Testimony of Giles Creech, Lambeth Feb 1637/38

1637/38 Giles Creech who had clearly been mixed up with Familist or Antinomian views, decided to spill the beans on his former associates. He claimed that he had been forced to turn informant becau…

Source: Testimony of Giles Creech, Lambeth Feb 1637/38

Theologia Germanica: what it is and how it was translated

1-86 Sebastian Châteillon, alias Joannes Theophilus: Theologia Germanica, translated from the Latin of Joannes Theophilus: 17th cent. ff. 87 b-90 Eckard: Banquet of spiritual poverty: 17th cent.:

Sloane MS 2538 : 17th century

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  • Title:
    Owners of Manuscripts: Guide, Family of.includes:ff. 1-86 Sebastian Châteillon, alias Joannes Theophilus: Theologia Germanica, translated from the Latin of Joannes Theophilus: 17th cent. ff. 87 b-90 Eckard: Banquet of spiritual poverty: 17th cent.:
  • Collection Area: Western Manuscripts
  • Reference: Sloane MS 2538
  • Creation Date: 17th century
  • Extent and Access:
    Extent: 1 item
  • Contents and Scope:
    Contents:
    Owners of Manuscripts: Guide, Family of.includes:

    • ff. 1-86 Sebastian Châteillon, alias Joannes Theophilus: Theologia Germanica, translated from the Latin of Joannes Theophilus: 17th cent.
    • ff. 87 b-90 Eckard: Banquet of spiritual poverty: 17th cent.: Imperf.
    • f. 91 Johann Tauler, Dominican Preacher: Communication of, with a poor beggar: 17th cent.
  • History:
    Custodial History:
    Guide family: Formerly owned MSS.

The Theologia Germanica – what is it? Basically it is an anonymous mystic text probably written in the mid to late 1300s (although the earliest extant copy is 100 years later) somewhere in the area surrounding Frankfurt. It may well have had its roots in the Friends of God movement originally from Basel, Switzerland but also very closely tied to the emergence of the German Spiritual movement, familiar still through the work of Thomas A Kempis.

 

Why was it considered so important? It was discovered and named by Martin Luther in 1516 and that fact in itself hugely raised its status. The Germanica name (or Theologia Deutsch) is Luther’s wording. Initially he wanted it right at the heart of the Reformed Church. And, of course, he called it what he did because, unlike most ecclesiastical texts of the period which were in Latin, it was in German.

But, of course, it was obvious enough to many that whilst German functioned well enough as a lingua franca in Central Europe, beyond it, it would be precious little use as a medium. The first translation into Latin was undertaken by Ludwig Haetzer, a real early radical of the religion. Haetzer had initially been in close contact with Hans Denck before the latter expulsion from Strasbourg. This is the point at which some might say that the Theologia got hi-jacked: Denck (essentially a Spiritist but seen as Anabaptist) replaced the Luther introduction. Meanwhile Luther’s main concerns switched from the radical to consolidation, leaving no further room for the Theologia. Under accusations of antinomianism by Catholic adversaries, Protestants developed a ‘third use of the law’ whereby Law was still binding. There were some objectors such as Johannes Agricola who rejected any place for Law.

And the Haetzer translation clearly influenced the later Castellion Latin translation (left). Sebastien Castellion was a French proponent of freedom of thought and translator of some important mystical and heterodox texts whose fortunes went through the most remarkable ups and downs. Denck’s ‘Hauptreden’ (‘Certain grave sayings’) survived the change of translator for inclusion. And it is this Castellion translation which seems to have found its way into England at some point during the first half of the 1600s.

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By 1638 Giles Creech had clearly been directly involved with the Mount or ‘Of the Mountains’ …or whatever name you care it to go by. But he also openly admitted that he had done the full round of underground conventicles including the Valley, the oddly-named Essentualists and the eponymous Antinomians. There is no sign of the Castalians, the Caps or the Scattered Flock – unless they also carried the Essentualist name? At that point Creech decided that he might be best served ditching the Familists and sneaking on them to the ecclesiastic establishment at Lambeth Palace. He would not have known it at the time but he was not the first to do so. The records show us that Lambeth already had an informant. Creech knew her too and trotted out her name – Jane Farthing (or Farthing Jane) – dutifully enough. She had actually led them to the Cloth Fair perfumiers Callow (Callon – took me a while to link those two names) and Cox who had actually both been picked up on the streets of London in separate places.

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He was young, still an apprentice (that lasted seven years in those days and often started at age 14), and his memory was either excellent or it was some sort of ploy. For the scribes could hardly keep up with him. There were two of them and they are sometimes inconsistent in their records. Creech was also fully aware of the underground’s connections with the nominally mainstream ministry who had fallen for the same ideas.

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That was what Sir John Lamb was actually more interested in. He was convinced that Thomas Hodges ran some kind of conventicle called ‘The Hodgekin’ – for which there is absolutely no evidence. He would later ditch his younger beliefs in favour of a very cosy CoE career. He was not spotless though for he possessed both the Theologia Germanica and Fitch’s Rule of Perfection and he had the admiration of Robert Towne. But Lamb’s central concern was not even Hodges but John Everard who had also been operating a private conventicle for two nobles. The scribes missed something altogether and Lamb himself had to intervene to record the most important of findings: that the underground had got hold of Theologica (sic) Germanica via the barber-gone-bookseller, Edward Fisher, and that it had been translated by either Brierley or Tennant, a minister from ‘Grendleton’…

 

Giles Creech tells all to Sir John Lamb

1637/38

Giles Creech who had clearly been mixed up with Familist or Antinomian views, decided to spill the beans on his former associates. He claimed that he had been forced to turn informant because – for whatever, unspecified reason – they were about to implicate him. Creech claimed that he had been saved by a well-timed sermon from Archbishop Laud and it was to Laud he initially petitioned in January 1637/38. Laud immediately referred the matter to Sir John Lamb, Chancellor to Charles’ ostentatious Catholic Queen, Henrietta Maria. Creech’s bizarre story, which initially smacks of the imaginings of a desperate man, claimed that there was an Antinomian network bubbling beneath the surface of London society.

Creech claimed that there were four main groups in London which threatened the establishment. They were composed of two factions of Familists – one ‘of the Mount’; the other ‘of the Valley’ – the Essentualists and the Antinomians – an eponymous antinomian group. It is not clear how closely linked the last of these was linked to incoming Antinomian ministers. All these groups held similar but slightly variant views – at least from an external perspective. For the establishment, these Familists (in the broadest sense) must have been fascinating as they had some very obvious differences with the received wisdom on Familists with which they must have been familiar elsewhere in the country. As well as the teachings of Niclaes, (according to Creech) they put great store in a work by the Capuchin friar, Benet of Canfield (a.k.a. William Fitch) entitled, ‘The Rule of Perfection’. Creech’s allegations continued. He did not include Edward Fisher amongst his antinomian sympathisers. However, he claimed that Fisher “selles old bookes and got Theolog (sic) Germanica translated into English by a minister at Grendleton (sic) called Brierly or Tenant.” He went on to say that the book then went via a scrivener, Woolstone, to John Everard, who had been undertaking translations of the dreaded Teutonic Theology into English for both the Earl of Holland and the Earl Mulgrave. For all we know Creech could have made most of this up or been genuine and simply got some of his details incorrect. He could easily have been playing along to Lamb’s prejudices. However, if Creech was either confused or a liar respectively, he either knew something or did his research thoroughly – more thoroughly than any cutler’s apprentice might have been able to manage on his own.

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