Thursday, March 14, 2013

Transubstantiation Pt. 3

Previously I said I wanted to take an in depth look from the totality of the Bible as to how Transubstantiation is definitively supported with the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. As I mentioned Hiram Diaz seems to find no single verse of scripture from which to see a defense of the Catholic position.

Strange, because the totality of scriptures seem to me to be loaded with them. The first reference to a blessing of bread and wine comes in Genesis 14:18 when Abram meets Melchizedek. Abram is returning from battle when the priest (Melchizedek) comes out and blesses the bread and wine and gives it to him.

Fine you might say it's bread and wine. That doesn't support Transubstantiation on its own, but it helps build the house. We see in Hebrews 7 that Melchizedek is a type of Christ. He offered bread and wine to Abram, which is the same thing Christ offers to the Twelve that night in the Upper Room.

While they were held as slaves in Egypt the Israelites found someone who would lead them to freedom, Moses. God told the Israelites to celebrate a special feast, Passover. He would go through the land slaughtering the firstborn sons of Egypt, but the Jewish people would be spared because of blood from a freshly slaughtered Lamb on their doors.

The Passover feast had some special rules. Each family was to take a spotless firstborn male lamb from their flock, slaughter it and roast it. They were also told that the entire lamb had to be consumed, nothing could be left overnight. They were also to throw out all the leaven and eat only unleavened bread.

Interestingly enough especially later on anyone desiring to take part in the Passover feast had to be a Jew. It was a closed feast, that will come back up later.

I mentioned previously that Hiram Diaz refused to answer my question regarding whether the lamb was to be eaten. I think he knew where I would take him if he answered me. Revelation that great and terrible book that closes scripture. In between all of the frightful bits of prophesy Revelation is actually a great Passover liturgy.

Interestingly in chapter 5 we see Christ referred to as the lion of Judah and the root of David. However when St. John looks he sees a lamb appearing as though it has been slain Rev. 5:5-8. Why is the victorious Christ, vanquisher of death, crusher of sin, seen in His heavenly glory sitting on His throne as a newly slain lamb? Because as we learn in Hebrews 13:8 Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Since time began He has been the lamb slain for the remission of sin.

That being said, if even in his heavenly glory Christ is the newly slain lamb of the Passover. He must even during the Incarnation have still existed outside of time as humans know it, thus for Him the Law has always been fulfilled. Thus rendering any attempt to turn Transubstantiation into some sort of sin against the Law moot.

Let's go back to that Upper Room, Christ having "eagerly desired" to celebrate one last Passover with His apostles reclines at table with the Twelve Lk. 22:12.Christ then takes the bread and wine blessing them and sharing them with the apostles: Cf. Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; 1 Corinthians 11:21-25.

Curiously the institution narrative is absent in John's Gospel. However in John 6 we see the famous Bread of Life discourse in which Christ explains that for His disciples to have eternal life they must eat His flesh and drink His blood.

Some of you out there might now be saying sure but none of this says that a priest can say some words over a wafer of bread and a cup of wine and make it truly the Body of Christ or the Blood of Christ. Indeed that is never directly taught. However it is clear that Christ intends for the Apostles to be the beginning of a new ministerial priesthood. As such He implores them to repeat the blessing over the bread and wine "Do this in memory of Me."

The New Testament ministerial priesthood is perfectly foretold in the Old Testament as Malachi 1:11 shows. The prophet describes a time when God's name would be great even among the Gentiles and a "perfect offering" would be made to Him, from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Pretty sure you will find a Catholic Mass being offered somewhere in the world every hour of every day of every year. Save for Good Friday, no Mass that day, no sacraments at all in fact, except in cases of dire need.

So Communion for a Catholic is all about receiving the Lord whole and entire: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity with every reception of the sacrament. It is a closed feast like the OT Passover after all we have to protect the solemnity and dignity of such a great mystery.

The actual mechanics of what happens to transform the bread and wine are just that a mystery, part of the great exercise of faith.

For me the faith stands or falls on this one thing, that is why I go to such lengths to defend it. It's also why I get so angry about people who are so derisive about it, especially without a sound attempt at a refutation.


Allistair Graham said...

"The actual mechanics of what happens to transform the bread and wine are just that a mystery, part of the great exercise of faith."

I agree with you. The idea that different objects of the same material structure can have a different spiritual status - and 'substance' - is not without biblical support.

