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 44-63

transcribed by Mr. Alexander van Ness Munoz
AD 2000


NOTWITHSTANDING the wonderful faith that enables us to accept these truths in a general way, doubts assail many Christians when they pass to practical application of their belief. Is Christ really and truly present in the sacrament? If so, what exactly does His presence involve of locality? Is He always in the sacrament, or only at times of Communion? Did He really intend us to adore Him in His sacramental presence? And so on, for the questions are almost endless.

None the less they must be faced, and, if possible, answered.

I. As to Christ's presence. We have seen that the presence in the sacrament is that of the glorious Christ at God's right hand. Evidently, then, it is a presence external to the communicant. In short, it is the presence of God, God in glorious manhood. But how can we say that Christ is here, before us? He is before us, because God is transcendent over us, outside us, objective to our reason, our sense, and our faith. And He is here, because we are in God as God is in us. There is no here or there in strict truth. But just as we are in the flesh, on earth, as well as in God, so is Christ here, before us, as well as in God's highest glory.

Again, He is here, because in His sacrament He is not everywhere on earth. So also He is here now. Because now is the human term that denotes our present attention to the eternal presence. Now is in eternity, as eternity is, for us, focussed in the now. Wipe out from the mind all created realities except yourself and Christ's manhood; you will still require the sacrament to make the manhood accessible to you. But you will no longer think of it as in space or time; you will see it as at once the veil and the unveiling of the manhood in heaven. And if your material nature were suddenly glorified the sacrament would disappear from your ken; you would comprehend the very manhood itself, and, comprehending Christ, you would begin to see God.

2. Is the sacramental presence local? Yes and no. Or rather no and yes. No; because the Christ is in highest glory. Yes; because you are under conditions of space, and cannot in any way conceive of a presence that is not local. It is local to you because you require to conceive, take, and eat the heavenly Food. It is local to you because you and your brethren must gather together to set forth before the Father the representation of Christ's death and passion. It is local to you because you are bound to meet the Man, Christ Jesus, whose manhood is not, as is God- head, ubiquitous. It is not local in the sense that Christ descends from His throne of glory to be present with you. It is not local in the sense that when the sacrament is moved He moves from place to place. It is not local in the sense that if the sacrament be placed within a tabernacle He is Himself confined within space. In short, it is not local in any sense that denies Christ's continuous presence, in manhood, on the throne of His glory. And it is local in the sense that the sacrament, having become the outward expression of Himself, is seen by you in one place and not in another.

If I may dare to put it so, the presence is local from our point of view, while from the angels' standpoint it is not local. For we perceive Christ as it were in our midst, while the angel sees us at the foot of His throne in heaven itself. We regard the elements of bread and wine as means by which Christ comes down to us, the angels see in them the means by which Christ makes His heavenly presence visible to us.

3. The next two questions we may state thus. Suppose the sacrament to be reserved for the sick, is the presence withdrawn until the sacrament be given to the sick man? What authority have we for answering in the negative? Answers to such questions as these must follow the lines of probability and tradition in the absence of any indisputable word of revelation.

The only certain ground of belief in the reality of the presence at all is our Lord's institution of the Blessed Sacrament. The creative Word Himself said, "This is My Body, this is My Blood." I can at least understand the argument that the words of consecration were spoken metaphorically, not creatively. Of course, it was advanced too late in the life of the Church to find acceptance, but it is a rational suggestion. But, try as I will, I can see neither right nor reason on their side who venture to read into a word they admit to be creative a meaning without any analogy in the universe. I say, without any hesitation, that the burden of proof lies with those who do not accept our Lord's own creative word at its natural value. For there is no analogy to be found in support of their assertion among all the sayings of the Christ. Nor can they adduce evidence from merely human speech because the sacrament has no analogy among the things of earth.

Let us, however, fall back on probability and tradition.

Arguing from analogy we may regard it as in the highest degree probable that our Lord's new creation was meant to be absolute. First, because He who is the Truth gave it a new name. Secondly, because His task is to raise all created things into union with Himself, and the bread and wine reached their true end when they received their new name. And thirdly, because it is God's evident purpose that creatures be raised to an order above their own in order to serve the human race, and once raised they keep that order when their material forms decay. That is so very well known that I need not pause to emphasize it.

