The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, September 1, 2023

The Mysterious Sacrifice and the Sacrificial Mystery

 If Adam had not sinned would God the Son have still become Incarnate as a Man?


Note that the question as worded pertains to the Incarnation not the Atonement.


Many would say that there is no way of knowing the answer to this question, and they have a good point.   What Luis de Molina, the sixteenth century Spanish Jesuit who is best known for trying to harmonize a strong Augustinian view of predestination with free will, called "Middle Knowledge", the knowledge of counterfactuals, what would have been under different circumstances, properly belongs to God alone.   For many Protestants however, without having considered the question per se, the default answer would likely be "no" because in their theology the Atonement was the end of the Incarnation.   If you remove the need for the Atonement you remove the need for the Incarnation.   For earlier theologians who seriously considered the matter, this was not the case.   John Duns Scotus, a Scottish Franciscan friar of the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries, and one of the most important Medieval theologians even if Modern thinkers scoffed at him - the word dunce, which was the name of those conical caps teachers made disobedient and obtuse students wear back when teachers were concerned with imparting learning and had not yet realized their calling to convince girls that they are boys and boys that they are girls, was derived from his name - argued that the answer was “yes”.   He argued this in both his Ordinatio, the published collection of the lectures he gave in Oxford on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, and his Reportatio Parisiensis, which contain similar lectures delivered at the University of Paris.   It was also a common although not universal view among the theologians of the Eastern Church.


That this would be the case - the "yes" answer being common in the East - is understandable when we consider one of the major differences in Eastern and Western theology, that which has to do with the antelapsarian state of man.  John Calvin, in the second book of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, chapter two, section four, says of the consequences of the Fall upon the freedom of man’s will that “although the Greek Fathers, above others, and especially Chrysostom, have exceeded due bounds in extolling the power of the human will, yet all ancient theologians, with the exception of Augustine, are so confused, vacillating, and contradictory on this subject, that no certainty can be obtained from their writings.”  St. Augustine was, of course, the leading doctor of the Western Church.   Countless Reformed theologians since have assumed without looking into it that the East is Pelagian or semi-Pelagian but that is not the case and that is not really what Calvin said.   Pelagianism was a heresy that East and West joined in condemning, but which was a heresy that arose in the West and which has perennially plagued the West not the East.   The East-West difference is that the East does not have as exalted a view of the pre-Fall state.  Man was created in the image and likeness of God, the Orthodox say, and they distinguish between the two, identifying the image of God with man’s reason, responsibility, and the like, and the likeness with moral excellence.   The Fall affected the likeness of God in man, but prior to the Fall that likeness was not yet perfect.   Man was created innocent, that is to say, without moral flaw, but was to grow to perfection, which is another way of saying maturity.   He was to grow in the likeness of God until he was as like God in righteousness and holiness as a creature can be.   The East calls this theosis and sees the Fall as an interruption of the process.   They liken it to a child stumbling as he takes his first steps.   While this sounds to Western ears like downplaying the Fall, this is because the West has followed St. Augustine in regarding man’s antelapsarian state as one of moral perfection.   The East regards the Fall as seriously as does the West, and insists contra Pelagius that apart from the Grace of God as given through Jesus Christ there can be no salvation, but they see the end of salvation as the completion of the interrupted theosis rather than the restoration of the status quo ante.  Given that framework, it is to be expected that a “yes” answer to the question would come more naturally to Eastern theologians than to Western theologians. 


I do not bring this up to argue that the East is right rather than the West.   I think that we are better off for listening to orthodox theologians from all the ancient Christian traditions rather than just our own, but replacing a Western provincialism with a reverse provincialism in which the East is always right is not an improvement,   I bring it up because there are parallels in the preceding discussion with the one that is about to follow with a new question:


If Adam had not sinned would there still have been sacrifices?


Here too, although this question is as much about what might have been as the first, those who would be inclined to answer the first question with "no" are likely to answer "no" again.   In this case, however, we might expect a better argued reason for the answer.   Sacrifices, the argument goes, began after the Fall and pointed to the Ultimate Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.   God gave Adam and Eve skin coats to cover them as the first picture of the necessity of the shedding of the blood of the Son of God to atone for sin.   Their sons offered sacrifices, showing the practice was established that far back, and while it got corrupted by paganism, God gave a pure sacrificial system to the Israelites in the Old Covenant, to point them towards Jesus Christ, Whose True Sacrifice brought other sacrifices to an end.  Since the whole point of this was that Jesus Christ's death atoned for man's sin, in the absence of sin there would have been no need for any of this.


The problem with this reasoning is not so much with what it positively affirms but with what it leaves out.   The Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, speak of sacrifices other than sacrifices that a) involve death, and b) are offered on account of sin or trespass, voluntary or otherwise.   The hidden assumption in the argument outlined in the previous paragraph is that in verses that speak of non-physical sacrifices, "sacrifice" is used in a metaphorical sense, with blood/death sacrifices being the literal thing that gives the metaphorical its meaning.    Even the physical sacrifices of the Levitical sacrificial system that God gave to the Israelites as part of the Mosaic Covenant, however, contain sacrifices that don’t fit the model of death and blood, prefiguring Calvary.   There were the sin offerings and the trespass offerings to be made when one had unknowingly sinned, the difference between the two basically being that the one was for when no restitution was possible and the other for when it was.   There were the daily burnt offerings and sacrifices, which had reference to sin in a more general sense.   Then there were the peace offerings which, while not entirely unrelated to sin, were more about thanksgiving and fellowship.    The focus was on the positive not the negative and this was even more the case with the sacrifices that were offered in commemoration of events, or to mark the beginning of the month, or to consecrate something or another.   Not all of the offerings involved animals.   There were also grain offerings – sometimes in the form of flour, sometimes in the form of roasted grains, sometimes in the form of cakes, in each case mixed with oil, and except for the cakes with frankincense as well – and there were wine offerings or libations.   Sometimes these were offered with an animal sacrifice, sometimes they were offered on their own.    If there were other types of sacrifices, even among the physical sacrifices of the Levitical system, then perhaps the non-physical sacrifices are not metaphorical after all.   Perhaps there is a deeper, more essential, meaning to the concept of sacrifice that might actually be easier to see in these other sacrifices where it is not overshadowed by the thought of man's sin and the need to atone for it.   If that is the case, this might be, depending upon what that deeper meaning turns out to be, a good case for the “yes” answer to our question.  


