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:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Prof. Clebsch: England's Early Protestants, 1520-1535: "New Aggressions and Defenses"

Chapter Three:  NEW AGGRESSIONS AND DEFENSES, 1525-1526

Additional musings with Prof. Clebsch. We distinquish our imperfect musings and surmisings with the Professor’s by quotes. We are struggling with many connections here.  Big picture:  by 1525, the English Protestants were on the offensive and Crown, Cardinal and Church on the defense. Barnes and Tyndale appear to be the early leaders.
Clebsch, William. England’s Earliest Protestants: 1520-1535.  New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964. It is available at:

In the early 1520s, the Reformation was still an intra-Romanist operation.  Or, it was still, more or less, still in the Romanist house.

Fisher’s 1521 vernacular sermon at St. Paul’s, London, was before a Romano-Anglican group.  Luther had been getting sympathetic readings at Cambridge, but it was a scholars’ affair entirely outside the 9800-something parishes and Cathedral churches, not to mention abbeys and monasteries. The Crown and Church were officially and staunchly Romanist, notwithstanding Wycliffitism and Lollardy.

Prof. Clebsch argues for an “abrupt shift in circumstances” (24).  Here’s his narrative:

  • Luther made some bold moves to distinguish himself and followers following the Munster-affair, the Peasants’ Revolt, and the hot-house Schwarmerei, including Andreas Karlstadt
  • The League of Torgau united in 1525, a political arrangement of “evangelical princes” to disregard the imperial Edict of Worms
  • Anabaptist radicals like Munster were revealing ecclesiological differences
  • Erasmus attacked Luther on original sin, the consequences of Adamic sin, and the bondage of the will.  We’ll see more of this in this post.
  • Luther responded with his classic, The Bondage of the Will.  It’s available here:  As of 13 Dec 2014, it’s available freely in an abridged version in Kindle here: .  Electronically, it is available here:  We would add that Articles 9-11 of the Thirty-nine Articles summarize the issues, at times inartfully, but tolerably serviceable. 
  • By 1525, the Eucharistic issue developed.  There were Reformation influences “entrenched in certain German and Swiss duchies and canons” that made this stronger than “one rude monk” (25). 
  • We would insert here that we wish Prof. Clebsch would more specifically identify the early Lutheran influences within England by 1525.  We know of Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, Bp. John Fisher, and Thomas More, but specific Lutheran documents influencing whom?  More precisely?
  • Prof. Clebsch advises of a famous letter by Johannes Bugenhagen that appealed to England to join the movement.  To wit, “…that in England as in other countries the joyfull [sic] news of the glory of God was…well take of dyuerse [sic]…”  In the same letter, Bugenhagen laments that rumors circulated by enemies may hinder the movement.  The Prof. suggests that Tyndale put Bugenhagen’s translated letter into circulation.
  • Thomas More took in hand to rebut Bugenhagen.  He claims that the Lutherans bore evil fruits, engendered the Peasants’ War, produced strife between priests and peoples, produced iconoclasm, and encouraged violation of vows of celibacy.  More’s coup de grace, in his mind and probably in truth, was that Bugenhagen seriously underestimated just how Catholic (=Romanist) the King of England was (25).  Henry, after all, was the Defensor Fidei and he proudly sported it.  Again, however, like Fisher’s sermon and the book-burning at St. Paul’s, More was conferring dignity and heightening interest in Reformation issues.
  • By the end of 1525, the small band of scholars and sympathizers had assembled and were assembling at Cambridge, otherwise made famous by the term “Little Germany” meeting at the “White Horse Tavern.” Prof. Clebsch offers a preliminary and suggestive list (helpfully) of fifty and sixty members of the University (42):  Robert Barnes, Shaxton, Crome, Forman, Lambert, Mallory, Frith, Bilney, Arthur, Paget, Taverner, Cranmer (highlighted given our interest), Heath, Parker, May, Latimer, Ridley, Bale, Fox and Day—“a fair roster of subsequent leaders of England’s church reforms” (42).  Prof. Clebsch advises that the group—formally or informally?—chose Robert Barnes for the “role of spokesman” (42). 
