Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Reflections on the Communion of Saints

This is the first of what will be a continuing series of posts (I will call them Reflections on . . . ) containing information collected in the early 90s for the first draft of my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (originally titled, The Credibility of Catholicism). This version ran about 750 pages and contained many citations (along the lines of Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict). I revised the whole thing in 1994, incorporating citations from the new Catechism and omitting much material (particularly early Protestant history). I think the revision makes for a much better book, yet what was deleted is not, I think, without value and usefulness.

Slowly I have put this material out in various ways (mostly website papers). I would like to publish what remains on my blog. I am always lacking space on my website (I have to pay when I use any more), so blogs are ideal to post lots of writing that is "sitting in the can" (in this case for eleven years). I hope you find these quotations edifying, educational, and spiritually helpful.

(P) = Protestant work
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The Communion of Saints

I. INTRODUCTION / DEFINITIONS

What is the communion of saints? We shall begin with some definitions:

1. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The unity and cooperation of the members of the Church on earth with those in heaven and in purgatory. They are united as being one Mystical Body of Christ. The faithful on earth . . . are in communion with the saints in heaven by honoring them as glorified members of the Church, invoking their prayers and aid, and striving to imitate their virtues. They are in communion with the souls in purgatory by helping them with their prayers and good works . . . Venerating the saints does not detract from the glory given to God, since whatever they possess is a gift from his bounty . . . They reflect the divine perfections, and their supernatural qualities result from the graces Christ merited for them by the Cross.

(Hardon, 83, 448)


The Church founded by Christ has three levels of existence. She is the Church Militant on earth, the Church Suffering in purgatory, and the Church Triumphant in heaven . . . There is communication among these three levels of the Mystical Body. Those on earth invoke the saints in heaven and pray for the souls in purgatory. Those in heaven pray for the Church Militant and the Church Suffering; they obtain graces for us on earth and an alleviation of suffering for the poor souls. Those in purgatory can invoke the saints on high and pray for us struggling with the world, the flesh, and the evil spirit.

(Hardon [II], 90-91)


2. John McKenzie

The veneration of the saints is very simple . . . The saints are believed to represent the most notable successes ln the effort of the Church to lead the Christian life. Honor and imitation of the saints for this achievement do not differ in kind from the honor paid to the memory of any civic or cultural hero . . . The saints are considered as intercessors . . . The saints are the friends of God, and God is on good terms with his friends . . . It does not, as early Protestants said, derogate from the unique mediatorship of Christ. Roman Catholics do not consider that the saints have redeemed us by a saving act; they are themselves redeemed by the saving act . . . The saints are believed to have in an eminent degree that power of intercessory prayer . . . which the Bible . . . attributes to great persons.

(McKenzie, 231)


Revelation 5:8 and 8:3-4 . . . The four beasts and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and
golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of the saints.

And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.


A. Ludwig Ott

The angels and the saints lay the prayers of the holy on earth at the feet of God, that is, they support them with their intercession . . . The propriety of invoking them logically follows from the fact of their intercession.

(Ott, 318)


Revelation 6:9-10 . . . I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?


B. New Bible Commentary (P)

This incident forms an integral part of the last judgments on earth, for the prayer for vengeance (v.10) is answered, and the end thereby hastened; see 8:1-5.

(Guthrie, 1289)


This admission by a well-known Protestant commentary is of immense significance. For if the prayers of dead saints have such an importance regarding the end of the age on earth and the final judgment, who can estimate how weighty such prayers are for less earth-shattering matters (excuse the pun!)? The doctrine of communion of saints, then, would appear to be irrefutably presented in Revelation.

C. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary (P)

The elect (not only on earth, but under Christ's covering, and in His presence in Paradise) cry day and night to God, . . . pray . . . to their Head . . . who will assuredly, in His own time, avenge His and their cause.

(Jamieson, 1547, 846) {cf. Zech 1:12}


Luke 15:10 . . . There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. {cf. 15:7}


A. James Cardinal Gibbons

The angels are glad whenever you repent of your sins. Now, what is repentance? It is a change of heart. It is an interior operation of the will. The saints, therefore, are acquainted - we know not how - not only with your actions and words, but even with your very thoughts.

(Gibbons, 127)


B. Charles Hodge (P)

Hodge, perhaps the leading evangelical (Presbyterian) theologian of the 19th century, agrees with Cardinal Gibbons about the knowledge of angels:

In their intellectual faculties and in the extent of their knowledge they are far superior to man. Their power also is very great and extends over mind and matter. They have the power to communicate with one another and with other minds and to produce effects in the natural world . . .

The angels not only execute the will of God in the natural world, but also act on the minds of men. They have access to our minds and can influence them for good . . ., by the suggestion of truth and guidance of thought and feeling, much as one man may act upon another. If the angels may communicate one with another, there is no reason why they may not, in like manner, communicate with our spirits. In the Scriptures, therefore, the angels are represented as not only affording general guidance and protection, but also as giving inward strength and consolation.

(Hodge, 231-233)


As is to be expected, however, Hodge balks at taking the further step of accepting the intercession of angels:

The people of God . . . may rejoice in the assurance that these holy beings encamp round about them, defending them day and night from unseen enemies and unapprehended dangers. At the same time they must not come between us and God. We are not to look to them nor to invoke their aid.

(Hodge, 234)


1 Corinthians 4:9 . . . we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.


A. James Cardinal Gibbons

What does he mean, unless that as our actions are seen by men even so they are visible to the angels in heaven? . . . Our Lord declares that the saints in heaven shall be like the angelic spirits, by possessing the same knowledge, enjoying the same happiness (Matthew 22:30).

(Gibbons, 127)


Matthew 18:10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the
face of my Father which is in heaven.


A. Adam Clarke (P)

Our Lord here not only alludes to, but in my opinion establishes, the notion received by almost all nations, viz., that every person has a guardian angel; and that these have always access to God, to receive orders relative to the management of their charge. See Psalm 34:7; Hebrews 1:14.

(Clarke, 805)


B. New Bible Commentary (P)

Every believer may have been thought to have a guardian angel with access to God to report on his charge (cf. Psalm 91:11; Acts 12:15).

(Guthrie, 839)


If Jesus taught that He could have asked for the assistance of angels (Matthew 26:53) - and He certainly would not have been worshiping them in so doing -- then we, who obviously need their help far more than the Lord Jesus Christ, can do the same without necessarily engaging in idolatry (after all, anything can become an idol if we let it).

It stands to reason that if angels are so aware of our doings and even thoughts, as indicated in Luke 15:10 and 1 Corinthians 4:9, then they certainly would be cognizant of our pleas to them. Protestants can only deny this by maintaining that such requests are synonymous with either the worship of God or the communication with evil spirits by means of a medium or other occultic practice. This is nonsense. Fear of Catholicism must give way to an open-minded biblical inquiry. The Catholic Church, so its detractors claim, is guilty of "adding to the faith." Even if this were true, would it be any worse than Protestantism's tragic "shrinking" of Christianity down to a minimalistic, "lowest common denominator" type of belief-system? The present subject is a case-in-point, illustrating the bankruptcy of the truncated forms of Christianity existing within Protestantism, when it comes to so many avenues of grace which are either obliterated or ignored.

Matthew 17:1-3 . . . Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. {cf. Mk 9:4 and Lk 9:30-31}


A. Patrick Madrid

If Jesus didn't want any contact between saints on earth (as Paul anticipatorily calls Christians) and saints in heaven, why did our Lord make a
special point of appearing to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration in the company of Moses and Elijah, two `dead' saints? (1)


B. New Bible Commentary (P)

The following excerpt illustrates well the Protestant uneasiness and bewilderment as to what this passage might imply (for the communion of saints):

Hypotheses advanced in explanation of the phenomena of this event differ widely, ranging from those which attribute no more than a legendary or symbolic value to the story, or explain it as a resurrection story read back into the earthly life of Jesus, to the other extreme of the spiritualists who claim it as a seance. In reply to the latter it may be pointed out that there was no communication from Moses and Elijah to the disciples, and the subject of discussion was the cross (Lk 9:31), not usually a topic at seances!

(Guthrie, 869-870)


C. George Haydock

It is hence evident, that the saints departed can and do, with the permission of God, take an interest in the affairs of the living . . . For as angels elsewhere, so here the saints also, served our Saviour; and as angels, both in the Old and New Testament, were frequently present at the affairs of men, so may saints. (2)

(Haydock, 1283)


Revelation 11:3 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy . . . {Read Rev 11:3-13}


A. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary (P)

The actions of the two witnesses are just those of Moses when witnessing for God against Pharaoh . . . ; and of Elijah . . . De Burgh thinks Elijah and Moses will again appear, as Malachi 4:5-6 seems to imply (cf. Matt 17:11; Acts 3:21). Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ at the Transfiguration . . . As to Moses, cf. Deuteronomy 34:5-6; Jude 9 . . . Many of the early Church thought the two witnesses to be Enoch and Elijah (3). This would avoid the difficulty of the dying a second time, for these never have died [Gen 5:24; 2 Ki 2:11] . . . Still, the turning the water to blood, and the plagues (vs. 6), apply best to Moses.

(Jamieson, 1556-1557)


B. Wycliffe Bible Commentary (P)

Who are these two witnesses? . . . I think these witnesses must be regarded as individuals. Many assert that they are Moses and Elijah . . ., others that they are Enoch and Elijah.

(Pfeiffer, 1510)


1 Samuel 28:12,14-15 And when the woman saw Samuel [who was dead], she cried . . . And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped his face to the ground, and bowed himself.

