Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Francis Clarke, S.J. Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Reformation

Last year I read Francis Clark's book Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Reformation. There was so much great stuff in the book and one that all Protestants ought to take the time to read and digest. For one thing, Eucharistic Sacrifice is not a problem and to argue that the Catholic faith teaches that Christ is slain again is just plain thick. I have found it most helpful to actually go to the sources to read what was actually taught and believed and then to enter into a fruitful dialogue on the subject. In my mind, Eucharistic Sacrifice is clearly taught in Scripture and in the theolog of the Church for 2,000 years. For the Church, there has always been both Altar and Table. But like all meals with God that ratified covenants, there is not a meal without a sacrifice.

I took a number of notes from Clark's book and what follows is quotations from chapter six of his book. I put them out here for discussion if any are interested. Do me a favour, link it to your blogs and let's see what kind of a discussion we can get from Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants alike.

Here is Clark with the fundamental reasons for the rejection of the Mass in Reformation Theology(page numbers follow the quotations):


The English Reformation cannot be judged in isolation from the continental Reformation; what the Edwardine churchmen said and did concerning the Eucharistic priesthood and sacrifice must be seen in the setting of the great controversy about the Mass which had raged throughout Europe for the previous thirty years, And the claim, often made, that the English Reformers avoided the extreme course of the continental Protestants—who banished the sacrifice of the Mass altogether—must be tested by comparison and by a survey of the relations between them. 99

The Mass, he (Luther) said, was only a promise and a testament, like the divine promise of favour made to Noah in the rainbow. Since Christ at the Last Supper did not make an oblation to the Father, but rather left a testament to his followers, no more could the Mass be an oblation offered to God.6 (This became a favourite argument of all the Reformers. They objected that if the Last Supper had been a sacrifice then the sacrifice of Calvary would have been unnecessary.7) 100 101

It is an unwarranted reflection on some of the keenest minds of the age to suppose that the Reformers' whole protest was based on the crass misapprehension that their opponents really claimed to slay Christ daily. Their denial of the Eucharistic sacrifice was ultimately based on a theological reason much more seriously intended. Because this reason gives the key to our whole inquiry, and underlies Cranmer's denial likewise, it is well to bring it into clear relief. 102 103

The Reformation hostility to the sacrifice of the altar is found to be connected, in a coherent pattern, with the basic Reformation doctrines of grace, of justification, of the Church and the sacraments, and ultimately of Christology. 103

By sanctifying grace men are regenerated and ennobled inwardly; by virtue of this new supernatural life Christ lives and acts in them_ in the Mystical Body as a whole and in each of its members—so that they can henceforth share, actively and meritoriously, in his corporate work 103

Fallen mankind is not only saved by Christ's atonement, but is also raised up to co-operate in Christ's priestly mission of dispensing that salvation to all succeeding generations till the end of time. Endowed with Christ's priesthood, the Church through her ministers has the function of mediating to all men the fruits of Christ's all-sufficient work of salvation. This is the 'work', the opus operatum, of the sacramental system. 103

Religion for the Reformers was the personal encounter of the individual spirit with divine mercy shown in Christ. When they formulated and passionately proclaimed the gospel of justification by faith alone it was, implicitly, the whole 'incarnational' ethos of Catholicism they were rejecting. 104

The Reformers' basic protest can be summarized in the words of Adolf Hamack: rightly did they rebel against the Catholic sacramental system, he says, since it was rooted in the fundamental conception that religion is an antidote for the finiteness of man, in the sense that it deifies his nature'. And by the revolutionary force of the Reformation principles 'the axe was laid to the root of the whole Catholic sacramental concept'—that is, the mediation of grace through what he calls 'the magic of the opus operatum. 105

This fundamental difference which divides the Catholic conception of God's dealings with men from the Protestant may be described as a theology of mediation and participation. In Catholic thought, Christ's manhood, and the Church which is his fullness, and the sacraments which are his actions, form a hierarchy of created means by which the God-man communicates to men his saving activity. 105

