Monday, February 14, 2011

Calvin and the Church of England

To continue the topic addressed at The World's Ruined concerning the reformed nature of the English Reformation, here is an excerpt from a Gerald Bray essay commemorating the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth - making the same case, only better!

The precise shape of that Protestantism [in England] however owes more to John Calvin than it does to Henry VIII, who never really broke with the traditional Catholicism of his youth. Calvin never visited England, but he corresponded with people there and welcomed British exiles in Geneva during the reactionary reign of Mary Tudor. It was in Geneva, under his auspices, that the best and most influential early English translation of the Bible appeared (in 1560) and relations between the Swiss city and the British Isles would remain close long after his death.

Calvin’s mentor, Martin Bucer, fled to England in 1548, and although he died there within a year, he made an impact on English theology and worship that can still be detected in the Book of Common Prayer. The Thirty-nine Articles of Religion follow the outline of Calvin’s Institutes to a surprising extent, and their content is similar. It is no exaggeration to say that the theologians who shaped Anglican identity in the Elizabethan era were deeply indebted to Calvin, whose major works were quickly translated into English to become the staple diet of the new-style ordinands being turned out by the universities during those years. Not everyone was equally enthralled by this, of course, but opposition was muted and divided. Anglo-Catholic apologists have tried to find a coherent anti-Calvinistic Anglicanism which they attribute to such figures as Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes, but modern non-partisan research has generally shown that their claims cannot be sustained. They are based on the widespread but false assumption that Calvinism and Puritanism are essentially the same thing and that both go back to Calvin himself. In reality, conformist opinion in England was just as imbued with Calvin’s mindset as any Puritan was. This can be seen from the career of Archbishop John Whitgift (1583-1604), whose theology was as Calvinist as anyone in Geneva could have hoped for but who was implacably opposed to Puritanism. It was not until the reign of Charles I (1625-49) that a small group of anti-Calvinists was able to influence the development of the
Church of England, largely thanks to the king’s patronage, but the end result of that was civil war and the overthrow of the high church party, which was seen by most people as an aberrant blemish on the doctrinal purity of the national church, a purity which they identified with the teachings of Calvin.

But although that is undoubtedly true, it must be said that Calvin’s reputation among Anglicans today is not high. Presbyterians and other Reformed Protestants continue to honour him as a foundational theologian comparable to Martin Luther, but while modern Anglicans are often ready to embrace Luther, they generally turn their backs on Calvin and think of him as somehow alien to their own outlook... 

Read the whole thing HERE.

Who is Gerald Bray?


  1. Hi Jack,

    While I identify strongly with Lutheran Protestantcy, as you know I quibble on the Settlement being essentially Calvinist. The one thing I want to point out is the danger is disparaging Henry VIII as a Roman Catholic which Bray alleges.

    It also depends on which portion of his regime Bray is referring. However, by 1536 Henry's church is placing itself on Protestant ground. Exchanges with Lutherans are official, and the English engage and agree with much of the Wittenberg Concord. Justification by faith is adopted. Shrines and monastaries are abolished. Injunctions forbid the worship and decking of images. Certain saint days are removed, and the two sacraments are qualified as unique to remitting sin. The bible was printed in English. I would call that a decisive theological break from the "Catholicism of his youth". The fact the rites of the Mass continued would not impair German Lutherans in Brandenburg from signing the Augsburg yet continue with the Latin Mass. Thus, in the context of the times, the six articles was not outside the bounds.

    It stands to benefit both Rome and Geneva to impinge Henry VIII's settlement. However, his settlement is key to Anglican identity for two reasons:
    1. The Ten Articles and two catechisms which followed would provide the theological ground for the 42 articles and first book of homilies. Henry therefore helps us accurately locate the Church of England standards within the spectrum of Protestant thought. I would argue this is located along the Augsburg variatas, and the 39 articles should be viewed as such, namely, one of the exquisite Philipist documents. By gnesio-Lutheran standards, it therefore would be called 'reformed'. However, by Reformed standards the 39 are often considered 'half-baked'. Actually both are right, but it only makes sense if you know something about the Variatas-philipist confessions.

