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    Jesus heals bartimaeus craft. Funeral, st. john xi, 21-27, the conversation of martha and jesus before the sures include such activities as eating, drinking, sleeping, walking, speaking, and healing of bartimaeus, those who went ahead of him, fisher said, betoken "the. www.andrews.edu.

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Andrews University Seminary Studies,
Summer 1985,
Vol.
23,
No.
2,
161-180.
Copyright
@
1985 by Andrews University Press.
THE EXEGETICAL METHODS OF SOME SIXTEENTH-
CENTURY ROMAN CATHOLIC PREACHERS IN ENGLAND:
FISHER, PERYN, BONNER, AND WATSON
PART
I
ERWIN
R.
GANE
Angwin, California 94508
In earlier articles, I have explored the exegetical methods of
representative Anglican and Puritan preachers and also of late
medieval sermons.' This article and a subsequent one will be
devoted to the exegetical methods displayed in sermons of four
Roman Catholic preachers in England who flourished in the six-
teenth century: John Fisher (1469- l535), William Peryn (d. 1558),
Edmund Bonner (l5OO?- l569), and Thomas Watson (1518- 1584). A
major question is the extent to which the biblical exegesis and
other homiletical concerns identify these preachers as being medi-
eval or Renaissance oriented. Are they, for example, more akin to
the medieval preachers or to the Anglican preachers we have dealt
with in the earlier studies?
The presentation that follows will of necessity first give an
overview
of
the careers
of
these four preachers, noting the historical
setting in which their preaching took place. Then, attention will
be
given
to
their specific exegetical techniques and homiletical
concerns.
1.
Overview
of
the Careers
of
the Preachers
John Fisher
John Fisher received his first degree at Michaelhouse, Cam-
bridge, in
1483
at the age of fourteen, was appointed master in 1497,
'"The Exegetical Methods of Some Sixteenth-Century Anglican Preachers:
Latimer, Jewel, Hooker, and Andrewes," Parts
I
and 11,
AUSS
17 (1979): 23-38, 169-
188; "The Exegetical Methods of Some Sixteenth-Century Puritan Preachers:
Hooper,
Cartwright, and Perkins," Parts
I
and
11,
AUSS
19 (1981): 21-36, 99-114;
"Late-Medieval Sermons in England: An Analysis of Fourteenth- and Fifteenth-
Century Preaching."
A
USS
20 (1982): 179-203.
162
ERWIN
R.
CANE
and received his doctorate in theology in 1501
.2
As early as 1494
he had been appointed senior proctor of two annually appointed
proctors, who were executive and administrative officers of the Uni-
ver~ity.~ The Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henvy VII,
chose him as one of her chaplains and later as her confessor in
place of Richard Fitz-James, who became Bishop of Rochester in
1497.4
Edward Surtz divides Fisher's life into three major periods,
and groups his extant works accordingly: (1) the Catholic human-
ist (1 497- 15 17); (2) the ecclesiastical protagonist (15 17- 1527); and
(3) the royal antagonist (1527- 1535).5 The first period was marked
by important promotions and significant works.6 In 1503, the Lady
Margaret instituted readerships in divinity at Oxford and Cam-
bridge. Fisher was the first Lady Margaret Reader at Cambridge, as
John Roper was at Oxford. In 1504, Fisher was elected chancellor
of Cambridge, and served annual terms until 1514, when he was
elected for life. On November 24, 1504, he was consecrated Bishop
of Rochester, and two days later took his place in the Star Chamber
as a member of the King's Council.
The sermons of Fisher's early period (1497-1517) were devo-
tional and non -con troversial. Throughout August and September,
1504, he preached before Lady Margaret ten sermons on the seven
penitential psalms (Vulg. Pss
6,
31, 37, 50, 101, 129, 142).7 At her
request, these sermons were published in 1508 under the title
Fruytful Sayings of
David,
and they were reprinted some six times
before 152ge8 Also belonging to this early period of Fisher's career
is
a
lengthy, undated sermon preached "vpon a good Friday," the
theme of which was the crucifixion of Christ.
*See E. E. Reynolds,Saint John Fisher (Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, 1955
and 1972),
p.
6;
ODCC, 1957 ed.,
S.V.
"Fisher, St. John."
SReynolds,
p.
7.
'Ibid..
pp.
12- 13.
5Edward Surtz, The Works and Days of John Fisher: An Introduction to the
Position of St. John Fisher
(1469-1535),
Bishop of Rochester, in the English Renais-
sance and the Reformation (Cambridge, Mass., 1967),
p.
3.
'jReynolds,
p.
15.
7Reynolds.
p.
18; Surtz,
p.
3.
8S~rtz,
p.
3.
When Henry
VII
died at Richmond on April 21, 1509, it fell to
the lot of John Fisher to preach the funeral sermon at St. Paul's on
May 9.9 This sermon, which occupied about an hour, focused atten-
tion mainly on the king's repentance. The panegyric absorbed only
a few minutes.
The Lady Margaret died June 29, 1509, and a month later
Fisher preached a commemorative sermon, subsequently published
under the title
A
mornynge remembraunce
. . .
of the noble prynces
Margarete.
.
.
.IU
As
E.
E. Reynolds points out: "This sermon is
almost entirely a panegyric in which the preacher likened the Lady
Margaret to 'the blessed woman Martha,' basing his remarks on the
gospel of the commemorative Mass said on the thirtieth day after a
funeral, St. John xi, 21-27, the conversation of Martha and Jesus
before the raising of Lazarus."
l1
Surtz categorizes Fisher's early sermons as distinctively Catholic
with "no fear of the Protestant menace, no need for caution in
statement, and no retirement from possibly extreme positions."
l2
The same cannot be said of the sermons of his second period (15 17-
l527), with the possible exception of
Two Fruytfull Sermons
preached, it is thought, in 1520, but not published until 1532.13
Yet, even in these two sermons it is possible to detect a foreshadow-
ing of Fisher's later conflict with Henry
VIII.
Alluding to the Field
of Cloth of Gold, he speaks of the pleasure and pomp associated
with the courts
of
England and France as manifested on that occa-
sion.14 But these pleasures and shows of worldly beauty are nothing
to be compared with the joys of heaven. Even King Solomon, in
the midst of opulence and indulgence, was obliged to relegate the
things of this world to vanity, weariness, and displeasure. By con-
trast, heaven is a place of untrammelled joy and unexcelled beauty,
qReynolds,
p.
36.
loJohn Fisher,
The English Works of John Fisher,
ed. John E.
B.
Mayor, Early
English Text Society, Extra Series, no.
27
(London,
1876),
1:
289.
(Hereinafter cited
as Fisher,
E
W.)
llReynolds,
p.
38.
12Surtz.
p.
4.
'SIbid.,
p.
27;
Reynolds,
p.
85.
14John Fisher,
Two Fruytfull Sermons
(Ann Arbor, Mich., IJniversity Micro-
films, STC no.
10909,
1532).
sig. A3'. (Hereinafter cited as Fisher,
TFS.)
164
ERWIN
R.
CANE
where there is no fear of poverty, no greed or covetousness, no
sickness, no fear of death, no pride, no envy, or desire for honor.15
It would seem that the obvious allusion to the worldly
mindedness of both Henry
VIII
and Francis
I
could not fail to
be
detected. This slur could perhaps be dismissed as spiritual concern
in 1520 when the sermons were first preached; but by 1532, when
they were published, Henry could hardly fail to interpret it as a
further evidence of Fisher's basic recalcitrance.
Meanwhile, between 1517 and 1527 Fisher was involved in
theological controversy with the continental Protestant Reformers.
From about 1520 onwards there was a great influx of Lutheran
literature in to England.
l6
A trial before the ecclesiastical authorities
could result from possession of such books, but relatively few per-
sons were indicted. Probably the pope's bull condemning forty-one
heretical ideas taken from Luther's works was known in England
early in 1521, even though Henry did not permit it to be pro-
claimed until June.
In May, Cardinal Wolsey announced
a
public burning of
heretical literature, on which occasion Fisher was to preach the
sermon. Reynolds dates this event on May 12, 1521, the Octave of
the Ascension, whereas Surtz places it on May 22." The occasion
was marked by ecclesiastical pomp and circumstance. Archbishop
Warham of Canterbury and Bishop Ruthall of Durham were
present. The staging, of course, was the work of Wolsey. Other
bishops and high officers of state and ambassadors were present.'*
The central motif of Fisher's sermon was the Holy Spirit's uninter-
rupted guidance of the Church. Fisher presented the pope as
iure
divino
head of the universal Church.19 For this reason, Henry later
issued a proclamation for the surrender of all copies of the sermon.
Wynkyn de Worde published it shortly after it was preached, and
reprinted it twice (1522?, 1527). After that, it was not published
again until the reign of Mary (1554 and 1556). A Latin translation
of the sermon was made by Richard Pace, who was secretary first to
'5Ibid.. sigs.
AST-",
BIT.
16Reynolds,
p.
93.
"Ibid.; and Surtz,
p.
8.
'8Reynolds,
p.
93.
lgSurtz,
p.
8.
Wolsey and later to Henry
VIII.
This translation was printed by
John Siberch in Cambridge early in 1522. The pope was quick to
thank Fisher for the sermon.20
In
the ensuing few years Fisher published a number of polem-
ical treatises against Luther; but for the purposes of our discussion,
it is Fisher's sermons, rather than his treatises, that are especially
important. His final flurry against Luther was his sermon in
St. Paul's Cathedral on February 11,
1526.21 Cardinal Wolsey was
present with thirty-six bishops and abbots and
a
great number of
the nobility and gentry. The occasion was the abjuration of an
Augustinian friar named Robert Barnes, who on December 24, 1525,
had preached at St. Edwards, Cambridge, a sermon which was
judged to be Lutheran in intent. The doctrinal objections to
Barnes's sermon were slight, but his forthright criticism of the
ecclesiastical hierarchy of England led to a vociferous reaction. A
list of twenty-five offensive opinions was taken from the sermon
and condemned. Wolsey, whose wealth and pomp Barnes had
attacked, arranged the abjuration. Barnes was brought before the
bishops of London (Tunstall), Rochester (Fisher), Bath (Clerk),
and St. Asaph's (Standish) in the presence of many others. Fisher's
sermon, which had lasted for two hours, was shortly afterwards
published in London by Thomas Berthelet.22
The sermons of John Fisher to which
I
have referred in this
brief outline of his career as a preacher and controversialist are
those which will
be
considered as we study his biblical exegesis and
its significance. These sermons are especially enlightening since
they cover such a large segment of Fisher's life, and since they
include excellent exemplars of characteristic pastoral preaching as
well as polemical discourses designed to denigrate the Reformation
and counteract its influence. Fisher's use of the Bible in these ser-
mons will throw some light on the question of his relationship to
the presuppositions and procedures of humanism.
