Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Stephen Gardiner's Explication and the Identity of the Church

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Stephen Gardiner's Explication and the Identity of the Church

Article excerpt

This essay examines the lesser-known conversational partner in a theological discussion that is contemporaneous with the first editions of the Book of Common Prayer and, in particular, into the theology of consecration put forth by Stephen Gardiner in 1551. The essay also reflects on the present-day implications of this inquiry by, first, demonstrating how the five principles of catholicity Gardiner attributed to the 1549 Book of Common Prayer also apply to the American prayer book of 1979; second, providing some examples of Gardiner s terminology that take into account reformation concerns in language; and, third, suggesting a parallel between Gardiner's dilemma in maintaining continuity and identity in the turmoil of the Reformation and issues of Anglican continuity and identity today.

Born about 1483, Stephen Gardiner served not only as a bishop in England but also as an academic and as a lawyer.1 Gardiner was a principal actor in English governmental and ecclesiastical affairs under three monarchs during the Reformation, yet his imprint on history is often understated.

As an academician, Gardiner held the post as master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he promoted Greek studies. As a lawyer, he was dispatched to Rome (1527-33) to appeal unsuccessfully for the divorce of Henry VIII. His "varied service" did not go unrewarded;- in the period from 1529 to 1531 he received the appointment as archdeacon of Norfolk, was granted the rental income from a manor house, and was elected bishop of Winchester, the wealthiest diocese in England at the time and (as it included what is now the diocese of Southwark in London) possibly the most influential after Canterbury.

As a bishop, he was the author of a tract on royal supremacy, De vera obedientia ("On true obedience," 1535), and a major shaper of the Six Articles of 1539. Imposed at the bidding of Henry VIII, the articles affirmed transubstantiation, communion in one kind, clerical celibacy, monastic vows, private Masses, and auricular confession. While these articles confirmed traditional Roman Catholic dogmatic teaching, they were "widely ignored even by those holding high ecclesiastical office."3 Even though the six articles were not strictly adhered to by some clergy, nevertheless they represented official doctrine for the church in England.

Indicative of a generally conservative mindset was Gardiner's "argument against all innovations concerning the status of the bishop of Rome and religion in general."4 In 1534, he fell from favor for the first time, not for having said or done any one particular thing, but because "those who now had the king's ear [especially Thomas Cromwell] instinctively saw in his actions and moods a potential threat."5

Through true obedience, and his tract on the same subject, Gardiner was brought back into royal favor. He was also appointed ambassador to France, which required him to spend the years 1535-38 abroad. In a vain attempt to recover more status, he agreed to give a "verbal welcome" to the Book of Common Prayer when it appeared in 1549.6 Gardiner explicitly approved the book, writing, "...although I would not have made it so myself, yet I find such things in it as satisfy my conscience."7

Under Edward VI, he was dismissed in 1551 from his see for being a "notable, open, and contemptuous disobeyer of sundry godly and just commandments."8 By this time, conservative voices were gradually suppressed, as "no provision is made for minorities or for religious scruples."9 Gardiner was imprisoned in the lower of London in 1548 and ignored for more than two years. There he produced his work entitled An Explication and Assertion of the True Catholic Faith, Touching on the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar10 as part of his defense before the King's Majesty's Commissioners at Lambeth in 1551. Smuggled out of Britain and first published abroad,11 Gardiner's text was published in England only when Cranmer refuted it within his later Answer unto a Crafty and Sophisticated Cavillation. …

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