I recently finished a book by Casey Chalk called The Obscurity of Scripture. Chalk is a former Presbyterian seminarian (now Catholic) who began questioning the Protestant concept of what is sometimes called “perspicuity” (meaning clarity).
Underpinning the doctrine of clarity is sola scriptura — by scripture alone. That idea is an essential attribute of most Protestant belief systems, first articulated by Martin Luther.
It says the Bible alone is adequate for every believer to achieve salvation and that scripture is clear enough for any reading person to understand it. Luther argued there is no need for priests or bishops or theologians or church councils or ancient church fathers or tradition — what Catholics refer to as the “Magisterium” of the church, the collected body of wisdom, practice and interpretation.
Martin Luther was quite aggressive and, frankly, unpleasant with other Protestants whose “clear” interpretation of scripture differed from his own. For example, Swiss Reform pastor Ulrich Zwingli argued that Jesus’ phrase “this is my body” was figurative, not literal, whereas Luther held to the Catholic view (mostly) that the bread and wine of the communion table were truly the body and blood of Christ.
For his differing view, Luther called Zwingli a schwrmer (fanatic) and mockingly called him “The Giant of Zurich.” Luther wrote, “our fanatics, however, are full of fraud and humbug.” They were both reading the same “clear” scripture, but came to radically different conclusions about what it truly meant.
It is Zwingli’s position that is held as true in the majority of Protestant denominations, including the ones I attended in the first 53 years of my life. I certainly puzzled over this issue myself when I read and meditated on the Gospel of John, chapter 6.
Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
When the Jews heard this, they were scandalized: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” But Jesus doubled down on what he meant: “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
One of the most distressing lines in all of scripture is this: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” The Son of God, regarded at least as a prophet by almost all who heard him and saw the miracles he performed, was then abandoned by scores of his disciples after teaching the doctrine of transubstantiation.
This is the doctrine that the elements of the eucharist, the bread and the wine, are transformed by the Holy Spirit into the body and blood of Christ. The Catholic and Orthodox churches hold to his belief. Why?
Because centuries of tradition and faithful interpretation of the scriptures hold it to be true. It is what is a called a “sacred mystery.” Every Catholic and Orthodox believer who consumes the bread and wine know they are eating “bread” and “wine”. It is a matter of sincere faith, however, that Jesus, who promised he would be with us always, is truly present in the elements.
When Jesus asked Peter if he was going to leave, too, Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
I have a vintage truck, a 1946 Dodge.
ICBC has registered it as a 1946 Dodge, even after I took the cab off the original frame and transferred it to a 1995 Dodge Ram.
Essentially, its function and underlying identity is a 1995 Dodge Ram pickup. But anyone looking at it sees a 1946 Dodge.
Likewise, we see and taste bread and wine, but the essence of the eucharist is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I don’t know how it happens, but I have faith that it does and that is clear to me.
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