"Emblems of the Body received by the faithful": Jelf's Bampton Lectures on Transubstantiation

In the sixth of his 1844 Bampton Lectures, An inquiry into the means of grace, their mutual connection, and combined use, with especial reference to the Church of England, Jelf - one of those whom Nockles lists as the 'Zs', the post-1833 continuation of the Old High tradition - addresses Eucharistic doctrine. 

Having considered "defective" views of the Sacrament, which "hold less than the scriptural truth", Jelf moves to consider "those which teach more than the truth", by which he means "the two connected doctrines, Transubstantiation and the Sacrifice of the Mass". Regarding transubstantiation - and mindful of Newman's equivocation in Tract XC - Jelf invokes patristic teaching to support a Reformed understanding of the Sacramental gift and presence:

Yet how this meaning can be extracted from these words, upon what principle of literal interpretation the verb "is" can be made equivalent to the verb "is changed into", it is for the advocates of Transubstantiation to declare, when they are themselves agreed upon the point. On the other hand, the ancient Catholic Fathers, in a manner universally, expound the passage in a figurative sense. I shall instance only two. St. Augustine says, "The Lord did not hesitate to say, This is My Body, when He was giving the sign of His Body". And so Tertullian, "This is My Body; that is, this is a figure of My Body".

We might note how Jelf here is in accord with Hooker , that "is" does not require "is changed into": a reaffirmation of Hooker even as the Tractarians were rejecting Hooker's eucharistic theology as too Reformed (see LEP V.67.6: "There is no sentence of holie scripture which saith that wee cannot by this sacrament be made pertakers of his bodie and bloode except they be first conteined in the sacrament or the sacrament converted into them"). What, however, of 'realist' language used in patristic statements regarding the Eucharist? Here Jelf, in contrast to the Tractarians, exercises prudence regarding such patristic language, urging that "didactic rather than ... oratorical language" from the Fathers shapes our reading of their Eucharistic doctrine:

But if, as might be abundantly shewn, the pretended proofs from Scripture are so singularly deficient, not less so are those which are alleged as the evidence of Christian antiquity. Certain passages are, indeed, brought forward, particularly from St. Chrysostom's writings, painting in the most glowing colours which the fervid oratory of the East could invent, the deep and awful sublimity of the mysteries. But they must be corrected by other passages in the self-same writers which distinctly assert, in didactic rather than in oratorical language, that the Presence of our Lord must be understood spiritually not carnally, and that the consecrated elements are the emblems of the Body received by the faithful, as well as means to its real reception.

The similarities with Hooker are, again, significant. Hooker also recognised in patristic writers "theire speeches concerninge the chalenge of the elementes them selves into the bodie and blood of Christ", but - as did Jelf - emphasised that this was in the context of a heavenly and spiritual partaking: 

In a worde it appeareth not that of all the ancient fathers of the Church anie one did ever conceive or imagin other then onlie a mysticall participation of Christes both bodie and blood in the sacrament ... the fathers who plainelie hold but this mysticall communion cannot easilie be thought to have meant anie other change of sacramentall elementes then that which the same spirituall communion did require them to hold (V.67.11).

Just over a decade after Jelf's Bampton Lectures, Keble would publish On Eucharistical Adoration, making explicit the Tractarian rejection of Hooker's Eucharistic teaching: "Hooker was biassed by his respect for Calvin and some of his school". Jelf, by contrast, offers a robust reaffirmation of Hooker in the face of the Tractarians abandoning him and journeying elsewhere for their understanding of the Sacrament. In Jelf we see how this was a road that need not have been taken by Pusey, Keble and their successors, for Hooker's Reformed Catholic Eucharistic theology offered both a rich sacramental teaching and a coherent, unifying centre for Anglicanism.


Postscript: while Keble did signal a significant break with the Old High tradition in his rejection of Hooker's Eucharistic theology, we should remember that his sacramental piety and liturgical practice remained identifiably Old High.


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