Friday, October 11, 2013

Foundations of the Anglican Church XLIX

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer depicted in the
windows of the American Church in Paris 
Yesterday I blogged about Thomas Cranmer, Henry VIII’s Archbishop of Canterbury, who by the authorization of Parliament and not the papacy granted Henry the annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and who served as Henry’s chief agent within the Church in snapping the bonds of communion that had for fifteen centuries existed between the Church of England and the Roman Communion.  Note that I am not saying that either Henry or Cranmer created the Church of England—the Church of England had existed from antiquity when the first Christians came to Britain in the late first century.  But that ancient Church, while distinct in liturgy and discipline from the Roman Church and while it had for many of those fifteen centuries enjoyed an autonomy from any governance from Rome, had always shared the bonds of the Eucharistic fellowship with Rome and through Rome with the other Churches of Christianity.  This is a very different ecclesiology than modern Catholics understand.  Today we look at the various Churches that make up Catholicism as being “under” the Pope but that is not the ancient understanding which saw the Church as a communion of Churches and which saw the Pope as the first among the equals of his brother bishops.  Pope Benedict had hinted at restoring that ancient understanding and Pope Francis, by his reverting to the title of “Bishop of Rome” has taken a symbolic step in that direction but it is still not the predominant understanding of the Church to which most Catholics subscribe.  It will take time for the Church to evolve towards a restored understanding of itself that is free on the monarchial structures of the Middle Ages.  But that is not the point of my entry today.  Rather, I want to make some comments on Archbishop Cranmer that I think have some relevance for us today.
Thomas Cranmer is a touchy subject on which to write.   Catholics consider him a demagogue.  Anglicans of an evangelical or low-Church stripe see him as a hero and a martyr.  He did—after Henry’s death (and we will get to this) Protestantize the Anglican Church.  High Church or Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians and Anglicans are somewhat embarrassed by him as he was far more Protestant in his theology and liturgics than meets their taste.  (The British historian William Maitland said that High Church historians make out that the Church of England was Protestant before the Reformation and Catholic afterwards.  I think I have shown how in many ways the Church of England was, while not “Protestant”, certainly not by modern standards “Catholic” in its ancient and early medieval history, but I intend to show you just how Protestant it would become in the second half of the sixteenth century and throughout the seventeenth century. )  Cranmer would give the Anglican Tradition a liturgy that is magnificent in its literary style and which preserved much of the pre-Reformation prayers, but at the same time that liturgy reflected Calvinist and Zwinglian theologies in both its Christian anthropology and its sacramental theology.   At the end of the day I am not an admirer of Thomas Cranmer—I think for historical reasons rather than for theological ones, but then I may not be objective as his Calvinistic anthropology is so close to the Jansenistic anthropology of today’s neo-trads.  Jansenists and Calvinists drink from the same poisoned cup of an exaggerated Augustinianism that understands human nature to be not merely flawed by original sin but totally spoilt, rotten to the core.  I think we see this negative anthropology in those opponents to the direction that Pope Francis has taken the Church these last six months.  When I read blogs like The Tenth Crusade, Restore DC Catholicism, A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics, Catholic Champion, or Rorate Caeli, or when I hear the disinformationals of Michal Voris, I cannot but hear echoes of Calvin and Cranmer and Jansens in their fixations on sin and their failure to proclaim the Good News of Salvation.  Francis’ attempts to restore the balance of grace and sin and his reminders that we have the assurance that in the end God’s Kingdom triumphs over evil only scandalizes those who cannot move into the Light of the Gospel.  Don’t get me wrong, neither Francis nor I am denying the reality of sin but only remembering the power of the Atonement and the victory that it assures for us individually as well as for the world.  But I am wandering away from Cranmer.  Like Luther and like Calvin and unlike Ignatius and Teresa and John of the Cross, Cranmer was fixated on the fallen nature of the human person and consequently his understanding of grace was reduced to an arbitrary election by a whimsical deity rather than a restorative healing by a Loving God.  All of which is to say that Michael Voris and his blogging minions had better return to an orthodox anthropology and abandon their latter-day Calvinism. 
Well back to Cranmer.  My biases identified, I wonder if he truly had a vocation to the priesthood or if it was simply a career he chose given the limited opportunities for a disinherited younger son.  Really, given the family situation he had a choice between clergy and law.  His early career at Cambridge where it took him eight years to earn the bachelor’s degree—an extraordinary long time in that century—indicates he was not, at first, a serious student.   He was an adequate theologian—never an original thinker but one who could take the work of Luther or Calvin or Bucer (or even Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine) and adapt (and sometimes by twisting) their ideas to the pastoral exigencies at hand.   His prayers are vast in number and eloquent in their composition but they don’t speak the depths of the Christian soul in the way that do those of Ignatius or Teresa—or later Anglican Divines such as John Donne or George Herbert.  I think that his fall from power under Mary and subsequent imprisonment (all of which we shall deal with in time) provided a maturing of his spiritual powers but frankly in the years of Henry VIII I cannot see him as anything but an opportunist given to the careerism of the type that Pope Francis says that the Church today must rid itself of.  And this is my point.  Just because a man wears a miter (or rochet and chimere) doesn’t mean that he has the spiritual gifts needed for being a bishop; and just because a man wears a biretta and a stole doesn’t mean he has been called to the priesthood.   Ambition for power corrupts the Church and we have been ill served by those men who, consciously or unconsciously, have chosen church careers as means to rise in the organization rather than to serve the least in the community.  I am grateful to Pope Francis for showing an example of what Christian ministry is.  I had begun to lose faith with the revival of the long silk trains and pompous ceremonials we had begun to see these last few years.  

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