Chapter III. Of Faith, as it is a Necessary Disposition to the Blessed Sacrament.
HERE I am to inquire into two practical questions. 1. What stress is to be put upon faith in this mystery: that is, How much is every one bound to believe in the article of this sacrament, before he can be accounted competently prepared in his understanding, and by his faith?
2. What is the use of faith in the reception of the blessed sacrament? and in what sense, and to what purposes, and with what truth it is said, that, in the holy sacrament, we receive Christ by faith?
How much every Man is bound to believe of this Mystery.
If I should follow the usual opinions, I should say, that, to this preparatory faith, it is necessary to believe all the niceties and mysteriousness of the blessed sacrament. Men have introduced new opinions, and turned the key in this lock so often, till it cannot be either opened or shut; and they have unravelled the clue so long, till they have entangled it. And not only reason is made blind by staring at what she never can perceive, but the whole article of the sacrament is made an objection and temptation even to faith itself. And such things are taught by some churches and some schools of learning, which no philosophy did ever teach, no religion did ever reveal, no prophet ever preach, and which no faith can ever receive: I mean it in the prodigious article of 'transubstantiation;' which I am not here a to confute, but to reprove upon practical considerations, and to consider those things that may make us better, and not strive to prevail in disputation. That, therefore, we may know the proper offices of faith in the believing what relates to the holy sacrament, I shall describe it in several propositions.
1. It cannot be the duty of faith to believe any thing against our sense; what we see and taste to be bread, what we see and taste and smell to be wine, no faith can engage us to believe the contrary. For, by our senses, Christianity itself and some of the greatest articles of our belief were known by them h, who from that evidence conveyed them to us by their testimony; and if the perception of sense were not finally to be relied upon, miracles could never be a demonstration, nor any strange event prove an unknown proposition; for the miracle can never prove the article, unless our eyes or hands approve the miracle; and the divinity of Christ's person, and his mission and his power, could never have been proved by the resurrection, but that the resurrection was certain and evident to the eyes and hands of so many witnesses. Thus Christ to his apostles proved himself to be no spirit, by exposing his flesh and bones to be felt: and he wrought faith in St. Thomas by his fingers' ends; the wounds that he saw and felt, were the demonstrations of his faith. And in the primitive church, the Valentiniaiis and Marcionites, who said Christ's body was fantastical, were confuted by no other argument but of sense. For sense is the evidence of the simple, and the confirmation of the wise: it can confute all pretences, and reprove all deceitful subtilties: it turns opinion into knowledge, and doubts into certainty: it is the first endearment of love, and the supply of all understanding. From what we see without, we know what to believe within: and no demonstration in the world can be greater than the evidence of sense. Our senses are the great arguments of virtue and vice: and if it be not safe to rely upon that evidence, we cannot tell what pleasure and pain is: and a man that is born blind, may as well have the true idea of colours, as we could have of pain, if our senses could not tell us certainly; and all those arguments from heaven, by which God prevails upon all the world, as oracles, and Urim and Thummim, and still voices, and loud thunders, and the daughter of a voice, and messages from above, and prophets on earth, and lights and angels, all were nothing: for faith could not come by hearing, if our hearing might be illusions. That, therefore, which all the world relies upon for their whole religion;--that which to all the world is the great means and instrument of the glorification of God, even our seeing of the works of God, and eating his provisions, and beholding his light;--that which is the great ministry of life, and the conduit of good and evil to us;--we may rely upon for this article of the sacrament: what our faith relies upon in the whole, she may not contradict in this. Tertullian said, that "it is not only unreasonable, but unlawful, to contradict the testimony of our sense, lest the same question be made of Christ himself, lest it be suspected that he also might be deceived, when he heard his father's voice from heaven." That, therefore, which we see upon our altars and tables, that which the priest handles, that which the communicant does taste,--is bread and wine: our senses tell us that is so: and, therefore, faith cannot be enjoined to believe it not to be so. Faith gives a new light to the soul'', but it does not put our eyes out; and what God hath given us in our nature, could never be intended as a snare to religion, or to engage us to believe a lie. Faith sees more in the sacrament than the eye does, and tastes more than the tongue does, but nothing against it: and as God hath not two wills contradictory to each other, so neither hath he given us two notices and perceptions of objects, whereof the one is affirmative, and the other negative, of the same thing.
