Thursday, August 09, 2012

Why a Protestant believes in the Real Presence

A big topic, to which I doubt that I will do justice. If you faint by the wayside before reading the entire post, no one will blame you, I least of all.

Over at W4 the question has arisen as to whether there is good Scriptural reason to believe in something more than memorialism as a view of the Lord's Supper. In the context the specific alternative being considered is transubstantiation, but in general the question appears to be why memorialism is not a good interpretation of the verses usually used by sacramentalists concerning Holy Communion. In this post I already said that I believe in the Real Presence, but here I would like to go into a little more detail about what I believe and why. These thoughts are presented for those who might be interested and are not intended to be antagonizing to my fellow Protestant readers. Nor, for that matter, to my Catholic readers either, as the position I shall sketch is not exactly the Roman Catholic position. For the record, I'd been thinking of writing this post for some time, so the fact that the question came up at W4 was only a catalyst for doing it now rather than later.

The first question to be addressed here is this: What exactly is the view that I shall be attempting to defend from Scripture? What do I mean by "believing in the Real Presence"? The positions with which most people are most familiar are, on the one hand, memorialism and, on the other hand, transubstantiation. I hope that I shall do justice to both of these by a brief summary without ruffling any feathers, but here goes: Briefly, memorialism is the view that Communion is only a symbolic act which Christians are commanded by Jesus to undertake in memory of Jesus' death. The bread and wine do not change in any respect, nor do they become the objective vehicles of grace (more about which below). They stand as symbols for Jesus' body and blood. I have argued elsewhere that actually there are no mere symbols for important things, in the sense of symbols about which we can be flippant or unconcerned, so the memorialist himself has good reason to be respectful and serious about Communion. The memorialists I know are. But leaving that argument aside, the point is that on the memorialist view the bread and wine are only symbols, not anything with more objective importance. On the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation, what is partaken of in Communion has what are called the "accidents," which include all of the qualities that could be examined by the senses or physically discovered, of bread or of wine. However, the essence or "substance" of bread or wine has been removed and replaced with the essence or substance of Jesus' physical body and blood. Using this set of metaphysical categories, the Roman Catholic view then is that Jesus' body and blood are literally present and partaken of in Communion but that this is not in any way empirically perceptible, because it is only the underlying essence of the elements that has changed.

I do not hold either of these views. In the case of transubstantiation, I simply do not hold a metaphysical view about such physical entities as bread, wine, and human flesh and blood according to which they have an entirely imperceptible essence which can literally be switched with the imperceptible essence of a different physical type of stuff while leaving all possibly perceptible physical properties the same. This doesn't mean that I'm a nominalist or that I deny that anything has an essence nor that I am unable to imagine situations in which something might appear to be other than what it is. I think that human beings have an essence, for example, and that no matter how disabled or even wicked and degraded a man is, as long as he lives he retains that essence of being truly human. But for bread, wine, and flesh and blood, no, I just really can't accept the view that that is what they are like, which would make transubstantiation possible.

Actually, the main burden of this post will be about why I don't accept memorialism, so more on that later.

What I do believe is that Jesus is specially, spiritually present in the elements of Communion in the sense that they are spiritual food. God has so ordained that those of us who, as the Prayer Book says, have "duly received" Communion are objectively spiritually nourished thereby. In this sense Jesus objectively comes down to us in the bread and wine and gives himself, his life and spiritual strength, aka grace, to us when we rightly receive. (And if we don't rightly receive, we could be in big trouble for profaning this Sacrament which has been rendered holy by God's intention that it should be a means of grace to us.) When the consecrated Host is reserved on the altar, because the Host is that divinely ordained physical meeting point between our Lord Jesus Christ and ourselves, the place where it is reserved becomes a literally holy space, a place where we come before Christ, who is present there in a special way in which he is not present everywhere else.

Now, since I of course believe in the omnipresence of God, and since all Christians believe in the omnipresence of God, and since the Bible expressly says that God dwells not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48), it might be asked whether such a view is not either a) theological nonsense, meaningless,  b) biblically utterly unprecedented prior to the controverted passages about the Lord's Supper, or even c) positively anti-biblical.

But actually, I think there are foreshadowings and, to some extent, precedents in the Old Testament. For example, the Ark of the Covenant was definitely a place where God was present in a special way. That was why it had to be handled only by certain people and why even a well-intentioned handling by the wrong person could result in death (2 Samuel 6). That was why it was carried before the people when they marched (Joshua 3, Joshua 6). And that is why the Psalmist and other Scriptures repeatedly say that God "dwells between the cherubim" (I Chronicles 13:6, Psalm 80:1, Psalm 99:1, etc.). Hence, too, the Psalmist's repeated expressions of joy at the opportunity to go into "the house of the Lord" and be in God's presence (Psalm 27:4, Psalm 122). That, too, was why when the Ark was taken in battle a child born at that time was given a name that meant "the glory is departed from Israel" (I Samuel 4:22).

It was often a saying among the Baptists when I was a child: "The church is not the building; the church is the people." There was such a horror of idolatry that some even chided old-fashioned pastors who referred to the church building as "God's house." (God forgive me, I once baited a missionary on this very point.) Yet that very notion of a special place that was holy, that was God's house, where one would be in God's presence in a special way, is found repeatedly in the Psalms in clear reference to the Tabernacle where the people of Israel at that time went to offer sacrifices. So it cannot be entirely foreign to the way God works in the world.

Then, too, the Mercy Seat (between the cherubim) was a place where blood was spilled on the Day of Atonement, which somehow was especially able to bring forgiveness for the people's sins (Leviticus 16:14). So the Mercy Seat was, as I have said of the Sacrament, a place where God, by His own special choice and commandment, interacted in a special way with His people.

