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Fr John Meyendorff and the Orthodox critique of transubstantiation


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#21 Owen Jones

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Posted 13 February 2012 - 03:17 PM

Yes, and that's the distinction that we all should make. We have the Biblical witness that there was a man Jesus, and it seems implausible in the extreme that someone could have made all that stuff up, although all of the historical details are mixed in with the spiritual allegorical stuff about his life, and Orthodox believers do not try to critically disengage the two and rightly so. But the only evidence and proof that he is the Christ is the fact of faith in Him (Heb 11:1) and the changes that occur in those who have faith in Him, and follow His precepts. The same is true regarding the Eucharist. Unfortunately we live in an intellectual environment polluted by the affects of a thousand years of really bad European philosophy and theology which attempted to objectify all knowledge of things spiritual. Since intelligent, rational beings know that you can't do that, it has led to the ridicule of Christianity in general, and a feeling of defensiveness, unease, and insecurity on the part of believers who are trying to function intellectually according to the canons of this bad philosophy and theology. So if one iota of Biblical information is proven to be mythic or allegorical in nature, these unfortunate Christians believe that their whole faith (which is nothing but a house of cards to begin with) collapses. But Orthodoxy has no problem whatsoever with myth and allegory precisely because we recognize that existence of things human and divine is not based on just historical/factual arguments. It is not a negation of historical reality to say that our faith is not based on historical facts. Historical facts are like the sub-basement of a house -- the concrete footers that it rests on. But it's not the edifice. You can build the footers, but you can't just walk away from it and say, OK, my house is built now!

#22 Anna Stickles

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Posted 13 February 2012 - 06:53 PM

Owen,

While I don't think that ultimately there is a substantial difference in belief here, the original concern was that the way you have been wording things does indeed lead us to be building a house without footers. But I think that maybe part of the problem is how we are using the words.

I have had enough misunderstandings with my husband to realize that we do not all use words the same way, and what one person understands is not always what the first person is actually trying to say.

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

Amen.

This is how I was using the word objectify also, but maybe it would help the conversation to distinguish between "objectification" as a philosophical term meaning mentally separating ourselves from our perception/experience in such as way as to try and remove all distortion in order to find undistorted truth (which of course is useless and exactly the cultural tendency Owen is speaking against)

and "objectification" as the making visible/material of the second person of the Godhead in the Incarnation. Here the move is not a mental separation from the material, but rather as we all realize - the call to union through faith, the call to enter experientially into this Reality.

But one person's or even a whole culture's move toward separation from and reification of the Incarnation does not make it powerless nor void, for its power is based on God, not on men. Andreas and Fr Aidan and I are concerned that the way this has been worded is tending to make the reality and power of the Incarnation, thus the Eucharist, dependent on the individual experience of it - but as I said, I think this has to do with how we are using the words.

Hopefully we can all agree that since the power in the Eucharist is first dependent on the Incarnation and secondly the Theotokos and the saints. Our personal individual spiritual state cannot make it something less then it is, otherwise we would have the problem that if a given priest and congregation were all in a spiritually bad state, the prayers at the epiclesis would be empty and void. But since the congregation aren't the only ones present at the Liturgy this is not so.

#23 Owen Jones

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 12:30 AM

But the subject matter of the thread is along the lines of -- what is it, objectively, that happens in the eucharist? Oh, it's...transubstantiation! But that is a dead end for Christians, because we cannot, in principle, treat the Eucharist as an object of intellectual analysis or objective definitions. That's something that skeptics can debate.

#24 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 12:46 AM

But the subject matter of the thread is along the lines of -- what is it, objectively, that happens in the eucharist? Oh, it's...transubstantiation! But that is a dead end for Christians, because we cannot, in principle, treat the Eucharist as an object of intellectual analysis or objective definitions. That's something that skeptics can debate.


