Friday, January 07, 2011

From the archives

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; ( For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full." (I John 1:1-4)

If God deceives the eyes and other senses by making something to appear as bread and wine that no longer has the substance thereof, both the Incarnation and eyewitness accounts of the Resurrection are called into question, and the Gospel is thereby renounced-no small matter.

Following my usual year-end wrap up new year look ahead essay, 2011, A comment by my older brother, Addison, created more of a stir than anything my younger brother has written all week (which is saying a lot). It included :

"Unless you know in your heart you can believe in such super-added dogmas as papal supremacy and infallibility (very late inventions), that Jesus did not need to possess 'faith' during his earthly years (to which I respond, was he or was he not fully human?), and that the bread and wine physically change into his body and blood during the Eucharist without any palpable evidence of it; unless you can believe in Mary's 'Immaculate Conception' (an unnecessary and unverifiable belief, if ever there was one), her bodily assumption, and so on, then I would urge you to stay put. You already have everything you need, and, what Rome would add to you, you not only do not need, but should positively avoid weighing yourselves down with. Anglicanism is doctrinally sound and blessed with great forms of worship. Rome is neither."

The question was raised again about Transubstantiation (the content of which you may perceive from the answer), to which he replied:

"I find this a curious question, since I never said that the doctrine of transubstantiation is an illusion. For one thing, 'doctrines' per se are never illusory, even if they are abstractions. They are merely right or wrong abstractions, based on right or wrong premises. The premises for the classical doctrine of transubstantiation are Aristotelian, and assume that 'substance' and 'accidents' are separate and separable aspects of physical realities. Not only is Aristotelianism no longer viable in today's world, but it was not the categories of thought used by Jesus, Paul, or the fathers of the church.

"In point of fact, classical transubstantiation does teach a sort of illusion -- the consecrated species look like bread and wine, but it's all appearances. If the same logic were applied to the doctrine of the Incarnation, we would inevitably end up with a form of Docetism. (Indeed, this has been done, with the bizarre Scholastic idea that Jesus didn't possess faith because he possessed the beatific vision throughout his earthly life instead. This, if it's actually believed, must invariably lead to a rather distorted picture of Jesus as either not fully human or else a sort of comic book superhuman.) So, yes, I'm not at all in favor of 'illusions'. I prefer sacraments, those mysteriously incarnational things that unite us to Christ spiritually, and in ways that Scholastic nonsense really can't categorize neatly."

Indeed, as we have seen before, the idea of a deceptive appearance of bread and wine leading to Docetism (i.e. a heresy which denies the reality of the Incarnation of Christ) was one of Cranmer's main objections to Transubstantiation. If God deceives the eyes and other senses by making something to appear as bread and wine that no longer has the substance thereof, both the Incarnation and eyewitness accounts of the Resurrection are called into question, and the Gospel is thereby renounced-no small matter. Cranmer was not the heretic, as too many late model Anglo-Catholics (cowering before Roman claims) have been foolish enough to allow. Transubstantiation, as understood at the time and refuted by Cranmer, was the heresy, and had the potential to lead to a complete rejection of the Gospel.

"The papastical doctrine is against all our outward senses called our five wits...Christ never made no such article of our faith. Our faith teacheth us to believe things that we see not, but it doth not bid us, that we shall not believe that we see daily with our eyes, and hear with our ears, and grope with our hands. For although our senses cannot reach so far as our faith doth, yet so far as the compass of our senses doth usually reach, our faith is not contrary to the same, but rather our senses do confirm our faith. Or else what availed it to St. Thomas, for the confirmation of Christ's resurrection, that he did put his hand into Christ's side, and felt his wounds, if he might not trust his senses, nor give no credit thereto?

"And what a wide door is here opened to Valentinianus, Marcion and other heretics which said that Christ was 'not crucified, but that Simon Cyrenaeus was crucified for him, although to the sight of the people it seemed that Christ was crucified?' or to such heretics as said, that 'Christ was no man, although to men's sights he appeared in the form of man, and seemed to be hungry, dry, weary, to weep, sleep, eat, drink, yea, and to die like as other men do.' For if we once admit this doctrine, that no credit is to be given to our senses, we open a large field, and give a great occasion unto an innumerable rabblement of most heinous heresies." (Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, A Defence of the True and Catholick Doctrine of the Sacrament)

It has been objected that too much (how to measure such a thing?) Reformed Theology can lead to accusations that the Papacy is, as an office, the Antichrist. Of course, we could make no such accusation, especially in light of Rome's solid belief in the Incarnation. But, the fourth chapter of St. John's First Epistle may have been why Cranmer, the sixty-ninth Archbishop of Canterbury, called the pope of his time by the very unflattering title, Antichrist. Cranmer had good reason to believe that Transubstantiation, as commonly understood during his lifetime, carried the potential to lead to a denial of the Incarnation.

"Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." (I John 4:2,3)

Rome avoided this, thank God; but if anyone wants to know why Cranmer used the "A" word, at least give the man his due in the context of his own era.

