“To the True Catholick Reader:” The Immediacy of Instruction in Early Modern Recusant Literature

By, Jordan S. Sly, Oct 2016 – In his 1978 review essay, Christopher Haigh notes that the Jesuit mission and the goal of the continental seminaries was not a mission to convert but was, importantly, a mission to maintain an orthodox and ultramontane cohort of traditional, continental Catholics in England despite the illegality of Catholic confession (184). Haigh questions, however, the extent to which Recusants were a community set apart from the cultural fabric of Protestant English society. It is clear, however, by examining Recusant literature –that is literature illegally produced and disseminated with the specific aim of maintaining and expanding the Papal orthodoxy– we see a body of deliberately instructive literature that though it’s content, form, and function attempted to create a Recusant sect of difference set apart from the English state Protestantism out of fear of the dire consequences for salvation as a result of the long-tail of Henrician Reformation. By examining The Progenie of Catholicks and Protestants[i] (1633) and A Most Excellent Treatise of the Begynning of Heresyes[ii] (1565) this essay seeks to identify ways in which the reception of Recusant literature was shaped by elements of its form to instruct the reader in their private study or in their limited spiritual guidance towards a solidified adherence to Catholic orthodoxy and a deeper understanding of the heretical nature of Protestantism. The elements explored include an examination of the instructive and ideological immediacy of the text through the presentation of the literature through two explanatory features: the preface and the simplified gloss, both of which provided context to the reader and served to instruct on the correct and authoritative reading of the text without necessitating the vastness of knowledge of the professional theological reader. within both texts as evidence of the sect of difference established by the Early Modern Catholic missionaries.

The Jesuits —one of the major printers of Early Modern Recusant texts and the long-standing boogeyman for the state Protestant apparatus— printed material with the explicit aim of countering Protestant claims, and to provide instruction for the spiritual development of English Catholics (McCoog, 2016, 94). Recusant literature in many ways reflects other forms of Early Modern writing in that it illustrates an intersection of competing models of traditional authority. For those within the Catholic community, there was a distinct need for instructive literature in the designs and modes of Catholic doctrine and practices of faith. Recusant literature took many forms, but the most common was the devotional prose and instructive literature— primarily from Continental sources such as Luis De Granada— that gave the isolated and illegal community a connection to the literature that, alongside the Bible, created the larger definition of faith (Walsham, 129). J.R. Roberts explains that the primary role of this literature was to “encourage, guide, teach, and exhort men to turn from the world, the flesh, and the devil and give themselves to God… (5).” As such, the nature of the approved work to be disseminated trended towards orthodoxy and would not contain the more challenging and esoteric readings that might lead to misinterpretation and could potentially increase the risk of further heretical derivations (7-9).  Instructional design, therefore, was critically important to the development and dissemination of Recusant devotional literature and the simplicity of design and the immediacy of its use was of additional importance as these materials were designed for the layman and not the trained theologian.

This direct appeal to the lay reader can be identified in the opening lines of the preface to the Progenie of Catholicks and Protestants, “I haue euer been of opinion (good Chriftian Reader) that as nothing in this world is more pleasing to the eye of a Chriftian foule, then a pure afpect of knowledge of the true Church, which is the louelie and moft beautiful Spoufe of Christ himfelf and the onlie Arke of Man’s faluation.” Within this sentence, there are multiple elements to unpack. Firstly, it is important to address the rhetorical appeal of the sentence. The author of the text argues that the only means of salvation is through the “true Church” which gains its authority by being the “most beautiful spouse of Christ himself.” By distancing the “true Church” from its co-spouses in the marriage of Christ and man, the author illustrates the anxiety of the Jesuit mission and places the reader at the forefront of the confessional battlefront armed with a vocabulary for further dissemination of these ideas and simple argumentative logic with which engage the further content of the this and other Recusant works with an a priori understanding of the central arguments for the superiority of the Catholic faith.

Secondly, throughout the preface, the reader is directly addressed as a “good Christian reader) and is therefore given the burden of living up to that title by adhering to the principles of the faith. These principles can be read as direct and pithy instructive arguments utilizing paraphrased agricultural (“planting the Church of Christ…he firft fowed good feed in his field”) allegories that defend the authority of the “old way” as it relates to both the personal faith of the reader and, importantly, the legitimacy of secular power. Through simple logic, the author of the Preface describes the authority of the Catholic faith as being derived from its historial position, explaining that,  “…as in temporal Nobilitie that Stemme is moft honourable, which is lineally deriued from the ancienteft bloud…which pleadeth longeft Prefcription or anienteft Euidence…is an infallible truth.” All other faiths, in other words, that are not legitimized by the same criterion are therefore the “malignant inuentions of the Enemie.” By conflating these notions of noble lineage with the primacy and endurance of the faith, the author is able to appeal to the secular reader (especially readers of the gentry which constituted a significant percentage of the Early Modern Catholic Community[iii]) in a clear and understandable way and in a framework that effectively challenges the legitimacy of a Protestant crown and develops a sort of commonplace book of rhetorical arguments and self-satisfying evidence of the critical importance of Counter-Reformation Catholic action.

