30 August 2004

first day of class

I was up until 2am working on syllabus. The electricity went out after going to bed, so the alarm didn't work and I overslept, ending up awakening at 7:30am for an 8am class. Nevertheless, the syllabus are done and classes seemed to go ok. Still, I need to complete some essay assignment pages and some other business. Will return to blogging soon.

26 August 2004


Since returning from Japan there's not been much break. The AEP orientation week, which finished yesterday, went well, despite the 12+ hour days. Yesterday involved helping students finish drafts of essays, collecting around 15 of them, going over and commenting on each of those drafts in about a 2-hour period, meeting with each student individually to explain the comments and needed corrections, and then finally helping with the revision process until satisfied the student was on the right track. I finished going over essay revisions with the students last night around 9pm and went home to collapse (though only after a generous gin and tonic).

Today is opening activities day for incoming freshmen, which means for me, a campus-wide faculty meeting from 9am-noon, a welcome picnic for new students and families, and Academic Convocation in the mid-afternoon. At least I'll be home for dinner for the first time in a week.

Tomorrow brings a breakfast meeting for Doubles and First Year Odyssey instructors, a 10:30am initial meeting with freshman adivsees, an 11am departmental meeting with incoming majors, and an academic breakout session with students regarding the summer reading assignment.

The weekend looks relatively free, except for the fact I still need to complete my syllabus and get some rest before classes begin on Monday.

21 August 2004


The Academic Enrichment Program at La Salle University is designed for incoming freshman who are admitted to the university on academic probation, in order to help them adjust to and succeed in a college curriculum.

I worked with the program for my first six years at La Salle and was asked to participate again this year during the 5-day summer orientation program, which begins today at 8:45 am and runs daily through Wednesday, from 8 am through 9 pm. Students in the program are required to complete this orientation in order to be admitted to classes in the fall.

This also means I probably won't be online much again until next Thursday. I enjoy the program, but the long days are tiring, and probably especially so this year since I've only just recovered from my jetlag.

20 August 2004

what a friend we have in cheeses

If you're like me and love, and I mean love the miracle that is cheese, then perhaps you might want to check out the website of The Artisanal Cheese Center.

Many of the cheeses they offer are pricey, but some are more reasonably priced and, honestly, among cheese you really cannot beat these handcrafted, often unpasteurized, small batch traditional cheeses. I've tasted a few over the years and they are just incredible.

Assuming you like cheese, that is. And if you don't, well, then I can't be your friend anymore. Sorry.

17 August 2004


I got home from Japan around 1am last night and today find that my sleep schedule is totally out of whack and feel like I'm about to doze off again. I think travelling east is more difficult than west, though I'm not sure why.

The trip was great and I will post some pics sooner or later. In the meantime, I've got a birthday party for my daughter tonight, who is now two years old. I've also got a lot to do and catch up on for the upcoming semester, which begins in less than two weeks, including helping to lead a week-long orientation for incoming freshmen in a special program, a student advising workshop, judicial board stuff, and probably half a dozen things I'm not remembering at the moment.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments on the previous post. I'm not sure when I'll get around to interacting with them.

More later.

14 August 2004

calvinian real presence?

The topic of the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharist has surfaced in several recent discussions, particularly whether one could speak of a Calvinian understanding of that presence. After all, it is assumed, the historic catholic teaching of the church is that of the Real Presence and so a Calvinian doctrine of the Real Presence might have important ecumenical implications.

It seems to me that this topic needs some careful thought, along with a significant degree of historical and philosophical awareness. Unfortunately, I lack much of the requisite expertise to address the topic adequately. Still, I have a few initial (and likely controversial) thoughts on the topic.

I think the first thing to note is terminological. Whatever the shape of Patristic and earlier medieval teaching, nobody believed in the "Real Presence" prior to the late middle ages (note the quotation marks). The terminology of "Real Presence" simply was not in use and when it did come into use - particularly the use of the term "real" - it did so in connection with various shifts in ecclesiology and ontology so that what came to be termed "Real Presence" was not in fact identical with the Patristic and earlier medieval understandings of the eucharist, even if there were points of continuity.

Thus, when Calvin avoids using the terminology of "Real Presence" he does so as a humanist theologian, attempting to retrieve what he understands to be more authentic ways of expressing catholic belief regarding the eucharist, with a greater focus on "true partaking" of Christ's flesh and blood in the context of the eucharistic action, though inextricably tied up with partaking of the elements themselves. In this project Augustine and the Eastern Fathers are Calvin's primary sources of reflection.

