- A new syncretism
Without the guiding direction of ministers, Niclaes’ lack of a shared Protestant logic no longer counted for much. Perhaps outside his own contextualisation his concept of perfectism was even more open to misinterpretation. And there is little doubt that the English Family’s range of cited texts expanded widely in directions outside of Protestantism altogether, especially into areas of Catholic mysticism (‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ and Fitch’s ‘Rule of Perfection’). Central to English Familist understanding of the former seems to have been Daniel James. According to Palmer, the collection of ‘treatises relating to the Family of Love’ and commenting on The Cloud was either owned or authored by James. It is probably the most important by-product from the research associated with A Certain Measure of Perfection (access details can be found here). Daniel James was born in 1584 in St. Magnus the Martyr parish (then known as St. Magnus Fish Street), the son of a certain Thomas James. Are the names the wrong way around in Creech’s testimony or the scribes’ write-up of it, making Thomas James one and the same as James Thomas, the Prophet of the Mount according to Creech? Perhaps more interesting still, there are tentative signs that James was not a surname at all and had been adopted by a family moving from the Continent.
Lane’s switching between the two may have been marginally less intentional than Como makes out. In 1631 Henry Firmin and his fellow Ipswich laymen went before the High Commission (a case which seems to have commenced that November). Both Firmin and one Henry Mudd were still being forced to appear before the High Commission some three years later. They recanted fully but the evidence from Giles Firmin’s visit to the family shortly afterwards suggests that not only was this recantation not genuine but that their ‘antinomianism’ had become markedly radicalised and come to include aspects not known to have been amongst Eaton’s own teachings. These included both God being the author of sin and outright mortalism.
‘She is clothed with the sun that shines in the firmament, clothed with those glorious robes of Christ’s perfect righteousness, making her to shine as glorious in God’s eyes as the sun shines glorious in her own eyes when she shines in her brightest of hues.’
This is a favourite quotation from Revelation 12 which Firmin contended was around in the Ipswich household prior to the ‘inherentisation’ of that household. It is also referenced at the start of the ‘Three Sunnes’ pamphlet which the British Library believes (for whatever reason) to be the work of John Everard, saying that the times were such that the Antichrist might “carrie away that Glorius (sic) woman cloathed with the Sunne, crowned with the Starres, and treading upon the Moone…”
Whether Everard (at a critical point in his career) wrote the ‘Three Sunnes’ document or not, the author did not want the wider public to know his identity… “You are saluted by (I thinke) you know not whom”.
This in itself perhaps hints at some degree of cross-fertilisation within Antinomianism. But it was not this which shocked Firmin upon his visit from the New World; it was contentions of both mortalism and the fact that Christ (or, in this case, God) was deemed to be the author of sin. Received wisdom has it that mortalism was a very rare belief in the first half of the seventeenth century. I suspect that that is an incorrect assumption. Furthermore, the evidence is beginning to mount. Everard confessed before the High Commission that he did not believe that there would be a literal resurrection on Judgement. However, at his trial he spoke of something more akin to Brierley’s Burnley understanding of the celestial flesh – the resurrected dead being of a ‘new substance’ – see the Edward Rossingham letter from July 1639 – something in itself uncomfortably close to Hoffmannitic Anabaptist Christology. But the authorities interpreted it as, ‘As the beast dyeth so does Man’. Locked up, Anne Hutchinson in Massachusetts seems to have come to the same conclusion.
Only one key Antinomian was around in London after the early 1630s and he is undoubtedly the most enigmatic and least understood. John Traske had been in the Ely area over the summer and autumn of 1614 as by September he was back in his native West Country. However, during that time he almost certainly came into contact with some Familists or near-Familists (as well as a range of other Non-Conformists) in Ely, Littleport and Chettisham. His choice of destination was probably less than accidental for it was the absolute heartland of Familist thought during the period.
If Antinomianism was not enough to draw the wrong sort of attention to him, Traske managed to find something at least as controversial, coming into almost immediate contact with the Judaiser heresy in London – very possibly through Hamlet Jackson who would later be ordained one of his four evangelists. Traske’s philo-Judaic positions tend to obscure his contribution to Antinomianism but his role in it should not be underestimated, especially his role in West Country variants of it and his potential to have exercised an influence on mid-1630s London as well as in 1615.