Another example would be the Shekinah, which was a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. God led His people in this way. It was evidently a physical entity in which God was in some special sense present so as to help His people. In one of the most harrowing passages of the Bible, Ezekiel actually sees a vision of the Shekinah glory departing gradually from the Temple, illustrating God's judgement on His people (Ezekiel 10:18-19).

These constitute Old Testament precedents for God's being willing in some sense to "dwell" in a particular location, in the sense of interacting with man specially in those places. This despite the fact that God is above and beyond all creation and is, in another sense, present everywhere.

This should establish that the very notion of the Real Presence in the Sacrament, and even of its reservation in a church building, is not intrinsically anti-biblical nor idolatrous.

However, it will be justly answered that that doesn't necessarily mean that the doctrine as I've sketched it is true. There is a burden of proof, and a Protestant will understandably seek evidence for such a doctrine (all the more so for such a vastly important doctrine) in Scripture.

The actual passages I am going to use to argue against memorialism (and hence to support something-more-than-memorialism, which I think can be satisfied by the Real Presence view) will come as no surprise to readers. One of the most important of these is Jesus' discourse in John 6, in which He says,
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world....Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him....This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:47ff)
I want to dispose at once of the argument that Jesus could not have been speaking here of Holy Communion on the grounds that he hadn't yet ordained it. In fact, to speak of something important ahead of time, sometimes cryptically, is exactly the sort of thing Jesus did not infrequently. To give just a few examples, he prophesied his own resurrection by saying, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19), which the disciples understood only after the fact. He told Nicodemus (John 3) that he had to be "born of water and of the Spirit" and went on a bit about being "born of the Spirit," which wouldn't make a whole lot of sense until after the day of Pentecost. The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) looks an awful lot like a prophecy of  the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church and the negative reaction of the Jews, all of which occurred only after Peter received a special vision, which was itself after Jesus' Ascension. So for Jesus to deliver a disturbing discourse on the importance of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, which would be understood better only by those who stuck it out, though puzzled, and continued to follow him faithfully until the punchline was delivered "in the night in which he was betrayed," would be very much Jesus' modus operandi.

The similarity between what Jesus says in John 6 and the words of institution (quoted below) is far too striking for coincidence. I would go so far as to say that, with the words of institution in hand, we can see that Jesus must have been foretelling Holy Communion in John 6. The two fit together exactly as prophecy and fulfillment do. Jesus first tells them, bafflingly, that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, and then later he hands them bread and wine and says, "This is my body; eat this" and "All of you drink this; this is my blood." What more do you want? The two things obviously refer to one another, which is to say that they refer to one and the same thing. It's just that, as with most prophecies, we only understand this fully after we see what the fulfillment looks like. Jesus must have known that his disciples would remember his earlier discourse when he spoke the words at the Last Supper. (Brief digression: John does not record the words of institution but does record the discourse on Jesus as the bread from heaven. The Synoptics record the words of institution but not the discourse. I believe that this is an instance of those undesigned coincidences that are the mark of eyewitness history, about which much has been said elsewhere. Were John writing an ahistorical literary work, he would very likely have included the words of institution.)

Once we realize that in John 6 Jesus is talking about Holy Communion, we are (it seems to me) forced to take quite seriously a non-memorialist view. That is, perhaps, precisely why as a Baptist in Bible college I was expressly taught that John 6 is not, not, not about Communion at all but rather is simply about believing in Jesus by faith.

We should take a non-memorialist view seriously based on John 6 because Jesus expressly says that this act of eating his flesh and drinking his blood is necessary for us to have life in us. He says that we obtain eternal life by doing it. It's that important. Words like "have life" come up over and over again in John. They refer to being saved. Being on one's way to heaven. Being made one with Jesus. All those extremely important things. Jesus goes on and on in this passage, hammering home: His flesh is meat indeed. If we eat of this bread, which he says is his flesh, we will never die. He will raise us up at the last day.

Let's admit it, telling us that we have to take Communion in order to have spiritual life in us just doesn't sit too well with the overall theology of memorialism. It seems at least somewhat implausible that Jesus would have spoken in this urgent, insistent, and rather mysterious, not to say shocking, manner about drinking a bit of wine and eating a bit of bread as a purely symbolic act. (As a matter of fact, that's one reason among many why most Baptists strongly object to sacramentalism: They consider that precisely this urgency about engaging in a physical act like taking the Sacrament is a form of "works salvationism.")

Let me address here the argument that when Jesus says, "I am that bread of life" this is just like other "I am" statements where Jesus compares himself to physical objects. These are obviously simple metaphors--for example, "I am the true vine" (John 15:1) and "I am the door" (John 10:9) The comparison is quite instructive, actually. Notice: In no other case where Jesus uses that sort of locution does he subsequently set up a rite that parallels the claim. There is no vine-engraftment ceremony nor any door-walking-through pantomime set up by Jesus and commanded to be continued in the church until he comes again. So actually, the comparison with other "I am" metaphorical statements shows this one to be, in the end, not quite like the others.

