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time they write and talk never so vehemently and loud against it™ (p. 46).
Here, he identi¬es a recurrent problem for early modern Protestants: how
does one reconcile respect for one™s forefathers with the notion of a corrupt
church and a Pauline model of personal conversion?55
Sergeant is at pains to stress that oral tradition is not esoteric, as Protes-
tants would imply, but a transparent and ˜open conveyance down of Prac-
tical Doctrines by our best senses of Discipline, that is, our Eyes and Ears™
(p. 47), perpetuated by the common testimony of all Christians.56 In effect,
it is a form of witnessing, a ˜vast Testi¬cation™ (p. 54), the more effective
because parents have an interest in ensuring that their children be brought
162 Oral Culture and Catholicism
up in the way of salvation. Sergeant™s friend John Austin put the same idea
more emotively in one of his original psalms, where he asked:

Tell me, can any reason considerately think; that so many witnesses should
conspire in a falsehood?
Such as must necessarily damn themselvs; and desperately endanger all their
posterity:
Such as by every Ey may easily be discern™d; and the credit of the forgers con-
founded with shame.
Stay till a thousand Mothers freely agree, to poyson themselvs and their beloved
Children . . .57

In the second of his two extensive surveys of Scripture and tradition in early
modern Europe, George Tavard discusses how White, Sergeant and other
English Catholic theologians of this date develop a ˜sort of pedagogical
concept of Tradition . . . which, extended not simply to one family, but
to the entire family of nations, becomes a philosophy of culture: Christian
Tradition is a religious form of a phenomenon which already accounts for
the education of children and for the transmission of human lore among all
the peoples of the world™.58 As this implies, Sergeant™s argument operates
on two levels: pointing towards how traditions are routinely transmitted
in non-religious contexts, but constantly asserting the uniqueness of sacred
tradition. The idea of transmission within a family is intended to be taken
both literally and metaphorically, as referring to the family of the church.
But Sergeant™s concept of oral or practical tradition goes well beyond cate-
chetical instructions administered to younger members of a church by their
elders, or homilies delivered to laymen by clerics: partly because he sees tra-
dition as governing behaviour both inside and outside formal contexts,
partly because he presents an unusually positive picture of the ordinary
Christian, who is seen as not merely capable of orthodoxy when taught,
but as a repository and guarantee of it.59
This is where Sergeant is more radical than Rushworth and White, and
the Blackloists in general more radical than many of their co-religionists. A
bias towards grass-roots practice is uncommon among Catholic writers on
the rule of faith, while some of them were positively hostile towards the phe-
nomenon of popular transmission. From around Sergeant™s time, Edward
Sheldon™s English translation of Francois V´ron™s R`gle G´n´rale de la Foi
¸ e e ee
Catholique promised in its subtitle a rule of faith ˜sever™d from the opinions
of the schools, mistakes of the ignorant, and abuses of the vulgar™.60 Even
Rushworth™s Dialogues, so very attentive to how children and ignorant per-
sons can be saved by signing up to Christian tradition, argue that priests
Conclusion 163
are important for purveying tradition because it should not be subjected
to the ˜weak and wavering judgment of the Laitie™.61 Though the Dialogues
speak of the faith being passed from father to son, they are written as a con-
versation between an uncle “ possibly a priest “ and a nephew, suggesting
that Rushworth and White are thinking more about spiritual fathers than
biological ones. Sergeant, in contrast, takes the church-family metaphor in
another direction; and because his conception of tradition makes so little
distinction between priests and laity, his model of instruction within a fam-
ily has the effect of de-centring a celibate priesthood.62 From a twenty-¬rst-
century perspective, Sergeant seems astonishingly free of clericalism, and
unusually imaginative in his consciousness of what it means to be a Chris-
tian who is not a churchman “ at times, he comes close to arguing Catholic
priests out of a job. It is a remarkable gambit, especially for a member of
a party which could be very clericalist indeed in other ways, while using
ideas of tradition to underpin this clericalism: during the Commonwealth,
the Blackloists campaigned for a Catholic episcopacy directly answerable to
the government, explicitly as a means of keeping the Catholic laity under
control.63 Yet, contradictory as they might seem, both moves arise out of
a pragmatic concern that the English Catholic church should survive, and
were shaped by the speci¬cities of the English experience.64
John Bossy has argued that the survival of the old faith in post-
Reformation England rested largely in the hands of lay people.65 In any
case, in a country where priests had to act underground and were often in
short supply, it would have been entirely prudent to af¬rm the role of the
laity in transmitting Catholicism “ as well as to downplay the importance of
the sacraments, as Sergeant™s argument has the effect of doing here.66 There
are local implications too in how Sergeant™s idea of tradition compares to
the idea of an invisible church, often used by Protestants to explain how
true doctrine survived through periods when it was at odds with what the
hierarchy was saying. The Protestant invisible church is anything but uni-
