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Evaluating Liturgical Continuity and Change at the Reformation: a Case Study of Thomas Müntzer, Martin Luther, and Thomas Cranmer

  • Bryan D. Spinks (a1)


In his now classic work, The Shape of the Liturgy, first published in 1945, the Anglican Benedictine monk, Dom Gregory Dix, was concerned to demonstrate that in the origin and development of the eucharistic liturgy, and underneath the verbal differences, the cultural diversity, and the growth of the centuries, a particular unchanging core shape could be identified. His study was primarily concerned with the eucharist from its institution in the New Testament to the sixth century, and it was not his intention in that work to survey in any depth the later medieval developments, East or West, or the Reformation. Nevertheless, as an Anglican in the Anglo-Catholic tradition Dix felt obliged to use his findings of the earlier period to embark upon a not too subtle criticism of the sixteenth-century Reformation liturgies, and particularly those revisions of his own denomination instigated and presided over by Thomas Cranmer. For Dix, the later medieval liturgical development saw a shift of emphasis to an unhealthy preoccupation with the Passion, and was brought to its logical unfortunate conclusion in the rites of the Reformation. With reference to Cranmer, Dix could thus write: ‘With an inexcusable suddenness, between a Saturday night and a Monday morning at Pentecost 1549, the English liturgical tradition of nearly a thousand years was altogether overturned.’ We should note the phrase, ‘inexcusable suddenness’. When combined with rhetoric such as ‘a horrible story all round’ and ‘enforcement by penal statutes of a novel liturgy’, it is clear that Dix was using a different set of criteria from earlier Anglican apologists. Compare Jeremy Taylor in 1658, who wrote: ‘the Liturgy of the Church of England hath advantages so many and so considerable as not onely to raise it self above the devotions of other Churches, but to endear the affections of good people to be in love with liturgy in general.’



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1 Dix, Gregory, The Shape of the Liturgy (Westminster, 1945).

2 Ibid., p. 686.

3 Preface to Forms of Prayer Publicke and Private together with the Psalter or Psalms of David after the Kings Translation (London, 1658), sig. A6.

4 Duffy, Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars (New Haven, CT, and London, 1992).

5 Ibid., p. 464.

6 Ibid., pp. 466-7.

7 Brightman, F. E., The English Rite, 2 vols (London, 1915).

8 Cuming, G. J., The Codly Order. Texts and Studies relating to the Book of Common Prayer, Alcuin Club Collections, 65 (London, 1983).

9 Porter, H. Boone, ‘Hispanic influences on worship in the English tongue’, in Alexander, J. Neil, ed., Time and Community (Washington, DC, 1990), pp. 17184 .

10 Concerning the Order of Public Worship, 1523, in Luther’s Works [hereafter LW], ed. Pclikan, J. and Lchmann, H. T., 55 vols (Philadelphia, PA, 1958-86), 53, p. 11 .

11 Formula missae et communionis pro Ecclesia Vuittembergensi, 1523: LW, 53, p. 20.

12 See the many works on Eastern Orthodox rites by Mateos, Juan, e.g. La Célébration de la parole dans la liturgie byzantine. Étude historique, Oricntalia Christiana Analccta, 191 (Rome, 1971 ). For a summary, Taft, R. F., The structural analysis of liturgical units: an essay in methodology’, in his Beyond East and West: Problems of Liturgical Understanding (Washington, DC, 1984), pp. 15164 .

13 See for example my approach in The Anaphora of Nestorius: Antiochene Lex credendi through Constantinopolitan Lex orandi?’, Orientalia Christiana Periodica, 62 (1996), pp. 273-94.

14 For example, Zimmerman, Joyce A., Liturgy as Language of Faith: A Liturgical Methodology in the Mode of Paul Ricoeur’s Textual Hermeneutics (Lanham, MD, and London, 1988 ); Nichols, Bridget, Liturgical Hermeneutics (Frankfurt am Main, 1996 ).

