November 15, 2023

John Bale’s 'The Image of Both Churches'



John Bale (21 November 1495 – November 1563) was an English churchman, historian and controversialist, and Bishop of Ossory in Ireland. He wrote the oldest known historical verse drama in English (on the subject of King John), and developed and published a very extensive list of the works of British authors down to his own time, just as the monastic libraries were being dispersed.

The Image of Both Churches was published by John Bale in 1545, and is a detailed commentary on the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Christian Bible. Bale proceeded by taking short passages and following with a detailed paraphrase to explain the meaning and significance of such things as the opening of the seven seals, the first beast, the second beast with two horns, the blowing of the trumpets, and the going forth of the horsemen. Of central concern was the correct identification of the Antichrist.

Bale's central thesis is that the Book of Revelation is a prophecy of how God's word and those who love it (the "saints") would fare at the hands of men and a false Church during the last age, meaning the time between the ascension of Jesus and the end of the world.

Bale identified two types of churches. First, there was a false church, or Church of Antichrist, which persecutes those who do not bow to its dictates. He did not entirely limit his criticism to the Roman Church but, typical of the Puritans, accused also the young Church of England. By contrast, the "true Church" loves and teaches God's word truly. He also speaks critically of the Church of Mohammed ("Mahomet"): its tyranny over the people (the "Turks") and persecution of the saints.
An excerpt from, "Civitas to Congregation: Augustine’s Two Cities and John Bale’s Image of Both Churches" By Gretchen E. Minton, Augustinian Studies, Volume 30, Issue 2, 1999:
In 1551, John Bale published a three-part work entitled The Image of Both Churches. This work, which was the first English commentary on the book of Revelation, was the fruit of Bale's years in exile, for he had fled to the continent in 1540 following the fall of his patron Thomas Cromwell. Bale had returned to England in 1547 when Edward VI was crowned, hoping for preferment. His previous writings as a Protestant (he had converted from Roman Catholicism in the 1530s) included numerous stage plays and anti-Catholic pamphlets. During his exile, Bale developed an interest in martyrs and in the Apocalypse that continued throughout the rest of his life. The Image reflects Bale's contention that "The very complete sum and whole knitting up is this heavenly book [Revelation] of the universal verities of the bible." Bale sees the story of two radically opposed communities, exemplified by the cities of Jerusalem and Babylon, as the key to all history. He finds support for this view of history not just in the Bible, but in the fathers of the church. Bale states confidently on the second page of the Image: "And after the true opinion of St Austin, either we are citizens in the new Jerusalem with Jesus Christ, or else in the old superstitious Babylon with antichrist the vicar of Satan" (252). 
An excerpt from, "John Bale, Mythmaker for the English Reformation" By Leslie Fairfield, Purdue University Press, 1976, Chapter One:
John Bale's early life gave no hint that he would become in his forties an arch-Protestant propagandist and historian of the English Reformation. His later notoriety as the anti-papal "Bilious Bale" may tempt one to forget that he spent nearly thirty years as a Carmelite friar. Before the early 1530s, in fact, Bale's piety and values were wholly typical of late medieval religious life in England. Other Englishmen of his generation may have been feeling a restless dissatisfaction with the faith and worship of Catholic England, and may have been finding in Erasmian or Lutheran ideas a new outlook upon life. Not so Friar Bale. Anticlerical, humanist, and Lutheran currents of thought left him untouched until well after his thirty-fifth year.