Luther in english part 10: Conclusion – by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA D.D

Luther in english

part 10:

 Conclusion –

 by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA D.D 

 

 

 

Conclusion

Reassessing the Influence of Luther’s Theology of Law and Gospel on Early English Evangelicals

THE FATE OF ROBERT BARNES WAS IN MANY WAYS SYMBOLIC OF THE failed relationship between German Lutheranism and the English Reformation. Clebsch described Barnes as “in many ways the last Englishman to command the attention of the Lutheran party.” The reverse was also true, for the decade after Barnes’ death in 1540 would witness increasing ties developing between the English Church and the Swiss and south German Protestants.
Luther’s direct influence on the English Reformation was most significant during the 1520s and 30s, yet most recent scholarship agrees that “Lutheran” is not an entirely accurate descriptor for the three leading English evangelicals of the period. Indeed, over the last fifty years, Luther’s influence on English theology has become increasingly diminished all the way down to the level of utter non-existence.
If it is true, as scholars say, that a distinctive theological legacy of Luther was the centrality he placed on the forgiveness of sins and righteous acceptance before God in justification through faith in Christ alone, then this emphasis alone in the thought of the English evangelical reformers makes Luther a significant influence and is true even of Tyndale at the height of his matured theology of covenant conditionality in the Newe Testament of 1534. Although few early English evangelicals express having experienced quite the same intensity of Anfechtungen as Luther records from his memories in the Erfurt monastery, it would be wrong to imply or assume on that account that they never felt the same tiredness, anxiety, or restlessness of conscience before God in the structures of late medieval Catholicism. In fact, such sobriety was highly encouraged as a further stimulant to a life of piety. This does not mean that all English people were dissatisfied with the status quo, as the evidence of popular resistance to the English Protestant Reformation shows, but there were also many, like Thomas Bilney, who genuinely welcomed the affective respite of a reformed Gospel.
Although Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes define justification primarily in terms of the forgiveness of sins and the favor of God in Christ and His righteousness, scholars are right to point out that they place a significant amount of emphasis on the new obedience in good works that ensues from justifying faith in the life of the Christian. Some have attributed this to the influence of Augustine (via Humanism), the Reformed tradition, and even Lollardy. At the same time, scholars have often exaggerated the centrality in the theology of Luther of justification understood as righteousness in Christ coram Deo through faith alone to the degree that they fail to appreciate the regularity with which he himself substantially and positively praises the Law and stresses good works as the form of justifying faith and the rule of the Spirit in the life of the baptized and believing Christian. Luther was certainly hard against the Law and works when conceived as a means of meriting justification before God. Yet he could speak with equal adulation and urgency about the Law and good works in the context of the call upon the Christian in the light of the Gospel to mortify the flesh and to live a life of service for others in the world. Contrary to the opinions of his Catholic opponents, reforming contemporaries, and even some later Protestants, Luther was never ethically indifferent or ambivalent about morality, but he was firmly convinced that only faith alone in Christ and His perfect righteousness reckoned or imputed for justification before God could truly liberate the conscience and purify the heart through the Spirit to keep the Law with the sincerest of love in devotion to others.
It was for this reason that this book began where all previous studies have not, with a fresh look at the whole development of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel in its historical context. Indeed, Luther always perceived the chief function of the Law to be that of awakening the conscience to the knowledge of sin and spiritual bondage in order that the repentant might believe in Christ alone for their justification before God. Yet this negative approach to the Law was not simply on account of his desire to accentuate justification as a gift to be received through faith alone in Christ and His righteousness, but it also proceeded from his conviction that the renovating presence of Christ in faith leading to the mortification of sins and the love of good works only follows a humbling encounter with the Law mitigated by filial trust in the Gospel. Of course, Luther recognized that even the works of the Christian remain imperfect on account of the weakness of faith and the opposing desires of the flesh, and it was precisely on this account that Luther stressed the continuing function of the Law in the Christian life. This refers to the ongoing work of the Law to censure sin for the sake of the increase of repentance and faith throughout the Christian life, something Luther developed and stressed even more explicitly at the end of the 1520s and into the 1530s. Yet the kindlier exhortations of Christ and the apostles were interpreted by Luther even earlier on as merely interpretations of the Ten Commandments to spur on those who have faith and possess the Spirit to good works and to battle against sin but precisely on account of the fact that they are sinners and remain sluggish in the flesh. The work of the Law in increasing repentance and as a norm of Christian obedience was fully commensurate with what Melancthon and the Formula of Concord more formally defined as a tertius usus legis. Luther openly praised the Ten Commandments as teaching the highest form of living under God in human community, and his negativity toward the Law was in rejection of works done by compulsion, “works of the Law,” with the false notion that these merited justifying favor with God.
Recent scholars of early English evangelical theology have generally perpetuated these stereotypes of Luther as a reformer solely interested in the justification of the sinner coram Deo with little or no emphasis in his theology for the positive value of the Law and good works in the Christian life. Not only have such studies lacked serious critical interpretation and contextual engagement with the larger body of Luther’s writings, but they have oversimplified his thought entirely. Therefore, it was necessary to correct this imbalance before moving on to explore the influence of Luther upon the theology of Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes.