And I suppose we cannot, in principle, speak of God as three hypostases in one ousia ... or distinguish between the divine essence and the divine energies ... or claim that Jesus Christ is one person in two natures ...

#25 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 12:55 AM

If the eucharist is the Body and Blood of our Lord only because we Orthodox believe it is, we are in deep trouble! No - it is real, and that is not changed because many people do not believe it.

#26 Owen Jones

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 02:51 AM

Of course. God does not "exist" because we believe He does. That would obviously be absurd. At the same time, God and divine things are not objects. They are not objective things. And to attempt to explain the how and why God can infuse His presence in things represents a weakening of faith and belief, not a strengthening of it.

#27 Father David Moser

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 02:57 AM

But the subject matter of the thread is along the lines of -- what is it, objectively, that happens in the eucharist? Oh, it's...transubstantiation! But that is a dead end for Christians, because we cannot, in principle, treat the Eucharist as an object of intellectual analysis or objective definitions. That's something that skeptics can debate.


A perceptive statement - however, I would point out that the theory of "transubstantiation" is itself not really within Orthodox teaching. We do not seek to explain "how" the bread and wine become the Body and Blood - we just say that they do in a manner beyond our understanding. Transubstantiation is an attempt to explain HOW the change occurs. Orthodoxy has never really entered that arena.

Fr David Moser

#28 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 03:04 AM

At the same time, God and divine things are not objects. They are not objective things.


I don't follow; God and divine things exist actually, ie objectively - in other words, independently of human belief, do they not?

And to attempt to explain the how and why God can infuse His presence in things represents a weakening of faith and belief, not a strengthening of it.


Indeed, but I don't see the connection between this and the first point.

#29 Owen Jones

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 03:15 AM

I feel like I'm on solid firm ground in saying that Orthodox theology does not view God as an existing thing, certainly not an objective thing. God is Beyond all things, and does not have existence as such. Created things have existence. God does not. I know this is hard to grasp because we live in a scientistic age based on Cartesian and Newtonian categories of science, not to mention a number of Latin theological fallacies. Under these categories, it is important that for something to be true, it must be objectively proven. Otherwise, it is just a matter of subjective opinion. These are false philosophical categories that are foreign to Orthodoxy.

#30 Owen Jones

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 03:22 AM

I'll shock you a little more, Andreas. In a sense, God is not God without having created intelligent beings. Because without intelligent beings to acknowledge Him as their God, or even to resist Him, then he is not really a God is He? So He is never really God in a purely objective, factual sense, but only insofar as there are creatures who can talk about Him as God at the very least.

#31 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 03:32 AM

God is Beyond all things, and does not have existence as such.


I think I see what you mean - that God is not 'a thing' in the sense that He is not within anything, but I find your way of putting things clouds what you mean.

In a sense, God is not God without having created intelligent beings. Because without intelligent beings to acknowledge Him as their God, or even to resist Him, then he is not really a God is He?


I don't know why you put the indefinite artilce before 'God' here, but I would have though that God was very much God before He created us.

#32 Owen Jones

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 03:42 AM

Yes and no. He is not His own God, is He? Who is he God in to before He creates? BTW, I don't I'm using Beyond and existence in any way that is not consistent with St. Maximos.

#33 Owen Jones

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 03:52 AM

(with typo corrections)

Yes and no. He is not His own God, is He? Who is He God to before He creates? So we can talk about God having an objective existence apart from humans, but it is really nonsensical, because you have to have humans to talk about God, to belief in God, to worship God, in effect, for there to be God. BTW, I don't believe I'm using Beyond and existence in any way that is not consistent with St. Maximos.

#34 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 10:44 AM

If I understand correctly, these assertions are contrary to what the Holy Fathers and commentators say. God is pre-eternal: He is outside concepts of past present and future. God is un-originate: He is un-begotten and self-existent. God is sufficient unto Himself: He has no need of anything but is entire in Himself. God is unchanging: He is the same before and after all that He created; His essence and attributes cannot be affected by what He created.

#35 Owen Jones

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 03:58 PM

Of course, Andreas. Absolutely. I am not referring to God so much as I am to people. What are we to think and do? How are we to understand God? That's my point. And God cannot be understood apart from people to understand Him, to try to seek Him, to participate in His reality, His life. So to attempt to arrive at some "objective" definition of the Eucharist would require an objective vantage point, as a knowing subject examining an object from an Archemidean point extrinsic to it, which is impossible. We are part of the reality which we are attempting to understand, and our participation in that reality -- in this case the Eucharistic reality -- is necessarily a part of the reality. It doesn't mean that God is contingent on man. Heaven forbid. It simply means that we cannot treat God as an object, from some kind of objective vantage point. The alternative is only subjectivism if you live in a Cartesian/Newtonian and modernist set of intellectual assumptions.

#36 Anna Stickles

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 06:22 PM

But the subject matter of the thread is along the lines of -- what is it, objectively, that happens in the eucharist? Oh, it's...transubstantiation! But that is a dead end for Christians, because we cannot, in principle, treat the Eucharist as an object of intellectual analysis or objective definitions. That's something that skeptics can debate.


So to attempt to arrive at some "objective" definition of the Eucharist would require an objective vantage point, as a knowing subject examining an object from an Archemidean point extrinsic to it, which is impossible. We are part of the reality which we are attempting to understand, and our participation in that reality -- in this case the Eucharistic reality -- is necessarily a part of the reality. It doesn't mean that God is contingent on man. Heaven forbid. It simply means that we cannot treat God as an object, from some kind of objective vantage point. The alternative is only subjectivism if you live in a Cartesian/Newtonian and modernist set of intellectual assumptions.


Owen,

I don't think that anyone is really denying that we are part of the reality which we are trying to understand, nor is anyone on this thread, as far as I can tell, after some kind of objective vantage point, or pursuing some kind of rational understanding for it's own sake. But as Fr Aidan mentioned when bringing up the Trinity (Post #24) the Church teaches us that our rational understanding is indeed part of our own personal subjective reality.

Not only the state of our heart but also the state of our rational mind is something relevant to either hindering or helping our movement toward fuller participation in this reality. Thus some articulations of the Church's Reality are accepted and some are rejected, and this is not for the sake of objective truth, but precisely to preserve a right experience.

And to attempt to explain the how and why God can infuse His presence in things represents a weakening of faith and belief, not a strengthening of it.

Well if Fr Michael Pomzansky is right in the quote Fr Aidan posted in #8,

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).

then seeing what happens at the epiclesis as an infusion of God's presence into the bread and wine will bring a weakening of faith not a strengethening of it. This view has been specifically rejected in favor of a view that understands an actual change into the Body and Blood taking place.

Which is precisely the point. While we cannot fully understand the Mystery, nevertheless, the Church does speak up in guiding us into what is harmful and what is helpful when using our mind to approach these things. We already think of these things a certain way. We cannot just shut off our mind. If we do not examine how we think of them, and seek to conform ourselves to how the Church teaches us to think of them, then our unexamined assumptions will hinder our closer approach to the Mystery.

I think you were quite right in post #12 in bringing up the glorification of the body as a path here. St Ireneaus of Lyons when speaking of the glorificaiton of the body says:

