Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Of oranges and the Eucharist

I had, almost word-for-word, the following conversation with each of my two older children (ages 11 and 8), while I was pointing at something in a baby book.

Me: What's that?
Kid: An orange
Me: Is it an orange or a picture of an orange?
Kid: A picture of an orange.
Me: So it is an orange?
Kid: No.
The two kids then resolved the apparent contradiction in their statements in two ways. The elder said it was a matter of "context". (I think she also thinks that that's the way to resolve the conflict between the fact that tables and chairs aren't in the correct ontology and the obvious appropriateness of saying that there are chairs in the dining area.) The younger said: "Nobody expects you to say 'Picture of'", thereby opting for the move that his answer was elliptical.

Anyway, the reason I had the conversation with the kids is that I had been thinking about Harriet Baber's "Eucharist as Icon" piece, according to which after consecration "That's Christ" simply works through a social institution of a "rule for reference" just as "That's an orange" when pointing at the picture in the book does. (This may be similar to what's implicit in my elder child's invocation of context.) If Baber's view is right, then if we were to point at the host and ask: "Is that Christ or an icon of Christ?", the right answer would be "An icon of Christ."

Now, perhaps, the disjunctive formulation of the question might be seen to present a false dilemma. But we have ways of answering questions like that. "Is Elizabeth the Queen of England or the head of the Church of England?" — "Both." But "Both" would be the wrong answer to "Is it an orange or a picture of an orange?" And likewise, if Baber's view of the real presence as constituted by a pointing convention were correct, "Both" would be the wrong answer to "Is it Christ or an icon of Christ?" But surely "Both" is exactly the right answer that thoughtful Christians through the ages would give.

Of course, as Baber notes well, to Christians, especially in the East, an icon isn't just a picture. Thus to say that the Eucharist is an icon of Christ isn't saying little. But we can say more: it is Christ and an icon of Christ. And if we have the doctrine of the transubstantiation, then we can even say how both parts fit together. The Eucharist is Christ by virtue of substance and an icon of Christ by virtue of appearances ("species"). And that is how it should be: it is appearance, and not the substantial constitution of the substratum, that is crucial to making an icon an icon. The nourishingness of the bread, which persists after consecration, makes the Eucharist stand for Christ on whom we are spiritually nourished; the lack of leaven in the West depicts Christ's sinlessness; the use of leaven in the East depicts the union of the human and divine in Christ; and there no doubt is much more to it than that. All that Baber says about iconography is there in the Eucharist, but there is something more beyond that: the Eucharist is a living icon, like Ezekiel's shaving his beard and Hosea's marrying Gomer, except that in Eucharist not only is the icon alive, but what it represents is its own living reality.

May we so live and receive.


H. E. said... Would you say that what was on the left was a 'picture of an orange' when juxtaposed with what's on the right?

More to the point, 'is it a dollar bill or a rectangular piece of paper?' Surely 'both' is the right answer. (For that matter, I'm not sure that 'thoughtful Christians' would say that it is both Christ and an icon of Christ)

The virtue of my account is that it licenses orthodox religious talk and practice without commitment to controversial metaphysical doctrines. It's religiously adequate but ontologically minimalist--hurrah!

Alexander R Pruss said...

Thanks for the helpful comments! I will be speaking on this stuff soon to a group of people who have read this paper by you, my Eucharist paper and something by Peter Forrest.

The one on the right is a picture of a picture of an orange. :-)

The piece of paper preexisted the dollar bill, so by Leibniz's Law they are distinct. Unless, maybe, we should say that being a dollar bill is an accidental stage property that a piece of paper can gain and lose. But being Christ certainly isn't a stage property.

In any case, I would think that the disjunction "dollar bill or rectangular piece of paper" would be more akin to "icon of Christ or bread" on your account, no?

I don't think ontological minimalism is a virtue here. The incarnation is ontologically maximal: the maker of the world becomes one of the lowest of the low. The Eucharist is his continued physical presence in the world, an expression of the generosity because of which he dies for us and feeds us with himself, where by assimilating him to ourselves we become assimilated to his body, the Church.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I also strongly suspect that if one presses the Eastern view of icons, one will find that they are not quite as ontologically minimal as they might at first seem. Certainly, while miracles are not the rule where there is an icon, plenty of miracles seem to be associated with particularly famous icons, like (to give a Western example close to my heart) that of Our Lady of Czestochowa. And I suspect that many Eastern Christians will insist that often or even typically there are miraculous effects in the soul of the person praying.

