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 :)