Continuity and Change
One major purpose of the Virtual St Paul’s Cathedral Project is to make the liturgies authorized by the Elizabethan Settlement of Religion (1559) available to us as experiences that unfold in real time in one of the spaces in which they were fully implemented. The religious life of early modern England was far more a faith to be practiced than it was a body of doctrine to be affirmed. The early modern Church of England, given birth in the reforms initiated under Edward VI in the 1550’s, given final form in the Elizabethan Settlement of 1559, and reaffirmed under James I in 1604, incorporated basic concerns of the European Reformation while giving them its own particular formulation and practice; at the same time it preserved and continued far more of the customs and practices of the Medieval Church than it is often given credit for. So our goal with this Project is to make this “odd work of Grace” as one of its Bishops once characterized it accessible in practice in its distinctive form and substance.
Heiko Obermann, in his ground-breaking The Harvest of Medieval Theology, The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Harvard, 1963 argues that what we call the Reformation was the result of a search for a more convincing answer to the question, “What must we do to be saved?” that medieval theology was able to provide. Obermann claims that, at heart, late medieval theology’s answer to that question was, “A loving God will not withhold His favor from one who does his best.” Which, of course, potentially leaves one, not with a sense of security, but with yet another question, “How does one know that one has done one’s best?”
In Obermann’s interpretation, this lack of security led the medieval Church to multiply the possible things that one could do to convince oneself that one has done one’s best. These might be to go on a pilgrimage, or buy an indulgence, or endow a chantry priest to say Mass for the repose of one’s soul. All of these were, in addition, of course, to the more direct approach of loving God and loving one neighbor as oneself. The Reformation, then, is — in addition to its objections to the commercialization of grace represented by the sale of indulgences — about finding new ways of providing assurance of salvation. The post-Reformation Church of England provided one kind of an answer — that assurance came through participation in the public worship of the Church, as enabled by the worship services scripted by the Book of Common Prayer and led by clergy ordained by bishops of the Church, clergy who, according to the Prayer Book had been given “power and commandment . . . to declare and pronounce to [God’s] people . . . the absolution and remission of their sins.”
The English Reformation is generally regarded by historians as part of the Reformed — as opposed to the Lutheran — tradition of religious reform. One reason for this is that Thomas Cranmer, the architect of the English Reforamtion, was in personal communication with Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr Vermigli, both of whom were living in England and serving as Regis Professors of Divinity at Oxford and Cambridge early in the reign of Edward VI.
Yet, even though there was widespread support for the Elizabethan Settlement of Religion (1559) among Reformers, both those who remained in England under Mary and those who took refuge abroad in Geneva and other cities,See Angela Ransom, “The Marian Exile and Religious Self-identity: Rethinking the Origins of Elizabethan Puritanism” Perichoresis (2015), pp. 1-24, their younger followers would soon take the Reformed tradition in directions that proved divisive.One tendency among historians is, anachronistically, to conflate the later Reformed movement’s emphasis on predestination and its objection to the Book of Common Prayer into the positions of … Continue reading Their increasingly energetic urge to purity over inclusiveness, to individual soul-searching over the corporate faith of the Church — a trend that continues to this day — demonstrates the difficulty the Reformers found in constructing a satisfactory, and enduring, answer to Obermann’s second question.
As a result, much of the discussion about the post-Reformation Church of England is framed by the question of what kind of church it was, or was intended to be, or would have become, if Edward VI had lived longer, or if Queen Elizabeth I had not intervened, or if William Laud had never become Archbishop of Canterbury. This pursuit of the “real” Church of England, and concomitant visions of what that “real” Church of England would have looked like have a way of structuring our readings of the past and of the people who inhabited it. In the case of John Donne, for example, in my career as a scholar of early modern English literature, we have had the Catholic Donne, the Protestant Donne, the Calvinist Donne, and the anti-Calvinist Donne, as well as the apostate Donne, the devout Donne, and the opportunistic Donne, not to mention all the other Donnes that shifting interpretive frameworks have enabled us to consider. For a helpful review of the history of recent scholarship on the English Reformation and a commentary on the ways in which scholars from particular backgrounds bring their own agendas to the study of … Continue reading
The simplest version of the framework is, of course, the dichotomy “Catholic vs Protestant.” But that dichotomy is troubled by changing definitions of what constitutes the meaning of these terms. If the definition of the term “Protestant” is simply that it means anyone or any group that rejects the authority of the Bishop of Rome, then the Church of England was Protestant from the Act of Supremacy of 1534 and remains so today. This would be the case even if the Church of England had remained a church that worshipped in Latin, maintained the monastic system, and perpetuated a celibate priesthood. So, historians who argue, as did Tessa Watt, that for a time the Church of England had only “a patchwork of beliefs,” and by 1600 was still “distinctively … Continue reading
One complicating factor in the development of the Church of England’s identity is, of course, the period of Mary’s reign from 1553 until Mary’s death in 1558, when the authority of the Bishop of Rome was acknowledged once more. Yet one can also argue that that the “Catholic” status of the Church of England in this period does not mean that it once again became identical to the medieval Church of England. Some of the changes wrought by the Henrican and Edwardian reigns — the abolition of the monastic system, for example — could not be undone. Nor was the Catholic Church to which Mary returned the Church of England itself unchanged by the Reformation. After all, by the beginning of her reign the Council of Trent had completed two of its three sessions.
Framers of a reformed Church of England faced a challenge unique among European nations. Unlike the German dukedoms or the Swiss city-states, the English needed to create a national church, a Church for millions rather than thousands, so, as Lucy Wooding has put it, the English Reformers sought “historical sanction and continuity” in their “need to fashion a form of Elizabethan Protestantism that was not just a protest movement but a framework for a state church.” Lucy Wooding, “John Jewel and the Invention of the Church of England,” in Defending the Faith : John Jewel and the Elizabethan Church, ed. Angela Ranson, Andre Gazal, and Sarah Bastow … Continue reading Hence their consistent appeal not only to scripture but to the Patristic Age as well. As a result, the early English Reformers would claim that their Church was not simply a better alternative to Roman Catholicism but in fact the true Catholic Church, in continuity with the Church of the Apostles and the Fathers, while Rome was the AntiChrist. Or, as Edmund Spenser imagined it, Ecclesia Anglicana was the offspring of St George (his Red Cross Knight) and Una (the Truth), under the gracious shepherding and protection of Elizabeth I, Gloriana, the Faerie Queene.
The Elizabethan Settlement of Religion in 1559, of course, reinstated the basic elements of the Edwardian Reformation, with slight variations, chief among them being the following: Erasmus’ Paraphrases was dropped, the Words of Administration in the Communion Service combined sentences from both the 1549 and the 1552 Prayer Books, the Forty-Two Articles were condensed into Thirty-Nine Articles, and a second Book of Homilies was added to the first. This means that everyone in England from the time of the Act of Supremacy was Protestant by default, so that claims that England had a “Long Reformation,” or that much of England remained Catholic long after 1534 reflect either the lumping of a wide variety of ways of being Protestant into a single meaning that obscures differences or that artificial lines of distinction between “Protestant” and “Catholic” identities are being created ex post facto and applied retroactively in ways that often obscure rather than clarify what was actually happening in early modern England. The character of any complex living organization changes over time, and so did the Church of England. To speak of there being a “Long Reformation” suggests that one has a specific idea of what a “reformed” Church of England would be like, in terms of which the Church of England was not reformed until it fit that definition.
