Exhibition II: Middle Temple Library

The Art of Disagreeing Badly:
Religious Dispute in Early Modern Europe

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were an age of confessional polemic. After the beginning of the Reformation in 1517, church history presented a challenge to each confession in its own right. Protestants aimed to explain, through examples from history, why error had come into the Church after apostolic times; after centuries of decadence the Reformation had become necessary. Catholics argued, on the other hand, that the Church had always remained the same. Protestants also doubted specific key events in church history. They asserted, for example, that St Peter had never been in Rome, so that the Petrine tradition, on which the papacy based its own primacy, was invalid. Catholics, of course, never doubted Peter’s stay in Rome. Many other such polemical arguments were thrown back and forth, making church history a hot battleground of the confessional struggle.

This exhibition is a collaboration between the Middle Temple Library and the University of York. It stems from an earlier display held at the Old Palace, York Minster in November 2016. This version of the exhibition uses most of the same titles, but using books from Middle Temple Library's collection. Many of the titles on display belonged to Robert Ashley (1565-1641) the founder of the Library, and some show evidence of his ownership through marginalia and notes.

The Images

If you click on the links you can zoom in upon images of these works. We are  thankful to the University of York Digital Library for their role in creating the digitised exhibition. The majority of the photos used in this exhibition were taken by Paul Shields and are licensed under the creative commons. Others were taken with permission by Renae Satterley from the collections of Middle Temple Library. 

Books that were not within the collections of the University of York have links to the digitised collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Gallica), The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (the MDZ), the Bibliothèque de Genève (E-rara), and Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden (SLUB)

The Reformation:
dispute throughout Europe

Martin Luther, Resolutiones Lutherianae super propositionibus suis Lipsiae disputatis, 1519

In his Leipzig disputation with Johann Eck of 1519, Luther argued about papal primacy. Eck had maintained that Peter was the successor of Christ – a fact which made the Roman Church superior to the other churches. Luther argued that this was false, and that the pretense of superiority of the Roman Church derived from the "ice-cold" decrees of the popes of the last 400 years. Papal primacy was not established by divine right, but created by mere human actions. This insight was instrumental in paving the way for his later rejection of the papacy as an institution. This edition has been bound alongside three other works by Luther: another treatise against Eck, Contra malignum Ioannis Eccii iudicium, …, 1519; a treatise discussing the corruption of papal authority Resolutio Lutheriana super propositione sua tertiadecima de potestate papae, 1519; an open letter to Pope Leo X explaining further his position on the papacy, Epistola Lutheriana ad Leonem Decimum summum pontificem, 1520. These debates upon the role of the Pope were evidently read as the margins are marked with annotations by a contemporary hand.

Johannes Cochlaeus, De Petro et Roma adversus Velenu[m] Lutheranum, libri quatuorm, 1525

Johann Cochlaeus (1479-1552) was a German humanist and prolific writer against Luther, for instance he was present at the Diet of Worms. A question which was central to papal claims to authority was whether, and if so for how long, St. Peter had been in Rome. Cochlaeus endorses the traditional Catholic view that St Peter was martyred in Rome in the reign of Nero, upholding this view against Ulrich Velenus a Bohemian Protestant, who opposed the papal claims to power based on St Peter's residence and martyrdom in Rome. The book has contemporary marginalia and is bound with another work by Cochlaeus and a third by Hieronymus Emser.

Matthias Flacius Illyricus, Catalogus testium veritatis, qui ante nostram aetatem pontifici Romano eiusque erroribus reclamarunt, 1562

The German Lutheran Reformer Philip Melanchthon (d. 1560) developed the idea that there had been a long historical continuity in the proclamation of the truth of the Gospels. This continuity was expressed by small groups of believers who throughout history had stuck to the true faith despite the widespread and worsening corruption in the Church. Matthias Flacius Illyricus's Catalogus testium veritatis (Catalogue of Witnesses to the Truth, 1556) is the most striking example of this line of argumentation. Just as the Catholics maintained that there had been an uninterrupted succession of bishops of Rome, Flacius argued that there had never been a time in which there was no protest against the domination of the Church by the popes. The title page and second leaf are missing from the Middle Temple copy.

