Defending Open Communion in ECUSA
A recent debate at Pontifications over the permissibility of open communion degenerated into a brawl--a brawl in which I did not participate--over Anglican sacraments, leading to the thread's closure before the debate ran its course. As the topic of open communion is bound to heat up again, I wanted to finish my line of reasoning in favor of open communion here.
I. Opening Arguments
Here I reproduce what I said in favor of open communion in italics,with minor editorial changes, and links to the whole comment.
Were the Apostles baptized in the name of the Trinity with the Holy Spirit..before they participated in the Eucharist at the Last Supper? If they were unbaptized, then open communion is permissible–we would be following the example of Christ and his Apostles.
I did not want to insinuate that Baptism has no role to play in Christian life, or even that it is optional; it is obligatory. Baptism, furthermore, has a real effect on the recipient--it brings about an ontological change.
But communion before baptism is a bit like play acting, like a kid putting on daddy’s tie–it lacks the full meaning, the full being, of the informed act of communion, preceded by baptism.... At some point the kid should grow up and get a tie of his own–just so, the unbaptized partaker in communion is obliged to grow into the full stature of Christ.
Baptism, Duns Scotus would say, effects a real ontological change in the recipient....But Scotus is right; as Westerhoff would put it (tho not with refernce to Duns), we are branded as God’s own livestock: we are to be his sheep.
(C1) replies to the objection that the Apostles were baptized--by John. Even if that were true, it would be insufficient. (C2) replies to another objection, made from the work of the liturgical scholar Dix, who believed the Eucharist performed by Jesus before his crucifixion was not genuine.
Of course, the baptism of John the Baptist isn’t Christian baptism; the Gospels seem quite clear on drawing a distinction between what John the Baptist did and what Jesus ushered in, and the difference in the baptismal ministries of the two is one in kind, even if there remains an analogy between them. Thus, there is a real distinction between the two despite their analogical similarity; John the Baptist’s rite should not be conflated with the sacramental rite of Baptism in the name of the Trinity.
More to the point is Dix saying the Last Supper was not at all a Eucharist, but something less, rather like a dress-rehearsal is not at all a performance of the play, but something less. Applause to IRNS for bringing up the Dix reference.
But note: it could of course be both an instructed Eucharist and a real Eucharist–the two are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, even a dress rehearsal of a play is still a performance of the play–the two are not mutually exclusive.
To make the point you want to make, IRNS, it seems you must say something truly outrageous–namely that the dress rehearsal was not a real performance, and that the intructed Eucharist was not a real one. That is, when Christ said “Do this” his “this” did not refer to what he was doing, that when he said “this is my body” it was not really his body, etc–Christ’s discourse becomes non-cognitive, merely symbolic without a real reference in the world and that seems to be consistent with conclusions most uncatholic, that is, at odds with real presence even in its lightweight “receptionist” classical/Cranmer Anglican form.
Perhaps you or Dix think Christ’s “this” refers not to the action he actually performed as an instance of a type that could be repeated, but to a type apart from anything that he really performed? An abstraction merely conceptual, or an abstraction with a real foundation on the side of the thing? A Platonic Form perhaps? Then what, IRNS? How would Dix explain it? Please elaborate.
This is a reply to ElliotB, who distinguished the Eucharist's requirements before and after the Resurrection. I reply any such change cannot be essential to or even necessary to the rite, but could only be accidental.
People here...might seem to have made a point for a valid Eucharist...requiring Baptism, a point that seems nearly demonstrably false. Whatever distinction you wish to make between before and after the Resurrection, if the Eucharist were ever, before or after, validly celebrated among the unbaptized, then it is simply false to say that celebrating the Eucharist requires Baptism. At most you could only say something like “celebrating the Eucharist after the Resurrection requires Baptism.”
But if the Eucharist were celebrated before the Resurrection without Baptism, and the Eucharist before and after the Resurrection is the same type of rite, how could it have acquired this requirement? In acquiring a new requirement it would no longer remain the same rite–what you celebrate after the Resurrection would not be what Christ instituted. But surely that is absurd. At most, then, the new requirement would have to be accidental to the rite–it could neither be essential nor proper without changing the neture of the rite itself. But then, if it is really merely accidental, the Eucharist remains a valid Eucharist even if celebrated by the unbaptized.
Finally, Aquinas believes Baptism is not needed for salvation; it is necessary only in teh sense it is the most fitting means to salvation for us.
Remember that his great Summa is only for beginners. Here, we need something a little more sophisticated. It’s risky, but take in some Latin from Aquinas’ commentary on the Sentences (Super Sent., lib. 4 d. 1 q. 1 a. 2 qc. 1 co):“Respondeo dicendum, ad primam quaestionem, quod sacramenta non erant necessaria necessitate absoluta, sicut necessarium est Deum esse, cum ex sola divina bonitate instituta sint, sed de necessitate quae est ex suppositione finis;….” The first question to which he refers is “Utrum sacramenta fuerint necessaria post hominis lapsum.” You see that baptism, for Aquinas, is not absolutely necessary, but carries only hypothetical necessity: Given a purpose X, Y is required.
We want to know more about the sense of “required”–turn to the next sentence: “non ita tamen quod sine his Deus hominem sanare non posset, quia sacramentis virtutem suam non alligavit, ut in littera dicitur (sicut cibus necessarius est ad vitam humanam), sed quia per sacramenta magis congrue fit hominis reparatio; sicut equus dicitur necessarius ad iter, quia in equo facilius homo vadit.” That is a very weak sense of necessity or “required” indeed. Note especially “quia sacramentis virtutem suam non alligavit.” The issue here is more one of what is more fitting for man, “sed quia per sacramenta magis congrue fit hominis reparatio.” The necessity of Baptism does not tie God’s hands, but is more of something like “Why drive a Pinto when you can go Mercedes?..."
II. ElliotB's reply in favor of Closed Communion
ElliotB was not persuaded by my comments, (A)-(E), and ventured a spirited reply. I reproduce it, with a link to the complete original, below:
My point is that in Christ’s immediately incarnate presence, the Apostles progressively enjoyed all the privileges and powers of His nascent Church; and this is in a categorically different way than any subsequent Christians can experience. A sacrament is meant to signify and realize its spiritual referent. Baptism realizes ingrafting into Christ for those of us unable to be immediately ingrafted into His ekklesia, as His disciples were, by sheer fact of His BEING PRESENT AMONG THEM. Baptism may be a different rite from the Apostles’ ingrafting, but it is the SAME effect. The reason they are salvifically continuous, although phenomenologically discontinuous is the same reason ideal is, so to speak, “consubstantially distinct” from its actualization. Baptism is a requirement for post-apostolic communion just because union with/in Christ was the requirement for communion for the Apostles themselves. The issue is not the form in which baptismal ingrafting occurred; the issue is whether those receiving met the requirements proper to their own mode of redemption. The requirement of baptism does not make a new rite just because Baptism IS the only way we today can attain the same union necessary for the Apostles. The Eucharist-via-Baptism just is what Christ celebrated – His total self-giving to His faithful – with the Apostles, albeit via Baptism-sine-ablution.
Are you trying to tell me they could receive if they were NOT united, in some real way (as I indicated was the case in John 15), with Christ the paschal lamb? Nonsense.
The Apostles were baptized into Christ by the immediate, non-, or should I say super-sacramental, action of Christ Himself; and only on these grounds could they and did they commune. Now, however, for us who lack the immediate, super-sacramental action Christ, we MUST abide by the pattern laid down in and “over” the Apostles: no communion without Christological union. Recall that the Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles. Hence, we are not ingrafted into Christ on the same level as they were; we are ingrafted, as it were, into their own ingrafted unity with Christ. Jesus sent the Apostles to do for others what He had done for them. Lacking his immediate action, however, Christ had them “resort” to the sacraments to accomplish sacramentally what He did for them immediately. Say what you will about this bifurcation “altering” the Passover feast – it just IS the biblical truth. The Apostles, as foundation stones, are in a league of their own.
My basic line in the sand is this: If you say Baptism was not required for Eucharistic Communion, I wonder what it IS, in your eyes, required for. I mean, if the Apostles were allowed to the table without baptism AND SUBSEQUENTLY NEVER WERE BAPTIZED, I see no way for you to say they were ingrafted into Christ. However, if you do say they were ingrafted without the formal, ritualized action of baptism, then you just concede my point: they had the effects and status of baptism even without Baptism; so they approached and received the Eucharist in a categorically distinct way.
Besides, I also see no place in the Gospels where Jesus manually ordains the Apostles with the sacrament of Orders nor, consequently, with that of Penance. The Apostles had infused supra-sacramentally what we can only receive sacramentally. Would you presume to say the post-Ascension requirement of ordained ministers “alters” the pre-Ascension rite of commissioning which Christ enacted on the Apostles?
