Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Richard Hooker on Communion of Christ's Body and Blood


The fruit of the Eucharist is the participation of the body and blood of Christ. There is no sentence of Holy Scripture which saith that we cannot by this sacrament be made partakers of his body and blood except they be first contained in the sacrament, or the sacrament converted into them. “This is my body,” and “this is my blood,” being words of promise, sith we all agree that by the sacrament Christ doth really and truly in us perform his promise, why do we vainly trouble ourselves with so fierce contentions whether by consubstantiation, or else by transubstantiation the sacrament itself be first possessed with Christ, or no? A thing which no way can either further or hinder us howsoever it stand, because our participation of Christ in this sacrament dependeth on the co-operation of his omnipotent power which maketh it his body and blood to us, whether with change or without alteration of the element such as they imagine we need not greatly to care nor inquire. Book V.67.6

Anyone who has diligently studied Anglicanism from its own sources, is well aware that the whole idea of being a Protestant was to be a true Catholic. These things do not contradict each other, and indeed, according to the Anglican paradigm, only such a Protestant is practicing the Catholic Faith, and believing that doctrine that has been, from the earliest times, Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est. Richard Hooker, a perfect example of the Catholic Protestant (or Protestant Catholic) in the Church of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and one of the finest theologians and scholars of the period, expressed the Anglican mind with clarity. His writing would not satisfy any modern day "Reasserter," and equally, would not satisfy any Anglo-Papalist. On the subject of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he refused to be painted into a corner by any of the continental European parties of western Christendom.

The emphasis for him was the saving effect of the sacrament as a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ. In Book V of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, he approaches the subject of sacraments, specifically Baptism and the Lord's Supper (the two "generally necessary to salvation" as the Anglican Catechism says), by first clarifying that the most important fact about these sacraments is that they impart grace.

For we all admire and honour the holy Sacraments, not respecting so much the service which we do unto God in receiving them, as the dignity of that sacred and secret gift which we thereby receive from God. When Sacraments are said to be visible signs of invisible grace, we thereby conceive how grace is indeed the very end for which these heavenly mysteries were instituted, and besides sundry other properties observed in them, the matter whereof they consist is such as signifieth, figureth, and representeth their end. V.50.3

Before going directly into the subject of these two saving sacraments, he begins by laying the proper foundation. He devotes the next several chapters to the Incarnation (which of necessity requires that much be said about the Trinity). This is the necessary foundation, for as the Church is an extension of the Incarnation, these sacraments flow directly from the Hypostatic Union, and from Christ's death for us on the cross, and his resurrection. Without the risen Christ who is fully God and fully man, one Person who is Uncreated having taken the created nature of man into his eternal Being, who has overcome sin and death, and continues to live forever in both natures, the sacraments could have no real effect. Some have called the Incarnation "the Anglican heresy," perhaps with tongue in cheek, suggesting that it is possible to over-emphasize this doctrine to the neglect of others; to which we say, that is impossible.

By the time he comes back to writing directly about the sacraments, in chapter 57, he has laid the foundation by teaching that our salvation requires a participation in Christ himself.

It greatly offendeth, that some, when they labour to shew the use of the holy Sacraments, assign unto them no end but only to teach the mind, by other senses, that which the Word doth teach by hearing. V.57.1

This is therefore the necessity of sacraments. That saving grace which Christ originally is or hath for the general good of his whole Church, by sacraments he severally deriveth into every member thereof. Sacraments serve as the instruments of God to that end and purpose, moral instruments, the use whereof is in our hands, the effect in his; for the use we have his express commandment, for the effect his conditional promise: so that without our obedience to the one, there is of the other no apparent assurance, as contrariwise where the signs and sacraments of his grace are not either through contempt unreceived, or received with contempt, we are not to doubt but that they really give what they promise, and are what they signify. For we take not baptism nor the eucharist for bare resemblances or memorials of things absent, neither for naked signs and testimonies assuring us of grace received before, but (as they are indeed and in verity) for means effectual whereby God when we take the sacraments delivereth into our hands that grace available unto eternal life, which grace the sacraments represent or signify. V.57.5

This emphasis on the working of these two sacraments that are "generally necessary to salvation" occupied the minds of the Church of England's teachers. That they impart grace, and are not empty signs, was an argument they had to make against Puritans and against Zwinglians. That the purpose of the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood was not that it be "be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them." (Article XXV), had less to do with any fear of idolatry than with a failure to receive the same, and with that reception to be given the grace imparted. The Article makes this clear in what immediately follows: "...but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith." This came about from correcting a medieval abuse, namely, that many people did not, before the Enlgish Reformation, take and eat, but merely gazed on the elevated sacrament during the Latin Mass.

