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Archive for January, 2011

The Real Presence and Substance of Christ in the Eucharist

Posted by Tony Listi on January 31, 2011

Transubstantiation literally means “the change of substance.” It is not dependent on Aristotelian philosophical terminology (though it would help to know it). Transubstantiation rests upon the distinction between accidental change (outward properties are transformed) and substantial change (creation of something new altogether). The Eucharist is a supernatural substantial change in which all physical properties remain unchanged. (Water changing into ice/steam is a natural accidental change. Food changing into ATP is a natural substantial change. The multiplication of the loaves in Mt 14:19 was a supernatural accidental change.)

Weak Philosophical Objections
Transubstantiation requires a lot of faith and is grounded in Scripture. It is beyond reason but not opposed to it. If God can become Man, then it cannot be deemed impossible for bread and wine to become the real body and blood of Jesus. If God can become incarnate (become part of the material world) in order to save the world from sin, then the materials of bread and wine can become God in order to fill us with grace.

Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist
John 6:47:63,66
“ ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from Heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘TRULY, TRULY, I say to you, UNLESS you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food INDEED, and my blood is drink INDEED. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so HE WHO EATS ME will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from Heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.’ This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.’… After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.”

James Cardinal Gibbons comments on what is so plain: “If the Eucharist were merely commemorative bread and wine, instead of being superior, it would really be inferior to the manna; for the manna was supernatural, heavenly, miraculous food, while bread and wine are a natural, earthly food….” Of course, Jesus says that the bread (who He is) is superior.

Among the Jews of Jesus’ time, the phrase ‘eat the flesh’ was a metaphor for a grievous injury. It is obvious that our Lord did not use the phrase in this sense (which would have been nonsensical), so it is altogether reasonable to conclude that he intended a literal meaning. When Protestants claim that Jesus meant only to “believe” in him, or to “accept” him spiritually and symbolically by faith, they are violating their own hermeneutical tenet of interpreting Scripture according to the Jewish customs, idioms, and usages of the time. The Protestant metaphorical interpretation dates back only to the 16th c.

Surely Jesus would not condemn people to eternal punishment (Jn 6:53) for the neglect of something that they never even comprehended in the first place! Rather, it was the rejection of a divine revelation due to its difficulty that was the cause of the loss of eternal life (6:57-58). The hearers, it is true, did not grasp the miraculous, sacramental way in which Christ was speaking (6:60-61) and balked (somewhat understandably) at the notion of what they imagined to be some sort of grisly cannibalism (6:52). Jesus countered with a statement that his natural human body would ascend to Heaven and not remain on the earth (6:62), and that spiritual wisdom and grace are necessary in order to understand his words (6:63, 65).
The non-acceptance of Jesus’ message was not due to mental incomprehension but rather willful disobedience and the resisting of the Spirit (Jn 6:63-65; cf Mt 13:10-23). Projecting this lesson to modern day Christians, I sincerely hope it is the case that Protestants simply do not fully understand the Eucharist rather than willfully disobey this command of Jesus. Only here in the New Testament do we have an account of followers of Christ abandoning him for theological reasons (Jn 6:66). But Jesus reiterates his teaching of eating his flesh no less than four times! He doesn’t soften his rhetoric but rather kicks it up a notch.
In the Greek, Jesus switches terms for “eat.” At first the word is “phago,” (used nine times in Jn 6:23-53) a generic term for eat used throughout the New Testament. But in Jn 6:54-58, the word used (four times) is more graphic and particular: “trogo,” which literally means “gnaws” or “chews.” Trogo occurs only here and in Mt 24:38 and Jn 13:18. The literal meaning is unmistakable.

This is My Body
Lk 22:19-20 “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.’ And likewise the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (see also Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24)

Jesus says “This is my body” (but which has the appearance of bread), not “here is my body,” which would infer more so the Lutheran view, whereby his body is present along with the bread and wine (consubstantiation). The position that these words are only symbolic− “this represents my body”− is a strained interpretation, since, as in Jn 6, a figure of speech not in common usage (at that time, for that culture) would have deceived the hearers. Bread and wine are not even particularly natural, analogous symbols of body and blood. When the word “is” in Scripture has the meaning “symbolizes,” this sense is readily apparent (e.g. Mt 13:38; Jn 10:7, 15:1; 1 Cor 10:4), whereas in this case it is not.
Moreover, Jesus and his disciples were celebrating Passover, which involved a literal sacrificial lamb. It strains credibility that the disciples missed the profound significance of Jesus’ words. Indeed, Passover to the Jews was no mere remembrance: they believed that the celebration transcended time in such a way that they were experiencing THE very moment of Passover at every celebration. This is very similar to the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.

