Thursday, March 26, 2009

Albrecht vs. Augustine on the Bodily Presence - Further Rebuttal

William Albrecht has responded to a short video (technically it is just audio plus a slideshow) series I did demonstrating the obvious fact that Augustine did not believe that Jesus is bodily present with us today, although the divine presence of Jesus is with us (clip 1 / clip 2)(Albrecht's Response - part 1a, 1b, 2a, and 2b).

In this case, I've done a double-whammy - I've posted a video, which I'm embedding below, and I've posted a written response that provides more detail.

As I draw out in my clips, Augustine enunciates essentially the same view as the Reformed churches on the issue of Christ being bodily present in Heaven, but spiritually present here. What is Albrecht's response?

- He argues that the text is not addressing the Eucharist. Of course that is so. As I noted, the only reason he'd address the Eucharist is if there had been people around at the time that held to transubstantiation. Since there were not, it is no surprise he doesn't mention the Eucharist in the passage.

- He argues that all Augustine is saying is that Christ's presence here is "not exactly the same." That's misleading. He says that Christ deprived us of his bodily presence. He says it plain and simple.

- He differentiates between "Christ the person" and "the Eucharistic presence." But the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares:
1374 The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend." In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."
Thus, it appears that Mr. Albrecht's distinction is invalid within his own church's current theology.

- He argues that the spiritual presence of Christ is (in Augustine) not merely symbolic or figurative. Of course, that's right. As well, the Reformed churches teach that Christ's spiritual presence is real and divine and not merely symbolic and figurative. Apparently, Mr. Albrecht is just unaware of what we believe, even going so far as to claim that I had said that spiritual = symbolic (which, of course, I did not).

- He argues (if I am hearing him right) that the Latin word "spiritalem" is never used by Augustine in his later works to refer to something symbolic. This argument is presumably based on his previous blunder of imagining that I was arguing that Augustine was saying "spiritual" (spiritalem) but meaning "symbolic." Of course, I was not. A bigger problem for Mr. Albrecht is that "spiritalem" (spiritual) presence is the opposite of bodily presence. But - because he is chasing an irrelevant rabbit trail, Mr. Albrecht misses this important point.

- He argues, quite confusedly, that I show my ignorance of the Fathers by asserting that none of them taught transubstantiation. Then he admits that this is not a point of contention. Thus, by his own admission, my knowledge (not my ignorance) of the Fathers is clear.

- He calls pointing out that none of the fathers believed what Trent now requires followers of Rome to believe a "debating tactic." Actually, what it is, is simply an inconvenient fact that apologists for Rome have to dismiss or ignore in order to get people to look away from it, using debating tactics.

- He argues that Augustine believed in a substantial change of the bread and wine by quoting a passage where Augustine says that the bread is Christ's body and the wine is Christ's blood, after the consecration. I had to laugh - this is the same thing one might here from a Reformed minister. It is not a statement of transubstantiation in the least.

I think Mr. Albrecht would be surprised and shocked to discover that the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches, almost exactly as Augustine does:
VII. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.
and the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith says practically the same thing too:
Paragraph 7. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this ordinance, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually receive, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death; the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally, but spiritually present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.
Of course, that's nothing remotely like what Rome's catechism (already quoted above) says, but (of course) Augustine also says nothing like what Rome's catechism says.

- Mr. Albrecht tries to argue that Augustine doesn't have to say "transformed" to mean "transformed" in the Latin. Of course, Mr. Albrecht's argument isn't based on anything. I realize that folks who don't know Latin might be confused by the fact that he's throwing it out there, but really he's got nothing. The Latin says just what the English says: after the consecration, the bread is the body and the wine is the blood. There's no unique or even special rules of Latin grammar that are implicated by the sentences, and there is no reason to think that a substantial change is intended when Augustine says it, just as there is no reason to think that a substantial change is intended when a Reformed pastor says it.

- It is mildly amusing to hear Mr. Albrecht emphasizing the word "the" in the phrase "THE word of God," since - assuming Mr. Albrecht knows Latin - Mr. Albrecht should know that the word "the" has no corresponding word in the Latin original. But perhaps this was simply an accidental emphasis on Mr. Albrecht's part.

- Mr. Albrecht then turns to another place where it is said that only the bread that receives the blessing "becomes Christ's body." Again, the Latin examination doesn't show anything that the English doesn't show. There are no unique or special Latin grammatical issues involved, and there is nothing in the sermon to make us conclude that Augustine meant that "becoming" was a change of substance instead of simply a designation.

- In short, in both cases, Augustine's words (whether in English or in Latin) would be perfectly consistent with not only the Reformed view of spiritual presence, but even the more radical view of bare symbolism.

- Mr. Albrecht makes a comment about Augustine being "a Catholic" and those of us who do not follow Rome not being able to "make [Augustine] a Protestant." Mr. Albrecht - again - is missing the point. Augustine was an Early Church Father, not a Protestant or a Roman Catholic. Augustine taught many good things, but he also had errors in his theology. Unlike Roman Catholicism, however, we are under no obligation to make Augustine fit our mold. We don't have to try to make him a "Protestant" but Mr. Albrecht does feel compelled to make him "a Catholic" as he puts it.

- All in all, I feel sorry for Mr. Albrecht. He spent loads of time preparing videos in which he addressed something other than the position I had presented. In his third video he even mentions (around 35 seconds into the video) that we don't say that he means "symbolic" by "spiritual" but then goes on to say that we "pretty much indicate that in their writings." His evidence actually disproves his point - for he provides an example (around 5:45 in the 3rd video) where the term "spiritual" is used specifically as opposed to "corporeal" - i.e. as distinguishing between spirit and body. Similar examples can be found in Mr. Albrecht's 4th video as well.


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