Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Role of Custom in Henry Hammond's of Schism and John Bramhall's A Just Vindication of the Church of England

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Role of Custom in Henry Hammond's of Schism and John Bramhall's A Just Vindication of the Church of England

Article excerpt

Few periods of Anglican history receive less attention from historians than the English Interregnum (1649-1660), during which time the Church of England was officially proscribed. This is surprising, as the years spanning 1649 to 1660 were, arguably, one of the most transformative periods for the developing Anglican self-identity. Despite the experience of exile and deprivation, a coterie of high church Anglicans produced an astonishing volume of writings that did much to shape the character of later high churchmanship.1 Among the most interesting of these works are the apologies written in defense of the seemingly defunct Church of England against Roman Catholic polemics.

Parliament's dismantling of the Church of England came at a time when high churchmen were still trying to solve the polemical dilemma that they had faced since the days of Richard Hooker; namely, how does one defend the English Reformation without at the same time legitimizing Puritan separatism? For the heirs of Hooker and, even more, of Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, this was a question that got at the heart of the nature of the Church of England.

As Anthony Milton demonstrates in his book, Catholic and Reformed, the initial route taken by the high church heirs of Hooker was to play up the orderliness and legality of the English Reformation.2 One of the earliest to strike upon this restrained form of separation was John Prideaux, bishop of Worcester, who in 1614 preached that the Church of England had not left the "good" of Rome but only her "poison."3 By the end of Charles Fs reign, this moderation had become a major feature of high churchmanship, fitting hand-in-glove with Laud's perception that the excesses of the Reformation, such as irreverence towards sacred objects and the preoccupation with the hidden mechanics of salvation, needed to be scaled back.4 Indeed, according to Milton, this was one of the primary reasons for the development of an increasingly high view of episcopacy among high churchmen.5

Ironically, the answer to the high church dilemma was developed during the Interregnum, after the high church party itself had apparently collapsed with the execution of Charles I and the abolition of bishops and the Book of Common Prayer. Henry Hammond, one of the leaders of the sequestered clergy in England, and John Bramitali, a future archbishop of Armagh who shared exile on the Continent with the Court, simultaneous solved this dilemma by appealing to the custom of the ancient church. Both Hammond's Of Schism (1653) and Bramhall's A Just Vindication of the Church of England from the Unjust Aspersion of Criminal Schism (1654) based their defense of the English Reformation on appeals to the custom of both the early church and the pre-Reformation Church of England. In effect, they made both custom and common law the final arbiters of this debate. In so doing, they accomplished one of the primary tasks of high churchmanship: to distance the Church of England from the "presumptions" of both Rome and the radical Reformation.6 In this way, the legacy of Hooker was not so much the celebrated via media as it was a deeply conservative method for avoiding any perceived innovations.


A central feature of the theological debates of the early Stuart period was what role, if any, episcopacy should play within the reformed Church of England. In a sense this issue carried a whole host of other issues on its back, clearly representing two different theological systems. For Puritans, episcopacy represented a medieval development that not only lacked sufficient biblical warrant but also made the Church of England a Protestant anomaly.7 Laudians, on the other hand, latched onto the episcopacy as an initial defense of royal power and as a sign of continuity with the early and medieval churches.8

Thus, it was not surprising that Parliament in 1640, dominated by foes of Laud, determined that the ecclesiastical-organizational structure of the Church of England needed further reform in the direction desired by Presbyterians and moderate Puritans. …

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