The question was asked whether Jesus while incarnate was limited by time or space.
The Church Fathers argued for centuries about whether Logos/Christ was actually God or the spoken expression of God (Monism, Monarchianism, Modalism); was the first of God’s Creation (labeled Arianism); or following Origen, was “eternally generated” from God; finally settling largely on the latter, differentiating “created” from “begotten.” For years, Arianism held sway (when Ulfilas converted the Goths, they were Arian), being supported by the Emperor (Valens, I think), but turned around with the help of Basil & the other Cappadocian Fathers.
Debate was cut short due to the Muslim conquests. It became the convention to regard Christ as having existed eternally and also begotten “before time,” as if there were no sequential events, before God through Christ created time along with the Universe. Personally, I see all time, like history, as a linear progression of events at a constant rate. That is the mode of events presented in the Bible, and the only reality that we know in this life. We can even conceive of eternity in the future; only the concept of eternity past, before life as we know it, eludes us.
From the Fathers on down to the Reformers, it was popular to think in terms of Christ governing the universe even while incarnate, since they wanted to vaunt Christ as much as possible, and had little comprehension of the purpose or nature of the Holy Spirit. The opposite view, that of Kenosis or “emptying,” has always been attacked as heresy. Theories have been floated such as the idea that the human Jesus did not contain all of Logos but only a manifestation thereof, which sounds to me a lot like the phone booth spaceship in which Dr. Who time-travels, which is much bigger on the inside than on the outside, and which he says does not literally exist in real space. But most rationalizations gravitate toward Docetism or semi-Docetism, that Christ only “seemed” to be human. Yet Docetism, as has often been pointed out, gives short shrift to Christ’s humanity and his suffering on the Cross.
The answer to the question boils down to how much sovereignty Christ exercised or possessed during Incarnation, versus how much He “emptied” (EKENWSEN, Phil. 2:7) himself. But since we do not and cannot know that, then we do not know the other, either. Nevertheless, people speculate based on their own preferences and dogmatic loyaties.
I would suggest that Christians spend much time as well as effort practicing those things that we are clearly taught, and little time speculating on those things which we are not given to know.
Copyright 2018 Paul A. Hughes
I have assembled this brief bibliography of Christianized Neoplatonism, which was introduced into Christian theology and practice through the Hellenistic schools, beginning in Alexandria as early as the late Second Century, by persons including Clement and Origen, and re-introduced periodically through such figures as Evagrius, Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Gregory, on down to Thomas Aquinas, the German mystics, and John Wesley. This phenomenon was uncovered, in particular, by some of the great 19th- and early 20th-century scholars. Yet Neoplatonist doctrines and practices continue to be defended by certain denominations, including Roman Catholics and Anglicans, who claim that while the Church Fathers and later theologians found it necessary to use Neoplatonist categories and terminology, they were not actually influenced by Neoplatonist ideas.
Angus, Samuel, The Sources of the First Ten Books of Augustine’s De Civitate Dei, A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of Princeton University for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Princeton, 1906)
“Augustine’s Confessions as Neoplatonic Ascent,” http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/confessionsaug/
Bigg, Charles, Neoplatonism (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1895)
Bigg, Charles, and Fr. E. Brightman, The Christian Platonists of Alexandria, Bampton Lectures of the Year 1886 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, rpt. ed. 1913)
Christensen, Michael J., “Theosis and Sanctification: John Wesley’s Reformulation of a Patristic Doctrine,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31/2 (Fall 1996)
Dods, Eric R., “Tradition and Personal Achievement in the Philosophy of Plotinus,” in The Journal of Roman Studies, vol. 50/1-2 (1960), also in The Ancient Concept of Progress (Oxford University Press, 1973; rpt. ed. 2001)
Dods, Eric R., The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1951)
Dorner, Isaak. A., History of the Development of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ, Div. 1, vol. 1, trans. William L. Alexander and D. W. Simon, Clark’s Foreign Theological Library, 3d series, vol. 11 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1872), pp. 285-303
Elsee, Charles, Neoplatonism in Relation to Christianity (Cambridge, 1908)
