Did Cranmer follow Calvin or Zwingli in his views of the Eucharist?

Bill Tighe sent me the following in response to this post from Silent Majority Member #1.

 Anglo-Catholics are more critical of their liturgical inheritance than they should be.  The “Cranmer was a Zwinglian” meme originated with Gregory Dix, and Dix was wrong.  The more recent studies of Cranmer’s Eucharistic doctrine put him more squarely in the camp of Calvin (“true presence”) rather than of Zwingli (“memorialist”).  Now, Anglo-Catholics aren’t happy with Calvin either, but that’s not the point:  Cranmer’s Eucharistic rite has been disparaged because it is seen to teach a doctrine that Cranmer himself precisely did not hold.  The rite is open to misinterpretation, not because it is deliberately ambiguous, but because it limits its language to that of Scripture.   The rest here.

Bill Tighe responds: As far as I know, no reputable scholar today claims that Cranmer’s views on the Eucharist are either identical with, or particularly close to, those of John Calvin.  Rather, as, to give but one example, in Diarmaid MacCulloch’s magisterial biography of Cranmer, *Thomas Cranmer: A Life* (1995), Cranmer’s views are presented as very similar, if not identical, to those of Heinrich Bullinger (1504-75), Zwingli’s successor as Chief Pastor in Zurich, while the differences between the views of Calvin and Bullinger were described clearly in 1988 by Paul Rorem in his article in *Lutheran Quarterly,* “Calvin and Bullinger on the Lord’s Supper,” subsequently republished in 1989 by Grove Books. (Rorem wasn’t the first to advance this view by any means; Brian Gerrish did so earlier in several essays, also linking Cranmer’s views with those of Bullinger, but Rorem’s analysis is clear and comprehensive — and, I think, utterly convincing.)  Scholars disagree on whether Bullinger’s views were significantly different than those of Zwingli, although he expressed his views on the subject using language and terms distinctly different from those of his predecessor (whose memory he always venerated), but all agree that Bullinger’s views were considerably “lower” than those of Calvin.  It should  be added that when Calvin and Bullinger came to an agreement about the Eucharist in 1549 known as the “Consensus Tigurinus” (the “Zurich Accord”), it was Calvin who made (as he later privately acknowledged) all the concessions, while Bullinger made none, or none of any importance.  Nor is there any positive evidence for substantial contact between Cranmer and Calvin, let alone for any influence upon Cranmer by Calvin.
When Gregory Dix upset lots of high-church Anglicans by arguing that “Cranmer was a Zwinglian” in his book *The Shape of the Liturgy* (1945) — on which see:


a middle-of-the-road-high-church clergyman named G. B. Timms wrote a critical response to Dix entitled “Dixit Cranmer” in which he argued explicitly that “Cranmer was a Calvinist;” Dix responded with “Dixit Cranmer Et Non Timuit,” in which he thoroughly eviscerated Timms’ arguments.  Both articles appeared in the *Church Quarterly Review,* in 1946 and 1947 respectively, and each one subsequently as a tract or booklet, Timms’ published by the Alcuin Club, Dix’s by Dacre Press.  A couple of year later the American Episcopalian Patristics scholar Cyril C. Richardson gave a lecture, “Cranmer Dixit Et Contradixit” (subsequently published as *Zwingli and Cranmer on the Eucharist*), in which he agreed with Dix that Cranmer was a Zwinglian on the Eucharist, but not on Baptism, and so that he was inconsistently (and incoherently) a Zwinglian.  SMM1 appears either to be unaware of the scholarly literature on the subject, or to have decided to ignore it; and in the absence of any evidence that he is qualified to address the subject, I am inclined likewise to dismiss his views.

There is some discussion of Cranmer’s views vis-a-vis those of Calvin (and Bucer) on this old thread from 2006, to which I made some contributions at the time:


So much for negative criticism.  I will go on to present in a brief and summary fashion the views of the relevant Reformers on the Eucharist (or “Lord’s Supper”).

