The topic of this and, hopefully, the next couple of posts is to take a brief look at the English reformation prior to Queen Mary’s ascension and the period following Queen Elizabeth’s enthronement. The question I pose is - How deep, thorough, and on-going was the English reformation during this period of time considering the trials that transpired over the next 100 years?
The conventional and yet, I would submit, questionable understanding of the years 1547 to 1553 under King Edward is that it was a time of robust and unimpeded advancement in reforming the Church's doctrine and practice. Certainly, to a significant extent, this was indeed the case. Over the course of those years Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had introduced a reformed liturgy of worship in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and the subsequent and further reformed 1552 version. 1547 saw the first Book of Homilies published to aid the teaching and preaching of the Gospel doctrines in a country lacking clergy fluent in that very Gospel. A reformed confession of faith, The Forty-Two Articles, was completed in 1552 and issued in 1553. That confession embodied the redemptive teachings of Scripture emphasized by the reformers: Salvation of sinful man was by God’s grace alone, through faith only, in Jesus Christ and his finished work alone.
Yet, those Gospel advancements in England were far from universally accepted within Church and State. There had long been a persistant Roman Catholic party of bishops throughout Cranmer’s service as Archbishop which had resisted the reforms he sought under King Henry (1533-1547). In his biography of Cranmer, Diarmaid MacCulloch chronicles a see-saw battle which ensued during those years between the Evangelicals under Cranmer and the Conservative Roman Catholic party in which bishop Stephen Gardiner played a prominent role. One could accurately describe the progress of the reformation in England during that time as a repetitive dance of three steps forward and two steps back. And unfortunately that frustrating struggle did not cease during the "golden" years following Henry’s death under the youthful King Edward.
In 1547, Cranmer then invited the influential Italian reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli to England to help further the English reformation. The next year, after accepting the offer, he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford. Over the next five years, Vermigli played a role in which he made significant contributions to the reformation of the Church. Yet interestingly we find that, during his first year at Oxford, he wrote a letter to the Strasbourg reformer Martin Bucer (December 26, 1548) in which he expresses his concern regarding the "popish party" and their opinion of Archbishop Cranmer:
“... they till now were wont to traduce [Cranmer] as a man ignorant of theology, and as being only conversant with matters of government; but now, believe me, he has shewn himself so mighty a theologian against them as they would rather not have proof of, and they are compelled, against their inclination, to acknowledge his learning, and power and dexterity in debate.”Peter-Martyr, hoping that Bucer would come to England to aid in the reformed cause, continues with his assessment of the situation under Edward visa-vis the reformation, and alludes to what is holding back further reforms:
“... because the magistracy, like yours, is altogether disposed to the reformation of the church, but with very few exception, does not possess the proper instruments for that object.”Two things can be inferred from the above quotes. There was significant Romish opposition among many of the clergy and bishops to the reforms Cranmer sought. And there was a lack of able preachers and teachers to effectively dispose of that opposition by means of magnifying the evangelical truths of the Reformation. Later, in a letter to Henric Bullinger, Vermigli verifies this inference, as well as noting the problem he saw with some in the Church who wanted only partial reform:
“There are certainly very many obstacles; especially the number of our adversaries, the lack of preachers, and the gross vices of those who profess the gospel; besides the worldly prudence of some parties who think it quite right that religion should be purified, but are willing only to make as few alterations as possible; for feeling as they do, and thinking as civilians, they consider that any great changes would be dangerous to the state.”This Erastian mindset, which existed among many of the Civil and Church rulers (i.e. how the reformation of the church posed a potential risk to the State), unfortunately had a dampening effect on reform not only during Henry’s reign but to a significant extent in that of Elizabeth’s.