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Thursday, January 03, 2008

What it the intent of the Eucharist?

It is communion. Pure and simple. The Real Presence of Christ, which is the Catholic doctrine enshrined in the Articles, is there to be received. In Saint Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians we read of the Eucharist still embedded in a communal meal, and Paul is concerned that those who came to the Lord's Table did not discern the presence of Christ that they were partaking of nor their Communion with Christ and with one another that was achieved through the bread and the cup. Please read these comments from our learned doctor Richard Hooker taken from his Ecclesiastical Polity:

"Take, eat; this is my body; drink ye all of it; for this is my blood." [Mat. 26. 26–28.]

If we have any doubt as to what is expressed by these admirable words, let that one be our teacher as to the meaning of Christ, to whom Christ himself was a schoolmaster. Let our Lord’s Apostle be his interpreter, and let us content ourselves with his explanation, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" [1 Cor. 10. 16.] Is there anything clearer and easier than the fact that just as Christ is called our life because we obtained life through him, so the parts of this sacrament are called his body and blood because when we receive these elements we do receive the body and blood of Christ?

We say that the bread and the wine are his body and his blood because through their instrumentality we participate in his body and blood, and that is a valid assertion because we quite properly give the name of the effect to the cause which produces it, for the cause is in the result which grows out of that cause. Our souls and bodies receive eternal life, and this life in them has as its source and cause the Person of Christ, and his body and blood are the source from which this life flows. The influence of the heavens is in plants, animals and men, and in everything which they make alive; but the body and blood of Christ are in that communicant to which they minister in a far more divine and mystical kind of union, a union which makes us one with him, even as he and the Father are one.

We all agree that Christ really and truly carries out his promise by means of the sacrament; but why do we trouble ourselves by such fierce contests about consubstantiation and the question whether the elements themselves contain Christ or not? Even if consubstantiation or transubstantiation are true, it does not benefit us, and if they are not true it does not handicap us. Our participation in Christ through the sacraments depends upon the cooperation of his omnipotent power, and that power makes the sacrament a means of creating his body and blood in us. Whether there is or is not such a change in the elements themselves, as some people imagine, need not make any great difference to us.

Let us, then, accept that in which we all agree, and then consider why the rest should not be considered superfluous rather than urged as necessary. In the first place, it is generally agreed that this sacrament is a real participation in Christ, and that by its means he imparts his full Person as the mystical head of every soul who receives him and thereby becomes a very member incorporate in his mystical body, which is the blessed company of all faithful people.

In the second place, it is also agreed that the communicant who receives the Person of Christ through the sacrament also receives the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the communicant as it sanctified Christ who is the head of all those who participate in him. In the third place, it is commonly held that whatever power or virtue there is in Christ’s sacrificed body and blood we freely and fully receive this sacrament.

In the fourth place, it is agreed that the result of the sacrament is a real transmutation of our souls and bodies from sin to righteousness, from death and corruption to immortality and life. In the fifth place, all believe that the sacramental elements are only corruptible and earthly things; therefore, they must seem to be an unlikely instrument to work out such admirable effects in man. For that reason, we must not rest our confidence in these elements themselves, but put our trust altogether in the strength of his glorious power, which he can and will give us."

Now read these comments from a learned theologian and presbyter of the Orthodox communion, the late Father Alexander Schmemann taken from his excellent text The Eucharist (the complete text of which I urge everyone, especially clergy, to read and digest) and see the same points that were made by Hooker. The first comment will strike many as "rather protestant" due to the similarity of the argument made to some of the same arguments made by Cranmer and Hooker (indeed, one could easily misatribute Schmemann's quote to Hooker), but realize that Father Schmemann is speaking past the arguments made in the West, as Hooker was attempting to do. Both men, Hooker and Schmemann, are trying to reach past the disagreements based on scholastic logic to the real crux of the matter, the purpose of the Eucharist:

"The purpose of the eucharist lies not in the change of bread and wine, but in our partaking of Christ, who has become our food, our life, the manifestation of the Church as the body of Christ.

This is why the holy gifts themselves never became in the Orthodox East an object of special reverence, contemplation and adoration, and likewise an object of special theological "problematics": how, when, in what manner their change is accomplished. The eucharist--and this means the changing of the holy gifts--is a mystery that cannot be revealed and explained in the categories of "this world. . ." It is revealed only to faith. . .

