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John Jewel’s Challenge and Apology

Bishop John Jewel defended his church with a challenge.

JOHN JEWEL is notable for writing an “apology” for the Church of England against the church of Rome. It came from a challenge he issued from his pulpit during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Born in 1522, Jewel lived through the tumultuous changes brought about by the Reformation. A graduate of Merton College, he became a fellow at Corpus Christi College in Oxford. Around 1547 he adopted the Reformation ideas of Peter Martyr Vermigli. However, when Mary came to the throne, he composed his university’s congratulatory epistle to the Catholic queen. But soon he drew unfavorable attention to himself and endangered his own life by assisting Protestant Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Bishop Nicholas Ridley in their defenses after they were arrested for heresy. Mary ultimately burned the pair. Although Jewel signed Catholic articles, he remained under suspicion and fled from England in 1555.

Safely on the continent, he apologized publicly for signing articles which he did not believe. After Mary’s death in 1559, he returned to England. Elizabeth was now head of the Church of England. Jewel urged her to adopt more extensive church reforms than she was willing. When he could not win her to this course, he accommodated his views to hers, accepting an appointment at St. Paul’s Cross. There, on this day, 26 November 1559, he issued his famous challenge. In it he listed twenty-seven disputed points and said he would become a Catholic if anyone could prove that the Bible or the early church taught the Roman position on any of these before the sixth century. 

When he repeated the challenge the following year, several Catholics took him up on it. A bitter controversy followed. In that context, Jewel wrote An Apology in Defense of the Church of England, a methodical statement of the Anglican position. This was so fundamental a defense of Anglicanism and so sharp a critique of Roman practice that, during the reign of James I, Archbishop Bancroft ordered copies placed in all Anglican churches. Jewel argued that it was injurious and cruel for the Roman Catholics to label Protestants as heretics when it could produce nothing substantial from the Bible against them, “who have not revolted from Christ, nor from the Apostles, nor from the Prophets. ...”

Although Jewel had once promoted Puritan interests, he later opposed them, finding them troublesome. He did not live to see his fiftieth year, dying in 1571. Richard Hooker, whom Jewel had helped as a boy, wrote of him that he was the “worthiest divine that Christendom hath bred for some hundreds of years.”

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