William
Peryn
William Peryn was a Dominican, educated at Oxford. He later
went to London, where he vigorously opposed the Protestants. For
Z0Ibid.
21Reynolds,
pp.
1
14-
1
16.
22Surtz.
p.
13.
166
ERWIN R.
CANE
a period of time he was the chaplain of Sir John Port. When the
royal supremacy was declared in 1534, he went abroad, but he
returned to England in 1543, when the Catholic reaction set in.
Early in the reign of Edward
VI
he recanted his Catholic position
(June 19, 1547) in the church of St. Mary Undershaft. It was not
long, however, before he again fled England. On the accession of
Mary (1553) he returned and was made prior of the Dominican
house of St. Bartholomew in Smithfield, "the first of Mary's reli-
gious
establishment^."^^
The sermons to which reference will be
made in this article were "preached in the hospital1 of Saynt Antony
in London," possibly in 1545. They were published in 1546 and
again in 1548 under the title Thre godlye and notable sermons, of
the
moost honorable and blessed sacrament of the ~ulter.~~ These
sermons are significant in that they were preached later in the reign
of Henry VIII by a lesser light for whom no claims have been made
regarding leanings toward humanism.
Edmund Bonner
Edmund Bonner is remembered more for his contribution
to
the Catholic reaction in the reign of Mary than for his excursions
into the realm of homiletics. Nevertheless, his extant homilies are
a
valuable indication of the kind of scriptural exegesis which in the
mid-sixteenth century was respected by Roman Catholic preachers,
and recognized to be consistent with the restoration of the old order
undertaken by Mary and her bishops. His wide experience in the
English and papal courts rendered him thoroughly conversant
with the best sixteenth-century Roman Catholic thought. As early as
15 19 he graduated from Pembroke College, Oxford, with degrees in
canon and civil la~.2~ On July 12, 1525, he was admitted doctor of
civil law. In 1529 and 1530 he was employed as chaplain to Cardinal
Wolsey. Hence he had early contact also with Henry VIII and his
secretary, Gardiner. Bonner spent the year 1532 in Rome, having
23For these details, see
Dictionary of National Biography
(hereinafter
DNB),
1917 ed., s.v. "Peryn, William."
24William Peryn,
Thre godlye and notable sermons
(Ann Arbor, Mich., Uni-
versity Microfilms,
STC
no. 19789, 1548), sig. Alr.
25Bonner's subsequent training in Roman law is mentioned in Philip Hughes,
The Reformation in England
(New York, 1950 and
1963),
1:25.
been sent there by Henry to protest Henry's being cited to the papal
court to answer for his divorce of Catherine. By March 6, 1533, he
was in Bologna, where Pope Clement VII had gone to meet
Emperor Charles V. Bonner followed the pope into France towards
the end of the year, and the next year was back in England. About
1536 he was sent to Hamburg, Germany, to establish an under-
standing between Henry and the Protestants of northern Germany
and Denmark; and the year 1538 took him again to the Continent,
first to the imperial court and later to the French court as English
am bassador.
Having held various ecclesiastical posts earlier, Bonner was
consecrated Bishop of London on April 4, 1540. In that same year
he was placed on a commission to study doctrine, and the next year
he opened a session at the Guildhall to try heretics.26 From this
point on, he successfully established a considerable reputation as a
persecutor of Protestants.
Bonner had no difficulty in accepting the doctrine of Royal
Supremacy so long as this involved no denial of the pope's pri-
macy over the whole church of
Christ.27 This explains his coopera-
tion with Henry VIII and his fall from influence in the reign of
Edward VI. Yet, there is good evidence that Bonner maintained an
anti-papal stance for a time during Henry's reign, not out of con-
viction, but out of fear. At the trial of William Tims on March
28,
1556,
Bonner admitted that during Henry's reign he had written
the anti-papal preface to Gardiner's book,
De
Vera obedientia, out
of fear of death.28
Early in the reign of Edward VI Bonner was imprisoned for
his acceptance of Edward's injunctions only "if they be not con-
trary to God's law and the statutes and ordinances of the
~hurch.''~~
In 1549 he was again imprisoned, in Marshalsea prison, for failing
to cooperate fully with the council in religious
matters.30 There he
These details may
be
noted in
DNB.
1917 ed..
S.V.
"Bonner or Boner, Edmund."