The prefatory material that introduces the reader to the Richard Shacklock translation of Stanislaus Hosius’ A Treatife of the Beginnying of Herefies on oure tyme or as it’s known throughout the text, The Hatchet of Heresies[iv] is similarly designed to clearly illustrate the contents of the larger text in an immediately understandable way. On the recto directly following the title page (itself an innovation in accessibility) is a short poem and illustration that map the argument later developed by Hosius in the full text. “Sathan the flower of fynfull doctrine/,” the poem begins, “For pastyme of late dyd pepe oute of hell/ Being wery of whipping Luther and Caluine/ To fee if his fedes dyd prosper here well.” Through the illustration, it is made clear that the seeds described became a tree of “rebellion” with branches of “bloodshed” and leaves of “lyes” and “Atheism.” On the right-hand side stands Hosius under the “insigne veritatis” and on the opposite side lurks “Sathan” under the “insigne falsitatis.” Hosius is holding a hatchet and with it he is hacking away at the heretical tree planted by Satan. The combined elements of the illustration and the simple poem serve to instruct the lay reader in the crucial aspects of the text in advance or perhaps in lieu of reading the complicated argument presented through Hosius’ lengthy appeal.

The preface material allowed lay readers an access point into the Recusant literature and provided them with necessary information that would allow further engagement with the text. Another form of reading aid that served the goal of making an accessible and immediate text was the gloss. This is not a feature unique to Recusant literature as it can be clearly seen in contemporaneous Protestant literature of a similar vein such as Foxe’s Actes and Monuments. In fact, this similarity is important in understanding the use of this mode of communication; both its instructive and its ideological uses. Put another way, the gloss serves the same purpose in this Recusant work as the gloss would in a work of patristic theology or pagan philosophy (to clarify, highlight, paraphrase, or reference parent works), but in the example of The Hatchet of Herefies the gloss largely serves as a textual manicule pointing to important arguments against Protestantism and thus providing, in modern terms, talking points and easy takeaways for the reader.

Reduced glosses were, as Evelyn Tribble discusses, a feature of Early Modern printing as a result of increasing sensitivity to lengthy authoritative expositions on the text and to fears of heretical interpretation seen in the so-called “gay glosses (11-17).” Recusant literature, however, employed this tactic in order to clearly instruct readers where the error would lie in a Protestant argument and to illustrate the proper deference to the Church authorities through instructive language and explicit example.

The first example of the instructive glossing lies on the first page of the Herefies wherein the standard text begins, “Before I lay Brentius his arguments to the touchftone, I think it mete to fpeake from the things of the manyfolde herefies of this our tyme….” The accompanying gloss is instructive in two ways. Firstly, the gloss translates the gothic text used in the print and specifically makes the ‘r’ character clear to the lay reader and thus clearly marking that the passage discusses the figure of Brentius or Johannes Brenz. Secondly, by providing the explanatory phrase “foure foundations of Brentius doctrine or Iathanisme (possibly iustificationem) the gloss text indicates the context of the passage being of continental religious controversies and dealing with difficult elements of doctrinal difference.

