Augustine on Adam’s Body and Christ’s Body – Is Reformed Theology Truly Augustinian?

Feb 18th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Here is a simple synopsis of God’s original plan for Adam by Saint Augustine. Notice how Augustine views humanity as “between the angelic and bestial,” since man consists of a immaterial, separable soul and a material body:

Man, on the other hand, whose nature was to be a mean between the angelic and bestial, He created in such sort, that if he remained in subjection to His Creator as his rightful Lord, and piously kept His commandments, he should pass into the company of the angels, and obtain, without the intervention of death, a blessed and endless immortality; but if he offended the Lord his God by a proud and disobedient use of his free will, he should become subject to death, and live as the beasts do—the slave of appetite, and doomed to eternal punishment after death.

Augustine, City of God Book 12, 22.

He explicitly states that Adam’s destiny was to be with the angels, yet in a bodily manner.

This is a deep criticism of the errors of Gnosticism and it sheds light on the reality of Christ’s body, the means of salvation, and our final beatitude. The body of Adam and the body of Christ are essential to comprehending the Christian faith.

My challenge to Calvinists would be this: how does this bodily emphasis inform our ecclesiology (identified by Saint Paul as the “Body of Christ”) and how does it inform our understanding of the Eucharist as the true, substantial Body of Christ in our midst? As Augustine writes elsewhere:

And was carried in His Own Hands. How was He ‘carried in His Own Hands’? Because when He commended His own Body and Blood, He took into His Hands that which the faithful know, and in a manner carried Himself, when He said, ‘This is My Body.’

Augustine, On the Psalms 33:1, 10.

It would seem that the doctrine of an “invisible church” and the belief that “the Eucharist as bread, not really the body of Christ” leans away from Augustine and leans toward Gnosticism. I’m sure that most Reformed Christians will feel that this is an unfair analysis. However, as has been repeatedly stated on Called to Communion, it seems that the Reformed traditions cannot account for the biblical data regarding the corporeality of the Gospel.


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  1. A couple:

    1) What Prots refer to as “invisible church” simply means “those who are of the remnant, i.e., those faithful to the end.” Our impetus for this lies in the covenantal contours of Scripture. E.g., during the time of the old covenant, all of the nation of Israel was visibly in covenant with God, yet not all would remain faithful. There were apostates, and there was the remnant. The idea is that that same principle carries over into the new—a visible church made up of all the baptized, and an invisible church that is comprised of all those who persevere/are preserved unto the end.

    2) The Reformed in particular are motivated mainly by christological concerns here: I would think there’s no problem with the idea that “[Jesus] in a manner carried Himself, when He said, ‘This is My Body,'” insofar as that’s not meant to be a literal statement (“in a manner” allows for a less literal interpretation). In short, the concern is that bringing Christ’s body literally somewhere, in conjunction with where we know it is (namely, at the right hand of the Father), slides into Eutychianism.

    Since when can bodies be in two places at the same time and in the same sense? Calvinian “true presence” has no problem suggesting that we feed on Christ’s body in the Eucharist (by virture of our union with him by the Holy Spirit we’re “swept up and away” to feast on him); but that body of flesh, which is locally present in the throne room of God, isn’t brought down to earth—yet.

  2. Dear Chris Donato,

    I sympathize with the interpretation of the “invisible church” as the “remnant who will be faithful to the end.” However, there are two problems with it:

    1) We don’t know who this “remnant” is (we don’t even have infallible knowledge that you or I will persevere to the end).

    2) What we’re really talking about here is the “eschatological church” – not an invisible church. It seems that Reformed theology attempts to map the eschatological number of the elect onto the current situation so as to obscure the redemptive historical reality of a tangible Church on earth. In other words, the biblical doctrine of ekklesia is undercut but a competing “invisible” model that is not biblical – for Scripture never speaks of the “ekklesia” with that terminology.

    As to the Eutychian/Monophysite accusation, the Catholic Church holds that the “right hand of the Father” is not a temporal or spatial locus. The glorified and ascended body of Christ is not somewhere hidden behind the planet Pluto. This is the explicit teaching of Saint Augustine, where he writes:

    “By the expression ‘right hand’ understand the power which this Man, chosen of God, received, that He might come as judge, who before had come to be judged” (Augustine, De Sym, 2).

    The body of Christ is raised to the “power of God” – not a location. The magisterial Reformers got this wrong and it has caused a lot of confusion. The body of Christ is now in another dimension of reality:

    “And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

    See also Thomas Aquinas Summa theologiae III, Question 58: “Christ’s sitting at the right hand of the Father”

    1. Is Christ seated at the right hand of the Father?
    2. Does this belong to Him according to the Divine nature?
    3. Does it belong to Him according to His human nature? (especially this one)
    4. Is it something proper to Christ?

    Moreover, Christ’s resurrected body is also not limited by spacial constraints, as thewritten Gospels testify.

    So I guess the door swings both ways in this debate. We would retort that the Reformed are technically Nestorian in their Eucharistic theology, because they deny that the assumed human nature of Christ has been elevated and deified by the hypostatic union of the natures (i.e. the Reformed divorce the two natures). Saint John Damascence calls it Christ’s “conglorified flesh” – and Saint John Damascene ain’t no Monophysite!

    This is why the Orthodox and Catholics worship (give latria to) the flesh of Christ – something also confirmed by the Western and Eastern Fathers. The flesh of Christ is deified. We rightly worship the whole person of Christ – not merely the divine nature as distinct from the created human nature of Christ.

