Luther in english part 1 – free ebook by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA D.D
Luther in English
The Influence of His Theology of Law and Gospel
on Early English Evangelicals (1525–35)
by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA D.D
MICHAEL S. WHITING
PICKWICK Publications • Eugene, Oregon
LUTHER IN ENGLISH
The Influence of His Theology of Law and Gospel on Early English Evangelicals (1525–35)
Princeton Theological Monograph Series 142
Copyright © 2010 Michael S. Whiting. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical publications or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publisher. Write: Permissions, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401.
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ISBN 13: 978-1-60608-900-2
Whiting, Michael S.
Luther in English: the influence of his theology of law and gospel on early English evangelicals (1525–35) / Michael S. Whiting.
Princeton Theological Monograph Series 142
xviii + 360 p.; 23 cm. Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 13: 978-1-60608-900-2
1. Luther, Martin, 1483–1546—Theology. 2. England—Church history—16th century. 3. Reformation—Great Britain. 4. Tyndale, William, d. 1536. 5. Frith, John, 1503–1533. 6. Barnes, Robert, 1495–1540. 7. Wycliffe, John, d. 1384. 8. Lollards. I. Title. II. Series.
BR375 W50 2010
Princeton Theological Monograph Series
K. C. Hanson, Charles M. Collier, and D. Christopher Spinks
Dedicated to the memory of Professor Emeritus Nigel Yates, DD (1944–2009)
List of Abbreviations
INTRODUCTION: Luther and the English Evangelical Reformers in Retrospect
1 “Lex Sola Accusat”? Modern Appraisals of Law, Gospel, and the Tertius Usus Legis in the Theology of Luther
2 Law and Gospel in Luther’s “Breakthrough” Years and Early Lectures on the Bible (1515–1520)
3 Combating Legalism and Lawlessness: Law and Gospel in Luther’s Writings of the 1520s
4 Law and Gospel in Luther’s Later Years and His Dispute with the Antinomians (1530–1540)
5 After Lollardy and Humanism: Luther’s Writings in England and the Beginnings of “Evangelical” Reformation
6 Law and Gospel in the Theology of William Tyndale
7 Law and Gospel in the Theology of John Frith
8 Law and Gospel in the Theology of Dr. Robert Barnes
CONCLUSION: Reassessing the Influence of Luther’s Theology of Law and Gospel on Early English Evangelicals
THIS BOOK IS A REVISED VERSION OF MY DOCTORAL DISSERTATION, “Luther in English: Law and Gospel in the Theology of Early English Evangelicals (1525–1535),” written between 2004–2009 under the supervision of Dr. Eva De Visscher and the late Nigel Yates, Professor Emeritus of Ecclesiastical History, at the University of Wales, Lampeter.
While I do agree with recent scholars that the singular title of “Reformation” to describe the period of the sixteenth century tends to underemphasize the rich national diversity that characterized the historical reality, affirming the complex tapestry of theological emphases and political and social realities does not deny that there were various factors that knit that web together. Thus, the concern of this book is to trace theological influences through an international connectedness, in this case between Germany and England, that contributed to a certain solidarity meriting the title of the “Reformation.” Of course, there is also some ambiguity in establishing when the “Reformation” actually begins (and ends) that depends upon how “Reform” is being defined. Thus, as was the case in a course I taught on the Reformation at Wheaton College in the Spring semester of 2008, beginning a discussion of the Reformation well before the famous posting of the 95 theses in 1517 and extending it well into the seventeenth century has its merits. It acknowledges that “reform” did not begin with Luther but was in some form characteristic of the Church throughout the Middle Ages, and that the “new reforms” of the sixteenth century in all their diversity were still being worked out in Church, State, and European society well into the next century. However, this does not underestimate the critical importance of Luther.
It is my assumption that theological ideas as much as the forces of political, economic, and social-cultural dynamics shaped the story of the Reformation. On the other hand, I realize that theological ideas are themselves constructed within historical contexts. Therefore, this book incorporates a substantial amount of historical and biographical background, mainly for the purpose of establishing literary context as well as to identify the precise historical, cultural, and social conduits upon which writings and their influence were passed from one person (and nation) to another. Nevertheless, this is less of an historical narrative than a work of intellectual history and theological interpretation concerning the complex and much disputed issue of Law and Gospel in the Christian life.
