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Eucharist and non-Catholics

Who knew that the Canadian media were so zealous for the One True Faith? Only they are to blame that this is such a secret, as they are only too discriminating in how the exhibition of their piety. For example, consider the recent funeral of former governor general Roméo LeBlanc in Memramcook, New Brunswick. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was handed the Blessed Sacrament by Monsignor André Richard. The glaring problem here is that Mr. Harper is not Catholic. He returned to his pew carrying the Host, and for nearly forty seconds simply stood there without consuming the holy wafer- it almost appears in the footage as if he has put the Host in his pocket. The Prime Minister's Office has stated that Mr. Harper did consume the Host, a story collaborated by the eywitness testimony Noël Kinsella, the Roman Catholic Speaker of the Senate (who holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, impressive credentials which nevertheless do not confer infallible powers of observation); unfortunately, the cameraman apparently decided that forty seconds of inactivity was enough evidence to convict Mr. Harper of sacrilege before the tribunal of the Canadian street.

One hopes there is forgiveness in store for those perplexed by the media's sudden interest in making sure Christ is not blasphemed. After all, there was precious little coverage of the local Fringe Festival production Get Off the Cross, Mary, “the story of a once-famous gay puppet who tries to make his big comeback by producing and starring in a queer disco remake of The Passion of the Christ”. If disrespect for the Host is what earns the ire of the press, then surely when biologist P.Z. Myers visited the University of Alberta to lecture and debate, his giddily self-publicized Eucharistic desecration involving throwing a wafer (supposedly consecrated; for Myers' sake, one hopes to God that it was not) in the garbage with a banana peel and some coffee grounds after piercing it with a rusty nail would surely have warranted a mention. And as far as offending Catholic sensibilities goes, homosexual unions received the federal sanction of “marriage” under the aegis of two professed Papists, Jean "I am Catholic and pro-abortion” Chrétien and Paul Martin; surely they should have been confronted on this. Unfortunately, the media's chose not to exhibit its righteous indignation on behalf of Catholicism until Mr. Harper's election, apparently.

This is not going to be a routine rant about the leftist bias of the media; it will, instead, consider what immediate and historical circumstances precipitated something like this actually happening. Now, certainly Msgr. Richard bears much culpability here. His explanation for offering the Host to a known non-Catholic was almost alarming in its flippancy: "I didn't see anything wrong there because I was busy doing something else." Charity almost forces one to assume this quote is out of context. As for Mr. Harper, his actions are easy to explain. He was clearly unfamiliar with Catholic liturgical practice and unsure how to avoid causing offense. (The Prime Minister recently returned from four days of meeting with the Pope; we can only hope some of Mr. Harper's ignorance of Catholic practice was remedied in that time.) His behaviour was obviously meant without malice, but "would say to me it's time to get new protocol people", in the words of Monsignor Brian Henneberry. Yet the fact that such innocuous trivialities and oversights as a bishop's carelessness Mr. Harper apparently receiving an inadequate debriefing are what led to this miniature tragedy almost make it more disconcerting.

So much for the immediate context. What about the larger one?

Mr. Harper, like his predecessor, Preston Manning, is a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a denomination with no apparent sacramentology, that is to say, functional Zwinglianism. This is, at present, the stock doctrine of the ordinances among Evangelical Protestants. There is almost certainly no Alliance church in the world where a communicant could fold his arms and receive a blessing at the altar as opposed to partaking in the elements (a word they would probably never use in reference to their crackers and plastic cups of Welch's) because they simply cannot be taken that seriously, by virtue of the theological inattention they receive. Yet, although the theology may, in this case, be Zwinglian, the denomination was founded by A.B. Simpson, who was originally a Presbyterian minister. Its geneaology, then, traces ultimately back, not to Zwingli, but to John Calvin, whose 500th birthday is celebrated this year. But even though the Calvinist-Presbyterian view of the Lord's Supper is much higher than its Zwinglian cousin, the Alliance church chose to "inherit" Zwingli's view, rather than Calvin's. This is very revealing.