  3. Chris,

    I would also add that the remnant ecclesiology you mention in #1 cheapens the Apostles Creed wherein we profess belief in what you mention, but that’s not the Church that’s the “Communion of Saints.” We distinctly profess faith in the visible Catholic Church. Confusing the two leads to a host of problems, and I should add that we rightly profess faith in the Catholic Church before the Communion of Saints. The Communion of Saints (what you refer to as the Church) is the true children of the Church just as those with circumcision of heart were the true children of Israel, but they were not to be identified as Israel because that would be a false definition. Furthermore, the invisible Church was refuted here.

    Regarding #2, Jesus doesn’t come down to hide among the Eucharist, the bread is elevated to Heaven, just as we are by sacramental union with Christ. And Taylor is absolutely right, the Reformers error lies largely in understanding the risen body as subject to physical laws. Whereas, like I said to Jennie on another post, the Body is supernatural, not natural, metaphysical, not physical. We see it demonstrated in the gospels that it is not subject to ordinary laws of time and space; i.e. it no longer belongs to the material universe but is superior.

  4. Chris,

    You wrote:

    The idea is that that same principle carries over into the new—a visible church made up of all the baptized, and an invisible church that is comprised of all those who persevere/are preserved unto the end.

    It seems to me that the ecclesial point of division, between Protestants and Catholics, is not whether there is a set of persons who will persevere to the end, because both sides agree on that point. The ecclesial point of division, is whether there is a visible Church, or not. The attempt to define ‘the visible Church’ as “all the baptized” only entails that there are baptized persons; it is fully compatible with there being nothing other than those baptized persons. The person who defines ‘the visible Church’ as “all the baptized,” and the person who affirms that there are baptized persons but denies that there is in addition a “visible Church,” have equivalent positions; they differ only semantically. I explained this in more detail in my post titled “Why Protestantism has no visible catholic Church.”

    In addition, given the notion of the visible Church as ‘all the baptized,” it follows that there is no such thing as schism from the Church. Once a person is baptized, he never ceases to be baptized, and hence, given that definition of ‘visible Church’, he never ceases to be a member of the visible Church, even if he forms his own denomination or sect, etc. Unity (as in “one, holy, catholic, apostolic …”) then does not depend upon unity of faith, unity of government, or Eucharistic communion. Isn’t that just what schisms and heresies would want? To be counted as one with the Church, even if they did not share the same faith as the Church, or (like the Donatists) were not in sacramental communion with the Church? It seems so to me. And that raises a red flag for such a definition. It defines away the very possibility of “schism from.”

    Regarding the Christological concerns viz-a-viz the Eucharist, I think these are due to not recognizing the available philosophical options. To ask whether a statement such as “He took into His Hands that which the faithful know, and in a manner carried Himself, when He said, ‘This is My Body'” is literally true is to ask about the genre. It assumes that if there is going to be some qualification, it must be at the level of the words, i.e. meaning them symbolically, or metaphorically, etc. But that implies that the ontological options are either “literally present” or “not literally present.”

    But, there is another option. We can affirm that St. Augustine’s words are literally true, and yet understand the “in a manner” not as a semantic qualification, but as modal qualification, i.e. a difference in the mode of presence. In other words, Christ literally carried Himself, when He said, “This is My Body,” but His mode of presence in the Host He held in His hand was not identical to His mode of presence in His physical Body. In that way He was no less literally present in the Host than He was in His physical Body, even though His mode of presence there was different. (I explain this more below.)

    What about this ‘slide into Eutychianism’? It seems to me that we need to distinguish miraculous divine acts regarding Christ’s human nature, from the conflation of Christ’s divine and human natures. We can’t just assume that the former indicates the latter. And the principle of charity would require us not to assume Eutychianism when a miraculous divine act regarding Christ’s human nature is the explanation being offered. The problem with Eutychianism wasn’t the elevation of Christ’s human nature by way of divinization; the problem was a conflation of the two natures into one nature. The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist does not claim (or imply) that Christ’s human nature ceases to be human, or that Christ’s risen body does not have flesh and blood, or that it ceases to be material, or that it ceases to have dimensions. It is a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:44), but it is not a mere spirit. Grace does not destroy nature, and the hypostatic union does not destroy Christ’s humanity. The flesh He received in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, He will have eternally. But we have to distinguish those limitations that are essential to human nature, from those limitations that are proper accidents of non-deified human nature. If we don’t make that distinction, and make it in a principled way, then we run the risk of mistaking the removal of non-essential limitations for Eutychianism.

    From our human experience it seems that bodies cannot be in two places at the same time. But, then, our ordinary experience of bodies is through their accidents in the mode of accidents. (E.g. We experience bodies through their color, size, shape, texture, etc.) We simply do not experience bodies in any other way. But there is no reason why the substance of a body cannot be in two places simultaneously, in one place in the mode of quantitative dimension and in another place only in the mode of substance and not in the mode of quantitative dimension. We simply don’t have any basis for claiming that a substance cannot be in two places at the same time, in two different modes. And therefore we shouldn’t assume that the Church’s teaching that Christ is present in the Eucharist according to the mode of substance [i.e. transubstantiation] is Eutychianism, and not a supernatural miracle that nevertheless does not destroy the integrity of Christ’s true human nature, just as His passing through closed doors (Jn 20:19,26) and His face shining like the sun (Mt. 17) did not destroy the integrity of His human nature.

    Recognizing that there are other modes of presence, besides the mode of quantitative dimension, opens up the conceptual window to the Church’s teaching regarding the Eucharist, because then we see that we do not have to choose between Christ being present in the Eucharist in the mode of quantitative dimension (as His physical Body was and is), and Christ being present only by His Spirit. The former is the Capharnaite error of which St. Augustine spoke:

    ‘Except a man eat my flesh, he shall not have eternal life’ (John 6:54). Some [the Capharnaites] received this foolishly, they thought of it carnally, and imagined that the Lord would cut off parts from His body, and give unto them.”(Exp on Psalms 98:9)

    The Capharnaite error was to assume that Jesus was going to give them His flesh in the mode of quantitative dimension.

