Eucharist: Real Presence

Beginning his discussion of real presence, Hunsinger turns to Aquinas.

Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas, in Hunsinger’s mind, was able to satisfy what he sees are the two major conditions for a proposal that could resolve eucharistic conflicts: “He was able to hold together, convincingly, a robust definition of ‘real presence’ with an equally robust definition of ‘local presence'” (23). Aquinas does this, Hunsinger argues, by speaking of Christ joining himself to us through the sacrament, as well as keeping distinct the idea of Christ’s bodily location. Quoting Aquinas:

The body of Christ is not in this sacrament in the way a body is located in a place. The dimensions of a body in a place corresponds with the dimensions of the place that contains it. Christ’s body is here in a special way that is proper to this sacrament” (24, quoting ST 3.75.1)

Summarizing Aquinas’ view, Hunsinger suggests, “Real presence…meant nothing less than substantial presence – the actual presence of Christ’s body, though in a spiritual mode without dimensions” (24). This, of course, is precisely what Calvin could not stand for. Christ’s bodily life necessarily meant located bodily life. Aquinas though, instead of invoking the incarnational analogy, sought to answer the issue through the doctrine of creation (creatio ex nihilo). Transubstantiation in fact, involved “far more difficulties than does creation,” according to Thomas, and created two difficulties,

First, the substance of one entity, the consecrated element, was totally transformed into that of something else, namely, the body or the blood of Christ. The second difficulty was that nonetheless the ‘accidents’ or appearances of the consecrated element remain even after ‘their substance has disappeared” (25-26)

Even though this is the case, for unbelievers, they only receive the consecrated bread “objectively,” but do not receive it spiritually, or “subjectively.”

Martin Luther

Unlike both Aquinas and Calvin, Luther invokes an incarnational analogy for the eucharist. Luther based his understanding of the analogy, in part, on 1 Cor. 10:16, which led him to conceive of the union between body and elements as a kind of participation or koinonia. Even more than the incarnational analogy though, Luther posited the argument from “literalism” and the argument from ubiquity. The “This is my body” statement was taken literally (Hunsinger suggests that a better term would be “realistically”) by Luther, and Luther wanted to affirm Christ’s ubiquity as an aspect of even his bodily existence (although this claim is a bit odd considering his affirmation (or at least agreement) of the finiteness of Christ’s bodily nature). As a summary,

“Christ’s real presence in the eucharist was thus a special form of his presence in the Word. Just as Christ was imparted through the Word, so was he also imparted, though in a different form, ‘corporeally in the bread and wine” (33-34).

Calvin and Vermigli

As stated earlier, Calvin’s concern, particularly with the ubiquity question, was that Christ has a body localized in heaven, which means that the elements cannot actually be Christ’s body in the way parsed by transubstantiation. The way Calvin mitigated these issues was through his robust pneumatology. Hunsinger summarizes:

In effect Calvin argued not so much that Christ’s body was in the bread as that the bread was the instrument by which the Spirit presented and imparted the life-giving flesh of Christ to faith” (35).

Vermigli, more so than Calvin, serves Hunsinger as a figure of real ecumenical potential. He states that, “without losing the distinctive Reformed concern about local presence, he suggested how the idea of conversio, so important to Aquinas, and the idea of participation, so important to Luther, might be combined” (39). Vermigli posits, according to Hunsinger, an incarnational analogy that strikes the right balance between likeness and difference. “The eucharistic bread and the life-giving flesh were brought together by the Spirit to form a unity-in-distinction. They were related without separation or division and without confusion or change. That was their formal relation” (40).

So what was taking place with the bread and the wine? Vermigli uses the term “transelementation,” which means that the bread was transformed “by virtue of its sacramental union with, and participation in, Christ’s flesh” (41). A strength of this term, and the images to support it, have broad support in the tradition. Vermigli used Theophylact, the eleventh century Archbishop of Bulgaria, but could have gone much further to Gregory of Nazianzus and Cyril of Alexandria. The major image used was that of a iron rod thrust into the fire. The iron’s transformation was by a participation of the heat of the fire and served as a useful image to talk about the elements being transformed sacramentally by union and participation.

What do we think about this brief taxonomy? Where do your own concerns fit in this discussion? The next post will deal most specifically with Hunsinger’s own proposal, but I thought it would be beneficial to work through this first.

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One thought on “Eucharist: Real Presence

  1. Pingback: Things to read while eating your Saturday toast … « P e r ∙ C r u c e m ∙ a d ∙ L u c e m

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