Thursday, September 21, 2006


Sunt quaedam nocitura impetrantibus, quae non dare sed negare beneficium est; aestimabimus itaque utilitatem potius quam voluntatem petentium.

There are certain gifts that do harm to those who obtain them, and the benefit is in withholding these gifts rather than in giving them; we shall therefore consider the advantage of the petitioner rather than the desire.

- Seneca's De Beneficiis, 14:1 (ESS III:74-75)

The question that faces every person who holds something desired by another is this: Shall I give it or withhold it? Of course, Christians everywhere argue that it is morally encumbant upon the followers of Christ to give liberally to those who have need. Where people are hungry, Christians are required by Christ's own commands to give food. Where people are sick, to give medication and care. Where people are in prison, to visit them.

Wherever there is need, the Christian is required to provide for this need. Once upon a time, the matter of communing at the Altar of Our Lord was a matter of need. A pastor examined the petitioner as a doctor might (see last post) and determined whether or not the petitioner had a need for the Gospel, keeping in mind that only those who are repentant are in need of the Gospel, while those who are unrepentant are only harmed by the Gospel.

Those days are long past, however, and now the entire matter of who shall approach the Altar is one of individual desire. Appropriately, Seneca is not talking about need any more than churches are talking about need, but rather voluntas - "desire" or "wish."

What is the moral landscape when the desire presented is a desire for something dangerous or deadly to the petitioner?

A mother who gives her child a gun to play with will have a hard time arguing in a court of law that her child is responsible for shooting himself and not she, and this on the basis of her child's expressed desire to play with the gun. She was a kind and good mother, always giving her child what he desired, and should not be held accountable for the unfortunate, though predictable, way that things turned out. Of course, any reasonable person would find this a laughable defense.

When someone desires something dangerous or deadly, the morally upright action is no longer satisfying the desire, but withholding the desire.

Unfortunately, the common Christian practice of the Lord's Supper has become unreasonable and morally reprehensible. Christians are taught that the bread and wine of the Holy Sacrament are potentially deadly to those who eat and drink unworthily, that is, without recognizing the true body and blood of the Lord in the meal (1 Cor 11:27-30). When those who do not recognize the body (and the Greek vocabulary here does not allow "body" to be identified with the congregation, as many Protestants assert), participate in the Lord's Supper, they do so to their harm.

Are Christian congregations that grant the desired bread and wine to those whom it will harm doing good or evil?

Even Seneca, a pagan philosopher and moralist, makes it clear that congregations are committing a morally reprehensible act in distributing this meal to those who may be harmed by it. While such congregations may point to their free distribution of the meal as a sign of their goodwill and universal love, the act reveals quite the opposite about their moral character - if, that is, they actually believe Saint Paul's words.

It all rests on this: is Holy Scripture correct when it attributes dangerous or even deadly characteristics to the Holy Sacrament, or is Saint Paul (and Holy Scripture) in error?

Finally, a congregation is caught in a "knight's fork:" either the congregation is morally deficient in that it is freely giving dangerous and deadly gifts to those who may be harmed by them, or the congregation does not believe that Scripture's statement concerning the danger attached to Holy Communion is actually true.

- Lucilius

Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
-The Gospel of Saint Matthew (7:9-11, ESV)


Der Bettler said...

I've actually heard a pastor (a steward of the mysteries of God) say "Well, it's the Lord's Supper, not Pastor's supper" to support leaving it to the conscience of the parishioner whether to approach the altar or not. I've also heard a pastor say "we should be finding ways to use the Sacrament to include, rather than to exclude".

Teofilus said...

I've actually used that same argument (the one to which der bettler refers) to refute both extremes regarding the sacrament. Those who want to give "freely and openly" to all are disregarding God's Word and thus denying that it is indeed "The Lord's" supper. Also those who take it upon themselves to place added restrictions on approaching the altar, all in the name of protecting both parishioner and supper, are likewise denying that the Sacrament is "The Lord's."

"Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you. . . . Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'" Deut 4 1-2, 6

Father Marc said...

I heard a pastor emphasize in his communion statement that it was the "Lord's Table." He said, "Because it is HIS table and not the pastor's, I will not turn away any that He is calling."

I immediately decided that a good communion statement would be, "Because it is HIS table and not the pastor's, I will not admit anyone that He refuses to admit."


Anonymous said...

It is interesting to note that most Protestant's would be quick to note that when God speaks of rejecting sacrifices it is because they were not givng the sacrifice with the right heart. And whose altar were they sacrificing on: the Lord's! But yet with the Lord's Supper at the Lord's table it doesn't seem to matter the state of the heart is: repentant or unrepentant (Of course in both cases it is the Lord's Supper they are partaking of, no matter the state of their heart).

Steven G. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steven G. said...

Der Bettler said:
I've also heard a pastor say "we should be finding ways to use the Sacrament to include, rather than to exclude".

Doesn't offering the sacrament to the unrepentant do the exact opposite?

Father Marc said...

Apologies to all my tens of readers. lol

I have been buried under work and a conference in New Orleans. BTW, the "Big Easy" is totally depressing these days. I've been working on a series on worship, though, from one of Seneca's essays. Look for it soon.

Pax Domini,

Father Marc