Luther in english part 9:Law and Gospel in the Theology of Dr. Robert Barnes- by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA D.D
Luther in english
Law and Gospel in the Theology of Dr. Robert Barnes-
by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA D.D
Law and Gospel in the Theology of Dr. Robert Barnes
THE LIFE AND THEOLOGY OF ROBERT BARNES HAS RECEIVED SIGNIFICANTLY more scholarly attention than that of John Frith, and this is probably due to his prominent role at the White Horse Inn meetings of the early 1520s and the strategic part he played in Anglo-Lutheran diplomacy efforts in the 1530s. In comparison to Frith, however, Barnes left behind fewer theological writings. What he did leave behind, however, was a summary of his theological insights on a variety of matters that show not only his erudition as a scholar but a mind that was deeply influenced by the theology of Luther. Rupp argues that Barnes was the most thorough-going Lutheran of any of the English evangelical reformers. More recently, Trueman describes Barnes as “the most significant Lutheran theologian of the English Reformation” and agrees, despite some finer qualifications, that Barnes is generally closer to Luther than either Tyndale or Frith.
Robert Barnes was born near Lynn in Norfolk around the year 1495. John Bale, one of Barnes’ later Cambridge peers, records that he entered the university order of the Augustinian friars in his youth. Earlier accounts date this to 1511–1512, but, on the basis of Barnes’ own testimony that he was a resident of Cambridge for twenty years, J.P. Lusardi recently suggests that he entered the Order in 1505.
After more than a decade at Cambridge, Barnes developed a scholarly reputation, and he was transferred to the University of Louvain from 1517 to 1521. It is generally assumed that Barnes went on to receive his Doctor of Divinity at Louvain and then later at Cambridge by incorporation in 1523. The duration of Barnes’ residency at Louvain coincided with that of Erasmus, but there is no evidence that the two ever met. However, Barnes’ early reforming career shows the influence of Humanism. Upon returning to Cambridge, he became prior of his Augustinian house and, with the help of Thomas Parnell who returned with him from Louvain, implemented an innovative series of lectures on the classical Latin rhetoricians Terence, Plautus, and Cicero. Future Bible translator Miles Coverdale was among the Augustinian friars who sat under Barnes’ teaching. Foxe’s comment that “the knowledge of good letters was scarsely entred into the Universitie” reflects the rather young influence of Humanism at Cambridge in the early sixteenth century. Nevertheless, Greek studies were significantly introduced at the university through the influence of Erasmus who described Cambridge fondly as suitable for his Greek scholarship,6 and Humanism had also made some significant strides at Cambridge in the co-founding of St. John’s College by Bishop Fisher of Rochester and Lady Margaret of Beaufort in 1516.
Foxe recounts how Barnes soon replaced the scholastic disputations of Duns Scotus with the direct reading of Paul’s epistles. Yet, even despite the level of his new attention to “Christ” and “his holy worde,” Foxe identifies Thomas Bilney as the one who “conuerted him wholy vnto Christ.” This was possibly in the context of the White Horse Inn meetings in the early 1520s, over which Barnes soon was to preside. Foxe’s narrative, however, anachronistically suggests that Barnes’ 1525 sermon at St. Edward’s occurred before, and in some way even instigated, these meetings.
Barnes had certainly come to know of the evangelical theology of Luther even before these meetings. As a friar of the Augustinian Order, Barnes would have heard of the budding controversies surrounding his fellow friar from Wittenberg, and he was a student at Louvain when that university condemned Luther (and almost Erasmus) in 1519. The years 1520–21 saw a heightening of early tension surrounding the works of Luther in the Low Countries, and in the Augustinian monastery in Antwerp several monks began espousing his views. Trueman even conjectures the possibility that Barnes attended Luther’s disputation at the meeting of Augustinians at Heidelberg in 1518. However, there is no evidence as to what particular influence Luther had upon Barnes’ theology during the early 1520s. His participation in the White Horse Inn meetings alone does not necessarily prove that he had at this point developed any particular devotion to Luther’s theology, and another member of those meetings, Stephen Gardiner, went on to oppose evangelical theology as the future Bishop of Winchester. Furthermore, Thomas Bilney is said to have converted Barnes to faith in Christ for his salvation, and though tried by association with Luther later in 1527, Bilney denied ever having learned his theology of salvation by faith from Luther, claiming instead that he first found peace of conscience through his own reading of Paul in Erasmus’ Novum Instrumentum (1519). The emphasis in his reforming preaching against images, pilgrimages, and the cult of the saints is nothing peculiar to the influence of Luther and parallels the concerns of Lollards and, to some degree, humanists as well.
General criticism of the secular clergy was not even uncommon among the friars themselves, and they possessed some immunity from the jurisdiction of university and episcopal authorities. This drastically changed in the case of Barnes, however, on Christmas Eve in 1525 when he preached a scathingly anticlerical sermon at St. Edward’s Church, Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Barnes, probably egged on by fellow Cambridge men George Stafford and Thomas Bilney, used the opportunity to preach against clerical abuses while Latimer substituted for him as chaplain of the Augustinians.
Foxe records that Barnes’s sermon followed “the Scripture and Luthers postill’ for that day, the fourth Sunday in Advent.” Stuart Hall claims unreservedly that the sermon “wholeheartedly” expounds “Lutheran doctrines.” The actual sermon is not extant, but Barnes later identifies in his Supplication (1531 and 1534) the twenty-five articles for which he was charged in the subsequent heresy proceedings. Other scholars have argued that nothing in these articles shows any obvious connection to the influence of Luther.16 The majority of Barnes’ reforming criticisms are rather conventional to the late medieval period and leveled against clerical abuses of power, such as the holding of more than one bishopric (pluralism), the temporal authority exercised by prelates, the selling of pardons, priestly absolution, clerical materialism, and the ornate opulence surrounding the clerical office and its ceremonies. Other particular articles attack superstitious legalism surrounding the keeping of Sabbaths and holidays such as Christmas and Easter, and one article objects wholesale to lawsuits involving Christians and their personal possessions on the basis of a New Testament commandment. The latter, which Stephen Gardiner considered Barnes’ worst offense, caused him to be accused of Anabaptist sympathies and was of particular significance since Trinity Hall was a lawyer’s college. One other charge brought against Barnes was his neglect to pray to the Virgin Mary and for the souls in purgatory as was customary from the pulpit. Although he objects to this practice on the basis of Scripture, he does not openly deny the reality of purgatory itself.18
There is not one single article, however, that explicitly refers to being “justified by faith alone” in Christ. The closest Barnes comes to this is in reference to people and their prayers being acceptable to God, not on the basis of their works, but “allonly for christes merytes.” It is not self-evident that this article was influenced by Luther’s evangelical theology of justification, and it agrees with the belief expressed by Barnes’ earlier spiritual mentor Thomas Bilney. Barnes acknowledges that this particular article did not receive a sentence and that those commissioned to examine him were more concerned with his anticlerical statements. Although Foxe claims that Barnes followed Luther’s Postill for that Sunday, the particular influence of Luther on Barnes’ reforming criticisms in 1525 is not entirely self-evident on the basis of the articles themselves, which deal mostly with clerical abuses of power and, to a lesser extent, superstitious ritualism and devotion to saints.
