By the Revd Canon Chuck Collins
When he left Italy as a religious refugee, Peter Martyr Vermigli stayed with Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for several weeks before assuming his appoint as Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford. Vermigli died December 12, 1562, and I am thinking today about the contributions he made to our Anglican heritage.
When he left Italy in 1547 Peter Martyr brought with him a newly found letter from Florence written by John Chrysostom (349-407). In this letter written by one of our most important church fathers it states that real presence in the Eucharist is not “in” the bread and wine as the Catholic Church teaches. In “Ad Caesarium Monachum,” as the letter came to be called, Chrysostom states that “the nature of the bread doth still remain” after consecration. Cranmer was happy to include this passage along with many others from the church fathers in his 1550 Defense of the True and Catholic Doctrine of the Sacrament. Peter Martyr Vermigli and Thomas Cranmer defended a reformed doctrine of the Eucharist against the Roman Catholic understanding of transubstantiation.
Catholics teach that after the consecration, the bread and wine is no longer bread and wine, but grace has destroyed nature, and God replaced the creaturely reality altogether with himself (all that remains is the appearance/accidents of bread and wine). Martyr’s influence is seen in much of what Cranmer believed and wrote, for example in the Church of England’s confessional statement: “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith” (Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, Article 28).
Peter Martyr is credited with writing the exhortation against non-communicating attendance (in his Loci Communes) – unlike Medieval Catholic understanding, someone doesn’t receive the grace of the sacrament by just looking at it raise in the hands of a sacrificing priest, but only by consuming the sacrament. And he opposed the reservation of the sacrament for distributing to the sick, insisting that the Words of Institution are spoken, not to the bread and wine, but to men and women who are present – they “apply rather to men than either to the bread and to the wine.” For Peter Martyr Vermigli, the Words of Institution (1 Cor 12:23-25) should be repeated to the sick person who is to receive Communion, and he agreed with Cranmer that there are only bad reasons to reserve the consecrated bread and wine of the communion table: “The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped” (Article 28). Jesus is not bodily there on a high altar to be adored; no, it far richer and more meaningful than that! He is in the hearts and affections of God’s people who receive the grace of the sacrament by faith, and are renewed by the Holy Spirit. Cranmer, Vermigli and the English reformers make sense of Holy Communion in the light of salvation by grace through faith alone, and the priesthood of Christ who is both the only Sacrifice, and the once-and-for-all Sacrificer for the sins of the world (1 Tim 2:5; Heb 8, 10).
“God, on this Lord’s Day,
let me before the broken elements of your Table,
the certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace,
the emblems of your dying love,
cry to you with broken heart for grace.
Enliven my faith to rightly discern
and spiritually apprehend the Savior.
And in your mercy, fill me afresh with your Spirit
and unite me again with Jesus
in the heavenly, everlasting banquet.”
The Revd Canon Chuck Collins is the Director for the Center for Reformation Anglicanism.
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