Posted by: mattcolvin | August 25, 2013

Cranmer on Images in the Church


Some people believe that Anglicanism has no tradition of prohibiting the adoration ofimages in the churches. Here’s an extensive quotation from Thomas Cranmer’s “A Short Instruction into Christian Religion“, commenting on the 2nd commandment:

“God did also forsee, that in the latter dayes men shoulde come which woulde mainteine worshipping of images. Not onlye with painted colours, but also with paynted wordes, saying, We kneele not to the ymage, but before the image, we worshyppe not the image, we worship not the creatures, but the creator in the creatures. And suche lyke excuses the greatest ydolaters dyd alwaies pretende. But to thentente they shoulde not so deceive you, God doeth oftentymes in holye scripture call vpon you sayinge, Thou shalte not make to the any grauen ymage or lkenes of any creature, thou shalt not kneele, nor bow thy selfe downe to it. For what can be more contrarie to the dignitie of man, then he, whom God hathe made Lorde over all creatures to kneele or to doe reverence to the image of a creature. God hath so fashioned man, that he hath gyven him a bodye stanyng straight vp, and a countenance to looke vpward into heaven. And why then should he bow himself downward to the earth, or to creatures made of earthe, which be rather to be troden vnder his fete, then to be worshipped of him. There is nothyne more agaynst reason, then that he whiche hathe life, sense, and reason, should worshyppe that thynge, which can neither see, feele, moue, heard nor vnderstande. Wherefore God sayeth plainly, thou shalt not worshyppe images, that is to say, thou shalt not gylte them, and set them in costlye tabernacles, and decke theim with coates or she rtes, thou shalt not sense (sic, presumably cense) them, make vowes or pilgremages to them, sette candelles before them, and offer vnto them, thou shalte not kysse their feet, and bowe downe vnto them…”

After a digression on Solomon, Cranmer continues attacking iconophile arguments:

“Now paraduenture some wil say that Christ hathe a body, and lykewyse haue saintes, and therfore of them we may haue ymages although of God there can be made no image. And further they wil say, that the cause why ymages wer forbid, was perryl of ydolatry, and worshipping of theym. So that where there is no suche peril, we may haue ymages. Yet as I will not vtterly deny but they may be had, so I thincke it more conuenient for christen religion that they shuld be taken out of Christen mens churches, then that they shoulde be placed in the temple of God. And of this my opinion I wil shewe you certaine good groundes, to thintente that whan you be demanded, why we Englyshe men haue no ymages in our churches, you maye be able to make therunto a reasonable answer, and that also in time to come you may declare to your children what abuses haue crepte into the church by the occasion of images. That if anye man shall herafter goo about craftily to brynge in ymages agayne for hys owne lucre sake, they maye the soner perceive hys juglynge, and so the better avoide the perill and daunger. Fyrst it is certaine, that we neither haue commaundement, counsel nor example of the scripture, nor of the primatiue churche in thapostilles time, nor many yeres after, to set vp ymages in our churches.

(Cranmer then tells the story of Epiphanius tearing down the tapestry of Christ.)

“And yf we wyl beleue auncient histories, ymages wer brought into churches, by the pollicye and force of the byshoppes of Rome, many good Christian emperors, withstanding the same to their power. But idolatrie by the byshoppes of Rome prevailed, and seduced many Christians.

“Moreouer many images teache nothyng elles but erronious and supersticiouse doctrine. For what teachethe the picture of sayncte Mychael waying soules, and our lady putting her beades in the balance. Forsoth nothing els, but superstitiousness of beades, and confirdence in oure owne merites, and the merites of saints, nd nothyne in the merites of Christe.

(Cranmer retails stories of corrupt worship of saints, vows, pilgramages, and fake miracles attributed to Thomas of Canterbury, Anne of Buckestone, etc.)

