Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
"We Have Apostolic Tradition"- The Unofficial Catholic Apologist Commentary #12
09/13/2009 - James SwanCatholic apologists often let us know how crucial it is to have an infallible magisterium and church Tradition in order to interpret the Bible correctly. With so many Catholic apologists now commenting on sacred scripture, I thought it would be interesting to provide their commentary on the Bible. Let's see how they've been able to rightly divide the word of truth.
In this installment, let's take a look at John 6 according to Catholic Answers and contrast it with St. Augustine on the same text. "Catholic Answers is one of the nation's largest lay-run apostolates of Catholic apologetics and evangelization." "Augustine, the Doctor of Grace, is perhaps the greatest of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. So brilliant was his intellect that his ideas dominated Western theological and philosophical thought for a thousand years." That's quite a match up: the collective of America's great defenders of Roman Catholicism against one man living centuries ago.
So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves."
I recently read an article from Catholic Answers about John 6 and the Eucharist. Of this text, they state,
"His listeners were stupefied because now they understood Jesus literally and correctly. He again repeated his words, but with even greater emphasis, and introduced the statement about drinking his blood: 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him' (John 6:53?56)."
"Notice that Jesus made no attempt to soften what he said, no attempt to correct 'misunderstandings,' for there were none. Our Lord's listeners understood him perfectly well. They no longer thought he was speaking metaphorically."
"As Fr. John A. O'Brien explains, 'The phrase to eat the flesh and drink the blood, when used figuratively among the Jews, as among the Arabs of today, meant to inflict upon a person some serious injury, especially by calumny or by false accusation. To interpret the phrase figuratively then would be to make our Lord promise life everlasting to the culprit for slandering and hating him, which would reduce the whole passage to utter nonsense' (O'Brien, The Faith of Millions, 215)."
"Whatever else might be said, the early Church took John 6 literally. In fact, there is no record from the early centuries that implies Christians doubted the constant Catholic interpretation. There exists no document in which the literal interpretation is opposed and only the metaphorical accepted."
The last comment was substantiated by quotes from Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Interestingly, this quote from St. Augustine on interpreting John 6 didn't make the collective team:
If the sentence is one of command, either forbidding a crime or vice, or enjoining an act of prudence or benevolence, it is not figurative. If, however, it seems to enjoin a crime or vice, or to forbid an act of prudence or benevolence, it is figurative. "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man," says Christ, "and drink His blood, ye have no life in you." This seems to enjoin a crime or a vice; it is therefore a figure, enjoining that we should have a share in the sufferings of our Lord, and that we should retain a sweet and profitable memory of the fact that His flesh was wounded and crucified for us. Scripture says: "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink;" and this is beyond doubt a command to do a kindness. But in what follows, "for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head," one would think a deed of malevolence was enjoined. Do not doubt, then, that the expression is figurative; and, while it is possible to interpret it in two ways, one pointing to the doing of an injury, the other to a display of superiority, let charity on the contrary call you back to benevolence, and interpret the coals of fire as the burning groans of penitence by which a man's pride is cured who bewails that he has been the enemy of one who came to his assistance in distress. In the same way, when our Lord says, "He who loveth his life shall lose it," we are not to think that He forbids the prudence with which it is a man's duty to care for his life, but that He says in a figurative sense, "Let him lose his life" that is, let him destroy and lose that perverted and unnatural use which he now makes of his life, and through which his desires are fixed on temporal things so that he gives no heed to eternal. It is written: "Give to the godly man, and help not a sinner." The latter clause of this sentence seems to forbid benevolence; for it says, "help not a sinner." Understand, therefore, that "sinner" is put figuratively for sin, so that it is his sin you are not to help. [Source]
Let's not miss the point. I'm not discussing Augustine's view of the Eucharist or whether or not he believed in some form of transubstantiation. I'm pointing out that Augustine says John 6 is not literal, and Catholic Answers says it is. They also are in error when they state "there is no record from the early centuries that implies Christians doubted the constant Catholic interpretation" of this passage. Who decides who's right, the man whose ideas dominated Western theological and philosophical thought for a thousand years or the nation's largest lay-run apostolates of Catholic apologetics and evangelization.... or neither? Unless the magisterium decides, I guess it's up to the personal preferences of each individual Roman Catholic to understand John 6 as desired, the very thing they criticize non-Catholics of doing.