Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Partaking of Christ's flesh and blood; Augustine instructs - how to understand - Part 3

Lying at the heart of the differences of interpretation (addressed herehere, and here) regarding the doctrine of the Lord's Supper, is the question of how one is to understand what the Scripture speaks concerning it.  How is the Church to read and understand difficult passages of the Bible in order to come to godly teaching?  The church fathers made their appeal to right doctrine from the teaching of Scripture.  This question must be answered, not only for Protestants, but Rome as well, since the "infallible" teaching of the Roman Church claims to true doctrine consistent with Scripture.

To help answer that question I thought I'd not call on any Reformed voices, of which there are many able and reliable.  Rather let me quote the eminent theologian Augustine, from Thomas Cranmer's Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ (1550).  Cranmer writes:
And yet most plainly of all other, St. Augustine doth declare this matter in his book De Doctrina Christiana in which book he instructeth Christian people how they should understand those places of Scripture, which seem hard and obscure.
"Seldom," saith he, "is any difficulty in proper words, but either the circumstances of the place, or the conferring of divers translations, or else the original tongue wherein it was written, will make the sense plain.  But in words that be altered from their proper signification, there is great diligence and heed to be taken  And specially we must beware, that we take not literally any thing that is spoken figuratively.  For contrariwise, we must not take for a figure, any thing that is spoken properly.  Therefore must be declared," saith Augustine, "the manner how to discern a proper speech from a figurative; wherein, " saith he, "must be observed this rule, that if the thing which is spoken be to the furtherance of charity, then it is a proper speech, and no figure.  So that if it be a commandment that forbiddeth any evil or wicked act, or commandeth any good or beneficial thing, then it is no figure.  But if it command any ill or wicked thing, or forbid anything that is good and beneficial, then it is a figurative speech.
So how does Augustine unpack what he is instructing?  He happens to focus on one of the most difficult passages for men to hear, that of Christ's words regarding the eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood as found in John chapter 6.  It was because of these words spoken by Jesus that many stopped following him.  And even His chosen disciples were troubled.  Continuing with Augustine in the passage from Cranmer:
"Now the saying of Christ, 'Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you shall have no life in you', seemeth to command an heinous and a wicked thing; therefore it is a figure, commanding us to be partakers of Christ's passion, keeping in our minds to our great comfort and profit, that his flesh was wounded for us."
 Thus in another part of his book Cranmer sums up St. Augustine's teaching on the sacraments:
And therefore St. Ausgustine saith, Contra Maximinum, that "in the sacraments we must not consider what they be, but what they signify.  For they be signs of things, being one thing, and signifying another."
By this neither Augustine nor Cranmer were denying that Christians do partake of Christ's body and blood.  The confession of the Church of England's, The Thirty-Nine Articles, summarizes the Reformed understanding.  The relevant sections are shown below:
XXV. Of the Sacraments.
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.
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.
Again, the purpose of these last several posts is not to offer some definitive case against Rome's teaching of transubstantiation.  Rather, it is to provide evidence that the early church writers, in conjunction with Scripture, taught not the Roman doctrine.  And a case, therefore, can be made that the Reformers' teachings on this doctrine were consistent with those church patriarchs as well as Scripture.

Update 10-16-2013:
A question has been raised as to the authenticity of the early church fathers' quotes in this and the previous two posts.  So, I am adding this Link to Authorities in Appendix which is A Collection of Authorities cited by Cranmer and others in the Controversy on the Lord's Supper '.  In addition here is a footnote from the first page of that Appendix:
1 [Cranmer and his adversaries in the Eucharistic controversy seldom printed more than a version of the authorities which they cited : and mutual charges of mistranslation were the result. To enable the reader to form his own judgment on these charges, without referring to the voluminous works of the Fathers, a large number of the original passages have here been extracted. They have been arranged in chronological order, partly for convenience of reference, and partly for the purpose of presenting a series of citations on the Lord's Supper, from the time of Ignatius, A. I). 101, to that of the Lateran Council, A.D. 1215, when the doctrine of transubstantiation was finally established. The inquiry, it will be remembered, may be pursued further, by referring also to those authorities, which, being quoted by the contending parties in the original language, it has been thought unnecessary to repeat here.]
Cranmer's and his Roman Catholic adversary in this dispute wrote their works in Latin.  Thus the citations are in Latin.  I take the editors meaning to be that any disagreement over translation had to do with the citations of those who wrote in Greek or, in addition, subsequent English translations.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rome's transubstantiation: There's a disturbance in the force (tradition) Part 2

