Vol I No. 1

jewel, hooker and a uniquely anglican dynamic understanding of the true presence in the eucharist

Torrance Kirby

Among objects of conversion associated with the religious controversies of the 16th century, the Sacrament of the Eucharist was perhaps the most contentious of all. This fact lends a special importance to the unique and subtle way in which according to Richard Hooker the sacrament becomes a dynamic event from which ontologicalchangeensues,namely “a kind of Transubstantiation” and “a true change” … “in us”.

The conflicting claims of traditional scholastic and reformed humanist sacramental hermeneutics are most evident in their respective assertions concerning the manner of the divine ‘presence’ and the mode of its participation on the part of the worshipper. In accordance with the doctrine of transubstantiation, traditionalists placed profound emphasis on the ontological immanence of the holy in the sacramental ‘object’, in the consecrated elements of bread and wine. So intimate was the bond between sacramental sign (signum) and mystical reality signified by it (res significata) that traditional Catholic orthodoxy had upheld an external, objectified ‘real presence’ of Christ’s body and blood in the physical elements of the sacrament. In a decree of the thirteenth session held in October 1551, the Council of Trent formally defined ‘that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood— the species [i.e. the external aspect or appearance] only of the bread and wine remaining—which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation’. 1

A significant controversy that cast light on the specifically Anglican perspectives took place in the time of Elizabeth I between John Jewel, the then Bishop of Salisbury, and Thomas Harding, the English Roman Catholic priest and polemical controversialist.

According to Harding, ‘when we speak of this blessed sacrament, we mean specially the thing received to be the very body of Christ, not only a sign or token of his body.’2 Such ontological conversion of the physical elements of bread and wine into the substance of the body and blood of Christ is the very essence of theurgical ‘enchantment’: the signum becomes in actuality the res significata. By contrast, according to Jewel’s main argument, in the Challenge Sermon, such a fusion of signum and res significata could not be found in scripture, nor in the teaching of the fathers of the ancient church; by Jewel’s account the word ‘transubstantiation’ itself was but ‘newly deuised & neuer once herd, or spoken of, before the councel of Laterane, holden at Rome, in the yere of our Lorde. M. ccxv (1215).’ 3 Jewel’s charge of the novelty of transubstantiation situates the hermeneutics of the sacrament at the forefront of his polemical challenge, namely that ‘if any learned man of our adversaries be able to bring any one sufficient sentence out of any old doctor or father, or out of any general council, or out of the holy Scripture, or any one example out of the primitive church for the space of six hundred years after Christ’ in proof of this article of transubstantiation or of any others on his expanding list of contested teachings, Jewel promised ‘to geue ouer and subscribe vnto hym.’ 4

Whereas the doctrine of transubstantiation tended to elide the distinction between signifier (signum) and signified (res significata) in the assertion of an actualized ‘real presence’ through ontological conversion of the object, the sacramental doctrine implicit in Thomas Cranmer’s revised liturgy of the second Book of Common Prayer (1552) defended by Jewel, adhered to the position advocated by Ratramnus, Vermigli, and Ridley, as well as by various other continental reformers5 , by maintaining a clear hermeneutical distinction between the two. According to Jewel’s definition of sacramental presence in his Defense of the Apologie, ‘… three things herein we must consider: first, that we put a difference between the sign and the thing itself that is signified. Secondly, that we seek Christ above in heaven, and imagine not Him to be present bodily upon the earth. Thirdly, that the body of Christ is to be eaten by faith only, and none other wise.’6 In this précis of the reformed position, Jewel’s insistence upon ‘a difference between the sign and the thing itself signified’ signals his application of an Augustinian approach, with its characteristic emphasis upon a figurative interpretation of sacramental ‘presence’, which had been promoted vigorously in England by Vermigli, Cranmer,7 and Nicholas Ridley in the previous decade and, long before that, by Ratramnus of Corbie at the Carolingian Court in the 9th century.8 Jewel’s precise formulation of this sacramental hermeneutic in his Challenge Sermon is almost word for word that of his mentor Vermigli in his Tractatio on the Eucharist of 1549,10 and a systematic presentation of the Florentine reformer’s position argued in the Oxford Disputation of 1549, a work later translated by Nicholas Udall, Provost of Eton College.9

