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thirty-pieces-of-silver-3cf58ff031d96b76Wednesday of Holy Week is known as Spy Wednesday in traditionalist Catholic circles.

The name is fitting as the chief priests close their deal with Judas, eager to betray our Lord for a few months’ wages.

These posts explain this fateful day and a bit about Judas himself:

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

More on Judas

St Mark’s Gospel has these accounts, with commentary from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur:

Mark 14:1-2 – what the Sanhedrin were thinking

Mark 14:10-11 – Judas volunteers to betray our Lord

On another subject relevant to Holy Week, some churches will be holding Tenebrae services. This post explains more about them.

British parents are no doubt delighted to discover that chocolate Easter egg prices are at ‘rock bottom’ in 2015 thanks to supermarket discounts.

Meanwhile, Church of England Archbishops are unhappy because The Real Easter Egg, the one with a booklet telling the story of the Resurrection, has been crowded out by eggs representing Darth Vader, Doctor Who or Postman Pat.

The Real Easter Egg

Meaningful Chocolate produces The Real Easter Egg, a tasty teaching aid (my words) which comes with a small booklet explaining why eggs are a central symbol of the Resurrection.

The Warrington-based company has been making the eggs for four years. However, it is not always easy for them to negotiate shelf space. Their website provides a list of UK supermarkets selling the egg, made with quality Fairtrade chocolate.

David Marshall, who runs Meaningful Chocolate, told the Daily Mail:

We do wonder at times if there is an anti-Christian agenda from some of our supermarkets who just keep turning it down. It is as if some feel Christianity is politically incorrect or the Easter story, which mentions Jesus, might put people off.

‘One buyer asked us what Easter had got to do with the Church, while another simply said, “I don’t think this is a credible product” and asked us to leave.’

John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, are urging Asda, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s to stock the egg.

Pagan, useful or both?

A growing number of Christians all over the world, but mainly in the United States, consider that, as the Easter egg and the Easter Bunny are not in the Bible and that they were part of pagan rituals, they have no place in the Resurrection story.

Yet, when we think back to the early centuries of Christianity, when missionaries risked life and limb travelling around Europe to spread the Gospel, what was the best way for them to tell people about Jesus? One cannot help but think of St Patrick, who taught about the Holy Trinity using a shamrock.

We’re talking about people who were illiterate and whose lives revolved around nature, upon which they were dependent for survival. The world then was not the way it is now: clean, sanitised, educated, plentiful. Life was precarious. Death was just around the corner. Food was not widely available 365 days a year. Hens stopped laying eggs. Animals went into hibernation. Most crops were unsustainable during frosty months. Is it any wonder, then, that people rejoiced at the advent of Spring?

Most of today’s well-meaning believers labelling everything ‘pagan’ are driving everywhere, buying food at a supermarket and maintaining their lawns devoid of other life. Look at any suburb.

Under such privileged circumstances, it is easy to denounce symbolism of the ancient world as being purely pagan with no crossover into Christianity. The same was true during the Reformation in discarding anything symbolic or exemplary, such as stained glass illustrations of biblical events or recalling the lives of the saints, many of whom died for the faith.

Fine, for those who wish to do that. However, there is another side to the story.

Hares and rabbits represented life

Explore God has a good article explaining what the hare and, later, the rabbit, represented for ancient peoples.

Life and fertility are intertwined in man’s atavistic need for survival and propagation. No animal represents these characteristics quite as well as the beautiful hare or cuddly rabbit.

Explore God tells us that a thousand years before Christ was born, the peoples of Mesopotamia and Syria viewed the hare as representative of life and rebirth. In the Greco-Roman world, gravestones had depictions of rabbits for the same reason.

The early Christians also used the hare and the rabbit to represent rebirth in the resurrected Christ.

The ancient world, northern European traditions and ‘Easter’

The word Easter is only used in Teutonic, Scandinavian and English languages.

Therefore, English-speakers would do well to stop saying that Easter is a pagan feast. We might have appropriated a pagan word for it (as we did with Sunday), but it is not universally known as that in every other language.

Infoplease says (emphases mine):

Prior to that, the holiday had been called Pasch (Passover), which remains its name in most non-English languages.

In French, for example, it is Pâques. The Passover which the Jews celebrate is called Pâques juif.

Explore God summarises the possible origins of the word ‘Easter':

– The ancient German fertility goddess Eostra, associated with the hare;

– The ancient Norse word for Spring, which, translated into German is ostern.

It is difficult to know which came first: ostern or Eostra.

Infoplease says that the Venerable Bede, chronicler of the early Anglo-Saxon world that he witnessed, described the month of what we now call April as being named after Eostra:

“Eostremonat,” or Eostre’s month, leading to “Easter” becoming applied to the Christian holiday that usually took place within it.

Some historians see no connection with the Babylonian and Assyrian goddess Ishtar as her feasts occurred later in Spring. Explore God explains:

It seems probable that around the second century A.D., Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe noticed that the Christian holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus roughly coincided with the Teutonic springtime celebrations, which emphasized the triumph of life over death. Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols.

On the other hand, Christina Georgiou explains Eostre’s connection with the hare and the Ishtar story. Easter was not established until 325 AD at the first Council of Nicaea:

… co-opting an existing pagan holiday served the purpose of sowing the seeds of a new religion on existing faith.

In the east, the festival of Ishtar (correctly pronounced ‘Easter’) and the resurrection of  Tammuz also took place shortly after the equinox.

Still, they might have been on to something, even if it wasn’t exactly new. The holiday they picked had many of the same connotations attached.

The mystery of death and resurrection is remarkably similar in many places and times, and the time of year when it is recognized is practically universal across the northern hemisphere …

The  totem of Eostre is a hare—and according to the story, the goddess can turn into a hare at will. In one legend, the goddess comes upon an injured bird, who she saves by turning into a hare, it being the animal she is strongest as. Yet, having been a bird, this hare could still lay eggs, and in gratitude to the goddess, the bird laid colored eggs on her feast day ever since.

The hare heralded new life as did lilies — and the first eggs of the season.

Other related rituals

Georgiou goes on to explain that whether pagans of the ancient world worshipped Ishtar in the Cradle of Civilisation, Adonis/Aphrodite in Mediterranean lands or Eostre in the North, certain practices and rituals surrounded the vernal equinox.

One of these was fasting from meat for 40 days prior to the equinox. Some cultures cut down a tree in the shape of a ‘T’, commemorating Tammuz’s death and resurrection, which they believed occurred soon after the equinox. In the days approaching this time, pagans sang songs of mourning and held a vigil. On the appropriate morning, the priest or shaman comforted mourners by telling them that they, too, would rise like Tammuz from the grave to new life.

From this, it is easy to see why Church fathers established the feast of the Resurrection at a similar time. Fasting could easily translate into Jesus’s time in the desert to fast and pray. The tree held significance as Jesus died on the Cross.

Pagans and fundamentalist Protestants might be angry about this history for different reasons, but the springtime story helped to spread Christianity in earliest times throughout Africa, the Middle East, Mediterranean countries and Europe. What’s not to like?

Eggs, hens and early civilisations

We’re used to going to the supermarket to buy eggs. It’s nothing unusual for us. Eggs are on sale all year round.

However, historically, this is a relatively recent development.

Hens cannot lay eggs without a generous supply of light. Today, this is done artificially indoors so that we can enjoy them throughout the year. However, in the old days, as daylight grew shorter, people used to gather eggs for winter storage. At some point during the winter when production had ground to a halt, they probably ran out or the eggs spoiled.

Once longer days rolled around in the Spring, hens guarded their newly-laid eggs by hiding them. Georgiou tells us:

When does laying season begin? You guessed it.

And, if you’ve ever kept free-range chickens, you know that this time of year they hide them everywhere. Yes, even in the grass. (No, I never kept chickens, but when I was in college, my landlord did, and these are things I can attest to personally.)

Hmm. Think of American Easter baskets. They have artificial grass and chocolate eggs, a throwback to a hen’s natural behaviour.

She explains that in pagan times, the hare’s winter behaviour — nocturnal — was associated with the moon. In springtime, hares resumed running around during the day. Eggs also began reappearing; pagans connected them with the sun, the ‘golden egg':

The two together indicate a balance between the sun and moon, appropriate for a holiday that is centered around the vernal equinox, a time of equal day and night, and also to indicate the fertility of the season.

Therefore, eggs were a prominent food at pagan rituals taking place at this time. Infoplease says that the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Romans all used them.

Early Christian missionaries used the egg as a symbol for the Resurrection: out of the hard shell (the tomb), new life emerges.

As Christianity displaced paganism, various peoples attached this symbolism to the egg. Elaborate decorations also appeared.

The pagan fasting became a Christian tradition, recalling Christ’s own 40 days in the desert. Not only was meat restricted, eggs were, too. Easter represented Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the fast.

People gave each other eggs as gifts, a token of mutual rejoicing at new life through our Lord’s victory over death and the tomb.

Christians in the Middle East and Greece painted eggs bright red, recalling His blood shed for our sins. Armenians carefully emptied the contents of the egg then painted the shells with pictures of our Lord, Mary and the saints. Early Germans also hollowed out eggs which they hung on trees. They coloured whole eggs green to give to family and friends on Maundy Thursday.

Austrians buried eggs in plants with decorative foliage. When they boiled the eggs afterward, a pretty plant pattern emerged on the shell. Further east, the Poles and the Ukranians painted eggs silver and gold. They also developed an elaborate method of egg decoration called pysanky. This involved applying designs in wax on the eggshell before dying it. They reapplied wax then boiled the egg again in other colours of dye. The end product was a multi-coloured, patterned delight.

In Russia, Tsar Alexander III wanted an exquisite Easter present for his wife. In 1885, he commissioned Pierre Faberge to create the first of what we know as Faberge eggs.

The white week — hebdomada alba — and Easter parades

Traditionally, Easter has been the time when catechumens — those who have been instructed in the faith — were baptised.

Centuries ago, the newly baptised wore white robes during Easter week to symbolise their new life in Christ. That week was referred to in early Christianity as hebdomada alba: ‘white week’ in Latin.

Infoplease says that during the Middle Ages local churches arranged religious processions after Mass on Easter Day. The congregation processed in their towns or villages following the clergy and deacons who carried a processional cross and/or a Paschal candle, which would have been lit at the Easter vigil service. Unlike today, people dressed up for church and Easter would have represented the perfect occasion for wearing new, Sunday best attire. Hats and bonnets would have been important, too, as they were seen by everyone. These processions, originally religious and solemn, became more secular and joyful. They evolved into what we know as Easter Parades.

The German Easter Hare — the children’s judge

From what we have seen so far in the history of springtime and Easter symbolism, we know that a) it was an important time of year as it meant food production could recommence, b) ancient civilisations attached atavistic importance to the hare and the egg and c) Christianity was able to biblically use certain elements — fasting, the tree of sacrifice and the egg — to make Christ’s death and resurrection more understandable to pagan populations.

In the 16th century, possibly the 15th, Germans borrowed the aforementioned Eostre story about the transformation of the bird into a hare that could lay eggs and transformed it into a religious Oschter Haws or Osterhase (‘Easter Hare’).

Proflowers explains:

Children were told that a special hare would deliver gifts of colored eggs to the baskets made by good little boys and girls. Homemade baskets were crafted from bonnets and capes, and then hidden within the home. This tradition has evolved into modern-day Easter egg hunts and Easter baskets!

The first German settlers in the United States brought this tradition to Pennsylvania.

Parents told their children to be good or else the Easter Hare would not leave them a treat. I read elsewhere that the Easter Hare might determine that bad children needed a good whipping instead of a basket.

The Easter Hare — now the Easter Bunny — arrived in secret to leave these hidden eggs. From this we have the traditional Easter Egg Hunt.

We can see the similarity of the Easter Bunny with Father Christmas/Santa Claus operating on the reward-punishment basis. In Dutch traditions, Sinter Klaas (St Nick) goes around in the early hours of the morning on St Nicholas’s feast day — December 6 — to leave a treat or nothing. Sinter Klaas travels with his friend Black Pete, who metes out a whipping to bad boys and girls. These days, Black Pete is seen as politically incorrect. Whether he was actually from central Africa as today’s activists say is unclear. The best testimony on that came from one of my ex-colleagues, a Dutchman, who said that the warning his parents gave him before December 6 was, ‘Be good or the Spaniards will take you away!’ This refers to the long-standing rivalry centuries ago between the Netherlands and Spain. It is possible that Pete — Piet, in Dutch — represented Spaniards who would have had somewhat darker skin. Or Piet could have represented a similar-shaded person from St Nicholas’s native Turkey. Another theory posits that Piet was covered in soot from sliding down so many chimneys.

But I digress.

Suffice it to say that the Church’s principal feasts share this mandate for children to be good — or else. It’s an easy way of shaping their early behaviour into a civilised, godly one. What harm can that do? The child can digest ‘reward-punishment’ better than he can theology at that stage. That is not to say theology should not be paramount even then with prayers and Bible stories, but the ‘reward-punishment’ principle teaches simple, practical lessons quickly. A child’s mind only runs to the immediate future.

How Easter treats further developed

Germans developed the first edible Easter Hares out of pastry and sugar in the early 1800s.

Today, Easter is the second largest day of candy consumption during the year. The first, at least in the United States, is Hallowe’en. Here in the UK, it is probably Christmas.

We are awash in chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies in the run-up to Easter. In fact, one of our local shops brought out creme eggs on the 11th day of Christmas this year: January 5!

We don’t have Easter baskets here in the UK, and now, having done this research, I know why.

Twenty-five (or more) years ago, candy companies sold complimentary mugs, sometimes egg cups, with their Easter eggs. This went by the wayside 20 years ago, unfortunately, although I was able to procure a Snickers mug for the 1990 World Cup, a Kit Kat one the following year and an M&Ms one, my last mug purchase. I still have all three. They are fun and practical.

Easter cards

Easter cards became popular in Victorian England. A 19th century stationer had a card with a hare on it and added a seasonal greeting. From there the rest is history.

Today, at least in the United States, Easter is the fourth-most popular greeting card holiday after Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

Last but not least — the pretzel

Before leaving the food aspect of Easter, it is worth pointing out that the pretzel is an Easter treat.

Apparently, the pretzel is the world’s oldest snack food. In 610 AD, an Italian monk wondered what to do with leftover bread dough. He decided to make small twists of dough, the shape of which was meant to resemble children’s arms folded in prayer.

Conclusion — and the Passover connection

In closing, what is important about Easter is that Christ Crucified – Christ Risen is the most important concept we can share with young people. An Easter basket helps to convey to a little one that shared joy of everlasting life through our Lord’s death and resurrection.

And we might also recall that one symbol — the egg — came to the Jewish Christians from the original Passover seder. Therefore, we acknowledge our spiritual history with the Old Testament as well as Jesus’s mandate for us in the Last Supper:

the hard-boiled egg is one of the seven symbols set out on the Seder plate. Easter and Passover, after all, are strongly connected to each other. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples just before the crucifixion. After the disciples began proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, they continued to celebrate a yearly Passover in the way Jesus had instructed them to, remembering his death and, more importantly, what his death and resurrection meant for them.

Whatever way you choose to celebrate Easter with your family, I wish you a very happy one, indeed.

Richard III earliest surviving portrait.jpgA unique, once-in-a-lifetime event, occurred last week in Leicester.

Richard III, England’s second — and last king — to die in battle was reinterred in Leicester Cathedral. The last Plantagenet king, he lived from October 2, 1452 to August 22, 1485, weeks short of his 33rd birthday.

Channel 4 covered the event live in nearly seven hours of broadcasting. Well done to the station’s management for viewing this as newsworthy (unlike the BBC), to the cameramen, the production teams for arranging the many live interviews and to the Channel 4 News team, especially Jon Snow, for covering the event so engagingly.

Our memory of Richard III is marred by the question of what happened to the young princes, his nephews and mere boys (one of whom was heir to the throne), who were held in the Tower of London before Richard became king. This tragic episode in history has not been resolved conclusively for many people. It continues to enliven historical discussions and will do so for some time. The princes mysteriously disappeared from the Tower. Were they kidnapped or killed? Everyone has an opinion, including one on whether Richard was directly involved in their disappearance.

Richard III’s legacy

The last of the Plantagenet monarchs is the only British ruler to have his own dedicated fan club, for lack of a better term: the Richard III Society.

His supporters are called Ricardians.

More importantly, for those of us who live in English-speaking countries, is the legacy this young king left us after his 26-month reign.

Phillipa Langley, the Ricardian historian who led the search for the king’s remains, told Britain’s Radio Times (21-27 March 2015, p. 25, emphasis mine):

In his two-year reign, he began the presumption of innocence, he introduced bail and he translated laws that were written in Latin and French into English so that everybody would understand them.

Prior to that, only the wealthy or well-connected could be released pending trial. Richard’s reforms provided justice for the rest of the population. Langley explains:

It was the time of the 99 per cent and the one per cent — and Richard was saying to the 99 per cent: ‘I am listening to you even thought I’m in the one per cent’.

That these reforms took place in the late Middle Ages during the prolonged War of the Roses is remarkable.

The war is so called because the Yorkists, of whom Richard III was one, identified themselves with the white rose; the Lancastrians had for their emblem the red rose.

Even today, people from both east and west in northern England culturally identify themselves either with York or Lancaster, respectively.

Richard III the man

From the six hours of Channel 4 coverage that I watched, which included the procession of his casket from the University of Leicester to the Cathedral and the ceremony of his reinterment, the following highlights emerged.

Richard III’s life was marked by death, survival and few triumphs. There was nothing in between. His father died when Richard was eight years old. His mother, the Duchess of York, hurriedly sent him and his elder brother George to the Low Countries for several months. It was for their own protection.

Richard and George’s older brother Edward defeated the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton in June 1461. In that one-day battle 28,000 men died. Richard and George returned to England to see their brother crowned as King Edward IV.

Richard became Duke of Gloucester, a Knight of the Garter and a Knight of the Bath. George was given the title of Duke of Clarence. Richard went to live at Middleham Castle (Wensleydale, Yorkshire) with his cousin Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick — the famous ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’.

