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Doctrine of Holy Eucharist

By Darwell Stone

From S.L. Ollard and Gordon Crosse, eds. A Dictionary of English Church History

London: Mowbray and Co., Ltd, 1912, pages 279-282.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007

HOLY EUCHARIST, Doctrine of, in English Church. There is no reason for supposing that the Eucharistic beliefs ordinarily held in the Church of England before the Reformation differed from those customary in the rest of the Western Church. The teaching of the Venerable Bede (q.v.) in the eighth century that the Eucharist is a sacrifice in which the Body and Blood of Christ are offered to God on behalf of the living and the dead, and that the Body and Blood of Christ are received by Christians by means of Communion, is substantially the same as that of St. Gregory the Great (q.v.), which was probably brought to England by St. Augustine (q.v.) at the end of the sixth century. That the same beliefs were held by the Celtic Christians, to whom other strains of English Christianity are due, may be illustrated from the Bangor Antiphonary of the seventh century (i, 10 v, 11 r; ii. 10, 11, H.B.S. ed.), and the Stowe Missal in the eighth (i. 45, 46, H.B.S. ed.). The teaching of Aelfric (q.v.) in England in the tenth century, with the doubt whether his meaning is that there is a gift of spiritual union with Christ, bestowed inwardly only on the communicant, or that the means of the gift is that the elements are made by consecration spiritually to be the Body and Blood of Christ (Homilies, ii. 268-73, Aelfric Society ed.), is a reproduction of that contained in the treatise of Ratramn of Corbey and Orbais [279/280] in the ninth century in his treatise, On the Body and Blood of the Lord. The theological instruction and the devotional writings of Lanfranc (q.v.) and Anselm (q.v.) in the eleventh and twelfth centuries are representative of England and Normandy alike; and the provision in the Canterbury statutes of the eleventh century for the carrying of the Sacrament in procession on Palm Sunday and for acts of adoration in connection with the procession, as well as for the placing of the Sacrament in the Sepulchre and the consequent adoration on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, are probably expressive of customs which were also Norman (Decreta pro Ord. S. Benedicti, i. 4; Ordinarium Can. Reg. S. Laudi Rotomagensis; John of Rouen, De off. eccl.; Martene, De ant. mon. rit., xii. 13-15; xiii. 46; xiv. 39). In the thirteenth century the teaching of Alexander of Hales, who, an Englishman by birth, filled various ecclesiastical offices in England before his removal to Paris, with its scanty treatment of the Eucharistic sacrifice and its minute discussion of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, its merits in the assertions of the objective value of consecration, of the reality of the Presence and gift of the Body and Blood of Christ, and of the need of worthy reception if there is to be spiritual profit, as well as its demerits in over-elaboration of the nature and method of the Presence so as to bring it into accordance with the Aristotelian philosophy (S.T., iv. v. x. xi.), affords a characteristic instance of the general tendencies of the time. The thirteenth-century English directions for the adoration of our Lord at the elevation of the Host and when the Sacrament is carried do not differ from the contemporary instructions abroad. William of Ockham (q.v.), also a native of England and a teacher at Paris, who became Provincial of the English Franciscans in 1322, taught that all that Holy Scripture and the true tradition of the Church and considerations of reason really supported was that the Body of Christ is under the species of bread; but he accepted the current doctrine that the substance of the bread and wine ceases to be on the authority of the Church of his day (Quodl. sept., iv. 34, 35); John Wyclif (q.v.) questioned very much in the ordinary scholastic teaching concerning the nature and results of Transubstantiation (Trial., iv. 1-10; De Euch., passim; Fasc. Ziz., R.S., v. 105, 115-17, 131; the Lollard statement of 1395 followed Wyclif (q.v.) (Fasc. Ziz., R.S., v. 361, 362); Sir John Oldcastle, representing the best of the Lollards (q.v.), in 1413 explicitly explained that 'the most worshipful Sacrament of the altar is Christ's Body in the form of bread, the same Body that was born of the Blessed Virgin, our Lady Saint Mary, done on the cross, dead and buried, the third day rose from death to life, the which Body is now glorified in heaven,' but that 'as Christ when dwelling on earth had in Himself Godhead and manhood, yet the Godhead veiled and invisible under the manhood, which was open and visible, so in the Sacrament of the altar there is real Body and real bread, that is, the bread which we see, and the Body of Christ veiled under it which we do not see' (Fasc. Ziz., v. 438, 444). These all were giving utterance to lines of thought which were being developed outside as well as within England. So also were the more extreme Lollards, who maintained that the Eucharist was 'nothing but a morsel of dead bread and a tower or pinnacle of antichrist' (see the statement of Sir Louis de Clifford quoted in Walsingham, Historia Anglicana, R.S., ii. 252, 253; xxviii. b). The reply of the official representatives of the Church in England was no less in accordance with the lines adopted abroad. Care was taken in the declaration of the University of Oxford in 1381, at the Council of London in 1382, and in other official actions to maintain not only that the consecrated Sacrament is the Body of Christ, but also that after consecration the substances of bread and wine do not remain; and the theological attitude thus adopted was enforced by such steps as the burning of William Sawtré in 1401 and of Richard Wyche about 1439. On the other hand, while devotions of the people and the instructions of the clergy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries imply that the consecrated Sacrament is the Body and Blood of Christ, they are unaffected whether the continuance of the bread and the wine is affirmed or denied. The intense devotion of Mother Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love, the teaching of John Myrc of Lilleshall in his Festival Book and his Instructions for Parish Priests, Langforde's Meditations for Ghostly Exercise in the Time of the Mass, the discourse addressed to the York Guild of Corpus Christi in the fifteenth century, would lose their meaning if the consecrated Sacrament were not the Body and Blood of Christ; whereas they make no suggestion as to the nature of the physical change in the elements, and they would gain nothing or lose nothing according as the spiritual doctrine of Transubstantiation which the great Schoolmen had formulated were affirmed or denied. So in the century preceding [280/281] the Reformation the official representatives of the Church in England were bent on enforcing that doctrine of Transubstantiation which, designed to protect the spiritual character of the Eucharistic Presence of Christ, carried with it a denial of the continuance of the substance of the bread and wine in the consecrated Sacrament; the care of pastors and the love of people were not much concerned with the technicalities of the doctrine from one point of view or another, provided that their mental conceptions allowed to their souls the truth that the living Lord who was born of Mary and died on the cross was present and adored and offered in sacrifice and received. The New Learning of the Renaissance had its votaries in England as abroad. John Colet (q.v.), Dean of St. Paul's, who died in 1519, was one of its pioneers. In caution, in restraint, in mysticism, in the evident dread of anything carnal or mechanical or unreal, in the devout belief that the consecrated Sacrament is the Body and the Blood of Christ, Colet may well represent the most refined and cultivated minds in the wonderful opening years of the sixteenth century. Throughout the reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, and Elizabeth different and contradictory beliefs were struggling for mastery, A doctrine of the Eucharistic Presence which, whether called by the name of Transubstantiation or not, was substantially that officially affirmed by the Church of Rome at the Council of Trent may be seen in the writings of King Henry VIII. (q.v.) and Bishop Fisher (q.v.), the Six Articles of 1539, and the King's Book of 1543; in the writings of Gardiner (q.v.) and others during the reign of Edward VI; in the official acts of Mary's reign; and after the accession of Elizabeth in the proceedings of the Convocation of Canterbury in 1559. A doctrine which affirmed that the consecrated elements are the Body and Blood of Christ without deciding anything in regard to Transubstantiation is in the Ten Articles of 1536, the Bishops' Book of 1537, the Thirteen Articles of 1538, and the First Prayer Book of Edward VI., issued in 1549. A doctrine which does not connect the Presence of Christ with the consecrated Sacrament before Communion, but maintains that the faithful communicant receives either the Body of Christ itself or the power and virtue of the Body, is suggested by some features of the Second Prayer Book of Edward VI., issued in 1552, by the draft Forty-five Articles of 1551, by the Forty-two Articles of 1553, by Poynet's Catechism of 1553, and by the writings of Ridley (q.v.), Cranmer (q.v.), and Latimer (q.v.). In Elizabeth's reign, in accordance with her well-known policy, the tendency is to make room for different doctrines. The Prayer Book of 1559 is not incompatible with a belief either that the elements become the Body and Blood of Christ at consecration, or that faithful communicants receive the Body and Blood of Christ at their Communion without these having been previously present, though perhaps slightly inclining to the former belief; the teaching of the Thirty-eight Articles of 1563, the Thirty-nine Articles of 1571 [ARTICLES OF RELIGION], and the Homilies of 1563, while denying Transubstantiation and Zwinglianism alike, is in the direction of asserting that faithful communicants really receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and leaving open the further question whether the Body and Blood are present at the consecration or only to the communicant at communion; and the tendency thus seen in the documents may be illustrated from the differences in the writings of individual theologians. In subsequent reigns the same tendency continues, though the emphasis mostly tends towards asserting the gift to the communicant and either denying or being careless about a presence in virtue of consecration. The additions made to the Catechism in 1604 and the Prayer Book of 1662 require belief that faithful communicants receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and incline towards the doctrine that the Body and Blood are present at consecration and before reception, without explicitly asserting this latter doctrine. Till 1688 a minority among theologians asserted a presence in the Sacrament before Communion; the large majority are content to say that the Body and Blood are received by the faithful communicant. In the teaching of John Hales in his tract, On the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, published probably soon after 1635, there is an instance of the Zwinglian doctrine that the communicant receives only bread and wine as signs of Christ, which, in defiance of the formularies, was in later years to be widely prevalent and strongly influential in the English Church.

