January 10, 2011

The Anglican Reformers Were Not Zwinglians!

Filed under: Anglicanism,Theology — William Witt @ 7:27 am

chalice Although I am certain it is a mere coincidence, at Titus19, Kendall Harmon has linked to a blog post by a former Calvinist and former Anglo-Catholic, now (apparently) Roman Catholic, who advocates exactly the kind of old school “clear break” version of Reformation histoiography I had mentioned in my recent post in which I argued that Anglicans did not have to make a choice between being Evangelical or Catholic.

The author makes the usual kinds of arguments one sometimes finds among Catholic converts: that the Anglican Reformation was entirely a Protestant (and basically Calvinist) movement, and a clear break from Medieval Catholicism, that John Jewel was simply an Erastian. The author strangely interprets Jewel to hold the position that there was no Catholic church in the first six centuries after Christ. More to the point, according to the author, for Jewel, “Catholic” simply means “Protestant.” To the contrary, Jewel had argued not only that there was such a Catholic church, but that the late Medieval Church had in many ways departed from it. In his Apology, Jewel identified catholicity with the same marks identified in the 2nd Century over against Gnosticism: Canon of Scripture, Rule of Faith, episcopacy in continuity with the apostolic church, and worship in Word and Sacrament. And Jewel noted correctly that the Church of England had retained all of these.

The author also claims (incorrectly) that the Anglican Reformers were Zwinglian in their eucharistic theology. Once in awhile, one comes across these attempts to interpret the Anglican Reformers as Zwinglian in their eucharistic theology, whether by those of catholic leanings (who are attempting to do demolition work) or by low-church Evangelicals, hoping to score points against Rome.

It does not work. Neither Cranmer nor Jewel (and certainly not Hooker) were Zwinglians, and they repeatedly go out of their way to make this clear. What they rejected was transubstantiation, particularly the notion that the substance of bread and wine ceased to exist as bread and wine after consecration. It is not terribly clear what they meant by “spiritual presence,” whether a presence through the Holy Spirit (as in Calvin and Eastern Orthodoxy), or rather “something else.” Most commentators interpret them as “virtualists” or “receptionists,” who believed that Christ communicated himself really and truly in his full humanity and deity, in the very act of eating and drinking, when the communicant received the consecrated bread and wine, with faith.

What they clearly believed was: the risen Christ is really present, in his full humanity and deity, when the elements are received with faith, and, in participating in the Lord’s Supper, Christians genuinely participate in Christ’s risen life through the process of eating and drinking. Both Cranmer (against Gardiner) and Jewel (against Harding) were emphatic that they disagreed about the manner of Christ’s presence, not the reality of Christ’s presence.

The focus is on union, specifically, union between the risen Christ and the church. The point of any talk about change is to focus on the final causality of the Eucharist, that the final goal is the union of Christ with his church, and the change that takes place in Christians as a result of that union, rather than a theory about how bread and wine are changed to bring about the union.

Bread and wine are not changed in such a manner that they cease to be bread and wine.

Apart from accompanying faith, receiving the Eucharist has no spiritual benefit for the recipient. That is, unbelievers receive the bread and wine, but they do not share the benefits of “feeding on Christ.” If the purpose of the Eucharist is that the church might become the body of Christ, by being united to the risen Christ, unbelievers do not become the body of Christ because they are not united to Christ, even if they do eat and drink consecrated bread and wine.

The above are central themes in Anglican eucharistic theology, and can be traced through the history of Anglicanism, including nineteenth century Anglo-Catholics. Anglicans, historically, have affirmed real presence. Generally, Anglicans have not been Zwinglians. Generally, Anglicans have not affirmed transubstantiation.

One of the more interesting books that has been published on this subject lately is George Hunsinger’s The Eucharist and Ecumenism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Hunsinger carefully distinguishes between Zwinglian and Reformed models of eucharistic presence, and suggests (correctly in my opinion) an affinity between Calvin’s model of eucharistic presence through the Holy Spirit and Eastern Orthodoxy. Hunsinger also notes numerous affinities between Reformed theology and Aquinas, and also correctly notes an affinity between the Reformed model and Cranmer.

Hunsinger points to the possible influence of Peter Martyr Vermigli on Cranmer, who embraced the language of “transelementation” that he found in Theophylact, an eleventh century archbishop of Bulgaria. The model actually goes back to Gregory of Nazianzus and Cyril of Alexandria. Vermigli borrows the imagery of an iron rod thrust into fire, which is transformed by participation, but does not lose its reality as iron.

