Amateur theology on the Eucharist (Part 1)

[Edit: After further reflection, I’ve decided this was incomplete, and so did a Part 2, which I have to linked to here.]

[Before I start, I’d like to emphasise how amateur this is. I have much to learn, and have not yet been baptised into the Church. Wherever I’m mistaken, please correct me to the best of your ability or direct me to correction. And wherever I’m missing something, please show me.
Thanks in advance]

In what sense is something what it is? For example, why is a chair, a chair? What makes it a chair? I think this is (roughly) what philosophers used to call the substance/essence. Does the essence actually exist, or is it just in our minds? Is the essence in an object’s own existence, or only in the mind of the person who recognises or identifies the object?
Here’s a thought experiment: if no people existed in the universe, what would each thing be? If the essence is basically or definitions, then there would be no essence. It would be absurd to say planets, or chairs, or even atoms would still exist, as they would have no definitions. All would still exist, but completely incomprehensible (which is fine as there would be no one to comprehend it).
But, this logic fails for numbers. If there are three holes, regardless of whether it’s recognised or not, those numbers exist. Not physically, and not because I defined those numbers, but just because of the holes, there is three. The existence of the holes implies the real existence of the threeness of those holes. So, objects have non-material properties implied by the form of their existence.

Now to the Eucharist. Jesus tells us it is his body, and his blood (and who am I to interpret this as meaning anything else?). But to all appearances, it is still bread and wine. But, appearances can be deceiving. So, what is the essence of the body and blood?
The best answer I can find, is that the essence of the body, is its life. Life is the essential bodyness of the body, and whatever has my life, is my body. When my body one day loses my life, it will no longer really be my body; it will more be my ex-body, and respected (hopefully) for what it was, and for its potential in the resurrection. I believe the same or similar is true of the essence of our blood.
So, the bread is no longer bread, and the wine no longer wine, but the body and the blood of Jesus of Nazareth, because his life is in them. And his life (body, spirit, soul, divinity) is in them, because it is his body and blood, by his declaration.

‘This is the bread which cometh down from heaven: that if any man eat of it, he may 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, for the life of the world.’
John 6:51-52

‘He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.’
John 6:57-58

God bless you.

P.S.
I’m sharing this in case it can help others understand, as it helped me understand. Pascal said that we are more convinced by the reasons we find on our own than those shown us, and I think he’s right, but another angle may still be of help to others.
Have any proper (respected, orthodox) theologians spoken about the Eucharist this way? I hope so, because I don’t want to suggest my own ideas.
I’d like to repeat my request at the start, that if I’m mistaken anywhere here, in matters great or small, please correct me. I only want orthodoxy (truth).

Thanks again, and may God almighty bless you deeply.

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9 comments

  1. I think the Thomistic answer would be that its existence is the result of God’s willing that it should exist. He can understand a thing and yet not will that it exist. In other words, there are any number of possible things which God fully understands, yet which don’t exist, but could if he willed that they should.

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  2. I think this is helpful. It makes a certain sense to say the essence of the body of something is its life, because when a body dies, it’s essentially no longer a body.

    The Holy Trinity is alive, indeed the source of all life, yet it does not have a body. I’m no philosopher either, but as I understand it from what I’ve read, “body” is inherently a physical term. This is why the Eucharist can be called Christ’s “body”: because it’s a physical thing. So its “bodiness” is its physicality, whereas God’s life is a spiritual thing, and not physical.

    I suppose you mean that it’s Christ’s spiritual life permeating it that makes THIS physical thing HIS body, and not just another piece of bread. Just as my soul being joined to this body is what makes it my body and not just a pile of carbon-based proteins, calcium, water, etc.

    As far as essence, my understanding (again, being also an amateur) is that the essence is what a thing is. So that even if there were no one to understand it, a thing would nevertheless be what it is. Its essence is inherent in it. However I wonder whether the hypothetical “if no one was around to understand it” is coherent, since I believe it can be shown philosophically that if God didn’t exist, nothing else would exist either. In other words, as long as anything exists, there will be at least one mind that understands what it is, namely God’s; and this isn’t merely a matter of religious faith but can be arrived at by reason alone.

    God bless!

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    1. Thanks for the comment!
      I noticed this about God and life a couple days after I wrote this. It makes me wonder what life really means. Yes, that is exactly what I meant, thank you for helping to clarify.
      I actually wondered the same thing as I was writing this. It’s a great question, and I agree that nothing could exist without being known. I figured the hypothetical still helped though. Now I’m wondering, if God knew it differently, would it be different? Is God’s knowledge a result of its existence, or is its existence a result of God’s knowledge, or are they related in another way? Perhaps God’s understanding is one with its existence.
      Again, thank you for the great comment.

      God bless you also!

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I agree with your thinking and am glad you put it down in words. It is not always easy to bridge the gap between knowing what you believe and being able to explain it to someone who wants to understand. I am working on a post about the Eucharist. Do you mind if I reference you and this post on my blog?

    God Bless,
    Ruth

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    1. You’re entirely welcome. Thank you, I’m glad to know I’m not alone.
      Feel free to reference me and this post in any way you think will benefit the post. I look forward to reading it. Would you please post a link here once it’s done?

      Thank you, and God bless you

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  4. Good to contemplate the Eucharist. I recommend N.T. Wright’s small book, The Meal Jesus Gave Us: Understanding Holy Communion.

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