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By way of Preface to a Manual on the Thirty-nine Y
Articles, it may be well to say something of the men who framed them and of their times. The sixteenth century was an age of controversy all over Europe. For many previous centuries the Clergy and devout laity had only known the Holy Scriptures at second-hand. The knowledge of the original languages in which the inspired Books were written had been almost lost; the Bible was only known in the Latin or Vulgate version, and even of this many of the Clergy only knew such extracts as their books of devotion happened to contain. This being so, we can hardly be surprised that the great scholars who, towards the close of the fifteenth century, revived the study of Greek, and re-opened the fountains of theology, discovered that the Church, both in doctrine and in practice, had wandered far away from the lines laid down by the Apostles and early Fathers.
It was with some shock to their inherited notions that men then learned that the worship of the blessed Virgin, which had come to occupy so large a space in their churches and in their ritual, had no authority whatever in Holy Scripture or in the writings of the early Fathers.
It was with no less shock that they discovered how
utterly unlike to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, as instituted in the upper chamber, and described by St. Paul and Justin Martyr, was the “ Sacrifice of the Mass,” as performed daily by the priests.
It was with yet greater shock perhaps, as penetrating more deeply into the hopes and fears of individual Christians, that they found how opposed to the whole doctrine of man's justification was the elaborate system of penances and pardons on which the Church's discipline had come to be built up.
Lastly, it was with little or no shock, here in England, that men's belief in the Pope's pretensions was shaken ; for against them the English Church had been always more or less protesting.
But whatever the shock, “the new learning” was abroad, and spreading irresistibly. Colet was lecturing at Oxford on St. Paul's Epistles, and his lecture-room was crowded ; Latimer was preaching, as few but Latimer could preach, in St. Edward's Church at Cambridge; Erasmus, in his turret chamber at Queen's College, Cambridge, was preparing the first critical edition of the Greek Testament, while his witty pen, in the intervals of severer labour, was pouring ridicule on the dogmatic systems of the Schoolmen ; better still, the newly-invented printing-press was rapidly multiplying Tindal and Coverdale's versions of the Bible in the people's own language.
But error of long standing cannot be uprooted without some loosening of the foundations of truth. And so it was in the sixteenth century. The master minds, which had drunk so deeply at the fountains of inspiration, and were so profoundly imbued with the learning of the Fathers of the Church, saw with dismay that the popular mind, in its recoil from superstition, was drifting away into fanaticism.
Thefanatical errors which the Reformation developed, and from which the Church in England suffered so grievously in the following century, were mainly fourfold.
There were the Predestinarians, who maintained that “the elect” could not sin, nor fall from grace ; teaching also the horrible doctrine that a certain portion of mankind were doomed from all eternity to perdition.
There were the Antinomians, who believed that those who were “in a state of grace" were in no need of laws of any kind; and that, however much they might sin in their outward man, in their inner man they sinned not.
There were Anabaptists, who, besides their error about baptism, acknowledged no judge or magistrate, and denied the lawfulness of property, or of war, or of capital punishment.
There were the Puritans, refusing to acknowledge any rules of Church Government that could not be found laid down in the text of Holy Scripture.
Others, who were too sensible to fall into fanaticisms of this kind, began to exaggerate the trustworthiness of private judgment, and to undervalue the Church's authority in matters of faith. Hence arose grievou errors :--some denying that the Sacraments were means of grace; others disbelieving the Divinity of the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity, and limiting the benefits of Christ's coming to the knowledge He gave
mankind of the true God. Such were some of the evils inseparable from the crisis through which the English Church was passing. Those whom God's Providence called to the helm in
those troublous times, had to steer the ark of our English Church betwixt these opposite dangers. And they were men well fitted by their learning and moderation for the task.
“Cranmer had been a hard student, and in the subjects of his study had kept pace with the times in which he lived. He began, where most scholars in those days ended, with Duns Scotus and the subtle doctors, a discipline which had at least the merit of making astute disputants; and as Bishop Berkeley said of academical learning in general, might serve even when forgotten, like a crop when ploughed under, to improve and enrich the soil. Escaped from the schools, he betook himself to the writings of Erasmus, for whom he seems to have entertained a strong personal regard, perhaps as being the author who first opened his eyes.
Luther absorbed him in his turn; and now the controversy between that reformer and his opponents being serious, agitating matters no less than the fundamentals of the Christian faith, the appeal moreover being made to Scripture rightly interpreted, Cranmer set himself resolutely to the examination of the Word of God, that he might qualify himself for exercising a sound judgment on these high arguments; and of the patience, the learning, the discrimination, with which he did this, the Liturgy of our Church (were there no other) would be an everlasting monu
Cranmer's constant friend and counsellor in all his labours was Nicholas Ridley, whose profound knowedge, not only of Scripture, but of patristic theology,