“A setter-forth of Christ’s glory”: The witness of Thomas Cranmer
The new issue of Credo Magazine is here: “The English Reformation.” Michael A.G. Haykin has contributed a robust introduction to the life and legacy of Thomas Cranmer. His article is titled, “‘A setter-forth of Christ’s glory’: The witness of Thomas Cranmer.” Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin is the Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality and Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a long time contributor to Credo Magazine.
Here is an excerpt from Haykin’s article:
Cranmer’s prayers: miniatures of Reformation theology
Cranmer’s work in regard to the reform of worship is probably best seen in The Book of Common Prayer of 1552, which was intended to be the “basis of reformed Protestant worship,” and which, as Peter Toon has recently noted, is “a near perfect embodiment of the principle of justification by faith.”
One gets a marvelous insight into the heart of Cranmer’s Reformed thought by looking at some of his written prayers. First, consider one of his so-called Collects. In the context of Christian worship the Latin term “collecta,” from which we get the English word “Collect,” refers to the “collecting” together of the various prayers of the congregation into a single prayer. Such prayers, whose origin lies in late antiquity, are marked by brevity and unity of thought. In the Anglican tradition as crafted by Cranmer they generally have five parts.
1. They normally invoke God the Father, though some do call upon the Lord Jesus.
2. There then follows a clause which makes mention of a divine attribute.
3. There is a specific petition or two.
4. Generally following the petition(s) is the purpose for which petition is made.
5. Concluding the collect is an ascription of honour to Christ whose merits alone can obtain an answer to the request of his people.
Of the seventy Collects in the 1552 The Book of Common Prayer Cranmer himself wrote about twenty-four collects, which are rightly described as “remarkable pieces of devotion.”
Here is the Collect to be prayed on the second Sunday in Advent:
Blessed lord, which hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant us that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that by patience, and comfort of thy holy word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our saviour Jesus Christ.
Cranmer’s stress in this Collect is a major aspect of his thinking about Holy Scripture, namely its utterly vital importance as a touchstone of truth and wisdom as well as its unique usefulness as a means of grace. Here those who came to worship in the Reformed Church of England were being invited to learn the Bible and meditate on its life-giving riches that they might derive from this meditative reading the patience and comfort, i.e. strength, to embrace God’s salvation in Christ. As Cranmer once declared elsewhere:
Dost thou not mark and consider how the smith, mason, or carpenter or any other handy-craftsman, what need soever he be in, …he will not sell nor lay to pledge the tools of his occupation, …for then how should he get a living thereby? Of like mind and affection ought we to be towards holy scripture. For as mallets, hammers, saws, chisels, axes and hatchets be the tools of their occupation, so be the books of the prophets and apostles, and all holy writ inspired by the Holy Ghost the instrument of our salvation.
This explains Cranmer’s efforts for much of his time as Archbishop of Canterbury to get the English Bible into the hands of the common person in England. As J. I. Packer rightly points out in this regard: “To make the Church of England a Bible-reading, Bible-loving church was Cranmer’s constant ideal.” The ultimate fruit of this Bible-reading, Bible-loving church was Puritanism, and, of deep interest to this writer, the Calvinistic Baptist movement.
Or look at the collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity:
God (the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy), increase & multiply upon us thy mercy, that thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake our Lord. Amen.
Here, we see Cranmer’s rich sense of the Christian’s utter dependence upon God for strength and holiness, mercy and guidance in this life. It is typical of many of the collects that stress the majesty of God and the frailty of man. It also raises a disquieting though: our hold on eternity should not be taken for granted. It can only be secured by God’s grace.
Or here is the collect for Trinity Sunday:
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the unity; we beseech thee that through the steadfastness of this faith, we may evermore be defended from all adversity, who livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.
Again, we see the theme of the adversities of this life and the need for grace—but set within a marvelous trinitarian prayer. This collect illustrates for us the truth that ideas have consequences: the doctrine of the Trinity, when cordially embraced by the heart, is a defence in times of spiritual danger.
Then, consider this portion of a prayer from the Communion service in which Cranmer trumpets forth that salvation is by Christ alone:
Almighty God our heavenly Father, which of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ, to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption, who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world, and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death, until his coming again; hear us O merciful Father we beseech thee…
The declaration that Christ’s death is “a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction” for sin undercuts the entire theological edifice of mediæval Roman Catholicism. For that edifice—with its understanding of the mass as a re-sacrifice for sin, both that of the living and of the dead in purgatory, with its indulgences and rosaries and pilgrimages—was built on the supposition that humanity can do something to earn salvation and that medieval Roman Catholic piety could help speed souls through the purgatory. But Cranmer was convinced that all human endeavours to make appeasement for our sins and gain merit in the eyes of God are utterly futile. Due to the fact that, in Cranmer’s words elsewhere, “all men be sinners and offenders against God, and breakers of his law and commandments, therefore can no man by his own acts, works, and deeds…be justified and made righteous before God.” Christ’s peerless death is alone sufficient to appease the wrath of God against human sin and cleanse from all unrighteouness those who put their trust in him.
Little wonder then that Cranmer was of the conviction that salvation by Christ alone and justification by faith alone is, in Cranmer’s words:
[T]he strong rock and foundation of Christian religion: this doctrine all old and ancient authors of Christ’s Church do approve: this doctrine advanceth and setteth forth the true glory of Christ, and suppresseth the vainglory of man: this whosoever denieth is not to be reputed for a Christian man, nor for a setter forth of Christ’s glory, but for an adversary to Christ and his gospel, and for a setter forth of men’s vainglory.
Here Cranmer identified what lay at the heart of the Reformation. The one side relied solely on the all-sufficiency of Christ’s death—“a setter forth of Christ’s glory” he calls each individual in this camp. The other side, which denied this biblical truth, Cranmer is convinced cannot be described as Christian, but must be seen as opposed to Christ and “a setter forth of men’s vainglory.” Within a year or so of the publication of the 1552 edition of the Book of Common Prayer the unbridgeable gulf between these two sides would plunge England, and Cranmer personally, into turmoil and bloody strife. …
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