A number of studies of Calvin's eucharistic doctrine have been published over the years, attempting to explicate his views. In particular J.W. Nevin's The Mystical Presence, B.A. Gerrish's Grace and Gratitude, and Keith Mathison's Given for You come to mind, each providing an important perspective on Calvin's doctrine. On the specific issue of Calvin's use of terminology and rejection of the language of "Real Presence," however, one should consult Joseph N. Tylenda, "Calvin and Christ's Presence in the Supper - True or Real" in Scottish Journal of Theology 27 (1974) 65-75. Tylenda examines all the revelant texts where Calvin uses the term "real" in relation to the partaking of Christ's body in the Supper and demonstrates that Calvin preferred the older terminology of "true" over the more recent introduction of "real" and the ontological baggage that he perceived as coming with it (though "true" has its own history of problems in connection with eucharist as de Lubac's Corpus Mysticum demonstrates).

Moreover, with regard to the notion of the "real" and the shifts in ontology that are behind it, there are a number important texts that need to be taken into account, several from within the perspective of Radical Orthodoxy.

First among these is Catherine Pickstock's After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Blackwell 1997), where she sets out how shifts in late medieval ontology from Scotus onward led to a "spatialization" of knowledge and reality (what she terms a "mathesis"). Her work on this builds in important ways upon Michel de Certeau's The Mystic Fable. The idea here is that the "real" requires placement upon a manipulable grid of absolute presence.

A second text is John Milbank and C. Pickstock's Truth in Aquinas (Routledge 2001), particularly the fourth and last chapter, "Truth and Language," which treats eucharistic doctrine and issues of presence and absence in the context of both patristic/medieval theology and postmodern discussions (e.g., Derrida, though there are problems with their account of Derrida, I think). They do a good job of suggesting the ways in which earlier eucharistic theology was grounded in an ecclesial and relational context of human action. This discussion is well-supplemented by Graham Ward's Cities of God (Routledge 2000), where he interacts with Calvin's view in connection with questions of ontology and, especially, the ascension of Christ, which Calvin so emphasizes, though Ward's attempt to build a theology of Christ's ascension is not without problems.

Finally, behind these various discussions still stands Henri de Lubac's Corpus Mysticum (Aubier 1944), though it's still only available in French (though an English translation coming out soon). De Lubac traces the reversals and shifts in the relationship and meaning of the terms "true body" and "mystical body" in medieval theology, particular their reversal as the term "true body" migrates from referring to the gathered ecclesial Body of Christ to the presence of Christ in the eucharist.

The upshot of these writings is that for earlier medieval and Patristic theology, notions such as" substance" and "presence" and "body of Christ" were embedded within an ontology that granted them a certain kind of dynamism and relationality, connected with actions and events (so that "eucharist" was more a liturgical event than a fetishizable thing), and irreducibly attached to signs, without giving into spatialized notions of absolute presence and absence. In the late medieval period, however, and into the early modern, there were shifts in ontology that moved in the direction of defining "real" and "substance" in terms of a spatialized presence, definitively localized, thought of in terms of absolute arrival, more static, and in a different, more problematic relationship with signs.

While these shifts occurred in the west, it is arguable that the Christian East maintained something much closer to the overall shape of various Patristic approaches. Some Eastern Orthodox manuals and theologians, of course, in a polemical response to their western counterparts, did fall into some western patterns (e.g., identifying the epiclesis as the moment of Christ's absolute arrival, in response to the high medieval western identification of specific words of the institution narrative as properly consecratory). Nevertheless, a number of Eastern theologians (e.g., Alexander Schmemman in recent years) still maintained and retrieved a eucharistic doctrine that has more in common with the Fathers than with the problematics of the medieval west.

Returning to the notion of the "Real Presence," one could suggest, of course, that it may be the case that in the past century or so, the terminology of "real" has shifted so as not to be quite so tied up with these kinds of later medieval and early modern notions and, instead, meaning something more like "authentic"or "true" rather than "false" or "illusory." Calvin himself allowed that if by "real" one meant "true" (reali pro vero) in opposition to fallacious or imaginary (fallaci vel imaginario), then that language was permissible (see his first reply to Westphal). On this basis, we might speak of a Calvinian doctrine of the "Real Presence" and perhaps there are good ecumenical reasons for doing so in terms of western theology. But I hardly think the terminology of "Real Presence," given its historical contingency and late origins, is necessary for confessing a common catholic faith.

