corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 23 — Protestantism in England From the Times of Henry VIII

Chapter 11 — The Church of England as reformed by Cranmer

Resource Toolbox

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20

Edward VI—His Training and Character—Somerset Protector— Wriothesly Deposed—Edward's Coronation—The Bible—State of England—Cranmer Resumes the Work of Reformation—Royal Visitation—Erasmus' Paraphrase—Book of Homilies—Superstitious Usages Forbidden—Communion in Both Kinds—Cranmer's Catechism—Laity and Public Worship—Communion Service-Book of Common Prayer—Pentecost of 1549—Public Psalmody Authorized— Articles of Religion—The Bible the Only Infallible Authority

Edward VI was in his tenth year when the scepter of England was committed to his hand. If his years were few, his attainments were far beyond what is usual at his early age; he already discovered a rare maturity of judgment, and a soul ennobled by the love of virtue. His father had taken care to provide him with able and pious preceptors, chief of whom were Sir Anthony Cooke, a friend of the Gospel, and Dr. Richard Cox, afterwards Bishop of Ely; and the precocity of the youthful prince, and his rapid progress in classical studies, rewarded the diligence and exceeded the expectations of his instructors. Numerous letters in Latin and French, written in his ninth year, are still extant, attesting the skill he had acquired in these languages at that tender age. Catherine Parr, the last and noblest of the wives of Henry VIII, assiduously aided the development of his moral character. Herself a lady of eminent virtue and great intelligence, she was at pains to instill into his mind those principles which should make his life pure, his reign prosperous, and his subjects happy. Nor would the watchful eye of Cranmer be unobservant of the heir to the crown, nor would his timely cooperation and wise counsel be wanting in the work of fitting him for swaying the scepter of England at one of its greatest crises. The archbishop is said to have wept for joy when he marked the rapid and graceful intellectual development, and deep piety, of the young prince.

The king's maternal uncle, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, afterwards Duke of Somerset, was made head of the council of regency, under the title of Protector of the Realm. He was an able statesman, and a friend of the Reformed opinions. (Cranmer, in virtue of his primacy, as well as by appointment of the late king, was a member of the Council. Wriothesly, the chancellor, a man versed in intrigue, and so bigoted an adherent of the old faith that, as we have seen, he sometimes tortured with his own hands those under examination before him, had also a seat in that body. But one of the first acts of the Council was to depose him from office, and deprive him of the seals. This was no faint indication that the party which had so long clogged the wheels of the Reformation must now descend from power. Other signs of a like nature soon followed. The coronation of the young monarch took place on the 28th of February, in the Abbey of Westminster. [1] There followed a general pardon: the Statute of the Six Articles was abolished, and the prosecutions commenced under it were terminated; the friends of the Gospel were released from prison; many learned and pious men returned from exile, and thus the ranks of the Reformers were recruited, and theft spirits reanimated. Nor was it less pleasing to mark the token of respect which was paid to the Scriptures y the youthful king on receiving his crown. If his father had brought forth the Bible to carry his divorce, the son would exalt it to yet a higher place by making it the rule of his government, and the light of his realm. Bale relates that, when Cranmer had placed the crown on Edward's head, and the procession was about to set out from the abbey to the palace, three swords were brought to be carried before him, emblematic of his three kingdoms. On this the king observed, "There lacks yet one." On his nobles inquiring what it was, he answered, "The Bible," adding, "that book is the sword of the spirit, and is to be preferred before these. It ought in all right to govern us: without it we are nothing, and can do nothing. He that rules without it is not to be called God's minister, or a king." The Bible was brought, and carried reverently in the procession.

With Edward on the throne, the English Josiah, as he has been styled, with Protector Somerset in the Cabinet, with many tried disciples and former fellow laborers returned from prison or from beyond seas, Cranmer at last breathed freely. How different the gracious air that filled the palace of Edward from the gloomy and tyrannical atmosphere around the throne of Henry! Til now Cranmer knew not what a day might bring forth; it might hurl him from power, and send him to a scaffold. But now he could recommend measures of reform without hesitancy, and go boldly forward in the prosecution of them. And yet the prospect was still such as might well dismay even a bold man. Many things had been uprooted, but very little had been planted: England at that hour was a chaos. There had come an outburst of lawless thought and libertine morals such as is incident to all periods of transition and revolution. The Popish faction, with the crafty Gardiner at its head, though ruling no longer in the councils of the sovereign, was yet powerful in the Church, and was restlessly intriguing to obstruct the path of the primate, and bring back the dominion of Rome.