versal, predicated as it is against a corrupt visible church. Post-Reformation
English Catholics, in contrast, would have had to see themselves as members
of a universal church which was invisible in England; and in an environ-
ment where members of the clerical hierarchy had to keep a very low pro¬le
indeed, a stress on the sustained witness of lay Catholics would have had the
effect of maximising visible continuity. The lay Catholic is not, of course,
the same as the uneducated or illiterate Catholic; but in arguing that the
rule of faith is passed on by behaviour rather than written texts, Sergeant
is af¬rming the position of the unlearned in the economy of salvation.67
Here again, his argument has a speci¬c relevance to the English situation:
164 Oral Culture and Catholicism
women, for instance, were less likely than men to be literate at all levels
of society, but were crucial as conduits for the faith because of their role
in running households and educating children, and had a large part to
play in sustaining Catholicism within post-Reformation England.68 Antic-
ipating the notions of socialisation and enculturation, now such crucial
tools within anthropological and sociological thought, Sergeant™s has to
rank as one of the most ingenious and prophetic answers to the reformers™
perennial accusation that the Catholic church exploited its more ignorant
followers.69 In terms of this book, his argument asks us to problematise
the common dichotomy between oral tradition as preserved by the lower
orders, and conscious elite intervention in oral culture.

t h e a f f irm ation of popu l a r rel i g i on
Ironically for thinkers who depended so much on the notion of tradition,
the Blackloists had few immediate successors. Both within the Catholic
and Anglican mainstream, their short-term importance can be seen as
largely provocative. As described above, their interpretation of the rule
of faith aroused the ire of such high-pro¬le Anglican controversialists as
John Tillotson and Edward Stilling¬‚eet, while in the context of main-
stream contemporary Catholic thought, their theories appeared eccentric
bordering on heretical. Sergeant was, in fact, denounced to the Inquisition
and investigated by the Holy Of¬ce, though eventually cleared with an
admonition to make his meaning more evident.70 While the Blackloists™
penchant for intellectual experiment was likely in itself to leave them on
the fringes of contemporary thought, their political dominance among the
Catholics of mid-seventeenth-century England may, ironically, have helped
to limit their in¬‚uence still further. Unsparing in both intellectual debate
and political jockeying, they made too many enemies among the Catholic
clerisy to retain even their political in¬‚uence for long; in 1667, two years
after Sure-Footing in Christianity came out, Sergeant was forced to resign
the secretaryship of the Chapter.71
If the Blackloists™ thought had been more in¬‚uential outside their own
circle, it might have been possible to see it as a theoretical underpinning
to the oral challenge that the two previous chapters have discussed. But
though it would be dif¬cult to read it back onto what has gone before,
one can recognise in their work the same pragmatic recognition of the
usefulness of popular culture that one ¬nds in a controversial rhyme or
martyr-ballad; and even if their distinctive advocacy of oral tradition fell
mostly on deaf ears at the time, they would have felt vindicated by several
Conclusion 165
hermeneutical trends since. The post-structuralist assertion that texts are
open to endless interpretive possibilities “ something which still makes
advocates of sola scriptura feel queasy “ is explicitly anticipated in most
Catholic writing on the rule of faith, and works especially in favour of
a rule which, like Sergeant™s, is based on speech and action rather than
written words. Sociologists of religion interested in how sects perpetuate
themselves present a picture remarkably similar to Sergeant™s, reinforcing
the idea that Sergeant™s theoretical formulations were inspired by Catholic
sectarian practice in England.72 More generally, if one leaves aside Sergeant™s
claims that the Catholic tradition is uniquely sacred, his model of oral
tradition “ a series of short relays undertaken by people who have an
interest in ensuring accuracy “ would appeal to historians, anthropologists
and others who know nothing about Reformation polemic, but whose
apologias for their own topic have evolved along parallel lines.73
The demotic emphasis of Sergeant™s argument also looks remarkably
up-to-date now, though in terms of its time, its progressiveness is more
questionable. Catholic polemic attacking the Protestant stress on Bible-
reading tends to ignore or sideline the question of whether greater literacy
among the faithful is a good thing; and Sergeant too has a reluctance to
address this issue directly.74 Like many subsequent celebrators of popular
culture, he could be accused of cultural conservatism precisely because he
does af¬rm the position of the uneducated. In an early modern context,
though, this contrasts attractively with the disdain towards the illiterate felt
by many educated commentators, both Catholic and Protestant, and in
particular with the attitude which England™s Protestant dissenters so often
adopted towards the unlearned. Because the puritan ideal of a Scripture-
reading populace was such a powerful stimulus towards the spread of literacy
at the lower levels of society, its adherents sometimes equated illiteracy
with culpable ignorance: a model which in the short term might well have
encouraged the separatism of which puritans were accused, and which,
even at its least divisive, could do no more than look towards the future.
