Hebrews: Only One New Priest and Sacrifice

I decided I had had enough fun taking on the toothless lions of modern atheism. So I found new opponents to spar with (not enemies, but people to have a bit of fun with) in the Roman Catholics, and on this matter probably also the Anglo-Catholics.

No, I am not getting involved in the row about the Pope’s forthcoming visit to Britain, and about what he said about British equal rights laws, not least because I agree with him on this matter.

However, I have  expressed by disagreement with Brant Pitre, a Roman Catholic professor of theology in New Orleans. Brant asks a question at The Sacred Page: Does Hebrews Envision a New Ministerial Priesthood? That was how that epistle was interpreted at the Council of Trent in the 16th century – very likely in reaction against Reformation scholars who argued that there was no support in the New Testament for a specific class of Christian priests.

The Council of Trent found its support for a new priesthood in Hebrews 7:12. But it could only do so by wrenching that verse entirely out of context. For it is clear from that context that the “changed” priesthood of that verse is that of Jesus Christ – and that one of the main changes is from having many priests to having just one (7:23-24).

Brant finds a positive answer to his question not so much in 7:12 as in 13:10, where he sees the new altar and the mention of eating as a reference to the Eucharist, which to him, as a Roman Catholic, is a sacrifice and implies a priesthood.

This verse again needs to be seen in context:

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by the eating of ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who observe such rituals. 10 We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Hebrews 13:9-13 (TNIV)

Here is my first comment in reply to Brant:

Surely (at least it seems sure from my Protestant perspective) the altar in Hebrews 13:10 is the one in the new holy place described earlier in the book. Chapters 8-10 spell out how the Jerusalem temple has been replaced not by church buildings with altars but by a heavenly sanctuary of which the temple was just a copy (8:1-6), a “greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands” (9:11). It is in this sanctuary, and so presumably on its altar, that Christ was sacrificed once (9:24-28). So the author proclaims the end of the old system by which priests offer daily sacrifices in a man-made building (10:11-14). Thus there is no way that in this author’s thinking the altar of 13:10 is one for daily sacrifices like the mass. He or she may have been thinking of the cross as the “altar” on which Christ died, but more likely of the altar in the heavenly tabernacle, from which flows the grace, contrasted with ceremonial foods (13:9), by which Christians alone are fed and strengthened.

If there is a reference to the Eucharist at all in this letter, I would suggest that it is in the “strange teachings” about the benefits of “ceremonial foods” mentioned in 13:9.

In reply to a further comment from Brant, I wrote:

Brant, I will grant that the “ceremonial foods” of 13:9 are “the earthly food eaten in the earthly Temple from the earthly altar”. But they are contrasted not with the Eucharist but with “grace”. So surely the same contrast is continued in 13:10, and on into verse 12: what the old priests could not eat but we can is this same grace. Of course we eat this only metaphorically. I can grant that the elements of the Eucharist are a sign or sacrament of this grace, but not that they are the literal referent here.

This chapter goes on to explain that there are sacrifices which Christians should offer: praise (v.15) and good works (v.16). But it is not through these sacrifices, but only through the blood of Christ (v.12), that we are made holy and worthy to come into God’s presence.

Yes, I can accept some kind of allusion to the Eucharist at 13:10. But I see it as a complete misunderstanding of Hebrews to see it as arguing for replacement of the Aaronic priesthood and sacrifices with a class of Christian priests offering the sacrifice of the Mass. Such a thought could not have been further from this author’s mind. He or she makes the main point very clearly: in the New Covenant there is just one priest, Jesus Christ, who offered one sacrifice, his own death on the cross.

And yes, there are the sacrifices of praise and of good works mentioned in 13:15,16. But these do not make us acceptable to God; rather they are the response to him of people who are already holy in his sight. And they are not to be offered by a special caste of priests but by all Christians, who are in that sense a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) of all believers.

Proof texting and communion in one kind: the same kind of error

I just realised an interesting link between proof texting, the theology of which I blogged about yesterday, and the issue I raised in my series two weeks ago about the validity of communion in one kind.

I quoted the following from Frank Viola and George Barna’s chapter on proof texting:

The Protestant scholastics held that not only is the Scripture the Word of God, but every part of it is the Word of God in and of itself—irrespective of context. This set the stage for the idea that if we lift a verse out of the Bible, it is true in its own right and can be used to prove a doctrine or a practice.