Little did I realize when I first proposed my research topic in 2004 what a complex conversation and debate I was joining that has lasted for over a half a century. Early twentieth-century historians identified early English evangelical reformers of the 1520s and 30s as basically “Lutheran” in reforming outlook (of course, with the obvious exception that most rejected the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist). Two works in the middle of the twentieth century, however, challenged this view with the conclusion that Luther had some influence but was surpassed (even contradicted) by the early English evangelicals in stressing the Law and good works in the Christian life. The most recent work by Carl Trueman, Luther’s Legacy: Salvation and the English Reformers (1995) has become widely accepted by the scholarly community and indeed offers an important revision of revisionist interpretations by at least stressing a greater implicit continuity with the theology of Luther. Nevertheless, the prevailing opinion, including that of Trueman, is that Luther had a very real, but quite measurably limited, influence on the developing theology of Early English evangelicals. Yet, an even more recent monograph on the theology of William Tyndale denies Luther even a limited role in favor of the influence of native English dissent in Lollardy. It is my conviction that Luther is still central to any discussion of the theology of early English evangelicals and that previous scholars have not devoted enough time and study to Luther himself. Therefore, these scholars have not proven beyond doubt the premise upon which their conclusions are based. Therefore, this is my attempt to build a more solid bridge between Luther studies and scholarship on the early English evangelicals.
Though not confessionally a Lutheran, I have for a long time been fascinated with the theology and personality of Luther, who I consider to be the most interesting figure to study in the entire history of Christianity other than Jesus Christ. Although many scholars now downplay any significant relationship between Luther’s “discovery” and the whole complex development of the Reformation, I am still amazed at the extent to which his anxious, some might even say narcissistic, quest for his own assurance of salvation did so dramatically impact religious thought and culture in Germany and beyond. Of course, it was Luther’s pastoral goal to provide all Christians with real assurance of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, but he was also very much aware of the dangers of an assurance that cheapens grace and muffles the call to repentance and to warfare against sin.
Michael S. Whiting, PhD
October 17, 2009
WITHOUT THE SUPPORT OF MANY WONDERFUL PEOPLE IN MY LIFE NEITHER my PhD thesis nor this book would ever have seen the light of day. First of all, I want to thank my wife, Julia, for the incredible sacrifices she has endured since this journey began five years ago. Without her willingness to temporarily set aside her own calling so that I could pursue mine, none of this would have been possible. I am grateful to her for her faithful commitment and patience over the years even through times of rejection and uncertainty. Secondly, my parents have been incredibly generous and supportive over the years and I want to especially thank them for funding my numerous trips back and forth to England and Wales. I also want to thank my mom for all the time she has spent with her granddaughter so that I could escape away to the library or coffee shop for much needed study time. Jaylin, I want to thank you for providing Daddy with a playful escape from his obsession with Luther and the Reformation and the pressures and stresses of life as an academic. I am truly blessed by the bond we have developed over these last five years and I would not trade it for anything else in the world. To our new baby boy Chase Christopher, I look forward to beginning our own adventure, and I hope that you and your sister will one day understand something of my fascination with the history of Christianity.
I also want to thank Dr. Jeff Greenman, Dr. Kathryn Long, Dr. Dennis Okholm, and Dr. Tim Larsen for all their continued encouragement and support for my academic career over the years. I am extremely humbled and privileged to now call former professors my colleagues and friends and grateful to those who gave me the surreal opportunity to teach the history of Christianity and the Reformation as a guest adjunct professor at Wheaton College in the Spring semesters of 2007 and 2008.
I want to thank Richard Rex for kindly responding with his expertise to my many questions about Lollardy and the technicalities of citing early printed materials, Rev. Dr. Ralph Werrell for our few but valued email discussions on Tyndale, and Robert Kolb for reading my entire thesis and for his kind support and keen insight on Luther. Thanks to all those who have been so accommodating at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University and the Bodleian Library, and Peterwell House. I am humbly grateful to my two learned doctoral examiners, Dr. Simon Oliver and Dr. George Newlands, for their overwhelming affirmation of my PhD thesis and gracious support to see it published. Many thanks to Christian Admonson and Dr. K. C. Hanson at Wipf and Stock Publishers for guiding the editorial process and providing me with the opportunity to publish my thesis. Finally, the thesis on which this book is based would not have been possible without the encouragement and insightful guidance of my two erudite advisors, Dr. Eva De Visscher and the late Professor Nigel Yates, who sadly passed away just a few months after my doctoral defense and before my graduation. This book is dedicated in his memory. As is commonly said in works of this kind, I take full credit for the flaws that remain.
SOLI DEO HONOR ET GLORIA
A&M  Actes and monuments of these latter and perillous dayes touching matters of the Church, wherein ar comprehended and decribed the great persecutions [and] horrible troubles, that haue bene wrought and practised by the Romishe prelates, speciallye in this realme of England and Scotlande, from the yeare of our Lorde a thousande, vnto the tyme nowe present. Gathered and collected according to the true copies [and] wrytinges certificatorie, as wel of the parties them selues that suffered, as also out of the bishops registers, which wer the doers therof, by Iohn Foxe., Imprinted at London: By Iohn Day, dwellyng ouer Aldersgate. Cum priuilegio Regi[a]e Maiestatis, [1563 (20 March)]. Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery.
