Academic journal article Church History

Divinity and State

Academic journal article Church History

Divinity and State

Article excerpt

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Unless it was in their interests to let loose the demagogues, early modern authorities struggled to contain confessional conflicts. Prince William of Orange argued for the prohibition of hedge preaching during the 1570s to keep the Calvinists' quarrels with Catholics in Antwerp indoors. His sometimes ally, Queen Elizabeth I of England suppressed prophesying in the same decade to deny opportunities to the critics of her established church to complain (or to stoke lay complaints) during their sermons in her realm's market towns. Some pulpit polemic was certain to stir drowsy sermon-goers, and pamphlets circulated to identify religious practices and ideas that distinguished the unreformed from the reformed and distinguished the ardently reformed, who referred to themselves as "godlier," from their purportedly, partially reformed brethren. Even widely circulated devotional manuals and catechetical treatises could be barbed. Hence, predictably, regimes' attempts to keep discussions (and criticisms) of state-sanctioned divinity from spinning out of control--from appearing, unlicensed or initially unnoticed, on the page or onstage--were unsuccessful. Abrasive hedge preachers and frantic prophesiers frequently were apprehended easily, but chroniclers, historians, and dramatists smuggled religious views into what they created; David Womersley ably draws much of that out.

He has an eye for the protagonist, in fact or fiction, whose virtues were implicitly compared to those of Christ and other biblical figures. He has an ear for "the theological resonance" of seemingly secular drama and even of "knock-about comedy" (362). What Womersely would have us conclude is that discussions of orthodoxy and heresy and of Christianity's connections with politics were all but ubiquitous.

The illustrations Womersley collects for readers tend to persuade that, as he claims, religious controversy was "the motor of historiographic production" (10) and that the Tudors' history plays reflected and refracted the religion around the dramatists. Nonetheless, an occasional passage and interpretation suggest that, while running the examples he racks on the table and illustrating "the intense topicality" of a play, Womersley can be caught miscuing. For example, from the summer of 1599 into 1600, King Henry IV of France was considered to be a candidate to succeed Queen Elizabeth I. …

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