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Discerning the Body of Christ: A Retrieval of Thomas Cranmer’s Eucharistic Theology by Way of the Spiritual Senses

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 July 2019


Thomas Cranmer’s Eucharistic theology has been the source of no small amount of scholarship and dispute. I argue that these disputes are in part due to the fact that Cranmer wavers between describing two distinct realities and that these realities are not necessarily coincidental. There is the reality of the consecrated elements, which he understands figuratively as being the body and blood of Christ. But Cranmer also describes a second reality, which is the direct connection between the soul of the recipient and the actual body and blood of Christ. I highlight the latter reality by recourse to recent work on the notion of the spiritual senses in the Christian theological tradition.

Research Article
© The Journal of Anglican Studies Trust 2019 

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1 Arcadi, James M. is Assistant Professor in Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, USA.Google Scholar

2 Cranmer, Thomas and Jenkyns, Henry, The Remains of Thomas Cranmer, vol. II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1833), p. 324.Google Scholar

3 Ridley, Jasper Godwin, Thomas Cranmer (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), p. 1.Google Scholar

4 Gerrish, Brian A. introduced the term ‘symbolic parallelism’ to describe views like Cranmer’s in his influential essay ‘The Lord’s Supper in the Reformed Confessions’, Theology Today 23.2 (1966), pp. 224-43CrossRefGoogle Scholar; see also MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Thomas Cranmer: A Life (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), pp. 614-16Google Scholar.

5 For a recent discussion of contemporary approaches to a spectrum of views on the metaphysics of the Eucharist, see Arcadi, James M., ‘Recent Philosophical Work on the Doctrine of the Eucharist’, Philosophy Compass 11.7 (2016), pp. 402-12CrossRefGoogle Scholar and An Incarnational Model of the Eucharist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 13-23.

6 Gavrilyuk, Paul L. and Coakley, Sarah, The Spiritual Senses: Perceiving God in Western Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 1-19 (1)Google Scholar.

7 Gavrilyuk and Coakley, The Spiritual Senses, p. 2.

8 Gavrilyuk and Coakley, The Spiritual Senses, p. 3.

9 Alston, William P., Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), p. 18.Google Scholar

10 Alston, Perceiving God, p. 18.

11 I want to leave this vaguely stated so as to allow ‘Eucharistic religious experience’ to cover a diversity of instances from manducation of the elements, to observation of consecrated elements, to a vision of the elements, to remembering an instance of interacting with the elements, etc.

12 Where by ‘spiritual’ I simply mean an entity not empirically verifiably present to one’s physical senses.

13 I understand that ‘in the elements’ may not be the most metaphysically precise way to put things, but speaking loosely I think the locution is apt enough.

14 Gerrish, ‘The Lord’s Supper’.

15 Arcadi, ‘Recent Philosophical Work’, p. 402.

16 Arcadi, ‘Recent Philosophical Work’, p. 402.

17 Notwithstanding that one can consume nutrients via an IV when one is unconscious, or a nursing babe may not perceive the milk she is consuming. Generally, one perceives when one consumes.

18 Gavrilyuk and Coakley, The Spiritual Senses, p. 6.

19 See Douglas, Brian, A Companion to Anglican Eucharistic Theology. I. The Reformation to the 19th Century (Leiden: Brill, 2012), especially pp. 20-34 Google Scholar. For an expanded discussion of the philosophical underpinning to Douglas’s terminology, see Douglas, Brian and Lovat, Terence, ‘The Integrity of Discourse in the Anglican Eucharistic Tradition: A Consideration of Philosophical Assumptions’, The Heythrop Journal 51.5 (2010), pp. 847-61 Google Scholar.

20 It should be noted that Douglas intends this categorization to pertain to the issue of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, not to the ontological status of the elements. Hence, the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran would both be termed moderate realists in Douglas’s view, even if they disagree about the continued status of the bread. For this distinction, see Arcadi, ‘Recent Philosophical Work’, pp. 403-405.

21 (accessed 16 April 2018). Douglas makes this comment in the midst of his very helpful online resource of case studies that accompany his Brill texts.

22 Richardson, ‘Cranmer and Eucharistic Doctrine’, Journal of Theological Studies 16 (1965), pp. 421-37 (429). In fact, in the mid-twentieth century there was a raft of efforts to pin Cranmer down on the nominalism/realism spectrum, the most notable of which are: McGee, Eugene K., ‘Cranmer and Nominalism’, Harvard Theological Review 57.3 (1964), pp. 189-216 CrossRefGoogle Scholar and ‘Cranmer’s Nominalism Reaffirmed’, Harvard Theological Review 59.2 (1966), pp. 192-96; Courtenay, William J., ‘Cranmer as a Nominalist: Sed Contra’, Harvard Theological Review 57.4 (1964), pp. 367-80Google Scholar.

