The Weakest Argument Against the Spiritual Presence

I recently received the pleasure of a comment from someone who has been following this blog for a long time, a reader who uses the handle “Orthodox” (“O” for short). O doesn’t necessarily represent Eastern Orthodoxy, but he does provide comments against the Reformed position.

O writes: “In too many places to list, Augustine says that the Eucharist IS Christ’s body and becomes Christ’s body. He doesn’t say it becomes Christ’s spirit.”

Agreed, both as to Augustine saying that (though certainly not in too many places to list) and as to that being what happens. The Eucharist IS Christ’s body and blood, and the bread, by being consecrated for the particular purpose, becomes Christ’s body, while the cup (or more specifically its contents) become the blood of Christ.

They are not and do not become Christ’s spirit and Augustine does not say so (which poses interesting problems for transubstantiation, but since Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t teach transubstantiation, that’s not necessarily a problem for O).

Nevertheless, Christ is spiritually (or mystically, if you prefer) present in the sacrament. We don’t derive this from the words of institution (this is my body etc.) but from other parts of Scripture. This spiritual presence does not imply any physical change in the elements, nor does it imply that Christ’s spirit is somehow contained within the elements. When we feed on Christ (and we do) in the sacrament, it is not through the act of grinding our teeth and digesting the physical substances, but by faith.

O continued: “What would Augustine have to say to convince you, that is the question I have to ask. Anything that could be said in favor of our position, he did say.”

As noted previously, there is no particular reason that the Eastern Orthodox view of the mystical presence needs to be set against the Reformed view (and Augustine’s view) of the spiritual presence. What Augustine would NOT say if he held to transubstantiation were things like: “Christ deprived them of his bodily presence.”

Positively, there are any number of ways that Augustine could have indicated that he meant that Christ was present in more than just a spiritual (or mystical) sense. He did not express himself in those terms, but instead made fairly clear comments to the contrary.

O concluded: “You say the argument is about bodily presence versus spiritual presence. Fine, Augustine says it is Christ’s body, so you lose, end of discussion.”

This is what I call the “weakest argument against the spiritual presence.” As I have noted over and over again, even someone who views the sacrament is merely symbolic could use those expressions.

Even those who hold to a bare symbolic view of the Eucharist affirm that the bread is the body of Christ and the cup is his blood: they simply understand those terms analogically. Perhaps an illustration would help:

Imagine boys playing capture the flag in the woods: there are two teams, the red team and the blue team. The boys from the red team huddle around in a small circle, while their leader draws a map in the dust. “This rock,” says the leader, “is Blue’s camp. “And this stick,” he continued, carefully placing a slender branch next to the rock, “is the creek.”

Now, who in their right mind would think that the leader meant that the rock was transubstantiated into the Blue team’s base, and who would think that the leader transmogrified the stick into a creek? No one would think that. Everyone would correctly understand that a symbolic sense is intended by the expression “This rock is Blue’s camp” and “this stick is the creek.” But for some reason (tradition!) people have trouble recognizing the obvious fact that “this is my body” and “this is my blood” were similar statements that shouldn’t be understood transubstantially but according to their most obvious sense: representatively and analogically.


2 Responses to “The Weakest Argument Against the Spiritual Presence”

  1. Turretinfan Says:

    Someone (an anonymous reader) provided a quotation from the Lutheran scholar Chemnitz, who begins his discussion (in quoted part) with the following sentence: “The words of the Supper are known, plain, and clear in their natural and true sense.”There are two most natural and plain sense of the phrase: “this is my body.”1) This is actually human flesh; and2) This stands for human flesh.If someone points to a picture and says “this is my body”, no one misunderstands this as transubstantiation or consubstantiation. If some points to a tangled pile of limbs (think of that game “Twister” if you are squeamish) and says pointing to one limb “this is my body” we take it literally as being the flesh (again, no transubstantiation or consubstantiation).In fact we never ever would think of transubstantiation or consubstantiation if it were not for traditions borne out of superstition.-TurretinFan

  2. natamllc Says:

    TF,I will tell a true story I heard being preached at the pulpit of my friend.The man was an NFL referee and brought an issue of Time Magazine to use as an illustration similar to yours in the combox to those remarks on whether the bread was the actual flesh or stands for the flesh of Christ.The referee first states that he has finally arrived giving the phrase coined by that wicked man Andy Warhol, “the fifteen minutes of fame” that he too now has arrive seeing he is on the cover of Time magazine!”Yes”, I am now world renoun because Time Magazine is sold to a world reading audience. “I’m famous” now!When you look at the cover of the magazine you see a photo of an “action” caught, frozen in time of a ball in mid air and the receiver being fouled and yes, there is that referee right there on the cover in this action shot!The problem is you would not know that it was him unless you knew him because in big bold letters the “caption” of the shot hides his face and most of his body. In the photo with the caption all you see is a first number on his jersey, clearly you see a foul flag leaving a hand and part of one leg as the other leg is covered also by a football player. So, it is him and he is on the cover of the magazine, but it is only bits and pieces of him that are clearly visible!Now, for “O”, O, what can you respond to these verses from Hebrews?Heb 9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, Heb 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Tell me, do you believe that you also are “washed” in the Blood of Christ? How does that washing occur? How does the “Blood” of Christ the writer intends for you to think about wash and cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the Living God?TF, here is something Francis Turrentin wrote that I thought gets to the heart of the question in a sense that all True Believers are impacted by as maturity in Christ takes over the “whole” man, one’s spirit, soul and body:[[….The Mosaic Covenant may be viewed in two aspects: either according to the intention and design of God and in order to Christ; or separately and abstracted from him. In the latter way, it is really distinct from the covenant of grace because it coincides with the covenant of works and in this sense is called the letter that killeth and the ministration of condemnation, when its nature is spoken of [2 Cor. 3:6-7]. But it is unwarrantably abstracted here because it must always be considered with the intention of God, which was, not that man might have life from the law or as a sinner might be simply condemned, but that from a sense of his own misery and weakness he might fly for refuge to Christ”, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George M. Giget, ed. James t. Dennison Jr. 3 vols….]].God is a “Spirit”. God is Our Heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Precious Holy Ghost.What this “ceremony” does, this one that replaces in effect the ceremonial aspects of the Covenant of Grace administered by the Levitical Priests, is conducted by a brand new “order”, the Priesthood after Melchizedek, Jesus being the High Priest, and once for all, enter into the True Holy of Holies. What happens is to reflect a polysemous parallel, a polysemy, that is in this ceremony of remeberance, His actual torture and misery being reflected on by the partaker conveys what our actual torture and misery would be at the hands of God after our passing, all the while God’s Hands are not actually torturing and causing such misery to His Only Begotten Son naturally by the hand of godless men like me! The parallels are rich and deep and pregnant with many many layers of meanings when we partake of the rememberance, “take eat, this is my Body, take drink, this is my Blood of the new Covenant!

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