Bread of Heaven

The eucharist is different from the other sacraments. Jesus never said, “Friends, this water [of baptism] is my spittle,” or “this nard [of chrismation, ordination, and unction] is the oil of my brow.” But he did say that the Bread is his Body, and the Wine his Blood. Nor did he say that the Bread is “sort of like” his Body. He could of course have done so, if that is what he had meant to say. But instead he stated a straightforward, in your face identity between the Bread and his Body, and between the Wine and his Blood; and, since Jesus is identical with God, we are not at liberty to interpret his statement in any other way. The many disciples who instantly abandoned him on account of this “hard teaching” certainly didn’t; they figured that he was a lunatic because he said:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world …  Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him … This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever. (John 6:47ff)

Is there any way he might have indicated the identity between the Body of his Incarnation and the Bread of his Presence more explicitly? Whatever the undoubted metaphysical difficulties of the Real Presence, if Jesus is Really Present in the elements, then they just are him, and it behooves us to grapple with this fact. It is, indeed a difficult teaching. How may we understand it?

The options range from the memorialist doctrine at the far, bitter, Zwinglian end of the Protestant spectrum – that Jesus is not Really Present in, but rather only symbolized by, the matter of the Mass – to the Patristic doctrine of transubstantiation, that at the consecration of the host the essence of the bread is simply changed to the essence of Jesus. Somewhere in between lies the notion that tradent Anglican philosopher Lydia McGrew articulated the other day in a fascinating post that, together with her subsequent exchange with Catholic philosopher William Luse, largely provoked this present post. She says:

I do not hold either of these views. In the case of transubstantiation, I simply do not hold a metaphysical view about such physical entities as bread, wine, and human flesh and blood according to which they have an entirely imperceptible essence which can literally be switched with the imperceptible essence of a different physical type of stuff while leaving all possibly perceptible physical properties the same. This doesn’t mean that I’m a nominalist or that I deny that anything has an essence nor that I am unable to imagine situations in which something might appear to be other than what it is. I think that human beings have an essence, for example, and that no matter how disabled or even wicked and degraded a man is, as long as he lives he retains that essence of being truly human. But for bread, wine, and flesh and blood, no, I just really can’t accept the view that that is what they are like, which would make transubstantiation possible.

Actually, the main burden of this post will be about why I don’t accept memorialism, so more on that later.

What I do believe is that Jesus is specially, spiritually present in the elements of Communion in the sense that they are spiritual food. God has so ordained that those of us who, as the Prayer Book says, have “duly received” Communion are objectively spiritually nourished thereby. In this sense Jesus objectively comes down to us in the bread and wine and gives himself, his life and spiritual strength, aka grace, to us when we rightly receive. (And if we don’t rightly receive, we could be in big trouble for profaning this Sacrament which has been rendered holy by God’s intention that it should be a means of grace to us.) When the consecrated Host is reserved on the altar, because the Host is that divinely ordained physical meeting point between our Lord Jesus Christ and ourselves, the place where it is reserved becomes a literally holy space, a place where we come before Christ, who is present there in a special way in which he is not present everywhere else.

Note that if the Bread of the eucharist simply is the Body of Jesus, then it is also trivially true that the Bread is like the Body; so that the memorialists are correct that the host is indeed a symbol of the Incarnate Lord. Identities are also metaphors. More on that in a moment.

Likewise, the doctrine of strict identity doesn’t contradict McGrew’s doctrine, at all, but rather includes it: if God simply is the Bread and Wine, it follows that “Jesus is specially, spiritually present in the elements … as spiritual food,” and that “the Host is that divinely ordained physical meeting point between our Lord Jesus Christ and ourselves.”

Thus while I certainly don’t disagree with McGrew’s notion of ordained sanctification of the elements, it doesn’t seem to me quite sufficient to comprehend Christ’s straightforward identification of his own material actuality with that of the Bread and Wine. There is more at work in the eucharist than in the Holy of Holies. God was “present” in the Holy of Holies, “dwelt” in the Temple and the Tabernacle, “sat” upon the Cherubim throne of the Ark – as, certainly, he is present in the world generally, in the Church and its members, and in the Body of Jesus particularly. But as there is more to the Incarnation than possession of the human body of the Son of Mary by the Logos, so there is more to the Real Presence than something like a greater density or effectuality of the Logos in the elements than we find elsewhere in nature.

That thickening and intensification of the Presence, of the Name and Glory of God, are at work in the Incarnation and the eucharist, to be sure, and the Logos does indeed possess and inhabit the body of Jesus of Nazareth, and ergo the Body and Blood of the eucharist. But there is more to the Real Presence than that.

What happens, then, at the epiklesis, when at the climax of the liturgy the celebrant calls the Logos down upon the elements? Note first the form of the event: God fulfills his end of a bargain, a New Covenant, that he strikes with the people of the Church at every Mass (it is but the latest of many; the Old Testament is liberally sprinkled with such covenants). They offer themselves a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice; he takes them up on the offer, and in return he comes down when the priest calls him into the elements, and then, when the communicants partake of those elements, enters into the people. The people thereby participate in his sacrifice, and he in them, so that they take on the mind of Christ, and become themselves gods.

Not, of course, that the people do any of the saving work in this transaction; rather, in the very motion of sacrifice they refrain from action of their own, or for their own sake. The people’s end of the bargain is fulfilled when they cease from all their doing. For the victim, sacrifice is utter surrender to the Divine Will; that surrender is the means of theosis.

But what I particularly want to get at here is that the sacrament by which the people are sanctified, by way of the sanctified host, is in formal terms a legal agreement, an oath, fulfilled, and an economic transaction effected.

Indeed, all the sacraments are formal legal agreements to effect an exchange of real economic value. Even unction of the sick is predicated on a valid rite of penance, in which the penitent truly offers his life again to God, thereby making himself morally fit and ritually clean for the reciprocal renewal of his anointing as again a priest of the Order of Melchizedek. Grace, then, enters the sacramental transaction when it is effected as such – when the agreement is formally executed, and then fulfilled.

The reason it is such a great sin to take communion unshriven, or with an unclean heart – to take the Name in vain, to accede to the Law of the exchange speciously or hypocritically – is that to do so is to renege on the deal one has formally executed. It is to welsh; it is to lie to God, and is to try to cheat him. It’s unfair dealing. Ditto for divorce, or apostasy. These motions mock God; but, being supernal, God cannot truly be mocked, so that any such mockery cannot but redound to the sinner’s doom.

To mock God is to choose exile from being. Reality everywhere agrees with God, this being the means of his provident coordination of things, that delivers to us from one moment to the next a coherent, logical world. So in a sense, any world, properly so called, is an instance of creaturely agreement to the Logos, and the Noachic covenant is everywhere fulfilled. What distinguishes the sacraments from the rest of the events that lawfully flow together under the Logos is that in the sacraments human beings make their peculiarly human formal accession to the Logos. In the sacraments, humans buy in to God in the ways that can matter peculiarly to them. This makes the sacraments the means of grace peculiarly pertinent to humans, which are for us the food of new and unending life.