It is worth noting here that the word “sacrifice” does not appear in the Authorized Bible until the thirty-first chapter of Genesis.   This is the word זֶבַח (zebach) which is most often rendered “sacrifice” and which is the word behind most appearances of “sacrifice” in the Authorized Old Testament.   Here it is used of the sacrifice that Jacob offered when he and his uncle Laban had made a covenant between themselves before going their separate ways.   Now, if you are familiar with the Old Testament or even just the most basic episodes in its narrative history you are probably saying that this cannot be right, because sacrifices appear much earlier.  What about Cain and Abel?


Yes, the account of Cain and Abel in the fourth chapter of Genesis does indeed depict sacrifices, but it does not use the basic word for sacrifice.   What Cain and Abel each brought to the Lord is called in the Authorized Bible an “offering” and this is a translation of the Hebrew מִנְחָה (mincha) that is actually more common than the word rendered “sacrifice” being rendered “offering” two more times than the total of all uses of זֶבַח.   


זֶבַח is a noun derived from a verb meaning “to kill” or “to slaughter”.  מִנְחָה, however, is derived from a verb meaning “to bestow” or “to give”.   Interestingly, although the Hebrew uses מִנְחָה consistently for both Can and Abel’s offerings, the translators who produced the Septuagint opted to use different words.  Cain’s offering is described as a θυσία (thusia) which is the word one would expect had זֶבַח been used as it means “sacrifice” whereas Abel’s is called by the plural of  δῶρον (doron) which is the basic Greek word for “gift” and so a more literal translation of the Hebrew word.   What makes this an even stranger translation choice is that one would expect the reverse since Cain’s offering was of the “fruit of the ground” and Abel’s was of the “firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof”.   Perhaps by using the word one would have expected of Abel’s animal sacrifice for Can’s grain offering the LXX translators wished to emphasize the difference in the nature of the gifts as an explanation of why the one was rejected and the other accepted.   If so they anticipated an interpretation, i.e., that not being an animal sacrifice it could not prefigure Christ’s Atonement, that is very popular in Christian pulpits but which makes little sense given that grain offerings were later established in the Mosaic Covenant and that the text itself offers the explanation that Abel brought the “firstlings” of his flock and “of the fat thereof”, that is to say the very best, but uses no such language of Cain’s offering.   Cain’s offence, then, was most likely that of Malachi 1:7:


Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the Lord is contemptible.


That the first account of sacrifice in the Bible uses the word for “offering” rather than the word derived from the verb for killing is, I think, very instructive as to the basic, essential, nature of sacrifice.   Later in Genesis, when Jacob is contemplating how his brother will receive him upon his return, he uses this same word for the extravagant gift he prepares in the hopes of appeasing Esau should he still be miffed over the whole stolen birthright/blessing thing.  Here the word is translated “present” in the Authorized Bible.   Even later in Genesis it is the word used of the tribute that Jacob orders his sons to bring to Pharaoh’s Prime Minister, who they do not yet know is their brother Joseph, on their second trip to Egypt.   Here too it is rendered “present” which is the second most common translation of the word.  When the recipient is another human being rather than God “present” or “gift” is used, almost always with the sense of “tribute”.   This would appear to be the basic idea behind an offering or sacrifice to God as well.  It is the tribute that human beings as His subjects, owe to the King of Kings.  


Such an understanding rather clinches the case for a “yes” answer to our question.   For human beings were always subjects of their Creator, the King of Kings, and as such would always have owed Him tribute whether they had fallen from His favour through sin or no.   Even if one were to argue that had man remained in his primordial, antelapsarian, condition he would have had nothing to bring to God of the fruits of his labour, not even grain offerings, because having to work the land was part of the curse and he would still have been in the Garden, they would have been expected to bring the sacrifice (θυσία) of Hebrews 13:15:


By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.


In this verse we come at last to my point in raising these questions of what would have been.   If sacrifice is in its truest essence human beings bringing to God, the King of Kings, the tribute we owe Him as His subjects and which would have been required of us even if we had not sinned, and if, therefore, the idea of a propitiatory offering reconciling us to the God we have offended as sinners, prefigured in the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament and ultimately fulfilled in the Crucifixion, is the form that sacrifice took after the Fall due to the sinfulness of man, we would expect that after Jesus Christ fulfilled the propitiatory aspect of sacrifice once and for all, its essence would remain in Christian worship, and that is exactly what this verse, near the end of the epistle which most clearly spells out how the death of Jesus Christ has satisfied the need for sacrifice for sin, says.


By His death on the Cross, Jesus Christ did what the bulls and goats, sacrificed on the altar of the Tabernacle and Temple, looking forwards to Him, could never do.   He took away the sin of the world.   Moreover, His Sacrifice was the Sacrifice that established the New Covenant foretold in the Old.   With the change in Covenant came a change in priesthood and rite.   These changes reflect the fact that in the events of the Gospel, everything the Old Covenant looked forward to has been fulfilled.   Under the Old Covenant the rite of entry and the outward sign of membership in the Covenant people was Circumcision.   While not a sacrifice per se, Circumcision involved the shedding of blood.   With the establishment of Christ’s New Covenant, all ceremonial requirements for shedding blood came to an end having been fulfilled with the shedding of His blood on the Cross.   So Circumcision was replaced with Baptism, which does not involve the shedding of blood, and which is a more perfect rite of entrance in that it can be administered to everyone, male and female alike, as is entirely appropriate for a Covenant which, unlike the Old Covenant that was national, is Catholic, for people of every kindred, tribe, and nation.    Where Baptism most resembles the rite that was its equivalent in the Old Covenant is that it is administered once and does not need to be repeated.


Other than Circumcision, the most important part of the ceremonial aspect of the Old Covenant was the sacrifices that the Levitical priesthood offered at the Tabernacle/Temple.   These did have to repeated, some daily, others, such as those assigned to the Feast Days and the Day of Atonement, annually.   Just as Baptism is the more perfect replacement for Circumcision, so under the New Covenant there is a more perfect ceremonial replacement for the Old Testament sacrifices, and that is the Sacrament that we variously call the Lord’s Supper or Lord’s Table, Holy Communion – this word means fellowship or sharing, and the Eucharist.   This last is the Greek word for thanksgiving, the verbal form of which is used by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 for the thanks given by the Lord in the institution of the Sacrament.   Although a different word, the verb that is usually translated “confess”, is used for giving thanks in Hebrews 13:15, it is not improbable that this verse contributed to the rite replacing the Levitical sacrifices being named “Thanksgiving” from the earliest days (it is so named in the Didache, an early instruction manual in right living, liturgy, and Church structure which was thought lost until rediscovered around the middle of the nineteenth century, and which after the discovery of similar Jewish manuals among the Qumran scrolls has usually been dated to the first century).


Using the word “sacrifice” in the context of discussing the Eucharist sends a certain type of Protestant into hysterical fits.   This is, perhaps, understandable considering the state of the Sacrament in the West on the eve of the Reformation.   Masses were said around the clock, often with no laity present or expected to be present.  When the laity were present they seldom took Communion and when they did receive it was only the host, the cup being withheld from them.   Instead of being encouraged to receive the Sacrament, the people were encouraged to gaze at it in adoration from afar.   The underlying theological problem behind all this was the idea that in the Mass Christ’s Sacrifice was repeated and so each Mass was a sacrifice in itself that was offered up by the priest, and which conferred its benefits regardless of whether the beneficiaries were present or not.  This, at least, is how the Roman late Medieval theology on the matter was understood at the popular level.   To what extent the popular theology reflected the official teaching of the Roman Church at the time is debatable.   St. Thomas Aquinas addressed the question of whether Christ is sacrificed in the Sacrament in Summa Theologiae, Third Part, Question 83, Article 1.   He argues in the affirmative, but his main argument in the Respondeo, an argument that he borrows from St. Augustine, is that just as we point to a picture and say that this is Cicero or Sallust, so we say that the Sacrament, the depiction of Christ’s One Sacrifice, is that Sacrifice, which was an argument that Zwingli could have endorsed.   However, St. Thomas Aquinas represented the Medieval theology of Rome prior to Trent at its best, in its most scholarly form, which differed both from the popular theology and the dogmas coming out of the Roman See.  That people could pay a price to have a Mass said in order to reduce their own temporal debt for sin or knock time off of Purgatory for someone else, suggests that the Patriarch of Rome and his subordinates cannot be wholly absolved of blame for what was going on at the popular level.   The fact that they cleaned up some of the abuses and clarified their official doctrine in the Council of Trent (1545-1563) demonstrates that they recognized this as well, even if they were not willing to publicly admit their wrong doing.   It was to this sort of thinking and the bad practices it produced, that the Reformers reacted.


Or maybe they overreacted.     The abuses described in the previous paragraph were distinctly Roman.    The Eastern Church never withheld the wine from the laity, encouraged them to adore the host from afar rather than receive it, or sold private Masses.   These abuses, therefore, are Roman rather than Catholic.  The Eastern Church did and does, however, regard the Eucharist as a sacrifice.   Since the Church Fathers going back to St. Ignatius, the Patriarch of Antioch who was martyred early in the second century and who had been taught by St. John the Apostle himself, spoke of the Eucharist as a sacrifice, the idea that the Eucharist is a sacrifice is a Catholic one and not merely a Roman one.   The Reformers, therefore, should have been very careful in approaching this, not to condemn what was Catholic along with what was Roman, unless they had solid Scriptural grounds to do so.  Certainly, they were on solid Scriptural ground in objecting to any teaching that suggested that the Eucharist was another sacrifice of the same type as Christ’s One Sacrifice, or that in the Eucharist Christ’s Sacrifice was repeated, or that the Eucharist adds to what Jesus accomplished on the Cross.    These, however, are not Catholic ideas.   They might be Roman or have been Roman at one point in time, but they were never taught by the Eastern Church.   The Eastern Church, however, did and does teach that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice.   How they can teach that and not teach these other things, I will explain momentarily. 


First note that the Reformers, in reacting to Rome, rejected that idea common to the Eastern and Roman Churches, that the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice.  They would allow for it being a sacrifice only in the sense of a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.   Calvin’s discussion of this can be found in chapter XVII of the fourth book of his Institutes, the second part of the chapter beginning at section ten being most relevant.   In the tenth section he acknowledges that the ancients spoke of the Eucharist as a sacrifice but says that they meant it merely in the sense of a commemoration of Christ’s Sacrifice.   As his argument proceeds, he acknowledges that there are other sacrifices than the kind that involve death, although he describes those who raise the point as “quarrelsome” and says that he does not see the “rational ground” on which they “extend” the term to these other rites (section thirteen).  Clearly, the kind of argument made at the beginning of this essay that sacrifice, in its essential meaning, is tribute offered to the King of Kings, with the idea of death and blood being external to the essence and a consequence of the Fall, would be lost on Calvin.  Since his mind was shaped by training in law, he should not be too harshly blamed for this.   He argues that as a sacrifice, the Eucharist belongs to a class that includes all duties of charity and piety rather than being unique, (section sixteen), and that in particular it is a sacrifice of praise, prayer, and thanksgiving (section seventeen).   His point in all of this is to so separate the Roman “Mass” from the Lord’s Supper as to make them two different things altogether than the one a corrupted version of the other.    Amusingly, considering his opposition to “superstition”, by this he succeeded in creating a new superstition, the aversion to the very word “Mass” found among certain Protestants who seem to think that all of popery is smuggled in by the use of this word which simply means a service in which the Eucharist is celebrated.


