Concluding Eucharistic Postscript

One of the things you realized taking a class on Scottish Presbyterianism is what an outsider one is. I felt that when we were dealing with confessions and they were disparaging Anabaptists and managed mildly to disparage Baptists inadvertently. Another was the last class where we were dealing with Samuel Rutherford—they don’t do experimental Calvinism too well at Westminster. The term mysticism gets trashed a lot. “Insecurity,” I think, “and not what I stand for at all.” Can’t think what it would be like to be a dispensationalist here.

But the one that took the cake was the one on the Lord’s Supper. I thought I understood Robert Bruce, reading him as I was, and I found out I was wrong.

Here are the views usually given:

Catholic view = transubstantiation, the bread and wine are essentially transformed into the body and blood of Christ and physically consumed, for all they seem like bread and wine. Essence/accidence, Aristotelian, respectable, not right, but a respectable explanation.

Lutheran view = the bread and wine are not transformed, but the body and blood of Christ are physically present as well, so that both are consumed. The power of God is available to keep his promises, and accomplishes this mystery. And ubiquity, though it is more complicated than ubiquity; it is a subject which to Lutherans is a very big deal.

Reformed view = no transformation, but the physical body and blood of Christ are spiritually conveyed to the believer to be spiritually consumed.

If you are wondering how the physical body and blood can spiritually nourish, then you are in the same boat I’m in. That is what Robert Bruce and apparently Calvin and the mainstream boys taught, and the people I take communion with believe. How is it possible? The reply is to say it is a mystery. That is why it is called the mystery of the Lord ’s Supper. In fact, Bruce defines a sacrament as a mystery – has to have something mysterious about it. In this case, that physical body and blood are used to spiritual ends somehow.

It is metaphysical nonsense? The question is not one of sorting out metaphysics for them. Why should metaphysics stand in the way of the power of God? When I started pointing this out, I was swiftly labeled a Zwinglian. And here I had thought that what Bruce meant was that the spiritual realities that physical body and blood signify, represented in the elements, were brought to nourish. That is apparently not what he means.

Here’s the Zwinglian view, according to the reformed = mere memorial, nothing going on but an activity of remembering.

Here’s the issue though: Zwingli had neoplatonic influences. In other words, he actually may have cared about metaphysics. We know that Luther was a nominalist, and one by conviction. Do you begin to see the issue at this point? No wonder Luther couldn’t see eye to eye with Zwingli.

What if we put some Plato into Zwingli’s view? We get real presence. The realities that body and blood signify, which are not physical but more real because they are spiritual and can therefore spiritually nourish, are present spiritually to nourish.

That’s my view. Real presence.

You can see the disconnection though. I read Bruce as if he were a realist, but he doesn’t care a fig for metaphysical rigor; he’s reformed (I had one ask me, What do you mean by ‘metaphysics’? . . . Not a fig, you see). They, on the other hand, read Zwingli without any Platonic framework to give meaning to what he says and of course throw the blighter out: not real. And it is unreal.

Apparently Paul Rorem, the Pseudo-Dionysius expert at Princeton, has a book on Zwingli’s view. I’m going to have to lay hands on it, see if this all pans out.


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