Saturday, March 04, 2006

"Is This God?" (Treatise on the Blessed Eucharist)

- including Critique by Protestant Polemicist Jason Vanezia, and Counter-Reply -

This article was the cover story in Envoy Magazine, Jan/Feb 2000 issue. Here it is presented in my own original version (before editing).

[originally uploaded on 26 June 2000]

Jason's words will be in green.

*****

I held aloft with both my hands the golden chalice, gazing upwards at it, performing one of the central liturgical rituals of the Mass, in which the consecration of the wine takes place. My attitude, however, was not one of reverence or solemnity. I possessed neither the eyes of faith, nor the traditional Christian understanding of the Blessed Eucharist. I was not standing at an altar, let alone in a church. My friend and frequent evangelistic partner, nearby, was neither kneeling, nor bowing his head, nor crossing himself. He was chuckling, and I myself had a mocking, sarcastic scowl, as I wore a makeshift priestly robe, looking as ridiculous as the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz, in his "king's robe."

For I was not a priest, or ordained clergyman of any sort. I was a non-denominational evangelical Protestant lay missionary, and my former Catholic friend and I were making light of the gestures and rituals of a priest as he performs the Mass. This was in the late 1980s, several years away from my own surprising conversion to Catholicism, in 1990. I still have the shameful photograph of this mock liturgy - taken by my friend. It remains an absurd testament to my former rather dim comprehension of liturgy and sacramentalism - as well as a certain adolescent silliness when it came to Things Catholic, just as we oftentimes see in many anti-Catholic "ministries" and individuals today.

The interesting thing to ponder in retrospect is the question of how I - a serious evangelical Christian, who had a well above average knowledge of, and appreciation for, Church history - could have had such an insufficient understanding of the Holy Eucharist: the central focus of Christian worship for 1500 years up to the advent of Protestantism? How is it that I could somehow manage to regard liturgy itself as a stale, boring, non-essential "extra" which was by no means necessary to Christian communal fellowship?

*** CLICK ON "Tolle, lege!" immediately below to finish this article ***



Despite this (which makes it fascinating to think about now), I actually had a fairly high respect - relatively speaking - for the Lord's Supper, or Holy Communion, or Holy Eucharist. My belief was somewhat akin to John Calvin's "mystical presence," which was a "step higher" than the purely symbolic view which many Protestants today hold. Nor did I for a moment believe that what was taking place at the Last Supper was merely empty ritual, or its re-creation a bare "remembrance." Furthermore, I wasn't "anti-Catholic" in the sense that I would ever have denied that the Catholic Church was Christian, or that it had commendably preserved the Bible and what I then called "central Christian doctrine" throughout all the centuries prior to the 16th.

To understand how such an odd state of affairs could happen at all requires one to delve a bit into past Church history, especially the course of Protestant doctrinal history. My friend and I - as is characteristic of so many non-Catholics - thought, in the final analysis, that the Eucharist was an accretion, an optional part of the Church service, because we were simply being good evangelical low-church Protestants (albeit without much reflection on this particular point). Most Protestant denominations have elevated the sermon to the primary position and climax of the Sunday service. Everything builds up to it. For many attendees (including, formerly, myself - very much so), the sermon was the thing to look forward to, and the drawing card (especially if one's particular pastor was especially skilled at oratory and homiletics). It was the means by which one got "fired up," exhorted, and charged to go out and make a difference in the world, as a Christian disciple (things which aren't bad, in and of themselves).

Don't get me wrong. I still appreciate a good sermon (including many non-Catholic ones), and I wish more stirring preaching could be had in the Catholic Church. I passionately love, for example, Cardinal Newman's collected sermons (most from his Anglican period), which contain far more "spiritual meat" for reflection than any Protestant sermonizing I am aware of. But much of Protestantism has transformed church almost exclusively into a prolonged liturgy of the Word - that is, the first half of the Catholic Mass -, with usually far less actual Bible reading, and a sermon many times longer than the average ten-minute Catholic homily. I speak mainly of low-church evangelicalism, but it is not too far-fetched to apply this observation to Protestantism as a whole.

Groups like the Anglicans, Methodists, and Lutherans retain the weekly Eucharist as the central aspect of their worship service, but other denominations, such as Presbyterians, Baptists, pentecostals, and the many non-denominational groups, tend to have Communion once a month. Most Mennonites observe Holy Communion only twice a year; Quakers and the Salvation Army - amazingly enough - not at all. The latter two groups don't practice any sacraments, or "ordinances" or "rites," including even baptism.

Behind this sort of thinking lies an antipathy to sacramentalism itself, in which it is held that matter can convey grace. Accordingly, Protestants who place less emphasis on the Eucharist tend to also regard baptism as basically a symbolic ritual also, without the regenerating power which Catholics believe it inherently possesses. And we must ask ourselves why this is; how vast portions of Christianity can today deny what was accepted without question by virtually all Christians right up to the time of Martin Luther (who also retained the doctrine of the Real Presence in slightly-diluted form, and baptismal regeneration as well)?

