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.

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