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On Eucharistical Adoration
by John Keble

second edition
Oxford: John Henry and James Parker, 1859.


I WISH here to say a few words, by way of explaining why this little book reappears with only such slight changes, as will be found on comparing the present with the First Edition.

Besides correcting a few oversights,--more, however, and less excusable than I could have wished,--those changes are mostly confined to that portion of the work which deals with the intention of the final revisers of the Prayer-book; on which point, as far as I have gone hitherto, all additional researches have tended only to strengthen our case.

I could not be without misgivings, when I found that some of those, whom I am bound on all accounts deeply to respect, thought the treatise incorrect in reasoning, and (what indeed I should most exceedingly deprecate) its conclusions, if not its general spirit, alien to those of the English Church.

I have therefore re-considered it to the best of my leisure and ability; and can only hope that it is not mere self-deceit which makes me feel unable to plead guilty to either of these very serious charges.

It has been said that the two first chapters of the Essay are irrelevant,--that they proceed on an ignoratio elenchi,-- because they do not, it is conceived, of themselves prove, that our Lord's Person is to be adored as present in the Eucharist by a Real Presence of His Body and Blood,--the Inward Part of that Sacrament. Waiving the question how far the negative is correct, the places there alleged will not, I imagine, seem irrelevant, if taken together they constitute a reasonable presumption in favour of that Presence, and the worship resulting from it: just as the fact, that everywhere in the Holy Scriptures we are encouraged to pay all honour and devotion to our Lord, and nowhere warned against excess in so doing, would constitute a strong presumption in favour of His proper Godhead, though there were no express texts to assert it; and is a strong reason for interpreting doubtful texts and ambiguous sayings of the Church in the higher rather than in the lower sense concerning Him. This is, indeed, all that those two first chapters profess; [a] and if they do carry us so far, I cannot allow that they are irrelevant to the main argument; which, in this aspect, may be stated thus:--

If the general presumption from Scripture and from Natural Piety be in favour of Eucharistical Adoration, then doubtful passages in Scripture, in Fathers and Liturgies, and in our own Formularies, should be construed in that sense. But such presumption does exist, unquestionably, to a very great amount. Therefore such should be our rule of interpretation.

Proceeding to Christian Antiquity, the treatise alleges certain undeniable facts. 1. Writers of high credit in the fourth and fifth centuries affirm it to have been the custom of the whole Church in their time to worship in the Eucharist the Flesh which Christ took of the Virgin Mary. 2. They mention it as a primitive universal tradition. 3. They account for it by the Incarnation, and by the Real Spiritual Presence in the Sacrament. 4. The Christian world, during the whole time of which that worship is affirmed, had with one voice, both in Church and out of Church, been declaring its faith in such a Presence as no man could believe without adoring [b]. (This I do not profess to demonstrate, but accept it as demonstrated by Dr. Pusey and others.) So that the historical statement is just what one might expect from the doctrinal: and there is nothing in antiquity to contradict either of them; and very much, as we have seen, both in Scripture and in man's natural heart, to bespeak our favourable acceptance of them.

It is thought, however, that men may safely disregard the historical evidence to the fact of Eucharistical Adoration, (a.) because, as here exhibited, it is comprised in only four or five passages; or, (b.) because these passages are referred to by Roman Catholics for the same purpose: and as to the doctrinal statements of the first five centuries, concurring as they do entirely with the historical testimonies, it is by some replied, (g.) that the Fathers and Liturgies teach a Virtual Presence but Real Absence of the Body and Blood of Christ: by others, not so many, (d.) that there is indeed full testimony to the Presence, but that the worship does not follow, seeing that His Body and Blood may be present apart from His Divine Person, (e.) Cases (and they are very numerous) to which neither of these statements can be made to apply, are presently disposed of with the remark, That the Ancients were writing rhetorically, not theologically, and would have expressed themselves otherwise had they been aware of the errors which should one day arise in the Church. On each of these solutions I will say a few words, just to indicate why they do not appear satisfactory.

(a.) To a public matter of fact, such as the custom of Adoration, four or five contemporary witnesses, circumstanced as those Fathers were, would be held by most historians amply sufficient; unless there were strong counter evidence, or an overpowering degree of intrinsic improbability in their statements; neither of which can here be alleged. All that has been said comes to, "There might have been more evidence than there is."

