Excerpts from THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
Fr. Frederick W. Faber, D.D.
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1958
TAN Books and Publishers
Book I: The Greatest Work of God
WITH THE OTHER WORKS OF GOD
BUT we may arrive at a still more accurate estimate of the eminence and dignity of this mystery of Transubstantiation, if we compare it with the other four great works of God which have been specified: and in the first place with Creation. Without forcing the parallels more closely than they will bear, it is obvious that the two mysteries are full of similitudes. The Divine operations in the one resemble the Divine operations in the other. A new substance is introduced under the species which did not exist before. A new mode of being is conferred upon the accidents, which omnipotence alone could confer. The whole is effected by the force of a Divine word; and the action of that word is instantaneous, so that no point of time elapses between its utterance and the work effected. Again, the grand prerogative of creation is that it is out of nothing; and so, on the view given in the preceding pages that Transubstantiation is not merely the conferring of a new locality on the Body of Christ, the act by which that Holy Body is placed under the species is truly a productive act, and has no parallel except in the act of creation out of nothing; so that, as theologians have said, the two actions are akin the one to the other. But if the Scotist opinion, quoted with approval by Lessius and others, be admitted, that, if by impossible supposition our Lord's Body did not exist at all in Heaven, it would be created out of nothing under the species by the mystery and Divine institution of the Blessed Sacrament, then it is true that there lies in the mystery a power identical with that of creation out of nothing: only that Transubstantiation far transcends Creation, because what it produces, namely the Body of Christ, is so unspeakably more excellent. Again, another parallel with Creation may be found in the acts of quasi-annihilation which distinguish this mystery. The Substance of the Bread, if not literally annihilated, is as if it were annihilated. The same is also true of the Substance of the Wine. The cessation of Jesus, when the species corrupt, is a kindred act; and if, by impossible supposition, He were not elsewhere, He would be as if He were annihilated. Now, St. Thomas teaches us that no creature of God is ever annihilated. A method of existence may perish; but the matter, or the spirit, are imperishable and must last for ever. This is what theologians mean when they speak of a thing being quasi annihilated, or as if it were annihilated: and these acts of virtual annihilation are kindred acts. To reduce a thing to nothing is equal to producing it out of nothing. The thought of the one leads naturally to the thought of the other. Nay, if anything, annihilation is the greater act of the two. Nicolas says, 6 "What we call death is not annihilation. We have no example in nature of the annihilation of a being. We cannot even form an idea of it in ourselves. Reason does not comprehend it. For the annihilation of one solitary atom we should have to put in jeopardy all the power which has created the universe, and consequently to cast ourselves out beyond all the rules of nature which that very power has established in creating it. To annihilate and to create are two equal acts. We do not comprehend the one more than the other. To produce something out of nothing, or to reduce something back to nothing, is the same miracle, and of all miracles the most inconceivable. I will say more: the annihilation of a single being would be a miracle greater than the creation of the entire universe, because it would have all against it which the miracle of creation has, and these two things beside, first the possession of its existence which that being already possesses, and secondly the propension of God, because of His sovereign liberality and fecundity, to create and to preserve."
Again, we have another parallel in the hiddenness of the Divine operations both in Creation and in the Blessed Sacrament. Fenelon beautifully observed long ago in his refutation of Father Malebranche, 7 that the general laws of nature, of which philosophers speak so much, are after all not so much manifestations of God's presence and operation, as a screen to hide both the one and the other. "Why," he asks, "has God established these general laws? It is to hide, under the veil of the regulated and uniform cause of nature, His perpetual operation from the eyes of proud and corrupt men, while on the other hand He gives to pure and docile souls something which they may admire in all His works." Thus, in the Blessed Sacrament the accidents are for Transubstantiation what general laws are for Creation. They seem to follow rules, when their very existence is against the established rules; for they exist without their substance; and they hide the awfully miraculous operations of God going on beneath them from the eyes of proud and corrupt men, while they reserve for pure and docile souls the prize of faith and the reward of a spiritual discernment. Thus, if we look at the powers of God displayed, at the unusualness of the methods of His operation, at the variety of miracles wrought beneath the species, at the depths of the Divine wisdom and goodness opened there to our view, Transubstantiation is truly an immense world, whose spiritual operations are compressed into a point, another creation, a different kind of world from the common one, yet verily a world, and a world more wonderful, and telling us far more of God than that magnificent material world which we inhabit, and which lies, light and little, in the hollow of His hand who has hidden Himself beneath the veils in the Blessed Sacrament. And as the Body of our Lord is more excellent than the matter of the earth and stars, and as annihilation is more wonderful than Creation, so is the world of the Blessed Sacrament more excellent and more wonderful than the world of earth, and the act of Transubstantiation a work incomparably transcending the act of Creation.
