Thomas Cranmer: On the comfort of the Lord’s Supper

20 12 2011

I was fortunate enough to recently acquire the complete works of Thomas Cranmer, along with several other wonderful original documents of the English Reformation such as the works of Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, Thomas Becon (Cranmer’s personal chaplain) as well as many other original letters of the English Reformation to and from the Lutheran and Genevan Reformers.  Slowly working through Cranmer’s writings, particularly those on the Lord’s Supper has been a tremendous blessing. 

All men desire to have God’s favour, and when they know the contrary, that they be in his indignation, and cast out of his favour, what thing can comfort them?  How be their minds vexed!  What trouble is in their consciences!  All God’s creatures seem to be against them, and do make them afraid, as things being ministers of God’s wrath and indignation towards them, and rest or comfort can they find none, neither within them, nor without them.  And in this case they do hate as well God, as the devil; God as an unmerciful and extreme judge, and the devil as a most malicious and cruel tormentor.

And in this sorrowful heaviness, holy scripture teacheth them that our heavenly Father can by no means be pleased with them again, but by the sacrifice and death of his only-begotten Son, whereby God hat made a perpetual amity and peace with us, doth pardon our sins of them that believe in him, maketh them his children, and giveth them to his first-begotten Son Christ, to be incorporate into him, to be saved by him, and to be made heirs of heaven with him.  And in the receiving of the holy supper of our Lord, we be put in remembrance of this his death, and of the whole mystery of our redemption.  In the which supper is made mention of his testament, and of the aforesaid communion of us with Christ, and of the remission of our sins by his sacrifice upon the cross.

Wherefore in this sacrament (if it be rightly received with a true faith) we be assured that our sins be forgiven, and the league of peace and the testament of God is confirmed between him and us, so that whosoever by a true faith doth eat Christ’s flesh and drink his blood, hath everlasting life by him.  Which thing when we feel in our hearts at the receiving of the Lord’s supper, what thing can be more joyful, more pleasant, or more comfortable to us?

Thomas Cranmer, Cranmer’s Works edt for the Parker Society Vol I pg 80-81

The Heart and Soul of Anglicanism II: The Martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer

20 12 2011

Below is an extended account of the trial and martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.  The account picks up with his imprisonment and degradations and includes his famous recantations, where he repented of his previous reformation convictions.  Nevertheless, as the account shows, Cranmer recovered his Gospel convictions at the hour of his death.  His language about the Pope may be offensive to modern ears, however it must be remembered that for Cranmer, as for many of the Reformers, the Pope was thought to have instituted many practices that undermined the free grace of God in the Gospel.  This doesn’t lessen the forcefulness of the language, however it does put it in context.  Read the whole account of the persecutions that took place during “Bloody” Mary’s reign here. Read the rest of this entry »

Thomas Cranmer: Spiritually feeding upon the truth of the Gospel

20 12 2011

For there is no kind of meat that is comfortable to the soul, but only the death of Christ’s blessed body; nor no kind of drink that can quench her thirst, but only the blood-shedding of our Saviour Christ, which was shed for her offences. For as there is a carnal generation, and a carnal feeding and nourishment ; so is there also a spiritual generation, and a spiritual feeding.

And as every man by carnal generation of father and mother, is carnally begotten and born unto this mortal life: so is every good Christian spiritually born by Christ unto eternal life.

And as every man is carnally fed and nourished in his body by meat and drink, even so is every good christian man spiritually fed and nourished in his soul by the flesh and blood of our Saviour Christ.

From Cranmer’s Answer to Stephen Gardiner

Rob Sturdy: Thomas Cranmer’s Sacramental Theology and Engaging Postmodern Nihilism

20 12 2011

 This paper principally deals with Thomas Cranmer’s sacramental theology and its special benefit in engaging postmodern nihilism. Thanks to the folks at Trinity Church for letting me pursue advanced academic studies and a special thanks to Colin Burch for providing editorial review.

