Project Canterbury

The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D.
Lord Bishop of Down, Connor, and Dromore.

The Worthy Communicant;
Or, a Discourse of the Nature, Effects, and Blessings consequent to the Worthy Receiving of the Lord's Supper,
And of all the Duties required in Order to a Worthy Preparation:
Together with the Cases of Conscience occurring in the Duty of Him that Ministers, and of Him that Communicates;
As also Devotions Fitted to Every Part of the Ministration.

Edited by the Right. Rev. Reginald Heber, D.D.
Late Lord Bishop of Calcutta.

London: Printed for C. and J. Rivington, 1828.

Chapter V. Of Repentance, Preparatory to the Blessed Sacrament.

Section VI. Whether may every Minister of the Church and Curate of Souls reject impenitent Persons, or any Criminals from the Holy Sacrament, until themselves be satisfied of their Repentance and Amends

SEPARATION of sinners from the blessed sacrament, was either done upon confession and voluntary submission of the penitent, or by public conviction and notoriety. Every minister of religion can do the first, for he that submits to my judgment, does choose my sentence; and if he makes me judge, he is become my subject in a voluntary government: and therefore I am to judge for him, when it is fit that he should communicate: only, if when he hath made me judge, he refuses to obey my counsel, he hath dissolved my government, and, therefore, will receive no further benefit by me. But concerning the latter of these, a separation upon public conviction or notoriety; that requires an authority that is not precarious and changeable. Now this is done two ways; either by authority forbidding, or by authority restraining and compelling; that is, by the word of our proper ministry, dissuading him that is unworthy from coming, and threatening him with divine judgments if he does come; or else rejecting of him in case that he fears not these threatenings, but persists in his desires of having it.

Now of the first of these, every minister of the word and sacraments is a competent minister; for all that minister to souls, are to tell them of their dangers, and, by all the effects of their office, to present them pure and spotless unto God. The seers must take care that the people may see, lest, by their blindness, they fall into the bottomless pit. And when the curates of souls have declared the will of God in this instance, and denounced his judgments to unworthy communicants, and told to all that present themselves, who are worthy, and who are not, they have delivered their own souls; all that remains, is, that every person take care concerning his own affairs.

For the second, viz. denying to minister to criminals, though demanding it with importunity; that is an act of prudence and caution in some cases, and of authority in others. When it is matter of caution, it is not a punishment, but a medicine; according to those excellent words of St. Cyprian, "To be cast out," (viz. for a time, from the communion) "is a remedy and degree towards the recovery of our spiritual health:" and because it is no more, it cannot be pretended to be any man's right to do it; but it may be in his duty when he can; but, therefore, this must depend upon the consent of the penitent. For a physician must not, in despite of a man, cut off his leg to save his life; the .sick man may choose, whether he shall or no. But sometimes it is an act of authority: as when the people have consented to such a discipline; or when the secular arm, by assisting the ecclesiastical, hath given to it a power of mixed jurisdiction; that is, when the spiritual power of paternal regiment, which Christ hath given to his ministers, the supreme curates, is made operative upon the persons and external societies of men. Now of this power the bishops are the prime and immediate subjects, partly under Christ and partly under kings; and of this power, inferior ministers are capable by delegation, but no otherwise,--they being but deputies and vicars in the cure of souls, under their superiors, from whom they have received their order and their charge. And thus I suppose we are to understand the rubrick before our communion office; which warrants the curate not to suffer "open and notorious" evil livers, by whom the congregation is offended, and those between whom he perceiveth malice and hatred to reign, to be partakers of the Lord's table. In the first, the case is of notorious criminals, and is to be understood of a notoriety of law; and, in this, the curate is but a publisher of the judge's sentence; in the second, the criminal is 'ipso facto,' excommunicate; and, therefore, in this the curate is but the minister of the sentence of the law, or, at least, hath a delegate authority to pass the church's sentence in a matter that is evident. But this is seldom practised otherwise, than by rejecting such persons by way of denunciation of the divine judgments; and if it be so understood, the curate hath done his duty which God requires; and, I believe, the laws of England will suffer him to do no more by his own authority.

But this is to be reduced to practice by the following measures.

1. Every man is to be presumed fit, that is not known to be unfit; and, he that is not a public criminal, is not to be supposed unworthy to communicate. It may be, he is; but that himself only knows, and he can only take care; but no man is to be prejudiced by imperfect and disputable principles, "by conjectures, and other men's measures, by the rules of sects, and separate communities:" and if a man may belong to God, and himself not know it, he may do so, when his curate knows it not.

2. No man may be separated from the communion for any private sin, vehemently or lightly suspected. This censure must not pass, but when the crime is manifest and notorious; that is, when it is delated and convict in any public assembly, civil or ecclesiastical, or is evident to a multitude, or confessed. This is the express doctrine of the church in St. Austin's time, who affirms, that the ecclesiastics have no power to make separations of sinners, not confessed nor convict. And, besides many others, it relies upon this prudential consideration, which Linwood hath well observed: "Every Christian hath a right in the receiving the eucharist, unless he loses it by deadly sin: therefore, when it does not appear in the face of the church, that such a one hath lost his right, it ought not, in the face of the church, to be denied to him; otherwise a license would be given to evil priests, according to their pleasure, with this punishment to afflict whom they list."

