A friendly discussion on the Real Presence and the Eucharist: Andrew Harland-Smith’s opening statement

Christ is for everyone! will be hosting a friendly discussion between myself and Andrew Harland-Smith on the topic of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Here is Andrew’s opening statement, titled “The Real Presence as the Means of Christification.”


The Real Presence as the Means of Christification

Introduction and Structure

1. A Definition of the Real Presence

When I say that Christ is really and corporeally present in the Eucharist, I mean to say that Christ’s body and blood are physically present ex opere operato in the elements.

Further, Christ’s body and blood are present ex opere operato just in case their presence in the elements is metaphysically independent of the merits of either the minister or the recipient. Alternatively, contra Calvin, Christ is not present to those who receive the Eucharist by faith. Rather, Christ’s presence is prior to faith.

As a side note, focussing on the real corporeal presence of Christ in the eucharist might be somewhat misleading. Largely because such a focus might give the impression that Christ is present only in the bread and the wine, not in the wider Divine Liturgy. But perhaps we can return to that point somewhat further down the line. For the time being, we can justifiably focus on the narrower proposition that Christ is corporeally present in the elements.

For the sake of convenience, refer to this view as the “Real Presence”. This will be a contentious move for some; particularly for those after Calvin, who insist that his is a “Real Presence view”. For present purposes however, the point of contention is between those who, like Steven, affirm a broadly memorialist account of the Eucharist, and those who, like myself, affirm Christ’s corporeal presence.

2. The Structure of My Argument

My argument for the Real Presence proceeds in two key movements. In the first, I contend that ontological Union with Christ is central to the Christian scheme of salvation. This I contend, follows from a classical understanding of God as the source and ground of our being.

In the second, I contend that, as essentially (and not contingently) embodied creatures, our ontic union with Christ is effected only through Christ’s corporeal presence to each of us. Just as a husband must be present to his wife to be united with her, so likewise, union with Christ requires His presence to us.

Ontological Union with Christ

1. Defining Union with Christ

When I talk about ontological union with Christ, I have in mind what some refer to as the “mystical union”. Though for the sake of precision, we might instead talk about “subjective or personal union with Christ”. Some caution is required however, as the term “subjective” may be apt to mislead. Particularly if you imagine me to be saying that our union with Christ is nothing more than a matter of how we feel internally; of some ephemeral affect scarcely distinguishable from indigestion.

Suffice to say, that is not what I mean by “Union with Christ”. Rather, I have in mind the notion that Christ indwells or, better yet, penetrates, our being. I hesitate to describe the relationship between ourselves and Christ in terms of “perichoresis”. Nonetheless, the relationship between ourselves is, in an important sense, analogous to perichoresis.

2. The Centrality of Union with Christ

Steven and I, are Classical Theists. Specifically, we maintain that God is not a being, as if He were but one instance of a broader category. Rather, we both insist that God is Being itself; that other existing things merely participate in Being, in God Himself. In fact, Steven has a great video on youtube entitled “Do Things Exist Inertially?”, that I have found particularly useful in coming to terms with this conception of God and His relation to Being.

In any event, grant that the two of us are right. Grant that is, that God is Being itself; that insofar as we exist, we merely participate in Him. If then sin is, or at any rate involves, a separation from God, its effects cannot be merely moral or legal, but must rather be metaphysical. More directly, sin does more than put us in a position of normative debt to God. More than anything else, through our sin, we cut ourselves off from the source of our being. Hence I think, why the scriptures say that “wages of sin” is death. It’s not so much that God looks at our sin, is displeased with it, and so responsively imposes the death penalty upon us. It’s rather more that through sin, we withhold ourselves from God, and so from the source of our being.

Hence also why the scriptures illustrate the human condition post Eden through the motif of a fall. Because God is Being itself (Being in which we participate), the nature of the Divine-Human relationship is necessarily vertical. Insofar then, as it involves a separation from God, sin necessarily involves a lurch down the chain of being.

Granted that sin creates for us these essentially metaphysical difficulties, it follows that salvation cannot merely be a state of affairs obtaining in virtue of God choosing to remit the normative debt that we owe to Him. Rather, it will need to involve a change in the way we ontologically related to God as the source of our being. More directly, redemption will require that we ascend the chain of being.

