Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cranmer's Sermon on the Reading and Study of Scripture

In further pursuit of understanding Thomas Cranmer's theology I am posting part one (part two will follow) of another of his homilies, indeed the first one from the Church of England's First Book of Homilies, titled "A fruitful Exhortation Unto the Reading and Knowledge of Holy Scripture."  What one finds in this sermon is a very Protestant view of the relationship between the Bible and the believer, as well as an understanding of Scripture (to no surprise) in harmony with Article VI of the Church's confession of faith:  
VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.

"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation..."
Finally, I turn again to Dr. Ashley Null, one of the foremost scholars on Cranmer's theology:
In Cranmer’s understanding, the Holy Spirit came directly to God’s people through his Word. As Scripture was proclaimed, the Holy Spirit wrote his promises on the hearts of believers, thereby nurturing in them a living, personal faith which alone united them to God. That is the reason why Cranmer urged the English people to feed on Christ continually, because they could strengthen their union with Christ at any time simply by meditating on God’s Word in their own hearts.
Therefore, in Cranmer’s mature understanding, the sacraments were not the principal means of grace. Nor were they a second, separate channel on par with Scripture, as if the Spirit worked supernaturally through two different, but parallel, means, i.e., the sacramental ministry of an apostolically ordained priesthood and biblical preaching. Cranmer’s final view was far simpler. Since the Holy Spirit came to God’s people through the Scriptures, the sacraments were effectual means of grace precisely because of their unique capacity for proclaiming the promises of God’s Word.
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.  [The Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent]




NTO a Christian man, there can be nothing either more necessary or profitable than the knowledge of holy scripture; for, as much as in it is contained God's true word, setting forth his glory and also man's duty.  And there is no truth nor doctrine necessary for our justification and everlasting salvation but that is or may be drawn out of that fountain and well of truth.  Therefore as many as be desirous to enter into the right and perfect way unto God must apply their minds to know holy scripture, without the which they can neither sufficiently know God and his will neither their office and duty.  And as drink is pleasant to them that be dry and meat to them that be hungry, so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of holy scripture to them that be desirous to know God or themselves and to do his will.  
And their stomachs only do loathe and abhor the heavenly knowledge and food of God's word that be so drowned in worldly vanities, that they neither savour God nor any godliness.  For that is the cause why they desire such vanities rather than the true knowledge of God.  As they that are sick of an ague, whatsoever they eat and drink, though it be never so pleasant yet it is as bitter to them as wormwood, not for the bitterness of the meat but for the corrupt and bitter humour that is in their own tongue and mouth.  Even so is the sweetness of God's word bitter not of itself, but only unto them that have their minds corrupted with long custom of sin and love of this world.
Therefore, forsaking the corrupt judgment of fleshly men which care not but for their carcase, let us reverently hear and read holy scripture, which is the food of the soul (Matthew 4.4).  Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testaments and not run to the stinking puddles of men's traditions devised by men's imagination for our justification and salvation.  For in holy scripture is fully contained what we ought to do and what to eschew, what to believe, what to love, and what to look for at God's hands at length.  In these books we shall find the Father from whom, the Son by whom, and the Holy Ghost in whom all things have their being and keeping up, and these three Persons to be but one God and one substance.
The necessity and profit to all men.

