18 May 2016

The Corn, the Wine, and the Oil

As I settled down to supper and dowsed some bread (Italian) in olive oil (Greek, Kalamata) and enjoyed the reassuring gurgle of some wine (Gascon, ad honorem deiparae Virginis de Lapurdo nuncupatae) I thought of the exquisite biblical phrase 'the corn, the wine, and the oil'. And I recalled that the old Ember Days (ignored now in the 'diocesan Church' ... today is an Ember Day!!) grew out of the old Mediterranean harvests (Pentecost: cereals; September: vintage; December: olives. See G G Willis 1964). And that our Faith is a Mediterranean faith, rooted in the agricultural communities of the Mediterranean basin, from the Hebrew Patriarchs onwards. And that our sacraments are inextricably bound up with the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil. And I wondered whether denial of the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil might be considered the basic heresy, the elemental root of all error. Or perhaps this thought arose from the extravagance of the third glass ...

I don't only have in mind the iniquity of anti-alcoholism, although that is part of it. The Gnostics, creation-denying dualists, celebrated 'eucharists' in water, and we can share the righteous disgust of that acute theologian Dr Augustus Fagan ("Lloyd George, the temperance movement, Nonconformity, and lust stalking hand in hand through the country, wasting and ravaging"). The fact that Methodists and others commonly use substances other than wine in their communion services is not, as professional ecumenists try to get away with implying, some minor detail, easily fudged.

But more insidious still is the idea that the principle of inculturation could be applied to the elements used in the Christian sacraments. I have known suggestions that to use bread made from something other than wheat, alcohol produced not from grapes, and the oil of vegetables other than olives, would 'affirm' cultures which do not find their origins in the Mediterranean basin. This seems to be based on the notion that Christianity is an idea; and ideas can, in different cultures, be garbed in different clothes. That is what is the basic heresy. Because Christianity is not an idea. It is a person, a God who took flesh - a particular flesh - from a particular Girl in a particular country in a particular culture, and in that flesh died on a Cross made from a particular Tree after he had, on a particular evening, given himself to his friends under the outer appearances of a loaf and a cupful of wine. This particularity and this materiality, this rootedness, is Christianity. That is why the Gnostics were not Christians, and why Matthew Fox is not a Christian. And the Matter of the Sacraments is rooted in the particularity of that Incarnation and its culture.

Without the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil, nulla salus.

8 comments:

Gregory DiPippo said...

Dear Fr Hunwicke,

I am sure you will find the following of interest. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lity_(Orthodox_Vespers)

"After the lity the priests and deacons go to the middle of the church to a table prepared beforehand with five loaves of leavened bread, the artoklasia loaves, bottles of wine and olive oil and, in the Russian tradition, also a dish containing wheat kernels.

While the apolytikia (dismissal hymns) are sung — and the rubrics always mandate exactly three such hymns when there is a lity — the deacon circles the artoklasia table, censing the offerings thereon, during each, three times in all. Thereafter the priest uncovers his head and takes up one of the five loaves in his right hand, while he says the prayer:

O Lord Jesus Christ our God, Who didst bless the five loaves and didst therewith feed the five thousand: Do Thou, the same Lord, bless these loaves, wheat, wine and oil; and multiply them in this holy habitation, and in all the world; and sanctify all the faithful who shall partake of them. For it is Thou, O Christ our God, Who dost bless and sanctify all things; and unto Thee we ascribe glory: with the Father Who hath no beginning, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

vetusta ecclesia said...

A well known Last Supper picture in the cathedral of Cuzco, Peru, shows a table bearing "cuy" (guinea pig) and a jug of "chicha" ( maize beer). An early attempt, no doubt, at inculturation (or syncretism - what is the difference?)

Banshee said...

I remember that I used to think as a kid that you could change the elements, probably because so many parishes did so many stupid and invalid things when baking their own bread for use as Hosts. But I learned better, thanks to reading a lot. The problem is that if it isn't taught, we are depending on everybody reading a lot. And that's not necessarily going to happen.

I saw a beautiful TV piece once about a valley in Tibet or Nepal where a gentleman was making wine, from the vines abandoned in his native valley when the Catholic missionary priests from France were expelled. If priests can find a way to grow wheat and grapes in the Himalayas, I'm pretty sure the Church can manage to keep using "blood of the grape" and "finest wheat" as elements, wherever we go.

Gary Jenkins said...

Fr. Jean Meyendorff, in an essay on the Liturgy, noted that the Incarnation and the life of Christ are the norm for all society, all cultures, and of all times; thus the Liturgy is for the transformation of culture, and not something that culture can transform (i.e., make relevant). Will be in Oxon all of June, and would love to get together again.

Luke Togni said...

I had a similar conversation with a friend of mine, but he offered an interesting counter-point that genetically, the wheat of today is significantly different than the wheat of two millennia ago. If so, do you think that this raises a problem?

Rose Marie said...

No doubt there are genetic differences in modern wheat, grape, and olive varieties compared to ancient plants, due to both natural mutations and, mostly, deliberate breeding. But the genera are the same: Triticum, Vitis, and Olea. The human genome changes over time, too, but we are all still Homo. The problem is not for sacramental matter, it's for evolutionists to get around the very stubborn stability of life forms.

Tyrell Northcutt said...

Reading Luke's comment above, I'm reminded of Ivan Illich's little book 'H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness,' which raises a similar point. Is the recycled toilet flush of modern cities 'water'? Is it still a sacramental medium? So far as I remember, he only poses the question and posits no answer, but I always thought it was a rather intriguing question.

El Codo said...

Another pointer to the fundamental incompatibility of Islam with European culture. Not to mention the iconoclastic basis of this Arian offshoot.