After a process of hearings with university authorities, Barnes was taken into custody, and, with the help of Stephen Gardiner, was given a private hearing before Cardinal Wolsey in London prior to the commencing of his more formal trial in the days that followed. Barnes was eventually persuaded to abjure in public and to swear to whatever penance was enjoined upon him by the Bishop of Bath and Wells. After a night in prison, Barnes fulfilled his penance before Cardinal Wolsey and other prelates at St. Paul’s Cross on February 11, 1526. He was also accompanied by four London Steelyard merchants recently discovered by Thomas More to be in possession of forbidden works. Barnes kneeled during the sermon of Bishop John Fisher against Martin Luther (now his second), and carried faggots around a pyre of works by Luther and other continental reformers. Barnes explains later that he made his abjuration to the Bishop of Bath and Wells thinking his examiners were genuinely concerned about his safety and that all they really desired of him was to show nominal deference to the authorities. He also gives the impression that his promise to do penance was made before being told exactly what that penance would entail. Despite being convicted under the umbrella of Lutheran heresy, Barnes objects in his Supplication to any such connections to “Lutherians” at this point in time. Indeed, despite obvious parallels in their reforming agendas, and though such claims of disassociation from Luther during this period should always be taken with a grain of salt, it is difficult on the basis of the articles extracted from his Christmas Eve Sermon to make any substantial case for the particular influence of Luther upon Barnes’ theology in 1525.
Six months later, Barnes was moved to the Augustinian house in London. He stayed here for two years and sought in vain for the official release he thought had been promised to him. During this time, Barnes’ received a personal visit from two Lollards from Essex. The confession of John Tyball before Bishop Tunstall of London in April 1528 tells of “Barons” having sold to him and his associate a copy of Tyndale’s superior English New Testament for 3s. 2d. in the chamber of his Augustinian house. This event does not imply that Barnes had formal ties to an underground network of Lollards, nor even that Barnes himself was influenced by Lollardy. Stackhouse argues that the possibility of Lollard influence upon Barnes would cast doubts on his Lutheran inheritance. However, though it does constitute a connection between Lollards and the evangelical movement, there is no need to conclude on the basis of this encounter that Barnes himself was ever influenced by Lollardy. If anything, it appears to have been the reverse.
As a result of the episode, Barnes was moved to the Augustinian house in Northampton under more scrupulous surveillance, but he staged a suicide by drowning and escaped first to Antwerp before moving on to Wittenberg. Barnes’ flight to Wittenberg is important in itself, and it is clear from his writings of the 1530s that his interaction with Lutherans in Germany left an indelible mark on his theology. Tjernagel might not be too far off the mark in stating that: “Louvain and Cambridge had made him a humanist scholar; Wittenberg made him a Lutheran theologian.” In fact, he claims in another article that in “the entire body of Barnes’ theological writings, there is no originality of interpretation or religious thinking. There is however, every evidence of a full grasp and unqualified acceptance of the teachings of Martin Luther and the Wittenberg reformers.” Yet Barnes’ use of patristic writings in support of his biblical exegesis shows the continued influence of Humanism, and his frequent recourse to the theology of Augustine must also be taken into consideration as a possible influence.
Barnes quickly won the acceptance of the Germans. He boarded with Johann Bugenhagen (“Pomeranus”) and befriended Wittenberg’s leading theologians Luther and Melancthon. He assumed the name “Antony Anglus,” under which he later matriculated at the University of Wittenberg in 1533 (the name Robert Barnes appears in the margin of the university rosters next to “D. Antonius Anglus Theologiae Doctor Oxoniensis”). His relationship with German Lutherans in Wittenberg, Hamburg, and Lübeck, as well as with John Frederick of Electoral Saxony and the King of Denmark, would later make him an important asset to Henry VIII in the 1530s who was then seeking political support for his break with the papacy in his divorce from Catherine of Aragon in marriage to Anne Boleyn. The opinion of Barnes among the German theologians is probably best captured by Luther, who after Barnes’ martyrdom in 1540 wrote the preface to a German translation of the life and last confession of “Saint Robert.”
During the years 1530 and 1531, Barnes mostly focused on writing and composed his most revealing theological treatises. His first, the Sentenciae ex doctoribus collectae, quas papistae ualde impudenter hodie damnant (Wittenberg, 1530), was written in Latin and published in Wittenberg under the pseudonym of Antonius Anglus. The Sentenciae contains nineteen doctrinal propositions supported by the authority of Scripture and reinforced by the sayings of the Fathers and even canon law. A preface was written by Bugenhagen, who himself provided a German translation of the work in two editions in 1531. The articles reveal how far Barnes has now come under the theological influence of Luther: 1)“Only Faith justifies”; 2) “Christ’s death has made satisfaction for all sins and not only for original sin”; 3) “God’s commandments cannot possibly be kept in our own strength”; 4) “freewill by its own powers is only able to sin”; 5) “the just sin in all good works”; 6) “what is the true Church and how she may be told”; 7) “God’s Word, not men’s powers, is the keys of the Church”; 8) “councils may err”; 9) “all should receive the Sacrament in both kinds”; 10) “priests may marry”; 11) “human ordinances cannot free sinners”; 12) “auricular confession is not necessary for salvation”; 13) “monks are not more holy than lay folks on account of cowls and monasteries”; 14) “Christian fasting does not consist in discrimination between foods”; 15) “for the Christian every day is a Sabbath day and a festal day and not only the seventh day”; 16) “unjust banning by the Pope does not disgrace the banned”; 17) “in the Sacrament of the Altar is truly (wahrhaft) the Body of Christ”; 18) “saints may not be appealed to as mediators”; 19) “of the origin and parts of the Mass.”
To a large extent the Sentenciae reappear again in the third part of Barnes’ Supplication published in Antwerp in 1531, the same year as Frith’s Disputation of Purgatory and Tyndale’s Answer to More. In the first part of the Supplication addressed to Henry VIII, Barnes proceeds to exonerate himself from charges of heresy and to object to the “uncheritable” treatment he and other persecuted preachers had received from Cardinal Wolsey and the bishops. Barnes deflects criticism to the magisterium, whose tyranny over the Word of God and exemption from temporal obedience to princes makes them the real traitors of the kingdom of “youre grace.” The second part rehearses the articles for which Barnes was charged for heresy in his Christmas Eve sermon of 1525. The final part is devoted to a more exhaustive treatment of Christian doctrine and further reveals the extent to which Luther’s evangelical theology of Law and Gospel has influenced the mind of Barnes. Bishop John Fisher’s sermon in condemnation of Luther provides the major literary focus of Barnes’ polemic.
The very first of the “comon places” treated by Barnes is that “Only faythe Justifyeth by fore god,” which he argues is the article that stands at the center of Scripture. Such paramount importance given to the article of justification by faith alone in biblical revelation agrees with the centrality Luther ascribed to it, which was affirmed also by Tyndale in both his earlier and later writings. Barnes builds his case exegetically on the basis of the gospels and the epistles of Paul, with understandable emphasis on the book of Romans. This section of his treatise is largely written as a response to Bishop Fisher of Rochester who was the first major English opponent of Luther, particularly with regard to the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone. In light of Fisher’s use of the Fathers, Barnes’ Supplication, much like Frith’s own Purgatory, contains a host of patristic citations, including Augustine, Ambrose, Bernard of Clairvaux, and even Origen. Barnes’ basic argument is that the Scriptures speak of Christ alone as the only Savior and Justifier, which means that there is no need for the help of any other creature or for the making of any other satisfaction for sin. For Barnes, to be of the opinion that works of any kind, either before or after faith, somehow contribute to human redemption is to deny the biblical truth about the utter gratuitousness of salvation in Christ. To deny this is to deny the very person and work of Christ Himself, which Barnes identifies, echoing Luther’s antipapal response to Prierias in 1521 and translated by Frith in the Revelation of Antichrist (1529), as the spirit of the antichrist. For Barnes, the Scriptures clearly teach that justification, which he defines by citing Augustine as the “remission of sins” (remissionem peccatorum), is imputed to faith only (Sola. Sola. Sola). By the promise of the grace of God, Jesus Christ alone is “al oure iustice/ all oure redempcion/ all oure wysdom/ all oure holynes/ alonly the purcheser of grace/ alonly the peace maker/ bytwene god and man. Breuely al goodnes that we haue/ that yt is of him/ by him/ and for his sake only.” It is significant that Barnes stresses Augustine’s definition of “justification” as the “remission of sins.” As McGrath argues, Augustine does occasionally use justification in this sense, but he ordinarily uses justificare to stress being “made righteous” through love and the regenerating and renewing work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, that Barnes uses Augustine to define justification as essentially the remission of sins in Christ imputed to faith alone reflects the influence of Luther upon his presuppositions.
Trueman pits Barnes and Frith against Tyndale, arguing that Tyndale more than the others “tends to emphasize Christ’s work as an example rather than as an objective accomplishment of redemption,” but this is a misleading distinction since Tyndale, like Luther, understood the liberation of the Christian from spiritual bondage as consisting precisely in the removal of guilt promised in the Gospel and accomplished through the righteousness of Christ. Trueman is also of the opinion that Barnes’ own “doctrine of atonement in relation to the doctrine of God” is somewhat underdeveloped in comparison to that of Frith who lays more explicit stress on the propitiation of God’s wrath. Although Barnes does not explicitly refer to the propitiation of the wrath of God the Father, he does often refer to the satisfaction made for sin by the blood of Christ. It is important to remember that neither Barnes, Tyndale, nor Frith ever set out to provide a systematic and comprehensive treatment of the atonement, but it can be assumed that these reformers all shared a common belief in the objective work of Christ on the cross offered to God the Father on behalf of sinful humanity that was part of the Western medieval theological inheritance going back to Anselm and reflected through the liturgy of the Mass. The same could also be said of Luther who considered the Godward orientation of the work of Christ to be the very foundation for the liberty of the Christian from bondage to sin under the Law, death, and the Devil in justification and the new life of good works.
Trueman and McGrath also argue that Barnes does not clearly set forth a doctrine of justification understood as the imputation of righteousness in Christ in the early Supplication of 1531. According to McGrath, Barnes’ earlier treatise is “vague” on the subject and states that: “The first clear and unambiguous statement of the concept of the imputation of righteousness to be found in the writings of an English Reformer may be found in the 1534 edition of Robert Barnes’ Supplication unto King Henry VIII.” Although he is certainly correct if speaking of the lack of any explicit reference to “imputed righteous in Christ” or the “imputation of Christ’s righteousness,” which is not even characteristic of Lutheran writings until the 1530s, it must be stressed that Barnes does clearly describe justification in terms of the forgiveness of sins “imputed” to faith “alone” (sola) in union with Christ and His atoning righteousness. In fact, Trueman states that Barnes’ more explicit statements on imputed righteousness in the revised 1534 Supplication, which actually occur as a newly appended summary, are only inserted to clarify his earlier position.
