Wednesday, December 16, 2009

If You Look Only at the Similarities, They're Exactly the Same!

One area where Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox part ways is over describing what goes on in the consecration of the elements in the Eucharist. For Eastern Orthodox, the transformation that occurs is mysterious and indescribable. For Roman Catholics, the transformation is sacramental and describable - in fact it is described quite specifically by the doctrine of transubstantiation which claims that the whole substance of the bread and wine are miraculously converted in each case (not respectively) to the body, blood, and divinity of Jesus Christ.

This real difference between the two views is something that Roman Catholic Matthew Bellisario would like to pretend doesn't exist. An example of MB's wishful analysis of Eastern Orthodoxy is seen in the following excerpt:
The Eastern Churches simply never adopted that type of Latin, scholastic investigation. They simply accept the fact that it is fully Jesus Christ on the altar after the consecration. Archimandrite Alexander (Mileant) of the Russian Orthodox Church OUtside America writes, "While in other sacraments objects such as water or oil are only sanctified, in Holy Communion the objects of the Sacrament, bread and wine, are not only sanctified but actually transformed into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. As a result, when a Christian receives Holy Communion, he receives Jesus Himself and joins with Him. So great is this mystery that no possible explanation can be found of how this happens, and one can only say with gratitude: "Thank You, my Lord!" There is no real point of disunity on this subject among most Orthodox theologians or churches concerning the Catholic teaching. It is a fact that the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic liturgies are largely the same liturgies (St. Chrysostom, St. James, St. Basil, etc) which profess this Eucharistic doctrine. The Greek Orthodox Church of America writes, "The Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine become for us His Body and His Blood." I personally believe that there is no point of contention on this doctrine, and the Catholic Church itself does not view it be one either.
(source - errors and emphasis in original)

Notice the way that Bellisario hopefully emphasizes what he sees as overlap between the Roman Catholic position and the Eastern Orthodox position. In doing so, however, he misses the point of significant departure, "no possible explanation can be found ... ." The Eastern Orthodox didn't just fail to adopt a scholastic analysis, they apophatically assert that explanation is impossible.

Why is that? One reason is that transubstantiation is not a doctrine that was innovated before the Eastern apostolic sees separated from the Western apostolic see. Thus, transubstantiation is not part of the tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy, despite Roman Catholic attempts to portray it as such. More significantly, the history of Eastern Orthodoxy helps to demonstrate that transubstantiation is not an Apostolic tradition. It's not something that the apostles knew or taught, nor something that they handed down either orally or in written form.

Yes, if you only consider the similarities between any two positions, those two positions are exactly the same. But when you look at the differences, you realize that there is fundamental difference between those who teach the explanation of transubstantiation as a dogma and those who teach that any explanation is impossible.

-TurretinFan

13 comments:

Turretinfan said...

A quick caveat. Some have argued that transubstantiation was none in the west as early as the 9th century. Things hadn't completely broken between the East and the West at that time.

natamllc said...

For me, first things first, shouldn't "none", TF be "done" in your quick caveat?

Second, I see that Paul the Apostle parted ways with both the RCC and the Eastern Orthodox, ah, maybe it's the other way around? :)

But having said that, you tell me if they parted ways with Paul or Paul with them by this verse?:::>


Eph 3:8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

The RCC wants to describe what is "unsearchable". The Eastern Orthodox want to make something complicated out of these Words of Jesus:::>

Mat 26:26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body."

What is "describable" is "what" Jesus did and said on that night of dark nights for His Soul.

What is "indescribable" is what the RCC persists in describing as something we can understand, i.e., transubstantiation.

I like what the Holy Spirit likes. He likes it when I live by faith, not by sight!

Andrew Suttles said...

Another useful and informative post, TF.

Viisaus said...

I understand that transubstantiation in its present dogmatic sense became a "de fide" article of faith (something all RCs were required to believe) only at the 1215 Lateran Council - long after the 1054 Eastern schism.

Before that, it was merely a popular opinion, like Mary being a co-redemptrix is today.

Turretinfan said...

Whether or not it was popular (as the mediatrix/co-redemptrix doctrine is), the 4th Lateran Council used the term (the term didn't get formally defined until Trent, I think you'll find).

-TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

"known" for "none" in the first comment above. Many thanks to someone who thoughtfully pointed this out (as well as another typo in the original post, which has now been corrected).

Acolyte4236 said...

You are correct that the Orthodox not only reject Transubstantiation but say that it is not strictly speaking possible to define it using philosophical categories. This reflects another difference that for the Orthodox, philosophy is not a handmaiden to theology.

ChaferDTS said...

" A quick caveat. Some have argued that transubstantiation was none in the west as early as the 9th century. Things hadn't completely broken between the East and the West at that time. "

Dr. W.H. Griffith Thomas in The Principles Of Theology An Introduction To The Thirty-Nine Articles on page 397 listed Paschasius Radbertus in 840 as teaching the full doctrine of corporal presense and was oppossed by Ratramnus or Bertram. Roman Catholic apologist are basically dishonest on a claimed unanimous consent of the Church Fathers which does not even exist. And you are right in the disagreements the RCC and Eastern Orthodox have on the issue . The Orthodox Study Bible in it's article discusses their specific disagreement with Roman Catholicism. In discussions with Roman Catholics on it I always bring that up much to their disbelief on that. In the end they end up calling Eastern Orthodox " Protestants " in every discussion I have had . Amazing to say the least.

