Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hoffer - Real Presence and Transubstantiation

Paul Hoffer had posted some responses in our on-going dialog regarding Augustine and transubstantiation, which included the following kind of comment:
Before we begin addressing errors and omissions specific to Turretinfan's commentary on Sermon 272, I would refer the reader to Part I where I have already addressed Mr. Fan's apparent confusion between the term of "Real Presence" and the term "transubstantiation" in my commentary on his thoughts about Letter 36.

It was gratifying, therefore, to read the following from Fr. Dwight Longenecker:
The problem with this is that “the Real Presence” is a term that is also used by non-Catholics to refer to their beliefs about the Eucharist. I’ve heard Anglicans, Methodists and even a Baptist talk about “the Real Presence” at Holy Communion. They all mean something different by the same term.

This reflects a major problem in all theological and ecumenical discussion: people use the same terminology to describe totally different beliefs. The Catholic uses the term (or should) to refer to transubstantiation. The Anglican says he believes in “the Real Presence” and may be referring to consubstantiation (the belief that Christ is “with” or “beside” the consecrated bread and wine) or receptionism (Christ is received by the individual as he receives the bread and wine by faith) The term “Real Presence” used by a Baptist or Methodist may simply mean, “I feel close to Jesus when I go to communion.”
(source - emphasis added)

He links to a further entry, in which he provides a more detailed explanation:
So–like Ridley and Latimer before him– he used the term ‘real presence’ to sound as close to Catholicism as possible while in fact rejecting Catholic doctrine. Pusey believed the ‘real presence’ of Christ in the sacrament was only a spiritual and sacramental presence. In this way the Victorian Anglo-Catholic actually agreed with the reformer Ridley who wrote, “The blood of Christ is in the chalice… but by grace and in a sacrament…This presence of Christ is wholly spiritual.”

So why does it matter if the presence is only spiritual and sacramental? It matters because the whole work of Christ is more than spiritual. It is physical.


So likewise the church has always insisted–despite the difficulties– that the presence of Christ in the blessed sacrament is not simply spiritual and subjective. It is objective and corporeal. In some way it is physical. At the Fourth Lateran Council that explained that belief with the term transubstantiation. As the Oxford Dominican, Fr.Herbert McCabe has said, “Transubstantiation is not a complete explanation of the mystery, but it is the best description of what we believe happens at the consecration.”

So what should Catholics do when confronted with this confusing term ‘real presence’? First of all Catholics should realise that it is not a Catholic term at all. It’s history is mostly Anglican, and as such it was always used as a way to adroitly sidestep the troublesome doctrine of transubstantiation; and as such it is not an accurate term to describe true Catholic Eucharistic doctrine.


So as Catholics, we must use clear language about the sacrament. We can affirm the ‘real’ presence of Christ which non-Catholics affirm in the fellowship of the church, in the preaching of the gospel and in the celebration of the Eucharist, but we must also affirm that the fullest sense of the ‘real presence’ is that which we worship in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.

Although Paul VI used the term ‘real presence’ in Mysterium Fidei the whole thrust of the encyclical is to support and recommend the continued use of the term ‘transubstantiation’ as the Catholic terminology. With this in mind I suggest Catholics should avoid the ambiguous term ‘real presence’ and speak boldly of transubstantiation. Instead of ‘real presence’ we should also use the terminology used in the twelfth century when the doctrine of transubstantiation was being hammered out. Then there was no talk of a vaguely spiritual ‘real presence’, instead they referred to the ‘real body and real blood of Christ.’
Mr. Hoffer has a lot more to say in the post which the first snippet referenced. In that much larger segment, Hoffer provides some discussion regarding "real presence" and "transubstantiation."  But, at most, the distinction between the two within modern Roman theology is that "transubstantiation" describes the change as a change, whereas "real presence" in modern Roman theology describes the result of that change. We might add that transubstantiation implies not only the "real presence" of the body, blood, soul, and divinity after the consecration but also the "real absence" of bread at that time - but some would say that the modern Roman "real presence" view includes that aspect as well.

As it relates to our discussion of Augustine, Mr. Hoffer's nuance is one that is interesting.  It seems that Mr. Hoffer is not willing to defend the idea that Augustine held to transubstantiation, even under a different name.  Thus, he seems to have conceded the major point we have consistently alleged.

On the other hand, it seems that Mr. Hoffer believes that Augustine held to the modern Roman concept of "real presence," which would require Augustine to believe that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ are all "really" present under each species (both under the species that has the appearance of bread, and under the species that has the appearance of wine diluted with water).

Augustine, we contend, held to a divine, spiritual and sacramental (in the Augustinian sense, not the modern Roman sense) presence.  That kind of presence is real, yet it is not the modern Roman conception of "real presence," but rather more like one of the Reformation conceptions of real presence, as Longenecker explains above.

So, at least a minor point of disagreement remains between us, namely whether Augustine held to a full-blown conception of modern Roman "real presence," or whether Augustine merely held to something like the Reformation view of a divine, spiritual, and sacramental (in the Augustinian sense) presence. 


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