What’s Up with John Jewel?
John Jewel (1522-1571) is not typically the first person we think of when we think of the Reformation in the Church of England. We might more readily think of Thomas Cranmer, or Henry VIII, or Elizabeth I, or Richard Hooker. But Jewel was an absolutely instrumental figure in articulating the vision of a Reformed Church of England, and his Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicana (Apology for the Church of England) in 1562 offered an interpretation of the English church as rooted in “the Holy Gospel, the Ancient Bishops, and the Primitive Church” (Apology, 14). Jewel is important because he was central in the reconstruction of the English church in the Elizabethan period. As much as Richard Hooker, Jewel’s vision defined the Elizabethan English church.
In addition to his importance in helping establish the DNA of the Church of England, Jewel is still studied for his rhetorical power and ability to articulate what it would look like to be Protestant and yet not see the history of the church as a series of declensions from the original purity of the gospel. T.D. Bozeman in To Live Ancient Lives argues that at the core of the Puritan movement was a belief in the idea of “primitivism,” or the confidence that the “primordium” of New Testament Christianity in belief, polity, and worship could and must be reinstated in the contemporary context (Bozeman, 71). Anglicans like Jewel also looked to the “consensus” of the early church as normative, but for them it included not just the New Testament but also the interpretation the Bible in the early fathers down to the sixth century, which they regarded as the end of the patristic era. As Lancelot Andrewes famously put it, Anglicans believed in “one canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period,” and thus “the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith” (Terry, 562). Jewel’s Apologia was part of the reconstruction and self-presentation of the Church of England as an exemplar of Christianity that was Reformed according to Scripture and the church fathers.
Jewel was by all accounts a prodigious scholar with a remarkable memory. He matriculated at Oxford and studied under John Parkhurst at Merton College, who introduced Jewel to the humanism of Erasmus. Jewel subsequently moved to Corpus Christi College, where he graduated BA in 1540. He became a fellow of Corpus Christi in 1542 and proceeded MA in 1545. In 1547, the Italian Reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli was appointed as Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford by Thomas Cranmer, and Jewel eagerly sought out Vermigli’s friendship. The two became so close that Jewel later referred to him as “my father, my pride, and even the half of my soul” (Zurich Letters, 28). Jewel received the B.D., a rare accomplishment, in 1552.
At the succession of Mary Tudor to the throne, Jewel, like other prominent clergy in England, was ordered to recant his Protestant views, and in Oct. 1554, Jewel did just that, much to his own shame. He immediately regretted his recantation and subscription to the Marian Catholic articles and fled England to the continent, where he served Vermigli in Strasbourg and Heinrich Bullinger in Zürich until the death of Mary in 1558.
Upon his return in 1559, Jewel was immediately identified as a leader of the Reformation and was consecrated as the Bishop of Salisbury on Jan. 21, 1560. Jewel followed Hugh Latimer and others mocking the bishops of the pre-Reformation period and asserted that “we require our bishops to be pastors, labourers and watchmen” (Works, 4.1221) Bishops were to be laborious pastors and preachers and attendant supervisors rather than absentee landlords. Jewel lived a personally ascetic life, apparently allowing himself only six hours of sleep at night in order to pursue his scholarship and episcopal duties, a regimen which wore his body down and contributed to his early death in 1571.
Jewel’s famous treatise had two aims: to demonstrate the corruptions of the Church of Rome and the reason why Reformation was necessary, and to distinguish the Reformation in the Church of England from “some new and strange Sects stirring, such as the Anabaptists, Libertines, Mennonians, Zwenkfeldians…thank God, the World may plainly see, that these Monsters are not of our Breeding, Educating, or Nourishing” (Apology, 46). Jewel resisted the common charge that Protestants were antinomians because they insisted upon justification by faith: “true faith is Lively, and cannot be idle” (Apology, 42).
The English Church, according to Jewel, agreed with the Scriptures and with the early fathers of the church where the Church of Rome did not. Thus the English separated from Rome, but that did not indicate a separation from “the Primitive Church of Christ and the Apostles, and of the Holy Fathers” which “is the True Catholick Church; and that we dare call Noah’s Ark, the Spouse of Christ, the Ground and Pillar of Truth” (Apology, 74-5, see 115-116). In the Church of England, worship is done “Decently and in Order, and as near as we can, according to the Institutions of Former Times” (Apology, 119).
Importantly, however, the Scriptures possessed final authority and were capable of judging the Fathers when they erred: “They are learned: they have preeminence in the church: they are judges: they have the gifts of wisdom and understanding; yet they are often deceived. They are our fathers, but not fathers unto God; they are stars, fair, and beautiful, and bright; yet they are not the sun: they bear witness of the light, they are not the light” (Works 4.1174). The fathers were nonetheless given great weight in interpretation of the Scriptures in Jewel’s attempt to find “an interpretive authority without accepting either the solution of an authoritative church or the opposite extreme of complete dependence upon special revelation” (Southgate, 119-20).
