Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Transubstantiation vs. Real Presence

My previous post on Transubstantiation led to a lively and interesting discussion on the Catholic Answers Forums. The argument was made in that thread that although Transubstantiation is not biblical, the doctrine of Real Presence is; and Transubstantiation is only an attempt to explain how Real Presence takes place when the Sacrament is consecrated. The implication of that statement is that the real doctrine is in fact Real Presence, not Transubstantiation; and therefore it is not necessary for Transubstantiation to be true for Real Presence to be true. Transubstantiation could be false; but Real Presence would be true!

There are two answers to that: Firstly, Real Presence is understood differently in different churches; but as defined in Catholicism, Real Presence is no more biblical than is Transubstantiation. The way in which Real Presence is understood in the Catholic Church is far from being scripturally provable. Secondly, in Catholic theology Real Presence and Transubstantiation are so intricately intertwined that it is not possible to separate them. Real Presence takes place by means of Transubstantiation, so that to all intents and purposes one could say they are the same. Here are some interesting Quotes:

The doctrine of the Real Presence asserts that in the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is literally and wholly present [i.e. through Transubstantiation]—body and blood, soul and divinity—under the appearances of bread and wine. Source: Catholic Answers

The Catholic Church teaches that when a priest repeats the words of Christ at the Last Supper over bread and wine that these become [i.e. through Transubstantiation] truly the Body and Blood of the Lord, even though the appearance of the bread and wine remain. In addition, the Catholic Church teaches that the celebration of the Eucharist renews in an unbloody manner the Sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary, forming a unity with it. Source: Apologetics Toolkit

The next lengthy quote comes from the definitions of the Council of Trent, Session xiii, the whole of which is devoted to the Sacrament of the Eucharist; so they are as authoritative as you can get:


On the real presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist.

In the first place, the holy Synod teaches, and openly and simply professes, that, in the august sacrament of the holy Eucharist, after the consecration of the bread and wine, our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and man, is truly, really, and substantially contained under the species of those sensible things [i.e. bread and wine]. . . .


On the excellency of the most holy Eucharist over the rest of the Sacraments.

. . . And this faith has ever been in the Church of God, that, immediately after the consecration, the veritable Body of our Lord, and His veritable Blood, together with His soul and divinity, are under the species of bread and wine; . . .


On Transubstantiation.

And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made 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; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.

CANON I.–If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.

CANON II.–If any one saith, that, in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denieth that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the Body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the Blood—the species Only of the bread and wine remaining—which conversion indeed the Catholic Church most aptly calls Transubstantiation; let him be anathema.

CANON III.–If any one denieth, that, in the venerable sacrament of the Eucharist, the whole Christ is contained under each species, and under every part of each species, when separated; let him be anathema. Source: The Council of Trent Session XIII

On Real Presence the passage clearly states that the whole body, blood, and divinity of Christ is contained in the substance of the Sacrament (i.e. in the bread and wine); and it goes on to categorically state that that substance undergoes a change, or a transmutation, so as to make that Presence within it possible—that change being dubbed Transubstantiation. It defines Transubstantiation as an integral part of Real Presence.

The purpose of the paragraphs on Transubstantiation are not to explain how the change takes place; but to assert that a change does take place—and coins the name “Transubstantiation” for it. Transubstantiation becomes the integral part of Real Presence. There is no Real Presence without Transubstantiation; and there is no Transubstantiation without Real Presence. The two are inseparably intertwined—one cannot exist without the other.

The passage raises other puzzling questions. I understand what “Body and Blood” means (i.e. Transubstantiation). But what is “His whole Divinity” and “the whole Christ”? How are “His whole Divinity” and the “whole of Christ” present in the bread and wine? And how does one actually eat the “whole of Christ” together with the “whole of His Divinity” all in one go? How do Catholics go about exactly doing that? And how is that doctrine in any way biblical?

The next quote is from the Wikipedia article on Real Presence. It takes a broader look at the subject, and tries to explain how Real Presence is understood in other Christian churches, not just Catholic. The Catholic version is plain Transubstantiation; but other churches seem to understand it differently.

Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians see the Real Presence in terms not of a physical or “carnal” presence, but of transubstantiation/metousiosis [metousiosis is Greek derived, and means the same thing as Transubstantiation which is Latin derived]. Anglicans argue for contentment with the mode of objective presence to remain a mystery. Lutherans expound a presence “in, with and under the forms” of bread and wine. Methodists postulate the par excellence presence as being a “Holy Mystery.” Reformed Protestant views instead speak of a “spiritual” real presence and stress that Holy Communion is a “spiritual feeding.” Certain other Protestant traditions (for instance, Baptists and contemporary evangelicals) simply reject outright the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Source: Wikipedia

The Methodists appear to have been the wisest of them all. They have covered their backs by calling it a “Holy Mystery”! I agree. It is a mystery to me! Well, since every church seems to have its own definition of Real Presence, I am willing to accept Real Presence in LDS theology provided that I can define the terms of it myself—but defined in terms of Transubstantiation, I am afraid it is not a scripturally valid doctrine.

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