Apart from a comparison of theological content in their writings, the identification of an historical point of contact between Luther and early English evangelicals reinforces the argument for his influence upon their intellectual formation. With regard to Tyndale and Frith, that incontrovertible point of contact is Luther’s published writings. It is not insignificant that the careers of both these reformers, and Tyndale even more so, began with the publishing in English of significant portions of the works of Luther. Whether or not Tyndale or Frith ever personally met Luther or visited Wittenberg, their sojourns in and around Germany brought them deeper into the local sphere of his cultural legacy. As a younger reformer, Frith’s debt to Luther was also partly mediated through his earliest associations with the elder Tyndale. As for Robert Barnes, his matriculation at Wittenberg, his close personal relationship with Luther and his colleagues, and his diplomatic services in northern Germany on behalf of the English court adds historical weight to the argument that Luther was the principal theological influence on his intellectual development. The particular relationship Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes shared with Luther, whether through his writings or his person, cannot be rivaled historically by any other single reformer of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries.
With regard to theological content, each of these reformers stood faithfully in the tradition of Luther in affirming the necessity of preaching the Law to awaken sinners from spiritual bondage to lead them to repentance, that justification is the forgiveness of sins and favor of God in union with Christ and His righteousness through faith alone apart from works, and that a heart for the Law and good works in ongoing struggle against sin proceeds from faith through love in the power of the Holy Spirit. Though imperfect and only secondary, Luther and the early English evangelicals both described good works as further self-assurance and outward testimony to others of genuine faith, the possession of the Spirit, and the forgiveness of sins.
It cannot be denied that these reformers possessed a certain admiration for Augustine, especially Frith and Barnes who made frequent and explicit apologetic use of the bishop throughout their writings. However, their use of Augustine in the light of their theology viewed holistically and in historical correlation with Luther and his writings argues strongly in favor of the influence of Luther’s evangelical theology of Law and Gospel on their presuppositions. Furthermore, it should not be assumed that the simple presence of Augustinian elements in the thought of the English evangelical reformers necessarily precludes the influence of Luther. As McGrath argues, Luther’s own relationship to Augustine is “ambivalent. While one can point to elements in his thought which are clearly Augustinian, there are points—particularly his doctrine of iustitia Christia aliena—where he diverges significantly from Augustine.” The case of Barnes is particularly enlightening on this matter. His article on justification in the 1534 Supplication continues to reference Augustine at the same time that he expresses an even more explicit and unambiguous theology of imputed righteousness in Christ through faith alone. Recent scholars have rightly drawn attention to the varied importance of other influences, but Luther was still the principal influence that made them “evangelical” reformers and shaped their basic theological assumptions concerning the nature of justification before God in the Gospel and the obedience of the Christian life in the Law.
The influence of Luther’s theology of Law and Gospel on early English evangelicals is certainly more controversial with regard to Tyndale in the light of his development of a quite distinctive rhetorical emphasis on the conditionality of God’s promises of mercy in terms of the covenant. Thus, on account of this, as well as the greater prolificacy of his literary output, Tyndale naturally received an inordinate amount of attention in comparison to the others. Yet even with regard to covenant conditionality, Tyndale did not stray so far from Luther as is usually assumed. Tyndale’s Prologue to Romans and its affirmation of the biblical centrality of justification by faith alone remains largely unchanged in the New Testament of 1534, and he continued to interpret Christian conversion in terms of repentance toward obedience in the Law and good works through a faith that justifies before God only in the righteousness of Christ. Tyndale’s theology of covenant merely becomes his preferred way of stressing that justifying faith in Christ cannot exist where there is no repentance under the Law and earnestness for good works with intentions of showing gratitude to the mercy of God. Although Tyndale did not inherit his emphasis on the covenant as a hermeneutical principle for biblical interpretation from Luther, it was not so unlike Luther to speak of salvation in terms of covenant conditionality. Luther described the Gospel in the context of the sacrament of baptism as an eternal covenant good for life but only for those who repent and believe and who give evidence of this in battle against sin. This was at the moment of the culmination of his evangelical “breakthrough” and reveals that his own theology of Law and Gospel was not antithetical to describing salvation in terms of covenant conditionality. This is further reflected in the many other statements in which Luther describes God’s promise to not impute sin remaining in the life of the baptized who fight against sin in the Spirit while trusting in the Gospel for their righteousness and repenting again when they fall. This struggle is carried out under the grace of justification and is evidence of the beginnings of the rule of the Spirit in righteousness to be perfected by God in His eternal presence.
The influence of Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes upon the future development of the English Reformation beyond the 1540s did not extend much beyond Tyndale’s Bible translations and possibly the Eucharistic writings of John Frith. Nevertheless, while it has become customary to define the English Reformation more as an achievement of politics and the enforcement of religious change from above, all of which in its more comprehensive forms occurred well after the deaths of these early English evangelicals, Tyndale, Frith, and Barnes are critical to the history of the English Reformation between the years 1520 and 1540. If this is true, Luther also deserves a central place in that history.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

