Ecumenically Speaking: Henry Constable

This week, we’ll be celebrating the Week of Christian Unity by highlighting historical figures who were practicing ecumenism before it was cool, acting with charity and forbearance toward their fellow Christians.

Sir Henry Constable (c.1559-1608); Photo credit: Burton Constable Hall; CC BY-NC-NDSir Henry Constable (1562 – 1613) was an English poet who became a Catholic in 1591. He spent most of his adult life in exile in France because of the political ramifications of this decision. He is credited with writing the treatise Examen pacifique de la doctrine des Huguenots, which urges tolerance for French Protestants. In this treatise, he lays out all the ways in which Catholics might consider the Huguenots to be heretics, but then systematically disproves each one. During one notable passage, he takes up the issue of the number of Sacraments that each tradition accepts.

The last point at which the Huguenots disagree with the Roman faith is regarding the Sacraments, which, the number, the nature, and the particular Sacraments are to be considered: and they were first disbelieving of the number, especially since they only have two.  Although the Council of Trent has judged that there are seven, this objection is very frivolous, since the difference lies in the words and not the thing. For taking the word Sacrament properly, Saint Augustine said that there are only two, that is to say, Baptism and the Eucharist. Furthermore, it is a common expression for we Catholics to say that all the Sacraments flowed from our Savior’s side. But only blood and water flowed from his side. Which, according to the interpretation of Chrysostom, Cyril, and other ancients, represent the two Sacraments of the Church, namely Baptism by the water, and the chalice of the Eucharist by the blood. And our Catholic doctors give no other response than this: that these two Sacraments have some dignity above the others, which is to say nothing other than that there are two principal Sacraments and other lesser ones. Which is the same as the Huguenots say, but in different terms. They say that there are but two properly; we say that there are but two principally. We say again that there are other lesser ones; they say that there may also be others, if we speak of the Sacraments in a general sense.

Briefly, they say that there are seven, but not only seven. And in fact, there were none of the ancient Fathers who found this number of seven. In such a way that if the Huguenots were not able to justly agree on the number, seeing that the ancient Church also could not, we might well condemn them for their ignorance in Arithmetic, but their error in Theology cannot be very large.

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Other posts in this series:

Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf

John Dury

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

John Amos Comenius

Argula von Grumbach

Caritas Pirckheimer






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