Rob Sturdy: Thomas Cranmer’s Sacramental Theology and Engaging Postmodern Nihilism

Posted: August 18, 2010 by limabean03 in Anglican Communion, Christian Theology, Reformation Theology, Reformed Theology, Thought and Practice in the Diocese of South Carolina
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As many of you know I continue my studies for a Masters in Theology.  This essay was for a course on the English Reformation.  This paper principally deals with Thomas Cranmer’s sacramental theology and its special benefit in engaging postmodern nihilism. Thanks to the folks at Trinity Church for letting me pursue advanced academic studies and a special thanks to Colin Burch for providing editorial review.

For several centuries now the philosophical worldview of the Enlightenment has been the dominant defining and structuring element in the West.  At its core, it can be described as essentially secular or rigidly materialistic.  Here secular, or rigidly materialistic, means “nature is all there is and all basic truths are truths of nature.”[1] Thus the secular worldview dictates that the deepest experiences of being a human such as embodied life, self-expression, sexuality, aesthetic experience, human political community, etc., are natural phenomenon and can only be explained naturally.  It has been noted, however, that explaining such complex phenomenon purely in materialistic terms devalues and delegitimizes the phenomenon themselves.  As Douglas Wilson, in a recent debate with Christopher Hitchens, noted, if love, hate, the yearning for justice, equality etc. are purely natural phenomenon, they have no more legitimacy than a chemical reaction in a can of Coca-Cola.[2] Milbank, Ward and Pickstock argue in their introduction to Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology that it is this devaluing of complex phenomena that has created the “soulless, aggressive, nonchalant, and nihilistic” materialism of contemporary society.[3]

In an attempt to reinvest the material world with some legitimacy and meaning, theologians in the Anglo-Catholic stream of the Church of England have put forward the theological framework of participation, which essentially posits that a phenomenon has ultimate meaning to the extent that it shares some of its traits and derives them, albeit imperfectly, from God.  And though the proponents of Radical Orthodoxy argue that only transcendence expressed through participation can uphold these complex phenomenon “against the void,”[4] Radical Orthodoxy nevertheless fails on a number of points to safeguard the concreteness of such things as embodied life, gender, temporality, etc., thus leading those who share the concerns of Radical Orthodoxy to seek an alternative solution.

One alternative to Radical Orthodoxy within the Anglican Tradition can be found in the Reformed doctrine of the extra-Calvinisticum, which gives expression to Thomas Cranmer’s sacramental theology.  Cranmer’s sacramental theology is similar to Radical Orthodoxy’s doctrine of participation on a number of points; nevertheless, there is at least one significant point of departure.  That point of departure is the extra-Calvinisticum, a Christological doctrine often narrowly associated with its namesake, John Calvin.  Briefly put, the extra-Calvinisticum is the theological conviction “ that the immutable God became man without diminution or loss as regards any of his attributes” joined with the conviction that the “existence of the second person of the Trinity et extra carnem.” [5] To put it more simply, the extra holds to the ubiquity of the divine Word, the local presence of the physical body of Jesus contained in heaven, while emphasizing the unity of the two in the person of Christ.[6] This paper will argue that Cranmer’s extra-Calvinisticum gives shape to his sacramental theology in such a way that it succeeds in safeguarding the very interests of Radical Orthodoxy.  This will be demonstrated by a critique of the shortcomings of Graham Ward’s essay “Bodies,” followed up by an analysis of Thomas Cranmer’s Answer to Stephen Gardiner Concerning the Sacraments.  If Cranmer’s sacramental theology can be shown to succeed where Radical Orthodoxy has failed, the usefulness of a long dead and oft neglected theologian can be revived to engage postmodern nihilism at its most critical shortcomings.

Radical Orthodoxy: A brief introduction

Before critically engaging Graham Ward’s essay, it would be useful to briefly introduce the movement with which he is associated.  Radical Orthodoxy began with the theological rumblings from a trio of Anglo-Catholics at Cambridge University.  Their thought was crystallized in a joint work, Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology, wherein the movement itself is helpfully summarized in the introductory essay written by Milbank, Pickstock and Ward.  The need for Radical Orthodoxy is introduced by noting the inadequacy of secular thought.  “What secularity had most ruined and actually denied were the very things it apparently celebrated: embodied life, self-expression, sexuality, aesthetic experience, human political community.”[7] It is the authors’ assertion that the notion of the secular granted the immanent an autonomy that estranged it from any kind of ultimate ground.  Unfortunately, however, without the material being tied to transcendence in some manner, the material ends up being thinned out to the degree that it becomes almost nothing.  Thus the only proper end to an estranged immanence is nihilism.

