The Challenge: Dear Ron, I read only two of your articles, but they were sufficient for me to understand that you don’t like the Catholic Church. In this email I’m to write something on Our Lord’s REAL presence in the Blessed Eucharist.
My Response: Sir, I make no secret of my intense dislike for the Catholic Church. To understand my position, it is necessary to know what I mean by ‘the Catholic Church.’ When I refer to the Catholic Church, I do so in the same sense her popes and bishops do—as an incorporeal entity. We know that the Catholic Church exists, for we can see her buildings, read her documents and even speak with her priests and religious. We know that the Catholic Church exists for many wrongs have been done in her name. Yet, when one accuses this phantom entity of wrongdoing, we are told “the Church can do no wrong, for she is the Bride of Christ and therefore holy and without blemish.” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc.1426)
And so we have a strange situation. The Magisterium teaches that the Catholic Church is the Bride of Christ and is “holy and without blemish;” yet crusades, pogroms and other monstrous things have been done in her name and by her priests, bishops and religious. When a pope, such as Innocent III, commands a war of annihilation against religious dissenters and offers rewards in this life and absolution in the next, are we to believe that he is not speaking for the Catholic Church?
In papal and episcopal ‘apologies,’ we are assured that those who acted in the name of the Catholic Church were misguided and were in reality acting on their own responsibility. We are assured that the Catholic Church was innocent of any wrongdoing in the matter for which the pseudo apology was tendered and is incapable of wrongdoing.
The current Catechism of the Catholic Church, as revised, was compiled by an Interdicasterial Commission of twelve cardinals and bishops, chaired by Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the current name of the body better known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition.). Pope John Paul II wrote, in the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum by which the new Catechism was promulgated: “I declare [this Catechism] to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.” By acknowledging these things, then one surely must also acknowledge that paragraph 771, quote above, must teach truth concerning the nature and composition of the Catholic Church. With these Catholic truths in mind, I declare that the Catholic Church is more than just an incorporeal entity; that she is comprised of and manifested by both human and spiritual parts. Furthermore, I submit that in that her actions in this world are controlled and conducted by members of the ‘hierarchical organs’ of the Church, the Catholic Church indeed is capable—and guilty—of wrongdoing. Attempts to escape culpability for wrongful deeds done in her name by laying the blame on individual members rather than the corporate body of the Church is shameful deception. And now to your arguments concerning the alleged ‘Real Presence’ in the ‘Blessed Eucharist.’ You wrote:
Before responding further to this argument, I wish to make it clear that you have not established that Christ “instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist.” Please know that Bible-believing evangelical Christians do not consider what we know as The Lord’s Supper to be a sacrament. We could agree, I suppose, that it is an ordinance established by Christ.
Biblical Jesus was a Jew among Jews. It seems quite unlikely that He would not have used patterns of speech and other mannerisms common to the milieu in which He conducted His public ministry. A metaphorical expression, such as “This is My body,” would have been a typical Hebraism. No eucharistic miracle of transubstantiation was implied, nor could the disciples have missed the symbolic intent of his statement. After all, His actual body—as yet unbroken—was standing before them. In saying, as He did in Luke 22:19, “do this,” He established the observance as an ordinance for worship. The Jewish observance of Passover had looked forward to the sacrifice of Christ. In saying, “in remembrance of Me,” Jesus transformed the Passover seder into an altogether different ceremony; one that looks back in remembrance of His atoning death.
Many conservative Bible scholars believe that Paul wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth before any of the Gospels were penned. If this indeed were so, then the apostle’s instruction concerning the bread and the wine (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) is the earliest biblical record of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. It is particularly noteworthy that, under these conditions, Paul would have received his instruction directly from the Lord and not by way of having read the writing of any of the other apostles. (Galatians 1:10-12)
And now to your argument: Are you here suggesting that, in order for a statement to be considered symbolic it must be clearly identified and defined as symbolic? Were that the case, then I can but wonder why the common image of the Catholic Christ is that of a male human being—though rarely, in my observations, as a Semitic male human being.
Did not the biblical Jesus of Nazareth also say “I am the true vine?” (John 15:1). In that in the cited verse, He did not say “I am symbolically the true vine,” are we not to believe—using your argument for Matthew 26:26—that Catholic imagery should also present the Catholic Jesus as a vine?