Which brings me more directly to the words of institution. Here they are as given in Luke 22:19-20:
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you.
And in Matthew 26:26-28:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it. For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 
Why do Jesus' words of institution provide evidence for the non-memorialist position? Why is it not plausible to take them, again, as a sheer metaphor, meaning merely "This bread is like my body" or "This bread symbolizes my body"? Well, if I was going to refer to the words of institution to explain John 6, I am also going to refer to John 6 to explain the words of institution! The two fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The words of institution show us that John 6 wasn't just an isolated extended metaphor, somewhat over-literally expressed. Rather, they referred to an actual, physical, historical rite that Jesus was going to set up later on. In the other direction, the explanation in John 6 tells us (as just discussed) that this rite that Jesus is setting up and commanding has an immense spiritual weight to it. In fact, taken straightforwardly, John 6 teaches (at least) the Real Presence view I have laid out earlier: That the elements are objective means of grace, means of receiving spiritual life.

But there is more: The words of institution are not worded like other metaphors Jesus uses of himself. Jesus says, "I am the door of the sheepfold." But he never points to a door and says, "This door is I, myself." Jesus says, "I am the true vine" but never tells us, "This vine is my body." Here, again, we have the dual motion back and forth between the Last Supper and John 6. "I am the true bread" is worded like other metaphors but is the only one that has a later ceremony associated with it. "This is my body" and "This is my blood" are not worded like other metaphors, and that gives us reason to wonder whether they are intended to convey something more, something, in fact, sacramental.

One more point about the words of institution. When Jesus says that this is the new covenant (testament) in his blood, he is alluding to a crucial ceremony in Israel's history. Moses (Exodus 24:8) took the blood of oxen and sprinkled it over the people after they had agreed to do all the words that the Lord had commanded in the Law. Moses said while sprinkling the blood, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words." In instituting the Lord's Supper, Jesus institutes a new covenant between God and his people, and as blood was used for sealing the Old Covenant, so here, Jesus says that the cup is his blood which seals the new covenant. That seems to me, again, very strong language, and a rather surprising historical connection, for a bare memorial or symbol.

Last but not least, we have Paul's teaching in I Corinthians. Paul says,
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you. That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread. And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat, this is my body, which is broken for you. This do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood. This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. (I Corinthians 11:23-32)
The first point in this passage that sits oddly with a memorialist position is the  command that one examine oneself before taking Communion. Christians, at least those who have been carefully instructed at all about Communion, are so used to this requirement that we may take it for granted and not recognize the argument it presents against memorialism. Prior to this Paul has been talking about what we might call liturgical abuses connected with the meal that was apparently eaten prior to the Communion rite itself. (He brings this up after the quoted passage as well.) It would be somewhat easy to take phrases like "eating and drinking unworthily" to mean simply "eating and drinking disrespectfully." But Paul is going farther than just telling people to knock it off with the gluttony and behave respectfully during Communion. He's telling the believers to engage in introspection and not to receive Holy Communion until they have examined themselves and, I think we can take it, confessed their sins to God and resolved not to do them again. Why, if Communion is only a memorial? Do we have to undertake a special self-examination before participating in a Holy Week play? Yet that, too, commemorates Jesus' death. We sing songs in which we proclaim, show forth, remember the cross and Jesus' death, yet we aren't expected to undertake searching self-examination before each of those. It would seem overblown in the highest to speak of doing these things "unworthily" because we had not undergone a special examination of conscience before them.

In fact, if the value to ourselves of Communion is primarily memorial, which is to say, the value of meditation, should we not invite as many Christians as possible to partake, just as we would to a revival meeting or to an inspirational concert? Might not the act of proclaiming Jesus' death and remembering the price he paid on the cross bring back the backslider, convict the erring, soften the heart of the prodigal, and reveal our sin to us? But Paul places the order the other way around. We are to get things right with God, to examine ourselves and confess our sins, before coming to take Communion, and it is a fearsome thing to do otherwise.

The injunction to self-examination before partaking make more sense on at least a Real Presence view than on a memorialist view. We can, again, think of an Old Testament parallel. The priests had to wash themselves ritually before doing their priestly duties (Exodus 30:18-21; Leviticus 16:4). Holy places were not to be approached unless you were clean.

Next, we have Paul's rather eyebrow-raising language regarding those who eat and drink unworthily. He might have said that those who eat and drink unworthily will have to face God's wrath for dishonoring God or for being disrespectful in worship. But he doesn't say that. He uses instead the far more charged language--they are "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord," they are "not discerning the Lord's body." I submit that these noticeably literal ways of describing the sin of approaching Holy Communion without due respect and proper self-examination are more to be expected on a sacramental view than on a memorialist view.

Moreover, we have the actual penalties Paul holds over the believers for eating and drinking unworthily. He specifically threatens damnation, bodily sickness, and physical death as possible consequences. If the injunction to examine oneself and repent before taking Communion is more likely on a Real Presence view than on a memorialist view, this is even more the case for the rather shocking penalties for not doing so. Why would God punish his followers in such ways for engaging in what is only a memorial, symbolic act without first cleansing themselves of sin? But if Jesus is truly present in the Sacrament, things are quite different. In fact, this is reminiscent of what happened in the Old Testament. If a priest offered wrongly before the Lord, or if he came disobediently at the wrong time, he might die in the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 10:1-4, Leviticus 16:2). If the wrong person touched the Ark, he could be struck dead instantly (2 Samuel 6). If there is a Real Presence in the Sacrament, then it stands to reason that approaching it in the wrong way or without first examining and cleansing oneself could have serious ramifications indeed. It would be an example of a spiritual law of cause and effect, to wit:

You do not mess with the Holy.

None of these arguments is absolutely conclusive by itself. Of them all, I believe that the connection between Jesus' teaching in John 6 and the institution of Communion is the strongest, for it is the most explicit teaching we have from Our Lord himself on the subject. But they all contribute to a cumulative case, and from them together, from a Scriptural argument, I conclude that memorialism cannot be maintained and that a sacramental view is the biblical view.