The Real Presence is a mystery of the same type as that of the Incarnation, which seems a much more difficult notion to untangle, metaphysically; for how can human and divine natures, that are in many respects apparently contradictory, be expressed in the same being? Never mind the admittedly perplexing question of how a bit of bread can be a bit of meat: how can a single being be both finite and infinite, both eternal and living at a particular address in Nazareth of Galilee, with a business to run and bills to pay? Note then that the Incarnation, too, is the fruit of a legal agreement, in this case between humanity, by our attorney Mary, and YHWH, by his attorney Gabriel. The Magnificat is the record of that agreement, and the life of Jesus Christ its fulfillment. The Creator becomes a member of the created order to fulfill a formal covenant with his creatures, that, provided they admit him, he will come among them so that they may know him and participate in him, and in his life, that is the source of all life.

Knowing is participation; when we know something, we appropriate it, take it into ourselves so that it becomes an aspect of our being. There is a sense in which this is no different than the way we participate in the momentum of a thing that hits us, so that its momentum becomes our own. And memory is a form of knowledge. It is the appropriation by the present moment of bits of the past, by which the past contributes integrally to the present. Creaturely presence as such consists almost entirely of recollection – literally, “again-together-reading” – of the past. Causation, then, may be understood as recollection. Thus even memorialists end up committed to the Real Presence, for we cannot remember Jesus at all, other than by some participation in him, and ergo reenactment of him, which ipso facto results in a concrete embodiment of his Person, however etiolated or partial.

In the eucharist, then, the Logos hits us; because we eat him, he hits every cell of our bodies. Sure, we run into the problem that the bite each of us takes has to be a particular bit of his physical body, which as physical is ipso facto limited. But this is just the problem of the loaves and the fishes, which is a special case of the problem of how you get many mansions of worlds out of nothing – for an infinite Creator, not a problem at all. The metaphysical procedure under way in the epiklesis, then, is not fundamentally different than the procedure underway in creation generally. We find the Incarnation and the Real Presence mysterious because we can’t understand how to get something from nothing. But God does. He creates an instance of bread, again and again and again – which is to say, that he sustains the bread in being – then, he creates an instance of Bread that is his Body.  The nature of the bread is not in contradiction to the nature of the Body of God. If it were, then, the Body of God being prior to the bread, what we would see at the epiklesis would be the replacement of the appearance of bread by the appearance of the Body of God.

As things are, however, nothing can be that is existentially in contradiction to the being of God. Anything, then, might have been ordained to be the physical implementation of the Body of God in the eucharist; bacon, or coffee, or a bit of cheese (each of which does indeed, from time to time, seem a foretaste of heaven). Doesn’t matter. All you need to implement the Body of God in the world is soma of some sort or other. Soma per se is capax dei.

While it cannot but seem to us as worldly creatures anything else, the Real Presence is not so much then a suspension of the laws of nature, as it is a fuller more comprehensive expression of the laws of supernature, upon which they supervene, and which in the usual course of things to which we are accustomed they but partially express. The basic, radical, principal meaning of physical substances is that they are expressions of supernature. On this principal meaning hang all subsidiary meanings – the meanings of physics, chemistry, of biology, and so forth, and also of the significance and signification of events, their effects and affects, that make of their serial congeries an intelligible causal order, and a history that matters.

And signification runs both ways. In the words of the Institution, there was indeed, as McGrew says, something that was not absolutely, strictly literal – that was metaphorical (albeit not merely so). But, likewise, in molecular collisions there is always some signification, some meaning or consequence. Every such collision is significant to the future of the world. The cogency of the metaphor between signification and causation, so apparent in the information theory of Claude Shannon, derives from the fact that their likeness is real.  The metaphor works because it indicates something actually at work in the transactions of the physical world: causation is signification. It must be, if signification is ever, at any time, to have any causal effect.

This begins to sound like consubstantiation, the doctrine that understands the Real Presence as effectuated by the actualization in the consecrated Host of the essential natures both of God and bread.  And it is indeed that, or rather, subsumes that, because in the Host are to be found all that is in the essential natures of bread and God; but it is more. For with the consecration, the Bread is no longer mere bread, nor is it even bread with some God mixed in like yeast, but rather an altogether new substance, of a different sort of entity than either bread, or God, or a soup of bread and God. It is supernatural Bread, the Bread of Heaven.

But neither is this transubstantiation, although as with the doctrines of memorialism and consubstantiation, in the doctrine of the Bread of Heaven the doctrine of transubstantiation is subsumed. The doctrine of transubstantiation is correct in that at the consecration the nature of bread is replaced with the nature of the Bread of Heaven; but all the essential aspects of bread are present in the Bread of Heaven, so that in that essential replacement,  nothing of the essence of bread is lost.

Still, even granting that the substantial embodiment of Jesus in the Bread is in no sense an exclusion of the Bread’s natural breadiness, there is nevertheless a much deeper problem with the notion of the Real Presence. It is, again, a type of the basic problem of the Incarnation – and, by extension, of the Trinity. How can the infinite Eternal One be integral with a finite temporal creature? How can we be one with Jesus, or Jesus – whether as man or as eternal Logos – one with the Father?

Well, the same way that time is happening in eternity. That God is eternal does not mean he is not also in time. Indeed, as omnipresent, he pervades time. There cannot then be any contradiction between the eternal and temporal modes of being; if there were, then there would no way to have temporality in the first place, for since eternity is logically prior to time, any contradiction between the two modes of being would have the logical consequence that the posterior mode of being would not ever attain actuality. The only way to have time is to have eternity a priori, and for time to agree perfectly with eternity. Time, then, as posterior to eternity, is happening in eternity, and is fully limited by and conformed thereto.

So, in the eucharist, God responds to us in time, just as we respond to each other. His response is happening in time and in eternity – in time, which is an aspect of eternity. So Jesus is in time as we are, but he is also consciously eternal. The Incarnation happened before all worlds because all worlds happened before all worlds. The happening of worlds is a procedure of eternity. So, likewise, with the Earthly eucharist, which having happened once happens always, at every nonce. The Mass is after all a participation with all the angel choirs in an everlasting heavenly rite.

About these ads

37 thoughts on “Bread of Heaven

  1. @Kristor – An interesting matter is the (subjective) experience of participating in Holy Communion.

    Since I became a Christian Holy Communion has been very important to me – I began to take it as soon as I had a firm commitment to become confirmed into the Church of England. I had a longish spell without it, and felt the difference painfully.

    Now, on the one hand, it is a fact that one’s own feelings cannot refute the reality of what happens at Eucharist.

    Yet, as human beings, we cannot be indifferent to our feelings – indeed ought not be indifferent to our feelings (since if we were, we would lose all guidance from natural law).

    *

    So I find that I do *evaluate* my experience of Holy Communion in relation to the priest, the church etc – and sometimes I have interpreted an *empty* experience (or pattern of experiences) of communion as information that the sacrament was not valid for some reason – and sometimes the reason is very clear (some obvious break with Church tradition).

    Also, I would tentatively suggest that a thoroughly Protestant (self-consciously symbolic) mass is just that – symbolic in its effect, a mildly cheering and thought provoking celebration or act of worship (like singing a hymn); whereas a catholic mass (I mean in this case the traditional Anglican position as well as Anglo Catholic) is (sometimes) transcendental, in the way you describe.

    *

    Who is the priest (and what kind of person they are), and the attitudes and beliefs of the priest, does matter – and although this cannot be, and should not be precisely stated (except in terms of applying clear cut exclusions) it is on the one hand neither a matter of indifference yet nor is it all important.

    *

    But then, I suppose it is not surprising to discover that those who disbelieve the real presence at the Eucharist do not experience the real presence at the Eucharist; it is not surprising that those who disbelieve in the orthodox, traditional conceptualization of a priest do not have priests. But their disbeliefs do not define or confine reality.

  2. If the minister isn’t ordained along a valid, Apostolic line, is the eucharist he consecrates the body and blood of Christ?

    • In the opinion of the churches that construe their priests as valid members of the Apostolic Succession, no. And I agree with this venerable tradition, and with the completely legitimate concerns over orthodoxy and spiritual authority that motivate it.

      However, as St. Augustine demonstrated in his demolition of the Donatist heresy, the spiritual efficacy of the sacramental rite cannot anywise depend upon the accidents of the necessarily defective human president. That would be a form of Pelagianism, no? And after all, “wherever two or three are gathered in my Name.” It seems to me that the Name has to be the controlling factor.

      But NB again how crucial it is that when two or three gather, and invoke the Name, that they should not take it in vain. The sacrifice of the Christian must be *real,* must be wholly *honest,* in order to be a sacrifice at all, rather than damnable hypocrisy. Approaching the Sanctuary is a dangerous business.

      • @Kristor “the spiritual efficacy of the sacramental rite cannot anywise depend upon the accidents of the necessarily defective human president”

        Common sense suggests that this cannot be pressed too hard – for example when (as under the Soviet union) the Patriarch, Bishop or Priest might be an atheist member of the secret police appointed by the government, whose job is to subvert the church and spy on the congregation – then it is absurd to suggest that any formal procedure of laying on of hands would suffice to make the sacraments real.

        Conversely, if it emerged that at some early point in the apostolic succession there had been an improperly-ordained bishop who broke the chain; then it would be absurd to assume that all priests from then onward were invalid.

        I think the formal apostolic succession of Bishops is very important, but neither sufficient nor absolutely necessary – it is also one of those things about which the desire to excessively legalistic is a serious snare; as is (and was, disasterously) the desire to pin down precisely what happens to the bread and wine during the Eucharist – on these matters the excessive legalism of the Western Catholic church is in error – while the Eastern Catholic (and indeed Anglican) church was correct to say that there is a real presence of Christ, but how it happens is a mystery – and leave it at that.

        Likewise an apostolic succession of Bishops is desirable but there are circumstances when excessive strictness on this specific point may be harmful.

      • Grrrrr.. Typical Anglican non-answer. In your first paragraph you seem to agree with the tradition that it’s essential. But this sentence: “It seems to me that the Name has to be the controlling factor” seems to contradict your first paragraph (maybe I don’t understand you).

        No offense intended on the Anglican comment. I’m one too.

      • Well, in the final analysis it is the Name that determines whether the Apostolic Succession is valid or not to begin with, right? Has the Name been honestly and cleanly invoked, by both parties to the rite of ordination? If Augustine is right, and it seems to me that he is, the efficacy of the ordination does not depend upon the history or character of the Bishop, or of his mood, focus, intent, etc., during the rite, but on two things: the omnipotent Holy Spirit he invokes, that can act through any means whatever (including the means of a wicked lying priest who doesn’t want to invoke the Name, or who thinks such invocations are nonsense, etc. – or who was never actually ordained a priest in the first place), and the sacrificial intent of the ordinand.

        An important pastoral purpose of Augustine’s repudiation of the Donatists was that they had caused thousands among his flocks to question the validity of their baptisms, weddings, ordinations, etc., that had been performed by priests who had recanted the faith under torture, or threat of torture, and who had then returned to their sacerdotal offices. The Donatists argued that because those priests and bishops had repudiated the faith, they were no longer really priests and bishops at all, but apostates, so that all the rites they had performed since their return to the ostensible profession of Christianity were bogus.

        Augustine argued, essentially, that if the spiritual efficacy of the rite – i.e., the rite’s inherent capacity to provide an occasion for the operation of the Holy Spirit – depended on the sinlessness of the president, then were we all well and truly doomed, for there would be no Church anywhere – no priests at all to constitute any Apostolic Order. The Apostolic Succession depends on the operation of the Holy Spirit, and not vice versa. To the extent that the Holy Spirit is really operating on the ordinand of the rite of ordination, priesthood is confected, and the Apostolic Succession iterated. And omnipotence is not vulnerable to the accidents of history, nor does it depend on the spatiotemporal proximity of creaturely acts to mediate its effects. Indeed, the very spatiotemporal proximity of creaturely acts just is an act of the Holy Spirit; creaturely acts influence each other in the first place by virtue of the Pneumatic mediation.

        Christianity – i.e., the eschaton, among other things, and the utter pervasion of the created order by Christ in the fullness of time – cannot depend on the sinlessness of Christians. It depends on the sinlessness of Christ. The world has been redeemed, whether we like it or not, and whether or not we cooperate in that redemption. The only question before any of us in respect to the redemption of the world is whether we will accept it for ourselves, so that it redounds to our salvation, or whether we will reject it, so that it redounds to our damnation.

        It’s rather a scary thought: if we reject redemption, it’s that very redemption that damns us. But this is really just a different way of saying that the perfect act of God operates as a complete and utter ontological repudiation of sin.

        The reason taking the Name in vain is so terribly dangerous is that when the Name is invoked, YHWH *comes.* The Name really *is* a magic word. That’s why YHWH warned us about it at Sinai. That’s why Jesus says, “whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do” (John 14:13). Not that he will do it on our schedule, of course; and, too, he knows what we are really asking him to do, regardless of the thoughts we form in our minds when we ask. E.g., we may believe that we are praying for our enemies, but he knows we are praying for ourselves, and he will give us just the scandals we are really asking for.

        For anyone arrayed against the Name, then, such as Bruce’s hypothetical KGB priest, taking it in vain would seem to be quite a bad policy; a prayer for one’s own damnation. Whether or not one realized what was happening.

        NB that, of course, the efficacy of the Name in a work of salvation need not be readily apparent to the beneficiary of Grace. You can partake of a spiritually effective rite and yet feel quite depressed by it. The sermon was awful, the congregation was noisy, slovenly, inappropriate, dressed like whores and bums, the rite was bungled 18 different ways, the temple looked as if it had been built, badly, as a warehouse, the choir sang bad music badly, the denomination is theologically errant, you had a wicked headache, and so forth. Going to church can be quite intensely irritating. But being saved is not about feeling all nice and spiritually elevated. Feeling nice and enlightened is more likely if you have been saved, but there is no guarantee; for perhaps your Christian duty under Providence entails torture and martyrdom. Or praise songs.

  3. I’m a Protestant gravitating towards Catholicism, and I was wondering if you could answer a question on transubstantiation. I’ve never understood if Catholics were saying that the elements transform into literal flesh and blood, or if the elements take on the spiritual aspects of Christ in the same way that His flesh and blood did.

    Aside from that, this is an excellent article and as a fellow traditionalist Christian I’ve been very much enjoying this blog.

    • Thanks, Gideon. I’m glad you are enjoying the site.

      I’ve never understood if Catholics were saying that the elements transform into literal flesh and blood, or if the elements take on the spiritual aspects of Christ in the same way that His flesh and blood did.

      It’s both. Like any of us, Jesus Christ is an integral being. Integral actualities are amenable to discursive analysis, but cannot actually be disintegrated without destroying them; and since Jesus is God, he *cannot* be destroyed, so that it is metaphysically impossible for him to be disintegrated under any circumstances. An integral concrete actuality is holographic: wherever any bit of it is present, all of it is present, implicitly. Put another way, you cannot get at any part of an integral concrete actuality without partaking of the whole thing.

      So, take away the humanity of Christ, or the meat of Christ, and you take away Christ; you end up with something less.

      When you ingest the host, then, you ingest the whole being of Christ.

      • Thanks very much to Kristor for his flatteringly detailed response to my post. Reading the comments, it seemed that this would be a good place to interject my own rather inadequate response to what he’s written.

        Kristor, when you say that you can’t have Jesus Christ without the “meat of Christ” here, of course I assume you are saying that this is the case _since_ the Incarnation. But the whole point of the original Incarnation is that he was “made man” and that the Eternal Son was in some sense not incarnate prior to his incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary–that is, that the Incarnation was a real event that took place at a specific point in time.

        Now, given that this is the case it seems to follow that God the Son _can_ exist without being incarnate, because he did so exist from all eternity.

        Which brings us to a disanalogy between the Incarnation and the Eucharist as you (as well as Roman Catholics and Lutherans) seem to understand it: In the Incarnation the Eternal Son took on flesh for the first time. In the Eucharist according to substantial or strictly literal understandings, the Incarnate Christ in his body is joined with the bread and wine.

        This seems to me to raise a difficulty, because I’m not getting a sense of what it means for the physical “meat” (to use the term you use) of Jesus’ body to be present in the Eucharist. Physical flesh is a particular type of stuff. It doesn’t (on my view) have something strictly invisible about it, though it has parts that of course aren’t visible to the naked eye.

        That, of course, is where the transubstantiationists and consubstantiationists bring in their notion of an invisible “substance” of Jesus’ flesh and blood and just flat disagree with me. You seem to be trying to in a sense _get around_ that difficulty by declaring strict identity with the “whole Jesus” (flesh and spirit). Does this mean that you are affirming that Jesus’ flesh and blood _do_ have an invisible substance that is united with that of the bread and wine? Do other people’s bodies also have an invisible substance like that which God could separate from all its accidents and unite with bread? Or is it a uniquely miraculous feature of Jesus’ flesh?

        These questions are more or less an attempt to tease out in more detail this paragraph in the main post: ” And it is indeed that [consubstantiation], or rather, subsumes that, because in the Host are to be found all that is in the essential natures of bread and God; but it is more. For with the consecration, the Bread is no longer mere bread, nor is it even bread with some God mixed in like yeast, but rather an altogether new substance, of a different sort of entity than either bread, or God, or a soup of bread and God. It is supernatural Bread, the Bread of Heaven.”

        Perhaps your answer is that it is a mystery, and of course I do realize that my questions are in a sense harassing or carping. But I’m curious to see what you would say to them.

      • Well, the first thing I would say is that the Real Presence is indeed a mystery. It’s more than just a very difficult question. Even when we had understood everything about it that we might possibly understand, it seems there would still be at the root of it a scandalous nub of incomprehensible wildness.

        The frustrating thing about doing philosophy is that this seems to be the case with pretty much everything we can think about …

        That said, I have two things to say in response to your generous comment.

        First, with respect to the temporal date in eternity of the Incarnation, I would say: no such thing. It is natural to think of eternity as a sort of time, cooking along without beginning or end, with the temporal duration of our cosmos forming a small section of its infinite extent. But having thought of it this way, and struggled with the problem of the seeming contradiction between the dogma of the freedom of the human will (thus the reality of agency and morality, of sin and redemption) and the dogma of divine foreknowledge (i.e., perfection of knowledge, omniscience) for decades, I finally realized not too long ago that it doesn’t work that way. Eternity is not a sort of time at all. On the contrary, it is prior to time per se: to the time of our kosmos, and of all other kosmoi, and to the time of all the heavens, and to the time of Day One (i.e., Day Seven), and to any metatemporal or transtemporal causal orders. In eternity there is no before or after. But neither is it true that in eternity nothing happens – for in that case nothing would happen in time either, and we would not exist – nor is it correct to say that in eternity everything that will ever happen has already happened – for “already” is a term inapposite to eternity. Rather, in eternity every temporal occasion happens at once.

        Thus for the Eternal One, the conception of Jesus in Mary is dated “now.” Ditto for the Fall, for the death of Caesar, for my coffee this morning; the “timestamp” of each of these events in eternity is “now.”

        This is why the Incarnation and Passion, and the Gospel, can be efficacious for Plato. In eternity, the time stamp of Plato’s decision about Christ, and the time stamp of his death, and the time stamp of the day he signed the lease on the Academy, are all “now.” The Passion paid the price of sin for every moment of the world, from its inception; and thanks to the Passion, every moment of our world’s history has the opportunity to find itself eschatologically translated into a causal order wherein its immediate prospect is heavenly. Lewis gets at this a little at the end of The Last Battle.

        Sub specie aeternitatis, then, it is not ever the case that the Incarnation has not yet happened, because under the aspect of eternity there is no such thing as a future. So the timestamp for the Logos both as discarnate and incarnate is “now.” This so far as the Logos himself is concerned, that is. In very truth, then, God is eternally both the discarnate Logos and the Incarnate Jesus. He is eternally both everywhere and embodied in Christ.

        And since every moment of time is an operation in eternity, both the discarnate Logos and the body of Jesus of Nazareth are immediately adjacent to every creaturely motion. When YHWH dined with Abraham at Mamre, he ate with the same lips that drank wine at Cana and lunched at Emmaus.

        Don’t ask me yet how this works. I’ll let you know if I figure it out. All I can say for now is that temporal paradox is obviously not a factor for a being with an eternal perspective, so “backward causation” by God is not paradoxical for him as it would be for us.

        None of this is in the least contradiction to the historicity of the Incarnation, from a creaturely perspective. The eternal point of view being the divine perspective, it is necessarily prior – logically prior, not temporally prior – to time. All temporality, therefore, is occasioned in eternity. Every temporal moment, that seems totally bound up in a causal order, is also, without contradiction, happening simultaneously in reality as it is most truly conceived – as it is conceived by God – and, ergo, as it truly is.

        Creaturely apprehensions of temporality, then, are partial apprehensions of eternity. They are, as Plato saw, moving images of eternity.

        [Relativity furnishes an analogy that might help with this. From the perspective of a given particle’s inertial frame, all sorts of accelerations are apparent – and its feelings of these accelerations – its measurements – are accurate. Within its inertial frame of reference, those accelerations are really acting upon it (or vice versa – same thing). But from the perspective of the universe as a whole, all its internal accelerations net to zero. The universe as a whole feels no acceleration on account of events internal to itself. Each particle’s measurements are a moving image of the inertial situation of the universe as a whole, which as a whole is not moving. Bonald, shoot me down on this if I’ve got it wrong.]

        Now this is all very difficult, and I don’t really understand it very well. I expect to spend the rest of my life grappling with it, and not winning.

        Second, with respect to the presence of Galilean meat in my communion wafer last Sunday, I would draw the analogy to that calcium atom in your tongue. It is just as much a calcium atom as it was when it was in the bread you ate last week. Nothing of what makes it calcium is different than it ever was. But whereas a while ago it was a member of a stalk of wheat, and a while before that it was a member of a crustacean dying on the bed of an ancient sea, now it is a member of you; and the whole time, it is and has been also fully itself. But right now, if it is touched, you are touched; and not just the calcium atom bit of you, but *you* – all of you.