Many of the young nobles had traveled in Italy, and brought home with them a Machiavellian system of politics, and an easy code of morals, and they sought to introduce into the court of Edward the principles and fashions they had learned abroad. The clergy were without knowledge, the people were without instruction; few men in the nation had clear and well-established views, and every day that passed without a remedy only made matters worse. To repel the Popish faction on the one hand

and encourage the Reforming party on the other; to combat with ignorance, to set bounds to avarice and old and envenomed prejudice; to plan wisely, to wait patiently, and to advance at only such speed as circumstances made possible; to be ever on the watch against secret foes, and ever armed against their violence; to toil day after day and hour after hour, to be oftentimes disappointed in the issue, and have to been anew: here were the faith, the patience, and the courage of the Reformers. This was the task that now presented itself to Cranmer, and which he must pursue through all its difficulties till he had established a moral male in England, and reared an edifice in which to place the lamp of a Scriptural faith. This was the one work of the reign of Edward VI. England had then rest from war; the sound of battle was forbidden to disturb the silence in which the temple rose. [2]

Let us describe the work, as stage by stage the edifice is seen to advance under the hands of its builders.

The first step was a "Royal Visitation for Reformation of Religion." This Commission was appointed within a month after the coronation of Edward VI, and was sent forth with instructions to visit all the dioceses and parishes of England, and report respecting the knowledge and morals of the clergy, and the spiritual condition of the flocks. [3] The Commission executed its task, and its report laid open to the eye of Cranmer the real state of the nation, and enabled him to judge of the remedies required for evils which were the growth of ages. The first thing adopted in the shape of a cure was the placing of a companion volume by the side of the Bible in all the churches. The book chosen was Erasmus' Paraphrase on the New Testament, in English. [4] It was placed there by way of interpreter, and was specially designed for the instruction of the priests in the sense of Scripture. It would have been easy to have found a better guide, but Erasmus would be read by many who would have turned away from the commentaries of Luther.

There quickly followed a volume of homilies, twelve in number. The Bishop of Winchester, Gardiner, the uncompromising enemy of Cranmer and the Reformation, objected to this as unnecessary, seeing the nation already possessed King Henry's Erudition of a Christian Man. [5] The homilies were prepared nevertheless, Cranmer himself writing three of them, those on Salvation, Faith, and Works. The doctrine taught in the homily on Salvation, otherwise termed Justification, was that of Luther, namely, that we are justified by faith without works. Gardiner and his party strongly objected to this, arguing that such a justification excluded "charity," and besides was superfluous, seeing we receive justification in baptism, and if after this we sin, we are restored by penance. Cranmer defended the homily on the ground that his object was "only to set out the freedom of God's mercy." [6] The hand of Latimer, now restored to liberty, and of Thomas Becon, one of Cranmer's chaplains, may be traced in others of the homilies: the authors of the rest are entirely unknown, or can only be doubtfully guessed at. The homilies are plain expositions of the great doctrines of the Bible, which may be read with profit in any age, and were eminently needed in that one. They were appointed to be read from the pulpit in every church. The Ithuriel which Cranmer sent abroad, the touch of whose spear dissolved the shackles of his countrymen, was Light.

The royal visitation, mentioned above, now began to bear yet more important fruits. In November, 1547, Parliament sat, and a Convocation being held at the same time, the ecclesiastical reforms recommended by the royal visitors were discussed, embodied in orders, and promulgated by the Council. The clergy were enjoined to preach four times every year against the usurped authority of the Bishop of Rome; they were forbidden to extol images and relics; they were not to allow lights before images, although still permitted to have two lighted candles on the high altar, in veneration of the body of Christ, which even Cranmer still believed was present in the elements. The clergy were to admit none to the "Sacrament of the altar" who had not first undergone an examination on the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. A chapter of the New Testament, in English, was to be read at matins, or morning worship, and a chapter of the Old Testament at evensong. The portions of Scripture read at mass were enjoined to be also in English. Chantry priests, or those who sang masses at the private oratories in cathedral churches for the souls of the founders, were to spend more profitably their time in teaching the young to read and write. All clergymen with an income of 100 pounds a year—equal at least to 1,000 pounds now—were to maintain a poor scholar at one of the universities. Candles were forbidden to be carried on Candlemas Day, ashes, on Ash Wednesday, palms on Palm Sunday. "So that this year" (1547), says Strype, "on Candlemas Day, the old custom of bearing candles in the church, and on Ash Wednesday following giving ashes in the church, was left off through the whole of the city of London." [7] In order was also issued by the Council for the removal of all images from the churches—a change implying so great an alteration in the worship of the people as to be a reformation in itself. [8] Another most important change was now adopted. After being discussed in Convocation, it was enacted by Parliament that henceforth the communion should be dispensed in both kinds. The same Parliament abolished the law of clerical celibacy, and permitted priests to marry.

