The exposition on the sacraments draws to a close as the redeeming work of Christ on the cross and its meaning in the sign of the Lord’s Supper are joined, further underlining our argument that the articles must be read as a whole. Articles 11-18 underline articles 25-31.
XXXI — Of the One Oblation of Christ Finished Upon the Cross
The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.
In order to see how the original Article 31 written by Cranmer in 1553 becomes more precise one needs to consult the original Latin. One edit strengthens the description of the Roman Supper from figmenta to blasphema, “blasphemous” rather than “fictitious” fables. The 1553 “pacifying of God’s displeasure” and “sin” read later in the article become in 1563-71, propitiation and guilt(the Latin propititatio and culpae). Such precision suggests that the importance of this doctrine rose in significance among Anglicans in the intervening ten years due to the 1562 Canons of the Council of Trent.
As we have seen in previous articles, the Roman church held—indeed, it continues to maintain—that in the Mass, the substance of the bread and the wine changes to become the substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Why would Rome insist on this running the risk of weakening the integrity of the person of Christ as fully God and man? It is because of a distorted realism that their doctrine of the Mass compels them. In other words, in the event of the Mass the real sacrifice, Christ must be re-presented to God again and again so that its benefits may be received by those present. But as Hebrews 9.26-28 remind us, the Lord Jesus fulfills the system of perpetual offerings in his unique sacrifice where he was both priest and victim. To suggest that he needs to be offered over and over again undermines the achievement of the cross. The Reformers rejected this teaching as both unbiblical, heretical, and ultimately blasphemous. Such a mechanical re-presentation distorts the person of Christ and the nature of our justification. Is it no wonder then that our Anglican forebears were prepared to die as a testimony against it? As their witness and as Article 31 makes abundantly clear, the offering of Christ was made once, and this once-for-all event alone is the ground of a sinner’s justification.
The article falls into two parts. The first sets out the biblical doctrine of the atonement: The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone.The nature of the atonement is repeating the wording of the Scriptures. It is the “offering of Christ once made.” The force of the “once” is the Latin semel meaning once for all, a single time and is the rendering of the Vulgate in the key texts describing Christ’s atoning work (Romans 6.10; Hebrews 9.12, 26-28; 10.10; 1 Peter 3.18). The purpose of the atonement logically follows that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual.
Our double principles that we have noted throughout our study once again make their appearance here: that the formularies must be read together as being mutually supportive and that the articles must be interpreted as a narrative whole rather than in isolation. Compare the article with the precise wording in the Prayer of Consecration in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there (by His one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world…” Compare next the articles’ description of the extent of Christ’s expiation of sin in article 2 (“to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men”) and in articles 9 and 15 on the distinction between original sin and actual sin.
The second part of the article explains the egregious errors of the doctrine of the Mass; the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt. The English word “pain” here should be understood to mean “punishment” for the Latin’s poena. The penalty paid for a committed offense. The consequence of the doctrine inevitably results in ten times tens of thousands of masses, and so the article describes them in the plural, as blasphemous fable(s), and dangerous deceit(s). Blasphemous in how Christ is dishonored, and pastorally hazardous because assurance in Christ's work becomes impossible for the Christian throwing all the weight for salvation upon the backs of the believer.
Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.