In the Eastern Church, such a service is commonly called the Divine Liturgy.     The Eastern Church, as mentioned, regards the Sacrament celebrated in the Divine Liturgy as a propitiatory sacrifice.   They do not, however, regard it as being another propitiatory sacrifice adding that of Jesus Christ, or a repetition of Christ’s Sacrifice.   This is because they regard it as being the One Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.   The late Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, writing under his pre-monastic name Timothy, explains:


The Eucharist is not a bare commemoration nor an imaginary representation of Christ’s sacrifice, but the true sacrifice itself; yet on the other hand it is not a new sacrifice, nor a repetition of the sacrifice on Calvary, since the Lamb was sacrificed ‘once only, for all time’.  The events of Christ’s sacrifice – the Incarnation, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension – are not repeated in the Eucharist, but they are made present.   ‘During the Liturgy, through its divine power, we are projected to the point where eternity cuts across time, and at this point we become true contemporaries with the events which we commemorate.’ ‘All the holy suppers of the Church are nothing else than one eternal and unique Supper, that of Christ in the Upper Room.  The same divine act both takes place at a specific moment in history, and is offered always in the sacrament.’ (Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, 1963, rev. 1993, 2015 edition, pp. 279-280, bold representing italics in original, citations in text from P. Evdokimov, L’Orthodoxie, p. 241 and 208 respectively)


The Eastern Church had to clarify her views on this much earlier than the Roman Church.  One notable example took place about a century after the mutual excommunications of the Patriarchs of Rome and Constantinople in the Schism.   Lukas Chrysoberges, the newly installed Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, was barely in office in 1156 when a controversy arose due to the teaching of Soterichos Panteugenos, who had been chosen for the next Patriarch of Antioch but had not yet been enthroned.   Panteugenos taught that Jesus had offered His Sacrifice only to the Father and not to the entire Holy Trinity.   This was denounced as heretical, and Chrysoberges was asked to preside over the Synod of Blachernae that Emperor Manuel I Komnemnos called to meet in said quarter of Constantinople in 1157 to decide the matter.   The main issue was the one just mentioned but Panteugenos had also taught that the Eucharist was merely a figurative commemoration of Christ’s Sacrifice.   His teachings were condemned and his selection for the See of Antioch was nullified, although he was persuaded to recant.  Most significantly for our purposes here, the Eastern Church declared in the council that the Eucharist was not just a figurative commemoration, but the One Sacrifice of Jesus Christ and to make the identification clear it was emphasized that it was not another sacrifice, not a repeat of the sacrifice, but the One Sacrifice made present in a sacramental fashion.   Having had to clarify her understanding of the Eucharist so soon after breaking fellowship with Rome, she was clear on there being no repetition of or addition to the One Sacrifice  in a way that Rome was not, and so did not go down the same path as Rome.


Although the Eastern understanding excludes the ideas that were most objectionable to the Reformers in the idea of the Eucharist as a propitiatory sacrifice, the ideas of adding to or repeating the One Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and was not coupled with the corrupt practices of withholding the wine, encouraging the faithful to gaze from afar rather than receive, charging for private Masses, etc., it likely would not have met with a good reception among the continental Reformers.   Dr. Luther logically ought not to have had any problem with it considering his overall conservatism and especially his strong view of the Real Presence which prevented him from reaching accord with the Swiss Reformers in the Marburg Colloquy of 1529.   It does not make much logical sense to insist on the Real Presence of the Body and Blood in the elements of the Sacrament without accepting the Real Presence of the One Sacrifice in the Sacrament.   Calvin, who already had a low view of the Eastern tradition because of the differences between the Greek Fathers and St. Augustine, and who held a considerably less literal view of the Real Presence than Dr. Luther, would not likely have viewed the Eastern position as much less objectionable than Rome’s.   The real question, however, from the starting point of the primacy and supremacy of Scripture, which both Dr. Luther and Calvin affirmed, is what the Bible teaches concerning the relationship between the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.


Jesus Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross was the One Sacrifice that effectually removed the sin of the world and accomplished salvation.   It was also a Sacrifice that established a Covenant.   In the words of Institution in Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, and 1 Corinthians 11:25, Jesus pronounced over the cup of the Eucharist that it was the “new testament” in His blood, i.e., the New Covenant.   Understanding that Christ’s Sacrifice was a Covenant Sacrifice as well as the Sacrifice that accomplished the salvation of the world is essential to understanding what the Lord’s Supper is all about.   Important information about this can be gleaned by looking at the establishment of the Old Covenant.


