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Fr John Meyendorff and the Orthodox critique of transubstantiation


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#1 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 08:00 PM

A discussion over at Energetic Processions has got me thinking once again about Orthodox critiques of the Latin doctrine of transubstantiation. For the past two days I have been re-reading the various threads here on Monachos discussing the question "Do the bread and wine remain after the consecration?" (See, e.g., "Are the body and blood still bread and wine?") Clearly this is a lively topic within Orthodoxy. Yesterday I returned to the chapter on the Eucharist in Fr John Meyendorff's book Byzantine Theology, recalling that he argues there that Byzantine theologians would have rejected transubstantiation. I confess that I am not persuaded by his argument, so I thought I would open a thread on this topic.

Fr John advances the following arguments:

(1) The Eucharist is not a symbol of icon of the Body and Blood of Christ; it is the Body and Blood of Christ. For Byzantine theologians, Fr John writes, "the Eucharist is Christ's transfigured, life-giving, but still human, body, en-hypostasized in the Logos and penetrated with divine 'energies.'"

Putting aside, for the moment, the question of the divine energies, surely medieval Latin theologians would agree that the Eucharist is the glorified body of the risen Christ. In the classical presentations of transubstantiation, the bread and wine do not become the divinity of Christ; they become his Body and Blood, i.e., Christ in his physical human nature. More accurately, the "substance" of the bread and wine become the "substance" of Christ's Body and Blood. The soul and divinity of Christ are present with his eucharistic flesh because the risen Christ cannot be divided.

(2) Because of the Byzantine distinction between the essence and energies of God, we never find the category of "essence" (ousia) employed to speak of the Eucharist: the glorified flesh of Christ is filled with the divine energies, not with the divine essence. If it were, then all who partake of the Eucharist would be joined to the essence of God, which is impossible. Hence, Meyendorff concludes, Byzantine theologians "would consider a term like 'transubstantiation' (metousiosis) improper to designate the Eucharistic mystery."

And here I stumble. The scholastic doctrine of transubstantiation speaks of a substantial change: the conversion of the substance of the bread and wine into the substance of the Body and Blood. I do not see why, at least based on what Meyendorff has said so far, the notion of substantial change would have been judged inappropriate by Byzantine theologians. One can speak of a substantial change (whatever that might mean) without involving the essence of God in this change. Latin theologians do not, after all, assert that the bread and wine become the divinity of Christ. They do not claim that the Eucharist becomes "an 'essence' distinct from humanity" (I'm not even sure what that means). I do not understand Meyendorff's point, unless he has simply miscomprehended the medieval construal of transubstantiation altogether.

(3) Orthodox employment of the term metousiōsis ("transubstantiation") is a result of Latin influence. Okay. So what? Is Latin theology to be rejected out of hand? Is it more pernicious than Alexandrian or Syriac influence? I'm sure that the Orthodox bishops and theologians who adopted the term in the 16th and 17th centuries well understood the origin of the term; but they did not hesitate to employ it and the notion of substantial change to speak of the eucharistic transformation. They of course made it clear that they were not embracing the scholastic presentation lock, stock, and barrel; but apparently they found it to be a legitimate and helpful way to speak transmutation of the elements into Christ's Body and Blood. Thus we read in the Longer Catechism of St Philaret:

In the exposition of the faith by the Eastern Patriarchs, it is said that the word transubstantiation is not to be taken to define the manner in which the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord; for this none can understand but God; but only thus much is signified, that the bread truly, really, and substantially becomes the very true Body of the Lord, and the wine the very Blood of the Lord. In like manner John Damascene, treating of the Holy and Immaculate Mysteries of the Lord, writes thus: "It is truly that Body, united with Godhead, which had its origin from the Holy Virgin; not as though that Body which ascended came down from heaven, but because the bread and wine themselves are changed into the Body and Blood of God. But if thou seekest after the manner how this is, let it suffice thee to be told that it is by the Holy Ghost; in like manner as, by the same Holy Ghost, the Lord formed flesh to himself, and in himself, from the Mother of God; nor know I aught more than this, that the Word of God is true, powerful, and almighty, but its manner of operation unsearchable." (J. Damasc. Theol. lib. iv. cap. 13, § 7.)