Hunsinger documents that both Martin Bucer and Thomas Cranmer use the language of transelementation. Cranmer uses not only the language of transelementation, and the image of the burning iron, but also refers to Theophylact by name, indicating an almost certain dependence on Vermigli. Cranmer also cites Cyprian, saying that “the bread is changed,” not by subtraction, but by addition of “another property,” so that the bread is now not only physical food for the body, but “spiritual food for the soul.”

I was pleased to discover that Hunsinger has noted the connection with an Eastern Orthodox epicletic understanding of real presence, something I have written about in The Anglican Reformers and the Eucharist. However, I am grateful to Hunsinger for noticing the connection to Orthodoxy in the person of Theophylact through Peter Martyr Vermigli, of which I had been unaware.

Hunsinger suggests that the Reformed model is not perfect, having a tendency to a Nestorian separating of the elements themselves from Christ’s presence in, and through them, or, as others have suggested, a too radical separating of sign and thing signified. I would suggest, at the same time, that the danger of both transubstantiation and Lutheran ubiquity is a tendency in the other direction, a “monophysite” confusion of divine and created realities, whereby Christ’s humanity destroys the created reality of the substance of bread and wine (Roman transubstantiation) or confuses the natures as Christ’s humanity becomes omnipresent (Lutheran ubiquity). Hunsinger suggests that a more thorough embracing of Orthodox transelementation would preserve Reformed concerns [and I would say “Anglican” as well], emphatically affirming real presence without necessitating destruction of the substance of bread and wine (as in transubstantiation).

The article to which Kendall links is a prime example of what I have called (following Husinger) “enclave theology.” One of the constant temptations of enclave theology is to commit the straw man fallacy: to describe the opponent’s position in a manner that is as far removed from one’s own as possible, and then to refute not the actual position held, but rather the caricature. Enclave Protestants can be as guilty of this as Catholics, of course. It is especially tempting for converts, who sometimes desire to paint the church they left in as dark colors as possible. But, in this case, it is neither historically nor theologically accurate. The Anglican Reformers were not Zwinglians.

The author assures us that “There are many good, loyal, God loving people within Anglicanism,” but that “Ultimately, however, the anti-Catholic notions of 1559 will catch up to them.” Except, of course, that 1559 was not “anti-Catholic.” And, of course, Anglicanism did not end in 1559.


  1. Dear Professor Witt,

    I am writing to thank you for your kind comments on my eucharist book. You might be interested to know that I lived in Ambridge until the age of nine. My parents had spent their entire lives there before my father got a job in California and we moved away. Trinity did not exist back in those days, but if I ever visit Ambridge (as I might) I’ll try looking you up. Or if you’re every coming to Princeton, please let me know.

    Best regards,
    George Hunsinger

    Comment by George Hunsinger — January 11, 2011 @ 2:50 am

  2. Professor Hunsinger,

    Thank you in turn. A number of faculty here at Trinity are reading your book right now. As I mentioned, I have found it very helpful. Also your book on How to Read Karl Barth was extremely helpful for me in my own grappling with The Church Dogmatics. I highly recommend it to my readers. Whenever my students ask for the “best” secondary text on Barth, I recommend two, your text along with Hans von Balthasar’s.

    If I ever find myself in Princeton, I will certainly say “hello.”

    Grace and Peace,
    Bill Witt

    Comment by William Witt — January 11, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

  3. Unfortunately, both Calvin and Cranmer are a bit schizophrenic when it comes to the Lord’s Supper and they have a tendency to move Zwinglian. They personally hold high views but do not trust the rest of the Reform to understand clearly the Supper. Cranmer moves Zwinglian in 1552 although personally he is positive on the Supper. Hunsinger agrees to this when he discusses their Nestorian tendency. Actually 1559 brings us back into balance.

    Comment by Frank Lyons — January 30, 2011 @ 1:45 am

  4. I think you make too much of a connection between Calvin and Orthodox theology. Metropolitan Jonah made it clear at the first meeting of the AC-NA that Calvinism was a “profound heresy” and one in which Orthodoxy could ever share communion. In other contexts he even dismisses Calvin’s bodies as “non-churches.” The idea within Orthodoxy on the Eucharist that bears ANY relationship with Calvinism, is that it is the Spirit rather than the priest as the causative agent. While Orthodoxy rejects “transubstantiation” it is not for any reasons Calvin would accept, but rather that the idea of qualification which is present in scholasticism and, indeed, throughout all of Western thought has no bearing in the mystical theology of the East. The term “real presence” is a cypher– it contains no meaning, and therefore can be filled with whatever the writer/reader wishes it to mean. Recall that Orthodoxy’s Eucharistic understanding is in many respects even stronger than Roman theology. It a communicant comes to the cup without first a sacramental confession to be clean, the Eucharist, rather than healing the sin, can be a condemning action–the prayers of the Divine Liturgy make this plain. The reason to the Orthodox that Communion has no positive effect on the non-believer is not that the Sacrament does somehow “work” in that person but that that person would be personally and systematically excluded from reception. Even before the beginning of the Eucharist sacrifice, the deacon shouts “the doors, the doors.” This is not an instruction to open them up to all, but just the opposite to shut and lock them tight against those who are not Orthodox. The pre-Eucaristic prayer of the people contains an oath to protect the secrets and to not speak of them to non Orthodox. If Orthodoxy felt simply that the Sacrament would be jsu bread and wine to non-belivers as the author would have us believe, such precautions would be un-necessary.

