Damian Thompson asks “Can anything stop Catholic infighting?” in the Catholic Herald. A call to both sides to wake up and smell the incense.
Says things like, “First, liberal Catholics must accept that they’re not going to get women priests or gay marriage. Ever.” And that “traditionalists must stop fantasising that one day the whole Catholic world will return to the ‘timeless’ Latin rituals of the pre-conciliar Church.”
Whatever you think of those, it was his last point that is of general interest.
Finally, the Church needs to face up honestly to people’s fundamental objection to the Catholic faith. It has very little to do with sexual scandals or styles of worship. The problem is that doctrines such as transubstantiation and the Virgin Birth are hard to believe. These teachings are not negotiable — but, at the same time, they are less plausible to modern people than they were to our ancestors, whose imaginations were formed by societies that were naturally receptive to miracles and metaphysics.
It’s my impression non-Christian readers have little trouble believing in the Virgin Birth; or, rather, in believing that a woman who has not had sexual intercourse can give birth. With today’s daily reports of medical marvels and prodigies, human parthenogenesis can’t seem especially amazing.
Of course, that Jesus was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and not from some crude First Century form of IVF, atheists don’t believe by definition. Atheists and agnostics would, or should, acknowledge that if God existed He could very well impregnate whomever He chose; so that saying “I don’t believe in the Virgin Birth” is little different than saying “I don’t believe in God.”
Although I’m sure many scoff (weakly) at the Virgin Birth, my guess is the real sticking point is and always was transubstantiation. From John, Chapter 6:
[Jesus said, “]I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him…”
Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”…
As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
That asterisk led to this fun footnote: “Eats: the verb used in these verses is not the classical Greek verb used of human eating, but that of animal eating: ‘munch,’ ‘gnaw.’ This may be part of John’s emphasis on the reality of the flesh and blood of Jesus, but the same verb eventually became the ordinary verb in Greek meaning ‘eat.'”
That a chunk of unleavened, non-gluten-free bread is held up by a priest, some hocus pocus (hoc est corpus meum) is uttered, and God miraculously transforms that bread into the actual flesh of Jesus, and the same for some wine into blood, is what strikes most as preposterous.
Yes, a hard saying. Who can believe it?
When confronted by it the three choices are: leave, like the would-be apostles did; pretend Jesus was kidding and was speaking in a symbolic way, as we moderns do. But if what Jesus said was meant to be symbolic, why did so many run off? Why didn’t Jesus say, “Come on back, guys! I didn’t mean it literally!”?
Of you can believe that the substance of the bread is changed at the level most fundamental, at the level below the quantum, below strings, below every physical thing. It is no longer bread substantially, but the quite literal body of the living God, with only some “accidents” like color and so forth remaining.
Well, substances must exist, as we proved in this series. And since substances must exist, they must be brought about somehow, and that somehow, given these are universals, can only be God.
Again, I don’t think any atheist would object that if God existed, He could certainly change whatever substance He wanted. So we’re really back to the more basic question. Which means I’m not positive Thompson is right. But I’ll let the atheists tell us.
Incidentally, I can hear the jokes already. I answer with another joke. It’s only cannibalism if you’re eating a member of your own species.