Among English evangelicals of the 1560s, there was nothing particularly original in Jewel’s interpretation of sacramental presence. The identical argument had been mounted to considerable effect a decade earlier by Jewel’s mentor and colleague Peter Martyr Vermigli in his Treatise concernynge the Lordes Supper of 1549, a work described by Calvin as the epitome of the Reformed teaching on the sacraments.11

Jewel adopts Vermigli’s Erasmian humanist approach to the distinction between a literal and a figurative interpretation of sacramental ‘presence’ and shifts the locus of ‘presence’ decisively away from the physical ‘object’ of the sacrament and transfers it to the inner, subjective experience of the worshipper.12 Jewel’s assertion of the hermeneutical distinction between ‘signum’ and ‘res significata’ was thus characteristic of a distinctive and already well-established evangelical hermeneutic grounded in the authority of Augustine.13

In interpreting sacramental presence—the dominant theme in Jewel’s exchanges with Thomas Harding and throughout the controversy of the 1560s—Jewel invokes Augustine’s appeal to the formula ‘sursum corda’ as the liturgical archetype for the distinction between signs and things signified.14 This was retained by Cranmer in his vernacular liturgies of both 1549 and 1552, along with the words of the ancient responsary ‘Lift up your hearts/We lift them up unto the Lord’ which preceded the Prayer of Consecration in the Order for the Lord’s Supper, as indeed they had in the ancient canon of the Mass.15 Adhering to an Erasmian hermeneutic of signs, Jewel attaches high hermeneutical significance to this liturgical formula as representing the preparation of the mind for the mystical act of receiving communion. So, while the ‘figure’ of the thing (the signum) is not to be confused with that which it represents, which is the ‘thing itself ’ (res significata), Jewel holds nonetheless that, through a dynamic motion within the conscience of the faithful receiver of the sacrament, the receiver is invited to make the connection between sign and signified.

Jewel ties the sacramental hermeneutic to the logic of Augustine’s account of justification as metanoia: “How shall I hold him,” saith Augustine, “who is absent? How shall I reach my hand up to heaven, to lay hold upon him that sitteth there?” He answereth, “Reach thither thy faith, and then thou hast laid hold on him. Faith had in the sacraments,” saith Augustine, “doth justify, and not the sacraments.”16 Jewel also cites Augustine in his further assertion that Christ offered the ‘figure’ (as distinct from the actual physical ‘substance’) of his body and blood at the Last Supper, and that Christ is not eaten with the ‘bodily mouth’, yet the ‘thing itself ’ (i.e. the ‘substance’) whereof the bread is a sacrament (viz. the body of Christ) ‘is received of every man unto life whosoever be partaker of it.’17

Jewel summarises the Augustinian soteriological foundation of his account of sacramental presence in this manner: That we be thus in Christ, and Christ in us, requireth not any corporal or local being, as in things natural. We are in Christ sitting in heaven, and Christ sitting in heaven is here in us, not by a natural, but by a spiritual means of being.’18 Sursum corda later became the maxim of the Cambridge Platonists and was memorialised by an inscription in the Chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Jewel frames his theology of sacramental participation as an apology of Cranmer’s liturgy of the revised Book of Common Prayer of 1559. Based upon his interpretation of the sursum corda, Jewel rejects ontological conversion of the external physical objects of bread and wine, but affirms nonetheless a figural presence: ‘with the eyes of our understanding we look beyond these creatures; we reach our spiritual senses into heaven, and behold the ransom and price of our salvation. We do behold in the sacrament, not what it is, but what it doth signify.’ In his critique of Jewel, Thomas Harding accused him of advocating Zwinglian memorialism, with its strong emphasis on Christ’s ‘real absence’ in relation to the physical object of the sacrament.20

But this claim pays insufficient attention to Cranmer. Certainly, Cranmer’s liturgy of 1552 very decisively shifts the focus of presence away from the sacramental object with the revised formula—‘Take and eate this in remembraunce that Christ dyed for thee, and feede on him in thy hearte by faythe, with thankesgeuing,’ 21 But in fact, Cranmer and Jewel studiously avoid Zwingli’s stark iconoclastic hermeneutic of the separation of sign and thing.

