Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Thomas Cranmer and the Regulative Principle of the State

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), English Reformer & the First Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury

Cranmer and Old Testament Prohibitions

In the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum of 1552, which Cranmer contributed to, blasphemy, idolatry, witchcraft, and adultery—all of which the Old Testament requires the state to punishare considered crimes.[1] During Edward VI's coronation, Cranmer charges the young king to destroy idolatry as did the Israelite king Josiah, who "turned to the Lord with all his heart, according to all the law of Moses":
"Your majesty is God's vicegerent, and Christ's vicar within your own dominions, and to see, with your predecessor Josiah, God truly worshipped, and idolatry destroyed; the tyranny of the bishops of Rome banished from your subjects, and images removed. These acts are signs of a second Josiah, who reformed the church of God in his days. You are to reward virtue, to revenge sin, to justify the innocent, to relieve the poor, to procure peace, to repress violence, and to execute justice throughout your realms. For precedents on those kings who performed not these things, the old law shows how the Lord revenged his quarrel; and on those kings who fulfilled these things, he poured forth his blessings in abundance. For example, it is written of Josiah, in the book of the Kings, thus: '[And] Like unto him there was no king [before him], that turned to the Lord with all his heart, [and with all his soul, and with all his might,] according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.' This was to that prince a perpetual fame of dignity, to remain to the end of days.[2]

God's Wisdom versus Man's Inventions

During the reigns of King Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I, "The Books of Homilies" were created as authorized sermons for the Anglican church. One particular homily on civil government, titled "An Exhortation concerning good Order, and obedience to Rulers and Magistrates," is part of the First Book of Homilies which Cranmer collected and edited,[3] and which he may also have written.[4] 

This homily emphasizes the need for rulers to have "godly proceedings, laws, statutes, proclamations, and injunctions, with all other godly orders"; they must "exercise GOD'S room in judgement," and punish "by good and godly laws."[5] Naturally, then, it is necessary for rulers to "give themselves to knowledge and wisdom" (which presumably is Scripture):
Let us learn also here by the infallible and undeceivable word of GOD, that kings and other supreme and higher officers, are ordained of GOD, who is most highest: and therefore they are here taught diligently to apply and give themselves to knowledge and wisdomnecessary for the ordering of GOD'S people to their governance committed, or whom to govern they are charged of GOD.[6]
The homily also sets God's wisdom and laws in contrast with man's device and invention, favoring the former:
Not Man's Device and Invention, but God's Wisdom, God's Order, Power, and Authority. Or as much as GOD hath created and disposed all things in a comely order, we have been taught in the first part of the Sermon, concerning good order and obedience, that we also ought in all common weales, to observe and keep a due order, and to be obedient to the powers, their ordinances, and laws, and that all rulers are appointed of GOD, for a goodly order to be kept in the world: and also how the Magistrates ought to learn how to rule and govern according to GOD'S Laws ... [7]

The Catechism of Thomas Becon

Also for consideration regarding Cranmer and sola scriptura applied to the state is "The Catechism of Thomas Becon," which very strongly advocates the regulative principle of the state. It was published while Becon served as chaplain to Cranmer, whom the catechism was dedicated to. 

In his catechism, Becon states: 

[T]he magistrate is commanded of God to be learned himself in the laws and ordinances of God, that he may do all things according to God's book, and not after his own fancy or will, nor yet after the crafty persuasions of the subtile hypocrites.[8]


[1] James C. Spalding, The Reformation of the Ecclesiastical Laws of England, 1552 (Kirksville, MO: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1992), 82, 100, 130.
[2] Unknown author, Writings of Edward the Sixth, William Hugh, Queen Catherine Parr, Anne Askew, Lady Jane Grey, Hamilton, and Balnaves: Volume 3: of British reformers (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1836), 5, 6.
[3] "The Homilies," The Anglican Library. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from[4] Ross Harrison, Hobbes, Locke, and Confusion's Masterpiece: An Examination of Seventeenth-Century Political Philosophy (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 268.
[5] Short-Title Catalogue 13675. Renaissance Electronic Texts 1.1. copyright 1994 Ian Lancashire (ed.) University of Toronto. Cited in "Homily on Obedience," The Anglican Library. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from We have modernized the language.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Thomas Becon, The Catechism of Thomas Becon, With Other Pieces, ed. John Ayre (Cambridge: The University Press, 1844), 303.


No comments: