Is Anglicanism a Variant of Lutheranism?

“Variant” may not be quite the right word. But in this very engaging episode of “Anglicans Unscripted,” Peter Ould, a CofE priest (and blogger and Twitterer), offers his take on Anglican identity, that shape-shifting wonder of the Christian world.

Even though Henry VII was just a selfish Roman Catholic, basically, men like Cranmer and Ridley and Latimer were deeply imbibing of the Lutheran theology. … Anglicanism is inherently Lutheran.



Rest of the post is at Strange Herring.

18 thoughts on “Is Anglicanism a Variant of Lutheranism?

  1. Indeed the English Reformation was early affected by Luther’s Reforms, but I see the Anglicanism of Cranmer as running close too with Calvin! And Calvin did write the young King Edward. Both Peter Martyr Vermigli and Martin Bucer taught in England during Cranmer’s time.

    • Fr. Robert, If only more Anglicans would read both the Augsburg Confession (Lutheran) and Bullinger’s 2nd Helvetic Confession (Reformed). Then maybe they could decide amongst themselves whether they were really more like one or the other?😉

  2. I’ve always understood Anglicans to be the middle-ground between Lutheranism and Calvanism. I know Anglicans place more importance on Apostolic Succession than Lutherans do and All Lutherans believe in the true Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper; I think Anglicans are split on the issue. The one thing both groups have in common: Our Baptist friends think we’re Catholic and our Catholic friends think we’re Baptist!

    • But if “Is Anglicanism a Variant of Lutheranism” means “Has Anglicanism Become a Variant of Lutheranism,” well, one could argue that the Church of England seems Hell-bent on following the ruinous trajectory of the European Lutheran churches (and especially the Scandinavian ones, and most especially the Church of Sweden) in accepting the pretended ordination of women, the pretended “blessing” of same-sex “marriage,” and, ultimately, of repressing and/or expelling those who continue to uphold traditional Christian beliefs within the apostasizing “ecclesial communities.” Not that such paths are in any meaningful sense Lutheran, or even Christian.

  3. If justification by faith is at the very heart and essence of the Reformation, then Luther and Melanchthon influenced all the magisterial Reformers and their movements, including Reformed and Anglican, as well as later Baptist, and Methodist, and into the various evangelical, charismatic, prosperity gospel, and others today.

    And in light of the recent RCC-LWF Joint Declaration on Justification, we may be able to posit in some real way that today’s RCC is a “variant” of Lutheranism?😉

    Justification now appears to be the one strongest glue in Western Christendom.

    • One interesting perspective is that of the then Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala, Yngve Brilioth, from his book Eucharistic Faith and Practice: Evangelical and Catholic (SPCK English edition, 1930):

      “The episcopal Church of England has commonly been regarded on the Continent as a member, but in some respects a perverse and self-willed member, of the family of Reformed churches. … But closer study of the [CofE] is bound to reveal at once the impossibility of this view, and to show that this church is unique among the churches of the Reformation, and cannot be placed in any of the categories with which continental Protestant theologians have been accustomed to work. …The doctrinal history of the English Reformation is only of secondary interest; it contains little creative originality, much imitation and compromise.” (p. 199)

      I wonder if the good Doctor Tighe will weigh in on this? Seemingly one of his favored topics?

      • I am largely in agreement with the views of Professor MacCulloch on this subject: that Cranmer’s “guiding star” for Reformation in the reign of Edward VI (insofar as he had one) was Zurich and its “antistes” Heinrich Bullinger, that the influence of John Calvin on the English Reformation and Reformers was negligible until the 1560s (Scotland was another story!), and throughout Elizabeth’s reign less consequential than that of Zurich (except among university academic theologians) and, in general, that the Church was, and was regarded as, by Lutherans (negatively) and Reformed (positively) as a member of the family of Reformed churches. I also think that the influence of Martin Bucer on Cranmer has been overrated (Bucer, at least in his sacramental teachings, was the determinative influence upon the views of the mature John Calvin): he wrote for Cranmer his thoughts (The *Censurae*) on how the Prayer Book Communion Service of 1549 should be reformed, but if one compares his thoughts to the actual Communion service of the 1552 Prayer Book one can easily observe that in those places in which Bucer insisted that prayers and phrases which he took as upholding a “real” (but “spiritual” and “non-corporeal”) presence of Christ with the Eucharistic elements should be retained, Cranmer removed or altered them in good Zurich fashion.

