Christ’s Human Presence Does Not Amount to Eutychianism

A reply to John Dunne in ‘Eucharist & Eutychianism’. Typically enough, the length of my comment, with the number of quotations I make, has exceeded what I can decently post as a comment, so I have decided to post it here.

John, I think you may be missing the difference between two propositions: first, the presence of Christ’s humanity to us in the Eucharist; second, Christ’s ubiquity as the basis of this presence. On this matter at least some of the Reformed doctors have affirmed the former while denying the latter. The latter, of course, is the extra Calvinisticum, which separates Reformed Protestants from the other branch of the magisterial Reformation, the (gnesio)Lutherans; but the presence of Christ’s humanity is by no means unknown among Reformed theologians.

According to Philip Schaff, the Consensus Tigurinus teaches ‘that in the Lord’s Supper we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, not, however, by means of a carnal presence of Christ’s human nature, which is in heaven, but by the power of the Holy Spirit and the devout elevation of our soul to heaven.’ Here are some of the words of the Consensus Tigurinus itself, in English:

21. We must guard particularly against the idea of any local presence. For while the signs are present in this world, are seen by the eyes and handled by the hands, Christ, regarded as man, must be sought nowhere else than in Heaven, and not otherwise than with the mind and eye of faith. Wherefore it is a perverse and impious superstition to inclose him under the elements of this world.

23. When it is said that Christ, by our eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood, which are here figured, feeds our souls through faith by the agency of the Holy Spirit, we are not to understand it as if any mingling or transfusion of substance took place [in the bread and wine], but that we draw life from the flesh once offered in sacrifice and the blood shed in expiation.

The Consensus Tigurinus, while denying that Christ’s flesh is mingled with the bread of the Eucharist, does teach that we can seek the presence of his humanity by receiving the sacrament with faith, thereby drawing life from the ‘verum corpus, natum de Maria Virgine, vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine’ (‘true body, born of the Virgin Mary, which truly suffered and was sacrificed on the cross for man’). Reformed theologian John Nevin says in the first chapter of The Mystical Presence,

Thus we have the doctrine defined and circumscribed on both sides; with proper distinction from all that may be considered a tendency to Rationalism in one direction, and from all that may be counted a tendency to Romanism on the other. It allows the presence of Christ’s person in the sacrament, including even his flesh and blood, so far as the actual participation of the believer is concerned. Even the term real presence, Calvin tells us he was willing to employ, if it were to be understood as synonymous with true presence; by which he means a presence that brings Christ truly into communion with the believer in his human nature, as well as in his divine nature.

So much is implied by the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer as well: ‘Hear us, O merciful Father, we most humbly beseech thee; and grant that we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood.’ For the body and blood of Christ, of course, cannot but be of his humanity, since his divinity is (as the Thirty-Nine Articles confess) without body, parts, or passions. Therefore ‘the Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner’: believers eat the body of Christ only by the power of God’s Holy Spirit connecting them to his Son, by their spiritual ascent to heaven. As Bishop Jeremy Taylor explains,

But now a fourth word must be invented, and that is, sacramentaliter. 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 represents the Calvinian position, in contrast with the Romanists and most Lutherans, on what it means for Christ to be present in the Eucharist. In this way the Reformed Protestants who hold that Christ is really present, yet in a spiritual manner, are free from the imputation of a Eutychian doctrine of Christ’s divine and human natures.

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