    2. The Henrician settlement is important because when the Crown did interfere with Calvinist elaboration in the standards, it was often with the Henrician in mind as 'norm'. In this sense the High Church or 'disciplinarian' party should be understood. Old High Church is very important, espeically today, because it represents the King's clergy and standards. In other words, it's center Anglicanism, and today has the potential to not only unite those who identify with the 39 articles for evangelical reasons but also moderate catholic-ritualists. Old high church is the confessional glue, so to speak.

    But when Henry's Settlement is disparaged, you loose both these benefits. Of course, the Reformed and Roman churches would want this, but do Anglicans? Lastly, my guess regarding the clergy who best represented the old high church party would be the Jacobean bishops, not so much the Carolinian who often advanced continental arminianism which is as much outside England's official and royal standards as double predestination.

  2. Charles,

    I don't think Bray is disparaging Henry, his Catholicism, nor the Protestant progress made under his reign. Nor is Bray saying (as I read him) that the Settlement was Calvinist. Rather, the simple point that the main theological thrust of the English Reformation was consistent with and arguably influenced by Calvin. That argument is upheld by the 39 Articles which are always listed as a "Reformed" confession, as they part ways from Luther on the doctrine of the Lord's Supper.

    I do agree that Bray misstates the status of Henry's faith/religion, certainly by the end of his life. But his larger point holds.

    Interestingly, on his deathbed, Henry was not given last rites, as a RC would receive, rather Cranmer holding Henry's hand asked him if he trusted in Christ alone for his salvation. Henry nodded and departed this life at peace with his God. That says quite a bit about his travels along the Protestant path (from McCulloch's biography on Cranmer).

    I've got to stop right now, but I'll add further comments soon.

  3. Charles,

    A point to keep in mind re: the reforms under Henry... those reforms went forth much more due to the conviction and instigation of Cranmer and other reformers than Henry... often being held back by Henry, sometimes out of fear of life. Though the Protestant reformation was under way in England, Henry remained more RC in his personal faith and theology through most of those years. In fact, though a serious student of theology, much of his positioning on matters visa-vis doctrine and church were often political - both domestically and internationally.

    My interest in all of this has led me to the conclusion that it was the very Crown, the monarchy, as Supreme Governor of the Church that bears the main responsibility for the slowed and side-tracked reform path from Henry forward. I know you most likely disagree. But the motives of each of the monarchs (Henry -excluding the young Edward- through Charles II) for their Church decisions too often had as much to do with quelling potential civil disruptions and consolidating power as doctrinal stance on particular Scriptural/Church issues... including the beloved Elizabeth.

    The Church-State mixture that was more or less taken for granted in the era of the Reformers was sadly and officially etched in royal-stone in England from 1534 onward. This unscriptural and unfortunate (though deemed necessary at the time) development led to much subsequent sordid history and resulted in a number of Reformational issues not being resolved in the Church of England. By the way, the episcopacy could have stayed as the CoE polity (though not under the divine-right guise of Apostolic Succession held by most Anglo-Catholics today. As I have written before, the Puritan party was going beyond the Reform positions of Calvin and other Continentals. They had their conviction as to correct polity but saw no need to demand it of England. They could agree to disagree, so to speak.


  4. Charles,

    By the way, the above "indictment" (if I may use that term) of the Monarchy for the mixed and trouble path of the next 150 years after Henry in no way absolves the Cromwell crowd from their oft-time equally ruthless political machinations. The one kingdom view of Church and State was a problem then as it would be today.


  5. hi Jack,

    I agree with your assessment regarding the 'retarding' force of the Crown. But this assumes England had to become 'Reformed' in the Genevan sense. Could it possibly be that England's actual Reformation wasn't based on Calvinism but Philipism?