That clause “every part of it is the Word of God in and of itself” sounds remarkably like the Roman Catholic doctrine of concomitance, as defined by Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary:

The doctrine that explains why the whole Christ is present under each Eucharistic species. Christ is indivisible, so that his body cannot be separated from his blood, his human soul, his divine nature, and his divine personality. Consequently he is wholly present in the Eucharist.

I discussed this doctrine in a previous post. My point there was that this doctrine is specifically Roman Catholic and so should not be appealed to by Anglicans – although it probably lies behind the Archbishops’ advice of which I was so critical.

My point now is a different one. This Roman Catholic doctrine of concomitance, that the whole of Jesus, the Word of God, is present in each of the communion elements, was apparently developed by the original mediaeval scholastic theologians or “Schoolmen”, of whom the best known is Thomas Aquinas. Their scholastic method and use of Aristotelian logic was taken up by the Protestant scholastics that Viola and Barna refer to – in a footnote they name Francis Turretin and Martin Chemnitz. And these scholastics came to the analogous conclusion that every part of Scripture, even a verse lifted out of context, “is the Word of God in and of itself”.

Where do they find that supported in Scripture? I don’t think they can even find a verse lifted out of context to support it. Rather, it is a result of Aristotelian logic as developed by the various scholastics, going far beyond what God has chosen to reveal in his Word.

God doesn’t want us to find him in and through just a part of Scripture or one half of communion, and to rationalise away our rejection of the other element or of the parts of his Word that we find less palatable. He has provided the whole Bible and ordained both communion elements. We should make proper use of all the gifts that he has given.

Swine flu panic over – will anyone tell the bishops?

The latest news on swine flu confirms what I have always thought: the “pandemic” is little more than a pandemic of panic, plus a few people getting a nasty headache for a couple of days. Here is the latest news from the BBC:

Big drop in new swine flu cases

The number of new cases of H1N1 swine flu in England and Scotland has fallen significantly, latest figures show.

England recorded an estimated 30,000 cases last week, compared with 110,000 the week before. In Scotland estimated numbers fell from 1,500 to 1,050.

The Health Protection Agency said there was no sign that the virus was mutating into a more lethal form, or developing resistance to drugs.

I don’t like to say “I told you so”. But I did, at least in a comment on Paul Trathen’s blog. Paul showed that he was not much of a prophet when he wrote, on 24th July:

It is a matter of fairly inevitable exponential arithmetic that numbers of those contracting this illness will escalate very sharply indeed over the coming weeks …

I replied on the same day:

Continued exponential growth of swine flu is not inevitable. I understand that in some countries including Scotland its spread is slowing down.

We can only guess why this illness is no longer spreading. It could be the warm weather – but probably not as until today it has been quite cool here. It could be the school holidays. It could be people taking more care not to touch and breathe on one another. I doubt if it has much to do with the Communion cup no longer being offered in many churches.

To be fair, I can’t claim to be a prophet either, for the BBC is also reporting:

Officials have always predicted rates of infection would fall away in the summer before a large surge in the autumn to coincide with the normal flu season.

Well, we may see a surge, but also the main danger from swine flu will have passed, for

the first swine flu vaccines are likely to be licensed for use in the general population in September

– just in time to protect those who are vulnerable to anything more than a headache.

But when will the archbishops and bishops of the Church of England admit that they have overreacted and withdraw their theologically as well as medically flawed advice to clergy to withhold the Communion cup from their congregations?

The Church Times writes sense about Communion

I have just seen the leader in the Church Times for 31st July (thanks to Dave Walker’s Church Times blog for the link). And I was interested to see that this significant newspaper more or less agrees with the position I have taken about Communion being offered in both kinds, although from a more pragmatic perspective. After a summary of negative reactions received (including those in letters to the editor, which I am not able to read as I am not a subscriber), the leader writer continues:

Confusion and distress about the method of administration is not good for the Church, and, at the very least, is yet another distraction from the purpose of the eucharist itself … In this situation, the clergy need to offer the laity as much choice as possible, in order to remove any feeling of coercion … Any permanent change in the practice of the Church of England should not, however, be allowed to come about simply on the basis of a crisis mentality and the publication of press releases — even archiepiscopal ones.