In order to rescue the material from nihilism, a theory of transcendence must be reinvested in the public discourse.  All notions of the secular are refused, and the material is re-envisioned as suspended from the transcendent in the sense that the transcendent both interrupts and upholds the material “over and against the void.”[8] This suspension is understood by the theological framework of participation, “developed by Plato and reworked by Christianity.”[9] Plato’s articulation of participation can be found  in the Phaedo. He writes:

I think that, if there is anything beautiful besides the Beautiful itself, it is beautiful for no other reason than that it shares in the Beautiful, and I say so with everything…nothing else makes it beautiful other than the presence of, or the sharing in, or however you may describe its relationship to the Beautiful we mentioned, for I will not insist on the precise nature of the relationship, but that all beautiful things are beautiful by the Beautiful. (100c-e)

While Plato remains indefinite about the exact nature of how beautiful objects share in or participate in the Beautiful, what can be said is that the object’s participation in the Beautiful causes an association to be drawn in the soul between the material object and the invisible form, thus forming a relationship between the immanent and the transcendent that suspends the immanent over and against meaninglessness by virtue of its participation in the transcendent.

For the reworking of this within the Christian tradition Radical Orthodoxy looks primarily to Thomas Aquinas.  For Aquinas, signs reflect ideas, which reflect existing realities.[10] Aquinas’ signs are creatures who reflect abstract ideas descriptive of the created order.  The abstract ideas (strong, good, perfect etc.) reflect (imperfectly) the existing reality of God (S.T.I.Q. 13 a 3).  So Aquinas writes:

Now since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows Him as far as creatures represent Him. Now it is shown above that God prepossesses in Himself all the perfections of creatures, being Himself simply and universally perfect. Hence every creature represents Him, and is like Him so far as it possesses some perfection; yet it represents Him not as something of the same species or genus, but as the excelling principle of whose form the effects fall short, although they derive some kind of likeness thereto, even as the forms of inferior bodies represent the power of the sun.

(S.T.I.Q. 13 a 2)

Thus for Radical Orthodoxy, the immanent participates in the transcendent because the immanent possesses some elements of the transcendent.  The immanent then represents the transcendent as it demonstrates those properties which it shares (albeit imperfectly) with the transcendent.  It will be shown later how remarkably similar this thought is to Cranmer’s sacramental theology.  Nevertheless the two significantly differ on one point, namely that of Christology.  Radical Orthodoxy articulates participation through a Christology quite similar to that of Martin Luther.  By virtue of the communicatio idiomatum, the communication of the properties common to the two natures becomes quite fluid, if not outright blurry.  With the confusion of the two natures, it becomes quite difficult to secure ultimate ground for the immanent human nature of Christ against his transcendent divinity. Breaking with a patristic and scholastic reading of the hypostatic union, namely that it is an event in history that neither adds nor detracts substantially from the Divinity of the Word[11], Radical Orthodoxy contends that the hypostatic union itself is eternal, thus potentially making the human nature ubiquitous both temporally and spatially by virtue of the communicatio idiomatum.[12]

The disastrous consequences for this move in securing the immanent over and against the void are demonstrated most clearly in the Radical Orthodoxy camp from Graham Ward in his essay “Bodies.”  This essay proceeds with a critical review of Ward with particular attention paid to the failure of Ward’s Christology to secure the immanent against void.

Graham Ward: “Bodies: the displaced body of Jesus Christ”

Ward’s essay is an investigation of the “gendered body of the Jewish man, Jesus the Christ,” with an aim specifically to rightly discern the nature of the corporeality of Christ. [13] Ward argues that “What happens at the ascension, theologically, constitutes a critical moment in a series of displacements or assumptions of the male body of Jesus Chris such that the body of Christ, and the salvation it both seeks and works out (Paul’s katergomai) become multi-gendered.”[14] Ward contends that the giving and receiving of signs that mediate bodies are refigured in the ascension of Jesus, thus the particularities of Jesus’ masculinity give way to particularities that are both male and female.[15] Early on one can see how fluidly Ward deals with immanent categories.  His argument will be more closely detailed in the following paragraphs.

Much of Ward’s essay focuses on points in the life of Jesus that indicate an abnormal or destabilized masculinity and even humanity.  For example, the body of Jesus has a “pre- and post-lapsarian ambiguity.”  That is the body of Jesus itself is subject to the post-lapsarian consequences of weakness and even death, nevertheless the body as sign looks back to the “perfect Adamic corporeality” and forward to the “corporeality of the resurrection.”[16] Thus the body of Jesus, by virtue of what it signifies, is temporally ambiguous and thus unstable.  Ward also points to the means by which this body came about, that is, by virtue of the miracle of the Virgin Birth the “XY chromosomal maleness of Jesus Christ” issued from the “XX chromosomal femaleness of his mother,” thus making the materiality of Jesus unstable from the beginning. [17]

The ultimate source of this ambiguity and instability flows from the “various assumptions and trans-figurations that occur in which the divine is manifested in the sexed and corporeal.”[18] Reading Ward, it appears as if at times the manifestation of the divinity in the human nature of Jesus overwhelms those properties peculiar to the human nature.  For example, in Ward’s treatment of the glorification of Christ in the Transfiguration, he writes “the body of Jesus is displaced- for it is not the physical body as such which is the source of the attraction but the glorification of the physical body made possible by viewing him through God as God.”[19] In the glorification of the physical body the sexual, gendered element is overthrown and the man Jesus “exceeds appropriation.”[20] One cannot help but sense that for Ward, the human nature is accidental to the substantial nature of the person of Christ and thus potentially disposable.  The human nature is unstable because it only exists to demonstrate what exceeds it, or lies beyond it.  Ward goes even so far as to describe the corporeality of Jesus as “iconic.”[21] Thus for Ward, the Transfiguration is not a revelation of God through human nature, but a revelation of God over human nature.