Neville taught his young cousin the finer points of knightood and the art of war. Although Richard suffered with scoliosis, a condition which involves curvature of the spine, he held that it was his duty to be able to join his Yorkist relatives and supporters on the battlefield. After all, he would have to be able to lead his own men from the front once he became an adult.

In 1472, Richard married Neville’s younger daughter Anne, a recent war widow whose late husband was a Lancastrian. Wikipedia explains that this alliance had to undergo family and papal approval. The subsequent Church dispensation meant that no consanguinity issues were involved. However, to rectify matters with his own family, Richard had to forfeit his right to certain titles of the nobility as well as much of Warwick’s land and property.

Richard fought with the Yorkists both at home and in France. In the 1470s, he was also given rule over the north of England and was based in York.

Edward IV died on April 9, 1483. His 12-year old son Edward — Richard’s nephew — was seemingly the rightful heir. Richard was young Edward’s Lord Protector. Royal advisers told him to take the boy away for his own safety. Richard took Edward and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, to the Tower of London. From this point onward, the story becomes complicated for most readers, myself included; it involves political intrigue and various machinations.

While they were in London, a clergyman declared Edward IV’s marriage invalid, meaning that the two boys were illegitimate. On June 22, 1483, a sermon preached at St Paul’s Cathedral — a huge, Gothic structure prior to the Fire of London in 1666 — proclaimed that Richard was the rightful king. A petition soon made its rounds in the city, supported not only by noblemen but also commoners, asking Richard to be the next monarch. He accepted and was crowned at Westminster Abbey on July 6, 1483. Parliament ratified his title to the throne in January 1484.

Meanwhile, the princes were still in the Tower of London before disappearing or dying. The mystery lingers.

On August 22, 1485, the Battle of Bosworth Field changed the course of history. It meant the end of the Plantagenets and the beginning of Tudor — Lancastrian — rule. This episode is also marked by political complexity with Yorkists switching allegiance to the Lancastrians and Tudors. Richard was left exposed politically and personally.

In short, when Richard encountered Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII, he was confident he could strike him off his horse. However, Richard’s calculations went wrong and Henry’s allies — Sir William Stanley and his men — surrounded the king. Their brutal blows with swords and other bladed weapons brought the monarch off his horse to his death.

The 2012 archaelogical dig, which brought Richard’s skeleton to light, showed that a lateral chunk of the lower part of his skull is missing, which could only have been achieved by someone hacking away at it with a blade.

Richard’s enemies on the battlefield stripped him naked, threw him on a horse and paraded his corpse from Bosworth to Leicester. Once in the heart of the city, where great crowds had gathered, he was paraded along Bow Bridge. His head struck a stone on the bridge, causing further injury. An angry spectator also stabbed him in one buttock, to the crowd’s approval.

The Franciscan Greyfriars quickly and quietly buried the king at their friary, which was next door to the Parish Church of St Martin, the present Cathedral.

Henry VII’s son Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. His men lay waste to the Greyfriars friary. In our time, a car park and Leicester’s offices of Social Services occupy the site.

The ‘bonkers’ request

In 2012, The aforementioned historian Philippa Langley requested permission from Leicester City Council to dig under one of the spaces in the car park.

Oddly enough, it had the letter ‘R’ painted over it. It was ‘Reserved’ for the Director of Social Services.

Langley told the Radio Times:

I said: ‘Give me permission to dig your land — I want to go in search of a king.’ They said: ‘You’ll get permission but if you find him, he’ll stay in Leicester’.

Channel 4 interviewed one of the men who dug up the space. He said that, at the time, it seemed completely ‘bonkers’ (crazy).

Yet, once the first few feet of tarmac and ground had been excavated, Dr Jo Appleby, an osteo-archaeologist, found the skeleton which also had a curved spine.

Genetics testing

In 2004, well before the dig eight years later, historian John Ashdown-Hill used genealogical research to trace matrilineal descendents of Richard’s sister Anne of York.

He managed to find an Englishwoman who had emigrated to Canada after the Second World War. A sample of Joy (Brown) Ibsen’s mitochondrial DNA was taken around 2004 and tested. It matched with the Haplogroup J of Richard III’s family. Mrs Ibsen died in 2008. Her son Michael gave a mouth-swab sample to researchers when the car park dig began. His DNA was used to establish that the identity of the skeleton found was indeed that of Richard III.

The newest painstakingly recreated likeness of this mediaeval king — a bust only recently completed by Liverpool University researchers and geneticists — shows us that the king would have had blue eyes and dark blond/light brown hair (see halfway down the page). It was probably the same colour as Michael Ibsen’s, in fact. However, generally speaking, the facial features depicted are consistent with the portraits done during his lifetime and posthumously.

Preparations for reburial

Michael Ibsen is a carpenter and joiner who makes cabinets and bookcases. He was commissioned to design and construct a casket and a small coffer to hold three soil samples from significant places in Richard’s life: his birthplace at Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, his time spent at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale and Bosworth Field in Leicestershire.

Ibsen was able to use oak from Prince Charles’s Duchy of Cornwall estate.

His design for the casket is very plain by today’s standards, but Ibsen told Channel 4 that such simplicity is more in keeping with Richard’s era than our own. One of the commentators later added that, during that time, the coffinmaker carved a second interior casket shaped to the person’s body. Ibsen’s has a similar interior inlay.

The coffer for the three cubes of soil is of a similar design and construction.

Meanwhile, historians and Cathedral clergy were working on church ceremonies that Richard III would have recognised from his own time.

By all accounts, he was a devout Catholic (this was the pre-Reformation era) and asked priests and other religious around the country to pray for him. He had a number of chantries set up for this purpose and wrote a brief prayer for them to say which ended in ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord, our only Mediator and Advocate’.

He also had a thick leather-bound Book of Hours — an illumination from the early part of the 15th century, elaborately painted and penned — which researchers believe was passed down to him by family. It has been at London’s Lambeth Palace, home to the Archbishops of Canterbury for centuries, and was on loan for the reinterment (see below).

Compline — Sunday, March 22, 2015

The clergy of Leicester Cathedral invited England and Wales’s most senior Catholic clergyman, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, to give a brief sermon during Compline on Sunday, March 22.

Richard’s skeleton, in Michael Ibsen’s casket, was taken in a horse-drawn procession — complete with armoured men of arms — from Leicester University through the city centre to the Cathedral. (Earlier in the day it had been part of a ceremony at Bosworth Field.) Crowds of all races and creeds lined the streets. A number of them had white roses to lob onto the bier bearing the casket.

Leicester is Britain’s most multicultural city. In Richard’s time, it had a population of 3,000 and was England’s centre of the wool trade. Today, 300,000 people live there. Once the dig began, everyone began to take this king to their hearts. The adults and children interviewed live on Channel 4 really felt that this was a time when English history intersected with their own lives.

Once at the Cathedral, clergy received the casket in a brief ceremony with University officials. It was carried inside and placed in front of the baptismal font, where clergy said prayers reminding us of Richard’s own baptism and the religious meaning of that sacrament.

A pall, depicting Richard’s life as well as some of the people who helped to find his remains, was respectfully laid over the casket. Historian John Ashdown-Hill had designed a gold, bejeweled crown in keeping with the original. A local Brownie was given the responsibility for carrying it and placing it onto the pall.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols gave a brief but moving sermon, mentioning the deep religious significance that Baptism would have held for Richard. He added that Baptism alone does not make a person holy and that, in Richard’s life as in all of ours, there are elements of saint and sinner. He gave thanks that today’s conflict resolution starts with diplomacy rather than war.

After the Cathedral choir sung a choral interlude written for John F Kennedy’s funeral Mass, customary Compline prayers for temporal and spiritual safety concluded the service. The Cathedral was open from Monday through Wednesday evening to allow well wishers to visit the coffin to pay their respects.

Before the service, Channel 4’s Jon Snow asked the Cardinal, Anglican Synod member Christina Rees and the Cathedral clergy if there were any difficulties involved in Anglicans and Catholics co-ordinating the service. All said that everything went very well. Everyone understood that Richard was a Catholic, so it was only natural that a Catholic prelate should be invited to participate in this unique Compline.

We also discovered that stone from Greyfriars friary was used to repair part of the Cathedral through the ages, therefore, Catholic stone is in an Anglican church.

Church of England clergy held soil blessing ceremonies at the three collection sites earlier that day. They were attended not only by nearby residents but also by those most closely involved in the excavation and research. Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig, a distant cousin of his originally from Australia, also related to the king, attended.

Reinterment — Thursday, March 26, 2015

By the time of Richard III’s reinterment on March 26, over 20,000 people had paid their final respects. They came from all over the world, including Brazil and India.

This had far exceeded everyone’s expectations. Cathedral clergy opened the doors much earlier and closed them much later than anticipated every day.

This reburial, although not unique to the English monarchy or to the Church in general, did involve different circumstances and had to be organised accordingly.

Theologically, reburial can be done to transfer remains from one resting place to a rightful one. The tradition comes from the Israelites’ taking Joseph’s bones from Egypt for reinterment in the Promised Land. The current Duke of Gloucester — also named Richard, coincidentally — read the appropriate Scripture passage for this: Exodus 13:19-22.

In Richard III’s time, people were consumed by the thought of ending up in Hell, a place of everlasting torment, fire and brimstone. Funeral rites of the day would have lasted for several hours and would have had Bible readings which referred to Hell. These were warnings to those in attendance that their eternal life was in danger if they did not repent and lead godly lives.

