Posted by: mattcolvin | January 4, 2010

Who really has a high view of the church?


The label “high church” is a misnomer.

The bulldog of transsubstantiation, Paschasius Radbertus, insisted very strongly that the bread of the Lord’s Supper is “really nothing other than the body itself–the true body of Christ, which was crucified and buried, surely the sacrament of his body, which is divinely consecrated by the priest above the altar with the word of Christ through the Spirit: whence the Lord Himself exclaims, `this is my body’ (Luke 22:19).” Thus, the sacramental body was identified with the historical body of Jesus.

Against this, Ratramnus pointed out — without, apparently, giving any credit to Bill Clinton — that Radbertus’ interpretation of what “is” means is arbitrary, since the apostle Paul says, about the church, “purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new loaf, just as you are, unleavened” (1 Cor 5:7) and “we, being many, are one bread, one body” (1 Cor. 10:17). Thus the sacramental body of Christ is also identified in Scripture with the ecclesial body of Christ. And if “are” in these passages is treated with the same metaphysic as “is,” the result will be bread transsubstantiated into the church as well.

Yet we find Gregory VII thundering against Emperor Henry IV, asking, “What king or emperor has power through his office to snatch any Christian from the might of the Devil by the sacred rite of baptism, to confirm him among the sons of God and to fortify him by the holy chrism? Or — and this is the greatest thing in the Christian religion — who among them is able by his own word to create the body and blood of the Lord?”

I find a Roman Catholic apologist posting a catena of quotations on the subject, by way of proving that the Roman Church’s prohibition of laymen from handling the eucharistic elements is of long standing:

St. Sixtus I (circa 115) “The Sacred Vessels are not to be handled by others than those consecrated to the Lord.”

St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church (330-379) “The right to receive Holy Communion in the hand is permitted only in times of persecution.”

Thus the Council of Rouen, which met in 650, says, “Do not put the Eucharist in the hands of any layman or laywomen, but ONLY in their mouths.”

Pope John Paul II
“To touch the sacred species and to distribute them with their own hands is a privilege of the ordained.” (Dominicae Cenae, 11) “It is not permitted that the faithful should themselves pick up the consecrated bread and the sacred chalice, still less that they should hand them from one to another.” (Inaestimabile Donum, April 17, 1980, sec. 9)

So if the sacramental body is identified with the historical body of Christ — the “body born of the Virgin Mary” — it is emphatically not identified with the ecclesial body, the congregation. And this despite the fact that the apostle Paul identifies the ecclesial body with the sacramental body far more explicitly than He does the historical body.

Thus, it would be more accurate to say that Rome has a high view only of the clergy. Peter Leithart cites Cardinal Humber, a leading light of the Gregorian Reform, as stating that “as the soul excels the body and commands it, so too the priestly dignity excells the royal, or, we may say, the heavenly dignity the earthly.” Another cleric, Henry of Segusio, had the same calculation in mind when he put a number to this proportion: a priest, he said, has 7,644 and 1/2 times as much dignity as a king — that being the difference between the brightness of the sun and the moon in Ptolemaic astronomy.

Laymen are not fit to handle holy things. The Mass has its efficacy regardless of whether they partake or not. The congregation’s participation in the wine is an optional thing, and Trent anathematized anyone who insisted otherwise.

So Rome’s view of the congregation is as low as its view of the clergy is high. They — and Anglo-Catholics whose praxis is similar — ought properly to be called “low church”, “high clergy.” This is a system of bondage that keeps God’s chosen people prostrate under slavery to a power elite.

For further reading, see Peter Leithart’s outstanding book The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism.

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