The first Christian leader of any consequence and lasting historical importance and influence to deny the Real Presence was Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531), the Swiss Protestant "Reformer." He dissented from not only received Catholic doctrine, but also from the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation, which gained him Martin Luther's considerable hostility and inveterate opposition (the Founder of Protestantism regarded him as "damned" and "out of the Church" for precisely this reason). We shall briefly examine some of the rationale Zwingli gives for adopting this novel, radical position, which set the tone for all subsequent Protestant symbolic viewpoints:

A sacrament is the sign of a holy thing. When I say: The sacrament of the Lord's body, I am simply referring to that bread which is the symbol of the body of Christ who was put to death for our sakes. The papists all know perfectly well that the word sacrament means a sign and nothing more, for this is the sense in which it has always been used by Christian doctors . . . the sign and the thing signified cannot be one and the same. Therefore the sacrament of the body of Christ cannot be the body itself.

(On the Lord's Supper, 1526, translated by G.W. Bromiley; in Zwingli and Bullinger, edited, with introductions and notes, by G.W. Bromiley, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953, 176-238; this excerpt from p. 188)
First of all, it is simply untrue that Christian doctors "always" denied the "reality" aspect of the sacraments, particularly concerning the Eucharist. This matter is so well-documented as to seriously bring into question Zwingli's credibility as a student of Christian doctrinal history. Literally hundreds of counter-examples could be brought forth, but suffice it to say that the evidence for the Real Presence in the Eucharist in the Church Fathers is among the most compelling of any of the doctrines or dogmas which Protestants now dispute. As proof of this, I shall cite just one standard Protestant reference work, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Second edition, edited by F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, 475-476: "Eucharist"):

That the Eucharist conveyed to the believer the Body and Blood of Christ was universally accepted from the first, and language was very commonly used which referred to the Eucharistic elements as themselves the Body and Blood . . . From the fourth century, the language about the transformation of the elements began to become general . . . The first controversies on the nature of the Eucharistic Presence date from the earlier Middle Ages.
Secondly, "sign" and "reality" need not be opposed to each other. Later in his essay Zwingli attempts to enlist St. Augustine as espousing his views, by exploiting this false dichotomy. But Augustine accepted the Real Presence as well as a conception of the Eucharist in which it is also a "sign" (just as the Catholic Church does today). In popular terms, this argument doesn't fly! The Bible itself confirms this. For example, Jesus refers to the "sign of Jonah," comparing Jonah's time in the belly of the fish to His own burial (Mt 12:38-40). In other words, both events, although described as "signs," were literally real events. Jesus also uses the same terminology in connection with His Second Coming (Mt 24:30-31), which is, of course, believed by all Christians to be a literal, not a symbolic occurrence.

J.N.D. Kelly, a highly-respected Protestant scholar of early Church doctrine and development, writing about patristic views in the fourth and fifth centuries, concurs:

It must not be supposed, of course, that this 'symbolical' language implied that the bread and wine were regarded as mere pointers to, or tokens of, absent realities. Rather were they accepted as signs of realities which were somehow actually present though apprehended by faith alone.

(Early Christian Doctrines, revised edition, 1978, San Francisco: Harper Collins, 442)
About St. Augustine in particular, Kelly concludes:

. . . There are certainly passages in his writings which give a superficial justification to all these interpretations, but a balanced verdict must agree that he accepted the current realism . . . One could multiply texts . . . which show Augustine taking for granted the traditional identification of the elements with the sacred body and blood. There can be no doubt that he shared the realism held by almost all his contemporaries and predecessors.

(Ibid., 446-447)

Likewise, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church makes the same point about allusions to "symbolism" with regard to the general teaching of the Church Fathers:

Even where the elements were spoken of as 'symbols' or 'antitypes' there was no intention of denying the reality of the Presence in the gifts.

(Ibid., 475)
Zwingli gets down to brass tacks in the following blast against Catholic eucharistic doctrine, and it is here where I believe we begin to clearly see the philosophical and skeptical roots of his false belief:

The manna which came down from heaven was of the same size and shape as coriander seed, but its taste was quite different. Here the case is otherwise, for what we see and what we taste are exactly the same, bread and wine. And how can we say that it is flesh when we do not perceive it to be such? If the body were there miraculously, the bread would not be bread, but we should perceive it to be flesh. Since, however, we see and perceive bread, it is evident that we are ascribing to God a miracle which he himself neither wills nor approves: for he does not work miracles which cannot be perceived.

