Friday, February 04, 2005

Second Dialogue With Alastair Roberts (Reformed) on Transubstantiation

Link to Alastair's response (and to my first reply to him). I shall reproduce it in full, and his words will be in blue.
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Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my posts.

You're most welcome, and thank you as well for your gentlemanly, thoughtful approach to dialogue. It is a true and rare pleasure to engage in discussion with you.

I was heartened to observe areas of common ground and would like to probe some of our differences a bit further.

Likewise . . .

I am trying to understand some of the key things that you are seeking to maintain in order that we may arrive at a better mutual understanding on this issue. To this same end I will try to more clearly articulate some of my fundamental concerns.

Very good.

I will probably write a few posts (provided that I can find the time) designed to tease out some of the roots to our differences. Hopefully any remaining misunderstandings will be uncovered in the process. I appreciate the frankness of your response. I see little benefit in a feigned
agreement or false peace between positions that remain opposed.

Yes; I agree. I attempt to approach these issues in an attitude of "charitable ecumenical realism": a position which I have set out in several papers. Honest, deeply-held differences are acknowledged and freely discussed (not papered-over) but without the animus that so often
accompanies discussions across "party lines" (indeed, hopefully within a context of actual friendship and a feeling of Christian brotherhood). I see successful models of this kind of ecumenism in the ECT accords and the ongoing Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. Anti-Catholics, of course, cannot have such a discussion because they demote Catholicism from Christianity. For them, then, it is always a superior-subordinate relationship; usually descending rapidly into outright condescension and a patronizing attitude. For obvious reasons, then, a Catholic simply cannot dialogue with them. I've tried for 14 years, and recently finally gave up on the attempt altogether.

There is no single area in which my theological understanding would not benefit from the corrective provided by other Christians.

This is exactly what I mean (i.e., the first half of my paragraph above). Good for you. This is the ecumenical attitude. It is the Christian spirit of humility, and what makes good discussion possible. I wholeheartedly agree with you again.

There is a significant possibility that there are some correctives that you can provide to my position on the Eucharist.

Likewise.

Whilst I see little hope of either of us persuading the other of our opinions in their entirety, I seldom leave a discussion without my view having been refined and challenged by the process of debate. I trust that this will prove to be no exception.

Same here. This has already been an excellent discussion, and I feel that it will only get better as we continue on, exploring different facets of the question.

Lord-willing, the following post will serve to identify areas of difference more closely. I intend this post as an extended expression of one of my root convictions about the Eucharist. I hope that you will regard it in this light, rather than as a direct challenge to your position. Ideally you will be able to respond by revealing to what degree the following points represent shared convictions, and to what degree your convictions in this area differ from my own.

Fair enough.

Finally, I would value your patience. I will probably not be able to respond to you as quickly as either of us would like. At the moment I am sorely lacking in both the time and the energy that I require.

That's fine. Just let me know, if you would, when new responses are up.

You describe transubstantiation as a ‘miracle’. I would resist using such language to describe what happens in the Supper, not because we do not eat of Christ’s body and drink of His blood,

I must "interrupt" you already, because this makes little sense to me. You want to maintain the realism of the terminology "we . . . eat of Christ’s body and drink of His blood," on the one hand, but you (in effect) immediately take it away with the other, by denying that it is supernatural. There are only so many choices here. If you want to take a merely symbolic view, then that is one way to resolve the dilemma. But you deny that position. You want to maintain "eucharistic realism," and even claim the description "transubstantiation" for yourself (I think, wrongly). Yet this can't be without some supernatural element being present.

The reason is rather obvious: bread and wine are clearly not Jesus' Body and Blood. They are, well, bread and wine. If you agree with me that something happens during a Christian service whereby Jesus' Body and Blood are now present in a "real" way, then either it is just word games (and thus reduces to Zwingli's symbolism, in my opinion), or there is truly something more present (and that, more than merely "spiritually," which is how God is with us all the time). But to the extent that the "more" is physical, it must be miraculous. I don't see how it could not be. We're not dealing with science and natural philosophy here, but with the "metaphysical" and spiritual mysteries of the faith.

