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

20 12 2011

 This paper principally deals with Thomas Cranmer’s sacramental theology and its special benefit in engaging postmodern nihilism. Thanks to the folks at Trinity Church for letting me pursue advanced academic studies and a special thanks to Colin Burch for providing editorial review.

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

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

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





Rob Sturdy: Martin Luther’s Personal Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper

20 12 2011

The essay below is about how Martin Luther conceives of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper.

How, if at all, is Christ present in the Eucharist?  The question itself was one of the most hotly contested of the Protestant Reformation.  Though the question is formally a matter of sacramental theology, the answer to the question for the Reformers often rested upon their own Christological presuppositions.  After all, how one understands the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ, as well as what limits (if any!) one believes should be placed upon the physical body of Jesus, will influence how one understands the possibility of the presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine.  One could say that Christology sets the ground rules for sacramental theology.

For many of the Reformed, the Christology that sets the ground rules for their sacramental theology has come to be known as the extra-Calvinisticum. Oberman defines the extra-Calvinisticum as the theological conviction “that the immutable God became man without diminution or loss as regards any of his attributes” joined with the conviction that the “existence of the second person of the Trinity et extra cernem.” [1]To put it more simply, the extra holds to the ubiquity of the divine Word and the local presence of the physical body of Jesus contained in heaven, while emphasizing the unity of the two in the person of Christ.[2] The doctrine lends itself to a real, albeit spiritual, presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in opposition to memorialism.  Because of Christ’s physical presence in heaven, the doctrine prohibits a carnal presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in opposition to transubstantiation.  It is typically supposed that because the doctrine of the extra-Calvinisticum prohibits a true, carnal presence it must then also oppose Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation.  This paper will argue that this is not necessarily so.  Using Luther’s writings from 1520 up until the eve of the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, I will argue that the highly nuanced Christology underpinning Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation is thoroughly consistent with the extra-Calvinisticum.  It will be shown that Luther believes that the humanity of Christ is locally present at the right hand of God and that the divinity of Christ maintains a ubiquitous or extra presence in the world.  Furthermore it will be shown that by virtue of the union between the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, Christ can really and truly be said to be present in the Lord’s Supper.  This will serve to benefit a larger project of historical theology, tracing the development and significance of the extra-Calvinisticum in Christian thought and practice.

To understand Luther’s Christology one must enter the world of the Eucharistic controversy of the 1520’s.  Luther credits his adversaries for prompting the work that historians widely regard as responsible for initiating a Protestant discourse on sacramental theology.   “Whether I wish it or not,” he writes, “I am compelled to become more learned every day, with so many and such able masters eagerly driving me on and making me work.”[3] The work that Luther refers to here is his famous The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. It was The Babylonian Captivity that prompted Erasmus to declare the breach with Rome and Wittenberg “irreparable.”  It prompted Henry VIII of England to write his clumsy, yet nevertheless famous 78 quarto page work denouncing Luther and defending Roman positions on the sacraments.[4] Within a year of Luther’s publication Karlstadt had begun massive reforms concerning the Lord’s Supper.[5] Likewise in the same year Zwingli renounced his own pension.[6] Because of the explosive effect Luther’s work had on Europe, especially in regards to the subject matter, The Babylonian Captivity of the Church is the best place to begin an exploration of the Christological presuppositions introduced to the Eucharistic discourse of the 1520’s. Read the rest of this entry »





Rob Sturdy: The Knowledge of God in the Christological Thought of John Owen

20 12 2011

The essay below is about the knowledge of God in the Christological thought of John Owen.  Thanks again to Colin Burch for graciously reviewing this essay!   Footnotes and bibliography are at the bottom of the paper in case you want to chase anything down.