We receive spiritual food in the Holy Sacrament. We should approach it with awe. In it, Jesus comes to us and gives himself to us. It is the place where heaven meets earth, where God meets man and bestows grace through the medium of a physical entity. It is a great gift indeed, for which we should be endlessly, joyously grateful.

In the words of Cranmer, in the thanksgiving after receiving Communion,

ALMIGHTY and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us who have duly received these holy mysteries with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of his most precious death and passion. And we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.


William Luse said...

This is a fine post, if you don't mind a Catholic saying so. I'll try to have more to say after re-reading it. In the meantime a question: is your belief in the Real Presence akin to the Lutheran doctrine of consubtantiation (I think I've got that right; it's been a long time), of which Luther, in rejecting transubsantiation, said something along the lines that the Lord was present in the sacrament in "a spiritual and heavenly manner"?

Bruce said...

If it’s ok, I have a lot to say (and ask) about this. We’re Continuuing Anglican/Anglican Catholic (seven sacraments, seven ecumenical councils) so we’ve been taught Real Presence and even ventured close to Transubstantiation when the ACA was flirting with Rome.

Lately, I’ve been questioning the necessity of Apostolic Succession based on the observation that some priests that have it are generally awful pastors and even do bad things and I can’t see what gifts A.S. gives them beyond the authority to administer the sacraments. Do you think that a priest with Apostolic Sucession is necessary for a valid Eucharist?

My questioning of Apostic Succession/ordination as a sacrament has also caused me to think a lot about the Lord’s Supper. My views swing wildly back and forth from day to day so what I write here might be inconsistent with what I wrote at WWWtW.

I have generally relied on 1 Corinthinans Chapter 11 for my high view of the sacrament. However, I just thought of one problem with those passages. Paul doesn’t just threaten them with sickness or death as you say, he says that’s what IS happening to them. In our day, more than ever, there’s a lot of abuse and lack of self examination and undiscerning taking of the sacrament by Catholics , Anglicans and Lutherans. Wouldn’t we see lots of sickness and death associated with this (unless Paul was speaking of sickenss and death in some sort of symbolic or spiritual sense)?? I don’t know if this observation argues for memorialism and I don’t know if I should even be thinking this way (subjecting the teachings of the New Testament to empiricism).

Lydia McGrew said...

Bill, my understanding of consubstantiation is that it has a definite notion that Christ is _physically_ present in the Sacrament because, while the substance of bread and wine remain, the actual substance or essence of Christ's body and blood is there along with the substance of bread and wine. As I have doubts (as in the post) about whether _physical_ substances have an indetectible substance or essence that is physically located in a sense that would make sense of such a theory, I don't accept consubstantiation either. However, the statement that the body of Christ is eaten an heavenly and spiritual manner is actually in the 39 Articles. That phrase itself describes my view quite well. (However, if I understand the 39 articles correctly, I'm inclined to differ from them on other points, such as when they say that the Sacrament was not meant to be lifted up or displayed.)

Lydia McGrew said...

Bruce, no, I doubt that ordination in the Apostolic Succession is required for a valid Eucharist. The point is in some ways practically relevant and in some ways moot. It's relevant because it means that I don't have to agonize over whether a given denomination has at some distant point in its past history "lost" the succession. It's partly moot because everybody that I know of who teaches the Real Presence (or anything higher) will carefully argue that they do have the succession. If there were a lot of sincere Protestant churches out there where a minister with no pretensions to the succession at all was using a reverent liturgy to ask God to "bless and sanctify with thy word and Holy Spirit these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine, that we, receiving them...may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood," there might be a practical question, as someone like me might be inclined to partake at such a church. But the issue hasn't come up.

Lydia McGrew said...

Addendum: Needless to say (I hope) I utterly reject female ordination and would never, under any circumstances, partake of Communion allegedly "consecrated" by a female. I do not believe it would be valid. In fact, I even get the willies about women _distributing_ the Sacrament except in some bizarre emergency (as in the last pages of _A Canticle for Leibowitz_ where Rachel brings the monk the sacrament because he's crushed under a rock) and am very glad that continuing Anglican churches don't have female distributors.

On why there isn't more sickness and death: It's pretty clear that far less of that sort of physical judgement happens now than in the apostolic age. Or at least in our Western countries. (My impression is that Africans may have something to say about whether it's more prevalent there.) But we have reason to believe this by looking at other passages as well. I don't have time to look up the exact reference, but James seems to be implying that sickness in his time was often due to sin and that people would be healed if they confessed their sins. That doesn't seem to be the way it works now. Or there's the case of Ananias and Saphira. One would love it if people who try to lie to God got struck dead instantly, but it doesn't seem to happen.

However, note what else Paul says: He seems to be saying that if God judges people physically (e.g., by making them sick) God is chastening them for the sake of their eternal souls. What is happening to people's eternal souls remains unknown to us. It's a chilling thought that God isn't chastening us now and is allowing us to go our own way.

Bruce said...

What do you consider ordination to be? A sacrament or is it just calling someone from the congregation to lead? Catholics say the latter, (most) Lutherans the former, but with Anglicans it depend on the flavor of Anglican.
Are there any essential distinctions between clergy and laity?

Bruce said...

Actually it matters because the confession Lutherans have no pretensions to Apostolic Succession and while they don’t use the BCP language they do subscribe to something like the Real Presence (or higher).

Lydia McGrew said...

