In the history of the Catholic Church we have been confronted with both heresy and orthodoxy. We will examine the heretical claims which the church has fought and opposed (Docetism, Arianism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, and Monothelitism), and then offer the orthodox position. We shall also examine the work of Christ and it’s implication in the sacraments he has given unto us, and how the before mentioned heretical positions have implications on them. In essence, how poor a Christology can have dire implications on our sacramentology. Next, we will examine the Roman Catholic sacramental position Transubstantiation and the reformational sacramental position of Memorialism, and examine how these sacramental positions tend to lead into heretical Christology. Then, we will examine the orthodox theology of the sacraments, and pay special attention to Anglican sacramentology on these issues. In conclusion, we will propose an ecumenical way out of these errors, so that Christ’s holy church might worship him rightly.
One of the earliest heresies that the church made war with was that of Docetism. Though there was not one specific person (as far as I am aware) that we can pin this heresy on, we do know that it was most likely combated during the time of the Apostles, and definitely during the time of the Apostolic Fathers, i.e this heresy arose shortly after the start of Christendom. Docetism comes from the Greek word δοκέω which is generally translated “to seem, to be accounted, reputed”.1 In essence Christ appeared (or seemed) to have a physical body, but in reality he did not.2 It should also be noted that Docetism is a Gnostic3 heresy that pins ‘matter vs. spirit’ in a dualistic formula.
The proper view of Christ’s nature in that he had an actual human body (and nature), and a divine (preexistent) nature. As St. John says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us).”4 This passage not only teaches Christ’s preexistence, but his actual humanity: “our hands have handled”. Also, as St. John records in his Gospel, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”5
Other than having an unorthodox view on Christ (and the Godhead), Docetism had grave implications on sacramentology. The early church (as does the orthodox faith today) believed that they were actually eating Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. If that is the case, of what good would the meal Jesus gave his followers be? As St. Ignatius said while combating Docetism, “”They [the Docetist] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes”6. As you can see, Ignatius believed that the Eucharist was actually the body and blood, and the Docetist apparently knew that this was the church’s understanding as well. Thus, they refrained because they did not believe that Christ had an actual body. Thus, Ignatius used the Eucharist to defeat the Docetists.
Also, if you have a Docestistic theology, what reason is there to be baptized. In the same way we are united in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in the Holy Supper, we are like wise united with His death burial, and resurrection in holy baptism. As St. Paul teaches in Romans 6:2-7: “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.”
St. Paul argues that in the sacrament of Holy Baptism, that we ourselves are partakers of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. If Christ only “appeared” to have a body, he would only have “appeared” to suffer in the flesh, he would only have “appear” to, as St. Patrick said, “burst forth from Spiced tomb”, and finally he would have only have “appeared” to ascend bodily into heaven. Not only does this undermine the Sacred Scriptures, but it also undermines the passion, resurrection, and glorification of Christ, in which we become partakers in the blessed sacrament of Baptism.
Another ancient heresy was Arianism. Arianism was propagated by the presbyter Arius in the 300’s AD. The heresy was so controversial that the Emperor Constantine called the first ecumenical council of the church, Nicaea in 325 AD. Arius taught that Christ was a creature, as opposed to preexistent.7 A Creed was proposed by Eusebius of Caeserea at the request of Constantine, but Eusebius’ Christology was also problematic (Subordinationism which he inherited from Origin, which nearly had him excommunicated for heresy by Alexander of Alexandria) using Homoiousios (ὁμοιούσιος), but Constantine recommended the term ὁμοούσιος8 be used rather than ὁμοιούσιος9, to strengthen the fact that the Father and the Son were both of the same substance—Divine. Arianism attacked the divinity of Christ, thus making the catholic faith non-Trinitarian.
St. Athanasius was the major opponent of the Arians, so much so, that a Creed was attributed to him defining proper Trinitarian and Christological catholic faith. Yet, the ultimate enemy of Arian Christology were the sacred biblical texts, which informed the catholic creeds (Nicene and Athanasian). One of the major texts that was used to propagate Arian Christology was St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians: “Who (Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature”.10 Yet, this passage is clearly not teaching that Christ was literally the “firstborn” in the sense that he was the first offspring of God the Father, rather that he was firstborn in His status—the Divine son of God, coequal, not created.11 Also, the Arian interpretation of this text would be contradictory to what St. Paul immediately follows with: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.”12 If it were true that Christ was created, then he could not be “before all things”, nor the “creator of all things.”Arius, simply did not understand the concept of “Pre-Eminence” that was given to the firstborn, and how St. Paul understood Jesus as the elect son, the inheritor of all things—though not created, but creator—he did not understand the Trinity.
If Jesus was not fully God, then how could he save us? He would be nothing more than a glorified version of us—as great as that might be, he would not be the creator and sustainer of the cosmos, and thus could not redeem it. Why would we be buried with Christ in baptism if he has no power to save us? A bigger question is (if Arius was correct), “why are you baptizing into the name of a creature since you don’t believe that Jesus is God (i.e. in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit)?” We would be partaking in a religious ceremony by being baptized in the name of a creature, yet this would in a sense go against St. Paul: “…who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”13 There would be no power of efficacy in the holy sacrament, because the thing signified is created, rather than creator. Logically and biblically Arianism is flawed, and that is why it was defeated at Nicaea.
Also, if Arianism was true, what benefit would the Holy Eucharist be to the Christian? If Jesus is not divine, why on earth would we feast upon a creature in the supper? This seems to undermine Jesus’ own teaching that not only was he divine (I AM), but also His sacramentology the, i.e bread from heaven: “This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (St. John 6:50-51)” In the Eucharist we are not eating some created being, rather the I AM, who came down as the bread from heaven.
Apollinarianism was an ancient heresy that was battled at the council of Constantinople in 381 AD. It was taught by Apollinaris “the Younger”, who was the Bishop of Laodciea. Apollinarianism taught that it was not possible to have a nature that is not personal.14 Arius, believed that Christ only assumes the “animal side” of humanity, i.e. the body and soul but no mind.’15 Basically, the Divine word becomes a substitute for the normal human mind in Apollinarianism. Many scholars say that this theology presented is what eventually led parts of of the church into Monophysitism.
Apollinarius had problems with the orthodox position, arguing that if Christ were perfect man then there would be two sons of God: One begotten and one adopted.16 In Matthew and Luke’s infancy narratives you see Jesus being conceived by the Holy Ghost and Born of the Virgin Mary. Thus, he has a divine nature and a human nature, and logically as St. Gregory of Nazianzus stated, “What has not been assumed cannot be restored”. So he assumed our nature (perfectly) in the incarnation, but never gave up any of his divine nature. Thus, we have a Messiah who is fully Divine in one nature, and fully human in the other.17
Sacramentaly it is hard to see how this would have a direct implication on any of the Christian sacraments, but as the Very Rev’d. Curtis Crenshaw has pointed out: “If Jesus was not really a man [talking about the logical concussions of Apollinarianism], we have Docetism again.”18 Earlier, taking a patristic position on the Eucharist, the Docetic was incompatible with their understanding of the heavenly meal, thus making the work of Christ given to us in the supper unimportant. Also, it should be noted that if Christ was not truly a human, there would be little to no reason to even come and partake of the blessed Sacrament. We must affirm the physical aspect to the Eucharist, or we are left only with a spiritual meal that requires no action our part, and with a Christ whom has no need of humanity for His work. Thus, neither we nor the elements are required for the Holy Communion.
It should also be mentioned, that we are given the covenant through the ministration of Holy Baptism. We know that we are not only given a new spiritual life in our baptism into Christ Jesus, but a new mind: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts [minds], and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31-33)” How could Christ gives us the promise of the new covenant, a new heart and mind, through the power of baptism? How could we, as St. Paul commands, “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:12)”, if Christ had not assumed a human mind in his Incarnation? Not only is Apollinarianism Christologically flawed, but it bleeds error right into our sacramental theology.
Nestorianism arose as a reaction to the above mentioned heresy. Nestorius (c. 386 – c. 451) was the Archbishop of Constantinople, and was defeated at the Council of Ephesus in 331 AD. Rejecting the impersonal nature found in Apollinarian Christology, Nestorianism taught that each nature was personal.19 Thus as Dr. Crenshaw has pointed out he taught that there was, “moral union between the Logos and the man, a unity of will in which the two persons cooperated fully, but not a hypostatic union, a personal union, a union of nature in one person.”20
But, this is very problematic and undermines the clear teaching of Holy Scripture, because Nestorianism teaches that though God had indwelt Jesus, the Logos did not become flesh, and though in Jesus’ humanity he was virgin born, the Divine Logos was added to him, which denies the incarnation.21 This is easily defeated if we take the words of St. John to be true: “And the Word (λόγος) was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”2223 Another major defeat is that he did not take seriously the infancy narratives that describe the incarnation, in which Christ is born of the Virgin Mary (humanity ex Maria), yet he also has an heavenly origin “conceived by the Holy Ghost.” Thus, he is fully man (from Mary), and yet fully divine (as the Preexistent Son). This would also make Mary the Θεοτόκος,24which Nestorius thought was problematic opting rather for Christotokos.
We have seen that Nestorianism has many problems when employed to describe Christ, yet does it have any implication on sacramentology? St. Cyril of Alexandria thought that it had major implications on Eucharist: “We will necessarily add this also. Proclaiming the death, according to the flesh, of the Only-begotten Son of God, that is Jesus Christ, confessing his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, we offer the Unbloody Sacrifice in the churches, and so go on to the mystical thanksgivings, and are sanctified, having received his Holy Flesh and the Precious Blood of Christ the Saviour of us all. And not as common flesh do we receive it; God forbid: nor as of a man sanctified and associated with the Word according to the unity of worth, or as having a divine indwelling, but as truly the Life-giving and very flesh of the Word himself. For he is the Life according to his nature as God, and when he became united to his Flesh, he made it also to be Life-giving, as also he said to us: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood. For we must not think that it is flesh of a man like us (for how can the flesh of man be life-giving by its own nature?) but as having become truly the very own of him who for us both became and was called Son of Man. Besides, what the Gospels say our Saviour said of himself, we do not divide between two hypostases or persons. For neither is he, the one and only Christ, to be thought of as double, although of two and they diverse, yet he has joined them in an indivisible union, just as everyone knows a man is not double although made up of soul and body, but is one of both. Wherefore when thinking rightly, we transfer the human and the divine to the same person.”25 Cyril uses the Eucharist, to explain the orthodox position of Christ, and to defeat Nestorius. That Christ indeed has two natures, though both diverse as they may be, two natures (human and divine). Also, St. Cyril uses the Johannine text ( Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood…) to show this union in the Holy Sacrament that flows directly out of the creedal position of the true understanding of the two natures of Christ.
Monophysitism is another ancient heresy that was taught by Euctyches (376-454), who was an abbot living in Constantinople. Monophysitism (or Eutychianism) was defeated at the council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. Euctyches, “regarded Christ as God and Jesus’ human life a manifestation of God.”26 Basically, that Christ had two natures before a union between them, and after only one nature.27 Moreover, the human nature was absorbed into the divine nature, making a sort of hybrid—neither fully divine nor human, a new species (if you will) all together. In essence, we are given another form of the earlier heresy Docetism, because Jesus (according to Euctyches) was only appearing to be human.
This poses almost the same problem as Docetism, against the correct view of Christology. Examine Hebrews 1: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.”28 We see a God who has spoken in the last days through his son, yet the author of Hebrew says that the son is creator of the worlds which shows his equality and unity with God the Father (and the Spirit). Also, in Hebrew 1:8 the Father says concerning the Son, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom.” So, we are presented with a Jesus who is fully divine—creator God.
Also, as we have discussed earlier Christ is fully man. Hear what the Angel Gabriel told St. Mary: “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”29 This text says nothing about a transmutation, or a hybrid of divinity and humanity, but presents Jesus simultaneously the Son of the Most High (Divine) and the Son of David and Jacob (Human, ex Maria).30
With the nature of the task at hand we must ask, what this improper view of Christ might have on the holy Sacraments? If we are to take literally the words of Jesus, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you”31 then we are presented with the fact that we must eat and drink Christ. Christ has two natures, thus the meal is not only partaking of the divine nature, nor only partaking of the human, and especially in the case of Eutychianism the Eucharist is not feeding on a hybrid of natures. In the Eucharist we (at least as the Patristics taught) feast of the actual body and blood of Christ—both natures since the incarnation never ends. This is why we see both St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Ignatius of Antioch using the Eucharist to defeat heretics—the Eucharist is a picture of the incarnation and the work of Christ: the divine Manna coming down from heaven, taking on true (human) body and blood, being broken and spilled out for his people, and letting them feed on him the Incarnate and Divine Manna until his return.
Moreover on the topic of a “hybrid” of natures, we should also note that the paschal feast (in an orthodox, non-Monophysite view) is a participation in the divine mysteries in which the human and divine natures of the Son of God are joined together at the sacrament, without merging them. The merging of the natures is a problematic outcome when Monophysitism is carried into sacramental theology—you end up “undoing” creedal Christology by not letting the two natures be distinct, but rather infused, which is not a proper Christological position, nor sacramental.
Monothelitism is the last of the Major heresies debated at the Ecumenical Councils. One of the driving forces behind the heresy was Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople, in the 600’s AD. The pseudo-doctrine that was put forth, reasoned that Christ only had one will. Yet, this posed problems for the orthodox because it seemed to contradict the early formulas that stated the Christ was fully human, and fully divine—this (the orthodox position) would present a Christ with two natures. This heresy was condemned at the 3rd Council of Constantinople in 688. Passages like John 6:38 and Luke 22:42 were used to try to defeat the orthodox teaching of “two wills”, yet Jesus and the father shared the same divine will. The Father does not have a human will, but Christ does, and it is in subjection to the divine will.32
How can scripture get us out of the Monothelitic dilemma? Jesus’ prayer in the garden before his passion puts the orthodox position on full display: “And he (Jesus) was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”33 We have see that Jesus has a human will perfectly here in his suffering, yet we also see that he is putting that into subjection to the Divine will. As Crenshaw records Erickson’s presentation of the fathers, “In the Trinity there are three persons and one nature. Further, there are not three wills within the Trinity, but three persons who have one will. Consequently, the will must pertain to nature, not persons.”34 Thus, the Sixth Ecumenical council ruled that Christ had two will—one divine and one human, to protect His true humanity. Yet, his human will would not work against the will of the Divine.35
This heresy effects the sacraments in a much different way than the other heresies that we have encountered. In Holy baptism we are given new life, because we are buried with Christ and our sins are washed away. But, if Christ had not also assumed a human will, our human will could not be redeemed. Therefore, baptism might be capable of marking us with a covenant, yet it could not accomplish the promise of the New Covenant—God’s Law written on our minds and hearts. Our will and even our humanity (because if Christ had only one will he would not be truly human) could not redeemed. This would also then make the “the Cup of the New Covenant”, not only irrelevant, but non-efficacious to us.
