IF it be deemed a task beyond the power of man to speak fully, in a lecture such as this, of Holy Baptism, what can be done when we come to the greatest of all sacraments? Who, indeed, is worthy to speak of that Rite which has the first claim on love and devotion; in which are the highest height, the deepest depth, the broadest breadth; for which an adequate title was sought in vain by holy men of old; which is life and joy with peace to them that receive it worthily, but misery and death to those who profane it? On his knees might one desire to write on this subject what it should be given him to say.
For now we are come to a strangely exact illustration of the function of the Sacramental System as an Extension of the Incarnation; this is especially the ordinance wherein men, living in Christ, are feel out of the fulness of the Humanity now borne by Him, and progressively fitted for the heavenly realm. For here "we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood; we dwell in Christ, and Christ in us; we be made one with Christ, and Christ with us." And so, first, I shall endeavor to show that the Mystery of His Holy Incarnation, from the fourfold point of view in which it invites our study, is so reflected in this great sacrament, that terms apt to either seem at once to fit the other. Christ, present to us by His indwelling in the nature common to us all, becomes present in a still more marvellous way in this ordinance. He is so realized to us therein, that what is said of Him outside this Sacrament may be said, word for word, of the Sacrament itself. In its relation to Him, and in its relation to us in Him, let us proceed to consider it; not in a controversial temper, but rather as citizens rejoicing in the glory of the kingdom, and counting the riches of their inheritance among the saints. It may be remarked in passing, that the dreadful unreality of modern religion, inaccurately styled Christian, seems to have come as a Nemesis on unbelief in the Sacramental Presence of Christ in His Church, and on the persistence with which men contradict the words of the Master, saying, "This is not His Body, this is not His Blood," though He affirmed of each its verity and its truth. In the sacrament of the altar we are brought to the point where the natural and the supernatural come most closely together. To the eye of faith, the Christian Altar appears like a headland jutting into a vast and open sea; waves roll in from the eternal space, to strike upon the shores of time. It is a mirror of all truth, human and divine. It has a twofold aspect, being Sacrifice and Sacrament in one; it is each in turn, in complete and matchless perfection; it is the pure and unbloody Offering, the heavenly Feast. It represents the work of the world's High Priest, now going on above; it brings Him, verily and indeed, into our midst with holy gifts. It is pictorial, it is practical; a grand action is displayed and accompanied, a work of immediate necessity is carried on. As Christ stands at the mercy-seat on high, appearing before His Father as our Mediator and Redeemer, and making intercession for us, so stands the priest as His representative, offering on earth the same oblation which Christ offers in heaven, and sending up the liturgical prayer. Christ promised to feed men with His Flesh and Blood, adding, "Whosoever eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood hath everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day." Here, in Holy Communion, He meets His faithful children for that purpose, and, under forms selected from the natural world, and hallowed and blessed for a supernatural effect, He gives them what He promised. In its double aspect, as sacrifice, as sacrament, this Rite is first in dignity, and, in power, most efficient. Nothing can be set before it, nor can care, pains, or cost be too great in realizing it for all that it is to our devotion and faith. And this, above all, must we be sure to hold, that it is not ourselves who make it what it is; that it is not our subjective act, nor the moral fitness of the recipient, which gives its reality to that sacrament, and effects the Awful Presence of the Lord therein. Our part is to wait for the Holy Ghost till He come; and, when He has blessed and sanctified the oblation, to draw near with faith, and take the Body and the Blood, feeling that God in Christ is all in all, and that it is He who giveth us the bread that feedeth unto everlasting life.
Let us begin by taking up that invaluable compendium of instruction for our children, which we know so well, and observe how, in its simple yet profound statements and distinctions, the Catechism helps us to take in the idea of the Holy Communion. You all know that the fifth section of the Catechism was added in 1604, after the Hampton Court Conference, and that its authorship is ascribed to Bishop Overall. Whoever it was that gave it to the Church, he has a claim on our gratitude.