We find the answers to these questions in the epiklesis. But the answer is not "rational," built upon the laws of our "one-storied" logic; it is disclosed to us by the Holy Spirit. . .

Thus the epiklesis concludes the anaphora, the part of the liturgy that encompasses the "assembly as the Church," the entrance, the proclamation of the good news of the word of God, the offering, the oblation, the thanksgiving and remembrance. But with the epiklesis begins the consummation of the liturgy, whose essence lies in the communion, in the distribution to the faithful of the holy gifts, the body and blood of Christ."

18 Comments:

Blogger abdiesus said...

What if the Holy Communion service contains no epiklesis - as the 1662 BCP service of Holy Communion does not?

9:10 PM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...

A good question. I would comment briefly that the intent of the Eucharist, with or without the explicit Invocation of the Holy Spirit, is the same, and that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that accomplishes all that Schmemann+ and Hooker+ write about. God knows and the people know that the unity in Christ and among the people in the Eucharistic feast is accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit, whether it is explicitly stated in the prayer (as in the 1549 and 1928 Anglican services and the Byzantine rites) or implicitly via the 1662 and the Roman rites.

AC+

10:10 PM  
Blogger abdiesus said...

No doubt you are correct when you say: that the intent...[is] that it is the power of the Holy Spirit that accomplishes all. However, I doubt that Schmemann or any other Orthodox would accept that it doesn't matter whether there is an epiklesis or not. In fact, if memory serves, wasn't that (the presence of, and/or wording of the epiklesis) precisely one of the sticking points in the Anglican-Orthodox dialog of years past?

11:01 PM  
Blogger abdiesus said...

Perhaps I'm being a bit too subtle, so let me cut to the chase here: I very much appreciate the article you write, but if I may state it crassly, it seems to me the "strength" of the article is in the way it tries to get "behind" the Roman dogma of transubstantiation, and the primary evidence adduced in this effort to "get behind" the RC position, is the quote from Fr. Schmemann, of blessed memory.

Note: that I am NOT saying your Hooker quotation is nothing but chopped liver! But, after all, he IS Anglican so he would be expected to support an Anglican Eucharistic perspective. Moreover Hooker is considerably post-Cranmer, nor does the Hooker material you provide indicate any particular patristic thread with which Hooker is attempting to connect.

Indeed, Hooker's own argument seems to stray almost dangerously close to the RC world of thought which produced the dogma of transubstantiation when he says such things as that it "is a valid assertion [that we participate in his body and blood,] because we quite properly give the name of the effect to the cause which produces it, for the cause is in the result which grows out of that cause." (And, of course, this "cause-effect" language almost sounds like it lives in the same Aristotelian philosophical world as that which Rome has most often used to support its dogma of transubstantiation.)

My point is, if it is true that the strength of your attempt to get behind the RC position is really in the shorter quote from Schmemann, rather than the longer quote from the Anglican scholar Hooker - however enlightening that quote may be - then we need to be able to ascertain the validity of the aducement of Schmemann's thought in this case in order to be able to accept whether it actually does the job it *appears* to do.

And when we start down that path, we cannot help but ask, whether Schmemann really means quite what we, as Anglicans reading him, might think he means. Here's why I ask that question: what reading I've done in Orthodox liturgical theology does not give one the impression that they have a low or indifferent attitude towards the status of the consecrated elements.

Quite to the contrary, my experience both in reading and in interacting with Orthodox, is that their belief concerning the status of the consecrated elements is at *least* as strong as the Roman belief in the Real Presence - the difference being that the Orthodox don't require a dogma like that of transubstantiation to explain *how* it happens.

And one of the main clues that this is the case is the *extreme* care which the Orthodox take concerning both the *presence* and the exact *wording* of the epiklesis. It REALLY MATTERS to an Orthodox *whether* the epiklesis is present, AND *what* it actually says. And the REASON it matters, is that the Orthodox have a very strong and very high understanding of the status of the consecrated elements, and of the role that that status has in effecting all that which is understood to flow FROM those consecrated elements.

In other words, to the Orthodox, the Divine Liturgy truly DOES something, and the Divine Liturgy simply IS what is believed. So to say that one believes something (like the doctrine expressed in the epiklesis) but that it doesn't matter whether the liturgy actually CONTAINS such an epiklesis, would be to speak nonsense to an Orthodox. The Law of Prayer, simply IS the law of belief, and, for the epiklesis to DO something, it has to actually EXIST!

