Monday, February 21, 2005

Reply to "CPA" on Catholic Apologists and the Biblical Canon

By Dave Armstrong (2-21-05)

[Lutheran] CPA's words will be in blue. Fellow blogger Dave H.'s words will be in green. Words of Catholics (and/or Catholic apologists - real or alleged) that CPA or I cite, will be in red.

* * * * *

Choosing to pass over virtually all of my critique in the first paper above, CPA has decided to argue that he is correct in his cynical assumptions about the profound ignorance of "Internet Catholic apologists" concerning the matter of the Church and the canon of Scripture, by citing several reputed examples of same (I and others did press him to do this, so to that extent, it can be regarded as a "reply" to me). His latest paper is called Response to Critics of My Post Below.

CPA writes:

A number of commentators also feel I am slandering the Catholic church by responding to this attack as if it represented Catholic teaching. I think I made it clear that I was referring to popular, but widespread, Catholic apologetic arguments.

I agree that he is not doing the former, but I deny that the latter is true vis-a-vis actual "Catholic apologists" (as opposed to any Catholic Tom, Dick, or Harry who may "do apologetics" on some discussion board or blog somewhere).

If some one wants more examples of what I am talking about, read on. The following are some typical quotations all of which imply that there was such a fog of hundreds of books contending for scriptural authority up to the fourth century that Christians before then could not be sure that any book was Scripture:

Note well the extraordinary claims being made here. Assuming that we can take Chris's language at face value and that he has some semblance of control over the relation of his written words to his thoughts and opinions, the following propositions flow indubitably from the above:

x) The citations he then proceeds to provide offer evidence of his previous assertions in his previous paper.

y) They are "typical" examples (somehow determined to be such in his "half-hour or so search" on the Internet), and thus his conclusions about them can be generalized to the larger category of "Catholic apologetics" (in this case, regarding the biblical

A) Each one ("all of which") is said to "imply" that there were "hundreds of books contending for scriptural authority."

B) Based on A, each citation is said to "imply" that Christians before the 4th century "could not be sure that any book was Scripture."

These are Chris's claims (the last two henceforth referred to as propositions A and B, as I go through each citation). He thinks (again, if we can take his words at face value; literally) that Catholic apologists en masse believe that hundreds of books were contenders as biblical books up to 400 A.D. and that no one could be sure that any single book was Scripture till then. We will examine each citation he provides to see if indeed they provide any solid evidence for these contentions or not. If they don't, his argument fails (even if a minority of them prove his point, his argument fails, since he claimed this for "all" of them, and as proof of a widespread lamentable tendency). I will show that he hangs himself by his own words and the falsity of his argument and its false premises and non-factuality.

He provides seven citations, undocumented (apparently thinking that links technology suffices for his "documentation" -- I say he is using this as an excuse to avoid having to type out or cut-and-paste the relevant documentary information; but that's the least of his problems). I will provide the documentation, and examine the context in each case, and then decide whether each meets the criteria of A and B.

Example Number One comes from a Fr. Arnold Damen S.J. (1815-1890): his tract: THE CHURCH OR THE BIBLE: The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, reprinted for the Internet by Our Lady of the Rosary Library, in Prospect, KY. I grant that a Jesuit priest writing such a tract can be regarded as an "apologist."

Not only sixty-five years did Christ leave the Church He had established without a Bible, but over three hundred years. The Church of God was established and went on spreading itself over the whole globe without a Bible for more than three hundred years. In all that time the people did not know what constituted the Bible.

I wouldn't argue in the manner that this priest does at all (it leaves much to be desired, in my humble opinion), but does his tract prove Chris's contentions A and B? No. His language of "did not know" the Bible can easily be interpreted as the equivalent of "not having the certainty of knowing the entire canon of the Bible." He's talking about the canon, not inspiration of individual books.

In fact, in another example, his reasoning suggests that his "did not know" means (in context) "didn't know the Bible that was actually there," because he also makes this statement:

Not only for three hundred years was the world left without the Bible, but for one thousand four hundred years the Christian world was left without the Sacred Book. Before the art of printing was invented, Bibles were rare things; Bibles were costly things. Now, you must all be aware, if you have read history at all, that the art of printing was invented only a little more than four hundred years ago . . .

Some of his statements, however, arguably confirm Chris's B; particularly the following:

All of these gospels were spread among the people, and the people did not know which of these were inspired and which were false and spurious. Even the learned themselves were disputing whether preference should be given to the Gospel of Simon or that of Matthew . . .

I still think he was talking in generalities. First of all, he is referring primarily to the masses ("the people"). He contrasts them with the "learned" -- who were engaging disputes (thus itself proving that he thinks that they had a notion that some books could be identified as biblical and inspired, and others could not). It doesn't necessarily follow that he thought that no one could be sure of any book. One might reasonably interpret his words in that way, but it is not absolutely proven, because he doesn't give us enough information.

As for A, Fr. Damen mentions "many false gospels" and five by name. He refers to "Many spurious epistles," not naming any individually. Can "many" (including five named heretical books) be construed as "hundreds"? Possibly (if not very plausibly), but again, we don't have enough information. So I have to conclude that this source confirms neither A nor B, though it comes close to confirming B. Let's see if Chris does even remotely as well with his other sources in his effort to prove his point.

Example Number Two is the blog, which can be regarded as apologetic, at least in part. Whether the individuals who write for it can properly be classed as "apologists" I would have to study further (and I have already devoted far too much time to this project as it is). Chris cites the article, "The Sola Scriptura Error: The Carnival of the Reformation."

The Catholic Church didn’t compile the Bible until almost 400 A.D. and until that point various churches (all Catholic) had various pieces of the Bible. How did these Christians function without the entirety of Scripture?

First of all, this is also clearly talking about canonization. It's a fact that the canon was established (i.e., made a matter of indisputable dogma) in councils of 393 and 397, and later approved by popes. This is undeniable. It is also agreed by all Church historians that the first person who listed exactly the 27 NT books as we know them, was St. Athanasius in 367, in his Festal Epistle. why it is objectionable to point this out is beyond me.

Secondly, "had various pieces of the Bible" perhaps implies that they correctly knew that those books were biblical books, and inspired. The writer, Jay, asks:

How do you know the Bible is true? Without recognizing the authority of the Church, you can't be sure. The answer I continually hear these days is that we have a “fallible collection of infallible books.” This is just silly. First, how do you know the individual books are infallible? Don’t give me a history lesson, I can find other books that would be rated infallible under that scheme. Don’t suggest “the Apostles wrote it” – there are books by the Apostles that aren’t infallible as well as Biblical books by non-Apostles. Second, if your collection is infallible you must be suggesting that there could be other Divinely Inspired books available.

With his Lutheran sola Scriptura glasses on, Chris no doubt thinks this is a terrible denigration of the Bible. But it is not at all, because it is based on historical fact. One has to realize, too, that in the early Church many would have believed that inspired biblical books were self-attesting, just as they do today. Indeed, many books are. I can say that as a Catholic, and not contradict any teaching of my Church. But the problem was that people disagreed on particulars. Church Father x thinks biblical book a is not part of the Bible, and that unbiblical book b is. Church Father y believes exactly the opposite, etc. They both believed that you could determine whether a book was biblical or not by reading it (internal evidence). St. Augustine thought that the Deuterocanon was part of the Bible. St. Jerome did not. Etc., etc.

This is obviously a flawed epistemology, if it is based purely on private judgment, rather than binding Church authority, because it did not in fact lead to a total consensus. Only a Church proclamation could do that. So one can accept in principle that notion that a biblical book gives internal evidence of its inspired, revelational status, yet recognize that fallible human beings in fact; in history, came to different conclusions about different books. It is (this is a crucial distinction) this latter sense that Catholics usually are talking about in discussions of the canon. Technically speaking, it's an epistemological and practical argument, as opposed to a theological or spiritual one. The former is not contradictory to the latter (where one could state that inspiration of certain books is internally apparent, etc.). It's not an "either/or" scenario.

Granted, there was a large core consensus, as Chris noted. We know that, but being "85%" sure of the Bible does not solve the problem. A 15% uncertainty still leaves the door wide open for heresies and heretical books to be smuggled into the Church, failing an authoritative pronouncement on the canon.

That said, does this blog confirm Chris's propositions A and B? No, not at all. Nothing is said about "hundreds" of competing books (the biggest claim is "other books"). So A is not bolstered. As for B, the writer doesn't ever deny that no one could know any individual book is inspired. It can't be stressed enough that discussions on canonicity and the entire canon are not discussions about individual inspiration.

The argument could have been better expressed. it's noit the way I would argue it. But that is the case with almost any argument (including Chris's; I myself have found many big holes in it), and people are at different levels of ability. These are very complex topics, as many are in theology. In any event, this is no evidence to support Chris's A and B.

Example Number Three is from Dwight Longenecker, who is indeed a published Catholic apologist, and active on the Internet (though not as much as many others), and a friend of mine (he helped promote my first book in England). His article, "What is Truth?"An Examination of Sola Scriptura, was published in The Coming Home Journal. This is definitely mainstream Catholic Internet apologetics. But does it prove what Chris contends? Well, let's see!

This, therefore, draws our attention to another deep problem with sola scriptura. Not only is the Bible itself impotent to prove its own inspiration or ensure its own interpretation, it could not specify exactly which of the hundreds of books were to be considered inspired Scripture.

The latter clause is a truism. The Bible does not provide a list of its own books. He does mention "hundreds of books," so that is in favor of A. But it is obvious (self-evident) that the Bible can't name its own books. "The Bible" is a human document, insofar as it was compiled. It's a divine revelation in its writing but it didn't drop down out of heaven with its canon and parameters already determined. Men did that.

The Bible is also not entirely self-interpreting. The easiest proof of that is to look at the history of Protestantism. At best, they can only say that sin and ignorance counts for the divergence of doctrine, but that (though it contains some truth and insight) is far too simplistic. I have challenged Protestants to tell me how many denominations would be necessary to cause them to question their first premises. 2 million? 2 billion? 2 trillion? At what point is the system in which such sectarianism occurs ever questioned? The high numbers are merely a reductio ad absurdum. As far as I am concerned, any number of churches or Christian sects beyond one is radically unbiblical and scandalous.

As for the claim of "hundreds" of competing books thought to be canonical by some, I don't know if that's true or not. It may be. Is this sinmply a claim made by Catholics? No. At least one Protestant website I found seems to agree: Answers to Tough Questions: The Bible: Canon of Scripture. The author, Dan Vander Lugt, has earned degrees from Grand Valley State University and Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary. He wrote (emphasis added):

First-century Christians circulated documents -- either written or approved by the apostles -- which contained an authoritative explanation of the accounts concerning Jesus' life and teaching. These documents often quoted from each other and presented the same gospel message from different perspectives and in different styles. Hundreds of other documents were written and circulated, but the church quickly rejected spurious documents and established the authority of those that were genuine.

Indeed, Protestant apologist Norman Geisler, in his book on the canon, From God to Us: How we Got Our Bible (co-author William E. Nix, Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), writes concerning the New Testament pseudepigrapha:

The exact number of these books is difficult to determine. By the ninth century, Photius listed some 280 of them. Since then more have been brought to light.

(p. 114; emphasis added)

He proceeds to list by name no less than 43 of these (pp. 114-116): 21 Gospels, 8 variants of Acts, 4 epistles, 7 Apocalypses, and three additional works.

This being the case, Chris's proposition A as some terrible deficiency (supposedly confined to Catholic apologists) is greatly brought into question. If in fact there were this many competing claimants, then why is it wrong for Catholics to simply point it out? It's a matter of historical fact to be determined. The argument would, rather, seem to then become one of relative strength, and how much doubt there actually was. That is a much more complex discussion, and one (I suspect) best left to historians and other scholars.

But back to Dwight Longenecker: what about Chris's proposition B: that Dwight is supposedly saying that no one could know that any book was inspired. This is contradicted in the following words (which presuppose that folks knew what Scripture was before it was finally canonized):

The Scriptures were written by the people of God, for the people of God. They were read by the people of God, used to teach the people of God, and used for the worship of the people of God. Maybe the best way to describe the Bible is to say that it is the story of the relationship between God and His people—the Church—both the Old Testament Church and the New Testament Church. The Bible was never just a list of things—a theological textbook—about God telling His people what they must believe. Neither was it merely a set of rules to be obeyed. Instead the Bible was first and foremost the story of God’s loving relationship with humanity.
Furthermore, the same people who wrote the Scriptures—used the Scriptures, prayed the Scriptures and learned from the Scriptures—chose which holy writings should be included as Scripture.

So far, then, we have one agreement with Chris's claim and one possible agreement out of six instances, and even the former is of dubious significance, since I've produced two reputable Protestant apologists or scholars who agree that hundreds of other claimants as biblical books were floating around.

Example Number Four is from a website called Defending the Faith, and is written by a Troy Martz (with whom I am unfamiliar).

Without an INFALLIBLE authority, we cannot even know what books are the Word of God and which are works of Satan!!! Here is the gist of the question: How do you know that the Gospel attributed to Matthew is true and the Gospel attributed to Thomas is false?"

I think this is excessive and overstated language. But without the rest of the statement, in context, a misleading impression is given, and the exact nature of the argument is not perceived. He continues:

And don't tell me that it is because Scripture says it is inspired -- so does the Book of Mormon and the Koran! That also rules out the "I believe/feel it is so it must be" argument based on feelings. Remember that Mohammad and Joseph Smith both thought that they were inspired by God. If you use this as the basis for your canon of Scripture, then you must include the Book of Mormon and the Koran to your Bible.

In other words, it is an argument about epistemology (precisely as I clarified above, with regard to these arguments when made by Catholics), not about inspiration or even canonicity per se. It's a legitimate question of logical circularity and the impossibility of rationally proving something about a document based on its own claims alone, without independent confirmation.

I would argue that the Bible has offered confirmation of itself through fulfilled prophecy and so forth, but that would not determine every individual book as inspired (and much of it would have to do with Old Testament books, anyway). But a simple claim of inspiration is not proof, because that would apply to Mormons and Muslims also.

So the argument is that the Church gives a certainty (and its authority is established on other non-circular grounds also) that cannot be had through the Bible alone. One must distinguish between an individual believing a book to be inspired, and being certain that it is, by additional means (the Church). Much of this discussion turns on that distinction. But it is apparently lost on Chris, because he doesn't show any awareness of it, and so assumes things about what these people wrote that do not necessarily follow. Nevertheless, I'll give Chris this one as a "possibly" for proposition B. As the writer says nothing about completing books, let alone "hundreds," he offers no proof for that claim.

Example Number Five is from George Sim Johnston, a well-known Catholic writer, on

Who, then, decided that [the book of Philemon] was Scripture? The Catholic Church. And it took several centuries to do so.

This is self-evident, if it is discussing canonization, as it obviously is. It's a good short article on the subject. Johnston writes:

It was not until the Council of Carthage (397) and a subsequent decree by Pope Innocent I that Christendom had a fixed New Testament canon.

That's correct, as a matter of historical fact. As I noted, no one even listed the 27 NT books in one place till St. Athanasius had done so a mere 30 years earlier.

Prior to that date, scores of spurious gospels and "apostolic" writings were floating around the Mediterranean basin: the Gospel of Thomas, the "Shepherd" of Hermas, St. Paul's Letter to the Laodiceans, and so forth.

"Scores" is not "hundreds," so this offers no proof for A, once again. But since Photius thought there were 280, this is small change.

But, according to Protestants, the Catholic Church was corrupt and idolatrous by the fourth century and so had lost whatever authority it originally had. On what basis, then, do they accept the canon of the New Testament? Luther and Calvin were both fuzzy on the subject. Luther dropped seven books from the Old Testament, the so-called Apocrypha in the Protestant Bible; his pretext for doing so was that orthodox Jews had done it at the synod of Jamnia around 100 A. D.; but that synod was explicitly anti-Christian, and so its decisions about Scripture make an odd benchmark for Christians.

Indeed; these are excellent questions for Protestants. Johnston, like the others, is making an epistemological argument, having to do with the objective grounds for certainty, over against merely subjective grounds and individual feelings (which can easily be led astray, as we all well know):

Scripture, our Evangelical friends tell us, is the inerrant Word of God. Quite right, the Catholic replies; but how do you know this to be true? It's not an easy question for Protestants, because, having jettisoned Tradition and the Church, they have no objective authority for the claims they make for Scripture. There is no list of canonical books anywhere in the Bible, nor does any book (with the exception of St. John's Apocalypse) claim to be inspired. So, how does a "Bible Christian" know the Bible is the Word of God?

This gets to the heart of the Catholic objection to Protestant arguments on the canon. Maybe Chris and others will realize this in due course. Johnston says nothing about not knowing that "any" book is inspired, so is no evidence for that assertion (proposition B). So out of five examples, with two propositions examined for each, we have one instance of A and two possible instances of B. Even if we grant that those two constitute agreement, it is only a 30% ratio, whereas Chris claimed that all the sources agreed on both counts. Personally, I deny both "possible" cases and deny that the "hundreds" charge has any relevance, in light of Geisler and the other Protestant I cited.

Example Number Six comes from Catholic Enquiry Centre, an outreach of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference.

The Catholic Church existed before any of the books of the New Testament were written. The Catholic Church is the mother of the New Testament. It was written in its entirety by Catholics. If she had not scrutinized carefully the writings of her children, rejecting some and approving others as worthy of inclusion in the canon of the New Testament, there would be no New Testament today. If she had not declared the books composing the New Testament to be the inspired word of God, we would not know it.

This is obviously again an epistemological argument: we "know" because the Church has made this a certain proposition in its particulars, whereas in the early centuries there was (too) much dispute and confusion (though there was also significant consensus). This piece is more an argument against sola Scriptura than about the canon. There are no particular statements relevant to either A or B, so no proof of those contentions is offered.

Example Number Seven is from a web page called What Think You of Christ?: SOME THINGS CATHOLIC. I've never heard of it, either (but then, no doubt, I haven't heard of lots of things).

By the year 390 A.D. many spiritual books were in circulation among the various local churches, so the Church convoked the Council of Hippo in 393 A.D. to determine which books were the inspired ones. After diligent study the council accepted some as inspired, rejected others, and finally issued an official list of books which today comprise the New Testament. This official list was later confirmed by the Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. This declaration of the Catholic Church is the sole authority for all Christians for their belief in the inspired character of the Bible.

"Many" books is not "hundreds" (if that question is even relevant anymore). Nor is it asserted that an individual could not know a book was inspired without the Church telling him so (thus, no proof for either A or B is present here). An authoritative pronouncement is a different thing from a subjective spiritual discernment. All these articles, as far as I can tell, are discussing the former, and not discussing the latter (except indirectly). Because this distinction is lost on Chris, he comes to wrong conclusions.

Thus, the grand total of seven examples with regard to Chris's two claims are as follows:

Proposition A: one out of seven (Example Number Three), and it is highly questionable whether this is even objectionable at all.

Proposition B: two possibilities out of seven (Examples One and Four), with none offering positive, absolute proof.

Total: 3 out of 14 at best (1 out of 14 at worst), whereas Chris claimed that they all affirmed both things.

This is pathetic, and of course it means that he has not proven at all what he set out to prove. He keeps digging himself in deeper and deeper. Furthermore, let's not forget that his original, even more extravagant claims (that Catholic apologists supposedly assert en masse that the Church "created" or "wrote" Scripture in the 4th century) have not been affirmed or proven in the least.

Thus, I conclude that Chris's argument (foolishly cheered on by Josh and Dave H. and other misinformed commenters) remains an abysmal failure on all counts. The only things he has gotten right on this are those things where we Catholics already agree with him; hence they constitute no argument against either Catholicism itself or its apologists: flawed though they may be (as we all are). At best, all he can say is that some arguments were guilty of imprecision of language and a certain sloppiness in dealing with complex historical facts. And even those factors are well in evidence in his own present arguments, I think.

I believe there are far more important matters that CPA can devote himself to (and that applies to me, too, come to think of it, but I can never resist a challenge: especially one dogmatically asserted).

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Challenges For Self-Described "Progressive / Liberal Catholic" Joe ("jcecil3")

By Dave Armstrong (2-19-05)

[Joe's words will be in green]

* * * * *

Catholics are not believers in sola scriptura. We believe that the Word is revealed through Sacred Scripture AND Sacred Tradition.

. . . At given points in history, a formulation of a thought becomes so clear and apparent to the body of Christ that an infallible definition is made. The infallible dogma then rests on its own authority even if at a later point it is discovered that the text that lead to that conclusion at that point in time probably meant something else.

. . . On the other hand, if we allow that our exegesis can lead today to a conclusion that was different than those scholars of yesteryear who formulated a dogma, this does not mean that we are rejecting the dogma.

. . . Biblical interpretation may have lead to formulation of a dogma, but once we know the dogma infallibly, we can hold fast to the dogma without a need to believe the original author intended the dogma anymore - even if the framers of the dogma believed that.

Don't get me wrong. There will be times when dogma and the current consensus of the scholarly community will be in complete agreement. However, it is not necessary for this occur.

It does not deny dogma to examine the arguments of a modern scholar and find those arguments a compelling argument for the probable meaning of the original human author.

Indeed, the Vatican encourages this, so long as we hold fast to infallibly defined dogma.

Hi Joe,

Let's cut to the quick on this. You invited discussion on your blog, by writing, "Let me know what you think." So here I go! :-) You want to have your cake and eat it too, it looks like to me. You want to talk the language of Tradition, infallibility and dogma, yet you want to be a so-called "progressive" or "liberal" (thanks for your upfront honesty on the use of that term, which is refreshing), and to retain the right to question the Church in areas where it has already decided things, and doesn't allow any further questioning. The proof of this is abundant on your blog, In Today's News.

1) You attack Natural Family Planning (NFP) as sinful:

". . . it would seem that NFP is morally illicit."

"Conclusion: Therefore, it follows that Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a [sic] morally illicit."

"If NFP is morally licit, it naturally raises the issue whether artificial contraception and even certain acts of gay sex might be morally licit on the same grounds."

(Is NFP the Slippery Slope to Gay Unions?)

". . . artificial contraception in marriage is morally equivalent to natural family planning . . . "

("My Introduction" on the sidebar of your blog)

This amounts to equating a mortal sin with a practice which the Church has sanctioned. That's really a lot of moral authority, isn't it? The Church supposedly sanctions something which is equally as sinful as an act which is a serious sin, and contrary to natural law.

2) You are soft on sodomy and seem to favor so-called "gay marriage" (or at the very least, do not oppose it):

"If deliberately separating sexuality from procreation is always wrong, why can married heterosexuals knowingly and deliberately engage in conjugal relations during a period of a women's cycle that is infertile? There was an ancient Christian non-sacramental rite of adelphopoiesis uniting people of the same gender in an indissoluble bond as spiritual siblings. Could this rite be restored as a recognition of committed same gender love, whether such a couple is having sex or not? If the rite of adelphopoiesis were restored, could it be bestowed with benefits under civil law that mirror those enjoyed by married heterosexuals, such as inheritance rights, tax benefits, the ability to adopt, power of attorney and so forth?" [emphasis added]

". . . How is a gay civil union a greater threat to heterosexual marriage than an infertile couple or a couple practicing natural family planning?"

". . . What harm is caused to others by permitting gay unions?"

". . . Why did the organization called "Catholic Answers" include gay marriage with four right to life issues as one of only five "non-negotiable" political issues in the 2004 voter's guide?"

". . . Was it homophobia that inspired support for Bush - an anxiety provoked by people who experience homosexual attractions?"

". . . Are the arguments against gay unions any different than the arguments against inter-racial marriage?"

(Questions About Church Teaching on Gay Civil Unions)

"For example, could a gay couple be considered somewhat like an infertile couple? Might their own sexual expression be an expression of unitive love that is morally legitimate if contained within the bond of a permanent loving commitment?"

"How can one conclude that a gay couple, neither partner choosing to be homosexually inclined, is not the moral equivalent of the infertile couple? If the gay couple were open to children and willing to adopt, could their sexual expression be seen as an expression of unitive love equivalent in nature to the married heterosexual couple expressing unitive love during a period of known infertility?"

(What is "Advancing Progressive Views"?)

3) You act as if the Church isn't sufficient enough to not need "progressives" who hanker for "change" in infallible doctrines:

". . . I have turned to "blogging" where I can become a voice in the wilderness crying out as the loyal opposition from within Catholicism for progressive change in the Church, while defending her from outer attack from the atheists, fundamentalists and whoever else has an axe to grind."

Like you don't have an axe to grind"? :-) . . .

"Let me say up front, that if I depart from the "official line" of the Vatican here, I will say so. I will try to explain why I withhold assent from a teaching and point to the Catechism or other authoritive texts where you can read the Church's official answers and judge for yourself whether my questions are valid. I make no claim of personal infallibility, and I very well can be in error. That said, I see no reason why the questions of progressive Catholics should not be given serious attention."

This is classic dissenting modernism and liberalism, couched -- in your writings elsewhere -- in the usual rationale of "conscience," or "progressivism" or "tolerance" or "open-mindedness" . . .

"Nevertheless, in often taking stances that seem opposed by the Vatican, many of my fellow Roman Catholics will question my right to call myself Catholic."

Oh, you're a Catholic, but in cases where you dissent from Church teachings, you are a disobedient Catholic. It's part of my job to point out when people are claiming that the Church teaches or allows something that it doesn't teach or allow. You take it upon yourself to correct what you call "conservative" Catholics or positions. Likewise, I correct what I call "liberal" positions.

"I accept . . . the infallibility of the Pope when speaking ex cathedra, . . . "

The pope is also infallible in the ordinary magisterium, when reiterating teachings that are firmly established in Catholic tradition. Instances of this would include Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II's denial that women can be ordained. Ex cathedra is only the highest of the many levels of infallibility.

"Yet, I believe that doctrine develops according to Dei Verbum 8, and that such development can justify beliefs considered "controversial" by many Catholics."

(From the sidebar on your blog: "My Introduction")

Here you engage in the familiar, tired liberal tactic of co-opting development of doctrine for reversal or evolution of doctrine. Along with the abuse of the true Catholic notion of "conscience," this is probably the most-used liberal tactic. Hence, Cardinal Newman is often wrongly (if I were cynical, I would say also, cynically) utilized on both grounds, since he wrote with great insight on both topics.

4) You think God is properly referred to as "Mother":

"The more controversial beliefs I hold are as follows: I believe that God can be called Mother as well as Father, . . ."

("My Introduction")

5) You advocate inclusive language (which usually indicates several false feminist assumptions about gender and the use of the English language):

". . . inclusive language in reference to the people of God should be used in liturgy, . . . "

("My Introduction")

6) You advocate women "priests":

". . . women could be ordained ministerial priest, and perhaps should be ordained (The Pope has clearly said no to this one) . . ."

("My Introduction")

Yes, he has, and (most importantly for this discussion) he has done so in the context of universal, unbroken Catholic tradition; therefore he speaks infallibly. Why, then, do you keep dissenting?

7) You go on and on about a married priesthood (throughout your blog[s]):

". . . married men should be ordained . . ."

("My Introduction")

They already are, in the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church , so if you yourself wanted to be a married priest, why didn't you go there and become one? And if you don't care for the Western, Latin rites' understanding on this matter, why do you remain? If, on the other hand, you choose to remain (as you obviously have), you should cease and desist. But then you wouldn't be a "progressive" if you did that, now would you?

8) You are soft on divorce and remarriage:

". . . divorced and remarried Catholics can participate in the life of the Church, . . ."

("My Introduction")

"I believe that divorce is wrong, and even sinful in most situations. Nevertheless, I have questions about the Church's teaching regarding divorce and remarriage and the subsequent reception of communion."

". . . Conservatives will argue that the answer is simple: dissolve the second marriage and stop living in adultery, or annul the first marriage. This does not strike me as reality. If the second marriage has children, and is a healthier, happier, and more loving union, I am not sure that God is really commanding its dissolution or considering it adultery."

". . . Divorce and remarriage is wrong, and it is not the perfect Christian way. However, we are sinners living in an imperfect world. Perhaps prohibiting people from receiving communion indefinitely is not the appropriate response to our current circumstances."

"It is this last point that I feel is missing in the Roman Catholic expression of faith. It is not that our theology of an indissoluble bond is necessarily wrong. Nor is our desire to discourage divorce and remarriage wrong. Marriage is a beautiful thing that we want to protect and support.

"However, I feel that we need a means for those who have remarried to reconcile with the Church. Christ's whole life proclaimed the possibility of reconciliation with God. This reconciliation means we need to take into account that there may even be children involved in both marriages, such that we may not want to determine a marriage "invalid" (and the children "illegitimate"). This reconciliation also means that we account for the growth in love that may occur in a person involved in a second marriage. I believe that the mercy and compassion shown by Christ demands that we take a more forgiving approach regarding this issue."

(Divorce and Remarriage)

In Catholic teaching, there is no such thing as a divorce, because true, sacramental marriage is indissoluble, by its very nature. Therefore, if someone is divorced (as opposed to being granted an annulment, which means no marriage actually occurred), and remarry, they are in mortal sin, and in an ongoing state of committing adultery. You seem to not only not want to point out that uncomfortable fact; but you commit further wrong by advocating inclusion of such people in the rites of the Church (I am assuming that you mean allowing them to partake of the Holy Eucharist; if not, then I have misunderstood, and apologize), as if they are doing nothing wrong. This is an extremely serious matter.

9) You see nothing wrong with John Kerry (who advocates an extreme pro-abortion position) receiving communion as a Catholic in good standing, and think that Fr. Richard McBrien is a good orthodox Catholic:

"At a very fundamental level, many of these folks are constantly trying to define Catholicism as narrowly as possible with the goal of looking for ways to exclude someone from the fold - prove once and for all that John Kerry is unworthy of Communion, and that theologian, Father Richard McBrien, is a heretic, and so forth . . . I am intentionally looking for the ways to say maybe John Kerry and Richard McBrien and all other so-called "dissidents" have something to say to the rest of us."

(What is "Advancing Progressive Views"?, emphasis added)

Fr. McBrien isn't a dissident??!! This statement is its own refutation and thus needs no reply.

10) You dissent from Humanae Vitae (an infallible pronouncement):

"I care less about persuading anyone that Humanae Vitae is inconsistent than persuading people that it does not exclude one from the Church to ask some questions about it."

"I have spent a good deal of time exploring what I see as a weaknesses in Humanae Vitae."

(What is "Advancing Progressive Views"?)

11) You are soft on contraception, which the Church has long since defined as an intrinsically disordered grave sin:

"The concern that many laypeople have about using "artificial" substances to manipulate the internal workings of body to avoid natural functions may not be absolutely immoral. However, it may be very immoral for one partner in a marriage to try to force the other to use such substances against the will of the other. If a woman had health concerns about using the pill, for instance, her husband should not force her to use the pill. Likewise, if a man is uncomfortable with a reversible vasectomy, no wife should try to pressure him into it. Other means of preventing conception should be explored. This is a simple application of the golden rule."

"Could it be that Paul VI was simply mistaken in implying that artificial contraception is always wrong within a marriage bond? If the couple mutually decides that such means are appropriate, are we right to judge them in sin?"

(What is "Advancing Progressive Views"?)

12) You distort beyond all recognition what it means to submit to the Church's teaching:

"I believe that the religious submission of the mind requires that every Catholic who is troubled by a doctrine should examine the teaching carefully looking for its strengths prior to pointing out any deficiencies. In other words, we should give the Vatican enough benefit of the doubt to assume or presume that even if a teaching challenges our very fundamental assumptions about what is true, there is something valuable and true in that teaching. Our first reading should be biased toward the Vatican."

". . . Religious submission of the mind means that I looked for the truth in the document, examining the teaching in question with a presumption that there is some truth in it."

". . . I would hold that so long as you analyzed the teaching looking for its strengths and presuming there is genuine truth in there somewhere, you have fulfilled your obligation to give religious submission of the mind."

". . . We should be inclusive in our attitude, trying to define being Catholic as broadly as the Church allows. We should help people make real sense not only of the strength of a teaching, but of the rightness of their own questions about the teaching."

(What is "Advancing Progressive Views"?)

13) You act as if a pro-lifer can consistently vote for a pro-abortion advocate like John Kerry:

(Why I Voted For John Kerry as A Pro-life Catholic: An Examination of Participation in Evil)

See my paper:

"How on Earth Can Christians Vote for Pro-Abortion Candidates?"

You could be perfectly happy (feel right at home), holding all these positions, as a liberal Anglican (or even a liberal or "conservative" Orthodox, in some cases). What prevents you? At least then, you would not be contradicting the theological and ecclesiological principles of the Church you are a member of. But again, you would not be a "progressive" if you didn't try to change the Church to conform to your liking, rather than conforming your opinions and will to that of the Church, in all areas where you are bound as a Catholic to do so. So, lest the leopard change its spots, you must remain right where you are, to bless all of us "conservatives" with your never-ending dissent in the name of "open-mindedness" and "development."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A Satire on the Modernist Distortion of Jesus' Human Nature and Denigration of the Reliability of Holy Scripture

By Dave Armstrong (11 January 2000)

The following is a satirical treatment of certain liberal theological tendencies in Christology and the study of Holy Scripture -- somewhat in the style of C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters. In other words, what I write in the first section, I don't really believe. It is the opposite of the theology of the Catholic Church (with which I agree). The idea is to reduce the heterodox view of Jesus Christ and the hyper-critical approach to Holy Scripture to foolishness, by utilizing a well-known technique of classical logic, called the argumentum ad absurdum. If the reader can bear with my deliberate satire and sarcasm, later I explain precisely what I meant: the very serious underlying point I am attempting to make. The words of my debate partner shall be in blue. I modified slightly his original statements in a few instances for dramatic effect; to make the point clearer. He does not necessarily accept the views I was critiquing.

* * * * * 

The "agony in the garden" scene has several manifestations in the Gospels: In Luke it occurs on the Mount of olives; in Matthew it occurs at Gethsemane (probably the same exact place: "gethsemane" means oil press); in Mark, it is also Gethsemane; in John it is a garden, again in the Kidron valley and very likely Gethsamene. In the first three accounts there is no garden, but anguish and agony; in the last there is a garden but no agony [Lk.22:39-44; Mt.26:36-40; Mk.14:32-37; Jn.18:1-11].

Obviously the Bible writers contradict themselves, then. No doubt the contradictions were added to the Bible later by zealous Christians who anxiously awaited the arrival of the higher critics.

The witnesses and evangelists all deal variously with the nature of Jesus.

More contradictions, showing the "human nature" of the Scripture over against its Divine (Inspired) Nature. But of course God wanted the human element to be in the forefront.

This is good scriptural evidence for the fully human nature within the hypostatic union. We must connect with Jesus here in a visceral way. He is suffering and agonizing to the point of death. There is little to suggest that these accounts are unhistorical; this happened.

Yes, but we can't trust these accounts, because they were added later in order to emphasize Jesus' humanity. We must accept only the passages stressing Christ's divinity as authentic, deriving from the Petrine "Q" etc.

And it is totally absent from John. Why? Is John a bad historian? Does he deny the humanity of Jesus?

Naw; if he could just be left on his own without all these darned later additions, he would have done a fine job . . .

Suffice it to say that John's goal is different from the Synoptic. Whereas the latter seek to show us the essence of human suffering of abandonment and betrayal, the former seeks to show the Divine in hypostatic union with the human.

There you go again! Can't you see that this is a proof of later additions? Otherwise, John would ignore the humanity of Jesus and stick to the Divine . . .

The synoptics show us a Jesus struggling with his fate, petitioning God; John shows us a Jesus, not struggling but sedate in knowledge of victory, in control of all events, demanding their unfolding. Are these two different Jesuses?

Yes (now you're beginning to catch on!). We know that when the Bible talks about the Divinity of Jesus (i.e., Monophysitism), it is inspired; when it discusses His humanity, these are later gratuitous additions, put in by zealous Chalcedonian or Nestorian scribes who wanted to corrupt the historical portrayal of Jesus with their own Greek mysticism and preconceived notions . . .

At Chalcedon these issues were resolved in a very Greek and mystical way; this is how we understand Jesus today.

Gee, what a shame, eh? Too bad these infallible councils were chained to an outmoded way of thinking. If only the higher critics had been there! They would have avoided these pitfalls . . .

There are scholars who would argue that references to this or that were added before this or that event. That may indeed be the case.

Of course it is the case! Haven't you read what I just wrote yet? Don't question the higher critics! They are clearly inspired, and we must place more credence in their judgments than in the Tradition of the Church or supposedly "inspired," "infallible" Scripture, whenever there is a conflict. C'mon, wake up man!

How the gospels came to be written is certainly important stuff on some levels of discussion. Not this level.

Yeah; leave it to the esoteric, Ivory Tower higher critics. How could us mere mortals ever hope to grasp this?

One can never go wrong, however, working from the belief that the Gospels are given by God through the work of human hands.

No! NO! NO! The Bible came down from heaven in the King James Version. What are you, a liberal? Human intervention???!!! That would mean the Bible was possessed of original sin. We need a higher critic to come on this list . . . no doubt about it.

Some will view this last sentence as "loaded;" it is. I believe God wants us to see our Gospels as the true testament to the Lord. Let me assure you that [a liberal Scripture scholar] has no aversion to miracles and believes in the bodily Resurrecton.

Oh, of course he is completely orthodox. Higher critics always are, for the simple reason that they merely create their own orthodoxy, at their whim and fancy. So, e.g., Jesus knowing the future? Obviously this is a later addition. See how simple it is?

[Name] has persuasively argued that Jesus' human intellect (apart from His Divine intellect) develops and His knowledge of future events in His human nature is limited.

Of course he is right! Who could doubt that Jesus didn't know the future! This is a no-brainer. Everyone knows that the "Jesus" of the Bible is a mythical figure, created by the power-hungry censorious "fathers" of the conservative, repressed, patriarchal, anti-sex medieval Church . . .

[The great liberal Scripture scholar says]: "Even in regards to Jesus' predictions of his own death, one cannot simplistically read these as actual statements during his ministry."

Yes, yes, of course! No need to tell us this! It's clear that only a naive simpleton could actually gullibly take the Bible at face value. It is much more complex than that. I keep saying it, but again, THANK GOD FOR THE HIGHER CRITICS! We would be so lost and brainwashed without them . . . like sheep without a shepherd.

Can one read these as "actual statements during his ministry?" It matters how one reads them.

Oh yes . . . the crucial need for the death by a thousand qualifications. Ah, the beauty of theological liberalism . . .

If one reads them for spiritual nourishment and to be in communion with the Word, then of course you could, and should read them exactly this way (I do).

What???!!!! You have fallen for the line, too? I'm shocked!

If one reads them theologically, a more scientific, analytical appproach is required; but this doesn't negate the validity of the first method.

Well, then the magisterium has to go when it contradicts the Higher Critics! After all, the Church has stated that the Bible is infallible and inspired, but we all know that is malarkey . . .

The knowledge of whether or not Jesus knew he was God has no real bearing on the Gospel narratives. That knowledge is not the point of the evangelists nor is it a question for me.

Brilliant!!!! This is why we know the narratives about Jesus knowing His future were added in later. We know this because the higher critics have informed us, and because it fits in with our own solo mio position of biblical interpretation. You have a lot of insight on how Sacred Scripture ought to be read! Let's stick to the Nestorian Jesus which the gospel writers obviously want to give us. Albert Schweitzer had his "historical Jesus"; we have our "Nestorian Jesus." Let us rest and be content with that.

It's no accident that in John's gospel the oil press is a garden and there is no agony. That's not the picture of Jesus given here! Here is the Logos, fully in control of every event. John's Jesus doesn't merely predict his violent end: he wills it.

Obviously, one can't will to suffer, or agonize over what one wills, so we must conclude that most of John is a later interpolation, because the end result is theological orthodoxy (therefore unacceptable and obviously not inspired Scripture).

For John the event in the valley of Kidron is transformed into heroic prose; Jesus seems very much in touch with his other, divine self. This is why John does not portray agony: that would have shown Jesus' divine nature in an impossible predicament for the Logos.

Atta boy! -- this is a brilliant exposition of "either/or" reasoning. Every Enlightenment rationalist would be extremely proud of you.

It is theologically problematic to conflate the Synoptic "Gethsemane" with John's "garden," for an ungenuine Jesus would emerge, one not intended by any of the evangelists.

Exactly! We mustn't trust Scripture at face value -- this is just one more nail in that coffin . . . Thank God for higher critics who can demythologize this so-called "Jesus" of the Scripture and give us the real one -- er, One. What a great age we live in! Such enlightenment, never heretofore known . . . Let us give thanks and humbly accept our superior theological overlords, and pray that the magisterium will one day come to its senses. I go with the Higher Critics, whenever their view conflicts with Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition (so-called). I've seen more than enough to know that they are infallible, and not just when they write ex cathedra . . .

[NOTE: (just to again make sure people understand what I was doing above): the foregoing -- i.e., my writing, which was in black -- was ironical, tongue-in-cheek farce, and the argumentum ad absurdum approach to logical fallacies. I am not saying that my debate partner espouses all or even a few of the errors I trash here, but in my opinion he is undoubtedly influenced by some of them. My goal here is to show the logical outcome of such thinking, by use of parody, sarcasm, and turning the tables. If my meaning was difficult to follow in places, it may help to read the above again, keeping this "note" always in mind. From this point on, I again assume a "serious" apologetic posture and express and clarify my actual views.]

I knew it was just a matter of time before your Celtic wit exploded on the list! It seems you have an advanced degree from the Jonathan Swift School of Theological Criticism and Interpersonal Relations :-).

LOLOLOL Sarcasm is a lost art, and one not rarely used in apologetics, as many people deem it ethically unacceptable altogether. Yet Jesus and Paul used it; Chesterton and Muggeridge were masters at it, and even Newman on occasion (notably in his Apologia pro vita Sua). Glad you appreciated it. :-)

I will try to comb out the Swiftian rhetoric and address your real concerns about my approach to reading Scripture. Under that Irish wit is a real wisdom worth speaking to.

Well thanks! I'm glad, too, that you understand that all good satire is at bottom dead-serious (as indeed mine was).

Beneath this sarcasm is a "concern" (in quotes because I know you're rock-solid in your beliefs about scripture) about the possibility of the evangelists contradicting one another. What you characterize as contradiction I would characterize as diversity.

By definition, diversity is different than contradiction. The writers either contradict each other or not. Of course there are numerous exegetical difficulties, but if one approaches them with hostile critical presuppositions from the outset, the chances of plausibly resolving them diminish.

I claim that the evangelists have a view of Jesus, inspired by the Spirit, that emphasizes different aspects of the personality and nature of Jesus. These views are diverse; they do not contradict one another in any pneumatological or fiduciary manner.

Good (I think). Do they contradict each other in any logical manner? :-) I accept the complementarity of the gospel accounts, and the additional data of Paul, etc. No problem there.

They can be reconciled with one another, but not conflated to draw a picture of a single, "composite" Jesus.

This, to me, sounds like modernism. Please correct me if I am wrong.

There's probably an excellent point in here somewhere. You seem to want to draw the analogy between the fully human, fully divine Christ, and the text of scripture. I've often sensed this analogy myself.

One of my points throughout was that I felt you were emphasizing the Human Nature of Christ too highly over against His Divine Nature, whereas I suspect you think I am doing the opposite. So I argued ironically, and yes, I was making a vague analogy to Scripture, since it is divinely-inspired, yet transmitted by human beings (albeit inspired by the Spirit) and subjected to the very human process of canonization. The orthodox view is that Jesus had both Natures: we mustn't minimize either; and that Scripture is wholly inspired and infallible (I'm not saying there are no numerical-type minor errors, etc. -- I believe the Church would allow for those, and I do myself -- but not any doctrinal error in what it affirms).

Dave, you have stated elsewhere that the human nature of Christ does not mitigate His divine nature. I would add the obvious corollary, that His divine nature does not mitigate His human nature.

Of course not; yet He knew the future, both from His Divine Nature, and (according to what I have read) infused knowledge even in His Human Nature. Your assumption that He did not is the heterodox one, and the one which needs to be established and proven. My simple challenge to you is (please pay close attention: this was the main point of my satire/farce):

1. Why do you accept this notion that passages where Jesus foretells the future are not authentic utterances of Jesus?
2. By what criteria do you determine what is authentic and what is not?
3. How does this bear on the inspiration and infallibility of Holy Scripture?
4. What do you do if your pet theologians conflict with the magisterium?
5. Do you yield and submit, or stand your ground and assert that the Church is flat-out wrong and theologian "fashionable Mr. X" is right?
What does 'later' mean in the context you use the word? What does 'addition' mean? Are you implying that the Apostolic witnesses kept a diary or notebook and referred to it after the Resurrection when "writing" the Gospels? And then, after their deaths, Christian apologists and redactionists edited and added stuff for theological expediency :-)?

I think you can figure out from context (despite all my farcical sarcasm) that I was referring primarily to this business of "inauthentic sayings" of Jesus. In other words, the "later additions" would be those things which indeed are not authentically part of Jesus' teaching, but added in later by zealous Churchmen seeking to uphold some view in opposition to the real oral Tradition as received and passed down by the Apostles. This is the standard liberal charge.

Wit and wisdom aside Dave, you do not like those whom you've labeled "higher critics" do you? :-)

No (glad you figured that out :-). Not (pay close attention) when they apply hostile presuppositions to Holy Scripture and set themselves up as autonomous authorities against Holy Mother Church. I see that you called me a "fundamentalist" in another post. That is a dead give-away and buzzword of modernism. I'm always proud to be called that, if it comes from a modernist. So in my opinion that bodes ill for your ultimate position, if this is how you characterize my position, which I would simply call "orthodox."

How about a little serious stuff, now?

I hope I have clarified my position sufficiently, and given you the "official" interpretation of my Screwtape-like farce.

I think you'll find that, while I am indeed influenced by some contemporary theologians and scholars, I am a fairly independent thinker, and quite open-minded,

Yes, but there is independent, and there is independent, if you know what I mean. And there is a type of open-mindedness where (as Chesterton said), one's brains can fall out. So these vague, almost psycho-babble, "PC" terms must always be carefully defined these days.

You will soon learn that I'm really "all over the place" and do not embrace any one approach to theology.

But what about doctrine and dogma? Do you accept the Church's dogmas in toto or not?

So long as we remain faithful to the Magisterium, what could go wrong?

Well, that would seem to answer that question, yet I have seen a few things, at least, where you seem to defy the magisterium (Christ's lack of knowledge; Mary's concupiscence, the authorship of the Gospels). Concerning the latter, Dei Verbum from Vatican II (V, 18) clearly identifies the four authors, citing St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies in the footnote (III,2,8; cf. III,1,1). Irenaeus clearly states that these four were the authors. So here is an opportunity for you: do you accept
the word of this Church Father (d.c. 202), regarding authentic Tradition, or do you rather opt for the opinions of the Higher Critics? It is the received Catholic Tradition (as far as I can tell) that the authors of the four Gospels were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Fr. John Hardon, e.g., assumes this (Pocket Catholic Dictionary); one of my commentaries assumes it without question. I think it would be easy to locate relevant statements in papal encyclicals and ecumenical councils.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Second Dialogue With Alastair Roberts (Reformed) on Transubstantiation

By Dave Armstrong (2-4-05)

Alastair's words will be in blue.

* * * * * 

Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my posts. 

You're most welcome, and thank you as well for your gentlemanly, thoughtful approach to dialogue. It is a true and rare pleasure to engage in discussion with you.

I was heartened to observe areas of common ground and would like to probe some of our differences a bit further.

Likewise . . .

I am trying to understand some of the key things that you are seeking to maintain in order that we may arrive at a better mutual understanding on this issue. To this same end I will try to more clearly articulate some of my fundamental concerns.

Very good.

I will probably write a few posts (provided that I can find the time) designed to tease out some of the roots to our differences. Hopefully any remaining misunderstandings will be uncovered in the process. I appreciate the frankness of your response. I see little benefit in a feigned
agreement or false peace between positions that remain opposed.

Yes; I agree. I attempt to approach these issues in an attitude of "charitable ecumenical realism": a position which I have set out in several papers. Honest, deeply-held differences are acknowledged and freely discussed (not papered-over) but without the animus that so often
accompanies discussions across "party lines" (indeed, hopefully within a context of actual friendship and a feeling of Christian brotherhood). I see successful models of this kind of ecumenism in the ECT accords and the ongoing Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. Anti-Catholics, of course, cannot have such a discussion because they demote Catholicism from Christianity. For them, then, it is always a superior-subordinate relationship; usually descending rapidly into outright condescension and a patronizing attitude. For obvious reasons, then, a Catholic simply cannot dialogue with them. I've tried for 14 years, and recently finally gave up on the attempt altogether.

There is no single area in which my theological understanding would not benefit from the corrective provided by other Christians.

This is exactly what I mean (i.e., the first half of my paragraph above). Good for you. This is the ecumenical attitude. It is the Christian spirit of humility, and what makes good discussion possible. I wholeheartedly agree with you again.

There is a significant possibility that there are some correctives that you can provide to my position on the Eucharist.


Whilst I see little hope of either of us persuading the other of our opinions in their entirety, I seldom leave a discussion without my view having been refined and challenged by the process of debate. I trust that this will prove to be no exception.

Same here. This has already been an excellent discussion, and I feel that it will only get better as we continue on, exploring different facets of the question.

Lord-willing, the following post will serve to identify areas of difference more closely. I intend this post as an extended expression of one of my root convictions about the Eucharist. I hope that you will regard it in this light, rather than as a direct challenge to your position. Ideally you will be able to respond by revealing to what degree the following points represent shared convictions, and to what degree your convictions in this area differ from my own.

Fair enough.

Finally, I would value your patience. I will probably not be able to respond to you as quickly as either of us would like. At the moment I am sorely lacking in both the time and the energy that I require.

That's fine. Just let me know, if you would, when new responses are up.

You describe transubstantiation as a ‘miracle’. I would resist using such language to describe what happens in the Supper, not because we do not eat of Christ’s body and drink of His blood,

I must "interrupt" you already, because this makes little sense to me. You want to maintain the realism of the terminology "we . . . eat of Christ’s body and drink of His blood," on the one hand, but you (in effect) immediately take it away with the other, by denying that it is supernatural. There are only so many choices here. If you want to take a merely symbolic view, then that is one way to resolve the dilemma. But you deny that position. You want to maintain "eucharistic realism," and even claim the description "transubstantiation" for yourself (I think, wrongly). Yet this can't be without some supernatural element being present.

The reason is rather obvious: bread and wine are clearly not Jesus' Body and Blood. They are, well, bread and wine. If you agree with me that something happens during a Christian service whereby Jesus' Body and Blood are now present in a "real" way, then either it is just word games (and thus reduces to Zwingli's symbolism, in my opinion), or there is truly something more present (and that, more than merely "spiritually," which is how God is with us all the time). But to the extent that the "more" is physical, it must be miraculous. I don't see how it could not be. We're not dealing with science and natural philosophy here, but with the "metaphysical" and spiritual mysteries of the faith.

Whatever you believe, it is assuredly supernatural or miraculous, because it involves notions and realities that transcend mere bread and wine. Any atheist would think we were both nuts, and perfectly irrational, and he would, precisely because he doesn't accept the supernatural (or spiritual realities). Those categories are nonsensical to him. I think an atheist would find it rather strange that you are denying the supernatural in your analysis, when to him it clearly would appear that supernatural concepts and entities are involved for either of our beliefs (which to him would probably seem to be only variations on a theme).

but because it generally presupposes a purely extrinsic relationship between some realm of ‘nature’ and another putative realm of ‘super-nature’. A miracle is an invasion of the former by the latter. I am trying to reject the idea of an extrinsic relationship in favour of a more intrinsic relationship.

First of all, I don't see why this dichotomy has to be made in the first place, or why you are inclined to believe that this ought to be the case. Where does that presupposition come from?

Secondly, it could be argued that the spiritual, theological realm is an ongoing supernatural reality. It is, in other words (at least in some sense), a perpetual "miracle." By definition, "supernature" is more than nature. The eucharist is one such entity. We're talking about more than bread and wine, and much more than bread and wine being piously regarded as only symbols for remembrance. Thus, again, the supernatural is, it seems to me, necessarily involved.

Thirdly, I find it odd that you would be inclined towards a less miraculous or non-miraculous conception, when all indications are that the New Covenant and the Eucharist instituted by our Lord Jesus Himself, have "miraculous" and "new" written all over them. Jesus referred back to the manna in the wilderness in his John 6 (quite eucharistic) discourse. Manna was miraculous. It wasn't natural. It came from heaven, by God's decree. The feeding of the five thousand -- closely examined -- shows signs of some sacramental, eucharistic meaning (and it was a meal, just as manna provided a good many meals for the Jews in the wilderness). That, too, was a miracle: an "intersection" between a powerful Lord and His people. When Jesus appeared to the dsciples after His Resurrection, He had a Body which was capable of very "unnatural" things, such as what appeared to be "walking through walls." That was beyond our normal humdrum experience, too. So where you see a routine meal, I see wondrous miracles and parallels to same all over the place. What's fascinating to me is why we have these different approaches at all. Why do you see it one way, and I, another? This is prior to the dogmatic, denominational considerations. It has to do with, rather, what you described as "root convictions." One reason I love dialogues like this one so much, is that it allows the participants a chance to explore the "whys and wherefores" of such prior convictions and presuppositions.

Chief among my problems with the doctrine of transubstantiation in many of its common forms is that the Supper is perceived as possessing some ontology peculiar to itself as ‘sacrament’, something that sharply separates it from the form of sacramentality possessed by the world in general.

This reveals, I think, some of the problems in your thinking. As I discussed in my last reply, sacraments are inherently a mixing of natural and supernatural, because what they mean is "some form of matter which conveys grace." Grace is a supernatural entity, not a natural one. So the dead guy is thrown onto Elisha's bones (natural) and he is raised from the dead (supernatural). Paul's handkerchief (natural) heals people (supernatural). Jesus uses mud to put into the blind man's eyes (natural), and he sees (supernatural). The woman touches Jesus' robe and is healed (this is what we call in Catholic theology a "secondary relic"). Water is poured on a baby's head (natural), and regeneration occurs (supernatural). Are not all these things "sharply separated" from the natural world in general? They're not natural at all, insofar as spiritual,
supernatural elements are involved in each one of them.

Rather than standing in a very clear continuity with the Passover that precedes it and the daily meals that surround it, the Eucharist ends up becoming something quite alien to these things — a miracle.

I don't see it as "alien" at all. If you go back to the roots of the Passover, that was as miraculous as any of the other major events in Hebrew and salvation history. The Jews were instructed to put lamb's blood "on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses" (Ex 12:7). God would see that and pass over each house which had it (hence the name), while He smote the Egyptian firstborn (Ex 12:12-13). This is thoroughly sacramental, and also equally supernatural and miraculous. It's not routine or "natural" at all. It has nothing to do with "natural" except that natural means were used to produce a supernatural, sacramental effect, according to the essential nature of all sacraments and sacramentals (in Catholicism, things such as holy water, relics, blessings, crucifixes, scapulars, etc.). The blood of lambs and goats somehow caused God to not judge sinners. Later, of course, the blood of Jesus the Lamb of God, would cover our sins and cause us to be spiritually saved, just as the Jews were physically saved from judgment (the former was a type or shadow of, and analogy to, the latter). That's supernatural. It seems to me, then, that all indications favor a "supernaturalist" conception of both Passover and the Eucharist which was a later development of it.

Once again, I am not denying that we feed on Christ in the Supper. 

I don't have the slightest idea what you mean by that if you deny that it is a supernatural occurrence. I contend that unless it is miraculous, it reduces to pure Zwinglian symbolism, which is not supernatural at all. Anyone can sit there and remember what Jesus did for them. They can do that anywhere and at any time, and need no special service to do it.

What I am denying is the idea that the Supper is somehow some radically different entity from the Passover and our day-to-day meals. 

Yes and no. It's not "radically different" from the Passover. It is a consistent development of it, in accordance with general New Testament and New Covenant principles of how things developed (Sunday worship as a development of the old Sabbath is another such instance). Jews observed Passover once a year. Christians observe the Eucharist every Sunday. It's more intense; the miraculous is made the centerpiece of worship in a way that Judaism couldn't do (for lack of the sheer number of Lambs, for one thing). Jesus has become our Passover Lamb. The parallels are striking and most fascinating. The Mass is also similar to our "daily meals" insofar as it is a communal gathering and partaking of (what was and still appears to be) bread and wine. Families gather together as a "community" to eat dinner; so do assemblies of Christians, the Family or People of God.

Catholic apologist Dr. Scott Hahn explored the relationship of Passover and Eucharist in his fascinating talk, "The Fourth Cup" (one of my very favorites of his). Here are some highlights (in green):

. . . we know the way the Passover has been celebrated for centuries, for millenia; it's a very ancient liturgy, it's well known, it's no secret. Jews still celebrate it according to the same structure. There are four cups that represent the structure of the Passover. The first cup is the blessing of the festival day, it's the kiddush cup. The second cup of wine occurs really at the beginning of the Passover liturgy itself, and that involves the singing of psalm 113. And then there's the third cup, the cup of blessing which involves the actual meal, the unleavened bread and so on. And then, before the fourth cup, you sing the great hil-el psalms: 114, 115, 116, 117 and 118. And having sung those psalms you proceed to the fourth cup which for all practical purposes is the climax of the Passover.

Now what's the problem? The problem is that gospel account says something like this: after the third cup is drunk Jesus says, "I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until I am entering into the kingdom of God." And it says, "Then they sang the psalms." Every Jew who knows the
liturgy would expect: and then they went ahead and said the grace and the blessing and had the fourth cup which climaxed and consummated the Passover. But no, the gospel account say they sang the psalms and went out into the night.

. . . Where did they go? Well, we just read, Gethsemane. And what did he do? He prayed, because his soul was so distressed. Notice what he prayed, and why, and how he did it. Three times he fell down to the ground and said to his Father, he cried out. "Abba, Father!" The most intimate of terms. "All things are possible to Thee. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt." Remove this cup. Take away this cup. What is this cup? Now, some scholars suggest that this harkens back to an image used by Isaiah and Jeremiah to speak about the cup of God's wrath that the Messiah, God's suffering servant, must drink. There's certainly some connection that can be made there, but much more likely, I think, is a connection between an interrupted liturgy that had been followed strictly up until the very end and this heartfelt, earnest plea and prayer of our Savior. Remove this cup. He also said, though, "I shall not taste of the fruit of the vine again until I enter into the kingdom."

. . . John sees in this so much more than we can get into, but one thing in particular. Verse 28, "After this" - at the very end of his cruel sufferings - "Jesus, knowing that all was now finished said, in order to fulfill the scriptures, 'I thirst.'" Now, he's been on the cross for hours. Is this the first moment of thirst. No, he'd been wracked with pain and dying of thirst for hours. But he says, in order to fulfill the scripture, "I thirst." Why? To fulfill the scripture.

"A bowl of sour wine stood there. They put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch - the same kind of branch the Israelites had to use to sprinkle the lamb's blood on the doorpost, coincidentally enough - and held it to his mouth. Before when they offered him wine, what did he do? He refused it: "I will not taste of the fruit of the vine I am coming into the kingdom." He skipped the fourth cup and then he went to pray, 'Remove this cup, not as I will , but as thou wilt,' And now he has gone and fulfilled that will to the uttermost, in perfect suffering obedience to the Father, in an act of unspeakable love.

"They put a sponge full of the sour wine on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine he said the words that are spoken of in the fourth cup consummation, "It is finished." What is the it referring to? That grammatical question began really bothering me at some point. I asked several people and their response was usually, "Well, it means the work of redemption that Christ was working on." All right, that's true, I agree it does refer to that, but in context. An exegete, a trained interpreter of the word is supposed to find the contextual meaning, not just import a meaning from a theology textbook. What is Jesus speaking of when he says, "It is finished?" I mean, our redemption is not completed once he - he's not yet raised. Paul says, "He was raised for our justification."

. . . He said, 'It is finished', and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit, his breath. The it, of course you realize by now, is the Passover sacrifice. Because who is Jesus Christ? He is the sacrifice of Egypt, the firstborn son. Remember, the Egyptians involuntarily had to offer up their firstborn sons as atonement for their own sins and wickedness. Christ dies for Egypt and the world. Plus, he is the Passover lamb, the unblemished lamb, without broken bones who offers himself up for the life of the world. This fits with John's gospel, because as soon as Jesus was introduced in chapter 1 of the fourth gospel by John the Baptist, what did John say? He said, "Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." And here is the lamb, headed for the altar of the cross, dying as a righteous firstborn and as an unblemished lamb. I believe that it's best to say in light of scripture that the sacrifice of Christ did not begin with the first spike, it didn't begin when the cross was sunk into the ground. It began in the upper room. That's where the sacrifice began. And I would also suggest that the Passover meal by which Jesus initiated the new Covenant in his own blood did not end in the upper room, but at Calvary. It's all of one piece. The sacrifice begins in the upper room with the institution of the Eucharist and it ends at Calvary. Calvary begins with the Eucharist. The Eucharist ends at Calvary. But in another way of thinking, it ain't over yet! Cause it ain't over till it's over. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, "Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed, therefore" - what? - we don't need to have any more sacrifice? Therefore we don't need to have any more ritual, therefore all we have to do is have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and invite him into our hearts and everything else is taken care of? No, he's too knowledgeable about the Old Testament to say any of that. He says, "Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed; let us therefore celebrate the feast." What feast? The whole Passover feast. It's not complete yet.

. . . You had to eat the lamb. It isn't enough to kill him. That is the satisfaction for sin, but the ultimate goal of sacrifice is not blood and gore and God making sure He sees the death. The ultimate goal is to restore communion, to have fellowship with God restored. And that's what's signified by eating the lamb. Who shares a common meal? Family. What is this a sign of? Covenant. And what is a covenant? A sacred family bond. In the Old Testament any family that sacrificed a lamb and sprinkled the blood had to eat the lamb.

. . . Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Once and for all on Calvary he's been put to death, therefore - what? Therefore we've nothing to do. Just celebrate the sacrifice, which is over and done with - No, something's missing. We need to eat the Lamb. We need to receive the Lamb to restore communion and to complete the sacrifice and to keep the feast. It's proper, and we now judge it to be necessary. 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, "Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed and now let us celebrate the feast." And the next five chapters in many ways St. Paul describes how the Eucharist is to be celebrated, because it's the culmination of the Passover sacrifice.

This is a true sacrifice. It's an unbloody sacrifice, because we're not killing Jesus again. This was something I never really understood as a Protestant anti-Catholic. I thought for sure that because you speak of sacrificing in the Mass, that therefore in some way you believe we're killing
Jesus again and again and again, as though one dying is not enough. So we just assumed and I always taught that there was suffering imposed upon Christ supposedly in the Mass. This is blasphemous because his one act of dying wasn't enough and we had to continue to have him die and bleed and suffer, which is what the Mass is for. No way! That's anti-Catholic. No Catholic can believe that because the sacrifice of the Mass involves no bleeding , no dying and no suffering of the person of Christ, who is enthroned in glory and reigning triumphant in heaven. He is
resurrected. He is ascended. He is enthroned, and he rules as king of kings.

. . . In [Revelation 5] verse 6 John says, "I saw a lamb standing there as though it had been slain." The conquering king, the lion of the tribe of Judah , the root of David ruling and reigning in the new and glorified Jerusalem, up in heaven, and when you see him what's he look like? A lamb, looking as though he'd been slain. Why? because Revelation 5, and then 6 and 7 and 8 all describe what St, John saw in spirit on the Lord's Day up in heaven. And guess what? It's what you see in the spirit on the Lord's day down on earth. A Eucharistic liturgy. And the Lamb leads all of the saints and the angels and the people of God in this beautiful heavenly liturgy.

. . . In the early Church fathers it went without argument, it went without saying that the liturgy on earth was patterned after the vision that St. John had of the heavenly worship. But notice the appearance of our conquering king. He's a lamb looking as though he'd been slain. Why? Because the Holy Spirit resurrected the body of Jesus and it was ascended into heaven and it was enthroned and it appears as a lamb because the sacrifice continues. Because the Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament was not complete until all of God's people who trusted the Lord and wanted to obey the ordinance received the Lamb and received the covenant and the sacred family bond of the Lamb. And so likewise the New Covenant, the heavenly family the spiritual supernatural bond that unties us as brothers and sisters . . .

. . . Someone once said, "He hides his adorable humanity in the humble appearance of ordinary bread and wine so that we might find that peace and joy that comes from being despised and rejected as he was in his life." He hides his adorable humanity. Do we adore it? In the humble
appearance of ordinary bread and wine? He will sustain our soul and the life of the Spirit like bread and wine sustain the life of the body. So that we might find that peace and joy that comes from being despised. The world would laugh at such a statement. The Eucharist is proof that it's true. Peace and joy that comes from being despised and rejected as he was in this life. In the Eucharist he is forgotten, rejected and sacrilegiously received and profaned, yet he remains there to nourish us with his precious body and blood."

The manner in which the Eucharist is practiced in many churches serves to present the Supper as separated from the rest of life.

Of course it is. It's not "usual" or "common" in everyday life to have Jesus walk into the room. When that happens, you get on your face on the floor at His feet, and beg for mercy (as Isaiah did when He "saw God" -- Isaiah 6:1-5). Thus, Catholics worship Jesus in the Eucharist, and confess our sins before receiving Him. And we genuflect and bow our heads at the consecration. It's the most glorious part of the liturgy, and the reason we are all there. This is "real presence." Jesus is "really" there, just as if we were back in Galilee with Peter and the fishermen. You want to talk about Real Presence, but you also don't want to act as you would if Jesus made a post-Resurrection appearance and stood before you, right by your computer, as you are reading this. What would you do, then? Would you say, "well, my Lord, I do adore You and worship You and serve You with all my heart, but I don't believe that this meeting with you should be regarded as separate from the rest of my life. It's not supernatural. It's only natural. You lived as a Man and here you are now with me." Is that not a rather obvious reductio ad absurdum? I think so.

Rather than being the fulfilment of all that our daily meals were designed to be, the Supper soon loses all resemblance to any other supper.

Just as Passover is no ordinary supper; nor was the miracle of manna in the desert, nor was the feeding of the 5000, nor the Last Supper itself, nor the pictures we have of heavenly worship in Revelation, in which St. John saw Jesus as a "lamb slain." I don't know where you get this. Passover had to do with sacrifice, It was no ordinary meal at all. Jesus is the New Testament Passover Lamb. He was sacrificed on our behalf. The Mass makes that one-time sacrifice present here and now. Time and space are transcended (just as in heavenly worship). Jesus is the Sacrifice. We still have priests today, who offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, with the people. We commemorate the cross, and Jesus is actually present as well. Otherwise, the Eucharist is no different in kind than the Passover. If nothing supernatural occurs, it is even lesser in a major way than the Passover. But the New Covenant pattern is for more supernaturalism and greater things to occur. Baptism actually confers regeneration, and all believers can be filled with the Spirit. That is far more than the precursor to that ritual, circumcision did (it was a physical sign and no more, as far as I know).

I strongly believe that the Supper should be regarded as one of one daily meals. For this reason, I am firmly in favour of the practice of celebrating the Eucharist within the context of a meal that the gathered assembly of the church all partake of. Sometime in the course of the meal, the bread should be taken by the head of the assembly and he should offer a simple prayer of thanksgiving (e.g. ‘Lord, we thank You for bread, which You have given to sustain men’s hearts’); then, after pronouncing the words of institution, it should be distributed by the deacons. At the conclusion of the meal the head of the assembly should take the cup, offer another simple prayer of thanksgiving (e.g. ‘Lord, we thank You for wine, which You have given to make men’s hearts glad’); then the words of institution should be pronounced and the deacons should pass it around to the congregation. All the baptized (but only the baptized) should partake, young children included. Such a practice is far more preferable to partaking while on your knees in front of a communion rail. This is a strange way to eat a meal. 

Your description sounds like what we used to do at prayer meetings; just get some pita bread and grape juice and do a "communion service." But we believe that a validly ordained priest must preside. Not just anyone can do this. Catholics show signs of reverence when we meet and receive Jesus. You would do that if He walked into your room right now. So we Catholics act that way because we believe He is really present. What you describe could be done by anyone anywhere.

Once transubstantiation has been elevated to the status of ‘miracle’, it is effectively sundered from the OT rites that preceded it.

I think that is exactly the opposite of the truth, as I have shown above, through many examples. Is this about cessationism? Is that why you are reluctant to accept the miraculous? Does God still perform miracles today?

Transubstantiation is ‘supernatural’ in a manner that the Passover meal never was.

It "never" was? God passes over the Jews because of blood on door posts and kills Egyptians, but that is not supernatural? No natural calamity would spare people because of blood on doors. It was of a piece with all the other plagues that God brought upon Egypt and Pharaoh. I find this
quite odd. It's a different kind of miracle, but it is still supernatural.

As a result the focus of Eucharistic theology is drawn away from the OT background to elaborate philosophical constructs designed to articulate the precise ‘mechanics’ of the miracle of transubstantiation.

If you don't like that, then ignore it. The Orthodox don't do much of that, but they still believe in transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood.

I am arguing that the ‘substance’ of the sacrament does not change from the old to the new covenant. In some sense or other, the ‘substance’ is Christ in both covenants (this is not to deny that we have a far deeper participation in Christ in the new covenant). The new covenant Eucharist is a ‘conjugation’ of a number of OT rites. The Eucharist is the fulfilment and consummation of the Passover as it is a manifestation of, and participation in, the new covenant order, where Christ is all in all. The Eucharist will one day itself be fulfilled and consummated in the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. The Eucharist is a foretaste of the Marriage Supper in a similar manner to the manner in which the Passover was a foretaste in the Eucharist.

No particular comment . . . I can agree with some of this, but as it is unpacked, we would have disagreements too.

What is my point in all of this? My point is simply that the Supper is woven into the fabric of the whole of our lives. The Supper is somehow continuous with the meals that we eat from day to day; the Supper is somehow continuous with all of the God-ordained eating rites in the previous
history of the people of God. As James Jordan and others have observed, the basic form of the action in the Supper (i.e. taking, thanking, separating, renaming, distributing, evaluating, enjoying) is one that is more or less applicable to almost every series of actions in our lives. Man
takes parts of the world, restructures them, renames them, presents them in some form or other to different people, who evaluate these restructured parts of the world and (hopefully) go on to enjoy them. This pattern is exhibited even in the most mundane actions of life.

You can't remove the mystery of faith from the Eucharist. You can have all these other understandings, too, without removing the miracle. The Catechism acknowledges many different aspects of the Eucharist (#1322-1407).

Sinful man consistently approaches the sequence as follows: take, give thanks, restructure, rename, distribute, evaluate, enjoy (Romans 1:21). The ritual of the Eucharist is designed (among many other things) to impress upon us this second element in the sequence in order that we might live the whole of our lives eucharistically.

Sure; I have no problem with that.

The Eucharistic elements are some of the most common and fundamental elements of human life and culture. If they are drawn into the new world order, somehow the entirety of human culture is implicated also. By construing transubstantiation as a ‘discrete miraculous exception’ (Catherine Pickstock’s phrase), the fabric of this world is no longer implicated in the same way in the Eucharistic celebration. This is one of the chief things that concern me about the position that you seem to be articulating. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you here.

But Catholics don't eliminate the "communal meal" aspects of the Eucharist. I don't see why it has to be "de-supernaturalized" in order to have that understanding (we don't disagree on that). I think it is wrongheaded to view the matter as a continuation of daily life more so than to view it as a compelling, profound, existential experience of the central tenet of faith and greatest moment in the history of the world and of salvation history: the crucifixion and Jesus' sacrifice and atonement for the sins of the world. That's how we look at it: the cross is made present, and we receive our Lord. This is what Christian ritual and worship is about. It's not abstract. It is very concrete. And that is the sacramental, incarnational essence of worship.

The Body and Blood that we eat and drink are not just ‘phenomenologically’ bread and wine, but are completely continuous with the reality of bread and wine. The bread is not evacuated of its substance (as if it were a container) to make room for the Body; rather the bread now subsists in the Body and the Body is present in the bread. The bread now ‘lives and moves and has its being’ (for want of a better way of putting it) in Christ. The manner in which the bread is taken up into Christ and receives its substance from Him (by the work of the Holy Spirit) makes the language of ‘transubstantiation’ appropriate. As Pickstock expresses it in her defence of Aquinas’ doctrine, ‘the substantiality of the bread is not so much destroyed as more utterly constituted by being taken up into God.’ I find little to object to in this statement.

We've gone over this. I would simply reiterate again: if Jesus is truly present physically, as He was when He walked the earth, then you ought to adore Him in the worship service. If He's not there in that fashion you should cease talking about both transubstantiation and Real Presence. You want to strangely mix the two: have some kind of presence beyond what we have everyday, yet not worship. I wouldn't worship, either, if bread and wine were still there, because that is idolatry. It is precisely because I believe that bread and wine are transformed, that I worship my Lord Jesus at Mass. I bow my head and genuflect and receive kneeling (we have an altar rail at my church, which is liturgically traditional). We should all lie on the ground on our faces and heap dust and ashes on our heads (one could reasonably argue), but this is the way that the Church has decided that worship should be expressed, so I conform myself to those norms of worship.

I do not believe in impanation. What takes place in the Supper is not a matter of Christ coming into our world in order to inhabit it (as was the case in the Incarnation),

I wouldn't distance the Eucharist from the Incarnation. I want to make more connections, because I see them as very similar. But if you deny this, too, then that only shows me that you scarcely believe in Real Presence at all, as historically defined. I've tried very hard to see the Reformed (and Calvin's own) view of the Eucharist as some form of "Real Presence," but the more I learn, the more it seems apparent to me that the two concepts cannot be reconciled. Perhaps this is why (so I hear from many of the "high Reformed") many Reformed Christians today are practially Zwinglians with regard to the Eucharist? Calvin already took away too many essential aspects of the Eucharist. Others simply take it further, because once you depart from a received Tradition of Christianity (even a lesser denominational tradition or creed), the overwhelming tendency is for folks to become more and more liberal, and believe less and less (hence, theological liberalism itself, that we are all blessed with).

but is a matter of our world being drawn into and grounded in the resurrected and ascended Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. 

That has already occurred in all of creation, because of the Incarnation. I don't see how or why that would be construed as mitigating against transubstantiation.

It is a matter of the Church drawing its being from Christ. We are ‘transubstantiated’ from a gathering of faithful believers into the Body of Christ as we draw our substance from Him in the celebration of the Eucharist.

This is simply not what the word has meant, historically, or even linguistically. I'm afraid that the tendency to redefine words without reference to how they have been used before, and standard definitions, is a classic hallmark of liberal theology. I think you should be quite reluctant to adopt such a practice, because you obviously are no liberal. First (in liberal thinking), a word is co-opted and redefined. Then it is repeatedly used in that way. Eventually the people at large adopt the new definition. Thus, by simply changing the meaning of words, traditional doctrines can be eroded. We see the same thing in the Catholic Church. "Real Presence" has been so eroded historically that 70% of Catholics have picked up this thinking, and deny transubstantiation, as defined by the Church.

Such a form of ‘transubstantiation’, which is the position that I essentially hold to,

You must know that the word transubstantiation has meant a certain thing, that can be identified. Why use the word, then, when you clearly have in mind something else? I've never understood this. It's as if you want to modify the Catholic belief by claiming the Catholic word for your own use.

is totally consistent with the claim that adoration of the elements is unbiblical and idolatrous. 

Sure; if Jesus truly isn't there, then it would be (as worship of bread and wine is idolatry). If He is there, on the other hand, He should be worshiped, because the presence of bread and wine also would not necessarily change that obligation. It would be as if Jesus was standing there with a loaf of bread. If you worshiped Him, the bread would be irrelevant. Or would you call that idolatry too? If you worshiped Jesus when He was sitting on a throne in heaven, would that be idolatry because you are worshiping the throne too? I don't get it.

The analogy between the manner in which the Christ is the body of Christ and the manner in which the bread is the body of Christ is also thoroughly appropriate within the form of transubstantiation expressed above. The Church gains its substance from Christ — we are bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh — but the Church is still in some manner distinct from Christ. In the same manner the bread and wine take their substance from Christ, but are not to be worshipped as Christ. The change in substance is not a sufficient proof for the validity of the common forms of Eucharistic adoration.

I remain perplexed as to how you work this out in your own mind. But I enjoyed the dialogue very much. Thanks again.