HISTORY BEHIND HEADLINES OR PAST IS PROLOGUE
Every headline in a paper is the tip of a historical iceberg, behind or below which is past events extending beyond history to the very beginning of events. I have dreamed among other dreams of being a history teacher with such a command and knowledge of ancient and modern history that I could on any day take a newspaper to class, pick out a headline and gives an hour’s lecture on the events behind it and the events fathering it. For instance, on a headline pertaining to the Catholic-Protestant troubles in Ulster, I could began with Cromwell and his Roundheads or on a headline pertaining to the Israel-Palestinian troubles, I could begin with the Zionist movement and the pullout of the British from Palestine in 1948 and fill in the significant history from then to the date of the headline. Or I could read the following headline and event, go back to The Last Supper and elucidate thereon by sketching a few intervening events : “Church disallows rice communion wafer.”
“Five-year-old Jenny Richardson doesn’t go to McDonald’s like other kids and doesn’t share birthday cupcakes with her friends. And, now, because of Roman Catholic Church rules, she can’t have part of her First Communion rite, either. Jenny suffers from celiac disease, which causes her to get sick from eating gluten, a protein in wheat and other grains. She can safely eat rice. The Archdiocese of Boston has told the family that the church cannot substitute a rice communion wafer for the traditional wheat one, citing 2,000 years of tradition and faith.”
Thus, in lieu of my dream of being a super history teacher, I’ll be content to do my best with said headline as a contributing columnist:
Although I will begin to fill in the history behind this headline with the evening meal in the Upper Room some 2000 years ago when Christ broke bread with his followers, I Will skip centuries, owing to space restraints and my lack of knowledge, in order to arrive at the present, touching base, as it were, at Nicaea in 325 A.D., at Wittenberg in 1517, at Marburg in 1529, at the Council of Trent in 1551, at Oxford ,England, 1729, and at Boston, MA, in February, 2001, the place and date of the headline.
When Jesus and his disciples had their last supper together, no one of them, I surmise, would have imagined a few centuries later that that simple meal partaken by simple men, in simple surroundings would have evolved into a gargantuan religious sacrament that was enacted in a massive cathedral — an edifice that reflected the best of man’s creative and esthetic genius and his most ardent faith—and that was unfolded by ecclesiastics robed in vestments of splendor, chanting Latin, blessing wine and bread—drams and grams of which were presented to the worshipful in a rite called Mass. And exhorting the faithful to believe that the wine and bread of which they partook turned actually into the very blood and body of Christ, a phenomenon termed transubstantiation.
In the chain of events between The Last Supper and Boston, 2001, is the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. The council was called by Constantine, Emperor of the Roman Empire, for the purpose of settling the Arian dispute concerning the nature of Jesus. The anti-Arians, who held that Christ was God, prevailed over the Arians, who maintained that Christ was only God-like. Since then the mainline Christian religions and denominations have adhered to the Nicene Creed and to the belief that Jesus and God are essentially one and the same.
Another link is Wittenburg, Germany, in 1517. Martin Luther, a Catholic priest, had doubts about his getting to heaven by good works alone and further he took issue with the church over the sale of indulgences—a fee from sinners to the church to intervene on their behalf with God—and other doctrinal bases, including his divergent interpretation of Mass. So on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg his ninety-five theses, a seismic event that shook the very foundation of the Catholic Church and resulted in much of Europe and subsequently much of the world becoming Protestant.
Another event happened at Marburg, Germany, in 1529. While Luther was continuing his reformation in Germany, another religious revolutionary Ulrich Zwingli, was shaking up the establishment in the Swiss Cantons. Zwingli, who had been deeply influenced by the then present liberal humanism prevalent among Switzerland’s free self-governing cantons, was relative to Luther a raging radical. Zwingli persuaded the Zurich council to forbid all religious teachings without foundation in the Scriptures, a prohibition that was anathema to the Catholic Church. Zwingli also stood firmly upon others beliefs: he deliberately violated the Church’s stricture against eating meat during lent whereupon he was arrested and jailed for a time. Further, he asserted the supremacy of Holy Writ over Church dogma, attacked image, relic and saint worship and denounced Mass.
Friends of Luther and Zwingli, concerned over the doctrinal and political difference between them, got the two together at Marburg, hoping that they could resolve their differences. But they clashed over the question of consubstantiation versus transubstantiation and the conference ended in failure. Thereafter, Zwingli, acting as chaplain and standard bearer for the Protestant forces, in a civil war with Catholic forces, was wounded and subsequently put to death by Catholic troops.
Now, to the Council of Trent at Trent, Italy, in 1551. The decrees of the Catholic council were, inter alia, that sacred tradition was equal to Scripture, that Luther’s doctrine of Justification was doctrinal error of the worst kind and that anyone who questioned transubstantiation was to be anathema.
Here is transubstantiation as defined in a canon from Creed of Pope Pius, 1564: “If anyone shall say that, in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, there remains substance of bread and wine together with the body of Christ and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and shall deny that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the species of the bread and wine alone remaining—which conversion the Catholic Church most fittingly calls Transubstantiation—let him be anathema.” That is, let him be cursed, loathed, reviled and shunned.
Oxford, England, 1729. John Wesley founded there on that date the Methodist Church . It was Protestant and believed in salvation by faith alone. Also it subscribed to Consubstantiation instead of Transubstantiation. The former differs from the latter in that the bread and wine do not actually change into the body and blood of Christ but that the body and blood are mystically united to the bread and wine without substantive change of the bread and wine.
Boston, MA, 2001. Jenny Richardson parents, upon being told that the rice wafer could not be substituted owing to sacred tradition but that Jenny could take communion in the form of wine instead of bread, declined and decided to leave the Catholic Church and to attend a Methodist church, where there is no problem with a rice wafer.
Somewhere that man or God, who told his disciples to allow the little children to come unto him for such is the Kingdom of God and who said that the Sabbath is for man and not man for the Sabbath, notes with sadness that this child and her parents are anathematized for attending a church whose doctrine is that the wine and wafer, of whatever kind, do not actually turn to the blood and body of Christ during Mass or communion.
Mass should be for Jenny not Jenny for Mass. Here is a dilemma that should have been resolved easily by situational ethics rather than the Archdiocese standing on the absolute of “sacred tradition.” Jenny’s mother sensed as much when she said: “I believe Jesus would have made an exception.” Who that have read his words and who is not fossilized in dogma would disagree?