Thomas Bilson, The true difference betweene Christian subjection and unchristian rebellion, 1586

The Elizabethan regime ruled that Catholic priests in England committed treason and were therefore justly executed. Thomas Bilson (1547-1616), later the Bishop of Winchester, argued against William Allen's Defence of the English Catholics, 1584 with this work. Bilson set out to distinguish between Calvinist and Catholic ideas the role of the prince. Bilson argued that Calvin was right to claim that princes had no power to instigate laws that oppose God’s commands, and defended Calvin by pointing out that he did not advocate armed resistance against temporal rulers. Although the Library does have a copy of Allen’s 1584 work, it is damaged by mould and kept in quarantine!

The work by Bilson has two signatures on the title page: Robert Ashley and 'A. Woolmer’.

John Foxe, The First Volume of the Ecclesiasticall History Contaynyng the Actes and Monumentes of Thynges Passed in Euery Kynges Tyme in this Realme …, 1641

The persecutions of the sixteenth century gave rise to the new genre of Protestant hagiography. The accounts of the fate of the victims aimed to strengthen the faith and shape confessional identities. John Foxe's book of martyrs was strongly influenced by the persecutions during the reign of the Catholic Queen, Mary Tudor (1553-58). Foxe first published a forerunner in Latin (Commentarii rerum in ecclesia gestarum, 1554), but the most comprehensive versions of his book of martyrs were the four different English editions published during his lifetime (Acts and Monuments, 1563, 1570, 1576 and 1583). Foxe aimed to sustain the cause of the English national Church by demonstrating, through examples from history, why the Roman Church should justly be hated. Not only did he make use of extensive evidence from oral testimonies and eyewitness accounts, but Foxe also drew heavily on archival sources such as the archiepiscopal registers at Lambeth Palace and the London diocesan records. His inclusion of vividly realistic illustrations depicting martyrdom enhanced the book’s effectiveness as a weapon of propaganda. Its popularity is reflected in its repeated publication, such as this eighth edition from 1641.

Cesare Baronio, Annales ecclesiastici, Volume I, 1612

The Annales ecclesiastici (Ecclesiastical Annals, first published in Rome 1588-1607) of Cesare Baronio provided the first official Catholic church history. In these 12 volumes, which went down to the year 1198, Baronio aimed to show that church institutions and doctrine from apostolic times had always been the same. Baronio recognized the authority of the Roman Church and presented its doctrinal traditions, which, he argued, were already fixed in the first centuries. He strove to demonstrate, in particular, the origins of the primacy of the bishop of Rome. The image above shows the frontispiece from the 1589 edition, which depicts the defeat of heresy, being trampled underfoot. The copy present in the Middle Temple Library once belonged to College of Advocates in Doctors' Commons Library, as shown by the bookplate on the verso of the title page.

Onofrio Panvinio, De primatu Petri et Apostolicae Sedis potestate libri tres … contra Centuriarum auctores, 1591

In De primatu Petri, the Italian Church historian Onofrio Panvinio (d. 1568) aimed to counter the arguments of the Protestants against papal primacy. By collecting and ordering testimonies, starting from the Bible, he showed that the primacy was given to St Peter by Christ, that Peter exerted it during his lifetime and that all the succeeding popes used it as well. Panvinio took pride in answering the Protestants' polemical and insulting language, and their mixture of truth and lies, with a factual and orderly presentation of testimonies from authors who wrote mainly before the time of Charlemagne. He also picked apart the entire treatise of Ulrich Velenus from 1520 (who claimed that Peter had never come to Rome), citing all of it and trying to refute it passage by passage. You can read more about Panvinio's work on the Middle Temple Library blog.

Thomas James, An Apologie for John Wykliffe, 1608

Thomas James (1573-1629), the first librarian at the Bodleian in Oxford, wrote this Apologie for John Wykliffe refuting the Jesuit Robert Parsons, and defending Wycliffe as a "resolved, true, Catholike, English Protestant" that was in "conformitie with the Church of England". This reclamation of Wycliffe as a pre-cursor to the reformers of the sixteenth-century was a common theme in Protestant histories. The work is found in a volume of tracts which includes Wycliffe's Two short treatises, against the orders of the begging friars, 1608.

