14 January 2009

Dixit et loquitur: the Reformation and the Mass

Dom Gregory continues:

Isn't it the same problem with the question of the 'sacrifice' of the Mass? The kind of thing which was being fought about over about the 'sacrifice' - the question of 'How' - was precisely the kind of thoing which Trent would not and did not endorse, if you look at the canons. The kind of thing which was being denied was just the kind of thing a man like de la Taille, or Masure, is trying to avoid in our own day. But for contemoraries on both sides it seems to me that it was a battle in a fog - starting from false premises on both sides! So they tried to short-circuit the question, or rather to ignore it.

What I think is clear is that the Church of England, as such, meant to have real bishops and priests, and meant to have a 'real Eucharist' conveying the Body and Blood of Christ, and not a 'memorial service'. (Cranmerdid not mean the real Eucharist and I doubt very much indeed whether he meant the real episcopate.) What is clear is that nobody was at all sure what was involved in either. But the goverment had to do something to satisfy these desires, though it did as little as it could, because it meant to have a 'National Church'. Remember, Philip of Spain had been crowned King of England! And the 'Universal' Church, at that moment, meant 'King Philip's' Church! What was involved in having real bishops only came out much later, when the 'National Church' came up against the jure divino claims of the Geneva polity! It is only then - in the 1590s - that the Anglican Church discovered a theological reason for having bishops - men who could fulfil the traditional duties of bishops in Church and State. (Hence the quite extraordinary statements of the Anglican Preface to the Ordinal. They aren't intended as theology!)

If one wants to understand the extraordinary muddle politics made of the whole thing for the bien pensants of the period, one should read 'The Counter-Reformation in England' by a Roman Catholic called Philip Hughes. English Catholicism was thrown away by the Holy See. But I think it is only when you think back, behind all the post-Tridentine precisions, to the wild theological muddle when no-one was at all sure what a 'real' bishop or a 'real' Eucharist meant, that you can understand the sort of rough and ready, ramshackle, solutions men adopted to 'keep the Church going' at all. Some of them were deplorable, some of them were adopted solely for reasons of state, some of them failed to 'work' at all. But considering the confusions of the times, I think the intention - the practical intention - of what was done is clear enough. It is when one tries now, after the clarification of centuries, to make precise arguments on the niceties of theology, that we all fall down!


Presbyter said...

I wonder what Dix means by "the Church of England as such"? He says it meant to have real bishops and priests and meant to have a "real Eucharist". In the context of Elizabeth's first few years was it the newly appointed bishops, the Parliament, or the Queen? Decisions seem to have been made by royal authority or legislation.

William Tighe said...

Good question. The Canterbury Convocation in 1559 "meant" to retain the Mass, reject the Royal Supremacy and uphold papal authority. The next Convocation, in 1562, produced the 39 Articles, and fell just a few votes short of endorsing a desire to abolish all vestments, end kneeling at communion. What it "meant" to do, if anything, is not evident to me.