“For the Eucharist is not a physical conversion but a metaphysical transcensus which identifies the two different ontological realities”

Now is it right, is it even possible to speak of the substance and the accidents of the heav­enly, resurrected and totally transfigured body of the Lord? “At the right hand of the Father”—this is not a place but a symbol of the proximity of Christ to the Father. When Bishop John A. T. Robinson, with all his naivete, replaces “on high” and “below” with “depth,” he remains precisely within the same spatial categories. “Heavenly” is not a cosmological idea. The “heavenly” state of the humanity of Christ is a transcensus which prohibits us from applying cosmic ontology and its laws to him. This state is not at all a disincarnation but a dematerialization. According to the fathers, after the Fall material is a condensation, a thickening of the spiritual and this is why, even after the Fall, “in sensible things, all is intelligible,” according to St John Chrysostom, the assumption of the sensible into intelligibility is normative.

The “glorified” body of Christ is beyond the still material world (1 Cor 15:40-49). It is a state in which the soul possesses the energies of corporeality. It is not that there is no more any ubiquitas or omnipresence, for the heavenly body transcends every place, it is not every­where because it is outside of, beyond space, all in keeping the power of manifesting itself in a given place and anywhere else in space for, “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18)….

Even though Greek philosophy was familiar to the Fathers, they did not attempt any philosophical explanation or analysis of the Eucharist. Rather than going to Plato or Aristotle, they went directly to the Gospel. Rather than physical evidence, they chose the evidence of the Word. They read the text of the Scriptures and confessed the identity: “This is my body, this is my blood.”

This is a confession which, though radical, is neither simplistic nor naive. The essential position of the Fathers is to see in the word of the Lord a miracle which is not physical but metaphysical. “Metaphysics” is used here in the absolute sense of the term, beyond the limits of this world, a meta-cosmic miracle, one that is also meta-empirical. In reality, the heavenly body of the Lord no longer belongs to the reality of this world. Its transcendence poses a difference in nature between the eucharistic miracle and, for example, the miracle at the wedding in Cana, where one material, water, became another material, wine, on the same ontological plane and within the same cosmic limits.

The eucharistic miracle presents the most radical antinomy imaginable. In the spirit of the Fathers, the term metabole, taken from meta and ballo, means “thrown and projected beyond.” The eucharistic prayer of anaphora in chapter 13 of the Apostolic Constitutions, in speaking of Enoch uses the wame word, metabole (Gen 5:24: “Enoch walked with God and was than no more, because God took him”). Enoch, taken by God, is “thrown or projected beyond,” into the transcendence of heaven. It is evident that one cannot explain or define the subject of a cosmic material being projected, that is, raised “beyond” itself and assimilated into the transcendent. The entire action is meta-empirical, meta-logical and antinomic, for it expresses the identity and the difference of the identical. Into this identity enters a signifying material reality and an immaterial reality that is signified. The one is not absorbed nor destroyed by the other. Their identification is dynamic, in actu. It leaves each in its own reality, in its own status quo. The antinomy here signifies that a reality is that which it is not and that it is not that which it is. The bread and wine are the body and the blood, and the body and blood are the bread and wine. (“What would be the testimony of the senses … the bread which is seen is not bread, even if it seems so to the taste, but the body of Christ and the wine which is seen is not wine even if tasted but the blood of Christ” [St Cyril of Jerusalem].) The Eucharist, then, is not a physical transfor­ma­tion, where the terminus a quo passes to the terminus ad quem, as the water turned completely into wine at the marriage feast of Cana…. For the Eucharist is not a physical conversion but a metaphysical transcensus which identifies the two different ontological realities. It is not “the one in the other,” nor “the one and the other,” physically, but the one is the other metaphysically. This places the miraculous reality outside all sensible perception inherent in things of this world, such as the taste of the wine at Cana.

Before Communion each one of the faithful prays: “I believe O Lord and I confess that this is your own pure body and that this is your own true blood …” Above and beyond the experi­ence of the senses, faith affirms absolutely and categorically neither the transub­stan­tiated bread nor the body, nor the bread coexisting beneath the form of bread. Faith rather confesses the bread by the power of the Holy Spirit identified with the body of the Lord. “This is my body” does not mean: “this bread will become my body in ceasing to be bread.” But without abolishing the sign which signifies, the eucharistic miracle absorbs the contradiction, and in this a miracle remains.

“Take, eat … drink all of you …” “The heavenly bread and the cup of life” are given for our nourishment. The theology of the Fathers understands the Eucharist as a meal: “Whoever eats me will live through me.” Thus St Irenaeus, St Gregory of Nyssa, St John of Damascus explore the depths of analogy between heavenly and earthly eating and nourishment. During his life on earth, the bread and wine consumed by the Lord were integrated and assimilated into his corporeality. During the Last Supper, Christ extended the reality of his body beyond physical limits. He identified it with the bread and the wine and he gave them to his disci­ples, saying, “Eat and drink.” “The bread,” says St Gregory of Nyssa, “is assimilated to the body of the Word by eating it but it is instantaneously the body of the Word.” Here is something infinitely greater than a simple physical change.

The things of this world are not able to exchange with each other or be transformed into each other. The eucharistic miracle, without any physical transformation, identifies earthly nourishment with the heavenly corporeality of Christ. It is precisely the corporeality, even if heavenly, which makes possible Communion in which each member of the faithful is united to Christ, both spiritually and corporeally….

The eucharistic miracle does not make Christ descend from heaven to the altar. “It is not the body which ascended to heaven which descends,” says St John of Damascus, “but the bread and wine which are one with the body and blood of the Lord.” The Encyclical of the Patri­archs of the East says the same thing: “The bread is identified with the heavenly body.” The miracle does not abolish the reality of the Ascension, but expresses a completely new relationship between this world and the heavenly body of the Lord. Already between the Resurrection and the Ascension, Christ was not with the disciples as in the past. His apparitions were of a different nature. Visibly, the laws of physics no longer had a hold on him. His body attained the summit of spiritualization and deification and was going toward the beyond, the transcendent, where the disciples were not able to come. Yet, “All power is given to me in heaven and on earth.” By this power Christ retains a living connection with the world and is able to appropriate bread and wine as his own body and blood. For the Jews, blood is the soul of the flesh. The shedding of blood on the cross signified death. The reunion of the body and the blood signified the Resurrection. With the blood, the faithful commune with the living body of the Lord.

In summarizing the teaching of the Fathers, beyond any physical conversion, for the eyes of faith after the epiclesis, quite simply there is nothing else on the diskos and in the chalice except the body and blood of Christ.

Paul Evdokimov

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2 Responses to “For the Eucharist is not a physical conversion but a metaphysical transcensus which identifies the two different ontological realities”

  1. mplekon says:

    Many thanks for the words from a theologian dear to me, Paul Evdokimov.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    You are very welcome, Fr Michael.

    BTW, did you translate this article? Is Evdokimov difficult to translate? I ask because there are some sentences in this article that I find confusing.

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