The affinities between Transubstantiation and the Incarnation are still more admirable; and they have often been enumerated by theologians. As in the mystery of the Incarnation the invisible Divinity is united to the visible Humanity, so in the Blessed Sacrament the invisible Flesh of Christ is united to the visible species. Again, as from the Hypostatic Union in the Incarnation there is made one Christ, so in the sacramental union with the species is made one sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Again, as by the Incarnation the whole Word is united to each of the parts of the Human Nature, so by consecration the whole Body of Christ is united to each of the parts of the species.
Again, as in the Incarnation the Godhead remained uninjured and impassable while the Humanity was injured and suffering; so in the Blessed Sacrament the mutations and sufferings, so to call them, of the species in no wise affect Christ lying hid beneath them. Yet, again, as because of the Hypostatic Union, we speak of God as suffering, being crucified and dying, when it was the Humanity alone that underwent these things, so in the Blessed Sacrament we speak of the Body of Christ being broken and consumed, when it is of the species alone that these words are true: for this sacramental union, like that of the Incarnation, brings about a certain communicatio idiomatum, as theologians call it, in virtue of which we say that Christ is seen, touched, mingled, and the like, because the species are so; and that which we see is rightly called living, intelligent, and sanctifying, because of our Lord's Body beneath the species. Again, as in the Incarnation our Lord's Humanity did not subsist in its natural way, but was sustained by the sole Person of the Word, so in the Blessed Sacrament the species have lost their natural method of subsistence, and are held together by virtue of the Body of Christ, without any natural subject of their own. Lastly, as no created power can break the union of the Incarnation, so, as long as the species remain, no created power can dissolve the union in the Blessed Sacrament. Thus it has been rightly said that Transubstantiation is the continuation and extension of the Incarnation; and in one point of view we may regard it as a more excellent mystery; because, while the Incarnation takes place once only and in one spot, Transubstantiation takes place every day, and at all hours of each day, and in thousands of places at once. It contains therefore all the excellencies and eminences of the Incarnation, while it seems to add to that mystery, at the least, fresh circumstances of grace, of loveliness, of multiplicity, and of loving-kindness towards men. If then we were to agree with some that Transubstantiation is not a separate mystery from the Incarnation, it would still be true to say that the former mystery beautifies and glorifies the latter, adorning it with miraculous characteristics which it did not possess before. In good truth, there is a sense in which none of God's works are separate or stand apart from the rest. His unity gives a unity of life to them; and it seems to me that the Incarnation flows as completely by way of consequence from the mystery of Creation, as Transubstantiation does from the mystery of the Incarnation; and if it were not so, all theology would be confusion.
