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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Gregory of Nyssa and Good Friends

This morning I was laying in bed gazing into the ceiling in one of those thinking moments when one is actually thinking about nothing. You may know one of those times! The phone rang and it was my good friend Canon Arthur Middleton. He has read my entry below on Andrewes and S. John of Damascus. He said, "if Andrewes is getting his theology from S. John of Damascus, then where do you think the Damascene is getting his theology?" My immediate response was, "I would guess Gregory of Nyssa." He said, "You're right; go look at his catechism XXXVI and XXXVII." I did and it is all coming together for me. The Eastern and hence in this point, the Cappadocian Fathers' influence on Andrewes is simply astounding. He thought like them, worshipped like them, and lived their theology. Concerning the Eucharist, Andrewes walks with the Fathers hand-in-hand. Here is a portion from Catechism XXXVII.
The question was, how can that one Body of Christ vivify the whole of mankind, all, that is, in whomsoever there is Faith, and yet, though divided amongst all, be itself not diminished? Perhaps, then, we are now not far from the probable explanation. If the subsistence of every body depends on nourishment, and this is eating and drinking, and in the case of our eating there is bread and in the case of our drinking water sweetened with wine, and if, as was explained at the beginning, the Word of God, Who is both God and the Word, coalesced with man’s nature, and when He came in a body such as ours did not innovate on man’s physical constitution so as to make it other than it was, but secured continuance for His own body by the customary and proper means, and controlled its subsistence by meat and drink, the former of which was bread,—just, then, as in the case of ourselves, as has been repeatedly said already, if a person sees bread he also, in a kind of way, looks on a human body, for by the bread being within it the bread becomes it, so also, in that other case, the body into which God entered, by partaking of the nourishment of bread, was, in a certain measure, the same with it; that nourishment, as we have said, changing itself into the nature of the body. For that which is peculiar to all flesh is acknowledged also in the case of that flesh, namely, that that Body too was maintained by bread; which Body also by the indwelling of God the Word was transmuted to the dignity of Godhead. Rightly, then, do we believe that now also the bread which is consecrated by the Word of God is changed into the Body of God the Word. For that Body was once, by implication, bread, but has been consecrated by the inhabitation of the Word that tabernacled in the flesh. Therefore, from the same cause as that by which the bread that was transformed in that Body was changed to a Divine potency, a similar result takes place now. For as in that case, too, the grace of the Word used to make holy the Body, the substance of which came of the bread, and in a manner was itself bread, so also in this case the bread, as says the Apostle106 , “is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer”; not that it advances by the process of eating107 to the stage of passing into the body of the Word, but it is at once changed into the body by means of the Word, as the Word itself said, “This is My Body.” Seeing, too, that all flesh is nourished by what is moist (for without this combination our earthly part would not continue to live), just as we support by food which is firm and solid the solid part of our body, in like manner we supplement the moist part from the kindred element; and this, when within us, by its faculty of being transmitted, is changed to blood, and especially if through the wine it receives the faculty of being transmuted into heat. Since, then, that God-containing flesh partook for its substance and support of this particular nourishment also, and since the God who was manifested infused Himself into perishable humanity for this purpose, viz. that by this communion with Deity mankind might at the same time be deified, for this end it is that, by dispensation of His grace, He disseminates Himself in every believer through that flesh, whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the immortal, man, too, may be a sharer in incorruption. He gives these gifts by virtue of the benediction through which He transelements108 the natural quality of these visible things to that immortal thing.
Now there is something very interesting about this last sentence of S. Gregory's. And that is the translated word "transelements". I like the term. I will need to research Migne to see the Greek word that is used there but the term seems to be a good one to define the nature of presence in Andrewes' theology of the Eucharist. I have coined the term "effectual instrumentalist" over against Bryan Spinks' "symbolic instrumenatist" position and now I am publicly coining the phrase "transelementationalist" to define Andrewes' views of Eucharistic presence and transformation of ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Andrewes was keen to keep the word trans but was hung up with the Aristotelian metaphysic of transubstantiation. Would it now be possible for us to talk about this on ecumenical terms between both East and West? I propose we can because it gets at the essence of both theology, liturgy and piety of devotion to Christ in the Eucharist. I'll develop this more as I think about it further. Biretta tip to Canon Middleton who listened to me and helped to formulate my thoughts here as we discussed this in a phone conversation prior to my posting.

3 Comments:

Blogger Pontificator said...

Jeff, please share with us the results of your exegesis of St Gregory. I'd like to know precisely what Gregory meant by the word.

4:42 pm  
Blogger Jeff said...

Al, I will. The library is closed until late next week so it will be then that I will be able to get my hands on a copy of Migne. But, I will keep some of these thoughts going whilst in the wait!

js

4:43 pm  
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