The predominant view of the Church has been to reject the institutional view in the case of each of the seven sacraments. Each sacrament when properly received has a miraculous effect of an intrinsic change in the recipient. In this regard, the role of icons is less insofar as we do not have a divine *promise* of such a miracle each time we pray before an icon even with the right disposition. And in the case of the Eucharist in addition to a miracle in the recipient, there is a miracle outside the recipient.

H. E. said...

The 'both' answer doesn't assume identity: this guy is both the senile general and the gallant officer, why not? And even if being Christ isn't a stage property, representing Christ so that one can point and say truly 'That's Christ' is a state property. (For that matter, isn't being Jesus supposed to be a stage property of the Second Person of the Trinity?)

IMHO ontological minimalism is always a virtue--and that seems the real core of our disagreement. Since I'm not (Roman) Catholic or Orthodox--or for that matter orthodox--I'm just interested in making churchy talk come out right and licensing high church liturgical practices with the least possible metaphysical sweat.

As far as wonder-working icons and such, surely God can make anything that he pleases happen without any special metaphysics.

Alexander R Pruss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexander R Pruss said...

Surely "this guy is both the senile general and the gallant officer" involves an identity. While senility and gallantness are not the same, it's one and the same guy who has both property: the senile general is identical with the gallant officer.

Here is another serious problem for the institution view when combined with a high liturgy. Institutional facts are passed via a tradition. Between the second century and the Reformation, the standard understanding by the Christian community was that the words of the Eucharistic liturgy expressed deep metaphysical claims. Moreover, much of the Eucharistic liturgy evolved as an attempt to express a growing understanding of these metaphysical claims. This causes a serious interruption of the convention. If the metaphysics is completely false, then for over a millennium idolatrous worship was being offered.

But present day high liturgies, like the Anglican one, are an outgrowth of those liturgies that made these metaphysical claims. If these liturgies are now used to express a meaning that is metaphysically neutral, the liturgies are the same as those used traditionally only in letter. For it is the meaning that is essential to liturgy, not the exact words (and here by "words", I mean something like "sounds"), which is why it is fitting to have vernacular liturgies. But why even use words that were largely designed to express what, on the metaphysically deflationary view, was idolatrous? One should stay far away from what one takes to be idolatry.

By the way, here's something interesting. Suppose that we have a high liturgy where half the participants (the As) have a metaphysically high view and half (the Bs) have your view. Then if the Bs say "This is Christ", the As can say that what the Bs are asserting is true--namely, what is being pointed out is indeed an icon of Christ. But if the As say "This is Christ", then the Bs have to say that what the As are asserting is false and idolatrous--for the As mean to assert something metaphysically weighty. This isn't an objection or anything. But it's an interesting asymmetry.

H. E. said...

'General' like 'adolescent' is certainly a phase sortal.

As for what institutional facts are passed along historically, this poses the larger interesting question of how theory-laden non-philosophical talk, including religious talk is. Historically Christians have had all kinds of metaphysical accounts of what the religious business was all about, starting very early on with heavy-duty Platonism. If however one holds that religious language is metaphysically superficial and neutral then differences in metaphysical assumptions don't figure when it comes to deciding whether people agree or disagree about religious claims, and there's no interruption in tradition when Christians come up with different metaphysical accounts.

I'm not sure how idolatry comes into the picture. So the A's mean to assert something metaphysically weighty--and B's like me think they're wrong about the metaphysics. So what? So long as we make the same noises in the same circumstances, and behave accordingly, we agree and neither of us is idolatrous. I can affirm that the A's religious claims are true and non-idolatrous even if I hold that their heavy metaphysics are off the wall. I can agree with someone who says 2 + 2 = 4 regardless of what his philosophy of math is like--whether he thinks numbers are inscriptions, platonic forms or little animals that live on the dark side of the moon.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The potential idolatry is that those with the weighty metaphysics are expressly directing worship at the occupier of a certain region. But on the light view, the region has no being worthy of worship.

