Skip to comments.Transubstantiation: From Stumbling Block to Cornerstone
Posted on 01/21/2011 12:26:40 PM PST by marshmallow
The Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist is a real stumbling block to some Protestants who are seriously considering Catholicism. It was for me too, until I explored the subject, historically and scripturally. What follows is a summary of my deliberations.
Catholicism holds that bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ when they are consecrated by the priest celebrating the Mass. Oftentimes non-Catholics get hung up on the term transubstantiation, the name for the philosophical theory that the Church maintains best accounts for the change at consecration. The Churchs explanation of transubstantiation was influenced by Aristotles distinction between substance and accident.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), like most philosophers of his time, wanted to account for how things change and yet remain the same. So, for example, a substance like an oak tree remains the same while undergoing accidental changes. It begins as an acorn and eventually develops roots, a trunk, branches, and leaves. During all these changes, the oak tree remains identical to itself. Its leaves change from green to red and brown, and eventually fall off. But these accidental changes occur while the substance of the tree remains.
On the other hand, if we chopped down the tree and turned into a desk, that would be a substantial change, since the tree would literally cease to be and its parts would be turned into something else, a desk. According to the Church, when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, the accidents of the bread and wine do not change, but the substance of each changes. So, it looks, tastes, feels, and smells like bread and wine, but it literally has been changed into the body and blood of Christ. Thats transubstantiation.
There are several reasons why it would be a mistake to dismiss transubstantiation simply because of the influence of Aristotle on its formulation. First, Eastern Churches in communion with the Catholic Church rarely employ this Aristotelian language, and yet the Church considers their celebration of the Eucharist perfectly valid. Second, the Catholic Church maintains that the divine liturgies celebrated in the Eastern Churches not in communion with Rome (commonly called Eastern Orthodoxy) are perfectly valid as well, even though the Eastern Orthodox rarely employ the term transubstantiation. Third, the belief that the bread and wine are literally transformed into Christs body and blood predates Aristotles influence on the Churchs theology by over 1000 years. For it was not until the thirteenth century, and the ascendancy of St. Thomas Aquinas thought, that Aristotles categories were employed by the Church in its account of the Eucharist. In fact, when the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) employed the language of substantial change, St. Thomas had not even been born!
It was that third point that I found so compelling and convinced me that the Catholic view of the Eucharist was correct. It did not take long for me to see that Eucharistic realism (as I like to call it) had been uncontroversially embraced deep in Christian history. This is why Protestant historian, J. N. D. Kelly, writes: Eucharistic teaching, it should be understood at the outset, was in general unquestioningly realist, i.e., the consecrated bread and wine were taken to be, and were treated and designated as, the Saviors body and blood. I found it in many of the works of the Early Church Fathers, including St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 110), St. Justin Martyr (A.D. 151), St. Cyprian of Carthage, (A. D. 251), First Council of Nicaea (A. D. 325), St. Cyril of Jerusalem (A. D. 350), and St. Augustine of Hippo (A. D. 411) . These are, of course, not the only Early Church writings that address the nature of the Eucharist. But they are representative.
This should, however, not surprise us, given what the Bible says about the Lords Supper. When Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples (Mt. 26:17-30; Mk. 14:12-25; Lk. 22:7-23), which we commemorate at Holy Communion, he referred to it as a Passover meal. He called the bread and wine his body and blood. In several places, Jesus is called the Lamb of God (John 1: 29, 36; I Peter 1:19; Rev. 5:12). Remember, when the lamb is killed for Passover, the meal participants ingest the lamb. Consequently, St. Pauls severe warnings about partaking in Holy Communion unworthily only make sense in light of Eucharistic realism (I Cor. 10:14-22; I Cor. 11:17-34). He writes: The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? . . . Whoever, therefore eats and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. (I Cor. 10:16; 11:27)
In light of all these passages and the fact that Jesus called himself the bread of life (John 6:41-51) and that he said that his followers must eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood (John 6:53), the Eucharistic realism of the Early Church, the Eastern Churches (both in and out of communion with Rome), and the pre-Reformation medieval Church (fifth to sixteenth centuries) seems almost unremarkable. So, what first appeared to be a stumbling block was transformed into a cornerstone.
Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He tells the story of his journey from Catholicism to Protestantism and back again in his book, Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic. He blogs at Return to Rome.
This is one of those topics that makes no difference to living a godly life or the disposition of your eternal soul.
Interesting article. Thanks for posting.
Jesus is our God and Savior. We get to meet Him at His table.
That’s not profound enough? You have to tack on the ravings of a Greek heathen to make it more significant?
Do Catholics really know what a metaphor is?
