John Calvin as Confused over Substance and the Eucharist

Jun 30th, 2009 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Several years ago when I was once a Calvinist, I remember reading this quote by John Calvin and being impressed by it:

We must confess, then, that if the representation which God gives us in the Supper is true, the internal substance of the sacrament is conjoined with the visible signs; and as the bread is distributed to us by the hand, so the body of Christ is communicated to us in order that we may be made partakers of it (John Calvin, Short Treatise on the Lord’s Supper, 17).

The interesting thing is that Calvin here discusses the presence of Christ in terms of “substance.” Not only that, Calvin speaks of the “internal substance” being “conjoined with the visible signs.” This comes close to consubstantiation, where the substance of Christ is conjoined to the substance of bread and wine. Quite remarkable.

john-calvin

In the same treatise, Calvin later refers to transubstantiation as “the devil’s doctrine”. In this context, it seems that Calvin assumes that the Catholic Church teaches that the substances of bread and wine are “annihilated.” However, this is not exactly what the Church teaches. Grace perfects nature – it doesn’t destroy it. As a representative voice of the Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas explains that the substance of bread and wine are not annihilated but transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. In Summa theologiae III, q. 75, a. 3, ad. 1, Saint Thomas writes:

“The substance of the bread or wine after the consecration remains neither under the sacramental species nor anywhere else. However it does not follow that it is annihilated–for it is changed into the Body of Christ. Similarly, if the air, from which fire is generated, be not there or somewhere else, it does not follow that it has been annihilated” (ST III, q. 75, a. 3, ad. 1. Translation mine).

It seems that Calvin is working with a confused philosophical concept of “internal substance”. He isn’t familiar with the classical metaphysical terminology, because he never received a formal philosophical or theological education. He’s a lawyer by training, and it comes out in the Institutes. He’s shooting from the hip. From the Catholic point of view, Calvin’s error stems from his inability to grasp the meaning of substance. It’s no wonder he doesn’t understand transubstantiation and even worse, calls it “the devil’s doctrine.”

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  1. Taylor,

    While I would presume Calvin did not have this in mind, the passage you quote could also indicate a belief in transubstantiation. If the “visibile signs” are the “appearances” (as the Councils put it), then it is not clear what Calvin is saying anything contrary to the Council decrees. In fact, Calvin’s analogy of the Spirit descending like a dove in Section 14 would seem to support an orthodox interpretation. It does not appear that Calvin is saying that there actually was a dove, but that there was the appearance of a dove.

    His rejection of transubstantiation in sections 39 and 40 would seem to support something more along the lines of consubstantiation, but his critique appears be based on two assumptions (1) the substance of the bread is annihilated; and (2) the appearance is decieving. As you pointed out, St. Thomas did not claim that the substance of the bread was annhilated. As to the second critique, however, Calvin seems to have a point in regard to Scholastics theology (but the Councils have not made any statement directly on point). That is one reason why I am more inclined towards Descartes’ interpretation of the doctrine – that the bread becomes part of the body of Christ in a manner analogous to food that is consumed. I have yet to read a description of Aristotelian substance/accidents that sufficiently reckons with modern atomic theory.

  2. Josh,

    I have yet to read a description of Aristotelian substance/accidents that sufficiently reckons with modern atomic theory.

    Where exactly, do you think there is some contradiction or incompatibility between Aristotle’s substance/accident theory, and modern atomic theory? I see no contradiction or incompatibility.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. Bryan,

    Aristotle’s substance/accident theory seems to work well as a generalization of how we consider things. However, the unity of individual substances that is part of the theory seems less clear on the atomic level. In what way could you determine (theoretically, at least) whether an individual atom is part of a specific Aristotelian substance? What if it lies on the skin of the animal? What if it is in the stomach? What if it is a decomposing splinter under the skin that will ultimately be absorbed into the body? In other words, what is it that makes an individual atom part of a substance (human, for instance)? Aristotle is correct that we speak as if substance/accident theory is generally correct, but is that anything more than a convenient method of describing things?

  4. Josh,

    Thanks for your reply. I agree that when we look very closely at the physical boundaries of a material substance, it is not easy to determine with exactitude which elements belong to the substance and which do not. But the trustworthiness of the microscopic point of view presupposes what we already know at the ordinary common sense level of observation. Nothing we look at in a microscope is more certain to us than that we exist, that we are humans, that we have bodies, that our clothes are not parts of our bodies, that we are looking through these microscopes, etc. The view from the microscopic is not our epistemic starting point or our epistemic foundation point. It is itself derived from a prior epistemic foundation. So the former cannot undermine the latter, without undermining itself. Aquinas writes, “Whoever by his own reasoning does away with certain [principles] which are better known to him than the ones which he posits, adopts an absurd position.” (Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, 990a17-22) If we fail to recognize this, we’re left with scientism, i.e. the notion that we can only know what empiriometric science tell us. This is the fundamental error of people like Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. The mistake is right at the beginning, in allowing an artificial (and impossible) resetting of the epistemic starting point, such that one cuts off the branch on which one is sitting, and then says, “Let’s begin.” It is a philosophical mistake that masks its error by draping it in scientific respectability. The results of looking through a microscope have to be interpreted in light of what we already know, and more certainly know. What we already know, and more certainly know, cannot be eliminated in light of what we come to know through a microscope or any scientific instrument. And therefore the reality of substances and accidents can not be falsified by what we view through a microscopic, because our reliance upon the microscope to show us what is true about the world presupposes the whole domain of knowledge in which we recognize substances and accidents.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  5. Bryan,

    I don’t just mean that we have a difficult time empirically determining which atoms are part of a substance (though I think this is still a problem because begin aware of generalities is not the same as knowing with certainty that the generalities are more than merely useful constructs). I am also not clear on how, theoretically, individuals atoms are or are not considered part of a substance (e.g., food in the belly, decomposing splinter in the skin, fluid injected into veins, cancerous cells).

  6. Josh,

    The substance /accident distinction is not a “useful construct.” It follows from the empirical fact that we observe two kinds of change: changes in which a thing remains the same thing but changes in some respect (i.e. accidental change), and changes in which a thing becomes something else altogether (i.e. substantial change). If there were no distinction between substance and accident, then either every change would be a substantial change, or every change would be only an accidental change. But that’s not what we observe. Hence, we can know that there is a distinction between substance and accident, and that the distinction is not merely a “useful construct.”

    Regarding whether we can determine with precision which individual atoms are or are not part of a substance, I agree that that is not easy, and may be even impossible in certain cases for us to do so. But that is in no way incompatible with there being substances and accidents. The truth of the substance/accident distinction does not depend on our being able to determine with exactitude, for any atom, whether or not that atom belongs to a particular substance.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  7. Bryan,

    I’m not trying to be argumentative, but it does not follow from empirical fact that accidental change vs. substantial change is more than a useful construct (in regard to non-humans). That we describe the empirical world in that manner does not demonstrate that it is anything more than a useful way to describe the world.

    Regardless, you still haven’t addressed my question. It is not whether you can tell about any particular atom whether or not it is part of a specific substance, but whether you can, in theory, explain how an atom is or is not part of a particular substance.

  8. Josh,

    The stance you are taking is a form of skepticism. Given that stance, every description of the world need be nothing more than a “useful fiction.” It is useful to treat yourself as existing, acting, changing, talking with me, but for all you know, you might be a brain in a vat or software program in the Matrix. Above, you talk about the “skin of the animal” and “stomach” and “splinter” and “atoms” as if those things really exist. But then when we start talking about change, you retreat into skepticism. And that sets up the following dilemma. If we can know that skin, stomachs, atoms and splinters exist, then we can know that in some changes the thing changing remains, while in others, it doesn’t. But if we can’t know the distinction between those two kinds of change, then neither we can we know whether concepts such as skin, stomachs, atoms and splinters are anything more than useful fictions. So that’s your choice: realism or skepticism.

    Regarding your other question, an atom is a part of my substance if it is participating in the activity which is the life of my body. There are other conditions for non-living substances, because different types of substances have different principles of unity. Living corporeal things have a dynamic principle of unity, but that’s not necessary for the substantial unity of non-living corporeal things. This gets us off-topic from the thread a bit too much, in my opinion. Much has been written about this, going all the way back to the pre-Socratics. See, for example, my friend Chris Brown’s book Aquinas and the Ship of Theseus.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. By the looks of it, at a second glance, taken by itself, Calvin’s saying is transubstantiation, technically. The substance of Christ’s body is conjoined with the visible signs, i.e. accidents, of the bread and wine. Since he doesn’t say that the substance of Christs body is conjoined with the substance of bread and wine, but only its visible signs, then it cannot be a consubstantial expression of the eucharist, nor a mere symbolic expression thereof, either. Calvin may go off a bit in the larger context, but if this was all we had of his writing concerning the eucharist, then it seems he is right on the money.

  10. Jared

    Great point. This is why I think that Calvin is confused. He articulates something resembling the Catholic position here and elsewhere defines it as the devils doctrine. He’s working with a home made version of substance that betrays his ignorance of philosophy and the metaphysical tradition. He’s running off the fumes of nominalism.

  11. Bryan,

    In light of modern science, I am not sure that my argument is merely a form of skepticism. It seems to be a more reasonable interpretation of what science seems to be teaching. I’m not sure why you think the pre-socratics solved this problem, but I will try to take a look at the book you mention as time allows.

  12. Josh,

    Richard Dawkins et al use the same sort of claim to ‘argue’ [i.e. assert] that “the most reasonable interpretation” of what science is teaching is that there is no God. But, that is completely untrue. No scientific experiment has shown that God does not exist or has even turned up evidence that God doesn’t exist. Likewise, no scientific experiment, not a single one, has given any evidence that there are no substances and accidents. If you disagree, please name one scientific experiment that showed that there are no substances or accidents, or that showed that there is no distinction between substances and accidents, or that there is no distinction between substantial change and accidental change.

    The fundamental problem here is failing to distinguish between empiriometric science (which is limited by its method only to a certain level of ontological penetration) and philosophy, which is not limited to quantitative methods and modes of measurement, but can penetrate intellectually to the natures of things, their first causes and first principles.

    And if all the weight of your claim is on “the more reasonable interpretation,” that just pushes back the question to determining what is and isn’t reasonable. And so if that’s where you want to rest the weight of your argument, then be prepared to show how your interpretation of the scientific data is more reasonable than mine, because I’m prepared to argue from the data of our common human experience to the conclusion that scientism is unreasonable.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. As a convert from Protestantism having just across this site and thread, I found this discussion about substance/accidents and transubstantiation quite interesting. At the risk of diverging from the initial topic of the thread, I wonder if the question/objection of Josh’s can be put differently? I feel his objection, although I see in Bryan’s responses a need for clarification regarding the difficulties that modern science posses towards a all-encompassing substance/accident metaphysical view of reality, or at least the questions it raises. The felt objection (of mine, anyway) has to do with what we know about nature at the molecular, atomic and sub-atomic levels, and how these constituents of matter fit into substances of reality.

    We know, from scientific discovery, that molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles exist; and we can’t exactly refer to them as mere “accidents”, can we? We also know — from common experience — that things like “this man”, “this tree”, “this rock” exist. But it is not clear to me how — in theory — every physical particle is related to exactly one substance. It seems that things don’t always fit into neatly distinct substances. An electron, for example, can either be associated with a particular atom, group of atoms, or molecule (such as, for example, a skin cell on a living human being, or — alternately — on a molecule of oxygen floating in the atmosphere). Also, at any given moment an electron can be associated with several “substances” simultaneously: an electron (which seems to exist as a distinct substance in itself), a hydrogen atom (which it “orbits”), a molecule of water (to which the atom is joined), and a piece of bread (to which the molecule of water is joined, providing “softness” or “moisture”).

    So, I wonder: can we admit the co-existence of several “substances” in the same object, such as a piece of bread? Or does an electron, for example, when it joins an atom, undergo a change in substance, being taken over by the greater substance? Or is its substance added to that of the atom? What about the atom itself, when it joins a molecule? A molecule, when it is joined to part of a larger being — say a single mitochondria? A strand of DNA? A cell? A living human body? Etc., etc….

    Getting, perhaps, more to the question of the Eucharist: isn’t it true to say that there is no homogeneous material substance of bread? That it is itself made of component substances, which can exist on there own, apart from the reality of bread? Do not all of the subatomic particles in a piece of bread, for example, have substances of their own? Or do they cease to exist in their own right, being “transubstantiated” by the process of making bread into another substance, namely “bread”? Are electrons, protons, etc, just accidental descriptions of nature, having nothing directly to do with substance? Or do the “substances” of “electron” and “proton” exist, and remain along with the new, collective substance of bread? Or do greater substances (be it a molecule of water, or a piece of bread) subsume lesser substances (hydrogen and oxygen atoms, or flour and water), so that lesser substances cease to exist in themselves when taken over by greater ones? Is this analogous to what happens in the Eucharist: the bread and wine being lesser substances taken over by the greater (Christ’s Body and Blood), so that their substance has changed, while their physical properties remain? If so, how are the “substantial form” AND “prime matter” (as distinct aspects of “substance”) involved in this change? And where do subatomic particles fit into this, as more than mere accidents of a greater substance?

    These are the sorts of questions that are raised in my mind when thinking about substance/accidents, and transubstantiation, in light of modern (sub-atomic) physics. Perhaps some words of clarification on the very notion of “substance” and “accidents” can be provided (myself not being well trained in philosophy), in light of modern physics, and how they relate to transubstantiation and the Eucharist?

  14. Chris,

    Thanks for your post.

    We know, from scientific discovery, that molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles exist; and we can’t exactly refer to them as mere “accidents”, can we?

    Correct. The material elements of a substance are not its accidents, but its material elements.

    So, I wonder: can we admit the co-existence of several “substances” in the same object, such as a piece of bread?

    No. A greater unity always takes up lesser unities within itself.

    Or does an electron, for example, when it joins an atom, undergo a change in substance, being taken over by the greater substance?

    Yes, exactly.

    Or is its substance added to that of the atom? What about the atom itself, when it joins a molecule? A molecule, when it is joined to part of a larger being — say a single mitochondria? A strand of DNA? A cell? A living human body?

    The electron becomes human. It does not become a human being, but it becomes, in nature, human. This is a metaphysical change.

    isn’t it true to say that there is no homogeneous material substance of bread?

    No. That would be the error of reductionism, to reduce the whole to its parts.

    Do not all of the subatomic particles in a piece of bread, for example, have substances of their own?

    No. Substances are not made of substances. That would be reductionism.

    Or do they cease to exist in their own right, being “transubstantiated” by the process of making bread into another substance, namely “bread”?

    Correct.

    Are electrons, protons, etc, just accidental descriptions of nature, having nothing directly to do with substance?

    No. They are the material elements that compose it, according to hierarchical levels of composition.

    Or do the “substances” of “electron” and “proton” exist, and remain along with the new, collective substance of bread?

    They exist not as substances, but as parts of a substance.

    Or do greater substances (be it a molecule of water, or a piece of bread) subsume lesser substances (hydrogen and oxygen atoms, or flour and water), so that lesser substances cease to exist in themselves when taken over by greater ones?

    Yes, exactly.

    Is this analogous to what happens in the Eucharist: the bread and wine being lesser substances taken over by the greater (Christ’s Body and Blood), so that their substance has changed, while their physical properties remain?

    Yes, analogous (but there is an important difference).

    If so, how are the “substantial form” AND “prime matter” (as distinct aspects of “substance”) involved in this change?

    The “whole substance” (i.e. prime matter and substantial form) is converted into the Body and Blood of Christ, while the accidents of bread and wine remain. This conversion, however, is not mere replacement.

    And where do subatomic particles fit into this, as more than mere accidents of a greater substance?

    Aristotle affirmed the existence of elements that compose material substances. So there is no reason to think that the existence of atoms (or quarks) would be incompatible with an ontology of substances and accidents. Accidents inhere in a substance; they of them something like *properties.* Elements compose a [material] substance; think of them as fundamental material parts.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  15. Bryan, thanks for your response. A few follow-up questions:

    (1) You wrote that “The prime matter endures through the change, but the substantial form of bread and wine is subsumed by a higher Form, i.e. the Logos.” This makes sense, although I’ve read that Catholic teaching is that the *whole* substance, i.e, matter and form, is converted and does not remain, but only the accidents remain. You seem to be saying that the matter remains, and only the form changes. Am I reading you right? And how is this consistent with Catholic teaching?

