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More on the Eucharist, Churches and Priests

The discussion continues with Fr. Greg.  I’ll put his comments on my last post in with my reply.

First, I’m confused, how is my account of the Eucharist as sacrifice any different from what you seem to approve of in this post, or, for that matter, different from the standard RC (and yes, Orthodox:  see K. Ware) account of the Eucharist as sacrifice?  The Christ-event, including His death, is once for all;  however, the Eucharist is the way in which the offering of ourselves and our world becomes acceptable in, with, and through the offering of Christ.  Each celebration of the Eucharist is thus a manifestation, a making present, of the Christ-event, at a specific time and in a specific space, “until He comes” so that we can participate in it with our whole being, including those aspects of us which are physical and which are social, not simply those which are psychological, mental, and/or emotional.

Re:  Christian priesthood:  analogical or real?  Christ is THE priest.  His priesthood is primordial, archetypal, eternal, and precedes both creation and the incarnation.  The priesthood of the Church IS the priesthood of Christ.  The priesthood of Aaron foreshadows the priesthood of Christ but does not participate in it as does the Christian priesthood.  Therefore, which priesthood is real and which is “analogical”?  The answer is obvious:  the Christian priesthood is real and true priesthood and, precisely because it is the priesthood Christ, not only replaces, but supersedes the now-obsolete priesthood of Aaron for Christ and the Church, the “whole Christ”, is the “True Israel”.

The one thing we agree on is that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is a fait accompli as a complete offering for sin.  But therein lies the problem re the priesthood.

If we consider the Jewish priesthood, the priests offered sacrifices.  These sacrifices were efficacious (if not particularly comprehensive or permament) as propitiations for sin.  The Jewish priests were performing real sacrifices and achieving present forgiveness of sins.

Christian priests, however, are not doing this.  The sacrifice they celebrate is done.  There’s no doubt that the atonement Christians have–and celebrate in the Eucharist–is superior to that in Judaism.  That not only relieves real priests of their duties; it also relieves them of their raison d’être as well, which is why I don’t think that there can be a formal priesthood in Christianity.

This, I admit is a subtle distinction, but I make it because, as I explained earlier, Roman Catholicism’s way of presenting the Mass as a sacrifice doesn’t always make the eternal nature of Jesus’ work obvious to the faithful.  One is left with the idea that the priest is actually performing a sacrifice on the altar, and that in turn leads to the misconception that the sacrifice is present the same way it was in Judaism.  I laid this out in the original post on the sacrifice of the Mass.

Re:  Mediation:  Speaking of analogies:  I find your use of I Timothy 2: 5 (“…there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”) analogous with the way in which Jehovah’s Witnesses use John 17: 3 (“…that they know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”) Taken in isolation, the latter would seem to state that the Father is “the only true God,” thereby excluding the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Of course, as you have documented so well, such an interpretation flies in the face of all the rest of the New Testament, not to mention the rest of the Tradition, and is therefore excluded.

I don’t remember bringing up 1 Timothy 2:5, but we can discuss it anyway.  Obviously you have spent some time in My Lord and My God, so I’ll use that explanation to elucidate my response.  Jesus’ reference to the Father as “the only true God” is true re Jesus because a) the Father is the arche of Jesus and b) the Father is greater than the Son.  His statement is only operative in the context of God himself.  In getting into this, I know I’m running the same risk that Origen did: “…it is possible that some may dislike what we have said representing the Father as the one true God…” (Commentary in John, II, 3) but that will just have to be as it was for Origen.

Turning to 1 Timothy 2:5, just as the Father is the “one true God” only to the Son, so also is Jesus Christ the “one mediator between God and men” only to us.

The same is true for I Timothy 2:5.  Even the context suggests something else is going on here.  In 2:1-4, St. Paul is calling for intercession by the Christian community on behalf of basically everyone, to the end that the Church may live in peace, being undisturbed in the pursuit of holiness and to the end that “all be saved”.  The implication, then, is that the Church, in making these intercessions, is PARTICIPATING in the one mediation of Christ, and this is reinforced by the fact that the request for these prayers continues in verse 8.  (BTW, a rule of thumb concerning interpretation of the Bible:  if a given interpretation is at odds with what the universal Church as a whole has done and/or believed and continues to do and/or believe, that interpretation is wrong.)

This concept, that of participation, is crucial.  Another word is sharing or communion, or fellowship.  The underlying Greek word is koinonia.  God the Son shares our humanity so that we can share/partake of/be in communion with his Deity, as in II Peter 1:4.  The Church, either as a whole, or through individual members, shares in everything that Christ is and that Christ does, including His mediation between God and humanity.

