Pannenberg – Systematic Theology Volume 3 (Part III)

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While the doctrine of the  real presence in the Eucharist is something that has traditionally been an issue of saliency specifically to the theologies that derive from (or react to) the Reformation, it has lost some of its interest among modern theologians. Nevertheless, Pannenberg’s ecclesiology includes a detailed explanation of his position on the Eucharist. He does not offer his theology in a vacuum and therefore it is of some benefit for this post to recognize that Pannenberg is confessionally Lutheran.

Pannenberg contends that instead of, say, an Aristotelian doctrines of categories, the concept of anamnesis (ἀνάμνησις) or remembrance is vital for thinking the Eucharist. Pannenberg wants to say that Christ is really present in the elements of the sacrament, but only insofar as “by means of recollection of the historical Lord who went to his death” (312), and not “as a descent of the risen Lord from heaven with transfigured corporeality and mediated by the words of institution – a descent into the elements of bread and wine that have been prepared on the altar or holy table.” (311). In other words, Christ is really present, but not through some ontological change in the substantial qualities of the elements.

He elaborates in his excurses that idea of real presence was linked very early to the idea of incarnation (e.g. in Origen and Justin Martyr, the latter in turn ascribes it to Irenaeus), as in the incarnation when the heavenly Logos took fleshly form and unites himself with the elements of the bread and wine in the same way. This was the issue in the Reformation debates between Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin’s position (which was the via media between the former two).

Pannenberg, as mentioned, does not want to think of Christ’s presence as a descent from heaven into the elements. We are to think of it as “recollection of the earthly story of Jesus and his passion” that we participate in (315). Specifically, by remembering or recalling the event (ἀνάμνησις), we can be said to participate in and show solidarity, not only with the uniting of participants of the Eucharist and thus with the whole church catholic (325), but more importantly to experience solidarity with “the path of Jesus to his death,” and it is in this anamnesis that we can say that Christ is present in the signs of the wine and the bread (315.).

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