Eucharist and Incarnation: A Catholic Response to Luther

Martin Luther had three problems with Catholic Eucharistic theology and practice.  On two of them, withholding the cup from the laity and understanding the Mass as a sacrifice, he was vociferous.  (I took on the sacrifice question in ecumenical dialogue here.)  On the third, transubstantiation, he was much more sanguine.  According to Luther, transubstantiation was one possible explanation of Eucharistic presence.  But he did not himself find it to be the best one and he wished that it not be enforced as doctrine.  Instead, he preferred that it be left as one philosophical option among many.

As far as we can tell, Luther never read Thomas on transubstantiation and it is not clear that he understood the doctrine all that clearly.  This is actually good news from an ecumenical point of view.  If what Luther found lacking in the doctrine was not actually lacking, there would be room for rapprochement.

One major problem that Luther had with transubstantiation is that it seemed to deny the reality of the bread and wine.  Though Luther never used the term consubstantiation himself, many describe this as Luther’s position precisely because he insisted that the Body and Blood of Christ were present with (hence “con”) the bread and wine rather than replacing them.

His argument for this was not merely empirical.  He was not just pointing out the obvious fact of the physical bread and wine that remain after the consecration.  No, his deeper point was that, because sacraments are rooted in the Incarnation, they must follow the logic of the Incarnation.  And, since Christianity affirms that God was fully present in Jesus of Nazareth even while Jesus remained fully human, then God should be fully present in the bread and wine even as they remain fully bread and wine.

This, it seems to me, is a pretty good argument.

Those, like myself, wishing to defend transubstantiation need to take Luther’s point seriously.  The good news is that if transubstantiation can answer this challenge, we should be one step closer to unity on that most important ecumenical issue, the sacrament of unity itself.

I want to start by noting that a Catholic denial of the reality of the bread and wine is a bit of an anomaly that arose in a polemical context.  Catholics ended up denying the reality of bread and wine only because certain people (Berengar in the centuries before Thomas, Zwingli et. al. at the Reformation) were denying the reality of Christ’s Body and Blood.  It was a classic case of people in an argument being forced into extremes by their opponents.  When we read the Patristic sources, we find the Fathers quite blithely referring to the bread and wine and the Body and Blood with no sense of theological self-consciousness.

But, as I’ve noted before, a certain reality of the bread and wine must remain if the Eucharist is to be a sacrament because sacraments are places where God touches us via the earthbound and the material.  In his excellent The Wedding Feast of the Lamb, Roch Kereszty, O. Cist puts it this way:

“the average post-Tridentine theologians began to emphasize that after the consecration the bread and wine remained bread and wine only in appearance.  Thus, most Catholics in no way thought it permissible to speak about bread and wine after consecration:  the species of bread and wine lost all measure of reality.  It was not taken into account that the consecrated bread and wine do appear to the senses as bread and wine precisely to reveal to the eyes of faith that Christ’s sacrificed and risen humanity become true food and true drink for eternal life.

Sometimes we pretend as if even the accidents (the physical reality of the bread and wine) aren’t really there.  We talk as if they are a disguise.  Thomas is unequivocal  on this point:  there is no deception in the sacrament!  If you see (and touch and taste) the accidents of bread and wine it’s because they’re actually there.

And accidents aren’t nothing!  When I teach a course on Eucharist, I have no trouble explaining to people what accidents are.  Some of our contemporaries think that accidents are all that there are.  Substance takes a lot more work to wrap one’s head around, but that’s another post.

In fact, our own liturgical language acknowledges the reality of the bread and wine in another way.  After the consecration we often refer to the (capitalized) True Bread, or the Bread from Heaven.  In a way, the bread is more bread than it has ever been before.  The East even says that consecrated bread is bread that has finally become what bread was always meant to be, bread that has reached it telos, it’s proper end.

So, Catholics need not completely deny any reality to the bread and wine.  The doctrine of transubstantiation itself insists that the physical reality remains as it was and that this reality is essential to the sacrament.

Nevertheless, Luther is right to point out that transubstantiation is not perfectly symmetrical with the theology of the Incarnation.  While we insist very strongly that Jesus was both fully human and fully God, we deny that the consecrated species are fully bread and wine and also fully the Body and Blood of Christ.  Aspects of the reality of bread and wine remain, but all that is fully present is Christ’s Body and Blood.  According to Luther, this means that transubstantiation fails the test of Incarnational logic and is, as such, a poor option for understanding Eucharistic presence.