Indeed. My only real objection is to the leader writer’s appeal to “the doctrine of concomitance”, defined by Webster’s as:

(R.C.Ch.) The doctrine of the existence of the entire body of Christ in the eucharist, under each element, so that the body and blood are both received by communicating in one kind only.

In other words, this appears to be a specifically Roman Catholic teaching, presumably to justify the mediaeval withdrawal of the Communion cup from the laity which was quite specifically and deliberately repudiated by the founders of the independent Church of England. If this is the doctrine that the archbishops and bishops are tacitly appealing to, that is, if they present Roman Catholic doctrine as the standard for the Church of England, then why haven’t they already submitted to the Pope? I don’t mean to sound anti-Catholic, but I do have strong objections to this kind of attempt to be more Catholic even than His Holiness.

Anyway, three cheers to the Church Times for standing up to the archbishops in such a high profile way, one which they will not be able to ignore.

Nazir-Ali out of line on the Communion cup

Not many people have read my blog series What Anglicans have not always held about Communion. I can’t say I blame the rest of you – it is heavy going. But if anyone wants to get the general idea I recommend reading just part 5: summary and conclusions.

Anyway, what this means is that not many people have noticed what I discovered and reported in part 4 of the series: that Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, together with his suffragan the Bishop of Tonbridge, have stepped out of line with the Archbishops of the Church of England. Not for the first time, of course, for Nazir-Ali, but this time it is nothing directly to do with GAFCON or the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

With one exception, all of the dioceses and bishops whose recent swine flu advice I have seen have closely followed the line recommended by the Archbishops:

In the light of this advice, we recommend those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the administration of the chalice during this wave of pandemic flu.   For those who still wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend the practice whereby the presiding minister … personally intincts all wafers before placing them in the hands of communicants.

Not all of the dioceses and bishops have suggested the intinction alternative, but all that I have seen, with the one exception, have recommended withholding the Communion cup from the lay people, in contravention of the Thirty-Nine Articles.

This doesn’t imply that all bishops agree with the advice. The blogging Bishop Alan Wilson (not a diocesan bishop) has in fact indicated some severe misgivings, in this comment and this one on this very blog. But they are surely under strong pressure to defer to the Archbishops and to government health advice – even though that health advice is seriously flawed, as is the church’s reaction to other parts of the same advice. I note by the way that in its latest advice on swine flu (which they insist on calling “Influenza ‘A’ (H1N1)”), the Diocese of Oxford, in which Alan Wilson is a bishop, avoids issuing its own advice to “suspend the chalice” but simply reports the Archbishops’ recommendation.

But, as far as I have seen, it is only the Diocese of Rochester which has officially, if subtly, stepped out of line on this matter. The advice which it has issued to all its clergy, in the name of Bishops Nazir-Ali of Rochester and Castle of Tonbridge, closely follows the wording of the Archbishops’ recommendation, but adds to it in a way which gives clear priority to the Archbishops’ alternative of intinction, with communion in one kind downgraded from the main recommendation to “possible” (points of difference from the Archbishops’ advice in italics):

Accordingly we recommend that those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the usual administration of the chalice to others during this wave of pandemic flu. The consequence of this is that it will be possible for communicants to receive in one kind. However, St. Paul reminds us of the importance of the common cup (I Cor.10.16) and so for those who […] wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend the practice whereby the President … personally intincts (dips into the wine) all wafers before placing them in the hands of communicants.

The appeal to the Bible added in Rochester is followed up by an added appeal to the Thirty-Nine Articles:

the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup and, therefore, in Communion in both kinds (Article 30).

The clear implication is that the Rochester bishops, like Bishop Alan Wilson and myself, have strong theological reservations about withdrawing the common cup, based on the Bible and the Thirty-Nine Articles. These two bishops have taken there reservations seriously enough to dissent from passing on the Archbishops’ advice to suspend the Communion cup.

Well done, Bishops Nazir-Ali and Castle! I wish that more bishops and archbishops would have the courage to question the flawed advice from the government, and from their own advisers, to recognise the theological importance of the common cup (which I explained in my series), to stop panicking, and to recommend that (here quoting the Oxford Diocese advice) “As in any crisis, the Church should remain open for business as usual” including in the way that it offers the Communion.

http://www.qaya.org/blog/?p=1211

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 5: summary and conclusions

This post concludes the series in the previous posts: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. It is also intended to be a summary of the whole series for those who don’t want to read it all.

