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The Holy Spirit, Anglican identity, and the Reformed Eucharist

By Jeremy Haselock

Since reading Dean Andrew Pearson’s challenging piece on “Anglican Identity and Common Prayer,” I have had much food for thought and a hearty desire to respond. Among the host of points he raises with which I might want to take issue, I feel I might offer comment on one subject without risking the accusation of presumptuous interference in matters of American Episcopal liturgy and polity of which an Englishman can have but little knowledge. I want to reflect on his apparent fear of the epiclesis as an ingredient in eucharistic prayer.

Discussing the new freedom given to local congregations to “create worship that is meaningful to its context,” Pearson writes,

In our context, we have elected to use the eucharistic prayer from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which has no epiclesis. As a congregation that identifies itself as Protestant and evangelical, this was a welcome change, a change that places our congregation with the majority of the Anglican Communion.

His point being, I presume, that an epiclesis is a thing abhorrent to a Protestant and an evangelical. I wonder if he is right.

The Sarum Canon — the local version of the Roman canon missae that Thomas Cranmer had before him when writing his vernacular eucharistic prayer for the 1549 Prayer Book — had no explicit epiclesis. One might argue that the Quam oblationem does the job:

Which oblation do thou, O Almighty God, we beseech thee, vouchsafe in all respects to make + hallowed, + approved, + ratified, reasonable, and acceptable, that it may be made unto us the + body and + blood of thy most dear Son our Lord Jesus Christ. (R.P. Blakeny’s 1866 translation)

In 1549, Cranmer seems to have seen the Quam oblationem as deficient and devised a petition for sanctification to replace it:

Hear us (O merciful Father) we beseech thee: and with thy holy spirite and worde, vouchsafe to + blesse and + sanctifie these gyftes, and creatures of bread and wyne, that they maie be unto us the body and bloude of thy most derely beloved sonne Jesus Christe.

If his avowed purpose in producing the 1549 Communion Service was to demonstrate, in E.C. Ratcliff’s words, “sound doctrine as judged by reformed standards,” Cranmer cannot have seen his explicit epiclesis as anything that would compromise his reforming credentials.

This, however, raises some interesting issues concerning the possible influences on Cranmer’s thought as he drafted his prayer. I remember as a student accepting uncritically the view that Cranmer was familiar with the liturgies of Basil and Chrysostom, and that he skilfully adapted their consecratory, post-words-of-institution epicleses to the Western Quam oblationem position. This counted, therefore, as one of the “usages of the primitive Church” referred to in the 1549 Act of Uniformity. However, while Cranmer’s library undoubtedly contained copies of Eastern liturgical texts, their influence seems to have been nugatory. Even the “Prayer of Saint Chrysostom” at the conclusion of the Litany (and later used in the 1662 BCP at Morning and Evening Prayer) is derived from a corrupt Latin version dating from 1528 rather than from an authentic Greek text.

Bryan Spinks has pointed out that Cranmer’s petition for sanctification with its emphasis on the dual action of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word comes not from the fourth- and fifth-century East but from much nearer home.[1] It reflects pretty accurately the Reformed sacramental theology of his contemporaries, Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr. Significantly, before his appointment as Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, Martyr lodged with the Cranmers at Lambeth, at the very period when the 1549 Prayer Book was being drafted and so was on hand to be consulted. In his Oxford lectures on 1 Corinthians and the institution of the Eucharist, Martyr wrote of the essential connection between the work of the Spirit, the Word, and the consecration of the elements:

He (the Lord) is able to make common bread and wine a most effectual sacrament … such a change in it, in which bread and wine are translated from the natural order, and profane degree in which they were, to a sacramental state and order, both by the work of the Holy Spirit and by the institution of the Lord.[2]

Bucer was equally convinced of the vital role of the Spirit in the efficacy of the sacrament, but was more cautious about invoking the Spirit upon the elements rather than on the recipients, as this might suggest transubstantiation. In his comments on the 1549 rite in his Censura, he suggested a redraft of Cranmer’s petition:

Hear us, O merciful Father, bless us and sanctify us by thy Word and Holy Spirit, that with true faith we may receive in these mysteries the body and blood of thy Son to be the food and drink of eternal life.

Bucer was right to be cautious. Bishop Gardiner’s comments on the 1549 Communion Service and his willingness to use the new rite led Cranmer to believe that his phraseology could be interpreted in plain sense as endorsing the doctrine of transubstantiation, and so all reference to the sanctifying action of Word and Spirit disappeared in the 1552 revisions.

But, lest Dean Pearson feel that Bucer’s critique of Cranmer’s epiclesis and Gardiner’s enthusiastic endorsement reinforces his own Reformed position on eucharistic consecration, I would direct him to Calvin. Cranmer seems to have been less interested in Calvin’s sacramental theology than were many of the English divines who succeeded him on the throne of Augustine, but he cannot have been unaware of his repeated emphasis on the work of the Spirit in understanding God’s word and making the sacraments efficacious. In the Institutes (4.14.9), Calvin wrote:

The sacraments duly perform their office only when accompanied by the Spirit, the internal Master, whose energy alone penetrates the heart, stirs up the affections, and procures access for the sacraments into our souls. If he is wanting, the sacraments can avail us no more than the sun shining on the eyeballs of the blind, or sounds uttered in the ears of the deaf. Wherefore, in distributing between the Spirit and the sacraments, I ascribe the whole energy to him, and leave only a ministry to them; this ministry, without the agency of the Spirit, is empty and frivolous, but when he acts within, and exerts his power, it is replete with energy.

Calvin clearly believed that consecration was effected by epiclesis. His sacramental theology was of prime influence in Anglican thought once the Marian exiles had returned and was key to most educated believers’ understanding of what was happening in the Communion Service in all its revised versions up to and including that of 1662. I submit that even those Non-Jurors whose Patristic learning and familiarity with Eastern liturgies encouraged them to insert an explicit epiclesis after the words of institution — whose labors bore fruit in the Scottish Communion Office of 1764 transplanted by Seabury to post-Revolution America — did so because their understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit was first shaped by that of the greatest and most systematic of Reformation theologians, John Calvin.

It seems to me, therefore, there is no reason for Protestants and evangelicals to be afraid of the epiclesis. Surely, as Fr. Olver has pointed out so cogently, for them the offending petition in the 1979 Rite I, Prayer I is that which reads:

We, thy humble servants, do celebrate and make here before thy divine Majesty, with these thy holy gifts which we now offer unto thee, the memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make … and we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

But that is another story.

jeremy_haselockThe Rev. Canon Jeremy Haselock is precentor and vice dean at Norwich Cathedral, and adjunct professor of liturgics at Nashotah House Theological Seminary.


[1] Spinks, “‘And with thy Holy Spirite and Word’: Further Thoughts on the Source of Cranmer’s Petition for Sanctification in the 1549 Communion Service,” in Margot Johnson (ed.), Thomas Cranmer (Durham, 1990), pp. 94-102.

[2] Sic, ibid., p. 99.


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