Zwingli the Thomist, Thomas the Zwinglian, Augustinians both - Part I

Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of Brett Salkeld's excellent Transubstantiation: Theology, History, and Christian Unity (2019) is Zwingli's appearance in the discussion of what is shared in eucharistic theology by Thomas and Calvin:

On this, of course, Calvin (and Zwingli too!) follows Aquinas rather precisely ... How ironic, then, Calvin's reputation as a Zwinglian is based largely on his theology of signs and his affirmation of the ascension, two points on which he is in strict agreement with Aquinas!

Now, to be clear, Salkeld does not propose a rehabilitation of Zwingli (such as laudable Practice has previously suggested).  For Salkeld, Zwingli - unlike both Bullinger and (more fully) Calvin - still proposes that the bread and wine in the Supper are "signs of an absent reality".  Leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that Salkfeld does not address those statements by Zwingli which clearly confess a true participation in Christ in the Supper, it yet remains the case in his presentation that the Zurich Reformer is thoroughly Thomist on a crucial matter:

Christ's risen body really is in only one place - heaven - and any articulation of his presence in the Supper must not obscure that central fact.

This does leave me wondering if a more ambitious reading of Zwingli as a Thomist could be proposed.  Enter at this point a blog post by self-confessed Zwinglian Steven Nemes, proposing that Thomas is actually rather close to Zwingli.  Nemes suggests this is evident in two ways.  Firstly, "the formal structure of the sacramental act is shared by Thomas and Zwingli":

believing person → ascription of meaning → apparent bread → body of Jesus

believing person ← appropriative act of eating ← apparent bread ← body of Jesus.

As Nemes goes on to explain:

The believing person ascribes a certain meaning to the apparent bread (and wine) such as to make it possible to appropriate to oneself in some way the body (and blood) of Jesus.

Here we might point to the distinction Thomas makes between sacramental and spiritual eating:

sacramental eating, whereby the sacrament only is received without its effect, is divided against spiritual eating, by which one receives the effect of this sacrament, whereby a man is spiritually united with Christ through faith and charity (ST III.80.1).

Thus, while Thomas and Zwingli do, of course, disagree on the nature of sacramental eating, they are united on what is most significant, spiritual eating.

Secondly, that "Thomas also believes that the relationship between the apparent bread and wine and the body and blood of Jesus can only be grasped by the intellect" leads to Nemes' bold but fascinating claim:

Thomas’s transubstantiation arguably amounts to Zwinglianism. The subsistent appearances of bread and wine effectively become a manifest substance, and this substance is connected by the intellect to the non-manifest substance of Jesus’s body and blood through an act of meaning-assignation in which the former are taken as representing the latter.

This refers to Thomas' statement that the Lord's Body in the Eucharist can only be spiritually discerned by means of the intellect:

The eye is of two kinds, namely, the bodily eye properly so-called, and the intellectual eye, so-called by similitude. But Christ's body as it is in this sacrament cannot be seen by any bodily eye ... But substance, as such, is not visible to the bodily eye, nor does it come under any one of the senses, nor under the imagination, but solely under the intellect ... And therefore, properly speaking, Christ's body, according to the mode of being which it has in this sacrament, is perceptible neither by the sense nor by the imagination, but only by the intellect, which is called the spiritual eye (ST III.76.7).

And so Nemes concludes:

Thomas’s view on the Eucharist is thus not very far from Zwingli’s.

This is where we might refer back to Salkeld's emphasis on Zwingli and Thomas both insisting on the significance of the Ascension for eucharistic teaching.  For if, as Thomas declares, "in no way is Christ's body locally in this sacrament ... Christ's body is not in this sacrament definitively" (ST III.76.5), precisely because of the truth of the Ascension, this does at least open the possibility of the reading offered by Nemes: that Thomas and Zwingli are "not very far" from one another on the nature of the Lord's presence in this Sacrament.

Also of significance is Thomas and Zwingli sharing what Salkeld describes as "the traditional Augustinian ... language about sign and signified".  Thomas emphasized this in, for example, his de facto rejection of Berengar's first recantation (in which the sign collapsed into the signified). Later medieval nominalism, according to Salkeld, undid Thomas' Augustinian understanding of signs, the nominalists being "unconcerned with the sacramental role of bread and wine".  Luther, following the nominalists, likewise undid the Augustinian understanding, resulting in - as Salkeld quotes Gerrish - sign and signified being "scrambled". 

This, however, also provided the basis for a Lutheran critique which declared that Thomas and Zwingli are indeed alike. Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse's view gave this classical expression: "Thomas Aquinas was a Semi-Calvinist. He anticipated the idea of the Swiss reformers which in time totally destroyed the Sacrament".

Zwingli's reassertion of the Augustinian schema was, therefore, also a reassertion of Thomas.  We can see this in some of Zwingli's assertions regarding the Eucharistic signs, which may be surprising to some relying on caricatures of his sacramental theology. In his Commentary on True and False Religion he declares:

The bread is no longer common, but consecrated.  It is called bread, but it is also called the body of Christ.  Indeed, it is in fact the body of Christ, but only in name and signification, or, as we now say, sacramentally ... It is my conviction that this bread and chalice of commemoration are to be treated with all reverence in the church.

This reverence is due to the truth that bread and chalice are signs of the signified present and given in the Supper. As Zwingli declared in his The Exposition of the Christian Faith, we do truly partake of the signified in the Supper:

I believe that Christ is truly in the Supper, nay, I do not believe it is the Lord's Supper unless Christ is there ...  I believe that the real body of Christ is eaten in the Supper sacramentally and spiritually by the religious, faithful, and pure mind, as also Saint Chrysostom holds.

Zwingli the Thomist and Thomas the Zwinglian, Augustinians both, holding to the truth and reality of sign and thing signified in the holy Eucharist, is, perhaps, something an exaggeration.  But only an exaggeration. Their shared schema and affirmations are more significant than their differences.

Which is, yes, another way of urging - with Hooker - an Anglican rehabilitation of Zwingli's Eucharistic theology.

Part II will offer some thoughts on what this might mean for interpreting the Eucharistic theology of the reformed ecclesia Anglicana.


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