One researcher uncovered a mediaeval manuscript documenting one of these services. The general pattern and readings were noted and discussed by the reinterment committee in an effort to make the ceremony more readily understood by those in the congregation.

The invitation-only ceremony lasted 45 minutes. It included a censing of the casket, which six Army officers, assisted by two more, took to the choir of the Chapel of Christ the King in the Cathedral.

Psalms 114, 138 and 150 were arranged to music. The Cathedral choir sang each of them beautifully.

Cathedral clergy recited prayers, the Public Orator of Leicester University gave us a life history of Richard III and the Bishop of Leicester, the Right Revd Tim Stevens, delivered the sermon. The Bishop spoke of ‘the Richard effect’ which went global, the tens of thousands of people coming to Leicester to pay their respects ‘confounded sceptics’. He added that such an interest was remarkable in today’s day and age in that Richard was a king and a Christian.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, also related to Richard III distantly, read ‘Richard’, a poem written for the occasion by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

The Archbishop of Canterbury presided over the reinterment and scattered the consecrated soil over the coffin once it was in place.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, represented the Royal Family. King Harold, the only other English king to have been killed on the battlefield, held the title Earl of Wessex when he died in 1066.

Everyone interviewed afterward agreed that the reburial was a fitting religious ceremony for a king whom historical novelist Philippa Gregory calls ‘the people’s Plantagenet’. Indeed. It transpires that, because the Plantagenets married exclusively into English families, millions of Britons — and others living around the world — could have Plantagenet blood.

Everyone whom Jon Snow interviewed said the week’s events, especially the Cathedral services, were ‘a lot to take in’. Richard’s descendants Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig, both of whom now live and work in London, said that they were still processing everything. They are very dignified people and one cannot help but wish them all the best for the future.

Richard’s new resting place in Leicester Cathedral will be open to the public.

The Richard III Centre is adjacent to the Cathedral for anyone wishing to view exhibits about this much-maligned king. The Centre also has information about the archaeological dig from 2012.

Research continues, particularly into the fate of the young princes, as a new archive has become available. The coming years might give us more insight into Richard III. I look forward to it.

palm-sundayPalm Sunday falls on March 29 this year and marks the beginning of Holy Week.

Readers might be interested in the following posts in recalling our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an occasion of elation which would not last the week.

The day before Palm Sunday is known in some Catholic quarters and by the Eastern Orthodox as Lazarus Saturday, when Jesus raised Mary and Martha’s brother from the dead (John 11:1-45).

Palm Sunday remembers the juxtaposition of the joy of the crowds and the plotting by the Jewish hierarchy to get rid of Jesus.

Palm Sunday donkey landysadventures_comJesus entered the city not held aloft by the Apostles nor sitting upon a horse — which symbolised power and battle — but on a humble donkey. This explanation gives us more information.

Another post explains why we receive palms. If you receive palm fronds instead of a palm cross, here are ideas for plaiting them as soon as possible so that they will last for another year.

This post on the Anglican Book of Common Prayer concludes a study of Church liturgy and Communion polity from the first century through the Reformation.

Past posts — all of which are available on my Christianity/Apologetics page under Church history and miscellany — are as follows:

Church history: early form of liturgy still followed

Church history: Eastern liturgy in the 4th and 5th centuries

Church history: Western liturgy between the 5th and 9th centuries

Church history: how mediaeval Mass led to the Reformation

Church history: early Lutheran liturgy

Church history: Zwingli’s rite in Zurich

Church history: the German rites in Strasbourg (Martin Bucer)

Church history: Calvin’s French rites

Church history: early Reformed rites in Scotland

Unless otherwise indicated, source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

Background to Anglican liturgy and practice

The Church of England is a via media — middle way — between Lutheranism and Calvinism (p. 144).

Doctrinally, it is similar to Calvinism. Liturgically, it is closer to Lutheranism.

However, it is less prescriptive and proscriptive than Calvinism. It also has liturgical distinctions all its own.

During Henry VIII’s reign, although the English Church broke with Rome, Mass remained a constant. However, small changes occurred with regard to church services. In 1536, the Mass in Latin was explained to the people so that they understood what was happening in the liturgy. In 1542, the Convocation of Canterbury decreed that all churches in England should have a morning and evening reading — one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament — in English every Sunday and holy day. This included the main Sunday Mass. The litany was first said in English in 1544 (p. 145).

An English liturgy took shape during Edward VI’s reign. The First Book of Homilies, which contained 12 sermons in English, was issued in 1547.

In March 1548, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer issued an English Order of Communion to be incorporated into the Mass (p. 145). These new parts of the liturgy included an exhortation to prayer, fencing the Table, invitation, public confession of sins with absolution, comfortable words (verses from the New Testament) and a prayer of humble access (expressing unworthiness to approach the Lord’s Table).

Cranmer incorporated these rubrics into the first Book of Common Prayer (BCP) which appeared in 1549 (see illustration above, courtesy of Charles Wohlers’s site). He, along with a group of clergymen, including Nicholas Ridley (p. 146) and Martin Bucer, wrote and compiled the prayers.

Maxwell describes the BCP as follows (p. 146):

It preserved a rich treasure of liturgical material, the whole rendered in an English style singularly felicitous, dignified and chaste. The character of the collects was retained, the English style equalling the Latin, while the style of the Canon far surpassed that of the old rite.

Just as important (emphases mine):

The achievement was unique in that the Book of Common Prayer, in contrast with the other vernacular rites of the sixteenth century, survives in use to this day.

The current Church of England service book is Common Worship, issued about 15 years ago, replacing the 1984 Alternative Service Book. Since the mid-1980s, our clergy have been trying to eliminate BCP services. However, vicars who occasionally use the BCP find their churches fuller than when they use the modern liturgy.

Communion policy

Doctrinally, the Church of England forbids either extreme belief about the nature of Communion. Specifically, church members are not allowed to believe in Catholic transubstantiation nor in Zwinglian symbolism (p. 144). We believe in an undefined Real Presence.

Those receiving Communion were to kneel once they approached the Table. However, some early Protestants were concerned how communicants and those in the pews would consider this posture.

Therefore, John Knox’s Black Rubric appeared in the 1552 BCP. It disappeared from the 1559 edition and was reinstated as an advisory notation in the 1662 edition, still used today. It reads as follows:

WHEREAS it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.

A Communion liturgy was stipulated as being the norm. In the early days of the Reformation, churches mandated that at least some of their congregation receive the Sacrament on every Sunday and holy day (p. 146). In addition to the celebrant, a minimum of three or four persons was required (p. 149). Acknowledging that this might be more difficult at Wednesday and Friday services, the Church directives specified that clergy could truncate the service accordingly, omitting the parts of the Liturgy of the Upper Room which concerned the elements, consecration and Communion.

The reason for mandating that certain members of the congregation receive Communion at each service originated from the requirement to receive the Sacrament at least once a year (p. 150). This was stated in the 1549 BCP. In the next edition, which appeared in 1552, the directive for minimum reception stated that congregations must receive Communion three times a year, one of these occasions being Easter.

The 1662 BCP allowed Morning Prayer to become a standard Sunday and holy day liturgy. In practice, it became the standard as most parishes began to hold a Communion service only three or four times a year (p. 151).

Until the late 20th century, Morning Prayer continued to be the norm on Sundays which did not involve a major Church feast. Today, however, nearly every Church of England service is one of Holy Communion. It is very unusual to find Morning Prayer on a Sunday.

Liturgical highlights

It is difficult to reproduce everything from the 1549 ‘Supper of the Lorde and the holy Communion, commonly called the Masse’ (pp. 147, 148). So much changed in the liturgy between then and 1662. Certain parts were omitted, reinstated and rearranged during that time. My notes follow in italics.

Liturgy of the Word:

– Introit, consisting of a Psalm appointed for the day (replaced by a hymn);

– Lord’s Prayer, said by the celebrant;

– Collect for Purity, said by the celebrant;

– Repetition of the Introit (replaced by either a full responsorial recitation of the Ten Commandments or a truncated summary thereof);

Kyrie, ninefold (omitted by 1662);

Gloria (repositioned between the post-Communion prayer and the final blessing);

– Salutation and collect of the day;

– Collect for the King (or Queen);

– Epistle;

– Gospel;

– Nicene Creed;

– Sermon.

Liturgy of the Upper Room:

– Exhortation to receive Communion worthily and with a clear conscience (nowadays no longer read);

– A selection of Scripture verses;

– Offertory and collection of alms;

– Procession of communicants to the sanctuary, men on one side and women on the other (discontinued — people queue and walk to the altar rail when the celebrant is ready to distribute Communion);

– Celebrant prepares the elements;

– Intercessions for the living and dead;

– Comfortable words (New Testament verses);

– Salutation and Sursum corda;

– Prayer of Consecration;

– Lord’s Prayer (moved to post-Communion);

– The Peace (omitted);

Christ our Pascall Lambe (a version of the Agnus Dei, omitted);

– Invitation to Communion (part of Cranmer’s ‘Order of Communion’, omitted);

– General Confession and Absolution (repositioned to take place after the Intercessions);

– Prayer of Humble Access (repositioned to be recited before the Prayer of Consecration);

– Holy Communion, with clergy and assistants receiving the Sacrament before the congregation, and ‘clerks’ or choir sing the Agnus Dei (Agnus Dei omitted) ;

– Post-Communion Scripture sentences (omitted);

– Salutation and post-Communion thanksgiving (the Gloria follows);

– Peace and blessing (a possible reference to ‘The peace of God which passeth all understanding …’).

