The New Zealand Evangelist
Reply to the Rev. J. J. P. O'Reily's Letter.
The Rev. Mr. O'Reily has published the letter himself, to which we referred in the cover of our last number. As the object of that letter is to overthrow the exposition of Matth. xxvi. 26, “This is my body, &c.,” given in No. XV of the Evangelist, we feel called to make a few remarks upon it. But as our limits will not allow us to advert to various disputed points brought into the letter, we shall confine our observations exclusively to an examination of the arguments adduced in support of the literal interpretation page 160 of the words, “This is my body,”—“This is my blood.” The chief arguments brought forward are,—that it is expressly declared, John vi, 54, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall have no life in you, &c,”—that the other three Evangelists and the Apostle Paul expressly say, “This is my body, &c.,” and these statements are never contradicted, or other-wise explained,—that it is different with such expressions as, “I am the true vine““The rock was Christ,” that in these and similar passages the context clearly shows them to be figurative, but that it is not so in the narrative of the institution of the Eucharist;—Chrst was then making his last will and Testament., and would use only the clearest and simplest language. In reply to the objection, that there is no apparent change in the bread, and that Christ's body cannot be in heaven and in a thousand places on earth at the same moment; it is said, to make this an objection is to deny the omnipotence of God,—that it is no more contrary to reason than the doctrine of the Trinity,—that Christ's body was in heaven and earth when he appeared to Saul,—that two bodies may be in the same place by penetration,—that the genius of Leibnitz saw nothing in it repugnant to any principle of natural science,—and that his view has been held by the Church from the earliest period to the present time.
In reply to these, we observe, that in John vi., Christ is not speaking of the Euchrist, much less instituting it; he is preaching, where it is admitted figures are allowable and useful. On account of the hardness of their hearts he spoke in parables, and used figurative language. He is speaking of faith in his incarnation and atonement. Some of the ignorant, carnal Jews understood him literally, and were offended; but his disciples evidently understood him to speak figuratively. Christ says, v. 54, “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life.” He also says this life cannot be obtained by any other means; for in v. 53, he says, “Except ye eat page 161 the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” But he affirms the very same things of believing; in v. 47, he says, “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” Everlasting life is equally inseparably connected with eating and drinking and believing; what is clearer then, than that eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man, must mean believing the truth respecting his person, incarnation, and atonement? But that no one might mistake his meaning, he adds, v. 63,” It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life.” It is not flesh or matter, but truth that can animate and sustain the soul.
In reply to the objection, that there is no intimation given, either by the Evangelists or the Apostle Paul, that these words, “This is my body,” were to be understood in any sense but the literal; it might be justly said, that the expression is so obviously figurative, that no one could understand it otherwise, without denying the evidences of his senses; and surrendering the exercise of his reason. It was scarcely possible that the disciples could understand these expressions in any other sense than the figurative. The Hebrew language having no word to signify represent, the verb to be was used, expressed or understood, and the whole structure of the Scripture phraseology runs in this form. It is the Lord's passover; It (the tree) is thou O King; Thou art this head of gold. The four beasts are four Kings, &c. It is no objection to say Christ was making his last will and Testament, and hence would use no figures of speech. The whole Biblo is Christ's will and Testament; and although Christ was instituting a Sacrament, it was a symbolical ordinance, and the figurative language that he employed was perfectly familiar to his disciples; yea the very terms had been, fully explained to them, as recorded in John vi.
It is not correct to say, that not one of the sacred writers gives any explanation, to show that they understood page 162 these words figuratively. As the three Evangelists and Paul record the same expression of our Lord; and as the sentence is short and idiomatic, nothing is more natural than that they should use the same words, without variation, when recording the institution of the Eucharist; but both Luke and Paul use language, when speaking of the observance of the Lord's supper, which shows, that they had no conception of the “real presence” in that ordinance, and that according to their view the bread and wine remained unchanged. It is not certain that Luke, in Acts ii. 42—46, refers to the Eucharist by the “breaking of bread; but there is scarcely a doubt that he refers to it, in Act xx. 7. “Upon the first day of the week when the disciples came together to “break bread” There is no doubt at all, that Paul, in 1 Cor. xi. refers to it; and after recording the words of institution, “This is my body, &c.,” he clearly intimates that there is no change effected, by his repeatedly calling it bread. “As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup.” “Whoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup.” “Let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup.” “This is not To eat the Lord's supper.” In c. x. he uses the very same language. “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ; “We being many, are one bread and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread.” After the consecration, Paul calls it still bread. One would suppose that Paul was a writer of the present day, purposely employing language condemnatory of the “real presen” In Math, xxvi, 29, after Christ had said— “This is my blood, he said, “I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, &c.,” clearly pointing out that the contents of the cup had undergone no change. If the context requires that we should explain the expressions, “that rock was Christ; “I am the true vine; “I am the door““I am the bread of life,” and similar phraseology as figurative; the context as clearly requires that we explain figuratively page 163 and not literally the expressions, “This is my body,” and “this is my blood.”
