The Incarnation and the Eucharist

There is no denying that there are many hard sayings within the Catholic faith—many beliefs radical in their nature which demand our faith.

And among these hard sayings, there is perhaps none more difficult than the Catholic teaching on the nature of the blessed sacrament, the eucharist. For we are taught and must confidently believe that, in the mass, the eucharist is substantially changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We must believe that when the priest utters the words of consecration, we no longer behold mere bread and wine, but quite literally the Ancient of Days, the King of Kings, the Alpha and the Omega, the Amen, the living and true God; and we must, with all the angels and saints, give him the honor due his name.

Now, this is our duty and our salvation, and yet it is difficult for at least two reasons, the first of which is that the Eucharistic elements simply don’t look any different. They appear to remain bread and wine. Indeed, they taste like bread and wine. And so, each Sunday, each mass, we are challenged like the Jews who witnessed Christ’s first coming, whether or not we will believe him at his word, or trust our own judgement.

The second reason is that there are no miraculous signs to attend this making-present of Christ. There are no lightnings, nor clouds, nor any fanfare. One would expect these things would attend the presence of Almighty God.

While it is not my purpose here to defend the validity of the doctrine of the eucharist, I will add that perhaps it was because Jesus knew that the eucharist would test our faith that he left so much evidence for it. For there are the explicit words of Jesus himself (My flesh is true food, my blood is true drink) among countless other Scriptures, and the unanimous witness of the early fathers of  the church testifying to the true nature of the eucharist. And yet many still doubt.

That said, here is the point I would like to make: The eucharist is no more radical nor difficult to believe than the first coming and Incarnation of Christ. It demands no more faith, and no less.

For indeed, to the Jews who first encountered Christ, the ideas of God having a Son, and that Son having a body, were blasphemous in the extreme. It struck at the very heart of their understanding of God, for, to them, God was one in a way that made a Divine Son impossible and transcendent in a way that made it unthinkable for him to ever incarnate himself.

In short, the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation was as radical and possible to the Jewish and pagan minds. Even many of Jesus’ followers did not believe him to be speaking literally when he said, “I and the Father are one,” or, “Before Abraham was, I am.” How could he mean what he said? God does not have a body, nor a Son—much less this poor, unsightly carpenter from a disreputable neighborhood. He couldn’t possibly mean it, they thought. He must mean something else.

It was the Pharisees, the teachers and students of the law, who understood exactly what Jesus meant. After seeking clarifications again and again, Jesus left no doubt in their minds as to whom he claimed to be. He did not intend to. And this is why they hated him and sought to kill him.

No, the doctrine of the Incarnation has never been easy to believe. And that is why, from the beginning, there have been hordes of heresies seeking to deny it. It took all the weight and authority of the Church to clarify once and for all that orthodoxy consisted of believing that Jesus was true God and true man.

As I have said, to believe that Jesus can appear as bread and wine is no more blasphemous or radical than saying that Jesus is God or that God can take on a body. If we say otherwise, we betray that we do not understand that earth-shattering reality that is the Incarnation.

Simply, if one is impossible the other is impossible. If one is blasphemous the other is blasphemous. If you deny one, you must deny the other. For there is at least as much Scriptural and historical evidence for Jesus in the eucharist as there is for Jesus being the Son of God the Father, coequal and of one substance with him, eternally existent, consisting of two natures in one indivisible person, and all the details of the orthodox Christological creeds.

No, it is not for lack of evidence that some would deny the nature eucharist—it is rather discomfort and doubting.

In a sense, this discomfort and incredulity is understandable, for these are hard sayings. Yet, I maintain that all orthodox doctrines should make us uncomfortable and test our faith. If they do not, we do not truly understand Christianity. For Christianity was never meant to be a religion easily believed. Jesus did not intend to make it easy to follow him or believe in him.

And yet, the Church is never satisfied with anything less than the fullness of the Catholic and Apostolic faith. Far from denying it or seeking to soften it, she teaches it from age to age with authority, demanding our obedience and our allegiance. And she alone can confidently and joyfully believe the fullness of those words—not of symbol, but of sacrament and salvation—Lo, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the age.

Was the Early Church Protestant?

In the Protestant world, many anti-Catholic apologists try to claim that the ancient Fathers and Doctors of the church were far more Protestant than Catholic in their thinking. Quotes are offered as proof that the Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Eternal Security and other Protestant beliefs. Yet, was this really the case? Here’s what Patristics scholar Fr. Hugh Barbour has to say in his article, “Baptists at Nicea”:

So was St. Athanasius a “true Protestant,” as the Baptist apologist claims? The Athanasius who believed that a Christian could lose his salvation through mortal sin (cf. Discourses Against the Arians 3, 25)? The Athanasius who venerated Mary as “the Mother of God” (Greek: theotokos; cf. Treatise on the Incarnation of the Word, 8)? The Athanasius who believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity (cf. Discourses Against the Arians II, 70)? The Athanasius who believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (Sermon to the Newly Baptized)? If indeed Athanasius can be called a Protestant, then the word “Protestant” has no meaning at all.

….

[Regarding the Canons of the Council of Nicea] Is there any Protestant who would view the Holy Eucharist as “most necessary viaticum” at the hour of death? Would the Baptist apologist recognize the Eucharist as a “sacrifice” or oblation in which he shares? Do Protestants, for that matter, concern themselves with episcopal jurisdiction, the dates of feasts and the proper posture for liturgical prayer? When was the last time you heard of a Protestant pastor giving absolution and holy viaticum to a repentant excommunicate in order to ensure his eternal salvation?

No Protestant apologist attending the Council of Nicea would recognize it as an organ of his denomination or as anything resembling his version of “biblical” Christianity. The issues discussed and the conclusions reached are common only to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Of course none of the 318 council Fathers would be familiar with the expression “Roman” Catholic, since this pejorative expression was invented by the Protestants of the 16th century, and later humbly adopted by orthodox Christianity in the West. Nevertheless, the Council of Nicea bears the unmistakable mark of Catholicism. Not surprising, since the Council was Catholic.

Read the entire article here.