Food and drink indeed in Christianity

Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. John 4:34

A key part of Jesus’ thought is that when he talks about food, he is usually talking about spirituality. You see this again in the Beatitudes in Matthew.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
 Matthew 5:6

Once you get this link, it seems what Jesus is talking about in the following line of the Our Father is spiritual.

Give us this day our daily bread.
 Matthew 6:11

Indeed, this line seems to express a similar thought to the first quoted in John above (‘My meat is to do the will of him that sent me’), because Jesus precedes the talk here about bread with doing the will of God (‘Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven; Give us this day our daily bread’). One reasonable conclusion from combining this with the passage from John, therefore, is that Jesus is implying in the Our Father that when one becomes a spiritual master, daily bread and doing the will of God on a daily basis are closely connected. I.e., if you continually do the will of God, you will get lots of spiritual nourishment on a daily basis.

So, ‘food’ = ‘spiritual nourishment’ for Jesus in many cases. This leads us to a more contentious passage.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. John 6:48-58

Some Catholics claim Jesus meant this literally – that we must literally eat his flesh and drink his blood to have salvation. They use this to justify the Eucharist. Some anti-Catholics claim a literal interpretation of this passage is disgusting, and therefore the Catholic interpretation is disgusting, and if Jesus meant that, the many in attendance who left would have been right to do so.

The point I want to make here is that neither the pro-Catholic or anti-Catholic positions outlined above are accurate, because the actual Catholic position isn’t that Jesus literally becomes the bread and wine, and therefore any anti-Catholic positions based on that have a mistaken premise.

Consider. If I say I am literally eating a hamburger, I don’t mean I am eating something that doesn’t look, smell, or taste like a hamburger, or have a hamburger’s chemical structure, but rather has a hamburger’s ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ as opposed to its ‘accidents’. That is not a way of speaking literally about eating something. Since what Catholics claim is exactly that they are eating Jesus’s substance as opposed to his accidents, they aren’t talking literally. They too are saying Jesus meant by eating his flesh and drinking his blood something spiritual, but they then tie this to a theology of Jesus’ substance and the Last Supper. This is to push the question of what exactly is being claimed back a step (what do we mean by Jesus’ substance?), but it is still a spiritual, non-literal understanding of eating and drinking something.

4 thoughts on “Food and drink indeed in Christianity

  1. Andrew S.

    I’m very confused by this. Based on your reading, would you not say that the references to food are metaphorical in, for example, Matthew 6:11? That is, it doesn’t mean to actually be given food daily, but to be given the Father’s will? Wouldn’t that be metaphorical?

    If so, then to say that the Eucharist is Jesus’s substance, but Jesus’ substance is a metaphor, then why would it be anathema to…

    denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue” and anyone who “saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood – the species only of the bread and wine remaining – which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation

    Is there something else about how this blurb of the Council of Trent should be interpreted? What is it exactly that would need to be denied to be anathema?

  2. admin Post author

    Re Matthew 6:11, it means to be given ‘real’ bread, which is sustenance at the most important level, in my opinion. It is not food in the literal sense we take that word to mean.

    I take the Catholic position to be that the bread and wine aren’t merely signs, but that Jesus’ body and blood aren’t present in a literal sense. It is somewhere in the middle, and convoluted, difficult to understand theology is used to try to point at what is meant.

    I didn’t say Jesus’ substance is metaphor – I don’t think that idea makes sense. I think at the deepest level Jesus was united with God the Father’s will, but talking about substance and accidents is a mistake, because it is demanding theological clarity where none is available in the Gospels. So I’m critiquing the official Catholic theological position here, not because it’s necessarily wrong but because it is unfathomable – *no one* actually understands what is being claimed at an adequate level. We can say it’s not a ‘literal’ understanding, however, and Catholics who claim that are making claims that are wrong by definition. I think the appropriate thing to say is that Jesus is present ‘in’ the Eucharist in some important and spiritually relevant sense (again, the word ‘in’ can’t be used in a literal sense when talking about position, as in ‘the hamburger is in the sauce’), and leave it at that.

  3. Dimitri

    Well, the Catholic theology do believe as far I know in literally eating the the body and blood of Jesus. They only think that the vision is of wine and bread, because the accidents. You said about substance, but you need to see that this isn’t a spiritual term there, but a term of aristotelic physics. So they believe that in a physical sense.

    Who believe in a specie of true presence, but a spiritual one, are the classical Calvinista.

  4. admin Post author


    By “I’m literally eating someone’s flesh” people speaking contemporary English *don’t* mean “I’m consuming the substance of someone but not the accidents, where substance is defined in terms of Aristotelian physics” (!). That’s my point.

    Consider. It’s not just the ‘vision’, it’s the chemical structure of bread or wine that’s still there. It’s the macro-nutrient categories (protein, fat, carbohydrates) of bread or wine that’s still there. The wine still causes people to become inebriated if consumed in large quantities. We’re not talking about an illusion of (“vision” of) eating bread. When people talk about eating hamburger, they mean eating something with a certain chemical structure, certain macro-nutrient categories, and so on. That’s what “I’m literally eating hamburger” means. Catholics aren’t literally eating Jesus hamburger (or flesh), nor do they (properly) claim to.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *