Matthew Parker was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on this day, December 17, 1559 at Lambeth, England. But was it a true consecration? To those who hold the theory of apostolic succession, the legitimacy of the Church of England may depend on the legitimacy of Matthew Parker, for he was the first Church of English archbishop after Mary Tudor's Catholic reign.
During the reign of Mary Tudor, Matthew Parker prudently stayed out of sight. Mary had deprived him of the deanery of Lincoln. And little wonder. Parker was one of them--a reformer who had fallen for Luther's teachings while at Cambridge. He had even served as chaplain to Anne Boleyn, the woman who displaced Mary's mother as queen.
But times that change can change about again. Mary died and Elizabeth restored the Protestant church. She summoned Parker to become Archbishop of Canterbury. With reluctance, he agreed. He knew himself to be more of a scholar than a church leader. He was consecrated by four Anglican bishops who survived from the time of Edward VI.
Parker resisted change. He did not believe in democratic reforms. "God keep us from such a visitation as Knox has attempted in Scotland--the people to be orderers of things," he prayed. The Puritans, who wanted to move further from the Church of Rome, found his conservatism distasteful. Parker's relations with dissenters were not happy.
He spent much of his time at books, revising the Thirty Nine Articles (the essential statement of Church of England beliefs), and issuing the Bishop's Bible with its beautiful New Testament preface: "These be the mysteries of our faith, these be the grounds of our salvation, these be thus written that we should believe them, and by our belief enjoy life everlasting. Once and in times past God diversly and many ways spoke unto the fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken unto us...by his own son, whom he has made heir of all things, whose dignity is such that he is the brightness of the father's glory, the very image of his substance, ruling all things by the word of his power." Determined to discover the roots of the English church apart from Rome, Parker combed through old manuscripts and published the results of his findings. His asked so many questions in his research that he was given the nickname "Nosey Parker."
Parker died in 1575. Thirty years later, a controversy erupted over his consecration. In 1604 the Nagg's Head Legend caused consternation at court. A book claimed that Parker's consecration had been flawed, not least because one of the bishops who placed hands on him had allegedly not been consecrated. Partisans of the Roman Church were quick to press these claims. A disturbed James I called his privy counsel. Research eventually settled the matter in favor of Parker and the Church of England. All four of the bishops had been properly consecrated although one had lost his papers. Parker's own record of his consecration was unearthed and showed a proper ritual.
That was not the end of Parker's story, however. He seemed destined to be even more controversial in death than in life. During the Roundhead rebellion against King Charles I, his body was dug up and thrown on a dung heap by Puritans who detested his memory.
- Burnet, Gilbert. Abridgment of the History of the Reformation of the Church of England. Richard Chiswell, 1683.
- Hook, Walter Farquhar, 1798-1875. Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury. London, R. Bentley, 1865-1884.
- Kennedy, W. M. Parker. Makers of National History series. London: Pitman, 1908, source of the portrait.
- McKilliam, Annie E. A Chronicle of the Archbishops of Canterbury. London: J. Clarke, 1913.
- "Parker, Matthew." Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
- Perry, Edith Weir. Under Four Tudors, Being the Story of Matthew Parker, Sometime Archbishop of Canterbury. London: Allen & Unwin, 1964.
- Shirley, John. Elizabeth's First Archbishop; a reply to Mr. J. C. Whitebrook's Consecration of the Most Reverend Matthew Parker. London, S.P.C.K., 1948.
- Whitebrook, John Cudworth. The Consecration of the Most Reverend Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury... London and Oxford, A. R. Mowbray & co. limited; New York, Morehouse-Gerham co., 1945.
Last updated May, 2007.