        So with the Host. Before the consecration, it is an island (insofar, at least, as anything enmeshed in a causal order can be construed as isolated – i.e., not far). After, it is still the same wafer, but now it is a member of the Body of Christ. It doesn’t look like meat, any more than your calcium atom looks like meat, but it is nevertheless peculiarly meaty. It is of the Body of Jesus, in the same way that the calcium atom in your tongue is of the body of Lydia.

        Now we are in a position to deal with your interesting questions, when you say:

        This seems to me to raise a difficulty, because I’m not getting a sense of what it means for the physical “meat” (to use the term you use) of Jesus’ body to be present in the Eucharist. Physical flesh is a particular type of stuff. It doesn’t (on my view) have something strictly invisible about it, though it has parts that of course aren’t visible to the naked eye.

        That, of course, is where the transubstantiationists and consubstantiationists bring in their notion of an invisible “substance” of Jesus’ flesh and blood and just flat disagree with me. You seem to be trying to in a sense _get around_ that difficulty by declaring strict identity with the “whole Jesus” (flesh and spirit). Does this mean that you are affirming that Jesus’ flesh and blood _do_ have an invisible substance that is united with that of the bread and wine? Do other people’s bodies also have an invisible substance like that which God could separate from all its accidents and unite with bread?

        To begin with, I forego the notion of an “invisible substance.” A substance, so far as I am concerned, is simply a concrete entity, a really existent thing. Whether they are essential or accidental, only a few of the properties of any concrete entity are going to be visible or tangible; almost all will be insensible.

        Given that understanding of “substance,” my answer to those last questions is, “yes, of course.” All our bodies can unite with bread. You are united with the bread that contributed that calcium atom to your tongue. But you didn’t need to lose all your accidents in order for that to happen, and nor did the calcium atom. There was a mutual adjustment of accidents, as between the rest of what was you before you ate the bread, and the bread. That’s how the bread influenced you, and changed your accidents, and vice versa. What was formerly in the bread is now in you, and what was formerly bread is now you.

        This example – I mean here, NB, not merely an analogy, but an example of what happens with the Real Presence, and with our participation in the Mass, and with the Incarnation; a type – may seem altogether too prosaic to be of any help in understanding those great mysteries, too unremarkable. But no. It’s a thundering great mystery. How does a part of one whole become a part of another? And what are wholes and parts, anyway? One could build a career on those two questions.

      • I said that I meant not that the calcium atom/Lydia relation is an analogy but an example, a type. But I should be careful to note that an example is ipso facto an analogue (but not vice versa). Tertullian says somewhere that the host is indeed a figure of the Lord’s Body, but in the very next breath he says that the figuration would not obtain in the absence of a real identity between consecrated host and Body.

        The analogical relation is looser than the typical, and the typical looser than the exemplary; an example is ipso facto a type and an analogue, but not vice versa.

      • (This is meant to be a reply to your comment below, Kristor, about a calcium atom, but I can’t figure out how to thread it under that, so who knows where it will appear.)

        Apropros of the example of the calcium atom. It’s an ingenious idea to say that the bread becomes part of Jesus’ body rather than vice versa, but that can’t be literally what happens. We have a quite clear idea of what it literally means for a calcium atom that was previously in bread to become part of my body: My digestive system breaks down the bread, burns the carbohydrates for fuel, the calcium atom is one of the mineral parts that is retained and sent out in the bloodstream, and it gets incorporated into the workings of some cell or other where it fulfills a biological function. Now, there is no way that the bread of the Host, nor its atoms, are all over the world being incorporated into some gigantic version of Jesus’ physical body, being digested, and some portions of them coming to function in his physical body–as if Jesus is eating and digesting all the bread and making biological use of it. Nor is _that_ even remotely what one would think of as an interpretation of the words “This is my body.” In fact, some notion of an invisible substance of his body co-joined to the bread would be _more_ likely to occur to someone’s mind as an interpretation than “I’m really eating all this bread and incorporating it into my physical body.”

        (Actually, I’m going to stop giving you a hard time really soon now, because I have no real motivation to do so! I think of us as on the same team!)

      • I wish you would give me as hard a time as you like. It will force me to clarify my thoughts.

        You are taking my analogy with the calcium atom a *bit* too literally. I meant to use it only to show how the host could be meaty and Jesusy without looking or acting like anything other than a wafer of bread. I.e., how it could be the Bread of Heaven and still be quite itself.

        The relation of the atom to your tongue is a type of the part/whole relation. That’s what I was trying to get at. It is that typification that makes the communicant’s participation in the Body of Christ via eating possible. The whole Ingestion of Christ thing supervenes on the part/whole relation between host and Jesus. That Jesus becomes part of you via your ingestion of part of him doesn’t mean that the host becomes part of Jesus via his ingestion of it.

        You write:

        Now, there is no way that the bread of the Host, nor its atoms, are all over the world being incorporated into some gigantic version of Jesus’ physical body …

        It is admittedly difficult to conceive of such a thing. But I would submit that upon examination the means by which that calcium atom is incorporated into your body is not easier to comprehend. The body is a web of relations among entities that are constituted of … termini of relations. In a sense, the actuality of the calcium atom *as* a calcium atom is given by the nature of its relations with other beings. The atom is more like a field of influence than it is like a billiard ball; and that field, like the other fields of physical theory, extends outward to an indefinite degree from the locus of its greatest intensity. Ditto for the human body. Thus it is more accurate to think of the body as contained in the spirit than vice versa.

        The Logos – the spirit of the Second Person – is omnipresent, and, as eternal, in every part immediately adjacent to every creaturely occasion. In other words, the field of the Logos, that extends throughout all that exists, is as close to every communion wafer as you are to that calcium atom. No, closer.

      • Like any of us, Jesus Christ is an integral being.

        I think a large part of our (human) problem is that we’re *not* integral beings. Rather we are each divided against, and at war with, our own selves.

        Integral actualities are amenable to discursive analysis, but cannot actually be disintegrated without destroying them;

        Right.

        … and since Jesus is God, he *cannot* be destroyed, so that it is metaphysically impossible for him to be disintegrated under any circumstances.

        I’m no longer convinced that that is right. To be more precise, of course God cannot be *destroyed*, for there exists nothing “outside” him, nothing that can “overpower” him, nothing of which its moment-to-moment existence is not “contained within” or “subsume within” God’s own life-and-being. Yet, I cannot help but wonder whether it really is true that “God cannot not exist” – for I do not, and cannot, believe that the Incarnation was just a mummer’s play, nor that it was just about us, or even primarily about us; rather, there was something very real at stake in the Incarnation, and, as with all things, it was all about God. That we also benefit is a grace and a mercy.

        Consider: the Bible avers that Jesus was tempted in all things, as we are. Tempted what? Tempted to transgress the law of God, tempted to deny God, tempted to rebel against God, tempted to worship the creature, rather than the Creator … tempted by sin, tempted to commit sin(s).

        If he was tempted to sin, then this or that particular sin was appealing to him; if he was tempted by sin, then he might have chosen to sin – for, if we assert that Jesus *could not* have chosen to sin, then we assert that the Second Person lacks the freedom with which he created us. Yet, and how can he endow us with that which he himself lacks? How can there exist *anything* which God lacks?

        To assert that Jesus was tempted by sin, and then to turn around and assert that he could not have chosen to sin, is both self-contradictory and leads (as I believe I have shown above) to all manner of other absurdities.