All this talk about Transubstantiation led someone to ask about the Black Rubric. Well, I have never been afraid to face anything on this blog, not even the dreaded toilet monster or the other monster that hides under every child's bed, that hid under mine long, long ago. Therefore, unafraid of ghosts and goblins (even unafraid of the dreaded "P" word), I decided some time ago to write about the Black Rubric, not fearing that it might come to life from my English BCP and suck out all my blood when I was asleep.

Here then, from the archives of The Continuum, first posted on Nov. 27, 2008 :

Transubstantiation and the Black Rubric

a. Council of Trent, Session 13
On Transubstantiation.

And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.

b. Article XXVIII. Of the Lord's Supper.

THE Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves, one to another, but rather it is a sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith receive the same, the bread which we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, and likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ.Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions. The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

c. The "Black Rubric"

"Whereas it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord's Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgment of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved: It is hereby declared, That thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ's natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's natural Body to be at one time in more places than one."

d. From God is near Us, (2003, San Fransisco, Ignatius Press) by Pope Benedict XVI, (published initially under the name Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger)

The Lord takes possession of the bread and the wine; he lifts them up, as it were, out of the setting of their normal existence into a new order; even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same, they have become profoundly different.


Internet theology suffers from two defects: 1) Knee-jerk reaction and 2) Nominalism. Not that the internet is the cause of these problems, inasmuch as it is merely one very fast method of communication that displays the general working of human reason in both its glory and ugliness, its strength and its feebleness. Everyone knows that the Earth is flat; or, at least everyone knew this until until it was proved otherwise; but even then, everyone knew that the sun, moon and stars orbited the earth until that irksome troublemaker Copernicus came along, and demonstrated otherwise, as if we really needed to know about the Solar System. Well, he can't spoil this one: Everyone knows the clear dividing line between Protestants and Catholics, especially when it comes to all this stuff about the Eucharist and Christ's Real Presence. And, as everybody knows, there is certainly no mystery about the sacrament. It either is or it ain't. Knee-jerk reaction and Nominalism aren't dead yet. What could be more obvious than the fact that all of the above quotations cannot be reconciled? It is every bit as obvious as the fact that the Earth is flat as a pancake.

For centuries our Roman Catholic brethren have charged that Anglicans, by denying transubstantiation, have rejected any concept of the Real Presence of Christ in the sacrament. Adding to their voice has been the inferiority complex of some Anglo-Catholics who assume that this charge is true, since, like the flatness of the Earth, it is so damned obvious. There it is in black and red, especially in the "Black Rubric." This fact is safe and secure unless some theological Copernicus should happen to come along. Unfortunately, for knee-jerk Nominalists everywhere, that Copernicus has come along, thinking like an Anglican, reasoning like a Prayer-Book Catholic, Pope Benedict XVI has weighed in.

Using our heads

"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy...mind." It is simply astounding that so many people insist on throwing around words without stopping to consider the basic problem of communication. Words require definition, especially in a science. And, that is exactly what theology is, in fact "the Queen of the sciences." It does no good to use a weighty word like "transubstantiation" without pausing to make sure we have a definition that is both acceptable and commonly known to all parties. Such has not been the case with this word. Furthermore, the definition given in the Council of Trent is not helpful at all, since it begs the philosophical craftsmanship that Rome's best minds have tackled only in modern times, especially Joseph Ratzinger who penned the homily from which the above quotation is taken. From the 16th century until the late 20th century, "transubstantiation" was a Nominalist buzz-word, and a superficial bone of contention.

When Anglicans rejected "transubstantiation" they were quite right. They were not rejecting the Real presence of Christ in the sacrament at all, especially inasmuch as they affirmed it clearly in the Holy Communion service of the Book of Common Prayer: "Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood..." Not symbols, not memorials, not metaphors; like St. Paul writing to the Corinthians, they simply affirmed the truth that the bread and wine were in fact the Body and Blood of Christ. In the words of Queen Elizabeth I: "'Twas God the word that spake it, He took the Bread and brake it; And what the word did make it, That I believe and take it."

So, why do I say the Anglicans were right? The answer to how the Anglicans were able to reject "transubstantiation" and yet not reject, as we mean the expression today, the Real Presence is in that very "Black Rubric" that far too many Anglo-Catholics find embarrassing. For heaven's sake-if they would only think about it, they would be glad that the offending passage clears them of the Roman-Polemicist charge. For, it demonstrates that the entire problem was simply one of definition.

Many times I have pointed out that when the Anglicans of past generations rejected "transubstantiation" it was not the same doctrine that modern Roman Catholics believe, and not the same doctrine that Pope Benedict XVI carefully laid out (as a corrective, I might add, in case any of his own people were still thinking along the early Medieval lines he so strongly denounced). They were rejecting, as Pope Benedict does, a "crude material understanding" by which the bread becomes flesh and the wine becomes blood physically, or materially. They were rejecting, as Pope Benedict felt compelled in modern times to teach his own people to reject, a definition of "transubstantiation" by which the conversion of "the whole substance" means that the appearance of bread and wine conceals the physical reality of Christ's flesh and blood. They were sure that what the Council of Trent was teaching actually did amount to cannibalism, an eating of human flesh and and drinking of human blood, which thing they saw as an abomination and superstition that overthrew the nature of a sacrament.

