A Reflection on the Roman theology of the Holy Eucharist
Bishop Charles Gore, D.D.
THE THEOLOGICAL BEARINGS OF CERTAIN EXTRA-LITURGICAL USES OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
IT is the doctrine of the Church, based on the teaching of the New Testament, that Christ is present in us. And the word "Christ" signifies the Eternal Son of God as incarnate. When we say that Christ is present in us we mean something more than that He is present in us as God, Who is present everywhere; and something more than that He is present in us by the gift of His Spirit. We mean that He is present in us also in respect of His sacred and glorified humanity. The same idea is suggested by our Lord's simile of the vine and the branches and by St. Paul's simile of the Head and its members. The incarnate Lord and His people cohere in one organism, one order or system of life. The incarnate person includes His people: "Totus Christus caput et membra." It is, no doubt, the doctrine of the Church that the humanity of our Lord is not omnipresent. It is "circumscribed." So the Second Council of Nicæa defined: "If any one do not confess that Christ our God is circumscribed in respect of His manhood, let him be anathema." But in His body the Church, and in every member of it, the presence of Christ means His presence in manhood as well as in Godhead.
The most cogent ground of this conviction is to be found in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Christ had taught His disciples that they could only have eternal life through eating the flesh of the Son of man and drinking His blood, and so abiding in Him, as He in them (St. John vi. 53, 56); and no words could express more vividly participation in His humanity. Thus were they prepared in a measure for the institution of the Holy Sacrament, when He pronounced the bread to be His body and the wine to be His blood, and bade them eat and drink. These words "body" and " blood" must certainly mean His humanity. So the Church has believed that Christ is present in that Blessed Sacrament according to His humanity; and that by receiving His body or blood, under the humble form of bread or wine, they receive Him, the incarnate person, Who comes to dwell in them by an abiding union, mingling His humanity with theirs. It is thus that the Church is "the extension of the Incarnation," and the Holy Sacrament is the chief instrument of this extension. It is true that we are to receive the Blessed Sacrament again and again. In this way the method of the Divine bestowal is adapted to our human need for reiteration. But the purpose of the reiterated bestowal is that the gift of the inward presence may be perpetual in us: that He may dwell or abide in us, and we in Him.
This doctrine of the permanent presence of Christ in us in respect of His humanity, and of the Blessed Sacrament of the altar as the special instrument by which this inward presence is effected, has been the common Catholic doctrine.
I will only quote two clear passages from St. Cyril of Alexandria: "But as the body of the Lord Himself is life-giving, since He has made it His own by a real union, which passes understanding and utterance, so we also who become partakers of His sacred flesh and blood are by all means (panth kai pantwV) endued with life, since the Word abides in us in the way of deity by the Holy Ghost, and in the way of humanity by His sacred flesh and precious blood" (" Adv. Nest.," iv. 5; "P. G.," lxxvi. 193 B.). And, again, in words that we should perhaps shrink from using, as they have a materialistic sound, but which are at least clear: "Do not wonder at this, nor say to yourself like the Jews, 'How can this be?' Consider rather that water is cold by nature, but when it is poured into the vessel and set upon the fire, it almost forgets its own proper nature and passes over into the energy of the fire which has overcome it. So also we, even if we are corruptible by the nature of the flesh, yet by the mixture in us of the true life lose our own weakness and are transformed into what belongs to it, that is the Life. For it was needful, indeed it was needful, that not only our soul should be recreated into newness of life by the Holy Spirit, but also this dense and earthly body should be sanctified through partaking in something denser and akin to itself [that is, the flesh and blood of Christ] and so summoned to incorruption" ("In Jo. Evan.," lib. iv. 5; "P. G.," Ixxiii. 