2. Whatsoever is against right reason, that no faith can oblige us to believe. For although reason is not the positive and affirmative measure of our faith, and God can do no more than we can understand, and our faith ought to be larger than our reason, and take something into her heart that reason can never take into her eye,--yet, in all our creed, there can be nothing against reason d. If true reason justly contradicts an article, it is not 'of the household of faith.' In this there is no difficulty; but that, in practice, we take care that we do not call that reason which is not so. For although a man's reason is a right judge, yet it ought not to pass sentence in an inquiry of faith, until all the information be brought in; all that is within, and all that is without it,--all that is above, and all that is below; all that concerns it in experience, and all that concerns it in act; whatsoever is of pertinent observation, and whatsoever is revealed: for else reason may argue very well, and yet conclude falsely: it may conclude well in logic, and yet infer a false proposition in theology: but when our judge is fully and truly informed in all that, where she is to make her judgment,--we may safely follow it whithersoever she invites us.
If, therefore, any society of men calls upon us to believe, in our religion, what is false in our experience,--to affirm that to be done, which we know is impossible it ever can be done;--to wink hard that we may see the better;--to be unreasonable men, that we may offer to God a reasonable sacrifice;--they make religion so to be seated in the will, that our understanding will be useless, and can never minister to it. But as he that shuts the eye hard, and with violence curls the eye-lid, forces a fantastic fire from the crystalline humour, and espies a light that never shines, and sees thousands of little fires that never burn,--so is he that blinds the eye of his reason, and pretends to see by an eye of faith: he makes little images of notion, and some atoms dance before him; but he is not guided by the light, nor instructed by the proposition; but sees like a man in his sleep, and grows as much the wiser as the man that dreamt of a lycanthropy, and was, for ever after, wisely wary not to come near a river. He that speaks against his own reason, speaks against his own conscience; and therefore, it is certain, no man serves God with a good conscience, that serves him against his reason. For though, in many cases, reason must submit to faith, that is, natural reason must submit to supernatural,--and the imperfect informations of art, to the perfect revelations of God;--yet, in no case, can true reason and a right faith oppose each other: and, therefore, in the article of the sacrament, the impossible affirmatives concerning transubstantiation, because they are against all the reason of the world, can never be any part of the faith of God.
3. Whatsoever is matter of curiosity, that our faith is not obliged to believe or confess6. For the faith of a Christian is pure as light, plain as a commandment, easy as children's lessons: it is not given to puzzle the understanding, but to instruct it; it brings clarity to it, not darkness and obscurity. Our faith in this sacrament is not obliged to inquire or to tell, how the holy bread can feed the soul, or the chalice purify our spirits; how Christ is united to us, and yet we remain imperfect even then, when we are all one with him that is perfect: there is no want of faith, though we do not understand the secret manner how Christ is really present, and yet this reality be no other but a reality of event and positive effect: though we know not that sacramental is more than figurative, and yet not so much as natural, but greater in another kind. It is not a duty of our faith to discern how Christ's body is broken into ten thousand pieces, and yet remains whole at the same time; or how a body is present by faith only, when it is naturally absent: and yet faith ought to believe things to be as they are, and not to make them what, of themselves, they are not. We need not to be amazed concerning our faith, when our over-busy reason is amazed in the article; and our faith is not defective, though we confess we do not understand how Christ's body is there incorporeally, that is, the body after the manner of a spirit,--or though we cannot apprehend how the symbols should make the grace presential, and yet that the grace of God in the receiver can make the symbols operative and energetical.
The faith that is required of those who come to the holy communion, is of what is revealed plainly, and taught usefully: what sets devotion forward, not what ministers to curiosity; that which the good and the plain, the easy and the simple man, can understand. For if thon canst not understand the reciprocations and pulses of thy own arteries, the motion of thy blood, the seat of thy memory, the rule of thy dreams, the manner of thy digestion, the disease of thy bowels, and the distempers of thy spleen, things that thou bearest about thee, that cause to thee pain and sorrow;--it is not to be expected that thou shouldest understand the secrets of God, the causes of his will, the impulses of his grace, the manner of his sacraments, and the economy of his spirit'. God's works are secret, and his words are deep, and his dispensations mysterious, and, therefore, too high for thy understanding. St. Gregory Nazianzen says of God: "the more yon think you comprehend of him in your understanding, the less he is comprehended:" like the sand of a glass, which the harder you grasp, the less you can retain: or like the sand of the sea, which you can never number,--but by going about it, you are confounded,--and by doing something of it, you make it impossible to do the rest. Curious inquiries are like the contentions of Proto-genes and Apellesh, who should draw the smallest line; and, after two or three essays, they left this monument of their art, that they drew three lines so curiously, that they were scarcely to be discerned. And, therefore, since faith is not concerned in intrigues and hard questions, it were very well if the sacrament itself were not disguised, and charity disordered, by that which is not a help, but a temptation, to faith itself. In the holy communion, we must retain an undoubted faith, but not inquire after what manner the secrets of God are appointed. 'Whether it be or no,' that is the object of faith to inquire, and to accept accordingly. 'What it is,' he that is to teach others, and speak mysteries, may modestly dispute; but 'how it is,' nothing but curiosity will look after'. The Egyptians used to say, that unknown darkness is the first principle of the world; not meaning that darkness was before light; but by 'darkness' they mean 'God,' as Damascius, the Platonist, rightly observes; saying, "This darkness or obscurity is the beginning of every intellectual being, and every sacramental action: and, therefore, in their ceremonies they usually made three acclamations to the unknown darkness:" that is, to God, whose secrets are pervious to no eye; whose dwelling is in a light that is not to be discerned; whose mysteries are not to be understood by us; and whose sacraments are objects of faith and wonder, but not to be discovered by the mistaking, undiscerning eye of people, that are curious to ask after what they shall never understand.
