The Eucharist: Why it’s More than a Symbol – Final Remarks

If you haven’t already, please read the original post Here. This post is the final remarks on the two responses below:

[An amazing podcast on the Eucharist can be found Here. The topic is “Jesus and the Jewish Roots”. It’s a discussion on Brian Pitre’s book “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.” It’s a podcast given by my good friend, Fr. Mark.]

The intention of my original post was to focus solely on Scripture to demonstrate the intention of our Lord regarding the Eucharist, and I am very appreciative of Chad’s response. I believe that his post paired well with mine because he brought the Church Fathers into the conversation, and shows that the Church has always taken a literal interpretation of Jesus’ words, “This is my body… This is my blood.”

Here are my comments on a couple statements from Chad’s response.

Comment #1: “The term transubstantiation is a later development and rejected by the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church recognizes more than a spiritual presence, […]”

There is a philosophical and a historical reason for this difference in explanation, but there is not a theological difference. The Catholic and Orthodox church both agree that the elements become the literal body and blood of Christ, but there’s a different philosophy on how that is accomplished, which I’ll discuss next.

The Council of Trent (1545-1563) stated that the Eucharist is, “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” Blessed Pope Paul VI states, “This presence is called ‘real’ – by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.”

The historical need to define the theology surrounding the Eucharist was to defend the doctrine against heretical teaching that was being circulated. The Eastern Church did not have to deal with these heresies, which explains why they don’t see the need to philosophize this theology, but the Western Chuch did. In order to protect the laity from being confused or deceived, the Catholic Chuch, as an expression of care for her sheep, employed some of the greatest minds, theologians, and philosophers of the time, arguably in all of history, to help us better understand the Eucharist. As in the case of almost all doctrines, their development flowed from the need to combat heretical teaching in the Church. Again, the development of the theology of Transubstantiation was not due to a pastoral teaching that was unimportant… it was the defense of the faith, and demanded a response from the Church. Just because the East didn’t think that it was important/affected [by the heresies surround the Eucharist], doesn’t mean that the West didn’t need to address it. The abuse of someone else doesn’t necessarily affect me, but that doesn’t mean that I remain uninvolved and claim, “that’s your problem.”

Normally, I don’t utilize Wikipedia as an authoritative source, but I found that this article was well written: Transubstantiation – Section 2.3 “Eastern Christianity”

The debate on the nature of “transubstantiation” in Greek Orthodoxy begins in the 17th century, with Cyril Lucaris, whose The Eastern Confession of the Orthodox Faith was published in Latin in 1629. The Greek term metousiosis (μετουσίωσις) is first used as the translation of Latin transubstantiatio in the Greek edition of the work, published in 1633.

The Eastern CatholicOriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Churches, along with the Assyrian Church of the East, agree that in a valid Divine Liturgy bread and wine truly and actually become the body and blood of Christ. In Orthodox confessions, the change is said to start during the Liturgy of Preparation and be completed during the Epiklesis. However, there are official church documents that speak of a “change” (in Greek μεταβολή) or “metousiosis” (μετουσίωσις) of the bread and wine. “Μετ-ουσί-ωσις” (met-ousi-osis) is the Greek word used to represent the Latin word “trans-substanti-atio“, as Greek “μετα-μόρφ-ωσις” (meta-morph-osis) corresponds to Latin “trans-figur-atio“. Examples of official documents of the Eastern Orthodox Church that use the term “μετουσίωσις” or “transubstantiation” are the Longer Catechism of The Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church (question 340) and the declaration by the Eastern Orthodox Synod of Jerusalem of 1672:

“In the celebration of [the Eucharist] we believe the Lord Jesus Christ to be present. He is not present typically, nor figuratively, nor by superabundant grace, as in the other Mysteries, nor by a bare presence, as some of the Fathers have said concerning Baptism, or by impanation, so that the Divinity of the Word is united to the set forth bread of the Eucharist hypostatically, as the followers of Luther most ignorantly and wretchedly suppose. But [he is present] truly and really, so that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, the bread is transmuted, transubstantiated, converted and transformed into the true Body Itself of the Lord, Which was born in Bethlehem of the ever-Virgin, was baptized in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, rose again, was received up, sits at the right hand of the God and Father, and is to come again in the clouds of Heaven; and the wine is converted and transubstantiated into the true Blood Itself of the Lord, Which as He hung upon the Cross, was poured out for the life of the world.

