Seems the Jesuits are at it again, rejecting the true and authentic teaching of the Church. Fr. Michael Kelly, Jesuit CEO of the Asian Catholic news agency UCA News has this to say about the doctrine of transubstantiation:
Regrettably, all too frequently, the only Presence focused on is Christ’s presence in the elements of bread and wine. Inadequately described as the change of the “substance” (not the “accidents”) of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist carries the intellectual baggage of a physics no one accepts. Aristotelian physics makes such nice, however implausible and now unintelligible, distinctions. They are meaningless in the post-Newtonian world of quantum physics, which is the scientific context we live in today.
I think it might be helpful to break this quote down, not simply possibly to absolve Fr. Kelly, but to try to get at what he is trying to say.
So, the first line:
Regrettably, all too frequently, the only Presence focused on is Christ’s presence in the elements of bread and wine.
Fr. Kelly is right. Henri de Lubac often distinguished between the historical body, the sacramental body, and the ecclesial body of Christ. Each is intricately bound up with the other and cannot be separated. The eucharist points us to the historical body, since it is only in the historical sacrifice actually accepted and suffered that we are saved and healed. And it is a sacrament, a symbol of what the Church is meant to be, the one eschatological body of Christ. His simple point seems to be that one presence is highlighted often at the expense of the others.
Inadequately described as the change of the “substance” (not the “accidents”) of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist carries the intellectual baggage of a physics no one accepts.
Notice that Fr. Kelly does not here say “inaccurately” but “inadequately.” In other words, if I was a catechist who simply taught my students that the eucharist is the accidents of bread but the substance of Jesus, I would be inadequately describing the fulness of the mystery. I would simply be giving them a basic minimal definition, the same way as a person as a “rational animal” does not fully describe a person, but only that which distinguishes him or her from other animals.
Of course the last line is the big kicker:
Aristotelian physics makes such nice, however implausible and now unintelligible, distinctions. They are meaningless in the post-Newtonian world of quantum physics, which is the scientific context we live in today.
Well, they may not be completely unintelligible. And they are helpful concepts particularly in regard to the question of permanence of identity over time when discussing persons.
The big question is whether or not we need to understand a doctrine like that of transubstantiation in strictly Aristotelian terms. I ask because I recall a story that Fr. Norris Clarke — a recently deceased Jesuit philosopher — told me about the philosopher Gabriel Marcel. When considering entering the Church, Marcel was held back in part by the Aristotelian nature of the doctrine of the eucharist. He felt that, because he could not accept Aristotle’s metaphysics, he could accept the Catholic definition of transubstantiation. His fears were put to rest by his spiritual director who assured him that the Church has no official philosophy, and that these are helpful ways of affirming truths about the eucharist. But if he would prefer to think of Christ’s presence in the eucharist in another way that philosophically grasps the meaning of what transubstantiation implies (as opposed to consubstantiation, for example) then he was free to articulate this meaning in other ways.
I’ve often wondered about this. Fides et Ratio 49 for example famously points out:
The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others.
How can one square this statement with the formula of Trent, for instance? After all, John Paul II reaffirmed in Ecclesia de Eucharistia in paragraph 15 the doctrine of transubstantiation:
The sacramental re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice, crowned by the resurrection, in the Mass involves a most special presence which – in the words of Paul VI – “is called ‘real’ not as a way of excluding all other types of presence as if they were ‘not real’, but because it is a presence in the fullest sense: a substantial presence whereby Christ, the God-Man, is wholly and entirely present”. This sets forth once more the perennially valid teaching of the Council of Trent: “the consecration of the bread and wine effects the change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. And the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called this change transubstantiation”. Truly the Eucharist is a mysterium fidei, a mystery which surpasses our understanding and can only be received in faith, as is often brought out in the catechesis of the Church Fathers regarding this divine sacrament: “Do not see – Saint Cyril of Jerusalem exhorts – in the bread and wine merely natural elements, because the Lord has expressly said that they are his body and his blood: faith assures you of this, though your senses suggest otherwise”.
Yet notice that what John Paul II draws out of Trent is the mystery of faith involved in the Eucharist. In other words, it seems at least possible to me to accept that the “substance” of the eucharist is entirely Jesus, while not accepting Aristotelian metaphysics or physics. This would only be the case if the implication of “substance” in the way that the Church uses it can be described as meaning “that which that thing most truly and really is in relation to all other things on earth” or something like that.
As a possible example, Marcel drew a distinction between “problem” and “mystery.” A “problem” is something I can attempt to place myself outside of in order to observe it in a static sort of way. Problems have answers. A “mystery” however is something that I can in no way stand outside of. I am so bound up in it, that its incapacity for definition lies not in the inadequacy of my language, but in the fact that I am wholly immersed in it. “Being” would be one such mystery. We are so immersed in “being,” that while we can define particular “beings” to some extent, “being” itself remains a mystery.
It is possible that Marcel thought that to articulate the eucharist in terms of Aristotelian philosophy was to reduce dangerously a mystery into a problem. I’m not sure. Nor am I sure that we should absolve Fr. Kelly. But I think that we can give him a fair reading and try to understand the point he is making.