Ward sites the post resurrection misidentifications of Jesus as “part of the unfolding logic of displaced bodies, bodies which defer or conceal their final identity.”[22] For Ward the human body of Jesus is not the final destination, but rather the divinity that lies beyond the human body of Jesus is the telos.  Thus the bodies particular to the different resurrection appearances are not even the same bodies, rather by virtue of their differing displacements they are only analogically related.  The resurrected body is not the body crucified, but rather one is analogically related to the other.[23] Perhaps this is the strongest reason yet to suggest that for Ward, the particular human nature of Jesus is only accidental to the person of Christ and not essential.  This is also the point at which the body of Jesus is at its greatest level of displacement, since the bodies associated with the different resurrection appearances can no longer be said to be historically related.  Thus the seemingly accidental bodies of Jesus give way one to the other, while the substantial nature of the divinity remains constant.

At no point more than the Eucharist does the human nature of Jesus manifest its disposable properties.  It is at the point of the Eucharist that the body of Christ no longer necessarily needs to retain its humanity as it begins to “incorporate other bodies, like bread, and make them extensions of his own.”[24] For this logic, Ward keeps well within a medieval justification of the doctrine of transubstantiation, when he argues that the logic behind the transmutability of the body of Jesus is Christ’s “lordship over creation.”[25] That is, by Christ’s omnipotence, the human nature of Jesus de potentia absoluta is no longer bound to the laws that other human bodies are subject to.  By the command of Christ the body of Jesus is mutable, ubiquitous, and trans-temporal.  In a revealing statement, it is by virtue of the institution of the Eucharist that the body of Christ becomes “sexed and notsexed,” and one could potentially argue both human and not human.  Herein lies the explicit danger of Radical Orthodoxy’s articulation of the doctrine of participation.  It lies not within the analogous nature of participation, as Horton has argued elsewhere[26], but rather it lies within its Christological defects.  For Ward, the omnipotence of God trumps the humanity of Christ when convenient.  Rather than stable ground, the humanity of Christ rests upon the shaky ground of a God who uses his omnipotence to dispose or substantially change the immanent at a whim.  It is the omnipotence of God, as Radical Orthodoxy articulates it, that poses the greatest threat to the ultimate ground of the immanent.

Throughout Ward’s essay, certain immanent categories common to human nature such as gender, temporality, and spatial limitations are often set aside to accommodate the purposes of the divinity.  In an attempt to undergird the immanent, Ward oftentimes shows the immanent to be disposable, precisely because what is truly important is the transcendent.  The ultimate disposability of the immanent is expressed through Ward’s concept of the Lordship of Christ, which he uses as a convenient tool to manipulate the immanent in seemingly arbitrary fashion.  What is at one moment a gendered Jew can at another moment become “not sexed.”  What is one moment bread can at another moment become man.  What is at moment a man can become a deity.  One wonders if in this arbitrary application of the power of Christ, which is used to obliterate the properties of various immanent categories, if Ward has simply created another void that masquerades under the banner of transcendent.  Rather than the transcendent securing the categories of gender, humanity, temporality etc., Ward’s Christology has the categories lost as they are subsumed into the deity thus causing the immanent to become meaningless.  Thus the project to suspend the immanent is frustrated by the consumption of the immanent by the transcendent.

Suspension and the Sacramental Theology of Thomas Cranmer

For Cranmer to succeed where Ward and Radical Orthodoxy fail, it must be shown that the immanent is suspended, or participates in such a way that the transcendent does not eradicate the properties of the immanent.  Cranmer’s success in accomplishing this can be traced to his use of the extraCalvinisticum which sets boundaries upon his sacramental theology.[27] One must here be cautious in assuming that evidence of the extraCalvinisticum in Cranmer’s sacramental theology demonstrates a dependence upon John Calvin’s theology.  First, Calvin did not see the extraCalvinisticum as a “Calvinist” doctrine but as a catholic doctrine in full continuity with his predecessors.[28] Second, much recent scholarship has been devoted to demonstrating the catholic nature of the extraCalvinisticum.[29] And finally, there is ample evidence of the extraCalvinisticum swimming in the waters of English Christology via Wycliffe and the Lollards.[30] Not to mention the familiarity of the English reformers with the work of the monk Radbertis (Bertram), who also demonstrates an extra-Calvinisticum.[31] Thus to assert that Cranmer holds to an extra-Calvinisticum is not to assert that Cranmer is a Calvinist, but rather than Cranmer is familiar with and appropriates an understanding of Christology that was commonly held, albeit with different applications since the Council of Chalcedon.