Good point. You're thinking of like Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod? I must say, I've often gotten the impression (which may be unfair) that they are just evangelical Protestants with a *little* more liturgy. Not that that's necessarily such a bad thing, especially if they are conservative evangelical Protestants. But I would be interested to see how seriously the Real Presence (or higher) view is taken and how it influences the liturgy, service, church atmosphere, etc.

On ordination, the short answer is that I don't know all the answers. Ultimately a man should be ordained if that's what God wants him to be, and ordination is going to have something to do with a special relationship that man has to God and a special work he is supposed to carry out and is (ex hypothesi) empowered by God to carry out. Scripture gives us some good lists of qualifications for ordination, but I think it's pushing it too far to take Scripture to be giving us *the one and only* model of circumstances in which ordination can take place. (In fact, that's impossible anyway, as there aren't any living apostles around anymore.) Ideally, you'd have the man's own subjective sense of God's call over a period of discernment, a lay Christian community that knew his character extremely well and endorsed him for the ministry, and also a set of already ordained men with theological and pastoral knowledge who endorsed him and actually performed the laying on of hands. But there could be practical circumstances in which one or the other of these was not present but God nevertheless needed and wanted ordination to take place.

Beyond that I'm not sure we can go, biblically.

Bruce said...

Of the two, the Wisconsin Synod seems more conservative to me. You are not allowed to take communion unless you are in complete doctrinal agreement. So they take the Lord’s Supper very seriously.
The Missouri Synod (with some exceptions) fits your description very well.

William Luse said...

Just to be strictly accurate, when you say "the essence or "substance" of bread or wine has been removed and replaced with the essence or substance of Jesus' physical body and blood," and, "an entirely imperceptible essence which can literally be *switched* with the imperceptible essence of a different physical type of stuff," what we literally believe is that the substance of the bread is changed into the substance of Christ's body and blood. If the substance of the bread were replaced or switched out, we'd need a place to move it to, which is not the case.
That aside, I have a question. I'm gathering that your rejection of transubstantiation (and the 'con' version) is based upon a philosophical difficulty. That is, it contradicts what you believe to be the nature of physical reality re substances and such. You might say, for example, that the chemical structure of bread is its substance, which takes on by necessity the appearance of what we call bread. That chemical structure *just is* its substance, and that if it were changed, removed or annihilated, the appearance would be as well. So that what is called transubstantiation is quite simply physically and metaphysically impossible. Would I be correct in gathering this?

Two questions, actually, the second following from that. The term 'Real Presence' is used also by Catholics and Lutherans (trans- and consubstantiation) but you reject both. So my question is: in your version of the doctrine, when you receive Holy Communion, what exactly are you eating?

Lydia McGrew said...

I never thought about that regarding "switched," Bill. You're absolutely right. "Switched" implies that it goes somewhere else. So I guess the substance of bread and wine just disappear altogether in the transubstantiation view.

Yeah, what you say about my view of bread and wine is pretty much exactly what I would say. There isn't a "substance" of bread and wine that is separate from their physicality in the way that trans- and con-substantiation require.

(The rather nerdish question once came up in a thread at W4: Would Aristotle himself have held that bread is a metaphysical substance? It seems that he would not, because bread is a man-made type of thing for which the _natural_ substances, such as wheat, have been diverted from their natural telos and rearranged. Hence, just as Aristotle says that a bed is not a real substance and doesn't have an essence, it would seem that he would have to say the same about bread. But I suppose that is just philosophical trivia and that one would just modify Aristotelianism to allow bread to have a true essence.)

I would say that when I eat the Sacrament I'm eating bread and (if I take the cup, which I usually don't) drinking a sip of wine. But they are holy bread and wine, made holy by the Real Presence. Just as the Ark of the Covenant was a wood box with gilded angel statues on top, but it was a holy wood box. So I'm eating sanctified, holy, bread and wine.

William Luse said...

So when you eat the bread, it is holy and sanctified because you take into yourself Jesus in "a spiritual and heavenly manner," or, as in the main post, "We receive spiritual food...where God meets man and bestows grace through the medium of a physical entity."

But God nourishes you spiritually and bestows grace when you are baptized, when you pray, when you took your wedding vows, when you suffer persecution, when you are among the two or three gathered in his name; he might even heal you of a fatal illness, or appear to you as a bright light as he did to Paul and take over your life. And so on. What I'm looking for is a way of separating holy communion from these other things, so as to invest it with the singular importance Jesus gives it in those passages you rightly point to.

Lydia McGrew said...

It's holy and sanctified because God has chosen and ordained it, this physical thing, this physical object, to be a meeting place with him.

I suppose if God appeared to me in a bright light as he did to St. Paul, that _would_ have a singular significance!

As for grace, the Catholic Church itself teaches that, for example, marriage is a sacrament, baptism is a sacrament, so there are multiple means of grace. There's no problem with the unique nature of Communion based on the fact that one also receives divine grace in other contexts and in other ways.

I would even say that my view of grace has become _much_ more Catholic as a result of my accepting the Real Presence, because the strongly evangelical Protestant is _highly_ uncomfortable with most talk of "receiving grace" or "means of grace." Usually there is a desire there to mark an extremely sharp distinction between justification and sanctification, and talking about Communion (or marriage, or anything else other than "receiving Jesus as your personal Savior") as a means of grace does, in all honesty, tend to blur that distinction.

What I can note is that in Communion alone has God told us that we receive grace specifically by eating something and drinking something. That means, I think, that the consecrated bread and the wine are hallowed. So we have hallowed objects here. That's pretty unusual. There's no hallowed object involved when one receives grace while under persecution or while one prays.

This is why I think reservation is such a wonderful thing. The constant lamp tells us that this holy thing--this bread that has been set aside as a special means of grace, where Jesus is therefore present--is among us, is with us. I have to admit that I would find it very sad to have no church to go to that had reservation, or only a church where the Sacrament was reserved only in some off-to-the-side or even hidden location. When it's on the central altar, and one is aware of that, it dominates the space.

Other churches just seem like nice concert halls with, if one is lucky, a few Christian symbols.

Lydia McGrew said...

Perhaps this will also illustrate the difference, Bill: Take the fact that one can receive grace from reading and meditating on the Bible. I think we can agree that the amount of grace one receives there is going to be to some extent proportionate to one's concentration and focus, one's comprehension, one's ability to gain insights from what one reads, and so forth. In that sense, it's what I might call a "subjective" means of grace.

The Sacrament isn't like that. Suppose that a young mother is just about to go up to receive, and little Johnny pinches little Sally, and little Sally cries. So she goes up to receive with her mind somewhat distracted, worrying about Johnny's character, wishing her children were better-behaved in church, not able to focus and feel what she would like to feel as she receives the Sacrament. The grace of reception is just the same. It's objective. It doesn't depend on precisely what she is thinking at that moment or on whether her feelings are calmed as she would like them to be or whether she is somewhat distracted. So it's different from receiving grace from reading something or meditating on something. Or to some extent even from prayer.

William Luse said...

I'm always hoping that God gives more grace than my poor powers of concentration deserve. :~/ I'm never conscious of receiving it. It might be something that shows up later when I need it.

The grace of reception is just the same. It's objective. But it's objective in other sacraments too. The emphasis Jesus puts on this one seems to imply a particular intimacy, a sort of invitation to fellowship beyond what the others offer. It's true that His instituting it and commanding that we do it is sufficient reason to participate. But if we receive the grace of it in only a spiritual and heavenly manner, it's still hard to see how it differs from the others except in outward form.

I don't see anything wrong with what you've said, as far as it goes, which obviously I think is not far enough. I think that objectivity you refer to needs some fleshing out (sorry about the word play), to make that reservation and elevation you recommend truly necessary. But I'll have to come back. Right now I have to take my parents a cake and fix a leak on their porch roof. Even as the rain comes down.

Bruce said...

Paul wrote "not discerning the BODY." Doesn't his use of body argue for more than the Real Presense" as you've defined it?

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, I realize that on the Catholic view, the grace in other sacraments is also objective. (Though I have to wonder exactly how that is supposed to work in the sacrament of marriage--at what moment does one receive that objective grace?) But you had listed prayer as well and also being gathered together in his name, and that was obviously just a representative list. I definitely think the grace is not equally objective in all of those. If two or three are gathered in his name and my mind keeps wandering to meal planning for the next day, I'm not getting as much grace as if I'm concentrating on the sermon. It just isn't sacramental like, well, like the Sacrament. So that was why I brought up that contrast.

I didn't think that elevation and reservation were considered strictly _necessary_ even according to Roman Catholic teaching. Am I incorrect on that? It's difficult to see why they would be strictly necessary. What is required is _receiving_ the Sacrament.

I view them as very helpful to worship and especially as helpful to consecrating a space, which is in turn helpful to the spiritual life of Christians.

Bruce, what can I say? It seems to me that there is no way that "not discerning the Lord's body" can be any more strictly literal than what I have given. I suppose that "not discerning the Lord's body" would tend to favor my view of a hallowed _object_ over receptionism. I assume you're familiar with receptionism, according to which Christ is not present in the bread and wine until and unless they are actually received by a faithful believer.

William Luse said...

Though I have to wonder exactly how that is supposed to work in the sacrament of marriage--at what moment does one receive that objective grace?
To the best of my knowledge, this is one of two sacraments in which a priest is not strictly necessary(though required to preside if available to you), baptism being the other, for the conferral of grace. In this case the sacrament resides in the taking of the vows, the promise made between man and woman.

I didn't think that elevation and reservation were considered strictly _necessary_ even according to Roman Catholic teaching. Am I incorrect on that?

Again, as best I recall, yes they are, not for validity but as required by rubric.

I mentioned those other things in addition to the sacraments as occasions on which Jesus might come to us in a spiritual and heavenly manner, but maybe I shouldn't have, since as you point out our state of mind might affect the efficacy of grace, at least in that moment. What I'm trying to work toward is a closer look at that objectivity you also mentioned, though I'm not sure I'm up to it. In any case, I'll have to come back tomorrow (later today, actually). I'm a bit taken up with other things. Sorry.

Bruce said...


I assume your position is that ordination is necessary for a valid Eucharist but it doesn't have to be in ordination in Apostolic Sucession.

The confessional Lutherans that I know allow a church member to distribute the Eucharist if the pastor is absent so I think they'd say that ordination is not necessary. I have some issues with this.

A lot of confessional Lutherans now skip the Eucharist every other week to keep it "special." I do not like this.

Lydia McGrew said...

Bruce, I _think_ that's correct. I would just add that I'm not sure how that would work in isolated or unusual situations--e.g., very small population numbers, families out on the prairie who don't see anyone else for months, Christians under intense persecution who are very few in number. But in general I'm not going to endorse the "house church" movement, though I have dear friends raising wonderful children within that movement. But it bothers me simply to declare the father to be the "pastor" of a house church and to have him celebrating the Sacrament, especially where this is _not_ some kind of bizarre emergency situation.

I'm not sure how that works in the Lutheran churches that allow unordained church members to "distribute" Communion, if they don't have reservation. If they don't have reservation, who is consecrating the Sacrament? And how does that interact with the issue of women? This sounds to me like it could look functionally an awful lot like women's ordination.

