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Frithjof Schuon

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Extract from a letter from Frithjof Schuon of February 1976

Regarding the question of transubstantiation, which I address briefly in Logic and Transcendence, the Oriental character of the words in question can be seen in their use of ellipsis: Christ did not say, “I am like a vine, like a door”, but he said, “I am the vine, the door”; likewise he did not say, “This conveys divine power in the same way my body conveys divine power”, but he said, “This is my body”. In the formula of consecration, “this” can mean “that which, having been consecrated, is no longer bread pure and simple but bread infused with the divine presence or power, even as my body is infused with this presence or power, so that in practical terms there is no longer any difference between them; hence this is my body.” But the formula of consecration does not necessarily refer to “that which has all the appearances of bread”. Such an interpretation of the pronoun “this” is a theological commentary, no doubt necessary from the point of view of a certain psychological expediency—in the broadest and most profound sense of the term—but nonetheless limited from the purely metaphysical point of view. Be that as it may, the fact that Christ did not specify “this bread” but instead used a pronoun does not mean that he wished to say that this bread is no longer bread; in a similar way the fact that the voice of the Father did not specify “this real man” during the baptism of Christ but instead used a pronoun—“this” in Matthew and “thou” in Mark and Luke—does not mean that He intended to claim that this man is not a real man, as certain monophysites believed.

What Christ said can be interpreted as follows: “Just as divine power dwells within my body, so it now dwells within this bread; and just as my body, which conveys divine power, is not a body like others, so for the same reason this bread is no longer bread like other bread.” Hindus, whose dialectic readily uses antinomies, would say that the consecrated host is “neither bread nor non-bread”, but Semitic and Western alternativism requires definitions that are simple, exclusive, and dogmatically employable, hence devoid of nuances that are psychologically dangerous for the average man.

Even if one agreed that the transubstantiationist interpretation was metaphysically exhaustive and impeccable—which is not necessarily the case—one would not be able to justify it logically by referring to the word-for-word formulation of Christ; if it can be justified some other way, fine, but one should not claim this results from the words “this is”.

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