        So, Jesus the Christ, who is the Second Person of the Godhead *might* have chosen to sin.

        But, what would it mean, had he done so? It would mean self-contradiction (*) “within” the Being of God; it would mean that God is not integral – for lack of a better way to put it, it would mean God committing suicide. It would also mean the non-existence of all things, since the life/existence of all-that-is-not-God is in God’s the life/existence.

        (*) God is Truth; but, if Jesus the Christ, who *is* God, being tempted to sin had chosen to sin, than True=False, and God “self-destructs” or “self-cancels”.

        In the Incarnation, God was putting *himself* to the test — and no man, anywhere, anywhen, will ever have standing to accuse God of putting us to the test to which he himself will not submit.

      • You may relax on this score. Temptare is “to try, test, attempt.” The Greek words translated from the NT as “tempt” derive from πείρα, peira, “test, attempt, assay, trial.” Whence “experience,” “experiment,” and “peril.” The words translated as “tempt” from the OT mean the same thing in Hebrew.

        So: Jesus was like us in every way exposed to the occasions of sin entailed by life among fallen creatures, but did not sin – not even in his heart. I.e., he felt no inclination to sin, even though he was perfectly aware of the pleasures thereof. How could that work? Well, while I can see that gambling is fun, I have zero interest in it. Gambling leaves me utterly cold. Thus while it is not tempting to me in the latter day sense of that word, in which it is synonymous with “alluring” – a usage which began in 1600 or so – it is tempting to me in the classical sense intended in Scripture. For Jesus, all the pleasures of earthly life were available and enjoyable, but he never *wanted* to deviate from the will of his Father, or therefore from Noachic or Mosaic Law.

        Thus when we pray, “lead us not into temptation,” we are to mean something like, “to the extent possible under your Providence, please minimize the occasions of sin – the moral perils – to which we are exposed.” It’s just like Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane.

      • You may relax on this score. [The Latin] Temptare is “to try, test, attempt.” The Greek words translated from the NT as “tempt” derive from πείρα, peira, “test, attempt, assay, trial.” Whence “experience,” “experiment,” and “peril.”

        By Strong’s numbering system, the noun ‘peira’ is #3984. But, the word generally used in the Greek NT is #3985, the verb ‘peirazo’. Among the meanings of ‘peirazo’ is ‘to entice’ … which is to say, ‘to tempt’, exactly as the word is commonly used in modern English.

        So: Jesus was like us in every way exposed to the occasions of sin entailed by life among fallen creatures, but did not sin – not even in his heart. I.e., he felt no inclination to sin, even though he was perfectly aware of the pleasures thereof.

        There is no “occasion of sin” unless the particular sin is enticing to the person supposedly being tempted. That a person knows that other people find a particular sin enticing is not for him a temptation.

        Robbing a bank is not a temptation to me, nor I presume to you. If I knew that a bank had absolutely no security measures, and even if I were “Ranbo’ed up”, no number of “opportunities” to rob the bank would be temptations to me.

      • There is no “occasion of sin” unless the particular sin is enticing to the person supposedly being tempted. That a person knows that other people find a particular sin enticing is not for him a temptation.

        Despite my great sympathy for this assertion, I can’t agree. An occasion of sin at the most basic level is a situation in which sin is possible. It is in this sense that I was using the term. Thus if I am provided with an opportunity to gamble, I have been given an occasion to sin, regardless of whether I feel any inclination toward that sin. If I do feel such an inclination – if the sin is enticing to me – then the acuity of the test is increased. But a test can’t be an acute test if it isn’t first a test.

        If I were tested for my knowledge of basic arithmetic, the test would be easy for me, my perfect score would be effortless. But it would still be a test.

        Likewise with me and gambling. That I find it effortless to pass the moral test presented to me by an opportunity to gamble does not mean that there is not before me a real opportunity to gamble. You can’t be enticed by an opportunity that isn’t there. If an inveterate gambler were stranded on a desert island, the occasion to gamble would no longer be provided to him, and on account of that he’d face no temptation to gamble. Our predilections to sin can come into play only in situations where sin is really possible.

        “An occasion of sin is … a situation in which sin is possible.” If we grant my argument that Jesus felt no inclination to sin, so that he passed all the moral tests of creaturely life without effort in just the way that I passed the tests of basic arithmetic and gambling, there is still the question you raise, of whether it is ontologically possible for Jesus to fail a test.

        Jesus being himself God, his will is not different from that of his Father; so that the only way he could disagree with the Father would be to be something other than himself. But no being can be other than what it is, for that would be to enact a contradiction in terms – would be to enact both x and ~x at the same time and in the same way. Such enactions are not possible to any entity, including God in Jesus.

        Yet as God, Jesus is perfectly free. The Law to which God in Jesus is perfectly faithful is his own free act. Thus he is at every moment free to be, from before all worlds, the sort of being who would accept Satan’s offer in the wilderness of mundane kingship. God might eternally have chosen to be Satanic.

        This is the only way we can make sense of Satan’s attempt on God. After all, Satan knew perfectly well who Jesus was. If God in Jesus had not been free to be Satanic, Satan’s offer would have been silly. So, when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, Jesus did really have the option to be Satanic.

        It is an option always open to God, who is from our point of view always making his eternal decision – determining his eternal nature and will, and thus also the Law for us – right now (this being the way that he can respond to us and our prayers, whether in justice or mercy, in wrath or love). If Jesus had accepted Satan’s offer, God would thereby have revealed himself in history as eternally Satanic.

        But then, if in the wilderness God had revealed himself to be eternally Satanic, it would not be a sin for Jesus to be Satanic. By definition, whatever God does is constitutive of righteousness. So, no: Jesus cannot sin. He cannot fail the test. If he could, he wouldn’t be God.

        But is the Incarnation then nothing more than a bit of mummery? No.

        Because God is eternal, and therefore simple, so that what appear to us to be multifarious acts on his part are in truth only bits and pieces of one immense act of Divine self-constitution, therefore the decision of Jesus in the wilderness just was the eternal decision of the Father, taken from before all worlds. The two apparently disparate acts are really one.

        Thus while God cannot sin, and cannot be other than God – the former incapacity being an aspect of the latter – he might at any moment reveal himself for aye and ever to have been other than the just and merciful person we had always taken him to be.

        Precisely because God could have chosen in the wilderness to betray us to Satan, and to reveal himself to us as eternally other, and less, than we had thought him to be, the choice Jesus made was real. Thus the Incarnation was indeed, as you suggest, not so much about us, as about God.

      • I’m afraid not.
        Thanks for all your help, although I must confess that while I think I managed to draw an answer to my question out of the discussion that followed, I still feel as confused as I was at the beginning, if not more so!

  4. Responding to Bruce Charlton’s argument I’d say that the examples he gives in the Soviet Union might not be valid because of the lack of proper intent. Roman Catholics bring this up. There has to be proper intent (I assume by both the ordainer and ordainee) for there to be a proper ordination with AS. One of the reasons why the RCs say that Anglicans don’t have valid apostolic Holy Orders is that their ordination lacked proper intent so the chain was broken.

    The words themselves aren’t magic words.

    The sacrament of the Eucharist is similar in that there has to be a proper intent on the part of the believer.

