Today is the feast of Bishop Alexander Jolly (1756–1838), Bishop of Moray, Saint, Scholar and Ascetic (though famed for his fine rum punch), and a key representative of the Scottish Episcopalian theological tradition. He lived alone and each day in his small house in Fraserburgh he spent hours in prayer reading long passages of Scripture and the Fathers in the original languages. He presents his teaching on the Eucharistic Sacrifice in his great work, first published in 1831, The Christian Sacrifice in the Eucharist; Considered as It Is the Doctrine of Holy Scripture, Embraced by the Universal Church of the First and Purest Times, by the Church of England, and by the Episcopal Church in Scotland. This teaching is intimately bound up with the Scottish Liturgy and has its own genius, distinct from Protestant, Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologies while having affinities with them all.
Rather than trying to explain it, I offer below Jolly’s own words from pages 96 to 105 of the first edition of this work. This extract was first made for the ordinands of the Scottish Episcopal Institute but has also been used in a study group at St John’s Church, Princes Street, Edinburgh. Non-specialists found Jolly’s teaching helpful in understanding their own experience of the Eucharist. It gave them a way of understanding that Christ is truly present and the Eucharist is a real sacrifice, without involving the philosophical gymnastics of transubstantiation. The ecumenical agreements of the last few decades and the scholarship behind them have brought many new insights, but Alexander Jolly’s teaching retains its value.
The Christian Sacrifice in the Eucharist
All the liturgies, and all the good Fathers of the primitive church harmoniously concur in asserting, that the materials of the Christian sacrifice are bread and wine, which latter was universally in those times mixed with water. The Holy Liturgy, then, calling upon the people to lift up their hearts, and fervently fix their minds in thanksgiving to God for all his mercies, proceeded, in an act of solemn devotion, to separate these elements, that they might be the authoritative symbols, figures and representatives, of the broken body and shed blood of our divine Redeemer. And this was done by rehearsing over them the words of His institution, which authorised his Apostles, and their successors thus to celebrate and shew forth his death….
The rehearsal of these words, declaring the original institution, makes the first part of the consecration. The bread and wine are thereby separated and set apart from all common use, and raised to value beyond all the bread and wine in the universe; being, by Christ’s institution and authority made the figures and symbols of his body and blood, who, of his wondrous love and desire for our salvation, offered himself a sacrifice for our redemption, under such tokens or substitutes; and commanded that we should, by the Apostolic priesthood, plead the merits of His death, under these representations, to the end of the world.
Then come the words of offering, by which the Eucharistic sacrifice is actually offered, and presented to the Father, as the memorial of the infinitely meritorious passion and death of his Son, in whom he is ever well-pleased, and for his sake looks propitiously upon us. This, then, is the second step or degree of the consecration, by which the Elements are still farther sanctified, as being presented and given to God… the liturgy, accordingly, proceeds to beg his acceptance of them, and divine blessing upon them, thereby imparting to them the highest degree of consecration, in the words of an ancient liturgy, “send down thy Holy Spirit, the witness of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, on this sacrifice, that He may make this bread the body of thy Christ, and this cup the blood of thy Christ”
A prayer to this purpose, and in this place, we find in all the ancient liturgies; and we instantly see the piety and propriety of it. For surely in order that bread and wine, which have no natural virtue to that purpose, may be the means of conveying such inestimable blessings, they must have a supernatural virtue communicated to them by the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier, the Author of all benediction and grace. To this end, our Lord originally blessed, or (according to a Greek word less intelligible in our language) ‘eucharistised’ them, prayed and gave thanks over them; and commanded His Apostles and their successors, the Bishops and Priests of his church, to do as He had done; that is, not only to offer the bread and cup as the commemorative sacrifice of his death, but also to bless them by prayer or invocation of the Spirit of God; it being, as his word is, the Spirit that quickens or gives life, or imparts the life-giving virtue and efficacy of his body and blood to them…. And thus, the offering up, that is, the sacrificial oblation of’ the Gentiles, that pure offering foretold by Malachi, is acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit….
While we avoid the astonishing error of transubstantiation, that is, change of substance, we must not, as too many have done, run into the opposite extreme, and imagine that the Eucharistic bread and cup differ in nothing from common bread and wine, but by barely signifying, or being symbols and tokens of the body and blood of Christ.
Our divine Master, whose words could not be taken by his Apostles in the literal sense, while their eyes were blessed by seeing the substantial body of their adorable Lord whole and unbroken before them, with his all-precious blood unshed in its veins, yet expressly, and without any qualifying terms, declared, “This”, that is, this broken bread, “is my body”. “This”, that is, this mingled wine, “is my blood.” And that much more than bare empty figure or symbol was implied, his inspired Apostle holds out, as what was beyond all controversy or doubt among Christians: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16) That is, by the authoritative blessing pronounced over these elements, in the name and by the commission of Christ, the author and end of the institution, they are the sure and effectual conveyance or communication of all the benefits purchased for mankind by the body and blood of Christ, broken and shed for us; by which He imparts His Spirit to us, and by the communion of the Holy Ghost, dwells in us, and we in Him.
The word of God, then, even God the Word himself, clearly affirming the bread and cup, so blessed and sanctified, to be the body and blood of Christ, our faith must firmly embrace this truth, and receive them as such with clean hands and pure hearts-by faith, which is the evidence of things not seen, discerning the Lord’s body… With the pure and clear eye of faith, therefore, we ought reverently to look beyond the veil, which is, indeed, substantially bread and wine, to the inward and spiritual significance and efficacy, even the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for us; the life-giving virtue and power of which we receive by worthily eating and drinking the consecrated bread and wine. These are as much the body and blood as one thing can be another while it retains its own substance. They are so, as being the sure means and conveyance of our salvation; so that by them we receive the same divine influence and spiritual benefits that we could receive, were we to eat and drink the natural substance, which it is impossible for us to do; for that is in heaven only, and must there remain until the times of the restitution of all things.
We, without pretending to explain the manner of the operation, firmly adhere to and acquiesce in our Saviour’s words, which he first uttered in promise at Capernaum: “The bread that I will give is my body”. He verified this when he took bread and blessed and brake, and said, “This (bread) is my body which is given for you.” Bread and wine then, in substance, the elements, are the body and blood of Christ, in spirit and power.