Literal or not?


#1

In my bible study we were discussing the old testament. My instructor was talking about how some of the stories written were written with an “audience” in mind. Therefore, a lot of what is written can’t be take as “fact”. Some of the stories are embellished to make a point or to get a message across to a certain group of people.

So when we come to the last supper, there is much discussion between faiths on if the body and blood is actually true body and true blood. The Catholic church takes it literally. Other faiths say it’s a symbolic. Jesus spoke in parables often, using symbolism and metaphors…it’s all so confusing.

So how do we determine what we should take literal and what we shouldn’t when it comes to the Bible?


#2

This is why the Christian faith is not a faith of the book, but of Jesus, the apostles, and the Church as guided by the people that Christ gave control of His Church with the Help of the Holy Spirit. Or in the words of Pope Leo XIII, in his Encyclical “Providentissimus Deus”, where he insisted on the difficulty of rightly interpreting the Bible. “It must be observed”, he wrote,

that in addition to the usual reasons which make ancient writings more or less difficult to understand, there are some which are peculiar to the Bible. For the language of the Bible is employed to express, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, many things which are beyond the power and scope of the reason of man — that is to say, Divine mysteries and all that is related to them. There is sometimes in such passages a fullness and a hidden depth of meaning which the letter hardly expresses and which the laws of grammatical interpretation hardly warrant. Moreover, the literal sense itself frequently admits other senses, adapted to illustrate dogma or to confirm morality. Wherefore, it must be recognized that the Sacred Writings are wrapt in a certain religious obscurity, and that no one can enter into their interior without a guide; God so disposing, as the Holy Fathers commonly teach, in order that men may investigate them with greater ardour and earnestness, and that what is attained with difficulty may sink more deeply into the mind and heart; and, most of all, that they may understand that God has delivered the Holy Scripture to the Church, and that in reading and making use of His word, they must follow the Church as their guide and their teacher.


#3

The Catechism explains it well. In regard to Jesus

126 We can distinguish three stages in the formation of the Gospels:

  1. the life and teaching of Jesus. the Church holds firmly that the four Gospels, "whose historicity she unhesitatingly affirms, faithfully hand on what Jesus, the Son of God, while he lived among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation, until the day when he was taken up."99
  2. the oral tradition. "For, after the ascension of the Lord, the apostles handed on to their hearers what he had said and done, but with that fuller understanding which they, instructed by the glorious events of Christ and enlightened by the Spirit of truth, now enjoyed."100
  3. the written Gospels. "The sacred authors, in writing the four Gospels, selected certain of the many elements which had been handed on, either orally or already in written form; others they synthesized or explained with an eye to the situation of the churches, the while sustaining the form of preaching, but always in such a fashion that they have told us the honest truth about Jesus."101

#4

The answer is quite simple: Talk it over with a priest and believe him! Anything you will get on the internet is mere opinion. Even if your respondant says he is a priest, how are you to know if that’s true? Only a priest, face to face can give you a proper answer.


#5

A priest once told me that the Catholic Church interprets “literally” only the parts of the
bible that refer to the sacraments. The protestants, on the other hand, interpret all of the
bible literally. That does not mean that the Catholic Church does not instruct and guide
about the meaning of scripture.
Where is the confusion? It is the protestants who interpret literally and can each come out
with different “takes” on the same scripture.


#6

well, sorry to say, but if that is true, than anyone could conceivably interrupt ANY verse in order to justify their opinions on a particular matter.


#7

Think of it this way… Jesus taught this disciples the Truth. That’s why we they teach us the correct interpretation.


#8

Someone correct if I’m wrong, but I think you should get the NRSV-CE Catholic Teen Bible, Third Edition. I have the Spanish edition and it is very helpful.
Also, priests are human and can make mistakes.
But they do know a lot about the Church, just not everything. Though if they don’t know the answer to a question, they usually won’t make it up.

But personally, I (don’t think I) have ever heard a priest give incorrect information about the Church.

Personal views on topics are, of course, a whole different thing.


#9

Laura2287 #1 Literal or not?
In my bible study we were discussing the old testament.
So when we come to the last supper, there is much discussion between faiths on if the body and blood is actually true body and true blood. The Catholic church takes it literally. Other faiths say it’s a symbolic. Jesus spoke in parables often, using symbolism and metaphors…it’s all so confusing.

The Catholic Church is crystal clear on the reality that Christ declared emphatically on the fact that He changed bread and wine into His Body and Blood and gave that power to His Apostles when ordaining them priests, at the Last Supper.

So how on earth could it be confusing to a Catholic? Only those who don’t assent to Christ’s teaching could fall into that ginormous error.

The clarity and directness of Christ – “This IS My Body” at the Last Supper after carefully teaching in Jn 6:51: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh," establishes the reality.