Faith is oftentimes safer in her ignorance than in busy questions; and to inquire after the manner of what God hath plainly and simply told, may be an effect of infidelity, but never an act of faith 1. If concerning the things of God we once ask, 'Why,' or 'How?' we argue our doubt and want of confidence: and, therefore, it was an excellent counsel of St. Cyril, "Believe firmly in the mysteries, and consent to the words of Christ; but never so much as speak or think, How is this done?" In your faith be as particular and minute, as Christ was in his expressions of it", but no more. He hath told us, 'This is his body,' 'This is his blood;' believe it, and so receive it: but he hath not told us how it is so,--it is behind a cloud, and tied up with a knot of secrecy: therefore let us lay our ringer on our mouth, and worship humbly. But he that looks into the eye of the sun, shall be blind; and he that searches into the secrets of majesty, shall be confounded with the glory. The next inquiry is,
What is the use of faith in this sacrament?--It is tied but to little duty, and a few plain articles: what, then, is the use and advantage of it? To what graces does it minister, and what effects does it produce? To this the answer is easy, but yet such as introduces a further inquiry. Faith, indeed, is not curious, but material: and, therefore, in the contemplation of this mysterious sacrament and its symbols, we are more to regard their signification than their matter; their holy employment than their natural usage; what they are by grace, than what they are by nature; what they signify, rather than what they are defined. Faith considers not how they nourish the body, but how they support and exalt the soul; that they are sacramental, not that they are also nutritive; that they are made holy to purposes of religion, not that they are salutary to offices of nature; that is, what they are to the spirit, not what they are to sense and disputation. For to faith Christ is present; by faith we eat his flesh, and by faith we drink his blood; that is, we communicate not as men, but as faithful and believers0: the meaning, and the duty, and the effect of which, are now to be inquired.
1. It signifies that Christ is not present in the sacrament corporally, or naturally, but spiritually: for thus the carnal and spiritual sense are opposed. So St. Chrysostom upon those words of Christ: "The flesh profiteth nothing: what is it to understand carnally?" To understand them simply and plainly as they are spoken. For they are not to be judged as they seem; but all mysteries are to be considered with internal eyes, that is, spiritually. For "the carnal sense does not penetrate to the understanding of so great a secret," saith St. Cyprian.--"For, therefore, we are not devourers of flesh, because we understand these things spiritually:" so Theophylact.
2. Since the spiritual sense excludes the natural and proper, it remains that the expression which is natural, be, in the sense, figurative and improper: and if the holy sacrament were not a figure, it could neither be a sign, nor a sacrament. But, therefore, it is called 'the body and blood of Christ,' because it is the figure of them, as St. Austin P largely discourses; "For so, when Good Friday draws near, we say, 'to-morrow or the next day is the passion of our Lord;' although that passion was but once, and that many ages since: and upon the Lord's day, we say, 'to-day our blessed Lord arose from the dead,' although so many years be passed since: and why is no man so foolish as to reprove us of falsehood,--but because, on these days, is the similitude of those things, which were done so long since? Was not Christ once sacrificed? and yet he is sacrificed still on the solemnities of Easter, and, every day, in the communion of the people: neither does he say false, who, being asked, shall say that 'he is sacrificed:' for if the sacraments had not a similitude of those things whereof they are sacraments, they would be no sacraments at all: but, most commonly, by their similitudes things receive their names." Thus Tertullian expresses this mystery: 'This is my body;' that is, 'the figure of my body.' And St. Gregory Nazianzen calls the passover, because it antedated the Lord's Supper, "a figure of a figure."