Fairweather, William, Origen and Greek Patristic Theology (NY: Scribner’s, 1901)
Goldie, Mark, “Cambridge Platonists (act. 1630s–1680s),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2013, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/theme/94274
Gore, Charles, Dissertations on Subjects Connected with the Incarnation, 2 vols. (London: John Murray, 1895), pp. 171-76
Guthrie, Kenneth S., Numenius of Apamea, the Father of Neo-Platonism (London: George Bell and Sons, 1917)
Halliday, William R., The Pagan Background of Early Christianity (Liverpool: The University Press of Liverpool, 1925)
Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology, vol. 2 (NY: Scribner, Armstrong, and Co., 1877), pp. 65 ff., 157 ff., 582-91
Hort, Fenton J. A. and Joseph B. Mayor, Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies, Book 7 (London: Macmillan, 1902)
Hughes, Paul, Neoplatonist Stew: Or, How Sacramentalism, Mysticism, and Theurgy Corrupted Christian Theology (Liberty, TX: God’s Trombone, 2014)
Hughes, Bren, “Origen and the Incorporation of Platonic/Apophatic Theology into the Christian System” (2005), http://www.brenhughes.com/Research/ApophaticTheology.pdf
Inge, William R., A History of Western Philosophy: And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1945)
Inge, William R., Christian Mysticism, The Bampton Lectures (London: Methuen Co., 1899)
Inge, William R., Personal Idealism and Mysticism: The Paddock Lectures for 1906, (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907)
Inge, William R., Studies of English Mystics: St. Margaret’s Lectures, 1905 (London: John Murray, 1906)
Inge, William R., The Philosophy of Plotinus, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1918)
Inge, William R., The Religious Philosophy of Plotinus & Some Modern Philosophies of Religion (London: Lindsey Press, 1914)
Itter, Andrew C., Esoteric Teaching in the Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria (Leiden: Brill, 2009)
Itter, Andrew C., “Psuedo-Dionysian Soteriology and Its Transformation of Neoplatonism,” Colloquium 32/1 (2000)
Kaye, John, Some Account of the Writings and Opinions of Clement of Alexandria (London: Griffith Farran Okeden & Welsh, 1900)
Louth, Andrew, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys, 2d ed. (Oxford University Press, 2007)
Maddox, Randy L., “John Wesley and Eastern Orthodoxy: Influences, Convergences, and Differences,” Asbury Theological Journal 45/2 (1990)
McCormick, K. Steve, “Theosis in Chrysostom and Wesley: An Eastern Paradigm on Faith and Love,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 26 (1991):49-50
O’Meara, Dominic J., Platonopolis: Platonic Political Philosophy in Late Antiquity (Clarendon Press, 2003)
Parry, Thomas Jones, Augustine’s Psychology during his first period of literary Activity with special reference to his relation to Platonism (Borna-Leipzig: Buchdruckerei Robert Noske, 1913)
Patrick, John, Clement of Alexandria, The Croall Lecture for 1899-1900 (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1914)
Puhalo, Lazar, “The External Philosophy: The Fathers & Platonism” (2010), http://www.clarion-journal.com/files/platon.pdf
Robertson, David, Word and Meaning in Ancient Alexandria: Theories of Language from Philo to Plotinus (copyright David Robertson, 2008; publ. London: Routledge, 2016), https://books.google.com/books?id=CbiXCwAAQBAJ
Scott, Hugh M., Origin and Development of the Nicene Theology (Chicago: Chicago Theological Seminary Press, 1896)
Sharpe, Alfred Bowyer, Mysticism: Its True Nature and Value, 2nd ed. (London: Sands & Company, 1910)
Uebersax, John, “Christian Platonism and Christian Neoplatonism: Christian Platonists and Platonizing Christians in History” (List), http://www.john-uebersax.com/plato/cp.htm
Vaughan, Robert Alfred, Hours with the Mystics: A Contribution to the History of Religious Opinion, 6th ed. 2 vols. in one (NY: Scribner’s, 1893)
Von Campenhausen, Hans, The Fathers of the Greek Church, trans. Stanley Godman (NY: Pantheon, 1955), esp. Clement, Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus
Von Mosheim, John, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, Ancient and Modern, 3 vols. (NY: Harper, 1839)
Waterman, Lucius, The Post-Apostolic Age, Ten Epochs of Church History, vol. 2, ed. John Fulton, (NY: Scribner’s, 1898)
Whittaker, Thomas, The Neo-Platonists: A Study in the History of Hellenism, 2d ed. (Cambridge, 1918)
Wippel, John F., Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas, Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, vol. 10 (Wash., D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984)
Wippel, John F., Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas II, in Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, vol. 47 (The Catholic University of America Press, 2007)
Copyright 2018 Paul A. Hughes
Excerpts from Anglican Canon Charles Gore, Dissertations on Subjects Connected with the Incarnation (London: John Murray, 1895), pages 171-2, 173.