Whatever you believe, it is assuredly supernatural or miraculous, because it involves notions and realities that transcend mere bread and wine. Any atheist would think we were both nuts, and perfectly irrational, and he would, precisely because he doesn't accept the supernatural (or spiritual realities). Those categories are nonsensical to him. I think an atheist would find it rather strange that you are denying the supernatural in your analysis, when to him it clearly would appear that supernatural concepts and entities are involved for either of our beliefs (which to him would probably seem to be only variations on a theme).

but because it generally presupposes a purely extrinsic relationship between some realm of ‘nature’ and another putative realm of ‘super-nature’. A miracle is an invasion of the former by the latter. I am trying to reject the idea of an extrinsic relationship in favour of a more intrinsic relationship.

First of all, I don't see why this dichotomy has to be made in the first place, or why you are inclined to believe that this ought to be the case. Where does that presupposition come from?

Secondly, it could be argued that the spiritual, theological realm is an ongoing supernatural reality. It is, in other words (at least in some sense), a perpetual "miracle." By definition, "supernature" is more than nature. The eucharist is one such entity. We're talking about more than bread and wine, and much more than bread and wine being piously regarded as only symbols for remembrance. Thus, again, the supernatural is, it seems to me, necessarily involved.

Thirdly, I find it odd that you would be inclined towards a less miraculous or non-miraculous conception, when all indications are that the New Covenant and the Eucharist instituted by our Lord Jesus Himself, have "miraculous" and "new" written all over them. Jesus referred back to the manna in the wilderness in his John 6 (quite eucharistic) discourse. Manna was miraculous. It wasn't natural. It came from heaven, by God's decree. The feeding of the five thousand -- closely examined -- shows signs of some sacramental, eucharistic meaning (and it was a meal, just as manna provided a good many meals for the Jews in the wilderness). That, too, was a miracle: an "intersection" between a powerful Lord and His people. When Jesus appeared to the dsciples after His Resurrection, He had a Body which was capable of very "unnatural" things, such as what appeared to be "walking through walls." That was beyond our normal humdrum experience, too. So where you see a routine meal, I see wondrous miracles and parallels to same all over the place. What's fascinating to me is why we have these different approaches at all. Why do you see it one way, and I, another? This is prior to the dogmatic, denominational considerations. It has to do with, rather, what you described as "root convictions." One reason I love dialogues like this one so much, is that it allows the participants a chance to explore the "whys and wherefores" of such prior convictions and presuppositions.

Chief among my problems with the doctrine of transubstantiation in many of its common forms is that the Supper is perceived as possessing some ontology peculiar to itself as ‘sacrament’, something that sharply separates it from the form of sacramentality possessed by the world in general.

This reveals, I think, some of the problems in your thinking. As I discussed in my last reply, sacraments are inherently a mixing of natural and supernatural, because what they mean is "some form of matter which conveys grace." Grace is a supernatural entity, not a natural one. So the dead guy is thrown onto Elisha's bones (natural) and he is raised from the dead (supernatural). Paul's handkerchief (natural) heals people (supernatural). Jesus uses mud to put into the blind man's eyes (natural), and he sees (supernatural). The woman touches Jesus' robe and is healed (this is what we call in Catholic theology a "secondary relic"). Water is poured on a baby's head (natural), and regeneration occurs (supernatural). Are not all these things "sharply separated" from the natural world in general? They're not natural at all, insofar as spiritual,
supernatural elements are involved in each one of them.

Rather than standing in a very clear continuity with the Passover that precedes it and the daily meals that surround it, the Eucharist ends up becoming something quite alien to these things — a miracle.

