Joseph Hall: A Moderate Man in Immoderate Times

Here, we publish the introduction to the Davenant Press’s new edition of Joseph Hall’s 1639/40 work A Treatise on Christian Moderation, edited by Andre Gazal. The book is available now for pre-order, and will be published on the 22nd February 2024.

The religious controversies ignited by the Reformation in the sixteenth century continued to rage into the seventeenth, to the point of erupting into armed conflict and societal upheaval both on the continent and in the British Isles. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and the English Civil War (1642-51) resulted not only from the clash of competing political interests, but also the hardening of theological and confessional positions with which these said interests were inextricably intertwined. Not only did these conflicts occur between Catholics and Protestants, but also among Protestants themselves, as evidenced in the protracted literary battles between Lutheran and Reformed polemicists, as well as among adherents within these confessional groups. Among Lutherans there were disputes between Gnesio-Lutherans and Philippists. Moreover, in the early seventeenth century, controversy between the Remonstrants (Reformed Protestants who agreed with the theology Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609)) and more “strict Calvinists” led to the condemnation of the former by Synod of Dort (1618-19) and the codification of the latter’s version of the Reformed faith by the canons it enacted. On the British Isles, specifically in Scotland and England, the irreconcilable differences among generally Reformed Protestants took the form of violent civil war accompanied by frequent, and even drastic changes in political and ecclesiastical governance as well as liturgical practice.

Reformed Protestants in England differed widely on the sufficiency of the Elizabethan Settlement in bringing about substantive reform of the national church. Some churchmen, like Archbishop Matthew Parker (1504-75) and John Jewel (1522-71), had misgivings concerning some aspects of the Settlement, but as bishops under Queen Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603), the “Supreme Governor of the Church of England,” they generally affirmed, implemented, enforced, and defended it. Richard Hooker (1553-1600) offered a very complex and sophisticated defense of the Settlement in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Archbishop John Whitgift (1530-1604) uncompromisingly enforced the entirety of the Settlement. Yet, there were other ecclesiastics like Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603) and Walter Travers (1548-1635), who objected to the episcopal governance of the same church in which they served. The differences between clergy within the national church became explicitly pronounced at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604. Summoned by and presided over King James VI/I (1566-1625), two different visions of the Church of England competed. One side, represented by Archbishop Whitgift and Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626_, advocated for the full Settlement and its continued enforcement. Countering the bishops were those “Puritans,” such as John Rainolds (1549-1607), who contended for modifications of the Settlement including alterations to the existing Book of Common Prayer and the abolition of episcopacy. The king asserted his ecclesiastical supremacy in favor of the bishops, and hence in support of the existing Settlement, making himself the intractable opponent of any deviation from it.

As Anthony Milton persuasively argues, the controversies between different kinds of “Conformists” and “Puritans” alike throughout the seventeenth century represents ongoing efforts to define the identity of the Church of England by way of a “Second Reformation.”[1] Lancelot Andrewes inspired a type of conformity that far transcended the letter of the Protestant Elizabethan Settlement. Such “conformity” endeavored to recover and reinstate elements of medieval piety that had been done away with in the Elizabethan Settlement. One of the central aspects of this conformity was a shift from an emphasis on the preaching of the Word to the celebration of the eucharist. These conformists accented this eucharistic centrality by changing communion tables into altars, erecting railings around and bowing before them. Also driving this version of “conformity” was the desire by these churchmen to reclaim the notion of worshipping the Lord “in the beauty of holiness” through the ecclesiastical aesthetics of the Middle Ages which many of the Edwardian and Elizabethan reformers stridently denounced. Furthermore, many of these particular conformists, like Richard Montagu (1571-1641), sympathized with the theological positions of Arminius and the Remonstrants condemned by the Synod of Dort.

Many of these “avant-garde conformists”[2] comprised a circle around the teachings of Richard Neile (1562-1640) (later Archbishop of York, 1631-40) known as the Durham House Group.[3] The divines associated with this circle, most prominently future Archbishop of Canterbury and Neile’s protégé, William Laud (1573-1645), devoted their energies to composing works developing the above ideas and proposing means for their enforcement. The full enforcement of these policies would commence when Laud began his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633. However, the Archbishop’s program of “avant-garde conformity” was opposed by a group of “episcopal anti-Laudians” led by the Archbishop of York, John Williams (1582-1650). These “anti-Laudians” countered Laud’s policies on the basis of the authoritative documents of the Elizabethan Settlement such as the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Elizabethan Injunctions, and the two Books of Homilies, as well as the Canons of 1604. Driving both of these episcopal efforts were different interpretations of the English Reformation, with which each side insisted they were in continuity. When Parliament convened in 1640 to deal with the Bishops Wars (1639, 1640), which were precipitated by Laud’s attempt to impose the Book of Common Prayer upon the Scottish church, it appointed a committee headed by Archbishop Williams and other “anti-Laudians” to correct what they deemed as abuses perpetrated by Laud and his colleagues in alleged violation of the Elizabethan Settlement.[4] Among the Williams Committee’s efforts at “de-Laudianization” was the ending of Laud’s insistence on proscribing “extemporaneous prayer” from being inserted in the liturgy of the Prayerbook. This attempt at “episcopal anti-Laudian” “reformation” continued until 1643, in the midst of the First English Civil War, when, in Milton’s words, it was “aborted” by a political and ecclesiastical agreement between Parliament and the Scots: The Solemn League and Covenant.

As a way of securing Scottish assistance in their conflict against King Charles I (r. 1625-49), Parliament agreed to the Solemn League and Covenant “for reformation and defence of religion, the honour and happiness of the King, and the peace and safety of the three kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland.”[5] The two Protestant nations agreed to a comprehensive system of ecclesiastical reform for their national churches as well as that of Ireland. Specifically, they pledged:

That we shall sincerely, really, and constantly, through the grace of GOD, endeavor, in our several places and callings, the preservation of the reformed religion in the Church of Scotland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, against our common enemies; the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, according to the Word of GOD, and the example of the best reformed Churches; and shall endeavour to bring the Churches of GOD in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, Directory for Worship and Catechising; that we, and our posterity after us, may, as brethren, live in faith and love, and the Lord may delight to dwell in the midst of us. [1][6]

The second article of the Solemn League and Covenant promises to abolish episcopal government:

That we shall, in like manner, without respect of persons, endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy (that is, Church government by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissioners, deans, deans and chapters, archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical officers depending on that hierarchy), superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of Godliness. [2][7]

These provisions constituted what the commissioners of the respective kingdoms considered a continuing comprehensive reformation of their churches, the standard for which were the Reformed churches on the continent. As indicated in the above articles, this continued reformation entailed going well beyond the Elizabethan Settlement by abolishing altogether the Book of Common Prayer as well as other traditional elements retained by the Settlement. Significantly, this included abolition of episcopacy and replacement of it with a Presbyterian form of church government. Parliament enacted these institutional reforms by statute. Furthermore, the Westminster Assembly of Divines, which had embarked upon revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles, was now tasked by Parliament to compose an entirely new confession of faith with accompanying catechisms as well as directories of church government and public worship in order to make the Church of England “truly reformed.” Whereas the political/ecclesiastical establishment persecuted those within the Church of England who advocated for either Presbyterianism or independency, it was now possible that the Presbyterian establishment would outlaw the Book of Common Prayer and persecute all conformists. Most emblematic of this reversed persecution was the trial and execution of Archbishop Laud on January 10, 1645.

By 1647, the Westminster Assembly finished work on the foundational documents for what most of the divines and Parliament envisioned as a Presbyterian Church of England. However, such a national church would never materialize. In February of 1647, Parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve a measure that would pay Scottish regiments that fought for the Parliamentary cause, dismiss Oliver Cromwell’s (1599-1658) New Model Army, and restore Charles to his throne in return for his consent to a Presbyterian Church of England. Oliver Cromwell, an Independent, strongly opposed a mandated Presbyterian church government as being as tyrannical as an imposed episcopal one. Meanwhile, the soldiers in the New Model Army were protesting Parliament for not having paid them. At this point, negotiations between King and Parliament deteriorated. In June 1647, the king indicated a willingness to compromise again, and Cromwell had new proposals prepared which he presented to Charles. These proposals intended to limit royal power further, hold regular Parliamentary elections, and restore an episcopal church, membership and attendance of which would not be mandatory. Once more, the negotiations failed.

Frustrated at his failure to recover power by compromise, Charles at this point resorted to armed force. The result was a Second Civil War, marked by Royalist uprisings in Wales and parts of England. This conflict came to an end when Cromwell’s New Model Army defeated a Royalist Scottish army at Preston in 1648. In December of the same year, soldiers from the New Model Army, led by Colonel Thomas Pride (d. 1658), drove out the majority of the Long Parliament, leaving only a small contingent of the body known as the “Rump Parliament” in what has been called “Pride’s Purge.” This reduced Parliament decided that Charles must be tried for treason. Upon being convicted of this charge, Charles I was executed on January 30, 1649. It was the conviction of Cromwell and his associates that this act of regicide was the only way to end the civil wars.

Following Charles’ execution, the Rump Parliament abolished the monarchy and declared England a republic. Because of its continuous postponement of elections and failure to abolish remnants of the previous religious establishment, Cromwell dissolved the Rump Parliament on April 20, 1653, and replaced it with the “Barebone” Parliament, named after Praise-God Barebone (1598-1679) who was appointed to draw up a new constitution for the republic. However, due to belief that a disturbingly large number of MPs were affiliated with the Fifth Monarchists, the motion to dissolve the Parliament was approved on December 12, 1653.[8] Upon the dissolution of the Barebone Parliament, a new constitution was enacted which designated Cromwell as Lord Protector. Aided by the “Protectorate Parliament,” the Lord Protector promoted a religious policy based on “freedom of conscience” which encouraged the proliferation of numerous groups such as Baptists, Levelers, Fifth Monarchists, Quakers, etc.[9] This policy also extended to Presbyterians, Independents, and Episcopalians, although this last group’s freedom of religious practice was severely restricted. However, Catholicism was outlawed as it had been since the latter part of Elizabeth’s I’s reign.

When Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, he was succeeded by his son Richard (1626-1712) as Lord Protector. Due to his generally ineffective leadership, Richard resigned the position, thus paving the way for Parliament to reinstate the “ancient Constitution” and invite Charles II (1630-85) to return to England from exile in France and ascend the throne in 1660. Between 1661 and 1665, Parliament passed ecclesiastical legislation, collectively known as the Clarendon Code, which re-established the hegemony of the Church of England. The first law in the Clarendon Code was the Corporation Act (1661) which required all public officials to take communion according to the liturgy prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer and nullified the Solemn League and Covenant. The Act also banned non-conformists (those not affiliated with the Church of England) from public office. The Code secondly included the Act of Uniformity (1662) which required a revised Book of Common Prayer to be used in all public worship. Enforcement of this Act resulted in the ejection of two thousand non-conformist ministers (one of whom was Richard Baxter) from their parishes. Two years later, Parliament passed the Conventicle Act which outlawed assemblies of more than five people unrelated to one another. The intention of this Act was to prevent dissenting religious groups from forming. Finally, the Five-Mile Act (1665) forbade non-conformist ministers to come within the five miles of their former parishes. The law also prohibited non-conformists from teaching in local schools. Eventually, Parliament extended limited toleration to different sects in Act of Toleration of 1689 during the reign of William and Mary.

While the civil wars in England were transpiring, the continent was languishing amid the last decade of the Thirty Years War in which four to five million people in Germany perished—about twenty to fifty percent of its population.[10] It was this contentious, divided, and bloodstained Christendom that Bishop Joseph Hall sought to heal with an irenic, catholic message of moderation. However, in order to situate his doctrine of moderation in context, a brief survey of Hall’s life and career will be in order.

