This is the second in three posts about primitivism and how best to rediscover and resource from the past, especially the reformations of the 16th century, in a healthy way. The first post was largely about the nature of tradition. The challenge was to hold the familiar and the strange in tension, resisting the impulse (1) to classicize Cranmer as an idol, (2) to flatten him in ways to make him more appealing but less the man he really was, or (3) to reject him outright as foreign and alien. The third post will review possible responses along those lines. Here in this middle post, I want to help us see Cranmer with clarity by examining two things: briefly, Cranmer’s understanding of the Church as a body ruled by a divinely-appointed sovereign and then, with more detail, his eucharistic theology and practice offered up in the 1552 Holy Communion service.

We cannot relegate to secondary status Cranmer’s understanding of kings as appointed by God to rule both State and Church. Lutherans possessed what is generally known as the “two kingdoms” doctrine, separating the authority of Church and State. The Reformed of Geneva had church consistories that could discipline all church members, including magistrates. Cranmer, however, envisioned God himself putting the leadership of the Church in the hands of the government. In other words, the archbishop was grounded partly in the model found in Zurich: God appointed the magistrate to rule not only the State but also the Church; clergy are therefore agents of and advisors to the sovereign (think of the Davidic kingdom). Do not be distracted by archbishops, bishops, priests, deacons, and their respective ordination rituals. Focus on the crown. For Cranmer, the monarch was God’s anointed leader in both State and Church. In this light, there really aren’t ministers of the State and ministers of the Church — there are only ministers of the State, some of whom preach and offer pastoral care.

As Diarmaid MacCulloch has shown us, Cranmer  believed the Early Church was deficient until Constantine appeared to provide royal governance. One particular example of Cranmer’s attitude is revealing. The archbishop liked to gather the opinions of his brother bishops through questionnaires; one of these surveys asked whether the apostles selected and made bishops and clergy out of necessity — because they lacked a king to do so — or by virtue of divine authority given to them. The answer Cranmer gave to his own questionnaire was that God gave “to all Christian princes … the whole cure of all their subjects, as well as concerning the administration of God’s word for the cure of souls, as concerning the ministration of things political and civil.”[1]

This is no simple rejection of apostolic succession. This is a vision of clergy as agents of the government. Ordination rites are effectively no different from the institution of civil servants in their offices. We cannot blow this off as “historical context,” as something Cranmer worked through to get to his real agenda. Doing that privileges what we like about Cranmer (perhaps his soteriology) without actually listening to him. If we do that, we make Cranmer our puppet.

In short, when it comes to his ecclesiology, Cranmer wasn’t simply “working with what he had” in order to get on to more important business. His ecclesiology was central to his theological vision, causing the archbishop deep anguish indeed in his final days when God, so he believed, put Mary on the throne.[2]

What about the Eucharist? By the end of the 1540s, Cranmer had abandoned any physical presence of Christ in the elements; this was signaled by his open rejection of the manducatio impiorum in the House of Lords Debate of 1548. This idea, favored by Lutherans, was that the unworthy do receive Christ in the sacrament; their lack of faith does not alter Christ’s objective presence. In rejecting this, Cranmer was clearly favoring a Reformed conception. But what kind of Reformed conception? There were options available. He could be either an instrumentalist like John Calvin (in which the elements are “conduit pipes of grace”) or a parallelist like Heinrich Bullinger (in which God bestows grace parallel to the reception but not through the elements themselves).[3]

In the event, Cranmer was a parallelist like Bullinger. This is important to note because the later 1662 Book of Common Prayer evinces an instrumentalism closer to Calvin, an approach in which the elements themselves are much more important than Cranmer intended. By the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, Cranmer had left behind any sacramental theology which Lutherans could accept. We find the same thing in his published theological writings too, the Defense in 1550 and his Answer in 1551.

But let’s turn our attention to Cranmer’s masterpiece, the 1552 communion service. (Because of limited space, I will pass over the antecommunion and the brilliant connection between the Sanctus and the Prayer of Humble Access, and move to the Institution Narrative. Read Isaiah 6 if you’re interested in the connection.)

Unlike the 1549 and 1662 Books of Common Prayer, there are no manual acts in 1552 — no little black crosses as in 1549, no touching the vessels at specific points as in 1662. The minister could have held his hands behind his back if he liked. And something else might be easily missed: in this rite, there is no rubric telling the minister to place the elements on the table (as in 1549). In fact, the spoken text and the rubrics are disinterested in the elements save for the request for worthy reception of “these thy creatures of bread and wine.” It was completely possible, as Colin Buchanan has explained, for the bread and wine to remain in the sacristy and be fetched during the administration.

The concluding rubrics specify that the bread must be common leavened bread — no more wafers. And note also that there is no fraction, even within the narrative. The only thing we can assume is that at the administration (not during the narrative) bits of this leavened bread should be torn, bit by bit, from the loaf as the minister delivers it to the people. In 1662 this apparent deficiency was “fixed” when manual acts returned and the minister was instructed to break the bread during the narrative. What interest the 1662 BCP would take in the elements!

In the 1552 Institution Narrative, after the words of Jesus to do this in remembrance, the congregation does exactly that. Everyone receives in remembrance. Immediately. And, critically, there is no Amen between the dominical words and the reception to indicate the conclusion of a prayer! That, among so many other things, got “fixed” in 1662.

Here it’s important to remember the flow of the old mass canon as well as the 1549 rite. What would normally come after the institution narrative is the anamnesis, the faithful remembering. For example, in the 1979 BCP (Rite II, Prayer A), we say “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” Here in 1552 Cranmer makes the reception the anamnesis. The reception is effectively part of the unfinished prayer (remember, no Amen yet). Buchanan has helpfully called the 1552 reception the anamnetic response.[4]

Again, the rubrics about the bread and wine that had been in the 1549 rite had disappeared in 1552, that is, until this point: only now at the reception are there any directions. Bread and wine were to be immediately brought to the people (maybe from the table, maybe not) and the people were bid to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of Christ’s death. The focus was on Christ’s death appropriated by faith. Eating bread and drinking wine were parallel to that.

Whether you agree with the theology in the 1552 BCP or not, you have to admit the genius. The absence of an Amen tells us that the prayer has not been completed; the eating and drinking is the anamnesis within the prayer (almost a drama). Think about it this way: 1552’s ideal congregation would remember Christ’s death in the way he told us to remember it, by eating bread and drinking wine. Thus, when the elements were administered there was no identification of the bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus. Instead, there was the admonition to eat in remembrance (anamnesis) and feed on him by faith.

Now, with this framing of the elements in mind, I need to make two important points about the 1552 rite, both of which were changed soon after Cranmer: (1) if any elements were left over, Cranmer’s rubrics directed the minister to take them home and eat them as everyday food stuffs; and (2) Cranmer offered no rubric instructing the minister what to do if he runs out of either element.

During the parliamentary debates about the Eucharist in 1548, Cranmer gave a definition for the word “consecration”: a setting aside for holy purpose. One can argue, even using Cranmer’s very simple definition of “setting aside,” that there is no consecration in the 1552 rite. The bread and wine have neither physical nor spiritual significance, but are merely bread and wine. We take them in remembrance; we feed on Christ in our hearts by faith. The bread and wine are not “instruments” (per Calvin) as they would become in 1662 — with its specifically labeled “consecration” prayer over the elements, its manual acts, its rubric about supplementary consecrations, and its rubric about consuming immediately and reverently any remaining elements. What point would there be to have a rubric in 1552 about supplementary consecrations when there had been no consecration in the first place, no setting aside for holy purpose?

The issue of supplementary consecration is just one of the many areas where later generations, as early as the 1570s, undid Cranmer’s vision and backed away from his parallelist Eucharistic theology. In his Apology for the Church of England, John Jewel wrote of a consecration of the elements by joining the words of Christ to the material elements. Such a Calvinist instrumental theology — admittedly, in Jewel’s language it borders on a Lutheran a position — was at odds with Cranmer’s parallelism; and instrumentalism was winning out in the Church of England. In one glaring case, the cleric Robert Johnson was brought to trial in 1573 because when he ran out of bread and wine he simply got more for his waiting communicants without any consecratory action. Tried before the Queen’s own ecclesiastical commissioners, including the bishop of London and the dean of Westminster, Johnson rightly pointed out the absence of any such requirement to “consecrate” more bead and wine and he invoked the name “Master Cranmer.” The judges in the case decided this needed to be fixed.

By the end of Elizabeth’s reign, bishops issued injunctions requiring clergy in those situations to return to the table and rehearse the dominical words over more bread and wine, clearly envisioning the dominical words, in the first instance and second instance, as consecratory.[5] And when the 1662 book appeared, as noted, rubrics “fixed” Cranmer’s apparently unsatisfactory rite and unsatisfactory theology: an Amen created a complete consecration prayer (no more reception as anamnetic response), manual acts were restored to focus on the elements, leftover elements had to be reverently consumed, and if more bread and wine were needed the dominical words must be said over them at the table.

