Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Today on the Christian History Almanac podcast, we look at the early Anglican Church and one of its sometimes-overlooked characters: Archbishop Matthew Parker.

It is the 17th of May 2023 Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I’m Dan van Voorhis.


At the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, one of the most effective questions a Catholic could ask a would-be reformer was: “If what you are saying is true, where has it been for the last 1500 years?”.

It’s not a bad question- and perhaps those of us, say, at a place called “1517” should have an answer. In short, it is not innovation but rather reclamation. It is not the building of an entirely new thing- but rather a course correction based on the teaching of the apostles (not to mention the breaking of bread, fellowship, and prayer as per the earliest church).

When it comes to both holding on to the past but also acknowledging needed change, there are few more important figures in the history of the Protestant tradition broadly, and the Anglican communion specifically, than Archbishop Matthew Parker, whom we remember on the anniversary of his death on this, the 17th of May 1575.

Let me give you his quick bio and then point out the inflection points for him and his theology during that tumultuous time between King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth.

Matthew Parker was born into wealth and influence in 1504 in Norwich, England. He studied at Cambridge just as it was becoming a hotbed of European and so-called “Lutheran” thought in the 1520s. He would be ordained in 1527 and hold a number of positions, from master of Corpus Christi College and chaplain to King Henry VIII. In fact, he would become the spiritual advisor to Henry’s controversial 2nd wife, Anne Boleyn. When Anne was arrested and sentenced to death, she put her daughter's care in the hands of Parker- she was Elizabeth and soon the Queen of England.

But before that, the reign of Mary Tudor- “Bloody Mary” and all that. It was Parker’s tact and relatively mild manner that allowed him to resign as a priest in the church of England during Mary’s Catholic reign but not flee to Europe. His irenicism is further noted in his welcoming of the German reformer Martin Bucer to Cambridge.

With the death of Mary and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I, he would become the Archbishop of Canterbury- the highest position in the Anglican Church.

But two things would be different. First, he was married. Secondly, when he was consecrated as Archbishop in 1559, the language of “sacrificing priest” was removed. This as the Anglican Church did not recognize the Roman Catholic teaching of the “sacrifice of the Mass”- that is, the re-presenting of Christ’s sacrifice during the Sacrament of Communion. For this reason, the Catholic Church would declare Anglican bishops not truly ordained, thus, according to them, breaking the direct line between Peter and current bishops. 

As archbishop of Canterbury, he authorized the creation of the Bishop’s Bible- he himself translated various books of the Bible into English. This would become the precursor to the King James Bible in 1611.

He would also have a hand in creating the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles- these are today the major texts for the international Anglican community. The Book of Common Prayer is, in essence, the liturgy of the church and what has united the church in the commonality of practice, while the 39 Articles are a collection of generally Reformed, Protestant doctrines which place the Anglican Church broadly in the Protestant theological tradition (but just as I say this I should recognize that part of what makes the Anglican communion so broad is that they would not all agree- and we see some Anglicans leaning more towards Rome than Geneva and Wittenberg).

His life doesn’t have the flare of a Cranmer or the intrigue of Wolsey or other famous Archbishops in the 16th century- but as the steady hand in the early years of Elizabeth’s reign and author behind the standard texts for the church, he is rightly remembered as a giant of his age and in the church. Born in 1504, Matthew Parker died on this the 17th of May in 1575. He was 70 years old.


The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary and John 16- Jesus has just told the disciples that they will soon see him no more:

19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 17th of May 2023 brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by the Bishop of Random Lake and the Archbishop of Your Heart- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows today is also the birthday of Dennis Hopper and thus always a good day to rewatch Hoosiers- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe (it’s free!) in your favorite podcast app.