The Metaphysics and Theology of the Eucharist, international scientific conference

The Metaphysics and Theology of the Eucharist - report on the international scientific conference organised by the Research Centre for History of Philosophy of the Institute for Hungarian Studies

As a "scientific opening" of the 52nd International Eucharistic Congress, the Research Centre for History of Philosophy of the Institute for Hungarian Studies organised an international scientific conference from 1 September to 4 September, the opening day of the Congress. Philosophers and theologians from the most prestigious universities in Hungary and around the world (Oxford, UCLA, Notre Dame, etc.), who attended the event personally or virtually (via Zoom), explored the questions and historical solutions of the everyday miracle of the Eucharist, which were ultimately elaborated by High Scholasticism, with the use of and sometimes in spite of the categorical system of ancient and especially Aristotelian metaphysics. The lectures also focused on the initially subtle differences in the scholastic solutions that had developed into denominational conflicts and, in time, even into religious wars by the modern era.

Because what really is the Eucharist? What makes it the mystery whose veneration is a key issue in the Christian life of faith? The ritual goes back to the Last Supper of Christ and his disciples. According to the Gospel of Matthew: While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)

This passage is the scriptural basis of the rite and the related theological teaching, especially in Catholic orthodoxy, which teaches that the body and blood of Christ are in fact present in the rite under the "colours", i.e., the tangible properties, of the consecrated wafer and wine. In this way, the Eucharist is a rite of communion with Jesus Christ, God Incarnate in the most possible intimate way, by eating and drinking Christ’s bodily substances.

But when you think about what this really means, you are suddenly faced with a whole host of confusing questions. What is the "bodily substance" that we are "partaking" here? The priest says it is the body of Christ, but the body of Christ is a human body and what we receive is apparently just a piece of wafer. Not just any wafer, of course, but a consecrated wafer. But what has changed in it? Apparently nothing. Externally, it looks exactly as it did before sanctification. Of course, the lack of visible change does not mean that there is no change. We call this change transubstantiation precisely because the wafers and the wine change in their essence, in their substance and not in their perceptible properties, such as colour, shape, taste, etc. This is what makes it a real mystery: how is it possible that the substance of the body of Christ "exchanges places" with the substance of the wafer and the wine? How can a human body be under the "colours" of the wafer and the wine? How can a colour or a shape exist without being the colour or shape of a coloured body? For the existence of a colour or a shape is nothing more than being a body of such a colour or shape. But even if one were to say that this is possible, at least through the omnipotence of God, who can realize all that is possible (i.e. that does not contain self-contradiction in its concept), how could it be possible for the same corporeal substance, i.e. the body of Christ, to exist in two places at the same time, e.g. in Budapest and in Paris, if the transubstantiation occurs simultaneously in the Matthew Church and in the Notre Dame? Does this not involve a self-contradiction?

This mystery raises a multitude of similar perplexing questions, which are no small rational task for believers to answer. But it is precisely these questions whose answers constitute both a deeper understanding of the mystery and an ever more precise articulation of our own reasoning. For, for example, the last of the questions just listed requires the clarification of metaphysical (i.e., philosophical and not theological) concepts such as the notion of existence in space and time, as opposed to the notion of mere existence. If anywhere, it is possible here that not only reason can help us to understand faith, but faith can also illuminate the deeper meaning of our reasoning.

The video recordings of the presentations and interviews with several foreign participants of the internationally acclaimed conference will be available on the website, Facebook page and YouTube channel of the Institute for Hungarian Studies. The English-language volume of the conference materials will be published by Springer while the Hungarian translation will be published by the Institute for Hungarian Studies.