    For example, the Catholic Encyclopedia article (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05573a.htm) on the real presence says this about the Council of Trent’s teaching on the Real Presence: “Thus were condemned as contrary to faith the antiquated view of Durandus, that only the substantial form (forma substantialis) of the bread underwent conversion, while the primary matter (materia prima) remained.” Do you disagree with this assessment of Trent, or do you think that what you said is compatible with this understanding of Trent? And to what might “prime matter” refer, in light of modern physics — the underlying, and indiscernible basis or energy of which all (sub-atomic) particles and waves are “made”?

    (3) Also, you wrote of a distinction between “material elements” and a substance to which these elements belong (like molecules in a piece of bread), but that such material elements are NOT themselves substances, since “substances are not made of substances.” What about a solar system or galaxy — do these not each have a “substance” in their own right — a distinct existence, or principle which endures and which gathers together all its parts? Or is it merely a collection of other substances, which just happen to work together for what merely *appears* to be a distinct, larger substance? What about the planet earth — is it merely a collection of loosely-related substances, but not itself “subsisting” as a “substance”, having no real being of its own? What about the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ? Does it not have its own “substance”, and yet, is composed of real human beings who themselves each have their own substance? Surely we do not lose our own being and “substance” as individual human beings by joining the Church? Either the Church does not have a substance of its own, or substances can co-exist — the “smaller” or “lesser” substances not being drowned out by the greater one. How does “substance” apply to a piece of bread, or to a human being, but not to a galaxy or to the Church, when all are composed of a complex arrangement of smaller parts coordinated together for a larger whole with a discernible existence?

    This is where the notion that “everything belongs to exactly one substance” confuses me somewhat. I look forward to hearing your response…

  16. This has become a very interesting thread!

    If I am not mistaken, I think this discussion is creeping into Spinoza’s conception of Substance/attribute/mode. From what I understand, modern science synergizes better with Spinoza than Aristotle, I think, precisely because the Substance/Accident distinction shows to be inadequate in the description of the reality of nature (according to modern science). I may be wrong, don’t mark my words. This is just a thought; maybe someone else can comment on this. This whole thing for me, though, may just be a category mistake. I just don’t understand how a material element is not an accident. As I see it, there are 3 options: 1) material elements properly belong to accident, and not substance, in which case there can be a real substantial change of a thing while it’s physical appearance remains (Catholic; Transubstantiation); 2) material elements are substances themselves, part of another substance, in which case there are no real “substances” properly speaking, and all things we would “so call” substance are nothing but parts of one whole substance, ultimately and logically (Spinoza); 3) material elements properly belong to substance, in which case allows a substantial change to necessarily entail a physical change, rendering absurd any idea of there being a substantial change from bread to the body of Christ while the physical appearence of bread remains. A fourth option is that material elements are irrelavent to substance/accident and do not properly belong to either substance or accident. This, I think, is what Bryan was saying (?), and is probably the correct option if not #1.

    I am still trying to wrap my mind around all this philosophy, and there are probably some errors in my thinking, so I hope they will be pointed out if present.

  17. Chris,

    These are good question. Regarding the first, the prime matter is not annihilated, but is converted. So it endures not as prime matter, but as the Body and Blood of Christ. If it were annihilated, it wouldn’t be a “change” but a replacement.

    And to what might “prime matter” refer, in light of modern physics — the underlying, and indiscernible basis or energy of which all (sub-atomic) particles and waves are “made”?

    I would rather not speculate.

    What about a solar system or galaxy — do these not each have a “substance” in their own right — a distinct existence, or principle which endures and which gathers together all its parts? Or is it merely a collection of other substances, which just happen to work together for what merely *appears* to be a distinct, larger substance? What about the planet earth — is it merely a collection of loosely-related substances, but not itself “subsisting” as a “substance”, having no real being of its own?

    Each thing has being according to its mode of unity. A thing of lesser unity can have things of higher unity as parts, but they retain their nature. A basketball team has a certain kind of unity, but the players do not cease to be substances, or undergo a substantial change upon joining the team. And so likewise with lesser unities whether large or small. Heaps have one kind of unity. Connected things have another. Fused things another. There are also difference sorts of dynamic unities (e.g. hurricanes) and spiritual unities. Dynamic unities can be composed of fused unities and/or connected unities. They can also be unified teleologically (e.g. car engine). But since living [corporeal] things have a higher unity, whatever is incorporated into us, becomes part of us by nature. That is why we are substances in the proper sense, and the others are substances in a pros hen sense.

    What about the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ? Does it not have its own “substance”, and yet, is composed of real human beings who themselves each have their own substance?

    Yes. But now you are bringing in the supernatural. The supernatural is able to transcend the natural. The principle that substances cannot be composed of substances has certain qualifications that are unstated, one of them is that we are treating things on the natural level.

    Surely we do not lose our own being and “substance” as individual human beings by joining the Church?

    Correct.

    Either the Church does not have a substance of its own, or substances can co-exist — the “smaller” or “lesser” substances not being drowned out by the greater one.

    False dilemma; there is a third option. Distinguish the natural and supernatural orders.

    How does “substance” apply to a piece of bread, or to a human being, but not to a galaxy or to the Church, when all are composed of a complex arrangement of smaller parts coordinated together for a larger whole with a discernible existence?

    Not all unities are the same sort of unity.

    I think this discussion has strayed not only from the point of Taylor’s thread, but from the purpose of this website, which is not for Catholics to discuss points of Catholic philosophy with each other, but for Catholics and Protestants to seek reconciliation. I’m glad to learn of your conversion to Catholicism, and I hope you continue to contribute here in the future.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  18. Jared,

    From what I understand, modern science synergizes better with Spinoza than Aristotle, I think, precisely because the Substance/Accident distinction shows to be inadequate in the description of the reality of nature (according to modern science).

    Modern science has not, and cannot, refute the substance/accident distinction, as I explained earlier in the comments of this thread. If you disagree, please point to an experiment that indicates otherwise.

    I just don’t understand how a material element is not an accident.

    There are ten categories, according to Aristotle. (See his Categories.) Nine of them are accidents. So where do parts go? In the substance category. They are substances in a lesser sense, not accidents. You can see that because parts are potential substances (were they to cease being a part, and become their own substance) whereas accidents are not potentially substances. And what is true of parts is also true of the material elements; they too are virtual substances, not accidents.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. Bryan,

    Ok, I see what you are saying. Your explanation that a thing has being according to its mode of unity really helps, and your explanation of the categories, and material elements being virtual substances because of their potential to go from a part of something to its own unified thing.

    Modern science has not, and cannot, refute the substance/accident distinction, as I explained earlier in the comments of this thread. If you disagree, please point to an experiment that indicates otherwise.

    I don’t disagree. I was just stating what they claim (from things I have read). I doubt there is an experiment to prove such a claim. You know, many scientists disagree on what we call substance and such; it should’t be all that surprising when they make these claims :) Maybe I misunderstood them, too. I’m still trying to learn how all these different conceptions of Substance relate.

    In Christ,
    Jared B

  20. Bryan said:

    “Modern science has not, and cannot, refute the substance/accident distinction, as I explained earlier in the comments of this thread.”

    Great point! I’d say something, but Bryan’s got this covered. Good job, brother.

  21. Bryan (et al),

    Thanks for all your clarifications so far! I feared my questions might seem to take us off track from the original topic, and perhaps they have. But the article states that Calvin was confused over the notion of substance, and, therefore, transubstantiation — my questions were simply a way of saying, “So am I! Please help!” And I doubt I am the only one who feels that way; while the language and notion of substance may be rooted in common human experience, much of the details and vocabulary (and explanations) can seem foreign to the average modern mind and can present many difficulties. So I appreciate the help and clarifications.

    I do have further questions, and I’ll try to keep them relevant to the site and topic; and I think they are, since they relate to the comments about substance, transubstantiation, and consubstantiation which the article deals with, and are quite relevant to ecumenical discussions about the Catholic belief in the Holy Eucharist.

