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23 September 2007 @ 12:41 pm
Eucharist: Körper versus Leib  
In German, there are two words that usually get translated as "body": Körper and Leib. A couple descriptions of the difference:

Here: "The distinction expressed in the German language between Leib, the body revealed to immediate self-consciousness, and Körper, the organic body as the object of scientific investigation."

Here: "In German, we are able to say "Korper" for the body that we have and "Leib" for that body that we are."

A somewhat more indepth look at the difference can be found here. This source points out, "Leib has no semantic equivalent in modern English and its meaning is therefore difficult to render in translation." Upon reflection, I think this may be a bit of an understatement.

When Americans think about bodies, we think about the parts that make us up: the cells, the DNA, the muscles, sinews, bones, brain, heart, etc. This is Körper. In death, the Körper is still present. Religious Americans contrast Körper and soul: death is when the soul leaves the Körper. There is Körper and there is soul; we have no comprehension of anything else.

Into this dichotomy the Catholic Church comes, describing the Eucharist as the real Body and Blood of Jesus. Americans struggle with this. The Eucharist is Körper? Which body part is it? There are cells or bones or something present? Why can't we sense them? If Christ is bodily present, shouldn't science (microscopes, x-rays, etc.) be able to verify that?

The typical Catholic answer to this is to try to explain the classical distinction between substance and accident. This is the language of Aristotle's philosophical take on existence, which language St. Thomas Aquinas coopted for the Church's purposes. The problem for most Americans is that Aristotle's philosophical distinction does not even remotely resemble American philosophy. By "American philosophy" I do not necessarily mean a formal philosophy taught in schools, but rather I mean the unstated assumptions about the world that dwell in people's thinking. If an American asks "what really IS a chair?", they will think it is the chair's Körper: the wood and nails and cloth (or atoms, molecules, strings) combined in whatever particular shape they have. And we think the same about our physical bodies. This corresponds more closely to Aristotle's "accident" than it does to his "substance" (although it corresponds perfectly to neither). Those who learn the Aristotelian thinking may find that it helps them get some sort of a handle on the Real Presence of the Eucharist, but rarely does it make comprehensive, intuitive sense of the subject to an American, because of this mismatch of the underlying viewpoints. When an American finds the substance vs accident explanation to be insufficient, they are liable to think that, if the Church is not affirming that the Eucharist is Christ's Körper (since Körper is more nearly "accident", and the Eucharist does not have the accidents of body and blood), that therefore the Church isn't *really* saying that the Eucharist is Christ's real flesh, but is rather saying something about Jesus being spiritually present. Or else the Church is saying that it IS Christ's Körper, but we somehow mysteriously can't sense it. The first leads to a devaluation of the Real Presence; the second leads some to feel that God is playing games with us.

But, and I find this highly important, in the German language, the Eucharist is not called Körper. It is called Leib. (On a related topic, in the book Introduction to Christianity, written by Pope Benedict XVI when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he specifically argues for the Resurrection of the Leib, and against the Resurrection of the Körper. The translation into English used the terms "resurrection of a spiritual body" for Leib, and "resurrection of a physical body" for Körper, which caused me some shock and led to this conversation.)

So what is Leib? What is this concept, which has not entered our language or thinking? If someone says that it is "more than just the muscles/cells/molecules of our body", that sounds to an American like it means "soul". Yet Germans have another word for soul: Seele. Leib is something physical, but not as we normally think of physical. It is more than what we usually think of as body, but it is not something on the spiritual plane.

Now, it should be noted at this point that my German skills are minimal; I had two years of it in high school, which was not sufficient to give me a proper understanding of the difference between Körper and Leib. Thus, the ideas which I am going to elaborate on to try to describe Leib are based more on how I make sense of the world than on a particular understanding of what the word means to a German. If anyone knows some German-speakers, maybe you can refer them to this to correct anything I get wrong.

Is your body the same body you had 5 minutes ago? The same body you had when you were a baby? "Of course", we answer. What makes it the same? Molecules get replaced with every breath; most cells in the body have a regular cycle of reproducing themselves to make new cells; the overall size changes; the details of the shape change.

What about DNA? Is that what makes my body "my body"? DNA gives the blueprints that our body gets built according to. If DNA is what defines a body, then every unique body should have unique DNA. For the most part this is true, which is why crime labs find DNA testing to be so helpful. But identical twins have the same DNA, yet different bodies. The recipient of a transplant may have an organ with DNA that doesn't match the rest of them, yet we would recognize that organ as now being a part of their body.