A&M  John Foxe. The first volume of the ecclesiasticall history contaynyng the actes and monumentes of thynges passed in euery kynges tyme in this realme, especially in the Church of England principally to be noted: with a full discourse of such persecutions, horrible troubles, the sufferyng of martyrs, and other thinges incident, touchyng aswel the sayd Church of England as also Scotland, and all other foreine nations, from the primitiue tyme till the reigne of K. Henry VIII., At London: Printed by Iohn Daye, dwellyng ouer Aldersgate, these bookes are to be sold at hys shop vnder the gate. 1570. Harvard University Library.
BSLK Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche: Herausgegeben im Gedenkjahr der Augsburgischen Konfession 1930. Zwolfte Auflage. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998.
CR Corpus Reformatorum [microform]. Philippi Melancthonis. Opera quae supersunt omnia. Volumes 1–28. Edited by C. G. Bretschneider and H. E. Bindsell. Halle, 1834–1860; Ioannis Calvini. Opera quae supersunt omnia. Vols. 29–87. Edited by Guilielmus Baum, Eduardus Cunitz, and Eduardus Reuss, et al. Braunchsweig—Berlin, 1863–1900.
DNB Dictionary of National Biography. 22 vols. Founded by George Smith. Edited by Sir Leslie Stephen and Sir Sidney Lee. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1885–1901; reprint, 1917.
EM Ecclesiastical memorials, relating chiefly to religion, and the Reformation of it, and the emergencies of the Church of England, under King Henry VIII. King Edward VI. And Queen Mary I.: with large appendixes, containing original papers, records, &c. 4 volumes. Edited by John Strype. Oxford: Clarendon, 1822.
Ep Epitome of the Formula of Concord
Kolb and Wengert The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000.
Institutes John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2 volumes. Library of Christian Classics 20. Edited by John T. McNeill. Translated and Indexed by Ford Lewis Battles. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960.
LC Large Catechism
L&P Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, preserved in the Public Record Office, the British Museum, and elsewhere. Second edition. Revised and greatly enlarged by R. H. Brodie. 21 volumes. London, 1920; Vaduz Kraus reprint, 1965.
LW Luther’s Works: American Edition. [CD-ROM]. 55 vols. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1955–1986.
ODNB Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 60 vols. In Association with the British Academy. From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000. Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Preus Philipp Melancthon. Loci Communes 1543. Translated and Edited by J. A. O. Preus. St Louis: Concordia, 1992.
SC Small Catechism
SD Solid Declaration of the of Concord
Tappert The Book of Concord. Edited by Theodore G. Tappert. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959.
WA D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe. 63 volumes. Weimar, 1883–1987; Verlag Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger Weimar, 2001.
WA Br Briefwechsel volumes of WA
WA DB Die Deutsche Bibel volumes of WA
WA Tr Tischreden volumes of WA
Whole Works John Foxe. The vvhole workes of W. Tyndall, Iohn Frith, and Doct. Barnes, three worthy martyrs, and principall teachers of this churche of England collected and compiled in one tome togither, beyng before scattered, [and] now in print here exhibited to the church. To the prayse of God, and profite of all good Christian readers. At London: Printed by Iohn Daye, and are to be sold at his shop vnder Aldersgate, An. 1573. Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery.
Luther and the English Evangelical Reformers in Retrospect
ACCORDING TO ONE WELL KNOWN BRITISH HISTORIAN, “WITHOUT Luther, we can be reasonably certain that there would have been no Reformation, or not the same Reformation.” While some scholars might concede this point with respect to the Reformation in German lands,2 its inclusiveness of all European nations is no longer taken for granted, and the extent and originality of Luther’s actual impact continues to be a contested issue in Reformation historiography. This is especially true with regard to his influence on early English evangelical reformers living during the Henrician period of the English Reformation in the 1520s and 30s.