(b.) A moment's thought will shew that the mere use of a doctrine or an interpretation by the Roman Catholics is no reason why we should reject it; unless we are prepared to reject all points in our common Creed, which they prove, as we do, by Scripture and Antiquity.

(g.) The question between a Real and Virtual Presence can only be decided (as far as it depends on Ancient Consent) by a thorough critical induction of passages. For the groundwork of such a process, and something more, a person may well avail himself of Dr. Pusey's work above mentioned; and the Liturgies, which do not enter into Dr. Pusey's plan, are happily being made accessible through the series in course of publication by Mr. Neale. To these and other like helps the readers of this Essay are referred: the Essay itself, taking generally the doctrine of the Real Presence for granted, tries to illustrate and enforce from it, and from the Prayer-book which teaches it, the moral and devotional duty of Adoration. I have used advisedly the term "Virtual Presence but Real Absence" believing the two phrases to be so connected, that they who limit themselves to the former do in effect teach the latter, however many of them may shrink from owning it to themselves; thereby giving a blessed token that their loving hearts believe more than their preoccupied reason discerns in this miracle of mercy. "They feel that they are happier than they know." But this does not hinder the ill effect of such inadequate doctrine upon the average sort of those who teach and hear it.

In order to maintain their view, they are obliged to make out that those sayings of the Fathers, comparatively very few, which seem to deny the Real Presence, are the staple of the whole ancient doctrine. The Eucharistical thoughts and words of the great theologians, the very Anaphoræ of the primitive Liturgies, are to be toned down till they are in unison with that one saying of S. Augustine, "Sacraments, from their resemblance to the things of which they are the Sacraments, receive for the most part the names even of the things themselves;" and accordingly, whenever our Lord's Body and Blood is so spoken of as to imply a Real Presence, we are to understand it, if we can, of the outward sign only, called by the name of the Inward Part: which appears to me no more reasonable than for a Socinian to insist upon such a text as "I have made thee a God to Pharaoh," by way of warrant for explaining away all the declarations of our Lord's proper Divinity. It is a sad habit of thought for a theologian to train himself up in,--that of instinctively adopting, out of various expositions, the most earthly and least supernatural. The least harm that can be said of it is, that it is just contrary to what we should have looked for from the known analogies of God's successive dispensations; it is more in harmony with Jewish than with Christian interpretations of the Old Testament. I fear that the Church is too likely to experience more and more of this.

(d.) In the face of such a tendency on the one hand, and of the pressure from Rome on the other, it is neither surprising nor uninstructive to find persons learned in the Liturgies especially, unable to hide their eyes from the unquestionable and unquestioning acknowledgment of a Real Presence there every where to be found, but equally unable to reconcile themselves to the inevitable corollary of that tenet, Adoration. And so they are driven, as I have said, to imagine such a Real Presence of our Lord's crucified Body and Blood shed, as shall not involve a peculiar Presence of His Divine Person. An imagination which every one, who will consider the force of the word adiairetoV in Church decrees on our Lord's Incarnation, will allow to be untenable, since in logical consequence it could not stop short of plain Nestorianism.

(e.) There remains the common and popular allegation, that the Fathers (to whom must be added the compilers of the Liturgies) spoke rhetorically, not exactly, and would not have so taught had they known what was coming. It is not speaking too strongly to say, that this statement, in order to be effectual, must dispose of nearly the whole of what Antiquity has left us on the subject. Applied on such a scale, it sounds (I do not say is meant to be) very disparaging to the Fathers and to their authority. In itself it is most improbable. Considering the endless variety of individuals and of circumstances, comprehended in the one term, Christian Antiquity, it was very unlikely that with one consent, being left to themselves, all Churches and all writers should err in the same direction--by over-statement.

Compare, in this point of view, the patristical remains with the series of our own standard divines since the Reformation. You will find in those ancients little or nothing, as among us on this topic, of variety arising from school or section,--from the fancy, temper, or feelings of the several men. The plain inference is, that the Church, they thought, had settled the point for them.

We cannot (as has been alleged) account for this uniform tenor of their language, by the supposition that in those days there was no tendency to deny or forget the Real Humanity of our Mediator. For all through those ages,--from the Docetæ to the Monophysites, from S. John to the Fourth cumenical Council,--the Church had to deal distinctly with that particular phase of false doctrine. If the idea of a Real Substantial Presence does indeed contradict the truth of Christ's Body, certainly the times of those dreamy Oriental heresies required especial care in the Church, not to encourage that idea by glowing language, as in S. Chrysostom and the Liturgies.

And here it must be asked, Have people seriously considered what a thing it is to set down the Prayer-books of the ancient Church as incorrect vehicles of sacred truth; to separate, in this case, the "Lex Credendi" so entirely from the "Lex Supplicandi?" It is just what gave so great offence eight or ten years ago, when the doctrine of Baptism was disturbed by the sentence of the Privy Council in a certain cause. Is it not indeed somewhat shocking, for a person saying his prayers to be told that he is not to understand them exactly as they speak? that in the highest act of Divine communion, both God's words spoken to him, and the words put into his mouth by the Church whereby to pour out his devotion to God, are to be taken as it were at a discount? that instead of lifting up his belief and feeling to his prayers, the truth requires him to lower his understanding of the prayers to something else, which ought to be his feeling and belief? Yet so it was, according to this hypothesis, with all Christians who at any time have worshipped with the ancient Church in her Liturgies: to say nothing of our own. They have had to keep themselves on their guard, lest they should be misled by the Formularies in which they were joining with the whole Church. Would not S. Chrysostom have dismissed such a thought at once with an ''Apage--"away with it--it cannot be?" [c]

But the mischief goes even deeper, if possible, than this. If on this one doctrine the Fathers and the whole undivided Church, not excepting the great cumenical Councils, are to be regarded as habitually overstating the truth,--either unadvisedly, in a kind of enthusiasm, or (for so it has been stated) advisedly, by way of counteracting the irreverence to which heathen converts had been accustomed in celebrating sacrifices,--who shall warrant us that the same authorities are to be trusted, even in their general consent, on other doctrines and interpretations coming under dispute? And what then becomes of the Consensus Patrum, the rule of primitive Tradition, hitherto supposed to be accepted by our branch of the Church, in contradistinction to all developments, as God's special gift for helping us to the right and scriptural conclusion on every point needful to the integrity of the Gospel of our salvation? Here is an absolute unsettling of the standard of faith, especially as between us arid Rome. If we should say, "The ancients mistook our Lord's meaning when He said, 'This is My Body' or however, knowingly or unknowingly, they promulgated a mistaken interpretation of it;" why might not a Romanist say the same of "On this Rock I will build My Church?" or of "The fire shall try every man's work?" why not some Calvinist or Zuinglian of "Ye must be born again of water and of the Spirit?" why not some bolder speculator, of the Nicene Creed itself, or of the Inspiration of the very Scriptures of God? No language, as it seems to me, can exaggerate the evil tendency of all this, especially under present circumstances. In itself, though not so intended, it is far more undutiful than demurring to the authority of this or that Anglican divine; or even (should it so chance) of all. For it is disturbing the whole basis of the Anglican system; it is cutting our cables and setting us all adrift, each one to find his own separate course as he may.

We must claim, therefore, for our mother the Church of England, as well as for each of her sons, however unworthy, to have whatever is ambiguous in her doctrinal sayings interpreted in the sense most agreeable to primitive Antiquity; Holy Scripture, of course, being paramount over all. And we may feel sure that such interpretation, though not, perhaps, so put forth as to exclude every other, was intended at least to be tolerated within our pale.

The fourth section of the following Essay is an attempt to apply this principle to the Rubric touching Adoration at the Holy Communion; and the drift of the quotations there made from Anglican divines, more or less concerned in the adoption of that Rubric, is simply to shew that, at the very least, they could not have intended to exclude from the Church of England and her ministry persons adoring Christ as the Inward Part of that Sacrament. This has not always been adverted to by objectors. They have cited passages from some of the revisers themselves, or from others of like authority, really or apparently taking the opposite view, as if such citation were fatal to the argument: whereas the most that can be inferred from both sorts taken together is, that the matter was not understood to be positively and expressly ruled either way. And the fifth section assigns a reason why such "neutrality" (so to call it) should not be regarded as damaging our claim to be a true living portion of the Catholic Church.