    Part of the difficulty with transubstantiation that many have (especially Protestants, but I bet even many Catholics), and a point over which I have expressed confusion above (and which I still have), is the notion of “everything belongs to exactly one substance.” Consubstantiation, as Luther is claimed (somewhat erroneously, if you ask Lutherans) to have held, and which the article suggests Calvin was nearly expressing in the above quote, obviously depends upon the denial of such a philosophical position. But I’m still not clear on the basis of this position. Why must everything that exists belong precisely to one substance, and no more (why can’t bread remain bread and also be the Body of Christ)? I think your point, Bryan, about living beings as substances in the fullest sense of the term, especially when speaking of persons, helps shed some light on it: for the natural world finds its natural end not in inanimate forms of existence, but in living beings, and particularly in man. But then you mentioned that when dealing with the supernatural realm — such as my example of the Church, in which individual subjects can exists within a larger collective subject/substance — the natural ‘law’ that “everything belongs to exactly one substance” does not necessarily hold. So my questions are:

    (1) What is — stated concisely — the natural philosophical basis for the position that “all things belong to exactly one substance” (please note I’m not trying to reject this position — I’m trying to understand it).

    (2) Also, if two substances can co-exist in the supernatural reality, like the Church (as you suggested), then why can they not in the Eucharist, which is also a supernatural reality? Is it because of what is involved in the composition of the Church, is contrast to that of the Eucharist: living persons, rather than inanimate substances (like bread)? That is, a person (individual substance of a rational nature) cannot lose its substance by contributing to a larger substance, because of the “ontological strength” or “density” of the being itself — it is not capable of losing its substance apart from death or annihilation, while an inanimate substance (i.e., bread or wine) does not posses the same sort of “density” or durability? They exist for the sake of a greater substance — a living substance, namely *man* (in this case, the God-Man)?

    (3) Also, does the Blood of Christ have its own substance, distinct from the substance of His Body? Are His Body and Blood *two* distinct substances? Or are are his body and blood simply “material elements” of his overall human “substance”. If they are two actual substances for him (and it seems that this is indeed the Catholic position according the Trent’s decree, unless its using the term “substance” really loosely), is this unique to Christ alone? Or is *our* body also an actual substance distinct from the substance of our blood? If not, then why is Christ unique in this way? Why does he have *distinct* substances of flesh and blood, and why turn bread and wine into *these* as distinct from each other, rather than into the (larger, greater, more general) substance of his *whole humanity*? (Please note that transubstantiation does not teach that the bread turns into his body AND blood, nor that the wine turns into his blood AND body; each turns into one particular “substance” (as Trent calls it), but the other — along with his soul and divinity — is present by concomitance , not by transubstantiation). I wonder if there isn’t something here which can help us better appreciate and explain the mystery, and deal with the contrary arguments of the consubstantiation position, etc.

    I look forward to hearing further comments about this! If this is too off track (especially question #3), let me know and I’ll drop it and take my questions elsewhere.

    Peace in Christ,
    Chris

  22. Chris,

    Why must everything that exists belong precisely to one substance, and no more

    Because a thing cannot be both one and more than one, at the same time and at the same level of unity. Since being and unity are transcendentals, the law of non-contradiction has a unitive formulation as well. To be, is to be one. The act of being is also an act of unity (i.e. unifying act). There cannot be two angels of the same species, because nothing would differentiate them. Just as each form has its own degree of being, so it has its own degree of unity. Hence when two [substantial] forms are (by hypothesis) co-present, the higher necessarily unifies the lower into itself.

    (Just to prevent confusion, no one here is saying that [God + all creation] is one substance.)

    Also, if two substances can co-exist in the supernatural reality, like the Church (as you suggested), then why can they not in the Eucharist,

    The unity of the Mystical Body of Christ is not at the same level as that of individual personhood. This is why Aquinas says, “The Head and members are as one mystical person [quasi una persona mystica] …” (ST III Q.48 a.2 ad 1) Notice the ‘quasi.’ The unity of the Mystical Body is of the sort that preserves community, just as in the Trinity, or in a marriage (the two become one, yet without ceasing to be two), or in the relation of the parts in a living physical body. Just as the unity of the Trinity of Persons in the Godhead is not a violation of the principle that “a thing cannot be both one and more than one, at the same time and at the same level of unity,” so likewise neither is the unity of the saints (i.e. persons) in the Mystical Body a violation of that principle. But in the Eucharist, bread and Body would be at the same level, and so that would be a violation of the principle. We should keep in mind that the unity of the Trinity is a mystery, something that exceeds our understanding. And the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body is also a mystery, one that does not violate nature, but yet vastly transcends it.

    Also, does the Blood of Christ have its own substance, distinct from the substance of His Body?

    In Luke 24:39, the resurrected Christ said, “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” The resurrected Christ has flesh and bones and blood. The parts of substances, as I explained above in comment 18, are not nothing at all; they fall into the category of substance, not accident. But they are virtual substances; they are not a substance in the same way that the whole of which they are a part is a substance.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  23. greetings! I know these comments are about a month old but I was hoping someone could help me with some questions. I’ve been protestant all my life, and of the Reformed persuasion for the past 6 years. I’m not here to debate, but for honest inquiry. Any help is appreciated.

    In regards to understanding the catholic view more clearly, I need to know why it is that any other time the substance of a thing changes, so do the accidents (i.e. water into wine, candle wax into heat or soot, etc) but for some reason the Eucharist is the one exception?

    And if the Eucharist is the one exception (substantial change w/o accidental-change), then how does that relate to the law of non-contradiction (a thing cannot be that which it is not). We would agree that the laws of logic are reflections of God’s mind, so how can this be? How can one a thing be what it is but also not what it is at the same time? Doesn’t this violate the law and thus prove to be an impossible occurrence even for God since he cannot go against his own nature?

    I’ve heard many try to use the Incarnation analogy to explain what happens in the Eucharist. But even this seems lacking. The creed confesses that Christ, consisting of divine nature and personality, assumed fallen human nature. The two natures are “without change, without confusion.” According to my understanding of the Creed, the human nature Christ assumed did not go through a substantial-change, or else it wouldn’t be consubstantial with us. It also does not violate the law of non-contradiction since the two natures are completely distinct, not mixed or confused. The human nature is not the divine, and the divine is not the human. Whereas in the Eucharist, it seems like you are saying, “See the bread? It’s really Christ.” So in what manner do these events relate?
    -Thank you!

  24. Retro, excellent questions and just the type of discussion we’re looking for here. I have to be brief but it is important to note that it is not true that all other substantial changes involve accidental changes. For example, if you drink a drop of water, it is assumed into your body and undergoes a substantial change from being water into being a human body. If you stick a microscope down your throat, it would still register as H20 but the accidental chemical properties of the drop are not essential to its being. Unity is essential to its being and now, as assumed into the body, it belongs to a higher order of unity and therefore is substantially changed.

    Also:

    How can one a thing be what it is but also not what it is at the same time? Doesn’t this violate the law and thus prove to be an impossible occurrence even for God since he cannot go against his own nature?

    You are correct. X cannot be X and in the same way and at the same time not X. That is a contradiction. But that’s not Transubstantiation. The substance of the bread is entirely changed into the substance of the risen Body of Christ. Accidents are not of the essence of a thing.

    I would highly recommend Fr. Kimel’s series on Transubstantiation. Long but worth its weight in gold. He was formerly reformed as well.

  25. Retro,

    The Eucharist is the ONLY exception to the natural pattern by which accidents change with substance. If I burn bread (change its substance), the accidents change (black, smaller, harder). Aristotle would have most definitely rejected transubstantiation, because for him a change in substance yields a change in accidents. By the way, the heretic Wyclif rejected transubstantiation and cited Aristotle for proof noting that the Aristotle would not have allowed a change in substance without also a change in accidents.

    Saint Thomas Aquinas may have used Aristotelian categories to explain this miracle, but he certainly parted with Aristotle with regard to the miracle of transubstantiation. In this single case, the substance changes, but not the accidents.

