Monday, September 08, 2008

Understanding the Eucharist by Understanding the Kingdom

In the kingdom of Heaven, our King is gracious enough to remain with us “until the end of the earth” in Bodily form in the Eucharist (and in the Eucharist alone). Yet we maintain that it is not in the act of receiving that He becomes present as the Reformed teach (and much less is His presence only a memory like the memorialists believe); He is present in the Eucharistic species itself. We know the kingdom is identifiable then because the King is present and wherever the King is, there is the kingdom. Or, to quote a famous bishop of Antioch, “wherever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church”. And it goes without saying that if the kingdom of Israel, (a type of the kingdom of Heaven), was visible and identifiable and their king was locatable and present to them, much more then should ours be.

He is, in fact, present to us and we know exactly where to find Him. I suggest then, that understanding the Church as the kingdom of Heaven is a particularly helpful and appropriate framework for which to strengthen our Eucharistic devotion.

Our devotion to the Eucharist is that devotion rightly paid to a king and if we reject or dismiss the Eucharistic Presence, we say either that the King is not here, not wholly here, something exists along with the King (so that we may not be forced to bow before what seems a mere loaf of bread) or we simply say that we're not sure. What doctrine could ever be more obviously true or more obviously false?

As it is with all heresies, skepticism when it comes to the Eucharist leads soon to dogmatism on the very opposite of the Catholic teaching. The Westminster Confession of Faith calls Eucharistic devotion “abominably injurious” and “contrary to the nature of the sacrament” which amounts either to them not recognizing the King's presence or the Catholics blasphemously pointing to it in bread. And if the latter I ask once again, what kind of king sets up a kingdom in which most of his citizens can't tell him apart from a loaf of bread?

If Eucharistic devotion is not perfectly right, then it is perfectly wrong. And if it is wrong at all, it is a heresy. But how could it be a heresy when it developed fully before there was anyone who could call it a heresy?

Or perhaps one could point to Arianism and argue that there was a time when the Church could not rise up and call it a heresy since Christianity was (potentially) Arian by majority. This argument fails because although there might have been Arians in churches all over the empire, there was no universal Arian Church. Cardinal Newman argues that they demonstrated this themselves by still referring to Catholics as.... Catholics.

But if this argument does not convince us then we must remind ourselves of what we're talking about to begin with: the kingdom of Heaven (that is, the Church). I say this to emphasize that the Church was founded by Christ as a kingdom is founded by a king. No king ever founded a democracy and as such, the Church is not one. For to argue on the grounds only of majority is not the same as arguing on the grounds of unanimity. When the Church is unanimous, we may, nay we must, receive her voice as infallible. Such is the case with the Eucharist even prior to Trent and even prior to the heresies of the 16th century which sought to undermine Catholic teaching.

If the true king comes to restore a dynasty and at the same time start a new one, the new must be greater than the old. Visibility is greater than invisibility and we know this because God said “let there be light” which shows that light is greater than not light. If the kingdom of Heaven is the goal and fulfillment of the kingdom of Israel, we can compare it to our resurrected bodies being the goal and fulfillment of our present bodies. We know from the gospels that the resurrected body has all the features of our current bodies – visible, tangible, able to interact in space and time without being a part of this world.

From this, let even the fool understand, the kingdom of Heaven has all the features of the kingdom of Israel (God forbid we should say anything less) – present in space and time, visible, tangible, locatable, authoritative. And of course, the Body of the risen Christ is still present with us in a way not inferior to His original Incarnate presence. Nothing less would be suitable of the bodily resurrection, nothing less would suffice to understand the kingdom of Heaven and nothing less is adequate for us to recognize Christ in the Eucharist.

Brothers, Christianity is primarily the heralding of a conquering King. We do not herald a King who turned a visible kingdom into an invisible democracy. We dare not speak of a King who came to change a physical body into a spiritual essence. And finally, we do not say that Christ took ordinary bread, and let it remain so only urging us to remember what it symbolized or even granting that we would receive Him by eating that ordinary bread. That is, the Kingdom of Heaven is not received by ordinary earthly means – it is supernatural. Resurrection of the body is not attained by ordinary means – it is supernatural. Far less then, do we receive Christ by ordinary means of consuming bread and wine. Something supernatural happens (and not just along side the bread & wine). For the body does not resurrect along side death but supernatural power counters the ordinary result of death. And the Messiah did not usher in the kingdom of heaven alongside the ordinary course of Israel's natural progression as a nation, but countered the natural result of Israel's self destructive behavior. Therefore we say again, nothing ordinary is happening in the consecration; indeed, nothing ordinary would be worthy of the Catholic faith.

