"The Thing is retained": Episcopacy and the Laudian defence of German Lutheranism

Amidst the debates over Lutheranism which arose in the context of the accession of George I, it is notable that those High Churchmen who robustly asserted the compatibility of Lutheranism and Anglicanism - for example, William Dawes (Archbishop of York) and Theophilus Dorrington - did not address the issue of episcopacy.  Rather, however, than this being the result of embarrassment concerning German Lutheranism lacking episcopal order, it reflected a rather different established, settled Laudian view of German Lutheranism.

Laud himself had pointed to the role of superintendents in German Lutheranism as retaining the substance of the episcopal order.  He challenged those in England and Scotland who rejected episcopacy on the grounds that it was unknown in the Reformed Churches overseas:

unless these Men be so strait Laced, as not to admit the Churches of Sweden, and Denmark, and indeed, all, or most of the Lutherans, to be Reformed Churches. For in Sweden they retain both the Thing and the Name; and the Governours of their Churches are, and are called Bishops. And among the other Lutherans the Thing is retained, though not the Name. For instead of Bishops they are called Superintendents, and instead of Archbishops, General Superintendents. And yet even here too, these Names differ more in sound, than in sense. For Bishop is the same in Greek, that Superintendent is in Latin. Nor is this change very well liked by the Learned. Howsoever Luther, since he would change the Name, did yet very wisely, that he would leave the Thing, and make choice of such a name as was not altogether unknown to the Ancient Church.

At the Restoration, leading apologists for the 1662 Settlement John Bramhall (Archbishop of Armagh 1661-63) and John Durel (the leading Francophone conformist) repeated this view.  Bramhall, against Baxter, explicitly evoked German Lutheranism in defence of episcopacy: 

They unchurch not the Lutheran Churches in Germany, who both assert Episcopacie in their Confessions, and have actual Superintendents in their practice, and would have Bishops name and thing if it were in their power. 

Earlier, during the Interregnum, Bramhall had similarly (in The Serpent Salve) pointed to superintendents as an expression of episcopacy:

It appears, that three parts of four of the Protestant Churches have either Bishops, or superintendents, which is all one.

Interestingly, he went on to defend Lutherans as the original Protestants, against those in England who regarded the churches modelled on Geneva as the best Reformed churches:

But perhaps some say, that these are all Lutherans, and no good Protestants. That were strange indeed, that they who made the protestation, and from thence were called Protestants, keeping themselves to the same grounds, should become no Protestants.

Durel likewise stated that the Lutheran Churches of Germany should be regarded as having episcopal order, alongside the Scandinavian Kingdoms:

There is never a National Church amongst them, but hath Subordination of Pastors. In the Imperial Towns and other Free States ... and in all the Territories of the Sovereign Princes of Germany ... Superintendents have the power of Ordination, as the Bishops of the Church of England have; and they are accounted for no other than Bishops, though they have but the Latin title of that Office ... And in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, which are the only three Kingdoms, that have embraced the Augustan Confession, they have Bishops and Arch-Bishops, both name and thing, as suiting best with Monarchy.

It was on this basis, that the German Lutheran Churches retained episcopacy in and through the system of superintendents, that High Churchmen such as Dorrington not only asserted Lutheranism to be "so agreeable with the Church of England, in all essential Points of Faith", but that it also shared in the Church of England's claim to be the closest to the Primitive Church:

the Church of England, with the Doctrine of Luther, comes the nearest to the Religion of the primitive Christians of any upon Earth.


  1. Brian, I'm interested to know whether Laud, Bramhall, Durel etc. were aware that the Reformed (Calvinist) Churches of Hungary, Transylvania, Poland, and Lithuania had bishops who were very much like the German Lutheran superintendents, i.e. not in historic succession but exercising an episcopal ministry within their churches and among their pastors. The example of those Churches would have provided considerable grist for the mill in arguments with the English and Scottish Calvinists who rejected episcopacy. I confess that it's an area into which I've never looked.

    (In fact, the Reformed Church of Hungary, the Reformed Church of Romania, and the Polish Reformed Church still have bishops, and the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania has superintendents.)

    1. Todd, many thanks for your comment and apologies for the delay in responding. Bramhall answers your query perfectly, referring to the episcopal 'Brittanick Churches':

      "They do not Unchurch the Swedish, Danish, Bohemian Churches, and many other Churches in Poloma, Hungaria and those parts of the World, which have an ordinary uninterrupted succession of Pastors, some by the names of Bishops, others under the name of Seniors unto this day".

      I refer to this here: http://laudablepractice.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-britannick-churches-bramhall.html

      As you point out, this allowed the Laudians to emphasise that episcopacy was commonly accepted in many Churches of the Reformation.



Post a Comment

Popular Posts