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St. Augustine on the Eucharist

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BillK:
I’m engaged in another forum on the ECFs views on the Real Presence. I’ve provided the standard quotes which one person continues to assert show the ECFs did not believe in a physical presence.

What I’m having difficulty with is St. Augustine. I’ve provided the standard quotes but this person has come back with the following (allegedly commentary on John 6), arguing that these show he believed in a spiritual presence:

”But most of those who were present, by not understanding Him, were offended; for in hearing these things, they thought only of flesh, that which themselves were. But the apostle says, and says what is true, “To be carnally-minded is death.” The Lord gives us His flesh to eat, and yet to understand it according to the flesh is death; while yet He says of His flesh, that therein is eternal life. Therefore we ought not to understand the flesh carnally.”

”….. “Then what if ye shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before?” What is this? Did He hereby solve the question that perplexed them? Did He hereby uncover the source of their offense? He did clearly, if only they understood. For they supposed that He was going to deal out His body to them; but He said that He was to ascend into heaven, of course, whole: “When ye shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before;” certainly then at least, you will see that not in the manner you suppose does He dispense His body; certainly then, at least, you will understand that His grace is not consumed by tooth-biting.”

This is a more complete quote from Sermons 227: ”What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the Body of Christ and the chalice the Blood of Christ. … How is the bread His Body? And the chalice, or what is in the chalice, how is it His Blood? Those elements, brethren, are called Sacraments, because in them one thing is seen, but another is understood. What is seen is the corporeal species, but what is understood is the spiritual fruit. … `You, however, are the Body of Christ and His members.’ If, therefore, you are the Body of Christ and His members, your mystery is presented at the table of the Lord, you receive your mystery. To that which you are, you answer: `Amen’; and by answering, you subscribe to it. For you hear: `The Body of Christ!’ and you answer: `Amen!’ Be a member of Christ’s Body, so that your `Amen’ may be the truth.” And if you notice Augustine says what you see is the bread and wine but what is understood is the spiritual fruit. Clearly not a physcical presence but a spiritual one.

And then she continues …. And by way of additional explanation elsewhere, he will go on to say: ”you will understand that His grace is not consumed by tooth-biting.” His way of saying we do not receive the grace of God by eating the “bread”. Augustine was also quite clear he did not hold to a physical presence when he said that Christ deprived us of his bodily presence.

Are the complete writings of Augustine on-line? I checked EWTN site and couldn’t find them. I’m particularly interested in the collection of letters, especially the ones referenced above.

Thanks,

Bill

Free:
Just a short comment, Bill...back when I was in adult Sunday School at the Presbyterian church, the books we studied emphasized a quote from St. Augustine having to do with sign and symbol in regards to the bread and wine.  Even then, I had my own, private beliefs about Holy Communion, which stemmed from believing what Jesus said in the Bread of Life section of John 6.  Non-Catholics love that particular quotation from St. Augustine because it seems to back up their non-Catholic agenda.  As I remember, the quotation is a bit ambiguous, and, of course, Catholics agree with what St. Augustine said, which is essentially that the Eucharist is BOTH sign and symbol.

Calvin started this.  He had a non-Catholic agenda (which was really an "I don't believe that Jesus told us the truth, and I can do better" agenda), and he began gathering quotations from the Fathers that fit his theory.  There aren't very many!  And one thing that both amused and offended me when I read Calvin's Institutes is that when a Father said something that kind of fit Calvin's agenda, then the Father was right in Calvin's eyes, but when a Father said something that contradicted Calvin's agenda, Calvin argued against the Father to prove that the Father was wrong and that Calvin was right.  In my view, even as a Protestant reading the Institutes, we should rely on what the Fathers said as being closer to the truth than anything we could come up with, since they learned their doctrine from the Apostles or the successors of the Apostles.

