May 252010

Fr. Michael Kelly, Jesuit CEO of the Asian Catholic news agency UCA News has this to say about the doctrine of transubstantiation:

Regrettably, all too frequently, the only Presence focused on is Christ’s presence in the elements of bread and wine. Inadequately described as the change of the “substance” (not the “accidents”) of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, the mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist carries the intellectual baggage of a physics no one accepts. Aristotelian physics makes such nice, however implausible and now unintelligible, distinctions. They are meaningless in the post-Newtonian world of quantum physics, which is the scientific context we live in today.

So is this a bit of Jesuit nuttiness denying Transubstantiation.

Well not necessarily. The Whosoever Desires blog looks at the statement without making rash judgements, though the same writer on this solid Jesuit blog also says “Nor am I sure that we should absolve Fr. Kelly. But I think that we can give him a fair reading and try to understand the point he is making.”

Physicist Stephen M. Barr at First Things looks at Does Quantum Physics Render Transubstantiation Meaningless? His analysis goes to prove once again that almost every time a theologian or others wade into modern science to support a contention for or against the truth of the Catholic faith that they are bound to say something stupid. Ad Mr. Barr says “If anything, quantum mechanics makes a straightforward connection between what appears empirically and what is “really there” more obscure than it was in Newtonian physics, and to that extent would make it easier rather than harder to affirm the doctrine.”

I wonder if this is the same Fr. Michael Kelly, S.J. who made past statements such as condoms being the lesser of two evils?

  29 Responses to “Meaningless in the post-Newtonian world”

  1. why does it matter?

  2. I don’t know where he studied physics. Newton has nothing to do with quantum theory, which didn’t come around until 300 years after he died.

  3. I think he was referring to quantum physics as being “post-Newtonian” in the sense that quantum physics “replaces” Newton who in turn “replaces” Aristotle. This, however, is a pretty bad oversimplification which doesn’t do justice to the development of “modern” science. It seems to me that Fr Kelley SJ is replacing a “physics which no-one accepts” with another one which almost no one, including himself, understands. This also makes laughable his claim that quantum physics “is the scientific context in which we live today”: while technically true, you would be hard-pressed to find anybody aside from physicists and some chemists who understand quantum physics, and who therefore can make it the “scientific context” in which they live. Quantum physics is a poor substitute for metaphysics.

  4. Its these kinds of people who exclude committed young people from full participation in the Church. They have submitted as GKC said, the Good News to a worldly compromise and exiled those who will brook none for the apostolic faith. Fr Michael Kelly is a misguided man who is being cruel to those he believes he serves. The horrific thing is, exactly who we have been serving this whole time will be made substantially! present to us just when it is too late to do anything about it. Please God Fr Kelly SJ performs one act of love before his ilk pass unmourned into historical oblivion.

  5. Read “Physics for the Rest of Us” by Roger S. Jones. It attempts to explain relativity, quantum theory, to we layman trapped in Newtonian thinking. The book touches on spirituality and philosophy. To me, this 20th century physics makes the existence of God and miracles much more plausible.

  6. I’m of the mindset that he is denying transubstantiation, because his statements carry an absolute tone to them. When he says that no one accepts the physics behind transubstantiation and that the Church’s explanation is meaningless in the present day scientific context, he quite conspicuously fails to make exceptions for those who accept the Church’s teaching on faith, as though the very idea of someone accepting these things as truth was preposterous to him. His tone is the same condescending tone of a modernist, who assumes that any maxim – no matter how timeless in nature or how well it has held up to the test of time – must be judged in light of the prevailing ideas of the present age, which for reasons never explained by the modernist MUST be accepted as superior to any ideas that came from a previous age.

    I call apostasy on this one, and wonder if latae sententiae excommunications will ever be pronounced on those who deny the doctrine of the Real Presence, for such have clearly placed themselves outside the communion of the faithful and can cause great scandal if they are allowed to masquerade as Catholics while sowing the seeds of denial in others.