Calvin himself, however, isn't entirely without problems. Personally, my reading of Calvin is that he was attempting to retrieve a more Patristic understanding of the eucharistic partaking of Christ's flesh and blood, trying to do an end run around his Roman Catholic and Lutheran interlocutors. And I think that, to a large degree, Calvin was successful.

On the other hand, Calvin is a mixed bag. He recognizes the problems of the notion of "Real Presence" that had arisen in his day, but he himself, it seems to me, falls prey to just the kinds of problems that he is objecting to in his opponents. Thus, we find Calvin continually speaking of the ascended Christ, in his humanity, as "far off" or "at great distance from us in space" (and so on) as if the ascension were some kind of spiritual mode of space travel. While at his more reflective moments, Calvin seems to recognize that such language is inadequate, it is still pervasive in the way in which he frames his eucharistic doctrine and, in many regards, strikes me as the equal and opposite error from that which he was opposing (i.e., a notion of Real Presence that seemed to definitively and spatially localize Christ's body as enclosed within the eucharistic elements).

It is just this kind of spatialization within Calvin to which Graham Ward objects in his Cities of God, though, it seems to me, that Ward's own theorization of the ascension is at least as problematic as Calvin's (not to mention what seems to me an implicit gnosticism). To my mind, a helpful correction to both Ward and Calvin is Douglas Farrow's Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of Ascension (Eerdmans 1999), which looks at the ascension along more eschatological-temporal dimensions and rethinks how we might conceive of the "heaven" to which Christ has ascended in relation to us.

In any case, there's considerable work to be done on this topic by those from within the Reformed tradition as a matter of renewing Calvin's own eucharistic doctrine, placing it in its proper historical context, developing it today, and bringing it into conversation with the wider faith of the church catholic. What I've done here is the merest gesture towards the issues at stake and resources necessary for such a Calvinistic renewal.

12 August 2004

kyoto and back

Very early on Wednesday morning Berek and I made our way to Tokyo Station to pick up the Japan Railway's shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto, arriving there a little after 8am.

We spent the better part of the day visiting various temples and other historical sites in Kyoto. The gardens of the one temple were, I thought, particularly beautiful. I'll post some pictures when I return to Philadelphia.

On Thursday we made our way to Nagoya so I could visit with Michael Oh, a friend from college, who is heading up a project to start a Reformed theological seminary in the Nagoya area. They described their project to me and I presented a more informal and brief version of my lectures on open theism.

I'm back in Tokyo today, but feeling a bit groggy still from all the travel. Well, off to get some breakfast.

09 August 2004


We went out in Shinjuku for the absolute best Japanese food last night. While I don't dislike Japanese cuisine, it's certainly never been my favorite among Asian cuisines. Last's night meal, however, was simply wonderful. Then add the fact that the restaurant was atop a high rise office tower with spectacular views of Tokyo.

I had some really fine shochu with the meal, a distilled drink that, when good quality, can rival any western cognac. The meal included all kinds of small appetizers ranging from eggplant to beef skewers to eel. Early in the evening we even got to watch on the chefs prepare the eel, pulling them live from a tank, stunning them in ice water, and then killing and cleaning them. One can't get eel any more fresh than that.

After the meal we walked over to the Park Hyatt Hotel, well-known from the film Lost in Translation, and had some drinks in one of the bars atop it. Again, the views of Tokyo at night were absolutely spectacular.

Of course, even if one lived here, this wouldn't be the sort of evening one would enjoy very often. But it was a nice treat.

08 August 2004

the eucharistic memorial - part ii

In my previous post I only touched on some of the issues involved in the Reformed doctrine of the eucharistic memorial and sacrifice, beginning with Calvin. In this post I will go on to discuss some more of the historical context.

