Transfiguration at the Table

Eucharistic Re-Enchantment of the World.

There’s a problem with ‘Memorialism’ (the idea that the sacraments are merely symbols) championed by Zwingli. This concept pervades modern Christianity, not just in Eucharistic doctrine, but in the debilitating effect it has on our ability to interpret the world and our place in it. If the convergence of the Divine and the ‘natural’ is merely symbolic, then what we have left is ‘Christianized Materialism’ (which is no more that functional nihilism). Memorialism is one of those Enlightenment ideas that have skewed the witness and effectiveness of the People of God. I don’t care to write a treaty against this specific doctrine, but rather I want to make the point that a proper view of the Eucharist inevitably coincides with a proper view of the relationship between Grace and Nature, resulting in a Christian way of being-in-the-world. In our cultural moment, we have experienced the ‘disenchantment of the world’, from the totalizing materialism of modern science to Bultmann(and German Liberalism)’s ‘demythologization’ of the Bible. The enchantment that, at one time, had been infused with creation, has now been brushed off as superstition.

John Milbank, in his magnum opus, “Theology and Social Theory” comments on the post-Vatican II resurgence of the Thomistic idea that “Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.” His point is that there are essentially two responses to this doctrine as it was personified in the ‘Integralist Revolution’: the French response– denoting Henri De Lubac and others, and the German response– denoting Karl Rahner. In a moment of insightful simplification, Milbank states that “whereas the French version ‘supernaturalizes the natural’, the German version ‘naturalizes the supernatural’.” Once the rigid dichotomy of Grace and Nature is made blurry (if not altogether done away with), there remains some hopeful implications.

The battle between the ‘French’ and the ‘German’ integrations of Grace and Nature is an ontological issue that, to my mind, brings to the forefront the Augustinian distinction that God is not in everything, but everything is in God. The act of ‘naturalizing the supernatural’ is to place God in everything (pantheism). The act of ‘supernaturalizing the natural’ is to place everything in God (panentheism). This is why I cringe at the neo-paganism of the ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ who see God in everything. The problem is not that they see nature as revealing God, the problem is that in doing so, they often conclude that God IS nature. This materialistic devolution of God is a slight misstep with enormous consequence. But, it was inevitable, nonetheless within the bounds of Modernity. The logic follows as such: Nature and Grace can’t be separate because nothing truly exists beyond what modern science can discover, therefore Nature is Grace– meaning that Grace is nothing more than Nature. This sounds, to me, a bit like “the Eucharist is nothing more than a symbol”, but whatever.

This is why, I believe, it is imperative that the Church view the Cosmos through the lens of the Eucharist. The Eucharist teaches us how to be in the world by habituating us to engage in and experience the interplay between the natural and the divine. We begin with the gift of Creation(wheat and grapes). Amongst Creation, we are uniquely charged with cultivation/stewardship of Creation– making what is, in relation to us, seemingly ‘incidental’ into something that is intentionally better (turning wheat into bread and grapes into wine). Remembering the gifts of God, humans offer their work (the bread and wine) back to God in thanksgiving. In return, God ‘descends’ to meet man and woman in revelatory encounter by the means of the ‘natural’(transubstantiation/consubstantiation). Notice, this is not a matter of mere ‘world-view’ or ‘ideology’ this is a matter of experience and participation. As with the sacraments, so with all of creation. All that is, is gift. All of our action is cultivation. All that we accomplish is thankful offering. All of Creation speaks of the Glory of God.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” Romans 1:20

In the Eucharist, we encounter the Enchantment of the world. All of creation is transfigured at the Table.

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