An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles – Article XXIX

Article XXIX.

Of the Wicked which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper.

THE Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as St. Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.

De manducatione Corporis Christi, et impios illud non manducare.

IMPII, et fide viva destituti, licet carnaliter et visibiliter (ut Augustinus loquitur) corporis et sanguinis Christi Sacramentum dentibus premant, nullo tamen modo Christi participes efficiuntur.

Sed potius tantæ rei Sacramentum, seu symbolum, ad judicium sibi manducant et bibunt.

Section I. — History.

IF the last Article be true, this most probably follows on it. There are but two possible views of the question. Either the wicked and unbelieving do not eat Christ’s Body and Blood, but only their sacred symbols; or they eat the Body and Blood, but to condemnation, not to salvation. The former alternative has generally been held, in latter times, by the advocates of a spiritual feeding; the latter, by the believers in transubstantiation, and, I suppose, by most believers in consubstantiation. The fathers’ teaching is naturally obscure on this point. They so constantly called the symbols by the name of that they symbolized, that they would commonly speak of eating the Body of Christ, when they meant only the consecrated bread, the Sacrament of His Body. Yet plain passages occur, which are strongly in favour of the view taken by our reformers in this Article.

Origen speaks concerning “the Word who was made flesh, the true food, which no wicked man can eat. For, if it were possible that one continuing in wickedness should eat Him who was made flesh, the Word, the living bread; in vain would it have been written, whoso eateth this bread shall live forever.”[1] Cyprian tells a story of the Eucharistic bread becoming a cinder in the hands of one who had lapsed, as a proof that Christ could not be received by the unworthy communicant.[2] So St. Hilary, “The bread that came down from Heaven, is not taken but by him who hath the Lord, and is a member of Christ.”[3] St. Augustine is quoted in the very words of the Article. Some part of the passage is thought by the Benedictine editors to have been interpolated; which I will put between brackets. What remains, however, is fully sufficient to serve the purpose for which it is adduced. “By this, he who abides not in Christ, nor Christ in him, without doubt eats not [spiritually] His Flesh, nor drinks His Blood; [though he carnally and visibly press with his teeth the Sacrament of His Body and Blood]; but rather he eats and drinks, to his condemnation, the Sacrament of so great a thing.”[4] So elsewhere, he clearly distinguishes between sacramental eating and real eating: “Whoso eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him. Here our Lord shows what it is, not only sacramentally, but really, to eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood; even to dwell in Christ and Christ in him. And He said this, as much as to say, Whoso ever does not abide in Me and I in him, let him not say, nor think that he eats My Body or drinks My Blood.”[5] So Jerome also says, that “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God eat not the Flesh, nor drink the Blood of Jesus.”[6]

It has been argued indeed, that the prayer in the ancient Liturgies, for the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the elements, implied of necessity a belief that after that descent the elements of themselves become so truly the Body and Blood of Christ, that the communicants, whether worthily or unworthily receiving, must necessarily partake of the Body and Blood. This, if it means anything of the kind, means the full doctrine of transubstantiation. But no such conclusion can be deduced from the fact of the invocation. For first, the like invocation of the Spirit was made in baptism; and of this we hear much earlier than of the invocation in the Eucharist.[7] Now, though the fathers believed, as the English reformers did, that the Holy Ghost “would sanctify the water to the mystical washing away of sin;”[8] yet they neither believed in a change of the substance of the water, nor in an admixture of the Holy Spirit with the water;[9] nor that an unworthy recipient obtained the blessing of the Spirit’s sanctification. We must suppose the same principle to apply to the sanctification of the symbols in the Eucharist. As the minister was to consecrate, so the fathers looked for the Spirit to bless the elements to a sacred use. “We beseech the merciful God,” says St. Cyril, “to send the Holy Ghost upon the elements; that He may make the bread Christ’s Body and the wine His Blood. For, undoubtedly, whatever the Holy Ghost touches, that is sanctified and changed.”[10]

But, though the Holy Spirit sanctifies and changes, it follows not that the change is a change of substance. The sanctification of the elements is to a sacred use and office, — to a new relation, not to a new nature. Accordingly, St. Cyril speaks afterwards of the illapse of the Holy Spirit, as making the elements holy, and at the same time making the communicant holy. “Holy also are ye, being now endowed with the Spirit.”[11] So, some of the ancient Liturgies have a prayer for the descent on the communicants first, and then on the elements.[12] And so, in several Liturgies, and especially in the Gregorian Sacramentary,[13] from thence derived to the canon of the mass, the words “to us” are inserted; thereby restricting the blessing upon the elements to their effects on the recipient. Nay! that transubstantiation could not have been intended, has been admitted by many Romanist divines; inasmuch as, in the Greek Liturgies, the invocation of the Spirit followed the words of institution. Now, the Latin divines fix the consecration to the words of institution. Hence, if there be any truth in transubstantiation, the change must, according to them, have taken place before the invocation, and could not therefore be the effect of the invocation.[14] In short, “all circumstances show, that the true and ancient intent of that part of the service was not to implore any physical change in the elements, no, nor so much as a physical connection of the Spirit with the elements, but a moral change only in the elements, as to relation and uses, and a gracious presence of the Holy Spirit upon the communicants.”[15]

But, when a belief arose in the opus operatum, and in the absolute change of substance in the elements, then, naturally, it was held, that not only the faithful, but even the unbelieving, must receive the very Body and Blood of Christ, though of course the latter, only to condemn them. And then too, the fathers (who spoke freely of the elements under the name of that they signified, and, no doubt, believed in a sanctification of them to holy purposes) were cited as holding the same language, and as witnesses to the same doctrine.

