To Anglo-Catholics, Cranmer has always been a problem. Were they to admit his Protestantism and to disown him, or to deny his Protestantism and claim him as a forerunner? Both expedients have repeatedly been tried. For many years this century, particularly under the influence of the great liturgiologist Frere, a compromise originally proposed by Pusey was favoured, which distinguished between the earlier Catholic Cranmer and the later Protestant Cranmer. His earlier stage was represented by the traditional 1549 Prayer Book and his later stage by the Protestant 1552 Prayer Book. The earlier book represented his true mind, whereas the latter book reflected malign influence from the Continent. However, the small changes made to the 1552 Book in 1559, 1603 and 1662 were all in the Catholic direction, it was argued, and a more thorough-going change back to the 1549 pattern, as in many Anglican revisions abroad, was all that was required to bring out the Prayer Book’s true Catholic character.
This Prayer Book Catholicism, once so prevalent, received a shattering blow at the end of the War, with the publication of Dix’s Shape of the Liturgy. According to Dix, the Prayer Book is not subtly Catholic but incurably Protestant. Cranmer’s theology, which it still expresses, was a negative Zwinglianism, and the only consistent course for Anglo-Catholics is to set the Prayer Book on one side and to begin again from Hippolytus and the liturgies of the early Church ... To put the Prayer Book on one side (rather than adapting it, as hitherto) became the accepted policy, and liturgies following the patterns of the early Church, but embodying the agnostic theology of the 1960s, went into mass production. The American Prayer Book is a prime example, but the ASB is a liturgy of much the same kind ...
Of course, to throw over the Prayer Book as hopeless, in Dix’s manner, is really to renounce any claim to be Anglican. What wonder, then, that the modern Anglo-Catholic (now further alienated by the ordination of women) looks with increasingly wistful eyes to Rome? But before he finally hitches his waggon to that star, there are two points that he might be wise to ponder:
(i) Dix’s claim that Cranmer’s theology was a negative Zwinglianism was subsequently disproved. After a prolonged discussion, Peter Brooks’s book Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of the Eucharist (1965) proved, to most people’s satisfaction, that Cranmer’s teaching was much closer to a positive Calvinism than to a negative Zwinglianism. It was therefore on the positive side of the great divide in eucharistic theology laid out by Hooker (Ecclesiastical Polity 5:67), and the indications of this in the text of the Prayer Book are not illusory.
(ii) The original problem which Anglo-Catholics proposed to themselves, what attitude to Cranmer would best distance them from Protestantism, was perhaps misconceived. Protestantism as an unthinking iconoclasm, and Protestantism as a sober reformed Catholicism, are two very different things. The latter was the Protestantism of Hooker, the Caroline divines and the early Nonjurors. Were the Tractarians really wise to discard it? Could this not be a way forward today, on which Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, and biblical Christians from other traditional churches as well, might learn to agree?
-- Roger Beckwith is Librarian of Latimer House, Oxford.