Archive for March, 2006

Two Thomas Manton Gems

March 31st, 2006 Posted in Great Quotes, Puritans

My friend Crawford Gribben, at his blog Anablepo , has drawn attention to a series of sayings of Thomas Manton (1620-1677) in a one-page broadsheet, Words of Peace, or Dr Mantons Last Sayings (London, 1677). Here are two excellent ones—the first one applies to some Christian bloggers I have occasionally read! And the second, well the second has a large application in our day, when, like the Athenians, so many love to entertain only the latest novelty:

  • 32. Some men love to live in the fire, and be always handling the red hot questions of the Age with passion and Acrimony: but alas! this doth no good.
  • 9. When a people begin to Innovate, ‘tis an hard matter to keep them within the bounds of any Moderation.

For other sayings from the list, see the blog of Ian Clary: Anablepo – Gems from Thomas Manton.

Collect for St. Patrick’s Day

March 30th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

Found this collect—it sure reads like one—for St. Patrick’s Day on wyclif.net. A shame I found it after the day. But I can use it for next year.

It is his blog for St. Patrick’s Day:

Almighty God, who in thy providence didst choose thy servant Patrick to be the apostle of the Irish people, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of thee: Grant us so to walk in that light, that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

Rethinking Patristic Exegesis, Part I

March 30th, 2006 Posted in Church History

Generally speaking, in the last century or so, patristic exegesis has not been favourably regarded. F.W. Farrar (1831-1903), an Anglican Evangelical scholar of the Victorian era, could state in the first of his Oxford Bampton Lectures in 1885 with regard to the history of interpretation: “We shall pass in swift review many centuries of exegesis, and shall be compelled to see that they were, in the main, centuries during which the interpretation of Scripture has been dominated by unproven theories, and overladen by untenable results.” [History of Interpretation (London: Macmillan, 1886), 8]. When Farrar came to speak of patristic exegetes in particular he observed: “There are but few of them whose pages are not rife with errors—errors of method, errors of fact, errors of history, of grammar, and even of doctrine.” (History of Interpretation, 162-163).

Here Farrar puts more bluntly what many twentieth-and twenty-first century exegetes have generally believed about the Fathers and their interaction with the Scriptures. Although it is conceded that so-called pre-critical exegesis may have had some insights worth listening to, it has been generally believed that the bulk of the pre-critical tradition of exegesis is largely worthless.

Central to modern criticism of the Fathers has been their tendency to allegorize and to not focus on the “plain sense” of Scripture. By the way, Enlightenment distrust of tradition has informed this criticism far more than the dethroning of tradition by the Reformation. John Calvin, for example, viewed the Fathers as allies in the exegetical task. He could be critical of Origen’s allegorization, but by and large he valued the writings of the Fathers as aids for the reading of Scripture. [John L. Thompson, “Scripture, Tradition, and the Formation of Christian Culture: The Theological and Pastoral Function of the History of Interpretation”, Ex Auditu, 19 (2003), 24-27].

Now, at the heart of this modern criticism is an hermeneutical conviction, namely, that the meaning of a biblical text is simply and no more than what the author meant. The meaning of a text is thus solely determined by its human origin.

As a result of this bias against patristic exegesis, the biblical commentaries of the Fathers, chiefly those of the fourth and fifth centuries, remain almost completely unknown to biblical scholars. The work of some of the best exegetes among the Fathers, Theodore of Mopsuestia, for instance, thus remains almost completely unknown. [Gerald Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture” in Paul Helm and Carl R. Trueman, eds., The Trustworthiness of God. Perspectives on the Nature of Scripture (Grand Rapids/ Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 157-158]. This lack of interest in patristic exegesis is changing. Witness in this regard the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series, edited by Thomas Oden and published by InterVarsity (2001–).