In the last post I laid out some historical evidence which sounds a dissonant note in the so-called unified voice of tradition supporting Rome's teaching of transubstantiation. The purpose of these two posts is to show the inconsistency between Rome claiming the church fathers as supporting witnesses and the actual writings of those witnesses.  Those first examples were by no means isolated.  Rather, there were numerous early and later theologians and scholars that wrote of quite the opposite of Rome's doctrine.

Picking up where I left off, Thomas Cranmer, in his Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ (1550), wrote of the Bishop of Rome, Gelasius (late 4th century), who by the way advocated for the supremacy of the Roman bishopric.  Cranmer comments regarding Gelasius' argument that refuted the heresies of Eutyches and Nestorius:
The other example is of the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ; which, saith he, "is a godly thing, and yet the substance or nature of bread and wine do not cease to be there still."
Cranmer continues with an example from Origen:
And Origen, declaring the said eating of Christ's flesh and drinking of his blood, not be undertood as the words do sound, but figuratively, writeth thus upon these words of Christ, Except you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you shall not have life in you:  "Consider," saith Origen, "that these things, written in God's books, are figures; and therefore examine and understand them, as spiritual and not as carnal men..."
In another place the Arch-bishop writes of Ambrose:
And in the same book he saith, "As thou hast in baptism received the similtude of death, so likewise dost thou in this sacrament drink the similtude of Christ's precious blood."  And again he saith in the said book, "The priest saith, Make unto us this oblation to be acceptable, which is the figure of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ."
And concurring with Ambrose:
And therefore St. Augustine saith, Contra Maximinum, that "in the sacraments we must not consider what they be, but what they signify.  For they be signs of things, being one thing, and signifying another..."
 And in his book De Doctrina Christiana, St. Augustine saith, (as before at length declared)' that "to eat Christ's flesh and drink his blood, is a figuative speech, signifying the participation of his passion, and delectable remembrance to our benefit and profit, that his flesh was crucified and wounded for us."
I'll finish with two examples that Cranmer supplies from the late medieval church period, not too many years before the Reformation and Rome's Council of Trent:
And Gabriel [priest and scholar - 15th century] also, who of all other wrote most largely upon the canon of the Mass, saith thus:  "It is to be noted, that although it be taught in the Scripture, that the body of Christ is truly contained and received of Christian people under the kinds of bread and wine; yet how the body of Christ is there, whether by conversion of anything into it, or without conversion the body is there with the bread remaining still there, it is not found expressed in the Bible..."
For Johannes Scotus, otherwise called Duns, the subtlest of all the school authors, in treating of this matter of transubstantiation, showeth plainly the cause thereof:  "For," saith he, "the words of the Scripture might be expounded more easily and more plainly without transubstantiation; but the Church chose this sense, which is more hard, being moved thereunto, as it seemeth, chiefly because that of the sacraments men ought to hold as the holy Church of Rome holdeth.  But it holdeth that bread is transubstantiate or turned into the body, and wine into the blood..."
Cranmer sums up the last two bits of historical evidence:
Thus you have heard the cause, whereof this opinion of transubstantiation at this present is holden and defended among Christian people; that is to say, because the Church of Rome hath so determined; although the contrary, by the papists' own confession, appear to be more easy, more true, and more according to Scripture. 
As in our spiritual regeneration there can be no sacrament of baptism, if there be no water.  For as baptism is no perfect sacrament of spiritual regeneration, without there be as well the element of water, as the Holy Ghost spiritually regenerating the person that is baptized, (which is signified by the said water), even so the Supper of our Lord can be no perfect sacrament of spiritual food, except there be as well bread and wine, as the body and blood of our Saviour Christ spiritually feeding us, which by the said bread and wine is signified.

