Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cranmer. . . Thoughts on his death. . .

HT to The Continuum....  Though we Lutherans are highly indebted to Cranmer's work on the BDP, from which we borrowed liberally when translating Lutheran liturgy into English, his story is not without its own twists and turns.  It is an interesting summary of the man's move from Roman Catholicism to an Erasmus style humanistic version of Roman Catholicism to Lutheranism and finally to the Reformed position, for which Mary I held him in ultimate contempt.  Unlike historical precedent in which those who recant their heresy were spared death, Mary decided Cranmer needed to burn.  Her rejection of his recanting led to his recanting of his recanting -- if you can follow that.  So, perhaps, some of his positions were political as well as theological.  In any case, he died on March 21, 1556.  I, for one, say a silent prayer of thanks to God for him whenever I pray the wonderful language of the prayers for which he is, at least partially, responsible bequeathing to the whole church.

March 21st, which is coming up in a few days, is the 457th anniversary of Cranmer's execution in Oxford in 1556. Now, one thing I think Anglicans today are very unclear about is why Cranmer was burnt. I would not be surprised if some folks think he was burnt for wearing a Gothic Chasuble in a Fiddleback parish - which seems to be the only heresy left for some of my Affirming Catholic friends - but no, he was burnt for professing the Reformed faith. was a local influence - Nicolas Ridley - that finally moved Cranmer from the Lutheran to the Reformed position. He did so by lending Cranmer a tract by an eighth century theologian Ratramnus of Corbie, who argued that Christ was present spiritually, not corporeally, in the Eucharist. In his controversy with Gardiner (1549-1551,) Cranmer came to articulate his position as 'the True Presence' which to me reads an awful lot like the Receptionism of the next generation. Cranmer argues that Christ is present in the celebration, not the elements specifically, and that we receive the spiritual benefit, not the actual, Body and Blood of Christ when we receive Communion. 

The high watermark of Cranmer's programm of reform comes in 1552/3 when a new BCP and the Forty-two Articles are published. Both reflect a Reformed position not a million miles from that of Bucer and the Second Helvetian Confession. The Articles are less sharply Predestinarian than the writings of Calvin's followers a generation later, but their Biblical basis and Augustinian emphasis is clear. Like Bucer, he seems to have been essentially Lutheran on issues such as Baptismal Regeneration and Predestination, but on the Eucharist he joins Bucer, Bullinger, etc., as an advocate of the True Presence. The 1552 BCP's Order of the Lord's Supper gives liturgical voice to Cranmer's convictions on both the nature of the Eucharist and the nature of Justification and Sanctification by putting Communion into the middle of the Eucharist Canon.


David Gray said...

I think that confusing Bucer and bullinger's doctrine on the Lord's Supper is an error and it is not an error that Luther made.

William Tighe said...

One has but to peruse the comment thread on the original of this reposting over at "The Continuum" blog to see how incoherent Anglican "confessional" theology can be.

Anonymous said...

Why are Bill Tighe's comments so often so very caustic? Many respect him, but I doubt that he has many friends.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest