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Fr John Meyendorff and the Orthodox critique of transubstantiation


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#41 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 03:02 PM

The Eucharistic presence is a mystery, but so is the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation, both of which have generated profound and extensive theological and philosophical reflection in the life of the Church. If the Church may reflect on what it means for God to be Holy Trinity or what it means for Jesus of Nazareth to be the Incarnation of the eternal Word or what it means for God to be the one God in both his imparticipable divine essence and his participable divine energies and how this distinction relates to our divinization in Christ, then she may certainly reflect (and in response to false teaching, must reflect) on what it means to declare that the Holy Gifts *are* the glorified Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We do not suddenly stop thinking when we are confronted with questions about the Mystical Supper. This is not to "explain" or define the mystery; it is to state the mystery and to articulate the boundaries of the mystery.

Does transubstantiation explain the eucharistic transformation? At first glance it may certainly seem to, and no doubt many Latin theologians in the past have thought that it does. Certainly the many Eastern theologians in the past (and we are talking some 500 years here) who have explicitly employed the term "transubstantiation" and the notion of substantial change did not understood it as an explanation or definition of the real presence. They employed it because they found it a useful way of speaking, especially as a way to distinguish Orthodox understanding of the Eucharist from various heterodox teachings.

Is transubstantiation alien to Orthodoxy? Yes, if it is understood as a philosophical explanation of the eucharistic change; but once that qualification is made, it clearly is not alien. Orthodox bishops, priests, theologians employed the notion of substantial change for centuries. They unabashedly used the term "transubstantiation." I have already mentioned the 1672 Synod of Jerusalem, which until fairly recently was highly regarded throughout the Orthodox world. The 1727 Council of Constantinople went so far as to declare: "As an explanatory and most accurately significant declaration of this change of the bread and the wine into the body of the Lord itself and His blood the faithful ought to acknowledge and receive the word transubstantiation, which the Catholic Church as a whole has used and receives as the most fitting statement of this mystery." In 1838 the decrees of the Council of Jerusalem were received by the Holy Synod of the Russian Church, with some minor modifications: specifically, the statement "the substance of the bread and wine no longer remain" was altered to "the very bread and wine no longer remain" and the phrase "under the accidents of the bread" was omitted. And as already mentioned in this thread, the term transubstantiation was incorporated into the catechetical teaching of the Russian Church in St Philaret's Longer Catechism, which eventually received the approval of all the Eastern patriarchs. In 1725 those elected to the office of bishop were required to affirm:

I do believe and understand that the Transubstantiation of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper is made, as the Eastern and ancient Russian doctors teach, by the influence and operation of the Holy Ghost at the invocation, when the bishop or priest prays to God the Father in these words, "Make therefore this bread the most honorable body of Thy Christ."


Whether this declaration is still a part of the ordination office I do not know, but it apparently was still a part of the office at the turn of the 20th century. (For a survey of Eastern reflection and teaching on the Eucharist from the 6th through the 19th century, see Darwell Stone, A History of the Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, chap. 4.)

Even as late as 1961 Panagiotes Trembelas could write in his Dogmatics of the Eastern Church: "We are in accord in this with the Roman Catholics in believing that in this marvelous transformation, although the exterior phenomena and the accidents of bread and wine remain, all their substance however is changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord." Eleven years later Archbishop Methodios Fouyas, in his book Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism, confirmed this judgment: "Roman and Orthodox teach that by the words spoken in the Holy Eucharist the species of bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ, so that although these species have the outward qualities of bread and wine, essentially they are the Body and Blood of Christ."

Contemporary Orthodox theologians apparently now believe that substantial change is not the best way to speak of the eucharistic transformation (though given that my acquaintance with Orthodox theology is restricted to works written or translated into English, I do not know that this is in fact the case). I happen to agree but not for the reasons offered by Owen. I hope to elaborate on my present opinions in a future posting, but let me say this at the moment: transubstantiation, especially when packaged with the liturgical practices of unleavened bread and infrequent communion (the latter no longer obtaining today), makes it more difficult to speak of the Divine Liturgy as eschatological banquet. I think this is the heart of Meyendorff's concern. Or to put it somewhat differently, the Incarnation is the descent of God to the world; the Eucharist is the ascent of the world into heaven. Because transubstantiation is so easily misunderstood as signifying the material change of the bread and wine, it becomes more difficult to speak of the eschatological nature both of the Divine Liturgy as a whole and specifically of the eucharistic change. But more on this later.