“Again they that be greued with takyng downe of ymages out of the churches, will parchaunce say. We worshipped not the image but the sainct, whome the ymage dyd signifye. And who I praye you commaundeth you after this fashion to worship any sainct, why shoulde wee geue that honoure to sainctes nowe after their deathe, whiche they themselfes, whan they were on lyue dyd vtterly refuse? Yf a Christen man althoughe in dede he were a very holy man, and a lyuing saint, should set himself vpon an aulter in the church, you would say to him come down syr, that is no place for you to stande in. And why shoulde than domme ymages stande there, whan they be deade, wher thou canst not suffre the true ymages and membres of Christ and liuely sainctes to be placed? Peter refused to be wourshipped of Cornelius, and likewyse dyd Paule and Barnabas to be honored of men, and the aungel also refused to be honored of a man forasmuche as special! honoure and seruice, appertaineth only to God. Neuerthelesse in ciuile honor and seruyce, we be subiecte to kynges, princes, parentes, maisters, and al superiors, to honoure and seme them of duety as God of vs requyreth. But al these thinges cesse after their death, and they that wil say, that they nether worship ymages, nor the sainctes in ymages, but God onelye in the sainctes and ymages, they pretende the same excuse that the heathen idolatrers did. For they sayd lykewyse, that they worshypped not blockes nor stones, but God in theym, and yet thei wer great ydolatrers. But these men that pretende so manye excuses for their ydolatrye (as all ydolatrers euer haue done) yet in very dede they worship not onely creatures but also the ymages of creatures. Whan they knele, kysse, and sense them. For whan they see an ymage of the crucyfyx, or of a saint by the way, doo they not bow downe, and put of their cappes vnto it. But they do that (say they) not to the ymage but to Christ. But why than doo they it, whan they se the ymage, and not before? Marye (saye they) for the ymage putteth vs in remembraunce of Christ. But let them truly aunswer this, as they thinke in their hartes. As often tymes as they remembre Christe before they see the ymage, doo they bowe downe and put of their cappes or no? Certayne it is that thei do not, but assone as thei come to the ymage they doo. And therefore in veraye dede, they doo that honor to the ymage, and not to Christ, nor to the saint, whatsoeuer they pretende. But they fantasy som holines or vertue to be in the ymages, specially whan they be set vpon high in the churche, the commen place to honor God alone, and therefore they ronne rather to one churche than to another, and honor one image rather than another for elles why are not the ymages in the caruers and painters shoppe as wel kneled vnto and worshipped as they that be set in the church. And yf they dyd their reuerence to Christ and not to the image, seing that Christ is in heauen, to heauen they shuld loke vp, wher Christ him self is, and not gase vpon an ymage. Seyng therefore that it is an horrible ydolatry, to wurshyp the sunne, which is a most goodly creature of God, and representeth vnto vs the wonderfull worke of God. Let euery man consydre how diuilyshe ydolatry it is, to worship our awne ymages made by our awn handes.

“Yt is not also taught you in all the scripture that you shoulde desyre saincte Rocke to preserue you from the pestilence, to pray to saint Barbara to defende you from thondre or gonneshot, to offer to saincte Loy an horse of waxe, a pigge to sainct Anthonye, a candel to sainct Sithe. But I shoulde be to longe yf I shoulde reherse vnto you all the superstitions that haue growen out of the inuocation and praying to saintes departed, wherwith men haue been seduced, and Goddes honoure geuen to creatures.

“This was also no smal abuse, that wee called the ymages by the names of the thinges, whome they did represent. For we were wont to say. This is saincte Annes aulter, my father is goone a pylgrymage to our lady of Walsyngame, in our churche sainct James standeth on the right hand of the highe aulter. These speches, we wer wont to vse, although they be not to be commended. For sainct Austen in thexposition of the cxiii. Psalme affirmeth, that they, who do call suche ymages as the carpenter hath made, by the names of those thinges whiche God hath made, do chaunge the truth of God into a ly. It is not also taught you in all scripture. Thus good children I haue declared how wee wer wont to abuse ymages, not that hereby I condempne your fathers, who were men of greate deuotion, and had an ernest loue towarde God,altoughe their zeale in all pointes was not ruled and gouerned by true knowledge, but they were seduced and blynded, partely by the commen ignorance that rayned in their tyme, partely by the couetuousnes of their teachers, who abused the simplicity of the vnlerned people to the mayntenaunce of their awne lucre and glorye. But this haue I spoken to shewe you how crafty the deuil and his ministers haue been euen of late tyme to allure Christen men to idolatry vnder the pretence and title of deuocion, holynes, and religion, that you being warned of suche abuses may the better knowe and auoyde them incase at any tyme Satan or his messengers woulde entyse you vnto suche superstition again. For yf maryners that haue passed the daungers of the seas, and are safelye entred into the hauen, be naturally moued to shewe to suche as sayle to those places, from whence they came, what parrelles they shall passe by, and how also they maye auoid the same. How muche more ought we that haue alredy passed the diepe seas and daungers of superstition, to warne you good children, of these perrelles, and to teache you whiche are nowe (as it wer) entring into the troublesome seas of this worlde how you maye auoyde these so great daungyers. And it is veray necessary for preachers at all tymes to admonyshe, exhorte, and cal vpon you to auoid this most haynouse and detestable synne of ydolatrye. For not onelye the prophetes in tholde testamente wer very ernest to cal vpon the Jewes to eschewe this synne of ydolatry, but thappostilles also be very diligent to disswade Christen men from the same. And we haue to much experience in the worlde that of ymages commeth, worshippyng of them and ydolatry. For sainct Austen vpon the. cxiii. Psalme affirmeth that simple men be more moued and stirred to bowe downe to ymages and worship them, because they haue mouthes, eyes, eares, noses, handes and feet then they be moued to contempne them, althoughe they perceiue they can neither speke, see, smell, feale, nor goo.

“It cannot be sayde that ymages be necessarie, for then we condempne the appostilles, and al the holy men in the primatiue church, yea and Christe himselfe also because they vsed no suche thynge, nor yet that they be profitable, for yf they had, either Christe woulde haue taughte it or the holy ghoste woulde haue reueled it, vnto the appostles whiche they did not.