As for having Communion only every other week to keep it "special," I find it difficult to support that if one accepts a sacramental view. The "keeping it special" idea would seem to fit more with the notion that the value is a mental or emotional value. If there is objective grace, then it would seem that getting it every week is a good idea. Also apostolic. Acts indicates that they met on the first day of the week, and Communion definitely seems to have been a regular part of that.

William Luse said...

Lydia, blogger's limiting my word count, so this and the next comment go together.

Rather than try to explain why it must be true (which is probably impossible), let me try to explain why the doctrine's manifest intellectual difficulties have never have presented, in my own case, any obstacle to believing it. Aquinas spends a lot of time defending it, and no doubt he does a good job making his usual systematic case and appealing to various saints and Fathers, like Ambrose, who said, "As the Lord Jesus Christ is God's true Son so is it Christ's true flesh which we take, and His true blood which we drink." But after all of it I think what we are really left with is this: "I answer that, The presence of Christ's true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority." And Ed Feser remarks in a parenthetical to a longer post: "By contrast, as traditionally understood (and as required by Thomistic metaphysics) transubstantiation cannot occur in the natural course of things but requires a miraculous suspension of the natural order by God. In the natural course of things, accidents cannot exist apart from a substance."

Of course, I believed the doctrine long before reading anything by these guys and, at least intuitively (I trust I'm being honest with myself) before I believed in the divine authority of the Catholic Church. Once I became familiar with the Catholic doctrine, it seemed only to confirm that intuition by making explicit what in my mind was relatively inchoate, or at least poorly articulated. And what gave me that intuition were some of the very things you have pointed to, like the passage in John 6 and other examples, which left me with the distinct impression that something different was going on here. I love that passage in which some of his disciples depart from him without Jesus saying, "Wait a minute. Please. What's wrong with you? Don't you know figurative language when you hear it?" But more than anything I am brought back to that briefest of formulations, "This is my body." As in, This, the bread, equals my body, and as coming from someone who was not, and could not be, careless about his grammar, and whose words most often veiled depths not apprehensible to a first reading of that grammatical surface. (continued)

William Luse said...

And then (to keep this from becoming really long) there is the bounty of the miraculous to be found in the whole of the Christian story which to my mind lends credence to the one we're discussing. This story confronts us with a God who appears on earth as merely a man, but who has united his divine infinitude to a finite human soul in such a way that this man's substance was in reality a divine person. He proves this divinity to his followers by performing quite visible miracles, but the miracle that made it all possible was invisible. Leaving aside the fact that he could walk on water while still a finite body subject to gravity, or could multiply fishes and loaves by making more of them out of nothing, or that he could revivify his own dead body by some incomprehensible means that afterwards allowed him to walk through walls, appear and disappear at will, touch people, eat food, render himself unrecognizable at one moment and completely familiar the next ("their eyes were opened") - if I can believe in the Incarnation, in a God who would allow himself to be killed so that I might live forever in his company, then I can believe that he would condescend to give me, literally, his own glorified body and blood for continued strength in his friendship; to perform, that is, one more miracle daily unto the consummation of the world. This is not hard at all, for while suspension of the laws of nature always pose intellectual difficulties for us, they never presented any difficulty at all for the maker of those laws and the source of all being. And so by this doctrine do I see the absolute necessity of elevation and reservation, for if the bread and wine are "made holy by the Real Presence," it is by this doctrine that the Real Presence becomes really real, and brightly distinguishable from all other analogous instances of which it might be said that God comes to us. For it is his very person that we elevate and reserve, and when we consume him, he sits with us, as he did with the apostles at the Last Supper. Thus endeth the treatise. And this was the short version.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, Bill, that's a great treatise. I appreciate the quotation from Ed. I didn't know he had said that.

As you know, of course, I have no problem with miracles.

Without intending any offense, my problem here is that this is not merely postulating a miracle but rather is postulating a meaning for the nature of physical substances which would have to have implications at all times and in non-miraculous contexts (that is to say, that there is even *such a thing* as an entirely invisible "substance" for bread and wine that even *could* in principle be replaced with another) and which I have every reason to believe to be a false view of that nature. Indeed, it is a view to which I am not even sure I can give a meaning. The impossibility here, then, is not a physical impossibility as in a miracle but a metaphysical impossibility which I see no need to accept.

Again, without meaning to be offensive: The disciples at the Last Supper could see that Jesus was physically standing in front of him. They could see his body. They also knew that, though he was saying that his body was "given" or "offered" for them, he was still alive, he hadn't yet suffered and died. (Even if they had understood his prophecies that he would suffer and die.)

Hence, in that context, I have no trouble saying that they must have understood that there was _something_ not absolutely, strictly literal about what he was saying.

Indeed, if we tried to take such a statement in the most strictly literal sense, we would run into crudities such as this having to be some particular bit of his physical body, running out of molecules because a human body is finite, and so on and so forth, all of which would of course be a grotesque caricature of the Catholic view. Hence all the subtleties of the doctrine of transubstantiation itself.

But once we are into subtleties and away from grotesque literalness, I do not really have that interpretive motivation for accepting transubstantiation itself.

Lydia McGrew said...

Make that

standing in front of them.

Bruce said...

I think the Eastern Orthodox treat it as a holy mystery rather than trying to explain how it works.

Bruce said...

Lydia, some of the things we've discussed make me lean towards a high view of ordination. If the Lutherans allow anyone to distribute sacrament (and consecrate it?) then why can't and shouldn't I do it every night at the dinner table with my family? Why can't women do it to? If you understand ordination with Apostolic Succession as the only way to go, then these sorts of problems are cleared up pretty quickly.

