taking up the challenge again… innovative doctrines

way back when, the erudite Andy over at All2Common and I got into an extended conversation. Andy is an Anglo-Catholic and I … well it should be obvious that I’m not. We find ourselves in an interesting conundrum; we hold quite different view of the Christian Faith (and share a common opposition to the current heresy of TEC) and yet we reside in one Anglican Church. Which of us is the cuckoo in the nest?

It’s time to gently bring that conversation on a bit. Andy wrote a detailed and extensive reply back in December. There is a great deal there that I need to address but let me first grab on to his last paragraph for it sums up one of the main differences between our positions. Previously I had challenged Andy on the apparent novelty of certain High-Church positions; Marian virginity, invocation of the saints, etc. Andy’s closing is then curious…

As we have seen, there are doctrines which the Catholic Church (both East and West) have always believed, either by oral tradition alone (as a part of Holy Tradition), or by both biblical and oral tradition together (also a part of Holy Tradition). It is the Evangelicals who use a different hermeneutic than the Catholics (and each other) that differ. As the Anglican Philosopher duly noted, âœThe burden of proof is always on the innovator.â Simply claiming that âœgraduallyâ the Church lost even one uniquely Protestant truth will not suffice, if proof of it ever existing in the first place cannot be furnished.

True, we use a different hermeneutic. But who is the innovator? Surely it is begging the question to state that a doctrine was handed down by “Tradition” every time the evangelical points out that the doctrine was unheard of pre-Nicea! The innovators are those who have new doctrines late.

Let’s look at Andy’s detailed answer on one of the questions, that of the presence or otherwise of Christ in the Eucharist. As a defence, Andy presents the following list:

There were Ante-Nicene Fathers who embraced a literal change in the gifts, from bread and wine into the Body and Blood. Some references to some Ante-Nicene Fathers, include St. Ignatius (Letter to the Romans, 7:3), (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6:2â“7:1), Justin Martyr (First Apology, 66), St. Ireneaus (Against Heresies, 4:33â“32; 5:2), St. Clement of Alexandria (The Instructor of Children, 1:6:43:3), Tertullian (The Resurrection of the Dead, 8 ), Hippolytus (Fragment from Commentary on Proverbs 9:2), Origen (Homilies on Numbers, 7:2), St. Cyprian of Carthage (The Lapsed 15-16), and finally not to mention that Canon 18 of the First Council of Nicea declared, âœIt has come to the knowledge of the holy and great Synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer.â

Now, a number of things must be said here. It is not enough to have a Father call the elements “body and blood”. That much is shared with the evangelical position since we are all agreed that Jesus uses the same terms Himself. The question at hand is whether a definite objective change in substance is spoken of. The evangelical contention is that the High Churchman reads things into the text that are not there – he eisegetes, just as he does with the Bible itself. The authority for doing this is the (invisible and assumed) Tradition. Then, in a circular manner, we are told that this dogma was held all along.

Let’s turn to the quotes that Andy provides.

St. Ignatius (Letter to the Romans, 7:3), My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father. I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

So, what is the most that can be said? Well, to read this as referring to the Eucharist is, for a start, an imposition. Ignatius doesn’t make the link. Simply, he uses the language of our Lord himself in John 6;

John 6:27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

and I set out elsewhere what’s going on in John 6. Simply put, Ignatius isn’t saying half of what Andy claims.

(Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6:2â“7:1), here 7:1
They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.

Again, let’s be clear. An evangelical could use this language. The question is not whether it is open to interpretation to the High Church position but whether it is unambiguously the High Church position.

Justin Martyr (First Apology, 66), For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

Martyr here is much clearer. I think you’d be hard pressed to argue that he’s not pushing for some change in substance.

St. Ireneaus (Against Heresies, 4:33â“32; 5:2), can’t find anything relevant in Book IV

5:2 this is, I think the strongest part:
3. When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?â”even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.”

Again, it’s not water-tight. Ireneaus could be saying that because the elements actually are flesh and blood that that’s why they nourish us. Or, alternatively, he could be pointing back to the actual body and blood of Jesus to which the elements themselves point. Thing is, you can’ t tell. To insist upon one over the other is to eisegete.

St. Clement of Alexandria (The Instructor of Children, 1:6:43:3), For the very same Word is fluid and mild as milk, or solid and compact as meat. And entertaining this view, we may regard the proclamation of the Gospel, which is universally diffused, as milk; and as meat, faith, which from instruction is compacted into a foundation, which, being more substantial than hearing, is likened to meat, and assimilates to the soul itself nourishment of this kind. Elsewhere the Lord, in the Gospel according to John, brought this out by symbols, when He said: “Eat my flesh, and drink my blood;” John 6:34 describing distinctly by metaphor the drinkable properties of faith and the promise, by means of which the Church, like a human being consisting of many members, is refreshed and grows, is welded together and compacted of both,â”of faith, which is the body, and of hope, which is the soul; as also the Lord of flesh and blood.

etc. (my emphasis)

This one’s pretty clear. On this matter Clement is decidedly protestant.

Tertullian (The Resurrection of the Dead, 8 ),
Here’s the closest you come:
the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may fatten on its God.