In 1548 came Cranmer's Catechism. It was not written by the archbishop,

although it bore his name. Originally compiled, in German for the instruction of the youth of Nuremberg, it was translated into Latin by the son of Justus Jonas, the friend of Luther, and brought to England by him when driven from his native land by the Interim of Charles V. This catechism was rendered into English by the orders of Cranmer, who deemed it fitted to be useful in the instruction of youth. This catechism may be regarded as a reflection of Cranmer's own mind, and the mind of England at that hour. Both were but groping their way out of the old darkness. In it the first and second commandments are made to form but one, thus obliterating, or at least darkening, the prohibition of the worshipping of God by images. Of the seven Sacraments of the Roman Church, four are discarded and three retained: baptism is spoken of as "the bath of regeneration, or the instrument of the second birth." The doctrine taught under the head of the Eucharist is that of the bodily presence, as we should expect it to be from the German origin of the book, and the known sentiments of Cranmer at this stage of his career. He was still a believer in the dogma of consubstantiation; and only by painful effort and laborious investigations did he reach the ground on which Zwingle and Calvin stood, and from which he could never afterwards be dislodged. [9]

There followed the same year two important steps of reformation. Cranmer conceived the great idea of calling the people to take their part in the worship of the sanctuary. Under the Papacy the people had been excluded from the public worship of God: first, by restricting its performance to the priests; and, secondly, by the offering of it in a dead language. The position of the laity was that of spectators—not even of listeners, but spectators of grand but meaningless ceremonies. Cranmer resolved to bring back these exiles. "Ye are a priesthood," he said, "and must worship with your own hearts and voices." In prosecution of this idea, he procured that the mass should be changed into a communion, and that the service should be in English instead of Latin. To enable a people long unused to worship to take part in it with decency and with the understanding, he prepared a Liturgy in order that all might offer their adoration to the Supreme, and that that adoration should be expressed in the grandest and most august forms of speech. For the magnificent shows of Rome, Cranmer substituted the sublime emotions of the human soul. How great an advance intellectually as well as spiritually!

In furtherance of this great end, two committees were appointed by the king, one to prepare a Communion Service, and the other a Book of Common Prayer, or Liturgy. The committees met in the royal palace of Windsor, and spent the most of the summer of 1548 in deliberations on this important matter. The notes prepared by Cranmer, evidently with the view of being submitted to the committee as aids to 'inquiry and guides in discussion, show us the gradual advance of Cranmer and his fellow Reformers to the conclusions they ultimately reached.

"What or wherein," so runs the first query, "John receiving the Sacrament of the altar in England, doth it profit and avail Thomas dwelling in Italy, and not knowing what John in England doth?" "Whether it [the mass] profit them that be in heaven, and wherein?"

"What thing is the presentation of the Body and Blood of Christ in the mass, which you call the oblation and sacrifice of Christ? and wherein standeth it in act, gesture, or word? and in what act, gesture or word?"

"Whether in the primitive Church there were any priests that lived by saying of mass, matins, or evensong, or by praying for souls only?"

"For what cause were it not convenient or expedient to have the whole mass in the English tongue?"

"Whether it be convenient that masses satisfactory [expiatory] should be continued, that is to say, priests hired to say masses for souls departed?" [10]

The part of the labors of the commissioners charged with the reformation of the public worship which was the first to be finished was the Communion Service. It was published by itself. In its compilation the ancient missal had been drawn upon; but the words of consecration were omitted; and the import or sense which the service was now made to bear appears from the words of Cranmer in the discussions on the query he had proposed, "What are the oblation and sacrifice of Christ in the mass?"

"The oblation and sacrifice of Christ in the mass said Cranmer, "are not so called because Christ is indeed there offered and sacrificed by the priest and the people, for that was done but once by himself upon the cross; but are so called because they are a memory or representation of that very true sacrifice and immolation which were before made upon the cross."

The mass was now changed, not into a mere commemoration, but into a communion, in which the partaker received spiritually the body and blood of Christ, or, to express more plainly the Protestant sense, in which he participated in the benefits of Christ's death. The notoriously ungodly were not to be admitted to the Sacrament. A confession of sin was to be made, followed by absolution, and the elements were then to be delivered with the words, "The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body unto everlasting life; " "The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy soul unto everlasting life." When all had partaken, the congregation was dismissed with the Benediction. This form of the service was not meant to be final, for a promise was given by the king, "further to travail for the Reformation, and setting forth such

godly orders as might be to God's glory, and the edifying of his subjects, and the advancement of true religion," [11] and meanwhile all preachers were forbidden to agitate the question of the Eucharist in the pulpit till such time as its service should be completed.

