This paper is a work in progress. It may not be quoted or cited without permission of the author.
"This gifte of prophecie": Dialogue, godly identity and freedom of religion in the Separatist controversies of the late Elizabethan-early Stuart church (1575-1615)
This paper is a work in progress. It may not be quoted or cited without permission of the author.
In his A Brief Discoverie of the False Church (1590), Henry Barrow attacks the ministry of England for limiting the exercise of "prophesying": "Very hard it were," Barrow writes, "that that heavenly and most blessed exercise of prophecie which was instituted of God for the singular comfort and general inlightning of the whole church, should through the pride and arrogancie of a few, be turned to the utter subversion of the faith of the whole church ... For what part can there be pure, where the doctrine is not sound? Or what can be more miserable than to see with others men's eies, to beleeve with other men's hearts?" The ministers of the Church of England, by restricting the practice of the exercises to the clergy, deny the faithful their opportunity to hear or speak, and "shut it up amongst a few of them ... making it like Osyris mysteries." "What can be more manifest and direct than these places," Barrow continues (citing Paul's declaration in I Corinthians 14 that "you may all one by one, everie one of you, prophecie, that all may learne and all may be comforted"), "that this exercise of prophecie belongeth to the whoole church, and that everie faithful man hath here freedome and power both to be present and to speake also as need requireth, and God revealeth unto him?"1 Barrow's impassioned defense of the role prophesying plays in the creation of a priesthood of all believers makes clear what was at stake in the controversy over these exercises in the late Elizabethan and early Stuart church. Prophesyings, conducted in England as early as the accession of Elizabeth, were an important component of the institutional church, whereby ministers could come together, train local clergy and develop a godly ministry. But as they evolved in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, from ministerial exercises to public conferences conducted in English to "lectures by combination" and were adopted by Barrowists, Brownists and others, they provided an opportunity for godly parishioners to participate in the life of the church, to discuss and debate Scripture, and to speak as God moved them.2
While prophesying became an important part of Separatist worship, it would be a mistake to claim that the exercises are, in of themselves, oppositional or presbyterian or proto-Separatist. They were conducted with the oversight of the episcopal government of the church; indeed, the bishops adopted the prophesyings in its development of a learned ministry and in its desire to reform institutional abuses. Elizabethan bishops, in their reports to Grindal, emphasize again and again the importance for the prophesyings in their role of improving the clergy, and their letters focus on how the public nature of these conferences force the ministers to be prepared, thus producing a more learned ministry.4 The Elizabethan prophesyings have been described as "classis in embryo," in that the exercises were conceived as a unit of administration larger than the local congregation but smaller than the provincial synod, functioning, in some cases, outside of ecclesiastical controls.5 Irvonwy Morgan describes how the prophesyings cultivated a "Brotherhood of Preachers" and established connections between these conferences and reform-minded magistrates.6 William Burton, a puritan conformist minister writing in 1606, praised the unifying power of the prophesyings in his dedicatory letter to "the right worshipful, the mayor, shiriffes, and aldermen" of Norwich.7 Burton waxes nostalgic over the cohesive energy of these conferences, a force that brought the entire community together:
Oh the heavenly Harmony and sweete Amitie that then was amongest
you from the highest to the lowest! The Magistrates and the Ministers
imbracing and seconding one another, and the common people
affording due reverance, & obedience to them both ... and whose heart
was not filled with joy, to see in Norwich the continuall resorte that
was every day thoroughe the yeare, and that for many yeers togither
unto the holy exercises of Religion, which were continually supported
by woorthy and sincere Preachers, and graced by the presence of so
many grave and Religious Magistrates?
