The High Altar at Durham Cathedral--one can see
in the Reredos the empty nitches from which
images had been removed at the Reformation and
One center of the dissemination of Lutheran ideas in England in the reign of King Henry was the White Horse Tavern in Cambridge. Leading theologians of the University met there to discuss these new ideas coming out of Germany. This is where Thomas Cranmer was first exposed to the ideas that would lead him to champion the Protestant cause in the Church of England. Several of the group—Robert Barnes and Thomas Bilney among others—ended up being burned at the stake. Others such as John Bale and Myles Coverdale fled to the continent. Still others—like Cranmer himself—remained in England, keeping their Protestant ideals to themselves and enjoying the protection of powerful friends at court. Coverdale and Bale were not the only two proto-Protestants to flee to the Continent under Henry. William Tyndale and John Hooper were two prominent others who fled the realm to investigate further the exciting new ideas emerging from Germany and later from Geneva. Tyndale was to die a Protestant Martyr under Charles V in Flanders. Hooper would go on to become a Bishop under Edward VI; and an important figure in the Reformation.
While they were abroad these English Protestants made many friends among continental Reformers and when Edward VI came to the throne and Protestantism was in the English air, not only did the English Reformers return, but they brought with them some of the leading continental figures. The Strasbourg Reformer, Martin Bucer; Bucer’s sidekick, Paul Fagius; the Polish Biblicist Jan Łaski (John a Lasco); and the Italian Reformer, Peter Martyr Vermigli were among the more distinguished Reformers seeking to advance the Protestant cause in England.
Cranmer welcomed these men to England and sought their support for the Reform (read: Protestantization) of the English Church, but at the same time their presence placed him in a bind. The Continental Reformers and their English disciples were anxious for far more drastic action than Cranmer had laid out in the 1549 Prayerbook and more radical than the politics of the Court would allow. By this point, Luther and his fairly conservative policies had been left in the dust by the more radical Swiss and Rhineland Reformers. Bucer and the others were not slow in letting Cranmer know that they were disappointed in his 1549 Prayer Book and 1550 Ordinal and they pushed him to go further. He would issue a far more drastically Protestant liturgy in a second Prayer Book in 1552 and at the same time a revised ordinal, but in the meantime the Archbishop continued to make changes that stripped the Church of England of its Catholic identity. Stone altars were to be replaced by wooden communion tables to further clarify that the Reformed Sacrament was not a Sacrifice. Statutes were taken down and paintings whitewashed over. In many places the medieval glass with its scenes of scripture and the lives of the saints was smashed. The chantry chapels where masses and prayers for the dead had been offered were destroyed.
A particularly crucial incident happened when John Hooper was named Bishop of Gloucester in 1550. Hooper had spent time in Geneva where he had come under the influence of Zwingli and Bullinger and where church ornaments had been done completely away. Hooper refused consecration as a bishop because the 1549 Ordinal demanded that he wear a surplice and a cope and he considered this to be papal superstition—confusing the Aaronic Priesthood of the Old Law for the Christian ministry instituted by Christ, the only Priest of the New Law. Unfortunately to decline a nomination by the King was considered an act against the Crown and Hooper was called to the Privy Council to explain. King Edward, a Protestant of the most base bias, was willing to forgo the point and allow Hooper to be consecrated without the required vestments, but the Privy Council—following a slower path of Reform—was not. The issue dragged on for over a year including a debate between Hooper and Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London, who—though a convinced Protestant himself—defended the vestments rubric. Hooper finally gave in and—wearing the required vestments—was consecrated bishop on March 8, 1551. What both Ridley (defending vestments) and Hooper (attacking vestments) agreed on was that vestments were adiaphora—a thing indifferent. It is amazing that such indifference would cause such an uproar and cause Hooper to bear imprisonment, but it isn’t the vestments themselves but what they symbolized that was the problem. Vestments were another sign of a sacrificing priesthood. The outcome of this debate was the gradual disappearance of vestments from the rites of the Church of England. Some bishops and priests wore simply a black gown when presiding at the liturgy. Others would maintain the rochet (for bishops) or surplice (for priest and deacons) which were officially required after 1552. The cope would be seen at the coronation service and in some cathedrals. The chasuble was to disappear completely. With the replacement of altars with communion tables it was clear that the Eucharist was no longer understood to be a Sacrifice. With the gradual loss of vestments it was clear that the clergy were no longer priests.