Friday, June 3, 2011

God's Presence and Grace in the Eucharist

When we come to the Table of the Lord to receive the Holy Sacrament known as the Eucharist (or the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion), we are called to partake of the body and blood of Christ our Savior and Lord.  In the West, in particular, the Church over the centuries has tried to specify how, exactly, the partaking of the the bread and cup are a partaking of the body and blood of Christ.  (The East has not been so interested in such determinations.) 

There have been four primary understandings concerning this issue.

  The Roman Catholic position is called transubstantiation.  While there has been some relatively recent reinterpretation of how to talk about transubstantiation by contemporary Catholic theologians, the position basically means that the substance of the bread and wine are changed into the substance of the physical body and blood of Christ during the prayer, while the "accidents" remain those of bread and wine.  This view relies on Aristotle's distinction between substance and attributes, though, as I indicated, some more recent Catholic theologians have begun to reinterpret this doctrine along relational and personalistic lines, rather than Aristotilean lines).

The Lutheran position is called consubstantiation.  In this understanding, the bread and wine do not miraculously become the body and blood of Christ.  They remain bread and wine, but the presence of Christ is said to be "in, with, and under the elements."  Therefore, in receiving the bread and wine, one also receives the body and blood of Christ.

Ulrich Zwingli's view (taken up by many Evangelical churches) is called the memorialist view.  For Zwingli, the bread and wine signify  Christ's body and blood.  The sacrament (or ordinance) does not convey salvific grace, but rather it is a sign of grace that has already been received by faith.  The Table, then reminds us of the redemption won by the death of Christ.  However, to be fair (and many who hold this position do not understand this aspect), it is not simply a "mental" remembering.  Rather, it is a remembrance by reenactment.  (In reality, all of the positions would agree that the Sacrament is a memorial.  The other positions would say, however, that it is much more than just a memorial.)

Calvin's position is called spiritual presence.  Calvin's position rejects the Roman and Lutheran position, on the one hand, and Zwingli's position on the other hand.  Like the Roman and Lutheran positions, Calvin held that Christ is truly present and actually feeds believers with His body and blood.  At issue is how this happens.  Since it is believed that Christ is bodily present in heaven, He is seen to be spiritually present by the Holy Spirit, so that the Supper is a true communion with Christ, who feeds us with His body and His blood.  Rob Staples quotes Calvin as saying, "Now, if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare.  And, to speak more plainly, I rather experience than understand it."  (Emphasis mine.  And it should be said that for all of this, I am relying heavily upon Rob Staples, cf. below.)

Of these four positions, the Wesleyan view is most similar to that of Calvin's, though there are some differences.  (Some Wesleyan denominations, particularly the Church of the Nazarene, may, unfortunately, sound Zwinglian in their Articles of Faith, but one must view terms like "sacrament" within a self-professed Wesleyan context, and one must take into consideration other statements and the ritual, itself, which affirms that the position is not merely Zwinglian.)  Wesley rejected the other three positions and held to a real, spiritual presence of Christ in the sacrament.  However, Calvin talks about Christ's body being present in terms of "power," mediated by the Holy Spirit, while Wesley speaks of the presence of Christ in terms of His divinity.

Like Calvin, Wesley was not so concerned as to explain the how of Christ's presence.  Instead, he was concerned that the faithful experience the reality of Christ's presence.  -  Such an emphasis is expressed in the following two Wesley hymns taken from J. Ernest Rattenbury's, The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley:

57

1. O the depth of love Divine,
Th' unfathomable grace!
Who shall say how bread and wine
God into man conveys!
How the bread His flesh impart,
How the wine transmits His blood,
Fills His faithful people's hearts
With all the life of God!

2. Let the wisest mortal show
How we the grace receive,
Feeble elements bestow
A power not theirs to give.
Who explains the wondrous way,
How through these the virtue came?
These the virtue did convey,
Yet still remain the same.

3. How can heavenly spirits rise,
By earthly matter fed,
Drink herewith Divine supplies,
And eat immortal bread?
Ask the Father's Wisdom how;
Him that did the means ordain!
Angels round our altars bow
To search it out in vain.