So we are far better if we approach the history of the post-Reformation Church of England with attention to what did happen, in terms of an unfolding process, honoring some aspects of Medieval tradition while rejecting others, influenced by continental developments, but still best understood on its own terms rather than forced to fit into the categories of other religious and theological traditions. We especially need to avoid assuming that the post-Reformation Church of England is defined by one or another of the sides taken up in the various theological debates that took place among some of its leaders and some of their followers. Instead, we need to look to its official documents and the corporate religious life they enabled, and to its defenders against its opponents.
So what does a Protestant Church of England mean? The conventional story of the Reformation has it beginning in Luther’s Germany, then spread across Europe, developing new centers of Protestant thought in Zurich, Geneva, and other European cities. The European Reformation began as a protest against features of the medieval Church, hence “Protestant” and “Protestantism” became names for those who protested and the movement they created in protest. Soon, however, Protestant groups found it necessary to move from reaction to affirmation, by beginning to formulate systems of belief and forms of practice to define themselves as stand-alone religious traditions, in contrast both to the medieval Catholic church and to other developing Protestant groups.
Luther’s original formulations of a Protestant theology offered his interpretations of belief on issues at the heart of his concerns with the Medieval church. This set of issues — including justification by faith, the authority of scripture over tradition, the priesthood of all believers, worship and scripture reading in the vernacular, and the number and meaning of the sacraments — established an agenda for a growing number of theologians. So Luther and his followers’ response to the question of “What must we do to be saved” was based on a doctrinal premise — that we are not justified by our works but by our faith, that the heart of Christianity is found in Paul’s claim in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Yet it quickly became apparent that the more one relied on interpretations of scripture to order the common life of Christians, the more diverse those interpretations became. Luther challenged the Medieval Church on the issue of sale of indulgences in 1517; by 1524, Zwingli and his followers were in conflict with Luther and his followers over differing interpretations of what constituted the faith that justifies, of the role of good works, and especially of the meaning of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. By the 1530s, John Calvin’s distinctive interpretations of these issues had found its own set of devotees, all within a scant 20 years from Luther’s original challenge to the Medieval Church. So the spirit of reaction and re-formation seems to have been built into Protestantism from the beginning, leading to an increased fragmentation of Protestant identity, with the number of Protestant denominations, even now, seemingly increasing by the day.
St Paul’s Cathedral, the South Transept. From the Visual Model, rendered by Austin Corriher.
One way of thinking about these developments is to return to Obermann’s point about the Reformation itself being about dissatisfaction with the Medieval Church’s answer — or collection of answers — to the question of what must one do to be saved. If we are saved by faith, through grace, and if the Medieval doctrine of the sacraments as conduits of grace is undermined as part of the effort to distance the new Protestant churches from the consequences of the Medieval Church’s belief in transubstantiation, then the progressive reliance of the Reformers on the doctrine of predestination — for Luther, God’s predestination of the elect is important; for Calvin, it is essential; for Calvin’s followers like Theodore Beza, it becomes overwhelmingly central to the understanding of Christian teaching — can be seen as a sign of the difficulty they, too, faced in arrving at an enduringly powerful and broadly acceptable answer to this question. Timothy Rosendale explores well the paradoxes and complexities of Protestant individualism in his discussion of assurance considered outside the ongoing life of the Christian community. On the one … Continue reading
Ironically, in the evolving Reformed tradition, the clustering of Protestant groups around individual theological voices, the multiplication of Protestant theological traditions, and the collapse of traditional forms of Christian worship into the defining Protestant act of preaching recreated in the Puritan Minister the authority of the Medieval priesthood. The Catholic priest was a man set apart because he could work the miracle of transforming bread and wine into the literal Body and Blood of Christ; the Protestant preacher was a man set apart because he could, with his words, work the miracle of evoking the experience of conversion in the hearts of his listeners. In both cases, the ordained minister was the central actor, performing the role of the Man of God before a passive congregational serving as his audience.
One further sign of this reinvention of the clergy caste is the way in which proposed Puritan alternatives to the Book of Commmon Prayer reduced the role of the laity in public worship. All the various liturgies in the Book of Common Prayer include the active participation of all members of the congregation, whether this be through call-and-response interchanges (“The Lord be with you./And with thy Spirit”) or corporate recitations of prayers, confessions, canticles, and so forth. Puritan alternatives drastically reduced these interchanges or collaborative recitations; the essential passivity of the congregation was once more reaffirmed.
As we will see, in Cranmer’s liturgical scripting all members of the community have their roles and their voices. This is especially visible in Cranmer’s recasting of the rite of Holy Communion,where the celebrating priest is not the unique holy man, but the coordinator and enabler of the liturgy, the “work of the people.” He is not the only active person in the service, nor are his congregation merely the passive observers of his actions. All participate, their different roles uniting in the one corporate action. On this subject, see Griffiths, Bibliography, p. 8.
The answer to the question of how we know if we are saved that was provided by Cranmer and his colleagues was, of course, that assurance comes through participation in the corporate, public life of the Church as enabled by the hierarchy of the ordained ministry and use of the Book of Common Prayer. The individual believer is fulfilled in the faith through participation in this life of corporate worship. To use the words of Peter White, the theology of the Church of England was “neither oppressed by a doctrine of total depravity nor so obsessed with the dangers of Pelagianism that it is afraid to admit the co-operation of the will with grace.” Peter White, Predestination, policy, polemic: Conflict and consensus in the English Church from the Reformation to the Civil War (Cambridge, 1992), p. 85.
Justification comes by faith through grace; while God is free to bestow grace by other means, grace comes through the sacraments, through participation in Baptism and Holy Communion, in living the Christian life, including, tangibly, learning the texts they needed to participate in corporate worship (especially the Creeds, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer); when they know them, and the contents of the Catechism, they will be confirmed by their Bishop; they will be taught the activities of Christian living and inspired to do so through preaching; they will learn to express their faith through the “fruits of faith,” of good works of love and charity toward their neighbors; they will discover through participation in Holy Communion that they are the “mystical” Body of Christ, the “blessed company of all faithful people”; they will be married and have their children baptised in Church; they will be ministered to in their illnesses by their local vicar; they will die “in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life.”
Hence, the best definition of the theology at the heart of English religious life coordinated by the Book of Common Prayer is that it was a pragmatic universalism.For a discussion of Richard Hooker’s “hypothetical universalism,” see Michael J. Lynch. “Richard Hooker and the Development of English Hypothetical Universalism.” … Continue reading For the Church of England, faced with the challenge of sustaining a truly national church and the opportunity, through reforming the body politic, of creating a true godly kingdom, the full doctrine of predestination — that God not only predestines the Elect but also the Damned — was inherently divisive. The signs of its divisiveness are evident in the host of theological controversies it spawned, all of which heightened the energy around the subject, and the repeated efforts of Elizabeth and James to restrain public inquiry into its endless complexities.For a thorough retracing of the history of predestintion in the 16th and 17th centuries, see Peter White, Predestination, Policy, and Polemic: Conflict and consensus in the English Church from the … Continue reading)The career of John Cotton, the early 17th century priest who was the vicar of St Botolph’s Church in Boston, England, and a devoted student of Calvin and Beza, provides a useful example. During his tenure as vicar of St Botolph’s, Cotton lived out his beliefs by organizing a parish of the elect within St Botolph’s, much to the distress of his other parishioners, and of his Bishop. Cotton, of course, eventually left England to join the Puritan colony in Boston, Massachusetts, where the challenges of reconciling conflicting individual interpretations of reformed Christianity in the absence of an overarching vision of comunity and a structure for the adjudication of differences led to continued fragmentation of the Body of Christ. And so it goes; as of last count by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are now over 41,000 Christian denominations.
