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Influences from The Continent

By Roger Salter
April 16, 2021

There is more than ample historical evidence of strong and continual Augustinian sentiment within the Ecclesia Anglicana of the first millennium that would lay a solid foundation for the emergence of a national church that would eventually fully embrace the theology of Aurelius Augustine in the 16th century English Reformation. Augustine of Hippo is the major architect, under God, of the doctrinal shape of essential Anglicanism. The mind and mood of genuine Anglicanism is saturated with the character and content of the Augustinian spiritual legacy - the sound and wholesome Scriptural teaching and eminently apostolic and pastoral tone of the greatest of the church fathers.

All the doctrine, devotional material, and pastoral counsel contained in the compact volume entitled The Book of Common Prayer (1662), is suffused with the Pauline cum Augustinian emphasis on effective grace and utter human reliance upon the mercy of God alone. This basic Anglican manual of prayer, devotion, sacramental observance, and Christian instruction stresses the total and entire dependence of the sinner upon the mighty grace of God, both in initial approach to him, and in access to the generous benefits he proffers to receptive faith. The famous portrait of Thomas Cranmer, with the writings of the New Testament and Augustine placed before him on the depicted table in front of the great man, is aptly and highly symbolic, and powerfully indicative of the route along which he would endeavor to guide the newly reformed Church of England, of which he became the providentially appointed chief shepherd as Archbishop of Canterbury.

Cranmer was a gentle and cautious man and his theological positions developed unhurriedly. He may have been somewhat slow and deeply thoughtful in forming his convictions, at least publicly, but, through his thoroughness, when they did take shape, they were sturdy. The Archbishop's conclusions were never rash and when settled they were reliable. His mind was well-suited to his nation's spiritual needs and tempo. His designs liturgically and doctrinally were eminently pastoral and suitably wise, and in balanced proportion for the flock that he diligently sought to serve. His considerations for the church he led were prayerfully measured and presented with consummate skill. His erudition and his pleasing power of textual composition were exceptional and still resound in reverent and thoughtful minds of worshippers in our day who wish for substance and simple eloquence in the articulation of the nature and will of our majestic God, and the cultivation of worthy piety before him.

Any denigration of Thomas Cranmer in the cultivation of Anglicanism is manifestly unfair and unwarranted. No one individual subsequently excels him. In the English colleagues that assisted him, and the European friends that advised him, Cranmer found the resources that ably directed his immense native skills as a theologian, liturgist, and pastoral overseer. He was God's man of the moment and ultimately a courageous martyr in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ and the people of God. His legacy is deservedly enduring and increasingly being rediscovered.

He wove together the best influences of the ancient church and the Protestant Reformation and succeeded in facilitating, perhaps over all, the finest expression of the Christian faith in which to find nurture of the redeemed soul. Cranmer is not the creator of a denomination, or simply an eminent figure of his nation. Thomas Cranmer is a saint for the world - a Reformation genius yes, but clearly a man of immense human sympathy accompanied by his sensible state of sinfulness, weakness and frailty, who strove to facilitate maturity in Christian faith, consolation and obedience, deeply aware of life's dangers, doubts and defeats.

Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. Third Collect, for aid against all perils, Evening Prayer, ['This night" is principally a reference to our life in the darkness of this world].

The English Reformers were gripped by solid biblical principles in their pursuit of a purified national church well equipped to proclaim the way of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone (see The Theology of the English Reformers, P. E. Hughes). Their primary concern was for the eternal welfare of the populace whose care had been entrusted to them. They were diligent in their scholarship, preaching and pastoral labors. But they benefitted massively in the aid they received from Continental brethren, both through literature and close personal relationships in key aspects of ministry and religious education, and through their timely advice and edifying encouragement. A number of the advocates of foreign Reform were summoned to England to provide the native pastorate with local access to eminent visitors whose vital resources of personal godliness, academic ability, and trustworthy guidance would be enriching, especially men of the caliber of Martin Bucer invited to teach at the University of Cambridge and Peter Martyr Vermigli (Ver-mee-lee - more conveniently referred to as Martyr, as long as he is not confused with a certain 15th C predecessor) appointed to instruct students at Oxford. These men in particular became close and trusted friends to Cranmer. Their rare insight and input are of immense value to the enduring effectiveness and authenticity of the Anglican Communion, if only their contributions were to be currently recognized and fully appreciated for all of their true value to the cause of Christ even, and especially, in the depleted Christian adherence to divine revelation in our time.

Eminent and enthusiastic advocates of Scriptural reform from several nations counseled the bishops, scholars and clergy of England through correspondence, their circulated publications and their spoken personal comment while residing temporarily in the country. The Church of England became an ecumenical achievement through the collaboration of various strands of Reformational thought enunciated from a variety of national backgrounds and cultures. In actuality Anglicanism is a beautiful blend of different emphases and nuances in its confessional divinity as donated by several seminal figures, who not only submitted their own maturing theological views to the discussion, but who also drew from the pre-existing wealth of an Augustinianism prevalent in the past history of the people of God, thus restoring this inherited cache of Christian wisdom to renewed attention. Certainly, England had its own rich heritage to plunder (see part one), but it also derived reinforcement for its grace-filled message and teaching from the treasure troves of Germany France, Italy, Switzerland, and other supportive regions.

