I take it as a high compliment indeed — or else as a sign of masochism — that Prof. Tighe should devote any thought and time during his Labour Day long weekend to (what he must regard as) a total demolition of my off-hand thoughts in response to Psallite Sapienter‘s suggestions about what was “fit for purpose” in the 1662 BCP Communion Office. I happened to check my e-mail on Monday and found a message from Deborah in which she speculated that books were “flying off the shelves” in my study as I crafted a reply. [snip of some identifying details in which SMM1 explained why that was not the case] And even now, I ought to be busy preparing for a lecture that I have to give next week on the effects of economic and agrarian growth in the High Middle Ages on the Church, a subject of which, being but a humble country liturgical historian, I am genuinely ignorant.
The fault is, of course, mine, in that I described more recent studies as putting Cranmer “more squarely in the camp of Calvin,” which Prof. Tighe has reasonably understood to mean that I think recent scholars have said that Cranmer explicitly or implicitly subscribed to Calvin’s eucharistic theology. In this I have been guilty of speaking in shibboleths, of assuming that most will read “Zwinglian” and think “real absence” as against “Calvinist,” which has the vernacular equivalent of “spiritual presence.” I do not repent of using the words “true presence,” which are popularly associated with Calvin’s teaching, because Cranmer himself used them (though as MacCulloch points out this phrase is more characteristic of his pre-1546 usage). I readily advertise that MacCulloch prefers “spiritual presence” to describe Cranmer’s views “from at least 1548” (p. 392), a modification that MacCulloch sees as the only one necessary in the earlier and, for me, persuasive assessment in Brooks’s Cranmer’s Doctrine of the Eucharist.
Before Prof. Tighe’s admirably succinct and comprehensive essay achieves immortality as a linked source on Wikipedia, perhaps I may be allowed to state more fully my own thoughts, since he was entirely within his rights to dismiss my views in the absence of a presentation of them. This is an unpleasant task for me, because it is entirely beside the point I wanted to make. For my money, let Cranmer have any Eucharistic doctrine he likes. What we do the the BCP Communion Office is a different question, to which I’ll turn in a second section.
1. SMM1’s reading of Cranmer’s Eucharistic doctrine
Those who have argued most strongly for Cranmer’s agreement with Bullinger have simultaneously, to my mind, shown how tenuous is the connection. As Prof. Tighe remarks, Cranmer is a Zwinglian only “incoherently,” a judgement based on the opinions of Cyril Richardson. What other readers need to know, however, is that Richardson identifies the root of that incoherence in a conflict in Cranmer’s own intellectual presuppositions between, on the one hand, a biblical and patristic realism tied to the Incarnation and the union of the believer to Christ and, on the other hand, a late scholastic nominalism that prevented him from allowing Christ’s “body” to exist in more than one place simultaneously. This conflict denies him the possibility to give total assent to any one author. As he wrote in one of his letters:
I have seen almost everything that has been written and published either by Oecolampadius or Zwingli, and I have come to the conclusion that the writings of every man must be read with discrimination.
Prof. Tighe aptly summarizes Bullinger’s view that in the Eucharist there is no grace connected with the sacrament itself. At the opposite Reformed extreme there is Calvin’s belief that “the internal substance of the sacrament is conjoined with the physical signs” and that this grace is none other than “the proper substance of [Christ’s] body and blood” (Short Treatise, sec. 17, Beveridge’s translation). Prof. Tighe, with Gregory Dix, suggests that we are deluded by Cranmer’s vocabulary (the scriptural image of “eating” and “drinking” — or even “chewing” and “digesting”) into thinking that the Eucharist is any more than one opportunity when a Christian may be nourished in body and soul by feeding on Christ’s body and blood. I cannot deny the force of the argument, for Cranmer at times writes in this direction. Against this, however, there are passages in his later writings that nevertheless would attribute to the elements a functional, and not merely an occasional, quality, as when they are called “effectual signs of grace” in the 42 Articles of 1552 (art. 26), or in this passage from the Answer to Bishop Gardiner:
And although the sacramental tokens be only significations and figures, yet doth Almighty God effectually work, in them that receive his sacraments, those divine and celestial operations which he hath promised, and by the sacraments be signified. Or else they were but vain and unfruitful sacraments, as well to the godly as to the ungodly (Parker Society edn., vol. 1, p. 148).