As to the sacrament of Holy Baptism, two points are made; there are an outward visible sign or form, and an inward spiritual grace. No hard question is raised as regards the element of water; it is indeed sanctified to a holy use, and it should be reverently disposed of after serving its purpose; but there are no vexatious uncertainties about presences and absences, substances and accidents; it is an instance of the use of an element of the natural order as an instrument whereby, without change in the element, gifts are granted to the soul and spirit of man. But when we pass to the consideration of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the language becomes more ample; the ideas to be presented are more complex; additional phrases are required, and a more detailed description. The elements now used fix our attention, as if some change had passed upon, over, or through them, by which their position in the world of the material and physical had been modified in some wondrous way. We are told, first, of an outward sign; and such we also saw in baptism. But now and next we are told of an inward part or thing signified; to which nothing in the account of baptism corresponds. Finally, we are told of benefits received in the partaking of that Holy Sacrament. The description of the second of the sacraments of the Gospel differs specifically from that of the first. In the one there is a mystery not encountered in the other; the questions and answers in the Catechism make this plain. No Zwinglian would need three terms such as we have here to convey his barren notion of the Holy Communion; to him they would be embarrassing and useless verbiage. But, to tell us the mind of the Church on this sacrament, these words and distinctions are indispensable. They suggest something very strange, and very hard to express. They present a mystery so startling, and so offensive to the natural mind, that dispute has been kept up incessantly about it, ever since the hour in which the Lord announced it to the Jews at Capernaum, and let them go, muttering, as they withdrew, "This is a hard saying: who can hear it?"
"Quaenam est pars externa, seu signum Coenae Domini?
"Quaenam est pars interna, seu res significata?
"Quaenam sunt beneficia quae inde percipimus?"
Three terms are to be considered: the sign, signum; the thing signified, res; the benefit received, beneficia, or virtus. There was, undoubtedly, a motive in thus presenting the subject to human thought. The words were not strung together haphazard; they were adopted as involving propositions of great interest and importance, and as we study these three words, signum, res, virtus, keeping each distinct from the rest, and noting what would happen if the perfect balance among them should be destroyed, we find ourselves substantially going over the ground traversed in our study of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the relations of the two natures in His one Person, and the heresies which for six centuries vexed the Church; indeed, it seems impossible not to be deeply impressed by the correspondence between the two subjects.
First, it is to be noted that these three, the Sign, the Thing signified, and the Benefits conveyed, are distinct and diverse the one from the other, so that no one can be confounded with or substituted for any other without damage to a perfect symmetry in the teaching. The sacramentum is not the res; the res is not the virtus. The sacramentum and the res must not be separated, neither must they be confused; the sacramentum must not be annihilated by the res, nor must the res be thrown away to keep the sacramentum. Nor yet should it be supposed that wherever the sacramentum and the res are, the virtus must always be conferred. These distinctions are vital. We sec their bearing the moment we place the Catholic Doctrine of the Incarnation and the teaching of the Church about Holy Communion side by side.
You are, of course, familiar with the luminous presentation of the subject of the Incarnation in the 5th Book of the "Ecclesiastical Polity: "
"To gather, therefore, into one sum all that hitherto hath been spoken touching this point, there are but four things which concur to make complete the whole state of our Lord Jesus Christ; His Deity, His Manhood, the conjunction of both, and the distinction of the one from the other being joined in one. Four principal heresies there are which have in those things withstood the truth; Arians, by bending themselves against the Deity of Christ; Apollinarians, by maiming and misinterpreting that which belongeth to His human nature; Nestorians, by rending Christ asunder, and dividing Him into two persons; the followers of Eutyches, by confounding in His Person those natures which they should distinguish. Against these there have been four most famous ancient general councils: the Council of Nice, to define against Arians; against Apollinarians the Council of Constantinople; the Council of Ephesus against Nestorians; against Eutychians the Chalcedon Council. In four words, truly, perfectly, indivisibly, distinctly; the first applied to His being God, and the second to His being man; the third to His being of both One, and the fourth to His still continuing in that One both: we may fully, by way of abridgment, comprise whatsoever antiquity hath at large handled either in declaration of Christian belief or in refutation of the aforesaid heresies. Within the compass of which four heads I may truly affirm that all heresies which touch but the Person of Jesus Christ, whether they have risen in these later days or in any age heretofore, may be with great facility brought to confine themselves." ["Ecclesiastical Polity," Book V. liv. 10.]
These words of the judicious Hooker may be paraphrased, and with the like precision may it be affirmed that all the heresies which have ever arisen touching the sacrament of the altar are capable of arrangement with reference to the distinction already drawn concerning the signum, the res, and the virtus. In that sacrament may be noted what corresponds to the Deity in Christ, to His Humanity, to the perfect union of the two, and to their distinction the one from the other. There is a teaching which impugns the truth of the outward and visible sign; another, which takes away the inward part or thing signified; a third which, while it retains both, divides them the one from the other; and a fourth, which commingles and confuses them. The tenet of Transubstantiation, and that of Consubstantiation; the notion of a Virtual Presence only, and the idea that this is but a historical memorial of a past and finished transaction; these stand towards the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Sacrament somewhat as the heresies of Arianism, Nestorianism, Apollinarianism, and Eutychianism stand to the Catholic dogma of the Incarnation.
According to Catholic teaching, the sacrament considered in itself is complete, and, so to speak, a fait accompli, as soon as the priest has done his part and the Holy Spirit has descended on the oblations. The priest takes the bread; he breaks it and lays his hand thereon, repeating the words of institution; he takes the cup, and, again repeating the words of the Lord, he lays his hand on it and blesses it; and then, by the power of the Holy Ghost, on the official and solemn utterance of the sacred formula, the sacrament is there before the faithful. Nothing more is needed to its completeness. That completeness consists in the union of the outer and inner perfectly and without confusion. The signum remains, in its verity and truth; not a shadow deceptive to the senses, but a reality in the material world. The res is there, joined to the signum, for holy uses; really and truly present, under the external form; for by the REAL Presence is meant, of course, the presence of the res. The sign and the thing signified are both present, at once and together; not as though the sign only were there, while the thing signified, absent and distant, must be realized to each man by his mental act and conscious appropriation. They also abide, notwithstanding their sacramental union, each true to itself; not as though the elements had gone as to their natural substance, and a concrete or conglomerate had taken their place. Even so, we assert that in the mystery of the Holy Incarnation the Deity did not consume the humanity, nor did the humanity fulfil the function of a mere representative and reminder of the absent God; neither was the mystery made to exist in the transmission of grace from far away; nor yet was it a hybrid, neither God altogether nor man altogether, which was beheld in Christ.
I shall now endeavor to justify the statement that the leading errors on the subject of this Holy Sacrament run on parallel lines with the principal heresies which assail the doctrine of the Incarnation. In striving to penetrate what is a profound mystery men have lost the mystery itself; they have confused themselves and their friends with curious and vain distinctions; they have robbed the rite of its claim on our faith, and reduced it to the level of intelligible, or commonplace, transactions. And first let us consider the signum, and note what mischief has been done by the theory that the outward and visible sign has substantially ceased to exist.
It is essential to a sacrament, as defined by our Church, that each part be there, and that each be true; there is no place for deception and illusion. Now the truth of the signum is denied by the tenet of Transubstantiation.
"Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine), in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions." (Article XXVIII.)
And therefore that tenet is rejected by our branch of the Church; and rightly, for all the reasons given. It is not a Catholic doctrine. Certainly it cannot be gathered from the Scriptures, nor from the writings of the fathers of the first six hundred years of the Church. There is a noteworthy fact concerning the statements of those fathers on this subject. They have been studied, or rather ransacked, with curious results. Roman controversialists have appealed to them for confirmation of their position that the Body and Blood of the Lord are really present in the Eucharist; and with complete success, for that was unquestionably the view of antiquity. But, on the other hand, Protestant controversialists have appealed to the same fathers, in confirmation of their assertion that the bread and wine, as to their natural substance, continued unchanged after consecration; and with equal success, for a moderate acquaintance with antiquity shows that the fathers held both views, and that many, even in the Roman Church, were with them down to the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Holy Scripture and ancient authors teach the substantial permanence of the elements of bread and wine after consecration. The idea of the annihilation of their substance overthrows the nature of the sacrament, by destroying the signum, in its true significance and verity, and taking it out of its place in the world of nature to which it belongs; the sign becomes a deceptive apparition; it is not what the senses assert it to be; it is what the humanity in Christ was to the Docetas, not a reality, but a shadowy, untrue phantasm.
While men thus lose the truth on one side, others, in combating that error, work themselves into a frame of mind in which they cannot assent to another most important truth essential to a right appreciation of the holy mystery. For though the sign remains unchanged as to its substance, a change does certainly pass upon it; the elements through some mysterious influence become "holy gifts," and forms under which Christ is present; they undergo a change inexplicable and indefinable; a change on the line where material elements, lifted above their natural uses, are made instrumental to supernatural ends; a change like that which may be expected when the heavens and the earth shall pass away, and there shall be new heavens and a new earth. Such a change, requiring no abdication of their function by the senses, yet stimulating faith to its highest point, is believed in by the devout Catholic; and, in believing it, he is saved from a whirlpool of dilemmas, difficulties, and doubts. He need not vex his soul with subtle questions of substance and accident; he need not enter into a hopeless inquiry what the substance can be which goes completely, while extension, appearance, color, taste, and nutritive properties remain; or whether that deserves the name of substance which stays or flits, exists or does not exist, although the element, as to its natural characteristics, remains unimpaired and unaltered. He has no questions of that kind to settle, who, holding that the elements abide and remain in substantial truth, believes that a mystical change has passed on them, by which they have been lifted into a higher sphere for nobler uses; just as he can conceive how nature, without being annihilated, or replaced by something not itself, may be some time advanced to new conditions, and infused with new powers and capacities, to the glory of God and the good of men.
Next let us consider the error which denies the truth of the sacrament on the side of the inward part or thing signified. By the Real Presence is meant the presence of the res. But this, as all know, is denied under various forms of objection and by men of divers sects. The flat denial of the res in the sacrament is the characteristic of Zwinglianism: there is in the Lord's Supper a sign only, used to refresh the memory and stimulate the sympathetic nature; it is a memorial feast, and nothing else. This error is in its way the same as that of the Socinians, in whose view Christ was a man, and nothing but a man, having no more deity in or about Him than other men might have who walked with God in their generation and attained to extraordinary holiness. Of this error I repeat what has been said already, that it is one with which our sacramental offices cannot by any straining be made to square. From beginning to end, in their cast, their term of expression, their history, and their natural acceptation they repudiate, they abhor the notion that the Lord's Supper was only a repetition of the feasts previously partaken of by Him and His followers in Galilee and elsewhere, and that it was intended to survive among us merely as an affecting and impressive reminder of His death. Zwinglius is the outlaw of Christendom in his attitude toward the sacramental system, the radical of radicals, the rationalist of rationalists. His opinions, that the Eucharist is a bare commemoration of the death of Christ, and that the bread and wine are mere symbols and tokens to remind us of His Body and Blood, and that Christ is present in the Eucharist only by the contemplation of faith, are directly opposed to Scripture and the general opinion of the fathers, as has been proved a thousand times over. His ideas were disapproved by the Lutherans and Calvinists of his own day; they are disapproved to-day by divines of the Protestant bodies around us.
"Zwinglianism," says Dr. Henry Van Dyke, "is essentially rationalistic in the evil sense of the word. Its chief effort is to explain away or reduce to a minimum the mystery of the Lord's Supper. It assumes that the theory which is most level to our comprehension, which brings the Holy Supper nearest to a common meal where Christians have sweet fellowship together, and makes it agree most with ordinary human experience, is for that reason nearest to the truth."
Dean Stanley once described this reformer as "the clear-headed and intrepid Zwingle." His clearheadedness was that of a man apparently unable to comprehend the Catholic system, and his intrepidity was that of the thrower of dynamite bombs. He could pull down; he could not build up.
"It is not to be wondered at," says that grave and learned man Bishop William Forbes, in his "Considerationes Modestæ" "that those who have such abject opinions of this most august sacrament as these and other modern innovators, should find nothing in it which they can wonder at. Far otherwise did the pious fathers think and write, who were wont to style it 'this terrible mystery,' and would never think of so great a thing without a sacred and religious awe, viz., because they believed most firmly that he who worthily takes these mysteries of the body and blood of Christ, truly and really takes into himself the body and blood of Christ, but in a certain spiritual, miraculous, and imperceptible manner. The opinion of John Calvin," continues the writer, "is much sounder and more endurable than that of Zwinglius." ["Considerationes Modestae," Vol. II. p. 383. In Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology.]
