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By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
March 11, 2021

Authentic Anglicanism is sustained by a three-tiered set of essential and inviolable principles: It seeks to be faithfully Scriptural as an absolute priority. It pursues adherence to historical Biblical tradition as a monitor of interpretation and application. It endeavors to submit reverent employment of reason to the Word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

These characteristics are inevitable for the loyal people of God. Scripture must be accurately understood, interpreted, believed and acted upon. Ideally, the Anglican Way is to be a loving and grateful compliance with the will, truth, and guidance of God rightly discerned in his holy revelation to mankind. All Anglicans, with delight and diligence, ought to find spiritual satisfaction and maturity in eagerly searching the Scriptures, earnestly surveying Christian history, and devoutly seeking the leading of the Spirit of God. All of these activities are vital for the strength, stability and effective service of the Church. Our membership ought be strong in sound conviction. The whole church should be well equipped in knowledge and capability to commend Christ and his way of salvation and holy living to those around us.

The Ecclesia Anglicana and its offspring in various provinces throughout the world are the recipients and custodians of a priceless heritage emerging from the findings of pious and scholarly minds attuned to the teachings of Scripture in both Britain, and on the Continent, in the Reformation era. These holy servants of the Lord were also conservators of all that was good, right, and true as maintained and upheld within the Church of prior centuries.

The English Reformers, with attention to the priority of the Scriptures, were well educated in the study of Patristics, especially so Cranmer and John Jewel, and were well able to select and garner the beneficial insights and convictions of the church fathers who were by no means infallible nor consistent with each other. The Reformers were staunch advocates of the ancient credal statements of the early church comprising the Apostles' Creed (not composed by the apostles themselves), the Nicene Creed (product of the Council of Nicea,325), and the Athanasian Creed (not by Athanasius himself but based on his teaching). Primitive sources were consulted assiduously, and orthodox doctrine retained by the Reformed Church in England, ensuring continuity from the infant post- apostolic community in its best expressions of the faith and then the witness of the Church through subsequent centuries approaching and including the medieval ages.

The dominant theological influence from the fourth century on in western Christendom was that of St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, reputed "doctor of grace", and the principal exponent of divine grace in its purest presentation as the alone and sole hope for human salvation (monergism). Auto-soterism (Pelagianism), and synergism (semi-Pelagianism) were each effectively countered by the clear Biblical teaching of Augustine, and the advocacy of Augustinianism which continued to be upheld in the Church of God in varying degrees of emphasis and dissemination through such ministries as Prosper of Aquitaine [390-463], Fulgentius of Ruspe [468-533], Caesarius of Arles, whose Augustinianism prevailed at the Second Council of Orange [529].

In 5th century England the increasing tide of Pelagiansim became an urgent concern to the Bishop of Rome, Celestine1 (d432), and to halt the dangerous trend, bishops Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes were assigned to travel to England in 429 to debate with the Pelagian clergy and endeavor to prevent doctrinal departure from the cautious Augustinian orthodoxy within the Catholic Church. However, the clearest pronouncement of Augustinianism came some centuries later from the historian and scholar of the highest calibre, Bede of Jarrow (c673-735). Bede was intimately familiar with the writings of Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory, and according to Hans Hillerbrand was "all the way with Augustine" in his theology of salvation. In his accurate translation of Pauline statements on predestination in Augustine's commentary on Romans, Bede does not demur to render the bishop of Hippo's strongest asseverations and clearly endorses them. The venerable Bede was firmly fixed in the lineage of Aurelius Augustine; for him there was no flinching from the fact of distinguishing, electing love, and he occupied an honorable place in that worthy predestinarian line that continued markedly in the pre-Reformational Church of England:

"The Lord interceded for us not by words but by his dying compassion, because he took upon himself the sins which he was unwilling to condemn his elect for." On Christ's work of propitiation on behalf of sinners Bede notes "that it is valid for everyone from the very first among the elect until the last one who will be born at the end of time." On 1 John. G. Bray, ed ACC on Scripture: NT Vol XI IVP 2000. Pages 177-8.