Joseph Hall’s Life and Career[11]

Joseph Hall was born on July 1, 1574 in Bristow Park, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire. He was the second son in a family of nine. Joseph’s father, John, worked for Henry Hastings, the third Earl of Huntingdon. Hall’s mother, Winifride, according to his own account, was a devout Puritan, “a woman of rare sanctity.”[12] Winifride also suffered from chronic illness often accompanied by a “wounded spirit.”[13] She described her condition as one in which her physical sufferings were “flea-bites” compared to the spiritual “scorpions” which continuously tormented her.[14] Hall moreover recounts how Winifride experienced “a happy and comfortable deliverance” from these spiritual ordeals by way of a dream. The Hall’s family pastor, the renowned Puritan theologian, Anthony Gilby (1510-85) confirmed Winifride’s dream to have been “no other than divine, and that she had good reason to think that gracious premonition was sent her from God himself.”[15] Hall further testifies that upon receiving this assurance from Gilby, Winifride

upon all occasions in the remainder of her life, was ready to magnify the mercies of her God in so sensible a deliverance…. [S]he had so profited in the school of Christ, that it was hard for any friend to come from her discourse no wit holier. How often have I blessed the memory of those divine passages of experimental divinity which I have heard from her mouth![16]

Gilby and Winfride stand as the two formative influences in the life of the young Joseph, both inculcating in him the Puritan ethos which formed the basis of his piety (though he would reject Gilby’s Presbyterian convictions), although it was his mother who seemingly inspired its mystical character.

Hall received his early education at Ashby Grammar School (where Gilby was superintendent). Upon finishing his studies, Joseph’s father had planned for him to study under the Puritan teacher William Pelset, who had come to Leicester from Cambridge. Hall himself seems to imply that this was not his preference though his father chose this option because he could not afford to send Joseph to a university with such a large family to support. The prospect of studying under Mr. Pelset distressed Hall greatly, which he recalls in a later prayer:

I did cast myself upon thy hands: with what faithful resolution I did, in this particular occasion, resign myself over to thy disposition; earnestly begging of thee in my fervent prayers to order all things to the best, and confidently waiting upon thy will for the event. Certainly, never did I, in all my life, more clearly roll myself upon the divine providence, than I did in this business.[17]

While still praying in the above regard, certain events unfolded which redirected the young man’s future. Hall’s older brother journeyed to Cambridge where he stayed with Nathaniel Gilby, the son of Anthony Gilby and Fellow at Emmanuel College. There, the younger Gilby inquired about Hall’s academic abilities and upon hearing of them in detail, the Cambridge Fellow confirmed Joseph’s qualifications to pursue university study. Hall movingly describes the scene in which his brother entreated his father to allow Joseph to attend university:

My brother, partly moved with his words, and partly won by his own eyes, to a great love and reverence of an academical life, returning home, fell upon his knees to my father; and after the report of Mr. Gilby’s words, and his admiration of the place, earnestly besought him, that he would be pleased to alter that so prejudicial a resolution, that he would not suffer my hopes to be drowned in a shallow country-channel; but that he would revive his first purposes for Cambridge; adding in the zeal of his love, that if chargeableness of that course were the hinderance, he did there humbly beseech him to sell some part of that land, which himself should in course of nature inherit, than to abridge me of that happy means to perfect my education.[18]

As soon as Hall’s brother completed his entreaties, their father immediately consented to his son’s study at Cambridge. Discerning these developments as instances of God’s providential revelation of his vocational direction, the future bishop exulted in his role as an object of this providence: “O God, how was I then taken up, with a thankful acknowledgement and joyful admiration of thy gracious Providence over me!”[19] This doxological affirmation of God’s continuous, benevolent providence would be the recurring theme of Hall’s assessment of his entire life, and hence the title of his autobiography, Observations of Some Specialties of Divine Providence in the Life of Joseph Hall, Bishop of Norwich.

In 1589, Hall matriculated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, whose master was the eminent Puritan divine, Laurence Chaderton (1536-1640).[20] Emmanuel at the time was the center of Nonconformity, and so Hall was, at this stage in his life, thoroughly entrenched in the doctrines and practices of Elizabethan Puritanism. Nathaniel Gilby served as Hall’s tutor. After completing two years of study, Hall soon found himself on the receiving end of a funding crisis back home. Hall’s father, John was experiencing significant difficulty in affording the remainder of his son’s university study. This crisis became dire enough that Joseph was in imminent danger of having to withdraw from the university and return home. Most likely Hall would have had to use the education he received at that point to teach at his former school. However, as God’s providence would have it, relief came when the seventeen-year old Hall needed it most. Suddenly, Hall’s uncle, Edmund Sleigh of Derby, offered to fund half the remainder of his education through his MA degree. Hall reflects on this manifestation of God’s providence thus:

Now was I fetched home, with a heavy heart: and now, this second time, had mine hopes been nipped in the blossom, had not God raised me up an unhoped benefactor, Mr. Edmund Sleigh of Derby (whose pious memory I have cause ever to love and reverence) out of no other relation to me, save that he married my aunt. Pitying my too apparent dejectedness, he voluntarily urged and solicited my father for my return to the University; and offered freely to contribute the one half of my maintenance there, till I should attain to the degree of Master of Arts; which he no less really and lovingly performed.[21]

Hall completed his BA degree in 1595. After sundry maneuvers on the part of the Earl of Huntingdon and officials within Emanuel, Hall was appointed a Fellow at the college, succeeding Gilby. In 1596, Hall received his MA. While still a student, Hall published his first, work, a poem in memory of the great theologian, William Whittaker, Master of St. John’s College, Cambridge who had passed away in 1595. Two years later, he published a collection of satirical poems, the Virgidemarium, which sought to denounce the allegedly loose morals of contemporary English authors. Hall’s literary prowess as well as his developing concept of moderation in behavior and doctrine would earn him the epitaph “the English Seneca.”

