A Response to “Five Reasons I Reject the Doctrine of Transubstantiation”

10Mar13

A response to Michael Patton on Five Reasons I Reject the Doctrine of Transubstantiation. A good post, but I politely disagree with him. I respond to four of his points here — his fifth is outside of my field of experience, and so I won’t overreach.

1. Yes, Christ often spoke in metaphor and riddle. Using the text-critical principle that the most unusual is the most likely authentic, then, we can surmise that the early Christians would not go against that grain and interpret him literally unless there were strong reasons for doing so. Jesus’ statements about resurrection are also mystical statements, but we both agree that those are rather literal.

 

2. Although God is not time-bound, and theologically speaking the Crucifixion is timeless (at least in my view), let’s do a thought experiment here. Why is Jesus’ blood efficacious for the remission of sins? Is it because the blood is shed/poured out, or because it is pure and given? Likewise: is the body efficacious because it was broken, or because it was offered?

 

It seems clear that the blood is already efficacious for the purpose of instituting a New Covenant, regardless of whether it is yet efficacious for forgiving sins. Matthew 26:26-:28 says “And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins.

 

Verse 28 already associates the blood with the New Covenant, even if the remission-of-sins part is not yet actualized. Yet even if it’s not actualized in the Last Supper, as you say, this does not mean that every occurrence since then is likewise of Jesus’ pre-Crucifixion body and blood.

 

We have a strong trend in Christian thought of defying time-bound constraints; as I said on the Theology Unplugged Catholicism 7: We “tap into” Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection every time someone is baptized. This happens regardless of the fact that Jesus died only once, not once plus once per Christian baptism. Tu Quoque, amice.

 

Note also that Jesus “gave thanks” (εὐχαριστήσας) – when Jesus did that with bread and fish, it multiplied. Jesus can make things happen to food when He gives thanks. Biblical fact.

 

3. No, the cup isn’t the New Covenant, the wine/blood is. This is a figure of speech called metonymy, or more specifically, synecdoche.

 

Metonymy: referring to X by something closely associated with X. Example: “sword” in prophetic speech as a reference to “war” or “destruction”. This example is simultaneously a metaphor, but the two don’ always overlap. “life is a box of chocolates” would be a metaphor that isn’t metonymic.

 

Synecdoche: using X to refer to only part of X, or part of X to refer to all of X. Example: “this is my body”. Well, technically, his entire body isn’t in there, so that’s only part of His body.

 

But why one and not the other?” Because the cup-as-contents synecdoche is already well-known in Scripture and can be taken as a given. For instance, Isaiah 51:17: “Arise, arise, stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of his wrath; thou hast drunk even to the bottom of the cup of dead sleep, and thou hast drunk even to the dregs.” Clearly, the fear is not that the cup itself will be used as a smashing bludgeon. No; it is the contents, the wine, that is scary. God’s 1,000,000,000-proof wine will give one hell of a hangover.

 

Likewise, Revelation 14:10 spells out that the cup of wrath (material genitive of contents) contains the wine of wrath (epexegetical genitive): “He also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mingled with pure wine in the cup of his wrath, and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the sight of the holy angels, and in the sight of the Lamb.”

 

From a pedantic standpoint, no, “this is my body/blood” isn’t “literal”. It is synecdotic or metonymic, not “literal” in the strict sense. But if we’re asking specifically “is this a metaphor or not?” then one could loosely reply “no, it’s literal”. Semantics is fun, ain’t it?

 

4. John leaves out lots of things. Demons. Exorcisms. Most healings. Nearly all of Jesus’ ethical commands. There’s no “love your enemies” or even “love your neighbor as yourself” here. No. It’s just circle the wagons and “love one another”. That command, and the command to “believe” are pretty much the only general commands of Jesus that are explicitly mentioned in the Gospel of John. John is not meant to stand on its own, but presupposes knowledge of the other Gospels (or of oral teaching about Jesus). In short: it is not freshman-level material. Jesus said “if you love me, keep my commands.” Which begs the question: what are His commands? It doesn’t anywhere near fully answer that. Also missing from G-John: “Gospel”. The word is not there. Whatsoever.

 

Besides, John is a very different animal from the other three. Whereas Matthew, Mark, and Luke are biographies (βίος), John is a drama (διδασκαλία). For this reason, it works differently. John also repeatedly has narratives in which the speakers are speaking to truths far greater than the immediate context, and, often, far greater than the interlocutors realize. The woman at the well, for instance, did not understand the depth of *her* need for water and the depths Jesus could give far surpassed the depth of the well of Sychar. Likewise, Caiaphas was likely unaware his politically expedient words were prophetically valid in ch 11.

 

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5 Responses to “A Response to “Five Reasons I Reject the Doctrine of Transubstantiation””

    • Sorry I took so long to reply — I never thought I’d get any comments! This blog’s been dead for nearly 2 years, and I just now revamped it.

      I’ll read and respond on your blog, vivator. I’m just about to enter a state of inquiry. Oh, how I wish God had picked August rather than November to hit me over the head with this whole Catholicism thing, but He moves as He wills.

  1. Interesting. However, I take the Lord’s words regarding His body and blood quite literally, in the spiritual sense which most people do not “get.”

    • If we’re speaking in terms of a binary of metaphorical vs. literal, then so do I. However, if we’re technical, it *is* a figure of speech using “cup” to refer to the literal wine as the literal body.

  2. A word of caution: if the inspired author did not write the Gospel according to your applied analytical structure, then your assumption that it applies may not have merit.


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