Friday, December 12, 2008

Eucharistic theology in the context of our prayer book

In a comment on a recent post about Extended Communion Bosco Peters wrote the following which I think deserves a fuller rather than a ‘comment’ type response:

“You write "the sacrament is received not as the body and the blood of Jesus".

This appears to go against what our liturgies teach.
We receive the bread and wine as Christ's body and blood, his person and his life.

I can never quite work out why those who have no difficulty finding God's Word in the human words of the scriptures, and Christ's presence in their proclamation, make such heavy weather of Christ's presence in other ways. And whilst they do not make much effort to minimise God's ability within scripture, God's ability in the eucharist appears to need careful analysis.

The formularies to which Anglican clergy assent include:

Praise and glory to you creator Spirit of God;
you make our bread Christ's body
to heal and reconcile
and to make us the body of Christ.
You make our wine Christ's living sacrificial blood
to redeem the world.

NZ Prayer Book p.541”

In response to Bosco Peters initially I observed that much hangs on the word ‘as’ and on reflection prompted by his comment I think ‘as’ can bear my statement about the eucharist dropping the negative qualifier to become, “the sacrament is received as the body and blood of Jesus”!

But here I would not understand the ‘as’ to bear the full weight of a Transubstantiation understanding of the eucharist. Bosco Peters rightly makes the point in another comment that Roman Catholics no longer understand Transubstantiation in Aristotelian categories (substance/accidence) where he says:

“I suspect you are using "substance" and "transubstantiation" with the Aristotelian categories in mind.

You will have to search widely to find many theologians who still hold to such philosophical concepts.

"Transubstantiation" is now used normally in Roman Catholicism as a synonym for Christ being really present in the eucharist - fully in the bread, fully in the wine, rather than an adherence to Aristotelian categories.

Such a belief of Christ's presence is consistent, I posit, and my quote demonstrates, with Anglican formularies to which we assent.

The bending over backwards, as I indicated, to demonstrate Christ is present everywhere EXCEPT in the bread and the wine of holy communion, is a tendency I cannot make sense of.”

Now I want to engage with what Bosco Peters’ says in these two comments not to win a debate but to (try to) better understand the mystery of communion!

One way to engage would be to ask questions – questions, that is, to get any reader thinking, as well as myself. Here are some questions:

(1) If we have moved on from Aristotelian categories, in what manner do we now understand Christ to be ‘really present in the eucharist – fully in the bread, fully in the wine’?

Notes: I agree that such talk is consistent with Anglican formularies. I also understand it to be close to the Lutheran position known as Consubstantiation (in which the bread remains bread yet Christ is fully within it).

(2) Do all words in our NZPB bear equal weight?

I note that the words cited above from page 541 are from a prayer provided for ‘The Day of Pentecost’. That is these words are part of options which may never be used by a priest otherwise regularly and properly using the main Eucharistic prayers, none of which in my estimation is quite as explicit in its use of ‘make’ language. Does the language of ‘assent’ mean we assent directly to the apparent theological commitment of these words or assent to our formularies as expressing a broad theology representative of theological diversity in our church? Could ‘assent’ mean that we assent to a meaning for these words weighed against other Eucharistic understandings in the NZPB, understandings which (I suggest) enable us to legitimately understand ‘make’ in the Cranmerian terms I originally posted on?

(3) Is there an analogy between God’s Word in the words of Scripture, or Christ’s presence in proclamation and Christ’s presence in the sacrament?

This question arises because many would hold that the words of Scripture are always God’s Word, and Christ is necessarily present in proclamation of Christ; but bread and wine are mostly bread and wine (for breakfast, lunch and dinner!) except in the context of the Eucharistic meal, celebrated by the community of faith under the presence of an ordained presider. To this bread and wine something happens which is of a different order to God’s Word/words of Scripture and Christ’s presence/proclamation … or, so the argument would go!


liturgy said...

Thank you for taking my comment seriously; I too am not interested, as you well know, in “winning debates”.