DManA, the ‘ravings of a Greek heathen” mentioned are in the context of trying to explain something of the Transubstantiation. The important part is the fact of what Our Lord does do. The Real Presence has been believed in the Church since the beginning, and the fact that Our Lord, Jesus Christ is truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity is most certainly profound enough for me. Please remember the line wherein the author says, “what follows is a summary of my deliberations.” He’s asking you to follow his thought process, that’s all.
One of the first truths I saw after I was saved, was that the teaching on transubstantiation of the church was false.
I know that many Catholics will not leave the church because they really believe that communion in a Catholic church is the actual body of Christ, that they can not get anywhere else
God freed me from that faulty tradition almost immediately after I was saved.
It is strongly my suspicion that anyone that becomes Catholic because of that teaching has never met Jesus as Savior and Lord or he would know the power of the 24/7 indwelling Christ .
I'm glad that you were freed from those false notions embraced by the apostles. I guess they just weren't "saved" like you.
Have you written any scriptures lately? Just asking.
Does this really sound like a metaphor to you:
“Amen, amen I say unto you: He that believeth in me, hath everlasting life.  I am the bread of life.  Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead.  This is the bread which cometh down from heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die.
 I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.  The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.
 For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him.  As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.”
straight from John 6, Douay Rheims online (http://www.drbo.org/chapter/50006.htm)
Note verse 54, where He certainly could have said, I’m speaking metaphorically, if that was what He meant. Instead, what does He say? He underscores what He has just said, and repeats it. He meant exactly what He said, and we, respectfully, take it just like He said.
And you know that they believed it how?
And what of the numerous Eucharistic miracles which have occurred down through the centuries? The experiences of holy mystics who have lived for years on nothing but the Blessed Sacrament and the writings of numerous saints, doctors and theologians?
All trumped by a subjective feeling that it was just so much........pppfffffffff!!
Absolutelly! We also use context to determine when it is metaphor and when it is literal. Failure to fully understand what is being said AND why we say it is the problem with most differences of doctrine.
It is strongly my belief that they have met Jesus Christ above and beyond your perspective.
Exodus 7: 8 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: 9 When Pharao shall say to you, Shew signs: thou shalt say to Aaron: Take thy rod, and cast it down before Pharao, and it shall be turned into a serpent. 10 So Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharao, and did as the Lord had commanded. And Aaron took the rod before Pharao, and his servants, and it was turned into a serpent. 11 And Pharao called the wise men and the magicians: and they also by Egyptian enchantments and certain secrets did in like manner. 12 And they every one cast down their rods, and they were turned into serpents: but Aaron's rod devoured their rods. 13 And Pharao's heart was hardened, and he did not hearken to them, as the Lord had commanded.
Exd 8:5 ¶ And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt. 6 And Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt; and the frogs came up, and covered the land of Egypt. 7 And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt.
Exd 8:16 ¶ And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt. 17 And they did so; for Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt. 18 And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast.
Mat 24:24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if [it were] possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
Rev 13:11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. Rev 13:12 And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. 13 And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, 14 And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by [the means of] those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. 15 And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.
I have a vine growing near my back deck. If I cut it down, am I killing Christ again (he is the vine after all); further, if I trim its branches, am I at risk of suicide or homicide (we are the branches after all).
Taking the afternoon off to do some fishing- using medium rare T-bone as bait- (Jesus called us to be fishers of men after all).
I have a rich friend I hope to see saved- I figure the easiest way to get a camel through the eye of a needle is puree- can I borrow some blenders?
Noticed a star in the sky this morining- should I worship it (Jesus is the morningstar after all).
Met an actual Pharisee yesterday- I was walking through a graveyard and saw a whitewashed tomb.
Later I found some scribes in the snake house at the zoo.
Oh, no my right hand offends me- better call me lefty from now on.
Oops, right eye too- how ‘bout Cyclops?
Jesus said he spoke in parables so people wouldn’t understand. That’s one place he was being literal. I wonder if he realized the lack of understanding would be canonized.
You know, if you won't listen to what a Catholic has to say about the Eucharist, maybe you should talk to a Satanist. No, seriously. I'm not trying to be a smart ass.
Those who worship Satan have rituals which attempt to invert Catholic rituals. I've heard tell that those thoroughly immersed in the black arts can tell a consecrated host from an unconsecrated host. That's hearsay but what is not hearsay is that those who worship the devil despise the Eucharist. The high point (or low point) of Satanic worship is not the setting fire to Bibles or spitting on the writings of Calvin. It is the profanation of the Catholic Blessed Sacrament in the Black Mass.
That's because it is truly, Jesus Christ. Satanists recognize the Real Presence, even if some Protestants don't.
If you want to know what is holy, what is true and what is touched by the hand of God, just look at what Satan hates.
Eh. Another peripheral topic of Christian theology which presents a fine opportunity for Catholics and Protestants to shout “heathen!” back-and-forth at one another ... but, which, in the grand scheme, matters little.
LOL. That’s EXACTLY what a metaphor is.