Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Is Anglicanism Reformed?

The very title of this post will give some folks the vapours, as they have been brought up in the Post-Tractarian World in which, if Anglicanism is seen as Reformed at all, it is with a small 'r' that is immediately followed by the word Catholic. No-one on the Reformed side of Anglicanism would actually disagree with this, but they would define Reformed in more stringent terms than merely knocking a few mediaeval barnacles off the ark of salvation.

The argument that Anglicanism belongs to the Reformed family of Churches starts with the nature of the English Reformation itself. Unlike many of the German principalities, England had a slow reformation - lasting from approximately 1533 to 1604, though the main phase ended in 1571 with the publication of the final version of the Articles of Religion. However, before we run off with the idea that the Articles had fundamentally changed their character, it has to be remembered that the 1563 version of the Articles was also in the Reformed camp, as were the Forty-two Articles of 1553 which preceded them. You would have to go back to the unpublished Thirteen Articles of 1537/8 before you found a Lutheran statement of faith produced by English Churchmen, and even then it is very hesitant, being the product of Thomas Cromwell's pro-German policy in the run-up to the Cleves marriage.

If one looks at the two main confessional documents of the English Reformation, the (39) Articles of Religion, and the Book of Common Prayer, a series of proposition emerges that definitely put the Church of England into that strand of the Augustinian Theological tradition which we call "Protestantism" and furthermore, to put it into the subset known as "Reformed." So let us spend some time looking at these formularies in turn.

The Articles
The 39 Articles have a fairly extensive pre-history in that Cranmer had been working on a confession for the English Church on-and-off since 1536. However, one factor one has to contend with is that Cranmer himself evolved theologically throughout his adult life from a humanist Catholic, to a 'Lutheran' to someone who held a theological position that may be labelled 'Reformed.' The question when looking at statements of faith, sermons, and other documents that come from his pen is 'when?' Cranmer was cautious in his public pronouncements avoiding make controversial statements until he thought he had the full support of those in authority over him. It seems likely that Cranmer moved from the Lutheran to the Reformed camp somewhere before 1545, but as late as 1548, in response to the need for a reformation catechism, he allowed the publication of the Catechism of Justus Jonas, a Lutheran work. However, the 1549 BCP show the influence of Bucer and Melanchthon so that, even though the format is very conservative, the doctrinal passages, such as the exhortations in the Mass, already show the influence of the Rhenish Reformers. Cranmer certainly seems to have openly favoured the Philippist/Reformed camp during Edward VI's reign. With Peter Martyr, Martin Bucer, Fagius, and Jan Laski all active in England together with native Reformed sympathizers such as Nicholas Ridley, John Hooper, Rowland Taylor, Hugh Latimer, Miles Coverdale, and Cranmer himself, the Edwardine Church took on a markedly Reformed hew. This move certain left its mark on the Forty-two Articles of 1553. The 39 Articles of 1563/71 differ little from the 42 Articles of 1552 except for a slight softening of the wording of certain articles, and the removal of certain references which had lost their topicality by 1563. In principle, the Articles of 1563 are best described as being concerned firstly in establish the broad catholicity of the English Church (Articles 1-8); its acceptance of Augustinian theology (Articles 9-18); its Protestant critique of Rome (Articles 19 to 24); its acceptance of the Reformed variant of the Augustinian theology of the Sacraments and Ministry (Articles 25-33); and finally with the particular concerns of the English/Anglican Church in terms of the relationship of Scripture and Tradition, and Church and State (Articles 34-39). In many respects it is the influence of Bucer, Bullinger, and Melanchthon which is strongest, rather than that of Luther or Calvin. I would basically describe the Articles of Religion as being 'moderate Reformed' meaning that have a positive and dynamic understanding of the sacraments, which aims to maintain the positive aspects of sacramental teaching without getting bogged down in scholastic speculation. It is actually in its teaching about the Lord's Supper that the Articles show their moderate Reformed pedigree most clearly in that they affirm the 'Real, Spiritual Presence' or 'Virtualism' of Bucer, Calvin, and Melanchthon, rather than the more subjective views of say Bullinger, or the realist version of Sacramental Union with its dependency on the concepts of communication idiomata, and ubiquity a beloved of Lutheran Orthodoxy, though it is perhaps closer to the latter in intent. In other respects, such as their position on Justification, Election, and the Authority of the Church the Articles walk a line between the Reformed and Lutheran positions in the hopes of building a Protestant Consensus. In most respects, though, the Articles of Religion line up theologically with their Reformed contemporaries, the Belgic Confession, and the Second Helvetian Confession. However, their spirit is alien to the Rationalist theology of the eighteenth century as they require the reader to engage positively with concepts such as Predestination to Life, Baptismal Regeneration, and the Spiritual, Real Presence, which were common in the later sixteenth century, but were nonsense to the Rationalist and Latitudinarians. Modernists find their high view of Scripture difficult to take, whilst Anglo-Catholics find them insufferably Protestant and either try and explain them away (Tract XC), or more honestly, simply apply a razorblade to them.