Let us start with your third point first. That the words of scripture are ALWAYS God’s Word and include Christ’s presence. In ordinary conversation I regularly hear scripture quoted out of context: go the second mile, eye for an eye, etc. I would not go as far as you in suggesting that these words communicate Christ’s presence in a way that an ordinary family meal does not…

In the NZ Prayer Book ALL prayers for the eucharist are “optional”. There is not one prayer that always must be said. Anglican prayers are no different to Roman Catholic prayers in eucharistic presence, excepting we normally translate the Latin dative “to” and RCs normally “for”.

Pressing the metaphorical world we move in to breaking point does not help. Humans find symbols powerful. We react when our flag is burnt, when someone we admire is burnt in effigy, when a $500 note is burnt. A wedding ring, sexual intercourse, a hug, a hand-shake. All symbols. Sacraments are human symbols to which God has pledged himself. They demand even greater respect, reverence, awe.

Press your own eucharistic theology and it similarly will not survive scientific analysis: “the sacrament is received … as necessary to feed on the body and blood of Jesus in our hearts 'by faith with thanksgiving'” What does this mean? Really? If we operate on your believer’s heart, will the surgeons find DNA from the flesh and blood of the historical Jesus within? Changing the metaphor and denying another metaphor is not making anything more reasonable, it is merely falling back to the modernist position which ultimately cannot explain incarnation any more than it can explain eucharistic presence.

Advent blessings


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
(If I understand what you say - a caveat not because you are unclear because metaphors and mysteries are always a bit tricky for my mind) then this is a connection between the bread/wine and Christ's body/blood in the eucharistic context which should be understood in good faith, without too much pressing one way or another (whether towards substantive change or to denial of any change) ... or, put another way the connection should not be pressed in the direction I am pushing it of the presence of Christ is really in the believe and not (also) in the bread and the wine. Providing we are not pressing towards substantive change then I am reasonably comfortable - but not totally comfortable since I still want to emphasise the importance (Hooker-wise) of our participation in the eucharist as a key to the connection between bread/wine and body/blood.

If none of that makes sense then ...?!?!

liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

As I have no real idea what you mean by "substantive change"
nor why "substantive change" (whatever you mean by that) is an issue for you,
there is little usefulness in my affirming or denying your points.
Do you see Christ's divinity as "substantively changing" his humanity?
Do you see the words of scripture "substantively changed"?
Maybe you lie awake at night with such questions; I do not. I feel like I have answered your questions - but you have not answered mine?

Advent blessings


Peter Carrell said...

I think, Bosco, if I am understanding correctly you are pleading the cause of analogy: Jesus is both human and divine (neither transubstantiates the other), so the eucharistic bread and the wine are bread-and-body-of-Christ and wine-and-blood-of Christ simultaneously ... and I think I get the point of 'metaphor' and am reflecting further upon that!

liturgy said...

Yes, analogy might be a helpful way forward. But you continue to use "transubstantiate" in your sentence - and I'm still not sure what you would mean by that?
All tests on Jesus would find a normal human being (physical, mental, psychological,...) Yet I am convinced that he is God. And not just encountered as God to those who have faith in him. Fully human. Fully divine.

Every test on the consecrated bread and wine will reveal it is normal bread and wine (that is the point of the Aristotelian accidents model). Yet I am convinced that Christ is present in and under this form of bread, in and under that wine. And not just encountered to those who have faith in him or in that.

[You continue to use "body" and "blood" language, and your sentence could be read as Christ's physical flesh in the bread and only in the bread, and Christ's physical blood - corpuscles and all - in the wine and only in the wine. Hence my suggestion you unpack your own metaphors of Christ's body and blood in a believer's heart, and see where that leads also].