I don't see it as "alien" at all. If you go back to the roots of the Passover, that was as miraculous as any of the other major events in Hebrew and salvation history. The Jews were instructed to put lamb's blood "on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses" (Ex 12:7). God would see that and pass over each house which had it (hence the name), while He smote the Egyptian firstborn (Ex 12:12-13). This is thoroughly sacramental, and also equally supernatural and miraculous. It's not routine or "natural" at all. It has nothing to do with "natural" except that natural means were used to produce a supernatural, sacramental effect, according to the essential nature of all sacraments and sacramentals (in Catholicism, things such as holy water, relics, blessings, crucifixes, scapulars, etc.). The blood of lambs and goats somehow caused God to not judge sinners. Later, of course, the blood of Jesus the Lamb of God, would cover our sins and cause us to be spiritually saved, just as the Jews were physically saved from judgment (the former was a type or shadow of, and analogy to, the latter). That's supernatural. It seems to me, then, that all indications favor a "supernaturalist" conception of both Passover and the Eucharist which was a later development of it.

Once again, I am not denying that we feed on Christ in the Supper.

I don't have the slightest idea what you mean by that if you deny that it is a supernatural occurrence. I contend that unless it is miraculous, it reduces to pure Zwinglian symbolism, which is not supernatural at all. Anyone can sit there and remember what Jesus did for them. They can do that anywhere and at any time, and need no special service to do it.

What I am denying is the idea that the Supper is somehow some radically different entity from the Passover and our day-to-day meals.

Yes and no. It's not "radically different" from the Passover. It is a consistent development of it, in accordance with general New Testament and New Covenant principles of how things developed (Sunday worship as a development of the old Sabbath is another such instance). Jews observed Passover once a year. Christians observe the Eucharist every Sunday. It's more intense; the miraculous is made the centerpiece of worship in a way that Judaism couldn't do (for lack of the sheer number of Lambs, for one thing). Jesus has become our Passover Lamb. The parallels are striking and most fascinating. The Mass is also similar to our "daily meals" insofar as it is a communal gathering and partaking of (what was and still appears to be) bread and wine. Families gather together as a "community" to eat dinner; so do assemblies of Christians, the Family or People of God.

Catholic apologist Dr. Scott Hahn explored the relationship of Passover and Eucharist in his fascinating talk, "The Fourth Cup" (one of my very favorites of his). Here are some highlights (in green):

. . . we know the way the Passover has been celebrated for centuries, for millenia; it's a very ancient liturgy, it's well known, it's no secret. Jews still celebrate it according to the same structure. There are four cups that represent the structure of the Passover. The first cup is the blessing of the festival day, it's the kiddush cup. The second cup of wine occurs really at the beginning of the Passover liturgy itself, and that involves the singing of psalm 113. And then there's the third cup, the cup of blessing which involves the actual meal, the unleavened bread and so on. And then, before the fourth cup, you sing the great hil-el psalms: 114, 115, 116, 117 and 118. And having sung those psalms you proceed to the fourth cup which for all practical purposes is the climax of the Passover.

Now what's the problem? The problem is that gospel account says something like this: after the third cup is drunk Jesus says, "I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until I am entering into the kingdom of God." And it says, "Then they sang the psalms." Every Jew who knows the
liturgy would expect: and then they went ahead and said the grace and the blessing and had the fourth cup which climaxed and consummated the Passover. But no, the gospel account say they sang the psalms and went out into the night.

. . . Where did they go? Well, we just read, Gethsemane. And what did he do? He prayed, because his soul was so distressed. Notice what he prayed, and why, and how he did it. Three times he fell down to the ground and said to his Father, he cried out. "Abba, Father!" The most intimate of terms. "All things are possible to Thee. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt." Remove this cup. Take away this cup. What is this cup? Now, some scholars suggest that this harkens back to an image used by Isaiah and Jeremiah to speak about the cup of God's wrath that the Messiah, God's suffering servant, must drink. There's certainly some connection that can be made there, but much more likely, I think, is a connection between an interrupted liturgy that had been followed strictly up until the very end and this heartfelt, earnest plea and prayer of our Savior. Remove this cup. He also said, though, "I shall not taste of the fruit of the vine again until I enter into the kingdom."

. . . John sees in this so much more than we can get into, but one thing in particular. Verse 28, "After this" - at the very end of his cruel sufferings - "Jesus, knowing that all was now finished said, in order to fulfill the scriptures, 'I thirst.'" Now, he's been on the cross for hours. Is this the first moment of thirst. No, he'd been wracked with pain and dying of thirst for hours. But he says, in order to fulfill the scripture, "I thirst." Why? To fulfill the scripture.

"A bowl of sour wine stood there. They put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch - the same kind of branch the Israelites had to use to sprinkle the lamb's blood on the doorpost, coincidentally enough - and held it to his mouth. Before when they offered him wine, what did he do? He refused it: "I will not taste of the fruit of the vine I am coming into the kingdom." He skipped the fourth cup and then he went to pray, 'Remove this cup, not as I will , but as thou wilt,' And now he has gone and fulfilled that will to the uttermost, in perfect suffering obedience to the Father, in an act of unspeakable love.

"They put a sponge full of the sour wine on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine he said the words that are spoken of in the fourth cup consummation, "It is finished." What is the it referring to? That grammatical question began really bothering me at some point. I asked several people and their response was usually, "Well, it means the work of redemption that Christ was working on." All right, that's true, I agree it does refer to that, but in context. An exegete, a trained interpreter of the word is supposed to find the contextual meaning, not just import a meaning from a theology textbook. What is Jesus speaking of when he says, "It is finished?" I mean, our redemption is not completed once he - he's not yet raised. Paul says, "He was raised for our justification."

. . . He said, 'It is finished', and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit, his breath. The it, of course you realize by now, is the Passover sacrifice. Because who is Jesus Christ? He is the sacrifice of Egypt, the firstborn son. Remember, the Egyptians involuntarily had to offer up their firstborn sons as atonement for their own sins and wickedness. Christ dies for Egypt and the world. Plus, he is the Passover lamb, the unblemished lamb, without broken bones who offers himself up for the life of the world. This fits with John's gospel, because as soon as Jesus was introduced in chapter 1 of the fourth gospel by John the Baptist, what did John say? He said, "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." And here is the lamb, headed for the altar of the cross, dying as a righteous firstborn and as an unblemished lamb. I believe that it's best to say in light of scripture that the sacrifice of Christ did not begin with the first spike, it didn't begin when the cross was sunk into the ground. It began in the upper room. That's where the sacrifice began. And I would also suggest that the Passover meal by which Jesus initiated the new Covenant in his own blood did not end in the upper room, but at Calvary. It's all of one piece. The sacrifice begins in the upper room with the institution of the Eucharist and it ends at Calvary. Calvary begins with the Eucharist. The Eucharist ends at Calvary. But in another way of thinking, it ain't over yet! Cause it ain't over till it's over. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, "Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed, therefore" - what? - we don't need to have any more sacrifice? Therefore we don't need to have any more ritual, therefore all we have to do is have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and invite him into our hearts and everything else is taken care of? No, he's too knowledgeable about the Old Testament to say any of that. He says, "Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed; let us therefore celebrate the feast." What feast? The whole Passover feast. It's not complete yet.

. . . You had to eat the lamb. It isn't enough to kill him. That is the satisfaction for sin, but the ultimate goal of sacrifice is not blood and gore and God making sure He sees the death. The ultimate goal is to restore communion, to have fellowship with God restored. And that's what's signified by eating the lamb. Who shares a common meal? Family. What is this a sign of? Covenant. And what is a covenant? A sacred family bond. In the Old Testament any family that sacrificed a lamb and sprinkled the blood had to eat the lamb.

. . . Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Once and for all on Calvary he's been put to death, therefore - what? Therefore we've nothing to do. Just celebrate the sacrifice, which is over and done with - No, something's missing. We need to eat the Lamb. We need to receive the Lamb to restore communion and to complete the sacrifice and to keep the feast. It's proper, and we now judge it to be necessary. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, "Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed and now let us celebrate the feast." And the next five chapters in many ways St. Paul describes how the Eucharist is to be celebrated, because it's the culmination of the Passover sacrifice.

This is a true sacrifice. It's an unbloody sacrifice, because we're not killing Jesus again. This was something I never really understood as a Protestant anti-Catholic. I thought for sure that because you speak of sacrificing in the Mass, that therefore in some way you believe we're killing
Jesus again and again and again, as though one dying is not enough. So we just assumed and I always taught that there was suffering imposed upon Christ supposedly in the Mass. This is blasphemous because his one act of dying wasn't enough and we had to continue to have him die and bleed and suffer, which is what the Mass is for. No way! That's anti-Catholic. No Catholic can believe that because the sacrifice of the Mass involves no bleeding , no dying and no suffering of the person of Christ, who is enthroned in glory and reigning triumphant in heaven. He is
resurrected. He is ascended. He is enthroned, and he rules as king of kings.

. . . In [Revelation 5] verse 6 John says, "I saw a lamb standing there as though it had been slain." The conquering king, the lion of the tribe of Judah , the root of David ruling and reigning in the new and glorified Jerusalem, up in heaven, and when you see him what's he look like? A lamb, looking as though he'd been slain. Why? because Revelation 5, and then 6 and 7 and 8 all describe what St, John saw in spirit on the Lord's Day up in heaven. And guess what? It's what you see in the spirit on the Lord's day down on earth. A Eucharistic liturgy. And the Lamb leads all of the saints and the angels and the people of God in this beautiful heavenly liturgy.

. . . In the early Church fathers it went without argument, it went without saying that the liturgy on earth was patterned after the vision that St. John had of the heavenly worship. But notice the appearance of our conquering king. He's a lamb looking as though he'd been slain. Why? Because the Holy Spirit resurrected the body of Jesus and it was ascended into heaven and it was enthroned and it appears as a lamb because the sacrifice continues. Because the Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament was not complete until all of God's people who trusted the Lord and wanted to obey the ordinance received the Lamb and received the covenant and the sacred family bond of the Lamb. And so likewise the New Covenant, the heavenly family the spiritual supernatural bond that unties us as brothers and sisters . . .

. . . Someone once said, "He hides his adorable humanity in the humble appearance of ordinary bread and wine so that we might find that peace and joy that comes from being despised and rejected as he was in his life." He hides his adorable humanity. Do we adore it? In the humble
appearance of ordinary bread and wine? He will sustain our soul and the life of the Spirit like bread and wine sustain the life of the body. So that we might find that peace and joy that comes from being despised. The world would laugh at such a statement. The Eucharist is proof that it's true. Peace and joy that comes from being despised and rejected as he was in this life. In the Eucharist he is forgotten, rejected and sacrilegiously received and profaned, yet he remains there to nourish us with his precious body and blood."

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The manner in which the Eucharist is practiced in many churches serves to present the Supper as separated from the rest of life.

Of course it is. It's not "usual" or "common" in everyday life to have Jesus walk into the room. When that happens, you get on your face on the floor at His feet, and beg for mercy (as Isaiah did when He "saw God" -- Isaiah 6:1-5). Thus, Catholics worship Jesus in the Eucharist, and confess our sins before receiving Him. And we genuflect and bow our heads at the consecration. It's the most glorious part of the liturgy, and the reason we are all there. This is "real presence." Jesus is "really" there, just as if we were back in Galilee with Peter and the fishermen. You want to talk about Real Presence, but you also don't want to act as you would if Jesus made a post-Resurrection appearance and stood before you, right by your computer, as you are reading this. What would you do, then? Would you say, "well, my Lord, I do adore You and worship You and serve You with all my heart, but I don't believe that this meeting with you should be regarded as separate from the rest of my life. It's not supernatural. It's only natural. You lived as a Man and here you are now with me." Is that not a rather obvious reductio ad absurdum? I think so.

Rather than being the fulfilment of all that our daily meals were designed to be, the Supper soon loses all resemblance to any other supper.

Just as Passover is no ordinary supper; nor was the miracle of manna in the desert, nor was the feeding of the 5000, nor the Last Supper itself, nor the pictures we have of heavenly worship in Revelation, in which St. John saw Jesus as a "lamb slain." I don't know where you get this. Passover had to do with sacrifice, It was no ordinary meal at all. Jesus is the New Testament Passover Lamb. He was sacrificed on our behalf. The Mass makes that one-time sacrifice present here and now. Time and space are transcended (just as in heavenly worship). Jesus is the Sacrifice. We still have priests today, who offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, with the people. We commemorate the cross, and Jesus is actually present as well. Otherwise, the Eucharist is no different in kind than the Passover. If nothing supernatural occurs, it is even lesser in a major way than the Passover. But the New Covenant pattern is for more supernaturalism and greater things to occur. Baptism actually confers regeneration, and all believers can be filled with the Spirit. That is far more than the precursor to that ritual, circumcision did (it was a physical sign and no more, as far as I know).

I strongly believe that the Supper should be regarded as one of one daily meals. For this reason, I am firmly in favour of the practice of celebrating the Eucharist within the context of a meal that the gathered assembly of the church all partake of. Sometime in the course of the meal, the bread should be taken by the head of the assembly and he should offer a simple prayer of thanksgiving (e.g. ‘Lord, we thank You for bread, which You have given to sustain men’s hearts’); then, after pronouncing the words of institution, it should be distributed by the deacons. At the conclusion of the meal the head of the assembly should take the cup, offer another simple prayer of thanksgiving (e.g. ‘Lord, we thank You for wine, which You
have given to make men’s hearts glad’); then the words of institution should be pronounced and the deacons should pass it around to the congregation. All the baptized (but only the baptized) should partake, young children included. Such a practice is far more preferable to partaking
while on your knees in front of a communion rail. This is a strange way to eat a meal.

Your description sounds like what we used to do at prayer meetings; just get some pita bread and grape juice and do a "communion service." But we believe that a validly ordained priest must preside. Not just anyone can do this. Catholics show signs of reverence when we meet and receive Jesus. You would do that if He walked into your room right now. So we Catholics act that way because we believe He is really present. What you describe could be done by anyone anywhere.

Once transubstantiation has been elevated to the status of ‘miracle’, it is effectively sundered from the OT rites that preceded it.

I think that is exactly the opposite of the truth, as I have shown above, through many examples. Is this about cessationism? Is that why you are reluctant to accept the miraculous? Does God still perform miracles today?

Transubstantiation is ‘supernatural’ in a manner that the Passover meal never was.

It "never" was? God passes over the Jews because of blood on doorposts and kills Egyptians, but that is not supernatural? No natural calamity would spare people because of blood on doors. It was of a piece with all the other plagues that God brought upon Egypt and Pharaoh. I find this
quite odd. It's a different kind of miracle, but it is still supernatural.

As a result the focus of Eucharistic theology is drawn away from the OT background to elaborate philosophical constructs designed to articulate the precise ‘mechanics’ of the miracle of transubstantiation.

If you don't like that, then ignore it. The Orthodox don't do much of that, but they still believe in transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood.

I am arguing that the ‘substance’ of the sacrament does not change from the old to the new covenant. In some sense or other, the ‘substance’ is Christ in both covenants (this is not to deny that we have a far deeper participation in Christ in the new covenant). The new covenant Eucharist is a ‘conjugation’ of a number of OT rites. The Eucharist is the fulfilment and consummation of the Passover as it is a manifestation of, and participation in, the new covenant order, where Christ is all in all. The Eucharist will one day itself be fulfilled and consummated in the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. The Eucharist is a foretaste of the Marriage Supper in a similar manner to the manner in which the Passover was a foretaste in the Eucharist.

