Interview with James M. Arcadi on An Incarnational Model of the Eucharist (Part 2)

This is the second part of my interview with Dr. James M. Arcadi on his book entitled An Incarnational Model of the Eucharist. We cover Chapters 5 through 7 and the Epilogue.

Like last week, my questions for Dr. Arcadi are in bold with his responses following.


Last week you shared that the view of the Eucharist you are practicing “faith seeking understanding” on is a view that claims the Eucharist is modeled on the Incarnation of the Word. In Chapter 5 you turn your attention to the Incarnation. I really enjoyed that chapter and I’d like to break it down a little bit before we get into the model you defend. But first I have to ask what I think some readers might be thinking: Why in the world are you trying to help us understand the Eucharist by using something else (the Incarnation) that is already hard to understand?

If one is tracking with the argument of the book so far, then one arrives at a linguistic situation wherein we can refer to the consecrated bread as both “bread” and “the body of Christ.” This is a similar linguistic situation as we find ourselves in with respect to traditional, orthodox Christology (where we say that Christ both “is a human” and “is God”). The thought, then, is to use similar metaphysics in the Eucharist as we do in Christology to give a deeper understanding of a similar linguistic reality.  Plus, it’s a move that has been made in the tradition (which I show in Chapter 6), so I’ve got good precedent for making it.

Now we’re about to talk about some tough concepts, and I think this is a great place to go “Crocodile Hunter” on these concepts to help everyone understand them. In your book you give helpful illustrations of how philosophers view “abstract” versus “concrete” natures of things by talking about an alligator. Can you explain the difference between those two views by using an alligator as an example?

The distinction between abstract and concrete explications of natures is one that has become somewhat commonplace in analytic theological discussions of Christology. I adopt a concrete nature view, which says that natures endow the possessors of them with certain capacities and powers, but that those capacities and powers are keyed up, so to speak, to the nature. So, the alligator illustration I use in the book is just that although a human being and an alligator might perform the same action on one vague level of description, they are not the same because the capacity to act arises from entirely different natures. So, like I say, I can chew a bit of chicken in my jaws and an alligator can chew a bit of chicken in its jaws, but that is not the same action because I humanly do that and the alligator alligator-ly does it.

So your incarnational model of the Eucharist uses the “concrete” nature idea. And of the models of the Incarnation that use that idea, the one you go with is something like what Brian Leftow likens to a man wearing a diver’s wet suit. How does your explanation of the model differ from this?

Actually, the view is really similar and it might be that my view is just another species of the same genus as Leftow’s. I do prefer Katherin Rogers’ explication of the view because of her emphasis on action as an essential component to the instantiation of the [hypostatic] union. One can get this via Leftow’s discussion, but it isn’t as headlined in his discussion.

On this view, then, Christ’s concrete human nature is a sort of “instrument” that the divine Word uses. And when the Word actively uses this concrete human nature, we get the “hypostatic union.” But wait, why aren’t all humans in a “hypostatic union” with the Word then? Doesn’t the Word use everyone by virtue of being sovereign over creation?

I do not think all humans are in a hypostatic union with the Word, even if we are in union with Christ (as is a standard Pauline theme). Rather, the kind of instrumental union that might form between the Word and my human nature is not the kind of first-person, private ownership union that obtains between the Word and his human nature. That is a different kind, even if similar kind, of union than the one formed with other humans.

We’ve got enough pieces in play now to describe the incarnational view of the Eucharist that you defend. What view do you defend, and how does it differ from some of the other options?

In the tradition, a term that has been used to refer to incarnational models of the Eucharist is the word “impanation.” This is a rip-off of “incarnation,” where in Latin the in carne of incarnation means “en-fleshed” whereas the im pane in impanation means “em-breaded.” The Eucharist, on this model, is like an incarnation into bread and wine.

There are various ways theologians in the tradition have done this. They have more or less specifically linked up the bread and wine by an instrumental relation to either the divine Person of Christ, the human soul of Christ, or the human body of Christ. I argue that the latter, linking the bread to the human body of Christ, is most faithful to the traditional and liturgical desiderata. This I call “Sacramental Impanation.”

Let’s address an objection to this model that might be in our readers’ minds. You say that any theory that’s in the “Corporeal Mode” family “has to find a way to say that the body of Christ is consumed in the Eucharist and yet Christians are not cannibals” (p. 278). So give it to us. Why aren’t Christians who hold to Sacramental Impanation cannibals?

I take it that a cannibal is a human who eats the natural, organic body of another human. Although the bread and wine are appended to the human body of Christ, they are not natural or organic parts of Christ. They are what I call artifactual parts of Christ’s body. In fact, in extending his body to included these parts, in an act of accommodation Christ makes it possible to obey the commands of John 6 without committing cannibalism.

Here’s a follow up to your solution: All of the examples of artifacts that we have are also, seemingly by definition, “common” (as opposed to what you call “private”) instruments. It would then seem to follow that the bread and wine cannot be parts of Christ’s human body as artifacts and must therefore be parts of his organic body. Uh oh! Now we’re cannibals again. How do we avoid this kind of objection?

This isn’t quite right. When a prosthesis-user uses her prosthetic device, she forms a private instrumental relation with that device. It is no longer common in the act of use. It could certainly be taken off more easily and used by someone else than could a natural human limb, but specifically in the act of use it is not common but private. But it remains an artifact, not a natural kind, and likewise, mutatis mutandis, the bread and wine do not become organic parts, but remain artifactual parts of Christ’s body.

Before we go, can you tell us what sort of difference thinking carefully about the Eucharist makes?

If I’m right in my proposal, then not only is Christ “Emmanuel” in some abstract sense or some “up in heaven but not really” sense; Christ is God with us, presently, humanly, and bodily in each and every celebration of the Eucharist. That seems like good news to me!


Thanks to Dr. Arcadi for answering my questions about An Incarnational Model of the Eucharist. This is my first time conducting this sort of interview, and I hope to do more of these in the future. Please leave me any feedback below, and perhaps raise some questions of your own about Dr. Arcadi’s book.


Image Credit: Emmaus by Lawrence, OP

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