Tuesday, August 08, 2006

How Dix distorted Cranmer's position

Until the mid-20th century, when Dom Gregory Dix proposed otherwise, the most common explanation for the verbal differences between the eucharistic rites of 1549 and 1552 involved the political pressures exerted on liturgical reform, and on Cranmer himself, in the last half of the reign of Edward VI. The coup de tat that brought down the Somerset government also replaced its cautious and moderate religious reform (in keeping with Cranmer’s own views) with the more radical and thoroughgoing agenda of the Northumberland regime. Significantly this change ushered in a favorable climate for the political ascendancy of the Z├╝richer party -– consisting of reformers of Zwinglian sympathies such as John Hooper, Bp. of Gloucester.

Of the two rites, 1549 was seen as more in keeping with Cranmer’s mind in its articulation of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. This did not mean, however, that the 1552 rite constituted a “different mind” or a fully Zwinglian alternative; but rather one that, for political reasons, had been crafted to be more Zwinglian-friendly. This view remained the standard reading of Cranmer's two liturgical projects up to the early 20th century, even among prominent Anglo-Catholic liturgical scholars such as the godly Bishop of Truro, Walter Howard Frere.

The beauty of this explanation lies in how well it explains three seemingly conflicting elements in the story of the liturgical reform that had produced the two Books of Common Prayer. The first was Cranmer’s insistence throughout the latter years of his life that he had only ever held two views of eucharistic presence: transubstantiation, and what he came to refer to as the “true and catholic doctrine” of the Supper, a view that he had come to embrace by ca. 1546. The second element consisted of the verbal changes themselves: namely, the softening, and in some cases the removal, of the 1549 rite’s overt instrumental/objectivist language to produce a rite significantly more palatable to the Z├╝richers. The third element was the fact that, even after the changes and often in spite of them, the rite could still continue to support a catholic reading, a fact celebrated by E.B. Pusey in Tract 80 (1836). It’s in this third element – this liturgical “sleight of hand” – where Cranmer’s true genius shines through.

A striking example of this sleight of hand can be seen in the removal of the phrase “in these holy mysteries” from the Prayer of Humble Access in 1552:

"Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood in these holy mysteries…"

To eat the body and drink the blood of Christ “in these holy mysteries” (i.e. consuming the elements) assumes an instrumental and objectivist understanding of Christ’s presence in the Supper; an understanding utterly abhorrent to Zwinglians of the period, as evidenced by Bp. Hooper’s refusal to use the new Prayer Book for this and similar reasons. Yet, while the removal of the phrase went far to placate those of Zwinglian sympathies, to suggest that this change irreparably altered the theology of the prayer would be a huge overstatement. The Prayer of Humble Access, even without its fuller catholic expression, was still capable of supporting its natural catholic meaning.

But such blunting of the instrumental and objective language would inevitably cause some of his contemporaries to wonder aloud whether Cranmer had shifted to more a continental Reformed view. This Cranmer adamantly denied to his dying day; and no serious scholar, not even Dix, ever questioned this testimony until quite recent times.

Where Dix departed from conventional wisdom was not in contradicting Cranmer’s testimony on this matter, but rather in proposing that the 1552 rite, not the 1549, expressed Cranmer’s “true mind” during his Protestant period, and, moreover, that this true mind was decidedly “Zwinglian.” For Dix, the changes made to the 1552 edition (rather than the edition itself) were evidence not only of Zwinglian influences on liturgical reform, but also of overt Zwinglianism in Cranmer himself. And since Dix believed that Cranmer was a Zwinglian even before he wrote the 1549 rite, then logically the 1549 rite must be Zwinglian too!

The problem that Dix would encounter, and one he would never be able to explain adequately, was the language of the 1549 rite. If Cranmer was a convinced Zwinglian as early as, say, 1548, then how could he have been so careless (deliberate?) in the use of such instrumental language of presence? The best that Dix could do was to explain away the language of 1549 as “ambiguous,” the sense of which would be “fully perfected” in the rite of 1552. In the final analysis, the 1549 rite was "guilty," not on account of its own deficiencies, but merely by association.

