The Anglican Gem: Bishop John Jewel
“The word of God is that unto our souls which our soul is unto our body. As the body dieth when the soul departeth, so the soul of man dieth when it hath not the knowledge of God.”
– John Jewel, Treatises on the Scriptures and on the Sacraments, The Necessity of Scriptures, p. 35.
Bishop John Jewel
by The Venerable Andrew E. Brashier
There is no better hidden jewel in the English Reformation than Bishop John Jewel. Lifelong Anglicans and those on the Canterbury Trail are (regrettably) unaware of his name, much less his works, which influenced the Anglican formularies and apologetics for centuries.
John Jewel was born May 22, 1522, only four and a half years after Luther’s 95 Theses were published. He was educated at Oxford and a disciple of reformer Peter Martyr, who taught at Oxford at Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s invitation. Jewel adopted the reformers’ teachings as they came across the Continent onto England’s shores. His commitment to the reformation slowly rolled out by Archbishop Cranmer would lead him to trouble upon King Edward VI’s early death in 1553. The ascension of Queen Mary, better known as “Bloody” Mary, placed Reformation proponents in peril. Jewel had a front seat in Mary’s persecution as he served as notary for Archbishop Cranmer and Bishop Ridley during the 1554 Disputation, ultimately leading to the martyrdom of Ridley, Bishop Latimer, and later Archbishop Cranmer.
In 1555, Jewel joined other “Marian exiles” who fled to the Continent during her reign and would return after her death and the ascension of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558. During his exile, Jewel traveled several Continental cities in the midst of Reformation: Frankfort, Strasbourg, and Zurich. Jewel sided with the English exiles against John Knox (famous for his later involvement in the Scottish Reformation) in defense of the liturgy used by the English exiles, based upon the Book of Common Prayer. Instead of coming home to England after Queen Elizabeth’s ascension zealously ready to “purify” the church, he vigorously wrote and preached in defense of the prayer book’s catholicity against Roman claims to the contrary and proto-Puritan allegations that the Church of England needed to be “purged” of “lingering popery.”
Upon Jewel’s return to England, he was selected to debate Roman Catholics at the Westminster Conference (Disputation) of 1559. His work impressed many and led to his appointment to preach at St. Paul’s Cross in London where he zealously argued against the uncatholic practices of the Roman church and defended the Church of England. His "Challenge” sermons led to “The Great Controversy” in 1560 where numerous letters were published between himself and Roman Catholic polemists leading to his work, Apology of the Church of England.
Jewel would continue a vigorous defense of his Apology against the Roman Catholic, Thomas Harding. Furthermore, he engaged with those who did not wish to conform to the Church of England, including denying the admission of his friend (and future biographer) Lawrence Humphrey to a benefice for refusing to wear a surplice. Jewel’s two-front war of words against Romans and Puritans alike merited the illustrious Richard Hooker referring to his teacher as the “worthiest divine that Christendom hath bred for some hundreds of years.” (Book II.vi.4, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity). Although Anglicans typically recall the great Richard Hooker and his tome, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, they sadly have forgotten the “worthiest divine” for hundreds of years and Hooker’s mentor: Bishop John Jewel. Without Bishop Jewel’s generous patronage of a young Richard Hooker, he would likely have never received an education leading to his magnum opus defining Anglican ecclesiology.
Perhaps because Bishop Jewel was called home by our Lord in 1571 at the young age of 49 is why we have forgotten his hand in defending the Elizabethan Settlement. If one is familiar with Bishop Jewel, typically it is through, The Apology of the Church of England. This short work neatly and succinctly defends the reformation of the Church of England to retain her catholicity and orthodoxy. It is a work deserving a place in every Anglican minister’s library and should be handed out to inquirers. Archbishop Richard Bancroft, and later Bishop John Cosin (1662 Visitation Articles), required every parish to have a copy of Jewel’s Apology. The work was so influential that the 1604 Canons governing the Church of England for three hundred plus years cited to the Apology and its defense of the sign of the cross used in baptism. (Canon XXX).
Bishop Jewel’s hand in guiding the English Reformation is manifested further in his editorial work on the Second Book of Homilies, of which some scholars surmise he authored three to six (or more) of the twenty-one homilies included in the second book. Gerald Bray, “The Books of Homilies: A Critical Edition,” p. xvii-xix, James Clarke & Co. (2015); see also, Gerald Bray, “A Fruitful Exhortation: A Guide to the Homilies, p. 53, The Latimer Trust (2014). The two Books of Homilies are together endorsed by Article 35 of the Articles of Religion as containing “godly & wholesome Doctrine” worthy of preaching in churches by ministers.
Bishop Jewel was known as an excellent preacher gifted in his role as overseer who taught and maintained the doctrine of the church catholic, reformed by necessity during the Reformation. Several of his sermons were gathered together and published in the form of two treatises: one upon the Holy Scriptures and the other upon the Sacraments. Together, these two treatises concisely yet powerfully distill the Anglican view of Word and Sacrament ministry. These important primary sources of the English Reformation were recently republished through The North American Anglican Press as a single paperback for convenience along with editorial notes from prior editions and myself. (Treatises on Scripture and the Sacraments, John Jewel available at Amazon).
In his Treatises, Bishop Jewel argues the Holy Scriptures are the foundation of our faith pointing to the chief cornerstone, our Lord Jesus Christ. Christians of every stripe would do well to take his words to heart and in practice. Jewel directs us to the Scriptures first and then the Church Fathers in their catholic reception of the faith. His second treatise builds upon the first and demonstrates how we enter into the Christian life, are nourished by our Lord, and enriched in the life of the Holy Spirit through faith. These fundamentals desperately need to be recovered by Christians everywhere, taught to our children, and proclaimed to all the nations.
Bishop Jewel notes in his second treatise that his goal is not to seek glory nor praise, but “to discharge our conscience, and to speak the truth, that we may be blameless in the day of our Lord.” May we Anglicans do the same and be bold witnesses of the salvation offered by our loving Savior to all who trust in Him.
For more on Bishop Jewel:
- Andrew Brashier, “A Forgotten Jewel Glimmers Again,” The North American Anglican, Nov. 4, 2022 (available at: https://northamanglican.com/a-forgotten-jewel-glimmers-again/)
- “Life of John Jewel,” Anglican.net (https://www.anglican.net/works/life-of-john-jewel-1685/)
- John Jewel, “Apology of the Church of England,” Anglican.net (https://www.anglican.net/works/john-jewel-apology-answer-defence-church-of-england/)
- Henry Jansma, “John Jewel’s ‘Challenge’ to Rome, reformation21, Oct. 19, 2017 (Part 1 available at: https://www.reformation21.org/blog/john-jewels-challenge-to-rome-1 & Part 2 available at: https://www.reformation21.org/blog/john-jewels-challenge-to-rome-2)