The Protestant Reformation and the English - Irish Province (continued)
On the Continent Coverdale accepted Lutheranism and left the Augustinian Order. Under Thomas Cromwell's protection, he returned to England in 1539, and became a spy on Papists (Roman Catholics) for Cromwell. When his fellow ex-Augustinian, Robert Barnes, was burnt at the stake on 30th July 1540, Coverdale went back to Europe, taking his Scottish wife with him.
He led a studious life in Flanders and Germany. He dedicated his time to translating the Bible into English; in 1535 his was the first complete English Bible. Printed in Zurich, it was reprinted in 1537 and 1538. Coverdale's translation of the Psalms is still used in the Book of Common Prayer. His translation of the Bible into English was in some ways a more audacious step that of Martin Luther a year earlier in translating it into High German, because Coverdale was the one who was breaking newer ground in his own native tongue. Contrary to popular belief, there were numerous German-language bibles before Luther's translation.
Indeed, there is ample evidence for the general use of the entire vernacular German Bible in the fifteenth century. For example, in 1466, before Martin Luther was even born, the Mentel Bible, a High German vernacular Bible was printed at Strasburg. This edition was based on a no-longer-existing fourteenth-century manuscript translation of the Vulgate from the area of Nuremberg. Before 1518 and the Protestant Reformation, it had been reprinted at least thirteen times.
Under the patronage of Thomas Cromwell Coverdale helped to prepare the Great Bible that was to be set up in every church of the realm. It appeared in 1538 and was reprinted in 1550, 1553 and 1560. In 1540 Coverdale earned his Doctor of Divinity at Tubingen. In 1548 he returned to England, invited by Catherine Par, the sixth and final wife of King Henry VIII, and became chaplain to the king. He was appointed Bishop of Exeter in 1551. This ex-Augustinian was one of the best-known Reformers during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
When the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor deposed him, she temporarily imprisoned him. Coverdale however succeeded in escaping to Germany, accompanied by the spouse of his second marriage. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, he came back to England, but was not re-instated as a bishop. Coverdale died in retirement at London on 20th January 1569 at about the age of eighty-one years. By his translation of the Bible into English, he can perhaps claim to have exercised a greater influence on the religious thought of more than any other person who had become an Augustinian.
The third Augustinian with high visibility during the English Reformation was George Browne. Born possibly in Canterbury or London and most likely educated by the Order at Oxford, he came to first public attention in 1532. He was then both the Prior of the large Augustinian convento in London and the Cromwell-declared English Augustinian Provincial. To the latter office he was not appointed in the usual manner by an Augustinian provincial chapter, but by the king, for in that year Henry VIII assumed to himself to appoint a Provincial and priors for the Augustinians in England. Browne sold two houses belonging to the Order to Thomas Cromwell, the king’s most powerful agent, and made himself available for the "advance of the King's affairs" ("affairs" both literally and metaphorically).
Browne is commonly rumoured to have performed the secret marriage of King Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn in 1533. He certainly proclaimed Anne as Queen of England in a sermon at Austin Friars Church, London on Easter Sunday of that year, to the scandal and indignation of the congregation. In 1536 Cromwell chose Browne and a Dominican as royal commissioners to visit all mendicant houses and have each friar swear an oath of allegiance to the king, contrary to papal authority. That task was successfully accomplished. Browne was awarded a doctorate from Oxford and appointed the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin from 1536 to 1553. He was an ignorant, blustering and overbearing person, whom even the King rebuked for his arrogance and inefficiency. Indecent in life and manner, Browne neither won the adhesion of the English of the Pale nor that of the clergy and laity in the provinces.
One person who accepted Browne was Richard Nangle, an Augustinian who was then Prior of the Augustinian house in Dublin and who previously had been appointed Vicar Provincial in 1518. Henry VIII rewarded Nangle with the appointment as Bishop of Clonfert in 1536, but the Pope had appointed another candidate, and Nangle was expelled by the people. Browne then made him one of his Anglican suffragan bishops in Dublin. Browne's first duty in Dublin had been to proclaim the Act of Supremacy and force it through the Irish Parliament. Then followed the removal of all religious images out of the cathedrals and churches of his archdiocese.