Jn 6:55: For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. And many walked no more with Him. (Jn 6:66). Did he say “you misunderstood Me”? No, He let them go – take note.

Then, to make absolutely certain there was no mistaking what He was saying, Jesus said to the Twelve, “What about you, do you want to go away too?” To which Simon Peter replied, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe” (John 6:59-68).

With Christ’s teaching on His Body to eat and His Blood to drink, He made sure that this was not misunderstood by:

  1. Reemphasizing His teaching and refusing to change it even when many left Him
  2. By questioning, ensuring that His Apostles, with Peter the basis of His Church, understood and assented to His teaching – so clear as to His meaning – that the doubters left Him.

So how do we determine what we should take literal and what we shouldn’t when it comes to the Bible?

By knowing what the Catholic Church teaches. Study the CCC and don’t be misled by anyone else.
“Bible studies” with non-Catholics are fraught with danger as so many are misled.


#10

But personally, I (don’t think I) have ever heard a priest give incorrect information about the Church.

I wish I could say the same. Regretfully, I cannot.


#11

The frequent claim by Catholics that they believe the Eucharist to be Jesus’ “literal” body and blood frustrates me, not only because if true this would in fact be ritual cannibalism, but because the teaching of transubstantiation as promulgated by the Church and explained most fully by Thomas Aquinas doesn’t seem “literal” to me at all. Real, yes. Literal, no.

Christ is present, according to Aquinas, in the mode of substance, not under His natural dimensions. How is that literal?

Actually, I’m increasingly uncertain that the word “literal” has any real meaning. I almost wish we could just retire it.

Edwin


#12

Let’s make the distinction in another way, then: Real? Yes. Literal? Yes. Physically? No, sacramentally!

The Real Presence in the Eucharist is a literal reality; Christ is present, sacramentally, in the sacred species. His substance replaces the substance of the bread and wine.

Christ is present, according to Aquinas, in the mode of substance, not under His natural dimensions. How is that literal?

How is it not?

If the teaching were that it were analogously or purely symbolically so, then I could see your point. But, as it were, Aquinas is making a philosophical argument: real things exist substantially (what they are) and accidentally (what physical properties they have). Christ exists in the Eucharist substantially but not accidentally. How is that not ‘literal’? :hmmm:


#13

Cannibalism is the eating of the dead flesh of another human being. We are consuming the living Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of God (in an unbloody way), who commanded us to do so. We are eating the Paschal Lamb, who died once, but is now and forever living so that no matter how much we consume, He will never die. Eating the Eucharist and cannibalism are two completely different things.

As to your second point. Consider the case of a pair of identical twins, Bob and Joe. Bob has ALL the accidents of Joe, and yet he is not Joe (the substance). Bob is 6 foot, just like Joe, has identical hair, has brown eyes just like Joe, weighs 190 pounds just like Joe, has big dimples when he smiles just like Joe. They are completely the same in their accidents. And yet, substantially, they are NOT the same.

And this goes for everyone. You may be 5’10", but 5’10" is not you. You may be 150 pounds, but 150 pounds is not you. You may be left-handed, but left-handed is not you. Funny enough, the movie Freaky Friday is a good example where the mom and daughter change bodies. Completely changing the accidents (bodies) does NOT change their substance. Of course this is just a silly movie, but the point gets across.


#14

Here is what Luke has to say about the Body and Blood of Christ. This takes place after the Resurrection. It full section is Luke 24:13-35.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
-Luke 24:28-35
This shows that the true Body and Blood of Christ is in the Eucharist and we can only truly know Christ if we receive the Eucharist as his Body and Blood of Christ. It is not just a symbol. To know the Eucharist is to know Christ, and to know Christ is to know the Eucharist.


#15

Well, there is a big difference in how the Testaments were written (and thus, interpreted). The Old Testament is a product of several thousand years; numerous authors; numerous genres; and many stories which were probably handed down via oral tradition prior being written down.

On the other hand, the New Testament was written over a period of less than 100 years, by people who were either eyewitnesses of the actual events, or who were very close to eyewitnesses. St. John 21:24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.


#16

I agree. But that means that it isn’t literal. Your use of the term “unbloody” demonstrates this.

I’m quite willing to entertain the proposition that nothing is ever literal, period–that the term is simply a bad one to use, at least in theological matters. lThe problem with Catholics saying that they believe they are literally eating the Body and Blood of Jesus is that this gets in the way of explaining to Protestants how they misunderstand transubstantiation. It’s too misleading a term–you are essentially saying, “Yes, that stereotype you have of us–we really believe it!” Better to stick with the Church’s language–the substance is transformed.

As to your second point. Consider the case of a pair of identical twins, Bob and Joe. Bob has ALL the accidents of Joe, and yet he is not Joe (the substance). Bob is 6 foot, just like Joe, has identical hair, has brown eyes just like Joe, weighs 190 pounds just like Joe, has big dimples when he smiles just like Joe. They are completely the same in their accidents. And yet, substantially, they are NOT the same.