It is not surprising that Barnes in 1531 could anticipate objections to his doctrine of justification by faith in Christ alone, and the rationale for his response clearly reflects the influence of Luther’s presuppositions though often quoting from Augustine. Works apart from grace and faith cannot justify because they do not have the right intent and are nothing but sin. Trueman distinguishes the doctrine of faith in the theology of Barnes from that of Frith and Tyndale, arguing that the latter two stress the Holy Spirit and love in the doing of good works rather than faith. This seems like an unwarranted comparison since each of these reformers freely employed the tree and fruit analogy to stress the relationship of faith to love and good works, and Trueman himself acknowledges that Barnes stresses the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit under his discussion of the bondage of the will.
Following Luther, Barnes defines justifying faith as personal and possessive, that God is “not alonly a father, but my father.” This is no general, earthly kind of faith that believes things knowable by human reason or testimony, such as the existence of a creator or the historical facts of Jesus’ life. Although neither works before nor after faith justify, saving faith is a divine work that necessarily produces good works “to the honour off god/ and also to the profite of oure neyboure.” A truly good work is neither done for reward nor out of fear, but after the example of Christ Himself. These good works can only be done by a justifying faith and the indwelling of Christ. Barnes states that the works of the just are all good, though not in the sense that the works of Christians are perfect. Barnes uses the familiar image of the “good tre” and its good “appylle” to describe the relationship between faith and good works. Those who respond to the promise of grace in Christ as a thief might abuse the pardon of a king are not truly among the justified who rightly do what “the kyngys pardon deseruyed.” Nevertheless, in direct opposition to Bishop Fisher, Barnes argues that it is unbiblical to ascribe to love and works a meritorious role alongside faith for justification such as in the traditional Catholic notion of a “fides caritate formata.” According to Barnes, Paul’s praise of charity above faith in 1 Corinthians 13 and the faith that “worketh by charity” in Galatians 5:6 does not mean that love and faith together justify, and Barnes cites Athanasius’ reference to the other kind of “faith” that works miracles, prophecies, and healings. According to Barnes, Fisher’s appeal to the epistle of James does nothing for his argument, and Barnes explicitly echoes Luther’s skepticism towards the apostolicity of James on account of the fact that it appears to teach justification by works and lacked the consensus of patristic acceptance as recorded by Eusebius. Nevertheless, Barnes argues that to concede the authority of James does not necessarily prove Fisher’s point anyway, and he uses Augustine to demonstrate that James can be interpreted in theological agreement with Paul in praising those works that follow after faith as testimony of a justification already received. Barnes points out that a Christian who dies right after believing without having any opportunity to exercise his or her faith in a good work is yet fully justified.
Though he acknowledges in the second article of his “comon places” that the word “ekklesia” in Scripture often refers to a local body of professing Christians in a general region or city, Barnes argues that the true, universal Church is not an outward thing, nor is it defined by the magisterium, popes, or councils that can and have erred. Rather, it is made up of all who are truly justified through inward faith in Jesus Christ. The elect are only infallibly known by God, since the justified are also still sinners and the valiant works of the wicked mask a hypocritical righteousness. Nevertheless, Barnes does not conclude that this eliminates all possibility of reasonable estimation since the “serten tokens” of preaching the pure Word of God and its positive reception among a submissive people bear witness to the likely presence of a true Christian “ecclesia,” which Barnes translates as “churche or congregacion.” The latter English word in particular was favored by Tyndale in his New Testament translation to stress, like Luther in his own use of congregatio (“gathering”) and Gemeinde (“community”), the common priesthood of Christians under the rule of the Word of God. In fact, this section of the Supplication is reminiscent of the same discussion in Tyndale’s Answer to More, which is interesting in the light of the fact that Barnes and Tyndale were broadsided together on this very issue in More’s Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer (1532). The invisible-withinthe-visible conception of the Church was taught by Augustine and was promulgated by Wyclif in the context of the doctrine of predestination, but Luther asserted it more recently in stressing the ultimate “hiddenness” of God’s elect in the world. Barnes’ admission of the fallibility of popes and councils also resonates with the thought of Luther in debate with Eck in 1519.
In his third common place, Barnes argues against Duns Scotus that the preaching of the Word of God, and not sacerdotal absolution, is what is meant in Scripture by the power of the “keys” to bind and loose. Echoing the thoughts of Luther and Tyndale, the Word of God alone holds the powers of repentance, the loosing of the conscience, and the amendment of life. Though the keys of the Word of God rightly belong to all baptized Christians, who all “be Peter,” there are within the “congregacion of faythefulle men” those perceived to be “most abylle and best lernyd in the word of God.” These have a particular calling to serve as preachers and administers of the sacrament in the context of the regular corporate gathering.
The fourth common place treated by Barnes addresses the controversy over free-will. Barnes’ answer mirrors Augustine’s ancient controversy with Pelagius and Luther’s more recent dispute with Erasmus in arguing for the spiritual bondage of the will and the sinfulness of all works apart from grace: “he [free-will] cane neyther thynke good/ nor wylle/ nor yet performe yt … that man hathe lost his frewylle by synne and cane no more do vnto goodnes/ than a dede man cane do to make hym selfe a lyue agayn/ yee he cane doo nothynge but delyght in synne …” Barnes strongly opposes the late medieval scholastic notion of congruous merit and that the natural person can be prepared and disposed to desire grace through his or her own contrition (facere quod in se est and preparare se ad graciam): “frewylle without grace cane doo nothynge.” Like Luther, Barnes asserts that sin is the property, not of the “bonys nor the synows/ nor the fleshe that hangeth there on,” but of the very rational soul itself. In fact, when speaking of the mortification of the “flesh” by the Spirit of God, Barnes explicitly associates this with the suppression from within of the sinful desires that originate from the human spirit and not with the outward control of sinful passions aroused within the physical body.