Thomas Fuller, The church-history of Britain from the birth of Jesus Christ until the year 1648, 1655 

Thomas Fuller (1608-1661), was well renowned for his wit, particularly his satirical works written during the Civil War. His Church History of Britain is a much longer work, covering the history of Christianity in Britain 'from the birth of Christ' onwards, but includes snippets of polemical humour. For example, on page 315 in his history of the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, Fuller includes a letter addressed to Thomas Cromwell that outlines the "incontynensye of the Nuns of Syon, with the Friores, afore the acte done, the Friores reconsile them to God". This letter describes in detail how the monks broke their oath of celibacy, and many other abuses of their office. The use of historical evidence like this letter, which destroyed the reputation of monastic houses, supported Henry VIII's prerogative to dissolve them. Thomas Fuller was a royalist during the Civil War, and supported the king's power to make rulings over the church. For instance, on 26 July 1643 he preached on church reform stating that it was the Supreme power of the king to make such decisions, not the role of radical reformers. This copy was donated to the Library by William Petyt.

Gilbert Burnet, The History of the Reformation of the Church of England in two parts, 2nd edition, 1715

Gilbert Burnet (1643-1715) was an Anglican who used history to prove the legitimacy of the Church of England. His History of the Reformation of the Church of England (1681) was first printed in 1679 and its immediate popularity is clear in its reprint, and the production of an abridgement in 1683. This edition added a third volume of corrections and additional material to the first two volumes, on the Henrician Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement respectively. This remained the authoritative reference work upon the history of the Reformation in England until the early eighteenth century.

This opening image, drawn by Robert White, shows Henry VIII and Archbishop Cranmer in front of the disassembling of superstition and the rebuilding of religion. Henry VIII is standing upon the papal crown, fallen at an angle with the words "The Pope's supremacy" beside it, whereas Cranmer's feet dismissively step on the Pope's decrees and a discarded rosary. If the image wasn't clear enough, Burnet describes Protestantism as 'progress’ on the book’s title page.

Encounters with Islam

European familiarity with Islam in the early modern period coincided with the rise of the Ottoman Empire and its swift expansion to the walls of Vienna in 1529. The result was Christendom's association between the religion of Islam and the "terror" of the Turk, embodied in the figure of "Machumet" (1543). The Qur'an, “Alcoran,” published first in Latin, was viewed as a book of war written by “Mahomet”: thus the English title about a century later (1649). The “Turkish Alcoran” epitomized, according to the Dean of Norwich, the “true nature of imposture” (Prideaux, 1697).

Not surprisingly, these views were expressed by authors who had never read the Qur’an in Arabic. 

But there were other views by learned Arabists, in England, Holland, and Germany who not only printed the first Arabic version of the Quran (Hinckelmann, 1694), but also translated it into English from the Arabic original (Sale, 1734). There were also scholars who promoted the study and printing of Arabic material (Erpenius, 1656), as well as travellers who described Muslim societies (Herbert, 1634). And there were Lebanese monks, trained in the Maronite College of Rome, who translated Muslim and Christian Arabic (and Syriac) texts on geography and ecclesiastical history (Echellensus/al-Ḥāqilānī, 1651), contributing thereby to Christendom’s engagement with Islam.

Lope Obregón, Confutacion del Alcoran y secta Mahometana, saçado de sus proprios libros: y de la vida del mesmo Mahoma, 1555. This work reflects Granadan/ Spanish hostility to the Muslims who had been forced to convert to Christianity, the Moriscos. Muhammad is a man possessed (“endemoniado”) and his followers, the “moros,” oppose the law of nature and of God. Written in the same context by Granadan Petrus Guerra de Lorca, Catacheses mystagogicae (1586), sees Islam in the same light and offers instructions to pastors and men in authority on how to convert Muslims to Christianity. Saracenica, sive Maomethica (1595) consists of Latin translations from Greek of medieval anti-Muslim polemics along with historical treatises about the beginnings of Islam and the wars of the Ottomans. These books, all published in Spain, reflect the hostility that led to the mass expulsion of the Moriscos in 1609.

Differently, Guillaume Postel, in De la republique des Turcs, 1560 reflects his admiration of Ottoman military and imperial administration during his visit in 1536 – a time of diplomatic cooperation between Francis I and Suleyman the Magnificent. Thomas Erpenius translated a chapter from the Qur’an, the Sura of Joseph, from Arabic into Latin (Oratio de linguae Arabicae, 1613), to show how deficient earlier translations had been. For him, the European study of the Quran should be based in linguistic and philological accuracy.

