Monday, October 10, 2011

A Defense of Transubstantiation

Buckle up everyone as we are about to take a tour through perhaps the oldest doctrine of Roman Catholicism. In our tour I will define, explain, defend and prove that the idea of Transubstantiation is not only biblical, historical and necessary, but also truth itself.

Let's start with definition of a few key terms:
  • Transubstantiation: The belief held by Catholics (and all Christians until the Protestant Era) that during the words of consecration the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper become truly His Body and Blood, in a real and sacramental way. 
  • Real Presence: The belief that Christ is really and substantially present in both species of the Eucharist. 
  • Consubstantiation: Martin Luther's teaching that the bread and Christ are both present in the Host. Rejected by Catholics and later "Reformers" alike. Those reformers after Luther maintained a strictly symbolic view of the Eucharist.
I have mentioned in this space an ongoing debate I was having on Facebook. My opponent quit the debate but posted his refutation of the doctrine at his blog here

So in many ways this shall serve as my answer to him as well as just a good chance to examine a core Catholic belief.

The crux of the whole argument comes down to a few key passages from Scripture.

For starters John 6: 48-70 is a passage known as the Bread of Life discourse. It is one of Jesus' longest teachings in John's Gospel. In the course of that teaching Jesus instructs his followers that if they desire eternal life they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Jesus counterweighs this radical, and obviously scandalous new teaching by discussing the manna in the desert. We know from Scripture that the manna was considered among the holiest of holy things as the Jewish people kept a jar of it in the Ark (Heb 9:4).

In Psalm 78: 24-25 we see the manna called the bread of Heaven; the bread of the angels. This was indeed special bread. Reading from a strict typological perspective the New Testament bread from Heaven must be even more spectacular. Indeed Christ tells us He is the new bread of life, the new Manna from Heaven.

Now some raise the point that Levitical law prohibited the drinking of blood. Indeed it did, however Christ as the fulfillment of the old law abrogates that, as He commands the people that if they wish to be raised on the last day they must eat My flesh and drink my blood. Christ clears this up at the end of the discourse after many people "drew away and no longer walked with Him... (John 6:67)." Christ looks to the Twelve; asking them will you also go away? St. Peter answers Him in the negative. The apostles have heard and don't quite understand but again they know that Christ is the "Son of God."

There is a similar passage in Matthew 5:21-35. Wherein Jesus abrogates or in some cases strengthens portions of the Mosaic law.

With those points out of the way let's investigate some claims made against the doctrine by my opponent. He cites Luke 24:38-39 as somehow proof that Christ had no blood in His resurrected body. An interesting claim, but one without an exegetical basis. For in Genesis 2:23 Adam refers to Eve as flesh and bone...does that mean she has not blood within her? After all this is before the fall she is immaculately created, so her body should in fact be every bit identical (save basic gender differences) to Christ's resurrected body.

Further St. Ambrose of Milan uses those very verses (Lk. 24:39) to defend Transubstantiation:

123. If, then, there has neither been a time when the Life of the Son took a commencement, nor any power to which it has been subjected, let us consider what His meaning was when He said: Even as the living Father has sent Me, and I live by the Father? Let us expound His meaning as best we can; nay, rather let Him expound it Himself.
124. Take notice, then, what He said in an earlier part of His discourse. Verily, verily, I say unto you. He first teaches you how you ought to listen. Verily, verily, I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall have no life in you. John 6:54 He first premised that He was speaking as Son of Man; do you then think that what He has said, as Son of Man, concerning His Flesh and His Blood, is to be applied to His Godhead?
125. Then He added: For My Flesh is meat indeed, and My Blood is drink [indeed]. John 6:56 You hear Him speak of His Flesh and of His Blood, you perceive the sacred pledges, [conveying to us the merits and power] of the Lord's death, John 6:52 and you dishonour His Godhead. Hear His own words: A spirit has not flesh and bones. Luke 24:39 Now we, as often as we receive the Sacramental Elements, which by the mysterious efficacy of holy prayer are transformed into the Flesh and the Blood, do show the Lord's Death.