4. Sure and real is the grace,
The manner be unknown;
Only meet us in Thy ways,
And perfect us in one.
Let us taste the heavenly powers;
Lord, we ask for nothing more:
Thine to bless, 'tis only ours
To wonder and adore.

And . . .

59

1. God incomprehensible
Shall man presume to know;
Fully search Him out, or tell
His wondrous ways below?
Him in all His ways we find
How the means transmit the power -
Here He leaves our thoughts behind,
And faith inquires no more.

2. How He did these creatures raise,
And make this bread and wine
Organs to convey His grace
To this poor soul of mine,
I cannot the way descry,
Need not know the mystery;
Only this I know - that I
Was blind, but now I see.

3. Now mine eyes are open'd wide,
To see His pardoning love,
Here I view the God that died
My ruin to remove;
Clay upon mine eyes He laid,
(I at once my sight received,)
Bless'd, and bid me eat the bread,
And lo! my soul believed.

_______________________________

As indicated, above, much of this post has drawn from Rob Staples' Outward Sign and Inward Grace: The Place of Sacraments in Wesleyan Spirituality. Beacon Hill P. Kansas City, MO. 1991.

20 comments:

Eric + said...

Some random thoughts....

I don't like transubstantiation, not because I find it impossible or even unlikely, but because I think it is too Aristotilian and modern, attempting to explain away the mystery of incarnation.

I don't like Calvin's spiritual presence because it limits Christ's presence to a purely spiritual thing. I have to decide if I believe Christ is present or not. I cannot subscribe to any view that would seem to say part of Christ is present, but not the other, or only Christ's divinity is present and not his humanity.... a little too close to classic heresy for me.

Because I believe Christ is present, fully in every possible way, I have to reject the Zwingli position. Interestingly, even Zwingli rejected this approach later in life.

So, of the 4 options you presented, I am most comfortable with consubstantiation as it allows for Christ's full presence without going to far into the realm of metaphysics. Though even this view is not without its problems.

Perhaps it would be helpful to add a discussion of the Orthodox position as it may ultimately prove most helpful.

Todd Stepp said...

Eric+,

If your problem with transubstatiation is primarily with it being too Aristotilian, perhaps you should check into the re-interpretations by Catholic scholars mentioned in the article. As I said, they look at the doctrine in relational and personalistic terms.

For this view, Staples cites Edward Schillebeeckx (from the Netherlands). The first citation is: O.P., Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963). The second is: "The Sacraments: An Encounter wit God," in Schillebeeckx, OP, ed. M. Redefern (New York and London: Sheed and Ward, 1972). And the third is: Encyclopedia of Theology, 1754.

As for the Orthodox, as I mentioned, my understanding (quite limited here!) is that they have avoided these kinds of questions. However, I have had some Orthodox view this blog, and I would love to hear from them. Or, Eric, feel free to post what you find.

Concerning consubstantiation, according to Borgen, "Wesley rejects the Lutheran views of consubstantiation and ubiquity, which require a communicating of the properties of the divine nature to the human. Christ is only omnipresent according to his divine nature; therefore, in order to communicate the benefits of his human life and death to us, these must be, as it were, at the disposal of Christ as omnipresent God. According to Wesley, no corporeal, carnal, material, substantial or localized presene of Christ in the sacrament can be accepted."

Eric, this goes to the "two whole and perfect natures, that is to say the Godhead and manhood" being "thus united in one Person very God and very man, the God-man" (Manual Article II.) It also goes to Christ being "ascended into heaven, and [seated] at the right hand of God the Father Almighty" (Apostles Creed).

That is to say, if we are talking about a physical, localized presence of Christ's physical body in the bread and wine, are we not, thus, denying the true humanity (particularized humanity) of Jesus the Christ?

Calvin, at this point, agreed with Zwingli that after the Ascension, Christ retained a real body that is located in heaven. Yet, Calvin says that in the Lord's Supper there is a real reception of the body and blood of Christ, but they are received in a spiritual manner.

For Calvin, Christ is bodily in heaven, but distance is overcome by the Holy Spirit, so that the Supper is a true communion with Christ, who feeds us with His body and His blood. (Again, relying on Staples.)

For Wesley, the stess is laid on the presence of Christ in terms of His divinity. As Staples says, the whole Trinity is present, bestowing the benefits of Christ's redemptive act.