The Extra-Calvinisticum and the boundaries of Sacramental Thought

The clearest statement of an extra-Calvinisticum in Cranmer’s sacramental theology is found early on in Cranmer’s Answer to the Crafty and Sophistical Cavillation devised by Stephen Gardiner.  In a section where Cranmer has taken great pains to show patristic support for his doctrine, he concludes with the following words:

And yet all the old writers that speak of the diversity of Christ’s substantial presence and absence, declare this diversity to be in the diversity of his two natures (that in the nature of his humanity he is gone hence, and present in the nature of his divinity,) and not that in divers respects and qualities of one nature he is both present and absent; which I have proved in my third book, the fifth chapter.[32]

In this short excerpt, Cranmer holds to the essentials of the extra. That is he affirms the local presence of the physical body of Christ thus denying the ubiquity of his flesh.  Second, he affirms the ubiquitous presence of the divinity, thus giving the Son a life et extra carnem.  The implications of this Christological principle for Cranmer’s sacramental theology are obvious.  Christ cannot be present in the bread and the wine as his human nature is locally present in heaven.  Nevertheless, by virtue of his divinity, Christ can be present in the sacramental eating of bread and wine.  The benefit of Cranmer’s extra-Calvinisticum to his sacramental theology is the distinguishing and preserving of those properties common to their respective substantial natures.

Cranmer seeks to preserve and distinguish the substantial human nature of Christ in four categories.  These could be termed appearance, structure, location, and power.  In terms of appearance and structure, Cranmer believes that the doctrine of transubstantiation affects the appearance and structure of the human nature of Christ in such a way that his human nature is no longer recognizably human.  While the doctrine of transubstantiation affects these aspects of Christ’s human nature, his human nature is not overwhelmed but rather distorted.  However, when Cranmer begins to address those properties concerning location and power, he is quite clear that the doctrine of transubstantiation overwhelms the humanity of Christ, substantially altering it.  For this reason, those Christological matters regarding the location and power of Christ’s human nature will be given greater attention in the following paragraphs.

In terms of location, Cranmer believes that the human nature of Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.[33] He sets his understanding of the local presence of the body of Christ in heaven in terms of a long and impassioned explanation of the true and pure humanity of Christ.[34] This leads him to conclude that “Christ in his human nature, substantially, really, corporally, naturally, and sensibly, be present with his Father in heaven,”[35] and also “the true catholic faith, grounded upon God’s most infallible word, teacheth us, that our Saviour Christ (as concerning his man’s nature and bodily presence) is gone up into heaven.”[36] For Cranmer, the human nature of Christ cannot remain truly human if it is not restrained by those properties that are common to all human flesh, namely one human body cannot be in two places at once.  He writes: “the bishop of Rome…and his papists, hath set up a new faith and belief of their own devising, that the same body, really, corporally, naturally, and sensibly, is in this world still, and that in an hundred thousand places at one time.”[37] Thus for Cranmer the doctrine of transubstantiation is an affront to the true humanity of Christ.  The properties of the human nature that would make the flesh subject to the restrictions of time and place are overwhelmed, giving the human flesh a quasi-ubiquitous character more common to the property of divinity.

In terms of the power of the human flesh of Christ, the discussion becomes more nuanced.  The principal power of the human nature of Christ rests in its ability to suffer and die. “Christ gave his body, and shed his blood upon the cross for us,” and also “he made a sacrifice and oblation of his own body upon the cross, which was a full redemption, satisfaction, and propitiation for the sins of the whole world.”[38] It was commonly held amongst the scholastics, and the majority of the reformers[39], that suffering and death could not be accomplished by the divine nature of Christ.  Thus a concrete and substantially pure human nature is needed to accomplish redemption.  Though Cranmer principally refers to the humanity of Christ as accomplishing salvation on the cross, he also concludes that the ascension of the human nature is cause for assurance regarding the resurrection of believers.  Though it might appear obvious that the resurrection and ascension of Christ would engender hope in the faithful for their own resurrection, the point was explicitly denied by many medieval theologians.[40] Consider this quote from the 12th Century Cistercian Monk Bernard of Clairvaux: “But perhaps you fear also in him (Christ) the divine majesty, because though he became man, he remained, nevertheless God.”[41] One can see the obvious pastoral dilemma.  There is little comfort in Christ, for as it is he is not a man nor brother, but rather a divine/ human hybrid.  A pure human can take little comfort in Christ’s entrance into heaven, because a pure human cannot rely upon a divine nature for assistance.  A divine/ human hybrid is something clearly rejected by Cranmer.  His human nature is clearly distinguishable, substantially pure and completely uncompromised.  That is why Cranmer can so confidently assert “that he (Christ) in his humanity ascended into heaven: that our bodies at the day of judgment shall rise again.”[42] The believer can have assurance of his own resurrection due to the fact that the pure human nature of Christ, substantially the same as all human nature, has preceded him.

