Excerpts From
Cranmer's Godly Order
by Michael Davies

Preparatory Measures:
English Life Upon the Accession of Edward VI

MGR. HUGHES has provided an excellent picture of the religious life of the British people on the eve of the Reformation, and what he writes with regard to the Mass is applicable until the accession of the young King Edward VI in 1547. Henry VIII had shown himself very conservative as regards changing the established forms of worship. Each Sunday, Mgr. Hughes explains, all went to their parish church for Mass, "a sacrifice really offered by the priest, offered in the name of the Church, and also offered by him as the human agent of the great real offerer, the Divine priest, Jesus Christ Himself; a sacrifice in which the victim was Jesus Christ. The Mass was Christ once again offering Himself to the Father as a propitiation for the sins of the world, not in order to merit forgiveness for them, as at Calvary, on the Cross, but in order to provide particular men with a means of making that forgiveness their own, in order that the merit won by the Cross should be applied. Sunday, from the earliest times, had been with Catholics what the Sabbath was-----is
-----to the Jews; the day of the Lord, consecrated by the testimony of the whole community present at a ritual worship, and by their abstinence from ordinary toil. The neglect to assist at Mass on Sundays and on these special feast days was held a serious sin, as also was the neglect to observe the law forbidding ordinary work on these days.

"Around the church there were placed statues of the saints and painted on the walls, pictures that told the story of the great events narrated in the Scriptures or in the lives of saints. One very favourite subject was the last Judgment, Christ at the last day of all, judging mankind. Very notable among the saints were the special patron of the particular church or village, the saints traditionally associated with that countryside, above all others, a saint in a class apart, Mary, the Mother of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

"These churches, generally, were the great pride of the village, for their statues and pictures and silken hangings, for some speciality in a vestment, or in the chalice and other sacred vessels." 1

A number of means were employed to prepare the people for the replacement of this traditional Latin Mass by a vernacular Protestant Communion service.


In order to overthrow the Mass, and with it all that remained of the Catholic Faith, the Reformers adopted a cautious approach. They realised that an open frontal attack could rebound on themselves. The way was first prepared with the help of the Press. In 1547 a campaign against the Mass was initiated alleging among other things that "such as honour the bread there for God do no less idolatry than they that made the sun their god or stars."

Gardiner complained that "certain printers, players, and preachers make a wonderment, as though we knew not yet how to be justified, nor what sacraments we should have." 2 The authorities expressed disapproval in public but their failure to take any active steps to suppress these books made it obvious where their sympathies lay. By the end of the year the floodgates were opened and books began to appear filled with abuse of everything Catholic
-----and even dedicated to the king himself and the Lord Protector. The Blessed Sacrament is described as "a vile cake to be made God and Man" and the Mass as "the worshipping of God made of fine flour." Many of these books were written by continental reformers, among them Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Melancthon, Bullinger, Urbanus Regius, Osiander, Hegendorp and Bodius. 3 While these books shocked and outraged most of the ordinary faithful and parish clergy, they made a great impression on those who liked to consider themselves an educated and enlightened elite-----almost invariably men of influence in some sphere or other.

Those wishing to defend the Mass found it very difficult to do so as the Reformers had total control of the means of communication. "Here and there possibly a book might be published bearing the name of an author and printer which was distasteful to Cranmer and the Council, but there can be no doubt that this would be done at the peril of those concerned. And as a fact on examining the bibliography of these years it is remarkable that hardly a single book or pamphlet written in support of the ancient doctrines appears to have been issued from the English press. Such treatises as those of Gardiner and Tunstall on the Sacrament had to be printed abroad and in secret.

