Like Eagles in this life.

This paper was delivered to the Saint Thomas Aquinas Society on March 19, 2018 after the celebration of the Lord's Supper from the 1552 Book of Common Prayer.

Like eagles in this life.

Thank you for the privilege of being with you and speaking with you this evening. It is nice to be back in familiar surroundings and in a place that has been so much a part of my own life. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Fr. Gary Thorne for his ministry as College Chaplain here at King’s College and for his excellent labours in the challenge of opening young and inquiring minds to the wonders of the Gospel in its engagement with other religions and philosophies.

“We should understand the sacrament, not carnally, but spiritually,” Cranmer argues “being like eagles in this life, we should fly up into heaven in our hearts, where that Lamb is resident at the right hand of his Father which taketh away the sins of the world […] by whose passion we are filled at His table […] being made the guests of Christ, having Him dwell in us through the grace of his true nature […] assured and certified that we are fed spiritually unto eternal life by Christ’s flesh crucified and by his blood shed.” An intriguing and suggestive passage, it conveys, I think, much of what belongs to Cranmer’s Eucharistic theology and which contributes to an Anglican sensibility, to use a much later term (19th century).

There are many others who are far more qualified than I am to speak on the matter of Cranmer’s liturgies. [1] Sam Landry has asked me to speak about  Cranmer’s alterations of the Liturgy (especially those of the 'very-Protestant' 1552 BCP),” as he put it and “how we might understand his theological project in relation to our own Prayer Book, which has re-introduced some of the practices which Cranmer removed.” These are important questions that speak to the many confusions that belong to our thinking about Cranmer’s reformed project. Not the least of which has to do with the word ‘Protestant’.

We might respond by asking, ‘which form of Protestantism?’ It is a problematic term, so much so that Diarmaid MacCulloch in his magisterial biography on Cranmer eschews its use almost entirely. The important point is that the First Edwardian Prayer Book of 1549 is just as ‘Protestant,’ if you will, (or ‘Catholic’ for that matter) as the Second Edwardian Prayer Book of 1552. Both reflect Cranmer’s basic Eucharistic theology at the same time as the two books reveal the pressures and tensions that were part of the reformed world in England and on the continent about which Cranmer was fully aware. There was constant debate about what constituted an adequate and proper reform. Cranmer himself was part of that debate which continued long after him.

Ten years ago on February 1st, 2008, Dr. Robert Crouse, in one of the last papers that he gave before his death in early January of 2011, spoke at a conference on “Mere Anglicanism” in Charleston, South Carolina. In that paper he returned to matters about Cranmer’s Eucharistic theology which he had addressed in his homily and paper at the 1985 Atlantic Theological Conference on the Prayer Book in Charlottetown, PEI, building upon those matters to argue for an Anglican sacramentalism that is, as he suggests, “mere Anglicanism.” Cranmer inaugurated “a distinctive tradition of sacramental theology, firmly grounded in the Scripture and the ancient Fathers, which remained remarkably consistent through the theology of the Elizabethan Settlement and the Caroline Divines, so as to constitute a defining characteristic of Classical Anglicanism.” His succession of theologians and poets after Cranmer includes Jewel, Hooker, Andrewes, Herbert, and Traherne. There are others, too, that could be enlisted in such a pantheon.

Critical to that tradition is what Dr. Crouse calls “the Biblical and Augustinian concept of sacramentum memoriae, a concept at the heart of the sacramental theology of the English Reformation, as expressed particularly in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer.” Equally central was Cranmer’s “preoccupation with the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the sacrament of bread and wine,” a preoccupation which was not uniquely his.

Cranmer’s concern is really about the nature of sacraments. As Dr. Crouse notes, “following the Christological paradigm [by which he means a Western and Latin understanding of the Chalcedonian definition], the Anglican conception of the nature of a sacrament is developed. Characteristic of that conception is the insistence that the natural element, the outward and visible sign, retains always its natural integrity, while it becomes the instrument of a supernatural presence; thus exemplifying the basic Augustinian and Thomistic theological principle, that grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.” It is “the conception of the nature of a sacrament which is foundational” for all other questions about sacramental theology.

I have quoted at length from Dr. Crouse’s papers because they help to ground our discussion about the early forms of the Prayer Book and its subsequent developments. They are all developments within a certain sacramental understanding, more a question of emphasis and expression than anything else.

It is hard for us to comprehend, I think, the Reformation world and the revolution in piety and doctrine to which it contributed and which influenced as well the Counter-Reformation developments in the Roman Catholic Church. The term, Roman Catholic, only has its proper application as a result of the cataclysmic developments of the sixteenth century. And yet, the real difficulty lies in not understanding the late medieval world of popular piety and devotion against which the Reformers and Counter-Reformers were reacting. Eamon Duffy’s book The Stripping of the Altars is useful in that regard in providing a sympathetic view of the world of late Medieval piety.

At the risk of over-simplifying, it was Mass as spectator event and not Mass as Communion. This is symbolized architecturally in some English Church buildings which included “a squint”, basically a peep-hole through which the laity could behold the Host at the elevation. This was not about beholding before receiving but beholding without receiving since communion itself was infrequent, perhaps only once or twice a year. Both Cranmer and Calvin sought (and largely failed) to introduce frequent communion. And there were a number of other ‘abuses,’ such as the monetization of the sacraments, that became deeply embedded in the religious culture. One thinks, perhaps, of the Pardoner’s Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Priest’s Masses for the dead, for example, were among the chief sources of revenue for the clergy with the result that the living were sacrificing themselves for the dead. This was associated with a particular view of purgatory, what the Articles (Art. XXII) call “the Romish Doctrine”. The Reformers could not find a Scriptural basis for either Mass as spectator event rather than communion or for the late medieval view of purgatory. Nor could they find support for such things in the works of the Fathers.

Dr. Crouse used the same sentence in 1985 and 2008 to describe the underlying problem of the period. Reformers, like Cranmer, were countering, he suggests, “a superstitiously materialistic notion of the Presence, popularly associated in his time with a debased idea of transubstantiation.” At issue is the understanding of sacrifice and the presence of Christ in the sacrament. Cranmer defends himself against the accusation that he denies the sacrifice of the mass and that he denies “that we receive in the sacrament that flesh which is adjoined to God’s own Son.”

He says, “the controversy is not, whether in the holy communion be made a sacrifice or not, ... but whether it be a propitiatory sacrifice or not, and whether only the priest make the said sacrifice.” About the Eucharistic Presence, Cranmer rightly protests that he has made the point a hundred times, “that we receive the self-same body of Christ that was born of the Virgin Mary, that was crucified and buried, that rose again, ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty: and the contention is only in the manner and form how we receive it.” Cranmer’s treatise On the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Lord’s Supper was attacked by Stephen Gardiner and Richard Smith to which he provided a detailed defense and spirited response.

“For I say,” says Cranmer, “(as all the old holy fathers and martyrs used to say), that we receive Christ spiritually by faith with our minds, eating his flesh and drinking his blood; so that we receive Christ’s own very natural body, but not naturally nor corporally.” Spiritually not corporally, not carnally. The sentence is characteristic of Cranmer’s thinking and contributes to the sacramental theology of the English Church as expressed in the Prayer Book liturgies. We thank God after receiving communion, “that thou dost graciously feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ,” words which are present in both 1549 and 1552 along with other rich phrases such as “our Sacrifice of prayse and thanks geuing” and of “our selfes, our soules, and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively [living] sacrifice unto thee.”

For Cranmer, the only propitiatory sacrifice is Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross to which nothing can be added and nothing taken away. The question is about the form of our participation in his saving work sacramentally.

Associated with the questions about real presence is the concept of locality, about the place of Christ’s body. Here Cranmer’s argument is not just against late medieval practice but also various contemporary continental ways of thinking about the sacrament, particularly, Lutheranism and its concept of “consubstantiation.”. Cranmer and Calvin emphasize that Christ’s real body is in heaven, “at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” a Creedal and Scriptural teaching. That realization has a profound effect on the understanding of the Sacrament as seen in the lovely passage about being “like eagles in this life” and “flying up into heaven, where that Lamb is resident at the right hand of his Father.”

This counters the very carnal, corporeal, and physical forms of late medieval piety and what Dr. Crouse rightly calls “a debased idea of transubstantiation”. Thomas Aquinas, after all, in the Summa Theologiae is very clear with respect to the sacrament there can be no local motion because Christ’s body is at the right hand of the Father. It is interesting to note, at least as far as I know, that the Reformers do not point out the contradiction between Thomas’ teaching and the later practice. On this point, Cranmer will argue for “a sacramental mutation” and “a spiritual mutation in us” that will later be taken up by Hooker who argues for “a transubstantiation in us.” The point is really about the nature and purpose of the sacraments. What are they and what are they for?

Sacraments, Richard Hooker notes, have a mixed nature. They are, as Dr. Crouse puts it, “a mixture or conjunction of the natural and the supernatural, the divine word and the natural element, of the finite and the infinite, of the outward sign and the inward grace. They are means or instruments of human participation in the divine life.” Maintaining those distinctions becomes the primary concern for Cranmer and for those that come after him.

We can now turn very briefly to Cranmer’s liturgies and to the question about subsequent developments. The liturgy of 1549 is largely a revision of the Sarum rite and shares in its somewhat incoherent structure but it contains, in Cranmer’s reworking, a number of prayers and phrases which will continue to have their influence. The rite of 1552 is much more basic and orderly. The consecration of the elements is followed immediately by communion, an admirable logic even as recognised by Dom Gregory Dix. That will, I think, largely remain even in the twentieth century revisions that look back to 1549 where there was a considerable gap between the Prayer of Consecration and Communion.