Z'Hughes,
1
:206.
ZBIbid., 2:297-298.
"Ibid.; cf.
A.
F.
Pollard,
The History of England from the Accession of
Edward
VI.
to the Death of Elizabeth
(1547-1603)
(New York, 1969),
p.
15;
A.
G.
Dickens,
The English Reformation
(New York, 1964).
pp.
43,203.
SoDickens,
pp.
227-228.
168
ERWIN
R.
CANE
remained till the accession of Queen Mary in 1553,31 at which time
he was restored to his see.
He played a prominent role in the Marian reaction, having
been prepared well for such a role by his previous experience as a
bishop and ecclesiastical statesman. In September 1554, he revived
processions, restored crucifixes and images, and published for use
by the clergy a book of "profitable and necessary doctrine." At that
time he also provided a set of
homilies.32 The next year, the book of
doctrines and the homilies were published together, and in a fore-
word dated July 1, he indicated that the reason for the printing and
distribution of these sermons was the present dearth of preachers
and the inability in discharging the office of preaching. "Therfore
desyryng to have something done onward, ti1
God
of his goodnes
provide something better, I have laboured with my chaplaynes, and
frends, to have these Homilies printed, that he maye have some-
what to instruct, and teach your flocke withall.
.
.
.0S3 Thoroughly
conversant as he was with papal concepts regarding doctrine,
Christian practice, and ecclesiastical procedure, Bonner was emi-
nently qualified to write and issue homilies which were specifically
designed to reconcile the layman to the Church of Queen Mary.
Early in the reign of Elizabeth, Bonner was again in trouble for
his staunch Catholic loyalty. On May
30,
1559, he was imprisoned
in Marshalsea for refusing to take Elizabeth's oath of supremacy,
dying there a decade later, on September 5, 1569.34
Thomas Watson
Thomas Watson is the fourth sixteenth-century preacher
whose sermons will be noted below. Educated at St. John's College,
Cambridge, Watson was elected a fellow about 1535 and functioned
for several years as dean and preacher. He was a careful-even
fastidious-scholar, with background in the humanistic learning
which at that time was being set forth at Cambridge. His having
this sort of background confronts us with some intriguing ques-
tions: Might we expect certain of the philological and literary
SIPollard,
pp.
41, 43, 51.94, 124; Dickens,
p.
259.
32Hughes, 2:243-245.
S3Edmund Bonner,
A
Profitable and Necessary Doctrine
(Ann Arbor, Mich.,
University Microfilms,
STC
no. 3283, 1555), fol. 2'.
"DNB, "Bonner"; Pollard,
pp.
194, 208, 218.
interests of the humanists to emerge in his sermons? To what extent,
if any, was his biblical exegesis influenced by humanistic scholar-
ship? To such questions we will return later in the course of our
discussion.
After receiving the Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1543, Watson
was appointed to various clerical positions. During the reign of
Edward VI he distinguished himself as an enthusiastic supporter of
Gardiner's opposition to the religious changes being made by the
council. He was imprisoned in 1551. Upon Mary's accession, he
became one of the leading Catholic controversialists, as well as a
noted preacher. On August 20, 1553, he was chosen to preach at
Paul's Cross, and on May 10, 1554, his
Two notable Sermons made
the thirde and fyste Fridays in Lent last past before the Quenes
highnes concerninge the reall presence of Christes body and bloode
in the Blessed Sacramente
were published in London by John
Cawo~d.~~ In 1558 he revised the sermons he had preached at court
in 1556 and published them under the title
Holsome and Catholyke
doctryne concerninge the Seuen Sacramentes of Chrystes Church,
expedient to be
knowen of all men, set forth in maner of Shorte
Sermons to bee made to the people.36
In the meantime, he had been very active in other ways. In
convocation on October 23, 1553, he defended the Roman Catholic
doctrine of the real presence in opposition to James Haddon and
others. He disputed with Cranmer, Ridley, and
Latimer at Oxford
in April, 1554, the year in which he was also awarded the doctor of
divinity degree. He also took part in the legal proceedings against
Hoop and Rogers. Cardinal Pole had appointed Watson one of
the delegates to visit Cambridge University in 1556-7, a visitation
which resulted in the posthumous trial and condemnation of Bucer
and Fagius, whose bodies were exhumed and burned. In 1557
Watson became Bishop of Linc0ln.~7
Since he refused to take the new oath of supremacy early in
Elizabeth's reign, Watson was committed to the Tower in
1560.38 In
s5These details are noted in
DNB,
1917 ed.,
S.V.
"Watson, Thomas."
36Thomas Watson,
Holsome and Catholyke doctryne concerninge the Seuen
Sacramentes
(Ann Arbor, Mich., University Microfilms, STC no. 251 12,
1558);
Hughes, 2:245.
"See
DNB,
"Watson"; Hughes, 2330.
%ee Pollard,
pp.
206-207; Hughes, 336, 246,259,304,414-4 15,417.
170
ERWIN
R.
