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” 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:
- Use of the word misleads Protestants
- 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.”
Pretty much; the opposite of ‘literally’ is ‘figuratively’. Jesus is not ‘figuratively’ present in the Eucharist…