paintings by L.S.J
I find it is impossible for me to be anything but an eclectic Christian believer… All I know is that I have been on a spiritual journey–from Anglicanism to Catholicism and finally to Eastern Orthodoxy. ~ Alvin Kimel
Eucharist by Alvin Kimel (2004)
It is remarkable that for hundreds of years the Church did not find it necessary to formally dogmatize a particular definition of the Holy Eucharist. Despite real differences of expression, significant conflict between theologians and churches did not arise. The one Church was able to comprehend Ambrose, John Chrysostom, and Gregory Nyssen, as well as Tertullian, Origen, and Augustine. At the deep level of liturgy and prayer, the Church was united in a common confession and enactment of the sacramental promises of Christ: “This is my body. This is my blood.” That is to say, the Church was united in the real identification of the consecrated bread and wine with the body and blood of the Savior. It is this sacramental identification that serves as the eucharistic dogma of the Church catholic. Through the supernatural power of consecration, the eucharistic bread and wine not only represent and symbolize the body and blood, they not only convey and communicate the body and blood, but they are, mystically and ineffably, the body and blood. The mystery of eucharistic identity is, as Francis J. Hall writes, “the ultimate affirmation of catholic doctrine in every age.”
The dogma of real identification must be distinguished from the doctrine of the real presence. The latter is often expounded as if it were the revealed premise of the Holy Eucharist. But as Hall explains, “Our Lord did not say, ‘My body is present in, with and under this,’ but ‘This is My body.’” The real presence is an inference from the eucharistic dogma. The risen Christ is present in the Eucharist because his body and blood are present, and his body and blood are present because the consecrated bread and wine are his body and blood. “Christ is in that Sacrament,” affirms St Ambrose, “because it is the Body of Christ.”
In the Eastern Church the mystery of real identification came to dogmatic expression at the Second Council of Nicaea (787). The council was convened to address the heresy of iconoclasm—the denial that images of Jesus and the saints may be properly venerated and reverenced. The iconoclasts argued that a true icon is identical (homoousios) with its prototype. In Scripture and the theological tradition, Jesus Christ is named the image of the Father. Jesus is able to serve as the perfect image of the Father because he is consubstantial with the Father. Only thus may he be given the worship, adoration, and devotion that is properly given to the Almighty Creator. A painting of Jesus, on the other hand, does not and cannot enjoy a oneness of being with the object it depicts. It will always be inadequate. The iconoclasts did recognize one proper image of the incarnate Son, however—the image instituted by the Son himself, his eucharistic body and blood. The Eucharist perfectly images Christ because it is identical in essence with Christ and is therefore worthy of worship and reverence.
The iconodules did not take issue with the iconoclastic claim that the Holy Gifts arehomoousios with the body and blood of the risen Christ. The iconodules and iconoclasts shared a common liturgy and a common understanding of the eucharistic presence. But clearly the iconodules could not allow the iconoclasts to appropriate the Eucharist as an icon, the one legitimate icon, of Christ. At Nicaea II the deacon Epiphanius read a document that was gladly received by the orthodox bishops:
Thus, it has been clearly demonstrated that nowhere did either the Lord, or the Apostles, or the Fathers call the bloodless sacrifice, offered through the priest, “an icon,” but rather “this very body” and “this very blood.”… These noble ones, however, in their desire to abolish the sight of the venerable icons, have introduced indirectly another icon-which is not an icon but body and blood…. Afterwards, leaving aside falsehood, they touch for a moment upon the truth, saying that the bread does become the divine body. But, if the bread is an icon of the body, it is impossible for it to be the divine body itself.
…The Orthodox patriarchs apparently did not have a problem employing the distinctions and language of Trent, while at the same time insisting that they were not seeking to explain the mystery of the eucharistic transformation. Up until very recently Russian and Greek theologians continued to describe the transformation as a “change of essence” (metousiosis). In his Dogmatics of the Eastern Church (1961), the distinguished Greek theologian Panagiotes Trembelas writes: “We are in accord in this with the Roman Catholics in believing that in this marvellous transformation although the exterior phenomena and the accidents of bread and wine remain, all their substance however is changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord.” And similar statements can be found in Michael Pomazansky’s Orthodox Dogmatic Theology:
In the Mystery of the Eucharist, at the time when the priest, invoking the Holy Spirit upon the offered Gifts, blesses them with the prayer to God the Father: “Make this bread the precious Body of Thy Christ; and that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of Thy Christ; changing them by Thy Holy Spirit”—the bread and wine actually are changed into the Body and Blood by the coming down of the Holy Spirit. After this moment, although our eyes see bread and wine on the Holy Table, in their very essence, invisibly for sensual eyes, this is the true Body and true Blood of the Lord Jesus, only under the “forms” of bread and wine.