Corporate Unity versus Individual Destiny
In Germany and Northern Europe, reasons for the break with Rome were primarily theological, however much their social and political contexts influenced the ways in which the course of the Reformation played out. In England, however, the specific catalyst for the Reformation was pragmatic. England’s break with Rome was provoked by Henry VIII’s reaction to the Papacy’s refusal to grant him an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Initially, of course, Henry had responded negatively to Luther’s break with Rome; in the early 1520’s, his 1521 anti-Lutheran pamphlet Assertio Septem Sacramentorum or Defence of the Seven Sacraments earned him the title of title “Fide Defenso,” or “Defender of the Faith” from Pope Leo X. Beginning in the late 1520’s, however, Henry sought a papal dispensation so he could divorce Catherine and marry again to provide security for the Tudor dynasty by provision of a male line of succession.
By the early 1530’s, however, when Pope Clement VII refused to grant Henry’s request, the King chose the route of rejection of papal authority as a way to reach his personal and political goals of marriage to Anne Boleyn. This led to a series of legislative acts, most notably the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament in 1534, which officially severed the relationship between the Church of England and the Papacy by rejecting Papal authority over religious affairs in England and declaring Henry to be the Supreme Head of the Church of England.
After a brief return to acceptance of papal authority during the reign of Queen Mary (1553 – 1558), the Church of England’s separation from Rome was reaffirmed by the Elizabethan Settlement of Religion (1559). Thus, the Church of England was, from its beginnings, a national church. That is, with the monarch as its Supreme Head (under Henry VIII and Edward VI) or Supreme Governor (under Elizabeth and all subsequent English monarchs) and with the English Parliament as the governing body whose acts separated it from Rome and established it as the national church, the Church of England encompassed the entire population of the English nation. As such, it was mandated by Crown and Parliament to consider that membership in the Church included everyone born in the country.
England’s version of post-Reformation Christianity would therefore be of necessity a very different kind of Church than that found in Zurich or Geneva, or even in Scotland, where Calvin’s distinctive form of Protestantism would thrive both theologically and in terms of church organization. In the 1530’s, the population of Geneva was just over 20,000, while the population of England was over 3,000,000. The scale of territory, the size of the population, and the inevitable range of religious experience that would be required to bring meaning to such a diverse population, dictated that the transformation of a nation, rather than a regional dukedom as in Luther’s Germany or a city-state as in Switzerland or other parts of Europe, into a state church would pose a significant challenge.
Thomas Cranmer, Henry’s Archbishop of Canterbury and chief architect of the post-Reformation Church of England, was influenced in his theological development by Luther, whose Germany he visited in 1532, then by Philip Melancthon, Martin Bucer, and Peter Martyr Vermigli (in the 1540’s, Bucer and Vermigli both lived in England, Bucer serving as the Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge and Vermigli serving as Regus Professor of Divinity at Oxford). Yet Cranmer’s program for the transformation of England from a nation Protestant only in its rejection of papal authority and its abolition of the monastic system into a nation Protestant in that it created a fully-articulated national church that would transform its Catholic predecessor would turn out to be a program that was pragmatic rather than dogmatic, liturgical rather than improvisational, and sacramental rather than rhetorical.
The recently-documented existence of transnational Anglo-Hellenic networks in place from the early 1520’s, visible in the English Reformers’ use of Greek texts from the Patristic Age and their contact with contemporary Greek visitors to England Anastasia Stylianou, “The “Greek Church” and the English Reformation,” a paper delivered at the Remapping British Protestant Thought in the Long Reformation Conference … Continue reading help us understand the models of non-Roman Church organization and identity available to Cranmer and his supporters. Like Orthodoxy, the Church of England turned out to be a Church grounded in scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers, episcopal in polity yet independent of the Papacy, and identified as English both in language and in national identity.
While some historians lament the absence of a spokesperson for the reformed Church of England recognizable on the model of Luther or Calvin, the reality is that the major body of theological writing for the reformed Church of England existed, hiding in plain sight, because it took the form of scripts for worship rather than elaborate formulations of belief. As David Griffiths has recently put it — arguing that the Church of England has always had “its own distinctive ethos” —
The liturgical genius of Thomas Cranmer ensured that its ethos found its best expression in the prayer-book: for a written liturgy can express the mind of a church more subtly and flexibly, and hence more permanently, than any set of dictrinal formulations. David Griffiths, The Bibliography of the Book of Common Prayer 1549 – 1999 (British Library, 2002), p. 5.
Cranmer’s program of reform, rolled out during the reign of Edward VI, defined the emerging Church of England as foregrounding the gathered community of the nation, parish by parish, diocese by diocese, province by province, and the corporate life of faith which its basic documents made possible. This universality of membership was reflected in the national legal system by such features as the requirement that every child born in the country be presented for baptism in the local parish church within 4 days of its birth and that everyone in the country was required to attend worship services in one’s parish church every Sunday and Holy Day, and receive Communion there at least 3 times a year, and always at Easter. One must surely recognize as Catholic those Englishfolk who refused to accept compliance with the Edwardian vision of Church and the Elizabethan Settlement which reaffirmed it and who paid the price … Continue reading
Cranmer produced two editions of the Book of Common Prayer during the reign of Edward VI. Each of these books was introduced into the worship life of the Church of England on auspicious days. The first Prayer Book was formally put into use on Whitsunday (the Feast of Pentecost) in 1549; the second was introduced on an equally auspicious day, the Feast of All Saints (All Hallows Day) in 1552.
The first of these days was clearly chosen with care by Thomas Cranmer, because it enabled him to locate this transformation of worship in the English Church in the context of biblical precedent. By choosing Whitsunday, the Feast of Pentecost, as the day to inaugurate use of the Book of Common Prayer in wide public worship, Cranmer was able to stage the event as a repetition of the first Pentecost.
On that day in 1549, as congregations whose clergy had acquired a copy of the newly-printed Prayer Book took part in the service of Holy Communion, they heard as the Epistle for the Day the account from Acts about how – fifty days after Easter — when Jesus’ followers were “all with one accord together in one place . . . they were all fylled with the holy goost, and beganne to speake with other tonges, euen as the same [spirit] gaue them vtteraunce. . . . . . When thys was noysed aboute, the multitude came together, & were astonnyed, because that euery man hearde them speake with his awne langage.From Acts 2, in the Great Bible translation.
As this happened in Jerusalem, fifty days after the first Easter, so, there, in the England of 1549, it was happening again, also fifty days after Easter, but now in cathedrals and churches across the land. So, on that day in June, the Reformers could say that what is happening was a renewal of the work of the Holy Spirit, a reconnection of the Church of England in 1549 with the church of Jesus’ early followers.