When I pointed this passage out to my opponent I was accused of proof-texting. Right, because I need to pull one quote by one father to support my view. He also submits that there is a "disagreement" on what Ambrose meant, I submit it is no disagreement it is merely Protestant academics attempting to cast shadows to support their theologically novel doctrines. Ambrose is evidently being targeted now as they failed to do the same with Augustine.

Further to dispel his biggest argument, hardly merits discussion other than to quickly correct his false explanation. Reminds me of what Abp. Sheen once said "There are not even 100 people in this country who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they think the Catholic Church to be." I think the late Archbishop even expanded on that frequent remark adding that even Catholics would hate the church if it was what it was purported to be.

Now Catholics as I say do believe in the Real Presence of Christ. However while that Presence is Real it is a Sacramental presence. Meaning that the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ is contained in that consecrated bread and wine. In other words He is not physically present, but that Presence is still literal.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

1333 At the heart of the Eucharistic celebration are the bread and wine that, by the words of Christ and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, become Christ's Body and Blood...the Church sees in the gesture of the king-priest Melchizedek, who "brought out bread and wine," a prefiguring of her own offering.153
1336 The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"158 The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. "Will you also go away?":159 The Lord's question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has "the words of eternal life"160 and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself.
1374 The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend."199 In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained."200 "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."201
1375 It is by the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood that Christ becomes present in this sacrament. the Church Fathers strongly affirmed the faith of the Church in the efficacy of the Word of Christ and of the action of the Holy Spirit to bring about this conversion.
1376 The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: "Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation."204

My opponent also claims that this doctrine cannot be true because Christ or the Apostles did not teach it. This is a rather weak case of arguing from silence and I believe he knows that to be true in his heart. For if they did not teach this doctrine where was the outrage when certain of the father's taught it to be true. Fathers like Ignatius of Antioch and Justin Martyr. Ignatius is especially damning of his argument since he learned from the Apostle John. Yet he proclaimed the truth of the Real Presence. If someone who learned from an Apostle held and taught this to be true and there were no cries of heresy from the other bishops or fathers to be heard than in fact that must have been the universal teaching of Holy Mother Church.

Edited to Add: For another thing if  the Apostles didn't teach a Real Presence/Transubstantiation view, then St. Paul's warning to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 11:27) is ridiculously overblown. To in essence be called guilty of murder for unworthy consumption of  a symbol is a bit much.

As to the supposed moral dilemma presented by my opponent:

"The Lord tells His people that He does not change;[3] therefore, the command to literally eat literal flesh and literally drink literal blood cannot be a command from God. For the Lord expressly forbids the eating of meat with blood still in it, as well as the drinking of blood; both of these practices were pagan abominations which the Lord strictly commanded Israel to not engage in."

Has he ever eaten a piece of meat cooked short of being charcoal? For that would be a sin as he points out. He is trying to have it both ways. Either we are still under the Mosaic law or we are under the New Covenant. We can't be both. Further, if God cannot change then the Mosaic law still applies, period. As to his opinion that the Jerusalem Council kept the Mosaic law for the new Gentile converts that seems to stretch the text to an unusual degree.

Some scholars think that this apostolic decree suggested by James, the immediate leader of the Jerusalem community, derives from another historical occasion than the meeting in question. This seems to be the case if the meeting is the same as the one related in Gal 2:1–10. According to that account, nothing was imposed upon Gentile Christians in respect to Mosaic law; whereas the decree instructs Gentile Christians of mixed communities to abstain from meats sacrificed to idols and from blood-meats, and to avoid marriage within forbidden degrees of consanguinity and affinity.

