
Reforming the Monastic
King Henry VIII’s dissolution of English monasteries, c. 1536-41, is pivotal to the reorganization of the national church in northern Europe. Amongst “Nordic Catholics” the national principle was loudest with Luther’s Plea to the German Nobility (1519), asking magistrates to facilitate Reformation. In 1529 the German Princes did, presenting their Protestio(1) to Charles V at the Diet of Speyer where the precept laid forth was, “the faith of the prince is the faith of the realm.” Fifteen years later, Henry VIII was the first King to apply the same logic to his an entire realm(2), confiscating English monastic estates in the process. The Papacy owned a majority of land in England, and this involved substantial chapels and chancels which tied England’s countryside culturally to Rome. Henry’s seizure thus removed the Pope’s obtrusive presence. Surprisingly, the dissolutions financially profited Henry very little in terms
of net wealth. Papal estates were commonly sold or gifted away to local aristocracy. By the end of Elizabeth I’s reign (Henry’s daughter), the pattern of native repatriation was finished, the pallium yoke was cast away. The English ruled their own church again.
For English ecclesia, Henry’s dissolutions had two-fold results. First, the devotional life of England was shifted from the chancel toward the hearth. Monks and abbots who were disenfranchised often had a choice of lifelong pensions (paid by Henry), or they might be transferred to secular vocations as parochial clergy.Not only did this give the English Reformation continuity with its past, dampening the effect of ceremonial ruptures from medieval tradition, but many divines belonging to the same period (1536-1580) were themselves ex-monks who adapted monastic prayer to parishes and dioceses, facilitating what Tawney aptly called, “the monastery turned inside-out.” In 1535 Henry VIII wrote his own primer for public consumption, and the notion of a simplified Benedictine Rule for domestic piety become foundational to Common Prayer. Led by Thomas Cranmer’s reforms, the new ‘public nature’ of monastic hours spread throughout England. The Benedictine habit of morning and evening prayer also appears in early Appointed Bibles(3). Domestic prayer as an Anglican ‘rule of life’ was best exemplified by Nicholas Ferrar’s rule of life at Little Gidding where his family recited the Psalter daily.
Second, the end of mandatory celibacy wove the English clergy into England’s domestic tapestry. In 1549 celibacy was abolished as a requirement to holy orders by Edward VI(4). Curates who earlier hid their concubines regularized otherwise illicit sexual relations. The progeny of divines and rectors that resulted often intermarried, forming generational alliances that gave birth to a number of famous clerical families amongst whom were the Wesleys, Matherses,
and Temples. Thomas Cranmer himself married into Osiander’s (Lutheran) household, and a number other notable unions followed. Even more influential were marriages between royals, e.g., Elizabeth II to Frederick V (of Heidelberg).Such alliances tended to strengthen Protestant solidarity, and by noble patronage Protestant families secured cures which often passed from father to son. Many clerical families possessed more than one parish, hiring curates to fill posts while arch-parsons tended other chapels and glebes.
In England the restoration of laity took an Erastian form(5). Following the primitive Byzantine and ancient Israelite example, the King’s supremacy began with his crown and household, and from it the rest of the graded community acquired rank. The Erastian community is outlined in England’s Prayer Book, ordering the laity from greatest to least, starting with King, passing on the rest of the crown’s progeny, then the bishops, next the chief Lords, then common magistrates, and, finally,‘the people.’ The King was the household which included all others, bound not only by marriage and oath(6) but also divine providence. The vestments and ceremonial of the King suggested a great God-parentage, supreme abbacy, or arch-wardenship(7) of the realm if not a grand-episcopate of his own.
Cranmer’s overall idea of the people becoming a ‘new religious’ not only increased lay dominance but more specifically allowed England’s secular hierarchy to absorb medieval orders. This was a unique feature to English Protestantism, attributable to the top-down nature of reform where Henry VIII left hierarchic church ordering generally untouched. As the King reassigned Papal endowments, as natural recipients, the nobility expanded their roles as wardens and stewards in the older system, giving them great powers in the chapels as well as charitable institutions like schools, hospitals, etc., dotting the countryside. The rise of vestries and stewards meant the aristocracy took charge of social welfare on county levels(8). This kin-based Erastianism was also mirrored in colonial America, especially in the Carolinas and Virginia. And, like England, squire influence percolated up from the gentry-dominated vestries into the House of Burgesses (aka. the Virginia Parliament). Not surprisingly, Virginia’s government functioned much like England’s where the deliberations of clerical synods were presented to Parliament and King (or in this respect, the legislature and governor) for finalization. The chiefmost patron within the constellation of sworn men was ultimately the Crown, and by the Acts of Supremacy (1533-34) the throne nominated and licensed bishops, and as a consequence, indirectly the lower clergy too. Of
course, appointing bishops and university deans gave the King pivotal authority in the Church, and the arrangement worked generally well given the King was determined to protect the Protestant faith. This was true until James II.
Kinists might draw many examples for ethnic churches from history. Most recent are those stemming from the magisterial Reformation and especially England. Unfortunately, by waves of revivalism the princely model has largely been forgotten, and with this so has the idea of an ordered society and communion. Rather than guard and extend princely structures, modern-day Protestants have driven ecclesiology into egalitarian and humanist cul-de-sacs. Part of this is due to a new “celibate mentality” where piety is neither ‘spoiled’ by priestly mediation nor public ceremonial. Kinists might rekindle the memory of ordered community by exciting Kingly practices that embellish hierarchy and headship within common fellowship and worship. The author has several suggestions:
*Bringing the presbytery to accept a superintendent or an arch-presbyter to function as titular head. Calvin and Luther’s writings on superintendency should be
*An aggressive diaconate assisted by vestrymen or consistory might slowly channel the services of the welfare state away from an anonymous bureaucracy to the person of the superintendent. This ‘arm’ of the church would be like early Roman dioceses, where bishops participated in princely secular powers. If the secular throne is abandoned, the bishop may temporarily assume it according the ordering given in the English litany.
*Revive the Reformed catholic calendar as found in the original KJV—not only the daily offices but feast days for historical saints—especially those that memorialize the life of the ethnos, demonstrating God’s providential graciousness.
* Renewing the place of the offertory in worship, reconnecting the profane with sacred through the consecration and tendering of vows, alms, and other articles.
* Restore confessionalism so that old Protestant, ethnic churches, e.g., German-Lutheran, Scottish-Presbyterian, and Anglican might cross-pollinate and inter-confess into a Nordic catholicism, thereby reproaching and leading Eastern counterparts.
The author hopes to expand on these themes later.