March 15, 2004
Stuff I didn't realize was controversial

Every time my church does communion, the pastor delivers a recap of the Last Supper. When he gets to the bread-breaking part, he illustratively breaks up the bread with his hands and then drops it on the plate to be eaten by the communicants.

I always thought this was just a bit of show-and-tell, but apparently it means he's caved in to Calvinists:

The Calvinists deny that Christ's body is present in the Lord's Supper. In their view you simply eat bread and drink wine. The communion is in your heart not at the altar. To show that they did not believe that Christ's body was present in the Sacrament the Calvinist pastors would hold up the bread and break it. They taught their people that the sacramental bread could not be the body of Christ since, "Not a bone of his was broken." "You can't break Christ's body," they said, "but look, we can certainly break the bread. So this is our way, by our practice, of showing that the bread is not the body."

When Kaiser Wilhelm had legislated the Union church he also insisted that pastors break the bread during the consecration. The Lutherans refused. Some where jailed for there practice to NOT break the bread. Some Lutheran ministers lost their positions for this witness, some where banished. Others, like the French Huguenots and the English Puritans before them, left Germany so to be able to practice their faith as they would choose. ...

In the 21st century, especially among the Lutherans whose heritage is that of oppression under the Prussian Union (of which the LCMS numbers itself), if a Lutheran pastor breaks the bread while consecrating it that doesn't necessarily make him a Calvinist and he isn't thereby denying the faith. What he is doing however, is demonstrating that he is unaware of history. And he is introducing a custom against which his forefathers were willing to sacrifice, suffer and even die.

I can understand the sacrifice and suffering against such an egregious intrusion of the state into church affairs, but I don't really get going through that much over the liturgical issue per se. It seems almost to be saying that the Calvinists were right, and the breaking somehow does demonstrate that the bread couldn't really be Christ's body.

I'm not up on the arguments over the Lord's Supper (to me, it's one of the least interesting major theological disputes). But did advocates of the Real Presence ever claim that the bread altered to the point where it couldn't be broken? Or that it somehow actually acquired bones that could be broken? Or were the Calvinists just arguing that, if it didn't turn into a literal human body, it couldn't be made of Jesus-stuff at all? If somebody knows more about this, I'm all ears ...

(Link via Bill Cork.)

Posted by Camassia at March 15, 2004 01:10 PM | TrackBack

First thought: How can you distribute the bread without breaking it anyway?

Second thought: Jesus broke bread. He did it at Galilee with the loaves and fishes. He did it at the last supper. I always saw the demonstration of breaking the bread at communion as just a choreographed re-enactment of Jesus breaking the bread.

Third thought: C'mon, Dwight! How can you pass this one up?!

Posted by: Dash on March 15, 2004 06:01 PM

The most informative discussion that my ignorant eyes have seen is by the Coptic Orthodox priest Fr Gregory Tillett in the Glastonbury Review (1999):

"The Fraction is the ceremonial breaking of the Eucharistic Bread, and derives from the Lord¹s own actions at the Last Supper (Matthew XXVI:26). It was a sufficiently significant element of the Eucharist to make 'the breaking of bread' (Latin: Fractio Panis) a title for the Eucharist itself (Acts II:42).(Cf. Warren 1897:109) As Ball (1912:360) notes, the Fraction can be of three types: the imitative, the mystical or the utilitarian, or in combinations of these. The imitative Fraction follows the words of the Lord, with the bread being broken at the words: 'He broke it.' The Coptic Liturgy includes an element of the imitative Fraction in that the Priest, while saying the words 'He broke it', partially breaks the Oblation. The mystical Fraction, 'found in almost, if not quite, all Liturgies of ancient descent, takes place after Consecration at a varying point in the service; it is frequently accompanied by words and ceremonies of highly mystical import, which include the mingling of a portion of the broken consecrated Bread with the consecrated Wine in the Chalice.' (Ball 1912:360) In the Coptic Liturgy, the Fraction properly so-called, is essentially mystical. The utilitarian Fraction is simply the division of the Body into portions for the Communion, and is the form of Fraction mentioned by the earliest writers. The Coptic Liturgy includes a utilitarian Fraction in that the Body is broken - albeit without any specific rubrics or accompanying words - immediately prior to Communion being distributed to the clergy and the laity. In the Roman Catholic and some Anglican and Lutheran churches, the utilitarian Fraction is not necessary, since Communion is given in the form of separate and individual 'breads' (that is, wafers). In the Orthodox churches, the Bread is always in the form of a single loaf, and must therefore be divided (as it is in the Coptic Liturgy) for the purposes of Communion. 'Originally the fraction was entirely utilitarian and so Augustine refers to the bread being 'broken small for distribution' (Ep. 149.16). It soon attracted a symbolic interpretation, Paul paving the way with his argument for unity on the grounds that the communicants have all partaken of the fragments broken from a single loaf (I Cor. 10.17) - so it was a sign of the gathering into one of the children of God (cf. Didache 9.4).' [Davies 1986:246]. However, by the second century the symbolism tended to be that of the breaking of the Body of Christ in the Passion ...

