The Real Presence and A Short Story of Graham Green

The Real Presence belongs to one of the most difficult theological topics, while revealed by our Lord in the Last supper:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matth. 26, 26-28),

the real presence proved difficult to be molded into philosophical concepts, that is, to be explained by natural reason. In philosophy people make a distinction between the “lumen naturale” and the “lumen supernaturale”, it is through the latter that we grasp what can’t be explained by  natural human reason. But Catholic theology strives to achieve a unity between Reason and Faith, as tackled by our Holy Father in his Regensburger Lecture 2006, so there have been several efforts to explain this Revelation. One of them, and the most famous of all, is the transsubstantion theory of Thomas Aquinas. The Saint used the Aristotelian concepts of ‘substance’ and ‘accidence’ to explain this Divine Mystery: through God’s omnipotence the substance of the bread of wine is transmuted during the consecration, but the material doesn’t adopt the natural appearance of the Body and Blood of Christ (cf. Summa theologica, III q. 73-83). The Fourth Lateran Council describes in Caput firmiter the Real Presence in accordance to the theory of Thomas.

But as the Saint also writes in his famous Pange lingua:

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
veneremur cernui:
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui:
praestet fides supplementum
sensuum defectui
.
Down in adoration falling,
This great Sacrament we hail,
Over ancient forms of worship
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail
.

Not with senses, but only with Faith can we ascertain the Presence of Christ in the Host. The theological theory is there to help us to understand, but the theory does not prove the Reality of Christ; it is only a hermeneutic instrument for people who already possess the Grace of Believing. Anselm of Canterbury said: fides querens intellectum: the Faith which seeks understanding. If we believe, our natural faculty desires to grasp and understand what we believe. But the intelligence does not come before the faith, instead, it is after the faith.

Thus, a small child of four can tell us more about the real presence of Christ than most learned theologians, like Little Nellie of Holy God (click Here for more details). And how can we be surprised when we read in Graham Greens The Hint of an Explanation (1948) that a child of ten resisted the temptation to commit a Host desecration and became a priest because of this experience?

Graham Green

The narrator, an agnostic, met a Catholic in a train, who told him an unusual story from his childhood: At that time, he, a choir boy of ten, was tempted by a baker, a self confessed “freethinker” to steal a host for closer examination. He was promised a whole model train set for accomplishing this deed. The boy conceded, hid the host secretly within a newspaper, but was prevented by a visit of an aunt to meet the temptor at the appointed time. At night, just before he went to bed, the baker came to his bedroom window, and stretched out his hand for the stolen host, tempting the boy with the model train, and threatening him at the same time with a knife. And at that time, the boy, who didn’t feel much about the Eucharist and just did his duty as a choir boy unthinkingly, realised that the host must be of immense importance. There in the lamp light,was standing someone who would give up everything in the world just to take hold of a host. The boy, suddenly struck by this thought, swallowed the host:

“At last I couldn’t bear that whistle any more and got out of bed. I opened the curtains a little way, and there right under my window, the moonlight on his face, was Blacker. If I had stretched my hand down, his fingers reaching up could almost have touched mine. He looked up at me, flashing the one good eye, with hunger–I realize now that near-success must have developed his obsession almost to the point of madness. Desperation had driven him to the house. He whispered up at me. ‘ David, where is it?’
“I jerked my head back at the room.
‘Give it me,’ he said. ‘Quick. You shall have the train in the morning.’
“I shook my head. He said, ‘I’ve got the bleeder here, and the key. You’d better toss it down.’
” ‘Go away,’ I said, but I could hardly speak for fear.
” ‘I’ll bleed you first and then I’ll have it just the same.’
” ‘Oh, no, you won’t,’ I said. I went to the chair and picked it–Him–up. There was only one place where He was safe. I couldn’t separate the Host from the paper, so I swallowed both. The newsprint stuck like a prune skin to the back of my throat, but I rinsed it down with water from the ewer. Then I went back to the window and looked down at Blacker. He began to wheedle me. ‘What have you done with it, David? What’s the fuss? It’s only a bit of bread,’ looking so longingly and pleadingly up at me that even as a child I wondered whether he could really think that, and yet desire it so much.
” ‘I swallowed it,’ I said.
” ‘Swallowed it?’
” ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Go away.’
“Then something happened which seems to me now more terrible than his desire to corrupt or my thoughtless act: he began to weep–the tears ran lopsidedly out of the one good eye and his shoulders shook. I only saw his face for a moment before he bent his head and strode off, the bald turnip head shaking, into the dark. When I think of it now, it’s almost as if I had seen that Thing weeping for its inevitable defeat. It had tried to use me as a weapon, and now I had broken in its hands and it wept its hopeless tears through one of Blacker’s eyes.”