Although mindful of the heroic importance of Luther, historical chroniclers beginning with John Foxe in the middle of the sixteenth century rooted the Elizabethan Reformation in an earlier tradition of native English dissent going back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was not until the late nineteenth and early-to-mid twentieth centuries that historians even began to take a more intent look at the actual extent of the continental legacy, first and foremost in its Lutheran forms, leading one historian to describe the English Protestant Reformation as an essentially “Lutheran Reformation.”5 More recently, the emphasis has shifted to broaden the study of influences beyond that of Luther and the Lutherans in Germany, but most scholars do agree that England was significantly influenced by continental currents of reform, an example of how truly international the Reformation was and how it all “remained recognizably part of the same movement.” Diarmaid MacCulloch goes so far to argue that the English context contributed nothing theologically unique to the Reformation, and that “to chronicle the theological story of the English Reformation” involves mostly observing how English theologians reacted to continental developments.7
Many historians indeed now acknowledge an increasing awareness of the “European dimension” and “international-mindedness” of “pre-Elizabethan Protestantism.” E. G. Rupp even encouraged nationally conscious English Protestants to not be “ashamed or afraid to acknowledge the full indebtedness of the English reformers to their brethren on the Continent.” Elsewhere, however, he qualifies this by also stating that “the history of the English Protestant tradition cannot be explained according to Continental categories. In England we have gone our own way, in religion and in theology as in our political history.”9 G. R. Elton adopted a moderate approach as well, arguing that England “culturally and intellectually … was, to all appearance, very much a part of Europe,” while at the same time stressing that Henry VIII’s break with the papacy allowed for the creation of something unique in English religion and politics. More recently, Christopher Haigh argues that the traditional use of the singular term “Reformation” itself undermines not only the recognition of the various stages of “reformation” within the English story itself (as indicated by the title of his work) but the reality of geographical diversity despite obvious international connectedness between “reformations.” With regard to the English context in particular, he stresses that undue exaggeration on this interconnectedness wrongly relegates English religious history to mere imitation of continental happenings.11 Whether one prefers to use the term “Reformation” or “Reformations,” then, seems to largely depend upon whether the interconnectedness or diversity is being emphasized.
This broader question of the relationship between national reformations relates more narrowly to ongoing debates surrounding the particular influence of Martin Luther’s theology upon the career of three leading English evangelical reformers who lived during the 1520s and 30s in the Henrician period of the early English Reformation. Where Luther was once a central figure in any study of Reformation theology in general, recent works have redefined the extent of his pan-European influence with respect to other, perhaps even lesser known, personalities.13 As it relates to the English context and the period leading up to the “Act of Supremacy” (1534) and the official course of the early English Reformation, Luther’s influence on the theology of early English evangelicals, especially William Tyndale, has even been somewhat diminished as of late in favor of humanist, Reformed, and even Lollard legacies. One recent scholar goes so far to say that “Anyone who reads Tyndale’s writings theologically realises that Luther had virtually no influence on Tyndale’s theology.”
The particular influence of Martin Luther on English evangelical reformers of the early sixteenth century has certainly received a fair share of attention by scholars in the past, especially with regard to Tyndale. For the last few decades, however, most historians of the English Reformation have focused on the complex years following the Elizabethan Settlement and the Protestantization of the English people. Thus, as some historians have noted, there has been a comparable absence of scholarly studies interpreting the life and work of the early generation of evangelical reformers.
That Martin Luther had some degree of influence on early English Reformation theology is agreed upon by most scholars. Renowned historian G. R. Elton states that “the English Reformation and its advancements cannot be entirely understood without Luther and his influence.” Carl Trueman, in his recent and widely acclaimed work on the English reformers, also claims that it is impossible to understand the English Reformation without some reference to him. However, Trueman also aptly points out that the precise nature and extent of Luther’s influence is what has stimulated the most vigorous debate.17
Tyndale’s earliest major biographer, Robert Demaus, described Tyndale in 1871 as a scholar capable of independent thought but still largely a theological follower of Luther. According to Henry Jacobs pioneering work, The Lutheran Movement in England (1890), Tyndale remained “thoroughly a Lutheran.” This opinion was echoed later in the writings of E. G. Rupp in the 1940s and 1950s and by J. E. McGoldrick in the 1970s. These scholars all basically describe the first generation of English evangelical reformers, such as William Tyndale and Robert Barnes, as generally “Lutheran,” although openly acknowledging the former’s wholesale objection to Luther’s doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Rupp states with regard to Tyndale that, although he was not a “complete devotee, and certainly no mere mechanic snapper-up of another’s considered trifles,” he was nevertheless “concerned to make known the teaching of Luther in an English dress.” As for Robert Barnes, he is commonly perceived as the one most fully aligned with the opinions of Luther, including his doctrine of the Eucharist.21
Groundbreaking and influential studies appeared in the 1960s by W. A. Clebsch and L. J. Trinterud. The most prominent claim arising from Clebsch and Trinterud was that the English evangelicals laid a far greater and more positive stress on the Law and good works in the life of the Christian. Although Trinterud’s opinions have tended to be most accepted by scholars, both he and Clebsch were quick to identify Tyndale as an indigenous progenitor of later English Puritan moralism.