The major maestros of Reformational thought each played a role in fashioning the fundamental convictions of the Church of England which were not in any way cramped by off-shore isolation from the Continent that was teeming with inquiring ideas, cultural inventiveness, and intellectual re-evaluation of accepted knowledge and understanding. The faith of the English Church reflected the finest theological insight of the wider Christian world. There was no lagging behind, but rather versatile adaptation of the most sagacious kind to the pastoral wellbeing of the population.

MARTIN LUTHER was the premier "outside instigator" of reform throughout the Henrican era in England. Henry VIII opposed him bitterly, as did Cranmer in the early phase of his ministry. The writings of Luther, smuggled into the docks of the country, were the principal source of literary support to the evangelical cause during the reign of Henry, although not as prevalent among the public as they were in France and Germany, and for a time the thought of Luther prevailed in the minds of many who earnestly longed for Scriptural transformation in the life of the Ecclesia Anglicana. Such noble representatives of gospel orientated change as William Barnes and John Frith can be accurately identified as genuinely Lutheran and they eventually paid the price of martyrdom. Luther's most prominent English ally in promotion of the gospel was William Tyndale, a Reformer too soon on the scene to be labeled with the much later term "Anglican". Thomas Cranmer passed through a Lutheran stage of comprehension as to the nature of the Lord's Supper, moving thereafter to an interpretation of the ordinance along the lines of Zwingli and ultimately to the position of Jean Calvin.

Theologically, the Archbishop echoed many of Luther's phrases in the composition of the Articles, and the Saxon Reformer also left his imprint in the Litany of 1544 which drew partially from Luther's Litany of 1529. Interestingly, in the suffrage on behalf of the church's ministry "That it may please thee to illuminate all bishops, priests, and deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy Word; and that both by their preaching and living they may set it forth, and show it accordingly" Crammer, following Luther, designated the ministerial offices as bishops, pastors and ministers. Likewise, the Anglican Catechism followed, to some extent the design and content of Luther's Catechism.

Luther undoubtedly had a significant role in the earlier stages of the English Reformation, and some would opine that the Anglican Church still retains a strong Lutheran character, but in fact the Church in England readily moved into the international brotherhood of the Reformed family of faith so evident in its Articles of Religion and liturgical mood.

The enchanting factor concerning Luther and his influence upon the Church of England lies in his theological leaning disseminated in his soteriological emphases on grace. While the theory cannot be proven conclusively that a triumvirate of Augustinian monks, comprising Gregory of Rimini, Johan Staupitz, and Martin Luther represent a firm, continuous and unbroken school of thought in Catholicism, there is no doubt that Luther shared the same strand of predestinarian thought as his distinguished predecessors. In Luther, Gregory and Staupitz still address us, for he hands on to us the legacy of these notable men.

"Later, while preparing for his 1519 Leipzig Debate against a Catholic opponent, Luther happily referred to Gregory of Rimini (d1358) and called him 'Augustine's one true disciple among the medieval scholastic theologians: It is certain that the so-called Modern Theologians in this point of grace and free will, agree with Scotists and Thomists except for one whom all condemn, Gregory of Rimini . . . . Also these theologians made it absolutely and convincingly clear that they are worse than Pelagians' (Heiko Oberman). Luther took comfort that Gregory was on his side in holding to God's sovereign predestination of hapless, dead sinners. Furthermore, Even during the early days of his theological development, Luther was not alone in his commitment to Augustine's notion of grace. His own dear friend Johann von Staupitz (d1524) -- a fellow Augustinian monk and Luther's superior -- emphasized the themes of 'provenience of grace, the bondage of the will, and predestination.' Luther remarked, 'I received everything from Dr Staupitz'" (Oberman, quoted by Shawn Wright, Professor The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in an article entitled Calvinists Before Calvin, Desiring God, 10:15:2019).

MARTIN BUCER was one of the eminent Continental advisors that superseded the prominence of Luther in English ecclesiastical affairs. The Strasbourg Reformer exerted Europe-wide influence as an envoy of accurate biblical exposition and theology, decent and effective church order, and irenic communication between Protestant groups themselves, and between Protestants and Catholics. As a first-generation Reformer he recognized Luther favorably and sought, unsuccessfully, accord with his fellow-German on the matter of the nature of the eucharist. Bucer was theological guide to Jean Calvin and especially on the subject of predestination which Bucer subscribed unhesitatingly, but with caution in its sensitive handling among the congregation of Christ.