Philippe du Plessis-Mornay

One example among the theologians of the Reformed church of France is that of Philippe du Plessis-Mornay (1549-1623), a prominent representative of the Reformed cause in the French court and the founder of the Reformed academy of Saumur.   In 1598 he published an extensive treatise on the eucharist, focusing primarily upon patristic teaching and practice, entitled De l'institution, usage et doctrine du saint sacrament de l'Eucharistie, en l'Eglise ancienne. In it du Plessis-Mornay writes that the eucharist:
...needs to be considered as in some sense a sacrifice insofar as it is the commemoration of the propitiatory sacrifice of our Lord on the cross, in accordance with the saying, "Do this in remembrance of me; you proclaim the Lord's death until he should come." So that as the Lamb was, after a fashion, a propriatory sacrifice, insofar as it prefigured Christ's sacrifice, the eucharist also may be called the same, insofar as it recalls it to us and represents him to us crucified before the eyes of faith. (353)
As an effect and reflex of this commemoration, however, du Plessis-Mornay sees another sacrificial aspect to the eucharist, from which it derives its very name as "eucharist," that is:
...a true sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving which the church calls the "eucharist." When we remember that God has so loved the world (or rather the church hated by the world) that he has given his dear eternal Son for us mortal men, the righteous for criminals, even to the ignominious death of the cross, in order to redeem them from their sins, then we worship the bowels of his mercy (353)
This response of praise and thanksgiving, is the response of faith, whereby the sacrifice of Christ, offered and made present to us in the eucharist is rightly received, so that in union with it we may acceptably offer ourselves:
...And this faith applies the sacrifice to us, making it personal. (So we can say: I am sacrificed with Christ, I live, yet not I, but Christ in me.) What can we do less than to give ourselves, to sacrifice ourselves to him? To present to him, as the Apostle say, our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service? And so the commemoration of this propitiatory sacrifice can be called, even if imprecisely, a sacrifice.(354)
All of this flows from the commemoration of Christ's death in the action of the eucharist, but while du Plessis-Mornay has focused thus far upon the subjective aspect of this commemoration, giving rise to our own self-offering, he also sees the eucharist as an objective commemoration, celebrated before the face of God himself. He writes:
So we do not, according to St. Cyprian, offer Jesus Christ himself; but we offer his passion, we offer him already immolated on the cross; we commemorate his death; we represent it to God for the remission of our sins.(539)
While the commemoration, subjectively speaking, strengthens and confirms the faith by which the benefits of Christ's death are received in the eucharist, objectively speaking, that same commemoration is one by which we represent Christ's sacrifice before God, pleading the promises in order that God might truly offer remission of sins to us in virtue of Christ's completed work. And so, he writes, "We represent Christ to God as a propitiation for our sins who died for our redemption" (556).

Pierre du Moulin

An even more prominent example among the French Reformed is perhaps Pierre du Moulin (1568-1658) who, after teaching philosophy and Greek at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, returned to France to pastor a Parisian parish and, later, to serve as professor of theology at the Reformed academy of Sedan.

Du Moulin wrote about the eucharistic offering in his Buckler of the Faith (or Defense of the Confession of Faith of the Reformed Churches of France against the Objections of Arnoux, Jesuit), published in 1619. In it he outlines the following points:
There are particular reasons for calling the eucharist a sacrifice:

I. Because this sacrament was instituted to proclaim the Lord's death until he come. Hence the eucharist may be called a sacrifice, since it represents the sacrifice of the Lord's death...

II. It may be said that in the eucharist we offer Jesus Christ to God, insofar as we ask God to receive on our behalf the sacrifice of his death.

III. The eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the divine benefits and especially for the benefit of our redemption through Jesus Christ.

IV. The early church had a particular reason for calling the eucharist a sacrifice, for it was the custom for each believer to bring his gifts and presents to the table, and part of this was used for the eucharist, while the rest was food for the poor. These presents were called sacrifices and oblations...
Here we see, neatly and straightforwardly woven together, all the various themes already sounded by Perkins and du Plessis-Mornay. In light of these points, while du Moulin would not term the eucharist a "propitiatory sacrifice" strictly speaking, he nevertheless allows that "The eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice insofar as it is a sacrament and a commemoration..." of Christ's once for all propitiation upon the cross.