CANE
and out of prison after that time, Watson was finally committed to
Wisbech Castle in 1580, where he died on September 27, 1584. His
importance in Mary's reign has been described as follows: "Watson
was perhaps, after Tunstall and Pole, the greatest of Queen Mary's
bishops. De Feria described him in 1559 as 'more spirited and
learned than all the rest.'
. .
.
Ascham spoke warmly of Watson's
friendship for him, and bore high testimony to his ~cholarship.''~~
Summary Concerning the Four Preachers
We have in Fisher, Peryn, Bonner, and Watson four very repre-
sentative Roman Catholic preachers of the sixteenth century. Fisher
is
a
fine example of a leading pastor, bishop, and controversialist
during the reign of Henry
VIII.
Peryn represents the level of opin-
ion held by the small-time preachers who opposed the Reforma-
tion. Bonner and Watson were leading bishops in Mary's reign,
both of whom ultimately fell victim to the Elizabethan Settlement.
The sermons of Fisher and Watson can be considered for any pos-
sible leanings towards the methods and mores of the humanists,
those of Bonner as the product of an ecclesiastical statesman com-
mitted to the forcible extirpation of heresy, and those of Peryn as
reflecting the opinions of the average committed Roman Catholic
priest of the mid-sixteenth century.
My plan is to examine the exegetical method of these preachers,
in relationship to their use of allegory, typology, literal exposi-
tions, and redaction; the appeal they made to church fathers; and
their attitude toward antiquity. The first of these-allegory, which
was such a favorite technique of the exegetical procedure in the late
medieval sermons noted in an earlier
study40-deserves special
consideration here, as we ask whether these sixteenth-century preachers
are distinctively medieval or Renaissance representatives. Hence,
the remainder of this article will deal with this topic. The continua-
tion article will treat the other concerns indicated above.
Throughout the entire discussion in both articles, it is impor-
tant, of course, to keep in mind the basic question as to whether
the biblical exegesis of these preachers categorizes them as belong-
ing to the old order of late medieval preachers, or to the new order
39DNB,
"Watson";
cf.
Pollard,
p.
124.
'OGane, "Late-Medieval Sermons in England,"
pp.
181
-
188.
for whom a new set of literary and iinguistic tools has come into
play. Just where do they stand in relation to the Renaissance in
general and to the humanist movement in particular?
2.
Allegory
Regarding the use of the allegorical interpretation of scriptural
material, we shall note that this is very prevalent in the early ser-
mons of Fisher and in the sermons of Peryn, but less so in Fisher's
later sermons and in the homiiies of Bonner and Watson. After first
noticing the "exegetical style" of the preachers in this matter, we
will raise the question of why the divergence.
Fisher
As our first example of Fisher's early use of allegory we may
note his sermon on the first penitential psalm (Ps
6):
In exegeting
it, he refers to Christ's sleeping in the boat during the storm on the
Sea of Galilee (Matt
8:23-27),
and looks upon the stormy sea as
signifying "the trouble of the soule whan almyghty god tourneth
away his face from the synner.
.
.
."
Just as Christ awoke and
rebuked the storm, so "the vexacyon of the soule shall not be
mytygate
&
done away vnto the tyme our mercyfull lorde god tourne
hymselfe vnto the ~ynner."~l This sort of spiritual application of
that particular pericope is one, of course, that is quite common to
preachers both ancient and modern.
Preaching on the third penitential psalm, Fisher likens Mary
the mother of Jesus to the morning that comes after the darkness of
the night and before the brightness of the day. Also, just as the
"wyse man" teaches that God caused light to shine out of darkness
(cf. Ps
112:4), so, declares Fisher, Mary was born free from sin after
mankind had been subject to it for
centuries.4* Furthermore, when
the sun rises, the morning becomes brighter and brighter, "so
cryst
Ihesu borne of this vyrgyn defyled her not with ony maner spotte of
synne but endued and replete her with moche more lyght and grace
than she had bef~re."~s All of this could simply be regarded as an
4'Fisher.
EW,
1:12-13.
'*Ibid.,
pp.
47-48.
'SIbid.,
p.
48.
172
ERWIN
R.
CANE
extended sermon illustration, except that Fisher proceeds to pro-
vide scriptural backing for the analogy.
Referring to Gen 1, Fisher points out that God made heaven
and earth; then on the first day of creation, weak light was made;
and on the fourth day, the sun was created. Heaven and earth, he
declares, may signify to us "man
&
woman," the light created on
the first day symbolizes Mary, and the sun created on the fourth day
signifies Jesus Christ. He adds: "Take hede how convenyently it
agreeth with holy scrypture this virgyn to be called a mornynge."44
Thus, by an allegorical application of the creation story, Fisher has
endeavored to provide biblical support for his concept.
Commenting on Ps 51, Fisher likens the beings who dwell in
hell, who are waiting to devour careless Christians, to the wild
beasts, birds, and serpents which Moses predicted would come upon
Israel if they were unfaithful. He cites Eccl
12.1, 6: "Haue mynde
on they creatour
&
maker in the tyme of thy yonge aege, or euer the
potte be broken vpon the fountayne"; then he interprets the pot to
be man's weak, frail body, which when broken falls into the well,
"that is to saye in to the depenesse of The silver cord, also
mentioned in Eccl 12:6, becomes to Fisher the life of man which
holds up the soul
of
man within the pot, or body: "For as a lytell
corde or lyne is made or wouen of a fewe thredes, so is the lyfe of
man knytte togyder by foure humours, that as longe as they be
knytte togyder in a ryght ordre so longe is mannes lyfe hole and
sounde."
