Rupture: Alexander Forbes, the High Church tradition, and the Sacrament

Yesterday I referred to Bishop Alexander Forbes's An Explanation of the Thirty-Nine Articles.  When it comes to Article XXVIII, 'Of the Lord's Supper', we realize the full extent to which Forbes and Tractarianism rejected what he terms in the 'Epistle Dedicatory' "the High Church school".

In his On Eucharistical Adoration (1857), Keble had signalled the Tractarian break with the High Church tradition by criticising Hooker's sacramental theology: "Hooker was biased by his respect for Calvin and some of his school".  This, Keble stated, was the cause of "disappointment" in readers of Hooker.  Keble's criticism was repeated by Forbes. He noted that Hooker "adhered to Calvinistic doctrine", and through his "great authority" this sacramental understanding "this view has obtained to an extent remarkable in view of its intrinsic inanity".

Nor did Forbes stop with criticism of Hooker.  As Nockles notes, Virtualism "was held not only by the Nonjurors but also by establishment High Churchmen".  The pre-1833 vitality of this Eucharistic doctrine can be seen, for example, in the teaching of Seabury and Hobart.  Forbes, however, would have none of it.  He believed patristic teaching "disposes also of what has been termed the theory of virtualism". 

Mindful of the significance of the Nonjuror tradition to Scottish Episcopalianism, it is notable that Forbes continues:

Somewhat of this nature was that theory of a school of the Nonjurors, which owed it existence to John Johnson, that learned author of 'The Unbloody Sacrifice'.

Hooker, the High Church tradition, the Nonjurors - all are rejected by Forbes in his pursuit of what he terms "the Real Objective Presence" - "the Body and Blood of Christ are so sacramentally present in, or under, the consecrated Bread and Wine". As bearers of the High Church tradition would have pointed out, much depends on the meaning of "sacramentally present" in such language: it is a phrase not necessarily incompatible with Virtualism.  What made Forbes's understanding incompatible with the High Church tradition, however, was the historical account he gave of Eucharistic teaching.

He was stinging in his critique of Berengar, a representative of an older Augustinian understanding increasingly out of favour in the early medieval Latin West.  Forbes declared of Berengar's recantation at the 1079 Lateran council:

That talented, bountiful but vain-glorious and dishonest man, used the terms of the Church in an unreal sense.

While the Reformers and the High Church tradition invoked Berengar's defence of Augustinian eucharistic teaching, Forbes sided with Lanfrac and the Lateran Council against Berengar, who he describes as teaching "pure Calvinism":

he assailed impetuously the belief, that the Body of Christ, which is at the right hand of God, is brought down thence so as to be present here.

It is not, therefore, entirely surprising that Forbes then states that the language of transubstantiation "was necessary to prevent evasion", a point, he says, made by "the Catechism of the Council of Trent".  Nor is it the only point at which Forbes points to this Catechism.  Discussing the meaning of transubstantiation, he states:

The Catechism of the Council of Trent meets these difficulties.

In stark, explicit terms, Forbes rejects the High Church tradition's eucharistic teaching (and the particular form this was given in Scottish Episcopalianism), preferring the Catechism of the Council of Trent to Richard Hooker.

It is difficult to understate the extent to which he - and wider Tractarianism - here stood in profound discontinuity with the High Church tradition and its vibrant Eucharistic understanding and devotion.  This rupture obscured Anglicanism's native piety and only offered encouragement to those who insisted on an impoverished, minimalist reading of the sacramental teaching of the Formularies. 


Popular Posts