Treatise on the Most Blessed Sacrament

by St. Thomas More

A treatise to receive the Blessed Body of our Lord Sacramentally and Virtually both, made in the year of our Lord, 1534, by Sir Thomas More Knight, while he was prisoner in the Tower of London, which he entitled thus as followeth:

To Receive the Blessed Body Of Our Lord Sacramentally and Virtually both.

They receive the Blessed Body of our Lord both Sacramentally and Virtually which in due manner and worthily receive the Blessed Sacrament. When I say worthily, I mean not that any man is so good, or can be so good, that his goodness could make him of very right and reason worthy to receive into his vile, earthly body, that Holy, Blessed, Glorious Flesh and Blood of Almighty God Himself, with His Celestial Soul therein, and with the Majesty of His Eternal Godhead: but that he may prepare himself, working with the Grace of God, to stand in such a state as the incomparable goodness of God will of His liberal bounty, vouchsafe to take and accept for worthy, to receive His own inestimable, Precious Body into the body of so simple a servant.

Such is the wonderful bounty of Almighty God that, He not only doth vouchsafe, but also doth delight, to be with men, if they prepare to receive Him with honest and clean souls, whereof He saith, Deliciae meae esse cum filiis hominum.1 My delight and pleasures are to be with the sons of men.

And how can we doubt, that God delighteth to be with the sons of men, when the Son of God, and very Almighty God Himself, liked not only to become the Son of Man, that is to wit, the son of Adam, the first man, but over that, in His innocent manhood, to suffer His painful Passion for the Redemption and Restitution of man.

In remembrance and memorial whereof, He disdaineth not to take for worthy such men, as wilfully make not themselves unworthy, to receive the self-same Blessed Body into their bodies, to the inestimable wealth of their Souls, and yet of His High Sovereign patience, He refuseth not to enter bodily into the vile bodies of those whose filthy minds refuse to receive Him graciously into their Souls. But then do such folk receive Him only Sacramentally, and not Virtually, that is to wit, they receive His very Blessed Body into theirs under the Sacramental Sign, but they receive not the thing of the Sacrament, that is to wit, the Virtue and the Effects thereof, that is to say, the Grace by which they should be lively members incorporate in Christ's Holy Mystical Body: but instead of that live Grace, they receive their Judgment and their Damnation.

And some such by the outrageous enormity of their deadly sinful purpose, in which they presume to receive that Blessed Body, deserve to have the devil, (through the suffrance of God) personally so to enter into their breasts, that they never have the Grace after to cast him out: but like as a man with bridle and spur rideth and ruleth a horse, and maketh him go which way he list to guide him, so doth the devil by his inward suggestions govern and guide the man, and bridle him from all good, and spur him into all evil, till he finally drive him to all mischief, as he did the false traitor, Judas, that sinfully received that Holy Body, whom the devil did therefore first carry out about the traitorous death of the self-same Blessed Body of his most loving Master; which he so late so sinfully received, and within a few hours after, unto the desperate destruction of himself.

And, therefore, have we great cause with great dread and reverence to consider well the state of our own soul when we shall go to the Board of God, and as near as we can (with the help of His special Grace diligently prayed for before) purge and cleanse our souls by Confession, Contrition, and Penance, with full purpose of forsaking from thenceforth the proud desires of the devil, the greedy covetousness of wretched worldly wealth, and the foul affection of the filthy flesh, and being in full mind to persevere, and continue in the ways of God, and holy cleanness of Spirit: lest that, if we presume so irreverently to receive this precious Margarite, this pure Pearl, the Blessed Body of our Saviour Himself, contained in the Sacramental sign of bread, that like a sort of swine, rioting in the dirt, and wallowing in the mire, we tread it under the filthy feet of our foul affections, while we set more by them than by It, intending to walk and wallow in the puddle of foul, filthy sin; therewith, the legion of devils may get leave of Christ so to enter into us as they got leave of Him to enter into the hogs of Genezareth; and as they ran forth with them, and never stinted till they drowned them in the sea, so run on with us, (but if God of His great mercy refrain them and give us the grace to repent) and not fail to drown us in the deep sea of everlasting sorrow. . . .

We must (I say) see, that we firmly believe that this Blessed Sacrament is not a bare sign, or a figure, or a token of that Holy Body of Christ: but that It is in perpetual remembrance of His bitter Passion, that He suffered for us, the self-same precious Body of Christ that suffered it, by His own Almighty power and unspeakable goodness consecrated and given unto us.

And this point of belief is in the receiving of this Blessed Sacrament of such necessity, and such weight with them that have years of discretion, that without it they receive It plainly to their damnation. And that point believed very full and fastly must needs be a great occasion to move any man in all other points to receive It well. For note well the words of St. Paul therein: Qui manducat de hoc pane, et bibit de calice indigne judicium sibi manducat et bibit, non dijudicans corpus Domini. He that eateth of this Bread and drinketh of this cup, unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment upon himself in that, he discerneth not the Body of our Lord. (2 Cor. 11.)

Lo, here, this Blessed Apostle well declareth that he, which in any wise unworthily receiveth this most excellent Sacrament, receiveth It unto his own damnation in that he well declareth by his evil demeanour toward It, in his unworthy receiving of It, that he discerneth It not, nor judgeth It, nor taketh It, for the very Body of our Lord, as indeed It is. And verily it is hard but, that, this point deeply rooted in our breasts, should set all our hearts in a fervour of devotion toward the worthy receiving of that Blessed Body.

But, surely, there can be no doubt on the other side, but that if any man believe that It is Christ's very Body, and yet is not inflamed to receive Him devoutly thereby, that man were likely to receive this Blessed Sacrament very coldly, and far from all devotion: if he believed, that It were not His Body, but only the bare token of Him, instead of His Body.

But now having the full faith of this point fastly grounded in our heart, that the thing which we receive is the very Blessed Body of Christ, I trust there shall not greatly need any great information further to teach us, or any great exhortation further to stir and excite us, with all humble manner and reverent behaviour to receive Him.

For if we will but consider, if there were a great worldly prince, which for special favour that he bare us, would come visit us in our own house, what a business we would then make, and what a work it would be for us to see that our house were trimmed up in every point to the best of our possible power, and everything so provided and ordered, that he should by his honourable receiving perceive what affection we bear him, and in what high estimation we have him.

We should soon see by the comparing of that worldly prince and this Heavenly Prince together (between which twain is far less comparison than is between a man and a mouse), inform and teach ourself with how lowly, how tender loving heart, how reverent humble manner we should endeavour ourself to receive this glorious, heavenly King, the King of Kings, Almighty God Himself, that so lovingly doth vouchsafe to enter, not only into our house (to which the noble man Centurio knowledged himself unworthy), but His 'Precious Body into our vile wretched carcass, and His Holy Spirit into our poor simple soul.

What diligence can here suffice us? What solicitude can we think here enough against the coming of this Almighty King, coming for so special gracious favour not to put us to cost, not to spend of ours, but to enrich us of His, and, that after so manifold deadly displeasure done Him so unkindly by us, against so many of His incomparable benefits before done unto us? How would we now labour, that the house of our soul (which God were coming to rest in) should neither have any poisoned spider, or cobweb of deadly sin hanging in the roof, nor so much as a straw or a feather of any light lewd thought, that we might spy on the floor, but that we would sweep it away.

But for-as-much (good Christian readers) as we neither can attain this great point of Faith, nor any other virtue, but by the Special Grace of God of whose high goodness every good thing cometh, (for as St. James saith: Omne datum optimum et omne donum perfectum, desursum est descendens a Patre luminum: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above descending from the Father of Lights), let us therefore pray for His gracious help in the attaining of His Faith, and for His help in the cleansing of our soul against His coming, that He may make us worthy to receive Him worthily.

