Article 35 on the subject of "the Homilies" is unique among the reformed churches of Europe. We who live with the reprints of many seventeenth and eighteenth-century sermons preached by reformed pastors, it does not seem strange that doctrines should be set out in a sermon series. But there was no precedent for it at the time from either Protestant or Roman Catholic churches. Anglicans were the first (you're welcome!).
XXXV — Of the Homilies
The second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.
Of the Names of the Homilies
1. Of the right Use of the Church.
2. Against peril of Idolatry.
3. Of repairing and keeping clean of Churches.
4. Of good Works: first of Fasting.
5. Against Gluttony and Drunkenness.
6. Against Excess of Apparel.
7. Of Prayer.
8. Of the Place and Time of Prayer.
9. That Common Prayers and Sacraments ought to be ministered in a known tongue.
10. Of the reverend estimation of God’s Word.
11. Of Alms-doing.
12. Of the Nativity of Christ.
13. Of the Passion of Christ.
14. Of the Resurrection of Christ.
15. Of the worthy receiving of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
16. Of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.
17. For the Rogation-days.
18. Of the State of Matrimony.
19. Of Repentance.
20. Against Idleness.
21. Against Rebellion.
Article 35 is a 1571 update of Cranmer’s 1553 original that reflects the changes of the time. There was now a second series of Homilies to extend the teaching of the first series which was originally published in 1547. The first series (or book) of Homilies as a gospel instrument were a stroke of genius by Thomas Cranmer who as a man from the Midlands understood that there were both advantages and disadvantages in a country where one city, London, was both the financial and administrative capital with the two universities about nine hours ride or two days ride away from London. All the nation’s wealth and learning were loaded into the southeast of the country leaving a variegated religious landscape for most of England with the northern border still a disputed buffer zone with Scotland. It was faster to sail to the Continent than to go overland to Cranmer's hometown in Nottinghamshire. There were pockets of Reformation but gathered at market towns and ports with more access to Europe. But there were large regions languishing in a spiritual and social vacuum in the wake of the dissolution of the religious houses that provided most of what we might call today the social services and education. The new Tudor landlords that had assumed authority for a region of former monasteries may or may not be concerned with the souls of their people. There were new bishops and reorganized dioceses. In short, it was a pastoral challenge that would take more than 75 years to stabilize. One could even suggest it has never really been resolved. Cranmer had seen first-hand when living on the Continent the effectiveness of preaching from the pure Word of God and was convinced of its power. But in the shires of England, most of the clergy were local men who were literate but with no training in preaching. They did not have ready resources in books they owned or in the squire’s personal library. The many pastoral duties across a geographical area on a scale which would make a modern minister falter, also left them little time for preparation.
Cranmer had experienced the same challenge on a smaller scale in the diocese of Canterbury during the reign of Henry VIII. His first experiment in a homiletical series was tested then. His solution was simple: give the minister a series of pre-written sermons to regularize the proclamation of the gospel and its application in the life of the Christian. Some of the sermons (or homilies as they were called at that time) were longer but could be divided up into sections for a sermon series. Ministers upon consultation with their local diocesan bishop, would either preach in conformance with the homilies or read them to their congregations.
The homilies were meant to work alongside the various conventicles or “sermon workshops” we might say today. Conventicles were called within groups of parishes (deaneries) where local clergy would gather to preach and discuss their sermons under the mentoring of a more learned pastor authorized by their bishop to oversee their training. Although the conventicles became a political football with the Crown, the workshops were never completely eradicated. Bishops or local supporting gentry with a concern for the gospel would quietly support their work, particularly in areas where London was a very long way away. One need only point to the theologically rich sermons produced just a generation later as evidence and the hunger for good preaching in the shires that led to the establishment of a new locally funded institution of the lecturer. The lectureships were dedicated to preaching outside the established Sunday pattern.
The first book of Homilies was written by a number of reformed churchmen, some are known to us. They can be divided into six doctrinal sermons and six sermons on the application of the doctrine in the life of the Christian. According to Gerald Bray's, A Fruitful Exhortation, we know who wrote all six of the doctrinal homilies, but only one of the application sermons (p. 5). The rest are anonymous. Cranmer probably wrote the sermon on Scripture and the trilogy on salvation (The Nature of Salvation, Faith, and the Relation between Faith and Good Works). The second book is much longer, about three times the length of the first edited by John Jewel. When first organized in 1563 there were twenty sermons, divided again into parts to form a series. Another was added in 1571 and in later editions two of the earlier sermons were divided, making one on Christ’s Passion for Good Friday and another on Rogation. Two of the sermons are adaptations of other reformed theologians. Idolatry is an adaptation of a Heinrich Bullinger work from 1539 with Gluttony and Drunkenness an adaptation of Peter Martyr Vermigli’s from 1571. The Homilies were thought of as two separate books, not being printed together until 1623. There is an entire cycle in the second book that covers the gospel days of the Christian year in Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, teaching a congregation their meaning and significance to the believer.
It is important to remember that the Homilies precede that of the Articles (which is why article 11 on justification references Cranmer’s homily on salvation by a different name) in their composition. They were written by reformed men like Cranmer, Edmund Grindal, and John Jewel or edited by them to express our common reformed heritage that they also brought to the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. A wise Anglican will read the homilies, the articles, and the other formularies as a unit where points of explanation and summary are joined to the application.
Although we have new resources for the homilies in Gerald Brays’ popular A Fruitful Exhortation and Critical Edition, we are still waiting for a modernization of the text for use in small groups and adult Sunday School classes. Perhaps a patron and publisher will gather the necessary expertise to give us one. There are many idiosyncratic modernizations of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, for example, but what is sorely needed are quality modernizations of the formularies to the highest standard much along the lines of the work done by a translation committee that gave us the English Standard Version. With the modernization in place, a long-forgotten resource would find new use and value in an era where Christ-Centered preaching is little known among North American Anglicans.
Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.
For previous articles in this series, see here.