While this is certainly plausible, prima facie, I suggest that if we dig just a little deeper we will find that transubstantiation can, in fact, pass this test.  And I certainly agree with Luther that it should.

What seems to me the key issue leading to the asymmetry between the Incarnation and Eucharistic Presence (and therefore any adequate philosophical articulation of it) is that bread is a very different kind of thing than a human person.  There are many ways in which human persons and bread differ, at least a few of which could be explored in this context.  (I hope, at some point, to reflect on the role of human freedom in this context, but I’ll need to go back and read my Sokolowski first.)

For now, however, I want to point out just one:  the proper ends of human persons and bread are very different.  The human person is created to be united with God.  In that unity, Christians insist, our identity will not be lost like a drop in an infinite ocean, but found.  In our union with God we become completely ourselves.  That is why we can say that Jesus was more human than the rest of us.

Bread on the other hand is created to become a human body.  Every one of us can, in all earnestness, take a piece of bread, announce that it is our body and eat it.  It really does become our body.  (What we can’t do, however, is take a piece of bread, announce that it is our body and then give it to others.  Because the Eucharist is the means by which He makes the Church His Body, only Jesus can earnestly do that.)

And in the transformation into our bodies bread actually does lose its identity.  It stops being bread and starts being body.  We don’t look at someone on the street and think that here comes some strange combination of steak, potatoes, lettuce, corn, pickles, and mayonnaise.  Food, once it has been eaten, stops being food.  To lose its identity is its consummation.

But a human person never becomes anything other than a human person.  Though their body be completely destroyed, they remain what they have been since God first knit body and soul together in a mother’s womb.  The consummation of the human being is to be perfectly oneself, with God, forever.

This distinction between the final ends of bread and of human persons, it seems to me, is a good reason to think that transubstantiation does not transgress Incarnational logic.  Furthermore, it shows that transubstantiation fulfills eschatological logic as well.


Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of two (so far) and husband of one. He is writing his dissertation on the Eucharist and ecumenism.

About Brett Salked
  • http://catechumenate.tumblr.com Ryan

    Wasn’t it Robert Jensen who said that ecumenism will depend less upon the various factions adopting a new common theology and more about thinking about our theologies in different ways?

    Though I am decidedly “protestant” when it comes to the Eucharist (though I lean far closer to Luther than Zwingli), I find your discussion here appealing along these lines. If there’s a way that Catholic theology can address Protestant concerns, there’s probably far more ecumenical hope than seems possible right now. I am having less of an issue with sacrifice language as time goes on thanks to knowledge of the role of sacrifices in the OT. However, I think one of Calvin’s criticisms is still a key one for me. He said something along the lines of “they put it in the bread”. My ongoing misgivings would be that transubstantiation relies more on the act of the priest in transforming the elements (hence “trans”) than it does God’s action or in the “results” of the action (i.e. Luther’s “true presence” of Christ). Hence the point becomes less about it being a means of grace or about becoming what we consume (Augustine) and more about the Eucharist being a end in of itself, rather than a means to an end. How would you respond to that?

    • brettsalkeld

      It is certainly the case that transubstantiation gets linked with a theology of priesthood that can look an awful lot like a magic trick (Eucharist) and magician (priest). I suggest that this is another case of an anomaly arising out of polemic. A denial of the priesthood leads to a distorted emphasis.

      I think you are on to the answer too. When we understand that the Eucharist is a means rather than an end (for Thomas, res et sacramentum, not just res), then priesthood gets clearer too. The function of the priesthood is sacramental. It is, first of all, a function of unity. You can have Eucharist not because someone has been endowed with magic skills, but because he is in communion with his bishop who is in communion with the bishops of the world. (The Pope’s role here is important. When there is no hub on the wheel, the various points on the wheel can end up in odd relationships with each other, e.g. Bishops A and Bishop B are both in communion with Bishop C, but not with one another.)

      Communion is only available in communion. And communion is the end (the res) of the sacrament.

    • brettsalkeld

      By the way, did you check out my posts on sacrifice?

