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Notes de lecture - Ouvrages reçus

W. B. Patterson, William Perkins and the Making of a Protestant England

Oxford, OUP, 2014, ISBN 978-019 9681525
Claire Cross
p. 215-316
Bibliographical reference

PATTERSON, W. B. — William Perkins and the Making of a Protestant England. Oxford: OUP, 2014. ix + 265 pp. ISBN 978-019 9681525.

Full text

1The outward events of William Perkins’s life take little time in the telling. He was born in 1558 in rural Warwickshire, and in 1577 entered Christ’s College, Cambridge, until the foundation of Emmanuel in 1584, the most avowedly Protestant institution in the university. He duly graduated BA in 1581 and MA in 1584, and, having been elected a fellow of his college immediately after gaining his master’s degree, then embarked on the long theological course. He had undergone a religious conversion early in his academic career and around this time led a mission to the prisoners in Cambridge gaol. Soon renowned for his evangelical preaching, for the rest of his life he combined studying and teaching with a pastoral ministry in Great St Andrews, the parish church opposite his college. As required by statute he resigned his fellowship on his marriage in 1595, but remained as a lecturer at Great St Andrews. He died in Cambridge at the early age of forty-four in 1602.

2Armilla aurea, a consideration of the causes of salvation and damnation, published in 1590, established Perkins’s standing as a theologian. Translated into English as A Golden Chaine in 1591, it at once attracted a wide readership and had run into seven editions by 1600. He followed it in 1592 with a Latin treatise on preaching, Prophetica; sive, de sacra et unica ratione concionandi tractatus, and a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, and with another commentary on the Apostles’ Creed in 1595 before bringing out a pioneering work on pastoral theology, A Discourse of Conscience, in 1596. At a time when not only Catholic recusants but also advanced Protestants were advocating separation he next produced in 1597 a ringing defence of the established church, A Reformed Catholike: or a Declaration Shewing How Neere We May Come to the Present Church of Rome in Sundrie Points of Religion, and Wherein We Must Forever Depart from Them. Then in the wake of the controversy in Cambridge during which some young masters had dared to question the doctrine of predestination and the archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, himself had intervened on the Calvinist side, he wrote in 1598 De praedestinationis modo et ordine. In all some twenty of Perkins’s works appeared in his life time, and almost twice as many again after his death on such varied subjects as casuistry, godly living and godly dying, vocations and callings, the Christian government of the household and the commonwealth, the relief of the destitute and the provision of work for the able bodied poor, and “the damned art of witchcraft.” Such was his reputation on the Continent that his books were rapidly translated into French, Dutch, German, Czech, Hungarian and Spanish: the Latin version of his collected works in three volumes of 1608-09 was published as Opera Theologica in Geneva between 1611 and 1618.

3In this scholarly exposition of his writings W. B. Patterson more than makes good his claim for Perkins being the most celebrated English theologian in the half century between the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign and the outbreak of the civil war. Since from the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 high churchmen had gone out of their way to denigrate him as a puritan and by so doing had excluded him from what was beginning to be regarded as orthodox Anglicanism, perhaps even more importantly he has rehabilitated Perkins as a loyal and mainstream member of the late Elizabethan church.

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Bibliographical reference

Claire Cross, W. B. Patterson, William Perkins and the Making of a Protestant EnglandXVII-XVIII, 72 | 2015, 215-316.

Electronic reference

Claire Cross, W. B. Patterson, William Perkins and the Making of a Protestant EnglandXVII-XVIII [Online], 72 | 2015, Online since 01 April 2016, connection on 19 June 2021. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Claire Cross

University of York

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