Real Presence and Two Kingdoms

Like Luther and Rome, Calvin confesses Christ’s real presence in the holy Supper, and a real participation thereby in the sacred Body and Blood. What’s controverted is the manner of this real presence. The eucharistic doctrine of the Church of England, closely related to Calvin’s opinion, is given in the 28th of the Thirty-Nine Articles:

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch 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.

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.

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

The heavenly and spiritual is actually related, I’m sure, to Two Kingdoms theology. The bread and wine, as not only consecrated but also received, are in effect the Body and Blood of Christ when faithfully received by the believer. That this happens is, as everyone affirms, the work of the Holy Ghost. In the Reformed tradition, the Holy Ghost communicates the Body and Blood to the believer, but he indwells the external elements administered by the minister no more than he indwells holy Scripture.

Reception of the sacred Body, then, isn’t according to any human acts but according to the spiritual reception, by faith, of the divine act. To claim this is mediated by the clergy rather than brought about directly by the holy Ghost in the heart of the Christian is a clericalism that the Reformed, even when they retain the ancient institution of bishops for good temporal governance, will not accept in a matter of salvation. We affirm that by the authority of God’s word a minister ordained to priestly representation may administer the gracious promise and covenant of God, yet he cannot ex opere operato efficaciously bring in the saving presence of Christ – that is, his Body and Blood, a reality in heaven – even to someone who takes the sacrament’s earthly sign without belief.

If we leave off for now the much-controverted communicatio idiomatum (‘communication of properties’ between the two natures of Christ), the difference in the presence of Christ in Scripture and in the Lord’s Supper is his word of promise. The key to the sacrament, then, is the covenantal word and not the ubiquity of Christ.* Since it’s by the Lord’s word that we can enjoy his human presence, it’s this word that a minister has authority to pronounce visibly on earth, while invisibly in heaven the believing Christian feeds on the Lord’s flesh and blood.

This is, as I see it, the connexion between the Reformed (and therefore the Anglican) doctrine of the Eucharist and the Two Kingdoms theology of the Reformation.


* Indeed, if Christ were everywhere according to his humanity, then the only point of his Ascension to heaven would have been to dramatize his being in heaven as our High Priest. Unless this is so, the Reformed view holds: that according to his human nature Jesus Christ remains bodily in heaven as our High Priest, even while in his divine nature he’s everywhere.

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