The tradition of the Church supports what probability allows us to hold. For the doubt was never raised sufficiently to secure notice of it. It is true S. Cyril of Alexandria dealt with it in a letter to a fellow bishop, declaring that "the power of the consecration and the life-giving grace still remain in it." But as he calls those who raised the question "mad" it does not appear that the doctrine of conditional presence was widely known. It may well be that S. Cyril's answer refers to a wider doubt than that raised to-day; perhaps some one had begun to question the efficacy of the reserved, sacrament even for Communion. Yet his answer makes clear what he taught. And the superstitious uses to which the sacrament was put show that men believed in the absolute nature of the change.

In any case the practice of reservation was so common from the earliest days that there was every opportunity for the growth of a view of conditional consecration. But as a matter of fact no such view gained acceptance until the Reformation. At that time it attained popularity because it fitted the Lutheran view that our Lord's manhood was, like His divine nature, ubiquitous. The ubiquitous manhood was supposed to be present in the bread and wine at the time of Communion. That is, the ubiquitous reality took to itself a means of contact with man for the one purpose of Communion.

Apart from the Reformation controversies, the whole theology of the Church was on the side of a manhood locally in heaven, in its own proper mode of presenceĀ—a presence by no means ubiquitous, and such as to require the liturgical form of consecration before it could be with us under forms of bread and wine. The consecration once made, Christ's manhood was present. That the presence would be withdrawn again while the elements remained did not occur to Catholic theologians.

The Bishop of Oxford is fond of pointing out the close analogy between the doctrine of the Incarnation and the Eucharist. He has a classic essay to prove that transubstantiation, with its destruction of the substance of the bread and wine, is parallel with the view that our Lord's manhood ceased to be truly human, being so filled with divine power as to be indeed hardly human at all.

May I, humbly and tentatively, suggest to him a like parallel?

Many people have thought that God's Incarnation was so little necessary to His divine nature that, had our Lord chosen, He could have willed to desert His manhood.. They write as if He could have done so and yet been truly God. Many of them express the wonder they feel at our Lord's daily continuance in his earthly state of sorrow as if He could have chosen to leave it. It is, I suggest, this view of the Incarnation that has made possible a doctrine of conditional consecration.

Does not a true view of the earthly life and passion of our Lord shut out all such idle speculation? For God is naturally self-expressed in the Word, and the Word in that which Incarnation symbolizes. God changes not. And the Incarnate Word, as befits God's love, accepted the inevitable consequences of Incarnation which were worked out in His daily experience of obedience under sorrow. His obedience consists in His acceptance of the inevitable. He could not will to draw back. The wonder is not that He did not retrace His steps. It is that, being One who could not will to go back. He ever came to our redemption. In short, we wonder reverently at God's nature, which is Love.

And so with the Blessed Sacrament. As God is naturally expressed in that which Incarnation symbolizes, so is the Incarnate Word naturally expressed in that which the sacrament symbolizes. And once the sacrament is consecrated the Incarnate faces all the consequences thereof. For redemption rests on self-oblation, which is God's own nature, expressed in the generation of the eternal Son. And self-oblation consists in the one primary act, and the selfless acceptance of all the consequences thereof.

And, lastly, against "conditional presence" we may justly urge the evidence of those who have, by experience, personal conviction of the presence apart from Communion. To this I have made reference already in another connection; I merely recall it here.

It seems to have escaped notice that if our Lord's presence is conditional on our receiving the sacrament it ought not to be evident to those who attend at the Liturgy without Communion. And therefore it ought not to be evident to the priest who communicates the sick man with the reserved sacrament. No one, surely, will go this length who acknowledges any sacramental presence as such. Does not the argument in favour of conditional presence assume too much knowledge on our side? All that we have to go on is the Lord's own assurance, "This is My Body." What right have we to determine conditions under which this may not be true? The revealed word of institution suggests an absolute consecration; probability is on its side; tradition reveals no doubt raised against it; the practice of non- communicating attendance supports it; and spiritual experience proclaims it. Against all this who dare say he feels that Christ did not intend it? In view of this who will demand more certain guarantees of the presence? Can we no longer walk by faith?

4. We must not shirk, however, the main doubt that assails so many Christians. They are tired of the endless controversy about the Blessed Sacrament and of the rival definitions that have been advanced. And their temptation is to deny any essential connection between the sacramental elements and the presence. So long as the presence sanctifies those who use the sacrament they are content to do without definition. But those who accept this position must, in all justice, refuse to enter on controversy with others in this matter. They have no common ground on which to base a discussion. They are merely agnostic.

To me the most satisfactory way of thought, in face of the rival theories, is to try and get behind the creation, so far as creature can, and rest upon the Creator's mind, as revealed.

Every creature represents what we may call a divine notion; it also represents and takes its name from a human notion. The divine notion went before it, and is the ground of its existence. The human notion followed after ; it is man's effort at reading the real nature of the creature and its place in the universe. And since man's intelligence is capable of interpreting God's world up to a point, the human and divine notions of common things are, no doubt, sufficiently in agreement. Bread is bread, and wine is wine. The divine notion of both probably contains far more than the human, but for all present purposes the human is adequate.

Suppose, however, that God should please, in the exercise of His creative power, to enlarge His notion of a certain thing so that it might include not only the original idea but a cognate idea of a different order and significance. And suppose Him to have revealed to us this free choice of His. What then ? When we came to consider this new thing from our standpoint we might still see it as we had always seen it and give it its original name. But from the standpoint of faith we should be bound to see in it what God had seen in it and name it as He Himself had chosen to name it.

But this is exactly what has happened in the case of the Blessed Sacrament. God and man both see in it two particular creatures, all that we imply by the names bread and wine. But when the bread and wine are brought under the influence of Christ's redemptive activity by His command in the power of the Spirit God says that He sees the Body and the Blood of the Christ. That is to say, God's notion of the material things has become so enlarged as to include not only that which is known as bread and wine, but that also which is known as Christ's Body and Blood. This enlargement of the notion is so entirely God's own doing, confined to the sphere of ideas, that no sensible change takes place in the original creatures, bread and wine. The notion of bread and wine has become a new notion, the notion of Christ's Body and Blood under the forms of the bread and the wine, which men still see, handle, and identify. To put it still more clearly. We do not claim to grasp this mystery of God's working. We reverently try to speak of things as we believe they appear to Him, and as Christ's words reveal them to us.

We contemplate God seeing two things that are necessary for the creation of the sacrament. He sees bread and wine under the notion that underlies their existence as earthly food and drink. He sees Christ's manhood under the notion of natural human presence in one place, be it in the Upper Room or in the heavenly glory. In the act of creating the sacrament He no longer sees Christ's manhood as present in natural manner, nor does He see bread and wine as merely earthly food and drink. But He sees in a new unity Christ's glorious spiritual manhood under the forms of bread and wine. And what God sees really exists. I have spoken of it as a new unity. Of course to us it is new. In God's mind there is nothing new, for He changes not.

It will become plain to those who think it out that Christ's manhood, naturally in heaven and at the same time spiritually under the forms of the bread and wine for our communion, is the one twofold expression of the divine redemptive love. It is the essential unity of God, mankind, and creation ; and the sacrament both expresses that unity and is God's chief means of extending it over the whole universe. For God is revealed to us as requiring for His self-expression His own thoughts in created forms. These He assumes to Himself in such wise that while continuing to be the same in themselves they no longer exist either for themselves or for what we took to be the primary purpose of their creation.

Firstly He assumes manhood; our own manhood, like in all points to ours to-day, sin only excepted. And in the taking He constitutes it in the eternal Word as its self, or ego, so that it is God's own manhood on a plane higher than ours yet destined to be ours.

Next, He assumes bread and wine; ordinary bread and ordinary wine. And in the taking He constitutes them in His Body and His Blood; yet they remain, as His manhood remains, in all points like what they were. Thus we conceive of God, who is essentially self-oblation, as Blessed Trinity, Incarnate, and, as Incarnate, sacramentally our food. ' All this is involved in the definition of God's character.

