Defence of the True and Catholike Doctrine


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CRANMER, Thomas. A Defence of the True and Catholike Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Bloud of our Saviour Christ. London: Reynold Wolfe, 1550. Small quarto (5-1/2 by 7-1/2 inches), early 20th-century full burgundy crushed morocco gilt, raised bands, all edges gilt. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $35,000.

Exceedingly rare first edition of the book that brought Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer to martyrdom, the first full-length book to bear his name, in which he repudiates the essential Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, handsomely bound in full morocco-gilt by Riviere & Son. The W.A. Foyle copy, with his Beeleigh Abbey morocco bookplate, and also from the collection of George Goyder, noted collector of the literature of the English Reformation.

Transubstantiation is the Catholic belief that during the sacrament of the Eucharist (Communion) as performed during Mass, the bread and wine consumed actually become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, though the ingredients' appearance, taste, smell, and so forth, do not actually change. (Protestants generally view the elements of the Eucharist in a more symbolic or metaphorical sense.) The wide range of beliefs and doctrines that still exist today regarding this central part of the Christian ritual reflect the intense controversy that swirled around this topic in the early days of the split between the Church of England—heavily influenced by various Protestant movements on the Continent—and the Roman Catholic Church. The various approaches to the mystery of the Eucharist have settled and hardened over the years, forming central tenets that are crucial in differentiating the wide variety of Christian sects. In the 16th century, however, these differences of belief were extremely volatile, leading to wars, riots, inquisitions, persecutions, executions, and martyrdoms throughout England and Europe.

When Cranmer's star was rising, as Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, and one of the chief architects of the annulment of Henry VIII's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he used his powerful position and influence with Henry VIII to promote reforms within the Church—though Henry, fearful that the Vatican would order reprisals against him, and aware that large numbers of his subjects remained faithful Catholics, preferred to move slowly. After Henry VIII's death in 1547, Cranmer was freer to institute reforms, and in 1549 he published "his greatest achievement," his English prayer book. "From now on evangelical ascendancy was unchallenged, and during 1550 Cranmer enjoyed unprecedented room for maneuver in national government. He promoted protégés to sees vacated by conservatives… He also oversaw the publication of forms of ordination for bishops, priests, and deacons (the ordinal) which had not been included in the 1549 prayer book… But his main work was to publish in summer 1550 the first full-length book to bear his name: A Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ. The work is divided into five sections, whose polemical architecture is dependent on the relatively brief first section, setting out the nature of the eucharistic sacrament (defined in terms of natural substance of bread and wine, and spiritual presence of Christ). Cranmer then turns to the 'confutation of sundry errors' all related to beliefs of the medieval western church. These are four: transubstantiation; other general misunderstandings about eucharistic presence, metaphor, and sacrament; the belief that 'evil men eat and drink the very body and blood of Christ'; and the assertion of a repeated daily sacrificial offering of Christ. Each of the remaining four sections of the book, seven-eighths of the whole text, takes each of these errors in turn and refutes them at length" (ODNB).

When Mary I came to power in 1553, Cranmer's position became much more tenuous. Mary—the only child of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon to survive to adulthood—had inherited her mother's devout Catholicism, never wavering in her faith despite intense pressure from her father and brother. She came to the throne determined to return England to the Catholic church, and there were many at all levels of English society who were unhappy with the rapid reforms instituted by Archbishop Cranmer. The reversal was swift. Cranmer's case had to be referred to the Vatican since he had been appointed Archbishop by the Pope, but he was forced to watch his fellow reformers Latimer and Ridley burn at the stake specifically for denying Transubstantiation. Mary presided over 300 similar burnings over the next three years, earning the queen the nickname Bloody Mary. Cranmer's own trial—on charges of treason for backing the claims of Protestant Lady Jane Grey over Catholic Mary—dragged on through various petitions, transfers, "arguments" with Catholic officials, and recantations. He was finally burnt at the stake on March 20, 1556. On his last day he renounced all his previous recantations, denounced the Pope as anti-Christ, and when led to the fire he thrust his right hand—used to sign his recantations—into the flames first, shouting "forasmuch as my hand offended, writing contrary to my heart, my hand shall first be punished there-for" (ODNB). According to STC, there were three editions published the same year. This is the very rare first edition, with B4r catchword "me"; S1r catchword "but"; and S3 canceled and replaced with a bifolium, with each leaf signed "Siii." Text in black letter. STC 6000. ESTC S126064. Pforzheimer 236. Notably, Queen Elizabeth owned and annotated a copy of the first edition, indicating her interest in the subject. See Mueller & Scodel, Elizabeth I Translations, 1544-1589. Pencil ownership signature of George Goyder, prominent businessman, social reformer and noted collector of the literature of the English Reformation. "A serious collector of rare and important books… his library included, for a time, the only known copy of the Book of Common Prayer printed in 1572 and an early copy of Tyndale's New Testament (1536), as well as a rare copy of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience" (Independent). Morocco-gilt Beeleigh Abbey bookplate of the celebrated bookseller and book collector William Alfred Foyle. "Foyle lived for and dreamed about books. He seldom forgot a title. He went to endless trouble to track down unusual or rare books for people, and his stock and his reputation grew. In 1907 he took larger premises in Charing Cross Road, in order to stock books on every subject—art, theology, music, education… Foyles became a Mecca for booklovers… He determined to create the greatest bookshop in the world, and he succeeded… In 1945 he bought the 12th-century Premonstratensian Abbey of Beeleigh, situated on the River Chelmer, in Maldon, Essex. In this beautiful setting he was able to indulge his passion for collecting rare books, and he formed one of the great libraries. Among his treasures are many incunabula: Caxtons, Wynkyn de Worde, Kolberger, Shakespeare's folios and a superb collection of 14th- and 15th-century illuminated manuscripts" (DNB).

Very faint dampstain to lower corner of first several leaves only. A fine, handsomely bound copy of this scarce work, exceedingly rare and important.

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