Thus, for Dix, the interpretive key to reading anything that Cranmer ever wrote on the Eucharist (even the 1549 rite) was to read backwards from 1552 through Zwinglian spectacles. Once this modus operandi is appreciated one can begin to see more clearly the motive and agenda behind it: nothing less than the full discrediting of the Cranmerian Prayer Book tradition.

Until next time.


axegrinder said...

Dr. DD,

Thanks so much for taking the time to open this issue up some more. I really appreciate the guidance regarding Dix's tome. I fear that his "standard work" has done vastly more harm than I am able to discern at present.


Jason Kranzusch

William Tighe said...

I have two passing comments. First, one should note (and take into account) the fact that Diarmaid MacCulloch's view of Cranmer's eucharistic views is very similar to Dix's, save that he sees Cranmer as a "Bullingerian" rather than a "Zwinglian" -- but in any case certainly not as a Calvinist "virtualist." Secondly, one ought to examine Bucer's *Censurae* on the 1549 rite and note the respects in which the 1552 rite followed or ignored them. Bucer praised highly the phrase "... in these holy mysteries ..." and insisted that they be retained; but they were omitted. What is the signiifcance of this?

lexorandi2 said...

MacCulloch is a first rate historian, but alas not a theologian. I had the privilege of interacting with him informally on one of my residential visits to Pusey House, Oxford. (St. Cross College shares the same quad as Pusey House). His Tome on Cranmer had only recently been published at the time, and I was challenging him (in a friendly manner) on certain theological assumptions that he made about Cranmer in it. For instance, he contends that Cranmer was a strong predestinarian. This is certainly true, but (IMHO) not in the "proto-Bezan" sense (my term not his) that MacCulloch implies in his book. Cranmer was very much a primitive Augustinian in his understanding of predestination, which take into account Article 17 but also Article 16.

The significance of Bucer's Censura is two-fold. First, as far as being an influence on Cranmer were concerned, Bucer is what I would term a "friendly," i.e. a sympathetic influence. It is certain that Cranmer found in Bucer a theologian much to his liking and like-minded in eucharistic theology. The influence of Bucer's Censura on the second book is considerable. But, very tellingly, Cranmer did not follow him blindly, and very significantly, not in Bucer's counsel to retain some of the objective/instrumental language.

My second point follows from this: Bucer was NOT very well regarded by the Zurichers in England. In fact, Bullinger's correspondents in England were very suspicious of Bucer's influence on Cranmer, worried that his "Luthero-papism" would unduly affect Cranmer and adversely affect the course of the Reformation in England.

That Cranmer was reluctant to follow Bucer on certain points, while highly regarding his advice on others, and the Censura as a whole, only serves to reinforce the theory that other political factors were bearing down on him.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dan,

Someone who held to a Reformed symbolic instrumentalist understanding, as defined in Gerrish's helpful explication of Reformed Reformation understandings of the Eucharist, could easily use instrumentalist language while affirming that Christ's human body remained in Heaven. Afterall, such was Bucer's own position. As he taught in Cambridge, the Holy Spirit was conveyed through the Bread and Wine just like the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles through the breathe that Jesus breathed on upon them. Yet, for Bucer, Christ's human body certainly remained in Heaven. Such a view is certainly more than a "real absence" Zwinglian understanding, but far short of even a Lutheran "real presence" position.

Dix certainly failed to appreciate the mystical/supernatural nature of Cranmer's symbolic parallelist view. The archbishop's writings on the Eucharist make clear that he combined a real sense of grace conferred directly into the faithful heart at the time of reception with the Reformed affirmation that Christ's human body remained in heaven.

Dix's error was not that he posited a theological consistency, not to say backbone, in Cranmer's liturgical writings under Edward. Consider Cranmer's victory over Knox about kneeling in 1552! MacCulloch does indeed get it right, both in depiciting Cranmer's gradual approach to implementing what he believed through the liturgy, (starting way back in 1547 with sermons on the Bible and justification by faith required for public worship through to the 1552 prayer book) and in his account of the Black Rubric.

