Ames on the Frequency of Communion

Add William Ames to the list of those early modern reformed theologians who believed that Holy Communion should be celebrated every Sunday. In his Cases of Conscience he writes:

Chap. XXVIII.   Of the Supper of the Lord

Quest. I. Whether the frequent use of the Lord’s Supper be necessary?

I. A. I. All godly persons ought to endeavour that as often as they can conveniently, they make a religious use of the Sacrament.

First, because that Precept of an indeterminate time, ‘Doe this’ admits no other limitation but a want of an opportunity,  or some just impediment.

Secondly, because we have continuall need to feed upon Christ, and the good things purchased by him.

Thirdly, because the solemne profession of our Faith, according to Gods Ordinance, is a duty which We ought, most readily upon every just occasion, to performe.

Fourthly, because our infirmitie requireth a frequent renewing of our Covenant, and excitation of our heart and  minde.

Fifthly, because it is apparent, that in the Primitive Church the Sacrament of the Supper was administered every Lord’s Day, neither can there be any other reason given for the more rare ufe of it but the luke-warmeness of Believers, and the multitude of people in some Congregations.

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Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563): The Eucharist, Anamnesis, & Sober Inebriation

This year marks the 45Oth anniversary of the death of Wolfgang Musculus, the famous 16th century theologian who was influential in the Reformation of the cities of Strasbourg, Augsburg, and Bern and whose Loci Communes (Common Places) was a very popular and influential theological work both on the continent and in England for hundreds of years after its first publication. I will be delivering a short address on Musculus this week in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the annual meeting of the Sixteenth Century Society Conference, thanks to the industriousness of Jordan Ballor who put all of the pieces together for a panel on Musculus at SCSC but due to unforeseeable circumstances did not come to fruition. Below is a brief excerpt of my presentation, “Cœna Mystica: Recollection and contemplation in the Eucharistic theology of Wolfgang Musculus”:

Musculus

As Gottfried Locher convincingly argues in Zwingli’s Thought: New Perspectives, Zwingli’s concept of “memory” that is crucial to his eucharistic theology, should not be thought of as univocal with natural memory or recollection. Rather, Locher argues, recollection for Zwingli is more akin to Plato’s concept of anamnesis, propounded from the mouth of Socrates in the dialogues of the Meno and Phaedro.  By means of these dialogues Plato affirms the famous theory that human souls existed in the World of Forms prior to their embodiment, that embodiment has clouded the mind of its previous knowledge, and that one must turn inward away from the senses by means of recollection in order to retrieve this knowledge. Thus, as Socrates explains, all learning is recollection. This concept was adopted by Augustine, who avoided the heretical notion of the preexistence of souls but maintained the concept of recollection as a turn inward to the Truth or Christ who dwells within the soul (cf. Augustine, De Magistro).

The first page of the first chapter of the English translation of Musculus's 'Common Places' of 1563
The first page of the first chapter of the English translation of Musculus’s ‘Common Places’ of 1563

In his commentary on Matthew (In Evangelistam Matthaeum Commentarii, 1562) Wolfgang Musculus seeks to clearly differentiate his own theology from any eucharistic theology that would hold the sacramental signs to be merely symbolic or figurative or those that consider the ceremony of the “mystical supper” (‘cœna mystica’, a phrase adopted from the 1st Helvetic Confession) to be a mere memorial. Rather, he argues, with much reference to the writings of Bernard of Clairveaux that spiritual “recollection” is analogous but not univocal to natural memory. He explains that natural memory is powerful in that the soul is ‘lifted up’ [rapitur] by memories and ‘absorbed’ [absorbetur] into them, as the memory of a lost friend moves one to sadness and longing. The recollection that occurs in the Eucharist is similar to natural recollection, yet it differs in that the memories recalled are not purely natural and the result of the recollection is not an emotional experience but one that transcends the body. He explains:

(English translation below)

Si igitur tantae virtutis in rebus mundi est memoria, qua ratione non idem posset in animis Christi fidelium, qui credunt se morte Domini redemptos? Quomodo hic non raperetur animus totus, imò totus simul homo in hanc Christi dilectionem expendendam, laudemque debitam reddendam, ut iam non in terris, sed revera extra se in Christum translatus, dicere possit: Vivo iam non ego, sed vivit in me Christus? Ex hac scilicet Dominicae mortis memoria convalescit fides, spes, charitas, patientia. Ex hac refocillatur totus internus homo. Hinc animus rapitur ad agendas redemptori gratias. Hinc gaudium est & pax pacatae iam conscientiae, & custodia simul vitae nostrae, qua cohibeamur, ne denuò peccemus. Quis ergo dicet rem nihili esse, quae tantarum est virium? … Exemplo sunto duo euntes in Emaus, quorum corda ardebant, ubi de Christo, per Christum quidem, sed incognitum, sacrae scripturae expositionem audiebant. Orandum ergo pro fide vera & integra Christi dilectione. Illae si fuerint, sentiemus istam Dominicae memoriae efficaciam, abibimus alacriores ad quaevis adversa fide firmiores, ad veram pietatem instructiores. Excidet animis nostris omnis mundi vanitas, obtinebit sola Christi dilectio. In illo iucundabimur & pascemur, in illo vivemus & moriemur.