"On the other hand, the country was flooded with works, either translations of the labours of foreign reformers, or original compositions, inveighing against Catholic observances and specially against the Mass. These bore the name of author or printer and were mostly of the booklet class, which could be sold for a few pence and were evidently designed for wide circulation among the people. In the circumstances there can be no doubt whatever that this style of literature, which is so abundant, could not have had currency without the connivance or good will of the government, and that it really represented beyond question their wishes and intentions. Nor merely was the circulation of such literature, which is chiefly of a profane and scurrilous character, not prohibited or even moderated by any of the numerous proclamations of the time, but express licence was given to printers of such works." 4


Another effective means of propagating the revolutionary ideas was through sermons
-----preachers with a licence from Cranmer could go from town to town attacking beliefs which, in theory, he still held himself and was upholding. Under Henry for example, while "men and women were dying for beliefs which the Archbishop privately shared, he subscribed to the ruling orthodoxy and imposed it upon others." 5 While the Reformer-dominated King's Council issued proclamations forbidding irreverent attacks upon the Sacrament, and listing punishments for those who did so, in practice it could be called a "round robin" or "Jack in the box" with impunity. One preacher with Cranmer's licence-----Thomas Hancock-----was arrested after saying, among other things, "that which the priest holdeth over his head you do see and you kneel before it, you honour it and make an idol of it and you yourselves are most horrible idolators." He was completely discharged at the instigation of the Protector Somerset himself. Cranmer alone had the power of granting a licence to preach and his attitude can best be seen by quoting from an instruction issued by the Privy Council to licensed preachers in June, 1548, forbidding them to bring "that into contempt and hatred which the prince doth either allow or is content to suffer," but at the same time permitting "the lively teaching of the word of God by sermons made after such sort as for the time the Holy Ghost shall put into the preacher's mind," 6 In his famous sermon "of the plough" preached at St. Paul's on 18th January, 1548, Latimer openly attacked Catholic practices before the whole court, declaring them and the Mass itself to be the work of the devil whose "office is to hinder religion, to maintain superstition; to set up idolatry, to teach all kinds of popery . . . where the devil is resident, and hath his plough going, there away with books, and up with candles; away with bibles, and up with beads, away with the light of the Gospel, and up with the light of candles yea at noon-day . . . Where the devil is resident, that he may prevail, up with all superstition and idolatry; censing, painting of images, candles, palms, Ashes, holy water and new services of men's inventing  . . . Let all things be done in Latin: there must be nothing but Latin . . . " 7


This policy of upholding the traditional faith in theory while allowing it to be undermined in practice extended to liturgical innovations. " . . . on the one hand the Council were issuing orders to restrain innovations in the liturgy and on the other were allowing it to be understood that such innovations were not displeasing to them . . . " 8 Cranmer's programme for overthrowing the established liturgy described at the beginning of this chapter was divided into four stages. It has already been explained in Chapter VIII why he deemed it imprudent to do too much too soon. Stage one was to have certain portions of the unchanged traditional Mass in the vernacular. Stage two was to introduce new material into the old Mass, none of which would be specifically heretical. Stage three was to replace the old Mass with an English Communion service which, once more, was not specifically heretical. Stage four was to replace this service with a specifically Protestant one. As will be explained in Chapter XVI, the psychology of this process was very sound. Very few men have the courage to be martyrs and even those with strong convictions are liable to seek a compromise where one is possible. Such a compromise was possible with each of Cranmer's first three stages-----and once the process of compromising has been entered into it tends to be self-perpetuating. A man who has been making continual concessions is liable to lack the will to make a stand and to feel that, "in any case it is too late now." Prominent among the liturgical innovations which prepared the way for or accompanied the 1549 Prayer Book were the principles that the liturgy must  be in the vernacular and audible throughout; Communion under both kinds; a new order of Communion to be used with the old Mass; the replacement of altars with tables.


Although a number of the Reformers began by using a modified traditional or newly composed Latin liturgy it soon became a sine qua non of Protestantism (but for some Lutherans) that worship must be exclusively in the vernacular. 9 Statements such as the following, taken from the writings of the Reformers and condemned by Trent, provide an accurate summary of the Protestant standpoint: "The rite of the Church of Rome by which the words of consecration are said secretly and in a low voice is to be condemned and the Mass ought to be celebrated only in the vernacular language which all understand." 10 The use of the vernacular even before the introduction of the new services was, in itself, "indeed a revolution". 11 It was also an effective instrument for revolutionary change as it accustomed the people to the idea of drastic change in their manner of worship. Where the ordinary Catholic was concerned, Cranmer's revision of the Latin Mass in his new rite of 1549 did not appear as startling as the transition from Latin to English while still using the old rite. Even an Anglican author can see clearly that by introducing English into the traditional services "Cranmer clearly was preparing for the day when liturgical revision would become possible". 12