Rather, Dix erred by significantly overestimating Cranmer's departure from medieval Catholic teaching on the Eucharist--suggesting Cranmer held to only a barren memorial ceremony. Yet it sounds like you have underestimated it by believing Cranmer held on to a real presence position of Christ's human body in the elements.

Please clarify.

William Tighe said...

I still think that one would do well and profitably to read the literature that followed on from *The Shape of the Liturgy*: G. B. Timms "Dixit Cranmer" in *Church Quarterly Review* (1946) that tried to assert that Cranmer's doctrine was the same as Calvin's (and that Zwingli wasn't "Zwinglian"); Dix's reply "Dixit Cranmer et Non Timuit" in the same journal in 1947; and especially Cyril C. Richardson's *Zwingli and Cranmer on the Eucharist* (originally entitled "Cranmer Dixit et Contradixit") in 1949.

I might add that the argument of Gerrish's essay that the last comment alludes to is condiderably strengthened by Paul Rorem's *Calvin and Bullinger on the Lord's Supper* which originally appeared in 1988 in the *Lutheran Quarterly* and which was republished by Grove Books in 1989.

lexorandi2 said...

Dear Anonymous,

(I'm a friendly guy. Why not reveal your identity?)

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I'm not sure where we disagree. I thought your last paragraph pretty much summed up my whole article, apart from the last sentence. So, just to clarify, I didn't (and don't) argue that Cranmer held to a corporeal presence of Christ in the elements. Indeed, Cranmer's view is very much akin to Bucer's, as you described in your first paragraph.

If I take issue with anything you said, it's in the fourth paragraph, and here I'd only add a clarification to my own remarks in light of your otherwise accurate assessment.

The reasons behind the changes in the 1552 are not as simple as being forced to choose between two allegedly mutually-exclusive options: either (1) That the 1552 represented the fullest manifestation (to date) of Cranmer's program of reform and design for the eucharist; or (2) that the 1549 represented Cranmer's mind, and 1552 a compromised version of it. Both statements contain elements of truth.

Certainly the structural changes (re-arrangment) of the Holy Communion service, along with the removal of certain ritual elements, were part of Cranmer's great agenda. No one, not even Bucer in his Censura, had suggested or even envisioned the radical re-structuring of Holy Communion that took place in 1552. I count that as almost entirely Cranmer. (Even this has to be qualified, because there are, I believe, *some* structural elements that do fall into the category of being exacted under pressure by continental influences in England; e.g. the placing of the Gloria in Excelsis at the end of the service. But for the most part, such changes were entirely Cranmer).

On the other hand, the striking removal or blunting of the objective and instrumental language in the prayers of the eucharistic rite (but alas NOT in the Baptistmal rite) I believe do fall into the latter explanation. Linguistically speaking, Cranmer very masterfully accommodated Zwinglianism while leaving intact a more catholic understanding. These are the changes I was addressing in my original post.

As a result, the 1552 (ironically) is the more comprehensive of the two rites -- allowing for the greatest possible breadth of interpretations.

Hope that clarifies. And thanks for your contribution.


Death Bredon said...

Ditch Dix & No Truck with Trent!

An Anglican Cleric said...

A most excellent and needed essay. Are you familiar with the essay in "Thomas Cranmer, Churchman and Scholar"?

MacCulloch seems to have ignored most of the Anglican scholarship done on Cranmer's thought. Sadly, MacCulloch is widely read and the older texts on Cranmer are out of print.

I find both the 1549 and 1662 rites excellent liturgies, each with a different emphasis.

You do need to put these into a text that Anglican seminarians can utilize.

lexorandi2 said...

Hi Anglican Cleric. I assume you mean the article by Basil Hall in TCCS. Yes, this article changed the whole direction of my doctoral thesis back in 1996.

Thanks for your comments.

wyclif said...

I'm pretty sure you're talking about the same volume that Hall used as a platform to eat Peter Newman Brooks' lunch on the subject at hand.