It is in the explanation of these interpretations and doctrinal arguments that the ideological nature of the gloss can be seen. The following two examples, still from the Hatchet of Herefies, illustrate the sharp contrast between the instructional gloss as seen in the previous example, and the ideological. Through the use of inflammatory gloss text signals to the reader the true meaning of the main text in an overly simplified, degrading, and often maligning manner. Throughout the text of the Herefies, Martin Luther is characterized as a heretic born from the seed of rebellion which was sowed by Satan. There are few positive accounts of Luther in the text baring one account which illustrates his initial deference to the Pope as a student. While the characterization of Luther is scathing, it is in the treatment of his death that the glossier hits a fever-pitch. The Hosius main text is not sparing in its account of the night of Luther’s death. He is described as being in conference with the “Dyuell” and that as a result, the Devil can “kyll the body” as a result of the terrible fear brought about by his presence. Through this passage Hosius is perhaps describing a troubled Luther confronting the fault of his heresy. Hosius continues the passage by explaining that stemming from fear of this conference, that Luther had “ouer nyght well whittled with wyne, and in his mery cuppes, next day early he was found dead in hys bed…” The curt summary highlighted by the gloss pulls the reader to the facile conclusion that Luther had died from an alcohol based sickness by describing his death as a “drunken deathe.” While Hosius does mention “wyne” in his account of the death of Luther, his account does not as directly attribute the death to his drunkenness as doing so illustrates a ideological and propagandistic image of Luther; one that is valuable for the discrediting of Protesantism in England. It is to this end, as well, that the glossier describes in quite hyperbolic terms that the nature of Luther was “more cruel then the wicked foldyars which dyd put Chrift to deathe.” The compilers of the Recusant text used the gloss to actively provide the user of the text with biting, pithy, and extremely partisan passages to instruct the reader on the perceived severity of their cause against the Protestant apparatus in England.

The immediacy and accessibility of the Recusant text as exemplified in the texts of the Progenie of the Catholicks the Protestants and the Hatchet of Heresies illustrates both the nature of the Catholic Jesuit mission in England to foster a Catholic community set apart from the Protestant apparatus, and the nature of the readership of the Recusant literature. The use of the prefatory materials in outlining the important elements of the compiled materials and the use of the marginal authoritative gloss to highlight important aspects of the text throughout indicate a reader without the seminary training and deep knowledge of church doctrine, history, or politics and served as an ideological tool to maintain and grow the Recusant population in England.

Works Cited:

Primary Sources in Facsimile

Anderton, Lawrence. “The Progenie of Catholicks and Protestants Whereby on the One Fide Is Proued the Lineal Defcent of Catholicks, for the Roman Faith and the Religion, from the Holie Fathers of the Primitice Church, Euen from Chrift’s Verie Time Vntil Thefe Our Dayes: And O.” English Recusant Literature, 1558-1640. Ed. D.M. Rogers. facsimile. Menston, Yorkshire: The Scholar Press, 1972. Print.

Hosius, Stanislaus, and Richard Schacklock. “A Most Excellent Treatise of the Begynnyng of the Herefyes in Oure Tyme, Compiled by the Reuerend Father in God Stanislavs Hosivs Byfhop of Wormes in Pruffia (1565).” English Recusant Literature, 1558-1640. Ed. D.M. Rogers. Facsimile . Menston, Yorkshire: The Scholar Press, 1976. Print.

Secondary Sources

Haigh, Christopher. “The Fall of a Church or the Rise of a Sect Post-Reformation Catholicism in England.” The Historical Journal 21.1 (1978): 181–186. Electronic.

Bolter, Jay D., and Richard Grusin. “Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation.” Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000. 21–50. Print.

McGoog, Thomas M. “‘Guiding Souls to Goodness and Devotion:’ Clandestine Publications and the English Jesuit Mission.” Publishing Subversive Texts in Elizabethan England and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Leiden: Brill, 2016. 93–110. Print.

Roberts, John R. “General Introduction.” A Critical Anthology of English Recusant Devotional Prose, 1558-1603. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1966. 1–50. Print.

Tribble, Evelyn B. Margins and Marginality: The Printed Page in Early Modern England. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993. Print.

Walsham, Alexandra. “Luis De Granada’s Mission to Protestant England: Translating the Devotional Literature Of the Spanish Counter-Reformation.” Publishing Subversive Texts in Elizabethan England and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Leiden: Brill, 2016. 129–155. Print.

[i] The Progenie of Catholicks and Protestants Whereby on the one fide is Proued the Lineal Defcent of Catholicks, for the Roman Faith and the Religion, from the Holie Fathers of the Primitice Church, Euen from Chrift’s Verie Time Vntil thefe our dayes: and on the Other, the neuer-Being of Proteftants on their nouel Sect during al the forefayd time, otherwife then in confeffed and condemned Hereticks.

[ii] A Most Excellent Treatise of the Begynnyng of the herefyes in oure tyme, Compiled by the Reuerend Father in God Stanislavs Hosivs Byfhop of Wormes in Pruffia.

[iii] See, Aveling, Hugh. Northern Catholics: The Catholic Recusants of the North Riding of Yorkshire,1558-1790. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1966. And Manning, Roger B. Religion and Society in Elizabethan Sussex: A Study of the Enforcement of the Religious Settlement, 1558-1603. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1969.

[iv] The term “hatchet” is used both as a verb meaning to cut or stop as well as perhaps an allusion to the hatchet being an instrument of war

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