Does the Eucharist Deny Chalcedon?

C Michael Patton, over at Parchment and Pen, is one of the most lucid Calvinist bloggers I know of. He has a strong respect for the Early Church Fathers and for Church History, although he obviously understands it differently than Catholics do. In addition, he’s as irenic as he is intelligent, so even when I’m in 180 degree disagreement, it’s easy to respect him, and the intellectual and religious honesty which motivates his position. If I have one criticism, it’s that he really likes seeming smart, and that comes through in a few of his posts.

He did a ten-part series on sola Scriptura, and although he misunderstands the Catholic view somewhat, it’s overall a really valuable tool for Catholics trying to understand the difference between how Evangelicals understand sola Scriptura and how others (“magisterial” Calvinists and Lutherans) understand it. He refers to the Evangelical position as solo Scriptura, because he claims it muddles sola Scriptura. It might take a few read to understand the distinctions he’s drawing, but he has some pretty helpful charts which make things a lot easier.

While I may respond to some of his claims on sola Scriptura later, I wanted to mention something else he has claimed on a few occasions, namely, that the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist contradicts the Council of Chalcedon.

CARM claims the same thing when it asserts that the Eucharist “is a violation of the Incarnation.” Here’s what CARM says:

Furthermore, by definition, for Jesus to be human He must be located in one place. This is the nature of being human. A human male does not have the ability to be omnipresent. He can only be in one place at one time. To say that Jesus in His physical form is in more than one place at a time, is to deny the
incarnation.

(I have no idea why CARM specifies “human male,” since it’s equally true of females, so far as I know). Here’s what C Michael Patton says:

The problem, if you have not already begun to see, is that Christ’s body cannot be really present since it would inevitably have to be at countless millions of places at one time. Humanity cannot be in more than one place at one time. Christ’s humanity is only present in one locale at any one moment according to Chalcedon. Why? Because the attributes of deity cannot be communicated to Christ’s humanity. Christ’s human body (that which is supposed to be present at every Mass all over the world) does not and cannot possess omnipresence.

They’re basically arguing the same thing. But are they right? Remember that the believers at Chalcedon believed in the Real Presence long before they ever sat down to hammer out the fact that Christ was both fully human and fully divine without merging the two into some sort of half-and-half demigod. Were these Chalcedonian bishops just too dumb to realize they were defining themselves as heretics? Let’s think about the way that the CARM / Patton understanding of Chalcedon / the Incarnation would play out in other contexts:

  • In John 20:19 and John 20:26, Jesus appears in His physical Body to the Disciples. How do we know? He lets Thomas touch His hands and sides. Why is this significant? The doors were locked, and He materialized there. So Jesus, fully God and fully Man, is able to violate the normal laws governing man, without His Humanity decreasing.
  • In John 6:1-14, Jesus feeds the mutlitudes fish and loaves. It remains physically fish and loaves the entire time, even though He miraculously turns 5 loaves and 2 fish into enough to feed 5000 men, and numerous women and children. This foreshadowed His Eucharistic discourse later that evening (or perhaps the next day) in John 6:25-71.
  • Jesus performed numerous miracles, including miracles of healing which violated the ordinary laws of nature, including those laws as applied to the human person. He raised Lazarus from the dead, He rose from the dead Himself, He ascended bodily into Heaven, etc.

So something is wrong with this understanding of the Incarnation. The answer is essentially that CARM and Patton are saying, “what are the properties of humans without God’s assistance?” And then saying, “a human is only truly human if it keeps those properties.” Well, as both CARM and Patton would surely agree, one critical property of humans absent God’s grace is sinfulness (Romans 3:23, for example?). Does that mean that because Jesus never sinned, He wasn’t fully human? No. It means that humans, without the grace of God, never meet their potential, like tools left in the shed.

Look at other examples: the prophets peformed incredible miracles which they never could have done on their own, and which violated the laws of Nature. Did they become less human? No. In fact, Catholics should be aware of the fallacy of the argument from other examples. Padre Pio (like a few other saints) was known to have bilocated: that is, been physically present in two places at once.

So aspects of Christ’s diety can animate His Humanity without decreasing one or the other. In fact, in the second appearance in the locked room, John 20:26-28 is significant precisely because it’s possible only to a fully human God-Man: He must have a physical Body to touch, and the Godlike power of being able to appear in a locked room (and, unlike Padre Pio, Christ did this by His own power).

But let’s look at the other assumption: that the Eucharist is omnipresent. Is it? If it were, there would be real problems. If, instead of Padre Pio appearing in two places at once, he existed in every atom of the air, we would say that he didn’t have a physical body, or that his body was deteriorated. In other words, omnipresence isn’t possible to physical bodies. In this, CARM and Patton are correct. Here’s how Jimmy Akin puts it:

1) Christ is not chopped up into bits. His human nature remains whole and intact at all time. It is merely made present under the appearances of bread and wine. This is multilocation, not disection.
2) Multilocation is not an attribute of divinity. In his divinity, Christ is omnipresent, not multilocal. His human nature is made multilocal by a miracle, not by a fusion of his two natures. If God wanted, he could make any one of us multilocal (and, indeed, he has allowed some saints to bilocate).
3) Because multilocation is not produced by a fusion of Christ’s human nature with his divine nature, there is no confusion in the two natures.

That second point is the critical one. The Eucharist not only doesn’t annihilate the humanity of Christ, it’s only possible with a fully human, fully diety Christ. Without being fully human, there would be no Body to make present in every altar around the world.

1 Comment

  1. I don’t specifically deny the logic set in here may work, though Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestants that adhere to the Real Presence would simply let the miracle be considered a mystery instead of defining it into Aristotelian Categories. So, I think the debate is over the RCC being real specific as to how the Real Presence literally works, not the Real Presence itself.

    So, to respond to the exegesis of the three Scriptures you cover:

    “In John 20:19 and John 20:26, Jesus appears in His physical Body to the Disciples…The doors were locked, and He materialized there.”

    I am not sure if the Scripture supports the notion that Christ “materialized.” Christ, in his postresurrection appearances, sometimes “blinds” those He is talking to so that they do not recognize Him. So, He could have simply opened the door/made the matter of the wall part before Him, and they wouldn’t notice. The fact that Christ rose to heaven and will descend physically on a cloud suggest He does not teleport. I suppose He can, as if He passed out of physical existence in one area at the same exact time He passes into existence in another, His body would never be destroyed. It’s just not a necessary explanation.

    “In John 6:1-14, Jesus feeds the mutlitudes fish and loaves…This foreshadowed His Eucharistic discourse later that evening (or perhaps the next day) in John 6:25-71.”

    No one denies Christ can manipulate the physical laws He made. He could certainly create matter (i.e. bread) because He can create something out of nothing. The question then is, can Christ’s physical body be created essentially out of nothing every Sunday in millions of Masses? I suppose it is possible, but it certainly is not an aspect of Christ’s nature that we can ever witness in the Scripture. Then there is the issue of the bread and wine during the Last Supper. Did the Real Presence exist then when He Himself was present before the sacrifice actually took place?

    I don’t know, as I am content to believe that Christ is somehow in the elements. What I do not believe, however, is that the elements are necessary for my salvation for reasons I already detailed in posts here.

    God bless,
    Craig

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