Monday, July 9, 2018

Virtualism: key to 21st century Anglican eucharistic theology? [Updated]

UPDATE: Catholicity and Covenant has put a further post up, here. ALSO: Liturgy has a rejoinder here.

From it, and bearing on the matters mentioned below, I cite these wonderful words of Cranmer:

"His true body is truly present to them that truly receive him: but spiritually ... by whose passion we are filled at his table, and whose blood we receiving out of his holy side, do live for ever, being made the guests of Christ; having him dwelling in us through the grace of his true nature, and, through the virtue and efficacy of his whole passion, being no less assured and certified, that we are fed spiritually unto eternal life by Christ's flesh crucified, and by his blood shed, the true food of our minds, than that our bodies be fed with meat and drink in this life: and hereof this said mystical bread on the table of Christ, and the mystical wine, being administered and received after the institution of Christ, be to us a memorial, a pledge, a token, a sacrament, and a seal."

ORIGINAL POST: In a recent series of three posts Catholicity and Covenant introduces readers to an Anglican understanding of the eucharist called "virtualism." The three posts in chronological order are here, here and here. I confess to previous ignorance of the term "virtualism" but what virtualism is fits with what some of us Anglicans pretty much believe about the eucharist, even if we have never tried to pin down a definition.

Here is a definition which Catholicity and Covenant gives:

"*The site Anglican Eucharistic Doctrine provides a summary of virtualism via the 1938 report Doctrine in the Church of England:
Virtualism is described as being intermediate between real presence and receptionism. The virtualist "maintains that a spiritual change in the elements themselves is effected through consecration". The bread and the wine therefore do not become the body and blood of Christ in substance (as if they were being identified with the natural body and blood of Christ on the cross) but in spiritual power, virtue and effect.  This means that through consecration the bread and wine are endowed with spiritual power or virtue which make them the sacramental body and blood of Christ, but not the natural body and blood of Christ."

Another way of expressing this, given in another post, is a citation from Bishop Seabury of PECUSA (as it was then called):

"When we say that the Eucharist is a spiritual sacrifice, we still mean that the sacred symbols of Christ's body and blood are a sacrifice, and we call them a spiritual sacrifice, with reference to the effects which are wrought on them, and which they work in us by the power of the Holy Ghost. For after the bread and wine are set apart, to be the symbols of Christ's body and blood, and after we have solemnly offered them to God, we then proceed to invoke on them the descent of the Holy Ghost, to sanctify them, and to make them, not indeed in substance, but in power and efficacy, the body and blood of Christ. And it is in virtue of the spiritual power and efficacy thus imparted to the sacred elements, that they are called a spiritual sacrifice."

Catholicity and Covenant is arguing through the three posts that in an Anglicanism which is increasingly evangelical rather than Anglo-Catholic, there is real danger of (in my words) a low-grade appreciation of the eucharist and an impoverished eucharistic theology, but this need not be so. Evangelicals wary of a Catholic understanding of the eucharist need not go the way of Zwingli: it is only emblems and memories. Rather, we can retrieve a common heritage, when evangelicals and High Church Anglicans agreed, pretty much, on what the meaning of the eucharist is. This is captured in another citation Catholicity and Covenant offers:

"Prior to the rise of Tractarianism there was near consensus between Orthodox [i.e. Old High Church] and Evangelical churchmen regarding eucharistic doctrine.  This consensus survived the early phase of the Oxford Movement, but thereafter, the Tractarians diverged ...The two main interpretations of eucharistic doctrine shared by the Orthodox were virtualism and receptionism ... Virtualists maintained that the bread and win, once set apart by consecration, while not changed physically into the body and blood of Our Lord, became so in virtue, power and effect ... The Real Presence was taught, but that presence was not located in the elements of bread and wine ... In asserting a 'heavenly' Real Presence, the advocates of receptionism were at one with virtualists.  According to both views, the bread and wine were set apart for a new purpose by means of consecration while not altering in nature or substance.
Peter B. Nockles The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship1760-1857, p.235-238."

I like what I read through these posts and in particular through the cited passages I have also cited here. Virtualism, I suggest, but welcome your counter-suggestions, describes some familiar phrases from NZPB. Consider:

"Send your Holy Spirit
that these gifts of bread and wine which we receive
may be to us the body and blood of Christ,
and that we, filled with the Spirit's grace and power,
may be renewed for the service of your kingdom." (p. 423) 
"Almighty God, giver of all good things,
we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food
of the precious body and blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ." (p. 429) 
"As we eat this bread and drink this wine,
through the power of your Holy Spirit
feed us with your heavenly food,
renew us in your service ..." (p. 438).

