The Anglican Reformers Were Not Zwinglians!

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.