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

It’s supernatural, naturally…

There is a great temptation in the modern mind to put things “in boxes.” We have our lives at work, at play, at home, within ourselves, and we tend to consider these separately, on their own terms… even though a realistic perception of one’s life would have one admit that all these dimensions are in fact interrelated. There is, however, a special temptation to box the natural and the supernatural, in a way that they can never, ever touch: most often this manifests in the tendency to think of God only when one is at church or “needs a miracle,” as if God weren’t important at other times, or as if He didn’t even exist. But when the hallway is dark and a strange sound is heard, all of a sudden, “It might be a ghost!”

The readership might be interested to know that the area in which our Lord was baptized (an action which symbolized His “descent” into the sins of Israel and of all mankind) occupies a privileged place on the globe in its own right, apart from such a momentous event… It is the lowest piece of land on the planet. Yes, God became man, and was plunged into the waters of the lowest place on Earth!

That is an obvious example of a crossover between the natural and the supernatural, where a natural reality is used as a symbol to emphasize a supernatural reality (almost like a sacrament). And of course, the Incarnation itself is the perfect antithesis of the separation of God and creation.

There is no reason this kind of crossover should be limited to the explicitly “theological.” Recently, black holes have been in the news. One story, while plenty interesting, is less relevant for our purposes here in this post than another story: what happens when two black holes collide? Apparently, you get a perfect Middle C.

That would be merely an odd kind of coincidence if it weren’t for St. Boethius, a 6th century Christian philosopher, claiming in his De Institutione Musica* that there is a sort of “musical schema” of the universe in which a creature with a nobler character – angels included – would tend to produce a higher sound. The note now called Middle C (261.6 hertz) has long been realized to be basically the center of the human vocal range, and Boethius figured that since humans are the existential center of creation, that would extend to the realm of music and sounds… Middle C is the Boethian center of audible reality.

What does this all mean? Are black hole collisions portals into the underlying order of creation? Who knows. Given the fact that in the world of pop-science, mystique swirls around these super-massive objects like clouds of gas do in reality, that theme could make for its own miniseries on the Discovery Channel. The point is that the idea that such “supernatural” concepts like Boethius put forward about music ought to be taken seriously in natural research, and an observation like this collision can call attention to that – the sound just as easily could have been over a hundred octaves lower! The supernatural and natural are intertwined, just like space and time. God, the Primal Logos, created the natural world with an order that goes back towards Himself and in which reason can perceive Him. Dismissing God as irrelevant to the quest for natural knowledge saws off the limb on which the scientist sits… “Where does it ultimately come from? Where is it ultimately going?” There can never be holistic science without answering these two questions, and the answer is always the Alpha and the Omega. There is not a science world and a religion world, there is just the one world.

*Unfortunately, this text of Boethius is not entirely available online, although you can see a sample of it here.