In one of your previous posts about transubstantiation, you mention manna. Of course, as you point out, Christ is the 'Manna from Heaven'.

As I am sure you know, there were three types of manna, even though all three were materially the same substance (Exodus 16:19,23,32):

1. The manna that only remained fresh for one day, and which became putrid if kept overnight.

2. The extra manna that was gathered on the sixth day, and which remained edible for the Sabbath.

3. The manna that was kept as a testimony for all generations.

Clearly all these three types of manna had to be the same substance materially. In fact, if they were not, then the manna to be kept in perpetuity would not be a faithful memorial of God's faithfulness. However, the spiritual 'substance' of all three was different, because the first type rotted after a day, the second would have rotted after two days and the third did not rot at all.

In my view, this is an interesting example of how two or more material objects can have the same material constitution, and yet have a completely different spiritual status. If that is true of manna, then why can't that be true of the bread and wine of the eucharist? The will of God conferred different properties on different objects of the same material structure. The manna that the Israelites ate on the Sabbath would, presumably, have not tasted any different from the manna eaten on the sixth day. And yet, it was different, according to the will of God.


Allistair Graham said...

From a philosophical point of view, it is worth recognising that philosophical naturalists / materialists - i.e. atheists - actually have no logical grounds for dismissing the idea of transubstantiation as an absurdity. If everything that exists is reducible to matter - and matter itself is reducible to sub-atomic particles (or 'simples' as they are sometimes called) - then nothing really objectively exists other than those particles. For example, the 'tableness' of a table is a merely subjective construct put on a particular collection of particles. The 'treeness' of a tree is just an intersubjective agreement between minds (or brains, to be more accurate to materialism): a pattern imposed on a collection of particles. In other words, if all that exists is merely material, then all thought, all ideas, all definitions, descriptions and categories are entirely subjective and arbitrary, because materialism denies the existence of an unchanging and eternal rationality behind the universe. (As Christians, we, of course, affirm the existence of this rationality and recognise it as the mind of God.)

Now, if this is the case, then materialists would have to acknowledge that Catholics, who categorise consecrated bread and wine as having a particular spiritual status, are doing nothing more than they are when they categorise any material object, as I have explained. Of course, they would dismiss transubstantiation as merely subjective and deny the spiritual reality behind it, but this is a vacuous judgment epistemologically, given that reason itself has no objective existence within their own paradigm, and thus all their own judgments are necessarily "merely subjective".


Allistair Graham said...

Therefore, the only way transubstantiation could be criticised is theologically. The main attack is from the memorialist position. But this view is incoherent. This position claims that the "Lord's Supper" is merely a way of remembering the death of Christ. Firstly, it does seem rather strange that the churches which affirm this view would not display the crucifix. If they were so concerned simply to remember the death of Christ, then a more obvious symbol than the eucharist would far more effectively achieve that end. Furthermore, 'remembering' is a cognitive and cerebral act. It does not require participation in any kind of ritual involving the consumption of food and drink. Are we seriously expected to believe that we, as Christians, are incapable of thinking on the death of Christ unless we are actively eating bread and drinking red wine / fruit juice? It seem remarkably patronising to suggest such a thing. Taken to its logical conclusion, we would have to admit that we are incapable of understanding any doctrine of Scripture without some kind of visual aid or participation in some kind of relevant ritual. That hardly coheres with the fact that, as Christians, we have "the mind of Christ" and that "God has given us a sound mind"!

While there is a memorialist aspect to the eucharist - as Luke 22:19 suggests - and also a proclamatory aspect, according to 1 Corinthians 11:26 - this cannot be the entire understanding of this sacrament.

After all, eating bread and drinking wine are not symbols of anyone dying. A symbol has to relate conceptually to the thing symbolised. These actions are not analogous to death or dying. There is certainly nothing about them that speaks of crucifixion. From a simple, material point of view, these actions speak of consumption, the fulfilment of need, the receiving of refreshment and possibly also of fellowship with others. Clearly, therefore, the exclusively symbolic view is wrong.

These are just a few of my musings on this subject. (By the way... I am an Anglican, who considers himself neither Protestant nor Catholic).

Michael said...

Allistair, I found your comments to be very insightful. You almost do a better job of making my argument than I did. Thanks for stoping by my blog...