Zanchi: The Logic of Union with Christ

Zanchi argues that we approach Christ’s divine person in a logical order. That is through the mediation of his humanity. In a treatise of his translated into English in 1594 entitled An excellent and learned treatise, of the spirituall mariage betvveene Christ and the church, and every faithfull man, Zanchi explains his justification for this idea. I offer below a brief selection of his argument to emphasize that for Zanchi the preaching of the Holy Scriptures and the administration of the sacraments play a key role in the church’s union with Christ, precisely because of this logical order of cognition. Zanchi is intentionally setting himself apart from the Zwinglians, who he says believe that the faithful are only united to Christ’s divinity, and the Lutherans who he says believe that Christ has an invisible body, which is not capable of nourishing us since it is completely unlike our bodies.

1. A faithfull man is first joyned to the flesh of Christ, and then afterwardes by the flesh, he is joyned to the word it selfe, or to the Godhead.

2. The reason is taken from knowledge. As it is with knowledge and the understanding of the minde, so is it also with voluntarie uniting and coupling. For the will followeth knowledge, and so far forth chooseth, willeth, and embraceth any thing, and uniteth it selfe thereto, as it doth thoroughlie understand and knowe the same. For it alwayes desireth not unknown but known good. But we do first and sooner apprehend & know Christ propounded in the word of God as he is man, then as he is God. Therefore in a certaine order of nature, and of the actions of teh minde and of faith, wee are first united to the flesh of Christ, and by that to his deitie, and so to his whole person.

3. I easily proove [this]…from the holy Scriptures. For, when God in the beginning of the world did promise a Redeemer, he promised and propounded him immediatly, as the seede of the woman, that is, as man, Gen. 3. “Her seede…shall bruise thy head.” So promised he also to Abraham: “In thy seede shall the nations be blessed.”

[…]

20. As therefore it was [in the Old Testament] the peoples dutie to come to the visible arke and there to wait and looke for the grace of God: so let no man hope for the grace of God, except he come to Christ visible man, and eate his visible flesh, and doe incorporate the same into himselfe by faith.

21. Wherefore it is clearer then the day light that a man cannot be united to the Godhead of Christ, except he be joyned to his humanitie, and to his flesh. For the flesh of Christ is the instrument of the Godhead, but it is this instrument onely, beeing taken and joyned inseparably into the unitie of the person.

22. This whole doctrine is very lively to be seene in the Sacraments, as it were in most cleere looking glasses.

23. There are two things in every sacrament: the visible signe, and the invisible grace: the earthly thing, and the heavenly. He that bringeth faith receiveth both.

24. But in what order? Even in the same, as they are propounded of God: by the signe we receive the thing signified: and by the earthly thing, we receive the heavenly thing: for God by the one doth offer the other.

[…]

And therefore that Chrsit doth still retaine his natural flesh, and doth imprint the virtue & efficacie, & as it were the image thereof, into our flesh, by communicating his holinesse with us, whereby we are made flesh of his flesh, and bones of his bones: also that he doth by the holy Ghost ingraffe our flesh into his flesh, & so quickneth our flesh by his flesh: and again, that the father doth communicate unto us nothing concerning salvation, but by the flesh of Christ truely and really communicated with us; and this they [i.e,. the church fathers] have prooved especially by the mysterie of the Supper of the Lord.

For as the bread is really and truly united unto us eating the same: so also is the flesh of Christ truly and in very deede united unto us who eate the same.

[…]

Because this union is made at the preaching of the Gospell in Baptisme, and in the Supper of the Lorde, therefore there are divers answeres made to this question [i.e,. the manner of how the union is made]. All confesse, that it is made at the preaching of the Gospell by faith alone: I say, an effectuall faith: neither is there any great controversie of the manner how it is made in baptisme: but there is no man ignorant how great contention there is even among those that professe Christ, of the manner how we are united to the flesh of Christ, and the flesh of Christ is united to us in the Supper of the Lord.

[…]

[We say] by faith also [Christ] is received of us into our harts, and we are united to him. Iohn 6. “Hee that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, abideth in me and I in him.” But hee is eaten and drunken by faith, as Christ in the same place expoundeth it, saying: “He that beleeveth in me shall never thirst.” Wee are therefore united to Christ by faith.

