About this tab: The Eucharist is one of the seven major sacaraments. Many have attempted to understand and explain what makes the Eucharist sacred, which in turn relates to its spirituality. Two of these viewpoints regarding Eucharsitic spirituality will be examined: Maritn Luther and Thomas Aquinas
Eucharistic Spiritual Perspective According to Maritn Luther
Martin Luther wrote On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church in 1520. In the text, he expresses his understanding of the sacraments within the church. Of particular interest is the way that Luther chooses to interpret the sacrament of the Eucharist. First, Luther makes a direct reference to scripture and points out when Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). Based on this passage, Luther concludes that it would be absurd to argue that the laity should not receive both the body and the blood. He believes that the reception of the body and the blood of Christ should not only be given to priests because of their status, but that it should also be given to the laity because Christ did not shed his blood solely for priests. According to Luther, such exclusivity of the sacrament would result in its invalidation. Another important spiritual interpretation that Luther offers in regards to the Eucharist revolves around the doctrine of transubstantiation. Transubstantiation is the process by which the bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, resulting in Jesus being completely present in the Eucharist. It is believed that the term transubstantiation was first used by Hildebert de Lavardin in the 11th century, who believed that the term transubstantiation best described the transformation that occurred during the Eucharist. The Council of Trent confirmed the doctrine of transubstantiation in 1551, which argued that the bread and wine are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. Luther refers to transubstantiation as “a portentous word and dream indeed” and “an erroneous conclusion” (Luther 12). Luther believes that the body and blood of Christ are present in the elements of communion but that the elements do not become his body or blood. Luther is making the claim that transubstantiation is not necessary for Christ to be present in the Eucharist. Luther argues that transubstantiation is not supported by scripture, but rather by philosophers. Luther says, “The Church, however, kept the right faith for more than twelve centuries, nor did the holy Fathers ever or anywhere make mention of this transubstantiation, until the counterfeit Aristotelian philosophy began to make its inroads on the Church” (Luther 12). Luther sees philosophy to be a weak foundation for the doctrine of transubstantiation. He is arguing that after years of the christian faith being studied by true believers, no one made a claim for transubstantiation. It was not until Aristotelian philosophy that transubstantiation began to be considered. Luther believes that transubstantiation would have been a more credible doctrine if it was established by the church fathers, for example who are experienced in the Christian faith. Osborne makes it clear that Luther believed that transubstantiation was not the only possible way for Christ to be present in the Eucharist. According to Osborne, Luther believed that God could make Christ present in the substance of the bread and wine. Luther rejects the particular school of thought about the real presence, but does not reject the real presence all together. Although he does not have a conceptually spelled out understanding of the Eucharist, he emphasizes that christians must simply have faith in the existence of some type of real presence. Luther even argues against Zwingli, a reformation leader who claims that there is no real presence in the Eucharist at all. Luther was influenced by nominalists and according to the nominalist perspective, transubstantiation requires two actions of God: the annihilation of the substance of the bread and the placement of Christ’s body under the species (Osborne 65). This resulted in the doctrine of consubstantiation. Consubstantiation still affirms that the bread and wine is the body and blood of Christ but not in the Aristotelian philosophy of substance. Luther, however, does not necessarily adopt the belief of consubstantiation. He simply believes that instead of transubstantiation there is a better argument for Christ’s eucharistic presence. Luther attacks Aquinas and his philosophy saying that his argument has no support from scripture or reason. Osborne claims that, “Luther sees himself as rejecting an unnecessarily philosophical theology in return for a more biblical faith” (Osborne 65). It is evident that Luther favors establishing doctrine based on scriptural evidence.
The Eucharist and The Politics of Love According to Thomas Aquinas
By: Michael Capparis
Thomas Aquinas opens his comparison of the Eucharist and political love by introducing us to multiple natural inclinations that humans experience in accordance with the nature of reason. This nature of reason for Aquinas has a deeper spiritual meaning, mainly relating to the truth about God and living in society collectively. When discussing the meaning behind the nature of reason and its concepts, its main goal is to seek the truth about God and living in society as one. Aquinas then turns his theory into the argument that religious impulses and political domains are ultimately intertwined with each other. He argues, “a genuine celebration of the Eucharist has political implications: it demands that those who are united in communion through it attempt to construct a civilization that expresses the dynamics of charity” (Aquinas 1). Thomas centers his thoughts about the natural inclinations about living in society, pertaining to the nature of reason. This relates to Aquinas’s views on three sets of natural inclinations, as he lists them as, “namely to preservation of human life, to procreation and education of offspring, and to the good according to the nature of reason that is proper to man” (Aquinas 1). It seems that Aquinas continues to develop these inclinations based on the ultimate desire of man trying to assimilate with God, as the main focus is being able to understand the truth behind God and all the good that he brings into the world. This brings us to understanding the natural inclination through reason in a way that drives us to want to learn more about God, which stems from our innate human impulse to want to achieve the common good. So, how do we begin to learn more about God? We start with a key virtue that Thomas Aquinas focuses on: mercy. Being that mercy reflects charity, it helps transform the idea of the common good from within us to having a political effect on our lives as a whole. Charity is in other words, Eucharist, and it is our duty to accomplish the celebration of Eucharist, as well as assimilating with God. Aquinas notes on charity, “‘The friendship of charity extends even to our enemies, whom we love out of charity in relation to God, to Whom the friendship of charity is chiefly directed” (Aquinas 6). By adopting this concept of charity and applying it to our own lives, it allows to grow closer into our assimilation with God through the aspect of the natural inclination of good. By assimilating with God through the Eucharist, we are uniting ourselves closer with him, and thus, reaching one step closer to becoming eternal with him in the Kingdom of Heaven. When discussing the virtue of religion and common good, one thing to keep in mind is how Aquinas connects charity and Eucharist. He ties the two together in terms of friendship, as we love our enemies in relation to God, similarly noted in the Ten Commandments. Celebrating the Eucharist, or charity, is ultimately Aquinas’ view on seeking the good in the world with accordance to the nature of reason to seek the truth about God, similar to that of righteousness, as we are acting in accordance with God. Taking a look at the comparison of the Sacrament of charity and the common good, Aquinas notes that the Eucharist is more a sacrifice than it is anything else. By taking the body and blood of Christ, we are sharing a connection with not only God, but also with each other. This also relates to a quote from Luke, as he states, “But give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you” (Luke 11:41). In relation to Aquinas’s view and Luke’s point, they both connect as the Eucharist is truly cleansing of your sin, as Jesus shares his purity with us through this form. This sacrament of the Eucharist thus confers charity based on the political implications when we consider how Aquinas reflects on it being ‘figurative and effective’ in terms of our spirituality based on religious impulse. In the end, Aquinas relates the charity in Eucharist to the ultimate power of divine love, as God unites us through the body and blood. Thomas concludes by stating, “through this sacrament, as far as its power is concerned, not only is the habit of grace and of virtue bestowed, but it is furthermore aroused to act” (Aquinas 7). The Eucharist thus grants us virtue and grace, as we are growing in our faith and quest in finding the truth about God by uniting together to do so. Therefore, the Eucharist binds us spiritually with our moral actions through the politics of common good, as we are sacredly joined together by its laws in growing our sacraments, particularly in charity through that of the Eucharist.