I’ve been thinking a lot about Nate Kerr’s “Corpus Verum: On the Ecclesial Recovery of Real Presence in John Calvin’s Doctrine of the Eucharist.” Does Calvin’s Eucharist, as founded on a caesura between the sacramental and historical bodies of Christ, liberate the Church from it’s desire to own Christ? Does real presence, by contrast, preclude the Church from experiencing the inbreaking of God’s kingdom?

Kerr believes that de Lubac and RO have misread Calvin’s Eucharstic theology. Regarding de Lubac, Kerr notes in a footnote that de Lubac’s Corpus Mysticum probably misread Calvin because of an “interpretive oversight” due to Calvin’s “rhetorical nuances” (235, fn. 14). There might be something to this claim. After all, in proper humanistic fashion, Calvin’s  Eucharistic theology looks rather Catholic when compared to Zwingli or Luther, and Kerr does a brilliant job of highlighting the seemingly incontestable sacramental aspects of Calvin’s theology (236).

But the real point of contention for Kerr has to do with RO’s charge of Calvin’s “virtualism” as argued by Simon Oliver (“The Eucharist Before Nature and Culture”). The danger, according to RO, is that Calvin’s Eucharistic practice creates a “spiritually rarefied version of Christianity” (Oliver, 343). As a “virtual reality,” the Eucharist becomes a mere performative event. As such, there is no real substantive connection between the church and Christ’s own body. Calvin’s Eucharist amounts then to an “arbitrary mimesis” (Oliver, 343).

In order to sidestep both RO’s and de Lubac’s criticism (the former is really just echoing the latter), Kerr argues that Calvin does possess a robust sense of sacramental participation, yet carefully maintains a concern for space or “caesura” between the sacramental and historical bodies of Christ. This caesura or physical absence allows for a true sense of koinonia and participation, such that RO is after. According to Kerr, “ontic absence translates into the ontological space for temporal and communal embodiment, in which the believer that apprehends Christ’s body through the reception of faith participates by actively becoming what she receives” (242). This is a bit of a mouthful, but what I think Kerr is saying is that the event or dialectical nature of the Eucharist, as opposed to real presence (read: Roman Catholic), allows for a truly embodied koinonia. De Lubac/RO miss the mark because they confuse Calvin’s emphasis on the  “eschatological dimension” of the Eucharist with a “spiritualized or gnostic experience” (Oliver, 343). In other words, Christ’s absent body is not to be lamented, but encouraged.

Does this eschatological Eucharist really liberate the church for the world? And what of RO/de Lubac’s specific criticisms of modern Eucharistic theologies, including Roman Catholic?

I’m still not convinced that ontic absence translates into communal embodiment, while substance or real presence translates into communal navel-gazing, or some type of gated community closed off to the inbreaking of the kingdom from a beyond. In fact, I think the inverse is true and that de Lubac’s criticisms of modern Eucharist theologies still stand. (I’m also concerned that there’s a lingering bias that says that real presence implies stasis, while dialectic implies dynamism. Again, I think the inverse is true, thanks in large part to William Desmond.)

Further, de Lubac’s triforme Corpus Chrisiti ressourcement anticipates what Kerr is after, without sundering the notion that the Church herself is the continuation of Christ’s incarnate presence (Catholicism, 76). De Lubac’s entire corpus and arguments against both a juridical Church and Protestant theology (which didn’t seem to be his main bone of contention as he saw the divisions going back much further) have more to do with stressing the unity of the Church and the loss of a sacramental ontology. Despite Calvin’s ruminations on the sacramental elements of the Eucharist, de Lubac’s argument makes it clear that Calvin, like many Reformers, missed the Augustinian framework of regarding “the Eucharistic act itself participates in the larger figural reality of divine self-expression” (Radner, 218). De Lubac is mainly arguing against the entire ontological edifice that attempts to separate sign from reality. “Earthly objects (as sacramentum) received their reality (res) of their being from God’s own being,” as Hans Boersma states (Heavenly Participation, 151). Simply put, Calvin’s metaphysics simply won’t allow for a real participatory or sacramental cosmos, and this is de Lubac’s main point of contention, as well as RO’s. Perhaps this is why Milbank enigmatically states that Calvin’s theology is implicitly in search of a metaphysics (“Alternative Protestantism,” 35).

Epharim Radner’s study into modern Eucharistic divisions comes to mind (“Vinegar and Gall: Tasting the Eucharist in a Divided Church”). Making use of de Lubac’s Corpus Mysticum, Radner discusses the dangers of eschatologizing of the Eucharist: “the contemporary ‘eschatologizing’ of the eucharistic ‘sign’ is only a recent version of a more endemic modern – and separative – attempt to pry the apart the Eucharistic act, as an ecclesial practice, from the significance of the sacrament itself” (203-4). Once depicted in this light, the Eucharist “in this way has been bequeathed to an ahistorical Spirit, whose life, whose sensibilities are granted immunity from the prophecies that touch the Church’s form” (204).

A Spirit without history; a Church without form; an anthropology that governs rather than emerges from the Eucharist – this is the legacy bequeathed from the early modern separation of res from sacramentum.

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