However regarding one other point here it is crucial to note that while Christ instituted the Eucharist while He was still in his incarnated flesh, it was not celebrated by the Apostles until after the Resurrection. Thus the law had been fulfilled. Moreover this view doesn't in any way preclude the institution at the Last Supper from being identical to the Sacrament celebrated to this day, confected by the successors of the Apostles, the bishops and priests of the Roman Catholic Church.

After all Christ doesn't tell His Apostles after my Resurrection this will be my body. And as St. Augustine pointed out the Psalms speak to this moment:

" 'And was carried in His Own Hands:' how 'carried in His Own Hands'? Because when He commended His Own Body and Blood, He took into His Hands that which the faithful know; and in a manner carried Himself, when He said, 'This is My Body.' "

As I mentioned even Martin Luther maintained a belief in some sort of Real Presence. He merely taught a heretical, theologically novel position on it. However certain other "Reformers" chief among them Huldrich Zwingli taught that the lesson in John 6 was intended merely as a symbol. Zwingli to prove his case pulled a single verse, Jn 6:63 and declared that Christ's teaching that the flesh was of no avail clearly intended a symbolic reading of all the preceding text.

This is absurdly false for several reasons; not the least of which is that Christ didn't say His flesh was of no avail. For we know it avails much, after all it was Christ's flesh through which it was prophesied "By His stripes we are healed. (Is 53:5)" It is also false because it presupposes the word spirit to mean symbolic. If that is the case then Jesus tells us God is merely a symbol in Jn. 4:24.

Finally perhaps a poetic defense is in order. The Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas wrote numerous poems and hymns about the topic, which even his own massive intellect couldn't rationally explain. My favorite happens to be the Adoro Te Devote:

 Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at Thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross Thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here Thy very manhood steals from human ken:
 Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what Thy bosom ran
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with Thy glory's sight. Amen.


Christian Bergmann said...

Awesome! Yeah, I read Hiram's refuting of the Eucharist and it was not much of a refuting. Especially considering the fact that if Christ was not being serious in John 6, then that would make the New Covenant fulfillment of the Manna lesser than the Old, and that's never how things work.

Good job!

Michael said...

I have to say this was perhaps my favorite post to write. To really just dig into such a meaty topic. And I barely scratched the surface....

HRDiaz III said...

I didn't know that we were debating this topic, since I told you I would be willing to debate a topic formally but you never responded to me...

In any case, you say the following:

"Some scholars think that this apostolic decree suggested by James, the immediate leader of the Jerusalem community, derives from another historical occasion than the meeting in question. This seems to be the case if the meeting is the same as the one related in Gal 2:1–10. According to that account, nothing was imposed upon Gentile Christians in respect to Mosaic law; whereas the decree instructs Gentile Christians of mixed communities to abstain from meats sacrificed to idols and from blood-meats, and to avoid marriage within forbidden degrees of consanguinity and affinity."

Whatever the occasion was, the command was nevertheless binding on the Gentiles. The Gentiles were commanded to "stay away from blood...FOR from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues." (Acts 15:21)In other words, the command had everything to do with the Mosaic Law. Yes, the Law had been fulfilled. But for the sake of those who proclaimed Moses every Sabbath, the Gentiles were to abstain from sacrificial blood. To consume sacrificial blood as a means of worship, even the very blood of Christ Jesus, even more so the blood of a man, would have been sin. It would not have been sin, at this point, because the Mosaic Law was still binding upon them, but because (i.)the apostolic command was binding and (ii.)the rule of love would make their consumption of ANY blood (whether offered to God via the Eucharist or offered to some pagan deity) a violation of the command to "not destroy the one for whom Christ died." This command is given by the apostle Paul, but he explains that "if your brother is grieved by what you eat, then you are no longer walking in love." And he states in the chapter prior to this one that "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law." (cf. respectively, Romans 14:15 & 13:10).

So you haven't avoided the problem here. My contention was not that Acts 15 refutes the Eucharist because the Mosaic Law is still operative; my argument is simply this:

If Christ commanded the disciples to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and He commanded them to command others to do the same, then why on earth would the apostles go on to command the Gentiles to stay away from blood?

