Poor old Pete’s been fighting a battle up north on the issue of whether it is appropriate to descrive the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as “physical”. He’s got Paul VI on his side, but unfortunately not many others.
So I was interested to read this on the First Things blog the other day, by our dear Father Neuhaus:
Theologians of an orthodox persuasion sometimes say that the Real Presence does not mean physical presence. This is to guard against the debased notion of a cannibalistic consumption of a portion of human flesh and blood. That is indeed a gross distortion of our being encountered by, and receiving body and soul, the living Christ in his humanity and divinity. Yet I have come across people who are deeply troubled when they hear it said that the Real Presence is not a physical presence. They misunderstand that to mean that his presence is less than physical, when the point is that his presence is more than physical. The physical is part of the finitude of space and time, which is both embraced and transcended in the wonder of God become man. Finitum capax infiniti.
That (as RJN himself would say) sounds about right. The Resurrrection is an analogy: to insist on the “physical” resurrection, sounds as if you are talking about a resuscitation. In opposition to this, many (the Spong types) want to talk about a “spiritual” resurrection. But as N.T. Wright and many others point out, a first century Jew could never have spoken of “resurrection” if the body was still lying in the tomb. The resurrection was obviously more than physical (Christ’s resurrected body was no longer limited by time or space)–but certainly not less.
The presence of Christ in the Eucharist is surely in the same category. It is odd how people define the real presence in such a way that it seems less, rather than more, real. Physical is real, as any scientist will try to convince you. A Catholic theologian will agree–but he will also point out that there is a reality that is more, not less, real than merely physical. It is that bodily presence that is not limited by time and space. And this is the sort of Presence that we call really Real in the Eucharist. Thus when Paul VI called the Real Presence “physical”, he added the same caveat that Aquinas did:
Christ is present whole and entire in His physical “reality,” corporeally present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a place. (Myterium Fidei 46)
Yes, Peter, it is physical. And you are right to oppose those who would try to say it is anything less. But it is also more than physical.