A friendly discussion on the Real Presence and the Eucharist: Steven Nemes rejoins

Christ is for everyone! is hosting a friendly discussion between myself and Andrew Harland-Smith on the topic of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Here is my rejoinder to Andrew’s initial response to me.

Eating Christ’s Flesh

With his most recent response to me, Andrew clarifies a few things about the manner in which Christ’s body and blood are present in the Eucharist and the way in which the Eucharist accomplishes an ontological union with Christ. In the interest of saving time and space, I will try to respond directly and without ornament to what he says.

Andrew says: Union with Christ involves the ontological union of distinct persons into a “grander corporate personality.” The distinctions between persons are not lost, but together they nevertheless form something greater.

In response: This is arguably not different from what I said earlier. I mentioned that persons are not metaphysically blended with each other or with Christ, but simply maintain a harmony of spirit. I am not sure what else a “grander corporate personality” can be except that. Consider the example Andrew gives of a bookshelf. It is a union of distinct parts: glue, wood, nails, varnish, etc. And yet these altogether form one bookshelf. But the bookshelf is not a natural unity. It has only “accidental unity” or “accidental form,” if we can call it that. Its unity is accidental insofar as it is attributed to it by persons. There is no such thing as a bookshelf unless there are human beings around to take that thing as being a bookshelf. If all human beings died and there were only cats left, the bookshelf would no longer be a bookshelf. Thus, the ontological unity of the bookshelf does not exist in itself, but only insofar as people take it as one thing. And this is what happens any time we have a unity arising out of previously distinct things that maintain their ontological distinction, whether we are talking about artifacts (e.g., a house, a car, a briefcase) or groups of persons (e.g., teams, associations): so long as the united items maintain their ontological distinction, their greater unity is merely an accidental and attributed unity, not a real one. Thus, if we form a greater corporate personality with Christ, it is one that emerges out of a harmony of spirits. Christ and we all take ourselves to be a part of something, to be “on the same team,” so to speak. But if we did not think about ourselves in that way, there would be no unity. Thus, the unity between ourselves and Christ is only at the level of spirit.

Andrew says: Coitus must accomplish some greater, specifically physical sort of union than merely a union of spirit, given the way that Paul speaks in 1 Cor. 6.

In response: I am not sure why the biblical language of “joining” and “becoming one flesh” or “one body” must be taken in such a metaphysically robust way. There is no reason to believe that it is true in that sense. After the conjugal act, a golden thread does not appear between the two persons, connecting them to each other physically. Neither does it necessarily become physically difficult to be apart from each other. To the contrary, it sometimes happens that after the conjugal act, the desire for the company and attention of the other person diminishes — not necessarily because something bad has happened, but simply as a result of the satisfaction of an urge. At most, such language of “being or becoming one flesh” can be taken to refer to the performance of the conjugal act itself, in which the physical distance between two persons is as minimal as possible. This is the sense in which a person becomes “one body” with another. And Paul’s argument about joining the members of Christ with a prostitute argues from the symbolic weight of the metaphor of being Christ’s body. If I am to think about myself as an extension of Christ’s body, — although I am not really so; this is only a metaphor for guiding my actions, — then I cannot unite myself to a prostitute. But if one takes Paul too literally, then absurdities follow. For example, Paul is speaking as if someone in the Corinthian church had already slept with a prostitute. In that case, the damage is done. Is Christ therefore ontologically united to some prostitute from the first century? I should hope not! Or if a man unites Christ to a prostitute, then does he also unite Christ to his own wife, since the man remains a part of Christ’s body? Is Christ’s virginity therefore lost? Against all this, I think it is better to maintain that “anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him” (1 Cor. 6:17). Paul is not offering a robust metaphysical picture of the union that exists between Christ and the believer. He is arguing from a central metaphor from the Christian life against a particular course of action. The union that is accomplished between Christ and the human being, literally understood, is a union of spirits, not a physical or metaphysical one.

Andrew says: The accidents of the bread and wine do not inhere in Christ.

In response: Depending on how far Andrew wishes to take this line of thinking, it may become quite difficult to understand how Christ’s flesh is eaten in the Eucharist on his view. And it also seems to me that Andrew has misunderstood my question about how Christ can be present in New Zealand and also in Arizona. I was asking whether Christ is spatially or locally present in those places. In other words, I am asking if the location of the bread and wine is also the location of Christ’s body and blood. If Andrew says that He is locally present where the bread and the wine are, then I cannot see how he also maintains that Christ is imperceptible. How can Christ’s body and blood be spatially present without being perceptible? It is a part of the very notion of “body” that it takes up space in a definite place in relation to other things and that, in principle if not always in practice, it can be perceived. Even if one had to be very small or very large, every body is perceptible as a matter of principle. Thus, even subatomic particles would presumably become perceptible if one were very tiny. But if Andrew says that Christ is not locally or spatially present, that even the accident of the location of the bread and wine does not belong to Christ, then I do not see how He is being literally eaten. He is not located where the eating is taking place. He does no go into the mouth, nor down into the stomach. In that case, I do not see how He can be eaten. Andrew could say that Christ is being eaten in some mysterious, sui generis, purely sacramental way, simultaneously with literal eating of the bread and wine. But this just shrouds the Eucharist in mystery and makes it obscure. The memorialist conception is easier. The bread is eaten literally, and Christ is eaten spiritually. The eating of Christ is sacramental in the sense that the symbolic use of the bread and wine is what synchronizes the literal and the spiritual eating.

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

Christ is for everyone! is 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 response to my initial response to him.

The Real Presence in Redux: Answering Steven’s Concerns


I am grateful for the opportunity to speak with Steven about this subject. I am pleased moreover, for the fact that mine is a common argument for the Real Presence. I must confess, having never received any formal theological instruction (my background is in analytic philosophy and law), it is some comfort to know that my ruminations have traction with others more qualified than myself.