(in Bromiley, ibid., 196)
I answer Zwingli as follows:

The Eucharist was intended by God as a different kind of miracle from the outset, requiring more profound faith, as opposed to the "proof" of tangible, empirical miracles. But in this it was certainly not unique among Christian doctrines and traditional beliefs - many fully shared by our Protestant brethren. The Virgin Birth, for example, cannot be observed or proven, and is the utter opposite of a demonstrable miracle, yet it is indeed a miracle of the most extraordinary sort. Likewise, in the Atonement of Jesus the world sees a wretch of a beaten and tortured man being put to death on a cross. The Christian, on the other hand, sees there the great miracle of Redemption and the means of the salvation of mankind - an unspeakably sublime miracle, yet who but those with the eyes of faith can see or believe it? In fact, the disciples (with the possible exception of St. John, the only one present) didn't even know what was happening at the time.

Baptism, according to most Christians, imparts real grace of some sort to those who receive it. But this is rarely evident or tangible, especially in infants. Lastly, the Incarnation itself was not able to be perceived as an outward miracle, though it might be considered the most incredible miracle ever. Jesus appeared as a man like any other man. He ate, drank, slept, had to wash, experienced emotion, suffered, etc. He performed miracles and foretold the future, and ultimately raised Himself from the dead, and ascended into heaven in full view, but the Incarnation - strictly viewed in and of itself -, was not visible or manifest in the tangible, concrete way to which Herr Zwingli seems to foolishly think God would or must restrict Himself.

To summarize, Jesus looked, felt, and sounded like a man; no one but those possessing faith would know (from simply observing Him) that He was also God, an uncreated Person who had made everything upon which He stood, who was the Sovereign and Judge of every man with whom He came in contact (and also of those He never met). Therefore, Zwingli's argument proves too much and must be rejected. If the Eucharist is abolished by this supposed "biblical reasoning," then the Incarnation (and by implication, the Trinity) must be discarded along with it.

Besides all that, did not Jesus habitually call us on to a more sublime faith? For instance, in Matthew 12:38-39, Jesus had one of His frequent run-ins with the Pharisees, who requested of Him:

Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.' But he answered them, 'An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.'

(cf. Matthew 16:1-4, Luke 11:29-30, John 2:18-22; NRSV)

Note that He does implicitly appeal to the sign of His Resurrection, but look how He regards the seeking of signs! (see also Mark 8:11-12). In fact, in the eucharistic passage of John 6 our Lord Jesus seems to emphasize the same point by the thrust of His dialogue. He mentions "signs" in 6:26 in reference to the feeding of the five thousand the previous day, but then when they ask Him for a "sign" (6:30), He spurs them on to the more profound faith required with regard to the eucharistic miracle.

Furthermore, we have the example of Doubting Thomas (John 20:24-29). Jesus appeared to Thomas, after His Resurrection, apparently for the express purpose of demonstrating graphically to him that He was raised from the dead. But then what does He say?:

Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Signs, wonders, and miracles (that is, in the empirical, outward sense which Zwingli demands for the Eucharist) do not suffice for many hard-hearted people anyway:

. . . If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.

(Luke 16:31)
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles......For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

(1 Corinthians 1:22-23,25)
Likewise, when He was explaining the Eucharist, Jesus said:

Does this offend you?. . . among you there are some who do not believe . . .

(John 6:61,64)
This is why Jesus merely reiterated His teaching in John 6 in ever-more forceful terms, rather than explain it in a different way, or reveal the meaning of the alleged symbolic language, as many Protestants would have it. He repeated it because He knew that the problem was flat-out unbelief, not lack of comprehension. The Eucharist is no less "foolish" than Christ crucified. People will disbelieve both because they are difficult to grasp with the natural mind, whereas the mind of faith can see and believe them. Romano Guardini, the great Catholic writer, stated about John 6:

Should they have understood? Hardly. It is inconceivable that at any time anyone could have grasped intellectually the meaning of these words. But they should have believed. They should have clung to Christ blindly, wherever he led them . . . and simply said: we do not understand; show us what you mean. Instead they judge, and
everything closes to them.

(The Lord, Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1954, 206)
Jesus could walk through walls after His Resurrection (John 20:26), and even a mere man, Philip, could be "caught away" and transported to another place by God (Acts 8:39-40). So Zwingli, and Protestants who follow his reasoning, think God "couldn't" or "wouldn't" have performed the miracle of the Real Presence and Transubstantiation (which means, literally, "change of substance")? I don't find this line of thought convincing in the least, and no one should rashly attempt to "tie" God's hands by such arguments of alleged implausibility. The fact remains that God clearly can perform any miracle He so chooses.

Many Christian beliefs require a great deal of faith, even relatively "blind" faith. Protestants manage to believe in a number of such doctrines (such as the Trinity, God's eternal existence, omnipotence, angels, the power of prayer, instantaneous justification, the Second Coming, etc.). Why should the Real Presence be singled out for excessive skepticism and unchecked rationalism? I contend that it is due to a preconceived bias against both sacramentalism and matter as a conveyor of grace, which hearkens back to the heresies of Docetism and even Gnosticism, which looked down upon matter, and regarded spirit as inherently superior to matter (following Greek philosophy, particularly Platonism).

The ancient heresy of Docetism held that the sufferings of Christ were apparent rather than real. It is thought by many (based on St. Irenaeus: Against Heresies, 3,11,1, and Eusebius: Church History, 3,28,6) that St. John wrote his Gospel with his Gnostic/Docetic opponent, one Cerinthus (fl. 100 A.D.), in mind, thus accounting for his strong emphasis on Jesus' "flesh" and "blood" - as in John 6. Many Protestants believe that the Eucharist is apparent and not real. But the Eucharist is an extension of the Incarnation of Christ, just as the Church is (most obviously seen in Paul's title of the "Body of Christ"). A denial of the Real Presence might, therefore, be regarded as an anti-incarnational strain of thought.

The prior Catholic assumption of sacramentalism (which lies behind the Real Presence) has a sound biblical basis. The Incarnation, which made the Atonement possible, raised matter to previously unknown heights. God took on human flesh! All created matter was "good" in God's opinion from the start (Genesis 1:25). Most non-sacramental Protestants wouldn't deny the goodness of matter per se, but then - that being the case - their beliefs regarding sacraments are all the more puzzling.

This pervasive anti-eucharistic bias smacks of an analogy to the Jewish and Muslim belief that the Incarnation as an unthinkable (impossible?) task for God to undertake. They view the Incarnation in the same way as the majority of Protestants regard the Eucharist. For them God wouldn't or couldn't or shouldn't become a man. For evangelicals God wouldn't or couldn't or shouldn't become substantially, sacramentally present under the outward forms of bread and wine. I think the dynamic is the same. "Coulda woulda shoulda" theology is not biblical theology. Every Christian exercises faith in things which are very difficult to grasp with the natural mind, because they are revealed to be true by God in the Bible. I have attempted to show why I think Protestants inconsistently require a higher criterion of "proof" where the Holy Eucharist is concerned.

The New Testament is filled with incarnational and sacramental indications: instances of matter conveying grace. The Church is the "Body" of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 1:22-3, 5:30). Jesus even seems to literally equate Himself in some sense with the Church, saying He was "persecuted" by Paul, after the Resurrection (Acts 9:5). Baptism confers regeneration: Acts 2:38, 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21 (cf. Mark 16:16, Romans 6:3-4), 1 Corinthians 6:11, Titus 3:5. Paul's "handkerchiefs" healed the sick (Acts 19:12), as did even Peter's shadow (Acts 5:15), and of course, Jesus' garment (Matthew 9:20-22) and saliva mixed with dirt (John 9:5 ff., Mark 8:22-25), as well as water from the pool of Siloam (John 9:7). Anointing with oil for healing is encouraged (James 5:14). Then there is the laying on of hands for the purpose of ordination and commissioning (Acts 6:6, 1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 1:6) and to facilitate the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17-19, 13:3, 19:6), and for healing (Mark 6:5, Luke 13:13, Acts 9:17-18). Even under the Old Covenant, a dead man was raised simply by coming in contact with the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:21) - which is - incidentally - a biblical proof text for relics.

No a priori biblical or logical case can be made against a literal Eucharist on the grounds that matter is inferior to spirit and/or indicative of a stunted, primitive, "pagan" spirituality or some such similar negative judgment. If Christ could become Man, He can surely will to become
actually and truly present in every sense in what continues to appear as bread and wine, once consecrated. If Protestants wish to argue against the Real Presence, they must do it on scriptural, exegetical grounds, not Docetic, philosophical ones.

The classic biblical texts which Catholics utilize in support of their position are John 6:47-66, Luke 22:19-20 (cf. Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24), 1 Corinthians 10:16, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-30. Zwingli attacks each of these in turn, but with invalid and insubstantial reasoning such as that seen above, spawned from the same false premises and unbiblical philosophical assumptions. I shall now briefly explain why I believe that the standard Protestant objections (following Zwingli) to all these proof texts fail.

As for John 6 and Jesus repeatedly commanding the hearers to "eat my flesh and drink my blood," it is known that such metaphors were synonymous with doing someone grievous injury, in the Jewish mind at that time (see, e.g., Job 19:22, Psalms 27:2, Ecclesiastes 4:5, Isaiah 9:20, 49:26, Micah 3:1-3, Revelation 16:6). Therefore, it isn't plausible to assert that Jesus was speaking metaphorically, according to the standard Protestant hermeneutic of interpreting Scripture in light of the contemporary usages and customs and idioms. We Catholics are often accused of reading our own prior beliefs into the biblical texts, - of special pleading, as it were. With regard to the present question, I submit that non-sacramental Protestants are the ones committing that error.