    Now a miracle that breaks from the natural order does not violate the law of non-contradiction (something is x and not x at the same time). The law of non-contradiction refers to the truth claims – not the laws of nature. For example:

    When I body is placed on water, its weight displaces the water and the body sinks. Yet Christ walked on water. This suspension of the natural order does not violate the law of contradiction. Same goes for transubstantiation.

    As Tim said, if we were saying “The Eucharist is bread and is not bread at the same time,” this would violate the law of contradiction. But that’s not what the Holy Catholic Church teaches. She teaches that the Eucharist is not bread and wine, but the body and blood of Christ – only the accidental properties of bread and wine remain.

    If you wanted to defeat the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation in one easy step, you could simply deny the distinction between substance and accident. However, if you did, you would be left saying silly things like “The feature of Taylor Marshall’s black hair is essential to Taylor so that if he gets gray hair, he is no longer Taylor Marshall.”

    Instead, we all know that there are:
    1) certain features that are not essential (i.e. accidents)
    2) and that there is something that remains regardless of changing incidentals (substance)

    Your incarnational worries should be relieved by the Catholic position. If the Catholic Church held to consubstantiation we would indeed have the problem that you’ve brilliantly articulated. The divine Logos would have to assume not only the substance of our humanity but also the substances of bread and wine. That creates a terrible Christological mess. These are questions that should raise concerns for us regarding Martin Luther’s doctrine of the Eucharist…not the Catholic doctrine.

  26. Tim and Taylor,
    Thank you for your insight. It does help very much. I think I have a basic handle on the difference between substance and accidents, which makes sense why transubstantiation is not cannibalism (a very ignorant objection from many protestants). It is still hard for me to understand why God would want to use the Eucharist as the ONLY exception to the rule, but surely that would be a mystery to us all.

    I understand there are mutable accidents not essential to substance (your hair for example). But, couldn’t we say that epidermis is an immutable accident to flesh? Therefore, does it not follow that if the substance of bread is changed into the physical body of Christ, that the accidents should also be changed into epidermis? In other words, shouldn’t the bread’s accidents be changed into the immutable accidents of Christ’s flesh? Please let me know your thoughts on this.
    Many blessings!

  27. Retro,

    Parts are not accidents. See comment 18 above. The epidermis is a part, not an accident.

    The “exception” is not a divine stipulation in a voluntaristic sense. There is a great difference between becoming another creature, and becoming divine.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  28. Retro, let me clarify something. Like Taylor said, when a substantial change occurs, it is accompanied by an accidental change but in this particular way: that the accidents of a thing now belong to the new substance. Our senses do not deceive. So in my example above, when you swallow a drop of water, it becomes your body. But how about the accidents? The H20 retains all of its properties but the accidents are now changed in that they are no longer accidents of water but accidents of the body.

    What are the accidents of the body? The feel of the skin, the color of hair, the dimensions, the hardness of the bones, the fluidity of blood, etc… So we know that science tells us that our body is 80% water (or whatever) right? That is why the accidental properties of that particular drop of water are no longer merely properties of water, they are properties of the human body because they belong to its unity and are a part of its composition. You cannot have the skin tone without the proper amount of water in the body. You wont have hair or even a living body for that matter. But a microscope will still read H20 and so on for all the other chemical compounds which form your body.

    But if senses don’t deceive then why does the consecrated host still look like bread? Jesus does not come down and hide inside a bread. In fact, our senses aren’t deceiving us at all. The accidental properties of the host, after the consecration, are no longer accidents of bread. They are accidents of the sacramental sign. They do not deceive, they accurately depict the sign. Fr. Kimel quotes the Thomist Herbert McCabe:

    Before the consecration the appearances were there because the bread was there; they were just the appearances of the bread. After the consecration it is the other way around; the body of Christ is sacramentally there because what were the appearances of bread (and are now sacramental signs), are there. So with unconsecrated bread the accidents can remain (and vary) so long as the bread still exists: how very bizarre if they were to stay on (like the Cheshire cat’s grin) when what they are accidents of isn’t there. But after the consecration the Body of Christ is sacramentally present just as long as the signs are there. The important consequence of this is that these signs are not the appearances of Christ’s body: they are no longer the appearances of anything. The colour and shape of the host is not the colour and shape of Christ’s body; the location of the host, its being on the altar does not mean that Christ’s body is located on the altar; the fact that the host is moved about, say in procession, does not mean that Christ’s body is being moved about. When we do things to the host, such as eating it, we are not doing anything to Christ’s body. What we are doing is completing the significance of the signs. For bread and wine are meant to be eaten and drunk, to be our food; and food, eating, and drinking together is, even in our secular lives, a sign expressing friendship and unity. This is why Jesus chose it to be the sign which would tell us of the real sacramental presence of his body given for us and his blood poured out for us—the body of Christ which is more deeply our food, our “bread and wine,” than is the ordinary bread and wine with which we began.

    The other difficult thing about trying to fit this great mystery of the faith into our finite philosophies is that unlike other substantial changes, this one is entirely unique (even among miracles). You mentioned the water turning into wine, but the water into wine is a natural change. That is, though effected by supernatural power, it passed from one natural thing (water) to another (wine). But in this case, something natural becomes supernatural. The change is a metaphysical change and something much closer to the miracle of ex nihilo creation than to the miracle at Cana. (It is a change, not a replacement though.)

    So when Christ, in His risen Body, ate fish with the disciples, that fish was transubstantiated into His very Body. And something like that happens at the altar. Christ does not come down and hide among bread. He lifts bread up to a new, supernatural and heavenly reality whereby its substance is wholly changed, the accidents become accidents of a sacramental sign, and the physical becomes metaphysical. It is a mystery and the greatest miracle of our faith, and it happens at every mass when the priest, in persona Christ, repeats the sacred words of the narrative which Christ commanded us when He said “do this in ‘anamnesis’ (to make present) of Me.”

  29. Thanks for all the help, guys. I really appreciate you taking the time. I guess my next question is what distinguishes a thing’s “parts” from it’s “accidents” and how can we learn the difference? It almost seems like we’re grasping at straws when we make those distinctions, but obviously this is very deep philosophy… very overwhelming to a newcomer like myself. Also, what do we classify as “mutable” accidents and “immutable” accidents? Are there mutable parts and immutable parts?

    Secondly, is it even necessary to know for sure what happens at the Eucharist? I mean, I agree we should believe that Christ himself (not just his benefits) are presented to us, for it is evident in Scripture. The means by which that happens, is that necessary to know for it to be efficacious? Rome accepts protestant baptism, regardless if the person understands it’s significance, so why can’t the Supper be valid whether or not I realize the actual substance changes? Obviously, I would be in error if I was convinced and continued to deny it. But until then, can I be assured that I feed on Christ if my view is, “The Lord’s Supper presents Christ to me. I feed on him. He nourishes me and unites me to his flesh, in a very real, sacramental, mystical, covenantal way. I do not have full-knowledge on how this happens/works, but Christ does, and I have peace in that.” Isn’t it more important to know who is being presented rather than how that person is being presented?

    Again, thanks for your help. I will try to look more into the substance/accident/part issue on my own time and ask for God’s guidance. I want the truth, even if that means believing something I thought was wrong. I will keep checking back to this site and look forward to future conversations. Be blessed!

  30. Retro,

    I guess my next question is what distinguishes a thing’s “parts” from it’s “accidents” and how can we learn the difference?

    To answer the second question, you already know the difference. You don’t think your height is a part of you. We all already recognize that qualities of a thing are categorically different from a thing’s material parts, even when we are unable to articulate the nature of that difference or the metaphysical basis for that difference. To answer your first question, no accident is three-dimensional, but all the parts of a material being are three-dimensional. The difference between parts (which are in the category of substance) and accidents is a basic ontological difference that we discover in reality, as Aristotle explains in his Categories.

    Also, what do we classify as “mutable” accidents and “immutable” accidents?

    Accidents themselves do not change, but that substance in which they inhere changes, either by an accidental change (i.e. gaining and losing of accidents) or by a substantial change (i.e. becoming an altogether different substance).

    Are there mutable parts and immutable parts?

    All parts of material beings are mutable, precisely because they are material, and hence have potency to other forms.

    Secondly, is it even necessary to know for sure what happens at the Eucharist?

