Friday, August 24, 2012

Say after me, "is" is not a simple word

Fascinatingly, discussion on a recent post re "Messy Anglican Church" has taken a turn towards eucharistic theology, discussing transubstantiation, consubstantiation, memorials and related matters. Here I will not attempt to offer a complete reflection on eucharistic theology, rather just offer a few observations.

(1) "Is" is not a simple word. If I am away from my wife, meeting with some folk, and pull a photo of her out of my wallet and say, "This is my wife," everyone understands that "is" is at least about representation (The photo offers a representation of her) and yet may be about something more, because the photo is a likeness of her (not just a symbol of her) and in some sense conveys the reality of her, indeed, for me at least, in her absence, the photo helps to convey her 'real presence' with me. It all gets a bit more complicated (I suggest) if such a display of a photo took place after the death of the person in the photo: the 'real presence' of the deceased would have a memorialising aspect which would not be the case if, in the instance of the event above, it occurred a couple of hours after I left my wife at home, alive and well.

But, think of a different context. Suppose I went to a wedding dance but my wife could not come. Not to worry, I take out her photo and hold it while I dance. Someone asks what I am doing,  and I say, "This is my wife. I am dancing with her." Quite rightly, the questioner would think I was nuts! It is not the case that in every context I can say "This is my wife" while holding her photo and the sentence makes sense. (In the context of the eucharist, one of the mistakes the church has made (I venture with trepidation to suggest) is to propose that "This is the body of Christ" is true in all contexts. Frankly, I am not convinced that leftover wafers in a box in a room off the side of the church, several days removed from a communion service can have the statement "This is the body of Christ" sensibly said of them: the right context for such a statement to make sense is when disciples are gathered with intention to remember with thanksgiving etc.)

(2) In my understanding, in the original Aramaic, a separate and distinct word for "is" was not used by Jesus. This does not necessarily make much difference to the debate, but it should give us pause before we invest too much significance into the later supply of the verb to be in Greek then Latin then English.

(3) What does our NZ Prayer Book convey to us about understandings of the nature of the bread and the wine as prayed over in a communion service? We have within the book some six possibilities in English (I won't even attempt to work through all legal possibilities for eucharistic prayers in our church, nor through our eucharistic prayers in Maori and other languages recognised in this church).

p. 423: "Send your Holy Spirit that these gifts of bread and wine which we receive may be to us the body and blood of Christ, and that we, filled with the Spirit's grace and power, may be renewed for the service of your kingdom."

p. 438 "As we eat this bread and drink this wine, through the power of your Holy Spirit feed us with your heavenly food, renew us in your service, unite us in Christ and bring us to your everlasting kingdom."

p. 469-70 (which makes two statements I think need to be cited to express the theology of bread/body and wine/blood within this particular service):

"We lift up the cup of salvation and call upon your name. Here and now, with this bread and wine, we celebrate your great acts of liberation ...Empower our celebration with your Holy Spirit, feed us with your life, fire us with your love, confront us with your justice, and make us one in the body of Christ with all who share your gifts of love."

p. 487 "Send your Holy Spirit, that we who receive Christ's body may indeed be the body of Christ, and we who share his cup draw strength from the one true vine."

p. 513 "Send your Holy Spirit upon us and our celebration, that we may be fed with the body and blood of your Son and be filled with your life and goodness."

p. 520 (from "A Service of the Word with Holy Communion", i.e. a service for use with reserved sacrament in order to extend communion from one congregation to another) "God, creator of time and space, may the love and faith which makes this bread the body of Christ this wine his blood enfold us now ... May Christ's Holy Spirit bring to us in the sacrament the strength we need ..."

p. 733 = p. 423.

Multiply through the book we also have the seminal words for Anglican eucharistic theology, intended to be a blending of theologies jostling for space in post-Reformational Anglicanism,

"Draw near and receive the body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ in remembrance that he died for us. Let us feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving."

