187J      Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury Cranmer (1489-1556)

A Defence of The True and Catholike doctrine of the sacrament of the body and bloud of our sauiour Christ, with a confutation of sundry errors concernyng the same, grounded and stablished vpon Goddes holy woorde, & approued by ye consent of the moste auncient doctors of the Churche. Made by the moste Reuerende father in God Thomas Archebyshop of Canterbury, Primate of all Englande and Metropolitane.


Imprynted at London : in Paules Churcheyard, at the signe of the Brasen serpent, by Reynold Wolfe. Cum priuilegio ad imprimendum solum, anno Domini. M. D. L. [1550]    $28,000

IMG_0105Quarto 7 x 5 ½inches   [4], 117, [3] leaves Collation: *4, A-Z4, Aa-Gg4

IMG_0100This copy is bound in contemporary, blind-stamped English calf with small medallion portrait rolls. The boards are composed of printer’s waste taken from John Bale’s ” Illustrium Maioris Britanniae Scriptorum” of 1548. The text block is backed with vellum manuscript fragments.


A number of blank leaves have been bound in at the beginning of the volume. Internally, this copy is in excellent condition with clean, wide margins. Both the binding and the text are in strictly original condition.

Thomas Cranmer rose to prominence as the architect of the ecclesiastical arguments used to legitimize Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. For his services in this matter, Henry rewarded Cranmer with the primacy, making him Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. Cranmer’s subsequent promotion of the English Bible and his central role in the development of the early reformed church “has associated his name more closely, perhaps, than that of any other ecclesiastic with the Reformation in England.” After the death of Henry VIII, Cranmer oversaw and participated in the production of several key texts of the reformed church, including the two Prayer Books of Edward VI (1548, 1552) and the “Forty-two articles of Edward VI” (I553).

“In Cranmer’s response to Gardiner, “A Defence of the True and Catholike doctrine of the sacrament of the body and bloud of our sauiour Christ”, the archbishop offers a semi-official explanation of the Eucharistic theology that lay at the heart of his Prayer Book.
“The ‘Defence’ is divide into five sections, whose polemical architecture was dependent on the relatively brief first section. This set out the nature of the Eucharistic sacrament, centering on a recitation of all the Gospel and Pauline texts that could be considered as referring directly to it. Cranmer took two principal points from these citations. First, when Christ referred to the bread as his body, this was precisely to be understood as a signification of ‘Christ’s own promise and testament’ to the one who truly eats ‘that he is a member of his body, and receiveth the benefits of his passion which he suffered for us upon the cross’; likewise Christ’s description of the wine as his blood was a certificate of his ‘legacy and testament, that he is made partaker of the blood of Christ which was shed for us.’ Secondly, one must understand what was meant by the true eating of Christ’s body: although both good and bad ate bread and drank wine as sacraments, Cranmer emphasized in a classic expression of the ‘manducatio impiorum’ that ‘none eateth of the body of Christ and drinketh his blood, but they have eternal life’, and that this could not include the wicked.


Cranmer went on in a now celebrated passage to the heart of his quarrel with the old world of devotion:

‘Many corrupt weeds be plucked up…But what availeth it to take away beads, pardons, pilgrimages and such other like popery, so long as two chief roots remain unpulled?…

The very body of the tree, or rather the roots of the weeds, is the popish doctrine of transubstantiation, of the real presence of Christ’s flesh and blood in the sacrament of the altar (as they call it), and of the sacrifice and oblation of Christ made by the priest for the salvation of the quick and the dead. Which roots, if they be suffered to grow in the Lord’s vineyard, they will spread all the ground again with the old errors and superstitions.’
“This was the purpose of his book, and his duty and calling as Primate of all England: ‘to cut down this tree, and to pluck up the weeds and plants by the roots.’ Yet there is a contrast in the Preface (and in the ‘Defence’ as a whole) with the unpleasing monotony of Cranmer’s answer to the western rebels of 1549: here, there is an obvious and urgent pastoral concern for the people entrusted to his care. He called, ‘all that profess Christ, that they flee far from Babylon’. ‘Hearken to Christ, give ear unto his words, which shall lead you the right way unto everlasting life.’ This was the language of the Prayer Book given a revolutionary edge.” (Diarmaid MacCulloch, “Thomas Cranmer, A Life” pp. 461-469)
When Mary Stuart assumed the throne in 1553, Cranmer was charged with both treason and heresy (for his support of Lady Jane Grey and an unpublished declaration he had written against the mass.) In March, 1554, Cranmer, along with Latimer and Ridley, was tried as a heretic at Oxford. In early 1556, Cranmer subscribed to several “recantations”., when Cranmer was asked to repeat his recantations at St. Mary’s Church on March 21st, he “declared with dignity and emphasis that what he had recently done troubled him more than anything he ever did or said in his whole life; that he renounced and refused all his recantations as things written with his hand, contrary to the truth which he thought in his heart; and that as his hand had offended, his hand should be first burned when he came to the fire.” When Cranmer was put to the stake, “stretching out his arm, he put his right hand into the flame, which he held so steadfast and unmovable, (saving that once with the same hand he wiped his face,) that all men might see his hand burned before his body was touched.”

STC 6002 (with catchwords B4r “des”, S1r “before”.) Title page border: McKerrow & Ferguson 73; Printer’s device: McKerrow 119. References: Diarmaid MacCulloch, “Thomas Cranmer, A Life”; G.W. Broniley, “Thomas Cranmer, Theologian”.)