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REFORMATIONAL ANGLICANISM: Our Exotic Ancestry

REFORMATIONAL ANGLICANISM: Our Exotic Ancestry

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
May 23, 2017

Anglicanism has exerted a wide international influence. In the late 16th century, in accord with Cranmer's godly aspirations, England became a great national fortress of Protestantism and through the subsequent expansion of British colonialism the furtherance of Anglicanism was achieved throughout much of the world. Thirty-eight provinces of the Anglican/Episcopalian denomination are now established around the globe. Sad to say, the Reformational stance in theology and worship is largely lost to the Anglican Communion. But there is still, one trusts, an underlying historical structure in the constitution of Anglicanism that the Spirit of God could wield and utilize should he deign to empower the Church of England and her daughters once again in the advance of the Gospel. Matters are dire but man cannot hinder the divine fire once it is sovereignly set ablaze. The Reformation heritage is still intact in the archives and awaiting rediscovery.

International the Anglican movement has certainly become, like so many other partners in our Reformed family (Presbyterian and Baptist bodies, Dutch and Independent churches). An exciting facet to our development within the Church of God is the range of international contribution to our character.

That the Reformation was a Continental phenomenon made it inevitable that religious change in the British Isles would be stirred, supported, and sustained by new tendencies emerging from within the Church of Rome and consequently rippling through Catholicism in England (and Scotland) until the tide of transformation became a surge.

Luther repaid his debt to Wycliffe, whose thought was transmitted to the titanic German Reformer through the writings and reputation of the martyred Jan Huss, by arousing English Christian leaders to a keen understanding of the Gospel. There was enough latent, yet diluted, Augustinianism in England for men to take hold of the great orthodox and commanding tradition of Christendom and boost it to prominence through fresh concentration on Scripture, discriminating research into the age of the Fathers, and eager attention to the voices of Evangelical figures casting their messages of renewal across the channel.

The thought of eminent European Christian thinkers supplied and seasoned much of the substantial content of the English intellectual recipe for the resurgence of truth in the offshore Tudor kingdom. The pre-eminent advocates of reform were mainly German, French, Swiss, and Italian but their English disciples and colleagues were adept theologians, devoted to Scripture, and courageously dedicated to the cause, even to death as many martyrdoms manifest. The English Reformers excelled in their testimony and men such as Tyndale, Cranmer, Bradford, and Jewel ably echoed the fundamental convictions of their superior pioneers in the purification of faith.

Anglicanism was formed in an identifiable English fashion which has produced an ethos that can be sensed and experienced. The spirit of Cranmer and his fellows and followers still pervades in many ambient ways and in varying degrees - a courtesy and mildness of manner, a patient, reasoned, mature understanding of the faith, that once settled cannot be swayed, and a deferential piety before God. It still presides among Cranmer's most ardent adherents who happen to rise to notice from time to time when and where yearning for Reformational principles revive and become strong and Anglicanism returns to authenticity.

Our varied pedigree is overlooked by the bulk of our membership but there is immense interest and delight in tracing the streams of thought and spirituality that are pooled and accumulated in the witness and worship of the 16th century Ecclesia Anglicana and its offspring. Threads of theology and strands of spirituality bind us to the people of God of other cultures and recitals of times past. Anglicanism is a segment of the Church catholic and a subscriber to creedal catholic faith derived from the word of God and confessed by right thinking saints of all eras.

The Italian Connection Through the Reformation

The great representative of Augustinianism to Pre-Reformation England was Italian born Anselm of Canterbury. His doctrines of grace and atonement were congenial to the Protestant Fathers of the nation.

"Dost thou believe that thou canst not be saved but by the death of Christ? Go to, then, and whilst thy soul abideth in thee put all thy confidence in his death alone - place thy trust in no other thing - commit thyself wholly to his death - cover thyself wholly with this alone, - cast thyself wholly on his death - wrap thyself wholly in this death. And if God would judge you say, 'Lord! I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and thy judgment; otherwise I will not contend, or enter into judgment, with thee. And if he shall say unto thee that thou art a sinner say unto him, 'I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and my sins.' If he should say unto thee, that thou hast deserved condemnation say, 'Lord! I put the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between thee and all my sins, - I offer his merits for my own, which I should have and have not.' If he say, that he is angry with thee, say 'Lord! I place the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and thy anger.'"

The Reformation in Italy, the papal church's home ground, was readily quashed as a significant national religious force. Waldenses and like-minded believers bravely adhered to the gospel against tremendous odds and through persecution. The heirs to this Protestant heritage and Waldensian tradition actively survive, bifurcating in recent times into Evangelical and Barthian expressions.

