If the facts of science should shape our interpretation of Scripture (see my previous post), how do we understand what is happening at the table of the Lord? Lipscomb uses an argument below that is rooted in an optimistic empiricism but something even more profound as I will explain. See what you think.
“But if this [transubstantiation, JMH] is a miracle, it is the opposite of every miracle mentioned in the Bible. Instead of appeal to the sense to produce faith in the unseen, the belief in the miracle rests in an existing faith contrary to the testimony of the bodily senses. A man’s bodily senses say there is no flesh and blood in the loaf or the wine. It takes a blind faith that sets aside the testimony of the sight, touch, taste, hearing, smelling of the body to believe this. God never required a man to believe a thinking contrary to the witness of his own senses.”
“Jesus said: “Do this [partake of the bread and wine] (DL’s words, JMH) in memory of me.” A memorial of a person or a transaction is not that person or transaction itself reproduced. A memorial is something that reminds one of the person or the thing done.”
“Christ said: ‘This is my body.” “This is my blood.” But did he mean it literally or figuratively? Jesus frequently used words figuratively: as, “Upon tis rock I will build my church.” He did not mean a literal rock nor a material building. He told the woman of Samaria “he would have given [her], living water…Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up into eternal life.” (John 4:10-14.) This was no real water of which Jesus spoke. It was a figurative use of the word. How do we determine this? Because to give it a literal meaning would contradict our bodily senses. Jesus called Herod a “fox.” Did he mean he was a literal four-legged animal? No one would so claim. Why not? Because our bodily senses contradict it, and we are forced to conclude it is untrue, or the word is used in a figurative sense. Now this is true when he says of the bread, “This is my body.” Our bodily sense know it is not, and we are compelled to say it is not true, or it is true in a figurative sense. Our bodily senses know it si not, and we are compelled to say it si not true, or it is true in a figurative sense. Our bodily sense are good witnesses to us of material things, and God at no time requires men to reject their testimony in reference to such things. He does not require us to believe the bread and wine are literal body and blood of Christ when all our senses tell us they are not. They are figuratively so. They bring these things to our remembrance,a nd his body and blood are spiritually present to bless our spirits. Our spirits, not our bodies, are blessed in remembering the body and blood of Christ. There is hardly a chapter, especially of John in which words are not so used.” (David Lipscomb, Gospel Advocate, Dec 19, 1907, p. 807).
Lipscomb’s point has some merit. Empirical reality, as perceived through the human mind, is a mode (in some sense) of knowledge. But I would suggest that a deeper point is at issue–one which, I think, Lipscomb would also argue if presented to him.
One of the reasons I reject transubstantiation is that it involves the annihilation of creation. Transubstantiation annihilates the presence of the bread and wine in order to replace it with the body and blood of Christ. This dishonors creation itself. The bread and wine are not transfigured into a form of new creation; it ceases to be bread and wine altogether. The telos of creation, however, is not annihilation but transfiguration (redemption in Romans 8). It does not cease to be but becomes new creation; not annihilated but renewed (as Lipscomb himself believed).
So, at the table, the bread does not cease to be bread or the wine cease to be wine. Rather, the bread and the wine become Spiritual (pneumatological and eschatological) means of experiencing the new creation in Christ. Bread and wine, as elements of creation itself, become means of Spiritual communion with the new creation that is Christ.
Transubstantiation does not fit the miracle stories of Scripture where the miracles perfect nature or utilize the elements of nature rather than annihilating or destroying nature. Lipscomb has a point, I think.
This is currently debated among some Roman Catholic scholars For example, Terence Nichols (Transubstantiation and Eucharistic Presence,” Pro Ecclesia 11 [Winter 2002] 57-75) attempts to understand the miracle of the Eucharist in the context of modern physics while rejecting traditional theories of Thomistic Transubstantiation.
Does this mean we reduce the Supper to a figure or symbol where it becomes just a memorial? I don’t think so. I think something Spiritual and eschatological is happening at the Eucharistic meal. But I won’t take the space to talk about that here; I have written elsewhere about that.
My point is that one’s theology of creation as empirical reality, as something good that should not be annihilated, and with an eschatological goal of transfiguration mitigates against a traditional, Thomistic understanding of transubstantiation. Something Spiritual happens, something mystical (thus the Greek church calls them the “mysteries”), but it does not subvert or deny creation. Rather, creation (bread and wine) retains its original function, that is, to mediate the presence of God and communion between God and humanity.