Project Canterbury

God With Us:
The Meaning of the Tabernacle

by Frank Weston, D.D.
Bishop of Zanzibar

[London and Milwaukee: Mowbray and Morehouse, 1920. 135pp]
pp 132-135


THE argument that many controversialists regard as conclusive against access to the tabernacle is that devotion to the reserved sacrament dates from the period of the definition of transubstantiation. This means that a particular belief about the sacrament produced a particular devotion.

Curiously, in the East, the very same belief has not produced this devotion. Easterns and Westerns believe alike that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The only difference in statement is that the Easterns use the term transubstantiation with a reminder that they do not mean to say how the change takes place. Are we to suppose the multitude of Western people to be so alive to the metaphysical niceties of their theologians as to see in the tabernacle a special witness to the theologians' formula, on its philosophical side?

The fact is that East and West both see in the Blessed Sacrament the very Body and Blood of Christ. The Westerns worship at the tabernacle, the Easterns do not. And therefore we cannot, without very complete evidence, connect the devotion with the theologians' definition. It is more likely that popular belief, to which the theologians gave a formula the people could not understand, must be regarded as the primary cause of the devotion. In short, the devotion and the definition may be found to have a common cause, and that, namely, love for the sacrament which was then being questioned in so many quarters.

In any case, the attitude of the East shows that a very real faith in the Blessed Sacrament can live without metaphysical definition. And very real faith in the Blessed Sacrament is enough for devotion at the tabernacle. The tabernacle does not require, nor will it by itself produce, metaphysical views of the manner of the consecration of the sacrament.

In this connection I venture to call attention to the loss of belief in our Lord's glorious manhood, as instrument of justification and sanctification, that marks those who contend against devotion at the tabernacle. It is, I think, a frequent temptation, very infrequently resisted, to account for popular devotion by some theological doctrine of the schools. It is, none the less, worthy of attention that the local church which has gone so far to discourage the tabernacle has lost, from its public teaching, as also from most of its academic theology, the sense of the reality of Christ's humanity in the work of sanctification.

The Broad Church party, of course, has no place for it; it has gone to make room for what is called a more spiritual conception of Christ's heavenly work, and a somewhat vague conception of His person.

The Low Church school does not in the least appreciate the meaning of the Saviour's manhood as the basis of the Church; nor does it see in it the vehicle of divine grace. It prefers to speak, more vaguely, of the work of the Holy Ghost: as if the Father needed Christ between Him and creation, while the Holy Ghost has direct contact with it. This view discloses a tritheism that is implicit in much English theology.

And the main body of the Church is sadly ignorant of the real significance of the sacred humanity.

It is odd, then, that many English Churchmen fail to see what we mean by the sacramental presence? It would, indeed, be very odd if they had even a clue to our desire for the tabernacle.

Project Canterbury