Why am I saying all this? Because I believe that, unless we are content merely to preach to the choir, we need to treat the positions and writings of our Orthodox (as indeed also, of our RC) brethren with integrity, and not just use them as a convenient club to beat back whichever position we are trying to oppose at the moment. We need to make sure that we aren't just finding a convenient passage which APPEARS to say what we believe, when in fact, in CONTEXT, the meaning and/or use we are drawing from that passage would likely be repudiated by the author.

In other words, while Hooker may be right that it doesn't matter if we believe in transubstantiation or not *as the vehicle which explains the status of the consecrated elements*, nevertheless, I think it is clear that for an Orthodox like Schmemann it DOES matter whether we believe that there IS a status of the consecrated elements, and that this status is effected BY the Liturgy (specifically, the epiklesis), and that FROM this status flows all that which the Church has always understood to be the fruit and effects of Holy Communion.

And it is precisely here that I believe that Hooker and Schmemann would probably DISAGREE, for I'd be very surprised if an Orthodox like Schmemann would be comfortable with saying that the only reason we call the bread the "Body" and the wine the "Blood" of Christ is that "through their instrumentality we participate in his body and blood."

And I'd be very surprised if an Orthodox like Schmemeann would be comfortable saying merely that Christ's "omnipotent power...makes the sacrament a means of creating his body and blood in us. Whether there is or is not such a change in the elements themselves...need not make any great difference to us."

From what reading and interaction I've had, I'd be willing to bet that an Orthodox like Schmemann would want to say something MUCH stronger about WHY we call the bread the "Body" and the wine the "Blood" of our Lord. Indeed, I would be surprised if such an Orthdox would not be just as strong in their statement about the REALITY of Christ's Body and Blood in the sacramental species as would a RC, even if the Orthodox would not depend upon the dogma of transubstantiation to explain *how* it happens.

My experience is that the Orthodox would be instead content to say that the Holy Spirit accomplishes the status of the consecrated elements, but that this status occurs as a result of the prayer of epiklesis - which is therefore a NECESSARY part of the Divine Liturgy.

Need it be said, this is clearly MUCH more concrete than Hooker's Anglican perspective on the Eucharist.

Does it make sense why I asked the question about the presence of the epiklesis in response to your use of Schmemann in support (apparently) of Hooker?

12:19 AM  
Blogger andrew said...

thank you, abdiesus.

I would like to bring up one point in relation to your comment: you claim that "cause/effect" language is Aristotelian, and, as such, indicative of Roman Catholic-like theologizing.

The invocation of "aristotle" is often used as a trump card, i.e., a conversation-stopper, when used by Anglicans and Orthodox vis-vis theological topics: whoops, that "aristotilian" so shut and get back on track with pure Christian theology untainted by pagan/man-made categories.

I wonder if those who issue such decrees are aware of the degree to which much Anglican theology reflects the man-made philosophical categories of late mediaeval nominalism, together with dollops of good English positivism and pragmatism (anti-metaphysical- yes; but "infected" with philosophy all the same), or the degree to which Orthodox "theological" categories are indebted to, one might say saturated with, the philosophy of Plotinus?

In other words, demonstrate that it is even possible for theology to get along without such borrowings, and/or that "aristotelian" categories in particular are philosophically unsound and/or not compatible with Christian theology, or else stop merely invoking the name "aristotelian" to stigmatize Roman Catholic theology. It would be nicer to hear you guys try to refute Aristotle's common sense, moderate realist ontology (but you would have to read him first).

7:58 AM  
Blogger abdiesus said...

Andrew,

Point well taken - especially where you say: the degree to which much Anglican theology reflects the man-made philosophical categories of late mediaeval nominalism

Actually my comment was not so much a poke at the Aristotelian RC defense of transubstantiation per se, but rather only to note that Hooker's own position, at least based upon the quote provided, does not really seem to be attempting to "connect" with some "older, patristic" stream of Eucharistic theology - in fact, at least at the point mentioned, his argument seems to be quite at home in the same philosophical world as that which is used to defend the RC dogma of transubstantiation.

I guess I just would have expected that Hooker would have tried to more explicitly "go for the antiquity" angle, and attempt tie his position to something with a more solid patristic pedigree - if such were possible. This is WHY I maintained above that the strength of the argument our host provided was actually in the shorter quote from Schmemann, rather than in the longer quote from Hooker.

