And God said, "Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens." So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds- livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (ESV)
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The Holy Things
John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter
4 December 2012
The struggle over the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the holy Eucharist did not begin with Ego Berengarius, or with the supposedly retrograde stubbornness of Martin Luther. It began in the Garden of Eden where our enemy called the Word of God into question. Ever after, our enemy has been skirmishing with the faithful seeking to cast doubt upon the Lord's ability to give what He says to His holy people. Is God capable of giving the holy things to the holy ones? Even as early as the time of John of Damascus, he felt constrained to give a defense of the real presence of the Lord's body and blood in the Lord's Supper. Of course, the Lord graciously gives what His Word says, so the enemy spends his time leading us to doubt that the Lord can do what the Word says. The problem is that we doubt the Lord not that the Lord is incapable.
While some of the language of John is foreign to us Western Christians, he forcefully sets out the basic points of Eucharistic theology. Some of his expressions find clear echoes in the later exposition of the real presence offered by Luther. For both John and Luther, separated by almost a millennium, drank from the same limpid waters of God's Word. For John the bread and wine of the Eucharist were not a figure of the body and blood of the Lord. They could not be mere symbols of something else. John defended a non-symbolical interpretation of the Lord's Supper with the words spoken by Jesus on the night of His betrayal, "This is my body." For all defenders of the real presence that is the constant drum beat.
The high eucharistic theology of John gives expression to the benefits given with the Lord's body and blood in the Supper. Those who receive the body of the Lord are incorporated into the Lord and in the body of Christ become the body of Christ. The holy body of the Lord cleanses our unclean lips with the fire of the divine love as the messengers of the Lord bring it from the altar. Our burning desire for incorporation into the Lord, He stokes by giving into our unclean hands the glowing coal of the Lord's body under the bread. For the bread can bear the body of the Lord who is God and Man, in the same way that the flesh given of Mary can bear the incarnation of the Son of God. Real presence talk always provides a parallel to Christological talk. The consecrated bread is no more likely to be the body of Christ than the fleshly body of Christ is the incarnation of God in one indivisible person of two natures. The bread is one nature and the body of Christ another; yet both are indivisibly united in the holy Eucharist. The holy things are given to the holy ones.
John of Damascus
"The bread and the wine are not merely figures of the body and blood of Christ (God forbid!), but the deified body of the Lord. For the Lord has said, 'This is My body,' not, this is a figure of My body, and 'My blood,' not, a figure of My blood. And on a previous occasion He had said to the Jews, 'unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.' 'For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.' And again, 'whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me' (Jn 6:53, 55, 57).
"Therefore, with all fear and a pure conscience and certain faith let us draw near and it will assuredly be to us as we believe, doubting nothing. Let us pay homage to it in all purity both of soul and body; for it is twofold. Let us draw near to it with an ardent desire, and with our hands held in the form of the cross let us receive the body of the Crucified One. Let us apply our eyes and lips and brows and partake of the divine coal, in order that the fire of the longing, that is in us, with the additional heat derived from the coal may utterly consume our sins and illumine our hearts, that we may be inflamed and deified by the participation in the divine fire. Isaiah saw the coal (Is 6:6). But coal is not plain wood but wood united with fire. In a similar way the bread of the communion is not plain bread, but bread united with divinity. But a body which is united with divinity is not one nature, but has one nature belonging to the body and another belonging to the divinity that is united to it, so that the compound is not one nature but two.
"The body and blood of Christ are for the support of our soul and body, without being consumed or suffering corruption, not for excretion (God forbid!), but for our being and preservation, a protection against all kinds of injury, and a purging from all uncleanness. Should one receive impure gold, the body and blood of Christ purify it by the critical burning lest in the future we be condemned with this world. They purify from diseases and all kinds of calamities; according to the words of the holy Apostles, 'If we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world' (1Co 11:31-32). This too is what he says, 'For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself' (1Co 11:29). Being purified by this, we are united to the body of Christ and to His Spirit and become the body of Christ."
John of Damascus,
An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 4.13
Lord Christ, You are the true food come down from heaven. When I go to receive the communion of Your body and blood in faith permit me to go, not with hands thrust forward, nor with grasping fingers separated, but placing left hand as a throne for my right, which is to receive so great a King, and in the hollow of my palm receive Your body, O Christ. Let me then defeat the enemy by unsaying the doubt of Eve in one word, "Amen." What You say shall be so. Amen.
For all those who doubt the Lord's desire to give what His Word says, that the Holy Spirit would ignite a holy fire of confidence in their hearts
For all who know not the disciplines of Holy Week, that they might walk with their Lord to Golgotha and there see their salvation displayed
For Bob Sheffield, that the Lord would grant him health and healing
Art: WEYDEN, Rogier van der Annunciation Triptych (c. 1440)
© Scott R. Murray, 2012