Text as Sacrament

May 9, 2005 § 9 Comments

The conversation below is fairly schizophrenic. On the one hand we are discussing the implications of Godel’s Theorem on the interpretation of finite texts that claim to say everything that needs to be said about a topic. On the other we are discussing the historical sources of the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. Here I’ll mention a few things that may pertain to the latter.

Catholicism (Eastern and Roman) has always found the Real Presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist. In order to experience most directly the Divine Presence, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, one must participate in the Sacrament instituted at the Last Supper, presided over by an ordained priest: “Accipite, et manducate, ex hoc omnes. Hoc est enim corpus meum, quod pro vobis tradeteur”.

The Blessed Sacrament was rejected in the Protestant Revolt – not instantaneously to be sure, and there are echoes of it still within Protestantism – but decisively nonetheless. The theology which enabled that revolt was sola scriptura. But reading a text as a way of coming most fully into the Real Presence wasn’t an idea first practiced by Christians. It was practiced by Islam for many centuries before Wyclif. Karen Armstrong in her book Islam: A Short History says of the recitation of the Koran in Salat:

“It was similar to the Christian devotion to Jesus, since it saw the Quran as God’s uncreated Word, which had existed with him from all eternity, and which had, as it were, taken flesh and human form in the scripture revealed to Mohammed. Muslims could not see God, but they could hear him each time they listened to a recitation of the Quran, and felt that they had entered the divine presence.”

Rather than having a living Christ, a living Logos, Islam has literally a book for its Divine Incarnation.

The Protestant Reformers were not unaware of Islamic practice. Martin Luther himself says the following about it:

“From this book, accordingly, we see that the religion of the Turks or Muhammad is far more splendid in ceremonies — and, I might almost say, in customs — than ours, even including that of the religious or all the clerics. The modesty and simplicity of their food, clothing, dwellings, and everything else, as well as the fasts, prayers, and common gatherings of the people that this book reveals are nowhere seen among us — or rather it is impossible for our people to be persuaded to them. Furthermore, which of our monks, be it a Carthusian (they who wish to appear the best) or a Benedictine, is not put to shame by the miraculous and wondrous abstinence and discipline among their religious? Our religious are mere shadows when compared to them, and our people clearly profane when compared to theirs. Not even true Christians, not Christ himself, not the apostles or prophets ever exhibited so great a display. This is the reason why many persons so easily depart from faith in Christ for Muhammadanism and adhere to it so tenaciously. I sincerely believe that no papist, monk, or cleric or their equal in faith would be able to remain in their faith if they should spend three days among the Turks. Here I mean those who seriously desire the faith of the pope and who are the best among them.”

— Martin Luther, preface to the Tract on the Religions and Customs of the Turks

(emphasis mine).

Editorial note: the above post has been edited slightly in response to some good criticisms in the comments.

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§ 9 Responses to Text as Sacrament

  • AM says:

    <>In order to experience most directly the Divine Presence, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, one must reenact the Last Supper, presided over by an ordained priest: “Accipite, et manducate, ex hoc omnes. Hoc est enim corpus meum, quod pro vobis tradeteur”.<>It is <>not<> re-enactment: if it were, we would do it more realistically, e.g. with roles for the disciples, props, costumes, and the like. The Catholic church does not understand the Mass as a re-enactment. It is a (sacramental) re-presentation; and if anything, it’s a re-presentation of the Sacrifice on Calvary, not of the Last Supper.The words you quote are our <>memory<> of the setting in which the Lord first (also) sacramentally (p)re-presented His sacrifice on Calvary. What the priest does on our Altar is to offer the Body and Blood of Christ to God the Father: it is real sacrifice. What we do afterwards (the acceptatio and manducatio) is what St Thomas calls the “usage” of the holy things by the faithful.I’d prefer to say, per the above, <>In order to experience most <>completely<> the Divine Presence, Soul, and Divinity, one must receive the Body and Blood sacramentally from the hands of the priest, as at the Mass he says: “Accipite, et manducate, ex hoc omnes. Hoc est enim corpus meum, quod pro vobis tradeteur”.<>

  • zippy says:

    AM: I accept your clarifications/corrections.