All Reformation Protestant Reformers rejected these three aspects of the Catholic Mass: (1) the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice, or, indeed, as any sort of sacrifice save that of a “sacrifice” consisting of the praise which the members of the congregation offer individually to God through Jesus Christ, (2) transubstantiation, or the conversion of the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and (3) communion in one kind.  I have chosen these words carefully, as there are profound differences between the Lutheran and the Reformed “critique” of Catholic belief and practice in these areas, or at least the last two of these (Lutherans and Reformed both repudiated the Mass as Sacrifice equally vehemently, although in the course of time since the Reformation some, minority and/or “liberal,” strains of Reformed thinking have been more willing than Lutherans to consider the Eucharist as in some sense a sacrifice).   Luther and his adherents and followers tended to regard Reformed beliefs about #2 and #3 above to be more erroneous than Catholic beliefs, and did not hesitate to say so in the most vehement terms,

Luther and the Lutherans that the recital of the Words of Institution effected the bodily or corporal presence of Christ’s Body and Blood “in, with, and under” the bread and wine.  They believed this because they believed that in the Divine Person of Jesus Christ there was a mutual intercommunication of the properties of Christ’s divine nature and human nature, such that Christ could be bodily present, if invisibly, wherever he chose to be, and thus they rejected the common Reformed belief that Christ’s body was confined in Heaven “as in a place,” and so could not be present anywhere else, although in his divine nature he is present everywhere.  As to #2 above, Lutherans rejected the “Catholic explanation” of transubstantiation, but believed (this belief tended to fade among many Lutherans later on) that because of the “sacramental union” between the bread and wine and Christ’s Body and Blood, the elements were due worship and adoration between the recital of the Words of Institution, and their reception in communion.  Lutherans rejected “extra-liturgical” veneration of the Blessed Sacrament (and Luther himself was uneasy with the practice or reserving the consecrated elements even for the sole purpose of communicating the sick, inform and dying) in the belief that it was impossible to know whether the “sacramental union” persisted in those communion elements which had not been consumed at the Mass.  As to #3, Lutherans denied that there was any Biblical warrant for withholding the chalice from the laity, but Luther himself was insistent that “the whole Christ” was received in both the bread and in the wine.

All Reformation Reformed theologians that it was erroneous and indeed blasphemous to regard the Mass or “Lord’s Supper” as a sacrifice (Lutherans and Reformed were in agreement here); that it was erroneous and indeed blasphemous to conceive that there could possibly be any corporal or real (later Reformed thinkers were to rehabilitate the term “real,” as in Real Presence, but by it they meant “spiritually” present “to the eye of the mind or soul”) presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharistic elements; and that it could even be considered a legitimate Eucharist if only one of the communion elements were received by the recipients.  But on the purpose and “benefit” of communion they differed a great deal.

Zwingli believed that the Lord’s Supper was a service in which the members of the congregation pledged to one another their commitment to the Christian Faith.  No particular or unique “sacramental grace” (a thing in which he disbelieved) or “spiritual gift” was conveyed to believers by the reception of the bread and wine, although the service also could act as an enacted reminder of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.

Calvin, at least the mature Calvin, believed that the bread and wine acted as “instruments” or “implements” or “organs” to convey to believers (i.e., to the Elect only) the virtue or effect of Christ’s Body and Blood.  He sometimes even says to convey to them Christ’s Body and Blood, but not “carnally to the mouth,” but “spiritually to the mind;” for Christ’s Body and Blood were confined as to a place in Heaven.  He rather strongly suggests, if he does not state explicitly, that there is a unique spiritual benefit (for the Elect) of receiving communion, although I am not sure if he was ever clear in what he understood by this.  In any event, Calvin’s sacramental theology seems often, then as now, to be ignored (or even rejected) by many who would term themselves “Calvinists.”  Ironically, it was often “the Laudians” of the Seventeenth Century, who usually rejected Calvin’s predestinarian views, and always rejected Calvin’s ideas concerning Church Polity, whose sacramental views more closely resembled those of Calvin than did those of their “Puritan” opponents.