But, again, Wesley does not seek to set out a formula of the how of Christ's presence. He does set out reasons why he cannot accept the other positions, but he is more concerned with the fact of Christ's presence and, like the East, he is content to stand in awe of the mystery.

Adam said...

Todd,

Perhaps I'm off on this, but I was taught, and the Formula of Concord would seem to indicate, that the Lutheran sacramental union view teaches that bread and wine are united to the full person of Christ but they are not locally changed. In this way, the full person of Christ is communicated in the Eucharist without a material transformation of the elements.

Again, I could be wrong, but that's how I read the Formula, and it's what I was taught in catechesis.

Blessings,
Adam

Todd Stepp said...

Adam,

You are right. As I indicated, the substance (and accidents) of the bread and wine remain unchanged. They to not transform into the body and blood of Christ. - Thus, the view is not that of trans-substantiation.

Rather, the "full person" of Christ is "added to," in, with, and under the bread and wine. Thus, it is con-substantiation, or "with" the substance.

What is at issue for Wesley (and Calvin) is Luther's idea of the ubiquity (or omnipresence) of Christ's body. Luther confesses the mystery that the Christ can be present everywhere (and thus in the sacrament) "in bodily form."

But you were spot on with your understanding of the Lutheran position.

Todd+

Eric + said...

"Throughout the centuries, Christians have seen many dimensions in the Eucharist. The various titles which have come to describe the rite bear witness to the richness of its meaning. The Eucharist has been known as the Holy offering, the Holy Mysteries, the Mystic Supper, and the Holy Communion. The Orthodox Church recognizes the many facets of the Eucharist and wisely refuses to over-emphasize one element to the detirement of the others. In so doing, Orthodoxy has clearly avoided reducing the Eucharist to a simple memorial of the Last Supper which is only occasionally observed. Following the teachings of both Scripture and Tradition, the Orthodox Church believes that Christ is truly present with His people in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine become for us His Body and His Blood. We affirm that these Holy Gifts are transfigured into the first fruits of the New Creation in which ultimately God will be "all in all"."

-from the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith7077

Eric + said...

I have a Schillibeckx book on my self, but haven't had the time to read it. Too busy with assigned reading. Isn't Fr Schmemann an Orthodox priest who writes on the sacraments? May be a good place to start on that front.

I understand the issue with omnipresence vs. localized with the father, but I think that is not as important an issue as maintaining the fullness of Christ, as Adam said, "the full person of Christ..."

I would prefer to leave my view of presence simply there. Christ is fully present. Period.

I love what Staples said in Holiness Today to the effect of: when we come to the Table, Christ is basically as present to us as he was to the Apostles (my paraphrase, I don't have the article in front of me). His point: in the Eucharist, Christ is fully present to us.

Adam Roe said...

Todd,

The omnipresence angle is what I was missing. Thanks for clarifying that.

Eric, Schmemann's "For The Life Of The World" is widely considered by most Orthodox Christians as one of the best works on the Eucharist. As to the Real Presence, I've never been able to pin down the Orthodox position. Some will claim that there is a "metousiosis" and point to the 1672 Synod of Jerusalem as proof the the Orthodox Church holds to transubstantiation. Others argue that it wasn't an ecumenical council and, therefore, is not dogma. Time spent with Orthodox Christians leads me to conclude that most do not grant the manner in which the "Latins" explain the change, but they do recognize that the elements change.

I like the quote from Staples.

Todd Stepp said...

Yes, from what Eric+ quotes, and what Adam says, it does sound as though (as I thought) the Orthodox prefer to avoid the Western questions of "how," but rather affirm that Christ is truly present.

This is what Wesley attempts to do, and what is said in the hymns. However, being in the Western Church, he does respond to the theories of "how" that are about him (RC, Lutheran, Calvinist & Zwinglian).

Eric, I would agree with what Staples says, as you paraphrase him. I think where you have reservations is at the point of recognizing that for Staples (and Wesley) the position of spiritual presence is understood to be fully consistent with the belief that Christ is really, fully present. That is to say, Staples is not inconsistent with his own position (i.e., Wesley's position).

Perhaps that can be illustrated by saying that while Christ is just as present with us at the Table as he was with the apostles is not to say that He is present in the exact same way. Just as present, but not identically present. Christ is not physically, bodily, visibly standing with us and audibly speaking to us, etc. Nevertheless, He is every bit as present to us IN THE SACRAMENT.

So to be fully present, does not imply that "how" of his full presence is the same. - Wesley's position is one in which Christ is fully, really present, and we do partake of Christ's real body and blood, and such is communicated to us by His Divine Spirit.

How God is able to provide for us the full presence of Christ is indeed a mystery. It seems to me that Wesley/Calvin attempt to talk about it in a way that guards doctrines that the other positions seem to call into question.

In the end, for me, I am most convinced by the Wesleyan positon (surprise!), but, while I will disagree with the other two "real presence" positions, I will do so with a catholic spirit. I think the more we can affirm the reality and the mystery, the better off we are.

Todd+

Thomas said...

Of course, as a Catholic I accept transubstantiation. But I can certainly understand the appeal of consubstantiation or a spiritual presence alongside the bread and wine. Our senses tell us that the bread appears to still be bread, so it seems most logical that the bread undergoes no change. It seems that Jesus’ Real Presence must be alongside (or present with) the reality of the bread.

However, this suggests a Christological problem to me: In the Incarnation, God assumed the human nature in such a way that He takes it up to Himself. God’s divine nature becomes united to human nature in the person Jesus, and so Jesus is inseparably human and divine in the hypostatic union. In Jesus, the divine nature is not present “alongside” the human nature so that Jesus is two entities. Rather God takes up human nature and makes it His own. And so as the Church Fathers taught: What is assumed is thereby redeemed. This event is unique in history.

Now if we believe that the bread remains bread after the consecration, while at the same time we insist that Christ is truly present in the bread, then we must say that God is somehow sharing the space with the bread. Some theologians have compared this to the hypostatic union in Christ. But this poses the question: How can God “share” existence with another object and yet remain God? In Jesus this is explained because our human nature is possessed by God in such away that our nature is taken up to Him. Our human nature can coexist with God’s nature by being hypostatically united, but the hypostatic union goes towards our redemption. So the same thing would then have to be true about bread. God’s Real Presence would have to assume the nature of bread in such a way that all of “bread-kind” would be taken up and redeemed (What is assumed is thereby redeemed.) This is a real theological problem for me.

To me it makes more sense (no matter how difficult it is to grasp in our human mind) that the bread ceases to be bread and only Jesus Real Presence remains (body, blood, soul and divinity). This keeps the Incarnation and the hypostatic union intact, without extending it to bread or creating a theological puzzle.

Eric + said...

Thanks Thomas. I think you are right to look at Christ's presence in the Eucharist in terms of incarnation. And I think you are right to insist on Jesus full presence ("body, blood, soul, divinity") in the Eucharist.

As I have read on the Orthodox view the word "transfiguration" seems to appear often. I would like to investigate that concept more deeply. Anyone else run into that term. Maybe it is in "For the Life of the World" (which is on my self right next to Schillebeeckx's "Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God." They will be read soon.

Todd, I agree with your assessment of the Staples quote which follows:

"The disciples were in the PHYSICAL presence of Jesus. They could reach out and touch His real flesh-and-blood body. THe good news is that He has provided a way for us to do virtually the same thing, when we reach out and take the bread that He said is His body and drink the cup that He said is His blood. The 12 disciples had no great advantage over us. At the Communion table we, too, are in Christ's presence, very much like they were."

I also realize that my hesitance with the Spiritual Presence is likely semantic. I much prefer the term Real Presence as it much more clearly affirms what I believe we must affirm that Christ is really (and fully) present. Using Spiritual seems too easy to misunderstand as Christ is only spiritually present.

Peace

Todd Stepp said...

Thomas, I think you illustrated well part of the incarnational issue in connection with the bread and wine.

And Eric, I would say that there is at least an element of semantic issues going on. - I think that Wesley is at his best, here, when, like the Orthodox, he speaks of the mystery of the sacrament. I think he wants to stay away from the "how" altogether. And, thus far, what I have heard about the Eastern discussions, they seem to use language that still retains the idea of mystery (i.e., it is still not quite nailed down, as it tends to be in the West).