When His hearers didn't understand what He was saying, the Lord always explained it more fully (e.g., Matthew 19:24-26, John 11:11-14, 8:32-34; cf. 4:31-34, 8:21-23). But when they refused to accept some teaching, He merely repeated it with more emphasis (e.g., Matthew 9:2-7, John 8:56-58). By analogy, then, we conclude that John 6 was an instance of willful rejection (see John 6:63-65; cf. Matthew 13:10-23). Only here in the New Testament do we see followers of Christ abandoning Him for theological reasons (John 6:66). Surely, if their exodus was due to a simple misunderstanding, Jesus would have rectified their miscomprehension. But He did no such thing. Quite the contrary; He continually repeated the same teaching, using even stronger terms (as indicated by different terms in the Greek New Testament). All of this squares with the Catholic interpretation, and is inconsistent with a symbolic exegesis.

Furthermore, Protestants often (ironically) interpret John 6:63 literally, when in fact it was intended metaphorically:

It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (RSV)
Protestants claim that this establishes the symbolic and metaphorical nature of the whole discourse. What they fail to realize is that when the words "flesh" and "spirit" are opposed to each other in the New Testament, it is always a figurative use, in the sense of sinful human nature ("flesh") contrasted with humanity enriched by God's grace ("spirit"). This can be clearly seen in passages such as Matthew 26:41, Romans 7:5-6,25, 8:1-14, 1 Corinthians 5:5, 2 Corinthians 7:1, Galatians 3:3, 4:29, 5:13-26, and 1 Peter 3:18, 4:6. In other words, Jesus is saying that His words can only be received by men endowed with supernatural grace. Those who interpret them in a wooden, carnal way (equating His teaching here with a sort of gross cannibalism) are way off the mark.

Likewise, in the Last Supper passages (Luke 22:19-20; cf. Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24), nothing in the actual text supports a metaphorical interpretation. When the word "is" is meant to be figurative, it is readily apparent (Matthew 13:38, John 10:7, 15:1, 1 Corinthians 10:4), whereas here it is not. The Last Supper was the Jewish feast of Passover, which involved a sacrificial lamb. The disciples could hardly have missed the significance of what Jesus was saying. Before and after this passage, He spoke of His imminent suffering (Luke 22:15-16,18,21-22). John the Baptist had already referred to Him as the "Lamb of God" (John 1:29).

The two Pauline eucharistic passages (1 Corinthians 10:16 and 11:23-30) are also on their face intended quite literally. How can one be guilty of profaning the "body and blood of the Lord" by engaging in a merely symbolic act (1 Corinthians 11:27)? Furthermore, the whole thrust of the contextual passage of 1 Corinthians 10: 14-22 is to contrast Christian eucharistic sacrifice with pagan sacrifice. St. Paul writes in 10:18:

Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?
He had just stated two verses earlier,

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
As the Jewish sacrifices were literal and not symbolic, so is the Christian Sacrifice of the Mass - this is the entire thrust of Paul's argument. Following this line of analogical thought, Paul contrasts the pagan "sacrifice" to the Christian one (10:19-20), and the pagan "table of demons" to the "table [i.e., altar] of the Lord" (10:21). It is inescapable. The Catholic literal interpretation requires no twisting of the text into preconceived notions (which is called "eisegesis").

In conclusion, let's take a moment to look at the actual nature of what occurs in the miracle of transubstantiation. The fully-developed Catholic doctrine drew upon the Aristotelian philosophical categories of "substance" and "accidents" (even though the kernels of the notion of a more undefined Real Presence - and even of transformation - were there all along in Christian Tradition). "Accidental" change occurs when non-essential outward properties are changed in some fashion. For example, water can take on the properties of solidity (ice) and vapor (steam), all the while remaining chemically the same. "Substantial" change, on the other hand, produces something entirely different. One example would be the metabolism of food, which literally becomes part of our bodies as a result of chemical and biological processes brought about by digestion. In our everyday, natural experience, a change of substance is always accompanied by a corresponding transformation of accidents, or properties.

But the Eucharist is a supernatural transformation, in which substantial change occurs without accidental alteration. Thus, the properties of bread and wine continue after consecration, but their essence and substance cease to exist, replaced by the substance of the true and actual Body and Blood of Christ. This is what requires faith, and what causes many to stumble, because it is a miracle of a very sophisticated nature, not amenable to empirical or scientific "proof." But in a sense, it is no more difficult to believe than the changing of water to ice, in which the accidents change, while the substance (molecular structure) doesn't. The Eucharist merely involves the opposite scenario: the substance changes while the accidents don't. Can anyone reasonably contend that one process is any more intrinsically implausible than the other, where an omnipotent God - particularly One who took on human flesh and became Man - is concerned?

Jesus, after His Resurrection, could walk through walls while remaining in His physical (glorified) body (John 20:26-27). How, then, can the Real Presence be regarded as impossible or implausible by many Protestants, who accept numerous other supernatural and mysterious events in Christian theology? We have seen the strong biblical indications of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and also the equally compelling historical record of the Church for 1500 years, prior to Protestantism. We have even delved into some philosophical background and influences, and related theological ones, such as the Incarnation and sacramentalism. All of these point to the Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, a truly towering intellect, whom few would accuse of being unreasonable, gullible, or philosophically naive, put it this way, and with this I shall conclude:

People say that the doctrine of Transubstantiation is difficult to believe . . . It is difficult, impossible to imagine, I grant - but how is it difficult to believe? . . . For myself, I cannot, indeed prove it, I cannot tell how it is; but I say, ' Why should it not be? What's to hinder it? What do I know of substance or matter? Just as much as the greatest philosophers, and that is nothing at all.'

(Apologia pro vita Sua, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1956; originally 1864; 318: part 7: "General Answer to Mr. Kingsley")
Jason Vanezia's Letter to the Editor Critiquing My Article

Dear Editor,

I am delighted to report that I will continue to reject the Catholic Eucharist even after reading Dave Armstrong's defense of it. Here are my reasons:

A) Objections to transubstantiation are sane and rational when put under the magnifying glass of Holy Writ, observation and common sense.

That remains to be seen, and I don't believe Mr. Vanezia has demonstrated it presently (for the reasons I shall give as I proceed).

Mr. Armstrong engages in special pleading when he gazes into his crystal ball and announces that God "intended" the Eucharist to be a different kind of miracle from the outset (p. 37). Rather than speculating on what God "intended", we should carefully observe His illustrious character in His dealings with mankind.

I don't believe it is special pleading at all, in light of Jesus' repeated stressing of the new sort of faith required to accept this teaching, in His discourse in John 6. I'm sure Mr. Vanezia also believes that Jesus is God, so this objection reduces to differing interpretations of John 6. The tortured exegesis and eisegesis of many Protestants with regard to John 6 (in order to "make" it merely figurative) is far more logically and biblically troublesome, in my opinion.

Mr. Armstrong claims a distinct revulsion towards "would've, should've" theology (p.39),

Indeed, unfounded and unbiblical premises are to be avoided by all sides. I contended that much of the Protestant objection to transubstantiation flows from a prior irrational and non-biblical philosophical hostility, which Mr. Vanezia also exhibits in full flower.

yet I found his article replete with such shenanigans, as in, "God clearly can perform any miracle He so chooses"

How is this "shenanigans," pray tell? I should think it is self-evident to any Christian!

and "If Christ could become man, He can surely will to be become truly present (in the) bread and wine".

Another truism, yet Mr. Vanezia somehow thinks it is controversial. He apparently fails to comprehend that these particular statements were not intended as proofs of transubstantiation per se, but rather, to neutralize fallacious prior objections, on a purely theoretical level.

Enough of what God coulda, woulda done! The overwhelming evidence indicates that our Creator wishes to demonstrate His greatness by miracles that can be SEEN because we are a stiff-necked people (Isa 48:3-5). Water is changed into wine, water comes out of a rock, dry bones are changed into human beings, the rod was changed into a serpent, the sea is split down the middle, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see and the dead are raised all to the utter amazement of the onlookers!

But this is much ado about nothing (with regard to our dispute). Mr. Vanezia's burden here is to demonstrate that the "hidden" miracles I cited (analogous to transubstantiation) are in fact, not analogous. This he has not done. Instead he has merely stated that God does visible miracles, which everyone already knew.

Transubstantiation is an invisible "miracle" that cannot be seen, and thus is not God-glorifying. Mr. Armstrong desperately clings to the woefully unconvincing example that since no one observed the exact moment God became man in the womb of Mary, that this somehow vindicates the unobservable Eucharistic miracle. It does not!

Mr. Vanezia cleverly constructs a cardboard caricature of my argument (I assume he is unaware that he is doing this). What I argued was that if the Protestant wishes to discard transubstantiation on the basis of its being "invisible" or "unverifiable," etc., then he ought to get consistent and also be skeptical of analogous "hidden" miracles and supernatural mysteries, such as the Incarnation, the Two Natures of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the Atonement (one could observe the Crucifixion, but not the nature of the work which Christ accomplished - that required faith and revelation), eternity, omniscience, Providence, and the Holy Trinity. But our friend Mr. Vanezia bypasses my entire argument (of about two pages length) and instead engages a straw man of his own making.

The incarnation, as well as the other few cases he mentioned, simply did not demand an audience because the Lord was not wishing to convince anybody of anything whilst they were taking place.

