The Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist: A Sermon, Preached in S. Stephen's Church, Providence, R.I. on the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, October 4th, A.D. 1885.
Providence: Printed by, and at the Request of S. Augustine's Guild of S. Stephen's Parish, 1886.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“How can this man give us His Flesh to eat?” S. John vi: 52.
This question was occasioned by that long and remarkable discourse of our Blessed Lord recorded in the 6th chapter of S. John’s Gospel. In that discourse, He prepared the way for the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, by declaring the marvellous truth, that men should have for the nourishment of their immortality—His very Flesh and Blood. This was a startling statement. It startled all who heard it. It disturbed the minds of the Jews and of the disciples of Christ. Yes, His own disciples murmured at it. They said—“this is a hard saying—who can hear it?” Just as people say now-a-days—“we cannot accept this or that.” They not only murmured, and found fault, and objected to what the Master taught on this subject, but they went further than that. [3/4] They forsook Him. “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.” Our Lord made strong statements—the strongest statements. And He did not explain them away—when He saw the offence, which they gave. He repeated them. He said, “the bread, which I will give is My Flesh, Which I will give for the life of the world.” Thereupon, the Jews began to strive and dispute together. They asked—“How can this man give us His Flesh to eat?” This is a natural question. It is a question, which men have asked over and over again. If you think of all that our Lord said on this occasion—of the way in which His hearers were affected by what He said—of the workings of their minds—of what they said and of what they did—is it not an exact and faithful likeness of the attitude of a great many people today towards these words of our Master concerning His Body and Blood? Yes, now, as then, and as always—people will be found, who treat the words of Christ, concerning His Body and Blood, just as those people did. They are displeased. They are offended. They murmur. They find fault. They object. They withdraw from those, who believe that Christ spoke literally, and that He meant what He said. Our Lord’s answer to this question of the text is very remarkable, and the [4/5] more remarkable, when we contrast His way of answering it with modern answers. When people now-a-days, ask “how?”—on one side, the Romanist says, “by the change of the substance of Bread and Wine.” On the other side, the Sectarian says—He does not really give us His Flesh to eat, but the bread represents His Flesh. But how did Christ answer? When men asked Him “how “—He simply repeated His assertion. He answered, “Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you.” That is what He said.
Now that teaching of the Church, which can be called universal, because it may be proved to have been held everywhere, always, and by all, follows our Lord’s method of answer. It does not attempt to explain just how Christ gives us His Flesh to eat—as the Romanist does. It does not explain it away as the Sectarian does, saying that the bread is only a figure of Christ’s Body, and denying that He does really give us His Flesh to eat. It simply asserts the fact, taking Him, the Truth, Who spake it, at His word.
I have been asked by some among you, who are not clear in your minds, as to what you ought to believe in regard to this great truth of the Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood—to state the teaching of the [5/6] Church on this august and sacred subject. I am glad to accede to this request, and to do what in me lies to help any one to a firmer and more intelligent hold upon the teachings of the Christian Faith, remembering that the priest’s lips should keep knowledge. And I do this the more cheerfully, inasmuch as there are so many misunderstandings and misconceptions, which becloud this whole matter. I take it for granted that all of you are wholly actuated by the one desire to be in harmony with the mind and belief of the Church, knowing that She is the only safe and reliable witness of the teaching of Holy Scripture. If we can ascertain what the Church has uniformly taught, we may be sure that we have got at the meaning of the Bible. Let us then enquire, what She has said.
She says that the Lord’s Supper is a Sacrament. But what is a Sacrament? Let the Church define it for us in the Catechism.
