A very real identification

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)


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:

  1. This bread IS the body of Christ, and this wine IS the blood of Christ.
  2. “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.)

This entry was posted in Friendship of the Baptised, Lord's Supper, Reformed Christianity, Sacraments. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to A very real identification

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  2. Fr Alvin Kimel says:

    Thanks for the commendation of my article. My website is temporarily down but I hope it will be back up by the end of the week.

  3. John H says:

    Fr Kimel: Thanks for your comment. Good to hear your blog is only temporarily offline – I’ve amended the post accordingly.

  4. Tim says:


    I love it the way you have it. “This” bread right here: this bread we share as brothers, having gathered in His name, this is His flesh, as we eat it. He is the bread as we eat it.

    Fr. Kimel’s intent I share, but his modifier “consecrated” seems to change Jesus’ metaphysics of relation into a metaphysics of essence, and that rabbit-hole has no bottom. As we discussed at BHT.


  5. Peter Escalante says:


    Some brief thoughts:

    “Real identification” simply predicates “reality” of the bringing-together: the *act* of identification. This amounts to a historical claim: the church *really* identifies the bread and wine with the body and blood of the Lord; which is fine, so far as it goes. The trouble is that it leaves undefined the manner or character of the identity asserted. For example: the government *really* (that is, decisively, authoritatively) identifies me with the my passport, but my passport is not really identical with me. It is a real identification, but that real identification does not imply real identity of the passport and me.

    I hold Calvin’s view, and yet I am quite happy with affirming real identification. But I would not affirm real identity. The RC are consistent, at least, and will say that the elements are really identical with the body and blood: substantially identical, which is the only thing the adverb “really” can mean if we are speaking strictly of identity in the substantial order (as opposed to the order of signification). Hence, there is only one substance on the RC account, whose visibility consists of miraculously preserved accidents. But if the bread and wine *really* remain, that means they substantially remain, and then you have to explain the relation between them and what they are related to in the church’s act of “identification”.

    While the Reformed certainly do dislike Lutheran articulations of the presence, they would also reject any other account which amounts to real identity, while affirming practical identity of sign and signified, in right use.

    So it seems to me that “real identification” doesn’t serve as a peace principle.


  6. John H says:

    So it seems to me that “real identification” doesn’t serve as a peace principle.

    To be honest I suspected that would be the case. I certainly didn’t believe I was offering up a formula that encompassed existing mainstream Reformed beliefs. Though I did (and do) genuinely hope that the language of “real identification” offers fresh opportunities for discussion/reflection, and I did (and do) genuinely believe that any eventual rapprochement on the Lord’s Supper between our respective traditions will involve some shared acceptance of the “real identification” (and equally I recognise that by saying that I am saying the Reformed are the ones who have furthest to move).

    For example, I think there is great scope for creative reflection on how the language of the Heidelberg Catechism (much of which I like, as far as it goes) can be related to the doctrine of the real identification.

    And at the very least, my post was a response to my own frustration at hearing phrases such as “in, with and under” and “ubiquity” (not to mention “accidents” and “substance”) used as part of arguments against the real presence. I hoped to make it clearer that the true point of difference is not the technical language used by Lutherans or RCs, but the underlying concept of the real identification itself.

    And I do think the RC and Reformed positions have this in common: a certain “western” tendency to shy away from mystery, to insist on reducing things down to what can be explained: to say that either the real identification must be explicable in terms of a philosophical accidents/substance distinction, or else that it needs to be replaced by something else.

  7. John H says:

    Tim: thanks for your comment. As I said over on the BHT, the only significance to my use of the word “consecrated” was to emphasise that we are talking about this bread, right here, before us in the Supper. Any other connotations were entirely accidental. (Geddit??!!!??!)

  8. Peter Escalante says:


    Thanks for the reply. As I said, regardless of what I myself hold-and I hold Calvin and Waterland’s position- the problem here is that “real identification” doesn’t asser anything about the sacramental union: it asserts that the church “really identifies” the two. But identification can be said in several senses: as per my passport analogy. The proposal as you have it simply involves predicating “real” of “identification”: but if you want to predicate “real” of the identity between the elements and what they signify, you will run into problems.

    As I’ve said over at Reformed Catholicism, as a preparation for this kind of ecumenical discussion, you might want to look closely at the readings which Waterland and Thorndike (and Cosin) give of the relevant scriptural and patristic passages. To those who follow Augustine and Calvin on this point, the strenuous efforts of the RC and the Lutherans (though the Lutherans are much better, b/c of the non extra usum principle) to either give an account or avoid giving an account of the “real fusion”, are all misdirected, because they’re presupposing an essential mistake: the “real confusion”. I’d be very interested to know what you think of Waterland and Thorndike: for my part, I know Chemnitz and Sasse, and so could have the conversation with you : I began holding their opinion, though with questions and misgivings, and eventually came to rest in Calvin’s view.

