The Reformation in England was a Religious Revolution

Introduction

In a 2009 article published in U.S. Catholic, a magazine printed by a community of Roman Catholic priests called Claretian Missionaries, Bryan Cones wrote, “The major churches of the Reformation… split from Rome in the 16thcentury largely over theological differences… The Church of England, however, at least in the first place, separated from Rome largely because of a dispute regarding the validity of [Henry VIII’s] marriage to Catherine of Aragon.”[1] With this statement, Cones represents a common view among many people today that the Church of England (or Anglicanism[2]) is not quite as fundamentally Protestant as the other ecclesiological traditions that find their origin in the Reformation of the sixteenth century. For example, Candice Gage, writing for The North American Anglican, explained her experience with modern Anglicanism, saying, “For me, the journey into Anglicanism is like a trek backward in Reformation history, taking my own small steps away from… Protestantism.”[3] Gage speaks of the Church of England as though it were neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic and of her experience with Anglicanism as a via media (or middle way) between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.[4]

T. H. L. Parker notes the prominence of the view – that the English Reformation was substantially distinct from the Protestant developments elsewhere in Europe – in the opening pages of his book English Reformers. Parker writes, “[Was] Sir Maurice Powicke right to put it so baldly: ‘The one definite thing which can be said about the Reformation is England is that it was an act of State.’ Or Prof. Owen Chadwick: ‘The English Reformation was emphatically a political revolution.’”[5] Parker argues the negative, that the Reformation in England was affected by much more than the mere wearer of the crown. In fact, he says that the Protestant convictions and practices embraced by the Church of England went farther than at least one queen wished, demonstrating that religious belief among the English clergy and laity was (at least in some instances) more influential than the dictates of the monarch. 

This essay will argue that the Reformation in England was centrally focused on exactly the same fundamental theological and practical conviction as was shared by all the reformers across Europe, that Scripture alone is the word of God. Specifically, we will concentrate on a handful of English reformers and primarily those who lived during the sixteenth century in order to demonstrate that they believed in the supremacy and the necessity of Scripture in the life of the church. Though preaching the Bible was not entirely an invention of the Protestant Reformation, this brief treatise will aim to show that the Reformation in England was fundamentally religious since its emphasis on the authority and the necessity of the Scriptures in the life of the church transcends (both chronologically and philosophically) the political changes.

Describing the scene prior to the Reformation, Scott Manetsch wrote, “it would be inaccurate to conclude that Christian preaching was unknown in Catholic Europe… before the Reformation. In fact, scholars have shown that a virtual homiletic revolution occurred in Western Europe in the thirteenth century…”[6] However, Manetsch added, “for the most part, [sermons were] absent from the day-to-day ministry of the Catholic Parish… As a general rule, preaching on the eve of the Reformation was occasional and performed by mendicants and other specialists – not by parish clergy.”[7] Such was the case just before the Reformation, but by the mid-sixteenth century an English reformer named John Hooper did not hesitate to name “the pure preaching of the gospel” as one of the “two marks” of “the true church.”[8] In other words, preaching – especially that which clearly articulated and explained the gospel of Jesus Christ – had become fundamental, not only as the pastoral responsibility but to the essence of the church itself. 

Indeed, in 1547, when Edward VI became king of England at only nine years of age, reformers like Thomas Cranmer began to implement a Protestant pastoral theology throughout England by publishing a textbook for church liturgy, prayer, and teaching. As one modern historian, Michael Reeves, put it, “for those getting ordained [to the pastoral office], there was a new expectation: now it was clear that becoming a minister [in England] was not about being a priest who offers sacrifices… but primarily about preaching… instead of being invested with priestly clothes, [new ministers] were given a Bible.”[9]

We will aim to show that preaching and teaching the text of the Bible was recovered among the English reformers as the fundamental pastoral responsibility because of their belief that Scripture alone is the word of God.[10] And we will demonstrate that this Protestant conviction and practice was present among the English before and during the Reformation period by highlighting the views and practices of several Englishmen. John Wyclif was an English forerunner of the Reformation, having come and gone during the fourteenth century, but he affirms the same emphasis as later Protestants. Wyclif insisted upon the supreme authority of Scripture as well as the central pastoral duty to preach and teach the Bible. Sixteenth-century English reformers in focus below are William Tyndale, Hugh Latimer, John Hooper, John Jewel, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer. 