"The Protestants, in revising or constructing liturgies, tended to eliminate what they saw as unnecessary ritual or superstitious practices, and the Fraction in their texts tended to be entirely utilitarian, although in some cases an imitative Fraction was included. Anglican liturgies prior to the Prayerbook of 1662 contained no direction that the bread be broken during the Words of Institution (Ball 1912:360), although the First Prayerbook of Edward VI (1549) prescribed that every wafer, prior to Communion, 'shall be divided in two pieces at least, or more, at the discretion of the minister, and so distributed', although no more specific rubric or accompanying prayer was provided. (cf Cuming 1969:82). Some texts, however, prescribe an imitative Fraction: the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 (text in Wigan 1964:35) and the Scottish Communion Office of 1764 (text in Grisbrooke 1958:343), for example, directs that, when the celebrant says the words 'He brake it' he is 'here to break the Bread', but there are no rubrics to indicated how the bread is to be broken. However, some Protestant Liturgies which have obviously been influenced by Orthodox traditions, do include a ceremonial Fraction. For example, the Bombay Liturgy (first published in 1920), and authorized for use in the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Bombay, includes a specific prayer and rubrics for the Fraction (which is combined with the Commixture). (Wigan 1964:107)"

You'll note, incidentally, that Fr Gregory does write that the Coptic Common Order does have an initial Fraction during the Words of Institution before the mystical "Fraction properly so-called":

"During the Words of Institution (also known as The Prayer of the Crossing of the Gifts), the priest takes the Oblation and slightly divides it into one-third and two thirds sections, without actually separating them. Using his thumbs, and taking care not to touch the Spadikon (the central part), he holds the one-third section in his right hand, and the two thirds section in his left hand, saying: 'He broke it; He gave it to His own saintly disciples and pure Apostles saying: "Take, eat ye all of it, for this is my Body."' At this point the celebrant slightly breaks the top part of the Oblation with the tips of his fingers, and places it on the paten, carefully removing any loose particles off his fingers on the paten, and continues quoting Christ's words, 'Which shall be broken for you and for many, and be given for the remission of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.' [Basilios 1991:1121]"

In any case, I have probably worn out my welcome.

- Neil

Posted by: Neil Dhingra on March 15, 2004 07:12 PM

This is why I think religion sometimes gets in the way of experiencing God. :)


Posted by: Kynn Bartlett on March 15, 2004 08:19 PM

My understanding of Aquinas' formulation of the doctrine of transubstantiation is that the substance of the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, but all the accidents of bread and wine remain (substance and accidents having a technical philosophical meaning in Aristotelian philosophy). What this means, basically, is that, since all the "accidents" remain the same as for bread and wine, it looks, feels, tastes, weighs the same, has the same number of calories, etc., and the bread is just as breakable as ever.

Lutheran Eucharistic theology, as I understand it, is of consubstantiation, rather than transubstantiation, which basically means that the bread and wine stay bread and wine, but they are also really the body and blood of Christ. And since the bread is still bread, I can't think of any reason why it shouldn't be as breakable as ever.

So, I'm mystified as to why anyone ever considered breaking bread a demonstration against anyone's theory of Real Presence, but then, there's a lot about the Reformation period which is strange to me.

In the Episcopal Church, everyone gets separate wafers, but there's a wafer made bigger just so it can be broken at the appropriate point in the service.