And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? . . . {Read vss. 7-20}


Some commentators have denied that this was actually Samuel, thinking that "Samuel" in this passage was an impersonating spirit of some sort, conjured up by the medium ("the witch of Endor"). The current consensus, however, appears to be that it was indeed Samuel the prophet, in an appearance after his death:

A. New Bible Commentary (P)

The narrative strongly suggests that this really was Samuel, and not a mere apparition or hallucination. The foreknowledge and uncompromising statements attributed to him in the verses that follow also stamp him as being genuinely Samuel.

(Guthrie, 301)


B. Wycliffe Bible Commentary (P)

The more modern orthodox commentators are almost unanimous in the opinion that the departed prophet did really appear and announce the coming destruction of Saul and his army. They hold, however, that Samuel was brought up not by the magical arts of the witch, but through a miracle wrought by the omnipotence of God . . .

That the spirit of Samuel actually appeared was the view of the ancient rabbis. This is attested in the LXX translation of 1 Chr 10:13b - `And Samuel the prophet made answer to him'; and by Ecclesiasticus 46:20. The same view was held by Justin Martyr, Origen, and Augustine. Tertullian and Jerome maintained that the appearance of Samuel was a diabolical delusion.

(Pfeiffer, 292)


Ecclesiasticus 46:13,20 (KJV) reads:

Samuel . . . after his death . . . prophesied, and shewed the king his end, and lifted up his voice from the earth in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people.


{Jeremiah also reappears on earth: 2 Maccabees 15:13-16}

C. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary (P)

The story has led to much discussion whether there was a real appearance of Samuel or not . . . Many eminent writers (considering that the apparition came before her arts were put into practice; that she herself was surprised and alarmed; that the prediction of Saul's own death and the defeat of his forces was confidently made), are of the opinion that Samuel really appeared."

(Jamieson, 226-227)


Matthew 27: 50,52-53 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost . . . And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.


REASONED DEFENSES 0F THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS

1. John Henry Cardinal Newman

The Catholic Church allows no . . . Saint, not even the Blessed Virgin herself, to come between the soul and its Creator . . . The devotions then to angels and saints as little interfered with the incommunicable glory of the Eternal, as the love which we bear our friends and relations, our tender human sympathies, are inconsistent with that supreme homage of the heart to the Unseen.

(Newman, 284-285)


2. Ronald Knox

The great ones of the world live, indeed, in memory; public statues have set their features permanently on record . . . But their memory fades, when their generation has died . . . the man has become an idea. It is not so that the saints live; we conceive them . . . as personally intimate with us, as exercising a real influence, not as the source of a mental inspiration.

(Knox, 179)


3. James Cardinal Gibbons

To ask the prayers of our brethren in heaven is not only conformable to Holy Scripture, but is prompted by the instincts of our nature . . . The Communion of Saints robs death of its terrors, while the Reformers . . . not only inflicted a deadly wound on the Creed (4), but also severed the tenderest chords of the human heart . . . the holy ties that unite earth with heaven . . . If my brother . . . crosses the narrow sea of death and lands on the shore of eternity, why should he not pray for me still? What does death destroy? The body. The soul still lives and . . . thinks and wills and remembers and loves . . .

A heart tenderly attached to the saints will give vent to its feelings in the language of hyperbole, just as an enthusiastic lover will call his future bride his adorable queen, without any intention of worshipping her as a goddess.

(Gibbons, 131, 13)


4. Karl Adam

God . . . takes up into Himself the whole creation that culminates in human nature, and in a new, unheard of supernatural manner, "lives in it," "moves" in it, and in it "is" (cf. Acts 17:28). That is the basis upon which the Catholic veneration of the saints and Mary must be judged . . . The saints are not mere exalted patterns of behavior, but living members and even constructive powers of the Body of Christ . . .

The veneration which we give to angels and saints is essentially different from the worship which we offer to God . . . To God alone belongs the complete service of the whole man, the worship of adoration . . . But so pervasive . . . is God's glory that it . . . is reflected also in those who in Him have become children of God . . . We love them as countless dewdrops in which the sun's radiance is mirrored. We venerate them because we find God in them . . . Therefore are we confident that they can and will help us only so far as creatures may. They cannot themselves sanctify us .
. .

The divine blessing never works without the members, but only in and through their unity . . . Therefore, although the veneration of saints has undergone some development in the course of the Church's history . . . yet such veneration was from the beginning germinally contained in the nature of the Church as the Body of Christ . . . the fellowship and solidarity of His members . . . It is no pagan growth, but indigenous to Christianity . . . Popular devotion to the saints is in line with dogma and is utterly monotheistic in character . . . The devout Catholic . . . for the ordinary and fundamental concerns of his soul . . . practises . . . an immediate intercourse of prayer with God.

(Adam, 115-116, 123-125, 246)


A sound biblical basis for the veneration of saints can be found in the Pauline passages where the Apostle exhorts his followers to "imitate" him (1 Cor 4:16; Phil 3:17; 2 Thess 3:7-9) as he, in turn, imitates Christ (1 Cor 11:1 & 1 Thess 1:6). Also, we are exhorted to honor and imitate the "heroes of the faith" in Heb 6:12 & ch.11, and to take heart in the examples of the prophets and Job, who endured suffering (Jas 5:10-11).

5. Karl Keating

Consider how honor is given . . . It is customary to address a judge as "Your Honor" . . . On Mt. Sinai there was a command given to "honor thy father and thy mother" . . . children are . . . instructed to honor the Founding Fathers . . . If merit deserves to be honored . . . it surely should be honored among God's special friends . . .

This prayer for one another does not violate Christ's role as the one mediator, because ours is a secondary mediatorship that is entirely dependent on his . . . None of this violates the truth that without Christ our prayers to the Father would be ineffectual . . .

(Keating, 260-263)


6. Nicholas Russo

Our opponents should prove that, however subordinate are the honors we bestow upon the saints, they necessarily conflict with the honor . . . we are bound to render to God. But this . . . would prove too much; for if subordinate and supreme honors conflict, subordinate and supreme love would conflict likewise . . . The love we give to relatives and friends would necessarily detract from the love due to God. But this is necessarily false . . . Could we call him an idolater who should celebrate in song the flowers of the fields, the stars of the firmament, the majesty of the ocean? . . . Assuredly not; and why? Because it is God Himself we praise in admiring His works."

(Russo, 261-262)


7. Thomas Howard (P)

I had never heard the idea, taught in the Church for centuries, that in the act of Christian worship the scrim that hangs between earth and heaven is drawn back, and we in very truth join with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven . . . It is an awesome picture of things . . . Evangelicalism had instilled in me a robust supernaturalism . . . It was, rather, that no one had ever bothered to open up this vision . . . a notion that would be theoretically affirmed by evangelicalism but which is not often dwelt on and is certainly not vivified in public worship . . . The host of apostles, evangelists, fathers, martyrs, confessors, doctors . . . was not really very present to us . . .

Their roots in history have been pulled up, and they are left with nothing but the Bible and the modern world. They forget that the Faith has been borne on human shoulders and in human hearts for 2000 years . . . Evangelical doctrine is correct, but there are immense treasures that it seldom dips into for the sake of its people.

(Howard, 57-59)

8. The Second Vatican Council (1962-65)

God shows to men, in a vivid way, his presence and his face in the lives of those companions of ours in the human condition who are more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ (cf. 2 Cor 3:18) . . . Exactly as Christian communion between men on their earthly pilgrimage brings us closer to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace . . . every authentic witness of love, indeed, offered by us to those who are in heaven tends to and terminates in Christ, "the crown of all the saints," and through him in God who is wonderful in his saints and is glorified in them. (5)

(Vatican II, 411-412)


9. A.W. Tozer (P)

Tozer, the much-beloved Christian writer and pastor of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, though denying the invocation of saints, writes luminously of the Mystical Unity of the Body of Christ:

In the Body of Christ the quickening Spirit flowing through every part gives life and unity to the whole. Our Christian brethren who have gone from our sight retain still their place in the universal fellowship. The Church is one . . . I suggest also that we try to acquaint ourselves as far as possible with the good and saintly souls who lived before our times and now belong to the company of the redeemed in heaven . . . I have no doubt that the prayerful reading of some of the great spiritual classics of the centuries would destroy in us forever that constriction of soul which seems to be the earmark of modern evangelicalism . . . Who is able to complete the roster of the saints? To them we owe a debt of gratitude too great to comprehend . . . They belong to us, all of them, and we belong to them. They and we . . . are included in the universal fellowship of Christ, and together compose "a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people," who enjoy a common but blessed communion of saints. (6)


10. Alan Schreck / C.S. Lewis (P)

C.S. Lewis vividly described how God might see all of his people as one vast, united family . . . In his book, The Screwtape Letters (7), Lewis has the demon Screwtape explain to a junior demon how Satan is aided by the narrow view of the church held by many Christians:

One of our great allies at present is the church itself . . . I do not mean the church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle that makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. . . .


One of Satan's chief strategies to defeat the church is to divide and isolate its members from one another and thus deprive them of the strength they can receive from their fellow members of the communion of saints."

(Schreck, 153-154)


11. C.S. Lewis (P)

Lewis wrote very ecumenically on this topic in one of his last books, from which we will agreeably quote, in conclusion:

. . . devotions to saints . . . There is clearly a theological defence for it; if you can ask for the prayers of the living, why should you not ask for the prayers of the dead? . . . I am not thinking of adopting the practice myself; and who am I to judge the practices of others? . . . The consoling thing is that while Christendom is divided about the rationality and even the lawfulness, of praying to the saints, we are all agreed about praying with them. `With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven' . . . You may say that the distinction between the communion of the saints as I find it in that act and full-fledged prayer to saints is not, after all, very great. All the better if so. I sometimes have a bright dream of reunion engulfing us unawares, like a great wave from behind our backs . . . Discussions usually separate us; actions sometimes unite us. (8)


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Adam, Karl, The Spirit of Catholicism, translated by Justin McCann; revised edition, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1954 (orig. 1924).

Clarke, Adam, Commentary on the Bible, abridged one-volume ed. by Ralph Earle, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1967 (orig. 1832, 8 volumes) [Clarke was a Methodist].

Gibbons, James Cardinal, The Faith of Our Fathers, New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, revised edition of 1917.

Guthrie, D. & J.A. Motyer, editors, The New Bible Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 3rd ed., 1970; reprinted in 1987 as The Eerdmans Bible Commentary.

Hardon, John A., Pocket Catholic Catechism, New York: Doubleday Image, 1989.

Hardon, John A. [II], Pocket Catholic Dictionary, New York: Doubleday Image, 1980.

Haydock, G.L. (commentator), Douay-Rheims New Testament, Rheims, France: 1582, {tr. from the Latin Vulgate}, Reprint: Monrovia, CA: Catholic Treasures, 1991.

Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology, abridged one-volume ed. by Edward N. Gross, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988 (orig. 1873, 3 volumes).

Howard, Thomas, Evangelical is Not Enough, Nashville: Nelson, 1984.

Jamieson, Robert, Fausset, Andrew R., & Brown, David, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961 (orig. 1864) [Fausset & Brown were Anglicans, Brown Presbyterian].

Keating, Karl, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988.

Knox, Ronald, The Belief of Catholics, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1927.

McKenzie, John L., The Roman Catholic Church, Garden City, New York: Doubleday Image, 1969.

Newman, John Henry Cardinal, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1956 (orig. 1864).

Ott, Ludwig, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1974.

Pfeiffer, Charles F. & Everett F. Harrison, editors, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, Chicago: Moody Press, 1962.

Russo, Nicholas, The True Religion, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1886.

Schreck, Alan, Catholic and Christian, Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1984.

FOOTNOTES

1. Madrid, Patrick, "Any Friend of God's is a Friend of Mine," This Rock, September 1992, cover, 7-13; quote from p. 13.
2. Haydock, George Leo, Haydock's Catholic Family Bible and Commentary, New York: Edward Dunigan & Brother, 1859 / Reprinted: Monrovia, CA: Catholic Treasures, 1991.
3. At least one exception among the Fathers was St. Hilary of Poitiers (c.315-368), who believed the "two witnesses" to be Moses and Elijah.
4. The Apostle's Creed -- pretty much accepted by Christians of all stripes -- contains the line, "I believe in . . . the communion of saints." Protestants largely redefine the historical phrase in their own innovative fashion, excluding elements we have been examining.
5. Dogmatic Constitution On The Church, Lumen Gentium, chapter 7, "The Pilgrim Church."
6. Tozer, A.W., A Treasury of A.W. Tozer, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980, 168-170, "The Communion of Saints."
7. Lewis, C.S., The Screwtape Letters, New York: Macmillan, 1961, 12.
8. Lewis, C.S., Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly On Prayer, New York:
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964, 15-16.

First Version: February 17, 1991
Revised and Expanded Version: December 14, 1993

Monday, June 21, 2004

Martin Luther Refutes Zwingli & Other Deniers of the Real Presence

From my latest book, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Sophia Institute Press: due to be in stores any day now)
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. . . [Martin Luther] believed in the Real Presence, although he denied transubstantiation and rejected the Sacrifice of the Mass. Luther (according to his nominalistic, anti-Scholastic leanings) didn’t want to speculate about metaphysics and how the bread and wine became the Body and Blood of Christ. He simply believed in the miracles of the literal presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood “alongside” the bread and wine (consubstantiation). In this respect, his position was similar to the Eastern Orthodox one.

It is enough for me that Christ’s blood is present; let it be with the wine as God wills. Before I would drink mere wine with the Enthusiasts, I would rather have pure blood with the Pope.

(Early 1520s; in Althaus, 376; LW, 37, 317)

The glory of our God is precisely that for our sakes he comes down to the very depths, into human flesh, into the bread, into our mouth, our heart, our body.

(in Althaus, 398; LW, 37, 71 ff.)


Protestantism’s founders vary in their interpretation of this verse and in their Eucharistic theology. John Calvin’s “mystical” view of the Eucharist is complex and not quickly summarized or refuted. Ulrich Zwingli (the Protestant “Reformer” of Zurich) held to a symbolic view, on the other hand, which seems to have prevailed among many evangelical Protestants today. We shall concentrate on the exegetical and logical weakness of Zwingli’s arguments in this chapter. He wrote about this passage:

In the words: “This is my body,” the word “this” means the bread, and the word “body” the body which is put to death for us. Therefore the word “is” cannot be taken literally, for the bread is not the body and cannot be . . . “This is my body,” means, “The bread signifies my body,” or “is a figure of my body.”

(On the Lord’s Supper, 1526; in Bromiley, 225)

Yet Martin Luther refutes this line of thinking, using the very same scriptures:

[T]his word of Luke and Paul is clearer than sunlight and more overpowering than thunder. First, no one can deny that he speaks of the cup, since he says, “This is the cup.” Secondly, he calls it the cup of the new testament. This is overwhelming, for it could not be a new testament by means and on account of wine alone.

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 217)


In that same work, Luther makes a fascinating argument that a purely symbolic Eucharist turns the sacrament into a futile work of man rather than a grace and blessing from God:

He thinks one does not see that out of the word of Christ he makes a pure commandment and law which accomplishes nothing more than to tell and bid us to remember and acknowledge him. Furthermore, he makes this acknowledgment nothing else than a work that we do, while we receive nothing else than bread and wine.

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 206)


Martin Luther rebukes the symbolic view of the Eucharist, held by most evangelicals today:

[S]ince we are confronted by God’s words, “This is my body” – distinct, clear, common, definite words, which certainly are no trope, either in Scripture or in any language – we must embrace them with faith . . . not as hairsplitting sophistry dictates but as God says them for us, we must repeat these words after him and hold to them.

(Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper, 1528; in Althaus, 390)


[John 6]

Zwingli offers us an example of early Protestant “symbolist” reasoning:

There can be no doubt that only the spirit can give life to the soul. For how could the physical flesh either nourish or give life to the soul?

. . . with his own words Christ teaches us that everything which he says concerning the eating of flesh or bread has to be understood in terms of believing . . . . this passage tells us that the carnal eating of Christ’s flesh and blood profiteth nothing, and you have introduced such a carnal eating into the sacrament . . .

(On the Lord’s Supper, 1526; in Bromiley, 206-207, 210-211)


Martin Luther, however, expounded the text otherwise. Preaching on John 6, he stated:

All right! There we have it! This is clear, plain, and unconcealed: “I am speaking of My flesh and blood.”

. . . There we have the flat statement which cannot be interpreted in any other way than that there is no life, but death alone, apart from His flesh and blood if these are neglected or despised. How is it possible to distort this text? . . . You must note these words and this text with the utmost diligence . . . It can neither speciously be interpreted nor avoided and evaded.

(Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, 1532; LW, 23, 133-135)

Luther’s eucharistic theology was not identical to Catholic theology, but it was far closer than to the symbolic view. To reiterate: he thought that Jesus’ Body and Blood were present “alongside” the bread and wine (consubstantiation) after consecration. So Jesus was really there, but the bread and wine were there, too (whereas in Catholic theology, they cease to remain bread and wine after consecration).

1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”


This verse again allows us to observe in a nutshell, traditional Protestant controversies in their own ranks. Catholics interpret it in a literal way, but Protestants differ amongst themselves. Zwingli special pleads in his interpretation of the passage:

[W]hen you offer thanks with the cup and the bread, eating and drinking together, you signify thereby that you are one body and one bread, namely, the body which is the Church of Christ, . . .

(On the Lord’s Supper, 1526; in Bromiley, 237)


But Martin Luther again ably refutes this specious interpretation, and offers us a unique insight into a Protestant exegete who had every motivation to disagree with the Catholic Church’s interpretation, but in the end was forced by the text to accept its straightforward meaning:

I confess that if Karlstadt, or anyone else, could have convinced me five years ago that only bread and wine were in the sacrament he would have done me a great service. At that time I suffered such severe conflicts and inner strife and torment that I would gladly have been delivered from them. I realized that at this point I could best resist the papacy . . . But I am a captive and cannot free myself. The text is too powerfully present, and will not allow itself to be torn from its meaning by mere verbiage.

(Letter to the Christians at Strassburg in Opposition to the Fanatic Spirit, 1524; LW, 68)


For Luther, the passage is quite compelling:

Even if we had no other passage than this we could sufficiently strengthen all consciences and sufficiently overcome all adversaries . . .

. . . He could not have spoken more clearly and strongly . . .

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 177, 181)


Luther thinks the realist, concrete, non-symbolic nature of the verse is obvious, to the point where he seems to be aggravated (the three-time repetition of “it is”) that others can’t see what is so clear:

. . . The bread which is broken or distributed piece by piece is the participation in the body of Christ. It is, it is, it is, he says, the participation in the body of Christ. Wherein does the participation in the body of Christ consist? It cannot be anything else than that as each takes a part of the broken bread he takes therewith the body of Christ . . .

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 178)


1 Corinthians 11:27-30: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”


Again, many Protestants today have lost the sacramental outlook of Martin Luther (and to a lesser extent, even of John Calvin). Baptist apologist James White provides a contemporary version of Zwinglian symbolism:

Participation in the Supper is meant to be a memorial (not a sacrifice) of the death of Christ, not the carefree and impious party it had become at Corinth.

(White, 175)


Martin Luther would have a great problem with such reasoning, and in refuting it, he closely approximates what a Catholic response would be. He argues that it is pointless for St. Paul to speak of “sin” here (“profaning” in the text) if Jesus “is not present in the eating of the bread” and that “the nature and character of the sentence requires” this “clear” interpretation. Luther sums up his exegetical argument:

It is not sound reasoning arbitrarily to associate the sin which St. Paul attributes to eating with remembrance of Christ, of which Paul does not speak. For he does not say, “Who unworthily holds the Lord in remembrance,” but “Who unworthily eats and drinks.”

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 183-184)


I prefer what is often called the “superstition” of Martin Luther, St. Augustine, and the Fathers of the Church, as it seems to be far and away the most natural reading of all these texts. Augustine wrote:

[I]t is the Body of the Lord and the Blood of the Lord even in those to whom the Apostle said: "whoever eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself.”

(Baptism, 5, 8, 9; in Jurgens, III, 68)


The eucharistic “Catholic verses” are some of the most important in the entire Catholic exegetical and apologetic “arsenal.” It can be shown (and I think I have done so) that Protestants are trying to skirt around the edges of them, special plead, eisegete (reading their own prior biases into texts) and improperly denying the straightforward literal reading. This is odd, given the usual Protestant acknowledgment that Scripture is to be interpreted literally unless there are clear indications in the text otherwise.

These passages are so compelling that they played a crucial role in producing a near-unanimous patristic viewpoint of acceptance of the real presence in the Eucharist. Several major Protestant Church historians and experts on history of Christian doctrine note this (for example, Otto W. Heick, Williston Walker, Philip Schaff, Jaroslav Pelikan, Carl Volz). The historical facts cannot be denied. They are unarguable. As just one representative statement, I cite J.N.D. Kelly, perhaps the most-cited patristics scholar:

One could multiply texts like these which show Augustine taking for granted the traditional identification of the elements with the sacred body and blood. There can be no doubt that he shared the realism held by almost all of his contemporaries and predecessors.

(Kelly, 447)


Catholics need not be shy in defending transubstantiation or the real presence. The biblical evidence is very strong, and so is the history of the beliefs of the early Christians on this score. We have nothing to fear, and we can decisively win this battle of “competing eucharistic theologies” on the field of Scripture and history alike.

SOURCES

Althaus, Paul, The Theology of Martin Luther, translated by Robert C. Schultz, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.

Bromiley, G.W., editor and translator, Zwingli and Bullinger, (The Library of Christian Classics series), Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953.

Jurgens, William A., editor and translator, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, three volumes, 1979.

Kelly, J.N.D., Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper & Row, revised edition of 1978.

Luther, Martin, Luther's Works (LW), American edition, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan (volumes 1-30) and Helmut T. Lehmann (volumes 31-55), St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House (volumes 1-30); Philadelphia: Fortress Press (volumes 31-55), 1955.

White, James R., The Roman Catholic Controversy, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Reply to Joel Garver & Kevin Johnson on Calvin's Eucharistic Theology Compared to St. Cyril of Jerusalem's & the Fathers Generally-Speaking

Dr. Garver's words will be in blue; Kevin Johnson's in red:

I would like to particularly thank Joel for replying (though also Kevin, of course); I know he must be a very busy man (like all academics) and could find many better things to do, so I appreciate it, and I again express my great admiration for his fine work.

Well, I also still think you're pretty much talking right past what Kevin is saying and what much of recent scholarship has indicated.

Perhaps so, but if so, I will have to be shown this by rational argumentation, with documentation (as I have tried to do). As for recent scholarship, I would be delighted to learn what it holds. I have neither the time nor money to follow all of that (even less now, after having started a part-time job that requires my services seven days a week), but if someone such as yourself can summarize it for me or send me to some links which do, I am all ears. Please teach us.

As you indicate, the fundamental question here is not whether Calvin rejected the late medieval doctrine that he identified with "transubstantiation" because, of course, he did. The question is [a] whether that late medieval doctrine was identical with that of Cyril and a number of the early Fathers when understood in their own immediate contexts and

I think (based on what I know, be it a little or a lot) that the ("Roman") Catholic doctrine is far closer to St. Cyril's doctrine than Calvin's is. Development is a given. The terminology and Aristotelian philosophical sophistication (as well as the theology itself) developed, but the essential components remain the same: however one calls it, this view entails a transformation of the bread and wine into the literal body and blood of Christ. Cyril clearly teaches this; so does the Catholic Church. Calvin does not. One can quibble about words all day long, but this is the bottom line.

[b] whether, when properly contextualized, Calvin coincides with Cyril in important ways that separate them both from the late medieval context.

Okay; well, again, teach us; show us where we have gone astray. I've done my work. Now, if my argument is to be overthrown I need to be shown by you or someone else at what point it went off: how it took anything out of context or (inadvertently, as it was surely not deliberate) misrepresented anything or drew wrong conclusions, etc. This can't be done by simply making general statements. it has to be argued properly . . . Surely as a philosopher, you understand this. Whether you have time to do so yourself is something else, but you must agree that what I have produced will take a bit of work and time to overthrow.

On the question of the presence of Christ himself in the eucharist, when the Reformers speak of "transubstantiation" and reject it, they are speaking of a particular theory of Christ's presence, cashed out in terms of substance and accidents, as those categories were communicated to them in the context of later medieval ontologies, which were either nominalistic or a kind thomism knocked out of shape by nominalism.

Perhaps so, but that doesn't give them the excuse to co-opt transformational views like that of St. Cyril and make out that they were not so. This is as much about development of doctrine I think, than about eucharistic theology per se.

Earlier medieval and patristic notions of "substance" and how those were contextualized in the eucharist—seen not just as elements and words, but also as an action of the assembled Body of Christ and teleologically directed toward reception by the faithful—would not have necessarily been objectioned to by Calvin, had he a better grasp on them.

Good. I certainly agree that he (just like Luther) had a jaded view of Scholasticism due to the corruptions of that school of thought by nominalism. But he was sharp enough not to have made the wild statements that he made about Catholic teaching.

His own eucharistic views, I submit, are attempting to approach those patristic views, such as Cyril's, though somewhat metaphysically handicapped by his own philosophical context. Indeed, depending on one's ontology of "substance"—particularly after a century of revisionist thomism, renewed study of Christian neoplatonism, and so on—then Calvin's own views might be termed "transubstantiation" (though, given the complexion of that term in his day, Calvin would likely turn over in his grave at the suggestion).

I need to be shown this. My extensive discussions on his eucharistic theology with Josh and Alastair on this blog were extremely interesting and (I think) fruitful, but I was not convinced at all that Calvin's view can be defended as even internally coherent, let alone consistent with the broad views of the Fathers.

Nothing you've said strikes against this in the least since you've neglected to explain what each of the historical figures actually meant within their own particular contexts and with their own assumptions about ontology and the like.

This is untrue, and (with all due respect) you must not have read my paper very closely, because I was making my argument in part by virtue of citing historians of doctrine, who made exactly these kinds of interpretations. Philip Schaff, e.g., wrote:
In general, this period, . . . was already very strongly inclined toward the doctrine of transubstantiation, and toward the Greek and Roman sacrifice of the mass, . . .
He says that "the kind and mode of this presence are not yet particularly defined" and classifies Fathers in different categories, but gives transubstantiation a strong place. Then when he gets to Cyril he writes (emphasis added):
With the act of consecration a change accordingly takes place in the elements, whereby they become vehicles and organs of the life of Christ, although by no means necessarily changed into another substance. To denote this change very strong expressions are used, like metabolhv, metabavllein, metabavllesqai, metastoiceiou'sqai, metapoiei'sqai, mutatio, translatio, transfiguratio, transformatio; illustrated by the miraculous transformation of water into wine, the assimilation of food, and the pervasive power of leaven. Cyril of Jerusalem goes farther in this direction than any of the fathers . . . In support of this change Cyril refers at one time to the wedding feast at Cana, which indicates, the Roman theory of change of substance . . .
Schaff also cites Gregory of Nyssa, Hilary, and Ambrose as proponents of the transformationist view, and states that the last two "come nearest to the later dogma of transubstantiation."

Furthermore, I cited J.N.D. Kelly along these lines. He described Cyril as the "pioneer of the conversion doctrine," and states that "In the fifth century conversionist views were taken for granted by Alexandrians and Antiochenes alike." Kelly is one of the leading experts on patristic doctrine. If you disagree with his conclusions or that of Schaff, then by all means make an argument and show how they are wrong. But in any event, I have made the argument by citing them in agreement. As they are Protestants, they cannot be accused of a Roman bias. This is my usual methodology, because I am always anticipating the Protestant response. I cite almost all Protestant scholars, so I can undercut the objection of bias and the "party line," etc.

The question of Christ's presence is also distinct from that of the eucaharist as sacrifice, but Reformed theologians were willing to speak of a eucharistic sacrifice and even to admit that it was propitiatory (sometimes citing what they took to be Lombard and Aquinas' understanding of that, in accordance with the Fathers). But they rejected what they understood the Roman church to be teaching on the subject as having departed both from Scripture and tradition

Well, they were wrong! They are not in accord with Tradition on this point. Schaff demonstrated that, and much more could be brought to the table, demonstrating it.

and, even in the midst of retrieving the tradition, they shied away from the traditional language because they perceived it as having been corrupted.

That's fine. But whatever language is used, there are bottom line issues here:
1. Are the bread and wine literally transformed into the body and blood of Christ?

2. Can God do such a miracle, or is this not possible because Jesus is at the right hand of the Father?

3. Is it proper to adore the consecrated host, given #1 (from which it would seem to straightforwardly follow)?

4. Is the Mass a making present of the one-time historical sacrifice of Christ on Calvary?

5. What do the Fathers believe about these things, and what does Calvin believe?
My answers are: #1-4: yes; #5: Calvin greatly differs from the Fathers, because, by and large, they held to the same position on #1-4 as I presently am.

I think it would be best to isolate out the question of adoring Christ in the eucharist from the wider discussion, for several reasons.