      • http://catechumenate.tumblr.com Ryan

        I did, thanks for that as well. I suppose along the same line of “polemics,” Luther (and Calvin etc.) moved away from the sacrifice language for some of the same reasons that he moved away from transubstantiation. Much like the bread was no longer bread, the table itself was no longer a table–that is to say, it ceased being a meal in addition to sacrifice. Sadly, the polemical nature of the conversation (though John Wesley did bring back sacrificial language to the Eucharist) ended up excluding sacrifice. Somehow in modern dualistic rationalism we seem to think that a “thing” can only be one thing at once. Whereas we find that the altar is both a table and an altar, and the Eucharist is both bread and the Body of Christ at the same time.

  • http://catechumenate.tumblr.com Ryan

    Wasn’t it Robert Jensen who said that ecumenism will depend less upon the various factions adopting a new common theology and more about thinking about our theologies in different ways?

    Though I am decidedly “protestant” when it comes to the Eucharist (though I lean far closer to Luther than Zwingli), I find your discussion here appealing along these lines. If there’s a way that Catholic theology can address Protestant concerns, there’s probably far more ecumenical hope than seems possible right now. I am having less of an issue with sacrifice language as time goes on thanks to knowledge of the role of sacrifices in the OT. However, I think one of Calvin’s criticisms is still a key one for me. He said something along the lines of “they put it in the bread”. My ongoing misgivings would be that transubstantiation relies more on the act of the priest in transforming the elements (hence “trans”) than it does God’s action or in the “results” of the action (i.e. Luther’s “true presence” of Christ). Hence the point becomes less about it being a means of grace or about becoming what we consume (Augustine) and more about the Eucharist being a end in of itself, rather than a means to an end. How would you respond to that?

    • brettsalkeld

      It is certainly the case that transubstantiation gets linked with a theology of priesthood that can look an awful lot like a magic trick (Eucharist) and magician (priest). I suggest that this is another case of an anomaly arising out of polemic. A denial of the priesthood leads to a distorted emphasis.

      I think you are on to the answer too. When we understand that the Eucharist is a means rather than an end (for Thomas, res et sacramentum, not just res), then priesthood gets clearer too. The function of the priesthood is sacramental. It is, first of all, a function of unity. You can have Eucharist not because someone has been endowed with magic skills, but because he is in communion with his bishop who is in communion with the bishops of the world. (The Pope’s role here is important. When there is no hub on the wheel, the various points on the wheel can end up in odd relationships with each other, e.g. Bishops A and Bishop B are both in communion with Bishop C, but not with one another.)

      Communion is only available in communion. And communion is the end (the res) of the sacrament.

    • brettsalkeld

      By the way, did you check out my posts on sacrifice?

      • http://catechumenate.tumblr.com Ryan

        I did, thanks for that as well. I suppose along the same line of “polemics,” Luther (and Calvin etc.) moved away from the sacrifice language for some of the same reasons that he moved away from transubstantiation. Much like the bread was no longer bread, the table itself was no longer a table–that is to say, it ceased being a meal in addition to sacrifice. Sadly, the polemical nature of the conversation (though John Wesley did bring back sacrificial language to the Eucharist) ended up excluding sacrifice. Somehow in modern dualistic rationalism we seem to think that a “thing” can only be one thing at once. Whereas we find that the altar is both a table and an altar, and the Eucharist is both bread and the Body of Christ at the same time.

  • http://catechumenate.tumblr.com Ryan

    Oh, and I found your statement that, “while we insist very strongly that Jesus was both fully human and fully God, we deny that the consecrated species are fully bread and wine and also fully the Body and Blood of Christ” to be one of the most valuable things I’ve read on the Eucharist in a while. Goes to show how valuable the creeds/councils that we all still affirm continue to yield some of the most promising and useful thinking on these things. Thanks for this.

    • brettsalkeld

      You are very welcome. Thanks for reading.

  • http://catechumenate.tumblr.com Ryan

    Oh, and I found your statement that, “while we insist very strongly that Jesus was both fully human and fully God, we deny that the consecrated species are fully bread and wine and also fully the Body and Blood of Christ” to be one of the most valuable things I’ve read on the Eucharist in a while. Goes to show how valuable the creeds/councils that we all still affirm continue to yield some of the most promising and useful thinking on these things. Thanks for this.

    • brettsalkeld

      You are very welcome. Thanks for reading.

  • Chris C.

    If Luther’s arguments were at all plausible we would not have seen such division within protestant christianity regarding the eucharist so soon after the so-called reformation began. The words of Christ are clear “This is my body.” “This is the cup of my blood.” He told us what was essential for the eucharist; Christ the Lord himself. Yes to be valid proper elements are necessary but Christ and Christ alone remains. Consubstantiation, and Luther’s followers understand that term to express his theology whether he used the word or not, is not defensible from scripture, nor from any teaching of any church father or doctor. As Christ is “consubstantial” with the Father, as the original language of the creed says, we are to believe that likewise he is consubstantial with the bread and wine? How is that in any way miraculous? Those who take your arguments in this article seriously are well on their way to a life outside The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

    • brettsalkeld

      I agree that transubstantiation has done a better job of holding the fort than Luther’s attempts to guarantee real presence, though the reasons for this are complex. But be careful about saying what Luther’s followers understand. Some of them allow for the language of consubstantiation, but some emphatically do not.

      I don’t think that you have demonstrated that Luther was wrong to insist that the sacrament pass the test of the Incarnation. And I really don’t see how showing that transubstantiation can pass this test will put people outside of the Catholic faith. Do you think I have failed to show how transubstantiation follows Incarnational logic, or do you reject the very idea that it should follow such logic?

      Also, though I reject consubstantiation (surely you noticed that in the article?), I must confess that it would certainly be miraculous. I can make neither head nor tail of your claim that it wouldn’t be. Are you saying the Incarnation wasn’t miraculous?

      • Chris C.

        You did reject consubstantiation in a sense, while allowing that Luther had a “pretty good argument” and that The Church insisted on denying the reality of the bread and wine after consecration only as part of some sort of petty quarrel. So I am not sure how strong your objection truly is. I have no idea how you could question whether my arguments support a view denying the miracle of the incarnation unless you also think the Church itself does becaus I am prepared to do nothing other than defend fundamental teachings which can found quite easily in our Catechism. As to “Incarnational logic” Our Fathers and Magesterium can address it to the extent it needs to be addressed, which I don’t think it does. Our reason can take us only so far on matters of faith, for the rest we must accept Divine Revelation, as discerned and defined by the Church.

        • brettsalkeld

          Of course I do not expect you to deny that the Incarnation is miraculous. I merely point out that the logic of the following statement leads precisely in that direction and so you may want to reconsider the statement itself:
          “As Christ is “consubstantial” with the Father, as the original language of the creed says, we are to believe that likewise he is consubstantial with the bread and wine? How is that in any way miraculous?”

          As for this:
          “Our Fathers and Magesterium can address it to the extent it needs to be addressed, which I don’t think it does.”

          That strikes me as a distinctly non-Incarnational understanding of how the Church works.
          The Magisterium asks theologians to look at these questions (both Benedict and Kasper have asked theologians to look at Eucharistic presence in ecumenical dialogue in particular!) because it would like to be able to reflect on the findings of its theologians. And it asks them precisely because there remain unresolved problems.
          In your world it seems that theologians have nothing to do but read the Catechism aloud.

  • Chris C.

    If Luther’s arguments were at all plausible we would not have seen such division within protestant christianity regarding the eucharist so soon after the so-called reformation began. The words of Christ are clear “This is my body.” “This is the cup of my blood.” He told us what was essential for the eucharist; Christ the Lord himself. Yes to be valid proper elements are necessary but Christ and Christ alone remains. Consubstantiation, and Luther’s followers understand that term to express his theology whether he used the word or not, is not defensible from scripture, nor from any teaching of any church father or doctor. As Christ is “consubstantial” with the Father, as the original language of the creed says, we are to believe that likewise he is consubstantial with the bread and wine? How is that in any way miraculous? Those who take your arguments in this article seriously are well on their way to a life outside The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

    • brettsalkeld

      I agree that transubstantiation has done a better job of holding the fort than Luther’s attempts to guarantee real presence, though the reasons for this are complex. But be careful about saying what Luther’s followers understand. Some of them allow for the language of consubstantiation, but some emphatically do not.