That's irrelevant. The analogy was to the "hidden" and less demonstrable miracles, which are in that respect quite similar to the Holy Eucharist.

Ditto for the pitifully poor "evidence" that certain people did not actually observe that Jesus was God. This does not even apply as a case in point because it was God's desire that many people be blinded to the reality of His true identity (John 12:40).

Again, this misses the point, which was that one could not "prove" Jesus was God by simple observation; likewise one cannot "prove" (in an empirical sense) that a consecrated host is actually God. I could just as easily argue that God "blinded" the followers in John 6 who rejected the new teaching and forsook Jesus.

B) A better writer would, and an honest introspection of the facts . . .

This is merely an ad hominem attack, since it goes after my writing abilities and intellectual honesty. Substantive arguments never need to resort to such tactics.

SHOULD, never presuppose their conclusion by reading the mind of your witness. Once again, Armstrong astounds us by his psychic abilities by reading the mind of Christ, blithely asserting that Christ wanted His audience to reach for the more profound faith required by the transubstantiated Eucharistic miracle He is talking about (p. 38).

This is simply silly. Commentators on both sides of the unfortunate divide constantly project their theological frameworks into the mind of Christ: that's what theology is about. We all believe certain things and believe that Jesus and the Apostles taught them. It is foolish to object to one side doing it when both sides do. One must deal with the actual textual evidence.

But in quoting Catholic writer Guardini, Armstrong contradicts himself. He forgets that no one COULD know what Jesus was talking about because, "it is inconceivable that at any time, anyone could have grasped intellectually, the meaning of those words." Hence, Guardini confirms and the written record proves that the episode in John 6 happened BEFORE the institution of the Eucharist and therefore none of the original hearers would have understood Jesus to be referring to the transubstantiated wafer.

Guardini's point on page 38 (rightly understood) was that this was the type of information which could not be grasped by purely intellectual means. It required faith. This is qualitatively no different than the faith required for any number of difficult teachings of Jesus, such as the suffering and death He was to undergo, and His Resurrection, none of which were understood beforehand, even by His closest followers. The analogies, then, are all supportive of the Catholic position.

The author coyly inquires on p. 38, "Why then should the Real Presence be singled out for skepticism and unchecked rationalizing?" Well for one thing, it is because you, Mr. Armstrong,
are guilty of this very same unchecked rationalizing!

Hardly, as demonstrated above. Mr. Vanezia's "arguments" are utterly insubstantial, and beg the question. Like so many non-Catholics, he does not truly interact with the Catholic position, carefully presented. Rather, he scorns it from the outset as nonsense, and merely re-states his own viewpoint. But this is not rational argument.

C) The Protestant rejection of transubstantiation is based on the most breathtaking preparation by the Holy Spirit in the inspired account both before AND after John 6, and is certainly not based on any "skeptical, philosophical root of unbelief" as the author accuses (p. 37).

Case in point: this is a statement of Mr. Vanezia's position, but it is not backed up by rational and/or biblical proofs, or disproofs of what I presented.

In John chapter 2, the Jews were WRONG in understanding Christ to rebuild the temple in three days (nullifying Armstrong's contention by the way, that Jesus "always" explained more fully to those who wrinkled their brow...p.39).

No, this was an instance of persons who refused to accept a teaching, as I stated. The Jews were demanding a sign of Jesus (John 2:18), which He elsewhere condemned as improper (Matthew 12:38-40, 16:1-4). So He spoke in "mysterious" fashion, comparing His Body and Resurrection to the Temple, just as He spoke of the "sign of Jonah" as an analogy to His death and Resurrection in the passages above. Thus, His style in John 6 is another similar example of "hard truths" being spoken of in terms that believers would accept by faith, but that skeptics and those lacking faith and obedience would reject, on inadequate philosophical grounds.

In chapter 3, Nicodemus was WRONG in taking Christ literally,

And Jesus went on to explain Himself, as I stated.

and in chapter 4 the woman at the well was WRONG in thinking that the literal drinking of water counted for anything.

Jesus again explained Himself, in some detail. These alleged "counter-examples" only bolster my argument.

And if the drinking of a liquid conveyed the idea of BELIEVING in Him in chapter 4, all consistency and process of deduction demands we conclude eating and drinking His flesh in chapter 6 pertains to BELIEVING as well, and the crowd was simply WRONG in taking Him
so literally there too (see also 4:32 and 11:11 for other WRONG assumptions).

The exegetical and linguistic reasons for why Catholics think John 6 is a literal passage are too many and complex to lay out in the space permitted for reply to a letter. The reader can peruse them in the appropriate chapters in my first and second books.

D) My eyes continued to roll up into their sockets when we read that, "no logical case can be made against a literal Eucharist on the grounds that matter is inferior to spirit" (p. 39). First of all, matter most definitely can be inferior to spirit since the Lord Himself says the real worshippers are those who worship in SPIRIT, and not in the material.

