During a recent meeting of our Lenten series at Holy Trinity, a well-esteemed and highly respected member of the community made the suggestion that the clergy of this parish (and many clergy in the Anglican Church, at large) have either rejected or neglected the Articles of Religion (i.e., The Thirty-Nine Articles). In particular, it was suggested that we were acting in contravention of Article XXVIII, “On the Lord’s Supper.”
I would not presume to speak on behalf of any other cleric, but as the suggestion of neglect or contravention was made publicly to this cleric I wish to issue this public response, on my own behalf.
The Articles of Religion, or as they are commonly known, The Thirty-Nine Articles, are a “set of doctrinal formulae finally accepted by the Church of England in its attempt to define its dogmatic position in relation to the controversies of the sixteenth century.” (F.L. Cross, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed., p. 1368). The Articles, approved by Convocation in 1571, are the culmination a process of a lengthy process of theological reflection and editorial work. Earlier collections of Articles included Ten Articles of 1536, the Forty-Two Articles of 1553, and the Thirty-Eight Articles of 1563. Although individuals and parties within Anglicanism have, from time-to-time, suggested that the Articles function as a kind of “Confession of Faith,” in the same sense as the classic Reformed Confessions, this appears to have been neither their intent nor their received usage; instead, they are clearly recognized to be theological summaries of the Anglican position against what were perceived to be both Roman Catholic and advanced Protestant errors of the day. Subscription to the Articles has never been a condition of membership in the Anglican Church and until recent times, only clerics (and until the nineteenth century, members of Oxford and Cambridge as well) have been expected to subscribe to them. The Lambeth Conference of 1968 (Resolution 43) made the recommendation that subscription to the Articles, “be no longer required of ordinands.” The Diocese of Toronto followed this recommendation and clerical subscription to the Articles has not been required for some years.
Yet, the Articles remain an important part of our theological heritage and in many cases still assist Anglicans in our efforts at theological self-understanding. We must always bear in mind the tenor of the times in which they were formulated, and yet, we must also carefully consider our arguments if we seek to move beyond, outside, or against the theology of the Articles. We must always remember that the Articles are not a “systematic” theology of Anglican thought, but short doctrinal statements, most of which allow a breadth of theological interpretation.
But the question will remain, even if I, as a priest in the Church, am not legally required to subscribe, uphold, or assent to the Articles of Religion, have I actively taught against them? I do not believe that I have. Since this suggestion was made in particular with respect to Article XXVIII, I propose to examine the Article in some detail against my own thought, practice, and what I have consistently taught about the Eucharist, to investigate whether or not I have indeed neglected or rejected this Article of Religion.
The text of the Article states in full:
XXVIII. Of the Lord's Supper.
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.
I find nothing in this Article to which I – as both a baptized Christian and a Priest in the Church of God – might object. In the first paragraph, the Article clearly articulates both the communal and mystical nature of the sacrament. As Christians, we gather, in love, around our Lord’s Table. In faith we do indeed receive Him in the breaking of the bread and partaking of the cup. This first paragraph clearly rules out what Brian Gerrish (see Brian Gerrish, The Old Protestantism and the New: A Study of the Fundamental Religious Ideas of the Reformation and Their Relationship to Liberal Protestantism, New York: Continuum, 2004, pp 120ff) has called Symbolic Memorialism, a view held by Zwingli (in his earlier Eucharistic thought) and the Radical Reformation. In this particular school of thought, the Eucharist is a memorial in which symbols are used to evoke remembrance of Christ’s act, but “the Spirit needs no vehicle, least of all material” (Gerrish, 130). The Article clearly rules out this position and states that in worthy receiving we actually receive the body and blood of the Lord.
If am guilty of anything, it might be that I err on the side of receptionism. Reception has always been an important part of Anglican Eucharistic theology. Cranmer sought to encourage reception as the crucial component of the Lord’s Supper (after all, a meal is first and foremost about partaking and the benefits thereof). Worthy reception, or reception in faith finds its roots in 1 Corinthians 11:27 (it is of course, one of the great ironies of Anglican Eucharistic theology that this injunction might be, in part, a cause of infrequent Communion, due to the presumed “unworthiness” of communicants in general). My preference, when administering Communion, is to use the words of the 1559 Book of Common Prayer:
“The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.”