3. Every sinner that hath been convict, or hath confessed, and affirms himself to be truly penitent, is to be believed, where, by the laws of the church, he is not bound to pass under any public discipline. For no man can tell, but that he says true; and because every degree of repentance is accepted to some dispositions and proportions of pardon, and God hath not told us the just period of his being reconciled; and his mercy is divisible as our return, and unknown to us; he that knows, that, without repentance, he eats damnation, and professes upon that very account that he is penitent,--may be taught as many more things as the curate please, or as he is supposed to need; but must not be rejected from the holy communion, if he cannot be persuaded. For this judgment is secret, and is to pass between God and the soul alone; for because no man can tell, no man can judge; and the curate, who knows not how it is, cannot give a definitive sentence.

4. But if there come any accidental obligation upon criminals; as if by the laws of a church, to which they are subjected, it be appointed they shall give public evidence and amends, they are to be judged by those measures, and are not to be restored ordinarily, till they have, by public measures, proved their repentance. This relies upon all those grounds, upon which obedience to ecclesiastical rulers is built.

5. It is lawful for the guides of souls to admit to the communion such persons, whom they believe not to be fit and worthily prepared, if they will not be persuaded to retire: it is evident in the case of kings, and all supreme powers, and great communities, and such who, being rejected, will be provoked into malice and persecution. "Such, indeed, the church sometimes tolerates, lest, being- provoked, they disturb the people of God: but what does it profit them, not to be cast out of the assemblies of the godly, if they deserve to be cast out? To deserve ejection is the highest evil; and to no purpose he is mingled in the congregations of the faithful, who is excluded from the society of God, and the mystical body of Christ." And it is also evident in the societies of the church, which, we know by the words of Christ, and by experience, are a mixed multitude. And, "since the Scripture does not exempt a secret sinner from the communion, why wilt thou endeavour to exempt him?" It is St. Austin's argument. And who shall reject every man that he believes to be proud, or covetous, or envious? Who shall define pride, or convince a single person of a proud heart, or of his latent envy? And who shall give rules, by which every single man that is to blame, can be convinced of covetousness? If it be permitted to the discretion of the parish-priest, you erect a gibbet and a rack, by which he shall be enabled to torment any man, and you give him power to slander or reproach all his neighbours: if you go about to give him measures, you shall never do it wisely or piously; for no rules can be sufficient to convince any proud man: and if you make the parish-curate judge of these rules, you had as good leave it to his discretion; for he will use them as he please: and, after all, you shall never have all the people good; and if not, you shall certainly have them hypocrites; and, therefore, it cannot be avoided, but unfit persons will be admitted: for since the kingdom of grace is within us, and God's chosen ones are his secret ones, and he only knows who are his, it will be strange that visible sacraments should be given only to an invisible society: and after all, if to communicate evil men be unavoidable, it cannot be unlawful.

I do not say that persons unprepared may come, for they ought not; and if they do, they die for it: but I say, if they will come, it is at their peril, and to no man's prejudice, but their own, if they be plainly and severely admonished of their duty and their danger; and, therefore, that every man must judge of his own case, with very great severity and fear, even then when the guides of souls must judge with more gentleness, and an easier charity; when we must suspect our little faults to be worse than they seem, and our negligences more inexcusable, and fear a sin when there is none, and are ready to accuse ourselves for every indiscretion, and think no repentance great enough for the foulness of our sins: at the same time, when we judge for others, we ought to esteem their certain good things better than they do, and their certain evils less, and their disputable good things certain, and their uncertain evils none at all, or very excusable. And, therefore, it was to very great purpose, that the apostle gave command, that "every man should examine himself, and so let him eat;" that is, let it be done as it may be done thoroughly; let him do it whose case it is, and who is most concerned that it be done well; let it be done so, that it may not be allayed and lessened by the judgment of charity; and, therefore, let a man do it himself. For when the curate comes to do it, he cannot do it well, unless he do it with mercy; for he must make abatements, which the sinner's case does not often need in order to his reconciliation and returns to God, where severity is much better than gentle sentences. But the minister of religion must receive, in some cases, such persons, who ought not to come, and who should abstain, when themselves give righteous judgment upon themselves.