- Professor Nabil Matar, Presidential Professor in the President's Interdisciplinary Initiative on Arts and Humanities, Department of English, University of Minnesota

The Qur'an and Islam

Alcorano di Macometto, 1547

This is the first printed translation of the Qur'an in a European vernacular language, Italian. It was translated by Castrodardo Arrivabene and dedicated to Gabriel de Luetz, the fourth French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (1547-53). De Luetz negotiated between the French and the Ottomans, in order to convince Suleiman the Magnificient to join the military opposition to the Holy Roman Empire in Hungary. Despite the book’s claims to be the first translation, the Qur’an had in fact been translated before into Latin by Robert of Ketton and published by Theodor Bibliander in Basel in 1543. Arrivabene wanted to increase the readership of Bibliander’s work by translating the Latin into Italian and circulating it in a smaller, and therefore cheaper, quarto. This edition belonged to Robert Ashley (1565-1641) as evidenced by his signature on the title page. Alongside Ashley’s name is another signature of William Palmer.

Alber Erasmus, L'Alcoran des Cordeliers, 1560

L’Alcoran des Cordeliers (1560) first appeared as Alcoranus Franciscanorum, published by the Protestant pastor Erasmus Albert. The book has a preface by Martin Luther, who agreed with Albert’s sentiments. The title page is missing, but has been reproduced by Robert Ashley in full. This French translation is one of many reprints of the work, which remained popular until the mid-eighteenth century. Albert attacks the idolatry of Saint Francis of Assisi and compares friars’ overuse of The Book of Conformities to Muslims devotion to the Qur’an. This is an example of the stereotype of Muslims as heretics being used in Protestant-Catholic polemic. By naming the work 'the Qur’an of the Franciscans’ Albert complains that the friars are ignoring the Bible. Albert went so far as to claim that St Francis received the stigmata from a roasting spit during a brawl with St Dominic!

Guillaume Postel, De la republique des Turcs: & là ou l'occasion s'offrera, des meurs & loy de tous Muhamedistes, 1560

The preface of Guillaume Postel's reflections on a diplomatic visit to Constantinople explains his aim to write a 'History and consideration of the origin, law, and custom of the Tartars, Persians, Arabs, Turks, and all other Ismaelites or Muhamedics, said to us by Mahometans’. Postel is highly complimentary of the imperial and military power of the Ottomans. This account is based on Postel’s experience in 1536 as an interpreter for the French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Jean de La Forêt. Postel not only worked as an interpreter with his knowledge Arabic, Syriac and Hebrew, but was also commissioned to collect Eastern manuscripts for the royal library, many of which are now housed in the Oriental Department of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. 

George Sale (editor), The Koran, commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed, 1734

George Sale's (1697-1736) English translation of the Qur'an in 1734 was at the time considered the authoritative translation. The work was reprinted multiple times after Sale’s death, in 1746, 1764 and even into the 1980s. The translation was criticised by his contemporaries as propaganda for Islam, despite Sale clearly stating his desire for the conversion of Muslims to Christianity.

Whilst George Sale is best known for this English translation of the Koran he was also involved in a project to publish an Arabic translation of the New Testament. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge had its offices here in the Middle Temple, and from 1720 they commissioned two Arab Christians, Solomon Negri and Carolus Dadichi to work on the translation, Sale joined as a corrector in 1726, and an edition was produced in 1727. 

The work has been reprinted multiple times, the edition shown above is from the York Minster Library, published in 1795, it included further notes and a map of Arabia. 

Pietro Bizzarri, Persicarum rerum historia in XII, 1583

Pietro Bizzarri (1525-1586) was an Italian historian and Protestant, who also acted as a spy for Walsingham, Elizabeth I's spymaster. His history of Persia in 12 books was dedicated to August of Saxony, and upon presentation Bizzarri faced immense danger when his ship was boarded on the Rhine by Catholic soldiers. Travel books such as this one were important to the growth of interest in orientalism in Europe, and as a result, increased understanding of Islam. Some original inscriptions on the title page have been scratched out by a later hand.