The earlier mediaeval and scholastic method appears to put the dogmas of the Church in a wrong place. The dogmas are primarily intended as limits of ecclesiastical thought rather than as its premises: they are the hedge rather than the pasture-ground: they block us off from lines of error rather than edify us in the truth. By them we are warned that Christ is no inferior being but very God; and that He became at His Incarnation completely man, not in body only but in mind and spirit; . . . But thus warned off from cardinal errors, we are sent back to the New Testament, especially to the Gospels, to edify ourselves in the positive conception of what the Incarnation really meant. To Irenaeus, to Origen, to Athanasius, the New Testament is the real pasture-ground of the soul, and the function of the Church is conceived to be to keep men to it. But after a time there comes a change. The dogmas are used as the positive premises of thought. The truth about Christ’s person is formed deductively and logically from the dogmas whether decrees of councils or popes, or sayings of great fathers which are ranked as authoritative and the figure in the Gospels grows dim in the background. Particular texts from the Gospels which seem contrary to current ecclesiastical teaching are quoted and requoted, but though, taken together, they might have availed to restore a more historical image of the divine person incarnate, in fact they are taken one by one and explained away with an ingenuity which excites in equal degrees our admiration of the logical skill of the disputant and our sense of the lamentably low ebb at which the true and continuous interpretation of the Gospel documents obviously lies.
. . . .
. . . Greek philosophy was primarily concerned to conceive of God metaphysically. He was the One in opposition to the many objects of sense, and the Absolute and Unchangeable in opposition to the relative and mutable. In particular the divine immutability had a meaning assigned to it very different from that which belongs to it in the Bible, a meaning determined by contrast, not to the changeableness of human purpose, but to the very idea of motion which, as belonging to the material, was also supposed to be of the nature of the evil. There is no doubt that this Greek metaphysical conception of God influenced Christian theology largely and not only for good. In particular, through the medium of Neo-Platonism, it deeply coloured the thought of that remarkable and anonymous author who, writing about A.D. 500, passed himself off, probably without any intention to deceive, as Dionysius the Areopagite, the convert of St. Paul. With him the metaphysical conceptions of the transcendence, incomprehensibility, absolute unity and immutability of God are a master passion. In his general philosophy the result of his zeal for the One is to lead him to ascribe to the manifold life of the universe only a precarious reality. In his view of the Incarnation it produces at least a monophysite [sort of Unitarian or Monarchian] tendency.
Passages quoted from William Fairweather, Origen and Greek Patristic Theology (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1901).
The situation of the Alexandrian Christians was thus in many respects unique. They witnessed the fragments of the old systems gathered together to produce, through the introduction of Platonic ideas, a revived and spiritualised paganism in opposition to Christianity, for the ushering in of Neoplatonism by Ammonius [Saccas] constituted the last prop of the old world. If, however, we think to find in the writings of the Alexandrian teachers a systematic refutation of Neoplatonism in its various principles, we shall be disappointed. So, too, if we look for a definite position against Christianity in the works of Platonists. Neither system was as yet sufficiently developed to admit of this. But there was between the two systems an essential difference at bottom, and the real conflict for the Church lay in its being forced very much to leave its own standpoint and adopt that of its opponents. To combat Platonism it must needs accommodate itself to philosophy, and in submitting to this it became fettered with philosophical adjuncts to a dangerously suicidal extent. . . . . That errors, mystical, speculative, allegorical, and pagan, began to choke it like so many weeds, is clear from the works of the men who, from their position as prefects of the Catechetical School, necessarily became apologists for Christianity. All of them were more or less tinctured with Platonic views. They were themselves philosophers, and so could sympathise with their opponents, whose error they were disposed to view rather as one of defect than as a total perversion of truth. In this way they were led to overestimate the similarity between pagan and Christian wisdom. Prior to the latter part of the second century Christian teaching, with very few exceptions, had been true to apostolic example; but after philosophers embraced Christianity, and the new Platonism, which allied itself to Orientalism, began to exert its influence, the case was altered. The intellectual was frequently represented as the chief or only side of Christianity to be attended to; it was regarded not so much as a rule of life as a speculative scheme of doctrine. From this the transition was easy to “mysteries” similar to those of heathenism. Certain views were kept secret as a higher species of doctrine suitable only for the cultivated few. An attempt was made, in short, to provide the gospel with a philosophy, and to resolve it into such a system as philosophers would embrace.
