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.