Microscopic Faith

Early last week I was at my university when a colleague asked me to meet him to talk about several items. So, we walked around our campus, a rather attractive place which is often a draw for students, discussing various matters. He asked me, in the course of our wide-ranging conversation, whether I believed the bread and wine of the Eucharist was the body and blood of Christ. “Of course I do,” I replied, “I’m Orthodox.” He knew this. Then he asked me a rather odd question: “You do know that if you put that wine under a microscope that it’s just wine?” [You can read more here, or jump to content below.]

This part of the conversation quickly was boring me, for this is a well educated fellow and it flummoxed me why he would pose such a rhetorical question. I answered him rather quickly, though I don’t think curtly, that I didn’t believe in microscopes. We then moved on to other matters simply because I changed the subject, and the Eucharist was not what we had met to discuss.

But as I have thought about it, this is something I am going to take back up with him. First, I would ask him, aside from giving Holy Things to the dogs, would he ask our Lord for a piece of skin from His resurrected body so that they could see how it could pass through doors and stone? When once I asked a priest about the multiplicity of pieces of the cross, and the numerous pieces of bone from the bodies of Sts. Peter and Paul across Christendom, he looked at me and asked if I believed in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, or the turning of the water into wine. If God gives grace through the multiplication of loaves, why not through the multiplication of the True Cross? One of the aspects of a miracle is that it is beyond the empirical or scientific. It is not repeatable (at least in a lab) and it is does not fall within the parameters of the so-called laws of science. The truth is (and this is another whole question and another whole post), science has no laws, for nothing in science is not beyond revision, and everything by “definition” has to be falsifiable. Of course, the dictums that all has to be empirically valid and falsifiable, are themselves beyond the empirical and falsifiable.

To put this another way, faith draws its reality not merely from the observable. When we look at St. Paul’s statement that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (love how the KJV puts that)” we see that faith itself has a substantial quality which arises from, e.g., the resurrection, angels, inter alia. That is, faith is not the mere ascent to something I cannot otherwise prove, such as Jesus’ resurrected body is present to me in the elements of bread and wine. Instead, it is the other way round: faith is made a reality by the risen Christ, and is itself the evidence of the unseen powers.

This is something we should keep in mind in a world that seeks to drive a wedge between faith and reason, nature and grace, the supernatural and the natural. As an Orthodox these things are not in tension, for from our creation God has ordered us to a supernatural end, union with Him (grace) is the presupposition of our very existence (even as sinners), and faith itself is epistemic. I do know some people (a few in Biblical studies no less) that think that facts speak, and that evidence drives us to conclusions about reality. But this is hardly the case for most of the people I know. We have come long ago to embrace that most insightful of Mark Twain’s dogmas: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Evidence only demands the verdict that it is evident of something, but that something needs itself a greater context and a story into which it must fit. This leads to the second item.

When Christ told St. Thomas to put his hand into His side, and to look at the nail prints in His hands, he was upbraiding him for not listening to the testimony of the Apostles, but also. Truth is, all the other Apostles were little different than St. Thomas, for they had hardly believed the myrrh-bearing women when they first brought the news of the resurrection. St. Thomas wanted the same benefit that the other Apostles had, to see Christ himself. Now, we should not think that St. Thomas was somehow singled out, but his case is amplified since he was not present that first time when Christ appeared. What St. Thomas needed was not faith to see the unseen, but to see as the others had within the context of Christ’s resurrected life. He needed to see from within the Tradition. This is in contrast to Mary Magdalene. We know little of Mary, except that our Lord cast out of her seven demons. We know also that she was a woman of some material means, for following her deliverance she supported the ministry of Christ and his disciples from her wealth. Like our Lord’s other disciples, she did not comprehend what Christ meant when He talked about his coming resurrection, for her thoughts in the garden were that Chris was the gardener. But she was quick to believe. Perhaps it was because she had already had an existential experience of the Divine power in her life that she believed at Christ calling her name, or perhaps it was her love, that had brought her to the tomb on that Sunday morning. What is important is that Jesus is at first hidden from her, and reveals Himself by the calling of her name. Similarly, with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus is hidden until He breaks bread with them (the Eucharist). In both these instances, the facts needed interpretation, and we cannot understand the truth apart from this interpretation. This inevitably leads to yet another discussion about the Tradition of the Church, but more anon.

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