    The common complaint about the Western tradition’s supposed unwillingness to sit content with “mystery” seems to me evasive: it is usually used by adherents of positions which in fact are pretty well articulated, even if only implicitly, and thus ar *not* very mysterious: the meaning being deducible from the practical consequences (say, the Benediction rite, or reservation, or adoration of the bread at elevation). “Mystery” is appealed to when a full articulation of what they implicitly hold will expose them to refutation.


  9. Phil Walker says:

    Surely, by footnoting that ‘”is” really does mean “is” here’, you’ve gone some way to answering the question of ‘how?’

    After all, even an outright Zwinglian can say that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine is his blood–as I’m sure you will know. But they say that it “is” in a different manner from the way you say it “is” [1]. On the other hand, the Continental Reformed tend to avoid saying how it “is” (HC 77, 79, BC 33, 35), although we have our suspicions about how it “isn’t” (HC 78). You want mystery, squire? We got it right here.

    [1] The question is posed most famously in Magritte’s work: http://www.harrystaut.net/media/ArtMagritte.jpg

  10. John H says:

    Phil: My point was that, whatever disagreements there may be over what Jesus meant by “is”, this statement is intended not as a summary of what Jesus said and meant, but of what the church took him to have meant. So for those purposes, we can be clear that “is” means “is”.

    Of course, this means that the statement either conforms to what Jesus meant or it doesn’t; that either the church was correct in believing, teaching and confessing the real identification – in saying that “is” means “is” – or it wasn’t. But that’s partly the point of creedal/confessional statements: to represent our best stab at saying back to God what we believe him to have said to us.

    As for the HC: I like the HC and it has a lot of good things to say. But HC 78 makes it clear where it stands on the real identification and, in the light of that denial, saying “as surely as we eat this bread, so surely was Christ’s body offered for me and so surely does Christ nourish me” is still just another way of saying “this bread right here isn’t the body of Christ”.

  11. Phil Walker says:

    Okay, I see. It’s more a matter of historical theology than confessional dogmatics.

    Still, I swear that we’re going to argue about how to read the HC until the cows turn blue in the face, or something. 😉

  12. John H says:

    Phil: If you want to read the HC in a manner that admits my “statement #1” above then I’d be delighted.

    I suppose one could read HC 78 as intending to say much the same as the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord’s assertion that we eat the Lord’s body and blood “not in a gross, carnal, Capernaitic [way], but in a supernatural, incomprehensible way” – i.e. a discomfort with the word “change” as indicating either that the body and blood are consumed in a “gross, carnal, Capernaitic” way, or as basically referring to transubstantiation, rather than a rejection of the real identification as such.

    OTOH, my understanding is that the HC arose from Frederick III’s rejection of the Article X of the Augsburg Confession (“Of the Supper of the Lord they teach that the Body and Blood of Christ are truly present, and are distributed to those who eat the Supper of the Lord; and they reject those that teach otherwise”), which may make interpreting HC 78 in a manner consistent with AC X somewhat difficult.

    Overall, I really do think the HC offers by far the best Reformed statement on the Supper, and if its approach were more generally accepted by “Reformed” (in the broad sense) Christians then that would be a significant advance. My personal experience – and I stress it is just my personal experience I’m talking about here – is that the HC approach works less well at the altar rail than the Lutheran approach. Too much to think about – all that “as surely as I do X so surely is Y also happening”. YMMV.

  13. Phil Walker says:

    I said I wouldn’t, but you make me do it. He made me do it, everyone. 🙂

    Belgic Confession, article 35: Now it is certain that Jesus Christ did not prescribe his sacraments for us in vain, since he works in us all he represents by these holy signs, although the manner in which he does it goes beyond our understanding and is uncomprehensible to us, just as the operation of God’s Spirit is hidden and incomprehensible.

    Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ’s own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood– but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith.

    Problem: that sounds very much like SD 105, but very much unlike SD 32.

    Anyway, we do say that we eat the Lord’s body and blood, not in a carnal way, not naturally, not explicably, but spiritually, supernaturally, incomprehensibly. I think the problem is that we both think our respective formulation is incomprehensible; but I see you’ve already admitted that ours is more incomprehensible than yours. 😉

    BTW, when you talk about Rome fever, is it similar to my Canterbury fever? “I must go down to the See, again…”

  14. John H says:

    Oh great, now we get to argue about what “eat” means. 😉

    The Belgic Confession was doing so well, I was cheering it on every inch of the way, right up the “nil by mouth” bit. *sigh*

  15. Phil Walker says:

    Sorry; when I said “I said I wouldn’t”, you can either read that (charitably) as “I said in my heart tha tI wouldn’t” or (truly) as “in the bit I cut from my previous comment, I said I wouldn’t”. Oops.

  16. Phil Walker says:

    Yeah, so on the point of substance, I realised it would just draw argument about what “eating” is. 🙂

    But can you explain something in the Solid Declaration? SD 105 does go on to say “In this sense we also say [wish the word spiritually to be understood when we say] that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are spiritually received, eaten, and drunk, although this participation occurs with the mouth, while the mode is spiritual.”