Lydia McGrew said...

A woman can't do it because the person who consecrates the Sacrament is standing in the place of Jesus Christ a the Last Supper. Which is also related to why a woman can't be ordained, of course.

Sure, the doctrine of the Apostolic Succession gives us a clear-cut answer to the question, "What is ordination?" But I don't think that's very strong evidence that it is a true proposition, and since it's a very _strong_ proposition, it requires a lot better evidence than, "It would make our theological system much clearer and neater if we believed it."

Sometimes I think we have to say that we just don't know the answers to some of the questions we'd like to have answers to.

Beth Impson said...

I am following this discussion with great interest, and I now must reveal rather embarrassing ignorance -- when you all use the terms "elevation" and "reservation" in relation to the Host, what do these mean?

And if one were to accept either the idea of the Real Presence as Lydia explains it, or transubstantian as Bill explains it, but one were prevented from being part of a church body that believed either of these things . . . where does that leave one in relation to this sacrament?

Lydia McGrew said...

Beth, as I use the term "elevation," it refers to holding up the Host after it has been consecrated. Sometimes in Catholic or High Anglican churches it is even placed in a monstrance and carried around or displayed for the people to look at--this latter being explicitly forbidden by the 39 Articles, which I think are at that point showing Puritan influences.:-)

"Reservation" means keeping some of it in the church after Communion is over. When a church has reservation, there is always supposed to be a lamp (a big candle in a red translucent container) shining at all times next to it. This is only blown out when the reserved Sacrament is taken away off the altar, as it is after the last service on Maundy Thursday.

I understand that now some Roman Catholic parishes have the Sacrament reserved only in a side chapel or (as one Catholic wryly expressed it to me) some small place the size of a coat closet, where it is rather hard to find, rather than on the central altar in the church itself.

A high Anglican parish will always in my experience have the Host reserved on the central altar in the church. Hence, the people genuflect toward it when they go in and out of the pews.

Your last question is a very, very difficult one practically speaking. I often think of it myself, because I'm not Roman Catholic, and it would not be so far-fetched that my small continuing Anglican church should cease to exist some time within my lifetime.

The short answer is, "I don't know." But I will say this: Continuing Anglican churches are usually somewhat less doctrinally picky about whom they permit membership to. Perhaps they should be _more_ picky, and I'm sure it varies from one parish to another, but some require only adherence to the Apostles' Creed for confirmation. And confirmation permits one to receive the Sacrament.

William Luse said...

Lydia is correct re reservation and elevation. Our church has a good sized chapel to the side of the altar where people can go to pray before the sacrament. In other churches it is on the altar and signified by a burning candle. Whichever, it must by law be reserved; it's not as though throwing away leftover hosts is even thinkable. During the service itself, the bread and wine are first consecrated, then elevated, after which the priest is supposed to bow or kneel before it.

As to where that leaves someone belonging to a church which forbids this belief - in a pickle, I'd say. If you go, it means leaving a lot behind. If you stay, you do so under a false pretense. Thus did his disciples say, "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?"

Beth Impson said...

Thanks, Lydia, Bill. The definitions help a lot. As for the other question -- if one is under obedience to an authority who will not even remotely consider moving to a "high church" (and this view of communion is one of the very reasons), then I can only hope for mercy, and for grace received through other means.

William Luse said...

I too hope that God often supplies what we cannot for ourselves.

Kristor said...

Lydia, Bill, thanks so much for this fascinating thread and conversation. It has provoked a great deal of thought on my part, and while I meant at first to try to put it all into a comment on this thread, I soon realized that would not be practicable - it is too long. So I posted it over at Orthosphere as an essay, referring back to this thread and to your sites.

William Luse said...

I saw your essay, Kristor. Quite a bit of work there. I'm not sure I understand it all and will have to re-read. What I most enjoyed (take note, Lydia) is being promoted to "philosopher." No problem. I'm down with it, as the kids say.

Kristor said...

Bill: if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.

Next up for you: promotion to Theologian. Then, on to Doctor of the Church ...

R. Zell said...

Hi Lydia,

Very interesting article. I would like to point out that in Johns Gospel, he puts down several pointers for us to connect the dots leading to the Last Supper. John wants us to know that there were TWO types of Bread given in that Upper Room. Lets take a look at what I am referring too:

In John, Chapter 6:4, right before the feeding of the 5,000, we are made aware that the Bread of Life Discourse occurs near the Passover.

In John 68-71, at the end of the Bread of Life Discourse, only 2 Apostles are named; Simon Peter and Judas and we are informed by John that Judas is the one that will betray Jesus.

In John 13:21-29, in the Upper Room, at the Last Supper (the Passover Meal) Jesus echo's John 6:71 and says that one of them will betray him. Again, only 2 Apostles are named; Simon Peter and Judas. I see the connection. John wants us to see it also.

What does Jesus do to alert us that it is Judas. He takes bread and dips it and gives it to the one who will betray Him. We are told that satan then entered Judas and he leaves before the words of Institution of the Eucharist.

A close examination of the Gospels and we can understand that Jesus gives Judas unblessed, unconsecrated bread. Once satan enters Judas, he leaves and both of them never witness the Institution of the Eucharist. As the other Gospels relate it, the Bread that Jesus gives them is supersubstantial bread, Blessed and Consecrated by the Our and Savior himself.

Is there a connect between these to types of bread to the Bread of Life Discourse?

You decide.

In Christ,

R. Zell