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Richard Hooker and the Coronavirus

Richard Hooker and the Coronavirus

BY GERALD MCDERMOTT
https://www.patheos.com/blogs/
April 11, 2020

Anglicans are starting to hunger for the Eucharist in this time of the plague. I use that word deliberately because that is the last affliction mentioned (דֶּבֶר dever) before God tells his people to pray and repent of their "wicked ways" if they want healing to come to their land (2 Chron. 7.13-14).

Many Anglicans, accustomed to weekly feeding on the Body and Blood of Christ, are sorely missing the sacrament in these days when they only have the Word, and that through a screen.

But that begs the question: Is the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Anglican Eucharist?

Richard Hooker (1554-1600) is widely acknowledged as the definitive theologian of the Elizabethan Settlement, whose liturgy and theology governed Anglicanism for centuries to come. But Hooker's "receptionism" has been interpreted by many to rule out a Real Presence of the humanity of Christ in the sacrament. It has been thought to mean that the faith of the recipient marks the moment when the signs of the bread and wine make present a wholly-spiritual remembrance of what Christ did on the cross. Remembrance only, without a genuine presence of Christ's Body and Blood.

I would argue that this is a misunderstanding of Hooker on the sacrament--and therefore a misconstrual of the most weighty Anglican treatment of the Eucharist in the English Reformation.

Hooker's Real Presence in his doctrine of the Eucharist is often missed because he has a more dynamic view of consecration than either Thomas Aquinas or Martin Luther, whom he criticizes several times in chapter LXVII of Book V of his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Both Thomas and Luther think that once the priest prays a prayer of consecration, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood in a static way on the table, no matter the action of breaking and giving and taking in faith.

Hooker points out that in the words of Institution Jesus' words "This is my body" and "This is my blood" come in a certain "order" (6). "First 'take and eat;' then 'this is my Body which was broken for you;' first 'drink ye all of this;' then followeth 'this is my body of the New Testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins.'" (emph. add.)

Because this is in the section which most explicitly states Hooker's receptionism, some observers reckon that there is no objective Real Presence. But as Brian Douglas and others have noted, receptionism does not preclude an objective Real Presence. Hooker is clear, as I will show, that for believers taking the elements, they receive "participation of his body and blood" (5).

This is little different from Augustine, who taught his own kind of receptionism. As Article XXIX notes, Augustine argued that the wicked (without repentance and faith) partake of the "sacrament" but not "of Christ" himself.

For both Augustine and Hooker, only those with faith receive the body and blood of Christ. In some passages Augustine puts more emphasis on the Real Presence in the bread and wine themselves in what I am calling a static presence, but in other passages Augustine teaches something more nearly like what I call the dynamic view in Hooker: it is in the faith-filled giving and taking of sacramental action that there is the Real Presence of Christ's humanity--"his whole entire Person" including his Body and Blood (7)--rather than just his divinity.

Hooker rejects "the popish construction" of transubstantiation because it "abolisheth the substance of bread and substituteth in the place thereof my Body" (12). He dismisses Lutheran "consubstantiation" for two reasons. First, it regards the Body as a "natural substance" (12) in a carnal way without recognizing the "mystical" dimension (8, 12) in which Christ comes to us in the sacrament in his Body and Blood. Second, it adopts its own philosophical explanation of the sacrament by resorting to the "ubiquity" of Christ's body and analogy to the hypostatic union to the joining of bread and body (10).

Hooker protests that such philosophical explanations and disputes rob believers of the joy of the sacrament: some "enjoyed not" because they "disputed" while others "disputed not because they enjoyed" (3). "Why do we vainly trouble ourselves with so fierce contentions whether by consubstantiation, or else by transubstantiation, the sacrament itself be first [my emphasis] possessed with Christ, or no?" It does not matter "whether [there is] alteration of the element such as they [emphasis added] imagine" (6). All that matters is "the co-operation of his omnipotent power which maketh it his body and blood to us" (6).

Hooker argues that the problem with the Roman and Lutheran views is that they are obsessed with the "order" of God's working in static ways, apart from the dynamism of "participation." Lutherans insist that "before participation" there is a "natural substance" of the body based on their philosophy of ubiquity, and Catholics maintain that "before participation" the "force" of God abolishes bread and wine and leaves only body and blood in their place. In neither view is there attention to the order of Presence in the words of institution, where Presence comes only by participation.

This is the key to another problem for those who cannot see Hooker's doctrine of Real Presence: his use of instrumentality. Some would say that this suggests that the elements themselves have no association with the divine Body and Blood, but that the Real Presence is something in the receivers alone. But Hooker's instrumentality is similar to that of Aquinas, for whom the sacrament of the Eucharist was an instrumental cause of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood. An instrumental cause, he explained, "works not by its own power but by the power of its principal agent" to "cause grace" (ST 3.62.1).

