Nil by mouth?

In the comments to my previous post, Phil Walker quoted the following from the Belgic Confession:

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.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I thought this was sounding pretty good – right up until that final qualification: “the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith”. Yes, that’s right: having considered what “is” means, and then what “this” means, we now come to the next question: when Jesus holds a piece of bread and says “Take, eat”, what does “eat” mean? (Feel free to lose the will to live at this point…)

To be fair, the Lutheran confessions also talk of a “twofold eating of Christ’s flesh” (SD VII:61), and the first kind of eating of which it speaks is indeed “a spiritual kind of eating”:

This occurs in no other way than with the Spirit and faith in the proclamation of and meditation on the gospel, as well as in the Supper.

This “spiritual eating”, namely faith in the gospel as heard and meditated upon, is indeed “useful, salutary and necessary for all Christians at all times for their salvation”. However, it is not the same as, and does not exclude, the “sacramental or oral eating in the Supper”:

The other kind of eating of Christ’s body is oral or sacramental, when all who eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine in the Supper receive and partake of the true, essential body and blood of Christ orally.

The first type of eating can take place away from the Supper, and both types of eating are necessary to receive the benefits of the Supper:

Without this spiritual reception even the sacramental or oral eating in the Supper is not only not salutary but also harmful and damning. (SD VII:61)

Hence Jesus said not only “Take, eat”, but also “Do this in remembrance of me”, showing that both eating and faith are necessary.

Now, to be sure, the Lutheran confessions do speak of Christ’s body and blood being present according to a “spiritual mode of presence”. But this is not the same as saying we only receive Christ’s body and blood “spiritually” and not orally:

When … we use the word “spiritual” in this matter, we understand it to mean the spiritual, supernatural, heavenly way in which Christ, who is present in the Holy Supper, not only bestows comfort and life on believers but also brings judgment on unbelievers. Through the word “spiritual” we reject the Capernaitic notion of a crude, fleshly presence …

We also use the word in this sense when we say that the body and blood of Christ are spiritually received, eaten and drunk in the Holy Supper. This partaking takes place orally, but in a spiritual manner. (SD VII:105)

So there we have the difference: the Belgic Confession says that we eat the Lord’s body and blood “not by the mouth but by the Spirit”; the Lutheran confessions state that our partaking of the Lord’s body and blood “takes place orally, but in a spiritual manner”.

This may sound like hair-splitting, but what underlies it is the fundamental difference referred to in my previous post: the acceptance or rejection of the real identification, the doctrine that the bread is Christ’s body and the wine is Christ’s blood.

Thus, while the Belgic Confession sounds pretty good up to that last half-sentence, sadly it turns out to be another example of what the Solid Declaration describes as follows (SD VII:2):

Some sacramentarians make every effort to speak using words that are very close to the terminology and formulations of the Augsburg Confession and of its churches and to confess that in the Holy Spirit the body of Christ is truly received by believers. Nevertheless, if pressed to set forth their essential position in all candour and clarity, they all with one voice declare that the true, essential body and blood of Christ are absent in the Supper

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20 Responses to Nil by mouth?

  1. Rev. PTM says:

    The Reformed manner of describing the real abscence of Christ are all elaborate, often beautifully expressed ways, of avoiding making a confession of the Real Presence. They will argue until they are blue in the face that they really, really, REALLY do believe they are “receiving” the body and blood of Christ. But it is, in the final analysis, all very much a spiritualizing that depends on a person’s faith. Hence, no objective presence of the actual, objetive body and blood of Jesus where He has said, and promised, to be: in, with, under the bread and wine. Calvin regarded it to be an “impious superstition” to think that the body and blood of Christ could said to be under the bread and wine, and he spoke only of how our souls ascend to heaven there to “feed” on Christ there. It’s finally just Zwinglianism with a bit of refinement.

  2. Kyle says:

    I think I’m willing to take it any way you say it, provided that, once you’re done affirming that the bread really is his body, and the cup really is his blood, there is no room for an honest charge of cannibalism.

  3. John H says:

    Kyle: Indeed. That is what the Solid Declaration means by saying that our eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood is “certainly not in a crude, fleshly, Capernaitic manner” (VII:64).

    “Capernaitic” refers to the people of Capernaum when they responded very negatively to Christ’s words in John 6:52-65, thinking that he was talking about cannibalism.

    But this does make me wonder further: Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that if no-one could misinterpret your preaching of the gospel as supporting antinomianism, then you’re not preaching the gospel. In the same way, I’m inclined to say that if no-one could mistake your doctrine of the Supper for cannibalism (a common allegation made against the early Christians by outsiders), then your doctrine of the Supper is to that extent deficient.

    Pr McCain: reading the SD this afternoon, I was intrigued by the description in VII:4,5 of the Calvinistic doctrine as a retreat from the Zwinglian teaching.

  4. Phil Walker says:

    I’ve identified another verb to argue about: “participate”. Participate and eat: are they synonyms? Discuss. Or shoot me. 🙂

    I think part of my confusion just clicked. Using the terms of SD VII.99-100, I may be puzzling about whether you think this is all happening according to the first or second modes. Christ’s body is the first mode of presence [99], but he is received spiritually which sounds like the second mode [100]. Is it 1 or 2? And don’t say “yes”. 😉

  5. John H says:

    Christ’s body and blood are present in the Supper according to the second (“incomprehensible, spiritual”) mode, and are received likewise. See the end of [100]:

    “He employed this mode of presence when he left the closed grave and came through closed doors, in the bread and wine in the Supper, and, as people believe, when he was born in his mother.”

    Though (I repeat) all this talk of “modes of presence” should be regarded as firmly secondary to the basic affirmation of the real identification, as expressed in the Smalcald Articles: “the bread and wine in the Supper are the true body and blood of Christ, which are not only offered to and received by upright Christians but also by evil ones”. Everything else in the Confessions on this subject is only there to preserve and explicate that doctrine.

    As for “participate”, is this 1 Cor 10:16 we’re talking about here? As in sharing in/communion of/participation in/etc/etc/etc? You’d need to talk to someone who understands, like, actual Greek there. 😉

  6. Phil Walker says:

    But the second mode is incomprehensible [that is, cannot be contained] but the first is comprehensible. Now, Christ’s presence in the Supper is circumscribed by the bread, and this is a property of the first mode, and explicitly not of the second. I take your point about this being “secondary explication”, but the explication isn’t making sense to me. And anyway, I thought this was all meant to be inexplicable? 😉

    On “participate”, I think the question was formally about 1 Corinthians and materially about the Solid Declaration. The SD’s language is clearly drawn from 1 Cor., but essentially, they’re providing an interpretation of whatever-the-verb-is.

  7. John H says:

    Phil: I don’t see that the real identification requires us to say that the body of Christ is “circumscribed” by the bread. It simply requires us to say that the bread is the body of Christ: that Christ’s body is present in a particular way in the bread, but without Christ being “circumscribed” by it.

    That said, if you read on to SD VII:103, Luther’s response to that suggestion can be summarised as “And so what if Christ’s presence was according to the first mode? Who says God couldn’t do that if he wanted to?”

    The real presence is inexplicable in the same way that the Trinity and the Incarnation are inexplicable: i.e. it’s never stopped us all trying. 😉

  8. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » Christians and cannibalism

  9. Phil Walker says:

    I think I might have mis-understood Luther’s “second mode”. Ah well; I can always inhabit the fall-back of finding it unsustainable. 🙂

    The real presence is inexplicable in the same way that the Trinity and the Incarnation are inexplicable: i.e. it’s never stopped us all trying.

    Try me. I refuse to give analogies for the Trinity and cheerfully claim that Christology confuses me. 😀

  10. Lito Cruz says:

    not by the mouth

    When I was into Calvinism, eventually the Belgic became weak for me. The question for me was this – either it IS or it IS NOT.

    Contrary to Phil’s claim about the SD being incoherent, in actuality it is the Belgic that is incoherent because it is inconsistent (IMHO)

    If I am holding on my hand the body of Christ, if I am told to eat it, what am I eating then? Sounds to me it is the Belgic that needs to do a lot of explaining.

    I point Phil again to 1 Cor 10:16, it is plain exegesis, that is sola scriptura in action contra sola ratio.

    Lito

  11. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » Spiritual, not insubstantial

  12. Phil Walker says:

    Lito, I take the view I take because of 1 Cor 10:16, too. Look, we all believe the whole record of Scripture; we read it differently. Now, you may try to convince me that your interpretation is correct, but please don’t assume that I haven’t read the relevant Scriptures and thought about them.

  13. Lito Cruz says:

    Phil,

    I stand corrected.

    You pointed out “participate /eat” and ask if they are synonymous. But hold off, let us be precise.

    Participate is the critical word for “koenenia”, I take the bread and wine in particpation with the body and blood of Christ. BTW we do not take it simply as body and blood, the critical phrase too is “given for you”. The elements are the ones that are connected or in communion with the body and blood of Christ, given for the sinner. They are the ones in participation with the body and blood of Christ.

    So what do you take “koenenia” to be? Grant me at least that I am the one being literalistic here in my reading of the Greek, how do you read the Greek to be then? I doubt if I am rendering an interpretation per se, it is plain reading at face value, the same way we read the IS in “this IS my body” as plain what it says it is.

    Lito

  14. John H says:

    The SD makes the very interesting point that 1 Cor 10:16 is restating and expanding upon the words of institution. Therefore it needs to be read in the light of the WOI, which means that “participation” is parallel with “take, eat”.

    IOW, “participation” and “eating” are not the same, but when we ask “How do we ‘participate’?” then the answer is “By taking and eating”.

