I like this guy. There aren't a whole lot of English Lutherans. I'm not one either. However, my ancestors are from Suffolk, and I professed the Lutheran faith, taught in Scripture and correctly stated in the Book of Concord, when I was 46. Close enough. At least to really admire Robert Barnes.
Robert Barnes was born about 1495 in Lynn, formally Kings Lynn, Norfolk, England. Norfolk, Suffolk; the North folk and the South folk of East Anglia, once its own kingdom, named after ourselves, the Angles, named in turn from where we came, Angeln, or Anglia in the international language of the day, Latin, in the modern state of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, way up North damn near, er, just South of Denmark.
Before us, a Brythonic tribe called the Iceni lived in the area. Who are the Brythons? A Celtic tribe whose land it was before we, the Saxons, the Danes, the Vikings and yet more starting piling in. It's from them that we get the word Britain, British, etc. The Romans invaded Britain in 43 BC, called the place Brittania, and as they did in many places left the local stuff pretty much alone so long as they obeyed the Roman governors. Despite revolts here and there, including the great one by the Iceni queen Boudica, they held out until about 400 AD. That's when the Saxons from Germany moved in, uninvited, the bleeders.
We were invited. The Iceni ended up pretty much wiped out, but in 433 the Brythons asked us if we'd like to come over and settle since things were getting a bit sparse, and help against the Picts too. How about that -- in a world history of pretty much conquer and re-conquer everywhere, we were invited to come! We're all like that -- look at the irenic tone that steps back from controversy, the staid measured writing style, for which I am known throughout the Lutheran blogosphere. About 520, the North folk and the South folk united to form the Kingdom of East Anglia, one of seven kingdoms that emerged in what would become the United Kingdom.
East Anglia is called such to this day as a region of England, generally also including Cambridgeshire to the West and often Essex to the South too. Anglia is the root of the words England and English for the whole thing and its language, East Anglian or not.
Lynn, in Norfolk, shows its Celtic origins in that the name simply means "lake" in Celtic. Robert Barnes was born there, and went to Cambridge for the university there, where he was associated with the Augustinian friars, same as Luther. Seems that in 1209, some Oxford scholars upset at the hanging of two Oxford scholars for murder went to the school there and turned it into a university, the second oldest in the English speaking world. Ah, the pure pursuit of learning, when academic freedom also included no prosecution for murdering and raping locals. Call it academic immunity. Well, at least there actually is a bridge over a river Cam.
Anyway, Barnes also hung out at the White Horse Tavern, aka White Horse Inn, in Cambridge where starting about 1521 groups met to discuss Luther and his thought, including Thomas Cranmer, Miles Coverdale, William Tyndale, and others. In 1523 he graduated Doctor of Divinity, or Divinitatis doctor, from Cambridge. At Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 1525, Barnes preached an openly Lutheran sermon, at St Edward's church in Cambridge. He was brought up on charges, examined by Thomas Cardinal Wolsey -- a Suffolk boy, from Ipswich -- Lord Chancellor to the King, Henry VIII, and ended up being sent to jail in 1526.
He escaped two years later, made his way to Antwerp and then Wittenberg, where he met Luther and was a house guest in his home. I'm guessing they spoke Latin to each other. Maybe he learned German, like me, hanging around with the fellas. While there, as Luther noted in his work to be mentioned below, he used neither his title nor his name, enrolling simply as Antonius Anglus (there's the Angle thing again).
In 1536 he was able to return to England, working as a liason between the English government and Lutheran rulers and churchmen in Germany. In 1535 they sent him back to Germany, to get Lutheran support for Henry's efforts to get a divorce from Catherine of Aragon and Henry's vision of reformation in England. He didn't get it, and Henry never forgot it. Later, he was asked to help in the annulment of Henry's marriage to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, really Anna von Juelich-Kleve-Berg, (that's near Duesseldorf) daughter of the Duke there, John II, and promised at age 12 to be the wife of Francis I, Duke of Lorraine, but Cromwell thought she'd make a hell of a wife for Henry, Barnes was involved in helping with that, and it happened.