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Modern Editions and Facsimiles of the Writings of English Evangelical Reformers

Duffield, G. E. editor. The Work of William Tyndale. Abingdon: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1964.
Greenslade, S. L. The Work of William Tindale, with an essay on Tindale and the English Language by G. D. Bone. London: Blackie & Son, 1938.
Mombert, J. I., editor. William Tyndale’s Five Books of Moses, Called the Pentateuch, Being a Verbatim Reprint of the Edition M.CCCCC.XXX. Compared with Tyndale’s Genesis of 1534 … with Various Collations and Prolegomena. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph, 1884.
Tyndale, William. An answere vnto Sir Thomas Mores Dialoge. The Independent Works of William Tyndale, Volume 3. Edited by Anne M. O’Donnell and Jared Wicks. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2000.
———. The Beginning of the New Testament Translated by William Tyndale, 1525. Facsimile of the Unique Fragment of the Uncompleted Cologne Edition with an Introduction by Alfred W. Pollard. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926.
———. The Prophete Jonas with an introduction before teachinge to understande him and the right use also of all the Scripture by William Tyndale. Reproduced in facsimile. To which is added Coverdales version of Jonah, with an introduction by Francis Fray, F.S.A. London: Willis and Sotheran; Bristol: Lasbury, 1863.
———. Tyndale’s New Testament. Translated by William Tyndale. Edited with an introduction by David Daniell. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
———. Tyndale’s Old Testament. Translated by William Tyndale. Edited with an introduction by David Daniell. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.
Parker, Douglas H., editor. A Critical Edition of Robert Barnes’ A supplication Vnto the Most Gracyous Prince Kynge Henry The. VIIJ. 1534. University of Toronto Press, 2008.
Russell, T., editor. The Works of the English Reformers: William Tyndale and John Frith. 3 volumes. London, 1831.
Walter, H., editor. An answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue: the supper of the Lord after the true meaning of John VI. and 1 Cor. XI. And Wm. Tracy’s Testament Expounded. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1850.
———. Doctrinal Treatises and Introductions to Different Portions of the Holy Scriptures. 1848. Reprint, Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2005.
———. Expositions and Notes on Sundry Portions of the Holy Scriptures, together with the Practice of Prelates. 1849. Reprint, Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2004.
Writings of Tindal, Frith, and Barnes. London: Religious Tract Society, 1830; reprint, Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1842.