Richard Baxter

Returning to the English Puritans, we can give some consideration to the views of Richard Baxter(1615-1691), one of the most prominent Reformed divines of his day. Throughout his writings on the eucharist Baxter echoes themes we have already seen.  In his 1673 treatise, The Christian Directory, he writes that God:
...hath ordained that these consecrated representations should in their manner and measure, supply the room of his bodily presence, while his body is in heaven; and that thus, as it were, in effigy, in representation, he might still be crucified before the church's eyes; and they might be affected, as if they had seen him on the cross. And that by faith and by prayer they might, as it were, offer him up to God--that is, might show the Father that sacrifice, made once for sin, in which they trust, and for which it is that they expect all the acceptance of their persons with God, and hope for audience, when they beg for mercy, and offer up prayer or praises to him (494).
In another writing, this one entitled A Saint or Brute (found now in volume 2 of Baxter's Practical Works), Baxter includes another discussion of the Supper, describing in terms of three actions: Consecration, Commemoration, and Offering or Participation. Baxter's discussion of the eucharistic commemoration is particularly notable in respect to the present topic. He writes:
In the second part of the eucharist, which is the commemoration of the sacrifice offered on the cross, we break the bread and pour forth the wine, to represent the breaking of Christ's body, and shedding of his blood for the sin of man, and we beseech the Father to be reconciled to us on his Son's account and to accept us in his Beloved, and to accept all our sacrifices through him. So that as Christ now in heaven is representing his sacrifice to the Father, which he once offered on the cross for sin, so must the minister of Christ represent and plead to the Father the same sacrifice, by the way of commemoration, and such intercession as belongeth to his office. (764)
Baxter goes on to explain that, as an effect of this commemoration, the communicants are able to receive Christ in the eucharist as a gift of God, for the remission of sins and life eternal. He concludes:
What a comfort is it that the offended Majesty will accept a sacrifice at our hands, and enter a treaty of peace with the offenders! Yea, that he will provide the sacrifice himself, and the preciousest in the whole world; that he will signify this his acceptance of the sacrifice, and how he is pleased in his well-beloved Son, and that he accepteth his Son's intercession in the heavens, and his ministers' intercession and his church's prayers on earth through Christ! (764)
Baxter's Reformed eucharistic doctrine, therefore, is in keeping with the general contours of the other theologians we have already examined.

Jacques Basnage

One last theologian among the French Reformed is due some consideration: Jacques Basnage (1653-1723). Basnage studied at both Saumur and Geneva and pastored both in France, at Rouen, and later in the Netherlands, after the revocation of the edict of Nantes. Much of Basnage's theological writing was historical in foucs.

In his 1699 work, Histoire de l'Eglise depuis Jesus-christ jusqu'a present, he succinctly sums up much of what we have already seen with regard to the eucharist as a commemoration.  Basnage writes:
In the eucharist it is not just a matter of the priest and the communicant remembering the sufferings of Jesus, recalled by the sight of the bread broken and the wine outpoured, but also the bread and wine offered to God that he may remember the same sufferings of his Son and that, touched by the sacrifice of the cross, he may be appeased and may grant the remission of sins.  There is no new sacrifice, but a commemoration of the sacrifice of the Son ofGod who, being represented to his Father by the symbols of bread and wine, constrains him to let himself be touched and to grant us the fruits of the true sacrifice which is that of the cross. (995)
Little further comment is necessary. Hopefully these quotations have helped supply a deeper understanding of some of the ways in which Reformed theologians have understand and explicated their teaching regarding the eucharist as a memorial and commemorative sacrifice, in conversation with Scripture and the Fathers.

Perhaps further elucidation along these lines, particularly in connection with a biblical study of memorial actions and signs, might lead to greater mutual understanding among those churches which remain divided over such theological issues, among other disagreements. Moreover, within the Reformed tradition itself, our own eucharistic understanding and piety might be enhanced and deepened.

07 August 2004

the eucharistic memorial - part i

I've written here before regarding Reformed understandings of our true partaking of Christ's body and blood in the eucharist, focusing particularly on the views of Calvin and Bucer. That is not my immediate topic.

Instead, I would now like to give some consideration to Reformed understandings of the eucharist as a memorial of Christ's passion and death - a sacrifice of our thanksgiving and praise and of ourselves, in union with Christ and the benefits of his sacrifice, a eucharistic offering by which we receive the forgiveness of sins unto salvation.

It is, of course, well known that Calvin, along with the other Reformers, most strenuously objected to the understanding of the "sacrifice of the mass" that they perceived to be present in the Roman Catholic church of their day, maintaining that the Roman mass attempted to supplement Christ's sacrifice on the cross with an action of our own, offering up, through the Christian priest, our own atoning sacrifice of Jesus in addition to what Christ had already accomplished once for all.

Whether or not this was the official teaching of the Roman church, or remains so today, is not my present concern. It was the teaching that the Reformers thought they faced and which they opposed. In their estimation, the prevalent abuses and the aberrations from apostolic and patristic teaching necessitated a break from dominant understandings and practices.

In making such a break, however, they did not throw out every understanding of the eucharistic memorial and sacrifice, but attempted to retrieve what they believed to be authentically biblical, apostolic, and patristic doctrine. While, in light of their own context, Luther and Calvin only paid passing attention to framing a positive doctrine of the eucharistic sacrifice, later Reformed theologians made a significant effort to explicate the Reformed doctrine of the eucharistic sacrifice in conversation with Scripture and church history, particularly the Fathers.