3. But St. Austin added well, "The body of Christ is truth and figure too." The holy sacrament is not only called the Lord's body and blood, for the figure, similitude, and sacramentality; but for the real exhibition and ministration of it. For it is truly called the body of Christ, because there is joined with it the vital power, virtue, and efficacy of the body: and, therefore, it is called by St. Austin r, 'The intelligential, the invisible, the spiritual body.'--By St. Jerome, 'The divine and spiritual flesh:'--' the celestial thing,' by St. Irenaeus;--' the spiritual food, and the body of the Divine Spirit,' by St. Ambrose. For, by this means, it can very properly be called 'the body and blood of Christ:' since it hath not only the figure of his death externally, but internally it hath hidden and secret, the proper and divine effect, the life-giving power of his body: so that, though it be a figure, yet it is not merely so; not only the sign and memorial of him that is absent, but it bears along with it the very body of the Lord, that is, the efficacy and divine virtue of it. Thus our blessed Saviour said of John the Baptist, that 'Elias is already come,' because he came in the power and spirit of Elias. As John is Elias, so is the holy sacrament the body and blood of Christ, because it hath the power and spirit of the body of Christ. And, therefore, the ancient doctors of the church, in their sermons of these divine mysteries, use the word 'nature' and 'substance,' not understanding these words in the natural or philosophical, but a theological sense, proper to the schools of Christians; by 'substance,' meaning 'the power of the substance;' by 'nature,' 'the gracious effect of his natural body:' the nature, and use, and mysteriousness of sacraments so allowing them to speak, and so requiring us to understand.
4. And now to this spiritual food must be fitted a spiritual manner of reception; and this is the work of faith; that spiritual blessings may invest the spirit, and be conveyed by proportioned instruments, lest the sacrament be like a treasure in a dead hand, or music in the grave. But this I choose rather to represent in the words of the fathers of the church, than mine own: "We see," saith St. Epiphanius, " what our Saviour took into his hands, as the Gospel says, 'He arose at supper and took this; and when he had given thanks, he said, This is my body:' and we see it is not equal, nor like to it, neither to the invisible Deity, nor to the flesh; for this is of a round form, without sense: but by grace he would say, 'This is mine.' And every one hath faith in this saying: for he that doth not believe this to be true as He hath said, he is fallen from grace and salvation. But that which we have heard, that we believe, that it is his."--And again; "The bread indeed is our food, but the virtue which is in it, is that which gives us life; by faith" and efficacy, by hope and the perfection of the mysteries, and by the title of sanctification, it should be made to us the perfection of salvation.--For these words are spirit and life; and the flesh pierces not into the understanding of this depth, unless faith come.--But then, the bread is food, the blood is life, the flesh is substance, the body is the church."--"For the body is indeed shown, it is slain, and given for the nourishment of the world, that it may be spiritually distributed to every one; and be made to every one the conservatory of them to the resurrection of eternal life;" saith St. Athanasius.--"Therefore, because Christ said, 'This is my body,' let us not at all doubt, but believe, and receive it with the eye of the soul, for nothing sensible is delivered us: but by sensible things, he gives us insensible or spiritual."--So St. Chrysostom.--"For Christ would not, that they, who partake of the divine mysteries, should attend to the nature of the things which are seen, but let them (by faith) believe the change is made by grace."--"For according to the substance of the creatures, it remains after consecration the same it did before; but it is changed inwardly by the powerful virtue of the Holy Spirit; and faith sees it, it feeds the soul, and ministers the substance of eternal life: for now faith sees it all, whatsoever it is."
From these excellent words, we are confirmed in these two things. 1. That the divine mysteries are of very great efficacy and benefit to our souls. 2. That faith is the great instrument in conveying these blessings to us. For as St. Cyprian affirms, "The sacraments, of themselves, cannot be without their own virtue; and the Divine Majesty does, at no hand, absent itself from the mysteries." But then, unless by faith we believe all this that Christ said, there is nothing remaining but the outward symbols, and the sense of flesh and blood, which profits nothing. But to believe in Christ, is to cut the flesh of Christ. "I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me, shall not hunger;" that is, he shall be filled with Christ: "And he that believeth in me, shall not thirst." 'Coming to Christ,' and 'believing in him,' is the same thing; that is, he that believes Christ's words, and obeys his commandments; he that owns Christ for his Lawgiver and his Master, for his Lord and his Redeemer; he who lays down his sins in the grave of Jesus, and lays down himself at the foot of the cross, and his cares at the door of the temple, and his sorrows at the throne of grace; he who comes to Christ to be instructed, to be commanded, to be relieved, and to be comforted;--to this person Christ gives his body and blood, that is, food from heaven. And then the bread of life, and the body of Christ, and eating his flesh and drinking his blood, are nothing-else but mysterious and sacramental expressions of this great excellency,--that whoever does this, shall partake of all the benefits of the cross of Christ, where his body was broken, and his blood was poured forth for the remission of our sins, and the salvation of the world. But still, that I may use the words of St. Ambrose, "Christ is handled by faith, he is seen by faith; he is not touched by the body, he is not comprehended by the eyes."
5. But all the inquiry is not yet past: for thus we rightly understand the mysterious propositions; but thus we do not fully understand the mysterious sacrament. For since coming to Christ in all the addresses of Christian religion, that is, in all the ministries of faith,--is eating of the body and drinking the blood of Christ, what does faith in the reception of the blessed sacrament that it does not do without it? Of this I have already given an account but here I am to add, that in the holy communion all the graces of a Christian, all the mysteries of the religion are summed up as in a divine compendium; and whatsoever moral or mysterious is done without, is by a worthy communicant, done more excellently in this divine sacrament. For here we continue the confession of our faith, winch we made in baptism; here we perform in our own persons what then was undertaken for us by another; here that is made explicit, which was but implicit before; what then was in the root, is now come to a full ear; what was at first done in mystery alone, is now done in mystery and moral actions, and virtuous excellencies together; here we do not only hear the words of Christ, but we obey them; we believe with the heart, and here we confess with the mouth, and we act with the hand, and incline the head, and bow the knee, and give our heart in sacrifice; here we come to Christ, and Christ comes to us; here we represent the death of Christ as he would have us represent it,--and remember him, as he commanded us to remember him; here we give him thanks, and here we give him ourselves; here we defy all the works of darkness; and hither we come to be invested with a robe of light, by being joined to 'the Sun of Righteousness,' to live in his eyes, and to walk by his brightness, and to be refreshed with his warmth, and directed by his Spirit, and united to his glories. So that if we can receive Christ's body, and drink his blood out of the sacrament, much more can we do it in the sacrament.--For this is the chief of all the Christian mysteries, and the union of all Christian blessings, and the investiture of all Christian rights, and the exhibition of the charter of all Christian promises, and the exercise of all Christian duties. Here is the exercise of our faith, and acts of obedience, and the confirmation of our hope, and the increase of our charity. So that although God be gracious in every dispensation, yet he is bountiful in this: although we serve God in every virtue, yet in the worthy reception of this divine sacrament, there must be a conjugation of virtues, and, therefore, we serve him more: we drink deep of his loving-kindness in every effusion of it, but in this we are inebriated: he always fills our cup, but here it runs over.
The Effects of these Considerations are these: 1. That by 'faith' in our dispositions and preparations to the holy communion, is not understood only 'the act' of faith, but 'the body' of faith, not only believing the articles, but the dedication of our persons; not only a yielding up of our understanding, but the engaging of our services; nor the hallowing of one faculty, but the sanctification of the whole man. That faith, which is necessary to the worthy receiving this divine sacrament, is all that which is necessary to the susception of baptism and all that which is produced by hearing the word of God, and all that which is exercised in every single grace; and all that by which we live the life of grace, and all that which works by charity, and makes a new creature, and justifies a sinner, and is a keeping of the commandments of God.
If the manducation of Christ's flesh and drinking his blood be spiritual, and done by faith, and is effected by the Spirit, and that this faith signifies an entire dedition of ourselves to Christ, and sanctification of the whole man to the service of Christ,--then it follows, that the wicked do not communicate with Christ, they eat not his flesh, and they drink not his blood: they eat and drink indeed; but it is gravel in their teeth, and death in their belly; they eat and drink damnation to themselves. For unless a man be a member of Christ, unless Christ dwells in him by a living faith, he does not eat the bread that came down from heaven. "They lick the rock," saith St. Cyprian, "but drink not the waters of its emanation:"--"They receive the skin of the sacrament, and the bran of the flesh:" saith St. Bernard. But it is in this divine nutriment, as it is in some fruits; the skin is bitterness, and the inward juice is salutary and pleasant; the outward symbols never bring life, but they can bring death; and they of whom it can be said (according to the expression of St. Austin, "they eat no spiritual meat, but they eat the sign of Christ," must also remember what old Simeon said of his prophecy of Christ, "He is a sign, set for the fall of many;" but his flesh and blood, spiritually eaten, is resurrection from the dead.