Friday, November 19, 2010

Concluding thoughts on Cranmer...

I find that I keep coming back to Ashley Null's excellent book on Cranmer's theology. Unlike his Reformed Continental contemporaries, Cranmer left little by way of published theological writings due to the demanding and difficult responsibility and role of guiding the reformation of the English Church as its Archbishop. Null's research into the voluminous notes and annotations of Cranmer have resulted in a book that helps flesh out Cranmer's mature thoughts on justification, election, repentance, baptism, predestination, and the perseverance of the saints; and thus the direction of reform he was navigating before his arrest under Queen Mary.

... by Ashley Null from the last chapter of his book Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of Repentance:

    "Crucial to Cranmer’s argument was the renovation of the will and its affections which justification by imputation effected.  In the moment of justification God granted both faith and love.  The believer’s faith laid hold of the extrinsic righteousness of Christ on which basis his sins were pardoned.  At the same time the Holy Spirit indwelt the believer, stirring in him a love for God out of gratitude for the assurance of salvation.  Before love had been shed in a Christian’s heart, no work which he did could be considered good.  Once love had been shed in his heart, before he did any good works he was already a child of God.  Hence works could play no role in justification itself.  Rather, striving to please God out of love was the natural response to free pardon and the good works which arose accordingly certified the believer’s conscience that he was justified.  God’s gracious love inspired grateful human love.  Thus, justification was being made ‘right-willed’ by faith, not being made inherently righteous through a preparation of good works.  To protect the utter gratuity of the saving faith Cranmer appealed to Augustine’s teaching on the unconditional predestination of the elect to eternal life, although like his fellow Reformed theologians, he rejected Augustine’s views that not all those who were justified would persevere to final glory.
    "Developed and defended in the unique situation of the Henrician church, Cranmer’s Reformed theology emphasized the ‘right-will’ concomitant with justification.  As a result, he was able to continue the medieval focus on poenitentia, albeit significantly redefined by being placed within a solidly Protestant theological context.  Repentance was now turning to God (by confessing one's sins) to be turned by God (through his gift of lively faith), an act which both humbled humankind and glorified God as their only hope.  When God granted repentance as an on-going fruit of a life of godly love, the believer knew he was elected to eternal salvation.  This doctrine of repentance Cranmer sought to make the focal point of his formularies for the Edwardian church.  Nevertheless, since Cranmer’s larger theological context of predestination was hidden from view in the prayer book, just as Scotus’s similar doctrine was not apparent in the penitentials, Cranmer’s liturgy remained vulnerable to being understood as stressing salvation contingent on human response.  Consequently, much of the subsequent history of Anglican theology can be understood as a struggle to reach agreement on the proper understanding of repentance.
  "No doubt Cranmer would be disappointed by the disputes of his theological descendants, but he would have understood.  As an academic, he knew that different presuppositions often predetermined  conflicting conclusions, despite rigorous logic  being employed by both sides.  As a pastor, he realized that human frailty fought against admitting error, the necessary prelude to anyone switching perspectives.  As a sinner, he too struggled with the ever-present human tendency to put his own interest ahead of God’s glory and the advancement of the gospel.  His final answer was to put his hand in the fire and commit his life and legacy to God’s love:  its unconditional pardon, its inspiration of reciprocal love, its often invisible purposes, and its ultimately invincible plan to order all things right.  Anglicans may not find Cranmer and his prayer book so easy to love today, but his faith still offers much from which they can learn."
[pages 252-253]

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