As Burton's statement makes clear, the prophesyings thus help cultivate the sense of community and cooperation so important to the bishops and the parish clergy.8 For Patrick Collinson, the prophesyings represented "the most important single phenomenon of the protestant ascendancy over which Grindal presided," and Collinson stresses the central role they played as a protestant "public show of strength," improving the status of a much-criticized clergy and promoting consensus "based on instruction and assent rather than on ecclesiastical authority."9 Yet, as we will see, the prophesyings play an important part in the development of Separatist ecclesiology, an ecclesiology based on social cohesion, spiritual community and congregational discipline.10 As Collinson has noted, an assembly of Christians becomes a separated and gathered church at the moment at which the leaders of these meetings turn from the doctrine of the established Church and expound and interpret the Scriptures, claiming "gifts" of prophesy and the realization of a newly-founded "communion of saints" outside the body of that Church.11
Prophesyings in England developed from conferences in Reformed churches on the continent designed to improve the learning of future ministers and to establish a consensus on doctrinal issues. At Zurich, for example, prophesyings included the exposition of Hebrew and Latin texts of the Old Testament, the study of Greek and Roman history, and an analysis of rhetoric and logic in the development of a sophisticated reformed theology.18 This legacy can be found in England, where orders for prophesyings at Cambridge explain that the "gifts" of Hebrew and Greek, rhetoric and logic, the study of patristic sources and knowledge of Greek and Latin history prepare ministers to teach the "true interpretation of the Word." The language of these orders makes clear that the "performaunce thereof" is a vigorous debate on specific scriptural interpretation: "the rest shall heare and judge, and then by objecting and answering in good order, confer togeather of the interpetations till they departe. If they dissent in opynion, they shall make it a question, and so determyne it by disputation, as in questions of doctrine."19 Peter Lake has noted how these orders are put in place to deflect the excessive zeal of any individual minister, and by moving through objections, censure and assent, the exercise provides formal expression of the "collective will" of the college on doctrine and discipline.20 These exercises display a rigorous biblical humanism, where the faith is not threatened, but engaged, by debate - not surprising in men trained in the formal syllogistic logic of the seminaries at Magdalen College, Oxford or Christ's College, Cambridge.21 As John Walker, Archdeacon of Essex, reminded Grindal, the use of dialogue in this manner was as old as the apostles. Did not Paul go to Jerusalem to debate controversies? Had "not Christ used conference with the two disciples goyng to Emaus, Luc. 24, how had theyre eyes bene opened to understande the Scriptures?"22 Dialogue is seen here as a union of human reason and Christian truth; the objections, questions and doubts given voice in the course of dialogue are silenced in the wake of revelation - – the many voices reduced to the monologic truth of God.
The prophesyings on the continent also played a role, along with sermons and catechisms, in bringing biblical exposition to lay audiences. As early as 1525, Zurich ministers expounded scripture before their congregations.23 In Hesse, Francois Lambert opened weekly meetings to all church members in order to allow them to ask questions about sermons.24 John à Lasco established the prophesyings in his Calvinist church in the Low Countries as a way for the congregation to respond to ministers and, perhaps more importantly, as a component in Lasco's broader attempt to limit clerical domination.25 Among English exiles during Mary's reign, a church order at Frankfurt called for "Prophesy to be used every fortnight in the English tongue, for the exercise of the said Students, and edifying of the Congregation."26 The Genevan Service Book drawn up by John Knox in 1556 included this passage on "Prophecy or Interpretation of Scriptures":
Everie weeke once, the congregation assemble to heare some place
of the scriptures orderly expounded. At which tyme, it is lawfull
for every man to speake, or enquire as God shall move his harte,
and the text minister occasion, so it be without pertinacitee or
disdayne, as one that rather seketh to proffit than to contend. And
if so be any contencion rise, then suche as are appointed moderatours,
either satisfie the partie, or els if he seme to cavill, exhorte hym to
kepe silence, referring the judgement therof to the ministers and
elders, to be determined in their assemblie or consistorie before