There is no argument re the importance of participation.  It’s even more basic than you state: we, as created beings, cannot be in relationship with God on our own, created goodness, but only by participation in his uncreated goodness, which is why we need a fully divine Saviour to make that a reality.  But that participation does not equate with the church being a formal mediator between man and God; in fact, as is the case with the priesthood, such participation can be seen to obviate the need for another formal mediator.

However, relating to the exercise of Church discipline, I’m not sure that “mediation” is the proper concept here.  In any event, the authority being exercised is that given to the Apostles (and through them, to their successors, the bishops, as Clement of Rome, c. AD 96, documents) in Matthew 16:18-19, 18:18, and John 20:22-23. St. Paul uses this same authority in I Corinthians 5, especially 3-5.

And the rules you mention:  they have been under development since virtually Day One of the Church.  Much of the Church’s conciliar activity has been devoted to the development of these rules.  Such discipline is not a “withholding of grace”.  Since its purpose is the ultimate salvation of the one who is disciplined, it is actually an administration of grace even if it involves withholding of one or more of the sacraments.

In Roman Catholicism at least the idea is stronger than that: through the withholding of the sacraments (excommunication,) the church is capable of denying eternal life.  Althought there are many caveats to that (RC canon law is complicated if nothing else) that’s the concept.

Further (to answer what seems to be your underlying issue), there is of course a relationship between the individual believer and Christ through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  However, if such a relationship is completely what it is supposed to be, it will entail being in full communion with one branch or another of the Church, which is the social, visible, historically continuous Community which Christ himself founded and which, according to the NT, is the “body of Christ,” “the fullness of him who fills all in all” and “the pillar and ground of the truth”.  This Church, although divided, is in fact one, and has matured, and remains alive, because the Holy Spirit is its very soul.  As Bishop Zizioulas puts it, the Church, instituted by Christ, is constituted by the Holy Spirit.  Again, to be fully reconciled with God is to be in full communion with the Church.  One cannot love God and “hate” his brother.

If one has accepted Christ apart from this Church, he has learned of Christ, in the final analysis, only by way of the Church, even if that knowledge of Christ came only by way of reading Scripture, for Scripture would not have come down to any of us except through the Church.  If that person has been validly baptized, he is, in fact, a member of that Church and by that very fact is called to full communion with the Church through one of its branches.  (If he is not baptized, his acceptance of Christ is not yet complete.)  If there are Christian communities in existence which are apart from this Church, these communities are called to re-organize themselves such that they become manifestations (“hypostates”) of the one Church.

The “one branch or another” and “these communities are called to re-organize themselves such that they become manifestations (“hypostates”) of the one Church” bring up many intriguing possiblities.  Let me restrict the discussion to the churches which have (or claim) the apostolic succession.

Roman Catholicism, of course, claims not only the apostolic succession but also the centrality of the see of Peter, in Rome.  As is the case with the sacrifice of the Mass, the way they present this is misleading.  They know that the apostolic succession doesn’t hang on the Papacy (they have the Orthodox churches to remind them of that) but they tend to conflate the two issues to the extent that they leave the impression that apostolicity and the see of Peter are an absolute unity.  That is why I think the TAC people are so obsessed with communion with Rome.

Orthodox churches maintain this in a more collegial fashion amongst the national churches (complicated by events such as the Coptic churches, the New World and the Communists.)

There are, of course, those who claim the apostolic succession via bishops who departed the RCC in the wake of Vatican I (like the Charismatic Episcopal Church.)  They have the succession; how much they are in “unity” with the rest of Christianity is open to debate.

Finally we have the Anglicans.  At the time that Rome ruled Anglican orders to be invalid such a declaration was unreasonable and probably driven by the fact that Anglicanism directly seceded from Rome.  Subsequent events have complicated things and it’s hard to know how it will sort out.  As I’ve said before, however, the Anglicans were and are the greatest missed opportunity in Christianity for a long list of things.

At the same time, it is true that sometimes, the Holy Spirit speaks prophetically through an individual Christian, in opposition to what some portion of the hierarchy is saying, or more often, doing.  When this happens, as with many RC Saints, such as John of the Cross for example, or Sister Faustina, the Saints are eventually vindicated, the hierarchy learns something, and the Church as a whole is enriched.  It is interesting that this drama plays out much less frequently in the Eastern Churches;  these Churches are clearly not bereft of the Spirit of Prophecy, but the manifestations of such prophecy usually do not run afoul of the hierarchy as it sometimes does in the West (and of course there are false prophets in both East and West).

This, more than anything else, is where “the rubber meets the road.”

I’ve spent enough time on this blog on two examples of this from the seventeenth century that ended disastrously: the Old Believers and the Jansenists.  I’ll try not to belabour either but both illustrate the problem that anyone has in renewing either the Roman Catholic or an Orthodox church.  I’ll stick to what I know best and run through the RCC’s typical response to such challenges:

  1. We are the true church.
  2. The church is infallible and, to boot, so is the Vicar of Christ (i.e., the one who hold’s Christ’s place on earth.)
  3. We hold the keys to eternal life.
  4. You have none of these.
  5. You do not know what you are talking about.
  6. You should obey us.
  7. If you don’t, we’ll use the keys, and you’ll have no recourse.