    But the other error (i.e. that Christ is only present in the Eucharist by His Holy Spirit) does not allow us to eat of that flesh and drink of that blood of which He said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.” (John 6:53)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. I think it is unlikely that Saint Augustine had any different views on the Eucharist than did Saint Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, who baptized Augustine and his son on Easter Vigil in 387 A.D. In particular, Saint Augustine did not merely convert while under Ambrose’s sometimes distant authority, but more importantly he was deeply indebted to the priest Simplician in his conversion — that same priest who had tutored Ambrose in the scriptures, and who succeeded Ambrose to the bishopric of Milan (as an old man, of course). So, what Ambrose learned from Simplician and taught to the catechumens of his diocese, was almost certainly the doctrine which Augustine received as a catechumen in Ambrose’s diocese. Here is Ambrose’s teaching:

    “We see that grace can accomplish more than nature, yet so far we have been considering instances of what grace can do through a prophet’s blessing. If the blessing of a human being had power even to change nature, what do we say of God’s action in the consecration itself, in which the very words of the Lord and Savior are effective? If the words of Elijah had power even to bring down fire from heaven, will not the words of Christ have power to change the natures of the elements? You have read that in the creation of the words of Christ have power to change the natures of the elements? You have read that in the creation of the whole world he spoke and they came to be; he commanded and they were created. If Christ could by speaking create out of nothing what did not yet exist, can we say that his words are unable to change existing things into something they previously were not? It is no lesser feat to create new natures for things than to change their existing natures.

    What need is there for argumentation? Let us take what happened in the case of Christ himself and construct the truth of this mystery from the mystery of the incarnation. Did the birth of the Lord Jesus from Mary come about in the course of nature? If we look at nature we regularly find that conception results from the union of man and women. It is clear then that the conception by the Virgin was above and beyond the course of nature. And this body that we make present is the body born of the Virgin. Why do you expect to find in this case that nature takes its ordinary course in regard to the body of Christ when the Lord himself was born of the Virgin in a manner above and beyond the order of nature? This is indeed the true flesh of Christ, which was crucified and buried. This is then in truth the sacrament of his flesh.

    The Lord Jesus himself declares: This is my body. Before the blessing contained in these words a different thing is named; after the consecration a body is indicated. He himself speaks of his blood. Before the consecration something else is spoken of; after the consecration blood is designated. And you say: “Amen”, that is: “It is true”. What the mouth utters, let the mind within acknowledge; what the word says, let the heart ratify.

    So the Church, in response to grace so great, exhorts her children, exhorts her neighbors, to hasten to these mysteries: Neighbors, she says, come and eat; brethren, drink and be filled. In another passage the Holy Spirit has made clear to you what you are to eat, what you are to drink. Taste, the prophet says, and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who puts his trust in him. Christ is in that sacrament, for it is the body of Christ. It is therefore not bodily food but spiritual. Thus the Apostle too says, speaking of its symbol: Our fathers ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink. For the body of God is spiritual; the body of Christ is that of a divine spirit, for Christ is a spirit. We read: The spirit before our face is Christ the Lord. And in the letter of Saint Peter we have this: Christ died for you. Finally, it is this food that gives strength to our hearts, this drink which gives joy to the heart of man, as the prophet has written.”


    K. Doran

  6. It is true that one body cannot be in two places at the same time. But it does not follow that two places cannot be at one body at the same time.

  7. Taylor,

    What would you have to say about Augustine’s view that unbaptised babies go to hell and the fact that Rome rejects this view? It seems that to be fair, we’d need show more than just dissent from Augustine on this point since all sides dissent from Augustine to some degree or another.

  8. Perry Robinson

    The Catholic Church doesn’t reject this teaching. The official position of the Church with regard to unbaptized baby is humble silence and hope.

    As for the doctrine of Limbus, we do well to remember that Limbus belongs to Sheol/Hades…not Heaven. Of course, Limbus is not doctrine or dogma – just a theory.

    Again, the Church has not affirmed anything as to the destiny of the unbaptized.

    ad Jesum per Mariam,

  9. Perry:

    What the Catholic Church now rejects is Augustine’s belief that original sin is the human person’s inheriting culpa as distinct from just being reatus at conception. The theory of limbo was solidified, though not introduced, by Aquinas as a way of mitigating Augustine’s belief, which itself had been pretty standard in the West for centuries after Augustine. But as Taylor implies, the question of limbo is officially open to theological opinion.

    My own opinion is that there is a limbo, but that it is temporary. In the end, all will be in either heaven or hell. There is no permanent place of purely “natural” happiness. For grace, as God’s active self-communication, suffuses all.


  10. Taylor,

    I disagree. Augustine teaches that unbaptised chilren go to hell. If the Catholic church teaches silence or that this is not entailed, then Augustine was clearly wrong.


    This seems to concede the point, namely that Augustine was wrong in thinking that OS entailed that such children go to hell. To take a weaker position is well…to take a weaker position and not the same position.

    In any case, we can pick other examples. Take for example Augustine’s life long belief in a another world-spirit that was not the Holy Spirit but a created entity. Augustine held this to his dying day. And yet the Catholic Church to my knowlede does not accept this belief but rejects it.