46
To prove that this cord is held by the hand and power of God,
Fisher quotes Job, and then goes on to say that if the life-line to
God
is broken, the pot (the body) is broken and the soul "flyppeth
downe into the pytte of hell," there to
be
torn in pieces by "those
moost cruel1 hell houndes."
47
No doubt the language of Eccl 12 is intended to be meta-
phorical, but Fisher has read into it allegorical applications which
fit nicely with the theme of his sermon. Obviously, the context was
not important to Fisher. The verse immediately after the one on
"Ibid.,
p.
49.
451bid.,
pp.
91
-92.
46Ibid.,
p.
92.
"Ibid.,
pp.
92-93.
174
ERWIN
R.
CANE
The "nyght crowe" or owl dwells in the daytime in walls and se-
cret corners of buildings. Only at night does it come out, and then
"with a mournynge crye
&
myserable,
&
sorowful lamentacyon." In
like manner, those who were once baptized, but afterward fall into
deadly sin, are divested of light and are covered with the darkness
of sin.52 Then they go to the priest and confess their sins and the
sun of righteousness shines upon them again. After confession, it is
necessary for them to be like the sparrow; they must avoid "the
deuylles snares" just as the sparrow avoids "the baytes
&
trappes of
byrde takers that be aboute to catche her."53 The person who is
engaged in making satisfaction for sin must be as vigilant as the
sparrow so that he can avoid his spiritual enemies.54
In this discourse, Fisher has taken two verses of Ps 102 and,
with little respect for their context, has applied them allegorically
to teach the importance of the three aspects of the sacrament of
penance. This was, of course, the customary approach to Scripture
in late medieval sermons. The ecclesiastical and doctrinal under-
standings of the Church were tenuously supported by the technique
of discovering meanings which were not immediately apparent in
the text. In his early sermons, Fisher makes extensive use of this
exegetical method.55
While Fisher's later sermons do not make such a large use of
allegory, the technique is not entirely lacking. In his
Two
Fruytfull
Sermons, which were probably preached in
1520,
but not published
until 1532, he speaks, for instance, of three kinds of fruit in Para-
dise (Garden of Eden)-that of the tree of life, that of the tree of
knowledge of good and evil, and that of the regular trees of the
garden-and then allegorizes the fruit as betokening "unto us
pleasure, because that fruyt is pleasant for to taste." The three
kinds of fruit, he goes on to say, represent three types of pleasures
"whiche be
offred unto us in this lyfe."56 The fruit of the tree of
life represents the pleasures of life which emanate from Christ.
The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil symbolizes
52Ibid.,
pp.
152- 153.
53Ibid.,
p.
154.
S'Ibid.,
p.
155.
55Ibid.,
pp.
200-208, 289-293,
388,
394-397,407-428.
56Fisher,
TFS,
sig.
E4'.
those pleasures which bring our souls to everlasting death. The
regular trees of the Garden betoken those pleasures which are
things indifferent, "so that neyther we shall haue greate rewarde
for theym, ne yet great
punysshment."57 These "indifferent" plea-
sures include such activities as eating, drinking, sleeping, walking,
speaking, and taking recreation. Without any indication in biblical
literature that the trees of Eden were to be regarded symbolically,
Fisher has treated them as allegorical representations of aspects of
human life.58
Fisher's 1521
Sermon Made Agayn
the
Pernicyous Doctryn
of
Martin
Luther
is substantially lacking in biblical allegory.
A
number of suggestions may
be
offered in explanation of this fact.
Perhaps by now the influence of humanism on Fisher was such as
to engender greater respect for the literary and philological methods
of the Renaissance. On the other hand, the fact that his 1520 ser-
mons, which made such considerable use of allegory, were pub-
lished in 1532, presumably with the knowledge and consent of
Fisher himself, would indicate that there was no dramatic change
in Fisher's exegetical methodology during the final fifteen years of
his life. Rather, it would seem that the absence of biblical allegory
from the sermon against Luther is to be explained by the nature of
the subject matter and the nature of the audience.
Of necessity, Fisher's sermon against Luther's doctrine dealt
with those Lutheran interpretations which undermined the doc-
trinal formulations of the papal church. His response consisted of
a direct statement of his own concept of authority in religious
matters; of counterinterpretations of scriptural passages used by
Luther, employing similar methods as those used by the Reformer;
and of the attempt to discredit Luther as a thoroughly insincere
Christian and an heretical persecutor. In his effort to persuade
those who had already strayed into Lutheranism, it would seem to
be a matter of diplomatic necessity to speak their language. They
were less likely to have been swayed by the kind of allegory char-
acterizing Fisher's earlier sermons than by the approach to Scripture
which was respected and used by the Reformers. Thus, the evidence
would seem to suggest that Fisher excluded allegory from his 1521
57Ibid.
