Monday, December 2, 2013


I've been having yet another discussion about Transubstantiation with a Protestant - a very good man and a very smart one. And I've been thinking of a way to explain it by analogy in terms that someone who didn't believe might consider valid. The best I can come up with is the Louisiana Purchase.

At the Consecration we have bread and wine, which through word and action become by the power of God the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. The bread and wine do not change form (accidents) in any way that is detectable, but really and truly change their nature (substance) to become Jesus.

In the Louisiana Purchase, we have land, that by word and action becomes by the power of the US government, America [and cease to be France*]. The soil itself remains unchanged in form, yet it is really and truly America. I know the analogy is weak, but any analogy is. The point is that nobody would argue that the change isn't "real" even though a chemical analysis of the soil would find no difference. Got a better analogy? I'm all ears.

I'm posting the conversation (well, at least my words of it) for analysis by you, gentle reader, for finding mistakes on my part. I'm certainly no expert on Transubstantiation, and no theologian, and some of you are.

Anyway, here's the substance (pun intended) of my argument. I had challenged him to read John 6 and tell me if Jesus thinks it's His actual body and blood or if it's just a symbol, for instance.

His response spoke of the way our interpretation of Scripture has improved over time, and made reference to the discovery of dinosaurs changing the way we read Genesis. My response follows:

You are assuming there is no correct interpretation of Scripture. It is all personal opinion unless ScienceTM tells us something. What kind of a fool would God have to be to leave us with a mysterious book that nobody knew what it meant? That would mean that some parts of Scripture are not "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."
But Jesus didn't leave us a book. He left us a Church. He tells us over and over that the Church (not the Bible) is "the pillar and foundation of the truth." If your brother is in error you are not told to argue verses with him, but "If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." The Apostles are told "whoever who hears you hears me, whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me."

It's a cop out to say we can't know what Jesus meant in John 6. In other cases in scripture where His followers misinterpreted Jesus, He corrected them. For instance, in John 4, when the woman at the well thinks Jesus is talking literally about water he explains that it is symbolic - He is the living water.

Yet, when the disciples "misinterpreted" Jesus as meaning literal flesh and blood, he not only doesn't correct them, but reinforces his words, saying things like "truly truly." In the end, he lets them all walk away rather than explain their "mistake." Even to the Apostles He doesn't offer an explanation of the symbolism (as He does for the parables, for instance) but simply lets the teaching stand and says "will you leave me too?" Peter replies, not with "that's OK, we understand you don't really mean flesh and blood" but with  "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God." And so it is clear from the plain words of the text itself that the 12 Apostles interpreted John 6 literally.

But there's more. It is quite clear that St. Paul knew what Jesus meant - "Wherefore whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord" - not guilty of misinterpreting a symbol, but guilty of the body and blood. He speaks of this in several places.
But what of the Church fathers? What did those who were taught by the Apostles believe? Ignatius of Antioch says:
I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible [Letter to the Romans 7 (c. A.D. 110)]. [Letter 7 to Romans]
Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ, which have come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh that suffered for our sins and that the Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes [Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6–7 (c. A.D. 110)].
So it is through generation after generation of Christians, all believing the same:
[A]s the bread and wine of the Eucharist before the invocation of the Trinity, which is holy and worthy of adoration, were simple bread and wine, after the invocation the bread becomes the body of Christ, and the wine the blood of Christ [Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 19:7 (c. A.D. 350)].
Augustine of Hippo is my favorite:
Christ was carried in his own hands when, referring to his own body, he said, “This is my body” [Mt 26:26]. For he carried that body in his hands [Explanations of the Psalms 33:1 (c. A.D. 405)]. 
I promised you [new Christians], who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s table. . . . The bread you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. The chalice, or rather, what is in the chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ [Sermons 227 (c. A.D. 411)]. 
What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But your faith obliges you to accept that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction [ibid., 272].
And here's someone more modern
Who, but the devil, has granted such license of wresting the words of the holy Scripture? Who ever read in the Scriptures, that my body is the same as the sign of my body? or, that is is the same as it signifies? What language in the world ever spoke so? It is only then the devil, that imposes upon us by these fanatical men. Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present.
Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they thought so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: It is bread only; or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present: but they are all of them unanimous.

–Martin Luther, Luther’s Collected Works, Wittenburg Edition, no. 7 p, 391
So you see, the denial of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a tradition of modern men, not something which was held by the Apostles or disciples down through the ages. And when we look at Scripture we need to look at how it was interpreted not by our pastors but how it was interpreted by the men who wrote it and the men they taught.

End quote. And when I think about Transubstantiation, I can't help but think of this song...

* I had originally left out the part about no longer being France, but a friend pointed out that that would be consubstantiation, not transubstantiation.


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