It is not easy to discern the very personal theological conviction of King Alfred the Great (849-899), the illustrious presider over the unification of the English nation and the dedicated defender of its Christian heritage. His high regard for Bede would have been a warning and deterrent against the teaching of Pelagius (Alfred's translation of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People), and his translations of Augustine (The Soliloquies, rumination upon the human soul and the being of God) and Gregory (Pastoral Care) would seem to indicate a leaning toward the piety of these two eminent Christian thinkers. Coupled to this, his doubts concerning the views of Boethius, which were largely philosophical, on foreknowledge and free will, and his preferred adherence to earlier spokesmen for the faith, suggest a healthy reliance on the grace of Jesus Christ, as evinced in an extract from his preface to Augustine:

"He (God) hath promised us through St Augustine and St Gregory and St Jerome, and through many other holy Fathers; as I believe also for the merit of all those He will make this way more convenient than it hitherto was, and especially will enlighten the eyes of my mind so that I might search out the right way to the eternal home, and to everlasting glory, and to eternal rest, which is promised us through those holy Fathers. So may it be."

Alcuin of York (d.804) is one of the great figures of English and European history. He served as religious adviser and influential scholar to the court of Charlemagne, becoming one of the preeminent and highly esteemed voices in the church of his time. He is one of the prime shapers of European Christian awareness and sensibility, and a major contributor to Continental and western culture. In England he is prized primarily as a liturgist and nurturer of worthy worship and attendant symbolic ceremonial practice, as is exemplified in the existence and literary activity of the Alcuin Club, attractive mainly to the High Church movement.

However, it is as a key theologian and Scripture commentator of his era that Alcuin also ought to be considered. Greatly influenced by Bede and Augustine he cleaved conspicuously to the doctrine of his masters, as is particularly evinced in exposition of the Bible:

Commentary on Revelation: And he that shall overcome and keep my works unto the end, I will give him power over the nations. Chapter 2:26. "Therefore one should know that the Lord, using the future instead of the past, is indicating that those to whom he proclaims he will give power over the nations, have already overcome by the grace of predestination, and have already kept his works unto the end." Page 49. And I will not blot out his name from the book of life. Chapter 3:5.

"A great question arises for us in this place: for these words seem to mean that the name of the one who does not overcome is blotted out from the book, while it is well-known that only the elect are kept in heaven's book, written there by the pen of blessed predestination . . . . As for this book, it is a kind of divine force which predestined before the ages a certain and determined number of elect to be in glory in the future." Page 53.

There are those who are come out of the great tribulation. And have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Chapter 7:14. "In 'are come,' three tenses are contained: it is here used for 'are come, are coming, and are to come.' Therefore, since the whole number of the elect is defined by this sentence, it is greatly to be feared that if someone comes from somewhere else they should not belong to the fellowship of the elect . . . . All the elect make their robes white in the blood of the Lamb, that is to say they beautify their disposition of mind in the sufferings of Christ and prepare it to receive the future joys." Page 108.

In his commentary of the Gospel of John Alcuin also makes clear, strong, and necessary references to the Evangelist's treatment of electing love (see Francis X Gumerlock, Predestination in the century before Gottschalk, 2009, Page327.

It is well-known, without specific quotes, that Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), Thomas Bradwardine, also an Archbishop of Canterbury, (1290-1349), and John Wycliffe (1329-1384) were all solid champions of the Augustinian doctrine of predestination. It is fascinating that Geoffrey Chaucer refers to Bradwardine in the Nun's Priest's Tale "In this matter, and great disputation" concerning necessity or free choice: "But I cannot separate the valid and invalid arguments/As can holy doctor Augustine, or Boethius, or Bishop Bradwardyn, Whether God's worthy foreknowledge constrains me by need to do a thing."

Three of the foremost medieval mystics of England proved to be charmingly Augustinian in the truth they taught and the temper (tenor) in which they dispensed pastoral consolation. Ailred of Rievaulx 1109-1167), Richard Rolle (1295-1349), who exerted considerable influence upon Wycliffe, and Walter Hilton (d1396), upheld divine election very evidently in their understanding of prevenient grace and total dependence on the the Lord's enabling of saving faith. As a close friend and Cistercian colleague of Bernard of Clairvaux, Ailred shared Bernard's view of the Spirit's moving and alluring of the human will to trust in the Saviour. There is firm agreement with Augustine and gentle application of the tenet the great church father ardently commended.