Wherefore, whether he be propounded to us in the Word, or in Baptisme, or in the Supper, Christ is alwaies united to us, and we unto him by his Spirit and by our faith… By the vertue & power of the same holy Spirit, we drinke in the supper, the blood of Christ, and growe together into one with him, and are quickened by his Spirit

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Nicholas of Cusa on Faith & Holy Communion

There are many statements in Nicholas of Cusa’s sermons that emphasize the importance of faith in those who receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. This is likely due to his early education among the Brethren of the Common Life, but it also relates to his peculiar brand of Platonism.

Therefore, this faith is best signified by means of the visible form of bodily food, which expels weakness and furnishes strength—as do, basically, the wheaten bread and the wine. Hence, take cognizance of the fact that in the power of the bread and the wine—[a power] that expels the weakness of the flesh’s ravenous hunger and that brings strength, or renews strength, (things which happen with respect to the outer man)—faith sees the power of the Word working similar things in the inner man. And that which nature ministers to the outer man by means of visible food, faith by means of invisible Food (which is the Word of God) obtains in the inner man (which is invisible),  (Sermon CLXXXIII).

Robert Abbot on the Sign of the Cross

Robert Abbot (1560–1617) was Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, bishop of Salisbury, proponent of Reformed theology, and opponent of Laudianism and Arminianism during the reign of James I. In a rather amusing incident, Abbot once preached a sermon in defense of the Puritans. Laud himself was in attendance, and as John Rushworth later recalled Abbot, seeing Laud in the audience, determined to aim his polemical canons directly at him. Laud, according to Rushworth, “was fain to sit patiently at the rehearsal of this sermon, though abused almost an hour together, being pointed at as he sat.”

One of Abbot’s most interesting works is his two volume defense of William Perkins’ A Reformed Catholike. In this work Abbot defends the great Puritan theologian against the polemical attacks of certain Roman Catholic theologians, particularly William Bishop. Though he attacks the “popery” of Bishop, Abbot only does so insofar as he believes that Bishop does not himself maintain the principles of a true Reformed Catholic, that is, the recognition and defense of what is necessary for salvation and the distinction of what is necessary from what is indifferent (adiaphoron). One example of an indifferent practice that Bishop (according to Abbot)elevates to a necessary practice is the ancient rite of the sign of the cross, which the faithful often made upon themselves and priests often performed over the holy instruments of worship.

Abbot argues that the practice is not strictly commanded by scripture, and although it is a longstanding tradition in both Eastern and Western Christianity, the abuses that have been added to the practice render it dangerous, and therefore it should be strongly curtailed for the sake of saving the church from superstition. Since it is an indifferent matter, however, making the sign of the cross should be left up to the churches to determine for themselves, he argues, a determination that he implies should be based on surveying the extent of the error and abuse surrounding the practice among the churches.

Of the signe of the Crosse … we condemne it not being taken as an arbitrarie and indifferent ceremonie, voluntarily vpon occasion accepted by the discretion of the Church, and left free to the like discretion as occasion requireth, either to be wholly relinquished, or the vse thereof to be moderated and abridged without opinion of anie violation or breach of religion towards God. So long as it was kept within compasse of being onely a matter of admonition, a token of profession, and occasion of remembrance of the name of Christ, so long there was no reason for any man to contend concerning the vsing of it. But since it hath growne from being a meere ceremonie, to be accounted as a Sacrament of grace and saluation, an instrument of sanctification and holinesse, containing a spirituall vertue and power of blessing, and ministring inward strength against our spirituall enemies, it hath concerned the godly discretion and wisedome of the Church, to vse due care to redresse those erroneous and superstitious conceipts thereof, which tend to the detriment and wrong of the faith and name of Iesus Christ. We haue receiued no commandement thereof from God, no institution of Iesus Christ, no word or warrant of the Apostles, and therefore being brought in by men, it ought to be subiect to the iudgement of the Church, and not the Church tyed to any bondage of the vse of it. Our Church therefore hath vsed her libertie in this behalfe, and though we denie not but that the signe of the Crosse were in most frequent vse, as M. Bishop saith, in the primitiue Church, yet considering it to be a thing iniurious to the faith and crosse of Christ where it is made a matter of mysticall consecration and blessing, hath discharged vs of it where it was taken in that sence; and yet that we seeme not wholly to explode that which antiquitie hath approoued, hath there retained it where it may carrie no shew of being subiect to that construction. We vse it not to our selues, to our meates and drinkes, to the water of baptisme, to the bread and wine of the Lordes Supper, or any otherwhere where it was vsed with that meaning as in Poperie it was vsed in all these: we vse it in baptisme with the application first intended, and to them which yet know not the vse of it, that that which is done to them may be a remembrance to vs, & to them also when they shall hereafter know and see the same in others, not to be ashamed of Christ crucified, and of the bearing of his crosse, but with courage and constancie to follow him whose in baptisme we haue vowed our selues to be. As touching the testimonies of antiquitie which M. Bishop alledgeth for the approuing thereof, first Tertullian and Ambrose and Cyril do simply note the vulgar vse of it, which in them and in those times we condemne not; they had their reason for the vsing, and so haue we for the leauing of it, (Abbot, The second part of the Defence of the Reformed Catholicke, London: George Bishop, 1607, pp. 1118-1119).