580 A.). I quote only these two passages; but Thomassin will supply any student with abundance of quotations both from Greek and Latin Fathers to the same effect. [See "Theol. Dogm.": "De Inc. Verbi Dei," lib. x. capp. 21, 22 (Paris, 1868, tom. iv. pp. 390 ff.).] There is no mistaking the insistence of the Fathers, both Eastern and Western, on the indwelling of Christ in us in respect of His manhood, on the permanence of this indwelling, and on the function of the Holy Eucharist in bringing it about. Thomassin summarizes his multitudinous quotations: "Physice et substantive per eucharistiam carni Christi copulatur et concorporatur Ecclesia." In whatever sense Christ is present "bodily" (in His humanity) in the Eucharist, in that sense and no other He is, according to the Fathers, present in us who receive Him; and that for the permanent cleansing, strengthening, and refreshing of our whole nature, body and soul, with His whole human nature, seeing that by assuming human nature He infused into it Divine and recreative virtue. That is the consentient doctrine of the Fathers. And the doctrine maintains itself in the East to the present day. I have had occasion to read a late Greek mystical writer, Nicholas Cabasilas, who was Bishop of Thessalonica about A.D. 1350 (Migne, "P. G.," cl.), and I found his treatise, "De Vita in Christo," full of emphasis upon our union through the Eucharist with the glorified manhood of Christ, by a coalescence or mixture, soul with soul, flesh with flesh, blood with blood, a coalescence "closer than any physical union." That would be the doctrine of the Greeks and Russians to the present day. [See Khomiakoff in Birkbeck's "Russia and the English Church" (London, 1895), vol. i. pp. 207, 208.] In the Roman Communion Thomassin, writing at the end of the seventeenth century, seems to be full of an unhesitating enthusiasm for it. But this, as will be seen, appears to be exceptional. Among our own theologians since the Reformation, Hooker adheres to it ("Eccl. Pol.," v. 55.9, 56. 9); William Law, in many of his writings, is full of it. Among the writers of the Oxford Movement, Pusey frequently affirms it, and it is a leading thought of Robert Wilberforce's works, "On the Incarnation," and especially "On the Holy Eucharist." Fr. Benson often affirms it. Dr. Moule, the present Bishop of Durham, though he is not speaking specially of the Holy Eucharist, is emphatic that the characteristic function of the Holy Spirit is to "effect an influx into the regenerated man of the blessed virtues of the nature of the second Adam, an infusion of the exalted life of Jesus Christ, through an open duct, living and divine, into the man who is born again into Him the incarnate and glorified Son of God."' Finally, Dr. Weston, the Bishop of Zanzibar, makes it a special point of his recent book, "The Fulness of Christ," that the essence of the Church is the manhood of Jesus, in which all His faithful members permanently live: that it is the manhood of Jesus which is the substance of the Eucharist: "By faith we meet Christ's humanity in the sacrament and feed upon it" (p. 273), and so "the very substance of Christ's humanity is in them [communicants] to become one with the substance of theirs" (p. 102).
I am very well aware that this great thought does not admit of intellectual analysis. We cannot explain the process by which Christ's God-united manhood is made present in the Eucharist or is communicated to us. But the same thing is true, I think, of life at every stage. We cannot analyze the mystery. All that I am now concerned to do is to affirm that nothing less than this has been the doctrine of the Church, and nothing less than this is really required by the language of Christ.
I know that some among the Fathers (as St. Cyril, in a passage quoted above) use language which has a materialistic sound, and I should desire earnestly to maintain that the substance of Christ's manhood is "given, taken, and eaten, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner." But the more unguarded expressions of some of the Fathers serve at least to emphasize what they teach about the manhood of Christ being really communicated to us.