A triumph for Anglo-Catholicism avant la lettre? Hardly! If anything, it was a triumph for Calvin over both Bullinger and Cranmer.[6]

But the real point is that within Anglicanism, Cranmer’s legacy was not challenged in the 1970s, the 1920s, or even the 1780s or with the Non-Jurors. These are the stock bogeymen in the kind of slick narratives described in the first post in this series. Central aspects of Cranmer’s theological, ecclesiological, and liturgical agenda were pushed aside before 1600 and certainly vanished in that most globally influential rite, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

Thus, knowing and celebrating Cranmer, while necessary for a grasp of Anglicanism, is still partial at best. In my third and final post, I return to the theories of tradition outlined before and will propose how we might best draw resources from Cranmer as a brother and legitimate conversation partner — neither idolizing him nor ousting him as a foreign influence.


[1] John Edmund Cox, ed., Works of Archbishop Cranmer (Cambridge University Press, 1844), Vol. 2, pp. 115-117.

[2] Diarmaid MacCulloch, “Archbishop Cranmer: Tolerance and Concord in a changing Church,” in O. Grell and R. W. Scribner (eds.), Tolerance and Intolerance in the European Reformation (Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 119-215; idem, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (Yale University Press, 1996), pp. 278-280.

[3] Brian Gerrish, “The Lord’s Supper in the Reformed Confessions,” The Old Protestantism and the New (T&T Clark, 1982), pp. 118-130.

[4] Colin Buchanan, What did Cranmer think he was doing? Grove Liturgical Studies 7 (Grove, 1982).

[5] E. C. Ratcliff, “The English Usage of Eucharistic Consecration, 1548-1662,” Theology (1957), pp. 273-280.

[6] An interesting turn of events, given that for most Reformed confessions Bullinger steadily overcame Calvin, eg the Swiss Agreement of 1549. Timothy George, “John Calvin and the Agreement of Zurich” in idem, ed., John Calvin and the Church: A Prism of Reform (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), pp. 42-58; Paul Rorem, Calvin and Bullinger on the Lord’s Supper (Grove Book, 1989).

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5 Comments on "Wrestling with our past: Cranmer, familiar yet strange"

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Very interesting article on Cranmer’s 1552 eucharistic theology. Stark and striking – and true. It’s something I believe I recall from Dom Gregory Dix’s analysis of the same in The Shape of the Liturgy, when he concludes (I paraphrase from my reading 45 years ago!) that Cranmer’s 1552 rite “is not the Mass.” But what about Elizabeth’s 1559 BCP? Didn’t that go most of the way, especially on the words of Administration, which fused together the “Catholic” 1549 and “Zwinglian” 1552 administrations? I think I remember something from Darwell Stone and Arthur Couratin in this regard. Before we get to… Read more »
Many thanks Father Mead. I hope you’ll come back for the third post where I try to offer models for resourcing from Cranmer / how we approach brothers and sisters who are at once familiar yet strange. Let me answer your question by reframing the narrative. Cranmer had the same Reformed Eucharistic theology described above when he produced the 1549 rite. The rejection of the manducatio impiorum in the 1548 House of Lords Debate (mentioned above, meaning he was Reformed and not Lutheran by the time of the 1549 book) is one bit of evidence; Buchanan and MacCulloch provide more… Read more »

Very knowledgeable and helpful, Calvin, thank you. And it makes me all the more grateful not to be nailed down to one theologian for what has become Anglican theology. I will be glad and eager to read the third article. I love retirement because it affords this time. ACM

Great stuff, Cal. I really look forward to reading part 3. This paragraph was most interesting: “But the real point is that within Anglicanism, Cranmer’s legacy was not challenged in the 1970s, the 1920s, or even the 1780s or with the Non-Jurors. These are the stock bogeymen in the kind of slick narratives described in the first post in this series. Central aspects of Cranmer’s theological, ecclesiological, and liturgical agenda were pushed aside before 1600 and certainly vanished in that most globally influential rite, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.” I’d like to hear more about this. If I understand… Read more »
Matthew — yes indeed that’s my point, and now I realize that that sentence could be read differently. What I mean to say is that the “cataclysm” when “true Anglicanism was betrayed” (clutch your pearls in horror) was not in the 1970s, or 1920s, so on and so forth. Narratives like that abound: there is a timeline and at some point on the timeline the “bad guy” appears and the genuine article gets lost. A sober familiarity with that knee-jerk pattern of doing history was the point of the first post in this series. Now in this post, I’ve hopefully… Read more »