Tradition isn’t always as old as you might think

by Richard on June 21, 2008

Bishop Alan: Tradition, ancient & modern

Hang on, some will say, wasn’t Archbishop Cranmer himself the first Vicar to marry a divorcee, and a rather famous one at that? Well no, I’m afraid not. Despite nonsense Pop historicism, Hank never got divorced. To get divorced Hank would have had to get in a time machine and jet himself 129 years into the future, stopping off at the Rump parliament by way of Milton’s Cottage for the world’s first Reno Divorce. Even he couldn’t do that. His “divorces” were RC style annulments, perfectly standard practice at the time, but without the sanction of the Pope which was usually sought and given to rulers on political grounds. Standard Hank Histories give the details. Divorce in England was actually invented by puritans in the 1650’s.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }


Kim 06.21.08 at 9:53 pm

“Hank”? And why Al’s dig at Milton (”Reno divorce”)? Milton’s relationship with his first wife Mary was complex, and its breakdown quite traumatic. And I guess that great historian of 17th century England Christopher Hill got it wrong when he wrote (in Milton and the English Revolutuon [1977]):

“Milton’s ideas on divorce … go back to the thinking of the early Protestant reformers… Not to mention More’s Utopia, an impressive list could be drawn up of early Protestant divines who sanctioned divorce - Tyndale, Calvin, Melanchton, Bucer, Osiander, Paraeus. Advocacy of divorce was one of the charges against the Marian martyr Bishop Hooper in 1555. Cranmer’s The Reformation of the Ecclesiastical Laws insisted that the grounds for divorce should be the same for both sexes” (p. 123).

There was also “the unpublished tradition which the Ranters, Muggletonians and Quakers inherited from the Familists, of marriage and divorce by mutual declaration before the congregation. Milton was putting together ideas which were under discussion among his radical contemporaries. What was new was the courage with which he faced the logical consequences of these ideas” (p. 127).

“Tradition isn’t always as old as you might think” - but sometimes it is.

(Mind, Milton could be quite nasty about bishops, writing of their “deformed and fantastic dresses in palls, and mitres, gold and gewgaws fetched from Aaron’s old wardrobe.”)


Richard 06.21.08 at 10:48 pm

Are you responding to my little quote, or to my episcopal friend’s whole post? I suspect, the former… Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think there’s anything in your comment that contradicts Alans’s point Kim. But it’s late, and I’ve been on my feet most of the day, so I might be wrong.


Bishop Alan 06.23.08 at 10:14 pm

Kim, thanks for the delicious quotes about shops — I’ve got to do a Milton anniversary thing this autumn and will mine this seam further. I’m sorry not to have expressed myself more clearly. I didn’t mean that Milton invented the idea of divorce, simply that it was the Commonwealth parliament, partly inspired by Milton that first enacted a divorce law in England. I brought Milton in because he’s an easy source to find for the thinking that underlay this legislation…


Kim 06.24.08 at 3:09 pm

Hi Alan,

No problem. And please accept my apologies if I sounded over-polemical (it wouldn’t be the first time!). I’m very protective of Milton (”Jack”? :)), particularly in this his 400th anniversary year, as he has an undeservedly bad press as “the puritanical ascetic who hated women and took it on himself to justify his God” (as Anna Beer puts the conventional image of Britain’s Homer/Virgil in her new biography Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer and Patriot).

And good luck with your “Milton anniversary thing”. As it turns out, Professor Christopher Rowland is lecturing here at Swansea University on “William Blake and the Bible” on December 8th, the very day of Milton’s birth. Milton, of course, had a huge influence on Blake and appeared to him often in his “visions”. Guess who’s been asked to give the vote of thanks?!


DaveW 06.24.08 at 5:29 pm

“Professor Christopher Rowland is lecturing … on December 8th … Guess who’s been asked to give the vote of thanks?!”

Nothing I like better than a spontaneous vote of thanks :-)


Kim 06.25.08 at 7:58 am

Hi Dave,

I don’t do “spontaneous”. :) Yes, even my votes of thanks are prepared - though - Duh! - they are inevitably, and sometimes comprehensively, modified by the lecture itself.

Even with prayer, I would add, I’m with Isaac Watts that “an entire dependence on sudden motions and suggestions of thought” is a big mistake. The recently appointed General Secretary of Churches Together in England (and former General Secretary of the URC) David Cornick tells the following story in Letting God Be God: The Reformed Tradition (2008):

“When Murdo Ewan Mcdonald was a theological student at St Andrews, he found himself preaching regularly to the congregation at the Martyrs’ Church, which included his professor of systematic theology, Donald Baillie. Baillie (one of the great preachers of his day) generously tutored him in preaching, and then turned to the conduct of worship. Macdonald protested that he never wrote his prayers, and Baillie replied, ‘That is very obvious. I have listened to you conducting worship at least six times and your prayers are marked by untidiness and repetition.’ Then, opening a Bible, he made Macdonald read aloud Psalm 51, and commented, ‘That is a prayer of confession. It is in the Bible and it is written.’ A similar exercise followed with the prayer of thanksgiving that is Psalm 103. ‘There and then,’ said Macdonald, ‘I experienced a Damascus Road liturgical conversion. Ever since that afternoon … I have meticulously written all my prayers, even more carefully than my sermons.’”

The same goes, by the way, with Karl Barth.

As the old saying has it, I’d rather lead worship - or give a vote of thanks! - undressed than unprepared.


DaveW 06.25.08 at 9:08 am

“As the old saying has it, I’d rather lead worship - or give a vote of thanks! - undressed than unprepared.”

Are we allowed to state our preference as to which of these you do? Cos I don’t think I agree with you on which I would rather see!


Richard 06.25.08 at 9:25 am

Can I add an Amen! to that Dave?


Kim 06.25.08 at 10:08 am

I got news for you guys: my church once considered moving the Sunday evening service to after the nine-o’clock watershed - and it wasn’t because of my bad language! ;)

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