[…]

Ambrose maketh this the vse of the signe of the crosse, that thereby a Christian man euery while writeth vpon his owne forehead the contempt of death, as who knoweth that without the crosse of Christ he cannot be saued. When Iulian obiected to Christians the vse of the Crosse, Cyril maketh no more thereof but this, that they made it in remembrance of all goodnes and all vertue. Whatsoeuer they say of the crosse or of the signe of the crosse, they referre it to the faith of Christ crucified, not to the crosse it selfe, but to the inward cogitation of the benefite of his crosse. The mind marked with the crosse, saith Cyril, is plentifully fed with heauenly food, and grace of the holy Ghost: whosoeuer turneth the eyes of his mind to Christ nailed to the crosse, he shall be forthwith cured from all wound of sinne. They vsed the outward signe onely to turne the minde to the beholding of the crosse of Christ, thereby hoping to receiue comfort and defence. But Poperie hath taught men so to conceiue, as if God had giuen to the signe of the crosse some formal power to do great wonders for vs, & in this sence haue witches & charmers borowed it from them, (ibid., p. 1122).

When to Stop Interpreting the Lord’s Supper

A number of years ago the Lutheran historian, Paul Rorem caused a stir among certain Eastern Orthodox theologians over his interpretation of the Pseudo-Dionysius. Rorem was accused, by Fr. Andrew Golitzin and others, of reading Dionysius like a Protestant, chiefly with regard to Holy Synaxis (a.k.a., the Eucharist). The crux of the debate had to do with Rorem’s emphasis on “interpretation,” which he said is of primary concern for Dionysius. To truly participate in synaxis one must rightly interpret the sacred symbols and “get behind the material show,” as Rorem via Dionysius says. Rorem referred to this act of peering beyond the veil as an “interpretation,” which implies that a right reading of the rite is all that is required of those who wish to commune with Christ. Of course, the problem with calling this a “Protestant” reading of Dionysius is that not all Protestants think interpretation is necessary for rightly communing with Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

Sure, some interpretation, some ability to distinguish between the sign and the thing behind the sign is necessary. Yet, interpretation is not the goal of the Lord’s Supper, nor should it be what one does while communing. If you know how to distinguish the sign from the thing, then you already have the power of “discerning the body” that should naturally direct you to the thing itself. An interpreter of Spanish, for example, has a habit of hearing Spanish, and so, his mind hears Spanish accurately without the use of a dictionary or mental deliberation. So, Christ calls us to participate in the whole event of his Supper with mind and body, not with the mind alone. The majority of Reformed theologians (at least of the first few centuries after the Reformation) believe that sanctifying grace is a quality (or qualities) that is infused (literally “poured in”) into the soul (mind and heart) by the Holy Spirit. By consequence, the activity of belief in the Supper itself (or in Christ within the Supper) is the mechanism of Christ-likeness (Christiformia) in the soul. The activity of faith in the Supper brings about a greater qualitative similarity to Jesus in the believer’s soul.  If there is any sacrifice involved, it is the sacrifice of ourselves, the sacrifice of our trust in ourselves and our ability to figure things out for ourselves (including the Supper!) as we surrender to the mind of Christ.

