I’ve come across several interesting discussions over the past several months debating the Reformed vs. the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper. Despite their differences however, I think it’s safe to say that many of the reformers were much closer to one another, despite their differences, than their supposed spiritual descendants, who oftentimes have rejected their foundational theologies without even realizing it. This especially seems to be the case in the United States where a sort of bastardized enlightenment rationalism runs deep and wide under much of our standard American Christianity. And I wonder if in looking at the way the Lord’s Supper was handled in Reformation days, we can offer some hope of rapprochement between the branches of the family in this portion of Christ’s vineyard.

At any rate, here are some of the things I’ve been reading regarding the Eucharist in the reformed tradition–and yes, I place Anglicanism primarily there, following Rowan Williams’ lead in his book Why Study the Past, and note the unique elements of the English reformation and it’s continuity with the medieval period, the development of its doctrine etc…

Below are the two Articles of Religion that relate most directly to the subject at hand:

Article XXVIII. Of the Lord’s Supper

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

Article XXIX. Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper.

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.

In the Lutheran view, i.e. manducatio impiorum, eating unworthily (as in the Roman Catholic and, I assume, the Eastern Orthodox), they believe in what is called manducatio impiorum, the view that those who receive the Lord’s Supper, even if unworthy (in the sense of being an unbeliever or unreconciled to their neighbor etc…, not in the sense of being a sinner), receive the Body and Blood of Christ. This is based upon their understanding in an objective, physical substantial presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

But those Churches originating from within the reformed tradition, either continental or English, also hold to a notion of real and objective presence, often if not always emphasized as a real spiritual presence. This doesn’t mean that the bread and the wine play no role, or that one can gain the benefits of the Eucharist through a purely spiritual experience, but rather, there is seen to be a link between the sign (the bread and the wine) and the thing signified (the body and blood of Christ) so that as one takes and eats the bread and wine after a physical manner, those that have faith also partake of the Body and Blood of Christ after a heavenly and spiritual manner. This is seen in Anglican Eucharistic thought, both in the Articles and in the communion service itself where the invitation with its optional longer ending says:

The gifts of God for the people of God, take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.

John Williamson Nevin, the German Reformed theologian of the 19th century who created such a stir among folks in his day with his attempt to reclaim Reformed orthodoxy talks about the objective presence in the Lord’s Supper and cites the Heidelberg Catechism (In my opinion one of the most interesting and beautiful of the Reformed documents):

In answer to Question 75, it is said that Christ, “feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life, with his crucified body and shed blood, as assuredly as I receive from the hands of the minister, and taste with my mouth, the bread and cup of the Lord, as certain signs of the body and blood of Christ.”

“Quest. 76. What is it then to eat the crucified body and drink the shed blood of Christ?

“Ans. It is not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the pardon of sin and life eternal; but also, besides that, to become more and more united to his sacred body, by the Holy Ghost who dwells both in Christ and in us; so that we, though Christ is in heaven and we on earth, are not-withstanding, ‘flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone;’ and that we live and are governed forever by one spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul.”

Quest. 79. Why then doth Christ call the bread his body, and the [wine] his blood, or the new covenant in his blood: and Paul the communion of the body and blood of Christ?

Ans. Christ speaks thus, not without great reason; namely not only thereby to teach us that as bread and wine support this temporal life, so his crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink whereby our souls are fed to eternal life; but more especially, by these visible signs and pledges to assure us, that we are as really partakers of his true body and blood, (by the operation of the Holy Ghost,) as we recieve by the mouth of our bodies these holy signs in remembrance of him; and that all his sufferings and obedience are as certainly ours as if we had in our own persons suffered and made satisfaction for our sins to God.”

In his explanation of this section of the Heidelberg Catechism, and in way of comparison with Lutheran thought, Nevin says that:

The presence of Christ is not “in, with and under” the bread, but only with it; not for the mouth, but only for faith; and so of course, though this is not expressly mentioned, not for unbelievers but for believers only. It is however in this way, a true presence. The believer partakes of Christ, not only in figure, but in fact; not of his benefits simply, but of his actual life; not of his life as divine merely, but of the substance of his human life, as denoted by his body and blood. The signs not only testify to us the general truth that Christ is our life, but seal this truth to us as a fact actualized along with their exhibition and use. To say that by the participation of Christ’s body and blood the Catechism means only moral union with him, by faith and an interest in the benefits of his death is to charge it with the most wretched tautology…

Article 21 of the Old Scotch Confession (1560) is also interesting in this area:

And thus we utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else but naked and bare signs; no we assuredly believe that by baptism we are engrafted into Jesus Christ, to be made partakers of his justice, whereby our sins are covered and remitted; and also, that in the Supper, rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us, that he becometh very nourishment and food to our souls; not that we imagine any transubstantiation of bread into Christ’s natural body, and of wine into his natural blood… but this union and conjunction, which we have with the body and blood of Christ Jesus, in the right use of the sacraments, is wrought by operation of the Holy Spirit, who by true faith carieth us above all things that are visible, carnal, and earthly, and maketh us to feed upon the body and blood of Christ Jesus, which was broken and shed for us, which is now in heaven, and appeareth in the presence of the Father for us; and yet, notwithstanding, the far distance of place which is between his body now glorified in heaven, and us now mortal on this earth; yet we most assuredly believe that the bread which we break, is the communion of Christ’s body, and the cup which we bless, is the communion of his blood. So that we confess, and undoubtedly believe, that the faithful, in the right use of the Lord’s Table, do so eat the body, and drink the blood of the Lord Jesus, that he remaineth in them, and they in him; yea, they are so made flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bones, that as the eternal Godhead hath given to the flesh of Christ Jesus (which of its own nature was mortal and corruptible) life and immortality; so doth Christ Jesus his flesh and blood, eaten and drunk by us, give unto us the same prerogatives.

I find the phrase “do so eat the body, and drink the blood of the Lord Jesus, that he remaineth in them, and they in him…” because it is so similar to words spoken in Eucharistic prayer I in Rite I of the 79 Book of Common Prayer:

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves,
our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living
sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all
others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may
worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son
Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction,
and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and
we in him.

So, I think what is at play in the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed view isn’t so much a difference as to understanding of the effects or even, really the manner of the partaking of Christ’s body and blood, but rather a different understanding of what it means to partake of his body and blood. In this sense, the Reformed take the position that to partake of the Body and Blood is of necessity to receive the benefits of them, tied objectively to the elements of bread and wine. Since the “wicked” or “unbelievers” who take communion cannot recieve the benefits of Christ’s body and blood, but eat and drink judgement/condemnation, then they must not be recieving the Body and Blood at all.

In contrast, those traditions that hold to manducatio impiorum, state that the condemnation and judgment come because the wicked and unbeliever fundamentally do receive the body and blood of Christ, and it is the fact of their unworthiness that leads to negative ramifications. Much of this seems to be based upon what happens to Judas in John 13:26-27. Of course, I’m not sure why this has to support the view that Judas received condemnation through the Body and Blood and not instead of it…. that seems to be the primary distinction. Any thoughts?