Other passages
1 Cor 10:16 “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (see 1 Cor 10:14-22 for context)

1 Cor 11:27-30 “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”

These verses clearly demonstrate that the celebration of the Eucharist was practiced by the earliest Christians.
The second one, the more insightful one, clearly equates the bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus in his admonition against “profanity.” It also emphasizes the seriousness of this practice, whose desecration is even punishable by death (reminiscent of Levitical priests dying in the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament where God Himself was present!). Again, are these early Christians getting sick and dying over some mere metaphor?! The enormity of their crimes can only be derived from a belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

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Posted in Biblical Exegesis, Catholicism vs. Protestantism, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Conservatism & Science: Why Politics is Not a Science

Posted by Tony Listi on January 1, 2011

Science is conservative in some respects:

  • It generally changes incrementally and gradually as new evidence comes to mind.
  • It tests everything against experience. Results matter, not just theories or intentions.
  • It inherently looks to the past. Past occurences and observations are the foundation of science. Without faith in the past, science could not function.
  • It sees the world as inherently orderly, functioning according to certain reliably consistent laws of nature.

But science is not conservative with respect to the fact that science is fallibilistic. The foundations can and have been uprooted several times. The notion of science as the slow, steady, and conservative accumulation of knowledge was destroyed by a series of revolutions at the biological, cosmic, and atomic levels. Copernicus, Darwin, Einstein, and Heisenberg in partcular were instrumental in proving that science sometimes radically uproots the current paradigm of empirical/scientific knowledge. Strictly speaking, nothing is ever really “settled” in science.

True conservatism does not allow for epistemological revolutions in moral and political philosophy:

Conservatives do not deny the existence of undiscovered truths, but they make a critical assumption, which is that those truths that have already been apprehended are more important to cultivate than those undisclosed ones close to the liberal grasp only in the sense that the fruit was close to Tantalus…. Conservatism is the tacit acknowledgement that all that is finally important in human experience is behind us; that the crucial explorations have been undertaken, and that it is given to man to know what are the great truths that emerged from them. Whatever is to come cannot outweigh the importance to man of what has gone before. (William F. Buckley Jr. in Up from Liberalism)

Marxists and libertarians of almost all varieties think that politics is a science. But it isn’t, strictly speaking.

Conservatism is a more humane political philosophy because it recognizes the reality of human nature and the influences upon it. People are not mere physical material, mere combinations of atoms and molecules, who react in the exact same way to certain external stimuli, whether economic or political. Sure, human nature in general doesn’t change, but culture and nurture mould the raw material human nature. Also, people are individuals and thus sometimes deviate from nature, culture, or nurture by willful choice. No nation is perfectly virtuous, but some nations are more virtuous than others in certain respects. 

Thus, while there are certainly timeless political principles, their direct and pure application will not yield the same results for every single group of people under any and all circumstances. Prudence cannot be dispensed with, and thus politics should be considered an art ultimately. Of course, just because something is an art doesn’t mean that reason should be ignored. Orderly art requires reason, the faculty that creates order.

Moreover, it is actually the notion itself of politics as a science that has been so harmful to American politics. Science became largely about experimentation and knowledge for its own sake or for the sake of power, unhinged from moral considerations. Regressives applied hubristic, reckless, and immoral political experimentation in America, irrationally disregarding experience and time-tested experience (not to mention constitutional law). The consequences have been devastating.

Science in itself has no moral compass. To say that politics is a science is to introduce the element of amorality (or rather immorality) into politics.