On December 14, 1600, Hall was ordained a priest in the Church of England. He accepted the position of Rector of All Saints’ Church in Hawstead, Suffolk on December 2, 1601, which became his first pastoral charge. It was not long however, until ministry in this parish was fraught with difficulties. Sir Robert Drury, the patron of this benefice, proved to be a rather mean and greedy individual who kept most of the tithes from this parish to himself, giving Hall, the rector, a small pittance as his income. As a scholar who needed to purchase books for his work, Hall was thus bereft of the funds to continue his studies. He was therefore “forced to write books to buy books.”[22] In addition to Sir Robert’s stinginess, Hall faced indifference from his congregants, most likely to due his youth (he was only twenty-seven).[23] However, there was a resident of Hawstead who proved to be Hall’s most pernicious nemesis, making it his purpose to hinder the young rector’s ministry in every way possible. This thorn in Hall’s side was William Lyly, a prominent figure in Hawstead who was a poet in his own right who had close ties to the Drury family and was related to the poet John Donne by marriage. Hall recounts the nature of the damage Lyly sought to inflict upon his ministry by alienating Lord Drury from him even more:

I found there a danger to the success of my ministry, a witty and bold atheist, one Mr. Lilley, who by reason of his travails, and abilities of discourse and behaviour, had so deeply insinuated himself into my patron, Sir Robert Drury, that there was small hopes that during his entireness [lifetime] for me to work any good upon that noble patron of mine, who, by the suggestion of this wicked detractor, was set off me before he knew me.[24]

Hall faults Lyly with prejudicing his patron against him even before he arrived in Hawstead. Reeling from the pain Lyly inflicted on his pastoral ministry, Hall desperately prayed that this “malicious hinderance might, by some act be removed from blocking my ministry.”[25] Lyly further harassed Hall with attempts to discredit his ministry by publicly bringing local attention to the satirical poems mentioned above, contending that their salacious content proved that Hall was not morally qualified for pastoral ministry. Lyly’s seemingly continuous torment of Hall ended with his death in 1603. After Lyly’s death, Hall resolved to remain in Hawstead, but his continued ministry there would prove eventful in several ways.

By 1603, Hall, at twenty-nine, had been made a Bachelor of Divinity, and on November 15 of that year, he married Elizabeth Winniff who would bare him between six and nine children.[26] Over the next three years Hall started publishing works related to meditation: Meditations and Vows (1605), Heaven upon Earth (1606), and The Arte of Divine Meditation (1606). Between 1606 and 1608, Hall circulated the following moral works: Epistles (1606-08) and Characters of Virtues and Vices (1608). Meanwhile, Sir Edmund Bacon, Lady Drury’s brother selected Hall to accompany him on an embassy to Spa in Belgium. The purpose of this journey was to learn more about Roman Catholicism. In essence, this was a kind of reconnaissance mission. Throughout his interaction with Catholic scholars, Hall impressed them with his mastery of complex theological issues and facility in Latin. At this stage in his career, Hall had not yet developed the nature and depth of moderation for which he would be known between thirty-five and forty years later. In fact, he managed to offend one English Catholic scholar in particular, William Baldwin, while in Brussels. Hall furthermore taunted and ridiculed other Catholic theologians while on this mission—actions that ultimately proved to be counterproductive. Enough of these episodes prompted Baldwin to reprimand Hall for his seemingly overbearing behavior. Baldwin’s correction apparently was sufficient for Hall to cease and desist. As embarrassing as Hall’s interactions were, they did nevertheless, get him noticed.

In 1607, Hall published One Hundred Meditations, the sequel to his Arte of Divine Meditation. This volume, arguably, marks the crowning achievement of Hall’s career as a spiritual writer. His Arte of Divine Meditation seems to have particularly impacted Henry, the young Prince of Wales, who, upon reading the work, requested to hear Hall preach. Hall then preached before Henry at Richmond Palace in 1606—the same year in which his Arte of Divine Meditation was published. The Prince was apparently impressed enough with Hall to have appointed him one of his personal chaplains in 1608. Hall remained in this role until 1613. Prior to his selection as a chaplain by Prince Henry in 1608, Hall left Hawstead for the parish of Waltham-Holy Cross, Essex, where he served as rector of Waltham Abbey. At the time Hall assumed this new charge, he published a work on various biblical characters. A year later, Hall entered the polemical fray with his anti-Catholic treatise, The Penance of Rome. Hall then entered into controversy with the Separatist Brownists, attacking their leader, Robert Browne (1550-1633) with A Common Apology Against the Brownists.[27]

Hall’s ascent through ecclesiastical preferments continued with his appointment as Dean of Worcester in 1616. In 1617, Hall, along with another cathedral dean, William Laud, Dean of Gloucester, journeyed to Scotland to assist King James I/VI in enforcing the Five Articles of Perth, which outlined practices to which they wanted the Scottish church to conform so that it would be uniform with the Church of England. The Scotts accepted the Five Articles in 1618, and the Scottish Parliament formally approved them in 1621. Following the Scottish mission, the Crown chose Hall to serve in a delegation to a significant synod in the Netherlands summoned to deal with a theological controversy that threatened to split the Reformed churches on the continent—the Synod of Dort.

