Thursday, August 04, 2005

Thoughful questions

In the comments to my post about The Bread of Life, I got some interesting questions. I'll attempt an answer here. Claire wrote:
I am not of the Catholic faith so I may be misunderstanding this whole [transubstantiation] thing. I, too, came over from The Anchoress' site. From my understanding, the sacramental system of Roman Catholicism wasn't officially acknowledged until the Council of Florence in A.D. 1439. Is this correct? [see information on the Council's results; the short answer is no] If so, then were Roman Catholics missing out for over 1000 years on some of the critically important grace-infusing sacraments that would be important for salvation?
I have never heard of this theory and am curious as to where you heard it. Christians in Rome, before the conversion of the Empire, were persecuted, and often that persecution included the charge of cannibalism. That charge would have been much easier to avoid by denying the real presence but there is little indication that this was done. Constantine coverted the Roman Empire in the early 300s. This implies that the practice goes back well before that period because the persecutions went on for some time.
I've always thought Jesus intended for His words to be taken figuratively since He was with the disciples. But, regardless, how could the disciples go directly against the commandments of God where drinking blood is forbidden to anyone (Gen 9:4; Leviticus 3:17). To my thinking, Peter would never have been able to state that he had "never eaten anything unholy and unclean" (Acts 10:14). Also, my literal understanding of the word "remembrance" has been "bring to mind" not "ingest into the stomach."
I'm a lay person but I'm willing to venture an answer here. The Eucharist is spiritual food and as such cannot be compared to ordinary foodstuffs and the dietary laws of the Old Testament. The Gift - as the bread is called after consecration - is not literally flesh and blood, but Grace. It is Christ's spiritual body and not his literal human flesh. The resurrected body has ascended to Heaven. The words 'flesh and blood' call to mind the sacrifice of Calvary and also the shocking intimacy of the relation that God intends for us. There are very good, but somewhat longish, explanations of the doctrine here and here. The second is the more detailed of the two. To address the last comment, the words in question are: "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, this is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'" (Luke 22:19). There is an action which is to be done in honour of. The action is the primary clause, the remembrance secondary, just like an adjective sheds light on a verb or a noun but does not fundamentally change it. As I pointed out in my other post, "do this" is vague, but taken in context it points to the ceremonial breaking of bread, the new Passover meal.
And, finally, I don't understand (maybe I'm misinformed?). If Mass is being performed on a regular basis, all over the world, wouldn't that require Christ's human body to be omnipresent (everywhere-present)? In order for Him to be present at all these alters, the body of Christ must possess one of the attributes of the majesty of God, that being omnipresence. Jesus being at two places at once would be something of a denial of the incarnation, wouldn't it, since Scriptures clearly indicate that Christ's human body is localized in heaven (Rev 1:13-16)? Only Christ's divine nature is omnipresent (Matt 18:20; 28:20; John 1:47-49).
You've outlined an incomplete syllogism here. I think what you're arguing looks like this:
Premise A) since Scriptures clearly indicate that Christ's human body is localized in heaven Premise B) [unspoken but implied] God the Father is somehow bound outside of creation Therefore, C) Only Christ's divine nature is omnipresent.
I would suggest that some of the problems with this line of reasoning are that 1), B) is unproven and even unlikely, and 2) there is no reason to emphasize the division of the Trinity instead of the unity. I would argue that the greatest thing about the incarnation is that it was a case of God - all three parts, including God the Father - entering into creation. Christ was not just the Son of God, but also fully divine.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Luke 10:22. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. John 14:10
These quotes suggest to me that the triune God is not limited by time and space as we are, and can indeed be in two places at the same time. C.S. Lewis, as another example, likened the incarnation to the D-Day landings, in which God "landed" on our shores and earnestly began the work of our liberation (Lewis, btw, was not Catholic, but Anglican).

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