The second of Cranmer’s Prayer Books was officially put into use on All Saints’ Day in 1552. If the first of Cranmer’s Prayer Books was chiefly about transforming public worship into the “language understanded of the people,” the second one was chiefly about performing the liturgical enactment of the gathered community at worship as the Body of Christ on earth. Or, as Cranmer’s Collect for All Saints’ Day puts it,
Almighty God, which hast knit together thy elect in one Communion and fellowship, in the mysticall body of thy Sonne Christ our Lord: grant us grace so to follow thy holy Saints in all vertuous and godly living, that wee may come in those unspeakable joyes, which thou hast prepared form that unfainedly love thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fortunately, we have an account of the introduction of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer in St Paul’s Cathedral:
Item on [Alhallows] day began the boke of the new series of bred and wyne in Powlles, with alle London, and the byshoppe [Nicholas Ridley] dyd the servis hym-selfe, and prechyd in the qwere at the mornynge servis, and dyd it in a rochet and nothynge elles on hym. And the dene with alle the resydew of the prebentes went but in their surples and lefte of their abbet [hoods] of the universtye; and the byshope prechyd at after-none at Powlles crosse, and stode there tyll it was nere honde v. a cloke, and the mayer nor aldermen came not with-in Powlles church nor the craffted as they were wonte to doo, for be-cause they were soo wary of hys stondynge.
Item after Allhollanday was no more communyon in no place but on the sondayes.From the Chronicle of the Grey Friars, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/camden-record-soc/vol53/pp53-78.
In his discussion of Anglican spirituality, Harvey Guthrie got the Church of England about right when he said that, from the beginning, it was neither about adhering to a particular theological formulation of the faith, like Catholics or Lutherans or early Calvinists, or about demanding a personal experience of conversion or a private conviction of one’s election, like the Calvin’s followers in the Reformed tradition. Instead, it was a pragmatic tradition, a tradition that was corporate, liturgical, and sacramental, in which people are identified as members by being baptised, by taking part in the liturgical life of the corporate body, by participating in the celebration of Holy Communion, by observing the Church’s feasts, fasts, and ordinances, by shaping their lives by the rhythms of confession, absolution, communion, ever more seeking to live in love and charity with their neighbors, as “very members incorporate in [Christ’s] mystical body which is the blessed company of all faithful people.” Harvey Guthrie, “Anglican Spirituality: An Ethos,” in William J. Wolf, ed. Anglican Spirituality (Morehouse, 1982), pp. 1-16.
St Paul’s Cathedral, the East Front. From the Visual Model, rendered by Austin Corriher.
Englishfolk who, whatever their own personal beliefs or understandings might be, were asked to comply with the terms of the Elizabethan Settlement in weekly church attendance, in being married by their parish priest, having their children baptized, and receiving the bread and wine of Holy Communion at least 3 times a year. Although, as Arnold Hunt has documented, the habit of non-communication was difficult to break for some; in fact, the general expectation that when one attended church services one would receive the … Continue reading Their corporate life was enabled by use of texts every parish church was required to purchase and to use — the Book of Common Prayer (1549/1552; 1559; 1604) and the Great Bible (1539); their understanding of the reformed faith was enlightened through use of the sermons in the Book of Homilies (Book One, 1547; Book Two, 1563 ) and the Articles of Religion (42 in 1553, 39 in 1571). At the beginning, the official perspective on scripture came not from Luther or one of the other continental reformers, but from Erasmus, whose Paraphrases on the Gospels and Acts was also one of the original “Great Books” of the Edwardian Reformation. For more on this Reformation by printed books, see the essays in The Godly Kingdom: Great Books of the English Reformation, ed. John Booty, John N. Wall, and David Siegenthaler (Morehouse, 1981.
Corporate, Liturgical, Sacramental
The genius of Cranmer’s reform program was in its combination of a common worship life with freedom to interpret the meaning of its language and practices for oneself. Queen Elizabeth I is reported to have said, “I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.” So the response of the reforming Church of England to the question about one’s confidence about one’s relationship with God comes not through an individual’s ascent to a distinctive doctrinal formulation or to an individual’s conversion from unbeliever to believer (captured nicely some centuries later in John Wesley’s description of feeling his “heart strangely warmed” when someone spoke to him of “the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ”), but in a life-long immersion in the life of a community formed by corporate worship using the Book of Common Prayer. The rites of the Prayer Book created for ordinary parishioners provided, in the words of David Bagchi, “a daily and weekly framework of comfort and assurance.” As their lives were shaped and informed by participation in the community of worship scripted by the Prayer Book rites, they were constantly being affirmed, informed, and supported in their Christian journey.
Cranmer’s Prayer Book and its ancillary documents from Edward’s reign use the language of the continental Reformers, but reinterpret them as components of the gathered community’s life of faith. While the Articles of Religion affirm that “we have no power to do good works . . . without the grace of God,” we are assured by the Book of Common Prayer that at baptism we receive God’s grace, so that we are “regenerate . . . with thy Holy Spirit, [received] as [God’s] own child by adoption,” and incorporated into “thy holy congregation,” so that, according to Article XXVII of the Thirty-Nine Articles, “the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.”
The Articles also affirm that we are justified by faith and not by works; the Book of Common Prayer enables parishioners to reaffirm their faith, daily, over and over, using the historic Creeds of the Church. The Articles affirm human sinfulness; the Book of Common Prayer provides opportunities at Morning and Evening Prayer and at Holy Communion for the congregation to confess its sins, corporately, and to be absolved of them. The Book of Homilies asserts that while we are justified by faith and not works, the faith that justifies us is a “true and lively faith” that reveals itself in good works, in the actions of a life, as the Prayer Book puts it, of “love and charity with our neighbors . . . walkinig from henceforth in [God’s] holy ways.” So, we are advised that we are to look to our works, look to how we participate in the social world around us, rather than following the Puritans deeper and deeper into our individual selves.
The goal of corporate worship according to the Book of Common Prayer is ever deeper engagement with leading a Christian life, as described in the Communion Service’s invitation to reception:
You that do truly and ernestly repente you of youre sinnes, and be in love, and charite with your neighbors and entende to lede a newe lyfe, folowing the commaundementes of God, and walkynge from hence furthe in his holy waies: Draw nere and take this holy Sacrament to your comforte, make your humble confession to almighty God, before this congregation here gathered together in his holye name, mekely knelynge upon your knees.
An ongoing process of repentance and absolution, together with living charitably in community, and receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion brings one comfort, identity, and purpose, because, through one’s participation in the the Communion one is assured that God shows “favor and goodness toward us,” that we are linked in this action with the faithful who have gone before, who are with us now, and with those who are yet to come, all “very members incorporate in thy mystical body, which is the blessed company of all faithful people,” and threfore “heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom.” The most telling change that Cranmer made in the service of Holy Communion in the 1552 Prayer Book was to locate the congregation’s reception of the bread and wine of Communion immediately after the priest’s recitation of Jesus’ Words of Institution, right after the congregation hears Jesus say, through the voice of the Celebrant, that “This is my Body,” “This is my Blood”; Do this in remembrance of me.”
Here, the language of presence that so troubled the post-Reformation Churches is clarified; the meaning of the words “presence of Christ in the Holy Communion” comes from the experience of the congregation’s participating in the action of Jesus, to take the bread, to bless it, to break it, and to offer it to his disciples. In the Medieval Mass, Christ was physically present, after consecration, in the bread and wine of the Mass, apart from the congregation; in Cranmer’s Holy Communion Christ is present in the congregation’s action with the bread and wine, as the risen Body of Christ is recognized in the bread and wine as it is consumed by the Body of Christ, the gathered congregation. Cranmer’s Holy Communion locates the worshipping community in time and in Christ, as the community recollects and gives thanks for how God has acted, especially in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, celebrates both the community and the Christ who unites the separate individuals into one church, and looks forward to the anticipation of the future consummation of history and the eternal reign of the Messiah.