23 Richardson, ‘Cranmer and Eucharistic Doctrine’, p. 429.

24 Spinks, Bryan, Do This in Remembrance of Me: The Eucharist from the Early Church to the Present Day (London: SCM Press, 2013), p. 315.Google Scholar

25 ‘Figurative’ is a term Cranmer himself uses. ‘Literal’ is not Cranmerian, and not without potential for confusion, however it seems more apt when considering the potential landmine field that is the term ‘real’.

26 Cardinal Gasquet, Francis Aidan and Bishop, Edmund, Edward VI and the Book of Common Prayer: An Examination into its Origin and Early History with an Appendix of Unpublished Documents (London: J. Hodges, 1891), p. 418 Google Scholar. Further, ‘Eating with the mouth giveth nothing to man, nor the body being in the bread’, p. 425.

27 Gasquet and Bishop, Edward VI, p. 429.

28 Gasquet and Bishop, Edward VI, p. 430.

29 Gasquet and Bishop, Edward VI, p. 434.

30 Gasquet and Bishop, Edward VI, pp. 399-401, emphasis added.

31 Gavrilyuk and Coakley, The Spiritual Senses, p. 6.

32 Gavrilyuk and Coakley, The Spiritual Senses, p. 6.

33 Cranmer, Remains II, p. 11, emphasis added.

34 Cranmer, Remains II, p. 301, emphasis added.

35 Cranmer, Remains II, p. 303, emphasis added.

36 Cranmer, Remains II, p. 485.

37 Cranmer, Remains II, p. 12.

38 Anderson, Judith, ‘Language and History in the Reformation: Cranmer, Gardiner, and the Words of Institution’, Renaissance Quarterly 54 (2001), p. 31.Google Scholar

39 Gasquet and Bishop, Edward VI, pp. 399-401.

40 Richardson, ‘Cranmer and Eucharistic Doctrine’, p. 426.

41 Cranmer, Remains II, p. 12.

42 Richardson, ‘Cranmer and Eucharistic Doctrine’, p. 426.

43 For an application of this work to constructive Eucharistic theology see Pruss, Alexander, ‘Omnipresence, Multilocation, the Real Presence and Time Travel’, Journal of Analytic Theology 1.1 (2013), pp. 6073 Google Scholar, and Martin Pickup, ‘Real Presence in the Eucharist and Time-Travel’, Religious Studies 51.3 (2015), pp. 379–89.

44 Cranmer, Remains II, p. 195.

45 Cranmer, Remains II, p. 485.

46 One anonymous reviewer wonders whether the purported perception of something that is not present amounts to an instance of hallucination, not perception. This is not the scenario Cranmer describes. Cranmer holds, or so I argue, that while the body and blood of Christ are not present to the physical senses and they are not located at the location of the bread and wine, the ‘spiritual part’ of the perceiver is, by faith, able to have a spiritually perceptual experience of the body and blood of Christ that is located in heaven. Imagine this ‘spiritual part’ as a spiritual telescope or spiritual binoculars aiding in the perception of an external reality, rather than the perception of a hallucination which in the end is merely in the mind of the hallucinator.

47 Thomas Cranmer, ‘The Communion of the Sicke’, (accessed 1 March 2016). I have modernized the spelling.

49 Spinks, Do This in Remembrance of Me, p. 315. By ‘Swiss German’, Spinks intends the family of sixteenth-century Eucharistic views held by such thinkers as Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger, Bucer, and Vermigli in such locales as Geneva, Zürich, and Strasbourg.

50 Richardson, ‘Cranmer and Eucharistic Doctrine’, p. 429.

51 Cranmer, Remains III, p. 130.

52 I am grateful to the following groups and individuals for helpful comments on previous iterations of this essay: the 2015 Spiritual Senses Symposium convened by Paul Gavrilyuk and Fred Aquino, especially Sarah Coakley and Richard Cross; the Fuller Theological Seminary Analytic Theology Project, especially Ryan Chin, Oliver Crisp, Jesse Gentile, Martine Oldhoff, J.T. Turner, Jordan Wessling, and Christopher Woznicki; and two anonymous reviewers.