58Cf. ibid., sig.
G
1'-G4"
176
ERWIN
R.
CANE
sermon, not because he had basically altered his hermeneutic, but
because of the demands of the situation.
Such an interpretation of the 1521 sermon is reinforced by the
reappearance of a degree of biblical allegory in Fisher's 1526 sermon
against the heretics at the abjuration of Robert Barnes. Allegory as
used in this sermon is still relatively slight in comparison with
Fisher's early sermons. The motivation for the lack is probably to
be explained as similar to that for the omission of allegory from his
1521 sermon, but it appears that he was not entirely able to exclude
a method of interpretation which, over a period
of
years, had
become an integral part of his homiletical technique.
At the abjuration of Barnes, Fisher applied the story of blind
Bartimaeus to the problem of the Lutheran heresy. Of the multi-
tude that was walking along the road with Jesus just before the
healing of Bartimaeus, those who went ahead of him, Fisher said,
betoken "the fathers and the people of the olde testament."59 Those
who followed him signify Christian believers after the birth of
Christ. Those who went before rebuked Bartimaeus for calling out
for Christ, because they symbolized
OT
people who were under the
dreadful, rigorous law of Moses. Those who followed Christ were
more merciful toward Bartimaeus, for they typify Christians who
today enjoy a dispensation of grace and mercy.GO
Fisher pointed out that Bartimaeus was a symbol of the heretics.
First, he was "singular by hym selfe."6l Just so, the heretics, moti-
vated by pride, study to
be
singular in their opinions. Unfortu-
nately for Fisher's application, however, the Matthean account of
the story has
two
blind men sitting by the roadside (Matt 20:29-34).
Fisher goes on to say, in the second place, that just as Bartimaeus
was blind literally, so the heretics are blind theologically and spir-
itually. Third, the fact that the blind man was sitting by the way-
side and not walking betokens that the heretics are sitting outside
of the right way instead of journeying toward heaven. Fourth, the
59John
Fisher,
A
sermon had at Paulis by the commandment of the most
reuerend father in god my lorde legate, and sayd by John the bysshop
of
Rochester,
upon quinquagesom sonday concernynge certayne heretikes, whiche than were
abiured for holdynge the heresies of Martyn Luther
(Ann Arbor, Mich., University
Microfilms,
STC
no.
10892, 1525).
sig.
BlV.
601bid.,
sig.
Biir.
GIIbid., sig. Biiv.
blind man was separated from those following Christ, as the
heretics are separated from the Church.G2 Just as the blind man was
given sight, so must the heretics "be restored unto the true faith";
as the blind man cried for mercy, so must the heretics do; as Christ
commanded that the blind man be brought to him, so the heretics
must "be reduced unto the wayes of the Ch~rch."~"efore receiv-
ing his sight, the blind man assented to the will of Christ, and so
must heretics "fully assent unto the doctrine of Christus Churche."64
It could
be
argued that Fisher's use of the story of Bartimaeus
was merely a homiletical device, rather than a genuine example of
his exegetical method.
He must have known all too well, for
instance, that in the primary setting of the Bible story, as told by
the Gospel writers, there was no suggestion of the applications he
was making. Perhaps so; but, as we have seen, this kind of interpre-
tation is so characteristic of his sermons, especially in his early
period, that it reveals an unconcern for a hermeneutic based on
language, context, and
Sitz im Leben.
Fisher's method perhaps
seems somewhat more innocuous when used as a means of illustrat-
ing situations in the world of his day than it does when used as a
means of substantiating the doctrinal positions of his Church.
Either way, however, meanings are "found" in the Bible which
have no relation to the thought content of the biblical literature
itself.
Pery
n
Allegorical interpretation of biblical material is a pervading
method in William Peryn's
Thre godlye and notable sermons
(1548).
A
few striking examples will be given. By eating of the forbidden
fruit of the tree, Adam procured and ministered death to all his
posterity, whereas it was the fruit of another tree that gives life
to Adam's posterity: "Certainly, there is none other frute, that
mynystereth and restoreth lyfe agayne, unto the posteritie of Adam,
but onely the frute that honge on the tree of the crosse, (which is
Jesus CHRISTE) the blessed frute, of the immaculate wombe of
G21bid., sig. Biiir.
GS1bid.. sig. Bivr.
Vbid., sig. BivV-Bvr.
178
ERWIN
R.
CANE
Mar~e."~~ The purpose of the analogy is to bolster Peryn's argu-
ment that the eating and drinking of Christ's actual body and
blood in the sacrament of the altar is the means of eternal life.66
Throughout his three sermons, Peryn uses similar allegorical
applications of scriptural passages in support of the doctrine of
transubstantiation. In his third sermon,
he
likens the heretics to
the foxes which Samson tied together by their tails. The heretics
are "tayd together to one ende and purpose, that is the distruction,
and subversion of the pure and syncere corn, of the catholyke faith
of Christe."
