Things To Say About The Pope At Dinner Parties

So Papa Ratzie came out with a controversial paper a few weeks back. Well, the Vatican came out with a paper and Bennie XVI put his name to it. According to tabloid newspapers, I think he said that all Protestants have arachnid DNA and intend to launch a treacherous plot on the Vatican that involves spinning gyroscopes and defamed statues of Jesus’ ma. But it seems that amazingly enough, the press mis-reported a story about religion. While the press are obviously just matching a desire in the population at large when they pass off Bennie’s comments as confusing, bizarre oddities from an empire that lives in a fantasy land, the one thing everyone expects of a Papal letter is true of this one: its boring.

Not all Papal documents are boring. But this one was a yawnfest. And its only a few paragraphs long. I had to put on very loud hip hop to stay awake. I had to make a big cup of coffee and cover it in melted chocolate and drink it while injecting cocaine directly into my crotch to follow it. Would a major new statement of Vatican theology on the role of other churches make me bored? Hell no. The reason this is boring and not worthy of all the angst poured out on it is that Bennie is just reiterating a view that has been around for a fair old long time.

A friend once emailed me and asked me to write a series of Zoomtards on what is the difference between Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant understandings of Communion. I told them they were crazy and I might as well start a series on how to start a successful catering company or what to do with your old radiators when you get your central heating replaced because I know less about that than the average stray cat wandering around the arches of Rome.

But as much as the following post might be totally wrong headed, I think the best way of understanding why Pope Benedict could say what he said is to look at Communion. As it is reported in the media, Pope Benedict XVI just issued a holy slap-down on all us upstarts with our 400 year old ideas of Reformation. Really, what they are trying to do with this letter is some internal clearing up of things that had become hazy. Before any Prods starts having an eppo, let’s all remember there is a reason why we aren’t Roman Catholic and for most of us, it is fairly closely associated with the ecclesiology of Rome.

So I am a Christian and my theology is all over the place. I think the Trinity is at the centre and the Church is really important in there and its all about grace but basically, I am a confused mess. I tried to draw it out once but it just kept looking like a toilet. This is not the case with Roman Catholic theology and the centre-piece of Catholic doctrine is Communion, or as they like to call it in their lingo, Eucharist (which means thanksgiving in Greek).

The Council of Trent wrote on October 11, 1551 in the Decree Concerning the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist:

…after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things

This is a clear formulation of the idea of transubstantiation. Many of you will remember from history class in school that Roman Catholics believe that the bread and wine is actually the body and blood of Jesus and Protestants believe that its just bread and wine and we do it to remember Jesus. That is a classic case of lies to children of course. Its simplification is very misleading. “Protestants” (a term so meaningless here that I might have begun the sentence more profitably with “Others”) hold beliefs about Communion along a wide spectrum from the position you learned in history class that is truly Anabaptist right through to practical transubstantiation in some of the more austere Anglican churches. For Rome, once you take Communion in a worthy manner, it is the source of and summit of the Christian life.

Even leaving aside the accounts of the Last Supper, the New Testament offers lots of reasons for Christians to have moved, as I feel an urge to move, away from a plain, flat reading of the Last Supper as something we need to “just remember”. In John 6 Jesus says that he is the bread of life that leads to eternity and calls himself superior to manna, the miraculous bread that sustained the Israelites during their Exodus out of Egypt, through the desert. It really does lead the reader to think Jesus is saying that following him is a sacramental act in some way. (Sacramental meaning God’s use of material things to share out his grace). 1 Corinthians 10, and 11 both pose a real stumbling block for the “plain reading” folks too, I think.

Now this is where Zoomtard ventures into deep waters that are threatening to engulf him. I am not convinced that this idea of transubstantiation as formulated by the Roman Catholic church is in keeping with the Scriptures. It doesn’t seem to me to be a faithful acting out of the drama of Scripture. The major problem I have with it is that it seems to be grounded in Greek philosophical categories. Aristotle, 400+ years before Jesus talked about the essence and substance of objects. The rock fell to the ground because there was something in the essence of the rock that desired to be with the ground. The Neuro agreed to marry the Zoomtard because there was something in the essence of the rohypnol that clouded her judgement.

Aristotle’s works were lost to Europe with the fall of Rome and were re-introduced in the 1100-1200s by Islamic scholars. Thomas Aquinas took them up in the 1200s and famously retooled them to do the work of Christian theology. Now I have no problem with that at all. It is right and proper that we take the terms and ideas of other streams of thought and appropriate them for our good use when the opportunity arises. The New Testament is filled with enough repackaged Roman terms (church, anyone?) for us to close down that particular line of criticism for good. So Aquinas sought to explain a common view using Aristotelian terms. So, according to him, a supernatural substantial change occurs in the Mass. The form stays the same but the essence of the object is changed. Bread stays outwardly bread but its essence is no longer that of processed wheat. It is now the body of Jesus of Nazareth.

For me, this is a stretch that seems barely comprehensible. Let me offer some conjecture for the next paragraph. 300 years after Aquinas, his theology had assumed a role in Catholic theology that was more venerable than anything we can imagine today. As glorified as NT Wright or Karl Barth is, even as Jean Calvin is, no one can compare to the influence that Thomas had. Luther came along and righteously called Refomation! on the excesses of this hierarchical church that had utterly forgotten the core of the Gospel. Six million French Catholics become Calvinists as he did such a magnificent job of translating the Gospel story into terms that average people can understand. Germany was lost to Rome. Britain was lost to Rome. And soon Rome starts to get the message. The counter-Reformation begins. The Jesuits are formed. There was still an unholy mixing of political and military might with the office-bearers of the church but as they sought to save the sinking ship, Catholic leaders needed to find something to differentiate themselves from the Reformers. The Reformers had after all, by now, developed an impressive body of theology, modes of worship, ecclessiological institutions. Why wouldn’t you join the democratic, Grace-preaching, vernacular speaking Reformed church down the road?

I think, without really being able to back it up at this point, it is at this stage, with the Council of Trent, that Roman Catholic theology shifted to base itself around the Eucharist. The valuable models that Aquinas and co offered became Dogma. They were no longer ways of understanding the mystery of Communion. They were now the only way to understand it. If Jesus is “really” present in the Roman communion then it follows on that other Christians are not partaking fully. If they refuse the role that the transubstantiated bread and wine plays as the source and summit of the Christian life then they are just ecclessiological communities.

So at the dinner party, what you need to do is explain how Aquinas remixed Aristotle, that the lads at Trent repelled Luther’s rebellion by emphasising Eucharist and that five hundred years of theological evolution has meant that Pope Benedict XVI is compelled by his tradition to say that if you do not understand Communion the same way, then you are not being Church properly. This is a sad position for him to be in. Communion, as hinted at by the meaning of the word, is about bringing people together. But the comments that were made in this paper, just like the things said in Dominus Jesus should not damage the ecumenical project. This is the ecumenical project. If Rome talks with me their goal is that we may one day take Eucharist together. If I talk to Rome, my goal is that we might one day be in Communion and to do that we must start taking Communion together. I suspect it will take a while to work that one out! Misreporting by newspapers, absurd reductionist comments from Rome and dense theological language aside, we are the church. On a local level it need not matter whether you are Roman, Anglican, Baptist or Presbyterian. We are all part of the church universal, the church Catholic.

Your Correspondent, Makes the Ewoks look like Shaft

3 Responses to “Things To Say About The Pope At Dinner Parties”

  1. Peebles says:

    Fantastic post! I may be about to start work on a screenplay featuring Jesuits in a spaceship – keep you posted!

  2. zoomtard says:

    Thanks Peebles. I thought it was long and rambling. Can George Clooney and Scarlett Johnanson be in your movie? If so, I’m there. Jennifer Garner too. Oh!

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