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.

7 thoughts on “What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 2

  1. Peter

    This takes me back to the assignment I did on Communion during my Reader training. Again, you have presented a fair, clear , succinct and understandable summary of the varied understandings. In fact I have often found it difficult to summarise the Consubstantiation understanding, and how it differs from Transubstantiation.

    I too feel your final “option” is closest to the sense of the 39 Articles. I have never felt easy with the simple memorialist view, though to use the diamond analogy again, it is certainly one facet. I note Paul’s comment in 1 Cor 11 that if we receive unworthily (which I understand as meaning with a wrong attitude) we bring condemnation on ourselves. I see a corollary that if we receive with a right attitude we derive spiritual benefit. So while I do not accept Transubstantiation, I do accept a “real” (spritual) presence of Christ in the elements to the benefit of those who faithfully receive.

    My younger brother, who is a Baptist minister, has pointed out that this position near enough accords with what Calvin sets out in the Institutes. I have checked this out, and would agree. (He is closer to Calvinism than either of us!) In fact, for what it’s worth, I would say there is a heavy leaning to much of Calvin’s theology in the Articles.

  2. Thank you, Colin. Of course Calvin’s theology was developing in parallel with Cranmer’s, so the Institutes in their final form might be dependent on Cranmer’s 42 Articles rather than vice versa.

  3. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 3

  4. From what little I read from Cranmer, I would also agree that Cranmer’s view of communion is closest to Calvin’s, which is a spiritual presence.

    I remember mentioning that in a paper I wrote for a theology prof but he denied it.

  5. Thanks, Kevin. Do you remember the theology prof’s argument? Cranmer’s view seems a bit different from the standard spiritual presence one, but is closer to that than to any of the others I have listed. Perhaps it deserves to be considered a separate view – but first it needs to be clearly understood.

  6. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 5: summary and conclusions

  7. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 1

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