In any event, it will be recalled that in my opening statement, I sought to argue from the centrality of Union with Christ, to Christ’s corporeal presence in the Eucharist.

Since I wrote that essay, Steven has contributed two essays to our dialogue. In the first, he advances an assortment of positive arguments for the proposition that Christ is not really present in the eucharistic elements. In the second however, he expresses a variety of worries as regards my argument for the Real Presence. It’s solely with a view to responding to these worries that I write the present essay; I will leave it to the next to offer my critical thoughts as regards Steven’s positive case.

Were this a longer essay, I would like to have said a little more. In particular, I would have liked to relate my discussion on the possibility of physical union with Christ, to Gregory the Theologian’s Christological framework. And, I might also have said a little more about the essence-accidents distinction in relation to the Eucharist. As it is however, space is limited, so I have not been able to say all that I would wish to.

Explanatory Concerns

Steven suggests that my metaphysics of union makes the Real Presence redundant for the purposes that I assign it. Specifically, he notes my claim that at the incarnation, Christ united Himself to us. He wonders then, what more is achieved by supposing that Christ is really present in the Eucharist.

With respect, Steven’s mistake here, is to confuse the fact of union with Christ, with the means by which it is effected. Specifically, Steven appears to think that, in my view, Christ effects one union at the incarnation, and another when we eat of his body and drink of his blood. On the contrary, my position from the outset is that the very same union which Christ effects at the Incarnation is effected as regards each of us, by means of His Real Presence in the Eucharist.

Put another way, it is true, as I have said, that at the incarnation, Christ unites Himself to us and so us to God. Even so, there is still a question as to the means by which that very same union is effected. How is it in other words, that Christ effects physical union with us who live at great physical and temporal distance from First Century Palestine?

The Nature and Possibility of Corporeal Union with Christ

1. Ontological Union, not Substantial Absorption

Steven writes that each person remains ‘irreducibly himself or herself’. He concludes that the union that obtains between free persons is a harmony of spirits, not a metaphysical ‘blending’.

With respect, Steven’s mistake is to confuse ontological union with substantial absorption. By ‘substantial absorption’, I understand a process by which two substances are intermingled such that the original substances are, in one manner of speaking, “lost into one-another”. It’s not obvious to me however, that ontological union must be understood only in terms of substantial absorption. In any event it seems to me reasonably intuitive to suppose that ontological union might as well involve the participation of distinct essences in a larger corporate entity. 

Nothing about this suggestion should seem particularly esoteric. We know as a matter of common sense, that there are compound objects: singular entities constituted as such by a mixture of logically discrete parts. As I write for instance, there’s a bookshelf behind me that my grandfather built some years ago. At one level of analysis, it’s a singular entity; it is a bookshelf. But at another level, it’s a collection of distinct parts: glue, wood, nails, varnish, etc.

Insofar as this bookshelf is a singular entity, these parts are ontologically united. And yet, nothing about this union entails “substantial absorption”; the parts that together constitute this bookshelf are not “lost into one-another”. In fact, their capacity to serve as parts of a bookshelf depend precisely upon their continued existence.

Likewise, union with Christ need not entail that we are absorbed into Christ[1], rather, it need only entail the participation of individual human essences in a grander corporate personality.

2. On the Possibility of Corporeal Union

Steven worries that Corporeal union with Christ is impossible. Specifically, he writes that one cannot be united with another except at the level of spirit. He goes on to suggest that coition in itself, achieves no greater degree of union than hitherto existed.

Steven appears to imagine that so far as achieving union is concerned, physical intimacy[2] is incapable in itself, of realising union. Alternatively put, he imagines that physical intimacy matters, if at all, only insofar as it serves to realise a more perfect emotional or intellectual union.

With respect, Steven’s thinking in this respect, seems to me importantly mistaken. Specifically, it seems to me that in 1 Corinthians 6:15 and following, St Paul presupposes that coition is effective in itself, to unite man and woman. Thus, in verse 16, St Paul writes that those who ‘join’ (κολλάω) (clearly a euphemism for coition) to a prostitute, become ‘one body’ (σῶμα) with her.

Given the immediate context, it is unlikely that St Paul intends the word “κολλάω (kollaō)[3] merely as a euphemism for coition. Rather, he appears to use it to suggest that actual union obtains between a ‘John’ and a prostitute.Thus the reason that, in the same verse, St Paul cites Genesis 2:24 to the effect that “the two shall become one flesh”.

Which makes one wonder. What kind of union might obtain between a ‘John’ and a prostitute? Ex hypothesi, any such union cannot be emotional or intellectual in nature. Not least because, given its transactional nature, emotional or intellectual union is wholly incidental to prostitution; it is after all the prostitute’s body with which the John is interested. If then there is union between a ‘John’ and a prostitute, such union must be primarily physical in nature.

Sundry Philosophical Concerns

a. Accidents and Essences

Steven asks if Christ loses mass as more and more people eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. The short answer here, is that the accidents of the bread and the wine do not inhere in Christ.

b. The (im)perceptibility of the Body and Blood

Steven asks why it is that the body and the blood are not perceptible as such. He asks for example why it is that the bread does not taste like flesh or the wine like blood.

I acknowledge that of course the body and the blood are not perceptible as such. But it seems to me that it would take some doing to turn that fact into a problem for those who affirm the real corporeal presence. In any event, reasoning directly from imperceptibility to real absence, would require a general principle the effect of which would be to require scepticism as regards theoretical entities.

Until recently for instance, electrons were imperceptible. Even today, quarks remain imperceptible. Will Steven tell us, for that reason alone, that it is unreasonable to postulate the existence of electrons or other sub-atomic particles? Or rather, will he tell us that we have reason to accept their existence in virtue of the fact that they are predicted by an independently well attested theory?

