In Defence of Reformed Eucharistic Doctrine

When Christ himself describes the sacrament of Holy Communion, this is my body, I think it quite impossible not to take this description seriously. To call it a mere metaphor by which to remember Christ’s sacrifice fails to do justice to the Scriptures. When we compare it against I am the door, we see that the second statement doesn’t lend itself to any kind of ritual action, because its form lays out a comparison but in no way allows that anything be done with a literal door; this is my body, however, is exactly in the kind of form that allows Christ to bid us do this in remembrance of me. When comparing himself to a door, he’s explaining his own nature; when calling a piece of bread his body, likening the more familiar to the less familiar, he’s doing something different, and certainly he’s doing more than simply telling us to have faith in him.

It matters that what Christ instituted was the Lord’s Supper and not a rite that involved passing through a door or lighting a candle in a dark room; equally important is that he chose to say quite difficult things about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. As with the call to hate father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, the point is not to hide the truth but to show how scandalous it is to our darkened hearts. The scandalous truth is that we really must eat our Lord’s flesh and drink his blood, because that, not our own faith, is the source of life. Lest anyone forget, what saves us is Christ, not our belief.

Here I have a dispute with not only the doctrine of the Romanists but also the speech of some Lutherans, who claim the Romanists merely say too much. The error of the Romanists is not that they overspecify the manner of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper, but rather that with their false account they have hurled themselves into many idolatries and tyrannies. So we see a sacerdotal priesthood strengthened and a little wafer worshipped: these, not the use of intellectual accounts, are what displease the high majesty of heaven.

Indeed, the Lutherans have their own theories involving the notion that Christ, as human and not just as divine, is present everywhere. They have no basis for accusing others of theorizing on mysteries that won’t admit of theories: the reason our doctrines all come with some sort of theory is that, in the face of error, we can’t get away with not defining things. This is also why in theology we see such fancy Greek words as ousia and hypostasis: there were real errors, contradicting Scripture, against which our fathers had to try to define the truth over and against heretical teachings.

So the Reformed are in no fault for specifying, where possible, the way in which Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper, because this is a matter of rightly understanding the words of our Lord and rejecting error. It must be true, after all, unless bread should also take upon itself the literal nature of divinity, that a consecrated piece of bread is not literally both bread and the body of Christ: logically, one of those is figurative, however we choose to refer to a sacramental union. Short of claiming a hypostatic union between Christ and the bread and wine, which has nothing biblical to commend it and much to discredit it (Christ is not literally bread!), we must in the strictest senses conclude that the bread of the sacrament is figuratively, not literally, the body of Christ. So Jeremy Taylor:

Christ’s body is sacramentally in more places than one; which is very true, that is, the sacrament of Christ’s body is; and so is His Body figuratively, tropically, representatively in being, and really in effect and blessing; but this is not a natural, real being in a place, but a relation to a person.

This is substantially the same doctrine held by John Calvin and Richard Hooker, later articulated and defended by Daniel Waterland. For specifics about the Anglican formularies, please see Jordan Lavender’s recent piece on the Lord’s Supper. I leave you with some devotions on the Saviour who offers himself like none other.

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