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The Eucharist; it is the source and the summit of the Christian life, yet it remains, and always shall remain, unable to be understood in its entirety. For some, the incomprehensible and inexplicable nature of the divine presence in the Eucharist is seen as a weakness in the Catholic faith. They claim that the Church’s lack of a full explanation on this sacrament proves the Church has no grounds for its stance on the divine presence of Christ. However, the incomprehensibility, in actuality, serves to further the Catholic understanding of God, which intern reaffirms the Church’s stance on the divine presence. This is not circular reasoning, though it may appear as such at a glance. The seemingly two facets of the faith reinforce each other because they are, in truth, one in the same.
God and His Infinite Complexity is Beyond Human Understanding
In the Old Testament, it is made clear the God is beyond human comprehension. In The Book of Job, God is very clear that humans cannot understand, nor should attempt to understand or question, Him. Job is lectured in the way a parent lectures a young child whom questions their parent’s actions and authority.
“Where were you when I founded the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its size? Surely you know?
Who stretched out the measuring line for it?
Into what were its pedestals sunk,
and who laid its cornerstone,
While the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of Godshouted for joy?
Who shut within doors the sea,
when it burst forth from the womb,
When I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling bands?” – Job 38, 4-9
God is, to understate it, beyond full human comprehension. This can be discovered through reason as well as scripture. Let’s examine this through reason, shall we?
Humans understand the universe through math and science. Let us define these terms. Mathematics is “the systematic treatment of magnitude, relationships between figures and forms, and relations between quantities expressed symbolically.” Science is “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation” or “any of the branches of natural or physical science.” Mathematics can not be used to understand how the universe works without the sciences (unless one follows the body of thought that numbers are part of the universe rather than an invention to describe facets of it). The sciences are used to study and understand natural phenomena through discovering and describing the physical laws to which they adhere. These two studies are the furthest extents of human knowledge, yet neither, by definition, holds the potential to understand what causes physical law to work.
The human consciousness simply fails in all attempts to understand physical law in any way other than through describing its effects. For example, we know how electromagnetism works, yet we don’t know why it works. We know certain electromagnetic wavelengths create a visible spectrum of light; we know how these wavelengths are seen, but we do not know exactly why the electromagnetic force works this way. In physics, electromagnetism just is. Now, consider how clearly the Bible states that God was able to create these laws, foreseeing all their future implications on how the universe would develop, without so much as giving it a moment’s worth of thought or planning.
“Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.” – Genesis 1, 3
Now, I’m in no way saying Genesis should be read in a word for word literal sense, but this verse clearly shows God’s ability to create one of the most complex things in the physical world, electromagnetism, without so much as pausing to think it through. God has just created, in the time it took to speak a sentence, what humans have been attempting to understand for as long as the species has existed. This serves as an example for the infinite intellect of God. So, as a being cannot posses an infinite intellect (which by nature is also incomprehensible) without themselves being infinitely incomprehensible, we know God is infinitely incomprehensible.
Here’s what we know so far: the human race in its entire history of existence has failed to even be able to create a field of study to begin to understand the nature of physical laws, in contrast, God was able to create those laws for the purpose of their implications billions of years after their initial creation by the use of a singe thought, and finally, we must assume that God is infinitely more incomprehensible than theses laws as He possess an infinitely incomprehensible intellect. To say that humans attempting to fully understand God is like an ant attempting to fully understand a human would be a massive understatement.
What God Says, Is.
Throughout the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, it is apparent that what God says becomes reality. I’m going to borrowing this part of the explanation from Father Robert Barron, but going into greater detail with it than he did. First let’s look back at Genesis 1, 3.
“Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light.” – Genesis 1,3
This is the first, as well as one of the most well known, example of God’s word becoming truth. In fact, all of Genesis 1 serves as an example of this. Another example of God’s word becoming truth would be the story of Lazarus.
“And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’
The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.” – John 11, 43-44
God’s power over truth, as a result of him creating truth, is showcased over and over again. One of the most important examples of this is in Mathew 26, 26-28.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you,
for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” -Mathew 26, 26-28
It is in this moment that the Eucharist first undergoes transubstantiation and metaphysically becomes the body and blood of Christ. It’s existence changes from the existence of bread and wine, into the existence of Christ.
The Eucharist Cannot be Fully Understood
As the Eucharist is literally God Himself in all of His infinite incomprehensibility, we, as beings of limited understanding, are unable to fully comprehend it’s existence. The dogma of God’s infinite incomprehensibility is inseparable from and one in the same with the dogma of God’s presence in the Eucharist. To attempt to fully understand the Eucharist is to attempt to fully understand the infinitely incomprehensible God.
Should you find yourself becoming a regular reader of my posts here, you will no doubt notice the frequency in which I will include my friend Jacob in my posts. This is due to our conversations often becoming discussions on Christianity and its history. I find that it’s far too uncommon in today’s society that one finds themselves able to hold a good conversation on topics such as Church history and theology with their friends, family, and acquaintances. As such, I find myself only able to hold such conversations with Jacob (though I’m actively attempting to influence a Lutheran cousin of mine to convert).
Christian conversation, specifically Catholic conversation, remains a largely untapped gold mine of enriching subjects for discussion. I find that you can learn much more about the faith and its history through discussions between two or more well educated Catholics, than through simple research alone. It allows for the comparing and contrasting of how people understand and explain a single belief or facet of the faith and opens the possibility of modifying and improving upon the understanding with live feedback. Conversation regarding these topics will inevitably lead to some form of peer teaching every time one of the people in the conversation is more learned in a specific aspect of the faith or its history than the other.
In recent years, however, the explosion of social media such as Instagram and Facebook has granted us the ability to discuss these topics without the limitation of physical location. It’s apparent that social media is more often used for debates rather than chatting on these subjects, but debate itself is also a valuable asset to the learning mind as it exposes one to opposing viewpoints and forces one to thoroughly think through the positions of both their opponent’s as well as their own viewpoints. It’s not uncommon that upon reading through the comments under posts by Instagram accounts similar to RomanCatholicKnights or CatholicLegion that one finds debate among educated Catholics and Protestants (or, sadly more commonly, well educated Catholics and hateful protestants).
So, try to hold a Catholic conversation this week. Whether it be with those in your immediate location or those on social media, I’m certain you will find it enriching.
Sorry for the short post. There isn’t much for me to say on this subject, but I feel it’s important.