I'm afraid that Gabriel and Duns Scotus, if alive today, might be subject to the anathemas of Trent that followed less than a hundred years after their deaths, not to mention those church fathers (only a few of which have been cited) who did not conceive of the Supper as involving transubstantiation.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Eucharistic witness of the early fathers, part 1...

There's been quite a bit of debate going on over at The White Horse Inn Blog, both Here and Here, between Roman Catholics and Reformed Protestants.  Things have centered on the authority of Scripture, the place of tradition, the so-called infallibility of the teachings of the Roman Church, etc.  Some of the discussion have touched on the nature of the sacrament of the Lord' Supper.  I initially shared some thoughts on that in the earlier post Reformed and Catholic Eucharist.  I thought I'd add some additional snippets from one of the only two books the reformer and Arch-Bishop of the Church of England, Thomas Cranmer, wrote.  This book directly takes on the Roman view, which Cranmer argues is not consistent with Scripture nor with the early church fathers.

I'm under no illusions that what's posted here will convince someone who holds Rome's teachings to change their mind, and that's not my intention.  Yet not only Scripture, but early "tradition" seems to offer more than a few counter currents to be overcome by one contemplating a swim across the Tiber.  At a minimum Cranmer highlights a number of inconvenient historical nuggets mined from the early (and even later) church fathers.

Below are a few examples regarding the nature of the Lord's Supper that Thomas Cranmer, in his Defence of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ (1550) presents. Which book, by the way, was the principle work used against him by the Roman Church in order to convict him of heresy and burn him at the stake under Queen Mary.
This Irenaeus followeth the sense of Justinus wholly in this matter, saying, "that the bread wherein we give thanks to God, although it be of the earth, yet when the name of God is called upon, it is not then common bread, but the bread of thanksgiving, having two things in it, one earthly, and the other heavenly."  What meant he by the heavenly thing, but the sanctification which cometh by the invocation of the name of God?  And what by the earthly thing, but the very bread, which, as he said before, is of the earth, and which also, he saith, doth nourish our bodies, as other bread doth which we use?
Of Chyrsostom he writes:
And yet more plainly St Chrysostome declareth this matter in another place, saying:  "The bread, before it be sanctified, is called bread; but when it is sanctified by the means of the priest, it is delivered from the name of bread, and is exalted to the name of the Lord's body, although the nature of the bread doth still remain."
"The nature of bread," saith he, "doth still remain," to the utter and manifest confutation of the papists, which say that the accidents of bread do remain, but not the nature and substance.
Of Augustine he quotes:
 "The sacrifice of the Church consiteth of two things, of the visible kind of element, and of the invisible flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; both of the sacrament, and of the thing signified by the sacrament:  even as the person of Christ consisteth of God and man, forasmuch as he is very God and very man.  For everything containeth in it the very nature of those things whereof it consisteth.  Now the sacrifice of the Church consisteth of two things, of the sacrament, and of the thing thereby signified, that is to say, the body of Christ.  Therefore there is both the sacrament, and the thing of the sacrament, which is Christ's body."
Cranmer, like the continental Reformers, understood that the preaching of the word and the two sacraments of Baptism and the Supper as doing the same thing but in different ways.  Their commonality is in the spiritual nourishment they provide to the Lord's people by means of the gospel of Christ and the role that faith plays in both.  He writes:
And although our carnal generation and our carnal nourishment by known to all men by daily experience and by our common senses; yet this our spiritual generation and our spiritual nutrition be so obscure and hid unto us, that we cannot attain to the true and perfect knowledge and feeling of them, but only by faith, which must be grounded upon God's most holy word and sacraments.
And for this consideration our Saviour Christ hath not only set forth these things most plainly in his word, that we may hear them with our ears; but he hath also ordained one visible sacrament of spiritual regeneration in water, another visible sacrament in bread and wine, to the intent that , as much as is possible for man, we may see Christ with our eyes, smell him at our nose, taste him with our mouths, grope him with our hands, and perceive him with all our senses.  For as the word of God preached putteth Christ into our ears; so likewise the elements of water, bread, and wine, joined to God's word, do after a sacramental manner put Christ into our eyes, mouths, hands, and all our senses. 
 In Part 2 I'll follow up with more excerpts from the early writers as well as some of later periods that provide additional historical witness to the fact that tradition is far from being unified behind Rome on this matter.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Active Obedience - Imputed Righteousness

Tullian Tchividjian's recent post, Cheap Law, at Gospel Coalition sparked quite a debate regarding the relationship of Jesus' perfect obedience and suffering and the righteousness that is imputed to believers through faith.  Not a few think that Christ's forgiveness of sins is alone the basis for the righteousness counted toward his people.  And that that righteousness isn't Christ's imputed but that which comes to us based on forgiveness and being united to Christ.  I chimed in to the vigorous debate and, as is the often the case, I don't think any minds were changed one way or the other.  But to carry on the argument I was making, here is an excerpt from an article, A More Perfect Union - Justification and Union with Christ,  by John Fesko.  It can be read in its entirety at Modern Reformation:

The Reformed tradition bases the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ, even his active obedience, on such passages as Romans 5:12-21 (WCF 6.3, 11.1; cf. Heidelberg Catechism, Q/A 60). Why, for example, does Paul contrast the disobedience of Adam with the obedience of Christ? Paul writes, "For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19). As John Murray explains, "The parallel to the imputation of Adam's sin is the imputation of Christ's righteousness. Or to use Paul's own terms, being 'constituted sinners' through the disobedience of Adam is parallel to being 'constituted righteous' through the obedience of Christ." Clearly, Romans 5:19 restates what Paul has stated in the previous verse: "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all" (Rom. 5:18).
There is no mistaking the parallel between Christ's obedience, which is righteousness, and the imputation of this righteousness to the believer. Commenting on the abiding significance of Genesis 15:6 and the imputation of righteousness, Paul writes: "That is why his faith was 'counted to him as righteousness.' But the words 'it was counted to him' were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 4:22-24). Note here the English Standard Version translates the Greek word logizomai as "counted," which the King James Version translates as "imputed." Here Paul taps into the ancient stream of the special revelation of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, to argue for the imputed righteousness of Christ, and arguably also has other passages such as Isaiah 53 in mind when writing these things: "Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities" (Isa. 53:11; cf. 2 Cor. 5:19-21).
And Charles Spurgeon eloquently makes the case for the indispensable connection between Jesus Christ's perfect obedience and his righteousness imputed to us:
The promises in the Word of God are not made to suffering; they are made to obedience. Consequently, Christ’s sufferings, though they may remove the penalty of sin, do not alone make me the inheritor of the promise. “If You will enter into life,” said Christ, “keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). It is only Christ’s keeping the commandments that entitles me to enter life. “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable” (Isaiah 42:21). I do not enter into life by virtue of His sufferings – those deliver me from death, those purge me from filthiness; but entering the enjoyments of the life eternal must be the result of obedience. As it cannot be the result of mine, it is the result of His, which is imputed to me….See what Christ has done in His living and His dying, His acts becoming our acts and His righteousness being imputed to us, so that we are rewarded as if we are righteous, while He was punished as though He had been guilty.
Justification then comes to sinners as an act of pure grace, the foundation of it being Christ’s righteousness. The practical way of its application is by faith. The sinner believes God and believeth that Christ is sent of God. [He] takes Christ Jesus to be his only confidence and trust; and by that act, he becomes a justified soul. It is not by repenting that we are justified, but by believing; it is not by deep experience of the guilt of sin; it is not by bitter pangs and throes under the temptations of Satan; it is not by mortification of the body, nor by the renunciation of self; all these are good, but the act that justifieth is a look at Christ. We, having nothing, being nothing, boasting of nothing, but being utterly emptied, do look to Him Whose wounds stream with the life-giving blood. As we look to Him, we live and are justified by His life. There is life in a look at the crucified One—life in the sense of justification.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Reformed and Catholic Eucharist...