For the Christian, this is precisely the point of the incarnation. God becomes human in the person of Jesus, not merely to satisfy some normative debt that we have incurred, but to unite Himself to us, and by so doing, serve as the ontological bridge between ourselves and Divinity. Hence in Ephesians 2 verses 4 and 5, St Paul writes variously that we are “made alive together with Christ”, “and raised up with Him…”.

The critical point to observe here, is that participation in God is assured through Union with Christ. Alternatively put, we are united to The Father because we are united in the first instance, to The Son. Hence I think, the meaning of Christ’s famous statement “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to The Father except through me”.

From Ontological Union to Real Presence

1. To the Real Presence in Some Sense

Nothing I have said is anything with which Steven ought necessarily to disagree. In fact, I take it that what I have said so far is nothing more than an orthodox articulation of the gospel. At the fall, we are separated from God; from God who is the source and ground of our being. But through the incarnation, we unite to Christ and so to God; to God in whom we once again live, and move, and have our being.

Given the central role that union with Christ plays in any orthodox scheme of salvation, the question that matters, is by what means are we, as individuals, united in our being to Christ? Here I maintain that Christ himself must be really present to each and every one of us. Just as a husband must be present to his wife to be united to her, so likewise, Christ must be really present to each of us, in order that we might be united to Him.

The aptness of this analogy to marriage is, I think, particularly clear in light of Ephesians 5:22 and following, where St Paul explicitly likens the relationship between Himself and his Church, to that of the husband and a wife. There we see the suggestion that the marriage bond is a mirror image of the relation that Christ bears to His Church.

Insofar then, as Christ is the consummate husband, He is really present to each of us; not a distant reality accessible only in thought or memory, but really and metaphysically here with each of us; hence our capacity to unite ontologically, with Him.

Notice, nothing I have hitherto said, leads necessarily to the conclusion that Christ is corporeally present to us. What matters for the purposes of this section 3a however, is simply that there is some sense in which He is present to us. Whatever that sense might be.

2. To the Real Corporeal Presence

Having said that, I do think that Christ is corporeally present to each of us. He is not ‘present’ to us in some vague ‘spiritual’ sense (though I rather despise this dichotomisation of physicality and spirituality). Rather, He is present to each of us physically; hence our physical and not merely emotional or intellectual union with Christ.

I take it after all, that the whole of our being is united to Christ: body and soul. Alternatively put, it is not merely our immaterial soul (if even we have such things) that is united to Christ. Rather, inasmuch as we are essentially, and not contingently embodied creatures, it seems to me that ‘our’ redemption requires a union with Christ that is as much bodily as it is ‘spiritual’.

The question that matters then, is not merely how it is that we are united to Christ, but how it is that we are physically united to Him. Here St Paul’s analogy to marriage presses itself with greater force: by what means can a husband be physically united to his wife granted that he is not physically present to her?

To avoid all doubt, the sexual imagery conjured by this analogy is specifically intended. It seems likely to me at any rate, that the power of St Paul’s analogy consists precisely in its suggestion that conjugal union is a “fractal pattern” of Christ’s union with His Church.

In any event, the suggestion that union with Christ is as much physical as it is spiritual, should be familiar. In 1 Cor 6:15-16 St Paul urges that we “flee sexual immorality”; the essence of his reason being, that our bodies are members of Christ. Specifically, citing the ‘one-flesh’ nature of the marriage bond (Gen 2:24), St Paul reasons that to ‘unite’ to the ‘sexually immoral’, is, given our own physical union with Christ, to make the sexually immoral, members of Christ.

Here the explanatory power of the Real Corporeal presence becomes clear. Given that Christ is really and physically present in the elements, union with Christ in body and soul is unsurprising. Because we physically receive Christ, and so God, into our bodies, it is no surprise that our union with Christ as much bodily as it is spiritual.

If however, Christ is not really present in the Eucharist, if it is simply a commemoration of a distant reality, our bodily union with Christ is a surprise. Particularly if, as Steven appears to suggest, such union is effected through the Eucharist. Steven writes for instance, that in the Eucharist we appropriate Christ’s sacrifice to ourselves. And no doubt he is correct. The question however, is how it is that the Eucharist can effect bodily union with Christ granted that He is not physically present.


Thanks to Jesse Roach and Dan Vecchio for their invaluable assistance.

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