Cranmer's Godly Order
by Michael Davies
Sola Fides Justificat
(The Protestant Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone)
"If this doctrine falls it is all over with us."
------Martin Luther, Table Talk
ALL THAT is intended here is to outline the broad principles of the Protestant doctrine as taught by the leading Reformers. [See NOTE.] There were, of course, differences of opinion among them and, especially in the case of Luther, it is not always clear what was being taught. As is normally the case with sects when they begin to sub-divide, their internal disputes eventually become more fierce than their opposition to the body from which they have broken away. Calvinism expanded not simply at the expense of Catholics but of Lutherans in North Germany and the name Reformed first came into common use when opposed not to Catholics but to Lutherans. l Before 1570, some stricter Lutherans had even begun to profess that Catholicism was nearer to orthodoxy than Calvinism. 2
While Luther himself did not actually go to the extent of totally rejecting the Catholic system, such a rejection was inevitable if his principles were pursued to their logical conclusion. It is also taken for granted that the basic thesis of the Continental Reformers concerning Justification was adopted by Cranmer and his associates. This is proved beyond doubt both from his own works and the authoritative studies of the period. 3
The Catholic Church teaches that Original Sin has resulted in a wounding of our nature which sets up in the soul a resistance to good. "For the good which I will I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do" (Rom. 7:19). But a soul which is willing to accept the assistance of God's grace can still refrain from sin. Luther taught that through the Fall of Adam man's nature had become essentially evil, and must ever remain evil; that human nature was a mass of corruption and even the Redeeming Blood of Christ does not cleanse or heal it: man can contribute absolutely nothing to hi: own salvation. God justifies us by transferring the guilt which made us liable to punishment to the head of His own Son. Calvin was explicit on this point: "Our acquittal is this-----that the guilt which made us liable to punishment was transferred to the head of the Son of God (Isaias 52:12). We must especially remember this substitution in order that we may not be all our lives in trepidation and anxiety, as if the vengeance which the Son of God transferred to Himself, were still impending over us." 4 Christ has taken the punishment of sinners upon Himself, expiating their sins with His Blood and appeasing the Father. Although the soul (the sinner is not cleansed, the merits won by Christ are applied to him and his sins are ignored or overlooked by God. The souls of sinners remain hideous in themselves but are covered with the cloak of Christ righteousness. As was explained in Chapter 1, for the Reformers, the substitutionary punishment of Christ (the gibbet in place of guilty mankind paid the penalty demanded by Divine vindicatory justice. Christ was "put to the torture by God and so took upon Himself God's anger." As a result of this penal substitution Christ for sinners, the elect, that is those whom God has predestined for salvation, no longer have their sins imputed to them. The merits of Christ are imputed them in place of their sins. Man becomes just in the sight of God simply by non-imputation of sin. The was no question of an inner sanctification which blots out sin and justifies the sinner before God, effected by the co-operation of the sinner with grace mediated through a Sacramental system by means of which the merits won for us upon Calvary were mediated to men through a Church which is the prolongation of the Incarnation in time. To quote Cranmer: "Christ himself in his own person made a sacrifice for our sins upon the cross . . . And the benefit hereof is in no man's power to give unto any other, but every man must receive it at Christ's hands himself, by his own faith and belief . . ." 5 For a Protestant, Justification means declaring a man to be just: for a Catholic, it means making him so. 6 For a Protestant the souls of St. Francis of Assisi or St. Therese of Lisieux are masses of corruption hidden beneath the cloak of Christ's righteousness; for a Catholic their souls are pleasing to God in themselves, having become so through the indwelling of sanctifying grace-----made possible and intensified by their own free co-operation.
Grace for the Reformers was not something in man but was external to the soul altogether. It existed only in God's Divine will; it was a sentence passed by the Divine Judge imputing Christ's righteousness to the elect. Justification was not an inner change by which a soul became a sacred thing but a mere non-imputation of sins. Faith meant not a firm acceptance of Divine revelation (see previous page on Justification) but the individual's personal conviction that the merits of Christ had been applied to him. The sinner "is delivered from the punishment due to sin, but not from sin itself." 7
Luther overthrew a system of belief developed over fifteen centuries on the basis of his personal interpretation of Romans 1:17 which states, in a literal translation, that "the just man will live by faith." His interpretation could not possibly be reconciled with the Second Epistle of James, [cited in the previous page]-----then this epistle must be rejected as an "epistle of straw," once again on the personal authority of Luther. 8 Faith was all that counted; good works were of no avail-----indeed, they were impossible since all man's actions were made evil by the source from which they sprang-----human nature, which was essentially corrupt as a result of Original Sin.
"Luther tells us we must give up trying to escape sin," writes Henri Rondet. "We have to abandon ourselves to God, worry no longer about ourselves, consider ourselves incapable of cure, and throw ourselves the Divine mercy. God cannot change the heart of man. But he can close his eyes and act as though man's heart were changed. He can consider the sinner as just and cover him with Christ's merits as with a cloak. Sin will remain and will not be destroyed, but it will no longer be imputed. Hence, it is pointless to worry any longer about works. External practices and concern for perfection are nothing but Pharisaism. We act like mercenaries in wanting to conquer Heaven with our feeble blows. Man simply cannot merit before God. Grace then, is the certainty we have concerning a God Who looks upon a sinful man as though he were just. God favours man and considers him as holy because of the merits of the Redeemer." 9
In fairness to the Reformers, it should be emphasised that at no time have the mainstream of Protestants interpreted the doctrine of Justification as a licence to sin. They have taken a godly life to be a mark of the elect. There have, of course, been some extreme sects which have taken the doctrine to what they felt was its logical conclusion, in other words, that anything is permitted.
The concept of the Church mediating grace through the Sacraments was anathema to the Reformers. It was axiomatic to their theology that nothing man could do, no priestly power, nor anything in the created universe could work any good in the order of salvation or produce any intrinsic effects in man's soul. The "grace" of Justification was held to be essentially the favour of the Divine will and no Church, no priest, could play any efficacious part in mediating that grace to others. "The doctrine of a sacrificing priesthood whose ministry was an objective means of helping Christian souls to reach a right relationship with God was resented by the Reformers as an intolerable intrusion into the inviolable sanctuary of saving faith where each man experienced his personal assurance of grace." 10 The Divine decree of acquittal, once made, was absolute. Once a man had been justified through the saving merits of Christ his salvation was assured. The sacrifice which made it possible for Christ's merits to be imputed to the elect was past. It could be commemorated in a thankful memorial which could stir up the faith of the elect but, and this is axiomatic to the Protestant doctrine, the elect received their justification directly
The inevitable result of the acceptance of Justification by Faith was perfectly summarised by the German scholar F. Arnold when he says that it: "struck at the heart of the Catholic sacramental system in general and of the Mass in particular." ll The Reformers could not eliminate all the sacraments but they got rid of five out of the seven and then stripped the two that remained of any intrinsic value or force. The whole 'work' was done by the recipient. He arrived with the trust in God to which the word 'faith' was attached, and on the grounds of that faith good was accomplished within him." 12 The most evident and most spectacular changes, wrote Mgr. Hughes, "were, of course, the alterations in the public services of religion. These were the changes which made the immediate-----and generally hostile-----impression on contemporaries; and it is these which have chiefly occupied the controversialists of our own time. But even more important was the new basic theory of religion which these changes presupposed, and from which they sprang." 13 The Reformers rightly sensed that the Mass lay at the heart of the Catholic faith and that the destruction of the Mass was of greater priority than that of the papacy, for in destroying the Mass they would "tear out the heart from the body of the Church." 14 The hatred which the Reformers felt for the Mass will be illustrated in detail in Chapter V. Francis Clark expresses the opinion that, after a reading of Luther's Babylonian Captivity of 1520, " . . . it is clear that Luther's rejection of the Sacrifice of the altar stemmed naturally from his first and central intuition: that is, from his gospel of Justification by Faith alone, from the opposition he proclaimed between the word of God which heralds from on high the Divine decree of pardon to men, who can do nothing but receive it, and on the other hand the objective efficacy of the Catholic Sacramental system, by
which grace is mediated to men so that they participate in Divine life, and by which the Church, her priests and members are privileged to have an active share in Christ's power of conveying that life to others." 15
The Mass, claimed the Reformers, was no sacrifice, "nor yet good work; but a blasphemous profanation of the Lord's Holy Supper, a manifest wickedness, an horrible idolatry, and a foul abomination." 16 "Away therefore with their abominable doctrine that the sacrifice of the Mass is the principal means to apply Christ's death to the quick and the dead: wherein all men may see that they lie boldly." 17
[CT does not like the term 'reformers' as these men were really revolutionaries, in rebellion from God because they rebelled against the rightful authority of His Church and its true doctrine, but most writers accept the use of the term that the rebels gave themselves and maintain its usage in their works. We have no authority to alter the words of the author, so we must print it as he wrote it, even though by using the term "Reformers" and not some other more accurate noun, there is an implication that what they did was "reform" rather than smash or destroy. We recognize this was not Mr. Davies intention as he makes very clear in the chapter, A Most Horrible Blasphemy, part 5.-----The Web Master]
1. TR, 137.
2. Ibid., p. 144.
3. "It can hardly be pretended that in this matter of justification Cranmer has anything new to say. All his main points can be paralleled in Luther and Zwingli before him as well as Calvin and other contemporary writers. But what he does say he says clearly and forcibly, showing a fine grasp of the essentials of the Reformation position." G. W. Bromiley, Thomas Cranmer Theologian, p. 36. See also: ESR, pp. 139-144.
4. Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, chap. 16, nn. 2, 5.
5. CW, vol. I, p. 47.
6. CDT, vol. III, p. 180.
7. RIE, vol. I, p. 142.
9. H. Rondet, The Grace of Christ (Newman Press, 1967), page 279.
10. ESR, p. 143.
11. Cited in ESR, p. 364.
12. TCC, p. 763.
13. RIE, vol. II, p. 83.
14. ESR, p. 107.
15. ESR, p. 340.
16. John Bale, Edwardine Bishop of Ossory, Select Works, P.S., p. 153.
17. John Bradford (Chaplain to Bishop Ridley), Letters, Treatises, Remains, P.S., p.270.