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Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Date Posted:

The Whole Workes of Tyndale

Protestant preaching against antichrist: Was it prudence or paranoia?

British Church Newspaper – 19 January 2007
British Church Newspaper

Treason in Tudor England is a 2006 reprint in paperback of an academic treatise by Professor Lacey Baldwin Smith. The seemingly bungling plots and bizarre schemes of Tudor times are now related to entertain us.

Professor Baldwin Smith describes the fierce opposition to the pagan practices of Rome that followed the import of Bibles in the English tongue, and the subsequent overthrow of idolatry. He goes on to describe the battle to preach and teach from the open Bible, and then, once biblical Christianity was established, the need to counter an endless flood of Counter Reformation intrigues from the Continent.

The book sets out to show Tudor Christians in a poor light and it calls for an answer. Professor Smith asks, “Why did traitors indulge in a variety of sedition so unbelievably bungling and self defeating in character that it is difficult to believe they were totally sane?” and, “Why did society see in such performances, motives and actions dangerous to all established order, both human and divine?”

‘Neurosis and paranoia’

Professor Smith’s answer is that the Reformation had so divided the land that it had provoked a sinister, deep seated and irrational “neurosis” amounting to a paralysing state of paranoia.  Despite caveats and balancing phrases this remains his contention.

“Most distressing of all,” he says, “Christ’s seamless cloak of religious unity that had given spiritual warmth and solace to all believers was in tatters, torn to shreds by Martin Luther’s stand.”

The professor considers it to have been Luther’s fault that, “All had become unhinged, and change was on the march in raucous and atrocity committing battalions unimaginable in the past”.  The Glorious Reformation was, to professor Smith, a virulent virus that generated, “a paranoid response to life”.  He considers that, “Protestantism was a peculiarly demanding and immoderate creed, an absolute message that only met with partial success”.

The great Antichrist

Professor Smith argues that Lutheranism’s “partial” success fuelled, “a new urgency as Protestant reformers set out to sanctify the world and do combat with [here he quotes Archbishop Cranmer) that triple crowned monster and great Antichrist , the Pope in Rome.”

He believes that Protestantism was fundamentally pessimistic: “Of all people Protestants were most prone to expect the worst ... there was in Protestantism throughout the century a sense of panic and extreme urgency for two cosmic forces stood poised and ready for combat.  There were, wrote one passionate reformer [he is now quoting the martyrologist John Foxe], two churches, the church of Christ militant and the church of Antichrist and ... this church of Antichrist may and doth err, but the church of Christ doth not”.

Hence Professor Baldwin Smith contends that all national life in England under the Protestants was filled with, “anxiety bred of spiritual agitation and a sense of terror that the beast was at the gate”.

On the one hand there were the Romanist doctors who insisted that, “whatever is contrary to the [Roman] Catholic faith is heresy,” and on the other hand there was William Tyndale’s insistence that, “It is impossible to preach Christ except thou preach against AntiChrist” (see illustration).

But were the Protestants paranoid, were they frightened of mere shadows conjured up by their own fevered imaginations, or were they soberly opposing a growing menace pledged to destroy them? Was their caution unnecessary, “curcifying for England” or was it well justified?

Archpriest William Allen

Professor Smith calls as a principle witness none other than Romanist Archpriest (later Cardinal) William Allen, leader of the Roman Catholics of England.  Allen’s        description of this pitiful, Protestant hysteria as he saw it, is found in his A True Sincere and Modest De­fence of English Catholics That Suffer For Their Faith Both at Home and Abroad, 1584. (See Box.)

But what sort of witness is Allen? He had been banished to Rome some twenty years earlier on lavish pensions from Phillip II and the Pope. Even his own Romanist biographer acknowledges he was talking rubbish. “Allen .. . had his weaknesses ... most serious of all ... was a failure to realise that, as the years go by, a country and its people may so change as to become well nigh wholly different”.  His most serious failing was, “entire ignorance of the movements and feelings of his country”.

As for Allen’s remark, “cannot a ship appear on any coast ... but it is for invasion of the realm,” [see box] did not everyone know that Phillip II was building a mighty Armada? And was not Allen acting as Phillip II’s propagandist, his Joseph Goebbels, in 1588, the year of the Armada, when Allen smuggled into England his continental‑printed work, An Admonition to the Nobility and People of England and Ireland Concerning the present Warres made for the Execution of His Holiness Sentence [Pius’ V Bull of 1570 excommunicating Elizabeth I] by the Highe and Mightie King Catholike of Spain?

