Defining the Nature and Form of the English Church

Whitgift, John, Archbishop of Canterbury (1530?-1604)

The Defense of the Aunsvvere to the Admonition, against the Replie of T.C. By Iohn VVhitgift Doctor of Diuinitie. In the beginning are added these. 4. tables. 1 Of dangerous doctrines in the replie. 2 Of falsifications and vntruthes. 3 Of matters handled at large. 4 A table generall.

London: Henry Binneman, for Humfrey Toye, 1574


Folio: 27.1 x 18.9 cm. [24], 812, [12] p. a4, b8, A-Z6, Aa-Zz6, Aaa-Xxx6, Yyy4, Aaaa6


Bound in near-contemporary English calf with expert restorations to the hinges and extremities. Internally, this copy is in excellent condition, with only a few minor faults. The title page is finger-soiled and bears the early ownership inscription of Will. Waterson. There is a light dampstain to lower part of the first seven leaves, which disappears completely by leaf B3. The blank lower corner of the final leaf has been torn away, in no way affecting the printed area. There are several marginal tears (with no loss) and clean tears in leaves G3-4, again with no loss. Aside from these minor points, the text is in excellent condition; the leaves are clean with good margins. The text is printed in Black Letter. The title page features an elaborate, historiated woodcut title page border.

SECOND EDITION, printed in the year of the first, of the future Archbishop of Canterbury's reply to Thomas Cartwright's defence against Whitgift's “An Answere to a Certen Libel”, 1572.

“The ‘Admonition to the Parliament’(1572), an appeal to the public in the guise of

a letter to parliament, was the most outspoken protestant criticism of the Elizabethan settlement to appear by that date, and divided the puritans themselves. Its pithy, scurrilous style gave it notoriety and made an immediate impact, drawing a reply from Paul's Cross by Thomas Cooper, bishop of Lincoln, as early as 27 June, and it reached its third edition by August. At about this time Whitgift was entrusted with the task of replying to the ‘Admonition’, which he took on with some urgency. In a letter of September informing Archbishop Parker of Cartwright's removal from his fellowship, Whitgift declared that he had completed his refutation and had most of it in fair copy, sending the full text to the archbishop in the following month. By that date the authors of the ‘Admonition’ had been identified and imprisoned. Yet before Whitgift's work could be published, a ‘Second Admonition’ to the Parliament appeared, penned by his Cambridge adversary Cartwright, in which a fuller account of the presbyterian discipline was set out. Whitgift's ‘Answer to the Admonition’ was published, probably in November 1572, and an augmented edition, containing a section addressing Cartwright's ‘Second Admonition’, appeared in February 1573.

“The frenetic rate of publication was continued by Cartwright, whose ‘Replye to an Answere of Dr Whitgifte’ appeared in April 1573. This full exposition of the Reformed position reinvigorated radical support but brought strong reaction from the government. A proclamation ordering the surrender of the ‘Admonition’ and other books was issued. Bishops were required by the privy council to act more firmly against nonconformist clergy and, in December, a warrant was issued for Cartwright's arrest, forcing him into exile once again. Encouraged by Parker, Whitgift devoted much of this year to an extensive response to Cartwright, answering him point by point in the present work, his ‘Defense of the Aunswere to the Admonition Against the Replie of T.C.’ which appeared in 1574. On 26 March 1574 he preached the New Year sermon before the queen at Greenwich, setting out his defence of episcopal government; it was published later that year. Other supporters of Cartwright entered the debate with Whitgift at this time, but the major response came from the exiled Cartwright himself, in 1575 and again in 1577, to neither of which Whitgift replied.

“These years between 1570 and 1575 were crucial to the developing character of the Elizabethan church, and Whitgift's views were to prevail with the queen and with authority; the points at issue between him and his opponents at this time therefore need some consideration. Behind the polemical tone of the controversy it is worth locating points of agreement: both Whitgift and his opponents shared a Calvinist theology and, in matters of ecclesiology, they each recognized the importance of theological scholarship and the central role of scripture in defining the nature of the church. In the climate of the early 1570s they each sought to locate their position between what they saw as the corruptions of the Roman church on the one hand and the excesses of Anabaptism on the other, both of which evils they identified among the views of their opponents. Behind these common protestant assumptions what was at stake was the true nature of the English church and, in the course of the debate, two conflicting views emerged of the Christian community and of its relations with social and political power.

“For Whitgift the importance of maintaining the distinction between the visible and the invisible church was crucial and it was wrong to try to conflate the two: the invisible spiritual government of the church belonged to God, but:

‘The visible and external government is that which is executed by man and consisteth of external discipline and visible ceremonies practised in that church that containeth in it both good and evil’ (Works, 1.183).

This important passage illustrates two key elements in Whitgift's position: first he envisioned the church as comprising both good and evil, thereby differing from Cartwright, who postulated a closer relationship between the visible church, the godly, and the invisible, the elect, and was of the view that the ungodly were not full members of the church and should be firmly excluded from the sacraments. Whitgift's more inclusive definition led on naturally to his second point, for it was precisely because the church contained both good and evil that external discipline was necessary. That discipline was to be provided by the Christian magistrate and therefore ‘must be according to the kind and form of government used in the commonwealth’ (ibid., 2.263). This moved the earlier debate between the bishops and the puritans on to rather different ground; the dispute over whether ceremonies and church discipline were things indifferent, adiaphora, or scripturally ordained remained central but, whereas earlier defenders of the establishment had generally defended the prayer book and episcopacy on essentially pragmatic grounds, Whitgift now postulated a view of church–state relations that removed any distinction between the church of Christ and the Christian commonwealth, in which the queen, as supreme governor, should ‘govern the church in ecclesiastical affairs as she doth the commonwealth in civil’ (ibid., 2.264).

“The settlement of 1559 and the royal supremacy were thus inextricably linked, and this became the cornerstone of subsequent defences of the establishment against criticism from the puritans. It was an argument, however, written in a defensive mode, and Whitgift's lengthy tract lacked the emotional appeal of Cartwright's work; particularly on the question of the church's role in edification, which the puritans described as the building of Christ's kingdom in the community but which Whitgift saw as the growth of understanding in the individual. Thus, while Whitgift laid the foundation for the later theoretical work of Richard Hooker, the style and emphasis of the Defense did little to win over his opponents. It did, however, receive the endorsement of the queen and of most of the privy council.”(DNB)

STC (2nd ed.), 25430.5