In England’s Earliest Protestants, Clebsch argues that Tyndale started out his reforming career in more agreement with Luther’s supposed emphasis on faith alone in the doctrine of justification, but later departed from him in the 1530s, developing a covenantal theology of salvation and a “works-righteousness” description of the Christian life. Even McGoldrick’s study, which is among the more favorable to Luther’s influence, admits that Tyndale plainly emphasizes the fulfillment of the Law as the goal of a Christian more than Luther, but prefers to interpret this development as a “logical extension of Luther’s position” rather than a complete break from it.24
Trinterud’s essay, however, has been more widely accepted by scholars, and even the more recent, penetrating, and enlightening study by Carl Trueman qualifies the legacy of Luther in the light of Trinterud’s conclusions. In his essay, Trinterud argues that Tyndale from the very beginning of his career emphasized good works and the Law in the Christian life more positively and significantly than Luther, which shows that he never really embraced Luther’s theology centered on faith but only manipulated Luther’s writings for his own moralistic purposes. In Trinterud’s opinion, Tyndale appears to have been shaped more by Humanism and thus has more in common with Swiss and Rhineland reformers such as Calvin or Bucer than with Luther. This debt to Humanism has been explored in most detail by John K. Yost, who argues in an unpublished dissertation that Tyndale’s “principal concern” was to reform Tudor England according to a “restoration of the law of Christ” and that this reveals him to be more humanist than Lutheran.26 On the basis of Trinterud’s essay, another unpublished dissertation by Paul Alan Laughlin argues that Tyndale adopted a theology of covenant in the 1530s because it expressed his original concern for good works more accurately than Luther’s dialectical opposition of Law and Gospel. Donald Smeeton and Ralph Werrell also fall in line with Trinterud, but argue that Tyndale’s theology is rooted heavily in the theology of Wyclif and Lollardy rather than the Reformed tradition. Werrell, in particular, is quite insistent that Tyndale was not influenced in any significant way by Luther. Werrell’s work is of importance since it is the most recent work on the theology of Tyndale, is endorsed with a foreword by the current Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and is really the first systematic treatment of the theology of Tyndale ever published.28
In his monumental history of the doctrine, McGrath likewise distances the early English reformers from Luther with regard to justification by faith:
the doctrines of justification circulating in English reforming circles in the 1520s and early 1530s were quite distinct from those of the mainstream continental Reformation … it is clear that few of [Luther’s] distinctive ideas became generally accepted in England … that essentially Augustinian doctrines of justification were in circulation in England independently of the influence of Luther … the English Reformers appear to have worked with a doctrine of justification in which man was understood to be made righteous by fayth onely, with good works being the natural consequence of justifying faith.
The most widely accepted work on the theology of the early English evangelical reformers to appear since the 1960s is Carl Trueman’s Luther’s Legacy: Salvation and the English Reformers (1994). Trueman agrees that referring to the early reformers as “Lutheran” is indeed a misleading oversimplification that ignores the extent to which other influences, such as Augustine, Humanism, and the Reformed tradition, shaped the theology of English reformers such as Tyndale. In fact, he admits that the title of his book is even a bit misleading given that: “my basic argument is that Luther’s thought is considerably modified by the theologians of the English Reformation. My intention in using such a title was to underline the fact that, while Tyndale and his fellow Reformers were not Luther and had differing concerns and emphases from him, it was nevertheless contact with Luther’s work which radicalized their thinking and changed them from Catholic Humanists to Protestant Reformers.”
Trueman agrees that Tyndale develops in the second half of his career an even stronger notion of the ethical dimension of the Gospel, but contrary to Clebsch convincingly argues that this is more accurately interpreted as a change in emphasis rather than a change in the substance of his theological convictions. Trueman falls in line with Trinterud and Laughlin by acknowledging differences in emphases between Luther and Tyndale on the subject of good works and the Law in the Christian life from the very beginning. Yet, in distinction to both Trinterud and Clebsch, Trueman stresses that Tyndale’s much stronger emphasis on good works and the Law in the life of the Christian is a theologically consistent extension of his doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Along with McGrath, Trueman argues that there are important differences between Luther and Tyndale on the very nature of justification, which impacts their distinctive approaches to Law and good works in the Christian life. Luther defines “justification” and “justified” in terms of the reckoning or imputation of righteousness in Christ apart from the Law and works and Tyndale in the more Augustinian sense of the renewal or regeneration of the will through the grace of the Spirit in love toward the Law and good works. In a more recent essay, Jeffrey Leininger agrees with Trueman that Tyndale’s theology of justification is more Augustinian but that this also reflects Luther’s own theology in 1515–1516 and to some degree his theology in transition during the 1520s. Leininger closely follows the work of Lowell C. Green who establishes a definite dichotomy between the early Luther on justification and his more “mature” thought of the 1530s influenced by the forensic-imputation theology of Melancthon.