The series started with the Bishop of Chelmsford’s reply to my Open Letter to him, including the words

It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that receiving Communion in one kind we receive the full blessing of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

His words are based on these commended by the Archbishops:

when [Communion] is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less.

My argument is that this is not correct. Anglicans have held a wide range of views about Communion, as I described in parts 2 and 3 of the series. Certainly one of those views is the one set out in the Thirty-Nine articles, which was held by the founders of the Church of England as a separate entity in the 16th century, and is still held by many Anglicans today. I have sought to argue that Anglicans who take this view of Communion cannot consistently agree that “when it is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less”, and so that the existence of this view among Anglicans demonstrates that the Archbishops and the Bishop of Chelmsford are wrong.

This also implies that their advice on swine flu is theologically flawed and damaging to the Church. I also believe that it is scientifically flawed, because the risk of catching swine flu from the Communion cup is much less than from all the other interaction at a typical church service – but in this series I am concentrating on the theological issues.

Note carefully that I am by no means trying to impose on my fellow Anglicans this view from the Thirty-Nine Articles, which is similar to my own view. I am merely pointing out that it is a genuinely Anglican view which should not be ignored or marginalised in the Church of England today.

So, what is that I find so objectionable about the Bishop of Chelmsford’s advice to his clergy? It is the words “the fullness of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion”, whereas the Archbishops, and Bishop N.T. Wright, referred only to “the fullness of the Sacrament”. As we saw in part 2 of this series, there are different ideas about in exactly what sense Christ is present in the sacrament. On my own view, and that of the Thirty-Nine Articles, he is present only spiritually, not in any kind of material form. And on that view of course his presence and activity does not depend on me actually consuming anything. So one might expect me to agree with the various bishops that actually drinking the wine is not necessary for the communicant to receive the full blessing of the sacrament.

Yet I cannot agree with this. It is not because an individual does not receive the wine that that person does not receive the full blessing. Rather, in the way I see it, the individual misses out on the blessing because the congregation in general does not receive the wine. So on my view if people with specific health problems, or concerns about the risk of infection, decline one or both of the elements, that does not affect the blessing they receive. What does affect the blessing is when the wine is not offered to the people as a whole, but to no one, or only to a small group of clergy and their assistants.

Why? Because the communion is not being offered according to Jesus Christ’s ordinance. These are his words of institution, as recorded by Matthew:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”27 Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. …”

Matthew 26:26-28 (TNIV)

If the cup is not offered to the assembled people so that all of them can drink from it, if they wish, then the Communion is not being offered as Jesus instituted it. And if the Lord’s ordinance is not followed, then the Communion is nothing but bread and wine, and the Lord’s blessing cannot be presumed on.

Looked at from this perspective, the Archbishops’ advisor’s words are incoherent. He notes, correctly, that

communion in both kinds is the norm in the Church of England, in faithfulness to Christ’s institution,

but then goes on to recommend a different form of Communion which is clearly not “in faithfulness to Christ’s institution”. Surely the Archbishops don’t intend to commend this advice to disobey Jesus Christ? But that is what these words imply. Did Bishop N.T. Wright really intend to give the same advice? But that is what his very similar words amount to.

It is the Bishops of Rochester and Tonbridge who have offered the correct advice, writing that

the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup.

I appeal to all of the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England to endorse these words of Bishops Nazir-Ali and Castle and change their swine flu advice accordingly. They should withdraw their recommendation that the cup should be withheld from lay people. Instead they should advise that, whereas churches may use intinction by the priest if they prefer, and while those who prefer not to take the cup on health grounds should be given a decent option of declining it, the recommended practice in the Church of England remains that of Article 30 of the Thirty-Nine, to offer to the whole congregation the Communion in both kinds.

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 4

After writing my first, second and third posts in this series all in one day, I needed a bit of a break for reflection, and to catch up on other matters of life, such as pleasing my wife to be. (Yes, I am aware of 1 Corinthians 7:32-34a!) But now I am ready to come back to what various bishops have written about the Communion, and how it doesn’t matter if the wine is not distributed.

