Dealing With Made-up Words

Gamora: Then we have to go to Knowhere now.

Thor: Wrong! Where we have to go is Nidavellir.

Drax: That’s a made-up word.

Thor: All words are made-up.

Transubstantiation: Theology, History, and Christian Unity, Brett Salkeld

Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Calvin all genuinely believed and sought to teach Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist and came much closer than it may first appear.

I have finally finished this book.  As I mentioned early on, I concluded that the language and theology was well above my understanding – I probably got about 30% of it.  What I did take away, and, I hope, some of you take away, is that the differences between Catholics and Protestants on this topic is not nearly as wide as the emotional reaction to the word suggests.

Why do I find that important?  It is only going to be through some subset of Christians – across all traditions and denominations – where some hope for a foundation of liberty and a wall against totalitarianism will be found.  Divisions among this group, this subset, will only hinder the ability of such a stand to form.

No, I am not after one church under a single formal, institutional hierarchy (other than under Christ, of course).  I am not looking for one statement of confession or faith.  There will remain divisions on many matters.  But there need not be division where there is no need for division; where there is division, let it only matter where it matters.  On this, call me a C.S Lewis “Mere Christianity” Christian.  There certainly are ways in which such Christians can stand as a bulwark against tyranny.

So, now we come to the conclusion of Salkeld’s work.  He cites a passage by Margaret O’Gara, where she examines just what it was that Aquinas was after:

Aquinas developed this earlier idea in response to popular practices and views of his day that misunderstood the change in the Eucharist as a material change.  To counter this, Aquinas emphasized its mysterious, even miraculous, nature; this change was not visible, not material, and yet it was real.

Yes, it is bread and wine.  But is it only bread and wine?  All I can say to that is…Heaven forbid.

The original context of the discussion, the issues that were dealt with by Aquinas, were lost.  Aquinas did not argue that there was a materialistic change in the elements; he argued precisely against this.  Transubstantiation was not meant to fully explicate the Eucharist; it was meant to rule out false or inadequate conceptions of it.

The transubstantiation rejected at the time of the Reformation was not the transubstantiation of Aquinas, nor is it the teaching of the Catholic Church today – despite, as Salkeld has noted, many Catholics retain a false understanding of the term.

Through this book, Salkeld has extensively documented and footnoted the work of Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin on this topic.  He has demonstrated that the differences, if any, are minor; that what Luther and Calvin were writing against was teaching that was contrary to Aquinas and contrary to the Church’s teaching, emphasized again at the Council of Trent.

Consensus about transubstantiation is necessary only to demonstrate that what we hold about real presence is truly the same faith.

Salkeld offers: first, the faith of the Catholic Church does not require that Protestants accept this precise language or terminology; second, that transubstantiation suffers a huge liability, in that it is too easily misunderstood – the Aristotelian language and concepts used by Thomas were significantly altered by the time of the Reformation (transformed to nominalist language); finally, that different articulations are complimentary, not contradictory.

If other articulations are understood to complement, explain, or balance transubstantiation, rather than contradict, debunk, or correct it, there should be no reason why they cannot coexist in an ecumenical Church.

Conclusion

Transubstantiation, properly understood, highlights and reinforces our agreements about God, creation, Christ, the Church, and the destiny of the world – a world Christ is drawing to himself, bread first.

I want to hope that any reaction is not based on the made-up word: transubstantiation.  Salkeld may be wrong in his conclusions, but his work is well-documented and footnoted.  In other words, don’t argue against the made-up word; argue against the detailed work done by Salkeld.

We know that it is bread and wine, but it isn’t only bread and wine.  Given this, how would you describe what happens when it passes through a priest’s or pastor’s hands to differentiate it from what happens when the clerk at your grocery store puts it on the shelf?

What word would you make up as a label?

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.

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