Andrew said...

Roman Catholic teaching about the Eucharist (transubstantiation) is not a significant departure from Orthodox teaching. It simply teaches that the bread and wine are the body and blood, though they appear under the forms of bread and wine. It phrases this in the language of the Greek philosophers, but many Fathers of East and West also phrase Christian doctrine in the language of the Greek philosophers. It is pretty much the same thing. The only difference is how the doctrine is expressed. Rome's expression is more legalistic, while Orthodoxy has a more mystical approach to the doctrine. There are much more significant things we differ on, like in soteriology, anthropology, eschatology, and ecclesiology.

turretinfan said...

It's interesting how Orthodox laity sometimes think they know more about Orthodox theology than Orthodox theologians. Transubstantiation is a significant departure because it purports to describe what takes place in the mystery - whereas Orthodox theology teaches that what takes place is not able to be described.

Andrew said...

The Eucharist is a mystery, as God is mystery, but all I can see with the Transubstantiation, is using more explicit terms for the mystery. The Roman Catholics still see the Eucharist as a mystery. I do not see it as much of a difference other than the way it is expressed. For example, the Trinity is clearly found in Scripture, but it is more implicit. The way the Trinity was defined at the Council of Nicaea, however, is more explicit and it used terms like "οὐσία" or "ὑποστάσεις" that are not found in scripture, yet what was defined at the Council of Nicaea, was not a departure from what it says in the Bible. Therefore, it is not like the dogma of the Trinity was invented at the Council of Nicaea. All that took place was a development of the expression of the dogma. This is what I also see with the transubstantiation. To me it appears that Rome only developed a more explicit, expression of a dogma that was always believed. Both Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ.

Rome has invented doctrines though that are completely absent in the faith of the whole Church in Christian history, like the Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, Papal Infallibility, Papal Universal Immediate Jurisdiction, Substitutionary Atonement, Absolute Divine Simplicity, Indulgences, the Filioque, merit/satisfaction soteriology, and Original Sin (understood as inherited guilt).

turretinfan said...

"The Eucharist is a mystery, as God is mystery, but all I can see with the Transubstantiation, is using more explicit terms for the mystery."

a) That may be all you can see, but that's not what it is.
b) In fact, it's alleging that something specific takes place - a conversion of the "substance."
c) Thus, it purports to be an explanation.
d) As an explanation, it's contrary to the consensus of Orthodox theologians.

"The Roman Catholics still see the Eucharist as a mystery."

That's not the issue.

"Both Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ."
So do Zwinglians.

"Rome has invented doctrines though that are completely absent in the faith of the whole Church in Christian history, like the Immaculate Conception, Purgatory, Papal Infallibility, Papal Universal Immediate Jurisdiction, Substitutionary Atonement, Absolute Divine Simplicity, Indulgences, the Filioque, merit/satisfaction soteriology, and Original Sin (understood as inherited guilt)."

Interesting set of accusations.

-TurretinFan

Andrew said...

I think I am beginning to see what you are trying to say. Orthodoxy says that an explanation is impossible, so by Rome explaining it, it leads to the possibility of having an incorrect explanation. It seems that what you are getting at is that Rome's view is cataphatic, while Orthodoxy's is apophatic. Orthodoxy places heavy emphasis on apophatic theology. However what is the difference between the way the Trinity was defined and the transubstantiation? At the council of Nicaea, the mystery of God, was given a more explicit explanation, by saying God is one essence, but exists in three persons. But we cannot say that such terminology was necessarily part of Apostolic tradition. Don't Reformers also accept the way the Trinity was defined at Nicaea? Orthodox dogma never claims to expound the whole truth about anything, but only delineates the borders of the mystery, as was the case with the Trinity.

Your post almost seems to be defending the Orthodox position. Do you believe Rome to be in greater error than Orthodoxy?

You said that Zwinglians accept that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, but I don't think you could have said anything further from the truth. Huldrych Zwingli was one of the main Reformers who explicitly denied that the Eucharist is Christ's Flesh and Blood and said it was purly symbolic.

Orthodoxy does believe that the Eucharist is truly Christ's Body and Blood.

Finally, you said that my set of accusations were interesting. What exactly was so "interesting" about them? Please explain. Also, your post you made seemed to imply we Orthodox broke away from Rome. I've read all of the writings of the well-known Church Fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and they never taught the ecclesiology that Rome currently has. You cannot say that we broke away from Rome. Rome broke away from us, because the East never recognized the Bishop of Rome as having universal, immediate, and ordinary jurisdiction over every local church. The ecclesiology of Orthodoxy can be easily seen in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch and the Apostolic Canons.