Anglicanism, Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker in the context of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition


Histories, like texts, are matters of interpretation, and some interpretations are more credible and authoritative than others.

For this post, I’ll rely on the interpretation of William C. Placher, who at the time of writing the below excerpts was professor of philosophy and religion at Wabash College.

Here’s Placher on Thomas Cranmer, who was appointed to Archbishop of Canterbury (leader of the Church of England) in 1532:

His interests lay less in systematic theology than in church history, especially the history of liturgy, and in writing the Book of Common Prayer he produced the foundation of much English religion and one of the glories of English prose.

In Cranmer we should see a big piece of what makes Anglicanism distinct: historical liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer, at least according to Placher, in his book A History of Christian Theology (The Westminster Press, 1983).

Now, Placher on Hooker:

In the late 1500s Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity set out a “middle way” between the extremes of Catholicism and Calvinism, a thoughtful and moderate theology that rejected the authority of popes for that of Scripture alone but drew heavily on Christian writers of the first several centuries in interpreting the faith. Such scholarly attention to the early church has been characteristic of English theology ever since, and the theological compromises developed by Hooker and other produced a degree of peace. Some questions of liturgy and church organization, however, could not be compromised — one either had bishops or did not, knelt to pray or remained standing, and so on — and these issues therefore became the center of English theological debate.

In such controversies the Puritan party desired to purify the church — purify it of theological vagueness, moral laxity, elaborate liturgy, and bishops. The English Puritans often claimed to follow Calvin, but Calvin had acknowledged the legitimacy of a number of different forms of church organization and liturgical style.

Placher suggests the Puritans were not seeking the “middle way” of Cranmer and Hooker. He also suggests that the Puritans, as self-proclaimed followers of John Calvin, were not really on the same page as Calvin.

At the same time, as Placher sees it, Hooker was not interested in either “extremes” of Catholicism or Calvinism, suggesting neither the Church of England nor Anglicanism are properly Calvinist or Puritan in essence (nor are they Roman Catholic).

As in his assessment of Cranmer, Placher also identifies in Hooker a concern with early church traditions that pre-date the canonization of the Bible as the Puritan knew it.

For more context related to Anglicanism, Scripture, Reason, and Tradition, please also see:

Anglicanism and ‘Biblical Anglicans’ as the ‘one-third Anglicans’

‘Biblical Anglicans’ as the ‘one-third Anglicans’

Must-read: Stanley Fish on Terry Eagleton’s book, ‘Reason, Faith, and Revolution’

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One response to “Anglicanism, Thomas Cranmer and Richard Hooker in the context of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition

  1. Pingback: How Tradition defended Scripture & defeated Gnosticism in early Christianity | Public Work