In Evangelistam Matthaeum Commentarii, 616.

(Translation)

If, therefore, memory is of such great power with regard to the things of the world, for what reason would the same not be possible with the souls of the faithful in Christ, who believe themselves to have been redeemed in the death of the Lord? How does this not lift up [raperetur] the whole soul, or rather, seize the whole man at once in the love of Christ that he seeks and in the appropriate praise that he returns, with the result that, not being on the earth but actually having been taken outside of himself [extra se] and transferred into Christ, he can say: It is no longer I who live but Christ lives within me? Because of this, that is the memory of the death of the Lord, faith, hope, charity, and patience gain their power. Because of this the whole internal man is revived. Hence the soul is lifted up [rapitur] to give thanks to its redeemer. Hence joy is both the peace of the pacified conscience and the protection of our life, by which we are restrained that we may not sin again. Therefore, who will call this nothing which is one of the greatest powers? […] An example [of the power of memory] are the two [on the road] to Emmaus, whose hearts burned when they heard the exposition of the holy scriptures about Christ, indeed through the help of Christ though they did not know it. If these things come to pass, we will understand the efficacy of this memory of the Lord, we will go forth more courageous, more firm in faith against every enemy, more skilled in true piety. [This memory] will destroy the vanity of the whole world in our souls, it will prevail by the love of Christ alone [sola Christi dilectio]. In this [memory] we will be delighted and fed, in it we will live and die.

For Musculus  the recollection of Christ in the soul requires faith. Faith permits the believer to pierce beyond the veil of the sacramental signs, yet the desire of love (dilectio) is also a requisite element. In his locus on the supper in his Loci Communes Musculus notes that only those who partake with a “greedy desire of the grace of Christ and heavenly food” may eat of it. This desire, though already imparted through baptism, is rekindled in the Eucharistic ritual. Through the hearing of the words “sursum corda” the heart of the believer is made to ascend to heaven. The “uplifting” of the heart is triggered, for Musculus, by means of the act of remembrance or recollection. He argues that faith must be placed in the specific words “do this in remembrance of me.” By remembrance “the soul is called away from earth into heaven.”

Musculus uses the common language of the “husk” and “kernel” to describe the recollection of Christ in the supper. The faithful “chew the cud [ruminant] and renew in themselves Christ who dwells within them, and are fed and filled with his spirit.”  In Plato’s Phaedrus Socrates describes those who have been captured by love (eros) as being taken outside of themselves through the recollection of the god which they imitate. For Musculus the love of Christ is rekindled in the hearts of the faithful when they recall his loving death and promise of future blessings because, “He that loves is more perfectly where he loves.”

In describing the “mystical supper” Musculus uses a variety of terms that were widely used by Medieval mystics. His use of mystical language (rapitur, absorbetur, translatus extra se, etc.), however, should not lead one to conclude that he held the body and the material world in disdain. Rather, Musculus was an avid reader of the Greek fathers – e.g., he refers to the Eucharist as synaxis in several places. Gregory of Nyssa used the phrase “sober inebriation” to describe the sort of disembodied exstasis of Christian experience. Just as the disciples at Pentecost were accused of drunkenness because of their reaction to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit yet were fully conscious and sober, so those who are united to Christ are simultaneously in the body and transferred to heaven all while maintaining an awareness of both realities. Those who participate in the Eucharist, for Musculus, do not lose their senses but transcend them by a sober awareness of themselves and Christ who is recalled out of the soul by faith and love after the hearing of the words of divine institution, Sursum corda (Lift up your hearts)!

Potential Being Actualized In Christ

Parmenides argued that a particular being cannot become another particular being. For example air cannot become fire but must first cease to be air as such.  The change of air to fire would be in this case a mere replacement of one being for another.  Aristotle answered this problem with his distinction between three factors in change:  Form, matter, and privation.  A ball of clay is not a vase, but it has the potential for being a vase.  In this example clay is the matter, vase is the form, and the privation is the clay’s lack of being a vase.  According to Aristotle air can be changed into fire because air is never just air.  Air is potential fire.  Therefore when it is changed into fire it is not annihilated but part of its potential being (fire) is turned into actual being.  An acorn is a potential tree.  When an acorn is changed into a tree it does not lose part of its being but has its capacity for treeness fulfilled. This does not mean that change is illusory but that change is real.    