These men all show a unified vision of pastoral ministry that centers on preaching and teaching the Scriptures as the supreme word of God. Through their writing and by their own examples, these English reformers taught and promoted a pastoral theology that resisted innovation and the outward display of stimulating ceremony. Instead, they aimed to cultivate and to model pastoral faithfulness in the form of reading, explaining, and applying God’s word. In this fundamental conviction and practice, these reformers show us a Reformation in England that is keeping with the broader European Reformation. There certainly were peculiarities in the way the Reformation took shape in England, but all Protestants (whether they be in England or on the continent, ruled by monarch or by emperor) shared a central belief that the Scriptures alone are the word of God.

The English Reformers

John Wyclif (1328-1384)

John Wyclif is often called the Morning Star of the Protestant Reformation because during the fourteenth century he was already promoting and emphasizing the formal dispute which became the beachhead of protest during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. More than four generations before Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the chapel door in Wittenberg, Wyclif had already made it his mission to lift the Scriptures above all earthly authorities. Luther, in his own lifetime, readily accepted the label “Wycliffite” as a derogatory term for his rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation on the grounds that it was not to be found in the biblical text.[11]

It is inevitable, then, that we should begin our survey of English reformers with a look at Wyclif. Not only was Wyclif the first notable Englishman to argue for the authority of the Scriptures above that of any pope or council, but he was also devoted to making the Scriptures available in the language of the English-speaking world. Furthermore, Wyclif’s supreme value of Scripture directly connects to his Bible-centered view of the pastoral ministry. Unequivocally, Wyclif believed that the most important duty of the pastor was the preaching or teaching of Scripture. He wrote, “Preaching the gospel exceeds Prayer and Administration of the sacraments, to an infinite degree… [and] Spreading the gospel has far wider and more evident benefit; it is thus the most precious activity of the Church.”[12]

Indeed, Wyclif thought that each pastor had two basic responsibilities: first, attending to his own character and, second, attending to the task of teaching or preaching. Wyclif said, “There are two things which pertain to the status of pastor: the holiness of the pastor and the wholesomeness of his teaching.”[13] And this was not an isolated comment from Wyclif. He elaborated, “The first condition of the pastor is to cleanse his own spring, that it may not infect the Word of God.”[14] It was fundamental to the pastor’s role that he prevent hindrance to or distraction from his teaching by aiming for personal holiness. Wyclif went on, “as for the second condition… the pastor has a threefold office: first, to feed his sheep spiritually on the Word of God… second… to purge wisely the sheep of disease, that they may not infect themselves and others as well… [and] third… the pastor [must] defend his sheep from ravening wolves, both sensible and insensible.”[15] For Wyclif, these three tasks were all part of the chief duty of “sewing the Word of God among his sheep.”[16]

As was already noted, Wyclif’s view of the pastoral ministry sprang from his understanding of the authority and power of the Scriptures themselves. What is also noteworthy about Wyclif’s pastoral theology was his emphasis on divine judgment at the last day, when “Christ will require a reckoning from them [i.e., pastors] in the day of judgment, of how they have exercised in this ministry the power which he gave them.”[17] Wyclif reasoned, “Since it is necessary that he[i.e., the pastor] answer for the sheep entrusted to him, it is therefore also necessary that he personally feed them.”[18]And that which the under-shepherd should feed the sheep is the food which the Master prepared for them in the form of His word.

The importance of Wyclif’s views on the Scriptures and of the pastoral duty, as briefly summarized here, cannot be overstated with regard to this essay. While some historians and many popular opinions today assume that the Reformation in England was primarily or even totally a political revolution, the continuity of Wyclif’s doctrine and practice among the Church of England shows that government may have been the mere vehicle for the religiousrevolution that was already in motion. In other words, if Wyclif’s doctrine of the Scriptures and his emphasis on the pastoral responsibility of preaching the Bible are echoed in the writings and practices of English reformers nearly 200 years later, then one can hardly argue that the English Reformation was a trifling consequence of a monarchial tangent. 

William Tyndale (c. 1490-1536)

Like Wyclif, William Tyndale also made it his mission to translate the Scriptures from foreign tongues to that of the common man. Unlike Wyclif, Tyndale worked with the original languages of Greek and Hebrew, rather than the Latin text, to draw out his translation to English. Both of these men highly prized the text of Scripture itself, and they both wanted to make it accessible to as many people as possible. It is not surprising, then, to see the same emphases and themes in Tyndale that we observe in Wyclif.