Erasmus of Rotterdam was the pre-eminent scholar and superior literary figure in the period over-lapping the late 15th and early 16th centuries. His major gift to the benefit of the Church of Christ, and of enormous (unintended) usefulness to the Reformation movement was, his critical translation of the New Testament from the Greek to Latin. The encourager of this worthwhile undertaking was John Colet (c1466-1519), eventually Dean of St Paul's and deliverer of ground-breaking lectures on Paul's Epistle to the Romans.

There is ample testimony of the attractiveness, congeniality, and integrity of Colet as a person, as well as his ability as a scholar and royal adviser. Even when he dared to counsel King Henry in a manner contrary to the king's set ideas the monarch still resolved to regard Doctor Colet as his favored source of comment. After a private disputation, "Henry embraced Colet in front of his mortified colleagues, calling for wine to pledge him with a toast. 'Let every man choose his own doctor,' he said exuberantly. 'Dean Colet shall be mine!'" (Great Harry, Carolly Erickson, St. Martin's Griffin, NY, 1980).

"One concept apparently adopted by Colet from Augustine, was that of double predestination - pre-election by God . . . and therefore anti-Pelagian notions of grace, predestination, and the sinfulness of humanity, . . . his absolutist stance on membership of the elect; and his uncompromising perfectionism, which was reflected in his thought." (Dean John Colet of St Paul's: Humanism and Reform in Early Tudor England, Jonathan Arnold, I.B. Taurus & Co Ltd, London, pages 44-46).

In coming to the very verge of the English Reformation attention is drawn to that physically small individual who seemingly gave such a huge push towards the transformation of the Ecclesia Anglicana. Little Bilney, first name Thomas, was the man who, by his own conversion to the gospel and then his salutary influence upon Hugh Latimer brought great impetus to the Protestant cause, first in his home city of Cambridge and its university, and then throughout the country as preaching similar to his own increased the momentum to theological change by the pure proclamation of the Word of God. For his testimony Bilney was twice condemned to a martyr's death. At the first threat nervous Bilney recanted, hoping to extend his ministry in more subtle style. At the second verdict of guilt leveled against him Bilney yielded up his life bravely. Of Bilney, Augustus Toplady writes:

"Mr Thomas Bilney, who had been the instrument of Bishop Latimer's conversion, was burned in 1531. Among the articles of his examination before Tunstal, bishop of London, were the following: 'Whether he believed the catholic Church may err in the faith, or no? And whether he thought the catholic Church is only a spiritual Church, intelligible and known only to God ?' To this double interrogatory Bilney answered in these words 'The Catholic Church (i.e. the universal Church of God's predestined people,) 'can by no means err in faith: for it is the whole congregation of the elect; and so known only by God, who knoweth who are his) Two other ensnaring questions were put to this holy man: 'Whether he believed all things, pertaining to salvation and damnation, to come of necessity, and nothing to be in our own wills? And whether he believed God to be the author of all evil?' He discretely answered, 'God is the author of the punishment only, but not of the offense.' He would never have been put to the test of such queries as these, if he had not been considered as a known predestinarian." The complete works of Augustus Toplady, Sprinkle Publications, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1987.

Why the stress on pre-Reformational predestinarianism? This doctrine of Augustine and his line of followers is inescapable in Holy Scripture. Its intention is primarily pastoral. When cartloads of French Huguenots were being transported to prison and possible death, Jean Calvin was begged by the persecuted to comfort them with his teaching of predestination. Predestination treats of eternal electing love taking unworthy sinners into its unbreakable grip. It points to the divine decision stronger than man's resolve, and therefore utterly safe and immutable. It reminds us that that God's sovereignty is supreme over all powers not excluding the human will. In its declaration - divine sovereignty - and the devotion to God that it lovingly engenders absolutely no one is forbidden, but rather urged, to call on Christ for salvation. The Church of God needs the conviction of "God enthroned" to be strong, stable and confident in its proclamation. Man needs to be humbled and hauled out of his arrogance and self-reliance, rampant without reverence for the Lord. Anglicanism will never recover its effectiveness and integrity until it recovers its fear of God, and its Gospel obligation to glorify both his majesty and mercy in equal proportion.

Part 2 to come. The Shaping of Our Reformers Through Great Influencers from the Continent.

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