Throughout the history of the church, Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper has played a key role. And yet his words have also played a controversial role. During the Protestant Reformation, the fault lines were drawn around the issue of the Eucharist. Did the bread and wine make Christ present by transforming the elements into the body and blood of Christ (Roman Catholic View) or did Christ become present in the elements without this transformation (Reformed view)?
While James Arcadi does not try to adjudicate such historical debates, he does offer a constructive proposal for how one can see the elements making Christ present on the basis of Chalcedonian orthodoxy.
Argument in Sum
According to Arcadi, when Jesus said, “This is my body” and “this is my blood,” he consecrated the bread and renamed it, “bringing about a metaphysical state of affairs much like the Incarnation, where that consecrated and renamed object both continues to be a piece of bread and becomes part of Christ’s body” (283). Arcardi calls this model of the Eucharist the “Sacramental Impanation model” (283).
Situated against the backdrop of other views, Arcadi’s proposal fits well with Anglican and Eastern Orthodox understandings of the Eucharist (290). I would add that Reformed churches could also affirm much or perhaps all of what Arcadi argues. Churches that maintain a memorial view of the Eucharist would find that Arcadi’s view conflicts with theirs.
Arcadi does not so much prove his argument as he does deduce it from accepted truths. In other words, he takes it as a given that Chalcedonian statements of Christ are true and can therefore apply the same sort of argument to the Eucharist.
Most Christians would affirm Arcadi’s starting point but may not follow his deductions. Actually, Arcadi does not intend to argue for a certain position. He supplies a fitting description of what happens with the Eucharist based on accepted teachings. Hence, his project illustrates the faith seeking understanding approach to theology. He believes; therefore he thinks about what his belief means.
To build his case, he first lays out his assumptions before exegeting the key biblical texts on the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper. Afterwards, he uses speech act theory to describe what happened when Jesus (or what happens when an ecclesial leader) says of the bread and wine: “this is my body, and this is my blood.”
Then he gets to the heart of his metaphysical argument, namely, that Christ is present in the bread, like Christ’s divinity unites to his humanity in the incarnation.
Lest one accuse Arcadi of cannibalism, however, he sees this real relationship as a sacramental relationship (or as a sacramental impanation). In simpler words, the elements point to Christ. A certain relationship obtains here, namely, that God can use earthly vessels in a special way by making them holy; by making them ready for God’s use. Christ participates in the bread and wine (see 1 Cor 10:16).
The tabernacle, the burning bush, and elements within Israel’s worship system became holy so that God could use such objects and thus become present in them. God met Israel in the tent of meeting, which he made holy by doing activity there. The omnipresent God can become locally present in the way described above by sanctifying objects and using them for his ends (see 100–103).
Arcadi explains, “As God is present in such holy locations as the midst of the Unburnt Bush, the Mercy Seat, and Christ’s human nature, so too can we say that God is there in the Eucharist” (288). Thus he sees the same kind of relationship happening in the Eucharist. God (or Christ) actively works in the bread and wine, making himself present in it.
Arcadi understands that he is not explicating the mystery of the Eucharist fully here. Yet he sees his argument as being just as understandable as the Chalcedonian Definition on Christ’s two natures.
While Arcadi has successfully articulated how Christ can be present in the Eucharist given certain assumptions about the Eucharist, it is unlikely that his work would convince someone who does not already share his prior convictions. In fact, this fits with Arcadi’s purpose in writing. He aims to help those who already believe something to further explain what it is that they believe.
Still, someone holding to the memorial view of the Eucharist might find his or her understanding sharpened. And such a person would certainly benefit from Arcadi’s careful exegesis of the key texts on the Eucharist (or the Lord’s Supper).
His argument, for example, that John 13–16 answers the same basic problem of Jesus’ absence that the Synoptics do during the Last Supper adds clarity to Jesus’ teachings. John 13 portrays the Last Supper and Christ’s “going away,” yet he tells his disciples that he will be present with them through the Holy Spirit (John 14–16). In this way, John’s Gospel adds a certain richness to our understanding of how Christ becomes present to us in his absence.
Who should read this book? Arcadi’s work will not reach a broad audience. His analytic theological and philosophical mode of writing will appeal to a specialist in these fields. The book may also appeal to those desiring a more robust understanding of the Eucharist (or the Lord’s Supper).
Arcadi challenged me to think carefully about what the Lord’s Supper and its meaning. He also carefully exegeted the key texts, drawing me to a closer study of what the Bible says. In this sense, he enriched my understanding of Scripture. He also provided me tools to explain what Jesus meant when he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.”
For these reasons, I cautiously recommend Arcadi’s book for academics and those inclined to detailed explanations.
Arcadi, James M. An Incarnational Model of the Eucharist. Cambridge University Press, 2018.
Disclosure: the publisher provided me a copy of the book to review without an obligation for a positive review.