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Evangelical Reformism in Henrician Cambridge, c. 1520-1540

DONNELLY, COLIN,MICHAEL (2023) Evangelical Reformism in Henrician Cambridge, c. 1520-1540. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 22 September 2026.


Beginning in the early 1520s, a network of religious reformers who would go on to have an extraordinarily outsized impact on the course of the English Reformation clustered at the University of Cambridge. To understand these thinkers, we must take them on their own terms, and avoid the anachronistic imposition of later confessional boundaries. The foundation of their thought was the Erasmian distinction between the authentic divine law, which is necessary to be kept, and invented human traditions, which are not. Many experienced intensely emotional conversions, which led them to apply this Erasmian distinction in a new and more radical way – first by insisting on the abolition of traditions they had come to see as not merely superstitious but idolatrous, and second by seeking to abolish not only the traditions, but the religious authorities which created them in the first place. In other respects, however, these reformers remained surprisingly traditionalist. They retained the notion that salvation requires works, though only the authentic works commanded by God in scripture, radically simplifying the medieval soteriological scheme by abolishing Purgatory, prayer to saints, prayer for the dead, and the whole ecosystem of salvation that went with them, but still working within its most fundamental structure. This reconfigured soteriological scheme had enormous influence on Henrician state religious policy and was reflected in both the Ten Articles of 1536 and the King’s Book of 1543. Ultimately, however, the English Reformation took the opposite course – rather than adapting, but fundamentally maintaining, traditional doctrine while radically undermining centralized authority, the English church centralized authority while adopting wholeheartedly reformed doctrine. In this sense at least, these early martyrs were not the ancestors of the generations of English Protestants from Foxe onward who gloried in memorializing them, but rather their vanquished opponents.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Reformation, Cambridge, Evangelical, Thomas Bilney, John Frith, Myles Coverdale, Stephen Gardiner, Robert Barnes
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2023
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:22 Sep 2023 15:44

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