    It's not just the King. It's what passes the bishopric as well. The appointed texts usually have both stamps, and the 1660 Restoration was very diligent to go through the proper approval channels to firmly establish the 39 Articles and 1662 Prayer Book as unquestionably Anglican. My argument is when we talk about Anglican standards, we need to at least consider their approval status? Did convocation or a committee thereof draft it? Did it pass parliament? And, does it have royal seal? That's the three criteria. While not excluding others, it does provide a way to rank documents. That's important, and that's why I make a fuss of the Crown.

    Now it just may be when we rank these documents we aren't too happy with the results. We might prefer the 1549 BCP or lament the failure of Lambeth, etc. But we need to know what is Anglican and what is not. Otherwise, when we elevate a document beyond its normal status, we make the same error as the Anglo-catholics who promote pet divines or employ foreign jurisdictions which have no bearing on the English.

    With respect to Henry, the formularies of the period, 1536-1543, don't have any change of theology. They are a single thought, so I would say the Settlement under Henry, beginning in 1532 and publish its first doctrinal standard in 1536, was pretty stable. Even the 1547 Homilies written by Cranmer are done without any breach from Necessary Doctrine, written five years before.

    The change occurs under Edward, but from what I gather from actual documents it's where Cranmer stands on the sacrament, and of course the 42 articles are undeniably Zwinglian. However, Elizabeth and Parker rewrite the Articles in the most critical area of sacrament, spelling something that is neither exclusively Lutheran or Reformed, but for the most part making an effort to recover as much of the Henrician Settlement as possible, thus, opening the way for higher views.

    So, I would say the unstable part is really under Edward's Protectorate which did not particularly identify w/ Henry VIII's church, and, who, would have liked something closer to Geneva rather than Wittenberg or Ratisbon. The latter I believe was the direction successive Crowns would eventually steer the church based on what Henry's accomplished by way of standards. We might disagree but that's Anglicanism, and if we must identify it with the continent it comes most close to the Philipist dialogues 1536-1545 from whence it originated. While not fully 'reformed', it's definitely Protestant.

    Lastly, the church-state/state-church of the period was not unbiblical. The OT is full of Kings who support the clergy and temple. The NT has Christ who approves and ratifies authority of men as God-given, including Kings to punish wickedness. It existed before the Reformation and even in Roman Catholic countries. It's hard to understand the Reformation's history without approving this doctrine of state. Anyway, I believe Peter Escalante gives a very erudite but lengthy dissertation on this, actually schooling D. G. Hart and some roman catholics about Papacy and R2K.

    sincerely, Charles

  6. Hi Charles,

    Not that England had to become 'Reformed", but that she was definitely on that path under the guidance of Cranmer. Cranmer was the main theological force moving the CoE away from RC-ism toward, yes, a reformational view that was consistent with Calvinism minus the polity and RPW. The historical record (much of it in Cranmer's notes) is hardly arguable.

    Henry sought, just as Elizabeth did later, to not offend nor alienate the Rom. Catholic bishops such as Gardiner. That is why the 10 Articles, the Bishop's Book, and the 6 Articles were essentially compromises of doctrine, partially reformed at some points and classically RC in others. Cranmer's notes show that he and other reformers lost the battle for more explicitly reformed Articles... due to Henry's RC theological view, his political concerns, and he being the last word! So right there sola scriptura, the first article of the Reformation, was being relegated to that of a bystander.

    While not excluding others, it does provide a way to rank documents. That's important, and that's why I make a fuss of the Crown.

    But Charles, making it 'official Anglicanism' via the Crown doesn't necessarily make it "the faith once delivered."

    But we need to know what is Anglican and what is not. Otherwise, when we elevate a document beyond its normal status, we make the same error as the Anglo-catholics

    We want to know "what is Anglican", and we want "what is Anglican" to be expressed in a faith and practice that reflects Scripture above all else. Under Cranmer, after Henry, that direction was finally happening. After Mary, the mentality of Henry returned in Elizabeth and the Stuarts that followed, stymieing any further reforms and, in fact, reversing some (or relegating some to insignificance).