The Old Covenant was established at Mt. Sinai, where Moses led the Israelites after their flight from Egypt in the book of Exodus.   The formal establishment of the Covenant takes place in the twenty-fourth chapter, where the LORD summons Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel to worship (v. 1), allowing only Moses to come near Him (v. 2), Moses tells the people all the words of the Lord and they promise to keep all of them (v. 3), Moses records everything and rises early in the morning, builds an altar, and erects twelve pillars for the twelve tribes (v. 4), they offer burnt offerings and peace offerings of oxen (v. 5), Moses puts half the blood in basins and sprinkles half on the altar (v. 6), the book of the Covenant is read to the people and they again promise to do all that is contained in it (v. 7) after which Moses sprinkles the people with blood and tells them to behold the blood of the Covenant which the Lord has made with them (v. 8), then all those who had been summoned go up the mountain where they see God and “eat and drink” (vv. 9-11).   In this formal establishment of the Covenant we see a) the sacrifices, i.e., the actual killing of the victims b) the act of sanctification by the sprinkling of the blood, and c) the representatives of the people eating and drinking in the presence of the Other Party to the Covenant, i.e., God.  The first two of these, the killing of the victim on the altar and the sprinkling of the blood, are the key components of sacrifices that are offered on account of sin and which prefigure the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Think especially of the procedure on the Day of Atonement.   The killing on the altar prefigures the death of Christ on the Cross on Calvary, and the sprinkling of whatever needs to be sanctified, such as the Holy of Holies, with the blood prefigures Jesus Christ’s entry into the Heavenly Tabernacle with His Own Blood as High Priest after the order of Melchizedek which is discussed at length in the book of Hebrews.    The part where the parties of the Covenant eat and drink together is the standard conclusion of the making of a Covenant.  It was seen earlier in the Pentateuch in the passage that contains the first use of the principle word for sacrifice where after Jacob and Laban have come to their agreement “Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.” (Gen. 31:54).   Indeed, it is seen even earlier than that where Melchizedek, the priest of Salem alluded to in the references to Jesus Christ as a priest after the order of Melchizedek, brings out bread and wine to Abram and his confederates and to those they just liberated from the eastern confederacy after the rebellion of the cities of the plain in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis.   In this passage, the making of a Covenant is implied by the circumstances, only the final meal is explicitly mentioned.   Note the close resemblance between that meal and a Eucharist.


Having looked at the formal establishment of the Old Covenant we need now to back up in the book of Exodus to look at the event which more than anything else in the Old Testament prefigures Jesus Christ and the redemption He accomplished on the Cross.   God’s deliverance of Israel from literal slavery in Egypt, prefigures His delivering His people of every nation from slavery to sin through Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross.   This is why Christ’s work on the Cross is called “redemption”, a word that literally means purchasing someone out of slavery.   God’s challenge to Pharaoh through Moses culminated in the plague of the firstborn, in which the Angel of Death visited all the firstborn in Egypt, from Pharaoh’s household down,   The Israelites were delivered from this plague in a manner that they would commemorate forever in the Passover.   It was on the anniversary of the Passover that Jesus was crucified.   In Exodus 12, God gave Moses the instructions regarding the Passover.   They were to choose a spotless lamb per household on the tenth of the month.   On the fourteenth of the month, the lamb would be killed before the assembly of the entire congregation of Israel.   This foreshadows the death of Christ on the Cross.  Then they were to take the blood and strike it on the two side posts and the upper post of the main entrance to the house.   This, which incidentally or not requires making a cross shaped motion, foreshadows Christ’s entry into the heavenly Holy of Holies with His blood.   Then, finally, they were to eat the Passover:


And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.  Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. (vv. 8-10)


So covenants were formally established with sacrifices after which there was a shared meal.   The implication that the sacrifice itself became the meal is made explicit in the account of the Passover.   Do I really need to state the obvious by saying that the Lord’s Supper, which was instituted on the occasion of a Passover meal, is to Christ’s One Sacrifice what that meal was to the Passover sacrifice or that Christ’s One Sacrifice being a Covenant Sacrifice, the Lord’s Supper is the Covenant meal?


Now ordinarily Covenant meals were eaten once on the occasion of the establishment of the Covenant.   The Passover meal was repeated in a commemorative way once a year on the anniversary of the original event.   The Lord’s Supper, however, was to be eaten over and over again on a regular basis.   From the account of the first Church in Jerusalem in its early days we learn that at first the Lord’s Supper was celebrated on a daily basis (Acts 2:42, 46).    Note the juxtaposition in the second of these verses of the believers’ continuing in the Temple of the Old Covenant, which was still standing at the time, and their “breaking bread”, i.e., in the Lord’s Supper, in the houses where they met as the Church.   Here the two systems temporarily overlap, but with Christ’s death having accomplished what the old sacrifices of bulls and goats could only point to, the old system was already essentially dead.  What remained for believers was to eat and drink of that One Sacrifice in the manner of which Christ prescribed, through the means of bread and wine.    The Lord’s Supper took the place in the religion of the New Covenant that the sacrifices occupied under the Old Covenant.   It is hardly a coincidence that bread and wine, in addition to being important elements of the Passover meal, were the non-animal offerings required by the Mosaic Law.   There is another reason, however, why the meal in which the Sacrifice of the New Covenant is eaten by the faithful, is to be repeated and far more often than the commemoration of the Passover.