For several centuries now the philosophical worldview of the Enlightenment has been the dominant defining and structuring element in the West.  At its core, it can be described as essentially secular or rigidly materialistic.  Here secular, or rigidly materialistic, means “nature is all there is and all basic truths are truths of nature.”[1] Thus the secular worldview dictates that the deepest experiences of being a human such as embodied life, self-expression, sexuality, aesthetic experience, human political community, etc., are natural phenomenon and can only be explained naturally.  It has been noted, however, that explaining such complex phenomenon purely in materialistic terms devalues and delegitimizes the phenomenon themselves.  As Douglas Wilson, in a recent debate with Christopher Hitchens, noted, if love, hate, the yearning for justice, equality etc. are purely natural phenomenon, they have no more legitimacy than a chemical reaction in a can of Coca-Cola.[2] Milbank, Ward and Pickstock argue in their introduction to Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology that it is this devaluing of complex phenomena that has created the “soulless, aggressive, nonchalant, and nihilistic” materialism of contemporary society.[3]

In an attempt to reinvest the material world with some legitimacy and meaning, theologians in the Anglo-Catholic stream of the Church of England have put forward the theological framework of participation, which essentially posits that a phenomenon has ultimate meaning to the extent that it shares some of its traits and derives them, albeit imperfectly, from God.  And though the proponents of Radical Orthodoxy argue that only transcendence expressed through participation can uphold these complex phenomenon “against the void,”[4] Radical Orthodoxy nevertheless fails on a number of points to safeguard the concreteness of such things as embodied life, gender, temporality, etc., thus leading those who share the concerns of Radical Orthodoxy to seek an alternative solution.

One alternative to Radical Orthodoxy within the Anglican Tradition can be found in the Reformed doctrine of the extra-Calvinisticum, which gives expression to Thomas Cranmer’s sacramental theology.  Cranmer’s sacramental theology is similar to Radical Orthodoxy’s doctrine of participation on a number of points; nevertheless, there is at least one significant point of departure.  That point of departure is the extra-Calvinisticum, a Christological doctrine often narrowly associated with its namesake, John Calvin.  Briefly put, the extra-Calvinisticum is the theological conviction “ that the immutable God became man without diminution or loss as regards any of his attributes” joined with the conviction that the “existence of the second person of the Trinity et extra carnem.” [5] To put it more simply, the extra holds to the ubiquity of the divine Word, the local presence of the physical body of Jesus contained in heaven, while emphasizing the unity of the two in the person of Christ.[6] This paper will argue that Cranmer’sextra-Calvinisticum gives shape to his sacramental theology in such a way that it succeeds in safeguarding the very interests of Radical Orthodoxy.  This will be demonstrated by a critique of the shortcomings of Graham Ward’s essay “Bodies,” followed up by an analysis of Thomas Cranmer’s Answer to Stephen Gardiner Concerning the Sacraments.  If Cranmer’s sacramental theology can be shown to succeed where Radical Orthodoxy has failed, the usefulness of a long dead and oft neglected theologian can be revived to engage postmodern nihilism at its most critical shortcomings. Read the rest of this entry »

The Death of King Henry VIII

19 12 2011

Anglicans have and should be reasonably embarrassed that one of the main protagonists of the English Reformation was the scoundrel, Henry VIII, King of England.  Nevertheless, one should always remember that what you and I intend for evil God can and often does intend for good.  Below is an excerpt from Diarmaid MacCulloch’s magisterial biography of Thomas Cranmer.  In the excerpt below is a touching account of the last act of the King of England, which was a public profession of faith in Christ alone.  Those familiar with Henry’s religious struggles are well aware that Henry rejected “sola fide” but held steadfast that faith must be joined with the “works” of the church, i.e. sacraments, penance, service etc.  Of particular interest would be one last “work” to accomplish on one’s deathbed, namely the last rites.  Henry, ministered to by his friend the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, deferred last rites and contented himself with a profession of faith in the finished work of Christ.  Like the the thief on the cross, even the worst of men may find hope and grace in the mercies of Jesus.

The first definite trace of him (Cranmer) back in London is at the reopening of Parliament on 14 January 1547, a meeting whose main purpose was to seal the fate of the Howards , and while dutifully voting through their attainder with his fellow peers, he also remained in regular attendance at the Council.  This meant that he was readily on hand to do his last duty for his old master as the King lay dying on 28 January.  It was Denny who persuaded Henry that he must face death, and the King asked specifically for the Archbishop to be with him.  By the time that Cranmer reached him in the small hours of that morning, Henry was already incapable of speech, but reached out to his old friend.

Then the archbishop, exhorting him to put his trust in Christ, and to call upon his mercy, desired him, though he could not speak, yet to give some token with his eyes or with his hand, that he trusted in the Lord.  Then the King holding him in his hand, did wring his hand as hard as he could.

Quietly playing out his calling as royal chaplain, Cranmer had won a final victory over years of argument with the King on justification.  No last rites for Henry, no extreme unction:  just an evangelical statement of faith in a grip of the hand.  Thus ended the most long-lasting relationship of love that either man had ever known.

MacCulloch, D. Thomas Cranmer (Yale University Press: 1996 pg 360)