    With respect to Henry, the formularies of the period, 1536-1543, don't have any change of theology.

    More or less correct... yet as I wrote, that was a compromised theology.

    The Homilies under Cranmer and the 42 Articles were indeed a departure from Henry's Settlement, as was the 1552 BCP. It was Cranmer who was at the helm. What was Anglican (and for the most part what should be today) was due mainly to him. And due to Mary's reign the reforms were stopped. Upon Elizabeth's enthronement the desire for civil peace and dictated a more compromised church path.

    The change occurs under Edward, but from what I gather from actual documents it's where Cranmer stands on the sacrament, and of course the 42 articles are undeniably Zwinglian. However, Elizabeth and Parker rewrite the Articles in the most critical area of sacrament, spelling something that is neither exclusively Lutheran or Reformed, but for the most part making an effort to recover as much of the Henrician Settlement as possible...

    You make my point.

    So, I would say the unstable part is really under Edward's Protectorate which did not particularly identify w/ Henry VIII's church, and, who, would have liked something closer to Geneva

    Unstable? How about 'reforming'. Not like Geneva if you mean polity and RPW. But if you mean theology apart from that, then yes. In fact Whitgift more or less agreed with that.

    Lastly, the church-state/state-church of the period was not unbiblical.

    The devil's in the details. The theonomy of the OT nation Israel is not the template for the NT church. Yes, civil magistrates are given authority by God (Rom. 13) to punish wickedness, but not to rule or exercise authority in the spiritual kingdom of the visible church. If we are to debate 2K, then we'll never stop blogging. Suffice to say I agree with that espoused by David VanDrunen.

    your brother,

  7. Charles,

    The recurring Standard throughout the 39 Articles:

    Art. 6 - "so that whatsoever is not read therein [Scripture], nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man"
    Art. 8 - "for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture"
    Art. 20 - "The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation."
    Art. 21 - "Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture."
    Art. 22 - "grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God"
    Art. 24 - "It is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God"
    Art. 28 - "but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture"
    Art. 34 - "so that nothing be ordained against God's Word."

    And Cranmer's first homily was on the centrality and necessity of Scripture for faith and practice.

    best regards,

  8. Hi Jack,

    Actually I think we agree quite a bit on the Reformation in England, though I am probably less skeptical about the motives of the Crown and would emphasize the 39 articles for their points of order, e.g., art. 20 and 34. The Homilies likewise seem to give a strong argument for common order. I think separating politics from the church in those days was akin to separating crystal-saline from saltwater, but you are right. This particular question deserves another blog.

    My only question is why the Settlement (or it's trajectory) must be interpreted as calvinist when Philipism is also biblical and probably closer to the standards? Or perhaps another way of putting it, what was unbiblical about the 1637 Prayer book or 1604 canons which seem to have provoked civil war and the overthrow of an otherwise Protestant (albeit not Reformed) authority?

    Sincerely, Charles

  9. I agree. Art. 20 speaks only to the sphere of the Church and is thus sound. Art. 34 is also good, yet falls into the 'common authority' idea between Church and Magistrate that was due to the prevailing mindset of "Christendom" that had existed for over a thousand years under the RCC. That was already changing under Cranmer to a degree and certainly had begun to change under Luther and Calvin, though they were still creatures of the same thinking more or less.

    Why not Philipism? For one, the Articles are considered historically as moderately Calvinist, i.e. Reformed. The Settlement, I agree wasn't necessarily so. But the heart of the theology of the Church was in the Reformed path. This is the testimony of the likes of Jewell, Whitgift, and yes... Hooker. Remember, throughout the last half of the 16th century Calvin's Institutes and Bullinger's Decades were required study for prospective clergy in England. In fact, "The Decades are the historical embodiment of Reformed theology. So effective and articulate was their theological influence that Archbishop Whitgift in 1568 'obtained an order in convocation that every clergyman should procure a copy of [The Decades] and read one [sermon] once a week'. At one time these volumes (originally published in five) where required reading for all clergy. They differed on polity and RPW from that of the Continent, but otherwise were mostly in the same direction.