Please note: I am not arguing that transubstantiation is the best way to speak of Christ's real presence in the Eucharist. I am simply observing that for several centuries Orthodox theology apparently did not have a problem appropriating the notion of substantial change as a way to speak of the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood. Why did it take 400 years for Orthodox theologians to object to the Orthodox invocation of transubstantiation? Are we to believe that the Orthodox Church actually forgot its eucharistic faith?

(4) Transubstantiation implies the other worldliness of the eucharistic bread. Here Meyendorff directs our attention to the controversy regarding azymes and enthusiastically commends an essay written by Fr John Erickson: "Leavened and Unleavened." So I downloaded the essay and read it. It's a fascinating read, yet I remain confused how this controversy illumines the question of transubstantiation. As far as I know, Latin theologians have never argued that unleavened bread is essential to a valid celebration of the Eucharist; they have never argued that the use of leavened bread disrupts or interferes with the transubstantiation of the elements.

What am I missing in Fr John's analysis?

I will post further reflections on transubstantiation and the question "Do the bread and wine remain after the consecration?" in a later post. At the moment I would like to focus on Fr John Meyendorff's discussion of transubstantiation.

#2 Owen Jones

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 09:26 PM

the problem is that they are proceeding from a rigid Aristotelian definition of "substance" and causality.

#3 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 08 February 2012 - 09:34 PM

the problem is that they are proceeding from a rigid Aristotelian definition of "substance" and causality.


Perhaps ... but that is not the argument that Meyendorff makes. (I presume, btw, that "they" refers to Latin scholastic theologians.)

#4 Kosta

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 01:25 AM

In Latin theology, does the 'substance' of the bread and wine which becomes the 'substance' of Christ's Body, simply be replaced with 'physical material'?

#5 Owen Jones

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 04:01 PM

I think the distinction is probably this: Catholics would insist that if a biochemist were to test the consecrated elements they would find flesh. Orthodox do not. We believe in a union between the spiritual and the physical, and there is no test for spiritual energy known to man, other than the heart of man and how it functions.

#6 Anna Stickles

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 04:58 PM

Fr Aidan,

In point 2 in your post above, I have to ask - In context, exactly what is Fr John understanding by the word "transubstantiation". Not only what is his "short definition" of the word, (which from your post seems to be "substantial change") but also the word is being used within a certain theological framework to demarcate something specific and this I would guess, as Owen has already hinted at, is more to the point of what an Orthodox theologian would object to.

One thing that Fr Seraphim Rose brought up in his book on Genesis was that in postulating about the state of Adam and Eve before the fall Thomas Aquinas draws a picture of their physicality that is very much like ours - they digested and defecated, etc. whereas in the Patristic view the physical bodies of Adam and Eve were not like ours, but rather the whole material creation was operating under a completely different set of laws, was in a very real sense very different in nature then what we are experiencing now.

Christ's resurrected body also, exists in a reality not constrained by the current laws of physics, in him human nature has not only been restored to, but gone beyond, Adam and Eve's original condition into the condition that God planned for them to grow into if they had not fallen. An Orthodox would not insist that a biochemical test show anything but bread and wine, and yet would say that nevertheless a real substantial change has occurred.

What I am trying to get at here, is that what a Catholic means when they use the word "transubstantiation" is something that an Orthodox would legitimately object to, not because of the meaning of "substantial change" which both agree to, nor over the question of whether it becomes the real Body and Blood, again both would agree with this, but because of what that change entails. It is not the same change referred to when an Orthodox uses the word and a Catholic uses the word.

But exactly what Fr John is saying is not at all clear from what you gave in your post.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 09 February 2012 - 05:24 PM.


#7 Anna Stickles

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 05:44 PM

I think one more thing to think about here, is that, as far as I can tell from reading the Orthodox theologians from the ascetical tradtions, the current fallen material reality and the new material reality in Christ do not exist as totally separate, but rather overlapping. Thus the fallen bread and wine exist simultaneously with the new material reality in Christ. The new does not displace the old. Thus too, partaking of the Body and Blood is not automatic, but those who have it within them to partake of the new reality partake to the degree they are able of the Body and Blood, and the rest partake of bread and wine. This thought is oft seen in quite a number of the modern elders.

#8 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 09 February 2012 - 11:02 PM

In Latin theology, does the 'substance' of the bread and wine which becomes the 'substance' of Christ's Body, simply be replaced with 'physical material'?