Cranmer is equally clear as to what the humanity of Christ cannot accomplish.  The emphasis on preserving the properties of that which is common to the human nature and that which is common to the divine continues.  He writes “corporal meats and drinks do nourish and continue our life here in this world” and “meat and drink do feed and nourish only our bodies.”[43] The point being made here is that even if the elements were transubstantiated into the flesh of Christ in the mass the problem still remains that “there is no such kind of drink, that with once drinking can quench the thirst of a man’s body for ever.”[44] That is material elements such as bread and wine, or even the true body and blood of Christ, are subject to digestion and expulsion.[45] Because of their own corruptibility, they cannot nourish the body to incorruptibility.  Thus Cranmer does not attribute the ability to bestow eternal life, a property common to the divine nature, upon either the bread or the human nature of Christ.

Therefore it is Cranmer’s Christology, namely his extra-Calvinisticum, that prevents him from accepting the doctrine of transubstantiation.  Cranmer’s Christology sets the ground rules by which he interprets the sacramental eating of bread and wine.  By virtue of the extra-Calvinisticum, the substantial integrity of the bread and wine is preserved along with the pure human nature of the Mediator.  And though it has been demonstrated thus far that Cranmer preserves these immanent categories, it remains to be seen how he gives them ultimate ground.  Within the boundaries provided by the extra-Calvinisticum, Cranmer articulates a suspension and participation of the immanent in the transcendent in such a way as to compromise neither.

In the same passage where Cranmer speaks of the inadequacy of material meat and drink, he goes on to say that the words of Christ drive his hearers to contemplate another kind of food, another kind of drink, and another kind of hungering and thirsting altogether.  Thus while human bodies need the nourishment of bread and wine, the human soul needs a different kind of nourishment.[46] However, as Cranmer understands it, the necessity for this spiritual nourishment is not as easily perceived as our need for carnal nourishment.  He writes:

And although our carnal generation and our carnal nourishment be known to all men by daily experience, and by our common senses; yet this our spiritual generation and our spiritual nutrition be so obscure and hid unto us, that we cannot attain to the true and perfect knowledge and feeling of them…[47]

There are then immanent realities, such as the necessity for food and drink that are easily grasped by all people.  There are also transcendent realities that remain “hid” and “obscure.”  The manner by which Cranmer suspends the immanent from the transcendent, giving the immanent ultimate ground, is the relationship by which the transcendent reveals itself through the immanent by faith.[48]

The relationship between the immanent and the transcendent in Cranmer’s sacramental theology begins in the preface, where he discusses his definition of the word “sacrament.”  He cites the ancient definition of the sacrament, referencing Augustine when he writes “the sacrament is the sign of an holy thing.”[49] The sacrament, whether it is of baptism or the Eucharist, is not the destination but rather a sign pointing towards the destination.  The sacrament can be a sign to that which it signifies because it possess some likeness, or analogy to the thing which it signifies.  Thus Cranmer can say “Christ called the bread his body, and the wine his blood for some figure, similitude, and property of the bread and wine unto his flesh and blood.”[50] The relationship between sign and signified is important to Cranmer, and crucial to his distinguishing between immanent and transcendent categories.[51] For if the sign becomes the thing signified, as it does in the transubstantiation of the mass, then the bread is no longer a sacrament of the Body of Christ but it is the Body of Christ itself.[52] This is why the “nature of the sacraments require that the sensible elements should remain in their proper nature, to signify an higher mystery and secret working of God inwardly.”[53]

In the transubstantiation of the mass the material reality of bread is obliterated by the substantial presence of Christ. The bread no longer represents Christ because the bread has become Christ, as the canons of an English Diocese circa 1287 make clear.  “Not only should they (the laity) bow with respect but kneel and adore their creator with all devotion and reverence.”[54] It is quite clear to Cranmer that God could of course, by virtue of his omnipotence, bring such an event as the transubstantiation of the mass about.   “In all matters of Christian faith…,” argues Cranmer, “we must repress our imaginations, and consider God’s pleasure and will, and yield thereto, believing him to be omnipotent.”[55] However Cranmer is not willing to leave the matter to God’s omnipotence alone.  Cranmer resolves this problem by applying the omnipotence of God to the will of God, in a manner very similar to the scholastic distinction between God’s potentia absoluta and his potentia ordinate.  Thus Cranmer writes God’s “absolute and determinate will is the chief governor of all things, and the rule whereby all things must be ordered, and thereto obey.”[56]