How does an increase in Christ-likeness (via infused qualities) happen in the event of Holy Communion? Most Reformed theologians agree that faith is not only an infused quality, but also a virtue. So, it will help to look at another virtue and ask, how does virtue itself increase? Let’s look at courage, for example. The courageous man becomes more courageous the more he takes on the likeness of perfect Courage, that is, the likeness of God’s own Courage (archetypal Courage). The courageous man takes on this likeness by performing courageously in battle or by choosing what is right in a moment of temptation rather than what is more immediately beneficial to him. How, then, should he interpret or develop an understanding of his courage? How will he know if he truly modeled archetypal Courage in his action? Should he stop to meditate on it while he is acting? Of course not. How could he be courageous if he’s distracted by his own act of self-reflection? Imagine a soldier fighting the enemy in close combat. If he pauses to reflect on the nature of his own courage he will most likely lose concentration on the enemy and lose the fight.

The same is true of our participation in the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. We shouldn’t attempt to rationally distinguish between sign and thing signified while we eat the bread. We shouldn’t look at our own heart or introspectively examine ourselves as to whether we truly believe or not. How could you have faith in Christ’s promise at that moment if all you can think about is yourself? What should we do then? Don’t neglect self-examination. The unexamined life is not worth living after all. Just don’t examine yourself when you’re supposed to be doing something. When the consecrated bread is in your hands stop thinking about faith and just be faithful. Just believe that “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” Eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ is a faithful action. So, stop thinking about what you think about it and just eat. The King is here. It’s time for celebration. It’s time to be caught up in the beauty of holiness. It’s not time for deliberation. It’s not time for talking. There is a time for that. But, around the Lord’s table we are in God’s holy temple. Let all the Earth be silent.

When we do that our faith increases and we become more like Christ. We have performed faithfully and the faith that conquers the world has conquered us and given us new life. God has extended his Son to us as our greatest gift, and we have taken hold of him in an act of self-sacrificial dependance on all that he is and all that he promises to do within us. In that moment it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me. However, doesn’t this emphasis on the faithful act take away from the “means of grace”? Faith is not about acting courageously, right? That would imply that the sacraments are not gifts but activities that we must perform. The answer is in faith itself. Faith is an activity of remaining passive, but this does not meant that it is an act of indifference. It’s a passive act, if that makes sense. It is an act of taking hold of the gift that is given and holding it deep within ourselves. This takes some courage, the courage to leave yourself behind, as Martin Luther says. Yet, this is holy courage, because it sets us apart from the world. In fact, it takes us out of the world altogether and places us within Christ. As we repeatedly participate in his table we increasingly take on his Courage (exemplar Courage) to leave everything behind and cling to the Father.

Remember, sanctifying grace is an act of cooperation between you and God within you. The courageous activity of faith is never merely ours. It is ours because it is Christ within us. Yet, Christ is within us according to his likeness, not substantially (i.e., union with Christ is not spiritual transubstantiation). He is within us according to our God-given ability to reflect him, which is primarily displayed in faith, though faith is only an effect of his union with us (it doesn’t exhaust the meaning of union with Christ). The Giver is giving himself to us and acting within us. We are called to receive him but our reception does not make the gift. Our reception does, however, facilitate the gift giving by preparing our soul for it. It’s like hospitality. The more that we receive him, the more we prepare a place for him, and the better we become at welcoming him the way that a King should be welcomed. The King comes into our home the more we extend the invitation and open the door for him, though it is really his house to begin with. In so doing we become more and more like the King himself, who invites all of us to his wedding banquet. This doesn’t happen through mere interpretation. We already know how to interpret. We know what is behind the veil. The Supper is not for interpretation but for interpreters who can habitually receive the language of the body and blood of Christ by hearing with the ears of faith. Our souls do not develop Christ-likeness by actively interpreting the Supper as we participate in the event. Rather, we become more like Christ within the event (through Christ acting within us), and the event, the wedding banquet, is the thing itself, slightly veiled, yet beaming as brightly as the sun behind a cloud to those who have been given eyes to see.

‘Theology is Queen! and everything else a shadow!’: J.H. Alsted on the Contemplative/Active Life

In his Praecognitorum theologicorum… , J.H. Alsted admits that he lacks the words to adequately describe Theology. Not because Theology is less than the other sciences, arts, or activities of life. On the contrary, Alsted asserts that Theology contains all of these things and, because of this, it can only be described by one word: Wisdom. Yet, even wisdom does not fully express the inexpressible nature of Theology. The highest thoughts of contemplation, even when accompanied by faith, cannot attain the summit of this wisdom. Alsted, therefore, is forced to conclude, “We are left destitute, therefore, of the appropriate vocabulary.” He knows that Theology is revealed by nature and Scripture. He knows that Theology is unified by its object, i.e., God. It is not less than scientia, therefore.

