Treatises on Scripture & The Sacraments: A Review

Treatises on Scripture & The Sacraments by John Jewel. Edited by Andrew Brashier.  Southbend: North American Anglican Press, 2022. 137 pp.

Reviewing a revision of a text is an interesting task because the review itself is mostly concerned with the original source material, while the revisor can only be interrogated to the extent that their contributions to the original argument are apparent.

In Treatises on Scripture & The Sacraments, editor Andrew Brashier, has taken a light hand and has opted to simply present the material largely in its original form, only tweaking some of the more archaic phrasing. The author of the text is John Jewel (1522-1571), sometime bishop of Salisbury and author of the previously well-known Apology of the Church of England (recently republished by The Davenant Institute). The Treatises are a compilation of sermons given in Salisbury in 1570, focussing upon the Scriptures and sacraments. In his writing on Scripture, Jewel aims to encourage his listeners to engage deeply with the Scriptures and lays out the importance of doing so. Jewel then sets out a definition of sacrament and uses this definition to defend his position on the number of sacraments contrary to both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic definitions. Jewel accomplishes his task while remaining in line with broadly Reformed convictions on Scripture and the sacraments that were part of the English reception of the continental reformations.These same convictions are perhaps most familiar as stratified within the Elizabethan Settlement and 1662 Book of Common Prayer[1]. Jewel’s argumentation follows a two-pronged hermeneutic: first consult the Scriptures, then consult the fathers of the Church. Each sub-point Jewell makes in both sections is a result of this hermeneutic and this is commendable particularly to those of us who are at home within the milieu of contemporary Anglicanism[2]. We will examine the good bishop’s arguments and then open them up to the currently divided Anglicanism to see what we may learn from this giant of our past.

Jewel helpfully outlines where he wishes to take his audience in his discussion of Scripture by saying that scripture is the “bright sun of God, which bring[s] light unto our ways, and comfort to all parts of our life, and salvation to our souls,” in order that “we may better see the path which we have to walk in” (5). To this end his goal is to show that Scripture must be studied by the people, that it is possible to understand, and that it is a “pleasurable” thing to consult.

Scripture is to be studied by the people because it is the Word of God, and this fact is the source of Scripture’s authority. This stands in contrast to the authority of worldly philosophers, entertainers, religious leaders, and kings who all enjoy people’s attention and devotion. God’s Word alone endures, while all these things Jewel portrays as ultimately transient.

Against these transient claims on mankind, Jewell places human beings directly beneath the authority of Scripture. He identifies us as “sons of Adam” who exist now in a fallen world which has become a “shop full of vanities” (13). Since the world and its wisdom is deceptive, the enduring Word of God alone is to be the ultimate recourse for mankind. For Jewel, clearly understanding man’s subjection to Scripture was vital within a divided and beleaguered Church that had recently undergone the changes inspired by the Protestant reformations. How will mankind know who Jesus is, where the Church is, how to be saved, and the means of participating in God’s Will? To these queries Jewell answers: “consult the Scriptures”

Jewell cements his claims by moving through generous use of the Old and New Testament, sometimes stringing passages together to form entire paragraphs. This attention to the Scriptures is the “rule of faith; without this, our faith is but a fantasy and no faith; for faith is by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (21).”

If Scripture is the ultimate authority for Jewell, what of his generous use of the patristic witness? He anticipates this question and answers by saying that the Fathers should be revered as learned commenters on the Scriptures and the deposit of faith, but that they can be “weighed” and disagreed with (26). Christians are to consult the Scriptures as the rule of faith and are free to make use of the historic witness of the Church even as they recognize that they can be subject to error. Scripture alone will teach us to find ourselves in God’s story, show us how we are to live our lives, and how to die (34). Jewell walks through the variety of human life and examines how the Scriptures can benefit any person or situation. In so doing he erases any exceptions that might arise due to station or circumstance. Jewel additionally gives no quarter to those who raise the challenge of scriptural interpretation in order to avoid their responsibility to be students of the same. Jewel follows this emphasis in Reformed thought, saying that the word is given to “all men and made common to all men” (54), with Scripture then teaching us how to live in God’s world, how to recognize truth as such, how to die, and even how we are to recognize the number and form of sacraments, to which the second half of the treatises are dedicated to.

Jewel makes clear that the sacraments of God are part of God’s revelation of himself and his purpose for the Church: “In the word we have his promises; in the sacraments we see them” (61). This is the ground for his defense of the Reformed view of the number of sacraments (i.e. two, baptism and the Lord’s Supper) and in what constitutes a sacrament as such.

Jewel follows the commonly accepted Augustinian definition of a sacrament being an outward sign of an inward spiritual grace (62). Yet what makes a thing a sacrament is the joining of the outward sign with specific scriptural word. Therefore, baptism and the eucharist alone can be considered sacraments within Jewel’s schema (63). These sacraments are given so that we may recognize each other as members of Christ’s body, and for the instruction of human beings who need sensible objects to convey the mysteries of faith (63). Jewel is no Romanist, and strictly clarifies that it is the action of God through the elements which enable the benefits of the sacrament to be received. To take baptism as an example, he says it is not the water which washes the soul but “the blood of Christ” (64). Jewel includes in his discussion of baptism and the Lord’s Supper ample use of scriptural and patristic witness and follows the same pattern for the rest of the ‘sacramental’ rites. Of these rites Jewel says: “For these five want either the word, or the element, or both; and therefore may not be taken for true Sacraments (108).”

Jewel’s Treatises contain nothing groundbreaking to those who know the Protestant tradition. But there is a clarity within the subject matter that makes these treatises worth introducing to any Protestant seeking to be schooled in or reminded of the tradition’s foundations. Anglicans are not alone in their emphasis on Word and Sacrament, yet are terrible students of their own history. To this end, the staunch evangelical Anglican and the staunch Anglo-Catholic would find themselves equally chastened by this distinctly Anglican approach to the subject matter. Jewel’s comprehensive use of the scriptural and patristic witness condemns those of us in a rootless, distracted age who struggle to be students of anything. We are adrift and untethered, fabricating history, ecclesiology, and theology seemingly on the fly. If we are to renew our foundations, to see through the veil of darkness and be led into the truth, we must return to the Scriptures, and do so in a manner guided by the wisdom of our fathers in the faith. Jewel’s Treatises then, are an exemplary guide for all of us currently adrift on the tides of our historical situation.

Rev. Gavin McAdam is a graduate of Wycliffe College Toronto, and a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas where he serves as curate of St. Mark’s in Irving, Tx.

  1. I take great pains to make this point because there is a stream of thought predominant in some contemporary Anglican circles which seeks to hold up the 16th-17th centuries as constitutive of Anglican identity writ large. That this is not the case historically or currently should be evident in the near complete obscurity of figures like John Jewel. This is not enough to disregard someone like Jewel and there are reasons to read him, yet we are afflicted in this age with a sort of nostalgia which has trouble reckoning with the nuances of history. Also, I utilize ‘reformations’ as plural here as history demonstrates that to speak of a ‘reformation’ inadequately conveys the complexities within these events.

  2. For the sake of this article and my own ecumenical sensibilities, the word Anglican/Anglicanism here will be inclusive of those who are in historic ties of communion with the See of Canterbury as well as those who have gathered under newer alternative forms of communion. This is not a play at partisanship, but an attempt to place boundaries on the use of language.

*Image Credit: Unsplash


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