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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cranmer on Eating and Drinking the Body and Blood of Christ

[I tried to post the following comment at A Response to Dr. Barker's Presentation of Cranmer and Calvin on the Sacraments. You can also read and hear a series of lectures on the Presbyterian view of the sacraments at Corrigenda Denuo.]

Your understanding of Cranmer's theology of the Lord's supper is deficient and based on selective prooftexting. In other places in Cranmer's Works, published by the Parker Society, Cranmer says practically the same thing Calvin does. For example, Cranmer devotes an entire book to the subject, "The Fourth Book is of the Eating and Drinking of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ." Let me give you some highlights of that book:

"Thus on every side the Scripture condemneth the adversaries of God's word.

"And this wickedness of the papists is to be wondered at, that they affirm Christ's flesh, blood, soul, holy Spirit, and his Deity to be in a man that is subject to sin and a limb of the Devil. They be wonderful jugglers and conjurers, that with certain words can make God and the Devil to dwell together in one man, and make him both the temple of God and the temple of the Devil. It appeareth that they be so blind, that they cannot see the light from the darkness, Belial from Christ, nor the table of the Lord from the table of devils.

"Thus is confuted this third intolerable error and heresy of the papists, that they which be the limbs of the Devil do eat the very body of Christ and drink his blood, manifestly and directly contrary to the words of Christ himself, who saith, Whosoever eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life.

"But lest they should seem to have nothing to say for themselves, they allege St. Paul, in the eleventh to the Corinthians, where he saith, He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh his own damnation, not discerning the Lord's body.

"But St. Paul in that place speaketh of the eating of the bread and drinking of the wine, and not of the corporal eating of Christ's flesh and blood, as it is manifest to every man that will read the text: for these be the words of St. Paul: Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread, and drink of the cup; for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh his own damnation, not discerning the Lord's body.

"In these words St. Paul's mind is, that forasmuch as the bread and the wine in the Lord's Supper do represent unto us the very body and blood of our Saviour Christ, by his own institution and ordinance; therefore, although he sit in heaven at his Father's right hand, yet should we come to this mystical bread and wine with faith, reverence, purity, and fear, as we would do, if we should come to see and receive Christ himself sensibly present. For unto the faithful, Christ is at his own holy table present with his mighty Spirit and grace, and is of them more fruitfully received, than if corporally they should receive him bodily present. And therefore they that shall worthily come to this God's board, must after due trial of themselves consider, first who ordained this table, also what meat and drink they shall have that come thereto, and how they ought to behave themselves thereat. He that prepared the table is Christ himself. The meat and drink wherewith he feedeth them that come thereto as they ought to do, is his own body, flesh, and blood. They that come thereto must occupy their minds in considering, how his body was broken for them, and his blood shed for their redemption. And so ought they to approach this heavenly table with all humbleness of heart, and godliness of mind, as to the table wherein Christ himself is given. And they that come otherwise to this holy table, they come unworthily, and do not eat and drink Christ's flesh and blood, but eat and drink their own damnation; because they do not duly consider Christ's very flesh and blood, which be offered there spiritually to be eaten and drunken, but despising Christ's most holy Supper, do come thereto as to other common meats and drinks, without regard of the Lord's body, which is the spiritual meat of that table."
[Cranmer's Works, Book IV, Chapter VI-VII].

This passage taken with the other passages where Cranmer establishes that the tokens are an outward sign of the inward faith in the one sacrifice shows that Cranmer's view is close to Calvin's view. Faith is the means of feeding on the body and blood of Christ in the one sacrifice at the cross. Just as the bread and wine feed our physical body, so by faith the soul is nourished and feeds upon the body and blood of Christ in the one sacrifice at the cross. So while you are correct that the tokens and the body and blood are not inseparably connected, you are wrong that you think Cranmer would say the sacraments are not essential to faith. This is absolutely wrong. The sacraments are not merely optional but essential to true and lively faith and they that use them with a lively and true faith feed upon the body and blood of Christ by faith. The wicked do not eat the body and blood because they have no true and lively faith. However, since they have no real faith, by eating the bread and wine unworthily, they eat and drink to their own damnation. This is very close to both Calvin and Zwingli's view and is very far from the Anabaptist view which make the sacraments merely ordinances or empty signs of a mere memorial. No, for Cranmer, the sacraments are an outward sign of an inward grace and that grace is sovereignly bestowed at regeneration and then repentance and exhibited by a true and lively faith. While one cannot feed upon Christ except by faith, this in no wise makes the sacraments merely optional for Cranmer. For Cranmer the table is to be approached with reverence because the sacrament represents the very body and blood of Christ shed for us on Calvary. Keep in mind that in this context Cranmer is not talking about faith in general but the mode and manner in which we eat the body and drink the blood of Christ in the sacrament!

In another place Cranmer says:

"By these words of Cyril appeareth his mind plainly, that we may not grossly and rudely think of the eating of Christ with our mouths, but with our faith, by which eating, although he be absent hence bodily, and be in the eternal life and glory with his Father, yet we be made partakers of his nature, to be immortal, and have eternal life and glory with him.

"And thus is declared the mind as well of Cyril as of Hilarius.

"And here may be well enough passed over Basilius, Gregorius Nyssenus, and Gregorius Nazianzenus, partly because they speak little of this matter, and because they may be easily answered unto by that which is before declared and often repeated, which is, that a figure hath the name of the thing whereof it is the figure, and therefore of the figure may be spoken the same thing that may be spoken of the thing itself.

"And as concerning the eating and drinking of Christ's flesh and drinking of his blood, they spake of the spiritual eating and drinking thereof by faith, and not of corporal eating and drinking with the mouth and teeth.

"Likewise Eusebius Emissenus is shortly answered unto; for he speaketh not of any real and corporal conversion of bread and wine into Christ's body and blood, nor of any corporal and real eating and drinking of the same, but he speaketh of a sacramental conversion of bread and wine, and of a spiritual eating and drinking of the body and blood. After which sort, Christ is as well present in baptism (as the same Eusebius plainly there declareth) as he is in the Lord's table: which is, not carnally and corporally, but by faith, and spiritually. But of this author is spoken before more at large in the matter of transubstantiation.

"And now I will come to the saying of St. Ambrose, which is always in their mouths. 'Before the consecration,' saith he, as they allege, 'it is bread; but after the words 'of consecration it is the body of Christ.'

"For answer hereunto, it must be first known what consecration is.

"Consecration is the separation of any thing from a profane and worldly use unto a spiritual and godly use.

"And therefore when usual and common water is taken from other uses, and put to the use of baptism, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, then it may rightly be called consecrated water, that is to say, water put to a holy use.

"Even so when common bread and wine be taken and severed from other bread and wine, to the use of the holy communion, that portion of bread and wine, although it be of the same substance that the other is from which it is severed, yet it is now called consecrated or holy bread and holy wine.

"Not that the bread and wine have or can have any holiness in them, but that they be used to an holy work, and represent holy and godly things. And therefore St. Dionyse calleth the bread holy bread, and the cup an holy cup, as soon as they be set upon the altar to the use of the holy communion.

"But specially they may be called holy and consecrated, when they be separated to that holy use by Christ's own words, which he spake for that purpose, saying of the bread, This is my body; and of the wine, This is my blood.

"So that commonly the authors, before those words be spoken, do take the bread and the wine but as other common bread and wine; but after those words be pronounced over them, then they take them for consecrated and holy bread and wine.

"Not that the bread and wine can be partakers of any holiness or godliness, or can be the body and blood of Christ; but that they represent the very body and blood of Christ, and the holy food and nourishment which we have by him. And so they be called by the names of the body and blood of Christ, as the sign, token, and figure is called by the name of the very thing which it showeth and signifieth."

[Works, Book III, Chapter XV].

Thus, your statement, "Cranmer held that eating and drinking the body and the blood of Christ is nothing but believing," implies that Cranmer did not relate eating and drinking the body and blood to the sacrament but merely to faith in the cross in general. That could not be further from the truth since Cranmer teaches both faith in the cross and a faith in eating the bread and the wine as consecrated elements representing the true body and blood sacrificed for us on the cross. So for Cranmer, like Calvin, the mode of eating the body and the blood of Christ is faith in what Christ did for us on Calvary. Just as the body is fed by the bread and wine, which are the outward signs, so when we eat the consecrated elements of bread and wine the soul feeds upon the body and the blood of Christ given for us at Calvary. Not only so but Cranmer even says that the consecrated elements, though not the real body and blood of Christ, are called by the name of the thing signified! So to divorce Cranmer's "mode" from the consecrated elements is to misread Cranmer.

Your other comment that "feeding on Christ is simply believing, and therefore may take place within or without the context of the Church's ministry" is just plain wrong. The Thirty-nine Articles, which Cranmer helped to craft, clearly advocates the Reformed view of the sacraments where Article XIX says that the true church is indicated by the preaching of the true Gospel and the right administration of the sacraments. Article XXIII says that no man may preach or administer the sacraments unless he has been duly called and ordained. Thus, it would be strange to divorce the sacraments from "a true and lively faith" as Cranmer understood that term. Even more to the point, the Article XXV says that God through the sacrament " doth work invisibly within us and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm, our faith in him." It would be odd for Cranmer and the English Reformers to say this if the sacraments are merely optional and not a vital part of our obedience to God and the means of strengthening our faith. If the mode of eating is merely believing and not sacramental then it would be even more strange for Cranmer to say in Article XXVIII that "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."

Thus, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is not optional but necessary as a means of feeding and nourishing the soul through the signs of bread and wine which are called by the names of the things which they signify: the body and the blood of Jesus Christ. So I would say that your premise is wrong. For Cranmer the ministry of the Church is not optional but instrumental in conveying to us the Word of God and the right administration of the sacraments, which in turn nourish our faith and are a means of grace.


In Christ,

Charlie

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