Monday, October 10, 2005

The real ellipsis

1336 The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"160 The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. "Will you also go away?":161 the Lord's question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has "the words of eternal life"162 and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself.

1353 In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing180) on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit (some liturgical traditions put the epiclesis after the anamnesis).

In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ's body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.

1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament.

1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: "Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation."206

1377 The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. Christ is present whole and entire in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts, in such a way that the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ.207

1384 The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: "Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."217

1391 Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him."226 Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: "As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me."227

1406 Jesus said: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; . . . he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and . . . abides in me, and I in him" (Jn 6:51, 54, 56).

1410 It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

1411 Only validly ordained priests can preside at the Eucharist and consecrate the bread and the wine so that they become the Body and Blood of the Lord.

1412 The essential signs of the Eucharistic sacrament are wheat bread and grape wine, on which the blessing of the Holy Spirit is invoked and the priest pronounces the words of consecration spoken by Jesus during the Last Supper: "This is my body which will be given up for you. . . . This is the cup of my blood. . . ."

1413 By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1640; 1651).

160 Jn 6:60.
161 Jn 6:67.
162 Jn 6:68.
206 Council of Trent (1551): DS 1642; cf. Mt 26:26 ff.; Mk 14:22 ff.; Lk 22:19 ff.; 1 Cor 11:24 ff.
217 Jn 6:53.
226 Jn 6:56.
227 Jn 6:57.


Such is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about the real presence. You also have “Reformed” Catholics and Federal Revisionists who are calling upon Calvinists to cultivate a more Catholic sacramentology. They also berate Reformed Baptists and Confessional Presbyterians who obstinately refuse to see the “obviously” sacramental import the Bread of Life Discourse.

Okay, then, let’s see how the Catholic church makes her case for the real presence.

i) For starters, let us stipulate to the sacramental reading of Jn 6. I don’t believe that myself, but for the sake of argument, let’s concede that point.

Now, some folks might worry that in so doing I’ve already given away the store. Have I, though?

ii) The problem is that, even if you grant the Catholic interpretation of Jn 6, you still have to connect that text to the communion elements.

Even if Jesus is talking about the Eucharist in Jn 6, he is not, presumably saying, that every piece of bread or glass of wine is his true body and blood, is he?

You see what’s missing in the appeal to Jn 6? What is it that makes his words refer to what happens in your church on Sunday morning?

And once you ask that elementary and unavoidable question, the appeal to Jn 6 loses its transparency. For there is absolutely nothing in Jn 6 to differentiate an ordinary piece of bread from “the Host.”

Nor is there anything in Jn 13. Nor is there anything in the entire Gospel of John to bridge the gap and seal the deal.

iii) So what is it that makes the difference? At this point, the Catholic church has to leapfrog from John to Luke or Paul. One of the differential factors consists in the “words of consecration.”

But there are not a few problems with this move. To begin with, it isn’t very sound exegetical method to complete your interpretation of one writer by ransacking another author. This is, frankly, a way of filling in the gaps of an interpretation that goes beyond the textual evidence. You can’t find everything you need in the text before you, so you import some putty to plug the cracks.

You then end up with an exegetical alloy that isn’t quite John and isn’t quite Paul. There’s no reason to suppose that this synthetic compound represents what either author intended.

iv) Another problem in the way in which a narrative description (“This is my body, this is my blood”) is suddenly turned into a magic formula or alchemical incantation for converting one substance into another. Where is the “epiclesis” in Lk 22:19-20 or 1 Cor 11:24-25? Where, in these verses, is the Holy Spirit summoned to transform the bread and wine into the true body and blood of Christ?

v) Even putting aside the putative role of the Holy Spirit, is there anything else in these passages to indicate a change in the state of the communion elements? A transition from one thing to another?

vi) So where do we stand thus far? The Catholic can’t find everything he needs in Jn 6, so he turns to Lk 22 or 1 Cor 11 to supplement Jn 6. Yet what he finds in Lk 22 or 1 Cor 11 isn’t really there, either. He’s assuming something that is, again, not in evidence.

So what he’s really doing is to plug up one hole with another hole—like a mime who carves up a nonexistent apple with a nonexistent knife. Although we may enjoy the pantomime, we can’t help feeling that something essential is still—how shall we say—missing?

vii) Oh, and that’s not the half of it. For not everyone who pronounces the “words of consecration” has the desired effect on the communion elements. Rather, this is reserved for a priest—a priest in apostolic succession, with valid holy orders, and the right intention.

Now, is there anything in Jn 6 or Jn 13 or Lk 22 or 1 Cor 11 where these additional factors may be found? No, no, no, and no. Is there anything anywhere in the NT that says who must preside at the Eucharist? No. Is there a continuation of the priesthood under the New Covenant? No.

viii) And that’s no all. What about the body and blood “under the species” of bread and wine? Is there anything in Jn 6 or Jn 13 or Lk 22 or 1 Cor 11 where those fine-spun distinctions may be found? Again, no, no, no, and no.

So, when all is said and done, the “straightforward” appeal to Jn 6 as a prooftext for the real presence quickly spirals into an ellipsis with another ellipsis, within yet another ellipsis, within another still ellipsis, &c.