    As much as the author would like to ally Calvinistic sacramental theology with Orthodoxy, he cannot do so. It simply is not the case.

    Comment by James Nuzzo — January 30, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

  5. Mr.(Fr.?Dr.?) Nuzzo,

    Is Calvin heretical in every single thing he believed or in just some things? For example, Calvin affirmed that Jesus Christ was God incarnate, one divine person with two natures, one human and one divine, that he died for our sins, and rose bodily from the grave. Calvin also affirmed that God is three persons with a single divine nature. Was Calvin heretical when he said this?

    My point above was not that I agree with every single point of Calvin’s theology; nor that Calvin’s eucharistic doctrine was in every point identical with that of Orthodoxy. My point was that the Anglican Reformers used the language of “spiritual presence,” which, I suggested, they may have understood as a “presence through the Holy Spirit (as in Calvin and Eastern Orthodoxy).” That is an exceedingly minimalist claim: that both Calvin and Eastern Orthodoxy understand Christ to be present “through the Holy Spirit.” If this is the only area in which Calvin agreed with the Orthodox, it is nonetheless a fact of some significance, since almost no one else in the West seems to have noticed the significance of the Holy Spirit for eucharistic theology at that time.

    If by “the author,” you mean George Hunsinger, I would suggest that your re-read what I wrote about him above, and read his book. Prof. Hunsinger does not claim, any more than I do, that Orthodoxy and Calvinism are identical. He does suggest, that Reformed theology (which is not the same as “Calvinism,” pure and simple) could profit from the Orthodox understanding of “transelementation.”

    Comment by William Witt — January 30, 2011 @ 11:43 pm

  6. Hi Dr. Witt,

    I’d seen your post before, and was led to it again when Kendall Harmon linked here yesterday. In view of the discussion at T19, I was wondering what you think of Eucharistic adoration? I have trouble wrapping my mind around the issue. But for what it’s worth, my belief has been that we adore Jesus, whose body and blood we receive through the consecrated bread and wine by the work of the Spirit (something that passes human understanding). I didn’t think we adored the consecrated elements, the sacramental body and blood, though we approach them with reverence, not as common bread and wine, but as bread and wine which stand objectively in an intimate relation to Christ’s glorified humanity.

    Comment by John — January 31, 2011 @ 12:41 am

  7. Dear Professor,

    I have read Prof Hunsinger’s book and again I think that he views Orthodoxy through Western eyes (a very common problem) and sees the terms in scholastic context. This constitutes a hermenuetical mistake. Nowhere in Orthodox theology (aside from perhaps a few “Westernized” writers who are marginal) is there any attempt to characterize Presence has something which can be humanly grasped–so the concept of “transelementation” is not something I have encountered in Orthodox thinking. Indeed, as humans, we have no idea of what God is and have only the Divine reflections from which to behold. To have the arrogance to characterize what happens during the Divine Liturgy as anything concrete such as “transelementation” would be foreign to canonical Oxthodox sensibilities. It is at its deepest level, an apophatic theology that steadfastly refuses to be forced into western categories.

    As Alexander Schmemann notes in his “Introduction to Liturgical Theology” the Eucharstic is at it heart an eschatological event–it transends time and space and takes us into the “parousia”– it is a “mysterion” whose nature is not known. As I read Calvin such an understanding is not part of his sacramental theology. Time and space do not get suspended; the rupture of Heaven and Earth are not healed during the Calvanistic Divine Liturgy. The question, for example, so important to Cramner, as to whether the Cross could only be offered to the Father once and not is therefore not re-created, but remembered during Holy Communion (Eucharistic Prayer language) has no place in Orthodox understanding. There is but one cross– and during the Divine Service we ARE there, present on the mount, at the foot of the real Cross more so than standing in the nave of a church in 2011–time is not linear but “chronos” and we, priests and laity, are part of anmenetic miracle.

