Elizabeth Avery was a Nonconformist writer and radical religious figure and “prophetess” who proclaimed strong millennial views focusing on the mystical experience of religion, especially the resurrection. She did not believe in the resurrection of the body, but she had faith in the resurrection of the soul. Her mystical beliefs rendered the second coming of Christ as a spiritual experience rather than a physical one. Elizabeth’s radical views emerged from his early years, for her family “maintained apocalyptic interests over generations” (Gribben 160). Avery’s father, Robert Parker, and her brother, Thomas Parker, were strong adherents to Presbyterianism, and were generally viewed as radicals. Because of his denial of certain liturgical innovations, Robert Parker was suspended from the Church of England; he fled to Amsterdam, followed by his wife and children. Avery was influenced by her father and considered him a “godly man,” yet after his death she had no access to his radical works nor his preaching (Gribben 161). Avery’s family returned to England in 1614; her brother Thomas immigrated to America in 1634, continuing to publish works defending Presbyterianism. Elizabeth Parker married Timothy Avery, himself a nonconformist minister, though she appears to have taken “a curiously oblique attitude to [him]” (Gribben 162). At one point she appears to have become separated from her husband, yet the tension between them is never fully articulated. It might have been religious, or, as Crawford Gribben suggests, “perhaps Timothy Avery … was embarrassed by the fact that his wife had been associated with some of the principal heretics of the age” (162).
After the death of her three children, Avery found few ministers who provided her with support. At one point she wrote, “[I was left”] in a horror, as if I were in hell, none could comfort me, nothing could satisfy me, nothing could satisfy me, no friends, nothing” (Mack 92-93). Later, she travelled with her husband to Dublin where she found the fellowship she did not find in England. In the early 1650s, she became a member of John Rogers’s Independent Church (Coolhan 24). Rogers allowed women to publish narratives about their conversion and their radical reform. In 1647, Scripture-prophecies was published under her name. She predicted the end of the world and the fall of Babylon (the State and the Established Church) (Blain 44). She claimed that Great Britain’s politics were corrupt, with many reformed churches being corrupt as well. She was not only radical in terms of religion but also for her feminist views, rejecting patriarchal authority in both family and church (Gribben 167). Avery’s prophecies and letters were received with hostility and refutations on both sides of the Atlantic. She was accused of heresy and of defying men’s authority. In The Copy of a Letter 1650, Thomas Parker accused her of attempting to write something beyond the limitations of her gifts and beyond the capacities of her sex (Blain 44). Parker believed that his sister was deluded by Satan because of her chaotic interpretations of the Scriptures; Elizabeth subverted the metaphors in the Bible – especially the metaphors for sin and salvation – giving a completely different meaning to several traditional interpretations. Some of her experiences were published in Rogers’s Ohel, or, Beth-shemesh: A Tabernacle for the Sun (1653). See also her Scripture-prophecies opened, which are to be Accomplished in these Last Times, which do attend the Second Coming of Christ (1647).
For more on Avery, see Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English: Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1990); Crawford Gribben, “The Ecclesiastical Role of Women,” in God’s Irishmen: Theological Debates in Cromwellian Ireland (New York: Oxford UP, 2007); Marie Coolhan, “Avery, Elizabeth,” in The Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature. Vol. 1., ed. Garret Sullivan and Alan Stewart (West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2012). See also Curtis Freeman, A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011); and Rachel Adcock, Baptist Women’s Writings in Revolutionary Culture, 1640-1680 (Farnham, Surry, UK: Ashgate, 2015).
Avery, Elizabeth. Scripture-prophecies opened which are to be accomplished in these last times, which do attend the second coming of Christ: in several letters written to Christian friends. London: Printed for Giles Calvert ..., 1647.
At the beginning of her prophecies, Avery makes it clear that she is writing these prophecies not only for Christians but for everyone. She divides her work into three letters. The first letter is entitled “The First; Opening the Mystery of the State and the Fall of Babylon.” In this letter, she equates the fall of Babylon (mentioned in the Scriptures) to the fall of the State and the Church of England. At the end of her first letter, Elizabeth makes it clear that she speaks the truth “...as it held forth by the ministry of man in Babylon” (11). Avery's second letter is entitled “Concerning the Nature of the Dissolving the Heavens and the Earth,” she speaks about the end of the world; and she implies that she is one of God’s people whom he chooses to reveal unto what have been “hidden from the beginning of the world” (35). In her final letter entitled “Concerning the Resurrection of the Dead,” she differentiates between the natural body and the mystical body. For her, there are two types of death: natural and spiritual. She postulates that, according to the scriptures, the resurrection of the body is spiritual rather than natural or physical. Therefore, she reaches the conclusion that the second coming of Christ is mystical.
This page assisted by Asmaa Mansour, Georgia Southern University