really, spiritually

How do they that worthily communicate in the Lord’s Supper feed upon the body and blood of Christ therein? (LC170) (With reference to this discussion.)

Answer unabridged: “As the body and blood of Christ are not corporally or carnally present in, with, or under the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, and yet are spiritually present to the faith of the receiver, no less truly and really than the elements themselves are to their outward senses; so they that worthily communicate in the supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ, not after a corporal and carnal, but in a spiritual manner; yet truly and really, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.”

According to JG Vos,

“AA Hodge (Outlines of Theology) summarises the doctrine of the historic Reformed creeds as follows: “All the Reformed agree as to the following particulars. 1st. This eating was not with the mouth in any manner. 2nd. It was only by the soul that they [the elements, the bread and wine] were received. 3rd. It was by faith, which is declared to be the hand and mouth of the soul. 4th. It was by or through the power of the Holy Ghost. But this receiving Christ’s body is not confined to the Lord’s Supper; it takes place whenever faith in him is exercised.”

According to Calvin,

“As we do not doubt that Christ’s body is limited by the general characteristics common to all human bodies, and is contained in heaven (where it was once for all received) until Christ return in judgment, so we deem it utterly unlawful to draw it back under these corruptible elements or to imagine it to be present everywhere.”

12 thoughts on “really, spiritually

  1. One prob I have with the reformed position on the Lords Supper is that the Sacrament seems to be null and void and it is the emphasis on the faith of the believer that makes it effective. This is a slight on the sacraments divinely instituted.

    (Leaving aside the debate on Transubstation but obviously Calvin maybe never read the story of the multiplication of the loaves tellingly immediately before the discource by Our Lord in John 6 on eating his Body and Blood. Also, if we only recieved Jesus’s divinity, or his soul in the sacrament, it would be enough. We recieve all that. But Jesus is now man and God, he is always human and Divine, wherever we find Him)

    Ayway, back to the point. In Catholicism, the sacrament is always effective, does what it says, and the faith of the believer either prevents it working in them or increases depending on the state of the believer.

    Very important point. I think ours is the sensible position.


  2. Wouldn’t characterise the reformed position quite like that myself but.

    Emphasis should be on the work of the Holy Spirit making it effective? If ‘null and void’ is a reference to the view that the sacrament is a mere memorial, that’s not the view that Calvin had and def not what anyone in the Westminster tradition believes.
    Or, it occurs to me you’re referring to the insistence on/repetition of faith in the quotes. Think that’s prob as opposed to “sense” ie “really spiritually” rather than “really corporally and carnally”. Only a believer can benefit from the sacrament, but the believer’s faith is only ever an instrument (in the sacrament and in general) – it is the Holy Spirit who makes the means effective, and the meritorious cause is never faith but the person and work of Christ.

    Think you/we need to be careful with John 6 – as Smeaton says, it can’t refer directly to the sacrament as the sacrament hadn’t been instituted yet. Can’t argue with “always human and divine”, but should pin down more precisely the properties of his human nature, eg that his human body is finite & not omnipresent, etc.
    “… two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation, the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence…”

    The believer receives a whole Christ. Undoubtedly. Spurgeon has a wonderful sermon on this somewhere. But receiving is by faith/spiritually – Christ and the benefits of the new covenant, his person and his work, his redemption and his providence, Christ made unto us wisdom & righteousness & sanctification & redemption – all of which is spiritual, received by the soul, not corporal/carnal. Fit to be even received by the soul without the sacrament, except that the sacrament is ordained for the believer to get what Robert Bruce called “a better grip” of Christ.

    What’s sensible to one is “repugnant to sense and reason” to another. Has to be a better yardstick right?


  3. re John 6. Smeaton is in error. Our Lord may not have instituted the sacrament by that timeline within the Gospel of John, but in the timeline of Christianity, within which John wrote his gospel, they were already in possession of the other Gospels, and raising the same doubts and questions as yourself about the Eucharist. That is the context of Johns Gospel, not just John 6, but the whole of it. Including the multiplication of the loaves just before it. Significantly just before it.

    Therefore when you consider the Holy Spirit’s main intention in giving us the Gospel of John, it is clear.

    Christs human body is now glorified in heaven. It is not finite. And even if it was technically so as an ordinary human being’s flesh would be here on earth (as opposed to Glorified in heaven), so was the bread of His miracles.

    Ill go away to think about the ex-operato distintion and maybe in the meatime point you to a wiki page.


  4. Smeaton? error? wash your mouth out sir!

    Can you explore a bit more how it is significant that within John’s Gospel the account of the loaves precedes the discourse on the bread of life, while it is not significant that these both precede the account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper? The exegesis here is rather less than compelling?