If so, then by the same measure, we have reason to believe that Christ is corporeally present in the Eucharist; the imperceptibility of his body and blood notwithstanding. Specifically, if the argument I presented in my last essay is any good, then there is an independently well attested theory that predicts the corporeal presence of Christ.

On the Efficient Cause of the Body and Blood

Steven asks how it is that Christ’s body and blood can be made present at once in New Zealand (where I live), and at the same time in Arizona (where he lives). At the highest level of generality, Steven asks after the efficient cause of the body and blood of Christ. Specifically, he asks: by virtue of what power is it, that Christ’s body and blood is made present at different times and in different locations?

The standard Augustinian account insists that Christ himself, not the Priest, confects the Eucharist. Alternatively put, it is strictly speaking false to say that the Priest confects the eucharist. Rather what we mean to say, is that in the Eucharist, Christ acting by means of the Priest, shares Himself with us. Hence the efficient cause of the Eucharist is no mere created being, but is rather the Incarnate God Himself.

More formally speaking, in confecting the Eucharist, the priest does not exercise a power proper to his person. Rather, acting in the Person of Christ, he exercises a power proper to the Incarnate God. Put quite bluntly, it is by the omnipotence of God Himself, acting by means of the Priest, that we account for the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist.

But perhaps you think I have explained nothing. Perhaps you think I have simply compounded mystery with yet further mystery. Nothing I have said however, should be particularly mysterious. In fact, all that I have said can be explained in terms of perfectly prosaic principles of commerce and contract law doctrine.  

Where a principal nominates an agent to act on his behalf, the agent is said to re-present (literally “make present”) his principal. The effect being, that in contract negotiations, the principal is heard to speak through the agent’s voice. And it is for precisely this reason, that the principal is contractually bound to his agent’s representations.

The formal explanation of these principles is no different in kind to that which St Augustine offered in respect of the Eucharist’s efficient cause. In appearing to bind his principal to a contract, an agent does not exercise a power proper to his person; he has no such power. Rather, insofar as he re-presents his principal, he exercises a power proper only to the person of his principal. In other words, it is by the power of the principal himself, acting through his agent, that we account for the principal’s duty to observe the contractual obligations that have been entered into on his behalf. If you find no sense of mystery in these perfectly ordinary principles of commerce and contract, neither should you find any mystery in my claim that, in confecting the eucharist, the priest acts in Persona Christi. Neither for that matter, should you find anything particularly mysterious in the suggestion that Christ’s body and blood can be made present in different times and at different places. A principal after all, can nominate as many or as few agents as he pleases[4].

[1] For a fuller treatment of Theosis as distinct from Henosis (absorption into the Divine Essence) see Lossky’s “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church”.

[2] For present purposes, coition is one kind of physical intimacy.

[3] Whose cognate uses include such notions as ‘clinging to’ e.g. in Luke 10:11 “Even the dust of your town that clings (κολλάω) to our feet..”

[4] In complex commercial transactions, principals routinely nominate a multitude of agents.

A friendly discussion on the Real Presence and the Eucharist: Steven Nemes’s first response

Christ is for everyone! is hosting a friendly discussion between myself and Andrew Harland-Smith on the topic of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Here is my first response to Andrew’s opening statement.

The Eucharist: Metaphysics or Communion?

In the first place, I want to thank Andrew for his willingness to talk about these issues with me. The argument he gives for the doctrine of the Real Presence is a rather common one, so I am glad that he offered it.

As far as I can tell, Andrew’s argument is as follows:

  1. Ontological union with Christ is the essence of the Christian understanding of salvation.
  2. This union can only be accomplished by the Real (corporeal) Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
  3. Therefore, Christ is really (corporeally) present in the Eucharist.

As for the nature of this “ontological union” with Christ, Andrew proposes that it must involve the totality of our being. We need salvation because of sin. This salvation consists in our union with God in Christ. The “rupture” between God and the human being is not only a legal or juridical one, but also a metaphysical one. It is one that has to do with our very mode of being. Now, because we have both a bodily and a spiritual aspect, our union with Christ must involve both of these aspects. Hence, it is not enough that Christ be spiritually present in the Eucharist in some way. He must also be united to us in body, which would be impossible if He were not corporeally present in the Eucharist. Therefore, Christ is really corporeally present in the Eucharist.

Assuming that I have accurately summarized the essence of Andrew’s argument, I will now offer a few remarks by way of critical response.

First, I would say that Andrew’s argument would need to be slightly qualified and reformulated in order not to fall victim to obvious counterarguments. If Christ is corporeally present in the Eucharist, then why are His body and blood not perceptible in any way? Why, for example, does the bread not taste like flesh, or the wine like blood? Or why isn’t the bread too heavy to lift with one hand? What kind of body is that which cannot be perceived at all? And if Christ is corporeally present, is He digested by us as we eat Him and what is left later expelled? Does it hurt Him when we bite into His body? Is He losing mass as more and more of His body is eaten by Christians everywhere throughout the world? And how can Christ be corporeally present in a number of different places at once? Is only part of His body there, in New Zealand, where Andrew lives, and another part of it here, in America, where I live?

It precisely because of questions like these that many proponents of the Real Presence doctrine prefer to formulate their position as follows: Christ is substantially (rather than physically or corporeally) present in the bread and wine of the eucharistic meal. Now, proponents of the Real Presence can disagree with each other about how and in what way Christ is substantially present in the bread and wine. Thomas Aquinas says that the substance of the bread and wine are changed (transubstantiated) into the substance of Christ’s body and blood. Others will say that the substance of the bread and wine remain, while they are somehow united in a miraculous way with the substance of Christ’s body and blood. But in any case, all such proponents of the doctrine of the Real Presence prefer to say that Christ’s mode of presence in the Eucharist is substantial or sacramental, rather than physical or corporeal.