So why do we intuitively think that we have the same body we have always have? Sure, it has changed, but it's not a different, separate body than we had before. This is, I think, not based on science nor even on philosophy or theology. Rather, it is something we experience. This source says: "Körper : physical objective body : object-body/Leib : lived experienced body". Leib is tied to our experience of a body. And we experience a continuity in our body, so that it flows from one moment to the next without ever being changed into something completely new and different. (The closest thing to this is an experience like having a limb amputated; even then, the experience is of overall bodily integrity, even if that isn't the focus of the person's thoughts).

What else can be said of the body as we experience it, besides continuity? One of the sides referenced above says, "We could say of this [Leib] that it is our way of being here in time and space, here and now. This way of being here includes the whole of our gestures through which we express and present ourselves; gestures which are carried by a consciousness absolutely different from the consciousness of [Körper]." Another of the sources says, "Someone else's grief, for example, becomes mine only if (in contrast to culturally learned compassion) it pressed down on my chest or hits me in other perceivable ways. In German, the word Gefuhl makes clear that emotions are leibly felt."

In death, the Körper remains, able to be examined by a scientist. Leib, however, does not. The "I" that experiences the body is gone; so the body-as-experienced ceases to be. This can be repeated in microcosm with the loss of a limb. If someone cuts my arm off, I cease to experience that arm as part of my body. The arm has no Leib. (We see in these the connection of Leib to its roots in the word "life").

So what, then, does it mean to say that the Eucharist is the Leib of Christ? It means that Christ experiences the Eucharist as part of his body. The same continuity that we experience with our bodies, he experiences with the Eucharist.

On a side note, this makes some sense of what Benedict/Ratzinger wrote in his book. At the resurrection, we may not have the same cells that we have now (but we might not in two years from now, either). We will, however, experience having a body again then. Our body-as-experienced-by-us will be resurrected.

This also does something to explain why eating the Eucharist is not cannibalism. The cannibal eats dead flesh; even if he bites it off of a living person, it immediately ceases to be Leib, ceases to be experienced as part of the body by the person. Cannibalism involves eating Körper. The Eucharist, because it is Leib and not Körper, is not cannibalism. Because the Eucharist continues to be Leib as it is eaten, it does not diminish or attack Christ's body to eat it.

I'm wondering now if this might also explain why Catholic teaching says that the one Sacrifice of the Cross is made present at every Eucharist. In Matthew 26:28, and other descriptions of the Last Supper, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Notice that he does not use the future tense "will be poured out" (tomorrow) but rather "is" poured out. His blood is poured out; yet he does not shed his blood till the next day. What if, on the Cross, his experience of his own body simultaneously included all Eucharistics, ever? This is sheer speculation on my part. But it would make sense then, to say that the Sacrifice is made present at every Eucharist. And it would make sense for Christ at the Last Supper to say, "my blood is poured out", since the cup that was in his hands contained the blood as it was being poured out. Granted, the time issue will seem like a paradox to many. But God being outside of time, it seems to me to make sense to at least say it is possible.
(Anonymous) on September 24th, 2007 05:56 pm (UTC)
We need to buy you a good german dictionary :)
There are easier ways to describe the Eucharist ya know :)
The german language like some other languages has two or three words to describe the same thing, but based on the context they are used they can mean different things.

annafirtree on September 24th, 2007 11:08 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't mind a good german dictionary. Although a Spanish-English one might do me more good at this point. :)

I wrote this mostly for a Protestant blogger who was struggling with the whole idea that the Eucharist should be cells and DNA verifiable by science, or else His presence in the Eucharist is no more than his presence in general. I don't think he bought it, though.

I think most people are satisfied with simple statements like "The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ", and don't really care about details beyond that. But I've seen so many struggle with this concept at one point or another that I thought I'd get my thoughts out in writing. If you know of an easier way to describe the Eucharist that 1) doesn't make it sound like we're denying the physical presence and 2) doesn't lead to expectations of cells or DNA being involved, feel free to share them. :)
(Anonymous) on June 28th, 2009 05:24 am (UTC)
from Brett
I think you might find Ratzinger's Eschatology useful for further clarifying how he understands the body. Your Dad is right to link this to the Resurrection. The two are inseparable. You'll see it in the section on Resurrection in Eschatology.
Lastly, I think if you subbed in the word 'bodily' for 'physical' in your last sentence you'd be both closer to the teaching of the Catholic Church and to convincing your Protestant friend. Your whole argument is quite good, but you talk about bodies the whole time and then turn around and say it supports 'physical' presence.' In fact, your arguments support 'bodily' presence and go a fair distance to showing how 'bodily' and 'physical' are not the same.
annafirtree on June 28th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
Re: from Brett
My library doesn't appear to have Eschatology, but I'll add it to my books wish list.