      I don’t think that you have demonstrated that Luther was wrong to insist that the sacrament pass the test of the Incarnation. And I really don’t see how showing that transubstantiation can pass this test will put people outside of the Catholic faith. Do you think I have failed to show how transubstantiation follows Incarnational logic, or do you reject the very idea that it should follow such logic?

      Also, though I reject consubstantiation (surely you noticed that in the article?), I must confess that it would certainly be miraculous. I can make neither head nor tail of your claim that it wouldn’t be. Are you saying the Incarnation wasn’t miraculous?

      • Chris C.

        You did reject consubstantiation in a sense, while allowing that Luther had a “pretty good argument” and that The Church insisted on denying the reality of the bread and wine after consecration only as part of some sort of petty quarrel. So I am not sure how strong your objection truly is. I have no idea how you could question whether my arguments support a view denying the miracle of the incarnation unless you also think the Church itself does becaus I am prepared to do nothing other than defend fundamental teachings which can found quite easily in our Catechism. As to “Incarnational logic” Our Fathers and Magesterium can address it to the extent it needs to be addressed, which I don’t think it does. Our reason can take us only so far on matters of faith, for the rest we must accept Divine Revelation, as discerned and defined by the Church.

        • brettsalkeld

          Of course I do not expect you to deny that the Incarnation is miraculous. I merely point out that the logic of the following statement leads precisely in that direction and so you may want to reconsider the statement itself:
          “As Christ is “consubstantial” with the Father, as the original language of the creed says, we are to believe that likewise he is consubstantial with the bread and wine? How is that in any way miraculous?”

          As for this:
          “Our Fathers and Magesterium can address it to the extent it needs to be addressed, which I don’t think it does.”

          That strikes me as a distinctly non-Incarnational understanding of how the Church works.
          The Magisterium asks theologians to look at these questions (both Benedict and Kasper have asked theologians to look at Eucharistic presence in ecumenical dialogue in particular!) because it would like to be able to reflect on the findings of its theologians. And it asks them precisely because there remain unresolved problems.
          In your world it seems that theologians have nothing to do but read the Catechism aloud.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Sorry Brett, but the best I can come up with this early in the morning is an old ecumenical joke:

    The real problem Catholic theologians have is not convincing Protestants that the Eucharist IS Jesus, its convincing them it WAS bread.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Sorry Brett, but the best I can come up with this early in the morning is an old ecumenical joke:

    The real problem Catholic theologians have is not convincing Protestants that the Eucharist IS Jesus, its convincing them it WAS bread.

  • Chris C.

    All the best to Brett in his theological studies, what I wish to stress however is that theologians, to be of service to Christ must first of all be of service to the Magisterium of the Church, and ought to exercise great care in not subtly denying the faith as many do, while purporting to explain it. Are they called to only read the catechism out loud? No just be darned sure never to call any of the settled dogmatic definitions of The Faith into question, under the guise of theological research. To the extent any teacher does he is useless to Christ and His Church. If you are not on that path, then God Bless you and your work Brett. After reading your article and postings, honestly I am not sure.

    • brettsalkeld

      Thanks Chris. A theologian must try. Of course, a theologian must also always be prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church should the Magisterium determine that they have called something settled into question. I am so prepared.

      That said, it’s not clear to me what exactly you think I have called into question here. Saying that Luther has a good point that needs to be addressed and then addressing it in a way that defends the Catholic Church’s position hardly strikes me as calling any aspect of Church teaching into question. Surely it is not Church teaching that Luther never made a good point.

      • Chris C.

        Not having a deep theological background and the language that goes with it I am at a bit of a loss but here goes. I am leary about presupposing good faith on the part of Luther regarding any point of doctrine when we have not yet first dealt with the primary issue that separated him, namely the Papacy, and the nature of Church. If that is left hanging and unaddressed why should he be taken seriously on a matter of such great importance as the Eucharist? With absolutley no Magisterium to affirm or deny his ideas, we are left with a doctrine, in this case consubstantiation though it could be just about anything of his, which is at best a plausible idea but not a matter of Divine Revelation, and therefore not fit for consideration as Dogma. Also, even if he has the grain of a good idea, what does it matter, since in denying the papacy and apostolic succession, there is no valid priesthood in the Lutheran world therefore no means of consecration in any event. As such why not dialogue with the Orthodox who do have valid apostolic succession and proper doctrine on the Eucharist. Not sure if that makes a lot of sense but I think that’s the problem i have. I just don’t want to take Luther seriously on such a vital matter of faith given all that he already denies.

