An Anglican Priest

"Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church." Bishop John Cosin (d. 1672)

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Articles of Religion of the Church of England:

Article XXIX. Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper.

"The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint 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."

Of all of the Articles, it seems that this is the one that many point to when attempting to demonstrate that Anglicans who hold to the Prayer Book and the Articles do not "really" believe in the Real Presence (a charge usually made by Lutheranism--who believe in a corporal presence, sometimes by Roman Catholics and Orthodox, and sometimes by a few Anglo-Catholics who are convicted that the Articles are not "Catholic," in that they do indeed reject several Roman doctrines), for does not the aforementioned Article say that only the faithful are given the Body and Blood of Christ? The answer to such a question so stated is "no."

In the preceding Article we are told that "The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner." The Body of Christ is indeed given in the Supper, thereby ruling out any manner of mere receptionism. It is done in an "heavenly and spiritual manner," ruling out a carnal and physical presence and siding with Aquinas, but against several versions of transubstantiation common in the Middle Ages. What then are we to make of the assertion that the wicked "eat not the Body of Christ" in the Supper?

Well, first and foremost we must read the content of the Article itself, and take note that the quote given to elucidate the meaning of the title is nearly verbatim from Saint Augustine of Hippo, and that this same quote and manner of speaking is used by Saint Thomas Aquinas, the great expounder of the doctrine of transubstantiation. If we are to use this Article to argue that the official and historic doctrine of the Church of England is somehow "receptionist," then we must also use this logic consistently and accuse both Augustine and Aquinas of this same belief. Let us examine the writings of Aquinas and determine how he can state that the wicked "eat the Sacrament" and yet "eat not."

First, in De Sacramento Altaris, cap. XVII., Aquinas writes that:

"The first mode of eating the Body of Christ is Sacramental only, which is the way wicked Christians eat it, because they, receiving (sumentes) the venerable Body into mouths polluted by mortal sin, close their hearts with their unclean and hard sins, as with mire and stone, against the effect which conies from the influence of His virtue and goodness. . . These eat, and yet they do not eat. They eat because they receive (sumunt) sacramentally the Body of the Lord, but, nevertheless, they eat not, because the spiritual virtue, that is, the salvation of the soul they do not partake (non percipiunt). . . .

"There is, says Gregory, in sinners and in those receiving unworthily the true Flesh and true Blood of Christ in efficacious essence, but not in wholesome efficiency. He who is at variance with Christ, says Augustine, 'neither eats His Flesh nor drinks His Blood,' and though he daily receives (sumat) the Sacrament of so great a thing, he receives it unto judgment. They are at variance with Christ who, averting the purposes of their heart from him, turn them to sin. And such may be said, to be truly wretched to whom so great a good oftentimes comes, and yet, who never receive or partake (accipit sive percipit) of any spiritual gain therefrom."

Father William McGarvey, in his excellent essay "The The Doctrine of the Church of England on the Real Presence Examined by the Writings of Thomas Aquinas" (Milwaukee, WI: The Young Churchman, 1900) summarizes the issue when he writes that:

"So anxious is St. Thomas to guard against the supposition that the reception of the Sacrament necessarily implies a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ, that he thinks it well to explain that when St. Paul says we are all partakers of that one Bread, it is meant that we are all partakers by a worthy reception that is, a spiritual and not a mere Sacramental reception (Exposition super I. ad Corinthios, cap. X. lec. 4). And it was, no doubt, with a desire to accentuate the same truth that he inserted in the office for Corpus Christi as the eighth lesson the passage from St. Augustine, referred to and partly quoted by our Article. It is as follows: He who abideth not in Christ, and hath not Christ abiding in him, doth not spiritually eat His Flesh nor drink His Blood, although he may carnally and with his teeth press the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, but rather eateth and drinketh the Sacrament of so great a thing to his own condemnation."

Father McGarvey further comments:

"Considering, then, all that St. Thomas says in the above quotations with regard to the reception of the Sacrament, can any words sum up his teaching more fully and accurately than those of our Articles? Such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking (communicatio) of the Body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking (communicatio) of the Blood of Christ; and those who receive otherwise do not eat the Body of Christ, and are in no wise partakers of Christ."

I will conclude by stressing that in the language of the Article (and Aquinas and Augustine), there is a difference in what it means to receive the Body and Blood of Christ and what it means to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. Indeed, Aquinas mentions two manners of "eating" as well, as do other sacramental theologians. Therefore, the Articles in this regard do no more than reiterate the writings of Saint Augustine (verbatim) and do not differ, in regards to the importance of the worthy reception of the sacrament, from the writings of Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, they use the very same language. By the standards of the ancient Church and even by the standards of the Angelic Doctor, the official position of the English Reformation in this regard is doctrinally sound.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear AC:

Thanks for the post. I find it to be immensely helpful. In the NT (e.g., the Epistle to the Hebrews), "partaking" of Christ often has the connotation of steadfast, reciprocal intimacy- as between friends. Obviously, the Wicked do not partake of Christ (in the Eucharist or otherwise) in this NT sense of the word.

8:23 PM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...


Thanks for the positive feedback. Oftentimes people fail to take into account the Scriptural and patristic uses of terms when they question or reject certain doctrinal statements, confusing their use of the terminology with the way the writers intended. A classic symptom of our postmodern era.

7:21 AM  
Anonymous D Bunker said...

Thank you for an entirely Catholic discussion of this Article. Sadly there is a current in Anglo-catholicism of late vintage (since 1890 or so) which eschews the careful patristic grounding of the Tractarians for more superficial issues such as ritual (often divorced from any sound theologically-reasoned underpinnings). You have carefully and thoughtfully brought those origins to this discussion and vindicated the catholicity of this Article.

6:34 AM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...

D Bunker,

Thanks again. As I said, this Article is usually attacked in straw-man terms, without much consideration of where the language in the Article came from. The same thing is often done to the content of other Articles and the Book of Common Prayer itself.


10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anglican Cleric:

I've been lurking in the shadows around your blog for several weeks now, reading with great interest. Your posts about the traditional Anglican understanding of the Real Presence (i.e., "spiritual" does not mean "non-real") compliment those of Jonathan Bonamo nicely. You've both really helped me begin to wade through some of my more difficult questions about the Lord's Supper.

Here's my question....does a spiritual understanding of the Real Presence, i.e., "not a presence in the elements" leave us with no real consecration of the elements themselves?

I'm thinking that there must be a real consecration, otherwise unworthy eating of the elements would not be a serious sin. I understand that a spiritual presence leaves out the cruder ideas about Christ's Body and Blood being somehow defined or confined to the elements, but surely that doesn't change the fact that the actual elements themselves have been taken into His Body and Blood by way of the the sacramental action; an objective identification, but one that is accomplished and sustained by Christ Himself, and whose parameters are likewise established by Christ. Is that at least partially consistent with Luther's idea that there is no sacrament apart from its divinely appointed use?

I hope that last bit doesn't show that I've completely missed your point. Thank you again for your ministry.


8:40 PM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...


Thanks for lurking, reading, and commenting. Sorry for delayed reply--I've been ill the past week.

You raise a good question--if we don't believe in a localized bodily presence within the elements themselves, what is the role of the consecration? Indeed, what constitutes the consecration?

Here of, course, we must realize that the Caroline divines are in agreement that Christ is truly, really, personally present "through and under" the elements in a substantial and sacramental manner. The elements are channels of divine grace, of Christ's sacramental presence. He is Really Present. It is not a figure only. However, He is not present in the same manner He is present in Heaven, and here we can make recourse to Aquinas to support the traditional Anglican position. The only area where they disagree with Rome is the issue of transubstantiation. Therefore, the prayer of consecration is usually highlighted as the "cause" of this sacramental presence. If the elements are exhausted before the whole congregation has made communion new elements must be consecrated. It must be given before it is received and partaken of.

But what "makes" the consecration? The Roman Church, some Anglicans, and the Lutherans pinpoint the source of consecration as being the Words of Institution (notice that in the 1662 only Christ's words are needed for more of each element to be consecrated), while the Orthodox and many Anglican divines place the emphasis on the Invovation of the Holy Spirit (C.B. Moss calls the 1662 prayer irregular, but not invalid; Bishop Seabury called it "no consecration at all"--but I think he was being polemic).

However, others, such as the Russian theologian Alexander Schmemann say that to look for a "causal point" in either place is to disect the Eucharist in a way foreign to the life of the Church's worship. The whole celebration of the Eucharist needs to be taken as just that, an integrated whole. I'll post more on this later. . .a very important question, but one with may people in disagreement.