I am using the first common definition of "physical":

phys·i·cal (fz-kl)
a. Of or relating to the body as distinguished from the mind or spirit

In this sense, "bodily" and "physical" are equivalent. I think this is how most people use the words, and I think we will cause a lot of confusion if we try to use words in such a way that 'bodily' means something different from 'physical'. Granted the distinction between physical-body-as-experienced and physical-body-as-studied-by-science doesn't have English language equivalents, so picking 'bodily' to refer to the one and 'physical' to refer to the other could have a certain appeal, but since that isn't currently the common parlance, I'd just as soon stick to using the German words Korper and Lieb and explaining what I mean by them.
(Anonymous) on August 22nd, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)
Re: from Brett
Hi again Anna. I have something written for Vox Nova on sacramental presence, but it will not be posted for a bit until I have finished a paper for school so I can double check everything with my profs. In any case, while reading through St. Thomas's Summa I came across something that should clear up this idea that Christ experiences the Eucharist as his body in a physical way. I will quote you one paragraph, but I really recommend reading all of question 81 (or all of questions 73-83 on the Eucharist if you like) to get the full context.

"Christ's body in this sacrament and in proper species under his own appearance is the same in substance, but not in manner, for under his own species he touches surrounding bodies through his own proper dimensions, whereas this is not so by his presence in the sacrament, as we have noted above. And consequently whatever is attributed to Christ as he is in himself may be attributed to him both under his own proper appearances and as present in the sacrament, for instance to live, to die, to suffer, to be alive or not alive, and the like. But whatsoever is his in relationship to external bodies can be attributed to him as existing under his own proper species, but not as present under this sacrament, thus to be mocked, spat upon, scourged, and crucified. Hence the verse:
When reserved in the pyx he can grieve
from within, yet cannot be hurt from without."
[He is quoting his teacher St. Albertus Magnus]

As to the first common definition of physical, it is certainly legitimate to use physical to describe Christ's presence. As I mentioned, many people use physical simply to mean 'bodily', or more problematically, 'real' ('problematically' if it presumes something must be physical to be real). If all they affirm is a bodily presence or a real presence, they are entirely within the Church's understanding. The problem is that 'physical' imports all kinds of other concepts, like the idea that Christ would experience pain if someone bit the host, that are quite foreign to Church teaching. It also imports the idea that the change could somehow be observed by scientific methods, so much so that atheists pretend to disprove transubstantiation just by looking at consecrated hosts under microscopes and finding it is, physically speaking, nothing more than bread.
The older meaning of physical is 'natural'. It is from this meaning that we get the name for the discipline of 'physics'. It came to mean 'body' much later when people equated it to body because the body was seen as the natural/material part of a human and the soul as the supernatural/immaterial aspect. So, even though in modern English we use physically to mean bodily, it does not apply very well to the Eucharist because the body that is present is precisely a 'spiritual body' as St. Paul describes in 1 Cor. 15, not a natural body as we experience in this life.
coolcatcol on September 24th, 2007 06:17 pm (UTC)
German to the rescue
I don't know the first thing abuot German, but the concepts of body as physical and body as experienced is a very useful distinction. I think you have applied it to the Eucharist in a brilliant way. I have used that distinction for the resurrection but never thought of it as applied to the Eucharist.
annafirtree on September 24th, 2007 11:09 pm (UTC)
Re: German to the rescue
Glad you liked it. :)
(Anonymous) on September 24th, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC)
I click on the article but cant read the comments
do I have to be a member to read them?

annafirtree on September 24th, 2007 11:01 pm (UTC)
Re: I click on the article but cant read the comments
You shouldn't have to be a member to read the comments, no. Are you saying that you can't read the three comments in this thread, even your own?

The comments that answered the 27 questions is an exception, though. I set it to automatically screen those comments, in case someone wanted to answer something privately. (Mostly just because the blogger who I got the questions from did that). "Screening" means that only I and the blogger who posted the comment can see the comment. That would require you to be a member to see even your own comment posted.

I don't screen comments too often, so you should be able to see any comments posted to any other writing other than that one.
(Anonymous) on September 25th, 2007 12:34 pm (UTC)
Cant read comments?
(Anonymous) on September 25th, 2007 12:38 pm (UTC)

I click on the "READ COMMENTS" button and it just brings your post up.
The only time I can read the comments is after I post another comment...it is only on this post that I am having this problem...your past posts that have comments i have no problem reading..oh well, maybe for your next post I wont have a problem :)

(Anonymous) on March 26th, 2008 01:01 pm (UTC)
WOW. This is one of the most interesting things I've read in a long time. I just linked to it from my links blog. I'm going to be thinking about this one for a while...