Good News: The Misery of All Mankind

I’ve recently had the privilege of co-teaching a class on Anglicanism as part of our […]

I’ve recently had the privilege of co-teaching a class on Anglicanism as part of our Adult Education offerings on Sunday mornings at St. Stephen’s Church. One of the happy results is that I have, for the first time, taken a look at the first Book of Homilies (even though I went to an Anglican seminary!). These homilies, largely written by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in the late 1530s [you know, that sort of annoying guy from The Tudors show… – ed.], were designed to be read by parish clergy for their Sunday morning sermons. This was Cranmer’s attempt at dealing with the incompetent babbling that passed for preaching at most parishes of his day.

One of the real treats was reading his “SERMON OF THE MISERY OF ALL MANKIND,” which can be found here. Besides the awesome/provocative title, I was struck by how masterfully the sermon pulls out the real subtlety of human sin–it is not just what we do, but who we are to the very core. Check this out:

“[King David in Ps 19, 40, & 51] weigheth rightly his sins from the original root and spring-head; perceiving inclinations, provocations, stirrings, stingings, buds, branches, dregs, infections, tastes, feelings, and scents [emphasis added] of them to continue in him still. Wherefore he saith, Mark and behold, I was conceived in sins: he saith not sin, but, in the plural number, sins; forasmuch as out of one, as a fountain, spring all the rest.”

And then Cranmer uses this great scriptural metaphor, which he expands with vivid imagery:

“For of ourselves we be crab trees, that can bring forth no apples. We be of ourselves of such earth, as can bring forth but weeds, nettles, brambles, briars, cockle, and darnel. Our fruits be declared in the fifth chapter to the Galatians. We have neither faith, charity, hope, patience, chastity, nor any thing else that good is, but of God; and therefore these virtues be called there the fruits of the Holy Ghost, and not the fruits of man. Let us therefore acknowledge ourselves before God — as we be indeed — miserable and wretched sinners. And let us earnestly repent, and humble ourselves heartily, and cry to God for mercy.”

Cranmer doesn’t leave us hanging, though. He provides the relief for which our souls thirst (and don’t miss the linguistic parallels to the Book of Common Prayer’s service for Holy Communion.):

“[Christ] is the high and everlasting Priest which hath ‘offered himself once for all’ upon the altar of the cross, and ‘with that one oblation hath made perfect for evermore them that are sanctified’ (Hebrews 7.27, 10, 14). He is the ‘alone Mediator between God and man’ (1 John 2.1), which paid our ransom to God ‘with his own blood,’ and with that hath he ‘cleansed us all from sin’ (1 Timothy 2.5-6). He is the Physician which healeth all our diseases. He is that Saviour which saveth his people ‘from all their sins’ (Matthew 1.21).

“To be short, he is that flowing and most plenteous Fountain ‘of whose fullness all we have received’ (John 1.16). . . . O how much are we bound to this our heavenly Father for his great mercies which he hath so plenteously declared unto us in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour! What thanks worthy and sufficient can we give to him? Let us all with one accord burst out with joyful voice, ever praising and magnifying this Lord of mercy for his tender kindness shewed unto us in his dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The masterful prose is here, the profound theological convictions, and pastoral sensitivity that offers real balm for hurting men and women. And I love the sheer joy which with Cranmer ends. He truly had found the pearl of great price.

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11 responses to “Good News: The Misery of All Mankind”

  1. dpotter says:

    Thanks Aaron, despite the little bit of extra work required to understand Cranmer & co., I always appreciate it when people like you take me back to the beginning [very Zahline]. This makes me want to go read some of my old Anglican theology books from seminary again. The photos are enough to make this a successful post.

  2. R-J Heijmen says:

    I agree that it is ridiculous that none of our seminary professors had us read any of the homliles. Perhaps they were scared of what we might find:)

  3. Aaron M. G. Zimmerman says:

    The pics are all compliments of DZ.

  4. David Browder says:

    Yes, R.J., it is truly amazing that an Evangelical Anglican seminary did not even mention the Book of Homilies.

  5. dpotter says:

    Actually, I believe PZ had us read at least a portion of one of them in Anglican History and I think JT also mentioned them in Anglican Way of Theology, but there was only a passing reference to them in that book we used: Glorious Companions. PZ used the Homily to build his case for ‘Cranmerian Anglicanism’ (I think it was the one on salvation, but I’m not sure)…however, I agree that a course on the Homilies ought to at least be an elective, if not a prerequisite.

  6. Colton says:

    Great post Aaron! Now if only I could get rid of all this cockle and darnel growing in my yard…

  7. John Stamper says:

    So are you fellas all Trinity grads?

  8. Aaron M. G. Zimmerman says:

    Yes, John. We all went to TESM. But let’s not be Trinity haters. That said, at TESM, as dpotter said, you will at least hear the homilies mentioned (I did, at least). And the theology for the most part lines up with the theology of the English Reformers (people there affirm justification by faith, the centrality of the cross, the reality of the atonement), which you won’t find at the other Episcopal seminaries (except Nashotah, I assume, but I don’t know much about them other than their Anglo-Catholic identity). All that to say is that pretty much all Anglicans, including the evangelical ones, don’t spend much time with the homilies. At least Trinity maintains the evangelical faith. Hopefully, with the new push for the 1662 prayer book and return to Anglican essentials from the Global South, GAFCON, etc (for those that care), there may be a return to The Homilies.

  9. Fr Joe says:

    Great piece Aaron, and I would amen your comment “let’s not be Trinity haters.” The problem (as you know) is with the theology “for the most part” that lines up with the reformers. Kind of like a chain that “almost” has enough links. It simply doesn’t work.
    As a ’95 grad of Trinity, I was taught all the basics, and am thankful, but they were accompanied by a “personal transformation” (out of the misery) theology that fueled an exhausting regiment of holiness that drove me to the brink. It wasn’t until dean Zahl’s course on the English Reformation that the appropriate reformation theology was reunited to the homilies as was intended. That, along with the invaluable knowledge of lobsterpots, was a real lifesaver.
    With much love and gratitude to you dean – joseph

  10. Jeff Hual says:

    On the contrary to being a Trinity hater, I don’t know where else one could go to seminary and not be ruined. I’m glad to know you guys are all Trinity grads, for me it confirms why you all are so GOOD at proclaiming the gospel in your own way.

  11. JDK says:

    Jeff. .
    I think you are right on. . and I think that TESM continues to be one of the best . . .IMHO

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