Displaying signs rather of Vermigli’s hermeneutical influence, the second Edwardine Prayerbook actually represents presence according to a more subtle version of the Erasmian figural hermeneutic, that is to say, as a conceptual synthesis of word and object dynamically performed in the inner, subjective forum of the conscience. Thus, presence comes to be viewed as inseparable from a conversion of the mind (metanoia) in the act of reception of the object.22

It is instructive in this connection to note also that in Cranmer’s liturgy of 1552, as well as in the subsequent Elizabethan revision of 1559, there is a dramatic shift in the liturgical sequence of the administration of the communion. In the revised order, the worshippers’ reception of the sacramental object occurs at precisely that moment in the ritual where, according to the medieval Sarum rite, the host was elevated by the priest, signifying thereby the precise moment of transubstantiation, and where also, in the earlier 1549 liturgy, the priest was still directed by implicitly ‘theurgical’ rubrics to take the bread and cup ‘into his handes’.

In both the Sarum and 1549 rites, the blessing of the object is followed by a lengthy sequence of prayers which intervene between consecration and reception. According to the revised rubrics in the rites of 1552 and 1559, however, the administration of the communion elements follows immediately upon the minister’s utterance of the dominical words of institution—‘do this in remembraunce of me’.

This revised order for reception of the sacrament serves to underline vividly, through the dynamic action of the liturgy, the difference between these two alternative accounts of sacramental ‘presence’, namely between the traditional scholastic interpretation of an ontological ‘real presence’ in the sacramental object, on the one hand, and an Augustinian-Erasmian interpretation of figural signification of presence, on the other. Jewel’s subtly dynamic account of presence seeks to avoid the extremes of Zwinglian mere memorialism and Tridentine ontological realism. Jewel’s is the hermeneutic now commonly identified as ‘instrumental realism’—the sacramental object is a means to subjective access to presence.23

Jewel’s Erasmian approach to the distinction between a literal and a figurative interpretation of sacramental ‘presence’ shifts the locus of ‘presence’ decisively away from the physical elements of the sacrament as object and transfers it to the inner, subjective experience of the worshipper.24 Consequently, sacramental ‘presence’ is re-interpreted as a ‘figural’ or dynamic conceptual synthesis of word and object situated within the subjective forum of the consciences of worshippers; and thus ‘real presence’ comes to be viewed as inseparable from an internalised, spiritual ‘cognition’ of the consecrated host—in other words, metanoia, conversion of the mind.25 Jewel’s Challenge Sermon is crucially significant for re-instating the Erasmian-humanist emphasis of the Edwardine divines—especially of Cranmer, Vermigli, and Ridley—and thus in consolidating the development of these distinctively reformed hermeneutics in the Elizabethan Church. But now, let us look at the refined hermeneutic of Jewel’s protégé, Richard Hooker. Here, sacramental signs and the things signified remain distinct; yet, the truth or ‘substance’ of the sign is not ultimately separable from the sign. This is the force of Hooker’s nuanced use of the language of sacramental ‘instrumentality’, a language whose main effect is to bridge the distance between the Zwinglian and Tridentine hermeneutics.26 While from a memorialist frame of reference, the signs are not in any way to be identified with the signified, to avoid confusion of the two, Hooker insists nonetheless that, the sign continue to be connected to the signified, in such a manner as to enable a sacramental offering and receiving of the gift signified, through the means or instrumentality of the sign.

Consequently for Hooker, the Real Presence of Christ’s most Blessed Body and Blood, is not therefore to be sought for in the [external] Sacrament, but in the worthy Receiver of the Sacrament “… As for the Sacraments, they really exhibite; but, for aught we can gather out of that which is written of them, they are not really, nor do really contain in themselves, that Grace, which with them, or by them, it pleaseth God to bestow.” 27

Real presence, therefore, in the sacraments presupposes the faithful worshipper who is able to interpret the conjunction of the three things that ‘make the substance of the sacrament’, namely the mystical gift offered, that is the thing signified; the elemental objects which depict the gift, that is the external signs; and the word of scripture which articulates the link between the two. 28 This subtle redefinition of the hermeneutics of presence cautiously avoids the extremes of either separating or confusing sign and thing signified. Hooker offers a hermeneutic which is simultaneously ontological and figural, lending significance to both object and subject in this dynamic account of presence.