Tigurinus Chelidonius, L'Histoire de Chelidonius Tigurinus, sur l'Institution des Princes Chrestiens & origine des royaumes, 1585

This work was first published in Paris in 1556, under the pseudonym of Tigurinus Chelidonius, it is in fact authored by Pierre Boaistuau (1517-1566), a French humanist. It is a translation of a Latin guide to princes on the powers of the monarchy entitled L’institution des Princes Chrestiens which Boaistuau was asked to translate into French. However, Boaistuau added a further three sections, one supporting marriage, another on the right times for peace and war and a description of Islam. This examined the Qur’an and compared it with the Bible in order to prove its contents as false and included a history spread of Islam.

Lope Obregón, Confutacion del Alcoran y secta Mahometana, 1555

This Spanish book 'Refutation of the Qur'an and the Muhammadan sect' is one of several anti-Islamic treatises written by authors against the Morisco population in sixteenth-century Spain. These works attempted to preach to Muslims to prove the truth of Christianity, and convince them of the need to convert and integrate with the wider Spanish population. This book is significant as it shows the circulation of older anti-Islamic ideas in the vernacular Spanish, instead of Latin. Also, shortly after the publication of Confutacion del Alcoran (1555) the Moriscos in Granada rebelled against Philip II’s ban on Muslim customs, leading to the second Alpujarras revolt (1568-1571). After this revolt, there were few major missionizing works, with the polemic becoming more vehement in tone, and eventually the Moriscos were expelled from Spain in 1609.

Pedro Guerra de Lorca, Catacheses mystagogicae pro aduenis ex secta Mahometana, 1586

Pedro Guerra de Lorca (d.1597) was a theologian from Granada, and was familiar with local Granadan Muslim values and traditions. Catecheses mystagogicae served as a guide to clergy on how to convert Muslims to Christianity 'by whatever means necessary'. To Guerra de Lorca, from a converted Jewish family himself, this meant elimination of cultural traits from their speech to their mode of dress. The practice of mystagogy ("interpretation of mystery") came from the early Church where the phrase “Mystagogical Catechesis” referred to the post-baptismal teaching of new converts about the significance of the rituals of Easter.

Saracenica, siue Maomethica, 1595

Friedrich Syllburg (1536-1596) published this collection of anti-Islamic polemical works and anti-Turkish political tracts. The collection includes a chapter on Muslims from the 11th century monk Euthymius Zigabenus's Panoplia domatikē (c.1110), and a chronicle of the years 285-813, with a brief description of Muhammad, by Theophanes the Confessor (760-818). This work allowed the circulation of earlier ideas about Islam throughout western Europe. The edition from the Middle Temple library is bound alongside contemporary texts.

Abraham Ecchellensis (editor), Chronicon orientale, Latinitate donatum ab Abrahamo Ecchellensi ..., 1729

Ibrahim al-Haqilani (also known as Abraham Ecchellensis, 1605-1664) was a linguist who translated several Arabic works into Latin, including this Chronicon Orientale (1729). Ecchellensis was also involved in the work of creating an Arabic Bible, and translated Arabic documentary sources for the Council of Nicea (1645). He collected many Arabic manuscripts in his role as scriptor for Syriac and Arabic at the Vatican library. This book forms part of the twenty-three volume Corpus Byzantinæ historiæ, printed in Venice 1729-1733. Each volume has a bookplate of Leopoldo Ottavio Della Torre e Tasso (flourished 1747-1770).

Thomas Erpenius, Oratio de linguae Arabicae, 1613

Thomas Erpenius (1584-1624) was a Dutch linguist and the first professor of Arabic in Leiden. 1613 marked the start of teaching of Arabic in the Netherlands; Erpenius' oration of 8 May 1613 'On the excellence and dignity of the Arabic language’ summarised the benefits of knowing Arabic. He argued that Arabic was essential for the conversion of Muslims, and that it would provide greater understanding of other eastern languages such as Hebrew. He also refers to a great Arabic literary tradition and points out how widely spoken the language was in the Near East. 


We hope you have enjoyed The Art of Disagreeing Badly, if you have any feedback about the exhibition please contact the curators:

Dr Stefan Bauer - stefan.bauer@york.ac.uk
Bethany Hume - br579@york.ac.uk
With special thanks to Prof. Nabil Matar, Prof. Simon Ditchfield and Renae Satterley.