St Augustine and peace

28th August. Feast day of St Augustine.

St Augustine said of receiving communion: Estote quod videtis, et accipite quod estis. A common translation is, “Be what you see, receive what you are.”

I want to speculate as to how the idea of transformation got into our religious and political  vocabulary. My idea is that came eucharistic theology. The liturgy of the eucharist entails a transformation of the bread into the body of Christ. With the introduction of the doctrine of transubstantiation, this means that the transformation was said to be real. Thus, what we are “receiving” is something transformed; what “we are” is something transformed. Leaving aside it being about incorporation into a new social body (Church), it strikes me a false interpretation is at hand with regards to the indiviidual believer. Rather than signalling a transformation in us to new divinity, the eucharist signals the restoration of our divinity. In this way, it was right to see the mass as actually remitting sin. But this happens through a renewed liturgical vision (“with the eyes of faith” in Augustine’s text) at what is given in the mass (restoration, unity, peace). This fits with issues around justification by faith alone and whether participation in the sacrament effects restoration: it is not a mingling with a real new divine body which transforms us, really: it is viewing with eyes of faith the restoration which the sacrifice effects in us. Such is the sacrament of peace and unity which Augustine espouses in sermon 272.

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