Posted in Conservatism, Political Philosophy, Science and Politics, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Statist Origin of the Pledge of Allegiance

Posted by Tony Listi on January 1, 2011

 

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by and promoted by a socialist named Francis Bellamy to inculcate statism in school children. The only good part of the pledge, “under God,” was added later in 1954.

The words of the pledge embody statism because they declare an allegiance to a flag, which is a symbol (of a nation), and to a nation, whose laws can and do change. Because symbols and nations change, it is very dangerous to pledge any allegiance to them.

In fact, the laws of the United States of America have steadily become more immoral and statist over time: 

  • Our laws steal property from some and redistribute it to others (esp. govt. employees) for their private advantage rather than tax for common good that cannot be secured in any other way or at any lower level of government.
  • Our laws stifle economic liberty in general, codifying envy and greed, impoverishing our citizens, and stifling the means for true charity and generosity.
  • Our laws financially coerce parents into sending their children to state-run schools that banish Christian and moral instruction from the classroom and often indoctrinate them in socialism, sexual depravity, and atheism/heresy.
  • Our laws have allowed the slaughter of 50+ million baby sons and daughters, and the genocide continues.
  • Our laws steadily put adult self-indulgence over the positive rights of children, especially with respect to the institution marriage.

And all of this happened because the culture of our country was corrupted first.

If this trend continues to the point where the tyranny and decadence of our culture and politics justifies secession and (God forbid) another war of independence, of what value will our flag and the pledge be?

As a matter of principle, I suggest we reject the current pledge and perhaps substitute a better one:

I pledge allegiance to the Constitution and to the republic which it governs, sovereign states, under God, divisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Now that is a pledge that I would say. The Constitution is fundamental, structural law that cannot be changed without the formal amendment process. It is not a perfect document; in fact, it was more perfect before many of its amendments were added (e.g. 14th, 16th, 17th). But the Constitution is not a mere symbol; it is the embodiment of prudent political principles that are rooted in the Christian view of human nature and this view’s vindication in human history (especially Western history). The Constitution was also ratified under the presumption that secession was allowed.

Moreover, members of the U.S. military pledge allegiance to the Constitution first and foremost. Why not its citizens too?

Sure, it is possible that the Constitution and thus the republic will be amended, misinterpretted, or abused to the point where it no longer embodies the sound political principles the Framers meant it to establish. And so, one may argue that no pledge should be said at all as a matter of prudence. 

But ideally, Americans would indeed pledge allegiance to timeless, immutable, and crucial principles that promote virtue, liberty, peace, and prosperity. To have no allegiance whatsoever to anything is also very dangerous and fertile ground for statism. To successfully resist a tyrannical state, the American people must have a strong allegiance to something other than the state itself, something valuable that the state threatens.

Posted in American Culture, American History, Christianity and Politics, Education, Government and Politics, Politics and Religion, The Constitution, Written by Me | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Christianity is Historically Reasonable

Posted by Tony Listi on January 1, 2011

It seems lately that there has been a resurgence of atheism and agnosticism in American youth culture. With this in mind, it is necessary for young Christians to be able to explain and defend their faith through reason rather than mere appeals to authorities that non-Christians do not accept (i.e. the Bible, Church authority, Holy Tradition). Using inductive reasoning and the historical record, Christians can demonstrate that their faith is reasonable.

In my experience, most atheists and agnostics reject Christianity on the basis of a dogmatic and irrational rejection of miracles and Christian morality. Let me address this briefly before turning to the historical data.

Miracles are philosophically possible for the reasons the skeptic philosopher David Hume lucidly explained with regard to causation: past chronological experience in itself is no guarantee that physical phenomena will always occur in the future exactly like in that past experience. Philosophical skepticism undermines the dogmatic scientism and rationalism that say miracles can’t happen. I also suggest reading C. S. Lewis’ Miracles which explores precisely this topic and asserts that the reality of reason itself is miraculous. To summarize the argument in the book, Lewis quotes J. B. S. Haldane who appeals to a similar line of reasoning. Haldane states “If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.”