One of the Presbyterian texts we studied in the adult class admits in a footnote that most of the other Fathers of the Church spoke of a "conversion" or a "transformation" of the elements, yet, the footnote explains, what they really meant was that we add our faith to the symbol and it becomes more personally meaningful for us by doing that.  Excuse me!  That's not what the Fathers said, and they were perfectly capable of saying it exactly the way they meant it!

The Presbyterian pastor who led the class said that of all the early Christian writers, we can best accept the writing of Augustine, since he has the same views as we do in the Reformed Faith.  Doesn't that seem backwards?

Another thing I noted in the passage you quoted.  It mentions that when Jesus ascended into heaven, he was whole.  Of course he was.  But, you see, the person you are dialoguing with has an either/or mindset.  In her mind, if Jesus is whole in heaven, he can't give us his flesh to eat here on earth.

When we illustrate to children in the Good Shepherd class how Jesus can both give us his life/light and still have his full light/life, we use candles.  We light a big candle that stands for Jesus, who is the Light of the World, and then we light a little candle for each child, hand it to him or her and say, "Receive the Light of Christ."  After every child has received a candle, we look at the big candle to see if the flame is any smaller or dimmer.  The children see by this that they can receive the light and the life of Christ inside themselves, and it doesn't take away from Christ himself.  Then we put all the little candles together on a table and we see how bright they are together, and we explain that this is how it is in the Church.  Each little candle joins with other little candles, and with the big candle, and it gives a lot of light.

When Jesus offers us his life in the Eucharist, he remains whole.  He also remains in heaven even while he is with us.  Maybe in your conversation, you could start there -- does she believe that Jesus is both present in heaven and present on earth at the same time?

The woman who are having the conversation with hasn't yet had the momentous mindset change to think in terms of both/and rather than either/or.  I pray that she might be able to adjust her thinking as an outcome of this dialogue.  It makes sense that God, whose mind is far more encompassing than our own, would give us this blessed stretching into a both/and way of seeing things.  It is not only a larger way of thinking, but also one that operates more deeply in grace, I believe.

David W. Emery:

--- Quote from: BillK ---Are the complete writings of Augustine on-line?
--- End quote ---

Yes, but not all of them in English. A comprehensive link list of what is available on the internet (both in English and in several other languages) can be found here.

In the quotes you present, St. Augustine is distinguishing between a carnal presence and a sacramental presence. You will recall that in John 6, the people were understanding Jesus’ words in a carnal and even cannibalistic manner, and he corrected them on that point. Yes, he spoke of “tooth-biting”; no, he did not speak of a carnal substance. Rather, he referred to a sacramental substance, which is not simply a “spiritual” substance, but a tangible one — which is why “our Lord uses a stronger word than just ”˜eating’ (the original verb could be translated as ”˜chewing’) which shows that Communion is real (Navarre Bible Commentary on John 5:53).

Catholics believe in a sacramental presence in the Eucharist (substance but not accidents). Calvinists (as Jane ably explains) do not believe in a sacramental presence and so understand what Augustine describes as a “symbolic” or “spiritual” presence; but this is a matter of imposing their beliefs on Augustine’s words. Calvinists did not even exist until a thousand years after Augustine died, so their method is at best anachronistic and (to use Jane’s word) “backwards” thinking.

So what does Augustine bean by “you will understand that His grace is not consumed by tooth-biting”? Grace is not a material substance at all, but completely spiritual. So of course it cannot be eaten. And in fact, God’s grace is not ingested in the sacrament of the Eucharist any more than it is absorbed through the pores of the skin in baptism. No, it is the Body and Blood of the Lord — not grace — that we eat, and through that act of communion, the sacrament’s concomitant grace is infused (“poured”), not into our bodies, but into our souls.