When I have pointed this out, Roman Catholic Polemicists have reacted instead of responding. "That's not what we ever believed." This answer is not at all useful, since the issue here is one of perception. Furthermore, then Archbishop, later Cardinal, Ratzinger-now the Pope-saw a need to teach this clearly to his own people:

"Jesus is not there like a piece of meat, not in the realm of what can be measured and quantified...How should we relate to reality? What is 'real'?...Concerning the Eucharist it is said to us: The substance is transformed, that is to say, the fundamental basis of its being...Whenever the Body of Christ, that is, the risen and bodily Christ, comes, he is greater than the bread, other, not of the same order. The transformation happens, which affects the gifts we bring by taking them up into a higher order and changes them, even if we cannot measure what happens...The Lord takes possession of the bread and the wine; he lifts them up, as it were, out of the setting of their normal existence into a new order; even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same, they have become profoundly different."

Maybe this is what the Council of Trent meant, using unfortunate wording that lent itself to misunderstanding. Then again, considering the period, maybe not. Nonetheless, it is the fault of Rome, not of Canterbury, that this confusion was allowed to go unchecked until modern times. A few simple words could have clarified everything much sooner. Yet, even as late as my own childhood in the 1950s and 1960s, those words had not come.

Thinking philosophically

Pope Benedict gets to a very important issue, namely the nature of reality. Even a term as strong as "a conversion...of the whole substance" needed never to have caused such division and confusion, inasmuch as a spiritual reality is every bit as real as a physical one. "The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner." In every way, these words are compatible with the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI, and the definition that has finally been given in our day of the word "transubstantiation." Even the "Black Rubric" is perfectly compatible with this. "For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances...and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ's natural Body to be at one time in more places than one." Or, as the Pope put it, "The Lord takes possession of the bread and the wine; he lifts them up, as it were, out of the setting of their normal existence into a new order; even if, from a purely physical point of view, they remain the same, they have become profoundly different."


The real problem with the "Black Rubric" is not that it is wrong, but that it is no longer relevant, and no longer guards against any genuine danger of the mind slipping into idolatry, inasmuch as the old confusion has cleared away. This brings us to but one matter that requires clarification. The Anglican caution about adoration of the sacrament is not referring to veneration, but to worship, that specific worship (latreia, λατρεία) due only to God himself. Here it may be argued that if we believe in the Real Presence of Christ, then our adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is directed to God the Son, not to the physical elements. However, that kind of reasoning takes us to a different category than what the "Black Rubric" actually addressed. The sort of adoration it warned against would be quite wrong. For, it warned against adoration of a "Corporal Presence of Christ's natural Flesh and Blood." Such a corporal presence is not what the Church teaches, rendering such adoration misplaced. Not to be irreverent, but if we placed the sacramental body and blood of Christ under a microscope, we would see wheat and the blood of grapes. Neither could we find in them the DNA of Jesus of Nazareth; and yet He is in those elements, and is present in very truth, as real as reality can be, Present as the food and drink of eternal life. And, this is what Anglicans have always called "the nature of a sacrament."

So, it is past the time to throw away knee-jerk reaction and Nominalism, to follow the example of Pope Benedict XVI, and to both think and communicate with clarity. It may be less fun than a barn-yard scrap or a two-fisted saloon brawl, such as internet theology often is. But, that is simply the pain of growing up.


Brendan said...

Oh shucks, Fr Robert, I am a great fan of the Westerns, what's wrong with a "two fisted saloon brawl?"
In all seriousness, however, this blog has cleared up some of my limited understanding on the topic as well as answered some critics who wished to 'take me to task'(erroneously now,on reading your insights) over some of Fr Addison's comments.
Keep up the good work!

Jack Miller said...

Great post. Nail... meet hammer. Gosh, we need more of this from every corner of the Church.


lexflyingfish said...

Thank you; this is a great post and gives me a lot to think about!

Steve Hutchens said...

Very well said, Bob. That's something like I would say it if I had your eloquence.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


There are things I would say if I had your eloquence.

Thank you.

Paul Rimmer said...

There are a few Roman doctrines I firmly believe in. The immaculate conception of Mary is an example. I also find great spiritual benefit in praying the rosary.

But I'm still a proud Anglican, in part because of Rome's position on the Immaculate Conception and related doctrines. I believe some of these things, but I don't think these things should be required for belief.

They are not in the Scriptures, and they were not part of the Apostolic Tradition. There is no justification for making them into anything more than they are. And what they are is speculative theology.

This is one of the more minor reasons for my being Anglican, the freedom to worship with others who don't agree on all these speculative points, that don't have to. We are not told every little opinion we should have. Rather, we are united by our common faith, expressed in the ancient formulation of the Nicene Creed.

The main reason I'm Anglican? Because it's the fullness of the Catholic faith. Why do I need anything else?