The New Covenant is the Covenant of everlasting life.   Man had lived under the dominion of Death since the Fall.   The Son of God, by becoming Man, living the righteous life as Man that God required, taking the sins of fallen man upon Himself and submitting to Death, defeating Death in the process, smashing the gates of Death’s kingdom Hell, then rising Immortal from the grave and ascending back to the right hand of the Father, obtained everlasting life for us.  It is offered to us freely in Him to be received by faith.    This new life, everlasting life, is like the old physical life in that it begins with a birth and is sustained by food and drink.   Entry into everlasting life is described as a new or spiritual birth by Jesus Christ in His interview with Nicodemus in the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel.   In the sixth chapter of the same Gospel in an extended discourse which takes place in the synagogue of Capernaum on the day after the feeding of the five thousand He describes Himself as the Bread of Life.  In the course of this discourse He talks about how it is God’s will that He, Jesus, preserve all those whom He has been given, believers, in everlasting life.  Therefore, when at the end of the discourse He says that one must eat His Flesh and drink His Blood to have everlasting life, it is apparent that He is talking about the means through which He accomplishes this preservation.   Everlasting life is received in the new birth, and nourished and sustained by the food that is His Flesh and Blood.  In both chapters faith is identified as the means by which we personally appropriate the Grace of everlasting life both as the initial new birth and the sustaining food and drink.   Both chapters also identify the means by which God confers the Grace upon us.   God confers the Grace of the new birth through the Sacrament of Baptism (Jn. 3:5, cf. 1:33), and the Grace of the sustaining of that life through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, i.e., the Sacrament of the Eucharist.   There is no contradiction between the Sacraments conferring Grace and faith receiving it.   The New Covenant is not between God and each individual believer on a one-on-one basis as the evangelical expression “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” which is found nowhere in the Scriptures would suggest.   The New Covenant is between God and the community of faith established by said Covenant, the Church.     The new life is the life of Jesus Christ Himself and we share in it through union with Him which union also united us with other believers in the New Covenant community that is His Body, the Church.  The Gospel Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are both the external sign and seal of the new birth and the sustaining of the new life with the food and drink of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and the means through which that union is established and God brings these gifts to his people.   This is not a mechanical operation.   Nobody receives the Grace conferred through the Sacraments except through the appointed means of appropriation, which is faith in Jesus Christ.   Since, however, the Sacraments occupy the same spot in the Ordu Salutis as the preaching of the Gospel, the means through which God works as opposed to the means through which we appropriate, they, like preaching, work towards forming and sustaining in the believer, the faith by which the believer receives the Grace.  


Unlike the more fanatical types of Protestants who tended towards schism and separatism, Dr. Luther had a good understanding of this.  John Calvin’s understanding of it was not quite as good as Dr. Luther’s but it was passable.   See his refutation of the idea that the Sacraments are only outer signs in the thirteenth section of chapter XIV of the fourth book of his Institutes and also note that Calvin begins this chapter by saying that the Sacraments are “Akin to the preaching of the gospel”.   It is strange therefore, that they allowed their reaction against the errors and abuses of Rome, to blind their eyes to the obvious reference to the Lord’s Supper in the fifty-first to fifty-eight verses of the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, and in the larger discourse in which they are found.   Calvin wrote of it that “this discourse does not relate to the Lord’s Supper” (Calvin’s Commentary on John 6:53).   Commenting on the words “And I will raise him up at the last day” in the next verse, Calvin compounds his error by saying:


From these words, it plainly appears that the whole of this passage is improperly explained, as applied to the Lord’s Supper. For if it were true that all who present themselves at the holy table of the Lord are made partakers of his flesh and blood, all will, in like manner, obtain life; but we know that there are many who partake of it to their condemnation. And indeed it would have been foolish and unreasonable to discourse about the Lord’s Supper, before he had instituted it. It is certain, then, that he now speaks of the perpetual and ordinary manner of eating the flesh of Christ, which is done by faith only.


This reasoning is entirely specious.   It confuses the means of Grace, that is to say, the intermediate means God has established to bring the Grace obtained by Jesus Christ for sinful man on the Cross to sinful man, with the means assigned to sinful man to appropriate said Grace to himself.   Faith is the only means of appropriating Grace, this is what we mean when we speak of “faith alone”.   The means of Grace in the sense of the means through which God works to bring Grace to people include the preaching of His Word, in both its aspects of Law, which works repentance by opening man’s eyes to his need of Grace, and Gospel which proclaims that Grace, and the Sacraments, of which the Eucharist is one.   Only those who make use of the means of appropriating Grace, faith, actually receive the Grace conferred in either Word or Sacrament.   John Calvin understood how this works, so it is inexcusable that he pretended he did not here.   It is also inexcusable that he argued the Lord’s Supper cannot be referred to here because it would be “foolish and unreasonable” to talk about the Sacrament before instituting it.   This is St. John’s Gospel he was commenting on, a Gospel written by an Evangelist who more than once quotes the Lord as saying something and commenting that nobody understood it until much later (2:22 for example and 12:16).


Lest I be accused of misrepresenting the Reformer, he does go on immediately after what I just quoted to say:


And yet, at the same time, I acknowledge that there is nothing said here that is not figuratively represented, and actually bestowed on believers, in the Lord’s Supper; and Christ even intended that the holy Supper should be, as it were, a seal and confirmation of this sermon.


If it is “actually bestowed on believers” in the Lord’s Supper, as Calvin here affirms, there is no good reason for him to think the passage does not make reference to the Lord’s Supper.    Since Sacraments don’t work mechanically and Grace is not received apart from faith it is quite silly not to see the Lord’s Supper in these verses.   If the Lord’s Supper were not intended and reception of the Lord by faith was all that was being discussed here, then why after talking for quite some time about His being the true Bread of Life, does Jesus all of a sudden introduce the idea of drinking His blood?   What Calvin thinks is being stated in this passage without direct reference to the Lord’s Supper, would have been conveyed without the reference to drinking His blood.   That the Lord would needlessly complicate a metaphor in such a way as to make it sound like He is talking about the Sacrament He would later establish without actually talking about it is a truly incredible interpretation.


So the Scriptures teach that the Lord’s Supper is a) the meal in which the Sacrifice establishing the New Covenant is eaten and b) the Sacramental means by which the new life is sustained by the spiritual food of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.   This harmonizes very well with the understanding that the Eucharist is a sacrifice, even a propitiatory one, but not in its own right, not by repeating or adding to what Jesus Christ did, but because the One Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the only Sacrifice that is truly propitiatory,  is Sacramentally present in it.     Since this view harmonizes with the Scriptures, we have good cause to call it the true Catholic understanding, passed down from the Patristic era, preserved fairly well in the Eastern tradition, and distorted, although not necessarily obliterated, in the Roman tradition after the Schism.   