Second, I think that Andrew’s metaphysics of union makes the doctrine of the Real Presence redundant for the purpose he assigns to it. According to him, the Eucharist is supposed to unite us to Christ in body and soul. But Andrew says that a union between Christ and the human being was already accomplished in the Incarnation. What more, then, is the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist doing? Perhaps Andrew will say that it strengthens our love for Christ and faithfulness to Him. But you do not need the Real Presence for that; such an effect is equally possible on my own conception of things. Perhaps Andrew will say that the Eucharist strengthens a certain mysterious bond between Christ and us – which bond is not just a bond of love and faithfulness, and which goes beyond the bond established by the fact of the Incarnation – so that we are less disposed to drift away from Him into sin. But this seems plainly contrary to experience. It is just as easy to sin before receiving the Eucharist as after if a person does not have love for Christ in the heart. It is the fulness of the Holy Spirit in us that makes us resistant to sin, a fulness that is experientially manifest in the fact that we love Christ and think about Him with faith, and not the mere fact of having partaken of the Eucharist.

Third, I think the kind of ontological union that Andrew is describing is impossible. One person cannot become united with another person except by means of a communion at the level of spirit. I am not united to my wife by virtue of the mere fact that we engage in the conjugal act. It is possible and common to engage in the conjugal act and to accomplish no greater union than existed before. Rather, I am united to her because I love her and am committed to her just as she loves me and is committed to me. But even if all this obtains, it is still true at the level of ontological identity that I am not her and she is not me. When she experiences herself, – e.g., in hunger or boredom or longing or whatever, – she experiences it and not me. Even in the conjugal act, it is obvious that each person only experiences his or her own enjoyment, such as it is occasioned by the other person; the one does not experience the enjoyment of the other person, which may not even exist at all. Each person remains irreducibly him- or herself. The “union” that obtains between free persons is a harmony of spirits, not a strange metaphysical “blending.” So also, Scripture most commonly and predominantly presents the relationship between God and the human being as the sort of relationship that obtains between free persons. As a result, the kind of union with God in Christ that Christianity calls for is a spiritual union of this sort: it calls us to love God, to be committed to Him, to live in harmony with Him, to understand ourselves in relation to Him, and so on. But the human being is not literally blended with Christ at the ontological level, each person remaining irreducibly him- or herself.

These remarks therefore constitute my first response to Andrew on this subject. I very much look forward to seeing what he has to say by way of rejoinder!

A friendly discussion on the Real Presence and the Eucharist: Steven Nemes’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. Andrew’s opening statement can be read here. Here is my own opening statement.

Going back to the beginning: The Eucharist

The way a person thinks about him- or herself is extremely important. Just as the later flight of an arrow depends on initial the aim taken by the archer, so also the way a person lives is determined in large part by his or her self-conception. A person who is convinced that he or she is worthless will act in ways that correspond to this, just as a person who is rightly aware of his or her value will exhibit the proper confidence and restraint. And because God is concerned with the way we live in the world, He is therefore very much concerned to make sure that we understand how properly to think about ourselves.

God showed this concern in a clear way in the Passover ritual of the Jews. He wanted the Hebrews to know that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that they were His firstborn son (cf. Exod 4:22-23). And on the night of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery, He established the Passover as a “day of remembrance,” a “festival to the Lord,” and a “perpetual ordinance” (Exod 12:14). Every year, during that same time of the year, the Jews are supposed to recreate and reenact the night of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. Why do they do this? Because God wishes them to remember “that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there” (cf. Deut 24:18). He wants them to know who they are and who God is: “I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery” (Mic 6:4).

In every generation, the Jews were supposed to celebrate this memorial of the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery. Importantly, the Jews of later generations – even those who had not been in Egypt personally and had never experienced slavery – are supposed to celebrate the Passover as if it were really happening to them. The Mishnah Pesachim 10.5 comments on this fact as follows:

In each and every generation a person must view himself as though he personally left Egypt, as it is stated: “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: It is because of this which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:8). In every generation, each person must say: “This which the Lord did for me,” and not: This which the Lord did for my forefathers.

Mishna Pesachim 10.5

The Mishna understands the purpose of the Passover ritual as the education and formation of the Israelite. It imposes upon him a certain way of viewing himself: namely, as one who has been redeemed from slavery by God, one to whom God has acted favorably and kindly.

Why is it so important for Hebrews to think of themselves in this way? Why should they think of themselves as the redeemed of the Lord? Because there is always the temptation to grow suspicious of God and to stray away from Him. Indeed, the serpent tempted Eve precisely by trying to make her suspicious of God. And after the Exodus but before their entry into the Promised Land, the Hebrews again and again “grumbled in their tents” (Ps 106:25) and complained that it was out of hatred for them and a desire to destroy them that God had brought them out of Egypt (Deut 1:27). Instead of looking upon God as loving them and upon themselves as God’s beloved, they saw God as an enemy and themselves as doomed. That is why God created the Passover ritual: to remind the Jews again and again about who they truly are in relation to Him. Life with God is good, indeed it is freedom, whereas life apart from God is slavery.

When Christ celebrated the Passover with His disciples on the night before His death, He introduced a change into the ritual that was quite important. The Apostle Paul retells the story as follows:

The Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

1 Cor 11:23-26

Christ here establishes a new meal, one for Christians. It is like the Passover in the sense that it refers us back to a moment of deliverance. Just as the lamb was slain on the night of the Exodus and its blood marked off the houses of those redeemed from death, so also for Christians: “our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7). But the redemption of the Passover was only an image of the true Passover, which took place when Christ made atonement for the sins of the entire world. Whereas the Exodus played a major role in the self-conception of the Jewish people, the death of Christ now ought to play the same role in the self-conception of all people whatsoever. If the Jews are God’s people whom He redeemed from slavery in Egypt, then all human beings are God’s people whom He redeemed from sin and death through the self-offering of His Son. And when this meal is celebrated in the Church, we are reminded of our true identity relative to God: we are His people whom He has redeemed by Christ and who await the day His kingdom comes to earth forever and He dwells with us (cf. Rev 21:1-4).

