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Friday, June 08, 2007

Hooker, Andrewes, Aquinas and Transubstantiation


This text is taken from a portion of my thoughts in my ongoing dissertation. This is original material belonging to the Rev'd Jeffrey Steel, Durham University UK.


Richard Hooker in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity maintains the Reformed position of instrumentality of the elements which communicate the Body and Blood of Christ to the faithful.[1] He writes that the ‘bread and cup are his body and blood because they are causes instrumental upon the receipt whereof the participation of his body and blood ensueth.’[2] Remaining close to the Thomist view of cause and effect by way of sacramental instrumentality, he states that every cause is in the effect from which it comes. For Hooker, this is a mystical kind of union, which makes us one with Christ as he is one with the Father. Where Hooker differs from Andrewes on presence is when he says, ‘The real presence of Christ’s most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament.’[3] His argument is from the manner in which Christ gave the words of institution at the Last Supper. Jesus first gave the elements and then recited the words, ‘This is my Body,’ and ‘This is my Blood’. But this is contradictory of how instrumentalism works in and through the sacramental presence objectively found within the elements. The true body and blood of Jesus is communicated to the faithful as an effect from that which they are. The cause of the communication is the presence of Christ in the elements (Christ in the cratch; Christ in the Sacrament[4]) which is communicated by means of what transformation took place at consecration. The following sentence is the clearest example of where Hooker and Andrewes differed. Hooker writes, ‘As for the sacraments, they really exhibit, but for aught we can gather out of that which is written of them, they are not really nor do really contain in themselves that grace which with them or by them it pleaseth God to bestow.’[5] Hooker maintains the argument against objective presence using baptism as the example where that sacrament is not changed into the grace it gives. The promise is given and therefore the res sacramenti in not necessary in order for the grace to be in us who receive it.


Hooker does not see any necessity of arguing for any change in the elements themselves since they can be the instruments without any change of either consubstantiation or transubstantiation. This is because the presence is communicated by Christ’s omnipotent promise. Though Hooker readily admits what all wish to maintain about the effects from the sacrament—even maintaining that the bread and cup which he gives us is truly the thing promised—he does not say it is communicated by what the sacrament is as a result of consecration but rather by way of promise. Like Andrewes, Hooker is not seeking to enquire too deeply within the mystery that would explain the how the presence is communicated instrumentally by the bread and wine. Yet where he differs from Andrewes is seen in that Andrewes did say that there was a transformation, transmutation, transelementation of the elements that allowed them to become for us the body and blood of Jesus. The same power of promise that Hooker maintains, Andrewes says is found within the power of the words of Jesus rehearsed at the consecration of the bread and wine transforming them into the objective presence of Christ to be communicated to the faithful. The same power is embraced but for a different purpose. Andrewes embraces what John of Damascus described as a transelementation of the bread and wine. As does Hooker, Andrewes maintains the mysteriousness of the how this transelementation takes place and does not pry any further than scripture or the Fathers of the first five centuries allow. But he does not hold, as does Hooker, that it is merely by the promise and the power of Christ’s words that his body and blood are communicated to us absent of the objectivity of presence in the elements. The body and blood are communicated to us because the body and blood are in the transelemented bread and wine and thus so united to them—like the hypostatic union of Christ—that the divine and creaturely elements in the sacrament cannot be separated. For Hooker, the elements are transformed into mystical instruments and really work our communion or fellowship with the person of Jesus Christ.[6] Hooker will use the term transubstantiation provided it is understood that it is something that happens to us and not the elements.[7] He denies both transubstantiation and consubstantiation and describes the presence of Christ in the sacrament as a mystical union going no further with definitions or language that would communicate an objective presence of Christ in the elements themselves.

One concern when looking closely at Hooker’s position is his description of transubstantiation as an ‘abolishing the substance of bread and substituting in the place there of the Body and Blood of Christ.’[8] It is debatable whether or not this is what the Tridentine conclusion (1551) defined as transubstantiation or what Aquinas meant when he described it. The question here is whether or not in the doctrine of transubstantiation there is an abolishment of the substance of bread. Trent did not use the language of abolishment when describing what takes place in transubstantiation. They used the language that was meant to communicate a conversion. William McGarvey points out that the Council of Trent falls quite short of a ‘natural’ or ‘corporal’ presence of Christ in the Eucharist.[9] After a close examination of the Council’s session XIII, c. I., IIII., and IV., it is evident that no where in these chapters is there any hint that the substance of bread is annihilated or that there is any sort of a material change. As pointed out by McGarvey, the Council made it clear that Christ was present in heaven after a natural mode of existence, and that his presence in the Eucharist is sacramental, illuminated by faith, which is the language of Thomas Aquinas.[10] He uses the term conversio.[11] For Thomas, mystery is used, ‘not in order to rule out factual reality, but to show that it is hidden.’[12] What happens is not an annihilation of the substance of bread but rather a conversion where bread and wine no longer remain within their own identities. The Body and Blood is there in a spiritual way but not only as a mystical symbol; it is there spiritually, i.e. really though invisibly by the power of the Spirit.[13]