This is undoubtedly true, and it would be offensive and injurious to set the teaching of Calvin and the Westminster Confession on the same level with that of the Swiss radical. Theologians of the higher school in the Presbyterian Church of our own day assert with earnestness their belief in the Real Presence. They entertain a high and spiritual idea of the Lord's Supper, and their devotion puts to shame the carelessness of many among us who boast themselves to be unswerving Catholics. But while we honor their reverent spirit, and believe that they are much nearer to the truth than they suppose, we cannot but except to their use of the term "Real Presence" as descriptive of their belief. The word which seems to us most exactly applicable to their error, as we deem it to be, is "virtualism" they confuse the res and the virtus, making them one; or, rather, making the virtus the inward part and not the res. In short, this is the doctrine not of the Real Presence but of the Real Absence, or the absence of the res. And yet it is not absence in the Zwinglian sense; that system rejects the res altogether, except in a historical and memorial way. To the virtualist Christ is present, but in virtue, in power, in a grace flowing forth from Him on the reception of the symbols; but the body and blood, the humanity, remain as far away as ever. To confound the res and the virtus, as if they were the same, is inevitably to exile and banish the former. It is much the same as to say of Christ that He is God and man indeed, but God in heaven only and not here on earth also; "God with us," not as though the tabernacle of God were now with men, but because He sends forth from His distant abode grace, help, and benediction to those who love Him. This appears to be the idea of the virtualists, if that term may be applied to them. Christ is not present; but the virtue, strength, and spiritual power of Christ are given to men; the body and blood of Christ are not present, nor are they received in the Lord's Supper; but symbols only, which signify the benefits procured unto us by the precious blood-shedding of the Lord, and seal to man the gifts of His passion and death. This theory we are compelled to describe as that of the Real Absence; the absence of the res or thing signified; and it has a strong attraction for those who, while devout and spiritual, attach a great importance to the exercise of the reason and private judgment on the subject of religion. The addiction to rationalistic methods, which is so characteristic of the Protestant mind, renders it difficult for persons of that class to accept any doctrine, unless some kind of account satisfactory to the human understanding can be given; the theory of a virtual as opposed to a real presence meets this desire. It is easy to think, that what makes Christ present is a man's own faith, rather than Christ's word; that He is not in the sacrament, under the forms of bread and wine, but absent, and waiting till faith and love invite Him to enter the house of the soul; and thus a deep and precious spiritual blessing is expected in this reverend ordinance, at the price, however, of an infinitesimally small demand on that faith which believes when it cannot prove, and accepts what is beyond our comprehension. There may be great reverence and great devotion, where this theory of the Presence is held; we do not confound it with naked Zwinglianism, nor fault it as unspiritual; our objection is this, that it lowers the dignity of that holy ordinance, takes the mystery from it, and makes it little less simple and intelligible than the theory of the Memorial Meal. It is, in fact, an explanation, apparently invented to secure from demands on faith. Virtue is supposed to descend from Christ in heaven to men on earth, with the speed and directness of the electric current. A spiritual force, a heavenly power, evoked by our faith and love, concentrated by our obedience, become operative at the spot at which we fulfil the command; this is applied by the Omnipotent Spirit. Such a thing is at once understood; it is easy to grasp; it is so easily grasped, that we feel that it can only be a partial truth.
Of the tenet of Consubstantiation, one hardly knows what to say. It is a fair question whether the Lutherans really held it; it was never accepted by them, and certainly did not express their opinion; indeed, there is good reason for supposing that the term was invented by their enemies, with the intention of casting a reproach upon them. The idea of a consubstantiation of the body and blood of Christ with the substance of bread and wine, so that an indescribable amalgam is the result, is both blasphemous and absurd. Reference-to it is necessary in order to complete the view of the subject, but I shall not impute so gross, so ridiculous a notion to any man until he has distinctly stated that this is what he believes.
Thus far of the correspondence between the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation and the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist. Venturing to paraphrase the words of the judicious Hooker, we might say:
That there are four things which concur to make the sacrament complete in itself: the Sign, the Thing signified, the Conjunction of both, and their Distinction. Four principal errors have withstood or obscured the truth: that of Transubstantiation, which denies the permanence of the sign; that of Zwinglianism, which denies the presence of the thing signified; that of Virtualism, which separates the sign and the thing signified, so that the thing is really absent, and only present in virtue and effects; that of Consubstantiation, which so confounds the two that neither retains its reality. And to all these errors we oppose the truth, which accords with the words of Holy Scripture and the statements of the old Catholic fathers; which retains the sign in its substantial integrity while admitting in it a mystical and spiritual change on consecration; which declares the real, true, objective presence of the body and blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine; which makes the virtus, the benefits of the sacrament, a result of its worthy reception, and thus confers on man the fulness of the blessing while withholding him from the presumptuous claim that it is his faith rather than God's act which brings to him his Saviour.