#42 Anna Stickles

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 05:44 PM

transubstantiation, especially when packaged with the liturgical practices of unleavened bread and infrequent communion (the latter no longer obtaining today), makes it more difficult to speak of the Divine Liturgy as eschatological banquet. I think this is the heart of Meyendorff's concern. Or to put it somewhat differently, the Incarnation is the descent of God to the world; the Eucharist is the ascent of the world into heaven. Because transubstantiation is so easily misunderstood as signifying the material change of the bread and wine, it becomes more difficult to speak of the eschatological nature both of the Divine Liturgy as a whole and specifically of the eucharistic change. But more on this later.

Thanks. :-) It helps when one has an idea of why the questions are being asked, and where the writer is hoping to go. This brings the needed context for the discussion to stay focused.

I would have to wonder though, is the problem with the idea of transubstantiation, or substantial change as you have dubbed it, or is the problem the context within which this doctrine is taught and understood?

In other words is the problem with the concept of this kind of change, or is it the underlying phronema which causes believers to start to imagine a material change rather then staying grounded in the whole eschatalogical movement? Just from my own personal experience, I would hazard the latter. There are numerous unconscious assumptions about the relationship between God and the material creation that lead us toward a materialistic rather then a truly Orthodox and eschatalogical view.

But I would definately agree with you on the need for discussion if Orthodoxy wants to remain relevant and have a witness in the current religious intellectual climate. The debate back in the early centuries was on the nature of Christ's descent, but certainly the area of most confusion in today's theological climate is on the nature of our ascent. The vast majority of those who call themselves Christian accept the Orthodox understanding of the Trinity, even if only in simple form. The vast majority of those who call themselves Christians have a very skewed understanding of the Divine economy of salvation.

#43 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 09:01 PM

Without understanding the context of that time I don't think it possible to really understand what these modern Orthodox thinkers were really trying to say. For if anything one thing they certainly were doing (often quite openly and consciously) was to reflect their 'current religious climate'. Here classical Roman Catholicism was commonly depicted more in tones than in an analytical way- it was something ornate, Baroque, subject to emotional introspection ('mysticism'), marked by flights of masochistic asceticism, opaque & characterized by dry rationalism.

But this in itself was a foil against which all that we present about integral Orthodoxy was made. Transubstantian then in that context implied that the Eucharist was seen in too rational a manner. Its understanding arose from and contributed to preventing the people from participating in the Eucharist in an active way, that sums up the characteristics of the Church.

If this is more a caricature of Roman Catholicism than something which reflects reality, it also is not at all representative of what older thinkers in Russia were trying to say. Here is where I think that Fr Georges Florovsky for all of the great insight of his writings on the history of the Church in Russia, goes off the mark somewhat. For to use 'scholastic language' does not mean the same in 19thc Russia, as it meant in the west for Thomas Aquinas. How much influence would this have had on someone like Fr Michael Pomazansky for example? In that context even scholastic phrases get transformed and begin to assume an Orthodox meaning, which simply put means that the bread & wine are now the Body & Blood of Christ.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#44 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 09:30 PM

I am really puzzled about why we need to talk of the Eucharist in terms of Transubstantiation, when Orthodoxy has survived quite well for so long without it. And the fact that the term has become more commonplace in Orthodox churches in the last 500 years hardly sounds to me like an argument in favor of it. I even see the term mass used for the liturgy in some Orthodox churches. So, instead of arguing what's wrong with it, I would like to know the necessity for it. Where is the crying need for this conceptualization? What was lacking prior to it? I think these are more relevant questions.

#45 Anna Stickles

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Posted 15 February 2012 - 11:49 PM

Owen,

I thought this has already been addressed. Where was the crying need for the type of conceptualization that gave birth to the term Homoousios? What was lacking prior to it? After all the Church existed for several hundred years without it.

At that time you had all those different Greek philosophies vying for ascendency much like the various opinions that go around today, and the Church did not get involved in this kind of search for truth. Neither should we as Orthodox today start setting up our doctrine in comparison to others in the intellectual cultural boxing arena in order to see if our ideas can beat down their ideas.