Holy Scripture describes life very touchingly as a weary land, so weary that even the cool shadow of a rock is welcome as a divine thing, as a gift of God, or as the very presence of God Himself. We should glorify God more in our own souls, if He were more glorified in other souls round about us; and they may turn the same accusation against us; so that we keep each other back from glorifying God. When we travel over vast tracts of sterile and uninteresting country, the scenes around us not only depress our spirits and throw over us a spell of unsocial silence, but they impart something of their own barrenness even to our understandings. So it is in religion. We cannot live among unbelievers, and enjoy that bright life of the spirit which belongs to those who dwell in ages and regions of faith. They, who lingering in domestic Edens they are loth to leave, consort much with those who are not children of the Church, soon become evidently the worse for it, the moment they live at peace with them and cease trying to convert them. Faith, like holiness, suffers a sort of enervation from such society, and languishes in an uncongenial atmosphere. Hence people get strange views about the easiness of the salvability of heretics, and at last sink to making the kindliness of a doctrine the measure of its truth, and that not kindliness to our dearest Lord or to His one Church, but to those who are not His or hers. Daily are good people becoming less good through the operation of this mistaken and at bottom selfish and self-indulgent tolerance. Less and less will they brook the hard sayings and heavenly scandals of sound theology, which are to them frightening and distasteful as the terrible swords of the stern, wise cherubim, who came to expel them from their earthly paradise and its unsafe repose. If our lot be even cast amongst bad Catholics, we cannot, unless a very special grace attend us, be as those who are the companions of Saints, and the associates of men who act on supernatural principles. Not only is our faith made dull, not only is our heart charged with a secret nameless weight which we cannot throw off, not only are the efforts of our charity rendered languid, as if there were poison in the water we drank, and pestilence in the air we breathed, but our understanding of religion, our knowledge of God, our sense of holiness, are all, if not killed, which God forbid! at least deprived of their natural fertility. Only that the moral world is worse far than the material. There, if the stony plain be long and cheerless, or the burning sands be fearful for their immensity, at least the bright sky above is beautiful. If the days of the wilderness be glaring and fierce, at least by night the cool starlight is full of images of peace, and the kindly dew, like the universal charity of God, disdains not even the unprofitable sand. But there are whole tracts of the moral world with apparently nothing to redeem them. There are ages and countries which seem to set up no monuments to the blessed glory of God. Sterile and forlorn they are, and the poor soul that is cast upon them has hard work not to become as sterile and forlorn as they. Hence it is that holy men seem so often to retire from the business of their own day and their own land, to put aside the vulgar circumstances of the life that encompasses them, and surround themselves with the mysteries of Jesus and Mary, and make them their circumstances, and live upon them as if they had duties to them, and consider it the business of their lives to assimilate themselves to their hidden beauty and unearthly holiness. The spiritual works of God are the shadows of the rocks in the weary land. Their souls are refreshed by them, their hearts encouraged, their minds enlightened. To walk amidst God's mysteries of grace and to be familiarly conversant with them, is as if it were the renewal of that vesper walk with the living God, which was the unfathomable privilege of our first father while he was yet unfallen, and standing upright among the glorious trees of paradise in the celestial beauty of his original justice.
It is not easy for a man to be at once religious and thoughtful without having a great deal of devotional tenderness connected with the memory of Adam. His life is a sort of foreshadowing of the history of God's elect, and the vicissitudes of His holy Church. The creation of Adam, the supernatural gifts which adorned him, the one fact which tells volumes of the character of God, namely, that he was created not in a state of nature but of grace, the beauty of his terrestrial dwelling-place, the sublimity of his intelligence, his empire over the powers and laws of nature, his mysterious intimacy with his Creator, his relation to the Angels, his union with the immaculate Eve, the fall with the manifold revelations of himself, of Eve, of man's nature, of Satan's malice, and of God's perfections, his nine hundred years of heroic penance, and his justification by faith, penance, and the Blood of Jesus Christ, and last of all his succumbing to death, which was as it were his own creation: -----all these are so many mysteries for meditation. He was the maker of death, and he had seen it and shuddered at it in his own martyred son. It would take years of meditation to exhaust the mysteries of deepest import which are gathered in the life of God's eldest mortal son. To him we owe it that we have been sent into life, that we know God and Jesus whom He has sent, that we love our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, that we exult in the immensity of our faith, that we rest on the assurance of our hope, that we live in the life and strength of grace and love, and that we are one day to behold the Vision of the Undivided Trinity. And if we owe him sadder things, the possession of Jesus so weakens the thought of it in our memory, that we hardly remember it more than once as the year goes round, when it comes to us as a passing wonder that the Church, in the season of her deepest mysteries, sings of Adam's fault as if it were a happy thing, as it enriched the coming of our dearest Lord with additional tenderness and a more amazing copiousness of redemption.