John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, wrote in his letter to his clergy:

Congregation members may need to be assured that receiving communion in one kind in no way diminishes the fullness of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

– and then in his reply to my open letter:

It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that receiving Communion in one kind we receive the full blessing of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bishop of Chelmsford has very likely based his advice on this which is found in a document which the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have commended:

The clergy should emphasize that while communion in both kinds is the norm in the Church of England, in faithfulness to Christ’s institution, when it is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less.

The following version of the advice has been issued apparently in the name of the N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, on his diocesan website:

The Bishop’s view is that congregations should now receive communion in one kind – that is bread only, with only the president receiving the wine. Congregations should be reassured that while communion in both kinds is usual within the Church of England in faithfulness to our Lord’s institution, the fullness of the Sacrament is none the less received in one kind and its validity is not in question.

The advice offered by the Diocese of St Albans is taken almost word for word from the document commended by the Archbishops. No doubt similar advice has been issued by most if not all the dioceses of the Church of England.

Interestingly, however, in their letter to their clergy the controversial Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, and his suffragan the Bishop of Tonbridge, Brian Castle, have taken a very different line. They avoid any suggestion that communion in one kind is acceptable and recommend, as a temporary measure, intinction by the priest – mentioned as an alternative by the Archbishops but not at all by the Bishop of Chelmsford. Most significantly, the Rochester bishops are the only ones I have seen to offer any theological background to their advice:

St. Paul reminds us of the importance of the common cup (I Cor.10.16) … the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup and, therefore, in Communion in both kinds (Article 30).

Well done, Bishops Michael and Brian, for writing this, while carefully avoiding contradicting the Archbishops’ advice. Would that the advice that Rowan Williams and John Sentamu commended had been based not only on Catholic theology but also on the Bible and on Anglican tradition as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles!

I am now nearly at the end of my discussion, but I will leave that for part 5, in which I summarise the series and present my conclusions.

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 3

This is a continuation of part 1 and part 2.

Before looking in detail at what the Bishop of Chelmsford wrote about Communion, I want to examine a document drawn to my attention by “BillyD”, commenting at the Thinking Anglicans thread about this matter: an Agreed Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine issued in 1971 by the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). Quoting from this Statement, BillyD claims that

The Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have “reached substantial agreement on the doctrine of the eucharist.”

But does this mean that the Roman Catholic Church has abandoned the doctrine of transubstantiation, or that the Anglican Communion has abandoned its rejection of this doctrine? I don’t think so. For one thing, this ARCIC agreed statement was never officially accepted as the doctrine of the Church of England, which is still formally based on the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. Also, this document manages very carefully to avoid specifying any one agreed view of the Communion, instead allowing for the partial truth of each of them. Thus there appears to be a statement of transubstantiation:

Communion with Christ in the eucharist presupposes his true presence, effectually signified by the bread and wine which, in this mystery, become his body and blood.

This statement was sufficiently controversial that it had to be explained in the later (1979) Elucidation document. However, this Elucidation seems to be self-contradictory:

Becoming does not here imply material change. … Before the eucharistic prayer, to the question: ‘What is that?’, the believer answers: ‘It is bread.’ After the eucharistic prayer, to the same question he answers: ‘It is truly the body of Christ, the Bread of Life.’

Well, does the material of the bread remain bread, or does it change into something different? The issue seems to have been fudged.

On the other hand, in the 1971 document there is a section upholding memorialism, in a subtly changed form:

The notion of memorial as understood in the passover celebration at the time of Christ—i.e. the making effective in the present of an event in the past—has opened the way to a clearer understanding of the relationship between Christ’s sacrifice and the eucharist. The eucharistic memorial is no mere calling to mind of a past event or of its significance, but the church’s effectual proclamation of God’s mighty acts. Christ instituted the eucharist as a memorial (anamnesis) of the totality of God’s reconciling action in him.

And there is a clear statement of real spiritual presence, with the body and blood of Christ being received only by faith:

The sacramental body and blood of the Savior are present as an offering to the believer awaiting his welcome. When this offering is met by faith, a lifegiving encounter results. … Christ’s body and blood become really present and are really given. But they are really present and given in order that, receiving them, believers may be united in communion with Christ the Lord.