        I suppose one might say that the Church of England was “Lutheran” (or “Lutheran-like”) in its retention of a conservative church polity, and in the way in which it was connected to the State (although Reformed churches which followed the “Zurich pattern” rather than the “Geneva pattern” has very similar church/state arrangements), but to term it “a variant of Lutheranism” when its Article 29 condemns Lutheran eucharistic doctrtine (without naming it as Lutheran) and Anglicans (even Hooker) could write of the “gross errors” of the Lutherans, strikes me as absurd.

      • The history of the times in question, esp. 1530-1560, is most fascinating and populated with so many giants of the Reformation.

        One thing I think most people today overlook is the civil war, so to speak, within Lutheranism in the 1540s-1570s, that pitted Melancthon and his followers versus what we term the Gnesio-Lutherans. Issues aren’t resolved until the late 1570s and the Formula of Concord. Melanchthon, the author of confessional Lutheranism (both the AC and Apology), also authored influential Variata of same, which essentially was the AC in the 1540s and 1550s, and widely discussed during ecumenical activity between various bodies, including Rome. Even Calvin signed off on it, as the Emperor had granted some rights and protections only to those who agreed with the AC but not the various early Reformed Confessions (e.g., Tetrapolitan, 1st Helvetic, etc.). A key area of the Variata was in eucharistic theology. Calvin, Bucer, and even Cranmer don’t appear to have too many serious issues with the Variatas’ ideas, which allow some substantial leeway and accord well with the ambiguity people like Bucer often prefered. And both Lutherans and Reformed had already come to a substantial agreement in the Marberg Articles (1529) and most especially the Wittenberg Concord (1536).

        A great discussion and resource on this is Henry Jacobs’ The Book of Concord, Vol. II, Historical Introduction, Note, Appendixes and Indexes (1883). Jacobs translates the Tetrapolitan Confession, Wittenberg Concord, and Melanchthon’s AC Variata 1540 (as well as further changes in the 1542 Variata). Bucer was heavily involved in the first two.

        So if one argues that the Eucharistic theology of the Wittenberg Concord and AC Variata was Lutheran, then both much of Reformed and Anglican thought harmonizes well with it.

      • Generally, I would agree with William Tighe here, and certainly his last post! Btw, for those that can acquire a used copy of Joseph McLelland’s fine book: The Visible Words of God, A Study In The Theology Of Peter Martyr (Vermigli). This book is rich with historical theology, and too some Martin Bucer!

        It is very sad to see the grave apostasy in the Swedish Lutheran Church! I am sure both Yngve Brilioth, and even the more liberal Nathan Soderblom, and of course the English Anglican A.G. Hebert, S.S.M. are all flipping over in their graves! Both Soderblom and Brilioth were at one time Archbishop of Uppsala.

      • I think we do a great disservice to the magisterial Reformers, esp. up to the year 1575 (Bullinger’s death), when we focus too much on their purported differences and fail to acknowledge their agreements on so much. They tried to reform the medieval RC Church, going back to the NT and the Apostles while also respecting the patristic fathers and Ecumenical Councils (esp. 1-4). They were all trying to do the same thing for the same reason. They knew and interacted with each other. We can read much of their personal correspondence to this day.

        When I read Melanchthon’s Lutheran AC Variata (1540), the Anglican 39 Articles & 1552/1559 BsCP, and Bullinger’s Reformed 2nd Helvetic Confession (1561). I see a sea of agreement. There are nuances and emphases unique to each, but they agree far more than they disagree, esp. on the essentials, including the Eucharist. As the mature Bullinger wrote,

        “From all this it is clear that by spiritual food we do not mean some imaginary food I know not what, but the very body of the Lord given to us, which nevertheless is received by the faithful not corporeally, but spiritually by faith. … And this eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood of the Lord is so necessary for salvation that without it no man can be saved. … Besides the higher spiritual eating there is also a sacramental eating of the body of the Lord by which not only spiritually and internally the believer truly participates in the true body and blood of the Lord, but also by coming to the Table of the Lord, outwardly receives the visible sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord.” (Chpt. XXI)

        I wonder how many Western Christians today honestly believe what Bullinger wrote about the Eucharist.

    • But if “Is Anglicanism a Variant of Lutheranism” means “Has Anglicanism Become a Variant of Lutheranism,” well, one could argue that the Church of England seems Hell-bent on following the ruinous trajectory of the European Lutheran churches (and especially the Scandinavian ones, and most especially the Church of Sweden) in accepting the pretended ordination of women, the pretended “blessing” of same-sex “marriage,” and, ultimately, of repressing and/or expelling those who continue to uphold traditional Christian beliefs within the apostasizing “ecclesial communities.” Not that such paths are in any meaningful sense Lutheran, or even Christian.

