Elizabeth’s Poetic Case Against Transubstantiation

Queen Elizabeth I

Is the communion bread and the wine a physical or spiritual, or only symbolical body and blood of Christ Jesus? Ludwig Ott correctly presented Roman Catholicism answer to our question, viz.,

“The Eucharist is that Sacrament, in which Christ, under the forms of bread and wine, is truly present, with His Body and Blood, in order to offer Himself in an unbloody manner to the Heavenly Father, and to give Himself to the faithful as nourishment for their souls.” (Ott 1954 370.)

From this view, Christ Jesus is truly, really, and substantially present in forms of bread and wine. The communion bread and wine transubstantiate to actual body and blood of Christ. Thus as pope Paul VI concluded that “they are holy of themselves, and owing to the virtue of Christ they confer grace to the soul as they touch the body”(Paul VI 1965: 38)

Martin Luther rejected this view and contended for consubstantiation. He argued that “[i]t is not that the bread and wine have become Christ’s body and blood, but that we now have the body and blood in addition to the bread and wine.”(Erickson 1986: 1117). Lady Elizabeth rejected both the Roman Catholicism and Germany Reformed views in favor of the French/Geneva reformed understanding.

Elizabeth’s Calvinistic Theology + Case Against Transubstantiation

At twelve years old, Elizabeth had access to the first French copy of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Geneva, 1541), to which she later translated the first chapter for Queen Katherine. (Elizabeth I 2009: 204-207)

Following John Calvin’s reformed theology, Lady Elizabeth, imprisoned on suspicion of her pro-Protestant stance during the reign of Queen Mary, gave a profound poetic case denying the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.

Lady Elizabeth, in prison, wrote:

Twas God the Word that spake it,
He took the Bread and brake it:
And what that Word did make it,
That I believe and take it.

The depth of Elizabeth’s theology is expounded in her poem, A Meditation how to discern the Lords Body in the Blessed Sacrament, that embodied Calvin’s theology.

Calvin rejected both transubstantiation and consubstantiation. He pointed out that even some of the Catholic father opposed others. He cited Gelasisus Papa expound: “That the substance of bread and wine in the Eucharist does not cease but remains, just as the nature and substance of man remains united to the Godhead in the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Gelasius Papa in Conc. Rom. Gelasius I, 492-96. cited by Calvin) as an example.

For Calvin, Eucharist is a spiritual feast to which “souls are fed by Christ just as the corporeal life is sustained by bread and wine”. He contended,

Thus when bread is given as a symbol of the body of Christ, we must immediately think of this similitude. As bread nourishes, sustains, and protects our bodily life, so the body of Christ is the only food to invigorate and keep alive the soul

When we behold wine set forth as a symbol of blood, we must think that such use as wine serves to the body, the same is spiritually bestowed by the blood of Christ; and the use is to foster, refresh, strengthen, and exhilarate.(Calvin 2007: n.p)

In A Meditation how to discern the Lords Body in the Blessed Sacrament, Lady Elizabeth wondered how men, who are not able to make with their own fingers wheat that makes the bread, can make God of wafers. She poetically reductio ad absurdum the  notion that the bread and wine were real body and blood of Christ Jesus since if:

He gave his Flesh, and Blood in Bread and Wine:
For if his Body he did then divide,
He must have eat himself before he dyd.

She expounded, what I believe is correct, what happens when we take bread and wine:

We must believe the Words of him, who said,
This is my Body; when he gave the Bread:
And sure that Blood which curdld in each Vein,
Did in his Sacred Body still remain,
Till he was Crucifyd and Slain.
However, theres great Influence therein,
Which expiates and cleanseth us from Sin:
We are made One with him in Holy Union,
When we in Faith receive the Blest Communion.
In Commemoration of his bitter Passion,
Who shed his Blood to purchase our Salvation;
We on his Merits must depend alone,
Sufficient tis that Merit we have none:
Nor can there any other Name be given
To save us, but by him who sits in Heaven.
His Body here on Earth need not appear,

She offered compelling reasons not to take the bread and wine literally as true body and blood of Christ Jesus when she poetically expounded,

He calld himself a Vine, and yet we see,
He was a perfect Man, and not a Tree.
He calld himself a Door; tis understood,
We enter Heaven through Him, and not thro Wood.
He calld himself a Way, the which doth lead
Our Steps to Heaven, yet none doth on him tread.(Elizabeth I 1688: n.p)

If, indeed, this is Queen Elizabeth I work, I solute her brilliancy since she did not only captured French reformed position but transformed it in a poetic way. Even though, Elizabeth does not comprehensively capture the whole of  Calvin case  in his Institute of the Christian Religion but does, I believe, she successively  presented Calvin’s opinion concerning the Eucharist.

Question: Do you agree with lady Elizabeth’s theology? Give reasons.

Bibliography:

Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian religion. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Elizabeth I   (1688) Queen Elizabeth ‘s Opinion concerning Transubstantiation: London: Printed for F.E.  English Broadside Ballad Archive

________  (2009) Elizabeth I: Translations, 1544-1589. University of Chicago Press

Erickson, Millard J.(1986) Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Bake.

Paul IV (1965) Mysterium Fidei: Encyclical Pope Paul VI On The Holy Eucharist. Vatican.

Ott, Ludwig (1954) Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Ed. James Canon Bastible, Trans. from Germany: Patrick Lynch. Roman Catholic Books. Fort Collins.

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2 thoughts on “Elizabeth’s Poetic Case Against Transubstantiation

  1. In fear and trembling I dare a reply. I agree with her statements. What clarity of thought from one who is high in sight of man and country without a tainted view of Jesus. She speaks from a heart touched by our Lord in a way many noble and less lofty dare not speak. I consider much of Catholicism to be a lot of idolatry hoisted upon people who were unable to refute it. She spoke her heart to the falsehoods of the Roman catholic practice as well as Luther’s watered down version of the same.

    This queen had a backbone along with a mind set on Christ. All is done in “remembrance” of His passion.

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