HRDiaz III said...


You can say that it was for the sake of the Jews. I agree. And you can say that the command seemed to be specifically dealing with blood offered to idols. And I would agree. Here's the problem: Human sacrifice is a violation of the Mosaic Law. Therefore, if the apostolic command to not eat blood (i.e. to stay away from blood) was given for the sake of maintaining peace between Jewish converts (who were sill Torah observant) and Gentiles, then the command given by the apostles would cover the consumption of ANY blood. For the consumption of animal blood and the consumption of human blood are both condemned in the Mosaic Law.

Therefore, if the apostles commanded the Gentiles to "stay away from blood," and this command was binding, then it contradicted Christ's command to (supposedly) eat His literal flesh and drink His literal blood. For the Jews would count the consumption of ANY type of blood to be a violation of the Mosaic Law.

Therefore, if the Gentiles obeyed Christ then they would be sinning against the apostles (by disobeying their command) and the Jews (by "destroying the one for whom Christ died"). Moreover, if the Gentiles obeyed the apostles, then they would be sinning against Christ who said "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you," and the consumption of blood, under the Mosaic Law, is expressly forbidden.

Also, you state:

"However regarding one other point here it is crucial to note that while Christ instituted the Eucharist while He was still in his incarnated flesh, it was not celebrated by the Apostles until after the Resurrection. Thus the law had been fulfilled. Moreover this view doesn't in any way preclude the institution at the Last Supper from being identical to the Sacrament celebrated to this day, confected by the successors of the Apostles, the bishops and priests of the Roman Catholic Church."

The Law was not fulfilled until Christ said it is finished (cf. John 19:30).

God says that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse -- for it is written, "cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree..."(Gal 3:13).

Likewise, the Holy Spirit says that "God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh."

Furthermore, we are told that "He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and who has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances..." (Ephesians 2:14-15).

Again, the Lord God proclaims that He has "cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross." (Colossians 2:14).

So contrary to what you have asserted, the Holy Spirit declares that the Law is not fulfilled until the Lord Jesus Christ states "It is finished" from the cross.

Because this is the case, it follows that if Christ commanded the disciples to eat His flesh and drink His blood in John 6, He was commanding them to act contrary to the Mosaic Law which they were still under. Moreover, if Christ transformed the substance of the wafer and wine on the night on which He was betrayed, then He broke the Law by consuming flesh and blood and causing others to do the same.


Michael said...

If you insist on dancing this around the floor once again, fine.

Christ superseded the Old Law by divine command, period. We can argue all day as to when that law was fulfilled, however it makes little difference.

If this is the sum of your argument, which it seems to be in the months we have been discussing it, its a very weak argument.

The mention of not eating blood in Acts 15:20 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] , 29 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] was a pastoral provision suggested by James to keep Jews from being scandalized by the conduct of Gentile Christians. We know that these pastoral provisions were only temporary. One concerned abstaining from idol meat, yet later Paul says eating idol meat is okay so long as it doesn't scandalize others (Rom. 14:1-14 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] , 1 Cor. 8:1-13 [Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)] ).

The insistence on staying away from blood was not intended to refer to the Eucharist.

What you don't seem to understand about the early church was that she had just started her pilgrim journey, and they were trying to keep infighting and scandal to a minimum.

The command from James was a bishop's command to his diocese, to maintain that unity, no more no less.

I really don't know what else to say to you on this topic. Christ's commands supersede the OT. Christ left us the New Covenant asking us to eat His flesh and Drink his blood, not to eat goldfish crackers and drink grape juice.

The apostles and the fathers all taught the Real Presence. I have made the argument from Scripture, Tradition and history.

Your reply boils down to "but the old law says," which you even admit in your second comment.

Michael said...

Take a look at this post....

It might help clear up some of your misunderstanding.

Because as it is it seems as if your argument necessarily makes Christ guilty of violating the Mosaic law by offering Himself as a human sacrifice.