How do we know God?  Can we have an experience of God?  Can we be in relationship with him?  These questions will no doubt be familiar to the philosopher and theologian.  But perhaps that vocation most intimately familiar with such questions is the pastor, whose responsibility it is to provide adequate and honest responses to such questions.  The 17th-century Puritan, John Owen, was a man who at one point or another found himself occupying each of the roles of philosopher, theologian, and pastor.  Yet it was the last decade of his life, which he devoted to the pastoral ministry, that he engaged the above questions with the most depth and attention.  Owen concluded that knowledge of God depended upon an infinite condescension of God towards his creatures.  This condescension in the theology of John Owen took the form of a covenant, whereby man learns who God is by virtue of his covenant relationship with God.

Owen notes that two things are necessary for a proper revelation of God to a finite creature in the context of a covenant.  First, that “all the properties of the divine nature…be expressed in it, and manifested to us,” and second that “there be, therein, the nearest approach of the divine nature made unto us, whereof it is capable, andwhich we can receive (emphasis mine).”[1]  As will be shown, a simple covenant between God and man is insufficient for the type of revelation which Owen describes in the above quote.  For a full and proper revelation of God, Owen believes that God himself must draw as near as possible, so near in fact, that he must become a man himself.  This happens in the person of Christ, whereby the divine Son of God assumes the human nature unto himself.  Christ being fully God is the nearest manifestation of God imaginable.  Christ being fully man is the nearest manifestation of God which is nevertheless fit for the human capacity.  Owen believed that it was the rational, human mind of Christ which ultimately accommodated the knowledge of God to the capacity of human comprehension.  This paper will argue that it is only through the mediation of the human mind of Christ that full communion with God is possible.  This will be done by examining the transcendence of God, his condescension in entering into covenant relationship, and the full manifestation of his glory through the Triune God’s covenant with the person of Christ. Read the rest of this entry »





Rob Sturdy: Martin Luther’s Personal Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper

19 12 2011

The essay below is about how Martin Luther conceives of Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper.  Luther’s particular contribution is a Christological contribution, articulating the nature of the “personal” union between Christ’s divine and human natures.

How, if at all, is Christ present in the Eucharist?  The question itself was one of the most hotly contested of the Protestant Reformation.  Though the question is formally a matter of sacramental theology, the answer to the question for the Reformers often rested upon their own Christological presuppositions.  After all, how one understands the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ, as well as what limits (if any!) one believes should be placed upon the physical body of Jesus, will influence how one understands the possibility of the presence of Christ in the elements of bread and wine.  One could say that Christology sets the ground rules for sacramental theology.

For many of the Reformed, the Christology that sets the ground rules for their sacramental theology has come to be known as the extra-Calvinisticum. Oberman defines the extra-Calvinisticum as the theological conviction “that the immutable God became man without diminution or loss as regards any of his attributes” joined with the conviction that the “existence of the second person of the Trinity et extra cernem.” [1]To put it more simply, the extra holds to the ubiquity of the divine Word and the local presence of the physical body of Jesus contained in heaven, while emphasizing the unity of the two in the person of Christ.[2] The doctrine lends itself to a real, albeit spiritual, presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in opposition to memorialism.  Because of Christ’s physical presence in heaven, the doctrine prohibits a carnal presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in opposition to transubstantiation.  It is typically supposed that because the doctrine of the extra-Calvinisticum prohibits a true, carnal presence it must then also oppose Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation.  This paper will argue that this is not necessarily so.  Using Luther’s writings from 1520 up until the eve of the Marburg Colloquy in 1529, I will argue that the highly nuanced Christology underpinning Luther’s doctrine of consubstantiation is thoroughly consistent with the extra-Calvinisticum.  It will be shown that Luther believes that the humanity of Christ is locally present at the right hand of God and that the divinity of Christ maintains a ubiquitous or extra presence in the world.  Furthermore it will be shown that by virtue of the union between the divine and human natures in the person of Christ, Christ can really and truly be said to be present in the Lord’s Supper.  This will serve to benefit a larger project of historical theology, tracing the development and significance of the extra-Calvinisticum in Christian thought and practice Read the rest of this entry »