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Are the Eucharist and the Immaculate Conception Anti-Biblical?

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How can the Catholic Church teach that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus when Jesus refers to his so-called blood as the “fruit of the vine”? And how can the Catholic Church teach that Mary was immaculately conceived when she calls God her “Savior” in Luke 1:47?


Cy: Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I’m Cy Kellett, your host, and we continue our conversation with Karlo Broussard, the author of Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs. Hello again Karlo.

Karlo: Hey Cy.

Cy: And I’ll just sum it up real quick this time, because there are two episodes prior to this where you can hear Karlo go into more detail, but basically what Karlo has established for us is: there’s two different kinds of objections that Protestants might make to Catholics vis-a-vis the Bible.

Cy: One is: where is that in the Bible? Which a Catholic is not bound to answer and satisfy all of those objections, because the Catholic doesn’t treat the Bible alone as the rule of faith. There’s also Sacred Tradition. Another challenge, however, is: “How can you as a Catholic teach X–” as Karlo puts it, he uses an algebra formula–“How can you Catholics teach X when the Bible clearly says Y?” And Karlo has already established with us, that’s a very fair challenge for any Protestant to make, because it plays by the same rules we play by.

Karlo: Amen. Which is: we believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, right? So anything we believe at least can’t contradict it. So if there’s a claim that we do believe something that contradicts it, then we need to offer a reconciliation between the two to show how they do harmonize.

Cy: Right. And that actually has, throughout the history of the Catholic Church’s development, say, of moral teaching, that always applies. For example, we might say, “Well we want to make this moral innovation in marriage.” And we can go, “Well, okay, whatever we might want to do, Christ clearly said these words. So whatever we do cannot contradict those words.” And that provides kind of like a guardrail on all kinds of issues.

Karlo: That’s right. And marriage actually is one of the… Divorce and remarriage, or the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, it’s actually one of the chapters in the book. It’s one of the challenges that I meet in the book. The challenge for Matthew 19:9, where a Protestant might say, “Well, how can the Church teach that there’s no divorce and remarriage where Jesus seems to make for an exception in Matthew 19:9?”

Karlo: I respond to that challenge. I teach you how to meet that challenge, showing that whatever Jesus was referring to, it’s not allowing for spousal infidelity to be a reason for divorce and remarriage. “For what God has joined together let no man put asunder.” I offer a variety of plausible or possible explanations for what Jesus is referring to given the Jewish literal historical context of Jesus’ day.

Cy: Let’s do a couple more. We’ve covered three so far, and let’s do a couple more this time. Let’s do another objection. This comes from the section in the book on the sacraments, which you can imagine would be a rich source of controversy between Protestants and Catholics.

Cy: And so here’s the challenge: “How can the Catholic Church teach that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus when Jesus refers to his so-called ‘blood’ as ‘the fruit of the vine’ in both Mark and Matthew?”

Karlo: This is a powerful objection. The idea is that Mark and Matthew, when recording the institution narrative, Jesus says, “This is the blood of the covenant.” But then subsequent to the words of consecration, he refers to the chalice as “the fruit of the vine.” So, many of our Protestant friends will say, “Well, you see, Jesus clearly didn’t think the substance in the chalice was his substantial blood because he calls it wine, so it’s got to be just wine.” How do we respond to that?

Karlo: Well, the first way I teach you to meet the challenge in the book is that the challenge actually fails to consider that Luke records these words before the words of consecration. When you check it out in Luke 22:17-18, Luke records these words of Jesus speaking about, “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine with you until it’s new in the kingdom.” That comes before the words of consecration. And so what’s interesting about this, Cy, is that it’s possible Luke’s purpose for putting these words before is to specify or clarify the sequence of events. And here’s the key, sort of the linchpin there: we know from a second century Christian Bishop named Papias, he records John the Presbyter, an eyewitness of Jesus’s ministry as saying this, “Mark, having become an interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.” There John the Presbyter recognizes that Mark, in his Gospel, wasn’t keen on putting things in chronological order. That wasn’t a concern of his, and this is common among ancient authors. They weren’t even expected to record everything in chronological order. Sometimes they could use a thematic approach. They weren’t required to give an account of things in chronological order like we do today.