I suggest our church with its prayer book has catered for a range of eucharistic theologies cherished by Anglicans through the centuries without endorsing any one of them as 'majority' or 'mainstream'.

I also suggest that our church with its clear linkage to the work of the Holy Spirit as agent of transformation, while also emphasising the words "Draw near ... with thanksgiving" offers a clear distinction from those theologies which place weight on substantive transformation of the bread and the wine: within our range of Anglican theologies, we are united in emphasising the outcome of praying over the bread and the wine as the transformation of those who receive.

"Is" is not a simple word and our church's prayer book, in its own way, acknowledges that!


26 comments:

liturgy said...

As we have been spending weeks together as church around John 6 where Christ gives us the new manna (literally “what is it?”) it is good to see this post – what is it?

I think each model of the multifaceted mystery of what Christ leaves us has something to teach us.

I never use “just” to qualify “symbol”, and, Peter, you would struggle to defend your proposition that “leftover [consecrated] wafers in a box in a room off the side of the church, several days removed from a communion service can have the statement "This is the body of Christ" sensibly said of them” from our our (binding – who can tell anymore?) Prayer Book which does so in more than one place.

The Anglican solution to the multiplicity of models is not to require assent solely to one, but to have an agreed practice. For those of us who still hold God and the things of God with deep reverence there seems a sacrilegious tendency to intentionally desecrate – or is it just (!) another example of little to no formation and training, and the relegating of worship and spirituality to the now-outdated part of our church life?

Blessings

Bosco

Father Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Peter, for your long essay on semantics. For the Anglican catholic view of the Sacrament of Eucharist I would recommend the work of that eminent scholar and priest/religious Dom Gregory Dix. This is real food for thought for Anglicans who want to acknowledge the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. But there again, not all Anglicans may want to do that.

As you infer, Anglicanism offers room for all sorts of different interpretations of what Jesus was 'up to' at the Last Supper. To those of us used to meeting Him on a daily basis during our active ministry, Christ in the Sacrament of His body and Blood has been the inspiration for any ministry we were able to do 'In His Name'.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
I am not (of course) seeking to desecrate anything, nor to disagree with our prayer book, but to explore in what way it is meaningful to talk of bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ, which is, to be sure, a mystery that my finite mind and limited vocabulary may fail badly at attempting to explore.

I do worry
(in a philosophical and theological manner) that we may, however accidentally or intentionally, subscribe to a view that consecrating the bread and the wine determines a permanent, objective change to the state of the bread and wine so that whether or not "the love and faith which makes this bread the body of Christ this wine his blood" is present.

In case this leads to the thought that I believe consecrated bread and wine keeps changing state depending on whether it is being used in an extended communion service or not, my response would be that such thinking is precisely physical/earthly in nature. Theologically, Christ is present with us where love and faith are present. If, between services, the mice get into the vestry cupboard and eat the wafers, I do not think the 'body of Christ' has been desecrated.

liturgy said...

Peter, I had not for a moment thought of anything you do as an example of desecration – I hope readers here would understand that.

To shift your point about mice in the cupboard: imagine for a moment that the central symbol expressing the bravery of the recent spate of Kiwi soldiers who have been killed in Afghanistan was focused on a New Zealand flag, what would your response be if that flag was kept in a cupboard in such a manner that mice were able to get at this flag and eat it… If our secular world can hold a flag sacred, you will understand why I struggle with those whom Christ has entrusted with the sacrament of his death doing less…

As to the presence of Christ being dependent on my individual love and faith, if that is the hermeneutical key to our Prayer Book’s theology of Christ’s presence; if Christ’s risen presence is no more than the result of communitarian shared love and faith, then place me instead with those who pray:

“Praise and glory to you creator Spirit of God;
you make our bread Christ’s body
to heal and reconcile
and to make us the body of Christ.
You make our wine Christ’s living sacrificial blood
to redeem the world…” NZPB p. 541

Blessings

Bosco

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,

Thanks for clarification re 'desecrate' (I was slightly unclear exactly what you meant etc).

