Open Access

’That Ancient and Christian Liberty’: Early Church Councils in Reformation Anglican Thought

   | Dec 31, 2019
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Patristic Thought in Byzantine and Protestant Theology. From Gregory Palamas and George Pachymeres to Luther, Calvin, Anglicans, and Anabaptists. Editor: Andre A. Gazal


This article will examine the role the first four ecumenical councils played in the controversial enterprises of John Jewel (1522-71) as well as two later early modern English theologians, Richard Hooker (1553-1600) and George Carleton (1559-1628). In three different polemical contexts, each divine portrays the councils as representing definitive catholic consensus not only for doctrine, but also ecclesiastical order and governance. For all three of these theologians, the manner in which the first four ecumenical councils were summoned and conducted, as well as their enactments touching the Church’s life provided patristic norms for its rightful administration. Jewel, Hooker, and Carleton each argued that the English Protestant national Church as defined by the Elizabethan Settlement exemplified a faithful recovery of patristic conciliar ecclesiastical government as an essential component in England’s overall endeavor to return to the true Church Catholic. Jewel employed these councils in order to impeach the Council of Trent’s (1545-63) status as a general council, and to justify the transfer of the authority of general councils to national and regional synods under the direction of godly princes. Hooker proposes the recovery of general councils as a means of achieving Catholic consensus within a Christendom divided along national and confessional lines while at the same time employing the pronouncements of the first four general councils to uphold the authoritative patristic and catholic warrant for institutions and practices retained by the Elizabethan Church. Finally, amid the controversy surrounding the Oath of Allegiance during the reign of James VI/1 (r. 1603-25), George Carleton devoted his extensive examination of these councils to refute papal claims to coercive authority with which to depose monarchs as an extension of excommunication. In so doing, Carleton relocates this ‘coactive jurisdiction’ in the ecclesiastical authority divinely invested in the monarch, making the ruler the source of conciliar authority, and arguably of catholic consensus itself.

Publication timeframe:
3 times per year
Journal Subjects:
Theology and Religion, General Topics and Biblical Reception