Morality, if it is to have any real and signficant meaning apart from human opinion and preference, is a matter of faith. Morality is beyond reason. Reason and logic can never provide foundational moral principles; reason can only expound upon such unprovable principles. You can’t reason your way to unselfishness as a moral principle. Whether egoism or love is moral can be determined only by appeal to a faith, a religion. Atheists and agnostics have no reason on principle to embrace love and altruism. Because God is excluded, any atheist or agnostic “morality” has to be man-made and thus inherently arbitrary. For who is any man to say his morality is better than any other man’s? Moreover, a willful refusal to obey Christian morality says more about the disobedient person than it does about Christian morality; such a willful refusal certainly doesn’t say anything about the truth or reasonableness of Christianity one way or another.

Alright, now on to the historical evidence. 

What we know about Jesus and early Christianity as a matter of history comes from Christian, Roman (Tacitus and Pliny the Younger), and Jewish (Josephus and the Talmud) primary sources. The Christian sources are eye-witness testimonies. They tell us four historical facts that are accepted by sincere and mainstream scholarship and have to be accounted for by the atheist, agnostic, or non-Christian:

  1. Jesus was tried, convicted, and crucified by the Jewish and Roman authorities.
  2. The tomb of Jesus was guarded and yet found empty. Neither the Jewish nor the Roman authorities could produce His body.
  3. Afterward, many of His followers, former skeptics among them, claim to have to have seen Jesus alive in the flesh (not a ghost) and to have interacted with Him.
  4. His followers then, in the face of harsh persecution and martrydom, created a revolutionary worldwide movement that converted millions of people to a new way of life based on the life and teachings of Jesus. They achieved this without any significant economic, political, or military power.

The second and fourth facts are particularly significant. 

The Christian explanation for these historical facts (the resurrection) is far more reasonable than all the other theories that non-Christians have come up with over the centuries. It passes historical scrutiny. Let’s take a look at these other theories one by one:

 1. Jesus’ followers created a myth; they lied.

  • The gospels tells us that Jesus’ followers were amazed at the sight of the risen Jesus; they did not expect Him to rise from the dead. Some refused to believe it even after others told them that He was alive in the flesh.
  • It is one thing to create a myth or lie; it is quite another to endure persecution and death for the sake of beliefs that one knows or even suspects to be untrue. Such behavior is highly unlikely. Who would behave like this? (See theory #4 too.)

2. Jesus’ followers stole the body of Jesus. (A very early accusation made against Christianity by Jewish authorities.)

  • The gospels and Jewish sources tell us that the tomb of Jesus was closed with a stone and guarded. It is highly unlikely that the poor, weak followers of Jesus could have overcome the guards nor do Jewish sources make this claim.
  • If the followers of Jesus had stolen the body, then they would have known that Christianity was false. That would bring us back to the previous theory (#1) which has already been rebutted.

3.  Jesus didn’t really die. (This theory is held by Muslims in particular and other non-Christian theorists.)

  • This theory requires us to believe that Roman soldiers didn’t know how to kill people. How reasonable is that?
  • Even if Jesus somehow managed to survive the scourging, crucifixion, and spear in His side. How reasonable is it to believe a man in such a state could have rolled the stone away from his tomb, overcome Roman guards, and made his way to his followers in various locations?

4. Jesus’ followers hallucinated or were insane.

  • Insanity and hallucinations are private, not public. If many people report seeing something that is highly unlikely, it is not reasonable to say they are all merely dreaming, imagining things, or insane.
  • Insanity and hallucination in themselves are very rare statistically. Hallucinations are usually caused by drugs or bodily deprivation.
  • The gospels tells us that Jesus appeared to and interacted with many of his disciples, as many as 500 of them on one occasion according to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The Bible also give us insight into the character and state of mind of those whom Jesus appeared to: the disciples were fearful, doubtful, despairing, skeptical, etc., hardly fertile ground for hallucination.
  • Paul, a Pharisaic Jew, Roman citizen, and persecutor of Christians, according to his own letters claims to have encountered the risen Jesus. How likely is it that such a person would hallucinate such things and radically change his life?

Ultimately, each and every one of us has to come up with a reasonable answer to the question that Jesus posed to His disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” The most reasonable answer is the Christian answer. In this way, reason calls us to faith.

This post is indebted to Dinesh D’Souza’s Life After Death: The Evidence and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, both of which I recommend for further reading in Christian apologetics.

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