Much of the discussion about Calvin in the secular media has centered, not so much on the man himself (whose personality is comparatively shrouded by history, as would doubtless have been to his liking) as on his legacy. This must be strongly emphasized lest any purists produce an array of quotations trying to exonerate the man himself of responsibility for what came afterwards. Indeed, it is hard to believe that Calvin would not have been thoroughly disappointed and upset by the course taken by the avalanche he catalyzed. One wonders whether, had he a crystall ball, he would have decided his attempt at external reform was ultimately worth it. As is to be expected, most of the media's discussion of Calvin has focused on the political effects of his work and teaching, and certainly there are Calvinists today, often of the theonomist stripe, who proudly tote free-market capitalism as being the Protestant economic system, flowing of necessity from the principles of the Institutes. But as Paula M. Cooey observes, "No one talks much about the more left-wing version of Calvinism these days. It is just way too much fun to caricature both founder and followers. In fact, there is also a long history of Calvinists across the denominations of Reformed Protestantism slogging it out in the trenches on behalf of social justice, the glory of God captured in their radically egalitarian visions of the Kingdom of God on Earth." Indeed, a recent special edition magazine in the Netherlands depicted Calvin as the "Barack Obama of the 16th Century" "and compares his connection with the ordinary man and his emphasis on responsibility with that of the new U.S. President", while David Gibson observes that "Barack Obama, of the sunny 'Yes we can!' campaign slogan, certainly seems to channel Calvin with his disciplined style and his calls for personal responsibility and self-sacrifice."

Of course, the Rushdoony-parroting Reconstructionists will insist it is their Rightist movement which reads Calvin aright, often citing Max Weber's famous thesis that Reformed doctrines are what gave the free market its impetus. Yet such people have not read their Calvin, or their Weber, very carefully. In his celebrated book on The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the great sociologist wrote of Calvin's doctrine of the "horrible decree" of double predestination: "The question, Am I one of the elect? must sooner or later have arisen for every believer and have forced all other interests into the background. And how can I be sure of this state of grace? For Calvin himself this was not a problem. He felt himself to be a chosen agent of the Lord, and was certain of his own salvation. Accordingly, to the question of how the individual can be certain of his own election, he has at bottom only the answer that we should be content with the knowledge that God has chosen and depend further only on that implicit trust in Christ which is the result of true faith...naturally this attitude was impossible for his followers as early as Beza, and, above all, for the broad mass of ordinary men. For them the certainty of salvation in the sense of the recognizability of the state of grace necessarily became of absolutely dominant importance. So, wherever the doctrine of predestination was held, the question could not be suppressed whether there were any infallible criteria by which membership in the elect could be known...It was impossible, at least so far as the question of a man's own state of grace arose, to be satisfied with Calvin's trust in the testimony of the expectant faith resulting from grace, even though the orthodox doctrine had never formally abandoned that criterion...So far as predestination was not reinterpreted, toned down, or fundamentally abandoned, two principal, mutually connected, types of pastoral advice appear...The exhortation of the apostle to make fast one's own call is here interpreted as a duty to attain certainty of one's own election and justification in the daily struggle of life. In the place of the humble sinners to whom Luther promises grace if they trust themselves to God in penitent faith are bred those self-confident saints whom we can rediscover in the hard Puritan merchants of the heroic age of capitalism and in isolated instances down to the present. On the other hand, in order to attain that self-confidence intense worldly activity is recommended as the most suitable means. It and it alone disperses religious doubts and gives the certainty of grace."

In case the reader missed it, the attitude that catalyzed the spirit of capitalism- that one must make their calling and election sure by means of worldly usefulness- was developed over against Calvin's doctrine that assurance was to be found in faith. In effect, the spirit of capitalism was the result of a rejection of Calvin's interpretation of his doctrines by those who claimed them. There is a sort of principle of default at work in any culture which has a theological tradition behind it. Whenever a doctrine with metaphysical sanction behind it has some sort of societal or political effect, if fealty to the religion itself is not maintained, the effect will be elevated to the religious status of it cause; but with its foundation undermined, it will eventually begin to crumble. One may find a flower more beautiful than its stem, and it may remain beautiful after plucked, but its life source has been cut off, and its doom is ensured. Calvin and capitalism is a perfect example. The Puritans' capitalism was rooted in their intense religiosity; now, Bill Clinton may have no idea what the Triple Unity is, but he can still describe himself as "too much of a Calvinist- if I don't go to work every day, I get nervous." Similarly, as Dr. Serene Jones observes, "if we’re making a birthday list, we can’t forget the secular humanists, who also have a legacy in Calvinism. The profound notions that govern the political center in this country – democracy and public accountability – come straight out of the humanism that was born of Calvinist roots: the originally theological claims against idolatry and totalitarianism as the product of human sin and pride fund the constraints of democracy that insist on checks and balances and common rule for our common flourishing." Yet the idea of separation of church and state, originally intended to make a clear demarcation between "the Garden of the Church and the Wilderness of the World", in Roger Williams' words, has today evolved into a veritable paranoia against any religious themes in political decisions, to the point where Stephen Harper was practically accused of being a theocrat for ending his speeches with "God bless Canada"- and the intellectual barrenness of a state without a deity is demonstrated in the impotence liberal democracy seems to have in resisting sharia law, now more widely practiced in the world than common law (long since severed from its anchor in Christian theology).