Henry was not all that into the idea, hoped Cromwell could find a way out, but there was too much at stake in alliances with the Germans for that, so they were married 6 January 1540 by bleeding Cranmer himself, but there was no consummation of the marriage and by Summer Henry wanted out, and an annulment was granted on the basis of the contract with Francis and there having been no consummation, which, in more contemporary language, means no sex. She fared pretty well in contrast to Henry's other wives, and for going along with annulment she lived out her life relatively well.
But those involved with setting the marriage up didn't fare so well. Henry already had refused to accept Lutheran theology, the Six Articles of 1539 effectively renounced Lutheranism and affirmed Roman practices considered abuses by Lutherans, and the annulment in 1540 worked against Barnes. He preached against Bishop Stephen Gardiner (another Suffolk boy), active in the enforcement of Catholic doctrine, in the Spring, was forced to recant, then recanted his recant and professed the Lutheran faith, for which he and two others were burnt alive for heresy under the Six Articles, along with three others for treason for denying royal supremacy over the church, on 30 July, 1540.
In Germany, Lutherans and Catholics alike were shocked and outraged. Luther took Barnes' final confession of faith, translated or had it translated into German, wrote a preface to it himself, and published it later that year (1540) as Bekenntnis des Glaubens.
Cromwell was executed 28 July 1540, two days before, by beheading in the Tower of London. Thomas Cranmer, who would become the first non-Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury, who believed in the right of the king to determine the faith of the nation and all its people, which makes it hard when you go back and forth between Catholic and "Anglican" monarchs, recanted his recantation of his recantation, whatever, and was burnt at the stake 21 March 1556 under the Catholic Queen Mary. The Six Articles, btw, affirmed 1) transubstantiation, 2) communion in host only, 3) clerical celibacy, 4) vows of chastity, 5) private masses, 6) auricular confession, private confession of sins to a priest.
Henry VII, in 1521 published Assertio septem sacramentorum, A Defence of the Seven Sacraments, which he had shown to Wolsey and then expanded as an attack on Luther's De captivitate babylonica of 1520 -- a key influence on me -- dedicated it to Pope Leo X, who in turn named Henry Fidei defensor, Defender of the Faith, on 17 October 1521, but after Henry decided he was head of the church in England in 1530 Pope Paul III revoked the title and Henry was excommunicated, but the English Parliament restored it as the monarch to this day remains Supreme Governor of the Church of England, formally above the "Archbishop" of Canterbury. Prince Charles said in 1994 he wants it changed to Defender of Faith, not the Faith.
Well, rock on Church of England/Anglican Communion. We needed Barnes then, and we need him now. Happily we no longer live under the idea that rulers are agents of God with the right to choose the religion of their people. Barnes himself struggled to find his way between the political reality of this idea in his time and spreading the Gospel in reforming Christ's church. In England, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, with which the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod is in fellowship in the International Lutheran Council, is the heir of Barnes' work in England.
Yet, in this freedom now, Christianity and the church in general veers between the same two poles it did in those times, on the one hand the attractive exterior in which the errors of Rome and the Orthodox are couched, and on the other, the different but no less attractive exterior in which the errors of Calvinism and the Reformed are couched, most recently in American "evangelicalism".
Our beloved synod is greatly beset by this. May the works and example of Robert Barnes help us steer our course so as not to crash on the rocks under the influence of either of these siren songs, which unlike those of Greek mythology, are quite real.
From the last words of Robert Barnes, DD, martyr, on 30 July 1540:
Lord if Thou straightly mark our iniquity, who is able to abide Thy judgement? Wherefore I trust in no work that I ever did, but only in the death of Jesus Christ. I do not doubt, but through Him to inherit the kingdom of heaven.
(Quoted from "The Reformation Essays of Dr Robert Barnes", Neelak S Tjernagel editor. Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1963. Republished 19 October 2007.)
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