I think the Paschal context of the Lord’s Supper is very important. The Passover is a reminder of the true identity of both the Israelite and of God: the Israelite is God’s chosen and redeemed person, whereas God is the one who freely chooses and redeems the Israelite. Is this reality always clear? No, obviously not. Sometimes things seemed as if God had abandoned the Jews or even as though He doesn’t exist. Sometimes they acted as if they were not in fact God’s people, as if they were not in fact redeemed from slavery. But the Passover is a way of going “back to the beginning.” It is a way of going back to the foundational moment in their history which defines their trajectory as God’s people. By being reminded of the beginning, they can get back on that right track. So also with us Christians. It may not always be obvious to us that God exists or that He loves us and has redeemed us from sin and death. It may not always be clear to us that we are His people and His children. The Eucharist, therefore, is established for us until the day when the Lord comes, until the day that faith becomes sight. It is a “remembrance” of the Lord and of our true identity as His redeemed people. It is a way for us to go “back to the beginning” and to remember who we truly are and who our God truly is.

Now, one of the most hotly debated topics among Christians concerning the Lord’s Supper is that of the doctrine of “Real Presence.” Is Christ really present in the Eucharist? For example, when He said of the bread: “This is my body” (Luke 22:19), did He mean that in something like a literal sense? When Christ taught: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53), did He mean this quite literally? And when Paul says that the bread and the wine are communions in the body and blood of Christ (1 Cor 10:16), does he mean to suggest that we are somehow really, literally partaking of body and blood? I think the answer to all these questions is: No. A few arguments can be offered for this perspective.

(1) There is no “Real Presence” of the paschal lamb in the celebrations of the Passover. The Passover is a memorial of the Exodus and a sacrifice in its own right, and it is a kind of ritual reenactment of the night of the Exodus. But it is literally false to say that later celebrants of the Passover were redeemed from slavery in Egypt, nor is the lamb they sacrifice later one and the same as the lamb (which one?) slain in Egypt thousands of years before. Indeed, because the Passover is a reenactment, there is no need for a “Real Presence.” A reenactment can make it possible vividly to “participate” in a past event without the Real Presence of the reenacted thing. So also with the Eucharist, which is like the Christian Passover.

(2) In the words of Institution (e.g. Luke 22; 1 Cor 10), Christ is clearly speaking figuratively. You can discern a figure where one thing is called what it plainly is not. If a man said to his son: “Your room is a pigsty,” this would clearly be figurative because there are no real pigs living there, even though his room superficially resembles a pigsty from the point of view of disorderliness. So also, it is clear that Christ is referring to the bread and the wine as symbolically or figuratively representing His body and blood, which is about to be sacrificed for the salvation of the world. He is clearly speaking figuratively because bread and wine are not flesh and blood, even though there is a superficial resemblance between the terms.

(3) It is not clear in what sense the body and blood of Christ are eaten on the Real Presence view. This is because later refinements of the doctrine (as one finds, for example, in Thomas Aquinas) qualify the nature of the presence involved in very strange ways. Christ is purportedly present in the bread and wine, but He is not spatially or locally present, nor is He manifest or perceptible in any of the usual ways, nor is He affected by the process of eating, and so on. In this case, we have to ask the question: How is He being eaten? How can He be eaten in a literal sense if He is not spatially or locally present and is totally unaffected by what we are doing to the bread and wine? The answer, of course, is: Spiritually. But we do not need the Real Presence for this. We can understand the eucharistic elements as the symbolic representation of Christ’s body and blood. Just as these are eaten by the body, so also our spirits “feed” on Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, which makes us to be what we are as Christians, by finding spiritual nourishment in it. Thus, it would seem that the Real Presence doctrine is not a more “literal” interpretation of these passages than the broadly memorialist view that I propose. To the contrary, the memorialist interpretation gives a clearer understanding of the “eating” involved than does the Real Presence doctrine, according to which Christ’s body and blood are somehow eaten spiritually, being present in the bread and wine without being manifest as such in any way and while remaining entirely unaffected by the consumption of the bread and wine themselves.

What do Christians Believe? Lesson VIII: “Who Spake by the Prophets”

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At the invitation of my pastor, I have begun a ten-week Bible study at my church on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The title of the series is “The Nicene Creed: What do Christians Believe?” My intention is to present meditations and commentary on the Creed, line by line, illustrating how it is a succinct and comprehensive summary of the basic message of the teaching of Jesus Christ and His apostles. My goal is to provide a detailed but accessible introduction into the basic ideas of Christian faith by way of the Creed.

The eighth lesson is on the Holy Spirit, who “spake by the prophets.” The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets of the Old Testament, and the disciples of Christ heard His voice.

The lesson can be heard on the Christ is for everyone! podcast, whether on the websiteon Apple podcasts, or on Spotify. It can also be watched on YouTube:

What do Christians believe? Lessons VI and VII: The Resurrection of Christ and the Holy Spirit

Photo by Jc Laurio from Pexels.

At the invitation of my pastor, I have begun a ten-week Bible study at my church on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The title of the series is “The Nicene Creed: What do Christians Believe?” My intention is to present meditations and commentary on the Creed, line by line, illustrating how it is a succinct and comprehensive summary of the basic message of the teaching of Jesus Christ and His apostles. My goal is to provide a detailed but accessible introduction into the basic ideas of Christian faith by way of the Creed.

The sixth and seventh lessons are on the resurrection of Christ and the Holy Spirit. These can be heard on the Christ is for everyone! podcast, whether on the website, on Apple podcasts, or on Spotify.

What do Christians believe? Lesson IV: Christ the God-Man

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels.