Also, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, which will of Christ would we partake of? The divine, the human, or some merged will, nonhuman, non-divine will. Once again, if we take a patristic view of the real presence of an incarnational view of the Eucharist, this raises red flags because it undermines the incarnation of Christ, and thus leaks into our sacramental theology as well.
Transubstantiation (latin, transsubstantiatio), the medieval Roman view of the Sacrament of the Eucharist teaches that the bread and wine become (corporeally) the body and blood of Christ, though the elements appear unchanged (or they seems to remain bred and wine). As the Council of Trent taught in 1551, “”that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood – the species only of the bread and wine remaining – which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation.” Transubstantiation teaches that at the epiklesis of the bread and likewise the cup, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ is now the elements.
Though the Patristics widely talked about partaking of the real presence at the Eucharist, reformed theologians thought that the later dogma had gone too far, as Luther said (in the Babylonian Captivity): “Therefore it is an absurd and unheard-of juggling with words, to understand “bread” to mean “the form, or accidents of bread,” and “wine” to mean “the form, or accidents of wine.” Why do they not also understand all other things to mean their forms, or accidents? Even if this might be done with all other things, it would yet not be right thus to emasculate the words of God and arbitrarily to empty them of their meaning.
- Moreover, the Church had the true faith for more than twelve hundred years, during which time the holy Fathers never once mentioned this transubstantiation — certainly, a monstrous word for a monstrous idea — until the pseudo-philosophy of Aristotle became rampant in the Church these last three hundred years. During these centuries many other things have been wrongly defined, for example, that the Divine essence neither is begotten nor begets, that the soul is the substantial form of the human body, and the like assertions, which are made without reason or sense, as the Cardinal of Cambray himself admits.” For, Luther it seems that the categories and definitions were problematic for him, and that even though the fathers taught the real presence, the medieval way Rome taught it went beyond that of the fathers.
- The Anglican Church, likewise, in the 39 Articles of Religion made it known that they were unhappy with the theology of Transubstantiation: 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.” Likewise, we are left wondering why a branch of Christendom who does indeed believe in the real presence in the Holy Sacrament, would also deny the concept of Transubstantiation. The answer, in my opinion, might be in the implications that transubstantiation and the practices that follow it have on Christology.
- In Transubstantiation you have the the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ come down from heaven and change the elements of bread and wine at the praying of an Epiklesis by the Priest. At this point the bread and wine are no longer bread and wine, but is this what the Holy Scriptures teach us about Christ? If we look at the Incarnation, Christ came and took on a nature without giving up his divinity, and both natures were fully present in harmony without merging or disappearing. If transubstantiation teaches that the elements change completely, wouldn’t this also need to be true in the incarnational Christology— in Christ’s coming he could not take on something like human flesh and blood, but would have to completely change it into something else.
- Likewise, if Christ comes down a transforms the sacrament into something else, namely his body, blood, soul, and divinity, wouldn’t it either merge his natures (infusing them all into the elements), or separate them from each other (for example, the Body and Soul would be in the host, whilst the Blood and Divinity would be in the cup). If this is true you either compound or infuse the natures, or you separate their everlasting union from each other. It seems that if you merge the natures you have a form of Monophysitism, and if you separate them in a way that is is possible in transubstantiation, you run the risk of having a form of liturgical Nestorianism.
Moreover, another possible problem for the position of transubstantiation is the question of how Christ can be as the Apostles Creed claims, “He ascended into heaven and sittith at the right hand of God the father Almighty from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead”, if he is leaving the heavens every time the Mass is offered? Does Christ have the ability to leave the right hand of God, and descend to the people every time a priest says Mass? Moreover how can Christ’s humanity be at multiple locations all over the world simultaneously, if he has truly bound unto himself our humanity forever?
This also raises a problem with ceremonies that evolve the elements of the Eucharistic sacrifice, while they are not being used (eaten). In the service of the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, there is a time of worship God before his sacramental presence. But, this raises the question: How is Christ before us in the sacrament, if he is up in heavenlies? This is very problematic if we are to take serious the creeds, and an orthodox Christological position. It seems that the Angels made it clear that Christ would be in heaven (both natures) until his coming again: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.(Acts 1:11)” In this text we have the humanity and divinity of Christ assumed into the heavens, and the Angels claim that he will likewise return in the same way he left: Human and Divine. This seems to be problematic, since we know Christ next coming to earth will be at the Parousia. Are Catholics willing to say that the Parousia happens every time they say Mass? Or that Christ is simultaneously on their altar at Mass, likewise being adored in a monstrance in another part of the world, and simultaneously sitting at the right hand of God the Father? How can this be possible if he took on the limitations of the human body?