And this goes for everyone. You may be 5’10", but 5’10" is not you. You may be 150 pounds, but 150 pounds is not you. You may be left-handed, but left-handed is not you. Funny enough, the movie Freaky Friday is a good example where the mom and daughter change bodies. Completely changing the accidents (bodies) does NOT change their substance. Of course this is just a silly movie, but the point gets across.

But in normal speech, the conjunction of the word “literal” with the word “body” evokes accidents, not substance.

I am not challenging transubstantiation. I am saying that using the word “literal” to describe something as mysterious and metaphysical as transubstantiation is extremely misleading, and may in fact even mislead the Catholic faithful themselves.

Edwin


#17

This just demonstrates the worthlessness of the term “literal.” “Literal” generally means “in the plainest possible sense, so that no further explanation or qualification is necessary.” That’s obviously not the case here. That’s my point.

The Real Presence in the Eucharist is a literal reality; Christ is present, sacramentally, in the sacred species. His substance replaces the substance of the bread and wine.

Look, you can use the word “literal” if it makes you happy, but it’s extremely misleading to people who don’t understand the complexities of transubstantiation, because it generally implies that there are no complexities.

I understand that you and other Catholics are using it to mean “real and in the fullest sense, not just symbolic or ‘spiritual’ in the weakened, subjective sense in which modern people use that word.” But I think there are better ways of getting that point across.

How is it not?

If you say that a body is literally present, you will be taken by anyone not acquainted with the technicalities of Catholic sacramental theology and Aristotelian philosophy to be speaking of the accidents. I don’t understand how that isn’t obvious. And if you have to explain that the words don’t mean what anyone without technical knowledge would think they meant, then at that point it makes no sense to say that you are speaking “literally.”

If the teaching were that it were analogously or purely symbolically so, then I could see your point. But, as it were, Aquinas is making a philosophical argument: real things exist substantially (what they are) and accidentally (what physical properties they have). Christ exists in the Eucharist substantially but not accidentally. How is that not ‘literal’? :hmmm:

How is it literal? That’s what I want to know? What does “literal” mean? Is it simply synonymous with “real” for you?

At the end of the day, language fails to describe the Mystery. So it’s a question of

  1. avoiding overtly heretical language, and
  2. using the language least likely to mislead.

There is no adequate language, because the Eucharist breaks down our normal categories (hence the brilliant approach of the medieval theologians, using Aristotelian categories in a manifestly non-Aristotelian way, which was at that time the best way to convey the mystery, and remains by default the best even today because our impoverished modern language gives us no alternatives that aren’t heretical).

Edwin


#18

That’s not the first definition of ‘literal’ that I’d reach for; as you mention, I’d take it to mean ‘real’ or ‘not symbolic’. Could you use ‘literal’ in a sentence that means ‘plainest sense’?

Look, you can use the word “literal” if it makes you happy, but it’s extremely misleading to people who don’t understand the complexities of transubstantiation

“Christ is literally present in the Eucharist.” That’s misleading? :hmmm:

And if you have to explain that the words don’t mean what anyone without technical knowledge would think they meant, then at that point it makes no sense to say that you are speaking “literally.”

By that standard, no technical discussion is ever ‘literal’. That just doesn’t make sense… :shrug:

How is it literal? That’s what I want to know? What does “literal” mean? Is it simply synonymous with “real” for you?

Pretty much; the opposite of ‘literally’ is ‘figuratively’. Jesus is not ‘figuratively’ present in the Eucharist…


#19

Certainly. “Dispensationalists take the book of Revelation literally.”

Well, they don’t, in the “literal” sense of the word “literal.” They don’t actually think that there will be a beast with seven heads and ten horns. But they insist on the meaning that their cultural and theological presuppositions make most obvious to them (that Revelation is providing them with instructions about specific events that will happen in the future, and that these instructions concern the things that concern them, like the decline of their version of conservative Protestantism).

All language is symbolic. If one takes Aquinas’s distinction between “literal” and “spiritual,” then the Real Presence is literal because the word “body” refers to the glorified Body of Christ, present under the species of bread, and not to the bread by virtue of its symbolic value. But there are complexities even here–for one thing, by Aquinas’ definition a metaphor is “literal.” And there is a sense in which the accidents of the bread are symbolic of the substance of the Body that underlies them–that’s why bread was chosen and not, say, rock (also the accidents of rock are hard on the teeth and stomach).

And as long as you clarify your use of the word “literal” in this sense, I don’t object to it.

