Monday, January 28, 2013

The English Reformation: Glass Half Empty Part 5

E. Grindal
The thought behind these series of posts, The English Reformation: Glass Half Empty (hereherehere, and here), is that the nature of the reformation in England was quite different under Queen Elizabeth than that which had been taking place under King Edward and Thomas Cranmer.  That isn't a big news scoop for anyone familiar with the history.  And while some consider that change in a negative light (my view), others do view it favorably.  Yet what is interesting to see is the role that Elizabeth played in moving the Church of England from a church that was reforming according to the Word of God (albeit with fits and starts) to that of a formerly reforming church, one that had begun to settle into a kind of compromised Protestantism; at crucial crossroads succumbing to the views of the Supreme Governor of the Church rather than the teachings of Scripture when it came to certain issues. In my view this is no where more evident than the reduced emphasis on and, and at times, even outright hostility toward the preaching of the Word of God after 1559.

State of preaching Pre-Marian:
Arguably, the first major reform enacted in the Church of England under Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was to place in every church an English version of the entire Bible.  Without the Scriptures in the language of the people there could be no reforming of the Church. Without the Word of God central in the Church there would be no biblical preaching to build the Church. It was in the year 1538 that Cromwell gave the directive that the clergy provide "one book of the bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it."

About nine years later in 1547, Cranmer issued the Book of Homilies entitled "Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to Be Read in Churches."  The need for biblical teaching and preaching in the formerly Roman Catholic churches was great but the number of clergy familiar with the reformational doctrines of the Christian faith were few.  The Book of Homilies was issued as a stop gap solution to this situation.  By publicly reading these sermons clergy could begin to nourish the faith and practice of God's people with the Word of God.

Over the next few years Archbishop Cranmer would bring several leading reformers such as Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr Vermigli to England to help train prospective clergy in the biblical doctrines of the Church.  Vermigli was given the position of Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.  Two years after his appointment he writes to Rudolph Gualter (June 1, 1550):
There is no lack of preachers in London, but throughout the whole kingdom they are very rare... The sheep of the divine pasture, the sheep of God's hand, the sheep redeemed by the blood of Christ, are defrauded of the proper nourishment of the divine word; unless the people be taught, the change of religion will certainly avail them but little. [emphasis added]
Vermigli's words were not only an accurate assessment of the situation, but also foreshadowed the years that were to follow Queen Mary's reign.  The purpose of these doctors of doctrine was to train men who would teach and preach from the pulpit the Scriptural truths regarding salvation by the grace of God through faith in Christ alone.  By the proclamation of Christ in the Word the Church is birthed.  And by the Word of God  preached and taught the Church is reformed, nourished, and built.

