April 8, 2019

John Jewel’s “A Treatise of the Sacraments” (1583), now online

John Jewel, A Treatise of the Sacraments. (1583)

John Jewel, bishop, theologian, and writer, has had the fame of his famous Apology overshadow many of his other works. An excellent case of this inexplicable omission is his Treatise on the Sacraments, published after his death in 1583. Addressed chiefly to the subjects of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, he covers both subjects with equal parts incredible detail and a flowing language that is rare for theological writers. Indeed, nothing less is to be expected from the writer of the famous Apology; yet insofar as it didn’t cover the Sacraments, it was left to this Treatise to bring forth and elucidate the theological ground for the Anglican doctrine of the Sacraments.

As both baptism and the Lord’s supper had been subjects of controversy in recent decades, John Jewel may be considered the primary source on those topics, yet the chief point of his legacy is not the claims he makes, but the theological method he uses — for nowhere else is more evident the Anglican devotion to the Church Fathers and to the pristine doctrine of the Church. As in the Apology, so in the Treatise here, Jewel brings forth a gargantuan army of ancient patristic witnesses, on even the smallest points of doctrine which could’ve been stated just on his authority. The relentless self-abnegation and refusal to create new doctrine, but rather to adopt the most pristine and the most authoritative teachings, makes his work a titanic effort, and leaves little doubt about the authentic doctrine of the Sacraments.