In this great 'work' mortal priests are the vicars and instruments of the immortal High Priest. 'Thus does the particular doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice grow out of the general truth of the Mediation of Christ', observed R. I. Wilberforce, the Tractarian divine; 'it is nothing more than the admission of this truth, taken in connexion with the fact of the Real Presence'. With his customary discernment, Wilberforce pointed out that Luther's rejection of the sacrifice was bound up with his doctrine of justification. 106

Luther His cardinal objection against the traditional doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass was that it was a 'work', something which belonged to that whole order of instrumental mediation and of man's active participation in the economy of grace that was anathema to the Reformer. Grace, for him, was not an intrinsic elevation of man's being, but God's favour freely imputed to the elect, who were released from condemnation out of regard for the merits of Christ and who apprehended their pardon by saving faith. The celebration of the Lord's Supper was a promise and a testament of that pardon to the individual communicant; it could not 'do' anything for others, nor could it 'offer' anything to God. 'Out of a gift of God to men they have made a gift of man to God', he frequently lamented. 106, 107

This radical opposition of inner 'word' to sacramental 'work' is the theological key to the understanding of the storm of hostility to the Mass which swept across Europe. 107

'It was a direct attack on the traditional sacramental concept', comments Dr J. Lortz, 'that is, against the objectivity of the divine life operative in the Church's liturgy. Here the resolution of Christianity into a religion of inner feeling was achieved at the very point at which its victory would have the greatest impact. Here was assailed the secret centre of the Church's unity. . . . For the Catholic Church it was not the attack on the Papacy that was the most fateful event which happened in the Reformation, but the emptying out from her Mysteries of the objective source of power'. 107

'Faith alone saves', Zwingli to insists, but he presses on beyond Luther to draw out the full consequences of that revolutionary principle. His theology is the consistent antithesis of Catholicism, a radical 'religion of the spirit' over against the 'religion of incarnation'. It is then not surprising that he too soon recognized in the sacrificial concept of the Mass the kernel of the traditional system which he planned to overthrow. In his theology the Eucharist could have no salutary efficacy in the present; it was not even a promise or pledge to awaken faith as Luther held (since 'if your faith is incomplete, needing some ceremonial sign to perfect it, it is not faith'28); but it was essentially a testimonial from God of faith and divine favour already bestowed upon believers, and at the same time a thankful memorial celebrated by the congregation to commemorate the salvation once in the past achieved for them upon the cross. The Eucharist meant a word from God to man, not an offering from man to God. 108, 109

The Swiss Reformers had in addition another radical reason for denying the sacrifice of the altar. Rejecting the belief in a real objective presence of Christ under or with the Eucharistic elements (which Luther continued. to defend against them with great insistence), they argued that since the body and blood of Christ were not contained objectively in the sacrament they could not be therein offered or presented by the officiating priest. The Eucharistic oblation was, for the Zwinglians and Calvinists, bound up with the 'bread-worship' which they never tired of denouncing. 112

The conflict between Catholic and Protestant about Eucharistic sacrifice did not take its origin from a mere misunderstanding, nor from a false premise unwittingly inherited by both sides from a degenerate theology, but from a basic difference of interpretation of the Christian revelation. ll5


Anonymous I'd rather not say said...

But Jeff, whatever Cranmer may have thought, do you really think that the language of the Articles concerning the "sacrifices of masses"---sacrifices PLURAL, not sacrifice SINGULAR---is accidental? I don't.

6:10 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, I don't think it is accidental and Clark has an issue with Anglican orders that is underneath his motive for what he writes about Anglican formularies. The multiplication of masses was an abuse that even Trent realised needed correcting. But, I do believe that he is right that some of the Reformers made claims that the Roman Church taught and believed things that were simply ridiculous claims to make and believed that whatever they thought was the actual truth of what was being taught.

7:57 am  
Anonymous William Tighe said...

One book that I have never read, but which I have finally bought, is H. Edward Symonds' *The Council of Trent and the Anglican Formularies* (or perhaps *Anglican formularies and the Council of Trent*). I hope that it will deal with the "sacrifices of Masses" issue. (It has not yet arrived.) Years ago I read his *The Church
Universal and the See of Rome* and found it very thought-provoking. Both books date from the 1930s.

5:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, thanks very much for the tip. Let me know what you think of it. How is everything else going these days? Are you working on anything new as far as writing goes?

5:55 pm  

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