A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE HOMILIES

Copyright 1994 Ian Lancashire. ISBN 1-896016-00-6

John Bill senior, the printer of the 1623 folio (STC 13659, 13675), and Bonham Norton had purchased the office of King's Printer by 1619, and accordingly acquired the privilege to print "all parts of the Bible in whatever translation" (Greg 1967: 58). This extended to the official homilies of the Church of England, because the title-page of the folio includes the imprimatur "Cum Priuile- gio" and states "and now thought fit to bee reprinted by Authority from the KINGS most Excellent Maiestie". For this reason, Bill and Norton did not register this book in the Stationers' Register. The two volumes of homilies had been last published by Edward Allde thirty years before, in 1595. James I must have ordered the homilies to be republished as a follow-up to his six directions to the Archbishop of Canterbury (issued August 4, 1622) that related to preaching. The fourth of these directions silenced all preachers licensed by bishops and deans from giving sermons "which shall not be comprehended and warranted in essence, substance, effect, or natural inference within some one of the articles of religion set forth MDLXII. or in some of the homilies set forth by authority in the church of England ..." (Cardwell 1844: II.202). Since the use of the homilies was specified in the 35th of the Church of England's 39 Articles as well as in the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer, James was not making a new policy. He was simply acting, like Elizabeth before him, to instill greater uniformity of religious belief in his realm. Charles II in fact followed James by issuing like directions in 1662 (Cardwell 1844: II.306).

The writing of the first twelve homilies (Volume 1) was begun as early as 1539 by Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury (Original Letters II. 626), but it appears to have a collaborative effort. The homilies were discussed at Convocation in 1542 and failed to muster approval at that time, owing to the opposition of clergy like Stephen Gardiner. He rejected Cranmer's innovative dogma that Christians could be saved by faith alone, rather than by good works, refused to contribute to the collection, and so obstructed its publication that Cranmer had him jailed in the Fleet briefly in 1547 until Parliament could tidy away all legal obstacles to the matter (Gairdner 1933: 252-53, 296-99, 302-04, 309-11, 429, and passim). The second of the injunctions of Edward VI to his bishops in 1547 left little doubt about the homilies' importance. It stated that the bishops

should not at any time or place preach, or set forth unto the people, any doctrine contrary or repugnant to the effect and intent contained or set forth in the king's highness' homilies; neither yet should admit or give license to preach to any within their diocese, but to such as they should know, or at least assuredly trust, would do the same; and if at any time, by hearing or by report proved, they should perceive the contrary, they should then incontinent not only inhibit that person so offending, but also punish him, and revoke their license. (Cardwell 1844: I.32).
The homilies were accordingly published by R. Grafton on July 31, 1547, in the first year of Edward's reign. The 1547 preface stiffly ordered
all persones, vicares, curates and all other havyng spirituall cure, every Sondaye in the yere, at hygh masse when the people be moste gathered together, to reade and declare to their parishioners, playnly and distinctely, in suche ordre as they stande in the boke -- excepte any sermon bee preached, and then for that cause onely, and for none other, the reading of the sayde homelie to be differred unto the nexte Sondaye folowyng. And when the foresayde boke of homelies is redde over, the Kynges Majesties pleasure is that thesame be repeted and redde agayn, in suche lyke sorte as was before prescribed, unto suche tyme as his Graces pleasure shall further be knowen in thys behalfe. (Bond 1987: 56)
This commandment was also approved by the Privy Council (Haugaard 1968: 16).

The collection received additional printings in 1548, 1549, and 1551 so as to ensure that every church in the realm had a copy. On September 23, 1548, the king prohibited all sermons whatsoever with the exception of those in his own authorized collection and urged the people to "patient hearing of the godly homilies" (Cardwell 1844: I.71). Evidently parishes across England had become restless at their length. Hugh Latimer preached on March 15, 1549, before the king:

Some call them homilies, and indeed so they may be well called, for they are homely handled. For though the priest read them never so well, yet if the parish like them not, there is such talking and babbling in the church that nothing can be heard; and if the parish be good and the priest naught, he will so hack it and chop it, that it were as good for them to be without it, for any word that shall be understood. (Latimer 1844: 121)
Accordingly, in that same year, the twelve homilies were subdivided into 32 parts, so that each one would be suitable for easy reading and comfortable listening at a single service.