The Book of Common Prayer
If, theologically, the Church of England was more-or-less at one with the German strain in the Reformed tradition, she showed a good deal of independence in her liturgy. One suspects that the Puritans were correct in their assessment that if Bloody Mary had not come along Cranmer would have made further changes, but God in His providence ordained otherwise, and what the Puritans 'got stuck with' was a modified version of Cranmer's second BCP of 1552 which suited Elizabeth I's purpose of creating a Protestant National Church. Before I get into the details I think we do need to dispose of some myths.

The first of these is that the 1549 BCP still 'catholic' whilst the 1552 is 'protestant.' On the face of it this would seem to be true, but it has to be remembered that the Exhortations were an integral part of the Liturgy as conceived by Cranmer, and therefore the 1549 already contains the 'True Presence' Eucharistic theology which the mature Cranmer had embraced at some point prior to 1549. Cranmer also abolished the Gregorian Canon, the Offertory and the major Elevations which were seen as the underpinnings of Transubstantiation and the Sacrifice of the Mass by the Reformers. In a very real sense 1549 is a Protestant liturgy that tries to hide the fact, whilst 1552 makes its Reformed and reforming credentials much more apparent.

In the last 30 years a consensus has emerged that the old story that Elizabeth I would have preferred the 1549 BCP to be reintroduced in 1559 has largely been disposed of. The minor changes in the 1552 were intended to reconcile "Lutherans" and cultural conservatives (to import a modern concept) to the Settlement. Thus the Queen and Council agreed to a temporary retention of Mass vestments and much of the old paraphernalia of worship to reconcile conservative laymen to the Settlement. In the end, Elizabeth was perhaps forced to move faster than she intended, and the net effect of the policy decisions of 1558-1565 was to create the two worship traditions within Anglicanism - the Court tradition which governed worship in the Chapel Royal. the Cathedrals and Collegiate Church, and a more obviously Reformed parish church tradition. These two traditions were to coexist for the next 300 years until major elements of "Cathedral" worship were imported into the Parish Churches in the mid-Victorian period.

The 1552, 1559 and 1662 BCPs both blend Catholic, Lutheran, and Reformed elements. Much traditional material was retained for the old service books even though it was often reworked, so for example, the Breviary was abridged and reworked into Morning and Evening Prayer, whilst the traditional Latin Litany was reworked, along the lines of Luther's Litany into the version we have in the BCP today. Cranmer was very often the 'filter' through which continental ideas were incorporated into English practice, and in particular he seems to have drawn on a variety of Lutheran and moderate Reformed texts. Most folks are familiar with the idea that Cranmer and his Committee used the 'Simple and Religious Consultation' drawn up for Archbishop Herman von Weid by Martin Bucer and Philip Melanchthon as one of his major sources for the 1549, and I also believe it is well-known that both Martin Bucer, and Peter Martyr Vermigli offered critiques of the 1549 which did much to guide the 1552 revision. However, Cranmer did not allow his own sense of what was 'proper' to be overwhelmed by his advisors, and at least so far as Morning and Evening Prayer were concerned apart from the addition of a penitential introduction the conservative tone remained. The Baptismal Office received some adjustments such as the omission of chrism and the Chrisom (christening robe) but the most radical changes were to the Communion Service.

The 1549 had preserved much of the old structure of the Mass, the only significant omissions being the Gradual, the Offertory prayers, and the old Canon. This relatively traditional service had had inserted into it the 1548 Order of Communion immediately before the reception of the sacrament. This consisted of an Exhortation, General Confession, Absolution, Comfortable Words, and that masterpiece of Cranmer's, the Prayer of Humble Access. The Order of Communion had contained most of the Reforming material in the 1549 Communion Service, but in 1552 a far more radical approach was taken with Cranmer and his associates taking the traditional material and blending it to produce a new service similar in shape to the sort of Reformed Liturgy that Bucer had produced in Strasburg in the 1530s and early 1540s with features of Bucer's Reformed service, such as the Decalogue, now appearing in the English BCP. I will examine the relationship between the Liturgical work of Cranmer and that of Bucer in a future post, but for the time being I will be content with the following observations.

The Traditional Fore-Mass is considerably rearranged. Instead of the Collect for Purity, Introit, Kyrie and Gloria we now have the Collect for Purity, the Decalogue with an expanded Kyrie as the response to each Commandment. The traditional Collects, Epistles and Gospels are largely retained as they had been in 1549, the Creed and Sermon follow in their accustomed place, and then after the collection of alms, the Prayer for the Church Militant occurs, reflecting both the custom of the Mozarabic Rite, and, closer to hand, the practice of the Reformed Church in Strasburg. On most Sundays the service could conclude at this point with one or more collects and the blessing. As the people were unaccustomed to frequent communion, and the rule was now 'no Mass without Communicants' this meant that weekly celebration of the Eucharist soon became the exception rather than the rule. As a result it became necessary to give warning of when there would be a Communion, and two exhortations are provided for this purpose, one of which originally appeared in 1549.

When the Lord's Supper was celebrated the next item was an exhortation to self-examination and worthy Communion. This fencing of the Table was typical of Reformed practice, though Cranmer's exhortation owes as much to Lutheran sources as to Reformed. Then comes the Invitation and General Confession followed by the Absolution and Comfortable Words. Cranmer makes one of his rare literary slips here reversing Bucer's order by putting the Absolution first. The Preface survives as was common in Lutheranism, as does the Sanctus. Then follows the Prayer of Humble Access which in this position becomes very obviously a prayer for worthy participation in the mystery rather one directed towards worthy reception of the elements. The Eucharistic Prayer then follows, and consists of little more than a brief statement of why the church does this, and the Words of Institution. In 1552 and 1559 there were no manual acts. Communion followed by the Lord's Prayer then follows. The Eucharistic Prayer is completed by either the Prayer of Oblation or the Prayer of Thanksgiving, then the Gloria in Excelsis is said, and lastly the priest dismisses the congregation with a blessing. One thing that is truly notable about Cranmer's Eucharistic rite is that it places communion in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer to further reinforce the idea that it is first and foremost a communion service, and to emphasize that the real presence is not localized in the bread and wine, but is actualized through faithful participation in the mystery. It was actually a bit of a master stroke when the 1549 and 1559 words of administration were combined in 1559, as its balance of realist and symbolist language neatly expresses the Bucerian understanding of the Eucharist that Cranmer had embraced in the 1540s.

It can be seen from this that the principal reason that Anglo-Catholics of all stripes have done their best to either abrogate, or remodel and reinterpret the Eucharistic rite Cranmer left the Church is that its view of the Eucharist falls into the Reformed type. Structurally it shares similarities with the Dutch and German Reformed liturgies which are just too obvious to deny; however, these similarities are obscured by the removal of traditional elements such as the Preface and Sanctus from continental forms.

I have not yet sufficiently researched the Baptismal Office, but my preliminary investigations have shown that the sort of very positive language that one sees in the Prayer Book concerning baptismal regeneration is anything but foreign to mid-16th century Reformed theology. Bucer, Bullinger, Calvin, and Vermigli all had a high view of baptism - perhaps so high as to surprise their 21st century followers if they were to investigate the matter. However, I shall have to leave this aside for a future article.

It may be seen from the above notes that the two main forms we have inherited from the Reformation period, the Articles of Religion, and the Book of Common agree theologically with the German-Swiss and Rhenish Reformed traditions, though they are to some degree at odds with the Scottish tradition. In the main the differences between the late sixteenth century Church of England, and the Reformed Churches of Zurich, Basle, the Rhine Palatinate, etc., were of governance and custom not theology. Therefore, all attempts to "unprotestantize" the Anglican tradition are by definition unhistorical in their basis.


  1. Glad to see you posting again your Grace!

  2. It is absurdly Reformed. Look at Anglo-Catholics... It is Wesleyan-Arminian as God meant it to have. Via Media blah blah and Puritan stains.

  3. Great article! Thank you for careful research and food for thought.

  4. Do Anglicans accept the doctrine of real presence as Confessional Lutherans teach? Has Anglicanism ever historically accepted this doctrine, that Christ is truly bodily present in both the bread and wine?

    1. The general tendency in pre-Tractarian Anglican theology was to take a position similar to that of Martin Bucer - that Christ was present through the elements, not in the elements. In the nineteenth century that position relaxed a little, and these days you can find Anglican who would say that the Sacramental Union takes place in, with and through the elements.

      In truth, the two positions that are ruled out in Anglicanism are (1) Transubstantiation, and (2) Memorialism.