The greater works of the past are seldom irrelevant to the present. In our own age of concern for unity, and of increasing ecumenical involvement with the Eastern Orthodox and Roman churches, this is particularly true of the famous Apology of the Anglican Reformer, John Jewel, which celebrates its four hundredth anniversary this year. This work enjoyed a European reputation in its day as representative of the whole Reformation position against Rome, and it was translated into several languages. Today, of course, it is little read. Nevertheless, the issues which it raises and the main points which it makes are no less apposite in our age than at the time of composition.
Unity And Authority
Jewel’s first concern is to rebut the charge that the Reformers are non-Catholic schismatics who destroy unity. This leads him to a discussion of the true norm of unity or catholicity. He finds it, not in obligatory conformity to a present organization and its authoritarian judgments, but in agreement with the doctrines and practices of the New Testament and their embodiment in the earlier patristic period. Judged by this standard, the Reformers are the true Catholics and the sixteenth-century Romanists are the eccentric innovators who destroy the only unity which really counts.
A second concern of Jewel derives naturally from the first. This was to establish the true standard or authority by which unity is to be evaluated. For Roman Catholics the one Catholic faith and order are decided not merely by Scripture, nor even by Scripture with the early fathers and councils, but also by tradition, by the teaching office, by decisions of Roman councils, and more recently by ex cathedra Papal pronouncements. Unity implies conformity to all these ...1
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