Review: The Institution of a Christian Man, edited by Gerald Bray (James Clark & Co, 2018).

Review by Zachary Guiliano

In the last 24 years, historians and students, along with Anglican priests, pastors, and teachers, have owed Gerald Bray and the publisher James Clark & Co. a great debt for the editing and publication of primary sources related to the English Reformation. Since 1994, Documents of the English Reformation 1526-1701 has brought together a diverse range of material not accessible to those unable to visit archives in England or in a library with various materials no longer in print.

A new, critical edition of The Books of Homilies in 2015 made accessible, not only the primary fonts of preaching and doctrine in the early Church of England, but also their various versions, along with the similar book of Bishop Bonner, which was published during the reign of Mary Tudor. And now we come to this most recent edition, yet another gift given to that teaching, learning, and praying community.


With a historical introduction and useful indexes, Bray draws together three main doctrinal handbooks of the 16th century, all more referenced (usually vaguely) than read by scholars and students alike: The Bishops’ Book (1537), The King’s Book (1543), and Bishop Bonner’s Book (1555). Representing distinct, albeit short-lived stages in the development of the Church of England, each was intended for the education and examination of the clergy, as well as for the edification of an increasingly literate laity. Bray has also included Henry VIII’s original notes on The Bishops’ Book, along with Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s responses to them. As in Bray’s edition of the homilies, readers will likely find the combination of sources most interesting, since a great deal of comparative work can be done.

For example, in The Bishops’ Book, the petition “Forgives us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” is followed in part by instruction on how to forgive one’s enemies. A fairly lengthy passage bases Christian forgiveness on the example of Christ, including the phrase “we be not worthy to have the name of his members if we follow not the head,” going on to speak of the total forgiveness of enemies being necessary for our own forgiveness. King Henry wished to have this section struck out, and we can see in Archbishop Cranmer’s notes that he objected to this omission, supplying further scriptural support from the letters of Paul and from Ecclesiasticus 28:1-5. In the end, the section was omitted. One cannot help but feel Henry and Cranmer’s whole relationship is here illustrated, though this is a slightly unjust characterization, if we consider other exchanges.

On another level, the fairly basic level of instruction in these books is instructive. The Bishops’ Book and King’s Book, for example, are focused on the Apostles’ Creed, the Seven Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and then other topics, such as the Ave Maria (!), free will, justification, good works, and prayer for the dead. These classical topics hearken back to patristic example (e.g., Augustine’s Enchiridion, as Bray notes) but also to medieval catechetical patterns, while bearing Reformation distinctives as well. They look forward to hundreds of Anglican handbooks and catechisms that would be produced in later centuries for similar purposes — though rarely today. (The latter are surveyed in Ian Green’s important work The Christian’s ABC: Catechisms and Catechizing in England c. 1530-1740 [OUP, 1996].)

Bray’s historical spadework should be welcomed warmly, and long may it continue.


About The Author

The Rev. Dr. Zachary Guiliano is chaplain and career development research fellow at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. 

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