Posted by: mattcolvin | July 23, 2015

Bishop Cosin on Real Presence

Here’s another nice quotation on the classical Anglican doctrine of the Eucharist by one of the leading Caroline divines, John Cosin, Bishop of Durham: 

“Because the body and blood is neither sensibly present (nor otherwise at all present, but only to those who are duly prepared to receive them, and in the very act of receiving them and the consecrated elements together, to which they are sacramentally united), the adoration is then and there given to Christ Himself, neither is nor ought to be directed to any sensible object, such as are the blessed elements.” (In Nicholls’s Additional Notes on Communion Service, p. 49)

Here we have a leading Caroline high churchman stating that the body and blood are not locally and objectively in the elements, but are only present to those with faith, and only in the very act of receiving the consecrated elements. The elements are not transformed. They are used in a ritual action, and it is in the doing of that ritual action (eating and drinking) that Christ is personally and really present to the faith of the believer. Without the believer’s faith, and apart from the doing of the ritual, there is no presence of Christ. Christ is present to us via our participation in the ritual consumption of bread and wine, but not in the elements as they sit on a table. 
Two more quotations from Cosin:

“The body and blood of Christ are united sacramentally to the bread and wine in such a way that Christ is truly presented to believers, to be beheld not, however, by any sense or reason belonging to this world, but only by faith resting upon the words of the Gospel. But Christ’s flesh and blood are said to be united to the bread and wine because in the celebration of the Eucharist His flesh is presented and received along with, and at the same time as the bread; and His blood along with, and at the same time as the wine.” — Cosin, Works IV, p 46. (1851)

“These two things become one by the divine ordinance in such a way that, although their union is not natural, or substantial, or hypostatic, or local (by the existence of one thing in another), nevertheless it is such a joining and so true that in the eating of the consecrated bread the true body of Christ is communicated to us, and the names of the signs and the things signified are mutually exchanged back and forth, and it is attributed to the bread what belongs to the body, and on the other hand to the body what belongs to the bread, and they are together in time which are separated in space.” — Cosin, Works IV, p 48 (1851)

Notice some of the phrases here: the sacramentum and res are “separated in space”. They are not together in location (the “union” is not “local”), so worship should not be directed to the elements. There is no union of substance or essence. Cosin uses the specialized theological vocabulary of communicatio idiomatum that was developed by Cyril for explaining the incarnation and the predicates of Christ’s two natures, but this is only an explanation for the theological manner of speaking about the elements as the body and blood. (This is a far cry from simplistic claims that “the word ‘is’ means ‘is'”.) Cosin also explicitly denies a hypostatic union between bread and body, thereby undercutting a favorite Anglo-Catholic analogy with the incarnation.





  1. Very interesting stuff. There was a blog I was reading a few years back (perhaps you did as well) by an Anglican minister who struggled mightily with this very point. He felt that if, as he believed, the elements were truly the body and blood of Christ, and that therefore they MUST receive adoration, and this line took him eventually out of the episcopal church and to the Roman Catholics.

    I’ve honestly never especially struggled with this doctrine, but it’s always interesting for me to see how doctrinal issues can weigh heavily on people. I know someone else who had a crisis of faith over the book of Daniel when he was young.

    • If our reception of Christ in Eucharist really depended upon a real and local presence effected by the consecration of the elements by a priest ordained by a bishop in tactile apostolic succession, then I would go to Rome too. What are a few implausible doctrines like Purgatory, clerical celibacy, papal supremacy, and the treasury of merit compared with the nagging doubt that maybe Anglican orders are invalid, and thus their Eucharist too?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s