What we should learn from this is that the crass realism of the Middle Ages that often found its way into the devotional life of the Church was not employed in the Tridentine formula of transubstantiation. Though the Council was emphatic about its realism and its use of the term transubstantiation with regards to a real objective conversion of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, it was not language that implied any sort of materialistic view of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They seem to be content on maintaining the use of the language of Aquinas and leaving further speculations of the conversion to mystery and faith. With regards to the substance of bread and wine not being annihilated Aquinas writes,
After the consecration the substance of bread and wine is neither under the sacramental appearances nor anywhere else. But it does not follow that it is annihilated; for it is changed [convertitur] into the body of Christ. Likewise, if the air from which fire has been made is no longer here or there, it does not follow that it has been annihilated.[14]
Andrewes uses language that describes his realistic view of presence in its relationship to the fractioning of the elements by stating that what happens to the elements happened to Christ at Calvary.[15] Here again, we find a similar use of language in Aquinas who said ‘And just as the sacramental species is the sign of the real body of Christ, so the fraction of these species is the sign of our Lord’s passion which he endured in his actual body.’[16] What we see from this language of Aquinas is that there is not a change in the outward signs so neither is there an annihilation in the substances but rather a conversion of them into the Body and Blood. This means that Christ is locally in heaven and he is not local on the altar in Thomas’ view. ‘So it does not follow that the body of Christ is in this sacrament as localized.’[17] Thomas will go so far as to use language that our eating of Christ’s Body and Blood is a spiritual eating without any sort of a materialistic manducation of Christ’s Body. ‘But wherever this sacrament is celebrated he is present in an invisible way under sacramental appearances.’[18] Christ is there in a real way as is proper to the sacrament. Aquinas follows this view with a quotation from Augustine saying, ‘if you have understood in a spiritual way the worlds of Christ about this flesh, they are spirit and life for you; if you have understood them in a carnal manner, they are still spirit and life, but not for you.’[19]

What we find after a very close look at Andrewes and Aquinas is that when they speak of the eating of Christ in the sacrament by faith, neither of them imply that Christ becomes present in the sacrament by faith. He is present objectively in the sacrament and by faith he is received effectually. To receive Christ objectively is to receive him in the sacrament. McGarvey has very helpfully pointed out a clear distinction in Thomas’ writings concerning his use of the terms (suscipit) receive and (percipit) partake.[20] There is such a thing as receiving of Christ objectively and not receiving the effects. Aquinas writes,

Since then the embryonic and the full-grown are contrasted, so the sacramental eating, in which the sacrament is received without its effect, is contrastedwith the spiritual eating in which is receive the sacramental effect whereby a person is spiritually joined to Christ in faith and charity.[21]
Aquinas is very careful to make the distinction between the wicked receiving and the faithful receiving the sacramental species. Both receive Christ objectively and those who do so with faith receive the spiritual blessings of Christ for life and the wicked to their judgment per Augustine as quoted above. This is the sense found within the writings of Andrewes and what is apparent of Aquinas’ thought.



[1] Hooker, Richard, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book v. [4], (Dutton: Everyman’s Library, 1964), 322.
[2] Hooker, Laws, v. [5], 322.
[3] Hooker, Laws, v. [6], 322.
[4] Andrewes, Works, i.
[5] Hooker, Laws, v. [6], 323.
[6] Hooker, Laws, v. [11] 327, 328.
[7] Hooker, Laws, v. [11] 328.
[8] Hooker, Laws, v. [12] 329.
[9] McGarvey, William, ‘The Doctrine of the Church of England on the Real Presence Examined by the Writings of Thomas Aquinas’, (Milwaukee: The Young Churchman, 1900), 12.
[10] Aquinas ST, 3a., 76, 5. ‘Et ideo non oportet quod Christus sit in hoc sacramento sicut in loco.’ See also ST, 3a. 78.5. ‘…qua re manifestum est quod non materialiter, seb significative sumebantur.’
[11] Aquinas, ST, 3a. 75, 3. ‘Dicendum quod, quia substantia panis vel vini non manet in hoc sacramento, quidam, impossibile reputantes quod substantia panis vel vini in corpus vel sanguinem Chirsti convertatur, posuerunt quod per consecrationem substantia panis vel vini resolvitur in praejacentem materiam, vel quod annihiletur.’
[12] Aquinas ST, 3a. 78, 3.
[13] Aquinas, ST, 3a. 75, 1.
[14] Aquinas, ST. 3a. 75, 3. [trans by William Barden O.P. unless stated otherwise]
[15] Andrewes, Works,
[16] Aquinas, ST, 3a.77.7
[17] Aquinas, ST, 3a. 76.5
[18] Aquinas, ST. 3a. 75.1
[19] Aquinas, ST. 3a. 75.1
[20] McGarvey, 26.
[21] Aquinas, ST, 3a. 80, 1. ‘Sicut igitur perfectum contra imperfectum dividitur, ita sacramentalis manducatio, per quam sumitur solum sacramentum sine effectu ipsius, dividitur contra spiritualem manducationem, per quam qis percipit effectum hugus sacramenti, quo spiritualiter homo Christo conjungitur per fidem et caritatem.

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