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.