John Frith was another significant early evangelical reformer, though he has received far less attention than either Tyndale or Barnes. N. T. Wright, whose work on Frith over thirty years ago remains the most comprehensive and authoritative thus far, essentially underlines Luther’s influence with regard to justification by faith and the obedience of the Christian. Nevertheless, Clebsch earlier had argued that Frith also drifted away from Luther by laying greater positive stress on the Christian fulfillment of the Law through good works.35 Other scholars have gone even further and argue that Frith developed a concept of “double justification” by faith before God but by works before others, which supposedly places Frith closer to Martin Bucer than to Martin Luther. Carl Trueman distinguishes Frith from Luther mostly on matters pertaining to the nature of justification, as does McGrath, but he does not perceive Frith to have developed any significant emphasis on works or the Law in the Christian life comparable to that of Tyndale’s theology of covenant.37
Of all the early English evangelical reformers, Robert Barnes is described as the most “Lutheran,” and this is because he alone among them adopted Luther’s doctrine of the Real Presence. However, Clebsch also pits Barnes against Luther with regard to his more positive emphasis on fulfillment of the Law and good works as the fruit and evidence of justifying faith in the life of a Christian, and that this was most visible in Barnes’ embrace of the canonicity of the New Testament book of James.39 Trueman acknowledges some imprint of Luther on Barnes’ theology as it relates to Law and Gospel, but argues that this is tempered by the influences of Augustine and Humanism to the point that Barnes stresses more than Luther the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling the Christian to fulfill the Law.
In light of all the work that has been done on the theology of the early English evangelical reformers so far, what is perhaps most surprising is the complete and utter omission of any substantial, contextual, and original interaction with Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel that spanned a reforming career of nearly thirty-five years. It is largely assumed by all previous scholars that Luther significantly deemphasizes a positive role for the moral Law in the Christian life of obedience and good works, which also happens to be the interpretation of many, but not all, modern Luther scholars. Despite his acknowledgment of the legacy Luther bequeathed to the theology of the English Reformation, Trueman, writing from the perspective of a Reformed theologian, likewise states that “If Luther teaches a third use of the Law, it is in a very mild and very inconsistent manner” and accuses Luther of being ambivalent toward the Law.42 Instead, Lollardy, Humanism, Augustine, and Swiss Reformed theology are considered as alternative sources by scholars such as Trueman for this emphasis in their thinking. Yet none of these scholars has seriously reevaluated or challenged the very premise upon which their conclusions are based by a rigorous, thorough, and original analysis of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel in its developing historical context. This important foundation is missing in all previous studies of early English evangelical theology.
There is no doubt that Luther understood the moral Law to be indispensable to the ordering of creation and redemption. The very concept of the “uses of the Law” (usus legis) in Lutheran theology arguably originated with him. Though more formally defined in his new Lectures on Galatians (1531–1535), and later adopted by Philipp Melancthon and the Lutheran confessions, these uses are also evident in substance in his earliest writings as well. Put simply, Luther used the formal concept of the usus legis to refer, first, to the moral Law as an instrument of God’s providence to restrain the wickedness of the unregenerate by means of coercion, threats, and temporal and civil punishments (the usus civilis or politicus) for the sake of upholding social and civic order. Secondly, God uses the Law to accuse consciences of sin and damnation so that reconciliation with God is found by faith alone in the promise of forgiveness in the Gospel of Jesus Christ (the usus theologicus).
What many scholars still do not agree concerning, however, is whether there is any emphasis or even a place in Luther’s thought for an implicit “third use of the Law,” or the Law serving as a normative moral standard and goal guiding the justified Christian in obedience and the exercise of good works. It has become widely accepted that Philipp Melancthon, who first coined the phrase tertius usus legis in 1535, was responsible for introducing this use in any such form into Lutheran theology. Contemporaries of Luther, including both Catholics as well as other German reformers like Andreas Karlstadt and Thomas Müntzer, criticized his emphasis on justification as the forgiveness of sins apart from the Law while appearing too soft with regard to regeneration and the need for moral obedience to the Law in the Christian life. Much like the German antinomians of the later 1520s and 1530s, English antinomians of the 1640s enlisted isolated statements from Luther’s writings to champion the simple preaching of the Gospel, grace, and freedom in opposition to pieties that also stressed the need for preaching the Law and for moral effort and discipline in the Christian life. The famous evangelical revivalist preacher John Wesley was converted by Luther’s preface to the epistle of Paul to the Romans, but, after reading Luther’s commentary on Galatians in 1741, blamed Luther for the moral passivity he witnessed in Moravian pietism: “Again, how blasphemously does he speak of good works and of the Law of God; constantly coupling the Law with sin, death, hell, or the devil; and teaching, that Christ delivers us from them all alike. Whereas, it can no more be proved by Scripture that Christ delivers us from the Law of God, than that he delivers us from holiness or from heaven. Here (I apprehend) is the real spring of the grand error of the Moravians. They follow Luther, for better or worse.”