Cranmer’s theology of the Holy Communion perhaps came from his study of St Augustine’s works, notably Augustine’s Sermon 272, in which Augustine tells his congregation, “[Y]ou, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true! But what role does the bread play? We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this sacrament: “The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body.” [1 Cor. 10.17] Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. “One bread,” he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the “one body,” formed from many? Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were “ground.” When you were baptized, you were “leavened.” When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were “baked.” Be what you see; receive what you are.”))
So, unlike Medieval Catholicism, which organized its public worship around the celebration of the Mass, with its offering of the sacrifice of Christ to God the Father with the goal of changing God’s mind about humanity, Cranmer’s Holy Communion was about reassembling the Church as Christ’s earthly Body, about changing the congregation’s mind about God, and about furthering the Church’s role in Christ’s work of reconciliation through the Church’s work in the world.
Even the Doctrine of Predestination (a topic very much in the air in the early 1500s and after) takes its meaning in relationship to the building up of the congregation as the Body of Christ. We are told, in Article XVII of the Thirty-Nine Articles, that the positive side of the Doctrine of Predestination is “full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort’ to those who “walk religiously in good works” because “it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God.” On the other hand, the negative side of the Doctrine of Predestination is to be avoided because “to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.” In this reading, the concept of Predestination, instead of simply the occasional use of a term in popular usage to support and encourage the faithful, is perhaps best put in the language of Peter Baro, “that God truly and without limit called all people to repentance, faith, and salvation. Consequently, God had predestined those whom he eternally foresaw would have faith in Christ while rejecting those who were foreknown to persist in sin. Thus no necessity was imposed on human wills. Election was eternal and immutable, but it was also conditional, the effect of divinely foreseen freely made human choices.”  Quoted from Daniel Eppley, “Richard Hooker on the Un-conditionality of Predestination,” in Richard Hooker and the English Reformation, ed. W. J. Torrance Kirby (Springer, 2003), pp. 63-77
In other words, the overall health of the body politic as the Body of Christ provides the norm from which to evaluate and embrace or reject matters of doctrine or belief. This approach to defining the goals of a program of religious reform resulted in a collection of resources that enabled the corporate practice of the Christian faith as the hallmark of the English Reformation. The “Great Books” of the English Reformation provide resources for worship that intersect at the time of worship; the Book of Common Prayer provides the scripts for a process of public worship that then incorporates into the public performance of the Prayer Book Rites the structure of readings from the Great Bible and the model sermons from the Book of Homilies. These services incorporate the historic creeds of the Early Church, providing continuity between the worship life of the Church of England and the period of Christian history which the English Church understood to be normative. The Articles of Religion provide basic guidance about the terms of Clergy ordained by use of the Church of England’s Ordinal ensure that these worship services are conducted “decently and in good order.”
Post-Elizabethan Settlement Primers and Guides to the Church’s Catechism reinforce the centrality of public worship. As Harrison tells us, “In the afternoon likewise we meet again, and, after the psalms and lessons ended, we have commonly a sermon, or at the leastwise our youth catechised by the space of an hour.” So Christian education is located in the parish church, and conducted as an adjunct to evening Divine Service. The Primer of 1553 provides individuals and families with rites simplied from but essentially based on the Prayer Book’s Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer; as David Siegenthaler puts it, in the Primers, private devotion derives from “the corporate devotion of the whole church: . . . private prayer derives from corporate prayer and . . . the forms and concerns of private prayer and the forms and concerns of public prayer.” The official Catechisms of John Ponet, Bishop of Winchester (first published 1553) and Alexander Nowell, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral (first published in 1570), are both based on the official Catechism of the Church of England; they both, in Siegenthaler’s words, promote the belief that personal morality and private sinfulness are to be seen primarily in the context of the their impact on the godly commonwealth, a subsuming of “individual godliness in an aggregate godliness.” 
This emphasis on the value of building up corporate unity had been present from the beginning of the Edwardian program of reform. In the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer of 1549, Archbishop Cranmer asserted its value when he declared that one purpose of this Book was the unity of the nation in prayer: “heretofore, there hath been great diversitie in saying and synging in churches within this realme: . . . Now from hencefurth, all the whole realme shall have but one use.” To the end that all may participate in “one use,” Cranmer declares that “all thynges shalbe readde and song in the Church, in the Englishe tongue, to the ende that the congregacion may bee thereby edifyed.” To this generation of English Reformers, the concept of “election” did not refer to an individual’s relationship to the eternal decrees of God, but, on the model of election provided by the Old Testament, to England as God’s elect nation. At the coronation of Edward VI, Cranmer heralded Edward as the “new Josias,” who would restore England to God’s favor through his reformation of the body politic.
Clearly, therefore, Cranmer’s goal in the creation of the Book of Common Prayer was not to do what Kenneth Stevenson has described as “embod[ing] a liturgy that put Reformation teaching into praying words.”“Worship by the Book,” in Charles Hefling and Cynthia Shattuck, eds, The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey (Oxford, 2006), pp. 9 – 20. Instead, his goal was to create a liturgical structure that enabled the Church of England to be a truly national church, a pragmatic church, in which people are identified as members by being baptised, by taking part in the liturgical life of the corporate body, bringing the private dimensions of their lives into the life of the worshipping corporate community, living in love and charity with their neighbors, and dying “in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life.” In other words, the prayers of the Church come first, so that “as we pray, so do we believe, and as we believe, so do we live'” (or, in the Latin, “lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi”). Hence, the pastoral demands of a national church came first, not slavish allegiance to abstract theological formularies. This is where Hannah Cleugh gets things wrong in her essay “Teaching in Praying Word? Worship and Theology in the Early Modern English Parish,” in Worship and the Parish Church in Early … Continue reading
The pragmatic goal of national unity in matters of religion for the good of the entire nation as congregation thus became a distinctive emphasis of of the early years of Elizabeth’s reign. As Angela Ranson has recently pointed out, the Marian Exiles, whether they sequestered during Mary’s reign in Geneva or Zurich, on their return to England joined those who had stayed behind in fulfilling the promise of the Edwardian Reformation under the reign of Elizabeth. Angela Ranson, “The Marian Exile and Religious Self-identity: Rethinking the origins of Elizabethan Puritanism.” Perichoresis 2013, pp. 1 – 24.