Of course, Barnes is aware of the natural objections raised as to why God commands anything at all if free-will is so incapacitated and what right He has to condemn people for things they cannot possibly avoid. The answer, for Barnes, is not to look for fault in God or His Law and commandments, but “to subdewe thys presumtuous pryde of thyne/ and to bryng the to knowledge of thyne awne selfe.” With this knowledge, the sinner can confess his “unabyllnes” to God and beseech the “phisician” for His mercy and for the help of His Spirit to henceforth keep the commandments. For Barnes, this is not the same thing as what scholastics like Duns Scotus called “attrition,” or imperfect contrition, understood as a turning from sin out of natural fear meriting justifying grace congruously from God. As Luther objected to the theology of Gabriel Biel in his Disputation Against Scholastic Theology (1517), Barnes objects to Scotus and Fisher and lumps them together as Pelagians on account of their teaching that God rewards with justifying grace a soul that is penitent apart from prevenient grace. To the contrary, like Luther, Barnes states that human nature apart from grace wishes there were no God to punish sins. Furthermore, attrition did not merit grace and the remission of sins in the case of Judas. Barnes’ contrast of spiritual bondage to sin and the grace of God needed to help keep the Law certainly owes to his explicit use of Augustine but must be interpreted in the light of the stress in his definition of justification on the forgiveness of sins in Christ imputed to faith alone, which shows the influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel.
According to Barnes, God is even particular to whom He grants this special grace of repenting, believing, and willing, and it has nothing to do with foreseen cooperation on the part of individuals. The grace of election itself guarantees the conversion of the sinner. Yet God’s inscrutable will in election is righteous and not open to rebuke. Barnes states that God uses the natures of both the righteous and the wicked as “instrumentis” for His own sovereign purposes, yet He is not laid open to the charge of the fault of evil.
While Barnes quotes often from Augustine throughout this section in support of spiritual bondage apart from the grace of God, his knowledge of the more recent controversy between Luther and Erasmus in 1525 must also be at the forefront of his mind. Indeed, Barnes refutes Bishop Fisher in a manner very reminiscent of the way that Luther refutes Erasmus. In fact, Barnes alludes to Luther’s refutation of Erasmus in Article 4 of his earlier Sentenciae (1530). Trueman acknowledges that Barnes made some obvious literary use of Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio (1525), but he also distances Barnes from Luther by arguing that the latter denied “free-will” fundamentally on the “axiom of God’s immutability with its implications for divine determinism.” It is indeed true that Luther’s argument in the De Servo Arbitrio begins here, but that is because he is purposefully following the outline of Erasmus’ own preface in the Diatribe seu collatio de libero arbitrio (1524). On the other hand, when Luther moves beyond direct interaction with Erasmus and proceeds to provide his own exegetical case against “free-will” he begins by discussing the universal guilt and dominion of sin, which Trueman argues is the distinguished focus of Augustine and Barnes. Furthermore, Barnes’ discussion of God’s sovereign use of the natures of the righteous and the wicked echoes Luther who likewise distinguished sinning by necessity of nature from sinning by compulsion as if against nature.
The influence of Luther is also arguably evident in at least two of the last four common places that conclude this section of Barnes’ Supplication. The first of the four common places advocates for the vernacular translation and distribution of the Bible among the common people. As has already been mentioned, Barnes marketed a copy of Tyndale’s unauthorized English New Testament to two Lollards from Essex sometime earlier between January 1526 and April 1528. Barnes’ support for a vernacular Bible was not necessarily the result of the influence of either Luther or Tyndale but might have originated earlier in his associations with Humanism. To be sure, English translations of biblical texts were not even exclusively a legacy of either Lollardy or the evangelical Reformation, although these translations were scarce and based from the Latin. Although vernacular lay Bibles were not entirely unknown on the continent by the fifteenth century, Luther was actually the first to translate the entire Bible from the Greek and Hebrew texts for the common German Christian. His example made an obvious impression on Tyndale’s own translation work from the original languages, and this certainly was not missed by Barnes, who also wished to see an authorized vernacular English Bible.
Barnes’ understanding of the “two powers” of spiritual and temporal authority is reminiscent of Luther’s own concept of the “two kingdoms.” The former refers to the ministry of the Gospel and the latter refers to the legitimate, though limited, authority of temporal government. In the case of the forbiddance of the English New Testament, disobedience, though not armed resistance, is obligatory for the sake of the Gospel and of the faith. This, of course, is reminiscent of Luther’s advocacy of passive resistance in the case of the suppression of his own German New Testament in Ducal Saxony. According to Barnes, such passive resistance also applies in the event that ecclesiastical authorities legalistically impose upon consciences under the penalty of eternal damnation certain rites that are not commanded by God in Scripture and which constitute free or “indifferent” things: “those thynges which be of the inuencion of man do not bynde oure consciens though they seme to be of neuer so grett holynes and of humbillenes and holynes of angelles …” In other instances, however, such practices should be heeded if they contribute to personal or communal edification. This fundamentally echoes Luther’s own understanding of the liberty of the Christian conscience with regard to matters not clearly proscribed in Scripture.
Barnes’ seventh common place rejects the decision of the Council of Constance and argues against Bishop Fisher that Christians should receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in both forms of bread and wine. Luther raised doubts about the authority of Constance in his debate with Eck in 1519, and he advocated for the sacrament in both kinds at the very beginning of his Babylonian Captivity (1520).
In the final common place, Barnes denounces superstitious devotion and prayers to images and saints, which was at the heart of the reforming criticisms of his earlier mentor Thomas Bilney. However, Barnes does not explicitly concede, as Tyndale and Luther both do, that images are theoretically acceptable for purposes of visual remembrance inspiring imitation. Barnes acknowledges that the saints should be revered for the glory of Christ in them and should be followed just as they followed the Lord, but he does not make an explicit connection here to any viable use of images nor does he give the impression that images constitute what he referred to before as indifferent things. Rather, he stresses that people of flesh and blood are the true images of God to whom devotion and charity must be redirected. Barnes’ approach to images, then, does not seem to reflect the guarded tolerance of Luther, but Luther certainly agreed in denouncing superstitious devotion to images and saints, prayers for the meritorious intercession of the saints, and the neglect of serving the saints here on earth.54
As in the case of Frith, Barnes balances the exegetical use of Scripture with a heavy dose of quotations from Church Fathers like Augustine to rhetorically amplify and reinforce his own theological integrity. The latter does indeed at least partly suggest the legacy of his background in Humanism, although Barnes was also a friar hermit of the Augustinian Order. Yet, as also in the case of Frith, this should not be misconstrued as dismissing a real significant indebtedness to the theological influence of Luther, and for Barnes this included intimate proximity with Luther and his colleagues in Wittenberg. Charles Anderson points out that Barnes’ objection to being dismissed as a “Lutheran” in his earlier Sentenciae reflects his desire to win an unbiased hearing from his Catholic opponents rather than a disavowal of Luther’s theology or influence. Use of the Fathers by Frith and Barnes was chiefly a rhetorical and polemical strategy to reinforce the teaching of Scripture (as they interpreted it) with the ancient words of those saints generally respected by their Catholic opponents. Of course, no theologian of the early sixteenth century who wanted to gain a respectful hearing from his Catholic opponent would have zealously quoted from Luther. Even Tyndale and Frith, when liberally translating from Luther’s own writings, did not openly acknowledge him as their source (what in modern times amounts to plagiarism).