Kosta, I'd prefer to keep us focused on Fr John Meyendorff's discussion of the Eucharist, but as I do have a fair acquaintance with Catholic eucharistic theology, I'd like to briefly address your question.

Within the Catholic Church there are many construals of transubstantiation. This was true at the Council of Trent, and it is certainly the case today. The principal function of the Tridentine dogma was to exclude Protestant understandings of the Eucharist. It should not be read as dogmatizing a specific philosophical understanding of substance, accidents, matter, and existence. That's certainly not how the best Catholic theologians interpret and apply the dogma. So what is the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation trying to say? I propose the following:

(1) By the action of the divine Word, the elements of bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of the risen and glorified Jesus Christ. Latin theologians employ the category of "substance" to answer the commonsense question "What is that thing?" What is present on the altar before the consecration? Bread and wine. What is present on the altar after the consecration? Body and Blood. In other words, a substantial change (transubstantiation) has occurred.

(2) Because a substantial change has occurred, it is no longer appropriate to literally apply the words "bread" and "wine" to the Holy Gifts. This is the whole point in saying that the substance of the bread and wine have become the substance of the Body and Blood. By Latin apprehension, it would be wrong to point to the consecrated Host and say, "That is both bread and Body." That would be to misdescribe the eucharistic reality.

But if a change of substance has occurred, why is it that we only perceive bread and wine? It is here that Catholic theologians have invoked the distinction between substance and appearances (species): the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, yet they still appear to be bread and wine. All of the sensible qualities (accidents) of the bread and wine remain intact. If a scientist (God forbid!) were to analyze the consecrated elements, he would discover that they are identical to bread and wine in every way. No chemical, material, or molecular change has occurred. This is a critical point to recognize, because it is at this point that many people, including many Catholics, get confused. They think that transubstantiation necessarily entails a chemical-material change in the elements, a change that God miraculously keeps hidden from us. But this is not what the doctrine says. This is not what Thomas Aquinas says. The Lutheran Hermann Sasse has even accused Aquinas of being a semi-Calvinist, because of Aquinas's insistence that Christ is not locally present in the Sacrament. But I'm sure that many Catholics over the centuries have believed that the eucharistic transformation involves a material change in the elements. How else to explain the violence of Catholic/Protestant polemic in the 16th century? Some Orthodox have also believed this: see, e.g., Vladimir Moss, "Dialogue Between an Orthodox and an Ecumenist."

The distinction between substance (what the Sacrament truly is) and appearance (what we perceive) is hardly an invention of the Latin Church. Consider this passage from St Cyril of Jerusalem:

These things having learnt, and being fully persuaded that what seems bread is not bread, though bread by taste, but the Body of Christ; and that what seems wine is not wine, though the taste will have it so, but the Blood of Christ; and that of this David sung of old, saying, (And bread which strengtheneth man's heart, and oil to make his face to shine) [Ps. 104:15], "strengthen thine heart," partaking thereof as spiritual, and "make the face of thy soul to shine."


Or this passage from St Theophylact, commenting on Matt 26:26:

"By saying, 'This is My Body,' He shows that the bread which is sanctified on the altar is the Lords Body Itself, and not a symbolic type. For He did not say, 'This is a type,' but 'This is My Body.' By an ineffable action it is changed, although it may appear to us as bread. Since we are weak and could not endure raw meat, much less human flesh, it appears as bread to us although it is indeed flesh."



Neither author explicitly employs the term "substance," but clearly the notion is implicit.

How can there be a change of substance without a change of the sensible qualities? Is this not nonsensical? That is the great problem posed by the doctrine of transubstantiation--and it is a real problem. Catholic theologians have struggled with this for centuries. The literature here is vast, but I commend to everyone this article by Fr Herbert McCabe: Eucharistic Change. Also see two blog articles I wrote about McCabe: "When Bread is not Bread" and "The Risen Christ and the Language of God." McCabe was one of the finest British theologians of the 20th century and a keen student of Thomas Aquinas. A comparison of the views of McCabe and those of Schmemann, Bulgakov, and Evdokimov might prove particularly illuminating.

