9 July 2009

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; well, there aren't any vineyards in the environs of Walsingham) I thought of the biblical phrase 'the corn, the wine, and the oil'. And I recalled how the old Ember Days (ignored now except by Anglicans and Tridentinists) grew out of the old mediterranean harvests (Pentecost: cereals; September: vintage; December: olives. See G G Willis 1964). And how our Faith is a mediterranean faith, rooted in the agricultural communities of the mediterranean basin, from the Hebrew Patriarchs onwards. And how 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.

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 should never forget the 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 commonly use substances other than wine in their communion services is not, as professional ecumenists seem to think, 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. 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 particular Cross after he had, on as particular evening, given himself to his friends under the appearances of a loaf and a cupful of wine. This particularity and this materiality 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; for example, Messiah, Christos, and the use of the oils in Initiation and Ordination. In a society in which kings and priests were not anointed, we would not be permitted to abandon the terminology and the sacramental Matter; we would have an obligation to catechise.

Without the Corn, the Wine, and the Oil, nulla salus [no salvation].


Little Black Sambo said...

And your argument deals nicely with proposals to admit women to Holy Order. They are not the right matter for the sacrament, and only a religion of ideas can say the matter doesn't matter.

rev'd up said...

Wine that maketh glad the heart of man; and oil to make him a cheerful countenance, and bread to strengthen man's heart.

God the Father enlightens our path with the Unction of the Holy Ghost, sustains us with Panis Angelicus, the True Bread of Heaven, and goads us with His blood the "cup of deadly(intoxicating and astonishing) wine."

As with the waters of Baptism, these three can be had the world over. God has opened His hand and man has been filled with good things, the earth is full of His riches. As for the heretics, they shall be consumed out of the earth and shall come to a bitter end.

johnf said...


...nulla salus

The latin dictionary translates salus as having meanings such as health, safety, well-being as well as salvation.

so 'extra ecclesiam nulla salus' could mean

'outside the Church, there is no safety, (so beware)...'

Am I about to start a new heresy?

webmasterNW52HR said...

Hear! Hear! Having said which, I have to say also "outside the Church, there is no safety, (so beware)..." and, alas, you are there (sigh)

Fr. Michael
Orthodox Priest-monk