Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Anglican unity and the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist

There is obvious and lamentable disunity among those who consider themselves to be faithful, orthodox, and catholic Anglicans. Part of this disunity stems from differing views on the Real Presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Where are we to find harmony on this very important issue of Christian doctrine and fellowship? As Anglicans I believe we must first go to the Scriptures, where we are told by St. Paul that the “. . .Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread;and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner also He took the cup when He had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death until He come. Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and then let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body” (1 Cor 11: 23-29). Similarly, St. Paul declares to us that “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? For we, being many, are one bread and one body, for we are all partakers of that one Bread” (1 Cor 10: 16-17). The writings of the Church Fathers, especially the Apostolic Fathers, declare likewise without any great philosophical speculation. The truth of Christ’s words, and the words of St. Paul, are accepted through faith.

When we turn to the formularies of classical Anglicanism (the 1549-1928 Prayer Books, the Articles, and the homilies) what are we told about the Eucharist? We are told that it is an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” the outward part being bread and wine and the inward part being Christ’s Body and Blood. The Articles declare likewise that the “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner.” In the homilies we read of “the due receiving of the blessed Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ under the form of bread and wine.”

Here, in the classical Anglican documents, we have a very Scriptural teaching which conforms as well to the teachings of the Church Fathers. All, I would hope and pray, could unite around these truths as plainly taught. However, some wish to press beyond these points of agreement and engage in all manner of scholastic inquiry, sowing disunity where there ought to be concord. Some will ask the manner of Christ’s Presence in the Sacrament? Is it bodily, physical, carnal, corporal, localized? Even Thomas Aquinas, the elaborator of transubstantiation, denies these points. If it is “substantial and essential” (which many Anglican divines affirm) does this not require that the substance of the bread and wine cease to be, taken over wholly by the substance of the Body and Blood? Here only Aquinas answers in the affirmative, leaving only “accidents” and “appearances” of bread and wine. The words of St. Paul cannot support this (“The bread which we break: is it not the communion of the body of Christ?), and numerous Church Fathers can be quoted against it, many of them arguing on Christological grounds. Indeed, to take this stance we must allow a Thomist interpretation of Aristotle’s logic to completely supplant the Scriptures and the Fathers.

Great Anglo-Catholics like Kebel, Pusey, and Gore deny the metaphysical annihilation of the bread and wine, as do many great theologians in the Orthodox Communion. Sadly, I have heard of priests in one Anglican jurisdiction refusing to receive the Eucharist from priests in another (or condemning them as heretics) because they have inquired into their personal doctrine of the Presence and found that they do not affirm some element of Aquinas (such as the annihilation of the bread and wine) or elements that go beyond Aquinas (such as a carnal or corporal presence).

My plea is to find unity in the teachings of the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, and the Articles. Points of unity should be identified and affirmed among traditional Anglicans using our common heritage; various sacramental theories with no consensus from the undivided Church should be left to the individual’s consideration and debate, but the individual should not unbendingly assert his theory as though it were that of the Church.


The Lemonts said...

Here is the problem, Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism don't view you (or me) as part of the church. The Orthodox Priest I have known and who have instructed me have said that it is only important that I know that Christ is present in the Eucharist not that I must be able to solve the mystery.

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Per the Orthodox not viewing us as part of the Church--that is not my main concern here, nor does it cause me to lose much sleep. The Orthodox churches in the 1900s until the 1950s where making some very good and positive statements concerning the catholicity and orthodoxy of the Church of England. And then, of course, the C of E began to behave in a unilateral and progressive manner, destroying ecumenical progress. Perhaps when the Continuum gets its house in order we can sit down and speak with the Orthodox again. Truth be told, many Orthodox don't view the Romans as part of the Church, and I've heard the same said of the Orthodox by Tridentine minded Romans. We can't keep evaluating our "catholicity" by what another communion says about us.

Please see the post below on "What is the Catholic Church?" quoting Abp. Haverland of the ACC.

However (and back to the main point), in that the Orthodox Church makes a claim to Catholicity in doctrine (and that her theologians base their views on the Fathers) which both the Romans and most Anglicans acknowledge, I use the point in the post to ask the question "Why would an Anglican require more in terms of Eucharistic doctrine than an Orthodox priest would?" Your Orthodox priest has the right attitude; know that Christ is present but don't attempt to explain the mystery of that presence.