21st century developments

The new liturgical book, Common Worship, has a traditional service which has reinstated the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei. The Gloria has been moved to follow the Kyrie. The Prayer of Humble Access is said immediately before Communion.

Sadly, the Peace was restored in the 1980s, which is a shame in the 21st century;  some churchgoers are, quite frankly, unattentive to hygiene. A Methodist told me that his church’s policy is to allow for a discreet tucking of hands into one’s sleeves to indicate non-participation. Only one person did that in his church, but the congregation respected it.

The new traditional service is a great improvement on the one in the 1984 Alternative Service Book.

However, no liturgy anywhere will ever top that of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It is a pity so many of today’s Anglican clergy refuse to use it more frequently. Such a refusal can only be considered some of Satan’s finest work.

End of series

My past several posts have looked at the liturgy and Communion from the early days of the Church through to the Reformation.

So far, we have read about early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages, Mass during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s liturgy, Zwingli’s rite in Zurich, the German liturgy in Strasbourg and Calvin’s rites in Strasbourg for the Huguenots and later in Geneva.

Today’s post takes a brief look at John Knox’s Reformed rites for the English speakers in Frankfurt, Geneva and, later, the Scots.

Unless otherwise indicated, source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

John Knox in brief

Space prohibits a full account of John Knox’s turbulent life and times.

A few descriptive terms about the man come to mind which I shall suppress.

Knox supporters in North America find it inexplicable why those of us who are not Presbyterians could not admire him. Yet, the facts show that he was contentious and disagreeable from the start. No doubt he was very nice to his family, friends and followers.

However, for the English, he goes against what they appreciate as moderation in spirit and personality.

Even Calvin advised him in Frankfurt to

avoid contention.

Calvin carefully chose his battles — principally about Communion frequency — even if he fell foul of the Geneva city council. However, Geneva invited him to return from Strasbourg in 1541.

Knox, on the other hand, was a firebrand at every opportunity. Sadly, a few lay Presbyterians and their supporters have adopted Knox’s unfortunate manner in their online discourse. Look to Calvin, friends. He was much more measured in his speech and relationships.

Knox’s litany of self-imposed trouble included many episodes.

His first sermon to the garrison at St Andrews pronounced the Pope as the Antichrist.

Two months later in June 1547, Mary of Guise (Queen Mother and Regent to Mary, Queen of Scots) asked the French to intervene at St Andrews. The French took as prisoners a group of Protestants, including Scottish nobles and Knox. They all became galley slaves. Knox was freed in February 1549.

Knox settled in England where he became a chaplain to Edward VI in 1550. Prior to that, as a licensed minister in the Church of England, he was sent to Berwick upon Tweed, where he promptly modified the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) to make it a more Protestant rite. He met his first wife Margery Bowes at this time and, although he married her, he did so without her family’s consent.

Knox’s fiery preaching was highly popular among influential English Protestants. His clerical star continued to rise in subsequent parish appointments in England. When Mary Tudor succeeded Edward VI, Knox’s allies told him to flee the country.

In 1554, he sailed for France and continued his travels until he reached Calvin’s Geneva. Calvin gave non-committal replies to his contentious questions about female and ‘idolatrous’ rulers, referring him to Heinrich Bullinger in Zurich. Bullinger gave him no quarter. Undeterred, Knox published a diatribe in July of that year verbally attacking Mary Tudor, her bishops and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

In September 1554, a group of English exiles invited Knox to Frankfurt to be their minister. Calvin encouraged him to go. Knox found a congregation torn between using the BCP and those who favoured a more Protestant version of it. It was about this controversy that Calvin advised Knox and his colleague William Whittingham to avoid contention. A new group of refugees arrived, including Richard Cox, who had substantial input to the BCP. Cox informed Frankfurt’s authorities of Knox’s pamphlet attacking Charles V. The authorities told Knox to leave the city, which he did on March 26, 1555.

Knox returned to Geneva, where he was put in charge of a new church.

Meanwhile, his mother-in-law wrote him asking him to return to his wife, who was living in Scotland. He went home in August 1555.

Knox’s warm welcome home by Scottish Protestant nobles saw off opposition from the Scottish bishops who found him deeply worrying and arranged a hearing with him in Edinburgh. Accompanied by his powerful allies, he appeared in front of them on May 15, 1556. The bishops cancelled the hearing and granted Knox the freedom to preach in Edinburgh. Knox’s friends among the nobility persuaded him to write to Mary of Guise, the Regent for Mary, Queen of Scots. Knox wrote a letter calling for her support of the Reformation and deposing her bishops. Mary of Guise ignored it.

Meanwhile, his new congregation in Geneva called. They had elected him their pastor on November 1, 1555. He returned to the city in September 1556. This time, he took his wife and mother-in-law with him.

The next two years were blissful for Knox. He felt at home in Geneva. Life and spirituality were unsurpassed.

But that wasn’t good enough.

In the summer of 1558, unbeknownst to Calvin, Knox anonymously published a diatribe called The first blast of the trumpet against the monstruous regiment of women. Even given the general misogyny of the time, Knox went way over the top in attacking women rulers to the point where he could have been charged with sedition. He took strong issue with Mary I of England and Mary of Guise. Wikipedia says:

In calling the “regiment” or rule of women “monstruous”, he meant that it was “unnatural”. The pamphlet has been called a classic of misogyny. Knox states that his purpose was to demonstrate “how abominable before God is the Empire or Rule of a wicked woman, yea, of a traiteresse and bastard”.[55]

A royal proclamation banned the pamphlet in England.

The pamphlet came back to bite him when Elizabeth I ascended to the English throne. Geneva’s English speakers felt comfortable returning home now that they had a Protestant Queen. Knox left Geneva in January 1559 for Scotland. He should have arrived long before May 2 of that year, but Elizabeth I, aware of the pamphlet and deeply offended, refused to give him a passport to travel through England!

Not long afterward, Scottish authorities under Mary of Guise pronounced Knox an outlaw. He and a large group of Protestants travelled to Perth because it was a walled city they could defend in case of a siege. Once there, Knox preached an inflammatory sermon in the Church of St John the Baptist during which a small incident sparked a riot. The result was a gutted church. Not only that, but the mob went on to loot and vandalise two nearby friaries.

Later, safe in St Andrews, Knox preached there. Another riot broke out which resulted in more vandalism and looting.

Knox cannot be personally blamed for the Protestant uprisings occurring all over Scotland that year, but did he ever appeal for calm and godliness? Hmm.

On October 24, 1559, the Scottish nobility deposed Mary of Guise of the Regency. She died in Edinburgh Castle on June 10, 1560. The Treaty of Edinburgh was signed, which resulted in French and English troops returning home.

During the rest of that year the Scottish Parliament, Knox and a handful of fellow clergymen devised the Book of Discipline for the new Protestant church. Knox’s wife Margery died in December 1560. He was left to care for their two little boys.

Mary Queen of Scots returned from exile on August 19, 1561. She and Knox had several personal confrontations over his inciting rebellion, her right to rule as a woman and her impending marriage. He told her he owed her no allegiance. He continued his fiery sermons in the pulpit of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

On March 26, 1564, Knox married a 17-year old member of the nobility, Margaret Stewart. He was 50 years old. She bore him three daughters.

Near the end of the decade a complex civil war broke out involving nobles from both sides of the religious question. Knox moved around Scotland during this time, although he returned to Edinburgh as and when he could. He wrote his History of the Reformation in Scotland during these years.

In July 1572, he was able to freely preach once again at St Giles. However, he had grown progressively weaker. He died on November 24, 1572, surrounded by his family and friends.

Knox is the founder of Presbyterianism.

Knox’s liturgy

The following is taken from Maxwell’s book and describes a typical Knox liturgy from his book The Forme of Prayers (p. 123, 124).

Knox largely borrowed from Calvin but Maxwell notes a BCP influence as well. As with Calvin’s liturgy, there is no Peace.

The format is as follows for a Communion service, still divided into the Liturgies of the Word and the Upper Room:

– Confession of sins;

– Prayer for pardon;

– Psalm in metre;

– Prayer for illumination;

– Scripture reading (only one, although there were sometimes separate Scottish Readers Services before the Liturgy of the Word which included more Psalms as well as Old and New Testament readings [p. 124]);

– Sermon (lengthy, as was the Scripture reading; together, they could last over an hour [p. 124);

– Collection of alms;

– Thanksgiving and intercessions;

– Lord’s Prayer;

– Apostles’ Creed, spoken;

– Offertory, including presentation and preparation of elements and a sung Psalm;

– Words of Institution;

– Exhortation;

– Prayer of Consecration which included adoration, thanksgiving, anamnesis and Doxology;

– Fraction;

– Ministers’ Communion;

– People’s Communion, apparently given by assistant ministers because the celebrant read the account of the Passion of Christ during this time;

– Post-Communion thanksgiving;

– Psalm 103 in metre;

– Aaronic or Apostolic blessing.