But... the Church has throughout her history, out of pastoral necessity for the good of the faithful, striven for a clear articulation of the Truth that already existed within her, in answer to various philosophical baggage that the people were bringing in, and this I think is also a necessity today - for all those converting into the Church. Certainly we see a great deal of activity of this sort in the early centuries when a lot of Greek intellectuals were becoming Christians. But our day is not so different.

So is it that you do not see this type of necessity existing today? If not why not?

Edited by Anna Stickles, 16 February 2012 - 12:19 AM.


#46 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 01:11 PM

If it was all "cut-and-dried", we wouldn't have much to talk about in these forums!

#47 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 02:16 PM

The nature of the Eucharist came to my mind when I was told the story of a toddler in Russia taking holy communion and saying as he toddled away, 'очень вкусно' - 'very tasty'!

#48 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 02:18 PM

The term transubstantiation is rarely heard today in Orthodoxy except in terms of criticism. I suspect it's use in the 19thc was due to the influence of the educational systems of the time which tended to structure things. Here an attempt at wider catechesis, religious training may have been what was going on.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#49 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 02:19 PM

The nature of the Eucharist came to my mind when I was told the story of a toddler in Russia taking holy communion and saying as he toddled away, 'очень вкусно' - 'very tasty'!


As the psalmist sings, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!"

#50 Owen Jones

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 02:38 PM

I think the burden, Anna, is on those who say that Orthodoxy needs to incorporate transubstantiation into its doctrine. What was lacking before that? It's not my duty to prove that we don't need it, although I have attempted to do so utilizing classical philosophical arguments. As far as homousios is concerned, it's a very different situation with early Church Christology, in which there were numerous factions claiming that Christ was this or Christ was that, that he was not the eternal Logos, for example, and this necessitated theological language to clarify. But the last significant Christological controversy was over monothelitism in the 7th century. The last significant theological controversy was over hesychasm in the 13th century. Most of the Church's problems today have to do with the secular intellectual environment, and not heresies within the Church, and I would argue that transubstantiation is problematic because it is part of a trend in the Latin Church post-Schism to objectify the sacraments and to treat Christian truths as intellectual problem solving exercises -- and these, frankly, are evidence of secularizing tendencies. In other words, the trend in the West has been to treat Truth in terms of provable propositions, rather than in terms of a living faith. The only proof of what the Eucharist is can be discerned in the hearts of believers and in how they live their lives.

#51 Mary Lanser

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 07:25 PM

But the last significant Christological controversy was over monothelitism in the 7th century. The last significant theological controversy was over hesychasm in the 13th century. Most of the Church's problems today have to do with the secular intellectual environment, and not heresies within the Church,...


http://onefold.wordp...-real-presence/

#52 Anna Stickles

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 10:15 PM

Owen, Thanks for your post. I guess it clears things up a little for me.

I am not really wedded to the word transubstantiation, although looking back over my posts, maybe it has come across that way. Maybe the word has too much baggage for too many people because of the way it has been used, and I am just out of the loop since having no previous serious exposure to the word I have simply adopted what I am learning within Orthodoxy into it.

What I think would be useful though, is some kind of definite linguistic signifier that would be able to embody the Orthodox understanding of the Mysteries in the way that "Trinity" and "three persons in one essence" embody the Orthodox understanding of God. They are simple words, they do not attempt to define or objectify God, but rather become a physical embodiment of and point of contact with what they speak of. Within them the much of the Church's theological reflection and struggle to know God has come to rest.

What in the past has been used? I mean we don't really talk about, or at least I have never heard anyone talk about, the "deification" of the elements. Or is it more that the experience itself of partaking is considered sufficient since they themselves are the ultimate point of contact?

Fr Raphael, you have studied quite a bit of history too. What has the Church's approach been to this?

#53 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 16 February 2012 - 10:55 PM

I still think that the Patristic phrase 'the bread & wine are the Body & Blood of Christ' is extremely good. It conveys the crucial understanding of a real sacramental change in the bread & wine. But yet it also allows for the reality of the bread & wine after the consecration, that they are not just illusion.


