December 11, 2021

Now online: Matthew Parker, “On the Antiquity of the Church in Britain” / “De Antiquitate Britannicae Ecclesiae” (1572)

Matthew Parker, “On the Antiquity of the Church in Britain” / “De Antiquitate Britannicae Ecclesiae” (1572)

Today we bring to you one of the largest projects in the history of a republication of the vast 1572 history of the Church in Britain, from its founding in the 1-2nd centuries, down to the 1500s, as traced through a succession of its Archbishops of Canterbury. Commissioned by Archbishop Matthew Parker, this is easily the largest scholarly project of his prelacy, occupying a dozen scholars, researchers and archivists, and collating vast numbers of manuscripts and records that otherwise may have perished. The resulting hundreds of folio pages in small-point font, were the pinnacle of the Archbishop’s life-long project: to demonstrate the independent history, antiquity, and identity of the Church of England, as regards any other Churches (such as that of Rome).

Assembling an array of innumerable Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, medieval chronicles, and archeological remains, the Archbishop and his team led by chaplain John Joscelyn painstakingly documented the history of this church, from its founding under ancient Rome, to its dealings with the Popes, the nuances of it coming under their sway, until finally returning it to its original state in the 1500s. Parker’s team of scholars uncovered countless fascinating artifacts of English history, such as Anglo-Saxon sermons which seemed to argue for spiritual real presence; texts by old English theologians against transubstantiation or in favor of priestly marriage; medieval chroniclers (Matthew Paris and others) who expressed great alarm about the Papacy’s rise and alteration of prior Christian teachings. All these texts Parker’s team republished as separate treatises over the course of the 1560s, 1570s, and 1580s, oftentimes in native Anglo-Saxon font! See for instance Testimonie of Antiquitie, shewing the auncient faith in the Church of England touching the sacrament of the body and bloude of the Lord here publikely preached, and also receaued in the Saxons tyme, aboue 600 years agoe, published in 1567. Online here:

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The text we present to you today is filled with items of incredible visual interest: over twenty full-page illustrations (created for the 1700s edition). Almost forty fascinatingly intricate heraldic escutcheons for the Archbishops down through the centuries, attached to their lives. Tables of the Sees of Canterbury and of York, with the dioceses under their charge (and their escutcheons!). Other tables of the English kings and the Archbishops of Canterbury who served with them.

This text has over 220,000 words; and nearly 1 million characters. Only the mightiest computer will be able to load it. We present it here as a fascinating testament and witness to the Church of England and how it saw itself during the 1500s. Perhaps this republication will inspire an enterprising spirit to for the first time translate this work into English. Enjoy!!

Matthew Parker, “On the Antiquity of the Church in Britain” / “De Antiquitate Britannicae Ecclesiae” (1572)