This year marks the 800th Anniversary of the Fourth Lateran Council of the Roman Catholic Church. Opened by Pope Innocent lll on 15th November 1215 it issued 70 Papal Decrees (Canons) among which the Doctrine of Transubstantiation was made dogma, ie compulsory to believe.

J.C. Ryle, the Evangelical first Bishop of Liverpool, says that it was because the Protestant Reformers rejected this doctrine of Transubstantiation that they were condemned to die by burning at the stake. They denied the Roman Catholic doctrine of the real presence in the Mass.

The Doctrine of Transubstantiation teaches that during the Mass a material change takes place in the bread and wine under the consecration prayers of the priest. Although they look and taste like the original article, the bread and wine are said to become the very body and blood of Jesus Christ as it was on the Cross. It means that the Lord’s Table, a simple meal in memory of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross, becomes another sacrifice, as took place at Calvary.

Shortly afterwards, in 1229 at the Council of Valencia the Bible was placed on the list of ‘Forbidden Books’, so that from now on, no layman could read, hear it read or interpret the Bible for himself. Any found doing so would be subject to severe punishment. So for many years lay people had no way of knowing if what the Church taught was true or false until 1538 when King Henry Vlll had a Bible in English chained in every Parish Church in England. When Henry died in 1547, his young son Edward Vl introduced a new Prayer Book in English for Public Worship.

It was now that many Sussex men and women realised that so much of what the Church had taught was false and in particular the Bible did not support the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

In 1553 Catholic Queen Mary came to the throne. She restored the Roman Catholic religion and reversed the reforms her brother had introduced. She made the Mass compulsory and took away the Prayer Book in English. There were many people who rejected her reforms preferring to read the Bible and the Prayer Book in English. A group of ten men were doing just this in Derek Carver’s home in Brighton in October 1554 when the Sheriff of Sussex broke in and caught them ‘in the very act’.

At his first trial before Bishop Bonner Deryk Carver boldly declared that he rejected the doctrine of Transubstantiation, declaring the Latin Mass ‘unprofitable’ and admitting that the Bible and Prayer Book in English were regularly read in his house. He said that ‘the religion taught by the church was not agreeable to God’s Word, but clean contrary to the same’. Condemned as a heretic he was taken to Lewes and was burned at the stake on 22nd July 1555. Carver, 40 years old, was the first Sussex Protestant Martyr.

The simple question they were asked was, ”Do you or do you not believe that the body and blood of Christ which was born of the virgin Mary are really, that is corporally, literally, locally and materially present on the altar under the forms of bread and wine after the mystical words of consecration have passed the lips of the priest?”

If they denied it they were condemned as heretics and sent to be burned at the stake. During Mary’s reign 36 Sussex Bible believing Protestants were among the 288 men and women throughout this land that died in this way.

Article 28 of the 39 Articles of Religion found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer still used by the Church of England states: ”Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture”

While Article 31 reads: “ … the sacrifices of Masses, in which it was commonly said the Priest did offer Christ for the quick (living) and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits”.