In Christ
-Fr Raphael

#54 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 12:46 AM

I think the burden, Anna, is on those who say that Orthodoxy needs to incorporate transubstantiation into its doctrine. What was lacking before that? It's not my duty to prove that we don't need it, although I have attempted to do so utilizing classical philosophical arguments. As far as homousios is concerned, it's a very different situation with early Church Christology, in which there were numerous factions claiming that Christ was this or Christ was that, that he was not the eternal Logos, for example, and this necessitated theological language to clarify. But the last significant Christological controversy was over monothelitism in the 7th century. The last significant theological controversy was over hesychasm in the 13th century. Most of the Church's problems today have to do with the secular intellectual environment, and not heresies within the Church, and I would argue that transubstantiation is problematic because it is part of a trend in the Latin Church post-Schism to objectify the sacraments and to treat Christian truths as intellectual problem solving exercises -- and these, frankly, are evidence of secularizing tendencies. In other words, the trend in the West has been to treat Truth in terms of provable propositions, rather than in terms of a living faith. The only proof of what the Eucharist is can be discerned in the hearts of believers and in how they live their lives.


If we were having this conversation 150 years ago, 200 years ago, 400 years ago, we wouldn't be having it. The notion of substantial change, signified by the term metousiosis (transubstantiation) has been faithfully and uncontroversially used by Orthodox bishops, priests, and theologians to speak of the eucharistic change for centuries. Those who still wish to employ this language do not need to justify themselves to Owen. It is up to those who reject it to demonstrate its inadequacies. Sweeping generalizations about Western theology, Western philosophy, and Western culture, generalizations that are easy to assert but far more difficult to demonstrate, will not suffice. That's ideology, not theology. What needs to be done is to engage the teaching, demonstrate its inadequacies, and offer a superior, more Orthodox way of talking about the eucharistic change and presence. The irony here is that the Orthodox theologians who most vigorously argued against transubstantiation in the 20th century are theologians that are now considered "progressives" by traditional Orthodox--namely, Bulgakov, Schmemann, Meyendorff, Evdokimov. It's easy to forget our location in history.

Perhaps, as Fr Raphael suggests, the best thing to do is to simply assert the sacramental identity and leave it at that. Yet questions still persist: Is the consecrated bread still bread? Many Orthodox, including some on this forum, believe that it is not, and they are firmly convinced that they are being faithful to Holy Tradition. When the bread is broken, is Christ broken? When we crush the holy bread with our teeth (there was once a time when Christians did so), do we crush Christ? Has Christ taken on the properties of bread? Is the sacramental body the same body that was crucified under Pontius Pilate and raised to glorified existence, or is it a different body? How are we to understand the relationship between the sacramental body and the glorified body of Christ? These are all questions that may be legitimately asked and have been asked and will continue to be asked. It's not like these questions were never asked until St Thomas Aquinas.

Anna asks if there is a word that might signify the Orthodox understanding of the eucharistic change. What about "transelementation"? That term certainly enjoys a long history in Orthodoxy, going back to St Gregory of Nyssa. But what does it mean? I would welcome an exegesis of the relevant passages in Gregory's writings. How is transelementation different from transubstantiation?

#55 Mary Lanser

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 12:54 AM

What I think would be useful though, is some kind of definite linguistic signifier that would be able to embody the Orthodox understanding of the Mysteries in the way that "Trinity" and "three persons in one essence" embody the Orthodox understanding of God.


Try this: the ineffable mode of the divine presence in the visible sacrament...

#56 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 01:38 AM

Since what happens in the eucharist is beyond understanding, I wonder why we should seek a word that signifies understanding. The words 'make' and 'change' take us as far as we can go. We need faith rather than understanding: 'blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed', not 'yet have understood'.

#57 Owen Jones

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 02:33 PM

Of course problems in Western philosophy and theology are difficult to demonstrate! So what! These are very complicated problems. Why complicate it more by asking a bunch of Jesuitical type questions about what happens in the Eucharist? BTW, I find it puzzling that a ROCOR priest is even bothering himself, and us, with these non-problems.

#58 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 02:40 PM

Owen, given that my postings are so troubling for you, I suggest that you ignore them completely and not contribute to the threads that I start. Focus your energies on your prayers, repentance, and theosis. Your life will be much happier once you abandon your self-appointed role as Pope of the Orthodox Church.

#59 Rick H.

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 03:57 PM

Of course problems in Western philosophy and theology are difficult to demonstrate! So what! These are very complicated problems. Why complicate it more by asking a bunch of Jesuitical type questions about what happens in the Eucharist?



I think this is a valid question.

#60 Owen Jones

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Posted 17 February 2012 - 04:01 PM

Dear Father,

I apologize for having offended.




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