“And yf they dyd, the appostilles, were very neclygente that woulde not make some mention of it, and speake some good word for ymages, seyng that they speake so manye against them. And by this meanes Antichriste and his holy papistes, had more knowledge or feruente zeale to geue vs godlye thynges, and profitable for vs, than had the veray holy saintes of Christe, yea more than Christ himselfe, and the holy goost. Now forasmuch good children, as ymages be neither necessary nor profitable in our churches and temples, nor were not vsed at the begynnynge in Christe nor thapostilles tyme, nor many yeres after, and that at length they were broughte in by byshoppes of Rome maugre themperours tethe, and seing also that they be veri slaunderous to Christes relygion, for by them the name of God is blasphemed among the infideles, Turkes, and Jewes, whiche because of oure ymages do call Christen religion idolatry and wourshipping of ymages. And for asmuche also as they haue been, so wonderfully abused within this realme, to the highe contumelye and dyshonor of God, and haue been great cause of blyndnes, and of muche contention amonge the kinges maiesties louing subiectes, and were lyke so to be still yf they shoulde remayne, and chiefly seing Goddes worde speaketh somuehe against them. You may herby right well consydre, what greate causes and groundes the kinges maiestie had, to take them away within his realme, folowing herin the example of the godly kynge Ezechias, who brake downe the brasen serpent, whan he sawe it worshypped and was therefore greatly praised of God, not withstandynge at the firste, the same was made and set vp by Goddes commaundemente, and was not only a remembraunce of Goddes benefites, before receaued, but also a figure of Christ to come. And not only Ezechias, but also Manasses, and Josophat and Josias the best kynges that were of the Jewes, did pull doune ymages in the tyme of their reygne. Consider than howe godlye an acte is this to take away so manye ymages, not made by Goddes commaundementes, wherunto contrary to Goddes commaundementes and his honor wer so manye idolatries committed. For vnto Christen princes office, and cure appertayneth the defence of Goddes true word and Christen religion, and to take away all those thinges, which hynder or let true godlynes and religion, or make trouble and contention, within their realmes. So good children you haue herde the true meanyng of these wordes. Thou shalt make to the no grauen ymage, thou shalt not bowe down and worship the same, the which I pray you graue depely in your memories, that when you be demaunded, what is ment by the wordes heretofore rehersed, you may answer. This commaundement forbiddeth vs al kind of ydolatry as wel bodily as goostly, and inhibiteth vs to geue the honor whiche is due vnto God to any creatur or ymage of creature, but to worshyp God alone. And now note further good children, that to thintent we shuld honore only God, and obey him. He saith that he is the Lorde oure God, in whom be al good thinges, and of whom wee haue all. He saith also that he is strong and of such force, that he can ponishe vs at his pleasure, if we dysobey him. Moreouer he calleth himself jalouse because he can abyde no companion, but as a man, the more pure and chast he is, the more he is greued if he perceue his wife to set her loue vpon any other, euen so is God, who hath taken vs to his spouse, if he se vs defiled with filthy ydolatry. Furthermore he saith that he wyl reuenge his maiesti and glori, if any man wil translate that, vnto any creature picture or ymage, and that with such vengeance, that it shal extende vnto theyr children, nephewes and nephewes children. Like as on the other side he promiseth his mercye and goodnes to their posterite that kepe his lawe and commaundementes.

“Employ therfore youre hole hartes and myndes to his preceptes good children, and eschewing al ydolatry or honoring of caruinges or paintinges geue to God only his due honor and glory now and from hensforth world without ende. Amen.”


Responses

  1. It seems to me that Cranmer’s prohibition against images is more of a matter of “convenience” and a pragmatic measure pertaining to the particular abuse of it in England rather than an objection based on some fundamental principles according to this part which you cite:

    Now paraduenture some wil say that Christ hathe a body, and lykewyse haue saintes, and therfore of them we may haue ymages although of God there can be made no image. And further they wil say, that the cause why ymages wer forbid, was perryl of ydolatry, and worshipping of theym. So that where there is no suche peril, we may haue ymages. Yet as I will not vtterly deny but they may be had, so I thincke it more conuenient for christen religion that they shuld be taken out of Christen mens churches, then that they shoulde be placed in the temple of God. And of this my opinion I wil shewe you certaine good groundes, to thintente that whan you be demanded, why we Englyshe men haue no ymages in our churches, you maye be able to make therunto a reasonable answer, and that also in time to come you may declare to your children what abuses haue crepte into the church by the occasion of images. That if anye man shall herafter goo about craftily to brynge in ymages agayne for hys owne lucre sake, they maye the soner perceive hys juglynge, and so the better avoide the perill and daunger.

    Thus, what Cranmer seems to be censoring is not so much the sheer existence of images, but rather it’s pervasive abuse which warrants such iconoclastic measures in his own time and context.

    • Yes, that seems like the right understanding of what he has written.

    • He uses the word ‘conuenient’, but, considering the word ‘convenientia’ and what he says elsewhere, I would think that Cranmer’s apology is based less on the pervasive abuse of images than on the danger that always inheres in their use.

      • I think his position may be understood as permitting images for decorative use, so long as not for cultic or pedagogical use.

  2. Matt,
    Check out this paper on the subject: Images in the Church of England
    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/7284772/Images%20in%20the%20COE.pdf

    • That’s outstanding, Joel.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories