Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The meaning of the text exceeds the Eucharist

In my library perambulations on Scripture and the mercy (grace) of God, with specific reference to John 1:17, I have come across Richard Bauckham's latest book, Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2015).

One of his chapters is entitled "Sacraments?" and in the course his reflections he has this to say about John 6:51c, 53-56:

"Since it is distinctively eucharistic language that appears in 6:53-56, it will almost inevitably call the Eucharist to the minds of Christian readers familiar with that language. We must reckon seriously with this "overtone," but at the same time we should not allow it to replace the primary meaning of the text. Responsible readers who recognize the eucharistic overtone will understand it in a way that is consistent with the primary meaning of the text. There is nothing in the context to support the view that John was actually warning against an unacceptable sacramentalism in which too much importance was attached to the material elements of the rite.* But the passage surely resists any eucharistic reading of it in which the material elements of the rite take the place of the faith in the crucified Jesus that it is primarily about. In other words, the Eucharist can be relevant to a reading of the text only insofar as the Eucharist is understood precisely as an expression of faith in the crucified Jesus and as a symbol of participation in his life. Then the text can function to teach participants in the Eucharist what the sacrament is actually about. At the same time, it is vital to recognize that while the Eucharist is the communal rite that focuses what this text is about in the life of the church, the meaning of the text exceeds the Eucharist. The primary meaning is both more basic and more extensive than the sacramental overtone." [p. 103; my italics]

*That blows away one theory of mine!

At the heart of Anglican Communion life is, well, communion and it is important that we understand (as far as we are able this side of the Parousia) what communion is and is not.

8 comments:

BC said...

I am not entirely convinced that there is anything here that necessarily contradicts the emphasised placed by Augustine and Thomas in their readings of John 6. "The Eucharist can be relevant to a reading of the text only insofar as the Eucharist is understood precisely as an expression of faith in the crucified Jesus and as a symbol of participation in his life." Leaving aside the profound weakness of "expression" and "symbol", what else would the Eucharist be? If the Eucharist is not the means of participation in the life of Christ, then we are left with a bare, empty reading of John 6, and a bar, empty rite.

Which also raises the question, if this is indeed what the Eucharist is, then surely John 6 has to be read in a manner cognisant of its Eucharistic "overtones".

The meaning of the text exceeds the Eucharist because the Eucharist exceeds itself. "Bread and wine become his Body and Blood. But it must not stop there; on the contrary, the process of transformation must now gather momentum. The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood" - Benedict XVI.

Peter Carrell said...

Indeed, BC, and Bauckham himself, p. 104 makes mention of Augustine and Aquinas, citing Aquinas in support of his position!

What I see Bauckham 'getting at' is the approach to the Eucharist which lays emphasis on receiving the bread/body and wine/blood as some kind of end in itself (e.g. the good (!!) Anglican who makes it to Easter as well as Christmas; the good Roman Catholic who is regular each week at Mass ... but then proceeds to live life between Eucharists without sense of continuous participation in the life of Christ).

Father Ron Smith said...

"the Eucharist can be relevant to a reading of the text only insofar as the Eucharist is understood precisely as an expression of faith in the crucified Jesus and as a symbol of participation in his life."

Precisely! And that is why the Eucharist "As an expression of Faith on the crucified Jesus, and as a symbol of participation in his life" os priamry. What further relevance is needed? This is exactly why the Eucharist - being made at the request of Jesus, Himself, is so important for our individual incorporation into the Body of Christ. As our Liturgy so carefully enunciates the unifying aspect of making eucharist: "We are one bread, one body, BECAUSE we all partake of the Omne Bread".

The Unity of the Body is derived from this participation in the Eucharist" "Do this to re-member me". This is why the abstention of certain provinces of the Anglican Communion from participation in Eucharistic Fellowship with other provinces is so potentially dangerous!

Feeling the absence of God? Get thee to the Eucharist! This is why, to my mind - and those of most catholic Christians - we sell oursepves short if we think that we have 'all the fullness of Christ' without participating in the Sacament of His Presenceamongst us in Eucharistic celebration.

Father Ron said...

A second thought on this important matter, Peter.

Your post seems to imply that the Words in the Bible are more important than the Word-made-flesh in the Eucharist. I simply cannot agree.

Anonymous said...

Peter, this reading occupies a centre amid unusually wide extremes in academic scholarship.* Some first-rate books explain that the Fourth Gospel is firmly anti-sacramental; others just as good explore its sacramental realism. Bauckham's method must be at least as interesting as his conclusion.

Overtone arguments usually try to show how echoes of the LXX in an NT text work on its plain sense. Is that true here? Has Bauckham, for example, followed or amended Richard Hays's criteria for detection of an 'overtone' in the NT? If Bauckham sees a tradition in the OT or the pseudoepigrapha pointing to the eucharist, that would be very interesting indeed, both historically and devotionally.

I suspect, however, that this is a fresh outworking of something that he has said in the past-- St John is as concerned about individuals as we have long thought that St Paul is, while St Paul is as interested in participation and incorporation as we have just as long thought that St John is. What seems to him to be giving due weight to St John's interest in the interior of the believer's union with Christ could seem to us to be a turning away from the ecclesial rite. Similarly, New Perspective arguments about St Paul that give due weight to ecclesiology seem to some to have turned away from teaching about particular election. Whether all that is lost to one is gain to the other has not been audited, so far as I know. Grant Macaskill's recent book Union with Christ in the New Testament may do as a cashier's balance.

I've read this book's chapter on "Individualism" (quotes in Bauckham's title), and look forward to reading the concluding chapter on John and the Synoptics. Don't keep this from the library too long, Peter, for I am sure that somebody is waiting to read it ;-)

* For another somewhat mediating position, see Raymond E. Brown SS, "The Johannine Sacramentary" in New Testament Essays.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

Ron, Bowman. Thanks for a kind word elsewhere. In this OP, where do you see Peter pitting the Words against the Word?

Father Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Bowman. And my apologies, Peter. I took your quotation from Bauckham to be revelatory of your own stance. However, when I read, again, you concluding para., I see that his words have led you to context his theory of reception of the eucharist as being ' an end in itself'. Whereas, in fact, both you and I believe that the Eucharist enables us to be the essence of Christ 'between' Celebrations.

MichaelA said...

Peter Carrell wrote:

"What I see Bauckham 'getting at' is the approach to the Eucharist which lays emphasis on receiving the bread/body and wine/blood as some kind of end in itself (e.g. the good (!!) Anglican who makes it to Easter as well as Christmas; the good Roman Catholic who is regular each week at Mass ... but then proceeds to live life between Eucharists without sense of continuous participation in the life of Christ)."

Fr Ron responded:

"Precisely! And that is why the Eucharist "As an expression..."

Fr Ron, I notice that your discourse which follows seems to completely avoid responding to Peter's point. Yet it would appear to be a good one: Is there not danger that a teaching which emphasizes the physical act of receiving the Eucharist and de-emphasizes acting in a holy manner at other times, can lead us AWAY from the teachings of Christ?

"This is why the abstention of certain provinces of the Anglican Communion from participation in Eucharistic Fellowship with other provinces is so potentially dangerous!"

Why? Wouldn't it be far more dangerous to participate in the Eucharist with those who appear to believe in a different gospel? I am thankful that I share Eucharistic fellowship with the vast majority of Anglicans in the world. Whilst I would prefer not to withdraw from fellowship with some, Jesus makes clear that there are some times when we must do so, in order to follow Him, e.g. 1 Cor 5:9-13.