First, Tyndale believed that the word of God is the “light” and “power” by which God “createth [his elect] and shapeth them after the similitude, likeness, and very fashion of Christ.”[19] For Tyndale, the biblical text is the “sustenance, comfort, and strength to courage them, that they may stand fast, and endure.”[20]  Therefore, wrote Tyndale, “are they faithful servants of Christ, and faithful ministers and dispensers of his doctrine, and true-hearted toward their brethren, which have given themselves up into the hand of God… and have translated the scripture purely and with good conscience.”[21] According to Tyndale, a faithful translation of Scripture is the best service any minister might give for his fellow Christians, because it is through the words of the Bible that Christians are shaped into the image of Christ and preserved along the pilgrim path.

Second, Tyndale believed that Christians would be “taught… all truth” by the “Spirit of Christ” through the ministry of faithful pastors.[22] Indeed, Tyndale wrote in his commentary on the epistle of First John, “we have all one master now in heaven, which only teacheth us with his Spirit.”[23] His point was to say that no “master upon earth” could contradict or overtake the seat of authority, which is God’s alone, in teaching believers.[24] But this did not mean that Tyndale wanted Christians to eschew all preachers or pastors. On the contrary, Tyndale said that it was God alone who “teacheth us with his Spirit, though by the administration and office of a faithful preacher.”[25] Such a preacher would prove himself faithful in pastoral office by “sowing the word” and “committing the growing to God.”[26]

Like Wyclif before him, Tyndale was declared a heretic by both the religious and political authorities of his day. Wyclif was condemned posthumously at the Council of Constance in 1415, and thirteen years later his bones were exhumed and burned. In Tyndale’s case, he suffered a heretic’s death at the hands of an executioner. But, quite notably, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536 by order of Henry VIII for promoting fundamentally Protestant ideas, such as the accessibility of the Scriptures in the common tongue. This was two years after the Act of Supremacy that made Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Such a historical fact creates a real difficulty for those who argue that the Reformation in England was largely political. It seems that even politically Protestant English monarchs sometimes tried to thwart the religious developments of the Reformation in England. But it was the religious developments, and not the political ones, that marked the Reformation in England as genuinely Protestant.

Because of the political swings in England, however, Protestant reformers could find themselves promoted one day and then executed the next. During Tyndale’s lifetime, some reforms in England were already well underway, and there was a consistent pastoral theology based upon the authority and necessity of the Scriptures expressed by the English Protestants who came after him. Again and again, whether in advance or retreat, English reformers believed and taught that faithful Christian pastors preach and teach the Bible. And this was especially obvious when Protestants were able to implement their pastoral training and programs across England, as we will see exemplified by Hugh Latimer.

Hugh Latimer (1487-1555)

Hugh Latimer was serving as the bishop of Worcester when he was slated to speak to the convocation of English clergy on June 9, 1537, about a year after the martyrdom of William Tyndale. Latimer centered his sermon upon the biblical text of Luke 16:1-2. This itself is evidence of the high value he placed on biblical exposition since he demonstrated the practice of Bible-based preaching which he called those clergy in front of him to perform in their own office. And yet, the substance of Latimer’s sermon that day gives even more evidence of his view of the fundamental responsibility of pastoral preaching and teaching. 

Applying the biblical parable about a dishonest steward, Latimer told the young ministers that they were to work as stewards in Christ’s household. “These words of Christ do pertain unto us,” he said, “and admonish us of our duty.”[27]Such a duty of pastoral ministry, according to Latimer, is to “feed with his [i.e., Christ’s] word and his sacraments… with all diligence… the church [which] is his household.”[28] Then, quoting the Apostle Paul, Latimer said, “Let men esteem us as the ministers of Christ, and dispensers of God’s mysteries.”[29] And faithfulness is that which is “to be looked for in a dispenser,” that “he truly dispense, and lay out the goods of the Lord.”[30] Of course “goods,” in Latimer’s analogy here, is referring to the words or mysteries which God Himself has revealed in the form of the written text of Scripture.

