The bread of life
John 6 and First Corinthians
A fellow Red Ensign blogger and blogging friend left a question on Rebecca’s blog on the subject of why Catholics take the Eucharist to be not just a sign of God’s presence, but also God’s real presence. I started to give an answer there but quickly realized that Haloscan would not give me enough space to do it justice so I invited him and anyone else who’s curious to come here. I have readers of all sorts, not all are Catholics by any means, so this is probably a common question.
Here’s Temujin’s comment:
Uh oh… an evil trolling Baptist comes to troll!
Jesus also said “do this in remembrance of me”. The point being that we are to remember him. Why would he tell us to remember him if he was physically present in the elements?
Paul says further in Corinthians that everytime we drink the cup and eat the bread we proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes (although my thoughts on the parousia are different than the average Baptist’s). The emphasis in Paul’s letter is not on the literal, physical presence of Christ. His emphasis is also that of remembrance.
I don’t quite know about you transubstantiators!
And this is my response…
Temujin, I take your point, but must add that “do this” is not very specific and that “in memory of” does not exclude a real presence. We both need evidence for what we take the passage to mean.
The best evidence for the real presence may be in John 6. It’s a long quote, sorry:
“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
I can’t think of anyone else who fulfills that description. But there’s more:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I AM the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I AM the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Note the two “I am”. That’s the name of the God who spoke to Moses. Ontologically speaking, “I am” is a breathtaking statement, suggesting the speaker is not dependent on anything outside himself. For the ancient Jews, a name was a very important, telling much about who you are. Jesus said “I AM the living bread,” not ‘bread represents me.’
Note “I am the bread of life” is linked to the manna from Exodus. Note his stress to get his message through: “Truly, truly.” It really is food and not just faith in a sign. God has the miraculous property of true Being. Everything else, including us, is simply a reflection of his Being, which he shares with us. The living bread, being God, is BOTH a sign AND the thing it represents.
The reaction of Jesus’ listeners tells us that they understood what he was saying and how difficult they found what they were hearing.
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
I suppose one could say that the ‘flesh’ being spoken of here is faith but that does not ring true to my ears. Why not say so in a more obvious way? If that were true, and it was spoken plainly, his listeners would not have been so perplexed, with some leaving altogether.
I’m not sure, T, what passage from Corinthians you have in mind, but a quick search turned up two that I think are in line with what I’ve been saying:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Cor. 10:16
There is also this, from Cor. 11:23:
Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for  you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
A covenant is a very, very old Jewish custom, meaning an unbreakable oath and it required an important sacrifice to seal it. It is hard to see how a symbolic sacrifice could ever carry enough value to fulfill this role. In addition, if it is only a symbol, how can taking it in an unclean manner bring judgement on himself?
I hope I’ve shown that we ‘transubstantiators’ are not as kooky as it might at first seem, and we can muster good (I would argue very good) evidence for our position, including tracing the doctrine right back to the beginning. Was there a symbolic teaching church before the reformation? If the subject is of interest to anyone, I can recommend a book that was an interesting read. It’s Born Fudamentalist, Born Again Catholic. I’ve always been Catholic – non practising for most of my life – but Rebecca has had some experience with other Churches and she says this book was helpful for her and I’ll admit that I enjoyed it as well.
Oh, and I don’t think you’re a troll. Lol.
A bit more searching, a few more passages.
I do not see reading this quotation with Jesus pointing to his human self as sensible. The grammar points to the bread. 1st Cor. 11:23
Paul in the 1st Cor. passage above seems to have in mind Luke 22:19:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
A loaf of bread and a cup of wine do not a covenant oath make, nor do they explain the confusion in Christ’s hearers; they think he is leading them towards cannibalism. Cannibalism was also a common charge against Christians when they were persecuted in Rome. If the real presence was not taught the cannibalism charge would have been easier to explain away. Refering to John 6 again, Jesus asks the disciples, after he has told them about the bread of life, “Do you want to go away as well?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Peter’s answer goes some way to explaining Catholic attitudes towards its doctrines when the world insists it change them, or that they are not possible. I am thinking here of all sorts of things – women priests, birth control, gay marriage. If we believe Peter was correct in identifying the messiah, and that he is the first Pope, the rock, then we cannot simply ditch important dogma because it appears to us to be too hard. We are not the judges of it.