Nicholas Ridley and the Fathers Against Transubstantiation

In his fine Brief Declaration, Bishop Ridley begins citing the church fathers for support that the doctrine did not exist in the early church. He begins with Origen, and moves on to Chrysostom, Theodoret, Tertullian, Augustine, and Gelasius. He also briefly mentions Hilary, Ambrose, Basil, and Nazianzen.

He quotes Chrysostom’s 11 homily on Matthew where he says, “If it be a fault (saith he) to translate the holy vessels (in the which is contained not the true body of Christ, but the mystery of the body) to private uses; how much more offence is it to abuse and defile the vessels of our body?” (pg. 32-33).

Notice that the “true body” is not the same as the “mystery of the body.”

Ridley also quotes Chrysostom’s ad Caearium monachum, in which he states, “Before the bread be hallowed, we call it bread: but, the grace of God sanctifying it by the means of the priest, it is delivered now from the name of bread and esteemed worthy to be called Christ’s body, although the nature of the bread tarry in it still” (34)

So the nature of bread remains in it, but because of its sanctification, the bread can receive the name of Christ’s body. This is Ridley’s position.

Ridley then quotes Theodoret in contra Eutychen saying, “Thou art taken (saith he) in thine own snare; for those mystical symbols or sacraments, after the sanctification, do not go out of their own nature, but they tarry and abide still in their substance, figure, and shape; yeah, and are sensibly seen, and groped to be the same they were before, &c” (36).

On to Tertullian.  Ridley quotes him saying, “Jesus made the bread, which he took and distributed to his disciples, his body, saying, This is my body: that is to say (saith Tertullian), a figure of my body.”

Augustine’s theory of signification is well known, and Ridley finds several quotes from him. From Augustine’s commentary on the third Psalm, he writes “Christ did admit Judas unto the feast, in the which he commended unto his disciples the figure of his body” (40). From his 23 Epistle to Bonifacius, Augustine explains:

Was Christ offered any more but once? And he offered himself. And yet in a sacrament or representation, not only every solemn feast of Easter, but also every day to the people he is offered. So that he doth not lie, that saith, ‘He is every day offered.’ For if sacraments had not some similitude or likeness of those things, whereof they be sacraments, they could in no wise be sacraments: and, for their similitudes and likeness, commonly they have the names of the things whereof they be sacraments. Therefore, as after a certain manner of speech the sacrament of Christ’s body is Christ’s body, the sacrament of Christ’s blood is Christ’s blood; so likewise the sacrament of faith is faith.

Ridley pg. 41

Ridley concludes his cantata of patristic citations with Gelasius’ contra Eutychen. There he finds, “The sacraments of the body and blood of Christ, which we receive, are godly things, where by, and by the same, we are made partakers of the divine nature; and yet, nevertheless, the substance or nature of the bread and wine doth not depart or go away” (pg. 44).

It is interesting that in both the cases of Theodoret and Gelasius, transubstantiation implies a Christological error. Their opponents are Eutychians, and the Eutychians attempt to go from transubstantiation to their Eutychian Christology. Theodoret and Gelasius cut them off right away, however, showing that the nature of the bread remains, even as the nature of Jesus Christ is added.

Ridley’s position is that the bread and wine serve as signs, indeed holy signs which really convey what they signify, although the material substance of Christ is present mysteriously and sacramentally, not naturally. Ridley adds that Christ’s mystical body is the Church, and so real presence is in the participation of the gathered people of God.

This entry was posted in church history, eucharist by Steven Wedgeworth. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

4 thoughts on “Nicholas Ridley and the Fathers Against Transubstantiation

  1. Dr. Ridley continues to serve the remnant of
    Christ’s church (we have never been a numerically impressive body).from time to time, we need (i, in this instance) to recover the reasoning behind the essence of the Supper. in this internet article, Ridley provides it.
    my Catholic friends on occasion wonder about this doctrine. currently a member of my church is interested in the transubstantiation controversy. thanks, uncle Nicholas. we could not be more proud of anyone in the family .

  2. Pingback: Neither Subjectivism nor Transubstantiationism | Cogito, Credo, Petam

  3. To die by fire was a high price to pay for the courage to debate an interpretation of the bible. But it was more than that. Ridley was willing to stand up to those with the power to take his life and we now remember him and admire his courage to begin the spark of change.

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