  11. Perry:

    I don’t think it’s much of a problem for the Catholic Church to admit that Augustine was wrong about certain things. I thought he was wrong about some things long before I had learned as much theology as I have more recently. Heck, I consider myself a Thomist yet believe that even Aquinas was wrong about a few things. But I think Augustine was right about the topic that Taylor discusses in his post.


  12. Michael,

    I think that Taylor is correct on what Augustine’s thought in fact was and the Reformed are mistaken on this point. But that doesn’t seem to be the issue here. The issue here is, who is Augustinian? We need a reason more than that the Reformed reject this or that part of Augustine’s thinking to claim that they are not Augustinian because this is true for Catholicism as well. So rejection may be a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition.

    So could Reformed theology be “truely Augustinian” and not accept this point?

  13. Well Perry, I’ve sometimes heard it said that the Reformed accept Augustine’s soteriology while rejecting his ecclesiology. Catholic doctrine has developed more in the opposite direction. But how much, really, hangs on all that?

    For one thing, and as I understand it, the patristic patrimony is normative only to the extent that was consensual. Augustine is much closer to the consensus patrum on ecclesiology than on soteriology, though definitive Catholic teaching has incorporated some aspects of Augustine’s thought about the latter as well. So I think the Reformed have a bigger problem here than the Catholics. In any case, as I never tire of saying, the real issue is that of the nature of ecclesial authority.

  14. It sounds like it may be better to say “Augustinian with respect to…” It does seem to me to be the case, though, that on issues which divide Catholics and Protestants, Augustine’s writings support the Catholic view. This is important for the purposes of this website.

    As a Reformed Christian I was taught that we were the “Augustinians,” meaning particularly on the issues that divided us from Catholics; Augustine was the last “really biblical” theologian (some sort of proto-Calvinist). The medieval Catholic Church had jettisoned Augustinianism and we had recovered him. I no longer understand how anyone who has read Augustine can believe this to be the case. Can anyone think of an issue where Augustine’s theology actually supports the Reformed view on an issue that separates the Reformed from the Catholics? Most Calvinists with whom I am acquainted just know the he taught some form of predestination and some form of soteriology that prioritized God’s initiative and grace in justification, thus they assume he’s proto-Calvinist because 1) they haven’t read much or any of Augustine and 2) they generally don’t understand and/or haven’t tried to understand Catholicism.

  15. Michael,

    That remark/gloss comes from Warfield. Its true that they have developed in different ways, but the question is, is Reformed theology truely Augustinian? Can it be and not accept this point?

    As I never tire of saying, the real issue is Christology. :)

  16. I think the best way to answer the question of “which is Augustinian” is in terms of whether Augustine would be a heretic in either of the systems. In the Catholic system, Augustine wouldn’t be a heretic but could be wrong on his speculations. The issue of unbaptized babies being damned is a prime example of theological speculation, because on one hand one must affirm man is born alienated from God in some sense, and that baptism is the formal reuniting of the person with God. The “options” are: (a) unbaptized babies go to Heaven anyway; (b) they are damned; (c) go to limbo; (d) receive the grace of baptism in an extraordinary manner. The EO Confession of Dositheos was in many ways “Augustininan” in it’s reasoning on this issue.
    Now, this is in contrast with the Reformed side who basically wants to overlook what are in fact major “heresies” (from the Reformed viewpoint) embraced by Augustine in issues ranging from soteriology to ecclesiology. The Reformed want to condemn Catholics as embracing a false gospel (and not even truly Christians) for teaching X,Y,Z, when they wont do so for Augustine despite the fact he taught X,Y,Z.

    I don’t think the issue was ever if one didn’t accept 100% of Augustine, then they weren’t “Augustinian, but rather whether a side embraces him sufficiently enough that they wouldn’t be butchering his theology if they failed to include something he said.

  17. Hi, folks.

    A little delay here. Sorry about that. In response, I have only two thoughts:

    1) It doesn’t at all appear necessary to me that the Reformed conception of the invisible church is a thinly veiled attempt to, in Taylor’s words, “map the eschatological number of the elect onto the current situation so as to obscure the redemptive-historical reality of a tangible Church on earth.” In short, it doesn’t seem necessary to me at all that “invisible church” = remnant is an attempt to know infallibly who will persevere until the end. All I got are the promises of God in Christ via his Word and sacraments. The promises declared therein are good enough for the church.

    2) Regarding the Eucharist, if the Catholic doctrine truly does avoid the Capharnaite or capernaitic error (masticating on the literal, localized flesh and blood of Jesus), then I don’t have that much of a problem with it. But let’s admit that, despite the careful theologizing of Thomas, et al., there is a widespread problem in parishes in which this crude notion of eating is assumed. Don’t get me wrong, I think being accused of cannibalism by the watching world is a badge of honor, in a certain sense. But I think Rome could learn something from Constantinople on this score. I’ve said it before: if the doctrine were unpacked using biblical language couched in the conceptual world of the ANE—and not Middle-Age Aristotelianism, then I daresay this wouldn’t be much of a debate.

    Dr. Beckwith, you wrote that “it does not follow that two places cannot be at one body at the same time.” I agree wholeheartedly; this was, it seems to me, another way of saying what I was already saying.

    Finally (I guess this is #3), I must stand on the notion that “baptized persons” = “the visible church on earth,” for it is precisely those who have received the mark of the covenant that make up the covenantal community. It requires nothing more than people who have been recreated, the new humanity in Christ Jesus (i.e., it requires no pre-existent structure). From this people flows the forms ordained by God, as they strive to please him, not least by worshiping him in the manner he’s prescribed (which includes as well all the creativity our minds can muster). How this is a backdoor denial of the concept of a “visible church” is beyond me.