It seems by no means necessary that the like result should follow from the doctrine of consubstantiation. Indeed Luther greatly abhorred the opus operatum. Still, I suppose, the Lutherans rather inclined to the belief that the wicked eat the Body of Christ, yet impiously, and to their ruin. And so this Article was, for a time, expunged by Queen Elizabeth and her Council;[16] probably as not agreeable to those members of the Church who were of Lutheran sentiments. All other branches of the Reformation seem to have agreed that, as the presence of Christ was not in the elements, but only vouchsafed with the elements “to the faithful,” so His presence would be withheld from those who were unfaithful and impenitent.

Section II. — Scriptural Proof.

IN one sense of the words, then, we may admit that every communicant eats Christ’s Body and drinks His Blood; because he eats the symbol which is called His Body (corpus, h. e. figura corporis), and drinks the symbol which is called His Blood. But all that has been said in former Articles to disprove the doctrine of the opus operatum, applies here. The actual reception of Christ’s Body and Blood is the reception, not of the outward sign, but of the inward grace. Now, the inward grace of the Sacraments belongs only to the faithful, not to the impenitent and unbelieving. Of course, if we admit a physical change in the elements, we must believe Christ’s Body to be eaten, not only by the wicked, but, as has been often argued, by mice or dogs, or any other animal, that may accidentally devour a portion of the consecrated bread. Hence the contrary position to the statement of this Article follows, of necessity, on the doctrine of transubstantiation. But then, the opposite doctrine of an efficacious, spiritual presence, and that rather in the recipient than in the element, seems inevitably to issue in the doctrine here propounded.

As for the direct statements of the new Testament, we must lay aside the words of institution; which will not aid us, until we have determined whether they imply a spiritual or a carnal presence; and confine our attention to the eleventh chapter of 1 Cor. and to the sixth chapter of St. John. In the former we are told, that “whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, is guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord” (ver. 27); and that “he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh condemnation to himself, not setting apart as holy the Lord’s Body” (ver. 29). Perhaps the first view of this passage rather appears to favour the doctrine of the opus operatum. The unworthy communicant is “guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord,” which he pollutes; and he eats and drinks condemnation because he does not set apart and treat with reverence the Lord’s Body. At least, candour may oblige us to admit that there is nothing in St. Paul’s words thus cited, which will not square with the hypothesis that every recipient equally eats the Flesh and drinks the Blood of Christ. But, on the other hand, we are justified in contending that there is nothing inconsistent with our own belief, that the wicked do not eat Christ. In the former case, we can see how great the profanation would be; but in the latter, it is still very fearful. The feast provided for the faithful is doubtless a spiritual feast on the Lord’s Body and Blood; hence, the profane receiver is unquestionably “guilty concerning Christ’s Body and Blood” (ἔνοχος τοῦ σώματος, κ. τ. λ.). And again, as the bread and wine are the means of communicating to us the Body and Blood of Christ; so he, who treats the Eucharist as part of a mere common feast, (which the Corinthians did,) does clearly refuse to treat with reverence, and to set apart as holy the Body of the Lord.

But if there be any ambiguity in the words of St. Paul, there can be none in the words of our Lord. He plainly tells us, “He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him” (John vi. 56). “He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me” (ver. 57). “He that eateth of this bread shall live for ever” (ver. 58). “Whoso eateth my Flesh and drinketh My Blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (ver. 54). Now all this is plain, that the real feeding on Christ is to salvation, not to condemnation. All are agreed, that the wicked do not profit, but rather suffer loss by eating in the Eucharist. But then, if they do not profit, we inevitably infer from the words of our Lord, that they have not eaten His Flesh nor drunk His Blood; for those who do so, “live by Him,” — “live forever,” — ” have eternal life,” — have Him dwelling in them, — “have eternal life, and are raised up at the last day.”

The only escape from the inference seems to be in an assertion, that John vi. does not refer to Eucharistic feeding, but to spiritual feeding apart from the Eucharist. But whatever conclusion we may come to on that head, the statement seems clear and general, “He that eateth Me shall live by Me” (ver. 57). Now, granting that this eating of Christ may be apart from the Eucharist, yet is it not quite clear that, howsoever it be, it is life-giving? The proposition is perfectly universal. Though, therefore, we may admit that it may be applicable to a mere spiritual feeding by faith, yet we must contend that, if in the Eucharist it be real, then it must bring life with it. “He that eateth shall live.” The only question is therefore — who eateth? Whosoever eateth, if the eating be real eating, eateth life. If, therefore, in the Eucharist a man really feeds on Christ, he lives by Him. Hence, those who eat and drink unworthily, cannot really feed on the Lord’s Body; though, “to their condemnation, they do eat and drink the Sacrament of so great a thing.” And this seems, at the same time, to prove the proposition of our Article, and to disprove the whole theory of transubstantiation, and of the natural presence.


  1. Παλλὰ δ’ ἂν περὶ αὐτοῦ λέγοιτο τοῦ Λόγου, ὁς γέγονε σὰρξ καὶ ἀληθινὴ βρῶσις, ἣν τινα ὁ ϕάγων πάντως ζήσεται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, οὐδενὸς δυναμένου ϕαύλου ἐσθίειν αὐτήν · εἰ γὰρ οἰόν τε ἦν ἔτι ϕαῦλον μένοντα ἐσθίειν τὸν γενόμενον σάρκα Λόγον ὄντα, καὶ ἄρτον ζῶντα, οὐκ ἂν ἐγέγραπτο, ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ϕάγων τὸν ἄρτον τοῦτον ζήσεται εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. — Origen. In Matt. XV. Comment.
  2. “Et quidem alius, quia et ipse maculatus sacrificio a sacerdote celebrato partem cum cæteris ausus est latenter accipere, sanctum Domini corpus edere et contrectare non potuit: cinerem ferre se, apertis manibus invenit. Documento unius ostenditur, Dominum recedere cum negatur, nec immerentibus ad salutem prodesse quod sumitur, quando gratia salutaris in cinerem, sanctitate fugiente, mutatur.” — Cyprian. De Lapsis, p. 133, Fell.
  3. “Panis qui descendit de cœlo, non nisi ab eo accipitur qui Dominum habet, et Christi membrum est.” — Hilar. De Trinit. Lib. VIII.
  4. “Ac per hoc qui non manet in Christo, et in quo non manet Christus, procul dubio nec manducat [spiritualiter] carnem Ejus, nec bibit Ejus sanguinem [licet carnaliter et visibiliter premat dentibus sacramentum corporis et sanguinis Christi:] sed magis tantæ rei sacramentum ad judicium sibi manducat et bibit.” — In Joan. Traact. 26, Tom. III. pars II. p. 500.
  5. “Denique Ipse dicens Qui manducat Carnem meam, et bibit Sanguinem meum, in Me manet, et Ego in eo; ostendit quid sit non sacramento tenus, sed re vera Corpus Christi manducare, et Ejus sanguinem bibere: hoc est enim in Christo manere, ut in illo maneat et Christus. Sic enim hoc dixit, tanquam diceret, Qui non in me manet, et in quo Ego non maneo, non se dicat aut existimet manducare Corpus meum aut bibere sanguinem meum.” — De Civitate Dei, Lib. XXI. c. 25, Tom. VII. p. 646.
  6. “Omnes voluptatis magis amatores, quam amatores Dei . . . . nec comedunt carnem Jesu, neque bibunt sanguinem Ejus: de quo Ipse loquitur: Qui comedit carnme meam, et bibit sanguinem meum, habet vitam æternam.” — Hieronym. In Isai. c. 66, ver. 17. Tom. III. p. 506.
  7. Tertull. De Baptismo, c. 4.
  8. Office of Public Baptism.
  9. μιγνύντων τὰ ἄμικτα, says Basil, of those who spoke of the mixture of the Spirit and water. Basil, De Sp. S. Tom. III. p. 30. See Waterland, On the Eucharist, ch. X.
  10. Cyril Hierosol. Catech. Mystag. V. c. 7. This is the oldest certain mention of the custom; i. e. in the middle of the fourth century. The next oldest form is in the Apostolical Constitutions, Lib. VIII. c. 12: “We beseech Thee, O God, to send Thy Holy Spirit on this Sacrifice . . . . that He may make this bread to become the Body of Thy Christ, and this cup to become the Blood of Thy Christ.” — See Waterland, as above.
  11. Ibid. c. 19.
  12. “Super nos et super hæc dona.” (See the Liturgies in Fabricius and Renaudotius, cited by Waterland, as above.)
  13. “Quam oblationem Tu, Deus, in omnibus quæsumus benedictam facere digneris, ut nobis corpus et sanguis fiat,” &c. — Cited by Waterland.
  14. Waterland, as above, p. 407. (Cambridge, 1737.) The subject is very fully discussed in this place by Dr. Waterland.
  15. Ibid.
  16. See above, Introduction, p. 15.


E. Harold Browne

(Edward) Harold Browne was an English bishop, born at Aylesbury and educated at Eton and Cambridge. He was ordained in 1836, and two years later was elected senior tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. From 1843 to 1849 he was vice-principal of St David’s College, Lampeter, and in 1854 was appointed Norrisian professor of divinity at Cambridge. His best-known book is the Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles (vol. i., Cambridge, 1850; vol. ii., London, 1853), which remained for many years a standard work on the subject and is still beloved today. In 1864 he was consecrated bishop of Ely.

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