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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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VAN DER WALT, B.J.. Four viewpoints on Christ's presence at the Lord's Supper: An analysis of their philosophical foundations. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.3, pp.387-404. ISSN 2224-7912.

Various Christian groups during the sixteenth century could not reach agreement on how Christ's presence at the Eucharist and the Lord's Supper should be understood - a controversy that persists even to the present. This was the case in spite of the fact that all of them claimed that their convictions about this sacrament were founded on Scripture. What really occurred was that they read various current philosophical presuppositions into the Scriptures (eisegesis) and - divinely sanctioned - read the same ideas out of the Bible again (exegesis). This historical investigation therefore traces and analyses some of the philosophical foundations underlying four theological viewpoints regarding this sacrament during the sixteenth century: the Catholic, Lutheran, Zwinglian and Calvinistic perspectives. The first main section provides an overview of the basic solutions offered by the four viewpoints on Christ's presence at the sacrament and also indicates their most prominent differences. According to the Catholic viewpoint (earlier represented by Thomas Aquinas and during the sixteenth century by e.g. John Eck), Christ becomes bodily present at the Eucharist since, after consecration, the bread and wine is changed (transubstantiated) into Christ's mystical body. In Luther's theory of consubstantiation Christ, in his divine omnipresence, accompanies the elements of the sacrament. Zwingli regarded "this is My body… this is My blood" as merely signifying Christ's flesh. Although he also acknowledged the presence of the Holy Spirit, he emphasised from the human side the believer's remembrance of Christ's sacrificial death, made possible by means of the rational faculty of the human soul. The Calvinist perspective reveals some similarity to Zwingli's viewpoint. From God's side Calvin also stressed the presence of the Holy Spirit in the human, believing soul or spirit, but he disagreed with Zwingli about the human response. In the case of Calvin, it is not the rational or intellectual faculty of the soul (the head) but the emotional (or heart) which is regarded as the responding factor. From all four cases it therefore becomes clear that it is not possible to answer the how (Christ could be present) without saying who He is and what it means to be human - both requiring philosophical answers. The second main section of the contribution, therefore, traces the major philosophical currents which revived during the Renaissance and the Reformation and their possible impact on how the divine and human sides of this sacrament were conceived. Catholicism mainly continued along the lines of classical Medieval Scholasticism (the via antiqua). Luther, on the other hand, was strongly influenced by followers of Ockham's via moderna or nominalism, as well as the Neo-Platonism of the Augustinian Order. Zwingli's philosophical background reveals a blend of revived Christianised Stoicism and Neo-Platonism. Also, Calvin was initially interested in the Stoic philosophy of Seneca for example, but added to it was a heavy dosage of (Neo-)Platonism and therefore semi-mysticism. It is finally concluded that different forms of semi-mysticism can be detected in all four viewpoints which are discussed. Mysticism is based on the philosophical idea of the supposed possibility of partial human participation in the divine and even the partial deification of the human being. Since the human soul is regarded as semi-divine, the biblical, radical difference between Creator and creation is not fully acknowledged and honoured - with serious implications for how the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper is to be understood.

Keywords : Viewpoints: consubstantiation; Eucharist; Holy Communion; presence of Christ and Holy Spirit; transubstantiation. Representatives: Aquinas, Thomas (1224-1274); Calvin, John (1509-1564); Eck, John (1486-1543); Luther, Maarten (1483-1546); Ockham, William (1285-1349); Zwingli, Ulrich (1484-1531). Anthropologies: faculty psychology (trichotomy); participation and deification; rational and emotional experience; semi-mysticism; soul and body. Philosophical schools: Augustinianism; Humanism; Neo-Platonism; Ockhamism; Scholasticism; Stoicism.

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