Moreover, beyond the commentaries there is an enormous wealth of exegetical comments that come in the course of other treatises written by the Fathers. These quotations must be used with care, since the Fathers’ quotations of the Scriptures were often more akin to allusion or rough paraphrases. What these allusions and citations indicate is that the minds of the Fathers were “steeped in the Bible.” (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 158). As Gerald Bray has noted, this “reflects a profound knowledge of Scripture that they would not have possessed if it had not been central to their faith.” (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 158). The Fathers are saturated with Scripture.

Responding to this distrust

Specifically, how are we to respond to the modern distrust of patristic exegesis? First, it needs to be noted that while the Church Fathers did resort to allegory, it was never regarded by them as the definitive hermeneutical tool or grid. (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 157, 160-161). There are certain well-known biblical texts in which allegory was the prime vehicle of interpretation. One thinks of the Song of Songs, for example, or the parables of Jesus. As Bray notes: “even a cursory reading of ancient commentaries will reveal that it [i.e. allegory] was only one device among many, and that normally it was restricted to certain well-defined instances.” Also, as Bray points out, the Fathers did not consider allegory as a principle of interpretation in its own right. Any truths discovered by allegorization were already known by a literal exegesis of other biblical texts. (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 161).

The importance of the actual text to the Fathers is well seen by contrasting Origen’s exegesis—often taken as the pinnacle of allegorization—with the way that Plotinus (c.204-270), the fountainhead of Neoplatonism, deals with the key influence on his thought, namely Plato. Plotinus explicitly refers to Plato about fifty times, though scholars have detected about 900 allusions to the Platonic corpus. On the other hand, Origen quotes so much of the Scriptures that large tracts of Scripture could be reconstructed from his quotes. In other words, it was not just the spiritual meaning of the Bible that mattered to Origen. He fully believed that “every syllable [of Scripture] came out of the mouth of God and enjoyed absolute authority over his mind and life.” (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 161-162).

Careful study of Origen’s exegetical practice reveals, as Brian E. Daly notes, a “constant concern for the smallest details of text and narrative and often an unexpected willingness to accept biblical passages as meaning what they say.” [“Is Patristic Exegesis Still Usable? Some Reflections on Early Christian Interpretation of the Psalms” in Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, The Art of Reading Scripture (Grand Rapids/ Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003), 78).

Specifically, the Fathers resorted to allegory when a text in the Bible needed to be reconciled with clearer passages of Scripture. In other words, allegory was a way of dealing with more difficult texts of Scripture. (Bray, “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture”, 163-164).

Eusebius of Emesa (died c.359) in Syria, could thus state that while the Christian commentator cannot rule out allegory it should not be used to excess. This statement occurs in a sermon on the barren fig-tree (Matthew 21:18–19 et par.). Eusebius says that he knows of an allegorical interpretation of this text which depicts Jerusalem as the fig tree. But this must be wrong, Eusebius argues, since he did not make Jerusalem fruitless for ever. Euesbius then interprets the text and Christ’s words with regard to the circumstances of that time in history. [W. Telfer, “The Fourth Century Greek Fathers as Exegetes”, The Harvard Theological Review, 50 (1957), 95].

An Exercise about Two Hymn Versions

March 30th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

Here is a great little exercise over at Hymnody with regard to determining why one hymnal version is better than another: Exercise. The two, though quite similar, have very different thrusts. Looking forward to the answers!

Eminent Christians: 7. Thomas Cranmer

March 29th, 2006 Posted in Eminent Christians

As a Calvinistic Baptist I owe a significant debt to early Anglicanism. My seventeenth-century forebears learned much of their Reformed theology from Reformed ministers in the Church of England and it was in the heart of that body that they were nurtured on the spirituality of the Reformation. And in the earliest days of that state Church no figure exercised as great an influence as the “reluctant martyr” Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), the first Reformed Archbishop of Canterbury.

Kenneth Brownell, an American who is pastoring in the U.K., has argued that Thomas Cranmer’s influence on the English-speaking Protestant world has been greater than any other figure except his contemporary John Knox (d.1572), and the eighteenth-century preachers George Whitefield (1714-1770), John Wesley (1703-1791) and Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). “Few men,” Brownell writes, “did more to shape English Protestant spirituality and to drive into the soul of a nation the fundamentals of Protestant Christianity.” [Kenneth Brownell, “Thomas Cranmer: Compromiser or Strategist?” in The Reformation of Worship. Papers read at the 1989 Westminster Conference (London: The Westminster Conference, 1989), 1].

