Thursday, 11 January 2007

A Candle in England - the roots and results of the English Reformation

This is a draft version of a project I was working on a while ago - basically four talks on the English Reformation given to our church as our August teaching a while ago. The document is a pdf file formatted as a booklet, but you can read it OK.

The sections are Part 1: 1662 and All That, Part 2: Divisions and Denominations, Part 3: Is Any Body There?, Part 4: To Our Own People Only.

Here's a couple of samples:
1662 and All That
The break with Rome was political rather than theological. But it came about abruptly when in 1534, Henry published the Act of Supremacy. This is one single sentence (274 words long) which reaffirms the conclusion already reached by Henry and his theological advisors:

... the King our Sovereign Lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted and reputed the only Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England, called Anglicana Ecclesia ...

Notice two things, however. First, The Act of Supremacy claims that the King of England has always been the head of the English Church. Second, Henry’s headship of the Church of England is not the claim to a special theological relationship with one institution to the exclusion of all others. Article XXXVII of the Thirty-Nine Articles makes this clear.

Where we attribute to the King’s Majesty the chief government ... we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments ... but that only prerogative which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal [...].

The theology of monarchy undergirding the English Reformation says that the King is the head not of the denomination of the Church of England but of ‘all estates and degrees committed to their charge’. The practical point of this, however, is not just that the ‘headship’ of the king is affirmed but, as Article XXXVII goes on, ‘The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England’.

Is Any Body There?
So complete was Cranmer’s elimination of the notion of the ‘real presence’ of Christ’s body and blood in the bread and wine that we can describe Cranmer’s position on this as a doctrine of ‘real absence’. But this creates something of a problem in Anglican practise. The inscription above the Communion table in the chapel of Moore Theological College in Sydney Australia expresses Cranmer’s theology exactly by quoting Matthew 28:6: ‘He is not here, he is risen’.

But if he is not here, why are we here? Or more specifically, why are we here doing this? In Luther’s theology, the bread and wine function as tokens of the gospel itself. Luther said that in preaching the gospel is, as it were, broadcast to the congregation through the spoken word. But in the communion it is given specifically and personally to each one in the physical token of bread and wine.
The irony is, of course, that Cranmer himself and many other English Protestants perished for denying what the original reformer, Martin Luther, absolutely affirmed.

Download "A Candle in England" here

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