Mark Rogers said...

I thought Baber's paper "Eucharist as Icon" was well done and I am sure it could be a wonderful resource for people of my faith tradition. However I find her claim that Jesus only occupies a region in heaven problematic. If Jesus is only in heaven then He can have no direct knowledge of present happenings on earth. What knowledge then would Jesus have and how would he get it? And how would that be easier to explain and more plausible than a belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Judging from your kids' replies the apples haven't fallen far from the apple tree, or is it the oranges haven't fallen far from the orange tree. Ah, apples and oranges. :-)

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Actually, Eastern Orthodox Christians believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. Here is this from the Orthodox Wiki:

"The Eucharist is both symbolic and mystical. Also, the Eucharist in the Orthodox Church is understood to be the genuine Body and Blood of Christ, precisely because bread and wine are the mysteries and symbols of God's true and genuine presence and his manifestation to us in Christ."

Full article here:

From another Orthodox website there is this paragraph on the Eucharist as Icon:

"During the iconoclasm controversy (eighth–ninth centuries), the change in the Eucharist was used to refute the arguments of iconoclasts who claimed the Eucharist was the only true icon of Christ. In these debates, the iconodule St. Theodore the Studite wrote, “We confess that the faithful receive the very body and blood of Christ, according to the voice of God himself.” The reality of transubstantiation was a refutation of iconoclasm. The Eucharist was not an icon of Christ, but was the real and true presence of the person Jesus Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist; or rather, a true symbol."

"340. How are we to understand the word transubstantiation?

In the exposition of the faith by the Eastern Patriarchs, it is said that the word transubstantiation is not to be taken to define the manner in which the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord; for this none can understand but God; but only thus much is signified, that the bread truly, really, and substantially becomes the very true Body of the Lord, and the wine the very Blood of the Lord. In like manner John Damascene, treating of the Holy and Immaculate Mysteries of the Lord, writes thus: “It is truly that Body, united with Godhead, which had its origin from the Holy Virgin; not as though that Body which ascended came down from heaven, but because the bread and wine themselves are changed into the Body and Blood of God. But if thou seekest after the manner how this is, let it suffice thee to be told that it is by the Holy Ghost; in like manner as, by the same Holy Ghost, the Lord formed flesh to himself, and in himself, from the Mother of God; nor know I aught more than this, that the Word of God is true, powerful, and almighty, but its manner of operation unsearchable.” (J. Damasc. Theol. lib. iv. cap. 13, § 7.)

Longer Catechism of the Orthodox, Catholic, Eastern Church by St. Philaret (Drozdov) of Moscow (1830)"

Hope the above helps, and may we so live and receive.

Mark Rogers said...

Baber says in the  "Eucharist As Icon" piece that:

"Aquinas holds that Christ's (body?) is not in the sacrament "movably" but is at rest in heaven. (Aquinas 1274)

On the most natural reading, the suggestion seems to be that Christ is present in the Eucharist in the way that an object is present in it's image in cases of what we take to be indirect observation. I see myself in a mirror. Pointing toward the mirror I can truly say, "There I am!""

This seems to me a most unnatural reading of Aquinas as throughout the section dealing with the Eucharist in his Summa Theologica Aquinas repeatedly and emphatically maintains that Christ's body and being are absolutely really present in the Eucharist. In this part Aquinas is saying that the body, blood and being of Christ are in the elements immovably in that they will not cease to be present in the Eucharist until the Eucharist ceases to exist. Just as God does not change  when a person who has Christ in them ceases to exist, neither is Christ movable when a specific element of the Eucharist ceases to exist. Christ remains Christ. What I think Aquinas is trying to convey is much more robust than a mirror image. Aquinas seems to me to be saying that Christ's body, blood and being are not moved from one place to another but are generated at consecration and persist and are the Eucharist as long as the elements of the Eucharist persist even as Christ is in heaven.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I don't think Baber wants to say that Aquinas agrees with her fully. She just wants to point agreement with respect to one point.