Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tunstall's "Passive Obedience"

Cuthbert Tunstall, the former Bishop of Durham, who refused to take Elizabeth I's Oath of Supremacy, died under house arrest at Lambeth Palace, the "guest" of Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury on November 18, 1559. He had survived the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I by accepting royal decisions on religion. Tunstall might at first oppose religious changes under Henry and Edward, but then he would accept the king's decision and enact it completely, as Albert Frederick Pollard explains in the Dictionary of National Biography:

Throughout the ensuing ecclesiastical revolution Tunstall's attitude was one of ‘invincible moderation.’ He retained till his death unshaken belief in catholic dogma, and he opposed with varying resolution all measures calculated to destroy it; but at the same time he seems to have believed in ‘passive obedience’ to the civil power, and even under Edward VI carried out ecclesiastical changes when sanctioned by parliament which he opposed before their enactment. Thus he protested against Henry VIII's assumption of the title of ‘supreme head’ even with the saving clause about the rights of the church (Wilkins, Concilia, vol. iii.; cf. Stowe MS. 141, f. 36), but he subsequently adopted it without reservation, remonstrated with Cardinal Pole on his attitude towards the royal supremacy, preached against the pope's authority in his diocese, and was selected to preach on Quinquagesima Sunday 1536 before four Carthusian monks condemned to death for refusing the oath of supremacy (Wriothesley, Chron. i. 34). He maintained it also in a sermon preached before the king on Palm Sunday 1539, which was published by Berthelet in the same year (London, 8vo), and reissued in 1633 (London, 4to). Tunstall's acquiescence in this and the other measures which completed the severance between the English church and Rome was of material service to Henry VIII, for, after the death of Warham and Fisher, Tunstall was beyond doubt the most widely respected of English bishops. Pole wrote in 1536 to Giberti that Tunstall was then considered the greatest of English scholars (Cal. State Papers, Venetian, 1534–54, No. 116). His influence was, however, occasionally feared by Henry, and previous to the parliament of 1536 which sanctioned the dissolution of the lesser monasteries, Tunstall was prevented from attending it, first by a letter from Henry excusing him from being present on account of his age, and secondly, when Tunstall was already near London, by a peremptory order from Cromwell to return (Gasquet, Henry VIII and the Monasteries, i. 151, 294).

He did not escape trouble during the reign of Edward VI, however, although the accusations against him were political, not religious, and he ended up in the Tower of London:

In September 1550 he was accused by Ninian Menvile, a Scot, of encouraging a rebellion in the north and a Scottish invasion. The precise nature of the accusation never transpired, and it is probable that the real causes of the proceedings against him were his friendship for Somerset, sympathy with his endeavours to check Warwick's persecution of the catholics, and Warwick's plans for dissolving the bishopric of Durham and erecting on its ruins an impregnable position for himself on the borders. On 15 May 1551 he was summoned to London (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 33), and on the 20th was confined to his house ‘by Coldharbor in Thames Streete’ (Acts P. C. iii. 277; Wriothesley, ii. 65). During his enforced leisure he composed his ‘De Veritate Corporis et Sanguinis Domini nostri Jesu Christi in Eucharistia,’ perhaps the best contemporary statement of the catholic doctrine of the eucharist. It was completed in 1551, the author being then, as he states, in his seventy-seventh year. Canon Dixon asserts that it was published in the same year, but the fact is extremely improbable, and no copy of such an edition has been traced. The first known edition was issued at Paris in 1554; a second edition appeared at Paris in the same year. On 5 Oct. 1551 Cecil and Sir John Mason [q. v.] were directed to examine Tunstall, probably with the object of obtaining evidence against Somerset, whose arrest had already been arranged. Nothing resulted from the inquiry, but some weeks later a letter from Tunstall to Ninian Menvile, containing, it is said, the requisite evidence of his treason, was found in a casket belonging to Somerset. On 20 Dec. he was consequently removed to the Tower, and Northumberland determined to proceed against him in the approaching session of parliament. On 28 March 1552 a bill for his deprivation was introduced into the House of Lords; it passed its third reading, and was sent down to the commons on the 31st. There, being described as ‘a bill against the bishop of Durham for misprision of treason,’ it was read a first time on 4 April. But, in spite of Northumberland's elaborate efforts to pack it, the House of Commons showed many signs of independence, and before proceeding further demanded the attendance of the bishop ‘and his accessories.’ This was apparently refused, and the bill fell through. Tunstall, was, however, detained in the Tower, and subsequently in the king's bench prison, and on 21 Sept. 1552 the chief justice and other laymen were commissioned to try him. He was tried at the Whitefriars on Tower Hill on 4 and 5 Oct., and deprived on the 14th of his bishopric, which was dissolved by act of parliament in March 1552–3.

After being released from the Tower after the accession of Mary, Tunstall again became Bishop of Durham, and deprived various Edwardine bishops from their offices. Pollard emphasizes that Tunstall would not participate in the prosecution of Protestants or heretics. 

He finally opposed the religious changes under Elizabeth I:

Immediately after her accession Elizabeth wrote to Tunstall on 19 Dec. 1558, dispensing with his services in parliament and at her coronation. He refused to take the oath of supremacy, and was summoned to London, where he arrived on 20 July 1559, lodging ‘with one Dolman, a tallow chandler in Southwark’ (Machyn, p. 204). On 19 Aug. he wrote to Cecil, saying he could not consent to the visitation of his diocese if it extended to pulling down altars, defacing churches, and taking away crucifixes; but on 9 Sept. he was ordered to consecrate Matthew Parker as archbishop of Canterbury. He refused, and on the 28th he was deprived, in order, says Machyn, that ‘he should not reseyff the rentes for that quarter’ (Diary, p. 214). He was committed to the custody of Parker, who treated him with every consideration at Lambeth Palace.

I think his career, even though Edward Burton accepts Pollard's assessment of Tunstall in the Catholic Encyclopedia (Despite his weakness under Henry VIII, we may endorse the verdict of the Anglican historian, Pollard, who writes: "Tunstall's long career of eighty-five years, for thirty-seven of which he was a Bishop, is one of the most consistent and honourable in the sixteenth century. The extent of the religious revolution under Edward VI caused him to reverse his views on the royal supremacy and he refused to change them again under Elizabeth".) demonstrates consistent weakness and compliance with the royal will on matters too important to acquiesce to until it was too late. 

Pollard makes much of Tunstall's refusal to prosecute Protestants and heretics in his diocese under the laws passed by Mary I's Parliament (revivals of earlier laws), but Tunstall was willing to stand by as Thomas and the Carthusians were prosecuted and martyred. He preached a sermon against the Pope's spiritual authority knowing that men who would suffer execution were forced to be present; he encouraged Thomas More to attend Anne Boleyn's coronation, knowing what a position that placed More in. He obviously had influence--Henry VIII wanted him away from Parliament during crucial votes--but he did not use it to protect the truth until it was too late. 

It's perhaps ironic to note that he died on November 18, since that is the anniversary of Pope Boniface VIII's Unam Sanctum in 1302, declaring that the papacy's spiritual authority was greater than any monarch's temporal authority.

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