Rev. Dr. Hassert said...


Per ++Haverland's comments, please read as well the piece on Abp. Temple and Anglican Orders. Keep in mind that many of the Orthodox churches in the 1920s issued statements deeming Anglican orders valid (it must be admitted that they did not act on those statements; the Old Catholics examined our orders, deeemed them valid, and entered into intercommunion).

Based on historical fact, Anglicans have no reason do doubt their own Holy Orders. If you doubt the validity of your bishop's Holy Orders, you should speak with your own priest or bishop on this matter (not an Orthodox or Roman priest); they are not there strengthen your view of the Anglican tradition. Their goal is to convince you that they are indeed the "One True Church" (not the the Roman is just as good as the Eastern or vice versa) and join yourself to them.


The Lemonts said...

What has always kept me from being able to become Orthodox with a clear mind is that I don't believe Orthodoxy ever left the West. It may have had periods where it was under greater attack but through all the trumoil of the Roman domination and the reformation revisionism it has survived. I base that on the number of Orthodox Bishops in Continuing circles. My hesitation with the contiuing movement has always been what St. John Chrysostom calls the mother of all heresies which is the desire to rule.

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Dave said:

"My hesitation with the contiuing movement has always been what St. John Chrysostom calls the mother of all heresies which is the desire to rule."

This is all too true--and in some instances we have churches with a bishop to laity ratio of 1:1. All of the leaders in the Continuum (bishops, presbyters, deacons, laity) need to pray for humility and an irenic spirit so that orthodox Anglicanism can speak to the world with one voice. My hope is that people like yourself will stay within Anglicanism and struggle for the survival of orthodoxy and unity in this western part of Christ's Church.

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

"Surely, Thomism cannot become the domagic floor for Anglicans! When you do this, you've abandoned any legitimate claim to the name "Anglican.""

Amen. One of the Anglican priests I refer to later became Roman, so at least he followed his conscience.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm searching here - this is territory that my past tradition has not given me the option to consider. I'm also not familiar with Roman and Orthodox liturgies, so I'm seeking to be informed here.
It seems to me that, wherever you may be, if the sacrament is administered in a fashion ordered by Scripture within a communion that holds forth the Scripture as the Word of God, it can be accepted. It is not the meal of Rome or Constantinople or anyone elses'. It is the Lord's Supper. Whatever the official tenent of the church in which it is celebrated, the sacrament conveys to the recipient what his faith understands and receives. If there were no other church to go to than a Roman or Orthodox in my community, should I refrain from the table all together? Perhaps the thing to do would be to approach the priest and inform him of my position ahead of time and ask for permission to partake according to my own faith. Or is that totally off the wall?
How much weight to this discussion should we give to the fact that Christ ordained the Supper and its elements at a Passover meal, in the Jewish communion! There was no centuries'- long debate over what he meant by his words to be included in the conditions for participating. The disciples knew nothing more than what Jesus was saying at the time and they partook. The grace would have been according to their faith (they may have thought about some of his past statements re: his body and blood).
What I cannot see anyone doing is participating in a sacrament administered by a so-called church that denies the Scriptures governing the sacrament, such as TEC.
In the past, I've thought that I would not partake of communion at a Roman church, for example, because of their transubstantiation - or, at some times - because I didn't even consider them really Christian. I would not object to a Roman partaking of communion in our Anglican parish, even though I know he may have the wrong opinion about the elements. Should I not commune at a Roman table because of their transubstantiation - Or a Lutheran, for crying out loud?
How far does I Cor. 10 apply to this?
If we think the Roman church is the church of the anti-Christ, no Bible-believing Protestant could commune with them. But if not, why not? Unless, in the ceremony, so much more than what the Bible avers is said that one could not partake without it being taken as a public agreement with a particular position.
Now where am I missing something?

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Those questions go a bit outside of the minimal goal of my short essay. At the moment I'm not worried about working through the issues of intercommunion between Anglicans and non-Anglicans--I'd just like to see Anglicans agree (as you suggest) that if we do what Christ did and intend to do what the Scriptures say we are celebrating the Holy Eucharist. To paraphrase Lancelot Andrewes (or perhaps it was Cosin): We say that He is present, not that He is present in such and such a way.

It saddens me to hear that debates on personal points of theology have resulted in Anglicans excluding one another from the Holy Table, in theory and practice.