Cranmer sees the vital necessity of limiting God’s omnipotence through his expressed will as means of preventing arbitrary doctrine.  He observes that if one were to leave the matter merely at God’s omnipotence then “under pretence of God’s omnipotency, (one might) make as many articles of our faith” as you wish.[57] That is, one could conceivably use the omnipotence of God as warrant for any doctrine that one could imagine.  Whereas Ward’s emphasis on the omnipotence of God arbitrarily annihilates immanent categories by substantially changing them, Cranmer’s emphasis on the will of God preserves immanent categories by claiming that God has chosen to work within the immanent by taking advantage of its substantial qualities rather than changing them.  God takes advantage of the substantial qualities of the immanent by “remembling” them.[58] However it is important to note that the analogous nature between the sign and the thing signified does not indicate an elevation of the sign to the level of the thing signified.  For “although our Saviour Christ resembleth his flesh and blood to meat and drink..he far passeth and excelleth all corporal meats and drinks.”[59] Rather than a platonic ascension, whereby the immanent becomes more and more like the transcendent, Cranmer pictures a radical accommodation, or condescension of God whereby God takes on the qualities of the immanent.  Cranmer writes: “Thus our Saviour Christ, knowing us to be in this world, as it were, but babes and weaklings in the faith, hath ordained sensible signs and tokens whereby to allure and to draw us to more strength and constant faith in him.”[60] For Cranmer, being in the world is a sensual experience, thus the accommodation of God must be a condescension to be known through the senses.  He continues:

So that the eating and drinking of this sacramental bread and wine, as it were, shewing of Christ before our eyes, a smelling of him with our noses, a feeling and groping of him with our hands, and an eating, chewing and digesting, and feeding upon him to our spiritual strength and perfection.[61]

Cranmer states that it is through sensual experiences, i.e. eating, feeling, smelling etc., that humans become aware of transcendental realities.  Though sensual experiences make humans aware of transcendental realities, this is done in such a way that the material realities themselves are in no way altered nor swallowed up by the transcendent realities which the material represents.  In fact, as it has been stated before, it is crucial that the elements retain all of their immanent qualities.

During the sacrament of baptism for example, common to the property of water the body of the person being baptized is outwardly washed.  It is the sensual experience of the washing, wherein “we see, feel, and touch water with our bodies, and be washed with water,”[62] that acts as a catalyst for the awareness of an event which is actually being accomplished by the divinity of Christ at the moment of baptism.  Because of God’s condescension to those “in the world,” he permits, de potentia ordinate to be likened unto the sensual experience of being washed.  It is the washing of the body that acts as a catalyst to make one aware of the hidden working of God in the soul of the believer.  “So assuredly ought we to believe, when we be baptized, that Christ is verily present with us, and that by him we be newly born again spiritually, and washed from our sins, and grafted in the stock of Christ’s own body.”[63] It is the analogous nature between water and the work of Christ in regeneration that secures the sacramental relationship.

So too does the sensual experience of the Eucharist act as a catalyst for an awareness of transcendent realities.

And in like manner Christ ordained the sacrament of his body and blood in bread and wine, to preach unto us, that as our bodies be fed, nourished, and preserved with meat and drink, so as touching our spiritual life towards God we be fed, nourished, and preserved by the body and blood of our Saviour Christ.[64]

The properties of the bread and wine, namely that they nourish and satisfy are analogous to the spiritual manner in which Christ by his divinity nourishes and satisfies our souls.  In this manner, the bread and wine are said to “represent” Christ and his work.[65] The representation of Christ and his work in the consumption of the elements occurs simultaneously with the actual nourishing of the soul by the divinity.  Thus the Eucharist is no mere memorialism.  It does not trigger a reaction in the mind to remember something that happened in the past.  Rather, the elements act to bring an awareness to something that is actually happening as the bread is consumed.  While the body is being washed with water, the Spirit is washing the soul in regeneration.  While the body is physically being nourished by bread and wine, the soul is being nourished by the Spirit of Christ.  This is how Cranmer is able to assert a real, if not corporeal presence of Christ.  “Christ is with us spiritually present, is eaten and drunken of us, and dwelleth within us.”[66]

The immanent is therefore suspended by the transcendent because the two are by virtue of God’s accommodation analogous one to the other. It is the condescension of the divine to resemble bread and wine that suspends the immanent from the transcendent.  Furthermore, the condescension of the divinity to our weakness occurs in such a way that the properties of the immanent are used rather than substantially changed, thus providing a true ultimate grounding for immanent categories.  The ground rules for this sacramental interchange are founded upon Cranmer’s extra-Calvinisticum, which as has been seen not only preserves the pure human nature of Christ, but also the substantial elements of bread and wine by preventing the corporeal presence of Christ from substantially changing them.  Unlike Radical Orthodoxy’s Christology, the human nature of Christ is no mere accident, but substantially distinguished and preserved.  The distinguishing and preserving of Christ’s human nature, works as it were from the top down, distinguishing, preserving, and suspending all immanent categories.