At the invitation of my pastor, I have begun a ten-week Bible study at my church on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. The title of the series is “The Nicene Creed: What do Christians Believe?” My intention is to present meditations and commentary on the Creed, line by line, illustrating how it is a succinct and comprehensive summary of the basic message of the teaching of Jesus Christ and His apostles. My goal is to provide a detailed but accessible introduction into the basic ideas of Christian faith by way of the Creed.

The fourth lesson is titled “Christ the God-Man.” In it, I address the very most important and central theological question there is, which motivated the very formulation of the Creed in the first place: the relation between Jesus Christ the Son and God the Father.

It is available in audio format on the Christ is for everyone! podcast, which can be found online and on Spotify and Apple podcasts. Here is the video of the lecture:

How do we know that God exists?

The Bible teaches that God exists, and this is the one of the central commitments of the teaching of Jesus Christ. But many people these days do not believe in God, or at the very last they find it hard to believe. Why does Christianity teach that God is real? How do we know this?

Many people have confused ideas about God. They think that God is some particular thing “out there” in the universe somewhere. There is a story about the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first person to go to outer space. Some people allege that when he went out into space, he commented: “I don’t see any God up here.” It’s not obvious whether the story is true or not, but in any case it is a rather silly comment to make. Christians do not believe that God is some celestial being hiding out somewhere in outer space! Indeed, they do not think that God is merely one more thing among all the things that exist and that can be encountered in experience. The Christian idea of God is very different.

There are two ways we can come to know the existence of God. They have different starting points, but they end up in the same place. In a word, God is that from which everything else gets its existence and life. God is the source of everything. As we say when we recite the Nicene Creed, God the Father almighty is the maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. But how do we know that there is a God? It is actually not hard at all to show this.

It is important to start with a distinction. All the things we encounter in our experiences have various qualities that they define them. For example, I have two noteworthy qualities: first, I possess the capacity to learn language; second, I possess actual knowledge of the English language. These are two qualities that I have. At the same, I do not possess these qualities in exactly the same way. My capacity for learning language is a property that I possess in a normal and natural way simply in virtue of being a human being. That’s what it means to be a human, assuming that nothing else is wrong with me: I am capable of learning language. It may be easier or harder for me than for other people, but any normal human being possesses the capacity to learn language. At the same time, I do not possess knowledge of the English language in this same way. I wasn’t born with it, after all! There was a time when I didn’t know English, namely when I was a baby. Furthermore, there are plenty of other human beings who do not know English. This means that being a human is not sufficient for possessing knowledge of English. If any one is going to possess knowledge of the English language, they will have to receive it somehow from outside of themselves, namely from someone who already knows the language.

Thus, we can make a distinction between two ways things possess their qualities. A thing possesses a quality in an original way if it has that quality just in virtue of what kind of a thing it is, and it possesses a quality in a derivative way if it has it in virtue of something else outside of it. I possess the capacity to learn language in an original way, since I have this quality in virtue of being what I am, namely a human being. But I possess knowledge of the English language in a derivative way, since I have this quality in virtue of things outside of me, such as my parents and my teachers at school.

Now, it is obvious that nothing can possess a quality in a derivative way unless something else possesses that quality (or some related quality) in an original way. For example, I could never learn English if no one else on Earth knew English! There must be someone who already knows the language and can teach me it if I am to know it myself in a derivative way. Consider also the following example. The moon at night is illuminated. But the moon is not originally luminous! It does not produce light on its own. Rather, it receives its light from the sun, which is originally luminous. And if there were nothing originally luminous, if there were nothing luminous simply in virtue of what it is, then the moon itself could never be luminous in its own derivative way.

In this way, we can see why God must exist. What is God? God is that which exists in an original way, simply in virtue of what He is. It is obvious that nothing we find in the world exists in an original way. None of us have always existed, for example, but rather we began to exist at a certain point in time. The planet Earth, too, did not always exist, but rather began to exist at some point in time. Furthermore, for any of the things we encounter in the world, we could easily imagine that it does not exist. There is no contradiction in saying that I might not exist, or that cats do not exist, or that there be no solar system, no stars, no planets, and so on. All these things exist in a derivative way. They exist, but they do not exist simply in virtue of what they are. But, as I said earlier, nothing can possess a quality in a derivative way unless there is something that exists in an original way. This means that there must be something which exists originally, simply in virtue of what it is and not in virtue of anything else. This is what Christians refer to when they speak about “God” — that which exists originally, that in virtue of which everything else exists, the source of all existence.

Some people might think, “Maybe there is no God. Maybe the whole history of the universe is just one thing causing another thing to exist and then going out of existence itself. Maybe there is no original existing thing, just an infinite chain of derivatively existing things.” But this scenario is in fact impossible. There could be as many moons as you like. Without a sun, they will never be luminous. Consider also the following example. Suppose you are cooking beans in a pot while camping. The beans are not originally hot; they did not come out of the ground hot. They have to be made hot by something else. What makes them to be hot? Obviously the pot. But the pot is not originally, either! The pot wasn’t hot when you bought it at the store! This means that there must be something else making the pot to be hot, so that it can heat up the beans. But clearly this problem will not be solved by merely adding more pots! Even if you had an infinity of pots, each one within a bigger one, you would never be able to heat up the beans. What you need is something that is hot in an original and not derivative way. What you need is not more pots, but rather fire. And if there were no fire, if there were nothing originally hot, then the pot and the beans could not be made hot in a derivative way. So also, we cannot say that all the things that exist derivatively are merely caused by other derivatively existing things. There must be an original existing thing, something that exists simply in virtue of what it is — and that is what we mean when we talk about God.