As early as 11th April, 1547, Compline was being sung in English in the royal chapel. 13 The opening of the first Parliament of Edward's reign was made the occasion for a far more significant novelty as it touched the ritual of the Mass itself. The King rode from his palace of Westminster to the church of St. Peter with all the lords spiritual and temporal for a Mass during which the Gloria, Credo and Agnus Dei were all sung in English. 14 Even the more conservative bishops were now prepared to concede that while Latin should still be the general rule during Mass, especially" in the mysteries thereof, nevertheless certain prayers might be in the mother tongue for the instruction and stirring of the devotion of the people as shall be thought convenient." 15 By 12th May, 1548, it was possible to have a totally English Mass at Westminster, including the consecration. 16

"It is difficult," writes A. L. Rowse, "for anyone without a knowledge of anthropology to appreciate fully the astonishing audacity, the profound disturbance to the unconscious levels upon which society lives its life, of such an action as the substitution of an English liturgy for the age-long Latin rite of Western Christendom in which Englishmen had been swaddled time out of mind . . . nothing can detract from the revolutionary audacity of such an interference with the customary, the subconscious, the ritual element in life." 17

As well as insisting upon the vernacular, the Reformers demanded that the whole service should be audible to the congregation. A rubric in the 1549 Prayer Book requires that the priest "shall saye, or syng, playnly and distinctly, this prayer folowyng", namely, the Canon. 18

The Council of Trent pronounced anathemas upon anyone holding the propositions either that "the rite of the Roman Church whereby a part of the Canon and the words of consecration are pronounced in a low tone is to be condemned; or that the Mass ought to be celebrated in the vernacular tongue only." 19 These anathemas do not, of course, preclude the possibility of these practices being permitted within the Roman rite.


One of Cranmer's first important innovations was to impose the practice of Communion under both kinds for the laity at the end of 1547. Many Catholics both in England and abroad made the mistake of conceding this change without opposition for the sake of peace. "It was after all only a matter of ecclesiastical discipline, although some innovators in urging the incompleteness of the Sacrament, when administered under one kind only, gave a doctrinal turn to the question which issued in heresy. The great advantage secured to the innovators by the adoption of communion under both kinds in England was the opportunity it afforded them of effecting a break with the ancient missal." 20 Every such break with tradition lessened the impact of those to follow so that when changes that were not simply matters of discipline were introduced the possibility of effective resistance was considerably lessened.


The printing of "The Order of Communion"-----a booklet of only three or four leaves
-----was finished on 8th March, 1548. This was to be used in conjunction with the traditional Mass and must not be confused with the wholly new Communion service contained in the 1549 Prayer Book. The 1548 rite contained exhortations addressed to those about to receive the Sacrament which, according to Mgr. Hughes, contained "ambiguities designed to make the rite one which could be conscientiously used by those who did not believe that He (Christ) was there present except to the communicant in the moment of receiving Holy Communion, and who believed that the presence, even at that moment, was not in what was received but only in 'the heart' of the receiver." 21 The book also included a ritual for the administration of Communion under both kinds and these prayers, with a few modifications, were incorporated into the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. Mgr. Hughes' assessment of the ambiguous nature of the new rite is shared by the Protestant historian S. T. Bindoff. "The new service contained little or nothing clearly inconsistent with Catholic doctrine. At the crucial points its phraseology was ambiguous, and the statute embodying it explicitly renounced any intention of condemning rites used elsewhere." 22

"Just how pleasing this new rite was to discerning Protestants was made clear by no less a person than Miles Coverdale who translated it into Latin and sent a copy to Calvin declaring it to be "the first fruits of godliness (according as the Lord now wills his religion to revive in England) . . . " 23

In his proclamation giving effect to the new service the King admonishes such radical Protestants as Coverdale "to stay and quiet themselves with this our direction
-----and not enterprise to run afore and so by their rashness to become the greatest hinderers" of change. But at the same time he speaks of a "most earnest intent further to travail for the reformation and setting forth of such godly orders." 24

The radicals did not need to "quiet themselves" long and the further "godly orders" were to be imposed in the following year.


This was another step directly in line with the liturgical policies of the continental Reformers, the final product of which is well summarized by a description of the Communion service at Strassburg after 1530 when Bucer's influence became dominant. "So, mass, priest, and altar are replaced by Lord's Supper, minister and Holy Table, and the westward replaces the eastward position of the celebrant." 25 (It is worth repeating that Bucer influenced Cranmer, and hence his new liturgy, more than any other continental reformer.) On the same theme, Calvin explains that God "has given us a table at which to feast, not an altar on which to offer sacrifice. He has not consecrated priests, but ministers to distribute the sacred banquet." 26

The wholesale destruction of altars in England did not take place until after the imposition of the 1549 Prayer Book, but a start had been made in 1548 with the altars of the chantry chapels which Cranmer had suppressed. After 1549 the stone altars upon which the Sacrifice of the Mass had been offered were replaced with wooden tables placed in the chancel. On 27th November, 1548, John ab Ulmis wrote to Bullinger as follows: "At this time those privileged altars are entirely overthrown in a great part of England, and by the common consent of the higher classes altogether abolished. Why should I say more? Those idolatrous altars are now become hogsties (Arae factae sunt harae), that is the habitation of swine and beasts." 27

During a vacancy in the See of Norwich when it came under Cranmer's jurisdiction (1549-1550), "The most part of all altars" in this diocese were taken down. 28 In a series of Lenten sermons preached before the King and Council Hooper urged the complete abolition of altars and the substitution of tables because there were only three forms of sacrifice which Christian men could offer and these did not require an altar. They were sacrifices of thanksgiving; benevolence and liberality to the poor; and the mortifying of our own bodies, and to die unto sin . . . "If we study not daily to offer these sacrifices to God, we be no Christian men. Seeing Christian men have none other sacrifice than these, which may and ought to be done without altars, there should among Christians be no altars."  While altars remained, he insisted, "both the ignorant people, and the ignorant and evil-persuaded priest, will dream always of sacrifice." 29

On 27th March, 1550, after the appointment of Ridley to the See of London, Hooper wrote to Bullinger: "He will, I hope, destroy the altars of Baal, as he did heretofore in his church when he was Bishop of Rochester. I can scarcely express to you, my very dear friend, under what difficulties and dangers we are labouring and struggling, that the idol of the Mass may be thrown out." He was able to add, "Many altars have been destroyed in this city (London) since I arrived here." 30 Hooper's expectations of Ridley proved to be well founded. Within three months he had issued injunctions calling for the removal of the altars from churches of his diocese. 31 Altars were "too enduring monuments" to "the age old belief in the sacrifice the Mass. Altar-smashing was already a well recognised mark of the Reformation on the Continent, where the practice had been the normal accompaniment of the abolition of the Mass." 32 On 24th November, 1550, the King's Council ordered the universal implementation of this policy in England, "that all the altars throughout the kingdom should be destroyed. For the future, whenever the rite of the Holy Eucharist was celebrated, a wooden table was to be used, covered, during the rite, with a cloth of linen. 33 This was intended "to avoid all matters of further contention and strife", and in a set of reasons accompanying the instruction (signed by Cranmer among others) it was explained that: "First, the form of a table shall more move the simple from the superstitious opinions of the Popish Mass unto the right use of the Lord's Supper. For the use of an altar is to make sacrifice upon it: the use of a table is to serve for men to eat upon. Now when we come again unto the Lord's board, what do we come for? To sacrifice Christ again, and to crucify him again; or to feed upon him that was once only crucified and offered up for us? If we come to feed upon him, spiritually to eat his body, and spiritually to drink his blood, which is the true use of the Lord's Supper; then no man can deny but the form of a table is more meet for the Lord's board than the form of an altar." 34

"Then throughout the land the consecrated altars of the Christian sacrifice were cast out, and in the account books of country parishes such items as this appeared: 'Payd to tylers for breckynge downe forten awters in the cherche' . . . . " 35

A descendant of Bishop Ridley writes in a biography of his reforming ancestor that the destruction of the altars which the ordinary people considered sacrilege shocked them into a full realization of the extent of the revolution which had taken place: " . . . the removal of altars brought home to every subject in the kingdom that the central object which had stood in the churches for over a thousand years, and which they had watched with awe every Sunday since their early childhood, was condemned as idolatrous and thrown contemptuously away by the adherents of the new religion which had been forced upon them." 36

The fact that the word altar is used in certain of the rubrics of the 1549 Prayer Book might appear to involve some inconsistency with the teaching of the Reformers. This point is dealt with in the explanation which accompanied the order of the King's Council demanding the destruction of altars. It explains that "it calleth the table where the holy Communion is distributed, with lauds and thanksgiving unto the Lord, an altar; for that there is offered the same sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving." 37 Nevertheless, the word 'altar' was struck out of the 1552 Prayer Book and was not subsequently replaced. Archbishop Laud ordered the communion tables to be placed altar-wise, against the east wall, in about 1636. 38

There were a good number of other innovations some of which might appear of minor importance but nonetheless played their part in contributing to the general atmosphere of change, disturbance, and unrest. The most important of these was the widespread destruction of statues. The Reformers abolished such well loved ceremonies as the carrying of candles on Candlemas day, the distribution of ashes on Ash Wednesday and of palms on Palm Sunday. 39 "In these years 1547 and 1548 consequently the popular mind was being stirred up by changes in old established ceremonial, by novel introductions into the services, by intemperate preaching and by profane tracts scattered broadcast over the country, attacking with scurrilous abuse what the people had hitherto been taught to regard as the Most Holy." 40

The seeds of revolution had been sown. All that remained was for the revolutionaries to reap their harvest.

  1. PHR, p. 30.
2. EBCP, p. 120.
3. Ibid., p. 125.
4. Ibid., p. 118.
5. TE, p. 152.
6. EBCP, pp. 108-9.
7. Sermons, P.S., pp. 70-1.
8. EBCP, p. 102.
9. FSPB, Introduction.
10. RMP, vol. I, p. 211 (citing Calvin).
11. RIE, vol. II, p. 113.
12. FSPB, Introduction, p. x.
13. EBCP, p. 58.
14. Ibid., p. 64.
15. Ibid., p. 89.
16. Ibid., p. 102.
17. The England of Elizabeth: the Structure of Society (London, 1951), p. 17.
18. FSPB, p. 221.
19. D, 956. The Council of Trent explained that "Since the nature of man is such that without external means he cannot easily be raised to the meditation of Divine things, Holy Mother Church has instituted certain rites, namely that some things in the Mass be pronounced in a low tone and others in a louder tone. She has likewise, in accordance with apostolic discipline and tradition, made use of ceremonies such as mystical blessings, lights, incense, vestments, and many other things of this kind whereby both the majesty of so great a sacrifice might be empha- sized and the minds of the faithful be excited by those visible signs of religion and piety to the contemplation of those most sublime things which are hidden in this sacrifice," D, 943.
20. EBCP, p. 79.
21. RIE, vol. II, p. 102.
22. TE, p, 153.
23. Original Letters, P.S., pp. 31-2.
24. EBCP, p, 95.
25. FSPB, Introduction, p. vi,
26. Institutes; IV, xviii, 12, col. 1059.
27. Original Letter, p. 384.
28. EBCP, p. 256.
29. Early Writings, P .5., p. 488.
30. Original Letters, P .5. vol. I, p. 79.
31. ESR, p. 188.
32. Ibid., p. 187.
33. RIE, vol. II, pp. 120, 121.
34. CW, vol. II, p. 524.
35. ESR, p. 189.
36. J. G. Ridley, Nicholas Ridley (London, 1957), pp. 218-9.
37. CW, vol. II, p. 525.
38. RMP, vol. II, p. 219. Note 1. A rubric in the 1552 Prayer Book directs that the minister shall stand on the north side of the table and no longer face east as in the traditional liturgy. A Protestant author, Dr. Srawley, admits in his book Liturgy and Worship that this was to "emphasise the idea of the 'communion feast'." (p. 308).
39. EBCP, p. 98.
40. Ibid., p. 128.

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