In John 10:9, biblical Jesus said, “I am the door…” He is not recorded as having said, “I am symbolically the door…” Therefore, again applying your rationale, I am surprised that I have never seen Catholic Jesus presented as a door in any Catholic iconography.
Now, in John 10:11, biblical Jesus is recorded as having said, “I am the good shepherd…” I acknowledge that I have seen the Christ presented as a shepherd, though it should be clear to the reader that in this passage He also was speaking figuratively. Jesus is God, the Second Person of the Trinity. He has many more useful things to do than look after a flock of sheep or assume the forms of such things as a vine, a door, a scrap of bread or a glass of watered wine. What useful things, you might ask. Well, for starters, He is at the right hand of the Father making intercession for the saints--all those who are truly saved (Romans 8:34). He is head over all things to the church, which is His body. (Ephesians 1:20-23). He is Mediator of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8). He is in Heaven, ruling over angels and powers and authorities (1 Peter 3:22).
The Scriptures inform that resurrected Jesus is in Heaven, seated at the right hand of God (e.g., Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22). They do not tell us that He also resides in the form of a tasteless wafer in thousands of ciboria in thousands of Catholic Churches. More on that later.
I find nothing to disagree with in this citation, for the unidentified commentator’s words are nothing more than a brief examination of the grammar used in the verse in question. It fails to address whether the Lord’s use of the term was intended to be understood literally or metaphorically.
In rebuttal to your unattributed citation, I offer the thoughts of renowned Bible scholar. educator and authority on Koine Greek, Dr. A. T. Robertson, who had this to say about the “This is My body” usage in Matthew 26:26: lockquote>
26:26 And blessed and brake it (eulogˆsas eklasen). Special "Grace" in the middle of the passover meal, "as they were eating," for the institution of the Supper. Jesus broke one of the passover wafers or cakes that each might have a piece, not as a symbol of the breaking of his body as the Textus Receptus has it in 1Cor. 11:24. The correct text there has only to huper hum“n without kl“menon. As a matter of fact the body of Jesus was not "broken" (John 19:33) as John expressly states. This is my body (touto estin to s“ma mou). The bread as a symbol _represents_ the body of Jesus offered for us, "a beautifully simple, pathetic, and poetic symbol of his death" (Bruce). But some have made it "run into fetish worship" (Bruce). Jesus, of course, does not mean that the bread actually becomes his body and is to be worshipped. The purpose of the memorial is to remind us of his death for our sins. –A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol. I, the Gospel According To Matthew, © 1930 Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, p. 209
In his Bible Commentary, evangelical Bible scholar Sydney Cleveland drew upon the writings of another recognized Bible exegete and authority on Koine, F. F. Bruce, in his examination of Matthew 26:26:
The Catholic apologist continued:
Perhaps the apostle was admonishing the church at Corinth. Perhaps he was reminding them of the solemn significance of the Lord’s Supper, and that to come to the Lord’s Table while still clinging to one’s sins not only dishonors the ceremony; it also would dishonor His body and blood, treating lightly Christ’s gracious sacrifice for us. In the next verse, Paul tells his readers to examine themselves, to set their sins before the Lord, and then partake of the Supper, thereby not mocking Christ’s sacrifice for sin by holding on to sin.
It seems to me, Sir, that you may be approaching the Scriptures as do so many others in the Catholic Church; guided by your presuppositions and interpreting the holy writings as though they were penned in the 21st century. When reading the Scriptures, it is vital to seek to receive them as those to whom originally delivered received them. This requires some familiarity with the cultures and peoples of biblical period. To make a rather weak analogy, assigning contemporary meanings to the Scriptures is rather like trying to make sense of Shakespeare translated into third grade English. I believe you would find it helpful to obtain and study a copy of Gordon Fee’s excellent little book on hermeneutics, How To Read The Bible For All It’s Worth.
I cannot imagine why you considered it necessary to mention that Ambrose was the one who baptized Augustine. That he was a bishop of Milan is of some minor interest, I suppose, but Ambrose is a Doctor of the Church and was a leading theologian. If you must make some comment on his life, would it not be better to allude to his qualifications as a theologian and commentator than to mention a single act of his that had absolutely no bearing on the issue being examined?