This "congregational" style of prophesying did not find wide popularity in Elizabethan England. In a typically thought-provoking aside, Collinson notes that prophesying "as dialogue" found on the continent was replaced in England "by 'repetition,' a process of inculcation."28 This distinction is crucial for our purposes. Among the Elizabethan godly "repetition" meant largely the repetition of weekly sermons - one family in Denton repeated the sermon of the previous Sunday on Monday nights, and Saturday's sermon that evening.29 Collinson connects this practice with catechism, that other strategy for religious teaching through memory and repetition.30 The weekly prophesyings developed on the continent establish similar connections between the question-and-answer format and the comprehension of key principles of religion, reinforcing within parishioners what they had heard in church on Sundays. Dutch churches in London in the 1550s employed a mid-week prophesy for precisely this purpose, where members of the congregation could debate and discuss scriptural or doctrinal questions generated by Sunday sermons.31 But we should not transpose continental church orders to English models; in addition, even the format of the exercises in England differed from diocese to diocese.32
While most, but not all, the Elizabethan prophesyings were open to the public, only the clergy could speak - – although there is evidence where a moderator would ask for objections or confirmations from any learned man in the audience.38 Contention and controversy were obviously discouraged in these public settings; the private meetings and dinners gave the ministers time and space to confer, to object and to admonish their colleagues. This would not, however, prevent the laity from arguing and debating what they had just heard as the conference broke up,39 and it was this "dialogizing manner" of prophesying that troubled many bishops. John Scory, Bishop of Hereford, believed it was not "expedient" for laymen "to interpret or put furth questions" but only to "heare," and through such means achieve edification on issues of doctrine.40 Scory is uncomfortable with the word "prophesy," for it is used "unto that gifte of the spirite that was geven to some in the primitive church by revelacion or inspiracion to interprete the Scriptures;" and he has heard that at a Shrewsbury exercise a minister had condemned the Queen's bishops. He contrasts that example with the exercises he has witnessed at Emden, which were orderly and in Latin, much like the divinity examinations held at commencement time in Cambridge. Scory wishes English prophesyings could be held "in cathedrall and other great churches," ensuring the presence of learned moderators (including parsons, vicars and curates). Berkeley makes a similar request to place them within cathedral churches, whereby the exercise could be mediated through the authority of the bishop of the diocese and the Queen ("by the waye of disputation as it is used in the universityes") eliminating the possibility of "precise and straunge opinions" to be given voice.41
In 1590, Thomas Rogers engaged in precisely the kind of disputation on "new divisid opinions upon points of divinitie" that Elizabeth wished to silence. John S. Craig has recently published a study of the uproar caused by Rogers at an exercise at Bury St Edmunds, a town troubled by puritan, Familist and Brownist activity.53 The Monday exercises in Bury St Edmunds trace their origins in the orders for prophecy established by Bishop Parkhurst in 1573; they quickly became an institution and continued into the 1630s.54 On this day in 1590, the assembled ministers were working their way through a controversial passage in Romans (on the "gifts" given within the church - – a text cited by Barrow in the margins of the passage on prophesying in A Briefe Discoverie, cited above). The "ancientest" of the assembly lectured soberly on the text, downplaying any radical interpretation of the passage. At his turn, Rogers, leaving the prescribed format of the exercise, displayed a copy of an anonymous, Robert Waldegrave-published pamphlet (written by Laurence Chaderton), and denounced the author, comparing him to Familists and to papists for interpreting the passage in Romans in a strongly presbyterian light. The ministers were outraged; and the stunned audience apparently disapproved of Rogers' desire to use the occasion to condemn rather than to preach. The senior ministers later barred Rogers from participating in future exercises.55
The Hampton Court Conference provides us with another example of how the prophesyings continued to play a part in controversies over a persistent nonconformity. The fact that James held such a conference at all reflects not only James' well-known love of disputation, but also his confidence that ecclesiastical disputes with the puritans could be resolved through an orderly, formal debate. It is worth remembering that James' well-known outburst against presbyterianism on 16 January 1604 was prompted by the suggestion by John Reynolds for the revival of the prophesyings as a part of a program for ecclesiastical discipline.62 The King's rejection of this system of provincial and national synods has become famous ("Then Jack & Tom, & Will, & Dick, shall meete, and at their pleasures censure me, and my Councell, and all our proceedinges: Then Will shall stand up, and say it must be thus; then Dick shall reply, and say, nay, mary, but wee will have it thus") - – a bitter parody of the exercise of prophesy itself. For the semi-Separatist Henry Jacob, the reason for the failure of the conference for the puritan cause was primarily because the conference was a stage-managed affair, "plotted" by the bishops to avoid any real dialogue on issues of reform.63 For Jacob and other puritans, the format of the conference was essential to its success. Only through the "strict forme of Syllogisme" could arguments be made and objected to; only through a detailed confirmation or rejection of minor premises, major premises and consequents in the course of formal dialectical argument could the participants make progress. For Jacob, the violations of this format by the bishops (through interruption, non sequitur and faulty logic) dramatized the failure of the two sides to fully engage on these contentious issues. Jacob also pressed for an unbaised record of the conference, with all parties subscribing to the transcript. Jacob clearly foresaw the future historical problem of judging the accuracy of contemporary accounts of the conference.64