While our Articles of Religion cannot be said to enthusiastically embrace this view, neither do they disallow it.  Our English Reformers were generally more conservative than any of the continental Reformers and it shows here too.   Articles XXVIII to XXXI treat of the Lord’s Supper and the various controversies pertaining to it in the Reformation.   We will not dwell on Article XXIX which reiterates the assertion in Article XXVIII that faith is the means of receiving Christ in the Sacrament by declaring the necessary flipside to that that the wicked do not receive Christ and Article XXX prohibits the withholding of the cup, with no exception for when a pandemic is underway.   Article XXXI is most relevant to our discussion here.   It reads:


The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.


The “Wherefore” which starts the second sentence in this ties the condemnation of “the sacrifices of Masses” as “blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits” to what was said in the previous sentence.   Any idea of a Mass as a sacrifice that in its own right does what the Offering of Christ did, repeats it or adds to it in any way, deserves such condemnation.   The idea that that the Eucharist is a sacrifice because that One Offering of Christ is Sacramentally present in it is not condemned in these words.


Which brings us to the subject of the Real Presence that is treated earlier under Article XXVIII.   It affirms the Sacramental nature of the Lord’s Supper and the Real Presence right at the beginning:


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 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.


It then addresses the Roman doctrine of Transubstantiation.   Transubstantiation is not the same thing as the Real Presence.   The Real Presence was affirmed everywhere in the Church from the Patristic era to the Reformation and is truly Catholic rather than merely Roman.   Transubstantiation is a late Roman doctrine.   It is how Rome attempted to explain the Real Presence.   At this point it is worth noting that one of the big differences between the Western and Eastern traditions is that the Eastern tradition is far more comfortable in leaving things as mysteries without a rational or scientific explanation for them than ours is.  This is something for which the East is right to criticize us.   Some things should be left as mysteries.   This is one of them.   Rome, not content to leave the Real Presence unexplained, came up with Transubstantiation, the idea that in the consecration of the Eucharist the bread and wine go away, leaving only their appearances behind, and are replaced by the Body and Blood.   The Reformers, rejecting this explanation, repeated the basic mistake of the Romanists of seeking to explain what did not need to be explained.   Dr. Luther, the strongest defender of the Real Presence among the Reformers, came up with an explanation that pressed to its logical conclusion means that Jesus is present in the bread and wine – and in the altar, the pew, the walls of the Church building, and the tree on the front lawn – with the only thing special about the bread and wine being that in the Eucharist attention is drawn to the Presence.   Zwingli, who saw the Sacrament as being merely a figurative commemoration, argued that Jesus is spiritually present.   That Jesus is spiritually present is true, of course, but it is rather strange to maintain that this is what Jesus meant when He said “this is My Body”.   John Calvin, who saw the Sacrament as being more than a figurative commemoration, but held a view of the Real Presence that only he could distinguish from Zwingli’s, came up with arguments against Dr. Luther’s understanding that pressed to their logical conclusion amount to gross heresy.   While Jesus as God is omnipresent, he argued, His physical body can only be present in one place at a time, and is in Heaven.   Therefore it cannot be present in the Sacrament.   This reasoning overlooks the fact that Heaven, in this sense of the word, is outside of space and time, which are dimensions of Creation.   There might be something in God’s eternal presence outside of Creation that corresponds to them, but the point is that Heaven is not a “place” in the sense it would have to be for Calvin’s reasoning to work.   It also tends to Nestorianism, by dividing Jesus’ deity from His humanity, as Dr. Luther did not hesitate to point out.   In each of these explanations, Rome’s mistake of not being willing to let a mystery be a mystery, a far more fundamental mistake than Transubstantiation itself, was repeated.  


Of Transubstantiation our Article goes on to say:


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 statement that it “overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament” is an allusion to St. Augustine’s explanation of the Sacraments.   St. Augustine said that a Sacrament was an “outward and visible sign of an internal and invisible Grace”.   These two components, the outward sign and the inward Grace, were necessary for there to be a Sacrament, which both signified the inner Grace and effectively conveyed it to the recipient.   The combination was accomplished by adding the Word to a physical element turning the latter into a “visible Word” and a conduit of Grace.   Transubstantiation overthrows by eliminating, through explaining away, the physical elements, the bread and wine.    The error in Transubstantiation is not that it affirms the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament, but that in trying to explain the Real Presence it teaches the Real Absence of the bread and wine.  In 1 Corinthians 11, St. Paul, after giving an account of the Institution of the Eucharist, (vv. 23-25), speaks of the consecrated elements both as “bread” and “the cup” (v. 26-28) and “the body and blood of the Lord” (v. 27) The orthodox position is to affirm that the elements are both at the same time.  The bread and wine do not cease to be bread and wine when they become the Body and Blood of Christ.   There is no need to explain this with some clever philosophical theory about the substance being switched out under cover the accidents or to postulate there being two substances or some such thing.   The bread is the Body.   The only explanation given and the only explanation necessary is because the Word through which the world was spoken into existence declared it be so.  


When the Article goes on to affirm that the Body of Christ is “given, taken, and eaten…only after an heavenly and spiritual manner” this should be understood as the brilliant non-explanation that it is.   The adverbs that suggest a Calvinist or even Zwinglian understanding are removed from the Body one degree and applied only to the manner.   This allows for more wiggle room in interpretation, which was Archbishop Parker’s purpose for putting this in when he revised Archbishop Cranmer’s version of the Article into its final form.   This was done to avoid committing the Anglican Church to either side in the increasingly contentious debate between the German and Swiss sides of the Reformation.   While this could be seen as a political decision it was also providential in that it prevented the Anglican Church from either throwing the baby of the Real Presence out with the bathwater of Transubstantiation or adopting a rationalist explanation of what is best left a mystery.