I would hope that both flag and bread/wine would be securely stored. But just as I wouldn't lose sleep over finding that, nevertheless, mice had gotten in and eaten the flag, nor would I over them eating the bread/wine.

I support the secure keeping of consecrated bread/wine from the service of consecration to the service of extension because it is both respectful of what has happened and what is going to happen, as well as respectful of those Anglicans who are free to view the nature of the consecrated bread/wine differently to me. (Others are free, if you like, to feel differently about the mice consuming it than I would).

To try to be clearer: I do not think faith and love is "the" key to Christ being present, but a key (perhaps one of three keys, but I would like to think about that a bit more). Even in the prayer you cite, the presumption is that God has so "made" the bread/wine in the context of faith and love shared by God's people gathering around the Lord's Table. After all we do not believe that God makes all bread and wine automatically to be the body and blood of Christ, nor, I suggest, do we believe that God so "makes" just because the words are said (e.g. if a scene was being filmed by actors in a film, none of whom intended that a eucharist was actually taking place); indeed there are important questions are there not as to whether God so "makes" if the service is disordered in some way (e.g. a layperson assumes the role of priest or bishop).

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, regimental flags hung in churches and cathedrals are displayed there until they rot away. I used to think this was carelessness and desecration, but no more.
Since I set the mice running (so to speak) on this one, it seems to me that the question turns on whether there is an objective presence of the (physical? historical? resurrected?) body of Christ in/with/under the appearance of bread and wine, independent of the faith of a believer. I don't see how this can be seriously argued as historic Anglican doctrine, insofar as Anglicanism has any dogmatic center. Otherwise 'Anglicanism' is simply an elastic term that embraces the contradictory beliefs of all those who gather under 'Anglican' roofs - such as the unitarianism, agnosticism and (old) New Ageism that abound in Tec.
The Tractarians did try to argue for transubstantiation, but Newman gave up on that one. Articles 25 and 28 are explicitly receptionist.
Martin

Father Ron Smith said...

"After all we do not believe that God makes all bread and wine automatically to be the body and blood of Christ, nor, I suggest, do we believe that God so "makes" just because the words are said.."
- Dr. Peter Carrell -

The wonderful thing about truly incarnational Theology, Peter, is that all things, created by God. are capable of showing forth God's glory.

At the Incarnation of Jesus, for instance; even human flesh became God's Living Word in Christ. God's written Word bears testimony to this. This is one reason why traditional and orthodox catholics give special devotion to Mary, Jesus' mother, for it was from her humanity that Jesus became one of us. In the same way, Christians give special devotion to the bread and wine that are consecrated to become the Body and blood of Christ

If you think of the specificity of the flesh and blood of Mary as being 'used by God' to bring about the reality of God's Incarnate Word; then to move to the understanding of the specificity of the particular bread and wine of the Eucharist being given the same 'specialness', this might help you understand how God can use anyone, anything, in all creation to bring about God's will.

"We are all one bread, one body, for we all partake of the One Bread"

I still remember, in my childhood, being taught in my Church of England Sunday School class, the classical quotation of Q.E.I, re her understanding of the Eucharist:

"He was The Word that spake it;
He took the bread and brake it;
And what the Lord doth make it;
I do believe and take it."

Of course, I was taught by a good teacher who practised the faith of the Church of England - and taught it faithfully even in S.S.

That understanding has never left me. I live by its veracity - for me

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
While I appreciate the sentiments you express here, I have no idea from what you say why one might set aside some people to preside at the eucharist and forbid others from doing so ...

Kurt said...

Well, Martin, master of the mice, I think I see the hub of our disagreement. You, and some other folks who post here, adhere to Receptionism. It seems apparent that Fr. Bosco, Fr. Ron, and I do not, though we each have our own way of explaining this. (Anyone speaking up for Memorialism?)

To me, Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist is objective, not contingent. The benefits of receiving Holy Communion may be contingent upon “faith” and “worthiness” (how we define these attributes might differ, too), but not the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Now, one can think of all kinds of “What If” scenarios concerning the Blessed Sacrament—Martin’s mice being just one example. When encountering such speculations I always remember what my spiritual mentor, a wise Anglo Catholic priest, told me as a boy: “Don’t worry, kid, Christ can take care of Himself.”

Some time ago we had a lengthy discussion here about Holy Communion before Baptism. Those who hold to Receptionism might consider that if Christ is present contingently, only for the faithful and worthy—the unfaithful and unworthy receiving only common bread and wine—opposition to Communion before Baptism appears illogical. It would be impossible for non-believers to desecrate the Holy Mysteries because Christ is Present only for the faithful and worthy. The participation of unbelievers in the Sacrament would have no more effect than their recitation of the prayers in the Liturgy, or their “Amens.”

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

liturgy said...

I am far more interested in the articulated understanding of Anglicanism that has no peculiar thought, practice, creed or confession of its own. It has only the Catholic Faith of the ancient Catholic Church, as preserved in the Catholic Creeds and maintained in the Catholic and Apostolic constitution of Christ's Church from the beginning.

If the conclusion becomes that the word Anglicanism from now on is rather to be identified with a narrowing that seeks to distinguish one sectarian constriction over against the beliefs of other sects, I am not wedded to that word, only in Christ’s truth.

Blessings

Bosco

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,

I too am interested in an Anglicanism which is broadly catholic and apostolic (to sum up what you say). And if, again in general terms, this means an approach to penetrating the depths of "is" in a manner after Eastern Orthodoxy (i.e. not particularly seeking to analyse "is", in contrast to Thomist Catholicism) then I am mostly with you. But only 'mostly' because I am "Western" enough to have a passing interest in discussing "is", or, if you like, how/when the bread becomes the body etc. But if such discussion leads to sectarian differentiation of Anglicanism from the great Christian tradition of the universal church, then I am happy to give it a rest!

liturgy said...

Peter, it feels to me now that you are taking this down to the level of sacramental education I provide to young teenagers, or as Fr Ron points out, Sunday School.

I am unaware of anyone who suggests that sacramental actions (from the Eucharist, marriage, etc) do not require intention (as per your “scene was being filmed by actors in a film, none of whom intended that”). And I have no real idea why a discussion about Eucharistic Presence is being redirected to Eucharistic presidency (acknowledging that they are not unrelated).

Is this thread in danger of taking no account of theological progress and being happy to abandon ecumenical discussions, convergence, and agreements to revert to outdated sectarian prejudices and the security of previously polarising tribal differentiation?

Blessings

Bosco

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,

You make fair points. But the thread arose because there was a discussion here on the blog about "is" and that raised the variety of understandings within Anglicanism, which themselves have a rich heritage in the theological ferment of the Reformation. While I take responsibility for all sectarian tendencies, if not immaturities and superficialities in my contribution to the discussion, I am not prepared to have implied or explicit criticism of various Anglican understandings on the matter (i.e. which do not happen to lie close to Roman or even universal church understandings) proposed without reply. Part of that reply is to ask about the coherency of such criticism in respect of what it means re presidency.

However I take your positive point that we live in an ecumenical age in which we have spoken with each other across our divisions in order to seek to find our commonalities. My personal theological conscience on these matters should not disrupt the progress to unity: please do not recommend me for appointment to ARCIC!!

Anonymous said...