Nor is the explanation of all this far to seek. It may at first sight seem strange that Christian teachers could embrace doctrines known to be Platonic, but we must recollect that these same doctrines were supposed to have been borrowed from Holy Scripture, which they believed to be the revelation of God’s wisdom to men. Speculative theologians, moreover, have always been influenced by contemporary philosophy, and these Alexandrian Fathers only sought to express the doctrines of the faith in a form adapted to the spirit of the times. Men like Justin and Clement had themselves passed over from heathen philosophy, and naturally carried with them much of its influence; but they had nevertheless an ardent desire to see Christian truth in its right place. . . . . After all, the Alexandrian Fathers “did not exchange the gospel for Ncoplatonism.” They resolutely maintained the supreme authority of Holy Scripture; and with whatever distortions and incongruities it may have been associated, the assertion of this principle of an objective rule of faith was in itself of the utmost value in combating a philosophy of which the only standard lay in the subjective notions of its advocates.
By the light which it threw upon the great problems raised by philosophy regarding God, the world, and the human soul, Christianity had awakened the dormant spiritual sense in vast multitudes of men. But in the matter of satisfying the spiritual needs of humanity it found a rival claimant in Neoplatonism, which took for its religious ideal the direct apprehension of the divine essence. Thus, it was believed, would the traditional worship receive a new impetus, and the desideratum, for want of which men were seceding to Christianity, be supplied. The promoters of Neoplatonism saw that if heathenism was to prevail, it must both get rid of its more glaring absurdities, and also strengthen itself by a large accession of ideas, principles, and rites. Thus they borrowed whatever appeared to them good from every available source. They contemplated nothing less than the introduction of a universal religion, constructed on principles so broad that the wise of all the earth could adhere to it. It was their aim to set matters right between philosophy and theology, between doctrine and life, and to satisfy the needs of the soul on a scale to which Christianity could make no pretension.
Origen finds his ruling principle of interpretation in Prov. xxii. 20 (LXX), and in an analogy between the Platonic doctrine of the constitution of man and Scripture, which has been given for man’s salvation. As man is of a tripartite nature, consisting of body, soul, and spirit, so also does Scripture possess a threefold sense—the literal, the moral, and the spiritual.
What led Origen thus to repudiate tlie literal sense of so many passages of Scripture? In general, it may be said that his Platonic spiritualism, his attachment to the Alexandrian idea of gnosis, and his extravagant conception of inspiration already predisposed him in favour of a mystical exegesis.
The character of Origen’s theological system as a philosophy of revelation accounts for the Gnostic and Neoplatonic features mixed up with it. His speculations often recall the theosophic dreams and fantastic cosmology of Valentinus, and his methods are those of that prominent heresiarch, and of the Neoplatonic schools. In his doctrine of the pre-existence of souls, in his theory of a threefold division of human nature, and in his highly symbolic interpretation of the story of Paradise, his Christian theology clearly shows affinity with those systems. The agreement, however, is not in principle, but is due to the adoption in common of particular Platonic tenets. He is even more of an idealistic philosopher than Plato himself.
(pp. 92 f.)
The moral and religious ideal set forth in the system of Origen is one which has its roots partly in Neoplatonic mysticism and partly in Holy Scripture. It had long been a favourite theory with idealistic philosophers that the most perfect life open to man is that which consists solely in meditative introspection and contemplation of the eternal. According to this view actions have the effect of entangling us in all manner of worldly concerns, and therefore it is better for us not to act, but just to remain absorbed in the absolute and the unseen, and in the possession of a calm tranquility which more than anything else tends to make us godlike. To have need of nothing is to be in closest contact with the Deity; to overcome the sensuous, and to live in the habitual contemplation of the invisible, is to attain at length the final aim of existence in ecstatic union with God. This is the view of life that prompted the ancient hermits to withdraw from the world and take to their cells, and it is this that has laid the foundation of the monastic system wherever it has been practised. Whether, however, this abandonment of the active for the contemplative life is in harmony with the truo genius of Christianity may well be doubted; its note is not that of an isolated self-sufficiency, but that of a yearning aspiration after righteousness. In the Alexandrian Fathers we see the union of both tendencies.
