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Thomas Cranmer's Theology of the Eucharist

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Thomas Cranmer's Theology of the Eucharist Thomas Cranmer was born into a modest Nottinghamshire family in the year 1489. Although his influence and authority was all too apparent after his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury, his family were little known and relatively poor. Cranmer's loyalty to his King and country ultimately led to his growth in stature, and his insatiable appetite for learning naturally drew him into contact with other contemporary continental reformers. Although he was not in essence to be seen as radical, for his programme of reform was more than cautious under Henry VIII, Cranmer wished to return Christianity to its truthful origins, and to do so required reformation. His theology of the Eucharist underwent many diverse and often contradictory phases before ultimately reaching its conclusion in his Defence of 1550, widely regarded as his final position. Within this essay, I will attempt to trace the development of and influences on his eucharistic theology, in order to define and analyse his final, mature theology of the Eucharist. Prior to his appointment as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1532, Cranmer had been required to study 'grossest kind of sophistry', i.e. Scholastic theology, at Cambridge; which he finally completed in 1511.1 Of his own free will, Cranmer decided to reject Scholasticism, and, under the increasing influence of Erasmus, who had been appointed to the divinity lectureship in Cambridge in the same year, Cranmer began to favour biblical study, and in doing so acknowledged the importance of reading the Bible in its original Hebrew and Greek.2 However, in spite of Erasmus's public denunciation of 'papistical abuses' (cf. Erasmus's Julius Exclusus), which brought sympathy and agreement from Cranmer, Thomas still believed in the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation in 1533, for he took part in the denunciation of the heretic Frith, who had denied the existence of Purgatory, and, more importantly Transubstantiation. To deny that Christ was not present really, corporally and substantially in the Eucharist was to deny the fundamental Catholic theology of the Eucharist, and Cranmer duly maintained that Frith's doctrines were indeed erroneous. ...read more.


Although the 1549 BCP was heavily influenced by that which had been publicly expressed in the Lord's Debate, Cranmer's theology of the Eucharist had not been fully expressed until the publication of his Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ in 1550. Cranmer's Defence provides the scholar with the first full exposition of his theology, and indeed an exposition of his mature theology of the Eucharist. Although his theology underwent minor modifications within his Answer of 1551, the second BCP of 1552 and his Disputation and Explication of 1554 and 1555, the Defence remains the definitive guide to Cranmer's mature theology of the Eucharist.22 In his book, Cranmer methodically deals with the assertions and questions of Gardiner, and once again affirmed that the foundation of his eucharistic theology relied on the denial of Transubstantiation and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in favour of the Spiritual Presence. Transubstantiation was seen to 'lead the people unto error and idolatry...'23 and was seen as an erroneous Papal superstition. The absence of Christ's physical body is heavily emphasised, for Christ 'now sitteth at the right hand of the Father, and there shall remain until the last day...' 24. However, Cranmer was careful to maintain that although Christ was corporally absent from the Lord's Supper, he was still spiritually present with the faithful. This was argued with vast and numerous references to the Fathers of the Church in Book II of the Defence. Cranmer's emphasis on the r´┐Żle of faith throughout the Lord's Supper was in essence hardly surprising given his knowledge of Lutheranism and his previous rejection of manducatio impiorum, although it is wrong to surmise that he held to the Lutheran doctrine of justification by faith alone.25 Cranmer believed that through the faith of the individual it was possible to partake in the spiritual eating of Christ through the ascension of the heart. ...read more.


7 ibid., p25 8 ibid., p25 9 P.Brooks, Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of the Eucharist, pp.7ff 10 Article X, is, according to Ayris, explicitly Lutheran in content, and it is based primarily on the Wittenburg Concord of 1535, p27 11 P.Brooks, Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of the Eucharist, pp.22-35 12 ibid., p40 13 ibid., p41 14 J.Ridley, who asserts, not without evidence, (in Thomas Cranmer, pp.252ff) that Cranmer could have been exposed to Ridley's 'theology' at any time between 1538 and 1548. If this is the case, the of conversion may in fact be longer than the 2 years that separated the conversation with Ridley and the Lord's Debate. 15 ibid., p289 16 S.W.Sykes, 'Cranmer on the Open Heart', in Armentout D., This Sacred History: Anglican Reflections, p11 17 cf. G.Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, pp.646ff 18 P.Brooks, Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of the Eucharist, p120 19 ibid., p76 20 Dugmore C.W., The Mass and the English Reformers, p159 21 B.Hall, in Ayris P. ed., Thomas Cranmer, Churchman and Scholar, p233 (Cranmer, Works, PS I, p308) 22 P.Brooks, Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of the Eucharist, p78 23 Defence,V, p230 24 Defence,II, p123 25 Cranmer never mentioned the Lutheran doctrine of Justification by Faith alone in connection with the Sacraments, and though he wrote (undated) notes on justification by faith, it seems unusual that if he did believe in the Lutheran doctrine his belief in the presence of Christ at the Eucharist was in direct contradiction to that espoused by Luther. B.Hall, in Ayris P. ed., Thomas Cranmer, Churchman and Scholar, pp.257ff 26 Defence, II, p124 27 Defence, III, p150 28 Answer, PS I, Cranmer, Works, pp.70-71, in P.Brooks, Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of the Eucharist, p95 29 Answer, PS I, Cranmer, Works, p366, P.Brooks, Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of the Eucharist, p156 30 G.Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, p667 31 Cranmer PS I, Works, p394, in Dugmore C.W., The Mass and the English Reformers, p158 32 B.Hall in Ayris P. ed., Thomas Cranmer, Churchman and Scholar, p226 33 ibid., p227 34 P.Brooks, Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of the Eucharist, p148 ...read more.

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