First, one could very well hold to some version of transubstantiation and reject the kinds of fetishized treatments of the eucharistic elements to which Calvin is objecting, because one might worry about pushing the eucharist apart from the action of the assembly and from the faithful receiving it.


If He is really there, He is really there! I don't know how else to say it. I don't see how one thing can be separated from the other. Jesus is either present or not. If He is, He can and should be worshiped. If He is not, then He shouldn't be (not in terms of attention upon the Host). You can't have it both ways. If there is no worship permitted, then obviously Jesus isn't there and the Real Presence is denied.

Second, "adoring Christ in the eucharist" to which the Father attest is not necessarily identical with "adoring the consecrated host". After all, we know the adoration of Christ in the eucharist in the Fathers didn't involve kneeling during the consecration, the kinds of reservation that arose later, and certainly not "eucharistic adoration" as that is practiced in later medieval period onwards.

Posture is far less important than the internal attitude and action of worship. Worship of God, by nature (like idolatry) is an internal action of the will and the spirit which can be expressed in many ways. So whether the fathers knelt or not does not decide this question one way or another. Most Catholics in most countries (and most Orthodox) do not kneel, but that doesn't mean that they believe any less in the Real, Substantial Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. They are worshiping by standing.

First, I want to thank you for a response that obviously took some work to research and put together.

You're most welcome. And thank you, as always, for your gracious, gentlemanly dialogical approach.

I intend to reply more fully at another time,

I hope you do. I am still awaiting such a long reply concerning sola Scriptura after many many weeks. :-) Don't you think it would be more worth your time putting the effort into our dialogues than yours with Dr. White? I sure think so. I have observed your several very long replies to him. My hope is that you will put that kind of energy into replies about topics like the present one, and sola Scriptura.

but I do have a couple of observations as well as a question or two immediately for you.

Okay, shoot! But please do not forget to make some longer answer later. I am taking time to answer your questions; I look forward to you returning the favor vis-a-vis my long post.

First, I hope you will note that the primary link between Calvin and Cyril is in regards to the Real Presence. No one is claiming that their views are practically identical in all respects (and I don't think you made that claim either).

Sure, but that is a notoriously nebulous term, used in all kinds of ways. I sought to demonstrate that when it is applied to Cyril, it meant something highly akin to transubstantiation -- which you in tern made out to be a late medieval invention (or corruption). Secondly, David Willis, whom you cited in agreement, expressly tied in the notion of transubstantiation and Real Presence, stating that Calvin rejected the former. But since Cyril seems to have accepted it in a less developed form, it is relevant to discuss it. All these things are tied in together. Overall, Calvin's view was not all that similar to Cyril's from what I can see. I'm not convinced at all. If I am wrong about that, then show me. State your case, and document, as I have done.

Second, classic Protestants use the term Real Presence to speak to the What of what is present in the sacrament, in other words, it speaks of Christ being present in the sacrament. Calvin's view, like that of the other magisterial Reformers (save Zwingli) is that Christ was present in accordance with his nature as defined by Chalcedon--both man and God really present in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

Yes, but like I said, these are a bunch of high-sounding words. We don't really know what is meant by them unless we dig deeper and examine exactly what both Calvin and the Fathers believed. The fact that they adored Jesus in the consecrated host and regarded the Mass as a sacrifice indicates quite a bit about their eucharistic theology. What they believed, Calvin regarded as the grossest abomination, idolatry, sacrilege, etc. This is what I demonstrated, I think, in my post: the disconnect between Calvin and the Fathers on this one. I don't see that this is rocket science. I think it is all rather obvious and I don't understand how Reformed think differently. Hopefully, you can at least help me understand how that can be, as I am truly puzzled. As in most of these discussions, we won't persuade each other away from our positions, but we can at least reach a much better mutual understanding and achieve some constructive discussion.

What is not treated with this issue generally by Protestants is the question of the sacrifice of the Mass and the nature of that sacrifice. While I will grant you that it is perhaps difficult to conceive (especially from the side of Roman Catholicism) that we can speak of the Real Presence without speaking of the sacrifice of Christ, much of Protestantism is all about making the proper distinctions to emphasize certain truths over others depending on what is in question. I hope that is understandable.

Yes, but it needs much further discussion. I think the crux of the discussion comes down to whether Protestantism or Catholicism more closely reflects patristic thought. If the appeal wasn't made to the Fathers, there wouldn't be nearly the amount of controversy. But because they are brought in, now we have a factual matter that can be ascertained by recourse to the fathers' writings and scholarly summaries of their views (such as that of Schaff or Kelly or Pelikan, etc.).

So, for the moment, I will be side-stepping your comments on the nature of how the Fathers viewed the sacrifice of the Mass. I am hopeful you will agree that it has developed over the centuries, though we might disagree as to the degree to which it developed.

Absolutely. All doctrines develop. It's a given.

At any rate, I would just ask you to remember the original comments of my blog entry were to point to a highly specialized and technical journal article that did not treat the whole of the matter.

Fair enough. Nevertheless, you made statements about the supposed late origins of transubstantiation which (I submit) are not consistent with the facts of the matter, as ascertained through historical analysis.

Here I will let you in behind the curtain for a moment. I'm honestly not sure I've completely grappled with the idea of the Fathers' view (and the overall Catholic view) of the sacrifice of the Mass. There are issues I see regarding the Incarnation and how it relates to the Real Presence that I have not fully worked out, that bear more research and discussion, as well as a lot more reading. So, I don't feel fully prepared to comment on that aspect of your post.

That's fine. I respect that. Kudos to you for wanting to study the issue more.

Regarding Cyril, I do have a couple of questions. You quoted Cyril as follows:
Moreover, the things which are hung up at idol festivals, either meat or bread, or other such things polluted by the invocation of the unclean spirits, are reckoned in the pomp of the devil. For as the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist before the invocation of the Holy and Adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, while after the invocation the Bread becomes the Body of Christ, and the Wine the Blood of Christ, so in like manner such meats belonging to the pomp of Satan, though in their own nature simple, become profane by the invocation of the evil spirit. (Cyril of Jerusalem, Five Catechetical Lectures to the Newly Baptized, First Lecture on the Mysteries, 19.7)
1. Given the nature of the parallel between what is sacrificed to Satan and the Eucharist, are you prepared to argue that Cyril here is saying that the meat sacrificed to idols is changed in the same manner as the bread and wine (i.e. that it changes substance and ceases to exist)?

I don't think the analogy requires that. The category of "profane" is a spiritual or subjective one. That gets into Pauline discussions of "meat sacrificed to idols" and so forth. No one would argue that it ceases to be meat. But it is meat unfit for Christians because of the implications of how it is used. Cyril is not speaking in those terms regarding the Eucharist. There he uses unbridled realism and literalism (just as St. Paul himself does).

2. If not, what necessitates my taking this quote to mean the elements are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ?

One interprets it in conjunction with other statements from Cyril, just as cross-referencing is used in Scripture study. And just read other statements from the very same work, which I have provided. it's quite clear what he means, just as Calvin is pretty clear when all his statements on a given subject are taken into account.

3. Isn't it clear that Cyril here, by invoking the parallel to meat sacrificed to evil spirits being profaned is not speaking of a change in the substantial nature of the elements as much as he is their sacred use? To argue otherwise means you must recognize a change of substance in the meat otherwise there is no reason for the parallel.

You have to interpret it in light of his other statements. I don't think your analysis of the analogy itself holds. It is a partial comparison. Likewise, I have made an analogy to transubstantiation (in my first book) of water being ice, or steam, or liquid (an accidental as opposed to a substantive or essential change). That was not an absolutely exact analogy, but it is still an analogy (or parallel), in that what changed is reversed: accidents change rather than substance. I believe that is Cyril's meaning here. It was not intended as a comprehensive analogy. Otherwise, he contradicts himself in the same work, and you have to explain what he meant by the other statements that I cited. You don't resolve your difficulty by making this argument, because you still have the other texts to deal with, and presumably, Cyril was self-consistent, or sought to be, anyway.

4. How would you defend the idea that your look at Cyril is something other than anachronistic for nowhere (and here Schaff agrees with me, though he states his case not as strong) is it necessary for us to see the essential elements of transubstantiation in Cyril, especially given the above passage in reference to pagan sacrifices?

You have merely taken one passage and made out that it contradicts this interpretation. I don't think it does, and I have explained why. My view involves no anachronism because it is based on documented statements and interpretations by Protestant scholars (cited again above) who have no stake in making out that Cyril believed something that (prima facie if nothing else) looks more "Catholic" than "Protestant." I wasn't the one who claimed that he went further in this regard than any other Father. That was Schaff.

I wasn't the one who called him the "pioneer of the conversion doctrine," or who opined, "In the fifth century conversionist views were taken for granted by Alexandrians and Antiochenes alike." That was J.N.D. Kelly (not a Catholic, that I know of). If
my view is anachronistic, then so is theirs. Or do you somehow separate their opinions from mine simply because I am a Catholic and they are not (even though on this point we are greatly in agreement)?

It's just the historical facts of the matter . . . the notion of conversion of the elements is the essence of transubstantiation, and many fathers (including Cyril) clearly believed this. What is anachronistic is the incessant reading back into the Fathers Protestant views. This is most often dome with regard to
sola Scriptura, but also in this area and many others, and never more than with St. Augustine.

Then in your comments at your blog post, you wrote:

If you can show me how Cyril is definitively teaching the elements of transubstantiation (I do not think it is even necessary to bother with needing to see the technical language) in the quote I put in the blog entry, then I think you would have a case. But, until that one is explained we should view the other bare quotes on the subject with some suspicion.

