Thursday 5 March 2009

Church and eucharist

“The point of saying that the Eucharist makes the church is that the body of Christ is not a perduring institution which moves linearly through time, but must be constantly received anew in the Eucharistic action…. Because the church lives from the future, it is a thing that is not. The church inhabits a space and time which is never guaranteed by coercion or institutional weight, but must be constantly asked for, as gift of the Holy Spirit. The Eucharist is the imagination of the church, but it is not our imagination in the sense that Christians build the church. The Eucharist is God’s imagination of the church; we participate in that imagination insofar as we imagined by God, incorporated into the body of Christ through grace….

“Eschatology is always in tension with history. This is the church’s story. It is not reactive in the sense that the church is defined and located by the state, or by other narratives external to its own. Opposition to the powers and principalities of the world is written into the very narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which is commemorated in the Eucharist.”

—William Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Blackwell, 1998), pp. 269-73. And on a related note, check out this failed gospel tract.


Anonymous said...

The church 'is a thing that is not'
Like that gobby green string of nose snot
It's useless but fun
Changes shape in the s-n
Try to share it, you'll get all tied up in nots.

Anonymous said...

I have always been puzzled by the idea that "the eucharist makes the church." Reading de Lubac's "Corpus Mysticum," where the phrase seems to have originated, did not shed much light.

For an alternative account see my book "The Eucharist and Ecumenism" (Cambridge 2008). I argue that it would be better to say that Christ makes the church -- through Word and Sacrament, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I suggest that while the eucharist fulfills the church, the church is more properly understood as creatura verbum De, the creature of God's Word, when it comes to the means by which it is "made" and governed in Christ.

None of this shift in emphasis would greatly conflict with the spirit of Cavanaugh's quoted remakrs.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ben,

Pardon my ignorance, but ...

Why would anyone want to say that the eucharist makes the church? It sounds like the sort of statement made in a Roman Catholic document or an ecumenical one like ARCIC, although I can't track it down, but why would anyone want to make it?

Moveover, there's a strong strand in Christianity which would deny it. For instance, Vincent Donovan (author of "Christianity Rediscovered") - wouldn't he say that there is the gospel message and the response? There's the preaching of Jesus to people, and there is their response to him by putting their faith in him. And the church and all that is in it, including the eucharist, is secondary. Wouldn't Donovan say "the gospel makes the church, and further that the church then makes the eucharist, in that the manner and form of giving thanks is the domain of the church to decide for itself?

So perhaps you could fill us in with some background as to why Cavanaugh would want to expound what one might mean by such a statement?

Many thanks in Christ - JOHN HARTLEY.

Ben Myers said...

Hi John. As George says above, the idea that "the eucharist makes the church" has been an important stream within Catholic theology since de Lubac. For my part, I'd tend to agree with George (and with your own remark) that Christ gathers the church through the gospel. But of course Catholic theologians like Cavanaugh would still agree with this statement — they would just emphasise the real action of Christ in the eucharist.

Anonymous said...

I'm pleased to note that we have a general agreement in this thread.

In my book I suggest that Protestant worship, insofar as it gives us preaching without the eucharist, is like a head without a torso, but that sacramental worship, if it involves the eucharist without preaching, is much the reverse.

So there may be more than one way to fall into misplaced concreteness.

If there is a sacrament that "makes" the church, however, I should have thought it was baptism.

What needs to be held together in a proper understanding of worship, it seems to me, are three matters: the kerygmatic, the sacramental, and the missional. I try to interpret the eucharist from this standpoint.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ben, and thanks, George.

Yours in Christ - JOHN HARTLEY.

John Hartley said...

Thanks, Ben, and thanks, George.

Yours in Christ - JOHN HARTLEY.

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