3 May 2016

Craddock Ratcliff (1896-1967)

Most of the Anglican 'Patrimony' whom I introduce to you were Papalists. Not so Ratcliff. Indeed, when he died he was in the process of seeking admission into an Orthodox jurisdiction.

Like many in his generation, indeed, like Dr Pusey himself, Ratcliff was a considerable Classicist and an adept in Hebrew and Aramaic. He taught at London, Cambridge, and Oxford. His friend and collaborator Arthur Couratin (Principal of Staggers) gives us this window into Ratcliff's boyhood:
"As a schoolboy he attended a church in South London which was notoriously Anglo-Catholic. Here the Communion Service of the Book of Common Prayer was celebrated with all the ceremonial of High Mass of the Roman Rite, and the Canon Missae was silently interpolated under the cover of the elaborate music. Whatever may have been the devotional value of such a performance it could not fail to arouse the intellectual curiosity of a highly intelligent schoolboy".

Ratcliff was particularly intrigued by this paragraph of the Canon Missae [I give the Ordinariate translation]:
We humbly beseech thee, Almighty God, command these offerings to be brought by the hands of thy holy Angel to thine altar on high, in sight of thy divine majesty; that all we who at this partaking of the altar shall receive the most sacred Body and Blood of thy Son, may be fulfilled with all heavenly benediction and grace.

And Ratcliff loved the idea that our heavenly altar is taken up and united to the everlasting heavenly place of sacrifice; he once called Mass 'a pass to the Royal Enclosure'. Rightly, he discerned here the mindset of the first and second Christian centuries. The reference to Christ as 'thy holy Angel' is found in Justin; Irenaeus wrote "So there is an altar in heaven, for thither our prayers and oblations are directed, as John says [Revelation 8:3 'the golden altar before the throne]". All this is implied in Pope S Clement I when he calls the Lord "the high priest of our offerings". Not to mention Hebrews and the Apocalypse.

The antiquity of the Roman Canon is demonstrated by the fact that it clearly evolved its main features well before S Athanasius invented (Oops! I meant to say, developed) and the Council of Constantinople imposed the dogma of the Divinity of the Holy Spirit; before the idea that the Eucharist is effected by an illapse of the Holy Spirit (read Fortescue if you want an account of the tortured hypothesising which distracted nineteenth century theorists preoccupied with the completely mythical 'lost epiclesis of the Roman Rite'). The reference to Christ as an 'Angel' suggests that we are well before the start of the Arian controversy. Significantly, the Milanese version of the Canon 'corrected' 'angel' to 'angels', presumably to eliminate this 'problem'; Rome herself was too traditionalist (and the words too established) to tamper with the phrase, even when most of the world had turned Arian.

S John Paul II (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 10) wrote of "an aspect of the Eucharist which merits greater attention: in celebrating the sacrifice of the Lord, we are united to the heavenly liturgy". Suppose every Latin Rite priest still bowed low over his altar every morning (supplices te rogamus ... if we had Byzantine manners we would probably prostrate ourselves here or do proskyneseis) and said those stunning words which begin "iube haec perferri ...". The Holy Pontiff would not have needed to make his implicit criticism.

5 comments:

Joshua said...

As a mediæval commentator Рa deacon, his Christian name escapes me - put it, the words of the Supplices te rogamus are more to be feared than understood.

That noted, that noteworthy Byzantine theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas, rather cogently argues (A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, iii, 30) that the Roman Supplices te rogamus is functionally equivalent to the epiclesis in the Byzantine Rite, since the Supplices must be understood as not asking that the sacred mysteries be taken away from us into heaven, but rather as praying that the elements be consecrated by being brought into full union with Christ, Who is Himself our heavenly altar, priest and victim.

Does that take away from the dogmatic truth that the Verba Domini effect the transubstantiation? No; since earthly speech cannot all at once declare in the Person of Christ the elements offered to be His Body and Blood, that what appears to be but bread and wine is in sober truth the Flesh and Blood of Him Who is seated on the right hand of God, first the Lord's Words - we must believe - effect what they signify, and then the priest prays that the elements be brought up to heaven, that is, that their mystical emplacement on the mysterious celestial altar is in poetic language their being united with and transformed into Jesus Christ - "hidden with Christ in God".

Cabasilas did not know that the epiclesis is a later addition to the Eucharistic Prayer, an explicitation of the work of the Holy Ghost in the mysteries of man's redemption, and thus evidently a formula of the greatest significance, yet not intrinsically necessary; finding in the Roman Canon the Supplices te rogamus, he thought he had proof of the later Byzantine localisation of the moment of consecration in the epiclesis, without realising that human words can only proclaim in successive phrases even a part of what is accomplished all at once by making the Memorial of the Lord. Our Lord, as Holy Writ revealed, did not pray the Holy Ghost descend upon the bread and wine, but blessed and gave, saying Hoc est… and all the rest.

Supplices te rogamus may thus be compared to what Aquinas said of Our Redeemer: Se dat suis manibus.

And of course, far closer to our own day, de la Taille wrote ever so many devout things about how
the Eucharistic Sacrifice may be viewed as the conjunction of our earthly offering with the supercelestial oblation of the Lamb once slain Who lives for ever, making intercession for us.

The mere fact that the sublime phrases of the Supplices te rogamus are so poetic, so enigmatic, ought vouch for their fitness to the celebration of what is a divine mystery, whose unfathomable depths indeed ought be feared and revered, not reduced to a few banal formulæ too easily pretended to be understood.

Luke Togni said...

I've been looking medieval liturgical commentaries to assess the various understandings of angelic liturgy. The supplices te rogamus, is one of the places that commentary touches upon it (St. Albert the Great's mass commentary explicitly says that "angel" should be read as all nine heavenly choirs). The other place it tends to be touched upon is the Preface-sanctus. At least Honorius and Innocent III do so. Honorius even has explicit (short) chapters on angelic sacrifice in the Gemma Animae and the Sacrementarium. I suspect Eriugena's commentary on Ps-Dionysius' Celestial Hierarchy may be a source for their thought, insofar as he interprets Dionysius' claim that the first heavenly hierarchy (Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones) are "hierourgetai" as sanctified or, sacrificed, as substantially similar to the eucharist, but in the angelic realm.

Alan Robinson said...

Would you be good enough to give the source of Canon Couratin's memoir of E.C.Ratcliff ? It is strange that there is so little biographical information about both Ratcliff and Couratin. Ratcliff became more popularly famous because of his work on the Coronation Rite. Apparently he was obsessed by cats. Did he not manage a death bed conversion to Orthodoxy ?

Jesse said...

The idea of a link between our earthly altars and the heavenly altar has captivated many Anglican imaginations. Witness, for example, the famous frontispiece to the 1720 printing of Wheatly's Rational Illustration of the Book of Common Prayer:

http://books.google.ca/books?id=XIUxAQAAMAAJ&pg=PP14&ci=140%2C124%2C787%2C1320&source=bookclip#v=onepage&q&f=false

William Tighe said...


In response to Alan Robinson's question, the source is Canon Couratin's "E. C. Ratcliff as Liturgist," published originally at pp. 8-11 in *Edward Craddock Ratcliff 1896-1967 A Bibliography of his Published Works,* a little pamphlet published by the Alcuin Club (no date given, but ca. 1971 or a bit later). It was republished in *E. C. Ratcliff Liturgical Studies* ed A. H. Couratin and D. H. Tripp (London, 1976: SPCK), pp. 11-15.