“We Demand that the Doctrine we Confess be properly Heard and Tested against Holy Scripture.” Henry VIII Defies Pope Paul III

Henry VIII, King of England (1491-1547)

Schrifft, an Keiserliche Maiestat, an alle andere Christliche K'nige und Potentaten, inn welcher der k'nig ursach anzeigt, warumb er gen Vincentz zum Concilio (welchs mit falschen titel, general genent) nich komen sey, Und wie fehrlich auch den andern allen sey, welche das Evangelium Christi angenomen, de zu erscheinen, Aus dem Latin verdeudtscht durch Justum Jonam.

Wittenberg: Joseph Klug, 1539


Quarto: 19 x 14.5 cm. 10 leaves. A4, B2, C4 (with the final blank leaf present)


Bound in attractive paste-paper boards. A nice, fresh copy with wide margins, the edges of the title a little worn. Large, intricate woodcut initial on the second leaf. Provenance: Jean François Van de Velde (1743-1828), professor of the Grand Collège, Louvain, whose library of more than 14,000 books was sold in Ghent in 1831-1832.

This is Justus Jonas' (1493-1555) German translation of Henry VIII's account of why he did not attend the Council of Vicenza. The first edition, " Ad Carolum Cesarem Augustum epistola" was published at London in 1538. An English translation followed soon after. This is an extremely rare work in any edition. Only a single copy of the English edition is held in the United States (Folger). I have located four copies of the present edition in U.S. institutions (Folger, Yale, Library of Congress, and Wisconsin.)

This is Henry VIII’s official explanation for his refusal to attend Pope Paul III’s Church Council of Vicenza. Soon after his elevation to the Papacy in 1536, Paul III attempted to summon a general council of the Church at Mantua, to report on and reform abuses and at the same time counter the threat to it from the more extreme reformers. It came to nothing. The plan for the council was undermined by the Protestant princes who opposed it in principle, the virtual state of war subsisting between Francis I and the Emperor in practice, and the Duke of Mantua, who declined to assume responsibility for it and in particular for maintaining order between the various factions. Undeterred, Paul issued a new bull convening a council at Vicenza on 1st May 1538, copies of which were sent to all the major princes and prelates of Europe including Henry VIII.

"In this pugnacious missive, Henry argues with sharp wit and sarcasm against the pope's authority to call a council.  The letter has nothing in common with the typical long-winded communications of Henry's crowned contemporaries.  One would like to know whether it is his own product - which is certainly plausible - or the work of one of his ministers.  Perhaps Thomas Cromwell? Its flavor can be sampled from the following quote:  ‘We demand that the doctrine we confess be properly heard and tested against Holy Scripture... Whatever is not deliberated and discussed, we shall not give up.  We will not allow the cause to be suppressed without a hearing.  We will not suffer the truth to be trampled on in public...’ And further, Henry refers to the council of Mantua, called by Pope Paul III the previous year, and canceled because the Duke of Mantua declined to have it take place in his territory: ‘If now Paul III has such authority, jure divino, as he arrogates to himself, why did he not force Duke Frederic (of Mantua) to allow the council in Mantua? The duke did not want to allow it, and what is more, he refused permission for any one to enter the city.  Where are the pope's thunderbolts and terrifying commands and bulls? ... How is it that plenitudo potestis misfired?’."(Schrodt & Vogelstein)

This edition was translated by Justus Jonas (1493-1555), a reformer who was devoted more to the public life rather than one of quiet scholarship, and was regarded by Cochlaeus as one of the "four apostles of the new teaching" (along with Luther, Melanchthon, and Bugenhagen).  He translated many of Luther's sermons and was the first to give a protestant sermon at St. Thomas' in Leipzig in the same year as the present work was printed (see Contemporaries of Erasmus II, pp. 244-246).

Schrodt & Vogelstein 95; Kuczynski 1000; Pegg 1353; Schaaber 160