“An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given unto us, ordained by Christ Himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.” I beg you to note the force of this definition. What does it assert? It plainly asserts this, viz.: that a Sacrament has two parts—an outward part and an inward part—i. e., in a Sacrament there is [6/7] some outward thing, which we can see, and there is, at the same time, joined with that outward part or form, some inward part or thing, which we cannot see, hut which is nevertheless certainly and really there. It is the nature of a Sacrament to have these two parts. If it lacked either of these parts, or if either of them were taken away, it would cease to be a Sacrament. Its nature as a Sacrament would be overthrown. Let us remember this definition, because it is in departing from it, that erroneous and mistaken views concerning the Blessed Sacrament have largely arisen. According to Her definition of a Sacrament, the Church goes on to enquire in the Catechism—”What is the outward part or sign in the Lord’s Supper?” The answer is—”Bread and Wine, which the Lord hath commanded to be received.” “What is the inward Part or Thing signified?” The answer is—”The Body and Blood of Christ, which are spiritually taken and received by the Faithful in the Lord’s Supper,” or as the original wording in the English Prayer-Book reads—”which are verily and indeed taken and received by the Faithful in the Lord’s Supper.” It is important to remember that the terms, employed in this portion of the Catechism, are equivalents of the Latin words of scientific theology—(Latin in those days was the [7/8] language of theologians)—terms, which from long use, had come to have a very precise, accurate, , and accepted meaning. [It will be noticed that the Church Catechism speaks of three parts in the Lord’s Supper: (1) the Sign; (2) the Thing Signified; and (3) the Benefits; whereas, in Baptism there are but two: (l) the Sign; and (2) the Inward Grace. In this distinction, our Catechism follows the teaching of earlier theologians from S. Augustine downwards.] The theology of the Blessed Sacrament, since S. Augustine’s day, had been accustomed to distinguish three things concerning it. The Outward Part, called, in Latin, the Sacramentum, or Sign—the Res Sacramenti, the Reality of the Sacrament, the Inward Part. the Thing Signified, the Thing, under the Sign—and the Virtue, or Benefit of the Sacrament. This nomenclature and division, under English equivalents, are used in the Catechism. The Outward Part, or Sacramentum; the Inward Part, or Res Sacramenti; the Virtus, or Benefits, which we receive thereby. Moreover, the expression, “verily and indeed,” is an English rendering of vere et re ipsa, truly and really. What is then asserted by the Church is, that under the Outward Part in the Lord’s Supper—the Body and Blood of Christ are spiritually—i. e., after the law and manner of spirit—but nevertheless, “truly and really” taken and received. This is what is known as the Real [8/9] Presence. We must be careful here to distinguish this belief from that known as Transubstantiation. The Real Presence is the doctrine in all ages, of the Catholic Church, throughout the world, in all its branches, and of that branch in particular, viz.: the Anglican, to which we belong. Transubstantiation is a modern attempt to explain philosophically the mode of the Real Presence. Transubstantiation is a theory, which does not date from antiquity, and which is not, and has never been, universally held by the Church.
The 28th Article of Religion is very strong and simple in its condemnation of both the Roman and the Sectarian errors in regard to the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist—its perversion on the one side, and its denial on the other. The first part of the Article is directed against those, who deny the Reality of the Presence of Christ. It says—”The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another.” That is to say—it is not merely a symbol, a figurative ceremony conveying no inward grace, “but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s Death.” In other words, it has an inward part as well as an outward part. It goes on to say what this inward part is—”insomuch [9/10] that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread, which we break, is a partaking of the Body of Christ, and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.” So far the Article proceeds in rebuke of those, who would evacuate the Sacrament of its mystery, by denying the Inward Part, and who would see in it only a bare and empty sign,—with no substantial reality beneath the outward sign. Then, the opposite error is taken in hand. We are told just exactly what Transubstantiation is, and why it is repudiated. There are few subjects, on which people in general speak with less knowledge than on this one—few subjects, whereon people talk so wide of the mark. Now what is Transubstantiation? It is “the change of the substance of the Bread and Wine”—i. e., the change of the Outward Part of the Sacrament. Then, we are told why this idea of Transubstantiation is objectionable—1st, because it is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, i. e., to that language of our Lord and of S. Paul, in which the consecrated elements are called not only Bread and Wine, but also the Body and Blood of Christ—2nd, because it overthroweth the Nature of a Sacrament. Why does it overthrow the Nature of a Sacrament? Because, as I have just now stated, it takes away the Outward Part. It is [10/11] the Nature of a Sacrament to have two parts. If you take away one of those parts, its Nature as a Sacrament is destroyed. This, Transubstantiation does, for it takes away the Outward Part entirely—telling us that, after Consecration, Bread and Wine are there only in appearance—that no real substance is there but the Body and | Blood of Christ. Now, the doctrine, which the Church has always held, long before this philosophical explanation called Transubstantiation arose, (| is, that the Bread and Wine remain in their proper natural substances, but that in the Act of Consecration, by the Power of the Holy Ghost, the Inward Part, i. e., the Body and Blood of Christ, is united with them, so that while they do not cease to be what they were before, they are yet something more than they were before. They are two things at once; according to the natural order, Bread and Wine; according to the supernatural order, the Body and Blood of Christ. Accordingly, Holy Scripture calls them by either name.