The following is not an attempt to prove that Reformed understandings of the eucharistic memorial and sacrifice are biblical and apostolic, nor is it an attempt to prove that Reformed theologians genuinely recovered the teaching of the Fathers and some medievals on the matter. Rather, I simply am presenting and explicating the views of a few representative Reformed thinkers as I find them and understand them, in roughly chronological order.

John Calvin

Before turning to later Reformed explications (of the later 16th century and up into the early 18th century), we can briefly consider what John Calvin himself wrote on the matter. In his Commentary on 1 Corinthians, Calvin writes:
The bread is his body. For we have it for this reason, that it may be a covenant in his body, that is, a covenant which has been once for all ratified by the sacrifice of his body, and is now confirmed by eating, namely, when believers eat that sacrifice...For the blood was poured out to reconcile us to God, and now we drink it spiritually in order to have a share in that reconciliation.
For Calvin, when the bread and wine are set apart by the Word, the Supper becomes the means by which we partake of Christ, substantially, so that, feeding upon him, we,
by the power of the Holy Spirit, may be united to him, in order that the death and passion that he has undergone may belong to us and that that sacrifice, by which we are now reconciled to God, may be attributed and imputed to us now as if we had offered it ourselves in person. (Sermon 7 on 1 Corinthians)
Calvin does not want to do anything to eclipse the unique, once for all sacrifice of the cross, by our adding something to that sacrifice of our own doing or by claiming to sacrifice Christ anew. But he is happy to say that the whole benefit of that sacrifice is made present in the eucharist in the Person of Christ so that the reconciling benefits of it are received by us as if we had offered Christ up to the Father ourselves. After all, "the Lord does not offer his body to us, just his body with nothing else said about it, but his body as having been sacrificed for us" (Commentary on 1 Corinthians).

This eucharistic movement, in which we, by union with the whole Christ, share in the benefits of his sacrifice as if we had offered him up ourselves, is a movement that Calvin places in the context of the eucharist as a sacrifice of all possible praise and thanksgiving. He writes:
This kind of sacrifice is indispensable in the Lord's Supper, in which, while we show forth his death, and give him thanks, we offer nothing but the sacrifice of praise. From this office of sacrificing, all Christians are called "a royal priesthood," because by Christ we offer that sacrifice of praise of which the apostle speaks, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name (1 Pet 2:9; Heb 13:15). We do not appear with our gifts in the presence of God without an intercessor. Christ, our Mediator, by whose intervention we offer ourselves and our all to the Father; he is our High Priest, who, having entered into the upper sanctuary, opens up an access for us; he is the altar on which we lay our gifts, that whatever we do attempt, we may attempt in him; he it is, I say, who "has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father" (Rev 1:6). (Institutes 4.18.17)
Thus, any kind of offering that we make in the eucharist - of ourselves, of our praise, and even, in the sense specified above, of Christ himself - is an offering that we make only in union with the glorified Christ as our Mediator and Priest, caught up into his own self-offering and priestly intercession before the Father, as our heavenly altar.

Though Calvin never explicates this teaching in any great detail, the outline of a robust theology of the eucharistic memorial and sacrifice lies incipiently within Calvin's teaching. Once the initial polemics of the Reformation passed - with their attempts to distance themselves from perceived Roman errors - Reformed theologians continued to develop this theology of the eucharistic sacrifice, building on these few suggestions of Calvin and in dialogue with the wider Christian tradition.

William Perkins

Among English theologians, the Elizabethan Puritan divine, William Perkins (1558-1602), wrote extensively on various topics of theology, including the sacraments, on several occasions interacting with what he took to be the teaching of Roman Catholicism and arguing for his own understanding of the catholic faith, appropriately reformed in light of Scripture and in conversation with the Fathers of the church.

Perkins addressed the nature of the eucharistic sacrifice in his book The Reformed Catholike (in Works, vol 1; I've modernized the spellings in the following texts, for ease of reading). After discussing biblical sacrifices in general, he draws two main conclusions, the first of which is the following:
I. That the Supper of the Lord is a sacrifice, and may truly be so called as it has been in former ages; and that in three respects:

[1] Because it is a memorial of the real sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, and contains withal a thanksgiving to God for the same, which thanksgiving is the sacrifice and calves of our lips (Heb 13:15).

