The Battle of Crecy and the Providence of God
When most historians today analyze why a battle was won or lost, they focus on military matters – differences in weapon technology, positioning of the troops, mistakes of the generals, morale of the soldiers, and many other factors. And while those issues are important, they leave out a major aspect. Older historians, especially those in the Middle Ages, attributed victories to the Providence of God – that God was working out His plans in the world by doling out victory or defeat.
One example of this is from the Battle of Crecy on August 26, 1346. With very heavy fighting, the English army under King Edward III defeated a vastly larger French force under King Philip. Today we can attribute the victory to the poor leadership on the French side and their rash and disordered charge, along with the professionalism of the English soldiers, and their effective use of the longbow. At the time, both sides recognized this victory as coming from God’s hand. The French attributed their defeat as from the hand of God for their pride and vanity, their greed in seeking better terms in negotiating with the English, and for their failure to launch a Crusade as they had promised to do.
At this point, King Edward’s confessor and chaplain was Thomas Bradwardine. He was present at the Battle of Crecy, and not long thereafter he preached a sermon before the king giving thanks for the victory. In his message, he systematically tore apart every argument that could be made to attribute the English’s success to anything but God. As he said, “[T]he grace of God makes us to conquer, and to triumph over adversaries … not a star, not luck, not fortune, not an accident, not an omen, especially not ourselves, but the grace of God in us.”
At the time, the church in Europe was Catholic. True Christians in the tradition of the early church were few and far between. However, Thomas Bradwardine was one of those. He was a leading scientist and diplomat, but most importantly a theologian. He was an Augustinian, and wrote against the Pelegians, who hold that men can be saved by good works. In his book entitled De causa Dei, he argued that most of the Catholic church at that time believed in a form of Pelegianism. This theological tradition continues today in Arminianism, which is just a diluted form of Pelegianism.
Bradwardine was eventually made Archbishop of Canturberry, but not long thereafter he died, a victim of the black plague. He was one of the few Christians at the time who could be said to have sound theology. He believed in predestination, holding that grace was necessary for salvation. He said that the church fathers were fallible, and that scripture was the perfect standard. With this theology, he was one of the forerunners of the Reformation. Not long thereafter, John Wycliffe arrived on the scene. Bradwardine’s writings were an influence on him, and with Wycliffe the Protestant Reformation began in England, eventually transforming the entire world.