Koit of Noo Yoik, I am master of no mice - nor men; the controversy was one of medieval schoolmen, not mine. The problem remains for all who believe in a metaphysical change in the bread and wine. Receptionism is clearly taught by the 39 Articles and was part of Cranmer's faith. Your claim that it would be 'impossible for unbelievers to desecrate the holy mysteries' is illogical and mistaken, as the Bible and Art. 28 make clear. Both baptism and the eucharist mut be received with repentance, faith and reverence.
I have never doubted that 'Christ can take care of himself'. The question is: what does 'Real' mean? The lack of philosphical understanding and clarity about this is the issue.
Martin

Anonymous said...

"It has only the Catholic Faith of the ancient Catholic Church, as preserved in the Catholic Creeds and maintained in the Catholic and Apostolic constitution of Christ's Church from the beginning"

That's what Bishop John Jewel asserted in his Apology. How does one equate this with women's ordination?

artin

Peter Carrell said...

For me, Martin, the squaring/equating lies in the lack of change to the ordering of ministry (bishops, priests, deacons) while re-infusing the tradition with a fresh look at whether or not the sum total of apostolic teaching and tradition does, in the end, forbid the inclusion of women in all orders of ministry.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, when you, a theological teacher in the ACANZP, question the wisdom of human beings being 'set apart' for presidency at the Eucharist; one wonders under what precept you, yourself, were called to ordination - and for what purpose. Was it only to 'preach and teach'? Or was there some implicit understanding - at least on your part - that priestly ordination equipped you to preside at H.C.?.

If not the latter; why did you go forward for priestly ordination?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Your words in your previous comment included, "how God can use anyone, anything, in all creation to bring about God's will."

My challenge is for you, with your theology/understanding of God in relation to nature and sacrament, as expressed in your comment to clarify why God does not use "anyone" to preside over the eucharist, but "someone", i.e. a set aside person. In that setting aside (which I agree with) lies the seeds of a receptionist aspect to our understanding of the eucharist, namely that some element of human participation through 'faith and love' is required for the bread and wine to be the body and blood of Christ.

Shawn said...

If "tribal narrowing" means conforming more closely to God's Word then why not? A vague ecumenism that seeks to please everybody, and thus pleases nobody, is not the way forward.

The way forward for Anglicanism is to reclaim and boldly assert our Protestant/Reformed heritage.

Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria!

Shawn said...

Do we really want reunion with a church that still teaches purgatory, indulgences, Mariolatry, prayers to saints, and works righteousness?

Are the concerns of the Reformation dated when Rome still insists on teaching in-Biblical falsehoods?

I am happy to cooperate with Roman Catholics in a variety of areas, especially on political issues like abortion, and I have a lot of respect for those RC leaders who have taken a strong and public stand on moral issues. Both the current and previous Popes were men of great moral stature and integrity.

But institutional unity and the loss of our Protestant distinctives? No thanks.

Plus, let's get real. Liberal Anglicans are deluding themselves if they think Rome wants to get any closer to the AC.

Anonymous said...

Sola energy, indeed!

But let us also remember that Rome, at its best, has maintained moral clarity and a commitment to philosophical rigor and foundations when much of Protestantism has lost its way, either into liberalism or sentimnetalism, or worse, into both. There was no more solidly Puritan and Reformed a place than New England in the 17th and 18th centuries, before it succumbed to unitarianism, 'New Thought' and rationalism, and now secularism. That's why this card-carrying evangelical insists (ho anaginoskon noeito) 'The Bible isn't enough' - or as G. K. Chesterton put it (in one of the Father rown stories), 'If you are going to read your Bible, you must read everyone else's too.' Philosophy and historical theology must go hand in hand with believing Bible reading.
But no mistake about it: Roman Catholics are our separated brethren and allies against Satan!

Martin (beast of the wild wood)

Father Ron Smith said...

"clarify why God does not use "anyone" to preside over the eucharist, but "someone", i.e. a set aside person." - Dr.Peter Collier -

Surely, Peter, you ought be one of the first to understand that 'call', predisposition and availability are all elements in the distinctive vocation to priesthood.

