Devotion Wednesday May 06
Cranmer’s reuse of the traditional collect appointed for the Third Sunday in Easter took on new meaning in the light of the English Reformation. Like the ancient church, the “light of thy truth” was God’s Word, not the decisions of the medieval church. Seen in the light of Scripture, many medieval practices were considered by the Reformers to be “contrary to [Christian] profession.”
In particular, like Luther, Cranmer singled out the false teachings of purgatory and indulgences. He thought that priests who asked widows to pay them to say prayers to rescue loved ones out of purgatory deserved the rebuke Christ gave to the religious leaders of his day: “Woe be to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you devour widows’ houses under colour of long prayers; therefore your damnation shall be the greater.” Cranmer wanted Christ’s resurrection power not only to amend the lives of Christians but also to reform his church. That’s why we say Anglicanism is both catholic and reformed, because the Reformation sought to rid the church of medieval errors by returning to the ancient catholic church’s adherence to Scripture.
Cranmer made the promotion of biblical literacy the foundation of his program for theological renewal in the Church of England. Although the Bible in English had been banned for over one hundred years, Cranmer and his fellow reformers persuaded Henry VIII to make a large copy available for all to read in each parish church. When Cranmer published a set of sermons as required reading every Sunday under Edward VI, the first sermon was naturally on Scripture. Like this week’s collect, Cranmer’s sermon also emphasized the Bible’s fundamental role in salvation: “As many as being desirous to enter into the right and perfect way unto God must apply their minds to know Holy Scripture, without the which they can neither sufficiently know God and his will, neither their office and duty.”
Without a knowledge of what the Bible teaches, human beings can never understand the world around them nor the struggles within them. Without adherence to what the Bible teaches, the church will inevitably dream up its own ideas for human flourishing, but these practices will always just lead to human desperation instead. Summing up his solution to the theological muddle of the late medieval church, Cranmer urged his fellow countrymen to make use of their hard-won privilege to read the Bible for themselves: “Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testament, and not run to the stinking puddles of men’s traditions, devised by man’s imagination for our justification and salvation.”
In short, Cranmer saw the Bible as rich soil of a garden bed. Eternal life springs up from being planted in that soil alone. Sometimes, however, even good soil can get clumped together. To make use of the nutrients locked in those clumps, the good gardener uses spades and hoes to break them up and mix their soil into the rest of the garden bed. Likewise, when readers come across a difficult passage in the Bible, they need to think prayerfully about the relationship of this passage to the rest of Scripture, to consider what logical conclusions, like the Trinity, that can be derived from their study, and how tradition has also prayerfully reasoned upon the passages in question. Nevertheless, while reason and tradition may help to clarify difficulties, these tools can never contradict the biblical witness. All saving truth springs forth from the garden bed of Scripture alone.
Today, so many different voices are promoting themselves as offering the true secret to a better life-competing voices in society, disagreeing voices in the church, confusing voices in our own hearts! In the midst of this modern muddle, we need to follow the Reformers back to the ancient church and return to Scripture. We need to build our lives on its promises and shape our church practices according to its wisdom.
Therefore, let us ask God’s help us to work for an Anglican Communion today that remains truly catholic and reformed by praying Cranmer’s collect.