I know, on the other hand, that there are passages in the Fathers and other great theologians which can be quoted as implying or asserting that all which distinguishes the Christian is the gift of the Divine Spirit: but the doctrine which I have described above constitutes the main stream. And I am emphasizing it, at this moment, because it seems to me that this doctrine, really; apprehended and suffered to possess us, effectually tends to check the desire for a shrine of the sacred humanity, external to ourselves, the tabernacle or the monstrance, where we can adore Jesus Christ in His manhood and hold, as it were, external interim course with Him. If I believe that He in His manhood is within me, as near to me as I am to myself, and that I can within the tabernacle of my own heart hold closest intercourse with Him in His glorified manhood, I shall indeed entertain the deepest reverence for the Blessed Sacrament, which is the instrument of this indwelling, and adore Him who is there present, and I shall receive, as often as I may, by Holy Communion, the sacred presence within me; but it seems to me almost impossible that, when I hold Him within me and am permanently joined to Him in His manhood, I should passionately desire the opportunity of greeting Him in the tabernacle under conditions in which He is obviously further from me and external to me, while at the same time I cannot see Him or hear Him as the first disciples could, "in the flesh." The closer and more intimate union with Christ within me must surely throw into the shade the external and more remote access. So it has seemed to me. So I have found it, if I may refer to that, in my own experience. I did as a youth passionately love the worship of our Lord in the tabernacle, though I was mostly debarred from it. But since, forty years ago, I read Wilberforce and was led to follow up his train of thought, I have found that the thought of our constant and inward union with Christ, in His manhood as in His Godhead, absorbs the desire for the merely external "visit": and that all the more because this deeper and more intimate union is what the New Testament proclaims as the privilege of the Christian since Pentecost, for the sake of which it was worth while for the Apostles to lose all the lower and lesser privilege of external companionship with Christ, even though that carried with it the hearing of His words, the witnessing of His acts, and the looking up into His face.
And later I made another discovery. That is, that the Roman Church, which alone has sanctioned the extra-liturgical devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, has, by the consequences of its own special doctrine of transubstantiation, cut at the root of the really Catholic doctrine of the presence of Christ in respect of His manhood within the believer. [As to the adherence of the East to the doctrine of transubstantiation, Khomiakoff says, in the passage quoted above, "She [the Church] does not reject the word 'transubstantiation,' but she does not assign to it that material meaning which is assigned to it by the teachers of the Churches which have fallen away." Thus it has not had any effect upon Eastern Church theology such as we can trace in the West.] Christ is, according to the Roman Catholic theologians, in His manhood locally in heaven and, supralocally, in the Host on earth. Receiving the Blessed Sacrament, the communicant has Him within himself. But not for a permanent spiritual presence, only for a few minutes, as a visitor. The ancient, really Catholic, doctrine of the Eucharist, admitting as it does that the outward and visible elements of bread and wine remain in their natural substances after the eucharistic consecration, leaves them to go their natural way into the physical system, while the spiritual realities, the body and blood of Christ, of which they are the vehicle, go their spiritual way into the soul of the receiver, and so into his whole nature. But according to the Roman doctrine the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the body and blood. There remain only the body and blood under the outward species or appearances of bread and wine. And this only for a few minutes after the Sacrament has been received by a communicant. As soon as the process of digestion begins, a re-conversion takes place. The heavenly things, the body and blood, are no longer there. There is only bread, or bread and wine, in process of digestion. "For when," says Perrone, "the species have reached the point at which the body or material should be dissolved or corrupted, the real presence of the body of Christ ceases, and God by His omnipotence again produces a material substance of bread or wine in that state in which it would naturally be found if no conversion had preceded." [J. Perrone, S.J., "Prælect. Theol." (Turin, 1866): ''De Eucharistia," § 151, vol. viii. p. 146.]
It is painful to mention this doctrine. In the second edition of "Dissertations" I expressed regret that no Roman Catholic reviewer of my book had contradicted it. In a recent treatise, "De Sanctissima Eucharistia," in which Dr. Coghlan has done me the honour of replying to my dissertation, he confirms it, though I do not think that he states my own teaching truly. It is worth while attending to his explanation.
