August 2000


Dear Friends

If you look on any of our coins you will find the abbreviation (usually) "F D" next to the sovereign’s head. It is an abbreviation of the Latin that means "Defender of the Faith". Henry VIII was given the title by the Pope for writing an article against Martin Luther, the German reformer. King Henry, and his successors, kept that title even after the break with the Pope and the establishment of the Church of England. You may remember the suggestion that Prince Charles could become "Defender of Faith" (without the ‘the’).

One of the attacks Martin Luther made was on the Epistle of St James. We will have celebrated St James’ Day a few days ago when you read this (25 July). Martin Luther called it a ‘right strawy epistle’. What he did not like was that it spoke about the importance of doing good works. Luther had reacted very strongly against this because he saw in the Church of his day a Church that seemed to teach anyone could work, or buy* their way to heaven. Luther felt so strongly that it was impossible for him to be good enough to work his way to salvation. He thought that only salvation through grace - God’s free gift - was to be taught. Because it was by faith that the great burden of sin and guilt was lifted from Luther’s shoulders he saw any dilution of that as totally unacceptable.

St James, of course, did not say we could earn our way to salvation. What he did say was that the evidence of our faith should be seen in our lives. "Faith without works is a lifeless thing." The Letter of James is only short: five chapters, sandwiched between the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Epistles of St Peter. Why don’t you read it and judge for yourself?

Yours sincerely,

Peter Cheesman

* Historical Footnote

Apparently it is still possible to get pardons and indulgences in the Church of England:

From Letters to the Editor of The Times: Tuesday 18th July 2000

"If any court is to recommence the sale of pardons and indulgences it will be this one, founded under provisions of the ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533 to determine those matters formerly sued for in Rome.

Although this office no longer issues pardons or indulgences, it could certainly do so again, if required, as well as many other matters under the wide powers contained in the Act, but now largely unused.

Stephen Borton

(Chief Clerk), Court of Faculties of the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury"