At an audience in February, 1585, where the Queen accepted the voluntary donations (subsidy) of the clergy from Archbishop Whitgift, Whitgift and Lord Burghley argued before the Queen over the issues stewing in and around the Church, and especially over the issue raised by the Puritans, that of the scandal of an "unlearned clergy."
'Truly, my Lord,' broke in Burghley, 'her Majesty hath declared unto you a marvellous fault, in that you make, in this time of light, so many lewd and unlearned ministers.'That conversation could be had at several different levels in our Conference today. I think I've taken part in it before this, come to that.
Elizabeth hastened to Whitgift's defence: 'My Lord of Canterbury said well. Draw articles and charge them with it that have offended.'
'I do not burthen them that be here', Burghley hastily explained; 'but it is the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry that I mean' -- the worldly William Overton -- 'who made seventy ministers in one day for money: some tailors, some shoemakers and others craftsmen. I am sure the greatest part of them are not worthy to keep horses.'
After a further exchange between Whitgift and Burghley, the Archbishop pointed out that it was impossible to have learned ministers in all of England's thirteen thousand parishes.
'Jesus!' exclaimed Elizabeth, 'thirteen thousand! It is not to be looked for . . . My meaning is not [that] you should make choice of learned ministers only, for they are not to be found, but of honest, sober and wise men and such as can read the scriptures and homilies well unto the people.' With that she rose, thanked the bishops, and bade them farewell.
Back to Parliament: the Commons were determined to get some kind of bill before the Lords, even if they knew it had no future. Even with the Queen demanding that they not meddle with religion, these were all men who went to church and knew their local churches and neighboring churches inside out. And they cared about the quality of what they were getting assigned to them as pastors and bishops. I love this anecdote that Neale shares:
The prolonged third-reading debate brought out our old friend, Recorder Fleetwood; and in view of the circumstances of the bill, the support of this influential, but by now conservative, leader is impressive. He had been on the committee. His speech was characteristic. 'I remember' -- said he -- about the first year of this Queen 'I was in commission to visit the English clergy, tam in capite quam in membris, and there we had four sorts:And that exchange could happen on the floor of this General Conference -- probably has happened.graduates -- and all they were written in two lines;And at that time we put out one bishop, the Bishop of Peterborough. Pius IV' -- he went on, dragging in the inevitable anecdote -- 'lying extreme sick, said, "I will tell you within three hours whether there be a god or no; whether there be a soul or no; whether there be a hell and a heaven or no." This was one of their chief bishops. I pray you, Mr. Speaker,' he concluded, 'let us have a new commission. At least, let us pass this bill. If they stay it above, let them. In magnis, voluisse satis est [in great matters, it is enough to have wished to do right].'
pii et docti [devout and learned] -- and they in six lines;
penitus indocti [wholly ignorant] -- two skins of parchment -- dizzards [fools] and idiots;
criminosi -- that is, drunkards, whoremongers.
Really, if our leaders read any history, they would blush for shame.