    More seriously re Smeaton and Jn6 – i had a quick look at Calvin’s institutes on the Lord’s Supper and he does seem to make fairly heavy use of Jn 6 as he discusses the meaning of the sacrament. (Smeaton does acknowledge there is a variety of views, he just states his own plainly.)
    But i think they both agree that the relationship btwn Jn6 and the Lord’s Supper mainly consists in the appropriateness of the elements for what they symbolise (bread the staff of life physically, Christ the food of the soul spiritually, etc). Christ was instructing the people to believe on him there and then (v29), and that if they were not eating his body and drinking his blood there and then they could not be spiritually alive (v53). This is the report of his message to those people he was speaking to, not a general message for the Christian community from John post-Lord’s-Supper-institution. But to obey him literally would have been to miss his point entirely (and it was their folly to be offended by taking him literally, v52, 60).
    Therefore to make the connection between this discourse and the signficiance of the sacrament to consist in literal eating of his flesh and blood does no justice to this passage (either, ie no more justice than to the ‘This is my body’ passage/s).
    Far more consistent with the imagery of the scriptures as a whole to say that the eating and drinking in John 6 is on a par with the looking and leaning and buying and entering intended by presenting Christ not only as bread and water but brazen serpent and rock and pearl of great price and way and door and so on — all to be embraced spiritually, by faith


  5. It is not at all significant that the feeding of the five thousand and the Bread of Life discourse both precede the account of the institution in time. That is because John doesnt mention the institution in his Gospel. He doesnt need to. He expects that everybody who will read John 6 knows about the institution from Mark, Matthew and Luke. John skips it. The question John is trying to address much later than the other writers, is not did He institute it, but what does it mean.

    The feeding of the five thousand (beginning of John 6 ) and the Bread of life (also John 6) discourse address directly the two most common objections to the Eucharist. The very two objections you yourself raised in this post.

    May I say I am astonished with your citation (Calvin?) which says “But to obey him literally would have been to miss his point entirely (and it was their folly to be offended by taking him literally, v52, 60)”.

    I am astonished because Jesus let his disciples leave him for NOT being able to ACCEPT this literal interpretation. Never to return. Not only that but He then turned to the Twelve and said “Do you also want to leave me”.

    With reference to the imagery of scripture as a whole, you can only apply the imagery to what is an image/foreshadow of the Eucharist. The Serpent for example is not. It is an image of the Cross. (They looked upon the serpent and were saved.) Foreshadowing of the Eucharist would be the Passover Meal for example.

    In any case these are real historic events not only signs.The passover is real historic event where people had to eat the real flesh of the lamb or die. So too the serpent. It was real. So was the rock. All of them real tangible things you could pick up and touch. The Serpent was a serpent. the Rock was a real Rock.

    The Pearl of great price is a component in a parable, which is a different thing all together.


  6. Bleurgh CT, this is a bit of a jumble.

    Re reading Jn 6. Your story would carry more weight if John was building an argument about eating/drinking as part of an epistle or as a discussion of his own within the gospel. Instead, this is John’s report of a discourse that Christ made to the multitudes at some point in his ministry prior to the institution of the sacrament. What he said here is something that needs to have made sense on some level to the particular people he was addressing at the time. If you want to argue that there is a relevance in this discourse for what they were later to learn about the sacrament, that’s one thing, where there is scope for us to discuss further. But in fairness to the text it can’t be read as a commentary on the meaning of the sacrament directly and in its own right.

    Re whether they should have taken him literally. He was standing there talking to them and saying that they needed to eat (and be eating) his flesh. To take him literally – how could they ? You can only say (afaics) that this must have been a command for them to do in the future after he had instituted the sacrament which you believe involves literally eating his flesh.
    Whereas in this text, ie in his discourse that he was giving to these people, he equates eating his flesh and drinking his blood with something called “coming to him” and something called “believing on him”. Those who believe in him have everlasting life = those who eat his flesh have everlasting life. v40, v54.
    All of which they needed to do, and be doing, there as he spoke with them. They were offended ultimately I suppose by the whole package of his teaching, ie including his claim that he came down from heaven and that nobody could come to him without the Father, etc, but also by the apparent impossibility of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. It was as impossible as his claim to build the temple in three days, to go away somewhere they wouldn’t find him, to have seen Abraham, and so on – they always seem to have taken his claims in the absurdest, literalest, most earth-bound way possible, whereas the intended interpretation was always something spiritual, non-literal (not to mention, perfectly recoverable from the context).