Of course that is not all our NZPB has to offer: other phrases (e.g. pp. 467, 487) readily fit with an Anglo-Catholic understanding (whether that is Consubstantiation or Transubstantiation). Some phrases I find hard to pin any historic theology of the eucharist to such as:

"Bread and wine; the gifts of God
for the people of God.
May we who share these giftsbe found in Christ and Christ in us." (p. 472)

Back to Catholicity and Covenant. The following paragraphs summarise and express the argument he is making through these posts.

"What - if any - contemporary significance is there this series of posts on the Old High Church eucharistic doctrine of virtualism?  Readers might be forgiven for thinking that this is little more than ecclesiastical antiquarianism.
It's not.  It is, rather, to suggest that that the eucharistic doctrine of the Old High Church tradition - virtualism - offers a means of sacramental renewal for a contemporary Anglicanism that is becoming increasingly evangelical, in which Anglo-Catholicism is much less influential, and in which sacramental theology in notably weaker than a century ago.  In the words of Stephen Foster, the evangelical Anglican - now on the staff of HTB - who wrote the foreword to Andrew Davison's Why Sacraments?:
It is sometimes forgotten (not least by evangelicals) that the reformers saw both word and sacrament as the key marks of the true Church ... The contemporary amnesia of a theology of the sacraments within some parts of the Church must then be a matter of concern.
The eucharistic piety, practice and theological discourse of Anglo-Catholicism is highly unlikely to offer to evangelical Anglicans an acceptable means of renewing their own eucharistic thought and practice.  The virtualism of the Old High Church tradition, however, might do so.  It has its origins in the rich eucharistic teaching of Calvin.  It significantly shaped the Anglican Formularies and coheres with them.  It is flows from the historic Reformed critique of aspects of Roman Catholic eucharistic teaching and practice, while its emphasis on reception by faith - in the words of ARCIC I - is not "incompatible with eucharistic faith"."

As an evangelical Anglican, I see these posts as an inspiring challenge rather than as a challenging criticism: I love eucharistic worship, I am committed to a genuine ministry of Word and Sacrament, I want to see the eucharist led (or "performed") in such a manner that our love for Jesus, our thanksgiving for grace, our appreciation of the gospel of the cross is deepened and intensified.

But I am also keen to understand the eucharist - what did Jesus intend? what do we think happens when we participate in the eucharist? what are our reasonable expectations of the transformative power (virtue!) of eucharist?

The virtue of Virtualism is that it goes a long way towards answering such questions, without committing Anglicans to the dodginess of Aristotelian metaphysics or the barrenness of Zwinglianism.

I am not sure, however, that "Virtualism" is the best term in the 21st century for an understanding of the eucharist which evangelical Anglicans could embrace.

#suggestionsonapostcard ... or in the comments here :)


Father Ron said...

Dear Peter, having trouble with the 'Captcha' authorisation. Is it me ro the system?
I will try again to make a comment here.

Thanks for bringing up this important matter of the 'Virtual Reality' of the Eucharist. My Anglo-Catholic understanding - taught at Confirmation - is that the elements of bread and wine are 'sacralised'(made sacramental) through the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts at the Epiclesis (both Western and Eastern theology)

I once had to explain to a disbelieving parishioner - in a parish where I served as an interregnum priest - that our very own NZPB has an epiclesis, calling upon the Spirit to fall upon these gifts (bread and wine) so that "they may BECOME FOR US THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST" - So, there it is, plain but certainly not simple.

Pure scientific observation might deny any change in the substance of bread and wine, however, Faith is required for us to understand that - together with bread and wine, after the epiclesis, there is also the mystical reality of Christ's Body and Blood - a situation I call con-substantial, rather than trans-substantial (RC).

Anonymous said...

The NZPB says : that these gifts of bread and wine which we receive may be to us ----- (p423) (be not become!); on p470 it is rather more nebulous - we merely ask the Spirit to empower our celebration; on p487 we ask that the sending of the Spirit in some undefined way will enable us to be the body of Christ; and on p438 the epiclesis is only lightly hinted at rather than stated - "as we eat this bread and drink this wine, through the power of your Holy Spirit feed us with your heavenly food etc".
It seems to me that all are rather tentative.
But really haven't we enough to argue about without delving into sacramental theology. The remarks in the Telegraph obituary of Henry Chadwick are relevant here-

There has always been, about the Church of England, a certain imprecision when it comes to doctrinal formulation, and those most successful as Anglican churchmen are those who know how best to devise forms of words and constructs or accommodations which allow people of otherwise plainly incompatible beliefs to inhabit the same dwelling-place.