Both [Origen and Celsus] were Platonists, but with a difference.
Indeed the tide [of Origenism], instead of flowing, began to ebb, and after the time of Theognostus its adherents were obliged to assume the defensive. Partly this was due to the rival attractions of Neoplatonism, which at the commencement of the fourth century became the prevailing philosophy in Christian as well as in pagan circles, and partly to the circumstance that the Church was wholly engrossed with debates upon one particular subject—that of the Trinity, and could not give a thought to the elaborate philosophy of Origenism.
Enough has been said to show that Origen’s influence upon succeeding ages was by no means commensurate with the boldness and grandeur of his system. This may be accounted for in several ways. For one thing it was not “compactly built together”; through its looseness and discursiveness it was at a disadvantage as compared with the more firmly welded Neoplatonism of Plotinus.
Not until the ninth century did any gleam of his influence appear; and if three centuries later it manifested itself with greater strength in the pages of Duns Scotus, it was overlaid and virtually stifled with Neoplatonic mysticism drawn from the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.
Excerpt from Hugh M. Scott, Origin and Development of the Nicene Theology: With Some Reference to the Ritschlian View of Theology and History of Doctrine (Chicago Theological Seminary Press, 1896), pp. 250 f.
The loss of the gospel conception of personal, living union throughout life of the believer with the exalted Christ was followed inevitably by the wrong soteriology of the early Church: (1) Because He was not felt to be the head of every Christian man and every congregation, bishops and other heads arose. (2) Because direct personal communion with Him was obscured, the Church and the Sacraments came in between the soul and the Saviour, thus not only bringing in a hierarchy but perverting the whole conception of man’s relation to Christ. (3) Because constant, direct approach to Christ was lost, a thousand indirect approaches by washings, fastings, visions, ascetic practices, confessions, came into use. (4) Because the witness of Christ by His Spirit in the heart was largely overlooked, too much stress was laid upon intellectual forms of faith, philosophical proofs of Christianity, and theological creeds. (5) This loss of the present Christ in the midst of the worshiping congregation was followed by a more formal worship, in which liturgies, elaborate ceremonies, and theological statements, too much took the place of the free charismatic prayers and teachings of the primitive Church. (6) In life also, as the thought was obscured that Christ dwells in each believer, a loss of holiness followed. To have the rules of the Church, to follow her discipline, was a lower standard than to “have the mind of Christ.” From the individual this view spread to the Church. For the New Testament, believers were a temple of God; for Callixtus, the Church was the ark of Noah, full of both clean and unclean creatures. (7) Finally, this loss of Christ as King in each Christian changed the whole missionary character of the Church. Instead of all preaching — let him that heareth say, come” — the clergy preached and the laity listened; or monks went out, spreading their defective views of Christianity.
See also “Pagan Origins of Sacramental Realism, Part 2” by the author.
Sacramental Realism is a dogma which cannot be established from Scripture; in fact, is baldly in opposition to the New Testament presentation of spiritual efficacy, not through ritual act, nor through priestly mediation, but through receipt of Holy Spirit Baptism, as at Pentecost and continuing thereafter. Sacramentalists point to the wedding at Cana (John 2) and the miraculous multiplication of loaves associated with the Sermon on the Mount (John 6). But significantly there was no bread at Cana, no wine included on the Mount, no ceremonial act taking place at either location, no “institution” of a ritual or sacrament, nor connection with spiritual efficacy; moreover, all of these events took place prior to the Last Supper and to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In fact, Christ’s statements in John 6 strikingly contradict the concept of spiritual efficacy in bread. Crowds continued to follow him for days after the miracle, asking him for more “bread from heaven,” by which they meant manna. Jesus reminded them, “Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and are dead” (6:58). No physical bread, even “from heaven,” is truly spiritual or eternal, and neither God’s presence, nor blessing, nor salvation are inherently associated with it.
