The Eucharist explained. Differences of interpretation.
 
[Extract from Rev J A Wylie, The History of Protestantism, London, Cassell,1899, vol 2. p 53-55.]

 

The Lord's Supper began early to be corrupted in the primitive Church. The simple memorial was changed into a mystery. That mystery became, century by century, more awful and inexplicable. It was made to stand apart from other ordinances and services of the Church, not only in respect of the greater reverence with which it was regarded, but as an institution in its own nature wholly distinct, and altogether peculiar in its mode of working. A secret virtue or potency was attributed to it, by which, apart from the faith of the recipient, it operated mysteriously upon the soul. It was no longer an ordinance, it was now a spell, a charm. The spirit of ancient paganism had crept back into it, and ejecting the Holy Spirit, which acts through it in the case of all who believe, it had filled it with a magical influence. The Lord's Supper was the institution nearest the cross, and the spirit of reviving error in seizing upon it was actuated doubtless by the consideration that the perversion of this institution was the readiest and most effectual way to shut up or poison the fountain of the world's salvation. The corruption went on till it issued, in 1215, in the dogma of transubstantiation. The bread and wine which were set upon the Communion tables of the first century became, by the fiat of  Innocent III,  flesh and blood on the altars of the thirteenth.

 

Despite that the dogma of transubstantiation is opposed to Scripture, contradicts reason, and outrages all our senses, there is about it, we are compelled to conclude, some extraordinary power to hold captive the mind. Luther, who razed to the ground every other part of the Romish system, left this one standing. He had not courage to cast it down; he continued to his life's end to believe in consubstantiation—that is, in the presence of the flesh and blood of Christ with, in, or under the bread and wine. He strove, no doubt, to purify his belief from the gross materialism of the Romish mass. He denied that the Lord's Supper was a sacrifice, or that the body of Christ in the elements was to be worshipped; but he maintained that the body was there, and was received by the communicant. The union of the Divinity with the humanity in Christ's person gave to His glorified body, he held, new and wholly unearthly qualities. It made it independent of space, it endowed it with ubiquity; and when Zwingli, at Marburg, argued in reply that this was opposed to all the laws of matter, which necessitated a body to be in only one place at one time, Luther scouted the objection as being merely mathematical. The Reformer of Witten­berg did not seem to perceive that fatal con­sequences would result in other directions, from asserting such a change upon the body of Christ as he maintained to be wrought upon it in virtue of its union with the Divinity, for undoubtedly such a theory imperils the reality of the two great facts which are the foundations of the Christian system, the death and the resurrection of our Lord.

 

Nor was it Luther only who did homage to this dogma. A yet more powerful intellect, Calvin namely, was not able wholly to disenthral himself from its influence. He believed, it is true, neither in transubstantiation nor in consubstantiation, but he hesitated to admit the thorough, pure spirituality of the Lord's Supper. He teaches that the communicant receives Christ, Who is spiritually present only by his faith; but he talks vaguely, withal, as if he conceived of an emanation or influence radiated from the glorified Humanity now at the Right Hand, entering into the soul of the believer, and implanting there the germ of a glorified humanity like to that of his risen Lord. In this scarcely intelligible idea there may be more than the lingering influence of the mysticism of bygone ages. We can trace in it a desire on the part of Calvin to approximate as nearly as possible the standpoint of the Lutherans, if so he might close the breach which divided and weakened the two great bodies of Protestants, and rally into one host all the forces of the Reformation in the face of a yet powerful Papacy. Zwingli has more successfully extricated the spiritual from the mystical in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper than either Luther or Calvin. His sentiments were a recoil from the mysticism and absurdity which, from an early age, had been gathering round this Sacrament, and which had reached their height in the Popish doctrine of the mass.

 

Some have maintained that the recoil went too far, that Zwingli fell into the error of excessive simplicity, and that he reduced the ordinance of the Lord's Supper to a mere memorial or commemo­ration service. His earliest statements (1525) on the doctrine of the Sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, may be open to this objection; but not so his latter teachings (1530), we are disposed to think. He returned to the golden mean, avoiding both extremes—neither attributing to the Sacrament a mystical or magical efficacy, on the one hand, nor making it a bare and naked sign of a past event on the other.

 

In order to understand his views, and see their accordance with Scripture, we must attend a moment to the nature and design of the Lord's Supper as seen in its institution. The primary end and significance of the Lord's Supper is a commemoration : "Do this in remembrance of me." But the event commemorated is of such a kind, and our relation to it is of such a nature, that the commemoration of it necessarily implies more than mere remembrance. We are commemorating a " death " which was endured in our room, and is an expiation of our sin; we, therefore, cannot commemorate it to the end in view but in faith. We rest upon it as the ground of our eternal ]ife; we thus receive His "flesh and blood" —that is, the spiritual blessings His death procured. Nay, more, by a public act we place ourselves in the ranks of His followers. We promise or vow allegiance to Him. This much, and no more, is done on the human side.

 

We turn to the Divine side. What is signified and done here must also be modified and deter­mined by the nature of the transaction. The bread and wine in the Eucharist, being the representatives of the body and blood of Christ, are the symbols of an eternal redemption. In placing these symbols before us, and inviting us to partake of then, God puts before us and offers unto us that redemption. We receive it by faith, and He applies it to us and works it in us by His Spirit. Thus the Supper becomes at once a sign and a seal. Like the "blood" on the doorpost of the Israelite, it is a "token" between God and us ; for from the Passover the Lord's Supper is historically descended, and the intent and efficacy of the former, infinitely heightened, live in the latter. This, in our view, exhausts, both on the Divine and on the human side, all which the principles of the Word of God warrant us to hold in reference to the Eucharist ; and if we attempt to put more into it, that more, should we closely examine it, will be found to be not spiritual but magical.

 

Zwingli's grand maxim as a Reformer eminently was the authority of Holy Scripture. Luther rejected nothing in the worship of God sunless it was condemned in the Bible: Zwingli admitted nothing unless it was enjoined.  Following his maxim, Zwingli, forgetting all human glosses, Papal edicts, and the mysticism of the schools, came straight to the New Testament, directed his gaze steadfastly and exclusively upon its pages, and gathered from thence what the Lord's Supper really meant. He found that on the human side it was a " commemoration " and a "pledge," and on the Divine side a "sign" and "seal." Further, the instrumentality on the part of man by which he receives the blessing represented is faith; and the agency on the part of God, by which that blessing is conveyed and applied, is the Holy Spirit. Such was the Lord's Supper as Ulrich Zwingli found it in the original institution. He purged it from every vestige of mysticism and materialism; but he left its spiritual efficacy unimpaired and perfect.

 

 

Dictionary definitions:

 

Transubstantiation:  The whole substance of the bread and wine  in the Eucharist is by reason of the consecration [ by the priest ] changed into the flesh and blood of Christ, the appearance only of the bread and wine remaining the same.

 

Consubstantiation:  The doctrine of the substantial union of Christ`s body and blood with the elements of the Sacrament; union  in one substance or nature.

 

18/07/2011

Home Scottish Reformation The Covenanters Ulster Scots English Reformation European Reformation General Topics & Glossary My Books & Bibliography Contact