But why have I spoken first of God's glory and then of Adam's honour? Because I am coming to speak of that great work, the justification of a sinner, and Adam was the first whom God drew into the light and splendour of that new creation, the first whom the Blood of Jesus justified. The two things come into my thoughts at once, and work together thus. The world is very desolate, because the harvest of God's glory is not what it ought to be; and good souls feel this desolation more than they can tell, and more than the world could understand, if they could tell it what they felt. Blessed be God! there are many souls to whom His glory is the passion of their lives. The worth of everything to them is simply its capability of glorifying God, and nothing more. Their choice of means and ends is guided by the same propension. Their happiness is their success in this single matter. Their unhappiness is in their failure, whether they make the trial on themselves or on others. Many things come before them. Many things claim their energy and their interest. Many things of this world are forced upon them as duties, and so become things, not of the world, but of God. Still all these are distractions. The force of the hand bends the bow; but it returns to its original form when the violence is taken away. To them life is a matter of one fact, and all truths resolve themselves into one, and that is, the immense worthiness of God to be loved: and it seems as if a necessity were laid upon them to see that He should be infinitely loved even by finite creatures. The few and scanty gleanings of the world are soon gathered in by the activity of love; and few and scanty they seem for all they are so beautiful and great; and then, as I said before, they put away the circumstances of life, or they leave them, as a bee leaves a rifled flower, and surround themselves with God's great works in the spiritual creation, that they may joy over all the abyss of complacency His love and glory have decreed to find therein. And not to speak of the first act of Mary's love in the womb of Anne, nor of the first unutterable moment of the Soul of Jesus in the Incarnation, there are two acts of love in Adam's mysterious life which these good souls love to ponder, because they are at once so high and yet seem to come so near to themselves and within reach of their own capacities.
One is the first act of love which Adam made at the moment his glorious soul was breathed by God into his body. To take the measure of this act of love, we must consider the sublimity of the gifts with which Adam was endowed. Are the hearts even of Saints as large as his was then, where sin never was nor the evil of self-love, nor the littleness of selfish imperfection? Immaculate as Mary [meaning created without Original Sin although not full of grace as was the Mother of God----the Web Master], to whom alone of all his descendants he can be compared, he stood before God upon the unsullied virgin earth. Creation was not beautiful enough for him. A special paradise had to be planted for him by God's Own hand. He was the result of a solemn council of the Most Holy Trinity. His nature was beautiful in its perfection, but it was clothed by the surpassing beauty of primeval grace and the radiance of original justice. The greatness of his science was such that we hardly form an idea of it to ourselves, and the most startling miracles of the Saints are but feeble indications and partial recoveries of that rightful and supernatural dominion over nature which he possessed and exercised. The Angels had fallen, one-third of the whole multitude, and Adam had come in the place of them, although in Jesus he had been decreed before them. That nature was created which from all eternity the Eternal Word had predestinated to take upon Himself. Adam was fashioned on the idea of Jesus; and Adam was to be the ancestor of Jesus, when the fulness of time should come. He was equal, God's works always are, to the dignity of his place. He was worthy of the eminence on which he stood. But a moment before and he was nothing. Darkness, silence, senselessness, are only emblems of the utter nothing out of which at the beck of God the soul of the first man sprang forth. And how in the strength and health and magnificence of that first consciousness, his first act was one of almost immeasurable love of God, whom he knew, saw, loved, enjoyed, as one could who was adorned with senses of body, affections of heart and faculties of understanding such as none other of his descendants ever had until his sinless daughter Mary. Who can rightly imagine the gush of that first fresh heart? Who can fathom the depths of that new, thrilling, sinless life? Who can guess the heights of the exultation of that living breath of God just burningly breathed forth by His creative love; for by those heights alone can we measure the astonishing depths of Adam's spirit of prostrate adoration? How much was there, in that act of love, of reparation for the clouded part of the fallen angels? How much of promise for the futurity of this new and especially beloved creation? Enough that Adam's was the first act of love that was, if not in magnitude at least in human shape and kind, the same as those crowning, those alone sufficing acts, which God's glory was one day to have in countless millions from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This was the first act of Adam newly justified by the gift of original justice simultaneous with his creation, and by that supernatural love, which created the first copy of the predestinated Humanity of Jesus, not in a state of nature, but in a state of grace. We think of Adam's fall, should we always be forgetting Adam's love, the first human love which the goodness of God vouchsafed so dearly to seek and so tenderly to prize?
