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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Sacramental Presence; Not Local--Thomas Aquinas

For Sacramental conversion, i.e., consecration, Aquinas understood sacramental change as the substance of Christ's body only, not with its dimensions. This is well-known! So, if that is so well-known, then why do we have so many reformers arguing against a local presence when local presence would require accidents, which is what takes up space? Aquinas denies such presence when Christ is present on the altar. For Aquinas, Christ was not local on the altar. He was substantially present in the elements as a result of the sacramental sign (hence Augustine) and as a result of natural concomitance. It was not the flesh, Jesus said, that profits us life, but the substance of receiving the whole Christ in the Eucharist. We are to feed on him, and yes it is by faith that we are to do so, but it is a real feeding and not something merely going on in the mind (William Perkins). But we feed on him objectively as he is offered in the Sacrament. What Aquinas is wanting to protect is not a physical Christ that can be sacrificed again on the altar, but a substantially present Christ, which is the real Christ who is present in the Sacrament.

Through our union with him, we join in his eternal priesthood in offering his self-same offering made once and for all on the cross as a memorial offering to the Father. Real (not crass) presence from which sacrifice is a necessary deduction is the result of his condescending to us in love in this sacrament and we memorialise his death. Sacrifice is necessary in the sense that we 'proclaim the Lord's death until he comes again'. Sins actually committed after baptism are forgiven and through the Eucharistic celebration, the one offering of Christ is applied to us anew.For Aquinas, sacrifice is the substance of the liturgy of the Church of Christ who offered himself as 'self-gift' and our offering ourselves to God and the world as 'self-gift' with him is our response.

We must be clear when speaking of a Roman Catholic view of presence acknowledging that Christ's body is not present as in a place, but in the way which is proper for substance to be under dimensions. So, Christ's body is not under the dimensions of bread locally on the altar. Aquinas said,
The place is not empty where the body of Christ is. But properly speaking it is not filled by the substance of the body of Christ, which is not locally present, as we have just seen. It is filled by the sacramental appearance which are able to fill a place either because the dimensions themselves naturally do this or are enabled to do so by a miracle, just as they miracuously subsist as if they were substance. ST 3a. 76, 6

1 Comments:

Blogger Brian Douglas said...

Jeff,

This is a really important matter that you raise. Many of the Reformers (by my reading of them) condemned the notion of real presence (and transubstantiation) because they interpreted it as a fleshy and physical presence (what you call crass and I might call immoderate realist). This seems to be because they did not understand the distinction between a real presence that was real and yet not fleshy and the corruptions or popular views which were often about a fleshy presence (Miri Rubin in her book 'Corpus Christi' notes many of these). Some of the Reformers did not appreciate the subtle nature of Aquinas' view and even attributed a fleshy real presence to him. As you have rightly pointed out he said no such thing and in fact specifically denied it. What I find really interesting is that the same limited view of real presence in the Eucharist is perpetuated by some in the present (particularly some Evangelical Anglicans). Interestingly Andrewes not only understood what Aquinas had to say but he was clearly a moderate realist and advocated a real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He speaks of the real presence in the Eucharist using the logic of the Incarnation but is careful not to say that there is fleshy presence in the Eucharist. He speaks instead of an instantiation of the nature of Christ in the Eucharist (my interpretation). Thanks for raising this important matter since it is not always understood and appreciated and the lack of clarity here limits our understanding of eucharistic theology.

10:51 pm  

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