Cranmer's path was the natural and logical consequence of his embracing the foundational truth of the Reformation - sola scripturathe supremacy and authority of the Word of God in things pertaining to faith and practice in the Church, as later confessed in the Forty-Two Articles of Religion:
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...
State of preaching Post-Marian:
Queen Elizabeth I
After the reign of Queen Mary and the restoration of the Protestant Church in England, the need for preachers was indeed dire.  Yet the trajectory of progress going forward in this area was mixed and disappointing. This was in no small part due to the views of the new Supreme Governor of the Church, Queen Elizabeth.  John Jewell expressed his concern (and that of many) in a letter to Vermigli in January 1559:
The queen has forbidden any person, whether papist or gospeller, to preach to the people.  Some think the reason of this to be, that there was at that time only one minister of the word in London, namely, Bentham, whereas the number of papists was very considerable; others, that it was because the people, having heard only one public discourse of Bentham's, began to dispute about ceremonies, some declaring for Geneva, and some for Frankfort.  Whatever it be, I only wish that our party may not act with too much worldly prudence and policy in the cause of God.
And from an April letter of the same year Jewell further highlights the need for preachers of the Word of God:  "... and yet the people everywhere [are]... exceedingly thirsting for the gospel."  He later wrote to Martyr in two letters a year apart of his concern with the state of the schools in which preachers were to be trained and the desperate need for preachers:
Both our universities are now lying in a most wretched state of disorder, without piety, without religion, without a teacher, without any hope of revival.  Many of our leading men... are fixing their thoughts on yourself, and are anxious that you should be invited at the earliest opportunity, in spite of all the German leaguers." (Nov. 16, 1559)
 We are only wanting in preachers; and of these there is a great and alarming scarcity.  The schools are also entirely deserted; so that, unless God look favourably upon us, we cannot hope for any supply in the future.  The existing preachers, who are few in number, those especially who have any ability, are listened to by the people with favour and attention.        (Nov. 6, 1560)
Yet remedying this situation did not necessarily fit comfortably with Queen Elizabeth's vision for the Church.  M. Rosemary O'Day writes,
After Elizabeth's accession the Church in England was in a confused condition. The queen envisaged a politique settlement which, although protestant, was not reformed, thereby enabling her to avoid both international conflict and open internal rebellion. This meant that the established Church must not follow too closely the radical changes in ceremony, doctrine and administration associated with the continental Reformed Churches
Robust biblical preaching under the authority of the Word became a risk to Elizabeth's concept of the Church. Thus preaching, per se, was not desirable in and of itself nor in the best interest of maintaining order and peace in "her" new Church and kingdom.  In fact, her own personal preference regarding a church service was that of infrequent sermons which were to short and not especially doctrinal.
She herself was accustomed to listen to sermons only in the season of Lent, and on one such occasion had interrupted a sermon of the Dean of St. Paul’s (Nowell), a notable preacher, with the command to desist as the theme was not to her liking. Not surprisingly, the Dean was overwhelmed with confusion. To console him Archbishop Parker took him home to dinner afterwards! (Church Society)
Yet ironically, the pressing need to fill the vast number of vacancies in the office of bishop in 1559 led to the appointment of the only supply available to the new queen - many of the Marian exiles/preachers who had returned from the reformed churches of the continent with a high view of the authority of the Word of God.  Their intention to continue the reforms begun a decade earlier in the Edwardian church was a potential problem to contain.  One of those exiles appointed as a bishop under Queen Elizabeth was Edmund Grindal who would later be selected Archbishop of Canterbury.  Accepting the former office that Cranmer had held, he would clash almost immediately with the Queen over the issue of "prophesyings."  And it was this issue more than any other that revealed the change that had taken place between the Church under Cranmer and that of Elizabeth.
In 1576, Grindal conducted a metropolitan visitation (a sort of survey of standards in the archbishopric) and was shocked by how few ministers preached regularly to their flocks. He decided to try and rectify the problem by encouraging prophesyings. Prophesyings had begun spontaneously in various parts of the South-East c. 1571. They were meetings of clergy in the localities for prayer and sermons followed by mutual criticism and discussions about the state of the church... 
Prophesyings rapidly became very popular, and were often attended by zealous laymen. Elizabeth (who thought that four or five preachers per county were quite enough) saw them as inherently disruptive and a covert attack on royal control of the church...  
Elizabeth wanted prophesyings stopped, but Grindal merely issued orders for regulating their conduct. Elizabeth was furious - particularly when Grindal refused a direct order to suppress them, and wrote her a letter saying that it was his duty to obey God rather than her. She wanted to deprive him immediately of his post as Archbishop but was prevailed on by her Privy Council merely to suspend him until he submitted. He never did. (link here)
To paraphrase a the sixties Dylan song, The times they were a'changing!
To Grindal it seemed natural that the clergy should meet to discuss the scriptures; but with a view of appeasing objections he issued orders that such meetings should be licensed by the bishop and presided over by the archdeacon or his deputy; that only approved persons be permitted to speak, and that all political or personal references be rigidly excluded. This did not satisfy Elizabeth... (Grindal)
The situation had reached a point of crisis for Elizabeth. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes summed up the mindset of Elizabeth this way,
Now, however, matters came to a head. So far from reacting favourably to Grindal’s plan for the regularisation, and thus the retention, of the ‘prophesyings’, Elizabeth gave vent to her displeasure by commanding him to bring about their suppression forthwith. She objected that by attending these gatherings the laity were neglecting their proper affairs and were in danger of having their heads filled with seditious notions. She complained, further, that there were too many preachers, insisting that three or four were sufficient for a county, and that the people needed nothing more than to have the Homilies read to them. The Queen, indeed, laboured under an apparent inability to appreciate the value of biblical preaching not only for the progress of sound religion but also in the interests of promoting good and stable citizenship.
There could be only one ultimate authority in the Church of England and Elizabeth was determined that she would have that final position and not the Word of God as administered by those called and ordained to preach and teach it.  The reformation, at least for the institutional Church of England, was crippled, if not over...

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this perspective, Jack. True Christianity, according to the late Gordon H. Clark, is counter cultural and even subversive. When Luther stood against the Roman Catholic Church he appealed to Scripture and to conscience, namely the priority of Scripture as the final authority in matters of doctrine and conscience. "Here I stand..." Christians should be loyal to Scripture and to the Christ revealed in the pages of Scripture, not to any state on earth.