Luke 22:19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
This doesn’t sound so complicated, does it?
Transubstantiation: Theology, History, and Christian Unity, Brett Salkeld
Brett Salkeld (PhD, Regis College, University of Toronto) is archdiocesan theologian for the Archdiocese of Regina, Saskatchewan, and has served for many years on the national Canadian Roman Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue.
My interest in this book was raised due to a dialogue between Salkeld and Paul VanderKlay – the first, a Catholic theologian, the second a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church (my summary of these two conversations is here, along with links to both). As several of you indicated an interested in my posting on this book, well, here we go.
I think it is first worth a brief overview of the major schisms and divides in Christianity over the last two-thousand years. In summary:
Oriental Orthodoxy and the Council of Chalcedon in 451, regarding Christ’s nature: The resulting schism created a communion of churches, including the Armenian, Syrian, and Egyptian churches (Oriental Orthodoxy).
Tensions between East and West, beginning in the fourth century: Two basic problems were involved: the nature of the primacy of the bishop of Rome and the theological implications of adding a clause to the Nicene Creed, known as the Filioque clause.
The East-West Schism, culminating in 1054: separated the Church into Western (Latin) and Eastern (Greek) branches, i.e., Western Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It was the first major division since certain groups in the East rejected the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon (see Oriental Orthodoxy), and was far more significant.
Protestant Reformation: officially marked by Martin Luther and his 95 Theses in 1517, although the schism was not official until 1521.
Thereafter, thousands of children were born – each with a reason to run from their parents.
One other thought in my extensive preamble, this from C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. First, there is one topic he will not touch, and that is of the Virgin Mary:
…there is no controversy between Christians which needs to be so delicately touched as this.
Probably so. It always seems to me that when one is trying to build bridges, it is best to work on topics that might be easiest to resolve – creating a few wins helps build confidence in the goodwill between the parties. Lewis does just this:
The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.
And after this:
There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and that mysterious action which different Christians call by different names – Holy Communion, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper.
Which brings us, now, to Salkeld’s book – as he is attempting to tackle the third one of these. First, from the Forward, written by Michael Root of The Catholic University of America, who succinctly captures the challenge taken on by Salkeld:
Writing about a theological topic from an ecumenical perspective can be a delicate enterprise.
The contrasting theologies not only differ on the important questions raised, but often in function, norms and logic. Opposition is rarely straightforward and direct; the issues are sometimes quite nuanced.
The Eucharist falls squarely in this space: what of the bread and wine, what of the nature of the Mass? It was in the metaphysical Scholastic dialogue where such questions were tackled – appropriating and inserting Aristotelian thinking into the theology. Formal doctrinal statements would incorporate this logic, culminating in the use of the term “transubstantiation” in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council.
This leads to a difficulty: on the one hand, the essential content of the faith; on the other, the language in which it is taught. While the former constitutes a core that must be preserved, the latter can be reconsidered.
I am reminded here of something else that I came to understand from VanderKlay. From the beginning, the Bible was a translation. Even if we would have been able to understand God if He spoke to us in modern vernacular (we could, at best, scratch the surface), how much more difficult to get the nuance of a foreign language from a foreign time and place?
So, how to hold on to the unchangeable core while trying to capture it in various languages with terms that evolve over time, all-the-while overcoming and reflecting the complexity of the content? Dialogue between and among people who are after truth, not power.
Returning to the Forward: Root offers that the Catholic West does not insist that the Orthodox East adopt its technical theological language as a condition of communion; the faith can be expressed in different ways, although some ways of talking “must be rejected.” And, in any case, the concepts cannot be ignored.
Joining together in the Eucharist does not require that all adopt this language, but it does require that this language not be rejected as misrepresenting what is going on.
While the doctrine of the Eucharist speaks directly to a specific practice, Root notes that there are some differences that involve doctrines that only indirectly effect certain practices – he offers, as an example of this, justification. The countless ways different denominations come at this – it’s mind boggling.
Peter is speaking:
Acts 2: 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
They were all justified, without any of the concerns that have divided Catholic from Orthodox from Protestant from other Protestant from other Protestant, etc.
As my preamble has gone on too far, I will stop here for today; this is a good foundation from which to work through this book.
Why am I interested in this topic, especially within the context of this blog? To make a somewhat long story short, absent Christianity as an institution providing the foundation, I don’t see liberty returning or surviving (here is the somewhat long story). If it isn’t obvious why secular leaders have worked so hard over the last few centuries to remove Christianity from society, well, open your eyes.
So, leaving the final word to Root:
Not all will agree with every detail.
Let’s keep this in mind as we work through this, and let’s give Salkeld a chance to present his case. It was a strong enough case to get a Calvinist pastor to spend four hours discussing this book with him.