An Incarnation Model of the Eucharist

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James M. Arcadi
  • Cambridge, England: 
    Cambridge University Press
    , May
     318 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


There has been considerable work in analytic theology throughout the past ten years. Its predominant focus has been on clarifying Christian doctrine, which has left the clarification of Christian practice largely untouched. James Arcadi’s An Incarnational Model of the Eucharist is a welcome change of pace. Specifically, it makes a valuable contribution to the metaphysics of the Eucharist and how analytic theology can develop into an analytic theology of Christian practice.

Following some methodological preliminaries, the discussion begins with a careful mapping of the available positions on the nature of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Arcadi situates his own stance in what he terms the “Corporeal Mode” of understanding Christ’s presence, defending a version of impanation. According to this interpretation, “Christ is substantially present” in the elements, yet, “the bread and wine continue to be substantially present” and “a union obtains between Christ’s body/blood and the bread/wine modelled on the Incarnation” (17). The proceeding discussion does not aim to argue for this position but to provide an explanation of how it can best be understood philosophically, theologically, and in harmony with the Biblical texts.

The book is loosely divided into two parts—the opening four chapters establish a philosophical problem, which the remainder of the book aims to resolve. Arcadi explains this difficulty arises given there is a “syntactical equivalence” of “body” and “bread” as predicates of the same object, but an “epistemic inequivalence” in conceiving how these two predicates could apply to the same object (14). To solve this dilemma, Arcadi looks to Christology, for in the discussion of Chalcedonian-inspired Christology we find a parallel predicament: the words “This is God” and “This is a human” provide another instance of syntactical equivalence but epistemic inequivalence. Arcadi maintains that solutions to the latter problem can help shed light on the former.

Chapter 2 begins with an analysis of the dominical words “This is my body” and “This is my blood,” arguing these are two predicates of the same object, establishing a syntactical equivalence between the two. Next, in chapter 3, Arcadi offers a view of consecration, which defines to consecrate as, “to set apart an object for God’s use” (102). This act of consecration involves an exercitiveillocutionary act (i.e., a speech-act in which “saying so is making so” (66)), thus, in employing the dominical words, Christ sets apart the objects of bread and wine to be utilized by God. Furthermore, in chapter 4, Arcadi asserts that one feature of the speech-act used in the dominical words is the instance of renaming in which “Christ adds the name “his body” to refer to the bread,” without replacing the name “bread” (139).

The book then moves to address the epistemological and metaphysical problems that arise from this syntactical equivalence. Chapter 5 provides a detailed survey of the literature on Chalcedonian Christology in pursuit of solutions to explain how impanation might be true. Arcadi proposes that a version of three-part, concrete-compositional Chalcedonian Christology offers the most promise. On this account, “God Incarnate is a whole composed of the proper parts of God the Son and (the parts of) his human nature” (163). Arcadi argues that the union that occurs between the concreate particulars which constitute the Son is best thought of as an instrumental union in which human nature is used as an instrument of the Word (191). Borrowing from Katherin Rogers work on compositional Christology, Arcadi contends that to describe Christ as acting is to claim that “when the Word acts with his human nature, the hypostatic union obtains between his divine and human natures” (287). Thus, “whenever and as long as the Word operates through the human nature, it is apt to say of the Word that the Word “is a human”” (191), thereby resolving the epistemic inequivalence between the claims “This is God” and “This is a human.”

Arcadi proceeds to outline a view he dubs, “Sacramental Impanation.” This position relies on an explicit understanding of omnipresence, which is outlined in chapter 3, stating omnipresence is best understood in relation to God’s acting, and God’s presence in a precise location as an instance of divine action at that location (96). Putting these positions together, and building on the earlier discussion of consecration, Arcadi writes that making objects holy through the act of consecration means that such objects “are loci of divine activity (and thus presence)” (287). When we talk of the Eucharistic elements as consecrated for God’s use, it is true to say God is there in the Eucharist. Moreover, in adopting a compositional Christology, we can say that the consecrated elements are a locus of Christ’s activity (and thus Christ’s presence). Just as Christ stands in an instrumental relation to his human body, he forms an instrumental relation with the elements and, thus, the elements “become his body as his body is extended to include the bread and wine as artefactual parts of his body. The consecrated object is thus a locus for Christ’s presence precisely because it is his body” (289).

There is little to fault in Arcadi’s argument—he accomplishes precisely what he sets out to do, namely, to make sense of a certain mode of understanding the Eucharist, informed by a particular understanding of Christology. I conclude with two brief suggestions for future development. First, while it is no criticism of Arcadi’s work to voice dissatisfaction with corporeal modes of understanding the Eucharist—he admits that the Biblical texts underdetermine one’s position on this issue (26)—broadening the aims of the enquiry might have allowed for more comparative discussion between corporeal and non-corporeal models of the Eucharist, and the philosophical implications of each position. Second, within the text, Arcadi provides many helpful points of departure for future work in the area of practical analytic theology. His interpretation of consecration has potential to broaden the discussion of analytic theology to include sacramental theology. One example of how this might advance future discussion can be found in liturgical theology—the collects which are used in Anglican liturgies are short prayers which serve to unite the congregation as one body, set apart to worship God. The application of Arcadi’s model of consecration might help elucidate just what kind of speech-act is used in the priest’s reading of the collect.

In sum, this is an intricate and rich work which addresses an important, and often overlooked topic in analytic theology, and I hope that it proves to be the beginning of a sustained engagement between analytic philosophers and the practices of religion.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Joshua Cockayne is Research Fellow at The Logos Institute at the University of St. Andrews.

Date of Review: 
January 16, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

James M. Arcadi is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Analytic Theology Project at Fuller Theological Seminary, California. From 2015-2017 he was a Research Fellow in the Jewish Philosophical Theology project at the Herzl Institute. His articles have appeared in Religious Studies, Topoi, Heythrop Journal, and Philosophy Compass. He is the co-editor for special issues of the journals TheoLogica and Open Theology.


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