It should be noted, that the way in which the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ has never been dogmatically defined by the Eastern Orthodox Churches. However, St Theodore the Studite writes in his treatise On the Holy Icons: “for we confess that the faithful receive the very body and blood of Christ, according to the voice of God himself.” This was a refutation of the iconoclasts, who insisted that the eucharist was the only true icon of Christ. Thus, it can be argued that by being part of the dogmatic “horos” against the iconoclast heresy, the teaching on the “real presence” of Christ in the eucharist is indeed a dogma of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Comment #2: “[…] but we reject any attempts of defining or describing this mystery through philosophy or logicality.”

The reason that Easter Orthodox Christians reject the philosophy, not the theology, is due to a difference in metaphysical philosophy. Metaphysics is defined as, “a division of philosophy that is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and being and that includes ontologycosmology, and often epistemology.” Meaning, Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have different metaphysical philosophies, which dictates how a theology and philosophy can be expressed. To be clear, while these philosophical structures have different frameworks, they ultimately lead to the same conclusion. The philosophy that Catholicism employs is based on Aristotle’s methodology, and Eastern Orthodoxy’s philosophy is based on Plato’s methodology.

A & PI’m sure you’ve seen this picture of Plato (center-left) and Aristotle (center-right), but you can see the essence of this argument in their hand placement. Eastern Orthodoxy tends to employ the abstract concepts (mysticism), as seen in Plato’s pointing to the heavens, and Catholicism tends to employ concrete concepts (logic), as seen in Aristotle’s hand placement over the earth. Again, both are valid philosophical methods, but the framework utilized in each method is different. For example, in an Aristotelian methodology, philosophizing the theology surrounding a literal understanding of the Eucharist is permitted because the metaphysics in the argument allows for the logic to flow, which results in the theology of Transubstantiation. Platonic metaphysics tends not to allow this type of philosophical process and therefore defines the literal understanding of the Eucharist as a mystery. Both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy affirm that the Eucharist is a mystery, both affirm a literal understanding of the Eucharist, but only Aristotelian metaphysics allows for that theology to be teased out into Transubstantiation. Now, while the Catholic Church does “define” the idea of Transubstantiation, it does not define the moment when that occurs… it’s a mystery. Therefore, while I understand why you presented your argument in these terms, your argument is untrue based on your premise and conclusion.

For more information on Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, please consult, as one possible source, this article in the Britannica Encyclopedia.

Comment #3: “One must also keep in mind that historically the church always convened Ecumenical Councils for major decisions and Rome’s departure in 1054 and forthcoming unilateral decisions have rendered their developments out of step with the Orthodox Church.”

In a subsequent post, we will be discussing Ecclesiology, and I will we will see that the theology regarding the Keys of the Kingdom negates Chad’s statement above. This is definitely a point of argument between the East and the West, “Who left who?” My premise is that it is not possible for the Church to leave herself, but it is possible for her members to depart from her, as we have seen in the Great Schism (a.k.a. East-West Split or Schism of the Eastern Orthodox Church) in 1054 A.D. and the Protestant Reformation in 1516 A.D. History attests to the fact that the Catholic Church was established 1,000+ years before Eastern Orthodoxy became official, so it’s a fallacy to say that Rome departed from Eastern Orthodoxy. It would be more accurate to say the Eastern Orthodoxy departed from Rome based on theological disagreements. As I said above, the development of that theology [Transubstantiation] was not due to a pastoral teaching that was unimportant… it was the defense of the faith, and demanded a response from the Church. Yes, it’s important that all three traditions participate in these type[s] of developments [theological], but that actually requires participation.

The Catholic Church has had a colorful past of scandal and mistakes, including the present, but the solution is not through schism as the Eastern Orthodox Church and Protestant communities have done. It is through correction and unity. Even now, the Catholic Church is in distress regarding theologies that have been promulgated by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, but the solution isn’t to schism… the solution is to remain united, and demand that our shepherds (Priests, Bishops, and Cardinals) defend us, as is their sacred duty! While our Christian traditions may express themselves uniquely and our philosophical methodology be different, we are ONE (Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism). May we always remember that we are one, even in the face of disagreement.

Ubi Caritas Est Vera, Deus Ibi Est                                                                                                        (Where true charity is, God is there.)

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