Andrew Willet And The “Synopsis Papismi” -- By: Randall J. Pederson

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 01:1 (Jan 2009)
Article: Andrew Willet And The “Synopsis Papismi”
Author: Randall J. Pederson


Andrew Willet And The “Synopsis Papismi”

Randall J. Pederson

Scholarly essays, articles, and monographs on the Elizabethan (1558 –1603) and Jacobean (1603 –1625) eras continue to flourish and fascinate scholars, unmatched by other periods in English history, with the possible exception of the English Revolution (c. 1642-1651) and the death of Charles I.1 It is not difficult to imagine why the Elizabethan and Jacobean ages are so popular; after all, the “golden age” of Elizabethan life was riddled with rumors of conspiracy and espionage, the threat of civil powers foreign and domestic, the ever-present problem of succession, and the ever-fanciful conflicts of religion and vice.2 The Jacobean age fares similar with the rise of English Arminianism, disputes over predestination, church life, rival interpretations of Scripture, Spanish politics, contrasting ecclesiological visions, and, of course, the dominant personalities of the period.3

Of all the difficulties in English life, few are as intriguing as early modern anti-popery polemics. These profound and virulent attacks on the validity of the papacy and of the Roman Catholic Church shed

light as to how early modern Protestants conceived and defined themselves. What some scholars would define as a “pathological hatred” of the Roman church was fueled by several factors, not least of which were wars with Spain, threat to national security, welfare of souls and the ever-persistent idea that the pope was Antichrist — a conviction of prelate and puritan alike.4

Anti-popery was further intensified by the cultural and political sensitivities of both eras, as fears of Catholic queens and kings were promoted with popular Protestant martyrologies, such as John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (1563), which presented a cohesive narrative for those Protestants experiencing turmoil and social unrest.5 Further, the “Catholic problem” of the 1580s worsened when Jesuits entered England and began proselytizing efforts; though small in number their influence was great.6 Other reasons include the emergence of crypto-Catholicism, the arguments of Roman apologists, and the rise of militant Catholic rebels.7 Elizabeth’s Act against Popish Recusants

(1593) ...

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