9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anglican Cleric:

I've read and puzzled quite a bit about the "Institution v. Epiclesis" debate. Frankly, I don't see how it's such an either/or proposition. It seems rather like the whole relationship between Christ as the Word of God and the Holy Spirit; i.e., the Holy Spirit moves men to speak as God directs, thus communicating the Word of God to mankind. The Holy Spirit even overshadowed the Virgin to bring the Incarnate Christ into the world. So wouldn't the action of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist sort of "speak" the Words of Institution? My understanding is that Luther in particular opposed any kind of epiclesis, because it suggested that somehow Christ's words were not enough to effect the Real Presence. I just don't see why there has to be a tension. I have to admit, though, that I'm very, very new to all this.

Also, my understanding is that the Lutherans believe that the Reformed concept of "spiritual presence" is invalid because when we say "This is My Body" we really take the words to mean, concerning the elements themselves, "This is not My Body." That is the reason they give for saying that the Reformed Eucharist is altogether void. Do I rightly understand their position?

I should tell you that I'm coming to all this from a fundamentalist/Baptist background. You've really made it possible for me to begin see these "catholic" ideas as Biblical and Scriptural teachings, as not purely as the creations of tradition. I've really been able to answer some very difficult questions, and for that I really thank you.


9:38 AM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...


Very kind words; thanks again. Your points about the Spirit are very good, and are similar to those made by Father Schmemann. I would highly recommend his book "The Eucharist" published by Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press.

I've read Lutheran books on the Eucharist which come very close to saying that Aquinas was too receptionistic and "spiritual" concerning the Real Presence and that only Luther got it right in standing firm on the coporeal presence. Keep in mind that only the confessional Lutherans affirm this doctrine; some Orthodox do as well, but not all, so it is not dogma. Aquinas does not, and neither does Calvin.

This raises some other issues and questions: What is the nature of Christ's glorified Body? Most questions of the manner of the Presence in the Eucharist circle around this issue. If He maintains the properties of a human body, then He cannot divide Himself physically. However, if His glorified state allows it, perhaps He can be in all things and in all places both in His divinity and His humanity. Aquinas and Calvin assert that Christ cannot be locally in Heaven and in the Eucharist after the "manner of a body" given His full humanity. Aquinas instead asserts a complete transformation of the substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ, but not that He is localized to the Bread. The Caroline divines come very close to Aquinas but deny that the bread ceases to be bread in its substance. In many instances they come close to the Lutheran position, but without affirming a physical presence. The Roman Catholic doctrine is substantial Presence, not physically local or coproral. However, many Roman Catholics have never read Aquinas, which is still the offical doctrine.

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anglican Cleric:

I would think that any Christian, especially Protestants, should hold a view of the Real Presence which requires the fewest assumptions. When I balance the Incarnation against the Ascension, when I consider that Jesus promised to send us a Comforter in the Person of the Holy Spirit, when I read John 6 and I Corinthians 11:20-34 in light of each other, I find myself again and again drawn to something like the "spiritual presence". I find that Scripture teaches that Our Lord has a real, localized human body which is safely ensconced in glory at the right hand of the Father, and thus free from all indignities, and yet the saints enjoy a real, objective communion of the substance of his Body and Blood. That much, I think, is not disputed by anyone. As a matter of private opinion, it seems that I can reconcile a "spiritual" (albeit real and substantial) presence to the Scriptural "data" more easily than is possible for a corporeal presence. I just seems to be the plain meaning of Scripture.


10:21 AM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...


I agree.


11:28 AM  
Blogger Seraph said...

This is really an eye-opener. I had thought for years that Cranmer was a Zwinglian and that a Reformed denial of the Real Presence was par for the course in early Anglicanism. I am very glad to see I was wrong!

Of course, that also means Pope Leo XIII hadn't the foggiest idea of what he was talking about when he claimed Anglicans didn't intend to continue the priesthood.

Many, many thanks.

2:16 PM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...


I appreciate your thanks and comments. While Cranmer's views have been argued to be all over the theological map (and outsiders sometimes believe that Anglicans are 'Cranmerians'), the Prayer Book and the Articles are fairly clear in their teaching, and they were embraced and defended by bishops, priests, and theologians well versed in the theology of the ancient Church. My main point here is that the Article teaching that "the wicked" do not eat the Body of Christ cannot be used to support a Zwinglian notion, unless we want to make the same accusation against Augustine and Aquinas.

In another post you asked about Fr. Schmemman's views. I think I have some older posts on that, and I'll try and repost them.


4:52 PM  

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