The prophesyings left their imprint on contemporary literature as well. The method of biblical commentary given formal expression in the exercises influenced vernacular editions of the Bible issued on the continent.72 A number of lectures and sermons originally given at the Bury St Edmunds lectures found their way into print;73 and Craig shows how the establishment of the library by Miles Mosse in the parish church of St James was a product of the Bury exercise.74 As we saw above, William Burton's admiration of the prophesyings was strong; his close observation of the question-and-answer format of the Norwich preaching exercises (a tradition in that town from 1564 on) no doubt left their trace on his Calvinist catechism of 1591, and his Epistle Dedicatory to his Seven Dialogues, quoted above, remarks not just on the effectiveness of the prophesyings but also on the power of the dialogue form. John Deacon and John Walker's Dialogicall Discourses (1601) is another good example of how the format of the prophesyings could be adapted for polemical purposes. This series of printed dialogues attacked the exorcisms of John Darrell. Darrell, in his lectureships at St. Mary's Church, Nottingham, conducted large public prayer assemblies - meetings that were, in essence, prophesyings - – claiming dramatic examples of dispossession of devils and spirits.75 Dialogicall Discourses also resembles a prophesying, from the opening prayer uttered by "Orthodoxus" (and his role as moderator of the conference) to the comparative analysis of specific scriptural and patristic passages in the course of the debate, to the calls for public discussion as a pathway to truth.76 The authors explain in a note to the "godly affected Reader" that they have spared no time or energy in collecting claims and arguments about possession. Their effort to "trie forth the certaine truth or untruth" concerning alleged cases has been conducted through interrogation and dialogue: "What entercourse of writings? What mutuall conferences? What hot disputes? What arguings? What answerings? What replies, and rejoynders: or ever we could fitly accord about the severall questions propounded between us?" For Deacon, open debate on controversial issues is a source of strength; the fact that their opponents refuse to engage in dialogue is testimony to the weaknesses of their own position. Instead, their opponents "keepe a vengeable coyle in Conventicles and corners, like the Owle in an Ivie bush that dares not endure the birdes of the day."77 Like other puritan polemical dialogues published at this time, Deacon chooses the dialogue form to re-order a multiplicity of views into a redemptive pattern of consensus, embodied in the dramatic movement of the dialogue. There is a tension in the polemical literature, however, between the propogation of "new divisid opinions" and controversies of divinity by the very nature of the prophesyings, and their established role in the institutions of the Church. An example is Charles Odingsells' work published in 1619 titled Prophesying, casting out of devils, and miracles: briefly discoursed in two sermons, in which Odingsells condemns the free-form application of the gift of prophesy on questions of possession, miracles and exorcism.78 Only those who are "sanctified and called thereunto," Odingsells writes, are qualified to open up the dark and difficult passages of scripture, not "tradesmen, not such as follow the plough, not they that sit at the distaffe." He provides a four-fold scheme of types of prophesy: the first look into "things done long agoe," the second reveal "things far off or secret," the third, discover "things to come long before" (such as the Old Testament prediction of the coming of Christ) and the fourth is the preaching, or expounding of scripture. This "gift of Prophesying in this sense, is perpetual in the Church, and must not faile," and this is why universities and colleges in England train men in this gift. But he goes on to denounce the misuse and abuse of prophesy in the casting out of devils, which is no true prophesying but used by the unlearned and the vulgar, inspired by wiles of Satan.79
Dialogue, as deployed in the imaginative fictions of Henoch Clapham and John Murton, opens up a space where the individual can validate his or her own authority on matters of faith - – an authority guided, however, by scripture and God's grace. At the same time, they dramatize how two or more voices move toward consensus, a movement which is at the center of protestant conceptions of the godly community, and, as we have seen, in the exercise of prophesying itself.80 Clapham and Murton both envision a similar movement from division to consensus, but of course from different theological and ecclesiological points of view. It is to the dialogues of these two writers that we now turn.