Throughout the short sermon, Latimer repeatedly called the newly minted ministers to faithfulness in making use of the “money” of the Master which has been entrusted to them. The valuable investment in Latimer’s mind is, naturally, the Scriptures themselves. The ministers are not to “come” with “new money,” but they are to “take it ready coined of the good man [i.e., the Master] of the house.”[31] They are not to “despise the money of the Lord” either by “adulterating the word of God” or by “blowing out the dreams of men” in the “stead of God’s word.”[32] In short, faithful pastors invest the Scriptures as the only valid currency of the realm, making good deposits in the citizens of the kingdom.

According to Latimer, the fundamental responsibility for pastors is the faithful preaching and teaching of the Scriptures, because the pastoral office and even the institution of the church itself depends upon faithful stewards dealing rightly with the Master’s resources. Latimer’s perspective here is quite valuable to the present essay, because it not only shows his own pastoral theology but also that which was perpetuated and common among the clergy of all England under the tutelage of reformers like Hugh Latimer. Wyclif and Tyndale may have both been political criminals in England, but their religious convictions, especially those regarding the authority and necessity of Scripture, lived on in the English reformers that succeeded them.

John Hooper (1495-1555)

The “sometime bishop of Gloucester,”[33] John Hooper is credited with writing A Brief and Clear Confession of the Christian Faith.[34] This text presents a thoroughly Protestant view of the church and of the Scriptures. Sharing the same convictions as many others, Hooper names “three principle signs”[35] or “marks by which we may know” that a church is truly Christ’s.[36] These, he said, are “the word, the sacraments, and discipline.”[37] Specifically, Hooper described “the word” as that “which was revealed by the Holy Ghost unto the holy Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles of Jesus Christ; the which word is contained within the canonical books of the Old and New Testament.”[38] Therefore, according to Hooper, the biblical text is fundamental to the existence of a true church. 

In that same confession of faith, Hooper went on to describe the chief authority of the Scriptures in the life of the church. He said, “I believe, that the same word of God is of a far greater authority than the church; the which word only doth sufficiently shew and teach us all those things, that in any wise concern our salvation; both what we ought to do, and what to leave undone.”[39] Clearly, Hooper believed that the Scriptures were both sufficient and supremely authoritative, and he also believed that these are the basis of all teaching for salvation and living. Good or faithful ministers, asserted Hooper, are those men who teach “faithful people” to “govern and order their lives” according to God’s word “without changing any thing thereof, without putting to it, or taking from it.”[40] We may hear echos here of Latimer’s idea of stewardship. Like Latimer, Hooper understood the fundamental pastoral responsibility to be the teaching and preaching of nothing more or less than the canonical books of the Bible. Whatever one might say about the political developments in England, Hooper’s Confession was a summary of thoroughly Protestant doctrine as embraced by the reformers in England. 

Hooper also wrote A Declaracion of Christe and his offyce, published in 1547, in which he articulated the uniqueness of Christ as priest to the universal church. In this book, he not only excludes Rome’s priests from such an office, he also explains that Christ continues to rule and mediate in His churches through the Scriptures. Hooper wrote, “This knowledge of Christ’s supremity and continual presence in the church admitteth no lieutenant nor general vicar. Likewise,” he said, “it admitteth not the decrees and laws of men, brought into the church contrary unto the word and scripture of God, which is only sufficient to teach all verity and truth for the salvation of man…”[41] With such a statement, Hooper not only denied that any priest of Rome may stand in Christ’s place, he also affirmed that faithful ministers must teach nothing other than or contrary to Scripture. 

According to Hooper, “Nothing can be desired necessary for men, but in this law [specifically referring here to the New Testament] it is prescribed. Of what degree, vocation, or calling soever he be, his duty is showed unto him in the scripture.”[42] Furthermore, he wrote, “It is the office of a good man [i.e., faithful pastor] to teach the church… only by the word of Christ… The church must therefore be bound to none other authority than onto the voice of the gospel and unto the ministry thereof…”[43] Thus, the ministry and voice of pastors ought to do nothing but recite and explain the Scriptures. Such an affirmation certainly has political implications, but it is fundamentally religious and definitional of Protestant theology. 

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, was a major contributor to the Protestant advancement in England during the sixteenth century. His influence and manifold writings are hard to quantify, and it is beyond the ability of the present author to summarize Cranmer’s complicated leadership among the English reformers. However, his Book of Common Prayer, in its two editions (1549 and 1552), is probably one of the most influential writings of all contemporaneous Protestants in England. Cranmer published this text to create a uniformity of biblical instruction and leadership among all English churches. His goal that was achieved, even if one might dispute just how biblical were all the book’s contents.