Perhaps, given the options available, for Wesley, who did see problems with the RC, Lutheran & Zwinglian positions, Calvin's position did seem to be the best option because it seemed to retain more of the mystery (in this way, perhaps, the work of the Spirit = mystery?).

It does seem to me that all of the positions (except Zwingli's) are trying to say that Christ is really, fully present. It is still a matter of the "how" of Christ's presence. - Luther had theological problems with Romes explanation. Calvin had issues with both, and so did Wesley.

Staples wonders what Wesley would have done if he were to hear the less Aristotilian interpretation of some of the more recent RC scholars, as well as the newer views of some Lutherans.

I think the newer RC scholars, by their very re-interpretation, have acknowledged the problems with the traditional, Aristotilian interpretation of transubstantiation. - It also seems that I have heard some Wesleyan scholar (can't recall who), who expressed that the newer RC interpretation may come much closer to a position consistent with Wesleyan theology.

So, I think all of the "how" questions are ever developing. (Which speaks to the wisdom of the East, and Wesley/Calvin at their best, when they affirm the reality but also the mystery.)

Two more thoughts, below:

Todd Stepp said...

1.) Eric, when you say that you prefer "real presence" to "spiritual presence," I would say that the latter is only invoked when people bring up the question of "how." That is to say, the position is that we believe in the "real presence." It is only when someone asks what that means (is it tran/con-substantiation or what?), or when we are wanting to explain that we don't mean one of those two things, that we tend to talk about spiritual presence.

So, in other words, I'm happy to talk about "real presence." That is what I say when i talk about it. - But, at some time, someone is going to ask what that means, etc., and to simply say that Christ is really and fully present with probably not be enough.

2.) Here's a question: why does Rome (or any of us) talk about the "body, blood, soul and divinity"? - Understand, I'm not arguing against it, but I'm wondering when we began talking in those terms, when Scripture doesn't. Scripture talks about "body and blood." - Again, I'm not arguing, but it is these two, body and blood, over which the debates of "how" have raged.

3.) (I know, I said two, but . . .) The Scripture also identifies the Church as the body of Christ. In fact, we sometimes speak of the Church as the continuation of the incarnation.

I think it would be interesting for someone to study (they probably have!) how we might speak of the bread as body in comparison to the Church as body. If both are taken literally to the same degree and in the same way (two important conditions), then why do we not talk of a transubstantiation (or con-) of the Church, itself?

Neither say, the bread/Church is "like" the body, but that it "is" the body of Christ.

And, to continue, perhaps the way that we understand the Church as the body of Christ ("the fullness of Him who fills all in all," Eph. 1:23), can help us in our understanding of the bread as the body of Christ.

Just a thought.

Any way, thanks to all who have contributed to a couple of really good discussions on these recent posts!

Todd+

Todd Stepp said...

William Shontz+, newly ordained priest in the AMiA (and ENC grad.)just made an informative comment about this blog post on the Wesleyan/Anglican facebook page. I have encouraged him to make that comment in this forum.

I will give him some time to do that, before I take it upon myself to copy it, here.

Todd+

Todd Stepp said...

More conversations going on on the Wesleyan/Anglican fb page, including information on the Orthodox position and a way of looking at it that is being passed around in the Anglican tradition.

Todd+

WHS said...

Hi, Todd: Thank you for the invitation: This is what I posted on your Facebook page:

Greetings. Have you read George Hunsinger's THE EUCHARIST AND ECUMENISM? He opts for the Patristic "Transelementation" as a way forward for the Reformed Tradition in particular for ecumenical consent. Quotes Cramner as supportive. I know that this work is getting passed around quite a bit in Anglican circles. Seems to me that Wesleyans would like it, too.

And this:

Orthodox theologian John Meyendorff writes: "They [Byzantine theologians] would consider a term like 'transubstantiation' (metousiosis) improper to designate the Eucharistic mystery, and generally use the concept of metabole, found in the canon of John Chrysostom, or such dynamic terms as 'trans-elementation (metastoicheiosis) or 're-ordination' (metarrythmisis)." This is cited in Hunsinger, but I looked the reference up myself in Myendorff's "Byzantine Theology" (p. 203).

