Thursday, January 09, 2014

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-nine Articles

 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 devoid of 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.
De manducatione corporis Christi, et impios illud non manducare
Impii, et fide viva destituti, licet carnaliter et visibiliter, ut Augustinius loquitur, corporis et sanguinis Christ Sacramentum dentibus premant, nullo tamen modo Christi participes efficiuntur: sed potius tante rei Sacramentum, seu symbolum ad judicium sibi manducant et bibunt.
Archbishop Peter Robinson
As I mentioned above, this article has the unique distinction of having been refused royal assent for some eight years. It was initially drawn up by Archbishop Parker and confirmed by the 1563 Convocation, but was struck out by the Queen. As a result it was not published until 1571, when circumstances had somewhat altered. In 1563, Elizabeth's primary aim seems to have been to try and reconcile Lutherans and some "Henrician Catholics" to the Church of England who might otherwise have stood aloof. This seems to have been only a temporary policy as by 1563 the influence of Lutheranism on the English Reformation was already in sharp decline (its heyday had been in the 1530s) and Henrician Catholics were fast disappearing. This left the main body of educated opinion in the Church of England broadly in the Reformed camp.

This article shares with Article VI the rare distinction of alluding to one of the Latin doctors, in this case Augustine. Although it is sometimes stated that the Articles of Religion are Calvinist or Reformed, their deepest debt seems to be to Saint Augustine of Hippo. This seems to be a common trait of Reformation era confessions, most of which incorporate some measure of "radical" Augustinianism. It has to be remembered that in many ways this was a return to the mainstream of western theological thought which took Augustine as its starting point, and then proceeded through Gregory the Great, Bede, Alcuin, and Anselm, to St Thomas Aquinas (the Angelic Doctor) and Thomas Bradwardine, the Doctoris Profundis, who was briefly Archbishop of Canterbury in 1349.

The main area of development in this period had not been in the understanding of the doctrines of Grace, but in the development of Eucharistic doctrine away from the rather straightforward understanding shown in the writings of the first three Latin doctors - Jerome, Ambrose and Augustine - into something rather more complex. The general tendency was to reinforce the doctrine of the real presence and sacrifice, whilst weakening the Communion aspect. In large measure this was a reflection of the popular piety of the time, which tended to shy away from frequent communion, and invest the Eucharist with mystical powers beyond those declared in Holy Scripture. The drift away from regular Communion was so severe that by the high Middle Ages the Church had to legislate in order to get most Christian folks to communicate once a year at Easter. This, along with the Confession that preceded it, became the "Easter Duty" of so many generations of Roman Catholics. The Reformers, especially Luther and Calvin, but also Cranmer, hoped to increase the frequency of Communion. Hence the introduction of the 'no mass without Communicants' rule in 1549; but the inertia proved to be too great for them, and although the Lutheran Church of Germany and Scandanavia managed to sustain fairly frequent Eucharists down to the Englightenment, or a little later in the case of Saxony and Sweden, in the more reformed leaning countries monthly or quarterly became the rule.

With the post Reformation emphasis being on Communion, a gulf opened up between the thinking of the Augustinians of the High Middle Ages and the Reformers in their understanding of the Eucharist. Instead of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the Mass, we have the 'true presence' and Communion as the dominant ideas in Eucharistic thought. However, the nub of this article lies in its quotation of a disputed passage from St Augustine. Parker believed the correct text to be
Qui non manet in Christo, et in quo non manet Christus procul dubio nec manducet spiritualiter carnem ejus nec bibit ejus sanguinem licit carnaliter et visibiliter premat dentibus sacramentum corporis et sanguinis Christi sed magis tantae rei sacramentum ad judicium sibi manducet et bibit (Supra. Joann. Tract 26).
The italicized passages have been questioned by the Benedictine editors of the work, but are at least as old as the time of Bede and Alcuin, and were accepted as genuine by Matthew Parker, and most authorities of the period. The contemporary discussion centered on whether St Augustine of Hippo was referring to the actual presence of the Christ in the Eucharist or the benefits thereof. Roman Catholic and Lutheran sources tended to take the latter point of view, which those influenced by Ratramnus, that is, those of the Reformed point of view, thought referred to the actual presence of Christ which was dependent on the worthiness and faith of the recipients according to their understanding of 1 Corinthians 11. Matthew Parker, and the vast majority of Anglican theologians down to the 19th century would undoubtedly have taken the Reformed party line on this Article. I personally find Article XXIX difficult to read in anything other than a receptionist sense. I guess that we can be thankful that subscription to the Articles of Religion was always on the basis of them being consonant with Scripture. In this instance, I think it is useful to fall back on the plain words of Scripture and remember what St Paul's writes in 1 Corinthians 11.29 "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body."