15 Müntzer, Thomas, Schriften und Briefe, ed. Kirn, P. and Franz, G. (Gutersloher, 1968 ).

16 Rupp, Gordon, Patterns of Reformation (London, 1968), p. 306 .

17 Goertz, Hans-Jürgen, Thomas Müntzer. Apocalyptic Mystic and Revolutionary (Edinburgh, 1993). p. 83 .

18 The Collected Works of Thomas Müntzer [hereafter CTM], trans, and ed. Peter Matheson (Edinburgh, 1988), p. 168.

19 Miintzer, Schriften, p. 30.

20 CTM, p. 170.

21 Aquinas taught that the words of Christ must be recited for it to be valid; if the priest omitted (by accident) other parts of the canon, this would not invalidate the mass.

22 Rupp, Patterns of Reformation, p. 323.

23 Texts in LW, 53.

24 Ibid., p. 68.

25 Ibid., p. 69.

26 Ibid., p. 24.

27 See Smyth, C. H., Cranmer and the Reformation under Edward VI (Cambridge, 1926 ); Webb, D., ‘Les Offices du matin et du soir dans l’Église Anglicane’, in Cassicn, M. and Botte, B., eds, La Priere des Heures, Orandi, Lex, 33 (Paris, 1962), pp. 31731 ; Cuming, , The Godly Order, pp. 123 ; Gelston, Anthony, ‘Cranmer and the daily services’, in Johnson, Margot, ed., Thomas Cranmer (Durham, 1990), pp. 5181 .

28 The Order of the Communion, ed. Wilson, H. B., HBS, 34 (London, 1908 ); for general details See Cuming, G.J., A History of Anglican Liturgy (London, 1969 ).

29 Cuming, The Godly Order, p. 28.

30 Gelston, ‘Cranmer’, p. 56.

31 See Buchanan, Colin, What Did Cranmer Think he was Doing? (Bramcotc, 1982 ), for a useful and judicious discussion.

32 See Boone Porter, ‘Hispanic influences’.

33 Marion J. Hatchett, ‘Prayer books’, in S. Sykes and Booty, J., eds, The Study of Anglicanism (London, 1988), p. 128 .

34 Stripping of the Altars, pp. 466-7.

35 Gocrtz, Thomas Müntzer, pp. 114-15.

36 Scribner, R. W., ‘Ritual and popular religion in Catholic Germany at the time of the Reformation’, JEH, 35 (1984), pp. 4777 .

37 See Yelvcton, E. E., The Mass in Sweden, HBS, 57 (London, 1920 ); Brilioth, Y., Eucharistic Faith and Practice, Evangelical and Catholic (London, 1930 ).

38 MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Thomas Cranmer (New Haven, CT, and London, 1996), pp. 62132 .

39 Dickens, A. G., The German Nation and Martin Luther (New York, 1974 ).

40 LW, 45, p. 377-

41 Ibid., 13, p. 218.

42 Ibid., 40, p. 141.

43 Ibid., 53, p. 54.

44 See the useful discussion in Dennis Marzolf, ‘Johannes Bugenhagen and die Lutheran Mass’, Logia, 11:2 (1993), pp. 14-20.

45 Cuming, The Godly Order, pp. 68-90.

46 MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer, pp. 392-3.

47 Cuming, History of Anglican Liturgy, p. 105.

48 See Spiiiks, Bryan D., From the Lord and ‘The Best Reformed Churches’. A Study of the Eucharistic Liturgy in the English Puritan and Separatist Traditions, 1550-1633, Bibliotheca Ephemcridcs Liturgicae: subsidia, 33 (Rome, 1984 ).

49 See ibid.; Rodgers, Dirk W., John a Lasco in England (New York, 1994 ).

50 MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer, p. 393.

51 See CTM, pp. 230-52.

52 Ibid., p. 54.

53 Ibid., pp. 68-9.

54 Irwin, Joyce, The theological and social dimensions of Thomas Müntzer’s liturgical reform’ (Yale University Ph. D. thesis, 1972), p. 8 .

55 CTM, p. 180.

56 Irwin, Theological and social dimensions’, p. 22.

57 CTM, p. 171.

58 Irwin, Theological and social dimensions’, p. 31.

59 Ibid., pp. 86-97.


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