“Christ is literally present in the Eucharist.” That’s misleading? :hmmm:

Very. It sounds as if you are saying that what appears to be bread is really human flesh, with the biological and chemical properties normally characteristic of human flesh, which we are somehow tricked into thinking is bread and wine so we won’t be grossed out. In fact, I’ve heard Catholics put it that way on this forum. Yet this is not only revolting but isn’t what Aquinas says or what the Church teaches (Aquinas explicitly says something different; the Church doesn’t get into the question as far as I know, officially, so the view I’m describing isn’t heretical, just, in my opinion, silly and unnecessarily offensive to human sensibility).

By that standard, no technical discussion is ever ‘literal’. That just doesn’t make sense… :shrug:

Well, it does by my definition. But I grant that my definition of “literal” is not, by my definition of the word, itself “literal” :o

As I said, I have problems with the notion of any language being “literal” in the sense you are defending. The word is not the thing. All words are symbolic of things. The question is: what things? The things that they are normally symbolic of, or some other thing that they are less often used to represent? The word “body” is normally a symbol of a physical object with particular properties. In the case of transubstantiation it isn’t. It’s the symbol of a substance underlying the properties that normally go with a different substance.

The sense in which Christ is “literally” present, as I said above, is that the bread itself is not simply the symbol of a body present somewhere else, but rather is in this case simply a set of properties inhering in the reality of the glorified body of Christ. But this has very little to do with what people normally mean when they say that a body is present. Aquinas says that the body is not present as in a place, and that Christ’s body under its natural dimensions is in heaven. So you could say, in a sense, that the accidents are symbols of a body that is present [in the normal way] somewhere else.

I know that I’m relying heavily on Aquinas here, and again I’m not claiming that those who take a more “literal” :wink: view are contradicting Catholic teaching. I’m just saying that they are not speaking for Catholic teaching either, since its greatest and most orthodox exponent didn’t take this position.

So I guess there are two issues here:

  1. Use of the word misleads Protestants
  2. it may indicate a view which clashes with the classic exposition of the doctrine and certainly should not be taken as the Catholic view.

In short, what I can say with confidence is that Aquinas’s view is misleadingly described as “literal.”

Edwin

Pretty much; the opposite of ‘literally’ is ‘figuratively’. Jesus is not ‘figuratively’ present in the Eucharist…


#20

Ok, but your definition here is the literal definition of what ‘literal’ does not mean: dispensationalists take the book of Revelation seriously, they take it to mean that the prophecies are real… but they take it symbolically, not literally. Might there be a better example of your assertion the use of the word ‘literal’ to mean ‘plainly’? 'cause this one just doesn’t work… :shrug:

Very. It sounds as if you are saying that what appears to be bread is really human flesh, with the biological and chemical properties normally characteristic of human flesh

I understand your objection; yet, you’re focusing on one word and making it say something that it doesn’t attempt to say – especially considering that another part of the definition of the Eucharist makes the distinction that you’re trying to throw on the word ‘literal.’ The Eucharist is sacramentally the body & blood of Christ, not physically so. The distinction you’re making – one between physical human flesh and sacramental glorified body – doesn’t hinge on its literal truth, but on the distinction of a sacramental reality. :wink:

we are somehow tricked into thinking is bread and wine so we won’t be grossed out. In fact, I’ve heard Catholics put it that way on this forum.

So have I. And they would be objectively in error in saying this. You’re not asking us to hold to inaccurate statements, just because there are Catholics who misunderstand the theology of the sacrament of the Eucharist, are you? :wink:

Well, it does by my definition. But I grant that my definition of “literal” is not, by my definition of the word, itself “literal”

LOL! :thumbsup:

All words are symbolic of things. The question is: what things? The things that they are normally symbolic of, or some other thing that they are less often used to represent? The word “body” is normally a symbol of a physical object with particular properties. In the case of transubstantiation it isn’t.

Perfect! If you recognize that words are ‘symbolic,’ in a certain sense, then you’re 99% percent of the way there! Symbols, inherently, are multivalent – what ‘snow’ symbolizes to me is probably completely different to the things it symbolizes to an Inuit or a resident of a tropical clime. Therefore, the fact that ‘body’ means one thing in one context and something else in another is precisely an example of what language is supposed to do: represent a variety of notions in a variety of contexts!

So I guess there are two issues here:

  1. Use of the word misleads Protestants

I think I would assert that it’s part of a set of religious ‘jargon’ that’s to be understood within the context that the term is being used. Is it likewise unfair to use certain other Christian-centric terminology, just because the terms are being used in a certain sense within this context? Should we quit using the term ‘Trinity’ to describe God, because this notion of a Three-in-One is counterintuitive to non-Christians? Should we require non-Catholic Christians to abandon their jargon, simply because it clashes with the way that Catholics would use the same words? Of course not…

  1. it may indicate a view which clashes with the classic exposition of the doctrine and certainly should not be taken as the Catholic view.

I think what you’re saying here is that some may take the explanation and misunderstand it. Are we to shy away from our theological language, in general, because some fail to grasp its meaning?


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