Edmund Grindal and His Letter to the Queen

Unlike the Roman bishop he had taken as example, Grindal didn’t prevail over the queen, who had a hard time settling for a suspension and continued to press for a full demotion.

The 56-year old archbishop was well aware of the likely consequences of this challenge to the queen’s orders, but he was bound by his conscience and by God’s word which, he believed, gave him “no power to destroy, but to edify.”[2]“Bear with me, I beseech you, Madam,” he concluded, “if I choose rather to offend your earthly Majesty than to offend the heavenly majesty of God. … Remember, Madam, that you are a mortal creature”

 

In 1576, Archbishop Edmund Grindal joined the company of Puritans who offended Queen Elizabeth I. His most provocative statement was a reminder of her mortality. He was suspended from his duties for the rest of his life.

The unwelcomed reminder came at the end of a 6000-word letter (an actual “book to the queen”), fashioned after the epistles of Ambrose to Emperor Theodosius. The occasion was Elizabeth’s opposition to a practice known as “prophesying.” It was a common practice in England, imported from Frankfurt by returning Marian exiles. It could be described as “teamwork preaching,” where a group of preachers covered different parts of a sermon (for example, explanation, doctrine, and application).

If this sounds odd today, it made sense at a time when a sermon could last two or three hours. It was also a helpful tool in order to train new preachers. This is how Grindal saw it, at a time when England suffered from a scarcity of capable preachers and many inexperienced or unqualified men resorted to reading from the pulpit other preachers’ sermons.

The queen disagreed. The reports she had received of this practice made it sound like a disorderly ordeal. Grindal’s resistance to her requests to suppress it didn’t help. In the end, she ordered the archbishop not only to ban the habit, but also to limit the number of licensed preachers (for financial reasons, since they were supported by the state). Four or five per county were sufficient, she thought.

“But surely I cannot marvel enough,” Grindal replied, “how this strange opinion should once enter into your mind, that it should be good for the Church to have few preachers. Alas, Madam! Is the Scripture more plain in any one thing, than that the gospel of Christ should be plentifully preached, and that plenty of labourers should be sent into the Lord’s harvest, which, being great and large, standeth in need, not of a few, but of many workmen?”[1]

The 56-year old archbishop was well aware of the likely consequences of this challenge to the queen’s orders, but he was bound by his conscience and by God’s word which, he believed, gave him “no power to destroy, but to edify.”[2]“Bear with me, I beseech you, Madam,” he concluded, “if I choose rather to offend your earthly Majesty than to offend the heavenly majesty of God. … Remember, Madam, that you are a mortal creature”[3]

Unlike the Roman bishop he had taken as example, Grindal didn’t prevail over the queen, who had a hard time settling for a suspension and continued to press for a full demotion.

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