Bullinger believed that the Lord’s Supper was a service in which the members of the congregation pledged to God their commitment to the Christian Faith.  He denied, clearly, explicitly and constantly, however, that there was any “sacramental grace” (a thing in which he disbelieved) or unique benefit conveyed to believers by the reception of the bread and wine, but in the course of his discussions with Calvin leading to their accord in 1549 he was willing to concede that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper was a kind of earthly symbolic parallel, illustration or “parable” of the nature of the salvation of the Christian individual, and he was willing to concede that in some individual cases this “symbolic enactment” might coincide with the action of God’s grace on the individual, some individuals and sometimes, but not on all, and not necessarily; and, especially, in no other fashion than that the same might happen in the course of prayer, devotion or Bible reading.

It seems to me that Cranmer’s views are substantially identical with those of Bullinger.  What has confused the issue is Cranmer’s frequent references to “eating Christ’s Body, and drinking his Blood,” which later Anglicans, or many of them,
naturally take as having some reference to the Lord’s Supper.  In fact, though, it does not: for Cranmer, participation in the lLord’s Supper is merely one of many ways in which Christians “eat Christ’s Body and drink his Blood” (or, as he writes in many places, chew and digest “spiritually” or mentally Christ’s sacrifice).  Compare the Prayer of Humble Access as set forth in the 1549 Prayer Book Communion Service, with that in the 1552 book (which remained unaltered in 1559 and 1662): 1549: “… 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, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood. Amen.”; 1552: “… Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, Amen.”  The ending has been altered, seemingly for stylistic reasons, but the phrase “in these holy Mysteries” has been omitted, and the omission itself speaks vividly to Cranmer’s views.

The different Reformed Confessions of Faith incline variously to Calvins’s “Genevan” sacramantal views, or to those of Bullinger and Zurich, or try to combine them.  The Reformed Scottish Kirk long embraced a strongly “Calvinist” view of the Lord’s Supper, while most English “Calvinists” tended not to be “Calvinist” as regards the Lord’s Supper in the decades after 1559.  John Jewel may be an exception: although he spent Mary Tudor’s reign as a religious refugee in Zurich, and regarded Bullinger’s Zurich as having the best reformed church in the world, his post-exilic views of the Lord’s Supper incline rather more to those of Calvin than those of Zwingli.  Perhaps, though, this was not due to any influence upon Jewel of Calvin, but to the influence upon both Calvin and Jewel of the Italian refugee Reformed theologian Peter Martyr Vermigli (who seems to have had a close personal friendship with the otherwise dour Jewel), in Calvin’s case supplementing the influence of Martin Bucer, whose ultimately unavailing efforts to find a middle path between, and a means of reconciling, the views of the Lutherans and the Swiss (Reformed) were an inspiration to Calvin in the earlier part of his reforming career, or career as a Reformer, in the 1540s.  The heyday of Calvin’s influence upon the English, in any case, and such as it was, came after Cranmer’s death, not before.

All good wishes,



This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Did Cranmer follow Calvin or Zwingli in his views of the Eucharist?

  1. Pingback: Did Cranmer follow Calvin or Zwingli in his views of the Eucharist? | Catholic Canada

  2. William Tighe says:

    As a footnote to my own posting, may I express my amazement (and disappointment) that the phrase “in these Holy Mysteries” has not been restored to the Prayer of Humble Access where that prayer has been adopted (or adapted) for Catholic use (as in Rite I of the Book of Divine Worship). I hope that consideration is being given to restoring it in the ongoing work of preparing an Ordinariate Mass rite.

  3. Pingback: SMM1 responds to Dr. Bill Tighe on Cranmer and the 1662 BCP | Foolishness to the world

  4. Pingback: Psallite Sapienter responds to SMM1 | Foolishness to the world

  5. Pingback: The debate on Cranmer and the Liturgy continues | Foolishness to the world

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s