      • brettsalkeld

        Well, there is certainly no reason not to dialogue with the Orthodox! 😉

        In any case, I suspect it would be fair to say that your concern is not with the actual theological content of my post, but with the nature of ecumenical dialogue (which presupposes good faith) in general. If this is accurate, you should be much more concerned about the Vatican than about me. They happily signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Lutheran World Federation before the question of the papacy was resolved. And our current Pontiff flew in at the last second to rescue it when it looked like it was foundering.

        We can take people in good faith if they are sincere, even if we must insist that, on certain key points, they are mistaken. Luther was nothing if not sincere.

  • Chris C.

    All the best to Brett in his theological studies, what I wish to stress however is that theologians, to be of service to Christ must first of all be of service to the Magisterium of the Church, and ought to exercise great care in not subtly denying the faith as many do, while purporting to explain it. Are they called to only read the catechism out loud? No just be darned sure never to call any of the settled dogmatic definitions of The Faith into question, under the guise of theological research. To the extent any teacher does he is useless to Christ and His Church. If you are not on that path, then God Bless you and your work Brett. After reading your article and postings, honestly I am not sure.

    • brettsalkeld

      Thanks Chris. A theologian must try. Of course, a theologian must also always be prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church should the Magisterium determine that they have called something settled into question. I am so prepared.

      That said, it’s not clear to me what exactly you think I have called into question here. Saying that Luther has a good point that needs to be addressed and then addressing it in a way that defends the Catholic Church’s position hardly strikes me as calling any aspect of Church teaching into question. Surely it is not Church teaching that Luther never made a good point.

      • Chris C.

        Not having a deep theological background and the language that goes with it I am at a bit of a loss but here goes. I am leary about presupposing good faith on the part of Luther regarding any point of doctrine when we have not yet first dealt with the primary issue that separated him, namely the Papacy, and the nature of Church. If that is left hanging and unaddressed why should he be taken seriously on a matter of such great importance as the Eucharist? With absolutley no Magisterium to affirm or deny his ideas, we are left with a doctrine, in this case consubstantiation though it could be just about anything of his, which is at best a plausible idea but not a matter of Divine Revelation, and therefore not fit for consideration as Dogma. Also, even if he has the grain of a good idea, what does it matter, since in denying the papacy and apostolic succession, there is no valid priesthood in the Lutheran world therefore no means of consecration in any event. As such why not dialogue with the Orthodox who do have valid apostolic succession and proper doctrine on the Eucharist. Not sure if that makes a lot of sense but I think that’s the problem i have. I just don’t want to take Luther seriously on such a vital matter of faith given all that he already denies.

      • brettsalkeld

        Well, there is certainly no reason not to dialogue with the Orthodox! 😉

        In any case, I suspect it would be fair to say that your concern is not with the actual theological content of my post, but with the nature of ecumenical dialogue (which presupposes good faith) in general. If this is accurate, you should be much more concerned about the Vatican than about me. They happily signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Lutheran World Federation before the question of the papacy was resolved. And our current Pontiff flew in at the last second to rescue it when it looked like it was foundering.

        We can take people in good faith if they are sincere, even if we must insist that, on certain key points, they are mistaken. Luther was nothing if not sincere.

  • http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com Neil

    Dear Brett,

    Thank you for this post. You do make the important point that transubstantiation cannot be a sort of annihilationism in which consecration means the annihilation and replacement of the substance of the bread. That is a disastrous position which ends up denying, as Aquinas quotes Augustine, that “God is not the cause of tending to nothing.” Such a position ends up inevitably asserting that the “religious” is in competition with (or at least an alternative reality to) the “secular.” So, here we agree …

    But I wonder about your claim that “bread is a very different kind of thing than a human person,” because it is meant to disappear as food. I worry that this means that most of nature, which has some place in a food chain, is also meant to disappear as food. Furthermore, human bodies might then be meant to disappear as well – that’s what happens when they are buried or cremated and feed various organisms that have their own ecological place.