    Of course I defy the notion of “schism from”; it not only suffers from delusion but a good deal of hubris too. And here we go again…

  18. Chris,

    Thomistic language aside, simply using biblical language would not avoid a debate. We are perfectly happy with saying “This is His Body” as Christ said “This is My Body” and that’s frankly all we said until heresies arose. But (most) Protestants are not comfortable saying “This is His Body.” In fact, many (including the confessional Reformed) would be happy to expressly say “this is not His Body.” Receptionism does not entail that the consecrated host actually is the Body. It’s not accurate to say the debate is merely over Thomistic categories and language (although I grant that it might be all the debate entails for you personally; it is not the case with the majority of Protestants).

  19. I should add that I agree with you that there is confusion in some parishes and many individual Catholics regarding the nature of reception and some other issues.

  20. Chris,

    You wrote:

    But let’s admit that, despite the careful theologizing of Thomas, et al., there is a widespread problem in parishes in which this crude notion of eating is assumed.

    Perhaps I’m out of touch, but I have yet to meet a Catholic who thinks that the Eucharist involves eating a chunk of Christ’s physical body. So, I can’t “admit” that what you think is a widespread problem in the Catholic Church, is a widespread problem in the Catholic Church. If anything, the problem is on the other side, in light of the influence of scientism — namely, the problem of disbelieving in the Real Presence of Christ, precisely because the Body and Blood still seem to all appearances to be bread and wine. That seems to be reflected by the lack of reverence some Catholics show when receiving the Eucharist, though I try not to judge people’s hearts.

    But I think Rome could learn something from Constantinople on this score. I’ve said it before: if the doctrine were unpacked using biblical language couched in the conceptual world of the ANE—and not Middle-Age Aristotelianism, then I daresay this wouldn’t be much of a debate.

    This demand for ‘biblical language’ in order to accept the Church’s teaching, would nullify the Nicene Creed. The Arians were making the same claim, and strongly opposed the inclusion of the word ‘homoousious’ in the Creed, since they could affirm the biblical language (interpreted in their own manner). Likewise, the Fourth Lateran (1215) said:

    There is one Universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation. In which there is the same priest and sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine; the bread being changed (transsubstantiatio) by divine power into the body, and the wine into the blood, so that to realize the mystery of unity we may receive of Him what He has received of us. And this sacrament no one can effect except the priest who has been duly ordained in accordance with the keys of the Church, which Jesus Christ Himself gave to the Apostles and their successors. (Can. 1)

    And Session 13 Chapter 4 of the Council of Trent decrees:

    But since Christ our Redeemer declared that to be truly His own body which He offered under the form of bread, it has, therefore, always been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy council now declares it anew, that by the consecration of the bread and wine a change is brought about 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. This change the holy Catholic Church properly and appropriately calls transubstantiation.

    And the corresponding canon (Can. 2) of that Session of Trent reads:

    Canon 2. If anyone says that in the sacred and, holy sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that wonderful and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the appearances only of bread and wine remaining, which change the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation, let him be anathema.

    It all comes down to the authority of the Church. We don’t have some free pass to reject the Church’s teaching, because we don’t agree with the wording. Just as homoousious is binding, so is transsubstantiatio, for the same reason. I imagine that your disagreement with ‘transubstantiation’ is not just with the wording of Trent 13, but with the substance (no pun intended) of the doctrine taught therein. If you accept the doctrine taught in Trent 13, then why quibble over the wording?

    Finally (I guess this is #3), I must stand on the notion that “baptized persons” = “the visible church on earth,” for it is precisely those who have received the mark of the covenant that make up the covenantal community. It requires nothing more than people who have been recreated, the new humanity in Christ Jesus (i.e., it requires no pre-existent structure). From this people flows the forms ordained by God, as they strive to please him, not least by worshiping him in the manner he’s prescribed (which includes as well all the creativity our minds can muster). How this is a backdoor denial of the concept of a “visible church” is beyond me.

    Because it nullifies the possibility of excommunication of any baptized person (thus denying the authority of the keys). It also entails that baptized persons who have since become Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists are still members of the visible Church. It also entails that there is no such thing as “schism from” the Church. But the Apostle John teaches otherwise, writing:

    They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (1 John 2:19)

    If there is no such thing as “schism from”, then there is no such thing as going “out from us”, and in every schism both sides remain within the visible Church. Tom Brown and I explained this in our article titled “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”

    Of course I defy the notion of “schism from”; it not only suffers from delusion but a good deal of hubris too.

    Then, ironically, you know more than St. Augustine, who worked tirelessly to bring the hundred year-long Donatist schism back into the Catholic Church. Neither he nor the Donatists had any concept of this schism being a branching within the Church. That’s because they didn’t believe the Church was invisible. Novatus didn’t claim to be leading a branch; he called the Catholic Church ‘apostate’. Likewise, the Montantists (into which Tertullian fell) didn’t claim to be leading a branch. All these schisms claimed to be the true continuation of the Church that Christ founded. So did the Greeks a thousand years after Christ. It is the not “schism from” that is unheard of in early Church history, but rather the denial of the very possibility of “schism from” that is entirely unknown.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  21. One other thought about Rome learning from Constantinople. In the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, this is part of the prayer made by Orthodox (and Eastern Catholic) priests at the epiklesis.

    “Priest (in a low voice):
    Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented.
    And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ.

    (He blesses the holy Bread.)
    Deacon (in a low voice):

    Priest (in a low voice):
    And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ.

    (He blesses the holy Cup.)
    Deacon (in a low voice):

    Priest (in a low voice):
    Changing them by Your Holy Spirit.

    (He blesses them both.)
    Deacon (in a low voice):
    Amen. Amen. Amen.