Chadwick was a master of the art. Unlike lesser men who attempted these skills, however, his labours were inspired by honesty of purpose and an apparently genuine conviction that the Anglican Communion had an unassailable integrity.

The limits to his methods, on the other hand, became apparent at meetings of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, in its sessions between 1969 and 1981, and again from 1983 to 1990, when the Anglican penchant for resolving differences by devising accommodations based upon ambiguous verbal formulations had limited effect on the professionals of the Vatican
Best wishes

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Rhys
I quite enjoy the luxury of sacramental theology at this time ...!

Jean said...

My thoughts from a DIY never done sacramental theology point of view:

I don’t relate to the ‘actual presence’ sense of the bread and wine being Jesus’s literal body and blood as I don’t think Jesus intended it this way. He took the first communion before his death and it was bread and wine. With the teaching to be for us to ‘do this’ to ‘remember Him’. I like the concept of remember in the context of what remember means in the biblical text (e.g. when people appeal in the Bible for God to remember them it isn’t simply a recall but a request for Him to always keep them before Him, to consider them and factor their situation into His decisions). This is how I experience communion, as an opportunity when it is taken to take hold of, to bring to the forefront, to consider Jesus alive now, and what His shedding of blood and the breaking of His body wrought for me here and now; a kind of entering into.

MarcA said...

Do you know "The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Anglican Tradition" by H.R. McAdoo and Ken Stevenson ( forward by Rowan Williams.) Like many of the older generation in the C of I he was something of a pre-Tractarian high churchman.He suggests that properly understood the ecumenical convergence has largely rendered virtualism redundant. Cant give the specific page reference as I no longer have the book.I dont know what things are like in NZ theo education but being dragged out of my retirement to do Post Ord Training i found only one of the 9 had any knowledge of any ecumenical convergence...a sadness to me who went to the Gregorian on an anglican scholarship and studied The Eucharist in Reformation and Ecumenical Convergence, a doctoral seminar led by Jared Wicks S.J..the highlight of my theological training.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Perry and Jean
Your comments make interesting reading, juxtaposed as they are!
No, I don't know that book Perry but it sounds like I should.
Jean: see now an additional comment on the updated post, by no less than Cranmer.

Jean said...

I think Cranmer and I would have got along : ) .. he wrote well didn’t he.

MarcA said...

Words like literal or physical in relation to Christs eucharistic presence are best avoided. Christs presence is sacramental..a unique mode related to the sacramental order. That presence is objective . faith cannot create it but faith must grasp it for a life giving wncounter to take place. As Nazir Ali said (at Gafcon) the eucharist makes Christ present to us and forms Christ in us.
While we can always learn from the past we have had over 50 yrs of wcumenical convergence on the eucharist.For Anglicans that has involved RCs, Reformed Lutherans and Orthodox..yet this doesnt seem to have entered the theological blood stream even of the clergy.
Re Cranmer..see Maccullochs biography pp614-616 but we are a post Cranmer Church..the 39 Articles and esp the last part of the BCP catechism reflect a eucharistic theology in significant ways post Cranmerian.

Father Ron said...

Dear Rhys, your word 'nebulous' concerning the reality of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, in which you question my use of the word 'become' rather the actual word in the NZBP 'be', is surely in the world of semantics.

I think that my word 'become' - as compared to the word 'be' in its literal sense in NZPB - might be more accurate in the liturgical context: which is that of bread and wine 'becoming' the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood which they were NOT before the Prayer of Consecration at the epiclesis.

To those of us for whom the Eucharistic rite is a meeting with the Lord of The Church in assembly, some of us at SMAA doinbg this on a daily basis - this is our continuing offering of prayer and praise, as well as our reception of the grace and power of the Holy Spirit through the presence of Christ among us who are gathered and who take part. When I was a full-time parish priest, this was my daily tryst with Jesus at the heart of our joint ministry in the world - for which this unique and special gift is given. I could not have maintained my priestly ministry without the rite provided by Jesus to carry out the mission of the Church.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ron, nothing I said concerned the the matter of the reality of Christ's presence in the Eucharist. I was attempting to pursue the question of what the NZPB itself was asserting, in the language of its four communion services. I was just suggesting that some of our liturgies are somewhat unemphatic about the epiclesis.
The quote from Chadwick was meant to stress the point that our Anglican liturgies deliberately leave room for differing interpretations. I gladly accept this principle and respect your understanding and experience of the eucharist; as I hope you do that of Anglican of another persuasion. The key point of the post was that we don't need another thing to argue about.
Best wishes

Father Ron said...