Posted by: Lynn Gazis-Sax on March 15, 2004 09:36 PM

Interesting, I've never heard of this controversy. My Methodist church has always used a real loaf of bread (not a wafer, I mean) and the pastor tears it in half during the eucharistic liturgy. Sometimes in smaller gatherings we use pita bread, but the pastors still tear it in half.

Posted by: Jennifer on March 16, 2004 09:43 AM

Former Lutheran Zorak says some interesting things about the Eucharist here.

I've heard it said that the reason that Protestants (Lutherans more or less excluded) tend to not accept the Real Presence is that their soteriology doesn't require it, because it does not require any real transformation of the person. Salvation is because God covers us and ignores our imperfections and lets us into heaven because He sees Jesus' righteousness. The Catholic and Orthodox understanding of salvation involves both a spiritual and physical transformation.

All Christians believe in the Incarnation, but what is the Incarnation but that Jesus took on flesh and the "accidents" of a human body (as well as a human nature)? The Eucharist is merely that God takes on the accidents of bread instead of flesh: "God approves of matter — he approves of it because he created it — and he approves of it so much that he comes to us under the appearances of bread and wine, just as he does in the physical form of the Incarnate Christ."

From Seewald's "Salt of the Earth": "The cardinal leaves room for arguments that are sometimes heard nowadays: 'I can also pray in the woods, submerged in nature.'
"Of course one can," Cardinal Ratzinger replies. "However, if it was only that way, then the initiative of prayer would remain totally within us: Then God would be a postulate of our thought. That fact that he responds or might want to respond, would remain an open question."
"Eucharist means: God has responded," the cardinal continues. "The Eucharist is God as response, as a presence that responds. Now the initiative of the divine-human relation no longer depends on us, but on him, and so it becomes really serious."

Posted by: tso on March 16, 2004 12:03 PM

The Catholics over at Disputations were having a discussion a couple of days ago which, to the extent that I was able to understand it, seemed to concern whether the sacrament of the Eucharist is to be understood as a sign, or as a mere symbol. Signification seemed to be very important to them. I wondered when "signs" became such a very good thing? Jesus seemed to think that it was an "evil and adulterous generation" that demanded signs. And the types of signs that he said the apostles would be able to demonstrate would include such things as: casting out demons, speaking in tongues, the taking up of serpents, and the ability to drink poison without harm. And they would be able to heal. To me, these things are all in the nature of minor miracles, rather sacraments--which is how I have understood "signs". That said, I can understand how the exact ritual enactment of a "sign" could be more important than the demonstration of a mere symbol.

Posted by: Rob on March 16, 2004 01:20 PM

Thanks for the comments, all. Very interesting.

T.S., I think I understand what you mean, because as I said in my atonement posts, Calvinists can make human beings sound awfully passive. (I'll take your remarks about Protestants to mean Calvinists -- you're not talking about Episcopalians or Quakers, right?) I floated the idea with Telford, however, who knows way more about Calvin than I do, and he disagreed. Apparently Calvin had quite a developed philosophy of sanctification and how the Holy Spirit transfigures people. His philosophy of communion was more based on the separation he made between human and divine, while Luther and the Catholics emphasized their unity. The sort of attitude you're talking about is more a feature of modern radical Protestants, who have to some extent affected even the old-line denominations. The theology that Zorak describes, for instance, is really not Luther's. (Telford told an amusing story about an eminent Lutheran scholar who, with a few glasses of wine in him, started ranting about how 'Protestants' were wrecking Lutheranism -- Luther not counting as a Protestant, but as a Catholic reformer.)

Rob, I don't really have an opinion about the Disputations discussion (obviously, this is more than I've even thought about communion before). But I think if you believe in the Real Presence, communion is a minor miracle, as the bread is transformed into Christ's body (or coexists with Christ's body, in the Lutheran version). Also, I gather that the difference between a 'sign' in the Biblical sense and a mere symbol is that a sign is an actual event that reveals something. One common way of reading Jesus' miracles is that they indicated what will happen in heaven: the blind will see, demons will be gone, no one will want for food, etc. By the same token, communion can be seen as a 'foretaste of the feast to come,' as the Lutheran liturgy goes. That's different from a symbol, which merely represents something else. The cross that symbolizes Christianity isn't really a foretaste of anything -- at least, I hope not!

