Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cranmer, Continental Reformer?

I think it was Anglican in the wilderness, Hudson Barton (though I may be mistaken), who posed the question of whether Thomas Cranmer would have identified more with the theology and practice of the Marian exiles and Puritans or that of Queen Elizabeth and her Church as constituted and guided under the Settlement during her forty-some year reign.  If the former is true then it lends credible support to the case that upon Elizabeth's accession the reformation of the Church of England came to an unexpected end.  It's the view of many that, though the battle for further biblical reforms continued within and without the official Church, institutionally the Church had become essentially molded as an uncomfortable composite of the Henrician and Edwardian periods.

Ashley Null, arguably the foremost scholar on the theology of Thomas Cranmer, adds some of his insights to the question in a talk given at St Antholin, the text of which can be found at the Church Society:
In such a venerable lecture series, founded to be the wellspring of nonconformity in England, what could be a more unexpected topic than the man Thomas Cranmer. Who, more than he, was the public face of both Edwardian Erastianism and Edwardian Liturgy. Is not Cranmer reported to have said at the coronation of the boy-king Edward, ʻYour majesty is Godʼs vice-gerent and Christʼs vicar within your own dominions, and to see, with your predecessor Josiah, God truly worshippedʼ?  Has not liturgical scholarship proved right that memorable jibe of John Field, the London field marshall of Elizabethan Puritan agitation, that Cranmerʼs prayer books were ʻculled and picked out of that popish dunghill, the mass bookʼ?  Although Foxe did his best to enlist Cranmer as the true ʻSt Thomas of Canterburyʼ because of his death under Mary, the polity and liturgy he bequeathed represented to Puritans all that was not blessed in the Church of England, all that still needed changing. What does he and the founders of our lectureship have to do with one another?
 Much, for they were all adherents of Reformed theology. While this has not been the conventional portrait of Cranmer for over a century, recent studies have confirmed Cranmerʼs basic agreement with that Southern strain of continental Protestantism that became known as Reformed, at least as it was emerging during his lifetime. The theological stream which ran so fast through St Antholinʼs did not spring up in England only upon the return of the Marian exiles, but in Cranmerʼs day and by Cranmerʼs encouragement. The movement grew and adapted—so much so that subsequent generations of Churchman historians have failed to recognise Cranmer as one of their soteriological progenitors. Yet the blessed personal change sought by Puritans for their family, friends and flock Cranmer also desired for the elect of England of his era. Conversion from sin to communion with God was a favourite Puritan theme, and nothing was closer to Cranmerʼs own heart; consequently, he enshrined his Reformed understanding of the process in the formularies he bequeathed to the Church of England. Those wishing to find Anglican legitimacy for the Puritan approach to the cure of the English soul need look no further than the pioneering work of Thomas Cranmer himself.
In his introduction to the Memoir of the Life and Writings of Thomas Cartwright, Rev. B. Brook writes concerning the early stages of the English Reformation and the trajectory of Thomas Cranmer visa-vis the Continental reformers:
By the introduction of printing, the circulation of the Bible in English, and other important occurrences in the reign of King Henry VIII., better principles obtained access to the minds of the people, and the light of the glorious gospel spread in every direction. This, however, was not the time of completing the Reformation. Henry was as much the pope of England, as the pontiff was of Rome; and popery, under another head, still triumphed in its most obnoxious forms. Though Henry's conduct was tragically oppressive and severe, yet, at the suggestion of Archbishop Cranmer, one of his last acts was to reform certain papistical observances.  In the reign of King Edward VI., the Reformation began to shine with additional splendour; and Christianity, which had been so long obscured, was expected to appear in its native brightness, and spread its benign influence over all the land...   
In the reign of King Edward VI., the Reformation began to shine with additional splendour; and Christianity, which had been so long obscured, was expected to appear in its native brightness, and spread its benign influence over all the land...  
Archbishop Cranmer, denominated a "great Scripturist," cherished deep commiseration for the people, maintained that the holy Scriptures constituted the only standard of Reformation, treating the decrees of councils, and the traditions of men, with comparative inattention. "From the word of God," said Cranmer," princes may learn how to govern their subjects, and subjects learn how to obey their princes; and all persons may learn that faith and worship which God requires of them."  The venerable primate, adopting this scriptural policy, was anxious to see the church entirely freed from the remnants of popery; and addressing the convocation, "he exhorted the clergy to give themselves to the study of the Scriptures, and to consider seriously what things were in the church that needed reformation; that so they might throw out all the popish trash that was not yet cast out." 
Cranmer and the Archbishop of York, with other bishops and divines, declared that, in the apostolic churches, the office of bishop and pastor was the same; and that in those times the members of the churches usually elected their own officers. Thirteen bishops and numerous other dignitaries subscribed that, in the New Testament, there was no distinction of degrees, except only those of bishops or pastors and deacons. The English Reformers recognised the foreign churches, though far from being episcopalian, as true churches of Jesus Christ, and invited a number of continental protestants to assist the Reformation in this country; who were instantly employed in ministerial functions, without the least regard to episcopal ordination, or the popish doctrine of apostolical succession. 
The last highlighted part of the quote regarding the equivalency of bishop and pastor in the apostolic churches is the same understanding that can be found in many of the writings of the early church fathers such as Augustine.

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