This is a non sequitur. To say that God should be worshiped "in spirit and truth" has nothing to do with the goodness or badness of matter. Mr. Vanezia merely reads his own hostility to matter into the text. That is called "eisegesis." We know that all matter (creation) is good, from Genesis 1:31. It's amazing and sad that one has to even argue about this with a fellow Christian, but it spectacularly confirms one of my central contentions in the article: that many Protestants axiomatically accept this false, dangerous, Gnostic-like dichotomy between matter and spirit.

Second, Jesus was clearly debunking the "matter" of a tangible, visible sign right in the midst of John 6, since the Jews were never satisfied without one (vs.30). Consequently, He could not
have possibly been preparing them for the "sign" of transubstantiation when He emphatically said that no sign would be given on a previous occasion (Matt 16:4).

This proves too much. Earlier, Mr. Vanezia was arguing in favor of visible over against invisible miracles. Now he switches horses in mid-stream and claims that Jesus "could not have possibly" (who is overly-speculative about God's intentions now?) been speaking of the Eucharist, because of His objections to "signs." As stated above, however, this must be qualified as applying mainly to those whom He knew to be overly skeptical and unbelieving. He Himself spoke of His own Resurrection and Second Coming as legitimate signs and verifications of His Godhood. They are both visible, but they are by no means readily explainable scientifically or empirically. The Eucharist is both sign and reality, as St. Augustine often taught.

Realizing this, Armstrong obnoxiously bids us to believe that although Christ encourages them to forsake signs, He nevertheless wants them to reach for the more profound sign of the
Eucharistic miracle! (p. 38). Will somebody please pass me the smelling salts?

This is explained above. It is Mr. Vanezia who has severe logical and biblical difficulties, not I. Maybe the smelling salts will startle him into acknowledging his own grave errors.

Furthermore, Armstrong's sweeping statement that "nothing" in the actual text of the Last Supper supports a metaphorical interpretation, deserves a bouquet of wilted black roses. "This cup is the New Testament in my blood" (Luke 22:20). Was the cup literally the New Testament, Mr. Armstrong? I rest my case.

And a pitiful case it is! This is a classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees. Interpreters like Mr. Vanezia easily pass from hyper-literalists (as here) to "hyper-symbolists" (as in John 6), according to their whims and preconceived notions. What they lack is a consistent hermeneutical principle for deciding which interpretation applies where, and why? Add to that the disdain for historical (particularly patristic) exegesis and you get the false teaching of a symbolic Eucharist. It is not for no reason that no one of consequence espoused a symbolic Eucharist until Zwingli in the 16th century. Even Martin Luther retained, for the most part, the ancient, received doctrine.

E) In conclusion, let me say something you probably have already heard, but since the logic is so exquisite, it bears repeating. The bread that is eaten and the blood that is drunk, are separate realities, signs of Jesus's life and death.

A sign can also be an actuality, if it is a supernatural event.

The perfect life AND death of Christ are equally vital components to be believed unto salvation (Romans 5:10). It was through His flesh that Jesus lived out a life of perfect and holy obedience to the Father, and it was His blood poured out that reconciles us to God. Leave it to the amazing vocabulary of the Holy Spirit to utilize the vivid imagery of believing in His life (eating His flesh) in conjunction with drinking His blood... or, more succinctly stated as having "faith in His blood" (Romans 3:25) to convey these sacred sentiments. Lastly, I am confident that His blood was for an atonement, and NOT a beverage, because the words of Paul in 2 Cor 5:16 rings the death knell for the concept of transubstantiation.

This requires in-depth exegesis in order to expose it as false. I refer the reader to my website papers cited above.

"Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him NO MORE". Truly, if the apostle had any concept of Eucharistic hocus-pocus dominocus,

Note the use of ridicule and the perversion of the words of consecration in the Latin Mass (hoc est enim Corpus meum). Does Mr. Vanezia consider this a scholarly or necessary approach?

he surely would have qualified his statement by reminding us of the supposed Real Presence, but he did not!

Mr. Vanezia claims he knows what Apostles "surely would" have done, while at the same time chiding me for merely stating what God theoretically "could" have done. Which is more unreasonable?

Armstrong's arguments were nothing but a house of cards. The instant we can pull out one card that does not belong, the entire structure comes tumbling down.

If my argument was in fact so weak, then surely Mr. Vanezia could have truly interacted with it and demolished it without mercy. Instead, he utilizes the time-honored anti-Catholic tactics of caricature, obfuscation, evasion, and non sequitur, in the attempt to make the Catholic position look ridiculous. I submit that he has made his own argument look foolish in his ill-fated attempt. But I thank him for this opportunity to clarify and further strengthen the Catholic (and early and medieval Church) position on the Holy Eucharist.

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