Ultimately, we must leave it to the Calvin scholars to slug it out over which political stream flows most directly from his fountain, but this should suffice to prove that his legacy is, among other things, mixed, confused, and often contradictory. As a confirmation of this, consider that in Geneva itself, "his local legacy is controversial, dividing inhabitants between a traditional elite who honour the emblematic figure who shaped the city, and those who deride the 16th-century preacher as a 'little ayatollah', as one blogger did. To this day, much of Geneva's influential private banking community -- often built around family dynasties -- and decision makers have Calvinist roots, lending a slightly austere or restrained flavour to life in the lakeside city in western Switzerland. But the local religious balance has shifted, partly due to the subsequent influx of refugees and immigrants that largely began with the fleeing Protestants in Calvin's era. Nowadays, the majority of the canton of Geneva's population is Roman Catholic." But as Reformation historian Olivier Fatio pointed out, Calvin should not primarily be seen as a political figure. "He was interested in theology, preaching and saving souls, and that's hard to understand nowadays." Indeed, it is. Taking theology more seriously than the more visible, immediate, material, and range-of-the-moment problems that politics (and defanged religiosity) deal with is quite an alien concept to the world- and, as we shall sadly be reminded, to much of Christendom.

What are we to make of Calvin's theological legacy? It is far too pat and cliché (although not inaccurate or irrelevant) to point to the rampant denominationalism in Protestantism and blame it largely on Calvin's doctrine of sola scriptura and the anarchy that results from it; however, it is worth considering that, in postulating the system of Calvinism in addition to sola scriptura, Calvin was smoothing out the deathbed of his own central dogmas. Calvinists today are constantly complaining about the lack of emphasis on what they feel are the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith (witness especially their aggravation over the ignorance of their doctrine of imputed righteousness), and in reaction to Time Magazine dubbing "the New Calvinism" one of ten major ideas changing the world, which most TULIP-ers hailed as a positive sign of their resurgence, Gary DeMar wrote a more sober article denouncing many of the problems with Calvinism today. "Take away Calvinism’s worldview paradigm, and Calvinism’s plane won’t fly. The New Calvinists better understand this or they will become hopelessly pietistic." Yes, indeed; pietism is the recourse of any dying doctrine, allowing it to offer the individual a code of ethics, if nothing else (and once the foundations are abandoned, nothing is usually all that's left). What we see at work here is the fact that the principle of default also applies whenever a doctrine or theological system, no matter how internally robust, is asserted alongside a doctrine which emphasizes the primacy of the individual or downplays the need of objective authority or ritual- the latter will without fail outshine, outlast, and sometimes contribute to the demise of, the former. The only way to suppress this inevitably intellectual entropy is to develop a sort of inconsistent Protestant Magisterium. Witness how Charles Finney (himself something of a Pope among the heirs of the Jesus Movement) described the Westminster Confession of Faith as a "paper Pope", the same language Modernists have used in reference to Scripture. Witness also the vindication of Finney's accusation was in the way that the WCF is used in any debate over the Federal Vision.

Sacramentology, the issue which sparked this discussion, is also one of its perfect example. As indicated, Calvin had a profoundly different understanding of the Lord's Supper than Zwingli. Calvin's view preserved the Real (albeit non-physical) Presence of Christ in the sacrament, but as Gregory Dix writes in his magnum opus, The Shape of the Liturgy (copyright, Dacre Westminster Press, 1945), "Calvin is at one with Zwingli in denying any but a figurative sense to the words of institution...for all the greater warmth and reality which Calvin's doctrine thus imparts to the notion of the eucharist over Zwingli's, he does not meet the difficulty that what our Lord had said He was giving was not His Spirit, but His Body. The last supper is not Pentecost, even if one leads to the other. The real eucharistic action is for Calvin individual and internal, not corporate. It is one more example of the intractability of the scriptural sacraments to the protestant theory, and the impossibility of adapting to a 'religion of the spirit' and pure individualism the institutions of a 'religion of incarnation' which presupposes the organic unity of the renewed Israel. Modern protestantism has solved the difficulty by leaving the sacraments on one side, and- when pressed by the scriptures- by inventing nameless Antiochenes who misled S. Paul, and by denying that our Lord instituted or intended to institute the sacraments at all. The Reformers did not feel able thus to set aside the evidence of the scriptures, though they were unable to fit the external sacramental actions at all comfortably into their theological and devotional scheme of christianity" (pg. 633)

