Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cranmer, Transubstantiation, Ubiquitarianism, BCP, Communion, Ignorance & Idolatries

Another good quote from Alan Jacobs on Cranmer, the Book of Common Prayer (indirectly), idolatry, the Romish Mass, transubstantiation & its correlative liturgical pieties (genuflecting to the host, reserving the host or bowing to it like TFOs, the reprobatish Laud, and/or some unfortunate Lutherans), the advocacy of continued ignorance (by the Romanists) and the dueling historians (Dickens v. Duffy). Jacobs captures it well.

Jacobs, Alan (2013-09-30). The "Book of Common Prayer": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books) (p. 22). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

"It was long commonplace to think of the Middle Ages as a period of collective, communal experience, and the rise of modernity in the sixteenth century as heralding a new era of individualism. But in terms of public prayer , something like the opposite was true. The High Mass in particular was generally understood as an opportunity for private devotion. It was true that the priest celebrated the Mass in a language the common people did not understand, but in practice his performance of the rite on behalf of the congregants left them free to engage, if they wished, in deep silent or whispered prayer. The priest’s gestures and intonations were sufficient for people to understand the major transitions in the rite and adjust their devotions accordingly. But throughout most of the Mass, the people were allowed and encouraged to lose themselves in prayer, often with assistance from their rosary beads.

“Cranmer’s great nemesis, the traditionalist bishop Stephen Gardiner, called special attention to these habits: `In times past, when men came to church more diligently than some do now, the people in the church took small heed what the priest and the clerks did in the chancel, but only to stand up at the Gospel and kneel at the Sacring,' that is, the moment of transubstantiation of bread into Christ’s flesh. For Gardiner and other traditionalist bishops, it seemed evident that celebrating the Eucharistic rite in English would only distract people from their prayers. John Christopherson, the dean of Norwich, wrote in 1554 that the congregation should 'travail themselves in fervent praying, and so shall they highly please God . … It is much better for them not to understand the common service of the church, because when they hear others praying in a loud voice , in the language that they understand, they are [hindered] from prayer themselves, and so come they to such a slackness and negligence in praying, that at length as we have well seen in these late days, in manner pray not at all.' So also the Catholic controversialist Thomas Harding: `as the vulgar service'— that is, the service in English— `pulleth their minds from private devotion to hear and not to pray, to little benefit of knowledge, for the obscurity of it; so the Latin giveth them no such motion.' 5

For Cranmer and his fellow evangelicals, these traditional practices turned what should have been an experience of communal devotion, a shared experience of gratitude for God’s mercies, into a kind of magic show. In 1543, when Cranmer had experimented with an English liturgy in parishes in Kent, the people were deeply dubious that the Lord’s Prayer said in English would work: their feeling was that the incantation had to be said precisely, and in Latin. 6 Likewise, many historians have surmised that the phrase `hocus pocus' is a corruption of Hoc est corpus meum, `This is my body': Christ’s words instituting the practice of Communion, and the words uttered by the priest at the Sacring. The common practice at High Mass was for the priest to 'elevate' the Host at this moment, so that people might 'see their Lord'— especially important since they were unlikely to be receiving the bread. (As Eamon Duffy has pointed out, in a low Mass, conducted daily and perhaps in a side chapel of the parish church, the experience was much more intimate: people crowded close to the altar, drawing as near as possible to the consecrated elements, which they nevertheless did not touch or taste. 7 ) Cranmer found all this deeply exasperating and alien to genuine Christian devotion. In his book Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ (1550, though written in 1548), he writes,

[Cranmer] `What made the people to run from their seats to the altar, and from altar to altar, and from sacring (as they called it) to sacring, peeping, tooting and gazing at that thing which the priest held up in his hands, if they thought not to honour the thing which they saw? What moved the priests to lift up the sacrament so high over their heads? Or the people to say to the priest, `Hold up! Hold up!'; or one man to say to another `Stoop down before'; or to say `This day have I seen my Maker”; and “I cannot be quiet except I see my Maker once a day”? What was the cause of all these, and that as well the priest and the people so devoutly did knock and kneel at every sight of the sacrament, but that they worshipped that visible thing which they saw with their eyes and took it for very God?' 8

For Cranmer there was no transubstantiation, hence no Lord to be seen in the bread; instead, the traditional Mass offered at best a series of distractions from the real business of understanding and giving thanks for the grace offered to the faithful believer in Christ; at worst—and he was inclined to believe the worst— it was the sheerest idolatry. Of course, the parishioners themselves rarely entered such debates; they just knew that a structure of devotional experience they had known all their lives, as their ancestors had before them, was being pulled down around their heads.

It is impossible to guess how many of them regretted this demolition. The standard view for many years— as exemplified in A. G. Dickens’s venerable The English Reformation (1964)— was that while some traditionalists complained, and the ecclesiastical powers wished to preserve their reputations as powerful magicians, the majority of English Christians welcomed the English liturgies as a deliverance from priestly domination and as an opportunity for deeper devotion. By contrast, Duffy argues in The Stripping of the Altars that only a few radicals welcomed the changes, while the majority grieved at being deprived of their familiar spiritual comforts. 9"

Jacobs, Alan (2013-09-30). The "Book of Common Prayer": A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books) (p. 22). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.


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