And immediately before this place Cranmer makes his famous equivalence of Holy Communion with Baptism:
I mean not that Christ is spiritually either in the table, or in the bread and wine that be set upon the table; but I mean that he is present in the ministration and receiving of that holy supper, according to his own administration and ordinance: like as in baptism, Christ and the Holy Ghost be not in the water, or font, but be given in the ministration, or to them that be truly baptized in the water (Ibid.).
The corollary of this is as follows: withdraw the water poured and you have withdrawn the grace of baptism. Withdraw the bread and wine consumed, and you have withdrawn both “efficacy” and “substance” from the Eucharist (PS vol. 1, 395-6). And it is no accident that Cranmer’s 1552 BCP creates striking parallelisms in the structure of the rites for both Holy Communion and Baptism: the reception of the elements, like the immersion in the water, forms the hinge around which turn a prefatory approach in faith and a subsequent prayer giving thanks for the grace conferred — and it is interesting to note here how absolute is the prayer of thanksgiving for baptism in its certainty about regeneration. (From a personal perspective, I find the resulting emphasis on the Eucharist as the repeatable part of Christian initiation to be entirely salutary, and very much in line with ecumenical thought today.)
The text about “efficacy” and “substance” that I have just alluded to, from the transcript of Cranmer’s heresy trial, shows how problematic all this is. And the root is, I agree with Richardson, in Cranmer’s inability to reconcile in his own mind what were to him two conflicting truths: the local presence of Christ’s body in heaven, and the real, substantial, effectual partaking of that body by the faithful in the Eucharist. As Colin Buchanan points out, Cranmer will subscribe to the most extreme realist position you care to suggest, so long as realism attaches to reception by the communicant, not to consecration. The result is a sui generis Eucharistic doctrine, one in which the elements themselves are effective signs without themselves containing the substance of what they effect. It is neither Lutheran nor Swiss.
I do not expect to have persuaded Prof. Tighe with so cursory an argument, but at least I will have clarified what I meant in ascribing to Cranmer something more than a Zwinglian understanding of the Eucharist, and in showing that this conclusion is there for all to draw even in the writings of scholars who would detect a strong affinity with Zurich in Cranmer’s words. He is never willing to relinquish a sense of sacramental realism, a fact that comes through well in MacCulloch’s treatment. I would see Cranmer’s inner conflict as the stirring of the waters out of which a more matured Anglican doctrine of “receptionism” (whose growth Prof. Tighe has partly outlined) would emerge, a view I share with William Crockett (Eucharist: Symbol of Transformation, p. 168). As for Dix’s sticking point about the patriarchs eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood by faith without the Eucharist, I say we must accept this too: it is after all scriptural (1 Cor. 10:4), and I have in any case never been able to see how one is to reconcile Anselm’s influential understanding of the “backward” effect of the sacrifice of Calvary without some such accommodation. It is the knife-edge that Cranmer had the walk.
2. What about the BCP?
Having said all this, I want to return to where it all started, namely the article on the Psallite Sapienter blog about what aspects of the 1662 BCP are still “fit for purpose.” As I said at the outset, my concern about the “Dix meme” is that it sets people hunting for negations in Cranmer’s text. Let me state candidly my considered opinion, which is that liturgical texts are ultimately inadmissible as evidence in the study of their authors’ Eucharistic doctrines. Liturgy functions at the level of image and symbol, and symbols function through their plurality of reference. Suppose we take the most obvious apparent negation in 1552:
graunt that wee, receyving these thy creatures of bread and wyne, accordinge to thy sonne our Savioure Jesus Christ’s holy institucion, in remembraunce of his death and passion, maybe partakers of his most blessed body and bloud
This phrase has been taken as a summary of Cranmer’s mature doctrine of the Eucharistic presence as a partaking through reception rather than a presence attached to the elements. And yet a look at all the scriptural connotations of the word “partakers” draws us immediately into the sphere of sacrifice. Likewise the word “creatures” may be taken to refer to the enduring state of the elements throughout the rite (Cranmer’s intention), but there is no need for us to do so. They are creatures at least until they are consecrated, surely! But more important is the symbolic referent — and I know I’m abusing my readers’ patience here! — since “creatures” has a prophetic significance: our minds are drawn to the “living creatures” of Ezekiel, with one wheel upon the earth that was lifted up to heaven, whom is seated the likeness of the glory of the Lord. Their appearance is as of burning coals — like the coal taken from the heavenly altar to touch the lips of Isaiah (a favourite patristic image for the Eucharist).