His Majesty, King James VI/I, himself selected the five delegates individually: Bishop George Carleton (1559-1628) of Llandaff, Dean Joseph Hall of Worcester, John Davenant (1572-1641), Professor of Divinity and Theology at Cambridge, and Dr. Samuel Ward (1577-1640), Master of Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge. Dr. Walter Bancanquall (1586-1645) went for the Scottish Church. To guarantee that the delegates were unified in purpose and response, James called them together at Newmarket in 1618, and urged them to maintain moderation in discussing the controverted issues at the Synod. The Synod was a truly international gathering, with delegates from the Palatinate, Hesse, Switzerland, Geneva, Bremen, and Emden as well as other Reformed churches in Europe. The Synod’s purpose was to determine the orthodoxy of the Arminian faction of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. These followers of the theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) identified themselves as the “Remonstrants,” who contested the doctrine of predestination. They presented to the Synod a five-point Remonstrance which denied several main features of received Reformed theology, asserting the following:

  1. Predestination based on divine foreknowledge.
  2. Universal atonement
  3. Humanity is totally depraved and cannot save itself.
  4. Humanity has the free will to reject God.
  5. “A believer in God’s grace can deny Satan and be protected by God who will not the evil one to take them.”[28]

Hall delivered one of the most important addresses to the Synod on November 29, 1618, taking as his text Ecclesiastes 7:16: “Be not righteous over much, neither make thyself over wise.”[29] The sermon is divided into two parts. In the first part, Hall addresses the civil authorities who comprise the States General on righteous governance, appealing to Solomon as the ideal model of magisterial justice, with an application to King James as a contemporary exemplar of Solomon’s just rule. The second part of the sermon addresses the issue immediately before the Synod, predestination. In this regard, Hall makes directed application of the second part of his text, “neither make thyself over wise.” Scholastic theologians have been “over wise” in their seemingly unrestrained forays into the secret councils of God. This, according to Hall, was most apparent in the current debate regarding predestination. Elevating views of predestination to the level of dogma had encouraged unrestrained license in preaching, disregarding the utter mystery surrounding it. Hall highlights this aspect of the doctrine by citing Romans 11:33: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” Hall admonishes the delegates to leave aside their “over wise” theological nuances, and simply return to the Bible as it is written: “For if brothers dispute concerning the title to their inheritance to what do they have recourse but to the testament of their father?”[30] He then suggested that each theologian among the delegates paraphrase Romans 9 on predestination with the view of arriving at am unbiased, consensus, asserting, “It cannot but happen that, with this heavenly light as your guide, the truth will freely expose itself to the eyes of the pious and unprejudiced.”[31] Hall further reminded the delegates that “We are brothers, Christians, not Remonstrants, Contra-Remonstrants, Calvinists, or Arminians.”[32] What Hall delivered to the delegates at Dort was, in essence, a theology and manifesto of moderation. He encouraged other theologians to clarify doctrine in a manner that was first faithful to Scripture and promoted the unity of the Reformed churches of Protestant Christendom. Regretfully, Hall had to leave the Synod before its adjournment due to an intestinal illness which forced him to return to England. He was replaced by Dr. Thomas Goad (1576-1638). Despite the positive reception of Hall’s address, the Synod overwhelmingly confirmed the views of the very strict Calvinists led by Franz Gomarus (1563-1641) which it codified in the Canons of Dort. This action by the Synod resulted in the expulsion of the Arminians from the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, and the eventual conviction and execution of an Arminian political leader, Johan van Oldenbarnveldt (1547-1619). The government of the Netherlands nevertheless appreciated what it regarded as the invaluable contribution made by the English delegation to the Synod and awarded each of the delegates a sumptuous gold medal that commemorated the proceedings of this significant ecclesiastical gathering.

Upon his return from Dort, Hall advanced through ecclesiastical preferment. In 1624, King James offered him the position of bishop of Exeter, but he turned it down. Yet, the King was still favorably enough disposed towards Hall to have the theologian preach before him in September of the same year. Three years later, in 1627, Hall eventually accepted selection as bishop of Exeter, his consecration taking place on December 23rd. Throughout his fourteen years in this see, Hall further developed his position of moderation, particularly towards Catholics. It was important to deal with the adherents of Rome based on doctrines held in common rather than just refute certain papist teachings. This posture earned the bishop the favor of the new King, Charles I, who was married to a French Catholic princess. However, Hall’s advocacy of moderation towards Catholics earned him the suspicion of those in important positions, especially William Laud who, as bishop of London, sent spies to Exeter in order to take note of any statements Hall would make that would suggest support for Catholics. The dilemma which seemed to incur opponents to Hall from all directions was his apparent leniency towards Catholics and simultaneous sympathy for the Puritans both of which were driven by his desire to establish within the Church of England a via media which would unite all Protestants of differing views. While attempting to show moderation to Catholics in England (who were technically outlawed), Hall’s real aim was to form a united Protestant front that would provide an effective, unified refutation of controversial Roman doctrines.[33] Yet, the beginning of the Civil Wars irreparably jettisoned this ambitious, if arguably overly idealistic undertaking.

At the convening of the Long Parliament in 1640, Hall found the Church of England as defined by the Elizabethan Settlement on the defensive. For this reason, he delivered before this Parliament an extensive defense of the liturgy and the Order of Bishops in the church. In so doing, Hall at the same time took an irenic approach with his opponents:

Alas, my brethren, while we do fully agree in all these and all other doctrinal and practical points of religion, why will ye be so uncharitable, as by these frivolous and causeless divisions, to rend the seamless coat of Christ? Is it a title, or a retinue, or a ceremony, a garment, or a colour, or an organ pipe, that can make us a different Church while we preach and profess the same saving truth?[34]

As with the delegates of Dort, Hall endeavored to persuade Parliament to pursue an approach to national religion that would maintain the general articles of orthodox Christian faith while allowing latitude regarding specific doctrinal and practical convictions. Notably, Hall made these remarks while the Westminster Assembly was doing its work on the Thirty-Nine Articles. Moreover, Hall makes this appeal to moderation at a time when his old enemy, Archbishop Laud, was arrested and impeached for treason on account of the Primate’s attempts to prevent the King from accessing members of Parliament.[35] The more intense the national religious and political situation became, the deeper the conciliatory Hall sank into controversy.

