As I settled down to supper and dowsed some bread (Italian) in olive oil (Greek, Kalamata) and enjoyed the reassuring gurgle of some wine (Gascon, ad honorem deiparae Virginis; well, there aren't any vineyards in the environs of Walsingham) I thought of the biblical phrase 'the corn, the wine, and the oil'. And I recalled how the old Ember Days (ignored now except by Anglicans and Tridentinists) grew out of the old mediterranean harvests (Pentecost: cereals; September: vintage; December: olives. See G G Willis 1964). And how our Faith is a mediterranean faith, rooted in the agricultural communities of the mediterranean basin, from the Hebrew Patriarchs onwards. And how our sacraments are inextricably bound up with the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil. And I wondered whether denial of the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil might be considered the basic heresy, the elemental root of all error.
I don't only have in mind the iniquity of anti-alcoholism, although that is part of it. The gnostics, creation-denying dualists, celebrated 'eucharists' in water, and we should never forget the disgust of that acute theologian Dr Augustus Fagan ("Lloyd George, the temperance movement, Nonconformity, and lust stalking hand in hand through the country, wasting and ravaging"). The fact that Methodists commonly use substances other than wine in their communion services is not, as professional ecumenists seem to think, some minor detail, easily fudged.
But more insidious still is the idea that the principle of inculturation could be applied to the elements used in the Christian sacraments. I have known suggestions that to use bread made from something other than wheat, alcohol produced not from grapes, and the oil of vegetables other than olives, would affirm cultures which do not find their origins in the mediterranean basin. This seems to be based on the notion that Christianity is an idea; and ideas can, in different cultures, be garbed in different clothes. That is what is the basic heresy. Christianity is not an idea. It is a person, a God who took flesh - a particular flesh - from a particular Girl in a particular country in a particular culture and in that flesh died on a particular Cross after he had, on as particular evening, given himself to his friends under the appearances of a loaf and a cupful of wine. This particularity and this materiality is Christianity. That is why the gnostics were not Christians, and why Matthew Fox is not a Christian. And the Matter of the Sacraments is rooted in the particularity of that Incarnation and its culture; for example, Messiah, Christos, and the use of the oils in Initiation and Ordination. In a society in which kings and priests were not anointed, we would not be permitted to abandon the terminology and the sacramental Matter; we would have an obligation to catechise.
Without the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil, nulla salus [no salvation].