Dear Rhysd (lovely Welsh name) to you I want to say: @Pax Christ!).

To Jean, to those of us brought up in the catholic tradition in the Anglican Communion, where the Sacraments are at the heart iof our connection with the Living Christ - from whim we get our inspiration as 'The Word made flesh'. This, I realise, is not necessarily the material basis of bibilical inspiration, which majors more on the preaching. However, without the Bible, we would have little knowledge of the institution of the Sacraments, so the Bible is also party of the catholic inspiration, with 3 readings from it at every Eucharist.

Before Vatican II, very few Roman Catholics actually read the Bible for themselves, depending on the lectionary being read to them at every Mass by the priest or Deacon. However, since the reign of Goop Pope John XXIII, even R.C.s (as Nick will affirm) do read the Bible for themselves and are encouraged to study it in house groups.

Anglo-Catholics have alaways believed that the Bible is important for revelation and contemplation. We also believe that it has given sufficient evidence of sacramental order - for instance in Baptism and Holy Communion and, to a degree, the sacrament of Holy Orders - that we neglect this teaching at our risk of dominishing the power and grace that proceeds from the instruction of Jesus to his followers: "Do this!" - as one American theologian once told us at SJC; 'To re-member me" - to enable the community to become 'alter Christus'(other Christs).

Jean said...

Hi Ron

Yes I am on that page... Holy Communion is amongst the few direct instructions Jesus left his disciples and for this reason is an important part of a worshipping community. I think He must have known (well obviously, duh he did) how easy us humans forget and need constant reminders to help us keep on the path.


Jean said...

Hi Ron

Yes I am the same page here... to celebrate Holy Communion was among the few direct instructions Jesus left His disciples with and it is an important part of the practice of a worshipping community. Quite amazing isn’t it that Jesus transformed the Passover Meal by overseeing it and distributing the elements which were representative of his becoming the Passover Lamb itself but for all of humanity.


Father Ron said...

Bless you, Jean. You've hit the nail on the head here: "For ALL humanity" - not just the holy and righteous among us, but for ALL made in the divine Image and Likeness. We receive this redemption by faith - not by our own holiness or good works! This is at the veru heart of God's wonderful gift of redemption - in Christ. Alleluia!

Bryden Black said...

Peter; as we try to perform that rite Jesus asked us to repeat, as well as wanting to highlight Perry's ecumenical consensus/convergence view (which I think will in time be shown to be more the fruit of a professional few, the fruit of an era, despite its seeming commendability), I'd refer to two books: Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper (Eerdmans, 2015), and my own The Lion, the Dove & the Lamb, notably chapter 8 (W&S, 2015).

In the latter, I detail the causes behind the rise of the medieval solution to the perceived problem of "the communication of grace" - set within the context of the post Arian backlash which denied the triune God's own mediatorial field. I.e. A fulsome retrieval of an operational trinitarian theology, including therefore naturally a fulsome epiclesis (thanks Rhys for highlighting the NZPB's vagueness at this point), will render not a few sacramental theologies redundant, showing them to be false/inadequate solutions to a false problem. And of course CoE sacramental theologies were/are all couched within that context. What Pitre then does is to reinsert the rite firmly back into its 1st C Jewish setting as expressed in the NT, which I then pick up more fully again in God's Address — Living the Triune God (2017), via the results of that ch.8.

As with any good science, MUCH depends upon the form in which we couch our very questions. And while I enjoy historical theology for its genuine insights, it also shows how some of our pathways are better described as cul-de-sacs. And once we see that, we may return to the main highway and truly travel "farther up and farther in," with as I suggest our sacramental carts more suitably hitched to genuine trinitarian horses.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for recent comments!

Bryden: I am all for hitching sacramental carts to Trinitarian horses (acknowledging that in real life carts are normally pulled by either one horse or multiples of two!) As a matter of fact, I am reading Pitre at the moment :). I tend to agree with you re former false readings, cul de sacs, etc ... or, as Paul said, now we see through a glass darkly etc ... genuine scholarly enquiry and discourse leads slowly to deeper and clearer insight.

Bryden Black said...

Enjoy Brant Peter; tough glorious food!