BTW, it is striking that Lutherans, although they’re quite dogmatic about the real presence, don’t go rushing to Jn 6 to prove their point.

ix) Yet another oddity in the Catholic appeal is the asymmetry between baptism and communion. The baptismal water remains water while the grape wine and wheat bread is transmogrified into something other than, or over and above, mere bread and wine.

x) What we have here is clearly a dogma in search of a prooftext. The dogma comes first. And this, in turn, results in dogmatic exegesis as the dogma must conscript an unwilling prooftext, and then dictate to the conscripted text what the dogma needs the text to say.

It is upon this utterly Mickey Mouse tinkering and tweaking and retrofitting and gerrymandering of Scripture that hundreds of millions of Catholics as well as Orthodox are staking their faith--not to mention a rag-tag band of “Reformed” Catholic and Federalist stragglers who gobble up whatever stale crumbs fall from, and lick up whatever wine-stains adhere to the soiled apron of Mother Church.


  1. Steve (or someone else reading this),

    I have in times past made the case that the RC understanding of the Eucharist (ie, Christ's physical body being simultaneously present in potentially tens of thousands of physical locations at any one given time) is contra Chalcedonian theology. Christ's physical body is just that - a physical body - and when it is "teleported" into all these tiny pieces all over the world, it confuses His divine nature and His human nature by making His human nature take on a plurally-present aspect. Could you comment on that?

  2. I agree with you. There is, however, a tradition of sacramentalists accusing Baptists (and other suchlike) of being Nestorian while the Baptists counter by accusing the sacramentalists of being monophysitistic. So that's something of a stalemate.

    It is true, though, that a "body" which has no boundaries or locality is not a body as Scripture depicts a body, much less ordinary experience.

    And I happen to think that the monophysitistic charge sticks. The price of ubiquity is to divinize the humanity of Christ, which is pantheistic.

    It's also false on its own grounds because divine omnipresence doesn't literally mean that God occupies physical space, as if God had the attribute of physical extension.

  3. "how shall we say -- missing?"

    That's art. That's pure art. It's like the consistency of knife swirls in a frosted cake; it's like Miles Davis phrasing.

    One finds himself in awe of such skill. And then one goes back to lunch.

  4. A well thought out, well argued post Steve. Your argument is similar to that of Carson who argues that granting the identity of Peter as the Rock in Matthew 16 des not give away the store since there is still no support for many other elements of RC successionism which are as important to using that passage to support the papacy.

    When you think about it the fallacy is very common in RCism; they find something in scripture that resembles some aspect of a practice or a passage that supports some element of a dpctrine and then takes that as support for the entire practice or doctrine. It happens all the time, as in the defense for purgatory for example.

  5. Oddball Pastor wrote: "...they find something in scripture that resembles some aspect of a practice or a passage that supports some element of a doctrine and then take that as support for the entire practice or doctrine. It happens all the time, as in the defense for purgatory for example."

    Which is why, they'll kindly explain, we need the magisterium....because otherwise we're too dim to realize that's what the phrase - or phrase fragment - is really talking about. ;^p

    Funny how that works, huh?

  6. "Which is why, they'll kindly explain, we need the magisterium....because otherwise we're too dim to realize that's what the phrase - or phrase fragment - is really talking about. ;^p"

    Yes, without the magisterium we would never know which ideas to read into the text.

  7. Ummm... the WHOLE BIBLE is like that.

    There is no link, apart from the Church, between the original subjects (any subject, faith, salvation, sacraments, geography, anything!)dealt with in the text and you and me.

  8. Steve,
    Concerning point ix you misunderstand what is taking place at baptism. You seem to think that nothing happens to the water at baptism but that is in fact incorrect. The water is in fact blessed during baptism. But the emphasis in your criticism is incorrectly focused. The true importance of baptism is that the person, and not the water, is changed. At baptism an ontological change takes place upon the person baptized so that they are at that moment and always will be a baptized person. That is not to say that they cannot later renounce the faith but even if they do renounce the faith that does not mean that their baptism is therefore erased.

  9. Steve,
    Concerning your last paragraph and the Catholic "gerrymandering of Scripture". This seems to be a very harsh criticism you are laying on Catholics. From your statements I am assuming that you are in fact are not Catholic, whether that be Roman or Orthodox. Therefore, I would like to know what gives you the right to make such bold claims. From where does your 'church' come? Why are you fighting so harshly against something that you do not truly understand? You are trying to attack the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist using only the Bible. But if you understood Catholic theology then you would know that not everything comes from the Bible. When non-Catholics try to attack the Church with the Bible they operate on an unspoken assumption that the Bible descended on a Golden Thread from Heaven at the moment Christ ascended to the Father. But this is untrue. In the Great Commission Jesus told His Apostles to “make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus did not write the Bible as some sort of rule book like Muhammad supposedly wrote the Koran. Instead, He taught His disciples. He gave them the teaching of eternal life and they, here at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel are instructed by the Lord to teach others. That is what Apostolic Succession is about. Those who are in Succession to the Apostles are to teach the same Gospel that the Apostles taught and this is shown forth by the physical laying on of hands in ordination. This is how the Gospel was handed down until the New Testament was written and compiled and it is still handed down in this manner. Now, needless to say, some things which were and are handed down are not in the Bible. The books and letters of the New Testament were written for specific purposes and were not intended to be the end all be all of how to live your life as a Christian. The things that have been handed down from the Apostles which are not contained in Holy Scripture are now a part of Holy Tradition. If you truly want to attack the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist then that is where you need to look for ammunition. (By the way, who do you think compiled the Bible to begin with? And have you ever asked yourself where your own faith tradition comes from? Does it stretch back to Jesus and His Apostles?)