"Propheticall giuftes; propheticall fooleries":
The anti-Separatist dialogues of Henoch Clapham
Early in 1606, a group of reform-minded ministers gathered in the home of Isabel Wray in Coventry. Those present at the conference included her husband, Sir William Bowes, Arthur Hildersham, John Dod, Richard Clifton and three younger men, Richard Bernard, John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. The group discussed Hampton Court, the ecclesiastical canons, the elevation of Bancroft to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the silencing of ministers by the High Commission. Smyth, influenced by the writings of Separatist founder Francis Johnson, declared that the Church of England was no true church. There was no alternative but to follow the example of Johnson's congregation. They must separate from the national church, and, if necessary, sail to Holland to avoid further deprivations. Hildersham, an organizer of the Millenary Petition, and who, along with William Bradshaw, had sustained the "famous exercises" at Burton-on-Trent, Repton and Ashby, urged in this case conformity; Bernard wavered, unconvinced of Smyth's arguments. What emerged from this peaceful meeting was the formation of two congregations, one headed by Clifton at Scrooby and the other at Gainsborough under the leadership of Smyth and a deprived lecturer named John Robinson. After Helwys' wife Joan was arrested in July 1607 and several Scrooby men were fined for church absence - – the Clifton-Smyth congregations decided to sail in 1608 to the Low Countries in search of religious freedom.81
For those readers uneasy with the reproduction of sectarian discourse, Clapham points them to his treatises of straightforward Biblical explication. In addition, he provides guides in both dialogues for the reader in introductory notes and epistles, and he frames each with little doctrinal essays and summaries in an attempt to contain the individual schismatic voices he reproduces in the body of the text.97 The source of Clapham's uneasiness in these passages is clear: To what extent does giving dissent a "voice" within a text paradoxically give it legitimacy? Clapham deals directly with this issue in Errour on the Left Hand, when Mediocritie answers criticisms that the author has been "caryed away (or entangled) with Anabaptisme, Arianisme &" - – that is, in his reproduction of these voices he has in fact absorbed much of their heretical teachings. To criticize Clapham for this, he argues, is to criticize fathers of the church like Augustine, who fought schismatics in the same way (91).
Coupled with this caricature of conversion is the comic take on the priesthood of individual believers. Flyer asks to join Legatine-Arian's congregation, but Legatine-Arian reminds him that there is no such thing as a true visible Christian church. Further, Legatine-Arian argues it is Anti-Christian practice to admit "any unbeleever or stranger to the fayth, unto the Pastorall exercise: For is it not written in 1. Cor. 14. 22. Prophecie serveth not for them that beleeve not, but for them which beleeve"? There follows this exchange on the exercise of prophesy:
Flyer. Then I perceive, that all such, as I have left behinde me, have
served Antichrist in hypocrisie; for they suffer any Infidell to come
unto their exercises of Prophecie, or Preaching. But my Countrimen
the Flyers, have herein sinned above all: for they permit infidelious
Marchantes and others, to come on the Thursday unto their exercise
of Prophecie, when (ten to one) by reason of some brabling cause
then to be pleaded, the Congregation meeteth, stayeth, and departeth,
without any Prayer at all, or exercise of their prophetical guiftes.