Beyond that, Roman Catholicism has the bad habit of desiring mediocrity amongst the faithful so as to insure good (if not very uplifting) order in the church.  So renewal movements, far from being desirable things, tend to be pidgeonholed and/or supressed.

The last point isn’t restricted to Roman Catholicism; it’s found amongst Protestant churches as well, although they don’t tend (until recently, at least) to be as forceful in grinding down their opposition.

Regarding the OT citations:  they are predictions of ongoing sacrifice in the Messianic era.  They must either refer to the Eucharist or, as Dispensationalism claims, to some resumption of animal sacrifice in Jerusalem during some millenial reign.  The latter is simply impossible since Christ has done away with these sacrifices one and for all, and return to them is a rejection of Christ.  Also, the Church has read at least Malachi 1:11 as a prediction of the Eucharist going back as far as the Didache.

There’s no doubt that the Old Testament sacrificial system prefigured the New Testament sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  How far one wants to take the connection has been, of course, the central point of this discussion.


13 Replies to “More on the Eucharist, Churches and Priests”

  1. You are touching on a number of subjects in this and previous posts about which I have also written this year, and our conclusions are in many cases strikingly similar.

    Regarding the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, I have a difficult time understanding what exactly can be meant by the term in any meaningful, philosophical sense. Metaphysically, it seems that the “real/substantial presence” view intends a multilocation of some kind. A multilocation in which the resurrected, “recognizably human” body of Christ remains in heaven and does not move while the sacramental body becomes present in a non-spatial manner strikes me as a lack of presence, and does not help to clarify the issue. A kind of multilocation in which Christ’s body is physically present in several places simultaneously is probably incoherent, as such would likely involve the assignment of contradictory predicates to the same subject. The problem is compounded if one adopts a consubstantiation view of the Eucharistic change, as Occam did, in which case two physical substances would occupy the same space and time, a view which Aquinas refuted (though later had trouble reconciling with his account of the resurrected Lord passing through a solid wall). Because of these and other difficulties, the view I tend toward most is that of Richard Hooker.

    Regarding the Eucharistic sacrifice, I think we have to accept that there are certain “sacrificial” features of the Eucharist, which if excised would fundamentally alter the whole rite. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Church’s manner of speaking on this issue is extremely confusing and raises more questions than it answers.

    If we follow Aquinas’s account of sacrifices in general, then the primary issue in the Eucharist, as with the other sacraments, should be the union of our souls with Christ. If we adopt Bonaventure’s understanding of the sacraments as “occasions” on which God works grace in us, rather than see the sacraments as somehow containing a “mystical substance” that will transform us upon some specified form of physical contact, then the acclamation “Lift up your hearts!” takes on a new centrality in the Rite. The public, objective representation of the death of Christ (and not just the private imagination of it) becomes the “memory” that connects us with the merit of Christ’s death, and through that, help us to further realize our adoptive sonship in Him and thus our relationship to the Trinity. The Eucharist is the concretization of that reality.

    Therefore, I think many of the exegetical and theological problems on both sides of the Tiber concerning the Eucharist could be solved if we sought the presence of Christ in the sacrifice of the Church (which remembers, but does not add to, the Sacrifice of Christ), and not the other way around.


  2. Don: My reply to this is pretty long, so I posted it on my blog.

    Drew: it feels to me like you are overthinking the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Remember that according to the Gospels, Christ’s resurrected body is not bound by space and presumbably, not by time, and heaven is not a physical place as we understand that concept.

    Regarding the question of sacrifice, that sounds pretty good to me with at least the following caveats: the issues involve not only both sides of the Tiber, but also both sides of the Bosphorus, the Nile, and the Euphrates; one should seek the answer to this question, as with all such questions, not in the RC account alone, but in comparing the accounts of all the Apostolic Churches; the sacrifice of the Church IS the sacrifice of the whole Christ, head and body; instead of “remembers” in your last parentheses, I would prefer to see “participates in” as being clearer.


  3. Fr. Greg,

    I’m not sure what you mean when you say that “Christ’s resurrected body is not bound by space and…time.” After his resurrection, Christ uses language that implies he continues to experience the passage of time (e.g., “I am not yet ascended to My Father”), at least in his human nature, and the fact that he eats with the disciples on multiple occasions underscores the abiding physicality of that body, and that it implies its finitude (the only alternative here is the “ubiquity” doctrine of the Formula of Concord). This interpretation is also the very one assumed by the Church Fathers, the medieval Scholastics, the Byzantines, & the Protestant Reformers. The key proponents of an “unbounded body” theory were the Monophysites. So, the positing of the substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist represents a real problem which the chief proponents of the Catholic tradition recognized and put considerable intellectual effort into solving. These thinkers were not only willing to challenge the cogency of theories which had been previously considered acceptable, but also subjected these theories as well as their own to the scrutiny of what was considered the best available “science” of their own time. Indeed, for the Scholastics, there was no such thing as “over-analysis.” In any discussion of the “presence of Christ in the Eucharist,” it is reasonable to ask just what the expression means, and further, what exactly it can mean. The counter-charge of “over-analysis” does not then constitute a counter-argument.

    Regarding the first part of your second point, I agree that issue encompasses more than just the Roman Catholic/Protestant divide, and did not mean to imply that other groups or positions were not relevant to the discussion. Regarding your other point, “participation” has been an ambiguous word in philosophy all the way back to Plato’s first expositions of the Theory of Forms. It either means identity or non-identity. The problem with the Roman Catholic theory of the Church, as well as some Eastern theories of deification, is that they try to make the term mean both things at once.


  4. Drew: Are we doing theology here or philosophy? Philosophy is only helpful to theology when it is, well, helpful; it is not the criteria by which the latter is evaluated, since theology, first and foremost, speaks from the human experience of God and is therefore not speculative in the same way that philosophy is. Theology may indeed be expressed in philosophical terms, but philosophy cannot exhaust theology and some, such as the Syrians, have found other genres, such as poetry, much more conducive to theology than philosophy. (Please tell me you really didn’t mean to equate “philosophical” and “meaningful”.)

    It is one thing to ask what the presence of Christ in the Eucharist might mean, or even, how it is possible. It is quite another to use a lack of definitive philosophical answers to such questions to deny, as Hooker apparently did, what both the plain sense of Scripture and the rest of the Tradition affirm, which is the identity of the Eucharistic elements and the Body and Blood of Christ. This same strategy has been used plenty of times by those who would deny the possibility of the Incarnation itself.

    Regarding Christ’s resurrected body: To experience time is not the same thing as being bound by it. Also, see the post-resurrection accounts, such as Luke 24:13-35 (esp. vs. 31) and John 20, especially vss. 19 and 26.


  5. I have a few comments to make on this interesting debate.

    First, re philosophy: I elucidated my thoughts on this here:

    I also make some points re my idea of “participation,” which I have brought up again during this discussion.

    Eastern churches are as a rule more reticent about employing philosophy than, say, the RCC. This is doubtless the product of their experience in the Christological disputes. They are not, however, as allergic to the idea as Protestant and Evangelical churches.

    Greek philosophy has proven useful to Christian thought but its limitations need to be understood completely.

    As far as Christ’s presence in the Eucharist are concerned, I’m inclined to agree with Fr. Greg on this. I discuss this in more detail here:

    I am more wont to go along with Aquinas’ idea of sacrifices vs. Bonaventure’s, as is my custom.

    Finally re the “sacrifice of the Church,” I can’t see how meaningful this is as first priority over the “sacrifice of Christ.”


  6. Fr. Greg,

    We are indeed talking theology, and not philosophy per se. However, to recognize the regulative use of philosophy in theological discussions is not alien to the Christian tradition. On the contrary, it is central to it, and in attempting to subordinate theological propositions to the same level of intellectual rigor as any other discipline which purports to pursue knowledge, I am only standing in the same “theological river” as Augustine, Aquinas, Nicholas Cabasilas, Gregory Palamas, and others. Grace perfects nature, and faith adds to knowledge; the former do not destroy or contradict latter.

    More to the point, faith is “belief with assent,” and belief is a judgment that such-and-such proposition is true. Now, if the Church proposes for belief that Christ’s body is in some manner present “in” the elements (or in what was the elements, assuming transubstantiation), I, as the average believer, must have some idea of what the Church means if I am to exercise the virtue of faith. And if what the Church proposes is in fact incoherent in this instance, how can it properly be the object of faith?

    If to “experience time is not to be bound by it,” what else could it possibly be? To assume that Christ’s human nature ceases to have temporal properties is to confuse the natures. I am not saying that Christ personally is bound by time; I am saying only that his human nature is. If it were not, it would not be a ‘human’ nature.

    I won’t go so far as to equate “philosophical” with “meaningful,” but I will wholeheartedly and unreservedly equate “logical” with “meaningful.” If theological statements are not subordinate to the same rules of grammar and logic that all other kinds propositions are, then we may as well be talking about circular squares or spherical cubes.

    There are a lot of things not discussed in the Bible. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t worthy pursuits or that the knowledge gained in those fields of study isn’t relevant to theology. That kind of holistic approach is what best characterized the work of people like St. Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas. Despite being not only mystics and contemplatives, they (and especially the latter) were dedicated biblical exegetes and considered themselves Christian theologians first, and not philosophers. And yet, they would have never assented to the proposition that logic and philosophy do not contain the criteria by which theological statements are to be evaluated (which is far cry from saying that philosophy is the ‘source’ of theological statements). Aquinas himself may have been firmly committed to transubstantiation on the grounds that he thought it was the truest explanation of the Words of Institution, but that does not change the fact that objections I have raised against that understanding were objections raised by Aquinas himself in the Summae and elsewhere. Aquinas may have thought he had settled the matter but those who followed after him disagreed (e.g., Scotus, Occam, etc.). Unfortunately, the open debate that should have occurred on this issue never really happened, the Curia electing the decide the issue by authority rather than reason.

    My mind is open to being changed on this issue, but so far no Roman Catholic writer or apologist that have come across has tried to deal with the finer philosophical points at issue, without distancing themselves from a literal understanding of the magisterial statements (for example, see Kenan Osborne, OFM – The Christian Sacraments of Initiation), thus admitting the force of the objections.


  7. Drew: I have no idea as to whether or not “transubstantiation” is the best explanation of the Words of Institution, John 6, I Corinthians 10:16 and 11:23-29 and the consistent witness of the Apostolic Fathers. Further, this is of secondary concern to me: after all, “transubstantiation” is a philosophical explanation for a theological reality. All I know is that when I stand at the altar, presiding at the Qurbana, Christ becomes truly present in the Bread and Wine and when I receive the same Bread and Wine, I am receiving Christ, and when I feed others with that Bread and Wine, they too are feeding upon the living Christ. When I elevate the Holy Gifts, I do so in order that all present might worship – adore – the Christ who is thereby present.

    I am not saying that Philosophy is not a worthwile pursuit, far from it (although St. Paul – and Tertullian – might disagree). The first real Christian academic theologians, the apologists such as Justin Martyr, used Philosophy in order to explain and defend the Faith. What I AM saying, however, is that it is very easy for philosophical concerns to become controlling and thereby, to cause one to stray from the Faith: both Origen and Augustine did this.

    Further, I am saying that theological statements are unique in that they deal with matters not amenable to ordinary understanding and perception. Two points: first, there is the matter of aphophatic theology: every theological statement is to some extent analogical, meaning that each and every positive statement must be balanced by a negative one which opens the positive statement to being transcended. The classic example is, “God exists.” This is true, of course, truer than saying that “God does not exist,” but in making this assertion, we must bear in mind that in so doing, what we mean by “existence” with regard to God infinitely transcends any notion that we might have of existence. The second point is that a rough analogy might perhaps be made between theology and quantum physics. The latter entirely escapes our experience and is only known by its effects. It can really only be described in mathematical terms; however, that does not stop us from using analogical language to speak of it. (Note to Don: I am using the notion of analogy somewhat differently here, so I am not concediing anything with regard to the priesthood and to the eucharist as sacrifice.)

    A third (and most important) point: we relate to God, first and foremost, not with our intellect, but with our heart. Therefore, in some respects, theological statements are like Buddhist koans: they function to take us to the limits of intellectual inquiry in order to dump us into the abyss of Divine Love.

    Finally (for now), you write: “I am not saying that Christ personally is bound by time; I am saying only that his human nature is. If it were not, it would not be a ‘human’ nature.”

    This presupposes a knowledge and understanding of the limits of human nature post-resurrection (and, for that matter, post-Deification, since Christ’s resurrection entails the complete Deification of his humanity). We clearly do not have such a knowledge and understanding by way of direct experience. In Scripture, we are told that the resurrected Christ can go through solid walls and can literally disappear into thin air. Thus, we can conclude that the human nature of the resurrected Savior is not bound by space in this same way that our human nature is. (Plus, given that certain Saints are known to have bilocated, this is really no great leap). Also, if the humanity of the resurrected Christ is not bound by space in the way that we are, it is also pretty likely that it is also not bound by time.


  8. Fr. Greg,

    I was under the (mistaken) assumption that you are a priest of the Roman Rite (although I cannot tell by the description on your website if your particular Eastern Rite Church is in communion with Rome or one of the other Sees). That assumption was the basis of my usage of “transubstantiation”-style terminology.

    I am somewhat distressed by your classing of St. Augustine among those who strayed from the Faith (and I think Origen tends to receive a more scathing treatment than he deserves as well). Philosophy, like science, is a method of acquiring and organizing knowledge in a systematic way. It is a not a set of “facts” that potentially stands in contradiction to other sets of facts, which may or may not have a religious meaning. To allow a particular philosophy to dominate one’s thinking is in fact a negation of the overall philosophical approach itself, and is thus little more than arbitrary dogmatism, rather than open discovery and debate. Therefore, it was not philosophy itself (which essentially consists in questioning what one knows in order to arrive at a better understanding) which caused some theologians to err; rather, it was their commitment to certain sets of ideas put forth by certain philosophers as “answers” to the kinds of questions that philosophy raises, without being open to the possibility that a better answer was out there. I am deeply suspicious of people who disallow the place of philosophical reasoning in theology, for one simple reason: everyone uses philosophy. Everyone. Whether people realize it or not, they ask philosophical kinds of questions and make philosophical kinds of statements about their lives every day. Some people realize that they are doing it and know how to properly apply the rules, and some don’t. Trying to do theology while ignoring the philosophical presuppositions and line of reasoning that one is employing is a very dangerous undertaking, and what’s worse, it does not leave one equipped to evaluate the merits of one’s own argument. A very good recent example of a theologian who did this very thing is Karl Barth. So, we can either be aware of what philosophy we’re using, or not, but in either case, we are inexorably tied to using it.

    Regarding theology and understanding, it depends on how one defines “theology.” In terms of the basic “Articles of the Faith,” I would say that none of them are difficult to understand in themselves. It is their relationship to each other and to the rest of created reality that prompts questions (philosophy?) about how all of it fits together. Newman, speaking of the Quicumque Vult, says it much better than I could:

    “Now let us observe what is not in that exposition;— there are no scientific terms in it. I will not allow that “Personal” is such, because it is a word in common use, and though it cannot mean precisely the same when used of God as when it is used of man, yet it is sufficiently explained by that common use, to allow of its being intelligibly applied to the Divine Nature. The other words, which occur in the above account of the doctrine,—Three, One, He, God, Father, Son, Spirit,—are none of them words peculiar to theology, have all a popular meaning, and are used according to that obvious and popular meaning, when introduced into the Catholic dogma. No human words indeed are worthy of the Supreme Being, none are adequate; but we have no other words to use but human, and those in question are among the simplest and most intelligible that are to be found in language. There are then no terms in the foregoing exposition which do not admit of a plain sense, and they are there used in that sense; and, moreover, that sense is what I have called real, for the words in their ordinary use stand for things. The words, Father, Son, Spirit, He, One, and the rest, are not abstract terms, but concrete, and adapted to excite images. And these words thus simple and clear, are embodied in simple, clear, brief, categorical propositions. There is nothing abstruse either in the terms themselves, or in their setting. It is otherwise of course with formal theological treatises on the subject of the dogma. There we find such words as substance, essence, existence, form, subsistence, notion, circumincession; and, though these are far easier to understand than might at first sight be thought, still they are doubtless addressed to the intellect, and can only command a notional assent.” – The Grammar of Asset, pp. 127-128

    I don’t agree that theological statements are not directed to the intellect. They do command the assent of the will and they should inspire acts of worship, service, & love, without which we cannot properly relate to God, but the relationship between the intellect and the “heart” in this instance is not a zero-sum game. (The repeated claim to the contrary is one of the chief reasons I left Protestantism as a young adult.) The Articles of Faith may not be directed first to the intellectual, but that doesn’t mean that their primary purpose is not to be apprehended and understood, which requires a mind.

    Christ’s resurrected human body is not the kind of thing we can examine empirically to see what it can do and what it cannot do, so that argument is potentially interminable. I am not denying that Christ’s resurrected body can do things that our mortal bodies now cannot. For one thing, he can fly (which is really cool…I’m looking forward to being able to do that myself!). I am denying – in principle – that Christ’s resurrected body can do that which is impossible when considered absolutely, and not merely in relation to us. To better explicate this principle, I will cite Aquinas’s definition of divine omnipotence in the Summa:

    “The divine existence, however, upon which the nature of power in God is founded, is infinite, and is not limited to any genus of being; but possesses within itself the perfection of all being. Whence, whatsoever has or can have the nature of being, is numbered among the absolutely possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent. Now nothing is opposed to the idea of being except non-being. Therefore, that which implies being and non-being at the same time is repugnant to the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of the divine omnipotence. For such cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not the nature of a feasible or possible thing. Therefore, everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them. Nor is this contrary to the word of the angel, saying: ‘No word shall be impossible with God.’ For whatever implies a contradiction cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing.” – ST Ia Q. 25, art. 3, resp.

    My problem with “Real Presence” explanations/interpretations of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist – whether of the transubstantiation or consubstantiation varieties – is that they claim that Christ’s body performs acts which seem on the face of it to be impossible absolutely, and not just impossible for us. (I also do not accept the bilocation legends as factual, for the same reason, and aside from the lack of historical evidence itself, which is abundant in the case of Christ’s resurrection.) I have searched high and low for convincing counterarguments to these objections, but have found none so far. I do think we should pay close attention to what the New Testament has to say, and that we should not take objections to classical Eucharistic teaching as an excuse to “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” But the substantialist interpretation of that presence in the more traditional (“apostolic”) churches is itself a philosophical answer to the question, “What is present on the altar?” (E.g., “What is present on the altar is Christ’s very flesh that was born of Mary.”) To not allow alternative theories to be proposed in order to meet cogent criticisms is itself an example of captivity to a particular philosophy, and not the other way around.