  10. I posted a comment yesterday, but it seems as if it has been erased.

    My question was; what is your starting point, steve, since it obviously isn't Tradition?


  11. Kjetil,

    No, your comment wasn't erased. You originally posted your comment on the "Pontifications" essay (scroll up), rather than here. You will find that your original comment is still there, along with my answer.

  12. I am having trouble understanding what your purpose was here. It could hardly be a logical argument.

    If you are arguing that the dogma of the Real Presence, then you are right to focus on John 6 for your scriptural basis. Repeatedly, Jesus makes the claim, and those listening obviously understand his meaning to be literal, as evidenced by their horrified reaction.

    If you are arguing about the consecration, why would you focus on John 6 and ignore the four times the institution of the Eucharist is told (3 in the synoptics and one in Paul's letter to the Corinthians). The statements "this is my body" and "this is my blood" are straightforward enough.

    In your article you suggest it is incorrect to use connect scripture from one book of the Bible to scripture from another book of the Bible:
    "But there are not a few problems with this move. To begin with, it isn’t very sound exegetical method to complete your interpretation of one writer by ransacking another author. This is, frankly, a way of filling in the gaps of an interpretation that goes beyond the textual evidence."

    If this is truly what you meant, one must wonder if you are truly Christian. The Muslims believe the Koran was dictated by Allah in Arabic to Mohammed, who captured every word. Christians believe the Word of God to be the word of God but written by men. For this reason, we speak of the Psalms of David and the Book of Hosea.

    The historical-critical analysis school of biblical study popularized by German theologians in the 19th century suggested ideas about the authors of the texts, but it is a departure from Christian tradition to assume that the full interpretation of the Divine Revelation is found in a single book of the bible.

    St. Paul is liberal with his quotations and citations from the Psalter and from the major prophets like Isaiah. Is St. Paul not using a "sound exegetical method?"

    You claim we have here "clearly a dogma in search of a prooftext. The dogma comes first." Of course the dogma comes first, for the dogma comes from God. That is what a dogma is: some authoritative, unchanging divine truth. As creatures of God we do not necessarily have the lexicon of the Creator and may employ a doctrine that is our best effort at explaining concepts that are beyond the confines of time and space and creation.

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  14. Not that I’m into proof-texting, but the most emphatic example in Scripture to me regarding Christ’s presence comes from I Corinthians 11:20-34.

    The context is Paul chastizing certain members of the Corinthian church for treating the Lord’s Supper like a common meal. After taking care to quote Christ as declaring the bread and wine to be His Body and Blood, he continues: (v29)…”For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, NOT DISCERNING THE LORD’S BODY”.

    I suppose one could make the argument that he’s talking about the church but that’s a stretch considering the correction came because men were getting drunk .

    Moreover, how can you deny the consensus of the early Church Fathers, whose writings inform us greatly as to precisely what the Apostles taught the Church as to the meaning of the Scriptures pre-Bible?

    Irenaeus of Lyons:
    “If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take
    bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his
    body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?” (Against Heresies
    4:33-32 [A.D. 189]).

    “He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from
    which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has
    established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies.
    When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives
    the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from
    these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they
    say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is
    eternal life-flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and
    is in fact a member of him?” (ibid., 5:2).

    Clement of Alexandria:
    “Eat my flesh,’ [Jesus] says, ‘and drink my blood.’ The Lord supplies us
    with these intimate nutrients, he delivers over his flesh and pours out his
    blood, and nothing is lacking for the growth of his children” (The
    Instructor of Children 1:6:43:3 [A.D. 191]).

    Justin Martyr:
    “We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it,
    except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in
    the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [i.e.,
    has received baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined. For not as
    common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ
    our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and
    blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has
    been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and
    by the change of which our blood and flesh is nurtured, is both the flesh
    and the blood of that incarnated Jesus” (First Apology 66 [A.D. 151]).

    Ignatius of Antioch:
    “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes.” (Letter to the Smyrneans)

    Before dismissing the context of the early Church responsible for transmitting the written Tradition(i.e. the books of the New Testament and other epistles) for almost 300 years before the canon as we know it was established, remember this: When one professes faith that the Scriptures were inspired by God, and the books that are in there are there because 'God intended it that way', that person is also professing faith that the men who made the decision of canon, i.e. the Early Church, were inspired by God in the endeavour. To say otherwise is ignorant, intellectually dishonest, or both.