Saturday, 20 October 2012




Being the substance of a paper first presented to the
1989 Westminster Conference in London

by Dr Alan C. Clifford


Calvin and Cranmer: The Character and Priorities of Worship
Such was the situation inherited by the Protestant Reformers. In their concern to restore preaching to its apostolic and spiritual importance, the Reformers cleansed worship of all superstitious and idolatrous overtones. Nowhere was this policy carried out more consistently and thoroughly than in Geneva; and Calvin's concern for purity of worship in England is especially seen in his lengthy letter to the Duke of Somerset.16 The great priority was the restoration of preaching: 'And the utmost care should be taken, that so far as possible you should have good trumpets, which shall sound into the very depths of the heart.' This letter was written in October 1548, a year before Cranmer's first Prayer Book appeared. We should note that Calvin recognized the need for 'a certain written form' for a catechism, the administration of the sacraments and the public prayers, 'for the sake of supplementing the ignorance and deficiencies of some, as the better to manifest the conformity and agreement between all the churches' and 'to take away all ground of pretense for bringing in any eccentricity or newfangled doctrine'. All this is consistent with Calvin's liturgical provisions in his Les Forme des Prières published in Geneva in 1542.17

While Cranmer's 1549 Prayer Book was a decided disappointment to many, the 1552 book was a more faithful expression of Reformed worship. Indeed, it represents the high water mark of Reformed Anglicanism  or the low water mark if one is an Anglo-Catholic! Even the 1662 Prayer Book has more affinities with the Elizabethan book of 1559 which, in fact, reverted to the 1549 in certain important details. The 1559 reintroduced the 1549's doubtful and ambiguous wording in the delivery of the sacraments to the communicants,18 and it removed the famous 'black rubric', a typically Cranmerian compromise between John Knox's belief that communicants should sit at the Lord's Supper and any idolatrous overtones in the kneeling of communicants.'19 Also, the 1559 deleted the 1552 Litany's reference to 'they tyranny of the Bishop of Rome and all his detestable enormities'.20 Cranmer would have regarded these changes as retrogressive and ominous, a point which history arguably confirms. For those tempted to think that such details are of minor importance, the history of theology confirms too frequently the theory that oaks of falsehood grow from acorns of error.

While Calvin expressed his doubts about the residual Romanism of the Anglican liturgy21 and the slow pace of the English Reformation22 we should recognize the incipient Puritanism of the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. Did not Cranmer establish a puritan precedent by using the word 'minister' more frequently than 'priest' in the 1552 Order for Morning Prayer, and introducing it into the Communion service?23 In fact, Puritan editions of the Prayer Book, appearing from 1578 onwards, applied these measures more consistently.24 And had not Cranmer recognized as early as 1540 that the New Testament assumes an identity between bishops and presbyters, and that the people, rather than princes, elected overseers in the church?25 The logic of these observations leads inexorably to Puritanism. Thus there seems to be some evidence that, for all his caution, Cranmer was moving in this direction. His understanding was never static and, had both he and England's Josiah, King Edward VI, lived, the English Reformation would have gone beyond the 'half-way house' Elizabethan settlement. One wonders what might have happened if Cranmer's projected Reformed ecumenical synod had taken place with John Calvin in attendance at Lambeth!26 Furthermore, what might Cranmer's close friendship with the proto-Puritan John Hooper have produced had both men survived the Marian persecutions?27 Speculations apart, the evidence cited above suggests that if the 1552 Prayer Book does not lead directly to the Westminster Directory of Public Worship, its author would arguably have been more at home with the abortive 1689 Prayer Book proposals28 than the anti-puritan 1662 Prayer Book.29 He would doubtless have shared the view that when John Calvin's achievement was celebrated at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Geneva, on Reformation Sunday, 1986, it was altogether inappropriate to use the 1662 Prayer Book. 

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