No particular comment . . . I can agree with some of this, but as it is unpacked, we would have disagreements too.

What is my point in all of this? My point is simply that the Supper is woven into the fabric of the whole of our lives. The Supper is somehow continuous with the meals that we eat from day to day; the Supper is somehow continuous with all of the God-ordained eating rites in the previous
history of the people of God. As James Jordan and others have observed, the basic form of the action in the Supper (i.e. taking, thanking, separating, renaming, distributing, evaluating, enjoying) is one that is more or less applicable to almost every series of actions in our lives. Man
takes parts of the world, restructures them, renames them, presents them in some form or other to different people, who evaluate these restructured parts of the world and (hopefully) go on to enjoy them. This pattern is exhibited even in the most mundane actions of life.

You can't remove the mystery of faith from the Eucharist. You can have all these other understandings, too, without removing the miracle. The Catechism acknowledges many different aspects of the Eucharist (#1322-1407).

Sinful man consistently approaches the sequence as follows: take, give thanks, restructure, rename, distribute, evaluate, enjoy (Romans 1:21). The ritual of the Eucharist is designed (among many other things) to impress upon us this second element in the sequence in order that we might live the whole of our lives eucharistically.

Sure; I have no problem with that.

The Eucharistic elements are some of the most common and fundamental elements of human life and culture. If they are drawn into the new world order, somehow the entirety of human culture is implicated also. By construing transubstantiation as a ‘discrete miraculous exception’ (Catherine Pickstock’s phrase), the fabric of this world is no longer implicated in the same way in the Eucharistic celebration. This is one of the chief things that concern me about the position that you seem to be articulating. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you here.

But Catholics don't eliminate the "communal meal" aspects of the Eucharist. I don't see why it has to be "de-supernaturalized" in order to have that understanding (we don't disagree on that). I think it is wrongheaded to view the matter as a continuation of daily life more so than to view it as a compelling, profound, existential experience of the central tenet of faith and greatest moment in the history of the world and of salvation history: the crucifixion and Jesus' sacrifice and atonement for the sins of the world. That's how we look at it: the cross is made present, and we receive our Lord. This is what Christian ritual and worship is about. It's not abstract. It is very concrete. And that is the sacramental, incarnational essence of worship.

The Body and Blood that we eat and drink are not just ‘phenomenologically’ bread and wine, but are completely continuous with the reality of bread and wine. The bread is not evacuated of its substance (as if it were a container) to make room for the Body; rather the bread now subsists in the Body and the Body is present in the bread. The bread now ‘lives and moves and has its being’ (for want of a better way of putting it) in Christ. The manner in which the bread is taken up into Christ and receives its substance from Him (by the work of the Holy Spirit) makes the language of ‘transubstantiation’ appropriate. As Pickstock expresses it in her defence of Aquinas’ doctrine, ‘the substantiality of the bread is not so much destroyed as more utterly constituted by being taken up into God.’ I find little to object to in this statement.

We've gone over this. I would simply reiterate again: if Jesus is truly present physically, as He was when He walked the earth, then you ought to adore Him in the worship service. If He's not there in that fashion you should cease talking about both transubstantiation and Real Presence. You want to strangely mix the two: have some kind of presence beyond what we have everyday, yet not worship. I wouldn't worship, either, if bread and wine were still there, because that is idolatry. It is precisely because I believe that bread and wine are transformed, that I worship my Lord Jesus at Mass. I bow my head and genuflect and receive kneeling (we have an altar rail at my church, which is liturgically traditional). We should all lie on the ground on our faces and heap dust and ashes on our heads (one could reasonably argue), but this is the way that the Church has decided that worship should be expressed, so I conform myself to those norms of worship.

