Posted by: mattcolvin | August 19, 2022

What does “in the sacrament” mean?


One of the biggest problems when discussing the question of Eucharistic adoration is what is meant by the phrase “Real Presence”. In the history of the English Church, one can find this phrase both affirmed and rejected by men whose doctrine of the Eucharist was the same. The same phrase — or close variants like the “real objective presence” — are variously used. Tell someone that you believe in the Real Presence, and he is likely to assume that you mean a local, spatially specified presence in or under the elements of bread and wine — an idea which all Anglicans denied prior to the Oxford movement. But tell someone that you don’t believe in the Real Presence, and he will assume that you are a Zwinglian who thinks the Eucharist is an edible flashcard to remind us of an absent Christ.

Here, I find it helpful to weigh what Anglican divines past have written on the topic. Consider this, from Canon Trevor, cited in Dimock, Papers on the Doctrine of the English Church Concerning the Eucharistic Presence:

“When it is known that not a word of Eucharistic adoration exists for a thousand years after Christ, thoughtful men will be inclined to test the sacramental presence by the proved absence of adoration, rather than graft the adoration on a particular interpretation of the presence. That Christ is to be adored wherever he is, is a truism which no Christian disputes ; [“in et cum Sacramento; extra, et sine Sacramento; ubiubi est, adorandus est.” Bishop Andrewes], but when it is said that he is to be adored in the sacrament, the question returns upon us whether sacrament means the visible symbols of his body and blood, or the whole rite in which he is undoubtedly present to the faithful communicant? In the latter sense we all adore him.” (“Sacrifice and Participation,” p. 108. )

This puts a fine point on the question. Bishop Jewel made a similar point, that directing worship toward a presence of Christ located in the elements was an innovation of the Middle Ages and cannot be found in patristic sources. We ought to reason from that lack of adoration to a conclusion about the mode or manner of any presence.

The most important Anglican divines of the first three centuries were united in affirming a real participation in Christ’s true body and blood. The question is whether the res is to be located in the elements in such a way as to be a proper object of worship. Bp. Lancelot Andrewes famous dictum that “Christ is to be worshipped in and with the sacrament, outside and without the sacrament, wherever He is present” is often cited by those in favor of Eucharistic adoration without considering how that quotation continues: “Christ, that is, the res, not the sacramentum.”

Why do we direct worship to Christ’s human body? Not, says Dimock, because of the “extra Calvinisticum” or because Christ’s divinity is ubiquitous. No, His body is a real and human, albeit resurrected and glorified, body. The reason it is a fit object of worship is because it is in hypostatic union with the divinity of Christ. Worship is directed at the theanthropic person, not at a nature, still less at a virtue or power. But if hypostatic union is required to make a human being a fit object of worship, can we say the same about the consecrated bread? There have been some who think so, claiming that Christ’s presence in the bread and wine is a “mystery” like the incarnation. The label for this view is “impanation” (from panis = bread). In the history of the Church of England, impanation has been rejected as untrue to the Bible’s teaching. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word did not become bread.

But ought we to think that the bread is the sacrament as it lies on the table? Peter Leithart has helpfully clarified the issue:

“What is the Supper? It is not just bread and wine, and not just eating of bread and wine. It is eating bread and wine by members of Christ’s body at Christ’s invitation. Christ’s authorization and definition and invitation make all the difference.” — Against Christianity, III.18

With this, Canon Trevor and Dimock and the Caroline Divines and the Anglican formularies agree: it is wholly appropriate to worship Christ in “the whole rite in which he is undoubtedly present to the faithful communicant”. But Anglican divines from Cranmer to Cosin also agree that worship is not to be directed toward the elements of bread and wine. Scripture has assured us that “the bread which we break” is “a participation in the body of Christ”; it has not said anything about Christ’s body being locally present in the element of bread quite apart from whether anyone is faithfully eating it.

This is near the root of why the practice of Eucharistic adoration — directing worship toward the species of bread and wine as though to a presence of the res (Jesus’ natural body) located in or under them — is properly understood as contrary to the 39 Articles and to historic Anglican practice.

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