Hooker writes:

This was it that some did exceedingly fear, lest Zwinglius and Ĺ’colampadius would bring to pass, that men should account of this sacrament but only as of a shadow, destitute, empty and void of Christ. V.67.2

The whole idea of Real Presence was not, in his mind, about describing what the sacrament is in terms of how it becomes the Body and Blood of Christ; but rather about emphasizing what it does. By taking and eating, by drinking the cup, a true believer with a healed and sound conscience is participating in the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

With apparent disdain for foolish debates about Divine mysteries, that come from reasoning that presumes to exceed what has been revealed, Hooker dismisses not the theories themselves as much as defense of the theories.

If we doubt what those admirable words may import, let him be our teacher for the meaning of Christ to whom Christ was himself a schoolmaster, let our Lord’s Apostle be his interpreter, content we ourselves with his explication, My body, the communion of my body, My blood, the communion of my blood. Is there any thing more expedite, clear, and easy, than that as Christ is termed our life because through him we obtain life, so the parts of this sacrament are his body and blood for that they are so to us who receiving them receive that by them which they are termed? The bread and cup are his body and blood because they are causes instrumental upon the receipt whereof the participation of his body and blood ensueth. For that which produceth any certain effect is not vainly nor improperly said to be that very effect whereunto it tendeth. Every cause is in the effect which groweth from it. Our souls and bodies quickened to eternal life are effects the cause whereof is the Person of Christ, his body and his blood are the true wellspring out of which this life floweth. So that his body and blood are in that very subject whereunto they minister life not only by effect or operation, even as the influence of the heavens is in plants, beasts, men, and in every thing which they quicken, but also by a far more divine and mystical kind of union, which maketh us one with him even as he and the Father are one. The real presence of Christ’s most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament. V.67.5,6

The context of this passage does not allow us to charge Hooker with denying the Real Presence. Indeed, he has made it abundantly clear that Christ is present in all his saving power, giving us grace as we receive and thus participate. Hooker simply refuses to honor the speculations of ecclesiastical academics that had created disputes and erected schools of thought. At first glance he almost appears to be setting up another theory, one that assigns a time when the sacrament is fully consecrated, that is, upon being eaten and drunk (as the Lord's words, so quoted, might seem to indicate). But, this is not the case. Hooker rejects the idea that we can be sure of the moment in which the consecration has fully happened, and the idea that we could ever know how. To try to know more than what has been revealed is to try to remove the Holy Communion from the list of divine mysteries. The overall context of these chapters cleary teaches, as a chief point, that what matters most, and that upon which all Catholic believers agree, is that by properly taking the sacrament we receive the grace for which it was instituted, the purpose for which God gave it to the Church. We have in that our communion of the Lord's own Body and Blood. We participate in the risen and living Christ, and we are saved from sin and death.

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. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. John 6:53-58

Hooker draws from the Scriptures and from the ancient Fathers of the Church, to make the case that he puts forth nothing more than what has been ever Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.

These things considered, how should that mind which loving truth and seeking comfort out of holy mysteries hath not perhaps the leisure, perhaps not the wit nor capacity to tread out so endless mazes, as the intricate disputes of this cause have led men into, how should a virtuously disposed mind better resolve with itself than thus? “Variety of judgments and opinions argueth obscurity in those things whereabout they differ. But that which all parts receive for truth, that which every one having sifted is by no one denied or doubted of, must needs be matter of infallible certainty." V.67.12

Hooker believes we can afford to admit that we are ignorant about some things, especially the works of God.