The readings appear to have been through one book of the Bible at a time until concluded — ‘in course’. The sermons were always about the readings given (p. 124).

The Forme of Prayers was never intended to be used as uniformly as England’s BCP was. Knox allowed for local variations on prayers and parts of the rite.

Although Knox sought to abolish kneeling and feasts of the Church calendar, these seem to have continued in some Scottish churches.

Communion policy

Communicants walked to the Lord’s Table where a separate Communion Table with chairs was installed (p. 126).

The people took their places and sat down to receive the Sacrament.

An Act passed by Scotland’s General Assembly in 1562 indicated that the Sacrament was received quarterly in the large towns and less frequently in the countryside (p. 125). Clergy were fewer outside of the former. Furthermore, people at that time were still used to infrequent Communion, perhaps only annually.

This custom of the Communion Table disappeared in the early part of the 19th century, when English Nonconformist procedure was adopted. This is reminiscent of the Zwinglian practice of receiving Communion in the pews, although people remained standing for this in Britain.

Long-lasting liturgy

Introduced to Scotland in 1560, Knox’s The Forme of Prayers — or Book of Common Order — was used for over 80 years, despite attempts to revise it (p. 127). It was replaced in 1645 by the Westminster Directory.

180px-John_Calvin_-_Young WikipediaThis series has been examining liturgy and Holy Communion from the Church’s earliest days through to the Reformation.

So far, we have read about early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages, Mass during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s liturgy and Zwingli’s rite in Zurich.

Source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

Yesterday’s post looked at the German rite in Strasbourg which Martin Bucer revised further in the 1530s making it more Protestant and more austere.

By the time he invited John Calvin to Strasbourg in 1538, Bucer’s liturgy had changed considerably from that of the late 1520s.

Calvin and the Supper

It should be noted that, at the time he went to Strasbourg, Calvin was at odds with Geneva over the frequency of Communion.

Calvin had always advocated weekly Communion, but he had to acquiesce to the city council in this matter.

Even when he returned to Geneva in 1541, Calvin could not change local government’s mind. Their Zwinglian policy of quarterly Communion was practically set in stone.

Calvin came up with a plan whereby Communion Sundays could be staggered in Geneva’s churches, which would have allowed communicants to receive the Sacrament more often. However, the council turned down the suggestion (p. 117).

Calvin was diligent about advocating frequent Communion, not only in his Institutes but also in personal correspondence. In 1555, he wrote to the magistrates of Bern whose policy was for the Sacrament to be given only three times a year, versus Geneva’s four (p. 118):

Please, God, gentlemen, that both you and we may be able to establish a more frequent usage. For it is evident from St Luke in the Book of Acts that communion was much more frequently celebrated in the primitive Church; and that continued for a long time in the ancient Church, until this abomination of the mass was set up by Satan, who so caused it that people received communion only once or twice a year. Wherefore, we must acknowledge that it is a defect in us that we do not follow the example of the Apostles.

In 1561, he expressed his dissatisfaction with Geneva’s Communion policy:

I have taken care to record publicly that our custom is defective, so that those who come after me may be able to correct it the more freely and easily.

Calvin’s time in Strasbourg

Bucer invited Calvin to minister to the French Protestants — Huguenots — seeking refuge in Strasbourg, which was German-speaking.

Calvin lived in the city from 1538 to 1541, at which time he returned to Geneva.

He approved of Bucer’s liturgy, which a friend had translated into French (p. 113). Calvin adopted most of it for the Huguenots.

His French Communion liturgy for Strasbourg (pp 114, 115):

– Introduced a Scripture verse at the beginning of the service: Psalm 124:8;

– Replaced the standard Kyrie and Gloria with sung Kyrie responsorials to a metrical version of the Ten Commandments;

– Retained the Gospel reading (Bucer’s only Bible reading);

– Added a paraphrased Lord’s Prayer whilst retaining the standard Lord’s Prayer (before and after the Consecration Prayer);

– Moved the sung Apostles’ Creed just before the Consecration Prayer;

– Added the Nunc Dimittis just before the final blessing;

– Retained the Aaronic Blessing at the dismissal.

The Peace had disappeared from Bucer’s liturgy. Calvin did not reinstate it either in Strasbourg or, later, in Geneva.

The Geneva liturgy

Upon his return to Geneva, the city council asked Calvin to simplify his liturgy further (p. 115).

In 1542, he made the following changes (pp. 114, 115):

– Removal of the Absolution after the Confession of Sins;

– Replacement of the Ten Commandments with a metrical Psalm;

– Omission of the Nunc Dimittis.

Communicants approached the Holy Table where they stood or knelt to receive the Supper (p. 119).

Calvin’s Genevan rite spread to other Reformed churches on the Continent. Even with minor local variations, the rite was recognisably his.

Tomorrow: Early Reformed rites in Scotland

So far, my series on liturgy and Communion from the early centuries through the Reformation has included early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages, Mass during the Middle Ages, Martin Luther’s liturgy and Zwingli’s rite in Zurich.

Today’s post looks at the Protestant liturgy in Strasbourg, which, during the Reformation, was one of the free imperial cities in the Holy Roman Empire. This meant that the city council had more sway over local government than the Catholic emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

This was also true of smaller princedoms scattered throughout this vast tract of Europe, and, although the Empire was designed to ensure Catholicism remained the principal form of Christianity, in reality, the devolution of power enabled the Reformation to flourish.

Strasbourg, like other free imperial cities, developed its own form of Protestantism. Strasbourg was close to the Swiss cities which had broken away from the Holy Roman Empire. Its leading Protestants not only borrowed both from Martin Luther and Zwingli in Zurich, they also knew the two Reformers personally. Later, they invited Geneva’s Calvin to the city to help integrate French-speaking Huguenots. More about this later in the post.

Strasbourg’s German liturgy

Unless otherwise indicated, source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

A year before Zwingli finalised his rite for Zurich, in Strasbourg, Diebold Schwarz (Theobaldus Niger, in Latin) developed a German liturgy. (Alsace was then part of Germany.) He celebrated it for the first time on February 16, 1524 in St John’s Chapel in the Church of St Laurence (p. 88).

Schwarz and Zwingli were the first two Reformers to include public confession of sin in church services.

Schwarz retained much of the ceremonial aspects of Catholic Mass — e.g. the celebrant’s washing of hands (Lavabo) during the Liturgy of the Upper Room — which made it a meaningful rite compared with Luther’s pared down effort (p. 88).

The format was as follows (p. 89, 90):

Liturgy of the Word —

– Invocation at the altar steps;

– Public confession of sin (a revised Confiteor);

– Scripture sentence (Psalm 124:8), retained from Mass;

– Salutation and response;

– Introit, spoken not sung;

Kyries;

Gloria;

– Salutation and Collect;

– Epistle reading;

– Gospel reading;

– Nicene Creed, spoken, retained from Mass.

The Liturgy of the Upper Room —

– Offertory, with preparation of the elements and the Exhortation taken from the Orate Fratres in the Mass;

– Salutation and Sursum Corda, also from the Mass;

– Preface and Proper;

Sanctus and Benedictus, from the Mass;

Lavabo and related Collect, the former from the Mass;

– Canon — Prayer of Consecration — said with hands upraised. It included intercessions (prayers of the people); a prayer for quickened life; Words of Institution — consecration — and Elevation, concluding with the Anamnesis. It did not include the Epiclesis: the prayer requesting God’s blessing over the elements but Maxwell says it was commonplace for the time ‘in contemporary Western use';

– The Lord’s Prayer with Matthean doxology;

– The Peace;

– Agnus Dei;

– The Communion Collect, from the Mass;

– Communion, with celebrant receiving first, then the congregation, which had the choice of one or both elements;

– Two post-Communion Collects;

– Salutation and response;

– Final blessing, from the Mass.

Later developments

Martin Bucer by German School.jpgA young Reformer, Martin Bucer, arrived in Strasbourg seeking refuge after his local diocese in Germany excommunicated him.

Wikipedia says that Bucer came up with the aforementioned liturgy, but Maxwell’s research indicates that, even with alternative prayers and subsequent publications (p. 90):

The text there [in the Canon] differs only in the slightest degree from Schwarz’s …

During the years 1524-5 nine or ten printed editions of the German mass appeared at Strasbourg, each differing from the others, but all closely related in form and substance.

Bucer largely led a subsequent move in replacing Latin names with German ones for parts of the liturgy and the sanctuary. Eventually, words and terms such as ‘Lord’s Supper’, ‘Minister’ and ‘Holy Table’ became commonplace (p. 91).

Bucer also made the service more Protestant (p. 91):

– The Apostles’ Creed could be substituted for the Nicene (a nod to Luther and to Zwingli);

– The Epistle and Gospel readings no longer followed the Catholic prescriptions; Maxwell says they were ‘in course’, however, I am uncertain whether this points to following Zwingli’s lectio continua, which covers one book at a time from Sunday to Sunday;

– The two readings were considerably longer than before;

– Sermons held greater importance. It was not unusual for the minister to preach a separate sermon for each reading;

– The ceremonial aspects were simplified or, as in the case of the Elevation, eliminated;

– The Holy Table was brought forward to give the minister more room when celebrating the Supper and also allow him to be seen by more of the congregation;

– He developed various versions of certain prayers, any of which could be used (p. 99): three confessions of sin, three prayers of consecration and four post-Communion prayers.