Memorialism, a position often attributed to the outflowing theology of Ulrich Zwingli finds its roots in 16th century reformed theology. This theological position moved away from a traditional sacramentology, in which Christ met his people is the holy sacraments, to ordinances occasionally done in memorial of Christ. Memorialism is generally seen, not only by Catholics and the Orthodox, but by the Magisterially Reformed as a departure from the biblical and patristic view of the Sacraments.
Memorialism teaches that instead of a sacramental work (a heavenly reality of the earthly sign) happening in the Eucharist and Baptism, they are simply having a memorial or ceremony ordained by Christ. This is problematic for many reasons, but one of the major red flags is that it rips all the power out of the meal and covenant signs the Christ ordained, which goes against the teaching of holy scriptures. For instance, St. Paul claims that, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:28)” If this is true that in baptism we put on Christ (as a garment), and because of this in v.29 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” then we must realize that this is much more than simply a memorial service. It should also be noted that this Galatians text is very mild in its sacramental language, yet we see in Romans (6:3-7) that in holy baptism we are “baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” For St. Paul, baptism is not only a memorially, but freedom from the old nature—in it we are put to death so that Christ might wash our sins away. Memorialism (though not intentionally) denies the person and work of Christ that is added to us in the ministry of the sacrament of Baptism. Moreover, it can deny the need of Christ actually coming in the flesh—if all that is needed to follow Christ is the mental ability to believe in him, then why on earth would he come in the fullness of our humanity? Rather, he comes and takes on our nature, and in holy baptism we take on his nature. This is more than a mere memorial, but as St. Paul taught “arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16)
Memorialism is especially problematic in the area of the Lord’s Supper. To the memorialists they are simply observing (most often very infrequently), a memorial of the Last Supper. Though it is a memorial, it is much more than a memorial. In the Last Supper we see the gathering of the new tribes of Israel, the twelve apostles, with their new Moses, partaking of the new Passover feast. This supper is an eschatological event, in which the church is made partakers in the Passover feast of the broken body of Christ. St. Luke (22:19-20) records, “And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” We see that in this meal, we are not merely remembering Christ, but we are communing on him and simultaneously partaking in the New Covenant.
In summation, this meal is a feast of the true Paschal Lamb, and likewise by feasting on the Paschal Lamb we are renewing the covenant made in his blood. Memorialism misses the sacrament—they bar themselves from the blessing and petition of Christ, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Sadly, they do not realize that they are not only rejecting the sacrament and covenantal blessings that flow forth, but they are in some way rejecting the passion of Christ, in whom they are called to participate (“Take up your cross and follow me!”).
Memorialism, in regards to the sacrament really undermines the humanity of Christ. If Christ is truly human, which both the Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition of the church teaches, we should expect a spiritual and physical presence of Christ through the Holy Sacrament. The implication of Memorialism is that both natures of his presence are not needed at the Communion, and in reality neither are we. If all that is needed is a memorial, we could could simply give Christ mental recognition, and we would receive him without the elements. This is also problematic in the fact that if Christ is absent from the sacrament we would would not have any sanctified elements in the supper. We would simply have tokens, rather than the “blessed cup” and the manna from heaven—we miss the covenantal presence. Memorialism undoes the the union of the body and divinity of Christ in the blessed supper, which we find does not settle well with the hypostatic union—in other words we have a form of liturgical Nestorianism.
It should also be noted that Memorialism gives us a liturgical Marcionism. Memorialism teaches a break in how and to whom God gave covenantal markers in the Old Testament. In Colossians, St. Paul teaches that baptism is the new circumcision, yet memorialists (or at least those in Baptist/Anabaptist traditions) deny that God would give this new circumcision to Children. In regards to the supper, the Passover (the blood of the Passover Lamb, and the eating of the meal) communicated grace to those in the house, and saved them from the destruction of the firstborn. As you can see, they not only separate Christ from the sacrament, but they divorce Old Testament covenantal theology from the New Testament.
Orthodox View on the Sacraments
Since we have examined the heretical views on the person and work of Christ, it would be fitting to provide an orthodox position on the sacrament. It is in the sacrament the work of Christ is imparted unto us and made tangible (by grace through faith), so we must understand we are approaching Christ Jesus in the sacrament— they are not simply ceremonies we do for Jesus, but a mighty work he does in us and for us in the sacrament. In this section we will examine the two Dominical (Lord’s) sacraments, because they are commanded for saving faith. Historically, the church understands the Dominical sacraments to be the Lord’s Supper, and the Holy Baptism.
Holy Baptism is the rite of “new birth” into Christ Jesus, commanded to be done to all nations for saving faith: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”36 We should start our discussion on baptism with a few questions and answers: 1. The outward visible sign? “Water; wherein the person is baptized, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” 2. What is the inward and spiritual grace? A death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness: for being by nature born in sin, and the children of wrath, we are hereby made the children of grace.” The catechism then goes on to further explain what is required of the candidate for baptism: “Repentance, whereby they forsake sin; and Faith, whereby they steadfastly believe the promises of God made to them in that Sacrament.”37 Thus, in baptism we die to sin and we are born into righteousness. Hear what St. Paul says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life”38 and also what Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”39 See, it is in Holy Baptism that were are put to death with Christ, but we are also born of water (baptism4) and the Spirit.
