Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cross, Calvin and Causal Presence

In an interesting recent article Richard Cross has argued that a body may be said to be substantially present at a place distinct from the place that it occupies if it brings about immediate causal changes at that distinct place. (Richard Cross, ‘Catholic, Calvinist, and Lutheran Doctrines of Eucharistic Presence: A Brief Note towards a Rapprochement’, International Journal of Systematic Theology, Volume 4 Number 3, November 2002) He uses this argument in an endeavour to develop a plausible and coherent account of Eucharistic presence, one that would have an attraction to both Roman Catholic and Lutheran views, and one that (he believes) fits the views of Calvin especially well. In this piece I shall briefly examine the appeal that his proposal might have had to Calvin, or might have to someone who follows Calvin’s general approach to the Supper.

Cross says about his proposal

Christ’s body is definitively present at a place, on this view, if it is both directly or immediately causing a specific effect at that place and yet not spatially present at the place. After all, definitive presence is taken to entail that the whole of the definitively present object is present in each part of the place at which it is present – something Aquinas explicitly affirms about Christ’s bodily presence in the Eucharist. And it is hard to see how this condition could be met in any way other than by talking about the whole body causing an effect at each part of the place where it is present. Thus far, then, Christ’s body is definitively present at a place at which it fails to be spatially present if it is directly or immediately causing some particular effect at that place.

He holds that this gives us a sense of bodily presence that is somewhat weaker than Aquinas’s, for it does not entail transubstantiation, and in any case he thinks that Aquinas’s view is not altogether clear.

Suppose Christ’s body is capable – by some means or another – of producing an effect at a distance from its spatial location, and that this production can be immediate. And let us suppose that it does so in the Eucharist. If my analysis is correct, this entails that Christ’s body is substantially present in the Eucharist – even though this substantial presence amounts to no more than (immediate) causal presence. In the case of immediate action at a distance, causal presence is a kind of substantial presence; substantial presence, in the case of immediate action at a distance, is reducible to causal presence of this kind.

He gives as the example of bodily presence the case of a cat that has the power of torturing a mouse existing on some far distant planet. It would be plausible, he thinks, when it exercises that power, for the cat to be thought of as being immediately present on that planet. So Cross subscribes to the following principle

Principle S - If a physical object has immediate physical effects at any place distant from its location then it is substantially present there.

With Cross’s help we need to distinguish further between mediate and immediate presence understood in this causal fashion. A king may be causally present in all parts of his kingdom, through his deputies and plenipotentiaries, but not substantially present. Why not substantially present? Because in such an instance his presence is mediated through his representatives. It is not immediate. In the same way, I suppose, the presence of a person’s voice in a room is not a case of the causal presence of that person in the required sense if it is only heard through a radio. As we have noted, Cross supposes a body that may immediately cause effects at some place distant from the substance itself. If so, then such a substance can be substantially present at more than one place, if it produces immediate effects at more than one place simultaneously, just as it can be said to be causally present at more than one place.

There is some reason to doubt the cogency of this: Cross’s argument is that there is need to distinguish such immediate presence from the mode of presence proper to a substance that causes effects at a distance only mediately. There is of course a need to make that distinction, but it may be considered to be stretching things to suppose that whereas mediate causal effects do not entail substantial presence immediate causal effects do. Why are there not simply two modes of the action of such bodies, one immediate and the other mediate, without the need to invoke the idea of substantial presence in the case of immediate presence? Invoking the idea of such presence here seems gratuitous, or a case of special pleading. Perhaps we may leave this doubt to one side. If we are troubled by it, however, then perhaps we are denied the conclusion that the body of the risen and ascended Christ could be substantially present at the Eucharist, and that must be considered a defect if we are attempting by it to make a contribution to debates about the mode of Christ’s bodily presence. We shall return to the matter later. Cross is not trying to smuggle anything in at this point. He recognises that on his view Christ’s substantial presence amounts to no more than immediate causal presence.

But even if we allow this account of presence to be a case of substantial presence then why is it a view of substantial bodily presence? We see that Cross needs the idea of substantial presence in order to make possible this further step, from immediate bodily effects to substantial bodily presence. So (he claims) substantial bodily presence is the immediate causal consequence of a body at a place when it is not spatially located at that place. But is he entitled to this claim? Once again this seems to be stretching the idea of substantiality. Of course there’s a sense in which ‘substantial’ is used in a concessive sense, as equivalent (roughly) to ‘mostly but not entirely’, as in ‘my views are substantially the same as yours’, but Cross needs a tighter view of substantial than this, one that is essentialist in character, to give him a serous view of real bodily presence, as he himself recognizes.

What is interesting to me, however, is that he thinks that this view is applicable to Calvin. He believes that while the account summarized above falls short of Aquinas’s view, for reasons that are not relevant here, it has most in common with Calvin’s doctrine. Here is what Cross says on this.