It appears that near the end of his life Zwingli gradually began to accept some form of the Real Presence; yet Calvin's heirs (Simpson evidently being a case in point) tended more towards Zwingli's view than his. (Keith A. Mathison chronicles this in his book Given for You: Reclaiming Calvin's Doctrine of the Lord's Supper. It is not difficult to see why; Calvin and Zwingli shared the same ecclesiology, and Zwingli's doctrine of the Table seems more consistent with their shared premises.

In A History of Christian Thought (copyright, Muhlenberg Press, 1946), Dr. J.L. Neve explains Zwingli's soteriology thusly: "Since God is the Absolute Causality who occasions all things, He is therefore the cause of an objective election which is unconditional, unchangeable and eternal. 'It is election which saves' (Works, IV, 122, 123), even though the elect person dies before faith has been granted to him. Hence it was easy for Zwingli to conclude that God's election is not confined to the limits of Christendom; it extends to and includes not only the Old Testament saints, but even such classified heroes and worthies as Hercules, Thesus, Socrates, Aristides, Antigonus, Numa, Camillus, Cato, the Scipios, etc. (Works, IV, 55)" (pg. 244). Therefore, "[t]he true Church, the body of Christ and communion of believers, is composed of the 'elect who have been predestinated to eternal life by the will of God' (electi qui dei voluntate disinati sunt ad vitam aeternam). This Church of the elect is known to God alone. Faith enables the elect person to perceive his own membership in this Church, but he remains ignorant of who the other members may be (Works, VI, 8). There are then in reality two Churches: the visible Church which is composed of all who name Christ and profess Him by using the Sacraments of the Church, and the invisible Church which comprehends only the elect. Luther, too, believed in a visible and an invisible aspect of the Church; but he considered the visible Church to be that preparatory institution in which, by means of Word and Sacrament, members are created for the invisible Church. Zwingli failed to establish any intimate connection between the two Churches. This was due to his doctrine of election and also to his philosophical world-view" (pg 246). Herein we see in embro the error of Evangelicalism today: To make the Church synonymous with "everyone who will end up in Heaven" as opposed to the visible, religious community professing faith in Christ (note the incessant insistence that "the church is not a building" and things of this nature). Luther developed this doctrine from psuedo-Augustinian principles, but at least claimed, however inconsistently, that the visible and invisible Church were two dimensions of the same entity; Zwingli, in making the elect the same as the Church, forces the visible body into outer darkness; stated pointedly, the visible Church is not the true Church- yet the sacraments belong to the visible Church. It therefore seems natural that the sacraments cannot have any salvific power since salvation is found only in God's election.

Now consider Calvin. "The Church was to Calvin first of all the number of the elect in all ages. But since predestination, as a rule, will work itself out in connection with the work of the Word, therefore the Church became to Calvin also the congregation of believers that gather around Word and Sacrament. Thus he would speak with Zwingli of an 'invisible' Church which is holy, and of a 'visible' Church with many hypocrites" (pg. 284). Although this may sound more amiable towards the visible Body, it is, at heart, the same doctrine Zwingli taught: That the Church is not actually a hierarchical community, but the epistemically sealed number of the elect, which happens to manifest itself (imperfectly) when it congregates. The Lord's Supper, then, might have Christ's spiritual presence, but even that is predicated upon the presence of several individual, congregating believers- the Supper's validity derives from the assembling of individual believers, rather than vice versa, as is (however crudely expressed) the position of Catholic theology- although the spirit of Vatican II has engendered an attitude among many Roman Catholics which parallels Calvin's ecclesiology uncannily*. We must look seriously at what effect this view had on the sacraments among those who accepted it.