For if it be lawful for Christian people to communicate with evil persons, it is lawful for Christian priests to minister it: it being commanded to the people, in some cases, 'to withdraw themselves from a brother that walks inordinately;' but no where commanded, that 'a minister of religion shall refuse to give it to him that requires it, and is within the communion of the church, and is not yet as a heathen and a publican:' and it is evident, that in the churches of Corinth, the communion was given to persons, who for unworthiness fell under the divine anger; and yet no man was reproved but the unworthy communicants,' and themselves only commanded to take care of it. For he that says, 'the people may not communicate with wicked persons,' falls into the error of the Donatists, which St. Austin, and others, have infinitely confuted: but he that says, 'the people may,' ought not to deny but that the priests may; and if he may communicate with him, it cannot be denied but that he may minister to him. But this was the case of the sons of Israel, who did eat manna, and drank of the rock; and yet that rock was Christ, and that manna was also his sacrament; and yet "with many of these God was angry, and they fell in the wilderness." And baptism was given as soon as ever men were converted, in the very day of their change, and that by the apostles themselves, and yet the same Christ is there consigned and exhibited. We may remember, that, in Scripture, we find no difference in the two sacraments, as to this particular. But in this there needs not much to be said; they that think things can be otherwise, and have tried, have declared to all the world by the event of things, that although the guides of souls may, by wise and seasonable discourses, persuade and prevail with some few persons, yet no man can reform the world. And if all were rejected, whose life does not please the curate, some will not care, and will let it quite alone: and others that do care, will never the more be mended, but turn hypocrites; and they are the worst of men, but most readily communicated: some other evils do also follow; and when we have reckoned schisms, partialities, reproaches, animosities, and immortal hatreds between priest and people, we have not reckoned the one half.

6. When to separate criminals can be prudent and useful, and is orderly, limited, and legal, it ought not to be omitted upon any consideration, because it is the sinews and whole strength of ecclesiastical discipline, and is a most charitable ministry to souls, and brings great regard to the holy sacrament, and produces reverence in the communicants, and is a deletory to sin, and was the perpetual practice of the best ages of the church, and was blessed with an excellent corresponding piety in their congregations; upon which account, and of other considerations, St. Cyprian, St. Basil, St. Chrysostom, and divers others, call upon prelates and people, to exercise and undergo respectively this ecclesiastical discipline.

But this hath in it some variety. 1. For if the person be notorious, a great and incorrigible criminal, refusing to hear, the church proceeding against him upon complaint, confession, or notoriety, and consequently to be esteemed as a heathen and a publican; then come in the apostolical rules, 'with such a one not to eat;' and, 'withdraw from such a one, for there is no accord between Christ and Belial, between a Christian and a heathen, or an unbeliever; that is, one who is thrust into the place and condition of an infidel; and « give not that which is holy, unto dogs.' 2. But if he be within the communion of the church, and yet a criminal, not delated, not convict, not legally condemned, and yet privately known to be such, or publicly suspected and scandalous; the minister of religion must separate him by the word of his ministry, and tell him his danger, and use all the means he can to bring him to repentance and amends before he admits him. If the minister of religion omits this duty, he falls under the curse threatened by God in the prophet, "If he does not warn him, if he does not speak to the wicked, to give him warning to save his life; his blood shall be upon him." 3. If there be a regular jurisdiction established, and this spiritual authority be backed with the secular, it must be used according to the measures of its establishment, and for the good of the church in general, and of the sinner in particular; that is, although the person be not as a heathen, and excommunicate by the church's sentence,--yet he must be rejected for a time, and thrust into repentance, and measures of satisfaction; and as he must not refuse, so must not the minister of the sacrament otherwise admit him; and in this sense it was, that St. Chrysostom said, "He would rather lose his life, than admit unworthy m«n to the Lord's table."

7. But because piety hath suffered shipwreck, and all discipline hath been lost in the storm, and good manners have been thrown overboard; the best remedy in the world that yet remains, and is in use amongst the most pious sons and daughters of the church, is that they would conduct their repentance by the continual advices and ministry of a spiritual guide; for by this alone, or principally, was the primitive piety and repentances advanced to the excellency, which we often admire, but seldom imitate. And the event will be, that besides we shall be guided in the ways of holiness in general, we shall be at peace, as to the times and manner of receiving the holy sacrament, our penitential abstentions, and seasonable returns: and we shall not so frequently feel the effects of the divine anger upon our persons, as a reproach of our folly, and the punishment of our unworthy receiving the divine mysteries. And this was earnestly advised and pressed upon the people by the holy fathers, who had as great experience in their conduct, as they had zeal for the good of souls. "Let no man say, I repent in private, I repent before God in secret. God, who alone does pardon, does know that I am contrite in heart. For was it in vain? was it said to no purpose, 'whatsoever ye shall loose in earth, shall be loosed in heaven?' We evacuate the Gospel of God, we frustrate the words of Christ:" so St. Austin--"And, therefore, when a man hath spoken the sentence of the most severe medicine, let him come to the presidents of the church, who are to minister in the power of the keys to him: and beginning now to be a good son, keeping the order of his mother, let him receive the measure and manner of his repentance from the presidents of the sacraments." Concerning this thing, I shall never think it fit to dispute, for there is nothing to enforce it, but enough to persuade it: but he that tries, will find the benefit of it himself, and will be best able to tell it to all the world.

Project Canterbury