  • 24 December 1525, Christmas Eve, the 4th Sunday in Advent.  Robert Barnes, the prior of Augustinian Friars and a leading figure “in the circle of scholars” preached at St. Edward’s Church a “paraphrase of Luther’s postil for the day” (24).  This raises the big issue again: what Lutheran documents were in Cambridge? 
  • 24 December 1525,  Hugh Latimer also raises “Reformation themes” (24), although Prof. Clebsch merely refers to this without further evidence.
  • Another shift:  William Tyndale and William Roy’s English translation of the NT had been printed at Cologne (possibly Hamburg?). 
  • By the end of 1525, Cardinal Wolsey was bracing “for another demonstration” (26).  Henry VIII communicated to Bp. John Longland (Lincoln) who, by Royal affirmation and directive, informed Cardinal Wolsey of “Henry’s full approval to hold a book-burning service” (26-27).  The King suggested, again, Bishop Fisher was the preacher for the service.  Fisher was “most meete to make that sermon…”  Longland added that Fisher was appropriate “propter auctoritatem, gravitatem, et doctrinam personae.”  Henry gave the order, Wolsey picked the date, Fisher prepared to speak and other details were arranged.  All of this while Barnes was holding forth on Christmas Eve, 1525, at St. Edward’s.
  • Quite tellingly, a Proclamation (a writ and search warrant?) was issued for a search for problematic books.  Merchants and stationers were ordered to surrender such.  Quarters were searched at Cambridge, but an earlier tip spread quickly and volumes/writings were hidden.
  • 11 February 1526.  Place: St. Paul’s, London. Time: 0800 AM. Quinquagesima Sunday.  Theme: a spectacular show of repudiation, abjuration, and a good solid show of burning books. “Special scaffolds over the stairs” was erected to hold approximately forty-plus ecclesiastical dignitaries—36 abbots, mitred priors, bishops, chaplains, and doctors, all in “damask and silk” (27).  A special pulpit was put above these seated dignitaries.  All this elevated for good theater.  Opposite the scaffold for the church dignitaries another special scaffold was created for the religious criminals.  Again, for visibility.
    In between the two scaffolds were “baskets of books” but, Prof. Clebsch informs us, not a lot given the determined search in London, Oxford and Cambridge.  But there it all was. The candidates for abjuration:  the Augustinian Friar Robert Barnes and five merchants.  While Fisher preached, these six unfortunate chaps were forced to kneel, renounce their views (Clebsch does not specify what), and beg for forgiveness from the Crown and Church.  Was it noisy?  Yes.  Some could not hear the sermon. While Fisher preached, the public service of abjuration continued. Wolsey departed just before the book-burning occurred.  Since Cranmer remains a focus of interest and his intersection with the Reformation, we would infer that he surely knew of these events.  Fisher’s sermon was—once again, like 1521, in that book-burning—was in English and designed for modern consumption.  He viewed Lutheranism as “very dangerous,” an “ecclesiastical enemy,” and directed auditors to repudiate Luther, his sympathizers, writings and books.  Although Prof. Clebsch does not mention it, it would be interesting to have an attendance list, including foreign ambassadors from the varied countries. Fisher’s sermon was later printed “because noise during the service left many unable to hear him” (28). In the sermon, he made a “remarkable offer,” to wit, “If any scrupled,” he would “meet privately and confidentially `that either eh shal [sic] make me a Lutheran/orels [sic] I shall enduce hym to be a catholyke” (28).  Fisher believed that “abject submission to the Church” was the “cure” (28).  A Lutheran was “the blind man” and an “heretic”, “solitary,” and “unseeing” akin to a “Turk” (29).  Luther had denied the approved doctors and Christ’s promise to be with the Church.  Luther was “carnal” and a violater of “monastic vows.”  “Abominable heretics” and “dangerous revolutionaries.”  “Destestors of cardinal virtues.”  Prof. Clebsch summarizes the sermon as consisting of the “usual inconsequential invectives” (30).  However, the point is to be noted: this was in English and was quite a show.  And poof!  Lutheran documents went up in flames.
