Sunday, May 9, 2010

Cranmer on the Lord's Supper

Cranmer like most figures in church history was prolific and even this single volume Writings and Disputations Relative to the Lord's Supper, focused on solely on Communion  is massive and I've only got it on short term loan.  So admittedly I'm skimming the surface here, but even then it looks helpful.

I'm trying to get at what is spiritually significant about the Lord's Supper.  During Communion we are "participating in Christ's blood" ( Cor 10:16), taking symbols that represent his body and blood, given for our salvation (Matt 26:26-28) and in doing so "proclaiming his death" (1 Cor 11:26).  To show how closely we are tied to him, Jesus uses semi-cannibalistic language.  (John 6:46-58) It's not that feeding on Jesus will make us united with him; that would put us in the awkward position of either having only to eat once (yah, safe with Jesus forever because I've eaten the holy food), or having to take the Lord's supper every few hours after we've digested him previously.  It's because we have this intimate, food-like-bond with Jesus that we can eat, the Lord's Supper presumes Union with Christ.  But this still leaves us with the question of what spiritually happens when we have communion?

So what does Cranmer say about whether or not Christ is present in the bread and wine; "And although we do affirm (according to God's word), that Christ is in all persons that truly believe in him, in such sort, that with his flesh and blood he doth spiritually nourish and feed them, and giveth them everlasting life, and doth assure them thereof, as well by the promise of his word, as by the sacramental bread and wine in his holy supper, which he did institute for the same purpose; yet we do not a little vary from the heinous errors of the papists.  For they teach, that Christ is in the bread and wine; but we say (according to the truth), that he is in them that worthily eat and drink the bread and wine." ( Writings and Disputations, 52)

Can Cranmer shed any light on what eating and drinking during Communion actually does? "And every good and faithful christian man feeleth in himself how he feedeth of Christ, eating his flesh and drinking of his blood.  For he putteth the whole hope and trust of his redemption and salvation in that only sacrifice, which Christ made upon the cross, having his body there broken, and his blood there shed for the remission of his sins.  And this great benefit of Christ the faithful man earnestly considereth in his mind, chaweth and digesteth it with the stomach of his heart, spiritually receiving Christ wholly into him, and giving again himself wholly unto Christ." ( Writings and Disputations, 208)

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Such eucharistic theology as Cranmer's is surely lacking, minimising and restricting God's action and presence in the blessed sacrament. Hopefully we can begin to undo the damage he has done to the church and theology by reclaiming the eucharistic theology of the earliest Christians, and acknowledge Christ's dynamic and life-giving presence in the eucharist.

Anonymous said...

Such eucharistic theology as CALVINS is surely lacking, minimising and restricting God's action and presence in the blessed sacrament. Hopefully we can begin to undo the damage he has done to the church and theology by reclaiming the eucharistic theology of the earliest Christians, and acknowledge Christ's dynamic and life-giving presence in the eucharist.

Luke Isham said...

Hi Annoymous,

I generally don't approve of Anonymous comments but you've raised a valid argument so I'll respond. (After this you'll need a pseudonym.)

Clearly no-one beleives that when Jesus said this "is" my body, he meant something canablitistic. Which leaves some sort of figurative explanation. Therefore the question is what does Christ mean figuratively? I'm inlcined to the think that everytime we eat the Lord's Supper we proclaim the death of Jesus and are blessed (in some sort of as yet undetermined way) by our union with Christ.

Jon said...

My feeble thoughts on this matter. "Do this, as often as you do it, in remembrance of me." Particularly important with a group of semi-literate fishermen that they have a concrete, acted out reminder. But also for us, it reminds us that Christ's sacrifice is not something theoretical or cosmic, it is something intimate and related to us in the most personal way, here and now. I'm not so sure about anything "happening spiritually" - what does that mean? I also wonder why Cranmer thought that the Catholic errors were "heinous" and not simply wrong.

Luke Isham said...

Your feeble thoughts are always appreciated Jon.

Re Cranmer: It's funny that for quite a while after the Reformation you often get these "anti-papist" comments, quite jarring sometimes.

Re Lord's Supper: I'm finding it difficult to figure what is "happening spiritually" at Communion. Of course a pure memorialist position doesn't exist either, everything has a spiritual dimension and effect.

Jon said...

What I was trying to get at, Luke, was that I'm struggling to think of how to describe a spiritual "happening". I can describe a physical one easily - I stood up. I can also describe an intellectual one - I felt a numb sensation in my bum, realised I had been sitting at my computer for too long, and concluded that I needed to stand. I can describe an emotional happening - I felt releved as feeling started to return to my nether regions. This is probably not a good examplwe to follow up with a dexcription of a spiritual happening, but I'm trying to imagine what one would be an how it could be described.

Jon said...

sorry about all the typos!

Luke Isham said...

I like your angle of questioning and the numb bum works, Jesus used canablistic language to make his point!

"Spirtual" is very neublus, the best example that comes to mind is when you have "faith" (action based on information) that the historical Jesus makes you right with God.

But it's difficult isn't it to define and discuss, because spirtuality is an intangliable [sp], which makes it no less real: eg Justice, hope or revenge.