Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Garry Wills on Augustine and the Real Presence

Garry Wills is the author of "Why I am a Catholic," but also of "Why Priests?" and "Papal Sins: Structures of Deceit."  His "Lincoln at Gettysburg" won a Pulitzer Prize.  He also wrote a biography of Augustine, St. Augustine (a Penguin Lives Biography).  So, it might be good for folks to pay attention when he says (Why Priests, p. 16):
Indeed, Eucharist ("Thanksgiving") in its later sense, of sharing bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ, is never used in the New Testament, not even in the Letter to Hebrews, which alone calls Jesus a priest. Even when the term "Eucharist" came in, as with the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, it was still, as in Paul, simply a celebration of the people's oneness at the "one altar." That meaning for the "body of Christ" would persist as late as the fourth and fifth centuries, in Augustine's denial of the real presence of Jesus in the elements of the meal.
What you see passes away, but what is invisibly symbolized does not pass away. It perdures. The visible is received, eaten, and digested. But can the body of Christ be digested? Can the church of Christ be digested? Can Christ's limbs be digested? Of course not. [[Augustine, Sermon 227]]
If you want to know what is the body of Christ, hear what the Apostle [Paul] tells believers: "You are Christ's body, and his limbs" [1 Cor 12.27]. If, then, you are Christ's body and his limbs, it is your symbol that lies on the Lord's altar--what you receive is a symbol of yourselves. When you say "Amen," and you must be the body of Christ to make that "Amen" take effect. And why are you bread? Hear again the Apostle, speaking of this very symbol: "We are one bread, one body, many as we are" [1 Cor 10.17].[[Augustine, Sermon 272]]
Believers recognize the body of Christ when they take care to be the body of Christ. They should be the body of Christ if they want to draw life from the spirit of Christ. No life comes to the body of Christ but from the spirit of Christ.[[Augustine, In Joannem Tractatus 26.13]]
There are more quotations that could be added to the above, but those are certainly three of the key quotations that establish Wills point.

Wills actually devotes an entire chapter to Augustine and Transubstantiation - chapter 5.  He writes (pp. 55-56):
I mentioned earlier that Augustine did not believe in what is called "the real presence" of Jesus in the Eucharist and quoted several places where he said that. Here is his most explicit claim that what is changed in the Mass is not the bread given out but the believers receiving it:
This bread makes clear how you should love your union with one another. Could the bread have been made from one grain, or were many grains of wheat required? Yet before they cohere as bread, each grain was isolated. They were fused in water, after being ground together. Unless wheat is pounded, and then moistened with water, it can hardly take on the new identity we call bread. In the same way, you had to be ground and pounded by the ordeal of fasting and the mystery of exorcism in preparation for baptism's water, and in this way you were watered in order to take on the new identity of bread. After that the water of baptism moistened you into dough. But the dough dose not become bread until it is baked in fire. And what does fire represent for you? It is the [post-baptism] anointing with oil. Oil, which feeds fire, is the mystery of the Holy Spirit . . . The Holy Spirit comes to you, fire after water, and you are baked into the bread which is Christ's body. That is how your unity is symbolized. [[Augustine, Sermon 227]]
This Augustinian view of the Eucharist's real meaning did not die with him, though the church made long efforts to dismiss it. In 1944, the French Jesuit Henri de Lubac published a book, Corpus Mysticum, that traced a line of theologians in the first Christian millennium who drew on Augustine to provide a theory of the Eucharist opposed to transubstantiation.
Wills goes on (p. 57) to explain that the Vatican opposed de Lubac's book and punshied him along with other "leading liberal thinkers," Jean Daniélou, Yves Congar, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Karl Rahner, Teilhard de Chardin, and John Courtney Murray.  Nevertheless, after Vatican II these men were restored to the point that in 1981, John Paul II made de Lubac a cardinal.  Likewise, Jean Daniélou and Yves Congar became cardinals after their reinstatement.


1 comment:

Paijo Budi said...

Hi Tfan,

Recently a contact on Facebook raised an issue of Augustine retracting his former teachings. It is as if he was implying that Augustine rejected his former ideas on grace in the volume called "Retractationes." Are you familiar with the work?