  • Stuart Floyd says:

    Hi Zippy,“The Blessed Sacrament was rejected in the Protestant Revolt, and the theology enabling that revolt was sola scriptura.”No. Martin Luther held to both the real presence presence, Body and Blood, in the Sacrament as well as <>sola Scriptura<>. In fact, he held to the real presence in the Eucharist precisely because he held to <>sola Scriptura<> against the Enthusiasts; namely radical reformers. He also rejected transubstantiation precisely because it contradicts Scripture, thereby breaking the <>sola Scriptura<> principle as it relates to dogma. “For it is in perfect agreement with Holy Scriptures that there is, and remains, bread, as Paul himself calls it, 1 Cor. 10, 16: The bread which we break. And 1 Cor. 11, 28: Let him so eat of that bread.”You can find his writings on the Sacrament here:http://www.bookofconcord.org/smalcald.html#sacramenthttp://www.bookofconcord.org/smallcatechism.html#sacramenthttp://www.bookofconcord.org/largecatechism/7_sacrament.htmlOn the topic of Islam and Martin Luther, your comments perhaps are taken out of the historical context. You must understand that by the publishing of this preface in 1530, Dr. Luther saw the entire papacy as outside of Christendom. In fact, Dr. Luther had declared that the papacy was quite the contrary, the Antichrist. Insofaras the relation of Catholicism to Islam, for Luther they were both peas of the same Hellbound pod, religions of works (ceremonies), juxtaposed the true religion of faith, i.e. Christendom or the emerging Lutheran Church. As he says in the same tract:<>“Rather let them learn that the religion of Christ is something other than ceremonies and customs and that faith in Christ has absolutely nothing to do with discerning what ceremonies, customs, or laws are better or worse, but declares that all of them squeezed together into one mass are not enough for justification nor are they a work for them to perform. Unless we learn this, there is danger that many of our people will become Turks, disposed as they are to much less splendid errors.”<>For more information on Luther’s own words with regards to Islam, you can also read:“Islam in the Crucible: Can it pass the test?” ISBN 0-9644799-3-1Pax Christi

  • zippy says:

    I quoted Luther to show that the Reformers were quite familiar with Islamic practices, and in some cases very favorable toward it compared to RC practices (in Luther’s case Islamic practice is asserted in one place to be superior to the practices of Christ himself, but the man doubtles had a hyperbolic rhetorical bent at times). Wyclif-Gaunt-Chaucer were also familiar with Islamic practices. So in general the Reformers were familiar with Islamic practices.I also showed (though as always one should do one’s own research rather than blindly following a clown named Zippy) that Islamic Book-as-Real-Presence theology predates similar Protestant theology by several centuries.People will make of those facts what they will, of course.

  • zippy says:

    <>The real presence of the Divine Logos as written, proclaimed, and incarnate is not unforeign to New Testament ears, let alone the Bride of Christ throughout History (see St. John’s prologue).<>From a certain perspective Islam’s misinterpretation of He-Who-Speaks as a deification of the Book, of written text on a dead page, is more than a little ironic.

  • Stuart Floyd says:

    Hi Zippy,Again within Christianity, not the dead pages.. the words on the pages once spoken, when read anew every Sabbath re-spoken, the very Word of God. One cannot distinguish the divinity of the Word from the divinity of the Speaker without delving into the Godhead.. beyond what the Creeds state. The application for this re-spoken Word applies directly to the Sacraments. No consecration of the elements = no Communion = no real presence in the Sacrament.“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12I fear on this matter you are further from Catholicism than most Lutherans. In a Roman way, this is not unlike the spoken word pronounced from the Vicar of Christ, the Word of God. Perhaps Aquinas would help..http://www.newadvent.org/summa/103401.htmPax Christi

  • Joel S. Gehrke says:

    If I may chime in at this point, Stuart’s recital of Hebrews 4:12, which speaks of the “Word of God” is, in its context, a personal reference to Christ, who is the Word who was in the beginning with God. John 1:1-2.JSG

  • zippy says:

    Stuart, I think the main problem with this discussion for me is that I can’t keep track of the various meanings being attached to the word “word”. In order to be consistent we have to make sure we don’t equivocate. When I say “word” you can assume I mean “word”, not “logos”, that is, speaker-of-word.The logocentrism (that is, divinization of recitation from a written text) shared by Islam and Protestantism is quite distinct from the traditional Catholic approach to Scripture. Many protestantisms eventually come back around, as a substantive matter, to the traditional Catholic view from which they initially departed; and the post-Vatican II Church doesn’t want to let a matter of terminology act as a substantive theological difference (I think that is almost a definition of “ecumenism”).The fact that words are used in the Consecration does not mean that the words themselves become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord.

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