To be fair to Tertullian, he makes a distinction between a man’s flesh and soul that is comparable to “the body and blood of Christ” and “God”. Still, one has to ask whether this proves anything. Again, the protestant is more than happy to call the elements “the body and blood” without signifying a change in substance. Indeed, Tertullian himself is making a distinction in substance here between the “body and blood” and “God”.

Hippolytus (Fragment from Commentary on Proverbs 9:2),

And again, “She has mingled her wine” in the bowl, by which is meant, that the Saviour, uniting his Godhead, like pure wine, with the flesh in the Virgin, was born of her at once God and man without confusion of the one in the other. “And she has furnished her table: “that denotes the promised knowledge of the Holy Trinity; it also refers to His honoured and undefiled body and blood, which day by day are administered and offered sacrificially at the spiritual divine table, as a memorial of that first and ever-memorable table of the spiritual divine supper. And again, “She bath sent forth her servants: “Wisdom, that is to say, has done soâ”Christ, to witâ”summoning them with lofty announcement. “Whoso is simple, Let him turn to me,” she says, alluding manifestly to the holy apostles, who traversed the whole world, and called the nations to the knowledge of Him in truth, with their lofty and divine preaching. And again, “And to those that want understanding she said”â”that is, to those who have not yet obtained the power of the Holy Ghostâ””Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled for you; “by which is meant, that He gave His divine flesh and honoured blood to us, to eat and to drink it for the remission of sins.

Well, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Again, it would seem that Hippolytus leans towards something, it’s just not clear what. And, frankly, it’s rampant eisegesis – an imposition on the text if ever one should be seen.

Origen (Homilies on Numbers, 7:2),
I’m unable to trace this document

St. Cyprian of Carthage (The Lapsed 15-16),

Returning from the altars of the devil, they draw near to the holy place of the Lord, with hands filthy and reeking with smell, still almost breathing of the plague-bearing idol-meats; and even with jaws still exhaling their crime, and reeking with the fatal contact, they intrude on the body of the Lord, although the sacred Scripture stands in their way, and cries, saying, “Every one that is clean shall eat of the flesh; and whatever soul eats of the flesh of the saving sacrifice, which is the Lord’s, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 7:20) Also, the apostle testifies, and says, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils.” (1 Corinthians 10:21) He threatens, moreover, the stubborn and froward, and denounces them, saying, “Whosoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:27)

16. All these warnings being scorned and contemned,â”before their sin is expiated, before confession has been made of their crime, before their conscience has been purged by sacrifice and by the hand of the priest, before the offence of an angry and threatening Lord has been appeased, violence is done to His body and blood; and they sin now against their Lord more with their hand and mouth than when they denied their Lord.

Again, no clear statement about substance, just the title “body and blood”.

and finally not to mention that Canon 18 of the First Council of Nicea declared, âœIt has come to the knowledge of the holy and great Synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer.â

Once again, the title “body” but not clear statement on substance.

The point of all this becomes clear. While some of the Fathers (as we have seen above) make clearer statements on the substance of the elements many do not. To bring their words as evidence is to eisegete. This should not, however, surprise us – the same ploy is used with the words of scripture itself (see Hippolytus’ abuse of Prov. 9 above).

Transubstantiation can, then, hardly be considered to be a “Catholic” doctrine if by that term we mean something that was consistently held and declared – at least not on the evidence provided. Nor does “Tradition” help us out for the Tradition is clearly muddied. We have a number of Fathers who obviously declare a change in substance, many who are ambiguous and one in our list that goes the other way, using the language of “symbol” and “metaphor”.

This leaves the High Churchman in a bit of difficulty. He wants to argue that these things have always been held but he finds Fathers from amongst the Tradition who hold the opposing view. He wants to claim that these things are not a novelty but only a few of the Fathers make the assertions that he claims are universal.

The problem gets even worse when one turns to other issues, such as Marian Perpetual Virginity, or her Assumption. They just don’t have the provenance that an appeal to Tradition would demand. The only resort is to claim that they were “handed down” but not recorded. I’m sure the holes that lie there are obvious to all.

So what, then, is a better source for our truth? Well, why are we ultimately looking any further than scripture itself? It is, as 2Tim 3:16-7 tells us

…breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

The greek for “equipped” is “exhrtismenos”, from the root verb “exartizw” which derives from the adjective “artios” which is seen at the start of the verse. LIterally rendered it reads, “so that equipped is the man of God, for every work that is good fully equipped”.

The point is clear. We have in the Scripture an exhaustive and complete toolkit for all that we need to do. There is no need to look for other sources to equip us. Nor is there any good work for which scripture is not adequate to guide us.

That is not to say that we do not draw richly from those that came before – they guide us in so many ways in reading the Scriptures, pointing us to their meaning as they exegete them ahead of us. But they are flawed men, just like us – a brief read of Hippolytus above is enough to convince that they may read far more into the text than is there, just as it seems our High Church friends are also prone to do.

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  1. anitra

    Amen! I’ve never before seen such a good analysis of the claim that transubstantiation has always been part of “tradition” (although, since I am not from a Catholic/Anglican/Lutheran background, I have not sought it out).

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