Even catechisms, liturgies and sermons, more mainstream responses to
instructing the unlearned, needed to be written or delivered, and thus
required clerical mediation between the scriptural text and the unlearned
believer.
It is no surprise that Sergeant™s rule of faith, responding as it was to
the shortage of Catholic clergy in England, de-emphasised sermons and
all forms of sacramental instruction. More radically still, and more unpre-
dictably “ after all, catechisms were much used by English Catholics “ it
erased the distinction between formal and informal catechetical occasions,
166 Oral Culture and Catholicism
seeing the rule of faith as preserved by the day-to-day activity of all mem-
bers within the body of the faithful.75 The idea of the Catholic rule of faith
as rooted less in Scripture, patristics, the deliberations of church councils
or the example and ministrations of the clergy, and more in a common way
of life, points to a world which, in English terms, is at once medieval and
post-Reformation: one where religion pervades all facets of experience, but
where the visible church comprises the sum of orthodox believers rather
than being manifest in sacred space or the visible authority of the clerisy.
One could almost call it a priesthood of all believers.
Certainly, there has never been a larger claim made for the importance
of oral transmission within popular culture: which, according to Peter
Burke in a formulation which has stood the test of time, is cultural activity
in which everyone can participate, whatever their level of education.76 If
this assertion involves a shift away from the festival bias of most recent
studies on popular culture, this may be useful in itself. The festivals of
early modern England were routinely condemned as popish by puritans
and could certainly take on a Catholic ¬‚avour, while speci¬cally Catholic
festivals “ such as the feast of St Winifred “ existed too.77 The latter type
of festival, especially, could have been a bonding experience almost on a
par with the Mass. But ideally “ and no doubt to a great extent in real
life “ the Catholic community in post-Reformation England would have
expressed its beliefs and its differences through cotidiurnal action: not just
the sacraments, not just prayer, but by a coherent and distinctive cast to
everything said and done. Sergeant gives us a vision, but also a pragmatic
acknowledgement of a de facto church: ¬‚exible, resilient and impossible to
stamp out, grounded less in clandestine masses than the day-to-day words
and actions of the ordinary believer.
How, if at all, does Sergeant™s picture differ from puritan ideals of the
godly community? Sergeant certainly manifests more awareness than his
puritan counterparts of how performativity works “ as our generation would
put it. Perhaps this is hardly surprising. If God™s saving grace is seen as
necessarily preceding any good action performed by an individual, the logic
of Calvinist theology is to deny all ef¬cacy to the performative “ though
one can certainly identify a tension between theory and practice, given the
puritans™ constant anxiety to bring up their children in the way they should
go. Even John Bunyan, after all, was to modify his vision of Christianity
between Parts I and II of The Pilgrim™s Progress, playing down a Christian™s
stout individualism and emphasising instead the educative function of a
church.78 But while there are bound to be points of similarity between
one sect and another, the same notion of enculturation is true in a weaker
Conclusion 167
way for any Christian whose beliefs have been derived from the practice
of the community in which he or she lives. One answer that could have
been given to Hall™s question, ˜as for oral Traditions, what certainty can
there be in them?™, is that Hall himself, a product of a Christian society,
would have been steeped in Christian notions before he read a word of
the Bible. Sergeant™s notion of oral tradition is hardly convincing as a
mechanism for ensuring accurate word-for-word transmission, but then,
Hall™s concern is with textual accuracy and Sergeant™s is not. It is, though,
a compelling description of how a church de¬nes itself; and thus far, he
succeeds in problematising arguments like Hall™s to an extent that both
Catholic and Protestant opponents, arguing in the same vein as Hall, are
unwilling to admit. More widely still, Sergeant can be seen as describing any
community™s process of collective witness, whereby oral transmission acts
as a means of determining shared values through sifting and winnowing.79
Even if this is moving beyond what Sergeant himself would have
endorsed, Sergeant™s claims perhaps make most sense if one shifts the debate
onto questions of emotional authenticity rather than factual. In an age when
truth-claims are routinely contested, it is hardly surprising that present-day
historians™ de¬nitions of truth are so often less concerned with what actu-
ally happened than with how the participants felt about it. Oral historians,
with their traditional concern to recover minority voices, have a large part
to play here, which should also in¬‚uence the work of scholars operating
without recording equipment.80 Certainly, while this book has asked at
times how far one can recover the factual truth of orally reported events,
it has been more concerned to discuss orally transmissible material as a
rich source of views held about Catholicism in early modern England, and
as a key means of Catholic self-de¬nition. One of the most remarkable
features of Sergeant™s argument, though, is the implication that one need
not always separate these two authenticities. Sergeant saw Catholicism as
a lived tradition, authenticable through the day-to-day behaviour of the
faithful: a context in which English Catholic statements of self-de¬nition,
orally delivered and otherwise, can be seen as not only edifying but
authoritative “ perhaps even as a kind of recusant Scripture.
If so, then he was prophetic. The idea of the church as a community deriv-
ing its strength from a counter-cultural stance and distinctive behavioural
patterns has remarkable similarities to the thought of Stanley Hauerwas,
currently one of the highest-pro¬le, most provocative theologians in the
Anglo-American academy.81 Hauerwas and his various collaborators iden-
tify a move in their own time, dateable around the 1960s, from a Constan-
tinian model of the church as accommodated to the world to the church
168 Oral Culture and Catholicism
as counter-cultural. Similarly, those who remained Catholics during Eng-
land™s Reformation would have begun by seeing the church as indivisible
from society, and ended up by setting it in opposition to society. Believ-
ing that the church was never intended to be in collusion with worldly
hierarchies, Hauerwas and his followers acclaim this dissociation as a pos-
itive move “ something which it is easier to do in a time and place where,
though Christians are sometimes despised and often misunderstood, they
are unlikely to suffer for their faith ¬nancially or physically. Yet, while no
post-Reformation Catholic would have done other than look towards a
time when Catholicism was recognised and tolerated by the government,
Catholics™ celebration of martyrdom and confessorship can certainly be
seen as an elevation of the counter-cultural. Their very real nostalgia for
medieval times, which this study began by identifying, would be misleading
if considered on its own.
The church, according to Hauerwas and his followers, is comprised
of people who act in a distinctive manner inspired by shared patterns of
worship, preserving and even celebrating their difference from the rest of
society, as epitomised in the title of the movement™s best-known book,
Resident Aliens.82 If one sees masses, rosaries and all other expressions of
Catholic difference as assimilable to this theory, it helps to explain why post-
Reformation Catholics held these things dear at a time when attendance
at a mass, or possession of a rosary, could be severely punished. But the
shared experience of the Eucharist, so central to Hauerwas™s model of how
a Christian community should behave, presumes in turn an environment
of relative toleration where the sacraments are widely available. This is
something which most Catholics in post-Reformation England did not
enjoy: which is why, though the Catholic hierarchy in England would have
liked all Catholics to be counter-cultural, this never happened. And this in
turn is why, knowing the practical dif¬culties of servicing England™s church,
Sergeant™s brilliance was to maximise the possible occasions of Catholic
cohesion and Catholic difference within his theory of oral tradition.
In searching for Catholic interests, allegiances and beliefs within
England™s post-Reformation oral culture, this book has cast a wider net
even than Sergeant™s. His transmitters of oral tradition are very ordinary
citizens, but they are still self-de¬ned as Catholic believers; their occasions
of illegal Catholic activity might be few and far between, but that does not
make them any the less counter-cultural. Wherever the individuals who
¬gure in this study synthesise elements of Catholicism and Protestantism,
or tread the Tom Tiddler™s Ground between religion and superstition,
Sergeant would have had little time for them. Over three centuries later, we
Conclusion 169
can recognise how they, too, reinforce the contention running throughout
this book: that oral traditions were a crucial means of preserving Catholic
matter in post-Reformation England. But it is surely more in Sergeant™s
own spirit to end with Hauerwas™s twenty-¬rst-century Christians: luckier
than many of their forebears, but sharing with some of the Catholics who
inhabit the pages of this book a sense of being at odds with the times, and a
stubborn desire to talk themselves, sing themselves and act themselves into
recusancy.
Notes




p re fac e
1. ˜The Turn to Religion in Early Modern English Studies™, Criticism, 46:1 (2004),
pp. 167“90.
2. E.g. Peter Lake™s essays on early modern English drama in The Antichrist™s Lewd
Hat (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002).
3. Robert S. Miola (ed.), Early Modern Catholicism: An Anthology of Primary
Sources (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
4. A judicious recent summary of the debate can be found in John D. Cox,
˜Was Shakespeare a Christian, And If So, What Kind of Christian Was He?™
Christianity and Literature, 55:4 (2006), pp. 539“66. See also Jean-Christophe
Mayer, Shakespeare™s Hybrid Faith (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
5. Richard Dutton, Alison Findlay and Richard Wilson (eds.), Region, Religion
and Patronage and Theatre and Religion (Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 2004). Both volumes have the subtitle ˜Lancastrian Shakespeare™.
6. Scott R. Pilarz, Robert Southwell and the Mission of Literature, 1561“1595
(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004); Peter Davidson and Anne Sweeney (eds.), The
Collected Poems of S. Robert Southwell (Manchester: Carcanet, 2007); Anne
Sweeney, Robert Southwell (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007).
7. Donna B. Hamilton, Anthony Munday and the Catholics, 1560“1633 (Aldershot:
Ashgate, 2005).
8. Heather Wolfe (ed.), The Literary Career and Legacy of Elizabeth Cary, 1613“1680
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
9. The Universal Baroque (Manchester: Manchester University Press, forth-
coming).
10. Edmund Campion, Memory and Transcription (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005).
11. Religious Ideology and Cultural Fantasy (Notre Dame: University of Notre
Dame Press, 2005).


introd uc t io n
1. The Old Religion (1st edn 1628: 1686 edn used), p. 179 (see also p. 113).
Cf. Richard Hooker, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity (I, VIII), ed.
Arthur Stephen McGrade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989),

170
Notes to pages 1“2 171
pp. 110“11. Hall™s is the ¬rst instance given for the phrase™s use in the third
edition of the OED.
2. Nearer our own time the term ˜the old religion™ has often been applied to post-
Reformation English Catholicism, though as Eamon Duffy points out, there are
limits to its usefulness: ˜The Conservative Voice in the English Reformation™,
chapter 6 in Simon Ditch¬eld (ed.), Christianity and Community in the West
(Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001), reference p. 105. For an early modern Catholic use
of the phrase, see ARCR II, no. 490 (title).
3. See conclusion for a discussion of oral tradition vis-`-vis tradition in general.
a
4. Catholicism, Controversy and the English Literary Imagination, 1558“1660
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
5. See especially Adam Fox, Oral and Literate Culture in England 1500“1700
(Oxford: Clarendon, 2000); D. R. Woolf, ˜Speech, Text and Time: The Sense of
Hearing and the Sense of the Past in Renaissance England™, Albion, 18:2 (1986),
pp. 159“93, and The Social Circulation of the Past (Oxford: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 2003); Bruce R. Smith, The Acoustic World of Early Modern England
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999). Of the wider literature on oral-
ity, the following books were especially useful in the writing of this study:
Walter J. Ong, SJ, Orality and Literacy (1967: this edn London: Routledge,
2002), critiqued in D. R. Olson and Nancy Torrance (eds.), Literacy and Orality
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) and chapter 1 of Joyce Cole-
man, Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as
History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985); Ruth Finnegan, Oral
Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977). See also Jack Goody,
The Domestication of the Savage Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1977), pp. 36“51, on the differences in human thought between oral and literate
cultures; Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), chapter 10, on the mediated
nature of orality; and on the orality/literacy interface, Eric A. Havelock, The
Muse Learns to Write (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986). Henri-Jean
Martin, The History and Power of Writing, trans. Lydia D. Cochrane (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 87, warns against a binary opposition of
orality and literacy.
6. ˜The Meaning of Literacy in Early Modern England™, in Gerd Baumann (ed.),
The Written Word (Oxford: Clarendon, 1986), pp. 97“131 (quotation p. 98). See
also Fox, Oral and Literate Culture; David Cressy, ˜Literacy in Context: Meaning
and Measurement in Early Modern England™, chapter 15 in John Brewer and
Roy Porter (eds.), Consumption and the World of Goods (London: Routledge,
1993), esp. p. 311; Smith, Acoustic World, esp. pp. 12“13. On literacy in early
modern England, see David Cressy, Literacy and the Social Order (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1980); Margaret Spufford, Small Books and Pleas-
ant Histories (1st edn London: Methuen, 1981), and ˜First Steps in Literacy: The
Reading and Writing Experiences of the Humblest 17th-Century Autobiogra-
phers™, Social History, 4 (1979), pp. 407“35; Tessa Watt, Cheap Print and Popular
172 Notes to pages 2“4
Piety, 1550“1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Jonathan Barry,
˜Literacy and Literature in Popular Culture: Reading and Writing in Historical
Perspective™, chapter 4 in Tim Harris (ed.), Popular Culture in England, c.1500“
1850 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1995); R. A. Houston, Literacy in Early Modern
Europe (London: Longman, 1988); and Wyn Ford, ˜The Problem of Literacy in

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