This distinction is helpful for understanding Thomas Aquinas on the Eucharist. Although he notes that natural changes are changes of accidental form and not substantial form in the Eucharist the bread and the wine do not lose their composition of essence and existence but are changed from a potential glorified being to actual glorified substances.  They in turn actualize other potentialities within the believer – faith resulting in union with Christ through the Holy Spirit.  As others have pointed out this change is meta-substantial. It transcends substance to the nature of created being itself. Believers do not lose their substance but receive that substance back fully renewed in Christ. They receive Christ and all of his benefits: his mind, will, nature, etc.  Of course, this assumes an ontological, not merely legal, sinful nature in man. Since the Fall man lacks full being but also actualized being of a certain type.  Adam was created in God’s image but was intended for glorification in union with God.  Just as the acorn was intended to be a tree man’s final cause is a shared being, a mutual indwelling with our incarnate glorified Lord. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” [2 Cor. 3:18] Christ’s body on earth is being transformed from a potential body to a pure, glorified, actualized body.

Faith and Eucharist: Aquinas and Calvin In Harmony

I recently presented (in class) a study concerning the placement of Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin within Henri de Lubac’s historical scheme (in his Corpus Mysticum). I concluded that they were men of there times but that they both retained a strong ecclesiology.  I also concluded the following:  Neither Thomas nor Calvin believed Christ’s presence to be confined to the Eucharist.  Both men saw the faith of the believer and the unity of the Church through the Holy Spirit to be the reality behind the sacrament.  Both considered Christ’s presence to be beyond comprehension, thus only with spiritual anatomy (i.e. Thomas’ spiritual eyes and Calvin’s spiritual mouth) can believers commune with the divine reality.  Neither affirmed a physical presence or even a local presence, and both adamantly agreed that only through faith can one truly partake of Christ.  The main source of disagreement is the doctrine of transubstantiation.  Calvin understood it as “that fictitious transubstantiation for which today they fight more bitterly than for all the other articles of their faith.” (Institutes, IV.17.13)  However, it remains to be shown that Calvin had the particular teaching of Aquinas in mind or whether he sought an answer to those common beliefs of Medieval Catholics, who were perhaps influenced by the different theories of Scotus and Ockham.  In his Institutes Calvin argues against those “Papists” who hold to a local presence of Christ and the annihilation of the substance of the bread – two ideas that Aquinas believed to be erroneous.  It is also interesting to think what Calvin might judge of Catherine Pickstock’s reading of Aquinas on transubstantiation – that his reliance on the esse/essentia distinction transcends that of substance/accidents.

Calvin’s Theology of Sacramental Efficacy In a Nutshell

Commenting on Ephesians 5:26 Calvin declares: 

When Paul says that we are washed by baptism, his meaning is, that God employs it for declaring to us that we are washed, and at the same time performs what it represents […] Others again suppose that too much importance is given to the sign, by saying that baptism is the washing of the soul […] But there is no absurdity in saying that God employs a sign as the outward means.  Not that the power of God is limited by the sign, but this assistance is accommodated to the weakness of our capacity.  Some are offended at this view, imagining that it takes from the Holy Spirit a work which is peculiarly his own, and which is everywhere ascribed to him in Scripture.  But they are mistaken; for God acts by the sign in such a manner, that its whole efficacy depends upon his Spirit.  Nothing more is attributed to the sign than to be an inferior organ, utterly useless in itself, except so far as it derives its power from another source. (Commentary on Ephesians, pp. 319, 320)

de Lubac on Communion

Being in communion with someone means to receive the body of the Lord with them. Being united with the saints in the Church and participating in the Eucharist, being part of the common Kindgdom, and sharing in the holy mysteries go together in tandem and it can be said that they are one and the same thing. (Corpus Mysticum, p. 21)

Aquinas: A Spiritual Partaking of Christ in the Eucharist

I’m presently combing modern Thomist interpretations of the Eucharist in an effort to find similarities between St. Thomas and St. Calvin (as one professor here calls him). I’ve realized that Thomas’ commentary on the Gospel of John is a good place to start. See this quote, for instance: 

What our Lord said about eating his flesh is interpreted in a material way when it is understood in its superficial meaning, and as pertaining to the nature of flesh. And it was in this way that the Jews understood them. But our Lord said that he would give himself to them as spiritual food, not as though the true flesh of Christ is not present in this sacrament of the altar, but because it is eaten in a certain spiritual and divine way. Thus, the correct meaning of these words is spiritual, not material. So he says, The words that I have spoken to you, about eating my flesh, are spirit and life, that is, they have a spiritual meaning, and understood in this way they give life. (Commentary on John 6, p. 42)  

I know there are definite disagreements, but I think the idea of spiritually partaking of Christ through faith could be the Archimedean point I’m looking for.  There is also some parallel in the objective nature of the offering.