The Kingdom of Heaven is greater than the Kingdom of Israel, the risen body is greater than the earthly body and the precious Body & Blood are greater than the bread & wine and none of these pairs exist simultaneously or are effected by any natural course of events.

Glory be to Jesus Christ the risen King.


6 comments:

Jonathan said...

Tim,

Excellent post. Well thought out proofs of the Eucharistic miracle. Thank you.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Thanks for the comments Jonathan. I see you're a fellow convert and a fellow Panther fan. Are you in the Charlotte area?

Andrew Preslar said...

I enjoyed this very much. The last little paragraph is especially strong.

In preparation for our upcoming session, I have been mulling things over a bit. Here are some thoughts that might be relevant to your post:

Whatever else Protestants may believe their "prayed over" bread and wine to be, they all believe that it is still, in its fundamental being, bread and wine (literally speaking). This opinion is contrary to Catholic worship and dogma (the worship providing the rule, as it were, for the dogma).

Some catholic-minded Anglicans attempt to "baptize" this heresy by invoking an analogy with Chalcedonian christology: the Son of God is true God and true man, the Blessed Sacrament is true Christ and true bread and wine. This is superficially appealing, and it is perhaps as close as non-Catholics can come to Eucharistic orthodoxy.

Yet close is no cigar, and the opinion is false (per the Church).

What makes an analogy is similarity and difference. The difference in this case is that the term of the predicates in Chalcedonian christology is the hypostasis of the Son, while the term of the predicates in the Anglo-catholic opinion is the Blessed Sacrament. Got it.

Yet wherein lies the similarity? Well, we are told that as the hypostasis is the subject of two different natures, so the Sacrament is the subject of two different natures.

Yet at this point, i.e., the alleged similarity between the Eucharist and the Incarnation, the analogy quickly breaks down. For the bread and wine are already bread and wine, complete in their substantial being, before they are (per this opinion) "added" to Our Lord. Yet there is no man, already complete in his substantial being, that is "added" to the divine nature of the Son of God at the Incarnation. Per the Church, God assumed the substance of man from his Mother, being conceived in her virginal womb, but he did not assume a man. There was no preexistent human being which was added to divinity. But in the Eucharist there is a preexisting thing which is (per this opinion) "sacramentally" added to Our Lord (while remaining substantially other than Our Lord).

The sum result is that this Anglican opinion concerning the Holy Eucharist is actually predicated upon an analogy NOT with Chalcedonian orthodoxy, but with the heresy of adoptionism.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Good points. I never heard that analogy before and you're right - on the surface it is mildly convincing. But only a brief examination will expose its weakness.

It also seems to me that in the Incarnation, Christ humbled Himself to become a Man; that is, He came down to earth. In the Eucharist, Christ is not humbled in that He makes Himself a piece of bread, the bread is made into Him, assumed. It is the lifting up of the earthly elements rather than the coming down of God into earthly elements. It isn't the opposite of the Incarnation so much as it is the fulfillment and necessary next step.

So then since we understand the Eucharist as the central act of divinization, lifting of man to become like God, (not God coming down to us, us being lifted up to God), then it is only fitting to say that the earthly elements are lifted up to God in this same way. The Eucharist is far more comparable to the Ascension than to the Incarnation I think.

Thoughts?

Andrew Preslar said...

Ah, worth thinking about.

The Incarnation has been described as the "taking up of manhood into God." So always tending towards the Ascension (and including everything else Our Lord did).

Yet the analogy still won't work. Whether we focus upon the Incarnation as the humility of God (the Son "coming down to us") or the elevation of Man (the Son "lifting us up to God"), the eucharistic analogy is still reducible to adoptionism.

I cleaned up my original comment and posted it over at my blog with some additions.

Tiber Jumper said...

excellent post Tim. I hope an pray some non Catholic brethren can see the truth through this fine discussion you propose.