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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 »

Commentary on St. Ignatius’ Letter to the Ephesians

Posted by Tony Listi on February 28, 2010

St. Ignatius (d. circa. 98-117 AD) was the bishop of Syria and perhaps the earliest Church father whose writings we have. His letter to the Ephesians is one of the earliest and most explicitly Catholic writings of the fathers that I’ve ever read.

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia….

As with virtually all letters of Scripture and the early fathers, only one Church is affirmed; it just happens to be at different places physically on the earth.

I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him.

This is perhaps the same Onesimus who was a slave of Philemon and whom St. Paul converted. Ignatius prays that the Ephesians will love and imitate Onesimus.

After praise for Onesimus and his subordinate ministers, he continues:

It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who has glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience “you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing” (1 Corinthians 1:10), and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified…. But inasmuch as love suffers me not to be silent in regard to you, I have therefore taken upon me first to exhort you that you would all run together in accordance with the will of God. For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the [manifested] will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ. Wherefore it is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do.

Ignatius exhorts the Ephesians to “unanimous obedience” to the doctrinal teachings of their bishop, not to rely on Scripture alone (there was no New Testament anyway then). Through this obedience to the bishop and his ministers, the flock is sanctified in all respects. It is not up to the individual believer to decide what true, correct doctrine is. Unity of mind, judgment, action, and speech are necessary. Moreover and strikingly, the will of the bishop is identified with the will of God. The necessity and authority of the bishops is “so by the will of Jesus Christ.”

It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God. For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop — I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature— how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity!

Unity, unity, unity. This is a constant theme of this letter and other letters by Ignatius.

Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God.

This is a reference to the Eucharist. Those outside of the Church are not part of the Body of Christ and thus do not receive the Body of Christ at the altar.

For if the prayer of one or two possesses (Matthew 18:19) such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resists the proud.” Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.

Again, authority and power rests with the bishop and the Church universal (the catholic Church). Those who separate themselves from the catholic Church out of pride condemn themselves. Again, the will of the bishop is identified with the will of God.

For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, (Matthew 24:25) as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that you all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do you hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth.

Again, the bishop is identified with “the Lord Himself,” as an overseer designated by “the Master” who must be obeyed. The bishop creates “good order in God” so that Christians may “live according to the truth” and that no denomination/sect disobedient to the bishop is tolerated among them. Sects do not arise if there is “unanimous obedience” to the bishop, but when the disobedient cannot be reconciled, they must be expelled from the communion in which the one, true Church dwells. Thus Martin Luther and other heretics sealed their own fate with regard to the Church.

For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom you must flee as you would wild beasts. For they are ravening dogs, who bite secretly, against whom you must be on your guard, inasmuch as they are men who can scarcely be cured.

There are many wicked people who call themselves “Christian” but who are not worthy of the Name. The true Christian must be on guard against them and avoid them.

Let not then any one deceive you, as indeed you are not deceived, inasmuch as you are wholly devoted to God. For since there is no strife raging among you which might distress you, you are certainly living in accordance with God’s will. I am far inferior to you, and require to be sanctified by your Church of Ephesus, so renowned throughout the world. They that are carnal cannot do those things which are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual the things which are carnal; even as faith cannot do the works of unbelief, nor unbelief the works of faith. But even those things which you do according to the flesh are spiritual; for you do all things in Jesus Christ.

The faithful can be deceived and fall away. Strife in a church is caused by false, deceitful teachers and is a sign that God’s will is not being done. Ignatius also powerfully expresses the Catholic position that faith and works are intimately and inseparably joined together. If you “do the works of  unbelief,” then you do not have faith or salvation.

The last times have come upon us. Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, that it tend not to our condemnation. For let us either stand in awe of the wrath to come, or show regard for the grace which is at present displayed— one of two things. Only [in one way or another] let us be found in Christ Jesus unto the true life. Apart from Him, let nothing attract you, for whom I bear about these bonds, these spiritual jewels, by which may I arise through your prayers, of which I entreat I may always be a partaker, that I may be found in the lot of the Christians of Ephesus, who have always been of the same mind with the apostles through the power of Jesus Christ.