Under these circumstances, I see no disingenuousness in adopting words, from Ridley (e. g.) or any other, to express one's own view, without stopping to enquire whether, on other occasions, the same author might not have employed different or even contradictory language.

But, indeed, when we have deducted from the testimonies of Anglican writers alleged against us, such as in reality touch only (1.) Transubstantiation, or (2.) the notion of a gross carnal Presence, [d] or (3.) the Ubiquity maintained by some Lutherans, or (4.) the necessity of believing not only in the fact but in the mode of the Real Presence ("whether Trans, Sub, Con," &c.), or (5.) the Adoration of the outward Elements: and when we have duly weighed those many sayings of theirs, both controversial and devotional, which tell entirely on our side; the remainder of difficulties we have to deal with in that kind will be found in comparison very moderate; nothing, nothing at all, to the work we should have in reconciling any other doctrine than ours with the Liturgies and standard writers of the holy Church from the beginning. This is our conviction, only the more confirmed when we come to examine carefully the Catenæ put forth from time to time against us.

But be our Anglican authorities many or few, nay, were there (as we have been lately told) no instance at all, since the last Review, of an English Divine teaching exactly the tenets now so keenly opposed, we should still have a claim to be tried, not by any partial development, domestic or foreign, but by our own Formularies, interpreted by Scripture and Antiquity. And if those standards did not condemn us, we might justly feel ourselves acquitted before God and man.

Such I believe to be our position, such our appeal. I will venture to add one word more on the real extent of the question.

Unless I am greatly mistaken, the real point at issue in most of the controversies which have troubled us all along in the Reformed English Church, might be expressed in words like the following:--"Is the Church, mingled as we see it of good arid bad, a supernatural body, separated off from the world to live a supernatural life, begun, continued, and ended in miracles--miracles as real as any of those which befel the Israelites in the wilderness--as real, but infinitely more gracious and awful? or is it only a body providentially raised up to hold the best and purest philosophy--helped as all good things are from above, but in itself no more than the heroical and Divine phase of this present life?" It is plain at first glance which side of this alternative brings with it the more intense obligation to holiness, and represents sin as "more exceeding sinful;"--which, therefore, would be most hated and disparaged by the Hater of God and goodness: unless, indeed, he can persuade those who hold it to contradict it in their lives. It is plain also that the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist is strictly in unison with the supernatural view; whereas that of a Virtual Presence and Real Absence might be accepted by one who believed that miracles invisible, as well as visible, have entirely ceased.

Here is a prima facie reason why religious and reverent persons should be slow to accept that or any other theory which interferes with simple acquiescence in the words of Scripture and of the ancient Church: and here is also (if possible) a yet stronger reason why those who profess such acquiescence should be more and more on their guard against all that is unmeet for His Presence,--more and more fearful as they "enter into the cloud."

So be it: and may our good Lord forgive whatever may have been here or elsewhere written, said, or thought unworthily of this His most holy and ineffable Mystery; and may He grant this to be the last time that the present writer shall have to deal with It in a controversial way!

Conversion of St. Paul, 1859.

[a] See the last section of chap. ii.

[b] At least in heart; for I have stated in the outset of the argument, and I hope it will be borne in mind all along, that nothing external is necessarily implied; nothing indeed new or strange, nor more than pious Church people (unless they have been embarrassed by theories) habitually practise, though it may be with something of ignorance or indistinctness. No need to start back, as if one were teaching some new thing, instead of only helping Christians to approve to their own judgments what they have always felt devoutly in their hearts.

[c] The same topic has been applied to the construction of the Scottish Communion Office: which is supposed to negative the Real Presence, because, in common with most of the normal Liturgies of antiquity, it places the Offering before the Invocation. But this argument assumes what out to be proved,--that the word prosferomen in the Liturgies must be limited to that particular moment in the Service in which it first occurs: unsuitably, as it seems to me, to the natural force of the word in such a case, and also to the fact that the word is repeated again and again after the consecration is undoubtedly completed.

[d] I may perhaps be excused for exemplifying this by the expression sometimes quoted from the "Christian Year:" "present in the heart, not in the hands:" cf. S. John vi. 63; 1 Cor. xv. 50.

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