And this:

I meant to add that I think that Hunsinger's presentation fits well with "Transformation (NOTE: this is in reference to a Facebook comment from Terril Littrell: The Orthodox view is called "Transformation")." Orthodox Professor Will Cohen provides an encouraging engagement with Hunsinger in PRO ECCLESIA (Vol XIX, No. 3, 2010).

William Shontz+

Eric + said...

William,

Congrats on your orders. I am a friend of Jamie Schmotzer and saw the pics on facebook. Welcome. Where are you serving? Would love to chat with you sometime.

Peace.

WHS said...

Hi, Eric: I tried to send you a personal message, but I cannot figure out how. I beg the indulgence of our host.

I serve Trinity Anglican Church in Erie, PA. Our website is theleca.org . It may be of interest to Wesleyans with an Anglican bent, or Anglicans with a Wesleyan bent.

William+

Eric + said...

whs... skip the pm and email me

eefrey@gmail.com

PS... I couldn't get the pm/email thing through blogger to work either fwiw.

Thomas said...

A few thoughts I had concerning some of the above comments:

1) “Why does Rome (or any of us) talk about the "body, blood, soul and divinity"?”

I think the dual issues of “Incarnation” and “Real Presence” demand that we address both the “physical” reality as well as the “spiritual” reality of the Eucharist. The son of God truly “took flesh” and in that mystery the divine nature was truly united to the human nature. Jesus is physically flesh and blood, and He has a soul and a divine Spirit. So if this incarnate God is truly present in the Eucharist (as we call it the “Real Presence”) then we must believe that the WHOLE Christ is there. This must include the “body, blood, soul, and divinity.” If the whole Christ is not present (if his body and blood are not truly there) then it is not a REAL Presence, properly speaking. (I think this touches on Eric’s concerns.)

2) “I think it would be interesting for someone to study how we might speak of the bread as body in comparison to the Church as body.”

I believe it was St. Augustine who said to those who came forward to receive Communion: “Behold what you are, and become what you receive.” The Church is certainly the Body of Christ, as the first half of Augustine’s statement implies – “behold what you are.” But the Church (which is full of sinners and certainly not a perfect reflection of Christ) is always in the process of “becoming” more like Christ, as the second half of Augustine’s statement expresses – “become what you receive.” The Eucharist can be called the “Real Presence” of Christ in a truer sense than the Church, because it contains the glorified Christ truly present to us and is used as food to sustain and grow the Body of Christ that is the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ in a more qualified sense. Also I would say that the Church is described as Christ’s bride, and so is one “Body” with Him as man and wife are one Body. But the bride still awaits the union of the wedding feast in heaven. The Eucharist is a foretaste of that banquet. (Basically the Eucharist is “Body of Christ” in a truer and more literal sense than the Church. Much more could be said on this topic I am sure.)

Of course as a Catholic, I bow down in worship before the Eucharist. I believe it to be truly God’s presence. I would not bow down in worship before an assembled church gathering, even though I believe that God is present among them – it is not the same reality. The reality of God’s Presence in the Eucharist is more literal/physical (from a Catholic perspective).

Thomas said...

3) “At some time, someone is going to ask what that means, and to simply say that Christ is really and fully present will probably not be enough.”

I have had a couple of brief exchanges with Orthodox believers on “what that means.” It seems that they prefer not to define the “Real Presence” in strict terms. They would say that the physical reality is there, but they would avoid defining it beyond a mystery. But getting a true consensus among the Orthodox is rather difficult in my experience.

However, as you say, “at some time, someone is going to ask what that means,” and the truth is that the Orthodox have simply not had the same turmoil within their ranks as the Western Church has. More “questions have been asked” and more doctrines challenged in the West over the last few centuries than in the East…specifically since the Reformation. As with most doctrines, formal declarations by the Church are not made unless some clarification is necessary, and the Reformation made clarification very necessary. The formal acceptance of “transubstantiation” as an explanation for the Real Presence was in part a reaction to a specific challenge regarding the true nature of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. Is it too rigid? – I don’t think so, but I can see the other side of the argument. As times have changed theologians have begun testing other explanations. But I think anything “new” would have to fit the already accepted “transubstantiation” but with updated language.

Anyway…great thread!