Letters to the Editor
The Editor, St Mary’s and St David’s, 15 Buccleuch Street,
Hawick TD9 0HH, email@example.com
Christ’s bodily presence
As a scientist, always interested in the faith/reason dialogue, the term “spiritual body”, as applied to the resurrected Christ, has always intrigued me. We are taught that God is pure spirit as three persons: Father; Son, or Word; and Holy Spirit. That the Word became flesh, so that Jesus has flesh, blood and a human soul, as well as divinity. That angels are also pure spirits, like the Word. Before Vatican II, we called the Holy Spirit the Holy Ghost.
The main problem with the term “spiritual body” becomes apparent in Luke 24. The resurrected Christ appeared to the apostles, who thought they were seeing a ghost (a pure spirit). Jesus invited them to touch him, saying: “A ghost has no flesh and bones, as you see I have.” He then ate grilled fish in their presence. Thus he reassured them that his risen body, in space-time, was a material, physical body, just like ours. We could say he has a spiritual body in heaven, transcending space-time, but this spiritual body was present to the apostles as a finite living human body in space-time.
My conclusion is that the risen body of Jesus is a material body, which is simultaneously present in heaven and on earth in those appearances, but the material in heaven transcends space-time, and is not therefore evident to our senses, or to any scientific test, in contrast to the material of his body and ours on earth. That is why the heavenly body is called a “spiritual body”.
However, his real presence in the Eucharist is not just a spiritual presence. Here I believe that his body has literally the appearances (chemical and physical properties) of bread and wine. I agree with Fr Stephen Boyle (Faith magazine, May/June 2009) that aspects of St Thomas Aquinas’s metaphysical explanation of transubstantiation need development in the light of modern scriptural scholarship and scientific knowledge.
St Thomas taught that Jesus is present as a spiritual body without accidents, under the appearances, or accidents, of bread and wine. It is as if the inner reality is Jesus, but what we see, touch and taste is bread and wine. As Fr Boyle says, this could lead an assiduous modern Catholic to a consubstantial view, which was Luther’s belief.
The following is a simple, logical argument for my belief that the appearances of bread and wine are literally the appearances of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Original sin was, and is, a transcendental catastrophe, whereby every iota of matter-energy in the universe, divinely intended to be one, immortal, fully alive body, perfectly shared by all living forms, is fallen and blemished. Everything is blemished except the living flesh, blood and human souls of Jesus and Mary.
Baptism is an invisible change in the personal soul, from blemished to immaculate, but the matter-energy of the body, which is also universal, remains blemished. Ordinary bread is blemished by original sin. But in transubstantiation it becomes immaculate, and as such is the living bread, which is Jesus down from heaven (Jn 6:51). The transcendental material substance of his risen body has become simultaneously present as physical substance in space-time, in order that we can see, touch, taste and eat him. The only change in transubstantiation is also invisible, so the accidents of bread and wine remain, and so does Jesus, until these accidents are no longer evident.
John J Rooney
Emeritus Professor of Science,
Queen’s University, Belfast
How very unbritish
I see that all four attributed articles on the family in the May/June edition of Faith magazine are from America. Isn’t this a bit of an imbalance in a British publication? Could you not have garnered home-grown articles on this important subject? For I’m sure that within these shores there are gifted Catholic writers on the family, both clerical and lay. Finally there’s an irony: for generations the US has been the universal divorce and annulment capital and much of the rest of the world is catching up.
Marriage and nullity
The marriage articles in the May/June issue, as a prelude to the October synod in Rome on the family, were most apposite. The crucial scriptural reference to indissolubility is not in the references to adultery but in St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:25, 32): “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church. …This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.”
The unbreakable union between Christ and the Church raises the union between a man and a woman in marriage to another mystical level. There can be no fracture between Christ and his Church and there can be no fracture of a properly constituted marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1601–1666) is quite categorical about this question of indissolubility and the whole of the section on marriage should be made available to couples as they prepare to publicly make their vows to each other.
Not every marriage is properly constituted, however. As defender of the bond for the Kent area of the Southwark Marriage Tribunal I am constantly made aware that preparation for marriage is minimal or even non-existent. This is an area that needs urgent attention (cf p64 of the May/June issue by the Archbishop of Denver) and will no doubt be addressed by the synod.
Most Catholics are unaware of the work of marriage tribunals. The underlying reason for them is to help when a marriage has broken down. They are part of the healing ministry of the Church and are gentle, non-confrontational and non-adversarial. Their non-judgemental approach mirrors the way Our Lord dealt with the woman taken in adultery and the woman at the well.
There are three main grounds on which nullity can be based and they are given in Canon 1095 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that the following are incapable of contracting marriage:
(i) those who lack sufficient use of reason;
(ii) those who suffer from a grave lack of discretion of judgement concerning the essential matrimonial rights and obligations to be mutually given and accepted;
(iii) those who, because of causes of a psychological nature, are unable to assume the essential obligations of marriage.
Most nullities are given using ground (ii).
It should be noted that when embarking on a way of life – whether religious, single, celibate or married – the full implications of that choice are not evident. Only a life lived in close union with Our Lord will lead us to a full understanding of what that decision, perhaps made years earlier, means.
More should be done to publicise the work of marriage tribunals, and many more couples should come forward to apply for nullity when their marriages have broken down and they have obtained a civil divorce. Many so-called “lapsed” Catholics would love to return but are put off because of marital breakdown. They want to receive Holy Communion but know that they cannot. Apply, and peace and deep happiness will result that are a joy to behold.
Aquinas and Sartre
In his extended review of Stratford Caldecott’s The Radiance of Being (May/June issue), Fr Hugh Mackenzie contrasts that book’s espousal of “the ‘Renaissance-Platonic’ view of the human person as body-soul-spirit” with the Faith movement’s prioritising of mind as the metaphysical first principle. This principle means that “being-known-by-mind is a relationship constitutive of and causative of a creaturely thing”. But is this position unique to the Faith movement?
Joseph Pieper in his The Silence of St Thomas compares the thought of St Thomas and Jean-Paul Sartre. He proposes that if they were both reduced to “syllogistic form, one would realise that both start with the same ‘major premise’, namely from this principle: things have an essential nature only in so far as they are fashioned by thought”. He then contrasts Sartre with St Thomas. For Sartre, “because there exists no creative intelligence which could have designed man
and all natural things… therefore there is no nature in things that are not manufactured and artificial”.
However, “St Thomas on the contrary declares: Because and in so far as God has creatively thought things, just so and to that extent have they a nature.” Perhaps herein lies the reason for the difficulty experienced today in defending and expounding the doctrine of the soul noted by Fr Mackenzie in his review. Modernity is Sartrean rather than Thomist. And this is a hostile environment for the doctrine of the soul because this doctrine teaches that man’s nature is specific to him and so different from that of other animals in being spiritual as well as physical.
Take out creative intelligence (God) and we are left with an account of humanity in which man belongs only to biological nature – which means that, like all such beings, his identity is essentially unstable and mutable. That is the metaphysical first principle of atheist evolution, as well as Sartre’s existentialism, but the result either way is the same: “the abolition of man” as C S Lewis warned.
Fr Simon Heans
Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen