Between the Sacraments and Treason: Aspects of the Politicgal Thought of the English Recusants in the First Decade of Elizabeth I's Reign
This essay treats how English Roman Catholics, deprived of place and standing in their native church, addressed the two essential elements underlying the Protestant political economy of the Elizabethan Settlement. After a brief précis of how other studies have looked at political thought, the Protestant axioms of a lay supremacy and a unilateral national prerogative in the government of the church shall be delineated. The two main sections shall then treat the Catholic critique of the English national church and its lay supremacy respectively. The conclusion shall address the dilemma of conscience that these principles inflicted on Roman Catholics in Elizabethan England. Having been both summarily deprived of ecclesiastical standing and alienated from their native polity by their refusal to acknowledge the demands of the Elizabethan Settlement, England's Catholics found themselves justifying their actions and assailing the new ecclesio-political arrangements. Specifically the Recusants took aim at the notion of the laity exercising authority over the church whether from the throne or in parliament, and at the concept that England apart from the rest of the Church at all times and in all places could order its rites, liturgies, sacraments, and creed. This second item became more pronounced in that the Oath of Supremacy specifically mentioned the renunciation of all bishops unless they were English. For the Recusants these two elements created an insurmountable barrier for any sincere Catholic conscience.