A Thorny Problem
A thorny problem indeed. It’s so hard for us truly to accept that the Infinite God of the Universe could fully inhabit a human body, and be both True God and True Man. I was often reminded of just how thorny a problem this is for us when I used to discuss the Christological Heresies with my adolescent religion students. The Arians, for example, could accept the human Jesus, but not his Divinity. The Docetists, on the other hand, had no problem with Christ the Son of God, but they were sure his Humanity was just a show. Finally, the Monophysites could understand that Jesus was both man and God, but insisted that he had only one, Divine, nature . . . and so on.
The Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity inevitably presents these and numerous other puzzles to our finite minds. Indeed, such conundrums have been with us from the earliest days of the Church to the present day. A series of councils wrestled with these issues until The Council of Chalcedon gave a definitive answer in A.D. 451. Chalcedon declared that Christ is:
made known in two natures without confusion [i.e. mixture], without change, without division, without separation, the difference of the natures being by no means removed because of the union, but the property of each nature being preserved and coalescing in one prosopon [person] and one hypostasis [subsistence]–not parted or divided into two prosopa [persons], but one and the same Son, only-begotten, divine Word, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68)
Image: The Tears of St. Peter, El Greco, late 16th century
As hard as it is to accept that Jesus Christ is both fully God and a true man with a human body, however, we are asked to accept an even harder teaching. Our Faith insists that the same body is truly present in the Eucharistic bread and wine offered up at every Mass. Furthermore, as Christ Himself tells us:
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. (John 6:55-57)
Nowhere Else To Go
Many of his disciples found this teaching too hard to accept, and went away. This Sunday’s Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ reminds, however, as Peter points out (John 6:68), that we have nowhere else to go. In fact, only by eating the Body and Drinking the Blood of the God-Become-Man can we share in his eternal life.
There’s the wonder. Christ has a human body, and so the Infinite God shares in our humanity. Not only that, He shares that body with us in the Eucharist. Thereby, He lets us participate in His divinity. No wonder we call it “Gospel”, that is, “Good News.” Yes, it is hard to believe, but, as today’s feast reminds us, it’s The Truth.