In these books we may learn to know ourselves, how vile and miserable we be, and also to know God, how good he is of himself and how he maketh us and all creatures partakers of his goodness.  We may learn also in these books to know God's will and pleasure, as much as for this present time is convenient for us to know.  And as the great clerk [cleric] and godly preacher S. John Chrysostom saith,
Whatsoever is required to the salvation of man is fully contained in the scripture of God.  He that is ignorant may there learn and have knowledge.  He that is hard-hearted and an obstinate sinner shall there find everlasting torments prepared of God's justice to make him afraid and to mollify or soften him.  He that is oppressed with misery in this world shall there find relief in the promises of everlasting life to his great consolation and comfort.  He that is wounded by the devil unto death shall find there medicine whereby he may be restored again unto health. (Scriptor. Incert. in Matth. Hom. xvi, Chrysost. opp. ad calc. Tom. vi, p. clxxiv b.)
If it shall require to teach any truth or reprove false doctrine to rebuke any vice, to commend any virtue, to give good counsel, to comfort, or to exhort, or to do any other thing requisite for our salvation, all those things (saith S.  Chrysostom), we may learn plentifully of the scripture.  (Chrysost. in Epist. ii ad Tim. Hom. ix; Opp. xi, 714 e.)
"There is", saith Fulgentius "abundantly enough both for men to eat and children to suck" (Fulgent. i, § i; Opp. ed. Paris. 1684, p,546).  There is whatsoever is meet [in good measure] for all ages and for all degrees and sorts of men.
These books, therefore, ought to be much in our hands, in our eyes, in our ears, in our mouths, but most of all — in our hearts.  For the scripture of God is the heavenly meat of our souls; the hearing and keeping of it maketh us blessed, sanctifieth us, and maketh us holy.  It turneth our souls; it is a light lantern to our feet.  It is a sure, steadfast, and everlasting instrument of salvation.  It giveth wisdom to the humble and lowly hearts.  It comforteth, maketh glad, cheereth, and cherisheth our conscience.  It is a more excellent jewel, or treasure than any gold or precious stone.  It is more sweet than honey or honeycomb.  It is called the best part which Mary did choose, for it hath in it everlasting comfort.
The words of holy scripture be called words of everlasting life, for they be God's instrument ordained for the same purpose.  They have power to turn through God's promise and they be effectual through God's assistance.  And being received in a faithful heart, they have ever an heavenly spiritual working in them.  They are lively, quick, and mighty in operation, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and enter through even unto the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit or the joints and the marrow.  Christ calleth him a wise builder that buildeth upon his word, upon his sure and substantial foundation.  By this word of God we shall be judged, "for the word that I speak", saith Christ "is it that shall judge in the last day" (John 12.48).  He that keepeth the word of Christ is promised the love and favour of God and that he shall be the dwelling-place, or temple, of the blessed Trinity.
This word, whosoever is diligent to read and in his heart to print that he readeth, the great affection to the transitory things of this world shall be minished in him, and the great desire of heavenly things that be therein promised of God shall increase in him.  And there is nothing that so much strengtheneth our faith and trust in God that so much keepeth up innocency and pureness of the heart and also of outward godly life and conversation, as continual reading and recording of God's word.  For that thing, which by continual reading of holy scripture and diligent searching of the same is deeply printed and graven in the heart, at length turneth almost into nature.

Our duty towards God and our neighbours.

And moreover, the effect and virtue of God's word is to illuminate the ignorant and to give more light unto them that faithfully and diligently read it, to conform their hearts and to encourage them to perform that which of God is commanded.  It teacheth patience in all adversity, in prosperity humbleness.  What honour is due unto God, what mercy and charity to our neighbour!  It giveth good counsel in all doubtful things; it showeth of whom we shall look for aid and help in all perils and that God is the only Giver of victory in all battles and temptations of our enemies, bodily and ghostly (1 Samuel 14.6-23; 2 Chronicles 20.1-30; 1 John 5.4).  
And in reading of God's word, he not always most profiteth that is most ready in turning of the book or in saying of it without the book, but he that is most turned into it, that is most inspired with the Holy Ghost, most in his heart and life altered and changed into that thing which he readeth.  He that is daily less and less proud, less wrathful, less covetous, and less desirous of worldly and vain pleasures.  He that, daily forsaking his old vicious life, increaseth in virtue more and more.  And to be short, there is nothing that more maintaineth godliness of the mind and driveth away ungodliness than doeth the continual reading or hearing of God's word, if it be joined with a godly mind and a good affection to know and follow God's will.  For without a single eye, pure intent, and good mind, nothing is allowed for good before God.  And on the other side, nothing more darkeneth Christ and the glory of God nor bringeth in more blindness and all kinds of vices than doth the ignorance of God's word (Isaiah 5.13; Matt 22.29;1 Corinthians 14).

Part Two of Cranmer's Sermon on Scripture

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