There is always the delicate balance between the sayings: (a) 'Many are called but few are chosen' and (b) 'many are called but few choose to be chosen'

In the end there has to be an awareness of the special calling to be a priest (which, I, incidentally believe can be to either a woman or a man) before a person can respond - either positively or negatively.
Nevertheless, the call is specific.

It would seem to then be a matter of discernment - on the par of the 'called' and his/her examiners.

The enlivening motivator to enable a vocation in a priest is the Holy Spirit - Who can be obeyed or ignored.

The enlivening power for bread and wine to become the Body and blood of Christ (while yet remaining bread and wine) is primarily the Holy Spirit, through the agency of the ordained presiding priest, by virtue of the liturgical anaphora (consecration)

The bread and wine for Eucharist is selected for the purpose, As, indeed, is the person chosen for the office of priesthood.

The empowering element for both is the Holy Spirit of God. Both are 'set apart' for their function, according to Church tradition.

The 'priesthood of the Laity' is something else - shared by all Baptized Christians

Anonymous said...

'waste wood', I mean - it's perilous quoting Hopkins from failing memory.

Martinus Oblitus

Kurt said...

I’m sorry to disappoint you, Martin, though I live in Brooklyn, (and have for several decades) I speak with a General American (GA) accent. This is the North American equivalent to the Received Pronunciation (RP) of our British cousins. (My UK friends tell me that my RP accent is pretty good, too, but that fewer and fewer British people speak with it nowadays. Local accents are all the rage across the pond. That is not the case here, and one increasingly finds GA accents even in the Deep South.)

The Articles of Religion, Martin, are a mishmash. They include Catholic understandings, which, of course, I accept. But they also include Calvinist innovations, which I reject. The Articles can only be understood as a unique English attempt to bind diverse religious strands together for the sake of a national church. As such, they have only historical interest; even the Anglican Communion recognized this decades ago.

I’m afraid that you are confusing things, Martin. You must confront the theological implications of your theory. If the Real Presence of Our Savior is contingent, as your theory claims, then it really does not matter who receives Holy Communion. The faithful and worthy will receive the benefits, the rest will simply consume common bread and wine, since for them there is no Presence of the Christ. If, however, Christ’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament is not contingent, then the cautions of the Bible and Prayer Book make some sense.

I have indicated that I believe that Receptionism is one legitimate explanation of the Real Presence—though I personally do not hold it. I also believe that Transubstantiation is legitimate, though I do not hold to this theory either. No doubt Receptionism once was the predominant Anglican view of the Real Presence. But things have changed in 450 years, Martin. Probably most Anglicans (outside of some Latitudinarian and Evangelical circles) do not hold to Receptionism. (What most Anglicans do believe about the Holy Mysteries is probably quite hazy. Which is why most do not go beyond affirming the Real Presence.)

Well, I’m off to Port Chester on the Sound for a day trip away from the City. Everyone have a good weekend, and God bless you all.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
You are edging closer to understanding the importance of Receptionism!

I agree with you about the role of the Holy Spirit in transforming people!

But that role, in respect of vocation, needs to be discerned (i.e. received). Rightly you note that, as I would too.

Anonymous said...

No, Kurt, you are mistaken, or my years studying English church history and liturgy (under British PhDs, then on my own) were sad deception. The Articles are not a mishmash; they express Reformed Catholicism, as Professor Oliver O'Donovan's monograph makes clear. What do you think Calvin was seeking to do in any case, and why was he so beholden to the theology of the Greek Fathers? - as any perusal of the Institutes will show. Nobody, other than my Catholic teachers, has ever explained to me what they mean by 'Real Presence [of the body and blood of Christ]'. Do they mean the glorified body of Jesus in heaven has come down to earth? And you are mistaken in insisting it is a matter of indifference - on receptionist terms - if unbelievers communicate. Quite untrue. These are holy signs and ordinances from the Lord, to be conducted as He commanded; they are not pharmaceuticals that act independent of faith.
Martin