Saturday, May 12, 2012

Eucharist Deconstruction and Reconstruction

The major task for philosophy and theology in the Postmodern period is the deconstruction of Christian sacramental theology and liturgical language and practice. Catholic sacramental theology is based on a Traditional Western Metaphysics that no longer is acceptable in a Postmodern world that has rejected this Greek metaphysics. It presents a need for Episcopalians to deconstruct a Eucharistic theology and liturgical practice based on a Catholic metaphysics.

Fundamentally, the issue is that Traditional Western Metaphysics is based on the foundation of Greek philosophy i.e. Plato and Aristotle.  This foundation that no longer stands after the deconstruction of Western metaphysics since the introduction of Husserl and Heidegger's phenomenology.

The historian and philosopher Jan Potacka in Body, Language, World describes the issue in the age when Western metaphysics has been replaced by philosophical and theological phenomenology,"Aristotle's philosophy is a philosophy of the third person, that is, though the personal is not wholly absent, is not thematized, it remains concealed. The third person belongs in principle together with the second person, that is, a philosophy starting out with the world in the third person...Aristotle describes the world as a living being in the third person." Plato and Aristotle are Greek philosophers who are interested in a world of substance. From this foundation of a third person and substance view of the world, even when they arrive at the nature of existence it is as "nous." Man is fundamentally nous (spirit). They never truly consider the bodily "I" in its human situation.

We now come to know existence in terms of phenomenology of Dasein which is defined as that being which has itself as an issue. Dasein is what we arrive at when we ask the question: what is it that we most truly are? What are we? We are most authentically a being asking who we are as we relate to the world as a whole.

It is Catholic sacramental theology, since the Council of Trent that has grounded its sacramental life on the Aristotlean-Thomistic Greek concept of substance. In the past, it has been a theological position that Anglicans were cautious about, as we read in article XXVIII. Of the Lord,s Supper, " Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ." Unfortunately, Anglicans did not really escape the hold of Substance, as it developed a theology of consubstantiation.

Reformed theology is much better on this issue because it has avoided substance theology with its teaching of the Lord's Supper. It is also avoided in early Celtic worship. The presence of Christ is in the entire celebration of the Lord's Supper. It is not the saying of certain words at a key point in the service where the congregation is given the objective substance of Jesus Christ. The presence of Christ happens as the Spirit vibrates through out the service.

This Episcopal identity, lately taken, of Catholic lite  should be re-examined. I am not an academic scholar. I am a Pastor who struggles with the survival of a small and aging parish. As I engage my parish in a gentle process of deconstruction, I hear my parishioners and most Episcopal clergy make statements like, "We have 'the Eucharist.' We have a true objective presence. We are founded on sacramental substance. We are not entertaining. Yes, our liturgy is static, overly wordy, hard to grasp, but it is a wonderful pageant of substance. Its is boring, but it is the real presence."

What happens if we decide to deconstruct our Eucharistic sacramental theology and are liturgical substance based liturgy? I suggest that we begin to reconstruct our theology in terms of the Lord's Supper. We reconstruct presence based on worship as a place of feeling the Spirit and coming to a deeper sense of Christ presence as personal discovery of self and others in the Lord's Supper.

Here is an interesting final note. I am meeting younger neo evangelical Pastors who are becoming more and more liturgical. It is not a Eucharistic experience; it is a dynamic reconstruction of the Lord's Supper. Well, I suggest that I am hitting the elephant in the room. Episcopalians have fallen into the trap of Traditional Western Metaphysics  i.e. our theology and liturgy is all about third person objective substance. How about more Postmodern Reformed Spirit based becoming worship. 



  1. Thanks,Bill, your words take us back and forward,that is back to Celtic and Reformed roots and forward to our liturgical transformation. The shape of liturgy must change and, as well, content. To deconstruct liturgy means not only looking at the Eucharist but of Baptism as the two core elements of Christian worship. As well, the Creeds, either as worded or in and of themselves, require review, dare I say, deconstruction, to be vital in our liturgy and therefore in, as you state, us becoming worship.

  2. Bill,

    Great work here. Simple, broad strokes that ask us to take a fresh look at sacrament and at how we're together sharing sacrament. It reminds me that I've read (somewhere, wish I could reference) that the earliest epicleses prayed for the Holy Spirit to show us the Body of Christ in the assembly, ourselves and the people gathered. The Aristotelean stuff isn't our deepest root (as you say) but an overlay, a useful interpretation for people who lived in a different universe of thought than we do.

  3. Bill you make a great point for Incarnational Liturgy. The Holy Spirit through people in the incarnate Universe and Word and Sacrament is the Real Presence. The Eucharist begins with the Word made flesh in Creation, Jesus and the Church. The Eucharist gathers up the people of God in response to the Divine Spirit hovering over the Universe in God's people. Great Celtic stuff. Incidently, I don't think Anglicans ever adopted the Lutheran idea of Consubstantiation.

  4. Bob, you are correct, we have always kept our understanding of presence ambiguous. As Bill points out, we have allowed a great deal of popular RC theology to overlay our wise lack of definition.

  5. This blog argues from several false assumptions: (1) The reference to catholic theology should be properly called ‘Roman Catholic’ which is not the same as Anglican theology. (2) The use of the word ‘substance’ is not a common term but a technical concept long argued by Anglicans. And (3) ‘deconstruction’ of sacramental theology is the fallacy of the Protestant Reformation.

    Archbishop William Temple described the grace in the sacraments as “the objective reality is subjectively conditioned.” This blog asserts that we discard any concept of objectivity in the sacraments and instead become Baptists and who hold a totally subjective viewpoint. “If you believe that Jesus is in the bread – then he is. If you don’t believe he is there – then he is not.”

  6. A little too catagorical Anonymous in what you say. Temple followed Augustine: " To understand the body of Christ, listen to the words of the Apostle: "You are the body and the members of Christ." If you are the body and the members of Christ, it is your mystery which is placed on the Lord's Table; it is your mystery you receive. It is to that which you are to answer "Amen," and by that response you make your assent. You hear the words "the body of Christ," you answer "Amen." Be a member of Christ, so that the "Amen" may be true.'" There is no objective/subjective dichotomy in Augustine. There is Body of Christ in adoration of the Body of Christ as one with another in communion. The BCP states this to be the adoration prayer, the reconciling mission of the Church in and of itself.

  7. The author of this blog needs to review his history. He said, “Unfortunately, Anglicans did not really escape the hold of Substance, as it developed a theology of consubstantiation.”

    Sorry wrong. That was the Lutherans.

  8. And now for something completely different,

    I only add that reciting the traditional Jewish blessings over bread and wine as Our Lord did as part of such a love feast might also clarify what He was getting at when he spoke of them as His body and blood....