Similarly, Hooker says the apostles knew that when "their Lord and Master" lifted up the "elements of bread and wine" and blessed and consecrated them "for the endless good of all generations," that the elements were "made for ever the instruments of life by virtue of his divine benediction" (emphasis added; sect. 4). All who debate eucharistic theology "grant that these holy mysteries received in due manner do instrumentally both make us partakers of the grace of that body and blood . . . and impart unto us even in true and real though mystical manner" the whole Christ, human and divine (8).

Just as Thomas said the sacraments are instrumental causes of grace by divine power, so Hooker says "this hallowed food, through concurrence of divine power, is in verity and truth, unto faithful receivers, instrumentally a cause of that mystical participation . . . [with the] sacrificed body" of Christ (12, emphasis added). It is God's power that enables mystical participation with Christ's body and blood: "[W]e are therefore to rest ourselves altogether upon the strength of his glorious power who is able and will bring to pass that the bread and cup which he giveth us shall be truly the thing he promiseth"--the body and blood of Christ.

So instrumentality, for Hooker as for Thomas, signals not a real absence but a Real Presence of Christ's humanity by divine power. Sacramental action is an instrumental cause of grace coming from the Body and Blood. Instrumentality is Hooker's Thomistic way of showing God's way of working in the world by secondary causes, especially the sacraments. It is another way of saying that Christ comes to believers in his humanity by means of the sacramental action of the Eucharist: "[T]he real participation of Christ and of life in his body and blood [is] by means of this sacrament."

Hooker likens eucharistic instrumentality to baptismal instrumentality. We receive the grace of baptism "by water," but the grace is not "seated in the water nor the water changed into it" so that it is no longer water (6, emph. add.). Nevertheless there is real grace imparted. Just as baptism is not merely a symbol but conveys grace that changes the baptized, so too the Eucharist does not have grace "before" the sacramental action but works "in us" to change us through the sacramental action (6).

Now that I have cleared up, I hope, the most common objections to a Real Presence of Christ's humanity in Hooker's eucharistic theology, I will show Hooker's many testimonies to that Presence. All of these testimonies are in chapter LXVII (67) of Book V (5).

[The apostles learned from Jesus] "that his flesh and blood are the true cause of eternal life . . . not by the bare force of their own substance [apart from believing reception], but through the dignity and worth of his Person which offered them up by way of sacrifice for the life of the whole world, and doth make them still effectual thereunto . . . [so that] to us they are life in particular, by being particularly received" (4; emph. add.).

[Jesus promised to the apostles at the Last Supper] "that not only unto them at the present time but to whomsoever they and their successors after them did duly administer the same, those mysteries should serve as conducts [conduits] of life and conveyances of his body and blood unto them" (4, emph. add.).

"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" (5).

"[W]hat merit, force or virtue soever there is in his sacrificed body and blood, we freely, fully and wholly have it by this sacrament" (7).

"[W]e are therefore to rest ourselves altogether upon the strength of his glorious power who is able and will bring to pass that the bread and cup which he giveth us shall be truly the thing he promiseth" (7).

[Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Theodoret teach] "that Christ assisting this heavenly banquet [the Eucharist] with his personal and true presence doth by his own divine power add to the natural substance thereof supernatural efficacy, which addition to the nature of those consecrated elements changeth them and maketh them that unto us which otherwise they could not be; that to us they are thereby made such instruments as mystically yet truly, invisibly yet really work our communion or fellowship with the person of Jesus Christ as well in that he is man as God, our participation also in the fruit, grace and efficacy of his body and blood, whereuopon there ensueth a kind of transubstantiation in us, a true change both of soul and body, an alteration from death to life. . . [T]he Fathers [held to] this mystical communion [with the Body and Blood rather than] a corporal consubstantiation. . . or . . . transubstantiation" (11).

So Hooker shows a kind of Barthian stress on becoming rather than being in his view of the sacraments. We could call it a kind of sacramental occasionalism. The sacraments don't produce static elements of water or bread that are a new thing apart from sacramental action for believing recipients. Instead, it is in the dynamic union of Word with elements through the Church's sacramental liturgy for believing souls that Baptism saves and Eucharist feeds.

And the feeding for Hooker is with the Body and Blood of Christ.

In this time of the Coronavirus, Anglicans can be reassured that the reason they are hungry is that they have been deprived of the Body and Blood of Christ that are in the sacrament. This is on the authority of the greatest Anglican theologian of the English Reformation.

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