I am pleased again with the acute and lucid explanation of your sentiments, and in my opinion, the truth of Scripture is of infinitely greater authority than that of any person now living, or of any community that could be named; so that if there had been a hundred popes, and all the friars had been turned into cardinals, no concession ought to have been made to their opinion in a matter of faith, save in so far as they rest upon Scripture. I see farther, that you do not condemn the pope, or any one, on account of this error, because you are ignorant in what way they died; but it is far more likely in your eyes that doctors have erred from the faith, or been slothfully silent, than that a single word of the Gospel may possibly be false.
But there is one thing I would fain know, and that is, in what sense the bread is the body of the Lord, and yet not identically the very body.
I see that you discern the truth on many points; and as to the mode in which that bread is the body of our Lord, such it surely is,—believe this firmly, for Christ, who cannot lie, hath so said. Now you know there are three methods of predication—the formal, the essential, and the figurative. Passing by the two former, let us here attend to the third. It is according to the third mode that Christ, as I have before observed to you, calls John the Baptist Elias, (Matthew 11.) The apostle says of Christ, (2 Corinthians 10.) when deducing a moral from the acts of the old law,) that he was a rock. And in Genesis 12., the Scripture asserts, that seven ears of corn, and seven fat kine, are the seven years of fertility. And as Augustine observes, the Scripture does not say—are the signs of those years, but that they are the years themselves. And you will meet with such modes of expression constantly in Scripture. And in these expressions, without a doubt, the predication is made figuratively, and is not the predication essential, or the predication formal. Now all such expressions show that the thing (res) of the subject, is ordained by God to be the figure of the thing of the predicate. So again it is said, that the sacramental bread is, after that mode, specially the body of the Lord, since Christ has so declared authoritatively. Yet I am ready to believe in a more subtle meaning, should I be taught it, either by Scripture or by reason. But of this meaning I am confident, nor have heretics, who would oppose me, any means of resistance on this point, since according to appearance, this accident without a subject, as they teach, which is the sacrament, is the body of Christ, that is, sacramentally the sign and figure of the body itself. Then there is a greater relation between bread and the body of Christ, (as Augustine shows,) than between it and an accident of this sort; wherefore it is no mere colouring to say that the bread is figuratively the body of Christ. For, as Augustine teaches, in what he says on John—corn is collected of a multitude of grain, and ground; secondly, water is poured on it, and it is kneaded; and thirdly, it is taken as the food of the body for nourishment. In a similar way believers receive the sacramental bread in fragments; it is afterwards watered by evangelical faith, and kneaded in the heart; and when baked by the fire of charity, is spiritually eaten. Accordingly, Augustine says, on John, “Believe with a faith moulded by charity, and thou hast eaten;” and this must be understood of eating spiritually.
Furthermore, those heretics are not to be listened to, who endeavour to do away with the meaning thus assigned, by the false objection, that such a figurative mode of expression is not used on any other occasion in the Gospel. For in Luke 22. it is immediately subjoined, “Do this in remembrance of me;” as if it had been said—This sacramental bread should be taken as an efficient memorial of me. Paul (1 Corinthians 11) speaks in a similar manner—“this cup,” &c., where there can be no doubt of its being a figurative expression; since in Mark 14. Christ saith, “This is my blood,” &c., where the words show the same thing; for the mind of the Catholic cannot comprehend that the bread is the body of Christ, except by a figurative understanding of these words; inasmuch as to identify these two things is impossible. Beyond all doubt, then, the expression “this is my body,” is figurative, as are those in the Gospel of John: “unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of man,” with many like them, which Christ spake in another sense. Nevertheless, there are some expressions in Scripture which must be understood plainly and without figure, as we grant in the matter of the incarnation, that our Jesus is God and man, which is plain from collated passages, as John 1., Ephesians 1., and Hebrews 1. Whence it is thought that the cunning of the fiend hath long been busy about this fallacy, to lead the church into that heresy. And the cause of it is that the church prelates are not preferred according to Christ’s ordaining, nor does the law of Antichrist suffer them to be zealous for the law of the Lord. As if the devil had been devising to this effect, saying, “If I can, by my vicar Antichrist, so far seduce the believers of the church, as to bring them to deny that this sacrament is bread, and to believe it a most abominable accident, I may in the same manner lead them, after that, to believe whatever I shall have a mind, inasmuch as Scripture language, and the senses of men, plainly teach the opposite of that dogma; and doubtless, after a space, by the same means, these simple-hearted believers may be brought to say, that however a prelate shall live, be he effeminate, a homicide, a simonist, or stained with any other vice, this must never be believed concerning him by the obedient people.”
Nevertheless, from motives of gain, such exemption must not be suffered to extend to the inferior clergy. And of the pope, it must be believed, as though it were a matter of faith, that he falls into no error, especially in regard to the faith of the church, but that he is a most blessed father, because he sins not. Thus it would appear, that the passage explained above, in Matthew 24.,—“When ye shall see the abomination of desolation,” refers to this heresy about the host.