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the 1940s, F. J. Leenhardt, a Reformed theologian at the University of Geneva, urged Protestants to reclaim the fullness of the teaching of the “real presence” of Christ. His ambitious goal was to affirm everything Catholics affirm about the meal Jesus gave us in thought forms that are trustworthy and have integrity in Protestant denominations.4 For example, he begins by describing the Hebrew understanding of the eschatological reality of something, the end for which God has created it. He concludes his argument by noting a parallel claim in Thomistic thought, that “the substance of things is not in their empirical data but in the will of God who upholds them.”5 When bread is the instrument of Christ’s self-giving, the bread becomes the body of Christ.6 Leenhardt disagrees with certain Catholic trends like “static substantialism,”7 but his goal is to present a parallel formulation that says what Thomas has said in another vocabulary, without negating the Thomistic formulation. More than a decade later in The Eucharist, Edward Schillebeeckx praises Leenhardt’s audacity. Schillebeeckx’s intention is different from, yet symbiotic with, that of Leenhardt. It is to interpret the real presence in a manner that is open to modern experience yet faithful to Catholic dogma.8 The author affirms that Trent rightly believed that the real presence could not be safeguarded in the sixteenth century without the concept of transubstantiation. But then he asks an essential question, whether this is an inner necessity of the dogma itself, or a necessity in the climate of that age.9 Schillebeeckx spends a lengthy chapter exploring this question. Toward the end he invokes Leenhardt’s understanding of the Eucharist in detail. In conclusion, he asks whether Leenhardt’s view of the real presence is a difference in faith or merely in ontology.10 His meticulous answer is that the difference is one of ontology.11 This opens the way for him to venture a now well-known thought experiment that he calls “transignification.”12

Another Thought Experiment: The Role of the Incarnation Mennonites and most other Free Churches share with other Protestants, Catholics, and most Eastern Orthodox a belief in the Triune God and the two natures of Christ as set forth at Nicaea and Chalcedon.   Of most profound relevance for our discussion is the doctrine of the incarnation. In it, the Word became flesh (John 1); Christ took on a human nature. Matter becomes the medium of spirit. With the Ascension, this principle was not overtaken (the outcome is spiritualism), but prolonged (the outcome is sacramentalism). The dominant development of the patristic era was that in all Christ’s manners of presence (historical, mystical, sacramental), he was present in his humanity as well as his divinity. This conviction in turn spurred the development of sacramental thought, i.e., Christ in his glorified humanity was received in the Eucharist. In the High Middle Ages, this way of thinking made use of the concept of “substance.” In the categories of philosophical realism, “substance” is that which creates the essential relationship between the universal and the particular. In the case of the Supper, the body and blood of Christ are truly present by means of bread and wine, but not in a local or physical manner. Yet like its spiritualist opposite, the sacramentalist doctrine was unstable. This may be seen in the popular late medieval tendency to interpret substance as Select Seminar Papers 113

North American Academy of Liturgy Proceedings 2014  

The North American Academy of Liturgy (NAAL) (http://www.naal-liturgy.org/) is an ecumenical and interreligious association of liturgical sc...

North American Academy of Liturgy Proceedings 2014  

The North American Academy of Liturgy (NAAL) (http://www.naal-liturgy.org/) is an ecumenical and interreligious association of liturgical sc...