Whereas therefore there are but three expositions made of ‘this is my body,’ the first, ‘this is in itself before participation really and truly the natural substance of my body by reason of the coexistence which my omnipotent body hath with the sanctified element of bread,’ which is the Lutherans’ interpretation; the second, ‘this is itself and before participation the very true and natural substance of my body, by force of that Deity which with the words of consecration abolisheth the substance of bread and substituteth in the place thereof my Body,’1 which is the popish construction; the last, ‘this hallowed food, through concurrence of divine power, is in verity and truth, unto faithful receivers, instrumentally a cause of that mystical participation, whereby as I make myself wholly theirs, so I give them in hand an actual possession of all such saving grace as my sacrificed body can yield, and as their souls do presently need, this is to them and in them my body:’ of these three rehearsed interpretations the last hath in it nothing but what the rest do all approve and acknowledge to be most true, nothing but that which the words of Christ are on all sides confessed to enforce, nothing but that which the Church of God hath always thought necessary, nothing but that which alone is sufficient for every Christian man to believe concerning the use and force of this sacrament, finally nothing but that wherewith the writings of all antiquity are consonant and all Christian confessions agreeable. And as truth in what kind soever is by no kind of truth gainsayed, so the mind which resteth itself on this is never troubled with those perplexities which the other do both find, by means of so great contradiction between their opinions and true principles of reason grounded upon experience, nature and sense. Which albeit with boisterous courage and breath they seem oftentimes to blow away, yet whoso observeth how again they labour and sweat by subtlety of wit to make some show of agreement between their peculiar conceits and the general edicts of nature, must needs percieve they struggle with that which they cannot fully master. Besides sith of that which is proper to themselves their discourses are hungry and unpleasant, full of tedious and irksome labour, heartless and hitherto without fruit, on the other side read we them or hear we others be they of our own or of ancienter times, to what part soever they be thought to incline touching that whereof there is controversy, yet in this where they all speak but one thing their discourses are heavenly, their words sweet as the honeycomb, their tongues melodiously tuned instruments, their sentences mere consolation and joy, are we not hereby almost even with voice from heaven, admonished which we may safeliest cleave unto? V.67.12

What Hooker writes about these debates should remind us of St. Paul writing to Timothy these words: "Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do." (I Tim. 1:4) Hooker's concern, stating a defense of the position of his Church, was that emphasis should be placed on receiving the grace of the sacrament, not on a quasi-scientific definition of how God works.

Where God himself doth speak those things which either for height and sublimity of matter, or else for secresy of performance we are not able to reach unto, as we may be ignorant without danger, so it can be no disgrace to confess we are ignorant. Such as love piety will as much as in them lieth know all things that God commandeth, but especially the duties of service which they owe to God. As for his dark and hidden works, they prefer as becometh them in such cases simplicity of faith before that knowledge, which curiously sifting what it should adore, and disputing too boldly of that which the wit of man cannot search, chilleth for the most part all warmth of zeal, and bringeth soundness of belief many times into great hazard. Let it therefore be sufficient for me presenting myself at the Lord’s table to know what there I receive from him, without searching or inquiring of the manner how Christ performeth his promise; let disputes and questions, enemies to piety, abatements of true devotion, and hitherto in this cause but over patiently heard, let them take their rest; let curious and sharpwitted men beat their heads about what questions themselves will, the very letter of the word of Christ giveth plain security that these mysteries do as nails fasten us to his very Cross, that by them we draw out, as touching efficacy, force, and virtue, even the blood of his gored side, in the wounds of our Redeemer we there dip our tongues, we are dyed red both within and without, our hunger is satisfied and our thirst for ever quenched; they are things wonderful which he feeleth, great which he seeth and unheard of which he uttereth, whose soul is possessed of this Paschal Lamb and made joyful in the strength of this new wine, this bread hath in it more than the substance which our eyes behold, this cup hallowed with solemn benediction availeth to the endless life and welfare both of soul and body, in that it serveth as well for a medicine to heal our infirmities and purge our sins as for a sacrifice of thanksgiving; with touching it sanctifieth, it enlighteneth with belief, it truly conformeth us unto the image of Jesus Christ; what these elements are in themselves it skilleth not, it is enough that to me which take them they are the body and blood of Christ, his promise in witness hereof sufficeth, his word he knoweth which way to accomplish; why should any cogitation possess the mind of a faithful communicant but this, O my God thou art true, O my Soul thou art happy!” V.67.12 (emphasis in italics, mine)

Queen Elizabeth I sums up the prevailing Anglican belief in her little "poem."

Christ was the word that spake it.
He took the bread and break it;
And what his words did make it
That I believe and take it.

This refusal to presume upon a divine mystery is the Anglican position, even though few today in the official Canterbury Communion seem aware of it. Rightly understood, it should not discourage orderly Eucharistic Devotions, unless mere gazing begin to be treated as equal to actually taking and eating, and drinking. But, always remember, the greatest Eucharistic devotion, and the one consistent with the purpose of our Lord in instituting the sacrament, is to receive it in a worthy manner, and so receive the food and drink of eternal life by participating in the life of the Risen Christ, fully God and fully man.
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1.Which is why Article XXV rightly says that the doctrine of Transubstantiation (as then defined, or at least as then commonly understood) "overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament." Instead of a sign that effects what it signfies, we have a complete change of physical reality that is merely disguised; no, longer a sign that effects.

2 comments:

An Anglican Cleric said...

Father Hart--Excellent selection!

DH+

Canon Tallis said...

Father D.

Glad to have you posting again.