Was God less wonderful, less desirable, less unfathomable to Adam when he knew Him, and had studied Him, and had left His blessings multiplied upon Him, than He was in the first moment of his creation? Surely the inexhaustible riches of God and the far-reaching intelligence of Adam, and his rapid, exuberant growth in grace up to the fatal moment of sin, may all equally answer the question for us. But he had fallen. Now, if ever man knew the grievousness of sin, it was Adam who had once been sinless. If ever human heart could approach to the agony of that Sacred Heart which so miraculously drove the Blood away from itself under the olives of Gethsemane, it was the wise and hitherto immaculate heart of Adam. Did he know that God was merciful? Yes! for he knew that creation is itself mercy's eldest daughter; for God can exercise no mercy inside Himself, neither can He be aught but merciful outside. But there was no type of mercy for sin. There was everything against the thought, Adam's was not the first sin. The angels had sinned before him; and awful beyond expression had been their visitation. Not a moment was granted for a second thought. The act of rebellion and the lightning from the face of God seem to be but one act, so closely the one followed on the other. Worlds of intellectual beauty, creations of spiritual magnificence, abysses of wisdom and science and deep vision, strongholds of majestic power, multitudinous possibilities of glory and worship and love, and for each single one of these countless spirits there was the Creator's intense yearning to preserve and beautify and love them, and yet, not one instant of doubt, not one gesture of forbearance, He crushed, blighted, ruined, swept over the battlements of heaven into the abyss of hell, the whole of that marvellous ocean of teeming life and intellect. The zealous angels who stood firm interceded not. They had never seen an intercessor. They unsheathed the swords of their keen spirits, flung themselves simply into the majestic dispositions of God's holy and chaste anger, and fought against their brethren, exulting to seal the work of their eternal ruin, all-loving as they were, because the All-Holy would have it so. The Eternal Word caught not at the wretched spirits as they fell. The breath of His mouth was to them, not the sweetness of repeated pardon, of reiterated absolution, but it was the fire of utter and hopeless desolation.
This was the mystery that Adam knew of. He knew it far better than we, and could fathom it more deeply, and characterize it more wisely and more truly. Now he had fallen himself, and from so great a height, and in spite of a grace so wonderful, and under a legislation so light. If God spared not His first rational creation when it frustrated His gracious purposes, what likelihood that He would spare His second, which had sinned under circumstances so aggravated? There was no such beauty as the Angels had, that God should pardon Adam on that score. Number! could not plead for him; for he and Eve stood alone, and God had but to cast them into Hell, and create another man and another woman who should serve Him more loyally and with greater nobility. Not a tree or flower, not a gentle singing bird or painted moth need be scared or scathed. What more easy to the Divine power? What more likely for the Divine justice? What more compatible even with the Divine goodness? Think how all this rushed on the mind of Adam, with so much more force than it does on ours. But he was a copy of the pre. destinated Jesus, and that saved him. The Lamb had been slain before the foundation of the world, and the Blood was ready, and that justified him. He was forgiven. Surely it must have required a miracle of omnipotence to keep him alive, just as it needed one to hinder Mary's broken heart from being her death at the foot of the bloody Cross.
There was a new creation. There was a grace which had never been before, the grace of contrition; and his second act of love, which was the first of all acts of contrition, must also have surpassed his first act, when his immaculate soul came out of nothing and lay in adoring love at the feet of its Creator. Glorious as had been its knowledge of God before, it must really have seemed to him as if he had known Him not at all, such new depths of perfection, such breadths of incomprehensible mercy, had now been opened to him. But why more words? We cannot tell how Adam loved, it was so tremblingly, so intensely, so unutterably. Yet of his two loves, I would dare to think his first, when he stood justified by original justice, was less than his second, when, his fresh unexpected pardon more overwhelming him now than his recent creation overpowered him then, he stood before God justified a second time, and justified from sin by the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.
