Saturday, January 23, 2016

Heresy Discovered in South Carolina

The Dean of the Cathedral in the Diocese of South Carolina Discovers a Heresy in the 1979 BCP - Or, maybe not

Dean Peet Jones ( has a problem with the Acclamation at the Fraction in the 1979 BCP. I can certainly sympathize with anyone who has problems with the 1979 Book. The words which  he describes as ‘heresy’ and  “a subtle, but profound, nod to the medieval claim, which was rejected at the Reformation, that the priest repeats the sacrifice of Christ to God on the altar in each new mass’ are “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us”.  Dean Peet thinks this a mistranslation of 1 Corinthians 5:7: the Greek verb τύθη “means a sacrifice that was completed in the past”. So the translation should be “Christ, our Passover has been or was sacrificed.”

This is a common confusion for beginning Greek students: to think that the Greek aorist indicates time, when in fact it can refer to the past, present or future. The very term ‘aorist’ implies this: aorist means ‘without boundaries’. William Douglas Chamberlain,  An Exegetical Grammar of the Greek New Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1960) makes the point:  "the student should disabuse his mind at once of the notion that the primary idea of tense in the Greek verb is  time.” The aorist does not indicate completed action in the past, the way the perfect in Latin often does.  The KJV translation of 1 Corinthians 5.7  is perfectly (excuse the pun) acceptable:  “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us’ and this translation in no way commits us to the question of when exactly this happened.

A more interesting text is perhaps  the words of institution in Luke 22:19 : “and having taken bread, having given thanks, he broke and gave to them saying ‘This is my body, which for you is given. ‘” The Greek verb διδόμενον  ‘given’ is a present participle. But  why is it not in the ‘future’: ‘will be given’ – the very necessary translation, which the good Dean’s argument would require.  Indeed in the most recent edition of the Roman Sacramentary in all four Eucharistic Prayers it is translated as future: ‘this is my body, which will be given up for you.’ Is the BCP translation, therefore, wrong in translating the words of institution in the present tense: ‘ this is my body, which is given for you’ ?

As to the contention that translating 1 Corinthians 5:7  in the present tense  is ‘a nod to the medieval claim, which was rejected at the Reformation, that the priest repeats the sacrifice of Christ to God on the altar in each new mass,’ the Dean is quite right that this is heretical. But it is not the only medieval view or even a common medieval contention. Nor is it a theological position, which had to wait for the Reformation to be rejected.

For example, St. Thomas Aquinas maintained that because Christ is present in the Eucharist (for my purposes here it is not required that you adopt Thomas’ description of that presence), the Very One who died on the Cross as a sacrifice for our sins, the Eucharist is also a sacrifice. The Mass is not a memorial of the Last Supper but a memorial of the Passion. It is not a sacrifice in the sense that Christ is slain again – an impossibility because Christ is no longer passable – but because He who is present in Eucharist is the One who offered Himself upon the Cross for us. 

I actually have never much cared for the Pascha nostrum and stopped using it years ago but on rather different grounds than the Dean. I use the Agnes Dei because that is the traditional text at this point in the Mass

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