There are analogies here, which may help us, if we be willing to observe them. There are in Nature and in Grace some striking instances of the coexistence of two substances in unity. Take for example, ourselves. A human being—a living human being—is just exactly like a Sacrament. [11/12] That is to say—a human being has an Outward Part, and an Inward Part. You have a Body and a Soul. These are two distinct substances—yet they coexist in a mysterious and inexplicable unity. You know that they are not confused or blended—in such a way as to form any third substance. They are two substances, coexisting in unity. You know that they are distinct substances, because you have seen the Outward Part deprived of its Inward Part—the body without the soul. We speak of a human being, by either part of his nature—as it pleases us.” We speak of him as a body. We say somebody—anybody. But when we use that mode of expression. we do not of course mean to assert that that body has nothing to it, but body—we do not mean to deny the existence of the soul. On the other hand, we may speak of human beings as “souls.” There are so many “souls” here, in Church, this morning. But,—in so speaking,—we are not asserting that people are all souls or that they have no bodies.
Even so it is with the Blessed Sacrament. Holy Scripture and the Church call the Sacred Species, Bread and Wine. They also call them the Body and Blood of Christ. They are mentioned indifferently by the Outward Part, or by the Inward Part—just as human beings are [12/13] mentioned indifferently, according to either the Outward Part, or the inward Part—although, of course, it is more natural that, in both cases, we should more frequently perhaps use the higher and nobler part by which to designate the Whole. When God made man, He formed his body, we are told, out of the dust of the ground. That was the Outward Part—perfect and complete. Then, God breathed into his nostrils. He breathed upon that Outward Part, and man became a living soul. He did not cease to be what he was before, but he became something that he was not before. He became something more than he had been before. When it says, that he became a living soul, it does not mean, that the body, formed out of the dust of the ground, was transubstantiated into soul, so that there was no bodily substance left. It does not mean that the substance of the body was so changed that the body was there no longer. That would have overthrown man’s nature as a human being. So, when the Church tells us that in Consecration, by the power of the Holy Ghost, Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood of Christ—She does not mean to assert that there are no Bread and Wine there any more. That would overthrow the nature of the Eucharist as a Sacrament. But when it is said that man became a living soul, it [13/14] is asserted that a substance—a spiritual substance—soul—was united to the material substance. A change then took place, to be sure. That form was changed into a living soul—not, however, by change of one substance into another, but by union of both substances—soul and body. And so the Church, in the Blessed Sacrament,—when She says that Bread and Wine become the Body and Blood of Christ—asserts a change, not of one substance into another, but of the union of two—a material and a spiritual substance. This light is thrown upon us from Nature—from the Sacramental Constitution of our being. A still stronger and more solemn light is shed upon us from the mysteries of Grace.
Take the Incarnation. What do we understand by the Incarnation? Suppose you were asked to state what the great truth of the Incarnation is. You would, of course, reply, that it is the union of the two Natures, Human and Divine, in the One Person of Jesus Christ. Let us examine that statement in the explicit form given to us in the Athanasian Creed in the English Prayer-Book. There, we are told, that it is necessary to everlasting salvation, that one believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and “the right Faith is, that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God [14/15] and Man; God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of His Mother, born in the world ; Perfect God, and Perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; equal to the Father, as touching His Godhead: inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood. Who although He be God and Man: yet is He not two, but one Christ; One; not by conversion of the Godhead into Flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God; One altogether; not by confusion of Substance: but by Unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is One Christ.”
Here again, in this great mystery of the Incarnation, we are taught, and we hold, two distinct Substances—coexisting in union—neither lost in the other—nor both confused together. In very ancient times, you will remember, that this doctrine of the Incarnation was attacked and assailed, and these attacks and assaults called out these careful statements of the Creed of S. Athanasius. Men thought they found a difficulty in believing, that the two Substances, Godhead and Manhood, could coexist in One Person. They contended, that the Humanity of Christ was not a reality—much as the Roman theory of Transubstantiation now denies the Outward Part of [15/16] the Sacrament. Or, they said that Christ was merely Man—much as the ordinary Sectarian now denies the Reality of the Inward Part of the Sacrament. Or yet again, they said that the Two Natures were so mixed up—that a third something was the result—something which was not exactly human, nor yet Divine.