    Priest (in a low voice):
    So that they may be to those who partake of them for vigilance of soul, forgiveness of sins, communion of Your Holy Spirit, fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven, confidence before You, and not in judgment or condemnation. Again, we offer this spiritual worship for those who repose in the faith, forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and for every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.

    Especially for our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary.
    It is truly right to bless you, Theotokos, ever blessed, most pure, and mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption you gave birth to God the Word. We magnify you, the true Theotokos.”

    The full-text of this translation can be found here:

    While not as willing to discuss the details of a change as readily as Aquinas et al., there is still a change in the Eastern Churches. What is received is truly Christ’s precious body and His life giving blood. The implications of partaking of this sacrament (forgiveness of sins, healing of soul and body, life everlasting, etc.) are just as “magical” in the East as they are in the West. So this call for Rome to learn from Constantinople must be taken with these considerations/qualifications in mind.


  22. Chris,

    (1) You reject “schism from” as arrogant? Dude, there’s a lot of saints talking about “schism from” in the early Church. Just to verify, you’re not saying that they were all arrogant, right? This was a serious point for me in coming to grips with the possibility that Catholic teaching regarding “schism from” wasn’t prideful baloney. I decided that since holy saints of the early Church so very routinely talked this way, then either it’s not prideful baloney to do so, or Christianity is prideful baloney through and through. I did not choose the latter conclusion.

    (2) You said: “Regarding the Eucharist, if the Catholic doctrine truly does avoid the Capharnaite or capernaitic error (masticating on the literal, localized flesh and blood of Jesus), then I don’t have that much of a problem with it. But let’s admit that, despite the careful theologizing of Thomas, et al., there is a widespread problem in parishes in which this crude notion of eating is assumed.”

    Can anyone (Chris, Bryan, etc) here tell me what the capharnaite error is in terms that distinguish it from Catholic teaching? It seems like the ideas of “masticate,” “literal” and “local” are going to be there in any doctrine that is true to the Fathers. For instance, I don’t think there’s a way to read Ambrose and Cyril of Jerusalem, for example, in a way that does not make the Eucharist “literal”ly the flesh and blood of Jesus. And while I don’t really know what you mean by “localized,” I do know that when I receive the Eucharist I need to be in the same place that it is and at the same time that it is there to do so. So there’s something unavoidably “local” about the Eucharist, though that doesn’t mean that ‘all’ of Jesus is there at the time.

    Thus, what is this especially subtle error that I and my fellow Catholics are supposedly suffering from? Please elaborate. It sounds to me like we Catholics are just repeating the teachings of the Fathers (when they actually carefully catechized on the Eucharist, as opposed to when they mentioned it in a random homily and forgot to say “real presence, it just looks like bread but it’s not” for the benefit of sixteenth century schismatics who liked to troll for potential ambiguities in the clear teaching of the early church).


    K. Doran

  23. Folks, please accept my apologies for using inflammatory words such as “delusion” and “hubris.” The core content of these posts is inflammatory enough without the extra shindizzle.

    There’s a whole lot of heartache in our shared histories, a whole lot of trampling on each other. Part of this project, Called to Communion, is, I assume, about hearing what others have to say about your (often adopted) tradition, their perceptions from the outside looking in. That’s why, for example, the post and title by Taylor is challenging (but note Perry’s thoughts above). From my perspective (indeed, my church’s), we own the fathers as much as the Roman Catholic thinks he does. The very reforms my church set out to accomplish were not simply promoted under the guise of “getting back to the Bible,” but also “getting back to the early church.” So, I feel that ownership, and why shouldn’t I? Prior to the Reformation, we were, at least with respect to hierarchical structures, part of the same organization.

    That said, I am much closer to seeing the entire thing as “prideful baloney.” And I think I have good reason for that (such as the last 2,000 years of infighting and schism).

  24. K. Doran,

    The Capharnaite error to which St. Augustine refers is the error of those persons from Capernaum, described in John 6, who imagined that Jesus was talking about giving them His flesh in a carnal manner, e.g. by cutting off parts of His body and handing it to them to eat. It seemed both absurd and repulsive to them, and many of His disciples ceased walking with Him over it. (John 6:66) The Capharnaite error is not that of thinking that Christ wanted them to eat His body and drink His blood. The Capharnaite error is thinking that He would give His body and blood to them in a carnal manner. The difference between the carnal manner, and the actual way in which He gave His body and blood to His disciples at the Last Supper (and gives them to us at every valid Eucharist) lies in the mode of presence. In the carnal manner, the accidents of His substance would be present in the mode of accidents. That is, the color, the temperature, the texture, the consistency, the shape, quantitative dimension, etc. (these are all accidents) of Christ’s body and blood would be present in the mode of accidents, such that receiving the Eucharist would be like eating raw animal flesh and drinking animal blood.

    But, in the Eucharist, Christ is present in the mode of substance (this is why it is called transubstantiation). The accidents of His body and blood are present (because the whole Christ is present), but His accidents are present not in the mode of accidents, but in the mode of substance, which is not per se extended. So we receive into our mouths and into our stomachs the whole Christ (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity); we don’t receive only a part of Christ. To receive the substance of Christ is to receive the whole of Christ, i.e. the whole of what He is, not every part of his physical extended body as extended (to think like that is, again, to think like the Capharnaites), but including every part of him in the mode of substance.

    The accidents that exist in the mode of accidents, after the consecration, are the accidents of bread and wine, even though bread and wine are no longer present. So we receive Him in a way that is not repugnant to us, under the accidents of bread and wine, rather than (as the Capharnaites thought He meant) under the accidents of flesh and blood.