Primary Sources:

John Calvin, Institutes on the Christian Religion. Ed. J.T. Mcneill (Westminster John Knox Press, 1980)

John Calvin,  “The True Partaking of the Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Holy Supper” in Calvin’s Tracts and Letters Vol II edt. and translated by Henry Beveridge (Versa Press: East Peoria 2009)

Thomas Cranmer, “Answer to Stephen Gardiner Concerning the Sacrament” in Cranmer’s Works Edited for the Parker Society Vol I,edt. by Rev. John Edmund Cox (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1866)

Nicholas Ridley, “Brief Declaration or Treatise Against Transubstantiation” in The Works of Nicholas Ridley Edited for the parker Society edt. by Rev. Henry Christmas (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1863)

Peter Martyr Vermigli, Oxford Treatise and Disputation on the Eucharist: 1549 trans. and.edt. by J.C. McLelland (Thomas Jefferson University Press and Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers Inc.: Kirksville, 2000)

Peter Martyr Vermigli, Dialogue on the Two Natures of Christ trans and edt. By John Patrick Donelly, S.J. (Thomas Jefferson University Press and Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers Inc.: Kirksville, 1995)

Ratramnus of Corbie, The Book of Bertram Monk of Corbie, A.D. 840, on The Body and Blood of the Lord (“De Corpore et Sanguine Domini” edt. and translated by W.F. Taylor (London: Simpkin Marshall & Co. 1880)

Wycliffe’s Wycket: Whych He Made in Kyng Rychards Days the Second (reprinted by Tho P. Pantin 1828)

Secondary Sources:

Barth, K.  Church Dogmatics edt. by G. W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (T&T Clark: London 2009)

Cross, The Metaphysics of the Incarnation: Thomas Aquinas to Duns Scotus (Oxford University Press: Oxford 2005)

Dix, D.G. The Shape of the Liturgy (Continuum: New York 2007)

Helm, Paul. ‘Divine Accommodation’ in John Calvin’s Ideas (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

Michael Horton, “Participation and Covenant,” in Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition: Creation, Covenant and Participation. James K.A. Smith and James H. Olthuis, eds., (Baker Academic, 2005).

Jeanes, G.P. Sign’s of God’s Promise: Thomas Cranmer’s Sacramental Theology and the Book of Common Prayer (T & T Clark: New York 2008)

Knox, D.B. The Lord’s Supper from Wycliffe to Cranmer (The Paternoster Press: Exeter 1983)

MacCulloch, D. Thomas Cranmer (Yale University Press: New Haven 1996)

Rubin, Miri. Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge U.K. (2002) pg 57

Muller, Richard A.  The Unaccommodated Calvin:  Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition (Oxford University Press:  Oxford, New York 2000)

Muller, Richard.  Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics Vol I:  Prolegomena to Theology 2nd ed. (Baker Academic:  Grand Rapids 2006)

Null, Ashley.  Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love (Oxford University Press: Oxford 2006)

Oberman, H. The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Beil and late medieval nominalism (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids 2000)

Otten, W. “Carolingian Theology” in The Medieval Theologians edt. by G.R. Evans (Blackwell Publishing: Oxford 2001)

Pelikan, J. The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300) (University of Chicago Press: Chicago 1978)

Willis, D. Calvin’s Catholic Christology: The Function of the so-called “extraCalvinisticum” in Calvin’s Theology (E.J. Brill: Leiden 1966)

John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward, eds., Radical

Orthodoxy: A New Theology (Routledge, 1999).

James K.A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular

Theology (Baker Academic, 2004).

Ward, G. “Bodies,” in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (Routledge, 1999)

Internet Source

Huffington Post, “Christopher Hitchens and Pastor Doug Wilson” Oct 20, 2009, available from  Last accessed July 24, 2010

[1] The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Macmillan, 1996 Supplement, 372-373.

[2] Huffington Post, “Christopher Hitchens and Pastor Doug Wilson” Oct 20, 2009, available from  Last accessed July 24, 2010

[3] John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, and Graham Ward, eds., Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (Routledge, 1999) Pg 1

[4] Radical Orthodoxy pg 3

[5] Oberman, H. The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Beil and late medieval nominalism (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids 2000) pg 265

[6] Perhaps the best illustration of this concept in Calvin’s Christology can be found in the Institutes where he writes: “They thrust upon us as something absurd the fact that if the Word of God became flesh, then he was confined within the narrow prison of an earthly body.  This is mere impudence!  For even if the Word in his immeasurable essence united with the nature of man into one person, we do not imagine that he was confined therein.  Here is something marvelous:  the Son of God descended from heaven in such a way, without leaving heaven, he willed to be borne in the virgin’s womb, to go about the earth, and to hang upon the cross; yet he continuously filled the world even as he had done from the beginning! (Inst II.13.4 Emphasis mine).