I prefer this next not because I believe or think that other “words of adminstration” (in particular those of the BAS 1985) are deficient. I do not; rather I prefer the 1559 wording because of the didactic quality of the words. First, in administration, the words affirm that the bread and wine are indeed the body and blood of the Lord (as in Article XXVIII); secondly, they suggest the spiritual effect of eating/drinking, namely nourishment unto eternal life; and finally, in concord with Article XXVIII, that reception is done “in faith” (“feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving). The words are didactic and expressive of the theology of this Article. They speak against the Symbolic Memorialism of the Radical Reformers and point to a real encounter with Christ in the sacrament, whether or not we choose to use such a controversial phrase as “real presence.”
If the first paragraph has served to rebuke the Radical Reformers, then the second paragraph stands against what were perceived to be the abuses of the Medieval Roman Catholic Church. While in modern ecumenical dialogue, we look toward what binds as us rather than separates us, As Anglicans and Romans, in the sixteenth century, this was not the case: The language here is strong and polemical. However, what binds us with our brothers and sisters of the Roman Communion is that we both believe we truly meet our Lord in the Sacrament, what separates us is the “how.” As I read it, this Article denies that the bread and wine change in substance; and as I understand it, Roman Catholic Eucharistic theology teaches that the bread and wine actually become in all ways, except appearance (i.e., everything about it changes except “the accidents” or appearance) the body and blood of our Lord. While the Anglican Church has traditionally avoided transubstantiation, a diversity of opinion exists as to what exactly happens to the elements, materially.
The phrase, “given, taken and eaten … only after an heavenly and spiritual manner,” in the third paragraph, while at first glance apparently specific and restrictive, is open to wide interpretation. The Article does not define what “heavenly” and “spiritual” might mean. Nor does is restrict a localized “heavenly” or “spiritual” presence in the elements. Therefore, we must ask what other views prevailed during the period, to which the Article might be referring? Brian Gerrish has isolated two further views that are found in the Reformed Confessions of the day. The first is Symbolic Parallelism (perhaps embraced by the later Zwingli, and certainly embraced by Bullinger), which suggests “the inward spiritual occurrence is symbolized by an outward eating of bread” (Gerrish, 120). The relationship is not causal, though. This means that the divine nature of Christ is somehow present, but not locally in the elements. Gerrish also draws attention to the more advanced view, usually associated with Calvin, of Symbolic Instrumentalism. Gerrish notes, “in Calvin’s view it is the nature of the Sacraments to cause and communicate what they signify” (Gerrish, 122). Thus, God actually uses the Sacraments in a causal way. Although a localized presence is likely ruled out. It would seem to me that the Article would not disallow either Symbolic Parallelism or Symbolic Instrumentalism as legitimate theological positions with respect to how the Lord is received in the Eucharist, but both Symbolic Memorialism and Transubstantiation are forbidden. This is not surprising to those who suggest that the Articles are represent a Calvinist theological position.
However, it has recently been argued in the scholarship that the Articles, in their genealogy, reflect more of a Lutheran than Calvinist influence. It is beyond the scope of this short response to investigate this claim extensively, but let us assume for the moment that this is an accurate reading of the historical context, we must ask about the Lutheran position of Consubstantiation, as well. As I understand it, Consubstantiation suggests that in the consecrated elements, both the bread and wine and the body and blood coexist together: Thus, allowing a kind of local presence in the elements. It does not appear that Article XXVIII explicitly rules out this position. Indeed, Bishop Edmund Guest, claimed that this Article, “of my own penning,” was not intended “to exclude the Presence of Christ’s Body from the Sacrament, but only the grossness and sensibleness in the receiving thereof” (Letter to William Cecil, December 22, 1566, unsigned but apparently in Bishop Guest’s handwriting, State Papers “Domestic”, Elizabeth lxxviii, 37. I am indebted to Canon David Neelands for this reference). Therefore, it appears that it was not the intent of the framers of the Article to disallow the Lutheran position, either. Neither does the Article itself rule out this position. I believe that it can be claimed with certainty, that the Article allows a wide berth of interpretation with respect to a “theology of presence.” My own position is probably somewhere along the spectrum between Symbolic Instrumentalism and Consubstantiation. Thus, with respect to “Eucharistic Presence,” I do not take myself to have believed or taught anything contrary to the Eucharistic doctrine deemed permissible by Article XVIII.
Finally, there is the matter of the fourth paragraph, which states, “the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.” Many who characterize what might be termed Anglo-Catholic practice as disagreeable, turn to this statement as evidence of ritualist error. To be sure, our Lord never ordained any of these things. However, there are a good many things -- with respect to our ceremony, polity and theology -- that were not ordained by Christ. As I understand it, Anglicanism has never taught that ceremony, polity and theology may only be regulated by dominical statements or Scriptural precedent. Rather, while the Church cannot teach or expound something contrary to Scripture, it is not bound to base its rites, ceremonies, polity and even its theology (except, perhaps with respect to salvation) solely on what is taught in Scripture. Article XX states:
“The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written…”
While our Lord did not ordain such things, neither did he forbid them. To some they are edifying, and to many, they are pastorally crucial.
I am no Anglo-Catholic (in principle, I eschew “partyism” in the Church), but it is indeed my own practice to reserve the Sacrament for the communication of the sick. I take this to be a legitimate pastoral extension of the principal act of Sunday corporate worship. Although not practiced by all Anglicans in all times, from personal experience, I can attest that those who receive the reserved sacrament experience not only a communion with our Lord but a communion with the love of the community, which seems to me to be congruous with the understanding of the sacrament expressed in the first paragraph of Article XXVIII.
With respect to elevation and other manual gestures, it is my own practice to elevate the host and cup at certain points during the Eucharistic Prayer, as well as to make certain manual gestures at appropriate places. Even the prayer book included manual gestures (in their simplest forms). I take these gestures to be both didactic (i.e., the gestures seek to elucidate visually the words of the prayer) and dramatic (the gestures allow the congregation to enter into the Eucharist experientially – i.e., the Eucharist is something enacted by the whole people of God). Most importantly though: I do not take these gestures to be, in any way, either mystical or magical. The priest does not have “magic fingers.” It is God that blesses in response to the invocation of priest and people in sacred harmony. The gestures are gestures of prayer in the same way that we teach our children to kneel, or stand, or clasp their hands or open wide their arms. No manual acts or gestures are needed, much less ordained by Christ, but they can be edifying on a variety of levels. I do not believe that I act contrary to Holy Scripture or to the teaching of the Church in this regard (nor in contravention of Article XXVIII) when I elevate the host and cup or when I make manual acts.
There are those Anglicans who would carry the Sacrament in procession and reverence it. The question, of course, is what are they reverencing? If they are adoring our Lord, then all is well. If they are worshiping a piece of wheat or a grape of the vine – in which our Lord is not taken to be in any way present – then I think we are dangerously close to idolatry. However, I do not know a single Christian -- Anglican, Roman, or otherwise -- who believes that they are worshiping a piece of bread or cup of wine. Ask any of them and I believe that they will tell you that they are worshiping Christ our God. The degree to which Christ is present in the sacrament is what is in dispute, of course. My own thinking is simply this: If Christ is truly present in the Sacrament, then, should not I reverence the Sacrament? However, I am always mindful that it is but a sacrament and my adoration is directed to the one who is made present in the Sacrament. My own Protestant sensibilities make me a bit squeamish about carrying the Sacrament about in procession and about devotions to the Sacrament, but I do not disparage the piety of those who engage in such things as I am confident that they in doing so they are adoring Christ and being spiritual edified in their piety.
Thus, with respect to the final paragraph of Article XXVIII, I believe that Christ did not ordain such things, but neither did he forbid them. The framers of Articles clearly held a suspicious view of such practices, but they held them against what they perceived to be abuses by the Roman Church. The article does not forbid such practices but reminds us that they are not of divine but human origin.
Throughout all that I have said above, I have sought to respond to the suggestion by a learned friend that I have rejected or ignored the Articles of Religion in general, and Article XXVIII, in particular. On the contrary, I contend that I have paid very close attention to the Articles of Religion in my own pastoral ministry and theological reflection. I believe that the Articles continue to serve a very useful purpose in Anglican thought and belief. I do not believe that they are immutable, and I do not believe that it is necessarily unlawful to hold a contrary theological position, but I do believe that they are a sound and reputable repository of Anglican teaching. To my knowledge, I have never taught anything to the contrary, nor have I taught or expounded anything contrary to the substance of the Articles themselves, and in particular, contrary to Article XXVIII. If I have, I stand open to correction to which I would submit, most willingly.
Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.
Special thanks to the Rev. Canon Dr. David Neelands, and The Venerable Harry Huskins, for assistance in clarifying several points, theological and legal. It shall be noted that the opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.