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:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

4 January 1581 A.D. Peter Leithart: Birth of James Ussher & His Soteriology

4 January 1581 A.D.  Peter Leithart:  Birth of James Ussher & His Soteriology

Peter "Constantine" Leithart offers this on Mr. (Abp.) James Ussher.

Leithart, Peter. "Ussher's Soteriology."  First Things. 15 May 2014.  Accessed 15 May 2014.

A recent addition to Oxford Studies in Historical Theology, Richard Snoddy’s Soteriology of James Ussher offers a detailed study of an important but neglected figure. If he is known at all, Ussher is known today as a chronologist. Snoddy’s is one of several recent works that shows the breadth of Ussher’s interests and work.

Ussher stands among the “hypothetical universalists” of English theology (on which see Jonathan Moore’s 
English Hypothetical Universalism), who rejected the notion of limited atonement and “advocated a general atonement” while believing that “its saving benefits were applied only through the workings of saving grace” (90). Snoddy’s aim is partly to challenge a simplistic “Calvin v. the Calvinist” paradigm of Reformed historiography that would link “moderate” doctrine with anti-scholastic methods. Snoddy emphasizes that, though Ussher was a “moderate” on the extent of the atonement he followed a “scholastic” method, cutting across the categories of this school of Reformed history.

Following Calvin and many Puritans, Ussher puts union with Christ at the center of his notion of applied soteriology (123). He insisted against Roman Catholic theology that faith was the instrument of justification, since faith was self-forgetful. But he argued that the real issue between Rome and the Protestant churches was not faith but the very possibility of justification: “the question between us and Rome, is not whether justification be by faith or no; but whether there be any such thing as justification or no. The doctrine of the Church of Rome is, that there is no such grace as this” (122) - no grace of justification, that is, defined in Protestant terms as forensic declaration based on imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

Ussher changed his mind regarding limited atonement, and he also changed his mind regarding assurance. Snoddy concludes that in his early years he believed that assurance was closely linked with the faith of justification: “So intimate is this connection . . . that one may reasonably infer that as a young man he held that assurance is of the essence of faith” (233). In later years, though, he became “a convinced experimental predestinarian, urging his hearers to make their calling and election sure, a spiritual director guiding them in reading the motions of the Spirit in their hearts” (234).

Again, this cuts through the Calvin-v.-Calvinist paradigm, according to which the question of the extent of the atonement marches in step with the question of assurance: limited atonement linked with assurance found in the evidence of grace, non-limited atonement with the view that assurance is the essence of faith.

Snoddy’s monograph is one of a growing number of books that helpfully demonstrates the complexity, variety, and subtlety of post-Reformation Reformed theology.

No comments: