The 39: The Sacraments (4)
July 13, 2018
In our continual series through "The 39" Articles of Religion of the Reformed Church of England, Thomas Cranmer continues the exposition of the sacraments in a more specific study of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
XXVIII—Of the Lord’s SupperThe Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather 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.
In just four paragraphs this article masterfully and pastorally sets out the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. In the first paragraph it defines the Supper as a sacrament, repeating what was already written in article 25 concerning a Reformed understanding, that (rightly understood) sacraments are gifts of God to the church, they are “certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace towards us." It is one of two means through which God works “invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken (enliven), but also to strengthen and confirm our faith in him.” There is a difference between the Latin and the English here. The "ought to have" in the first paragraph is not in Latin.
The second paragraph describes the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation first as a doctrine that “cannot be proved,” then it is “repugnant to the plain words of Scripture” (especially those supporting the humanity of Christ or describing the Last Supper, when his physical body and blood remained physically separate and distinct from the bread and wine). Transubstantiation is rejected thirdly because it “overthrows the nature of a sacrament." Article 2 has already set out the distinct but not separated two natures of Christ; thus fourthly transubstantiation gives rise to a false Christology that robs Christ of his glory, leaving men and women to scramble in “many superstitions” of their own making. There are some differences between the Latin and the English version that has come down to us. The “or the change of substance” in paragraph two is not in the Latin original.
The third paragraph was rewritten entirely in 1563. Anglicans continue to disagree as to what this change signifies. The usual argument is that by 1551 Cranmer has moved to a more Zwinglian position on the nature of the sacrament that required correction by 1563 to wording that would allow Lutheran consubstantiation. Although known Lutheran sympathizer Bishop of Rochester Edmund Gheast argued in convocation to that effect, the new edit survives in Archbishop Parker's handwriting in the original draft. Parker is well-known as being opposed to the Lutheran view of local presence, adding article 29 to guarantee that the Anglican doctrine does not allow for consubstantiation. When we apply our principle that the historical formularies must be understood as a whole, Cranmer’s original language is preserved in the final instruction to the minister at the end of the Service of the Lord’s Supper in the 1552/62 Book of Common Prayer: “the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural body to be at one time in more places than one.”
Parker’s revision sets out the Reformed doctrine in three parts. The first is the fact that the elements are the instrument of spiritual blessing, “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper” the manner of reception being, “only after a heavenly and spiritual manner.” In other words, the words given, taken, eaten are to be spiritually understood, Christ is not in any sense locally present but is truly present by the power of the Holy Spirit. The third confirms the Spirit’s efficacy, “And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith.” We may now turn to the 1552/62 Book of Common Prayer for confirmation. In the Service for the Communion of the Sick, the instruction to the minister says,
But if a man, either by reason of extremity of sickness, or for want of warning in due time to the Curate, or for lack of company to receive with him, or by any other just impediment, do not receive the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood: the Curate shall instruct him that if he do truly repent him of his sins, and stedfastly believe that Jesus Christ hath suffered death upon the Cross for him, and shed his Blood for his redemption, earnestly remembering the benefits he hath thereby, and giving him hearty thanks therefore; he doth eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ profitably to his soul's health, although he do not receive the Sacrament with his mouth.
The fourth paragraph concludes with some examples when the doctrine of the Supper is distorted by suggesting any "change of substance" in the bread and wine: when the bread or wine is "reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped." Which, as the final instruction [https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-res... again reminds us, “the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians).”
One should note that the Puritan movement found no objection with this article or its application in worship, but times have changed. Perhaps you may consider attending an Anglican church while on vacation, or you've come to a point when you are considering a transfer to an Anglican diocese? If you are, pay close attention to the manner the Lord’s Supper is observed. Is there an expository sermon? Do you hear words that begin, “Dearly beloved in the Lord, ye that mind to come to the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ, must consider how Saint Paul exhorteth all persons diligently to try and examine themselves, before they presume to eat of that Bread, and drink of that Cup…”? It is the Exhortation, cautioning and fencing the table to those who may approach to receive. Do you hear the word, “table” or “altar”? Is there a pause before it, a nod of the head, a bow, genuflection? Does the minister turn eastward with his back to you? Are there colorful robes, a cross, and candles? In the offering, is the bread raised in the air, the cup? Then strike a line through the name and move on. You have learned one thing for sure. The historical formularies are ignored, and the Thirty-Nine Articles are forgotten – and when they are forgotten, the gospel soon follows.