Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist from the Anglican perspective

A friend of mine, Father Derrick Hassert, has written the following on the the doctrine mentioned in the title. Any thoughts, comments, questions, snide remarks?

As Anglicans I believe we must first go to the Scriptures, where we are told by St. Paul that the “. . .Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner also He took the cup when He had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death until He come. Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and then let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body” (1 Cor 11: 23-29).

Similarly, St. Paul declares to us that “The cup of blessing which we bless: is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break: is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one Bread” (1 Cor 10: 16-17). The writings of the Church Fathers, especially the Apostolic Fathers, declare likewise without any great philosophical speculation. The truth of Christ’s words, and the words of St. Paul, are accepted through faith.

When we turn to the formularies of classical Anglicanism (the 1549-1928 Prayer Books, the Articles, and the homilies) what are we told about the Eucharist? We are told that it is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” the outward part being bread and wine and the inward part being Christ’s Body and Blood. The Articles declare likewise that the “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner.” In the homilies we read of “the due receiving of the blessed Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ under the form of bread and wine.”

Here, in the classical Anglican documents, we have a very Scriptural teaching which conforms as well to the teachings of the Church Fathers. Some wish to press beyond these points of agreement and engage in all manner of scholastic inquiry…. Some will ask the manner of Christ’s Presence in the Sacrament? Is it bodily, physical, carnal, corporal, localized?

Though some may hold to various viewpoints that are more specific than that outlined above by Father Hassert, many would argue that they are not to be pushed on the Church for belief because they cannot be proved by and from Scripture. Many would also argue that the basic Scriptural basis of Anglicanism is also one of its greatest strengths.


Mark said...

I think Lancelot Andrewes summed up the Anglican position quite well in his response to Cardinal Bellarmine:

"Christ said 'This is my Body'. He did not say 'This is my Body in this way'. We are in agreement with you as to the end; the whole controversy is as to the method. As to the 'This is', we hold with firm faith that it is. As to the 'This is in this way' ( namely, by the Transubstantiation of the bread into the Body ), as to the method whereby it happens that it is, by means of In or With or Under or by Transition, there is no word expressed. And because there is no word, we rightly make it not of faith; we place it perhaps among the theories of the school, but not among the articles of the faith."

And yet pinning down the Anglican doctrine of the presence might not be as simple as Fr. Hassert's article implies. It is quite easy, I think, to identify a historical development in sacramental theology that remains recognizable in terms of the Anglican formularies. One, for example, can see that for all their differences, divines like Cranmer, Hooker, Andrewes, Laud, Bramhall, Johnson, Pusey, Moss et al, thought through the implications of the presence using many of the same theological presuppositions: trans as a change in nature, rather than in substance; "spiritual" manducation; acceptance of the Augustinian definition of outward sign and invisible grace", and so on.

But within this historical tradition-which, I would say, is different from Anglo-Tridentinism and other "Anglo-Catholic" schools which don't have a great deal of love for the PrayerBook and Articles -these differences ( dynamic receptionism, transelementation, virtualism, etc.) can be divisive- depending on the particular cut of your identity as a Prayer Book Anglican. I, for example, believe that the "Whole Christ", as Cranmer puts it, is made present in the consecrated elements by " a kind of hypostatic union between the sign and the thing signified", to borrow a phrase from Andrewes. Hence I believe it is quite proper to adore Christ as he is made present in the mysteries. But for a low churchman, one who believes that Christ is only made present in the souls of the faithful, such a piety might be abhorrent. What's an Anglican to do?


father foos said...

Is it not possible for a low churchman "to adore Christ as he is made present in the mysteries" as well? He may differ on how Christ is made present and at which point and how localized that presence is, I suppose, but if Christ is truly made present to him through the sacrament, then how is it improper to adore?

Barring a knee-jerk reaction, the low churchman who is following the lead of the prayerbook has very little to quibble with you about, Mark. That's the beauty of the prayerbook--and of Andrewes' comments that you shared. There's a catholicity which we cannot ignore--and a breadth of opinions and piety that we must leave room for.

Mark said...

I agree with you that low-church Anglicans have very little to quibble about in this matter. Nevertheless they do quibble-some of them, at any rate. And I can't help but think this is due in part to a knee-jerk reactionism that cuts along party lines ( Not that catholic Anglicans are immune to this kind of horse-play ).

In my experience, rejecting the idea of the bread and wine as the locus of the presence stems from a number of concerns:

A. It implies a local presence- which, of course, it doesn't.

B. It gives short-shrift to the neccessity of faith on the part of the recipient in a debased ex opere operato sense. Another error

C. It necessarily implies a carnal presence of the Lord's Body and Blood. But, in fact, it does not.

D. Its just too close to what Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics believe to be a viable option. Sheer bigotry.

Not all low-churchmen-not even most of them necessarily- are saddled with these prejudices. But I have encountered them from time to time- most often in in brethren who tend to read the Articles of Religion through the prism of the Westminster confession, or who are more at home with William Perkins and John Owen, than Lancelot Andrewes and John Bramhall.


father foos said...

This discussion seems little different than many others. We have a tendancy in American Chirstianity, anyway, to oversimplify the Scriptures to fit a pre-conceived theology.

I'm afraid that the more I learn, the more nuanced and difficult I find the Scriptures to be. Not un-readable or unable to be understood, just not so incredibly simple-minded, if you will.

This sort of problem comes up with sacraments and a sacramental world-view quite often, it seems. Baptism is another issue that is like this. The doctrine of the Church is another.

We then often allow doctrinal differences to divide us where we shouldn't--or not understand the divisions that some doctrinal issues do make.

Mark said...

The difficulty of reducing the Bible to a pre-concieved theology underscores the fact that the Scriptures are not, nor were they intended to be self-interpreting. This is not to say they lack perspicacity; But that this perspicacity is not always crystalline is evident from the ambiguities and "apparent" contradictions in the sacred text. Moreover, the perspicacity of the Scriptures is revealed when they are read in their proper context: "the faith once delivered through the saints". ( AKA the Church's regula fidei ).

In short, whenever the Scriptures are compartmentalized from the historical teachings of the Church catholic ( which are provable from the Scriptures ), you are on shaky exegetical ground. Fortunately this need not be a worry for Anglicans, so long as they stick to the principles of their tradition ( e.g. Articles VI, VII VIII and XX ).

On the other hand, it needs to be admitted that theological factionalism can base itself in conflicting philosophical, theological and hermeneutical presuppositions, which have very little to do with the Scriptures. ( realism vs nominalism; extrinsic grace vs intrinsic grace; synergism vs monergism, literal exegesis vs typological and allegorical exegesis etc. ). So perhaps it is naieve to think that an appeal to Scripture and the Church, ala the Vincentian canon, will rid us once and for all of the sectarian menace.

For my money, the spirit of catholic Prayer Book Anglicanism in the 21st-century lives on at the Prayer Book Society of Canada. There you will find deep-dyed high churchmen like the Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse and the Rev. David Curry joyfully working with lowchurchmen such as J.I Packer and Roger Beckwith. That they are able to do this is attributable to the fact that inspite of their distinctives, they are in fundamental agreement with the theological and liturgical legacy of the Anglican formularies. Thus, a man like Packer can commend Anglicanism for its essential catholicity, and cherish the contributions of " catholic " churchmen; whereas catholics such as Dr. Crouse and Rev. Curry, look upon Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley as heroes of the Reformed-Catholic faith.


Eve and Snow White said...

Thank you Fr. Foos for this interesting little discussion. It has answered some questions for me. I love having things spelled out in black. :D