The flesh, therefore, when destitute of the Spirit of God, is dead, not having life, and cannot possess the kingdom of God: [it is as] irrational blood, like water poured out upon the ground. And therefore he says, "As is the earthy, such are they that are earthy." 1 Corinthians 15:48 But where the Spirit of the Father is, there is a living man; [there is] the rational blood preserved by God for the avenging [of those that shed it]; [there is] the flesh possessed by the Spirit, forgetful indeed of what belongs to it, and adopting the quality of the Spirit, being made conformable to the Word of God. And on this account he (the apostle) declares, "As we have borne the image of him who is of the earth, we shall also bear the image of Him who is from heaven."
... If, however, we must speak strictly, [we would say that] the flesh does not inherit, but is inherited;...as if in the [future] kingdom, the earth, from whence exists the substance of our flesh, is to be possessed by inheritance. ...so also the flesh cannot by itself possess the kingdom of God by inheritance; but it can be taken for an inheritance into the kingdom of God. For a living person inherits the goods of the deceased; and it is one thing to inherit, another to be inherited. The former rules, and exercises power over, and orders the things inherited at his will; but the latter things are in a state of subjection, are under order, and are ruled over by him who has obtained the inheritance. What, therefore, is it that lives? The Spirit of God, doubtless. What, again, are the possessions of the deceased? The various parts of the man, surely, which rot in the earth. But these are inherited by the Spirit when they are translated into the kingdom of heaven.


I think this speaks to what we believe happens to the elements and provides a grounding for why the view of Zwingli, Luthern and Calvin are rejected. The picture they draw presents things in a distorted relationship. Their view does not draw things in a way that accurately represents the relationship of God with the material creation. Either the material is primary and the spiritual absent (symbolic view), or Christ is not truly joined with the material, nor is it transformed, but rather God's power exists in the elements without effecting them -they remain as they are. (It is interesting to note how the view of what happens to the elements is paralleled in the view of salvation each of these teaches)

So just as God is unattainable by the mind, but nevertheless the Fathers have felt it necessary to give us limits and directions in how to think of the Trinity, so too the Eucharist ultimately is a Mystery to be lived, but part of that living is to bring our mind into subjection such that it learns to see things in their proper relationship with each other.

Edited by Anna Stickles, 14 February 2012 - 06:40 PM.


#37 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 14 February 2012 - 06:38 PM

In such matters, I find it easier and safer to rely upon some authority. We cannot understand or comprehend God because that would be to peer, as it were, into His essence which is impossible. We have such knowledge of God as He has chosen to reveal to us, and this is often expressed in apophatic terms though we do know that God is love and, according to the longer catechism of St Philaret, we know that God is Spirit, eternal, all-good, omniscient, righteous, almighty, omnipresent, unchangeable, all-sufficing and all-blessed. I find the first chapter of Pomazansky very instructive since the sources and authorities are given.

#38 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 12:36 AM

So, what DID Meyendorff say?

#39 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 02:58 AM

So, what DID Meyendorff say?


Click on the hyperlink to Meyendorff's book in my original post and take a look.

#40 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 02:14 PM

While one might quibble with some of Fr. John's notions (I can see Fr. John Romanides rolling over in his grave for the repeated use of the term "Byzantines") I think the summation in common sense language is that, for Orthodox, there is no one dispositive Orthodox definition of the Eucharist, whereas in the Latin Church there not only is one, but there HAS to be. To be sure, there are numerous Conciliar, dispositive statements on Christology, but this is in response to heretical movements, not because people sat around and said, hey, we need to have a definition of what the Eucharist is. And so we have the wide range of perspectives, a number of which are cited by Fr. John in the text, that are all incorporated into the faith. BTW, regarding Syriac theology, I think every Greek Orthodox Christian should read some of the Syriac fathers as a kind of palliative against the intellectualizing tendency of the Greeks, a problem that Fr. Meyendorff himself was criticized for by some. But that is a bit different than saying that the Orthodox ought to familiarize themselves with post-schism Latin theology. There are all kinds of historical/political reasons for why the Orthodox Church adopted certain post-schism ideas and practices, particularly in Russia, but I fail to see a compelling theological reason in this case. BTW, For the Orthodox perspective on the hesychast controversy, I have found Romanides to be an excellent source there as well.

Also, there are other key ingredients to the faith in which the Church has not seen the need to issue definitive statements, such as the Atonement, or the Transfiguration. So I guess what I am arguing is that Orthodoxy doesn't need your stinkin' transubstantiation.




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