Continuing my look at Hunsinger’s volume The Eucharist and Ecumenism, I turn now to consider his proposal for an ecumenical understanding of the real presence in the consecrated elements. Doing so will entail several concessions:
- First, there is not a real presence of Christ in the elements at the expense of the local presence of Christ bodily in heaven;
- Second, there is not a localized presence of Christ’s body in heaven which could prohibit its real presence in the eucharist (sorry to all of the baptists out there, not to mention the Pentecostals!).
Building on this, Hunsinger suggests, “The idea of transelementation, as represented by Vermigli, Bucer, and Cranmer (and based on patristic sources), would today allow the Reformed churches to maintain their historic concern for Christ’s bodily integrity while moving closer to the high sacramental traditions on real presence” (51-52), which would allow for greater flexibility to move towards Hunsinger’s proposal of an ecumenical theology of eucharist.
The “literal” question is once again raised, used so powerfully by Luther, and now taken up by Hunsinger under the banner of “rhetoric.” Hunsinger explains, “Regardless of whether that presence is called ‘real’ or ‘true,’ rhetorical judgments need to be kept distinct from ‘factual’ judgments. Confusing the rhetorical and the factual levels has historically been a bane of the discussion” (53). Because Catholics will deny the belief in the crudely ‘corporeal’ understanding of bodily presence, invoking instead a ‘spiritual’ or ‘mystical’ presence, there is much more room for discussion than many might assume.
The problem with the conversation about the “literal” sense of “This is my body” is that there is no view which poses a “literal” interpretation – it just isn’t that easy. A possible solution, for Hunsinger, is the transelementation language:
On the basis of ‘translementation,’ the historic conflict between ‘symbolic’ and ‘realistic’ readings of ‘This is my body’ can be transcended and overcome” (63-64).
The literal sense, therefore, according to all of the major traditions, is that Christ’s “flesh would be received by faith as the bread is received; but without faith neither Christ himself nor his life-giving flesh would be obtained” (65). Therefore, while both believer and unbeliever would receive the consecrated bread, only the believer would receive Christ (because doing so necessarily entails faith). By invoking this usage of ”transelementation,” Hunsinger believers he can span the gap between the symbolic and the real, thereby navigating one of the more difficult hurdles in sacramental dialogue (to use a variety of metaphors!).
Importantly, Hunsinger provides a a list of distinctions between transubstantiation and transelementation (with some paraphrase (see p. 74-75)
- The focus of transubstantiation is on descent, while translementation is on elevation.
- In transubstantiation one substance is transmuted into another; in transelementation one object is suffused with another’s reality and power.
- The priest’s agency is the concern in transubstantiation through the words of institution; while with transelementation the agency of the Spirit is invoked by the prayer of epiclesis.
- Transubstantiation has a fixed relation, transelementation a more dynamic one, between the living Christ and the consecrated element.
- In transubstantiation the relation is one-sided containment, in transelementation a mutual indwelling.
- For transubstantiation the process of conversion is conceived along causal lines (with Aristotelian metaphysics in the background); while with transelementation, it is conceived on mystical lines with no particular metaphysical commitment.
- Transubstantiation focuses its ontological account on essences and accidents, while in transelementation of two unabridged objects.
- In short, transubstantiation is a theory of descent and replacement; transelementation, a theory of ascent and enhancement.
What do we think about this? Broadly speaking, I think that the points mentioned here concerning transelementation are definitely better than transubstantiation. This certainly does not answer the question though. Any thoughts?