Thomas Barlow (bishop)

Thomas Barlow (bishop)

Thomas Barlow (1607–1691) was a British bishop of Lincoln. He is often considered a candidate for the unprincipled "Vicar of Bray", of the traditional English folk song with that title, and a 19th century comic opera of the same name.

Barlow was the librarian at Oxford University in 1652, then the provost of Queen's College and then professor of divinity. He was a Calvinist who managed to keep his position through "trimming" (i.e. adjusting his public statements as if adjusting his sails to go with the times). When Charles II was king, Barlow wrote and spoke of natural theology and other non-controversial subjects. In 1675, he became bishop of Lincoln, even though he probably never even visited its cathedral. However, when the Popish Plot occurred in 1678, he thundered condemnation of Catholics and Rome. He supported Titus Oates and other plot finders. When the Roman Catholic-leaning James II became king, Barlow claimed to be entirely happy with the new king and entirely loyal. Then, however, when William and Mary came to the throne and demanded a new oath with hostility toward Rome, Barlow cheerfully took the new oath. Barlow's ability to serenely switch sides to keep his position was the subject of ridicule, and the song "The Vicar of Bray" was used to taunt him.

Thomas Barlow's writings include "Exercitationes aliquot metaphysicae de Deo" (1637), "Plain reasons why a Protestant of the Church of England should not turn Roman Catholic" (1688), and "Cases of Conscience" (1692).


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