Demonstrative Complications

In their 1662 treatise on Logic, or the Art of Thinking, Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole question the straightforwardness of the Calvinist logical analysis concerning the Eucharistic “This is my body.” They summarise the argument this way: “Their claim is that in Jesus Christ’s assertion, ‘This is my body,’ the word ‘this’ signifies the bread. Now the bread, they say, cannot really be the body of Christ, and therefore Christ’s assertion does not mean ‘This is really my body’” (71).

They challenge the point by arguing that “the word ‘bread,’ indicating a distinct idea, does not correspond exactly to the term hoc, which indicates only the confused idea of a present thing. Rather it is clear that when Christ uttered this word, and at the same time drew the Apostles’ attention to the bread he held in his hands, they probably added to the confused idea of a present thing signified by the term hoc, the distinct idea of bread which was only prompted and not precisely signified by this term” (71).

The confusion arises from “lack of attention to this necessary distinction between prompted ideas and precisely signified ideas.” They do not doubt that the apostles conceived of the bread when Jesus spoke the words, but that is not the issue. The question is “how they conceived of it” (72). It didn’t come into mind because of the hoc, since that word never signifies “anything but a confused idea”—that is, it never brings with it any specific conception. They conceived bread because the idea of bread was added to the confused idea signified by “this,” an addition prompted by the surrounding circumstances rather than by the word “this.” When Calvinists argue that “this” means “this present thing which you know is bread,” they are adding the “which you know is bread part,” since it’s not signified by the word “this” at all” (72).

The indistinctness of “this” implies that the word “always remains susceptible of another determination and of being linked to other ideas, without our becoming aware of the change of object.” The apostles “only had to subtract the distinct ideas of bread they had added. Retaining this same idea of a present thing, they conceived at the end of Christ’s assertion that this present thing was not the body of Jesus Christ. Thus they connected the word hoc, ‘this,’ which they joined to the bread by means of a subordinate proposition, to the attribute body of Jesus Christ. The attribute body of Jesus Christ clearly requires them to subtract added ideas, but it in no way makes them change the idea precisely indicate by the word hoc” (72).

“This” works the same way in other cases. “This is a diamond,” it is said, but “the mind is not satisfied with conceiving it as a present thing, but adds to it the ideas of a hard and sparking body having a certain shape.” The secondary ideas are “conceived as connected and identified with this primary and principal idea, but not precisely indicated by the pronounce hoc.” When I say “this is wine,” the “mind adds the ideas of a liquid, of the taste and color of wine, and other things of this sort” (70–1), none of which is signified by “this.”

In a sense, “this” is subject to an infinite array of possible additions: “the smallest bit of matter is infinitely divisible and that one can never arrive at a part that is so small that not only does it not contain several others, but it does not contain an infinity of parts; that the smallest grain of wheat contains in itself as many parts, although proportionately smaller, as the entire world; that all the shapes imaginable are actually to be found there; and that it contains in itself a tiny world with all its parts—a sun, heavens, stars, planets, and an earth—with admirably precise proportions; that there are no parts of this grain that do not contain yet another proportional world? What part of this little world could correspond to the volume of a grain of wheat, and what an enormous difference must there be in order for us to say truthfully that, what a grain of wheat is with respect to the entire world, this part is with respect to a grain of wheat? Nonetheless, this part whose smallness is already incomprehensible to us, contains still another proportional world, and so on to infinity. So there is no particle of matter that does not have as many proportional parts as the entire world, whatever size we give it” (231).

“This” does not convince me that the Calvinist view of the real presence is mistaken, but it does some damage to one of the historic arguments. More than that, the argument complications the relationship between daily bread and Eucharistic bread. On any account, the Eucharist is a miracle of gift and presence. Arnault and Nicole make it clear that even in day-to-day discourse, to say “this is bread” is to say more than we can conceive.

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