One of the earliest Eucharistic tracts of the Edwardine Reformation

Ascham, Roger (1514/15-1568)

Apologia pro caena Dominica

London: Henry Middleton for Francis Coldock, 1577


Octavo: 14 x 9.5 cm. ΒΆ8, a-s8, T4


19th c. calf, single gilt filet framing the boards, hinges discreetly repaired, gilt spine, label chipped, edges worn. Fine copy with the initial leaf with signature mark and blank ¶8 both present. Marginal worm-trail to blank lower margin in middle signatures, not affecting text. Title with decorative border, woodcut of Robert Dudley, Earl Leicester’s emblem (the muzzled bear) inscribed with the Garter motto on leaf ¶3. Woodcut initials, diagram of divisions of the Mass, some passages in Greek. Rare. 7 institutional holdings in North America. Provenance: bookplates of George Stokes, Cardiff Castle, and Robert Pirie.

One of the greatest of the Tudor humanists, Ascham was favored by Henry VIII, to whom he dedicated his “Toxophilus”, tutor to the princess Elizabeth, and author of a masterpiece of English pedagogy, “The Scholemaster”. Ascham also tutored the boy king Edward VI in the art of elegant handwriting, and Edward thought of him fondly, and so it is of interest that Ascham wrote this “reformed” work while Edward was being groomed by his close advisors to be a thoroughly Protestant monarch.

Roger Ascham (1515/16-1568) penned his ‘Apologia pro Caena Dominica contra Missam & eius Praestigias’ (‘A Defense of the Lord’s Supper against the Mass and its Magic’) at Cambridge in 1547/8 during the first year of Edward VI’s reign. It was published in Ascham’s name some thirty years later (and about ten years after Ascham’s death) in 1577/8, together with his dedicatory preface to Robert Dudley and his other theological pieces, which are also in Latin...

“The ‘Apologia’ takes the form of a written speech set in Cambridge University and was almost certainly assembled pursuant to a series of theological disputations concerning the nature of the Eucharist held there during 1547. The essential thrust of the tract comprises a bold attack on the Mass, the sacrifice and the massing priests. In place of the Mass, Ascham demands the restoration of a purified and scripturally faithful Lord’s Supper in which everyone can participate in a more meaningful way. The Decalogue forms the basic structure of the work and arguments are marshalled under separate commandments. Like many reforming tracts of the time, Biblical and patristic citations underpin his argument at every juncture, and the tract is emphatic in its abhorrence of human doctrine. More unusual perhaps is the philological attention Ascham pays to particular words and phrases and, as part of this, Ascham places considerable reliance on the original Greek of the New Testament. Also noteworthy is the angry anti-sacerdotalism on display throughout the work; Ascham targeted priests in a systematic and sustained way, mercilessly parodying them and directing much of his scriptural philology against them. Whist Luther emerges as an important influence, an evident responsiveness to other reformers challenges the historiographical tendency to oversimplify the Reformation through confessional categorization.

“Ascham’s ‘Apologia’, though thoroughly evangelical in outlook and subject to a range of influences, was at the same time highly independent in approach and emblematic of the diversity within early Protestantism… It constitutes one of the earliest Eucharistic tracts of the Edwardine Reformation, and its timing and intellectual origins in the University demand that we take the work seriously. Indeed, at points this Cantabrigian tract seemed to be running ahead of a government usually credited with being at the forefront of reform. Finally, the ‘Apologia’s status as a Latin text also situates it within a wider European framework of neo-Latin religious writing. This backdrop of international exchanges that were so formative in the development of early English Protestantism is very much in evidence in the tract, and further helps to confirm Ascham as one of the chief connecting links between England and the Continent.”(Nicholls, “Roger Ascham’s Defence of the Lord’s Supper, p. 1 ff.)

ESTC S100257; STC 825