Legatine-Arian. Propheticall guiftes; Propheticall fooleries. Tom
Lace-seller, and Abraham Pin-seller (so I thinke M. Harry Barrow
spoke in the Fleete) must come out and spatter their meaninges; and
this must be called the exercise of Prophecie.
(Left Hand, 38-9)
Here is the spectre of lay participation once more; the prophesyings degenerate into babbling and misguided biblical explication by the inclusion of the unlearned. Clapham's dialogues stress, by contrast, the importance of the figure of the moderator. Malcontent, through his dialogue with Mediocritie, comes to an understanding of a passage in Collosians: "I could never enter into the Apostles true meaning; which now (after these fewe words of yours) are so plainly evident, as the Sunne at Noone-daies. God have the praise for it" (Left Hand, 83). Private reading here is insufficient; the minister acts as interpreter, and his role is crucial for full comprehension of the true faith. The final sequence of Errour of the Left Hand, is, in effect, a catechism in miniature. Not only does it calm Flyer's doubts, but it enacts a profound conversion within him. Mediocritie's voice is a corrective to the wanderings of Flyer's individual conscience through this landscape, and thus is crucial in the formation of his godly identity as a member of the Church of England.
Peter Lake has called for further study of contemporary polemical reactions to puritanism. Such an approach, Lake argues, allows us to see how "different views of the relationship between the cause of social order and of true religion" emerge from ecclesiological debate and personal attack.106 Clapham's dialogues provide us with just such a window into conformist conceptions of the Separatist threat. This is, of course, not to say that Clapham works as Jacobean anthropologist, providing us with case studies of Separatist figures "toyling" with London bricklayers, carpenters or painters - – Clapham's satiric and comic impulse colors his view of the landscape of London and Amsterdam too intensely for that. But these dialogues do show us how this "underground" was perceived by conforming puritans like Clapham working within an ideology of conformity. And this perception is crucial in our understanding of puritan polemic regarding claims of godly identity and social order, for the voices in Clapham's dialogues vividly demonstrate how puritan identity was an area of intense contestation and conflict in these early years of James' reign. Yet where Clapham and other anti-Separatist writers condemned the move by Separatists toward individual judgment, and denounced their growing impatience with the intervention of the civic magistrate into religious belief and practice, radical groups like baptists and Anabaptists placed the privacy of religious conscience at the center of their defenses against persecution.
The same year that Wightman perished at Lichfield, a small Anabaptist sect, led by Thomas Helwys and John Murton, returned to England after a difficult exile in Amsterdam. After breaking from their congregration's leader, John Smyth (whose associations with the Mennonite church they found increasingly problematic), this group founded the first Baptist church on English soil, in Spitalfields, outside London's city walls. Though the Conventicle Act of 1593, the ecclesiastical canons of 1604 and the Oath of Allegiance of 1606 had created a dangerous climate, Helwys believed his congregration belonged in England, where "thousands of ignorant souls were perishing for lack of instruction."110 Helwys, the author of what many have called the first declaration of religious freedom in English (A short declaration of the mystery of iniquity), was imprisoned in Newgate, and upon his death in 1612, the leadership of the group fell to John Murton. Murton, a young furrier from Gainsborough, was also imprisoned (he is noted as "a Teacher of a church of the Anabaptists in Newgate" by one contemporary source). While in prison, he wrote a defense of Anabaptist claims for freedom of religious practice and liberty of conscience titled Objections: Answered by way of Dialogue, published in Amsterdam in 1615.111 Objections: Answered wants to question the act of persecution in itself; persons should not be punished for their religious practice "be it true or false," as the Epistle Dedicatory phrases it, as long as they testify their allegiance to the crown.