No other book thus far on the theology of the early English evangelical reformers has seriously acknowledged or addressed the lack of scholarly consensus that still persists to this day with regard to the Law and the Christian life in Luther’s theology nor provided any original contribution to the conversation through a personal reevaluation of Luther’s larger theological corpus in its historical context. What is needed, then, is a complete historical-contextual treatment of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel that spans over twenty-five years of reform, polemic, and pastoral ministry, something that is both entirely and surprisingly lacking in the English-speaking world.
Since the early English evangelicals William Tyndale and John Frith died in the early to mid-1530s, and Robert Barnes in 1540, Luther’s writings beyond the early 1530s theoretically apply only, if at all, to Robert Barnes, and those beyond the year 1540 are obviously irrelevant as far as any discussion of influence is concerned. Luther’s published works from 1517 to the mid-1530s, and especially those of the 1520s, are the most relevant for assessing his influence on the thought of the English evangelical reformers. Nevertheless, it is important to see these works against the backdrop of Luther’s pivotal lectures on the book of Romans (1515–1516), which, though not published until the twentieth century, are the capstone of a theological shift in his understanding of the role of Law and Gospel in justification and the Christian life. Furthermore, since Luther’s discussion of the “uses of the Law” becomes most fully developed in controversy with antinomians in the 1530s, and although the Lutheran formula of “usus legis” itself post-dates the careers of Tyndale and Frith, the study of his writings dating to this decade shows how elements that perhaps took more definitive shape and emphasis later on were already latent in his thought of the late 1510s and throughout the 1520s.
William Tyndale, John Frith, and Robert Barnes are fitting to any study of the evangelical theology of the early English Reformation, who together Trueman aptly describes as constituting “the first significant English expressions of Reformation theology and … the focal point of any study of English soteriology during this time.” John Foxe, in his “Epistle or Preface to the Christian Reader” introducing the first edition of their collected works printed by John Daye in 1573, also describes them as the “chiefe ryngleaders in these latter tymes of thys Church of England” who: “in one cause, and about one tyme, sustayned the first brunt, in this our latter age, and gaue the first onset agaynst the enemies: as also for the speciall giftes of fruitfull erudition, and plentifull knowledge wrought in them by God, and so by them left vs in their writings.” Tyndale has naturally received the bulk of attention over the centuries due to the literary prolificacy of his reforming career and, more recently, because of the amount of controversy generated by his adoption of a theology of covenant in the 1530s.
Referring to Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes as “evangelical” rather than “Lutheran” or “Protestant” reformers is also purposeful and important. After 1520, the derogatory title of “Lutheran” was being used without qualification to scorn anyone with a perceived connection to the ideas of the recently condemned heretic. Yet how should historians properly speak of those who show a genuine sympathy toward Luther in the 1520s and 30s but perhaps do not agree with him on every point? As many have argued, only Robert Barnes could be rightly labeled a “Lutheran” since he alone affirmed the doctrine of the Real Presence. Nevertheless, as already discussed, even the extent of Barnes’ debt to Luther has not gone unchallenged in recent years. Furthermore, the word “Lutheran” only began to take on its more formal confessional meaning in the later 1530s and 40s.
Similar problems abound in using the word “Protestant” to refer to an English reformer of the 1520s, the word itself having originated out of the Diet of Speyer (1529) after German princes “protested” the imperial revocation of religious freedoms granted to them under the previous Diet (1526). Andrew Hope argues that the word “Protestant” was not adopted outside of a German context before the reign of Edward VI, and Alec Ryrie observes that the word was used in England in the 1540s but only with reference to those on the Continent who had embraced Luther’s doctrines and allied together against Emperor Charles V. According to Ryrie, it was only after Henry’s death in 1547 that the word “Protestant” was applied at all to religious reformers in England: “by the 1540s no generally accepted term had yet been coined to refer to the emerging religious factions.” In order to avoid anachronism, then, many historians are reluctant to use the term “Protestant” in reference to any English reformer prior to the official demarcations of the later 1540s, so that “we can only talk of Protestants in England after a fully reformed set of dogmas had been promulgated and accepted under Edward VI.” If so, then the word “Protestant” should be avoided with regard to Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes, who were all deceased by 1540. Henry VIII’s own ground-breaking separation from papal jurisdiction in 1534 did not make England an officially Protestant nation. If anything, it contributed to a doctrinal imprecision that historian Richard Rex argues characterized the entire Henrician period, such as with regard to supporters of the “Act of Supremacy” against papal power who remained Catholic otherwise in doctrine.
