Friday, November 4, 2011

Divinizing through Living Bread

Tommy, a southern Baptist with great love for Christ, was curious if the Eucharist celebrated in the Catholic Church is truly Jesus. “If it is true,” he said to me, “I do not want to miss out.” Since the onset of our dialog, I focused on the sacramental principle of the Catholic faith. The sacramental principle, which is the natural world partaking in the conferral of supernatural grace, is wholly exemplified and established with the Son of God becoming man. Of the many differences between Catholic and Protestant theology, the sacramental principle is a large divider. Personally, I believe it is an axis of division because of the unintentional ignorance towards Catholic Incarnational theology. To quote David Currie, in his famous book Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, “Evangelicals are uncomfortable with the implications of the Incarnation. Whenever we are uncomfortable with something, we tend to neglect or ignore it” (p. 143). When a man grasps the overwhelming significance of the Incarnation, the Catholic sacraments are unveiled as extensions of this cosmic event.

During our dialog, I explained that Jesus giving Himself in the Eucharist is analogous to a mother breastfeeding her newborn. Just as being born is the beginning of growth, so is being born again a new creature (2 Cor 5:17) the start of supernatural growth. Growth requires nourishment. Tommy then asked, “Why do we need to receive the Eucharist for nourishment? Isn’t the Bible nourishment?” This excellent question requires a lengthy answer regarding Church history.

The answer deals with Manichaeism (man-uh-KEE-iz-um). The main tenet in Manichaeism -- a spinoff of Gnostic philosophy -- is that the spiritual is good and the physical world is utterly fallen. I believe this erroneous philosophy has greatly infiltrated Protestant Christianity because Martin Luther, who is often viewed as the figurehead for the Protestant Reformation, taught that human reason was completely destroyed by Original Sin. As a consequence, humanity and all its works are unreliable and totally depraved of goodness, which includes the living teaching authority of the Church through apostolic succession. If the Word of God can be corrupted through the weak minds of men, what safety remains? The Bible becomes the only reliable transmitter of the Word of God, and whenceforth sola scriptura was invented. This radical theology is consistent with a Manichaeistic outlook.

In the subsequent schisms since the 16th century, the sacramental principle quickly disappeared from Protestant theology. The ancient Christian belief of Jesus using the physical world to transmit supernatural grace was no longer in many Christian communities. Consequently, new human traditions were created to emphasize spiritual interpretations over sacramental interpretations. Like in the Reformed traditions, "sacraments" are only human symbols and gestures done out of obedience. For example, whereas a Catholic gets baptized to receive the grace of salvation, a Reformed Christian gets baptized to publicly witness he's been saved. Whereas a Catholic receives the Body and Blood of Christ to receive an increase of grace, a Reformed Christian receives bread and grape juice as a reminder of the Last Supper.

Yes, the Bible is spiritual nourishment; Christ is able to speak to our hearts when we read and hear His word. The Eucharist, however, is so much more because it is nourishment both physical and spiritual. When a Christian receives the Eucharist, he receives Christ Himself -- Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the one living Incarnate God. Just as a mother milks her child, God transmits His divine nature to us in the Eucharist so that His divinity can feed our humanity. Truly, we “put on Christ” (Gal 3:27)!
Christ’s flesh is glorified because it is the flesh of God Himself. Christ’s flesh is the proper object of worship because there is in Him one incarnate nature of the Word, to be worshipped with His flesh in one worship. The Word while remaining God shares the predicates and properties of flesh; the flesh while remaining flesh even in the union, shares the predicates and properties of God. Finally, the divine nature is communicated to the faithful when they consume the Lord’s flesh at the Eucharist.
Leo Donald Davis, S.J., The First Seven Ecumenical Councils
(Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1983), pp. 105-106.