Primary Sources of the English Reformation

Colet, John. An Exposition of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Delivered as Lectures in the University of Oxford about the year 1497. Translated by J. H. Lupton. Ridgewood, NJ: Gregg, 1965.
Ellis, Sir Henry, editor. Original Letters Illustrative of English History. London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, 1846.
Hatt, Cecilia A., editor. English Works of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (1469–1535): Sermons and other Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Henry VIII. Answere Unto A Certaine Letter of Martyn Lther [London, 1528]. Amsterdam: Da Capo, 1971.
Hudson, Anne, editor. Selections from English Wycliffite Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Lawler, Thomas M. C., Germain Marc’hadour, and Richard C. Marius, editors. The Complete Works of St. Thomas More. Vol. 6.1. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, preserved in the Public Record Office, the British Museum, and elsewhere. 2nd ed. Revised and greatly enlarged by R. H. Brodie. 21 vols. 1920. Reprint, Vaduz Kraus, 1965.
Schuster, Louis A., Richard C. Marius, James P. Lusardi, and Richard J. Schoeck, eds. The Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer. Part 3. The Yale Edition of the Complete Works of Thomas More. Vol. 8. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1973.
Strype, John, editor. 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 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1822.

Writings of Luther and the Continental Reformation

Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche: Herausgegeben im Gedenkjahr der Augsburgischen Konfession 1930. Zwolfte Auflage. Götingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 2 vols. Edited by John T. McNeill. Translated and Indexed by Ford Lewis Battles. Library of Christian Classics Volume 20. Philadelphia Westminster, 1960.
———. Opera quae supersunt omnia. Corpus Reformatorum [microform]. Volumes 29–87. Edited by Guilielmus Baum, Eduardus Cunitz, and Eduardus Reuss, et al. Braunchsweig-Berlin, 1863–1900.
Chemnitz, Martin. Loci Theologici. Vol. 2. Translated by J. A. O. Preus. St. Louis: Concordia, 1989.
———. Loci Theologici De Coena Domini De Duabus Naturis in Christo Theologiae Jesuitarum [Frankfurt and Wittenberg, 1653]. A facsimile published by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation. Chelsea, MI: Sheridan, 2000.
Kolb, Robert, and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000.
Lenker, John Nicholas, editor. The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther. 7 Volumes. Translated by John Nicholas Lenker, et al. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.
Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works: American Edition [CD-ROM]. 55 vols. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann. St. Louis: Concordia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1955–1986.
———. D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe. 63 volumes. Weimar, 1883–1987; reprint, Verlag Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger Weimer, 2001.
Melancthon, Philipp. Loci Communes 1543. Translated and Edited by J. A. O. Preus. St Louis: Concordia, 1992.
———. Melancthon on Christian Doctrine: Loci Communes, 1555. Translated and edited by Clyde Manshreck. 1965. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1982.
———. Opera quae supersunt omnia. Corpus Reformatorum [microform]. Volumes 1–28. Edited by C. G. Bretschneider and H. E. Bindsell. Halle, 1834–1860.
Pauck, Wilhelm, editor. Melancthon and Bucer. Translated by Lowell Satre. Library of Christian Classics 19. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969.
Tappert, Theodore G., editor. The Book of Concord. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1959.

Secondary Sources and Other Writings Cited

Althaus, Paul. The Divine Command. Translated by Franklin Sherman with an introduction by William H. Lazareth. Social Ethics Series. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1966.
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Yost, John K. “The Christian Humanism of the English Reformers, 1525–55: A Study in English Renaissance Humanism.” PhD diss., Duke University, 1965.
———. “Reappraisal of how Protestantism Spread During the Early English Reformation,” Anglican Theological Review 60 (1978) 437–46.
———. “William Tyndale and the Renaissance Humanist Origins of the English Via Media.” Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis 51.2 (1971) 167–86.

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. 338–360). Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

Published: October 9, 2015, 07:29 | Comments Off on Luther in english part 10: Conclusion – by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA D.D
Category: bibleresearch

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