Finally, I think you are putting way too much weight on this one node of sacramental revelation and simply ignoring the bulk of the NT kerygma that teaches closed communion.
1) Colossians 2 equates baptism with circumcision; insofar as the latter was the bedrock requirement of being-among the People of God, so too is baptism requisite. No circumcision, no access to the altar; no baptism, no access to the Altar.
2) Romans 6 equates baptism with our death into Christ; Paul, in turn, hinges our rebirth into His life with that death. No baptism, no resurrection. Since, then, the Eucharist is the consummate reception of that “indestructible life” (Heb 6?), thus Baptism is required for that reception of Life.
3) John 6 makes it painfully clear not all could receive the Bread from Heaven – only those united to Christ by faith, which is but the formal core of the sacrament of Baptism. No faith, no Bread from Heaven; no Sacrament of Faith (baptism), no Bread from Heaven.
4) Consider 1 Cor 5, 6 and 11: 5:9....
Do you mean to tell me receiving the Lord without first receiving full remission of sins by Baptism is not to be yoked unequally? is not to eat with the wicked? is not to blend the harlot-world with the Bride of Christ? is not to eat and drink in “an unworthy manner”? The baptismal “threshold” is axiomatic to the NT witness.Your musings about the first Passover, while complex and intriguing, ultimately have no traction in either Scripture, Tradition or sacramental logic.
What does his point come to? He conceded that Baptism is not strictly necessary for receiving the Eucharist. Still, he holds that open communion is immoral and should be forbidden. Why? Receiving communion morally requires a type of unity with Christ, and Baptism is the only means left to us of attaining that unity. For instance, receiving communion requires full remission of sins, and this is only available to us through Baptism.
According to ElliotB, the immediately present incarnate Christ conveyed powers to his Apostles that subsequent Christians must go without. For by Christ's mere presence among them, they were "ingrafted" or unified with Christ. Baptism also effects the same type of unity. Thus, even without Baptism, being in Christ's presence alone sufficed for the Apostles; we, without Christ's direct presence, must make do with Baptism. He has an interesting argument going here: one to which I should like to respond.
III. A Response to ElliotB in Favor of Open Communion
The mere presence of Christ is not simply efficacious, as ElliotB suggests. Christ was present with many without their being unified or ingrafted to Christ in the relevant sense: the High Priest, Herod, and Pilate come to mind--but also Judas. It is false, on the Gospel narratives, to say the presence of Christ conveys powers. Nor was everyone present at the first Eucharist unified or ingrafted to Christ in the relevant sense, though here I am less sure: the example of Judas again. Tweaking and massaging the text might get around these concerns, but surely the appeal to Christ's mere presence as ingrafting and unifying goes too far--something more than his mere presence is needed, it seems.
But is unity or being ingrafted to Christ a genuine necessary condition of receiving communion? Whether we are unified to Christ by Christ's mere presence, as ElliotB suggests, or by Baptism, the unity in the sense of being worthy and without unrepented sin,is sure to be short lived. We will sin again, after Baptism, and may sin even in the presence of Christ. He cites I Cor. rightly--we are not permitted to receive communion in a state of sin. But Baptism alone is insufficient to satisfy that condition; hence the liturgy includes the confession and absolution of sins. Here is the crux: is that confession and absolution efficacious alone, such that the condition of I Cor. is satisfied? I say "Yes"--Baptism in addition perfects that confession and absolution, but is not necessary for it. For that reason, it is possible for the unbaptized to receive communion without fault.
In short, to follow Aquinas, who--pace ElliotB--is certainly by now part of the Christian tradition, Baptism is fitting for us without being necessary (see my point E above). Such thinking is most definitely traditional.It may be that receiving communion without Baptism will prove inefficient and even potentially harmful for the one receiving--still, Baptism normally accompanies the Eucharist without being obligatory.
Why might a parish actually adopt open communion? It seems to be a risky accomodation to modern pagans, agnostics, and others. Yet, the church cannot take a desire to participate for granted, especially in the young. Open communion is a type of hospitality to such people, a way to draw them into liturgical action, spurring a desire for more. Liturgy can be a means through which sinners are drawn to repentence; liturgy is a means through which the Spirit can move to change lives. A church like ECUSA lives through its liturgy; liturgy is our special means of communicating our relationship with God, and that communication should go out to the unbaptized, even. I suppose ideally a parish could accomplish such liturgical evangelization by means of, say, Morning and Evening Prayer--but for most ECUSA parishes, the Eucharist not
the Offices is the living, beating heart of worship.