Karlo: So Mark apparently had the tendency to not put things down in chronological order. Now, what’s even more interesting is that Luke, at the beginning of his Gospel, he does intend to put things in order. In his prologue, he says, “I’m setting out to write an orderly account of the things accomplished in Jesus’s life.” So some scholars have suggested that it’s possible Luke puts these words, “the fruit of the vine,” before the words of consecration in order to clarify the sequence of events; to put into order what wasn’t chronologically ordered in Mark’s account and consequently in Matthew’s account.

Karlo: All right. So what can we conclude from this? It’s reasonable to conclude that Luke diverts from Mark’s order because he’s clarifying. But if that is the case, if so, then this challenge loses its force. Because it’s possible that this didn’t come after the words of consecration, it comes before. At least we can conclude, “Hey man, it’s at least ambiguous.” We don’t know, so the challenge loses its force. You can’t appeal to this detail in this passage and say our belief–that Jesus’s substantial blood is in the chalice–contradicts this passage. Because there’s ambiguity going on. Is it before? Did it come before or did it come after? That’s the first way to meet the challenge.

Karlo: Now, the second way to meet the challenge is to grant our Protestant friends interpretation and say, “Let’s just say for argument’s sake that Jesus did speak of the chalice as ‘the fruit of the vine’ after the words of consecration.” Does it really necessarily follow from that, that Jesus is specifically intentionally referring to the substance in the cup as wine and not his substantial blood? I would answer no, it doesn’t necessarily follow. Because it’s possible Jesus is just employing what scholars call phenomenological language. You speak and you use language according to the phenomenon, which is sense.

Cy: Like “The sun rises.”

Karlo: Amen. That’s a great example. The weatherman says “The sun rises, the sun sets,” but yet we know in reality that’s not what’s going on.

Cy: And the weatherman knows it too.

Karlo: And the weather man knows it too, right? So this is just language according to the phenomenon. What we sense, what we perceive via our sensory perception and sense-knowledge. We also find this in the Bible. So angels are actually described according to what is sensed, in that they’re described as men. For example, in Genesis 18, recall the three angels that are talking to Abraham, right? They’re described as men. Well we know, in fact, that they weren’t men, they were angels. But yet they’re described as men. Why? Because they’re described according to what is sensed.

Karlo: We also see in the Bible that death is described as sleep. And we know that they’re not sleeping, but it looks like they’re sleeping, and so you talk as if they are sleeping. And even Jesus does this when he refers to Lazarus’s death as “sleep” in John 11:11. He says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep.” But John tells us in verse 13, “Now Jesus had spoken of his death.” And then in verse 14 Jesus tells the apostle’s explicitly: “Lazarus is dead.” Even Jesus uses phenomenological language describing Lazarus as he appears, he appears as if he sleeping.

Karlo: So these are examples of how phenomenological language is used. So here’s the interpretive application: it’s possible, even if we concede that Jesus spoke of the substance in the chalice as “the fruit of the vine” after the words of consecration and not before, like Luke records, it’s possible he’s just using phenomenological language. And so because we have that possible explanation to offer, our Protestant friend’s conclusion that this is not Jesus’s blood, but only wine, doesn’t follow from the fact that he speaks at the substance in the chalice as wine. You see? That’s the second way to meet that challenge.

Karlo: And then finally, there’s a few more, but we could just say that Jesus could be just describing the substance in the chalice according to its prior state. And we see biblical examples of this. Eve is called Adam’s “bone” in Genesis chapter two verse 23 because we’re told from his rib she was created. You remember Aaron’s rod had changed into a serpent and the magicians’ rods changed to serpents in Exodus chapter seven? The rods of the magicians, when they become serpents, they’re actually called “the rods of the magicians,” although they’ve become serpents. Notice how it’s referring to them with reference to what they were before, so the prior state. We see this principle in scripture, so it’s possible Jesus is referring to the substance in the chalice after the words of consecration as wine because that’s what it was prior to the words of consecration.

Karlo: And then finally, it’s just… there is a bit of the darkness of mystery here. Because scholars aren’t sure exactly when Jesus says, “I will not drink it with you until new in the kingdom.” Scholars aren’t sure exactly what Jesus is referring to there. Is he referring to the heavenly banquet? There’s good reason to think he may very well be referring to that. Is he referring to the sour wine he drinks on the cross in initiating the kingdom and sealing the reality of the kingdom with his death? There’s good reason to think that’s possible. And even St. John Chrysostom offers an explanation that perhaps Jesus is referring to when he’s going to drink wine with the apostles in the meals he’s going to have with them after his resurrection. Scholars are in disagreement. They really don’t know exactly what Jesus was referring. Because there’s such a mystery surrounding these words of Jesus, this is not a good passage to appeal to in order to show that a particular Catholic belief contradicts scripture. So those are some ways to meet the challenge that I offer in the book.

Cy: Again, Karlo’s book is Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs. All right, let’s finish up with Mary, then, because if the sacraments are a point of controversy, Mary is probably… At least when we hear from Protestant friends who come into the Catholic Church, many, many of them will say, “Mary was the biggest obstacle that I faced. I just couldn’t get over your Catholic thing about Mary.” Let’s give you the challenge then.

Karlo: Okay, let’s do it.

Cy: “How can the Catholic Church teach that Mary was immaculately conceived when she calls God her ‘savior’ in Luke chapter 1:47?”

Karlo: Well, the first way we want to meet this challenge is to affirm that God is Mary’s savior. This is no secret.

Cy: She didn’t get it wrong when she said that.

Karlo: That’s right. This is nothing new under the sun for the Church. That’s the point I’m trying to make. The Church affirms this reality. For example, Pope St. John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater affirms this.

Karlo: Even Pope Pius IX, when defining the Immaculate Conception in 1854, he said, “In view of the merits of Jesus Christ the savior of the human race, Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” So notice he acknowledges that Mary’s preservation from original sin is in view of the merits of Jesus Christ on the cross. So the Church affirms that Jesus is Mary’s savior. The Catechism affirms this as well in paragraphs 492 and in 411 okay. The Church affirms this. Nothing new under the sun. This is not a surprise to us.

Karlo: But we’re still left with this tension. I mean, we’re saying she’s immaculately conceived, free from original sin, and even free from personal sin. So, how can she call God her savior? And here’s where we get to the Church’s explanation that Mary was saved in, as the Catechism points out, “an exalted and unique way.” So, what is this exalted and unique way? Well first, as Pope Pius XI stated, “in view of the merits of Jesus Christ.” So, for Mary there was an application of graces from a future event–namely, the death of Jesus on the cross–whereas for us, when we were saved, it’s the application of graces of a past event. So Mary’s being saved by the grace of God, being preserved from the stain of original sin, and the graces that she responds to in order to remain free from personal sin is in view of the merits of Jesus Christ. Whereas for us, our salvation is in retrospect of the merits of Jesus Christ.

Karlo: But here’s another way in which we can look at it. Scholars and theologians throughout the centuries have often articulated the difference between salvation by preservation versus salvation by liberation. And this is something that we recognize even just by common sense. A common example is if we’re walking in the woods or something and you fall into this pit and then I take you out of the pit and you say, “Karlo, thank you for saving me from the pit. You saved me from the mud pit” or whatever. So that’s one way of saving you, a salvation by liberation. I’ve liberated you from the confines of the pit. Or we could be walking along the pathway in the woods and I happened to foresee the pit coming up that you don’t see and I say, “Wait a minute, stop, Cy!” And I preserve you from falling into the pit. You can legitimately say, “Karlo, you’ve saved me from the pit.” That’s a salvation by way of preservation.

Karlo: Similarly, that’s how the Catholic church understands God’s salvation, or God’s act of saving Mary. That he saves her by way of preservation, before the stain of original sin and personal sin, as opposed to the way he saves us by way of liberation, after we’ve fallen into the state of original sin and also personal sin. Now, our Protestant friend might say, “Karlo, man, you seem to be pulling that out of a hat. The rabbit out the hat. Where are you getting that from? Is there any biblical warrant for this principle of salvation by preservation versus salvation by liberation?” And the answer is yes. Jude verses 24 through 25 is a good example for this. Here’s what Jude writes, “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you without blemish before the presence of his glory with rejoicing to the only God our savior through Jesus Christ Our Lord be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority before all time and now and forever.” Notice, “He who is able to keep you from falling.” There we have a hint to this idea of salvation by way of preservation. The preserving grace of God. That he can preserve us from the stain of sin. And as Catholics we’re simply saying God did that in a unique way with Mary, preserving her from the stain of original sin and preserving her from the stain of even personal sin. So what we see here is that this belief of ours as Catholics in no way contradicts Mary’s statement, “I rejoice in God my savior.” Because there are ways in which we can explain our belief that coheres with this profession of Mary.

Cy: Mary is one of those figures that many of the things that we–I feel like you met that challenge, so I just want to add this though–that the tradition of the Church is particularly pronounced in Mary’s case. That there are many things we say about Mary that are presented in their seed form, I would say, in Scripture, but they’re really only developed in the long life and history of the church.

Karlo: Amen. That’s a fair assessment. I mean, there are biblical hints to the things that we believe about Mary, but you’re right in asserting that they’re there in seed form, and within this Christian heritage that understanding of Mary and her role in salvation history develops as you move forward from the Apostolic age and the Christian tradition and you see a variety of beliefs about Mary coming into sharper focus. Although you have some very pronounced beliefs about Mary in the very early, you know, in A.D. 150 Justin Martyr making parallels between Mary and Eve, seeing Mary as the new Eve, and then it would take some time to unpack that understanding of Mary as the new Eve, the implications being that she’s created free from the stain of original sin like the first Eve, and unlike the first Eve, she doesn’t fall into personal sin.

Cy: You’re starting to make me kind of look forward to these Protestant challenges, because they’re-

Karlo: Well, I hope so.

Cy: The challenge is very helpful in allowing you to have… It’s almost a tool to dig deeper into understanding your faith.

Karlo: That’s right. And I’m glad you brought that up, because this is an important point about the book. Earlier we were making distinctions between the kinds of challenges. “Where is that in the Bible?” Catholic doesn’t really need to meet that. We don’t need to meet this challenge, and all that. But in meeting these kinds of challenges, it does provide an opportunity to address the question, “Where is that in the Bible?” Because we not only want to show that the challenge has no force and that our belief doesn’t contradict God’s word, but we also in conversation want to be able to provide some positive biblical evidence where the evidence is. And if we have the evidence for a particular belief in conversations with our Protestant friends because that’ll be helpful for them. And these challenges provide opportunities for that.

Cy: Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs. Karlo Broussard, the author. Get it now. Karlo, thanks.

Karlo: Hey, thank you-

Cy: That was a lot of fun hearing your answers to those.

Karlo: Thank you brother.

Cy: Hey, thanks to everybody who has joined us here on Catholic Answers Focus. Once again, I will ask you that if you get our podcasts that say a iTunes or at Google Play, if you could leave a review, if you could share it with other folks. Any way you can help promote the podcast really helps. It really does help and I will see you next time God willing on Catholic Answers Focus.

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