Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

England’s Initial Repudiation of Luther

A few notes from Prof. William Clebsch.
Clebsch, William. England’s Earliest Protestants: 1520-1535.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964. It is available at:
Chapter 2—England’s Initial Repudiation of Luther, 11-23

The Crown, Church and some scholars sprung to a defense.  But, aside from Fisher, More, Tunstall, Warham and Henry, who took up the cudgels against the burgeoning Lutheranism on the Continent? (11) Who else besides these four were rebuffing Lutheranism on English soil?  Prof. Clebsch give pride of honor to Bishop Fisher (too much?)

Leo X had issued Ex Surge on 15 June 1520, commanding that Luther’s books be burned and taking up 41 articles against the Germanic Teuton in Wittenberg (11).

Luther’s “Treatise on the Power of the Pope and Bishops” was popular at Oxford (12), although this notice seems anachronistic since it was published in 1537.  (cf., a commendable document)

Luther’s writings were burned at St. Paul’s Cross, London on 12 May 1521.  This was arranged by Cardinal Wolsey and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester.  Fisher preached the sermon “damning the new heresies” (12).  Leo X’s “bull” had been off the presses 10 months earlier, but the imperial Edict of Worms was to come—26 May 1521. 

By the time of the Wolsey/Fisher book burning in London, Luther was in the Wartburg Castle with beginning preparations to translate the Bible into German.

In 1521, two months after Bishop Fisher’s sermon, Henry VIII had issued the infamous Assertio Septem Sacramentorum.  Available online at: . 


On the same day, 12 May 1521, William Warham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, informed Cardinal Wolsey that he had letters in hand from Oxford that the University had been “infected with Lutheranism and many books forbidden by Wolsey had obtained circulation” (12).  Some “incircumspect fools” had brought the entire University under suspicion.  At this point, we wish Prof. Clebsch offered specifics—what volumes, books, tracts?  Who was reading what?  The Prof. advises that “Protestant books seem to have circulated widely in London, Oxford, and Cambridge.”

In 1521, two months after Bishop Fisher’s sermon, Henry VIII had issued the infamous Assertio Septem Sacramentorum.  Available online at: . 


Prof. Clebsch notes that Henry's volume is “theologically amateurish” although “historically momentous” (19).  Luther accused Henry’s volume as “ghost written” (19) with Fisher and More as the likely authors.  The volume was shallow and surrounded by a “wall of derision” with “more influence than merit” (22).

Luther dispatched his Contra Henricum Regum Angliae on 15 July 1522. Luther:  Nor is it much if I despise and bite this earthly King…”  This humorous read can be found at:


A little taste of Luther’s trumpet blast against Henry, to wit:


Since then it has pleased this mask of a King with worthless words, without quoting an example, to play the fool in a matter so serious and sacred, I state without mask and openly: The King of England, this Henry, clearly lies, and with his lies, acts the part of a comic jester rather than that of a king. Of this crime, I, Luther, openly accuse this evil-speaking Thomist, and by the testimony of my books and my world-wide readers, I convict him. Let his royal majesty and your humble servant be from now on discounted as far as I am concerned; I am speaking to a lying buffoon, hidden under a kingly title, and speaking concerning divine truths, which it is every Christian man's duty to protect from lying abuse. If the foolish King so much forgets his Kingship that he dares to come into public view with open lies, and does so while treating of sacred subjects, why is it not a right and proper thing for me to throw his lies back in his face, so that if he derives any pleasure from lying against the divine Majesty, he may lose it when he hears the truth about his own majesty?”


By 12 October 1524, Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, London, called in several booksellers to his palace.  He warned them about imported books.  Further, he commanded them to direct any imported books to Wolsey (Cardinal and Papal legate), Warham (CANTUAR), Fisher (Rochester) and himself (London).  These hierarchs would be the book-reviewers of the heresiarchs.

Fisher appears to have been the chief and earliest literary defender of the Church of England.  He had royal patronage from earlier years (we’ve covered this elsewhere).  He was a preacher, teacher, scholar, proctor and later chancellor of Cambridge before becoming the Bishop of Rochester. (Rochester is about 30 miles SE of London about 0400 as the crow flies.) 

Thomas More enters the fray in his diatribes against William Tyndale by 1528, but Henry VIII and Fisher had already been at work.  Fisher places Luther amongst other “deviational divines” akin to Arius and Wycliffe (15-16), tackling sola scriptura, sola fides, justification, faith, and works.  Luther bore the “marks of all heretics and servants of anti-Christ” (16). According to Prof. Clebsch, Fisher is the only English divine pro-actively “producing scholarly refutations of Luther during the critical years of 1520-1529” (18). 

Fisher’s works:

  • Treatise concernynge...the seven penytencyall Psalms" (London, 1508);
  • Sermon...agayn ye pernicyous doctrin of Martin Luther (London, 1521);
  • Assertionis Lutheranae confutatio (1523)

  • Defensio Henrici VIII" (Cologne, 1525);
  • Sacri sacerdottii defensio contra Lutheranum and Defensio Regie assertionis contra Babylonicam captivitatem (1525)
  • Vernacular Sermon (1526)—preached at another book burning arranged by Cardinal Wolsey
  • De Veritate Corporis et Sanguinis Christi in Eucharistia, adversus Johannem Oecolampadium (Cologne, 1527)—an attack on Oecolampadius in Basel;
  • De Causa Matrimonii...Henrici VIII cum Catharina Aragonensi (Alcalá de Henares, 1530);
  • The Wayes to Perfect Religion (London, 1535);
  • A Spirituall Consolation hys sister Elizabeth (London, 1735).

Fisher, John. "The English Works of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (1469–1535): Sermons and other Writings, 1520–1535," edited by Cecilia A. Hatt, Oxford University Press, 2002.  It’s a bit pricey, but we believe it will give insights.  Mr. Fisher was an international scholar.  He was vigorously combatting Luther and Oecolampadius in the 1520s.  Where was Cranmer? Available at: 

Prof. Clebsch does not mention it, but the Latin publications were all but an advertisement in behalf of Luther and stimulated conversations and inquiries.  By 1528, as Prof. MacCulloch has noted, the Cambridge don, Thomas Cranmer was digesting Bishop Fisher’s writings (lamenting the “over-the-top” rhetoric of Fisher but also being angry at Luther too).  Cranmer remains shadowy to this scribe in the 1520s, although we know “Little Germany” or “White Horse Inn’ was operational.

Fisher ultimately proves to be more of a Pope’s man than a King’s man. He’ll lose his head to Henry’s Axe-Man, but that’s for another day.

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