The “breaking of bread from house to house” mentioned in Acts cannot be proven to describe any ceremony, but simple “table fellowship” common to both Jews and Gentiles. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 describes the confusion in Corinth of a fellowship meal with the Lord’s Supper, the former having degenerated into self-indulgent feasting on the part of some, devoid of true fellowship, and the latter similarly failing to include the responsibility of the believer to remember and identify himself with Christ’s sacrifice by “examining himself” in that light (see also 2 Cor. 13:5). He writes,
1 Corinthians 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. 22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? ….
The idea of Sacramentalism is absent in Church history until it began to be developed by Cyprian (early 3rd century) and Athanasius (3rd-4th century), along with Sacerdotalism. The Didache (dated late 1st century) includes a recitation of the Eucharist ceremony of the time, which notably does not include any form of sacrament. Nor does the famous letter by Pliny to Emperor Trajan mention a sacrament, rather a fellowship meal afterward, in another location. Irenaeus and Tertullian spoke in seemingly realistic terms of the Communion elements relative to the body of Christ, but were actually contrasting the reality of Christ’s crucifixion, and his physical body, to the Docetism (denial of a physical Incarnation of Christ) of the Gnostics whom they opposed.
Yet committed Sacramentalists—if there be any other kind—just like Martin Luther, insist on a literal interpretation of “Take, eat, this is my body” at all costs. The passages in question are these:
Mark 14:22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. 23 And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. 24 And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.
Matthew 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Luke 22:19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. 20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you
1 Corinthians 11:24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.
Note, among other details, that in two of the passages, Jesus specifically describes the purpose of the action to be “in remembrance of me” (in bold above); and further, that only in those same passages is it implied that the ceremony is to be repeated. Since the Last Supper is clearly a reflection of the Passover ceremony, with many parallels, the natural inference of the ceremony itself must be that it is to replace traditional observance of the Passover memorial, which is once a year. Yet there is no restriction of frequency stated, and it is commonly considered that new Christians in their enthusiasm soon began to gladly practice the observance of the Lord’s Supper, often, perhaps even before every meal (as Jews blessed their bread and many of us to this day say “Grace”). In the case of frequent and even casual observance, however, the act could hardly be imagined to have been officiated over by a priest and to have any salvific spiritual efficacy, as sacramentalists imagine.
Still sacramentalists insist on taking the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper literally as Christ’s body and blood, representing the “institution” of a sacrament, and being continually “for the remission of sins”—instead of being the afore-mentioned “remembrance,” and allowing the elements to be used figuratively to point to a greater, eschatological reality, which was yet to be fully realized, in Christ’s actual death on the cross for our sins.
There are many instances of figurative language in the New Testament and in Christ’s sayings. In the famous “I am” sayings, Jesus describes himself figuratively as the voice, the Light of the World, the door, the good shepherd, the road or path, and the vine, as well as the Bread of Life. There is none but arbitrary, dogmatic reasons to take “This is my body” any more literally than these statements.
In conclusion, let us examine an even closer, figurative parallel. Just as Jesus said, “Take, eat,” he elsewhere commanded, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; par. Mark 8:34, 10:21; Luke 9:23). With the exception of a few ascetic fanatics in Church history, few have imagined that Jesus meant us to regard “Take up your cross” literally, as opposed to figuratively, by which it represents a greater reality—which certainly begs the question of the arbitrary insistence of sacramentalists upon taking with supreme literalness this one particular and debatable instance.
Copyright © 2015 Paul A. Hughes
I suppose I could very well update this again, 2015, and add something about the Supreme Court ratifying Homosexual “Marriage,” and Liberals seeking to purge the country of Ten Commandments displays, Confederate flags, and white Southern heroes, which amounts to “book-burning.”
by Paul A. Hughes
Inspired by the famous warning by Martin Niemöller.*
In America, they first created the Welfare State and “Entitlements” — including Social Security, which they promised would be “temporary” — which have created generations of dependent masses. But I didn’t speak up, because I wanted government benefits and security, too.
Then they created special government programs and rendered court decisions favoring select minorities, setting quotas and giving them advantages in education and jobs. Then they added de facto amnesty for illegal aliens, who do not pay income tax and who use public services and unpaid medical care disproportionately. But I didn’t speak up, because I didn’t want to be called a racist.
Then they declared that women were discriminated against because of childbearing, that a baby was “part of the mother” until delivery, and that a woman had the “choice” to abort her baby for any reason…
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