We should fear God. Notice that Ignatius does not discount the possibility of any Christian’s condemnation by God. He does not speak as one assured of his own salvation. One does not “get saved”; one is “found in Christ Jesus unto the true life.” Salvation comes from always being “of the same mind with the apostles.”

Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.

This is a reference to the Eucharist (Greek eucharistia, thanksgiving). Again, “unity of faith” destroys the powers of Satan. Schisms empower Satan.

No man [truly] making a profession of faith sins; (1 John 3:7) nor does he that possesses love hate any one. The tree is made manifest by its fruit; (Matthew 12:33) so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognised by their conduct. For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end.

Real faith is evident from sinlessness, obedience, and good works. “Mere profession” is not enough to be saved; one must continue “in the power of faith to the end.” And the power of faith is the power to avoid all mortal sin and bear good fruit.

Do not err, my brethren (James 1:16). Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him.

Error and consequent sin effect death, not salvation. Just as those who corrupt their bodies in sins of the flesh (and don’t receive forgiveness) suffer death in hell, so those who wickedly corrupt the “faith of God” and listen to these corrupters “shall go away into everlasting fire.”

Be not anointed with the bad odour of the doctrine of the prince of this world; let him not lead you away captive from the life which is set before you. And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish, not recognising the gift which the Lord has of a truth sent to us?

Again, Christians can fall away from the faith and be damned; they can be led away from the Christian life like a captive in war. Knowledge of the truth is not enough to keep the Christian from perishing foolishly; discipline of the will is necessary to tame the body and evil desires of the heart.

Especially [will I do this ] if the Lord make known to me that you come together man by man in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, so that you obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.

Again and in conclusion, another reemphasis that there is only “one faith,” that one must “obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind,” and that one must break “one and the same bread.” The faith (body of true doctrines), the Church leadership, and the Eucharist together all proclaim the oneness and unity of the Body of Christ. Moreover, the Eucharistic “bread” is not merely memorial but effective as “the medicine of immortality,” “the antidote” to death, and the cause of eternal life in Jesus.

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The Earliest Church Fathers on Transubstantiation of Bread and Wine

Posted by Tony Listi on January 13, 2010

Why the heck should any Christian believe that Jesus was only speaking symbolically in Scripture about his body and blood in John 6 and Luke 22 when the earliest Church leaders (bishops) believed and acted otherwise?

It doesn’t get any clearer or earlier than St. Ignatius’ (died by 117 AD) denunciation of the Docetic heretics in his letter to the Smyrnaeans:

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer,  because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect,  that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of  them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved.  But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils. (emphasis mine)

More evidence from Ignatius’ letter to the Romans:

I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterward of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life. (emphasis mine)

This last citation of St. Ignatius in his letter to the Philadephians is less explicit but still supportive:

Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth ] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God. (emphasis mine)

St. Justin Martyr (died circa 165 AD) is also very explicit in his First Apology:

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία  [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do in remembrance of Me, (Luke 22:19) this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. (emphasis mine)

St. Irenaeus (died circa 200 AD) is also very clear in upholding transubstantiation in his rebuke of heretics:

But how can they be consistent with themselves, [when they say] that the bread over which thanks have been given is the body of their Lord,  and the cup His blood, if they do not call Himself the Son of the Creator of the world, that is, His Word, through whom the wood fructifies, and the fountains gush forth, and the earth gives “first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” Then, again, how can they say that the flesh, which is nourished with the body of the Lord and with His blood, goes to corruption, and does not partake of life? Let them, therefore, either alter their opinion, or cease from offering the things just mentioned.  But our opinion is in accordance with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn establishes our opinion. For we offer to Him His own, announcing consistently the fellowship and union of the flesh and Spirit.  For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread,  but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity. (emphasis mine)

The Didache (written 100 AD) says:

But let no one eat or drink of your Thanksgiving (Eucharist), but they who have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, Give not that which is holy to the dogs. (emphasis mine)

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