We Anglicans are in the habit of speaking of the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist under the terms "the outward sign" (signum) "the inward reality" (res), and "the spiritual effect" (virtus). Where exactly the collocation of these three terms comes from I do not know. They are excellent. But they are not the Roman terms. From Peter Lombard [See "Sentences," lib. iv. dist. B. This phraseology comes from his attempt to adhere to the words of Jerome and Augustine when he is not adhering to their meaning.] the Roman theologians have derived the terms sacramentum tantum, sacramentum simul et res, and res tantum. The "sacrament taken by itself" is the species. The "sacrament and reality" is the true body and blood of Christ under the species of bread and wine. The "reality taken by itself" (the res tantum) is the effect of the sacrament, what we call the virtus, which Fr. Coghlan says is "commonly said to be incorporation into the mystical body." Now of these, the second (sacramentum et res), he says, remains only so long as the species remain uncorrupt. There is nothing permanent except the res tantum, or effect, which is commonly described as "incorporation in the mystical body." What is this effect? Is it that glorious or rich effect which I have been trying to describe in the earlier part of this paper? that is, the permanent infusion of the sacred manhood of Christ, God-united, into the soul and so into the whole nature of the communicant? No. Many of us must have been struck with the meagre and embarrassed appearance of the statement of the effects of the Blessed Sacrament in the later Westerns. The great ancient phrases that are used appear to be explained away. Because, in fact, the ground on which they stand has been cut away. There is no permanent presence within us of the sacred humanity. This is, I believe, the universally accepted doctrine of the Roman Church. I make a point of it because it has this consequence: except for a visit of a few minutes, Christ is not within us in respect of His humanity, only in respect of His Godhead. The manhood of Christ is to be found only in heaven and in the Host. I am, indeed, by His Spirit inwardly joined to Christ, so as to be (so to speak) of one organism with Him. But in respect of His manhood He is external to me, not within me.
It was some twenty years ago that I seemed to myself to discover that the Roman Church has really abandoned the Catholic doctrine of the permanent presence within men, His members, of Christ in His manhood. Recently I asked the most competent theologian known to me among English Roman Catholics of undisputed orthodoxy in their Communion, [Fr. Rickaby, S.J.] and he writes to me in answer to my question:
"Christ, as man, thinks of, knows, and loves all His faithful, and in this sense is present with them. But men seek for more than this. It cannot be denied that local inclusion or juxtaposition adds much to presence. Indeed, a body cannot be otherwise than bodily present, that is, locally (in the Sacrament the body of Christ becomes referable to place, not in itself, but by the elements). Can we predicate a continued bodily presence of Christ's humanity in every man in the state of grace? I do not know of any formal decision of the Church in the matter, but theologians, I believe, would be unanimous in answering in the negative." "The gift, which indwells in the faithful in grace, is not of the sacred humanity of Christ, but the Holy Ghost." "Not that the sacred humanity indwells them, but they live in conjunction with it," that is, through the possession of the Holy Spirit. [Fr. Rickaby holds that the Eucharist brings with it "a fuller outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon the soul of the communicant." But what ground have we for attributing this particular effect to Holy Communion? Not so did the Fathers interpret St. John vi. Some Roman Catholic writers have supposed an indwelling of the soul of Christ in us (see Dalgairns, "Holy Communion"). But what ground is there for such an idea in Scripture or tradition? Roman Catholic writers (e.g. Fr. Coghlan, pp. 354 ff.) do not seem to me to be able to attribute to Holy Communion the enrichment of our nature by any permanent and definite gift communicated to us therein, now that they have abandoned the really Catholic doctrine that we "eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood" for the permanent inward strengthening and refreshing of our whole nature by His God-united manhood. I am sure that this point needs to be followed out. St. Thomas ("Summa," pars 33, qu. 79, art. 4) teaches that the "res huius sacramenti est charitas, non solum quantum ad habitum sed etiam quantum ad actum, qui excitatur in hoc sacramento." But this is a merely subjective effect, such as Zwinglians would speak of].
There is a great effort being made to introduce and maintain among us the use of the worship of Christ in the tabernacle or the monstrance. There are, it seems to me, cogent reasons of a practical kind against this. But I am not now talking of these. I cannot desire, even if I thought it were practicable, the familiarization of our people with this use. I believe the conservative instinct of the Eastern Church in this matter has been sound. It seems to me that the true, full doctrine of the inward presence of Christ in His people, by His manhood as well as His Godhead, renders it out of place: and that the use tends towards the denial of the doctrine. And thus, conversely, I find that the only part of the Church which has encouraged the use (the later Western Church of the Roman obedience) does, in fact, deny that doctrine of the inward presence of the Manhood in the Church and in all its members which is the rich heritage of real Catholicism. It denies it not formally as by a dogma of the Church, but really by the consent of theologians, so that it is not, I believe, permissible for Roman Catholic writers to affirm it. And I have written this because I desire to submit this theological consideration to those whose minds are occupied on the subject.