[2] Because every communicant does there present himself body and soul a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice unto God. For as in this sacrament God gives unto us Christ, with his benefits: so we answerably give ourselves unto God as servants to walk in the practice of all dutiful obedience.

[3] It is called a sacrifice in respect of that which was joined with the sacrament, namely, the alms given to the poor as a testimony of our thankfulness unto God. And in this respect also, the ancient Fathers have called the sacrament, an "unbloody sacrifice"; and the table, an "altar"; and the ministers, "priests"; and the whole action an "oblation," not to God but to the congregation, and not by the priest alone, but by the people.

A canon of a certain council says, "We decree that every Lord's Day the oblation of the altar be offered of every man and woman both for bread and wine." And Augustine says, that women offer a sacrifice at the altar of the Lord, that it might be offered by the priest to God. And usually in ancient writers the communion of the whole body of the congregation is called the "sacrifice" or "oblation."
Therefore, for Perkins, the eucharist is a sacrifice in the sense that it is an objective memorial representing Christ's sacrifice, it is a means by which we offer ourselves up to God in union with Christ and all his benefits, and it incorporates the collection of alms for the poor, from which the eucharistic elements are also drawn.

Perkins goes on to draw a second conclusion:
II. That the very body of Christ is offered in the Lord's Supper.

For as we take the bread, to be the body of Christ sacramentally by resemblance and no otherwise: so the breaking of bread is sacramentally the sacrificing or offering of Christ upon the cross. And thus the Fathers have termed the Eucharist an "immolation of Christ," because it is a commemoration of his sacrifice upon the cross (Aug. Epistle 23).

Neither does he lie which says Christ was offered. For if the sacraments had not the resemblance of things whereof they are sacraments, they should in no wise be sacraments: but from a resemblance they often take their names.

Again, Christ is sacrificed in the last supper, in regard of the faith of the communicants, which makes a thing past and done, as present. Augustine says, "When we believe in Christ, he is offered for us daily. And, Christ is then slain for everyone, when he believes that he is slain for him." Ambrose says, "Christ is sacrificed daily in the minds of believers, as upon the altar." Jerome says, "He is always offered to the believers." (593-94)
There may be difficulties with Perkin's doctrine of Christ's presence in the Supper here (another topic for another time), but his idea that the bread of the eucharist is called "body" by way of resemblance should be understood in the context of his belief that the bread remains bread as to its material constitution, that Christ's body and is not localized or circumscribed within the bread, and that, nonetheless, Christ's body is received by communicants with the receiving of the bread, if they believe in faith what God portrays in the sacrament. Thus, there is a resemblance, but a sacramental resemblance that communicates what it resembles. This is not exactly how all Reformed divines would word things, but let's focus on the notion of sacrifice that is operative here, as a sacramental resemblance that communicates what it resembles.

Perkins' notion of the eucharist as a sacrifice also functions by way of resemblance, so that the action of the eucharist represents the sacrifice of the cross and is, thereby, rightly called a "sacrifice." This approach has parallels, for instance, in the teaching of Thomas Aquinas.

Aquinas writes regarding the eucharistic sacrifice:
The celebration of this sacrament is called a sacrifice for two reasons.

First, because, as Augustine says (Ad Simplician. ii), "the images of things are called by the names of the things whereof they are the images; as when we look upon a picture or a fresco, we say, 'This is Cicero and that is Sallust.'" But, as was said above, the celebration of this sacrament is an image representing Christ's Passion, which is His true sacrifice. Accordingly the celebration of this sacrament is called Christ's sacrifice. Hence it is that Ambrose, in commenting on Heb. 10:1, says: "In Christ was offered up a sacrifice capable of giving eternal salvation; what then do we do? Do we not offer it up every day in memory of His death?" (Summa Theologiae III, 83, 1)
Aquinas goes on to say that the eucharist a sacrifice also "in respect of the effect of His Passion: because, to wit, by this sacrament, we are made partakers of the fruit of our Lord's Passion." Perkins could, it seems, easily enough agree with both of Aquinas' affirmations.

A remaining question, however, is whether the eucharist, as a representation of Christ's sacrifice, works only with reference to the faith of the church as those who offer and receive it, or does Perkins also believe that the eucharist objectively represents Christ's sacrifice, even before the face of God?

