In 1530, Barnes published (under the Latin pseudonym Antonius Anglus) a compilation of quotations from the Bible and the writings of past theologians (from the church fathers to his time) to demonstrate that the doctrines taught by Luther were firmly rooted in both Scriptures and tradition. The book, entitled Sentenciae ex doctoribus collectae, quas papistae valde impudenter hodie damnant (“Collection of sentences by divines, which today’s papists quite impudently condemn”) was republished six years later under Barnes’s real name.
Robert Barnes – Early English Reformer
The early 1500’s was an exciting time for young intellectuals. Scholars such as Desiderius Erasmus and Jacques Lefèvre and religious Reformers such as Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli fueled many stirring discussions in the European universities. The growing discontent with the church and its doctrines seemed to have reached its highest pitch and the increasing consensus provided hope for a change.
As a young Augustinian prior with a promising career in the academy and the church, Robert Barnes shared this hope and excitement. The English historian John Foxe numbers him among those who met regularly for discussions at the Cambridge’s White Horse Inn. As a prior, Barnes’s reforms included the introduction in the friars’ curriculum of a course on Paul’s epistles, in an attempt to bring Scriptures back to the center of their education. Another indication of his discomfort with Roman Catholic practices is the fact that, during his priory, the popular request for masses in Rome was discontinued.
A Fiery Sermon and a Clever Escape
It was with this fervor that he preached in St Edward’s Church, Cambridge, on Christmas Eve of 1525. The circumstances leading to this important sermon are uncertain. Some have suggested he was specifically invited in order to stir the waters. And stirring he did, with a violent attack on ecclesiastical corruption in general and on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in particular.
As a result, he was arrested, tried, and found guilty.