Clearly, the sort of eucharistic presence that I have been describing has most in common with Calvin’s doctrine. Calvin teaches, as I am here, that Christ’s body is indeed present in the Eucharist by – in effect – acting at a distance. Responding to Westphal’s Lutheran account of the matter, Calvin proposes the following:

Christ, while remaining in heaven, descends to us by his virtue . . . When I say that Christ descends by his virtue, I deny that I am substituting something different, which has the effect of abolishing the gift of the body, for I am simply explaining the mode in which it is given . . . I say that by that body which hung on the cross our souls are invigorated with spiritual life . . . But as distance of place seems to be an obstacle, preventing the virtue of Christ’s flesh from reaching us, I explain the difficulty by saying that Christ, without changing place, descends to us by his virtue.

Cross comments

Virtue here is power, so the claim in effect is that Christ ‘descends to us by his power’ by causing a spiritual effect in the believer, while remaining spatially present in heaven. This seems to me to be a clear enough assertion of immediate action at a distance, amounting to the view that Christ’s body is causally present by causing an effect in the believer. Indeed, Calvin asserts that, in the Eucharist Christ ‘united things disjoined by space’, and makes it clear that it is specifically Christ’s flesh that has the causal effect in the believer: ‘Human flesh [viz. Christ’s flesh] is endued with spiritual virtue, so as to give life to our souls.’

It is this suggestion that I should like to test out.

Even in the case of Calvin, Cross encounters difficulties in successfully deploying his idea, because, as he points out, Calvin is reluctant (this is I believe is rather an understatement, as we shall see), to infer from the causal presence of Christ, and therefore from the causal presence of Christ’s body, that his body is substantially present at the Eucharist. More fundamentally, Calvin wishes to reject the view that the presence is bodily in character.

Cross cites Calvin as follows

To the giving of the body, its presence is not at all requisite: for as I have already explained, the obstacle arising from the distance of space is surmounted by the boundless energy of the Spirit. We both [i.e. Calvin and Westphal] acknowledge that the body is given; but I hold that a bodily presence is thence erroneously inferred.

So Calvin is saying that Christ is really present by the energy of the Spirit, that is, spiritually present, and therefore (in a sense) mediately present, but not bodily present, thereby falling foul of Cross’s requirement for substantiality. By contrast Cross thinks that Calvin can be said to hold the view that Christ is immediately bodily present by the causal power of his body. These are very important differences and it is hard to see that they are due to mere terminological misunderstanding, as Cross claims. He says

Calvin’s account differs from mine, however, in two very important ways, ways that are fundamentally, but not wholly, terminological. The first is that Calvin is reluctant to infer from the causal presence of Christ’s body that it is substantially present (‘I have classed among opinions to be rejected the idea that the body of Christ is really and substantially present in the Supper’), or that its substance is present (‘It is one thing to believe that the body of Christ is truly given to us, and another, that his substance is placed under the earthly elements’). The second is that Calvin wants to reject the view that the presence is in any sense bodily.

Cross’s reply to this is

These claims seem to me to be a defect, since I do not see, other than by
denying these claims, how to distinguish Christ’s immediate causal presence from merely mediate causal presence – the kind of causal but not substantial presence that a king has throughout his kingdom. It may not, however, be much more than a terminological difference, since I anyway want to reduce substantial presence in this case to causal presence. And it is a defect that is easily explained by the context in which Calvin was writing. For it was important for him, for controversial purposes, to try to distinguish his position as sharply as possible from that of Westphal, his Lutheran opponent. As Calvin understands Westphal, the Lutheran’s position involves the view that the substance of Christ’s body is present in such a way that, in effect, it causes its result by some kind of spatial contact. And if this is what substantial presence is, then Calvin (rightly) wants to reject it.

Let us try to assess this treatment of Calvin’s view. In doing this we shall leave aside, not considering it directly, a central feature of Cross’s project, that it is an account of the physical efficacy of Christ’s body. It does not seem to me that what Calvin is remotely after, what he is at all interested in, in his account of the Supper, is any account of Christ’s body that has anything to do with the physical efficacy of that body in the faithful partaking in the Supper. Calvin simply does not think in these terms. As we have seen, he thinks in terms of spiritual virtue mediated by the Holy Spirit. But let us leave this to one side and simply assume that this is a mistake.