  7. Good grief, where did this guy learn quantum and Newtonian physics?

    Quantum mechanics has much greater hints of the transcendent metaphysics in the Catholic faith than Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

    Quantum Mechanics opens doors to the supernatural that Newtonian Mechanics appeared to have closed.

    1. Determinism: once seen as a logical consequence of Newtonian and Lagrangian Mechanics. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle demolishes that and once again opens the door to free will.

    2. Classical Theory of Everything: The “two little problems” of the invariance of the speed of light and the frequency distribution of black body radiation were expected usher in a Newtonian “theory of everything” which would remove all mystery and exclude God. Instead they brought the mysteries of relativity and quantum mechanics along with a countably infinite set of independent renormalization constants. A physical proof of the infinite splendor of creation.

    3. Conservation Laws (matter, energy, lepton number, baryon number, momentum, angular momentum): once so well established and left so little room for miracle that in Newtonian times, both theists and atheists defined miracle as a violation of physical law. Hume suggested that the scientific laws were so well established that they called into question any eye witness testimony of miracle. The weak nuclear force violates so many conservation laws (baryon and lepton number with sphalerons, CP symmetry to provide both an arrow of time and preference for matter over anti-matter) that credible physicists such as Tipler have gone back to Benedict XIV’s definition of miracle as a wondrous sign of religious significance and abandoned the notion of God violating the laws of nature. Tipler argues that almost all the miracles attributed to Our Lord (walking on water, passing through walls, the image on the shroud of Turin, the ascension) have scientific foundation in the sphaleron solution to the electro-weak equations.

    4. Physical realism / empiricism: had so much credibility in Newtonian times that Occam’s Razor seemed poised to amputate the Church from the rest of reality. All 3 interpretations of quantum mechanics in particular of Bell’s Inequality open the door to ideas anathema to empiricists. The dominant Copenhagen interpretation allows for “agency” by bringing in a statistical view of the wave function. This in turn opens the door to anthropocentricism when addressing the problem of the collapse of the wave function from a quantum uncertainty into a statistical uncertainty (Schroedinger’s Cat). The hidden variables theory alludes to reality hidden to us but revealed to the omniscient who must therefore be above the laws of causality as defined by special relativity (spooky action at a distance). The many world’s interpretation poses an unobserved multiverse so vast that using Occam’s Razor to discredit Christian truths evokes laughter before you can say “alternate reality”.

    5. strict dualism: For Newton things could be particles or waves, not both. Something could be real or spiritual but not both. Newton was sure that light was a particle not a wave and condemned any research to the contrary. Body without spirit was the way of nature. Young shows light behaves as a wave and so it cant be particle. Spirit must have nothing to do with matter. Church must not influence state. Einstein shows that light also behaves as a particle. The classical boundaries now blur again. Along comes John Paul II and calls for the integration of body and soul. Almost no one understands him, Christopher West translates some of TOB into common english and gets roundly condemned from conservative catholics.

    6. More dualism: in Newton’s time there were two electric charges, two magnetic poles. So much two that the threes belonged only in faerie tales. Along comes subatomic phyiscs: proton-electron-neutron. Red-green-blue charges for quark. BT-SC-UD generations of quark. Electro-Mu-Tau generations of neutrino, electron, positron. Three isnt such a crazy number any more.

    My few years of education from long ago is a joke compared to the 14 years the Jesuits have and this is what I can muster off the top of my head. Any Jesuit ought to be able to do better than this. Maybe in a Newtonian world there was no room for Christian doctrine. A post-Newtonian world should at least have the humility to admit we don’t know everything and can extrapolate very little.

    If my God is a god-of-the-gaps, then he gets bigger with every scientific discovery or advancement.

  8. why does it matter?

    It doesn’t, but there is some irony here. That is, atheists have long lived in the hope that scientific/mathematical proof will turn up to finally dispose of God. I recall an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer becomes smart after a crayon that was lodged up his nose for years was removed. At one point he goes up to Flanders and says that while working on his flat-tax plan he accidently disproved the existence of God. Ned checks Homer’s math, concedes that it is correct, and then promptly burns it saying, “can’t let this baby get out”. The irony is that scoffers often call Christians wishful thinkers, and yet this scene here captures the childish atheist fantasy perfectly and even throws in the conceit that Christians will rather lie than face “evidence”.

  9. To be charitable, Fr Kelly may have been encouraging us to rephrase the unchangeable truths of “this is my body” without making reference to Aristotlean pre-suppositions. Maybe he was calling upon Catholic physicists to do as Stephen Barr did.

  10. but if i believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, but that the substance is also bread, is also wine, the house of cards doesn’t come down.
    it’s a doctrine that doesn’t matter.

    • Pat, Then theologically you are a Lutheran.

      It is a doctrine that does matter because truth always matters. You limit the power of God by saying that the substance is still bread and wine somehow mixed in with the real presence. It is a great miracle that the Eucharist is really the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ and that another miracle is performed to make us only see the accidents of bread and wine. You limit the miracle of the Eucharist by denying this.

      Plus it is always better to accept what is taught by the Church and to accept a magisterial teaching. To say it doesn’t matter means that you say that you can deny the Church’s teaching with no effect. That is just not true. I understand your basic point, but I reject that it does not matter.


  11. Jeff, thanks for trying to Otherize me. That doesn’t advance your argument, and I’ve been called worse.

    I disagree with you: just because you SAY it matters, doesn’t MAKE it matter. If Jesus can be both God and Man why can’t the Eucharist can be both bread and body? does the house of cards come down? Of course not.

    And of course you can deny magisterial teaching. They’ve been wrong before. The lazy man swallows it whole. The hard part is reading the teachings of Christ, sifting out the the stuff that men have added, determining what matters and walking in His ways.

    • Otherize you? What the heck does that mean.

      Do you say truth does not matter?

      Either you accept a magisterial teaching of the Church, or you don’t. Give me one case of a magisterial teaching that has been one. Something taught from the beginning of the Church and taught to the whole Church via the Bishops in Union with the Pope. One example please where something definitively taught in the area of faith and morals was later reversed. This teaching on the Eucharist as per Vatican II and previous councils requires Assent of Faith. To deny it is heresy – which simply means to pick and choose.
      What your view would hold is that bread and wine is incarnated.

  12. It matters because we would not be in communion with one another because we would believe very different things about the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist.

  13. Oy, vey. “magisterial teaching?” “Bishops in Union with the Pope?” (love those initial caps!), “Assent of Faith?” (again with the initial caps?), “heresy?” I’m trying to have a reasonable discussion where I am questioning doctrine. You’re of a belief that if old white men in Rome say something, then that’s the end of the discussion. So why are you pretending to discuss this?

    • So even my use of correct capitalization somehow annoys you?

      You made a statement about the magisterium, which I asked you to prove and you come back with “old white men in Rome.” Not exactly an example of magisterial teaching on faith an morals that had been reversed.

      You also say it does not matter, then why do you argue on the subject?

      Plus I am not pretending to discuss this. I am discussing what the Church teaches and making plane statements of facts. The point is that there can be no real questioning of a doctrine infallibly taught by the Church. All effort should be given to understanding it and not going with whatever theology you prefer. Exactly what in scripture or sacred tradition would you use to defend the belief that bread and wine is incarnated or that they are both a material substance and the sacramental substance of God at the same time. What Father of the Church would you point to that holds this belief in the Eucharist? Or is it just a theory you prefer for no real reason. I am not trying to attack you here, but trying to come to understand why your theological view of the Eucharist is the correct one? If it does not matter as you say, why not accept what the Church teaches on this?

  14. Tess, we would be in communion with every one else who believes that Jesus Christ is 100% present in the Eucharist. Like the Piskies. The fact that the Eucharist is chemically made of wheat doesn’t change that.

    Jeff, I think you and I differ too much about what constitutes reasonable argument for our dialogue to continue. (Note that only proper nouns were capitalized in this sentence).

