Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Article 29: Of the Wicked
I think today's article is certainly one of the oddest Articles of Religion, at least in terms of the wording:
XXIX. Of the Wicked which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper
The Wicked. and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.
This is largely an addendum to the last Article, which seemed to suggest that faith is the means through which the Body and Blood of Christ is received and eaten. Logically, therefore, if one does not have a lively faith, particularly if one is 'Wicked,' then the one is not really partaking in any sense the Sacrament. In other words, if you are "Wicked," then you cannot hope to sneak in and illicitly receive the Sacrament and have it in any wise be beneficial to you.
The problem with this is that this article basically denies that the elements themselves are consecrated in any real sense. If Christ has in any real or meaningful way been brought into union with the elements of bread and wine, whether that be Transubstantiation, Real Presence, or the Lutheran "sacramental union," in some sense all who partake of them must be partakers of Christ. To say that they are "in no wise...partakers of Christ" completely denies this.
I think this Article actually has some bearing on current issues in the Episcopal Church. It has apparently become trendy in some dioceses to give Communion to the Unbaptized. This is often referred to as "Open Communion," but that is largely a misnomer because heretofore "Open Communion" has mean Communion open to any baptized Christian, regardless of denomination. I do not understand this concept for the life of me, and it is still technically against the Canons of the Episcopal Church. I am told there are at least two resolutions in favor of Communion for the Unbaptized to be debated at General Convention this summer (One to outright change the canons, the other to recommend a study and report back (and then presumably to change the canons)). But apparently in our quest to be "radically inclusive," Baptism is no longer a prerequisite for Communion in some places. I have even heard a Bishop say from the pulpit "There is no substantive difference between offering someone Communion during the service and offering them a cup of coffee at coffee hour after church." Of course, being a church that had a monstrance on the side altar while he was preaching this, his words went over like a lead balloon (he even got hisses from the audience), but that is another story...
Personally, I would be all in favor of the Episcopal Church clarifying its theology on Communion. The canons and traditional teachings in the Prayerbook I think are sufficient, but there is a lot of open hypocrisy on the issue. I know bishops who, with a wink and nod, allow Communion of the Unbaptized to go on. I think the theology behind such a move is absolutely atrocious, but I think we do either need to accept it or denounce it officially.
My objections to it are manifold. Namely, I cannot reconcile it to the plain meaning of Scripture. How much clearer could Paul possibly be on the subject? I understand you can theologically blow off that Scripture and rationalize it in a number of ways, but in terms of inclusivity and hospitality, how are we possibly being inclusive or hospitable if what we are doing even as a remote possibility allows our unbaptized guests to "eat and drink judgement against themselves?" I mean, I can be the friendliest and most hospitable host in the world, but I'm not going to let my guests mess around with the rat poision I have under my sink just because they think it might be more fun to use in their coffee than creamer.
But, let us return to the Article at hand. I bring this up about the Communion of the Unbaptized because if Anglicans are being true to their historical theology in this article (and granted I don't agree with this article's Eucharistic theology), then allowing Communion of the Unbaptized is a meaningless act "to their condemnation." Again, how is that being radically inclusive?
Something to think about for those going to General Convention.