This also providentially prevented our Church from repudiating the Catholic view that Christ’s One True Sacrifice is Sacramentally present in the Eucharist in our repudiation of Rome’s twisted version of this for, as much as the Lutherans and Calvinists deny it, the presence of Christ’s Sacrifice in the Sacrament necessarily follows from the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament, for the broken Body and shed Blood of Christ are the Sacrifice.   We have not gone out of our way to openly declare this Catholic view, mind you.   But then we have not shied away from the word “Sacrifice” in reference to the Lord’s Supper either, albeit in language that would have been acceptable to John Calvin.   We included the Prayer of Oblation in every edition of the Book of Common Prayer, albeit in different places (end of Prayer of Consecration in the 1549 original and American editions, after Communion in 1552 and all subsequent Church of England editions, part in the one place and part in the other in the Canadian edition), which speaks of our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” and offering “ourselves, our souls, and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice”.   The Book of Common Prayer, which traditionally has been even more definitive of Anglicanism than the Articles of Religion (which are printed in it), includes stronger affirmations of the Real Presence than that which appears in Article XVIII, including when immediately prior to the Words of Institution the priest prays that “Hear us, O merciful Father, we most humbly beseech thee; and grant that we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ's holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood” and when in the Prayer of Humble Access we ask “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, So to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, And to drink his Blood, That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, And our souls washed through his most precious Blood.”   In the BCP Catechism, furthermore, the Answer to what the inner Grace of the Lord’s Supper is reads “The Body and Blood of Christ, which are verily and indeed taken and received by the faithful in the Lord’s Supper”.   In the Prayer Book, therefore, we have preserved a stronger affirmation of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood, which necessarily brings the Catholic view of the Real Presence of the One Sacrifice in the Sacrament along with it, which is good, because this view affirms the Biblical image of the Lord’s Supper as the meal in which the Sacrifice of the New Covenant is eaten, nourishing and sustaining the faithful in the new and everlasting life of Jesus Christ.


  1. The EO position that "The Eucharist is not a bare commemoration nor an imaginary representation of Christ’s sacrifice, but the true sacrifice itself" is just as blasphemous as Rome's. The only correct sense in which it may be said to be a sacrifice is the same in which all Christian worship may be, the songs, prayers, the whole, i.e. as the fullfillment of Malachi's prophecy that "My name shall be great among the Gentiles and in all places the Gentiles shall offer a pure offering" and this is merely an analogy to the Old Testament which allows the prophet to prophecy the coming of New Testament worship without revealing too much too early. The whole of Christian worship constitutes the offering, and to single the Eucharist out as some greater sacrifice or more a sacrificce is to become a Papist who wants to put himself in Christ's place as the one who makes the atonement, or to torture and resacrifice Christ because he hates him and wants to inflict pain on him like a sadist and is sad he could not have been one of the soldiers who drove in the nails.

    Calvin is therefore right that your John Henry Newman style acceptance of calling the eucharist a sacrifice and writing a longwinded article rabblerousing in favor of a vile papist blasphemy is "quarrelsome"; because it is worse than "quarrelsome", as it is an excellent predictor that what will come next is you arguing that Mary really is the "queen of heaven" or perhaps "the ark of the covenant" or "new eve." Its a foreshadowing that you will swim the Tiber or the Bosphorus. It only remains to be seen which one, and I suppose the deciding factor will be whether you go far as to accept Fatima or not. If you can't swallow Fatima you'll go EO.

  2. As to aversion to the very word “Mass” being a "superstition"; the word is blasphemy because it calls the whole service by the word for "dismissal" because it arose from the pagan foolishness of Rome and locking the service in Latin, the people forced to attend by government threats could not understand the service and merely looked forward to the words "you are dismissed" and named the hideous service of Satan by the word "dismissal." So for Protestants to continue using that word would imply that they hate going to church. That is why no real Protestant ever refers to a true church service as a "mass" but only to Rome's or Constantinople's abominations as such, for Rome and Constantinople are verily "dismissed" to go to hell as they likes.

  3. As for Calvin being wrong on John 6, the BCP itself interprets it his way in the Visitation of the Sick, for in the Visitation of the Sick, the minister is told to tell people that are bed ridden that if they have faith in Christ and repent of their sins they do truly eat Christ's body and drink his blood although they do not eat the bread and wine. So it is saying John 6 is only eating Christ by faith, but from Cranmer's treatise on holy communion we can see it applies to the Lord's Supper secondarily because of Cranmer's spiritual presence view that Christ is only eaten after a heavenly and spiritual manner and only by the recipeient with "lively faith," meaning they eat Christ by faith at the same time as eating the bread, i.e. they eat Christ the same way as the old person bed ridden does by faith alone but they do so with the bread in their mouth. And this fits Cranmer's quotations of Augustine in his treatise on holy communion, i.e. the unbeliver though he press the bread so hard with his teeth does not eat the Lord's body but the one with lively faith eats the Lord's body after a heavenly and spiritual manner. Because the bread is only a token to jog his faith so he will eat Christ by faith; there is no transubstantiation nor consuvstantiation. If a mouse eats the bread it does not eat Christ's body for his body can only be eaten by faith.

  4. This is in line with Gavin Ortlund recently becoming a Mary idolator and calling Mary "mother of god." Those who are "irenic" with the antichrist in Rome will inevitably swim the Tiber, since they already did so in their hearts. Idolators.

  5. The detractors seem to miss the point that this essay amounts to a thought exercise and analysis, not a definitive statement of theological fact, however rich in facts the article may be. At least that's what I get from it.

    I find this thought exercise to be very worthwhile and valuable, especially as a comparative analysis of these key aspects of fundamental Christian understandings about the nature of the Faith, regarding the natures of covenants, sacrifice, and communion, from Lutheran, Calvinist, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican points of view.

    I (a convert to "EO") will use some of the points in your arguments in apologetics with (from my point of view) heterodox Christians. Sometimes these issues do come up, and your answers address some of these questions quite nicely!

  6. As a convert to Mary worship goddess hellbound paganism of course you approve of an Anglican heretic paving a path across the Bosphorus to damn souls.