  15. How could Roman Catholics possibly be in Communion with Episcopalians? They have ordained women as priests and bishops and they don’t even have the seven Sacraments. The theology of the Eucharist is a central belief of the Church – both East and West. Being in Communion with Protestants can never be possible.

    After the Consecration there is _only_ Jesus Christ, though it may look like bread and wine. It is a mystery of the Church and the source and summit of our faith as Christians.

    People may not believe the Church about the Eucharist, obviously everyone is free to believe what they will, but by doing so they are separating themselves from the Church and placing themselves within Protestant theology. We are no longer in Communion with them.

    Might I recommend an excellent book on the Eucharist? ” In the Presence of the Lord” by Father Benedict Groeschel and James Monti.

  16. Tess I disagree that the doctrine of transubstantiation is the “summit of our faith as Christians”. I’d point to a few other teachings of Christ ahead of that as the “summit” of our faith, like maybe “love one another as I have loved you,” or the concepts of forgiveness and of course our belief in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

  17. “Love one another as I have loved you” — ie, dying, rising, and giving us His Flesh and Blood… oops! Eucharist!

    Forgiveness — oh, that ties into the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Eucharist also. Something about dying for our sins. Yeah.

    Resurrection of the body and life everlasting — through the Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Eucharist.

    It’s okay not to know much about transubstantiation, because nobody does. But it’s better to know what you don’t know and to find out what the Church does know, told to her by her Spouse, Jesus Christ. It all ties together. Heck, all Creation ties into the Eucharist. God said “Let there be light”, and God also said, “This is My Body.”

  18. Indeed Maureen. Transubstation is a sign of contradiction. Anyone can suggest that spiritual energies bop around material objects in an abstract kind of way. Healing crystals, dreamcatchers, ouija boards, blah, blah, blah. I can’t swing a dead cat without running into this kind of dull bet-hedging. Transubstantiation challenges us at the very root of what it is to make an act of faith. Our Lord says, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” three times and makes no effort to modify his statements or suggest that He is merely being symbolic. In that passage, many of His followers leave because of this. The first Protestants in a sense.

    I remember telling my priest that I had a girl in my confirmation class that said she believed abortion wasn’t wrong. He wasn’t liberal or conservative, but put it plainly: “She’s in the wrong church.” The same applies to transubstantiation.

  19. Why can’t Jesus be both God and Man but the Eucharist can’t be both bread and body?

  20. Why can Jesus be both God and Man but the Eucharist can’t be both bread and body?

  21. This is like asking “Why can sunlight be both ray and particle, but the moon can’t be both asteroid dust and green cheese?”

    Or it is similar to the question, “Why did Mary have to remain a virgin?” In the strictest sense, she didn’t. But that is what happened and even John Calvin said the only reason to keep up suggesting alternatives Mary’s perpetual virginity was out of a foundness for disputation. (That is, arguing for the sake of arguing.)

  22. my theory is more interesting than yours

    • “Religion is a moral virtue by which we render to God due honor and worship.”

      Rather an odd criteria. If I say that Jesus is in the Eucharist because he is teleported into it by space lasers that is a more interesting theory than yours. But how interesting a theory is is not the usual criteria for determining it’s truth. It is the opposite of Occam’s Razor.

      Mainly though what evidence do you offer to prove your theory? I asked you before for scripture and Apostolic Tradition that supports your theory. For anybody in Church history who was not a heretic who believed the same. Or is it just your theory that you hold despite what the Church teaches. That we should just believe whatever fancies us.

  23. Jeff, I think you and I differ too much about what constitutes reasonable argument for our dialogue to continue. (Note that only proper nouns were capitalized in this sentence).

  24. I think I’m gonna stick with consubstantiation. Christ is really present in the eucharist and I believe this by my faith. In addition to Christ being present, the chemical make-up of the eucharist is, in fact, unleavened bread. I do not believe this through my faith. I know this through science.

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