At this point one cannot help noticing a certain strain in the sequence of the argument. First, Cross extends the idea of physical substantial presence to include immediate causal efficacy. Then he notes that Calvin himself would object to the idea of Christ’s physical presence at the Eucharist, and then finally he suggests that this important objection is mainly, though not wholly, terminological, and that Calvin is denying himself the distinction between immediate and mediate causal effects. But why should Calvin permit himself to follow this rather dog-legged route? Why not deny physical substantial presence, in any sense, ab initio, as in fact he seems to do? Further it is not at all clear that he denies Cross’s distinction between mediate and immediate causal presence. He may, quite consistently with his view, allow it, but simply deny that even immediate causal presence entails substantiality. There may be a good reason of a general metaphysical kind to make the distinction. But deploying the distinction, or resorting to it at Cross’s prompting, does not arise as a live option for Calvin since he has no interest in an account of Christ’s physical presence at the Eucharist to begin with. Allowing that Christ’s immediate causal presences were a case of substantial presence would certainly blur his case against the Lutherans. For Calvin, the real presence is only a spiritual presence.

Cross’s idea seems to be that Calvin, in affirming a doctrine of the real presence of Christ, cannot affirm that reality as a bodily reality since he thinks that bodily presence entails spatial presence. But the fact is that he is less than keen to think of the real presence in bodily terms to begin with. Calvin is not following this trajectory. He is not hankering after an account of substantial bodily presence and what it entails.

There are two further reasons for thinking that this is not Calvin’s trajectory. For him it is not that if he could find a metaphysical gap between Lutheranism and Zwinglianism (say) he would use that gap to squeeze through an account of Christ’s physical presence at the Supper. This is clear, first of all, from his repeated rejection, particularly in his writings against the Lutherans, of the idea of a ‘carnal presence’. Calvin’s style is typically to play off carnal i.e. physical presence against spiritual (i.e. Holy Spiritual) presence, as in this:

As if we were denying that the body of Christ is substantially eaten, by insisting, that he can effect our salvation in a different manner by the agency of his Spirit. Our argument is, first, that when a thing is not necessary, it ought not to be pertinaciously contended for; and secondly that the mode of communication must be learned from the common doctrine of Scripture.

It is true that one general argument Calvin uses to turn down the idea of carnal presence has to do with the necessarily local nature of bodies, including Christ’s human body. It is this metaphysical truth which he believes undermines both transubstantiation and consubstantiation. It might be expressed as follows:

Principle L - N (If a physical object is located at place P at time T, then it cannot also be physically present at a place other than P at that time)

Calvin frequently emphasizes this metaphysical aspect. I say that he holds that this is a necessary truth, but he does not actually say that it is. At one point in his exposition of the Lord’s Supper in the Institutes he does say that ‘the body with which Christ rose is declared, not by Aristotle, but by the Holy Spirit, to be finite, and to be contained in heaven until the last day’. Yet perhaps it would not be stretching things too much to say that he takes the Holy Spirit to be making a modal point regarding body and place every bit as much as did Aristotle.

From this it may seem that if an account of bodily presence could be offered that denied Principle L (as Cross believes that his own proposal does, or might) then Calvin would favour it, though this belief seems to presuppose that Calvin holds this metaphysical position reluctantly. Perhaps he might favour Cross’s proposal, were it not that he has besides this general argument a host of Scriptural data which, he believes, favours his much more pneumatic account of Christ’s real presence. It is highly likely that if he were to be apprised of Cross’s suggestion about causal presence, he would simply regard this as an extension of the idea of ‘carnal presence’, for the presence in question is clearly intended to be that of a bodily, physical effect.

The second argument is to note the prominence that Calvin gives, in his account of what he understands to be the real presence of Christ at the Supper, to the totus-totum distinction. In fact a key element in Calvin's discussion of the sense in which the whole Christ may be present at a place, though not physically present there, (since his human nature is localized in heaven), is his use of this distinction between two kinds of presence, or two understandings of presence, totus ubique, sed non totum. Calvin takes this from Lombard, referring to it in one place as a 'trite' distinction.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the distinction can also be found in Thomas Aquinas, and no doubt elsewhere. In discussing the simplicity of God, Thomas considers the objection that if he is simple it must be possible to comprehend God, since what is simple, having no parts, must be understood as a whole. ‘Therefore, if he were simple, he would be attained as a whole by the blessed, but what is attained as a whole is comprehended’. But of course it is fundamental that the creature cannot comprehend the Creator, and so, the objection runs, God cannot be simple. To which Aquinas responds by deploying the totus-totum distinction. The blessed attain to the whole God, but not wholly. The argument is to grant that since he is simple, God does not have parts, but nevertheless since he is infinite that simplicity cannot be comprehended by the creature. 'It should be said that the whole God is attained by the mind of the blessed but not wholly, because of the mode of the divine knowability infinitely exceeds the mode of created intellect’. This application of the distinction is rather different from Calvin’s, who is arguing that although Jesus Christ has parts, the whole Christ is nevertheless present at the Supper even though ‘all that is Christ’, his human nature, and particularly his human body, is not and cannot be present.