    The idea of Spirit rather than actions of priest as agent, is more a desire of Calvin to dethrone medieval clerical mysticism. Orthodoxy while humbly recognizing that such a miracle can only take place by and through the Spirit, does not demote the role of priest in the liturgical drama. The Spirit only be called down to perform the miracle by an ordained priest. Only the ordained can manually touch the Elements (the idea of reception in the hand would be met with shudders or laughter–even the spoon is handled by the ordained and its contents deposited in the mouth of the communicant– there is a cloth that serves as a patten to catch any stray particles– they are not seen as “nothing” as they haven’t been ingested by a member of the faithful).

    As what and why the Metropolitan condemned (and he has used such terms) the heretical nature of Reformed theology is a more detailed issue than space permits me write (indeed, it is really an issue for the Metropolitan, but his words reflect the general consensus of Orthodoxy)–but the acceptance of the bare bones of Christianity is insufficient for the Orthodox to accept the Reformed churches as proper churches.

    Thank you for the opportunity for this dialogue.

    Dr. James Nuzzo

    Comment by James Nuzzo — January 31, 2011 @ 12:43 am

  8. I think the key question that has to be addressed is “What are the elements for?” What is their purpose (telos)? Christ commands us to take and eat. I think it perfectly appropriate to express reverence through physical gestures. Within the context of the celebration of the Eucharist, I think such gestures as genuflection or crossing oneself before receiving the consecrated host and wine are appropriate ways of acknowledging that when we eat the consecrated bread and wine, we are not eating ordinary bread or drinking ordinary wine, but that the risen Christ is truly present and truly gives himself to us in bread and wine so that, in receiving with faith, the church truly shares in Christ’s risen humanity and thereby becomes the body of Christ. I tend not to approve of extra-eucharistic celebrations (such as benediction) because they are disconnected with taking and eating.

    Comment by William Witt — January 31, 2011 @ 3:47 am

  9. Thanks, Dr. Witt. I agree wholeheartedly about the seemliness of physical gestures to express our reverence. Still, is saying that genuflection is appropriate equivalent to saying that we may and should direct latria to the sacrament? I’ve always thought of adoration in the latter sense as a dividing line between Tridentine Catholicism and the Anglican Reformers.

    Comment by John — January 31, 2011 @ 5:25 am

  10. Briefly, Vermigli depended primarily upon Theodoret of Cyrus’s three dialogues known as Eranistes. I am unaware of a connection to Theophylact, although it may have existed. The afterlife of Theodoret’s work in England is an interesting one; it is used, for example, not only in Cranmer, but also among figures such as William Page, who wrote his Treatise or Justification of Bowing at the Name of Jesus in 1631 (thus, under King Charles the Martyr, whose feast day is today, 30 January). I haven’t traced Theodoret’s influence further than that, admittedly, although the non-corporeal understanding of the Eucharist was, obviously, orthodox within the Church of England at the time. The Greek Fathers, and not just Theodoret, were used to vindicate such ideas.

    Vermigli is an immensely interesting figure, and one of those early Reformed thinkers who not only vindicates Richard Muller’s contention that early Reformed theology was surprisingly diverse, but who also reveals that there was, for a time at least, a heavy interest among some non-Lutheran (i.e., Reformed, if using the term somewhat anachronistically) reformers in the Church Fathers. From Vermigli we might trace a line of “Patristic Calvinism” (to borrow a term that is perhaps not terribly helpful) through Cranmer, Jewel, and Hooker, on to figures such as Laud. Contrary to popular perception, Laud was not opposed to Calvin, and he cites him quite frequently and with approval – indeed, more approval than one finds in Hooker. Perhaps it is better, however, to speak less of a “Patristic Calvinism” (as if there were such a coherent ideology) and to instead ask what happened to the study of the Fathers within early modern Protestantisms, such that Anglicans ended up nurturing Patristic studies whereas, e.g., the Reformed did not. (I can’t say about Lutheranism as I don’t know, although my understanding is that second generation figures like Chemnitz were still quite deeply and widely read on point.)

    Thank you for the helpful post. I wonder: is it not enough to say that Cranmer, Jewel, and Hooker all believed that the sacraments were “effectual signs” of grace (the language of the Articles, we should recall) and that this Augustinian theology was not accepted en toto by the Reformed, especially by Zwingli, the latter of whom did nonetheless maintain some notion of Christ’s presence within the congregation?

    Comment by guyer — January 31, 2011 @ 5:34 am

  11. Professor Witt, thank you for this excellent post. While it’s true that Anglicanism allows for a fairly wide latitude in terms of how one understands the mystery of the Eucharist, it’s also true that there are limits to how far this can go. Whether one leans more reformed or not, Real Presence has always been a benchmark of Anglican Eucharistic doctrine. Thank you for shining a light on this fact.

    Comment by Fr. J — February 12, 2011 @ 3:11 am

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