The Reformed tradition accepts the four councils of Nicea,  Constantinople, Ephesus 1, and Chalcedon.  In his 1559 edition of Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin wrote:
… we willingly embrace and reverence as holy the early councils, such as those of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus I, Chalcedon, and the like, which were concerned with refuting errors-in so far as they relate to the teachings of faith. For they contain nothing but the pure and genuine exposition of Scripture, which the holy fathers applied with spiritual prudence to crush the enemies of religion who had then arisen.
The ecumenical council at Ephesus in 431, regarding the Lord's Supper, stated in part:
Proclaiming the death according to the flesh of the only begotten Son of God, that is Jesus Christ, and professing his return to life from the dead and his ascension into heaven, we offer the unbloody sacrifice in the churches and so proceed to the mystical thanksgivings and are sanctified having partaken of the holy flesh and precious blood of Christ, the saviour of us all. This we receive not as ordinary flesh, heaven forbid, nor as that of a man who has been made holy and joined to the Word by union of honor, or who had a divine indwelling, but as truly the life-giving and real flesh of the Word. For being life by nature as God, when he became one with his own flesh, he made it also to be life-giving, as also he said to us [in John 6:52]: “Amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood” .
Roman Catholics read transubstantiation and a misunderstanding of “sacrifice” into the Ephesus 431 quote and thereby judge that Reformed Protestant worship is not catholic, i.e. that the Reformed churches reject the council's teaching.  But that is not the case.  Looking to the Church of England’s Holy Communion service as found in the 1662 BCP (still in use) to help clarify the right understanding of this mystery one finds:
WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

THE Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.

THE Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.
The Reformed confession of the Church of England further explains the nature of the sacrament: 
 The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion; Art. 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.
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.
My reading of the Ephesus Council quote:
We “offer the unbloody sacrifice in the churches…” i.e. the Sacrament of the Supper (which proclaims Christ’s sacrifice on the cross) is offered to the believers in the churches as real spiritual food for the soul’s nourishment. Note the word “unbloody”, i.e. not corporeal blood. In the same way, in preaching the Gospel, the “sacrifice of Christ is offered” for forgiveness of sins to all that hear it and believe.
This we receive not as ordinary flesh, heaven forbid, nor as that of a man who has been made holy and joined to the Word by union of honor, or who had a divine indwelling, but as truly the life-giving and real flesh of the Word.
Note: “not as ordinary flesh”… in other words not actual physical flesh as one ordinarily would understand… “heaven forbid” i.e. put away the thought that this is physical flesh of a real man, even one “joined to the Word by union of honor.”
Jesus explains to his disciples after their confusion and the objections raised by many of the listens to the words of John 6:52 quoted in Ephesus 431:
61 But Jesus knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at this, said unto them, Doth this cause you to stumble?
62 What then if ye should behold the Son of man ascending where he was before?
63 It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, are are life.
Thus we receive the body and blood of Christ in the Supper by faith “only after an heavenly and spiritual manner.” (39 Articles. 28)
The only sacrifice offered to God by the clergy or the people is expressed in the final prayer of the Holy Communion in the 1662 BCP service:
“O LORD and heavenly Father, we thy humble servants entirely desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant, that by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that all we, who are partakers of this holy Communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction. And although we be unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.