Does that make sense?

8:48 AM  
Blogger andrew said...

yes. thank you. your comment, I think, was apropos. mine was tangential. and thanks to AC for clarifying, in this post and others, what is the mainstream, classical Anglican approach to the meaning and purpose of the Eucharist. its just that I reject mainstream Anglican eucharistic theology. my problem not yours. hope its still ok to comment. peace.

9:39 AM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...

A very good discussion. I was surprised to come back and see that so much had transpired. The full content of Volume Five of Hooker's Polity, I think, demonstrated his bona fides as someone conversant in the Church Fathers. It is true, however, that he is very much a man in the Western mindset of a scholastic. In trying to emphasize the same points that I think Schmemann is pointing at he does indeed use he logic of Aristotle. I have to say I am torn between the East and West on this one. I appreciate Aquinas and Hooker for their clear and systematic use of logic on these matters, but Schmemann's whole text The Eucharist is devoted to saying that one cannot dissect the Eucharist into parts. He even chides the Orthodox for putting such a great emphasis on the Epiklesis in many dogmatic theology texts, for this is to make the error of transubstantiation but simply move it to a different point in the argument. Schmemann argues that the Eucharist is to be taken as a whole, that the changing of the elements and the changing of the people into the Body of Christ are part of one grand living unity that defies vivisection. To focus on the Words of Institution or the Epiklesis as what "makes the Eucharist" is to kill it. He notes that the elements are reverenced at all points in the Byzantine rite, not just after some moment of consecration, for the consecration is bound and given meaning within the full celebration of the Eucharist. His main point is still one that I think Hooker was trying to get at as well, but he was still tied into the language of science and dissection: The purpose of Eucharist is the communion, the changing of the people into the Body of Christ through their partaking, not the changing of elements.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Fr. Robert Hart said...

I have mentioned in sermons that we Anglicans should be happy to use the BCP name for the Mass, namely, the "Holy Communion." The different names, Mass, Divine Liturgy, Eucharist, are all fine. The additional name, Holy Communion, was deliberately employed to get the point across to the people that they they were there to receive, and this is the purpose (as the Article says) of the Sacrament. It takes us directly to the sixth chapter of John.

Thank you for reminding us that the mysteries are mysterious.

9:58 AM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...

Amen Father Hart. As I said, I'm torn between the logic of Aquinas and the simple faithfulness that is expressed very well by those in the East. I keep coming back to Schmemann to relearn some of our own Anglican principles.

AC+

10:06 AM  
Blogger abdiesus said...

Andrew,

No problem!

hope its still ok to comment.

I can't speak for our host, but as far as I'm concerned, please feel free to contribute - I appreciate the interaction!

Pax...

10:41 AM  
Blogger abdiesus said...

AC,

No doubt you are correct when you assert that:

[Hooker has] demonstrated his bona fides as someone conversant in the Church Fathers.

Perhaps there are other places in his monumental opus where he attempts to trace the patristic lineage of the Anglican perspective on the Eucharist. I guess I just wish that the quote provided would have included some hint of how this connection would be forged, since I believe such an exercise would be enlightening on several fronts. Oh well.

Also, I appreciate your point regarding Schmemann's feeling that:

[the] great emphasis on the Epiklesis in many dogmatic theology texts...is to make the error of transubstantiation but simply move it to a different point in the argument.

However, I still think that there is a danger in reading into Schmemann something he does not, and would not, have advocated. Here's why I say this: There is a huge difference between saying, as you attribute to Schmemann, that:

the Eucharist is to be taken as a whole, that the changing of the elements *AND* [emphasis mine] the changing of the people into the Body of Christ are part of one grand living unity

and saying, as you boil it down later in that paragraph:

The purpose of Eucharist is the communion, the changing of the people into the Body of Christ through their partaking, *NOT* [emphasis mine] the changing of elements.

Do you see why I think there is a difference between these two statements?

10:56 AM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...

I'll quote Schmemann again directly, in case I have paraphrased in a less than precise manner:

"The purpose of the eucharist lies not in the change of bread and wine, but in our partaking of Christ, who has become our food, our life, the manifestation of the Church as the body of Christ."

This is the thesis of Schmemann's text--these are his words. Please do read the entire book, available from Saint Vladimir's Press.