In his early defense of the Elizabethan Settlement, John Jewel, who had been Cranmer’s secretary, chose to defend the Church of England against Catholic opponents not as much on doctrinal grounds as much as on the grounds that the English Church is united in what it does, together, and that what it does is what the true Church has done, always and everywhere. In his Apology of the Church of England, his defense of the Elizabethan Settlement, first published in Latin in 1562, then in English in 1564 and in Part II, especially, he repeatedly begins sentences with the phrase “We believe” to affirm the Church’s faith, as expressed in what Lancelot Andrewes would describe later as “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”
It was some members of the next generation of Calvinists who began to challenge the Church of the Elizabethan Settlement on the grounds that it was unBiblical. In the 1590’s, in the face of rising Puritan opposition to the Elizabethan Settlement, Richard Hooker would spend all eight volumes of the Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Polity defending the Settlement and life of the national Church it sought to facilitate, devoting by far the most space (all of Volume V) to direct defense of the Book of Common Prayer. Seeking to persuade followers of Calvin’s distinctive version of Reformed Christianity that the Elizabethan Settlement met the needs of the English for a national Church, Hooker is polite about Calvin’s role as a reformer, but in the marginal notes to his copy of the Puritan Christian Letter of Certaine English Protestantes (1599), he speaks with a more personal voice. Calvin’s influence on Hooker’s Puritan opponents is so great, Hooker writes, that Calvin is a “boile that may not be touched.” Historians tend to ignore the fact that Hooker, in the Lawes, is not so much neutrally describing the Church of England as an entity outside of himself but seeking common ground with his Puritan … Continue reading
Of course, some of Calvin’s followers were by then at the heart of the Established Church; in 1595, John Whitgift, then Archbishop of Canterbury, submitted the Lambeth Articles for adoption as an official doctrinal statement of the Church of England. Whitgift’s Articles take a hard, rather than a pragmatic, approach to the Doctrine of Predestination. Peter White, in his Predestination, Policy, and Polemic, argues that Whitgift in the Lambeth Articles didn’t really mean them, but was trying to close off an even more raucous and extreme … Continue reading Whitgift’s Articles not only affirm both the negative and positive sides of predestinarian claims but also proclaim both a very pessimistic view of human nature and the belief that Christ died only for the Elect. So if Whitgift had been successful in getting them adopted as an official statement of the Church of England, Article XVII of the Thirty-Nine Articles would have had to be rewritten. On the other hand, early in the seventeenth century, the English delegates to the Synod of Dort would challenge the idea (which was also part of Whitgift’s Articles) that Christ died only for the elect. Among the specific reasons they gave for their belief that Christ died for the sins of the whole world were the facts that it was so stated in Article XXXI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and repeated at every celebration of Holy Communion in the Prayer of Consecration.
Ian Green’s discussion of the contrast between the Church of England’s vision of the individual as important as part of the larger community and the inward life as supportive of, rather than superior to, the public and Calvin’s followers, with their emphasis on inward searching for signs of election is helpful here. In his Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England, Green describes Calvin’s English followers thus:
The consequences for the life of faith of the high Calvinist stress on the total depravity of man, election being irrespective of human merit, Christ having made a limited atonement (in effect), and the existence of different kinds of faith of which only one was saving, were considerable for those who were exposed to such teaching and grasped it thoroughly. It led to an insistence on the heart being not merely bruised but broken and reduced to what Perkins once called ‘a holy desperation’. It was the depth of this desperation and the evolution of new means of curing it — by providing detailed accounts of how to distinguish between different types of faith and between true believers and ‘drowsy professors’, lists of the ‘marks’ of those whose names were written in the Book of Life, and details of the techniques of introspective analysis which would help the elect to tell if they were on the right road to heaven — which helped to distinguish ‘godly’ writing from other English Protestants’ work. The difference of emphasis from official teaching here can be seen if we look at the teaching of the formularies written in the Edwardian and early Elizabethan periods, such as the Book of Common Prayer, short catechism, and homilies. There the elect were equated simply with those who believed, as God knew they would, so that membership of the elect was not crucial to the account of the life of faith contained therein.
According to Green, these formularies, along with a wide range of writings of this age, both Catholic and Protestant, and including the works of George Herbert, John Donne, Lancelot Andrewes, and Jeremy Taylor, “all demanded that the faithful look inside themselves in order to ‘acknowledge and confess’ their ‘mainfold sins and wickednesses,’ and ensure that they had a ‘lively faith’ (to be determined, according to the First Book of Homilies, by looking outside oneself to notice if one did good works, the “fruits of a true and lively faith”) and a ‘pure heart,’ were ‘truly and earnestly’ repentant for their sins and ‘unfeignedly’ believed in the holy Gospel. But they did not lay it down as a norm that the experience of sorrow for sin would be traumatic, or that those who were truly repentant could be distinguished readily from those who were not by certain infallible signs; and for assurance of salvation they urged the faithful to look to Christ rather than into their own hearts.” Ian Green, Print and Protestantism (Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 312 – 314.
St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower. From the Visual Model, rendred by Austin Corriher.
Cranmer’s and the Elizabethan Settlement’s understanding of public worship as essentially corporate also found a voice in the 1620’s in the words, and work of John Donne, Dean of St Paul’s from 1621 to 1631. In his dramatization of the spiritual journey he documented in his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. Donne tells us, in the Third Expostulation of his Devotions that while he is “nayled” to his bed by his illness, he cannot be where God is, in Church, in the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, carrying out his role as priest and Dean in the regular round of daily and weekly services that marked the working life of the Cathedral.
Donne frequently, in the course of the Devotions, imagines that ongoing process of gathering the people, and reciting the prayers and the Psalms, and the reading of the Bible, and the preaching, and the observation of the Sacraments, that together constitute the gathered congregation as Church. “God’s “breath,” writes Donne, “in the Congregation, thy Word in the Church, breathes communion and consolation here [in this life], and consummation hereafter.” Yet Donne situates himself, as a result of his illness, as apart from that congregation, a separation that he believes has serious consequences for him. “I lye here,” Donne writes, “I lye here and say, Blessed are they, that dwell in thy house, but I cannot say, I will come into thy House.” And, again, “Where I lie, I could heare the Psalme, and did joine with the Congregation in it, but I could not heare the Sermon.” And, again, “My friends [are at] their prayers in the Congregation,” but “I [am] in a solitude.”
It is thus in the worshipping community, for Donne in St. Paul’s Cathedral, or, given the distances involved, perhaps St Gregory’s Church instead, both of which were across Paul’s Churchyard from where Donne is sick in bed in the Deanery, both worshipping communities created and enabled to be worshipping communities, for Donne, as for all members of the Church of England, through use of the Book of Common Prayer, that God is to be found. Donne’s language assumes the collective — the problem he faces is in the illness that separates him from that the community, and thus from God in the community. To be separated from that place and that community and that practice is, for Donne’s speaker, to be alone, and, “woe unto me,” he says, if I bee alone.”
Yet, even as the practice of spiritual formation through use of the Prayer Book creates the community where God is, and from which Donne’s speaker is separated by his illness, so, too, that practice provides resources for coming to terms with that illness. In the 3rd Expostulation, Donne says that while his friends “carrie [him] to [God] in their prayers in the Congregation,” God must come home to him, “in the visitation of thy Spirit, and in the seale of thy Sacrament.”
In the idea of God visiting Donne in his sickroom, in the visitation of the Spirit and in the seal of the Sacrament is surely imbedded a reference to the language of the Book of Common Prayer, most especially the Order for the Visitation of the Sick, and for the Communion of the Sick. One or more of Donne’s clergy colleagues on the staff of the Cathedral have visited Donne and used these services as part of their customary practice of their pastoral ministries to help Donne recognize God’s presence to him in his sickness.
In the Devotions, Donne begins his efforts to understand the meaning of his illness in relationship to two locations: one, the Church, where God is to be found breathing “Communion, and Consolation”; the other, the speaker’s bed, where he finds himself “alone.” Illness separates the two, renders it impossible for Donne to be in his usual choir stall at St Paul’s Cathedral, hence isolating him, confining him to his sickbed, by himself, and, for Donne, “Woe be unto me if I be alone.”
The Devotions, unlike Donne’s lyric poetry, of course, does not just begin and end in the moment dramatized; rather, it constitutes instead a longer narrative, a story of going to bed and becoming in bed a site of a narrative of disease and its treatment, a story, happily, of getting up, so that the speaker’s falling into sickness and into bed is eventually to be paralleled by a reverse motion, a rising from bed in recovery, a type of death and a type of resurrection. In the same way, even as his going to bed is a fall into solitude, so one way of describing the trajectory of narrative in the Devotions is of course toward community, away from solitude toward solidarity with one’s fellow human beings.