  5. Classic Lutheran doctrine teaches that the bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (also called the Sacrament of the Altar) are the true Body and Blood of Christ, freely given to the worthy communicant for the forgiveness of sins, but received to their condemnation by the unworthy (manducatio impiorum). Conservative Lutherans are often harshly criticized for their practice of close Communion, which disinvites non-Lutherans from partaking of the Sacrament when they visit Lutheran churches, but this practice has probably saved innumerable people from partaking when they were not prepared. (The preparation involved is essentially twofold, namely a recognition of the Sacramental reality just indicated, and a desire to receive the Sacrament for forgiveness and strength for amendment of life.)

    I would like to recommend a few books from the tradition of the Lutheran Confessions. They have been of considerable help to me.

    Hermann Sasse – This Is My Body: Luther’s Contention for the Real Presence

    Tom G. A. Hardt – The Sacrament of the Altar — a study available online, here:

    http://www.firsttrinity.net/documents/Sacrament%20of%20the%20Altar.htm

    B. Teigen – The Lord’s Supper in the Theology of Martin Chemnitz (Chemnitz belonged to the second generation of Lutheran theologians; his 4-volume Examination of the Council of Trent is a monumental resource loaded with patristic material marshaled to defend the Lutheran distinctives)

    Werner Elert – Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries – this maybe recommended even to readers with no openness to the Lutheran Confessions, as it shows the apostolic and patristic requirement of agreement in doctrine for inter-Communion. If it makes you feel bad when you read of, say, a Roman Catholic priest who is removed from his parish duties after he refuses to commune a woman who has informed him before the service that she is a Buddhist — and you wonder what has gone wrong — then look up this book.

    • Conservative, confessional Synods often require shared belief in their particular statements of faith in order to be a member and receive communion. These statements of faith usually include Young Earth Creationism, the belief that the Pope is the anti-Christ, belief in American style freedom of religion. All things that don’t bother me but that I can’t confess. So they require more than just confession of Augsburg and their reasoning goes beyond just making sure the person is prepared for Communion.

  6. Kristor,
    I hope you undestand what great respect-and-awe I have for you as a mind; and what love I have for you as a brother in Christ. I cannot begin to tell you how happy I was when I discovered The Orthosphere blog, wherein I can read your thoughts unfiltered by someone else.

    Nevertheless, the other shoe must drop —

    I have noticed, over the years, that most people have at least one thing (or related cluster of things) about which they will not think-and-argue critically. Apparently, for you, that’s going to be certain odd, or even absurd, dogmas of the Roman denomination.

    I’ve also noticed that many, if not most, people become viciously irrational when someone applies rational criticism to the thing or things they themselves will not. I believe that I understand your personality well enough to trust that you are not of this second sort.

    So, some rational criticism —

    Jesus never said, “Friends, this water [of baptism] is my spittle,” or “this nard [of chrismation, ordination, and unction] is the oil of my brow.” But he did say that the Bread is his Body, and the Wine his Blood. Nor did he say that the Bread is “sort of like” his Body. He could of course have done so, if that is what he had meant to say. But instead he stated a straightforward, in your face identity between the Bread and his Body, and between the Wine and his Blood; and, since Jesus is identical with God, we are not at liberty to interpret his statement in any other way.

    It seems to me that if you’re going to argue for this particular dogma (*) on the basis of a literal interpretation or understanding of his use of the word “is” — or, to be more blunt, a woodenly literal interpretation — then you have no right to overlook his use of the word “this”.

    He didn’t say “(Platonic) Bread is my body.” He didn’t say “(Platonic) Wine is my blood.” He didn’t say “The chanting-over of a priest turns every-day bread into the Bread which is my body.” He didn’t say “The chanting-over of a priest turns every-day wine into the Wine which is my blood.”

    Rather, breaking the particular bread on that particular Passover table and passing it to his disciples, he said, “This [bread] is my body, broken for many.” Passing the particular cup of wine at that particular Passover table, he said “This [wine] is my blood, shed for many.” But, *that* bread and *that* wine were consumed then, at that particular time, at that particular Passover seder, by those particular persons.

    If you want to be woodenly literal about what he said, than only those exact persons who were present at that particular Passover seder have any hope of salvation — Judas has more hope of salvation than you or I do, for by wooden literalism we have none at all.

    (*) that is, that this particular dogma isn’t absurd on its face, but is actually a direct divine revelation, and thus both incapable of being false, and incapable of being absurd (even if we cannot fully grasp why it is not absurd)

    • Ilion, thanks for your engagement with this thread. You needn’t worry that I won’t think critically about the Real Presence, or anything else, for that matter. I find your dissent helpful. I’ll try my best to respond.

      Nor need you worry that I’ll be viciously irrational. I’m Anglican, you see. Anglican interpretations of the Real Presence, as of everything else, run the gamut. Nestorius would have been right at home in the Anglican communion – the two of us would have been bitter adversaries over our sherry, even as we agreed we had much to learn from each other. Such is the virtue of the English way – and its downfall (the virtues of a creature usually generate compensating defects – no free lunches around here).

      While the 39 Articles reject transubstantiation, the Anglican Communion affirms the Real Presence. Now this distinction between the dogma of the Real Presence and the doctrine of transubstantiation is nice, and helpful. It is rather as if the Anglicans were saying that they accepted quantum mechanics, but that they rejected the newfangled Many Worlds Interpretation in favor of the traditional Copenhagen interpretation. Transubstantiation : Real Presence :: MWI : QM. Memorialism, on the other hand, being so far as I know an outright repudiation of the Real Presence, is like an outright repudiation of QM.

      Taking this analogy with interpretations of a difficult theory about a mysterious reality a bit further, my attempt in the Bread of Heaven essay was to sketch an interpretation of the Real Presence that takes all the other interpretations I discussed – transubstantiation, memorialism, consubstantiation, and Lydia’s sanctification – not as false, simpliciter, but as inadequate: true so far as they go, bearing in mind that they don’t go far enough. Under my interpretation – let’s call it the Shewbread interpretation, for reasons that will become clear in a moment (and that will, I should think, make it obvious that the interpretation is in no sense truly mine) – the positive assertions of all these other interpretations are reconciled in their subsumption, and shown to agree with a theory about a reality that none of them adequately comprehend. Not, of course, that the Shewbread interpretation is quite adequate either.

      I didn’t grope my way toward the Shewbread interpretation because the dogma of the Real Presence appears in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Real Presence is not a peculiarly Roman doctrine. Indeed, under one interpretation or another, it is dogma for the great preponderance of the Church Universal, in every age so far; for the sees of Canterbury, Rome, Alexandria, Moscow, Antioch, and Constantinople; and for the Lutherans (do Lutherans have a see?). It is to me telling that the Fathers agreed on the Real Presence. St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was a student of St. John the Evangelist, wrote to the Christians at Rome in AD 106, “I desire the bread of GOD, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ.” Thus it seems that the Church in Rome first had its dogma of the Real Presence from the Apostles – from Paul, Peter, John, and James the Just, the first Bishop anywhere of the Church, who was Nazarene from birth, an Essene, and a Priest of the Temple, and who was like his fellow Apostles perfectly familiar with the Bread of the Presence there constantly reserved as anamnetic relict and product of the sacrificial rite. The Apostles and their students would also have recognized the shewbread in the ritual mass of bread and wine served at Jerusalem to Abraham by Melchizedek the High Priest of El Elyon, God in the Highest, the God of the gods. They were not perhaps unaware that the Bread of the Presence was common to the sacrificial cults of the whole circumambient Semitic world, from before the foundation of Israel. The Bread of the Presence – translating literally from the Hebrew, the Bread of the Face [of God], in Greek the Prosopon, in Latin the Persona, in English the Person – was familiar also to the disciples who, hearing Jesus insist (according to the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to the rabbi of St. Ignatius) that he was that shewbread come to life, concluded that he was an insane blasphemer. I take my indication regarding the Real Presence mostly from those verses. The words of the Institution strike me as references back to their sweeping, staggering assertions by the man born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, a village of the People sustained in the wilderness by manna, who live not by bread alone, but by the Incarnate Word.