“The Bread and Cup are his Body and Blood, because they are causes instrumental, upon the receit whereof, the Participation of his Body and Blood ensueth. For that which produceth any certain effect, is not vainly nor improperly said to be, that very effect whereunto it tendeth. Every cause is in the effect which groweth from it. Our Souls and Bodies quickned to Eternal Life, are effects; the cause whereof, is the Person of Christ: His Body and Blood are the true Wellspring, out of which, this Life floweth. So that his Body and Blood are in that very subject whereunto they minister life: Not onely by effect or operation, even as the influence of the Heavens is in Plants, Beasts, Men, and in every thing which they quicken; but also by a far more Divine and Mystical kinde of Union, which maketh us one with him, even as He and the Father are one.” 29

Thus viewed, the sacrament becomes a necessarily dynamic event where the instrumentality of signs works through the act of interpretation on the part of the receiver. ‘Whereupon’, Hooker concludes, ‘there ensueth a kinde of Transubstantiation in us, a true change, both of Soul and Body, an alteration from death to life.’ 30


1. Decrees of the ecumenical councils, ed. Norman P. Tanner (London: Sheed & Ward; Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1990), vol. 2, Session 13, Canon

2. Thomas Harding, A confutation of a booke intituled An apologie of the Church of England, by Thomas Harding Doctor of Diuinitie (Antwerp: Ihon Laet, 1565); edn. Ayre, JW 1:465-466. [my emphasis]

3. Jewel, The true copies of the letters, 139-140. According to the article on ‘Eucharist’ in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd edn., ed. E.A. Livingstone (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), the earliest known use of the term ‘transubstantiation’ to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ was by Hildebert de Lavardin, Archbishop of Tours (died 1133) in the eleventh century, and by the end of the twelfth century the term was in widespread use.

4. Jewel, The true copies of the letters, 164. See A defence of the Apologie of the Churche of Englande conteininge an answeare to a certaine booke lately set foorthe by M. Hardinge, and entituled, A confutation of &c. by Iohn Iewel Bishop of Sarisburie (London: In Fleetestreate, at the signe of the Elephante, by Henry VVykes, 1567). The Defense went through two further editions in Jewel’s lifetime, 1570 and 1571, both published by Henry Wykes. See also Jewel, Defense of the Apology, in Works, ed. for the Parker Society by John Ayre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1845), vol. 1, 104. In the latter reference the challenge is issued in the context of the article against ‘Private Mass’. The latter edition is cited below.

5. Compare, e.g., the rapprochement between Heinrich Bullinger and John Calvin on sacramental doctrine in the Consensus Tigurinus of 1549. See Emidio Campi and Rudi Reich, eds. Consensus Tigurinus: Die Einigung zwischen Heinrich Bullinger und Johannes Calvin über das Abendmahl: Werden—Wertung—Bedeutung (Zurich: Theologische Verlag Zürich, 2009). For an English translation see Torrance Kirby, “Consensus Tigurinus: the Zurich Agreement of 1549,” Reformation and Renaissance Review: Journal of the Society for Reformation Studies 18.1 (2016), 34-44.

6. John Jewel, ‘Of Real Presence’, A defense of the Apologie of the Churche of Englande (London: Henry Wykes, 1570). See The Works of John Jewel, ed. John Ayre for the Parker Society, 4 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1845), vol. 1:448.

7. Cranmer, Tractatio de sacramento Eucharistiae (London: R. Wolfe, 1549). Also in English, A defence of the true and catholike doctrine of the sacrament of the body and bloud of our sauiour Christ with a confutation of sundry errors concernyng the same, grounded and stablished vpon Goddes holy woorde, & approued by ye consent of the moste auncient doctors of the Churche (London: In Poules churcheyarde, at the signe of the Brasen serpent, by Reynold Wolfe, 1550).

8. Nicholas Ridley, A brief declaracion of the Lordes Supper, written by the syngular learned man, and most constaunt martir of Iesus Christ, Nicholas Ridley Bishop of London prisoner in Oxforde, a litel before he suffred deathe for the true testimonie of Christ ([Emden: E. van der Erve], 1555), sig. E2r—E4v.

9. A discourse or traictise of Petur Martyr Vermilla Flore[n]tine, the publyque reader of diuinitee in the Vniuersitee of Oxford wherein he openly declared his whole and determinate iudgemente concernynge the sacrament of the Lordes supper in the sayde Vniuersitee (London: Robert Stoughton [i.e. E. Whitchurch], 1550), fol. 69v.