Perkins clarifies this matter when he writes elsewhere that:
...the Sacrament is called a sacrifice by a metonymie, because it is a commemoration, and also a representation unto God the Father of the Sacrifice of Christ offered upon the cross." (Works, vol 2:551; emphasis mine)
Perkins is not alone among English Puritans and Reformed in taking such a position, but similar discussions of the eucharistic sacrifice can be found among the French Reformed and other Continental theologians, whom I will go on to discuss in a subsequent post.

today's lectures

The talks on open theism today went well. The turnout seemed pretty good to me and people asked thoughtful questions, despite the difficulty and theological complexity of much of what I had said. It was a good experience and hopefully will benefit those who heard and help them grow in their understanding of God.

06 August 2004

lecture today

Yesterday Berek and I spent several hours at the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. The Museum is located in a park in Koganei on the western side of Tokyo and consists in a number of Japanese buildings ranging from the 1600s until the present, which have all been moved to this location. Buildings include old farmhouses, shops from the 1920s, the residence of a wealthy family, a shrine, and so on.

Today, however, features my main purpose in visiting Japan: lecturing to a group of Japanese Christians in Tokyo on the openness of God theology that is making significant inroads into American evangelicalism. While this theology has had little impact thus far in Japan, the potential for its influence is there and, as far as we know, my talk will be the first Japanese language attempt at a response, sympathetic or critical.

But the issue of the language is a difficult one, particularly since my response to open theism is profoundly Trinitarian in shape. As you may know, speaking of the Christian God, particularly in a precise and reflective way, is something that most languages lack native terminology for doing. Even in the west, Greek and Latin did not come with ready-made words for the expression of our Trinitarian faith. Rather, the theological reflection of the Christian church led to a transformation of language and the introduction of new ways of understanding and speaking of reality.

As westerners, of course, we take much of this for granted since we stand in a 2000 year process of reflection and engagement. While there have been Christians in Japan for many centuries, the Faith has never had the kind of ascendency here that it has had in the west and thus the language remains resistant to speaking the Christian God in a clear way. Theological notions such as "Person," "pure actuality," "impassibility," "eternally begotten," and the like either lack terminology or would suggest terminology that makes little sense in application to the divine.

In any case, there has been a flurry of activity here attempting to translate my lectures into Japanese (with Berek showing some brilliant and sensitive skills in so doing), requiring at times some degree of consultation and dispute among various persons regarding how to best express the categories of classical Christian theology. Pray that all goes well and that what I have to say not only makes some kind of sense, but also will be of use to the Japanese church in coming to better understand the God we worship as Trinity.

05 August 2004

tokyo thus far

I've only been here a couple of days, but am enjoying things. The food is good, though unfortunately, I've never much cared for fish, which limits my options. And the people are very polite, though shop clerks are almost machine-like.

I've been impressed by the number of people who bicycle from place to place, both young and old. There are garages and parking lots for bicycles in shopping districts to accomodate all the bikes. Though there are cars on the road, there aren't nearly as many as one would expect for a huge metropolitan area and what cars there are, mostly are very small--mini varieties of Nissan, Toyota, Honda, and so on, models that aren't even available in the States. I don't think I've yet seen an SUV.

While the train and subway system is extensive and busy, when the majority of people don't drive everywhere, it gives a rather different sense of space and place to a city since one just doesn't hop into a car and drive away on a whim. Places like NYC in the States are a bit more like that, but still not to the same degree. I suppose some European cities are similar.

I'm waiting for Laurel to come online so we can chat, so I think I'll publish this and check my email. Enough for now.

04 August 2004

covenant of works

A while ago I began to put my earlier blog entries on the covenant of works together into an essay, along with some more extensive footnotes and documentation. I'm not finished with the notes, but before I left for Japan I put the essay upon online "as is" until I can get a chance to get back to it. It's under the title "The Covenant of Works in the Reformed Tradition."

03 August 2004


The Amtrak train to NYC naturally was an hour and a half late. Fortunately I was going up on Sunday and not flying out until Monday. The Rev. Matt Brown, pastor of Park Slope PCA in Brooklyn graciously offered me a place to crash for the night and drove me to JFK the next morning. Matt is a really great guy and if you are ever in NYC (and especially if you move to Brooklyn), you must visit his church.

The flight to Tokyo was uneventful, though very long at nearly 14 hours, non-stop. Also factor in that I've got an irrational fear of flying. Thus for at least the first 8 hours or so in the air, every little bump or vibration left me gripping the armrests, white-knuckled. I've also not had any sleep since 6:30 EDT, almost 24 hours ago...so if this isn't coherent, that's why.

Berek met me at Tokyo-Narita airport and after a quick stop for noodles in Shinjuku, we headed to his folks' apartment, where I'm now blogging. More later.