St. Clement of Alexandria (202 AD) summarizes the orthodox position on baptism very well: “When we are baptized, we are enlightened. Being enlightened, we are adopted as sons. Adopted as sons, we are made perfect. Made perfect, we become immortal, and sons all of the Most High” [Psalm 82:6]. This work is variously called grace, illumination, perfection, and washing. It is a washing by which we are cleansed of sins; a gift of grace by which the punishments due our sins are remitted; an illumination by which we behold that holy light of salvation — that is, by which we see God clearly; and we call that perfection which leaves nothing lacking. Indeed, if a man know God, what more does he need? Certainly it were out of place to call that which is not complete a true gift of God’s grace. Because God is perfect, the gifts He bestows are perfect.”41 Thus, in Holy Baptism we are clothed in Christ, buried with Christ, washed for regeneration, given the remission of sins and the Holy Spirit, our sins are washed away, given new birth, and saved, to name a few.42 It is Christ doing a Holy Work in us.
Anglicans have generally talked about Holy Baptism is traditional patristic terms (biblical). We, like the rest of the catholic church, emphasize the regenerating power of Christ to the faithful during Holy Baptism For example, the 39 Articles teach baptism in this way: Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed, Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God.” The Article teaches that baptism is our sign of regeneration, our promise of forgiveness, and our adoption as sons into Christ Jesus. Anglicanism teaches that there is power in the Sacrament, and that it is how we are grafted into the holy church—this is not simply a memorial that is taking place, but the power of Christ being added to the faithful! I think this is the same theology that St. Paul presents in the Epistle to Titus (3:4-7): “But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” In this passage St. Paul presents a baptism that through the love of God, regenerates us, renews us with the Holy Ghost, justifies us by grace, and makes us heirs to eternal life.
The Anglican traditions teaches Christ full activity in the sacraments, which I think St. Paul would adamantly agree with. We do not seperate the humanity or divinity of Christ in regards to the sacrament, rather we ourselves become partakers in his human passion, and reap the benefits of his divinity in the promise of the resurrection and eternal life. As the prayer book so eloquently puts it, “Baptism doth represent unto us our profession; which is, to follow the example of our Saviour Christ, and to be made like unto him; that, as he died, and rose again for us, so should we, who are baptized, die from sin, and rise again unto righteousness; continually mortifying all our evil and corrupt affections, and daily proceeding in all virtue and godliness of living. ”
The Lord’s Supper
Likewise, in the Holy Communion, the death and passion of Christ is communicated to us by his body and blood. Jesus says in St. Luke, “And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come. And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.”43 First we see, that Jesus fulfilling the passover by his sacrificed body and blood—he becomes the passover feast.44 Next, he blesses the bread, giving them his body as a memorial feast. Then, he takes the chalice and gives them his shed blood, as the means of the new convent.
Just as Christ made his death, burial, and resurrection available to his disciples through Holy Baptism, he also makes his broken body and spilled blood available through the Eucharist. He gives them his sacrifice in a visible and tangible way, which is very likely what Jesus meant in St. Matthew 28 when he said, “Lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the age”. As St. Justin Martyr said so eloquently of both the Eucharist and Baptism: “This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”45. St. Justin argues that the incarnation of Christ is made accessible to us through the Holy Sacraments, and that our flesh and blood are likewise nourished by the flesh and blood of the Incarnate Jesus. This is not only profound, but it intrinsically ties the incarnation Christology into the holy sacrament.
This sort of theology seems to be what Jesus is teaching in St. John 6:51 (see entire chapter for context), “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” In the sacrament of the Eucharist we feed on Christ, the heavenly bread, and through him, we have eternal life. This is not merely a memorial, rather we are partaking of the divinity and humanity of Christ in a special and mysterious way.
The Articles of Religion teach that the, “Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.” In the Holy Supper we partake of the blood and body of Christ—our redemption by Christ’s death. Yet, as we discussed earlier, the corporeal change in the elements of the sacrament that transubstantiation teaches can problematic for creedal Christians. So, how can we be partakers of the body and blood of Christ without committing the potential error transubstantiational theology? Well, the article further clears this up by adding, “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.” As we see, the Anglican tradition teaches that the Eucharist is a heavenly meal—that we are partakers of the table in heaven. The author of Hebrews (9:11-14) teaches that Christ, “ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” As we see, Christ placed his blood on the heavenly altar—in the perfect tabernacle. If we are to partake of Christ in the Holy Mysteries, that is to eat of the altar of the Lord, we must be brought into the heavenly tabernacle.