Such complexity, states Ryrie, only serves in reflecting “the reality that religious divisions and religious communities themselves were vague and ill-defined during this early period of the Reformation.” To what degree did the early English evangelical reformers even perceive themselves to be an organized movement in solidarity separate from the national Church? Due to such complexity and in order not to sacrifice historical accuracy even for the sake of simplicity and generalization, “evangelicals” is a far more appropriate term to identify Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes (although Barnes could also arguably be tagged a “Lutheran”). The word “evangelical” is general enough to incorporate both continuities and discontinuities and yet specific enough to distinguish these reformers from “humanists” or “Lollards.” In modern phenomenology, it has become common to associate “evangelical” and “evangelicalism” with a form of Protestantism that emerged out of the trans-Atlantic revivals of the early eighteenth century and emphasized the instantaneous experience of conversion and assurance of salvation. There is some dispute as to whether sixteenth and eighteenth century Protestants had more or less in common on this subject, but the fact stands that the words “evangelical” and “gospeller” were already in use in the 1520s and 30s as a way of identifying those who confessed the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone with the perception that Scripture alone possesses ultimate doctrinal authority.
In studying theological influences from a consciously historical perspective, it is never enough to simply identify conceptual and linguistic similarities between individuals. This is true in the case of Luther and the early English evangelicals. Trueman has astutely stated that “similarity does not necessarily prove influence,” a temptation that troubles every historian who traces theological influences. To argue for influence solely on the basis of chronological precedence and theological similarity is to succumb to the logical fallacy of post ergo propter hoc. It is also necessary to establish some direct historical connection by locating individuals in their contexts and identifying a conscious use of others’ theological material. This is provable with particular ease in the case of Tyndale and Frith’s use of Luther’s writings, although this does not necessarily prove that they remained entirely faithful to his line of thinking.
Furthermore, though good works and the Law in the Christian life has dominated the most vigorous debate thus far among historians, this issue cannot be adequately understood without looking at wider theological factors requiring a broad treatment of Law and Gospel and other associated themes, including interpretation of the Old Testament, the nature of repentance, theological anthropology, the role of the Holy Spirit, assurance of salvation, and the nature of justification by faith.
No standard, critical work of the complete writings of these three evangelical reformers has yet appeared in print. The original sixteenth century printings and editions held mostly by the British Library and the libraries of Oxford and Cambridge University (see also Early English Books Online) remain the best for the serious historian. The writings of Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes were first published together in Foxe’s Whole Works printed by John Daye in London in 1573. Despite the quantitative scope of the writings included, this collection is not at all suitable for a historical analysis of first and consecutive editions. In the early nineteenth century, the works of the three reformers appeared together again, although only the article on justification was included from Barnes’ Supplication of 1534. The works of Tyndale and Frith were also printed in a separate edition,59 and the writings of Tyndale were published independently for the Parker Society. Select passages compiled from Tyndale’s writings were edited in the twentieth century, modern spelling editions of his Old and New Testament translations appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and now a critical series of his works is just beginning to be published.63 With regard to John Frith, N. T. Wright published a critical edition thirty years ago, and a critical edition of Barnes’ 1534 Supplication has recently been published by Douglas Parker.
The importance of these three reformers as significant players in the religious history of early sixteenth century England makes a regular revisitation of their life and writings a supremely worthwhile enterprise. Their relationship to Luther, however, remains controversial, as does the nature and extent of Luther’s contribution to the English Reformation as a whole. Without a rigorous study of Luther’s own theology of Law and Gospel in his own context, however, there is simply no justification for so swiftly diminishing or even disregarding his influence on this subject matter as many scholars have done in the recent past, and there is sufficient evidence to establish that Luther indeed remained a principal influence on early English evangelical understandings of Law and Gospel and as it pertained to critical matters of reconciliation with God and the life of Christian obedience. This is why it is necessary to start this book with Luther himself and then to establish the historical context in which his writings first made their impact upon English theology before embarking on an individual appraisal of his influence on the first generation of English evangelicals.
Whiting, M. S. (2010). Luther in English: The Influence of His Theology of Law and Gospel on Early English Evangelicals (1525–35). (K. C. Hanson, C. M. Collier, & D. C. Spinks, Hrsg.) (S. iii–15). Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.