Parallel to the strong movements toward Reform elsewhere in Europe a fascinating feature on the Italian scene was the gathering together of a somewhat aristocratic and intellectual group of believers known as the Spirituali. These influential folk subscribed to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone through grace alone. Intrigued by the teachings of Luther and Calvin they longed for reformation within the church but not for withdrawal from the Church of their nurture. The membership of this coterie of Biblical Christians comprised such persons as Gaspar Contarini, later a cardinal and negotiator on behalf of the gospel at the council of Trent, Countess Vittoria Colonna, a poet of attractive piety, Reginald Pole, last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, seemingly sound in some ways, but hostile to the dismantling of the papal institution, juan de Valdes, the Spanish chaplain to the company, as it were, Peter Martyr Vermingli, soon to be the equal advocate of the Reformation to Luther, Bucer, and Calvin, and notably Michelangelo Buonarroti, the unequalled artistic genius of colossal fame. Such a society of people with such aspirations is admirable but it was remote from the common man and insufficiently radical at the time to launch popular support.

Nonetheless, the Spirituali bring a certain brightness to Italian history and, given their eminence and talents, they bring much encouragement to our confidence in the strong and surprising providence of God in unlikely circumstances. Long term, with renewed assessment, there may be seeds that will flourish (e.g. there could be art lovers who would be delighted to probe the evangelical convictions of Michelangelo who lavished much beautiful adornment within the boundaries of papal property).

O flesh! O blood1 O cross! O pain extreme!
By you may those foul sins be purified,
Wherein my fathers were, and I was born!
Lo, Thou alone art good: let Thy supreme
Pity my state of evil cleanse and hide -
So near to death, so far from God, forlorn.
Michelangelo

Thomas Cranmer invited two distinguished Italian Protestants to England to assist in the cause of the Reformation. Bernardino Ochino excelled as a preacher but as his ministry progressed he became unstable in his theology and opposed to the Augustinianism embraced by the leaders of the English church.

The great gain for England and the Reformation at large came in the person of Peter Martyr Vermigli, close ally of de Valdes, leading thinker of the Spirituali, and honored member of the trio of premier league theologians of the 16th century (Luther, Bucer, Calvin). Martyr's great intellect harmonized with pastoral warmth, spiritual candor, and appealing humility. His pathway to Protestantism is fascinating - trained by the Augustinian order, taught by de Valdes, taken on board by the Spirituali, and taking leave of Italy as an endangered exile.

As professor of theology at Oxford, and a popular preacher of vigorous sermonic skill, he bestowed a huge influence upon the character of Anglicanism through his profound scholarship, his integrity, and general influence. He imparted a strong Augustinianism to Anglican thought, and by invitation monitored and improved Cranmer's efforts in production of sound liturgy for the praise of God and the edification of the people. Peter Martyr deserves great and grateful attention in our time. His immense stature belittles the weak and wavering leadership of our time. Zurich was his spiritual base and as formative of "Calvinistic" theology in England as Jean Calvin's Geneva. Martyr's chief influences, apart from de Valdes, were Martin Bucer and Gregory of Rimini, fellow Italian and staunch predestinarian (d. 1358). Martyr's theological position was entirely compatible with Cranmer and the sound doctrinal standards laid down for the Church in England. He assisted in establishing these standards and was a major guide to the beliefs and ministry of Bishop John Jewel, who himself became the sponsor and tutor of Richard Hooker (Martyr, Jewel, Hooker, a trio of Augustinians).

Bishop John Jewel's admiration of Martyr, and his willing and intelligent adherence to Martyr's theology ensured a firm grasp of Scripture and pronounced allegiance to Augustine (Pauline doctrine) in the Elizabethan church.

"God has chosen you from the beginning: his election is sure forever. . . You shall not be deceived with the power and subtlety of antichrist, you shall not fall from grace, you shall not perish. This is the comfort which abideth with the faithful, when they behold the fall of the wicked; when they see them forsake the truth and delight in fables ; when they see them return to their vomit and to wallow again in mire. When we see these things in others, we must say: Alas, they are examples for me, and they are lamentable examples."

"God hath loved me, and hath chosen me to salvation . . . he hath loved me and hath chosen me, he will keep me. Neither the example nor the company of others, nor the enticing of the devil, nor my own sensual imaginations, nor sword, nor fire, is able to separate me from the love of God."

John Jewel (extracts from his commentary on Ist and 2nd Thessalonians).

Gary W. Jenkins in his recent volume entitled John Jewel and the English National Church: The Dilemmas of an Erastian Reformer (Routledge, New York, 2016) opines that Jewel's views place "him firmly within the realm of Peter Martyr's own views on the doctrine of election" (pages 239-240).

Jerome Zanchi's intention was to accompany Peter Martyr to England but he was diverted to a professorship at Strasbourg. A disciple of Martyr and a highly gifted and admired theologian throughout Europe, this Italian Reformer left a powerful and enduring mark upon the theology of England through Anglicanism's most influential Elizabethan thinker and voice, William Perkins. At the time Perkins eclipsed the fame and influence of Hooker. Subsequently Zanchius was the favorite instructor of Augustus Toplady in the 18th century, who translated his treatise on the doctrine of grace.

An Italian flavor to our Anglican theological and liturgical fare makes the use of the BCP (1662) even more appetizing.)
The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church

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