I should also like to point out that calling up the writings of Church Fathers in support of a theological position can be tricky business. There is no evidence that I am aware of to support a claim that the Church Fathers wrote oracles of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They were, as are Bible scholars today, simply men who had devoted much of their lives to studying and proclaiming the Scriptures. When reading their thoughts, one must exercise discernment, just as is the case when reading the thoughts of contemporary Bible commentators. One must be especially careful when quoting proof texts from the writings of the Church Fathers, for it is not at all unusual to discover that the same Church Father may have at some other point in his life espoused another position on the same issue, perhaps even diametrically opposed to the quoted statement. Finally, quoting a Church Father’s position on an issue is easily matched by the opposition, who need only to quote an opposition position by some other Church Father.
Tertullian, widely considered to have been the founder of the Latin Church, in his examination of John 6 makes it clear that Jesus spoke in spiritual terms when He referred to eating His flesh and drinking His blood:
The Romish champion pressed his case:
I must stand in disagreement with your statement on the grounds that the Catholic Church has not been faithful to Christ’s commandment but to a self-serving interpretation of that commandment that supports the necessity of a sacramental priesthood.
Unfortunately, you neglected to cite the source of the Ignatius quotation you used, so I was not able to read it in context. Thus, it lends small strength to your position.
Interesting that you should call up a quotation from Ignatius of Antioch in support of your position on the Real Presence. Interesting because, according to Catholic hagiographies, Ignatius expressed a dying wish that he might become “agreeable bread to the Lord;” a clearly metaphorical use of the word ‘bread.’ According to one hagiography,
The guy had other arrows in his quiver:
Once again, you have failed to identify the source of the statement you quoted; thus denying me the possibility of reading it in context. Talk about your obscure sources; little is known of Ephrem, other than that he left behind a multitude of hymns.
I searched through the writings of Ephrem in Philip Schaff’s The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 13, but did not find the words you quoted. Thus, I could not read his poem or hymn for context. When quoting from a secondary source, such as Joan Carol Cruz, it is helpful to your readers to provide source data, such as I imagine Ms. Cruz provided.
From what little I have read of Ephrem’s work, he certainly was given to using metaphors and other figures of speech in his writing.
“There grew a vine-shoot on my tongue: and increased and reached unto heaven, And it yielded fruit without measure: leaves likewise without number. It spread, it stretched wide, it bore fruit: all creation drew near, And the more they were that gathered: the more its clusters abounded. These clusters were the Homilies; and these leaves the Hymns. God was the giver of them: glory to Him for His grace! For He gave to me of His good pleasure: from the storehouse of His treasures."—Catholic Online Saints, St. Ephrem, Op. cit.
The defender of Catholicism explained the importance of the Real Presence to RCC doctrine:
Indeed, it is surely necessary to believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharistic species to understand the other fantasies that are centered on the fantasy of the Real Presence.
This is, I imagine, a statement of your own theological position, expressed in rather saccharine terminology. I don’t care to deal with this, for it clearly is but a syrupy parroting of something you once read, perhaps in the Dialogue of Catherine of Siena. Your apparently self-descriptive statements are improvable and have no bearing whatsoever on the issue under discussion, the Real Presence.
Did you actually read Ecclesia de Eucharistia? Or did you lift your quoted words from another secondary source? I read it again at the Vatican web site, which surely must offer a trustworthy translation. I find the words you quoted to be in the second part of Paragraph 1 of that document. I quote the full paragraph to make a point:
The footnotes to this paragraph are:
Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 11.
I quoted the subparagraph in full in order to show the sources the Pope called upon in making the statements you quoted. Are you aware that Vatican II is well known to have produced not a single dogmatic definition? In other words, neither Lumen Gentium nor Presbyterorum Ordinis carry the imagined authority of infallibility. They are, in plain terms, nothing more than the opinions of the men who wrote them. Thus, John Paul II in quoting from them to make his case, cannot be shown to have placed his stamp of alleged infallibility upon the declarations cited.
For your information, I left the Catholic Church because she failed to nourish me spiritually. She was like an octopus holding me with soul crushing tentacles and stifling my heart-felt desire to draw near to the Lord. When I finally severed the bloodless and shriveled umbilical that bound me to Mother Church, I had learned to hate religion, religious people and the very idea of God.
I have no desire to return to the suffocating bosom of Mother Church, as if that were even possible. Please know that I am under more than 100 anathemas and more than a few latae sentencia excommunications because of my beliefs. Many of those curses are reserved to the pope; and know I would willingly die before ever again submitting my mind and will to the Catholic pope.
I close with these words from Augustine:
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