Jewel’s high ecclesiology in the Apology was accompanied by a rich view of the sacraments. Although he insisted that there was no change in the substance of the bread and wine, Jewel argued “that the Body and Blood of our Lord are verily and indeed given to the Faithful, in the Lord’s Supper; the Flesh of the Son of God Quickning our Souls, Meat from Heaven, the Food of Immortality, Grace, Truth, and Life; and that it is the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, by Partaking of which, we are Quickned, Strengthned, and Fed unto Immortality, and by which we are Joyned, United, and Incorporated with Christ, that we may Abide in Him, and He in us” (Apology, 31). Likewise, baptism for Jewel was the “Sacrament of the Remission of Sins, of that Washing which we have in Christ’s Blood; and that it is not to be denied to any Body that will profess the Name of Christ; not even to the Infants of Christians, forasmuch as they are Born in Sin, and do belong to the People of God” (Apology, 31).
Assessment and Critique
Contemporary Anglicanism still has much to learn from Jewel. His belief that the visible church is “Noah’s Ark,” outside of whom no one can be saved, is an important corrective to the individualist tendencies in contemporary western Christianity. Jewel’s understanding of the Eucharist also cuts a middle way between memorialism and transubstantiation. In his recent work The Unintended Reformation, Brad Gregory states that Reformed Eucharistic theology, with its insistence that Christ’s physical body is in heaven, made Christ’s presence in the Eucharist “spiritual” such that Christ was not truly present (Gregory, 42-3). Jewel, by contrast, demonstrates that Christ’s presence is no less real for being spiritual. “Spiritual presence” for Jewel does not mean mental or private, it means that Christ’s body and blood is present by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our partaking of Christ in the Eucharist does not mean that the bread and wine change, but that as a people, we do. Christ gave us this sacrament that it “might change us, and, as Theophylact words it, might Transform us into his Body” (Apology, 34). In other words, for Jewel the Eucharist is central because by making Christ present to us in it, the Spirit also makes for Christ a new people, his mystical body.
At the same time, there are a number of negative lessons to be drawn from Jewel’s Apology. He shares with the age a regrettable vitriol towards Roman Catholics and misplaced confidence both in his own sanctity and the sanctity of his church. There are at points a tendency towards vulgar self-justification that should repulse contemporary readers.  One of the great gains of the late twentieth century has been the consensus among Anglicans that Roman Catholics are our brothers and sisters. The Nottingham Statement of the National Evangelical Anglican Conference confesses: “Seeing ourselves and Roman Catholics as fellow-Christians, we repent of attitudes that have seemed to deny it.” Allowing for Jewel’s personal faults and for the faults of the age, however, there remains much to commend in his exposition and defense of the Elizabethan church of England: a vigorous defense of the visible church, a refusal to set Scripture and tradition in opposition, and a robust place for the sacraments in the life of the church.
Jonathan Warren is presently finishing a Ph.D. in the History of Christianity at Vanderbilt under the supervision of Dr. Paul Lim and Dr. Peter Lake. Jonathan and Tish live in Austin, TX and work for InterVarsity Texas Christian Scholars Network, a ministry to graduate students and faculty at the University of Texas at Austin.
 E.g., “God be praised, though we are not altogether as good as we ought, and as we profess to be, yet, as bad as we are, when compared with Them, the Innocency and Integrity of our Lives, will be sufficient to disprove the Crimes we are charged with” (Apology, 61).
Booty, John, John Jewel as Apologist of the Church of England (London: SPCK, 1963).
Bozeman, T.D., To Live Ancient Lives: The Primitivist Dimension of Puritanism (Reprint, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011
Gregory, Brad, The Unintended Reformation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012).
Jewel, John, The Apology of the Church of England, trans. Thomas Cheyne(1714).
[I have chosen this later translation for citation in this post because, as the translator indicates, “the Old Translations are now become so obscure, by reason of the Variableness of our Language, that the English Reader, for whose sake this is intended, cannot be much benefited by them.”]
Jewel, John, The Works of John Jewel, ed. John Ayre, 7 vols. (1850).
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. “Jewel, John.”
Southgate, W.M., John Jewel and the Problem of Doctrinal Authority (1962).
Terry, Justyn, “Theology in the Anglican Communion,” The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Anglican Communion (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).
The Zurich Letters: Or, the Correspondence of Several English Bishops and Others, ed. Hastings Robinson (1856).