    The SD also points out that the Reformed understanding amounts to saying that this is a “koinonia in the Spirit” rather than in the body and blood: that is, we participate in the Spirit who is present, and by that participation we receive the benefits of the absent body and blood of Christ. You can’t “share” or “participate” in something that isn’t there to be shared or participated in!

  15. Phil Walker says:

    IOW, “participation” and “eating” are not the same, but when we ask “How do we ‘participate’?” then the answer is “By taking and eating”.

    Couldn’t have put it better meself. 🙂

    The SD also points out that the Reformed understanding amounts to saying that this is a “koinonia in the Spirit” rather than in the body and blood: that is, we participate in the Spirit who is present, and by that participation we receive the benefits of the absent body and blood of Christ. You can’t “share” or “participate” in something that isn’t there to be shared or participated in!

    We have alreay participated in the Spirit, by baptism and by faith. At the Supper, thus, we participate by the Spirit, not in him; we participate in the Lord’s body and blood.

  16. Lito Cruz says:

    Phil,

    at first blush you may smile when John say

    IOW, “participation” and “eating” are not the same, but when we ask “How do we ‘participate’?” then the answer is “By taking and eating”.

    But technically there is nothing confusing here. For the “partcipation” is technically applied by St Paul to the elements. They are in participation. How do we get connected with them, not by touching them or looking at them for then, if I were Calvinistic, I need not eat, I can simply look. Rather it is in the eating of these that we are connected. John is not being ambigous or self-contradictory.

    I respect that you say this
    we participate in the Lord’s body and blood but really it has no force no matter how asserted through Calvinistic explications.

    Now I am reminded of my Calvinistic Baptist friends by your comment. Technically the spiritual presence of Jesus is nothing more (in their view) as a fulfillment of “any two or three who are gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst”. So communion, in my thinking from an outsider looking in to Calvinistic Supper is basically just that – in fact it is superflouse, hence, nil sacraments. Hence, Calvinistic understanding is reducible to nil sacraments, that is what I am saying, effectively it still slides back to Zwingli. Calvin’s compromise is not the good of both worlds.

    This reminds me what I left behind, and I think this is re-inforcing why I left it.

    Lito

  17. Paul Landgraf says:

    With these discussions I was reminded of the issue of being called Capernaitic, that it comes from trying to figure out in a person’s mind how a person truly eats the body and blood of Christ rather than simply receiving it as gift. I found these questions that are given in the Torgau Confession (H1b-H2a) that had been given by the opponents: 1. When and how does the body of Christ come to the bread or into the bread? 2. How near to or how far away from the bread is it? 3. How is it hidden under the bread? 4. How long does the sacramental union last? 5. When does the body of Christ leave the bread again? 6. Does the body of Christ that we receive orally enter our bodies and stomachs and is it digested there? 7. Is it crushed and chewed with the teeth? 8. Is it a living body or a dead corpse since we receive the body under the bread separately rom the blood under the wine? 9. Of what use is the true, essential, bodily presence of Christ’s true body? 10. What does the Lord Christ effect in the unworthy and godless recipients of the sacrament? 11. Is the believer’s body transformed in a natural way by the body of Christ?

  18. Phil Walker says:

    John is not being ambigous or self-contradictory.

    No, you misunderstand: I really was agreeing with what John wrote at that point. As we eat the bread and drink the cup, so we feed on the Lord’s true and natural body and blood. You don’t participate in the Lord’s body and blood by disobeying his command to take, eat and drink! I hope that explains why I can’t agree that if I were Calvinistic, I need not eat, I can simply look.

  19. John H says:

    Phil: fair enough. I think Lito may have overstated the point. However, I still think it is fair to ask whether anything happens in the Reformed Supper that could not happen away from the Supper.

    As the Solid Declaration points out, the spiritual feeding of Christ’s body and blood that occurs by faith as we hear and meditate upon the gospel is necessary to receive the benefits of the Supper, but can also take place away from the Supper.

    The additional aspect of the Supper is that we also eat and drink the body and blood of Christ in a “sacramental or oral” manner, with all the promises that are attached to that (“given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”). But in the Reformed perspective, there is nothing new or additional happening here: it is just a particularly good context for engaging in the same spiritual feeding that can also take place in the absence of the bread and wine.

  20. Lito Cruz says:

    “I hope that explains why I can’t agree that if I were Calvinistic, I need not eat, I can simply look”.

    Understood. Your motivation is out of command, my issue is *because* it IS – body and blood of Christ given for our sins.

    Thus in Reformed view, it is eaten even though IT IS NOT the body and blood of Chrits, out command. Am I being unfair in stating the matter this way?

    This is a different approach and highlights why in Calvinistic circles it is an ordinace but in Lutheran it is a gift.

    it is just a particularly good context for engaging in the same spiritual feeding that can also take place in the absence of the bread and wine

    That is what intend to say, as a critique of Reformed view.

    Lito

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