Alsted is not worried that he has failed to prove that Theology is something more than a science, art, or a practice. On the contrary, he believes that when one traces the boundaries of ectypal theology – what we humans do – one begins to see its connection with archetypal theology, which is God’s very own knowledge of Himself. Mere humans, however, cannot see archetypal theology because of the blinding rays of God’s infinity. Alsted says, “We do not posit a definition of archetypal Theology but a quasi-definition, by analogy, according to our mode of understanding.” In fact one should use caution, even when talking about archetypal theology. “We ought not investigate archetypal Theology, but worship it.” When the faithful see the boundary of ectypal Theology, therefore, they lose the appropriate vocabulary by which they may describe it. Faith is through a glass darkly after all.

Alsted concludes that Theology is not a mere activity, but it so far transcends our powers of contemplation that it comes full circle, so to speak, and manifests itself in action. Theology is hyper-contemplative [hyper-theoreticam] and hyper-speculative [superspeculativam]. “For,” Alsted says, “the highest and final thought by which I know that I see God, that I am conformed to Him, that I will always rejoice [in Him], this is not mere [nuda] contemplation but active contemplation [contemplatio actuosa]. When you have weighed this matter carefully in this way, join with me in exclaiming, ‘Theology is Queen! and everything else is like a shadow!'” (Praecog…, 63). Thus, for Alsted the height of contemplation is not an absence of thought or action but a coincidence of thought-action which stems from the experience of seeing God and rejoicing in Him as he is manifest within one’s own soul. This, he says, is “active contemplation.”

Zanchi on Union with God

What does Paul mean in Ephesians 3:19 when he says “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God?” Girolamo Zanchi, in his Commentary on Ephesians, interprets Paul to mean that believers are partakers of the divine nature, a participation which depends upon one understanding “the mysteries of piety and its causes, that is, by understanding the love of God in Christ toward us.” This is not a bare cognitive assent, however, but is combined with an experience [sentio] of the love of God within one’s “inner man” by means of grace. Zanchi, like Aquinas, considers union with God to occur primarily through a certain created likeness of God within the soul, or in other words, a renewal of the image of God in the soul by means of certain infused qualities (i.e., wisdom, righteousness, etc.). He explains what it means to be “filled with the fulness of God”:

Translation: Girolamo Zanchi on Ephesians 3:19

By what, then, do we become strong? By a power and virtue, not human, but divine. So, [Paul] says, “that you may be strengthened with power, that is, of God.” Therefore, all of the virtues are excited within us, they stand upright, and are nourished by the power [δυνάμει] and virtue of God, and these are really nothing other than a certain divine power created, excited, and inflamed through the Holy Spirit within us, by which [we are] good, strong, wise, righteous, and finally, we are such as God wants us to be, and by which we have the ability, whatever ability we have, [to be] good. This is the power [δυνάμιν] of God that Peter calls the divine nature: “That you may become (Peter says) partakers of the divine nature.” By the word “nature” here [Peter] means a created quality by which we become like God. Paul calls [it] grace: “By the grace of God I am what I am & his Grace in me was not vain” (1 Cor. 15).

Zanchi, In d. Pauli epistolam ad Ephesios Commentarius, 1594, p. 201.

J.H. Alsted: The Light of Reason and the Light of Faith

At the Calvinist International I’ve published another in my series of posts in which I translate portions from J.H. Alsted’s Theologia naturalis. Here’s an excerpt from Alsted on how the light of reason relates to the light of faith:

Pious men explain this by means of an apposite similitude: They say, just as the sunlight does not put out the [light] of the stars but makes their lesser light yield to a more abundant light, so the light of Grace does not put out the light of Nature but makes it yield. And again, just as the stars yield to the Sun so that they do not fall from the sky, so reason yields to faith so that it does not fall from the sky of the microcosm. Let [faith] cease, if you will, and [reason] falls. The little torch of reason acknowledges its inferiority to grace coming forth from the celestial chamber as to the Sun, the superior of the stars. But, [the soul] does not cast away a power innate to it with the arrival of [grace], any less than the stars do not cast away their own power of shinning with the arrival of noon.