By Christopher Wells

Last time I introduced some basic Augustinian rules about the one Church as, at once, a visible and invisible society. As visible, the Church is an institution in history to which we may point, that properly codifies orthodox teaching to be obeyed and trusted, within which one must ordinarily be born through baptism in order to be saved. Visible membership in the Church is not enough, however, to guarantee salvation, for the Church’s true members must believe and live out their faith, and finally persevere to the end by God’s grace, all of which will be hidden in important ways both from others and from the would-be faithful themselves. This is the invisible aspect of the Church’s life. That everything is not always as it seems is perplexing, but it also accounts for the mixed character of the Church, which the Lord describes both as a consequence of attack by an enemy and in terms of God’s just judgment in the end (see Matt. 13:24-30). The Church, like her members, is on pilgrimage, and awaits her consummation in the marriage supper of the Lamb (see Rev. 19:6-9).

I will turn in a third column to Richard Hooker, the oft-heralded architect of Anglican ecclesiology, but John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury, comes first, having preceded Hooker by a generation and, in fact, served as his patron at Oxford. Hooker would later describe Jewel as “the worthiest divine that Christendom hath bred for some hundreds of years” (Laws Be that as it may, it is interesting to ask where Jewel’s passionate Apology of the Church of England (1562; see the 2002 edn. from Church Publishing) falls along the Augustinian axis of invisible visibilism. I will attempt to answer by taking seriously Jewel’s own constructive theological account, which he offers self-consciously in the teeth of fresh Christian division that demanded uncomfortable inter-ecclesial adjudication.

I say uncomfortable, but that may sound moralistic, as if the requisite battle for the Church’s purifying ought not call forth, on occasion, a righteous indignation and concomitant courage to answer the enemies of the Church and the gospel. In the latter spirit and with such a purpose in view, Jewel warms to his subject, and his text evinces the frisson of reform, taking the fight to his opponents. For we have, writes Jewel, “put ourselves apart not as heretics are wont, from the Church of Christ, but as all good men ought to do, from the infection of naughty persons and hypocrites” (Pt. IV; p. 65) — and more than that, from the “fellowship” of “men, who, though they be not, yet at least seem and be called Christians” (Pt. IV; p. 66). To be sure, these same imposters, having “left nothing remaining in the Church of God that hath any likeness of this Church, yet will… seem the patrons and valiant maintainers of the Church,” as all heretics always have. Here Jewel notes Arians, Nestorians, Ebionites, and “Mahomites” (or “Saracens”); in an earlier list he includes the Eutychians, Marcionites, Valentinians, Carpocratians, Tatians, and Novatians — in short, “all them which have had a wicked opinion either of God the Father, or of Christ, or of the Holy Ghost, or of any other point of the Christian religion” (Pt. III; p. 42). Curiously, in both lists of heresies, Jewel fails to mention Donatists, the ecclesial heretics, whose teaching and actions occasioned St. Augustine’s having insisted that the true Church sits secretly within the all-too-visible bounds of a mixed assembly, attended by good and bad Catholic alike. Faced with genuine ecclesiological conundra, the Donatists erred both through premature departure and an embrace of over-realized visibility. In this way, the Donatists occasioned misbegotten division, that is, the very thing prompting Jewel’s own writing, amid the ruins of the western Church in his day.


The Augustinian student expects Jewel to acquit Anglicans of just this sinful charge, while at the same time leveling it against his opponents: they are the unduly dividing and departing Donatists. That he does not redounds, in part, to his decision to portray Rome not as simply erring — as, therefore, potentially still sitting on the permeable perimeter of the Church, like the Donatists — but rather as itself Antichrist. Quite simply, Jewel views Rome as “the very same harlot of Babylon and rout of devils whereof is prophesied so plainly in the Apocalypse” (Pt. IV; p. 74). It follows that the Roman church “is severed from the Gospel” — borrowing the phrase, remarkably enough, from St. Cyprian himself (Recap.; p. 137).

And this suggests a second reason for the absence in Jewel’s Apology of any real wrestling with Donatism, namely, his not having taken up Augustine’s tripartite teaching about the Church as visible, invisible, and mixed. Specifically, the invisibility of the Church has gone missing, subsumed by an unstinting institutionality made to bear the burden of the whole. And with the disappearance of invisibility goes, too, the mediating admission that the one Church suffers unfaithfulness, confusion, and error — even heresy — from within: sin, that one day will be rooted out, but not yet.

Bumping into the apparent reality of wheat and tares side by side, just as Jesus promised — for there they are: “this great crop and heap of heresies grow up amongst us” — Jewel declines to draw the dominical conclusion, imagining instead the immediate “vanishing” of heresy once the gospel is permitted properly to shine, like the sun burns off the mist of the morning. As he urges:

Let [the Roman Catholics] make a proof, let them give the gospel free passage, let the truth of Jesus Christ give his clear light and stretch forth his bright beams into all parts, and then shall they forthwith see how all these shadows straight will vanish and pass away at the light of the gospel, even as the thick mist of the night consumeth at the sight of the sun. (Pt. III; p. 43)

Charitably, Jewel seems not so much anti- as pre- or simply non-Augustinian. Irenical perorations on the mixed body and the necessary hiddenness of the city of God may be spoken of again anon. For now, the Church herself must be re-set, re-initiated, as Jewel says, “upon a high and glistering place, in the top of an hill (see Isa. 2:2), and built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (see Eph. 2:20)” (Pt. IV; p. 76). And the Church has been so restored, he insists, as may be seen not merely by baptism as a public marker of membership but also by a demonstrable holiness of the faithful, since “God hath plucked us out ‘from the power of darkness, to serve the living God’ (Rom. 8:11), to cut away all the remnants of sin…; that it may appear how… the Spirit of sanctification is in our bodies and… Christ himself doth dwell in our hearts” (Pt. II; p. 39). Sanctification, the usually-long process of Christian perfecting that, please God, may issue in the salvation of one’s soul — at the end of the pilgrim journey — is here presented as a kind of souped-up baptism, comparably public and susceptible of scrutiny.

Jewel’s dogged focus on differentiation is understandable in the context of defending the Church of England’s recent re-structuring, with henceforth no ecclesial or juridical overlap with the Roman Catholic world: a clean break. But his portrait of the one Church, or his own church, as they are in Christ and in history is innovative by traditional standards. In a bid to raise the bar on a sullied, cultural Christianity with too-little verve, Jewel proposes in its place a hopefully reformed Christianity no less culturally embedded with wildly inflated expectations for verifiable success, pace both tradition and Scripture (cf. Heb. 12:1). All visibility, all the time. Balls and strikes.

30 years hence, locked in hand-to-hand combat with the Puritans, Hooker will approach these questions differently.

Dr. Christopher Wells is executive director and editor of the Living Church Foundation.

About The Author

Dr. Christopher Wells is Director of Unity, Faith, and Order for the Anglican Communion, and served for 13 years as executive director of the Living Church Foundation, Inc.

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2 Responses

  1. Paul Zahl

    I think this is very good. Jewel probably has more to offer us today than Hooker because his theology is simply deeper, his anthropology more surgical and more “core”, in relation to the Gospel ‘s remediation of human pain.


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