As noted, Martin Bucer was summoned to service in England by Archbishop Cranmer as regius professor of theology at Cambridge and in his capacity as Christian scholar and friend of Cranmer he assisted in the revision of the BCP 1549 and the composition of the 1550 Ordinal. It is legitimate, surely, to think of a happy collaboration between these two men of mild and co-operative temperament and similar theological conviction. Anglicanism owes a debt of gratitude to the masterly contribution to its identity from Martin Bucer, a titan of the era.

JOHANN BULLINGER from his base in Zurich, and as successor to Zwingli's leadership status in that city, was almost the preferred Reformer among the generality of the English clergy. The dissemination of his sermons (The Decades) won a wide readership throughout the country and his authorship of the Second Helvetic Confession enhanced his reputation for reliable Reformed thought and teaching. Bullinger's moderate predestination-ism moved closer to Calvin as time and debate progressed, but always remained along the line of single predestination. Being a refugee to Zurich during a period of trial in his early life, Bullinger gained an affectionate following among English Reformers and Christian believers who resorted to Zurich during the Marian persecutions.

JOHN CALVIN was highly regarded in England. David Starkey reports that during the reign of Elizabeth all the young turks among the clergy flocked to his doctrinal position. In due course Thomas Cranmer's son published the first version of The Institutes in the English language. Cranmer himself was a warm correspondent with the sage of Geneva and with the exception of Mary's Archbishop of Canterbury, Reginald Pole (who did believe in justification by faith), all Cranmer's successors, namely Parker, Grindal, Whitgift Bancroft and Abbot were uniformly Calvinistic by persuasion until the advent of Arminian William Laud. It is often overlooked or ignored that Richard Hooker was very complimentary toward Calvin and endorsed his advocacy of predestination, not unusual for one spiritually descended from Peter Martyr through His immediate mentor and supporter John Jewel.

PETER MARTYR VERMIGLI. A theologian and Christian thinker equal to Calvin and deserving of equal respect, fulfilled a vital role in the development of the Reformed Church of England. A Florentine monk of the Augustinian Order, and highly regarded by Roman officialdom with glowing prospects before him, Martyr providentially emerged from a strong brotherly bond with the Catholic evangelical John de Valdes and also the reform minded fellowship of the Italian spirituali, elite disciples of Luther, Bucer and Calvin, including among them Vittoria Colonna, distinguished poet, Cardinal Contarini, of similar experience and faith to Luther, Cardinal Reginald Pole, at one point one vote shy of papal office, and the great artistic genius Michelangelo. These and more members of the aristocracy earnestly upheld the doctrines of effective grace and justification by faith alone. It was their distance from the common man and their devotion to the institutional church that prevented the breakthrough and success of the Reformation in Italy.

However, Peter Martyr became a devoted adherent to and preacher of the teachings of the Reformation, and under threat of persecution fled from Italy, for the sake of his future ministry, to Switzerland, eventually becoming a colleague of Martin Bucer at Strasbourg. Cranmer's attention was drawn to Martyr and he extended to him the proposal to minister in England and accept the invitation to be installed as regius professor of theology at Oxford University. As a consequence, before assuming his professorial role, Martyr spent a considerable period living in the Archbishop's home and forging a strong and amicable relationship. This led to close doctrinal agreement evident in the Articles of Religion and to Martyr's participation in Cranmer's liturgical emphases and the formation of his views on Holy Communion. In his views on divine grace and more particularly election in Christ, Martyr was exactly aligned with the Augustinian theology of Gregory of Rimini, and Cranmer was an eager associate in this conviction.

Peter Martyr remains a stalwart contributor to the Augustinian character of constitutional Anglicanism, reaching back to the great doctors of the medieval period, that earlier and theologically energetic age, through Gregory of Rimini, and no doubt also Ratramnus (who influenced Ridley on the Lord's Supper), and then further beyond to the best ideas of the Fathers, and ultimately the pure and original gospel of the apostles. He is, through his living legacy in learning and liturgical wisdom, a steady hand on the rudder of the good ship Ecclesia Anglicana. John Calvin summed up Peter Martyr Vermigli thus: "The miracle from Italy!"

Luther, Bucer, Bullinger, Calvin, Martyr and many other great figures of Continental Protestantism had a hand in the framing of Anglicanism. There was a marvelous unity in loyalty to Scripture as the very Word of God, agreement that Augustinianism was the operative or functional tradition closest to the Bible, and sovereign grace the backbone of the proclamation of the salvation of the Lord. Anglicanism is Calvinistic, and predestination, carefully considered and pastorally presented according to Article 17, and evangelism of such persons as John Bradford, James Ussher, George Whitefield, Augustus Toplady, William Romaine, Henry Law, J.C. Ryle, J.I. Packer, and a whole host of Classic Anglicans over several generations, has perpetuated the strong and arresting message of the undiluted Word of God.

If it is to recover and endure, Anglicanism must once again assimilate a powerful Augustinianism into its system, and a strong doctrine of predestination will need to underlie and buttress its "full-orbed" unveiling of the Word of God.

To read Part One connect here: https://virtueonline.org/pedigree-reformational-anglicanism

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