    If you mean, “is it necessary to know for sure exactly and exhaustively what happens at the Eucharist”, then the answer is no. The Eucharist is a sacrament, i.e. a mystery. And sacred theology can never turn it into something entirely and exhaustively comprehended by us. But, it is necessary to know for sure *something* about what happens at the Eucharist, in order to know what we are doing, why we are doing it, what not to do, and how to prepare ourselves for it. If it is ‘just a symbol’, then, as O’Connor said, “to hell with it.”

    so why can’t the Supper be valid whether or not I realize the actual substance changes?

    It can, and is. What the individual in the pew *doesn’t* know about the Eucharist does not detract from the validity (which is objective) of the Eucharist. The necessary conditions for the validity of the Eucharist include right matter (bread), right form (words of institution, and corresponding intention), and a validly ordained priest. But, the Eucharist is a sign of our unity (CCC 1323, 1325, 1398). If we were to extend the Eucharist to those who are in schism from us, we would make the Eucharist into a lie. For the Eucharist to signify our true and full union in Christ’s Body, the Church may only offer the Eucharist to those in full communion with her, not to those remaining in schism from her. Furthermore, we are to “discern the body” (1 Cor 11:29), lest we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves. So since Protestants [typically] do not discern the real presence (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) of Christ in the Eucharist, the Church has an obligation to protect them from sinning in receiving the Eucharist without discerning what it actually is.

    I do not have full-knowledge on how this happens/works, but Christ does, and I have peace in that.” Isn’t it more important to know who is being presented rather than how that person is being presented?

    It is not an either/or. Since the Church has definitively decreed *some* things about the Eucharist (cf. Trent, Session 13), it is necessary to believe, and not to deny, those things, in order for us to be in unity, having “one faith”, so that our participation in the Eucharist is a true sign of our unity with the Church in her “one faith.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  31. I believe Calvin’s view on the eucharist is honest, fairly straightforward, and agreeable to most christians. Here is my take on Calvin’s view on the Eucharist: (1) Communion with the Lord by partaking of the bread and wine is only effective to believers, and only when it is accompanied by the preaching of the gospel message. “Consecrating” the bread and wine without the accompanied preaching of the gospel does not effect the sacrament. (2)Those who are not believers are not partaking in communion with the Lord, even though they may be partaking of the bread and wine. Thus, the preaching of the gospel and actual belief are necessary to making the holy sacrament operative and beneficial (3)While Christ is now in Heaven at the right hand of the father(think Apostles Creed), his body and blood truly are received during holy communion for the spiritual benefit and sustenance of believers. The eucharist is a mystery which cannot be adequately explained beyond this by human reasoning.

  32. Considering that “most Christians” in the world are either Catholic or Orthodox, “most Christians” heartily disagree with Calvin.

    1) If the Eucharist is only effective for believers, then why does it kill and or damn those who receive it wrongly, e.g. an apostate or heretic?

    2) I completely agree that that preaching is necessary, but preaching doesn’t make the “holy sacrament operative.” As Catholics, we believe it is God directly that makes the sacrament operative, not a man’s preaching.

    3) Why do you get to set the limits of human reason – which just so happen to find their limit in your explanation? Shouldn’t the universal Church from all ages have something to say on this?

    Taylor Marshall

  33. Tom – in regard to #2: in the early Church, preaching was always separated from the Eucharist. The homily was given at the liturgy of the word which was originally celebrated on Saturday – a Christian continuation of the synagogue service. It was several centuries before these two liturgies were merged into the mass. I recommend the (Protestant) book “The Shape of the Liturgy” by Gregory Dix if you’re interested in studying the development of the Christian liturgy.

    In regard to #3: in addition to what Taylor said, the doctrine of Transubstantiation does not remove, or pretend to remove, the mystery of the Eucharist. But just because it is a mystery does not give us liberty to believe whatever we want about it. The Church gives us limits on what we may and may not believe.

  34. As a follow-up to Taylor’s third point in #32, consider this quote from Ronald Knox in his correspondence with then-Protestant Arnold Lunn:

    “The trouble with you [Lunn], as with all the moderns, is that you prefer vagueness to mystery. People talk as if definition was an attempt to abolish mystery. But actually it is the other way: theological mystery depends for its existence upon the hard outlines of definition. Thus, if you assert by definition that in that which you see before you the accidents remain those of Bread, but the substance is that of the Body of Christ, you have mystery; you have confessed the inadequacy of your reason to understand a reconciliation which is nevertheless a necessary one. But if you say, ‘All I know is that Christ is here,’ that is not mystery but vagueness; your statement may mean anything or next to nothing; your mind has nothing to bite on, and you are left with a merely emotional attitude” (Difficulties, p. 197).

    See also the Pontificator’s Eleventh Law.

    in Christ,

    TC
    1 Cor 16:14

  35. TC,

    That quote is money. Thanks for sharing. I’m going to tuck that one away.

    I was just telling Fr Kimel that he needs to republish his Laws. They’re brilliant.

    Taylor

  36. TC,

    I echo Taylor’s words about the quote. The problem with the spiritual presence of Christ in the Supper is simply this, it doesn’t say anything. Christ is, by definition, spiritually present everywhere. Under this teaching what makes Christ presence unique in relation to the Eucharist? Indeed if one is not willing to worship what appears to be bread and wine then, as Pontificator’s 11th Law states, you don’t really believe in real presence. Did not Augustine say we do not sin by adoring, rather we sin by not adoring!

    I have Father Kimel’s Laws hanging in my classroom, they are brilliant!

  37. Thank you for this lively discussion. Can I comment further?

    Taylor: I think you may have misunderstood what I meant by my statement that most christians would find Calvins views on the eucharist agreeable. My point is that Calvin’s views are fairly vague, that they are purposely broad, and that many christians whether they are Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant would find his views reasonable. Would it be reasonable to assume that virtually all Protestant Christians(most statistics I have seen report that today there are nearly as many Protestant Christians worldwide as Roman Catholics) would agree with the views I stated? Could you also agree that many Roman Catholics and Orthodox believers would also find these views on the Eucharist more palatable than the doctrine of transubstantiation? I am not arguing which is correct here, but rather that most christians would likely agree with and that Calvin is likely more in the mainstream than we may like to admit. The doctrine of Transubstantiation was really not in place until late in the first to the beginning of the second millenium, and would likely seem quite developed to many of the church fathers and certainly to the apostles.

    Tim, can I refer you to Acts 20, in which the apostle celebrates the eucharist at the same time, on the first day of the week, that he preaches? Again, the liturgy of the church varied greatly from place to place for many centuries, even within the western church, but the celebration of the Lords Supper accompanied by the preaching of the gospel on the first day of the week clearly was established during the time of the apostles.

    Finally, all christians who recite and believe the Apostles Creed state that Christ is in heaven at the right hand of the father. Can he also be present in the eucharist? Absolutley, and Calvin professed he truly is present. How can this be? If he is at the right hand of God in heaven, how can he be present in the eucharist? Rather than reaching further than the scriptures have enlightened us, Calvin says this is a mystery, but he knows it is true. I think most professing christians would agree with this, also.

  38. Tom,

    Could you also agree that many Roman Catholics and Orthodox believers would also find these views on the Eucharist more palatable than the doctrine of transubstantiation?

    What people find “palatable” and what is true are two different things. Children prefer candy to vegetables. A vague and sweetened view of the Eucharist is more “palatable” than the real thing to those who are spiritual children (which is the vast majority of Catholics and Protestants).

    The doctrine of Transubstantiation was really not in place until late in the first to the beginning of the second millenium, and would likely seem quite developed to many of the church fathers and certainly to the apostles.

    The word itself was not, but the doctrine hasn’t changed.

    On Acts 20, that’s a good example but just because the Scriptures are inerrant does not mean that we read them at the expense of everything else we know about history; let God be true and all men a liar, but we might be misreading or seeing things that arent there. Acts 20 says they came together to “break bread” on the Lord’s day; now this is not necessarily a reference to the Eucharist. The second usage of it is clearly not a ref. to the Eucharist so this illustrates my point. Of course, I believe the first is referring to the Eucharist, but this is because of the term ‘ecclesia’, which Dix argues, had already become a technical reference to the Eucharist by the time Paul was writing. (I guess thats the word used there but I don’t know; either way, I’m sure it’s referring to the Eucharist).