We are charged with questioning the omnipotence of Christ, when we urge some common-sense objections against the doctrine of transubstantiation. We do not. We recognize, as fully as our opponents, the doctrine of divine omnipotence, and the truth of the miracles recorded in scripture. But although God is almighty, He can do nothing that implies a contradiction: He cannot lie, either by word or deed; He cannot deny himself. There is a marked difference between the scripture miracles and this pretended miracle of the “real presence.” When Moses's rod was changed into a serpent, it had all the properties of a serpent: Moses fled from it. When the water of the Nile was changed into blood, it had all the properties of blood; and the Egyptians could not drink of it. When Christ changed the water into wine, it had all the properties of wine; and that in such a high degree as to attract the special notice of the Governor of the feast; and so of all the other miracles—whatever change was effected, was apparent to every one that could use his senses and exercise his reason. If the river had retained all the properties of water, and Moses had declared to Pharoah that it was blood, all Egypt would have denied it. But in this case, in order that a single expression of our Saviour's, recorded by four of the sacred writers, may be interpreted literally, which on every principle of sound interpretation ought to be understood figuratively, we are required to believe, that that which has all the properties of bread has none of the substance of bread—that that which has all that is essential to bread has yet none of the essence of bread, but is in reality the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ—and that that is really the substance of flesh and blood, which is destitute of every property essential to flesh and blood. This bears no resemblance to any one mode, or any single instance of God's communicating knowledge and truth to man. In all the other mira-page 164cles, the change effected by divine power was apparent to the senses; but here both the senses and the reason testify to the very opposite of what is asserted to be done.
It is alleged, that we may as well deny the doctrine of the Trinity, because we cannot comprehend how one God subsists in three persons; as deny the truth of this doctrine because we cannot understand how the substance of the bread can be changed, and yet the accidents or properties of the bread remain the same; or how one body can be in a thousand different places at once. We reply that the cases are not parallel. The scripture proof for both is not alike clear. The proof for the Trinity is so clear and so abundant, that if we reject the doctrine of the Trinity we must reject the Bible; but transubstantiation has no support from scripture, except from one or two expressions, so expounded as to set every principle of sound interpretation at defiance.
The two doctrines are not beset by the same difficulties. The doctrine of the Trinity, like that of the essence of God, because relating to the infinite, cannot be comprehended by our finite capacities; we believe it on the testimony of God; but there is nothing in it contrary to the evidence of our senses. But the doctrine of transubstantiation is not only incomprehensible, but completely at variance, both with the evidence of our senses and the dictates of our reason': and before we can receive it, we must cease to exercise those faculties that distinguish us as rational beings.
We are told that Christ's body not only can, but has been in two places at once; and since God has established the fact, the matter is ended. When Christ appeared to Saul going to Damascus, it is affirmed he was present in body both in heaven and earth. But there is no proof whatever from this narrative, although thrice recorded, that Christ's body was both in heaven and earth at the same time; if Paul saw Jesus in the flesh at this time, his body had evidently returned to earth, and became visible in the aerial heavens to Saul alone.page 165
We are also told a body can be in the same place with another by penetration; and Christ's appearance to his disciples in the upper room, when the doors were shut, is adduced. It is inferred that Christ's body must have penetrated through the door. It is much more natural to suppose that Christ opened the door unperceived by his disciples.
It is said a body may be in different places at once in a spiritual manner, as a man's soul can be in every part of his body. Every one knows that matter and spirit have no properties in common, and to speak of a body existing as a spirit is confounding the clearest and simplest distinctions; but even a spirit can be present in only one place at once; it cannot be in heaven and earth at the same time; Gabriel himself flies swiftly from the one to the other.
It is said, that unless Christ's body and blood be present in the Eucharist, none could be guilty of the sin of not discerning it. We have already seen, that Paul speaks of eating the bread and drinking the cup unworthily; not the body and blood. It rather appears that if the body and blood were eaten, it would be impossible that they should not be discerned. But it is quite possible to eat and drink the signs, and not discern or perceive the spiritual import of these signs. We are to eat and drink these symbols in remembrance of Christ's death. If Christ's body is present and broken, we cannot remember him. We remember the past and the absent, not the present.
As for the genius of Leibnitz, it is enough to say that Leibnitz lived and died a Protestant; and if, in his eager desire after peace and unity between the two churches, to reduce the grounds of difference to the narrowest limits, he expressed himself as stated; the genius and testimony of Newton, whose decided Protestantism is well known, will certainly neutralize that of the Continental Philosopher.
The doctrine of the “real presence,” is called a “divine dogma;” and the testimony of the fathers is alleged in its support, from the time of the apostles and downwards. It were easy to array father page 166 against father, and the same father against himself on this point; the passages quoted in the letter are no decisive proofs in behalf of the literal interpretation. “The first idea,” says Home, “of Christ's bodily presence in the Eucharist was started in the beginning of the eighth century; the first writer who maintained the doctrine was P. Radbertus in the ninth century, before it was firmly established; and the first public assertion of it was, at the third Lateran Council in the year 1215, after it had been some time avowed by the Roman Popes, and inculcated by the clergy dependant on them, in obedience to their injunctions. But the term “transubstantiation “was not known before the thirteenth century, when it was invented by Stephen Bishop of Autuen.” It was an open question in the Church, till it was established at the same time (1215) with auricular confession by Pope Innocent III.
But let no one suppose that the Protestant view is strong, only to demolish the arguments of our opponents, but weak and feeble to build up the faith of believers. It is our view alone, that is rich for spiritual support and consolation. We present to the senses, only the outward and sensible sign; but we present to the believing soul, the inward and spiritual grace. By these “sensible signs, Christ and the benefits of the New Covenant are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.” “The worthy receivers are not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits to their spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.” “They truly and really feed upon him, while by faith they receive and apply unto themselves Christ crucified, and all the benefits of his death.