No doubt I will be called utterly fanciful. But you see what I mean: the scriptural vocabulary of the English liturgy opens itself up to significations beyond those intended by the compiler. I will venture a silly contemporary comparison. To read the 1662 Communion Office guided by Cranmer’s writings is like re-reading the “Harry Potter” books after J.K. Rowling announced that she had always had secretly in mind that Professor Dumbledore was gay. No doubt there will be a growth industry in “queer readings of Harry Potter,” but it would be silly to say that the text is confined to that interpretation just because the author subsequently revealed this intention. Liturgies are like the characters of a novel: their “meaning” is out of the control of their authors, who often have scarcely any idea of the full significance of what they have written.
I do not, of course, mean that the whole of 1662 must be read “allegorically” to be Catholic. It suffices to read it as itself, as if it were a monolith dug up from the sands, having no earlier models with which to compare it. Prof. Tighe presses into evidence the case of Cranmer’s excision of the words “in these holy mysteries” from the Prayer of Humble Access. This may be significant to Cranmer’s theology, or it may not. By my own lights, it seems to me far more sensible to think that the transfer of the prayer’s position was the main thing. Cranmer had to get it before the “prayer of consecration” (not his name for it) so that there would be no question of adoration. Since he connects the “holy mysteries” with the moment of reception, in its new position the prayer can’t rightly speak of them with a demonstrative determiner. And in any case, the phrase is still there immediately afterward, in the second prayer of thanksgiving. Short of the discovery of new notebooks showing Cranmer’s thoughts on the mechanics of the rite (like those that exist for the BCP daily office), we cannot know the significance of the changes of wording. We must take it as it is, and from its existing state, interpreted from the standpoint of experience and liturgical theology as theologia prima, a richness of meanings is allowed to flourish.
This is the basis on which I propose a “semiotic” interpretation of the BCP. As I said in my original note, I have no illusions about this yielding any immediate fruit for the Ordinariates. But it will be important in the long term, both within Anglicanism and ecumenically. Why? Because the 1662 BCP has lately attained an intra-Anglican and ecumenical significance that it never previously had: it has been taken as the official liturgical and doctrinal standard of both the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and the GAFCON primates in their 2008 Jerusalem Declaration. Those who study the liturgy and who care about the reunion of the Church should take note of this, because this action has in some ways added definition to what “Anglican Patrimony” will mean in future ecumenical engagement.
This is why I am dissatisfied with the “fit for purpose” approach to the BCP. The long-term ecumenical project must engage with it on its own terms and show how a truly apostolic, patristic, catholic faith can be shown to be the text’s natural foundation and goal.
I had the idea for this approach when reading a critique of Alexander Schmemann’s liturgical theology by Prof. Peter Galadza. Schmemann laid significance on the “little entrance” in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, when the Gospel book is brought out from the sanctuary into the nave. Schmemann insists that it must be interpreted according to its original function, which was the entrance of the whole people into the nave through what later became the “royal doors” into the sanctuary, mirroring the people’s entry into the heavenly sanctuary. Galadza questions how this historical insight can possibly relate to the experience of the people at the Liturgy today. Surely now its semiotic content is not an entry of the people, but a kind of theophany in which Christ descends from heaven (symbolized by the sanctuary veil) to speak in the Gospels. (I may be using the wrong words to convey the argument — I don’t have the article to hand.) We cannot experience the liturgy in terms of its archaeological states of development. There is only the “eternal now” of worship, in which the symbols acquire and disclose their multivalent meanings. It struck me that the recital of the Ten Commandments at the beginning of the 1662 rite was even more dramatic seen from this perspective: it is not didactic, but covenantal. And the union of the worshipper with the sacrifice of Christ brought out in the location of the reception of the elements in 1552/1662 seemed the very image of the developing todah sacrifice described by Gese and Ratzinger. And to my mild surprise, the words did not stand in the way of the “architecture” of the rite — though I am of course aware of what Prof. Tighe is at pains to point out, namely that the idea of the Eucharist as sacrifice was anathema to the Reformers. In spite of them, the BCP is deeply sacrificial in structure and even in wording, when the words are taken in their primary, scriptural sense.