In opposition to these ideas, the Church defended the truth of the Incarnation by maintaining, as She does in the Athanasian Creed, that in Christ the Two Substances, Divine and Human, did exist in their reality and integrity—that Christ was at once Perfect God and Perfect Man—that both Manhood and Godhead were really present in Him, just as the soul and body are really present in a human being. And in those days, my brothers and sisters, when neither Romanism nor Zwinglianism had as yet arisen to disturb men’s belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist—in those days—the Fathers and Doctors of the Church—the Defenders and Champions of the Faith—used the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist—as an analogy to illustrate the truth of the Incarnation. They said that, as there are two Substances coexisting in the Lord’s Supper—the Bread and Wine, and the Body and Blood of Christ—as these two are ineffably united, not by any absorption of one into another, not by [16/17] any confusion of both—so, in the Person of Christ, coexist His Divinity and His Humanity. In our day the case is reversed. The doctrine of the Incarnation as stated in the Creed is now generally accepted, but we have fallen into disputes, in these latter days, as to the truth of the Blessed Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood. Now, in the Providence of God, we may revert to the truth of the Incarnation to illustrate the belief of the Church concerning the Holy Eucharist, and we may see by the fact of the Incarnation, no less than by the fact of our organization as Soul and Body—that, in the dispensations of God—a thing may be two things at the same time—that a higher Substance may be so conveyed under the veil of a lower one, that both shall be distinct and real, and yet so joined, that no human eye or mind can penetrate the mystery of their union. From Holy Scripture recall this statement of the Incarnation, viz.: “ The Word was made Flesh.” That does not mean that the Substance of the Word was changed into Flesh. It does not mean that the Divine Nature was so changed into Human Nature that there was no Divine Nature left. No. It means—as you all understand—that the Divine Nature was united to Human Nature—that It made Manhood a tabernacle beneath which It dwells. In an exactly similar way, [17/18] the Church has always believed as to the Real Presence. She has believed that the Bread and Wine are made the Body and Blood of Christ, just as the Word was made Flesh, viz.: by the union of the Sign with the Thing Signified—by the union of the Bread and Wine with the Body and Blood of Christ. And so the language of Holy Scripture, of our Blessed Lord, and of the Church’s Offices, falls into place, without being strained, and not having to be explained away. When our Blessed Lord was on the earth, He was the Son of Man. He was also, at the same time, the Son of God. He was both at once. Even so when our Lord said, “This is My Body,” “This is My Blood,” the Faith of the Church has always understood Him literally, and has simply-believed that He meant what He said, and that He was not using a figurative expression. It is Bread and Wine. It is His Body and Blood. It is both at once. The Church, in Her Offices, calls the consecrated elements Bread and Wine, but, with more emphasis and frequency, She also calls them the Body and Blood of Christ. They are both at once.
Let us learn, from the reminder of our own human nature with its Outward Part and its Inward Part—let us learn, from the tremendous mystery of the Incarnation, with its Divine Nature and [18/19] Human Nature—let us learn, “so to venerate the Sacred Mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood that we may ever feel within ourselves the fruit of His Redemption.”
Let us discriminate, in our thought and speech upon this subject, between the great historic doctrine of the Real Presence, and its modern attempted explanation, Transubstantiation. There is just as much distinction between the two, as there is between Catholicity and Romanism. Bear in mind those simple but strong words, with which the Church of England guards this great truth on both sides—”verily”—”indeed”—”spiritually.” The Church assures us in Her use of these terms that the Body and Blood of Christ are taken and received—guarding us here against the error of such as say that the Bread and Wine are merely symbols, signs, emblems of something, which is elsewhere—an error, which is no less a modem error than Transubstantiation. If it were a mediaeval Romanist, who propounded the theory of Transubstantiation, and thereby overthrew the Nature of a Sacrament by denying the Outward Part and giving rise to many superstitions and many grossly material notions concerning the Blessed Sacrament—it was a Sectarian of still more recent date, Zwingle, the Swiss, who proposed the explanation, novel and unknown to [19/20] antiquity, that, “This is My Body” means, “This represents My Body”—thus again overthrowing the Nature of a Sacrament by. denying the Inward Part and giving rise to irreverence, sacrilege, desecration, neglect, and disparagement of the Holy Mysteries—things, which, at any time, are worse, and more displeasing to God, than pious superstitions. “Verily and indeed”—said, in Dr. Pusey’s hearing, an old English clergyman many years ago, when instructing in the Catechism—”the Body and Blood of Christ, which are, verily and indeed, taken and received in the Lord’s Supper”—”If that is not the Real Presence, I don’t know what is.”
“Spiritually,” the Church uses to guard us against rationalizing, materialistic, physical, or carnal views of this great Sacrament. “The Body and Blood of Christ, which are spiritually taken”—says the Catechism in the American Prayer-Book. “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper only after an heavenly and spiritual manner,” says the 28th Article. If any imagine that these expressions—especially this last one in the Article—do not teach the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ, because these terms are used, he will find himself thoroughly dispossessed of any such notion if he will but pay attention to a few facts about [20/21] that Article. It was framed by Edmund Geste, Bishop of Rochester. He was one of those, whose high doctrinal views offended the Puritans of his day. They called him a semi-papist, just as similar terms of reproach have been often hurled at the saintliest and sturdiest champions of the true Catholicity of the Anglican Church. There is a letter in existence, preserved in the English State-Paper Office, bearing date of December 22, 1566—a letter from Bishop Geste to Lord Burleigh on the wording of this Article. In that letter he says—”I suppose you have heard how the Bishop of Gloucester found himself grieved with the placing of this adverbe only in this Article—‘The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper after a heavenly and spiritual manner only’—because it did take away the presence of Christ’s Body in ye Sacrament. Whereas between him and me I told him plainly, that this word onely in the foresaid Article did not exclude ye Presence of Christ’s Body from the Sacrament, but only ye grossness and sensibleness in ye receavinge thereof. For I said unto him, though he tooke Christ’s Body in his hand, receaved it with his mouthe, and that corporally, naturally, reallye, substantially and carnally, as ye doctors doo write, yet he did not for all that, see it, feale it, smell it, nor taste it—We may saye yt in ye Sacrament [21/22] His very Body is present, yea really, that is to say, in deede, substantially, that is, in substance and corporally, carnally, and naturally—by which words is ment that His Very Bodye, His Verye Fleshe, and His verye Humaine Nature, is there, not after corporall. carnall, or naturall wise, but invisibly, unspeakably, supernaturally, spiritually, divinely, and by waye unto Him only known.” This is a convincing statement, by the very writer of the 28th Article himself, of what is intended to be implied by the term “spiritual”—viz.: not to deny the reality of Christ’s Presence, but, to lift it above the range of any natural law known to us. That is to say there is nothing in the Inward Part of this Sacrament, which comes under the apprehension or cognizance of the senses. No perception, belonging to our bodily nature, will reveal anything to us at the Altar. There is nothing in sight, or sound, or taste, or smell, or touch, to indicate to us, that anything is there, save Bread and Wine. We believe. Our only evidence is Faith, that evidence of things not seen. Faith in the word of Christ. Faith in the reality and power of the Holy Ghost. In that Faith we approach, to adore, and to receive, under the Outward Forms of Bread and Wine, after a heavenly and spiritual manner, not to be understood or perceived by any [22/23] earthly faculties, the spiritualized and glorified Substance of Christ, Who is our Life.
My brothers and sisters—Christ has spoken—Christ has commanded—as to this vast and wondrous vehicle of His grace. He has said, “This is My Body”—“This is My Blood”—“Do this in remembrance of Me”—“Offer this as My Memorial”—“Take”—“Eat”—“Drink.”‘
Let us accept His words, and obey His command. This great Sacrament is just what it is. What we think, cannot make it, in itself, more or less than it is. We cannot add aught to it. We cannot detract aught from it. We can—and here lies the burden of our responsibility—we can add to or diminish the good it may do us individually, by the Faith, and Penitence, and Humility, which we manifest in our use of it. It is a Mystery. We can hardly have too strong a faith, or too high a reverence. Let us remember that we are in much more danger of thinking too little of and depreciating God’s Mysteries, than we are of over-appreciating and unduly magnifying them. In these Holy Mysteries you are brought into closest contact with your Saviour. Pray to Him to make you believe rightly, and as shall please Him. And one word more of warning and of caution. This is not a subject for common, or light, or promiscuous conversation or discussion. [23/24] No new or clearer light will come to you—by your talking about it to anybody or everybody, whom you may chance to meet. It is a subject for meditation, for spiritual reading, for holier living, and for much prayer. Talk not of it to men and women in parlours and drawing-rooms, but mention it to God, to your pastor, and to those only, who are spiritually-minded.
This is a great subject. It is but a very few lines of thought upon it, which I have followed this morning. If I have not made myself understood, or if you have any difficulties in your mind, come and speak to me, and I shall be glad to try to unfold to anyone, more fully than these few minutes would allow, the mind of Holy Scripture and the Church. May God lead us all to a firmer and deeper grasp of His Truth, and sanctify to us, more and more, the abundant treasures of His Sacramental Gifts.
+ Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.