Here is where I think Schmemann makes the point better than Hooker: The purpose of the Eucharist the the Communion of the people with Christ; Christ hath ordained these holy Mysteries for this very purpose, that we take and eat them, that He be made one Body with Him, that He may live in us and we in Him. This is the reason for being of the Eucharist, and again, this is what Schmemann is saying. In the above quote I have given his words verbatim without rearrangement.

AC+

11:15 AM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...

P.S. I didn't mean the book recommendation to sound condescending. It is just an excellent text, one which I feel that all clergy and laity with a love for the Eucharist should read and read again.

11:17 AM  
Blogger abdiesus said...

AC,

Thanks for posting this direct quote - it does clarify what Schmemann said, and appears to put him into greater alignment with the argument of your original post.

I still wonder though, based upon other Orthodox encounters I've had, whether it isn't the case that the overall Orthodox position on the Eucharist would more often tend to say "BOTH-AND" rather than "THIS-NOT-THAT".

Even Hooker himself doesn't seem to make *that* strong a claim against transubstantiation - just that it's not the important thing.

The point I'm getting at is, it may well be a good and salutary thing to recognize and believe that Holy Communion is "more" than merely bread and wine being transformed into Christ's Body and Blood, full-stop. But does that fact mean that it is OK to believe that Holy Communion is "less" than this?

Here I would be very interested in querying any Orthodox listeners-in as to their understanding of the relationship between the status of the consecrated elements and the graces which are deemed to flow from our reception of those consecrated elements.

Certainly here also is where I would appreciate someone like Hooker attempting to show that such a case can be made from patristic antiquity - though I'm not sure how easy it would be to make such a case from the Fathers.

Perhaps that is why it is not so surprising after all that Hooker doesn't seem to have attempted it?

In any case, thank you for the article and for the interaction!

Pax...

11:38 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

I would disagree with the statement made that 1662 has no epiklesis. While it may not be one with the same wording as that in thet two orthodox canons or in the same place as in those canons, the words "Hear us, O mericiful Father, we most humbly beseech thee ; and grant that we receiving these creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ's holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood :" are certainly intended as such. They ask what the epiklesis in the Eastern rites ask which is that God made the difference. Liturgically we have done better since 1559 as the non-jurors, English and Scots came to know and understand the Orthodox rites better, but - whatever the language - the intent is the same.

12:01 PM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...

Thanks for the cordial discussion. It is good to discuss these issues in a charitable manner.

"The point I'm getting at is, it may well be a good and salutary thing to recognize and believe that Holy Communion is "more" than merely bread and wine being transformed into Christ's Body and Blood, full-stop. But does that fact mean that it is OK to believe that Holy Communion is "less" than this?"

I think one must affirm both, but I do not make it a point to go beyond the elementary affirmation of the St. Paul or the Anglican Articles ("the Body and Blood of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper after a heavenly and spiritual manner" in the Sacrament). My own personal theology is very much along the lines of Thomas Aquinas, except that I do not affirm that the essence/substance of the bread are eliminated or replaced. Using scholastic terms I would affirm that Christ is substantially and spiritually present, but not corporally nor carnally (here I am just paraphrasing most Thomists). And in this I am most closely alligned in my own personal thought to the Anglican divines of the Caroline period. Again, this is my own personal thought, and I acknowledge that it is full of all of the difficulties Schmemann outlines. I would not impose it on anyone else.

To give a brief illustration of what I mean: Several years ago I read an online discussion between a mainline Episcopal priest and an Orthodox priest. The ECUSA cleric was considering Orthodoxy and asked what the priest thought of transubstantiation. The priest said something to the effect of "A good theory, but not one that the whole Church has ever accepted. Who am I to assert that the ousia of the bread and wine have ceased to be?" The ECUSA cleric has since become Roman Catholic, and I believe that it is because of the certainty that the Roman eucharistic doctrine provided him, something that the Orthodox priest could not do.

That being said, I am sympatetic to the writings of Cranmer and Hooker, for both were attempting to do what Schmemann did more successfully--affirm the Presence of Christ in usu sacramenti and argue against dissection of the Eucharist itself. However, for better or worse, they could not get away from using the same categories and terms that were causing many of the problems. I still think there is profit to reading what they had to say, it just needs to be taken in the historical and theological context in which it was written (like everything else).

12:16 PM  
Blogger An Anglican Cleric said...

Lee,

I agree--I was going to make the same point.

AC+

12:17 PM  

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