"True in the main": Waterland on Calvin and the Eucharist

In A Review of the Doctrine of the Eucharist, as laid down in Scripture and Antiquity (1737), summarising Calvin's Eucharistic doctrine, Waterland emphasises that "that great man and illustrious reformer" established a view of the sacrament which was "steering a kind of middle course, between extremes".   He points in particular to an extract from the Institutes, describing it as "very near the truth, and the whole truth":

We say that they [the body and blood] are truly and efficaciously exhibited to us, but not naturally.  By which we mean, not that the very substance of his body, or that the real and natural body of Christ are there given, but all the benefits which Christ procured for us in his body.  This is that presence of his body which the nature of the Sacrament requires.

Waterland, however, detects "ambiguity" here: "his account was too confused".  He goes on to explicitly define the ambiguity and confusion:

He should have said, that the natural body is there given, but not there present, which is what he really meant.

He continues by employing a characteristically Reformed Eucharistic motif, 'mystical union':

The mystical union with our Lord's glorified body is there (or in that service) strengthened, or perfected; as a right may be given to a distant possession: and such union as we now speak of, requires no local presence of Christ's body.

As Calvin engaged in Eucharistic debate, particularly with Lutherans, Waterland notes that "he found himself to be under a necessity of bringing in the natural body some way or other".  Calvin did so, however, in manner which Waterland critiques as being "a little confusedly, and out of course":

He made it the ground, instead of reckoning it among the fruits: and he supposed the glorified body to be, as it were, eaten in the Eucharist, when he should only have said, that it became more perfectly united with ours.

Waterland particularly rejects an aspect of Calvin's Eucharistic teaching which often receives praise from contemporary theologians - the role given to the Holy Spirit.  Waterland is robust in his response:

and he further invented an obscure and unintelligible notion of the virtue of Christ's flesh being brought down from heaven and diffused all around, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In concluding his overview of Calvin, Waterland repeats significant agreement despite the confusions and the ambiguities:

All of which perplexity seems to have been owing to the wrong stating of a notion, which yet was true in the main, and which wanted only to be better adjusted, by a more orderly ranging of ideas, or by new casting it; which has been done since.

Significantly, Waterland then proceeds to review the Eucharistic theology of "Our divines, who came after Calvin".  In Cranmer - "a well-read Divine" - and "the sentiments of Bishop Ridley, and Bishop Latimer, and Mr. Bradford ... and of Bishop Jewel who came not long after", Waterland detects a "better adjusted" doctrine, flowing from Calvin, but addressing his ambiguities:

they all agreed, in the main things, with Archbishop Cranmer, who may therefore be looked upon as 'instar omnium,' while in him we have all.

Along with these and those succeeding them amongst "our acutest divines", Waterland sees the emergence of a Eucharistic teaching which accords with coheres with that of Calvin while addressing the Reformer's ambiguities:

The sum of all is, that sacramental or symbolical feeding in the Eucharist is feeding upon the body broken and blood shed, under the signs and symbols of bread and wine: the result of such feeding, is the strengthening or perfecting our mystical union with the body glorified; and so, properly speaking, we feed upon the body as dead, and we receive it into closer union as living, and both in the Eucharist when duly celebrated.

This, Waterland declares, brings "a virtual or mystical union with his body, sufficient to make us, in Divine construction and Divine acceptance, one with him".

Waterland's broad agreement with Calvin, alongside his understanding that "Our divines after Calvin" - led by Cranmer - refined and reordered the Reformer's teaching, provides a significant insight into the Eucharistic doctrine of the Old High Church tradition.  The High Church teaching on the "mystical union" set forth by Waterland clearly belongs to the family of Reformed sacramental doctrines.  His reverence for Cranmer and those who reformed the Eucharistic doctrine of the ecclesia Anglicana is a reminder that the Oxford Movement's later rejection of Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley was a profound rupture with both the piety and doctrine of the High Church tradition.  

Above all, however, it is suggestive of the potency and potential of the High Church account of the Reformed "mystical union" Eucharistic teaching, for from it emerged in the High Church tradition an immensely rich sacramental piety.  

(The quotations are from Chapter VII, 'Concerning Sacramental or Symbolical Feeding in the Eucharist'.)


Popular Posts