What the Heart Loves, the Will Chooses and the Mind Justifies: Ashley Null on Thomas Cranmer

In 2001, in conjunction with the 450th anniversary of the second/canonical edition of The Book […]

David Zahl / 1.5.11

In 2001, in conjunction with the 450th anniversary of the second/canonical edition of The Book of Common Prayer, one of the world’s leading authorities on the English Reformation, Dr. Ashley Null, was interviewed about the life and theology of its author, Thomas Cranmer. Dr. Null coined what may be our favorite distillation of Protestant anthropology ever uttered, the one that rightly positions Cranmer (along with Christ, St Paul, Augustine, Luther, etc) as something of a social science prophet. Eat your, um, heart out, Jonathan Haidt!

“According to Cranmer’s anthropology, what the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants.

“The trouble with human nature is that we are born with a heart that loves ourselves over and above everything else in this world, including God. In short, we are born slaves to the lust for self-gratification, i.e., concupiscence. That’s why, if left to ourselves, we will always love those things that make us feel good about ourselves, even as we depart more and more from God and his ways. Therefore, God must intervene in our lives in order to bring salvation.

Dr. Null was presumably drawing from the following section of his much-recommended book Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love:

“Unlike the scholastic model where the will acting in accordance with right reason in the rational soul was supposed to constrain the passions in the lower sensitive soul, [Protestant Reformer Philipp] Melanchthon argued that the affections were inextricably joined to the will in the same faculty. As a result, these inner attitudes of the human heart determined the will’s direction which then had power over the other faculty of reasoning as well…the passions of the heart ultimately determined human conduct, an affection could only be ‘overcome by a more vehement affection’. Paris had been able to put away his love for Oenone only because he became overcome by a more vehement affection for Helen of Troy. Yet because of original sin’s thoroughly corrupting legacy, humankind had one overarching affection that twisted every other affection into its service — the affection of self-love. With reason and will both captive to the concupiscence of the flesh, only the intervention of an outside force, the Holy Spirit, could give humanity a new set of godly affections… Confidence in God’s gracious goodwill towards them reoriented the affections of the justified, calming their turbulent hearts and inflaming in them a grateful love in return…when Cranmer came to the conclusion that any human goodness followed rather than preceded justification, he crossed the Rubicon, with Rome behind and Germany ahead.” (pp. 100-101)


For more, be sure to check out Dr. Null’s talks from the 2010 Rooted Conference.

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