Until more recently, most scholars have interpreted Barnes’ early theology of 1531 as Lutheran. Trueman, however, argues that upon closer inspection Barnes’ treatment of the Law shows more of a synthesis of Lutheran and Augustinian influences. According to Trueman, Barnes agrees with Luther concerning the role of the Law in convicting the conscience of the sinner but not with the same extremity. Trueman also argues that Barnes does not polarize Law and Gospel to the same degree as Luther, bringing him closer to Augustine in stressing the Christian’s fulfillment of the Law through the Holy Spirit.57 Indeed, Barnes does quote Augustine repeatedly throughout the Supplication and this obviously impacts how his theology is expressed. However, Barnes’ discussion of the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling the Christian to fulfill the Law, though quoting from Augustine, is not as uncharacteristic of Luther as Trueman assumes. Furthermore, the simple fact that Barnes used Augustine does not negate the influence of Luther upon his presuppositions in reading and interpreting Augustine. Rather, his use of Augustine comes from a desire to reinforce the integrity of his interpretation of Scripture with reference to the premiere Catholic Father of the Western Christian Tradition. Trueman even acknowledges the likelihood that rhetorical and polemical strategy is at least one significant part of Barnes’ heavy use of Augustine.59
The influence of Luther in Wittenberg was the most immediate and proximate influence shaping the theology of Barnes around the year 1530 and the writing of his most revealing theological work yet to date. Even though resourcing the sayings of the most generally respected Father and Doctor of the ancient Church, Barnes’ treatment of the spiritual bondage of the will to sin under the Law apart from grace, the fruit and testimony of a living faith in love and good works, interpreted in the light of his definition of justification as essentially the remission of sins in Christ imputed to faith “alone. alone. alone” (Sola. Sola. Sola), bears the distinctive influence of Luther’s evangelical theology of Law and Gospel.
Henry VIII received a copy of Barnes’ Supplication along with Tyndale’s Exposition of I John by means of Stephen Vaughn, a merchant and agent of Thomas Cromwell in the Low Countries. In a letter to Cromwell, Vaughn pointed out the potential impact of the Supplication upon the English people and urged that Barnes receive an invitation to speak before the Defensor Fidei himself. That this was even a possibility for a religious refugee results from the fact that Barnes had praised Henry’s royal prerogatives in the Supplication and was able to obtain from Luther a response to the question of the legitimacy of the King’s divorce from Catherine. Though Luther objected to the divorce, Barnes’ relationship to the Wittenberg theologians put him in a strategic position for the continual courting of German political support by the English crown. He returned to England under the promise of safe conduct in December of 1531, but his visit was closely scrutinized by Chancellor Thomas More. Barnes also had the opportunity to approach Stephen Gardiner, now Bishop of Winchester and a judge during his earlier heresy trial of 1525–1526. It is uncertain what transpired between Barnes and Henry VIII, and he quietly left England after only two months, probably to escape from More’s antagonistic shadow. More had even accused Barnes of overstaying the period of his safe-conduct, but Frith came to his defense in his answeringe vnto M mores lettur (1533). In the first part of his Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, which may have appeared before Barnes departed again for the Continent, More also attacked Barnes for rejecting the Real Presence, which Barnes effectively denied in a letter sometime in early 1532. In fact, Tyndale wrote to Frith in 1533 warning him that Barnes would be “hot against” him on account of his rejection of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Barnes’ role in the later trial and execution of John Lambert in 1538 is further proof that he remained steadfast in his understanding of the Real Presence. Despite the persistent opposition of More, Barnes crisscrossed the channel in 1533–1534, settling alternately in Hamburg and Wittenberg and establishing important diplomatic contacts in Lübeck and elsewhere, now employed as a royal diplomat and middleman between English and German emissaries. In 1534 Barnes also published a revised version of his Supplication, this time in London and under royal sanction to promote the prerogatives of the English Crown against the papacy.
A quick glance at the overall structure of the revised Supplication reveals visible changes made to the previous edition of 1531. A new autobiographical section provides a detailed narration of the heresy proceedings of 1525–1526. Only three of the original eight common places remain in the new edition: justification by faith alone, the bondage of the will, and the Church. The fourth common place that supports clerical marriage is new to the revised edition, although it was derived from his earlier Sentenciae (1530). The fact that Barnes omitted the common place devoted to the freedom of the conscience with regard to “mennes constitucions which be not grounded in scripture” has received scholarly attention for its implications involving submission to the Royal Supremacy.
Upon closer examination of the content, it is plain to see that the introduction to the Supplication has been rewritten and its antipapal poise even sharpened. The section describing the articles for which Barnes was condemned in the 1520s is for the most part unchanged except for a more moderate appraisal of litigation involving Christians. Barnes defends his consistency on this matter with respect to temporal authority, especially that of the King’s, although Lusardi points out that he made no such allowance for it in his Christmas Eve sermon of 1525, the heresy proceedings that followed, or his Supplication of 1531. The common place on free-will is the least altered of all the articles, and notes taken of a sermon preached by Barnes in London in 1535 confirm the continued influence of Luther upon his understanding of the Law as the accuser of the natural conscience and its true pacification only in the forgiveness of sins promised in Christ: “when the law bryngyth us to knowledge of our selfe we have serten hobtes [obits] there and then, some hath runnyd to Jerusalem, other to S. James, other at charterhowse, other hange them selves yf christ now be not toghte per truwly toghte in remissionem peccatorum Job seyth the hevens nor the angelles ar not pur in thye syght yf thow judge them.” The common place on the Church has been totally revamped in the light of More’s Confutation that attacked Barnes’ previous treatise of 1531. Yet, rather than offer a direct refutation of More’s counterarguments, Barnes merely restates his position using the same authorities, although improving his citations and softening his anticlericalism to the extent of acknowledging that not all secular and religious clergy are reproachable.