10. Peter Martyr Vermigli, Tractatio de sacramento Eucharistiæ habita in celeberrima vniuersitate Oxoniensi in Anglia, per D. Petrum Martyrem Vermilium Florentinum, Regium ibidem Theologiæ professorem, cum iam absoluisset interpretationem. II capitis prioris epistolæ D. Pauli Apostoli ad Corinthios. Ad hec. Disputatio de eode[m] Eucharistiae Sacramento, in eadem Vniuersitate habita per eundem D. P. Mar. Anno Domini M.D.XLIX (London: [R. Wolfe] ad æneum serpentem, [1549]). The English translation appeared a year later in 1550: A discourse or traictise of Petur Martyr Vermilla Flore[n]tine, the publyque reader of diuinitee in the Vniuersitee of Oxford wherein he openly declared his whole and determinate iudgemente concernynge the sacrament of the Lordes supper in the sayde Vniuersitee (London: Robert Stoughton [i.e. E. Whitchurch] dwellinge within Ludgate at the signe of the Bysshoppes Miter for Nycolas Udall, [1550]). See also the recent critical edition
in the Peter Martyr Library: The Oxford Treatise and Disputation on the Eucharist,1549 [series ‘Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies’, vol. 56], translated & edited with Introduction and Notes by Joseph C. McLelland (Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2000).

11. See John Calvin, Dilucida Explicatio sanae doctrinae de vera participatione carnis, CO 9, 457–524, esp. 490 : ‘Porro quum toti mundo plus quam notum esse putarem, consensu veteris ecclesiae doctrinam nostram clare probari, causam hanc retexit Heshusius, et quosdam vetustos scriptores, ut confligant nobiscum, quasi erroris sui suffragatores advocat. Equidem hactenus hoc argumentum ex professo tractandum non suscepi: quia nolebam actum agere. Primus hoc Oecolampadius accurate ac dextre praestitit: ut evidenter monstraret commentum localis praesentiae veteri ecclesiae fuisse incognitum. Successit Bullingerus, qui eadem felicitate peregit has partes. Cumulum addidit Petrus Martyr, ut nihil prorsus desiderari queat.’ Cited in ‘John Calvin and Peter Martyr Vermigli: a reassessment of their relationship’, a paper presented by Emidio Campi at a conference on ‘Calvin und Calvinismus—Europäische Perspektiven’, Institut für Europäische Geschichte, Mainz ( June, 2009).

12. The ‘realist’ words of 1549—‘this is my body’—are replaced in 1552 with the memorialist formula ‘eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart, by faith, with thanksgiving.’ The primary locus of presence is relocated away from the external elements and made inseparable from the worshipping subject.

13. See Augustine, On Christian teaching (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)

14. Augustine, de bono Perseverantiae, 2.13.

15. Gordon P. Jeanes, Signs of God’s promise: Thomas Cranmer’s sacramental theology and the Book of Common Prayer (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2008).

16. Jewel, Works, vol. 3, 533-536.

17. Jewel, Works, vol 3, 64; see also vol. 1.453, 759; and vol. 2, 1122.

18. Jewel, Works, 1.477.

19. Jewel, Works, 2.1117.

20. Harding, Confutation, fol. 40r.

21. The First and Second Prayer Books of King Edward VI (London: Dent; New York: Dutton, 1910), 225, 389.

22. See, e.g., the account of Bullingham’s Bartholomew Day sermon at Paul’s Cross, Bodl. Tanner MS 50, 73r: ‘An excellent noot surel for vs to learne by, that befor we take in hande to receaue the sacrament, we must go dowen into our consciences, and into the bottom of our hartes, to see whether we be dissemblers or no, and whether we be dispatched from dissimulation if we fynde any sparke therof, we are not worthy to come vnto that banket of Jesus Christ.’

23. See Brian Gerrish, Grace and gratitude: the Eucharistic theology of John Calvin (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).

24. The ‘realist’ words of 1549—‘this is my body’—are replaced in 1552 with the memorialist formula ‘eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart, by faith, with thanksgiving.’ The primary locus of presence is relocated away from the external elements and made inseparable from the worshipping subject.

25. It is perhaps interesting in this connection to note that in the BCP of 1552, as well as in the subsequent revisions of 1559 and 1662, the administration of the communion occurs at precisely the stage in the liturgy at which the elevation of the host had previously occurred—i.e. the moment of transubstantiation—thus serving to underline vividly the difference between the two divergent liturgical accounts of presence.

26. Lawes V.67.5; 2:334.17-33.

27. Lawes V.67.5; 2:334.17-33.

28. See Lawes V.58.2; 2:249.161-250.3.

29. Lawes V.67.5; 2:334.17-33.

30. Lawes V.67.11; 2:338.13-340.1