Considered in this way, God is like the “foundation” of reality. Consider the analogy of a building. Can you have a second floor of a building without a foundation? Clearly not! It is impossible to build a second floor unless you have a foundation on which to place a first floor. In the same way, God is the foundation of reality. Everything else that exists — you, me, cats, dogs, horses, the planet Earth, and everything within the universe — can only exist in a derivative way on the foundation that is God.

This is one way to understand how it is that God exists. This way started from “outside” ourselves. We noticed a distinction between the ways things outside us can possess their various qualities, and we quickly saw that there must be something which exists in an original way. But it is also possible to discover the existence of God by looking “within” us.

You are alive right now. What does it mean to be alive? It means to experience yourself. You feel yourself to be alive in various ways: you feel happy or sad, you are aware that you are thinking of this or that, you notice that you see or taste or smell things, and so on. You are constantly experiencing yourself, and that is what it means to be alive. But did you do anything to be alive? Is the fact that you are alive right now a result of anything you’ve chosen to do? Obviously not! You simply are alive, even though your being alive is not a result of anything you’ve done. On the other hand, neither is there anything you can do to ensure that you stay alive for even one more second! After all, you have to first be alive in order to do anything! So you are alive, and this life that you possess is the condition of everything you experience or do, but your being alive is not your own accomplishment, nor can you do anything to secure even a moment’s more life for yourself. You are alive, but you are not alive in an original way. This Life that you feel within yourself, over which you have no control, which makes you to be alive even apart from your wanting it — that Life is God! God is that Life you feel on which you depend every moment of your life.

The Bible calls God “the living God” (Ps. 42:2). It says that “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This Life on which we all depend at every moment, which makes us to be alive, is God. This means that God is not far from us at all. He is as close to us as can be! We are constantly experiencing God as that Life which makes us to be alive and makes it possible to enjoy the good things of this world. This God also creates the entire world and sustains in it existence. We are surrounded by God on all sides, both outside us and within us! He is all around us!

Christianity is about friendship

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People have all kinds of ideas as to what Christianity is about. Some have better developed ideas than others. Sometimes people do not have a very nuanced understanding of Christianity at all. Some people think that Christianity is a religion. Others say that it is a relationship. Some think it is about serving God. Others think it is about being servile and weak. Some think it is about the person of Jesus. Others think it is about being a good person.

Christianity is the teaching of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus teaches about a lot of different things, perhaps there is no one single thing that Christianity is about. But there are certain themes and ideas which are more prominent than others. Thinking about Christianity from the point of view one idea in particular can, I think, prove helpful for Christians and non-Christians to understand better what the teachings of Jesus mean to suggest to us.

Many times, you will hear Christians talk about “fellowship” or “communion.” For example, we might speak about the “fellowship” or “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 13:13). Most Christians may have some idea of what these terms mean, but they are not very commonly used in ordinary language. Some non-Christians might have a hard time grasping exactly what these religious, “Christianese” words mean. I think the same idea can be communicated in a more easily understood way by the word friendship. My suggestion here is that Christianity is about friendship.

But what does that mean? In what sense is Christianity about friendship? Aren’t there plenty of people who love friendship and who are not Christians? On the other hand, aren’t Christians always fighting with each other about apparently unimportant things? Isn’t friendship just an ordinary human phenomenon? What is so Christian about it?

Christianity is about friendship in the following ways. In the first place, God created human beings in order that they live in friendship with Him. Thus, we see in Genesis the following image: God did not keep a far distance from Adam and Eve but rather walked about in the garden of Eden with them and was concerned for what they were doing and how they were faring (Gen. 3:8). It is also said that God spoke with Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exod. 33:11). So also, God calls Abraham “my friend” through the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 41:8; cf. Jas 2:23). And of course there is an entire psalm that is dedicated to the goodness and beauty of friendship (Ps. 133). The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible picks up on this theme, translating many more neutral words such as “man” or “beloved” by “friend.” Thus, Jesus tells the paralytic man who sought healing from Him: “Friend, your sins are forgiven you” (Luke 5:20). He also teaches His disciples: “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). The disciples themselves, after the ascension of the Lord into heaven, refer to each other as brothers and beloved — in other words, as friends (Acts 6:3). They even refer to strangers whom they are evangelizing as friends (Acts 14:15).

Paul also says in His letter to the Ephesians that “the mystery of God’s will,” which was hidden in previous times but revealed in Christ, is precisely “to gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:9-10). And he says that Christ brings reconciliation of all things (Col. 1:20). Thus, it is open to us to understand that the goal of God is to establish a universal friendship which includes all people, indeed all spheres of reality. Traditional theologians might speak about this in terms of “communion” or “fellowship,” but the word “friendship” is also perfectly appropriate. What God wishes to accomplish is the friendship: not just among people, but among the entire created order. If we can speak philosophically for a moment, God wishes to accomplish a friendship that encompasses all of being. This is why Jesus teaches His followers to forgive those who sin against them and to seek reconciliation with others (Matt. 5:25-26, 43-48, 6:14-15). This is also why the Epistle to the Hebrews calls its audience to “pursue peace with everyone” (Heb. 12:14). Christians are to forgive and to seek reconciliation because the goal of God for the entire cosmos is a universal friendship and living in peace.

Friendship is also a useful lens for understanding various Christian practices. For example, why do Christians gather together every Sunday, if not more often? The Bible reminds us to be aware, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:25). The Bible encourages the gathering of believers. In this sense, going to church on Sundays is also an expression of Christian friendship. What kind of friends are those who never meet together, even though they have the opportunity? Spending time together with each other is an essential part of all friendships. In the same way, Christians gather together every Sunday (and perhaps other days as well) because we are learning how to be friends with one another and with God and His Son Jesus Christ, just as the apostles were (cf. 1 John 1:3).

