Bishop John Stokesley and the Divorce, Royal Supremacy and Doctrinal Reform
Introduction Martin Luther questioned the scriptural basis of the papal practice of selling indulgences and, against even his own inclinations, ushered in a period of widespread religious revolution in Europe. To a lesser degree John Stokesley did much the same thing in England. By questioning the scriptural foundation of a papal dispensation he set in motion great changes in the relationship between church and state. Some of these changes he did not want. Unlike Luther, however, the credit for the achievement, good or dubious, has been denied him. The purpose of this book is to establish Stokesley's position as an important and influential figure in England in the crucial decade of the 1530s. This will be done primarily by focusing on the three major themes of the period: the divorce, the royal supremacy, doctrinal reformation and Stokesley's scholarly role therein. Who was John Stokesley? His earliest distinction was as a scholar. Erasmus himself was clearly impressed. In 1518 he enthusiastically praised Stokesley's command of the three scriptural languages and later noted his virtuous nature, praised his command of theology, and wrote that he was 'divinely-gifted ... the most accomplished theologian among you' .I Such praise was repeated in 1521 when Stokesley defended Erasmus's New Testament translations before the King and Queen against an attack by the obscurantist Bishop Henry Standish.2 This activity also earned him the admiration of the Italian historian Polydore Vergil. In the dedication of his Adagia Sacra (1519) to Richard Pace, Vergil had written: Enimuero sola hominis loquendi...
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