I actually think that what is most important about Article 29 today is the warning that it offers against unworthy reception of the Sacrament. One of the down sides of the twentieth century liturgical movement is that receiving communion has become a reflexive rather than a considered act on the part of many Christians. Yet it is quite clear from Holy Scripture, the writings of the Early Fathers, and the Reformers that Communion was meant to be a solemn act for which there was careful preparation. Before we receive communion we should look at the lengthy (by modern standards) Exhortation that is meant to be read on Advent I, Lent I, and Trinity Sunday according the rubrics of the 1928 BCP, which contains the following injunction, and take to heart what it says
" who mind to come to the holy Communion of the body and blood of our Lord and Saviour Christ, must consider how Saint Paul exhorteth all persons diligently to try and examine themselves before they presume to eat of that Bread and drink of that Cup. For as the benefit is great, if with a true penitent heart and lively faith we receive that holy Sacrament; so is the danger great if we receive the same unworthily."
The other two exhortations on the same theme should also be read from time to time to remind ourselves of the seriousness of post baptismal sin, our need to be firmly repentant and resolved to lead the new life in Christ before we come to the Lord's Table, and means available to us, including auricular confession, to make sure we can indeed "draw near with faith."

Fr. Robert Hart
This Article is not about trying to unravel the mystery of how the bread and wine are also the Body and Blood of Christ. It is not addressing again the subject of transubstantiation, or any other such theory (already covered in previous Articles). It is about salvation through Christ. It is about grace for those who receive the sacrament with hearty repentance and true faith, and the danger to those who presume to receive without faith. As such, its real focus is on the soul of an individual, and eternal destiny. It is about salvation and about judgment.  To say that the wicked are "in no wise partakers of Christ" is not about academic theories of what the sacrament is, but about Communion with Christ through faith.

As we have seen in the previous chapter, it is most likely that the use of the word "partakers" by English reformers (in Latin participes) relates to the Greek word for fellowship and communion (koinōnia). Not to be a partaker of Christ is not to be in fellowship or communion with Him. The wicked, by definition individuals living in a state of unrepentant willful sin, cannot be in communion with Christ. Such have not received forgiveness because their sins are current and practiced deliberately. "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:26)." The opening of St. John's First Epistle speaks of fellowship with God, and therefore with His Church, in terms of salvation.

Although Cranmer seemed to overlook the Eucharistic meaning in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John by spiritualizing it away from its sacramental association (a weakness in his book on the sacrament), the Scriptures and the ancient Fathers give us no other context in which to interpret the words spoken there by Jesus about eating His body and drinking His blood. As such, His words could be taken to grant salvation to anyone who merely receives the sacrament. But this would run counter to the clear words of St. Paul in the eleventh chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians. The words of Jesus, in the Gospel of John the sixth chapter, are these:

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 5:47- 54)."

Are we to understand from this passage that everlasting life is granted just by eating of that bread and drinking of that cup, as if the command to repent has no meaning in the message of salvation? Clearly, the answer is no. Therefore, the Article agrees with a basic understanding of the clear meaning of Scripture; the sacrament is not a mechanical means to eternal life (hence the problem Archbishop Robinson has noted above, of merely "reflexive" reception). In this passage Jesus connects belief in Him with receiving the sacrament.

The meaning of Christ's words in that chapter remained hidden even from His disciples until "the night in which He was betrayed." Only then were those words given a clear meaning. In the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, only those who have confessed their sins with "hearty repentance and true faith" are invited to receive the sacrament. For anyone else, "the danger is great."

Therefore, to dismiss this Article due to some scrupulous sensitivity to such issues as transubstantiation or consubstantiation, or other related and cherished ideas, is to miss the whole point it makes about salvation, that is about one's fellowship with Christ. It removes the need to balance Christ's own words in John chapter six with words He spoke earlier: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15)." It removes the need to take into account the warning of St. Paul as he wrote to the Corinthians. The danger is indeed great for those who lack the indivisible requirements of repentance and faith.


Anonymous said...

Great post. As you noted Fr. Hart, Article 29 affirms the Catholic truth laid out by John 6 and Augustine:

i.e. While the wicked may feed outwardly upon the Sacrament, it is impossible for the wicked to truly feed (i.e. in the inward man--heart/soul/mind, etc.) upon the life-giving Flesh and Blood of Christ, just as it was impossible for Adam and Eve after the Fall to partake in the Tree of Life and live forever.

Article 29 does not require that the presence of Christ be excluded from the Sacramental element or that Christ cannot come in with the Sacrament as a Judge into the unworthy recipient. Rather, only the true partaking/receiving/feeding upon Christ (i.e. in the inward man) is excluded.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

I see the word "Continued," but nothing else came through.