The anticipated alteration did take place, and in the corrected Prayer Book of Edward VI the words given above were changed into the, following: "Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith;" "Drink this in remembrance that Christ's blood was shed for thee, and be thankful." A rubric was also added, through the influence of Knox, to the effect that though the posture of kneeling was retained at the celebration of the Lord's Supper, no adoration of the elements was thereby intended. [12]

The Communion Service was followed by the Book of Common Prayer. It was compiled by substantially the same men who had drawn up the Communion Service, and the principal of whom were Cranmer, Ridley, and Goodrich. The Breviary and the ancient Liturgies were laid under contribution in the formation of the Book of Common Prayer. The Bible is the revelation of God's mind to the Church, worship is the evolution of the Church's mind God-wards; and on this principle was the Liturgy of the Church of England compiled. The voice of all preceding ages of the Church was heard in it: the voice of the first age; as also that of the age of Augustine and of all succeeding ages, including whatever was pure and lofty in the Church of the Middle Ages; all were there, inasmuch as the greatest thoughts and the sublimest expressions of all the noblest minds and grandest eras of the Church were repeated and reechoed in it. The Book of Common Prayer was presented to Convocation in November, 1548, and having been approved of by that body, was brought into Parliament, and a law was passed on the 21st of January, 1549, since known as the Act of Uniformity, [13] which declared that the bishops had now concluded upon one uniform order of Divine worship, and enacted that from the Feast of Whit Sunday next all Divine offices should be performed according to it. On the passing of the Act all clergymen were ordered to bring to their bishop "antiphoners, missals, and all other books of service, in order to their being defaced and abolished, that they might be no hindrance to that godly and uniform order set forth." [14] On the 10th of June, being Whit Sunday, the Liturgy was first solemnly performed in St. Paul's Cathedral, and in most of the parish churches of England. "The Day of Pentecost was fitly chosen," says one, "as that on which a National Church should first return after so many centuries to the celebration of Divine service in the native tongue, and it is a day to be much observed in this Church of England among all our generations for ever." [15]

The Act ratifying the Book of Common Prayer contained also an authorization for the singing of psalms in public worship. The absence of singing was a marked characteristic of the Papal worship. The only approach to it were chants, dirges, and wails, in a dead language, in which the people as a rule took no part. Singing revived with Protestantism; as we should expect it would, seeing all deep and lofty emotions seek to vent themselves in song. The Lollards were famous for their singing, hence their name. They were followed in their love of sacred song by certain congregations of the Reformed Church of England, who began the practice of their own accord; but now the psalms were sung in virtue of the loyal order in all churches and private dwellings. Certain of the psalms were trained into meter by Sternhold, a member of the Privy Chamber, and were set to music, and dedicated to Edward VI, who was greatly delighted with them. Others were versified by Dr. Cox, W. Whittingham, and Robert Wisdom. And when the whole Book of Psalms, with other hymns, were finished by Hopkins and certain other exiles in Queen Mary's reign, this clause in the Act gave authority for their being used in public worship. They were sung at the commencement and at the close of the morning service, and also before and after sermon. [16]

The last part of the work, which Cranmer was now doing with so much moderation, wisdom, and courage, was the compilation of Articles of Religion. All worship is founded on knowledge that knowledge or truth is not the evolution of the human mind, it is a direct revelation from heaven; and the response awakened by it from earth is worship. The archbishop, in arranging the worship of the Church of England, had assumed the existence of previously communicated truth. Now he goes to its Divine fountains, that he might give dogmatic expression to that to which he had just given emotional utterance. He puts into doctrine what he had already put into a prayer, or into a song. This was, perhaps, the most difficult part of his task—it was certainly the most delicate—and a feeling of this would seem to have made him defer it till the last. The facts relating to the preparation of the Articles are obscure; but putting all things together, it would appear that the Articles were not debated and passed in Convocation; but that they were (drawn up by Cranmer himself, and presented to the king in 1552. [17]

They were revised, at the king's instance, by Grindal, Knox, and others, previous to being ratified by Parliament, and subscription to them made obligatory on all preachers and ministers in the realm. [18] Having received Cranmer's last revise, they were published in 1553 by the king's authority, both in Latin and English, "to be publicly owned as the

sum of the doctrine of the Church of England." [19] As regards the doctrine of the Articles, all those divines who have been the more thoroughly versed in theology, both in its history and in its substance, from Bishop Burner downwards, have acknowledged that, in the main, the Articles follow in the path of the great doctor of the West, Augustine. The archbishop in framing them had fondly hoped that they would be a means of "union and quietness in religion." To these forty-two Articles, reduced in 1562 to thirty-nine, he gave only a subordinate authority. After dethroning the Pope to put the Bible in his room, it would have ill become the Reformers to dethrone the Bible, in order to install a mere human authority in supremacy over the conscience. Creeds are the handmaids only, not the mistress; they are the interpreters only, not the judge; the authority they possess is in exact proportion to the accuracy with which they interpret the Divine voice. Their authority can never be plenary, because their interpretation can never be more than an approximation to all truth as contained in the Scriptures. The Bible alone must remain the one infallible authority on earth, seeing the prerogative of imposing laws on the consciences of men belongs only to God.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
Search Historical Writings
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology