Monday, 28 May 2007

Luther and Cranmer on 'lay' celebration

The question has been raised in 'another place' whether Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer would have been pleased to be named (by me) as theological pioneers of lay presidency. Actually, a close reading of what I wrote shows I didn't say this. (Specifically, I pointed to Luther as advocating the freedom of the congregation, and Cranmer as advocating the local option on liturgy, but see below.) Nevertheless, I believe Luther certainly supported the concept. Here he is at some length on the subject of consecration:
The third function [of the priesthood] is to consecrate or to administer the sacred bread and wine. Here those in the order of the shorn [Roman clergy] vaunt themselves and set themselves up as rulers of a power given neither to angels nor the virgin mother. Unmoved by their senselessness we hold that this function, too, like the priesthood, belongs to all, and this we assert, not on our own authority, but that of Christ who at the Last Supper said, “Do this in remembrance of me” [Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24]. This is the word by means of which the shorn papists claim they can make priests and give them the authority to consecrate. But Christ spoke this word to all those then present and to those who in the future would be at the table, to eat this bread and drink this cup. So it follows that what is given here is given to all. Those who oppose this have no foundation on which to stand, except the fathers, the councils, tradition, and that strongest article of their faith, namely, “We are many and thus we hold: therefore it is true.”

A further witness is the word of Paul in 1 Cor. 11[:23], “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” etc. Here Paul addresses all the Corinthians, making each of them, as he himself was, consecrators. But in this case so great a beam is in the eyes of the papists [Matt. 7:3] that they do not see the majesty of the Word of God, but only stand in awe before the transubstantiation of the bread. Yet I ask you, what is this splendid power of consecration, compared to the power of baptizing and of proclaiming the Word? A woman can baptize and administer the Word of life, by which sin is taken away, eternal death abolished, the prince of the world cast out, heaven bestowed; in short by which the divine majesty pours itself forth through all the soul. Meanwhile this miracle-working priest changes the nature of the bread, but by no other or greater word or power, and it has no other effect than that it increases his awe and admiration before his own dignity and power. Is not this to make an elephant out of a fly? What wonder workers! In despising the power of the Word they make marvelous their own power.

[...] If then that which is greatest, namely, Word and baptism, is conferred on all, then it can rightly be maintained that the lesser, the power to consecrate [bread and wine], is also so conferred, even if there be no direct authority of Scripture. Just as Christ proclaimed, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” [Matt. 6:25], implying, if God gives the greater how much more would he give the lesser? (Luther's Works (40:23). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.)

Luther's view was basically that all could teach the word and celebrate the sacraments, but that since (for the sake of order) in the congregation only a few would be able do this, they should not abrogate this power to themselves but should have it conferred on them by the people.

As to Cranmer, he was slightly more circumspect, but these are his answers to a series of questions pertaining to related matters:
11. Whether a bishop hath authority to make a priest by the scripture or no? and whether any other, but only a bishop, may make a priest?
A bishop may make a priest by the scripture, and so may princes and governors also, and that by the authority of God committed to them, and the people also by their election: for as we read that bishops have done it, so christian emperors and princes usually have done it; and the people, before christian princes were, commonly did elect their bishops and priests.

12. Whether in the new Testament be required any consecration of a bishop and priest, or only appointing to the office be sufficient?
In the new Testament, he that is appointed to be a bishop or a priest, needeth no consecration by the scripture; for election or appointing thereto is sufficient.

13. Whether (if it befortuned a prince christian-learned to conquer certain dominions of infidels, having none but temporal-learned men with him) it be defended by God's law, that he and they should preach and teach the word of God there, or no? and also make and constitute priests, or no?
It is not against God's law, but contrary, they ought indeed so to do; and there be histories that witnesseth, that some christian princes, and other laymen unconsecrate, have done the same.

14. Whether it be forfended by God's law, that (if it so fortuned that all the bishops and priests of a region were dead, and that the word of God should remain there unpreached, the sacrament of baptism and others unministered,) that the king of that region should make bishops and priests to supply the same, or no?
It is not forbidden by God's law. (Miscellaneous Writing and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, The Parker Society, Cambridge University Press 1864, p 117)
Cranmer's position is not quite as radical as Luther's. Nevertheless, Cranmer is clear - if necessary, the laity may preach the word and they may themselves simply elect or appoint priests and bishops, and these may validly celebrate the sacraments.

What I can't work out is why lay celebration raises so many hackles. To me, it has always been a no-brainer - Jews do it, Christians ought to be able to do it. But maybe that's just me.

Revd John P Richardson
28th May 2007

PS: For what it's worth, I haven't aimed anything at Graham Kings' comments on the Sunday Programme on the 27th May as I didn't hear them! (Check the dates of my earlier posts, is all I can say.)

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