    Which, inasfar as I can actually make head or tail of that at all, seems to suggest that you also draw a distinction between participation with the mouth and spiritual feeding. So the idea of “eating spiritually” isn’t entirely un-Lutheran?

    I know there’s stuff going on to do with Luther’s “three modes of presence” there, but I read that section too, and it just made me even more confused. So we’re back to Chalcedon, I suppose.

  17. Lito Cruz says:


    I will put my $0.02 worth and let John elaborate his and may even correct what I am to say here.

    This is the way I understand SD 105.

    In the physical eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine, the spiritual is received ie the body and blood of Christ.

    I see this as similar to what happens in baptism, if I am not washed in water in the Triune name, I got no baptism.

    Hence, in relation to the sacraments, the way to get the spiritual is through the physical.

    When contemplated deeply, this is affirming real presence of actual body and blood of Christ.

    I am sure this incites some revulsive reactions. I understand.


  18. John H says:

    Hence, in relation to the sacraments, the way to get the spiritual is through the physical.

    Lito: I think that is exactly right, and it’s why I’m glad Phil mentioned Chalcedon in his last comment – because this does end up with the Incarnation in the end. The Incarnation (and the theology of the cross) teach us that we can reach the divine only through the human Jesus – that we cannot encounter “naked divinity” but only as God has hidden himself in the Jesus who is God in the manger, God on the cross.

    If nothing else, the real identification/real presence is highly consistent with this understanding: that we cannot encounter the divine nature of Jesus “naked” or separate from his human nature; that we cannot receive the “spiritual” except as it is wrapped up and hidden in the “physical”.

  19. Phil Walker says:

    In the physical eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine, the spiritual is received ie the body and blood of Christ.

    But this is what puzzles me. You see, I can quite happily agree that in the physical eating of the bread and drinking of the wine, I receive, by faith and not by sight, the true body and blood of the Lord. But the Solid Declaration says that my understanding is deficient, for Christ is received physically (61-65). You say that Christ’s body and blood are spiritual. I don’t find that repulsive, I find it incoherent.

    Well, I’m loath to go quote-mining for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I don’t think John’s patience will stand any more of this. 🙂 In sum, I think that I’d be the polar opposite of John on this: I would always find Heidelberg and Belgic easier to confess at the Table than the Solid Declaration. We may be incomprehensible, but I think we’re coherently incomprehensible. :p

  20. Lito Cruz says:


    If it is incoherent how come some of us get it?

    John’s point on the incarnation is absolutely a beauty, brillant. Think of it that way.

    I was an ex-Calvinist and I was more of a Heidelberg/Belgic Confessor than WCF. They are better than WCF.

    Set aside for the moment your paradigm ie your logic. Come naked to the Scriptures.

    Christ’s body and blood is received physically in the bread and wine. To understand this better we behold 1 Cor 10:16. The elements are in fellowship with the Lord’s body and blood. The elements share the same predication. Only faith can believe 1 Cor 10:16, simply because Scripture says so (I became a Lutheran due to 1 Cor 10:16). Those elements are connected to his body and blood.

    This Sunday at the Supper, I felt Christ there – “touchable” through the elements. I did not go up to heaven, he camed down. I have a notion that I will not be surprized when I fellowship with him in heaven, because I am being made accustomed of or familiar with his presence here on earth, through the Supper. Heaven is just a continuation of what he gives me here on earth. I do not have to wait to get there, he comes to me as he said. He will not leave us as orphans, he will come to us and he does through the Supper.


  21. labrialumn says:

    Let us give scholasticism the boot.

    “real identification” opens itself up to all sorts of mischief which may result in the death of the hearers, the next time they approach the sacrament of the altar.

    We know that it -is-. We aren’t told ‘how’. It isn’t any bread and wine, but that which God says, by His Word “this is My body…, this is My blood of the New Covenant”.

    For God’s Word does what it says, when it says it.

    The Church has -always- believed that God transforms the bread into Christ’s body, and the wine, into Christ’s blood. Go all the way back to the apostolic fathers and you see this.

    It may not sit will with 16th and 17th century scholasticism, but that is irrelevant. The question is: “what is true?”

    In a sense it doesn’t matter if it is transubstantiation, quantum entanglement. or multiplication. It simply -is-. And to fail to recognize the body and blood of Christ, is to eat and drink judgment upon yourself. It is that real.

  22. John H says:

    Labrialumn: I entirely agree that “We know that it -is-. We aren’t told ‘how’”, that “God’s Word does what it says, when it says it” and that “The Church has -always- believed that God transforms the bread into Christ’s body, and the wine, into Christ’s blood.” That is in fact what my post was arguing.

    And that is all that is meant by the term “real identification”: going back beyond “scholastic” categories to the church’s faith that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ.

  23. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » Open thread (2): The five points of Augsburg evangelicalism

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