Recapturing the meaning of Anglicanism
Book review of Reformation Anglicanism: Essays on Edwardian Evangelicalism
Edited by Mark Earngey and Stephen Tong, Latimer Trust, 2023
Reformation Anglicanism is a brilliant introduction to the shape and development of the English church during the brief reign of Edward VI (1547–1553) through a look at foundational documents, figures, and events. The collection begins with a brief foreword by Peter Jensen, who argues that our fidelity to the written word of God allows conservatives today to “hear and respect” the witness of the English reformers who too believed in the power of the gospel to transform their lives.
In their introduction, editors Mark Earngey and Stephen Tong outline the purpose both of this collection of essays as well as Reformation studies more generally: as Anglicans, we are heirs of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and so can understand our identity only in the history of our church. When the authors of these essays look at the earliest leaders of the Anglican church, they can use the term “evangelical” because they are primarily committed to the “norming norm” of Scripture and the faithful proclamation of the gospel as central to the identity of the English Reformation (2, 154). In that sense, this collection of essays is an attempt to recapture the Protestant self-understanding of Anglicanism as it developed during Edward VI’s reign.
The essays begin with Mark D. Thompson’s analysis of the first homily in the first Book of Homilies, which “were part of a wider program of disseminating reformed doctrine and pastoral practice throughout the realm” (15). The English church was the only one to promulgate official homilies as part of its statement of faith, and reading them shows the evangelical character behind the English reformation because they begin with an exhortation to faithful Scripture reading. For the English reformers, Scripture is the means by which Christ is brought to us, and therefore any neglect of it does a great harm to the church.
Mark Earngey then defends understanding John Ponet’s Short Catechisme as a neglected formulary of the Anglican church since it is an exposition of the Articles of Religion and is therefore representative of the theological convictions during Edward’s reign (43). Since it is thoroughly reformed in character, particularly in its doctrines of Christology, justification, predestination, and eucharistic theology (and in fact was a key text for Augustus Toplady), Earngey argues that its status should be restored as a formulary because of its widespread use in catechesis and its concurrent publication with the Articles of Religion.
In the third essay, Tim Patrick compares the earlier draft of the 45 Articles of Religion with the later 42 Articles published six months later—just prior to Edward VI’s death. Patrick argues that these changes are substantial and reflect a church which was still grappling with its own doctrinal convictions even as it was attempting to provide for more “generous inclusivism” (60) for those with differing convictions. A study of the 45 Articles provides an avenue to see how the theological commitments of the Edwardian Evangelicals changed over time.
Gerald Bray offers up a study of the Reformatio legum ecclesiasticarum, which was the earliest attempt to reform English canon law and create a system of discipline in the church, which “is the key that holds doctrine and devotion together, the essential ingredient that binds the body of Christ into a single, effective unit” (63). Since the Reformatio was composed at the same time and by the same people as the original 42 Articles of Religion, it can be used as a commentary and supplement to the Articles to explain what they mean in greater detail in cases of ambiguity. Bray then carefully works through each of the titles, showing how the principles expressed therein help illumine the other formularies and demonstrate the fundamental reformed character of the earliest English Reformers.
Moving away from documents and into personalities, Stephen Tong attempts to rehabilitate the image of Bishop John Hooper as a magisterial reformer for the English church. Rather than viewing him as the first of the non-conformists, Tong believes that Hooper used “the ecclesiastical structures of his day to forward the kingdom work of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (87). His concern was that the forms of worship match the content of worship, and therefore the form of worship ought to reflect the reformed and Protestant character of the theologies of the English Reformation.
In the sixth essay, Ashley Null works through Cranmer’s notebooks to see how he interacts with other church leaders, both on the continent during his own time—particularly Melanchthon and Oecolampadius—and the church father Cyril of Alexandria. Null argues through a close reading of Cranmer’s writings that he affirmed a spiritual presence of Christ in Communion while maintaining a believer is united to the whole Christ (114). While an apparent contradiction, these twin beliefs mark a theologian who was deeply read and widely conversant with various views and yet who attempted to faithfully articulate the teaching of Scripture in light of the theological insights of other Christians.
In an essay which examines neither person nor document, Edward Loane walks through the theology and practices of cathedral churches during the Edwardian Reformation in order to show that even the architectural landscape was transformed to make way for evangelical purposes. Loane makes a compelling case that the cathedrals were retained, not only because they were beautiful, but because they could be used as “centres of learning, preaching and teaching” (131). Even though England retained its episcopal structure, the cathedrals became sites, not of pilgrimage, but of the gospel.
Joe Mock turns away from English characters to focus on Heinrich Bullinger’s influence on the English Reformation. Though he never visited England, Bullinger helped Cranmer through his publications and personal correspondence to develop a new episcopal policy—bishops are akin to the Old Testament prophets who advise and warn the king (148)—and to implement a clearer, more articulate Reformed theology in England (158). By examining Bullinger’s influence, Mock is able to articulate how the Continental Reformation came to impact the English one.
In the final essay of the collection, N. Scott Amos continues the focus on extra-English reformers with Martin Bucer and his time teaching at Cambridge, most particularly in his contentious legacy at the University. Though revered by contemporaries like Matthew Parker and desecrated by later Romanists, Bucer’s legacy at Cambridge is one which helped shape the Reformed character of the English reformation.
Reformation Anglicanism concludes with three appendices: first, the homily on Scripture referred to by Mark Thompson’s article on the same; second, John Ponet’s Short Catechisme, Mark Earngey’s “neglected formulary,” and for the first time ever fully in English, Derek Scales’ translation of the Forty-Five Articles (49). All three of these resources are difficult to find, but by including them here the editors allow interested readers the opportunity to explore and assess the central thesis of this book: namely, that the reformation in England under Edward VI is most fundamentally a Protestant and Evangelical Reformation of the Church of England.
Taken altogether, the essays in this collection offer a thoroughgoing reclamation of the fundamentally evangelical characteristic of the English Reformation. By examining the foundational documents and characters, Latimer has once again offered a vision of Anglicanism which aligns most closely with the self-understanding of its architects and which disproves “the Anglo-Catholic historiographical myth of the Church of England as a peculiar via media between Rome and the Reformed” (9). Instead, a closer look at the sixteenth century reign of Edward VI and his courtiers provides irrefutable evidence, faithfully compiled and argued for here in Reformation Anglicanism, that Anglicans are Reformed Protestants; these essays, then, are a welcome addition to the Anglican world for their fidelity to understanding the English church in its foundations first. For once these foundations are secured, contemporary Anglicans can better define and articulate their own self-understanding.