Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is Transubstantiation Defendable?

            Transubstantiation is defendable because it appeals to human reason while still keeping the double miracle of the Eucharist in tact. Thomas Aquinas, though he did not invent the term transubstantiation, is the one who greatly expounded on the virtues of this term and used Aristotelian philosophy to explain the changes that happen to the bread and wine and the changes that do not happen. This is further defendable because of the Incarnation. For centuries leading up to Aquinas, the Church used Platonism as its primary mode of explaining Church teachings philosophically. While Platonism does not reject the Incarnation, it is a philosophy that is more akin to explaining the visible world as an illusion. Aristotelian philosophy is different in this respect because it says the visible world is real. In this case, transubstantiation is seen as a fulfillment of the Incarnation on an even more tangible level.
            In the late eleventh century, there were several eucharistic controversies in the Western Church. Among the most famous, though, was Berengar of Tours’ formulation that the bread and wine at Mass did not become the Body and Blood of Christ, but was merely a “symbolic” change. After being reprimanded in 1159 and 1179, he finally capitulated and said he believed what the Church taught on this teaching. Though he was never excommunicated, only taking two oaths of fidelity, his writings on the Eucharist caused the Church to question its teachings and approach them in a more logical manner. This was indicative of the shift from a more symbolic (in the truest sense of the word) philosophy of religious teachings to the need for a more academic and logical explanation. In the mid-thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican friar and professor of theology at the University of Paris, began to speak of the Eucharist using, not Platonic philosophy, as was the norm, but Aristotelian philosophy.
            Aquinas used Aristotle’s ideas of accidents and substances. Accidents were the physical appearances of bread and wine, and substances, the invisible essence of the bread and wine. Aquinas claimed that through the words of Consecration pronounced by a priest with his proper intention, and bread and wine, the bread and wine were truly transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The accidents, the appearance of bread and wine remained, while the substance of the bread and wine were changed into the Body and Blood. Until this time, there had not been any systematic or academic approach to the Eucharist that was satisfactory to all sides. Even though the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 used language similar to transubstantiation, it was Aquinas who opened up a new way of looking at the Eucharist that was never done before in the history of the Eucharist.
            This metaphysical explanation of the Sacrament appeals to the Church in the West most especially because of the importance placed on the Incarnation of Christ. While the Churches in the East do hold that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, they never felt the need to explain it in depth because of the mysterious nature of their religious ethos. This is partly due to their emphasis on the place of Easter in their liturgical rites. The West also believes in the Resurrection, obviously, but its liturgical life is centered on Christmas. This complementary dichotomy is an example of two worldviews: Platonism in the East and Aristotelian philosophy in the West. The East views the earth as a reflection of the real world of God, heaven. The liturgy in the East is more of a tearing apart of the veil between heaven and earth so that the priest can mediate the reality of heaven from God to the people, taking the people’s prayers to God. In the West, though this is not an alien concept, sees the liturgy more of a participation in Divine realities manifested through visible signs and symbols. Each liturgical ethos is non-contradictory and represents the two different strands of philosophy in the Church.
            Because of this, though, Aristotelian philosophy places more emphasis on the visible and real manifestation of Divine realities in our reality. Aristotle was a student of Plato for over twenty years, but rejected his teacher’s concepts of our visible reality participating, but not equaling, the eternal, divine realities of heaven. Plato’s use of the forms stipulates that man is a part of the earth, but merely participates in a diluted and therefore imperfect manifestation of the really real. For Aristotle, however, he believed that the earth in all its manifestations was the real world and therefore all creation was good because it was a direct participation in the divine. This reflects the Incarnation quite well because Christ became man and saved all creation, especially man, through His Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension into heaven. Therefore all material of the earth can be seen as a full participation in the divine reality of the Holy Trinity, living in the love of the Trinity as it is manifested in nature.
            Transubstantiation is a defendable argument because of Aquinas’ use of Aristotelian philosophy to explain the double miracle of the Eucharist, the changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The bread and wine, which man has received from the goodness of God, is offered back to God as a spotless victim. This spotless victim is Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Logos of the Father. The bread and wine are thus changed into Christ’s Body and Blood as a gift from God to man and man reciprocates by offering things of this earth where God can manifest Himself through the goodness of His creation. Transubstantiation makes sense because it explains how God is able to use any means to make Himself known to man. Even though the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ substantially, accidently the bread and wine remain to speak to the anthropological need to communicating with the Creator through means man is able to comprehend. It is then that transubstantiation is defendable because it elevates visible creation to the heights of God.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

50th Anniversary of the Opening of Vatican II

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, as well as the opening of the Year of Faith. This is a most beautiful time for all Catholics throughout the world to join in a celebration of their faith, culture, and traditions, whatever they may be.

Here are some practical suggestions I offer to you for how to celebrate the Year of Faith:

1) Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church - The Catechism is rich with scripture and beauty, extolling the virtues of our faith which we received from Christ Himself through the hands of the Apostles. I would recommend especially reading the sections on the Liturgy and the Sacraments, so as to become familiar again with how the Church pray and from Whom this prayer comes from.

2) Read the 16 documents that came out of Vatican II - This can be a great way to see where the council fathers were coming from when they composed these documents. Two suggestions: Firstly, read Sacrosanctum Concilium first, the document on the Sacred Liturgy, and the first document to be written. Secondly, for supplemental reading, I would suggest Fr. John O'Malley's What Happened at Vatican II.

3) Partake of the Sacraments! - If there's one thing Vatican II did, it was lay the groundwork for liturgical renewal. Go experience the fruits of these labors... and have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, the High Priest who acts through all the Sacraments and the Liturgical Life of the Church.

With these suggestions, I hope you come to know Christ more in your daily lives in this Year of Faith. Praised be Jesus Christ, both now and forever!