‘The wicked Jesabell’

Allen rants on in the same vein of sanctimonious propaganda: “We [he includes himself amongst threatened Englishmen from his dis­tant sinecure in Rome] now by way of rigour and extreme Justice be both charged and chas­tised for tolerating the wicked Jesabell not now ... a prophetesse ... but the very cheefe spirituall governesse under God to . . . deceive God’s servants”.

What solace were English romanists to derive from this tender ministration of mother church in sending a deadly invading armada against them and their country? It was that, “in this one woman’s condigne correction God’s mighty arme may be feared and glorified ... This much my good lordes and most deere friends I have thought good to forewarn you”!

Under God, Protestant caution was in the event fully justified and both the Armada and Allen’s standing amongst English Romanists was destroyed.

The Calais plot

One reviewer of Treason in Tudor England comments upon “the sheer stupidity of some of the treason plots they hatched”. The reviewer says that his favourite plot was that to seize Calais in 1540, by one Gregory “Sweet Lips” Botolf. The seizure was to take place in “herring time” (Sept 29 ‑ Nov 30) when Calais would be crowded with herring buyers and sellers.   By the 8th of April, however, the conspirators were under arrest.  Stupidity and loose talk had given away the game.

Ill conceived or not, this Romanist plot was a serious one.  The pale of Calais, with its 120 mile surround, had been English territory since the reign of Edward III.  It was a vital artery for trade in tin, lead, cloth and wool, and it accounted for a third of all customs revenue. When the Reformation began, there was the same struggle for possession of Calais as there was for England. This was heightened by Calais role in providing passage for Bibles and travelling reformers. Rome wanted Calais at all costs.

Botolf was a papist thief who had fled to Rome to seek advancement by offering the Pope and Cardinal Pole the pale of Calais on a platter.  He had recruited others to create a major diversion by sneaking 600 men beneath Calais’ walls whilst the others opened the gates under cover of “herring time” bustle.  The plot failed with Botolf himself escaping justice through papal contacts while others were executed at Tyburn. Botolf’s greed may have overcome his caution but does this make the plot futile? (Calais was finally lost by bloody Mary in 1558.)

Adam Damlip hung

Foxe’s account opens with plotter Adam Damlip standing outside Calais’ gates awaiting admission.  He has been to Rome where he claims he has rejected, “such blasphemy of God, contempt of Christes true religion, locens of life and abundce of all abhominations and filthines (as the mother or sink of sinne) that it abhorred his hart.”  It transpires he had been approached there by Cardinal Pole to be a papal agent but rejected the advance.

A Calais Protestant, William Stevens, then seeks to get Damlip licensed to preach within the port, both to contend for Christ and against “that Antychrist of Rome, that auncient enemy of God and all Godly religon: the pope”.  To this end, “Steuens at the opining of the gates brought him vnto the lorde Lisle . . . the kinges deputy of the toun and marchis of Callis,” who readily agreed that Damlip, “should haue ... his licence ... so to do”.  Damlip preached so well to the “souldiers and commoners,” that, “the saide lorde deputy and a great part of the councell, gaue him maruelous great praise and thanks for it”. (Botolf was in the retinue of this same Lord Lisle and it was access to the Lisle papers that gave Professor Smith the details he relates.)

Little wonder that before long the tide turned. The whole duplicitous matter is detailed by Foxe, with Damlip finally hanged drawn and quartered and gruesomly display on these  same Calais gates. The final indignity was that the charge was treason and not heresy based on accusations from Cardinal Pole. And many others, including Damlip’s converts, similarly suffered.

Surely Foxe did not overstate the danger in which the Protestants of Calais found themselves in those early days of the Reformation when every stratum of society, from the highest to the lowest, was polarising into Protestestant and popish camps?

Cardinal Allen and 'Protestant paranoia'

“Once they [the Protestant establishment] show themselves to be so terrified by God in the death of so many martyrs [traitors and spies ‑ mostly Jesuits) which they in a kind of extreme desperate obstinacy and obduration, do daily kill; and yet are to appalled by the truth and common sense of all men that they dare not or are ashamed to execute them for religion, whereby even now in the vaunt of their wealth peace and prosperity, they show such extraordinary fears, as is a wonder to behold ... Wherein their misery is so lamentable, as we construe it, the per­plexity which God hath driven them unto, so terrible; that there is not a poor priest, that can enter to say Mass but they imagine he bringeth their destruction.  There cannot a ship appear on any coast nor any prince’s preparation for his own affairs ,but it is for invasion of the realm.  There can be no col­lege founded to relieve men’s banishments abroad, not given to any Catho­lic either in camp or court, but all is against their state; every man crying out (here he turns to Latin) The Romans will come and destroy our nation.”

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