      • “Not that such paths are in any meaningful sense Lutheran”… Very well said indeed. Luther, Melanchthon, Bugenhagen, Brenz, etc. would all recoil in sheer horror at the current state of “Lutheranism” in Germany, the Baltic states, and Scandanavia! One can easily imagine the sort of colorful language the good Dr. Martin would use to characterize these modern “followers”.

  4. “A key area of the Variata was in eucharistic theology. Calvin, Bucer, and even Cranmer don’t appear to have too many serious issues with the Variatas’ ideas, which allow some substantial leeway and accord well with the ambiguity people like Bucer often prefered. And both Lutherans and Reformed had already come to a substantial agreement in the Marberg Articles (1529) and most especially the Wittenberg Concord (1536).”

    I would agree with this, except as regards Cranmer, whose eucharistic theology seems to have been in substantial accord with that of Bullinger, and not, in the end (cf. the 1552 BCP rite) with that of Bucer and Calvin (John Jewel, however, although a Marian exile in Zurich, and to his dying day an admirer of both the Zurich church and Bullinger, seems to have moved in a Calvin-wise [or Peter-Martyr-wise] direction as regards eucharistic ideas). But it must also be remembered that Lutheranism came firmly to reject both “Philippism” and the AC Variata in the 1580s (and Phillipist Lutherans subsequenty tended to move over to Reformed Christianity), and has maintained that rejection ever since, and that the Reformed, when they were not trying to persuade Lutherans that Reformed theology was the “logical” outcome of Luther’s theological outlook, were equally firm in rejection Lutheran eucharistic theology (and liturgical practices also); and that the Church of England rejected, tacitly but clearly, Lutheran ideas about the Eucharist in Article 29.

    • I suspect the best confluence of Melanchthon’s ideas with the Reformed may be in the Heidelberg Catechism (1562), and that the HC fits very well with the 1552/1559 BsCP.

    • AC (1530) X: “It is taught among us that the true body and blood of Christ are really present in the Supper of our Lord under the form of bread and wine and are there distributed and received. The contrary doctrine is therefore rejected.” (German–Tappert, 1959)

      AC (1530) X: “Our churches teach that the body and blood of Christ are truly present and are distributed to those who eat in the Supper of the Lord. They disapprove of those who teeach otherwise.” (Latin–Tappert, 1959)

      AC (1540/1542) X: “Of the Lord’s Supper they teach that, together with the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ are truly tendered to those that eat in the Lord’s Supper.” (Jacobs, 1883, mostly following Hall)

      When one compares all three, there appears to be enough ambiguity in the last one that I don’t think Cranmer had too many problems with it.😉

  5. “… when we focus too much on their purported differences and fail to acknowledge their agreements on so much.”

    This is what the Reformed often argued, but the Lutherans took the line that Luther himself took at Marburg — that their agreement on “so much” was fundamentally irrelevant in the face of their important, and decisive, disagreement on the Eucharist.

    • Yes, this time period and these ideas are intricate and complex. I think it is often hard to prove things conclusively. At best often all one can say is “X believed Y in Z (year).”

      The division between Lutherans and Reformed is sad. A lot like EO and OO? There are 15 articles in the Marburg Articles, They agreed on the first 14 and mostly agreed on the 15th. Luther, Melanchthon, Jonas, Osiander, Agricola, Brenz, Bucer, Hedio, Oecolampadius, and Zwingli signed it. This is 1529. The Wittenberg Concord, 1536, on th Eucharist, Baptism, and Absolution, has no dissent and is signed by Luther, Melanchthon, Capito, Bucer, and many more. I wonder if what Luther later attacked about the “sacramentarians” in his short work on the Eucharist in the early 1540s was an adequate representation of their theology, esp. their mature theology? Sadly, Luther died in early 1546. So much happened over the next 30 or so years. And I wonder what he would’ve thought about the scholastic Lutheranism in the Formula of Concord?

      • Indeed Lutheran Orthodox scholasticism, one thinks of their ordo salutis, or the way of salvation. One conservative Lutheran wrote, “the weakness of the doctrine of the ordo salutis are so obvious that they need not be underlined. They all contrive, by the juxtaposition of a variety of partly identical acts, to confuse or obscure the clear facts or the inner unity of the Lutheran doctrine of salvation.” (W. Elert, 1931)

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