Incarnation, Transubstantiation and Faith

Today’s blogpost, Bread from Heaven, reminded me of an earlier one I had written covering the same Gospel passage:

“Does this Shock You?”

The great stumbling block to the disbelieving Jews in the passage, along with skeptics of Catholic teaching on the Eucharist today, is that how can the Eucharist be really Jesus, and not merely a symbol.

It seems to me that if you have a hard time believing that the Eucharist is really and truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the simple form of bread and wine, then you should have an equally hard time believing that God in His immaterial transcendence would become man. If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and is also God, then you have accepted the idea that God would manifest (or incarnate) Himself in human form. If that can be accepted, then why stop there and not accept that this same God can carry it a bit further and continue to manifest Himself in another form, such as bread and wine? What is the stumbling block? Why is this so hard and unacceptable?

One needn’t fully understand all that. As mere humans with our limited intelligence we cannot fully understand a divine mystery. One can just accept it on Faith and believe.

Truth isn’t easy. God’s Truth only more so. To accept the Truth may cause too much discomfort. Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. He’s been doing that for 2,000 years.

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  1. A (brief) Protestant response.What a wonderful post! I truly admire your bold, headlong foray into the deeper questions of the faith. I do how ever disagree with some of your conclusions.I believe that the question is less “could God literally incarnate bread and wine?” (which is of course in His power to do) and more “does He?”As I read John 6 I find only a few references to a literal ingestion; whereas the overriding theme of Christ’s message in this passage seems to be about belief. He had just fed the 5,000. He had just walked on water. And yet the crowds following Him asked for more signs that they might believe. (As if what they had already seen was not enough!)The following verses, in which Jesus describes the eating and drinking of His flesh and blood are a chastisement to those following Him in search of the “razzle dazzle” rather than searching for Him. Their motives were their stomachs.It is not surprising, therefore, that He did not spend a lot of energy chasing them down to try and change their minds as to whether or not they would continue to follow. The 12 remained with Him because they knew there was no where else to go where they might receive “the words of eternal life”; their faith (such as it was) was in Him-not the signs and wonders.I find this to be a recurring theme throughout scripture. People coming to God for what is in it for them rather than coming to God because He is worthy-and God’s response to such demonstration is consistent; He rejects it. He then corrects it, instructing us “Do not come to me with your works, come to me with your faith.” Grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone.Grace and peace;Br. Jon

  2. Here’s my initial (and brief) response, but it doesn’t answer all of your objections. I need more coffee and hours of awakeness to finish! LOL. I just wanted to let you know I liked your comment, despite its “protestations.”Anyway, the end of your comment you basically state the Protestant belief that “Faith alone” saves. This is wrong. The Letter of James clearly states that “faith without works is dead.” Works are evidence of faith, and distinguish Christians from others who have no faith. Works show our response to the faith that we receive. They do not merit us salvation, for no one can work their way into heaven, or “buy” or “bribe” their way by doing things. As I stated before, works are evidence of our faith in Jesus, they are our response to the call of the Gospel. If faith alone saves, then there seems to have been little reason for St. Paul to have written many of his Letters.When Paul was referring to “works”, he meant working out the law of Moses, as that was the path to salvation that the Jews held. Jesus fulfilled that Law, and working out the Law was no longer needed for Christians. The New Testament is filled with examples of people “doing works”, the best of which is Jesus’ speech in Matthew 25: 31-46. Those who “do” were saved, those who “didn’t” were not, yet both apparently had faith by their acknowledgment of Him as Lord..More later today.

  3. Hello Brother Jonathan:The fact that there are only a few references to literal ingestion is of no matter; there are only a few references in Sacred Scripture, and only by implication, to God being a Trinity. Didn’t stop the Church from having developed the doctrine of the trinity, however.And yes, much of John 6 is about faith, and the Jews who knew He was speaking literally rejected His teaching and their Faith crumbled. They left Him and He understood their rejection was based on a protest, not a misunderstanding. The “Good Shepherd” who would chase after 1 lost sheep and leave 99 alone for awhile would have gone off after them if they merely misunderstood literalism for symbolism. They understood Him, they just rejected what He said. They walked away or abandoned Him in protest.I believe that they just wanted to be certain that He was the Messiah, someone that had been promised for 1000’s of years, and further signs from Him were merely “surety”of sorts. They had probably been duped before by charlatans. They were of a different age, magic was more real to them than it is to us “rationalists.” I don’t believe He was necessarily chastising them for wanting more, He could have used other language directly referencing their demands as He had done in other passages. They wanted more, but He knew what they truly craved even if they didn’t know exactly. And that was His Body and His Blood. He probably chose bread and wine as they were staples and traditional foods about which people gathered for communal feasts and conviviality, and therefore were the substances in which He would physically remain with us until His return. Again, if one can believe that God in His Immanence and Transcendence can incarnate Himself as a Man, then He also can remain with us in the form of bread and wine. The former is a hard saying, who can understand it? Same for the second.Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is in line with the Apostle’s declaration of belief, those who disagree with it are more in line with those Jews and former disciples who found it difficult to believe, and walked away in protest. Don’t limit your faith! Just believe!