Communion policy

Communicants had to approach the Lord’s Table in an orderly queue to receive the Sacrament. They either stood or knelt for this. The minister distributed the Bread and an assistant minister followed with the Cup (p. 111).

By 1537, the Liturgy of the Upper Room was celebrated weekly only in the Cathedral; churches held a Communion service monthly (p. 100).

Another Bucerian innovation — multiple service attendance on Sunday

After the service concluded, the congregation ate Sunday lunch.

Those who worshipped at the Cathedral returned ‘immediately’ after lunch for another service of psalms, communal prayers and a sermon (p. 110). A children’s service followed to provide them with a knowledge of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed and the local catechism.

In the parish churches, Vespers followed the Cathedral’s afternoon services. Vespers consisted of psalms, prayers and a collect.

The parish churches also had four annual day-long periods of instruction in facts about Christianity, the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sacraments and how all of these related to the believer’s daily life and practice.

It could well be that from these multiple services that we have the Protestant traditions — obligations? — of returning to church later on Sunday. Many Reformed churches have this policy.

What to remember about Martin Bucer

Bucer’s influence extended to four areas of the Reformation:

1/ He was the first ecumenist, seeking unity in essentials and ignoring doctrinal differences, which had mixed results;

2/ He attempted to mediate between Luther and Zwingli at the famous Marburg Colloquy in October 1529. This discussion — dispute?  — involved the nature of the Sacrament. By then, Bucer began to adopt Zwingli’s view that the bread and wine were only symbolic. Luther was aghast, concluding:

It is obvious that we do not have one and the same spirit. 

Between 1534 and 1538, Bucer also tried to achieve Protestant unity in the German and Swiss churches. The German representatives signed the Wittenberg Concord, but the Swiss churches never did, principally because of the words used to describe the nature of the Sacrament.

3/In 1538, Bucer invited John Calvin to Strasbourg to lead a congregation of Huguenots who had sought exile in the city. The two became lifelong friends. Calvin adapted Bucer’s liturgy for later use in Geneva.

4/ Bucer eventually had to leave Strasbourg when Holy Roman Emperor Charles V attempted to reimpose the Catholic Mass throughout the Empire. In 1549, the people and the city council considered him more of a liability than an asset, as he attempted to preserve the Protestant church there. He was relieved of his responsibilities on March 1, 1549.

He had several invitations from other Reformers for resettlement and accepted Thomas Cranmer’s. He arrived in England on April 25, 1549, and accepted the post of Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge.

His remaining two years in England were notable for the following:

a/ He shied away from controversies about the nature of Communion and whether clergy should wear vestments;

b/ He promoted charity to the poor via the Pauline practice of sending deacons to exercise that responsibility. He also wrote the controversial De Regno Christi [On the Kingdom of Christ], addressed to Edward VI, although it was never printed as the authorities considered it too controversial. Bucer advocated 14 reforms of both church and state. These included a plea for divorce decrees, his reason being that marriage was a social contract, not a sacrament. The document was a step too far for the Church of England. It ended up being published in Basel in 1557, six years after Bucer’s death.

c/ Scholars of Church history say that Bucer’s greatest influence was on the early editions of the Book of Common Prayer, at Cranmer’s request. By 1551, the year of his death from tuberculosis, he submitted his response to the Archbishop, advocating a simplified liturgy, a removal of non-essential feasts and practices as well as suggestions for making the service more meaningful to the congregation. Anglicans who know the Book of Common Prayer might wish to read Bucer’s Strasbourg prayers (p. 102-110), some of which are similar in style and content.

Martin Bucer is buried at the Church of Saint Mary the Great in Cambridge.

The previous post in this series on Christian liturgy looked at Martin Luther’s liturgy in German, which appeared in 1526.

Those who missed the previous instalments on early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages and Mass during the Middle Ages might find them helpful in understanding the services which emerged during the Reformation.

Ulrich-Zwingli-1.jpgToday’s entry examines Ulrich Zwingli’s rite for his churches in and around Zurich.

Unless otherwise indicated, source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

Before we go into Maxwell’s text, however, what follows are some facts about Zwingli, some of which demonstrate the influence he has had on Protestant churches to this day.

Zwingli’s theology

Zwingli had the same vehement complaints against the Catholic Church as the other early Refomers: questioning aspects of the Mass, forbidding remembrance of the saints and criticising corrupt clergy.

Zwingli:

1/ Was the first to use and develop lectio continua, which consisted of preaching on one book of the Bible at a time, disregarding the Church calendar. In 1519, during his early ministry, he began with Matthew’s Gospel — still pre-eminent at the time — then did the same with Acts, the Epistles and the Old Testament. This continuity provided the congregation with a greater understanding of the Bible. A number of independent churches do this today. My Forbidden Bible Verses series follows this format, too.

2/ Vehemently opposed Lenten fasting and food restrictions. On the first Sunday of Lent in 1522, he and a dozen followers cut up two smoked sausages and distributed the meat in Zurich. This is known as the Affair of the Sausages, considered to be the beginning of the Reformation in Switzerland. Zwingli also maintained that there was no scriptural support for food restriction of any kind at any time.

3/ He opposed celibacy on the part of clergy. In fact, he had secretly married widow Anna Reinhard in 1522, after the Affair of the Sausages. They were publicly married in 1524, three months before the birth of their first child.

4/Believed the Sacrament and the Liturgy of the Upper Room were symbolic of Christ’s body and blood and the Last Supper. He did not believe in the Real Presence, arguing that Christ gave His greatest sacrifice for us once and for all time. Therefore, it must not be re-enacted in a sacrificial or mystical way but in the manner of a memorial.

5/ Took issue with Anabaptists, radical reformers who did not believe in paedobaptism and did not hesitate to rebaptise people they felt had not received this sacrament properly as Catholics or Protestants. It was Zwingli and the Zurich City Council — not John Calvin — who condemned Felix Manz, the first Anabaptist martyr, to death by drowning.

Now to Maxwell’s chapter on the Zwinglian rite, developed in 1525, at the same time Luther was devising his service in Germany.

Communion policy

Because Zwingli held that the Sacrament was but a memorial, he said that his followers should be able to receive it only four times a year: Easter, Pentecost, one Sunday in the autumn and Christmas (p. 84).

Although Luther and Calvin promoted weekly Communion, as their denominations and other Protestant churches evolved, people received Communion only a few times a year. A shortage of clergy accounted for this as did the requirement for communicants to meet with the celebrant the week before the Communion service. That said, even at four times a year, these Protestants probably received the Sacrament more frequently than Catholics; it was only in 1905 when Pius X encouraged Catholics to receive Communion at every Mass.

Zwingli’s communicants sat together in church, and deacons brought the elements to them. The communicants remained seated during this time.

The paten — plate for the bread — and cup were made out of wood to avoid any ostentation.

Public confession of sin

Zwingli’s was the second liturgical rite to incorporate a public confession of sin. The first was Diebold Schwarz (Theobaldus Niger, in Latin) who modified the Confiteor for Protestants in Strasbourg in 1524, one year before Zwingli’s services began (p. 88).

This came after the sermon (p. 84).

Today, nearly every church — including the Catholic Church — has incorporated a public confession of sin into its liturgy.

Characteristics of the Zwinglian rite

Although Zwingli’s rite of 1525 differed from Martin Luther’s, it was equally as pared down.

Zwingli rearranged aspects of the Liturgy of the Word. It was a combination of Mattins and the Prone, a Catholic service without Communion, spoken largely in local language. The Prone was popular in Germany and France.

The main characteristics were as follows (pp. 84 – 86):

– The sermon was given in the first part of the Liturgy of the Word during the Mattins part of the service;

– The Offertory — preparation of the elements — occurred after the public confession of sins;

– The Invocation — prayers of the people — followed the Offertory;

– After the Offertory came the readings for that Sunday: the Epistle and the Gospel. In between the two, the congregation — men on one side, women on the other — recited the Gloria antiphonally.

– The Apostles Creed concluded the Liturgy of the Word;

– During the Liturgy of the Upper Room, the minister and deacons faced the people and prayers were said audibly so that everyone could hear them. Zwingli’s deacons had an active participation in line with early Christian liturgies;

– Although Zwingli considered the Sacrament to be a memorial, his fencing of the table made it clear that no one unworthy was to receive it;

– The congregation then knelt for the celebrant’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer;

– Zwingli might have been the first Reformer to write a prayer of humble access — expressing man’s unworthiness and giving thanks for the Sacrament — which the celebrant said. The congregation also knelt for this prayer.

– The congregation then sat whilst the minister briefly consecrated the elements;

– The deacons allowed people to take the unleavened bread from the paten and to take the cup in their own hands;

– The service concluded with a psalm, a collect and a brief blessing.

– Zwingli did not allow any music initially, although he relented a few decades later.

Maxwell’s verdict

Maxwell thought that Zwingli’s rite was ‘the least adequate of all the Reformation liturgies’ (p. 87), accusing it of:

– lack of content;

– no sense of communion or continuity with the Church ‘on earth and in heaven';

– the separation of the Lord’s Supper from the Lord’s Day.