It is not possible to provide an exhaustive account of the differences between 1549 and 1552 but it might be possible to highlight a few features that illustrate what has already been pointed out about Cranmer’s Eucharistic theology and about the questions that the Reformers faced. Sometimes little details reveal a lot. But first, a little bit of history is needed. The 1552 rite was introduced for use on the 1st of November 1552; it only was in use for less than eight months before Edward died and Mary ascended to the English throne. Cranmer would be burned at the stake in 1556. After Mary’s death in 1558, her sister Elizabeth came to the throne. Though preferring 1549 to 1552, she recognized the enormous disruptions that the nation had gone through and acquiesced to returning to the rite of 1552 in the Liturgy of 1559, albeit with a few changes, like dropping the infamous “black rubric”, about which more later. Likewise after the disruptions and disturbances of the English Civil War, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer also maintained the basic order and structure of 1552, though bringing back the “black rubric” but with a significant change. So 1552 has actually had a formative role in the shaping of classical Anglicanism.

Yet 1549 never really disappeared from the picture. It formed the basis for the Scottish Episcopal eucharistic liturgy of 1637 which shaped the liturgies of the American Episcopal Church at least until the 1960s. And in the 20th century all of the Prayer Book revisions drew upon 1549, including our own Canadian Book of 1962, one of the last and one of the few post-World War II Prayer Book Liturgies that stand self-consciously and intentionally within the tradition of classical Anglicanism.

Why? I think that the way to approach this is through ‘the dialectic of conversion’ which is always about first, repudiation, and then, secondly, recapitulation. Ultimately, all of the later revisions that look to 1549 do so within a regard for the primary emphasis on communion. In other words, having repudiated the “superstitiously materialistic notion of the Presence, popularly associated with a debased idea of transubstantiation” and having reclaimed a coherent understanding of the sacraments through a form of thinking the Chalcedonian definition about Christology, there now becomes scope for the recovery of things that had been controversial, whether rightly or wrongly, in the 16th century. But they are placed upon a new foundation about communion and about the sacraments. In part, too, it is about the relation between things essential and things indifferent or adiaphora, to use Melancthon’s celebrated term. It will not do to see 1549 as somehow ‘catholic’ and 1552 as somehow ‘protestant’, however much that was the way they were seen in the 19th and 20th century conflicts between Evangelicals and Anglo-catholics.

Something of what the Reformers were up against comes out in the rubrics. The last rubric in the Communion rite of 1549 is very revealing; it became the basis for the black rubric of 1552. It shows something of Cranmer’s sensitivity to the limits of the finite and to the perversities of our humanity hinted at in the Original Preface of 1549 and more or less repeated in 1552 and 1662, “Concerning the Service of the Church”. “There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted.” Revision and reform are part of the continuing life of the Church. The only question is about what kind of revision and reform and upon what principles.

In the rubric of 1549, Cranmer says “and although it bee redde in aunciente writers, that the people many yeares past receiued at the priestes handes the Sacrament of the body of Christ in theyr own handes, and no commandment of Christ to the contrary: Yet forasmuche as they many tymes conueyghed the same secretelye awaye, kept it with them, and diuersly abused it to supersticion and wickednes: lest any suche thynge hereafter should be attempted, and that an uniformitie might be used, throughout the whole Realme: it is thought conuenient the people commonly receiue the Sacrament of Christes body, in their mouthes, at the Priestes hande.” It is a direction about receiving the sacrament to prevent an abuse of the sacrament.

Another revealing change has to do with the Collect for St. Andrews’ Day. In 1549, the Collect was as follows: “Almyghtie God, which hast geuen suche grace to thy Apostle, saynct Andrew, that he counted the sharp and painful death of the crosse to be an high honour, and a great glory; Graunt us to take and esteme all troubles and aduersities which shal come unto us for thy sake, as thinges proffytable for us toward the obtaining of euerlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lorde.” It is a Collect typical of Cranmer’s concise style of writing, presenting a concept and then its application to our lives, yet what the Collect says about St. Andrew is not based upon anything that is to be found in the Scriptures but derives entirely from legend.

It was changed in 1552 to place the remembrance of St. Andrew in the clear witness of the Scriptures. “Almighty God, which didst give such grace unto thy holy apostle St. Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of thy Son, Jesus Christ, and followed him without delay: Grant unto us all, that we being called by thy holy word, may forthwith give over ourselves obediently to follow thy holy commandments: through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

It was the obstinacy and stubbornness of the Scottish Reformer John Knox who almost held up the issuing of the 1552 rite because of his objection to kneeling to receive communion. The black rubric,  so-called because it was not part of the original liturgy that had received Parliamentary approval, and as such did not get to the printers in time to be in red-ink, hence ‘rubric’. Instead it was on paper slipped into the 1552 Book, at least initially and so printed in black ink.