    You have not yet explained what you mean by the phrase “bound by time.” One either experiences the passage of time or one does not. Simply put, time is simply a function of movement and change. If one cannot experience movement and change, then one cannot experience time, and vice versa. If Christ’s resurrected body is indeed a human body, and is capable of movement and change (and the NT accounts clearly indicate that it is, by His walking around, eating, speaking, etc.), then his human nature must experience the passage of time by virtue of performing those actions. I do not see how the inference can be avoided, and I do not know what else could be meant by the phrase “bound by time.” That doesn’t mean that He is “personally” ‘bound by time’ (i.e., as God), but his human nature certainly is. One nature experiences time and the other does not. So the answer to the question “Does Christ experience time?” would have to be answered with reference to the specific “nature” under discussion (divine or human). This is merely classic Chalcedonian Christology.



  9. Drew:

    My Church, the Antiochian Catholic Church in America, is an Independent jurisdiction grounded in the theology and practice of the non-chalcedonian, Oriental Orthodox Indo-Syriac Tradition. (The Indian Orthodox Church is a source of our Apostolic Succession.) However, none of the mainstream Oriental Orthodox Churches are in communion with us, primarily because we ordain women and we allow married priests to be made bishops.

    In responding to your statements about philosophy, I will grant your point concerning the need to examine presuppositions, and it seems that, in fact, the differences that are evident between us have a great deal to with divergent assumptions. Apparently, when it came to such things as original guilt and unconditional predestination, Augustine failed to examine his own assumptions, rooted in neoplatonism.

    Also, I am not disparaging intellectual inquiry in general or philosophy in particular. I am just pointing out that they have their limits, that no intellectual inquiry whatsoever can exhaust the subjects in question: God the Most Blessed Trinity, the Divine relationship with humanity and all of creation, the human response to God’s initiative, and so on. I mean, what we are discussing is a love story! Therefore, poetry (the Psalms, for example) and other genres (including fiction, as in the Books of Job and Jonah) are also necessary in theological expression. Art in the form of ikonography has its place as well.

    And, indeed, the relationship between the heart and intellect does not have to be zero sum, although when it is, it is because the intellect has triumphed over the heart; the appropriate integration has not taken place, and that which is designed to be the servant (the intellect) has become the master. (The same could be said of the relationship between the emotions and the heart.) The heart, the core of one’s being, is capable of grasping things that the intellect perhaps cannot. (Or perhaps, the intellect understands things differently when, as the Hesychasts say, the mind is in the heart.) Further, there is a question of orientation: am I asking about a given issue in order to better understand, or am I asking because I am looking for a way to avoid accepting something?

    Concerning presuppositions: it seems that you are assuming that the “laws” of nature, and even perhaps the laws of Newtonian physics, are absolute, binding even upon God (with apparently one exception, that of the Resurrection of Christ). Thus, while you accept Christ’s resurrection, you suspect that any account of the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist requires things which are “absolutely impossible”. However, I would contend that absolute impossibility must be conceived much more narrowly, as in dealing with such questions as, “Can God make a rock so big that it is impossible for God to move?” It is this sort of thing, I think, to which Aquinas is referring.

    Because of this presupposition, you also reject, it seems, the possibility that certain other extraordinary occurrences could occur, that God could be active in the universe, in human lives, in ways that transcend what we know of the scientific laws of the universe. I, and all the Apostolic Churches, reject that. While most of the time, the known scientific laws remain in force, God from time to time transcends them, whether in terms of Saints bilocating (or levitating), people being healed, bodies of reposed Saints remaining incorrupt, the eucharistic elements taking on the appearance of human flesh and blood, people walking on water, dead people being resuscitated (Lazarus), people communicating with each other in a language that one or both has never learned, or what-have-you.

    The universe is a function of the ongoing creative and providential activity of God: if God were to stop that activity, the universe would immediately cease to exist. Therefore, I have no problem accepting the notion that God can, and does from time to time, transcend known laws of nature.

