RIchard Greenham: Portrait of an Elizabethan Pastor

By Klauber, Martin I. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2000 | Go to article overview

RIchard Greenham: Portrait of an Elizabethan Pastor


Klauber, Martin I., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Richard Greenham: Portrait of an Elizabethan Pastor. By John H. Primus. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998, 223 pp., $35.00.

Richard Greenham was one of the most prominent Puritan preachers of the sixteenth century. Ironically, after centuries with no major monograph devoted to his life and work, two major studies on Greenham were published in 1998, the present work and "Practical Divinity": The Works and Life of Rev'd Richard Greenham by Kenneth L. Parker and Eric J. Carlson (Ashgate). Greenham spent most of his pastoral career in a small parish of only about 250 people in Dry Dayton after studying and tutoring at Cambridge. After a twenty-year ministry at Dry Dayton, Greenham resigned from this pastorate for a better-paying and more prestigious post at Christ Church in London in 1592.

John Primus, professor of Religious Studies at Calvin College, argues that Greenham was representative of the moderate Puritanism of the Elizabethan era that was loyal to the crown and to the Church of England. Primus is a bit uncomfortable calling any Puritan "moderate" because the Puritans were inherently radical in their religious zeal. He suggests that the term "cooperative Puritanism" might be more appropriate, suggesting that this particular form of the movement cooperated with the established religious and political order.

The author's primary purpose is to analyze the theology of Greenham. In spite of this straightforward approach, Greenham is somewhat of a difficult subject because his writings are primarily pastoral rather than theological. The purpose of theology for Greenham was to lead the believer to piety and proper devotion to God. The primary source for the study of Greenham's thought is his collected works published posthumously by his colleague Henry Holland. The published works were extremely popular and went through five editions from 1599-1612. The great Reformed pastor, Richard Baxter, in 1673 recommended Greenham's writings as some of the best Reformed works on the practice of piety. Greenham covered a wide variety of topics dealing with the practical aspects of Christian devotion. The most significant section is his treatise on the Sabbath, which set the stage for later Puritan treatments on the subject.

The greatest challenge of Greenham's ministry in Dry Dayton was to educate his parishioners on the basics of Reformed theology and to move them away from the "superstitious" Roman Catholic practices that they had learned from their youth. Although Greenham viewed his own ministry at Dry Dayton as a failure, Primus notes that it was not atypical for Puritan preachers in that era to view their ministries in such a fashion. It also reflects the difficulty in changing people's long-held beliefs.

Greenham desired an untroubled ministry free of political involvement and preferred to maintain peace and harmony in his parish, steering clear of the political conflicts of his era. For example, he would not wear clerical vestments not because of the affinity with Roman Catholic practice, but because he saw himself as a poor, country pastor. …

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