Sunday, June 10, 2012

Anglican Myths 2: "Anglicans Don't Define 'The Real Presence'"

The teaching of the Church of England and her daughter Churches has been slowly muddied by several toxic wastes over the past two centuries. The first being the Tractarian Movement, a movement which sought to reintroduce Roman teachings and ceremonial into the English Church and the second being the modern Liberal movement, which has sought to eliminate any association of the Lord's Supper with the atoning work of Christ which in turn results from a fear of Atonement theology among liberals. These muddied waters cut to the core of the "Anglican problem" -- that being a (nearly) complete identity crisis. These toxins can come in varying forms and in varying degrees. Often times, the theology of the formularies is plainly denied and an alternative theology is presented instead. This is a problem, clearly, yet it is slightly favorable to the other option, that being that an alien doctrine is presented as if it were authentically Anglican doctrine (this is termed "neo-Tractarianism or neo-liberalism").

The plain denial of Anglican teaching in addition with varying forms of "neo" theologies present a series of problems relating to the core of Anglican identity. First, faulty Eucharistic theology was at the heart of the Reformation and we need not forget that the English Reformers lost their lives for denying the teaching of Rome and promoting the true Gospel teaching on this subject. Secondly, there exists a certain tendency to read the theology present in the Articles in such a manner to deny that it actually presents a coherent doctrine therein, this is equally wrong because the Articles and Prayer Book do present a clear teaching on this matter. Thirdly, the talk of "Real Presence" is purposefully vague and was a term avoided by the Reformers and most Anglican divines. The key is to avoid theological muddiness, which has somehow come to be a "virtue" in Anglicanism.

I intend to lay out Anglican Eucharistic in an easy to follow manner, following the structure of the Article touching on this subject. I see the Article divided up into four sections.  The first defines what the Sacrament is, the second defines what it is not, the third defines how the Sacrament is what it is, and the fourth describes various abuses related to the beliefs tied to section two.  My sources will be the Prayer Book, the Articles of Religion, and the Homilies.
The first question which needs to be addressed is, what is the Sacrament?  What happens in the Lord's Supper?  The Article addresses this,

"The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ."

The Article address many important points.  First, it acknowledges that the Sacrament is a sign of unity among Christians but it is also much more than that.  It is also a sign or sacrament, the latter meaning an effectual sign, i.e. carrying about what it signifies yet remaining separate in nature, of our Redemption.  This is further specified to mean a partaking of Christ's body and blood by those who receive worthily, in faith.  The latter points will be discussed in further detail below.  The question that remains after revealing what the Sacrament is, is, how are Christ's body and blood present in relation to the bread and wine?  

The Article continues by first explaining what does not happen in the Lord's Supper,

"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, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions."

The Sacrament is a partaking in the body and blood of Christ but it is also a sign of these things, meaning that the bread and the wine are not overturned by the consecration.  Earlier statements in the formularies reveal what a sacrament is and the nature of transubstantiation denies that the sacrament can be an effectual sign because the distinction between the sign and the thing signified is broken.  Transubstantiation and memorialism are actually two sides of the same coin.  The former overthrows the nature of a sacrament by conflating the sign and thing signified; the latter overthrows the nature of a sacrament by completely divorcing the sign and the thing signified.  

Having described what does not happen in the Sacrament, the Article describes what does happen,

"The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith."

This statement is crucial in relation to the assertion made by historical revisionists.  First, this statement denies any local presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine.  In this manner, this statement could be grouped with the former in that it denies a further error in relation to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, that being the Lutheran understanding of sacramental union, in a localized sense.  The body and blood of Christ are not contained in, with, or under the bread and wine.  This error stems from a different source than transubstantiation or memorialism.  The former stem from a faulty sacramental theology, this error stems from a poor understanding of Christology because it denies Christ a proper, human body, in the sense that his body is denied a true, local presence at the right hand of God.  This issue is found in the "Black Rubric',

"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 acknowledgement 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.”

This rubric actually addresses a few different points.  First, it was intended to answer the question as to why Anglicans kneel to receive the Sacrament, which some thought implied an adoration of the elements.  The rubric denies that any adoration is given and explains why it is wrong to adore the Eucharistic elements.  The reason for not adoring the elements is that no change of substance occurs in the sacrament and the bread and wine remain such in their natural substances, set apart for holy use, but no change in them has occurred, nonetheless and to adore the elements would be idolatry, since adoration is only due to God alone.  Further, the natural body and blood of Christ are not "here" meaning at the table.  Christ's natural body and blood are in heaven, at the right hand of God.  

The statement affirms what is called the "spiritual presence" (although I am not fond of that term).  This means that the manner in which we receive Christ's body and blood is "heavenly and spiritual" only.  In contrast to the Lutheran idea of "oral manducation" or taking Christ's body and blood into our mouths, the Article clearly explains that the means by which we receive the body and blood is faith.  This means we do not take Christ into our digestive system, which is a gross and distorted theology of the Eucharist.  This ties to the first statement made in the Article which defines that in order to receive the thing signified, or the body and blood, the elements must be received in faith, or worthily, by the recipient.  This begs the question as to what happens if the elements are not received in faith.  Luckily, the formularies also define what happens in this instance, in Article 29,

"The wicked and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as S. Augustine saith) the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ, but rather to their condemnation do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing."