Freedom of religion in John Murton's Objections: Answered by way of Dialogue (1615)
Objections: Answered, a dialogue between "Christian" (Murton's representative), "Antichristian" (the voice of the Church of England), and "Indifferent Man" (an ambivalent figure who is of course persuaded by Christian's argument in the course of their talk), dramatizes how open, free debate on controversial issues leads to the discovery of truth. This extends to the broader issue of persecution: "And instead of disputing and writing by the word and Spirit of Christ against their adversaries," Christian comments, "the King's magistrates will cruelly persecute and fight by fire and sword" (47-8). Christian regrets the impact that forced exile has had upon his brotherhood. When the leading lights of reform fly to Holland, he remarks sadly, they "deprive many poor ignorant souls in their own nation of their information, and of their conversation amongst them" (176 - – emphasis added). Dialogue for Murton is a model of spiritual self-examination, a part of those exercises of teaching, reading and debate crucial in the development of a community of godly believers.
I have used the intersection of the tradition of the prophesyings and the deployment of dialogue as a literary form in the polemical literature as an heuristic device to explore issues of godly identity and liberty of conscience given voice in the controversies over Separatism in the early Stuart Church. As we have seen, Clapham and Murton choose the dialogue form for different reasons when they engaged with these issues. For Clapham, dialogue allows him to mock the voices of Separatist extremists who claim "gifts" of prophesy; it also allows him to dramatize the spiritual journey of an individual who disentangles himself from the lures of Separatism and who seeks the broader circle of believers found in the English Church. Holland is a world of shifting identities in Clapham's dialogues, where lost souls are consumed by a heresy shaped through language: "All the time was there taken up," Flyer tells Mediocritie, "the matter of the Tongue ... I am sure, that a man can not passe there by the by-way, but he shall be assaulted with one transformed spirit or another" (Left Hand, 57). Flyer prays that the wandering souls he has encountered will become, one day, "as one flocke, under that one great Archbishoppe of our soules, Christ Jesus" (Left Hand, 63). As Clapham notes to the reader, Mediocritie embodies this force for unification and peace, "a Meane; which held and kept according to knowledge may keepe our people from flying out into extreames" (Left Hand, A6v). The point is pushed further when the dialogue of Error on the Left Hand changes to monologue in the final pages, where Clapham's voice joins with the authoritative voice of the Church of England. For Murton, the literary form works on two levels: Dialogue illustrates how open debate can lead to truth (especially on issues of religious freedom and individual conscience), and it also dramatizes the mutual coming together so important to Separatist worship. Murton sees his dialogue as progressive, in that words are redefined, objections are answered, and an eventual consensus by his "faithful subjects" is reached. But this is a consensus only possible without the threat of persecution. Like the prophesyings, Clapham's and Murton's dialogues value disputation as a defense of truth and as a weapon in the confutation of error; like the prophesyings, they engage in systematic and comparative analysis of a wide variety of texts to defend their positions; like the prophesyings, both foreground the process of debate and conference as a method of instruction and assent - – to the auditory in the case of the preaching exercises, and to the reader in the case of the printed works. In his letter to Grindal, William Bradbridge, Bishop of Exeter, believed that the public performance of the prophesyings, as a method of instruction, were more powerful than even the sermon: "The dyversitye of translacions conferred together, the interpretacion of the tonges and the severall gyftes that men have in the utterance, do the more delighte the auditorye and pierceth depelier more deeply the sences then the spech of one mouthe at one tyme."134 Clapham and Murton could make the same claims of the persuasive power of their own texts. The invocation of dialogue by both writers is a polemical strategy in the effort to establish authority, an authority conceived as univocal and united with the Word of God.
87 Henoch Clapham, Antidoton: or a sovereign remedie against schisme and heresie: from that parable of tares (London, 1600), STC 5330, 6.
88 The discription of a True Visible christian: Right confortable & profitable for all such as are distressed in Sowle about present controversies in the Churche \[Amsterdam, 1599, STC 5337, A3v.
89 In a marginal note in the same work, Clapham writes that "Schismatiks ever have the cloke or visor of Purity and sheepish conversation: but inwardly rending wolves, thornes and thistles" (Biiiv).