Cranmer’s greatest achievements came during the reign of Edward VI (r.1547-1553). By the end of 1547, the Evangelicals around Edward who were being led by Cranmer had, amongst other reforms, enshrined justification by faith alone in the Church’s official statements. Clerical marriage had been approved. Key Continental Reformers had been invited to come to England to help in the Reformation there, men such as the Strasbourg Reformer Martin Bucer (1491-1551), who went to Cambridge, Peter Martyr (1500-1562)—an Anglicized form of Pietro Martire Vermigli—who went to Oxford, and Jan Łaski (1499-1560), a Polish Reformer.

And in line with the aims of the Reformation throughout Europe, the worship of the church had been reformed. Cranmer’s work in regard to the latter is probably best seen in The Book of Common Prayer of 1552, which was intended to be the “basis of reformed Protestant worship,” [Diarmaid MacCulloch, “The Myth of the English Reformation”, Journal of British Studies, 30 (1991), 7-9] and which, as Peter Toon has recently noted, is “a near perfect embodiment of the principle of justification by faith.” [“Remembering Thomas Cranmer on the anniversary of his martyrdom” (http://listserv.episcopalian.org/scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind0203d&L=virtuosity&D=1&H=1&O=D&F=&S=&P=1422].

One gets a marvellous insight into the heart of Cranmer’s Reformed thought by looking at his written prayers. Consider this portion of a prayer from the Communion service in which Cranmer trumpets forth that salvation is by Christ alone:

“Almighty God our heavenly Father, which of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ, to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption, who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world, and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death, until his coming again; hear us O merciful Father we beseech thee…” [The First and Second Prayer Books of King Edward the Sixth (London/Toronto: J.M. Dent & Sons/New York: E.P. Dutton, 1910), 389; I have modernized the language].

The declaration that Christ’s death is “a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction” for sin undercuts the entire theological edifice of mediæval Roman Catholicism. For that edifice—with its understanding of the mass as a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrificial death for sin, both that of the living and of the dead in purgatory; with its indulgences and its rosaries and its pilgrimages and its relics—was built on the supposition that humanity can do something to earn salvation. But Cranmer was convinced that all human endeavours to make appeasement for our sins and gain merit in the eyes of God are utterly futile. Due to the fact that, in Cranmer’s words elsewhere, “all men be sinners and offenders against God, and breakers of his law and commandments, therefore can no man by his own acts, works, and deeds…be justified and made righteous before God.” [An Homily of the Salvation of Mankind by Only Christ our Saviour from Sin and Death Everlasting in T.H.L. Parker, ed., English Reformers (The Library of Christian Classics, vol.26; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), 262]. Christ’s peerless death is alone sufficient to appease the wrath of God against human sin and cleanse those who put their trust in him from all unrighteouness.

Little wonder then that Cranmer was of the conviction that salvation by Christ alone and justification by faith alone “is the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion: this doctrine all old and ancient authors of Christ’s Church do approve: this doctrine advanceth and setteth forth the true glory of Christ, and suppresseth the vainglory of man: this whosoever denieth is not to be reputed for a Christian man, nor for a setter forth of Christ’s glory, but for an adversary to Christ and his gospel, and for a setter forth of men’s vainglory. (Homily of the Salvation of Mankind in Parker, ed., English Reformers, 266-267).

Here Cranmer identified what lay at the heart of the Reformation. The one side relied solely on the all-sufficiency of Christ’s death—“a setter forth of Christ’s glory” he calls each individual in this camp. The other side, which denied this biblical truth, Cranmer is convinced cannot be described as Christian, but must be seen as opposed to Christ and “a setter forth of men’s vainglory.”

