Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ is a book by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. It was published in July 1550, and was Cranmer's first full-length book, but at his trial in September 1555, he said that it had been written seven years earlier, in 1548.


Although Cranmer is concerned that "very simple and unlearned people" would understand and be edified by his book, the Defence is largely a polemic work, in which Cranmer attacked the Roman Catholic doctrine of his opponents, particularly Bishop Stephen Gardiner. In the preface he compares "beads, pardons, pilgrimages, and such other like popery" with weeds, but says the roots of the weeds are transubstantiation, the real presence, and the sacrificial nature of the mass.


The book itself is divided into five parts. Focusing mainly on using arguments based on reason, Cranmer quotes frequently from Scripture and patristic texts, structuring his argument in a lucid manner. Cranmer deals with the following topics:

  • The true use of the Lord's Supper (Eucharist)
  • The error of transubstantiation
  • The nature of Christ's presence in the bread and wine
  • The reception of the body and blood of Christ
  • The nature of the sacrifice

Cranmer argues that for someone to eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus Christ means for that person to "dwell in Christ and to have Christ dwelling in him." To truly partake in the sacrament requires faith.[1]

Cranmer distinguishes Christ's spiritual presence from his sacramental presence. Avoiding the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation, he argues that the spiritual presence occurs only through Christ's divine nature, he being in heaven in regards to his human nature. Cranmer follows a symbolic reading of the phrase "This is my body", and develops a view "remarkably close to that developed by Zwingli and Oecolampadius."[2]


During the summer and autumn of 1550, during which Gardiner was in the Tower of London, he wrote a retort which was presented to Cranmer at the conclusion of his trial in 1551. Gardiner was severely critical of all of Cranmer's arguments and cited a range of sources supporting the doctrine of the Real Presence, such as the Book of Common Prayer, Martin Luther, Cranmer's own Catechism and other Lutheran writers.

Cranmer's use of the Church Father has drawn criticism. At his trial he was charged with corrupting patristic texts and falsifying their meaning by "evil translating."[3] Cyril Richardson argues that "as a keen controversialist who wants the Fathers on his side," Cranmer "is not above purposely leaving them unclear in order to win a point in a debate."[4]

Geoffrey Bromiley has suggested that in the Defence, Cranmer becomes "so enmeshed in the detailed refutation of a false teaching that he cannot work out the implications of his positive statements."[5]


  1. ^ Cyril C. Richardson, "Cranmer and the Analysis of Eucharistic Doctrine," JTS 16 [1965], 428.
  2. ^ Alister E. McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), 257.
  3. ^ Cited in K. J. Walsh, "Cranmer and the Fathers, especially in the Defence," JRH 11 [1981], 227.
  4. ^ Richardson, "Cranmer and the Analysis of Eucharistic Doctrine," 424.
  5. ^ G. W. Bromiley, Thomas Cranmer: Theologian (London: Lutterworth, 1956), 81.

External links[edit]