Dear Readers, I recommend you all, if you haven’t done it yet, to read this short story in full; a powerful apologetic for our Faith, and not only apologetic, it gives us more assurance of our Faith. Full text available here. Graham Green, as we all know, converted to Catholicism in 1926. Does this fictive story contain more reality than most readers are aware of? And are there Green experts here to give us more details? It would be interesting to know. When I read this story, I was convinced he meant it sincerely, and how much Truth can be hidden in Fiction!

But now I leave you, dear readers, to enjoy this excellent story and make your own thoughts. It would be great that you share your reflections with us in the comment section!

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9 Responses to The Real Presence and A Short Story of Graham Green

  1. leftfooter says:

    In an interview towards the end of his life, Greene said that he believed in God perhaps only in the form of de Chardin’s Omega Point, but remained a Catholic. It sounds a dry sort of religion to me, but who am I to judge?

  2. The Raven says:

    I recall an interview with Greene’s “chaplain” (not the right word, but you know what I’m getting at), who said that Greene would only hear a private Mass in the old rite. I recall his book, Monsignor Quixote, also demonstrated a lack of affection towards the NO.

  3. toadspittle says:

    .
    As an inspiration to Catholics, Greene – Toad feels is – more of a liability than an asset.
    He is reputed to have pleasured his long-time married girlfriend Katherine Walston (cs?) in a church once.
    Orwell once commented that Green seemed to regard hell as a sort of exclusive nightclub for the catholic damned.

    (Very low, Belgium.)

  4. toadspittle says:

    .
    Further research reveals it’s Catherine Walston, with a ‘C.’

    And she was the inspitation and ‘dedicatee’ of Green’s probably best book, (certainly Toad’s favourite) – The End of the Affair’ and the little Catholic church opposite Rules restaurant in Maiden Lane is still there.

    As, Toad supposes, is Rules itself. Though he has not dined there for some twenty odd years.

  5. Brother Burrito says:

    Thanks for this great article Teresa!

    I shall now revisit my GG, and purchase any missing works. Despite his messy life, I am in debt to this man for his writings that have helped to shape my mind since I was 14.

    He is proof to me that you don’t have to be a perfect ‘saint’ to exert good influence on others, and as such, he is an example to us all.

  6. toadspittle says:

    Burro,

    Yes! Go ahead, get hold of – and indeed – get your teeth into, ANYTHING by Greene.
    But don’t expect for a moment that whatever you read is going to affect your notions of Catholicism in any positive way. With his obsessive ideas about sin and damnation, (at least as expressed by his various caracters) a reader might be excused of thinking that Hell, after death, was the only possible fashionable place to go. All other venues were mobbed by vulgar Protestants, and we wouldn’t want to spend eternity with that rabble, not for a moment, would we?.
    But he might give you some other interesting ways of looking at life..

    Toad thinks the world of him, and that alone should indicate a measure of caution on your part.

  7. The Raven says:

    Toad

    Perverse creature that I am, I have long attributed my attraction to orthodox Catholicism to reading Greene: his characters always seem to know that the route to happiness lies in a different direction to the “garden of earthly delights” that they find themselves trapped in: the happiest characters in his works seem to be Mgr Quixote and the faithful Trappist monk that he encounters (now I think of it, the Trappist was somewhat curmudgeonly, resident in Northern Spain and fond of thinking on Descartes – we may have found your literary doppelgänger!).

  8. kathleen says:

    From the EWTN audio library on Catholic authors I found this interesting interview with Dr. Ralph McInerny about the ‘Catholic novels’ of Graham Greene:

    [audio src="http://ewtn.edgeboss.net/download/ewtn/audiolibrary/authors24.mp3" /]

    I think Burrito hits the nail on the head….. it is not necessary to be a saint (as Greene certainly wasn’t) to be able to exert good influence through one’s words or deeds. Dr. McInerny remarks how the Four Last Things are what always show through in Greene’s novels.

  9. Brother Burrito says:

    (In my best Michael Winner voice:)

    Calm down Toad! He’s only an author!!!

    I hope I would read GG carefully and in context of his role as an author, rather than how I used to read newspapers in my twenties, torn this way and that by the evansescent opinions of the Glen and Glenda Slaggs “informing” me.

    Newspapers: worse than ‘crack’ for damaging the brain, unless heavily salted.

    Your fatherly concern does not go unacknowledged, though. ‘T’anks a million’, as they say in the Déise!

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