William Beveridge (1637-1708): Feeding on Christ in a heavenly and spiritual manner in the Lord’s Supper

William_Beveridge

 

William Beveridge (1637-1708), the bishop of St Asaph and formerly archdeacon of Colchester, wrote about the nature of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in his posthumously-published Exposition of the XXXIX Articles of the Church of England (1710). After a lengthy refutation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, Beveridge arrives at the clause in the Church of England’s Article 28 (Of the Lord’s Supper) which states that:

The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the means whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith.

Beveridge’s comments on this clause, quoted below, reflect the clearly Reformed understanding of the Lord’s Supper which the compilers of the Articles intended and articulated. Beveridge was well-known in his day for his wealth of patristic learning, and his discussion is dotted with footnotes extensively citing patristic authorities, which due to their length will not be reproduced below, except where the church father in question is specifically quoted by name in the main text. The excerpt is taken from p. 308-310:

It being so clear a truth, that the bread and wine are not turned into the very body and blood of Christ in the Holy Sacrament, we need not heap up many arguments to prove, that it is only after a spiritual, not after a corporal manner, that the body and blood are received and eaten in the Sacrament. For if the bread be not really changed into the body of Christ, then the body of Christ is not really there present; and if it be not really there present, it is impossible it should be really eaten and received into our bodies as bread is. So that the truth there demonstrated [in the preceding pages, that the elements of bread and wine are not transubstantiated into the actual body and blood of Christ], and the truth here delivered [that the eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper is only after a spiritual manner], have so much affinity to one another, that they cannot so well be called two [truths] as one and the same truth. And therefore to the arguments produced in the foregoing discourse, I shall add only these following, and that briefly, to shew that the body and blood of Christ are not eaten after a corporal but a spiritual manner, in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

First, therefore it is impossible that the body, which was but of the ordinary bulk with ours, should be sufficient, if eaten after a corporal manner, to feed and satisfy so many millions of millions of souls as have already, and may hereafter eat of it. And secondly, suppose it was not impossible, yet it would be unprofitable for us thus to eat of the body of Christ. For our Saviour himself having preached concerning the eating of his flesh, and drinking of his blood, the Jews and Capernaites taking him (as their followers the Papists do) in a carnal sense, cryed out, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (John 6:52). And his disciples themselves said, This is an hard saying, who can hear it? (v. 60). Whereupon he explained himself, and told them, It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing: The words that I speak unto you they are Spirit, and they are life (v. 63). As if he should have said, tho’ I do speak of eating my flesh, I would not have you think that my very flesh profiteth anything, or quickeneth; no, It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing; and the words I speak unto you are not to be understood in a carnal, but spiritual sense, for they are Spirit and life: plainly shewing that the corporal eating of this body is unprofitable, and that whatsoever he said concerning eating his flesh, and drinking his blood, was still to be understood in an heavenly and spiritual sense. Thirdly, upon this supposition, that the body of Christ is corporally eaten in the Sacrament, it follows that it was corporally broken too, and so that Christ did really break his own body, before the Jews broke it for him; yea, and that Christ received his own body into his own body: For that he received the Sacrament himself, as well as administered it to his disciples is plain, not only from the testimony of the Fathers, but from the words of himself, With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:15) and I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom (Matt. 26:29). So that I cannot see how it can possibly be denyed, that Christ ate of the bread whereof he said, This is my body; and if he ate it, and ate it corporally, that is, ate his very body as we eat bread, then he ate himself, and made one body two, and then crowded them into one again, putting his body into his body, even his whole body into part of his body, his stomach; and so he must be thought not only to have two bodies, but two bodies so as to be one within another; yea, so as to be one eaten and devoured by another; the absurdity of which, and the like assertions, he that hath but half an eye may easily discover. So that it must needs be granted to be in a spiritual manner that this Sacrament was then instituted, and by consequence that it is in a spiritual manner that this Sacrament ought now to be received.

And this was the judgment of the Fathers. Macarius saith, (Macar. Aegypt. Hom. 27) “In the Church is offered bread and wine, the antitype of his flesh and blood; and they that partake of the visible bread, do spiritually eat the flesh of Christ.” And St. Augustine (Aug. in Psal. 98. V), “Understand spiritually what I say unto you; you must not eat that body which you see, nor drink that blood which they will shed who crucifie me. I have commended to you a certain Sacrament; being spiritually understood, it will quicken you; though it be necessary it should be celebrated visibly, yet it must be understood invisibly.” For as Elfrick Archbishop of Canterbury saith (Aelfric. epist. ad Wulfsein Episcop. Schyrburniensem), “That bread is Christ’s body, not bodily but spiritually”; and if so, it must needs be eaten spiritually only, not bodily. And it being thus only after a spiritual manner that we receive the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament, there can be no other means whereby we can receive him but faith. And therefore saith Origen (Origen in Mat. 15) “That food which is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer, as to the material part of it, it goes into the belly, and is cast out into the draught; but as to the prayer which is added to it, it is made profitable by the proportion of faith.” And St. Cyprian (Cyprian. de cena Domini) “Drinking and eating belong to the same reason, whereby as the bodily substance is nourished, and liveth, and remaineth safe, so is the life of the Spirit nourished by this proper food: And what eating is to the flesh, that is faith to the soul; what food is to the body, that is the Word to the spirit, working eternally by a more excellent virtue, what the carnal elements do temporally and finally.” And afterwards (Ibid.), “As oft as we do these things, we do not whet our teeth to bite, but by a sincere faith we break the holy bread and divide it, whilst we distinguish and separate what is divine, and what is human, and joining the things separated together again, we acknowledge one God and one man.”

In St. Augustine we meet with many expressions to this purpose. “How”, saith he, “shall I send up my hand to heaven to lay upon him sitting there? Send thy faith, and thou hast laid hold on him.” (Aug. in Evang. Johan. Tract. 50). And again, “For to believe in him, this is to eat the living Bread; he that believeth in him eateth; he is invisibly fatten’d who is invisibly regenerated.” (Ibid., Tract. 26). And again, “This therefore is to eat the food that doth not perish but endureth to eternal life. Why dost thou prepare thy teeth and belly? Believe and thou hast eaten.”  (Ibid., Tract. 25). So that it is faith whereby we feed upon the body and blood of Christ, and therefore it is not carnally but spiritually that we receive it.

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