    You also seem to assume that we, in our fallen state, are capable of fully understanding and experiencing what it means to be human. I don’t think so. I don’t want so much Christ to be human like me: I want to be human like Christ. Besides the post-resurrection appearances, I Cor. 15 is also relevant here. We obviously must be careful, lest we seem to undercut the historicity of the resurrection: the tomb is indeed empty, and the resurrection has indeed comprehended the totality of Jesus’ body. At the same time, according to St. Paul, Jesus’ resurrection body cannot be said to be “biological” as our bodies are biological at this time. No, Jesus’ resurrection body is “spiritual” as St. Paul writes, even while remaining a human body. It, along with the totality of Christ’s humanity, is “glorified”, “deified”: it shares unambiguously and completely in the attributes of Christ’s Deity; thus, wherever Christ is present, however Christ is present, the WHOLE Christ, including his humanity, is present. (And please note, that while I am non-chalcedonian, I don’t believe that any of this violates the neo-chalcedonian understanding of the Byzantine Orthodox and RC Churches. If it does, well, perhaps chalcedonianism, even neo-chalcedonianism, is indeed crypto-nestorian.)

    You ask about what I mean by speaking of not being bound by time. In this context, the question is relevant because Christ, at the Mystical Supper, institutes the Eucharist prior to his death and resurrection, and these latter are obviously the basis for the possibility of Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic elements. Outside of that (and see above regarding laws of nature), here is what I mean: it is commonly held, at least in the Eastern Christian traditions, that the theophanies of the Old Testament, such as that recorded in Genesis 32:22-32, are in fact manifestations of the Logos, the second Person of the Trinity. However, it is also clear that apart from the Incarnation, the Logos does not have a body. Yet, here, Jacob wrestles with a “man” whom he discovers to be “God”. It is therefore at least possible that this man is in fact the resurrected Christ, even though, in normal time, the Logos will not become human for another two millenia. That is an example of what I mean by not being bound by time.


  10. Fr. Greg, your description of your jurisdiction raises a number of interesting questions.

    First: you describe it as “non-Chalcedonian.” As I understand it, the “Orthodox” churches describe themselves as upholding the seven ecumenical councils (which would include Chalcedon.) Is this one reason why the other “Orthodox” churches do not recognise yours? How would you describe your church’s theology relative to, say, the Copts?

    Second: you say you ordain women as priests. How long has your church done this? How do you answer the objection that, since a priest represents God, and Christ was male, that a woman cannot be a priest?

    As an aside, I agree with you re Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. As I opined in my exposition of St. John of Damascus’ description, I think that the Eucharist–with the presence of Christ therein–is incarnational in nature.


  11. Don:

    There are TWO families of Orthodox Churches and they are not in communion with each other (although, these days, there is a certain amount of intercommunion, if not concelebration, going on sub rosa). The first, to which you refer, indeed defines itself in terms of seven ecumenical councils. These are the Byzantine Churches, commonly called “Eastern Orthodox”. This family includes the Greeks, Russians, Serbians, Romanians, the OTHER Antiochians, etc.

    The second family of Orthodox Churches is commonly called “Oriental Orthodox”. This grouping includes the Coptic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, the Armenians, the Indian Orthodox Churches (there is a split), the Ethiopian Church, and the Eritrean Church. This family of Churches rejects Chalcedon, accepting only the Councils of Nicea, Constantinople, and Ephesus as being fully ecumencial (while generally agreeing today that neo-chalcedonianism, that Chalcedon as interpreted through the next two councils, is at least potentially functionally equivalent to their own Christology). While we are theologically aligned with this group, we ordain women and allow for married bishops: thus, they are not in full communion with us, although we have had some cordial contacts with some of the Indian Orthodox hierarchy in the United States (among this family, I suspect that it will be the Indians who will first ordain women).

    We became an independent jurisdiction in 1991, emerging from an Independent Catholic group that, while of course much smaller, looks a great deal like what the Episcopal Church is becoming (except maybe a little saner!). We have ordained women, as that group does, since our inception.

    In defense of this, we would refer, first, to Galatians 3:28. In Christ, there is no “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.” “All are one”. Now, not only did Jesus arguably choose only men as his Apostles, he chose only JEWISH men. (The status of Mary Magdaline is in fact unclear.) It took a few years, until Acts 15, for the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to drop the requirement that converts to Christianity first become Jewish, also opening the way for non-Jews to be ordained. We also would refer to the aphorism of St. Gregory of Nazianzen: “What the Word did not assume the Word did not redeem.” In other words, in becoming human, the Eternal Word of God assumes the totality of human nature, not just its maleness, and redeems all of humanity, and through the redemption of humanity, all of the universe. Thus, our Lord’s maleness cannot be decisive in this area. The arguments that it is decisive seem to be grounded in a false assumption that male and females are ontologically different. They are not. Both males and females are ontologically human. This, of course, is a short answer to your question. There is plenty of evidence in the New Testament that women, in the first century, functioned in the sacerdotal role. I am working on an essay concerning this which I will post on my blog when it is completed.

    Regarding the indubitable incarnational basis for Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, Justin Martyr, writing about AD 150, states: “Even as Jesus Christ our Savior…took on flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise we are taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word…IS THE FLESH AND BLOOD OF THAT JESUS WHO WAS MADE FLESH.” (First Apology, Chapter 66, my emphasis)


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