Cranmer on religious practice

Thomas Cranmer to the Privy Council, 7 October, 1552 (SP 10/15/15, f 34r-34r)

In this letter, Cranmer complains to his fellow privy councillors, politely but firmly: they have passed on concerns about the requirement in the new, second Book of Common Prayer for congregations to kneel during communion.  Cranmer defends his position: he argues that the issue was discussed at length when the book was revised, that the book has been passed by Parliament and cannot be changed further, and on simple practical grounds.  Ultimately, the ‘black rubric’ was inserted into the Second Book of Common Prayer to explain why kneeling was required and how it was to be understood, but the action remained controversial for the rest of the 16th and much of the 17th century.


After my right humble commendations unto your good Lordships where I understand by your Lords letters that the king Majesty his pleasure is that the book of common service should be diligently perused and therein the Printers errors to be amended I shall travaile [labour] therein to the uttermost of my power, all be it I had need first to have had the book written which was passed by act of Parliament and sealed with the great Seale which remained in the hands of Mr Spilman, clerk of the Parliament, who is not in London nor I cannot Learn where he is. Nevertheless I have gotten [have] the copy which Mr Spilman delivered to the Printers to print by, which I think shall serve well enough. And where I understand further by your Lords letters, that some been offended with kneeling at the time of the receiving of the Sacrament, and would that I calling to me the Bishop of London [Nicholas Ridley] and some other learned men as Mr Peter Martyr[1] or such like should with them expend and may the said prescription of the kneeling whether it be fit to remain as a commandment or to be left out of the book. I shall accomplish the king’s Majesty’s his commandment herein.  Albeit I trust that we with just balance made this at the making of the book, and not only were but a great many bishops and other of the best learned within this realm and appointed for that purpose.  And now the book being read and approved by [the] whole state of the Realm in this high court of Parliament within the king’s Majesty his royal assent that this should be now altered again without Parliament of what importance this matter is. I refer to your Lords wisdom to consider.  I know your Lords’ wisdom to be such, that I trust ye will not be moved with these glorious and unquiet spirits which can like nothing but that is after their own fantasy and cease not to make trouble and disquiet when things be most

quiet and in good order.  If such men should be heard, although the book was made every year anew, yet should it not lack faults in their opinion.  But say they it is not commanded in the scripture to kneel and whatsoever is not commanded in the scripture, is against the scripture and utterly & unlawful and ungodly.  But this saying is the chief foundation of the error of the Anabaptists and of divers other sects. This saying is a subversion of ill order as well in religion as in common policy. If this saying be true, take away the whole book of service.  For what should men travel to set an order in the form of service, if no order can be set, but that is already prescribed by the scripture?  And because I will not trouble your Lords with reciting of many scriptures or proofs [evidence] in this matter whosoever teaches any such doctrine (if your Lords will give me leave) I will set my foot by his to be tried by fire, that his doctrine is untrue, and not only untrue but also seditious and perilous to be heard of any subjects, as a thing breaking the bridle of obedience and losing them from the bond of all Prince’s Laws.  My good Lords I pray you to consider that there been two prayers which go before the receiving of the Sacrament and two immediately follow all which time the people praying and receiving thanks, do kneel and what inconvenience there is, that it may not be thus ordered I know not.  If the kneeling of the people should be discontinued for the time of the receiving of the sacrament so that at the receipt there of they should rise up and stand or sit, and then immediately kneel down again, it should rather import a contemptuous

then a reverent receiving of the sacrament.  But it is not expressly contained in the scripture save there that Christ ministered the Sacrament to his apostles kneeling.  Nor they find it not expressly in scripture that he ministered it standing or sitting but if we will follow the plain words of scripture, we shall rather receive it lying down on the ground, (as the custom of the world at that time almost everywhere and as the Tartars and Turks still yet at this day to eat their meat lying upon the ground.  And the words of the Evangelists import the same, which be [quotes Greek] which signify properly to lie down upon the floor or ground and not to sit upon a form [bench] or stool. And the same speech use the evangelists where they [say] that Christ fed five thousand with five loaves, [where] it is plainly expressed that they sat down upon the ground and not upon stools.  I beseech your Lords to take in good part, this my long babbling which I write as of myself only, because the bishop of London is not yet come, and your Lords required answer with speed, and therefore am I constrained to make some answer to your Lords afore his coming.  And thus I pray god long to preserve your Lords and to increase the same in all prosperity and godliness.  At Lambeth.  This 7th of October 1552

Your lordships to command
T. Cant

[1] Peter Martyr Vermigli, an important Italian reformer who came to England in 1547.  He was made regius professor of Divinity at Oxford in 1548 and was an important influence in shaping the theology of the Edwardian church.

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