  • Fisher’s two vernacular sermons of 1521 and 1526 were the “official ecclesiastical and doctrinal policy of the English Throne and Church” (31).  As a result, English Reformers/traditionalists began to interact with Fisher’s works.  We have noted that Mr. Cranmer was interacting with Fisher in 1528, per Diarmaid MacCulloch.  We also know that Patrick Hamilton was put to the flames c. 1 Mar 1528 in Scotland. The word was getting out—thanks to those seeking to repress it.  The Pope, Emperor Charles VI, and Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, Bishop Fisher, and Thomas More were helping to advertise the Reformation, albeit seeking the opposite.  The themes of justification by faith alone, church authority, Scriptural authority, clerical celibacy, church control of salvation, purgatory, vernacular Scriptures, image and saint veneration as “efficacious” to salvation, free will, original sin—these matters were on the scholars’ tables.  William Tyndale, Frith, Barnes, Joye and Roy were on these things.  Patrick Hamilton was atop these things. All this before 1529, when the “King’s Matter” gets greater press and Thomas Cranmer becomes Henry’s hired advocate.
  • More’s involvements.  Beyond Fisher, Thomas More replied to Johannes Bugenhagen’s open and publicized letter to Englishmen, albeit done in Latin.   Prof. Clebsch again notes that More may have been the “ghost writer” of Henry’s Assertio.  On 5 March 1518, More learned of Luther’s 95 Theses from Erasmus, an old hand, former Cambridge Professor, and academic-drifter-publisher (of international fame) on the Continent.  More began his studies of Luther.  In 1520, he read Luther’s De Captivitate babyolinica ecclesiae.  More used Fisher’s patristic work and sources and citations from St. Augustine to undermine Luther. Luther was published in Latin and German in the interests of exposing Luther’s vehemence and danger—the opposite obtained.  Interest and debate result.
  • According to Prof. Clebsch, More published pseudonymously and in London a tract against Luther’s Contra Henricum Regum Angliae.  Luther’s trumpet-blast was put out on 15 July 1522. Luther:  Nor is it much if I despise and bite this earthly King…”  This humorous read can be found at: .   This response to Luther to an English King received very wide circulation. More signed the volume on 15 October 1523.  More hated Luther’s “curtness” to the English King. It was 400 pages, a “mountain of prose” (32).  More copiously cited Luther’s letter, but also The Babylonian Captivity, itself published in early October 1520.  Result by October 1523:  wide dissemination of Luther in England with a hat tip to More.  More’s “ferocity” was on view. Views on More ranged from “easy and popular” to “scurrilous” to “too bitter and scathing to quote” (33).  More called Luther and sympathizers “cacangelists,” a play on the Greek words for “bad news men.” They were “evil,” “arrogant,” “licentious,” “capricious,” and that sola fide was a “rationalization for theological license and personal license” (33).
  • 1524-1525:  More also disliked Luther’s “cudgeling” of Erasmus in the imbroglio over original sin, depravity and The Bondage of the Will.  More viewed himself and associates as the “victors” and the Reformers as “miserably unscholarly” (34).  According to Prof. Clebsch, More did “not reveal an intelligent understanding of their [Reformers’] teaching and their appeal” (34).
  • Prof. Clebsch draws this conclusion:  by 1526, there was a “new seriousness” aobut the “Lutheran threat” in England.
  • 1527:  Bishop Tunstall of London commissions More to continue his efforts.
  • Gas on the flames:  Henry’s Royal Correspondence.  Luther writes a letter to Continental princes about Luther’s “irate” reply (37).  Prof. Clebsch notes that Henry VIII’s reply was 11 times longer than Luther’s response.  We wonder if Thomas More is behind it.  It too works through Luther’s points—point-by-point rebuttals, again giving Luther wide dissemination. Henry was seriously “stung” by “Luther’s attribution of the Assertio to others, probably Wolsey” (38).  Henry proudly claimed “the book as his own” (39).  Henry claims that the only English supporters were “one or two Freres apostates/ron out of our realme/raigning riote and vnthriftye lyberte with you [sic]” (38).  He vowed that he would never condescend to “dispute with such a fellow” (39).   This correspondence too was in Latin and the vernacular, “another assertion of the King’s stedfast adherence to Catholicism” (40).  By 1526, he still was proud of the title Defensor Fidei. 
  • Prof. Clebsch’s conclusion:  “By the end of 1526, Protestants had seized the offensive in England” (41).  The Crown, Cardinal, clerical and lay deans were discussing these matters “in a common tongue” (41).  (Meanwhile, Tyndale’s NT was making inroads to England too.)  Luther’s books might be burned at St. Paul’s in 1526, but the Word of God in English was being burned too.

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