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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  April 2005

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION April 2005

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Subject:

Re: Holy Blood, again

From:

Dennis Martin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 25 Apr 2005 14:40:31 -0500

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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

>>> [log in to unmask] 4/25/2005 1:49 PM >>>
medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture


. . . since theologians after about 1225 were 
very suspicious of miracle hosts and even when they did accept the 
possibility, they insisted that any flesh and blood produced by a 
miracle could not be the flesh and blood of Christ.  Transubstantiation 
in fact makes this impossible since substance, not accidents (sense 
data roughly) are what change here.  Thomas Aquinas has a good 
discussion of all this.


****
It could not be the _transubstantiated_ body of Christ, because by defintion that sacramental presence is not sense-perceptible and non-local.  Agreed.  But would not these same theologians have agree that Christ did appear after his resurrection in a sense-perceptible, local manner and is present in heaven in that manner.  Would not the question then be how something not normally associated with the miracle of transubstantiation could be taking place, not that such a mode of Christ's corporeal presence (sense-perceptible, local) is simply impossible?  In other words, whether or how a miracle added upon the sacrament-as-miracle could or should be taken as true?
****


  Secondly, theologians including Thomas Aquinas 
would have held that a belief in the actual physical (that is sensed) 
presence of the body and blood of Christ would be a heresy 
(Capharnaism). 


****
Would this not apply only to claims of a sensed, local presence _in the sacrament of the Eucharist_?  Otherwise the post-resurrection appearances would be Capharnaism?  Or were they distinguishing between post-resurrection and pre-ascension appearances (local, sense-perceptibel) on the one hand and post-ascension appearances in visions etc. (all non-sense-perceptible, non-local)?  Or does the non-local, non-sense-perceptible qualification apply only to the claims made about the substantial presence in the Eucharist, not to other apparitions or miraculous phenomena?
****


  So, for many theologians in the thirteenth and 
fourteenth century . . . any suggestion that the sensed, physical body 
and blood of Christ is present in a miracle would be suspect at best 
and heresy at worst.  The presence they would accept and describe by 
the term "transubstantiation" would be a substantial presence which 
could be accessed only by the mind since that is how one accesses 
substances.

****
"only by the mind" =/ non-sense-perceptible--Aquinas himself says "by faith"--is faith a matter only of mind?  Certainly in involves will, heart, person, one's being as a whole.  Excluding sense-perception does not reduce everything to mind, does it?  Are substances accessible only by the mind?   Normally the substance and sense-perceptible are the same so we access the substance of a thing by both mind and senses; in this case of the Eucharist, substance is not the same as the appearance, so the normal mode of mind-perception (via senses) fails, but does that mean that all that is left is mind-access?  Aren't you getting a bit Kantian or Zwinglian here?  Or are you using "mind" in a premodern sense, in the sense of _mens_?  Using the word "mind" without explanation runs as much danger of misstating things in a Zwinglian or perhaps Berengarian manner as using "physical" runs the risk of misstating things in a Capharnaistic manner.  The technical language does use _corporeal_ alongside substantial, but immediately qualifies it as a unique non-local and non-sense-perceptible corporality.

An excessively "idealist" glossing of transubstantiation, out of fear of Capharnaism is a real danger in a modern world for which "mind" and "faith" mean something quite different than for Thomas Aquinas and the technical theologians of his day.

I also think it important to recall that the basic principles of the technical theology were set forth in the Corpus Christi sequences and hymns for the Office.  The language there is careful to avoid local, sense-perceptible presence, but also underscores real reality, substantiality.  How this all played out in the minds and hearts of those who learned enough Latin to understand those hymns poses a real challenge for modern scholars but I don't think that the technical transubstantiation theology was entirely inaccessible to people other than expert theologians.  It surely was frequently misunderstood and the bleeding host miracles in many, probably most, instances represent such misunderstandings and indeed, Capharnaism.  But I would not assume that every single instance of apparitions or visions or apparently tangible appearances of Christ associated with the Eucharist necessarily have to have been Capharnaitic.  The theologians properly were concerned about this danger, but in a situation where the doctrine of substantial, corporeal, yet non-sense perceptible presence was under attack as being merely in the mind or merely symbolic, it would not be surprising that reports of unusual phenomena of this sort would occur, nor do I think that the theology of the Eucharist rules them out.  It does urge very great caution, extreme skepticism, but not a priori impossibility of a visionary experience of Christ associated with but not identical with the non-visible, non-local substantial sacramental presence.

That distinction, of course, would have been lost on nearly everyone--it seems to be lost on most scholars addressing the issue today--the reports get reduced in one direction or another when handled by modern scholars.  But if we are going to address the matter by introducing theological fine-points, why not fine-tune it just a bit more?

Dennis Martin
****

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