At the risk of becoming tedious, I must repeat that the point on which the whole thing turns is this: that the sacrament of the altar is complete in itself by the act of the Holy Ghost, through the consecrating priest, and that it is so presented as an objective reality to the congregation. Exhibiting the union of a higher and a lower part, each perfect after its own kind, one belonging to the natural order, the other to the supernatural, it is offered to men for their edification and help. When we come to Holy Communion we draw near to a proffered gift of God. Whatever we bring--of faith, of contrition, of the devotion of tears, or of doubt, carelessness, indifference--we neither add to nor detract from the mystery. It is shown to men; they who partake worthily receive the benefits offered, and they who receive unworthily eat and drink to themselves condemnation. That appears to be the simple construction of the words of St. Paul about the danger of not discerning the Lord's body in Holy Communion. How can a man be punished for not discerning what is not before him or present to him at all? It is hard to understand how one can be condemned, cast down, and blasted before a Presence which has not yet been realized to him in that sacrament--for failing to discern what was not there to be discerned. This faith, that the sacrament is constituted by the Word and Holy Ghost, and not by the inner act of a human mind and will, is the safeguard of sacramental doctrine from rationalistic perversion. It has been somewhere said by Mr. Lecky, that of English Christians they are all, more or less, in touch with rationalism, as if it ran through all their theology; and that they can never be satisfied with the Word of God or the decisions of the Church until they have submitted them, as critics and judges, to some tests of their own. However that may be, it is well to know, in this particular matter, where the lines run, and that the one view of the Holy Sacrament which contains the confutation of rationalism is that of the real objective Presence. On that point only is the issue squarely joined between the rationalist and the Catholic.
A few words as to the Holy Sacrament in its sacrificial aspect. It serves, and shall serve to the end of the dispensation, a twofold purpose, as a Memorial, showing forth the death of the Lord till He come, and as a divine and comfortable feast of life. To complete the subject it would be necessary to go back to the Jewish times; to watch the action of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, and to compare it with that of Christ in His Passion; to see Him offering the sacrifice of blood outside; passing through the veil, disappearing from sight, and going to the presence of God, there to offer the avails of the sacrifice and make intercession for us. It would be necessary, in the next place, to show the correspondence of the acts of those High Priests with the acts of the Christian priest in celebrating the divine mysteries, and to identify the action, in its profound relations, as one and the same from age to age in the Church of the redeemed. But the time does not suffice for this; nor would that branch of this subject be so fitly considered here, where we are tracing the connection of the Sacramental System with the indwelling of Christ in men. After the sacrifice comes the feast upon the sacrifice, and to this your thoughts have been particularly invited; to this most blessed ordinance, the "Esca Viatorum," the Food of Angels, wherein Christ comes to His faithful, as to those who were with Him on earth in Syria in the days of His flesh. What the Catholic Church believes is this, that He is present with us in Holy Communion. Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house, where the truth is known and received; and blessed are they who, having been fed of Thyself on earth in those holy mysteries, shall eat bread with Thee in the kingdom of God!
I would close this discussion with some words of peace. Of the Holy Eucharist, Archdeacon Freeman says:
"It was confessedly, through long ages of the Church, and is by the vast majority of the Christian world at this hour, conceived to be exceedingly mysterious throughout in its nature and operation; to be no less, indeed, than the highest line of contact and region of commingling between heaven and earth known to us, or provided for us; a border land of mystery where, by gradations baffling sight and thought, the material truly blends with the spiritual and the visible shades off into the unseen; a thing-, therefore, which of all events or gifts in this world most nearly answers to the highest aspirations and deepest yearnings of our wonderfully compounded being; while in some ages and climes of the Church it has been elevated into something yet more awful and mysterious. Such an ordinance as this--challenging such a position, claiming and known to claim such powers--could never fail at any period to command the attention, if not the reverence, of thoughtful humanity. Drawing towards it the longing vision and engaging, in measure or excess, the faith and affections of some ages and minds; awakening the jealous scrutiny and experiencing the colder construction, or the eager opposition, of others; it would be likely to give rise, in ample measure, to the recorded feelings and judgments of mankind concerning it." ["Principles of Divine Service," Vol. II. Introduction.]