      Word, bread, Torah, manna, soma, Name, Logos: It’s an ancient and catholic dogma. That’s how it got to be a Roman dogma. The peculiarly Roman transubstantial interpretation of that dogma is not really at issue for you, it seems. Rather, you seem to have a difficulty with the very notion of the Real Presence. It seems from what you say that you find it so absurd as to be incredible. I can hardly blame you. Until I got at it in the right way, it seemed absurd to me, too – along with the bits of the Credo that assert the facticity of things like the Incarnation, Resurrection, Virgin Birth, and so forth. I.e., all the really important mysteries of the Faith.

      The key for me was the realization that the eternity of God entails his ubiquity, and by the same token his superordinate and prevalent influence upon every event, so that he conditions everything that happens. From this it follows that so far as God is concerned, the system of natural law of our cosmos is not privileged over the more expansive systems of supernatural law that subvene it – that environ it – or, a fortiori, over the Logos. No. It’s the opposite. The Logos is privileged over what we construe to be normal. Seeing this, I realized that the system of causal relations to which we are accustomed is but a special case, a restricted domain, of the supernatural causal systems. Looking back from this perspective on such things as the relation of the calcium atom in Lydia’s tongue to Lydia herself, I realized that that relation, which had seemed to me normal and unremarkable, is in fact a staggering mystery, an abyss that I cannot fathom, much less plumb.

      The mystery goes all the way down – or is it all the way up? For, how is the calcium atom part of Lydia? How does it partake of the nature of Lydia, while still remaining “just” – and, also, *fully* – a calcium atom? What metamorphosis does the calcium atom undergo when Lydia eats it, by which it becomes fully a part of her, and takes on Lydianity? I have been working on the problem, but I cannot yet say. Yet if the calcium atom is really part of Lydia, which seems obviously to be the case, and if we can swallow that enormity as if it were a gnat, then – bearing in mind that Jesus pervades all things, as Lydia pervades her body (and, qua field, ex hypothesi, the universe) – how come we have so much trouble with the notion that the host is really part of Jesus? Or, by extension, with the notion that, by ingesting that part of Jesus, we partake in him, and become members of his Body, in just the same way that the host did?

      But never mind the third or fourth order question of how Christians, or the host, become members of the Body of Jesus while remaining just themselves. How does the host become Jesus at all? Beats me. How does anything happen? Same question, right? How does a thing change while remaining itself?

      Do we make ourselves happen, from one moment to the next? No: we find each moment that here we are again. We can perhaps prevent our recurrence, but we cannot arrange to make it happen (this is the ultimate reason why magic is vain, ergo wicked, while mysticism is not). Becoming – that is to say, first, creatio ex nihilo – is hidden in the wellsprings of the ultimate. Creativity, mere happening, is as the basis of all creatures incomprehensible by any of them. So we refer all things in the end to God.

      If the wellsprings of becoming are incomprehensible to creatures, then all the more must they be impossible to creatures. God alone creates. Thus it is crucial to emphasize that the substantial metamorphosis of the host at the consecration is due, not to the acts of the priest, but to the motions of the Holy Spirit. The Name is indeed a magic formula effective at summoning YHWH; but when he comes, it is not because he is compelled by thaumaturgy, but rather because he is welcomed by liturgy.

      • I’m Anglican, you see.

        Oh, my! That’s even worse! ;)

        Somehow, I’ve had it in my mind for, well years, that you are Roman Catholic.

      • I’m a very *orthodox* Anglo-Catholic. So the points that separate me from Rome are picayune. To me, anyway. But then, I think the filioque controversy is a fight over nothing.

      • Memorialists (and others with ahistorical views) might as well become Mormons. If they’re right, then the Church fell into total apostacy as soon as the Apostles died.

      • But then, I think the filioque controversy is a fight over nothing.

        Yet, the fighting (and killing), no matter over what in particular, is pretty much inevitable when the concept of unity-in-Christ is predicated upon unity-of-bureaucracy.

        Even if the Reformers had been fundamentally wrong (and they weren’t), the Reformation, by breaking the grip of the Roman bureaucracy upon Christendom, was a great gift of God to mankind.

      • Memorialists (and others with ahistorical views) might as well become Mormons. If they’re right, then the Church fell into total apostacy as soon as the Apostles died.

        And, so right you are! For, nothing says “We agree that ‘God’ is merely an immanent effect of ‘the universe’, rather than the transcentant cause-of-all-causes” so quite effectively as saying that “We aver that ‘The Lord’s Supper’, being the universalization of the Paschal Feast (which is symbolic of Israel’s deliverance from physical slavery in Egypt), is symbolic of mankind’s deliverance-in-Christ from spiritual slavery throughout time.”

  7. Ilion, the Roman Catholic church officially affirms a particular dogma of how and in what way the Mass is the Body and Blood of Christ (transubstantiation).

    But transubstantiation is only one variant (and a late one) on this subject. That the validly consecrated bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ is attested from apostolic and subapostolic times, as studies I have mentioned above, or John Stephenson’s book on the Lord’s Supper (Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series) show. If you prefer to avoid Lutheran writings, there is Edward B. Pusey’s 19th-century Anglican study, and of course there is much on the subject by Eastern Orthodox writers also. One may certainly hold to a realistic understanding of the Words of Institution, St. Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians, etc., without adhering specifically to transubstantiation. (I write this without meaning to encourage a controversy between adherents of transubstantiation and other understandings of how and in what way the Mass/Eucharist/Mysteries/Holy Communion/Lord’s Supper — as instituted by the Savior — are His Body and Blood.*

    Conversely, the teaching that the Lord’s Supper is in essence a memorial or devotional occasion is, I believe, found only after a thousand years of Church history.

    *(I think it is reasonable to suppose that, in the many churches in which the Lord’s Supper is understood to be, and is celebrated as, a devotional/memorial occasion, that is what it is. It is not the Mystery that Christ instituted. It may have great value as what it is understood to be, nevertheless. But someone who, like me, grew up in circles affirming the “memorial” understanding, but comes to believe that what Christ instituted is to be understood realistically — he will need to go to a church where this is what is preached, taught, and done. I don’t think that, if one becomes truly convinced of the traditional view, he should remain where it is rejected, with the idea that “for himself” it is the Sacrament while for the person next to him who partakes it is a memorial only.)

  8. Not just the Lord’s Supper, Illion. From the 2nd century on, the Church was recognizably Catholic/Orthodox in almost every way we can discern. If they’re honest and admit this, then Protestants seem to be logically driven to a position of total apostacy right after the apostles death.

  9. Pingback: Dark Brightness | Bleak Theology: Hopeful Science

  10. Pingback: Theosis « The Orthosphere

  11. Pingback: Concrete Theology | The Orthosphere

  12. Pingback: Supersubstantiation | The Orthosphere

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s