    Re imagery. A slight sidetrack, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to look for foreshadows of the sacrament – that would be like looking for the symbol of a symbol, surely a mystifying step too far. The passover wasn’t a type of the Lord’s Supper – it certainly was a type, of course, but of Christ’s atoning death itself. The Lord’s Supper is a eucharistical remembrance of Christ’s death, not (as i *think* you would say yourself) his death itself, so not really in need of being foreshadowed itself.
    More to the point, not sure if that point was clear enough in my last comment, but the literal things that the metaphors allude to aren’t especially relevant here – the point is that all these metaphors are used throughout scripture as a way of describing how a soul meets the Saviour. So I know there was sometimes a real and specific rock, although other times it’s just general one (my Rock and Fortress, somewhere in the psalms), but the point was that standing or leaning on the rock or sheltering under it is expressing the same thing as buying the pearl of great price, which is the same as drinking the water of life, which is the same as entering in by the door into the sheepfold, and so on and so forth – and all these when expressed non-metaphorically signify believing in Christ for salvation.
    In a context where eating and drinking are explicitly equated with believing on him, this more than validates what we know from the weight of the general tendency of scriptural usage anyway, that the likelihood is for this eating his flesh and drinking his blood to be no more literally meant than that we literally shelter under granite, or literally become a sheep. Like.

    Dunno if you (or B) want to elaborate further on the properties of a glorified human body at this stage.


  7. Thats a bit like saying that he couldnt have been talking about being crucified when he prophesied it. Innit? Or that he couldnt really be talking about the Ressurection when he prophesied that.

    RE passover type of the Eucharist. If you do not eat the lamb you will die. Christ our passover Lamb has been sacrificed. Even St Paul thought it was a type of the Lords Supper.

    Anyway. I’ll leave the last word to you and bow out.

    God bless.


  8. Interesting. (I won’t hold you to your bowing out – feel free to come back if you want!)

    It would seem that you’re making the sacrament into an end in itself, by saying that it was prophesied and typified. That doesn’t seem to fit with the nature of what a sacrament is – ie something that symbolises something else. Whereas the crucifixion and resurrection are real historical events, the Lord’s Supper commemorates them (the former esp obv) – the burden of prophecy and typology is the grand redemptive events themselves, not so much the ordinances by which they would be remembered (and the benefits of them sealed and applied) in the church.

    Also slightly unsure of what you might mean by a type. Undoubtedly the two sacraments of the OT, circumcision and the passover, are paralleled by the NT sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but the one didn’t typify the other, according to what i’d normally understand a type to be.

    However, you may be right, might be time to move on!


  9. Actually when I said I would bow out, I didnt bank on providence making the feeding of the five thousand our reading at mass last weekend. :-)

    Anyways. Good point made which means i have to come in again. That is regarding the timing of the discourse negating reference to the sacrament or words to that effect.

    In any case I dont want to go over old points but this is one that made me think of this thread at mass!!!

    Imagine the disciples who heard this discourse (John 6) where Jesus calls himself the bread of life, and saying whoever eats this flesh and drinks his blood lives forever, imagine those disciples the ones who didnt leave him hearing later at the institution, which theu surely and scripture records that they did,

    “this bread is my body….take eat
    “this wine is my blood….the blood of the new covenant, take it drink it”

    It actually turns your theologians arguement on its head. The fact it was before the institution makes it more relevent. He was preparing them for it!



  10. Weeeellllll… i agree that we can use the discourse in John 6 to help understand what is meant by eating and drinking in the sacrament. Calvin would agree too – in the Institutes in his discussion of the Lord’s Supper he refers to John 6 in practically every paragraph for several pages. But it’s the content of what he intended them to understand by eating and drinking (both there and in the institution of the sacrament) that’s the point under dispute.

    So: imagine his disciples in Jn 6 hearing him say, He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him (for example). Prior to the institution of the sacrament, why should they have taken this any more literally than when he said in Samaria, “whosoever drinketh the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” ? Or when he said in Jn 10, “I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved”? The question is, how could they put his teaching into practice there and then? (assuming that we’re agreed that they should have instantly obeyed and put into practice whatever he was teaching them). If they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to obtain everlasting life (or abide in him, or whatever he links it to), how, in practical terms, were they supposed to do that?

    My response is to say that they should have realised that these were vivid, graphic, pregnant, full-of-significance metaphors for a spiritual exercise we might otherwise call faith, and, in practical terms, they should have believed on him to be not only bread for their souls but also water and refuge and so on. Because while he was standing there in his unbroken body and with his blood unshed, they could not literally, physically, eat his body or drink his blood. (It’s the same, actually, when he was with them in the upper room instituting the sacrament.) Neither his pre-crucifixion body nor his glorified body have the properties that would make this possible (according, not to ‘my theologians’ :) but everyone from Chalcedon onwards).


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