Cranmer's Godly Order
by Michael Davies
The Pattern of Compromise
"There be certain thought to have Masses in their houses, which come very seldom or not at all to church
. . . which keep, as it were, schools in their houses of Popery, deriding and mocking this religion and the Ministers thereof, which be a marvellous stumbling to the Queen's Majesty's loving subjects in this country . . . I confess that I am not able to reform these, except I should be mightily backed by your honourable authority."
The Bishop of Hereford to the Privy Council, 1564
IT HAS been shown in previous chapters that most of the Catholic minded clergy preferred to interpret Cranmer's Communion Service in an orthodox manner rather than offer any open resistance. Christopher Trychay of Morebath, described in Chapter XV, is a typical example. It would, of course, be very wrong to pass any judgment on such priests. It is easy to be wise with hindsight. "No compromise!" sounds well as a slogan, but how many Catholics today can honestly say that they would certainly have acted differently? It is for God to judge them and we are assured that He is merciful. While it would be wrong to pass judgments on those who compromised, it is quite legitimate to comment on the pattern of compromise itself, and its consequences.
Martyrs are, of course, the exception rather than the rule. But another factor must have weighed heavily with the Edwardian clergy-----that of obedience to lawfully constituted authority. The will of the king was considered to be the Will of God-----scholars like St. Thomas More could make a vital distinction between the duties owed to Caesar and the duties owed to God. Such a distinction did not seem so clear to ordinary parochial clergy. The 1549 Prayer Book appeared to be imposed legally. Open resistance would be an act of rebellion and divide the nation. Cardinal Gasquet comments: "In Edward's reign the outcome of such principles was to induce those who held a public position to put the best interpretation possible upon every measure, however much they may have resisted its imposition and disliked its object." l Compromise on a matter of principle is always a mistake. Bishops and priests like Gardiner had, of course, already abandoned their Catholicism by accepting the royal supremacy. To be a Catholic it is essential to be in communion with the Holy See. Once one compromise has been made the next is easier-----for any compromise on a matter of principle involves a degree of deception, if only self-deception, and once entered into this becomes a self-perpetuating process. Catholic historians and bishops cited in this study condemn the new communion service as unacceptable because of the serious omissions from the traditional Mass. The omissions were designed to make it possible to interpret the new rite in a manner consonant with a denial of Catholic teaching on the sacrifice and the Real Presence. The fact that it did not contain formal heresy or explicit denials of Catholic doctrine is considered to be irrelevant. What is not affirmed is considered to be denied. Gardiner must certainly have realised this clearly, and, in a criticism of him, Fr. Messenger makes a criticism of all the compromising clergy who fell into the trap laid for them by the Reformers. "In order to approve the Book of Common Prayer, he attributed to it the orthodox Catholic doctrine on the Real Presence, on the strength of a few ambiguous phrases, to which we have already alluded. He ignored the passages which point clearly in an opposite direction." 2 The fact that mutilations and excisions are doctrinally of greater significance than the mere absence in a rite of any clear expression of doctrine has been recognised even by the Anglican Church Times. It commented apropos of Anglican Orders: "It is true that the Anglican Reformers were not only silent in the Ordinal as to any intention to confer the power of sacrifice, but they actually cut out the reference to sacrifice which the older formula contained. To cut out is a more significant action than to refrain from putting in." 3
When the 1552 Prayer Book was imposed it was quite impossible to interpret it in anything but a Protestant sense. Professor Bindoff writes: "The most important changes were again those concerning the Eucharist. No longer was it possible for conservative minds to give the communion service that Catholic interpretation which had reconciled Gardiner and others to it in 1549. Communion was now to be celebrated at a table, not an altar; ordinary bread was to be used, and any left over was to be consumed by the curate; the celebrant was no longer to wear special vestments nor make devotional gestures; and the order of service was changed so as to block the last loophole through which anyone might glimpse the forbidden vision of sacrifice." 4
But the pattern of compromise had established itself so completely that acceptance of the 1552 Prayer Book was virtually universal. Priests who had accepted the introduction of English into the liturgy in 1547; of new elements into the traditional Mass in 1548; and the ambiguous service of 1549, were inclined to say" It's too late now" rather than "Enough is enough " or "Thus far and no farther."
