Sunday, March 3, 2013

Luther on modes of presence

In the first place, an object is circumscriptively or locally in a place, ie. in a circumscribed manner, if the space and the object occupying it exactly correspond and fit into the same measurements, such as wine or water in a cask, where the wine occupies no more space and the cask yields no more space than the volume of the wine.
In the second place, an object is in a place definitively, ie. in an uncircumscribed manner, if the object or body is not palpably in one place and is not measurable according to the dimensions of the place where it is, but can occupy either more room or less.  Thus it is said that angels and spirits are in certain places.  For an angel or devil can be present in an entire house or city; again, he can be in a room, a chest or a box, indeed, in a nutshell.  The space is really material and circumscribed, and has its own dimensions of length, breadth, and depth; but that which occupies it has not the same length, breadth, or depth as the space which it occupies, indeed, it has no length or breadth at all.  Thus we read in the gospel that the devil possesses men and enters them, and they also enter into swine.  This I call an uncircumscribed presence in a given place, since we cannot circumscribe or measure it as we measure a body, and yet it is obviously present in the place.
This was the mode in which the body of Christ was present when he came out of the closed grave, and came to the disciples through a closed door, as the gospels show.  There was no measuring or defining of the space his head or foot occupied when he passed through the stone, yet he certainly had to pass through it.  He took up no space, and the stone yielded him no space, but the stone remained stone, as entire and firm as before, and his body remained as large and thick as it was before.  But he also was able, when he wished, to let himself be seen circumscribed in given places where he occupied space and his size could be measured.  Just so, Christ can be and is in the bread, even though he can show himself in circumscribed and visible form wherever he wills.  For as the sealed stone and the closed door remained unaltered and unchanged, though his body at the same time was in the space entirely occupied by stone and wood, so he is also at the same time in the sacrament and where the bread and wine are, though the bread and wine in themselves remain unaltered and unchanged.
In the third place, an object occupies places repletively, ie. supernaturally, if it is simultaneously present in all places whole and entire, and fills all places, yet without being measured or circumscribed by any place, in terms of the space which it occupies.  This mode of existence belongs to God alone, as he says in the prophet Jeremiah, "I am a God at hand and not afar off.  I fill heaven and earth."  This mode is altogether incomprehensible, beyond our reason, and can be maintained only with faith, in the Word.
All this I have related in order to show that there are more modes whereby an object may exist in a place than the one circumscribed, physical mode on which the fanatics insist.  Moreover, Scripture irresistibly forces us to believe that Christ's body does not have to be present in a given place circumscriptively or corporeally, occupying and filling space in proportion to its size.  For it was in the stone at the grave, but not in that circumscribed mode; similarly in the closed door, as they cannot deny.  If it could be present there without space and place proportionate to its size, my friend, why can't it also be in the bread without space and room proportionate to its size?  But if it can be present in this uncircumscribed manner, it is beyond the realm of material creatures and is not grasped or measured in their terms.  Who can know how this takes place? 
Martin Luther, Confession Concerning Christ's Supper, 1528