    Some people think that in the Eucharist we only receive Christ spiritually. They think that receiving Christ spiritually is the only alternative to the Capharnaite error. Of course, we do receive Christ spiritually, i.e. in our heart and mind. But we also receive Christ into our mouth and stomach. But we deny Capharnaitism. The Catholic position is thus a middle position between the error of Capharnaitism and the error of denying that in the Eucharist we eat His flesh and drink His blood.

    Yes Christ is present locally in the Host and Precious Blood, but in the mode of substance, not in the mode of an extended body. Yes we masticate Him, but as He is present in the mode of substance (i.e. His sacramental mode of presence); we do not masticate His body in its mode as extended body, as it is in Heaven seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come in glory. We are not chewing on His arm or leg. To think like that is to think like a Capharnaite. The Capharnaite error is still an error, even after Jesus ascended into heaven. The mode by which He gave Himself to His disciples on Holy Thursday at the institution of the Eucharist, is the same mode by which He gives Himself to us today in the Eucharist.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  25. Bryan,

    That was extremely helpful. Thank you. Chris: what’s the deal, brother? Surely you don’t think that the Fathers were talking about a _mere_ spiritual reception with all of their fuss about not being deceived by the mere appearance of bread, but this being really the flesh of Christ. You’ve read Cyril of Jerusalem’s catechesis on this, I am sure. And you read what Ambrose taught his converts, Augustine included. So why not stay true to the Fathers with the Catholic “middle way” described by Bryan above?


    K. Doran

  26. Chris,

    I’m not sure what you mean exactly by “seeing the entire thing as “prideful baloney.”” I’m trying to point out what seems to me to be a serious incoherency in your position. On the one hand, discipline is said to be a mark of the visible catholic Church, and “excommunication from the Church” is enjoined under certain circumstances (cf. WCF 30). On the other hand, if the visible catholic Church is defined as “all the baptized,” then excommunication from the Church is impossible.

    Imagine that your presbytery ‘disfellowships’ someone; call him Joe. If the visible catholic Church is defined as “all the baptized”, then after being defellowshiped Joe remains no less a member of the visible catholic Church, since he still remains one of the baptized. He buys a plot of land next door, and starts his own ‘church’ (i.e. ‘plants a church’). And since without the doctrine of apostolic succession, any baptized person can ordain, Joe ordains anyone any he wants to be his pastor. Instead of having been removed from the Church, Joe’s church-plant is just one more ‘branch’ within the visible Church. He is not suspended from the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. He just receives the sacrament in his ‘church-plant’.

    If the visible catholic Church cannot excommunicate, then discipline is not a mark of the visible catholic Church. At most it is a mark of a visible local church. That nullifies the entirety of chapter 30 of the Westminster Confession, regarding Church discipline.

    Here’s Calvin:

    But as it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church, let us learn, from her single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels, (Matt. 22: 30.) For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars. Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and Joel testify, (Isa. 37: 32; Joel 2: 32.) To their testimony Ezekiel subscribes, when he declares, “They shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel,” (Ezek. 13: 9;) as, on the other hand, those who turn to the cultivation of true piety are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem. For which reason it is said in the psalm, “Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation; that I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance,” (Ps. 106: 4, 6.) By these words the paternal favour of God and the special evidence of spiritual life are confined to his peculiar people, and hence the abandonment of the Church is always fatal. (Institutes, IV.1.4)

    But if the visible catholic Church consisted of “all the baptized”, then what Calvin is saying would be silly nonsense. In order for what Calvin says here to make sense, you can’t define the visible catholic Church as “all the baptized.” It must also include something like “holding to the true gospel” or “professing the true faith” or something like that. Calvin is claiming to have the true gospel (as does the WCF). But why is it “prideful” to claim to be the Church Christ founded, but not prideful to claim to have the true gospel? I don’t see why one of those is inherently more prideful than the other.

    From a Catholic point of view, the source of the problem is what Taylor is talking about in his post, a kind of gnosticism. The notion that the visible catholic Church is just all the baptized persons on earth, is a docetic ecclesiology, where the catholic Church seems to be visible, but in fact is not. (Tom and I explained this in our section on ecclesial docetism in our article “Christ Founded a Visible Church.”) That’s because Reformed ecclesiology is an invisible Church ecclesiology that uses a semantic slight of hand to hide that fact, by using the visibility of individual believers as a predicate for its invisible catholic Church. (I explained that in “Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church.”)

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  27. Hi, Bryan.

    I merely meant that I have little faith in the veracity, or humility rather, of the church’s work ever since she became religio licita. I see a history riddled with worldliness, oppression, fear, etc. It both saddens me and undermines my faith, precisely because I know that you can’t love Jesus and hate his bride. Rock and a hard place and all that.

    Regarding the topic at hand, I wonder what you make of the Orthodox principle that the local church reveals the catholic mystery of one church? Of course, this concept is rooted, as far as I can tell, in “ecuaristic ecclesiology”: “The one church is equally and fully in all these localities because of the one, perfect Eucharist, the one Lord, and the one Body.”

    Bracketing eucharistic doctrine for now, how is this any different from what Anglicans, Lutherans, and some Reformed folks say?

  28. Chris,

    When I study Church history, I’m still surprised at how throughout her history there have always been saints and sinners within her. Always. But where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. The Church remains holy, even when her members sin, even when it is scandalous and shameful. The eye of man looks at the Church and sees sinful men. But the eye of faith looks at the Church and sees the sinful men within the holy Church. If the Church were a merely human institution, I wouldn’t trust it any more than I’d trust any other merely human institution. But this thing we speak of in the Creed, i.e. this “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” is a divine institution, not only founded by the God-man, but animated by His Spirit; it is the mystical continuation of His supernatural incarnate Life. And that’s why I trust the Church, because I believe that it is Christ, His Body, of which He is the Head. (See Mystici Corporis Christi.)