I've done that by giving several quotations and citing experts on patristic theology. Your methodology here is backwards. You don't seize on one statement that looks like it might read "Protestant" and then ignore other relevant statements and become suspicious of them because they don't fit into your assumed interpretation of one. This is a circular argument.

You need to interpret all the statements in harmony, just as you would when you approach the Bible. You interpret the less clear in light of the more clear. That is, unless you want to assume that Cyril and other fathers were characterized by internal inconsistency. That strikes me as a more "liberal" attitude towards patristics, and lacking a proper charity and sympathetic "identification" with the subject under consideration (Cyril). I think, therefore, that you are far more guilty of the very thing you accuse us of (anachronism and selective citation).

I gave several citations and have now given my explanation of the "problem" that you raised. You have simply stated your position and then adopted a stance of "suspicion" towards the quotes that don't seem to fit into your view (and then used the tired recourse to "out of context").


"Pontificator" [Fr. Alvin Kimel] hit the nail on the head in another comment on your blog:
I do not interpret Cyril as teaching transubstantiation, as explicated by Thomas Aquinas, just as I do not interpret Ignatius of Antioch as teaching the homoousion. There is such a thing as development of doctrine. We should not expect to find a scholastic precision in the early Fathers on a matter that was never seriously disputed.
You wrote, in turn, on his blog:

I guess what I don’t understand is why Roman Catholics will grant that the Orthodox view is legitimate even though it can’t really be spoken of with the same categories in mind, yet a high Protestant view like Calvin’s is simply something other than catholic.

That's easy: the Orthodox view incorporates the essential notions of transformation and literal presence of Jesus' body and blood, and allows adoration, and the notion of sacrifice. Calvin;'s position (especially when closely scrutinized) denies all three of these things. Therefore it is neither in accord with Tradition nor catholic. It is a novel innovation and a corruption of previous received eucharistic doctrine.

I also don’t buy this unanimity in the Fathers concerning this issue.

It's about as unanimous as any doctrine gets, in its main outlines.

More research is required, but both Augustine and Ratramnus (and, though disputed, Cyril) viewed this issue of a change in the elements differently than what is currently being held up as the standard of orthodoxy.

There is no essential difference between Augustine's view and the Catholic one, because for Augustine, "sign" and reality can be one and the same. They need not be dichotomized, as in so much of Protestant thought.

It is more than just a matter of avoiding special terms put forth by the scholastics in the High Middle Ages and there is a fair level of diversity on these issues which I have not seen addressed by those towing ‘the party line’.

I addressed whatever diversity there truly was by citing Schaff, who stated that there was such diversity in some respects. But the transformation view was still the most prominent one, and it was held by Cyril. Therefore, it is wrongheaded to claim that Calvin's view closely approached Cyril's (even if you want to restrict that to the issue of the "real presence" -- however you define that -- alone). If Cyril would be regarded as a blasphemous, sacrilegious idolater by Calvin (assuming the latter applies his indignation consistently), then how can it be said that Calvin's view is so close to Cyril's? He is just one more ignorant idolater, just like all of us hopeless "papists."

Thanks for the discussion. I await any reply from either of you with great eagerness.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Old Testament and Jewish Conceptions of the Messiah

Thomas Storck, in his article, "The Old Testament Messianic Hope", in the periodical The Catholic Faith (Nov/Dec 1996), stated:

    The Messianic expectation of ancient Israel consisted of several strands, some of which were highlighted or stressed more at one time or by one prophet than others, but all together they introduce this multifaceted Messianic hope, which God presented in a more and more definite way over the course of the salvation history of the Old Covenant. It is important to realize that God did not inspire the prophets of the Old Testament with one single concept of a coming Messianic figure who would be born at Bethlehem, preach a new covenant, suffer and die from crucifixion, rise again, thus gloriously defeating Satan, establish a spiritual kingdom on earth, the Catholic Church, and a kingdom of the just in Heaven. Though all these things are foretold in the Old Testament, the manner in which God chose to reveal His plan for the rescue of the human race was not as simple as announcing beforehand exactly what would be done, how, when, and by whom.
Storck goes on to detail many messianic passages, and concludes:
    It is easy to understand why the picture of the Messiah as Suffering Servant did not seem to harmonize well with that of the conquering Anointed One, and thus why our Lord's earthly contemporaries expected that the Messiah would be a military leader. This, again, shows how most of the key Messianic passages could not have been entirely understood beforehand. Who could have known that the victories of the Anointed One would be against spiritual enemies or that it would be a victory accomplished in suffering on a cross? But in fact, when they are rightly understood, all the different strands in the Messianic hope do harmonize exactly and beautifully. Jesus Christ conquered, but conquered through His suffering, and only by His sufferings could His conquests have been made.

    We must be careful, then, not to attribute to the hearers of the Messianic verses, or even to their human authors, too clear an idea of how these texts would be fulfilled, i.e., that God Himself would assume human nature, suffer, destroy the power of God's one true enemy, the devil, and establish a spiritual kingdom over all the earth. The exact relationship between Yahweh of the Old Testament and the Messiah was not clear, nor the manner of destruction of God's enemies, nor the nature of the kingdom He was to rule. But we can see that the Old Testament texts, in hindsight, point clearly to Christ, the Messiah, the ideal Son of David, the Anointed of God, the Suffering Servant, who comes both as Babe in the manger and as Divine Judge.

I have laid out in great detail biblical passages which I believe to be related to the notion of the Messiah - as fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ our Lord, in these papers:
Jesus is God: Biblical Proofs

The Holy Trinity: Biblical Proofs
Yet however clear these biblical indications might seem to the Christian (blessed with the hindsight to now "see" clearly what the prophecies meant), it is true that they were not nearly so obvious or even very plain at all to the hearers at the time, and virtually all followers of God/YHWH prior to Jesus Christ, the New Testament and the Christian era.

Way back in 1982, when I was an evangelical Protestant highly interested in Judaism (an interest I retain today, as a Catholic), I did a study of the Jews and their attitudes towards Jesus, and also their own notion of what the Messiah was to be like; what he would do, etc. I utilized many Jewish primary sources. I was particularly interested in what they thought about the Messiah prior to Christ (so that Jewish-Christian polemics and controversies would not be a factor), and which Old Testament passages they regarded as messianic, and how they specifically interpreted them.

I will proceed now to recount some of the fascinating results I found in my studies, with regard to the above factors (unfortunately I didn't record many individual page numbers of citations, but passages in quotes are direct quotes; the rest is a paraphrase of the author's conclusions). All sources are Jewish unless otherwise noted:

1) The Messianic Idea in Judaism, Gershom Scholem, New York: Schocken Books, 1971:

Historically, there were two types of messianism: restorative and utopian. Restorative messianism became more prominent within Judaism with the rise of the rational philosophies of the Middle Ages, of which the chief proponent was Maimonides (d. 1204). But the Middle Ages also gave rise to Jewish mysticism, as taught in the Kabbalah and Zohar. Utopian messianism was prominent there. After the Enlightenment, rational utopianism prevailed and was secularized to form the notion of the inevitability of progress, but this development was largely restricted to the more "liberal" facets of Judaism.

"In the 19th century, apocalypticism seemed finally liquidated, and possessed, at least for the Jewish rationalists, no urgency or force whatever. For them it had become meaningless, empty nonsense."

Maimonides sought to minimize apocalypticism, miracles, and other signs. The Messiah must prove his identity not by miracles, but by historical success. The messianic age is a public event and has nothing to do with salvation of individuals. He doesn't recognize a causal relationship between the coming of the Messiah and human conduct. He did hold that Zech 9:9 and Is 11:1-5 were messianic.

The Apocalyptists, on the other hand, read messianic and Last Days connotations into a great number of passages, while their opponents denied same. Many passages, like Isaiah 53, are interpreted by one group to refer to the Messiah, and by the other as predictions regarding the destiny of the entire Jewish people. The rationalists stood in the forefront of the theological defenses mounted against the Church. This motive was a major factor in explaining their prominence.

"The more biblical exegesis could reduce the purely Messianic element, the better it was for the defenses of the Jewish position. But the apocalyptists were not in the least interested in apologetics . . . they are not concerned with fortifying the frontiers. This is no doubt why the statements of the apocalyptists often appear freer and more genuine than those of their opponents who often enough must take into account the diplomatic necessities of anti-christian polemics. In rare individuals the two tendencies come together."

"The most important codifications of the Messianic idea in later Judaism are the writings of Isaac Abravanel (c. 1500) and The Victory of Israel, by the Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague (1599). The authors endeavor to embrace the legacy of ideas as a whole which have been transmitted in such contradictory traditions. They richly avail themselves of the apocalyptic traditions."

2) The Messianic Idea in Israel, Joseph Klausner, New York: Macmillan: 1955 (orig. 1921):

"The elements of the belief in the Messiah were continually changing under the influence of historical events. In times of national freedom, the worldwide universalistic hope was the basic element, but in times of trouble and distress the nationalistic element was stressed much more."

The figure of Moses was the forerunner and first example of the Messiah. Moses delivered Israel from bondage, from its material troubles, political servitude, and also its spiritual ignorance and bondage. He was also a prophet and lawgiver. The Judges were "messiahs" of a sort, but lacked the spiritual-ethical characteristics of Moses. Samuel, the last judge, had the spiritual characteristics but not the political. Saul did not qualify as a Messiah-type. David was the true prototype. He had great political talents, heroism, courage, and spirituality, like Moses (Hos 3:5). In the Talmud. it is written that the Messiah would be David, or at least have his name.

Hosea develops the messianic theme. "Birth pangs of the Messiah" is derived from Hos 13:13, as well as Is 13:8. Hosea mentions a personal Messiah, "David their king" (3:5; cf. Jer 30:9), earthly bliss (14:5-7) spiritual bliss (2:19-20), and changes in nature (2:18). Klausner says that most scholars (even liberal ones) regard Is 9:6 and 11:1-5 as messianic. Is 2:2-4 is regarded as the quintessential prophecy of the Kingdom. Klausner, however, interprets the "servant" passages (Is 40:1-9, 42:1-7, 50:4-9, 52:13-15, 53:1-12) as referring to Israel, which collectively suffers for mankind and becomes the redeemer of the world. He regards Zech 9:9-10 as a messianic passage.

"The Jewish Messiah, no matter how noble and how spiritual, is nevertheless a human being, a king of flesh and blood."

Around the 2nd century A.D. evolved a doctrine of two Messiahs: Messiah ben David and Messiah ben Joseph. The latter was primarily a warrior who would eventually be slain in battle. Psalm 2:7-8 is regarded as messianic in Sukkah 52a. In the same passage the death of Messiah ben Joseph is mentioned matter-of-factly. Messiah ben Joseph would fight and defeat Gog and Magog. After he was killed, Messiah ben David could become the sole king of the earth.

"This inner contradiction between the political and the spiritual Messiah was inherent in the Jewish conception of the Messiah from the earliest times. But as long as the political tendency dominated, this contradiction was not readily apparent. Thus it came about that Rabbi Akiba could join himself to a Messiah (Bar-Kochba) who was distinguished for no spiritual qualities whatever. Only after the political hope of redemption by war had been dashed by historical events themselves - only then was the contradiction felt with full force. Then the spiritual and religio-ethical tendency in the messianic faith inevitably gained the upper hand."

3) The Messiah Idea in Jewish History, Julius H. Greenstone, Philadelphia: Jewish Pub. Society, 1906:

Most Jews regard belief in the Messiah as a dogma of Judaism, even though the conception and nature of the dogma varies widely. Greenstone regards Is 7:14, 9:5, and 11:1-5 as messianic passages.

"The immediate success of Christianity can be accounted for only when we consider the intense messianic hope that existed among the Jewish people during the period of Roman supremacy."

Rabbi Akiba taught that the Messiah occupied a throne next to God and was rebuked by R. Jose the Galilean (Hagigah 14a; Sanhedrin 38b).

Zohar means literally "splendor" (derived from Daniel 12:3). It is a mystical commentary on the Pentateuch. In many Jewish communities, study of the Talmud was superseded by that of the Zohar, since it was regarded as a direct revelation from God and spiritually equal to the Bible. Modern scholars are convinced that the primary author was Moses de Leon of Spain (1250-1305). The influence of the Zohar was still strong in the 18th century.

"There are various references in the Zohar to the idea of a suffering Messiah. The Messiah takes upon himself all the maladies destined for Israel. In this manner, the Messiah constitutes himself the sin-offering, which can no longer be brought by Israel, since the Temple is destroyed."

"The pre-existence of the Messiah is assumed, and his almost Divine character repeatedly emphasized. He is suffering for the sins of his people, and helps them carry the burden of punishment."

Hasidism was formed as a new sect by Israel Baal-shem (1698-1759) as a reaction to Talmudic study methods. Modern Hasidic Jews are firm believers in the sanctity of the Zohar, in the powers of the Kabbalah, and in the influence exerted by their Zaddikim (wonder-working Rabbis) over the destinies of men. The aim of its founders was to free followers from excessive intellectualism, and to encourage prayer and religious emotion and sentiment.

4) A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel, Abba Hillel Silver, New York: Macmillan, 1927:

Isaac Abravanel (1447-1508) wrote three books about messianism. Onee was about Daniel, one about Talmudic passages, and the other dealing with all the messianic prophecies in Scripture. These are the most complete and thorough works of their kind in the whole field of Jewish adventism. Abravanel regarded Daniel 7:13 as messianic, and held that Daniel was a true prophet, unlike most Jews.

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi (Sanhedrin 98a) said that if Israel was found deserving, the Messiah would come swiftly (Dan 7:13), if they were not, then he would come upon a donkey (Zech 9:9):

"If they will be righteous, [the Messiah will come] on the clouds of heaven, if they will not be righteous [he will come] as a poor man riding upon an ass."

Speculations on the time of Messiah's coming were based on numerical figures in Daniel, supposed initiatory historical events, paralleles of time in Scripture, numerical value of letters and astrology.

5) The Messiah Texts, Raphael Patai, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979:

Concerning the suffering servant of Isaiah 42, 49, 50, 52, 53, Patai writes:

"The Aggada, the Talmudic legend, unhesitatingly identifies him with the Messiah, and understands especially the descriptions of his sufferings as referring to Messiah ben Joseph."

Patai considers Daniel 9:24-27 messianic, including the death of the Messiah:

"It is quite probable that the concept of the suffering Messiah, fully developed in the Talmud, the Midrash, and the Zohar, has its origin in the biblical prophecies about the suffering servant."

Patai also lists Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:1-12, Daniel 7:13-14, and Zech 9:9-10 as messianic passages.

"Ever since Ezekiel, 'Son of Man' has been a designation signifying special nearness to God of the person so called."

"Others applied to him the name of God."

"R. Shim'on ben Jaqish explained: 'And the spirit of God hovered over the face of the water' (Gen 1:2) - this is the spirit of King Messiah, as it is written, 'And the spirit of the Lord will rest upon him.' (Is 11:2)." (Gen Rab. 2:4)

"You find that at the beginning of the creation of the world King Messiah was born." (Pes. Rab. ed. Friedmann, p.152b)

Some rabbis named the Messiah, "The Leprous of the House of Study," based on Isaiah 53:4 (B. Sanhedrin 98b).

R. Jose the Galilean names the Messiah "Peace," based on Is 9:6 (Pereq Shalom, p. 101). He also mentions Is 52:7, concerning the messenger of peace.

"R. Nahman said to R. Yitzhaq: 'Have you perhaps heard when Bar Nifle (Son of the Clouds) will come?" (B. Sanhedrin 96b-97a).

"'Anani' (He of the clouds) is King Messiah." (Targum to 1 Chr 3:24)

"King Messiah will come with the clouds of heaven." (Pirqe Mashiah BhM 3:70)

"God will liberate Messiah ben David and make him ride on a cloud." (Midrash fragment, ed. Mamorstein, REJ 52 {1906}, p. 184).

The rabbis believed in a seven-year tribulation (B. Sanhedrin 97a).

"The Holy One began to tell him (the Messiah) the conditions (of his mission), and said to him, 'Their sins will force you into an iron yoke, and they will render you like unto this calf whose eyes have grown dim, and they will choke your spirit with the yoke, and because of their sins your tongue will cleave to the roof of your mouth. Do you accept this?' He said, 'with gladness I accept it, so that not a single one of Israel should perish, even the dead who have died from the days of Adam until now. This is what I want.' " (Pes. Rab. pp. 161a-b)

"You have suffered because of the sins of our children, and cruel punishments have come upon you . . . you were put to ridicule and held in contempt by the nations of the world because of Israel . . . All this because of the sins of our children . . . great sufferings have come upon you on their account. And (God) says to him, 'Be you the judge over these peoples, and do to them whatever your soul wishes . . . all of them will die from the breath of your lips.' " (Pes. Rab. ch. 36)

"Elijah . . . says to him: 'Endure the sufferings and the sentence of your Master who makes you suffer because of the sin of Israel.' And thus it is written: 'He was wounded because of our transgressions.' . . . (Is 53:5) - until the time when the end comes." (Mid. Konen, BhM, 2:29)

"As long as Israel dwelt in the Holy Land, the rituals and sacrifices removed all those diseases from the world; now the Messiah removes them from the children of the world." (Zohar 2:212a)

"In the second year of King Ahazia, Elijah was hidden, and he will not be seen again until King Messiah comes. And then he will be seen but will be hidden a second time, and seen again only when Gog and Magog come." (Seder 'Olam Rabba, ch. 17)

Patai: "When the death of the Messiah became an established tenet in Talmudic times, this was felt to be irreconcilable with the belief in the Messiah as the Redeemer who would usher in the blissful millennium of the Messianic age. The dilemma was solved by splitting the person of the Messiah in two . . . "

The development of the two-Messiah doctrine also had to do with a messianic parallel to Moses, who died before entering the Promised Land.

Referring to Zech 12:10-12, "R. Dosa says: '(They will mourn) over the Messiah who will be slain.' " (B. Suk. 52a; also Y. Suk. 55b)

"A man shall arise from my seed; like unto the sun of righteousness, walking with the sons of man in meekness, and no sin shall be found in him. And he shall pour upon you the spirit of grace, and you shall walk in his commandments . . . a rod of righteousness to the nations, to judge and save all that call upon the Lord." (Testament of Judah, 24)

6) The Doctrine of the Messiah in Medieval Jewish Literature, Joseph Sarachek, New York: Hermon Press, 1932:

"In order not to expose themselves to criticism, many Jewish exegetes waived their own messianic explanations and expounded the texts as allusions to the past."

Solomon ben Isaac, or Rashi (b. 1040) was the most celebrated figure in the rabbinical schools of France in the last half of the 11th century. He is regarded as the greatest Jewish commentator on the Bible and the Talmud. Rashi applied Psalm 2 to David instead of the Messiah, but he believed Daniel 7:13-14 was messianic. The "anointed one" in Daniel 9:26 was Agrippa. Gen 49:10 (Shiloh) is was messianic, as are Zech 9:9 and Isaiah 11. He attributes Is 9:6 to Hezekiah and Is 53 to all Israel. The "anointed" in Daniel 9:25 was Cyrus.

Abraham ibn Ezra (Spain, 1092-1167) was one of the greatest Jewish scholars. He considered Gen 49:10 messianic, and also Zech 13, but he refers Zech 9:9 to Maccabean times. Is 7:14 refers only to Isaiah's son. Zech 12:10 concerns Messiah ben Joseph, and Zech 13:7 refers to the world war in his time. The "messenger" in Mal 3:1 is Messiah ben Joseph. The "son of man" in Dan 7:13 is Israel. The "anointed prince" in Dan 9:25 is Nehemiah. The "son" in Ps 2:7,12 referred to Israel.

Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508; originally from Spain) wrote more about the Messiah than any other Jew before him. He followed the Talmud and the Midrash in his messianic interpretations. The following verses are messianic: Gen 49:10, Is 11:1-5, Is 61, Micah 5:2, Zech 9:9, chs. 12-13, Malachi 3:1. Is 9:6 applied to Hezekiah. Is 53 referred to the nation of Israel, as did the "son of man" of Daniel 7:13. The "anointed" of Dan 9:25 is not the Messiah.

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NOTE: Now we move on to a Christian source:

7) Christology of the Old Testament and a Commentary on the Messianic Predictions, Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg (1802-1869; an orthodox Lutheran and eminent theologian), tr. by T. Meyer, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 4 vols., 1854-1858):

Micah 5:2: acknowledged by the Jews as messianic at all times with perfect unanimity. This is indicated in Mt 2:4-6 and Jn 7:41-42. But they explained the "eternity" in terms of the idea of the Messiah, his name, or his descent from the ancient, royal line of David. After the death of Jesus, the rabbis stated that Bethlehem referred not to birthplace, but merely to ancestry from David. This was unheard-of before Christianity arose. Many Jews claimed that Jesus was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem.

Isaiah 9:1-2: Some Jews believed that the Messiah would appear in Galilee. E.g., the Zoahr: "King Messiah will reveal himself in the land of Galilee."

Isaiah 9:6-7: The Jews (expectedly) say that the names refer to God, not to the child. But many held it to be a messianic passage: e.g., the commentary on Genesis known as Brehith Rabbah (Gen 41:44), Rabbi Jose Galilaeus in the book Ekha Rabbati. Ben Sira mentions Wonderful, Counselor, and Prince of Peace as names of the Messiah. Later Jews sought to attribute the passage to Hezekiah.

Isaiah 11:1-5: The messianic interpretation is the most ancient one. It is found in the Targum of Jonathan, and was defended especially by Jarchi, Abravanel, and Kimchi. The word "shoot" or "sprout" is used in other passages which are messianic beyond doubt. In verse 4, he slays the wicked with his breath, a thing which is elsewhere said of God only (cf. Ps 33:6, Hos 6:5). In general, doing by the mere word is a characteristic of omnipotence.

Isaiah 42:1-7: The Chaldean Paraphrast understood the Servant to be the Messiah, as did Kimchi and Abravanel; the latter said of the non-messianic interpretation, "all these expositors were struck with blindness." Simeon's reference at Lk 2:32 indicates that this was the common Jewish viewpoint at the time of Christ. The non-messianic defenders can only agree negatively; they don't agree on who the passage is talking about. In Is 49:5-6 the Servant is contrasted with Israel and thus can't possibly be equated with Israel. David called himself the servant of God ten times in 2 Samuel 7. The prophets are called servants of God in 2 Kings 13:3 and Jer 26:5. In Is 42:6, the Servant is a covenant to the people (Israel), thereby ruling out the possibility that "he" is Israel.

Isaiah 49:1-9: Verses 4 and 7 foretell the rejection of the Messiah. Many Jews here equate the Servant with collective Israel - an impossibility in light of verses 5, 6, and 8.

Isaiah 50:4-11: Verse 4 indicates that the Servant is speaking ("sustain the weary"). Verses 10 and 11 state that one's destiny is contingent upon acceptance or denial of the Servant - the Messiah. Verses 6 and 7 indicate the suffering and rejection by the people of the Messiah. Finally, the Servant appears as the judge of his rejectors.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12: "Shoot" and "root" in verse 2 connect this passage with other messianic descriptions elsewhere. 53:5 ("peace") is similar to the messianic Micah 5:5: "this one will be our peace." The phrase "cut off" (v. 8) occurs also in the arguably messianic Dan 9:26.

"There cannot be any doubt that the messianic interpretation was pretty generally received in earlier times by the Jews. This is admitted even by those later interpreters who pervert the prophecy, e.g., Ibn-ezra, Jarchi, Abravanel and Nahmanides."

The whole translation of the Chaldean Paraphrast, Jonathan, refers to prophecy to Messiah. He paraphrases the very first clause: "behold, My Servant Messiah shall prosper." The Midrash Tanchuma states: "This is the King Messiah who is high and lifted up, and very exalted, more exalted than Abraham, elevated above Moses, higher than the ministering angels."

There is a remarkable passage in the very old book Pesikta, cited in the treatise Abkath Rokhel, and reprinted in Hulsii Theologia Judaica, where this passage occurs, p. 309:

    "When God created the world, He stretched out His hand under the throne of His glory, and brought forth the soul of the Messiah. He said to him: 'Will you heal and redeem My sons after 6000 years?' He answered him, 'I will.' Then God said to him: 'Will you then also bear the punishment in order to blot out their sins, as it is written, "But he bore our diseases" ' (53:4). And he answered Him; 'I will joyfully bear them.' " (cf. Zohar, 2:212a)
Rabbi Moses Haddarshan states: "Immediately the Messiah, out of love, took upon himself all those plagues and sufferings, as it is written in Isaiah 53, 'He was abused and oppressed.' " In the Rabboth, a commentary, 53:5 is quoted, and referred to the sufferings of the Messiah. In the Midrash Tillim, an allegorical commentary on the Psalms, printed at Venice in 1546, it is said at Psalms 2:7: "The things of King Messiah are announced in the prophets, e.g., in the passage Is 52:13 and 42:1, in the Hagiographa, e.g., Ps 60 and Dan 7:13."

Rabbi Alschech, in Hulsii Theologia Judaica, pp. 321 ff., comments:

    "Upon the testimony of tradition, our old rabbis have unanimously admitted that king Messiah is here the subject of discourse. We, in harmony with them, conclude that king David, i.e., the Messiah, must be considered as the subject of this prophecy - a view which is indeed quite obvious."
Comparatively few Jews (i.e., those who didn't take the "servant-as-Israel" view) believed that the passage referred to a person other than the Messiah. Tha kabbalistic Jews still largely held to the messianic interpretation of the passage. The Messiah is called "servant" in Zech 3:8 - a passage which is unanimously regarded as messianic, and also in Ezek 34:23-24. As for the collective interpretation: not one sure analogous instance can be cited in favor of a personification carried on through a whole section, without the slightest intimation that it is not a single individual who is referred to.

In 53:3 the subject is called a man. In 53:11-12 a "soul" is ascribed to him. "Grave" and "death" seemingly imply a singular subject. In the passages where Israel is called "Servant," all uncertainty is prevented by the presence of the names of Jacob and Israel (Is 41:8-9, 44:1-2,21, 45:4, 48:20) and the plural is used alongside the singular (Is 42:24-25, 48:20-21, 43:10-14). Several factors in the passage rule out a collective. The Servant voluntarily bears sufferings (vss. 10,12) and he suffers quietly and patiently (v. 7).

Daniel 7:13-14: In other passages it is always the Lord who appears with, or upon the clouds of heaven (Is 19:1, Ps 18:10, 97:2, Nahum 1:3). The word for "serve" is never used in any other sense than that of divine worship (whether paid to God or a false deity). See Dan 3:12,14,17-18,28 and Ezra 7:19. For "everlasting dominion," a common feature of the announcement of the Messiah, see Ps 72:5,7,17, 89:37-38, Is 9:6. The Jews were almost unanimous in agreeing that the passage is messianic. The Messiah was called :man of the clouds," a title which is espoused by the Talmud. Abravanel said: "The expositors explain these words, 'like a son of man,' as referring to the King Messiah." Jesus called himself "son of man" 55 times, not counting parallels.

Zechariah 9:9-10: The messianic interpretation prevailed among the Jews. For parallels, see Ps 72:8 and Micah 5:9.

Zechariah 12:10-12: "They will look on me whom they have pierced." Connection with Joel 2:28; se also Mt 24:30 and Rev 1:7. Some Jews sought to give "pierced" a figurative meaning, i.e., "grieved." This was the view of the Septuagint also. Similar interpretation was given to Zech 13:3, where it seems even more unlikely. Elsewhere, the verb daquar is never figurative; it is always literal: Num 25:8, Jud 9:54, 1 Sam 31:4, 1 Chr 10:4, Is 13:15, Jer 37:10, 51:4, Lam 4:9. The parallel verse Zech 13:7, with its mention of the sword, gives good reason to interpret the verse literally. The Palestinian Talmud and also the Babylonian Talmud interpret the verse messianically, as do Ibn-ezra and Abravanel. Many Jews attributed the passage to Messiah ben Joseph. The Jews eventually changed the divine "Me" to "him," even though "Me" is found in the oldest, the best, and the largest number of manuscripts.

Malachi 3:1: The allusion to Is 40:3-5 is undeniable. Ibn-ezra thought the messenger was the Messiah. Kimchi said it was an angel (see Ex 23:30), Jarchi, the angel of death. The early Christians unanimously thought it was John the Baptist. The same messenger referred to here is called Elijah in Mal 4:5. Jesus fulfilled the other two parts of the prophecy, i.e., going to the Temple and bringing in the New Covenant. God is obviously referred to in the divine "Me" and the clause "His Temple." The divinity of the Messiah is logically deduced from the passage.

* * * * *

Postscript: Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), a convert to Christianity from Judaism, in his Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (2 vols., 1883), cited 456 passages in the Old Testament which Jewish commentators had interpreted as messianic (vol. II, pp. 710-743).

Compiled by Dave Armstrong on 19 February 2000, from 1982 research.