“Insofar as Protestantism denies transubstantiation,” writes Douglas Farrow in Ascension Theology, it collapses into idealism and subjectivism, turns eschatology into utopianism, reduces ecclesiology to secular politics. Without transubstantiation, Protestants appear before God empty-handed, or make the eucharistic offering “something of our own, something offered alongside of Christ rather than in, with, and through Christ. ’Unholy fire’ upon the altar of God.”
A weighty charge, and one with a good deal of truth, but qualified: By transubstantiation, Farrow doesn’t mean “the terms or the particulars of medieval metaphysics” but instead “the eucharistic realism of John 6.” That qualification evacuates the charge, because of course much classic Protestantism has never denied eucharistic realism. What was Marburg about, after all? What Farrow is attacking is Zwinglianism, or the insipid shadow of Calvin that one finds in too many Reformed churches.
And the notion that Protestantism treats the eucharistic offering as something “alongside” rather than “in” Christ is extraordinary. Calvin, to be sure, didn’t think the elements constituted an offering, nor did Luther. But Calvin did speak of the eucharistic offering of praise and self-gift, and the notion that this self-gift is “something of our own” clashes with everything Calvin ever wrote. We have nothing of our own – that’s the whole point of the Protestant protest.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 4:52 am
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