Is Luther Finally Winning?
Martin Luther was, in many ways, The Godfather of Protestantism. The movement arguably started before him, and definitely broadened courtesy of other major players such as Calvin and Zwingli, but Luther seemed to be the spark to the powder keg that would disrupt Christianity in the West to the present time.
During the 16th Century, Lutheran theologians reached out to the Patriarch of Constantinople. They saw in Eastern Orthodoxy a group much like themselves. They assumed, incorrectly, that Orthodoxy held to Protestant view and that led to the great schism of 1054. What they discovered, however, is that many of their views were, in fact, inconsistent with the faith of the early Church.
In the midst of the current Covid-19 crisis, we see that there are Orthodox theologians who espouse a perspective regarding the Eucharist that seems consistent only with Luther’s theology, and not with that of the Orthodox Church. This theology, in turn, is adopted by priests and others, especially those with little experience in theology, and the disease is spread throughout the faithful.
I can cite two pieces that may be somewhat independent, by Orthodox priests, that are guilty of espousing Lutheranism, and one by a lay scientist who then uses their perspective to spread an incorrect theology through fear of death to the faithful.
Both of the articles by the priests suffer an immediate logical flaw in asserting the those who insist that the Eucharist cannot transmit disease are guilty of Docetism. Of course, the quickest way to shut down any argument is to accuse someone of a defined heresy of the Church. In this case, Docetism. Perhaps they didn’t do well in their history classes in seminary, but it’s hard to tell. Docetism was the perspective that Christ’s human nature was a complete fiction. Nothing in His human sufferings was real.
Of course, Orthodoxy confirms that Christ’s human nature was entirely human. His suffering wasn’t a falsehood at all. However, even a shallow reading of the Gospels shows us that Christ did things that are not entirely consistent with a human nature. He was incarnate of a virgin, He walked on water, He raised the dead, healed the sick, performed any number of actions that were inconsistent with natural law. Does this make the Gospel writer Docetists? Of course not.
The next problem is that they equate the Eucharist with Christ having two natures – divine and human. To date, I’ve not been able to find any Father of the Church who correlates the two. That doesn’t mean that the Orthodox Church doesn’t hold to that correlation, but rather that I couldn’t find evidence for it.
I’m not sure why I never finished this piece, but I’ll wrap it up here. The lay scientist I refer to above, in another place, posits that those who hold the position that the Eucharist will not transmit disease are guilty of superstition. Similar to simply accusing one of a defined heresy, accusing them of being superstitious is another attempt to simply shut down argument. She then goes on to add that people holding such a view also lack scientific literacy. Given that I have a degree in Biochemistry from one of the top schools in the world in that subject, I don’t think anyone can accuse me of lacking scientific literacy. It’s interesting to note that she refers to people that “claim that one cannot get infected with respiratory viruses in the church or from sharing liturgical objects with direct contact to the human oral cavity which contains epithelial cells with capacity to harbor various pathogens”. I have to admit I am unaware of anyone who asserts you can’t get sick in Church. We know of examples of people being killed while in Church, so this perspective, assuming it isn’t simply a straw man of her making, fails on an historical basis. The latter definition is also a bit of a straw man. Nobody is asserting you can’t get infected by shared liturgical objects. The argument is that the Eucharist, given its supernatural basis, will not transmit disease. Of course, the counter argument is that we’re referring to the spoon and not the Eucharist per se, but that becomes a how many angels can dance on the head of a pin sort of argument. There are numerous quotes one can find in the fathers about the supernatural powers of the Eucharist, which can be found in various articles I reference in this post. Unfortunately, since the individual who made these comments suffers herself from a lack of theological literacy, it is unsurprising that she is unfamiliar with these teachings of various of the fathers.
Since I don’t believe I’ve quoted this elsewhere online, I think it is interesting to quote Blessed Theophylact’s commentary on the raising of the widow’s son from the Gospel according to St. Luke: “He does not perform this miracle by His word alone, but He also touches the bier, teaching us that His very Body is life. Because God the Word Who gives life to all things Himself became flesh, therefore His flesh itself is likewise life-creating, and takes away death and corruption.”
Luther, or at least the scholars that followed in his footsteps, would likely agree with those who believe that you can get sick from the Eucharist. While they believe that Christ is present in the sacrament (unlike the much more Nestorian Calvinists who absolutely would agree that communion would transmit disease), He is present along side the bread and wine, not integral to it, so presumably one could get sick via the bread and wine. Although Lutherans would agree that the material world can transmit spiritual reality, it is not clear to me that they have an understanding that God can effect physical change of the material – rendering things clean, pure, and holy. Their view of the nature of the Eucharist seem to suggest that they don’t believe in the fundamental alteration of the nature of things. The writers I cite above also seem to struggle with this belief. In fact, they seem to hold a view that God is somehow bound by the laws of nature (as we understand them). This materialist perspective is unfortunately inconsistent with Orthodoxy, and I see it spread among Orthodox I find myself wondering if Luther is winning after all this time.