So what has been billed as “substantial agreement” is in reality a recognition that each of the views is part of the truth about the Communion, but that no one view is complete and perfect. Well, this reminds me of what I have written about the Atonement, that each of the models of it offers part of the truth, but no one of them is a complete description of a reality beyond human comprehension. I am happy to apply the same principle to models of the Communion.

But I am not sure if it is possible to avoid giving a clear answer to a simple question like this one: if some consecrated bread and wine by accident find their way out of the church building and are eaten by an unbelieving beggar who doesn’t know where they came from, is the beggar in any sense receiving the body and blood of Christ? Roman Catholics would certainly answer “yes”, because for them the elements have objectively become the body and blood, and I think most Anglicans today would do as well. But my answer would be “no”, and that was clearly the answer of the author of Article 29 of the Thirty-Nine, based on no less an authority than Augustine of Hippo:

The Wicked, and such as be void of a 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 …

So I can’t agree that this ARCIC document provides an acceptable “substantial agreement on the doctrine of the eucharist”. Nor can I give priority to this supposedly agreed view over the understanding set out in the historic formularies of the Church of England. The ARCIC view may be one Anglican view of the Communion, but it is by no means the only one that needs to be recognised as genuinely Anglican.

I hadn’t intended to write quite so much on this issue, but it has become long enough for its own part of this series. So I will leave the discussion for now and continue in part 4part 5: summary and conclusions.

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 2

This post is a continuation of part 1.

I intend to look specifically at the Bishop of Chelmsford’s statement

It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that receiving Communion in one kind we receive the full blessing of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But first I would like to examine the different understandings of Communion or the Eucharist which have been held in various parts of the Church, and compare them with the teaching of the Thirty-Nine Articles. I use the term “Communion” (not “Holy Communion”) as that is what it is called in the Book of Common Prayer; in the Articles it is referred to as “the Lord’s Supper”.

There are several different understandings of the Communion, and specifically of whether and how Jesus Christ is really present during it, as conveniently summarised here:

  • Transubstantiation: This is the Roman Catholic view that the substance of the elements (the bread and the wine) is transformed into the body and blood of Christ, while retaining the accidents (physical and chemical properties) of bread and wine. This understanding is specifically rejected in Article 28 of the Thirty-Nine:

    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.

  • Consubstantiation and Sacramental Union: In these two slightly differing understandings, associated especially with the Lutheran church, the elements are considered to remain bread and wine, and the body and blood of Christ are said to be united with the bread and the wine in some objective way, irrespective of the faith of the recipient. This view, which implies that even unbelievers who take the elements receive the body and blood, is repudiated by these parts of Articles 28 and 29 of the Thirty-Nine:

    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 Wicked, and such as be void of a 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 …

  • “Objective reality, but pious silence about technicalities”: The view so described at Wikipedia, and attributed to “perhaps most Anglicans”, is also condemned by the same parts of Articles 28 and 29, which clearly rule out any objective reality understanding of the Communion.
  • Memorialism: In this view, associated with the Reformer Zwingli and held by most Protestant Christians apart from Anglicans and Lutherans, the Communion is simply a memorial of the death of Jesus, and “Christ is not present in the sacrament, except in the minds and hearts of the communicants.” This view also seems to go against the Thirty-Nine Articles, in this case again Article 28:

    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.

  • Real Spiritual presence, or Pneumatic presence: This view, or spectrum of views, is that Jesus Christ is present in the Communion in a real but spiritual way, for those who receive the elements with faith. This clearly seems to be the concept expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles, in particular in the passage just quoted from Article 28. It is also my own view of the Communion. At Wikipedia this view is explained as the Holy Spirit making Christ present. But the Thirty-Nine Articles do not make explicit the agency of the Holy Spirit; instead they use sacramental language, specifically in Articles 25 and 26:

    Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.

    … the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise …

I note these last words “effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise”, which are significant because they imply that the Communion has to be performed according to “Christ’s institution and promise”. That is one point that I have at issue with the Bishop of Chelmsford’s instructions. I also want to argue that the Bishop is presupposing a view of the Communion which goes against the Thirty-Nine Articles and so, I would claim, is not an authentically Anglican one.

I will continue this in part 3part 4, part 5: summary and conclusions.