In the Eucharist we sing an ancient liturgical prayer of our accent into heaven, the Sursum Corda. The priest chants “lift up your hearts” and the congregation does so and responds “we lift them up unto the Lord”. Then follows the rest of the Sursum Corda, and the Prefatio to the Sanctus, that presents us with the fact that we have ascended together with the “Angels and Archangels, and all the company of heaven”—we have been raptured unto the heavenly altar, and Christ has not left his throne! In transubstantiation you have Christ coming to us in the sacrament. But, how can this be if he is in heaven, and his blood is on the heavenly altar? But, if we are partaking in a heavenly meal, it is we who in spirit come up to feed on him. With this distinction, we are not left wondering how Christ can be everywhere at once, while still possessing the limitations of our humanity. In a sense we, though we are still on earth, are being called up to as St. John records (Revelation 19:9), “Blessed arethey which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb”, to partake in this eschatological banquet. In the same way we die and are resurrected with Christ in holy baptism (though we have not physically died), we feast on Christ in heaven (though we have not physically left earth). We are getting a spiritual foretaste of the future heavenly reality of our physical death and resurrection (in baptism), and our physical feast in the heavenly banquet during the Eucharist.
As we see in the scriptures and the fathers, the sacraments communicate the work and person of Christ to us in a way that unites us with him (salvifically), unites us as one body in him (corporately), and even catechizes us against Christological heresy. The Scriptures and the fathers have effectively defeated heresy, and will continue to do so because of divine revelation (sacred writ), and the Holy Spirit (the Councils of the Fathers). So, as we draw near with faith in Christ through his holy sacraments, let us remember that they and the holy scriptures communicate who it is that were are drawing near to—Jesus the Messiah, the Preexistent Son, King of the Jews, Lord of the nations, Saviour of souls, fully God and fully man.
We must remember not to divorce our sacramentology from our Christology, as we have pointed out in this entire work it will lead us into heresy. Evangelicals and those in the catholic tradition must come together with an open bible, the creeds, the fathers, and the councils and settle these issues. Sacramentology is not a secondary issue if it has direct implications on our creedal heritage—it is a primary issue that must be addressed so that we do not blaspheme Christ’s nature! I truly believe that Anglicans have the bible and creeds on their sides when it comes to the Holy Sacrament; we do not merge the natures of Christ, nor do we diminish them.
In our baptism we participate in the human and divine activity of Christ, and in the holy Eucharist we partake of of Christ in a heavenly manner, not committing the errors of transubstantiation and memorialism which commit Christological heresies. I pray that the Anglican church—a church that is both Catholic and Evangelical can lead the church out of our errors, both Christological and sacramental once and for all. We have the scriptures, we have the creeds, we have the councils, and we have the sacraments; it is time that we sit down and lead the dialogue that could once and for all put an end to error, and bring all of God’s children through the waters of regeneration and unto the table of Christ. I hope that one day we can put the schism to death, and have another ecumenical council examining the holy sacraments, and finally be able to share in Christ’s heavenly table once again, as one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It is fitting that we end with the Nicene Creed, and next time we think about the sacraments we should ask ourselves, “are we departing from this faith once handed down?”
- The Nicene Creed
- I believe in one God the Father Almighty,
- Maker of heaven and earth,
- And of all things visible and invisible:
- And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
- Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
- God of God, Light of Light,
- Very God of very God,
- Begotten, not made,
- Being of one substance with the Father,
- By whom all things were made;
- Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven,
- And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
- And was made man,
- And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
- He suffered and was buried,
- And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
- And ascended into heaven,
- And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
- And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead:
- Whose kingdom shall have no end.
- And I believe in the Holy Ghost,
- The Lord and giver of life,
- Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
- Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,
- Who spake by the Prophets.
- And I believe one Catholick and Apostolick Church.
- I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
- And I look for the Resurrection of the dead,
- And the life of the world to come.
- Amen (Nicene Creed, 1662 Book of Common Prayer)
1Dokeo, Thayer’s Lexicon
2Curtis Crenshaw, Heresies Regarding Christ, p. 1
41 John 1:1-2, AV
5St. John 1:14, AV
6St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 7:1
7 Alexander of Alexandria summarized Arius’ views as follows: “God was not always the Father, but that there was a period when he was not the Father; that the Word of God was not from eternity, but was made out of nothing; for that the ever-existing God (‘the I AM’—the eternal One) made him who did not previously exist, out of nothing; wherefore there was a time when he did not exist, inasmuch as the Son is a creature and a work. That he is neither like the Father as it regards his essence, nor is by nature either the Father’s true Word, or true Wisdom, but indeed one of his works and creatures, being erroneously called Word and Wisdom, since he was himself made of God’s own Word and the Wisdom which is in God, whereby God both made all things and him also. Wherefore he is as to his nature mutable and susceptible of change, as all other rational creatures are: hence the Word is alien to and other than the essence of God; and the Father is inexplicable by the Son, and invisible to him, for neither does the Word perfectly and accurately know the Father, neither can he distinctly see him. The Son knows not the nature of his own essence: for he was made on our account, in order that God might create us by him, as by an instrument; nor would he ever have existed, unless God had wished to create us.”