After all in Jn. 10 17-18 Christ tells us He lays down His life on his own accord.

Now you might argue that Christ's submitting to the Passion is part of the act of lifting the curse of the law, which is of course correct. However it is for that same reason that the Eucharist isn't a violation of the law.

HRDiaz III said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HRDiaz III said...


I gave you quite a bit of Scripture showing you that Christ's fulfillment of the Law was at the cross. When Christ said "It is finished!" He was referring to the work of the Law and, therefore, to the work of salvation.

I'm not misunderstanding the Scriptures; you are abusing them to defend a heretical view of Christ, His atoning work, and the Eucharist.

Did Jesus violate the Old Covenant by giving Himself up for the sins of His people?

Not at all.

The sacrifice of Christ does not qualify as the type of literal human sacrifice condemned by God in the Mosaic Law.

Rather, Christ willingly bore the sins of His elect people. Jesus Christ was treated as the Lamb was treated; He gave Himself up in the place of those who deserved to die; His blood was poured out for the sins of His people, as the lamb's blood was poured out for the sins of God's people.

This is not a violation of the Old Covenant at all, but the fulfillment of it, and in particular as it is summed up in the first and greatest commandment and in the second which is like unto it, for Christ loved the Father perfectly and loved His people perfectly by doing the will of Father in taking the place of guilty sinners on the cross.

Your religion's conception of the Eucharist conflates type and antitype. Was Jesus the Sacrifice for the sins of God's elect? Yes. But it is by no means to be equated with type of human sacrifice condemned in the Mosaic Law.

You see the Eucharist as a literal consumption of literal flesh and blood; therefore, you see the crucifixion of Christ as a human sacrifice that corresponds to what is condemned under the Old Covenant.

I understand Christ to be the real sacrifice in this sense:

As the lamb died in the sinner's place, so Christ died in the place of His people.

As the lamb's blood was to cover the doorposts of the houses of God's people, so now the literal blood of Christ figuratively covers His people.

As the lamb was perfect and without physical handicap or deficiency, so Christ was morally perfect and in all ways, and in all things, without sin.

As the shedding of the blood of the lamb alone was the means of having sins remitted, so by the shedding of the blood of Christ all who come to Him by faith alone are "justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the Law of Moses."

Therefore, the sacrifice of the lamb and the sacrifice of Christ stand in a typological relationship to one another. The lamb is the lesser means of propitiation; Christ is the ultimate means of propitiation. The lamb was given over and over; Christ died once for sins. The blood of the animal sacrifices pointed to the shed blood of Christ.


I deleted my first response because I wrote it in a rush as I running off to work.

Yes, your religion's view of the Eucharist is still heretical since it makes Christ a sinner.

Michael said...

The church doesn't as you say conflate type and anti-type. We do except the anti-type however to be greater than the type.

If Christ wasn't speaking literally in Jn 6; if the NT bread from Heaven was just bread to symbolize an event, than necessarily Christ points back to Moses as opposed to the inverse.

The Catholic perspective is the only one that makes the inverse true.

I take it you didn't read the link I included in my last post as you would have seen there is some great debate concerning exactly what was finished.

And for the record it is much more heretical in my mind to call Christ a liar than to believe He meant exactly what He said.

However since this is such a great heresy feel free to defend your point of view with writings from the early church showing how this heretical view was opposed....I'll wait.

I'll ask again Hiram, when and how did the Church fall so completely into heresy and idolatry that no record of an opposing view exists.

And again since this happened does that further make Christ a liar since the Gates of Hell obviously overtook the Church He founded?

And don't tell me this is off topic because it is exactly on topic...if you can't answer, which you can't successfully, shouldn't that give you pause to reflect on your own theology?

Why is every word of the Bible the literal truth except Jn. 6 and the accounts of the Last Supper?

Please Hiram point me to some early church refutation of this grave heresy and I will recant....