This pattern of compromise had reached the point that by 1559, after a reversion to Protestantism under Elizabeth following the brief return to the Church under Mary, the parochial clergy as a whole made no open resistance to the change. At least "three-fourths of these priests now abandoned both the Mass and the Pope as easily as priests of twenty-five years earlier had abandoned the Roman Supremacy alone." 5
In fairness to the bishops, it must be pointed out that only two of the seventeen Marian bishops retained their sees under Elizabeth (those of Llandaff and of Sodor and Man). Fourteen bishops, twelve deans, fifteen heads of colleges, and between two and three hundred clergy resigned their offices or were deprived. 6 "The very idea of an actual sacrifice disappeared as utterly, wherever the new Christianity triumphed, as did that other idea that the Church of Christ is founded to be man's infallible teacher. What was left, as the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, was a devotional exercise preparatory to the faithful man's receiving the holy tokens which commemorated Our Lord's sacrificial offering of Himself for us upon the Cross-----and in the moment when the faithful man so received this consecrated bread and wine, Christ was mysteriously received by him in his heart, 'only after an heavenly and spiritual-manner'.
"It is still hard for a Catholic to grasp the fact that these theories and rites were, in a very great measure at least, the accomplishment of men who were priests, who had not only received the Catholic Sacraments, but had said Mass; and who had now come to be satisfied with this, and without any sign of regret that the old could not be.
"One thing was immediately evident-----that in the new religion the collective piety of the Church was not to be dominated by the Lord's Supper as the collective life of Catholicism has, from the beginning, been dominated by the Mass . . . In the eyes of the Reformers their new rite never had the importance which the Mass always held for the Catholic. It could never have been said 'It's the Lord's Supper that matters'-----and had it been said, in the sense of the classic saying about the Mass so familiar to us all, the Reformers would have been the first to deny the saying. And as they knew so well the nature of what they had devised, they knew also the power of what they had rejected. In one sense they still paid more attention to the Mass than to their own eucharistic rites for against the Mass itself they never ceased to wage war; and all through these first generations of the Reform the flood of bitter, lying-----and even indecent propaganda against it, and against the doctrine of the Real Presence, never ceased. None were more zealous in opposing the changes of 1559, said Jewel, than those won back to Catholicism in Mary's reign: Tanti est semel gustasse de missa; and to attack the Mass immediately was, therefore, the best strategy of all. Vident erepto illo palladio omnia ventura in periculum ('This it is to have once tasted the Mass.' 'They perceive that when that palladium is removed, everything else will be endangered')." 7
There were, of course, those who refused to compromise. Professor Chadwick explains: "A small number were not reconciled to change and preferred to maintain their traditional worship in other lands. These men were not attracted by the whitewash and the destruction or by seeing vestments, pyxes, images, copes, altars and censers being sold on the open market." 8 Above all, it was the young men who went to seminaries in Europe who preserved the Faith in Britain. They returned to give the Mass to the people and only too often their lives for the Mass, the traditional Latin Mass which is found in the Missal of St. Pius V. 9
Cardinal Newman remarks in one of his most celebrated sermons, The Second Spring, that it was "the high decree of Heaven, that the majesty of Catholicism should be blotted out" in Britain. So all seemed to be lost; and there was a struggle for a time and then its priests were cast out or Martyred. There were sacrileges innumerable. Its temples were profaned or destroyed; its revenues seized by covetous nobles, or squandered upon the ministers of the new faith. The presence of Catholicism was at length removed, its grace disowned,-----its power despised,-----its name, except as a matter of history, at length almost unknown . . . No longer the Catholic Church in the country; nay, no longer, I may say, a Catholic community,-----but a few adherents of the Old Religion, moving silently and sorrowfully about, as memorials of what had been. 'The Roman Catholics;'-----not a sect, not even an interest, as men conceived it . . . but merely a handful of individuals, who might be counted, like the pebbles and detritus of the great deluge . . . found in corners, and alleys, and cellars, and the housetops, or in the recesses of the country; cut off from the populous world around them, and dimly seen, as if through a mist or in twilight, as ghosts flitting to and fro, by the high Protestants, the lords of the earth."
But this despised remnant had a treasure denied to those who treated them with such contempt, the Mass of St. Pius V, "the most beautiful thing this side of heaven". This was the pearl of great price for which they were prepared to pay all that they had,-----and pay it they did, priest and layman, butcher's wife and schoolmaster. The victors had the churches and cathedrals built for the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass, the vanquished had the Mass, and it was the Mass that mattered.
"Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice's sake
for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."-----(Matt. 5:10)
1. EBCP, p. 81.
2. RMP, vol. I, p. 414.
3. Quoted in The Tablet, Nov. 28, 1925.
4. TE, p. 164.
5. RIE, vol. III, p. 38.
6. TR, p. 132.
7. RIE, vol. III, pp. 89-90.
8. TR, p. 285.
9. Op. cit., Chapter X, Note 17.