Indoctrination then continued apace. The first Book of Common Prayer, published by Edward Whitchurche on May 4 of the same year, made very clear where in each communion service the priest should place the homily:

After the Creed ended, shall follow the Sermon or Homily, or some portion of one of the Homilies, as they shall be hereafter divided: wherein if the people be not exhorted to the worthy receiving of the holy Sacrament of the body and blood of our Saviour Christ, then shall the Curate give this exhortation, to those that be minded to receive the same. (Two Liturgies 1844: 79; cf. p. 268 for the simpler statement in the 1552 liturgy)
The 11th and 34th articles among the 42 Articles of 1549, as printed in A Short Catechism (London: John Day, 1553), also placed the homilies at the heart of the doctrine of the new church (Two Liturgies 1844: 528, 535; and cf. pp. 574 and 580 for the Latin versions). The (unnumbered) 11th states that
Justification by only faith in Jesus Christ, in that sense as it is declared in the homily of Justification, is a most certain and wholesome doctrine for Christian men.
The third homily concerns justification and contains the doctrine of salvation by faith only that Gairdner and others, including Edmund Bonner (who contributed to the collection), objected to. The (unnumbered) 34th reads as follows:
The Homilies of late given, and set out by the king's authority, be godly and wholesome, containing doctrine to be received of all men: and therefore are to be read to the people diligently, distinctly, and plainly.
Shortly after the 42 Articles received their final mandate on June 19, 1553 (Maclear and Williams 1896: 15), they and the homilies fell into swift disuse when Edward died and his Catholic sister Mary came to the throne. Bonner produced a new collection of thirteen homilies to replace the old for the brief years in which protestants like Cranmer were martyred for their innovations.

Elizabeth, coming to the throne in early 1559, quickly perceived the homilies to be an important instrument in the settlement of religious conflict, a precondition of political security. In April 1559 she restored them as official homilies of the Church of England in her 27th and 53rd injunctions to the clergy and laity.

XXVII. Also, Because through lack of preachers in many places of the queen's realms and dominions the people continue in ignorance and blindness, all parsons, vicars, and curates shall read in their churches every Sunday one of the homilies, which are and shall be set forth for the same purpose by the queen's authority, in such sort, as they shall be appointed to do in the preface of the same. LIII. Item, That all ministers and readers of public prayers, chapters, and homilies shall be charged to read leisurely, plainly, and distinctly; and also such, as are but mean readers, shall peruse over before, once or twice the chapters, and homilies, to the intent they may read to the better understanding of the people, and the more encouragement to godliness. (Cardwell 1844: I.223-24, 231)
With these instructions in mind, the queen's printers R. Jugge and J. Cawood accordingly issued the first book of homilies in 1559, 1560, 1562, and 1563.

On August 1, 1563, the second volume of homilies appeared. During the first Elizabethan Convocation in early 1562, which led up to the issuing of the 39 Articles the next year, the seventeen English bishops agreed on a number of "Interpretations" of Elizabeth's injunctions. Specifically, they stated:

Homilies be made of those arguments which be showed in the book of homilies, or others of some convenient arguments, as of the sacrifice of the Mass, of the Common Prayers to be in English, that every particular church may alter and change their public rites and ceremonies of their church, keeping the substance of the faith inviolably, with such like. And that these be divided to be made by the bishops, every bishop two and the Bishop of London to have four. (Frere and Kennedy III.132; cf. p. 68 for a simpler version of the same)
At the conclusion of the 12th homily on contention, an advertisement appeared that promised a number of additional homilies in the future. Although from the time of Edward, it was reprinted in 1559.
HEereafter shall follow Sermons of Fasting, Praying, Almes deedes, of the Natiuity, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of our Sauiour Christ: of the due receiuing of his blessed Body and Blood, vnder the forme of Bread and Wine: against Idlenesse, against Gluttony and Drunkennesse, against Couetousnesse, against Enuie, ire, and malice, with many other matters, aswell fruitfull as necessary to the edifying of Christian people, and the increase of godly liuing. (1623 edition)
Only twenty new homilies were contributed by Elizabeth's bishops to the second volume by 1563. They included those (promised in 1547) on fasting (no. 4), prayer (nos. 7 and 9), alms deeds (no. 11), the nativity, the passion, and the resurrection (nos. 12-14), the receiving of the sacrament (no. 15), idleness (no. 19), and gluttony and drunkenness (no. 5), but if there were any plans for homilies on covetousness, envy, anger, and malice, they were superseded by more urgent needs. Practical homilies on the proper use of the church (no. 1), idolatry (i.e., wrongful use of images; no. 2), repairing and cleaning the church (no. 3), excess of apparel (no. 6), persons offended by certain places of scripture (no. 10), Whitsunday and Rogation week (nos. 16-17), matrimony (no. 18), and repentance (no. 20) interested the bishops more.

The statement on, and the list of, the homilies appeared in 1563 in the 33rd and 34th of the 39 Articles but by 1571 -- when the last or 21th homily, on rebellion, was added -- they were combined into a new 35th article, the English version of which reads as follows (Maclear and Williams 1896: 390):

Of Homilies.

