Next to the question of Justification by Faith only the problems connected with the Lord’s Supper present a wide field of controversy in the Reformation period. This is illustrated by the fact that four Articles are devoted to the consideration of these questions.
The Article we are considering underwent an important change in 1563. Much controversy has gathered around the change. Some have urged that it indicates a change in theological thought between 1552 and 1563. In order to appreciate the position we have just to notice the change which was made and then to examine with care the wording of our present Article.
The only difference is that the words “overthoueth the nature of a Sacrament” were inserted in our present Article after “is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture.” But in 1553 these paragraphs were followed by a statement regarding the Real Presence as follows: “Forasmuch as the truth of man’s nature requireth, that the body of one and the self-same man cannot be at one time in divers places: And because as Holy Scripture doth teach, Christ is taken up into Heaven, and these shall continue unto the end of the world, a faithful man ought not either to believe or openly confess the Real and Bodily Presence (as they term it) of Christ’s flesh and blood in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.”
It may be worth noting that though the above translation of the Latin has been widely accepted yet in the original Latin of the Article the word “Eucharist” takes the place of the phrase “the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper” and “any faithful man” might be more closely rendered “any one of the faithful.” This paragraph was replaced in 1563 by the words “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.”
Reason for omission
The reason for the omission of the paragraph that appears in the 1553 Book is nowhere clearly given either by Parker or any of his contemporaries. Bishop Harold Brown thinks, with a good deal of justification, that the paragraph was excluded “lest persons inclined to the Lutheran belief might be too much offended by it (Expos. 39 Articles, p. 707). The important question which ought to concern us is whether the omission of this clause in 1563 indicates a change in doctrinal opinion in the Church of England. The substituted clause demands careful consideration. There we are told “The Body of Christ is given, taken and eaten.”
Those who favour a theory of change in doctrine draw attention to the words, “The Body of Christ is given.” They conclude from this phrase that the Body of Christ is given by the priest to the communicant. If the Body of Christ is given then it must be a local presence and it must be given to every communicant irrespective of his mental attitude. As Canon Mason expresses it, the Body of Christ is not received by a “subjective act of faith.” Apart from the ambiguity resident in the term “a subjective act of faith”, which fails to distinguish that confidence which has a sound ground from that which is imaginary, we can point out that the whole passage condemns any suggestion of a Corporal Presence while enforcing strongly the idea of a Real Presence.
These are two forms in which the idea of a Corporal Presence is excluded. First we are told that the giving, taking and receiving is “only after a heavenly and spiritual manner.” The act of the priest in tendering the bread to the hand of the communicant cannot be described as done “only in a heavenly and spiritual manner” as in its ordinary use it is an earthly undertaking although, of course, it may have a heavenly and spiritual significance in relation to the particular purpose of the action. Similarly the taking and eating of the tendered bread is not “only in a heavenly and spiritual manner.” The insertion of the word “only” is intended to convey to the reader the essential difference between the giving, taking, and eating of the sign and the giving, taking and eating of the Body and Blood of Christ. The former is fulfilled when the priest performs the ceremony associated with the giving of the bread and wine and the communicant responds by duly receiving.
The latter is the gift of the Lord of Glory Himself and is untendered by Him only to those who “rightly, worthily and with faith” receive the outward sign. This distinction is emphasised by the following clause: “The mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith.” This is a reiteration of the earlier statement that only to those who receive with faith is “the bread which we break a partaking of the Body of Christ.” We have a contemporary, or almost contemporary, confirmation of this interpretation in the language of “The Formula of Concord” which declares in defence of the more rigid Lutherans that “we believe, teach and confess, the Body and Blood of Christ to be eaten not only spiritually by faith but also with the mouth in a supernatural and heavenly manner by reason of the Sacramental union with the bread and wine.”
Within fourteen years after the publication of this new phrase in the Article its meaning was interpreted by the Lutherans as denying any Presence of Christ “in, with, or under the elements of bread and wine.” That the phrase was so understood by the Reformed Divines may be gathered from Richard Hooker’s explicit declaration: “The Real Presence of Christ’s most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in Sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the Sacrament” (Eccl. Polity, Bk.5, Ch. 68, Sec. 6). When both parties to a controversy unite in giving the same interpretation to a particular expression of belief we have the strongest ground for accepting it as correct. On these grounds we cannot accept the new rather popular theory that the omission of the clause concerning “the Real and Bodily Presence” indicates a difference in theological opinion between the framers of Article 29 in 1553 and the Revisers of 1563. It is admitted that there was a desire to conciliate the Lutherans manifest in Imperial circles. This is manifest in the suppression of Article 29 in the published Articles of Religion both in Latin and English until its insertion in 1571.
The assertion of the Formula of Concord, however, affords evidence that the declaration that the Body of Christ is received only after a heavenly and spiritual manner did not gain acceptance with the more rigid Lutherans and, therefore, if the alteration in the Article was intended as a conciliatory measure it failed in its objective. Notwithstanding Bishop Browne’s assertion it seems more probable that the clause was omitted because of the unfounded contention that the Reformers denied any or every Presence of Christ in the Sacraments both of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
The phrase Real Presence was, in itself, ambiguous. Although the opening words of the Article in 1553 referred directly to the communion of the Body of Christ it may have been conceived that the denial of a Real and Corporal Presence of Christ, even though qualified with the words “as they say” might induce opponents to emphasize that there was an explicit denial of any Real Presence. The new qualifying clause about reception of the Body of Christ after “a heavenly and spiritual manner” effectively destroyed the value of any such argument. Originally Archbishop Parker added these words as a preface to the omitted section which supports this view. The use of the verb “given” as well as “taken” and “eaten” adds emphasis to what is popularly, but erroneously, called the “objective” character of the Presence of the Body of Christ. The popular use of the term “objective” is designed to remove all idea that the Presence of Christ is only figurative or exists only in the individual’s imagination.
The discussion between Cranmer and Gardiner affords an early instance of the prevalence of this misconception of the Reformed position. Jewel, who was responsible for the English translation of the Articles in 1571, expresses the very essence of the Reformed Doctrine when he writes: “Indeed the bread that we receive with our bodily mouths is an earthly thing, and therefore a figure, as the water in baptism is likewise also a figure; but the Body of Christ that thereby is represented, and there is offered unto our faith, is the thing itself, and no figure” (Parker Society Edit. Vol. 1, p. 449). This brief review may help to remove the conception that there was any material change in theological opinion between the Divines of 1552 and the Divines of 1563.
From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, 14 September 1961. This article is part of our Articulate series, listening to T.C. Hammond unpack the 39 Articles one by one. This is the final instalment in the series, as Hammond went to be with his Lord on 16 November 1961.