In the preface to the 1549 edition, Cranmer wrote of the benefits of the regular and systematic reading of Scripture among the gathered church. He said, “the whole Bible… should be read over once in the yeare, intendyng thereby, that the Cleargie, and specially suche as were Ministers of the congregacion, should… be stirred up to godliness themselfes, and be more able also to exhorte other by wholsome doctrine.”[44] Cranmer also set down the standard that all “curates shal nede none other bookes for their publique service, but this boke,” referring to his prayer book, “and the Bible.”[45]Cranmer’s standard text was designed to ensure that every church would have ministers lead them by reading through the Scriptures and by praying according to biblical doctrines and instructions. 

The preface and explanation of the use of Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer is sufficient to demonstrate his view of the importance of Scripture in the life of the church, but it does not necessarily show what Cranmer believed was the fundamental pastoral duty. For that, we may turn to his prayers. For ministers, Cranmer intended the churches to pray “That it maye please [God] to illuminate all Bishops, pastours, and ministers of the churche, with true knowledge and understanding of [God’s] word, and that bothe by theyr preaching and living, they maye set it foorth and shewe it accordyngly.”[46] So too, Cranmer repeatedly placed within his standard text the opportunity for “the minister” to “make” an “exhortacion” or give his “sermon or homely” upon the words” of the Scripture passage read aloud.[47] Often, the written prompt is followed by a sermon or homely manuscript that a minister could read aloud and deliver as his own.

It is true that Cranmer depended upon the authority of political leaders to implement his program and the use of his Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, was himself in an office of great political authority and influence. However, for Cranmer, as with other magisterial reformers, government was the means by which he achieved his end, which was a religious reform and not merely a political one.

Nicholas Ridley (c. 1500-1555)

Nicholas Ridley was the Bishop of London. He, like John Hooper, Hugh Latimer, and Thomas Cranmer, experienced the advance of Protestantism and then a comprehensive setback under the reign of Mary. A faithful Christian witness during good times and bad, Ridley continued the ministry and teaching he had started, even in the face of fatal hostility. While Mary was the queen of England, she outlawed all Protestant reforms, and Ridley wrote A Pituous Lamentation of the Miserable Estate of the Church in England. Published during better times for Protestants, under the authorization of queen Elizabeth (r. 1558-1603), Ridley’s lament gives us considerable insight into the pastoral theology he held and to his view of the importance of the Scriptures. It also provides an emphatic focus on the religious state of England during a time when the English politics were unstable.

Ridley wrote of blessings of God during previous years when he said, “Of late all that were endued with the light and grace of understanding of God’s holy mysteries, did bless God, which had brought them out of that horrible blindness and ignorance.”[48] “But now, alas!” he said. “England has returned again like a dog to her own vomit and spewing, and is in a worse case than ever she was.”[49] Ridley’s lament and assessment was due to his perceived absence of the faithful preaching of Scripture, not his desire for one government or another. 

Ridley was glad for the previous time when “all ministers that were admitted to the public office and ministry of God’s holy word, in their admission made a solemn profession before the congregation, that they should teach the people nothing… but that which is God’s own holy word.”[50] According to Ridley, the ministers of England were not only fundamentally responsible to preach and teach the Scriptures, they were admitted to the office by swearing to do just that before the congregation they aimed to serve. Furthermore, Ridley exhibits a profoundly Protestant longing for religious practices that center upon Scripture, and his lament is far less about the people or systems of government than it is about the function of the pastoral office within the local church.

In a record of Ridley’s examination before “the Queen’s Commissioners” on September 13, 1555, Ridley disputed with John White, Bishop of Lincoln and representative of “blessed see of Rome” under the authority of queen Mary.[51]After John of Lincoln urged Ridley to return to the church of Rome with apparent sincerity, Ridley responded. He said that the “bishops in the see of Rome” for a “long” time “were great maintainers and setters forth of Christ’s glory” by preaching “the true gospel” and “duly ministering” the sacraments.[52] Indeed, he said that he “cannot nor dare but commend, reverence, and honour the see of Rome, as long as it continued in the promotion and setting forth of God’s glory, and in the due preaching of the gospel, as it did many years after Christ.”[53]