Nor can we rightly think of creation united with God in Christ unless Christ Himself be in some way the living centre of the creation He must assume. Manhood constituted in the person of the Word establishes Him as

the living centre, since it gives Him the created reality, into union with which all creation can be brought. Bread and wine, constituted in His manhood, 'give Him the means of binding to Himself all to which they may convey His life. And at the same time they witness to that power of His which will one day subdue in a different degree the whole creation to service on the supernatural plane. That is to say, the Incarnation and the Blessed Sacrament stand for aspects of God's nature, thoughts of His mind, eternal notions. And these cognate notions on the natural plane, namely manhood and bread and wine, are lost in the wider supernatural notions of God's manhood and the bread from heaven. That is to say we confess no presence of Christ in the sacrament, which will not endure beyond the veil. The material elements belong to our present dispensation. But Christ's manhood will ever be present to us in heaven both in its natural manner and in such spiritual manner as will enable Him continuously to be the Food and Life of His members. As there is a vision of Christ outside us as well as the knowledge of Christ within us, and as our growing comprehension of the vision has no limit, so we believe that in heaven there will be for us not only increasing fulness of Christ's life and activity within the members of His body, but also endless receiving of His life and power from Him outside us, the Head of the body.

In what manner, then, will the glorious Christ in manhood perceived outside us become so really present to each saint as to communicate Himself in all His powers? We cannot even guess. The saints now in heaven perceive it. But we confess that whatever this manner prove to be it is, of God's mercy, now expressed to us on earth in that mode of presence in which Christ's manhood is with us under forms of bread and wine.

Our Lord's sacramental presence as it affects His life on the throne of glory (to speak symbolically) is not a temporary accommodation to us on earth. The temporary accommodation is in the use of material elements. The sacramental presence is the expression of an eternal idea, and will be permanent in the heavens. The epithet sacramental may not endure, but the particular mode of presence we now call sacramental is a permanent activity of redemptive love.

This is a most important consideration. For the main force of the opposition to the tabernacle is derived from a conviction that the Christ of the tabernacle is, if I may give voice to men's thoughts, a private creation of our own minds in no possible relation with eternal truth. Indeed it is not so. He is in eternal relation with truth. And the more we can make ourselves see truth as a whole the more readily will we allow freedom of access to the tabernacle.

But wait! We must descend from these heights to meet objections on the score of the Thirty-nine Articles. Yet we need not be afraid; they will easily be reconciled with all I have written. For Articles and Catechism assert, beyond just dispute, that the Body and Blood of Christ are given, taken, received, and eaten in the Lord's Supper. They also assert, equally beyond just dispute, that bread and wine are received, that our bodies are strengthened and refreshed thereby, and that the natural substance thereof is not changed. (See Catech. and Art. XXVIII.)

This means that God sees in what we receive the Body and Blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. And that we see with our eyes bread and wine, and with our faith perceive and take Christ's Body and Blood. In other words, the notion of the sacrament that God reveals to our faith is this the Body and Blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. Therefore we are bidden to pray " that our bodies may be made clean by His Body and our souls washed through His most precious Blood."

5. Thus our last doubt is met. What is that ? It is a doubt lest we be hopelessly entangled in materialistic conceptions. This doubt assails us from both sides. First, is not the conception of Christ's Body and Blood materialistic?

The answer is that the sacrament makes real to us the Christ of heaven, and communicates to us Him who is in heaven, in heavenly glory. If that is a materialistic conception, then, of course, our whole theory is materialistic. Otherwise our theory is, in the highest sense possible to manhood, spiritual. And no man may call our view of Christ's presence physical unless he mean by physical a presence of the heavenly nature of Christ in glory. Physical in the sense of earthly human nature it certainly is not.

Secondly, from the other side, many men doubt whether the emphasis on the reality of the bread and wine may not detract from our sense of Christ's real presence. It is this doubt that has led to unbalanced statements, such as Faber loved to collect and reproduce. The answer is that God's mind is creative. What God sees to be really is. And if God sees Christ's Body and Blood under the forms of bread and wine we may concentrate our faithful gaze upon the precious gift of heaven, and treat the bread and wine as what God sees them to be, the Body and Blood of Christ. The point is that the bread and wine of the sacrament, in God's notion of them, have no other purpose than to be the forms under which the Christ's Body and Blood are really present to us. And this conception is no more materialistic than is necessary to the revelation of Christ in heaven under terms of the earthly creation.

At this we must leave it. We have discussed different modes of Christ's presence. We have not run away from difficulties nor refused to face natural doubts. And we may now pass to the more central point of the controversy.

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