    But we know it was the custom to meet early on Sunday for the Eucharist and often to return again in the evening for the Agape (which was also liturgical). The text has Paul preaching until midnight, and it is extremely unlikely that they gathered early in the morning for the Eucharist and stayed all day preaching. So Acts 20 is a long way from proving your point. It fits entirely with everything we know about early Christian liturgy.. namely that there was no preaching at the Eucharistic celebration.

  39. Thanks for your response Tim.
    As you know, the early christians were jews, and as such wished to continue their jewish traditions even as they embraced this new faith. The christians would typically gather at the synagoge on the sabbath as was their custom. They of course could not celebrate the eucharist in a synagoge, and in respect to jewish tradition, they waited until the earliest opportunity the following day to commemorate the Lords Supper. So, while what you say is correct, it is not the truth. The truth is in whole, not in part. You imply that the early christians celebrated the eucharist the following morning, while it is know and is evidenced by the passage I cited that these early christians gathered that same eve. to break bread. How could this be? In our western eyes, a day begins at midnight, or perhaps even the following dawn. To the Jews however, the new day began at sundown. It was the practice of these early christians to read and listen to scriptures in the synogoge, and then the “next” day, after sundown that same eve., to celebrate the eucharist. Calvin, in keeping with the practice of the early church and the Apostle Paul, as shown by this passage, called for the proclamation of the gospel, preferrably by the reading of scripture, to go along with the celebration of communion. This practice was well known to the church fathers, is logical(would you not explain the significance of the eucharist as you celebrate it, and what better way than by reading the applicable scriptures?), and by itself is not contrary to the doctrine of transubstantiation.

  40. Tom

    You said:

    while what you say is correct, it is not the truth.

    If something is correct, it is also true.

    Regarding Eucharist on Saturday evening: Pliny the Younger, in the beginning of the second century, says that the Christians met before dawn not after sundown on Saturday.

    Just because, in the Jewish mind, sabbath began at sundown on Friday in no way whatsoever indicates that our historical data is mistaken and that we should assume they met on the same day in favor of preserving Calvin’s error. This is what happens when we let ideology trump empirical data.

    Do you have any source whatsoever that would confirm your belief?

  41. If I may, I would like to ask a few questions of clarification concerning the doctrine of transubstantiation:

    1) How would you describe the difference between transubstantiation and a belief in the “real presence”? What exactly distinguishes these two views?

    2) How would you distinguish between transubstantiation and extreme physical or carnal views of the eucharistic species? For example, every so often I’ve heard claims that a host actually manifested as a bloody piece of flesh in someone’s mouth. This was viewed as a eucharistic miracle. I’m not saying that anyone at CTC would affirm such a claim, but it is a good example of a hyper physical/carnal view of the transubstantiated species. Are there any safeguards in Catholic doctrine that exclude such views? Or, on the other hand, should Catholics be fairly comfortable with such an idea (even if they deny the above “miracle”) given the doctrinal definition of transubstantiation? What are the limits in Catholic doctrine on this question, and where can they be found?

    Many thanks,
    Matthew Anderson

  42. Matthew,

    1. Belief in Transubstantiation is that, through the mystery of the consecration, ordinary bread and wine undergo a substantial change and actually become the Body and Blood of Christ. Mere ‘Real Presence’ denies that the bread has actually changed. It affirms that Christ is truly present but affirms the presence of the bread.

    2. The only difference between the miraculous transformation of the host into bloody flesh and the miracle of Transubstantiation at every mass is accidental. In both cases the bread is truly transformed into the Body of Christ, but in the former, the appearance is changed along with the substance as as sign. I’m not commenting on the validity of any particular miraculous report; I’m just saying that it would be compatible with Catholic Eucharistic theology if such a thing were to happen. There are standing miracles as I understand it.

  43. Hi Matthew,

    In case you are concerned that the Catholic doctrine is “fleshy” to the exclusion of Christ’s other attributes, a good point to note is recorded in the Catechism here:

    “1374 . . . 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.” “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.””

    The Catechism should be a great resource in general for seeing the various limits of the Catholic doctrine on this question: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  44. Tim,

    Thanks for your comments. I must say that your stance surprised me a little. I would have expected someone to point out how such a fleshly/carnal approach is somehow misguided. It would require some very enlightening, paradigm-shifting theological explanation before I could accept that eating Christ’s bloody flesh in the way you have described is an attractive or sound belief. Is there no other way to theologically frame this doctrine?

    (Note: If you would, please spare me the standard discourse on John 6 and how some of the disciples found Jesus’ teaching to be difficult, etc.).

  45. Matthew,

    I think I see where you’re coming from now. Transubstantiation does not amount to cannibalism anymore than ‘mere Real Presence’ does. Let me repeat it: there is nothing in the doctrine of Transubstantiation that would make it cannibalistic that would not also make ‘mere Real Presence’ cannibalistic. I refuted the charge in the link above. In both doctrines, the Body & Blood are truly present, but in Transubstantiation, no bread remains. As far as truly consuming the Body of Christ, whatever happens given mere Real Presence also happens given Transubstantiation. There is no difference in that regard. The difference lies in the consecrated host and whether or not bread remains.

    The difficulty here is that we are trying to apprehend the mystery in mundane terms of flesh and blood (which is all our minds have to work with anyway). These are correct terms, to be sure, but we must understand that the realities to which we are referring are not natural realities but super natural. So the reception of the Body of Christ is not the reception as if we were biting a chunk of Flesh off of His Body; that would be cannibalism. The reception is, like the mass itself, a meeting of heaven and earth where the natural (man) apprehends something supernatural (Body of Christ). It is the risen Body of Christ which we consume in the Eucharist; it is supernatural – not natural. The physical bread has been changed into the metaphysical Body of Christ. Only the appearance remains. When we eat ordinary food, it becomes us, but this heavenly food has the opposite effect. We become united to Christ! The Eucharist does not fit into our categories of thought except via symbolism.

    And just as “what goes into man’s mouth does not defile him,” neither does it sanctify him. That is, the Eucharist is, as St. Ignatius explained, the “medicine of immortality,” but we are not sanctified by the Eucharist via the digestive process. The grace of the Eucharist is received spiritually, not materially. We cannot materially receive something which is immaterial.

    So much for my lame attempt to explain an unfathomable mystery. Hope it helped in some way.

  46. I would like to ask if there were theologians before the Reformation who disagreed with Transubstantiation, and if there were any councils met so as to hash it out.

    I’m really trying to follow, but I’m lost on how the bread and wine as elements don’t just become part of the person receiving it as the drop of water example showed.

    I’ve never witnessed a Mass, but I understand that the Priest is supposed to be offering up a “unbloody” sacrifice. Is this crucifying Christ over and over? Please tell me, how the liturgy of Mass came to be. What symbols and elements are used beside the bread and wine and why are more things included that we aren’t given in the gospel account of the Last Supper?

    The sacrament of The Lord’s Supper is given to believers in order to strengthen our faith, and it is certain unbelievers do take it to their own further condemnation, but I don’t think it is helpful for the Reformed to speak of a Lutheran as taking it “by mouth” and of themselves( Reformed) as taking it “by faith”. I suppose a Lutheran IS taking it by faith in through their mouth, so these distinctions among Protestants I’m not getting.

    Further, between Transubstantiation in the Mass and the Reformed Church’s understanding, is there one that requires an act of supernatural faith greater in comparison to the other’s view? …. I’ve probably not expressed this well enough to be understood.

    My last question: I understand that Reformed Christian’s must preach the Gospel to ourselves because the Law, not the Gospel, is written on our hearts. But I believe that I can’t pull the wool over God’s eyes and that if I, by natural compulsion, look to my sinful heart and desire to draw closer to God, I am attempting to work. Does this make sense? Then again it may be in the same category as the Christian who is doubting at some particular point. Then the question is “when does doubt become unbelief”? This leads to a further question. If I can do some meritorious works, what of all the other sins that I could never get rid of; degenerate thoughts and ill will for others. Remember, “Where we thought we were well, we are sick in soul. Were we thought we were holy we are in truth unholy and ungrateful. Our minds are dark and assailed by doubts….” Thank you and awaiting your reply and help.

