One of the most helpful insights I have ever come across concerning the Lord’s Supper is Fr Al Kimel’s concept of the real identification, as set out in his 2004 post “Is it Real… or is it Memorex?” (back when Fr Kimel was still an Episcopalian). Fr Kimel’s blog is temporarily offline, but thanks to Google’s cache I have been able to get hold of the text, which is available as an RTF file here.
As Fr Kimel writes:
It is remarkable that for hundreds of years the Church did not find it necessary to formally dogmatize a particular definition of the Holy Eucharist. Despite real differences of expression, significant conflict between theologians and churches did not arise.
The reason for this is as follows:
At the deep level of liturgy and prayer, the Church was united in a common confession and enactment of the sacramental promises of Christ: “This is my body. This is my blood.” That is to say, the Church was united in the real identification of the consecrated bread and wine with the body and blood of the Savior.
It is this “sacramental identification” that constitutes “the eucharistic dogma of the Church catholic”, namely that:
Through the supernatural power of consecration, the eucharistic bread and wine not only represent and symbolize the body and blood, they not only convey and communicate the body and blood, but they are, mystically and ineffably, the body and blood.
Fr Kimel continues by arguing that the dogma of the “real identification” must be distinguished from the doctrine of the “real presence”. He quotes Francis J Hall, who writes that:
“Our Lord did not say, ‘My body is present in, with and under this,’ but ‘This is My body.’”
In other words, the doctrine of the real presence, and the language of “in, with and under”, are merely inferences from, and attempts to explain or expand upon, the more basic affirmation of the real identification:
The risen Christ is present in the Eucharist because his body and blood are present, and his body and blood are present because the consecrated bread and wine are his body and blood.
Reformed Christians (using the term “Reformed” in its broadest sense) frequently criticise Lutherans and others for insisting that people believe a certain doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. These criticisms often focus on technical language (such as “in, with and under” or “ubiquity”) that Reformed Christians find unacceptable. As Michael Spencer put it on the BHT yesterday:
As soon [we start asking “how” Jesus is present in the sacraments], we get to close our Bibles (and end that nice discussion on imagery or reality) and open up Aristotle, learning about “accidents,” start talking about appearances and in/with/under, etc. All the things that you need to get your ticket punched. (jn)
THE WORDS OF INSTITUTION. Read them and STOP THERE.
Well, let’s indeed STOP THERE. I’ve written before about my personal desire being to promote “Augsburg evangelicalism”, not the specific cultural or terminological preferences of “Lutheranism” as a whole. So let us indeed attempt to find an agreed minimum of shared belief regarding the Supper.
My modest proposal – which I’d also like to send in the general direction of our friends at Reformed Catholicism – is that the place in which to establish that common ground is in the church’s doctrine of the “real identification”. To adapt the proposed compromise formula of another BHT fellow, Tim:
- This bread IS the body of Christ, and this wine IS the blood of Christ.
- “How?” Why do you ask?
(Update: Previously #1 read “The consecrated bread IS the body of Christ, and the consecrated wine IS the blood of Christ”. Michael Spencer pointed out the word “consecrated” seemed “unnecessarily divisive”, so I’ve amended it as he suggested. Just so long as we’re clear that (i) “is” really does mean “is” here, and (ii) this is a statement made “at the rail” in relation to the bread and wine in front of us, rather than as an abstract statement of sacramental theology. In other words, “This bread right here is the body of Christ”, etc.)