In his book Orthodoxy Paul Evdokimov states that it was only until the 9th and 11th centuries that anyone in the Church, and specifically the Latin Church, seriously posed the questions "what?" and "how?" concerning the Holy Eucharist. I'm not sure if this is completely accurate; but once these questions are asked, it seems to me that something akin to transubstantiation, i.e., the assertion of the ontological transformation of the bread and wine, is a reasonable response consistent with the faith of the ancient Church. This would also explain why the Orthodox Church felt free to appropriate the language of transubstantiation when addressing Protestant eucharistic heresies. Thus Fr Michael Pomzansky in his Orthodox Dogmatic Theology:

In the Mystery of the Eucharist, at the time when the priest, invoking the Holy Spirit upon the offered Gifts, blesses them with the prayer to God the Father: "Make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ; and that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ; changing them by Thy Holy Spirit" — the bread and wine actually are changed into the Body and Blood by the coming down of the Holy Spirit. After this moment, although our eyes see bread and wine on the Holy Table, in their very essence, invisibly for sensual eyes, this is the true Body and true Blood of the Lord Jesus, only under the "forms" of bread and wine.

Thus the sanctified Gifts 1) are not only signs or symbols, reminding the faithful of the redemption, as the reformed Zwingli taught; and likewise, 2) it is not only by His "activity and power" ("dynamically") that Jesus Christ is present in them, as Calvin taught; and finally, 3) He is not present in the meaning only of "penetration," as the Lutherans teach (who recognize the co-presence of Christ "with the bread, under the form of bread, in the bread"); but the sanctified Gifts in the Mystery are changed or (a later term) "transubstantiated" into the true Body and true Blood of Christ, as the Saviour said "For My flesh is meat indeed, and My Blood is drink indeed" (John 6:55).

This truth is expressed in the Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs in the following words: "We believe that in this sacred rite our Lord Jesus Christ is present not symbolically (typikos), not figuratively (eikonikos), not by an abundance of grace, as in the other Mysteries, not by a simple descent, as certain Fathers say about Baptism, and not through a 'penetration' of the bread, so that the Divinity of the Word should "enter" into the bread offered for the Eucharist, as the followers of Luther explain it rather awkwardly and unworthily — but truly and actually, so that after the sanctification of the bread and wine, the bread is changed, transubstantiated, converted, transformed, into the actual true Body of the Lord, which was born in Bethlehem of the Ever-Virgin, was baptized in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, resurrected, ascended, sits at the right hand of God the Father, and is to appear in the clouds of heaven; and the wine is changed and transubstantiated into the actual true Blood of the Lord, which at the time of His suffering on the Cross was shed for the life of the world. Yet again, we believe that after the sanctification of the bread and wine there remains no longer the bread and wine themselves, but the very Body and Blood of the Lord, under the appearance and form of bread and wine."


Or as Evdokimov, himself a fierce critic of transubstantiation, states: "In summarizing the teaching of the Fathers, beyond any physical conversion, for the eyes of faith after the epiclesis, quite simply there is nothing else on the diskos and in the chalice except the body and blood of Christ."

And now I return to my questions about Fr John Meyendorff's discussion of transubstantiation. Has anyone read Meyendorff's discussion of the Eucharist?

Edited by Aidan Kimel, 09 February 2012 - 11:46 PM.


#9 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 10 February 2012 - 02:16 AM

I am not qualified to say anything about such theology but I feel doubt about Anna's saying, 'the fallen bread and wine exist simultaneously with the new material reality in Christ'. I don't understand in what way the bread and wine, before their change, are 'fallen'. But further, I find it difficult to see how, after the change, that which is 'fallen' (if it is) can 'exist simultaneously' with what is perfect. Can the Holy Gifts of which we partake consist of both what is fallen and what is perfect? If the bread and wine are not 'fallen' but are simply what they are, they are not perfect as are Christ's Body and Blood. So, again, I cannot see how they can 'exist simultaneously' with the Body and Blood of Christ. The quotations Fr Aidan gives from St Cyril of Jerusalem, St Theophylact, and Fr Michael Pomazansky express what I was taught.

#10 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 10 February 2012 - 04:55 PM

The classical RC understanding from what I can see is more sturctured than what we normally follow, and thus more rationalized regarding the bread & wine. Not in the sense of how the bread & wine become Christ's Body & Blood-which I think is also the Patristic view. But of the question: 'what then of the bread & wine'?

Thus:

the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, yet they still appear to be bread and wine. All of the sensible qualities (accidents) of the bread and wine remain intact. If a scientist (God forbid!) were to analyze the consecrated elements, he would discover that they are identical to bread and wine in every way. No chemical, material, or molecular change has occurred. This is a critical point to recognize, because it is at this point that many people, including many Catholics, get confused. They think that transubstantiation necessarily entails a chemical-material change in the elements, a change that God miraculously keeps hidden from us


For us, I think we would allow that the bread & wine are changed to Christ's Body and Blood even in a sensible though to some degree an unapparent way. The tack we would take would be in the tangible effect which the Body & Blood have on us. Thus for example the prayers that are said before and after communion relate in a continual fashion to the change wrought in us through a worthy partaking in the Eucharist. If this change in us is real, then it must flow from the possibility of being in communion with the real Body & Blood which itself denotes a real change in the bread & wine. That this change is real though very often not apparent visibly (and we must keep in mind that in Orthodoxy change in us by that which is tangible and real of God usually begins first within the heart, and only then more haltingly flows outward physically so that it affects actual vision) is also connected and attested to in the miraculous appearances of Christ's actual flesh and blood on the discos- often in answer to doubt as to what the Eucharist really is.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#11 Anna Stickles

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Posted 10 February 2012 - 05:38 PM

Fr Aidan, Thanks so much for the clarification, your post was very helpful.

Andreas, I think you are right and I am wrong. After reading through Fr Aidan's post a couple of times I realized what was bothering me about this, but I agree that my attempt to solve my difficulty went astray.

My problems basically revolved around the thought that if what I see is not what I am actually partaking of, then when we partake of the Eucharist we are participating in an illusion, and this I could not accept. This wasn't so much thought out, but rather a gut reaction that I was struggling with so I kept trying to come up with alternatives and making a mess of things.

"But if a change of substance has occurred, why is it that we only perceive bread and wine? It is here that Catholic theologians have invoked the distinction between substance and appearances (species): the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, yet they still appear to be bread and wine. All of the sensible qualities (accidents) of the bread and wine remain intact."


Under normal circumstances, the appearance of a dog is not an accident. A dog looks like a dog precisely because this is the physical expression of its essence. Of course there is a lot of variation in how this essence is expressed, but there are limits set by God beyond which it does not go. A dog's substance/essence? (not quite sure what the distinction is between these words) is never going to exist in something with the physical "accidents" of a cat. In other words physical appearance is not an accident, but a genuine manifestation of a particular substance as ordered by God.

And so for a dog to appear as something other then a dog, it has to take on different sensible qualities (ie a different physical appearance) which would mean it is no longer a dog, or something was interfering with the observer's ability to perceive the dog as it really was (ie the observer is participating in an illusion)

For me then caught up as I was in this mess, for Christ's body to appear as bread and wine, either it was no longer Christ's body, or I was participating in an illusion - neither of these was acceptable to me, so I was looking for some other explanation.

But in pondering on this, the Resurrected Body of He through whom all things were made, and in whom all things find there being... well I suppose Christ could physically manifest however He wanted without violating the essence of who He is. This also does not violate the humanness of this Body if we can accept that man is a microcosm of the creation,
Just two examples:

"Scripture informs us that the Deity proceeded by a sort of graduated and ordered advance to the creation of man. After the foundations of the universe were laid, as the history records, man did not appear on the earth at once; but the creation of the brutes preceded him, and the plants preceded them. Thereby Scripture shows that the vital forces blended with the world of matter according to a gradation; first it infused itself into insensate nature; and in continuation of this advanced into the sentient world; and then ascended to intelligible beings... The creation of man is related as coming last, as of one who took up into himself every single form of life, both that of plants and that which is seen in brutes." St Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection)

"he has made man a rational animal consisting of soul and body; and when man sins he does not let him go unpunished, nor does he abandon him without pity. He has given, to good men and bad alike, the existence they share with the stones; he has given man reproductive life which he shares with the plants, the life of the senses, which he shares with the animals, and the life of the intellect, shared only with the angels." Bl Augustine City of God, bk 5 ch 11

Anyway I apologize, Fr Aidan, for derailing your thread with my problems. No doubt I would be much better off just to accept simply what is said when we say that the bread and wine really do change into the real, not symbolic Body and Blood of Christ without further questions about the how or what. Blah to over intellectualism.