[7] Radical Orthodoxy pg 3

[8] Radical Orthodoxy pg 3

[9] Ibid

[10] Milbank, J.  The Word Made Strange: Theology, Language and Culture (Blackwell Publishing: Oxford, 1997) 15

[11] For an excellent discussion on this point see Cross, The Metaphysics of the Incarnation: Thomas Aquinas to Duns Scotus (Oxford University Press: Oxford 2005)

[12] Milbank, “Alternative Protestantism,” in Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition: Creation, Covenant, and Participatio. James K.A. Smith and James H. Olthuis, eds., (Baker Academic, 2005) pg 35

[13] Ward, G. “Bodies,” in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (Routledge, 1999) pg 163

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid pg 163

[16] Ward, G. “Bodies,” in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (Routledge, 1999) pg 164

[17] Ibid  pg 164

[18] ibide pg 165

[19] Ibid  pg 166

[20] Ibid  166

[21] Ibid pg 167

[22] Ward, G. “Bodies,” in Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (Routledge, 1999) pg 173

[23] Ibid  pg 173

[24] Ibid  pg 167

[25] Ibid  pg 167

[26] Michael Horton, “Participation and Covenant,” in Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition: Creation, Covenant and Participation. James K.A. Smith and James H. Olthuis, eds., (Baker Academic, 2005).

[27] Jeanes, G.P. Sign’s of God’s Promise: Thomas Cranmer’s Sacramental Theology and the Book of Common Prayer (T & T Clark: New York 2008) 157

[28] “I employed the trite dictum of the schools, that Christ is whole everywhere, but not wholly, (totus ubique sed non totum;) in other words, in his entire person of Mediator he fills heaven and earth, though in his flesh he has chosen as the abode of his human nature, until he appear to judgment.”  Calvin’s “The True Partaking of the Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Holy Supper” in Calvin’s Tracts and Letters Vol II (Versa Press: East Peoria 2009) pg 515.

[29] See Barth, K.  Church Dogmatics 1.2 pg 176-177, Willis, D. Calvin’s Catholic Christology: The Function of the so-called “extraCalvinisticum” in Calvin’s Theology (E.J. Brill: Leiden 1966) pg 26-42, and Oberman, H. The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Biel and Late Medieval Nominalism (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids 2000) pgs 253

[30] Consider the following quote from English Wycliffite writings:  “Cristis body and his blode, ƥe whiche Crist tok of ƥe virgin Mary, and ƥe which body diƺed vpon ƥe crosse and laye in ƥe sepulcre, and steie into heuen.” Selections from English Wycliffite Writtings pg 110

[31] Consider the following quote from Robertus who writes: “is now sitting at the right hand of the Father.  How then is the Bread his Body and the Cup, or rather that which the cup contains his Blood?” Ratramnus 62

[32] Thomas Cranmer, “Answer to Stephen Gardiner Concerning the Sacrament” in Cranmer’s Works Edited for the Parker Society Vol I,edt. by Rev. John Edmund Cox (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 1866) pg 149

[33] “We say as the scripture teacheth, that Christ is corporally ascended into heaven” Cranmer pg 54

[34] “For a plain explication whereof, it is not unknown to all true faithful Christian people, that our Saviour Christ, (being perfect God, and in all things equal and coeternal with his Father,) for our sakes became also a perfect man, taking flesh and blood of his blessed mother and virgin Mary, and, saving sin, being in all things like unto us, adjoining unto his divinity a most perfect soul [and a most perfect body: his soul being endued with life, sense, will, reason, wisdom, memory, and all. other things required to the perfect soul*] of man: and his body being made of very flesh and bones, not only having all members of a perfect man’s body, in due order and proportion, but also being subject to hunger, thirst, labour, sweat, weariness, cold, heat, and all other like infirmities and passions of a man, and unto death also, and that the most vile and painful upon the cross; and after his death he rose again, with the selfsame visible and palpable body, and appeared therewith, and shewed the same unto his apostles, and especially to Thomas, making him to put his hands into his side, and to feel his wounds. And with the selfsame body he forsook this world, and ascended into heaven, (the apostles seeing and beholding his body when it ascended,) and now sitteth at the right hand of his Father, and there shall remain until the last day, when he shall come to judge the quick and dead.” Cranmer pg 52

[35] ibid pg 47

[36] ibid pg 46

[37] ibid pg 56

[38] ibid pg 33

[39] Martin Luther is of course the notable exception

[40] See Oberman, H. The Harvest of Medieval Theology: Gabriel Beil and late medieval nominalism (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids 2000) pg 249-322

[41] Bernard of Clairvaux quoted in Oberman, Heiko A. The Dawn of the Reformation (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids 1992)  pg 250

[42] Cranmer pg 34

[43] Cranmer pg 41

[44] Ibid pg 39

[45] Ibid  pg 94

[46] Jeanes pg 162

[47] Cranmer pg 41

[48] This revelation is possible only by faith.  See MacCulloch pg 463

[49] Cranmer pg 3

[50] Cranmer pg 37

[51] Jeanes 140

[52] For the soteriological implications of this, see Maculloch pg 520

[53] Cranmer pg 37

[54] Rubin, Miri. Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge U.K. (2002) pg 57

[55] Answer pg 34

[56] Cranmer pg 34

[57] Ibid  35

[58] Ibid pg 40

[59] Cranmer pg 40

[60] Cranmer pg 42

[61] Cranmer pg 42

[62] ibid pg 41

[63] Cranmer pg 41

[64] Ibid pg 41

[65] Ibid pg 42

[66]Cranmer  pg 12

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