    The various 'Settlements' really aren't accurate gauges of the the trajectory of the 'reforms' due to the "other" considerations that played into those Settlements. As with the 10 Articles there were 'political' compromise woven into them that played down Scriptural considerations. Again, the downside of the then current 1K mindset.

    By the way, I know your "friend" ;) Charlie recommended Null's "Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of Repentance" and McCulloch's bio on Cranmer. If you haven't read them do. They are indispensable to understanding the English Reformation.

    Carry on and thanks for debating and thinking this through with me.


  10. Charles,

    You may want to read this interesting first section entitled Bullinger’s importance for the English Reformation from the essay linked below:


  11. Hi Jack,

    This is probably hair-splitting on my part. My underlying motive is probably to convince anglo-reformed the WCF harms the integrity of the 39, isn't really compatible, and should be kept at a distance. I've tried to insist that Anglo-reformed would be more in keeping with the King's Religion (i.e, Anglicanism) if they used Heidelberg standards rather than those that stem from Solemn League.

    Anyway, before people tread down this path, they need to understand there is a third leg to the "wider Reformation" that often goes unrecognized, and that would be those confessions established around the Bucer-Melanchthon axis, sometimes called Philipist. That would be the Palatinate confessions (southern German) as well as the 39. Philipist documents are "moderately Calvinist", thus they get mistaken for Reformed (which they are compared to Lutheran), but are often treated "half-so", with respect to Gallic branches.

    The canon you quote for Bullinger indeed also existed for Melancthon's books, and the Queen herself was reared in Philip's greek as well as his theology, Loci. In the end, the Philipist view prevailed over the Calvinist, though they also shared many important areas.

    IN light of Bullinger, I am surprised anglo-reformed do not take continental standards before the scottish kirk. I think Gore's book probably persuades the continental (e.g., Palatinate Reformed) are much closer to the 39 than the English, largely to a more moderate treatment of RPW.

    The HCF is probably the most friendly of the Belgic stream to liturgy. Again, anglo-reformed bark up the wrong tree with WCF, and all I can figure is they do it for ecumenical reasons because they are so impressed with Presbyterian theologians of today-- Clark, Sproul, et al.?

    Even the pre-Melville standards of the Scottish Kirk were closer to the continent than WCF. When talking about the 'wider Reformation', why not take something more center than English Puritanism?

  12. Charles,

    A few quick responses:

    Yes, I think your view of the WCF underlies your evaluation that...
    the WCF harms the integrity of the 39, isn't really compatible, and should be kept at a distance.

    The Westminster Standards, Belgic, Heidelberg, and Synod of Dort are all of the same house, that of Reformed. Westminster Cal professors subscribe to all of them.

    Clark is not Presbyterian. He is an ordained minister in the United Reformed Church in NA. Ordain ministers in that denomination subscribe to the Belgic, Heidelberg, and Dort.

    Sproul is PCA, and, from what I know, is not a stickler on these matters of ecclesiology.

    And as I've mentioned before, our OPC here in Goleta has a very liturgical service structured under the guidance of the Presbytery. Scroll through the 4 page printed service:

    Our weekly Lord's Supper incorporates much from BCP, uses prayers and collects from Cranmer as well as others. A general confession, absolution, corporate Psalm reading, Nicene Creed, General Thanksgiving... all are regular components with roots in 16th century English and Genevan worship.

  13. Having the Anglican church as one's "hereditary possession" (John Owen) is something of a questionable blessing.

    Toplady, works, 275----Is there a single heresy that ever annoyed the Christian world, which has not had its present partisans among those who profess conformity to the church of England?"

  14. But who today bothers to read the 39 articles; there is a reason they are in fine print in back of the book. There again, there is really little sense in identifying the current Episcopal church with anything resembling orthodoxy, reformed or otherwise. As the previous great presiding bishop has said, Jesus wants us to follow him--not to worship him.