But, said Ridley, the “Romish church” had become a “novelty,” and Ridley preferred “the antiquity of the primitive church,” which continued to be “spread throughout all the world… where Christ’s sacraments are duly ministered [and] his gospel truly preached and followed.”[54] Thus, we observe that even upon the threat of martyrdom, Ridley maintained that the essence of a true church was found in biblical preaching and in the biblical administration of the sacraments, which are both to be administered by faithful pastors. This exchange shows how Ridley understood the ministry of pastors or ministers by contrasting what he perceived to be faithful bishops in earlier centuries with those he perceived to be damnable ones in the present.[55] Faithful bishops or ministers or pastors preach the biblical gospel, according to Ridley, and unfaithful ministers do not.

Ridley was condemned to death under the reign of queen Mary in England because of his unwillingness to embrace the doctrines and practices of the Roman Church. His religious convictions had real political consequences, and the political changes in England that he experienced certainly affected the religious landscape. However, yet again, we may note that Ridley was echoing those notable Protestant convictions that Tyndale had articulated before him. Wyclif too, as a forerunner to the Reformation in England, had emphasized the authority and necessity of the Scriptures. Thus, the political swings seem to be secondary to the religious revolution underway during Ridley’s life.

John Jewel (1522-1571) 

John Jewel was the bishop of Salisbury, and he wrote An Apologie of the church of England (published in 1560 or 1561) to clearly articulate the position of the church of England after an extraordinary swing back-and-forth between Protestantism and Romanism under the rules of competing monarchs. While the political crown may have passed from Edward VI to Jane and then to Mary, the fundamental Protestant convictions of English reformers did not move in the slightest. Jewel argued in his Apologie that only qualified men ought to serve as ministers in the church, “lawfully, duly, and orderly” called by God to be “an interpreter of the Scriptures.”[56] By “lawfully,” Jewel means according to the qualifications set down in the Bible, namely 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:6-9. And the task which these qualified men were to set themselves to doing was that of interpreting or explaining the Scriptures. Like Wyclif, Tyndale, and Latimer before him, Jewel was arguing for a Protestant practice based on religious convictions about the authority and the necessity of God’s word.

Jewel went on to write that ministers have the power “to bind, to loose, to open, [and] to shut” by authorization of the pastoral office, and the doing of all of this is by “preaching of the gospel the merits of Christ.”[57] This is a reference to a common Protestant understanding of the “use of the keys,”[58] by which Jewel understood that ministers “teach” and “publish” the “Gospel.”[59] Jewel said, “seeing then the key, whereby the way and entry to the Kingdom of God is opened unto us, is the word of the Gospel and the expounding of the law and Scriptures, we say plainly, where the same word is not, there is not the key.”[60] Indeed, this, says Jewel, “is but one only power of all ministers.”[61]

Such a view is thoroughly Protestant since the Roman Catholic authority to bind and loose rests in the claim of apostolic authority in the office of the pope. Note also that Jewel’s assertion is that there is a transcendent “Kingdom,” which supersedes that of any earthly one, and that heavenly kingdom is regulated by the Scriptures. Like other reformers who lived in various realms on the European continent, Jewel was not merely interested in a political revolution. He was articulating a religious conviction that focused upon the Scriptures as the word of God, which commanded an authority above any earthly crown.

Conclusion

John Wyclif and the English reformers who followed him all exemplify the Protestant emphasis upon the Scriptures, which most notably manifests itself in the life and function of the local church. Those who lead in the church are ministers or elders or pastors, and their fundamental responsibility, as far as these English reformers were concerned, was to preach and teach the Bible. With unmistakable consistency, all of these men asserted the same essential pastoral duty, based upon the shared conviction that the Scriptures are the word of God and supremely authoritative and necessary in the lives of Christians. In the fourteenth century, John Wyclif had already recovered this focus, and the English reformers who came generations later continued to assert and embody the same. Thus, the Reformation in England was markedly a religious revolution, not merely a political one. 

While politics certainly played a major role in the Protestant Reformation among the English, government was more the apparatus for change and not the substance of it. One may distinguish between those geographical and national occasions through which Protestants worked to affect the religious changes they implemented, but the argument that such distinctions were fundamental or substantial differences seems unfounded. The English Reformation was clearly a transformation of the religious convictions and practices of the people in the English-speaking world. It is precisely this reality that makes it unsurprising that the Reformation in England had a distinct style and political flavor from the Reformation elsewhere in Europe.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cones, Brian. “How Similar Are Catholics and Anglicans?” U.S. Catholic (blog), December 9, 2009.