  47. Alicia, yes there were men who disbelieved in the doctrine of Transubstantiation as long as it had been formulated thus, and men who disbelieved in the Real Presence from the earliest days of the Church. John Wycliffe is a pre-Reformation example of someone who rejected the doctrine. There were also councils prior to Trent and prior to the Reformation that used the word and expressed the doctrine clearly. e.g. The Fourth Lateran Council, an ecumenical council, said the following in Canon 1:

    There is one Universal Church of the faithful, outside of which there is absolutely no salvation. In which there is the same priest and sacrifice, Jesus Christ, whose body and blood are truly contained in the sacrament of the altar under the forms of bread and wine; the bread being changed (transsubstantiatio) by divine power into the body, and the wine into the blood, so that to realize the mystery of unity we may receive of Him what He has received of us.

    You said:

    I’m really trying to follow, but I’m lost on how the bread and wine as elements don’t just become part of the person receiving it as the drop of water example showed.

    The sacrament is consumed by the participant, whereby we receive the True Body and Blood of Christ. John Calvin also affirmed that we truly receive the Body & Blood of Christ. The principle difference in our doctrine is not whether we truly receive, but whether the bread and wine truly become, the Body & Blood. Calvin wants to eat his cake without having it. Just a quick word on the sacrament; it is and always will be a mystery. The Catholic Church does not go into great detail on how Christ is consumed, how it is possible, etc. Plenty of orthodox theologians have done so, but as far as dogmatics are concerned, the Catholic Church, as in other cases, simply sets boundaries on what the faithful are permitted to believe. You might find this lengthy exploration of the subject to be helpful. It is a great read.

    You also said:

    I understand that the Priest is supposed to be offering up a “unbloody” sacrifice. Is this crucifying Christ over and over?

    We believe that Christ died once for the salvation of men. The ‘unbloody’ sacrifice, so called from the earliest days of the Church, does not involve a re-sacrifice of Christ. Rather it is a recapitulation of that one time sacrifice. As the New Testament describes, particularly Hebrews and Revelation, Christ as High Priest of humanity stands eternally before the throne of God, offering that perfect sacrifice. During the mass, the priest, who acts in the person of Christ, i.e. representing Christ, offers the sacrifice of the mass – the one same sacrifice. The mass is where heaven & earth meet – this mystery is thereby outside the bounds of ordinary time. We are granted supernatural access to a singular historic event, and to its fruit: notably, forgiveness of sin.

    You also said:

    Please tell me, how the liturgy of Mass came to be. What symbols and elements are used beside the bread and wine and why are more things included that we aren’t given in the gospel account of the Last Supper?

    This blog post, containing a short podcast, gives a brief introduction to the earliest Christian liturgy. I think it would be valuable to you in getting an idea of how the Catholic mass came to be. It will also help explain some of the symbolism that isn’t explicitly in the New Testament text but that we are historically certain was actually part of the ritual. These ancient traditions, older than the New Testament itself, are preserved in the Catholic rite (and the Eastern Orthodox rites).

    You also said:

    Further, between Transubstantiation in the Mass and the Reformed Church’s understanding, is there one that requires an act of supernatural faith greater in comparison to the other’s view?

    The Scriptures tell us, in John 6, that upon hearing Jesus describe the necessity to consume His Flesh and Drink His Blood, many disciples left because they could not accept such a hard teaching. It is the same today; and certainly some things are easier to believe than others. It might not necessarily be a question of the amount of faith, but of the right faith. If the Reformed theory of communion were true, as expressed historically, it would still require supernatural faith to believe. This is because it would not be possible to know by natural knowledge that the Body & Blood of Christ were actually received. But you can judge for yourself which is harder to believe: that the elements are merely bread, or that they have been transubstantiated into the true Body & Blood. Now just because something is more difficult to believe, does not make it true. But it might make it more likely, given that you know “narrow is the way,” etc.

    For your last question, I am not sure that I understand. I think you might be worrying that if it is true that we can perform meritorious works, isn’t it also possible that we could fail to perform enough meritorious works to cover our sins? Is that what you’re asking? Or am I misreading?

    Hope this has been some help. If not, please feel free to ask me to clarify or expound.

  48. Thank you, Mr. Troutman, this is helpful to me. As you know, all that I am experiencing is pretty strange. What’s worse is that I’m going it alone.

    I do feel that the Reformed shouldn’t be too hard and fast on the distinction between Christ’s body and His divine nature by saying that since His body is now in heaven He cannot also be in the bread in wine. Luther was right to chastise Zwingli for this kind of distinction. If we speak like this we could say that because God cannot suffer, Jesus must have only suffered in His manhood, but what does this say about the passion of our Lord? This of course leads to a new question, but I haven’t the strength right now to study it. I do like it that Luther said that God’s righthand is, in fact, everywhere. I would like to know how Luther worked out his view of the Lord’s Supper, and if Zwingli is the man who gave the Reformed its understanding of Holy Communion.

    I’m not sure if John 6 is a good proof that people left Jesus because He taught the Catholic view. Couldn’t a Reformed view be as much as a turn-off? I mean, we do read the words,”take eat, this is my body that was broken for you…” before we take communion. In honesty, I’m lost. I’m reading The Last Superstition and slowly understanding what Ockham and Scotus have done.

    Today, per the recommendation of someone else from this site, I picked up JND Kelly’s ‘Early Christian Doctrine’ and I was bothered that the Jews had to live in a Hellenized place where their faith was meeting strange gods and rationalism, but then it dawned on me that the world at the time was the perfect place for Christianity to begin. If the gospel was meant to be spread to the gentiles, what better location could there be? Aristotle had not invented the world, he was just explaining it.

    As for the last question, yes, you did understand me. I may be able to refrain from a lot of actions but there is no escaping sinful thoughts, that repeat no matter what I do. Wasn’t Jesus trying to tell us that we are exactly that rotten and that we can add nothing to our salvation? If not only a murder but a person who is angry with his brother is subject to hell fire, who can make it? Catholicism looks like it has as many laws as Judism did. I feel that it isn’t enough to keep my eye on Christ but that I must now attend to venial sins and mortal sins; one slip and I’m done for. Personally, do you feel safe? And what about those that you love, do you worry that they might commit a mortal sin and die before they have had a chance to repent. I realize, I’m probably getting some good chuckles, but don’t these things keep you up at night?

    I really am appreciative;)

  49. Alicia,

    You are right that apart from grace, no one can make it into heaven. We do not believe that we can ‘add to our salvation’ by natural acts of goodness. However, we believe as the Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit is able to work through us, enabling supernatural good works (supernatural because these works are the result of agape love) and that these works can be meritorious. This does not mean that we earn our way into heaven. It means that works of good and evil always matter.

    I keenly understand how you feel. It’s the heavy heart of someone who takes sin and hell/ good and heaven, very seriously. I have nothing in common with anyone who doesn’t feel this way and everything in common with anyone who does. Do I struggle with these thoughts? Yes. But not any more now that I’m Catholic; in fact – less. As a Reformed Christian, I knew that I would not be discussing theology with God on judgment day. I had opinions about forgiveness of sins – ‘once saved always saved’, I denied the mortal/venial sin distinction, and I thought that a single prayer at conversion was sufficient to cover all sins past and future; but in the end, these were simply opinions and they didn’t matter. What if I was wrong? And the reality of the matter is that the burden of many of my sins was never lifted off of my shoulders until my first confession.

    That is all to say that I understand where you are coming from, and I understand what the Catholic sacramental system seems like from the outside. But you will appreciate the humanity of the sacraments; I mean, the psychological effect they have, to say nothing of the actual grace conferred. The unfortunate cycle of dealing with concupiscence, even after initial justification, and the need to go to our mother, the Church, to be healed, is a tangible expression of the Christian life. If it had been up to me, baptism would have removed concupiscence and we could live a life free of sin after baptism – no need for the sacraments. But God does things differently; and there is a great pedagogy to the liturgy of the sacramental life in Christ. We stumble, and Christ lifts us back up; and then we repeat, ever growing in the faith, becoming saints.

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