C.S. Lewis and the three great commandments: Love God, love the blessed sacrament, love your neighbour; necessarily in that order.

I was a guest at an annual end-of-year Bible-study party. Over the last three months, they had been watching the 12-part series of Del Tackett’s “The Truth Project.” Last week they watched the last video in the series, which I had also seen. About five minutes after my arrival – I allow the pigeons to settle a bit before I set among them – I asked: “We’re all Protestants here, not so?” Blank stares. Keep trying – very: Did you notice in the last video the bit about the Catholic priest who said that the “blessed sacrament” was more important than your neighbour? Blankety blank. I lauched into one of my theological perorations. The person next to me – the friend who had invited me – gave me a nudge, if not a wink. Then from across the lounge: “Let’s talk about the rugby, someone said – glad he didn’t say let’s talk rude. Then I heard all the tearful details of the South African sevens rugby team’s defeat to Samoa.

To “The truth Project.” Dr Del Tackett (of “The Truth Project”) is an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, who now works with Coral Ridge Ministries as a TV co-host for the show “Cross Examine.” Coral Ridge describes itself as “a congregation of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). The PCA is a family of churches that are doctrinally Reformed and governmentally Presbyterian. Below is a summary of our core beliefs which are developed in more detail in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism.”

In the light of these details, it seems right to infer that Del Tackett would ascribe to the following articles in the Westeminiser Confession:

Chapter 27 The sacraments – iii The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them.

chapter 29 the Lord’s Supper. ii. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; not any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same, so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.

Here is the bit of “The Truth project” 9part 12) I mentioned at the Bible-study party. I quote Del Tackett (30 minutes into the video):

“Jesus said Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love you neighbour as yourself. You do not understand this until you gaze on the face of Christ… Fr Sirico (a Catholic priest) understands deeply the need to treat our neighbours right and why we should.” Insert Fr Sirico (I quote him): “The thing that made Christian charity distinct from philanthropy was the view of the human person. When the Christian confronts human need, the Christian understands that the being standing before us is an eternal being. CS Lewis says you have never met a mere mortal, everyone you ever come in contact with is either an immortal horror or an everlasting splendour. He reminds us how sacred the human person is. He (Lewis) says that the most sacred thing that presents itself to our senses next to the blessed sacrament is this.”

Article 28 of the Thirty-Nine Articles declares that “Transubstantiation … cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.” Some Anglo-Catholics, like CS Lewis adhere to a belief in transubstantiation and thus subscribe to the eucharistic theology of Roman Catholicism .

I wonder how the “blessed sacrament” (the “eucharist,” the “host”) got into the Prebyterian elder Del Tuckett’s “The Truth Project.” The bit before by Father Sirico was Kosher, but it’s kashe (“hard” in Hebrew) not only for a Jew to understand how someone who subscribes to the Westminister Confession can allow (was it bad editing?) the bit about the “blessed sacrament.” Hopefully, Dr Tuckett will edit out that very unPresbyterian bit. Or are some Pressies training to swim the Tiber any time soon?

We know what the Hebrew scriptures and Jesus said were the two great commandments: Love God and 2; love your neighbour. Now, CS Lewis (the Anglo-Catholic Church) and Fr Sirico (The Roman Catholic Church) tell us (from their “Oral Torah”) that there are actually three great commandments – necessarily in this order 1. Love God, 2. Love the “blessed sacrament” and 3. Love your neighbours ’cause you never know he might be an everlasting splendour; unless we have to love all our neighbours ’cause who knows, they might not be an immortal horror (everlasting horror?).

I want to weigh into Lewis; specifically his “Weight of glory,” in which we find Fr Sirico’s reference to Lewis (in “The Truth Project”) about immortal horrors and everlasting splendors:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat (truly lies hidden)—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

What has Lewis to tell us? For one thing, “You have never talked to a mere mortal.” But let me not be flippant. Rather, I focus on “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way…”

In Anglo- and Roman Catholicism the “blessed sacrament” is the “substance” of the Incarnate Son under the “accidents” (appearance of the senses). Without sacrifice (of the Mass), there can be no “blessed sacrament,” because the latter IS the (real) body (bones and sinews, etc) of Christ:

“The Roman Catechism, p.233 says ‘that in this Sacrament are contained not only the true body of Christ and all the constituents of a true body, such as bones and sinews, but also Christ, whole and entire’ and further that, page 239 ‘the body of our Lord is contained whole and entire under the least particle of the bread.’” (Is Communion in the hand a sacrilege?)

There is no sacrifice without a body, and no body without a sacrifice. The Protestant view is that – subsequent to Golgotha – there is no sacrifice because there is nobody to sacrifice. Here’s a funny thing, which is the matter I am coming to. Lewis places great weight on the Eucharist – so much so that his neighbour is pipped in the glory stakes – yet when it comes to the historical event of Christ shedding his blood on the cross, Lewis makes no bones about where he stands on the issue. Nowhere, or is it somewhere; nobody knows. Why do I say this? Because:

“You can say, says Lewis in “Mere Christianity,” that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarreling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.”

No narrow formulas, says Lewis. Nor should we want a “cosy ecumenical love-in thing” (as someone said). Lewis, of course, indicates throughout his theological writings that this is the last thing he would desire. I wonder, however, whether this is exactly what Lewis has encouraged with his idea that substitutionary sacrifice (Lewis’ “washed in the blood of the lamb”) is merely an optional way of understanding the plan of salvation.

For Lewis, and many others such as his mentor George MacDonald, what does it matter whether a Christian believes in the “formula” (Lewis) that he is washed in Christ’s blood? It’s no better than believing that “the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done.” (Lewis) But this bloodless salvation through Christ’s life (or through what we! ought to have done) rather than through His Cross is, according to scripture, no salvation at all. The New Testament mentions the “blood” at least 90 times: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission ( of sin)” (Heb. 9:22). “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:12).

Where does all this leave Lewis’s “second” great commandment – love the “blessed sacrament.” Why not make the former, as he made the blood sacrifice of Christ, one more optional formula. Or should a person eventually ween himself off “mere” Christianity and mature into full blooded and bloodied Christianity, without which there can be nothing “blessed” about the Eucharist for the obvious reason that without the sacrifice on the cross re-presented (not represented) in the Mass there is no body. No body of Christ means no re-presenting of the body of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrament of “Communion.”

Let’s stick with the two great commandments. The greatest is “Love God,” and the second is “love your neighbour.” Christian, don’t despair that you can never perfectly obey these or any of God commandments. On the contrary, be of good cheer because Christ has obeyed them perfectly for you (a Jew or a Muslim thinks that’s daft). There’s much, much more. He brings back to life all those the Father gave him before the world began. That life is the true life that comes into the world to live in you – Christ in us, our hope of glory, our real “blessed sacrament.”