Cummings, Brian, ed. The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662. Kindle. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011.

D’aubigne, J. H. Merle. History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Logos Research. Vol. 5. 5 vols. Glasgow: Williams Collins, Publisher & Queen’s Printer London: R. Groombridge & Sons, 1862.

Gage, Candice. “Why Do Anglicans Become Roman Catholic?: A Response by an Evangelical Expat.” The North American Anglican (blog), May 11, 2020.

Hanson, B. L. “Tyndale, William.” In The Essential Lexham Dictionary of Church History, edited by Michael Haykin. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2022.

Hooper, John, and Jean Garnier. A Brief and Clear Confession of the Christian Faith, Containing an Hundred Articles, According to the Order of the Apostles’ Creed. Kindle. Miami, FL: Hardpress, 2017.

Latimer, Hugh. Sermons by Hugh Latimer. Edited by George Elwes Corrie. The Parker Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844.

Oberman, Heiko Augustinus. Forerunners of the Reformation: The Shape of Late Medieval Thought. First Fortress Press Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1981.

Ozment, Steven. The Age of Reform 1250-1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe. New Edition. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2020.

Parker, T. H. L., ed. English Reformers. The Library of Christian Classics. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006.

Pollard, Albert Frederick. Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation (1489-1556). Logos Research. New York; London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1906.

Reeves, Michael. The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010.

Ridley, Nicholas. The Works of Nicholas Ridley, D.D. Edited by Henry Christmas. Logos Research Edition. Cambridge: University Press, 1843.

Russell, William R., and Timothy F. Lull, eds. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. 3rd Edition. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2012.

Spinka, Matthew. Advocates of Reform: From Wyclif to Erasmus. The Library of Christian Classics. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1953.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016.

Turner, M. H. “Why Is Anglicanism a Gateway to Catholicism?” Mere Orthodoxy (blog), April 28, 2020.


Endnotes

[1] Brian Cones, “How Similar Are Catholics and Anglicans?,” U.S. Catholic (blog), December 9, 2009.

[2] The term Anglican Church literally refers to the English Church, but the Anglican Communion is a denomination established in 1867 during the Lambeth Conference. While the Church of England has experienced modern developments, not the least of which is a shift in its common moniker, throughout this paper the terms Anglican Church and Anglicanism will refer synonymously to the Church of England, which was formally established by an Act of Supremacy by Henry VIII in 1534. 

[3] Candice Gage, “Why Do Anglicans Become Roman Catholic?: A Response by an Evangelical Expat,” The North American Anglican(blog), May 11, 2020.

[4] Gage writes imprecisely in her article about what she refers to as “Evangelicalism,” “Protestantism,” “Anglicanism,” and “Roman Catholicism.” She does seem to distinguish between Evangelicalism and Protestantism, but it is not at all clear what specific differences she perceives between them. Most confusingly of all, she says that Anglicanism has in some sense “been welcomed into Roman Catholicism,” and she writes of “‘Protestant’ Anglicans,” as though there is such a thing as Anglicans who are not Protestant. All of her words taken in sum seem to point to the via media perspective.

[5] T. H. L. Parker, ed., English Reformers, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006). xvi.

[6] Scott M. Manetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). 147.

[7] Ibid. 147.

[8] T. H. L. Parker, ed., English Reformers, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006). 215.

[9] Michael Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2010). 134-135.

[10] It is beyond the scope of this essay to prove that preaching and teaching Scripture was a central or even fundamental pastoral responsibility at an earlier time in Christian history, but it is the present author’s perspective, nonetheless. It may be noted, however, that one can hardly read much of John Calvin or Martin Luther without seeing citations of preaching which centered upon the exposition of Scripture from the likes of John Chrysostom or Irenaeus of Lyons. And the sixteenth-century English reformers certainly understood themselves to have recovered the primitive doctrine and practice of Christianity, as is demonstrated in this essay by a portion of Nicholas Ridley’s exchange with his Roman inquisitor. Therefore, it seems appropriate to use the word “recovered” here.

[11] Martin Luther, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. William R. Russell and Timothy F. Lull, 3rd Edition (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2012). 206.