Advent blessings


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
When you say "And not just encountered to those who have faith in him or in that" I infer that some change occurs to the bread and the wine; not necessarily through 'transubstantiation'; but some change nevertheless. At this point, have grown closer to you in understanding, I think I part company! My point about 'faith' is that through reception of the eucharistic bread and wine by faith with thanksgiving one is nurtured by the life of Christ ('body and blood'); but the bread and the wine surplus to requirements and placed in a tabernacle and then eaten (say) by an unbelieving thief while breaking into the church is not 'the body and blood of Christ' to that unbeliever.

But, I stress, I say this not so much to 'oppose' your understanding but to (hopefully) deepen my own udnerstanding of that which is, indeed, a matter of holy mystery!

liturgy said...

Yes, my approach is certainly to start from the mystery and awe that you mention in conclusion – hence my point, do you similarly attempt to analyse the incarnation, scripture, human love? Why would the eucharist get different analytical treatment?

Yes I hold that a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. If a thief breaks in to a police station and not knowing the NZ flag, burns the flag, is he merely burning a piece of cloth? If a thief breaks in to Waiouru, and unknowingly takes a victoria cross, has he stolen merely a piece of metal?

Exegetical complexities notwithstanding, I think 1 Cor 11:29 still applies in your scenario. I think you are severing and confusing the inner effect of a sacrament and the outer, visible sign.

Anglican teaching is certainly quite clear that a change occurs. Prior to consecration you might feed it to the ducks, pour it down the drain, toss it in the bin. After the consecration we are bound by our promises to reverently consume it or reserve it for communion of persons not present. That is the teaching of the Anglican formularies. I do not think you were intending to indicate you part company from our Anglican formularies?

Peter Carrell said...

Hello Bosco
Naturally I am in no hurry to part company with our formularies!

I would want to ponder a bit re 'change' ... perhaps one could leave it as is (a mystery tout simple) but one could probe a little and say, 'how?' (and, legitimately, I suggest, keep raising the question of whether 'transubstantiation' is being smuggled into our understanding - though I am NOT saying that you are doing that!)

One might also observe that 'change' involves a breakdown of the analogy with the incarnation.

Then there is the question of whether the burning of the flag or the stealing of a Victoria Cross are good analogies ... In each case basic materials (cloths, metal) have been worked into a specific, outwardly manifest symbolic object. But in the case of bread and wine for the eucharist, they are not made into a specific object like a flag or medal, though the words of consecration set them apart for a work of analogous symbolic import to a flag or medal. So there is some analogy there, but I am not sure how complete it is.

Indeed, as I think about it, a flag being burnt is offensive when it represents a country we believe in and have some participation in. If I found a Nazi flag in my great uncle's attic and burnt it, would I be causing offence in a community which neither believes in nor has participation in Nazi Germany?

liturgy said...

There are several points here, I will highlight some
1) I still have not heard from you why sorting the eucharistic presence is so fascinating, but I do not hear a similar “how?” urgently pressing how the incarnation works, how ordinary words are God’s Word in the scriptures, how intercourse between lovers embodies love?
2) You keep coming back in your comments to using “transubstantiation” – I thought early on in this discussion we had agreed it an unhelpful term as it is unclear what you mean by it. But in recent comments you keep wanting to sneak it back in. Why?
3) You are right to highlight the uniqueness of the eucharistic presence, and hence the inadequacy of other analogies – that is the nature of uniqueness. The incarnation is also unique. Eucharistic presence cannot be made equivalent to incarnation as you are pressing towards – as both are unique. To make them equivalent destroys the uniqueness of both.
4) A flag and a medal are significant to humans because we make them so for ourselves. The presence of Christ in the eucharist is significant, not because we make this so for ourselves, but because God makes it so for us. That is one point where your Nazi flag analogy breaks down.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
An attempt to answer your questions!
(1) Attempting to sort eucharistic presence and its 'how?': I think about these things (from time to time)
(2) Perhaps I should stop talking about transubstantiation!
(3) NO further comment required
(4) Fair point

liturgy said...

Looks like this discussion has run its online course. Thanks for the stimulation and tenor.