Donne’s journey through the Devotions includes frequent references to liturgical practices of the Church of England, including the singing of Psalms, the celebration of Holy Communion, the readings appointed for the Daily Offices, and especially the rite of Visitation of the Sick. Donne uses this liturgical context to inform his search for meaning, especially the latter rite’s assertion that illness is a visitation by God to chastise the sufferer, leading him to “amendment of life” and the deepening of his faith. The Devotions becomes a guide to linking the personal and the corporate in early Stuart religious life.
For, after all, in perhaps the most famous passage Donne ever wrote, his speaker comes to the belief that to understand death is to see it as a communal event and that requires reaching out to his audience: “No man is an island, intire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main . . . Any Mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” In other words, the progress of the narrator through his illness, from standing to bedding down to rising from that bed leads him to a sense that even in bed, in solitude, he is part of a larger community, and so this sense of being part of a larger community is at least a part of what leads him from woe to hope, from isolation to incorporation, from death to life, or at least the possibility of life, to come. And because the bell that calls him to this insight is the cathedral bell calling people to worship, his growing sense of connection to the larger community runs through and is enabled by the life of that worshipping community.
In his sermon for the Feast of Pentecost (also known as Whitsunday) in 1625, on the birthday of Cranmer’s introduction of the Book of Common Prayer (1549), Donne responded directly to Puritan insistence that what really mattered was the individual’s direct relationship to God by affirming the value of participation in the worship life of the gathered church. Preaching at Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral, Donne affirmed the role of the gathered community in its relationship to God versus the role of the autonomous individual who seeks a relationship to God apart from the Church:
Though thou be a Church in thy fancy, if thou have no more seales of grace, no more absolution of sin, then thou canst give thy self, thou wilt perish. Per solam Ecclesiam sacrificium libenter accipit Deus: Thou maist be a Sacrifice in thy chamber, but God receives a Sacrifice more cheerefully at Church. Sola, quae pro errantibus fiducialiter intercedit, Only the Church hath the nature of a surety; Howsoever God may take thine own word at home, yet he accepts the Church in thy behalfe, as better security. Joyne therefore ever with the Communion of Saints; Et cum membrum sis ejus corporis, quod loquitur omnibus linguis, crede te omnibus linguis loqui, Whilst thou art a member of that Congregation, that speaks to God with a thousand tongues, beleeve that thou speakest to God with all those tongues, And though thou know thine own prayers unworthy to come up to God . . . yet beleeve that some honester man then thy selfe stands by thee and that when he prayes with thee, he prayes for thee; and that, if there be one righteous man in the Congregation, thou art made the more acceptable to God by his prayers; and make that benefit of this reproofe, this conviction of the holy Ghost, That he convinces thee De judicio, assures thee of an orderly Church established for thy reliefe, and that the application of thy self to this judgement, The Church, shall enable thee to stand upright in that other judgement, the last judgement, which is also enwrapped in the signification of this word of our Text, Judgement, and is the conclusion for this day.
Historians who speak of the Church of England going through a long Reformation are correct in the sense that it took some time for participation in worship according to the Book of Common Prayer to move from the novel to the habitual, for Cranmer’s “somberly magnificent prose,” in Eamon Duffy’s words, “to [enter] and [possess] their minds, and [become] the fabric of their prayer, the utterance of their most solemn and their most vulnerable moments.” They are also correct in the sense that with time folks’ experience and understanding and meaning of what they were doing changed and diversified and prepared for newer and richer understandings yet to come. But what these historians miss is the reality that the basic forms and words and actions were there all along. After all, after the dramatic shifts between the Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552, the changes between the editions of 1552 and 1559, and especially between 1559 and the editions of 1604 and 1662 amount to little more than slight course corrections and clarifications. And the Prayer Book of 1662 remains the official Prayer Book of the Church of England and the standard against which the Prayer Books and Alternative Service Books of all the Anglican Churches across the Worldwide Anglican Communion are measured.
Also, by 1630, members of the Church of England had begun to recognize that their Church was a distinctive Christian body, distinct not only from Roman Catholicism but also from the churches of the continental Reformed movement. By that point, the Reformed tradition itself had continued to evolve ever more in the direction Ian Green describes, encouraging the individual practice of “the techniques of introspective analysis which would help the elect to tell if they were on the right road to heaven.” At every step, they distanced themselves and their followers from the ethos, structure, and practice of the Church of England and their nation further down the road toward denominationalism.
By John Donne’s death in 1631, George Herbert, in his poem “The British Church,” recognized three choices of Christian faith — Rome on its seven hills, Geneva in the valley by the lake, and his own British Church. Which brings us to the question of intentionality. Some historians object to Anglicans speaking of their tradition as a via media, a middle way between Rome and Geneva. Yet, while Cranmer and his supporters in the reign of Edward VI may not initially have sought deliberately to craft the Church of England as such a via media, they surely were responding to the challenge of creating a reformed Church that would be truly national, enabling all the English to make their prayers to God in one voice.
In Herbert’s poem that is what he sees it to be and celebrates it as being so. The Church of England is here Mother Church, who brings him joy:
I joy, dear mother, when I view
Thy perfect lineaments, and hue
Both sweet and bright.
Beauty in thee takes up her place,
And dates her letters from thy face,
When she doth write.
Her aspect is “fine”; she wears a “fit array.” Herbert locates her between the “too mean” and”too gay,” the location that “is best.” Alternatives are “either painted” or “else undress’d.”
A fine aspect in fit array,
Neither too mean nor yet too gay,
Shows who is best.
Outlandish looks may not compare,
For all they either painted are,
Or else undress’d.
Herbert then defines more fully the “painted” alternative — Catholicism, grounded on the seven hills of Rome, with its “painted shrines.”
She on the hills which wantonly
Allureth all, in hope to be
By her preferr’d,
Hath kiss’d so long her painted shrines,
That ev’n her face by kissing shines,
For her reward.
The other alternative is, of course, Geneva, in the valley, by the Lake, “so shy/Of dressing” in an effort to avoid Catholicism’s “pride,” “Nothing wears.”
She in the valley is so shy
Of dressing, that her hair doth lie
About her ears;
While she avoids her neighbour’s pride,
She wholly goes on th’ other side,
And nothing wears.
Returning to the Church of England in the last stanza, Herbert redefines the “mean” that is Geneva to become the “mean” that is his Mother Church, now the “mean” between these two extremes, “double-moated” by God’s grace, uniquely loved by God, dramatically different from either of these alternatives, now its own place.
But, dearest mother, what those miss,
The mean, thy praise and glory is
And long may be.