[12] Matthew Spinka, Advocates of Reform: From Wyclif to Erasmus, The Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1953). 49.

[13] Ibid. 32.

[14] Ibid. 48.

[15] Ibid. 48.

[16] Ibid. 48.

[17] Ibid. 60.

[18] Ibid. 56.

[19] T. H. L. Parker, ed., English Reformers, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006). 105.

[20] Ibid. 105.

[21] Ibid. 105.

[22] Ibid. 119.

[23] Ibid. 119.

[24] Ibid. 119.

[25] Ibid. 119.

[26] Ibid. 119.

[27] Hugh Latimer, Sermons by Hugh Latimer, ed. George Elwes Corrie, The Parker Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844). 34.

[28] Ibid. 35.

[29] Ibid. 35.

[30] Ibid. 35.

[31] Ibid. 36.

[32] Ibid. 36.

[33] John Hooper and Jean Garnier, A Brief and Clear Confession of the Christian Faith, Containing an Hundred Articles, According to the Order of the Apostles’ Creed, Kindle (Miami, FL: Hardpress, 2017). i.

[34] There is some debate about John Hooper’s original authorship of this confession. It is argued that he merely translated it from Jean Garnier’s French confession. It is not within the scope of this essay to address the matter of genuine authorship. Even if the text is not original with Hooper, it was still published in England at least as early as 1584 by the “Printer to the Queen’s most excellent Majesty” in London. This is the version cited throughout this essay. T. H. L. Parker asserts that Hooper was indeed the author in 1550. At any rate, the text is reflective of the theology held among Protestants in England during the middle and late sixteenth century, including their pastoral theology. T. H. L. Parker, ed., English Reformers, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006). 188.

[35] This numeration of three marks or signs of a true church is the same as John Calvin’s view, but both Calvin and Hooper were aligned with other reformers who named only two marks. Those who limited the number to two perceived that the right administration of the sacraments or ordinances necessarily included church discipline; therefore, they did not exclude Hooper’s or Calvin’s third mark, but only counted it under the heading of the second. As a matter of fact, Hooper himself once named only the two marks in at least one of his earlier writings cited in the introduction of this essay.

[36] John Hooper and Jean Garnier, A Brief and Clear Confession of the Christian Faith, Containing an Hundred Articles, According to the Order of the Apostles’ Creed, Kindle (Miami, FL: Hardpress, 2017). 24.

[37] Ibid. 24. 

[38] Ibid. 24-25.

[39] Ibid. 25.

[40] Ibid. 25.

[41] T. H. L. Parker, ed., English Reformers, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006). 197.

[42] Ibid. 197.

[43] Ibid. 198.

[44] Brian Cummings, ed., The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662, Kindle (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2011). 4.

[45] Ibid. 5.

[46] Ibid. 42.

[47] Ibid. 22, 54, 127, 142, etc.

[48] Nicholas Ridley, The Works of Nicholas Ridley, D.D., ed. Henry Christmas, Logos Research Edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1843). 51.

[49] Ibid. 51.

[50] Ibid. 52.

[51] Ibid. 253-255.

[52] Ibid. 262.

[53] Ibid. 262.

[54] Ibid. 267.

[55] The use of the word “damnable” here is due to Ridley’s frequent ascription of the term “Antichrist” to the bishop of Rome and those priests and bishops who participated in the Roman church of his day. Nicholas Ridley, The Works of Nicholas Ridley, D.D., ed. Henry Christmas, Logos Research Edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1843). 263, 287-289.

[56] T. H. L. Parker, ed., English Reformers, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006). 23.

[57] Ibid. 23.

[58] There is no shortage of controversy regarding the correct interpretation of Matthew 16:13-20 and 18:15-20. Protestants did not agree with the Roman Church of their day, which argued that Peter received “the keys” in some personal sense, wherein those who literally became his successors would continue to bear some special authority or privilege among the people of Christ in the world. Rather, at least some of the reformers (as exemplified in this essay by Jewel) believed that it was the substance of the message Peter believed and the announcement of blessing (i.e., forgiveness of sins), which Peter heard from Christ, that constituted the substance of “the keys.” Therefore, the preaching of the gospel and the dispensation of the sacraments, in their minds, are “the keys.”

[59] T. H. L. Parker, ed., English Reformers, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006). 24.

[60] Ibid. 24.

[61] Ibid. 24.

Author: marcminter

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

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