This is the home of the 'serious' a4g. To visit my dark side, go to Point Five. (The dark side seems to post every day... Why do you think that is?)

Thursday, April 07, 2005

It Depends on What the Meaning of 'Is' is

It is perhaps the quintessential Clintonism, and I’m sure has been the source of many giggles beyond those it provided within my family. And yet, I find myself suddenly chilled by what the definition of ‘IS’ actually is.

It started with my wife, who had encountered a group of kids in a church group who stated affirmatively that “scientific testing of the Eucharist revealed cardiac tissue in the consecrated Host.” Bypassing the obvious question of scandal in producing His Body Blood Soul and Divinity for scientific testing, I suspect the children took stories such as this, and did a bit of their own ‘transubstantiation.’

So what, asked my wife, is the full teaching of the Church in regards to the doctrine of Transubstantiation?

The Council of Trent stated:

By the consecration of the bread and of the wine a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His Blood; which conversion is by the holy Catholic Church suitably and properly called transubstantiation.


The Church teaches that two forms of transformation are possible in the physical world, that of accident and that of substance. The accidental transformation is not one of misfortune; rather it refers to the physical change; the water at Cana pouring forth suddenly as wine. But here, too, is the substantial change at work. For not only have the physical properties of the water changed to wine, but it is also no longer the liquid called water, but now the liquid called wine.

The “miracle” of the Eucharist has always seemed to me a rather harmless quirk of the Church, and certainly has been the source of many a raised eyebrow even among other Christians. But the subtle power of the logic burrowed deep.

So what is ‘Is’? Descartes wondered how much of himself he could cut away and still be himself. We scienticians suspect foggily that ‘Is’ is an emergent phenomenon, a glorious adaptation that our massively parallel minds can float like a dust mote through air lighter than itself. We observe sufficient classes of patterns, and those patterns form a concept, and when sufficient data enter through our senses to trigger a threshold cascade, we call the thing a desk, or a chair, or an amphora of wine because it fits well enough for hunting the conceptual creation of desk or chair or amphora.

So if the edges of definition get blurry sometimes, it is only because ‘Is’ is only an illusion, an artifact of needing to identify things more efficiently than specifically so as to expedite the killing and the eating portion of the festivities.

But what the Eucharist tells us is not that Adam created the definition of Tiger when he looked at the four legged eater with stripes, but rather he gave a human name to that which had already been secretly named by God. The Tiger by any earthly name is in its very essence a tiger by virtue of God’s creation. God is the investor of substance. When we bake bread for consecration, it is bread not because we have named it so, or because we identify it as such, but because God has allowed its essence to become that of bread.

We discover the essence by use of the senses—does it smell like bread, look like bread, taste like bread? But these properties are not its true nature, rather they are only clues into its deeper reality. We know it is bread because we see its physicality, but God knows it is bread because He sees what it IS.

The soul, then, becomes not the semi-transparent avatar that rises from deceased cartoon characters, an otherness dwelling inside, but instead the IS that God sees when He looks at us. [ed.-- would this concept naturally require the resurrection of the body, as the carrier for the IS? Grain for another post. Must get to the mill…]

The miracle of the Eucharist seems no longer difficult. God has breathed life into each thing, and knows its secret name. He knows what everything IS. Through the transubstantiation, he changes what bread and wine IS, into something else. Sure, we see the bread and wine, we smell the bread and wine, we taste the bread and wine (figurative we—the atheist hasn’t scandalized the Holy Host!), but God has passed his hand over the altar and now the-thing-that-was--is-no-longer. And if God knows that it IS Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, how is that theologically difficult?

If His breath gave everything substance to begin with, how can it not change anything at will?
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