In other words, for four hundred years Orthodoxy affirmed the real identification of Christ in language very similar to Roman Catholicism and did not find it necessary to distance itself from Catholicism on this point. I find it strange, therefore, that contemporary Orthodox theologians and apologists now reject transubstantiation as a Western aberration at the very time when Catholic theologians are telling us that the dogma only seeks to state what catholic Christianity has always confessed—namely, that the consecrated bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus.
18 June 2004
Paul Zahl by Alvin Kimel
Very Rev. Dr. Paul F. M. Zahl. A Short Systematic Theology (2000) and The Protestant Face of Anglicanism (1998), evangelical Anglican, the dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry
Pentecostalism is another distinct form of the hunger we have seen all along the spectrum of Christian traditions to locate the presence of the risen Christ within space and time. As if that were possible! It is not possible. It is absolutely impossible if we are to take seriously Jesus’ words about worshiping God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), not to mention the prescript that God is uniquely present only where love exists (1 John 4:7-12). Both the Spirit as the unseen Christ and love as the unseen élan vital of human experience make it impossible to confine God to any form. Objectification is out! God has never existed in form, save during a short period of time from roughly 4 B.C. to A.D. 29. That period is unique, and it cannot be repeated. Would that it could be! (p. 33) ~ Paul Zahl
If objectification in all forms is out, then how are we to understand the presence of the risen Christ in our lives? Dr. Zahl’s answer: Christ is present in his absence! All objectifications of the Lord are illusory, idolatrous attempts “to possess God in human terms.” A mature, adult faith acknowledges the experienced absence of the ascended Christ and the sense of the loss that necessarily accompanies that absence. The Christian lives in “the absence of the tangible and the presence of that absence, as in solitude and a continuing state of loss” (p. 36). Zahl cites the Reformed church interiors of the Dutch artist Pieter Saenredam (1597-1665). The paintings depicting St Bavokerk in Haarlem show a church stripped of all medieval appurtenances, save for a wooden pulpit.
Zahl comments: “There is no preacher in the pulpit. Christianity has become invisible: no mediator! The painting evokes the spiritual, the ‘spirit-and-truth’ Word of Jesus in John 4:24, the finally fully abstracted character of God’s abiding presence with us in the negation of the object” (p. 36).
Zahl urges us to rid ourselves of all mediations of the ascended Lord. We must bravely face the truth that between the ascension and the parousia our relationship to God enjoys an enduring non-mediated character. God is with us always and everywhere, “but not with us now in any particular time or space” (p. 37).
..Incarnation, cross, resurrection, ascension, Spirit, preaching, sacrament, Baptism, Eucharist, justification, sanctification, glorification—all are inextricably joined together in the Holy Trinity’s one act of salvation.
At the Colloquy of Marburg, Martin Luther broke the unity of the Reformation. He refused eucharistic fellowship with the Reformed. Why? Because he knew that the differences between Zwingli and himself went to the very heart of the gospel. The God of the Bible, the God who justifies by faith alone, is a God who loves to communicate himself through and in the concrete realities of the world he has made. He is a God of Incarnation and sacrament. He is a God with a body. At this point, Luther remained very much the Catholic.
In the writings of Paul Zahl we meet the modern Anglican equivalent of Ulrich Zwingli. I know that Zahl represents an extreme Protestant position. Most evangelical Anglicans of my acquaintance have a higher, more Calvinistic view of the sacraments. But the iconoclastic voice of Geneva remains strong. Evangelicals still remain alienated from the powerful incarnational vision of Luther. They do not see the deep connection between grace and sacrament. They do not see that their arguments against sacraments are easily turned against the Incarnation itself. They do not see that to divorce the gospel from its ritual embodiments is to construct an unbiblical God, a fleshless God, a graceless God, a very ordinary spiritual God. Mir aber des Gottes nicht!
5 October 2005