Just one more example to show where I’m taking this. Psallite Sapienter points out Dix’s observation that putting the prayer for the monarch before the Collect of the day was probably to prevent a further turning of pages, but that the result is a further instance of the BCP’s intolerable Erastianism. That may be right. We can’t know. There is another possibility, namely that the proper collect ought to be understood, not as the conclusion of the opening of the liturgy (the “Gathering of the Community”) but as the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word. In the Roman Rite, the collect seems originally to have been the conclusion of the entrance rite, originally following the Introit (and later the Kyries and Gloria). Such at least is the theory of Jungmann (followed by Willis). But in the liturgy of Sarapion, there is an invariable “collect” prefixed to the lessons, which asks that the people may be attentive and edified by what they hear (Dix thought this to be the origin of the Roman collect). When we look at Cranmer’s original collects, they often seem to fill this function (“Grant that we may so read, mark, learn, etc.”; “Pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity…”). Some have complained that this introduced the idea of “themes” in the liturgy, a complaint with which I have sympathy. But it would seem that Cranmer saw a link between the collect and the lessons, even if his liturgical experience would not permit him to put a secondary collect before the collect of the day. In the so-called “Liturgy of Comprehension” (the failed BCP revision of 1689), most of the collects have been re-written to reflect on themes in the epistle, read immediately after it. So in the 1662 transposition of the collect, we probably see this understanding in effect: the collect belongs with the readings, not with the Commandments. Just think how many homilies we have all heard or read that purported to reveal the “link” between the collect, epistle, and gospel, and we will see that this is exactly how most preachers have understood it too. This leaves us with the prayer for the monarch as the conclusion of the “entrance rite,” and I find it remarkably fitting: both prayers ask that God will govern/rule the heart of the monarch, just as the people have prayed that the Decalogue may be written into their own hearts. All that is needed is a ceremonial distinction between the conclusion of the entrance rite and the beginning (with the proper collect) of the Liturgy of the Word. For instance, the presiding priest or bishop might lead the entrance rite from the altar rail and then ascend to the altar to pray the collect. That would put any notion of “Erastianism” in its proper place: the monarch is prayed for as one of the people, and she too now turns her ears to attend to the word about to be proclaimed, the words by which she too will be judged.
It is this project, a semiotic re-reading of the 1662 Communion Office, that I hoped would elicit advice from Deborah’s readers. I was hesitant to put the idea in public view, because I knew that there would be many ready to “correct” me about Cranmer’s Eucharistic doctrine, without paying any attention to the question of how we are to read the liturgy in front of us today. I cannot help but recall Newman’s similar failure with Tract XC, in which he insisted that Anglicans today ought not to be bound to the intentions of the framers of the 39 Articles, but only to their words, words susceptible of a Catholic reading. I contend that Anglo-Catholics ought to undertake a similar re-reading of the BCP today. But perhaps it is unlikely: for those who have fought so long for the Catholic doctrine, the BCP Communion has come to mean — can only mean — a rejection of the Catholic doctrine. Indeed, it means a rejection of sacramental grace altogether, since Cranmer must have rejected it too. I think of Charles Reding in Loss and Gain, confronted by a tutor who thinks that Article 22 denies, not the invocation of saints, but the intercession of saints. A rejection of the BCP Communion on the grounds that it is “Zwinglian” is an equally unfortunate error, a reading of words that are not in fact there. And that error leads to an “Anglican” version of the Mass that is purely aesthetic in value, a sop for those dear souls who just wished things could have stayed the same. We have these in our modern Anglican liturgical revisions too, where the old words are draped around pseudo-Hippolytus, Christus Victor, and Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. I spew them out of my mouth as neither hot nor cold.