    The idea that the local Church reveals the catholic mystery of the one Church is shared both by Catholics and Orthodox. In my opinion, one of the best explanations of the Catholic understanding of the relation of the local Church (i.e. the particular Church) to the universal Church is found in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion.” (1992) I have pasted in the relevant part below:

    7. The Church of Christ, which we profess in the Creed to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, is the universal Church, that is, the worldwide community of the disciples of the Lord(31), which is present and active amid the particular characteristics and the diversity of persons, groups, times and places. Among these manifold particular expressions of the saving presence of the one Church of Christ, there are to be found, from the times of the Apostles on, those entities which are in themselves Churches(32), because, although they are particular, the universal Church becomes present in them with all its essential elements(33). They are therefore constituted “after the model of the universal Church”(34), and each of them is “a portion of the People of God entrusted to a bishop to be guided by him with the assistance of his clergy”(35).

    8. The universal Church is therefore the Body of the Churches(36). Hence it is possible to apply the concept of communion in analogous fashion to the union existing among particular Churches, and to see the universal Church as a Communion of Churches. Sometimes, however, the idea of a “communion of particular Churches” is presented in such a way as to weaken the concept of the unity of the Church at the visible and institutional level. Thus it is asserted that every particular Church is a subject complete in itself, and that the universal Church is the result of a reciprocal recognition on the part of the particular Churches. This ecclesiological unilateralism, which impoverishes not only the concept of the universal Church but also that of the particular Church, betrays an insufficient understanding of the concept of communion. As history shows, when a particular Church has sought to become self-sufficient, and has weakened its real communion with the universal Church and with its living and visible centre, its internal unity suffers too, and it finds itself in danger of losing its own freedom in the face of the various forces of slavery and exploitation(37).

    9. In order to grasp the true meaning of the analogical application of the term communion to the particular Churches taken as a whole, one must bear in mind above all that the particular Churches, insofar as they are “part of the one Church of Christ”(38), have a special relationship of “mutual interiority”(39) with the whole, that is, with the universal Church, because in every particular Church “the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and active”(40). For this reason, “the universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches”(41). It is not the result of the communion of the Churches, but, in its essential mystery, it is a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular Church.

    Indeed, according to the Fathers, ontologically, the Church-mystery, the Church that is one and unique, precedes creation(42), and gives birth to the particular Churches as her daughters. She expresses herself in them; she is the mother and not the product of the particular Churches. Furthermore, the Church is manifested, temporally, on the day of Pentecost in the community of the one hundred and twenty gathered around Mary and the twelve Apostles, the representatives of the one unique Church and the founders-to-be of the local Churches, who have a mission directed to the world: from the first the Church speaks all languages(43).

    From the Church, which in its origins and its first manifestation is universal, have arisen the different local Churches, as particular expressions of the one unique Church of Jesus Christ. Arising within and out of the universal Church, they have their ecclesiality in it and from it. Hence the formula of the Second Vatican Council: The Church in and formed out of the Churches (Ecclesia in et ex Ecclesiis)(44), is inseparable from this other formula: The Churches in and formed out of the Church (Ecclesia in et ex Ecclesiis)(45). Clearly the relationship between the universal Church and the particular Churches is a mystery, and cannot be compared to that which exists between the whole and the parts in a purely human group or society.

    10. Every member of the faithful, through faith and Baptism, is inserted into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. He or she does not belong to the universal Church in a mediate way, through belonging to a particular Church, but in an immediate way, even though entry into and life within the universal Church are necessarily brought about in a particular Church. From the point of view of the Church understood as communion, this means therefore that the universal communion of the faithful and the communion of the Churches are not consequences of one another, but constitute the same reality seen from different viewpoints.

    Moreover, one’s belonging to a particular Church never conflicts with the reality that in the Church no-one is a stranger(46): each member of the faithful, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist, is in his or her Church, in the Church of Christ, regardless of whether or not he or she belongs, according to canon law, to the diocese, parish or other particular community where the celebration takes place. In this sense, without impinging on the necessary regulations regarding juridical dependence(47), whoever belongs to one particular Church belongs to all the Churches; since belonging to the Communion, like belonging to the Church, is never simply particular, but by its very nature is always universal(48).

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  29. Hello:

    As a Protestant and a Pastor, I am quite comfortable proclaiming — “This is His Body.”

  30. Dear Protestant Pastor,

    Do you get down on your knees and worship It as the true Body of Christ?

    If you do not do this, then you don’t really believe that it’s Him.

    ad Jesum per Mariam,

  31. Bryan (# 24),

    Can you explain how what you have said in comment 4 and 24 ties in with the offering of low gluten hosts that are sometimes used for those with Celiac Disease. I am a bit confused .

    Thanks, Kim Davies

  32. Hello Kim, (re: #31)

    Every sacrament has a proper matter, and canon law for the Latin Church requires that for the Eucharist, “The bread must be only wheat.” (Can. 924 §2.) So it is not permitted to use some other grain. (See Redemptionis Sacramentum, 48.) But a low gluten wheat flour may be used to make the altar bread that is to be consecrated, for those who are unable to tolerate gluten. After the consecration, the accidents of bread and wine remain, and remain present in the mode of accident. So the accidents of bread remain, and if the flour used was low gluten flour, then the accidents of bread made from low gluten flour remain, and this does not cause an adverse health reaction in the person with celiac disease.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  33. Bryan–thanks! I am very appreciative of all of your work here.

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