The common place “Onely fayth iustifieth before God” is notably reduced in size compared with the earlier edition of 1531. Clebsch argues that the revised Supplication of 1534 displays an entirely new attitude toward good works as the outward testimony of inward justification and that this is not attributable at all to Luther. As mentioned before, Trueman argues that Barnes’ earlier Augustinian appraisal of the Law already distanced him from Luther, and he argues that the Supplication of 1534 does not reveal any real changes in this understanding.
With regard to major omissions in this section, Trueman is right to point out that Barnes softens his personal invective toward the episcopacy, which he had formerly and unabashedly labeled as antichrist in 1531. As for additions, Trueman identifies a paragraph on the justification of Abraham by faith,68 although this did appear with some variation in the earlier edition. One major addition worthy of note is Barnes’ expanded refutation of the notion that Paul only objects to the works of the “old law” as justifying but not works of the “new law.” Whereas in the 1531 Supplication Barnes criticizes his opponents who associate the “old law” with the Mosaic laws and the “new law” with the laws and traditions of the Catholic Church (“workes that you haue inuented out of youre idylle brayne”), in the revised edition “old” and “new law” refer explicitly to the commandments of the Decalogue and the ethical teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount respectively. Thus, whereas in the earlier Supplication Barnes stressed justification apart from the ceremonies and practices instituted by the Church, he here clarifies this to preclude justification even by the moral laws of Scripture itself. Barnes’ identification of the Ten Commandments with the Sermon on the Mount does not mean he has adopted a more legalistic position, as Trueman rightly argues against Clebsch, and Barnes’ point is that Christ merely interprets the Decalogue correctly according to the commandment to love God and neighbor from the heart. This is followed by a stark contrast between the ministry of Moses and that of Christ, and Barnes argues that the latter came to fulfill what the former demanded of all people. This is completely consistent with the Law-Gospel theology of Luther and reveals his indelible influence upon the theology of Barnes in the Supplication of 1534.
Another minor addition to the text of the Supplication is the statement that “workes hath theyr glorye and rewarde.” Luther was not against speaking about the promise of reward in heaven in the context of faithfulness in suffering, though he stressed that a good work by nature is never done with thoughts of reward nor is heaven itself a reward merited by works. Similarly, for Barnes, since neither the works that are without faith nor even those that follow faith contribute to justification, he asserts unambiguously that “the glory, and prayse of iustificacion, belongeth to Christ onely.”
The most significant revision that occurs in the common place on justification, however, is Barnes’ unhesitant exegetical use of James to prove that faith without works is really non-faith: “that fayth is a deed fayth, and of no value that hath no works. For workes shulde declare, and shewe the outwarde faythe, and workes shulde be an outwarde declaracion and a testimonie of the inwarde iustificacion …” Barnes nowhere expresses the same doubts he had earlier in 1531 about the apostolicity of the book. At the same time, however, he is quick to maintain that the Gospel of justification by faith alone is still most clearly explained in the epistles of Paul, which is reminiscent of Luther’s own accolade of Romans, and that other scriptures must be interpreted with respect and deference to them.
Trueman is right in objecting to Clebsch, who argues that this new appraisal of James moves Barnes much closer now to Martin Bucer’s concept of “double justification,” and observes that Barnes’ theology has not substantially changed in that he openly affirmed works as the outward testimony of inward faith and justification in his previous Supplication of 1531. Trueman argues that Barnes already shows an underlying ambivalence toward the book earlier in 1531 and that his reticence to openly accept its canonicity was due perhaps to the overshadowing influence of Luther in Wittenberg. However, what Trueman and other scholars have not considered is how Barnes’ decision to drop earlier doubts about the canonicity of James was politically expedient. Although Barnes’ use of James is still clearly grounded on the assumption that the “rewarde” of “good workes” is “not remyssion of synnes, nor yet iustificacion,” it makes more sense that he would concede its canonical integrity rather than to resurrect an antiquated discussion about its apostolicity in a treatise sanctioned by a Catholic royal court. Nevertheless, Luther was himself never wholly opposed to exegeting James 2 in order to stress the importance of good works as testimonies of true faith. It does appear at least that Barnes revokes his earlier uncertainties that were most likely inspired by Luther, but this does not necessarily imply a conscientious break with the theology of Luther on the importance of good works or their relationship to justification. Other revisions in the Supplication can certainly be explained in terms of the royal sanctioning of this treatise, and Lusardi perceptively observes with regard to the new Supplication that: “In general, the second version of the Supplication remains a distinctively, indeed, militantly Protestant document, but it is less radical and uncompromising than the original version. Barnes was a staunch advocate of the revolution that was taking place in England; he wanted to see it go farther than it had, but for the time-being he was bending all his efforts to consolidate the gains already made.”
A few other additions are worth noting, and these are surprisingly either not mentioned or not significantly explored by Trueman. As already mentioned, Trueman argues that Barnes’ Supplication of 1531 does not develop an objective doctrine of the atonement in terms of a satisfaction made to God. However, this was most certainly implicit, and in the 1534 edition Barnes does clearly state that Christ receives all the glory for salvation for it is in His blood that there is a “satisfienge of Gods wrathe, takyng away of euerlastyng vengeaunce, purchasynge of mercy, fulfyllynge of the lawe, with all other lyke thynges.” Trueman also does not analyze the new conclusion appended to the article on justification in the 1534 Supplication where the word “imputed” appears three times, “imputative” once, and “reckened” twice. He does mention “the unequivocal statement of the doctrine” in a footnote to the Supplication of 1531, arguing that this is a “clarification, rather than a development, of his position,” but he never mentions it again in his discussion of the revised 1534 edition.
The conclusion discusses how faith itself is not a holy work that merits justification, but it justifies only on the basis that “it is that thynge alonely, wherby I do hange of Christe. And by my faythe alonly, am I partaker of the merites, the mercy purchased by Christes bloude, and faythe, it is alonely that receyue the promyses made in Christe.” The notion that justifying righteousness is imputed to faith alone in and through union with Christ could not be stated with much greater clarity than in the statement that follows: “all the merytes, and goodnes, grace, and fauour, and all that is in Christe, to our saluacion, is imputed, and reckened vnto vs, because we hange, and beleue of hym … it is a iustice, that is rekened, and imputed vnto vs, for the fayth in Christ Jesus, and it is not of our deseruynge, but clerely, and fully of mercy imputed vnto vs.” That Barnes continues to use Augustine throughout his article on justification in the 1534 Supplication while explicitly stressing the imputation of righteousness in Christ to faith alone shows that he could refer apologetically to the ancient bishop with the presuppositions influenced by Luther’s evangelical theology of justification.
It is quite ironic that Barnes, who had fled secretively from England as a religious refugee in 1528 or 1529, was now employed in service to the English Crown, whereas Thomas More, who had defended the English Church as a champion against heresy, was imprisoned in the Tower of London in April 1534 for his refusal to submit to the Act of Supremacy. He was beheaded a little over a year later. With More now out of the way, Anne Boleyn as Queen with evangelical sympathies, Thomas Cranmer as Archbishop, and Thomas Cromwell as Vicegerent of Spirituals, Barnes enjoyed a brief period of peace as a reforming preacher and diplomat. For the greater part of the next five years Barnes preached openly in his homeland and continued working for diplomacy between England and Germany. As a newly appointed royal chaplain, Barnes was commissioned to dissuade Melancthon from accepting an invitation to France and to come to England instead. Through an interview with Elector John Frederick, he succeeded in opening the way for negotiations between a royal embassy headed by Edward Foxe and Nicholas Heath and the German princes of the Schmalkaldic League. During this time, Barnes also published his history of the papacy, the Vitae Romanorum Pontificum (1536), which was dedicated to Henry with a preface written by Luther.
With the fall of Anne Boleyn in 1536, the situation turned more precarious for the evangelicals in England. Barnes even retracted his previous invitation to Melancthon. He continued to preach and spent a brief time in the Tower of London but was released with the help of Cromwell. Thereafter, he resumed his preaching in 1537–38, was recommended to the King by Bishop Hugh Latimer of Worcester, and was praised with bequests in the last will and testament of Humphrey Monmouth. Barnes also continued performing his duties as a royal diplomat and was even urged to participate in theological discussions with a German delegation to England led by Francis Burchardt and Frederick Myconius. In 1538, Barnes was also commissioned to furrow out Anabaptists, including John Lambert who was summoned to a hearing before Archbishop Cranmer. Lambert had been with Barnes at the White Horse meetings of the early 1520s and was executed on November 22, 1538, for his more extreme views on the Eucharist.
Contrary to the statement made by Foxe, Barnes was not then sent in early 1539 as the King’s envoy to the Duke of Cleves to negotiate a marriage alliance. In fact, Tjernagel denies Barnes as having any direct role in forging the marriage alliance itself. However, Barnes was sent to John Frederick, Elector of Saxony, and King Christian III of Denmark to garner support and to widen the political geography of the alliance.84
Barnes’ usefulness to the King was already fading in the light of the failing negotiations between Henry and the Schmalkaldic League. In 1539–40 his security was further threatened by open conflict with his former acquaintance Stephen Gardiner over the doctrine of justification. Gardiner also criticized the suitability of Barnes, an abjured heretic, to serve as a royal diplomat and for his refusal to submit to the “Act of Six Articles” in 1539. It seems that Barnes’ connections to Cromwell did not help his case, whose own favor with the King was in peril as a result of having spearheaded the ill-conceived marriage alliance with Anne of Cleves. After being appointed by Cranmer along with William Jerome and Thomas Garrard to preach a series of Lenten sermons at St. Paul’s Cross, Barnes was attacked by Gardiner in a sermon before the King in 1540. Gardiner had preached earlier against the doctrine of justification by faith alone and was goaded by Barnes from the pulpit a month later. With the approval of the King, Gardiner held a private disputation with Barnes, the latter even momentarily appearing to concede until his colleagues soon reignited the evangelical fires from the pulpit. The three rebellious preachers were ordered by the King to preach recantation sermons, and Barnes only feigned surrender in his opening prayer. The three were then consigned to the Tower as obstinate heretics. Cromwell was soon to join them and was beheaded first at Tyburn. Without ever having a formal trial or knowing the heresies for which he was condemned, Barnes was burned along with Jerome and Garrard at Smithfield on July 30, 1540.
Barnes’ last confession is a testimony to the persistence of his evangelical faith. As Foxe records, Barnes went to the stake with the assurance of glory, not because of his own works but because of his trust in the atoning righteousness of Christ. As for good works, he reiterated that “they are to be done, and verely they that doo them not, shall neuer come in the kingdome of God. We must do them, because they are commaunded vs of God to shew and set forth our profession, not to deserue or merite, for that is only the death of Christ.”
Robert Barnes did not leave behind much of a prolific literary legacy, but his importance as a statesman during the Anglo-German negotiations of the 1530s makes him one of the most intriguing and memorable reforming figures of the early decades of the sixteenth century. Despite the few works that Barnes’ authored, the two editions of the Supplication bring together his thoughts on such a variety of themes as to provide a basic digest of his theology. Though often making appeal to the Fathers, especially Augustine, in addressing his Catholic opponents, the influence of Luther upon Barnes’ theology is unquestionable, not least because of his proximity to Wittenberg, his personal relationship with its most influential reformers, and his extended diplomatic work throughout northern Germany on behalf of the English Crown. Although perhaps the most outstanding inheritance from Luther that sets him apart from nearly all other English evangelical reformers of his time is his retention of a belief in the Real Presence, the influence of Luther upon Barnes is also readily discernable in his treatment of the spiritual bondage of the will under the Law, the need for repentance, an articulate doctrine of justification understood as the imputation of righteousness in Christ to faith alone, and good works as the fruit and testimony of a genuine faith and new life in the Spirit. Finally, Luther’s own tribute to the English friar at his death cannot be underestimated.
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. 309–337). Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.