Though initially his antagonist, Hall defended the indicted Laud and the institution of episcopacy, in An Humble Remonstrance to the Court of Parliament by a Dutiful Son of the Church. This work prompted almost immediate vitriol from Laud’s critics. The rejoinder to Hall came by way of works penned by five Puritan divines, a regretful situation which came to be known as the Symectymnus Controversy—this unusual name being a combination of initials of various Puritan divines.[36] The exchange escalated to vicious personal attacks against Hall, who eventually withdrew from the dispute. Meanwhile, on the Second Sunday of Lent, 1641, Hall preached before King Charles at Westminster. The sermon was entitled The Mischief of Faction and the Remedy of it. In this moving and pointed sermon, Hall decries the extremism on both sides (Puritan and Establishment) and pleads for reason and sober judgment. “He proclaimed that he was happy to be censured by them, for he saw his role to be that of cement between blocks of masonry. Opposing stones could never stand as a unified whole without their need to be in direct contact with the mortar.”[37]

In the summer of 1641, Hall returned to Exeter from Westminster, where he had defended the national church before Parliament. This would be his last time visiting his episcopal seat; for when Hall returned to Westminster for another session of Parliament, King Charles offered him the bishopric of Norwich. Charles’ appointment of Hall to this see was strategic. When the Civil War intensified, Exeter eventually fell to Parliamentary forces in 1646. Because of the King’s selection of him for another see, Hall avoided the chaos in Exeter before its final capture. Furthermore, in Hall, Charles selected a prudent and sagacious mediator to restore order to a see that had suffered under a previous succession of corrupt and incompetent bishops.

Hall’s consent to his translation from Exeter to Norwich ended a seven-month interregnum in the latter diocese. However, preventing the bishop from commencing his new responsibilities was his loss of personal freedom as a result of a sudden change in national mood as represented by the House of Commons. This is because, among other things, the bishop’s moderate stance amid warring extremes increasingly made his position precarious. As they were entering the House of Lords, Hall and his fellow bishops experienced significant harassment from the crowds assembling outside Parliament. This harassment reached the point where Hall and the other bishops were forced to withdraw elsewhere without participating in Parliament. While in isolation, Archbishop John Williams of York called together a meeting of the bishops and together composed a letter to King Charles asking him for stronger security as they make their way into Parliament. The bishops furthermore requested that any legislation passed in their absence be declared null and void. This ill-advised move antagonized the King and revealed the bishops’ ignorance of public sentiment towards them. Charles soundly rejected the bishops’ petition. The House of Lords moreover held the bishops in contempt of the House and impeached them. Shortly thereafter, the bishops were found guilty of treason, forfeiting their incomes and estates to the Crown; they were then imprisoned in the Tower of London to await the final outcome of their ordeal. During their incarceration, the bishops wrote sermons which they preached to one another for encouragement. Hall vividly describes the conditions of his imprisonment thus:

We poor souls, who little thought that we had done anything that might deserve a chiding, are now called to our knees at the bar and charged severally with high treason; being not a little astonished at the suddenness of this crimination, compared with the perfect innocence of our intentions, which were only to bring us to our due places in parliament with safety and speed, without the least purpose of any man’s offence. But, now, traitors we are in all haste and must be dealt with accordingly: for on December 30, [1641] in all extremity of frost, at eight o’ clock in the dark evening, we are voted to the Tower: only two of our number have the favour of the black rod, by reason of their age: which though desired by a noble lord on my behalf, would not be yielded.[38]

After several weeks of imprisonment, the bishops were finally released due to the labors of highly skilled lawyers. On Pentecost Sunday, 1642, the charge of treason against Hall and his fellow bishops was reduced to a lesser one accompanied by a fine of £5000. Hall and his family were now free to proceed to Norwich and begin episcopal ministry. What ensued would prove to be the most trying period of Hall’s life—both ecclesiastically and personally.

Shortly after the Halls’ arrival at Norwich, their youngest son, Edward, died on Christmas Eve, 1642. Throughout the following year, the hapless bishop would fall victim to a radical Parliament. Hall, along with other bishops, was declared one of the “Delinquents,” or “Malignants” for refusing to denounce the Pope and for defending King Charles I, the Episcopacy, and the Church of England itself. On April 1, 1643, Parliament enforced this action by approving an order of sequestration against Hall, which would forcefully divest him of his income, including rents he would receive from episcopal estates. Sequestration entailed appointing a committee in the county of the one convicted. Invested with unlimited powers of investigation, the committee could confiscate that person’s possessions at will. In Hall’s case, the sequestrators went through every room of the episcopal palace, assigned a specific monetary value to every item owned by every member of the Hall family, and took them away. As an act of mercy, the sequestrators allowed Joseph and Elizabeth to keep the clothes they were wearing. With all of Hall’s property, including his extensive library, impounded and made available for public auction, two compassionate individuals, a Mrs. Goodwin and Mr. Cook, purchased the degraded bishop’s personal effects and books respectively and gave them back to him.

Since the sequestration also resulted in the loss of income, Hall was totally bereft of money to support his now impoverished family. He therefore petitioned the Sequestration Committee in Norwich for some form of income. Being so moved, the committee agreed to give Hall an annual pension of £400. This momentary relief did not last long, however. When Miles Corbett, a radical Puritan MP for Great Yarmouth, heard of this decision by the Norwich Committee, he used his influence in the House to reverse this decision, thus consigning Hall and his family to abject poverty once again. To add insult to injury, Corbett decided that Hall and his family were not fit to continue residing in the episcopal palace. Therefore, he arranged for the Halls to be evicted from the residence. Reduced to utter desperation, Hall pleaded with Corbett for assistance to support his family. To this, the hardened MP sternly replied, “Go eat your books.”[39] Elizabeth pleaded with the Norwich Committee for at least some minimal help. The Committee finally decided on an allowance of £6 per month.

