Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Early Church Fathers Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

The Real Absence and the Extra Calvinisticum: The Patristic Roots of the Reformation (5)

I’ve touched on the extra patristicum, er, extra calvinisticum before, here. The important idea in this connection is that the divine nature of Christ is omnipresent but his human body cannot be. This is a corollary of Chalcedonian Christology, viz. that the integrity of Christ’s two natures must be maintained in their hypostatic union in the person of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son. Thus when Christ ascends bodily into heaven, his body–because it is a real human body and therefore is locally circumscribed–is no longer on earth. The extra has obvious ramifications for the theology of the Lord’s Supper: Christ cannot be eaten carnally or corporeally, but we instead feed upon him by faith (this is a reconfiguration rather than a denial of “real presence” vis-a-vis the doctrine of transubstantiation)–hence the real work done by the sursum corda, in which we lift up our hearts whither Christ is seated and eat his flesh and drink his blood by faith in the power of the Spirit.

This teaching about the ubiquity of the divine nature in contrast to the human nature is common in the church fathers. In addition to Athanasius in the linked post above, Augustine teaches it in Tractates on the Gospel of John 50.4:

Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where He were, he should show it, that they might take Him. Let us for our parts show the Jews where Christ is. Would, indeed, that all the seed of those who had given commandment to have it shown them where Christ was, would but hear and apprehend! Let them come to the church and hear where Christ is, and take Him. They may hear it from us, they may hear it from the gospel. He was slain by their forefathers, He was buried, He rose again, He was recognized by the disciples, He ascended before their eyes into heaven, and there sits at the right hand of the Father; and He who was judged is yet to come as Judge of all: let them hear, and hold fast. Do they reply, How shall I take hold of the absent? How shall I stretch up my hand into heaven, and take hold of one who is sitting there? Stretch up your faith, and you have got hold. Your forefathers held by the flesh, hold thou with the heart; for the absent Christ is also present. But for His presence, we ourselves were unable to hold Him. But since His word is true, Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world, Matthew 28:20 He is away, and He is here; He has returned, and will not forsake us; for He has carried His body into heaven, but His majesty He has never withdrawn from the world.

John Chrysostom, too, uses the language of “soaring heavenwards” as a metaphor for communicating with Christ in Homily 24 on First Corinthians:

These things therefore knowing, let us also, beloved, consult for the good of the brethren and preserve unity with them. For to this that fearful and tremendous sacrifice leads us, warning us above all things to approach it with one mind and fervent love, and thereby becoming eagles, so to mount up to the very heaven, nay, even beyond the heaven. For wheresoever the carcass is, says He, there also will be the eagles, Matthew 24:28 calling His body a carcass by reason of His death. For unless He had fallen, we should not have risen again. But He calls us eagles, implying that he who draws near to this Body must be on high and have nothing common with the earth, nor wind himself downwards and creep along; but must ever be soaring heavenwards, and look on the Sun of Righteousness, and have the eye of his mind quick-sighted. For eagles, not daws, have a right to this table. Those also shall then meet Him descending from heaven, who now worthily have this privilege, even as they who do so unworthily, shall suffer the extremest torments.

John Jewel, in An Apology of the Church of England, quotes both of these passages in explicating his view of how we become partakers of Christ’s body and blood in the Supper. As he says, “We affirm, that bread and wine are holy and heavenly mysteries of the body and blood of Christ, and that by them Christ Himself, being the true bread of eternal life, is so presently given unto us,1 as that by faith we verily receive His body and His blood.”2 Augustine and Chrysostom, in his view, provide helps and witnesses for his position.


  1. sic nobis praesentem exhiberi.
  2. Emph. mine.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

One reply on “The Real Absence and the Extra Calvinisticum: The Patristic Roots of the Reformation (5)”

Does John Jewel address Chrysostom’s 24th homily on 1st Corinthians?
Some excerpts:
I say now, if even a man’s garment be what one would not venture inconsiderately to touch, what shall we say of the Body of Him Who is God over all, spotless, pure, associate with the Divine Nature, the Body whereby we are, and live; whereby the gates of hell were broken down and the sanctuaries of heaven opened? How shall we receive this with so great insolence? Let us not, I pray you, let us not slay ourselves by our irreverence, but with all awfulness and purity draw near to It; and when you see It set before you, say thou to yourself, Because of this Body am I no longer earth and ashes, no longer a prisoner, but free: because of this I hope for heaven, and to receive the good things therein, immortal life, the portion of angels, converse with Christ; this Body, nailed and scourged, was more than death could stand against; this Body the very sun saw sacrificed, and turned aside his beams; for this both the veil was rent in that moment, and rocks were burst asunder, and all the earth was shaken. This is even that Body, the blood-stained, the pierced, and that out of which gushed the saving fountains, the one of blood, the other of water, for all the world.

This Body has He given to us both to hold and to eat; a thing appropriate to intense love. For those whom we kiss vehemently, we oft-times even bite with our teeth. Wherefore also Job, indicating the love of his servants towards him, said, that they ofttimes, out of their great affection towards him, said, Oh! That we were filled with his flesh! Job 31:31 Even so Christ has given to us to be filled with His flesh, drawing us on to greater love.

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