Reference to the distinction occurs quite frequently in Calvin’s discussions of the Supper and though he may consider it to be trite it nevertheless plays a critical role in his defence of his own views, as in this paragraph from his Introduction to his Commentary on Jeremiah.

But Christ, it is said, sits at the Father’s right hand, which is to be taken as meaning, everywhere, confined within no limits. I indeed allow that God’s right hand is unlimited, and that wherever it is there is the kingdom of Christ; which is metaphorically represented in Scripture by the term sitting: for whatever is declared of God is beyond controversy to be now ascribed to Christ; and therefore to sit, which means to govern the world, is what Christ has in common with the Father; and still more, as the Father by him sustains the world, rules all things by his power, and especially manifests the presence of His grace in governing His Church, He may be said, strictly speaking, to reign in His own person. It hence follows, that He is in a manner everywhere; for He can be limited by no place who sustains and protects all parts of heaven and earth, and rules and regulates by His power all things above and below. When now I name Christ, I include the whole Person of his only-begotten Son, as manifested in the flesh. He, I say, God and man, is everywhere as to His authority and incomprehensible power, and infinite glory, according to what the faithful experience by evident effects, as they know and feel His presence. It is not then without reason, that Paul declares, that he dwells in us. (Eph. 3.17) But to distort what is said of His infinite power, which is evident in His spiritual gifts, in the invisible aid which he affords, and in the whole of our salvation, and apply it to his flesh, is by no means reasonable or consistent.

I wish that many of those who are with little reason angry with us, were at least to recall to mind that common and notable saying used in the Papal Schools, “Christ is whole everywhere, but not altogether” (Christus ubique totus est, sed non totum). They may reject it as it is in the barbarous language of Peter Lombard, which is not pleasant to their tender and delicate ears. It is yet wisely expressed, from whomsoever it may have come, and I willingly adopt it.

The basic distinction is conveyed by the use of the masculine and neuter forms of totus, the whole, and it is used to highlight two ways in which Christ may be referred to: as he is the whole Christ, and as he is wholly Christ. The whole Christ (totus) is God and man understood concretely, a person with two natures. The whole Christ is everywhere, and so it is possible that by his Spirit he is really present in the Supper. The whole Christ was wholly present during his earthly ministry. But the whole Christ is not now wholly present at any place on earth, since his body is located in heaven. Nonetheless, according to the distinction, although the whole Christ cannot be present, nevertheless Christ may be wholly present.

Whatever one thinks of this distinction and of Calvin’s use of it here, it might be said to be tailor-made (as far as he is concerned) to enable him to avow a doctrine of the real presence of Christ while disavowing any suggestion of a physical, ‘carnal’, presence.

It is true that Calvin could deploy the totus – totum distinction even were he to adopt Cross’s proposal, for that proposal gives a sense of bodily substantial presence which implies distance from where Christ’s body is located. So it is consistent with Principle S, but nevertheless it is clearly intended by Calvin to uphold Principle L. Calvin uses it to deny that the sort of real presence that, when properly understood, entails bodily presence; it entails real presence but not that mode of presence, a mode of physical presence, which Richard Cross is advocating on his behalf.

In his discussions with Westphal Calvin repeatedly claims that his aim is not to deny the real presence of Christ in the Supper, but to understand its ‘mode of reception’, as he puts it. It is spiritual presence, in two senses, in the sense that Christ’s divine nature is omnipresent, and his Spirit unites us to his body, and to his entire human nature.

I acknowledge, however, that by the virtue of his Spirit and his own divine essence, he not only fills heaven and earth, but also miraculously unites us with himself in one body, so that that flesh, although it remains in heaven, is our food. Thus I teach that Christ, though absent from the body, is nevertheless not only present with us by his divine energy, which is everywhere diffused, but also makes his flesh give life to us. For seeing he penetrates to us by the secret influence of his Spirit, it is not necessary, as we have elsewhere said, that he should descend bodily.

He is so far removed from Cross’s idea of substantiality as immediate causal efficacy that on occasion he seems equally to stress that enjoying the real presence of Christ is not so much a matter of Christ descending as it is a matter of faithful partakers of the Supper being lifted up. So ‘the minds of believers…are raised by faith above the world, and Christ, by the agency of his Spirit, removing the obstacle which distances of space might occasion, conjoins us with his members’ ; true and real communion ‘consists in our ascent to heaven, and requires no other descent in Christ than that of spiritual grace’. From a purely logical point of view, such language might be anticipated from what we have already learned of Calvin’s view. For if Christ’s presence it mediated by his Spirit, it is as possible for the Spirit to mediate the faithful to Christ as it is to mediate Christ to the faithful.

It seems that on both metaphysical grounds and in terms of Calvin’s overall motivation, Cross’s proposal would meet with an emphatic rejection from the French Reformer: ‘Non! C’est impossible!’