10 Colossians 1:15, AV
11 Albert Barnes deals with the text in a conservative and thorough matter in his notes on Colossians 1:15: “The first-born of every creature – Among all the creatures of God, or over all his creation, occupying the rank and pro-eminence of the first-born. The first-born, or the oldest son, among the Hebrews as elsewhere, had special privileges. He was entitled to a double portion of the inheritance. It has been, also, and especially in oriental countries, a common thing for the oldest son to succeed to the estate and the title of his father. In early times, the first-born son was the officiating priest in the family, in the absence or on the death of the father. There can be no doubt that the apostle here has reference to the usual distinctions and honors conferred on the first-born, and means to say that, among all the creatures of God, Christ occupied a pre-eminence similar to that. He does not say that, in all respects, he resembled the first-born in a family; nor does he say that he himself was a creature, for the point of his comparison does not turn on these things, and what he proceeds to affirm respecting him is inconsistent with the idea of his being a created being himself.”
12 Colossians 1:16-17, AV
13 Romans 1:25, AV
14 Curtis Crenshaw, Heresies Regarding Christ, p. 6
15 Curtis Crenshaw, Heresies Regarding Christ, p. 6
16 Joseph Pohle, Christology (London: B. Herder Book Co., 1925), 49-50 [Source Crenshaw]
17 Michael Templin, Chart on Heresy, p. 2
18 Curtis Crenshaw, Heresies Regarding Christ, p. 7
19 Curtis Crenshaw, Heresies Regarding Christ, p. 7
20 Curtis Crenshaw, Heresies Regarding Christ, p. 7
21 Curtis Crenshaw, Heresies Regarding Christ, p. 8
22 St. John 1:14, AV
23 In Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (Notes on John 1:14) he summarizes and defeats the Nestorian position: “And the word was made flesh,” The same word, of whom so many things are said in the preceding verses; and is no other than the Son of God, or second person in the Trinity; for neither the Father, nor the Holy Ghost, were made flesh, as is here said of the word, but the Son only: and “flesh” here signifies, not a part of the body, nor the whole body only, but the whole human nature, consisting of a true body, and a reasonable soul; and is so called, to denote the frailty of it, being encompassed with infirmities, though not sinful; and to show, that it was a real human nature, and not a phantom, or appearance, that he assumed: and when he is said to be “made” flesh, this was not done by the change of one nature into another, the divine into the human, or the word into a man; but by the assumption of the human nature, the word, taking it into personal union with himself; whereby the natures are not altered; Christ remained what he was, and became what he was not; nor are they confounded, and blended together, and so make a third nature; nor are they separated, and divided, so as to constitute two persons, a divine person, and an human person; but are so united as to be but one person; and this is such an union, as can never be dissolved, and is the foundation of the virtue and efficacy of all Christ’s works and actions, as Mediator”
24 Literally “God-bearer or the one who gives birth to God”; Less Literally “Mother of God”
25 St. Cyril of Alexandria, The Ephesian Council’s Corpus (431)
26 Curtis Crenshaw, Heresies Regarding Christ, p. 8
27 Millard Erickson, The Word became Flesh, p. 63 [Crenshaw]
28 Hebrews 1:1-4, AV
29 St. Luke 1:30-33, AV
30 Clarke’s notes (on St. Luke 1:35) explain this more thoroughly: “This evidently means that the body of Jesus would be created by the direct power of God. It was not by ordinary generation; but, as the Messiah came to redeem sinners – to make atonement for “others,” and not for himself it was necessary that his human nature should be pure, and free from the corruption of the fall. God therefore prepared him a body by direct creation that should be pure and holy.”
31 St. John 6:53, AV
32 Curtis Crenshaw, Heresies Regarding Christ, p. 9
33 St. Luke 22:41-42, AV
34 Millard Erickson, The Word became Flesh, p. 74 [Crenshaw]
35 In Gill’s Exposition of the Bible (St. Luke 22:42) more light is shed on the wills of Christ: “”if it be possible”; remove this cup from me; meaning, either his present sorrows and distress, or his approaching sufferings and death, which he had in view, or both: nevertheless not my will; as man, for Christ had an human will distinct from, though not contrary to his divine will.”
36 St. Matthew 28:19-20, AV
37 REC, The Book of Common Prayer (Catechism), p. 588
38 Romans 6:3-4, AV
39 St. John 3:5, AV
40 Baptism is the common Patristic understanding of “Born of water”. As St. Irenaeus writes (c. A.D. 190): “And [Naaman] dipped himself…seven times in the Jordan” [2 Kings 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as new-born babes, even as the Lord has declared: “Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Fragment 34)
41 St. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children 1:6:26:1
42 Gal 4:4, Romans 6:3-4, Titus 3:5, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, John 3:5, and 1 Peter 3:21
43 St. Luke 22:15-20, AV
44 As St. Paul saith in 1 Corinthians 5: “ For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
45 Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch. 66, inter A.D. 148-155.