Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

"To the Perfection of God's Service":* John Ponet's Reformation Vision for the Clergy

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

"To the Perfection of God's Service":* John Ponet's Reformation Vision for the Clergy

Article excerpt

John Ponet (c. 1514-1556), bishop of Rochester and Winchester, was one of the leading Protestant theologians during the Edwardian phase of the English Reformation. His writings offer compelling opinions on some of the most contentious doctrinal issues of the time. Unfortunately, one could not find this out by reading current scholarship on the man or, for that matter, on the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I. In fact, research on Ponet has without exception emphasized his ideas on political resistance, particularly those in his A Short Treatise of Politic Power, written in 1556 while he was in exile in Strasbourg.1 It is peculiar that almost all of the scholarship on him is focused on this one book that made up only a small fraction of his total literary output, especially because his background was more in theology than in political theory. Admittedly, the Short Treatise is an intriguing book. It represents the first defense of tyrannicide written by an Englishman since the reign of Henry II, and it also symbolizes the desperation that many Protestant exiles suffered as they learned of Mary's careful plans to overturn her half-brother's reforms. Nevertheless, it is for these reasons that it makes little sense to consider Ponet's political ideas without fully understanding his theology. If Ponet had not believed so strongly in Protestantism, and disagreed so vehemently with Mary's desire to restore Roman Catholicism, he almost certainly would not have written the Short Treatise. Unfortunately, his religious vision for the church has been neglected ever since the first and only full-scale biography of the reformer was published in 1942.2

This is not an isolated example, for scholarly appraisals of the early English Reformation suffer from other distortions. In the last twenty years, a great deal of cutting-edge research in the field has focused on how the Reformation was not eagerly embraced by the people.3 Although historians still disagree strongly about the pace of religious change,4 even the most skeptical of them would accept that the revisionists, particularly Christopher Haigh, have made some good points. At the same time, it makes little sense to neglect, as many have, the Edwardian and Marian phases of the English Reformation. Reformers active during the reign of the boy king were far more than mere precursors to the Calvinists in Elizabeth's reign. Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, John Hooper, and other reformers, including Ponet, actually were creative, dedicated theologians and teachers who helped transmit and preserve continental ideas by combining them with native thought. As the author of several of the more substantial treatises written during the Edwardian years, Ponet played a crucial role in this process. His theology, hence, deserves a careful analysis.

The obvious place to start is to consider his voluminous publications. On ecclesiastical matters, Ponet's first extant writing is A defence for mariage of priestes, by Scripture and aunciente wryters, which was printed in 1549.5 In this same year, Ponet's translation of Bernardino Ochino's A tragoedie or dialoge of the unjuste primacie of the bishop of Rome (Tragedy or Dialogue) appeared.6 With John Hooper, Ponet preached the Lenten sermons of 1550, the only surviving of which is Ponet's "A notable sermon concerninge the ryght use of the lordes supper..."7 These two were the only Edwardian reformers to have their sermons published during Edward's reign.8 Apparently, Ponet's next project was his catechism, Catechismus brevis christianae disciplinae summam continens, omnibus, ludimagistris authoritate regia commendatus Huic catechismo adiuncti sunt Articuli, which he began writing no later than 1552, while still at Winchester.9 Ponet translated this into English and had it printed under the title A short catechisme. This became the only English catechism officially authorized by Edward VI.10 Ponet's next major work, An apologie fully aunsweringe by scriptures and aunceant doctors, a blasphemose book gatherid by D. …

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