Patristic and Protestant: the Laudian use of 'Supper' and 'Table'

Yesterday's post on the Laudian use of 'Lord's Supper' brought to mind an extract from Ratzinger's otherwise excellent essay 'On the Meaning of Church Architecture' in Dogma and Preaching: Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life, referring to St Paul in I Corinthians 11:

the separation of meal and Eucharist that Paul is attempting here had radical consequences above all for liturgical history.  The Christian form of the liturgy, what is distinctive about Christian liturgy, becomes detached from its native Jewish soil, in which Jesus handed it down.  Since then, as J.A. Jungmann has demonstrated, no one called the Eucharist the Lord's Supper again until the sixteenth century; it was simply named the Eucharist.

Ratzinger, put simply, is wrong. In a homily on I Corinthians 11, Chrysostom applies 'Supper' to the celebration of the Eucharist:

Consider, when the Apostles partook of that holy Supper, what they did: did they not betake themselves to prayers and singing of hymns? ... 

And do you having taken the bread of life, do an action of death and not shudder? Do you not know how great evils are brought in by luxury? Unseasonable laughter, disorderly expressions, buffoonery fraught with perdition, unprofitable trifling, all the other things, which it is not seemly even to name. And these things you do when you have enjoyed the Table of Christ, on that day on which you have been counted worthy to touch His flesh with your tongue. What then is to be done to prevent these things? Purify your right hand, your tongue, your lips, which have become a threshold for Christ to tread upon. Consider the time in which you drew near and set forth a material table, raise your mind to that Table, to the Supper of the Lord.

Similarly, Augustine, in Letter 54, describes the Eucharist as the 'Lord's Supper':

For the Lord might give the name of supper to what they had received, in already partaking of His body, so that it was after this that they partook of the cup: as the apostle says in another place, When ye come together into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's Supper, giving to the receiving of the Eucharist to that extent (i.e. the eating of the bread) the name of the Lord's Supper.

Augustine's point - that 'Supper' emphasises "the eating of the bread" - illustrates the significance of the Reformation retrieval of the term 'Supper' for the sacrament of the Eucharist.  What Augustine saw as central to the Sacrament - "it's received, it's eaten, it's consumed" (Homily 227) - was lost in late medieval Latin practice and devotion.  In the words of Duffy:

the reception of communion was not the primary mode of lay encounter with the Host ... for most people, most of the time the Host was something to be seen, not to be consumed ... seeing the Host became the high point of lay experience of the Mass.

This continued to be the case with Tridentine Catholicism.  Against this background, Laudian use of 'Lord's Supper' indicated a characteristic Reformed insistence on the recovery of the Sacrament as that which is 'received, eaten, consumed', after the example of patristic thought and practice, and against Tridentine Catholicism.

Related to this is the use of 'Table'.  This might be thought as surprising to raise regarding the Laudians in light of the 'altar controversies'.  Laud's 1635 Visitation Articles, however, referred to "a convenient and decent Communion Table", while Cosin's 1662 Visitation Articles had "a comely fair Table".  Laud insisted that throughout Christian history 'Altar' and 'Table' were interchangeable: "that which was promiscuously called, The Holy Table, or Altar".  Taylor made the same point in his famous On Reverence due to the Altar, "for the difference is but nominal".  The controversial Canons of 1640 (not restored in 1660), consistently use 'Communion Table' and when they did use 'Altar' it was in a cautious, reserved manner, making clear that it did not contradict 'Table':

And we declare that this situation of the holy Table, doth not imply that it is, or ought to be esteemed a true and proper Altar, whereon Christ is again really sacrificed: but it is, and may be called an Altar by us, in that sense in which the Primitive Church called it an Altar, and in no other.

There is no sense, then, in which Laudians understood 'Table' to be an inferior term to 'Altar'.  Indeed, 'Table' was used more frequently by Laudians than 'Altar'.  And such use of 'Table' reflected a patristic discourse.  Augustine's Paschal homilies addressing the newly-baptized are replete with references to 'Table':

the sacrament of the Lord's table ... this table of the Lord's ... the table of the Lord ... the Lord's table.

The same usage is seen in Tractate 26 on John's Gospel:

The sacrament of this thing, namely, of the unity of the body and blood of Christ, is prepared on the Lord's table in some places daily, in some places at certain intervals of days, and from the Lord's table it is taken, by some to life, by some to destruction.

Chrysostom similarly employed the term.  In his homily on I Corinthians 11 he states:

You have partaken of such a Table and when you ought to be more gentle than any and like the angels ... Wherefore I beseech you that we do not this to condemnation; let us nourish Christ, let us give Him drink, let us clothe Him. These things are worthy of that Table.

Likewise in the homily on St. Matthew's account of the Institution of the Lord's Supper:

He continually reminds us of the passion even by the mysteries, (so that no man should be deceived); at once saving, and at the same time teaching by means of that sacred table ... Consider with what sort of honor you were honored, of what sort of table you are partaking.

This usage continued for a significant period, particularly amongst those in the West influenced by Augustine's eucharistic theology.  Thus, for example Ratramnus in his De corpore et sanguine Domini (c.831AD):

Christ hallowed on his Table the mystery of our peace and of our unity: he which receiveth that mystery of unity, and keepeth not the bond of true peace, he receiveth no mystery for himself, but a witness against himself. 

And then, of course, there is Berengar's key work De sacra coena (c.1050) - On the Holy Supper - and its frequent use of mensa dominica, the Table of the Lord.

Ratzinger's key point is that in I Corinthians 11 the Apostle is supporting "the separation of meal and Eucharist" and that the disappearance of 'Supper' - and, by implication, 'Table' - from the Church's eucharistic discourse is witness to this until the breach of the 16th century.  What the evidence suggests instead, however, is a continued use of 'Supper' and 'Table' throughout the first millennium, particularly in the West.  The recovery of their use during the Reformation was neither breach nor rupture, but a restoration of a patristic discourse which had persisted in the Latin West long after the patristic era.  

There was, then, nothing at all inconsistent or somehow 'less' Catholic about Laudian use of 'Supper' and 'Table'.  It does certainly, of course, emphasise how the Laudians were Protestants.  They were Protestants because they understood the magisterial Reformation to be a retrieval of patristic norms displaced by the practices and theology of the late medieval Latin West.  Hence the unembarrassed Laudian use of 'Supper' and 'Table'. This retrieved, Protestant discourse gave expression to the Laudian desire to emphasise afresh our partaking of Christ at the Table in the Holy Supper.


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