Cranmer's Godly Order
by Michael Davies
Protestant Teaching on the Eucharist,
Part 1: Rejection of Sacrifice
" . . . the foulest and most heinous error that was ever imagined."
ACCEPTANCE OF the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone necessarily involved the rejection of the sacrificial nature of the Mass. The Reformers taught that the one oblation upon Calvary had appeased the Father's anger for ever. God had granted an irrevocable decree of pardon to His predestined elect. Religion was essentially the encounter of the individual with God's free choice to disregard his sins and impute Christ's righteousness to him instead. 2 "Faith in God's promise is a matter for each one separately," wrote Luther, "and cannot be applied or communicated to any other." 3 This doctrine was accepted by the English Reformers who totally rejected the Catholic concept of the Church as an extension of the Incarnation, mediating the grace of Christ to man in every age, above all through the Sacrifice of the Mass. "It can hardly be pretended that in this matter of Justification Cranmer has anything new to say. All his main points can be paralleled in Luther and Zwingli before him as well as Calvin and other contemporary writers," explains Dr. G. W. Bromiley in Thomas Cranmer Theologian. 4 The celebration of the Eucharist could be no more than a memorial or commemoration of the penal sacrifice, in the commonly accepted meaning of these words, in that it brought the event commemorated to mind for those present. It could have no present sacrificial efficacy. 5
The terms memorial and commemoration are used in a perfectly orthodox sense within Catholic theology. The Mass most certainly is the memorial of the Lord, but it is a memorial bequeathed to us by Christ Himself when He said 'Haec quotiescumque feceritis, in mei memoriam facietis." Protestants frequently hold memorial services in which the memory of some dead person is commemorated-----but in traditional Catholic theology Christ's Passion is commemorated by making the Passion present, the Memorial contains the Passion, it is the Passion. Not so with the Protestants. "All the Reformers agree in repudiating the hitherto accepted Catholic doctrine that there is an offering of the Body and Blood of Christ by the priest in the Mass, in memory of the Passion, and that the Mass is in this sense a sacrifice." 6
There can be no doubt whatsoever that the Reformers fully understood the doctrine they were rejecting. Cranmer was a trained theologian who knew perfectly well the value of the changes he had introduced. 7 When he died at the stake he not only repudiated all his recantations and denounced the Pope as Antichrist but repeated his Protestant doctrine of the Eucharist. 8 The clarity with which he grasped the Catholic doctrine which he rejected is made clear when he states: "But it is a wondrous thing to see what shifts and cautels the popish antichrists devise to colour and cloke their wicked errors . . . For the Papists, to excuse themselves, do say that they make no new sacrifice, nor none other sacrifice than Christ made (for they be not so blind but that they see, that then they should add another sacrifice to Christ's sacrifice, and so make his sacrifice unperfect:) but they say that they make the self-same sacrifice for sin that Christ himself made. And here they run headlong into the foulest and most heinous error that ever was imagined." 9
John Bradford, Chaplain to Bishop Ridley, denounced the Catholic Church for lying boldly in its "abominable doctrine that the Mass is the principal means to apply Christ's death to the quick and the dead," but explained the doctrine in terms taken from contemporary Catholic theology so accurately that it would have been hard for a Catholic apologist to improve upon his summary.
"Now concerning the sacrifice, they teach that though Our Saviour himself did indeed make a full and perfect sacrifice, propitiatory and satisfactory for the sins of all the whole world, never more so (that is to say bloodily) to be offered again, yet in his supper he offered the same sacrifice unto his Father but unbloodily, that is to say, in will and desire . . . which unbloody sacrifice he commanded his church to offer in remembrance of his bloody sacrifice, as the principal mean whereby his bloody sacrifice is applied both to the quick and the dead: as baptism is the mean by which regeneration is applied by the priest to the infant or child that is baptised." 10
As well as stressing that their Lord's Supper was merely a memorial service in which Christ was remembered, the Reformers took great pains to attack the principle that it was possible for a priest to offer a Mass and obtain benefits for other persons either living or dead. The belief that a Mass could benefit other persons, particularly the Souls in Purgatory, was the epitomization of the concept of the "good work" which, if accepted, ruled out their doctrine of Justification, and if that fell everything fell.
Thus Luther: "In the institution of the Lord's Supper, Christ does not command priests to offer for other living and dead persons . . .It is much more absurd that the Mass is applied to freeing the souls of the dead, for the Mass was instituted to be a recollection, that is, that those who use the Lord's Supper may by the remembrance of the benefit of Christ, establish and strengthen their faith, and comfort their terrified
consciences . . . ." 11
These principles can clearly be discerned in the writing of Cranmer. "Christ himself in his own person made a sacrifice for our sins upon the cross . . . and so did never no priest, man, nor creature but he, nor he did the same never more than once. And the benefit hereof is in no man's power to give unto any other, but every man must receive it at Christ's hands himself, by his own faith and belief . . ." 12 And again:
" . . . the offering of the priest in the mass, or the appointing of his ministration at his pleasure, to them that be quick or dead, cannot merit and deserve, neither to himself, nor to them to whom he singeth or saith, the remission of their sins; but such popish doctrine is contrary to the doctrine of the gospel and injurious to the sacrifice of Christ. For if only the death of Christ be the oblation, sacrifice, and price wherefore our sins be pardoned, then the act or ! ministration of the priest cannot have the same office. Wherefore it is an abominable blasphemy to give that office or dignity to a priest, which pertaineth only to Christ; or to affirm that the church hath need of any such sacrifice: as who should say, that Christ's sacrifice were not sufficient for the remission of our sins, or else that his sacrifice should hang upon the sacrifice of a priest.
"But all such priests as pretend to be Christ's successors in making a sacrifice of him, they be his most heinous and horrible adversaries. For never no person made a sacrifice of Christ, but he himself only . . . all popish priests that presume to make every day a sacrifice of Christ, either must they needs make Christ's sacrifice vain, unperfect, and unsufficient, or else is their sacrifice in vain which is added to the sacrifice which is already of itself sufficient and perfect." 13
This viewpoint is put even more forcefully by John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester, in A Brief and Clear Confession of the Christian Faith. "I believe that the holy Supper of the Lord is not a sacrifice, but only a remembrance and commemoration of this holy sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Therefore it ought not to be worshipped as God, neither is Christ therein contained; who must be worshipped in faith only, without all corruptible elements. Likewise I believe and confess that the popish Mass is an invention and ordinance of man, a sacrifice of Antichrist, and a forsaking of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that is to say, of his death and passion; and that it is a stinking and infected sepulchre, which hideth and covereth the merit of the blood of Christ; and therefore ought the Mass to be abolished, and the holy Supper of the Lord to be restored and set in his perfection again." 14
This belief that "the holy Supper of the Lord" is only a memorial in the commonly accepted sense of the word was insisted upon by the Reformers time and again. " . . . his holy Supper was ordained for this purpose, that every man, eating and drinking thereof, should remember that Christ died for him, and so should exercise his faith, and comfort himself by the remembrance of Christ's benefits, and so give unto Christ most hearty thanks, and give himself also clearly unto him." 15
The Reformers do, on occasions, use such words as offering, sacrifice, and even oblation-----but always in a sense which is diametrically opposed to the use of these words in Catholic theology, just as is the case with such expressions as "sacramental presence," the bread being Christ's "Body" and the wine His "Blood," or a "consecration" of the bread and wine. These terms will be examined more closely on the next page.
Cranmer explains that there is "Another kind of sacrifice . . . which doth not reconcile us to God, but is made of them that be reconciled by Christ, to testify our duties unto God, and to shew ourselves thankful unto him. And therefore they be called sacrifices of laud, praise, and thanksgiving." 16 This "sacrifice of laud and praise" consists of "the humble confession of all penitent hearts, their acknowledging of Christ's benefits, their thanksgiving for the same, their faith and consolation in Christ, their humble submission and obedience to God's will and commandments . . . " 17
In contrast with this the Mass "is neither a sacrifice propitiatory, nor yet a sacrifice of laud and praise, nor in any wise allowed before God, but abominable and detestable
. . . " 18
The leading Anglican liturgist of recent times, Professor Ratcliff, writes that in the First Prayer Book Cranmer "had abandoned belief in the traditional doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass and held that Christian sacrifice as taught in Scripture consisted in the oblation of praise and thanksgiving and the offering of ourselves." 19 As Mgr. Hughes explains, Cranmer hated the theology of the Mass as passionately as if it were a living enemy. 20 His doctrine, which was the doctrine of the generality of the Reformers, is summed up by Fr. Messenger in terms which correspond exactly with Professor Ratcliff's description: " . . in the Holy Communion there is a 'sacrifice' of praise and thanksgiving, and an 'offering' of ourselves. There is also a 'commemoration and remembrance' i.e. recalling to mind, of the Sacrifice of the Cross. But there is no offering of Christ either by priest or people." 21 This is also the precise judgment of our bishops in their vindication of Apostolicae Curae in 1898. They insist that the only "sacrifice" in which Cranmer believed was "a sacrifice in which the person offering is not an earthly representative of Christ, or the thing offered the Body and Blood of Christ, but the offerers are the Christian people acting in their own name, and the thing offered is themselves, through their praise and thanksgiving for the benefit of redemption, their obedience to God's Law, and their subjugation of all evil passions." 22
The Protestant conception of the "Supper of the Lord " necessitated immediate and drastic action wherever they could gain the support of those exercising political control of a country. "And forasmuch as in, such masses is manifest wickedness and idolatry, wherein the priest alone maketh oblation satisfactory, and applieth the same for the quick and the dead at his will and pleasure, all such popish masses are to be clearly taken away out of christian churches, and the true use of the Lord's Supper is to be restored again; wherein godly people assembled together may receive the sacrament every man for himself, to declare that he remembereth what benefit he hath received by the death of Christ, and to testify that he is a member of Christ's body, fed with his flesh, and drinking his blood spiritually." 23
This restoration of "the true use of the Lord's Supper" was to be achieved both by using those parts of the Catholic Mass which could be interpreted in a Protestant sense and by the addition of completely new formulas added under the guise of a "restoration of primitive Christianity," a return to what the Reformers regarded as "primitive purity and simplicity, in contrast to the corruption and error of later Catholic times." 24
The Protestant rejection of the sacrificial nature of the Mass clearly necessitated a rejection of the Catholic concept of the priesthood. Where there was no victim and no sacrifice there was no necessity for a priest. "Just as Cranmer has devised a communion rite which was free of all idea of sacrifice in the true sense of that word, so he removed from the ordination rite for priests all mention of the power of consecration." 25
In their vindication of Apostolicae Curae, the Catholic bishops explain that "there was no place in Cranmer's system for any doctrine which could recognise in the Christian ministry a power of consecrating and offering the Body of Christ, and could require an ordinal suited to convey it. He would have been flagrantly inconsistent with himself had he conceived otherwise of the Christian minister than as one possessing only the same powers as the layman, but placed over the people in the interests of public order, to rule them, to instruct them, and to lead their devotions." 26
Cranmer teaches that the difference between priest and layman is not that the priest alone has the power to offer sacrifice "and distribute and apply it as him liketh. Christ made no such difference, but the difference that is between the priest and the layman in this matter is only in the ministration; that the priest as a common minister of the church, doth minister and distribute the Lord's supper unto other, and other receive it at his hands. But the very supper itself was by Christ instituted and given to the whole church, not to be offered and eaten of the priest for other men, but by him to be delivered to all that would duly ask it.
"As in a prince's house the officers and ministers prepare the table, and yet other, as well as they, eat the meat and drink the drink; so do the priests and ministers prepare the Lord's supper, read the gospel, and rehearse Christ's words, but all the people say thereto, Amen. All remember Christ's death, all give thanks to God, all repent and offer themselves an oblation to Christ, all take him for their Lord and Saviour, and spiritually feed upon him, and in token thereof they eat the bread and drink the wine in his mystical supper." 27
In other words, the Minister was not a priest but a president, a man who possessed no powers denied to the remainder of the congregation, but simply acted as their representative by presiding over their communion service and distributing the bread and wine.
Edmund Plowden was said to be the greatest and most honest lawyer practising during the reign of Elizabeth I. The Queen admired him so much that she even offered him the Lord Chancellorship if he would renounce his Catholic faith. Plowden declined the bribe. On one occasion when he was defending a client accused of hearing Mass he elicited the fact that the rite had been performed by an agent provocateur masquerading as a priest . . . The case is altered!" he snapped . . . No priest, no Mass!" 28
The attitude of the English Reformers towards the sacrificial nature of the Mass is perfectly expressed in Article Thirty of the Forty-Two Articles of 1553 which were basically the work of Cranmer. 29 "The offring of Christe made ones for euer, is the perfecte redemption, the pacifiying of goddes displeasure, and satisfaction for al the sinnes of the whole worlde, bothe original and actuall: and there is none other satisfaction for sinne, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of masses, in whiche, it was commonlie saied, that the Prieste did offre Christe for the quicke and the dead, to haue remission of peine or sinne, were forged fables, and dangerouse deceiptes." 30
Incredible as it may seem, some Anglicans who wished to restore Catholic belief to the Church of En,gland, have argued that this article (now Article Thirty-One) was not aimed against the sacrifice of the Mass itself, a point of view which has been endorsed by some irenical Catholics. While there is no possible room for ambiguity in the wording of the article itself, even had there been, the only honest course would have been to interpret it in the light of the beliefs of those who had framed it, and these have been made amply clear in this chapter.
1. CW, vol. I, p. 348.
2. ESR, p. 139.
3. Ibid., p. 142.
4. London, 1956, p. 36.
5. ESR, p. 145.
6. RMP, vol. I, p. 203.
7. EBCP, p. 253.
8. A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation (London 1964), p. 270.
9. Op. cit., Note 1.
10. Letters, Treatises, Remains, P.S., p. 270.
11. RMP, vol. I, p. 137.
12. CW, vol. I, p. 47.
13. Op. cit., Note 1.
14. Later Writings, P.S., p. 32.
15. CW, vol. I, p. 352.
16. Ibid., p. 346.
17. Op. cit., Note 15.
19. CDT, vol. III, p. 362.
20. PHR, p. 194.
21. RMP, vol. I, p. 434.
22. VAC, p. 72.
23. CW, vol. I, p. 349.
24. RIE, vol. II, p. 158; RMP, vol. I, p. 380.
25. CDT, vol. III, p. 362.
26. VAC, p. 62.
27. CW, vol. I, p. 350.
28. George Godwin, The Middle Temple (London, 1954), p. 69.
29. E. S. Gibson, The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (London, 1898), p. 12.
30. Ibid., p. 84. This very useful book contains the complete text of the Forty-Two Articles.