This means that unbelievers or those who do not receive worthily, do not receive Christ's body and blood, only the elements.  

Lastly, after correcting these faulty understandings of the nature of the presence of Christ's body and blood in the Sacrament, the Article addresses some abuses which had (and still do) arise due to bad theology,

"The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped."

If the Sacrament is a sign of Christ's body and blood, it is idolatrous to worship, adore, or intend any such veneration of the signs themselves.  This last statement speaks against such practices such as elevating the host at either the consecration or at any other point during the Liturgy, for adoration.  It speaks against the reservation of the Sacrament, which implies a localized presence of Christ's body and blood in the elements.  In modern terms, it condemns the following "popular" practices: reserving the Sacrament for the sick, reserving the Sacrament for worship services or prayer "with the Blessed Sacrament", Corpus Christi festivals, Elevation of the Host during the Liturgy, etc.  

These errors relating to the Lord's Supper are truly dangerous errors to be made.  


Fr. Frank Gough said...

Well written, Thank you. But you missed on two points which are NOT adiaphora.

You failed to point out that transubstantiation, as mentioned in the Article, refers to PHYSICAL transubstantiation, i.e.; it is the physical substance which is left unchanged.

It is right that, "The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith."

But these very same sentences affirm that the very "heavenly and spiritual" substance of Christ IS present in the given, taken, and eaten elements of the Holy Communion. So the question left unaddressed is HOW the heavenly and spiritual substance of Christ is present.

I see that there are four possible answers to this question, with possible nuanced versions of each:

1) The heavenly and spiritual substance of the Body of Christ is always present in the bread and wine.

2) The heavenly and spiritual substance of the Body of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, replaces the spiritual substance of the bread and wine during the consecration at the epiclesis.

3) The heavenly and spiritual substance of the Body of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are added to or imposed upon the physical substance of the bread and wine during the epeclesis.

4) The heavenly and spiritual substance of the Body of Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, are added to the PERSON of the faithful recipient at the time of consumption.

What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the desire here to assert that there is an Anglican Eucharistic theology that is coherent and well thought out, but I think that you rely too heavily on a Calvinist interpretation of the articles to make your point. As the commenter above points out, even within the context of the articles themselves, the rejection of transubstantiation is not the same as a rejection of the true, real, objective presence of Christ in the sacrament. The transformation that takes place is spiritual rather than physical, but the two can no more be separated than we can separate the human and divine in Our Lord.

It is helpful to look at the articles through the lens of the prayer book rather than the other way around, and the language of the prayer book is much more dynamic than the articles in its description of the sacramental presence. We have to balance the notion of the spiritual nature of Christ's Body, whose benefits we receive only through faith, with the objective presence signified by the priest placing the consecrated bread in our hands or mouths and saying, "The Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee..." The two are not separate but one, which is why the non-believer who receives "eats and drinks unto His own damnation." The non-believer is not a "partaker of Christ," as the article says, but if the bread is simply a symbol and there is no objective reality of Christ's spiritual presence there, then why on earth would there be any condemnation in receiving it?

The Black Rubric, of course, emphasizes reception over objective presence, which is one of the many good reasons why it was excised from the classic Elizabethan prayer book. It is a scandal that this rubric was adopted by the 1662 BCP. Nevertheless, in its 1662 form, it does not deny a "local" presence, but merely a "corporal" presence, as in, we're not eating a bit of the Lord's eye or his left toe, though we are actually, truly, really eating His Body. It really is entering into our mouths, down our throats, and even into our stomachs. To say otherwise is to split the spiritual from the physical, which is to become Gnostic.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, bravo... nothing more to say. :)

The Hackney Hub said...

Fr. Gough,

The articles deny any change in substance in the Articles, whether physical or spiritual, the condemnation of transubstantiation is not specified to mean "physical substance" as you state.

The Article defines precisely how Christ is present, "the mean is Faith," which is defined immediately after stating that Christ " is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner". The addition of the clause on faith denies the Lutheran understanding of a spiritual presence, attached to the elements.

I'd say 1 and 2 are impossible according to the Formularies. 3 and 4 are virtualism and receptionism, which are classically Anglican positions.

That being said, one can hold to alternative theories of the Eucharist and remain an Anglican in good standing, so long as the view is not expressly condemned in the Articles (i.e. transubstantiation). The classical approach, via Bramhall, is that nothing can be taught that is contrary to the Articles.

The Hackney Hub said...

Conciliar Anglican,

Time doesn't permit me a full response at this point but I refer you to two articles which present the theology of the Caroline Divines on the matter, which is substantially what I have presented above (with some nuances in emphases).

"The Uncommon Bread of the Caroline Divines" --

"Daniel Brevint and the Eucharistic Calvinism of the Caroline Church of England" --

Anonymous said...

SORRY, I am late. I think that if this plain statemnt of the Spiritual Real Presence had been taught then I (and maybe others) would not have "gone to Rome". It was the fact that i could never get mainstream Anglican friends and clergy to define the Eucharist that chiefly made me leave.