Blessed be God, whose love it was
To double-moat thee with his grace,
And none but thee.
|↑1||as one of its Bishops once characterized it|
|↑2||The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Harvard, 1963|
|↑3||See Angela Ransom, “The Marian Exile and Religious Self-identity: Rethinking the Origins of Elizabethan Puritanism” Perichoresis (2015), pp. 1-24|
|↑4||One tendency among historians is, anachronistically, to conflate the later Reformed movement’s emphasis on predestination and its objection to the Book of Common Prayer into the positions of Cranmer’s Reformed advisors of the 1540’s; hence, we get support for the legend that Cranmer, had he survived Mary’s reign, would have abandoned episcopacy and created a third version of the Book of Common Prayer that would have looked more like the Presbyterian Book of Church Order than his own Prayer Book. For an account of Puritan life in post-Reformation England that wants us to believe it describes all Protestant life in post-Reformation Britain, see Alex Ryre, Being Protestant in Reformation Britain (Oxford, 2013).|
|↑5||For a helpful review of the history of recent scholarship on the English Reformation and a commentary on the ways in which scholars from particular backgrounds bring their own agendas to the study of this formative period, see Diarmaid MacCullock, All Things Made New: The Reformation and its Legacy (Oxford, 2016), especially the chapter “Modern Historians on the English Reformation,” pp. 239 – 255.|
|↑6||So, historians who argue, as did Tessa Watt, that for a time the Church of England had only “a patchwork of beliefs,” and by 1600 was still “distinctively ‘post-Reformation’ but not thoroughly Protestant,” have taken sides in a debate not of their making and constructed a definition of “Protestantism” for themselves more in line with the views of Puritan dissenters than with the historical record; in the process, they overlook the kind of church the Church of England was set up to be and actually turned out to be. See Tessa Watt, Cheap Print and Popular Piety, 1550-1640 (Cambridge, 1991).|
|↑7||Lucy Wooding, “John Jewel and the Invention of the Church of England,” in Defending the Faith : John Jewel and the Elizabethan Church, ed. Angela Ranson, Andre Gazal, and Sarah Bastow (Penn State University Press, 2019), pp. 1- 17.|
|↑8||Timothy Rosendale explores well the paradoxes and complexities of Protestant individualism in his discussion of assurance considered outside the ongoing life of the Christian community. On the one hand, “[t]he inscrutable arbitrariness of God’s electing choice, while for some a source of terror, is also paradoxically the central source of soteriological comfort, isolated and insulated from the sinful vagaries of human will and action. Because God’s will is eternal, effective, and unchanging, salvation is absolutely guaranteed to the elect. As Luther put it to Erasmus, “I should not wish to have free choice given to me,” because then “my conscience would never be assured and certain” that I had done enough; but with everything in God’s hands, “I am assured and certain” of my salvation and glory.” On the other hand, “not everyone asserted or linked the two. . . directly and confidently . . . ; while grace is a source of comfort for all Christians, as we have seen, Christians have long disagreed on the degree of that grace’s hegemony. . . . Even the Calvinist 1646 Westminster Confession hedges a bit on the question of assurance, saying that “such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” So, for all the Reformers came the moment when even their multiplying of possibilities for finding confidence in their salvation were found wanting, or as Rosendale puts it, “Assurance is not a sine qua non of election, but a kind of second blessing, given to some but not all.” See Rosendale’s Theology and Agency in Early Modern Literature (Cambridge, 2018), especially pp. 147-183.|
|↑9||On this subject, see Griffiths, Bibliography, p. 8.|
|↑10||Peter White, Predestination, policy, polemic: Conflict and consensus in the English Church from the Reformation to the Civil War (Cambridge, 1992), p. 85|
|↑11||For a discussion of Richard Hooker’s “hypothetical universalism,” see Michael J. Lynch. “Richard Hooker and the Development of English Hypothetical Universalism.” Richard Hooker and Reformed Orthodoxy, eds. W. Bradford Littlejohn and Scott N. Kindred-Barnes. Bristol, CT, 2017) pp. 273-293.|
|↑12||For a thorough retracing of the history of predestintion in the 16th and 17th centuries, see Peter White, Predestination, Policy, and Polemic: Conflict and consensus in the English Church from the Reformation to the Civil War (Cambridge, 1992|
|↑13||Anastasia Stylianou, “The “Greek Church” and the English Reformation,” a paper delivered at the Remapping British Protestant Thought in the Long Reformation Conference sponsiored by the Duke University Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 21 September 2021|
|↑14||David Griffiths, The Bibliography of the Book of Common Prayer 1549 – 1999 (British Library, 2002), p. 5.|
|↑15||One must surely recognize as Catholic those Englishfolk who refused to accept compliance with the Edwardian vision of Church and the Elizabethan Settlement which reaffirmed it and who paid the price for their loyalty to the Papacy, either in monetary or personal terms.|
|↑16||From Acts 2, in the Great Bible translation.|
|↑17||From the Chronicle of the Grey Friars, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/camden-record-soc/vol53/pp53-78.|
|↑18||Harvey Guthrie, “Anglican Spirituality: An Ethos,” in William J. Wolf, ed. Anglican Spirituality (Morehouse, 1982), pp. 1-16.|
|↑19||Although, as Arnold Hunt has documented, the habit of non-communication was difficult to break for some; in fact, the general expectation that when one attended church services one would receive the bread and wine of Communion took 400 years to create. See Arnold Hunt, “The Lord’s Supper in Early Modern England,” Past and Present (1998), 39-83.|
|↑20||For more on this Reformation by printed books, see the essays in The Godly Kingdom: Great Books of the English Reformation, ed. John Booty, John N. Wall, and David Siegenthaler (Morehouse, 1981.|
|↑21||Quoted from Daniel Eppley, “Richard Hooker on the Un-conditionality of Predestination,” in Richard Hooker and the English Reformation, ed. W. J. Torrance Kirby (Springer, 2003), pp. 63-77|
|↑22||“Worship by the Book,” in Charles Hefling and Cynthia Shattuck, eds, The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey (Oxford, 2006), pp. 9 – 20.|
|↑23||This is where Hannah Cleugh gets things wrong in her essay “Teaching in Praying Word? Worship and Theology in the Early Modern English Parish,” in Worship and the Parish Church in Early Modern Britain, Alex Ryrie and Natalie Mears (Routledge, 2016). Cleugh asserts that there is a conflict between the language of the Prayer Book and the Reformed beliefs in such doctrines as predestination. In spite of the confidence with which Cleugh asserts it, there is no necessary connection between a Calvinist conception of predestination and the doctrine of justification by faith. Had there been, the Church of England would not have continued to refer to the Books of Homilies, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and the Book of Common Prayer as authoritative for the Church of England hundreds of years after Calvin’s significance as a theological resource had almost completely faded away.|
|↑24||Angela Ranson, “The Marian Exile and Religious Self-identity: Rethinking the origins of Elizabethan Puritanism.” Perichoresis 2013, pp. 1 – 24.|
|↑25||first published in Latin in 1562, then in English in 1564|
|↑26||Historians tend to ignore the fact that Hooker, in the Lawes, is not so much neutrally describing the Church of England as an entity outside of himself but seeking common ground with his Puritan opponents so as to persuade thiem to accept the Church of England as it is rather than trying to refigure it to fit their own requirements. So his stance is at heart the stance of a persuader, a rhetorician, not a systematic theologian. He is overpolite about Calvin, is willing to describe the episcopate as esse, simply a workable part of the Church as it is, rather than a bene esse, a “good, or essential, part.” See John N. Wall, “Hooker’s Faire Speeche”: Rhetorical Strategies in the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Polity,” in This Sacred History: Anglican Reflections for John Booty, ed. Donald S. Armentrout (Cambridge, US: Cowley Publications, 1990), pp. 125 – 143.|
|↑27||Peter White, in his Predestination, Policy, and Polemic, argues that Whitgift in the Lambeth Articles didn’t really mean them, but was trying to close off an even more raucous and extreme conflict at Cambridge on the subject of Predestination (pp. 101-123). Perhaps so, but to my way of thinking the fact that they appeared at all was yet another sign of the continuing fragmentation in English religious culture fomented by some folks’ need for dissolving the mysteries of God’s ways with God’s creatures. Thank goodness that the Lambeth Articles never recieved official approval!|
|↑28||Ian Green, Print and Protestantism (Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 312 – 314.|