67
Against the notion that Christ is literally sitting on the right
hand of the Father in heaven, Peryn argues that the Father does not
have a right hand or a left, or bodily members at all. God is a
Spirit. Hence, when the Bible speaks of the bodily members of
God, it signifies to us the invisible attributes of God, such as his
power, knowledge, majesty, and glory. The eyes and ears of God
refer to his knowledge of all things, and the hands and arms of
God
speak of his omnipotence.68
Peryn's point is vital to his argument in answer to those who
reject transubstantiation: "Then Christe to syt on the ryghte hande
of the father, is none other, then that Christe (concernyng his
divinitie) is (euery point) of equal1 power, maiestie, and glorie,
with the father."69 Therefore there is no reason why Christ cannot
be
actually in the sacrament, "though he be syttyng in heaven on
the ryght hande of the father."'O Peryn has skillfully employed an
allegorical application of Heb 8:l as a means of answering the
argument from that text used by the Reformers.
Bonner and Watson
Bonner's
Homilies,
published in 1555, are a dramatic depar-
ture, in terms of exegetical method, from the sermons of Fisher and
65Peryn, sig. Kviir.
66Ibid., sig. Kviii".
67Ibid.. sig. QiV.
Ybid., sig. Qviir.
691bid., sig. Qviiv.
TOIbid., sig. Qviiir.
Peryn.?' They contain practically no allegorical interpretation.
Their purpose is clearly apologetic. Certain major doctrines of the
Roman Catholic Church are supported by a sprinkling of proof
texts. Scripture figures quite largely in these sermons, but without
any attempt at genuine exegesis involving recognition of context,
language, and historical setting of the material. There is no more
evidence of the suppositions and methods of humanism in
Bonner's
sermons than there is in Fisher's or Peryn's.
The same may be said for the sermons of Thomas Watson as
for those of Bonner. They are distinctly apologetic in nature. His
Two notable sermons
of
1554
were especially designed to exonerate
"the real1 presence of Christes body and bloude in the blessed
Sacrament."
72
His
1558
sermons dealt with all seven sacraments,
hence their title,
Holsome and Catholyke doctrine concerninge the
Seuen Sacramentes.73
But in neither collection of sermons does
Watson resort to the frequent use of allegorical interpretation, as
does Peryn in his support of transubstantiation. Yet, judging from
his sermons,
I
would suggest that Watson is clearly no humanist
whose basic hermeneutic has been modified by the new historical,
literary, and philological procedures.
J.
W. Blench's comments regarding the sermons of Bonner and
Watson are an accurate evaluation of their use of Scripture:
Following from this position, it is not surprising to find that
in the two sets of dogmatic homilies of the reign, Bonner's and
Watson's, Scripture is not so much expounded for itself, as used
as an arsenal of illustrative texts to illuminate and confirm
Catholic doctrine.
In
these sermons "the Faith" is preached with
occasional reference to the Bible; there is no attempt at general
exegesis of any portions of S~ripture.~~
"Edmund Bonner,
A
Profitable and Necessary Doctrine
(Ann Arbor, Mich.,
LJniversity Microfilms, STC no. 3283, 1555).
'*Thomas Watson,
Two notable sermons made.
. .
before the Quenes high-
nes
. . . .
(Ann Arbor, Mich., University Microfilms, STC no. 251 15, 1554), sig. Air.
7Thomas Watson,
Holsome and Catholyke doctryne concerninge the Seuen
Sacramentes
(Ann Arbor, Mich., University Microfilms, STC no. 251 12, 1558).
7'5.
W. Blench,
Preaching in England in the Late Fifteenth and Sixteenth Cen-
turies
(New York, 1964),
p.
52.
180
ERWIN
R.
CANE
Blench finds the interpretation used by the preachers of Mary's
reign to be "frequently allegoric" in manner, but without the
extremes of late medieval sermons.75 Yet, allegory is by no means
frequent in the homilies of Bonner and Watson. Their particular
application of scriptural texts may be open to question, but not
usually in view of their identification of "hidden meanings."
Analysis of the Change in Approach
The question now confronts us: Why the change in approach
from the time of Fisher and Peryn to that of Bonner and Watson?
We noticed that in his defensive sermons even Fisher used far less
allegory. Peryn was not so discriminating. Bonner and Watson for-
sook it almost entirely.
The reason for this change in approach by Bonner and Watson
seems to
be
found in the fact that they were living at a time when
the attempt was being made to restore England to the dogmas and
mores of the medieval papacy, after Protestantism had made very
large inroads during the reign of Edward VI. Homiletical emphases
and apologetic methods tend to vary with the theological and reli-
gious orientation of audiences. The exegetical methods and argu-
ments which were likely to be influential with the majority of
Englishmen during and at the end of Henry
VIII's reign were most
unlikely to be so effective after the leavening effect of Protestantism
during Edward Vl's reign.
A1 though Bonner and Watson make little attempt to exegete
passages of Scripture, they are wise enough to recognize that the
old allegorism has been effectively undermined by the widely
accepted "literal" interpretations of the Reformers. Bonner and
Watson have not moved an iota from the doctrinal formulations
respected by Fisher and Peryn, but they have modified the vehicle
of their expression.
(To Be Continued)