Photos (at left). St Mary's Anglican Church at Atherstone, which contains sections of the original pre-Reformation church and tower built and administered by the Austin Friars until their suppression by King Henry VIII circa 1538. The building was then left abandoned until about 1692, and subsequently enlarged. The present "Gothic" tower was a reshaping in 1872 of the original Austin Friars' square tower.
Browne publicly burned a staff that tradition held had been used by Saint Patrick and that had been given to him by Christ. The suppression of the monasteries came next. Browne outlived Henry VIII and his son and successor, Edward VI. When the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor succeeded to the throne in 1553, Browne, as a married man, was deprived of his See of Dublin. In March 1555 he was absolved from the sin of apostasy and from the censure for violating the law of celibacy by Cardinal Reginald Pole, who was a papal legate and the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. Not only did Browne receive general absolution, but, in addition, he was allowed to enjoy a benefice as canon of his former cathedral. Thus he ended his days around 1559 near Dublin in comparative comfort.
Rev Dr Michael Hackett O.S.A., who died in April 2005, published a valuable history of the Austin Friars in Britain. On page 10 he stated: 'Prior to the Reformation, the English Province of Austin friars provided some thirty bishops to the Church both in England and Ireland. Of these, the most prominent was Robert Waldeby. Waldbey held various bishoprics, including the See of Dublin, before being appointed Archbishop of York in 1397, and thus becoming Primate of England.' For the Augnet pages about Robert Waldeby, click here.
It has been estimated that three hundred or more English Augustinians (Austin Friars) were evicted from their religious houses in 1538 and 1539. What became of them, where they went, what they did are questions that admit of no easy, certain answer. A dozen of the friars, possibly more, saw what was coming and made provision in time for their future, that is, by asking to be dispensed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer from their religious profession, thereby becoming eligible for a benefice as secular priests. The application almost invariably was accompanied with a request to be allowed to take off their Augustinian habit.
One of the most interesting cases is that of a friar of Clare Priory, Stephen Luskyn. He was dispensed on 20th December 1537 and permitted to wear the habit of the Augustinian Order under the robe of a secular priest in common form. The dispensation cost Luskyn four pounds, but he could hardly complain. After all, he was getting good value for his money, the best of both worlds: if the Catholic Church and the Augustinian Order were restored after the death of King Henry VIII, Luskyn could always truthfully say that he had never apostatized against the Order, and had continued to wear his Augustinian habit.
On the other hand, he could go about dressed as a secular priest and, therefore, save himself from Thomas Cromwell's ire had the all-powerful minister of state espied him in an Augustinian habit. As in the case of the vast majority of the dispossessed friars, there is no record of Luskyn's movements immediately after 1537. But twenty-nine years later he reappears in the written records of the Parish of Borley in Essex, only a few miles from Clare. When its rector, William Cooper, died, the Anglican Bishop of London, in whose diocese the parish was, instituted Luskyn as the new rector on 5th January 1566.
Photos (at left): Picture 1: In St Augustine's Priory, Hammersmith, London. Picture 2: In St Augustine's Church, Hammersmith, London. Picture 3: Augustinian pastor, Hoxton Parish, London.
It is a safe presumption to make that not many of Luskyn's fellow Augustinians lived out their days in such relative security. The last Prior of Clare, John Hallibread, alias Stokes, doctor of theology, was incardinated in the diocese of Norwich within a year of the suppression of Clare Priory, and became one of the Anglican canons of Norwich Cathedral. The one community that fared best of all was that of Bristol in the west country of England. At the time of the suppression in 1537-38 the community numbered eight friars. Of these, the Prior of the community and one other priest were appointed as pastors; two more received positions as curates or assistant priests in parishes; and another two became chantry priests or chaplains.
Thus six found employment and, with that, a livelihood, but the remaining two of the eight friars got nothing. Such was generally the case. Perhaps they were unable to get their "capacities" (i.e., the necessary dispensations for becoming secular priests and, therefore, becoming eligible for a benefice).
For the Augnet photo gallery on Augustinian ministry in England, especially London, click here.
There is a book on this subject by Michael Benedict Hackett O.S.A., who died in April 2005: A Presence in the Age of Turmoil: English, Irish and Scottish Augustinians in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. It was published in 2002 by the Augustinian Historical Institute, Villanova University, Pennsylvania 19085, United States of America. ISBN 1-889543-27-X. 134 pages.