Friendship can also help us understand the Christian practice of commemorating the Lord’s Supper (also called the Eucharist). The Bible teaches that when Christians gather together, they are to share in a meal of bread and wine. In doing this, they are remembering the death of Christ on their behalf, as well as looking forward to His return (1 Cor. 11:26). Why do they do this? Because it is through the death of Christ that the prospect of friendship with God was made possible — or, as Paul says, God reconciled us to Himself through Christ (2 Cor. 5:18). The Lord’s Supper is an act whereby Christians turn to the death of Christ as that which made their friendship with God and with each other to be possible. This same act also strengthens their friendship with one another. God sends Christ into the world in order to destroy all separating walls and to establish a friendship among all human beings on the basis of Christ’s love for them (cf. Eph. 2:13-14).

Christianity is therefore a religion of friendship. It is about friendship with God and friendship among all human beings. It calls us to live in friendship with one another and with our Creator. And if we think about things in these terms, I think Christianity will seem much more attractive. Too many think that Christianity is about the threat of hell. They think and speak as if the only reason to be a Christian is to avoid suffering punishment for sins. But Christ offers something much more positive than that. His teachings are not about avoiding Hell or escaping from the flames. They are about something that all of us recognize as good and desirable in itself. Who doesn’t enjoy friendship? Is there anything more wonderful than having friends? And this is exactly what Christ offers us, indeed it is what He offers all people: friendship with Him, with God His Father, and with each other.

Welcome to “Christ is for everyone”!

Welcome to Christ is for everyone! My name is Dr. Steven Nemes and I have created this website in order to share the life-bringing teachings of Jesus Christ with everyone who will listen, whether Christian or not, religious or skeptic, atheist or unsure. You can read more about me here. You can contact me here. Let me briefly introduce what I am trying to do with this website.

Christ is for everyone! is about celebrating the goodness of life in the love of Christ. The teachings of Jesus Christ help us to understand ourselves, the world, and God so that we can see life as the most wonderful gift of all.

Jesus said that He came into the world so that His people might have “life in abundance” (John 10:10). He brings a joy that no one can take away (John 16:22) and a peace that the world cannot offer (John 14:27). He says that we are made free by knowing the truth (John 8:32). And yet so many people are without life, joy, peace, and freedom — even Christians who believe in Christ! Something has clearly gone wrong here. This raises the all-important question: How can we have this life, joy, peace, and freedom that Christ brings?

My conviction is this: If we are going to receive abundant life, permanent joy, incomparable peace, and liberating knowledge from Jesus, we have to change our ways of thinking about things. And this is in fact what Jesus Himself says. When He began His ministry, after being baptized by John in the Jordan River, He went around preaching the following message: “The times are fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Good News!” (Mark 1:15) When Christ says “repent,” He does not merely mean that we have to set aside our sins and bad habits. He means that, but not only that. What He means in the fullest sense is this: Change your way of thinking! This is the sense of the Greek term (metanoeite) that Mark the Evangelist used in translating Christ’s preaching.

Thus, what Christ says is quite profound. If we are going to believe the Good News that He comes to bring, — if we are going to receive the life, joy, peace, and freedom that only this Good News can bring us, — then we are going to have to learn how to think differently about things. Indeed, I think we have to learn to think differently about everything: about ourselves, about the world, about God, and about Christ. Or, as the Apostle Paul wrote, we have to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:2).

I have four goals with this webpage:

  • The exegetical goal: to teach people how to interpret the Bible in such a way that they can understand the Good News it brings.
  • The apologetic goal: to defend the teaching of Christ from the objections its critics bring against it.
  • The philosophical goal: to provide positive arguments and reasons for believing the teachings of Christ.
  • The spiritual goal: to cultivate a genuinely abundant, joyful, and peaceful Christian life in the world.

Everything I post will fit into at least one of these four categories. Maybe you want some help understanding what the Bible teaches and how it can be Good News. Or maybe you have encountered some arguments and criticisms against Christianity, and you want to know how to respond to them. Or maybe you are more interested in seeing whether a positive case can be made for what Christianity teaches. Or maybe you just want to cultivate a Christian life and find spiritual nourishment somewhere. Whatever your purpose may be, my goal is to provide you with what you are looking for.

Some of the posts will be for more advanced audiences, for people who are well-read in theology and philosophy. Others will be accessible to everyone, even those without a lot of specific education. In this way, I want to provide resources so that everyone can find abundant life, permanent joy, incomparable peace, and liberating knowledge in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The most important goal of this project is the fourth one. By writing and sharing my thoughts and reflections with other people, I don’t mean to give the impression that I exist in a state of perfect life, joy, peace, and freedom. Far from it! By my writing and thinking, I am trying to achieve these things for myself and for others at the same time. In that sense, you can consider this website and its ministry as an invitation to accompany me on a journey into the teachings of Christ.

Most of the posts found on this website will also be available for listening on the Christ is for everyone! podcast.

What is the meaning of the name, “Christ is for everyone”? In fact, there are two meanings. First, what I mean to communicate is that Christ and His teachings are positive and life-bringing. Just as a good husband is “for” and not against his wife, just as good parents are “for” and not against their children, so also Christ is “for” everyone! He loves all people and wishes to bring them life, joy, and peace. Second, what I mean to communicate is that the message and Good News of Jesus Christ is relevant and accessible for absolutely everybody. No one is excluded, no one is left out, no one is disregarded by the loving teachings of Christ. And these two meanings are clearly related: the reason why no one is excluded is that Christ loves all people and wants life, joy, and peace for them all.

Because my goal with Christ is for everyone! is precisely to serve others, I have also added a “contact” form so that you can get in touch with me by email. Feel free to send me an email if:

  • you have a question you would like me to address on the blog;
  • you would like recommendations about resources for further study;
  • you have any other inquiry whatsoever!

If you find anything of value in what I write, please do share it with others! I am greatly looking forward to pursuing this work. May our Lord Jesus Christ grant all of us His abundant life, permanent joy, incomparable peace, and liberating knowledge in this life and the next.