And ever let us of our own part, fear our unworthiness, and on His part, trust boldly upon His goodness, if we are slow not to work with him for our own part. For if we willingly upon the trust and comfort of His goodness leave our own endeavour undone, then is our hope, no hope, but a very foul presumption.

Then, when we come unto His Holy Board, into the Presence of His Blessed Body, let us consider His high glorious Majesty) which His high goodness there hideth from us, and the proper form of His holy Flesh covereth under the form of bread, both to keep us from abashment, such as we could not peradventure abide if we (such as we yet be) should see and receive Him in His own Form, such as He is, and also for the increase of the merit of our Faith in the obedient belief of that thing at His commandment, whereof our eyes and our reason seem to show us the contrary.

And yet, for-as-much as although we believe it, yet is there therein many of us) that believe very faint, and far from the point of such vigour and strength, as would God it had, let us say unto Him with the father that had the dumb son: Credo, Domine, adjuva incredulitatem meam--I believe, Lord, but help thou my lack of belief, and with His blessed Apostle, Domine, adauge nobis fidem (Luke 17): Lord increase Faith in us.

Let us also with the poor publican in knowledge of our own unworthiness say with all meekness of heart, Deus propitius esto mihi peccatori (Luke 18): Lord God be merciful to me, sinner that I am. And with the Centurio, Domine non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum (Matt. 8), Lord I am not worthy, that thou shouldst come into my house. And yet with all this remembrance of our own unworthiness, and therefore with great reverence, fear and dread for our own part, let us not forget on the other side to consider His inestimable goodness, which disdaineth not for all our unworthiness to come unto us, and to be received of us, but likewise as at the sight or receiving of this excellent memorial of His death (for in the remembrance thereof doth He thus consecrate and give His own Blessed Flesh and Blood unto us) we must with tender compassion remember and call to mind the bitter pains of His most painful Passion.

And yet there-with-all rejoice and be glad in the consideration of His incomparable kindness, which in His so suffering for us, to our inestimable benefit, He showed and declared toward us. So must we be sore afraid of our own unworthiness, and yet therewith be right glad and in great hope at the consideration of His immeasurable goodness…

Let us (good Christian readers) receive Him in such wise, as did the good publican, Zacheus, which when he longed to see Christ, and because he was but low of stature, did climb up into a tree, our Lord seeing his devotion called unto him, and said: Zachee, come off and come down: for this day must I dwell with thee. And he made haste and came down, and very gladly received Him into his house. But not only received Him with a joy of a light and fond feeling affection, but that it might well appear that he received Him with a sure, earnest, virtuous mind, he proved it by his virtuous works.

For he forthwith was contented to make recompense to all men that he had wronged, and that in a large manner; for every penny a groat; and yet offered to give out also forthwith the one half of all his substance unto poor men, and that forthwith also; by and by, without any longer delay. And therefore he said not: Thou shalt hear, that I shall give it: but he said: Ecce dimidium bonorum meorum de pauperibus. Lo, look, good Lord, the one half of my goods I do give unto poor men.

With such alacrity, with such quickness of spirit, with such gladness and such spiritual rejoicing, as this man received our Lord into his house, our Lord give us the Grace to receive His Blessed Body and Blood, His Holy Soul and His Almighty Godhead both, into our bodies and into our souls, that the fruit of our good works may bear witness unto our conscience, that we receive Him worthily and in such a full Faith, and such a stable purpose of good living, as we be bounden to owe. And then shall God give a gracious sentence, and say upon our soul as He said upon Zacheus: Hodie salus facta est huic domui, (Luke 19) : This day is health and salvation come unto this house: which that Holy Blessed Person of Christ which we verily in the Blessed Sacrament receive, through the merit of His Bitter Passion (whereof He hath ordained His own Blessed Body in that Blessed Sacrament to be the memorial) vouchsafe, good Christian readers, to grant unto us all.