Within a year or so of the publication of the 1552 edition of the Book of Common Prayer the unbridgeable gulf between these two sides would plunge England, and Cranmer personally, into turmoil and bloody strife as the Roman Catholic successor of Edward VI, his oldest half-sister Mary I (r.1553-1558), sought to destroy the Evangelicals in England and Wales. Cranmer himself would give his life for being a “setter forth of Christ’s glory.” But like Cranmer’s fellow bishops, Hugh Latimer (c.1485-1555) and Nicholas Ridley (c.1500-1555), who were burned at the stake in October, 1555, Cranmer, when he died a martyr in March 1556—450 years ago this month—lit a candle for the gospel in England that could not be easily put out.

Bloghorn Leghorn Award

March 28th, 2006 Posted in Uncategorized

A hearty thanks to Steven Dumas for inclusion in the top ten for the Bloghorn Leghorn Award: http://stevendumas.squarespace.com/bloghorn-leghorn/.

Remembering Thomas Cranmer

March 23rd, 2006 Posted in Reformation

On “The Reformation21 Blog” the Historian penned the following remarks on March 22, the 450th anniversary of Thomas Cranmer’s death:

“Not to derogate from anything Rick [Philips] says about the need for principle, but the situation in the 1550s was a bit more complicated than just clear-sighted Christians being tried for their faith. Arguably both Cranmer and Lady Jane Grey were guilty of treason—Cranmer was tried as such; and their theological views were at best only partial causes of their deaths—deaths which the politics of the time, and their involvement, made inevitable; and many who perished in the flames of the 1540s and 1550s were far from four-square Protestants; while others, who were thoroughly orthodox but not high-profile players in the rather sleazy politics of Edward’s reign, live peaceably during Mary’s time. And many, many others simply flip-flopped with the policy of the time.”

Was amazed by these remarks, coming as they do from The Historian. It was 1555-1558 when the vast majority of the Protestants were martyred for their faith, nearly 300 by recent account. The vast majority of them died for their convictions that the core doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church were unbiblical and abominable to God. While there are some reasons to raise queries about Cranmer, and even here The Historian is far too hard on him, the vast majority of these men and women died for the simple conviction that the Lord Jesus alone is Saviour and that faith alone in him saves.

Edward VI’s reign from 1549 to 1553, while yes highly politicized, was the period in which the Reformed faith took deep hold in England and that through Cranmer’s reforms, especially his 1552 Prayer Book. It is far too important a period to be simply written off as a time of “sleazy politics.”

Finally, when Cranmer was put on trial, yes, undoubtedly there were political reasons, but, in a sense, the English Reformation was being put on trial in his person. Or more accurately in his person and that of Ridley and Latimer, who were martyred in 1555, the English Reformation was being tried. And when God enabled them to endure to the end, the English Reformation was vindicated.

More Lloyd-Jones

March 20th, 2006 Posted in Great Quotes

And here is another—this one is really a gem:

“The best preparation for prayer, I often feel, is the reading of history.”
[“True and false religion” in his Unity and Truth, ed. Hywel R. Jones (Darlington, Co. Durham: Evangelical Press, 1991), 161].

Another Saying by Lloyd-Jones

March 20th, 2006 Posted in Great Quotes

Yet another from the Doctor:

“Puritanism was not primarily a preference for one form of church government rather than another; but it was that outlook and teaching which put its emphasis upon a life of spiritual, personal religion, an intense realization of the presence of God, a devotion of the entire being to Him.” [From Puritanism to Nonconformity (2nd ed.; Bryntirion, Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan: Evangelical Press of Wales/London: The Evangelical Library, 1991), 11].

A Pithy Lloyd-Jones Remark

March 20th, 2006 Posted in Great Quotes

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, like his beloved Puritans, was a master of pithy statements. Students of history, ponder this one:

“What is needed today is for us to forget the nineteenth century completely and make a detailed study of the beginning of the eighteenth century” [“Religion Today and Tomorrow” in his Knowing the Times (Banner of Truth, 1989), 30].

There is a lot of wisdom in that remark.