    While your claim preserves the “soul” or “person” as the location of identity, it seems to depend on an extreme dualism that doesn’t do justice to, say, Isaiah’s eschatology (e.g., chapter 11). I see how it is a good move to save transubstantiation, but it seems to have bad implications for any ecotheology.

    Thanks.

    Neil

    • brettsalkeld

      I wonder if the sacramental role of the Church in the salvation of the world does not alleviate your concerns. It seems to me that, since humanity is what was willed for its own sake, the redemption of the rest of creation is properly centred on the redemption of humanity.

      That said, I don’t see the dualism you are suggesting. Can you spell it out a little for me? Much of our bodies are eaten and otherwise returned to the food chain long before we die. It doesn’t bother me that that will happen to the relatively few molecules we have left with us at death. I think a body is more than the particular matter that makes it up at a given moment. Bread, on the other hand, . . .

      • http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com Neil

        Dear Brett,

        Here is the dualism that I see:

        You write about food, “To lose its identity is its consummation.” This includes both animal life (steak) and vegetative life (lettuce and potatoes). Thus, you might be able to say, “The consummation of nature is to lose its identity” – to disppear, save for some rather vague “aspects.”

        Nature, then, is very different from the “human person,” because the “human person never becomes anything other than a human person.” We cannot say that the consummation of the human person is to lose his/her identity.

        It is true to say that the “redemption of the rest of creation is properly centred on the redemption of humanity.” But in Eastern Christian thought (Schmemann, etc), creation already has a direct relationship with God and humanity merely presides over the praise offered by his/her fellow creatures. I don’t think that they are meant to lose their identities.

        I understand why you want to assert an asymmetry between the Incarnation and Eucharistic Presence, but I worry that we lose a theology of creation here.

        I hope that this makes some sense.

        Thanks.

        Neil

  • http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com Neil

    Dear Brett,

    Thank you for this post. You do make the important point that transubstantiation cannot be a sort of annihilationism in which consecration means the annihilation and replacement of the substance of the bread. That is a disastrous position which ends up denying, as Aquinas quotes Augustine, that “God is not the cause of tending to nothing.” Such a position ends up inevitably asserting that the “religious” is in competition with (or at least an alternative reality to) the “secular.” So, here we agree …

    But I wonder about your claim that “bread is a very different kind of thing than a human person,” because it is meant to disappear as food. I worry that this means that most of nature, which has some place in a food chain, is also meant to disappear as food. Furthermore, human bodies might then be meant to disappear as well – that’s what happens when they are buried or cremated and feed various organisms that have their own ecological place.

    While your claim preserves the “soul” or “person” as the location of identity, it seems to depend on an extreme dualism that doesn’t do justice to, say, Isaiah’s eschatology (e.g., chapter 11). I see how it is a good move to save transubstantiation, but it seems to have bad implications for any ecotheology.

    Thanks.

    Neil

    • brettsalkeld

      I wonder if the sacramental role of the Church in the salvation of the world does not alleviate your concerns. It seems to me that, since humanity is what was willed for its own sake, the redemption of the rest of creation is properly centred on the redemption of humanity.

      That said, I don’t see the dualism you are suggesting. Can you spell it out a little for me? Much of our bodies are eaten and otherwise returned to the food chain long before we die. It doesn’t bother me that that will happen to the relatively few molecules we have left with us at death. I think a body is more than the particular matter that makes it up at a given moment. Bread, on the other hand, . . .

      • http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com Neil

        Dear Brett,

        Here is the dualism that I see:

        You write about food, “To lose its identity is its consummation.” This includes both animal life (steak) and vegetative life (lettuce and potatoes). Thus, you might be able to say, “The consummation of nature is to lose its identity” – to disppear, save for some rather vague “aspects.”

        Nature, then, is very different from the “human person,” because the “human person never becomes anything other than a human person.” We cannot say that the consummation of the human person is to lose his/her identity.

        It is true to say that the “redemption of the rest of creation is properly centred on the redemption of humanity.” But in Eastern Christian thought (Schmemann, etc), creation already has a direct relationship with God and humanity merely presides over the praise offered by his/her fellow creatures. I don’t think that they are meant to lose their identities.

        I understand why you want to assert an asymmetry between the Incarnation and Eucharistic Presence, but I worry that we lose a theology of creation here.

        I hope that this makes some sense.

        Thanks.

        Neil