Science and Sacrament on Corpus Christi

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi. Deo Gratias!

The Eucharist baffles materialists… Such a radical paradigm can easily invade a mind to the point where it can’t even understand how someone could possibly begin to believe the doctrine of the Real Presence, and not only because two elements (Soul and Divinity) are immaterial to begin with. A materialistic vision of the universe, if applied honestly, will reduce all things to a soup of non-distinct matter. There are words or concepts that can be useful, but they don’t correspond to real “substances.” There is no “Socrates,” only “this bit of matter that we call Socrates.” There is no “essence,” in general or in particular.

So, if there is no such thing as substance, (and only “accidents,” such as position, quality, etc.) then it is easy to see why it would be hard to begin to grasp how the Real Presence could work, even hypothetically. “Bracketing” beliefs that much can be very hard sometimes.

Furthermore, the Real Presence, like so many doctrines of religion, is “pseudoscientific.” That means that it is impossible either to prove or to disprove through empirical science, even though it makes a claim about reality. The difference here is that we can touch its consequence – unlike with the division of grace, the Ascension, and so on. This is often frustrating and confusing to secularists. The whole sacramental world is, after all, a giant wrench in the modernist machine: God actually involves Himself in the world, and in certain ways He has subjected himself to men, like that day Joshua made the sun stand still.

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The “science of the sacraments” depends upon the “science of the Page.” Theology is a science whose principles are authority and witness rather than direct observation. The primary witness is God Himself, the secondary witnesses are those with whom He has had interactions directly by certain kinds of revelation, and tertiary witnesses are those who have trusted the preceding witnesses… However, tertiary witnesses could also be those events which testify by their nature and circumstance to the authority of the secondary and primary witnesses.

We might rightly call each confection of the Eucharist “miraculous,” since indeed something supernatural is happening in the natural world, but it is ordinary, inasmuch as it can be expected. There are also extraordinary events surrounding the Eucharist, even in our present day: note that a Host was found bleeding in Poland in 2013, and it has just been confirmed after several years of study.

And there are loads of these.

I remember the first time I was turned on to this phenomenon… It was a short video of a presentation by a cardiologist on a recent Eucharistic miracle which happened in Buenos Aires. (Interestingly, Pope Francis has not made much mention of it.) A host had been dropped, put into water, began bleeding and had turned into living heart tissue exhibiting great signs of distress.

How edifying that was to me! “What a slap in the face to those who don’t believe,” I thought. Except it is very, very hard to pull oneself out of the swamps of materialism, secularism, and hedonism, into which so many individuals in our society have fallen. Many of them might say that encountering just one miracle would change their whole lives – but we know how that panned out in the Book of Exodus. Perhaps they will change, but it is easy to slide back again. Humans are both rational and animal, after all.

Miracles can be aids to receiving faith, but faith is only given by God. When Peter confesses his faith in the divinity of Jesus, he gets the reply, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in Heaven.” What a paradox to reflect on during this feast of the Lord’s Body and Blood.

 

Main image: “Bénédiction des blés en Artois,” 1857, Jules Breton
Second image: “Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Upon Gideon,” 1816, John Martin

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