Daily Archives: June 6, 2010

Melchizedek and Interfaith Questions

One of the great sources of controversy in interfaith discussion is the concept of “they worship the same God we do.”

This, of course, can lead to many dangers regarding syncretism or believing “all religions are equal,” or else it can be understood in the way Chesterton, Tolkein, Lewis and Ratzinger understand it: that those religions worship the same God we do, which should lead them to be Christian, because their revelation points to the same God.

Well, Gen 14:18-20, read at mass today, tells the story of Abraham and Melchizedek.

Now, Melichizedek is a figure of much discussion, given the three references to him in Scripture. The rabbis debate how his priesthood relates to the Aaronic priesthood, while Christians debate how his identity relates to Christ. The rabbinical tradition and the Dead Sea Scrolls seem to equate him with the Messiah, and some rabbis even claim he was born of a virgin. Gnostics equate him with Christ.

Some have said he’s Methuselah; others say he’s Shem, son of Noah.

Whatever the case, Melchizedek’s priesthood prefigures Christ’s because both are priest-kings, both offer bread and wine, etc.

Now, at the base of a lot of these controversies is the priesthood of Melchizedek, during the time of Abraham, outside the Old Law. We’re used to thinking, after all, that the direct line of patriarchs from Adam to Noah to Abraham are the only ones who count.

Here’s the passage pertaining Melchizedek’s priesthood:
“being a priest of God Most High, he blessed Abram ” (Gen 14:18).

Now, here’s what strikes me about this particular passage today: we tend to emphasize the fact that Melchizedek is a priest, and question how he got to be one. Of course, the extrabiblical tradition and implication of Hebrews 7:3 imply that Melchizedek was always a priest, but that’s not what I’m focusing on here.

Instead of focusing on the fact that Melchizedek was a priest–there were lots of “priests” in those days–we should be focusing on the fact that Melchizedek of “God Most High,” or “Elohim.”

So, in other words, Abram went to Melchizedek, as opposed to other priests, because Melchizedek was actually a priest in the service of Elohim. Abraham was not the only worshipper of Elohim in the Near East at the time, and we know of course that all of Abraham’s descedants, not just those of Isaac, and not just the descedants of Jacob, worshipped Elohim to some degree. Sadly, Elohim was worshipped among other gods, but of course monotheism had not been formally commanded yet.

Even in the Hebrew tradition, the emphasis was on Elohim’s role as a household God: “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

So, it is possible, even among the pagans, to find people who are worshippers of Elohim. And if that was possible in the Near East, shouldn’t it also be possible among other languages, as well?

It is also interesting that, while the rabbinical tradition tries to explain how Melchizedek might not have been a “Gentile”, the priesthood of Melchizedek prefigures the Christian priesthood precisely by including the Gentiles.

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Thoughts on Corpus Christi, inspired by the EWTN homily

Last year, I wrote a response to a Vox Nova blogger who was claiming that it is heresy to refer to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist as “physical.” In response to this fellow and some other followers of Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ, I read Pope Paul VI’s encyclical _Mysterium Fidei_, which explicitly condemns Rahner’s theory of the eucharist but doesn’t identify Rahner by name.

Not sure if I quoted this, but Fr. Mark on EWTN quoted from _Mysterium Fidei_ in his Corpus Christi homily today:

For what now lies beneath the aforementioned species is not what was there before, but something completely different; and not just in the estimation of Church belief but in reality, since once the substance or nature of the bread and wine has been changed into the body and blood of Christ, nothing remains of the bread and the wine except for the species—beneath which Christ is present whole and entire in His physical “reality,” corporeally present, although not in the manner in which bodies are in a place.

There you have, it folks. Christ is present in the Eucharist in His “physical” reality.

Even though he meant it in reference to con- versus transubstantiation, there is definitely a lot of truth to C. S. Lewis’s comment that Jesus said, “Take, and eat”, not “take and understand.”

We must accept that the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Christ, and that the bread and wine are no longer there, and that it really is Christ. Sometimes, if we do more than that, theologically speaking, we’re sinning against faith.

This actually gets to a point about theology itself. There are basically two motives for studying theology. One motive is love. Some of us study theology out of love for Christ, and a desire to learn more about the Beloved. Others study theology because they fundamentally doubt, and they’re looking to theology for answers to their doubts. This is how we get so many bad theologians.

I have been told many times, including by an anonymous interlocutor in the Eucharistic debates here last year, that I am not smart enough to “really” understand Catholic theology, or that I’m only orthodox because I don’t have a theology degree, etc. The kind of people who admire Karl Rahner will tell me I need to be “subtle”. Well, as Fr. Corapi says, the Bible only ever describes one being as “the most subtle of God’s creatures.”

Speaking of which, since the days of Martin Luther, who regularly conversed with the “most subtle of God’s creatures” and talks about it quite extensively in his memoirs, there has been much subtlety regarding John Chapter 6:

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53).

There are only two readings of this passage. Either the Evangelicals are right, and this entire speech is a metaphor for reading the Bible—a reading of the passage which doesn’t hold up to serious scrutiny, since Jesus usually explains His metaphors; no one ran away when Jesus said “I am the gate”—or else Catholics are right, and the passage refers to the Eucharist. If the passage refers to the Eucharist, then Jesus is clearly saying you can’t be a Christian without the Eucharist.

Many advocates of the “Spirit of Vatican II” try to condemn Eucharistic Adoration as inappropriate. No less a central Icon on of Vatican II than disgraced Archbishop Rembert Weakland, OSB, declared that to adore the Eucharist outside mass is wrong because the purpose of the Eucharist is only to strengthen us to go out of church and perform corporal works of mercy.

Well, Pope Benedict XVI, in an address given at Christmas 2005, also quoted today on EWTN, restated the teaching of St. Augustine that “No one should eat the flesh without first adoring it, . . . we should sin were we not to adore it.”