Posted by: Camassia on March 17, 2004 08:51 AM

I'm fairly confident that I misrepresented the discussion on Disputations, due to my meager understanding of Catholic theology. Probably what I wrote above represents more my own musings on the subject than what was being discussed by my friends over there. I should have added that disclaimer to the post above. The joining of past, present, and future in the signification of the sacrament seems to have been an issue in that discussion. Again, my understanding is slight, but I have this gut feeling that it's important...

Posted by: Rob on March 17, 2004 09:35 AM

Not all Calvinists deny the real presence of Christ in the Lord's supper. Zwingli certainly did, and Zwingli's "low sacramentalism" tended to carry the day, not only among Calvinists, but Baptists and modern day non-denominational evangelicals. Calvin, however, did affirm a real, but not local, presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper. He saw himself as mediator between the Lutherans and the Zwinglians. There is some indication that Luther read of Calvin's theology of the Eucharist and approved of it. The best book on this subject is Gerrish's "Grace and Gratitude."

As to the symbolism of breaking the bread, this little Calvinist minister never thought he was doing anything else other than reenacting the Last Supper ("he took bread, broke it...") There's probably many Eucharistic rituals whose original meaning is lost. One I can think of: the tradition of covering the communion table in a white sheet, common in Presbyterian, Baptist and non-denominational congregations. If you ask a parishioner Why, they'll say, "to keep flies off the bread and out of the wine/juice." In fact, this tradition began in the early 19th century. Just as coffins are covered with white palls, so too it was thought that the communion table, holding the body of Christ, ought to be covered with a pall. Zwingli would not approve!

Posted by: Marvin on March 17, 2004 12:10 PM

Camassia, this is a hot topic among specialists in liturgical theology, and it's especially interesting to me. In what follows, I may sound dogmatic, so I apologize in advance. Preface everything I say with "in my (no so humble) opinion". For my money, there is simply no good reason for a ceremonial "fraction" of the eucharistic bread in Lutheran liturgies. The eucharist is not "play acting"; it is active prayer. In eucharists with individual "hosts," for the priest to break a "big one," is form without function or meaning. When a full loaf of bread is used, bits may be torn off for distribution as communers present themselves.

On this, I found Tillett's words instructive: Lutherans who would follow Luther (and not later developments either in the direction of Lutheran scholasticism or in the direction of pietism) should hold to utilitarian view of any fraction. We do not re-create the sacrifice of Christ; we do not break the bread to prove that it ISN'T Jesus (which would be the complete denial of everything the Lutheran Confessions say about the eucharist!) I confess that I son't quite get the "mystical" angle in Tillett's typology.

On a more general note, there is a simply splendid article in the current issue of PRO ECCLESIA (published by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology, on whose board I sit -- I disclose that to avert charges of shamelessly and secretly plugging a journal in which I have an interest). The article is by Alvin Kimel, an Episcopal priest, and it analyzes different approaches to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist -- something which has been touched on in this thread of discussion.

The author contends that most "high church" traditions -- Roman Catholic, Anglican, lots of Lutheran -- are dualist in their understanding of "real presence": In my unnuanced terms, they distinguish between the Jesus Christ who ascended to the Father and the Jesus Christ whom we proclaim to be present in the eucharist. (He does a great job of analyzing Augustine and Aquinas.)

Kimel's argument (paralleled in Eastern Orthodoxy and in Luther, for heaven's sakes! He does a great job of digesting Luther.) is that the bread and wine don't "become" ("like") Christ; they are the way Jesus Christ is present in the world today. Just as the man Jesus was the walk-around-touchable-Christ-on-earth 2000 years ago, so now that same Christ is among us as bread and wine. Kimel speaks of "real identification" between the ascended Lord and the bread and wine.

The article is mind-blowing in its requirement that we take seriously sacramental presence and time. I've studied this stuff for 30 years and this is one of the finest summaries I've seen. And I think, on this basis, that Kimel would say that the fraction is a hinderance to proper appreciation of the presence of Christ.

Ok, enough. I apologize for the length of this response. It hits on my most sensitive nerve. Satisfied, Dash?


Posted by: Dwight Penas on March 19, 2004 10:14 AM
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