Thursday, September 25, 2014

History of the Anglican Church XCI

An Anglican Church in the
Puritan Style

One more posting on the 1552 Prayer Book and this is the story of the “Black Rubric.”  Archbishop Cranmer, as radical as were the reforms he proposed in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, had retained kneeling as the posture for receiving Holy Communion.  Some of the more radical reformers—the precursors of the Puritans of the next generations—objected to this and wanted the English Church to follow the Calvinist practice found in the Reformed Churches of Switzerland and of Strasbourg where the communicants received sitting as a clear indication that the Sacrament was a memorial of Christ but not his physical Body and Blood.   Cranmer refused to consider this change but the Royal Council ordered an addendum to the Prayer Book explaining that kneeling for Holy Communion was not meant to signify adoration of the Sacrament but to signify “a humble and grateful acknowledging of benefits of Christ…”.  Since the Book was already at the printers and the red inking had already be done, the “rubrics”—that is those parts that contain the directives for the service and which are printed in red to distinguish them from the text of the service which is printed in black—had been completed.  Thus the Council’s addendum was added but had to be printed in black ink.  It came to be known as the “Black Rubric.”  Here is the text of Black Rubric—with spelling updated to modern standards:

 Although no order can be so perfectly devised, but it may be of some, either of their ignorance and infirmity or else of malice and obstinacy misconstrued, depraved, and interpreted in a wrong part:  And yet because of brotherly charity willeth, that so much as conveniently may be, offenses should be taken away: therefore we willing to do the same.  Whereas it is ordained in the book of common prayer, in the administration of the Lord’s Supper, that the Communicants kneeling should receive the Holy Communion.  Which thing being well meant, for a signification  of the humble and grateful acknowledging of the benefits of Christ, given unto the worthy receiver, to avoid the profanation and disorder, which about the holy Communion might else ensue, Lest yet the same kneeling might be thought or taken otherwise we do declare that it is not meant thereby that any adoration is done or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental bread or wine there bodily received, or unto any real and essential presence there being of Christ’s natural flesh and blood.  For as concerning the Sacramental bread and wine, they remain still in their very natural substances and therefore may not be adored, for that were Idolatry to be abhorred of all faithful Christians.  And as concerning the natural body and blood of our savior Christ, they are in heaven and not here.  For it is against the truth of Christ’s true natural body to be in more places than in one at one time. 

Why did Archbishop Cranmer refuse to have the communicants sit for Holy Communion?  Cranmer himself tended to prefer a somewhat ambiguous approach to the nature of Christ’s Presence in the Sacrament.   Though originally Lutheran in theological orientation, and later Calvinist, but this point Archbishop Cramer was basically a follower of the Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli who taught that the Sacrament was simply a memorial of the Death of Christ and who rejected any sense of Christ being present except spiritually present in the heart of the believer by the believer’s faith.  But Cranmer also knew that the English—even those who accepted the Protestant faith—had a wide variety of understandings of the Sacrament and he was unwilling to force a uniform doctrine on them, at least in the liturgy.  There were those who, whether of Catholic or Lutheran leanings, still held for a real and corporeal presence of Christ.  There were those who, influenced by Calvin, held that Christ was truly present but not corporeally present in the Sacrament.  And there were those who, like himself, believed that the Sacrament was no more than a memorial that triggered a personal and interior response to Christ.  The Archbishop had worked to create a liturgy in which all could see their faith reflected and find some comfort, in the hopes that over time the single liturgy would solidify a single faith.  It was a vain hope, of course, as doctrinal ambiguity is the hallmark of Anglicanism to this day. 
When Elizabeth came to the Throne she did not have the “Black Rubric” printed in the 1559 Book, which was in several ways a (small) step back from the more radical Protestantism of the 1552 Book.  It did reappear in the 1662 Prayer Book in a futile attempt to keep the nonconformist and Presbyterian elements within the Church of England. 
The Black Rubric is significant because it clearly states, despite Cranmer’s wish for a certain liturgical vagueness, that the Church of England rejects the notion that Christ is present in the Eucharist in any physical sense.  By its naïve assumption that the Resurrected Body of Christ is nothing other than a resuscitated and assumed-into-heaven corpse, it reflects a false dichotomy between the resurrected Body of Christ “in heaven” and his Sacramental Body present not only in the Eucharistic Bread and Wine, but in the Church itself.  It is another indication of how the Church of England crosses over in the 1552 Prayer Book from a “Catholic” (albeit not “Roman”) Church to a Protestant Church.
When I started this series, I was far more positive on the continuity of the Church of England that I am now—having done considerable reading and research.  Yet I do think that it is essential that we always view the Church of England—and our own Church as well—in its historical context and realize that there is a certain evolution of doctrine and even of faith.  And we need to keep in mind that the 1552 Prayer Book has not been the final word in the Anglican theological liturgy.  We will see that the Book did not sit well with many because while it reflected the theology of Archbishop Cranmer and his friends,  it did not adequately capture the faith of the Anglican faithful.   Indeed the attempts to reform and refine it will bring down both the bishops and the Crown in the 17th century—but that is a bit off in the distance yet.  

1 comment:

  1. Cranmer's Eucharist continued to do what the Christ always intended. He continued the offices of deacon, priest and bishop. The scriptures were proclaimed in a language understanded of the people. All hallmarks of the Catholic Church.