#12 Owen Jones

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 04:30 PM

Perhaps a discussion of the Orthodox understanding of Glorification would be helpful here. I don't know if this term has ever been used explicitly with reference to the Eucharist, but Glorification of Christ's body and of our bodies is certainly an essential aspect of Orthodox theology. It really lies at the core of everything else.

#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 04:50 PM

A couple of additional thoughts if ya'll will indulge me. From an Orthodox perspective, I don't think we want to "objectivize" the Eucharist, any more than we want to objectivize God, or any human being for that matter. And so the Eucharist in a sense has no "substance" purpose or meaning apart from human beings who partake of it in faith, and purity and understanding. The result of partaking is the deification of man. But the eucharist is the pinnacle of the Christian life, not something separate and distinct from it. It's uniqueness, we might say, is more one of degree than in kind. Because Christ's Real Presence is something that permeates all of reality, but especially the minds AND THE BODIES of the faithful.

There is also the question of seeing with transformed sense perception. If we have acquired a state of glorification, even in sporadic moments of our existence, everything would look different to us, and we would see the Light of Christ in things which are "normally" hidden to us. So when we sing, "we have seen the True Light," upon receiving the Eucharist, this is a true saying for those who have been deified, to the extent that is possible while still existing in a worldly body, and it is a promise to those of us who have not been.

So I think it is generally a bad thing, bordering on the catastrophic, that we seek some type of materialistic or functional explanation of the process of deification/glorification. This is quite obviously a sign of the falling away from the Holy Spirit in the lives of the faithful, and in our theological reasoning. The point is that theological concepts do not refer to objects. They refer to experiences. God is not an object of cognition by a knowing subject. So you cannot in principle refer to the Eucharist apart from what happens upon receiving the Eucharist, and you cannot in principle refer to communion apart from all of the other vital elements of the Christian life, of which communion is the consummation -- at least in this worldly existence.

#14 Anna Stickles

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Posted 11 February 2012 - 07:07 PM

And so the Eucharist in a sense has no "substance" purpose or meaning apart from human beings who partake of it in faith, and purity and understanding. The result of partaking is the deification of man. But the eucharist is the pinnacle of the Christian life, not something separate and distinct from it. It's uniqueness, we might say, is more one of degree than in kind. Because Christ's Real Presence is something that permeates all of reality, but especially the minds AND THE BODIES of the faithful. ...

The point is that theological concepts do not refer to objects. They refer to experiences. God is not an object of cognition by a knowing subject. So you cannot in principle refer to the Eucharist apart from what happens upon receiving the Eucharist


Owen,

While I can appreciate what you are trying to say about not "objectifying" the Eucharist I think that here you have gone in the wrong direction. The Body of Christ DOES exist apart from the human beings who partake of it in faith. It is a definite physical object that exists independently of our perception or experience of it, and when we partake of the Eucharist, we are not simply having an experience, but actually partaking of a real substance - the Body of Christ. God the Father is not an object of cognition, but the Body of Christ certainly is - this is the whole basis of iconography.

you cannot in principle refer to communion apart from all of the other vital elements of the Christian life, of which communion is the consummation


For this particular conversation I would stress that the Incarnation, Christ's Body - the one that was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was resurrected on the third day - is the source of all the elements of the Christian life. For us to experience communion with that Body in full, is indeed the consummation we are heading toward, but we can head toward it only because the Incarnation is an "objective" reality not dependent on us or our experience.

In other words, the Eucharist can deify man, precisely because Christ's physical, real body was in fact deified and by partaking of its substance we too are deified. And this has nothing whatsoever to do with either the objective or subjective which are terms referring to point of view, not actual reality.

#15 Owen Jones

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Posted 12 February 2012 - 04:47 PM

I hate to disappoint, Anna, but I'll stick to my guns on this one. Apart from faithful believers who are in communion with Him, the idea of a Christ is simply an interesting theory, not an objective fact. The Incarnation is not a fact of history, or a fact of physics, or a fact of theology or a fact metaphysics, it is a living reality that we can not speak of apart from our living it.

Nor is God in any sense an objective fact. None of us can step outside of reality and look at it/Him objectively.

I realize there is a real desire to prove Christianity true in light of modern subjectivism and relativism, but the solution is not to be found in some specious claim that Christ's Presence in the Eucharist is an objective fact. The only proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating of it.

