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By Roger Salter
February 3, 2017

Contemporary Anglicanism by and large has lost its clout. It underestimates the power of its heritage to address those who are strangers to God and attach them to him in repentance and faith (Our Cranmerian liturgy is conversionist in an appropriate Scriptural manner. Samuel Leuenberger, Archbishop Cranmer’s Immortal Bequest, Eerdmans).

Today’s Anglicanism undervalues the theological and spiritual wealth available to its adherents in the wide-open vaults of our history. In many ways, in recent attempts at its resurgence, it takes upon itself the guise of giddy youth with contemporary religious gimmickry rather than faithfully presenting its hard won, designed to edify, maturity in Biblical and Reformational truth. The brew of our day is Anglican Lite, flashily packaged, much diluted, and filled with fizz (witness former AMIA promotional material). The wholesome ingredients of genuine Anglicanism are generally ignored. An Archbishop emerging from the shallows of Alpha to the See of Canterbury is hardly likely to lead us onward into the depths of Reformational thought.

Notwithstanding the excellence of the English Reformers in their knowledge and deployment of Scripture and their grasp of the essentials of the Gospel, Anglicanism is enormously enriched by its numerous connections, formal and informal, with agents of reform on the Continent. The power of friendships between the English and their European confreres should not be underestimated in the formation of religious views. A process of osmosis, person to person, is probably a very real factor to be considered. The premier theologians of the day contributed their input to the development of the Reformed Church in England. The span of influence is wide, especially from such sources as Germany Switzerland, France and Italy. Anglicanism was international in origin well before internationalism became a strong element in the enterprise of English colonialism.

It is not only in their publications and correspondence that European mainlanders influenced the English leadership, but in several significant cases scholars of eminence visited and resided in England, and during the period of the Marian persecution numerous successors to the spiritual guidance of the nation, following the martyrdom of Cranmer and his closest colleagues, sought refuge in Continental centers of Protestant activity. Strong personal bonds were established which had ongoing force (e.g. Martyr-Jewel-Hooker). It is perhaps a worthy conviction, romantic yet true, to attribute the strengthening of Augustinianism in England to a process of absorption of attitudes and ideas in the minds of the English though friendship and association with the great men of Germany (Bucer), France (Calvin), and Italy (Martyr). These connections stimulate our fascination with the story of the rediscovery of the way of salvation, in a clear and popular sense, in the realm of the Tudors. Many threads of doctrine and devotion drew the English Church firmly into the Reformed fold. The roster of founding fathers and friends of Anglicanism is impressive.

The German Connection: The Martins Luther and Bucer each exerted a great influence over the English Reformation. Luther, the initial mover at the outset (familiar with Wycliffe), retreated somewhat in influence as Zwingli and members of the Reformed movement supplanted him, but his influence was perpetuated in the Herculean figure of William Tyndale and his efforts in the translation of Scripture, as far as he was enabled to proceed, and the teaching of the Biblical doctrine of justification; also in the content of the Catechism, and the adoption and tone of the Litany.

Martin Bucer, mentor to Calvin, became the senior Continental tutor to English academy and church, and aided in the improvement of Cranmer’s liturgy of 1549. Melancthon’s presence in England was also courted by Cranmer. Melancthon, however, was not wooed to England, and in any case his constitutional weakness of hesitancy and prevarication in remaining allied to a full-blooded Luther-like Augustinianism proved disappointing and he eventually abandoned the views of his master.

The Italian Connection: Given the short-lived and eventually overwhelmed Reformation in Italy it is exhilarating to note the imprint of Peter Martyr Vermigli upon the character of nascent Anglicanism before that term was current. Martyr was a towering figure of the Reformation and worthy of a rank equivalent to that of Calvin. His preparation for his role as front-rank Reformer is enthralling. A leading force among the Dominicans in Italy he established a close link with Juan De Valdes (1500-1541) a Spaniard who promoted the doctrine of justification by faith alone as keenly and as skillfully as Luther. The friendship of Martyr and De Valdes was of mutual benefit theologically and spiritually and both were strongly involved with a fascinating reformist group of aristocrats and intellectuals known as the Spirituali, gathered around the poet Vittoria, Duchess of Colonna. Other members influenced by Lutheranism and Calvinism were the worthy Cardinal Contarini and the artistic genius Michelangelo Buonarroti. Justification by faith was the central conviction of the Spirituali but their influence waned through their sense of submission to the authority and maintenance of the papal church and their lack of popular outreach. (Art experts can detect the transition of Michelangelo to evangelical belief in his later work).

Although the Reformation in Italy eventually failed to take a hold on the nation it was not altogether impotent. De Valdes, Ochino ( Bernadino, problematic in his later theology), Martyr, and Zanchi (Jerome, much admired by Augustus Toplady) left their mark on their native country and enriched Reformed theology elsewhere to a great extent. Peter Martyr, the staunch Augustinian and a titan of the era of reform, is credited “With deep involvement in the English Reformation . . . There was in Vermigli a Cranmer inspired sense of responsibility to display, as much as possible, his doctrinal uniformity with continental Protestantism. . . Vermigli came to see himself as England’s chief spokesman for continental Reformed theology” (Frank A. James III, The Peter Martyr Library Volume Eight, Predestination and Justification, Truman State university Press, Kirksville, Missouri, page XXXIX).

The foundational Augustinianism of Peter Martyr laid down with such Scriptural, devotional, and intellectual care (his reliance was firmly upon union the mind of the Holy Spirit) should not be forgotten or ignored by the English church that he served so industriously. And yet, in our time, the force of his doctrine and devotion have ebbed away. Martyr was a confidant, servant, and ready consultant for Cranmer in a time of crucial decisions and development for our church. An injection of Martyr’s Bibline blood could do wonders for an ailing Communion.

To be continued; Part Three - The French Connection.

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