Knox’s contumacy infuriated Cranmer but it reveals a number of things. First, how the whole matter of reform was influenced by the contests of egos; secondly, the whole problem of distinguishing between things essential and things non-essential; thirdly, the divide and division among the community of Reformers themselves. Yet with the black rubric, Cranmer outmanoeuvred John Knox. At the same time, it is perfectly consistent with Cranmer’s fundamental concern; the sacrament is for communion first and foremost and not for adoration.

The customs about receiving varied throughout the churches of the Reformation. The Lutherans knelt; in Strassburg, reforming congregations stood; at Geneva, they sat. Cranmer was well aware of these differences. At issue was the idea of a reasonable uniformity in England. The rubric itself addresses the attitude of those like Knox as much as it does anything else. No order can be so perfectly devised that there will not be the complaint of some, “eyther for theyr ignoraunce and infirmitie, or els of malice and obstinacie,” read John Knox, that leads to things being “misconstrued, depraued, and interpreted in a wrong part.” Indeed.

The rubric was omitted in 1559 but restored in 1662, in part, because that liturgy, the mother-book of the Common Prayer tradition, endeavoured to effect a reconciliation to the extent to which that was possible with some of the more Puritan elements in England. As well, however, 1662 witnesses to the extent to which The Book of Common Prayer, though banished from use during the Interregnum, had over a century become greatly beloved, as much as had the late medieval practices. The black rubric returns but with one significant and telling change. The words “reall and essencial presence” were replaced with “corporeal presence,” thus underscoring so much of what belongs to the sacramental teaching which does not seek the destruction of nature but its redemption and perfection. “The natural element, the outward and visible sign, retains always its natural integrity, while it becomes the instrument of a supernatural presence.”

Cranmer’s sense of the sacramentum memoriae requires our constant looking upon Calvary, a kind of constant recollection. Thus the words of administration of the Sacrament, which since 1559 combine both the words of 1549 and 1559, reflect Cranmer’s sacramental sensibility about being lifted up to where Christ is “resident at the right hand of his Father” while yet “being made the guest of Christ, having him dwell in us through the grace of his true nature.”

Later developments will look back to other features of 1549 in terms of the Prayer of Consecration in particular, wanting to emphasize more fully the larger creedal features of Christ’s redemption but essentially as building upon a reformed understanding of the liturgy and of the sacraments.

Paradoxically, the lengthy exhortations about preparation and worthiness to receive the sacrament only contributed to the opposite effect: infrequent communion rather than frequent, and to the emergence of the pattern of Morning Prayer, Litany and Ante-Communion and Evensong rather than Communion. In the 20th century especially there was an attempt to reclaim the proper emphasis upon communion as the central pattern of Christian worship which is what Cranmer himself wanted.

Yet, as Diarmaid MacCulloch observes, Cranmer “would have been appalled at the spirituality which may be represented in the love of evensong. This is the exploration of religion by those who have decided to remain on the fringe of the Church, genuinely concerned to pursue their encounter with God, yet not prepared to demonstrate the degree of commitment demanded by the Eucharist. For them, the encounter with the Anglican offices, however infrequent, can provide a spiritual home: a place where they can show that they still wish to look beyond the surface of events and say that there is more to human life and creation than the obvious, the everyday” (p. 630). That is part of the legacy, it seems, of Cranmer.

Dr. Crouse reminds us of the larger dimensions of that legacy. “In the Chalcedonian sacramentalism of our Reformation Fathers [beginning with Cranmer], we have a rich legacy, Biblical and Patristic, which has shaped the mind and heart of Anglicanism; and in this time of disruption and a fragmenting church, we would do well to refresh ourselves in that inheritance […] to recollect ourselves, to remember whence we have come, and to live afresh in that tradition. As memory is in personality, so is tradition in the church’s life. Tradition is the church’s memory, and without that recollection, it suffers a crippling amnesia: its judgements become arbitrary and capricious: it becomes—quite literally—idiotic […] At the centre of our religious life must be that sacramentum memoriae.”

Let us give Cranmer the last word even as his is our first word: “being like eagles in this life,” and “understand[ing] the sacrament not carnally but spiritually,” let us “fly up into heaven in our hearts, where that Lamb is resident at the right hand of his Father … by whose passion we are filled at his table […] being made the guests of Christ, having Him dwell in us through the grace of his true nature.”  


[1] See Gavin Dunbar’s Like Eagles in this Life: A theological Reflection on ‘The Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion’ in the Prayer Books of 1559 and 1662 in The Book of Common Prayer: Past, Present & Future, A 350th Anniversary Celebration, ed by Prudence Dailey, London, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011.