#16 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 12 February 2012 - 06:20 PM

In the first place, having regard to the title of this forum, I would know better what to think of what Owen has posted if he supported his thinking with authority.

the idea of a Christ is simply an interesting theory, not an objective fact. The Incarnation is not a fact of history, or a fact of physics, or a fact of theology or a fact metaphysics


Christ was 'born of the Virgin in Bethlehem' (from Matins of the Nativity); 'the Word became flesh and dwelt among us' (John 1:14). Christ was incarnate in history and that is an objective fact. Taking on a real body and living among men, knowing hunger and tiredness is 'physical'. St John the Theologian tells us that Christ came to give light to everyone (1:9). Some would receive him (1:12) but His own and those of the world would not (1:11, 1:10). It must follow that Christ existed on earth and exists now and always whether some people accept Him and some do not. Christ was observable and touchable whilst on earth and actually exists now and always.

some specious claim that Christ's Presence in the Eucharist is an objective fact


'The Lord Jesus Christ is present not symbolically, not figuratively . . . but truly and actually' - Encyclical of the Eastern Patriarchs (my emphasis). The Eucharist is 'the actual true Body of the Lord, which was born in Bethlehem of the Ever-Virgin, was baptized in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, resurrected, ascended, sits at the right hand of God the Father' (ibid). Christ and the Eucharist exist wherever the liturgy is accomplished whether people believe in the actual reality of them or not.

#17 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 13 February 2012 - 04:03 AM

I realize there is a real desire to prove Christianity true in light of modern subjectivism and relativism


I am not a logician, but, with all due respect, I cannot see that this makes sense. To attempt to prove something is true is to attempt to demonstrate its objective reality by adducing evidence, isn't it?

#18 Owen Jones

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Posted 13 February 2012 - 01:49 PM

If it were an historical/material fact that Jesus is the Christ, then, of course, one would not need faith and belief, and everyone on the planet would recognize Him as such, just as we recognize that the earth is spherical and orbits the sun.

#19 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 13 February 2012 - 02:17 PM

Ah, well, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God is a matter of belief. That He was born etc is an historical/material fact, however.

#20 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 13 February 2012 - 03:00 PM

If it were an historical/material fact that Jesus is the Christ, then, of course, one would not need faith and belief, and everyone on the planet would recognize Him as such, just as we recognize that the earth is spherical and orbits the sun.


If by "fact" you mean something that can be verified by scientific or historical reason, then of course you are correct. This side of the Eschaton, reason cannot prove that the words God spoke to Moses are God's words, cannot prove that Jesus of Nazareth is the Word made flesh, cannot prove that the Holy Gifts are the Body and Blood of Christ, etc., etc. But that doesn't meant that they are not "objective." These realities may only be accessible to faith and personal transformation; but they are not myths. God really did speak to Moses. God truly did incarnate himself in the man Jesus. The consecrated bread and wine truly are the Body and Blood. These three statements are true regardless whether we believe them or not.

When the unbelieving Pontius Pilate crucified Jesus, did he crucify the eternal Son of God? Of course he did. That he was blind to Jesus' identity is irrelevant to Jesus' identity and the fact that he murdered the Creator of the universe. That is the historical fact, regardless of what the secular historians say.

I do not fear "objectification" when the ineffable, transcendent God is the one who objectifies himself. That he does so is our salvation.

The way you have formulated this matter threatens to push the gospel into mythology and gnosticism. You have accepted the divorce between fact and value that is characteristic of modernity.

In any case, given that all catholic Christians (Western and Eastern) agree that the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood can only be affirmed by faith and that communion in the Body and Blood requires faith, prayer, and repentance, I simply do not see the force of your comments. I suppose that your concern is to avoid a reification of the eucharistic elements, such that they become objects that we might put on display on a museum pedestal, available to all and sundry. "Come see the Body and Blood of Christ." I grant your concern, but this is a danger that applies also to icons and relics.

Returning to the Meyendorff article, I think that Fr John was also concerned about the reification of the Holy Gifts in such a way that they would be separated from their function as food and drink. I have a couple more thoughts on this, but I'll save them for another comment.

Edited by Aidan Kimel, 13 February 2012 - 03:25 PM.





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