Despite continuous deprivations, all of which resulted from Parliamentary abolition of episcopacy, Hall always remembered his calling as a bishop, and continued his ministry by leading services according to the Book of Common Prayer as well as ordaining deacons and priests—all surreptitiously. Periodically, Parliamentary authorities interrogated Hall, pressuring him to divulge the names of clergy he ordained—information he never surrendered. Hall also preached regularly to his diminished and wounded flock. In addition to personal hardships, Hall watched the comprehensive defacing of the beloved cathedral in Norwich as a result of the Parliament’s ordinance mandating the forced removal of all images deemed idolatrous. This state-mandated vandalism included the destruction of fonts, stained glass windows, and even monuments. This comprehensive desecration of Norwich Cathedral moved Hall to compose a memoir, Hard Measure (1647) which details the damage perpetrated against the splendid edifice.

Although expelled from the episcopal palace, Hall and his family were allowed to move into a relatively commodious river house at Heigham, Norwich, where he lived a somewhat dignified retirement as a result of some easing of the Sequestration. At this stage in his life, Hall continued preaching and writing until his death during the height of Cromwell’s Protectorate on September 8, 1656, at the age of eighty-two.

The life and career of Joseph Hall demonstrate vividly his seemingly ill-fated role as a prophet of moderation in an age of violent extremes. Most of Hall’s vast literary corpus seems in one way or another to call the Church of England, the nation, and indeed the whole of Western Christendom in general to this virtue of moderation whose driving attribute is love. Indeed, Hall’s ministry and underlying theology formed a comprehensive endeavor of moderation for which he suffered reproach by those who sought to canonize their positions at all costs to both church and nation. For the beleaguered bishop, moderation was the key to achieving unity around catholic orthodoxy. Furthermore, moderation served as a necessary device for preserving catholic orthodoxy from the heresy of the extreme, born out of seemingly endless schism. This idea of moderation as a hermeneutical tool for unifying Christians around catholic orthodoxy as a means of universal Christian consensus was the central theme of Hall’s Treatise of Christian Moderation.

Joseph Hall’s Treatise of Christian Moderation

The subject of moderation within the context of early modern England has received sustained treatment in the work of Ethan Shagan.[40] According to Shagan, the notion of moderation was a component of a larger ideology of control. This ideology, which promoted moderation along with its concomitant traits of reason and civility, later provided justification for global cultural conquest. As it pertains to religion, Shagan maintains that the idea of moderation which served as the basis for the via media within Anglicanism and eventual religious toleration was an instrument of oppression. While Shagan is correct in the sense that the concept of moderation served as a means of enforcing an imposed religious and cultural conformity within a legislated church/state establishment, he seems to overlook the genuine religious and theological concerns of the divines and churchmen who were consciously functioning within a Christian society, whether it be England, or the world of a confessionally divided Christendom at large. Notwithstanding Shagan’s astute and trenchant analysis, the hermeneutics of suspicion that he seems to employ effectively minimizes the existential reality of the societal paradigm in which Christian magistrates and theologians, Catholic and Protestant alike, were operating. Concerns driven by a societal ecclesiology, compelled many divines and magistrates to employ the concept of moderation as a way of measuring orthodoxy against competing extremes that potentially threatened the existence of church and society both of which were inextricably intertwined.

Throughout the first half of the seventeenth century, during the ravages of the Thirty Years War fought between Catholic and Protestant nations, continental theologians exerted significant effort in calls for an irenic approach, founded upon the concept of moderation. Many Protestant divines sought to identify common theological grounds around which both Lutherans and Reformed could unite against the common threat of Romanism, Socinianism, and other perceived religious threats to Christendom. Most notable among these was the Lutheran theologian George Calixt (1585-1656) who proposed the “Consensus of Ancient Christian Times” (consensus antiquitas) as the basis for Protestant confessional unity.[41] Calixt further advocated that this “ancient consensus” could ultimately serve as the grounds for eventual reunion with Rome. The majority of “orthodox” Lutheran theologians, especially Abraham Calov (1612-86), however, rejected Calixt’s proposal, branding it as “syncretism.”[42] These divines further contended that this proposal reduced the authoritative role of the Lutheran Confessions. Despite ultimate rejection of Calixt’s proposal, King Wladislaus IV of Poland (1598-1648) and the Reformed Duke Frederick William of Prussia (1620-1688) summoned the colloquium of Thorn in 1645 in order to affect reunion of the Lutherans and Reformed with the greater goal of making peace with the Catholics, but unfortunately this attempt failed. Probably one of the most ambitious attempts at confessional unity, using moderation as a guiding principle, was the Synod of Tonneins of 1614 in which King James VI/I heavily involved himself. The goal of this synod was to bring about a union between Lutherans and the Reformed bodies of Protestant Europe with the view of eventually reconciling with Rome, but this gathering ended with no consensus. Regretfully, attempts at union through some vehicle of moderation only seemed to exacerbate further the continuing deepening divisions with Christendom. The aftermath of these and other unsuccessful attempts at the reunion of Christendom by some appeal to moderation provides the historical context in which to read Hall’s Treatise of Christian Moderation.

Hall published his Treatise of Christian Moderation in 1639/40 while still bishop of Exeter, amid the early events leading to the Civil War and the radical ecclesiastical measures taken by Parliament. The treatise consists of two books. Throughout both, moderation as the mean between extremes functions as both an ethical rule and as a hermeneutical principle. Book 1 speaks about moderation in practice, or simply practical living. Christian moderation, when applied to the Christian life, seeks to avoid the extremes of ascetism and libertinism, with the mean being the principle of utilizing with liberty all created things as gifts of God for worshiping him. Moderation, then constitutes the Christian way of holiness. A noteworthy feature of this book is Hall’s sustained interaction with multiple medieval moralists. Book 2, “Moderation in Matters of Judgment,” is of particular interest as it advocates moderation in navigating contentious disputes regarding doctrine. In short, it is a call to moderation in defining and defending doctrine, making moderation a tool for theological hermeneutics. Applying moderation to the definition and maintenance of doctrine entails avoiding the extremes of rigid dogmatism and theological laxity with the mean being the overall catholic consensus of the universal church as expressed by the first four ecumenical councils. Moreover, Hall throughout Book 2 identifies and expounds twelve rules for applying the principle of moderation when judging doctrinal matters. Among these rules were the need to distinguish an opinion from the person expressing it; holding unswervingly to the plain, fundamental truths explicitly revealed in Scripture; refraining from imputing alleged inferences from an opponent’s opinion to the opponent himself; and correctly distinguishing private opinion from that of an entire church. Moderation in discussing, defining, and preserving doctrine stems ultimately from charity, the principal Christian virtue from which all others descend. The cultivation of charity should lead to this moderation, which in turn would ultimately foster catholicity. Hall’s work demonstrates the profitable way in which the classical notion of the “golden mean” as defined by Aristotle and Seneca, coincided generally with the precepts of Scripture, and can therefore serve the Church.

As of the writing of this introduction, it seems that Western Protestant, evangelical Christianity continues to fragment on many levels. There is a trend towards extremes, with one being a hardened fundamentalism characterized by the canonizing of such things as eschatology, lifestyle standards, and certain approaches to hermeneutics, and an overly affirming “progressive Christianity” which emphasizes deconstruction of the traditional faith and validates an array of orientations as a result. Supposed conservative Christianity appeals to Scripture as a legal code to assert its distinctives and “progressive Christianity” effectively repudiates scriptural authority. One seeks to impose an oppressive legalism and the other disregards holiness in the name of acceptance. Indeed, at this point in the twenty-first century, the church once again is in grave and desperate need of Hall’s counsel for personal and doctrinal moderation. May our Lord, who is the Truth itself, use this re-introduced work to endue today’s church with that wisdom that cultivates love expressing itself in holiness, joined to moderate judgment in all things.

Andre Gazal (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Vice President of Academic Affairs at Montana Bible College and has also served at the assistant projector editor for the Reformation Commentary on Scripture. A specialist in the English Reformation, Andre is the author of Scripture and Royal Supremacy in Tudor England: The Use of Old Testament Historical Narrative (Edwin Mellen Press, 2013) and editor of Defending the Faith: John Jewel and the Elizabethan Church (PSU Press, 2018) as well as new editions of An Apology of the Church of England (Davenant Press, 2020) and Jurisdiction Regal, Episcopal, Papal (Davenant Press, 2021). Among much else, he has published numerous articles and essays on the theology of the English Reformers.

  1. See Anthony Milton, England Second Reformation: The Battle for the Church of England, 1625-1662 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021).

  2. Milton, England’s Second Reformation, 1-11.

  3. Milton, England’s Second Reformation, 36.

  4. Milton, England’s Second Reformation, 101-43.

  5. See



  8. The Fifth Monarchists were a millienialist Protestant sect, active in the period of the Commonwealth, who believed that the execution of Charles I brought an end to the fourth of the kingdoms discussed in the Book of Daniel, and that the fifth kingdom would be an establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

  9. Peter Gaunt, Oliver Cromwell (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 233-38.

  10. Guy Parker, The Thirty Years War (Abingdon-on-Thames, UK: Routledge, 1984), 189.

  11. For an older biography of Hall, see John Jones, Bishop Hall, his life and times, or, Memoirs of the life, writings, and sufferings, of the Right Rev. Joseph Hall, D.D. successively Bishop of Exeter and Norwich : with a view of the times in which he lived, and an appendix containing some of his unpublished writings, his funeral sermon, &c (London: L.B. Seely, 1826).

  12. Joseph Hall, The Works of Joseph Hall, D.D., 12 vols (Oxford: D.A. Talboys, 1837), 1:xi.

  13. Hall, Works 1:xii.

  14. Hall, Works 1:xii.

  15. Hall, Works 1:xii.

  16. Hall, Works 1:xii.

  17. Hall, Works 1:xiii-xiv.

  18. Hall, Works 1:xiv.

  19. Hall, Works 1:xv.

  20. Hall, Works 1:xvi.

  21. Hall, Works 1:xv.

  22. Hall, Works 1:xxv.

  23. David A. Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent: Bishop Hall of Norwich (Norwich, UK: Norwich Heart, 2012), 16.

  24. Cited from Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent,” 17.

  25. Cited from Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent,” 17.

  26. Estimates differ among scholars. See Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent,” 20.

  27. The Brownists were a Separatist group of Dissenters who attempted to set up congregations outside the Church of England. They were led by Robert Browne (d.1633), a breakaway Anglican clergyman. The majority of Separatists on board the Mayflower in 1620 were Brownists. Browne himself in fact eventually returned to the Church of England.

  28. Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent,” 29.

  29. For an extended discussion of this address, see Frank Livingstone Huntley, Bishop Joseph Hall, 1574-1656: A Biographical Study (Cambridge, UK: Brewer, 1979), 106-108.

  30. Cited from Huntley, Bishop Joseph Hall, 107.

  31. Cited from Huntley, Bishop Joseph Hall, 107.

  32. Cited from Huntley, Bishop Joseph Hall, 107.

  33. Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent”, 39.

  34. Cited from Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent”, 42-43.

  35. Cited from Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent”, 43.
  36. These divines were SM (Stephen Marshall), EC (Edmund Calamy (1600-66)), TY (Thomas Young), MN (Matthew Newcomen (1610-69)), WS (William Spurstow (1605-66). See Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent”, 44-45. See Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent”, 44-45.

  37. Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent”, 45.

  38. Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent”, 57-58.

  39. Berwick, The Divine “Delinquent”, 67.

  40. Ethan H. Shagan, The Rule of Moderation: Violence, Religion, and the Politics of Restraint in Early Modern England (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
  41. See Eric W. Gritsch, A History of Lutheranism (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002), 131-35. Later, 1648, Johann Dorsche would refer to this idea as “The Consensus of the First Five Christian Centuries” (quinquesaecularis). See Gritsch, History of Lutheranism, 131.
  42. Gritsch, History of Lutheranism, 133.


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