Dix alludes to liberal Protestant Higher Critics who ultimately reject the authority of the Scriptural text (more estranged prodigal grandchildren of the Reformation) disparaging the sacraments, but this gutted ecclesiology affected even the fundamentalists. As Matthew Mason observes, "on a classically ‘Zwinglian’ view, as outlined above, and as espoused by many contemporary evangelicals, it is questionable whether eating the Supper is necessary. One might just as well remember Jesus’ death by being present at the Supper; it is hard to see what consuming the bread and wine would add. Zwingli does not suggest that partaking is unnecessary, but his theology, at least in its earlier form, implies it is not vital." Consider now General William Booth and his denomination, which went the whole nine yards and discarded the ordinances altogether. "The Salvation Army has never said it is wrong to use sacraments, nor does it deny that other Christians receive grace from God through using them. Rather, the Army believes that it is possible to live a holy life and receive the grace of God without the use of physical sacraments and that they should not be regarded as an essential part of becoming a Christian." (Why did Christ announce that He needed to be baptized in order "to fulfill all righteousness" in Matthew 3:15 if it were possible to live a holy life without baptism?) "Salvationists see the sacraments as an outward sign of an inward experience, and it is the inward experience that is the most important thing...Some Bible scholars had pointed out that there was no scriptural basis for regarding the sacraments as essential to salvation or Christian living." It is hard to even know where to refuting assertions like these. The "Salvation" Army is the ultimate reductio ad absurdum of Zwinglian and Calvinist ecclesiology, as far removed from the other fundamentals these men preached as they might be. Yet even those who pay lip service to the sacraments still maintain a sort of aloofness from true reverence of them. Take Phil Johnson, executive director of John MacArthur's ministry, Grace to You. His website devoted to Charles Spurgeon includes a list of Catholic resources, including a link to Our Lady of the Roses. Mr. Johnson comments, "There's a page that cites Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who worked amid some of the world's worst poverty, disease, filth, and human agony—yet supposedly Mother whispered this "secret" to a group of close followers: In her estimation the worst plague on modern society is the practice of receiving communion in the hand." The merits of this website and the authenticity of this quote are not our focus; consider instead Mr. Johnson's tone. The pungent odour of secular humanism hovers around his remark, and it is easy to imagine Christopher Hitchens nodding in assent to it.

Does Mr. Johnson approve of the Salvation Army? They certainly do excellent work alleviating physical suffering and economic poverty, but they do not offer to the world the food that will satisfy its hunger and quench its spiritual thirst.

The sacraments are a standing refutation of both Gnosticism and materialism at once. They not only unite the spiritual and physical realms in little snippets of Incarnation, but clarify the cosmic dalliance of the historical and eschatological. They root Christianity on Earth while ensuring it ever reaches up to Heaven. Not only this, but they utterly preclude the individualism which must precede heresy by presupposing an integrated Body of Christ, and it is noteworthy that without fail the deeper one is in heresy the further they are from the sacraments. (The Internet is awash with websites about religion managed by people with no communion.) The answers to the world's problems are contained in the golden vessels, not in the proceedings of the G8 summit, but Prime Minister Harper belongs to a culture which values him for his political acumen and aptitude as an economist; he is birthed from the same matrix as the Salvationists and the secular humanists and works within that sphere. He was not only presented with the Eucharist- in that moment he was presented with an entirely different social order, a unique understanding of nature and of man encapsulated in symbol, and he reacted as one could only expect him to: Unsure how even to put himself conceptually in the shoes of a believer in transubstantiation and left idling in uncertainty. What took place in Memramcook was like an enacted parable representing John Calvin's legacy: The representative of political power facing the representative of spiritual authority at the most sacred of moments of the service deeply tainted and steeped in a mire of ubequitous confusion, but also thrown before the swine of Canadian punditry. It was the Tower of Babel erected on the mount of the Lord, in the sight of the nations. If ever we are to achieve unity and speak a common tongue, we must learn to think and love alike, and in order to do that we must all have the mind of Christ, and to know where He may be found.

*"In reacting as they did to Humanae Vitae, the dissenting theologians assumed a novel view of the teaching role of the Church: the function of the Pope is to promulgate and endorse the consensus of believers. This consensus is to be found, the theologians suggest, in the majority report of the papal commission, the special witness of many Catholic couples, the witness of the separated Christian churches, and the international theological community.

The Pope, of course, acted on another view of the Church, which says that the authority of the Pope does not come, as the dissenting theologians suggest, from the consensus of the faithful, nor even in a more restricted understanding, from the consensus of the bishops. On the contrary, authority flows from the Pope to the bishops and then, in some cases, to the faithful."

-What Went Wrong with Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained by Ralph M. McInerny (copyright, Sophia Institute Press, 1998), pp. 65-66