Through the long period from the accession of Henry VIII. to the departure of James II. the doctrine of the Sacrifice does not always follow the doctrine of the Presence; but for the most part those who affirmed that the consecrated Sacrament is the Body and Blood of Christ recognised also the specifically sacrificial character of the Eucharist, though as a rule without much definition of sacrifice, and those who rejected the Presence at consecration tended to deny any more distinct Sacrifice than a mere memory of the cross and such as is to be found in all acceptable prayer. [281/282] In the closing years of the seventeenth century and in the eighteenth the chief points of interest lay in the growth of Zwinglianism and in the teaching of the Nonjurors (q.v.). It was at this time that Zwinglianism obtained that hold in English thought which has hardly yet altogether ceased to influence doctrine and practice in the English Church. The Nonjurors, who shared with the best divines of the English Church a horror of Zwinglianism, were not entirely agreed among themselves as to a positive doctrine; but there was developed among them a characteristic belief, which eventually became more influential in Scotland and America than in England, that the elements are made at the recital of the institution to be representative symbols of the Body and Blood of Christ, that as such symbols they are then offered in sacrifice, and that at the later invocation of the Holy Ghost the elements become the Body and Blood of Christ in virtue and power and effect. It was the natural outcome of this doctrine that the group of the Nonjurors known as the Usagers were eager to use the Liturgy which they published in 1717, in which the recital of the institution, the commemoration of Christ, and the invocation of the Holy Ghost were placed in an appropriate order. The nineteenth century inherited from the earlier times denials, vagueness, and beliefs. The best representatives of the Evangelical Movement [EVANGELICALS] emphasised the blessedness of the spiritual participation in Christ which the faithful communicant enjoys.

The Tractarians [OXFORD MOVEMENT] reaffirmed the value of the Eucharistic sacrifice and of the doctrine that by virtue of the consecration the living and spiritual Body and Blood of Christ are present in the Sacrament under the form of bread and wine. Later writers placed the doctrine in closer touch with other characteristics of Christian thought by their emphasis on the spiritual nature of the risen Body of Christ, and on the intimate connection between the earthly offering in the Church's Eucharist and the heavenly pleading of our Lord. During the long and at times bitter controversies of the last sixty or more years the Church of England itself has not given any authoritative interpretation of its formularies; and the general tendency has been to acquiesce in a position that the formularies exclude Zwinglianism and at any rate a gross and carnal form of Transubstantiation, but are patient of very different doctrines between these two extremes. Meanwhile the progress of positive Eucharistic truth within the English Church has been no less than marvellous. The Zwinglianism once so common has almost disappeared, though time, of course, is needed to remove all its effects. In each generation receptionist and virtualist opinions, if still held, take a stronger and more effective form. There has been a vast increase in the number and influence of those who believe that the consecrated Sacrament is the Body of Christ and that the Eucharist is the sacrificial pleading of Him who for our redemption took human life and died and rose again. [D. S.]

Stone, Hist. of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist and Holy Communion.

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