The seconde booke of Homilies, the seuerall titles whereof we haue ioyned vnder this article, doth 
conteyne a godly and wholesome doctrine, and necessarie for these tymes, as doth the former booke of 
Homilies, whiche were set foorth in the time of Edwarde the sixt:  and therefore we iudge them to be read 
in Churches by the Ministers diligently, and distinctly, that they may be vnderstanded of the people.

Of the names of the Homilies.

1	Of the right vse of the Churche.
2	Agaynst perill of Idolatrie.
3	Of repayring and keping cleane of Churches.
4	Of good workes, first of fastyng.
5	Agaynst gluttony and drunkennesse.
6	Against excesse of apparell.
7	Of prayer.
8	Of the place and time of prayer.
9	That common prayers and Sacramentes ought to be 
		ministred in a knowen tongue.
10	Of the reuerente estimation of Gods worde.
11	Of almes doing.
12	Of the Natiuite of Christe.
13	Of the passion of Christe.
14	Of the resurrection of Christe.
15	Of the worthie receauing of the Sacrament of the 
		body and blood of Christe.
16	Of the gyftes of the holy ghost.
17	For the Rogation dayes.
18	Of the state of Matrimonie.
19	Of repentaunce.
20	Agaynst Idlenesse.
21	Agaynst rebellion.
The queen delayed some time before authorizing this second volume (Parker 1853: 177) but she took a moderate position on how the reading of the homilies was to be managed by the clergy. They were only admonished to use them. Item 12 of Edmund Grindal's injunctions for the clergy of York in 1571 (repeated for Canterbury in 1576) say only:
Ye shall every Sunday and holy day, when there is no sermon in your church or chapel, distinctly and plainly read in the pulpit some one of the Homilies set forth by the Queen's Majesty's authority, or one part thereof, at the least, in such sort as the same are divided and appointed to be read by the two books of the Homilies ... (Grindal 1843: 127, 161)
Thus no clergyman actually needed ever read from the homilies if he or another preached another sermon of their own.

The first volume of homilies was republished by Jugge and Cawood in 1569, and then by Jugge alone in 1569, 1574, and 1576. Jugge and Cawood printed ten editions of the second volume in 1563 and one in each of 1570 and 1571, at which time the last of the homilies, against disobedience and wilful rebellion (2.21), was added to the collection. Jugge also issued the second book alone in 1574 and 1577.

During this period, from 1559 to the late 1570s, the homilies enjoyed 27 separate editions. They must have had their greatest impact on the English nation then, when Hakluyt, Hooker, Marlowe, Sidney, Shakespeare, Spenser, and other great writers of the period received their education. The Puritans, however, wanted all these constraints tossed out. In Admonition to the Parliament (1572), they demanded that the crown "Appoint to euery congregation a learned & diligent preacher. Remove homylies, articles, injunctions, prescript order of service made out of the masse booke" (Puritan Manifestoes 1907: 142). Yet many clergy would take the easy road and read these texts aloud instead of devising their own sermons, for those might get them into trouble with their parishioners or with the church authorities on grounds of unorthodoxy. Many clergy would also have had little skill in writing. Elizabeth certainly thought so: she told her archbishops firmly that England needed but three or four original preachers because the people's needs could be entirely met by the reading of the homilies by their clergy (Bond 1987: 10). In 1577, when she wrote her bishops to prevent Puritan prophesyings, she stated

and where there shall not be sufficient able persons for learning in any cures to preach, or instructe their cures, as were requisite, there shall you limitte the curats to read the publike homilies, accordinge to the injunctions heretofore by us geven for like causes. (Cardwell 1844: I.431)
When C. Barker and H. Middleton issued the first and second volumes together for the first time in 1582, the public need for the homilies may have waned. Barker yielded publication rights to the Stationers Company on June 15, 1587, and then J. Charlewood and T. East printed them together next in 1587, the last time they appeared before Allde's collection in 1595. The publication history during Elizabeth's reign shows that the crown first flooded churches with the books from 1559 to 1563 and then reprinted them in intervals of four to five years (1569-71, 1574-77, 1582, 1587, 1595). The 30-year interval following Allde's edition shows that the homilies had less impact late in Elizabeth's reign, as Puritan opinion gathered strength, and then throughout the reign of James. In 1607 Thomas Rogers published a defence of the 39 Articles that describes a formidable opposition to the homilies -- Anabaptists, the Family of Love, Brownists, Disciplinarians, and Sabbatarians, and "Puritans of all sorts" (325-26). J. J. S. Perowne, Rogers' 19th-century editor, particularly notes the Humble Petition by English ministers in 1604 (327, n. 9).