Yet, albeit unintentionally, Zwinglian principles entered into other Protestant denominations to the point where present day Reformed pastors and elders wonder whether their congregations think of the Supper as a mere memorial, symbolic in content and nature.

Yesterday’s post Saint Matthew and the Angel by Rembrandt is the first in a study of verses from St Matthew’s Gospel which do not appear in the three-year Lectionary (‘the Lectionary’ for the purposes of this entry).

I have completed a similar study on the Gospels of John, Mark and Luke in that order to encourage those unfamiliar with the New Testament to read them. These are available on my Essential Bible Verses page.

I purposely held off with the first book of the New Testament — Matthew’s Gospel — because I found it difficult to read when I was younger. Some of my friends have also expressed the same opinion.

However, the Gospel according to Matthew is undoubtedly the most complete account of our Lord’s earthly ministry. And, to the credit of the Lectionary compilers and editors, they leave comparatively little of it out in prescribed readings for public worship. In that sense, they are honouring the tradition of the first and second centuries of the Church, where Matthew was the pre-eminent Gospel (p. 2 of PDF).

That said, for centuries, Bible scholars have been asking who wrote what when.

Modern Synoptic Gospel hypothesis

My introduction to St Mark’s Gospel gave an explanation of how the three Synoptic Gospels fit together.

Synoptic means ‘seen together’ as Matthew, Mark and Luke share many of the same accounts of Jesus’s ministry. St John’s Gospel differs, focussing on other episodes of His life, although it, too, follows a chronology of the essentials, particularly in relating the Last Supper, which is the fullest Gospel account, comprising several chapters.

My post on Mark explains the theory held by many scholars, theologians and clergy of all persuasions that Mark was the first to be written. Luke and Matthew came in the decades following.

However, Matthew is still the pre-eminent Gospel and appears first in the New Testament. If the early Church had to rely on Mark’s concise yet highly readable account, the end of which might have been lost, there might not have been so many Christians throughout the centuries.

Before addressing what early Doctors of the Church have written, let us look at background information about Matthew (depicted above by Rembrandt, courtesy of Wikipedia).

Matthew and his Gospel

Unlike modern scholars, Christians who are faithful to Church history consider that the Apostle Matthew — Levi, when our Lord called him — is the author.

Because he was a tax collector, he would have come in contact with not only the local Aramaic-speaking public but travellers as well. Therefore, he was also well versed in Greek.

When he began his ministry, Matthew stayed in Judea. Later, he went further afield to preach to Gentiles as well as Jews.

This raises the ancient question of whether Matthew had written an account of Christ’s life in Aramaic and a subsequent one in Greek for the second phase of his ministry. Matthew Henry, who died in the first decade of the 18th century, left this contentious question open, writing:

it is probable that there might be an edition of it in Hebrew, published by St. Matthew himself, at the same time that he wrote it in Greek the former for the Jews, the latter for the Gentiles, when he left Judea, to preach among the Gentiles.

Bible History tells us that St Matthew’s primary audience was the Jews:

One of the obvious reasons is that the “Kingdom of Heaven” is mentioned over 30 times and never the Kingdom of God. This is because the Jews do not speak the name of God and this could be the very reason that Matthew used this phrase. There are many times while reading the book that an event happens and a prophecy is cited. The event is mentioned as the direct fulfillment of a promise made to the Jews by one of their Jewish prophets, and the fulfillment of the prophecy was happening before their very eyes.

Indeed, we can see from the genealogy in Matthew 1 that the Apostle set out to prove to the Jews from the start that Jesus is, indeed, the long-awaited Messiah. His Gospel goes on to show that Jesus’s contemporaries rejected Him time and time again.

Another hotly debated question revolves around the time Matthew composed it. Bible History explains that, although most scholars believe it was written before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, a number of today’s scholars discount this and place it afterward. Bible History says the reason for this is that these scholars

do not believe in the miracle of prophecy.

What we can expect from the text

Bible History tells us that Matthew was intent on demonstrating our Lord as Christ the King:

– Matthew 1 refers to David as ‘king’, indicating the prophesied royal lineage of Jesus;

– Matthew 3 refers to John the Baptist as a ‘herald’, signifying that his role is to announce a king — something the Jews would have understood;

– Throughout, the King — Jesus Christ — came to His people and the people rejected Him.

Bible History explains Matthew’s five themes, divided into chapters as follows:

Matthew 1 – 12: the people reject Christ’s Kingdom;

Matthew 13 – 25: they reject the King’s teaching and ministry;

Matthew 26 – 27: the King’s trial and crucifixion;

Matthew 28: the King’s resurrection proves His triumph over death;

Matthew 28: the King commissions His Apostles to go out and preach.

What Doctors of the Church have written

The more I read about the modern scholarship relating to the Gospel timeline the more inclined I am to return to the earliest sources, the Doctors of the Church, for their verdict.

I also question exactly why scholars from the 18th century — if not before — to the present day would wish to come up with an alternative verdict on the Gospels. Even a less detailed reading of their hypothesis reveals many dismissive comments about our early theologians’ scholarship.

Dr F David Farnell, Professor of New Testament at The Master’s Seminary under John MacArthur’s aegis wrote a learned paper on the subject, ‘The Synoptic Gospels in the Ancient Church: The Testimony to the Priority of Matthew’s Gospel’. His introduction states, in part (emphases mine):

Since the church fathers lived much closer to the time of the composition of the gospels and were scholars in their own right, their testimony must be given serious consideration in any hypothesis regarding chronological order. Such early testimony stands in direct contradiction to the predominant contention of source criticism that concludes for the Two- or Four-Document Hypothesis (i.e. priority of Mark and Q), especially since the latter is not a product of objective historical analysis but a late-blooming conjecture spawned by Enlightenment ideologies.

In Farnell’s exposition of the writings of our Church fathers, it seems that only one, Papias, entertained the possibility — and it was only a possibility — that Mark could have been written before Matthew.

Papias was the bishop of Hierapolis, a city located between Colosse and Laodicea in Asia Minor. He was a disciple of the Apostle John, so would have had first hand knowledge from him as to what the other Apostles were doing. Papias’s written works date from 95 to 110 AD, therefore, crucial to what was happening in that era (p. 4 of PDF). Unfortunately, his works no longer exist, and what we know of them has been cited by other Church fathers.

As such, some modern scholars, such as Gundry, have looked at a fourth century quote from Eusebius, citing Papias (pp 12, 13):

And the Presbyter [John] used to say this, ‘Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had he followed him, but later on, as I said, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.’ This is related by Papias about Mark.

Gundry concludes that, from this, Papias was explaining that Matthew brought ‘order’ to Mark’s Gospel and wrote a fuller history. Farnell, however, doubts that taking random quotes from Papias — as Eusebius did — hardly proves the Markan primacy hypothesis. And nothing is in evidence that Papias — or Eusebius — sought to actively disprove Matthew’s Gospel as being the primary one.

I would recommend Farnell’s paper to anyone interested in the Church fathers and Matthew’s Gospel.

Catholic Answers has three main quotes from these early theologians. These also appear in Farnell’s paper. For our purposes, we discover that everything we have had for nearly two millenia as Gospel manuscripts have been copies written in Greek.

However, let us look at the Catholic Answers quotes. After Papias, we have Irenaeus of Lyons who wrote in 180 AD:

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching in Rome and laying the foundation of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Against Heresies 3:1:1)

Although we do not find a chronology there among the writers, we can be sure that the authors of the Gospels are as named in the New Testament.

In 244, Origen wrote:

Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism and published in the Hebrew language. (Commentaries on Matthew [cited by Eusebius in History of the Church 6:25]).

Between 300 and 325, Eusebius wrote:

Matthew had begun by preaching to the Hebrews, and when he made up his mind to go to others too, he committed his own Gospel to writing in his native tongue [Aramaic], so that for those with whom he was no longer present the gap left by his departure was filled by what he wrote. (History of the Church 3:24 [inter 300-325]).

From that, I am reaching a personal conclusion that what matters is that we actually have the texts which have been adopted into the Canon. Knowing who wrote what when is a secondary matter, as Matthew Henry wrote:

Let us bless God that we have it, and have it in a language we understand.

As for other ‘gospels’, Henry’s commentary makes it clear that

These four gospels were early and constantly received by the primitive church, and read in Christian assemblies, as appears by the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenæus, who lived little more than a hundred years after the ascension of Christ they declared that neither more nor fewer than four were received by the church. A Harmony of these four evangelists was compiled by Tatian about that time, which he called, To dia tessaronThe Gospel out of the four. In the third and fourth centuries there were gospels forged by divers sects, and published, one under the name of St. Peter, another of St. Thomas, another of St. Philip, &c. But they were never owned by the church, nor was any credit given to them, as the learned Dr. Whitby shows. And he gives this good reason why we should adhere to these written records, because, whatever the pretences of tradition may be, it is not sufficient to preserve things with any certainty, as appears by experience. For, whereas Christ said and did many memorable things, which were not written (John 20:30,21:25), tradition has not preserved any one of them to us, but all is lost except what was written that therefore is what we must abide by and blessed by God that we have it to abide by it is the sure word of history.

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