  4. My dear friend;I must take exception to your definition of “few”. There are, by my count, at least 64 references in the New Testament alone to the Triune Nature of God (and I cannot claim that this count is anything approaching exhaustive). Other than that I would say “Well Said!” Your logic and exposition are keen.I am, however, left with several points of inquiry….It seems to me that verse 26 is “language directly referencing their demands”, and is preamble to the remainder of the discourse.And I am left wondering- if we are to apply a literal rather than metaphoric interpretation to verses 53-58, why then we would not do so with verse 35? I am also of the opinion that if we apply the actions of the Shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep as being determinative of Christ’s actions during His earthly ministry, then we put our selves at risk of proof texting; What of the rich young ruler? What of the 9 lepers who did not return? What of the Prodigal?I would also like to return to your initial response if we could–I apologize if I implied that works have no place in the “Salvation Equation” (how’s that for modern rationality?) Allow me to complete the thought I used as a closing initially– Salvation is by Grace, through faith, not of ourselves, not OF works but FOR works, in Christ and in fulfillment of God’s design.Or,to para-phrase James, “faith equals works in much the same way that 2+2=4.”Or, to borrow a thought from C.S. Lewis, “which blade of a scissors is more important?”In closing I would like you to know that I am enjoying this conversation immensely! And that I have a number of other questions that I would value your input on.Grace and peace;Br.Jon

  5. Hey,bro jon:I can’t get to a lengthy response now, probably not until Tuesday due to my work schedule. There may also be a family crisis my wife and I have to attend to, your prayers are requested.Anyway,your comment on can we literally interpret v35 did give me an idea for a blogpost, which I’ll probably write on Tuesday, if I can.I don’t see why we cannot interpret v35 in some literal fashion. By “never hunger” or “never thirst”, He most likely meant never hungering or thirsting for Earthly, worldly things. He is all you need to satisfy your soul.This would be a passage extremely important to alcoholics and addicts, who seek to fill the “hole in their souls” with other things.

  6. Brother Jonathan:Thank you for your prayers. The family situation is alleviated. I’m going to take some time and re-read your comments. I wasn’t able to get to answering them today as I forgot that despite Tuesday being a day off, I had to attend a morning meeting and then spend the rest of the day running errands and such.I hope to have some answers by Friday/Saturday. There are links with lots of info on Catholicism in the sidebar if you can’t wait. Probably the best is (“Catholic Answers”). Things to look up would be Eucharist, Real Presence, transubstantiation, Sola Fide, grace.I might blog before then, but not much time for research. See you then.

  7. Concerning the 9 lepers and the Prodigal Son, we take each parable of His for the lesson it entails, and study it against the backdrop of the Bible as a whole. Nothing is interpreted in isolation. The prodigal Son is a story of God’s mercy and forgiveness. The father is symbolic of God the Father, and the prodigal son is symbolic of, well, any of us who have sinned and is repenting. The 9 lepers,perhaps a story of ingratitude. All were cured, only one returned to offer gratitude. I am not sure how they are relevant in proving or disproving any other point made in Scripture. We shouldn’t fall into a trap of using different parables to disprove or prove what another parable may be teaching. All are taken as a whole. Differing lessons for differing situations. I used the one lost sheep to show the extent that God may be willing to chase after one of His own. He may not always do that out of respect for Free Will. Why does God seem to draw some people into a ministry serving His will, and yet allow others to persist in secular folly?I hope this makes some sort of sense as I have a serious headache and nausea and may not be totally lucid 🙂 But I didn’t want to let more time elapse without responding to your comments.

  8. Concerning the original topic, that of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the only thing that I can come up with is some reference I was told by a priest in that the language that Jesus spoke in John 6, the words He used for “eating” and such would be more accurately translated into English as “gnawing” or “munching”, He spoke in such a common, “inelegant” manner to drive home the point of the ultimate desirability of the “Bread of Life” versus a common, symbolic meaning. That is why the Jews and others knew that He was speaking literally of eating His body and drinking His blood. Such visceral language would eliminate the possibility of anyone misunderstanding Him. Which is why they found His teaching hard to grasp and walked away.

  9. Furthermore, (I’m on a roll here!) at the Last Supper, when Jesus said “Do this in memory of me”, the same priest (an old pastor of mine) also stated that the words He used for that phrase were as such that the “doing” was more than merely a symbolic re-enactment, but (I forget the priest’s exact words in explanation as it’s been a few years) but more of an entering into the moment, as if you were there. The words were hard to convey into English as there probably nothing like it in English, but the “remembrance” was like an intimate, coming into the moment. This is why the Church teaches that Jesus’ sacrifice was indeed once and for all, and that the Mass is not a re-sacrifice, but a “presentation again” of the Last Supper, and a “continuation” of the sacrifice on Calvary. Again, only the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist can make any sense of this. The priest at Mass serves as “another Christ” ( in Latin,”in persona Christe”),offering up the sacrifice. So, when one is at a Catholic Mass, one is “as if” you are at the Last Supper, and “as if” you are at the foot of the Cross. The Mass unites its participants from across time and place to what happened 2000 years ago.Any inaccuracies in the above posts are mine, due to perhaps my failings to explain properly with the right terminology. Those links in the sidebar may have better, more detailed explanations, but that is essentially the gist of it.

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