Sacramental Realism: The Healing for Mind-Body Dualism and Monistic Materialism

It was the late 80s and I was writing a paper for my Corinthians class, an exegesis from 1 Corinthians 10, and specifically the verses “the cup is a participation (koinonia) in his blood” and “the bread is a participation (koinoia) in his body.”  I had been raised to understand the elements of bread and wine (or in our group of churches, grape juice, “the fruit of the vine”) were mere symbols of Christ’s Body and Blood, that there was no change in the elements in the Lord’s Supper, and, further, that the Lord’s Supper was a memorial of a past event, which event (Christ’s death, burial and resurrection) was the sole means of our salvation.  These verses in 1 Corinthians 10, however, cut right through that.  Only the slightest of research led me to understand that this was the belief of the earliest Christians (for which see St Ignatios of Antioch, and St Irenaeus of Lyons, among others).  Some years later, I learned that the belief that the Eucharist was a memorial and the elements were symbols and not really Christ’s Body and Blood was a belief that was no earlier than, and sprang from the dream of, one man: Zwingli.  That simple class assignment was the fulcrum which leveraged me right in to Orthodoxy, though I meandered a bit first.

After more than a decade of living in the light of the Sacraments, I recognize that accepting the reality of the Sacraments, that is to say, that they really are a participation in God, not merely symbolically but really and in all ways, body and soul, brings healing to the whole person, and even without a class in dogma, the Sacraments heal certain distortions of mind and heart.  Here, particularly, I wish to write of how the Sacrament (or as the Orthodox prefer to say, the Mystery) of the Eucharist is healing for the bent thought systems of mind-body dualism and monistic materialism.  I’m not going to be very technical or philosophically precise (though I hope to be accurate and correct), because the healing spoken of here is not merely of a certain form of rational thinking, but extends to ways of living.  That is to say, mind-body dualism and monistic materialism are ways of living that are counter to the way of life provided by the Sacraments, and the Sacraments heal in such a way that this distorted way of living is made whole.

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The Poverty of Materialism

About three years ago, perhaps four, I was in the Divine Liturgy for the Angels’ feast, when, during the homily, our priest made reference to the “medieval” belief, which C S Lewis makes central to his Space Trilogy, that angels guided the planets in their orbit, and ensured the movement of the stars and galaxies, that they had charge over various locales, and of course specific angels were tasked with guarding each of us, once the waters of baptism and the oil of chrismation had dried.  He commented, that this was a common belief, not only for Christians, but even, though in distorted ways, of the pagan world.  That is to say, it was simply taken for granted that spiritual beings played a part in the moving of our physical world and watched over our social and political affairs, including taking care for us individually.  (This topic is being explored in significant depth of detail in the podcast “The Lord of Spirits” which can be accessed online here.)

This made a forceful impression.  First of all, I knew what he was saying was true.  I’d read enough Lewis, and works in medieval spirituality, to know that this was the dominant view at the time, and in the historical eras preceding it.  It was certainly, I knew, the view of the Church.  Yet, it was “new” to me.  That is to say, in that moment, I began to recognize just how secular my own worldview was.

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