Bearing in mind the variations to which our author refers, we recall with pain the fact that this august and holy sacrament, instituted by our Lord to be the sign of the unity of His brethren, should have become the subject of contention, an occasion of breaches of charity, and the cause of suspicion and separation. May we not, however, indulge the hope that, notwithstanding our disputes and dissensions, there is a substantial agreement in devotion to our Blessed Lord, as realized, reverenced, or remembered in this memorial of His love for sinners? May we not predict the coming of a happy day when men shall come to that holy ordinance, not with hard questions and in a controversial temper, but with the faith which is the evidence of things not seen and the charity which believeth all things? Let us ask whether the Eirenicon so greatly desired be not the doctrine (as held by the Catholic school in our Anglican Communion) of the Real, Spiritual, Objective Presence of Christ in that Holy Sacrament? Is there any other view which can harmonize all the rest and remove so many grounds of scruple and objection? The formula seems to meet every demand, except that of the unhappy men by whom the idea of mystery and sacramental grace is stiffly and absolutely rejected. The Presence is real; that saves the thing signified: it is a Spiritual Presence; that bars out material and carnal conceptions: it is an Objective Presence; that defends us from the notion that Christ is with us, or absent, solely according to the force of some mental act on our part. We are already very nigh to those, on the one side, who accept the tenet of transubstantiation, and to those, on the other, who believe only in a virtual presence. What is it that separates us from these earnest believers? The tenet of transubstantiation, erroneous as we deem it, is very widely held through Christendom. It is a question whether transubstantiation, as rejected by us, is the same thing as the transubstantiation now believed in by Latin and Greek Christians; whether the difference in the thoughts of intelligent and liberal men in the three communions under consideration is not so slight as to be somewhat hard to define. Let us consider. On one side it is asserted that the elements remain as to their substance unchanged; on the other, it is asserted that they change in substance, while it is conceded that they remain unchanged in extension, figure, appearance, taste, and physical qualities and properties. What then is that substance of which these things are said? Why quarrel about the existence or non-existence of an indefinable somewhat which leaves the elements, in a practical point of view, the same that they were? And why is the gulf impassable between those who say that the elements do not change and those who say that whatever change they undergo it docs not involve the five particulars just mentioned? Is not the point too intensely refined, too metaphysical for the mind to grasp? And why should not what is admitted on each side satisfy the other?
Again: as for those devout and earnest souls who come to the Lord's Supper full of faith and love, as to a holy ordinance rich in comfort and blessing, expecting to find help and strength, the virtues and graces of the Redeemer, and a spiritual aid for which they look particularly to that Feast, what is there between us and them? Why need they fear, as though some dreadful thing was to be forced on them in our teaching? One thing, and only one, appears to differentiate between their faith and ours. We are thinking of a Christ present in sacramental sign and under visible forms; they are thinking of the same Christ absent, save in His omnipresent Deity. We ask no hard thing of them in moving them to think of the King as here, not there. We ask no surrender of the function of the senses as verifiers of the truth of objects in the material world; we do not ask them to localize the Saviour, or to think of Him as inclosed in the elements of bread and wine; the Presence which we ask them to acknowledge is a spiritual Presence, while we tell them that it is not less true, not less real, than it was when He dwelt here in the days of His flesh, not less near than it was in the upper room where he sat surrounded by His disciples, and St. John leaned on his bosom. What fuller joy, what better thing, than to know that the Saviour is thus among us, in truth, and that the tabernacle of God is with men?
And if there be sensitive and anxious souls who fear lest, in insisting so earnestly on the truth of the elements, we may slip out of harmony with the mind of the Church on this subject, we have but to remind them of our faith that the Presence which we believe is objective first before it becomes subjective. This keeps us off the shoal on which so many have gone to wreck, and secures the due payment of all glory and honor to Him who alone worketh great marvels, and maketh weak things strong. The man who firmly holds the objective Presence cannot be out of line with the belief of the ages and the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church--that word sufficiently announces his position.
Therefore we offer this teaching as the Eirenicon which we seem to need to-day; in the quiet trust that God in His good time will make us to be of one mind in the house, on this as on other subjects. To seek for points of agreement is surely a better work than to dwell, morbidly and gloomily, on differences, some of which may be differences rather about words than things. We are happiest when we labor for peace, though it may be that many who hear thereof make them ready to battle. Be it, day by clay, our prayer, for ourselves and all other pilgrims and strangers upon the earth:
"LET THY MERCIFUL EARS, O LORD, BE OPEN UNTO OUR PRAYERS, AND ENLIGHTEN THOU OUR HEARTS WITH THE GRACE OF THY HOLY SPIRIT, THAT WE MAY WORTHILY APPROACH THY HOLY MYSTERIES, AND LOVE THEE WITH AN EVERLASTING LOVE, THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. AMEN."