And yet perhaps we should not say that this last was greater than the first; but rather that to us it is more touching and more intimate, as the things of penance concern us more nearly than the things of innocence; and the idea of God, which a soul forgiven possesses, must be of a different kind from that which a beautiful unfallen being entertains of His ever blessed Majesty. The first act of Adam's love in the bright morning of his creation reminds us rather of Mary's first act of love, and the first moment of the Incarnation. It is a mystery to be admired. It is a joy that such an act of love should have been made to God, one which comprised so much that was for His greatest glory. Whereas Adam's second act was the father of thousands of similar acts of love which are being daily made by justified sinners, though they are far below it in heroism and intensity. There is not a soul today, which has departed from the countless confessionals of Christendom unclothed of the disgrace and guilt of mortal sin, but has made an act of love of God, of wondering praise and humble gratitude, of which that act of Adam was the first beginning, the original model and exemplar. It is the first parent of all our acts of contrition, and therefore venerable in our eyes. Then was the first creation of that grace tenderer than all other graces that had gone before it, whose secret vehemence is in the pulses of the Precious Blood, the grace by which we ourselves live and pray and hope and love all the days of our lives. What wonder that it should be more to us than the planting of Eden, or the ordaining of the sun and moon and stars? It was a greater work of God.
But how shall we compare the mystery of Transubstantiation with this grand work of the justification of a sinner, that work which, though greater far than the creation of a million worlds, is of hourly occurrence in this thankless earth of ours? We feel than Transubstantiation is of a far higher character. It leads us into a region of loftier and heavenlier things: and the operations of God in it are of a more delicate and spiritual kind. But if we consider the work of justification in a doctrinal point of view, we shall perceive that it is in an especial sense the work of the Sacraments. Either they effect our justification directly, or they confer it indirectly, or they confirm and complete it, or they sustain and preserve it, or they keep it bright and radiant, or they develop it into a higher work, or they create the fountains of sacramental power, causing them in the sacrament of Order to spring forth from the dry rocks of the hearts of men. Thus there is a special connection and a peculiar term of comparison between the Blessed Sacrament and the Mystery of justification, which last is so sacramental an act that, even when effected without the intervention of a proper Sacrament, it is not effected without the implicit desire for the Sacraments which are its rightful channels. Now if there is one dignity of the blessed Eucharist which is more undeniable than another, it is that it is the queen of sacraments. No others can compare with it; for while the others bring us the precious gifts of Jesus, this brings us what is unspeakably more precious, Jesus, God and Man, Himself. In the others there are special graces; in this, the fountain of grace Himself. Nay, it was the only Sacrament which He Himself could receive, the only one which He did receive, and with longing and desire did He receive it. How ineffable must be its dignity! But the Holy Eucharist does not overtop the other sacraments merely by the supereminence of its prerogatives. It surpasses them in that it comprises in itself the special excellences of all the rest. It has in it the faith of Baptism, with the fortitude of Confirmation. The purity of Penance is but the preparation for it, and the union of Marriage the figure of it, and the balm of Extreme Unction is as the kiss of those Lips which the Eucharist contains, and it is itself the Sacrifice for which the sacrament of Order is established. Thus justification is one of the most glorious works of God's omnipotence, one of the most supernatural inventions of His wisdom, one of the most attractive miracles of His love. But the Blessed Sacrament is not so much a work, as it is the omnipotent, the wise, and loving Worker and Justifier Himself, hidden beneath veils to whose texture go more omnipotence, more wisdom, and more love than to the mystery of a sinner's justification. Thus it has all the work, and more than the work, of justification, and it is the Divine Worker and Justifier Himself besides.
6. Etudes Philosophiques, vol. i, p. 130.
7. Chap. xiv. Works, vol. iii, p. 95.