I do not believe in impanation. What takes place in the Supper is not a matter of Christ coming into our world in order to inhabit it (as was the case in the Incarnation),

I wouldn't distance the Eucharist from the Incarnation. I want to make more connections, because I see them as very similar. But if you deny this, too, then that only shows me that you scarcely believe in Real Presence at all, as historically defined. I've tried very hard to see the Reformed (and Calvin's own) view of the Eucharist as some form of "Real Presence," but the more I learn, the more it seems apparent to me that the two concepts cannot be reconciled. Perhaps this is why (so I hear from many of the "high Reformed") many Reformed Christians today are practially Zwinglians with regard to the Eucharist? Calvin already took away too many essential aspects of the Eucharist. Others simply take it further, because once you depart from a received Tradition of Christianity (even a lesser denominational tradition or creed), the overwhelming tendency is for folks to become more and more liberal, and believe less and less (hence, theological liberalism itself, that we are all blessed with).

but is a matter of our world being drawn into and grounded in the resurrected and ascended Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit.

That has already occurred in all of creation, because of the Incarnation. I don't see how or why that would be construed as mitigating against transubstantiation.

It is a matter of the Church drawing its being from Christ. We are ‘transubstantiated’ from a gathering of faithful believers into the Body of Christ as we draw our substance from Him in the celebration of the Eucharist.

This is simply not what the word has meant, historically, or even linguistically. I'm afraid that the tendency to redefine words without reference to how they have been used before, and standard definitions, is a classic hallmark of liberal theology. I think you should be quite reluctant to adopt such a practice, because you obviously are no liberal. First (in liberal thinking), a word is co-opted and redefined. Then it is repeatedly used in that
way. Eventually the people at large adopt the new definition. Thus, by simply changing the meaning of words, traditional doctrines can be eroded. We see the same thing in the Catholic Church. "Real Presence" has been so eroded historically that 70% of Catholics have picked up this thinking, and deny transubstantiation, as defined by the Church.

Such a form of ‘transubstantiation’, which is the position that I essentially hold to,

You must know that the word transubstantiation has meant a certain thing, that can be identified. Why use the word, then, when you clearly have in mind something else? I've never understood this. It's as if you want to modify the Catholic belief by claiming the Catholic word for your own use.

is totally consistent with the claim that adoration of the elements is unbiblical and idolatrous.

Sure; if Jesus truly isn't there, then it would be (as worship of bread and wine is idolatry). If He is there, on the other hand, He should be worshiped, because the presence of bread and wine also would not necessarily change that obligation. It would be as if Jesus was standing there
with a loaf of bread. If you worshiped Him, the bread would be irrelevant. Or would you call that idolatry too? If you worshiped Jesus when He was sitting on a throne in heaven, would that be idolatry because you are worshiping the throne too? I don't get it.

The analogy between the manner in which the Christ is the body of Christ and the manner in which the bread is the body of Christ is also thoroughly appropriate within the form of transubstantiation expressed above. The Church gains its substance from Christ — we are bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh — but the Church is still in some manner distinct from Christ. In the same manner the bread and wine take their substance from Christ, but are not to be worshipped as Christ. The change in substance is not a sufficient proof for the validity of the common forms of Eucharistic adoration.

I remain perplexed as to how you work this out in your own mind. But I enjoyed the dialogue very much. Thanks again.

2 comments:

Theresa said...

Dave, would you please give me permission to quote from this dialogue extensively? I'd appreciate it. It will be used in my column, and you can review my other articles to be sure I will use it for teaching in all truth. Thanks. I miss you guys! T.
http://www.examiner.com/x-4317-Denver-Roman-Catholic-Examiner

Also, if you could point me in the direction for info on the future marriage supper of the Lamb, I'd appreciate that, as well.

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Terry,

Good to hear for you! How are ya? :-) We miss you too.

You can always cite anything of mine; no need to ask. Just give full bibliographical credit in the usual manner, and a plug for my books is always appreciated too.

I searched for some in-depth material on the marriage Supper of the Lamb, but was unsuccessful; only small snippets. I think something could be found if you searched with different terms o Google, and put the word "Catholic" in there to get Catholic materials.