David

japhy:
First, you can find most St. Augustine’s homilies and commentary at

http://www.ccel.org/fathers.html


--- Quote from: BillK ---But most of those who were present, by not understanding Him, were offended; for in hearing these things, they thought only of flesh, that which themselves were. But the apostle says, and says what is true, “To be carnally-minded is death.” The Lord gives us His flesh to eat, and yet to understand it according to the flesh is death; while yet He says of His flesh, that therein is eternal life. Therefore we ought not to understand the flesh carnally.
--- End quote ---

When Christ said the spirit gives life and the flesh is of no avail, he meant that a carnal interpretation of what he was saying was wrong. Jesus was not speaking of cannibalism, and if Jesus’ flesh was just normal human flesh, there would be nothing to gain from eating it. But the spiritual interpretation does not preclude the Eucharist from actually being Christ’s body and blood.

To understand “carnally” does not simply mean “to think the Eucharist is flesh”. It means to think in a non-spiritual manner. If Christ was doling out pieces of his flesh (in a carnal manner), then it would indeed be death; yet Christ says the flesh he will give has eternal life. It is the manner of giving the flesh which the Jews could not understand.


--- Quote from: BillK ---Then what if ye shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before?” What is this? Did He hereby solve the question that perplexed them? Did He hereby uncover the source of their offense? He did clearly, if only they understood. For they supposed that He was going to deal out His body to them; but He said that He was to ascend into heaven, of course, whole: “When ye shall see the Son of man ascending where He was before;” certainly then at least, you will see that not in the manner you suppose does He dispense His body; certainly then, at least, you will understand that His grace is not consumed by tooth-biting.
--- End quote ---

Yes, they thought Christ was going to carve off pieces of his flesh to them. There could only be a finite amount of that, and if he ascended into Heaven there would be no more. It is not in that manner that he gives us his body; “tooth-biting” referring, I would imagine, to cannibalistic flesh-ripping with teeth, is not the way we eat him. Yes, we eat his body, but it is not by tearing his flesh with our teeth that we receive him, because our teeth -- and all our senses -- perceive only “bread”.


--- Quote from: BillK ---Sermon 272: ”What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the Body of Christ and the chalice the Blood of Christ. … How is the bread His Body? And the chalice, or what is in the chalice, how is it His Blood? Those elements, brethren, are called Sacraments, because in them one thing is seen, but another is understood. What is seen is the corporeal species, but what is understood is the spiritual fruit. … `You, however, are the Body of Christ and His members.’ If, therefore, you are the Body of Christ and His members, your mystery is presented at the table of the Lord, you receive your mystery. To that which you are, you answer: `Amen’; and by answering, you subscribe to it. For you hear: `The Body of Christ!’ and you answer: `Amen!’ Be a member of Christ’s Body, so that your `Amen’ may be the truth.”

And if you notice Augustine says what you see is the bread and wine but what is understood is the spiritual fruit. Clearly not a physcical presence but a spiritual one.
--- End quote ---

Sermon 272 can be read here: http://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/docs/augustine/sermon272.htm

What is seen in the Eucharist is bread and wine; that is, our senses perceive the “species” of bread and wine. But what we must recognize through faith is that it is the Body and Blood of Christ. Read the whole sermon and you’ll see the bigger picture of what he’s saying.


--- Quote from: BillK ---And by way of additional explanation elsewhere, he will go on to say: ”you will understand that His grace is not consumed by tooth-biting.” His way of saying we do not receive the grace of God by eating the “bread”. Augustine was also quite clear he did not hold to a physical presence when he said that Christ deprived us of his bodily presence.
--- End quote ---

We are deprived of the bodily presence of Christ insofar as the Eucharist is not his earthly bodily appearance. We don’t have a “hand” or “foot” of Christ. The Eucharist is truly his Real Presence, but it is veiled in a sacramental form.

Dave Armstrong:
Of relevance and possible help in this regard are my papers:

Clarifications (Under Fire), of St. Augustine's Eucharistic Doctrine, and a Counter-Challenge to Protestants Who Try to "Co-Opt" Him


St. Augustine's Belief in the Real Presence


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