The regulative principle

Charles Hodge on the Elements of the Lord’s Supper

The Elements to be used in the Lord’s Supper.

The word element, in this connection, is used in the same sense as the Latin word “elementum,” and the Greek word στοιχεῖα, for the component parts of anything; the simple materials or rudiments. Bread and wine are the elements employed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, because they are the simple corporeal materials employed as the symbols of the body and blood of Christ.

As the Lord’s Supper was originally instituted in connection with the Passover, there is no doubt that unleavened bread was used on that occasion. It is evident, however, from the apostolic history, that the Apostles used whatever kind of bread was at hand. There is no significancy either in the kind of bread or in the form of the loaf. It is enough that it is bread. This makes it the proper emblem of Him who declared Himself to be the true bread which came down from heaven.

Although it seems so obvious that it is a matter of indifference what kind of bread is used in the Lord’s Supper, a serious controversy arose on this subject in the eleventh century between the Greek and Latin churches: the former condemning the use of unleavened bread as a remnant of Judaism, and the latter insisting not only on its propriety, but on its being the only kind allowable, because used by Christ himself when He instituted the sacrament. The two churches adhere to their ancient convictions and practice to the present day. The Lutherans in this matter side, in their practice, with the Romanists. The Reformed regard it as a matter of indifference; although they object to the “placentulæ orbiculares,” or round wafers, used by Romanists in this ordinance; because flour and water or flour and some glutinous substance is not bread in the ordinary sense of the word. It is not used for nourishment. The use, therefore, is inconsistent with the analogy between the sign and the thing signified. The eucharist is a supper; it represents our feeding upon Christ for our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace. Besides, the use of the wafer was introduced with the rise of the doctrine of transubstantiation. The consecrated bread being regarded as the real body of Christ, it was natural that it should be made in a form which precluded the danger of any particle of it being profaned.628


Some of the Reformed theologians raise the question whether in places where bread and wine cannot be obtained, it is lawful to use in their stead other articles of nourishment, the most allied to them in nature? This question they answer affirmatively; while they insist that the command of Christ and the practice of the Apostles should be strictly adhered to where such adherence is possible.

By wine as prescribed to be used in this ordinance, is to be understood “the juice of the grape;” and “the juice of the grape” in that state which was, and is, in common use, and in the state in which it was known as wine. The wine of the Bible was a manufactured article. It was not the juice of the grape as it exists in the fruit, but that juice submitted to such a process of fermentation as secured its preservation and gave it the qualities ascribed to it in Scripture. That οἶνος in the Bible, when unqualified by such terms as new, or sweet, means the fermented juice of the grape, is hardly an open question. It has never been questioned in the Church, if we except a few Christians of the present day. And it may safely be said that there is not a scholar on the continent of Europe, who has the least doubt on the subject. Those in the early Church, whose zeal for temperance led them to exclude wine from the Lord’s table, were consistent enough to substitute water. They were called Tatiani, from the name of their leader, or Encratitæ, Hydroparastatæ, or Aquarii, from their principles. They not only abstained from the use of wine and denounced as “improbos atque impios” those who drank it, but they also repudiated animal food and marriage, regarding the devil as their author.629 They soon disappeared from history. The plain meaning of the Bible on this subject has controlled the mind of the Church, and it is to be hoped will continue to control it till the end of time.630

In most churches, the wine used in the Lord’s Supper is mixed with water. The reasons assigned for this custom, are, (1.) That 617the eucharist having been instituted at the table of the Paschal supper, and the wine used in the Passover being mixed with water, it is morally certain that the wine used by Christ when instituting this sacrament, was also thus mixed. Hence it was inferred that his disciples in all ages should follow his example. That the Paschal cup contained wine mixed with water rests on the authority of Jewish writers. “It was the general practice of the Jews to dilute their wine with water. ‘Their wine was very strong,’ says an ancient Jewish writer,631 ‘and not fit for drinking unless water was mixed with it.’”632 It is certain, from the writings of the fathers, that this custom prevailed extensively in the primitive Church. As the Greeks and Romans were in the habit of mixing water with their wine on all ordinary occasions, it is the more natural that the same usage should prevail in the Church. It is still retained, both by Romanists and by the Oriental Church. (2.) Besides this historical reason for the usage in question, it was urged that it adds to the appropriate significance of the ordinance. As water and blood flowed from the side of our Lord on the cross, it is proper, it is said, that water should be mixed with the wine in the service intended to be commemorative of his death. This being the case, the quantity of the water used was declared to be a matter of indifference. In the First Book of Edward VI. prepared for the Church of England, the minister was ordered to put into the cup “a little pure and clean water.” This order was omitted from the rubric, and has never been restored. Merati, of the Church of Rome, says: “A little water ought to be mixed by the priest with the wine on the altar, not . . . . . for necessity of the sacrament or divine precept, . . . . but only of ecclesiastical precept obliging under mortal sin.”633

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